the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Grindhouse











Mere weeks after 300's Spartans geysered enough computer-generated blood to sink a medium-sized archipelago, perpetually adolescent directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino present a devilishly over-the-top and absurdly off-the-wall gore-fest of their own. This is Rodriguez and Tarantino’s idea of camp as high art — part homage, part barefaced rip-off. Constructed to resemble the exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s (known as Grindhouse films because of the incredibly fast and caviler manner in which they were thrown together and rushed into mostly drive-in movie houses), Grindhouse attempts to reinvent the genre closest to the co-directors’ hearts. Sleazy sex, gross-out horror and ultra-violent crime were a staple of the B-movies the two loved so well growing up and Grindhouse was probably a foregone inevitability.

Grindhouse is actually two films that play back to back, a cinematic one-two punch of Rodriquez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. In between the two features, Eli Roth (Hostel), Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead), and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) guest direct three so-bad-they’re-good trailers for fake movies with names like Werewolf Women of the S.S. Filled with an army of B-actors and Rodriquez/Tarantino veterans, Grindhouse is 185 minutes of schlock, goo, bare skin and unapologetically ridiculous entertainment.

Well, one outta two anyway.

Rodriquez delivers everything he promises and then some. In Planet Terror, Rose McGowan (TV’s Charmed) plays a Texas go-go dancer who must fight for her life when a town becomes infected with a military biological weapon that transforms the populace into flesh-eating zombies. That a few of them manage to chew off one of her legs before her boyfriend (Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under) rescues her might seem like a terrible downer but that’s before she’s outfitted with a prosthetic machine gun/grenade launcher. Yes, that is how any rational person defines over the top — deliciously, deliriously so.

Planet Terror looks and feels every bit the part of a ‘sploitation film of the 70s, albeit with a terrific budget and impressive CGI. Director Rodriguez throws everything that he has at his segment. Planet Terror is filled with enough T&A, tough guys, blazing guns and gross-out horror to pack several films. Intentionally damaging his movie to give it the abused look of one too many projections, Rodriguez has repeatedly scratched the image, removed frames, inserted skips, edited incompetently and at one point even excised an entire reel. The end result is a film that is endlessly entertaining, disgustingly fun, and dead on target.

Too bad everything comes to a screeching halt once Tarantino’s Death Proof hits the screen. The Grindhouse pictures of old may have been many things, but you could never accuse them of being boring. Until now. For a man who swears he learned everything he knows about filmmaking from watching Grindhouse fare as a kid, Tarantino sure doesn’t seem to remember much of it. He promises all-out mayhem but what he delivers is 90% bore-fest and 10% white-knuckle action. The formula, Herr Director, is precisely the opposite, methinks.

Death Proof follows Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as a psychopath who uses his supped-up muscle car as a weapon with which to murder unsuspecting beautiful women. What Stuntman Mike forgets or perhaps never knew is that hell hath no fury like a woman… No more plot or story explanation is required. Or at least, in a genre film of this nature, there shouldn’t half to be.

While Rodriguez’s gruesome mayhem would be a tough act for anyone to follow, Tarantino’s Death Proof so scandalously kills the mood that it is as if all the fun in the theater is suddenly sucked into the vacuum of space. Death Proof is never-ending dialogue. Too caught up in once again trying to impress us with his verbal repartee, Tarantino spends incalculable time allowing his characters to drone on and on about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. This might be ok if Tarantino were half as funny or as hip as he thinks he is. But instead, the tiresome first half of Death Proof hits the theater floor with the sort of resounding thud no one would have been capable of hearing in Planet Terror because the audience was too busy laughing and screaming.

Worse yet, eschewing Grindhouse’s notorious lack of cinematic quality, Tarantino shoots his subjects with loving cinematic caresses, beautiful light, and fluid camerawork. Death Proof is preposterously self-referential, playing like a cinephile’s broken record of movie shout-outs. (I swear, Tarantino, if you invoke Vanishing Point just one more time…!) Like Rodriguez, Tarantino fills his segment with homages to the look and feel of his predecessors — freeze-frames, funky colors, and voyeuristic ogling of scantly clad girls — but overall he fails so miserably at anything even close to a facsimile, let alone a reenvisioning, that, cut off from any sort of context, the film utterly crashes and burns. It is as if Tarantino knows what a sloppy, over-the-top, schlocky movie is supposed to look like but he just can’t lower himself to sincerely make one.

To be fair, this achieves the desired affect — when the twisted metal and mechanical carnage begins in earnest, we have indeed been lulled into a false sense of security. But we’ve also been lured right of out giving a damn.

Despite this stinker, one cannot help but smile to see Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken or The Thing's R.J. MacReady swagger back into a B-movie. Kurt Russell may be past his prime, but he is still one badass mofo. And let’s face it, the ladies (including Rosario Dawson) certainly aren’t hard on the eyes either. (Stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who doubled Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, is infectious fun in her acting debut; that she is also able to do her own stunts lends a terrifying degree of authenticity to the only exciting parts of Death Proof).

Does Tarantino have any original ideas of his own? Is he incapable of doing anything at all other then blatantly ripping off from and amalgamating the films of those who’ve gone before him? It so, we haven’t seen it yet. Sure, he’s made some fine films, but has he ever made a singularly authentic, sincere, innovative frame of film in his entire life?

It’s too bad Grindhouse didn’t come out one week earlier. At least then we’d all be in on the April Fool’s joke.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow Brandon, you nailed my sentiments 100%

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this film, and I'm not sure if I will. However, here's something to think about.

I think the talk, talk, talk snooze, snooze pattern might be a legitimate style of film that is unnecessarily being immitated, maybe even poorly.

There's a ton of stuff that is in the Troma back catalog, sequels to blackspolitation films, Roger Corman movies, and stuff that came on about 2:00 A.M. hosted by Joe Bob Briggs that seems to follow this pattern. Usually the titles are alluring, but they deliver only about five minutes of what they promise and then continue with a lot of awkward conversations with cops, semi-attractive women, and bored teenagers.

They probably showed this fare late at night at the drive-in when it didn't really matter what was on the screen.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

If that's the case, then "Death Proof" is a masterpiece.

5:16 AM  
Blogger LadyBronco said...

Wow...

And I was so looking forward to this movie.

Guess I'll have to wait until it comes out on DVD.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Still worth it for "Planet Terror"!

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw it first night, PLANET TERROR WAS AMAZING, and DEATH PROOF SUCKED there was nothing to it.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Sheila West said...

I enjoyed Death Proof. I loved the tie-in it had with Planet Terror (took place in the same vicinity as the hospital from Planet terror, and so the same hospital staff members and law enforcement officials were in both films).

The problem here is that Planet Terror was more of an end-of-the-world saga, while Death Proof was more of an isolationist tale of terror at the hands of a stalker. Apples and oranges. In and of itself, Death Proof was a fine piece. Trying to compare it to Planet Terror is about as useless as trying to compare the horror film Alien with the action film Aliens: two non-compatible genrees just can't be compared.

If anything, I think we ended on a sense of forboding at the close of Death Proof because we know that, chronologically, Planet Terror (because it correctly takes place in time AFTER Death Proof) is now about to unfold any day now. And I think that sense of dread and foreboding is very cool, much like the ending of Pulp Fiction when we watched our two favorite hit men at the end, knowing that one of them was "later" (in a straight time line) going to die. And ending on a note of forboding is one of the great hallmarks of the classic grindhouse productions.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Sheila West said...

And another thing...

... Grindhouse movies spanned MANY genres, not just the end-of-the-world sagas and the secluded-in-the-countryside-with-a-psycho-killer tales. To give a fair treatment to the whole grindhouse movement, QT and RR had to pick JUST TWO genres from the entire landscape of grindhouse possibilities. RR picked the end-of-the-world genre while QT picked the psyhco-killer-is-after-us one. Comparatively, one is more heart-pumping than the other. But it would have been foolish if they had BOTH done an end-of-the-world saga. So ONE of those guys had to pick the comparatively less-exciting genre.

I again wanna state: Death Proof, all by itself, is a fine work. It merely pales when compared to Planet Terror. And I think the tie-in it had with Planet Terror (the same hopsital, etc) was just brilliant in a Pulp Fiction kinda way, and it heped the overall film of Grind House to be more cohesive. What made all five episodes of the original "Creepshow" movie cohesive? The stupid black ash tray sculpture thing that appeared in the backgrounds of each episode. (Yeah right! Real difficult to write!) RR's and QT's cohesiveness of the hospital (and even the two loud nasty teenaged girls who babysat the boy in Planet Terror showed up in Death Proof) was more poetic and required a bit more finesse than a black ash tray.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched Death Proof last night and first thing this morning I'm going out of my way to find a blog so I can bitch about it. Hands Down this is the Worst Movie he's ever made. When Will all the Talking stop! Dialogue is fine when there is a hint of meaning in it, or at least a little funny. Some better actresses would have worked, Saddly the best two Actors in the film were The Stunt Girl, who's never acted before and Kurt Russel who was the only thing that made the movie worth Watching. the Trauma Films from the past followed a flow like this yes, but dialogue still had purpose, it was relavant to the story in some way, and ususally not the same long winded scenes, This movie literally has you watching 3 girls talking in a car ride for 20 minutes, then sitting at a coffee table for a half hour. You Blew It Quentin! You played a bad bartender too.

6:46 AM  

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