Titirangi Storyteller

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Posts Tagged ‘Westerns

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

The serial killer in my living room

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Okay, the entire unmitigated truth about the serial killer in my living room. That’s right, in my living room, two days before the Rochester city cops and the Monroe County sheriff and the big boys from the FBI figured out who’d been sweeping the streets of the Flour City of common working girls, leaving their bodies littering the bank of the Genesee River. That serial killer sat in my living room watching my TV and eating my birthday cake.

Now, I’m going to skip the blood and guts and horror and brutal mutilation. If you want that it’s easy enough to dig up. Just Google “Arthur Shawcross” and there’s more than enough to keep anyone occupied for days or weeks. Back then, I read the papers with that, “oh no! how could I have not known???” shock-horror. Gruesome details, sexual inadequacy, inferiority, superiority, all the psychological crap that comes to light when a serial killer finally gets caught.

My serial killer was one of several to come out of Rochester, New York. The

Lovely downtown Rochester, with bridge over the Genesee

Lovely downtown Rochester, with bridge over the Genesee

Hillside Strangler hailed from Rochester, but shifted to LA. He never actually killed anyone in town. There was another serial killer from there, but I can’t remember his name. They seem to run together. Unless you’re great looking like Bundy, or especially gruesome like the guy from Cincinnati who bought it mopping the floor in prison. I guess even serial killers only get 15 minutes of fame.

My serial killer wasn’t handsome or charming. About a hundred fifty pounds overweight, 45 going on 60, balding and not the best dresser. He didn’t have much smarts or a great sense of humour. The court psychiatrists claimed he was mildly retarded, but I knew him for a couple of years and he was just an ordinary dumb guy. Got his opinions from watching TV and listening to talkback radio. He loved reading Louis L’Amour westerns. I sent him a couple hundred paperbacks of all sorts while he was in the county lock-up awaiting trial.

My mom lived upstairs from him and they became friends. You know the

Mom had the 2nd floor flat on the left, he and his wife lived on the first (ground) floor

Mom had the 2nd floor flat on the left, he and his wife lived on the first (ground) floor

person on TV who’s staring into the cameras when the most evil criminal on the planet gets arrested and says, “Oh, there must be some mistake – he was such a nice man!” That was my Mom. She was interviewed on all the local TV stations, CNN and a couple of those cheesy news programmes.

He was a pretty nice guy – the sort who rushed out and shovelled the snow off the front steps of his apartment building so the older ladies who lived there wouldn’t fall on their way in or out. He once found dozens of iris corms and rose bushes dug out and tossed in the rubbish, gathered them up and gave them to me because he thought I had the most beautiful gardens. They thrived.

He was a damned fine cook, and always brought something heavenly if he happened to come over with my Mom. Made a lot of fine stews as well, which made everyone squeamish when the defence psychiatrist started talking about cannibalism. But it turned out that wasn’t true, neither were the multiple personalities. I saw the tapes. Bad acting by someone trying to get out of a real tight spot.

But all in all, my serial killer was boring. His life was boring. He worked in a food service kitchen making potato salad all day long. His wife, Rose, was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she was very sweet. When they got married, I made their wedding cake.

His girl on the side, Clara wasn’t very nice, though I only met her once – the kind of ugly that goes right down to the bone. He married her in prison after Rose died. He rode his bicycle to work and around town, even in the snowy winters. Occasionally Clara lent him her car, even though he didn’t have a licence. It turned out he used it for his crimes, which was a real drag for her, since she was still making payments on the thing when the police seized it and ripped it to shreds looking for evidence, hairs, earrings, clothing fibres. I don’t know if she ever got it back.

He died this past November – of a heart attack. Got me thinking about him and pondering. One thing I learned from the serial killer in my living room is that no matter how good a judge of character you think you are – you can be dead wrong. All that time I was locking my doors, I’d invited the devil in over the threshold with an open heart and clear mind. I stopped locking my door for a while after that, though I do now. But I don’t pretend to REALLY know who I’m keeping out or letting in.

I’ve kept on trusting people. Not sure why, but my belief in being straight with people was reaffirmed and I continue to try to treat everyone with respect and kindness.

But the best thing is – I’m serial killer proofed! Most people don’t get any – nobody gets more than one!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

02/02/2009 at 10:30 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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