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April 9, 2007

5

Movie Review – Grindhouse (2007)

by JAMES BRIGHAM

Grindhouse 040907

VIOLENCE, BREASTS AND IRONY

There’s a scene in the first half of Grindhouse where Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a former go-go dancer and recent leg amputee, takes solace in the arms of her ex-lover Wray, an earnest tow truck driver with a mystery enshrouded past. They do this on a waterbed in a Texan barbecue joint currently under siege by bio-chemical weapon created zombies. At the height of their lovemaking, disaster supposedly strikes the theater’s projection room. Mere seconds before the promised money shot of Rose McGowan’s ample charms, the film’s reel burns a brilliant white and then dissolves into a spider web of ooze. A handful of shocked grunts are heard amongst the assembled audience and then a wave of laughter bursts out resoundingly at the developments onscreen. Apparently, a missing reel has resulted in the story bursting ahead significantly, leaving the sex scene behind to be mired chin-deep in a frenzied, bloody assault by the undead horde.

The humorous intent of this sequence is apparent, but its appeal to you will greatly depend on your willingness to ride along the rails of pretense into a pseudo-schlock double feature where thrills are cheap, gore is rampant, and sex sizzles the screen – literally. The fun of this flick is found in its constant, self-aware pandering. Take the aforementioned character of Cherry. In Robert Rodriguez’s half, the John Carpenter influenced Planet Terror, her initial onscreen appearance is so wonderfully brazen in its T&A approach that the film itself immediately starts to blaze erratically in a series of vibrant flare-ups. This strip club aurora borealis is Rodriguez’s sly affirmation of Rose McGowan’s hotness and it’s a brilliant introduction to the film’s method of winning over the viewers.

Throughout its three hours plus runtime, Grindhouse is attempting to stimulate the audience on two levels. One layer is meant to appeal to your primal self, the aspect of your personality looking to just turn the brain off and watch the cavalcade of craziness while hissing at the bad guys and cheering the heroes. The other layer is hitting at the minds of the movie-savvy, the folks who will chuckle at the outside film reference and nod knowingly at the postmodern subversion of the B-movie plot. Although both features use a combination of each, the former strategy is emphasized in Rodriguez’s segment while the latter is stressed in Quentin Tarantino’s, the slightly superior Death Proof: a seamless combination of car chase action and slasher horror. Sprinkled here and there amongst the headliners are a series of old-school theater titles, restaurant ads, rating declarations, and trailers for other “coming attractions.” You get everything from statuesque Nazi torturers to holiday themed murderers. Confusing euro-horror? Check. Mexsploitation action piece? Check. Fu-Manchu? Oh you best believe that item’s going to be checked.

I suspect I’ll be in the minority when I declare Tarantino’s half to be the better film, but the development is not entirely unsuspected on my part. Tarantino’s all about the slow burn; if he was a chef, he’d have every pan simmering over a low flame and the roast still marinating in juices when you arrived for dinner. Sure, you’re hungry enough to eat a burger right then and there, but the reward for waiting is too delicious to pass up. In classic Tarantino fashion, he steadily builds up his cast of characters through a number of well-written rounds of quirky dialogue and excellent pop song insertions. Ostensibly, his girls are playing a litter of sexy victims – a string of prey for the film’s quirky killer, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, who knocks it out of the park) to pick his way through in typical psychopath movie fashion. But they’re given so much depth that it makes for greater emotional investment when that dark automobile finally does come rolling around (and into, and through, and over, and…). Rodriguez excels at instant delivery of cheesy fun while Tarantino’s always about the story and Death Proof, like the best stories, is a long tale with lots of quotable nooks and crannies leading to a blowout finale.

Is Grindhouse perfect? The answer is no, but it comes pretty damn close to being my ideal movie experience. I actually did want to see the footage (existent or non) from the supposed missing reels and felt mildly cheated in spite of my laughter at the gag. One or two extra trailers in the vein of other beloved cult genres would have been the bee’s knees too (no love for the women in prison genre, guys?). Still, I can’t deny that my grin was wide as cars flipped, monsters growled, and attractive ladies shimmied. The groans of disgust were audible, as were the guffaws, and the applause of the crowd. Do yourself a favor and see this film with a bunch of pals in the theater before it departs for DVD. Grindhouse is custom built for crowd interaction and big screen projection, which in this age of diminishing Box office returns is really something Hollywood needs to be embracing a hell of a lot more.

