Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)

(In theaters, September 2003) Yes, señor! El Mariachi is back in the biggest instalment of the trilogy. This film may not be a purely operatic as Desperado, but it’s certainly a lot more epic, what with criminals, policemen, soldiers, mercenaries, the FBI, the CIA and the DEA all gunning around during a coup to take control of Mexico on the Day of the Dead. Fans of Robert Rodriguez don’t need to be told why they should rush to see this film. Once again, Mexican/western imagery is married with Hong Kong style to produce an action film that runs on pure atmospheric adrenalin. Antonio Banderas is cooler than ever as the iconic “El”, but Johnny Depp owns the film as an unhinged American agent. (Few other people would be able to get away with such classic lines as “Are you a Mexican or a Mexican’t?”) Salma Hayek makes the best of her limited screen-time (the trailers lie to you), whereas nearly all of the other players (including the sultry Eva Mendes and the wonderfully rough Danny Trejo) also turn in very good performances. Only Willem Defoe looks out of place in a role that doesn’t give him much to do. The rest of the film is all sick black humour and unlikely stunts, with terrific cinematography and quick pacing. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but it’s a lot of fun for those who like that style of film.

(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2004) Robert Rodriguez fans already know that the man can’t make an uninteresting film and that the supplemental material on his “special edition” DVDs are often more interesting than most movies. So it is that the DVD of this third segment in the “El Mariachi” trilogy is jam-packed with fascinating extras and plenty of information on the wonders of digital filmmaking. The film itself is still a lot of fun, in an operatic vein that seems so fresh after countless average action films. But the early 2001 (!)guerilla-style making of the film, using unproven digital technology, proves to be as fascinating as the end results. “Film is dead” is the title of a fascinating featurette included on the DVD, and it’s hard to remain unconvinced after seeing the excellent results. Other featurettes complete the package, along with an excellent audio commentary by the director. Extra fun is included in the form of a hilarious “ten minute cooking school” and an excellent tour through Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, located (where else?) in his refurbished garage. Once again, cinephiles and budding directors will find their money’s worth in this DVD.

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