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Post-Grind


Managed to find 3 hours to check out the Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature Grindhouse. Overall, I thought the 3 hours went by fairly fast, and I found it funny that the multiplex I saw it at were playing the film like a grindhouse theater might have, though unintentionally. First, someone forgot to start the previews as the screen froze on the “please turn off your cell phone” screen for a good minute or so. Of course, someone realized he or she was asleep at the wheel and finally started the film. But then the first trailer was misframed for a good 5-10 seconds before the same person fixed it. After about 7 trailers or so (for a movie that’s already 191 minutes long!), the movie (which opened with the Machete trailer) started playing with the lights still on “trailers setting” until Planet Terror was playing for a good 5 minutes already, when someone finally turned the lights fully down.

Then after Planet Terror, people who either needed a good toilet break or just didn’t get the concept started walking out. They were either aware of the 90 minutes of stuff still coming or felt ripped off that they only got the movie with the rocket leg, and about 5-10 people started leaving. Only a few of them come back, and a pretty huge group of 7 people or so also walked out just after Death Proof started. Why? I had no idea. I guess that’s what Harvey Weinstein meant about not “educating” people enough.

Oh, right, the movies. Grindhouse starts with a fake trailer for a film called Machete, starring Danny Trejo as the title character. Machete is, as a character says “a Mexican day-laborer that’s really a Federale.” He gets crossed by some evil men, talks a priest into helping him get revenge, and kicks a whole lot of ass. By the end of Machete, I was more than amused - I was pumped.

I wasn’t really looking forward to Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. I thought Rodriguez is a great technical filmmaker - his ability to DIY everything is impressive to this aspiring amateur director - but he was never a very good storyteller to begin with. His scripts are usually shallow, filled with some “whoa” moments or tons of plot developments to stuff what is essentially an empty story. That’s why I was surprised that I was having so much fun with Planet Terror. Again, he makes up a complicated story about biological weapons that has something to do with viral infections (with an intentionally complicated “here’s what really happened” explanation scene) and essentially makes a very gross zombie film out of it. Any plot description is useless, just know that it’s about a bunch of people fighting really really gross “infected” people and go with it. Everything is tongue-in-cheek and really into that exploitation shoot-and-run spirit (the camera crew shows up very clearly in the mirror in a shot during the opening dance sequence). As for the machine gun leg? Honestly, the trailers showed almost all the money shots out of it already.

Then the bulk of the fake trailers come out - Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the SS” is only amusing because of its title and a surprise appearance by a big-name actor. Edgar Wright’s “Don’t” is more amusing with better make-up and really good editing, but it’s obviously not much of a feature film idea. Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is already all over the web, and it’s the best of the bunch. It’s sick, gross, and actually has my favorite lines in the film:

A: [licks blood coming out of headless carcass] “It’s blood.”
B: “Son of a bitch!”

I’m a bigger Tarantino fan - he may have essentially just made a bunch of homage movies (some call them rip-offs, which I can see is a valid complaint.), but he knows how to make a movie. He usually has a good enough handle on dialogue, pacing, and technique that make his movies well worth-watching. I had pretty big expectations for Death Proof; I figured if anyone was going to make an 85-minute movie with mostly girl-talk (which I had read about in reviews), it was Tarantino. However, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed by Death Proof. I was fairly involved the first 45 minutes - Tarantino hooks you with the 70s visual aesthetics, from the credits to the music to all the scratches and missing frames. And the car crash was rightfully intense. Then he resets everything and then it’s another 20 minutes of dialogue before the big finale comes out of nowhere. I usually dig Tarantino’s dialogue, but here, his indulgence is far too apparent. The dialogue in both halves of the film are either repetitive girl talk, endless tidbits of 70s pop culture references, or talk about car movies. What’s worse is that Tarantino has been all over the talk shows, just regurgitating all those stuff he wrote in Death Proof, making all the dialogue feel even more self-indulgent. Hell, Tarantino even flat out gives up on the 70s visuals halfway through the film, and Death Proof suddenly looks crisp with colors and no missing frames. Talk about killing the atmosphere.

Of course, Death Proof does have two redeeming values - car chases and Kurt Russell. Tarantino does live up to his complaint about CGI in car chases by delivering two intensely real car chases, one with real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell sliding around the hood of a car as Kurt Russell tries to run it off the road, and the other through the highways of Texas. They were well-filmed and well-edited all around. The “avenging chicks” ending felt like Tarantino suddenly woke up and found a direction to take the movie, and I was all the more thankful for it. Kurt Russell, meanwhile, plays his stuntman Mike with a great evil smirk in the first half, only to be reduced to a scared pathetic over-the-top psycho at the end. His transformation is abrupt on paper, but Kurt’s performance eventually made the whole thing work. Would’ve liked to see what Mickey Rourke would’ve done with the character, but I didn’t mind Kurt Russell in the role either.

OK, so some people would say “hey, Tarantino just wrote a bunch of dialogue scenes because that’s how low-budget exploitation films were like.” My problem isn’t exactly with the amount of dialogue. Like I said, I liked the buildup in the first half, but Tarantino could’ve just merged the two groups of girls and made a real revenge film out of Death Proof. But in the end, Death Proof felt like it would’ve made a better extended fake trailer than a feature-length film.

In any case, Grindhouse was actually a lot of fun to sit through. I personally didn’t mind the length, but I could see why people would be turned off by it. The saddest thing is that both films really could’ve been trimmed to a more audience-friendly length - Rodriguez could’ve simplified the convoluted plot and took out the gratuitous explosions to save a couple of bucks; Tarantino could’ve saved himself a good 15 minutes of talking by not making two films out of one. But it is what it is, and I can live with it.

So which director wins the battle of Grindhouse? Just for sticking closer to the genre, making a better missing reel gag (not to say that Tarantino’s missing reel gag wasn’t amusing), and managing to overcome the gossips, I say Rodriguez actually triumphs over Tarantino this time. I think when the films are split up for international release, I dare say word-of-mouth will actually make Planet Terror a bigger success.

Since the weekend isn’t gonna bring much news, I’m moving the news reporting to the weekend entries.

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