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February 01, 1996 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1996-02-01

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The Michigan Daily - W/ee., c. - Thursday, February 1, 1996 - 3B

With Desperado'
director Rodriguez
takes on Hollywood

Sound and Fury
04 thec4 rht
he other day I was checking
some unanswered e-mail
SmessageswhenI stumbiedupon
a downloaded column from the "Minne-
sota Daily." Something called"Youmight
bea liberal if...." Not surprisingly, it was
fillof angry white male humor, a mix of
paranoiaand intolerant anti-intellectualism.
So it's almost too easy to write this column.
You'll have to forgive the author ofthe
iece, for I too once was led astray by the
ght. (You have little choice when you
are raised with a picture of Reagan over
your desk). But like Saul on the road to
Damascus, I've been knocked off my
horse, and my youthful errors are no
more. Now I see the lovely light of the
left, sowithout further ado, let me present
the following public service self-quiz:
You might be a conservative if...
You think "proletariat" is a type of
You've named your kids "Deduction
ne" and "Deduction two."
You've tried to arguethat poverty could
be abolished if people were just allowed
to keep more of their minimum wage.
You've ever referred to someone as "my
(insertracial orethnicminorityhere) friend."
You've ever tried to prove Jesus was a
capitalist and opposed to welfare.
You'reapro-lifer, but support the death
*0You think Huey Newton is a cookie.
The only union you support is the Base-
ball Players, because heck, they're richer
than you.
You think you might remember laugh-
ing once as a kid.
You once broke loose at a party and
removed your neck tie.
You call mall rent-a-cops "jack-booted
j You've ever referred to the moral fiber
You've ever uttered the phrase, "Why
don't we just bomb the sons of bitches."
;r You've ever said, "I can't wait to get
ito business school."
. You've ever cal led a secretary or wait-
<ss "Tootsic."
You answer to "The Man."
You don't think "The Simpsons" is all
that funny, but'you watch it because that
Flanders fellow makes a lot of sense.
You fax the FBI a list of "Commies in
my Neighborhood."
;r You don't let your kids watch Sesame
Street because you accuse Bert and Ernie
Of"sexual deviance."
You use any of these terms to describe
: ourwife:Oldballandchain,littlewoman,
old lady, tax credit .--
You scream "Dit-dit-ditto" while mak-
*g love.
7 You've argued that art has a "moral
bundation set in Western values."
9 When people say "Marx," you think
a You've ever yelled, "Hey hippie, get a
_ Youthink Birkenstock was that radical
ock concert in 1969.
case a bear ever attacks your home.
Vietnam makes a lot of sense to you.
You point to Hootie and the Blowfish as
vidence ofthe end of racism in America
You'veeversaidcivil liberties,schmivil
You've ever said "Clean air? Looks
lean to me."
You've ever referred to Anita Hill as a

"lying bitch" while attending a Bob
Packwood fund-raiser.
eYou spent MLK Day reading "The
Bell Curve."
You've ever called education a luxury.
You look down through a glass ceiling
*1nd chuckle.
You wonder if donations to the Penta-
gon are tax-deductible.
You came of age in the '60s and don't
~rmember Bob Dylan.
You own avehicle with an"OllieNorth:
American Hero" sticker.
You're afraid of the "liberal media."
You ever based an argument on the
phrase, "Well, tradition dictates ... .
You've ever called the National En-
owment for the Arts a bunch ofpomog-
You think all artists are gay.
You ever told a child that Oscar the
Grouch "lives in a trash can because he is
lazy and doesn't want to contribute to

By Joshua Rich
Daily Arts Editor
Once in a while, we hear amazing
stories. A child is saved from the murky
depths of an imprisoning water well; a
Michigan student survives a devastat-
ing plane crash in which most passen-
gers die; a popular and highly acclaimed
movie is made for only $7,000, using
nothing more than 16-mm film.
Of course, the gravity of the miracle
certainly depends on yourpoint of view.
Then again, given the fact that Robert
Rodriguez's 1992 film, "El Mariachi,"
had a budget that was considerably
smaller than the price of a new Volvo
(and that the average cost of movies is
about 3,000 times that of this film), one
could practically consider its creation a
slight act of God.
In the meantime, this young director
has already made an indelible mark on
movies of the'90s. So much so, in fact,
that fans of the old shoot-'em-up west-
ern/action genre pioneered by such di-
recting greats as Sam Peckinpah and
Sergio Leone (or even followers of later
slasher/horror films like those of "Evil
Dead's" Sam Raimi) would probably
consider Rodriguez's recent emergence
as nothing short of the Second Coming.
But don't scoff just yet; Rodriguez,
unlike so many of his peers, is certainly
due some praise. If nothing else, he has
managed to step out of the giant shadow
of Quentin Tarantino - unquestion-
ably the messiah of the indie film indus-
try - to produce three (and one-quar-
ter) films of relatively high quality.
Rodriguez is young. He is talented.
And, given his follow-up features to the
much-hyped "El Mariachi," he shows
no signs of slacking off.
In fact, in the past six months alone,
Rodriguez has produced three separate
films that have all arrived amidst great
fanfare. His post-"Mariachi" life began
last summer with the release of "Des-
perado," the long-awaited semi-sequel
to his earlier film. In this case, the
entirely absurd premise of the movie
remains much the same as before -
rebellious guitar player Antonio
Banderas hunts down an infamous drug
lord, and he always manages to keep his
"guitar" at his side.

