Friday, September 3, 2010

Film Yap: Robert Rodriguez: Awesome For All Ages

One of my favorite books about filmmaking is Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew. In that memoir he told about how he made his feature film El Mariachi. He paid for the movie by subjecting himself to medical experiments for quick cash. His entire crew consisted of a handful of people. With a little bit of luck and obvious talent, the movie was picked up and became a huge success.

That $7,000 film made Rodriguez one of the biggest directors working out of Hollywood. In an interview Quentin Tarantino gave some (arrogant) advice by saying if you’re going to make a first film, make something really awesome like Reservoir Dogs. That was the case as well for El Mariachi, which makes it no wonder they formed a friendship.

El Mariachi lead the way for Rodgiguez’s fun trilogy following a musician who ends up being a total badass killer. Antonio Banderas replaces Carlos Gallardo in the sequels, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Rodriguez plays with the violent and the ridiculousness while dropping probably millions of bullet shells into the streets. These are the best examples of his visual style and darker sense of humor.

This led to him making more awesome macho films outside of the trilogy. Joe praised From Dusk Til Dawn and there is a following towards The Faculty. I really responded to that type of humor in his installment in the Grindhouse double feature. His movie Planet Terror is my favorite Rodriguez movie because the humor is top-notch (“It looks like a no-brainer.) and he had a lot of fun with the genre. It was almost a punchline to people who weren’t interested in the movie, but I still think having a girl with a machine gun for a leg was hilarious/brilliant.

His most beloved movie is probably Sin City, but this is one of the ones that don’t work for me. There’s a cool style to it and Rodriguez knows how to assemble a cool cast, but I think a lot of it is empty. I attribute that more of Frank Miller’s craziness more than anything else.

In 2001, something unexpected happened with Rodriguez’s career. He made a kids movie that was a giant success. Spy Kids won over critics and audiences and it led to three sequels. It’s a very clever concept of having two siblings of secret agents being called in to save them. The imagination and the wit made this a hit with all ages, but this is yet another series that had diminishing returns. Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams was weirder and not as clever as the first one. Then Spy Kids 3D: Game Over…well, let’s just say it had Sylvester Stallone in multiple roles. Bleh. He just announced he is returning to the franchise with Spy Kids 4: Apocalypse with Jessica Alba. If those other entries weren’t enough to worry, Rodriguez also disappointed families with The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Shorts.

I love that this hardcore R-rated director is able to use his storytelling abilities in different genres, but I think he needs to have more of a focus on his audience. He knows what kind of movies he would love watching and then people really respond to films like Planet Terror, From Dusk Til Dawn and his upcoming Machete. With his kids films it seems like he had greater respect for their intelligence with the first Spy Kids and then lowered the standards. Kids like films they can revisit years later with the same sort of love. Spy Kids had that, but Shorts was just a travesty that only a very specific age would tolerate.

Despite some flops his canon, I get excited when he has a new movie out. There are only a few writer/directors who are still visually exciting with action films and Robert Rodriguez is one of them.

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