Monday, April 09, 2007

Grinding Tarantino's House

When Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino announced they would be making a full length feature each and would put them together for a double bill night of B-grade horror schlock fun... I stood up - took notice - and begin to salivate. Rodriguez usually makes pretty good fare (Sin City and Spy Kids are brilliant - the rest borders on annoying) but Tarantino is a genius who's work always takes my movie experience to another world.

The double bill, an over three hour set that included fake trailers and ads for eating establishments, is called GRINDHOUSE with Rodriguez's PLANET TERROR kicking things off and Tarantino's DEATH PROOF following it - Jerry and I snuck off to see it on Saturday (Cara opted to stay away). The whole event was built as a time machine, sending the viewer back to the "grindhouse" days of cinema past. It was brilliant idea with some really fun trailers and novelty "feature presentation" spots litering and expounding on the crazy joy of the show.

PLANET TERROR did it's job and then some. Rodriguez dove into this John Carpenter copy cat mode and did some major homaging to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK - THE THING - ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 - and more! The music was pure Carpenter... which led into the fun of the film. The story is pure crap (and is supposed to be) and the acting is spot on in total enjoyment of the gruesome - shocking - fun sequences that the film has.

PLANET TERROR nails the B-movie experience perfectly - while also reveling in having the cash to do stunts and set pieces that no B-movie could ever afford to do. The film has several special moments - one in particular is a missing reel that arrives just as the group is laying out their plans to deal with on coming zombies - the missing reel screen pops up - and then we find our group stuck in a blazing building with half of the heroes dead... my laughter filled the theater!

Look for some amazing cameos - Michael Bien - Jeff Fahey - Josh Brolin - the cop from FROM DUSK TIL DAWN and KILL BILL! The film just has a ball with it's characters - story -gore - violence... Rodgriguez nails it.

Tarantino does not.

Actually, this is tough to write - the first half of Tarantino's film is superior to PLANET TERROR is many ways (though the missing reel is not as funny). The dialogue snaps - the characters are great - Kurt Russell burns up his screen time making every moment amazing... The first half of the film just plain rocks!

The final sequence in the first half is a stunner! As a good horror/slasher film should do, I was fully invested in our doomed group of girls - and was fairly sickened as the madman snuffed them out. Tarantino's direction - the music - Russell's perfect eating of his taco supreme dinner... it all worked to perfection... and I was mouth agape at the final moments.

I can't say enough about Russell's impact on this section. His cool handling of Stuntman Mike pours through all of the scenes in the first half - and most in the second. It truly is not his fault things derailed... and boy... how did they derail.

The second half of the picture opens with 4 new girls and an extended sequence that has them all talking inside a vehicle and in a diner (mirroring the first half girl talking sequences). The film comes to a grinding halt with the actors (Rosario Dawson even looks lost here) never grabbing hold of the material in any way. Tarantino's dialogue falls completely flat and becomes what seems to be a joke of his own work. The actors fail - the director fails - things begin to fall apart.

Then Russell returns and my hopes begain build again... but Tarantino has completely mishandled his female characters and they infect the Russell scenes. Granted, I was not totally sold on the final end twist - or irony... but I do feel if Tarantino would have casted the movie as opposed to handing off to "would-be" actors, things would have turned out fine.

What saddens me is that the first part of DEATH PROOF is completely stunning. It is enthralling to watch Tarantino go to this new area... and I must say I was salivating at his work... but then the second half cut so deep into my excitement - that it leaves the whole experience as somewhat of a failure!!

I hate the idea that Rodriguez is the one I am leaning to for excited moments to explain to people about the experience... his film is simple - fun... but simple! Tarantino had me for 40 min... but completely failed me for 48 min more.

That tastes a little pungent... and man... those 48 min almost destory GRINDHOUSE. But screw that!!! It is a blast watching the trailers (THANKSGIVING is the funniest with MACHETE running a close second) and all of the spots... Tarantino... get your sh*t together man!!



Kern said...

I haven't seen this yet, but I really look forward to it.

Jed-You should check out the coverage of the film from three different perspectives. Devin Faraci's is closest to what you outline here, but I think you might be interested to see the perspective of the dissenting voice who seemed to find Tarantino's split structure to be a good thing rather than a hindrance.

On a related note, I'm bummed this didn't do better, because I could really have seen this format being utilized in a way to explore other exploitation-y genre films that are close to the director's hearts(spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation especially, though one might argue that there is a heavy dose of the latter infused into the largely misunderstood and generally unfair mainstream flogging of Jackie Brown)

What I do wish is that Quentin would revive his imprint Rolling Thunder pictures which gave me my first young glimpse into the world of grindhouse pictures back in 1999. For those who don't know, Rolling Thunder was an vanity imprint gifted to Tarantino by Miramax in which he was allowed to pick three movies a year that were obscure, unpolished artifacts from the crustiest corners of the cinematic world. In addition to Mighty Peking Man, and the lost blaxploitation film Detroit 9000, he was responsible for the re-release of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond, a fun, but dated undead/gore film which I got to see at Billy Joe's Pitcher Show, along with a reel of killer grindhouse traliers including Cannibal Ferox, The Offspring, Blood Feast, and a number of others. I think the trailers were the coolest thing about the whole experience, and from what I saw of the fake Thanksgiving trailer on the internet, Roth damn well nailed it.

I'll likely weigh in later after I see it, but I would be interested to see what your reaction would be to the CHUD reviews.

Damfino said...

I will check out the CHUD stuff... I did read Travers' review - he completely loved Tarantino's and especially loved the ending (giving specific props to the actress I hated!! - Zoe Bell).

Get out and see it Kern - I would be interested in your response.


Kern said...

Jed-Interesting that you mention Zoe Bell as she sounded like one of the wild cards in the whole deal. It's great QT got an actual stuntman, but it sounds like the referential gee whiz factor of that came secondary from her acting from what people have been telling me, again I'll have to form a conclusion soon...strangely though to hear him talk about her in the recent GQ interview, which was good-check it out-was that he seemed to feel like she did a good job with the acting. I'm looking forward to comparing and contrasting.