Slightly updated from the "El
Mariachi" tale, "Desperado" - which
is out on home video this week -
features known acting stars like
Banderas and Cheech Marin (as well as
Tarantino who, thankfully, receives the
demise he deserved to meet in "Pulp
Fiction"). Further, cheaper looking sets
are replaced for more realistic ones, a
more dynamic, exciting style of pho-
tography is embraced, and repeated
homages are made to the directors of
violent westerns of the past. Watch as
- in the silly, "spaghetti western" style
of Leone (although Rodriguez is cer-
tainly a bit more hyperbolic in his in-
tent) - guitar cases are revealed to
contain arsenals of weapons or to be
guns themselves. When Rodriguez sum-
mons the more gruesome manner of
Peckinpah, bodies don't j ust bleed when
shot or stabbed, they explode and blood
spurts all over the place.
Such is the case in Rodriguez's even
more recent pictures - his segment in

Juliette Lewis encounters more strange days in Rodriguez's latest film, "From Dusk Till Dawn."

In this latest picture, just as in "Des-
perado," Rodriguez plays out all the old
conventions of cinematic violence to
their fullest extent.
As we follow the villainous Gecko
brothers, George Clooney and
Tarantino, on a murderous rampage
through the southwest, we see heads
blown off and people strangely maimed,
and we laugh at the preposterousness of
it all.
When the two bad boys reach their
Mexican destination and encounter a
nest of vampires, Rodriguez goes fan-
tastically bonkers. He invokes the
scary styles of such masters of the
horror genre as Sam Raimi, making
the gory bloodfest a rollickingly wild
While we may be initially disgusted
by what we see before us (and then we
laugh despite our distaste), we should
nevertheless admire Rodriguez's
achievements. These films are not
things to just push aside with the la-
bels "too violent" or "intolerable"
smacked on them. They are great in-
novations. While Tarantino paid hom-
age to the pulp novels and lurid crime
sagas of days long gone, so does
Rodriguez adopt the outlandish build-
ing blocks of those shotgun-shootin',
tobacco-chewin', blood-spewin' di-
rectors before him.
In "Desperado," he does not just imi-

tate Leone and Peckinpah, he expands
on what those men created. And that is
what is so admirable. At a point in film
history when it is so easy and cheap to
merely imitate those who came earlier,
Rodriguez dares to seize upon their
ideas and say: "I can go even further; I
can do even better than they ever did."
Whether he actually succeeds may
always remain in question, but this di-
rector has certainly added some fresh-
ness and excitement to a increasingly
banal industry. We've seen his type of
film before, but never in nearly the
same manner. It was never THIS fun.

Other recent releases:
"Love and Human Remains" - A
straight-to-video docu-drama about the
Lisa Marie "Love Me Tender" Presley
and Michael "The Girl Is Mine"
Jackson's divorce saga. Complete with
some arguments between, er, I mean
some play-by-play commentary by
Bobby Shapiro and Johnny C.
"Something To Talk About"- Yeah;
talk about how much of a waste this
movie is. Get a career, Julia!

Coming to video next week:
"The Usual Suspects" - Gabriel Byrne,
Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin and Chazz Palminteri,
among others, star in this extraordinary suspense flick about
a gang of criminals involved in a botched robbery attempt.

I '

Julia Roberts stars in writer Catlie
Khouri's "Something to Talk About."
thejoint effort, "Four Rooms" (his was
widely considered the most outstand-
ing of the lot-which included a rather
still-born installment directed by senor
Tarantino), and his current film, "From
Dusk Till Dawn."

r "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" -
Steven Seagal stars in this sequel to the mega-hit action

Danson tackles lead role in TV version of 'Gulliver's Travels'

