Once Upon a Time in Mexico (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 26, 2010 by  

The final film of the “El Mariachi” trilogy.  “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is a film that delivers in action, guns, explosions…you name it.  And to hear this film on Blu-ray is fantastic.  But compared to the other two films (“El Mariachi” and “Desperado”), the film delivers as a popcorn action-flick but the focus of the film is not all about El Mariachi.  Otherwise, an essential film to own if you have enjoyed the trilogy and worthy of upgrading to Blu-ray, if you own the original DVD.

Images courtesy of © 2003 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Once Upon a Time in Mexico


DURATION: 102 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital,  Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (For Strong Violence and for Language)

Release Date: January 4, 2011

Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Elizabeth Avellan, Carlos Gallardo, Robert Rodriguez

Co-Producer: Sue Jett, Tony Mark, Luz Maria Rojas

Music by Robert Rodriguez

Cinematography by Robert Rodriguez

Edited by Robert Rodriguez

Casting by Mary Vernieu

Production Design by Robert Rodriguez

Art Direction by Melo Hinojosa

Set Decoration by Eva Castro, Patrice Laure

Costume Design by Graciela Mazon


Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi

Salma Hayek as Carolina

Johnny Depp as Sands

Mickey Rourke as Billy

Eva Mendes as Ajedrez

Danny Trejo as Cucuy

Enrique Iglesias as Lorenzo

Marco Leonardi as Fideo

Cheech Marin as Belini

Ruben Blades as Jorge FBI

Willem Dafoe as Barillo

Gerardo Vigil as Marquez

Pedro Armendariz Jr. as Advisor

Leaping back into action, gun-slinging, guitar-toting hero “El Mariachi” is back in town in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, as director Robert Rodriguez delivers the epic final chapter of his pulp Western trilogy. Starring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Enrique Iglesias and Willem Dafoe ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO is a full-frontal assault.

Ten Minute Cooking School

Ten Minute Flick School

The Anti-Hero’s Journey

In 1993, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez debuted with his Spanish independent film “El Mariachi” created for $7,000.

Although the film did not make a huge earning in the box office, the film went on to make $1.5 million in video sales and for Robert Rodriguez, his dreams of becoming a filmmaker came true as he went on to make two TV movies in 1994 and the sequel to “El Mariachi” titled “Desperado” which would cost $7,000,000 and became a box office hit.

Since “El Mariachi”, Robert Rodriguez has inspired filmmakers who have dreamed of getting a shot in Hollywood and his story of his adventures in making “El Mariachi” was written in his book “Rebel Without a Crew” and he has become a hero among upcoming filmmakers who have been inspired by his story of doing all it takes to get your film noticed and eventually making your dream come true of becoming a successful filmmaker.

From the first two films of the “Mariachi Trilogy”, Rodriguez went on to create the “Spy Kids” trilogy and direct films such as “The Faculty” and “From Dusk Till Dawn”.  But the film that helped him get established needed its final conclusion for the trilogy and by 2003, he would go on to create “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”. The trilogy would feature an all-star cast with Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Enrique Iglesias, Cheech Marin, Ruben Blades, Willem Dafoe, Marc Leonardi and more!

It was the most expensive film in the trilogy with a budget of $29 million but earned its money and more with over $98 million in the box office.

With successful sales on VHS, LD and on DVD of the first two films, the trilogy will now be released on Blu-ray in January 2011 (“El Mariachi/Desperado” as a dual feature and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” as a standalone).

“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” features El Mariachi (played by Antonio Banderas).  El lives in a small Mexican town where people make their living building guitars.  But one day, Cucuy (played by Danny Trejo) shows up with his men and start questioning some of the guitarmakers of the whereabouts of El Mariachi.  Because they are protecting him, one is killed.  To prevent further bloodshed, El gives himself up to Cucuy and his men.

