Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
This test screening audience musta been packed deeeeeeeep with AICN spies. Nice work, NRG. You really screened the hell out of that crowd.
BTW... I don’t care if the character played by Eva Mendes is working or not. Robert needs to add 20 minutes featuring her dancing in the shower. It will make the film work. I don’t even need to see the movie, and I can confidently predict this.
Ahoy, squirts! 'Tis everybody's favorite little moco, Quint, here with my look at Robert Rodriguez's 3rd installment in the Mariachi series. This review comes from a test screening I attended, so I'll alert you guys about the temp effects and score when I get to them in the review for I can guarantee the movie I saw will be altered to a large degree by the time you see this film next March....
Let's start off with March. What a shitty time to release this film. Why not push it up to May and have it be the kickoff of the Summer movie rush? It's the movie for it. A kickass epic action flick sounds great to start off the Summer, whet the appetites for other grand actioneers like the MATRIX sequel.
OK... The movie. My expectations going in were very high. I dig and respect EL MARIACHI, though I don't think it's the end all be all of indie movies. I love DESPERADO, a near perfect example of the genre. The story is classic, but the execution is nothing short of breathtaking. The characters are rich and it's just a really damn fun movie. So, that's what was in my head going into this test screening.
The story is set during a revolution. The people have a President they can get behind, a man who has their best interests at heart. But because he's for the people, he's trying to out all the cartels, which sets him firmly in the crosshairs of the big guns that control the drugs in Mexico, especially Barillo, played by Willem Dafoe, whose ambition is far greater than mere assassination.
Enter Agent Sands, a sketchy CIA agent played perfectly by Johnny Depp. Sands is the character that people will walk away with. Depp plays it for laughs, but is also dead serious... It's weird, but it plays amazingly well. For lack of a better word, he's the anti-villain of the movie. He's not a hero in any way. He is more villainous, but not really, hence anti-villain. Every time Depp was onscreen I was entranced by him and the character he was constructing. It's also kinda funny that Depp is pretty much the main character of the film, even though it's supposed to be the Mariachi's movie.
And good God at the end of the movie he goes through some tough times, but when he comes out of that... He's easily the most iconic character to come out of a film in quite a while. I want my McFarlane figure of Agent Sands sitting on my shelf right now. Depp becomes something more than his already interesting character... he evolves into a cinema Icon. He's that perfect Spaghetti Western gunslinger that... Shit... I didn't want to go into it... but I have to... SPOILER WARNING! DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW!!!
SPOILER! INVISO-TEXT ON, BITCHES!!
OK... Depp becomes the Blind Gunslinger and good God he makes it fucking cool!
END OF SPOILERS!!! INVISO-TEXT OFF!!
I'm sorry to geek out here, but Depp was a God at the end of the movie. His face, his clothes... his assistant... He became something better and cooler than anything we've seen in the Mariachi series before. I want to see a movie about that character. I would kill to see Rodriguez do a spin off film... I love El Mariachi (Antonio Bandaras), but I don't know where you can take that character from here. He's already repeating the exact same vengeance from DESPERADO, where else would you want to take it? I'd love for ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO to segue in a movie about Agent Sands as he is at the end of OUATIM, with Bandaras and other regulars playing bit parts or even different characters all together.
I guess that kinda brings us to Bandaras and Salma Hayek. Hayek isn't in the movie all that much, only in a few flashback scenes, but those scenes she's in are priceless. Her reintroduction has her doing some amazingly badass fighting and some awesome knife work. There's also an "escape" scene that we see later in the film which kicks ass and gives us a glimpse at that blue bus from EL MARIACHI.
I talked with Robert (Rodriguez) a bit after the movie and he said these flashbacks were essentially Mariachi 3 and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO could really be part 4 in the series. I'd love to see that movie we got glimpses of. Salma and Antonio kicking ass together. Antonio a wizard with guns and Salma the knife queen. Quite a pairing. Anyway, Salma's just as sexy as she usually is. Rodriguez knows how to shoot this woman, that's for damn sure.