The Washington Post
Don't bother pulling out a copy of
Jonathan Swift's 1726 satirical novel
until after the final credits roll on NBC's
four-hour adaptation of "Gulliver's
Travels." Trying to match Swift's bitter
commentary with the mini-series might
drive fastidious scholars to a mental
And - literary scholars are hereby
forewarned - that's exactly what's
been done to poor ship's surgeon
Lemuel Gulliver. Why, of course this
man must be mad, returning after an
eight-year journey to his wife and a son
he's never seen and ranting about ad-
ventures in lands where the people are
6 inches tall, or 60 feet tall; where
intellectuals live on a floating island; or
where horses are the masters and hu-
mans are detestable, ape-like creatures.
Whereas Swift conjured images of
fantastic places and people, this $28
million production (Sunday and Mon-
day nights) may be able to make them
seem real. But "Gulliver's Travels"
without Swift's overriding loathing of
Ted Danson had questions after he
was cast as the wayfaring Gulliver. He
had no doubts about the ability of the
film-makers. However, the two-time
Emmy winner worried about how an
Americar without affecting an accent,

could pull off this English character.
"It was a month into shooting,"
Danson said, "before I said, Yes, they
were right to cast me, and this was the
right thing for me to be doing."'
The epic tale starts quickly and furi-
ously, with Gulliver's troubled mind
being tossed between past and present.
In the opening minutes his thoughts

21rn -
Iab eA

sible look ordinary."
Not even Jim H enson Productions
can create an equal to the talents of
Peter O'Toole, Mary Steenburgen, Sir
John Gielgud, Omar Sharif, Alfre
Woodard, Ned Beatty, Edward
Woodward, James Fox and Kristin Scott
Danson said, "It was a little scary to
watch everyone act, especially Peter
O'Toole; the guy is absolutely remark-
able. The one comfort I had, watching
him work and being intimidated, was
realizing that when it came time for him
to be on screen, he would be 6 inches
tall. I felt that would give me the needed
edge, about a 10-to-I ratio."
Computers and actors blend with
greatest effect during the first two hours,
in the retelling of Gulliver's most fa-
miliar adventures.
Danson said, "They mixed typical
blue screen - where they take a picture
of a real castle and later on take a
picture of me and put the two together
- (with) models and tricks of perspec-
tive. ... They keep you off balance so
you really end up accepting the images
as real."
Blue-screen photography figured
prominently in the filming ofGulliver's

adventures in the next land, Brob-
dingnag, where the now-tiny Gulliver
is a freak-show attraction. He then is
taken to the Royal Palace and presented
to the Queen (Woodard) on a silver
tray. He later is served up less fashion-
ably, with a coating of honey, to three
giant wasps.
Like most of Gulliver's adventures,
the Brob-dingnag scenes were filmed
in Lisbon, with Woodard talking to a
doll representing Gulliver. Then, "two
months later," Danson said, "I'm in
London, Alfre's gone home and I'm
sitting on a stage that's completely bare
and painted blue - everything's blue
- sitting on a little blue box, totally
surrounded by blue, looking up in the
airtalking with Alfre.... Definitely blue-
screen acting is not my favorite.
Everybody's gone home, and you're
talking to the rafters."
In fact, the enormity of the project
exacted a toll on Danson. "This was
really the hardest thing I've ever done,"
he said. "There'd be days I'd almost
weep, I'd be so exhausted." During a
two-day break, Danson regained his
perspective while assessing why he
dreaded each day's filming.
"The first day back I was thrown

down stairs, dragged from here to there,
trampled on. Gulliver truly gets his rear
end handed to him. It was a tough kind
of journey to go on as an actor."
The on-screen Gulliver has it no bet-
ter. Interspersed with the Everyman
adventures are the Englishman's emo-
tional struggles to have his story ac-
cepted as fact. Complicating matters
are the efforts of Dr. Bates (Fox), who
has taken over Gulliver's home and
medical practice - and has designs on
his wife (Steenburgen), whom he em-
ploys as a housekeeper.
Gulliver's mental state in script writer
Simon Moore's new plotline is particu-
larly explored in the final two hours,
when Gulliver's recollections of Laputa
and the land of Houyhnhnms rely more
on drama than flashy effects.
The second night also includes ele-
ments of a love story as Gulliver is
granted a hearing on his sanity.
Mary's love for Lemuel Gulliver
helps soften Swift's "almost misogy-
nistic" views, Steenburgen said.
Most of the stories are largely un-
changed from the novel, further drama-
the futility of war, man's cruelty to man
and the central conceit of mankind.

switch often - and seamlessly - from
England to Lilliput, where the warring
little people press him into service
against the Big Enders.
The exceptional quality of the 400
computer-assisted special effects are
immediately obvious, but that's not the
intent, said Duncan Kenworthy, an ex-
ecutive director with Robert Halmi Jr.
and Brian Henson.
"What we didn't want to do is watch
this and be constantly saying, 'Wow,
that's an amazing effect,"' Kenworthy
said. "What we want instead is to use
the special effect to make the impos-



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