Thursday, April 12, 2007

"We're Gonna Do Some Stupid Shit": Finding the Light In the GRINDHOUSE

Red Band Spoiler Warning: This motion picture review contains scenes of intense spoilers, graphic cult movie references, and frank depictions of adult cinephilia.

Children who have not seen Grindhouse
should not read this motion picture review without a parent.

Coming Attractions: "Two Against the World"

The trailers for Grindhouse (2007) promise to be all things to all people ("2 1/2 hours of pure dynamite!"), and that should be your first clue: you're being duped by great hype men. A movie — or two movies — can't possibly be a send-up, an homage, a perfect recreation, and an authentic grindhouse picture at the same time. Besides, for one thing it's 2007 and there are no grindhouses. For another, Grindhouse costs $53 million dollars (or more) and the feature directors have won Oscars, and the stars aren't slumming overseas, or alcoholic wash-ups. So before we step into the theater, do look at some other reviews of Grindhouse; notice how critics respond based on what they know or do not know about exploitation cinema, more importantly what they think exploitation movies are like, what films they reference by name, what they think the frame of reference is for Grindhouse, and crucially whether they're looking for parody, homage, or recreation.

The Grindhouse trailer promises to be a goof and sincerely kick-ass because it's an exploitation movie trailer, and its job is to get your ass in a broken seat, your feet on the sticky floor, and your cash in the register. Second reason: It promises both silliness and sincerity because this because that's what exploitation movies deliver in practice. Grindhouse is a beautiful dream you have after eating a tamale you bought out of a guy's car trunk, sneaking a bottle of SoCo into the theater and falling asleep in the back row.

Don't sweat the title, Grindhouse. They could've called it Drive-In 1979. They could've called it 42nd Street Forever: The Movie. In my neighborhood, they could've called it Browsing at Jerry's Video. In your neighborhood, something else. In the Tarantino tradition of titles that lay their inspiration on the line, Grindhouse is infinitely closer to the source than Pulp Fiction or True Romance. Grindhouse is so inside you can feel the beating heart of its mother with every Scotch-tape film splice.

Maverick DIY visionary and problematic storyteller Robert Rodriguez writes, shoots, directs and cuts Planet Terror. Divisive, obnoxious pothead supergenius Quentin Tarantino writes, photographs, directs, acts in Death Proof. Wannabes Rob Zombie and Eli Roth and fine parodist Edgar Wright make pretend trailers. The filmmakers choose to recreate certain details which they sharply observe, memorialize and reinvent others, and amp up the volume on some experiences that the real grindhouse did not quite fulfill. Both features offer separate celebrations of exploitation magic, and finally trade in generic deconstruction and metafictional meditation, but go about their tasks very differently, and that's what I'm choosing to highlight in this piece. Tarantino and Rodriguez both have valid, fascinating a approaches, and if you care about trash cinema — if you care about movies — both films, vulgar and giddy by design, are also deeply moving.

Ultimately Grindhouse is not an in-joke, though it contains in-jokes (seriously, even a gross-out advert for the Acuña Boys local taco stand contains a split-second Rolling Thunder gag). Insider knowledge is not the only principle at play, so although it may provide an assist in appreciating the nuances and provide a referential compass, Grindhouse is not strictly a clubhouse affair. The film - and the films - attempts to point newbies in the right direction, and acts as a primer on the unironic pleasures of B movies. As a celebration of the least esoteric of films, nothing else would be appropriate.

I. Mexican Monster Movie: PLANET TERROR

The Sitch: Leaked biochemical weapon in the form of green mutation-gas turns the population of a small Texas town into shambling masses of bloody pustules. Can mysteriously combat-ready tow-truck driver El Wray (Freddy Rodríguez) and go-go dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) reconcile their romantic history and blow everything up? Even if her leg gets chopped off? Can a deputy played by Tom Savini possibly survive a cannibal-monster onslaught?

