Just over a month ago we conducted our inaugural “Michael Mann Week,” only to be let down by his highly anticipated Public Enemies upon its release. We liked the idea of looking at a director or actor over their career and focusing on them for a week, so we have decided to continue on that route despite Mann’s mediocre thrill-ride. Now with the release of the new movie Shorts, The Film Nest Crew is celebrating another artist whose career achievements are many. Writer, producer, and director (even sometime actor!), Robert Rodriguez is feted/objectively looked at for his contributions to the cinematic medium. Here we will take a brief look at several of his movies and as you have been able to see already with our First Features post on El Mariachi, as well as our Classic Scene of From Dusk Till Dawn we will continue to examine his work throughout the week.
After the success of El Mariachi Rodriguez decided to revisit that world again with 1995’s sequel. It could be said that the film is not only a sequel, but also a remake of the first film, as it shares many similar scenes with its predecessor. Robert Rodriguez once again wrote, directed and edited Desperado, a film that picks up after the events of Mariachi. This time Antonio Banderas plays the nameless mariachi (similar to Sergio Leones” Man with no name”). The story revolves around the mariachi seeking revenge for the death of his lover from the first film. Once again, the mariachi comes to a small town and gets involved with bringing down a drug dealer. He also gets involved with a beautiful bookstore owner, played by the stunning Salma Hayek. Does the plot sound familiar to the first? Yes it is but, in a movie like this the plot is second fiddle to the action scenes and tongue in cheek humor. Desperado is a very fun movie, and Robert Rodriguez benefitted greatly from his increased budget, which was still only $7 million. All his trademarks are here, over the top action, humorous dialogue, and sexy women. If I had to pick one movie that is signature Rodriguez, this would be it.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn has Rodriguez continuing his crime/action pace, but adding the horror element to offer an interesting take. It features two criminal brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Taratino), who are on the run from the law after robbing a liquor store and murdering two people. While making their way to Mexico, they kidnap the Fuller family, Jacob (Harvey Keitel), Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), so they can hide in their RV to cross the border. Once they get over the border, they arrive at a remote club called “The Titty Twister.” Once they enter the club, they realize they are secretly in a hive of vampires. They soon find themselves in a struggle to stay alive.
This marked the second collaboration between Rodriguez and Tarantino (the first being the segmented Four Rooms), with Tarantino co-starring and co-writing the screenplay with Robert Kurtzman. Judging by the sudden change of tone to the movie, it seems Tarantino concentrated on the first half with Kurtzman handling the second. Despite the mid shift in the movie, Rodriguez really made this engaging with awesome action sequences mixed with Evil Dead-type gore (Kurtzman did the make up effects for Evil Dead 2) and an excellent performance by Clooney. This is probably the most bad-ass you’ll ever see him, and he has Rob Rod to thank.
The Faculty (1998)
The loner geek (Elijah Wood), the goth “lesbian” (Clea DuVall), the jock (Shawn Hatosy), the overachiever (Jordanna Brewster), the 5th-year senior (Josh Harnett), and the new girl (Laura Harris), are the high school clichés who discover something is amiss with the teachers at their school. It seems to start with the football coach, spreads to their principal, the nurse and even the beloved science teacher. It’s discovered an alien parasite is causing problems, in a concept similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They must stop the spread before the town – or more – is overtaken.
The Faculty is only the second time to-date Rodriguez had directed a film not from his own script (the first being From Dusk Till Dawn). The script belongs to Kevin Williamson, who 8 months later directed the similar-themed Teaching Mrs. Tingle. The film is very much similar to the high school horror films from the late 90s, but the replacement of an alien invasion instead of a killer with a knife is a welcome one. A lot of big name actors arose from this film and there are some subtle Rodriguez touches, like introductory freeze-frames for the main characters, but you can’t help but think Rodriguez did this project in order to gain freedom elsewhere.
Spy Kids (2001)
Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) Cortez are one-time spies who fell in love and retired from the business. They have two young children, Carmen and Juni, to whom they’ve never revealed their secret, past lives. The star of Juni’s favorite TV program, Fegan Floop, has plans for world domination through robotic children he terms “sky kids.” Gregorio and Ingrid hold the key to making the “spy kids” work correctly and they are kidnapped by Floop and his cohorts. It’s up to Carmen and Juni, two kids of no discernable to talent to help get their parents back.
