This is the movie that put Rodriguez on the map, and it’s even more impressive when you know how it was made for. With a budget of only $7000 (which Rodriguez raised by working as a human lab rat in a test clinic) and a cast and crew of his friends, it’s amazing what Rodriguez packs into this story of mistaken identity, murder, music and mayhem. Such heavy limitations force the focus onto a character-oriented story and inventive visuals. While there may not be a ton of explosive action, Rodriguez’s improv filmmaking makes for an exciting, kinetic style and avoids coming off like an 80 minute student film. When this won the audience award at Sundance in 1993, it proved that a little ingenuity and a lot of creativity can get you a long way, at least more than any big budget could. (If you want more info about the making of EL MARIACHI, I highly suggest checking out Rodriguez’s journal chronicling the film, the fantastic Rebel Without A Crew.)
Part-sequel, part-remake of EL MARIACHI with a bigger budget ($7 million as opposed to $7000), DESPERADO sees the traveling gunman embracing his fate and seeking vengeance against his enemies. Then-newcomer Antonio Banderas makes for a convincing action star and badass anti-hero, as well as providing a surprising amount of laughs while taking out bad guys. My personal love goddess Salma Hayek is also at her utmost hottest as the bookstore owner who joins the Mariachi on his quest. But the main draw of DESPERADO, aside from Ms. Hayek’s life-changing curves, is the sleek and unapologetically violent John Woo-inspired action. While a bit cartoonish, there is also a grace and smooth choreography to the gunfights, much like a sensuous salsa rhythm. Yes, there’s a guitar cases that doubles as a rocket launcher—so it’s not the most realistic of movies, but damn if it isn’t entertaining.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO
In DESPERADO you can see the beginnings of an iconic neo-cowboy, pulp-Western hero in the character of the Mariachi. And in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, that transformation into lone gunman is kicked up full throttle in Rodriguez’s salute to the films of Sergio Leone—a spaghetti western for the digital age. However, like THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, the Mariachi is only one character in an epic story. Equal time is spent with Willem Dafoe’s wicked villain and Johnny Depp’s rogue CIA agent. This larger, intertwining story is more compelling than any of the previous Mariachi movies, but ultimately suffers from a too-short running time. There’s enough here to make a great three-hour movie, so it’s a shame to see everything crammed into 100 minutes. Depp’s character alone is so mischievously fun with such a great arc, that I could sit through an entire movie about Julian Sands. Despite being spread a little thin, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO is still an original and fun cinematic ride. The action is on an even bigger scale, despite maintaining a cheap, quick shooting schedule. MEXICO also serves as a playground for Rodriguez to test out the new high-def digital camera, and the resulting cinematography and visuals are truly breathtaking.
- Director's Commentary: No one gives a better, more revealing insight into filmmaking than Robert Rodriguez. All of the commentaries on these three films manage to be funny, informative and well-worth any cinephile’s time.
- Robert Rodriguez's Short Film "Bedhead": A creative little flick (starring Rodriguez’s own siblings) about a girl who finally gets revenge against her bully of a brother.
- 10-Minute Film School: A behind-the-scenes segment where Rodriguez explains how he pulled off so much using so little. If you’ve ever considered making your own movies, this would be the best place for advice/inspiration.
- Sneak Peek: ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO: A quick promotional piece on the last film in the trilogy. Kind of pointless considering you can just pop in the actual movie and watch it.
- Director's Commentary
- 10 More Minutes with Robert Rodriguez: Anatomy of a Shootout: Another of Rodriguez’s patented “film school;” this one with an emphasis on storyboarding and stunt choreography.
- There’s also the same Sneak Peek at ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, some Filmographies and Trailers.
- Director's Commentary
- Deleted Scenes: Nothing too enlightening, but we do get more of Depp’s Agent Sands, so count me a happy camper.
- Film is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez: A video presentation of a talk Rodriguez gave in Los Angeles about how the new revolution of digital cinema will eventually make the old method of filmmaking obsolete. Fascinating stuff.
- Ten-Minute Flick School: Fast, cheap and in control…there’s no better way to describe the director. In this segment, Rodriguez shows how breakthroughs in digital technology can make filmmaking even easier and more versatile.
- Inside Troublemaker Studios: A tour of Rodriguez’s house which doubles as a movie studio, complete with an editing suite, sound mixing stage, effects lab and music studio. I’m insanely jealous, but nobody deserves it more (or puts it to better use) than Rodriguez.
- Ten-Minute Cooking School: “Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to fuck.” Rodriguez takes you in to his own kitchen and shows you how to make Puerco Pibil, the pork dish that Johnny Depp’s character eats throughout the movie. Man, is there anything this man can't do???
- The Anti-Hero's Journey: A twenty minute long behind-the-scenes piece with interviews from cast and crew.
- The Good, the Bad and the Bloody: Inside KNB FX: A look at some of the more elaborate makeup and effects work. The Cheech Marin dummy is so real-looking it gives me the creeps.