Sunday, June 10, 2007

Your Action-Packed, Double-Feature Review of "Grindhouse!"

(Boring editorial note: In case you're not a film geek and don't already know this, "Grindhouse is the new double-feature of gore, sleaze, and shock from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. In honor of this monumental event, Silverfish co-editors in training Jamie Hancock and Jack Baur split reviewing duties to give you the full picture of this face-meltingly awesome motion picture.)

Rose McGowan's career is death-proof. By my count, she's starred in two movies with Pauly Shore and two movies with Brendan Fraser. As if that wasn't enough wreck her credibility, McGowan played contemporary witch Paige Matthews on the WB's "Charmed" for five seasons. So how does a movie called "Grindhouse" catapult her back to movie stardom? It plays on her strengths. When she cut her teeth on "Bio-Dome" and "Monkeybone," McGowan was preparing for a role of a lifetime…much the same way Freddy Rodriguez and Josh Brolin earned their stripes in "Lady in the Water" and "Hollow Man."

In "Planet Terror" (the first feature of "Grindhouse"), Robert Rodriguez gathered an ensemble of actors and actresses who had proven talent in cheesy movies (including Bruce Willis). Since the movie is so sensational and over-the-top, the director recognized that it required a certain type of performance. After all, a film that marries zombies, martial arts, sexploitation, and splatter in B-movie fashion demands B-list celebrities. Casting Rose McGowan instead of Scarlett Johansen as stripper Cherry Darling may seem like a minor decision, but it is integral to the feel of the movie.

In allegiance to exploitation films of the 1970s, Rodriguez delivers fast-paced action with a series of predictable and unexpected turns. He masterfully layers tired stereotypes and storylines that don't always connect, much to the glee of moviegoers. The absurd notion that the death of Osama bin Laden somehow contributed to the proliferation of zombies in Texas is explained in a matter of seconds, and then the movie rolls right along to the next scene…where Darling blows ketchup-splattering holes into a mutant army with her recently-attached machine gun leg. While Darling is fighting zombies, she is also renewing ties with her ex-boyfriend and former rogue assassin El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). This relationship culminates in one of the film's most memorable scenes. As the couple begins to "make love" in The Bone Shack, one of the film reels is apparently misplaced and, after a friendly apology, the movie continues in the absence of several plot twists- the building is now on fire and being attacked by zombies and the sheriff has been critically injured!

To sum up "Planet Terror": surprises on top of clich├ęs with skin, violence, and gore! Rodriguez skillfully mixes genres, makes fun of them, and makes fun of his own movie at the same time. Upon viewing this film, you will be convinced that this is not a bad movie – it's one of the baddest mutha-fuckin' movies ever made! Sort of like throwing a Xena: Warrior Princess stunt double on top of a speeding Dodge Challenger…

(With that said, we interrupt this review for a word about our new hero, Zoe Bell, the aforementioned Dodge Challenger surfin' Xena double herself. That word is "Sigh…" Alright: onward)

Hot on the heels of "Planet Terror" (with some outrageous fake previews and an ad for the cheap-looking Mexican restaurant across the street) comes Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof," a much different beast than Rodriguez's zombie gore-fest. It starts with a blast of Tarantino's trademark dialogue, as a group of four hip young women get together and get ready to go out for an evening in Austin, TX. At the bar that night, and amidst a backdrop of '70s music and references to cult films, the women get drunk, stoned, and never stop talking. They also meet a man named Stuntman Mike (a, and it pains me to say this, really good Kurt Russell), who flirts with the women, gets one of them into his car, and… but that, of course, would be telling.

Tarantino's playing several levels of games here: indulging his love of cool dialogue, plastering his myriad fetishes on the screen, directly and indirectly referencing decades of film history (I really need to see "Vanishing Point" now), and, most importantly, severely messing with our expectations. Plot structure goes out the window as Tarantino pulls the rug our from under us three or four times in his film's ninety or so minutes. It's all about rhythm, a game of lull, shock, lull, shock - a game that Tarantino proves himself skilled at in a way that we have never seen from him before.

He even had me fooled for awhile. There was a moment or two where I questioned whether or not I was still having fun, whether Tarantino hadn't crossed a line into sadism that he couldn't pull himself back from. Ultimately though, I'm happy to say that save it he does, and what I experienced in the theater as almost uncomfortably intense and terrifying, I now remember fondly as nearly twenty minutes of some of the most amazing car stunt work you have ever seen. Kiwi stuntwoman and our new hero Zoe Bell (who, in addition to Xena, was also the double for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) plays herself and absolutely steals the end of this film in a final, breathtaking turnaround that had our whole row of iSchoolers cheering.

Final assessment: If you don't like fast cars, melting zombies, hot chicks flying through the air mowing down said zombies with machine gun legs, bad language, cheesy homages, or villains who collect the testicles of their foes in a jar of glowing green goo, stay the hell away from this movie! Everyone else: this may be the most perfect film ever.

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