Saturday, April 14, 2007


Let's start with this: I really, really love Quentin Tarantino. Unabashedly. I don't let any abash get in my Tarantino love. I love every movie he's ever directed, right down to his segment in Four Rooms. I like all three movies that other people directed from his scripts (True Romance, From Dusk 'Til Dawn and the amazing Natural Born Killers, even if there's probably very little of his script in that one). I totally don't get people who don't like his stuff, who consider him a rip-off artist, or who keep saying he took a step backward since Jackie Brown. Take this typical debate between pro-QT Kim Morgan and anti-QT Dave Fear. Fear says "For him to go from something as emotionally naked as "Brown" to the jukebox cinema of Kill Bill (Wow, you've seen a lot of cool Asian movies. Um, congratulations?) felt like a serious step backward." What this argument misses is that Kill Bill, regardless of what else you may say about it, is incredibly entertaining and just fucking GOOD. I'd go so far as to say that Kill Bill is just about the most perfectly entertaining movie I've ever seen. When somebody tells me they don't like Kill Bill, I have the same reaction as I would if someone were to tell me they don't like Fishbone (or at least their 80's output): what's not to like? Seriously, what fault could anyone possibly find in something as perfect as Kill Bill or Truth and Soul? I just don't get it.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, I have no great love for. I thought El Mariachi was impressive for it's budget, and I was interested in seeing what he would do next, but the truth is, he hasn't done much. Movies like Desperado strike me as being as stupid and dull as anything Michael Bay ever made. I like From Dusk 'Til Dawn, the first Spy Kids, his Four Rooms segment, and to some extent Sin City (my only real problem with Sin City is that I think Frank Miller's stories are just retarded, and that's hardly Rodriguez's fault). For the most part, I think he'd be better off letting someone else write his scripts.

Writing seems to be RR's central problem. He doesn't seem to have any stories to tell, just lists of things that he thinks would look cool in a movie. The same could be said of his half of Grindhouse, Planet Terror, except that by pure monkey-typing-Hamlet coincidence, Planet Terror turned out to be a pretty good movie. Possibly the best thing he's ever done, almost certainly the best thing he's ever made from his own script (I'm not sure how to compare something like this to Spy Kids). It has most of the same faults that the later Mariachi movies have, but somehow it makes them work. Maybe it's the low-budget aesthetic that takes some of the gloss off. This is a director famous for making low-budget movies that look like big-budget movies, now making a low budget movie that purposely looks like a low-budget movie (a few effects shots notwithstanding). I'm thinking this is achieved not so much through the sets and the fake-grainy film, but through using actors that somehow seem to not quite fit their parts. Freddy Rodriguez doesn't quite look like the badass he's supposed to, and Josh Brolin...I don't know, there's just something about him that makes him look like he's in a B-movie. And by the way, I think Brolin is the coolest performance in this movie, as an evil doctor trying to kill his wife in the middle of a zombie holocaust.

Planet Terror takes place in a purely cinematic universe, unhampered by logic, physics or veresimilitude. Whatever looks the coolest on screen is how it is. The machine gun leg looked pretty dumb in the trailers and promotional material, but by the time you get to that, it makes perfect sense in the universe of Planet Terror, alongside the castration tools and multicolored hypodermics. Of course, this is true of just about all RR's movies, so I'm not sure why it works for me here. Maybe it's because in Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, RR seems to take this shit totally seriously.

Planet Terror doesn't really emulate 70's movies. It's vintage seems to be more early 80's, if you ask me. I believe RR described it as "the zombie film John Carpenter would have made between Escape From New York and The Thing," and LA Weekly described it as Romero's The Crazies meets Assault on Precint 13, so basically, a Romero-Carpenter fusion. Zombie flicks (and even good zombie flicks) are a dime a dozen these days, but if Planet Terror had come out in the 80's, it would probably be a classic. The gore is genuinely disgusting, and there are indeed some nice, Carpenter-like widescreen shots. I love the way the whole movie opens, with the word GRINDHOUSE scrolling across the screen, taking up every inch from top to bottom, Rodriguez's guitar theme playing loudly, and then Rose McGowan bumping and grinding onstage at a strip club. The way she's shot almost looks like David Lynch.

It's no surprise to me that, although Planet Terror is probably my favorite Rodriguez, and Death Proof might possibly be my least-favorite Tarantino, I still liked Death Proof exponentially more. When I first heard the concepts, I assumed Planet Terror would be at the top of the bill. Zombie films are "bigger" than slasher films, and RR is certainly the flashier director. But having seen them, that would not have worked at all. Death Proof is a switch-up, a sucker-punch after Planet Terror, not to mention a much better movie, one that you find yourself thinking about after you leave the theater. It's also probably the artsiest thing Tarantino has done since Pulp Fiction.

There's not much to give away (or to talk about, for that matter) in Planet Terror, but Death Proof is a little trickier. I was kind of annoyed when I bought the new issue of Creative Screenwriting to read on the plane, and Jeremy Smith's interview with QT kinda gave away the central twist in Death Proof. It's not a Shyalaman-type thing, and I don't think I enjoyed the movie any less for knowing it, but maybe if you haven't seen it, you don't want to know, so you shouldn't read the rest. Up to you.

Most of Death Proof is a bunch of chicks sitting around talking. The dialogue is very Tarantino, but it also feels looser than his previous dialogue, more natural. There's a very real feel of just hanging out in a bar listening to conversations. And listening to the coolest jukebox in the world, pumping out a steady stream of obscure rockabilly, garage, blues and glitter rock tunes, which I'm sure was one of the most fun aspects of filming this for QT. He smartly saves the best song, a forgotten glitter rock song that rocks harder than anything Sweet or Slade ever did, for the climactic moment. Damn, I need to own that song.

And Kurt Russell is totally great. He just gives off this air of being wrong somehow, both dangerous and pathetic, which I imagine is what real stalkers, serial killers and rapists are probably like.

When the shit finally does go down, there's nothing disapointing about it. It's scary as fuck, and exciting, and Zoe Bell is really quite awesome. And Rosario Dawson gives what may be the sexiest high-kick I've ever seen.

It's such an odd movie that I'll probably have more to write about it over the next couple weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing it again at some point, although I'd prefer not to sit through Planet Terror to do so. In the meantime, check this out: Quentin, Robert and Scott Foundas sit down for a roundtable summit with a gang of classic exploitation directors from the old days, including Bob Clark, who died four days after the interview took place. This is a really, really great read.


Post a Comment

<< Home