April 7, 2007

Grindhouse (04/07/07)

Lettergrade: C-

I used to love bad movies when I was a kid. My sisters and I would go out of our way to find shit-bombs like Motel Hell and The Hidden and we often had a blast watching them. I'm not like that anymore. I don't know what it is... perhaps I just reached the point in my life where there's too much I'd rather do than sit through a movie that isn't about anything, isn't trying to say anything, and is not likely to go anywhere significant by the end.

The whole package that makes up Grindhouse has some entertaining moments, but I can't really recommend it to anybody for the above reasons. In fact, despite having affection for the spirit of what it tries to do at rare moments, I can't even really say that slogging through the massive 3 hour running time was even worth it for me.

The picture is largely the product of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who each made an 85 minute feature that appears within the body of the film. The key thing to note is that each took a somewhat different approach toward making their individual movies. Rodriguez has clearly watched a lot of the same bad movies that I did while growing up, and his picture, a small-town zombie flick titled Planet Terror, is self-consciously cheesy, overdone and ridiculous. It's a bit too long at 85 minutes (perhaps 65 would have been a better length), but there's enough shlocky film tricks and business to keep me going.

The big problem for me came in the second half. Tarantino's movie, Death Proof, is more a straight emulation of slasher flicks and car chase movies from the 70s, and much less of a send up. The key twist here, of course, is that it's done with Tarantino's trademark dialogue. While I felt that sort of writing really enhanced some of his previous movies, it really drove me up a goddamn wall with this one. The characters talk and talk and talk... about people you don't know and will not meet, and situations that lead to no pay off, nor do they enrich the world of the movie in any way. When the movie reached its abrupt end, I felt remarkably cheated. Perhaps there's a joke in there (other than the suddenness) that I just don't get, but that aside it made me even more pissed that I had to listen to the Death Proof cast yammer on so long before getting to the film's climax-which-didn't-feel-like-a-climax.

I differentiate between what this movie does and what a movie like Kill Bill did. The latter stands on the shoulders of its source material, using it as a springboard for a much better movie (ala Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Godfather). The former is so in love with what it is emulating that it gets bogged down in the minutia of recreating details rather than finding its own voice.

The other key thing of note is that there are also 4 or 5 fake trailers that appear at various points between the two features. The two that I really liked were Rodriguez's trailer for Machete (a Mexsploitation film where a hit-man turns on the rich white dudes who hired him) and a really clever horror trailer send-up, Don't, directed by Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz's Edgar Wright. All the trailers really stole the show for me, however, and I believe best encapsulate what Grindhouse tries to do.

The trailers (as well as Planet Terror itself) celebrate the pleasure that can come from bad movies like these. It's not that I don't find that sort of thing amusing anymore, but I suppose I'd rather these guys spend their energy making movies with a little more substance. Perhaps on DVD, when spread out over a couple sittings, the whole thing might be a little easier to appreciate.

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