Boffo action-horror that lays on the gore with a fire hose, and the comedy with a bricklayer's blunt trowel, Robert Rodriguez has trod this ground before, in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). The gonzo aesthetic has carried through all his work. Do not mistake the tone for spoof, the leaden irony, verbal and visual puns in place of proper jokes, melting-genitalia shock humor and corny one-liners for campy put-on. This is simply the sense of humor to be found in the genuine article, just funnier, a tinge more self-conscious perhaps, but shared. When crooked scientist-baddie Abby (Naveen Andrews) falls face-down in a pile of severed testicles and for some inexplicable reason keeps his mouth open, just so the balls can go in his mouth, well, it's the kind of joke H.G. Lewis used to make in The Gore-Gore Girls (1972), then Sam Raimi used to make in The Evil Dead (1981), and now it's the kind of joke Robert Rodriguez makes. Sophisticated is not the same thing as funny. The real question is what is Rodriguez's template? What is the genuine article?

"Grindhouse movies" is almost certainly not the proper term for the major influences on Grindhouse. Historical grindhouses screened burlesque striptease films and borderline pornography before pornography was legal, and after that, the kind of nudies, ghoulie-cuties and raunchy softcore for which there is no modern analogue. There is a line of demarkation between Roger Corman, Paul Bartel and Al Adamson versus David F. Friedman, Joe Sarno and Andy Milligan; I don't propose a hierarchy of quality or talent, but intentionality, venue and audience. There would be absolutely no way or reason to spend $53 million on grindhouse product, unless you bought the theater, too. The nature of the grindhouse changed over time, and definitions are necessarily blurry and vernacular, and the film is born of a wide range of inspiration, so I do this hair-splitting to underline that Grindhouse aims for a feeling; the references are sometimes specific, but the genus of those references is not necessarily identical. There is a lot of Death Race 2000 (1975) and The Crazies (1973) in Planet Terror, and absolutely no whiff of, say Garden of the Dead (1974) or Mantis in Lace (1968), though they've got plot elements zombies and go-go dancers in common.

It's puzzling that so many critics are calling out Death Proof for failing to accurately duplicate an exploitation movie vibe. It is Death Proof which the more authentic plot, pacing, structure and ambiance. Nathan Lee at The Village Voice, for example, gets it backwards entirely. Planet Terror is a dream of a perfect beer and pizza night after hours at the '80s video store, with all the boring parts removed, leaving only hot flesh and gooey blood. Accepting that the hazy terrain of all exploitation film history is fair territory as a game-rule, Planet Terror is less "grindhouse" than a highlights reel of George Romero's zombie mayhem, John Carpenter's sort-of-ironic action movies from Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) to Big Trouble in Little China (1986) to John Carpenter's Vampires and more serious The Thing (1982), Lucio Fulci in New Gladiators (1984) mode, and a B-plot about lesbian anesthesiologist Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) trying to kill her abusive husband Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin, and yes, there's a kicky Kill Bill joke about it) that's pitched somewhere between Hospital of Terror (1978) and a multi-nested reference to From Beyond (1986). Whew!

It is more or less the approach Kerry Conran took in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), with forty years of pulp s.f. and serials: what if I take all this stuff I love, cram it in a movie, and portray it with special effects and more expensive actors? Planet Terror takes the raw story material and tone of these films and sculpts it into something slicker and more expensive, something they could never be while constrained by production realities of budget, time and (except in Romero's case) filmmaking proficiency. This is rather a feat in itself, since - don't believe the critical complaints or the backhanded compliments that the plot is idiot-simple - Rodriguez tells a fairly sprawling story involving a sizeable ensemble cast, and does it while hanging every scene on a thrill or gross-out setpiece. Many of the key elements of the era are difficult to capture, but Planet unashamedly reproduces unfunny "comic relief" characters, throbbing synthesizer scores, meticulously sets up almost every single throwaway line of dialogue to be repeated in new, reversed context later, and every character trait, backstory, conflict and quirk set up for triple-underlined "poetic justice" payoff that only a screenwriter could love. When Sheriff Hague orders freshly armed citizens not to shoot him, sure bet his own deputy is going to accidentally put a bullet in his boss' neck.

