Kevin: “Fans of John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ were thrilled by the news that visionary filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has signed on for a remake of the 1981 classic, with the Austin-based auteur expected to bring a bold and exciting new take on Carpenter’s original.” That’s the kind of sentence you could have seen as late as 2006 perhaps, back when Rodriguez’s name was still sort of mentioned alongside Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater, but in 2016 the news that the filmmaker will be helming the long-in-development “Escape” remake has been greeted about as well as if Brett Ratner were taking the reins from Carpenter.
As for myself, I have no strong opinion on the idea of an “Escape” remake itself, as I’ve never been a huge fan of the original. It has a lot of things I like (John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, cool cast, great score, great premise) but it never really comes together as well as I would like. However, I’m baffled that between this and the upcoming James Cameron-produced “Alita: Battle Angel,” Rodriguez is still getting high-profile gigs despite demonstrating pretty clearly that he is a lazy hack who continues trying to ride the whole “I’m an outlaw filmmaker who does everything on my movies, including cooking tamales for the crew,” even though at this point he should just focus on doing one of those jobs well (and I’m sure his tamales suck).
If there is one consistent with Rodriguez it’s that his movies are never as fun or as cool as they want to be, mainly because he overloads them with way more plot than needed and characters who have to explain the plot at every moment (can anyone remember what the various characters were doing in “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and why the movie couldn’t just be a straightforward “Antonio Banderas gets revenge” flick?). This is best demonstrated in the “Machete” movies, which should just be quickie fun little action flicks with great villain turns (Steven Seagal, Mel Gibson), and instead are nearly two-hour-long endurance tests due to wall-to-wall exposition and social commentary about Mexican immigration that’s about as subtle as a two-by-four to the head.
Actually we already saw his version of John Carpenter in his “Planet Terror” contribution to “Grindhouse,” and it wasn’t pretty. Whereas John Carpenter in the ‘70s would have made a lean and mean horror movie about a small band of survivors holing up in one location against virus-infected mutants, Rodriguez as usual is all over the place, sending his characters from jails to hospitals to barbecue joints, and by the time they all arrive at a military base I felt like the movie had already been going on for two hours.
(Note this is also the movie in which Rodriguez ditched his wife and kids for Rose McGowan, and then promptly tried to make a $100 million remake of “Red Sonja” with her in the lead that no one shockingly wanted to pay for. This was also before McGowan turned into a bald humorless feminist constantly decrying the sexism of Hollywood, which amazingly coincided with producers and directors not wanting to sleep with her anymore.)
I still can’t believe Rodriguez could get hired for anything other than wedding photography after “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” which felt about as tired and stale as the original felt fresh and unique when it came out in 2005. I saw the sequel at a premiere benefit in Austin, and I was amazed at the fact that Rodriguez somehow made me bored of seeing Eva Green naked, as well as by his apparently sincere belief that Jessica Alba can act. You seriously haven’t lived until you’ve seen Alba’s virtuoso third-act monologues to herself in the mirror and her nuanced depiction of her character’s descent into alcoholism, which is mainly demonstrated by stumbling around comically on stage and taking swigs from a giant vodka bottle.
Rodriguez ironically best summed up why his movies suck during an anecdote during a Q&A after the premiere. Before he came out my wife and I took bets on whether he would be wearing his usual stupid cowboy hat or his other usual stupid green revolutionary cap. He went with the green.
In the movie Josh Brolin and Mickey Rourke share a lot of scenes together, and when Brolin arrived on the set in Austin he mentioned how much he was looking forward to working with Rourke. Rodriguez told him that Rourke had already filmed his scenes in front of a green screen the week before and that Brolin would be acting his scenes out to the spot Rourke had been standing, and then they would edit everything together to make it look like they were physically in the same shot. Rodriguez acted like this was some sort of awesome moment in cinema, and that tells you everything you need to know about Robert Rodriguez as a filmmaker.
CJ: I have been noticing that children’s movies/franchises are basically bulletproof. Make one, enjoy an easy $300 million, make the sequel, rinse, repeat. Robert Rodriguez might be the only director out there to have a kid’s movie franchise (“Spy Kids”) and make it unsuccessful.
Seriously, for a guy who walks around in these hats, Rodriguez has five kid’s movies to his name. FIVE! Because it takes a true “screw you Mr. President” rebel to make “Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” I also think we’d all agree he must be bald, or balding, right?
But the hats and image he is trying to force on us is like the guy who always needs to talk about how badass he is, only for us all to watch it immediately fall apart at a bar when some guys get a little testy and he’s the first one out the door and in his car (I’d be the first one out the door too, but that’s cause I don’t claim to be a badass; also, I’m not getting arrested for you assholes!).
Seriously, look at him in this picture. It’s like he just googled “bad to the bone” and went “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
As for “Escape from New York” being redone, count me out. I liked the original and don’t see a need to remake it, partly because the cheesy ‘80s vibe helps make it great. I do wonder what “take” Rodriguez is gonna have on this. Not because I’m excited (in fact I know it will suck), I’m really just asking.
More than anything though I’m coming back to the hats. What’s the image here? If it’s a cowboy hat, has this guy ever even BEEN on a horse? And with the Che hat, what revolution is he leading? The revolution of shitty green-screen films that don’t need actors to actually be in the same scene, like Kevin mentioned?
Speaking of John Carpenter, sometime last year Kevin and I went to a screening of “Big Trouble in Little China” that was being hosted by Kevin Eastman (creator of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”). Well, Eastman comes out and says, “Hey guys, I brought my friend Robert Rodriguez!” While I can’t translate what sounds mean, the reaction from the crowd led me to believe we were all thinking “So I’m guessing we aren’t gonna hear any cool “Ninja Turtles” stories. But nice hat you’re wearing Robert. At the movies. In the dark.”
Mike: I have very mixed feelings on Rodriguez. I give him at A+ for effort, but all of his movies with the exception of “Sin City” fail in some way or another for me. It’s definitely partly what Kevin touched upon, where Rodriguez layers on so many stories in one film that by the halfway point of the movie you don’t give a shit what happens to anyone. He’s also way too proud of making B-movies. I don’t know if he realizes this, but the price of admission is the same for a B-movie as it is for a good one, so he should, you know, try and make better films. I will say this though, his sequence in “Four Rooms” was by far my favorite. I also really like his Director’s Chair series on El Rey, which I highly recommend. He interviews John Carpenter in one episode and it was fantastic.
On to “Escape from New York”: I love that damn movie and it certainly does not need to be remade. And it definitely doesn’t need to star some Mexican guy as Snake while Rodriguez shoehorns 900 puns into it about the wall surrounding New York City built by Trump. Also, I don’t need to see Danny Trejo in it anywhere, and you know he will be if this film gets done. The original had everything: great soundtrack, badass story, awesome anti-hero, some real great character actors (Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance, Harry Dean Stanton), and who can forget John Carpenter casting his own wife, the big tittied Adrienne Barbeau, and then killing her. In fact, my only real complaint is that the movie isn’t way way more violent. Which Rodriguez won’t solve because he’ll undoubtedly make this for a PG-13 audience.
Rodriguez also relies way too heavily on green-screen technology, which to me is awful. It’s probably made even worse by the fact that he likely insists on rendering all the special effects himself while he’s up late at home instead of just letting the professionals handle it. I wonder if his crew ever gets annoyed working with him because he’s constantly trying to learn their jobs and then do them.
Kevin: Mike is 100 percent right that this movie will contain a shitload of thuddingly on-the-nose “satire” about building walls, along with probably John Travolta playing an obvious Trump doppelgänger as the comical right-wing president Snake has to save, and Trejo as a cool badass despite the fact that he is like 78 and looks about 4 feet tall now. Jessica Alba will also play a resistance leader who wears skintight outfits but also beats up guys twice her size so Alba can say in interviews that her character is “badass” and “empowered.”
Speaking of Alba, me and CJ’s biggest issue with the “Machete” movies actually has nothing to do with Rodriguez’s failings as a director, writer, producer, editor, composer, etc., it’s the annoyingly pretentious way Alba pronounces the word “machete,” as seen at the beginning of this interview where she then spouts off all the pre-written drivel about how this is an unconventional anti-studio movie, except for the part where a studio funded and released it: