Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grindhouse - Home Video Review

Together again at long last...

Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370
Picture Quality: High-Definition
Sound Quality: High-Definition

Loves: Campy horror, Kurt Russell
Likes: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Neutral: Tarantino's schtick
Hates: That it took this long for the film to be released proper

Original Release Date: April 6, 2007

                         GRIND HOUSE (n) :
                         A theater playing back-to-back films exploiting 
                         sex, violence, and other extreme subject matter.
I am gonna skip all the explanations about why Grindhouse is a double feature since that has been talked to death about in the past. The only thing I will state here is that these two movies were meant to be seen like this and no other way. Instead we are going to accept that this is a two film feature by two of todays most popular directors. So what we are doing here is splitting the review up somewhat and looking at both films individually, buuuuut....we are also looking at how and why these two films work as a double feature. If any of this sounds confusing don't worry, it will make sense during the me.

We are thrust into the Grindhouse experience with a series of old theater title cards which is promptly followed by the original trailer for Machete. At the time this was released it was an awesome trailer and the perfect way to lead into this experience. Now however after seeing the actual movie they made for Machete it doesn't impress quite as much since I know the movie it is advertising isn't very good. However, that is just a silly trailer, the real meat lies directly after that when we are presented with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror!

This film is clearly inspired by all those wonderful 80's John Carpenter horror movies. Actually, inspired is probably the wrong word to use here, it is more of cross between an homage and a clear cut rip-off of Carpenter's previous works. That is a good thing though, especially since Carpenter seems unable to recapture his former glory himself. The intent is seen in the initial moments following the opening credits/dance number were we quickly start to meet all the locals of this apparently small town. The camera angles, music, and the atmosphere will be familiar to anyone that is a fan of not only Carpenter, but any late 70's and 80's campy horror films.

The movie opens with us following a large number of military trucks filled with soldiers into some kind of secret backwoods military base. There we are introduced to Abby (Naveen Andrews) a scientist/arms dealer sort that is there to pick up some merchandise for those soldiers. The deal goes bad quick and the military commander Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) takes control and wipes just about everyone out, but in the process some of their merchandise, a deadly chemical weapon, gets released into the local town and it doesn't take long until we start seeing the effects this has on the people living there.

Some of the colorful characters that await you.
I have criticized Robert Rodriguez before for having too dam many characters in his films and this one is no exception. Planet Terror is packed to the brim with different characters that would take up the bulk of this review if I were to rattle them all off. Suffice to say that unlike his other films, somehow he has managed to balance things out fairly well. Even the four main characters we follow get some decent screen time for a change. Also what is working in Rodriguez's favor here are the conceits of the horror genre itself where we expect fairly shallow characterizations that are usually defined by a single trait.

Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) whom is for all intents and purposes the star of the movie is a former erotic dancer that wants to become a stand-up comedian. El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) is the loner/badass of the town with a mysterious past. Doc Block (Josh Brolin) is a man that suspects his wife of cheating and has one hell of a temper. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) is a woman trying to get out of a bad marriage while also being really good with needles. Every other character in the film has those same types of quirks and they all have just the right amount of screen time. For once the Rodriguez formula of "more is more" actually works.

He should really have that looked at.
And the great thing about having so many characters is that you get to see most of them killed and mutilated by the slimy, gooey, and just plain nasty monsters. Keeping in with the campy feel these "zombies" will appear at random times and also exactly when they are needed. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it other than to have a zombie jump into frame with the expected "thwooonnngggg!" sound effect to try and make you jump. There are no cutaways either, this is a bloody movie and a really cheesy one at that. If anyone winces at the on screen gore seen here they are in dire need of a slap to the face.

Now, this is supposed to be an exploitation movie of course and it wouldn't be one without a little sex, gore and other extreme content strewn throughout it which it most certainly has. I just mentioned the gore which there is plenty of with the number of people that get diced and sliced. The sex isn't quite as abundant but what there is is interesting for with a one legged woman...just means easier access. The extreme content comes in the form of Dakota and a rather tragic yet hilarious (I am a demented person, what can I say) event that in a serious film would probably drive people to tears.

So much for those stand-up comedian ambitions I guess.
I have gone this far without mentioning too much about the look of the film other than its framing and mood, but another effect they do is litter the picture with scratches and dirt for the entire run time. This is done to give it all a weathered look, like it has been run through the projector one time too many and I think it works wonderfully. It never becomes too distracting and never really detracts from any important scenes...however there is one point in the movie where a "Missing Reel" message appears at just the right moment. The state of things for our characters go from OK to shit during that missing reel and I guarantee this will be the only time you laugh at the fact that you missed key information to a movies story, brilliant.

This movie is just a really good time, it never takes itself seriously and never expects you to either. I mean, how can you take a movie featuring a former erotic dancer that has their leg replaced with an assault rifle seriously? The cast that Rodriguez has put together here is phenomenal and everyone seems to be having a great time. Hell, it even has a rather bittersweet ending that is completely ridiculous (in keeping with the rest of the film) yet also believable in some other universe sort of way. That is sort of a lie though because this isn't the end...this is a double feature after all.

Leading into the next feature are a series of trailers that have all been put together by some other notable directors. The Rob Zombie trailer for "Werewolf Women of the SS" is probably my least favorite of these, but the cameo (can you have a cameo for a trailer?) at the end is ingenious. That is followed by Edgar Wright's "Don't!" which is my favorite of these three because it does what I wish other "one word" titles would do which is use that one word in as many ridiculous ways as possible..."Don't!...go see this movie." The final trailer is from Eli Roth and is called "Thanksgiving" which features some absurd deaths and feels sort of blah...but that cheerleader on the trampoline...yikes!

Directly following those trailers we are headed straight into Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, the second film of this double feature. This film is a complete change from Planet Terror, not just in the directors but more noticeably in the tone. While Planet Terror went more for the cheap thrills and kills of your everyday horror cliche, Death Proof feels like a slightly more serious film. Not serious in that it IS a serious film, but in the sense that you feel like the film makers were TRYING to make a serious film but ended up making a rather generic stalker movie. That is the beauty of what Tarantino has achieved here, a genre film that feels authentic to the time period it takes place in.

Stuntman Mike is on the prowl for some loose women.
The premise is rather simple, you have yourself a group of some very free-willed ladies out for a night on the town. The one thing they don't realize is that they are being stalked by a very menacing looking car with an unknown driver. The ladies are pretty and like to an extent anyways. They, like most attractive women, use their looks to get what they want and don't seem to care about the collateral damage they leave in their wake. It is not to say they are bad, they just think a little bit too much of themselves which eventually leads to their fateful confrontation with...the car.

The group of ladies holds up in this quaint little bar for the evening where they meet a very strange, confident, and kind of funny man who calls himself Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). He actually has very little interaction with the primary group of women at first but strikes up a little chat with a blonde at the bar played by Rose McGowan...again. Russell is one of my favorite actors ever, he just has this swagger to him that commands your attention. When he does finally approach our little vixens they are caught off guard by how he acts towards them, he isn't fooled by their charms and in fact charms them himself. Stuntman Mike is a complicated guy which is made even more complicated when you see what kind of car he drives.

"There is nothing more fetching than a beautiful woman with a bruised ego."
If that sounds like too much set up for you and not enough action then maybe this movie isn't really meant for you because in classic Tarantino style he takes his sweet time getting to the good stuff. His films are known for their hip and cool dialogue that almost never has anything to do with the moment but has some sort of deeper meaning. He takes that to a whole new level this time around where he kind of pulls a bait and switch on the audience. What do I mean by this? Well, it involves some slightly spoilerish information but I promise to be as delicate as possible.

As I mentioned earlier we have Stuntman Mike and his car stalking this small group of young ladies which comprises about half of the movie, 40 to 50 minutes to be exact. In that amount of time you have about 30 to 40 minutes of pure dialogue and no action whatsoever, just pure character interaction. Then there is a quick flash of something exciting which fizzles away rather quickly. We are suddenly introduced to a whole new group of women where it almost feels like the movie has restarted. We see Stuntman Mike stalking them now and we hear them talk about whatever for 30 or so minutes. It almost seems cruel to make your audience sit through all that build up a second time.

The girls get ready to do something really stupid.
I would almost go so far as to say it feels sloppy, to have a movie split in two pieces which are structured nearly identical. To make it worse this is what plays directly after the faster paced Planet Terror, which while it is a really nice tonal change it also gives you that same feeling you get when getting off the freeway after speeding for so long where everything seems to move slower than it actually does. This is without a doubt my biggest gripe with Death Proof and Grindhouse as a whole, Tarantino is just too in love with his dialogue at times and it hurts the pacing (it is even worse in the stand-alone directors cut).

Other issues I have with it are minor compared to that, the scratches and dirt on the print seen in Planet Terror are here as well but not used nearly enough. By the time the third act arrives the picture becomes almost crystal clear which wouldn't be such a bad thing except that since the effect is used so little that when it does appear it is almost distracting which was not the case in Terror. My last nitpick is with the "Missing Reel", in Terror it worked on a comedic level and was placed perfectly, here it almost seems like bad editing. Plus whatever was missing here (see the stand-alone directors cut) isn't nearly enough to fit an entire reel (which is usually between 15 - 25 minutes give or take).

This amazing car chase scene is what awaits the patient viewer.
OK, I have been pretty down on this film so far but I honestly really enjoy it quite a bit. As mentioned before it is the perfect follow up to something like Terror despite its pacing issues. Kurt Russell is in fine form as the stalker/killer and the last few moments of the film with him I thought were particularly hilarious for the change in attitude he has. And then of course there is the biggest selling point of the movie...the 20 minute car chase at the end featuring real life stunt woman Zoe Bell on the hood of a car while barrelling down the highway at ungodly speeds (all without the use of any computer trickery by the way).

Every last bit of dialogue that leads up to that final chase is worth the price of admission alone not even counting the other film you got before it. And as a final act to not only Death Proof but Grindhouse as a whole it works marvelously and ends the whole thing on a high note. I believe what Rodriguez and Tarantino did here is remarkable, they not only recreated a type of moving going experience that resembles the old theaters they frequented when they were younger but they also made two really good films at the same time. While they don't work quite as well on their own they are sort of amazing when seen in this context, the way they were always intended to be seen...together.

In closing I just want to mention a couple things about the bluray package this comes on, you not only get just about everything from the stand-alone releases (sans the extended cuts thank merciless god) plus a ton more. If you were looking to find the definitive Grindhouse experience then this is it my friends. You get extensive behind the scenes for not only both films but the mock trailers as well. You get an audio commentary for a dam awesome is that. You will not exhaust these extras any time soon and as a whole I think they will give you a much better understanding on what these two directors were attempting to do here. I cannot recommend this film or the bluray package enough, go get it and see what you missed out on 3 years ago in the theaters.


Grindhouse (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]


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