Romero's penchant for social commentary is given a gentle nudge in a convoluted explanation for the infections, involving the assassination of Osama Bin Ladin, the meta-joke implication being that the film would like to be a metaphor for the government’s cavalier treatment of US troops as disposable weaponry ("God bless you, and your valuable service to this country", Wray tells a totally monstered-out soldier [Bruce Willis] before shooting him in the mutated face). It is witty, and admittedly funny, but it is one of the few places Planet Terror condescends to its forefathers. Nor does Planet Terror celebrate those sequences of quiet, intense suspense in early John Carpenter. It entirely focuses on those moments designed for fanzine critics to mark with an exclamation point enclosed by parenthesis: Eyeglasses vs. bone saw (!) Weeping go-go dancer (!) Babysitters in a hot rod (!) MACHINE GUN LEG (!), maybe even (!!) Rodriguez also seems to know that too often Planet Terror's ancestors would provide these images but lack the resources or imagination to do anything with them; he comes up with more than enough for Cherry to do with her M4 pegleg, even combining it with her dancing skills in arguably the first feature's most transcendent moment, as Cherry writhes, bumps, grinds and arches her back while blasting fireballs out of her lower half.

Now you may argue, if you must, that much of the envelope-pushing that fringe cinema used to do has been co-opted by the mainstream. Planet Terror reminds us that it isn't quite so; there is forever a disreputable tinge to the interests of adolescents, bohemians, and Mexican wildmen. A crucial moment is a mother handing her preteen son a pistol, and telling him to blow off anyone's head who comes close, "just like in your videogames." Whether the scene in Planet Terror would make any parent cringe is not the point; it's an acknowledgement that rebel youth culture, and bad taste will always find a way to triumph.

80 minutes of movie with a wild hair up its ass that amounted to nothing but prolonged squib explosions, Rodriguez as a one-man back-issue index to Fangoria, would be perfectly fun. But two elements in particular make Planet Terror a more thoughtful exegesis on genre films. The first is the love story of Wray and Cherry. More formalist critics see genre characters as pawns put through their paces by story machinations, chess moves that may be beautiful in complexity on their own, but lacking the growth and development of real dramatic arc. But as Umberto Eco wrote of Casablanca, "When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion. Just as the height of pain may encounter sensual pleasure, and the height of perversion border on mystical energy..." Well, at the height of mystical energy, we believe Wray and Cherry's love story. Partly because it is a Bullshit Movie Cliché First Rank, spanning all genre and hierarchy of classiness, that disaster scenarios are a great place for lovers to reunite, from Casablanca to Twister to infinity.

We also Believe, because the human situation is not b.s. You're going to have to run into an ex after a bad breakup. You're going to have to deal with it. It's going to hurt when you see her wearing your jacket. It's going to hurt when he criticizes your plan to be a stand-up comedian. Though the love story is all in clever pseudo-arch dialogue (that is: it's smart and funny, masked as dumb) in a horror scenario at hysterical pitch, in the end it is about the individual strength and personal validation that a good partner provides, and the confusion and loss of agency in a codependent relationship. Cherry's insecurity and sense of purposelessness, as she drifts from weird job to weird job, and self-criticizes her every skill as a "useless talent" has only been bolstered by the feeling that Wray never believed in her. Wray, too, has been stripped by Sheriff Haugue (Michael Biehn) of his greatest talents - namely kicking ass - in a vague backstory. But when the splat hits the fan, by the time Wray straps an automatic weapon to his girl's stump, neither is hesitating to put their lives in each others' hands - or legs, or whatever. "Stand and become who you were meant to be," he tells her, and one gets the sense it is Rodriguez' statement of purpose: "I was meant to do this, these are the kinds of movies I was born to make." Planet Terror is about finding your place in the universe, and the bone-deep satisfaction when you are there, ready to kick ass. For Robert Rodriguez, maybe for you too, that place is in the mad fray of movie thrills and spills.

The other element of Planet Terror that aids in the transcendence of John Carpenter pastiche - though Grindhouse is in the end about how these films don't need to be transcended - is the stylistic choice to make the image resemble a less-than-pristine, careworn, abused, faded, scratched, speckled, shot-to-holy-hell film print. When I'd heard about this choice before seeing the film, my heart fell a little, because it sounds like a gimmick, it sounds like a joke. The meta-movie experience of Grindhouse makes few pretenses to being a vintage double-feature, the films are both clearly set in the 21st century, we're seeing them first-run; so how could the prints be so damaged? Modern audiences do not have to deal with missing reels, so why... would...? Rodriguez and Tarantino could just make a snotty joke, or wallow in that peculiar collector mentality that the grungier, more banged-up and filthy a rare artifact is, it accumulates a patina of mystique and cool.

