- Quentin Tarantino
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier), Shanna (Jordan Ladd) and Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) spend the day driving around, eating at a restaurant and ending up in a bar, where they plan to get drunk and stoned. Friend/rival Pam (Rose McGowan) is also there, and she hits it off with one striking looking man at the bar, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Pam asks for a ride, one which she’ll never forget, while the girls head to a lake house. Months later he stumbles upon another group of friends, Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracie Thorns), Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Zoë Bell (as herself), only this time he chooses the wrong targets.
Tarantino directed, wrote and photographed Death Proof. The movie has been made look trashy, with scratches, burns, missing reels, black & white transitions and all sorts of “cheap” effects to make it look like it was actually filmed in the ‘70s. That said, he does something with a highway car chase sequence which kind of breaks the fourth wall and takes you off-guard; it’s like Tarantino nodding at his audience and I loved it. The dialogue is all him, with most of the movie, especially the second half, being about conversations between the girls. I think many people will get bored or won’t like the approach; I was fascinated from start to finish, even though I feel that watching some of these conversations in a second viewing won’t be as much fun.
The flick consists of two segments; each one has its unique details that make them palatable. The grittiness of the first half, how the girls behave and move, how they dress and talk, the way you kind of feel something wrong is going to happen at all times, it just exudes a strange feeling, one that I enjoyed thoroughly. Then Tarantino aims for the shock, with a “finale” to this segment that is both brilliant and horrifying. And the way it is shot is, again, all him.
The second half feels more modern, less… vintage. It contains all sorts of pop culture references and plenty of dialogue as well. Stuntman Mike appears once again, so we know we’re in for yet another ride. But this one takes a different turn and eventually a very unusual car chase sequence unveils in front of our eyes; I won’t spoil the extra quotient in stake here, but I’ll just say it is very exciting and extremely well-shot.
Kurt Russell, despite appearing less than the bunch of actresses strutting their thing, leaves the strongest impression, with a tailor-made part that is difficult to scratch off. Among the ladies it is Vanessa Ferlito who stands out, but Sydney Poitier, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thorns are also excellent. There’s one bit of stunt casting, literally, in the form of Zoë Bell, who almost ruined the movie for me if it weren’t for her performance during the last half hour; just don’t have her speak, she’s not an actress per se and does not fit into the general tone at all. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jordan Ladd, Marcy Harriell, Eli Roth and Tarantino himself also appear.
“You could’ve easily been going left, too”.
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- Robert Rodriguez
- Quentin Tarantino
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Wednesday, September 17, 2008
On the other hand, neither film is too good to glue you to the screen, especially not after the first one has finished and wasn’t quite remarkable and the other is yet to begin and we’ve been already sitting for over an hour. It’s all in good fun, of course, but reviewing the films separately would probably be disastrous, much worse than the whole thing, so I won’t even consider that.
There are three instances inside this film: the first are fake trailers directed by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Robert Rodriguez, which are funny and refreshing, and actually look campy enough to be realistic. The other two are the feature films by Rodriguez and Tarantino, and that’s a different story.
Rodriguez’s film, Planet Terror, is in a sort of retro zombie genre that apparently Rodriguez envisioned before the new wave of zombie movies came and took over, which is quite unfortunate because otherwise it would’ve caused some nostalgia but, as it is, it’s more of the same. The story is about an infection that causes people to decompose and lose their minds, behaving like zombies and attempting to eat people, either killing them or infecting them. Nothing new there, as you can see.
Rose McGowan plays Cherry Darling, a stripper who runs away from her life and suddenly finds herself in the middle of the zombie craze along with her ex-flame El Wray (Freddy Rodríguez). There’s a combination of haunting past and dangerous liaisons going on there that give the would-be romance a peculiar tint. These characters, but particularly she, quickly become the most interesting in the film and fortunately never let go. After the film becomes a depiction of war, McGowan becomes a goddess. A certain prosthetic is so awesome it quickly looks iconic. At times, it does feel like we’re watching a camp classic from the old days. That feeling is what Grindhouse was supposed to be about, I think, but it’s there only scarcely.
A subplot involves a couple of husband and wife doctors. He, played by Josh Brolin, has a killing jealousy, while she, played by Marley Shelton, is stronger than she appears. After a while, she takes over that story. It’s a feminist film, indeed. Perhaps that has something to do with the “exploitation” genre. Anyhow, it’s interesting to note, and quite positive.
As for the zombies, they soon become more disgusting than scary, and that isn’t a good thing. Many known faces show up here and there, and sometimes that’s off-putting. I know I seem to be complaining about everything and anything, but really, that’s how I felt while watching the movie. Too many things came into my mind. More than anything else, I kept being reminded that this wasn’t the real thing, or even homage, but a pretentious effort by filmmakers who just don’t give a damn as long as they’re having fun. That could be good, if some of the fun was for us, too. But not much of it is.
Quentin Tarantino’s feature segment, Death Proof, is a better film cinematically but inferior dramatically. The story follows a couple of groups of girls who are spied upon by a psychopath and later harassed by him. Why this goes wrong is completely unexpected. It could have been because it goes too far, or because it’s too morbid, or because it’s cliché. Instead, the reason it goes wrong is because it’s boring. If you add to that the fact that it’s got more than a few action scenes, it turns incomprehensible. But Tarantino managed it.
I remember once hearing Tarantino say in an interview that he removed a certain scene from Pulp Fiction (1994) because it seemed like it was made by someone imitating him rather than by him. Now it all seems to be made by someone imitating him. Every conversation is forced beyond limits by characters trying to sound smart but coming off silly. Then take, for instance, the scene where Kurt Russell (the star of this one, and pretty good at that) mentions, out of the blue, a Big Kahuna Burger place (known to any Pulp Fiction fan to be a hamburger joint he made up). He’s recycling his own work now? What happened to all those amazing references he used to make? Here he’s referencing Vanishing Point (1970) to the point of exhaustion and to no much avail. Sometimes references get in the way; I remember the time when he could make them an integral part of an interesting story.
When the action takes first chair, it’s unbelievable. Kurt Russell has got a lot of energy, and his car, perhaps the true star of the film, is amazing. I just loved these scenes, they’re some of the most incredible chase sequences I’ve seen in my life. And the way they’re made, or seem to be made, with old-fashioned effects, is a wonder.
There are many female actresses in this, also a feminist film, including Rosario Dawson, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Most impressive of all, however, by far, is stuntwoman Zoe Bell playing herself. She steals many scenes and it’s not hard to see why. She is, perhaps, the true star of the film. Now, that’s a tough race: a man, a woman, and a car. You be judge.
I’m getting all excited because I’m thinking about the amazing scenes. Really well done! But I guess they’re even better because it’s a relief to be caught in them after long minutes of sheer boredom in the hands of these women uttering, like there’s no tomorrow, implausible Tarantinisms that never ring true. No one talks like that, even in his universe. Plus, it doesn’t go anywhere. As I said, references are there for the hell of it, not for fun. And more obscure they couldn’t be. I’m sure many people know all of these films, I even know a few, but most people don’t. And then they wonder why Grindhouse was a box-office flop…
There are visual effects to spare to make this look rugged. That works, though sometimes it seems like they forgot to add that and then the movie looks really great. However, as a two-feature film with trailers sprinkled about, it’s a fun ride. The experiment is worth it, and these filmmakers are always good enough to give a look. Yet, once again, the aftertaste is that of having spent time on people who didn’t deserve so much effort from us. Perhaps if we were at a real grindhouse making out during the show, the verdict would be different.
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