Sunday, May 18, 2014

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Grindhouse" (2007)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #57

“Grindhouse” was a film experience unlike any other in recent memory. There were two movies jam-packed into a three hour film extravaganza. The film also featured faux trailers before the first film and in between the two films. This dream project was, of course, the brainchild of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. If anybody would collaborate to bring back the grindhouse cinema of yester-year, it would be those two. Both Rodriguez and Tarantino live on hyperstylized, genre cinema. I don’t know a whole lot about the backstory of Rodriguez and how he ended up where he is today, but Tarantino used to sleep all day and watch movies all night. Tarantino is quoted by saying that he “didn’t study at film school, he studied film,” and whatever he did certainly worked, because he turned into one of our best filmmakers in recent history. Rodriguez is just incredible to watch and if you are not ready for “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” this August, despite how long we had to wait for it, then you may or may not be sane.

Grindhouse cinema was somewhat big in the 1970’s. It can be argued that grindhouse cinema was the early onset of the independent film movement. Not every single filmmaker in that era had the money or the studio backing to receive a big budget for their movie. So in order to draw their audiences into the theaters, they had to rely on shock and awe. Grindhouse filmmakers made their films crazy, sexy, mind-blowing and absolutely gravity-defying. These were the early days of kung fu films, exploitation films, spaghetti westerns, blacksploitation and the like. But there was more to the grindhouses than loads of violence and sex; 
grindhouse theaters were places where one could witness the wildest double-bills ever. The movies at these theaters were always multiple, you really got your money’s worth at these theaters. I personally never got to see the glory of a grindhouse experience, because they were way before my time. Had I been born in the 1970’s and if I was as movie crazy as I am today, I’d probably be visiting them on a nightly basis.

God bless both Tarantino and Rodriguez for coming together and doing this, because I am not sure anybody else could. There has not been a movie in recent memory where a person’s weapon of choice against a horde of zombies were the propellers of a helicopter, or a hot chick with a machine gun for a leg, or a crazy serial killer who uses a car to kill his victims, or a Nazi-uniformed werewolf playing a guitar. “Grindhouse” is quite the time at the theater, quite the time for a movie night with friends.

Things get rolling right away, with the first faux trailer written and directed by Rodriguez, entitled “Machete.” Yes, the same name as the movie he made with Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba. Sadly, those two actresses did not show up in this faux trailer, but Trejo sure did. A lot of the scenes that ended up in that movie were scenes in the trailer. There is lots of blood and gore in the trailer, as well as a couple topless women. Right away, Rodriguez sets the tone for what you are about to see. The faux trailer was so popular that Rodriguez made the trailer into a feature film, and the trailer is quite wild and wacky.

After the trailer is done, we immediately move right into “Planet Terror,” the first of two films in the “Grindhouse” experience. Once again, Rodriguez makes it pretty clear what we will be in for, as we watch a dance routine from go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), apparently she is fed up being a dancer and quits on the same night as a zombie epidemic. Rodriguez had wanted to make a zombie movie for awhile, he knew the zombie genre would come back eventually and he wanted his chance at it. I can honestly say that Rodriguez really relished his chance. His “sickos” as their called in the film are grotesque, disgusting and quite fearless. They are wonderful foils for the crazy characters we meet along the way. The “sickos” were accidently created when Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) let some type of chemical weapon loose once a deal went bad with Dr. Abbyton (Naveen Andrews), letting loose these crazy killers. It’s a good thing Cherry Darling reconnects with her ex-boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), because he is a truck driver and occasional badass. Together, they put together a band of heroes, which includes Michael Biehn, Tom Savini, Jeff Fahey, Marley Shelton, and even Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.

The action sequences are off the charts, and Rodriguez puts every single trick, gimmick and style he has used over his lengthy career to blow our minds. It works every single time, and you’ll be cheering by how crazy-cool the action sequences are in this movie. The performances by McGowan, Willis, Andrews, Rodriguez and the rest of the ensemble are awesome. Look for Josh Brolin as a doctor who goes crazy from what is happening. Look for Michael Parks as Sherriff Earl McGraw, who shows up in both films. Look for hot Sherriff chicks blowing holes in the zombie monsters. I also love that Rodriguez did the incredible music for his film too. “Planet Terror” was one wild ride, and things were just getting started.

After “Planet Terror” ends, we get three more faux trailers. We get “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” by Rob Zombie, “Don’t” by Edgar Wright and “Thanksgiving” by Eli Roth. “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” is not like anything related to Rob Zombie, he had some real fun with his trailer and its great. It is also the only time you’ll probably see Nicholas Cage play Fu Manchu, too funny. Edgar Wright’s “Don’t” is a stroke of genius. It’s eerie and creepy and silly all at the same time. Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” is completely Roth, but that is not a bad thing. I liked how he was able to blend humor and slasher together, and I particularly liked how he was able to poke fun at the slasher film tropes with glee. These are great fake trailers and I would have loved any of these directors to turn them into films.

The last film and what closes out “Grindhouse” is Quentin Tarantino’s film “Death Proof.” Some like to say that this is an abysmal Tarantino film that he lost his touch on this one, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, it does take a while to finally get going. But this is without a doubt a Tarantino film. He’s definitely playing with the slasher tropes as well, just as well as Eli Roth did. Lots of people like to rail against the film because it is really talky, yes the film is talky, but what Tarantino movie isn’t? Half the fun of a Tarantino film is how he plays with language, Tarantino is a modern Shakespeare and I find it quite unfair that we penalize him for doing what he does best.

Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a stuntman for movies. When he is not working, he likes to stalk girls at bars. Stuntman Mike is definitely the creeper at the bar, buying all the young girls drinks. But whatever his silly antics are, he is able to swoon the girls with ease, and when he is able to invite them into his car, things turn deadly fast. Rose McGowan shows up in this film too and she is the first victim of Stuntman Mike. What is chilling is how charismatic Russell is in the scene where he kills Rose McGowan’s character. Part of the fun of this is that Russell isn’t playing the normal serial killer, he’s lots more charismatic, lots human and lot more fun. Stuntman Mike would be the type of person you’d love to hang out with on the weekends, just as long as he did not kill you.

After a string of murders, Stuntman Mike targets a new group of girls, which includes Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. What I loved about this movie and what shocked me is how the last half of “Death Proof” becomes a revenger flick! If you girls out there love to see “girl power” in the movies, then “Death Proof” is a perfect example of that. I don’t want to get into how the film ends, but it’s truly awesome reversal. How Kurt Russell transitions in the film is excellent acting, through and through. The women that come rolling into this film are all great as well. But it’s Zoe Bell who really steals the show. She’s the tomboy who can do everything better than the boys. She really leads how the film ends and the fate of Stuntman Mike, it is an incredible journey and Zoe Bell will certainly be on your radar afterward.

I feel like there is so much I can say about this film experience. So much I feel like I have barely touched on. All the great actors and their performances (so many actors to shake a stick at! All doing big, fun work!), the eye-popping action, great music, and well-staged set-ups all made for a rigorous time at the movies. I also hate how the full experience took so long to hit DVD. (Both films were released separately, sadly. And the full experience did not hit DVD shelves until much later.) But, “Grindhouse” is a perfect blend of terror, action and comedy. There is so much fun to be had and so much cheering to do with it. If you have not witnessed the epicness of “Grindhouse,” prepare to unleash it!

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