Tag Archive: Robert Rodriguez


Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez met early in their careers in the early 1990s at the Toronto Film Festival. Tarantino had RESERVOIR DOGS and Rodriguez had EL MARIACHI at the time. They fast became friends and their careers developed on a similar pace. Tarantino followed up with PULP FICTION at around the same time Rodriguez came up with DESPARADO (an American, higher budget remake of EL MARIACHI). Both filmmakers, especially that of Tarantino’s, gained huge success and they became part of a new wave of indie movies that attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. When it was announced that Tarantino and Rodriguez would collaborate to make FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, film nerds shit themselves all over. With Tarantino writing the screenplay and Rodriguez directing, it was inconceivable that anything short of an instant classic would be made.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is about two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino), who are bank robbers on the run. They are attempting to flee to Mexico, where they plan to retire on their stolen fortune. Along the way, they kidnap a preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Driving the family’s RV across the border into Mexico, the motley crew seek out a biker bar called The Titty Twister, where the Gecko Brothers have arranged to meet up with their contact. However, The Titty Twister ends up being far more than a titty bar – it’s a hellish haven of blood-thirsty vampires!

This film made it pretty obvious that although they may be good friends, Rodriguez and Tarantino’s styles do not compliment one another. The first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN works beautifully and you’re completely taken in by the characters, the dialogue, and the situations. This first half is everything that occurs before the characters enter the Titty Twister and it has Tarantino’s work all over it. The dialogue scenes are long and satisfying, with exchanges that crackle with a constant energy. The Gecko Brothers are obvious Tarantino creations. Dressed in their signature black suits (just like Jules and Vincent in PULP FICTION), the brothers have a certain coolness about them and Tarantino has injected smart and quirky attributes into them (Richie wears a retainer because he grinds his teeth and he apparently likes to watch cartoons). The locations in the first half are also classic Tarantino – old shitty motels and diners and stores and products with interesting 1950’s sounding names like Benny’s World of Liquor and Big Kahuna Burgers (also featured in PULP FICTION). Finally, we have actors from Tarantino’s usual stable of actors such as Harvey Keitel (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION), Juliette Lewis (NATURAL BORN KILLERS), and the use of Blaxploitation stars such as Fred Williamson.

In short, the first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is character-driven and we’re fully immersed in a world created by Quentin Tarantino. So its quite a jolt when the film takes a complete tonal shift and turns into a vampire action movie. Its not the fact that the film turns into something completely different that bothers me (Joss Whedon’s CABIN IN THE WOODS does this as well and does it far better). I just didn’t find the second half of the film to be all that entertaining nor did the two halves of the film compliment one another. It wasn’t scary nor funny and it was as if I was watching a very bad straight to DVD horror film. This makes me wonder if Tarantino and Rodriguez recognized how uncomplimentary their styles were and decided that their next collaboration (GRINDHOUSE) would comprise of two entirely separate films. Interestingly enough, Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR was stylistically the same as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but I think I enjoyed PLANET TERROR far more because I knew what to expect from the beginning. In contrast, I was expecting a melding of the two filmmakers’ styles in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but instead I got one film that could not connect the two halves.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is George Clooney’s first major feature length film. Many cite to OUT OF SIGHT as the film that finally turned Clooney into a movie star. In just about every role he’s played, Clooney more or less performs his characters in the same way so if you like Clooney in one film, then you’ve liked him in every film he’s done. Here he flies off the screen as Seth Gecko, clearly lapping up the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and his roguish take on this dark antihero. Tarantino provides backup as Seth’s younger brother, Richie. Where Seth is instantly likeable despite his short fuse of a temper, Richie is a nauseating sex offender with a taste for rape and murder. Strangely enough, however, Tarantino’s nerdy brilliance in real life channels well into his character.

Harvey Keitel (with an on-again, off-again Texas accent) brings his usual level of excellence to Jacob, the preacher who has lost his faith in God after losing his wife in a car accident. Keitel does a great and believable job as playing a man who has lost his faith, but who at the same time struggles with this decision. His performance is restrained and subtle but without losing any of its intensity. Finally, we have Juliette Lewis, who plays the preacher’s daughter and despite not having many lines, she steals many of the scenes she is in. She sort of reminded me of her character in CAPE FEAR, but here she plays down the sexy nymphet and plays up the innocence of her character (after all, she is a preacher’s daughter).

