Saw Grindhouse…

I saw Grindhouse.

I’m not going to review it, per se, but I do have a couple of other reviews to respond to. Since I may inadvertently spoil something, the I’ll stuff the juicy bits behind the cut.

My friends Jim Zubkavich (zubkavich) and John Troutman (troutman)disagreed over Death Proof. Jim said it was interminably boring, and defied expectations by being about conversations for nearly an hour. John said that was brilliant anyway and that he loved it.

Here’s my take. Planet Terror desensitizes us to movie violence by being so very, very violent. It’s a zombie movie, and the requisite splatter is ubiquitous. This piece is followed by faux previews, the last of which, Thanksgiving, will make even a desensitized audience cringe.

At that point, an action-horror flick about a stuntman who kills people with his car would be a real let-down — action from the word “go” would come across very ho-hum. So the filmmakers decided to spend 45 minutes or so (I didn’t actually time it, but I think it was that long) re-humanizing us. We get conversation, familiar settings, character development, all laid down with an undercurrent of tension. But that undercurrent is only there because we keep waiting for the zombies to come back (at least in spirit). For the first few minutes I was expecting a car to roar through the set clipping characters and killing them gorily. And if that had happened I would have gone “meh, saw it coming.” Did I like the boring conversations? Not that much, no. But they were a great time for a potty-break (which I took during the first text-messaging bit — thanks for the advice, Jim!)

By the time Stuntman Mike DOES start killing people the whole concept of movie violence is a little fresher for the audience. Planet Terror was much bloodier, but given the context and the 45 minute breather, the violence in Death Proof ends up being much more memorable.

Note, however, that the brilliant audience manipulation described above in no way atones for both films’ utter lack of actual redeeming social value. These were both lowest-common-denominator pieces, filmed to appear as such, and filmed as if to make commentary on the genre. I’m not complaining — I knew that going in, and enjoyed the banality. The “use your talents” theme in Planet Terror and the “don’t be a victim” theme in Death Proof are nice audience messages, and some may try to point to them as being socially relevant and personally important. This is true, but these messages could have been delivered much more effectively. Their inclusion in the films serves to make the films more watchable, because we expect some unifying themes in our long-form entertainment, but that’s not the same thing as making the films decent teaching tools for the unwashed masses.

In the comic business we often talk about meta-humor — humor that is itself a commentary on humor. Were I an actual film critic I would have a word that says this for movies. As it is I have to say that they were meta-violent, meta-humorous, and full of meta-action and meta-suspense. They were enjoyable at least in part because other films with very similar content have been horrible, unredeemable, and unenjoyable.

Maybe the word is “satire,” or perhaps “parody.” I looked them up, but mere dictionaries fail where a proper education in critical theory might win the day (did I mention I’m not an actual film critic?)

Then again, if I were an actual film critic, when I began the post with “I’m not going to review this” I would have then gone on to write fewer than 500 words.

One of my favorite bits in these films lay in the credits, which I watched. (No, we don’t get anything at the very end of the scroll.) Mr. Tarantino’s personal chef was some gal named Sarah something-or-other. Mr. Rodriguez’ personal chef was Robert Rodriguez. This raises the question: where does a director find time to actually cook for himself? Did he eat homemade sandwiches all day? Or did he have some portable home-away-from-home kitchen he would retreat to twice daily for that omelette or quiche or tortilla soup that only he knew how to make the way he liked it?

Seriously, this got me thinking… in this sort of situation, would I want to haul a kitchen around for stress relief, when the alternative is to have more time to work while my personal chef cooks for me? I’m not sure, but I’d be willing to give it a go.

Oh, look. It’s time for breakfast. Discretion being the better part of valor, I shall experiment on the above by cooking for myself rather than hollering across the set at Sandra and demanding “one of those eggy-things, with the cheese and veggies in it, only without onions because the onions you used yesterday taste like they wanted to grow up to be mushrooms. And make it fast, I’m busy and you’re paid by the hour!”

Yeah. Discretion.

14 thoughts on “Saw Grindhouse…”

  1. Robert Rodriguez is big on cooking. It’s what he does to relax. So, basically, the Director finds time to do that thing that keeps him from killing everyone, just like everyone else does.

    In some of his film DVDs, in the Special Features, you can find him doing a bit of a cooking show. They are awesome. And funny.

      1. Yeah, on almost every DVD he’s put out, he has a segment dubbed his “10 Minute Cooking School,” in which he tells you how to make something, usually something he ate a great deal of during the filming of the movie. It’s actually pretty awesome.

        1. Okay, now I need to rent some DVDs with his cooking school on it, because I love to cook.

          Gimme a hit-list, and not just a run-down of every DVD of a Rodriguez film. I want to cook, not watch El Mariachi again.

  2. Another thing I really liked about Death Proof is that, during the second half with the 45 Minutes Of Conversation, there’s an underlying sense of unease and anticipation. You’re watching these girls live their everyday lives without a care in the world, knowing that Mike is watching them. It’s the most anxious kind of irony – the feeling that you know these girls are probably going to die but you have no idea when. It’s sort of like if you KNEW someone was going to die in a car accident today, but had no way to tell them.

    It’s a really interesting, and slightly queasy-feeling, form of drama.

    1. And now that folks are behind the spoiler-cut, I can say how much I loved the ending of Death Proof. The way Stuntman Mike goes from being casual, rough-and-tumble, and seemingly indestructible to crying like a little girl… oh, MAN that was fun.

      1. Oh, and to further that amount of fun, I also loved how it how no denouement whatsoever. Most films would’ve shown you the aftermath of Mike’s comeuppance, even if it was just the girls walking away into the sunset or something. But no, Tarentino just straight-up ENDS the movie as Mike gets the crap beat out of him. I ADORED that.

  3. Along with the “10 minute cooking school” there is the “10 minute film making school” in which Robert Rodriguez shows you the film studio he has in his house. In essence, he can shoot and produce almost an entire movie from his home, including the soundtrack and a direct pc integrated link to his special effects studio. So besides the actual outdoor shots, he was quite likely at home for most of the production. That is one of the extras on “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”

    1. Thanks for bringing this up, ’cause it’s probably exactly why his films are catered by Robert Rodriguez: It’s only 15 steps to the kitchen.

      (The “Sharkboy and Lava Girl” kids commented about how RR kept cooking for everyone. Of course, the studio cast for that one was all of eight people…)

  4. “Note, however, that the brilliant audience manipulation described above in no way atones for both films’ utter lack of actual redeeming social value. These were both lowest-common-denominator pieces, filmed to appear as such, and filmed as if to make commentary on the genre.”

    I don’t get how anyone went into this feature thinking that they would be anything -but- this: it’s a classic Double Feature kinda thing. The title, Grindhouse, only made it more obvious that these films would have pretty much no redeeming social or moral value — but would be hella fun, as it were, and the directors mad ejust what they intended to. 🙂

    1. Well, yeah.

      Just because you say you’re going to make a piece of crap, and then make a piece of crap, and then notify everybody “here’s crap” doesn’t mean this particular crap is SPECIAL.

      I hear this “I don’t know how you could expect more of this film” excuse all the time, and my response is “I DIDN’T expect more — I’m just telling you that if YOU expect more, it ain’t there.”

      1. I hear this “I don’t know how you could expect more of this film” excuse all the time, and my response is “I DIDN’T expect more — I’m just telling you that if YOU expect more, it ain’t there.”

        Exactly! 🙂

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