Monday, March 1, 2010

Grindhouse review

Written on April 8, 2007.

There were movies that I am interested in for 2007 but the one that meant the most to me was the debut of GRINDHOUSE- the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature collaboration. The more I read about the film, the more anxious I was to see it. Now, Quentin Tarantino means the absolute world to me. I love his films. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Writing was always the thing I loved doing the most- however, I never knew how I wanted to utilize it. Whether it would be in film, television, poetry, novels, etc. Then when I saw PULP FICTION in the theater, I had a revelation. Film was definitely the path I wanted to pursue. No matter how hard it was. I wanted to do it.

I never saw someone flip the script on generic movies and just really make something so captivating. Clever storytelling, great characters, excellent direction and dialogue. And it's dialogue that is witty yet if you really think about it, the shit that most normal people talk about. Ever since then, I've been a devout Tarantino follower. So devout that I would watch anything Quentin makes- even if he makes a 3 hour period piece to the wonders of menopause. I would still watch that. Quentin was just a regular guy who never went to film school- who was just a geek of cinema/tv like myself. I always saw a kindred spirit in him thus, I am a disciple of Tarantino. And not ashamed to say that.

Rodriguez I love as well (although admittedly, I'm not as avid a fan of his as I am Quentin)- I think El Mariachi is a masterpiece and SIN CITY remains the best film Rodriguez has done as of yet. But he's balls to wall action and delivers the high octane thrills that are missing in film. And he earns my respect because Rodriguez is one of the best action directors out there. And quite frankly, he understands the beauty of visuals and he is responsible for great imagery in his movies.

So, Tarantino and Rodriguez team up for the double feature, Grindhouse- their homage to exploitation flicks that were so out there and hardcore that they could only play in the grindhouse movie houses that were so popular in the 1970s particularly. The joy I felt when I saw this movie is hard to describe. I just didn't feel like I was watching a movie- I felt like it was an event. This movie basically had me feeling the nostalgia I would for a movie from the 1970s- a time when movies actually meant something and allowed certain freedom with storytelling.

I have seen the movie twice already- once was on Tuesday for a premiere screening that was mainly for press but there were fortunately free tickets being given away the previous weekend for the premiere. After the premiere, I walked home until past 1am in the morning- on foot. But it didn't matter. Because a Tarantino flick is worth my feet hurting me. I will only go out of my way for his films. Fuck pain- if I can have the joy of seeing a new Tarantino film- I'll go through pain.

The movie opens with the old school "coming attractions" tag that one would see in theaters way back when. The first faux trailer plays to the audience it is:


Oh could tell this was the work of Rodriguez (which it is) because of the shameless absurdity of the violence and for shining the spotlight on one of his favorites- Danny Trejo. This fake trailer was outstanding- it captured what the feel and attitude of these grindhouse flicks really are. Basically, "Machete" is a federale from Mexico who is hired to do assassination jobs for hardly any money- but to him is a great amount of cash. But he is set up, which drives Machete to revenge. He teams up with his priest brother (Cheech Marin who plays according to what the credits say- Father Benecio Del and seeks vengeance on those who tried to wrong him. You can't go wrong with anything with Danny Trejo. You can't go wrong with Cheech Marin shooting at everyone while a priest. And also you can't go wrong with the tagline of Machete:

"They just fucked with the wrong Mexican!"

Fucking priceless.

Now time for the feature presentation:

The first part of the double feature starts and it's Rodriguez's contribution. We start off with Rodriguez's rollicking GRINDHOUSE main title score and visuals of Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) dancing erotically at a gogo club. As the song ends, Cherry is crying- with tears streaming her face. Love that visual. Sort of reminded me on Man Ray's "Tears" photo. I've often complained in the past about Rose McGowan's lack of range but I've also attributed that to the lackluster roles she was given throughout the years. Rodriguez seems to UNDERSTAND her completely and gives her meaty material to actually work with. Anyway, Cherry decides to leave her gogo job and pursue other avenues with her life/career. She departs and sees briefly on the road- Abby (played by Naveen Andrews- who plays Sayid on LOST)- a scientist who is about profit more than he is about actual science. We see Abby finding out that three zombie like creatures have escaped and could possibly contaminate the town.