[ For example of this mindset, if you don't frequent swap meets, toy and paper fairs or trade vinyl, Pantheon's Peanuts collection, in which yellowed newspaper clippings, taped into a collector's album are photographed with fetishistic care, desperate to prove their rarity and authenticity; compare to Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts series, restored, austure, authoritative).]

Planet Terror instead finds print damage not just a nostalgic memory of the moviegoing experience, but an integral part of the text. Adding possibility and layers of new meaning that a fresh, unblemished image cannot convey, Rodriguez uses the faux print damage of his film for pyrotechnic poetry. The idea is cousin to Bill Morrison's avant garde epic Decasia (2002), which turned deteriorating silent found footage into a symphony of loss and fear, but Rodriguez' print isn't actually dying before our eyes, so it has a metaphoric electricity Morrison's film does not. We may catch onto this frankly brilliant tactic during the first make-believe trailer, a Mannaja-meets-Johnny Firecloud revenger called Machete, as the print bounces and jitters with glee during all the exciting blade-through-skull-motorcycle-leaping-through-explosion parts. Again, it sounds trite in print, but it adds genuine kinetic energy to the action. In Planet Terror, during monster melees, the print will break into more spots and scratches than a dalmatian dogfight. It bends and warps during the worst weirdness. It looses a reel as a complex gag about missing reels, genre storytelling and audience patience. And when Wray and Cherry make love, in Grindhouse's sexiest, most emotional scene between two people, the celluloid bubbles and melts before the blazing bulb, burns up and snaps before our eyes.

That gag, by the by, is 100% Persona (1966), but Bergman's film splits with sharp pain, unable to bear the agony of existence. Robert Rodriguez's film combusts from the joy of erotic screen spectacle. There's so much love on screen the film cannot stand it.

And that is the first time I shed a tear during Grindhouse. It is not the last.

-Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS is a joke that doesn't extend much past the title, and wastes Sybil Danning and Udo Kier by giving them nothing to do. It is funny and silly, but is not cut or shot like a real Nazisploitation trailer. Zombie doesn't have much frame of reference beyond Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), which is kind of an exercise in intentional camp to start with. From Love Camp 7 (1969) to SS Experiment Love Camp (1976), not many films of this genre look anything like Zombie's fakaloo, but they are uniformly more perverse, depraved, and though they may not contain werewolves, are just-plain crazier. Zombie's worse misstep is that his pretend movie is far, far tamer than the queasy nastiness of the real deal.

-Eli Roth's Thanksgiving, while tackling the easy target of holiday-themed slasher movies, is brimming with a jocular sick-joke humor that outdoes most of its full-length bretheren. But Roth's masterstroke is that he captures Blood Freak-level cinematography and cheapo trailer editing style to a T, especially when he frames shots wrong, and re-uses footage. Grindhouse's easiest joke is one of its best-executed.

-Edgar Wright's Don't trailer is as observant as Roth's short, but uses its sharp observation to satirize the ballyhoo of Americanized Euro horror movies. A sub-Amicus/Don't Look In the Basement Brit weird-house thriller, the Don't cinematography is unmistakeably European, but cuts to inexplicable shock images with such frenzy that there's no way to guess at the plot. Which is, of course, the best way to sell any kind of foreign film in America.

II. "Hey Ladies, THAT was FUN!": DEATH PROOF

The Sitch: Four girls and one girl they don't like hang out in Austin bars. Stuntman Mike shows up, and he is Kurt Russell but with a scar-face and a scary 1971 Chevy Nova SS with Steve McQueen's license plate number from Bullit. Stuntman Mike eats some nachos, then car-murders the girls because he is crazy. Ranger McGraw (Michael Parks) from Kill Bill investigates it! Then four more girls hang out in a bar, then they test-drive a car, and one of them climbs onto the hood, and Mike tries to chase them. But the girls are Hollywood stuntwomen, and they chase Mike and beat him up. THE END!

In the passenger seat, the girl who has never even heard of Vanishing Point (1971), Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) watches as her buddy Zoë Bell (playing... Zoë Bell!) straps herself on the hood, as Kim (Tracey Thoms) stomps the gas peddle through the floormat of the borrowed spotless white 1970 Challenger. They're playing Ship's Mast on the open highway, for no good reason but that it is as cheap and primal a thrill as stuntwoman Zoë knows. CU on ABERNATHY, her face cruched with disbelief and terror. Hold. Hold, as she stares at Zoë on the hood, no CGI, just two leather belts, this is really happening. And hold on Abernathy as her rictus of fear becomes a beaming, joyous grin (it had to be Dawson, because seriously, who else has teeth that enormous and gleaming, a smile that wide?). And hold on Abernathy as she understands that the stupid, reckless, crazy, dangerous cheap thrill has become a moment of grace.

There are a dozen metaphors, visual, verbal, musical, throughout the double feature that aptly summarize Grindhouse's l'amour fou. Pick your favorite, but for me, the moment that left me with tears streaming down my face for the rest of Death Proof, was the single close up of Rosario Dawson moving from dumbfounded shock to fright to glee to something beyond.

There is the matter, troubling to many viewers, which should be addressed: the vast majority of Death Proof's running time is devoted to girl gab sessions. At a midnight screening I attended there were a half-dozen walkouts, and one dialogue-drowning cry of "BOOO! Kill some people!" Even pro critics have griped that the non-racing scenes are distinctly un-exploitation-movie. And that, ladies and Cleopatra Jones fans, is the sound of a gauntlet being thrown motherfuckin' down.

Were I less charitable, I could point out that too many critics are citing Vanishing Point, and only because it is title-dropped frequently and emphatically in Death Proof. There are some visual quotes besides just the notorious Dodge Challenger itself, (as seen at right) and they are both cool car-chase movies. But Vanishing Point barely qualifies as an exploitation film, it's not a grindhouse film by any stretch, but a sleeper hit studio movie, and is certainly not in the mode of Death Proof - a road movie, rather than a maniac killer picture - so I recommend you keep your bullshit detectors tuned to station KOW.

Rather than adopt a shove-it-if-you-don't-enjoy-it posture - which is tempting, because personally I'm happy to hear Tarantino characters yammering on about sex, drugs and Brit pop - the endless girl's night out of Death Proof serves at least four functions, all with beautiful, sleazy ancestors:

It is a pretty accurate recreation of how low budget films are padded with money-saving, seemingly endless dialogue scenes. It signals a genre shift to girl hangout movie in the vein of The Cheerleaders (1973), Tarantino's beloved Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976) - even the attention deficit disorder affected Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (given a T-shirt shoutout) is half given over to melodrama and chitchat. It provides a plot misdirect, that we're following one band of four women, when they are abruptly slaughtered, a.k.a. The Psycho Mislead. Finally, I refer you to the stunning Avere vent'anni (1978), in which we spend an entire film getting to watch young women going about the business of young women in a sexploitation picture, only to find our feet in the air and the rug somewhere else. The chatter of Death Proof is exactly what exploitation movies do in between money shots, like it or not. Tarantino chooses to load these moments with backstory for both sets of four friends, establish intricate relationships with characters on screen and off, and set up personality traits to pay off later. This may or may not stop anyone from walking out. More than Planet Terror, Death Proof asks that you play by exploitation movie rules, or don't play at all.

For this is a film in which industry old timer Stuntman Mike laughs at young Pam (Rose McGowan), who thinks car chases should maybe involve some CGI. Pam eventually finds herself in Stuntman Mike's passenger-side crashbox, bloodied and weeping and he swerves and brakes to make dashboard paste of her skull, and she pleads: "I get it now. It's a joke. And it's really funny..." but please stop. Because these movie thrills, if you came to giggle at a send-up of So Bad It's Good, sorry for the left turn, but them's the brakes... It was never a joke, it is about reconnecting in a meaningful way with the power of these films at face value. That is the value on the face of Abernathy in Death Proof's climax: now she understands. She didn't know from Vanishing Point before, but now she's lived it. If you didn't know what rambunctious pleasures these films can hold, don't sweat it; The Grindhouse is open all night, and can educate you real fast, real cheap.

