A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 432 – Desperado

Desperado – May 6th, 2011

Last night when we finished El Mariachi I insisted we put Desperado in right away. Not to watch completely, but for the opening and for the eventual shoot out in the bar. After all, they are two incredibly bad-ass scenes and they have direct callbacks to the first movie. So we put it in and we watched until the bit where our hero meets our heroine and then we turned it off and went to bed because crap, it was late and we needed to get up in the morning for work. But really, this is that kind of movie, and it was difficult to turn it off and not just watch it all the way through and call it done. And we probably still would have put it in tonight. It’s just that good.

What’s interesting about this movie is that it’s a direct sequel to El Mariachi, but the two movies have such wildly different budgets and scales. The first movie was as low budget as they get and this movie has fancy explosions and people like Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. It’s a huge difference in terms of the money spent to make it, and it does show in things like film quality and effects and cast. But then too, in terms of the writing and humor and drama and action? It’s very much in the same vein as the first movie. It’s got that sly winking humor along with the pathos of a man consumed by the need for vengeance and regret for that need. It’s fantastically balanced, which is one of the things I love so much about the first movie.

We pick up the story a couple of years after the first movie. El Mariachi is now hunting down drug lords and their gangs, taking them out with the weapons he pulls from his guitar case. The opening of the movie is perhaps one of my favorite opening scenes ever. Steve Buscemi (who is credited as ‘Buscemi’) walks into a seedy bar. He is as white as white gets and proceeds to tell the bartender (Cheech Marin) and the rest of the bar regulars a story about this huge Mexican man he saw in a bar a few towns away, and how said huge Mexican man wiped out everyone in the bar but himself. Buscemi narrates the story quickly and neatly, with little touches of humor, while we get to see El Mariachi do everything he describes in a shadowy imaginary bar. It’s a fantastic introduction to what’s happened to the lead character since the first movie without actually needing to reintroduce him. Buscemi does it for us. And of course he’s working with El Mariachi, setting up the locals to test them, see if they know of the man El is looking for. And they do.

What follows that is very similar to the first movie in many respects. El Mariachi shows up in town, ends up killing a lot of people, gets taken in by a smart and tough (and beautiful) woman who is, of course, linked to the very man El Mariachi is looking for. Except this time instead of being unwitting in the whole situation, our hero came looking for it. He hasn’t been accidentally pulled in because of a passing resemblance to a killer. He is the killer. And there’s even another case of mistaken identity here! It’s wonderfully done to both follow up on the first movie and retread many of the same steps while not being a complete rehash. And as a bonus, while the lead character is now played by Antonio Banderas, Carlos Gallardo, who played him in the first movie, gets to be a bad ass mariachi still. He shows up as a friend of El’s in the climactic showdown scene, with some fantastic weapons of his own (he also shows up in a dream sequence, playing backup to El).

I really am impressed with the compare/contrast one can do with the first movie and this one. I think it’s a testament to Robert Rodriguez’s talents that he was able to make something so close to the first but not have it feel like a copy. And while having seen Gallardo in his cameo in this movie I think he likely could have pulled off the title role again, I like Banderas in the part. The one tricky thing for the character is that while in the first movie he’s a somewhat carefree musician who lucks into the kills he makes, in the second movie we need to believe him as an utter bad-ass. We need to know he’s had a tough few years and hardened because of it. And while Gallardo does a good job in the action scene he’s in, Banderas smolders and stalks and is just plain dangerous. And let’s face it, he’s a name, and names pull audiences. He’s also a good actor. I’m conflicted on it, to be honest. I would have loved to see the character continue with the same actor, and I don’t doubt he was up to it. But at the same time I do love Banderas in the role, so. Yeah.

I also utterly adore Salma Hayek as Carolina. She’s got several points in her favor. One, she’s the sort of gal who’s not shy about speaking her mind. Two, she’s the sort of gal who will look to a medical textbook in order to do some quick and dirty bullet removal. Three, she’s the sort of gal who will open up a book store in a town that’s never had one. She’s got some spirit to her, and all in the name of literacy and reading and well, I’m partial to that sort of thing. And when she loses the book store? Dude, I’d want to kill the jackass responsible too, no matter how nice he’d been to me beforehand. It’s definitely something I like about both this movie and the first one: Solid and strong female leads.

