Tuesday, June 19, 2007

GRINDHOUSE (2007) Movie Review



PLANET TERROR (2007) A chemical weapon has been unintentionally released on an unsuspecting town in Texas. Soon, citizen everywhere, once contaminated, start bubbling and decomposing at a rapid rate, and anyone is comes in contact with those already infected become hopelessly infected themselves. As the town completely turns on its head, a few survivors who have kept their cool and joined together to put an end to the epidemic travel from the local hospital, to a rundown shack with the best BBQ in Texas, and finally the abandoned military base, which isn't so abandoned after all!

Robert Rodriguez, whose previous films would have easily found action-seeking audiences in the 1970's, goes completely ballistic here, making no excuses, no apologies and holding nothing back as he unravels his over-the-top zombie tale. Rodriguez' homage here pulls and pay tribute to the Italian zombie cycle of films - particularly Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2 and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, Umberto Lenzi's NIGHTMARE CITY and Bruno Mattei's HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD - while still making a unique and new zombie film that will be enjoyed by gorehounds for years to come. Rodriguez really pores on the goo, yucks, blood n' guts here and loves every minute of it! And as with all horror flicks of this nature, below the surface level is the prerequisite between-the-lines warning and stance against experimental weapons and the collapse of society.

All of the actors onboard, many of whom found their start in lower-budget horror films, play their parts to a "T". Rose McGowan, as the long-legged go-go dancer Cherry Darling, is the main protagonist here and whose story we follow the most. Co-stars Freddy Rodriguez (of TV's Six Feed Under) and Naveen Andrews (of TV's Lost) get some good screen time in as well. Freddy Rodriguez in particular, who plays the mysterious Wray, gets to dish out some grin-inducing pain and destruction. Several surprise cameos (which will remain surprises here) round out an ensamble cast. It may be cliche, but everyone on screen looks like their having a blast doing what they're doing, and commits themselves wholeheartedly to the story, no matter how ludicrous it gets. And when you consider "the gun", which comes into play in the final act, it gets pretty damn ludicrous.

Rodriguez makes a welcome return to horror here after his last foray with THE FACULTY, and is a welcome dish of splatterfest fun that even at its grisliest is still somehow quaint when compared to contemporary torture-horror. But quaint is by no means cute, as several scenes will have some of the weaker-willed and unprepared feeling a bit of bile in the back of their throats, and girlfriends everywhere will have their faces buried in their uncontrollably-smiling boyfriends' shoulders.

DEATH PROOF (2007) Stuntman Mike (Kurt Fuckin' Russell) is a psychopathic car driver with a devilish grin, a soft-spoken voice, and a grudge against groups of cute girls. In a small Austin bar, Mike starts talking with a local radio DJ and her friends, who are not quite sure what to make of him. After a night of drinking, the women go on their way, with Stuntman Mike in his 100% death proof Chevy Nova ghost riding behind them, waiting for the time to strike. Stuntman Mike then finds himself in Tennessee, where his next targeted victims, are joy-riding around in an equally powerful muscle car. But when Mike goes in for the kill, he is unprepared for the equally wild woman behind the wheel and her two friends.

Quentin Tarantino brings the world another dialog-heavy conversation film here, this time dealing with two groups of female friends dishing out lines dealing with old films, obscure music (Tarantino once again puts together one hell of a soundtrack), and relationship troubles. This time around though, there are no quirky one-liners or phrases that will instantly be injected into the American lexicon, but it flows much more naturally within the context of the characters. Tarantino's camera is always moving slowly and fluidly around the conversation sequences, giving the eye something to keep occupied while the ear listens.

During the two main action sequences, though, things really kick into gear. Tarantino has definitely done his care chase homework here, using lots of car-hugging angles and low-riding shots to really put you into the scenes. Everything was shot using real cars and real stunt work, which is certainly a breath of fresh air in the age of CGI races that look like they've been pulled out of the latest Need For Speed video game. The final sequence, which must last a solid ten minutes, is awe-inspiring, death-defying movie-making, and features stuntwoman Zoe Bell riding on the hood of a car the entire time, and two cars slowly demolishing each other with each metal-on-metal crunch.

DEATH PROOF, unfortunately, is a bit uneven, due to the sudden start-stop flow from a conversation around a diner table to an adrenaline pumping car chase. Imagine splicing the chase sequence from BULLITT into the middle of a Gilmore Girls episode. You should get the idea. At the end of it all though, this is pure Tarantino, and if it were not released as part of GRINDHOUSE, it would not be hailed as a 70's style throwback, it would simply be the next Tarantino movie.


Like any double feature worth its weight, this one delivers trailers for four non-existent movies packed between the two main films. Rodriguez brings us MACHETE, a story about a double-crossed Mexican assassin. Next up is Rob Zombie's WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS, a nazi exploitation flick that gives a much-need edge of sleaze the experience. Edgar Wright delivers DON'T, about the killings in an old mansion. Finally Eli Roth serves up THANKSGIVING, dealing with a black-clad killer slaughtering away on the holiday. All four of these fall into the "they don't make them like this anymore" category, and the MPAA would most likely shit a brick before approving these trailers. Rumors are currently circulating that MACHETE may wind up actually being made, and the rest of these faux films would easily find their viewers if they ever say the light of day.


In order to complete the grindhouse timewarp, both movies, the fake trailers, and the cue cards are all digitally scratched, scraped, smudged and beat to hell. Rodriguez goes a little overboard during PLANET TERROR, and may become more a distraction than an addition for anyone who has forgotten the time before all movies were perfectly printed and digitally projected in THX certified theatres. DEATH PROOF is a little more restrained, but Tarantino does a neat trick by poorly "splicing" each reel together, which causes the screen go blue and the sound to go out of sync for a few seconds. The classic cue cards announcing the "coming attractions" and "feature presentation" and the cute cartoons bits warning these films are for "restricted audiences" keeps the mood going. The only thing that could have improved the experience were if they bussed in real derelicts and hookers to hang out in the theatre, or if they purposely poured soda on the floor.

It is obviously clear that everyone involved is in love with a by-gone era of sleaze and trash being shown on the screen, and all-but-extinct experience of "surviving" a trip to the local rundown movie theatre. This is what going to the movies should be like, and perhaps this will reawaken a monster which has grown dormant in all of us that demands that a trip to the movies is a fun and unique experience that can only be had by going to the actual theatre. If you can just let yourself go, this will probably be the most enjoyable three-hour stretch at the movies this year. Just be sure to see it with as little knowledge of what is about to unfold as possible.


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