From Dusk Till Dawn The Series

From Dusk Till Dawn, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, and From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series are all currently available on instant Netflix

From Dusk Till Dawn

 

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (2014) – Rated TV-14

Bank-robbing brothers encounter vengeful lawmen and demons south of the border in this original series based on Robert Rodriguez’ cult horror film.”

I am not sure how I feel about From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. Robert Rodriguez has taken the 1996 movie he made from Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay and adapted it into a television series. There are certainly some differences but he has taken a 108 minute film and turned it into a 450 minute television season.

While the movie is quite a hoot, the vampire action doesn’t actually come around until the third act. Rodriguez certainly attracts a good cast. George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and Salma Hayek do the heavy lifting. Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin (playing three roles), Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, John Saxon (blink and you’ll miss him), and Fred Williamson also appear.

From Dusk Till Dawn’s success was followed up by a quick direct-to-DVD sequel (Texas Blood Money) and prequel (The Hangman’s Daughter). These did not have Rodriguez’ wonderful touch with action made on the cheap and did not have Tarantino’s quirky dialogue but were serviceable enough.

Texas Blood Money starred Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins. Danny Trejo and Bruce Campbell put in appearances as well. The Hangman’s Daughter features Michael Parks, Temuera Morrison, and Rebecca Gayheart as well as another appearance by Danny Trejo.

Now, almost two decades after the first film, Rodriguez has made a series out of his cult classic. He has packed it with hispanic and non-hispanic actors and premiered it on the new El Rey Network. It is mostly in English with some Spanish bits here and there.

His timing is quite good as not only are hispanic shows in short supply but horror is very hot on television right now with The Walking Dead having been joined by The Strain, American Horror Story, Sleepy Hollow, The Vampire Diaries, and Penny Dreadful. True Blood just ended a seven year run. Constantine premieres in about a week.

Being a fan of the original movie, the television series does drag a bit as we do not have the big bar scene until episode 8. Rodriguez keeps the pace moving fairly well, although everyone seems to have a ton of backstory.

D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz star as Seth and Richie Gecko. I liked the change to their dynamic. The TV Seth thinks he is the movie Seth but is nowhere near as in charge as he was in the movie. The character of Richie is considerably fleshed out and is no longer just the amusing hallucinating sociopath played by Tarantino in the movie.

Eiza Gonzalez is no Salma Hayek but her character is also quite a bit different. Jesse Garcia plays Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez, a character who is far more important than his equivalent character in the movie.

Don Johnson plays Earl McGraw, taking over from Michael Parks. Fun fact: The character of Earl McGraw first appears in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Despite his unfortunate fate in the opening minutes of that movie, he appears in Kill Bill as the lawman who discovers Kiddo’s body after the Wedding Chapel Massacre and is in both halves of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof).

Robert Patrick returns from Texas Blood Money, this time taking over the role of Jacob Fuller from Harvey Keitel. Wilmer Valderrama is almost unrecognizable as Carlos. Jake Busey, Adrianne Palicki, William Sadler, and James Remar all put in welcome guest appearances. I guess Rodriguez is saving Danny Trejo for the second season.

I have to assume that violence is limited by the television rating/network but, while it isn’t the complete bloodbath that the movie was, it still impresses in the gore category. There is less nudity and the language is definitely toned down.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series takes awhile to get going and may be a bit of a slog if you remember the movie but there are quite a few (welcome) creative differences and by the end, it is definitely its own show. I liked it, albeit with reservations, and look forward to what they do in season two.

Django Unchained – Wife vs. Hubby

My wife and I went to see Django Unchained yesterday. This is part of an exchange deal where I take her to see Les Miserables on our next date.

My wife’s take on Django:

“This is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent.  Long, long-winded, poorly paced.  I went in knowing that it would be enormously offensive (it wasn’t nearly as offensive or difficult to watch at Killing Them Softly) and was surprised to find that it was instead mostly just … dull.  Any editor with sense could have cut at least an hour from this film and made it better.  Instead we have long, lingering shots of plantations, mountains, guns, snowmen, and more that don’t propel the story forward in anyway.  And then, two thirds of the way through the movie, it goes from buddy-flick (two wacky bounty hunters on the road to fame and fortune) to sadistic revenge flick (they enslaved him, and took his woman, now they’ll pay) without much transition.  And finally – this is the very first Tarantino flick I’ve ever watched and not thought I MUST GO BUY THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHT NOW.  There wasn’t a single song in this one that worked for the film (or for me).

So very disappointed.  I hope next week’s viewing of Les Mis is more satisfying.  If only I can keep people from spoiling it (further) for me between now and then…”

My take: Were we even watching the same film? Django was an utter delight. Tarantino has an amazing talent for mashing up and updating genres. To borrow from Kellogg, his dialogue snaps, crackles and pops. The violence was done in an amusingly over-the-top spaghetti western style and the cameo from the original Django, Franco Nero, was a hoot.

The acting ranged from good to amazing. Jaime Foxx carried the film quite well, channeling the quiet reserve of an early Eastwood. Christoph Waltz was fantastic as the bounty hunter as were Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. Less good but still a lot of fun were Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, and Don Johnson. In addition to Franco Nero, other cameos include Quentin Tarantino, Jonah Hill, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, James Remar, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, and Robert Carradine.

Having extolled Django’s virtues (and there are many delights to be had here), I have to agree with my wife on a few points. The music appears to have been haphazardly chosen. There wasn’t a single spot on tune. Can you hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without imagining the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs? All of the songs in Pulp Fiction make me think of their individual scenes yet none of Django’s songs made an impression.

The editing is clearly the sore point. Django runs over two and a half hours. Sally Menke, who expertly edited all of Tarantino’s films passed away in 2010. Sally was nominated for Academy Awards for Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds (losing to Forrest Gump and The Hurt Locker, sheesh). That loss is clearly felt here as almost every scene ran on too long. I love an epic but Django desperately needs to lose about an hour of running time. Some of the dialogue becomes repetitious and establishing shots linger past their expiration date.

Tone is all over the map. The first two-thirds of the film turn Django from a slave into a bounty hunter and then the movie screeches to a halt as we reach Candyland, the plantation DiCaprio reigns over. None of the women make a strong impression – not that the actresses aren’t good, the roles are simply underwritten.

Django is weak Tarantino but weak Tarantino is better than most filmmakers on their best day. It is a lot of fun but it could have been a lot better.

 

From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

An Evening with Kevin Smith – Red State Edition

I am very fond of Kevin Smith. He and his films are foul-mouthed but they have a real resonance. Warning: if you are offended by frank sexual talk and situations, coarse language, and such then none of Kevin Smith’s films are for you.

One Line Review: Disjointed, profane yet intelligent horror based on the Westboro Baptist Church.

Red State (2011) – Rated R

“Director Kevin Smith puts a unique spin on the horror genre in this tale of hormonal urges gone awry. Three high school boys answer an online ad from a woman seeking wild sex and soon find themselves in the hands of some dangerous religious zealots.”

“How much do you think a cross like that costs?” – “You mean in dollars or common sense?”

Red State is Kevin Smith’s follow-up movie to Cop Out. Cop Out was the first film that Smith directed without having also written. Normally directors shouldn’t also be writers but Cop Out was just awful. I had lowered my expectations for Red State wondering if Smith had lost his touch.

I needn’t have worried. Red State is easily Kevin Smith’s darkest film. The script is all over the map as if segments were written at completely different points and with different intentions but each part is fascinating. The Netflix description only touches on how the film begins and every time the film settles into a comfortable niche, it changes direction.

Character actor Michael Parks shines as the charismatic preacher Abin Cooper (named after Green Lantern Abn Sur, Smith is such a comics geek). The role was written specifically for Parks after Smith saw him in From Dusk Til Dawn. The character of Abin Cooper is a very scary re-imagining of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Parks also does all of his own singing in this movie and is quite good at that as well.

The federal agents called out are played quite well by John Goodman and Kevin Pollak. For some reason I’m always surprised at how good an actor Goodman can be (probably because I naturally think of Roseanne anytime his name comes up).

If you enjoyed Red State then definitely watch Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell. His talks are normally fascinating (if a little self-indulgent) but this one details his experiences making this film and talking with members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

People Watch: Michael Parks reprises his From Dusk til Dawn role of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in both parts of Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse (Death Proof and Planet Terror). His real life son James Parks plays his Texas Ranger son Edgar McGraw in the Death Proof segment of Grindhouse, Kill Bill volume 1, and From Dusk til Dawn 2 as well as playing Mordecai in Red State.