Category Archives: Directed by Robert Rodriguez

The Faculty (1998, Robert Rodriguez)

Robert Rodriguez gives his actors a lot of time in The Faculty. The supporting cast–mostly the titular faculty of a high school (albeit one suffering an alien invasion)–gets to be showy. The film opens with a great showcase for Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick and Piper Laurie. The main cast of kids trying not to be assimilated, they get a lot of quiet time.

There's a lot of listening, a lot of thinking, a lot of reflecting. All amid this tightly paced teenage Body Snatchers. Kevin Williamson's script is careful to take the time to set up the characters. Rodriguez doesn't really use montage, instead of lets the camera dreamily float through the high school. He edits the film too; it's hard to imagine anyone else getting it right. Rodriguez cuts the film perfectly.

All of the principals–Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Shawn Hatosy, Josh Hartnett–are excellent. Every one of them gets at least five great moments in the film; the script allows the characters self-awareness, Rodriguez gives the actors room to essay it.

The standouts are DuVall, Hatosy and Hartnett. Their complexities are more omnipresent. DuVall's probably the best.

And the supporting cast is excellent too. Patrick, Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Daniel von Bargen. Rodriguez doesn't have a bad performance in the lot of them. They make the fantastical not mundane, but vicious in context.

Thanks to the thoughtful verisimilitude on the part of all involved, The Faculty excels. It's a superior film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Robert Rodriguez; screenplay by Kevin Williamson, based on a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Cary White; produced by Elizabeth Avellan; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Elijah Wood (Casey), Clea DuVall (Stokely), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Shawn Hatosy (Stan), Laura Harris (Marybeth), Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Salma Hayek (Nurse Harper), Famke Janssen (Miss Burke), Piper Laurie (Mrs. Olson), Christopher McDonald (Mr. Connor), Bebe Neuwirth (Principal Drake), Robert Patrick (Coach Willis), Usher Raymond (Gabe), Jon Stewart (Prof. Furlong), Daniel von Bargen (Mr. Tate), Jon Abrahams (F’%# You Boy) and Summer Phoenix (F’%# You Girl).


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El Mariachi (1992, Robert Rodriguez)

I’m having a hard time reconciling the Robert Rodriguez who made El Mariachi with the Robert Rodriguez who made anything after it. Obviously, some of the filmmaking choices are due to the low budget, but the film’s frantic style–something owed far new to early Sam Raimi than John Woo–creates a hyper-reality. It, and some of the budgetary constraints, make Mariachi singular in the action genre. Until the very end, Rodriguez has got something extraordinary here.

Maybe it’s because the film isn’t an action movie. Yes, there are gunfights and chase scenes, but they’re on such a low scale (though the scene with lead Carlos Gallardo swinging in front of a bus is amazing) El Mariachi feels more like a modern, Mexican noir than an attempt at a revenge thriller. I haven’t seen the film in fifteen years or so, but I can’t imagine I was any more excited seeing it at as a teenager than I was this viewing. The film’s so exceptionally good–from the first frame–it’s just a joy.

Rodriguez’s direction–I imagine some of the off-kilter close-up framing is due to matting, but maybe not… as a director, he dropped everything good he does here in his subsequent films–constantly impresses.

He even makes the recurring dream sequences work.

The script is strong and well-acted. Gallardo is a fantastic lead. The villains–Reinol Martinez and Peter Marquardt–are both great.

El Mariachi is a simply wonderful, gut-wrenching tragedy of chance.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written, photographed, edited and directed by Robert Rodriguez; music by Eric Guthrie, Chris Knudson, Álvaro Rodríguez, Cecilio Rodríguez and Mark Trujillo; produced by Carlos Gallardo and Rodriguez; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Carlos Gallardo (El Mariachi), Consuelo Gómez (Domino), Jaime de Hoyos (Bigotón), Peter Marquardt (Mauricio), Reinol Martinez (Azul), Ramiro Gómez (Cantinero), Jesús López (Viejo Clerk), Luis Baró (Domino’s Assistant) and Oscar Fabila (The Boy).


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Desperado (1995, Robert Rodriguez)

Between Joaquim de Almeida and Carlos Gómez, it certainly appears Robert Rodriguez likes good actors. He even gets a great performance from Cheech Marin, but I suppose Marin didn’t need much direction.

So with those three good performances and two good actors–de Almeida even does well with Rodriguez’s atrocious dialogue, something not even Steve Buscemi can do–it makes one wonder what Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are doing in Desperado.

Banderas’s casting I can understand, he was a star on the rise at the time, but Rodriguez discovered Hayek and has been subjecting the world to her terrible acting ever since. Banderas is awful, comically strutting along like a supermodel acting butch, but Hayek is much, much worse. Banderas has three honest moments. Hayek doesn’t even blink honestly.

Hayek doesn’t show up until almost halfway in, so the first half is a lot better than the rest, even if Quentin Tarantino shows up for a terrible cameo. I was a big El Mariachi fan back before Desperado came out, but after seeing this one in the theater, I don’t think I’ve seen either.

Maybe if the only problem was the writing, it’d be more palatable, but Rodriguez is a rather mediocre action director here. The shoot-outs bore–Banderas isn’t some unstoppable killing machine, his opponents are just slow, stupid and overweight. His successes are always based on luck.

