Going in to "Grindhouse," I received two distinct provisos.
The ticket lady made me read a sign warning that the two flicks it contains were modeled on low-value '70s entertainment, and would therefore be scratchy and missing reels (I was sure for a second there that she was gonna make me sign a release form.) My second warning came from the popcorn girl, who couldn't stop smiling as she declared "Grindhouse" to be "incredibly entertaining" (apparently, there is still hope for the youth of America.)
As most people who have managed to see "Grindhouse" would agree, they were both right.
Having missed out on the heyday of drive-thrus and never having been to a grindhouse theater, I'm not sure I fully appreciated what Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were going for here. I could have done without the deliberate scratchiness and skips, and definitely without the missing reels. I was able to forgive all that, however, because as individual units and put together, these two flicks are just a gas.
As I was leaving the theater with a big smile on my face and still jazzed from Tarantino's car-chase finale, I couldn't help thinking that Rodriguez kind of got cheated in this deal. While he stuck to the rules of the game and delivered an almost perfectly entertaining homage to zombie flicks, Tarantino started out making an old-fashioned car movie but then turned "Death Proof" into something all his own, and therefore made the superior flick (but just by a nose.)
You won't find anything original storywise in Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," but has story ever really been his strong point anyway? (Remember the dreadful "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" before you answer, please.) He is, however, a master of the visual, and though he piles on the gore here, it's a real feast for the eyes.
It's become clear to me that I have a double (or even triple) standard when it comes to gore. I've never seen "Hostel," "Saw" or any of the other gorefests that pass themselves off as horror now, and I never will. It's just not my thing. The zombie flick, however, is my blind spot, especially when they're as funny as Rodriguez's "Planet Terror."
Both one of his biggest assets and one of his biggest liabilities here is Rose MacGowan. Her go-go dance for the opening credits (not strip tease, there is a difference) is a wonder to behold, and she looks equally great spinning around on her backside to take out an army of zombies with her machine-gun leg(which all of you must have seen by now.) Unfortunately, when she's asked to speak, she delivers her lines with what can most generously be called a vacant stare, like she's vaguely confused by the whole operation.
But luckily, Rodriguez isn't asking for high art here, and MacGowan has an able counterpart in Freddy Rodriguez (always welcome and much-missed since the end of "Six Feet Under.") I don't want to give anything else away, so let's just say Rodriguez's zombie flick delivers all it promises, and a few surprises to sweeten the pot even more.
I don't have much to say about the trailers except that the only real one (for the direct-to-video "Machete") was much funnier than any of the fake ones that came after it (and I just can't get the line "you fucked with the wrong Mexican" out of my head.) One thing to note, the music for the "coming attractions" and "feature presentation" title cards is from the great "Old School" by DJ Danger Mouse and Talib Kweli.
In interviews promoting "Death Proof," Tarantino has, rather immodestly, said that the dialogue he wrote for this is his best. And, though I may get pilloried for it in the comments section here, I have to agree with him. My favorite Tarantino flick of all is probably his talkiest one, "Jackie Brown." The flow between the two sets of women in "Death Proof," especially the second set with Zoe Bell, reminded me of that flick at its best.
For anyone unfamiliar with the story, it's just about as silly as it could possibly be. Kurt Russell (with just the right amount of cartoon menace) is Stuntman Mike, an aging TV stuntman who gets his rocks off by mowing down cars full of young women in his stunt car. Sounds ludicrous, and it often is.
It's in the quieter moments of "Death Proof," though, that Tarantino really puts his stamp on the flick. As the four leading ladies from the opening segment, played by Sydney Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and Monica Staggs, are heading out after a night at the bar, Jungle Julia (Poitier) phones in a special request. Watching the four of them sing along, as we all do in the car, admit it, is just the perfect setup for what you know will be their fate (and one of the many reasons I'll soon be buying the "Death Proof" soundtrack.)
The dialogue he wrote for the second four, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and especially stuntwoman Zoe Bell, is even better. The signature scene, in which the camera pans around them eating at a diner only to catch a glimpse of Stuntman Mike seated at the counter, is just perfect.
But who am I kidding here? It's all about the big chase, and even if it is cribbed from Tarantino's favorite car movies (he has his characters mention "Vanishing Point" as least 10 times, lest you somehow miss the point), is a real stunner. All I'll tell you is that Bell is surfing on the hood of a Dodge Challenger playing a game called ship's mast when Stuntman Mike sets in on them. It's just the definition of fun.
This has gone on even longer than I planned, so I'll just leave you, courtesy of Brendon at Film Ick, with the two pages he says detail the missing reel from "Death Proof." It doesn't add much, but it's still fun reading. Enjoy!
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 7:22 AM