Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 11:45 am 
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Wasn't that some crazy bullshit?

"Grindhouse," as some of us have only recently learned, is a slang term for a now vanished kind of down-market movie theater that showed double features of B-pictures. Tarantino and Rodriguez have produced a long portmanteau of a grindhouse homage movie that's a double blast. Rodriguez gets the cheap effects down, including the missing reels and scratched up stock and poor continuity and over-the-top gore, while Tarantino better captures the kind of simple, insane fun such movies used to provide. Rodirguez's Planet Terror anthologizes crap movie styles and looks to perfection with its combination of sci-fi and zombie elements. But it's Tarantino's second feature, a diptych of two stories about some ladies and a devilish stunt driver (Kurt Russell), that shows us what raucous, powerhouse pleasure such movies could provide.

Rodriguez, who has produced his share of bad movies, may never have done anything better than Planet Terror, a gleefully energetic potpourri of needle stabbings, explosions, lopped limbs, and bubbling and pustulating faces from a bio-terrorist plague, with shootouts, barbecue recipe secrets, sheriffs, ghouls, and, famously, a lady (Rose McGowan) who loses a leg and has it replaced by a machine--gun. Rodriguez holds his hodgepodge together with a cadre of recurrent characters led by the surprisingly cool and charismatic Freddy Rodriguez as the heroic underdog gunman, "El Wray"; but any lack of unity is okay because it's part of the evocation of a slapdash production whose parts don't fit together. And then there's the missing reel, which teasingly comes at the sexiest moment, as does a similar lacuna in Tarantino's Death Proof.

Not only is Grindhouse a triumphant celebration of the fanboy nerdism, the videostore expertise that made Tarantino who he is; it's a way to share the fun, along the way weaving in a bevy of tasty babes that includes Jordan Ladd, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Rose McGowan, Vanessa Ferlito, Tracie Thomas, Rosario Dawson, and Marley Shelton. As a couple of those names hint, this is naturally a compendium of cult allusions that will make Grindhouse fun for nouveau fanboys to scrutinize and trawl for years to come. Packed with these, and hilarious, are the fake trailers for movies that never were, "Werewolf Women of the SS", "Thanksgiving", "Don't," and "Machete", with an appearance by Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu in the "Werewolf" segment.

In truth though its vividness engages, Planet Terror is ultimately a bit wearying. The real enjoyment comes in Death Proof, which celebrates Seventies hopped up American cars and the pre-CGI car battles with real vehicles and real "dumb" (but skilled and bold) stunt drivers driving them in real death-defying crashes and races -- but also features vintage Taranntino dialogue, with its familiar challenges, salty talk, and shaggy dog elements. (There's plenty of computer use in both segments, notably to produce the effect of broken and damaged film footage, but also by Rodriguez to fake damage to bodies and defiance of the laws of physics.) The two parts of Death Proof overlap, because Kurt Russell is in both of them as an aging but still feisty stunt driver. In the first half he seems nice but turns out to be super mean. In the second, he starts out full of jackrabbit menace and winds up brought to his knees by the ladies he chooses to molest automotively. The formula is familiar from other Tarantino movies: violent action interrupted by long passages of ornate but irresistible chatter. What's interesting is to see how consistent the mix is, yet how fresh it seems. The conversations between real-life New Zealand born stunt double Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Marcy Harriell, and Sydney Tamiia Poitier have as much rhythm and zing as any Tarantino talk thus far. The writer-director surely is still writing dialogue actors love to play. Yes, I called it a formula. In this context what's more appropriate? It still works. "Wasn't that some crazy bullshit?" a young black man said to me enthusiastically as I walked out. It sure was.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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