Spy Kids

Daryl Sabara, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega and Antonio Banderas in Spy Kids

 

 

Ever since he’d arrived in 1992 with his made-for-nothing El Mariachi, director Robert Rodriguez had been readying himself for Hollywood primetime. His 1996 grindhouse vampire comedy From Dusk till Dawn had allowed him to play with a big name cast (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek and a new-to-movies George Clooney) and special effects, and boasted a script by Quentin Tarantino. Following on from that The Faculty gave him a sexy gang of newcomers (Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster), a smart script by Kevin Williamson and a bucket of attitude. Both films were, by Hollywood standards, fairly low rent. With Spy Kids he finally got what he wanted – lots of cash, nearly all of it on screen, and this time he wrote the screenplay himself. It’s a film in which Rodriguez gets to show what he can do. And he succeeds at pretty much everything. His jokes are actually funny, his action sequences are actually thrilling. As for his plot, well that’s fairly fresh too. It tells the story of two sleeping secret agents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) who are kidnapped, forcing their kids to come and rescue them. Its triumph is not the performances of its stars (fine), nor the gadgetry (believably intricate), nor the locations (punishingly glamorous), nor the villains (British and dastardly) – it’s the kids. Somehow Rodriguez has managed to extract performances from Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara that are believably child-like (unusual in child actors) yet robust and self-assured enough for us all to believe that they can operate as mini James Bonds and win through. It’s a perfect fantasy, done at lightning speed, with the colour turned all the way up, bursting with ingenuity and fun. Has Rodriguez made a better film since?

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Spy Kids – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The 13th Warrior

Antonio Banderas

 

 

A real proper old-fashioned Sunday afternoon film – epic in intention, ludicrous in execution. Considered to be unwatchable when it was test-screened, it was partially recast, rescored and reshot – by Michael Crichton, writer of the original book, who took over from John McTiernan, his Die Hard and Predator experience counting, apparently, for nothing. Crichton’s intervention doesn’t save it. Perhaps nothing could. Perhaps it was jinxed by the presence of Omar Sharif, an adornment of so many terrible films of a similar sort in days of yore. Or by his Nineties successor, Antonio Banderas. It’s an adaptation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf and Banderas plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a Muslim banished to the Nordic wastes for flashing his kohl-rimmed eyes at the wrong woman. Having been received by the oafish, drunken Vikings, he learns their language in a trice and is soon taking part in raiding parties, pulling on his sandals and strapping on chainmail with the best of them. Eventually this palls and so everyone heads off on a dragon-killing quest. Ahmed’s new chums, a sort of multinational Norse eleven – with guest turns from familiar Scottish and Irish bit-players – are all manly men and immensely likeable. The film is too, at some level, and has the sort of disregard for historical accuracy that we expect, and even demand, from Hollywood. The sword-on-sword action is probably McTiernan’s rather than Crichton’s work but neither director seems to have had much luck getting a performance from Banderas, who does little more than stand around looking moody. As for Sharif, he hated the film so much he threatened to give up acting, until wiser counsel (probably his accountant) prevailed. Does this not sound unmissable?

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

The  13th Warrior – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Zorro: Who Is That Masked Man?

Tyrone Power as Zorro

The Mexicans like their heroes the way they like their tacos – with cheese.
Enter Zorro. Cue mask, cape and ludicrous pencil moustache



Next time you’re in London, try the Robin Hood Zorro restaurant in Hammersmith. This oddly conceived English/Mexican hybrid serves an equally odd drink called the Robin Hood Meets Zorro cocktail. A mouthful to order and a hell of a thing to drink, it contains tequila, gin and beer. The menu doesn’t say it’s served with a bucket, but it probably should be.

What is it about Zorro that seems to bring out the naffness in … well, everything?

It was not always thus. Dial back to the mists of the silent movie era and there’s Douglas Fairbanks Sr, the original screen Zorro, dressed like some gangsta off the streets of South Central LA, doing all his own stunts. If you don’t believe me, watch the Youtube video here and be amazed.

Made in 1920 only a year after Zorro was created in the book The Curse of Capistrano, this is Zorro fresh and vibrant, a Spanish nobleman championing the rights of the little man in the pueblos of Los Angeles in a California that was still a wild dry desert under the Mexican flag.

Dial forward to 1981 and there’s George Hamilton, in Zorro, The Gay Blade, all porcelain veneers and Ronseal tan. A more unlikely example of courageous masculinity it would be had to imagine.

