El Mariachi (1992): A Good But Rocky Start to the “Mexico Trilogy”

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Robert Rodriguez is one of the directors I’ve come to really respect. He has a unique style to his work, and he was one of the first people who’s movies I reviewed, and the first first of his “Mexico Trilogy” I reviewed, as “Desperado” is one of my earliest reviews on this blog:

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/desperado/

So it was great to go back and see the movie that started his style and made him an indie name that later made his doing “Sin City” and other larger films possible.

“El Mariachi” as said above was directed by Robert Rodriguez, who also produced and wrote the film. The other producer credit goes to Carlos Gallardo who also played El Mariachi.

The story begins with a case of mistaken identity as a wandering El Mariachi (Carlos Gallardo) tells about his arrival in a town and how he travels playing at bars to experience. In this town a drug criminal named Azul (Reinol Martínez) escaped and is dressed similar to him and is out for revenge against the mob boss Moco (Peter Marquardt) for putting him in prison in the first place. After he kills Moco’s men El Mariachi arrives in town and all believe him to be Azul. From here the story unfolds as El Mariachi tries to adapt to his new situation and survive as Azul seeks revenge.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Music – The music in the film is one of the best parts, though it isn’t always consistent. It does a good job of creating tension though and all the mariachi songs are really beautiful, like in “Desperado.” I think the reason it isn’t consistent is a lot of people were working on music: (Eric Guthrie, Chris Knudson, Álvaro Rodriguez, Cecilio Rodriguez
Mark Trujillo). Again, when it is good it’s really good, when it’s not it feels very raw and rocky…much like the film itself.

The Action – The action is better in “Desperado” but considering this is Rodriguez’s first movie, it still manages to have good action. There are a lot more stunts and blood splatters but most of the great action takes place in confined spaces giving a greater sense of urgency to scenes. Also the first fight El Mariachi gets in where he manages to kill 4 men in self defense is well done, he uses his guitar case as a bludgeon and the weapons of his enemies against them.

El Mariachi – Antonio Banderas is a much better El Mariachi but Gallardo still does a good job. His Mariachi is much more like a teenager who has innocence to all of his actions and the overconfidence of a guy who knows he’s good looking. Antonio’s El Mariachi is a mixture of danger and sensitivity, while Gallardo’s is all kindness and adaptability. He lives for being a musician which makes when he loses his lover Domino to Moco out of spite and loses his hand…his killing of Moco makes sense. This film is really about El Mariachi’s loss of innocence, and shattered dreams…and it’s pulled off decently.

Azul – This guy is one of the most dangerous and funniest criminals. He sleeps with three women who are all highly armed, he goes into bars to have a drink in a bottle before paying and leaving…and at his core he is kind. He points out to Moco how evil Moco is, “I would never kill an innocent, but you…” Moco says that’s why he was put in charge before killing him making his death a tragedy. He really is one of the most well rounded characters in this movie and Reinol owns this role.

Domino – Awesome protagonist! Her death means something largely because her slowly falling in love with El Mariachi feels real. She almost castrates him when she thinks he’s Azul, but comes around due to Mariachi’s kindness and talent on the guitar. She helps Azul get to Moco too in the final showdown but doesn’t make it out as Moco hates her for falling in love with El Mariachi. Conseulo Gomez does a good job. Also as great as she was Salma Hayek was better, Hayek was much more active as a character and as an actress she has more charisma in her role as Carolina.

Okay: Cinematography – The cinematography is choppy. At times it is sped up and the speeding up makes sense, other times the speeding up clashes with everything. You can tell it is Rodriguez’s first work as it does feel really raw. This isn’t bad per say, but it isn’t a pro in it’s favor either.

Con: Moco – Moco is bland. We seem him with a woman in every scene as he sits and preens and looks bored. He never shows emotion except at the end when he finds out Domino hooked up with El Mariachi and that El Mariachi killed his men. When he dies it isn’t as strong as it could have been because I was never invested in him as a villain. Bucho in “Desperado” is a much more interesting villain.

So ends the first of the “Mexico Trilogy” films. Now all I have is “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” to complete the reviews of all three. Like the space between this one and “Desperado” I’m going to wait though, before I do a look back on them all after they have all been reviewed. This is Rodriguez’s rocky stark, there is a lot here to like even if the problems in the film are obvious. It was his first time writing, directing and producing a film so I give him major credit for pulling that off. His sequel “Desperado” is better though.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10. Reason it isn’t solidly good (Score of 8) is because of how raw it is and all the scenes that clash with what really works. Also Moco as a villain really brings it down and Gallardo doesn’t quite have enough charisma to make the final scenes work.

Gummo (1997): Desolation of a Small Town

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“Gummo” was a film that a friend recommended and let me borrow. Suffice to say, it definitely impressed me. The feel and tone of the film never change and the characters are human. I’ll go into more of what I mean in the assessment.

“Gummo” was written and directed by Harmony Korine and produced by Cary Woods, Scott Macaulay and Robin O’Hara.

The story takes place in Xenia, Ohio sometimes after a tornado destroys the town. The story revolves around a few characters, the key ones being Bunny Boy, Solomon, Tummler and the sisters and their stories of dealing with the desolation and the self destruction inflicted on themselves and around them.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is great in this. There is no joy in this film and that is kind of the point. Most moments of joy are contrasted by the destruction being wrought. One of the biggest scenes of this is happy music being played while Bunny Boy (the character in the poster) making out with the sisters, while the Tummler and Solomon kill their cat that they’d been looking for, and later the tornado and a character with special needs singing a song about how Jesus loves her right after Bunny Boy brings the dead cat to the camera.

The Introduction – The introduction captures the bleakness of the picture. Solomon is the narrator and he tells about how the tornado destroyed everything and how people’s bones were sticking of their bodies and how he saw up a girls skirt when she got pulled away, also how one death was funny. You get the trauma and the caring which leads into Bunny Boy on the overpass and later getting “killed” by two hooligan kids who mock him for his pink ears.

The characters – The characters are human, which should be a given in a film but with so much bad writing and/or acting it is hard to really capture this sometimes. “Gummo” does it really well. We see Tummler drinking and arm wresting his dad and Tummler’s carrying for Solomon contrasted with him having sex with a down syndrome girl who is being pimped out by her brother, and getting high off glue.

The Relationships – Tummler and his dad, you see how his dad feels desperate but still cares for his son as best he can…same with Solomon and his mother who just wants him to smile again. The sisters also have a great relationship as they look out for each other after one goes through breast surgery because of cancer and fighting off a molester who says he found their cat. The movie is bleak and dark, but the relationships are strong.

The Cats – So many cats were poached, mostly by Tummler and Solomon, but also their rival who is caring for his grandmother on life support. You get the feeling the cats represent some level of innocence as the girls, who are the only real kind people in the film have a pet cat, the rest are prayed upon by the boys. Pretty much summing up the stories of the victims in the town (molestation(a few characters), lonliness (most if not all), repressed sexuality (a gay relationship that isn’t able to happen because of gay dwarf in denial) throughout the film.

Okay: the Music – This film would have almost worked better without music or a soundtrack. The music that is played in certain scenes gets the job done. So it isn’t really at that strong overall.

The Cinematography – There were some great moments of cinemography and some bad moments. I wish the uglyness had been more raw or stylized throughout. There isn’t a real focus with it, which contributed to the problem of lack of focus.

Cons: Lack of focus – I wish it had just focused on the core groups. Making it about everyone in the town took away from their narratives and character development. For example, when did they start killing cats and sniffing glue (Tummler and Solomon). Do they have any hopes or dreams? Do any of the characters? If so, show us more of why.

“Gummo” is a film I would definitely recommend. It is a cult classic for a reason and I can’t wait to see more of Harmony Korine’s work. The writing and acting is fantastic and the tone is consistent and powerful throughout.

Final Score is 8.5 / 10

Definitely a favorite film.

Noah (2014) – A Short Film of a Glimpse into a Young Man’s Life

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    “Noah,” is a short film created for the Toronto International Film Festival. The creators are film students Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg. The film was created entirely on a computer and explores the life of the protagonist Noah.

      The basic premise is Noah is about to do a long distance relationship with his girlfriend. They are talking and you can tell there is distance, as he is watching Porn while they skype with each other, and suddenly her connection drops as she is voicing her second thoughts. From here the story unfolds.

Here is where to watch it: http://www.fastcocreate.com/3017108/you-need-to-see-this-17-minute-film-set-entirely-on-a-teens-computer-screen

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The idea – A film entirely done on a computer with people interacting with one another through the computer…this is awesome! It shows the passing of time, the different mediums of communication (Skype, Facebook, Chat) and how they limit and increase knowledge shared.

The Time Jump – After Noah does something horrible it jumps forward in time and we see time passing on the computer. This is brilliant and we see how he and everyone has changed or moved on. This is brilliant and is actually executed really well.

Noah’s Fall – Noah has a great fall in this. After he thinks his girlfriend is going to breakup with him he breaks up for her by making her single on her facebook and begins stalking the reactions of two of her friends. After he leaves for a while and we see him later on Chat Roulette seeking human connection. It is sad he is hitting on 13 year olds and trying to connect with a girl who just isn’t interested. It ends with him turning the computer off. 

Okay: The Writing – It sort of has that overly familiar feel of how people would talk in a movie…even online. For example, his girlfriend uses numbers in words as does his best friend…but it is done way too much. I talk to my friends and none of them talk that way. I think it was meant to capture High School of this current generation…if so, dear God I fear for the way writing will be changing in the future. I’ve thankfully seen no one type or talk like that.

The characters – They are all kind of cliches, and think this is where it being done by kids in film school really comes out. They are figuring out characters and they do alright, but everything is extreme. Would Noah really be watching porn while Skyping with his girlfriend and showing her lolcats instead? I don’t know anyone that dense. The girlfriend also doesn’t come off as that deep of a character (same with the best friend), because of this I had no reason to care about any of them beyond connection to the main character through what is implied and pictures.

     This film had a lot of potential, I just wish the other characters had more motivation and were more fleshed out and that Noah wasn’t so extreme. This is still a film I’d recommend though. It looks like it was a lot of fun to make and it is a great glimpse into a character’s life in the modern era.

Final score for this film is 6 / 10

 

Bottle Rocket (1996): The First Wes Anderson Masterpiece

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“Bottle Rocket” was the first movie that Wes Anderson directed, as well as wrote. He co-wrote it with one of the actors who he has collaborated with in countless other films, the famous Owen Wilson. “Bottle Rocket” is the only Wes Anderson movie I hadn’t seen yet, which was part of the motivation to see it and give it a review.

The premise is two brothers aspire to be famous thieves after one of them escapes from a mental institute. From there it explores their relationships and antics as the drama unfolds. Like most Wes Anderson it is a comedy as well as drama. The main stars are the Wilson brothers (Owen and his lesser known brother Luke).

You can see the themes and style that Wes Anderson has in the rest of his films, in this first film which in turn leads me to the assessment warning it has SPOILERS:

Pros: The Dialogue – Like Joss Whedon, Wes Anderson is a master of witty dialogue, the main difference between them is Whedon it is sometimes wit for wits-sake verses Anderson the dialgue always reveals more about the characters and relationships.

The Cinematography – Wes Anderson is known for how symmetrical all his scenes are, this is very true for his first film too where it was first established. From a broken down car slanted on the highway, to the shots of the mental hospital and any scene where someone is walking down a hallway or up or down the stairs…you can always see the angels in the scene…it his unique style and I appreciate that it has been there since the beginning.

The characters – The relationships between the characters are so fleshed out that all of them are compelling (especially the love story between Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Inez (Lumi Cavazo) and Anthony and his brother Dignan (Owen Wilson). Within this he navigates the multilingual and multicultural relationship between Anthony and Inez who is the maid at the hotel they escape to after a robbery. The brothers relationship is how they both are lost and need direction and Dignan’s creation of it through the robberies while Anthony is just trying to get back on track and after his relationship end with Enez, finds it again which in turn leads to them both having grown (her with learning English and her own feelings since she was already responsible – and Anthony finally becoming responsible). The story reminds me one of Anderson’s later movies “The Darjeeling Limited,” which also involves brother resolving their differences and growing as a family and individually. Owen Wilson is also a reckless character who is a bit of a dick (but empathetic) which I think is his shtick. Suffice to say the characters are really well done, especially for a first production.

The Ending: It is bittersweet in the best way. Character relationships are resolved, consequences happen both good and bad and the love story continues…I love the bittersweet which Wes Anderson is a master of as a storyteller.

Okay: The Music – It isn’t super memorable and kind of works at times but isn’t perfect. Not a soundtrack I would seek out except for maybe a song or two.

Robert Musgrave as Bob – Not super memorable, the weakest actor…even the minor characters make more of an impact. He just didn’t seem all that invested compared to the rest of the cast.

Cons: Dignan’s character arc – He as a character doesn’t grow. He is the same guy at the beginning and the end except he grows to respect and care for his brother and Bob…and sacrifices himself during the job for another…I thought this would lead to something more, but in the end he still the same guy in regards to how he sees his actions…versus Luke and Bob who have grown out of it.

I’m glad to have finally gotten the chance to see the film. I got to see the seeds of where Wes Anderson’s style was first in motion…I would recommend it just for that reason, he was talented from the beginning. This isn’t my favorite of his films but it is a favorite film. My favorite Wes Anderson films will be reviews for another day.

I would give this movie a 8.75 / 10.