Spy Kids was the first kids film Rodriguez wrote and directed, having later turned Spy Kids into a trilogy. He had three children of his own when he made the film and presumably, he wanted to make a movie they could watch and enjoy. It’s definitely a child-like fantasy to wish your parents led secret lives of some sort and some of the spy-like inventions (the acid crayon) are more creative than any Bond film. It’s a decent adventure for younger audiences. Interesting note: The character of Machete, which received his own fake trailer as a part of Grindhouse and will soon get his own film, actually originated from this film.
Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)
After directing a teen horror flick (The Faculty) and a couple of children’s movies (Spy Kids 1 & 2) Robert Rodriguez once again returned to the series that brought him acclaim. In 2003, Rodriguez “wrote, chopped, and shot” Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Mexico would mark the last chapter in what is known as the “Mexico Trilogy”. The plot for this installment finds the Mariachi (Banderas) being recruited by a CIA agent (Depp) to kill a general, who has also murdered the gun toting singer’s family.
This film also marked the directors first time shooting with HD cameras, something he has continued to do ever since. Rodriguez has said that he wanted this final chapter to evoke Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and it certainly does. Financially, the film was the most successful of the three films, but the plot for me, was a little convoluted. Antonio Banderas as the Mariachi is really only a supporting player in this film. The real star of Mexico in my opinion was Johnny Depp. Hot off the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, Depp as the double crossing, disguise wearing, Agent Sands stole the show. The film once again features slick action scenes and editing, but I would’ve liked a more coherent plot and less of a reliance on graphic violence to bring an end to the trilogy.
Sin City (2005)
This is quintessential Rodriguez, perhaps not for anything specifically, but rather for his continuous innovation and exploration of the medium of filmmaking. His adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic is stunning. He pioneered the use of AMD64 technology here, shooting entirely in digital. You see its use in stunning form, with black and white offset by glimpses of brilliant color, whether it is lipstick, skin tone, or clothing. While the movie’s graphically violent subject matter is clearly not for everyone, Robert also got brilliant performances out of many of his actors/characters (Mickey Rourke pre-The Wrestler being one of the most notable), really making a comic book come to life. Helping to usher in the era of Hollywood comic book adaptations being all the rage, Sin City is still the gold standard by which all others are measured, succeeding where a movie like Watchmen failed. A grand feat in and of itself, the film is a remarkable achievement for that alone if nothing else.
Grindhouse / Planet Terror (2007)
A scientist releases a deadly biochemical agent into the air during a botched business transaction, turning a majority of a town’s population into zombies or “sickos” as they’re referred to here. Dr. Block (Josh Brolin) and his anesthesiologist wife, Dakota (Marley Shelton), try to help them at a local hospital – to no avail. “Cherry Darling” (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer, teams up with her ex-boyfriend “El Wray” (Freddy Rodriguez – no relation) and the few uninfected cops and townspeople, to ward off the sickos in their fight for survival.
Planet Terror was originally released as one of two features in Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse, but was split off and expanded for overseas and home video releases. The objective of Grindhouse was to bring exploitation films back to the cinema and Rodriguez brought tons of little touches to his zombie flick to help him achieve his goal. He digitally graded the film stock with nicks and scratches, giving the appearance of an old, beat-up workprint. A reel is missing, thus causing a jump in time and story. All his tricks help to serve the exploitative subject matter. A number of people consider this the better half of Grindhouse, but it works best not individually, but as part of the entire Grindhouse experience.
Our full review of double R’s new film Shorts will be up later this week, he has the aforementioned Machete getting ready for next year, and Sin City 2 is in production. Rodriguez, love him or hate him, truly is a pioneering talent in the industry who continually pushes the boundaries of filmmaking and has progressed throughout his career as any true artist would want to do. He will be a director that we continue to watch here at The Film Nest, and we were happy to take a closer look at the man and his works for this piece. The entire Film Nest Crew contributed to the writing of this post. Share your thoughts on some of his work below.