'El Mariachi' - All he wants is to be a Mariachi, like his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather before him. But the town he thinks will bring him luck brings him only a curse of deadly mistaken identity. Forced to trade his guitar for a gun, the mariachi is playing for his life in this critically-acclaimed film debut from director Robert Rodriguez.
'Desperado' - Director Robert Rodriguez' sequel to his 1993 ultra low-budget movie, "El Mariachi." This film continues the story of the no-name, solitary, brooding mariachi, whose guitar case is stocked with high-powered weaponry. The musician is in a sleepy Mexican town seeking revenge against the much-feared, ruthless Bucho, a drug dealer who once shot El Mariachi in his strumming hand, and killed his girlfriend. When Bucho hears that the guitarist is looking for him, he sends his men out to forestall the attack — which leads to many well-choreographed and bloody shootouts. Will the Latin adversaries ever confront each other directly? And if so, who will survive?
It shouldn't come as any surprise that the U.S. dollar goes a long way in Mexico. The exchange rate is definitely in the favor of the green paper bills with a portrait of George Washington featured prominently in the center. A full-length motion picture with limited resources can easily be made as long as the locale serves as a good backdrop. And that's precisely what a young filmmaker from San Antonio, Texas did in 1992. Like a Chicano MacGyver, the then-23-year-old, bandana-wearing Robert Rodriguez set out to make his directorial debut with a small wad of cash, chewing gum, some string, a paper clip, and a rubber band with the micro-budget actioner 'El Mariachi.' (It's all documented in the must-read "Rebel Without a Crew.")
Set in the small border town of Ciudad Acuna, the movie opens as a quaint tale of a young man with aspirations of being a respected mariachi. Unfortunately, the local bars, which he quickly discovers, can't afford such entertainment, especially when there's only one of him. One barkeep even demonstrates how technology has made live performances obsolete as a boy jumps up from a corner of the room and plays his electric keyboard like it was a five-piece band. And with an accordion to boot! The scene also demonstrates Rodriguez's attempt at creating comedy in what's supposed to be a straightforward action flick, utilizing many of the same camera techniques as Raimi in 'Evil Dead.'
It's a good call on the part of the young filmmaker since the simple plot of mistaken identities takes a while to find its footing and kick into gear with the whole shoot 'em up clashes. It works, too, in the favor of the lone musician who knows how to handle his guitar but little about guns. The comedy somehow makes the fact that the mariachi is very lucky during gunfights easier to digest and enjoy for all the mayhem they create. He's forced to defend himself when he's suddenly mistaken for a crazed hitman dressed like him and carrying a guitar case. And his luck gets even weirder when the two accidentally trade cases. The only person willing to help him is a beautiful and friendly saloon owner with whom the unnamed guitarist later falls in love with.
'El Mariachi' is a fun and engaging action pic that goes toe-to-toe with anything Hollywood can dish out. It's made even more surprising by the fact that it comes from then first-time director, Robert Rodriguez, working with pennies — what Tinseltown spends in a day for catering services. To cut costs, Rodriguez reportedly used the same cast to work as his production crew. He also never did a second take so as to conserve film and integrated bloopers into the final cut, like the small turtle at the beginning crossing the road. It's a well-made and stylish low-budget film, displaying the filmmaker's enthusiasm for making it, which is part of its unique charm and attraction. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
Three years later, Robert Rodriguez followed up his debut smash with 'Desperado,' which covers much of the similar ground as its predecessor. The unnamed guitarist continues on his vengeance trip to see the death of the men responsible for killing the woman he loved. Actually, he kinda, sorta already accomplished that goal in the first movie. And in a rather unexpected but satisfying fashion, I might add. But no matter. Here, the gun-toting musician is now on the hunt, aiming to bring down the drug cartel behind Moco's entire operation. His blood quest has pretty much evolved into a mission of cleaning up the Mexican streets of drugs and their manufactures.
With a budget 100-times that of the original, Rodriguez's zest and gusto for filmmaking remains the main attraction and appeal in this sequel. Action sequences are hilariously exaggerated and inflated — the same over-the-top, schlocky style we see in his later films. Village streets and bar rooms will suddenly erupt into blazes of gunfire and violence. Even an explosion, thanks to a hand grenade, enters the foray while the hero of the flick jumps between rooftops without the slightest scratch to show for it. Then there's that crazy, wild shootout involving two more mariachis with guitar cases hiding a machine gun and a rocket launcher. With more money to splurge, so too goes a higher body count as this movie clearly demonstrates. At one point, two men are seen piling up corpses and endure the dirty job of mopping up the bloodbath.
Joining the silly mayhem is an entire cast of relatively unknown actors during the time of filming. Except, of course, Cheech Marin's funny cameo as a bartender serving what looks like the world's worst beer. Antonio Banderas takes over in the lead role as the broken-hearted musician seeking retribution. We won't hold the fact that he's actually Spanish against him since he portrays the Mexican hero rather fittingly, dancing the flamenco atop a bar counter while firing two pistols at once. 'Desperado' also introduced American audiences to the drop-dead gorgeous Salma Hayek, playing El Mariachi's new love interest. And just for good measure, Rodriguez brings in Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, and the always cool character-actor Danny Trejo.
