Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I also watched some movies and listened to some musics.

I finally saw Grindhouse, or Planet Terror and Deathproof. I, like most of the world, avoided the original release since the reviews suggested they weren't 'must-sees' and the frickin' thing was four hours long. There is no theater in the world I'd want to sit in for four hours. I need a real good excuse to sit in one for 90 minutes! For the dvd release, they've split the movies into two. A great tactic, except that these are dvds, a format that allows the viewer to break a movie up into as many parts as they want. Man, remember when the Weinsteins could pretend they were geniouses?

Of the two, Planet Terror would be considered the greatest B-movie ever (and most notorious speculative movie with its missing reel) if it had come out 25 years ago. But it didn't, and it knows that it didn't. All the cgi and Bruce Willis and Food Channel references and text messaging makes that clear. Also, it's not an exploitation movie in the same way Once Upon a Time in Mexico wasn't a spaghetti western. Still, the gags are great (I think the best and most subtle was the bone saw through the shower curtain that acted as a door for the surgery room — Roger Corman would be proud).

The movie's biggest weakness though was that it was unsure about it's theme. Rodriguez is something of an uncommitted storyteller, more concerned with great horror gags he can do incredibly cheeply than he is with message. It makes his movies a lot of fun, but never great. He seems to be missing that obsessiveness with metaphor that marks the truly great B-movie makers. The metaphor should almost get in the way of the movie, but Rodriguez replaces metaphor with green screen. Final Cut Pro just isn't as compelling as giant, redemption-seeking tits, and end to war mongering, escape from an opressive regime and/or religion, disease and body transformation, a disdain for the squares, etc. — and an overriding acceptance of transgressivenss that runs through almost all the best B-movies. Even Eli Roth gets this, and his movies kinda suck. Rodriguez knows this is part of what makes these movies work (he even says as much on the bonus dvd), and he almost gets it in, but he's just not that interested in it. If the movie replaced the opening confrontation between Bruce Willis and Naveen Andrews (that makes no sense when those characters return later) with an opening that somehow married animal hormone injection fears with Gulf War Syndrome fears with Military Industrial Complex fears with whatever the zombies were supposed to represent — THEN this might've been a better movie. All that stuff is almost there. It's hinted at, but it is never made explicit or even properly subtextual.

But Rose MacGowan gun-leg, needle gun, zombie shootups, extreme knifing and Josh Brolin as evil Nick Nolte are great fun. And that's what Rodriguez does best: fun. And, of course, his 'fake' trailer for Machete has that in spades.

The best part of Grindhouse is, without question, for fans of B-movies, Death Proof, starring the greatest 70s-80s B-movie actor of all time, Kurt Russel. That, in itself, is part of Grindhouse's failure as an experiment though. Kurt Russel was never an exploitation movie star and John Carpenter was never an exploitation filmmaker.

Even if Car Chase movies were shown at the same theaters as Women in Prison movies, there's a longer tradition for them that puts them squarely in the B-movie category, and there's the decided lack of exploitation in most of them. But Tarrantino DOES get the exploitation genre better than Rodriguez — the set up for the first half is perfect for one — Tarrantino just kills off the girls before they get to be exploited.

He clearly wants to make John Carpenter's Faster Pussy Cat, Kill Kill: A Roger Corman Production, but he also wants to subvert the subverters and glorify the period rather than do what the exploitation filmmakers did. He's not really looking at the culture and picking and choosing certain transgressions or stereotypes to focus on. It's more like he's picking and choosing certain elements from old movies he'd like to focus on (like all Tarantino movies!). That's why the big drug scene involves off-handed smoking of marijuana outside a bar (has anyone written about Tarantino's fear of drugs?). That's why the big dance number requires Charlie's Angels short shorts. That's why the big music reference is to a band your father would have to ask your uncle about. Tarantino isn't interested in today's transgressions, he's interested in the way yesterday's trangressions have almost become quaint.

But, it is a fantastic blend of old movies. No one has hit the Psycho twist quite as well as Tarantino does here (even if the casting is backwards). No one has seen the inherent villainy of Kurt Russel's characters before. No one has thrown that many god-damned car stunts into one movie before and made them that compelling (due, in large part to Tarrantino's always excellent writing for female roles).

Tarantino might be culture-indifferent to the time he lives in, but his taste in the old is impeccable. He knows precisely what songs to un-earth, what movie moments to reference and what actors to people his films with. No one can deny him that. He's just a huge fan of these things, seeing flashes of greatness even in garbage. And then he pieces them all together, like a brilliant dj, seemlessly.

I laughed more at Planet Terror and I enjoyed watching it, but I don't know that I'm terribly compelled to watch it again. I could watch Death Proof a few more times and probably enjoy it just as much as I did the first.


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