Well, Abby requests something from the guy who botched up and allowed the test subjects to escape. What that is? Well besides his life- he wants the guy's balls. Literally. Then, tables turn on Abby when Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) wants to know "Where is the shit?"

Abby dodges death by shooting at tanks releasing a gas into the air- which pleases Muldoon and his men (whose faces are near to explode from bubbling pustules). Abby escapes and we see Cherry Darling eating at JT's Grill ("Best in Texas" as JT often likes to remind us)- she meets up with her old boyfriend, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez in a stellar performance). The two discuss the ending of their relationship and Wray keeps lamenting that Cherry stole his jacket that he has been looking for nearly 2 weeks. He does oblige to give her a ride while we meet the unhappily married couple of Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin) and Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton). Dakota is planning on running away with her ex lesbian lover (played by Fergie). However, Dakota's plans go awry when the zombie infection plagues the hospital- and ultimately ends up with her ex lover, Tammy being a casualty of the zombies in the process.

Doc Block adds up two and two and confronts Dakota about it in a chilling scene- and breaks her down (with the assistance of some "friends" that Dakota discussed earlier) and confirms her betrayal. Before he can kill her, Doc Block is called to oversee the whole hell that has been flooding the hospital. El Wray and Cherry are attacked by the zombies- causing Cherry to lose her leg. We cut to Wray in the hospital and the arrival of Sheriff Hauge (Michael Biehn who was wonderfully cast- the guy was Hicks in ALIENS, fucking Reese in Terminator- was in the Abyss. The guy is SOLID for days)- who believes that Wray is a menace, arrests him. Also I had to love that Biehn is supported by Tom Savini and Carlos Gallardo (the original fucking El Mariachi!) as his deputies. Savini is given some good material and although Carlos was offed very quickly by the bloodthirsty zombies- the guy is always great.

By the way, lots of small references here in there in the movie. El Wray is given a pack of Red Apples cigarettes (referring to PULP FICTION and KILL BILL- that brand name is a QT staple) and also a major death in the next movie, DEATH PROOF is mentioned. "Jungle Julia: In Memorial" is said on the radio. So, Death Proof is chronologically ahead of PLANET TERROR if we are to take things into consideration.

But I almost forgot about the plot...I'm sorry, I was getting lost in the sheer joy of the flick. The movie kicks into overdrive with the zombies now increasing their numbers and attacking everyone. Doc Block has been infected but Dakota escapes being trapped in a closet and manages to contact her father- Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. Great choice to bring Earl back (he was in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, KILL BILL)- he's one of the greatest characters that Tarantino ever wrote for and for God's sake, Michael Parks OWNS that role. His delivery, and his lines are sheer genius. He's the quintessential movie cowboy. You have to love him. And the line: "Goddamn woman, you're farting like a pack mule" is classic. You just have to hear Michael deliver that line. And Earl is on his way- while Dakota grabs her son from (and this is what the credits labeled them as and I get a little giddy saying it): The Crazy Babysitting Twins. Can Rodriguez put them in every single one of his movies? I love these insane putas.

"We gonna kill you ya fucking bitch!!!" You have to see these real life twins being complete terrorizing bitches. I absolute adore them. Kudos Robert on casting them. So, during the midst of the action, El Wray manages to rescue Cherry and replaces her missing leg with a table leg which has to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen. And El Wray also manages to enter the hospital and kicks ass in one of the greatest bad-ass entrances ever. The dude does a gravity-defying Bruce Lee run up and off the wall before dispensing of the zombies in all its gory beauty.