Zorro is America’s first superhero. A re-imagining of the Scarlet Pimpernel – foppish noble by day, man of action by night – he’s the prototype of Batman and every superhero with a cape, a mask and a secret identity. And like Batman, he’s a very easy figure to turn into a camp figure of fun.

Zorro – the thin pencil moustache, the trousers tucked into leather boots, the gaucho hat, the cape, the bandana. You can’t imagine Jason Statham growling his way through a film dressed like that.

Which takes us to Tyrone Power, a famous Zorro of the 1940s, an actor who actually did look good in hat, cape and etc. So good in fact that the rumour factory had soon decided Power was gay. And Zorro the gay blade he remained till his death and beyond.

And from Power, on past George Hamilton (enough said already) to Antonio Banderas. Now no one is going to suggest that Banderas is anything but 100 per cent man’s man – certainly not while there’s a lawyer still breathing on the planet – but his two outings as Zorro are undoubtedly the campest of the lot. “Nobody leaves my tequila worm dangling in the wind”– he says in The Legend of Zorro, legs athwart, arms akimbo, tongue rammed hard into cheek.

And in Shrek 2 and Puss in Boots Banderas turns up again as a cartoon Zorro who’s even more of a joke than his live-action version.

Is it because he’s Hispanic that gringo American productions turn this iconic mother lode of 20th century superhero culture into something of a mother’s boy? Or is it the mask? Let’s face it, it’s not much of a disguise. Who is that masked man? Er, it’s Antonio Banderas, obviously.

Whatever it is the Zorros keep coming – Disney are hatching an animated version, while the Gypsy Kings are planning on opening their musical Zorro in multiple worldwide locations after a box-office bonanza in London.

Whoever that masked man is, he’s making a lot of people a lot of money.


Ten Great Mexican Films



Amores Perros (2000, dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu)

Three stories collide in the key work of the New Mexican cinema, a gorgeous looking, superheated drama full of macho men, fiery women and fighting dogs.

Amores Perros – at Amazon


Y Tu Mamá También (2001, dir: Alfonso Cuarón)

The drama that made Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal internationally famous is a coming-of-age road movie with a philosophical flavour. Maribel Verdu ensures it’s pretty sexy too.

Y Tu Mamá También – at Amazon


El Topo (1970, dir: Alejandro Jodorowsky)

One of the maddest films ever made, a freakish spaghetti western populated with cruel, cackling banditos, pinheads, armless and legless freaks, bare-breasted women and spontaneously combusting rabbits.

El Topo – at Amazon


Midaq Alley (1995, dir: Jorge Fons)

The film that helped Salma Hayek bust – in every sense of the word –out of Mexico into Hollywood is a full-to-the-brim soap given extra wallop by Hayek’s sex-and-drugs storylines.

Midaq Alley – at Amazon


Cronos (1993, dir: Guillermo Del Toro)

The breakthrough of director Guillermo Del Toro is a classic horror film about a medieval device that makes the wearer immortal. An offbeat vampire story that’s full of magic realism, humour and horror.

Cronos – at Amazon


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir: Guillermo Del Toro)

Del Toro’s best to date, a fierce fantasy set in Franco’s Spain about a girl who escapes the world of her brutish stepfather by entering the realm of a horned and threatening mythical beast. Magical.

Pan’s Labyrinth – at Amazon


El Mariachi (1992, dir: Robert Rodriguez)

Shot in Ciudad Acuñaby by second-generation Mexican Robert Rodriguez on a budget of $7,000, the story of a wandering modern minstrel looking for work. What’s in his guitar case? And why is everyone out to kill him?

El Mariachi – at Amazon


Like Water for Chocolate (1992, dir: Alfonso Arau)

In Mexico a person in a state of sexual arousal is said to be “like water for chocolate”– this beautiful intense love story, in which everyone seems ready to boil over, makes it clear why.

Like Water for Chocolate – at Amazon


Sex, Shame and Tears (1999, dir: Antonio Serrano)

A lively film that will remind some of Doris Day and Rock Hudson sex comedies. That’s if you ignore the fact one of the main characters is a rapist! Weird, disjointed and beautifully acted.

Sex, Shame and Tears – at Amazon


Rudo Y Cursi (2008, dir: Carlos Cuarón)

Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna star in about the best film made to date about what happens to a poor boy from nowhere when he becomes a superstar footballer. Funny, believable, tragic.

Rudo Y Cursi – at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2011