MOVIE-HYPE – GRINDHOUSE
The goal of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE was simple: to give modern theatregoers the feel of the old B-Movie Exploitation flicks that used to only be available on the edge of town. (The theatres themselves were called "Grindhouses," hence the name.) These were the first independent films, made outside the Hollywood system. There was virtually no budget and all the actors were unknowns. (Although: many did go on to become big-name stars.)
The movies were almost all terrible in a conventional sense. With no money for sets or quality special effects or any production values of any kind, the only way to attract people was to raise the ante in other ways. Consequently, the sex and nudity were through the roof, the violence was over the top (although so schlocky, it was usually more funny than scarring), and other virulent streams of bad taste streamed in as well. I'm talking about racist and sexist plots, but so ridiculous that you wondered whether the filmmakers were trying to bring the Black Man down or take down the White Man with irony.
(Speaking of the Black Man, it is out of these racist movies that Blaxploitation films sprung, the feeling being if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em. The Blaxploitation films were just as racist, in a totally different way, but featured black casts, giving a generation of actors at least an opportunity to be in movies, and giving a generation of African Americans a chance to see people who looked like them kicking ass up on screen for a change.)
When one examines the “grindhouse” types of movies, they were almost all truly awful. What then, was the attraction? That’s easy enough: If the “B” in B-Movie stood for anything, it was Blood, Boobs and kaBooms. Things Hollywood movies were not showing. Understanding that, it’s also easy to see why the popularity of B-Movies faded over time. Once Hollywood started putting in the Bs themselves, there was no need to seek extreme action (in all forms) at the edge of town.
Now we’re back in 2007. Tarantino and Rodriguez wanted to give us the Grindhouse feel. Except, they didn’t really want to make bad movies. They wanted to make good bad movies, great even. They wanted to make movies how they mythically remembered them from their salad days.
Because of being crippled at the time, I was unable to see GRINDHOUSE in the theatre, and on video they were released separately. Therefore, I am reviewing them separately. However, let me just say, if you are having a party this week (an ADULT PARTY), playing the Grindhouse films would make a great double feature. The movies are structured in such a way that paying close attention to the plot is not really necessary.
#718 – PLANET TERROR
The Plot: There are zombies, and they would like to eat us.
I’ve never really been a fan of zombie flicks. I’m just not a gore person, and can’t really see the point. However, for director Robert Rodriguez, I was willing to make an exception. When you have made DESPERADO, FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, SPY KIDS and SIN CITY, you have earned credibility with Hyperion.
PLANET TERROR is like a zombie movie on crack. Everything is dialed up. And, yes: it’s very gross and gory. However, this is done in such an overt way that I got used to it twenty minutes in and it didn’t really bother me. Still, there were scenes where I turned my head. The plot is completely irrelevant and nonsensical, so I wanted to just point out a few things.
Naveen Andrews (Sayid from Lost) has a great part. You’ll never feel the same way about a guy with a bag full of testicles again.
Freddy Rodriguez plays the biggest badass in the universe. I know him as the Hispanic undertaker on Six Feet Under, but you might have seen him in Ugly Betty. He is really good here.
There are twenty minutes “missing” near the end of the second act. I guess in the old days it was very common for films to arrive damaged and in bad condition. Sometimes this meant scratchy pictures (which we see a lot of), and mis-cued dialogue, which we also see. However, Rodriguez went one step further by cutting out a whole chunk of the movie. When we leave, there is a sulty sex scene going on, and five seconds later all the non-zombies are in one place and the building is on fire. What’s funny is that a couple of the characters make references to things they said during the missing reel, without explaining. Rodriguez is clearly doing this on purpose, playing up the significance because he knows we don’t know what’s going on. Classic.
By far the best part of the movie is Rose McGowan. I have never been a Rose McGowan fan, thinking she had to be trash if she was involved with Marilyn Manson and generally dressed shockingly at awards shows. But you know what, I don’t really know much about her, and regardless of how I got my impression, that relationship was years ago, and even if it wasn’t: she is fantastic. A revelation. And even (believe me; I’m more surprised to write this than you are to read it), super sexy, in a dirty whore sort of way. What can I say? This is a fantastic performance. If you have seen the previews you know she gets a machine gun for a leg, but there’s much more going on than that. Basically, PLANET TERROR is worth seeing just for Rose McGowan, but really everything is well done here. Rodriguez delivers exactly what he wants to: an over the top gory schlocky funny sexy zombie movie. Impressive.
And I didn’t even get to talk about the woman who gives her five year old a loaded gun.