Later on Cherry and El Wray realize they have feelings for each still and have sex. In the midst of the steamy love scene- we see that there is a MISSING REEL and that the rest of the sex scene is gone along with important plot points. We cut to JT's Grill- which is now on fire. I love shit like that in the film. Intentionally doing that and despite that, the transition seems like a natural one. However, The Sheriff learns El Wray's true history according to dialogue (and must have happened during the missing reel)- and orders his surviving deputy (who accidentally shot Hauge in between the missing reel) to give El Wray all the guns he needs. With El Wray's leadership- the town survivors manage to escape. Dakota is in tow (her son died by accidentally shooting himself. Too bad cause the kid's line, "I want to eat your brains and gain your knowledge" when he was playing with his toys was absolutely adorable) with them along with the Crazy Babysitting Twins, Cherry's former boss and others. Poor Tom Savini gets offed in a very grisly way that honors Savini perfectly.

Muldoon's men capture the survivors and throw them in with other "rebels" including Abby from earlier. He reveals to them that these men are depending on the gas like a drug of a sort- and Quentin guest stars in the outing by playing Louis "The Rapist"- a deviant who cannot wait to fuck Cherry. He likes her stump because it makes her less likely to get away. Why is Quentin always cast as the pervert/deviant? I swear, first it's Richard Gecko and now it's this. But Quentin is good and manages to deliver chills with his line about Cherry not looking like Ava Gardner if he shoots her. Cherry calling him a tool afterwards was beautiful.

El Wray manages to round up everybody and escape- while Sheriff Houge and JT (brothers in the film) stay behind. Abby and El Wray find out from Muldoon what the hell is going on. Apparently, he killed Bin Laden- and his great reward was his men and him being infected with this gas. They need more of it to survive but Muldoon laments that he had no choice. El Wray manages to end Muldoon's pain by killing him. The Rapist is looking for a fun time with Cherry but she manages to use her "useless talents" to hurt The Rapist. And I MEAN HURT HIM. El Wray finds his girl and equips her with a gun for a new leg. How the fuck can you top that? That is just too cool. Cherry starts kicking ass and the rebels realize they are the potential antidote because they are not infected. They try to board two helicopters that will take them to Mexico. Abby dies (more like his head gets blown up) and El Wray dies in the firefight. He tells Cherry that it will indeed be the "Two of them against the world". Soon it will be at least. He never misses- as he points towards her soon to be pregnant stomach. With tears in her eyes, Cherry leaves with the survivors as El Wray dies.

Later, Cherry explains that things worked out exactly like Wray told her it would. She is leading the hopeless, the survivors- and taking them to the new home for the second wave of humanity in Mexico. Complete with an update for her leg naturally.

Great first installment. I like the in your face gore and non-stop action of this film. And again, Michael Parks was utilized wonderfully as Earl McGraw. He came back at the end to waste the zombified Doc Block. "I never liked that sonofabitch anyway". I'm telling you- Michael says the lines with such sly delivery. I adore the guy. It was nice to see Rose actually have some material she can do something with. And man, I loved Michael Biehn in this film. It was good to see him with material that he could sink his teeth into (so to speak). And there's something so enjoyable about watching Fergie be an early victim of the zombies. I don't know why I enjoyed it so much- but I did. And Freddy Rodriguez OWNS as El Wray. He just has this bad-ass attitude but manages to convey great warmth in his performance.

What I love about grindhouse (the actual genre itself)- is that even though the budget isn't there- the heart is. And "Planet Terror" has both working for it. And even when Muldoon explains exactly WHY what is happening is happening- you just accept it. This is a rollercoaster ride and you are enjoying yourself the entire time. The film is intentionally deteriorated and scratched- like true authentic grindhouse films. Beautiful.

Okay before I can comment on Quentin's contribution...we have some fake trailers to look at that played during the intermission. First is Rob Zombie's offering:


I could actually imagine this movie being made way back when. Rob has a good knack of understanding wacked movies from back in the day- and this is sublime. I love the fact that they had Nic Cage as "Fu Manchu"- "THIS IS MY MECCA!!!!!!!!" Awesome. The whole audience really loved this one.

Next up is a commercial for the Acuna Boys Authentic Tex-Mex Food. Wait a second, that was the name of Esteban Vihaio's gang in KILL BILL Vol. 2. Very good reference that your casual fan might miss. Now it's time for Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the Dead)contribution, DON'T...