3 1/2 stars


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 9 2007

    I don’t know if I enjoyed the film more than you, James, but this is my first 4-star film of the year. Of course, if you see my comments on the Box Office Recap post, I would not like the film as much as two separate films. Most of what I enjoyed about the film is the meta aspect: a film that comments on an entire era of film.

    With the changing face of cinema, it is possible that some people may never experience a double-feature or a drive-in or a projector failure or missing reels, and I like that they are all preserved in this film.

    This film is simultaneously an homage, a parody and a critique of the 1970s movie-going experience, and I love the film the way it is. For me, adding in the missing reels or cleaning up the scratches or splitting it into two films would destroy this gem of a film. I would not trade the as-is experience of seeing the film with an active audience for anything.

  2. Helen
    Apr 10 2007

    From my position as disinterested observor I’ll argue that what made this film so enjoyable for both of you – the meta aspect, as Rishi put it, and the participatory aspect James describes – is precisely what makes Grindhouse inaccessible and unappealing to most moviegoers. Grindhouse is a movie made by and for dedicated moviegoers with a particular interest in exploitation films. It assumes a certain degree of familiarity with exploitation films and that its audience will actively engage with the material. Most moviegoers do not fulfill either prerequisite. Most people only see a handful of (formula-driven) films a year, are unfamiliar with or put off by exploitation films and are accustomed to viewing films as passive consumers. I do agree with James’ comment to the box office recap that Grindhouse was poorly marketed and that its box office chances would have been improved by a rolling release beginning some time other than Easter weekend, a traditional time for family moviegoing. However, that aside, Grindhouse is still a movie with intrinsically limited audience appeal.

  3. Elaine
    Apr 12 2007

    I was thinking about what Jim and Helen said about how Hollywood needed to market Grindhouse properly. I agree, I had not heard of the movie before Jim mentioned it to me.
    Also, movie watching in theaters seems to be lessening lately and I know that the reason why we don’t go that much is because the prices have risen so much. I like that Grindhouse was a double feature, because then it’s like a 2 for 1 deal.

    On the missing reels, I like that it was more a 70’s horror movie, than a horror movie with sex scenes mixed throughout. That might be a girl’s opinion though. However, if they added those to the DVDs as special features that might fill in the gap to those that thought something was missing.

    As for the actual movies, I enjoyed Planet Terror immensely. It fulfilled horror, funniness, and as Jim put it the primal self.

    Death Proof, the first half I liked, however I felt like it was leading somewhere going up and up a little bit more, I was on the edge of my seat and then nothing, it never got there, it was like it started over again and then they killed him. That left me feeling unsatisfied, because I wasn’t into the 2nd part as much as the first.

    All in all, I did enjoy Grindhouse.

  4. Jason Greenwood
    Apr 12 2007

    The problem with all Tarantino movies is that Tarantino cares more for writing witty dialog than any other aspect for the movie. Many of his movies have very memorable lines or individual scenes, but his movies are never a cohesive whole. The speech about quarter pounders in France is very memorable but really does not have anything to do with the rest of the movie. Death Proof is an example of this. There are many unrelated scenes of witty dialog interspersed with the driving scenes which does not always connect with each other.

  5. Jeff Faulkner
    Apr 14 2007

    Death Proof featured two of the best car sequences EVER filmed, and this is not from a 15-year old posting on IMDB. It is a fact. I immensely enjoyed the build up with the, almost blatant non-related everyday dialog that Tarantino puts in his segment, followed by the climaxes that each deploy cinematically. Kurt Russell was perfect. The payoff was a true audience pleaser.

    As for Planet Terror, I felt that Rodriguez tried too hard in digitally getting that feel of a grindhouse movie. As well as really not caring for the characters as much as Death Proof. It looked a lot of times too cartoonish. Although it was indeed fun to watch.

    The between the movie trailers were the price of admission, even the much maligned Werewolf Women of the S.S. by Rob Zombie. The others being “Don’t” by Edgar Wright director of “Shaun of the Dead”. “Thanksgiving” by Eli Roth, which in my opinion was the most gruesome. And finally, “Machete” done by Rodriguez, makes me want to see these movies, though they don’t really exist.

    This movie was made for true film people with a knowledge of a time that was so long ago.

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