Saturday, May 12, 2007


Grindhouse_bigfinalposterWritten and directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, released by Dimension Films. Starring Kurt Russell, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Zoe Bell, Danny Trejo, Michael Biehn, Josh Brolin and many more...

Grindhouse. It's an audacious piece of art. Let's be clear on that.

It's also rather ingenious-- an attempt to recreate the experience of a "grindhouse" double feature, showing two low-budget movies with a flock of trailers for equally low-end movies. Nostalgia for those (like me) who remember the '70s, an all-new experience for anyone (like my wife Kat) whose life experience began with Reagan in the White House.

The first feature, "Planet Terror", revolves around a military experiment gone awry in the vicinity of Austin, Texas. Bruce Willis (in an uncredited cameo-- honest, you can't even find it on his IMDB entry!) plays Lt. Muldoon, whose men were exposed to a greenish gas after a (successful) mission to kill bin Laden. When this gas is released, it turns ordinary people into raving, cannibalistic zombies. Naveen Andrews plays the 'nad-happy scientist who invented the gas and *might* have an antidote.

Rose McGowan plays Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who wants a change of pace. Leaving her job, she is nearly run over by a military convoy, but makes her way to local BBQ haven the Bone Shack, where she encounters wrecker-drivin' Wray (Rodriguez), a long-ago boyfriend. When Cherry is attacked by zombies outside the Shack, her leg is the biggest casualty.

Panic-stricken, Wray gets her to the hospital just as all hell is breaking loose. But zombies aren't the only problem. Amid the carnage, Doc Block (Brolin) and his wife Dakota (Shelton) are about to part ways on rather bad terms-- assisted by a variety of painkillers.

There's a lot going on, but suffice to say that "Planet Terror" captures the world-is-going-to-hell tension of a classic '70s zombie flick. Robert Rodriguez and his cast do an excellent job of making something that will become a classic in its own right, even to the point of scratching the film, adding audible pops and even cutting the action with a missing reel at a crucial moment.

The second feature is "Death Proof" by Tarantino. This was a tough one to watch, because the violence done is both realistic and inflicted on characters you have come to like, even love. Tarantino doesn't shirk on the horrific effects of vehicle-on-vehicle mayhem-- but he builds up to it like a master.

"Jungle Julia" (Sydney Poitier, daughter of Sidney Poitier) is a local radio celebrity in Austin. Getting together with a bunch of her girlfriends (including Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito and Monica Staggs), she is struggling with a faltering relationship and her best friend's lackluster birthday, when Stuntman Mike (Russell) enters the picture. He's a real movie stuntman-- or so he says-- who drives a souped up and heavily reinforced car with a death's head on the hood. He makes his way into Julia's party and grants a ride home to Pam (McGowan, in her second role of the film)... only to reveal that he has a darker agenda for Julia and her friends.

The second half of "Death Proof" veers into a high-octane revenge fantasy, as a second group of women (played by Tracie Thoms ["Rent"], Zoe Bell [a real-life stuntwoman], and Rosario Dawson) are targeted by Stuntman Mike. The action is a roaring chase scene through the Tennessee landscape, as each driver tries to get (and keep) the upper hand. This was filmed AT ACTUAL SPEED, which takes the action from remarkable to unbelievable.

The ending is brief and brutal, but entirely appropriate.

The two movies are bracketed by a flock of trailers for low-budget exploitation films, including "Machete" (starring Trejo as a revenge-seeking Mexican), "Don't" by "Shaun of the Dead"'s Edgar Wright, and "Thanksgiving" by Eli Roth (best known for "Hostel"). Trejo is great, Wright's trailer is WAY creepy and Roth admirably recreates the low-budget gorefests of the late '70s and '80s.

Is it worth seeing? Heck yes! Not sure if I'll watch it again (parts are way intense, even for me) but this is one hellacious bit of filmmaking. See it in the theaters while you can.

Featured links:
IMDB entry: Grindhouse (2007)

Run time: 3 hrs., 11 min. Rated R.

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