Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003): Shooting for a Bigger Point

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

     “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” would make a great min-series. As a film it doesn’t quite work as there are a ton of characters and revenge stories going on and right around the middle it gets really muddled and overindulgent but picks up a lot again at the end while finally having El Mariachi change! As the ending to the Mexico Trilogy, it wasn’t the best…that still belongs to “Desparado” but it was better than “El Mariachi” both in soundtrack and cinematography.

     The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez who also wrote, produced and composed the music for. With the other producers being Elizabeth Avellan and Carlos Gallardo.

     The story picks up where “Desparado” left off with El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and Carolina living their life with their daughter after they defeat the corrupt General Marquez. The general survives and gets revenge on El Mariachi killing his wife and daughter leading El Mariachi to seek revenge.  Around the same time Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) commissions him to kill the Drug Lord Armando Barillo (Willem Dafoe) leading to a final face off as all the factions come together as both Barillo and Marquez want to overthrow Mexico’s President.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stark and like a dream sequence making the violence beautiful in how it is presented. It’s not as beautiful as “Desperado” but it still has some very beautiful scenes and color combinations.

The Soundtrack – Soundtrack is the best it has been so far and has a reflective somber tone intermixed with high action beats to reflect the scenes going on.

Armando Barillo – Dafoe does a great job as this drug lord who the CIA is trying to take down. He is emphatic at first and later we see how smart he is when he fakes his own death and even survives past Marquez. It is only a Mexican agent who kills him in revenge after Sands gives him the prompting and opportunity. The agent wasn’t memorable at all though, versus Dafoe.

Ajedrez Barillo – Eva Mendes is wonderful as the daugther of Barillo. She is the one who captures Sands and has them drill out his eyes. She’s cruel and smart and only has a moment of stupidity when she goes to check on Sands body and Sands shoots her in revenge.

Jeffrey Sands – This is one of Depp’s more memorable characters. He is a smooth operator and speaks very calm. I enjoyed his performance as he was a character who was odd and driven and all about the job. He doesn’t let losing his eyes end his mission either and we see that even with loss he can fight and joke making him one of the better action heroes out there. He’s also crazy like most of the characters in this film.

El Mariachi – El Mariachi’s arc goes from taking out small time drug lords in the prior films to taking out Generals in this one. It is here he finds purpose beyond revenge as he gives his money to the people and with his new Band where they take on a Nationalist identity of fighting for Mexico as they protect the President from Marquez and Barillo. He gets Carolina’s locket back and we see him singing for her and fighting for his country. It’s a powerful story.

The Ending – The message is that a person can make their home better. In the first 2 films El Mariachi couldn’t see beyond revenge and himself but later he is fighting for the populace and in this the populace rises up with him against the corrupt General as now El Mariachi has become a folk hero. He embraces this role and it is in that his love for his country and the people keep him going as he is no longer driven by revenge and wishing to die.

Okay/Pros: The Action – Rodriguez has always been good at action and this is film is no exception. A con could even be that it had too much action and was really excessive at times much to the detriment of the story. Specially the hospital attack I was really bored on and it wasn’t until the final confrontation during “Day of the Dead” where I was pulled back in.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is all over the place. I didn’t care about the Mexican agent, Barillo and his daughter needed more fleshing out and El Mariachi is just kind of there, we don’t see much of his life beyond his music and revenge up until the end. There are a lot of good ideas here they just aren’t clear because of how muddled the script is.

The Use of the Fridge – El Mariachi has now lost his girlfriend, Carolina and daughter as the motivator for each film. This is a tired trope and way overdone. I wish he’d had something more and that we could have seen some of the women in his life kick ass like Carolina did in the flashbacks. The fridge is a terrible trope largely because it is overused. Rodriguez didn’t have to do anything but repeat the plot of “Desperado” for El Mariachi’s motivation and that is just sad.

     Minus the fridging of his girlfriend in the first film and Carolina and his daughter in this one, as well as the muddled script, this was a good film I’d recommend. It is more polished and interesting than “El Mariachi” which felt like a film made by a director just starting to direct but wasn’t as tight and polished as “Desperado” which never felt excessive in any major ways. This one did have a better message though as the vigilante finally looked beyond himself and to the people he should have been protecting all along. That is what made this film really good besides the very colorful characters.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Also, here are the reviews for “El Mariachi”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/el-mariachi-1992-a-good-but-rocky-start-to-the-mexico-trilogy/

and “Desperado”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/desperado/

As we complete the Mexico Trilogy.

