Hey folks, Harry here... I went to the first test screening of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO tonight in Austin, Texas. All the top brass from Sony and Dimension were there. Rodriguez and his lovely wife and producer Elizabeth were there. Oh and an army of MOVIEVIEW folks were there. How was the movie? Well, I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I'm very tight with Rodriguez so I'll abstain from reviewing the film. The print was projected digitally with one of them fancy High Def jobs, the film had many temp effects, incomplete effects (there's over 300 digital effects to be done for the film). The movie only had two completed pieces of music, so the rest is currently being worked on right now. I think the place where I most wanted the finished music was over the last 25 minutes or so of the movie, where the temp score of Leone's classics, WAY OF THE GUN, GLADIATOR and what not just wasn't what it needed to be. The film ran 102 minutes long and Robert told me it will end up being shorter than that when he's done. I can't wait to see this with final music, sound and color timed (this print was extremely high on the RED register). We have 4 reviews for now, 3 very positives and 1 very negative. I expect I'll see reviews from many AICN operatives that were in attendence undercover. For now, let's start with Toranaga...
Just got back from a test screening of Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the third film in Robert Rodriguez's Mariachi Trilogy. I've been pretty much staying away from any early news on this film, since I wanted to see it without any idea of what to expect, and was very pleased with what it turned out to be.
First of all, like most people, I absolutely love El Mariachi. Great story of mistaken identity with a tragic ending. And Desperado followed that up with lots of style, more guns, and memorable characters. This time with Antonio Banderas stepping into the Mariachis shoes with "cool" oozing out of his pores. Rodriguez just went nuts on action and choreography and left a shit eating grin on my face.
And now, once again, I have that same grin. But if you are expecting more of the same with Once Upon A Time in Mexico, you're in for a surprise. All of the those things that made the previous two films so good are still here. The action scenes, the characters, oh God the characters, the style, and the music. But what makes this film different is the scope. Where the previous two films were simple stories about revenge, this story involves more characters, subplots, and not just revenge. Oh no, folks. "El" needs to save Mexico from a coup and an assai.
The film takes place a few years after Desperado. CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) is out to hire "El" to kill Marquez, a military leader that El has beef with. It seems that Barillo (Willem Dafoe) and his cartel have hired Marquez to assassinate the president of Mexico on the Day of the Dead and overthrow the government. The catch being to not kill Marquez until after he has assassinated the president. Sands has this obsession with balance (particularly with his food) and thinks the president being dead will help keep that balance. But that is pretty much secondary to El. He's got a deep hate for Marquez, and wants to see him dead.
The film is told in a way where they don't give you all the information at once, but it comes in pieces, slowly fitting together and all coming to a head in the end. So I wont go into too much detail about the rest of the movie. But aside from the kick ass action sequences (particularly a real kick ass motorcycle/car chase) what really kicked ass in the film were the characters. Willem Dafoe as Barillo was...well shit, man. He's Willem Dafoe. Excellent as always and a great Mariachi villain. Ruben Blades as retired FBI agent Jorge and Mickey Rourke Billy turn in outstanding performances as a couple of guys who want to be done with what they have had to live with for years. I usually don't expect or get the kind of character Ruben Blades played in an action movie, but man, he came through. Danny Trejo as Cucuy is a badass as usual, with thankfully a somewhat larger role than he had in Desperado. And the man who undoubtedly stole this movie was Johnny Depp. Antonio Banderas? No, no ,no. This was Johnny Depps movie. The guy is just cool as hell. Funny, smart ass, fucked in the head, corrupt CIA agent. He had the best dialogue ("Are you Mexi-can, or Mexi-cant?), the best costumes, and funny as hell gunfight in the end. Hell, by the end I was hoping they would do a spin-off movie with him and his bloody face.
What else can you expect from this movie? Dafoe looking like Darkman! Eye sockets galore! A third arm flailing around! A flamethrower guitar case! Extreme facelift! A dog named Moco! I even noticed they used the music from Once Upon a Time in the West at one point!
