Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Than the Daily 'Grind'

During the climactic car chase in "Death Proof," Quentin Tarantino's half of the double feature "Grindhouse," two old-school cars that had heretofore been duking it out on empty highways and dirt careen onto a main road. Tarantino suddenly reminds us that this film doesn't take place in the 1970s, but in 2007. The high-speed drivers race around and smash into bland, modern SUVs, posing the question: Is there a place for this kind of film in these modern times?

The question lingers throughout the film, which suggests that between the occasional prestigious art film and the polished, PG-13 crap shoveled out to junior high students every weekend, we've lost the joy of exploitational trash. We don't have the films that kids see posters for and describe—with an active imagination and bated breath—to their friends, the films that promise hot women, bloody decapitations and tense explosions beyond your wildest dreams.

For many, the simple existence of these films is lost. Stuntman Mike, the cheerfully ambiguous character played by Kurt Russell, talks about the TV productions he worked on, and realizes the young, hot young girls with whom he's conversing have no idea what he's talking about. Tarantino knows that his own encyclopedic pop culture knowledge is lost on most of his audience.

Yet he has made a brilliant homage, part recollection and part deconstruction, to this lost age, merging the stalker/slasher and the female revenge genres into a glorious, constantly surprising game.

Many of the best stalker films take their time establishing the nonviolent life that the ticket-selling violence encroaches upon. "Halloween," for example, spends more time in the creepy, pre-murder atmosphere than on the actual killings. Lesser exploitation films use cheap drama to fill out the runtime. The difference between Tarantino's development and most grindhouse films is that it's detailed, observational and entertaining. Tarantino wants to get to know these women in all sorts of light. They aren't women of the road, they're local girls who like to go out and party, and their car lets them drive from place to place, hitting a few bars before heading out to their cabin. Although they don't actually go to most of their destinations, the possibility itself is exciting.

Russell stands (or maybe lurks) in the center of it all with an outstanding performance that's both personable and creepy. He tells stories, makes small talk, and observes everything that goes on around him: the text message love scenes, near sneezes and fights. Everyone knows him, but no one actually knows anything about him.

[SPOILER NOTE: You can't really discuss the film without giving stuff away, so consider yourself warned.]

Abruptly after our four initial females are killed off in less than a second (although Tarantino gives us a closer look at each one's demise), a new story starts. Stuntman Mike is at it again, and he has his eyes on four more ladies, who are working on a film production. After the initial chase, which interrupts a helluva game called masthead, the ladies decide to strike back. They are not helpless females in distress. Russell is no longer the calm, methodical madman, but a shrieking, crying baby. Tarantino's women are empowered in a very different way than those in most revenge exploitation films, and they're having a hell of a lot of fun as they go on a wild ride and track down their pursuer. Their sense of adventure lacks the desperation of typical film portrayals, and bears more resemblance to the audience watching the film, cheering for the bad man to get what's coming to him.

[Awkward pause.]

Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is also good cheesy fun, more notable for its study in scratches than anything else. And "Shaun of the Dead" director Edgar Wright's trailer is pure genius. Of course, if you've seen "Grindhouse," you already know that, and if you haven't, you need to see it for yourself.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

DON'T!

Janean said...

Reading this makes me want to see it all again. Grindouse is the most fun I've had at the theatre in quite some time.

T.J. said...

Nice review guy. The Tarantino section really stuck with me in way as well. I wasn't really expecting it too.