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 13 – “Earthlings Welcome Here” – Price of Deception and Truth

SCC Season 2 Ep 13

    “Earthlings Welcome Here” is really illustrating a problem I’m having with this series. It’s enjoyable but it keeps bringing up ideas that it never follows up on, especially in regards to Sarah Connor and her visions. The John Henry Arc is going really well at least and now we finally find out what Riley’s purpose is too and she gets development!

     The episode was directed by  Felix Enriquez Alcalá and written by Natalie Chaidez.

    The story involves Sarah Connor tracking a blogger from the UFO convention who has posted pictures of alien ships with the 3 dot symbol Sarah has been seeing everywhere. Things get more complicated as the blogger is hunted and Riley’s history and connection to Jesse is revealed.

The Pros: Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor investigates a blogger and we see how her drive and alienness from others leads to her being more isolated among the UFO folks and from herself. This episode is great at exploring her psychology.

Riley – Riley is tired of lying to John and more the more questions John and Cameron ask and her lack of support from Jesse lead to her attempting to take her life. She was a refugee in the Apocalypse chosen only to keep Cameron away from John…poor girl.

Cameron – Cameron is the protector once more and we see her being right about Riley lying. I’m not sure Cameron has met Jesse yet, but I don’t expect it to go well when they do eventually meet.

John Henry and Ellison – John is trying to counter what Jesse’s approach is as he teaches John Henry morality. His approach of saying “God is the reason and created people as sacred.” Doesn’t really give a reason wholly though. I really want him to go into philosophy.

Jesse – Jesse is cruel but her purpose makes sense. Her goal is to protect John from Cameron and from that a future where there can be any understanding between machines and humanity. I like it since it is the future she came from so fear is all she knows.

The Cons: John Connor – He’s stubborn, doesn’t listen to anyone and was really difficult to sympathize with at all this episode.

Aliens? – So Aliens are connected to Terminators and humanity…I’m confused. Are we in the X-Files?

Lack of Focus and Answers – I really hope we find out what the deal is with those dots are because I am really confused after this episode. If Sarah is going crazy, do more to show that. She’s a POV character so that is hard to pull off I get, but have her revelations lead to new information or change.

   The lack of focus and answers is really getting to me and how Sarah’s arc seems to be going nowhere…thankfully there was Ellison talking morality with John Henry and Riley’s backstory to offset these factors leading to a confusing but enjoyable episode.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 7 – “Brothers of Nablus” – Holding Onto Innocence

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    This episode had a theme! It didn’t necessarily do it all that well (Riley is still a character this is really annoying, as is Derek and Jesse can be at times too) that it brings down the things that work like Agent Ellison, Cameron and the Connors. It is also great seeing Chromatie again and Catherine Weaver at work.

    “Brothers of Nablus” was directed by Milan Cheylov and written by Ian Goldberg.

        The story involves Chromatie’s hunt for Cameron while also messing with Agent Ellison and framing him for the death another when a Skynet Terminator comes to kill him that looks like him. The Connor’s home is robbed and Derek, Cameron and Sarah hunt the killers while Chromatie ends up at the Connor’s home where Riley and John are.

The Pros: Chromatie – Chromatie is shown to be quite intelligent in this as he nearly finds John and we know that he’d probably win against Cameron if he had the advantage of surprise (they are both survivors). I like this character now, I think changing actors helped a lot. The other guy had nothing defining about his performance. He also finds the thief who Sarah Connor let survive.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is ruthless in this but is holding onto her humanity. When they track down the thieves she lets one live which will come back to bite her later as she didn’t become the monster that Cameron is.

Cameron – Cameron is ruthless and will go to any ends to protect the Connors and fulfill her mission, even killing innocents that know information. She is shown why she is a Terminator in this and even shown to be right within this universe, which is a scary thought.

Catherine Weaver – Weaver saves Agent Ellison after he is framed by becoming the leader of the FBI. Whether she was all along and set this all up for mind games remains to be seen but she is a cool operator.

