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Sam North at the movies -

Starring Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Danny McBride
Producers: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi & Richard Wright

There’s a link between two of the top movies out this month, Underworld and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, but it may be just coincidence. Blood letting is this month’s theme. Underworld – a dark, surprisingly interesting movie about the war between Vampires and Werewolves stars Kate Beckinsale. Scotgt Speedman, Sophie Myles and lots of other people who contrive to look like Evelyn Waughs ‘Vile Bodies’, only with bigger teeth. The werewolves all have long dank unwashed hair, I know the plumbing is bad in Prague but that’s no excuse.

Cleverly, they shoot Kate from the ground up most of the time, so she looks tall and imposing, when in reality she is petite and almost anorexic. Nevermind, she is very sexy as a pale vampire in a rubber cat suit and it is satisfying to see her take on a lead role and kiss ass. The mood is grim and strangely authentic. Eastern Europe is a perfect setting for these kinds of Transylvanian happenings and the battling is done well considering the budget was a tenth of The Matrix. There's lots of inventive stuff from light emitting bullets to ones that ooze silver. Buffy fans will know why this is necessary. Just goes to show that you can keep this ‘horror’ market happy if you take the trouble to reinvent a style with some respect for the genre. It is never actually terrifying, pretty complex, as well as 'bloody'; the accents are all over the place, but no matter, it’s entertaining with a good soundtrack and that’s bonus this duff year.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe,
Johnny Depp, Ruben Blades
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Produced by: Robert Rodriguez,
Elizabeth Avellan, Carlos Gallardo

Once upon a Time in Mexico is better than Desperado. I recall watching Desperado in Prague with Carine and the most entertaining thing that happened was someone got up and threw a noisy customer out of the place –without waiting to open the doors first. The film was just a retread of El Mariachi and not as good either. Luckily, since then, Robert Rodriguez has become very skilled and very profitable for the Dimension Studio with his Spy Kids Trilogy. (Spy Kids 1 is very funny as it happens.) Rodriguez sticks with Antonio Banderas who has become quite rich from Spy Kids, despite not actually doing much in the movies, so it is good to see him sweating a little in this new ‘flick’.
But the film is a Johnny Depp vehicle really; for a guy who almost disappeared from our screens recently, it is testimony to his extraordinary skill as an actor and his magnetic personality that he is in two number one movies at the box office this year. He walked away with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and he does so again with Once Upon a Time... as well. The film was shot on digital but you would not notice the difference (aside from some piss poor explosions.)

Morally it is highly suspect and the acting generally is at Marx Brother’s level – only not funny when Johnny Depp is off screen. If there was a plot it escaped me, but basically, there is a matter of revenge for the killing of Selma Hyek – El’s wife. (She played the girl he got in Desperado and here makes only cameos as the dead wife.) Depp is a CIA agent hell bent on starting a revolution in Mexico to restore the balance (but no explanation why exactly) and he also likes to kill good chefs, because he doesn’t like the idea of anyone else getting a good meal across the border. I am sure there’s other things in there too. Battling drug lords, plastic surgery, William Defoe being a very nasty baddie with an evil daughter who is a corrupt cop, and Mickey Rourke, of all people, looking weird and somewhat lost as a ‘lackey’. There is also the usual corrupt presidential aide and an ex-FBI agent who never got his man. It’s all in the mix, with many guns going off, bloody wounds, false arms, more gunfights and sometimes a little guitar playing. Enrique Inglesias is in there too,playing a gunfighting Mariachi who comes to El’s aide, and the eternally handsome Marco Leonardi who was last seen in 'Like Water for Chocolate' and 'Cinema Pardiso' many moons ago.
It’s a mess, but enjoyable because Johnny Depp is skilled at making us like him, even though he is being thoroughly despicable.

Now if we could just get Kate Beckinsale's snobby personality and Johnny Depp’s half-crazy persona together in a movie, we’d have something interesting to watch, for sure.
Underworld and Once Upon a Time in Mexico are playing all over Europe and the USA this October.
Next up: Kill Bill
© Sam North October 1st 2003

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