Published at: April 8, 2007, 1:22 a.m. CST by headgeek
Before I begin my review, I’d like to apologize for the lateness of this review… I’ve been moving, and for the past 9 days I’ve been netless… with the exception of a bouncy wifi signal that I literally have to bounce off a metal door at my carport – at a 65 degree angle to get two bars of wifi glory.
That said – here’s Harry’s review of GRINDHOUSE.
Unlike, nearly every review you have read on AICN – this is coming from someone who was actually actively going to real Grindhouses in their heyday of the Seventies… along with their Drive-In companions. My parents had no restriction on the films they took me to, but before you think it was all sex and violence – that wasn’t what the GRINDHOUSE was about.
These theaters showed everything. Not just grade z cinema that so many like to turn up their noses at, but the weirdest double-bills ever… Like SCHLOCK, THE BANANA MONSTER and STAR WARS. You’d see a film like LIGHTNING SWORDS OF DEATH followed up with the French animation flick FANTASTIC PLANET. There was a strange mind-bending method to the madness of a GRINDHOUSE.
They weren’t all sleazebag dives, sometimes they had crazed genius projectionists and theater managers drunk in love with the 4 corners of the film frame and the unrestrained possibilities that could be contained therein. You’d see ENTER THE DRAGON double featured with DEEP THRUST – which isn’t what it sounds like. You’d discover the earliest days of Scorsese, Copolla, Lucas, DePalma – alongside crazed fevered hallucinatory films by Jodorowsky, Demme and the Shaw Brothers. You could see the films of Bob Clark and John Flynn (both of whom have died this week…) And yes, you could see some shit… but there could be some fricking amazing stuff in there. It definitely wasn’t the “usual shit”!
Right off the bat – I’m willing to go out on a limb and say about 90% of Critics that have been writing about GRINDHOUSE have never really given a thought about the movies that played in those theaters back then. My parents were addicts of those places though. They made friends with the projectionists and managers, they had a collectibles shop that sold the movie posters and held weekly parties at our old Victorian house where before each night’s line-up of usually CLASSIC CINEMA (think Flynn, Garbo, Dietrich, Heston, Gable, Cagney, Bogart, etc) they’d unreel an hour and a half of exploitation trailers and it was the strange juxtaposition of those trailers and those classic movies… and just the regular ingestion of the films of the seventies and eighties that made me the movie freak I am.
That doesn’t make me superior – it just makes me a lucky fucking kid.
I was a kid growing up around a series of adults that were drunk in love with every type of film and could love equally CASABLANCA and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE… SINGING IN THE RAIN and JACKSON COUNTY JAIL… TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE and SEVEN BLOWS OF THE DRAGON. Because while they were all Film School grads – this was the fucking Seventies and the rules were being thrown out the back window and the possibilities were expanding faster than anyone could keep track of.
And you approached each new film with the hope and prayer that it was something you’d ever seen before.
These weren’t films where reality necessarily reigned. The laws of physics need not apply. Getting your arm torn off was an opening act – for a character that’d end up ruling the film. However, at the same time – these films would sometimes try to trick you into thinking you were watching a conventional film – that would perhaps lull you into a false sense of security before knocking your dick in the dirt. To read more about the era and the cinematic possibilities of the GRINDHOUSE era – Read these two fantastic articles by the editor of the Austin Chronicle – and long ago film geek that hung out at my childhood home in the seventies – Louis Black. The Heroic And The Holy and The Cinema Of Possibilities!
And now – lets discuss the film that hit theaters this weekend.
If I have a single complaint about GRINDHOUSE – it is that Robert and Quentin cut their films short to make a tight 3 hour package. Had these films been 40 minutes longer each – had 5 times the trailers and had added HOT FUZZ as a third film – it’d be closer to perfect. However, what we did get was two wildly different films, perfectly in keeping with the GRINDHOUSE theme.