Skynet – Sends models back that looks directly like people who already live. This is smart and I’m surprised this has never happened in the films.

Okay: Derek and Jesse – There  relationship is more rockyness and I don’t know where it’s going. They are both okay characters who are cons at times (mostly because I don’t know their purpose and they aren’t the best actors) but there is still hope there.

John Connor – John feels guilty that he was the one who killed Sarkissian (turns out Sarah did not make the kill) and blames his mother for that as her entire point is to be a protector and he’s lost his innocence and doesn’t know how to deal. This is interesting but he is still really stupid in regards to how he acts when he isn’t on the Team.

The Cons: The Thieves – Faceless teenagers who are just punks…they could have been more and felt wasted.

Riley – She saves John and shows him he can live and depend on others…and she feels like a plot device still.

Jody – Jody appears to seek revenge against Cameron but gets thrown out by Chromatie when she is talking about calling the police on him…another character who simply exists to cause conflict and advance plot without being compelling or changing. Not impressed.

  This was a decent episode but had problems. I like how the Terminators are acting and how the main cast is, but others like Derek, Jesse and side characters are bringing the story down. I hope the writers figure out what to do before the end of this season in regards to those characters.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 6 – “The Tower is Tall but the Fall is Short” – The Ways We Face Trauma

206SCC_Weaver_meetings

    This was an intelligent episode, though I am very confused about Catherine Weaver’s motivations now to some degree. Is she trying to be human and thinks that is the goal of the Terminators or is it something more sinister? Hopefully we get that question answered later. The thing this episode does really well is deal with trauma, which I will get into in the review further down.

     The episode was directed by Tawnia McKieman and written by Denise The.

     The story involves John and Sarah Connor investigating a psychologist who is on the machines list to kill. Over the course of the investigation though John finds he is hurting and needs healing and Sarah comes to terms with the fact that she’s finally taken a human life. A former lover returns into Derek’s life as well.

The Pros: Jesse and Derek – This mini-subplot is fascinating and Jesse was injured in an attack as we learn that John is working with “good” Terminators in the future though the Resistance disagrees and it is causing conflict. Jesse leaves the war to run away and we find that she lives by escapes as her hookup with Derek implies it won’t go anywhere even though they are lovers…partially because Derek never allows anyone close because of how hard the war has made him. He only lives for the fight.

Sarah and John – Sarah and John are like Jesse and Derek. John doesn’t allow anyone close and he doesn’t trust his mom with his feelings due to her reactions has trouble dealing with the fact that she killed and someday he will have to as well. It’s powerful seeing him talk to the psychologist about it.

Catherine Weaver – Weaver is trying to make a perfect A.I. and we see that her model was based off a woman who lived and had a child who Weaver is now raising. It’s tragic as she tries to understand her child but she doesn’t feel or get jokes so feels lost in the world she is trying to control and shape.

Cameron versus Terminator Rosie – This was a fight that happened when Rosie was sent back in time to kill Dr. Sherman. The fight is quick and fast and the Terminator terminates herself so John can’t hack the chip. They are adapting and Cameron is getting better at fighting them.

Dealing with Trauma – This episode is all about dealing with trauma. All of our characters are soldiers and that has made them hard and broken…they are Terminators trying to feel again, like Catherine’s quest for humanity. It’s presented really well too.

Dr. Sherman – Dr. Sherman is a great character. He doesn’t judge and he helps all the characters who interact with him better understand themselves or humanity. This gives him a much needed outside perspective and a character who isn’t so far adversarial.

 I would highly recommend this episode. It deals with trauma, growth and healing and how difficult that process is and there are great character moments all around, even for Derek who is my least favorite character on the show. If you like good sci. fi. so far I’d judge you’ll probably enjoy this series as much as I have been.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The Blues Brothers (1980): A Celebration of Blues and Satire of Music and Crime Films

The Blues Brothers

   Comedy is an interesting thing. There are sketches, stand-up, satire, slapstick and more and most films tend to take a combination of these minus stand-up. “The Blues Brothers” is a cult classic inspired by the SNL “Blues Brothers” sketch and you can tell it was once a sketch show. There isn’t enough characterization or characters here to really make it a great film for me, as comedy needs purpose and this one the purpose is mostly the music and not the characters as shown by which part of the film is truly great.

