Monday, January 12, 2009

Fuck both of you and your little high-five: my Final Girl Film Club review of Grindhouse

It was probably after Quentin Tarantino had just snorted his third line of uncut Bolivian flake off some stripper's bare foot when Robert Rodriguez finally had enough and put his digital camera down to rub his tired eyes. Rodriguez then looked over and noticed a poster for an old 50's double feature on the wall, and I'm guessing that's when he and Tarantino started talking about the cool idea of putting together a double feature of their own and calling it Grindhouse.

The idea was to create a full night of entertainment, complete with trailers and two feature films, back-to-back. It was supposed to be a big hit, and had it been a double feature of Will Ferrell ice-skating with Napoleon Dynamite in one flick and Ice Cube falling on his ass while trying to remodel a house in another, it would have been huge. Instead, Tarantino & Rodriguez chose to base their double bill on the kind of low-budget exploitation cinema that played in many seedy and rundown movie houses during the 70's & 80's, so it bombed. Shoulda thought that one through, boys.

Grindhouse is this month's Film Club pick over at Final Girl, and I wanted to join in the reindeer games, so for my "review" I watched a DVD that included the extended versions of Planet Terror and Death Proof along with the 3 trailers from the theatrical version.

The following pics were taken while I was watching the movie. I notice a lot of the other movie blogs put up nice sharp pics straight from their DVD or VHS copies, but I'm running on some antiquated equipment, so bear with me. But you can be entertained by the shaky and blurry quality of the shots, which may give you a slight idea of how increasingly hammered I got on Jack Daniels while watching this.

The first trailer is for a movie called Machete, starring my boy Danny Trejo. It feels good to watch homeboy come up, I remember the first time I saw him was in a movie with Michael Pare called The Last Hour (aka Concrete War), where he played a scary Mexican who killed people. Five years later, he was in his first Rodriguez movie, Desperado, where he played a scary Mexican who killed people. Now here he is, starring in his own fictional movie where he plays a scary Mexican who kills people, only this time he uses machetes.
Some kitty cats show up and turn into a big growling panther, then the first feature begins.
Planet Terror is Robert Rodriguez's ode to grade-Z zombie flicks and John Carpenter's badass heroes. Or as I once told a cousin of mine, Planet Terror plays like an Italian rip-off of an imaginary movie written by George A. Romero and directed by John Carpenter. Then I remembered that my cousin doesn't know who the fuck any of those dudes are in the first place. So I just told him that it's lots of gore and lots of action but zero titties. He was kinda bummed about that.

The movie begins with the character of Cherry Darling as she go-go dances on stage. Listening to the director's commentary, you find out that a lot of the character is based on the actress playing her, Rose McGowan; the whole "useless talent" thing she says throughout the movie is something Rose actually says all the time, and the running gag about Cherry wanting to become a comedian is taken from everyone in real life always complementing McGowan's wit and suggesting that she should pursue a career in stand-up. I'm assuming the same people who say that are all guys and some may have succeeded in bedding her with that bullshit, like Rodriguez ultimately did with Rose behind Mrs. Rodriguez's back. When I noticed in the end credits that McGowan also sang a couple of songs on the soundtrack, I wondered if maybe a better title for this flick would've been "I Love Rose McGowan", or "Rose & Robert: Two Against the World" or "Rosie, You So Crazy!". I'm sorry, I'm just hating because I'm lonely. Good for you, guys. I wish you both the best. Hope the wife understood.

But then again, maybe she didn't and Rodriguez feared the worst so he manifested his fear in the form of Josh Brolin's character, Dr. Block. Dr. Block is this dude who finds out that his anesthesiologist wife, Dakota, is cheating on him for the second time with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. I'm guessing the first time he found out he was kinda cool with it. He was probably all like "Hey, let's get down and have some Three's Company action up in this piece" but Dakota was like "Nope, I only want to be with her" and that pissed homeboy off so he broke that shit up. Well, when he discovers Dakota was wandering off for again for another taste of those lovely lady lumps, Dr. Block loses his shit completely and becomes a real fucking creep about it. I think he was even going to try to stab Dakota in the eye with a hypodermic needle. Calm the fuck down and call your lawyer, dude. I don't know, maybe Rodriguez likes to see Dakota and Fergie as him and Rose, and that asshole Dr. Block is the mother of all those kids he gave first names starting with "R".

Or maybe Robert sees himself as El Wray, this short unassuming guy who you later find out is actually the Baddest Motherfucker Who Ever Walked The Planet. Wray runs into Cherry and you find out they used to be together, so you know how that's going to go. So it's good that they found each other again, what with the world coming to an end because fucking dude from Lost had to let loose some chemical gas that turns everyone else into flesh-eating "sickos". Where Robert Rodriguez sees himself in any of this, I have no idea. I don't even know why I brought it up in the first place, but the fact that I'm currently well into my third glass of Maker's Mark may have something to do with my current train of thought.

In addition to having to deal with those zombie assholes, Wray's also got some shit going on between him and the Sheriff, played by Reese from the first Terminator movie. Sheriff Reese has both Tom Savini and the original El Mariachi as his deputies, which is pretty awesome. Savini can't shoot for shit, though.

Cherry gets attacked and winds up losing her leg, which really bums her out. On the other hand, by the end of the movie she's got a kick-ass replacement that also doubles as a machine gun and rocket launcher. Plus, I'm sure she can now qualify for handicapped parking, so there you go. Anyway, lots of blood, gore and explosions ensue.

I almost forgot. Later on, Tarantino shows up as a rapist, giving in my opinion his second best performance since From Dusk Till Dawn where he played a rapist.

The look of the movie is perfect. Not perfect as in pristine, but perfect as in getting the tone and feel of this kind of movie down. In addition to giving the appearance of a worn out film print with scratches and jump cuts, Planet Terror is also shot like something that would've played in a downtown discount house back in the late 70's/early 80's -- plenty of shaky zooms along with fast & cheap lighting set-ups. Two of my favorite examples are a kitchen scene with the Block family and Fergie's scene where she's stranded on a dark highway; they look like they could've been deleted scenes from Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell).

Planet Terror even pulls the "Special Guest Star in a B-movie" trick. Bruce Willis appears as Lieutenant Muldoon, and you can tell that they shot all of his scenes in a row, mostly in close-up, and then filled the rest with stand-ins and body doubles and creative editing to give the illusion he's in the movie a lot more than he really is. It works, and it made me feel like I was watching the movie in an alternate universe where grindhouse theaters and drive-ins never died, the same alternate universe where Willis' career never quite recovered from the failure of Hudson Hawk and now he's reduced to doing special appearances in b-movies. Alternate Universe Bruce Willis probably stars in a lot of action movies and giallos over in Italy and Spain too.

It's fast and lots of fun, but ultimately this feels less like a real grindhouse movie and more like a movie for someone who always wanted to know what those kinds of movies were like but never really wanted to take the time to watch one. Because the truth is that you would need to watch about 3 or 4 real zombie/action flicks of the time to get the amount of craziness and gore and sheer scope of the stuff that happens in Planet Terror. I think Rodriguez knew that and wasn't trying to make an exact replication of that kind of movie in the first place, he just wanted to give folks the same kind of enjoyment he got growing up on that shit.

Three trailers follow. First you have Werewolf Women of the SS, by Rob Zombie. There's Nazis, young women being tortured and bloodied and branded with a swastika iron, machine gun-toting werewolves and Nicolas Cage at the end giving his usual understated performance. It's okay.

An advertisement for a fake Tex-Mex joint called Acuna Boys follows. I guess the joke here is how unappetizing the food looks, photographed in stark lighting conditions. Maybe it was because I was completely hammered at this point, but I swear I saw a shot of pizza served with potato chips. I was like Ewww, but then I remembered that I like to eat pizza with mojo potatoes at Shakey's, so really, how big a difference is THAT shit? I also dug that the Acuna Boys mascots were named after characters from one of my favorite movies, Rolling Thunder. If you haven't seen that shit, then you just don't fucking know and I can't help you. Search that shit out, bro.

Then you have Don't from Edgar Wright. This one's my favorite out of all the trailers. It's just random moments from the movie with no dialogue, only sound effects and music and GOB from Arrested Development narrating. It plays like a trailer to a foreign horror movie, except the distributors don't want to tip you off that it's either very badly dubbed or subtitled. Main dude from Hot Fuzz is supposed to be there somewhere, but I didn't catch him. The fat dude from Hot Fuzz, on the other hand, makes a big fucking impression, showing up in a diaper and with brown smudges all over his body.

The final trailer is for Eli Roth's Thanksgiving. I like this one too. It's about a dude chopping up motherfuckers over the Thanksgiving holiday. Roth also appears in this as a dude who gets his head chopped off while homegirl from Cabin Fever is giving him head, which I guess evens everything out or something. I remember Roth programmed two weeks of movies over at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. last year, and he would introduce movies like Pieces and Mother's Day, so you can totally tell that his heart lies with this kind of stuff. He does a great job of making a trailer for a movie that would not feel out of place with those flicks. The cheerleader landing on a butcher knife was a little too much, though. I'm just a fucking prude, that's all.

A kitty cat walks through the jungle and becomes a panther, then the second feature begins. Death Proof isn't an ode or tribute to a grindhouse movie, it IS a grindhouse movie. Basically what this means is that most of those flicks are really 45-minutes of story stretched out to 90 with padding and filler. It's what the filmmakers DO with the filler and padding that makes it either worth a watch or a waste of your time, and I think Quentin Tarantino does fine with his in Death Proof.

So you have Kurt Russell as this nacho eating motherfucker named Stuntman Mike, who has this fucked-up thing for stalking girls and then crashing his reinforced muscle car into them. And that's it, really. In between the set-pieces, you get to know the two separate groups of girls he sets his sights on.

The first half of the movie involves 3 friends hanging out in Austin, Texas. You have this chick named Jungle Julia who's a local celebrity D.J., you got homegirl from Cabin Fever and Thanksgiving looking really tiny, and then you have Arlene/"Butterfly", who's visiting her friends from out of town. We watch as they hang out at a bar, drink, smoke bud, and talk. Lots of talk. Talk about guys they hooked up with, guys they're not going to hook up with and guys who they want to hook up with. To even out all this girl talk, you also have Eli Roth and a couple of other dudes (one of whom is a little too, uh...fey for me to believe him) talking about trying to hook up with these girls at the lake house tonight, and how much liquor it's going to take for them to do it.

That reminds me, have you gone drinking at a bar recently? Goddamn, it's way too fucking expensive. That's why I do all my drinking at home. It's also why I don't have friends anymore and I'm single. But maybe that's a good thing, considering how much these dudes in the movie probably end up spending on liquoring up these chicks. Damn. Whatever happened to just taking a girl out for some ice cream? Nah man, apparently now you gotta do shots of Jager and bring some fuckin' primo Kush to blaze on if you even wanna THINK about courting a young lady. Fuck that, I'll just stick to being a shut-in and jerk off. And cry.

Maybe that's why I dig all the chicks talking in this flick, and why so many regular people don't. They don't wanna hear that shit, they probably get enough of it at home. I'm trying to watch the fuckin' game, go call Laura and tell her all of that bullshit.

I read the screenplay to this shortly after having seen it for the first time, and there's a part that isn't in the final film where Jungle Julia talks about her typical day. You know what, I'm just gonna fuckin' find the script and type the shit out for you. It'll be the best written thing on my fuckin' blog, that's for sure:

Hey, that's a discombobulated day in the life of a drive time DJ. I get off work at 10:00am, I'm at home by 10:30. By 11:00 I'm snuggled up on my comfy couch, in my pajamas, hittin' the bong. I watch I Love Lucy at eleven...The Andy Griffith eleven-thirty. At 12:00, I watch back to back episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. At 1:00 I watch back to back episodes of Moesha. At 2:00 I watch Sponge Bob Square Pants. At 2:30 I watch Pinky and the Brain. At 3:00 I watch back to back episodes of Sister Sister. And at 4:00 I watch Tyra. Then I eat a big bowl of cereal, get unstoned and go about my day.

What do you mean you get unstoned?

(like a doctor)
Dairy fucks up your high. You wanna get unhigh fast, eat a bowl of cereal.

Jesus Christ. You just fucking KNOW this is Quentin Tarantino's average day. You know this, right? But what the hey, you can't hate a dude for writing what he knows. Give homeboy some points.

You also have to give points to Tarantino for putting so much of himself into this flick, because there's a lot more personal shit in his flicks than you might think. No, I doubt that Quentin goes around running over cute girls or slicing up Japanese mafia with a sword, but there's other things spread throughout, like fetish-type shit that comes straight from his beautifully twisted mind. Anyone with eyes probably knows that Tarantino might have a bit of a thing for feet. But after having watched Death Proof the movie and having read Death Proof the script, I'm talking about other kinds of kink.

Near the end of the opening credits, there's a close-up shot of Arlene holding onto her crotch as she runs to her friend's apartment, doing the pee-pee dance. In the script, that scene goes on longer. It describes Arlene as she sits on the toilet, letting out a "racehorse stream of piss" and the shot ends with the camera zooming into Arlene's "pretty face of relief". Halfway through the movie, another woman talks about how her current man has a thing for watching her pee, and her girlfriends are more amused than grossed out. Again, maybe I'm being a prude and overreacting. But then in the script to Tarantino's next flick, "Inglourious Basterds" (that's how he spells it, people) a woman pees herself and the camera is supposed to follow down to a shot of all the urine pooling around her feet. I don't know, I'm probably just looking into it too much. But if there's ever a Grindhouse 2, and Quentin's movie is called something like "Piss, Baby, Piss!" remember where you heard about that shit first, folks.

What's also cool about Death Proof is that it sets you up for one thing and then changes it up on you. Arlene is the one who notices that evil-looking car Stuntman Mike drives, she's the only one who feels something is wrong. Everyone is talking about this lake house they're going to go later that night. They set you up for Arlene as the Final Girl and the lake house to be the setting for all the crazy bad stuff to happen and yet it doesn't work out that way.

The second half focuses on a second group of girls who are in town working on a movie. You have stuntwoman Zoe Bell, stuntwoman Samuelle L. Jackson, John McClane's Daughter (wearing a cheerleader outfit, but no butcher knife up the snatch) and Rosario Dawson. Like our previous group, they also like to talk; all the fun they're having on the movie they're working on (Tarantino himself has said this is the conversation he knows the cast & crew have about working on his movies), the guys they've hooked up with, and the guys they want to hook up with. In both groups there's a woman who wants to get romantically serious with a film director and end up living in his mansion. That was interesting.

Anyway, Stuntman Mike is on the trail, following them around and taking pictures, like he did with the last group of girls. This perv eventually works up the nerve to sneak up to Rosario's bare feet while she's asleep and starts to touch and lick them. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with Quentin's apparent foot fetish, I'm sure. Stuntman Mike's mission to get off is made easier when Zoe comes in with the idea of having her buddy Samuelle drive a muscle car at top speed while Zoe rides on the hood. Why? I guess because she just felt the need to do it. Don't question Ms. Bell. Car chases and crashes ensue.

From all the blah blah blah, you find out that Rosario Dawson is a single mother dying to take part in something with the "cool kids", Samuelle L. Jackson is packing heat and not afraid to use it, and Zoe Bell is indestructable. After what happened in the first half, you're familiar with the game Tarantino is playing and you pretty much have it all figured out -- it's not going to work out the way the movie has it set up and instead it's gonna flip your expectations upside down, right side up, backwards and forwards and all that shit.

Except that doesn't happen. The movie proceeds to go exactly the way it's been set up. Zoe Bell does survive Stuntman Mike's attack with hardly a scratch, SLJ does use her gun on that punk-ass, and Rosario's character is just as determined to join her friends as they look to kill this motherfucker.

I'm reminded of something Tarantino said about the way he originally structured his screenplay for True Romance. For the first act, the audience knows nothing while the characters know everything. For the second act, both the characters and the audience are on the same level. But for the third act, the audience knows everything while the characters know nothing, so we have no choice but to watch the characters get themselves closer and closer into danger. Then Tony Scott came and restructured the script into chronological order for the movie. But if Tarantino was to explain the structure for Death Proof, he would probably say: "First half, I know more than you. Second half, you THINK you know, but I still know more than you. I own you. I never graduated high school and this is how I display my superiority. I rule. I love feet."

While the look of this movie isn't as beaten up as Planet Terror, it still gets the feeling across. There's the occasional scratch, skipped frame and jump cut, but it's the flat lighting used in some of the settings that give it that 70's drive-in look, like an AIP production or something from Crown International. There's also an entire section that's in black & white too. The best explanation I can come up with for that is maybe Tarantino was trying to recreate the feeling of watching a grindhouse movie at his place. The print quality for the movies he'd screen for his friends varied wildly, according to Rodriguez. You'd have a movie that had gone completely pink-tinted, or one that had proper color but was really beaten up (like Planet Terror), or you had a reel or two that was only avalable in black & white, and on rare occasion you might come across a print to a 30-year old movie that looked absolutely stunning -- which would explain the final third looking so clean. That's what I came up with, anyway.

I liked Death Proof as much as I liked Planet Terror. They're completely different kinds of movies, but I think both are representative of the kind of flicks that only Dark Sky or Synapse or Anchor Bay or one of those other companies release on DVD, and I think both are a good time, drunk or sober. Preferably drunk. It's too bad Grindhouse failed at the box office. I would've liked to have seen a follow-up. But I'm obviously in the minority. The majority is busy getting ready to pay their hard-earned money to see The Pink Panther 2 next month.

Ok, time to close this sucker up and end it with a little moment some viewers may have missed. In the theatrical version of Death Proof, just as Arlene is about to take Stuntman Mike inside and give him a lapdance, a "Reel Missing" card fills the screen. Since the previous five minutes or so were all about working the audience up to see this lapdance, we're left with cinematic blue balls, left laughing and applauding at being suckered like that. It wasn't until I saw this at a drive-in, that I was able to hear something being said right before the "Reel Missing" card goes away and the rest of the movie continues. See if you can figure out what the suspiciously Quentin-Tarantino-in-High-Pitched-Black-Voice-sounding guy is saying. Enjoy.