Robert’s PLANET TERROR was exactly what I expected. It isn’t like any Grindhouse film I’ve seen. It uses stars and talent like a stacked deck at a poker table with complimentary blowjobs for everyone sitting at that table. It isn’t a film with political overtones – well, not any serious political overtones, but then that wouldn’t be Robert. The women of his section are fevered wet-dream fantasies of women – and not at all like the regular gals taken to the brink that I grew up with in the Grindhouses. And his zombies or “sickos” as he calls them. Well… they’re something else entirely.
Robert’s film is an exciting cinematic extension of what he started with SIN CITY. It’s actually something he’s been doing since DESPERADO, when Antonio was taking backward dives off the backs of buildings. Robert’s characters do not live in the physical reality that you and I live. His films exist in some alternate dimension in the far future that began with SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN and HANZO THE RAZOR before accelerating past the MARVEL AGE.
It’s a breathless fun cartoony world where firing a grenade launcher at the ground would result in sending a GoGo dancing wannabe standup comedian in a stratospheric death rain of explosions and lead. Where helicopters can be used to decapitate a regiment of zombies whilst piloted by an amateur pilot/strip club owner.
None of it makes a lick of sense. Why does Marley Shelton’s character… a wife / wannabe lesbian / hypo-wielding anesthesiologist have a hypo-flinging gun? I don’t fucking care, it looks sweet as hell!
PLANET TERROR may be light on the deep plot points – but the characters certainly all have a great deal on their minds. Each one having at least 4 or 5 things all going on at once. And you’ve really got a sit up and pay attention to not get lost – because there’s a point in the film where Robert is going to intentionally lose you, and that’ll leave some of you sitting in theater crying BULLSHIT, but all this is, is a CHUCK JONES-esque… Buster Keaton- SHERLOCK JR kicking at the frames of convention to tell a story without being like the other 13 movies at the 14 plex that you’re watching this at. It is actually the most daring and exciting work of film that I’ve ever seen Robert make. My biggest complaint? RIP THE FUCKING CLOTHES OFF THESE WOMEN DAMMIT! Ok – I’m a sleaze, but that’s my own bit of self-awareness.
Next – THE TRAILERS…
Robert’s trailer for MACHETE is a joy. It’s actually very authentically GRINDHOUSE-y. Much more so than his feature. Also – it’s something I wish was more prevalent in his feature – it’s an AUSTIN film that feels like it takes place in AUSTIN. Watching Danny Trejo on Congress Ave throwing machetes into a stretch limo with the State Capitol building behind him is perhaps one of my favorite images of all time. Great trailer.
Rob Zombie’s WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S. – I wanted to fucking love this trailer, but there was something stylistically lacking about the trailer that made it feel like a segment of AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON to me. Now – I like AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON – but when held next to the three other trailers and the two features – it just came up lacking. I think it was naming off all the cameos in the trailer – as if we needed them to be named. And the texture of the film seemed wrong. That said – I really do love Rob’s HALLOWEEN trailer – and think that Quint’s being a bit of a turd on that.
Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING trailer is wonderful. It could be Eli Roth’s great Bob Clark-esque film. (think Death Dream, not A CHRISTMAS STORY) I saw this during SXSW and had I not seen it prior to the screening of the whole film – it might have wound up as my favorite. But…
Edgar Wright had to make “DON’T” – the greatest trailer of all time. About 6 months ago in an AOL IM session late one night for me, early one morning for Edgar – he tried to explain what he was going to do– but there is no level of IM typing that can explain the simple genius of this trailer. It’s the momentum that the trailer reaches… it’s a fever paced giggly bit of insanity. It makes you want to ask people innocuous questions and scream DON’T at them. It’s a wonderful trailer that leaves you stunned thinking WHAT THE HELL SORT OF MOVIE IS THAT? But then left me desperate to find out. Fantastic.
And finally – Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF
This is the film that’s going to lose a lot of people. I’ve already received angry letters for me to forward to Quentin demanding that he get his shit together, because he’s apparently lost it.