The horror portion of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is only going to interest you if you’ve never seen a good horror film. If you want to see a horror film along these lines and that has been done much better, check out Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2 and Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE. Both of those films have the whole buckets-of-blood thing going but with more style and a sense of comic timing that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN completely lacks. Here, Robert Rodriguez is clearly behind the horror part of the film and at times it seemed like he didn’t quite know what to do with a bigger budget. The Titty Twister is a major location and its set up to almost be a character unto itself. However, we’re barely shown the contours of this bar before the action begins. Consequently, you don’t get a sense of place and mood before all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, we are briefly introduced to characters played by Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin. They are all two-dimensional characters and they seem to be included in the film to simply increase the cast’s name recognition. I felt cheated that none of these characters received better treatment in the screenplay.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was a film that probably brought much more joy to its filmmakers and actors in making it than for the viewer watching it. If it wasn’t for the influence and prestige of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN would have unlikely been made. Without those names behind it, this story is no better (and actually worse) than any episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

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MACHETE is an irresponsible propagandist movie that condones people to break the law in the name of “justice.” Had a movie come out in support of securing our nation’s borders and stopping illegal immigration, it would be deemed racist and decried by the liberal community. However, because 20th Century Fox (and the majority of Hollywood) is left-leaning, a movie that goes beyond criticizing illegal immigration policies by advocating the use of violence is acceptable. Now please don’t get the impression that I think movies should not be allowed to denounce the laws and politicians of this country because that couldn’t be further from the truth. What I take issue with is how a filmmaker and a corporation can think its ok to send a pretty explicit message to its audience that breaking the law is ok.

Robert Rodriguez’s new film stars Danny Trejo, who plays Machete, a former federal agent who sees his family get slaughtered by a Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal). Machete is presumed to be dead, but he emerges three years later living somewhere in Texas and working as a day laborer. He’s noticed by a Texas businessman (Jeff Fahey), who offers Machete $150,000 to kill a state Senatorial candidate (Robert DeNiro) running on an anti-immigration platform. Machete accepts the offer, but as he’s about to kill the senator, he is set up and now the law is after him. Helping him gain revenge is a revolutionary named She (Michelle Rodriguez) and his brother, Padre (Cheech Marin), a priest.

Rodriguez returns to his DESPARADO roots with this movie. MACHETE is a comic-style action movie that contains over-the-top and highly-stylized sex and violence in the manner of 70’s exploitation films. MACHETE was originally conceived and turned into a trailer for the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez homage to 70’s exploitation films, GRINDHOUSE. Rodriguez apparently felt that MACHETE would make for a great feature-length movie and he set out to make just that. Although MACHETE is very much like DESPARADO, the big difference in MACHETE is its heavily promoted political message. Despite what Rodriguez has said in recent interviews, MACHETE seems to serve as Rodriguez’s soapbox on the illegal immigration issue. Rodriguez recently stated that all he was intending with his movie was to bring back the spirit of exploitation films that used whatever political issue was relevant at the time as an excuse to have a lot of nudity and over-the-top violence. Bullshit! It doesn’t matter what Rodriguez’s intent was in making this movie. Based on what I saw, it seems pretty clear to me and probably to most in the audience that Rodriguez does have something to say about Arizona’s illegal immigration law and the general attitude toward Mexican illegal immigrants. The movie clearly appears to convey a message as well as a proposed solution. I also don’t believe for a second that MACHETE’S theatrical release was merely coincidental with the popular and controversial current debates circling around illegal immigration. Rodriguez must think we are fools if he thinks we will entertain the notion that he had no political agenda in making this film and releasing it now.

Aside from the offensive message of the movie, MACHETE has a few elements that although comical and entertaining to watch at times, they are not enough to sustain interest for the movie’s entire running time. Danny Trejo reminds me of a Mexican Clint Eastwood with his gleaming, deadly eyes and glaring face. Trejo has an undeniably unique and unforgettable look and his Machete character will probably go down as his best role ever. He doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but he doesn’t need to because he is a man of action and when he’s not destroying people, his look is enough to impart whatever his intentions may be. Rodriguez and Trejo have created an iconic looking hero who in a better-crafted film would be an unforgettable one. However, as he’s presented, Machete looks better on a t-shirt or poster than in any sequels Rodriguez may have in mind for the character.

