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.