Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"A clever simulation of a mid-‘70s experience"


Grindhouse
Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
Now playing at Empire Theatres


First of all, nothing exactly like this film has ever been intentionally attempted before, even by David Lynch. This alone is a blast of warm summer air in the face. Grindhouse isn’t just two full-length action-horror movies slapped together. It’s actually a clever simulation of a mid-‘70s experience long forgotten in our download era – namely, sitting in a decaying theatre watching exploitation trash, complete with warped, furry projections, ludicrous trailers and even retro, drive-in adult content warnings. Oh, and missing reels. The package is an wildly referential labour of love. In other words, the features - running at over three hours together – exist in a very deliberate and beautiful pomo framing device. Especially cool given they’re set in the now, stressed by tension actually brought on by text-messaging. Rodriguez’s fake trailer – Machete - is even going to be real film! Can’t wait.

But is the art good? Are you surprised I even care?

Funny thing is, to describe the two hemispheres is to lessen them in every way – the narratives depend so much on surprises, especially the latter. Still, open wide: A genetic-experiment zombie-survival flick (Planet Terror) vs. Death Proof, the tale of a paraphelic serial killer who murders with cars? Sounds utterly ghastly. But to be honest, I haven’t had this much fun in a movie setting since Two Towers - the one with that impossibly perfect rainy siege battle and “Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!”

Put together, Planet Terror and Death Proof actually hit a lot of Peter Jackson’s nerves. Over and over again, till everything’s covered in blood and zombie ooze. Perhaps you’ve seen the trailers – a one-legged woman with a machine-gun attached! A helicopter tilting down into an army of undead! Kurt Russell! Being the master of the come-from-behind, border-crossing action-framing fills Rodriguez’s Planet Terror with characters you actually care about. It cleverly flips sympathy back and forth between a husband and wife falling apart, a sheriff and his Texas chef brother, and our main heroes, Wray and Cherry. Freddy Rodriguez plays the former with world-weary detachment, except when it comes to his knockout former girlfriend (Rose McGowan), retired gogo dancer. And don’t forget about Bruce Willis as a misused Afghanistan vet turned bad butting heads with a testicle collecting gangster geneticist (Naveen Andrews, Said from Lost). You just have to see it to believe it. I grinned constantly.

Though Planet Terror seems more fun, by the time Tarantino’s Death Proof is over you’ll start arguing with yourself.

Using many actors and even characters from Terror, Tarantino paints the far less manga story of four girls slowly drawn into the trap of a killer. I don’t dare reveal anything else, save that Quentin plays the joke to the hilt following the most unbelievable, slow-motion car crash I’ve ever seen by cleaving his half in two as well. But our antagonist messes with the wrong girls - who we’ve gotten to know quite well thanks to Q.T.’s trademark casual banter - in, again, one of the best chase scenes ever.

I’ve said too much.

This is the monolith Tarantino was hoping for with Kill Bill, dripping with story, cameos, great music and - need I say? – copious and realistic gore. As a collaboration it’s thrilling and varied, especially interesting to see how both expert directors handle Rose McGowan. Rob Zombie’s dumb trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS is more than made up for by the subtle genius of Thanksgiving, basically the last untouched holiday horror. A cop leans down to a decapitated man in a turkey costume, announcing seriously, “It’s blood.” Hilarious.
I can’t think of a better waste of an afternoon. Dudes, you’ve seriously done it again, the sum exceeding two partners.

ffff/fffff