There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
From Dusk Till Dawn, a 1996 gangster / vampire picture directed by Robert Rodriguez from a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, with a story by horror makeup maestro Robert Kurtzman. Tarantino and George Clooney costar as the Gecko brothers, two stone-cold killers and fugitive bank robbers who hijack an RV and force a nice Christian family, the Fullers (with Harvey Keitel as the dad and Juliette Lewis as his teen daughter), to drive them across the border to Mexico. While the Geckos are waiting in a rowdy strip club for the man who’s supposed to hide them from the law, they discover the bar is infested with blood-sucking demons.
Why watch now?
Because Alita: Battle Angel is (finally) arriving in theaters this weekend.
In development since the early 2000s, the movie adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga series was originally going to be directed by James Cameron before he got sidetracked by Avatar and its still pretty theoretical sequels. Cameron hired Robert Rodriguez to streamline his script and shoot it, and the production actually wrapped back in February 2017. The two years since have been spent refining the digital effects to create the illusion of a realistic cyborg (played by Rosa Salazar) interacting with humans and other human / machine hybrids on a crumbling 26th century Earth.
When Alita: Battle Angel opens this weekend, it’ll be Rodriguez’s first feature film as a director since 2014’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. That’s a long time between big-screen projects for a filmmaker who helmed 18 movies between 1992 and 2014. Rodriguez first made a name for himself with 1992’s El Mariachi, a stylish revenge thriller, which was shot for pennies in Mexico. In the decades that followed, he’s mostly worked on films he also wrote and produced, from grubby B-movies like Machete to special effects-heavy family fare like Spy Kids to more experimental genre pieces like Sin City and Planet Terror.
Rodriguez has had his share of surprise hits and pricey flops. He’s also dedicated a lot of his time to fostering the Texas filmmaking community and industry. Throughout his career, he’s been an advocate for DIY principles, urging aspiring filmmakers just to pick up a camera and go for it, rather than waiting for someone else’s money or permission.
That said, From Dusk Till Dawn reveals the differences between Tarantino — who’s obsessed with “trash cinema,” yet looks for ways to elevate it — and Rodriguez, who’s perfectly happy making proudly disreputable entertainment. The first half of From Dusk Till Dawn feels very much like the work of the man who was still riding high from the success of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It’s filled with long dialogue scenes, exploring the Fullers’ tragic past and the relationship between the shrewd Seth Gecko (Clooney) and his deranged brother Richie (Tarantino). Once the vampires show up, Rodriguez steps in and delivers shamelessly gory drive-in movie mayhem, featuring extended guest appearances by genre picture vets Tom Savini and Fred Williamson.
Who it’s for
Fans of violent 1990s indie films and Tex-Mex pop culture.
When Reservoir Dogs debuted at Sundance in 1992, it marked the arrival of a new voice in American cinema, combining influences from 1950s dime-store paperbacks, 1960s European New Wave films, 1970s TV, and 1980s theater. By the end of the decade, it seemed like scarcely a month went by without another movie that could be called Tarantino-esque — including some he’d actually written or rewritten during the stretch of the early 1990s when nearly every producer in Hollywood wanted to work with him. From Dusk Till Dawn actually originated as a pre-Reservoir Dogs screenplay that Kurtzman hired him to write, which then became a hot property post-Pulp Fiction.
As such, the movie feels very much of its time, and it’s bound to conjure up some nostalgic feelings for anyone who was at the multiplex every weekend in the 1990s. The magnificent opening scene alone — almost a standalone sketch set in a convenience store, featuring a winding conversation between a clerk played by John Hawkes and a Texas Ranger played by Michael Parks — represents “the Tarantino touch” at its best, seeming at first pointlessly digressive, then becoming essential to the film’s overall flavor and flow.
Yet, as Rodriguez has done throughout his career, he also puts his stamp on From Dusk Till Dawn as a Texan and a Mexican-American. He fills out the cast with actors who have Mexican backgrounds, including Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and Salma Hayek (playing the seductive vampire stripper Santanico Pandemonium), and he sets the whole show to a soundtrack featuring music by Texas blues-rock gods ZZ Top and the Vaughan Brothers. It’s this kind of reliance on his own instincts and taste that has led Rodriguez to such a long, prolific career. He tends to work fast and from the gut.
Where to see it
Netflix. The service also has all three seasons of the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series (Rodriguez directed seven episodes), and several Tarantino movies, including Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight, and both volumes of Kill Bill.