Tarantino, who invariably casts himself as a doof (or, once, Pam Grier's answering machine) plays Warren, the fictional owner of a real Austin bar, the character far and away most excited to hang out with Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) and her friends. Part of Death Proof's structure is that we don't engage with the mean and domineering Julia and her catty girlfriends, Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), and Shanna (Jordan Ladd), and drug supplier Lanna Frank (Monica Staggs), but Warren is overjoyed to see them and insists on shots of Chartreuse, all around. The bar's jukebox is Quentin Tarantino's real jukebox. A jukebox with "Miserlou" on the playlist, no less. And as much as he likes photographing women's feet, or tough guys' weathered faces, or vintage cars, the sweetest moment of naked wish-fulfillment in Death Proof is when the girls agree: Quentin Tarantino's jukebox is really cool. The converse, the sharpest self-criticism, comes in Planet Terror, where Tarantino plays a villainous soldier, who holds Cherry at gunpoint and declares "I want entertainment and that means you, baby!"; QT is so movie-mad he compares you to Ava Gardner before he tries to rape you... But the scene with Warren is critical, for it plainly tells us, as if we didn't know, that the director does not want these girls to die. But they die. Girls die in these movies, a'right?

The gender-politixploitation of Grindhouse is another essay for another time, but when the film takes a turn from stalk-and-slash-with-a-car to women's vengeance picture, Tarantino makes the Grindhouse's closing statements on exploitation movies.

Reasons We Go to Movies #1 - To Look at Pretty Girls, is confirmed again. Case study: Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a cheerleader uniform.

Winstead's character, Lee, is in a cheerleader uniform because she and her buddies Kim, Zoë and Abernathy are in Tennessee to make "a cheerleader movie". Now folks, if you haven't gotten out of the house recently, be aware: they don't make cheerleader movies anymore. After the film's funniest character comedy scene, in which Abernathy bargains with the Challenger's backwoods owner for an unsupervised test drive ("I'm gonna insinuate that Lee's gonna blow him" is the plan, which is totally how the girls in Hollywood High (1976) get their car fixed), Death Proof becomes something else, once again. From here, to the grand finale, Grindhouse, too, becomes simultaneously most visceral and most spiritual.

Stuntman Mike charmed us before, probably charmed us more than Jungle Julia and crew, only to prove to be a wolf with a Convoy hood ornament. Now he's after the women we like, yes, but it becomes a battle between genre archetypes on the open road... and on top of that, the girls are apparently exploitation filmmakers themselves. They roar and tear at each other, and the Misogynist Slasher seems to be winning, reducing the Cheerleader gang to hysterics and panic. Stuntman Mike, driven off the road, jumps from his car filled with the adrenaline of any good jump-scare or car-crash scene, and grins at the Cheerleaders, calling: "Ladies THAT was FUN!" And... and maybe it was fun. Car chases and cubist-edited DePalmaesque murder scenes, watching Kurt Russell being charismatic and scary, it's all fun.

It's fun, but a formalist criticism often overlooks how deeply we engage with fiction, and any reading of Grindhouse soley as meta-movie does not understand the genuine investment in these characters. It's important to unpack both the genre-hopping entanglements, and how we enjoy movies on their most basic level simultaneously; for Stuntman Mike wails and screams, when Kim turns the Challenger around, "I was only playing around!" It was supposed to be fun and postmodern, this Texas Chain Saw-cum-Christine, but Stuntman Mike has tangled with the wrong genre archetype, it wasn't fun for them. Y'know, on my K-Billy greatest-hits list, girl hangout movies might be cooler than slasher movies too. They're certainly a less screwed-up good time. And the Cheerleaders shall have their Revenge.

"At some point in your life, you find a use for every useless talent you have." The Village Voice chose to read this line from Planet Terror as a celebration of happy stupidity. It is not. It is an affirmation that deep devotion to the things you love, even when culturally shunned, forgotten and belittled, will serve you well.

The Cheerleaders chase down the ghosts of Mad Slashers past, Kim shouting "I'm the horniest motherfucker on the road!", ironically throwing his own sexualized violence back in his scarred face. The car plows through an abandoned rowboat, and Abernathy exclaims in breathless wonder, the neatest summation of "(!)" in all of Grindhouse: "Did you just hit a boat?!" Because that's why we go to the drive-in: to see a crab monster eat a brain and gain the voice of the man it ate, and through that learn something about death and identity. That's why we go to the back back row of the video store: to see if the mafia can win against the ninjas, even when the ninjas can turn into shrubs, and ponder their relative morality in the process. That's why we came to Grindhouse: to see a car hit a boat, and learn about being alive.

