MATT RAUB loved 1/2 of Grindhouse!
Matt Raub, back again with more faux knowledge about moving pictures and the land that makes them. I wish this visit could be more joyful, seeing as how I my summer was based around seeing Grindhouse, but sadly, I’m only half as excited as I had hoped to be.
Before we start, a little background on what the grindhouse is really all about. I’ve come across too many people in the past few months that haven’t a clue about the title, and I only fear the punch line will only go over those peoples’ heads. The idea of a grindhouse is when local theaters would screen cheap B movie pictures or exploitation films together in order to gain a larger audience. Such films had low-budget special effects, lack of plot, and amateur acting all summed up with a catchy, yet impressively bad title. Titles like Assault of the Killer Bimbos, Lobster Man from Mars, and I Dismember Mama.
Now Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, two modern cult-cinema directors decided to take sort of a low blow at exploitation movies. Taking $50 million, they both wrote and directed two 90-minute exploitation films: Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof. They slapped them both together in a big chunk, including a handful of fake b-movie trailers by guest directors Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright.
Now because this is essentially two films, I will give them both the respect they demand and review them separately, starting with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. This film held everything I wanted it to. The emotion, the cheesiness, and the random, unnecessary deaths. From titles to credits, I was either laughing, cringing in a good way, or both.
The premise of the film is that an evil army general (Bruce Willis) and a nutty biochemist (are there any other kind?) unleash a toxic gas on an unsuspecting Texas town, killing some and turning the rest into crazed infected cannibals, not zombies! There are only a few who are immune to the gas: a one-legged stripper (Rose McGowan) and her ex-boyfriend with a mysterious past (Freddy Rodriguez) and a handful of others.
The film is action packed with random explosions and ultra violence. But while it keeps the content very similar to classic exploitation films, the most important element is that the style is done to replicate the gritty, cheap, film stock that was what gave original grindhouse movies their flavor. This includes but is not limited to: poor voice dubbing, gritty, unfocused shots, missing frames, and even entire missing reels. By far, this was the one thing that kept the film together and kept the audience entertained.
As second on the double-bill, Tarantino’s Death Proof is next on the chopping block. Now keep in mind that this film is coming after roughly two hours of action packed non-zombie goodness, so you may just be a little tired by this point in the line-up. One thing is for sure: If you think that Death Proof will keep you awake and/or entertained, you will be sadly mistaken. It breaks my heart to say it, but after watching Death Proof, it’s as if Tarantino completely missed the boat on doing an exploitation film. This is a perfect 30-minute film, but instead it weighs in at roughly 93 minutes.
The premise of the film is relatively simple. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a serial killer of sorts. But instead of killing people the old-fashioned way with a hammer, he kills them with his stunt car, which he claims is death proof.
Sounds like a cool premise, right? It would be cool if that was what the real movie was about, but instead Kurt Russell has only has about 15 minutes of screen time. The other 75 minutes is filled with two groups of girls talking about absolutely nothing! The dialogue in this film, while incredibly wordy, goes totally nowhere and takes its time doing so. It’s as if the second and third acts of the film are done in real time, and about people who have no endearing qualities. After the first group of girls gets killed, the next group (essentially our heroines) are made up of two stuntwomen (Tracie Thoms and Zoë Bell) and a make-up artist (Rosario Dawson) who won’t die without a fight.
This brings up another question. Why does Quentin Tarantino hate men so much? He is considered to be one of the biggest male film icons behind a camera. I don’t even think I know of any male friends of mine in their late 20s/mid 30s that don’t have some sort of Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs paraphernalia in their room somewhere. But then he takes a break, and comes back with five hours of The Truth About Cats and Dogs’ Uma Thurman killing and beheading fan-favorite actors such as Michael Madsen and David Carradine. She even killed Japanese great, Sonny Chiba like, six times!
Death Proof follows this formula, and prior to seeing this film I read an interview with Tarantino about choosing Russell for his lead. He stated something along the lines that he was tired of seeing sappy Disney-esque roles for the man who played Snake Pliskin and Jack Burton. He wanted to bring back the badass Kurt Russell that he grew up with. With that said, Kurt Russell gets his ass kicked by three girls! There is even a part in the film where he cries out in pain! Actual tears!!! This was a truly heartbreaking moment in my years of respect for Tarantino as a filmmaker, because instead of producing things that his fans want to see, he just cranks out films about women empowerment, as if he’s overcompensating for some dark secret. Nobody really knows, but the only thing I know as fact, is that Death Proof broke my heart.
Before I escape I need to comment on the fact that I didn’t comment on the faux trailers played throughout the film. There is a reason for this, I promise. I grew up hooked on movies, and while the Internet is a relatively new device, it kind of ruins the mysteries and surprises. Consider the trailers and especially the cameos in the trailers as gifts for going to the film, because I certainly don’t want to play the hypocritical role of depriving an audience of those gifts.
With that, the final verdict. As you may realize from reading this review, I loved one half of this film, and so to give it a superficial number-value would be the following: I give Planet Terror a heaping 9/10 while giving the following film, Death Proof a 2/10. Enjoy this flick, folks, because I feel this is going to be the beginning of another Hollywood trend!
Matt Raub reviews movies and television for ComicMix.com as well as the incredible ComicMix Podcast. Next up: the great Battlestar: Galactica bonanza!