Once Upon a Time in Mexico closes the Mexico trilogy a full 8 years after Desperado. It was actually Robert Rodriguez first R rated movie since 1998. Doing three Spy Kids movies before completing his Mexico trilogy. No other director attempts to consistently make kid friendly PG movies and ultraviolent R rated movies at the same time. But he is able to snap back into that mindset with Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Though my original intention was just to watch Desperado, I’m glad I did my research beforehand. Since none of the titles are similar. Much like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it finishes off the journey of a man with no name in a western style. While adding characters that match up to those three characters. Guitar case toting El Mariachi (the good) is recruited to take down a drug lord (the bad) by a CIA agent (the ugly). Antonio Banderas is just as battle ready as before, but his regression back to losing a loved one didn’t work for me. It doesn’t help that his role is greatly overshadowed. Instead Johnny Depp makes way more of an impression. His quick wit, eating habits, and fake arm make him the bigger standout. Danny Trejo is also back somehow. Save for a few exhilarating set pieces, Once Upon a Time in Mexico proves a serviceable return to mature content from Robert Rodriguez.
Sands enjoys dinner
Preceded by: Desperado
Desperado is the big-budget follow up to the surprise low-budget hit El Mariachi. Becoming the first sequel in what would come to be known as the Mexico trilogy. Making it Robert Rodriguez first official Hollywood production. Meaning every amateur actor is replaced by bigger stars. Some may view Desperado as hollow without the raw sincerity of El Mariachi, but I choose not to compare the two the same way. I’m betting if he had the budget, Rodriguez would have cast Antonio Banderas as the lead in the first place. His best friend Quentin Tarantino also appears. Desperado picks up some time after the events of the last movie (reshot of course). El Mariachi is consumed with revenge. Both for the death of the woman he loved and the irreversible damage to his guitar playing hand. He now looks for the man responsible with the help of his American associate. Who turns him into something of a myth. Along the way meeting a lovely bookstore owner who may be involved with his enemy. Desperado kicks up the humor and action to crazy levels. With several guitar cases full of guns, bombs, a rocket launcher, and the first appearance of a gun codpiece. Antonio Banderas’s long hair and all black suit made him an instant action star. While Selma Hayek’s inclusion just ramps up the sex appeal. Danny Trejo also appears as something of a precursor to Machete. Desperado is an over-the-top piece of summer entertainment that showed Robert Rodriguez was here to stay.
El Mariachi and Carolina walk away from an explosion
Preceded by: El Mariachi & Followed by: Once Upon a Time in Mexico
El Mariachi is the most profitable low-budget movie of all time. Made on a shoestring budget of $7,000, it earned over $2 million in American distribution. So how did such a low-budget foreign film become so successful? Perhaps you recognize the director, Robert Rodriguez. Long before making a name for himself, Rodriguez was just a poor college student with a passion for filmmaking. El Mariachi was shot entirely in Mexico with only amateur actors. A lot of the technical work (directing, producing, writing, cinematography, editing) Rodriguez did himself. While intended to be direct-to-video, Colombia Pictures discovered it and liked it so much that they poured over $200,000 into it just to release it theatrically. El Mariachi tells the tragic tale of a nameless aspiring musician just trying to find work. Until his guitar case attracts some unwanted attention. Since a criminal in town just so happens to be carrying an identical case full of guns. Leading to extreme violence, hilarious misunderstandings, and heartbreaking romance. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy El Mariachi as much as I did, but its uniquely familiar premise is a blast. The prospect of a great filmmaker shows even when there’s nothing to work with. El Mariachi serves as a reminder that anyone can make a hit as long as you have enough drive and passion.
El Mariachi with a gun
Followed by: Desperado
Tom and Jerry is the greatest game of cat and mouse there is. Created by Hanna-Barbara, Tom and Jerry shorts ushered in a whole new world of cartoon violence. The simple premise consists of Tom Cat chasing Jerry Mouse. Only to end up getting hurt in a variety of cartoony ways. Their many decades of success eventually lead to a theatrical movie in 1992. Tom and Jerry: The Movie is a musical about an orphan named Robyn trying to escape her money grubbing Aunt. All the while searching for her mountain-climbing father. Along the way we encounter dastardly vets, pirates, and a singing gang of cats. What’s that you say? What does this have to do with Tom and Jerry? Absolutely nothing! They’re brushed aside in favor of this desperately Disney style schlock. The songs are never ending and the slapstick is barely there, but the biggest slap in the face is that they actually talk in complete sentences. Something they never do! My only childhood memory of the movie is my brother trying to force me to watch it. Seeing it now makes me appreciate the old cartoon even more. They should never have extended it to feature length in the first place.
