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.

Aliens Attack! The Faculty Edition

With every movie I see in the theaters being a variation on Aliens Attack! (The Avengers, Battleship, Men in Black III, and Prometheus being the last four movies I’ve seen), I thought I would check out the Netflix equivalents. I will say that I hope the rest of the summer movies can do without aliens (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises).

The Faculty is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: Aliens attack The Breakfast Club (with fun results).

The Faculty (1998) – Rated R

“Many teens think their teachers hail from another planet — but what if it’s true? Herrington High students notice that faculty members aren’t quite themselves, and discover an alien infection they might not be able to stop.”

Robert Rodriguez is a vastly fun director. He is always very kinetic and edits his own films. There is no such thing as a slow-paced Rodriguez film. He knows how to make the most out of a shoestring budget and has a good eye for gore effects.

After a brief scene to establish that The Faculty is a horror movie, Rodriguez introduces us to our jock Stan (Shawn Hatosy – physically a bit miscast), nerd Casey (Elijah Wood), popular girl Delilah (Jordana Brewster), head case Stokely (Clea Duvall), punk Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris). If those archetypes seem familiar, the first five are lifted from The Breakfast Club.

Rodriguez’ trades in on Robert Patrick’s former role as the T-1000. His inherent oddness makes him seem alien and sinister and he does a good role of playing that up. Rodriguez regular Salma Hayek has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as the school nurse. Famke Janssen has a lot of fun as a wallflower teacher but you can see that she’s just a removal of glasses and hair flip away from being the Hollywood hottie.

Rodriguez gets fun (not good but fun) performances from everyone including Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as other faculty members.

While Rodriguez normally writes, edits, and directs, here he wisely turns the writing chores over to Kevin Williamson. Rodriguez writes efficiently but Williamson really knows how to write young people. He throws in the usual pop culture references including a hilarious one about Invasion of the Body Snatchers ripping off Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (which it did). The Faculty is essentially the same story.

Note to wife: there is a wonderful “you own nothing” scene midway through the movie.

As usual for this scenario, the first two acts are creepy but the script and direction are too fun to get a real feeling of paranoia. The third act turns into more of a monster movie (obvious from the previews). As usual for Rodriguez, the action is well-handled and several of the scenes are memorable (and a bit wince-inducing).

I know I have used the word ‘fun’ too often but that is definitely the theme here. The Faculty is a fun gory horror movie.

People Watch: Look for Daily Show pundit Jon Stewart in a brief role as a science teacher.

Desperado – South of the Border week

This is South of the Border week. We will be featuring movies taking place in Mexico. Desperado is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Desperado (1995) – Rated R for strong bloody violence, a strong sex sequence and language.

“This south-of-the-border action flick picks up where the indie hit El Mariachi left off. Seedy drug lord Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) is responsible for killing the girlfriend of El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and for injuring the musician to a point where he can no longer play the guitar. Seeking revenge, he goes in search of Bucho, and a showdown ensues between the rivals — but not before El Mariachi meets the lovely Carolina (Salma Hayek).”

“Bless me Father, for I have just killed quite a few men.”

Robert Rodriguez again writes, directs, produces, and edits for Desperado. Taking on so many tasks allows him to make films for a lot less.

Here he had $7 million to work with. This allowed him to work with a number of name actors and use a lot more real guns than in El Mariachi (which used squirt guns for many of the scenes).

Desperado is nominally a sequel to El Mariachi though it rehashes much of the plot and themes from the original (a la Evil Dead II).

The second bar fight is absolutely hilarious and is obviously very heavily inspired by John Woo. It is a very elaborate setpiece with a wonderful standoff. Rodriguez keeps his action frantic without being confusing (something that has become all too common these days).

Antonio Banderas is very charismatic as the Mariachi. This is the best role I have seen him in. He even does all of his own guitar work including “Cancion Del Mariachi” at the beginning of the film.

Salma Hayek is gorgeous and fun as Carolina. There is a hilarious scene  where she crosses the street and two cars behind her crash because they are watching her. I like it because she holds her own and is not just the love interest.

Robert Rodriguez stated that when they filmed the sex montage sequence between Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas, everyone on the crew showed up.

Joaquim de Almeida plays our villain Bucho. This is essentially the same role Moco (Peter Marquardt) played in the original. Bucho is a boss much like Moco and dresses all in white just like Moco. Joaquim replaced Raul Julia, who had to drop out due to health reasons.

The supporting cast is absolutely marvelous.

Cheech Marin and Quentin Tarantino have a lot of fun with their humorous roles.

Steve Buscemi plays the conscience of the Mariachi. The role is so tailored to him that the character is actually called Buscemi. Originally he was to have been the pick-up guy but a new role was written for him when Tarantino decided to cameo.

Danny Trejo plays a knife-wielding assassin, Navajas. This is a very similar character to Azul in El Mariachi. Danny is finally going to headline a movie. Robert Rodriguez has made a feature-length movie out of his fake Grindhouse trailer, Machete and it is currently in post-production.

Carlos Gallardo returns from El Mariachi. This time he plays Campa, a friend to El Mariachi.

I highly recommend this quintessential action movie unless gore bothers you. If you enjoy this and El Mariachi then stick the final film in the trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, in your DVD queue.

People Watch: Actually not so much a “people” watch as a prop watch. The crotch gun that Carolina finds in the guitar case is sadly never used here. It is however used the following year in From Dusk Til Dawn (by Tom Savini no less).

From Dusk Till Dawn

Prior to sending up exploitation films with Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed a vampire exploitation film called From Dusk Till Dawn. This movie is available on instant Netflix. The two sequels are not available but you aren’t missing much as Rodriguez didn’t direct the sequels and Tarantino didn’t write them.

From Dusk Till Dawn

WATCH: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – “Robbers-on-the-lam Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) take an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) 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. That’s when director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) abruptly switches from hostage drama to tongue-in-cheek, vampiric melee, creating a blood-stained ode to 1960s Mexican horror movies.”

This is a rude, crude and violent tale as might be expected from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino overacts as always but it comes off well here as do George Clooney and Harvey Keitel in more restrained performances. It takes a good long while for the vampires to show up but once they do, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. There are small, fun over-the-top performances from the lovely Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, make-up wizard Tom Savini, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. The special effects are lavish and over-the-top and they take a page from the Evil Dead book and use green blood to help with the ratings board.

People watchers: look for cameos by John Saxon and makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger and a small role by Michael Parks as Earl McGraw (a role he repeats in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse).