Thursday, January 31, 2008

Robert Rodriguez: Comic Book Auteur?

Having to wait two weeks to start my new job has given me the opportunity to view a lot of DVD's at home. This morning I revisited Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the action packed quasi-western directed by Robert Rodriguez. I wasn't impressed the first time I viewed it because I felt it had too many characters and too many plot elements (for this sort of action film). I felt the Mariachi character (previously seen in El Mariachi and its sequel Desperado) took a backseat in all of this to make way for characters played by Ruben Blades, Johnny Depp, Willem Defoe and Mickey Rourke. It's ambitious story arch was certainly more than your standard mariachi-for-hire plot. So when I first saw it in a theater I considered it was just a throwaway time-waster to showcase all these actors. Since Desperado, Robert Rodriguez has picked up the baton that John Woo dropped when he moved to mainstream Hollywood movies. I dare say these Mariachi movies are capable of delivering the same sort of action as in John Woo movies like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard-Boiled.
The plot to Once Upon a Time in Mexico cushions out the mindblowing action scenes in what is otherwise a shoot 'em up cartoon. With its bright red, green and gold colors, its sweaty close ups and Sergio Leone hommages, this film leaves the viewer with little room to catch their breath. It is a dazzling film in a long line of great action films directed by self-made independent director Rodriguez (independent with a big studio backing him, natch, he's not Jim Jarmausch after all). It is part of a collection of action films taking place within a hyperkinetic universe all its own; films like From Dusk 'Til Dawn, Desperado, Sin City and most recently, Planet Terror.
I remember reading the comic book Body Count by Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Simon Bisley (Lobo, Judge Dredd, etc.) about eleven years ago and for the first time in a long time I was reminded of this incredible book while watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And then it hit me that Robert Rodriguez is progressively becoming more and more of a comic book-styled film director. Having given us cartoon family fare such as Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, adding to that his brilliant adaptation of Sin City, he's already created a universe of pulp comic cinema. Not like Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) or Bryan Singer (X-men), who obscured their superheroes in shadows while they boil with emotion and inner-turmoil. Rodriguez highlights action and adventure. Slowly his films are becoming comic book panels, exploding with a cornucopia of bright colors and cartoon action. So I write this because I was reminded so much of Body Count that I had to revisit the comic and post some pictures of contrast and comparisons.
Simon Bisley
Salma Hayek in From Dusk Til Dawn

Cover of Body Count
Did I mention that Body Count was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book done in the style of John Woo's Hard Boiled?

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