It all ends with a chase and a fight, the reason movies were invented: to show us people in motion. Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma'am... or is violence and revenge, even if it means role-reversal turnabout, still unacceptable behavior? Do we hold movie-people to the codes and standards we apply ourselves? But wait, are they real girls or Cheerleader flick metaphor-girls? Well, do you want to be preached to, or given difficult problems to sort out? So if it makes you feel weird and uncomfortable once more when the exhilarating final car race and fistfight ends abruptly with Abarnathy killing a clearly defeated man by kicking him in the face? Welcome to the grindhouse.

THE END! Now go to the bathroom, because I'm sure you've gotta take the biggest piss in the world.

Oh, okay, okay: the owners of the taco stand advertised during intermission were named after Rolling Thunder villains.

Hell of a jukebox, boys.


Justin said...

Great review, especially the Eco thing; I was wondering why I was kinda sorta experiencing emotions during a Robert Rodriguez movie, and that's as good an explanation as any.

Jordan said...

Great review, though honestly I did NOT find the girls in the 2nd part of Death Proof likeable. I was really irritated by them...not endeared at all. Me and all my friends agreed that we were really disappointed by Death Proof because of how much we disliked those girls. Their dialogue, acting, etc...I just couldn't warm up to them. Oh well.

I did like the first group of girls though.


Chris Stangl said...

You know, Jordan, I wrote that as if everyone likes the funny movie star girls -- for me it was even "integral to the structure"? But reading a dozen other reviews, opinion is divided pretty cleanly, and every critic seems to think it matters more than it probably does. After seeing it again, I like all the characters, I probably just want to make out with the Hollywood girls more.

Some other writers have suggested it isn't so much that the Austin girls are more real or likeable or meaner, but that they're markedly different than the cheerleader movie girls. Carrying that further, maybe the dumb moves the Julia and friends make lead them to one kind of trouble, and the dumb moves Zoe and her crew make lead them to another kind of trouble.

Marty McKee said...

Damn, I totally missed that ROLLING THUNDER gag. Now you're forcing me to see GRINDHOUSE again, Chris!

Jordan said...

It's funny, there's a scene in the commercial and the trailer that wasn't in the film, of the Hollywood girls dancing (it looks it's in that coffee shop or some cafeteria?) and I always thought that looked really cute and fun. Maybe if it was in the movie I'd like them more!


Anonymous said...

I'm with you Chris; I would much rather make out with the Hollywood girls. Zoe or Abernathy in particular. CUTE.

Habitual Q. Rake said...

Hated this movie in the theaters, for a number of reasons:

1. I hate the idea that audiences won't pay to see a genuine pulpy low-budget action/horror/whatever flick, but when popular directors make a pastiche suddenly critics can't stop falling over themselves fawning over Evil Dead Trap or whatever. It's been repackaged, and now it's okay and not terrible or artistically bankrupt! Different standards for different artists!
2. The zombie effects are so gross, and I think the penis-dripping-off-in-gobbets scene may have permanently scarred me.
3. The conversations of people I would never hang out with, interspersed with shots of their feet, are boring, as are 25-minute car chases.

However, thanks to your essay, I have forgiven the film, seen its pure intentions and the love at its heart, and I feel better about the world.

Anonymous said...

i don't think these long girl conversations in deathproof are boring -instead i'm sure we all need some god damn chill out (look how these characters smoke!) not the fast & fury blinky firing 60 frame per second scenes. jordan wrote he didn't like the girls... well they weren't meant to be liked you may hate them thats not the point, but look they all and everything surround have the hell of a character and cojones! so yeah THAT was fun!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big film scholar or any of that noise but I couldn't figure out why i liked grindhouse as much as i do, especially planet terror. i can't appreciate the movie as much as if i knew all the references, but i feel rodriguez did a damn good job telling that planet terror story. full of foreshadowing in a good way, i counted over fifteen different instances.

i dont even know where i was going with this or how i found this webpage

just to prove that a characters performance is completely subjective- jordan said he/she did not like that second group. i loved the second group, i almost cried tears of joy when the first group of girls were killed. i hated those first characters with all of my physical being