#719 – DEATH PROOF
Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF contains better scenes—and I guess more innovative filmmaking—than PLANET TERROR, but it is also less cohesive of a movie. The key to understanding the film came for me in one of the few extras, an interview with Tarantino where he talks about car chases in cinematic history, and his desire to film a car chase that would judged alongside the great ones in history, not necessarily by modern audiences without his an encyclopedic knowledge of all things car. In some ways that’s infuriating. Filmmakers like Tarantino are so good and so adept in what they are doing that their films are riddled with homages and references to what came before, but you have to know that to get the references. However, Spielberg actually used to do (and in some ways still does) the same thing, and he managed to also figure out a way to make the movies totally accessible to his audience. In generally Tarantino does the same thing, but his insistence on authentic detailing of whatever genre movie he’s making probably lessens the audiences for his movies, which is why you always hear Tarantino’s name when it comes to cool, but also why he’s only had one 100 million dollar movie.
Of course, box office isn’t everything, and the thing about Tarantino’s movies: there is so much there if you’re willing to just look and see!
In DEATH PROOF, we have two halves. Both halves contains a quartet of girls out on the town. Both halves contain Stuntman Mike, a homicidal maniac who likes to chase down girls in his car, which has been “death proofed” for stunt work, allowing him to escape virtually any crash.
In the first half, virtually nothing happens until the end. The pace is slow, languid. I do not mean this as a put down in the slightest. It is vintage Tarantino, all about those one-of-a-kind conversations people have. Getting the tone right, getting the feel right, but the conversations themselves much more interesting than most people can achieve.
That and the music. There may be no better director alive at taking source music (previously recorded songs; not composed score) and working it into his movie. There is a lap dance in a bar that simply wouldn’t have worked without the music. Think about how much PULP FICTION is affected by the music running throughout. The same is true here.
(Speaking of the music, last year I wrote a post about the French song “Laisse Tomber Les Filles,” where I said, “I’m absolutely shocked Quentin Tarantino hasn’t put it in a movie yet.” Well, call me Carnac, because Quentin did. Playing over the closing credits, and over the Menu page of the DVD is “Chick Habit,” the English version of that French song. I feel like a genius.)
Hyperion’s Rating System
Suspension of Disbelief: both films - 9.5 If you’re taking this seriously, you have missed the point.
Genre Grade: A+. Whether you want to say car chase pics and zombie flicks, or just exploitation films, they do the damage
Sex/Violence? Very much so. There is is some nudity, especially in PLANET TERROR, and there is plenty of violence, and it is all over the top. It’s so showy that I don’t think it’s traumatizing, but this movie is emphatically NOT for anyone under 18.
Pantheon percentile: It’s supposed to be bad, although comes out good. If you judged the movies by themselves I’d say 55 apiece, but put together it’s a more holistic experience (and we didn’t even talk about the fake trailers between the two movies!), and I’d be willing to go as high as 82.
Back to the movie: the second half couldn’t be more different from the first. After a nine minute diner scene—paying tribute to his own work in RESERVOIR DOGS!!!!!—the scene shifts to the climactic car chase, and you’ve never seen anything like it. I’d say more, but I’ll let you find out for yourself.
Anchoring both halves of the movie is Stuntman Mike, one of these psycho bad guys you can’t help but love a little. Stuntman Mike is played by the immortal Kurt Russell, because, as Quentin put it, “…for people of my generation, he's a true hero...but now, there's a whole audience out there that doesn't know what Kurt Russell can do. When I open the newspaper and see an ad that says 'Kurt Russell in Dreamer,' or 'Kurt Russell in Miracle,' I'm not disparaging these movies, but I'm thinking: When is Kurt Russell going to be a badass again?"
The answer: here. Russell plays this part with effortless grace, the same kind of unbelievable performance Tarantino got out his guys in PULP and KILL BILL.
But as much as he “gets” being a badass, in many ways Tarantino’s strength is in how he films females. It’s a strange thing, making a movie about a guy who likes to terrorize women with his car, but this is a totally pro-woman movie. Tarantino somehow is able to sexualize every inch of his women without objectifying them.
Tarantino has always been the kind of director who can somehow pull of a scene with a white man saying “Nigger” to a black man without a hint of racism, and he can do the same thing with women, getting the characters to say “bitch” and “cunt” without a trace of misogynistic heavy-handedness. It really might be his greatest trick.
But he does have a whole bunch of them, and they are definitely on display. Watching the dialogue scenes, we are reminded that for all the imitators, no one can write as he can. Watching the car chase scene, realizing there are no computer graphics, we are reminded what a pure talent Quentin is.
Maybe that’s distracting from “entering in” to the movie experience itself. But c’mon. The movie is about a guy who kills women in a souped-up car. How seriously do you want to take it? When you’re in one of those muscle cars, you don’t think about the gas mileage, you just enjoy the ride.