A buddy of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez is good at making over the top comedic action films.
El Mariachi (1992) -- Once you get used to the lo-fi production of this movie, it's pretty great stuff. Famous for being made for $7,000. Funny and full of action. (See below for the sequel, Desperado.)
Desperado (1995) -- The bigger-budget gloss-over of this sequel/remake works pretty well sometimes (Antonio Banderas is cool to watch and Salma Hayek is great to look at, and the homemade look doesn't get in the way), but after some inspired moments near the front, the movie fizzles a bit. It picks up a little when we see things like the original actor who played the Mariachi using a guitar case bazooka and his friend who has a guitar case machine gun, but those guys die too soon and aren't used enough. Even still, mostly this is good stuff. (See above for the predecessor, El Mariachi.)
Four Rooms (1995) -- Directed with Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, and Quentin Tarantino. It's hard to rate this movie as a whole, since the four parts by the four different directors are so different, though I can say that Tim Roth's performance throughout is hilarious. The first witch segment is stupid, the second segment is dull. Robert Rodriguez's third section is very funny, with over-the-top acting by Antonio Banderas, more hilarity from Tim Roth, two funny kids, and a crazy situation. Quentin Tarantino's fourth segment is the best, which is odd since mostly it's just talk (though, of course, that's half of what makes Tarantino so great, and this is some of the best talk ever). Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell get a frowny face; Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino get a huge grin face.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) -- One of my favorites. Though lots of critics just thought it was a bad idea, what I love about it (partly) is the no-explanation-whatsoever fusing of two very different movies--one, a pretty traditional gangster road trip followed by... I don't want to spoil it, but let's just say you have to totally buy into the movie, just let it have its own way, and then you'll probably enjoy it for all of its way over the top-ness. Serious fun. (See Scott Spiegel for the sequel, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money.)
The Faculty (1998) -- I wasn't very happy with this just because it seemed like just another horror movie, and it pretty much was, in spite of the Kevin Williamson script (who, really, only did Scream well and nothing much else) and so-called postmodern take on the bodysnatcher movies. It turned out to be another halfway-decent horror teen film, but from Rodriguez I would have expected more.
Spy Kids (2001) -- Better than I could have thought a kids' movie could be (which sounds unfair, but it's only because people put out so much crap for kids in general), and about the same level of sophistication as something like Charlie's Angels when you get down to it--which means that it's not really a kids movie so much as it's a movie that happens to star kids (good kids at that). It's a fun energetic movie.
Spy Kids 2 (2002) -- I hope he doesn't stick to kiddie films, but this is one of the better sequels, in that it's at least as good as the first if not better. That chick's going to be hot when I'm legally allowed to say it.
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) -- A disaster. Not really a Spy Kids movie at all, but just the boy Juni (and Ricardo Montalbon in a ridiculous role as -- basically -- a Power Ranger) doing some no-rules "game." It basically looks like one of those in-front-of-a-screen computer animated and live action blend rides you go on at a theme park, except that those rides are actually more entertaining and make more sense and have better people. The 3-D, by the way, is the same old blue and red crap that's been used since the 50s, which basically means your eyes are going to hurt through the movie if you keep them on (I didn't), and if you take them off, then the "point" of the movie is lost--that point being that this is a movie where stupid crap flies at your face unimpressively, the novelty wearing off after about three seconds. There is good 3-D out there (go to Disney World), but this isn't it, and the gimmick itself is just a distraction from a movie that is already horrible enough. Finally, in about the last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie, the sister enters as does Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, and the rest of the cast from the first two movies and it's the best part of the movie for it: which isn't saying much, since most of the time there is spent saying, "Oh yeah, we forgot that the theme of the first two movies was family, so we're going to talk about that for a while." Not really sure why Rodriguez chose to go out this way for these movies, but there he went.
Once Upon a Time In Mexico (2003) -- A big, grand thing, but that's not a good thing here. It's not a Mariachi movie really, since it's trying something besides just violent western exploitation (and failing at being interesting doing so). It's also not a Mariachi movie since Antonio Banderas isn't much in it, considering he's supposed to be the star. Johnny Depp feels like the real star, and I guess he is, since he pretty much steals the show. The only parts much worth watching are the scenes he is in. Salma Hayek is dead (she appears in flashbacks) and so is the goofy fun.
Sin City (2005) -- Directed with Frank Miller and guest director Quentin Tarantino. This movie is ballsy. Of course, there are the literal balls in the movie: every guy's nuts being blown off or ripped out. Then there's the testosteroniness of the movie, with every guy narrating his macho philosophy and every woman being a hooker or stripper. But then there's the ballsiness of Rodriguez for putting this thing out the way he did: as a purposefully-offensive movie, where the offensiveness eventually becomes the magic and fun. It worked for me. Also, even as a guy who doesn't much like comic books, it was great to finally see a comic book being presented the way everyone always wanted them to look on the screen. Frank Miller's comics were pretty much used for storyboards, meaning that Miller was making the movie for this way back when he first did the graphic novels. There wasn't even an adapted script, making this more of a Miller project than a Rodriguez project in the end. The collaboration on the movie was very cool (including the cameo direction by Tarantino), the black and white mixed with touches of color was beautiful, and in the end I was totally sucked in. This movie is pretty much a masterpiece.
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl (2005) -- Apparently every time Rodriguez makes a "real" movie, he'll also throw in a kids movie. They must be easy to make. At least it looks like they are: just a bunch of kids jumping around in front of a green screen and crappy computer graphics zooming around everywhere. This one wasn't as horrible as Spy Kids 3-D, but it has a lot of the same dumb elements (including the stupid 3-D). The most interesting thing about this movie is that as you're watching it, it feels exactly like the kinds of stories and characters and lines a kid would make up... and it is! Rodriguez got his toddler son to draw some pictures and come up with characters and talk about what should happen and throw in lines and all that. So if it looks like a five-year-old made the movie, that's why. That makes the background of the movie interesting and sweet, but it makes the movie itself suck. If you've ever heard five-year-olds tell stories, you'll know that they're scattered and confused and only "imaginative" in the sense that combining some animal or element with the word "boy" or "girl" is imaginative. When I was that age, I made up Tornado Man. Five-year-olds are stupid. All of this is built around the theme of following your dreams, which is banged on your head every 2.3 seconds. And I thought the Oompa Loompas were blunt. Very young kids will probably dig this, but then they'll grow up and then they won't, and really that's the true test of a children's movie: whether something you loved as a kid will be just as beloved as an adult.
Grindhouse (2007) -- Directed with Quentin Tarantino, featuring Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, and Rob Zombie. I'll talk about the separate parts first, then the collection as a whole. First, the trailers. Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" was good, and the most realistic. It didn't just go for laughs, but looked like something that may have actually existed. Rob Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the S.S." was great. Really goofy, and the only place where you'll find Udo Kier and Nicholas Cage in the same movie. Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" was the most hilarious and almost believable as one of those horror-on-holiday movies. Edgar Wright's "Don't Scream" was probably my favorite, with an old trailer style that I remember seeing a lot of in those days, complete with annoying repetition. Huge smiley faces all around for all the trailers and the other 70s-style movie bits that were thrown in that made the entire experience fun. On to Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror. I liked this one a lot. A simple, gross mutant movie with the ridiculous (in a good way) premise that Bruce Willis had killed Osama Bin Laden. Rose McGowan was really sexy and was paired well with Freddy Rodriguez. All of the actors and characters were cool and likeable, which is important in a movie like this where you should care if they're eaten or raped or whatever. A big, fun smiley face for the first half of the movie. Now Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Ug. Tarantino hadn't made a bad movie to this point, but here it is. First we're introduced to three really annoying girls, the most annoying of which is Sidney Portier, whose father apparently -- instead of giving her acting lessons -- said to her, "Just cock and bobble your head around every time you talk." When these three girls eventually got killed by the supercharming Kurt Russell, I was happy. Rose McGowan was the only one in the first part of this movie worth saving, which is what made her death actually work. We liked her, and it made Kurt Russell seem that much more evil for killing her. So already we've been annoyed for many minutes by the worst dialogue QT has ever written... and then he does it again! With four new, even more annoying, girls. They sit at a table while the camera moves around them Reservoir Dogs style, but this time they're not talking about interesting (or at least realistic) stuff like the meaning of "Like a Virgin" or whether or not to tip. They're talking about stuff so boring that I barely remember what they were talking about. Only the cheerleader girl who likes Pretty in Pink is somewhat likeable, but the audience is meant to think she's stupid. So when Kurt Russell eventually goes after them too (after some more annoying stuff about how the girls are going to "con" some hillbilly by leaving their Pretty in Pink friend to be raped by him), I would imagine we're supposed to wish that he'd kill them off as well. But no! We're apparently supposed to be on their sides, and the movie ends with them killing him (or at least beating the shit out of him). Hoorah? If the premise of this movie was that some old stunt guy from the 70s was on a mission to kill modern-day bitches, then I'd be all for that. It's supposed to be an exploitation movie, after all, so it would make perfect sense. But you can't show bitchy girls, a charming guy, and pretend that the bitches are the heroes and he's the villain. It's one of my many illogical aspects of this movie. The other thing that doesn't work is the style. It's fine if you want everyone to dress 70s, the cars to be 70s, to play 45s in the juke box, etc. and have text messaging, but what you can't do is have a character in the movie make fun of Kurt Russell for "crawling out of a time machine" when the entire set has crawled out of a time machine. It would be like someone in Blue Velvet saying that something "looked like the 1950s." And speaking of text messaging, why do we have to watch text messaging for ten minutes? There are several "threads" in the movie that never go anywhere. There's a line in Death Proof where Kurt Russell talks about one of the girls' bruised feelings because the guys weren't all over her. It made him wise, it made her almost likeable because she knew he was right, and it was the only line in the movie where Tarantino displayed any of the sensitivity to feelings and words that he's been known for in his other fantastic movies. Too bad the rest of the dialogue-drenched movie sucked so bad, making the would-be-cool action sequences suck as a result. Now for Grindhouse as a whole. Too long! Each movie should have been an hour apiece. It would have helped the flow of the entire piece, and it would have actually given a reason for the "missing reel" of both movies (explaining why it was twenty minutes or so shorter than a normal film). Even Planet Terror got old after a while, and a significant reducing of Death Proof would have helped to save it (though a rewrite and re-cast of the seven girls is what was really needed). The length doesn't fit the intended effect either: over three hours feels epic, while the movies are supposed to feel quick and fun. Of course, a quick fix would be to turn off the movie right before Tarantino's begins.
Copyright (c) Jan 2001 - Apr 2007 by Rusty Likes Movies