Monday, April 30, 2007

Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez/Rob Zombie/Edgar Wright/Eli Roth/Quentin Tarantino)

There's a critical examination to be written about the growing category of "filmed fan-fiction"- movies in which the filmmakers take the movies they grew up on and graft their personal movie-fueled fantasies on them. The ultimate example of this is still Peter Jackson's KING KONG remake, in which the director got Hollywood to pony up $200 million or so for the movie that's been playing in his head ever since he first watched the 1933 version. But these things are no better than the disposable fare that inspired them unless the filmmaker invests them with some soul. Rodriguez can't do that, and he really doesn't try, which is why PLANET TERROR [segment rating: 4], like so many of his previous films, works better at trailer length (dude! Her leg's a machine gun!) than at 80-odd minutes. For all the missing footage and the pseudo-distressed footage, this may be his most grindhouse-inspired trick, making a movie with 2 1/2 minutes of scattered awesomeness to sell the shit out of, to get butts in the seats and cash in the coffers. But while your normal 2007 audience will probably like PLANET TERROR more due to its almost nonstop barrage of action and gore, I can't help but think that DEATH PROOF [segment rating: 7] plays more like actual grindhouse fare, with a few kickass sequences to give people what they came for and long teasing stretches in between to make them wait for the good stuff. Although when those scenes are full of Tarantino dialogue, it seems churlish to complain- he's not quite using his A material, but they work all the same. And it's good that Tarantino actually bothered to write actual characters for his segment- Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike is a psycho, yes, but he's also kind of a loser, and Sheriff McGraw's diagnosis of his mental state is pretty much on the money. And the girls are fun to hang with too, so much that we really feel it when one group is no longer on the scene. And that final twenty minutes or so- wow. Just... wow. Someone get Zoe Bell her own action movie, pronto. As for the trailers, everyone has been drooling over Rodriguez's MACHETE and Roth's THANKSGIVING, but I have a soft spot for Wright's DON'T, a fake ad for a nonexistent cheapie giallo. Having seen a fair number of 70s trailers, this one felt practically perfect- the distractingly blurry soft-focus, the sudden freeze-frames, the endlessly repeated title, and the way this title turns into the so-obvious-it's-perfect punchline to the trailer. Most 70s-era trailers for genre fair are pretty risible today, and compared to the money-shot stylings of MACHETE and THANKSGIVING (the best thing about the latter is the voice of the narrator) or the not-even-trying-for-period feel of Zombie's ILSA-inspired WEREWOLVES OF THE SS, DON'T got it down cold. Two more random thoughts: (1) Like Theo, I long for the day when a director will make a fanboy reimagining of the movies I dig- I'd love to see the French New Wave equivalent of KILL BILL- but I guess it won't be nearly as bankable as zombies and car chases, and (2) what, no T&A? Overall rating: 6 out of 10.

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