Thursday, 28 June 2007

Going Home for Grindhouse-by Guest Contributor Joseph Wren

Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror), Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof)
Written by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror), Quentin Taran
tino (Death Proof)
Rated R

191 Minutes

Not released in the UK

As an American teenager in the Clinton 90s,
I was fortunate enough to be socially awkward during the best time to be so. We were the first ones to experience the internet (with free porn and music!), grunge rock, a sex-obsessed media, all-time record divorce rates, cheap petrol, some other crap, and the new American indie film scene. I didn’t know Harvey Weinstein, but he sure knew me and my pals. We would cut school to see the earliest possible screenings of the cool Miramax films – the Miramax label was to film as Sub Pop was to music – anything they distribute must be cool and worth our disposable income. And Quentin Tarantino was the film equivalent of Kurt Cobain – bad-boy subversive and retro-chic, the kind of artist that every teenager claimed to like even if they weren’t familiar with his work. It was an exciting time in American cinema, and Miramax was associated with many of the most memorable films of my formative years, the repeated viewings of which led to a healthy interest in film that may not have been otherwise formed.

My interest and appreciation for QT’s films hasn’t waned, even as a proper grown up I’ve made it to the opening screenings of both Kill Bill films, though I was both disappointed and aggravated that it wasn’t shown as a single four-hour revenge epic, as Tarantino had intended. I can understand Harvey Weinstein’s reasoning for splitting up Kill Bill – American audiences are (apparently) simply too impatient, plus two separate releases doubles the profits (the combined US gross for both films was around $137 million). I’m still waiting for the director’s cut of Kill Bill to surface on DVD, though I’m not holding my breath. And if you live in the UK, don’t hold your breath to see Tarantino’s latest, Grindhouse, in one piece.

By now you know the deal – Grindhouse - a nearly three-hour long double-feature directed by Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez – has been hacked like an infected zombie into two separate features, with separate release dates, and, also like Kill Bill, will be released separately on DVD. There are a lot of reasons why the film is being mutilated, but the one that seems to matter most is financial – the film opened behind the monumentally awful Are We Done Yet? with only $11.5 million. But is that a legitimate reason to send a film across the Atlantic in a bodybag? Does it make much of a difference?

I’m not about to give Harvey Weinstein and his new (modestly named) outfit The Weinstein Company, a lesson in marketing. As a matter of fact, I’m going to give him at least twice as much money as most of you by the end of the year. This past month, I was back in New York, and managed to see Grindhouse in its full grit, at the very un-grindhouse AMC Times Square, the largest movie house in the city. And it wasn’t long into the film that I started to think about the entire situation that I found myself in.

For all of its hype, Grindhouse is a film made by enormous talents, loaded with familiar faces, who all happily contribute to something that is very aware of its so-bad-its-good appeal. When I think about this, I’m disappointed with the film. Why waste all of this talent on something that’s purposefully silly? On the other hand, it makes sense to just sit back and enjoy the ride; these guys clearly know how to entertain me. QT has been the king of genre reinvention – heist, gangster, blaxploitation, kung fu, and now grindhouse round out his oeuvre of 70s pastiche.

Here’s how it rolls - Robert Rodriguez directs the first faux-trailer, Machete, which is so outrageously fun that the entire audience is buzzing with palpable joy and anticipation. Then there’s the first feature, the blood-soaked zombie slasher Planet Terror. Then, presumably when a bunch of dim Americans left the cinema, come three more trailers – Rob Zombie’s Nazi-porn Werewolf Women of the SS (featuring a fu-manchu Nicholas Cage), Brit Edgar Wright’s hilarious Don’t (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as cannibals), and Eli Roth’s deeply lame holiday slasher Thanksgiving. Then there’s the grand finale, Tarantino’s muscular Death Proof.

In Planet Terror, mysterious rebel Freddy Rodriguez and go-go dancer Rose McGowan battle a bunch of horny military zombies in some remote US desert town. Baddie Bruce Willis sports a goatee and a beret and collects testicles. McGowan loses a leg and her resourceful boyfriend replaces it with an M4A1 carbine assault rifle and grenade launcher and straps her to the back of his hog to blow away zombies. Quentin Tarantino himself shows up as a nasty pervert (as he often does), who falls victim to ocular mutilation and melted genitals. There’s something with Josh Brolin as a scary doctor as well, but the plot lines here aren’t so tidy…by the end of it, you’re either a zombie, sexy amputee, or neither, and just like in 28 Weeks Later, you don’t want to be a zombie if there’s a helicopter around. It’s all splurt-a-riffic fun, but, aside from McGowan’s transformer action, Planet Terror is easily forgettable.

Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s 70s thrill seeker, with yet another terrific QT hand-picked soundtrack to boot. It is also by far his most uneven and least satisfying film – which is not to say that it is bad. The film is split into two segments, each featuring a group of attractive women chatting in Tarantino-esque patter, then encountering Stuntman Mike (the perfectly cast Kurt Russell). After being saturated with explosions and gore in Planet Terror, Death Proof takes a while to establish its own tone, but the payoff is worth the wait, as the second half of the last feature literally races to the finish. Full of inside jokes and references, Death Proof wears the Tarantino medallion of cool on its hood, though it is too self-obsessed and the dialogue seems awkwardly stale, (I couldn’t help but feel that some of these lines were just picked off the pages of deleted scenes from Reservoir Dogs.) But where the chat fails, the action picks up, and the final high-speed chase scene between Stuntman Mike’s Nova and the girls’ Dodge Challenger (featuring real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell) is perhaps the most exhilarating non-CGI chase scene since The French Connection. But it is too long. Death Proof would be more effective if it were 30 minutes shorter, and it troubles me to hear that the new cut of the film will actually be about 30 minutes longer.

I find myself in an oddly unexpected place regarding Grindhouse. I’m happy to have seen it in its intended format, and I’ll certainly shell out the extra dough to see the separate, extended cuts when they come to the UK. Grindhouse was a lot of fun as a night out at the cinema, but a bit of a disappointment when considering the talent behind it. As separate films, they’ll make a few extra bucks, but I’m afraid the critical reception will be quite contrary to the positive reviews of the original format. Grindhouse was cool fun, but really, it’s not worth all the fuss, especially considering Tarantino’s previous work. Seriously, I just watched Bruce Willis launch a car into a helicopter in Die Hard 4.0Hollywood’s already got absurdly imaginative violence covered. When all is said and done, I’m not nostalgic for dodgy film stock, scantily clad women and 70s muscle cars – I’m nostalgic for vintage 90s Tarantino.

No comments: