Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Zoë Bell is better than you.

Playing hooky from school resulted in me getting Saturday detention, but when Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez played hooky from work, it resulted in Grindhouse. Go figure. As part of QT's birthday month, the man himself is programming the schedule at the New Beverly Cinema. There's a line that Harry Belafonte's gangster character says to Dermot Mulroney's hostage character in that dead drunken supremely-talented asshole Robert Altman's film Kansas City, and I vaguely remember it being something like "You hear that? (the music playing in the club) That's Count Basie. It's the only reason you're not dead yet." Well, I'm going to appropriate that shit, smack it up, flip it, rub it down (oh no!) and say that the New Bev is the only reason L.A. isn't dead to me.

When I drove past the theater, there were about 5 or 6 people in line. Ten minutes later, after finding a spot and taking a stroll around the block, the line was halfway down the block. Mr. Phil Blankenship would periodically walk down the line to make sure that everyone already bought their ticket online (it completely sold out online, anyone who wanted to buy a ticket that night had to wait in Standby). The huge turnout for tonight's screening of Grindhouse plus Machete reminded me of the two or three (or four?) screenings of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World they had here, and how those shows played to a packed house; both films were disappointments at the box office but the fans are hard-fucking-core. Which made me think if there were just as many hardcore fans of the movies that beat Grindhouse during its initial release; would I see people line up around the block to see Wild Hogs at the New Bev? I highly doubt that.

A very familiar-looking man stepped up to someone in the line, and after a couple seconds I went Holy Shit It's Michael Biehn -- Kyle Reese! Cpl. Hicks! Johnny Ringo! -- dressed casually in his dragon print button shirt and black jeans and hiking boots (he looked like he was in a scene from the non-existent Navy Seals 2, chilling out and drinking beer with his bros on R&R until they all get paged because a group of terrorists have taken over an embassy or something). The man in line showed Biehn an album full of black & white artwork (storyboards? comic art?) and after a while of looking through them, Biehn took his leave and walked off with his lady companion who was not Sarah Connor, which is a good thing because the chances of the New Bev turning Tech Noir dropped dramatically once I realized that.

As I devoured (DEVOURED, I SAY) the delicious popcorn, and the theater slowly filled to capacity, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez showed up. Biehn went up to Quentin and they hugged; he said something about how it's been a while since the last time they had spoken. Mr. Rodriguez -- a tall drink of water -- arrived suited and booted, and he not only managed to wear a cowboy hat without looking douchey or racist, he made that shit look pretty fuckin' cool. Quentin came dressed as Quentin.

They ended up sitting in front of my friend and I, and that was very cool. We were going to watch this movie with the guys responsible for it sitting close enough for me to uncomfortably breathe heavily all over them, clipping hairs from their head for the shrine I keep in my closet where I worship them Helga Pataki-style in my spare time; I have a lot of spare time. To Quentin's left were three ladies, which sounds about right, I'd complain if he had 2 or less. One arrived in the kind of sexy badass outfit one wears when riding a motorcycle in a movie; her belt buckle appeared to be a diamond-studded pistol. At one point, Quentin asked her for a large Diet Coke and I wondered if she was an assistant (or just a considerate friend) and perhaps that pistol was real and she was Quentin's "do-dirt nigga".

Like most of my fellow fanboys, I too considered the idea of going up to them and making a complete ass of myself. It's not like I wouldn't have anything to say, in fact, it's quite the opposite. I wanted to tell them how I had just completed my first feature and I had them to thank/blame. I wanted to tell them how they were the first filmmakers who I felt a kinship with, and that it was the 1993 one-two combo punch of seeing Reservoir Dogs on VHS and El Mariachi in the theater that gave my life a goal in that young age -- to go from accomplished film-watcher to wannabe filmmaker. I wanted to tell them how with their first films, Quentin Tarantino made me want to make movies and Robert Rodriguez told me that nothing was stopping me from making them.

Instead, I decided it was better to respect their space and leave them alone.

"Jungle" Julia Marchese began the intro by requesting people not to take photos or video and then QT and RR came down. Quentin talked about how this screening was especially, uh, special because it felt like he and his brother from another mother Rodriguez were coming full circle with this experience. They told the "hooky" story; Robert would watch 16mm prints projected on a white sheet in Quentin's blacked-out apartment (this was before Tarantino moved to plushier digs that are unfortunately located next door to Alan Ball's pterodactyls) and that Quentin sincerely declared/asked something to the effect of "Isn't this the life?". They told the Dragstrip Girl/Rock All Night story; Robert saw the poster for that double bill, said he had the same one at home, and then he immediately had a light bulb moment and brought up the idea for Grindhouse.

It also came out of wanting to share the experience of watching movies at Quentin's house; QT would screen 2, 3, 4 movies and have trailers and intermissions and ads -- Grindhouse would be a chance to do all that for audiences worldwide (well, audiences in the U.S. at least). They also mentioned how Rodriguez had his movie cast long before Tarantino cast his; to give the actors an idea of what kind of movies they were making, they screened Zombie (horror: this could never happen) and Torso (terror: this could happen) with trailers. Rodriguez's film would be full of show-stopping gore (like Zombie) and Tarantino's film would feature extended scenes of girls talking punctuated with the occasional brilliant kill scene, climaxing with a 20-minute long final setpiece (like Torso).

They also made sure to distinguish the "sickos" in Rodriguez's film as being "infected", not zombies. Quentin told a story about how he talked to director Umberto Lenzi (I'm assuming they were discussing Nightmare City) and referred to the bad guys in his film as zombies. Lenzi responded by getting all WTF about Quentin's use of the word "zombie", acting all confused before finally getting all Italian loud and declaring "THEY'RE-A EEEN-FEC-DED PEEEE-PUUULL!"

We were then told how we were going to watch Grindhouse as they originally intended it; with real trailers and ads included. The movie was already long, Quentin said, and I'm sure legal issues were also another reason why it wasn't released this way, but for us, the fans at the New Bev, this is how we'd be watching it. He told us that he and Robert would not be coming up to do a Q&A or talk more about the film, this would be a triple feature that would go: trailers, Planet Terror, trailers, Death Proof, trailers, Machete. Then they wished us a good time and sat down.

A guy went right up to Quentin to get his autograph or something and QT gave him the apparently-known-by-many shpiel of "Thanks, but I'm just trying to watch the movie like you..." or something like that. The lights went down and suddenly a guy in a powder-blue t-shirt with dark blue sleeves came walking quickly down the aisle, headed for the same row as Quentin but Julia (walking up the aisle) demonstrated her Bionic Woman engineering by lasering in on the pesky target and getting in front of him. She held up her hands, effectively blocking him in a polite manner that could also double for Don't Make Me Have To Push You. The lady Just Fucking Knew what this guy was up to and was going to put a stop to it. Whispered words were exchanged, but I managed to hear her tell him "Please go back to your seat" at the end of it, and that's just what he did.

I don't remember the order of the trailers and ads, but I'll do my best: a Coca-Cola advertisement, Lucio Fulci's The Psychic, Dario Argento's Deep Red, Sum Yung Guy's Deep Thrust, Lucio Fulci's Zombie, some Filipino's Women In Cages and I think that was it as far as the new trailers, followed by the Machete trailer and Planet Terror.

Now, I've written about Grindhouse before in one of my first ramblings on this here blog; it was my contribution to the far superior blog Final Girl and her Film Club. I haven't been there in a while, but I'm going to see if she's still doing the Film Club thing, I'd like to do another one. I think I might have even met the lady (if that was even her) behind that site at Eric Spudic's Movie Empire (which is now closed, unfortunately). She was working the counter and even offered to help me take my purchases to my car. I thanked her but figured I could handle it myself. Then she politely laughed at my stupid joke about how I'll probably drop them anyway. Then I went outside, and sure enough, I dropped the movies. Because my life is filled with nothing but new ways for me to choke on my spoon.

Anyway, yeah, I've rambled about Planet Terror and Death Proof already and it's interesting to read (for me, not for you) because I was well into an alcoholic depression (with the occasional rage-filled moment of levity) during that time of my life. Don't clap for me yet, 12-steppers, I don't drink anymore but I do love me some pot -- but at least I'm not depressed anymore. So if you want my detailed (read: way too fucking long) thoughts on the extended versions of both films, click on this motherfucker.

I will say a couple things about the films, I'm now of the opinion (or at least as of this moment in time) that the shorter Grindhouse versions of both movies are superior. For a while, my ideal version of Grindhouse was the theatrical cut of Planet Terror (the pacing moves like a MUTHAFUCKA) and the extended version of Death Proof. But now, I like my Death Proof shorter as well. Sure, there are moments that I'll be missing, like the full Michael Parks monologue or that awesomely creepy photo-taking sequence, but I can always enjoy those scenes separately on the Blu-ray. I really don't give a shit about buying Italian Vogue (even though I liked seeing Nicky Katt pop up) and I'm not getting anything out of Kurt Russell fondling Rosario Dawson's feet, since I'm not the one fondling them. I once made a DVD with the extended versions of both movies along with the Zombie/Wright/Roth trailers taken from an Internet source, but after watching it once, I gave it to my cousin.

With repeated viewings, a dim motherfucker like me starts to notice and appreciate things more from these films. My third favorite scene in Death Proof (following the entire car chase sequence and the first crash) is when Jungle Julia texts Christian Simonson. She's excused herself to a closed-off section of the bar, away from the loud music of AMI the jukebox. The bar music on the soundtrack is eventually drowned out by Pino Donaggio's score from Blow Out ("Sally and Jack", I believe) and she's sending him lovey-dovey messages. It's like this is Jungle Julia without the tough don't-give-a-shit persona she's been putting up in front of everyone else for the rest of the film. This is a personal, non-guarded moment and I think she genuinely likes the dude, this dude who probably doesn't give a shit about her. I mean, for all she knows, that guy was probably texting back his "Me Too" message while getting a fuckin' lap dance. She's making Stuntman Mike feel like a heel and talking shit about that skinny fake-blonde bitch at the bar, but she's probably hiding the fact that she's also a little touchéd herself.

At least that's how I like to see it. I'm probably wrong, like I was wrong about the scene in Jackie Brown (still my favorite QT joint) when Robert Forster firsts sees Pam Grier and Bloodstone's "Natural High" starts to play on the soundtrack. I thought that was supposed to underscore Forster's love-at-first-sight moment, but then on the DVD, QT is talking about how that was just a moment for people to go "Ahhh!" because it's an awesome song, and how the only people who really got that scene were black people -- and Quentin, of course, because he's black too.

A couple moments watching Grindhouse with the directors in front of me stood out; The first was right after the Machete trailer when a blocky 70's-style Weinstein Company logo came up with the announcer saying "Brought to you by your friends at the Weinstein Company!" Right after that, Quentin glanced over to Robert and Pretty Girl With The Diamond Pistol Belt Buckle beside him. Oh how I wish I had the ability to interpret that glance! What did it mean? What was the emotion behind it? Only Quentin and those he shared his glance with know for sure. Also when the late Sally Menke's credit in Death Proof came up, everyone else in the room burst into applause and cheered -- all but Quentin, who slowly nodded for a while. 

After Grindhouse, there was about a 20-minute break (and the exodus to the toilets and concession stand began). Some guy walked up to Quentin and Robert and thanked them for the good times, and QT/RR graciously thanked him back. Quentin then said "Love your tailor!", referring to the man's Grindhouse t-shirt. I talked with my friend for a bit, then checked my messages (zero, as usual), then went to say goodbye to the Cherry Coke I had gotten intimately acquainted with during Grindhouse. I got in line to use the head and saw that Mr. Rodriguez was in front of me, probably looking to relieve himself of some Cerveza Chango.

When you're a famous filmmaker, you have to make peace with the fact that people are going to ask for autographs or talk with you while you wait to use the toilet; Rodriguez signed quite a few pictures and posters and was being incredibly nice the entire time. If he was annoyed, he was hiding that shit like a pro. The powder blue shirt guy (aka the guy who almost probably got his ass handed to him by Golden Earrings in the name of Quentin's comfort) went up to RR and shook his hand. After that guy left, the guy in front of Rodriguez then turned to Robert and said "Man, you can't even pee in peace!" and then followed it up with "So how was it like working with Lindsay Lohan?"

After the break, a new reel of trailers started: a jazzy bebop-ish ad for Dr. Pepper, Chinese Hercules (starring Bolo Yeung aka That Buff Asian Dude From Bloodsport), some crazy nunsploitation flick called The Lady of Monza (the trailer consisted of people getting whipped, smacked, punched, kicked, and I think even banged -- it's a movie about nuns), something called Ride In A Pink Car, muthafuckin' Charlie Bronson breaking out muthafuckin' Robert Duvall in Breakout, and a teaser for something called Teenage Hitchhikers (dialogue and narration playing over a slow revolving zoom out of what appeared to be the poster, if I recall somewhat correctly).

Machete followed. I saw it back in October and liked it, but felt a tad letdown. It's a sad irony (or whatever the right fuckin' word is) that ultimately this was yet another example of a movie that wasn't as good as the trailer. You have Danny Trejo, the 21st century Charles Bronson, fucking motherfuckers up in the worst possible ways using knives and various other stabbing/slashing/impaling implements all in the name of the illegal immigrants who are trying to make a shitty living doing shitty jobs -- and I was left wishing there was more of that. My buddy loved it, though; I think he even liked it more than Death Proof.

The good outweighs the bad, but the bad is still pretty fuckin' heavy; the movie feels too slow at times and that's kind of a shock because Rodriguez is usually aces in the pacing department (remember long ago, when I told you how I thought Planet Terror's pacing moves like a MUTHAFUCKA?) but to me, this one doesn't really feel like it's headed anywhere. Usually, you can feel that shit, like we're headed into the home stretch, but in this one, I sure as fuck couldn't. By the time Machete is leading an army of low-riders into the final battle, I knew I was watching the prelude to the Big Battle, and yet, it didn't feel like it, if that makes any sense and it probably doesn't.

Robert DeNiro's character, he's this senator who's running for re-election on a campaign of no amnesty for illegals and building an electrified fence at the border, and I think his ads where he refers to the illegals as "parasites" and uses images of cockroaches and maggots, well, it didn't seem so funny to me because I can totally buy that happening in real life. I think Rodriguez was trying for Satire and took an unplanned left turn into Straight Up Fuckin' Accurate. Shit, check any news message board on the subject, those motherfuckers are already talking that kind of shit -- hell, it's probably even worse. It's really just a matter of time before we see real ads like that, making illegals synonymous with insects. I'm still not convinced that DeNiro's speech where he keeps mocking the idea of "change" wasn't taken word-for-word from some politician going off on that socialist/commie/America-hating/tax-loving Obama (or "Nobama", as the clever like to call him).

Steven Seagal is awesome, and if you don't agree with me, then you're probably Kelly LeBrock. I probably even like him more as a fat guy, but I'm down with either version -- which I guess makes him the Alec Baldwin of martial artists. I love that they cast him not only as the bad guy, but a Mexican drug kingpin named Torrez. That description sounds like it was taken straight from the fantasy movies that play in the cinema of my imagination. He doesn't disappoint, either; he speaks with an accent, occasionally throws in some Spanish (he's particularly fond of calling people "puñeta").

The rest of the cast is great; Don Johnson does his best Michael Parks impression, Lindsay Lohan does a good job remaining somewhat relevant, Cheech is Cheech (always a good thing), Jeff Fahey speaks in such a low growling voice you could probably play his scenes to test your subwoofers, Nimrod Antal is way better an actor than you'd expect, and goddamn Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez are making it difficult for me to live life knowing I'll never get to bang them. We already know about Alba's hotness capabilities, but I was especially (pleasantly) surprised by M.Rod's bringing-of-the-sexy in this one. She didn't do much for me back in the day, but now, I don't know if it's because they usually cast her in butch roles or she hadn't fully blossomed yet, but I see her in Machete and she manages to combine that hardass aspect she brings with a large degree of absolute smokin' heat.

I wonder about that. I thought it was good filmmaking that did it, but I recently watched a video clip from a radio show where the host was recording his guest and in the middle of it, Michelle Rodriguez walks down the hall with her entourage, on her way to another show. They say Hi to her and she winks back. After she's gone, the guest turns to the host and talks about how hot she is in person, and what a shame it is that Hollywood's been dyking her up all these years.

Anyway, Robert Rodriguez co-directed this movie with his protege Ethan Manquis, maybe that's why this one doesn't have that same, uh, I don't know, snap to it that his other movies have. It really only comes to life during the action, and even then, half of the action is frustratingly standard-looking, while the other half is wildly inventive. It also seems to have the same problem that Once Upon A Time In Mexico had -- the film seems more interested in the supporting characters than the fuckin' main dude. Look man, in the end, I dug it, but goddamn, I really wanted to see the movie I thought I was going to get from the trailer. As it is, it feels like I'm watching a different movie with the occasional scene from the trailer thrown in -- which come to think of it, is EXACTLY what this movie is. Don't I feel like a fuckin' tonto.

The audience response was interesting. There wasn't as much cheering or laughing as with Grindhouse. There was the occasional WOOOO but I think it was the same guy doing it. Some of the jokes fell flat (regardless of whether they were funny or not) and got no response, and some bits that I didn't expect to get a reaction were rather well-received. Quentin seemed to really dig the movie, though. Some of the loudest laughs came from him, and on occasion, only the laughs came from him. But before you say What The Fuck Are You Implying, calm down puñeta, I'm not implying anything -- trust me, his were as sincere and genuine a fuckin' laugh as you will ever hear. These guys are best friends, and as such probably share the same sense of humor. It happens, I guess -- sometimes the audience is going to be on a different wavelength but as long as you're still getting laughs and as long as the audience is still cheering every once in a while, what's the problem?

The triple feature ended, and a great time was had by most (I can't assume for all of you). Quentin and Robert stuck around during the credits, talking to each other. My buddy and I ended up chilling outside for a while, me yapping incessantly while he smoked his cigarette. Eventually, RR went outside and signed some autographs. By the time we decided to take off, I looked over to see RR and QT listening intently while Clu Gulager (wearing a Marine Corps jacket -- once a Marine, always a Marine) talked to them about whatever. I felt like turning in their direction and shouting THAT'S RIGHT MOTHERFUCKERS, WHEN CLU SPEAKS, YOU FUCKIN' LISTEN, but then I remembered that I while I may be stupid, I'm not bloody stupid and instead I drove my friend to Norms, where I spent my meal being stared at by a bald smiling tattooed man in the booth in front of me, only occasionally breaking eye contact with me to look down at a sketchpad he was furiously drawing on.