Archive for Friday, April 6, 2007

Grindhouse’ resurrects spirit of ‘70s Z-grade movies

April 6, 2007

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Grindhouse ***

Directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino pay homage to the cheesy, blood-soaked, womanizing movies that flickered across drive-in screens in the '70s with this double feature. The nostalgia is so thick you could cut it with a "Machete"-which is actually the name of one of the fake trailers packaged in this campy salute.

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Gimmicks get moviegoers in the door. Good filmmaking brings them back. "Grindhouse" does both.

Directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino pay homage to the cheesy, blood-soaked, womanizing movies that flickered across drive-in screens in the '70s with this double feature.

The nostalgia is so thick you could cut it with a "Machete." That's actually the name of one of the fake trailers packaged in this 3-hour-and-15-minute salute to a time when the only plots in movies were the burial kind from which zombies clawed their way out.

The flashback effect is completed with the inclusion of the short films, complete with scratches, used to introduce upcoming attractions and the featured films. They tie the double feature together tighter than a masochist's shoelaces.

That's the gimmick part. What will create repeat business are these outrageous versions of a time in filmmaking when gore and violence were the mantra.

Rodriquez sets the camp meter on maximum with his "Planet Terror." The action and blood splatter is so over the top you will get a nosebleed. It has the gore of "Dawn of the Dead," the violence of "I Spit on Your Grave" and the concern for intelligent writing of "The Thing With Two Heads."

Rose McGowan plays Cherry, a go-go dancer who has given up her dream of being a famous doctor. Now she wants to be a stand-up comedian. Those plans don't have a leg to stand on when she bumps into her mysterious ex-boyfriend Wrey (Freddy Rodriguez). They end up in an encounter with zombies that leaves Cherry without her right leg.

That doesn't stop the pair from teaming up with a few locals to battle the ever-growing army of flesh eaters. Weapons range from shotguns to helicopter blades. The most creative is the large-caliber rifle that replaces the ex-dancer's missing limb.

Equally as fun as the writing is the way Rodriguez has designed the movie to look like its print has been passed around by one too many drive-in theater projectionists. Scratches, faded images and even a strategically missing reel of film all go into making "Planet Terror" a pure delight.

After fake trailers for the gorefests "Werewolf Women of the SS," "Don't" and "Thanksgiving," Tarantino's "Death Proof" takes over the high-octane fun.

Tarantino pays tribute to low-budget films like "Vanishing Point" and "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry." Those kinds of movies were Kate Moss-thin on plots but lead-footed when it came to driving sequences.

Kurt Russell channels the evil twin of his Snake Plissken from "Escape from New York" to play Stuntman Mike. He's taken road rage to a whole new level. Mike likes to stalk groups of pretty women and then kill them through vehicular manslaughter. Why? It doesn't matter. That's thinking way too much.

Mike picks on the wrong three females when he gets into a road battle with Kim (Tracie Thoms), Zoe (Zoe Bell) and Abernathy (Rosario Dawson). These women decide that revenge is a dish best served at high speed.

After the roller coaster of "Planet Terror," "Death Proof" feels like a kiddie ride. The high-speed-chase finale is well staged. But, Tarantino's tendency to allow the camera to linger on his players while they discuss obscure points is a real letdown in this format.

Tarantino gives up the grindhouse tribute about halfway through his film. Without the bad edits, continuity gaffs and the scratchy prints, the second half of "Death Proof" looks more like a tribute to "Smokey and the Bandit."

Any good drive-in projectionist will tell you that the best films are saved for last. These films should have been shown in reverse order.

They are still loving, and fun, tributes to a brutally bad time of filmmaking.

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