Antonio Bandaras slips back into the role of the Mariachi with great ease. He has a certain confidence when he steps into that role, that of being so familiar with the character that he intuitively knows what to do, which lets him play around as much as he likes. Bandaras is having fun and you can tell.
Bandaras calls on two of his Mariachi friends during the film, one a drunk (Marco Leonardi) and one a greedy handsome mariachi (Enrique Iglesias). The concept of casting a modern day pop singer in this kind of movie is not new and not necessarily a bad move. I know a lot of people were confused and worried when they heard Iglesias was cast in the film, but when working with a talented director like Rodriguez it can work great. Just look at Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO with "Little" Ricky Nelson if you want proof it can work. Iglesias doesn't steal the show, but he holds his own. Leonardi actually comes closer to stealing the show than Iglesias. He has some hilarious booze-related moments.
An interesting turn this film makes is the Mariachi character disappears for 20-25 minutes a little more than halfway through the movie, with the focus on Depp or Ruben Blades as a retired FBI agent who has a bone to pick with Dafoe or Mickey Rourke as one of Dafoe's top henchmen or Eva Mendes as beautiful Special Agent Ajedrez or Danny "Badass" Trejo. It's an interesting, but dangerous move, especially when you have someone as cool as Depp's Agent Sands to fill the void.
The only character I'm not fully behind is Eva Mendes' Special Agent Ajedrez. She has some fun scenes with Depp, including one where he utters his second best line in the film ("Are you trying to give me a boner?"), but her character is just kinda there and the only time I felt any drag in the film was when it focused on her. She's kinda essential to the story, involved in a few of the major plot points and twists, but still... She's the least interesting character in a movie filled with interesting characters.
The movie is beautifully shot, Rodriguez utilizing his HD camera to full effect. It helped that the screening was presented with full on digital projection. HD still isn't as good 35mm (in my opinion), but it's not very much worse, either. Rodriguez really opened up the scope on this sucker, using lots of wide-angle, epic shots of beautiful old churches and blue skies. The cinematography impressed me even with the film not being color timed and being a few shades too red. I can't wait to see the final timed version. It's gotta be gorgeous.
The action isn't quite as epic as I was expecting, but with Rodriguez directing you can be assured that the action will be top notch. He doesn't fail us here, giving us some wild Revolution fights, that awesome abovementioned "escape" flashback, a great church shootout and even a couple new kickass guitar case weapons. The movie plays with myths and fairy tales and the action reflects that. The gunplay is super stylish, but not cartoony. Sure, it's a bit over the top, but so is Paul Bunyan clearing forests with one swoop of his axe. Does that make the Paul Bunyan myth any less cool? I think not. If you're looking for realism, I don't know why you're even interested in this movie in the first place.
The Score... I'm very much looking forward to Robert's final score. The test screening was temped with music from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and GLADIATOR and most of the time the score was completely out of sync with the movie. With the score in place, I think the movie will form pretty damn well.
Let's see... what else? KNB deserves props for their great, yet brief, make-up jobs... You'll totally know it when you see it... unless the studio forces Robert to chop them down. Cheech Marin returns and is cool as hell. Go Cheech! CLASH OF THE TITANS lunchbox rules all... Kid with the chiclettes rules... There should have been more of Dafoe. He makes a badass Mexican and wasn't in the movie as much as I wanted him to be...
I think I still prefer DESPERADO to this film, but ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO definitely met my extremely high expectations. I think all you Mariachi fans out there will eat this flick up... Let's hope it makes a gazillion dollars so I can get my Agent Sands movie!!! Then all will be right in the world and I will be one happy geek.
Look forward to this flick and expect a shorter, more tight version of the film reviewed above. I guarantee you Rodriguez is going to fine tune this thing in the months ahead.
It's about time for me to shove off, squirts. I got some interviews comin' your way, so keep an eye out for 'em. 'Til that day, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.