The last half takes forever, about thirty events a minute. If you like lame melodrama, it must be lovely.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Robert Rodriguez; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; music by Los Lobos; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Rodriguez and Bill Borden; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Cheech Marin (Short Bartender), Steve Buscemi (Buscemi), Carlos Gómez (Right Hand), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-Up Guy) and Danny Trejo (Navajas).


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Sin City (2005, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez), the extended version

When Sin City came out in the theater, three people told me to go see it. One of them had an opinion of film I respect, one had an opinion of it I–at the time–had no argument with, and one had an opinion I most definitely did not respect. But I’d read interviews with Robert Rodriguez where he said he intended the films to be viewed as separate stories (much like Pulp Fiction, which is Sin City‘s obvious inspiration–at least in terms of casting). One of the Weinstein Brothers, I believe, convinced Rodriguez the film’s audience were essentially dumb and couldn’t handle the stories separate, so spliced together they went. So I waited for the special edition DVD, which has all three films in their entirety….

Unlike Pulp Fiction, which has three stories and shared characters, Sin City isn’t the same movie from part to part. Rodriguez was never a particularly intelligent filmmaker, something Tarantino always has been. In fact, reading on IMDb that it was Tarantino’s idea for Clive Owen to talk his monologue–truly the best moment in the film–makes a lot of sense now. I thought it was just a moment of the comic book that wasn’t tripe.

I actually have a bunch of notes on Sin City, because some of the acting was so awful I had to make a list. Here’s the list, with some comments.

Elijah Wood. He doesn’t have any lines, but he doesn’t have a bad-ass, or even psycho scare. His casting is a goofy, poor choice. All Sin City proved was that he shouldn’t have made it past child acting, which Ash Wednesday already did.

Rosario Dawson is AWFUL.

So is Rutger Hauer.

So is Jessica Alba (in the cameo during Marv’s story).

Benicio Del Toro was laughingly bad. So was Brittany Murphy, but she was irritating. Watching Del Toro in Sin City is like… try to imagine Robert DeNiro as Robin (as an eleven year-old). It’s embarrassing. The Del Toro/Murphy scene is actually painful. A lot of the acting in Sin City is like it–it’s unbelievable that Rodriguez expects it to be taken seriously and not as a bad imitation of a car commercial.

Alexis Bledel–awful. She might give the worst female performance.

Michael Madsen is astoundingly bad. I always used to–when I was a teenager–confuse him with Tom Sizemore. The difference is not that Sizemore is good (he’s better than good), but that he’s actually capable of acting. Madsen isn’t.

Now, on to the good performances. Anyone turning in a good performance in this film must be amazing. The dialogue is so piss poor, they have to be.

Both Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton are good in their little intro sequence (Hartnett probably has the easiest time with the narration, because his is the shortest and, therefore, the best).

Mickey Rourke is fantastic, but the makeup is a bad idea. The whole “translation” of the comic book idea is stupid (and certainly testifies to Rodriguez’s inherent limitations). The comic book is not perfect–the writing is occasionally all right, but most of the dialogue and narration is awful. Miller simply isn’t very good, on page or screen. Rourke manages to convey real emotion, even with his face in plastic.

Clive Owen is excellent.

Tommy Flanagan (the guy with the scar) or Nick Stahl give the best performances in the film.

Jaime King is actually all right. Maybe even good.

The Willis narration ruins the sequence, because it doesn’t give him a chance to act. Jessica Alba was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe, mostly because her character does absolutely nothing. Some of the Willis stuff looks real good, but that narration just kills it. Miller’s narration makes an attempt at Chandler, but it’s a poor one. He misses Chandler’s point. Its characterizations are from a B film noir–a bad one–not Chandler. Not even Hammett. It’s like he’s heard some hackneyed detective narration on a sitcom….

The special effects–the “sets” and “locations”–occasionally work, but they mimic reality, but don’t seem to intend to–so when something is incredibly unreal, it sticks out. Like cars. Amusingly, the visual design (from Miller’s comic) has cops out of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with full body armor, driving old cop cars to fit in with the 1950s motif.

I actually didn’t dislike Sin City. It’s certainly the best comic book movie in the last few years (since Hellboy, I suppose, then all the way back to Batman Returns or something). It’s just not very good–it’s like Pulp Fiction, but with a bunch of actors from the WB. There’s rarely any real human emotion to it and there’s a constant attempt to be “cool.” Pulp Fiction had some similar aspirations, but it was also about wanting to screw your boss’s wife, which is a layer Sin City doesn’t have. All of its characters, for the “noirish” dialogue (out of the missing Don Knotts adaptation–sorry, translation–of The Big Sleep), all of them talk straight from id. There’s no nuance. But it’s hard to dislike just because it isn’t a real movie. It’s not a serious attempt at anything. American Pie 2 is a more serious study of the human heart in conflict with itself.

Sin City is a comic book movie and I’m using comic book as a pejorative there….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; special guest director, Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Frank Miller, based on his comic book; director of photography, Rodriguez; edited by Rodriguez; music by Rodriguez, John Debney and Graeme Revell; produced by Elizabeth Avellán, Rodriguez and Miller; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jessica Alba (Nancy), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Jaime King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Roark Jr./Yellow Bastard), Bruce Willis (Hartigan) and Elijah Wood (Kevin).