Bumpin’ ‘Grind’

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In “Death Proof,” Quentin Tarantino’s half of the new feature “Grindhouse,” lead character Stuntman Mike (Played by Kurt Russell) smashes his souped-up 1970 Dodge Chrager through a roadside theater marquee with “Scary Movie 4” on it.It seemed an odd, mainstream choice of films for the director to use, considering a) the director’s slavish love of cult cinema, and b) the fact that he had nothing to do with last year’s wretched “comedy.”

Then it hit me. Last year, “Scar Movie 4” broke records at the box office during the exact same holiday weekend with a $40 million take, and Tarantino was sending a message that he wanted to shatter that record.

Well, if Tarantino used a Pinto that exploded on impact with the sign, it may have been a more accurate reflection of what went down at the box office this weekend, as “Grindhouse,” despite massive pre-release hype, went down in flames, taking in about $11 million.

It is a shame for many reasons.

First, “Grindhouse” is a film that needs to be seen in the theater, preferably with a large audience. As the theater-going has morphed into a sad shell of what it once was –thanks cell phones and the PG-13 rating! – a film such as “Grindhouse” serves as a reminder when crowds could share in the sheer ludicrousness and on-screen audacity ablaze on the screen. Talking back to the screen was not taboo, but encouraged.

Second, filmgoers will miss out on some truly wicked fun, which range from loving homage, outright parody, thrilling action and genuine ingenuity, courtesy of directors Robert Rodriguez (who filmed the feature “Planet Terror” and a trailer called “Machete”), Quentin Tarantino (who filmed the feature “Death Proof”), Rob Zombie (director of “Grindhouse’s” weakest link, a trailer for “Werewolf Women of the S.S.”), Edgar Wright (director of the hilariously inane haunted house trailer “Don’t”) and Eli Roth (director of the pitch-perfect trailer of 80s slasher flick “Thanksgiving”).

And, finally, audiences will miss out on “Death Proof,” the most narrativly unique and captivating films in nearly a decade. But more on that later.

Feature 1: Planet Terror
After the faux “Machete” trailer, “Grindhouse begins its first feature, “Planet Terror” complete with all the requisite scratches and cigarette burns that marked the graininess of the original grindhouse genre films.

“Terror” is the lighter of the two films, and suffers only that it tries to shove too many ingredients into its cinematic blender. It’s a riff on zombie flicks that features countless shout-outs to staples of this cinematic sort (from the overall John Carpenter vibe to the casting of two genre veterans, Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey).

“Terror” stars Rose McGowan as Cherry, a go-go dancer whose unfortunate zombie run-in leaves her with the iconic machine-gun appendage seen on the film’s posters. She teams up with old flame El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, resembling a Latino Michael J. Fox) to take on despicable government agents, sketchy scientists, deadly doctors and a countryside of lumbering, pus-spouting undead.

The acting runs the gamut, the action is essentially unrelenting, and the effects are simultaneously cheap and inventive.
“Planet Terror” is a valentine, a monster mash-note, if you will, and is comfortable fun for those who cradle a crush on the grindhouses that schlock built.


Feature 2: Death Proof
Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is a different beast altogether.

After the final trailers wind down and the rainbow-hued, retro-70s “Fearture Presentation” logo crawls across the screen, it’s now Tarantino’s turn.

The film has been the wedge that has either served to completely win over viewers while causing others to check out ealy.

“Death Proof “is not a film that will immediately sit comfortably with many an audience member. In the opening scenes, we are treated to a trio of female chums (led by Sydney Poitier, daughter of Sidney) who are spending the evening celebrating companionship. They spend much time merely talking – talking about everything from life and men to careers and love. There have been critics who have attacked these segments for being too talky, and while perhaps 10 minutes might have been shaved from the dialogue, it instead creates the atmosphere that this is a night like any other for them. This isn’t “Prom Night,” or “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” or any other holiday-turned-horror-film.

And the perceived normalcy of the conversation is perhaps why “Death Proof” is so damn effective.

Lurking in the shadows is a man named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, in perhaps the best role of his career, and it is a career filled with childhood heroes to this reviewer). He is a bit creepy, to be sure, with a hairline-to-chin scar marking his face. But there is something achingly human and lonely about him as well.
Russell stops just short of sympathy for his character, but gives us just enough to keep us interested in his motivations.

As “Death Proof” proceeds to its seemingly inevitable conclusion, the film does a donut in its narrative parking lot and speeds off in an entirely different direction. To reveal too much would be like reviewing “Psycho” upon its release and telling you Janet Leigh doesn’t make it out of the shower.

All that I can say is that it contains some of the most impressive automotive stuntwork ever put to film, and an ending that is stunningly abrupt but completely fitting.
As a package, “Grindhouse” is a rallying cry for movie lovers to rise off their sound-surrounded sofas, punch off their plasmas, round up a group of buddies and take back the theaters from the cell-phone wielding adolescent audiences that have laid claim to multiplexes en masse on the weekend evenings. And, for only three short hours, return it to a gritty, grimy hootenanny that is was for a short period in history.

~ by usesoapfilm on September 11, 2007.

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