Story-wise, this isn't a straightforward sequel since much of the plot feels like a repeat of the last. It could be argued as a remake of the first film (sound familiar?), only difference being the substantial amount of money backing it and the larger cast. But whatever the logic, 'Desperado' is an action-packed and boisterous follow up, a more polished approach to the melodramatic nonsense, boasting excessive and gratuitous acts of violence which are both exciting and comical. Once we get into the third feature, which together make up what has come to be known as the 'Mexico Trilogy,' it becomes a bit more apparent what Rodriguez aims to accomplish with this series of mariachi films. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'El Mariachi' and 'Desperado' arrive to Blu-ray as a double feature on the same Region Free, BD50 disc. It's housed in a blue eco-lite vortex keepcase with a cover art that shows Antonio Banderas in character walking alone. Once placed in the player, viewers are asked which version they'd like to watch first and then taken directly to a standard menu selection.
While full-motion clips from both films and music play in the background, users can switch between the two flicks by pressing on the UP arrow key on their remote from the PLAY MOVIE option. This highlights a movie reel with a curved arrow at the very top left-hand corner of the screen. After pressing ENTER, the menu remains the same. But to ensure that you'd made the right selection, move the cursor that looks like a guitar pick to SCENE SELECTION, where you can verify the movie you are about to watch.
The independent Mexican actioner arrives pretty much like we'd expect from a low-budget flick originally shot on 16mm stock. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is awash in thick, noticeable grain, which is made more apparent in dark scenes, giving the image an attractive film-like quality. Contrast is comfortably bright and crisp, providing good clarity and plenty of visible detail. Blacks are surprisingly deep and lush, which extends into some overwhelming shadows during poorly-lit interiors, but delineation is fairly weak. Definition is somewhat limited, but far better than anticipated, revealing fine lines in various objects and excellent texture in facial complexions, especially in close-ups. Colors are bold and accurate throughout, particularly in the primaries. All things considered, 'El Mariachi' looks really nice in high definition video. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
The sequel shows a slightly stronger 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1), but we have seen far better and superior catalog titles. It's a nicely detailed picture with plenty of fine, stable lines throughout. Flesh tones appear natural and appropriate to the climate with great textures and definition. Contrast is spot-on, providing the image with pleasing, distinct visibility in the distance. The photography displays a warm and dirty appearance with a faint yellow push, but primaries remain bright and energetic. Black levels are also rich and true, while shadow details are clear and discernible. Overall, 'Desperado' has its moments of weak resolution, but for the most, it looks quite good on Blu-ray. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also provides a good stereo presentation, but it's nothing standout or highly impressive. Much of its drawback is, of course, attributed to the limitations of the original recording. It lacks a great deal of depth and activity, sounding mostly flat and sometimes canned. There's really no sense of space or presence as action is evenly spread out between the speakers. Meaning voices and action are heard across the entire soundstage at the same time with no movement at all, like watching the movie on a television set. On the bright side, dialogue is clear and intelligible at all times, and dynamic range is clean and well rendered. There's no low bass to speak of. Taken as a whole, the lossless mix is not bad, but also nothing wholly worthwhile either. (Audio Rating: 2.5/5)
For the audio, 'Desperado' is none too shabby and can put on a good show when the scene requires it. But the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also displays one minor drawback, which is in the dialogue. Every once in a while, vocals dip somewhat and it can be a bit difficult to make out what's being said. At its best, conversations are very clear while the fronts suddenly erupt with gunfire and explosions. During these moments, the mid-range remains extensive and sharp with excellent clarity detail in the upper ranges. Low-frequency bass can be quite powerful and effective. Rear activity exhibits some convincing discrete effects during action sequences, enhancing the soundfield and enveloping the listener persuasively. In the end, the high-rez track is an entertaining listen. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Many of the same extras from previous DVD releases are ported over to this Blu-ray edition of 'El Mariachi/Desperado' double feature. It's not much, but pretty good stuff nonetheless with each featuring separate audio commentaries. To switch between the assortments of bonus material, users can highlight the small icon of a movie reel in the top left-hand corner and select.
Robert Rodriguez made a huge splash with his insanely low-budget Mexican debut feature about an aspiring musician who's mistaken for a deadly hitman. 'El Mariachi' is a well-constructed and engaging actioner that wears its creator's enthusiasm and passion for filmmaking proudly on its sleeve. 'Desperado' is the explosive follow-up that continues the same level of energy and excitement as its predecessor. Starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek (in a must-see scene), the sequel is full of silly, over-the-top action for a fun and entertaining movie also made on a small budget. The single-disc Blu-ray contains both films and their respective special features, showing a good audio and video presentation. The supplements are the same seen on previous releases but a nice selection. Overall, the package is a strong upgrade and worth checking out for fans as well as the curious.