     The film was directed by John Landis who also co-wrote the film with Dan Aykroyd and was produced by Robert W. Weiss.

     The story involves the Blues Brothers, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) bringing back their blues band after they have a religious experience that has inspired them to save the orphanage they grew up in. In order to do get there they will face Nazi, the band and the Police to try and succeed in their “Mission from God.”

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is really amazing. we get intimate shots of the brothers as well as some beautifully filmed action sequences along with some good use of comedic timing through how different shots are done. Stephen M. Katz did a great job.

The Action – The action sequences are a lot of fun and very much over the top. You have police and army men raiding buildings to get the Blues Brothers and huge police car pile ups that show just how insane the situations have become. Not to mention some well done car chases.

The Soundtrack and Stars – The soundtrack is beautiful and Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and the other stars of Blues and Soul do a fantastic job! As do Aykroyd and Belushi. Franklin and Charles had some of my favorite songs in the film.

The Blues Brothers – Belushi and Aykroyd have a great dynamic and the Brother’s relationship is the one thing that feels real. Jake is the one who gets into trouble and goes all out while Elwood is the simple guy who is always there and just wants to do the right thing. This leads to their belief on being from a mission from God as their belief in one another sustains them through the trials.

Okay: The Plot – The plot is simple, it’s the Blues Brothers getting the band back together to save the orphanage they were raised in. Sad thing is we learn nothing about their relationship to the band members except that they owe them a lot of money. We don’t get any history or anything and it brings down the plot.

The Cons: The Supporting Characters – Whether it is Carrie Fisher as a jilted lover of Jake, John Candy as the head cop tracking them or any of the other cameos…they are just there and don’t really serve a purpose beyond being a recognizable face. They don’t change our characters in any way and aren’t changed by them either.

Cameos – I loved the music but having big name stars appear just to sing songs does not make a good or memorable story. That makes me think more of a variety show or even “Sesame Street” not a big budget comedy or satire.

   I get why this is a cult classic and it is a film I’d recommend even though it isn’t a favorite and I wouldn’t call it great. The music in it is great and Belushi and Aykroyd are great…but they can’t carry the script Aykroyd helped write as he depended way too much on the comedic elements rather than letting character create drama and let the circumstances of story set up the comedy. These aspects and the fact that it is one giant cameo takes away from scenes that could have built the plot up or used the guest stars to better enrich the plot. It still feels like a giant sketch that is trying to be a film and not a film fully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 1 – “Samson & Delilah” – John and Cameron and Skynet Revealed

201_5_Catherine_Turk

    Season 2 starts out being great! Which is wonderful considering so many threads from last season combined with the writers strike lead to the weakest episode of the series prior. I got ot say, I like the T-1001 Catherine Weaver and I like that Cameron was shown to have free will and be more than her programming. This is an example of what the show can do when it remembers it’s themes and focuses on character development.

   “Samson & Delilah” was directed by David Nutter and written by Josh Friedman.

    The story picks up where we left off with Agent Ellison choosing silence as Derek works with Charley to find John and Sarah as Cameron hunts them as her chip is injured and she has returned to old programming. We also meet Catherine Weaver who is seeking the Turk for her corporation.

The Pros: The Opening – As Cameron hunts Sarah and John “Samson & Delilah” plays and it is an awesome song that shows the intimacy of the fight that is going on as the Connors run from the one who was their protector.

Agent Ellison – Ellison chooses to go silent but not help the machines as he realizes that no one will believe the truth. It is realistic and it is great seeing him face Chromatie and tell him no. It shows that even when he is scarred and in over his head, he won’t cave to monsters.

Derek Reese – Derek is the one testing everyone on their loyalty…be it Cameron and wanting her destroyed to seeing if Charley is willing to go all the way to join the team and how serious he is about his marriage. It’s nice to see him in this role as he is just a minor character and not major, as he should be if they won’t kill his character off.

Sarah Connor – This is a good Sarah Connor episode. She is ready to die for John on multiple occasions but shows that she will listen to the other side if it comes down to it as she doesn’t stop John when John decides to save Cameron (who is hunting them) rather than destroy her. It is powerful and shows she respects her son’s choices. She finally kills in this when her and John fight Sarkissian.

