A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

May 7, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

The third Mariachi movie is the most epic in scale. As is implied by the title, which comes from the most epic and grand of the Sergio Leone westerns. It’s also by far the most complex of the three movies with the most characters and plots to keep track of. There’s the amoral corrupt CIA agent, his muscle and his stoolie, the beleaguered president, the army general attempting a coup, the drug cartel head funding the revolution, his disillusioned right hand man, the retired FBI officer, the hot Mexican police woman… and of course the Mariachi, who has achieved legendary status and is known only as El.

This movie starts out very much like Desperado starts out – with a character narrating the legend of El. This time it’s Cheech Maron as Belini, a low life informant being paid by the nefarious CIA agent Sands to find the ultimate hit man. Sands has this whole plot that he’s trying to set into motion. He wants to replace the president of Mexico (because the president is doing too good a job of unifying the people) so he has arranged for the Barillo drug cartel to fund a coup by general Marquez. Sands doesn’t want Marquez in power either though – which is why he needs El. There’s some kind of bad blood between El and Marquez – something to do with Carolina (who sadly doesn’t have much of a part in this movie.)

The Mariachi, meanwhile, is living in self imposed exile in a little village that has an economy based on manufacturing guitars. That’s until Sands has his goon Cucuy (the ever fantastic Danny Trejo again) hunt El down and force him out of retirement. The funny thing is that this movie isn’t so much about the Mariachi. He’s an unstoppable force of nature in this film – an unpredictable killing machine that Sands is trying to use for his own ends. But the movie it, at least from my perspective, about Sands.

This is at least partially because Sands is played by Johnny Depp with scene stealing pizazz. His casual profanity, complete sense of superiority, awful fashion sense and utter lack of a moral compass makes him such a compelling and fascinating character. And Johnny Depp makes it impossible to look away from the screen when he’s on. It’s his machinations that drive the plot and things really start to get interesting when things don’t work out as he expected.

Not to belittle the other vast talents exhibited in this film. Look at the sheer star power Rodriguez has gathered for this grand send-off to the Mariachi: Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendez, Ruben Blades (the most sympathetic character int eh film as the retired FBI agent who can’t help getting dragged back into the game. Nevermind that I can’t figure out what jurisdiction the FBI would have in Mexico), Mickey Rourke… it goes on and on.

From the powerful iconography of the Mexican populist uprising depicted that stops the military coup to the overwhelming action scenes to the melodrama of El’s rivalry with General Marquez, this entire movie is bigger, and more mythical than either of its predecessors. It has the feeling of being a modern folk tale – which is appropriate given its title. A fitting finale to the Mariachi trilogy. Even if it does make me somewhat long for a Sands trilogy to go after it.

May 7, 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