Tom and Jerry dance together
Hoosiers is all about Indiana basketball. Something that’s very important to people who live there. I live near Indiana, so I can somewhat attest to that. I’m not sure why, but Hoosiers is a movie my dad really wanted us to watch. So I figured I’d make room for it. Basketball is probably the only popular sport I can have fun with. As long as I’m just free throwing and not on a team. Being tall, I sometimes have to tell people that I’m not a basketball player. Hoosiers follows the traditional sports formula of a new high school coach coming to shake up an already established team. Taking place in 1951, Gene Hackman plays that coach. A former Navy officer, whose temper, drills, and fundamental training gets him in hot water with the rest of the town. Even though what he’s doing helps get the boys farther than they ever have before. Dennis Hopper also stars as the not so lovable town drunk. His love for basketball and internal struggle helped earn him an Oscar nomination. I didn’t even recognize Hopper until after he got cleaned up. As sports movies go, Hoosiers is a great underdog story. Showing that even players from small towns can win the state championship if they fight hard enough. Making Hoosiers a basketball movie worth cheering for.
The Grand Budapest Hotel might be Wes Anderson’s finest work to date. I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson expert though. Since I’ve still yet to see anything he did before Fantastic Mr. Fox. My primary reason for seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel was because of its Oscar attention. Becoming the first of his film’s to receive a Best Picture and Best Director nomination. My parents got into it as well, despite never showing much interest in Anderson’s work before. The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in a fictional war torn country where the titular hotel resides. Zero is the newly appointed lobby boy who assists Monsieur Gustave H. An eccentric concierge that ends up the suspect of a murder. Due to his unsavory relationship with a much older woman who promised the valuable painting, Boy with Apple, to him in her will. What follows is a hilariously colorful misadventure full of familiar actors Wes Anderson loves to work with. As well as some of his best symmetrical camera work in a live-action film. Ralph Fiennes is mostly known for his drama, but he has some of the funniest lines in the movie. I especially enjoy the way he runs away suddenly after being accused. Tony Revolori provides most of the movie’s heart. Due to his past experiences and relationship to his fiancée. Making The Grand Budapest Hotel a whimsical work of art.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia is an awful slap in the face to this once inspiring franchise. I sadly remember it as a kid a bit more than the others. Bastian and everyone else are once again recast with blander actors. Only this time, as they go, so does the quality of Fantasia’s residents. Like the gnomes who are now a bickering old couple or a pop culture spouting tree, but the worst offense is Falkor. Whose design couldn’t be more off and don’t get me started on his voice. Now he sounds like a blathering moron. But even worse than them is what they did to Rock Biter. Now a sitcom character with a wife and child (who watches TV!), but it’s incomparable to the biggest insult in the entire movie. Where Rock Biter rides a bicycle singing “Born to Be Wild!” I’ve never seen anything so stupid. But who cares about all that (or Atryeu), since The NeverEnding Story III cares way more about Bastian, his bratty step-sister, and life in high school. The world of Fantasia is now brought to the real world where a force that the Childlike Empress dubs “The Nasty” threatens them. Which is for some reason represented by a gang of bullies called The Nasties. Lead by yes that’s actually a young Jack Black. Who takes control of the book. The NeverEnding Story III is a never ending insult full of cringy jokes, an overabundance of 90’s cheese, and a complete disregard for all that came before.