As for the rest of the quite diverse cast, their entertainment value derives more from the novelty of having a famous icon grace the screen than in enjoying the quality of their performance. None of the performances (even De Niro’s) is of an award caliber, but I suppose that would sort of ruin the spirit of exploitation movies, which are known for their terrible acting. I was especially looking forward to seeing whether Steven Seagal would be able to salvage his dead career by playing the drug lord in this movie. Seagal certainly does appear more animated here than he has in a long time, but sadly, its not enough and Seagal ends up being just as bad as any of his recent direct-to-DVD work has been. He couldn’t even provide a good action fight like he used to in the old days. The climactic fight between Machete and Seagal contains so many cuts that I began to suspect the reason for that was so the audience wouldn’t be aware of how much Seagal’s obesity has hindered his fighting abilities. I also wish we saw more of Tom Savini’s character in the movie. Savini plays a hitman that the Texas businessman hires to kill Machete. There is a hilarious commercial that’s shown during the movie promoting the hitman’s services. Unfortunately, the commercial serves merely as a tease because we barely see Savini throughout the rest of the movie. Finally, Lindsay Lohan was surprisingly able to complete her scenes without OD’ing on drugs or drinking herself to death. Then again, her role isn’t much of a stretch for her because she’s essentially playing herself, a spoiled drugged out whore.

One thing I noticed about MACHETE was how inconsistent the style of the movie was. It was clearly intended to be made like a 70’s exploitation film, but other than the opening scene, the rest of the film just plays like a low-budget direct-to-DVD action movie. Rodriguez did a wonderful job with his PLANET TERROR movie that came out a few years ago as a part of GRINDHOUSE. In PLANET TERROR, Rodriguez remained focused on staying true to the spirit of 70’s grindhouse films and including all the elements that defined that genre. Here, we get that in the opening scene of the movie and the rest of the movie has shades of that style, but I felt that Rodriguez got overtaken by his zeal to make a statement about illegal immigration that he sort of neglected to actually make a good movie. Aside from a few very hilarious action sequences and comedic moments, MACHETE is filled with either unimaginative and lazy filmmaking or convoluted storytelling. One thing I really liked about DESPARADO was how simple and straightforward the story was. It was simply about a man seeking his revenge. MACHETE, on the other hand, has all sorts of players involved in a web of political maneuvering that’s not very interesting. If I want to see that sort of movie, I’ll watch an Oliver Stone film.

So there you have it. I didn’t go into MACHETE expecting something different than what I had seen and heard about this movie. I was simply hoping that Rodriguez had dealt with the illegal immigration issue more maturely and been more informative about the legalities and politics behind it (based on what I saw, I don’t think Rodriguez is well informed at all). The filmmaker should have stuck with doing what he knows best, which are these low-budget looking, tongue-in-cheek genre movies. He should stay away from his soapbox unless he learns to be a more responsible filmmaker.

The summer of shit continues. As I sat through Predators, the latest sequel to the Predator franchise, I got to wondering what story possibilities this concept really holds. The basic premise is very simple: A ‘predator’ is an alien being that lives to hunt. Success in life amounts to how many kills a predator can amass. The alien design is not particularly cool (they wear dreads and their mouths look like vaginas) and the only thing that makes them interesting is their body suits and cloaking device. We don’t really know anything about these aliens and the films have never given us any background information on them to make us give a shit about where they come from. When you get right down to it, they’re just one-note monsters in the same vein as Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers and as such, the possibilities for sequels are severely limited.

However, if you are going to do a sequel I suppose the idea for this latest incarnation is the next logical step for the franchise. The idea is based off of ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ which seems perfectly geared to be adapted to a Predator story. The filmmakers decided to pretty much take the first (and only successful movie in the franchise) movie and set it on an alien planet. Our band of protagonists find themselves on an alien planet that’s used as one huge hunting ground by the predators. The question quickly becomes how do they survive and how do they get off the planet?

