Thursday, April 12, 2007

Grindhouse - "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" (2007)

Like most of you, I had been expectantly waiting the release of Grindhouse. I finally got to go the other night and as I stepped behind the red curtain and into the theater, the floor sticky with spilled soda, melted candy and Lord knows what else, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like in the golden days of grindhouse. I felt a thrill run through me as I imagined spending my weekends catching back-to-back movies and watching the outrageous trailers and ads that ran with them.

I may not have had grindhouses back in my day, but I’m lucky enough to have two directors, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who remember the no-holds-barred movies and who want everyone to experience the gritty grindhouse feel. The directors kept with the grindhouse theme and even dirtied up the film prints with scratches and dust so they would look authentic. There are even missing reels throughout both films! Not only do we get two kick-ass movies but we also get faux movie trailers from directors Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the SS), Eli Roth (Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (Don’t) and Robert Rodriguez (Machete).

Grindhouse opens with a trailer for the revenge-flick Machete, starring Danny Trejo as a would-be assassin who is set-up and takes revenge on those who wronged him. We get a whole lotta action, cheesy dialogue and a lotta things blowing up…plus Cheech Marin as a priest! Really, what more could you ask for? There's even talk that it will be made into a full-length movie...stay tuned!

Ratcheting up the excitement level is Rodriguez’s Planet Terror which dazzles and entertains from beginning to end. A secret government experiment goes horribly wrong and a biochemical gas is released that infects people with pus-filled boils that are highly infectious and often times end up exploding. Those infected turn into zombies hungry for…braiiiins! A group of survivors, including Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton), Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) and others must band together to survive the zombie onslaught and the military, who have their own agenda…

Planet Terror is a pure adrenaline rush! The action starts right away and doesn’t let up…There is also some very well-done character development that got me to care about the characters. The gore is great as well, as blood is splashed generously across the screen. The zombie-mutants themselves look grotesque and there are some gross-out scenes involving their pustules erupting onto unsuspecting individuals.

Rose McGowan as Cherry, Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray and Marley Shelton as Dr. Dakota Block really stand out for their stellar performances. McGowan is both sweet ‘n’ sour in her role as Cherry, Rodriguez proves himself to be a true action hero and Shelton just shines. There are some sweet cameos going on as well within the film. Bruce Willis pops up as the commanding military officer, Tom Savini as the sheriff’s deputy, Josh Brolin as Dr. Dakota Block’s evil and violent husband Dr. William Block, as well as Fergie from Black Eyed Peas, Tarantino and others!

From Cherry’s machine-gun leg to El Wray’s gun slinging skills to mutant zombies and delightful guest appearances, Planet Terror doesn’t leave you much time to catch your breath, which is a very good thing.

Immediately following Planet Terror are the fake trailers from Zombie, Wright and Roth. Werewolf Women of the SS by Rob Zombie harkens back to the Nazisploitation days. This was my favorite trailer and the one I most wish would be made into a real movie. Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu? I mean, c'mon! You just can't beat that...Next was Wright's hilarious Don't trailer, which had a very The Legend of Hell House vibe to it and was very tongue-in-cheek with the spoofery that ensued. Last but not least was Roth's Thanksgiving trailer, which started a little weak but redeemed itself with a very brutal cheerleader slaying.

After that highly enjoyable "intermission," Tarantino's Death Proof began. It seems that almost everyone is bitching about the slow pace of this one in comparison to Planet Terror, but I really enjoyed it.

Death Proof tells the tale of Stuntman Mike and his "death proof" stunt car. He likes to stalk and kill pretty young women, whom he picks up at bars. He then proceeds to take them on a joy ride, only at the end, he is the only survivor. It seems that one must sit in the driver's seat to have the full protection of the "death proof" car. He starts with one group of women, headed by local DJ personality Jungle Julia. Tarantino really lets us get up close and personal with the girls as they hang out at a bar all night under the watchful eye of Stuntman Mike. After killing them all with his car, Stuntman Mike moves on to his next group of women...who just happen to have a few stuntwomen of their own. In a spectacular car chase scene, Stuntman Mike learns he's messed with the wrong group of gals...

After the visceral assault of Planet Terror, Death Proof is a nice place to catch your breath. It's heavy on Tarantino's signature dialogue, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment one bit. It just made me appreciate and care for the characters even more. People complain about having to listen to all the "chick talk," but you didn't hear them complain about all the "dick talk" in Tarantino's other films. For example, in Death Proof there is a round table shot much like the one in Reservoir Dogs. It is captured in one consecutive shot with no cuts and shows the women catching up with each other and just talking. It gives great insight into each of their characters and makes them extremely likable. Like Reservoir Dogs, this is the chance to get to know the characters so we care for them later when we are put in peril. It's also a chance for Tarantino to show off his dialogue writing skills. It's amazing how believable his dialogue is and how it varies by character to fit their personality. So, if I have to hear one more person complain about the "chick talk" in this flick, I'm gonna cram my foot so far up...[MISSING REEL]

The acting is Death Proof is equally good as it was in Planet Terror. With the first group of women we get the beautiful Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julie along with Vanessa Ferlito as Arlene and Jordan Ladd as Shanna. Rose McGowan is also along for the ride playing Stuntman Mike's first victim. The next group of women include Rosario Dawson as Abernathy, a makeup artist, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a famous actress, Traci Thoms as stunt car driver Kim and stuntwoman Zoe Bell playing herself. Zoe Bell was, by far, the most phenomenal actress in this film. She is entirely believable and natural in front of the camera (she has been doing stunt work in films for quite some time, so I guess she's used to being in front of the lens!) and you just love her! Kurt Russell is fantastic as Stuntman Mike, managing to be both menacing and "Mr. Nice-Guy" at the same time.

The real star of the film, though, is the amazing car chase at the end of the movie. It will leave you breathless as you watch Zoe Bell hang onto the hood of a car for dear life. There is no CGI or flashy editing going on, either, just two cars ramming each other at 90mph with a woman on the top of one of them. You care about the women so much that the ending, though abrupt, is entirely fitting and extremely satisfying.

I loved both Planet Terror and Death Proof...I don't think I could pick a favorite. The fake trailers in between films were a joy to watch as well. The three hour plus marker didn't even phase me, and I usually get antsy in long movies. It's true what they say, Grindhouse is the most fun you'll have at the movies this year. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend the experience of seeing it on the big screen!

Planet Terror available on Amazon!

Death Proof available on Amazon!

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