I set my expectations for Grindhouse at a usually impossible level. I couldn't believe a movie like this was going to be made, and upon reading the initial specs I had these instant thoughts: Danny Trejo must be involved in one way or another; Good God what is Rodriguez going to cook up? How will this be marketed? Good God what will Tarantino cook up? And the fake trailers will surely be one of my favorite cinema experiences of the year. While I had high hopes for Grindhouse, my expectations for the trailers were set at 'hungover Simon Cowell level' ... and were promptly exceeded. My Grindhouse experience was so wonderfully fun, that thanks need to be given out to many parties -- with the first to Eli Roth for putting me in a thanksgiving mood.
... to Eli Roth: Wow, where to begin? Your fake Thanksgiving trailer was a marvel of perfectly timed grotesque comedy that seemed to rev up the audience for Death Proof. Before the Zuckers (or whoever is passing themselves off as the Zuckers) try to release another 'satire' movie, maybe they should take a look at this trailer -- which shows that when done right, modern satire can be viciously funny and entertaining. It helps Roth that he knows the satire subject inside (ahem) and out, and that he is using a medium that affords him great strings of beats, one playing off the other with nothing in between. The much-rumored 'main course' of the trailer probably came the closest of anything since my first viewing of The Big Lebowski to ejecting me from my theater seat -- on paper this imagery would sound vile to the point of criminal charges in some countries (or states), but in the context and timing of the trailer it becomes one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Same goes for the infamous 'bounce kill' that the MPAA winced at -- it's the kind of thing you can't even explain to someone without making them back away slowly, but the way it's handled (the barely interested rat-faced boyfriend, the girl's strange enthusiasm, how the payoff comes about with no warning) is perfect. Sanity test: with this aforementioned scene, did anyone else see it as a cruel wink to the similar scene in the wretched 80s Brad Pitt slasher Cutting Class? Can anyone else admit to seeing Cutting Class? One more note: I'd like to believe that the cruel 80s trailer of Boarding House was one of Roth's main inspirations for Thanksgiving (not on YouTube, but found on many VHS copies of exploitation flicks -- see Necromancy, The Cheerleaders).
. . .to Rob Zombie: For informing me that we have the same sense of humor. I'm one of the few who liked his Werewolf Women of the SS trailer, sure it's bizarre and a little bit out of place, but how can you not love his shot of the zombie officer firing the machine gun while flanked by beautiful Nazi women? Or the fact that his trailer uses this exact same shot no less than three times? Whereas the other trailers have a Saturday Night Live feel, Werewolf Women seems like it was rejected from The Kids in the Hall. I loved how Zombie used his cameo actors, referring to them by name, but giving us just a quick (barely in focus) shot of them -- save for the biggie at the end.
. . .to the cast of Planet Terror: Part of the brilliance of Grindhouse is the contrast between the two features, and one aspect of this is that Planet Terror could probably stand on its own as a regular release, whereas Death Proof in all fairness would never have been made outside of this medium (in no way a slight on QT's movie, much more on this later). What makes Planet Terror the exception and places it a realm outside normal zombie fare is the high level of talent and sheer number of quality characters packed into an 85 minute horror movie. This element gives Planet Terror a frantic undertone that exacerbates the onscreen mayhem. The camera never lingers on one character long enough for them to get stale, but Lord knows we could have used even a little more Josh Brolin -- what a great character for the actor who started out as the asshole older brother in The Goonies!
. . .to Rose McGowan: For finally finding a role and putting in a performance that shows us just what she's capable of. As much as Rodriguez is lauded as a technical director, you have to give him credit for coaxing the stripper Cherry out of McGowan. For most of her career, McGowan has drawn on her base as a true vamp to pump out seething bitchiness and cold stares, but in Grindhouse she actually comes off as sweet and down-on-her-luck, maybe the first 'girl next door' that Rodriguez has ever cast. This quality allows her comedic beats to come on more naturally which in turn brings out more of the pouty vamp quality that Jennifer Tilly perfected long ago. I remember first seeing McGowan in Scream, where she had a small role and a smaller sweater -- which is probably what I remember more. Since then she's done quite a few duds, and her involvement in Charmed put her on hiatus from films for a few years. Hopefully Planet Terror will give her the opportunities her fans have been clamoring for.
. . . to Kurt Russell: For being Kurt Russell. Watching him as Stunt Man Mike in Death Proof makes you thank the movie gods that there is a Kurt Russell -- Tarantino lets him go to work. He has that familiar half-John Wayne accent combined with the 80s hair do that still looks good on him and probably four other men on the planet -- he's Kurt again. There are at least a couple generations of moviegoers who adore Kurt no matter what (look at what he gave us in the 70s and 80s), but Stunt Man Mike proves that his ageless quality goes more than skindeep -- he can still pull off the characters that utilize his brand of being a working man's action hero.
. . . to Zoe Bell: I wasn't a style="font-style: italic;">Kill Bill fan, nor have I ever watched Xena: Warrior Princess, so forgive me if I had never heard of Zoe Bell or even realized she was playing herself in Death Proof. This girl is something else: she's at once a modern day Karen Allen and the one girl on the college softball team you knew. She draws your attention in all her scenes, but does not look like a Hollywood actress. Bell is part of the reason Grindhouse will have a lasting legacy, because she will never have a better role in her career. Bell plays herself, and as such brings a breath of fresh blood to the screen, unburdened by any cliches or a conventional script, and promptly steals the show in the final act and ends the movie with a kick that leaves the audience cheering.
. . .to Quentin Tarantino: For proving us wrong. So much of the talk leading up to Grindhouse was that QT was a true aficionado of the genre, who worshiped exploitation flicks and had owned hundreds of prints of obscure blood and tit fests. With that in mind, it's amazing to see QT's restraint in Death Proof, the slow burn that he lets simmer for half the movie, with no exploitative sex or shocks to be found. To those wondering if Death Proof belonged in a feature called Grindhouse, check out some of the calendar he programmed for the Grindhouse Film Festival at the New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles: Rolling Thunder, The Town that Feared Sundown and Return to Macon County. Tarantino obviously knows the 'grindhouse' concept better than most, and he knows that not all of the films that typified that age were bizarre, blood-soaked flicks. Many of them were like Death Proof, a movie that appealed to a certain demographic and didn't have the support of a big studio behind it. While I didn't appreciate the tomes of dialog that QT threw at us in some scenes, you can't help but marvel as Death Proof turns into a monster of an adventure -- building and building until a fantastic climax that just happens to coincide with 'The End' being sprayed across the screen. It's quite a trip.
But . . . I can't give all thanks to Grindhouse, it's not a perfect film -- but who expected it to be? My criticisms are probably similar to others': Tarantino's cameos were unneeded and only damaged the mood of the scenes; the long spouts of dialog in Planet Terror are neither interesting or entertaining; and Planet Terror too often wanders into a silly world that his movies at some point or another inhabit, a trend he will someday outgrow I hope. I only have one gripe with an issue that many have brought up: the near complete lack of nudity and sex, a staple of the genre. I wasn't disappointed by this because one early scene tipped me off to it: after the opening credits we follow Cherry into the changing room of her strip club, and the most we see is a pair of pasty-covered silicone bags. If there's no nudity in that scene, why would there be at any other point? But this puzzles me -- why not have some accurate level of boobage in that kind of setting, seeing as Rodriguez tries for most of the running time to shock our senses and test our limits? I wasn't expecting anything sexual in Death Proof, because Tarantino's movies almost always sidestep this, with his characters usually choosing to express their sexuality with weapons or cars.
You may have noticed the row of pictures on the right, it's my latest attempt to take more advantage of my sidebars. I chose this route because I often find myself staring at bizarrely fascinating and befuddling pictures on the Net, and why not share them? I'm addicted to a variety of random image generators, so you'll soon be seeing a better variety than what's there now (this is just a dry-run).