By far this was the funniest trailer (although Machete is close behind)- with the repeated "Don't" used for excellent comedic effect. I love how accurate this is though about how the narrator would put a spin on a movie being scarier than it actually might be.

And finally, Eli Roth's offering- "Thanksgiving". What can I say about it that hasn't been said already? Wow. He totally captured the whole slasher trend of the early 1980s that focused on holidays. And the trampoline split? Yikes.

My favorite part is the deputy licking the blood and going, "It's blood"- and Michael Biehn does the dramatically cheesy, "Son-of-a-bitch!"

And now on to the second feature.


The movie opens with classic Quentin- a closeup of feet on a driving wheel. Quentin is an unabashed foot fetishist and makes it a point to focus on that body part in all of his films. The film opens with a rollicking opening which is "The Last Race" by Jack Nitzsche. We find Jungle Julia Lucai- a popular Austin DJ hanging out with her friends, Arlene and Shanna. The first half of the film has us getting to know these girls through dialogue. It's Julia's birthday and she is enamored with a filmmaker named Christian Simonson who we come to understand through dialogue is not as enamored with Julia. The girls spend a good portion of the movie talking about life- and their love lives. Arlene seems to be a bit on the conservative side as well.

Julia informs Arlene about a bit she did on the air. If any man calls Arlene "Butterfly" and buys her a drink, and recites certain segments of the poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"- will be rewarded by a lap dance. However, Julia tells Arlene that she can discriminate who she can or cannot give the lap dance to. Arlene is not too happy to go along with that but Arlene spots a car that belongs to a character we will know soon as Stuntman Mike.

Celebrating at a bar, there were no takers on the lap dance- which saddens Arlene a bit. At the bar, a childhood rival of the girls named Pam (Rose McGowan) arrives and needs a ride home. Lo and behold, the mysterious Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) volunteers to drive her home. Pam is skeptical of the name "Stuntman Mike" until she asks Warren (Quentin Tarantino)- the head of the bar. He informs her that his name is indeed Stuntman Mike and Stuntman Mike is what else- "a stuntman". Pam notices that Mike has a vested interest in Arlene, Julia and Shanna. Speaking of Shanna, I loved her rant about "girls named Shanna hate being called Shauna"- because I have heard the same rant in real life from a real Shanna. So, Quentin knows how to pay attention to shit.

Mike begins to talk to Julia and her friends and asks if Julia is the local DJ. She confirms that she is and then Mike recites the segment of the poem to Arlene, buys her a drink and calls her "Butterfly". Originally, Julia tells Mike that Arlene already did the lap dance tonight- but Mike determines that she didn't. In fear of being called chickenshit, Arlene promises Mike the lap dance which leads to...

A MISSING REEL that is intentionally left out. By the way, I know the lap dance scene was filmed because it was shown in the trailer and also written in the script. So, in the DVD- I'm sure they will show the lapdance.

Pam and Mike leave- and Pam wonders exactly why the passenger seat is so fucked up. Mike discusses that its because Hollywood directors want cameras in those seats for certain shots. A bit confused, Pam still sits in the "passenger side". Mike then shows why his car is death proof (or at least his side) as he speeds the car and swerves it to have Pam injured and then speeds it up and breaks it hard to kill her by the impact of her body hit the Plexiglass side she's on. I felt bad that Pam died so brutally but they painted her to be so innocent and killing of an innocent is always the most traumatizing. And then Mike decides to kill the rest of his girlfriends (Julia, Arlene, Shanna) and in a beautifully constructed death scene put to the music of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich- he does.

We see various shots of the each girl's demise. Julia's leg flying out the window- Shanna flying in the air and hitting the pavement hard- and Arlene closing her eyes bracing herself for the death as her head gets obliterated. Mike's car crashes and we are stunned and shocked at the carnage.

