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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Special Edition
Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Special Edition
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // January 20, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 10, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Amped-up nonsense that nevertheless entertains due to a mix of high style, strong performances and strong atmosphere, the latest Robert Rodriguez special (directed, wrote, did the visual effects, cinematography, editing, produced, wrote the music and probably about a hundred other things) is the end of the "Mariachi" trilogy. The first was the director's ultra low-budget "El Mariachi", the $7,000 film that earned the director notice. "Desperado" was a $20 million film that went on to be a success. With "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", Rodriquez still shows that he can make a big film while keeping costs in check at $30m.

"Mexico" continues the story of El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), the gunslinger with the guitar case. Johnny Depp plays rouge (or maybe not rogue) CIA agent Sands, who has come to find the Mariachi to recruit him to kill General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil), who is working with drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe) to destablize the country's government. So, the Mariachi returns with his group of assassins (including one played by pop star Enrique Iglesias). The Mariachi's reason for taking the job isn't just the money, it's revenge on the man who killed his wife, Carolina (Salma Hayek) - the General. There's other characters that weave themselves in-and-out of the picture, including a special agent (Eva Mendes) and another criminal (Mickey Rourke).

The plot is a mess of strings that sort of run together well enough that one can understand the basic overview. What's more fun about the picture are the performances. Johnny Depp once again steals the show after "Pirates of the Caribbean", offering a similarly Looney Tunes performance. Depp starts a Marlon Brando impersonation in one scene for no reason other than it's weird and kinda funny. Another brief line will likely come across as a nod to his "Pirates" role. Banderas offers a commanding performance as usual, stepping back into the shoes of the largely silent Mariachi quite skillfully. Dafoe and Rourke are good as the villians, and Mendes, Hayek and many others provide good supporting efforts.

As previously mentioned, Rodriquez manages to do seemingly everything but act in the picture. The cinematography - shot with new hi-def digital video cameras, is easily the most visually stunning of the director's efforts, capturing the dusty towns and their surroundings with almost haunting beauty. The editing is fine, although the action sequences seem to be a bit more heavily edited than the director's prior features. And certainly, he's no stranger to action sequences, once again coming up with some inventive ones, captured with the director's usual energy and eye for over-the-top visuals.

The film's story is - I think - a potentially interesting one that just isn't told as coherently as it could have been here. Aside from that, this is an entertaining, fast-paced picture that has several terrific moments and throws great characters up against one another in an atmospheric setting.


VIDEO: "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" is presented here in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film was shot on new Sony Hi-Def digital cameras in 1.78:1, then was apparently cropped to 2.35:1 for theatrical release. Although I've never been much of a fan of the widely varying look of digital video, this presentation often looked outstanding, making me wish I'd been able to see the film in one of the local theaters offering digital projection. Throughout the DVD presentation, sharpness and detail remained marvelous, as fine details were clearly visible and the image boasted excellent definition and depth.

Very few flaws were noticed throughout the show. No edge enhancement was spotted, which certainly made for a more pleasant viewing experience. A couple of little traces of compression artifactswere spotted, but this was hardly an issue. No debris or other wear was noticed. Colors looked spectacular, with the warm tones of the surrounding areas looking bright, vivid and well-saturated. Aside from a couple of minor concerns, this is a fantastic-looking effort.

SOUND: "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The presentation offers excellent sound quality, although the mix is a little inconsistent. The action sequences offer intense surround use, with plenty of directional sound effects aggressively bouncing around the rear speakers.

However, during much of the movie, the surrounds aren't used, which is unfortunate, as some additional ambience/background sounds would have been nice. The writer/director's score is largely played out across the front speakers, but does get some reinforcement by the surrounds at times. Dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout the presentation, and some of the action scenes provided decent bass.


Commentary: This is a commentary from director Robert Rodriquez. If you're familiar with any of the director's other commentary tracks, you'll know what to expect from this track; Rodriquez is very much into the commentary process and essentially turns the commentary into a "film school" of sorts. Talking quickly to try to get all the information in, we hear more about working with the various actors, working with the new hi-def cameras, shooting with hi-def video versus film, production stories, technical details and creation of the story and working it into the series. Rodriquez rarely ever stops talking throughout this track and really makes the whole experience an entertaining and informative one, going over a remarkable amount of ground about the making of the film.

Commentary Two: This is an interesting feature that offers some additional commentary from Robert Rodriguez, but mostly features an isolated 5.1 soundtrack that offers both score and sound effects, so that viewers can gain further appreciation for both the film's score and sound design. Rodriguez did offer some brief comments on the score in the full commentary, but he goes further in depth into both the concepts behind the music and his process of writing music for the film. Occasionally, the director also plays "demos" of his music on this track.

Ten Minute Flick School: In this 10-minute featurette, director Robert Rodriquez talks about shooting the film digitally, which allowed easy access to adding visual effects, even little touches such as removing the reflection of the crew in sunglasses or selling an action sequence where Banderas's character slides down a staircase on his guitar case. The overall issue (as in the commentary) is the ability to shoot faster, smarter and keep costs at a fraction of what most movies are made for today, which Rodriquez clearly continues to demonstrate his ability to do.

Inside Troublemaker Studios: This 11-minute featurette has director Robert Rodriguez taking viewers on a tour of his home, which he has turned into a filmmaker's dream: a stylish group of rooms, each devoted to different aspects of filmmaking, such as composing, sound editing or visual effects. It's a pretty fascinating tour of a pretty amazing set-up. We're also shown the main studio/stages in Austin, TX.

Ten Minute Cooking School: Director Robert Rodriguez shows viewers how to cook the pork dish that Johnny Depp's character enjoys in the film.

Film Is Dead: This 13-minute featurette has director Robert Rodriguez discussing his experiences with the new digital cameras in front of an audience in an auditorium on the Sony Pictures lot. Shown digital by George Lucas (who is probably the biggest booster for the digital format), Rodriguez talks about how shooting in digital changed the experience of shooting for him and his actors.

The Anti-Hero's Journey: This is a general 18-minute featurette that starts off by discussing the prior "Mariachi" productions, before going into more about the making of "Mexico". There are some fun behind-the-scenes moments here, but much of the information here has already been heard in other places on the DVD.

Deleted Scenes: 4 deleted scenes are offered, with optional commentary from Robert Rodriguez. The scenes are pretty much cut for pacing/time reasons, and 2 of the scenes feature Depp.

Trailers: 2 trailers (greenband/redband) for
"Once Upon A Time in Mexico" and trailers for: "Big Fish", "Desperado", "El Mariachi", the upcoming theatrical release "Hellboy", "In The Cut", "The Missing", next Summer's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse", "Underworld", and the upcoming theatrical release "You Got Served".

Also: Filmographies, soundtrack spot and DVD-ROM interactive games.

Final Thoughts: The story's a bit of a mess, but I liked the performances, was involved throughout and throught "Once" had great atmosphere and visuals. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition offers outstanding image quality, great supplements and superb audio. Recommended.

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