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!”