Bitchers? He ain’t lost nothing. He’s making a movie that if you happen to be lucky enough or wise enough to revisit at a different point in your life – you’ll fucking love.
DEATH PROOF is a film that I love so much that it’s hard to put it all down. But I’m going to give it my best shot.
First of all – I had zero contact with Tarantino on this film. He was shooting it in my town – around my favorite locations – but though I had the script before he started shooting, I refused to read it. Though Quentin wanted to talk to me about it on several occasions, I told him that I wanted to be pure on this one. Since PULP FICTION – I have not only read the scripts for each of Quentin’s films – but had in-depth conversations about what it was he was attempting to do with the material – before he’d even begun to shoot the films.
I decided this time, to go cold turkey. For the first time in 10 years – I wanted to have a completely unspoiled time with it.
Quentin mentions 3 films twice during DEATH PROOF that if you really want to see what Quentin is doing – I’d recommend you give them a whirl, as they’re all available on DVD, sorta. TWO LANE BLACKTOP, VANISHING POINT and DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY ( Louis, it’s Larry, not Harry). Quentin just made the fourth film to put next to those.
This is a thoroughly modern film for Quentin, and in someways the most naturalistic movie he’s made since RESERVOIR DOGS. It’s less about being cool or clever, it’s mostly about how victims never really knowing that they’re moments away from certain doom.
These girls aren’t talking about a legend they heard about a killer on the highways. They don’t get a lot of spine-tingly false scares or warnings. They’re going about their lives, living the night and day as they would normally have lived it, without a second thought that this could very well be their final moments on Earth.
Now the characters aren’t necessarily the sort of characters that geeks attracted by machine-gunned legged hotties that kill zombies – would like to spend time with… but that’s because these girls are pretty goddamn real.
I love Jungle Julia’s text messaging storyline. We’re just voyeurs watching, but what little we know, we know she has someone she loves, who is disappointing her, and that throughout this night she will flirt with him, get pissed at him and ultimately think he’s the greatest guy on the planet. If you’re not dating or in a relationship with someone – you’ll probably disconnect at this storyline – but for me… as I get text messages from my fiancé every few minutes or so as she’s at a reception at a wedding in South Carolina – and we’re both missing each other terribly. It resonates. And… God forbid, something were to happen to her out there, or on the plane trip back. I’ve no idea how these text messages we’ve been firing off to one another would feel. And I still don’t get why she doesn’t just call. But then, that’s cuz I’m a girl.
I love that Quentin didn’t make these girls the typical slasher film girls. He wasn’t doing that. His film is more of a hodge podge mixture of DAZED & CONFUSED, DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY and EYES OF A STRANGER.
That’s the first half of DEATH PROOF.
The second half… Holy sweet Jesus shitting Easter eggs… It’s something else. If the first half is about a group of just regular girls going out to celebrate a long lost friend coming back to town… and as they get drunk they get more and more solemn about their lives – and such…
The second half cast of characters are… well, they’re the sort of women that populated GRINDHOUSE films I love. Tracie Thoms and Zoe Bell come off as modern day version of Pam Grier and Margaret Markov – but more clearly drawn as characters. Zoe Bell is just such a wonderful creation. She’s a real life Wonder Woman – everything you see her do in the film is actually her doing it. When I first wrote about her on the set of KILL BILL all those years ago. The day I saw her, for real, slice 9 baseballs in half – that were thrown at her face by Sonny Chiba – with a fucking real samurai sword… I was hooked. Zoe is that tomboy girl that could do all the boy shit, better than you, but could still be 100% girl.
If there should be a poster child for GIRL POWER, it should be Zoe Bell. She’s not the female Jackie Chan – she’s just Zoe Bell. They broke the mold when they made her. It is incredibly evident with every frame featuring her – just how much Tarantino loved her…
This is all before she hooks the first belt to the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 440 cubic-inch V-8. Once that happens. My god.
Before I saw DEATH PROOF – I knew only two things about the film. That Kurt Russell played a Serial Killer that used his car as his instrument of death… and that towards the end of Quentin’s film – it turned into a female revenge movie.
That’s all that I had allowed myself to hear.
It’s just fucking amazing.
OH – I haven’t been talking about Kurt Russell at all – but that’s because this film isn’t really a STUNTMAN MIKE film. It is – but it isn’t. Sure, the film chronicles two of the stalkings that he commits over his time as a psychopath… but Quentin really does render Kurt’s STUNTMAN MIKE impotent. Not just at the twist, but throughout the film. He’s a character that feels out-moded. The scene where he’s explaining to a group of girls at the Texas Chili Parlor about his history as a Stuntman – and he’s naming shows that sail over the heads of these girls and most of the audience – and you can see it pains Kurt Russell. Kurt’s character of STUNTMAN MIKE reminds me a bit of John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor character from WOLF CREEK – only… it’s a completely different character in the hands of Kurt Russell. I love John Jarratt, but Russell – when he swaggers into his John Wayne… it’s killer. You see that he doesn’t come across as the loony, that Mick Taylor’s Aussie redneck does. It’s actually scarier – because Russell comes across as just an older guy trying to score with ladies 1/3rd of his age… but whom you assume was quite the ladies man in his day.
OR maybe not. Maybe STUNTMAN MIKE lost his dick in some sort of terrible accident – I don’t know. But when he is revealed to be a dickless pansy ass wimp… it’s one of the greatest twists I’ve ever seen.
I really don’t see the point in spoiling the entire film – telling you who lives and who dies… or who I was absolutely convinced was a dead character.
But after GRINDHOUSE’s premiere here in Austin – Quentin and I had a very public conversation for quite some time with a lot of eavesdroppers… and when I commented that a character I was absolutely convinced was going to die, yet I was praying to God wouldn’t, but that I knew the other two couldn’t die – to fulfill what I believed could happen… and for it not to be a cop out. Quentin responded that it was something he had learned from Stephen King’s SILVER BULLET movie. A film, that he doesn’t exactly seems to think many people love. Well I certainly fucking love SILVER BULLET. But Quentin said:
“At the end of Silver Bullet, you’ve got 3 characters alive in the house being stalked by the werewolf outside of the house. You’ve got the little girl, now – you know she’s not going to die, because she’s narrating the story, and not ONLY is she narrating the story, but the adult version of her child character is narrating the story, so you know it isn’t some beyond the grave narration. And the kid in the wheelchair? C’mon, they’re not gonna kill the fucking kid in the wheelchair, who are we kidding. But Gary Busey’s Uncle Red. Here’s a character that for the last 40 minutes of the film, they’ve been making me fall in love with. And this isn’t crazy fucking Gary Busey, but that magic Buddy Holly Gary Busey. And I’m loving him – and I hate it, because I know they’re going to fucking kill Gary Busey and I don’t want that character to die, but he’s the character with the short straw. He has got to fucking die. And then… they let him live. And I loved it.”
Now all the above on DEATH PROOF is just the basic reasons I love it. Beyond all of that though… there’s another layer of love for this section of the film.
It is no fucking secret that I love Austin, Texas. I’ve thrown away relationships and more money than you could imagine, to live here. I love this city. And I love movies. And I have a particular love of AUSTIN FILMS.
At the after party, Quentin asked where I felt it stacked up as an Austin movie – and ya know… the question set me back, because I can’t fucking bullshit Quentin and he fucking knows I know my Austin films… hell I know Austin films that don’t seem to fucking exist any more like Bruce Maness’ THE TOMATO THAT ATE CLEVELAND that was shot in Austin in 1974, 4 years before THE ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES claimed ownership of killer nature of the tomato. And God, I’d love to see that film again! But I told Quentin that my all time favorite Austin film is TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – which doesn’t feature a single iconic Austin image… but the film is in the subconscious of every resident that grew up in Austin. That somewhere, just outside of town… could be cannibalistic bbq chainsaw wielding rednecks. I just love it.