If you can get past what I thought was the only low point of the movie (Enrique Iglesias acting!) and you really enjoyed the other two Mariachi films, this ones a no brainer. I'm out.
Here's a review from a person I'll call.... The Transplant. He liked OUATIM quite a bit, but didn't all the way love it, so here ya go....
Some words from the burgeoning metropolis of Austin. As a recent transplant to your fair town, I hoped to cash in on the wide variety of cinematic delights available in Austin, and as of yet, am very satisfied.
The most recent example being live and in person for the latest test screening of "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", or as my less movie savvy friends called it "The sequel to Desperado with the lame, unmarketable title"
Nonetheless, the flick is good. Solid, but not great. Robert Rodriguez pulls another out another chapter of everyone's favorite out-for-vengeance guitar player. Nothing real surprising there right? In this case, we're talking hi def DV, a bit more money on effects (especially seen with the flock of motorcycles) and Johnny Depp is in it.
Unfortunately, not much to be seen of Salma Hayek. A little, but hardly in it. Sad, sad, sad.
Luckily the additions to the well known returning cast of Antonio Banderas, Danny Trejo, and Cheech Marin (among other likely) include Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke, Ruben Blades, Enrique Iglesias (odd, but OK) and as noted above, Johnny Depp. Best new addition is definitely Johnny Depp. His character capsulizes what we would imagine a CIA agent on a low priority assignment would be. Sarcastic, out for himself, funny only to himself, he's great, and gets the best lines.
In a lot of ways, "Once upon a time" brings Desperado edging towards an obvious comparison with Traffic, with a bunch of side stories to the Mariachi's taking up valuable screen time. The biggest complaint from people in the audience was that the story was "Too complicated". I'd argue that, but the story and different plots certainly aren't spelled out in obviously painful ways, which makes it much different from the average action flick. It'll be interesting to see how the test screening process changes this. Some valid points however, include the fact that some plot points come out of nowhere and hence don't have the significance one would assume they should, likely a direct result of the number of them converging in the third act.
But yeah, the action is cool as expected, what was done of the presumably final soundtrack was great and matched the movie really well, the overall feel is what it is... the North American version of the Hong Kong action flick. Fun, cool, some slow mo birds flying, vengeance and so on.
Finally, the movie looks great, generally, a few spots the hyper-real look of the video pops out... in one case a background landscape looks inserted, when it likely wasn't. A bunch of the climax looks more video-like than the rest of the film. If it wasn't for these few spots (which I'm assuming will be corrected for) the casual viewer wouldn't notice anything.
Here's a real quick and to the point review from, "One of the CHIPS"...
I just saw Once Upon A Time In Mexico. I don't know how to comment on something that is still in the works. From what I viewed it looks to be a success. It's a great action movie. It's filled to the brim with guns and explosives. There's even a great chase scene, one of the coolest I have seen this year. The performances were good, there was nothing new in the performances of Banderas or Hayek, they just did what they did well in Desperado. There was one performance that outshined the others though. That was the performance of Johnny Depp. This guy stole the show from Banderas and made El Mariachi look like a secondary character. Depp's character made me want to see a movie about him. I feel that many people will enjoy Depp and enjoy the action filled 3rd installment when it debuts.
Thanks for your time and nice to meet you,
One of The Chips
Then here's the negative review that we got from No Slack Six who didn't go all the way with the film. He had logic issues, performance issues, didn't like the cartoonish nature of the hyper-violence, seems like he would've favored a more realistic take on the film, but here's his own voice to tell you that...
Here it is. Thanks for responding. If you print this, call me No Slack Six.
Long time listener, first time caller. I just got back from the test screening of Once Upon a Time in Mexico here is glorious Austin. Be warned there are spoilers ahead.