Despite its unoriginality, a straightforward narrative like this one fits the simplicity of the basic premise. ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ has always been one of my favorite stories and to see a Predator story adapted to it is a bit cool. However, other from the hunting preserve/alien planet aspect of the story, the remainder of this film has been completely lifted from the first movie. The filmmakers are clearly trying to replicate the success of the first Predator and decided to tweak it a little and present the audience with a repackaged version of the same film. However, Robert Rodriguez, the producer, and Nimrod Antal, the director, have missed the boat. I like to think that the creative talent involved here had enough imagination to expand upon the ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ and given us something more different and exciting. Considering that an entire planet is a hunting preserve, we should have seen different sorts of physical environments like snow, ocean, desert, etc. All we get is a jungle (again) and the inside of an alien ship, which looks like a poor-man’s version of the ship in Aliens. It would have been cool to have seen other human survivors who have formed some sort of underground rag-tag rebellion group. These are just some ideas off the top of my head so I’m sure much better ones exist to have made this film work better.

There were a lot of worries in fanboydom about the casting of Adrien Brody in the lead role. I thought it was a great idea precisely because of his non-action star attributes. Aside from his strange adoption of a gravely voice that reminded me of Christian Bale’s voice in Dark Knight, Brody does a great job playing a bad-ass. I never questioned whether he could take on the predators or take charge of his group. He’s definitely no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that’s precisely why I thought Brody was well cast. I wanted to see someone who doesn’t match the physicality of the aliens; someone who looks utterly outmatched by them. Brody is forced to use his brains instead of muscle to outwit and beat the aliens. In addition, having someone like Brody, who looks weak, in charge raises the stakes of the danger the characters are in because they don’t have the brawn of an Arnold Schwarzenegger to protect them.

The remainder of the casting was a little hit or miss with me. It was fun to see Danny Trejo (starring in the upcoming Machete) and his twin Uzi’s in the movie as well as Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza operative and Laurence Fishburne as a crazed human survivor. These characters add diversity to the group. Unfortunately, Trejo and Fishburne are not in the movie for very long, which was a huge disappointment considering how much they add to the film. Some might fault Fishburne for his over-the-top acting, but c’mon, this is Predator, not Remains of the Day. As for Changchien, having a Yakuza operative in a world like this is straight-up comic book and something fanboys will totally dig. My only issue with his character is the samurai showdown he has with one of the predators in a field of grass. I thought this scene was ridiculous, not to mention badly staged in terms of action.

The rest of the characters felt too generic and uninteresting to care about. Some of this is due to the bad (and at times horrible) dialogue and the rest is simply poor character development. Alice Braga fails to convince me that she’s a soldier. She doesn’t have the tough girl qualities that Michelle Rodriguez has in Avatar or Jenette Goldstein had in Aliens as Vasquez. Braga reminds me of a Peace Corp volunteer who barely knows how to hold a gun. What most disappointed me about the characters is that the most annoying and worst character of the film is one of the last remaining characters left alive. At one time I had high hopes for Topher Grace’s career, especially after I had seen him in In Good Company. After seeing him in Spider-Man 3 and this film, I am convinced that he should only play characters who get killed after no more than 1 second of screen time. Any more screen time and the actor risks ruining the entire movie. The twist in his character is a little cool, albeit a bit too Scooby-Doo for me, but his constant whining and very unfunny dialogue was enough to make me cringe every time I saw him appear onscreen.

I mentioned the bad dialogue that Predators contains. Action movies are not usually known for sharp, insightful dialogue, but at least they’re not usually bad enough to make you notice how poorly written they are. Much of the dialogue here is the kind of crap you hear in video game cinematic scenes. I guess the filmmakers determined that audiences might not get that many of our characters are soldiers and mercenaries so they better amp up the gung-ho vocabulary to really drive it home.

If you’ve ever seen Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado, El Mariachi, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, you know that the one thing the director can pull off is staging action. I know he didn’t direct Predators, but I refuse to believe that he didn’t have some sort of creative control over the film. I was surprised by how unexciting the action scenes in this movie were. At times, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. The action doesn’t feel fluid and kinetic and you don’t get a sense of place when the characters are battling the predators. Good action scenes establish the physical setting that the characters are going to play in. Here, you don’t get that and consequently, the action isn’t very clear nor does it feel engaging.

You can tell Predators tries very hard to be a good movie. Its certainly better than Predator 2 and the two Aliens v. Predator films, but that’s not saying a whole lot because those were all awful pieces of shit to begin with. This movie could have been very good even with the script that it had. I almost wish that Rodriguez had directed the movie himself even though he’s never impressed me with his post-Desperado work. For the few good things it has going for it, Predators is weighed down by a lot of inconsistencies and unimaginative storytelling and direction.