Titirangi Storyteller

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Posts Tagged ‘Western

Once Upon a Time in Mexico – revisited

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I have a secret love for action flicks – and there are those in my collection I can watch over and over and never ever get bored.

It hit me about half an hour into Once Upon a Time in Mexico that this might be the perfect date flick – as long as you’ve got the stomach for heaps of cartoon violence. For chicks, you’ve got Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Enrique Iglesias, Ruben Blades and bad boys Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe. For the blokes there’s non-stop action, shootouts, hi-jinks and some very memorable cameos from the incomparable Salma Hayek. And, there’s also one hell of story.

This, the third film in his Mariachi trilogy, is clearly director Robert Rodriguez’ baby. The first, El Mariachi, came in 1992, made on a budget of US$7,000. The second, Desperado, followed three years later, also written, produced, directed, scored, and ‘chopped’ by the director of the Spy Kids series. Though it is the third of the trilogy, the film stands on its own: fans may want to go back and uncover the earlier story, it’s not necessary to understanding this film. Come to think of it, Hayak’s character dies in Desperado but she’s back and hotter than ever here. So seeing the first two is strictly optional. They are out on DVD as a 2-disc set – should you go looking.

Sands contemplating the perfect puerco pibil

A Hollywood outsider by choice, Rodriguez works from an elaborate home studio in Austin, Texas, putting his films together with more can-do creativity than professional glitz. He shot Once Upon a Time in Mexico himself, in Mexico with a high-definition video camera.

A meltingly handsome Antonio Banderas plays El Mariachi, a gunslinger-guitar hero: a living legend – part man, part spirit. Then there’s Johnny Depp as Sands, a casually corrupt CIA agent with a penchant for disguise and chef-murdering, who recruits El Mariachi to foil a coup planned by the fascist General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) with the help of drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe at his most sinister.) Where Banderas is all smouldering passion, Depp is indifferent. It’s a shame we don’t get more of Salma Hayek, but what we do get is unforgettable – the hottest woman on the planet.

Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi

Rodriguez takes full advantage of the small video camera, diving into the middle of the action. Careening at a dizzying pace; he becomes the camera, looking everywhere at once. And when he gets his footage to the chopping block he ups the ante, so the film is a Tasmanian Devil of a dervish, and you have the distinct sense that anything can happen. Yes, it is violent, but odd as it may seem, there is a joyful playfulness to it – blood that looks like raspberry sauce and the odd sense that Yosemite Sam might turn up any second, six-guns blasting. There is so much humour and plain silliness in the script and in Depp’s character (who actually asks a recruit, “Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can’t?”), Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a tasty piece of eye candy. Highly recommended.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/05/2010 at 10:06 pm

Bardot in the beginning and the end

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Two from Brigitte Bardot

While she never attained the status of Marilyn Monroe, French sex kitten, Brigitte Bardot, was adored by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and provided the inspiration for Amy Winehouse’s beehive. She retired as her star was falling and is now better known for her work in animal rights her reactionary politics which have gotten her in hot water several times in recent years.

Naughty Girl, from 1955 is a delight, the 21-year-old Bardot plays Brigitte Latour, a gangster’s daughter under the temporary care of nightclub singer, Jean Clery (Jean Bretonnière). The hapless Clery is ordered to rescue her from her private school before her father’s enemies kidnap her. He expects a chubby girl with braces on her teeth but instead, finds his hands full of an out of control Bardot, part woman, part child and all temptation who takes over his life. She ruins his engagement and burns down his flat. Astonishingly, in one of those ‘my how things have changed’ moments, Clery slaps her across the face when she misbehaves, which straightens her out and all is well.

Naughty Girl (1955)

Sexy and gifted, Bardot is simply incredible. The following year she made And God Created Woman, directed by her first husband, Roger Vadim, which launched her as an international star. Like so many of Hollywood’s blonde bombshells, she became more famous for her celebrity, love affairs, marriages and scandals than she was for her acting. In 1962 she made Vie Privée, directed by Louis Malle  and in 1963, she starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s critically acclaimed Contempt. But as her life spun out of control, the quality of her work became erratic.

Fast forward to Shalako, a badly scripted spaghetti western based on a Louis L’Amour novel. It’s 1968 and though she is only 34, Bardot is puffy and her teeth need work. Too much hard living, booze, drugs and lack of sleep have taken their toll. She can still play the vixen, but her powers have waned.

