Thursday, April 12, 2007

GRINDHOUSE REVIEW: AKA recycled message board content, but if you're coming here from Henleyland or something, I want you to know I'm still alive.

Good Grindhouse linkage:

The Outlaw Vern review.

Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich debate Tarantino.

The Dennis Cozzalio appreciation.

As for me--I thought the whole thing was fantastic. Planet Terror is closest I think Rodriguez has ever come to making a movie involving, and evoking, actual human emotions (so of course it makes sense that he legit fell for Rose McGowan while making this thing.) Something about that final scene, with Cherry and the baby on her back, and her in the role as leader of her people, sealed the deal for me. Plus he succeeded admirably at calling up the feeling of watching a very good Carpenter film, down to the Carpenter-esque scoring which was really perfect. Something about the restraints of the Grindhouse project really helped Rodriguez here, I think; he couldn't just sit down at the computer and play around because he had to think about recreating that cheap 70s aesthetic. So most of his CGI choices were in melting people, something that looks just as good using 70s technology as it does with computers, and Rose McGowan's leg, which--on the one hand--is way too impressive an effect for an actual exploitation movie, in the sense that it just looks too perfect. If they did this in the 70s, there'd be angles where you'd see Rose's leg tied up behind her to acheive the stump effect or whatever. Or they'd hire an actual legless actress. On the other hand, it's such a perfect image for the kind of movies they're trying to celebrate--hook for hand's been done--let's do leg for gun!--I can see why they cheated on the specifics. I think I read somewhere that "girl with gun for a leg" was one of the first ideas they had in mind when they were creating this thing, so there you go. Anyway--I dug Rose, I dug Rose and Freddy, I dug the scene with the one brother finally giving up his barbecue recipe to the other brother. Don't get me wrong, Planet Terror is in large part drenched in that persistent (and annoying) Rodriguezian sense of unreality (which is some combination of Bob Clampett minus the exuberance and Carpenter minus Carpenter's empathy for his characters) but there's enough of the former kinds of moments to make me think Robert is finally learning how to make movies that might mean something.

Trailers: Zombie > Roth > Wright. None of them were perfect, but Zombie had Nic Cage as Fu Manchu and seemed the most respectful of the (actually nonexistent) source material. Roth's had a lot of the details right (washed-out look, bad camera angles, ridiculous premise) but the narration was so, so wrong--it sounded like Roth himself was doing it in a really deep voice and thought that would be funny. Ugh. Wright's started strong but got too self-knowingly goofy towards the end. Perhaps it didn't help that I already knew what the gag was.

Ah, Death Proof. What a beautiful conundrum you are. If Kill Bill was his Leone I think Death Proof is his De Palma, or at least the Dressed To Kill/Blow-Out De Palma: killing off lead characters half-way through a la Psycho, exposing the guts of how a movie gets made as part of the movie (the tour inside Stuntman Mike's car, and, less plausibly in terms of the point I'm making, casting an actual stuntwoman as one of the leads; and don't forget Monica Staggs, the driver of the doomed car, is also a Kill Bill stuntwoman), just the general hey-let's-tear-a-genre-film-open-and-see-how-it-works sense I got from it. It's got the De Palman ambition of confusing the audience while entertaining the audience. But De Palma was riffing off Hitchcock (not only Hitch, of course)--Tarantino is riffing off a whole different set of genres and directors, many of which I'm sure De Palma never took seriously. Nick Schager says Death Proof is a synthesis of the serial killer movie, the "dragster flick", which I guess is where he's accounting for the Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry namechecks, and the cheerleader film, and the latter two are nowhere in the De Palma filmography. But here's Tarantino, grinding (HA!) them all together into a pretty hearty meal. The serial killer and car movie markers are obvious; the cheerleader thing is stated twice: literally in the second half (Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing an actress dressed as a cheerleader) and functionally in the first half (all the short-shorts and ass shots of women who are not cheerleaders, but it functions as T&A.) Plus the opening credits that introduce "The Girls" are like the credits of a sexploitation picture. I would argue that there is a fourth genre at work here (and I know the female revenge picture is in there too, but I haven't seen any of those so no comment,) kind of a Shaw Bros-style morality play with martial arts replaced by stuntwork, where bullies are always exposed as cowards and where the need to humiliate and defeat a villain is unquestionable. This narrative takes over right about the time where Zoe Bell says "Let's go get 'im," and I think that final freeze frame--victors raising their hands in celebration just as the villain lies defeated--is straight out of Shaw Brothers. Of course, Tarantino has to put his own little twist in by having Rosario Dawson crush Kurt Russell's face right after the freeze frame, but that's Tarantino--there's always that little nudge in there to make you think to yourself, "Say, why am I enjoying this?" Like, when Kurt Russell gives that grin to the camera and we're like, "Yay, Kurt Russell!" at the same time we know he's going to go kill Vanessa Ferlito, not too mention Rose McGowan's Pam who was the only person in that bar to give him the time of day. So, is it OMG KURT RUSSELL!!!! or is it "Stuntman Mike is an evil bastard who would rather kill girls than get lap dances from them" (the Ferlito lap dance actually exists, allegedly, but Mike is supposed to not enjoy it), or (later) is it "poor Mike, he's crying like a baby and those girls won't leave him alone"? Knowing Tarantion, it's both, or all three. His is the cinema of contradicting ideas and conflicting genre traditions presented at the exact same time, and that is why I am a Tarantino fan.

Two things "took me out of the movie," as they say: First, Tarantino's cameo in Planet Terror. All I could think of was, "any reasonable character actor/formerly famous person/70s icon would be a better choice than this." Because he was a bad, bad choice for that role, but I'm thinking now it was just part of the general mirroring between Planet Terror and Death Proof--double Tarantinos, double McGowans, double Earl McGraws, Sheltons, whatever more there were. Plus I'm sure Rodriguez enjoyed CGI-ing the hell out of him, and Tarantino returned the insult with the absolutely non-computerized car chase in Death Proof. Second, in the Tracie Thoms versus Kurt Russell duel she completely masculinizes herself--the dialogue is all "tapping that ass" and "busting a nut in that ass" and so on and we get it, she's a woman saying the lines of a male porno actor and she is strong and Russell is the real wuss, it was just too explicitly calling attention to the general role reversal of Kurt Russell from hunter to hunted. A lot of things Thoms said were a little off, but this was the most jarring to me.

(As an aside--Sydney Poitier seems to be getting all the press, but Vanessa Ferlito's Butterfly seemed to be the most fully-rendered of the doomed women, and was the only one who had that little closeup as the accident happened--the quick shot of her closing her eyes when Stuntman Mike turns on the lights at the last second. Poitier got all of the foot fetishizing--which is part of the huge self-parody undercurrent in Death Proof, along with the extra-long diner scene--but Ferlito got the massive closeups and the whole "iconic" treatment. At least where her face was concerned, and of course she was the only one of the girls who had her face destroyed, just like Poitier was the only one to be dismembered. David Edelstein mentioned something about Tarantino getting off on the contradiction between loving onscreen mayhem and being revulsed by his own reaction to it--wait, here's the exact quote: "It's also a small masterpiece, dredged up from the psyche of a movie freak who loves women onscreen almost as much as he loves to punish women onscreen, and who (this is what makes him an artist) gets off most on his own ambivalence." And that idea is pretty vividly illustrated by the buildup to the crash and the crash itself.)

So. Best time I've had at the movies in I don't know how long. Hopefully the Weinsteins release it on DVD as it was in theaters, in addition to the split versions; I really think it functions well as a total cinematic experience. Which obviously you can't replicate at home, but it would be nice to have the option to try.