Sunday, April 22, 2007


I am not a child of the 70's, nor was I raised in Southern California or any of the other places where "Grindhouses" may have once existed. I'm a child of the 80's, and multiplex theaters built into shopping malls. (For reason I cannot fathom, I always associate the Willowbrook Mall theater with my first viewings of Jurassic Park and Freejack, although I saw literally dozens of movies at that theater. And why Freejack, for God's sake?).

Anyhow, I don't think the "Grindhouse" idea was ever as prevalent in the US as Mssr's Tarantino and Rodriguez would have us believe. At least seeing a series of crappy movies on a single bill wasn't as fondly remembered.

But if you're going to see two movies on a single bill, Alamo Drafthouse is the place to go. We intentionally broke up our orders into appetizers and a main course over the two movies and managed to really settle in. And, prior to the movie, the Alamo showed trailers from classic "Grindhouse" movies such as "Vanishing Point", "The Thing with Two Heads" and "Dracula Meets the Seven Brothers (and their one Sister)".

So how was the actual movie?

It's possible that the entire movie might have been better off as nothing but a series of trailers. After all, trailers always show the best parts of movies, and in some ways the directors seem to know that trailers are more fun than what you actually get in a movie.

So, yes, the "trailers" between the two movies are almost more fun than the two features.

"Planet Terror" is a fun zombie movie. Flat out. I would have gladly paid to see this movie without any of the additional Grindhouse baggage. It's gross, it's an action movie, it casts Freddy Rodriguez as a bad-ass, and someone finally makes good use of Rose McGowan for the first time I can think of since the first "Scream" film. In fact, I predict that "Cherry Darling" will become one of those staples of fanboyish-ness that will lead to a new cult following for McGowan. Michael Biehn gets his best role since, possibly, The Abyss, and everyone, including Bruce Willis seems to behaving a grand time.

one more item to add to the list of "What The League Looks for in a Woman"

In a way, "Planet Terror" is critic proof as it never tries to do more than be a really fun movie (albeit not for kids or the squeamish), and I can't really think of anything that bugged me about the movie. It sets out to be an over-the-top zombie movie, and from that perspective, I think they knocked it over the fence. Winding subplots, hokey call-backs and catch phrases. A good bad movie.

Prior to "Planet Terror", Rodriguez had tacked on a trailer for what I can only refer to as an Hispanic-Sploitation action movie called "Machete". And, man, yes... I would probably go see Machete.

Between the films, Rob Zombie's trailer for "Werewolf Women of the SS" was absolutely wrong, and, yes... I would totally see that movie. Perhaps less so Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving", but in keeping with the bad-movie tradition of turning seemingly innocent Holidays in a small town into a bloodbath... sure. I could absolutely see where Roth was coming from. He had me at the turkey mascot decapitation.

I was less enthusiastic about Tarantino's "Death Proof", which surprised me. I do enjoy the purity of a good car chase, although I don't know that I've ever even seen any of the films that's comprised of almost nothing but car chases (unless you count "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Empire Strikes Back" - oh, come on! "Empire's" entire Han Solo sequence was pretty much Smokey and the Bandit in space).

The problem with "Death Proof" was two-fold:

a) A lot of the Grindhouse movies that Tarantino professes such a love for were pretty dull, when you get down to it. There's a lot of talking and standing around because that's a lot cheaper to film than action sequences. This wasn't unique to car-chase featuring C-movies of the 70's. Go back to the black and white sci-fi cheapies and serials, and you'll find endless, pointless discussion between scientists speaking in utter gibberish.

b) Tarantino writes like a 20 year old film student. He's hopelessly in love with his own dialog and the minutia of what people say to each other when sitting in cafes and bars, believing these conversations (and characters) to be far, far more compelling than they actually are.