The surprise is finding Sean Connery slumming in this dog. At the time he was at the height of his fame as 007. Bardot plays one of a group of European aristocrats on a hunting tour of the American wild west. They refuse to abide by treaty agreements and find themselves in a battle to the death with the natives.  He’s the guide who comes to their rescue, despatch a few hundred Injuns to save them from their arrogance and stupidity. Painful viewing all around.

Shalako (1968)

Bardot today.

Bardot survived Hollywood, unlike her peers Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. She appeared in a few more movies into the early 70’s and retired. Since then she has been a vociferous animal rights activist, but more often in the news for her right-wing politics. She’s easy to dislike – and yet, I can’t help admiring the survivor in her, surviving the public adoration and self destruction that too often accompanies that kind of celebrity. Having transcended ‘Bardot,’ she leaves us free to rediscover her early, unspoiled talent.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

21/02/2010 at 11:18 pm

Sukiyaki Western Django!

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Filmmakers learn their art from those who came before them. In this case, there was Akira Kurosawa and Yojimbo in 1961; hundreds, if not thousands of Hong Kong django-1024-4chop-socky flicks; and the Japanese film industry’s obsession with the yakuza gangster flick in the 60’s and 70’s. Quentin Tarantino and Takashi Miike spent their youth and student days sponging up the masters and went to work on their own films. Before long they were studying each other. Tarantino came up with Kill Bill in 2003. Miike has delivered us Sukiyaki Western Django – a distillation of 500 years of storytelling and 100 years of movies into a dazzling surreal filmscape that is blindingly beautiful and ruthlessly violent without a wasted frame of film or line of dialogue.

Crossing the War of the Roses subplot of Shakespeare’s Henry VI with Django, Sergio Carbucci’s seminal 1966 spaghetti western – a lone gunman (played by Asian superstar Hideaki Ito) arrives in a desperate town torn apart by rival gangs. The Reds are brutal and coarse and the Whites, disciplined but merciless – both in search of a legendary buried treasure. Having to choose sides, he declares he will work with whoever offers him the greatest share when the treasure is sukiyaki_western_django_movie_image__3_found.

He withdraws to the White run saloon and after watching one of the whores, Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura) dance, he brings her upstairs. She recounts in flashback how she belonged to the Whites, but married a Red man and had a son with him. They raised red and white roses and dreamed of peace between their clans. She and her son watched him murdered by his own gang. Fearing for their lives, she returned to the Whites and was raped by their leader Yoichi (played by teen heart-throb, Masanobu Ando) and forced to work in the saloon.

Violence soon escalates as rumours of a Red secret weapon leak and the uneasy truce erupts to all-out war – culminating in a battle between sword and pistol.

Director Takashi Miike, who speaks no English, opted to shoot the film entirely in English. While most of the lead cast have an acceptable grasp of the language, hearing a bit-player threaten to ‘clean your plough’ spoken sukiyaki-western-django2phonetically is disorienting. Yet, the accented English and playful soundtrack from Koji Endo which wanders from east to west and occasionally rocks out, make sense in this alternative universe. As does Quentin Tarantino in a small, but vital role tidying up the madness.

But it is the visuals that continue to play, long after the credits roll. The exquisite choreography of the fight scenes would leave Sam Peckinpah drooling, especially the final battle which takes place while snow blankets the dirty landscape. Miike plays with colour, so it almost becomes a character of its own – burning hot saturation or brought so low the world is almost featureless. I’ve been watching films since childhood and viewing over 300 films a year for the last ten years and I cannot recall a single flick that compares visually.

django-1024-1Takeshi Miike hasn’t been one of my favourite directors – he’s best known as a horror director who pushes the boundaries of ‘decency.’ His breakthrough film, Audition (1999) terrified audiences around the world, but Visitor Q so horrified censor boards in 2001, the film was banned in many countries, including New Zealand – though this was lifted to allow the film to screen at festivals. I am not a big fan of straight horror – I get too scared watching truly scary movies and grossed out by slasher flicks. So I’ve taken a pass on many of his flicks, though The Happiness of the Katakuris from 2001 is a favourite.

Sukiyaki Western Django is destined to become a cult favourite, one of those films that will be referenced by future filmmakers and continue to play in festivals. It’s that rare 5 out of 5 star – not to be missed.


Written by Titirangi Storyteller

25/01/2009 at 11:41 pm

Posted in Film

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