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El Mariachi (Antonio Bandera) returns from his self-imposed exile after personal tragedy, with two sidekicks Lorenzo (Enrique Ilgeslias) and Fideo (Marco Leonardi). The trigger is corrupt CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) who recruits him to sabotage an assassination attempt on the President, plotted by evil cartel kingpin Barrillo (Willem Dafoe). But El Mariachi has a personal score to settle, too.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you need a life-affirimng reason to buy this DVD, here it is: the recipe for the very cool slow roasted pork (puerco pibil) that Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) will kill for, is to be found on this DVD in the Ten Minute Cooking School segment conducted by Robert Rodriguez in his own kitchen.

It's all part of Rodriguex' philosophy, that not being able to cook is like not being able to f***. He reckons since you eat all your life .....After this Ten Minute Cooking School feature, there is a promise of a Ten Minute F***ing School. But while waiting for that one, catch the Ten Minute Film School feature, again by Rodriguez. This is a fast and furious run through on some of the effects shots (the planned 70 turned into about 400) in the film, ranging from bullet holes in heads to empty eye sockets and wirework for the major escape scene.

But back to the movie: Over the top and all over the place, Once Upon A Time In Mexico is as unruly as it characters, and as joyously style-driven as a Bond movie, but with its own set of style guidelines. When Rodriguez made El Mariachi the first time, for about three dollars fifty, he created a new hero for the screen; a handsome Mexican guitar-playing gunslinger with a conscience. His Desperado re-make for bigger bucks didn't really advance the original, and this time Rodriguez is paying homage to Sergio Leone, mixing his metaphors a bit, but with good reason.

The problem for a filmmaker like Rodriguez is that once he gets more money to spend and encouraged as a result to use bigger stars, his relaxed filmmaking gets all tensed up and he feels compelled to make more of his movie than it warrants. Assembling a cast whose names alone demand respect, the filmmaker is pushed into making his movie try harder.

The results are patchy: on the one hand, the stylistics are well funded, so action stunts are given plenty of screen time and production time. There are funds for effects. On the other hand, the very source of invention - necessity - is taken away. The film is an audio visual feast, even though its flying acrobatics during gunfights no longer seem so innovative. But still, it's all about flair and attitude, so don't worry too much if you lose the plot, the general thrust of it is enough to keep us vaguely in the picture.

Enough, at any rate, to enjoy the rich locations and the rich music, the beautiful cast and the craggy-faced actors playing the 'colourful characters' - all the while suppressing anti-violence feelings. (Rodriguez shot it digitally and did just about everything from the writing to camera to editing.) The style distances us from most of the violence, and some things (like Johnny Depp's loss of sight later in the film) are symbols in a world where survival is the only moral imperative. It's a period melodrama with zest.

And if you want to see not just how but where Rodriguez does all the post production on his movies himself, take a look at the 12 minute Troublemaker Studios feature, in which he hosts a tour of his garage. Yes, but it's not like yours or mine, this garage has long been covered over with old stone blocks - and extended to the size of about seven garages.

The 13 minute Evening with Rodriguez is good stuff, an edited feature taken from his appearance at the Cary Grant theatre at Sony Pictures Studio on July 17, 2003, discussing the exciting new creative way of shooting on High Definition tape.

Then there is the 18 minute Journey of the Anti-Hero, visiting the pit stops of Roriguez paying homage to Sergio Leone, and especially The Good The Bad and The Ugly - the title of which is corrupted for a short piece on SFX make up - prosthetics and bloodwork, if you like, focusing on the talented Greg Nicotero of NKB Effects. This is a super cool 18 minutes of insider info.

In a refreshing twist on the audio commentary, Rodriguez admits right at the start that he's doing it as much for himself as for us: so when he's an old man he can look back and see what the hell he was thinking. It's a cool way to get into the track. Enjoy.

Published: June 24, 2004

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CAST: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin, Willem Dafoe

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez

SCRIPT: Robert Rodriguez

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Robert Rodriguez; 10 minute Cooking School & 10 minute Film School with Robert Rodriguez; Inside Troublemaker Studios; Film is Dead - an evening with Rodriguez; The anti-hero's journey; The Good The Bad and The Bloody (SFX make up); trailers;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 23, 2004

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