For some reason, Tarantino decided to give a mad shout out to Austin in "Death Proof", which is sort of cute. His characters name drop and go to eat at Guero's and the Texas Chili Parlor. Two of the stars of "Rollergirls" who wait tables at the Texas Chili Parlor play themselves. The odd "Jungle Julia" billboards that were up the week I moved back to town finally receive an explanation. They were props for the movie. Apparently Mr. Tarantino is unaware that in Austin, for whatever reason, DJ's don't really splash their mugs on billboards. But it does solve the mystery Doug and I tried to solve of why a radio station would advertise their DJ and then fail to note the actual frequency of the station.

Anyhow, it seems Tarantino has a school-boy crush on Waterloo.

I suppose it's possible Tarantino is presenting an homage to Hitchcock's set-up of Janet Leigh as the heroine in Psycho with his extensive set-up of four female friends at the beginning of "Death Proof", but the problem is that this ISN'T Psycho, and he ISN'T Hitch. In fact, as a 70's style horror flick, the audience expects for all but one of the female leads to die. So establishing all of the characters just doesn't seem like such a neat narrative trick when the game plan is to kill them all off.

Longtime readers will know that The League is a big fan of narrative economy, and here we get the polar opposite. The middle of "Death Proof" is essentially a fifteen minute conversation between four gal pals in a coffee shop (possibly Jo's, which I've never actually been in). Then a lengthy, lengthy conversation about driving a car and who can come.

Whenever Kurt Russell is on screen, the movie is fine. Whenever Kurt Russell is not on the screen, it's like letting air out of an impossibly irritating balloon.

When the cars are rolling, the movie is fun. I won't deny that. But it's also not really anything you haven't seen before. And that's sort of Tarantino, isn't it? He's a master art forger, but without Roger Avary around to move the story along, his movies don't seem to move beyond imitation.

Where Rodriguez seems to have seen that Achilles Heel of the C-Movie was the horrendous sense of pacing, Tarantino demonstrates slavish devotion to the drudgery of those movies and assumes his dialog is hilariousness enough to carry us through vast, vast stretches of inane conversations where, as an audience member, you want to stand up and shout "Okay, I get it! They like cars!"

It is true that Russell hands in a great performance, and I think Jason developed a crush on stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing herself) during the course of the film. But, yeah... in some ways all "Death Proof" does is remind the audience that these films are usually remembered for brief set pieces rather than for the overall whole of the movie.


Laura said...

What happened to Rose McGowan's face?

J.S. said...

Wait. I developed a crush on Zoe Bell? I'm not going to deny it, but I never said a word about Zoe Bell (and there are more than 1 crush-worthy women in Death Proof). I guess I enjoyed Eath Proof more than The League, but I don't necessarily disagree with his criticisms, either. Tarantino has just never been able to write dialogue that matches the genius of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction since the time that those movies came out. Death Proof is kind of entertaining, but it definitely has its flaws.

The League said...

I think if you see the movie, there is very, very little wrong with Ms. McGowan's face. But, yes, this photo does look a little weird.

And I don't even remember what Jason said about Stuntwoman Zoe, but I was on to him.

Anonymous said...

Saw Grindhouse on opening day, and I really enjoyed "Death Proof" more than "Planet Terror." Interesting that you bring up Psycho, because I thought of the same movie.

After the initial car killings, you're waiting for the car-nage that never comes again, a la Psycho. And that final car chase really did have me nervous. I felt nothing in Planet Terror.

Anyhow, sure there was a lot of talking, but I enjoyed most of it. I thought Planet Terror was a little too gooey for gooeyness' sake. It fulfilled the "Grind House" mission better than Death Proof, but I liked Death Proof better as a movie

I would see Machete in a heartbeat.

The League said...

Curious. Well, everyone reacts differently.

While I agree that Planet Terror was gooey for gooeyness's sake, I sort of thought, a la Peter Jackson, that was the point.

And, to further counterpoint, I thought Planet Terror had a much more modern feel, whereas "Death Proof" seemed to better capture the chatty inanity of ultra low-budget movies as producers would pack in a lot of fluff to stretch their movies to feature length.

And I'm not sure I was GLAD that they didn't bring back the car-nage. I paid a lot of money to see that guy use his car for evil

Anonymous said...

