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Grindhouse

Geek movie. Geek theater. Geek crowd. It all added up to the insanely fun moviegoing experience I had Sunday, seeing Grindhouse under perhaps ideal conditions for this strange film. CineMagic is the Grindhouse-hosting theater in Portland that comes closest to feeling like a real grindhouse (though the Clinton Street, which didn’t get the flick, is more so – and trust me, that’s actually a compliment), so I made a special point of attending there. So did a couple hundred other viewers at the 5:00 show. I sat near the back and to the side, because A) I was feeling a little antisocial and B) I wanted a good view of the audience, since ideally the audience becomes part of the show with films like this. We were loud and boisterous, and Grindhouse gave us good reason to be loud and boisterous. (Though we started out that way: we were howling at the trailer for the fourth Die Hard, which looks unfortunately ridiculous…and I say that as a fan of the other films. Yes, even the second and the third.)

The Robert Rodriguez half, Planet Terror, where military-skullduggery-gone-wrong turns many small-town Texans into zombies, feels like a script cobbled together from a bunch of other scripts; that’s one way to explain the hey-it’s-like-we’re-joining-another-film-already-in-progress feel of many scenes. It’s a genre gumbo, with out-of-nowhere revelations like the fighting ability of El Wrey (Freddy Rodriguez) which we just accept because they Look Cool. That’s the first film’s big goal: Looking Cool allows fireballs, gunplay, blood sprays, kung fu, mass zombie beheadings, fires, wild sex in the working class (after 5:00, it’s a gas) and even an hysterically out-of-nowhere post-apocalyptic coda. Writer-Director Robert Rodriguez seems in fact to be checking items off a checklist of Most Screwed-Up Ideas (“Item 146: Bad Guy Collects Testicles” – which, come to think of it, ain’t too far removed from the grindhouse-inspired Darkman where a bad guy collects his victims’ severed fingers!). There’s a game I remember from childhood called “What’s Grosser Than Gross?” – you ask “What’s grosser than gross?,” you say something that’s gross, you ask “What’s grosser than that?,” you say something even grosser, and so on – and that really seems to be what Rodriguez is doing, but with a good-sized budget and the best gore-effects team in the business. And I evilly enjoyed it.

But while I enjoyed the insanity of Planet Terror, I was transported (no lie) by Quentin Tarantino’s half of the experience, the film Death Proof. I’ll be blunt: at least on first view, I loved it. While PT feels the most like it grew out of the “let’s make a grindhouse film!” conceit, DP feels like a film Tarantino would’ve made in any event, not as beholden to the gimmick. Plot-wise, it’s the slightest flick QT has done – Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a deranged stunt driver who likes to kill women in ways that look like car accidents, when there’s nothing accidental about them – but it’s actually emotional and, in its way, tragic. I think you could even analyze it: think about when Mike explains his job to a woman in the bar, and he calls her on not knowing the shows he’s worked on, and then notice that each group of women he targets includes a marginally well-known woman who’s still better known than Stuntman Mike is. Jealousy gone evil? Is that what’s happening? Do we see some hint of a sick, twisted motivation? Or is he just sick and twisted? But the roles are surprisingly meaty; Kurt Russell is clearly having a blast the likes of which may rival his work in his best John Carpenter films, and the women…

…thank God for the women. And thank God QT loves women. He drastically shifts the pace from PT’s chaos to something slower and quieter, opening his film with…women talking. Shooting the breeze. Having drinks, talking shop, indulging in their in-jokes, what-have-you. It’s generous for the actresses, and they run with it. He even gives Zoe Bell – the New Zealand stuntwoman who doubled for Uma Thurman in QT’s Kill Bill – her first fully on-screen role, as herself, or rather a Tarantino-processed version of herself. It’s a great debut.

There’s sex appeal in Grindhouse, oh my yes. Planet Terror’s is far jokier and more juvenile, the camera really ogling the female curves at times (insert crack about “rack focus” here), and when PT gives us a sex scene between Rose McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez, that scene is used to set up one of the film’s best meta-jokes. Death Proof’s, meanwhile, is a more all-encompassing, observant, strangely relaxed sex appeal; yes, it’s sometimes fetishistic (Tarantino loooooooves photographing women’s feet) but it’s a more mature, and definitely a very appreciative, form of fetishism. The eight female costars of DP are several different types of sexy (I think Rosario Dawson practically bends light towards herself), but their sense of humor, intelligence, easy-going camaraderie, and cheeky sense of both fun and risk-taking are a huge part of why they’re sexy. They’re interesting; or rather, they’re given a great chance to be interesting. And we get more invested in them as a result. It makes what happens to them tougher to watch: in the first car chase, when an already-dangerous situation escalates into terror (yes, I’m even avoiding spoilers in these loosely-plotted films), we worry that it might end badly for these characters; in PT, we don’t mind so much when things do end badly for many of those characters.

If the fake trailers in Grindhouse were my children, I’d have to say to them, “You see, I love each of you in much different ways.” The opening trailer for the fake film Machete immediately tells you how insane this whole enterprise is gonna be (my crowd’s first really huge laugh of the night came when we recognized the priest). In between PT and DP, we get more fake trailers: Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS; a British Hammer-Haunted-House Horror flick by the director of Shaun of the Dead where the title is part of the joke, so I will not say it here (except to say that I thought, “No, they can’t make that the film’s title, can they?…Oh Cool, They Did!”); and the tits-and-ass-and-knives-and-blood-fest by Eli Roth called Thanksgiving. The fake trailers make such a perfect experience more, um, perfect-er, and each appeals to a different evil part of me: Thanksgiving’s cheerleader who strips while bouncing on a trampoline (you sick, sick man, Mr. Roth), Werewolf Women’s use of Nicolas Cage, and the whole Brit film thing (which I think is the one trailer from Grindhouse that has the best chance to actually be a good movie!).

Oh, finally: if cleolinda did a Movies in Fifteen Minutes version of Grindhouse? HEADS. WOULD. EXPLODE. That level of meta would create new heavy elements, warp the space-time continuum, open doors to other dimensions…

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
coffeeinhell
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you had the perfect Grindhouse experience. They're talking about making a real Machete movie!
chris_walsh
Apr. 13th, 2007 04:06 am (UTC)
It sounds like you had the perfect Grindhouse experience.

I want to have it again. I'm definitely going to see it another time.

They're talking about making a real Machete movie!

I hope that happens. I like that it might. But it will likely require Rodriguez rediscovering his mad skilz (y0) at making films really, really cheaply. No, I'm not bitter at the vast majority of America not getting why Grindhouse is so much fun (he grumbled)...But I think I'll do another entry on the business side of Grindhouse, and the weak opening it had. I seem to have thoughts on that, but they're not coalescing yet (I'm tired)...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )