I’ll not begin to pretend that I have any palpable knowledge of Grindhouses. They mean nothing to me. They lived and died before I even lived. Their movies are lost to me, their directors are lost to me, their style is lost to me. They are Atlantean. I’ve seen 42nd Street Forever Volume 1, but that would be the absolute of the extent of my experience with the cult phenom. Because of this, I will not begin to stipulate whether or not the Rodriguez/Tarantino vision of a Grindhouse is an accurate one. I can asses it merely as a culturally mortal man, smarter than your average bear when it comes to movies.
I can affirm to you that Grindhouse is not the movie to end all movies. It does not open a wormhole to a time and place since swallowed whole by the ages. It is two movies, four fake trailers and a biblical flood of artificial film grain, scratches, watermarks and choppy editing.
Considering the talk, hype and scope promised by the 3+ hour genre epic, it may not seem fair to structure the introduction to a positive review around the negatives, but in doing so there is hope to highlight the many good things about the production. After all, isn’t that the logic behind the movie in the first place? Put the negatives on a pedestal so high that the resulting shadow must, by sheer manufactured magnitude, impress all who see it?
Exactly one half of that shadow does loosen the jaw muscles towards a state of awe. This half is inspired, wild, sexy, uninhibited and even brilliant. The other half is not.
Planet Terror is the reason to see Grindhouse, no contest. Rodriguez’s script is chaotic, cool and all kinds of gross. There is no point in describing every character, every event nor every gag – all are uniformly badass. There are two things that deserve medals of honor; the casting and the gore.
Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn – all resonate respective screen presences that dominate the course and set the bar for audience involvement. Josh Brolin: fuck! The man is a fever of scummy scumbagness. Who knew the older brother from The Goonies had it in him to be so grotesquely oppressive? Freddy Rodriguez is the currency of cool. I pray this is a staying point for him in the genre, he brings an energy to everything he does that can’t help but induce a smile.
The camera is in love with McGowan. Both her character and her acting are the focal point from which all other elements of the film orbit. She is the sun at this solar system. A bright, hot as hellfire sun who lights up the screen. Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn round out the main cast and they’re all greater than my vocabulary of adjectives can provide a variety of words for before I start repeating myself.
Nictoero and his boys are firing on all pistons. Their creations are extravagant masterpieces of grue, slop and blood. More importantly, they could prove to be historical precedents, if indeed the MPAA is now allowing future filmmakers disputing a rating to point to a past film, its content and the rating it received. This being the case, you could get away with damn near anything and then just point to Planet Terror and the MPAA would have no ground to deny an R rating. It isn’t that the content is that boundary pushing, but the sheer quantity of it is.
The fake trailers are a very enjoyable addition. Rob Zombie’s is forgettable, but Edgar Wright’s compensates as one of the best punchlines in the movie. Eli Roth’s looks right out of the era, more so than either of the film’s feature length cohorts.
As for Death Proof, I don’t have much to say. Quentin Tarantino is, frankly, becoming a boring writer. It is almost as if having realized his dialogue no longer knocks the audience out, he simply wrote more and more of it. If this is his version of a slasher, it is a weightless failure.
It does contain moments of intensity, but the bulk of it unravels slowly and joylessly, especially in contrast to the madhouse that was Planet Terror. The characters are largely un-relateable, their motives muddled and their lines too saturated with pointless obscenities to provide any investment on the part of the viewer. The two car chases are nearly unprecedented in their complexity and stunt work, which makes for the only truly redeeming factor of Death Proof – and the only thing worthy of coming back to multiple times.
Tarantino’s style works at times, especially during a lengthy round-table at a diner, and the performances he elicits out of his cast are fantastic, but his tangents are too distracting and too long for their own good. His isn’t an entirely bad movie by any stretch, but as the partner to Rodriguez’s calculated riot it pales in comparison.
Overall the double-bill movie is a must see, but it is not the masterpiece I, and everyone else, was expecting it to be. Both parts have pacing issues, Death Proof more noticeably, but both have fantastic casts to compensate for any slower stretches. The post-production work to age the film is far more gimmicky than functional. A lot of the techniques involved are good for a laugh the first time around, but won’t stand the test of time. Grindhouse will be one of the most talked about movies of the year in dorm rooms everywhere and it’ll surely be snapped up quick on DVD, but past that it will more than likely fade into the ether, not becoming one of the canonical classics of the era it tried to be.