El is taken to meet with CIA agent Sheldon Sands (played by Johnny Depp).  El is hired to kill General Emiliano Marquez (played by Gerardo Vigil), a leader of a guerrilla force who has been hired by Mexican drug lord Armando Barillo (played by Willem Dafoe) to assassinate the President of Mexico (played by Pedro Armendariz Jr.) and overthrow the Mexican government who is clamping down on drug dealers.

For El, this is what he has been waiting for as we see his history and we learn that he and Carolina (played by Salma Hayek) fought against corruptness together (after the events of “Desperado”) and in a shootout, ended up wounding General Marquez.   A few years later, El and Carolina are happily married with a young daughter but one day, in retaliation for getting shot by El/Carolina, the General killed Carolina and his daughter in cold blood and even left El for dead.

So, El wants revenge against General Marquez and knows he will need to bring some friends, Mariachi and weapons experts Lorenzo (played by Enrique Iglesias) and Fideo (played by Marco Leonardi).

Meanwhile, Sheldon Sands shows a sign that he is a corrupt CIA agent and uses his plan to bring FBI Agent Jorge Ramirez (played by Ruben Blades) out of retirement to exact his revenge against the Mexican drug lord Barillo who murdered his partner.  Also, Sheldo is working with AFN operative Ajedrez (played by Eva Mendes) to follow Barillow.

Throughout the film, we see allegiances shift between characters who are dedicated to helping CIA agent Sands and those loyal to the Mexican drug lord Armando Barillo.  As for El, his main goal is for revenge and that is to avenge Carolina and his daughter by killing General Marquez.  Who will die and who will survive in this final “El Mariachi” film?


“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1).  Of the three films in the “El Mariachi” trilogy, as one would expect from a film created in 2003 versus the previous two from the early-to-mid ’90s, this film looks absolutely great on Blu-ray.  The colors are vibrant, there is detail that can be seen with the characters, their surroundings and the picture quality looks much clearer.  The blacks are nice and deep, the reds, browns and ambers are brilliant and for the most part, you can see details such as grime on the faces of characters (especially the child that helps out CIA agent Sands) and more detail on the weapons and surroundings much better on Blu-ray than its DVD counterpart.


“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is presented in English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Where “Desperado” definitely shined with its guns ablazing lossless soundtrack, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is an action driven film that features many gunshots, many rifle shots, bullets whizzing, explosions galore.  If you thought “Desperado” was action-packed, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is a tour-de-force when it comes to action and weapons being shot in full force within this trilogy.

Dialogue and music is clear through the center and front channels but there is such a wonderful use of the surround channels and LFE that audiophiles should be happy with the lossless soundtrack.  It sounds absolutely wonderful in HD especially when you compare it to the original DVD, the Blu-ray packs a wallop in terms of audio!

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.


“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” special features are presented in standard definition, English Stereo and with Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.  Special features include:

  • MovieIQ – If your Blu-ray player is connected to the Internet, while watching the film, you can access facts, trivia and movie information about “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”.
  • The Cutting Room – Select certain video clips and edit and share them with other friends via Blu-ray live.
  • Robert Rodriguez Audio Commentary – Like the previous films, Robert Rodriguez audio commentaries are wonderful as he goes into detail of how scenes were shot and cost-cutting corners that he used in editing and more.  Just a wonderful commentary for those who want to become a filmmaker.
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary – Featuring a total of eight deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by director Robert Rodriguez.
  • Ten-Minute Flick School – (9:04) Robert Rodriguez shares a few of his filmmaking techniques employed into “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”.
  • Inside Troublemaker Studios – (11:22) Robert Rodriguez gives a tour inside of his studio, Troublemaker Studios.
  • Ten-Minute COOKING School – (5:48) Robert Rodriguez teaches viewers how to cook puerco pibil.
  • Film is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez – (13:18) Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo talking to the audience about “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”.
  • The Anti-Hero’s Journey – (18:03) Director Robert Rodriguez and cast of the trilogy talk about the journey and the making of the films and how they embraced Rodriguez’ vision.
  • The Good, the Bad and the Bloody: Inside KNB FX – (19:03) Behind-the-scenes of the visual effects of “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”.

When it comes to the “El Mariachi” trilogy, for any fans who have followed the career of Robert Rodriquez and was inspired by his book “Rebel Without a Crew” to his mini-film school special features and audio commentary, you can’t help but respect Robert Rodriguez.

From the time he made “El Mariachi” and doing all he can (including interesting ways to fund “El Mariachi” back then) to stay within a budget, he has become a studio’s favorite director and since 1993 and for any film student, you can’t help but respect his determination and his passion for making a movie and trying to get his independent film recognized.  But most of all, even today, he manages to keep it real, continuing to help future filmmakers by providing tips and advice on DVD and Blu-ray releases that he takes part in.

Even with the release of the wonderful “Sin City” Blu-ray to most of the releases that he gets to become involved in, typically all DVD and Blu-ray releases featuring the work of Robert Rodriguez are worth owning.  Future filmmakers, both the “El Mariachi/Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” are recommended.  The amount of information and advice he gives to filmmakers through his commentary and special features are incredible!

With that being said, let’s first talk about “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”, a film that has had its positives and negatives among film critics because unlike the previous two films, because it featured plenty of characters, the main character of El Mariachi is diluted.  He has a presence in the film, he is important in the film but he is just a part of the film whereas the two previous films were shaped around him.  In fact, USA Today film critic Claudia Puig was correct in my opinion when she said the film paid homage to spaghetti Westerns such as Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”.

The film is focused more on bodies dropping, weapons firing, explosions and action after action, while the romantic and dramatic elements of El Mariachi and a woman is much different in this film as the love of his life has been killed and once again, he must get his revenge.  The previous two films helped shape the character of El Mariachi, the third film tends to make him out like a Jonah Hex/Punisher comic book anti-hero in which he is a man that is literally untouchable and whoever goes against him, you know they are not going to survive.

So, approaching the film in that aspect, the film works on that level because viewers want to see bodies drop and how El Mariachi wins over the bad guys is what has been impressive in the previous two films.  This time, the story has a lot going on with the characters of CIA agent Sands, agent Ajedrez, drug dealer kingpin Armando Barillo, retired FBI agent Jorge Ramirez, Billy Chambers and I have to admit that If found myself lost when it came to connecting the dots of the characters relationships, down to the point where I just wanted to see more of El Mariachi and his buddies getting revenge.

By the end of the film, I was content and for those who want a very good Western action popcorn flick, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” fits the bill!  For those who wanted more of a character driven storyline, unfortunately this film diverts itself from how the previous two films and aims to fit everyone else’s storyline in the film.

So, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is pretty subjective to the viewer and feel that some will have a mixed feeling towards this film but action fans and those wanting to see an all-star cast will find the film to be an enjoyable, fun and action-packed.  If anything, this film is an early Rodriguez movie that showcases his love of featuring many characters, many stars as he would continue to do again in his later films such as “Sin City”, “Planet Terror” and “Machete”.

Now if you own the trilogy on DVD, is the Blu-ray worth upgrading to?  If you want the best PQ and AQ and have the hardware to support it, then most definitely.  These films benefit from the lossless soundtrack and the picture quality is awesome as well.  The special features are the same with the exception of the trailer and the two (not-so-fun) games that were included on the original DVD but not on the Blu-ray release.  But if you do have the hardware to take advantage of the HD lossless, then you’re going to love the upgrade because films such as “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” sounds fantastic!  And also they look great in 1080p.

Overall, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is a film that definitely delivers in action but unlike the two films, is not a character driven story that focus on El Mariachi completely.  But still an essential film as part of the trilogy and both Blu-ray releases are definitely worth owning and are worthy of the upgrade to High Definition.  Definitely recommended!

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