I thought ramming his car against the Dodge while Zoe Bell rode the hood was pretty evil!

Rodriguez made a good "bad movie." Tarantino -- at least for me -- made a good movie.

The League said...

Oh, come on! There are so many creative ways to use a car for evil, and he didn't even succeed!

As I said, I had no real problem with the sequences with the cars and with Russel, but the endless, droning conversations really got me down. I didn't find his dialog interesting enough to carry the large stretches of non-action. It reminded me of what drove me nuts about Clerks. I think there's a difference between stylized dialog a la Raymond Chandler or even Elroy Leonard and whatever stagey, rambling speeches were made in this movie.

One of my tests of any movie, play or any event where I'[m expected to just sit is whether or not I check my watch. In Death Proof I checked my watch twice (but couldn't read it in the dark. I was going to try to time the coffee shop scene) and considered leaving for a restroom break a number of times, but didn't want to miss the car chase. Had I a remote control, I would have hit FFWD and jumped to the exciting portions.

Anonymous said...

Would you have checked your watch if the movie hadn't been preceded by 2 hours of other stuff? Plus "official" trailers (for some truly horrid movies, I may add. I can't remember any of them except "Live Free or Die Hard," whose title I love, but the movie, eh, I'm skeptical).

I'll give you that some of the conversations were too long. I think the opening conversation was way too long, but I enjoyed listening to the Zoe group.

By the way, one thing I did notice that made me laugh.... as Jungle Julia and her crew are driving down Congress, and talking, and talking, and talking.... they hit no red lights at all. Must be nice!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one thing that REALLY bothered me in Death Proof....

Did it bother you or anyone else that Zoe and her two buddies basically just left their cheerleader-clad friend behind to get raped?

The League said...

As you mention, it didn't help that within the greater framework of the "Grindhouse Experience" I'd just seen a hyper-kinetic action film, but that's also how the producers and directors decided to package the product, so I think its silly to blame myself if that played a factor.

I am severely ADD, so, yes... I am abso-smurfly positive I would have checked my watch. So there's definitely a predisposition for me not to want to sit through "chatty" movies. Tarantino took the spice which made his dialog enjoyable once upon a time and forgot that there's supposed to be meat and vegetables. And that those conversations were never the main course, anyway.

But here's the deal: I paid to see a movie called "Death Proof", which, it turns out, was probably supposed to describe Zoe Bell. And that's fine. But my patience is not Death Proof. I paid to see a movie about a psychopath in a big, scary car do the things I hope a psychopath in a big, scary car will do. Tarantino COULD have fulfilled on that promise, but instead he chose to go the route of slavish devotion to cheap films and take advantage of the tendency of those films to cast lots of good looking girls (production value!) to ogle. He didn't HAVE to use those chatty sessions as filler, he CHOSE to.

When one has Kurt Russell and a black muscle car with a skull on the hood and one wastes ten minutes of film allowing the characters to figure out, in real time, who will ride in the other car...? You're preying on my good will, sir.

And, yeah, I think the decision to leave their virginal pal in the cheerleader outfit (after suggesting she was a porn star) not only didn't seem terribly kosher, but it also didn't ring true for a group of women to just abandon a friend into such a precarious position.

Steven said...

It just hit me what that picture reminds me of.

Urinating dog.

But urinating bullets, not pee-pee.

The League said...

You ruined it.

Anonymous said...

Aww, is well-written dialog too hard for you? "Oh no, it sounds like how people actually converse! It's terrible! They talk for more than five seconds!" I'm not sure which part of extremely well written and captivating dialog turns you off. And the conversation in which Zoe reveals her plan to test drive the Challenger is seven minutes long, and it's all one shot. I've seen no other director that can do that. Seven minutes of entertaining, interesting, perfectly scripted and delivered dialog without a single cut?

On the other hand, since you liked the trailers the best, you probably have an extremely short attention span. Maybe you should just watch commercials.

Anonymous said...

I like how your fucking blog actually cuts out my internet if I don't choose anonymous when I leave a comment.

That last comment was mine, by the way.