What Quentin managed to do is to have us know these girls and get to like them- and just with one fell swoop- kills them all. He has a knack for us hanging out with the characters that he will most likely take out somewhere during the movie (Jackie Brown is a prime example, and also Jules and Vincent talking in PULP FICTION is another).

We see that Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks again- fuck yeah!) and his son, Edgar (James Parks- the real life son of Michael who was in KILL BILL with him) are investigating the murders. Mike is alive and not too bad off- but the girls are all dead. Earl is convinced after talking with his daughter, Dr. Dakota Block (from PLANET TERROR) that Mike is the one who killed those girls. "A case of vehicular homicide"- with the car being used as the weapon. The D.A. won't do anything to Mike but Earl intends for Mike not to do that in Texas again.

Mike relocates to Tennessee and follows four new girls- Zoe Bell (a real life stuntwoman from Xena and KILL BILL), Abbernathy (Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracie Thoms), Lee Montgomery (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)- an actress. Zoe and Kim are stuntpeople as well. And now, we get to know this group of girls as they exchange stories on their love lives and how Abbernathy deserved to have her filmmaker beau cheat on her when she wasn't giving it up. And Kim explains how she carries a gun and the necessity of using it. The best part was when Kim explained how carrying a knife is pointless.

"The thing about people who carry knives- you know what happens to them? THEY GET SHOT!"

Zoe's into getting a 1970 Dodge Challenger like the one in VANISHING POINT and test driving it. The girls meet the owner of the car, and Zoe/Abbernathy/Kim decide to test drive it while leaving Lee as collateral for the owner, a redneck named Jasper (who was the Trucker who was going to fuck the Bride in KILL BILL when the orderly was pimping her comatose body out).

Zoe and Kim then test out the car by having Zoe laying out on the front windshield as Kim drives at high speed. Mike- who has been watching them- speeds after them and crashes into them repeatedly- almost killing Zoe numerous times. After congratulating the girls on a good chase and a fun time- Mike is ready to leave but Kim shoots him in the arm. As he speeds away, and with Zoe ("The cat" who can survive anything) okay- the three girls decide to teach Mike a lesson.

Mike- who gets off on the collisions, cannot come and is forced to drink to soothe his wounds. Then, her comes Zoe who starts striking Mike with a metal pipe. Driving away, the girls chase Mike and then finally crash into him- causing him to break his arm. The girls proceed to beat the living shit out of him- and Abbernathy impales him with her boot.


I stood up and applauded the end and so did the rest of the audience. It didn't just end- it ended on a fucking exclamation mark. As much as I love Planet Terror, Death Proof really resonated with me. Perhaps, it's because it's Tarantino and I love his style and dialogue so much. Or perhaps, I'm a fan of movies like this. We got to hang out with the original first three "girls" and it really was painful to watch them die in such grisly ways (mainly Arlene who had such a sweet pain about her). It was so final, and there was such a horror about that. So, when he received his comeuppance at the hands of three girls who were the wrong ones to fuck with- I was overjoyed. His "apologies" at the end were hilarious.

I know originally Mickey Rourke was supposed to play Mike and I think he would have done a great job but this was really Kurt Russell's time to shine again and he absolutely kicked ass. The look he gave before he drove away with Pam was too cool. It's time for Kurt Russell to start fucking kicking ass in films again.

I felt horrible for Pam because she was so terrified and helpless. The look on her eyes before she passed was really powerful. Again, his payback at the end, was well worth it.

How awesome it was to see more of Michael Parks as Earl McGraw. And Edgar- his "Son Number 1". I want QT to do a whole spin-off series with those two. They're cinema gems.

And now I realize why I love Rosario Dawson so much. She's so sexy by not even trying to be sexy. I just adore her. And I have fallen for Zoe Bell. Her accent, her strength and sweetness.

All in all, a slam dunk. Quentin delivered just like Robert. GRINDHOUSE is not just a fucking movie, it's an epic event. If you don't see it in the theater- you are missing out and are a loser in my eyes. If you don't watch it period- you are twice the loser.

This movie is worth every penny I paid for it. And I am so thankful that I've gotten to see it. Kudos to everyone involved.

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