Bastian (human) and friends prepare to transport
Preceded by: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter
The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter just feels empty. Barely capturing the magic of the first adventure. I’m not even sure I ever saw it beforehand. Their primary mistake was giving more attention to chosen reader Bastian. After giving the Childlike Empress an inaudible name and saving Fantasia, Bastian choses to read the book again. Only this time, he finds the world to be far more immersive than before. Fantasia is now threatened by “The Emptiness.” An act being doing by villainess Xayide, that leaves people a hollow husk of their former self. An even less subtle metaphor for a lack of interest in story. So Bastian teams up with Atreyu and Falkor in the hopes of saving the world once again. The NeverEnding Story II does mange to recreate the scale and artistry from before (save for a few cheap looking creatures), but there are several problems that are hard to ignore. More attention is given to Bastian’s father and late mother. Along with the wish making AURYN that Bastian was given. It wouldn’t be so bad if the characters weren’t all recast. With none of them recapturing what once made them work. Bastian is now unlikable, manipulated by the villain, and never makes smart decisions. Despite literally being able to wish for whatever he wants. Atreyu may actually be the right race this time, but his heroic side almost never shows now. Falkor’s voice is too deep and his eyes are red for some reason. The NeverEnding Story II just plays things too safe.
Bastian (right) revives Atreyu (left)
Preceded by: The NeverEnding Story & Followed by: The NeverEnding Story III
The NeverEnding Story is a story I will never forget. Even though its title is total false advertisement. Only an hour and a half long, what a rip-off! Anyway, The NeverEnding Story is another modern classic to come out of 1984. It’s engaging fantasy world captured the hearts of many children at the time. Although I have a difficult time remembering if I saw it as a kid or not. I think I did, but I do know that the last time I saw it was in 8th Grade. My teacher showed it in class and everybody loved it. The NeverEnding Story is a book within a book made into a movie. Bastian is just an unassuming kid with a love for reading. Until he reads a book that changes his life forever. The titular NeverEnding Story of Fantasia. A world full of giant rock biters, racing snails, riding bats, killer wolves, ancient turtles, gnomes, and the beloved Luckdragon Falkor. A white doglike dragon that helps the hero. In the story, Fantasia is in great danger from “The Nothing.” A force that will slowly take over the land unless its ruler the Childlike Empress gets a new name. So it’s up to the child warrior Atreyu to fulfill this quest. The NeverEnding Story may seem like just another fantasy, but it’s actually a lot deeper than it looks. With many dark moments that scared kids for life. Like the sinking of Atreyu’s horse Artax. The meaning of “The Nothing” is actually meant to represent the death of imagination. As the book is a lot more real then Bastian realizes. The NeverEnding Story is a friendly reminder to never stop imagining.
Bastian rides Falkor
Followed by: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 revisits the sisterhood 3 years after their life changing summer. Only with a slighty more mature PG-13 rating. It may be the second movie, but it’s actually based on the fourth book in the series. Like the first movie though, it starts with the girls together as a group before parting ways again for the summer. Like before, I can only talk about them separately.
Bridget – Bridget is the first girl to get the pants. Her after college activity is an archeological dig in Turkey. Being around a bunch of fossils reminds her of her mother. So she leaves to visit her seldom seen grandmother in order to get more answers about her suicide. This story is probably the most disconnected from the rest.
Lena – Lena is the second girl to get the pants. After attending a nude art class, she finds herself caught up in an unintentional love triangle. With her true love Kostas and a new guy she meets in the class. Unsurprisingly, this story has the most romance.
Carmen – Carmen is the third girl to get the pants. She’s the one who feels like the group is drifting apart. The fact that her mother is having a baby isn’t helping. Which is why she decides to participate in a theater production. Accidentally landing the lead role and winning a guy’s affection. This story is the most dramatic (both literally and figuratively).
Tibby – Tibby is the fourth girl to get the pants. The problems she faces require its magic the most. She stays behind like before. Working in a video store and trying to finish her screenplay. She’s been dating the Dragon Quest guy she met in the first movie. She finds herself making difficult choices after a possible pregnancy gets in the way. It’s not as emotional, but I did find myself the most invested in her story once again.
In conclusion, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 brings back the magic of its lead actresses. Along with a few new faces. Like Lucy Hale as Lena’s never before seen younger sister Effie. At what seemed like the last minute, the sisterhood is reunited after the pants are lost in Greece. It leaves the movie a bit open ended. Making me want a third film right away. While I didn’t get into the sequel as much as the first, seeing the girls again was enough to make this magical pants adventure worth it.
The sisterhood of the traveling pants
Preceded by: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants