Southern Man

Friday, April 13, 2007

Movie Review - Grindhouse

The double-feature Grindhouse is not so much a movie as it is an event; it's not as much about reproducing the look and feel of the exploitation movies of the past as it is to recall the experience of viewing them. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the audience is just as important as what's happening on the screen; this is a movie designed to be seen with friends late at night in a crowded theater. Directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino accomplish this with not only the B-movie double feature - first, a wonderously overblown zombie thriller in Planet Terror, then a chicks-in-peril car chase in Death Proof - but with the manner in which they are presented. The films are interspliced with 70s-era screencaps and ads (including a couple of barely-remembered "restricted movie" warnings), faux preview trailers (a couple for movies that should actually be made) and are treated to show as though they were old strips on their last legs: washed-out color, jerky pictures and dropped sound (complete with the chattering of the projector sprockets), burn-thrus, bad splices, and missing reels. And the movies are not just accidentally cheesy, but are deliberately cheesy. Just add an armload of sodas and a bucket of popcorn and it's just like you're back in high school sneaking a carload of friends into the late show at the local drive-in. Heck, Southern Man has got last night's leftover movie popcorn at his side right now just to stay with that old drive-in feeling.

Well, with the news that Grindhouse wasn't doing so well at the box office and that the distributors were thinking of splitting the three-and-a-half-hour double feature into two separate films (which is apparently the way the rest of the world will get it anyway), Southern Man decided that he'd better go sooner rather than later - thus, after work last night he swung by the local megaplex for a late-night showing. Armed with a couple of water bottles and the aforementioned large popcorn with extra butter, he took his place in the theatre, looked around, and noticed that he was...alone.

Now, this particular megaplex has thirty-odd theatres of varying sizes, from cozy to huge. This was one of the larger ones. And, other than Southern Man, it was completely empty.

Well, so much for the "see this one with a large crowd" part of the experience; it appeared that Southern Man would instead be treated to his own private screening. Maybe. For a while it looked like it wasn't going to show at all but finally, fifteen minutes later than the scheduled time (and after a dozen repeats of the same ninety-second set of entertainment slides), Grindhouse finally began.

Southern Man doesn't go to many R-rated movies and saw only a few during his high-school days so the experience was a bit of a shock. First off, he hadn't seen any of the real previews. Southern Man is a long-time Steven King fan and the upcoming Room 1408 looks like a winner. He isn't quite as excited about the Halloween remake or yet another entry in the Die Hard franchise. The trailer for the fake movie Machete was just as fun as could be, and that's a B movie he would see if it is actually made, if only to see the motorcycle-mounted rotary minigun in action. Then we got right into the Rodriguez film.

If you like zombie movies, you'll love Planet Terror. The horror starts early - the doctor and his wife (played by Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton, who briefly plays the same role in Death Proof) are particularly creepy - and before long both human and zombie flesh fly all over the screen. How Planet Terror earned an R rating, Southern Man will never know - it's about as close to NC-17 as anything he's seen. And not for sexual content - heck, there was more boobage in the Machete trailer than in all of the rest of Grindhouse, and the two potential sex scenes in the actual features are lost to tongue-in-cheek "Missing Reel" placards - but for nonstop graphic, bloody, gory violence. This is not a movie for children, or even young adults. It may not be suitable for humans in general. Victims are torn limb from limb, zombie brains spill to the floor and spout legs, established characters are gruesomely dispached with heartless regularity, and in nearly every outdoor scene vehicles explode for no apparent reason. And of course about two-thirds of the way in, the lovely Rose McGowan (as the stripper Cherry) gets her first machine-gun replacement for the leg lost to an earlier zombie attack. And it's that maximum-firepower leg - at one point she even appears to do a rocket jump with it - that sets the tone for Planet Terror: a ridiculously absurb package of terror and sex and violence and explosions and gunfire and revving motors and just plain excessive zombie-bashing. The result is about as much fun as one can have at the movies. Oh, and you get to see an uncredited Bruce Willis as one of the shambling undead, too.

Another handful of period ads and trailers - Werewolf Women of the SS, Thanksgiving, and Don't - didn't produce anything that looked nearly as interesting as Machete unless you like leather-clad Nazis, slasher movies with lots and lots and lots of beheadings, or just plain craziness.

Now, Southern Man has of course heard of Tarantino (and had already seen him, as he had a cameo in a few scenes of Planet Terror) but hasn't seen much of his work so he didn't know quite what to expect in Death Proof (nor did he catch many of the references to other Tarantino films that are no doubt scattered throughout the film). Well, apparently Tarantino movies feature long, long scenes in cars and bars and such in which women talk, and talk, and talk. Southern Man was fearful that the Grindhouse folks had played some kind of bait-and-switch on him for a good long while there. Then about half an hour in the Kurt Russell character went from sweetly eccentric to downright evil with no warning at all and not two minutes later the body count went from zero to five, just like that. With the first batch of girls dispatched and no further sign of the murderous Kurt, we then got a fresh set of slightly more interesting chicks and had to endure their twenty minutes of slightly more interesting girl talk before, again without warning, Kurt shows up again for a heart-pounding muscle-car duel with simply amazing driving and stunt work that plays more than a little homage to the great car movies of the past. In fact, Southern Man just went to and put Vanishing Point on his wish list. Another observation about Tarantino is that he apparently puts a good deal of thought into his soundtracks, and the musical selections for Death Proof are perfect for that film.

In short: while Rodriguez set out to make a deliberately over-the-top horror film (which is just the way to honor the great zombie movies of the past) Tarantino apparently made a sincere effort to reproduce an authentic grindhouse movie.

And after all that, Southern Man heads out the door at mumble-mumble AM to find that his is the only vehicle in the mall parking lot. Given what he'd just seen, it was a long and somewhat scary walk - the perfect end to an evening of scary movies.

So, if you want to relive the glory days of the exploitation films of yesteryear, aren't offended by unrelenting violence and gore (Planet Terror) or endless profanity (Death Proof), realize that this is adults-only fare, and can find a showing where there's actually a crowd, see Grindhouse while you can. And don't forget the popcorn.


At Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Blogger neighborsgrrl said...

Great review, southernman. I've been laid up with the flu bug this week, but at some point, I"m going to get antsy and want to see a movie. I may never get around to seeing it in the theater but your review was very entertaining. Of course, I also enjoyed your review of Eragon, er Star Wars, er...wait, that was the story he ripped off, right? ;)


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