John Connor – He gets the look that John has in “Terminator: Salvation.” I like the look better on Christian Bale, but it at least works for the character, and it shows how he is dealing with all the trauma of being hunted by his own creation and having to fight his Uncle and Mom to save her life. That would take a toll on anyone. He kills for the first time when he and Sarah murder Sarkissian in self defense. This makes him harder than who he was before showing echoes of the Resistance Fighter to be.

Cameron – Cameron is in old Terminator mode after the attack on the jeep. She nearly kills John a few times before Sarah and John trap her and John removes the chip. During that times she claims to be fixed and that she loves John. We never know if he believes her or not, but he pulls the chip out. Later he puts it back in when he realizes how much they need Cameron and that he loves her too.

Catherine Weaver / T-1001 – Is the CEO of the Zeira Corporation and with a new team plans to use the Turk to create Skynet. She is a Skynet agent from the future and a Liquid Terminator like the T-1000, though she is a slightly more upgraded model being a T-1001, she also has feelings as we see her kill someone who she hated after the meeting. She is deadly and I like her as an enemy.

This was the first time the show felt like more than a test run. If the rest of the season is like this it will be one of my favorite shows. All the buildup in Season 1 lead somewhere. Sarkissian lead to the Connors killing a human, the Turk now is in Skynet hands and Ellison is going underground and refusing not to fight them. Cameron is also back as an ally once more. This is good television.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles – Season 1, Episode 9 – “What He Beheld” – The Terror of the Terminators

Whathebeheld1

      This was a great episode for the Terminator threat and for Derek and John moments, but besides that felt really unfocused. I’m honestly not sure what direction the show is taking as there are all these different factions with no clear goals in mind. This is one way the first two films will always outway the show, they were focused in the agendas of both our heroes and the villains. This finale’s end is a bit of a mess.

     “What He Beheld” was directed by Mike Rohl and written by Ian B. Goldberg.

     The story takes place on John’s birthday with Derek showing him himself and his little brother Kyle at this point in the timeline. Sarkissian holds them hostage for money as he knows they are fugitives and he has the Turk, and Agent Ellison leads an attack on Chromatie in his apartment.

The Pros: The Action – The action is solid in this episode! From the attack on Sarkissian’s base to get the Turk back to Ellison’s assult on Chromatie the action is done really well with some great cinematography especially as Johnny Cash plays as FBI agents are thrown into the pool, already dead.

Derek and John – Derek and John have a good heart to heart where they talk about Kyle while a  young Kyle and Derek play baseball nearby. It is a great moment as they are just observers and it gives Kyle one of the few glimpses he’s ever had of who his father was.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is great as always as we see her put in the time to give John a good birthday. She reminds him that defeating Syknet is their mission but that they should not stop living, giving some much needed humanity in the episode.

Chromatie – Chromatie feels like a threat for once. He takes out the entire FBI task force leaving Ellison alive to take the fall for him. It’s brilliant and shows why he was sent back in time, finally.

Agent Ellison – Ellison’s world breaks as he loses his team to Chromatie and watches with Charley with both of them realizing that they are in over their heads and that Sarah Connor was right all along.

Terminator Threat – Chromatie takes out an entire FBI squad that is fully armed with barely any wear or tear upon it. It’s a powerful moment and shows just how outmatched humanity is against even one of these machines.

Okay: Cameron – She is just kind of there this episode and all she does is discuss what birthdays are and seek to find the Turk before she gets blown up by Sarkissian.

Sarkissian – I don’t know why he is even in this. He is just a distraction from the threat of Skynet and the Terminators unless we end up learning that he helped create Skynet…

Cons: Lack of Focus – From Sarkissian’s faction, the Turk and the search for it, attack on Chromatie and John’s birthday…there are too many threads in this and with only 43 minutes to make a good story out of it, they kind of missed.

  I’m curious to see if Season 2 will have more focus than Season 1. We see a lot of elements going on here…Derek and the future, Chromatie and the Terminator’s mission, the Resistance Fighters sent back to the past, the formation of Skynet and Cameron and the humanity of the Connors. Right now I’m not seeing any core focus and this episode really highlights this con.

Final Score: 7 / 10