A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 431 – El Mariachi

El Mariachi – May 5th, 2011

I admit I’ve sort of been saving these movies. I love them and it’s been ages since I’ve seen them and we’ve run through a lot of our series and a lot of the movies I’ve seen before. So I’ve been saving them. Not for any specific day or event, but then we didn’t have anything planned for today and it is Cinco de Mayo and hey, why not, right? Any halfway decent excuse to watch these movies would have been good with me.

Now, Desperado gets shown on television with some decent regularity and Once Upon a Time in Mexico was made most recently, though it’s not new anymore by any means. But I just don’t see El Mariachi in the television listings as I see the other two. It just doesn’t crop up, which is a shame because it’s a fantastic movie even if you don’t know how it was made. It’s got some good action, a little romance, a fair amount of wit and humor and a fun plot, even if there is a giant hole in it. It’s all in Spanish, sure, but why should that matter?

Amusingly, I think I could possibly have watched this without subtitles and still followed it. I’m absolutely horrible when it comes to foreign languages and what I’ve retained from college and high school isn’t usually enough. But for some reason the dialogue in this movie goes slower than I’m used to Spanish language movies going. And I found myself able to look down and just listen and catch the gist of what was being said. Maybe it helps that I’ve seen it before, but still. I was surprised and unsure of just why the dialogue is spoken at a speed I can still handle. Goodness knows the El Santo movie we picked up that has no subtitling was totally out of my league (and yes, I do regret that, because when we watched it, it looked awesome, but totally incomprehensible to us Spanish-challenged folks).

Anyhow, the movie is a story of mistaken identity and dueling gangsters in a small city in Mexico. A mariachi arrives in town, hoping to find work so he can continue on his family legacy of musicianship. A noble goal! Unfortunately for him, a notorious gangster named Azul is in town too, and he’s been going after the local crime lord, Moco, taking out his men with weapons he keeps in a guitar case. Since Azul kills pretty much ever associate of Moco’s whom he meets, Moco’s other men have only a sketchy description of him: He wears all black and carries a guitar case. You know what two things also describe our hero? He wears all black. And he carries a guitar case.

Now, being the pedant that I am, I feel I have to mention the gaping plot hole here. Azul? Is heavy-set and has a mustache. El mariachi? Slimmer and not a single whisker on his face. And yet various people describe them at different points and the only identifying things they can say are ‘wears all black’ and ‘carries a guitar case’. Come on, people! Can we differentiate between a leather vest and a black jacket over a white shirt? Maybe between facial hair and no facial hair? Build? Apparently not. But I guess that would unravel the whole movie and while some things could have been relatively simple to fix (similar wardrobe for the two characters, shave off the mustache, etc.) we are talking about a movie made for the equivalent of $7,000. I doubt there was much money for wardrobe and my guess is that the cast wasn’t being paid big bucks. Demanding that someone shave their mustache? Eh, I’ll get over it. To be honest, it adds to the ridiculousness of the whole film.

Really, much of this movie is intended to be over the top. There’s some sly humor to it all. The repeated joke with Moco lighting his matches off his henchman’s face? The sped up footage when people phone him to tell him Azul is in town? Things like that. When Moco sends his men to take out Azul in the beginning they pay off a woman who’s guarding the jail he’s hiding in. And then Azul pays her off on his way out after killing them. There’s the whole bathtub scene! After our hero manages to get the fantastic bar owner, Domino, to let him stay in her apartment to hide out from Moco’s men we get shot after shot of Domino’s dog’s reaction. Which is a blank and disinterested stare. I’ve never seen such an uneager pitbull, to be honest. It’s not a laugh-out-loud sort of funny. These aren’t big obvious gags and set-ups or knee-slapper jokes. They’re winks. Little teasers that let you know that the movie isn’t to be taken entirely seriously. Sure, much of it is serious, but the audience should keep a certain perspective on that.

Of course you know that eventually there’ll be a showdown between Moco and Azul, and the mariachi will get caught in the middle and since Domino’s the love interest she’ll be involved somehow too. It’s not a movie full of surprise twists and turns. Once you know there’s an innocent dude caught in the middle of a gang war, well, the end is a bit of a foregone conclusion. People are going to die and there will be consequences. What I like here is that while there is humor to the movie, the plot with the mariachi and Domino is still carried off with a nice sense of drama and emotional weight. I think part of it is that Domino is so cool. She’s not immediately won over by our hero and she’s no damsel in distress for most of the movie. She’s got a mind and her independence and she’s not afraid to enforce it. So her relationship with the mariachi comes across as genuine, which makes the ending have a great tone to it.

I remain absolutely thrilled to know how this movie was made as cheaply as it was, with shortcuts like single takes creatively edited around mistakes and improvisation to work around missing props and the like. It’s well written, well acted, well shot and well edited. Robert Rodriguez has certainly moved up in Hollywood, gaining budget potential and the ability to attract big name stars to his projects. But just look what he did with what he started? It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to watch the sequels.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Mariachi

May 5, 2011

El Mariachi

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Apparently it is not so much a Mexican holiday as one promoted in America by beer companies (according to the wiki) but we figured we’d watch a Mexican movie nonetheless. A really great Mexican movie.

Robert Rodriguez, as I’m sure I have mentioned in some past reviews, is a genius. This is the movie that proved that to the world. With $7000 and no crew, recording his dialog on a cassette recorder and using a wheelchair for his dolly shot. This is amongst the greatest, classiest, and coolest independent films ever made.

The plot itself is fairly simple. A ruthless drug lord has made the decision to kill one of his rivals rather than paying him the money he owes for some past deal they had. Moco, the man in white, lives in a palatial villa and has his tendrils in every little business in the nearby town. His rival Azul (who wears black and not blue as his name would imply) has been living in a seedy jail, from which he has continued to run his own businesses. Moco dispatches some assassins to kill Azul in his jail cell, but they fail, and Azul sets out on a mission of vengeance, with a guitar case filled with weapons as his preferred tool.

The Mariachi of the title is a simple fellow who wanders into town looking for work at the wrong time. Moco’s gang are looking for a man wearing black with a guitar case, and they mistakenly think that the mariachi is their man. After he evades them (killing a couple in the process) he hides out in the saloon of a beautiful young woman named Domino.

It’s your typical mistaken identity western, with the mariachi on the run and forced to defend himself. Of course it turns out that Domino has her bar as a gift from Moco, who has been wooing her. You know that’s not going to end well.

What makes this movie so much fun is the sheer audacity of its production. Rodriguez has a keen clarity of vision and you can sense, watching this movie, how meticulously planned and executed it was. Take, for example, the opening shots of Azul’s jail and the police woman arriving to take over her shift guarding him. I get the sense, watching this, that it was almost edited in-camera. That every shot was set up, filmed once, and then immediately he’d move the camera for the next shot. It flows so smoothly and has such a distinctive style to it. Apparently (according to the trivia on IMDB) he did the dialog for most scenes in single takes. If an actor flubbed their lines he’d move the camera to a new angle and re-start the scene just before the flubbed line.

Basically what I’m saying is that this movie is astonishing to me because I have seen so many other low budget movies in my day. This movie had a smaller budget than Manos: The Hands of Fate or The Beast of Yucca Flats. The only reason it works is that Robert Rodriguez is a man who knows exactly how to bring the movie he has in his head to the screen. It’s a unique talent. Tomorrow we’ll see what happens when he’s given a big Hollywood budget and big name actors.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment