Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Grindhouse (2007)

viewed on: 2007-04-29
overall rating: 8.0

Planet Terror
dir. Robert Rodriguez
rating: 8.0

Planet Terror could possibly be my favorite zombie movie after Shaun of the Dead. Whereas the latter is a comedy with action, Planet Terror is an action movie with tongue-in-cheek comedy. For example, Cherry Darling's (Rose McGowan's) gun-leg is simultaneously super-badass and super-cheesy.

The plot is irrelevant and utterly uncomplicated--zombies, mayhem, explosions--so I'll just list things I loved, in addition to the "leg."

-Freddy Rodriguez and his character El Wray. Although El Wray was mostly played for laughs, Freddy could definitely carry his own action movie. He's a good actor.
-Michael Biehn, who really should be cast in every action movie made. His steely gaze and somewhat gravelly voice were made for the genre. And he's been in some of the best examples of action movies (good and bad): Terminator, Aliens, Navy Seals, The Rock... Inspired casting here.
-The return of Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), a recurring Tarantino/Rodriguez character. He originated in From Dusk Till Dawn, showed up in Kill Bill, and appears in both parts of Grindhouse.
-Bruce Willis. Fit his (essentially cameo) role like a glove.
-Rose McGowan, it turns out, is a good actress, and was a wasted talent on the very crappy tv show "Charmed." She does almost a 180 between her two roles in Grindhouse, and is believable in both. Hopefully she'll start getting more good roles.

One thing I wish got paid off more were the specially-made car and motorcycle. The movie made a big deal of revealing them, but they didn't figure into the plot much after that. I was expecting them to be tricked out with weapons or something, but they were basically only for show--helping the good guys look cool. The chopper was used a bit in one or two stunts, but the car wasn't really.

I could've done without Quentin Tarantino, limited screen time though he had. As a writer and director he is high-quality; as an actor, not so much. I think my dislike of him on screen has to do with his perpetual smirking sneer, or sneering smirk, whatever you want to call it--I can't take him seriously as an actor at all.

The trailers
dir. (various)
rating: 9.5

Before the main features there were fake trailers for other "grind house" type films. These were each directed by buddies of Rodriguez and Tarantino, and they were awesome--completely flippin' hilarious. The titles actually do them a lot of justice:
"Werewolf Women of the SS"
but the trailers themselves are a treat. I could've watched an hour or more of these, especially if it meant taking time away from the next feature...

Death Proof
dir. Quentin Tarantino
rating: 6.5

While I don't have any idea of what makes a movie a "grind house" film, my impression after seeing Grindhouse was that Planet Terror was "it," the trailers for the fake films were "it," and Death Proof was "not it." If not for the ending, an extended car chase sequence that joins the one in Bullitt among the best ever, there wouldn't be much to recommend Death Proof.

The film's structure goes like this:
Action sequence
Very long action sequence

Now, this being a Tarantino movie, you'd expect witty dialogue with cultural references and observations. But there's just... So. Damn. Much. I have no doubt that had I watched the movie at home, or after 9:00 at night I would have fallen asleep through much of it. Sure all the conversation is interesting and well-written when taken in small parts, but it gets freaking boring if it goes on and on without much point. Essentially, Death Proof would have worked a lot better if it were only an hour long rather than 1:30. The acting was good, the climactic action sequence, though, was excellent, and somewhat cathartic given the slow pace of most of the rest of the movie. Also, if you imagine Quentin Tarantino in the place of Kurt Russell's character in the very last scene before the credits, it's even more cathartic. (I can't say more without spoiling it.) To me, the film was mostly a self-indulgent outlet for its writer-director, and aside from the action sequences, it wasn't clear that it belonged as part of a "grind house" program.

The whole Grindhouse experience was highly original and entertaining--original, that is, in the sense that it's totally unique to the present-day moviegoing experience. We simply do not have double features of first-run films anymore, and rarely (it seems) do we get movies made just for the hell of it. Everything, and especially the popcorn movies, is marketed and audience-targeted to death.

So, in spite of my "issues" with Death Proof, the whole thing gets bonus points for originality of concept and for the side-splitting fake trailers whose full film versions I would pay to see if they ever got made. (How about more "Grindhouses" featuring those movies? Or at least "Machete" and "Werewolf Women of the SS"?)

Oh, and I should mention that I paid only $3 for my ticket. That's the matinee price at the Culver Plaza Theater where I saw it. Sweet! The only way to get more retro than a $3 double feature would be to see it at a drive-in.

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