After that – my second favorite is OUTLAW BLUES starring Peter Fonda and Susan Saint James – which shows off a lot of the Austin of my childhood. After that – things get hazy for me. There’s the Linklater films like DAZED AND CONFUSED, SLACKER, WAKING LIFE, A SCANNER DARKLY, SUBURBIA and the films like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, ROADIE, SANITY, SIN CITY, A SLIPPING-DOWN LIFE… hell – there’s around 500 or so movies that have Austin roots – or that show off the town in some form.
But there’s something that Quentin did that I really love. When Quentin and I talk, we tend to go into meta-film geek overdrive – where we hit a conversation that sometimes, to people listening in, could sound like a foreign language. When Quentin and I began singing the theme song to OUTLAW BLUES – people were staring at us as though we were complete lunatics – well, except my dad and Louis Black… but – what we’ve never really talked about – is what we each love about Austin.
Why does Quentin keep coming back? A long time ago – I would have guessed it was INNER SANCTUM and SOUND EXCHANGE – but both those places have gone the way of the dodo. A big part of it is the Alamo Drafthouse. That is evident – as that’s where we usually end up talking movies. But we’re not hang out buddies. And I make no illusion that he and I are close friends – we just love to talk movies when we’re talking movies. Not usually his movies – but about OTHER movies.
But in DEATHPROOF – Quentin does something to Austin. In the opening drive around Austin – you see a lot of different locales out the windows. And if you know Austin – you know that NONE OF THAT SHIT IS CONSECUTIVELY OUT THE WINDOW OF A CAR. But if you’re paying attention – he’s just given you the greatest set of places to hit if you ever happen to come to Austin. It’s great. Then – he focuses on two of his favorite places in town. They happen, coincidentally, to be two of my favorite places in town. Guero’s and the Texas Chili Parlor.
Now… When John Ford was making his great westerns – it was no secret that he loved the legend of Texas – and how TEXAS was short hand for “THE WEST”. Well, Ford shot just about everywhere, but Texas to show how great Texas was. Like MONUMENT VALLEY. That’s how John Ford saw Texas.
Well, this is some pretty geeky Austin loving shit, but Quentin put a back porch on the Texas Chili Parlor – and not only that… he gave the place a fucking parking lot. Now – I know that doesn’t mean shit to 99% of you, but to me… I’ve been going to the Texas Chili Parlor for my entire life. I love their Chili. I love the taste of Shiner Boch with their Chili. I like their music, their regulars and like the neon glow that the place has. I like the funkedelic décor and the fact that old drunkards, Texas congressmen, college students and artists frequent the place.
But Quentin didn’t just put a back porch on it – but he made a great scene that I wish I could live on that back porch. The idea of sipping Shiners on the back porch of the Texas Chili Parlor as it rains with the friends you love to hang with. That’s just a sweet thought. And one, that I can only ever live by watching Quentin’s DEATHPROOF.
Then at GUERO’S – he decorates it with the coolest Mexican movie posters ever. Now mind you. The food at Gueros is to die for. The Alambres are the shit! But no matter how many times I go there, I’ll never have a meal there with those posters – and in the back of my head – I’ll always think of Quentin’s version of Guero’s.
In both cases… it’s 80% real Austin coolness – but with this 20% Quentin, “Ya know what this place needs!” and given life.
I know for most of you, that doesn’t mean much, but to this kid from Austin – it’s pretty goddamn cool. Like when Travolta named the Rhubarb Pie at Threadgill’s the Best pie ever. It kinda is, but it’s very cool that Travolta said so. And Travolta is cool, cuz Quentin reminded us he was cool.
A movie called GRINDHOUSE should never be an across the board hit. I wish I lived in that world where people in every city on the planet loved films, Austin and cult exploitation… but that’s why only so many people can fit in the city limits of Austin. That’s the reason this movie had to be made here in Austin – and if you love this film as much as me… I’d recommend you move to Austin, cuz… google goggle, we accept you.