Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Grindhouse"

Howdy, y'all. Hope everyone had a good weekend.

Anyone else see "Grindhouse"? The wife and I saw it at the drive-in on Friday night. It was an unseasonably cold night and the lot was packed. Apparently not so the other theaters in the country showing "Grindhouse". This Tarantino/Rodriguez-directed "double feature" made a paltry $11.6 million on its opening weekend, coming in fourth place. "Blades of Glory" was first in its second week, the animated "Meet the Robinsons" came in second, and you know what was third? "Are We Done Yet?", the family-oriented Ice Cube-starrer fresh out of the box this weekend. Analysts pointed to "Grindhouse"'s 3-hour plus running time and its R-rating as checks in the minus column, but $11.6 million? Either I have to fault the Weinstein Company's advertising strategy, or I have to agree with the blog runner on Whatwouldtylerdurdendo.com, who said in response to "Grindhouse"'s anemic box office total: "Everyone sucks."

The film is a lot of fun. I'm guessing that Tarantino was the brainchild behind this project because the filmmakers seem to put as much emphasis on the filmgoing experience of seeing "a grindhouse-style movie" as they do on the actual films that comprise "Grindhouse". Tarantino's own movies are filled with nods to the schlock entertainment titles shown at so-called grindhouse back in the day, particularly his recent "Kill Bill" films. I'm a product of bland suburban multiplexes, myself, so whatever nostalgia high "Grindhouse" might have offered was lost on me. but I appreciated how dedicated to the idea of recreating the grindhouse experience these two guys were. There were a lot of ways they could have expressed their enduring admiration for these old exploitative films, and a lot of them much less risky, less potentially off-putting to casual filmgoers than this. "Grindhouse" is a true double-feature, for one. Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" runs first, than Tarantino's "Death Proof" making it 3 hours and 11 minutes long. They add film-deterioration effects to the film. There is an intermission (I don't know how long it was as I went to the concession stand for candy during it). The dialogue is sometimes purposely bad (I think purposely). In keeping with the customary practice of projectionists snipping out the "best parts" of the movie for their own private highlight reels, both films are missing reels. In "Planet Terror", the missing reel is hilariously pivotal to the plot. In "Death Proof", the missing reel is a hilarious (but malicious) tease. Rodriguez and Tarantino even invited current horror directors to create their own grindhouse-style trailers for nonexistent movies, which run before each movie. (They're all pretty hilarious, by the way.) Even if "Grindhouse" had been a bore (which it certainly wasn't), these guys, including the Weinsteins (though grudgingly) deserve a lot of respect for pulling this off. Though the embarrassingly low totals for its opening weekend box office suggest most of America was either not ready for this kind of project, or was not in the mood.

"Planet Terror" is pretty fun, but for me the weaker of the two movies. Schlocky zombie epidemic gorefest. Josh Brolin is very funny in it, and I liked seeing Jeff Fahey get a plum role in an A-list project, but there was a bit too much of Rodriguez's typical excesses and not enough stuff I hadn't seen a million times. Also, Rose McGowan's charms as an actress were completely lost on me here. "Death Proof" had a lot more going for it, I think. Kurt Russell's turn as the inscrutable and villainous Stuntman Mike was riveting. I'm still not quite sure if Tarantino was off his game in how he wrote Stuntman Mike because at first glance his writing seems uneven and weird; though the more I think about it the more persuaded I am that there are hidden depths to Stuntman Mike that are only glancingly alluded to. I also liked the first killing scene. One of the hallmarks of a good horror movie is a new and shocking way to kill people. Tarantino delivers here I think, but then abandons the idea of a one-by-one kind of killer and the first of the film's two acts abruptly ends with a strange but terrifying act of violence.

But then the second half of "Death Proof" begins and it feels a little like Tarantino hitting the reset button on his movie. A brand new gaggle of mouthy, leggy girls in a car? Check. Stuntman Mike lurking in the background? Check. This second half starts slow, and by the time this new group of ladies starts talking, I'm already getting weary of Tarantino's pop-culture laden dialogue, which has become increasingly esoteric. With each new Tarantino movie it's getting more difficult for me to separate the dialogue coming from the mouths of his actors from the image of Tarantino's grinning gargoyle face hunched over the keyboard typing it up. (Which is another reason I really like Russell's Stuntman Mike. When he spoke his lines, I didn't hear Tarantino nearly as much as with the others). The fact that Tarantino inserts himself into both films doesn't help. But anyway, he makes up for it with the extended car chase scene that comprises most of this half of "Death Proof". He casts Zoe Bell, (who was Uma Thurman's stunt double on "Kill Bill" as herself), and so when she's required to do some hellacious stunt work for the long car chase, that's her you see in mortal peril. Her terrified expression. It's a great idea and it makes the chase scene all the more visceral and real. The end of the film I won't give away, but I will say I had a good laugh when the "The End" title appeared on-screen.

All told, "Grindhouse" is some risky, inventive filmmaking and well worth seeing.

Because it tanked here in the states, Weinstein has said he wants to split the movie into two movies in a couple weeks, and add in the "missing" reels left out of the double feature version of "Grindhouse". Hope they manage to eke out some cash from this thing.

10 comments:

Speck said...

There was no intermission in the regular theaters. Just the fake ads and completely hilarious fake trailers.

I expected to enjoy Death Proof more then Planet Terror. But it actually ended up the opposite for me.

Planet Terror was a huge ton of schlocky fun.

Death Proof had some awesome car stuff and that was about it. It had way to much "Tarantino" dialogue. I was sick of listening to 20 minutes of girls talking about nothing to see 5 minutes of awesome car stuff, to go back to 20 minutes of girls talking about nothing.

To me Death Proof was totally forced and annoying overall. Though Kurt Russell did an awesome job.

Overall it was a very fun experience at the Chinese. But I doubt I'll ever watch them again. Anyone who misses the theater experience will most likely hate both movies when watched alone on DVD.

JudgeHolden said...

You may be right on that last bit there, Speck. I wonder if the movie would have the same effect if we hadn't been in a quasi-audience (the drive-in). But I bet it was awesome to see it at the Chinese. Best way to see a movie like that, I think, is in that town, at that theater, on opening night. A city full of film nerds who know as much about the movie as anyone. I do have to say I think Quentin writes men better than women, but that statement means almost nothing because I can't think of a male writer who writes women better than they do men. On the plus side, when Weinstein breaks them up, the missing reel of the lapdance will be replaced. Maybe that reel will change your mind about "Death Proof".

Captain Mike said...

Dude...

Mia Wallace, Fabienne, Ezmerelda Villa Lobos, Jackie Brown, The Bride, O-ren Ishii

Quentin writes terrific roles for actresses. They might not be women you'd actually meet in reality, but they're all memorable.

Speck said...

Thats the problem mike...none of the death proof characters are memorable...save Stuntman Mike.

All the women are annoying. And casting an ugly stunt women who cant act for shit as one of leads is terrible.

I had fun watching both....except the mass amounts of pointless dialogue in Death Proof. But i think its the weaker of the two movies.

Planet Terror had way more going for it.

harwell said...

Count me in the group of people who didn't go see Grindhouse last weekend. I want to see it, sure, but am I dying to see it? Nah. And I love, love Tarantino but I just can't get past the fact that this seems like an exercise or vanity project for him. I'm sure the movie is a lot of fun, but if you're a regular schmoe and you want to have fun at the movies why wouldn't you go see Blades of Glory instead? I think the cause for the low box office results can be linked to what happened with Snakes on a Plane: most people just don't give a shit about camp, schlock, or whatever you want to call it. It's hard to sort of grasp why a movie seems like it's having fun with a subject or genre that is usually treated so seriously in order to sell the scare factor. When they see advertisements for something that looks as if it was DESIGNED to be a good, fun form of "bad" I think it probably strikes people as disingenuous. Every single person involved in Are We Done Yet? may have phoned in their efforts, but folks can see the previews and know what they're getting and paying for in a way that they can't with something like Grindhouse. It's just a tough, tough sell.

Anyone know the budget on Grindhouse? It's a niche project and because of that I'm kind of surprised to see so much press regarding the box office returns being that disappointing.

JudgeHolden said...

Yeah, Mike, all those female roles were pretty memorable. Particularly the women in "Pulp Fiction". Which makes it all the weirder that the women in "Death Proof" were so dull.

And "Grindhouse" cost, I believe, 67 million to make. I read something else the other day that said that people's understanding of the movie was so low that lots of people left after the first movie, not realizing that there was a second. And since the first was weaker than the second, there must have been some negative word of mouth to bring down Saturday and Sunday totals. Even at the drive-in people were driving away when the credits rolled on "Planet Terror". So maybe Weinstein dropped the ball moreso than America didn't get it.

blankfist said...

'Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" runs first, than Tarantino's "Death Proof" making it 3 hours and 11 minutes long.'

It's "then", Crane... "then".

Speck said...

Death Proof was weaker then Planet Terror. Get it right.


If us film dorks were bored to tears by 40 minutes of trite, annoying dialogue from characters we didnt give two shits about. Then how do you think the general public who saw the movie felt about Death Proof.

It sucked.

blankfist said...

'Death Proof was weaker then Planet Terror. Get it right.'

It was weaker THAN Planet Terror. THAN! What the hell... 'Then' is used to denote a timed order, such as "I first read Crane's post THEN I replied to it". Than denotes a comparison, such as "My political views are better THAN Crane's". What's so hard about that? This makes me so Smurfing angry! Grrrr!

Craig Moorhead said...

Both movies moved back and forth between mindbending dulldom to ridiculous transcendence.

The one thing that bothered me the whole way through was the lack of commitment to the idea. I mean -- 'Planet Terror' is a "grindhouse" movie + tens of millions of dollars. Same for 'Death Proof'. Makes me wonder - if they hadn't bothered with categorizing it all as "grindhouse" (a term I'd never heard until the last few years despite spending most of my childhood-Fangoria-reading days watching all that stuff) would it have done better?