Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Grindhouse" -- * * * 1/2

‘Grind House’ (noun): a theater playing back-to-back films exploiting sex, violence and other extreme subject matter.
Yep, that pretty much nails it. “Grindhouse” is trash of the highest order, an unrelenting orgy of gore, titties, zombies, fast cars and severed body parts with absolutely no intellectual or moral value. As such, it’s an absolute blast, probably the finest piece of pure entertainment to be released so far this year.

For those who don’t know, “Grindhouse” is two feature-length motion pictures, Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” strung together with a few fake movie trailers in between serving as an intermission (in its totality, “Grindhouse” runs 11 minutes over the three-hour mark). Both homages to the low-budget grind house pictures of the 60s, 70s and early 80s, “Terror” is an almost hilariously gory, over-the-top zombie film, and “Death Proof” is a tough chicks/car chase flick starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a psycho stalker of young women with a car as his murder weapon.

“Planet Terror” crams a lot into its 86-minute running time, mainly following (a) Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) attempting to leave her sadistic husband Doc Block (“his prescription: pain”), awesomely played by Josh Brolin, and (b) Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) and stripper/hopeful standup comic Cherry Darling (a never-sexier Rose McGowan) trying to rekindle their romance, or something resembling it. All this is going on while everyone in town is rapidly turning into zombies, complete with melting skin and pus-filled boils.

Rodriguez, much more than Tarantino, uses his aesthetic skills to “age” his movie with film scratches, cigarette burns and a hilariously timed “missing reel.” No one really stands out acting wise, but McGowan is having a lot of fun here, and her exotic dancing over the opening credits makes one understand why Rodriguez felt she was worth cheating on his wife for. Oh, and I’m sorry to report but she doesn’t acquire her already-iconic machine gun appendage until the final 10 minutes. “Terror” is a ton of fun, a very good (intentionally) bad movie that moves at the fastest clip imaginable and is filled with enough stomach-churning gore to satiate any horror fan—my favorite moment involved a baddie’s testicles melting off.

Following “Planet Terror” is my favorite part of “Grindhouse,” three faux-70s trailers by Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Eli Roth (“Hostel”), following a pre-show one (“Machete”) by Rodriguez himself. Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” and Wright’s “Don’t” are very funny—there’s a particularly delicious cameo in “Werewolf”—as well as accurate, but Roth steals the show with his “Thanksgiving,” a grotesque slasher movie about the one holiday not yet slasher-ized. Needless to say, Roth is one sick fuck, and thank God for that. I know the “Thanksgiving” trailer is online, but do NOT watch it on your computer—see it the way it was meant to be seen: in a packed theater. At my screening of “Grindhouse,” people exiting the theater afterwards were still buzzing about “Thanksgiving.”

Then, Tarantino’s “Death Proof” begins and temporarily stops the movie dead in its tracks with a 10-minute-long scene of inane dialogue, followed quickly by another. In fact, “Death Proof” amounts to about 3/5 tough-chicks gabfest, and 2/5 awesome car chase(s)/mutilations. I was a tad disappointed that it focused more on the interchangeable group of women rather than the fascinating Stuntman Mike, but every second Russell’s on screen is gold; clearly the most fun he’s been since his Snake Plissken days.

After the adrenaline-fueled “Terror,” viewers may find themselves more than a bit bored with large chunks of “Death Proof;” I’ll admit they were the lone “Grindhouse” moments I checked my watch during. Some of those extended dialogue scenes are a bit of a slog to watch, and perhaps I’ll enjoy them more on second viewing, but this first time around they nearly bored me to tears (with only a few exceptions).
But Tarantino mostly makes up for it with one of the most stunning car-chases ever committed to celluloid, and an insanely crowd-pleasing ending (it’s nearly impossible not to stand up and cheer).

In terms of accuracy in their depictions of true grind house films, neither film is really on target. The old grind house films could never afford to feature as much action as Rodriguez crams in “Planet Terror.” While Tarantino gets this aspect right in “Death Proof” by leading up to the minimal action with endless scenes of dialogue, he also can’t control his inner auteur by staging a seven-minute shot revolving around a table conversation that would’ve never been possible 30-40 years ago. Still, it’s doubtful many viewers will mind; the majority of its intended audience has likely never even seen a grind house movie.

Like any double feature, “Grindhouse” is a bit of a lopsided affair, but despite its inconsistencies, it’s truly a theatrical event that no real movie lover should (or will) allow themselves to miss. If you’ve got an appetite for gratuitous sex and violence, and have over three hours to kill, you won’t be able to do any better than this.


Post a Comment

<< Home