Review: Grindhouse

Posted by Peter Hall - April 7th 2007 @ 10:47 am

Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof)

Grindhouse Poster

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.


rss 7 comments
  1. R.J. Sayer
    April 8th, 2007 | 8:26 pm | #1

    disagree.

    PLANET TERROR didn’t feel like a film (and certainly not a “grindhouse” film) to me. it was a series of ever-escalating gags. not that they weren’t impressive. but it felt like cheating.

    and after a while, all the grimacing, posturing, and “intentionally bad” dialogue got old and got on my nerves.

    i LOVE exploitation films. i LOVE grindhouse cinema.

    PLANET TERROR had some sweet FX work, a BRILLIANT score, some great performances (especially Rodriguez, McGowan, and Brolin). but it wasn’t so much a tribute to 42nd Street as much as it was a bunch of jokes at its expense. and by the end the whole thing was just so overloaded i wasn’t having it. nice to see Biehn and Fahey getting some good mug work, though.

    to me, DEATH PROOF was the superior film.

    for one, it actually felt like a real honest-to-goodness narrative film. and not an experiment in mixtape-making. Tarantino didn’t need to add so many artificial scratches and grain and malfunctioning projector effects to his half to make it feel genuine. because it was genuine.

    the camerawork, the cutting, the story, the pacing, the set-ups and set pieces… total grindhouse.

    and those car scenes. HOLY SHIT. i’ve never been so invested in a car chase.

    my two main problems with it were 1) Zoe Bell is obviously a stuntwoman and obviously NOT an actress and 2) the film-geek pop-culture reference-a-thon that is the diner scene.

    i love VANISHING POINT.

    but i heard you the first time, QT. cut it out.

    oh, and I wasn’t too fond of the whole “our heroes” leaving-their-friend-to-get-raped thing.

    Zombie’s trailer was WAY off.

    Wright’s and Roth’s (and it pains to admit this considering how much i’d like to punch little Eli square in his fucking frat-boy throat) were directly on the nose and awesome.

    don’t get me wrong, i enjoyed PLANET TERROR (especially the practical gag-work of N and B and that awesome synth). but it just didn’t do it for me like DEATH PROOF did. and i don’t get why its getting all the love.

    you’re right about the pacing.

    both films could’ve easily lost ten minutes or so apiece.

  2. April 9th, 2007 | 6:03 am | #2

    I think that, given enough time, Death Proof will be the film people come back to again and again as being the true triumph of the two. But I think that group of people is highly, highly limited to the sort of diner-hangout-folk Tarantino wishes the world was populated with. The kind of people who can talk endlessly about darkly obscure films from an era gone by. The kind of people who can get a reference like calling Stuntman Mike Zatoichi – which was one of the more obvious references to boot.

    I’m normally one of those people, but I don’t need a movie to repeatedly tell me I’m one of those people. That just killed it. Took me right out of the movie for multiple stretches that were too long for their own good. To the point where, by the time it ended, even after a drastic spike of intensity courteous of the amazing car sequences, I just didn’t give a damn about any of the characters or their story.

    I think the character of Stuntman Mike is brilliant. His role reversal works perfectly and Kurt Russell is great in that role, but everyone else were such black holes of self indulgence that the entrance barrier for me to get back into the movie was too vast to surmount without obvious will on my part.

    And, yeah, Rob Zombie just embarrassed himself with that abortion of a trailer. Ouch.

  3. R.J. Sayer
    April 9th, 2007 | 12:23 pm | #3

    agreed.

    those characters (the second group of girls – i actually liked the first group) were empty and flat and obnoxious.

    and Tarantino needs to stop patting himself on the back for being such an accomplished movie historian/archivist/viewer. it’s beyond annoying at this point.

    but for some reason, i can forgive that stuff a little more easily than i can forgive Rodriguez for cheating and overstuffing.

    not sure why.

  4. Sean
    April 17th, 2007 | 11:42 am | #4

    what trailer is this?

    And, I’ve been told this is wonderful, but I have my doubts. Mostly because the last movie I saw with him that I liked was Dusk Till Dawn.

    I simply missed out on Grindhouses, I don’t understand the concept behind them, and I don’t think that I would enjoy it as much as I would if I knew the slightest bit about them.

    But then, since there’s nothing but The Reaping (that everyone says is horrible) and Disturbia (that seems too much like a certain Hitchcock movie we all know) in the theaters, who knows, maybe I’ll end up there. :P

  5. April 17th, 2007 | 3:26 pm | #5

    Rob Zombie’s trailer, Werewolf Women of the S.S.

    Grindhouse is definitely worth a watch in theaters. You should probably hurry as well, it’ll likely be gone in week or two. Thanks, American Box Office!

  6. R.J. Sayer
    April 19th, 2007 | 5:01 pm | #6

    Thanks, American audiences!

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    [...] asshats at the Weinstein company decided it was a great idea to release each half of Grindhouse (review) on its own, to inevitably release the full thing later.  I won’t be bothering with [...]

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