Review: Desperado (1995)

>> Sunday, January 30, 2011

USA/C-104m./Dir: Robert Rodriguez/Wr: Robert Rodriguez/Cast: Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Salma Hayek (Carolina), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Cheech Marin (Short Bartender), Steven Buscemi (Buscemi), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-up Guy), Danny Trejo (Navajas), Tito Larriva (Tavo), Carlos Gomez (Right Hand)

A weaselly guy (Steve Buscemi) walks into the Tarasco Bar and orders a beer so disgusting that the tap belches with each draw. He then proceeds to spin a tale about a mysterious Mexican with a guitar case full of weapons who massacred the denizens of another saloon while trying to find out information regarding the whereabouts of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the local drug kingpin. The bartender (Cheech Marin) and bouncer (Tito Larriva) listen intently to the stranger’s story, because the bar is actually a front for Bucho’s drug operation. Soon the heralded guitar case-carrying vigilante (Antonio Banderas) appears at the Tarasco Bar looking for revenge on the drug dealers that killed the woman he loved. In his quest for vengeance against Bucho, the vigilante will encounter numerous gun-toting underlings, a knife-wielding goliath (Danny Trejo), and a beautiful bookstore owner with middling surgical skills (Salma Hayek).

Along with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez emerged as one of the darlings of the 1990’s indie film movement. To audiences of the time, their films were action-packed, subversive, and most of all, “cool.” Unfortunately, while Tarantino’s films hold up remarkably well, Rodriguez’s output seems a lot less cool today that in did fifteen years ago. Looking back at Desperado, the Hollywood sequel to Rodriguez’s low-budget, Spanish-language debut, El Mariachi (1992), Rodriguez’s weakness as a storyteller are much more apparent now (after a string of movies that celebrate style over substance and an almost fanatical disregard for coherent narrative) than they were at the time of its release.

While the bar-related humor and action scenes in the first half of the film are undeniably fun, the film runs out of steam in the second half as the gunfights get repetitive and the motivations of the hero and villain are undeveloped. For viewers that missed Rodriguez’s debut film, the dream sequences that should explain the reasons behind Banderas’ revenge are confusing, and even audiences that saw El Marachi may have difficulty explaining why the Marachi wants to kill Bucho, when it was another drug lord, Moco (Peter Marquardt), that actually killed his girl. It also doesn’t help that Joaquim de Almeida plays Bucho as a smaller than life baddie and that the revelation of a surprise relationship between him and the Mariachi is laughably corny.

Desperado skates by primarily on the charms of its cast. Luckily, Banderas, Buscemi, Cheech Marin, and especially Salma Hayek have charm to spare. In fact, Robert Rodriguez’s greatest contribution to cinema has been to introduce the lovely Hayek to American audiences. Desperado is worth revisiting for her presence alone, but soused cinema enthusiasts will also enjoy the memorable bar scenes that open the film.

Drinks Consumed--Beer (piss-warm Chango), margaritas (Tequila), and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, swearing, public disturbance, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--SHORT BARTENDER: What do you want?
BUSCEMI: Beer.
SHORT BARTENDER: All I got is piss-warm Chango.
BUSCEMI: That’s my brand.

Video Availability--Desperado has been paired with El Mariachi on DVD and Blu-Ray (Sony)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--A bar was also the setting for the second half of Rodriguez’s next full-length feature, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).

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Review: Lucky Lady (1975)

>> Sunday, January 9, 2011

USA/C-118m./Dir: Stanley Donen/Wr: Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz/Cast: Gene Hackman (Kibby Womack), Liza Minnelli (Claire), Burt Reynolds (Walker Ellis), Robby Benson (Billy), Geoffrey Lewis (Capt. Mosely), John Hillerman (McTeague), Michael Hordern (Capt. Rockwell)

Moonshine movies were all the rage in the Sixties and Seventies, so Twentieth Century Fox felt they had a sure hit on their hands with Lucky Lady, a comedy about rumrunners during Prohibition. With actors like Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, and Liza Minnelli (fresh off an Oscar win for Caberet) attached to star, Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain, Charade) set to direct, and a couple of tunes by Kander and Ebb (Cabaret), what could possibly go wrong? Just about everything, as it turned out. The movie’s twelve-week shooting schedule expanded to twenty; its $10 million dollar budget ballooned to 22 million; and the cast had to be reunited for re-shoots when test audiences didn’t go for the original ending. Worst of all, when the flick was finally released on Christmas of 1975, it belly-flopped at the box office.

Liza Minnelli stars as Claire, a nightclub singer and widow of a smuggler, who concocts a plan to make some dough by transporting Canadian scotch from Tijuana to San Diego on her lover’s yacht. Said lover, Walker Ellis (Burt Reynolds), loses the stake money for the booze to a drifter (Gene Hackman), so Claire reluctantly has to take on a third partner. The trio ends up getting along famously (ménage-a-trios are implied), and they turn their initial bootlegging excursion into a booming business. Unfortunately, this draws the attention of an overzealous coast guard (Geoffrey Lewis) and a gangster (John Hillerman) who wants to snatch control of all of the bootlegging traffic.

It’s easy to see why Lucky Lady failed to connect with audiences and critics in 1975. In fact, it’s hard to imagine who the intended audience for the film could have been. The subject matter was too sexually suggestive for family audiences but not daring enough to appeal to prurient interests. The tone of the film was all over the place, swinging from low comedy to stark seriousness to musical numbers to gruesome violence. The picture was even pretty ugly to look at, due to the use of flashing techniques, in which film is pre-exposed to light to give it a hazy, vintage look. In the case of Lucky Lady, this film flashing didn’t so much evoke a 1930’s setting as it suggested that the crew perpetually filmed in a fog.

Although Reynolds, Hackman, and Minnelli do sample their product from time to time, Lucky Lady is a typical bootlegging movie, in that alcohol is moved around a lot more than it is actually consumed. However, if inquisitive soused cinefiles decide to seek out this forgotten curio, they will probably find it to be an amiable time waster. Lucky Lady isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation. It’s simply mediocre to its core.

Drinks Consumed--Scotch (Johnny Walker Red, Usher’s Green Stripe, and Black & White), and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, slurred speech, and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--BILLY: My dad always used to make a toast after a good run, but you only drink half of it.
CLAIRE (raising a glass of scotch): To us.
EVERYONE: To us. (They drink.)
KIBBY: What’s the other half for?
BILLY: That you give to the old man who lives in the sea for lettin’ us sail home safe. (They each toss their glasses with the remaining scotch overboard.)
KIBBY: Give me another half there. Will ya, kid.

Video Availability--Lucky Lady -DVD (Shout Factory)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Angie Dickinson tries her hand at bootlegging but finds robbing banks more profitable in Big Bad Mama (1974).

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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