Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: Tusk (2014)

Release Date: September 6th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Based on: SModcast #259: The Walrus & the Carpenter by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Génesis Rodríguez, Johnny Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp

Demarest Films, SModcast Pictures, A24, 102 Minutes

tuskReview:

Kevin Smith had an awful idea. Sure, it was fun fleshing out and debating over a podcast but that bad and bizarre idea became a film. It is now a film that Kevin Smith will have to live with as part of his film catalog that seems to get tarnished more and more with each release since the late 90s.

Maybe Smith never had it, maybe he was a one trick pony, maybe that less than a handful of films he did in the 90s were the best he’d ever produce. If you have ever wondered whether or not Kevin Smith was a hack and were still undecided, this film should make that decision much easier for you.

I don’t want to hate on Smith. I’m part of that group of people that wants to see him find his mojo again. However, Tusk makes me question if there was any mojo to begin with. Maybe those earlier films weren’t as good as I thought they were. Maybe I am just falling victim to nostalgia for films I fell in love with when I was still a teenager without a palate as vast as the one I have now. I can’t say for sure but I can say that Tusk is fucking dreadful and it puts a big exclamation point on everything wrong with Smith, not just as a filmmaker, but as an entertainer.

Tusk is one bad joke told over an hour and forty-two excruciating minutes. It is supposed to be a horror comedy. Sure, it is horrifying but mostly for the wrong reasons. It is only funny in one bit of the film – where Justin Long’s character meets a border agent when he first arrives in Canada. Other than that one minute exchange, the comedy is lost in this ridiculous exhibit.

Justin Long has always been pretty horrible. Sure, he seems like a nice enough guy in the real world but Tusk doesn’t do anything to help his case.

Michael Parks is sometimes amazing and delightful, he may be the bright spot of this film but he’s still thrown into a mess of a movie and what may be a great performance is ruined by the absurdity of everything else happening. You can be the best actor in the world but if you are fed shitty lines and are in a premise that even you aren’t buying into, your performance is doomed.

Johnny Depp shows up and plays one more in a string of really bizarre characters, which has been Depp’s trend since he shook off that teenage heartthrob persona years ago. While this sometimes works for Depp, his weird character in this film is unfunny, boring and falls flat. He is some sort of Canadian private investigator but comes off as someone doing a bad impersonation of John Malkovich playing a French person.

Haley Joel Osment appears in this and it is truly nice seeing him do something as an adult. Also, Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughters play clerks in a convenient store and do a pretty okay job with their limited time.

Génesis Rodriguez plays Justin Long’s girlfriend and she is maybe the best performer of the movie – beating out Parks because she didn’t have to perform in as many ridiculous situations. She is also extremely beautiful and from what I can gauge, a much better actress than the roles she’s been given so far in her career.

If you don’t know about the premise of this film, it is about a crazy old man who invites a podcaster into his home for an interview, only to drug him, keep him captive and physically morph him into a walrus. If you want it visually ruined for you, just Google “tusk” and hit images. There you will see Justin Long in all his walrusy glory.

The pace of this film was disjointed. It was slow for a bit, then it jumped ahead a great deal. It was confusing. For example, Justin Long finds himself losing body parts and the process to full walrus seems slow. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he is a full fledged walrus chained to a floating slab.

By the time you get to the end of this film, you are left wondering what the whole point was. Well, the point is that Kevin Smith had a dumb idea on a podcast, his legions of Smithites told him to make it and like a soulless whore, he did. And while I am sure those loyal Smithites jack off to Tusk daily, until the next Smith schlock comes out, the rest of us are left baffled, confused and disgusted.

This is the worst film Kevin Smith has ever made. In fact, it is the worst film that I have seen in a really long time and I went to the theater for Fantastic Four and Terminator: Genisys. I still want Kevin Smith to return to glory. Maybe he should stay away from the horror genre, as he has had two awful duds with this and Red State. Maybe focusing on Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2 is what he should do. But at the same time, the novelty of those films wore off a long time ago.