Once Upon a Time in Mexico; The Boy David Story; Commandante; Finding Nemo

 The third in Robert Rodriguez' Mexican outlaw trilogy. He began with the minimal budget, El Mariacchi, in the early 90s. It was such a commercial success, studios gave him enough money to remake it in the mid-90s with Antonio Banderas as Desperado. Quentin Tarantino had a cameo in Desperado and became a strong influence on Rodriguez, for the maniacal
horror of From Dusk till Dawn and the odd short story in Four Rooms. Tarantino is warmly thanked in the credits here.

Rodriguez, who usually does almost everything for his own films, writing, directed, composing, editing, doing special effects as well as minor jobs, has made enough money out of his subsequent films, especially his Spy Kids trilogy that he enough to burn on this wildly over the top saga of his Mariacchi player. His main credit for this films is that it was 'shot,
chopped and scored' by him. He also has the support of Miramax and the Weinstein brothers. This means he could hire a number of stars as well as a number of extras who could be killed off at whim, registering a high body count.

With his Mexican background (though he now a citizen of Austin, Texas, where he does all his work), Rodriguez enjoys telling far-fetched tales of macho action and banditry and turning them into legends.

The films starts with a discussion of legends and a joking manner. Johnny Depp is a rogue CIA agent in Mexico who wants to engineer a change in a plot to assassinate the president. He gives another of his unpredictable and eccentrically mannered performances like his Captain in Pirates of the Caribbean. Antonio Banderas fits the bill as the Mariacchi who is now just known as El and is chosen to thwart the plan. Salma Hayek appears mbriefly as his wife. Enrique Iglesias plays one of his musical and action associates. The villain is Willem Dafoe as a drug lord and Ruben Blades is a retired agent who is persuaded by Depp to be part of the counter-attack. Mickey Rourke has a cameo as a gangster and Eva Mendes (Too Fast Too Furious, Training Day) is a turncoat policewoman.

There is plenty of plot, of action, complicated interpretations of myths and a great deal of derring-do.

The Boy David Story

Desmond Wilcox was a British journalist then television producer from the 1960s. During the late 1970s, he worked with director, Alex McCall, in a series of award winning documentaries which had as their subject a boy from the Amazonian jungle of Peru. David had a congenital defect in his face, the centre of it collapsing in. Taken to a hospital in Lima, he was left with staff unable to help. Rescued by a Swiss charity worker, he was taken to a Scottish plastic surgeon who worked in Lima, Ian Jackson. The documentaries traced the journey of David from Peru to Scotland, his journey of over 80 operations and reconstruction, his being accepted into a Scottish family who then moved to Detroit, the quest for his parents and permission for the Jacksons to adopt David, the 11th hour visit to the jungle, the help of the local priest and sisters and intervention of the president's wife just as the legislation on adoption was to change.

Now, after the death of Desmond Wilcox in 2000, Alex McCall has revisited his material, collected material on David from the late 80s and the 90s tracing his growth and development, his education, his becoming an American citizen, his decision to be a commercial artist and to move to Los Angeles. It has all been edited into a 90 minute documentary where truth is stranger than fiction. It is as interesting and as enjoyable as a feature film. One is impressed by the Jacksons, parents and children, and their devotion, love and loyalty for David. David meets the Swiss charity worker
after twenty years. He goes back to the jungle to understand his roots. David is an impressive character.

While the format and material (and Dougray Scott's narration) are quite straightforward as well as quite emotional, the story takes over and takes the audience with it. It is a fine tribute to the valuing of human life.


Oliver Stone has made films about JFK and Nixon. This time he has made a documentary about Fidel Castro. It is not just about Castro. Castro features as the star, about 90 minutes culled from 30 hours of interview done in February 2002. For that reason, it is well worth seeing.

At the time of the interviews, Castro was 75 and had been in power in Cuba for 43 years. Castro seems very agreeable, friendly with Stone and working through his interpreter. Stone himself also features a great deal, a kind of star turn which does suggest at times, especially in his sometimes awe of Castro, an ego trip.

At first some of the questions seem genial but trivial (and we learn that Castro saw Titanic on video, that he liked Brigitte Bardot and was one of the few who saw his favourite star, Gerard Depardieu, in Vatel). Once Castro gets a chance to talk about the revolution, the Battista regime and the role of Che Guevara, he is worth listening to and watching the body language. He is, as might be expected, very informative on the Bay of Pigs and the October missiles. He seems quite kindly towards John Kennedy, excusing him for the Bay of Pigs (which he had inherited from Eisenhower) and speaking about his inexperience as President. He admired Kruschev but was wary about the Soviet missiles fearing that Cuba would be the first target of a nuclear strike. He speaks about his own inexperience of understanding the world balance of power at such an early stage in his government. He sheets home blame to the US and the still-in-force sanctions against Cuba. He is also interesting on his intervention in Angola and the very limited presence in Vietnam.

He explains his atheism (and his dislike of dogmatic religious teaching which he experienced growing up) but received Pope Pope John II and says that he supports religion which instils values but not when it is used to back up causes.

On the whole, this is a pleasant interview, favourable towards the Castro regime and not strongly critical. It does make one reflect on a man who has led his country despite a great deal of isolation for almost half a

Finding Nemo

Pixar Studios have become one of the brightest of animation film-makers. They have had critical acclaim as well as huge box-office popularity with Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc. Finding Nemo continues this tradition, a hugely enjoyable film both for children and for adults.

Firstly, the animation is outstanding, not only the skill in creating fish characters (not an easy thing to do) and in being able to suggest what life is like under water, both on the brightly coloured Barrier Reef and in the depths of the ocean. With their computer generated images, they are able to create a fantasy world that is not too far from realism.

The story is delightful as well as tugging at the heartstrings (although there is always a humorous line to offset any sentimentality). Marlin, a clown fish - who is not good at telling jokes - loses his family except for one baby, Nemo. He becomes over protective of his son who in a moment of rebellion is caught by divers and finds himself in a fishtank in a
dentist's surgery in Sydney. Marlin sets out to find Nemo, encountering a comic fish named Dory, who suffers from short term memory loss and a sense of identity. Together their adventures include a group of sharks who are members of a kind of AA group who have sworn off eating fish, a school of jellyfish, some friendly turtles, a whale until they arrive in Sydney and with the help of the fish in the tank and a genial Pelican named Nigel, Nemo escapes and there is a happy family reunion.

While the creatures are all fascinating, they have a large cast of very talented voices. In all his films, Albert Brooks plays a put-upon, lugubrious character, with many ironic one-liners. He is perfect for Marlin, while Ellen de Generes with her deadpan patter makes a wonderful Dory. Geoffrey Rush is Nigel, Barry Humprhies (more a Les Patterson voice), Eric Bana and Bruce Spence are the sharks, Alexander Gould is Nemo and the fish tank is inhabited by Willem Dafoe, Allison Janney and a range of comic talent.

Story and themes of family are very strong and audiences will identify strongly as well as enjoying the look and the sound of the film.
LONDON - 9 October 2003 - 1,864 words

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