And then there are the action scenes. There are a couple and they’re all done beautifully. They are a joy to watch, both for the carefully orchestrated action itself and for the humor that’s evident in the weapons of choice in the climax and the ceiling fan in the bar. When I think about this movie I think of it as being a wonderfully cohesive whole, but I also think of each action scene on its own. That’s not easy to achieve, but it’s the case here and I love it. Because every scene in between the action just supports those scenes as being more than mindless violence. There’s a purpose behind it all and regret on El’s part that he’s done the things he’s done. It makes the bad-ass character sympathetic still, even if he’s not as innocent as he once was. It’s a great development of both the character and the story and if it wasn’t so late I’d probably watch it again right now.

May 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Desperado

May 6, 2011

Desperado

Three years after making his great indie film about a guitar player who has to fight for his life when he was mistaken for a drug lord and hit man Robert Rodriguez followed up with this. It’s a lot of fun to see what he can do when given a multi-million dollar budget to work with. For one thing this movie starts the tradition of having Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo in all of his films going forward – always welcome faces. For another it’s a fantastic action shoot-em-up in the spirit of John Woo that never ceases to delight me.

As this movie begins we discover that the Mariachi of the first movie has become somewhat of a legend amongst the criminal underground in Mexico. Partially due to some shameless self-promotion being spread by his friend and sidekick Buscemi. (A part written for Steve Buscemi that bears his name.) Buscemi has been going to seedy bars and planting stories of the Mariachi’s superhuman killing abilities. The two of them are searching for a boss called Bucho who apparently was the head of the organization that employed the criminal Moco who was responsible for the end of the Mariachi’s career as a guitar player and the death of his love Domino. (In a nice bit of continuity with the first film all the same actors who played Domino, Moco and Bigoton in the first film have brief cameos reprising their roles in a sort of dream sequence after the opening credits.)

The biggest change from the first movie, aside from the clearly much improved production values, is that the Mariachi is no longer played by Carlos Gallardo (who instead plays his friend and compatriot Campa) but is now played by Antonio Banderas. I suppose I can understand the desire to have a well known and English speaking actor to portray the lead character, and I can’t really complain because Banderas was born to play this role, but it’s a little confusing right after watching the first movie. I remember the first time I saw this thinking that it was strange that everything about the first movie was taken as backstory, but that the actor had changed.

Anyhow, the lanky-haired tortured killing machine played by Banderas has come seeking Bucho – one last kill to settle the debts from the first movie. Buscemi begs him not to pursue his course of vengeance, but the Mariachi seems not to know any other way to live at this point. Then the bloodbath begins. The Mariachi proves that his reputation as an indestructible killing machine is not unwarranted as he shoots up a bar where a drug deal is taking place. He kills everybody. The bodyguards, the drug dealers, the accountant, even the bar tender. All to get Bucho’s attention. Then he holes up with a beautiful woman who lives in an apartment above her cafe/bookstore. It’s at this point, when the Mariachi is wooing the gorgeous and intelligent Carolina that I start to get a sense of deja-vu. The similarities to his romance with Domino, who was also being paid off by the mob as Carolina is in this movie, made me wonder if Rodriguez was making a sequel or a re-make here. There are big parts of this movie that feel like re-hashes of the first movie just done with a bigger budget.

In the end though I don’t much care. This movie is all about the awesome firefights. There’s Buscemi’s tale of the Mariachi taking out a low life bar. Then there’s the reprise of that when he actually does wipe out everybody in a low life bar. There’s the shootout in the bookstore. There’s the climactic free-for-all when the Mariachi reluctantly recruits his friends Campa and Quino to help him take out the mob. Every one of them is a spectacular, stylised, perfectly choreographed ballet of bullets, blood and death. Comparisons in my mind to John Woo’s The Killer are inevitable.

As with The Killer this movie has a kind heart behind all the violence. The Mariachi befirends a young boy and gives him guitar lessons. He despairs that so many regular people in his country have become corrupted by the drug dealers he fights (a theme that is greatly expanded upon in the third movie in the trilogy.) And he has a great love for music – which helps him to gain the love of Carolina – and leads to a sex scene which I hadn’t remembered being quite as steamy as it is. (It must be because I have seen this movie edited for television so many times.)

What sets this movie apart more than anything else from other action films is the wonderful way that Rodriguez blends the soundtrack into the film. The thrilling strumming of the guitar drives the action, the beats are linked. Of course it has left both me and Amanda humming along well after the movie had ended. Look at the artists here. Los Lobos. Santana. Dire Straights. Of course it makes sense for a movie about a guitarist turned benevolent hit-man to have a stellar soundtrack, and now we both want to go buy it for ourselves.

I also can’t wait for the rousing over-the-top conclusion to the Mariachi trilogy tomorrow.

May 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment