And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (DVD)
Antonio Banderas (Spy Kids, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) delivers a powerful, larger-than-life performance as the title character of this incredible true story of how Mexican Revolutionary, Pancho Villa, allowed a Hollywood crew to film him in battle, altering the course of film and military history in the process. The adventure gets its start when early movie giants D.W. Griffith (Colm Feore) and Harry Aiken (Jim Broadbent), send a junior executive, Frank Thayer (Eion Bailey) to Mexico to persuade the cash-strapped, publicity-hungry Villa to let them film his revolution. Stepping into the literal crossfire, Thayer's crew risks their lives in the mingling of fiction and reality. After a string of dangerous exploits, narrow escapes and double-crosses worthy of a silent action short, Thayer and Villa make their movie, and "The Life of General Villa" is released in the U.S. to popular acclaim. The film changes the public opinion in Villa's favor and proves that "the lens is mightier than the sword."
A bizarre footnote from film history comes to life in And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself
, an ambitious made-for-HBO opus that casts a jaundiced eye on Hollywood and politics. It's based on truth: in 1913, a movie crew went to Mexico to film general Pancho Villa, who was in the middle of leading a revolution in his country. Screenwriter Larry Gelbart and director Bruce Beresford use this mind-boggling situation to measure various Hollywood absurdities, but also to comment on the way showbiz has bent reality to fit convenient, crowd-pleasing expectations. Antonio Banderas gets a full head of steam going as Villa; he's so much better than anybody else in the movie, he underscores the weak performances of the other leads. You get the impression there were so many good anecdotes about this production, the movie can't quite find a focus. Still, for aficionados of movie lore, it's an absorbing look back at truly wild days. --Robert Horton