In 1992, Robert Rodriguez became an indie film icon with his first feature El Mariachi. He got money to make the film by becoming a human guinea pig in an experimental drug study. After that low budget success Hollywood tried to lure him toward more mainstream filmmaking but Rodriguez decided to create his own Troublemaker Studios in Austin to maintain more control over his projects. His decision has paid off and his work continues to display a maverick spirit.
Robert Rodriguez’ first feature film established him as a talent to watch. He shot the film in Spanish and has joked at his Comic-Con panels how that helped the film gain attention and even get treated as an “art house” film. The film defined Rodriguez’ flair for action and pop culture references to his favorite films. He also revealed a preference for exercising extensive control over his projects. On this film as with others, he wrote, directed, produced, contributed music, and “shot and chopped” the film himself. He would revisit this storyline and the main character in future films.
Quentin Tarantino was set to write, direct, and star in this film but decided that was too much and brought Rodriguez in to direct. The film’s title comes from the signs found on drive-ins indicating that movies would play “from dusk till dawn.” The film serves up George Clooney and Tarantino as criminal brothers who take a family hostage and then end up fighting vampires. Harvey Keitel plays a preacher and at one point in the bloodsucking battle Clooney asks him: “So what are you, Jacob? A faithless preacher? Or a mean motherf-ckin’ servant of God?” To which Keitel replies, “I'm a mean, mmm-mmm servant of God.” And don’t miss Salma Hayek’s snake dance.
Rodriguez mixes the teen cliques of The Breakfast Club with the alien invasion plot of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a pop culture, sci-fi pastiche. The plot has a group of teens suspecting that their teachers are actually aliens. The film stars Josh Harnett and Elijah Wood who would both work with Rodriguez again on Sin City. There’s also a cameo by fellow Austin resident and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles.
'Ten Minute…' (1998-2004)One of the most enjoyable things about Rodriguez’ DVDs are his How-to extras. He has made a series of 'Ten Minute Film Schools' as well as a Ten Minute Cooking School and all are fun and actually educational. You’ll come away knowing how to shoot an action scene on the cheap or make Puerco Pibil.
Rodriguez tried his hand at making a kid film and delivered a fun family flick. It helps to have Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino as the cool mom and dad, and Danny Trejo as Uncle Machete. It was also refreshing to have all the main characters be Hispanic.
Rodriguez goes to the well one more time with the hit man character of El Mariachi. Antonio Banderas returns as the guitar playing killer and Salma Hayek reprises her role of Carolina. Johnny Depp makes memorable appearance as do Mickey Rourke (who would be Marv in Sin City) and Willem Dafoe. As with the casting of Steven Seagal in Machete, Dafoe is a white actor playing Hispanic. His skin is obviously darkened much like when Charleton Heston played a Mexican in Touch of Evil (yes that is true!). It’s Rodriguez’ clever way of commenting on Hollywood’s stereotyping of Hispanic characters and their reluctance to try for any level of realism.
Rodriguez’ collaboration with Frank Miller on this adaptation of Miller’s graphic novels ranks as one of the director’s best works. The film’s highly stylized black and white images perfectly capture the noirish images of Miller’s books. The casting is spot on too with Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Nick Stahl, and Elijah Wood all bringing their characters to vivid screen life. Violent, sexy, brutal, but with an occasionally and unexpectedly sweet soul.
This was Rodriguez’ part of the Grindhouse double feature collaboration he did with Quentin Tarantino. The film serves up a tale of infected people (technically not zombies) that terrorize the world. The film perfectly captures the look and feel of 70s grindhouse movies while investing the genre with fresh energy. Prepare for a high level of gore and a slew of movie references. It also features Tarantino as a rapist who gets his just desserts.
Rodriguez made the trailer for Machete to open Grindhouse and at that time had no plans for turning it into a feature. But it struck such a chord with fans that he seemed obliged to satisfy their desire to see Danny Trejo star in a full-length Machete outing. As with Planet Terror, Machete is both homage and a refreshing genre mash-up. And it’s cool to see Danny Trejo become an action star at the tender age of 66.