Friday, April 13, 2007

Grindhouse (2007)

I saw Grindhouse last Sunday night and I've been waiting to write about it all week while I worked on other stuff. Now that I've got the time, it's not as fresh in my mind, and I've found several people who've eloquently expressed most of my own thoughts about the film(s) for me. I'd recommend Dennis Lim's review for the LA Times as well as the fine double review from my chums on the Filmspotting podcast. A few additional thoughts:

-I know that grindhouse theaters were infamous for oddball doublebills (Superman and Superfly anyone?) but Rodriguez and Tarantino's movies (Planet Terror and Death Proof, respectively) are far less simpatico than I ever would have expected. Rodriguez went the fluff route: his gonzo zombie flesh parade is all homage: pretty much Night and Day of the Dead with a crapload of They Live (and a dash of Escape from New York on the score). It's light, or as light as a movie about a band of survivors versus brainsucking hordes with festering boils can be, but that's about it. You watch, you grimace, you smile, it's over, you forget about it. Tarantino's film, by contrast, is a bit more. Its got an unusual structure. It's talky, even by the verbose Tarantino's standards. It takes a classic horror trope, the psychosexually deranged killer, and turns it on its head. Rodriguez celebrates exploitation cinema; Tarantino investigates it a little bit.

Together, they have an odd impact on an audience. Rodriguez' effects are ooey and gooey and heavily bolstered by CGI; Tarantino's film goes light on the blood but heavy on visceral, concussive impact. And just as they're getting into the balls-out ultraviolence of Rodriguez' picture, the movie ends and suddenly we're thrust into the backseat of a car cruising around a very mundane Austin, Texas afternoon where a bunch of chicks are sitting around chatting about their weekend plans. It's a jarring transition between two very incongruous styles.

-Both films' biggest problem: acting by their female leads. In Rodriguez's case, he cast Rose McGowan for her bombshell physique, but he's done no favors by her airheaded acting. And Tarantino picked Rent's Tracie Thoms to play the de facto Samuel L. Jackson tough-talking badass role but she can't convincingly pull off all the dialogue and, physically, she's a bit too doughy looking to play a hard-as-nails stuntwoman, especially standing next to Zoe Bell, who is a real life hard-as-nails stuntwoman.

-A lot of people have singled out Edgar Wright's very funny trailer as the best of the four included in Grindhouse to beef up the double-feature aspect of the show, but I think they're underselling Eli Roth's disturbing and disturbingly authentic ode to holiday slashers, Thanksgiving. It's believably crude, sexist, and intensely offensive (see the shot of a cheerleader bouncing on a trampoline that nearly got Grindhouse saddled with an NC-17). Though all the films and trailers are loaded with artificial scratches, missing frames, and cigarette burns, only Roth's trailer really looks like some lost relic of a bygone era; it's something about the sallow, faded grime of the cinematography, with the yellowed greens and slightly-off skintones that does it.

-Both movies are too long. I know that initially they'd talked about doing two hour long films, and then they beefed each up to a full feature-length, perhaps to give the appearance of better bang for the audience's buck. But 90 minutes was the upper threshold for real exploitation pictures: most don't even bust the 80 minute barrier. There's plenty of indulgent fat (granted, most of both movies is indulgent fat) that could be trimmed out of either.

-Given my incredibly high expectations, it's a wonder I enjoyed either picture, but really I liked them both, and genuinely loved Tarantino's. My one concern: in end-of-the-year consideration can I list just Death Proof or would I have to put the whole Grindhouse experience?

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Blogger Michael J. Anderson said...

Matt, let me just say that I was surprised to read your conclusion -- "in end-of-the-year consideration can I list just Death Proof or would I have to put the whole Grindhouse experience?" -- after reading the following:

"Together, they have an odd impact on an audience."

"It's a jarring transition between two very incongruous styles."

Okay, so I can see how you can still recuperate "Death Proof" as one of the year's best... but then

"Both films' biggest problem: acting by their female leads."

"Both movies are too long."

"There's plenty of indulgent fat (granted, most of both movies is indulgent fat) that could be trimmed out of either."

Are we really going to be so hard up that an over-long, overly indulgent film with a lackluster lead performance is among the year's finest works of cinema? If you think we are, I would urge you to rush out and see "Offside," "Triad Election" and "Kodak" immediately. Heck, "Blades of Glory," while indulgent was neither over-long nor did it featue a sub-par lead performance... quite the opposite as you know.

However, if you must, you may include just "Death Proof." Thems are the rules.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

Just because the two don't work well together doesn't mean that Death Proof isn't a marvelous film on its own. Frankly, I think its stature is lessened by its association with the much more average Planet Terror.

And just because Death Proof does have a few minor flaws (including, as I mentioned, the acting and a slightly bloated runtime) doesn't mean it isn't hypnotically watchable throughout. I'm sure you have movies you love in spite of their flaws. Some may even make the bottom half of a top ten, as Death Proof might (note I said "consideration" in my post, not hand it the trophy right now) for me.

And I've seen Triad Election and found it to be quite tedious. I still don't understand your irrational love for Johnnie To, who makes boring action films, and your irrational hatred for American directors who make entertaining action films. You're supposed to be an American patriot, Anderson! Get behind your country. We're at war here, we don't have time for you to be pro-foreign cinema.

12:22 PM  

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