First, let me say that I am not really a Robert Rodriquez fan. I like the idea of Robert Rodriuquez, the local boy who makes it big. I enjoyed "El Mariachi", but I thought that "From Dusk 'til Dawn", "Desperado", and "The Faculty" were average. I haven't seen the Spy Kids movies, but I understand that they are very good. I rented "El Mariachi" and "Desperado" so I would be prepared to enjoy the test screening because it is my first one.
The movie opens with Johnny Depp playing one of his trademark "weird" characters. This time he's some kind of rogue CIA agent seeking information from Cheech Marin's character. He wants to know about El Mariachi so he can get him to kill an evil Mexican general who is going to stage a coup. There's a lot of money and an evil Cartel drug lord involved in the plot, and El Mariachi has a role to play because the evil Mexican general killed his wife (Salma Hayek's character in the last movie). It's pretty involved and sometimes doesn't make enough sense to follow.
What follows is some gun play (not as much as Desperado), many double crosses, some un-necessary eye surgery, a coup, more back-up Mariachis like in Desperado, more double crosses, a retired FBI agent avenging his slain partner, and a bunch of dead bodies. In the end El Mariachi avenges his wife, justice is served, and the movie, ultimately, fails.
Why? I think that Rodriquez was trying to cross two genres of film and couldn't decide where to land. In the comment sheet that we had to fill out at the end of the screening, we were asked "how would we describe this movie to a friend"? I said that in was another entry in Quetin Tarintino's unmade movie festival. Which is basically what this movie is. But, it could have been so much more.
Rodriquez was trying to cross two genre's: the Mexican Gun Opera and a serious crime movie. Hell, he helped invent the first genre, but it is becoming a little over-done. As far a I'm concerned "The Way of the Gun" is the high water mark for these movies. Now for the serious crime movie, movies like "The Usual Suspects" or "Heat" or "Ronin". Once upon a time has some of the elements of these movies, but it seemed like he couldn't decide what he wanted to do. In a way I felt that he wanted to be loyal to the idea of "El Mariachi" but he also wanted to make a more serious movie. It almost felt like the mariachi elements of the story line were forced into the plot. The movie could have been made separately from the series and been much better for it.
Imagine this for a storyline: Rogue CIA agent instigates a coup in Mexico and lets the evil Cartel drug-lord know about it. The drug-lord aspires for political power and legitimacy. He's like Pablo Escobar and views himself a man of the people. He decides to have plastic surgery to look like the leader of the coup so he can kill him and assume the identify of the new president of Mexico. Now the CIA agent doesn't really care about the coup because he is somehow going to profit from all this. So he hires a hitman to kill the leader of the coup and then uses a retired FBI agent to track down and kill the drug lord. He plays them all off of each other until.....a big shoot out at the end of a street battle where truth, justice, and the Mexican way are served.
Wouldn't that make a more interesting movie? Well, all the elements of this are in the movie already. Its just bogged down with the forced mariachi vengeance story line which was wasn't very good in the first place. If you take out the mariachi scenes, you are left with a great performance by Johnny Depp, a great, but wasted, performance by Ruben Blades as the retired FBI guy, and you get Willem Dafoe at his creepy best as the drug lord. Leave in the mariachi scenes and you get weepy music where Banderas pines for his lost love in a series of annoying flashbacks that didn't have anything to do with the first two movies.
So there you have it. Re-shoot it, keep the title, and drop Banderas.
No Slack Six out
ps. Here is a list of other petty criticisms: Antonio Banderas shoots like a girl. Hire a gun coach next time to show him how to handle a weapon. Who the hell are all these bad ass Mariachis? Is there some kind of Mariachi Ninja academy is Mexico? Could the military action have been any worse? It looked like scenes from "Commando". Grenades and rockets don't make people fly in the air in a huge fire ball. They rip you to shreds with shrapnel making very little flames (talk-backers take my word for this). Is Johnny Depp Daredevil? (see the movie and you'll understand) Are there no police anywhere in Mexico? Why does everyone have to be someone father or daughter? End of list.