Grindhouse (2007)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 4/6/07

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino team up to pay homage to the sex and horror exploitation films of the 1970's and 80's in this double feature, complete with fake trailers for coming attractions. The trailer for Danny Trejo's "Machete" is pure brilliance and one of the highlights of the show, while the trailers for "Don't" and "Thanksgiving" are utterly amazing in their quest for authenticity. Only Rob Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the SS" falls short as being too absurd and not tongue-in-cheek enough. As expected, Rodriguez's film, "Planet Terror," is clearly superior to Tarantino's long-winded and empty-headed "Death Proof."

Planet Terror

Rating: ****
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Hung Nguyen, Bruce Willis, Tom Savini, Stacy Ferguson, Michael Parks, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Rebel Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Carlos Gallardo

A splendid piece of 80's era schlock, as a secret biochemical weapon is accidentally unleashed on a small Texas town, turning its inhabitants into brain-munching zombies. A group of survivors make a desperate stand against the plague of undead, and each has their own melodramatic backstory. The primary characters are a go-go dancer named Cherry (Rose McGowan) and tow truck driver with a secret past named Wray (super cute Freddy Rodriguez). Amidst fighting zombies and trying to stay alive, they also attempt to rekindle a previously failed romance. At the local hospital, doctors William and Dakota Block (superb Josh Brolin and pretty Marley Shelton) are trying to deal with the growing outbreak as well as sorting out the differences of their doomed marriage. The other side plot involves two brothers, the local sheriff (Michael Biehn) and a BBQ proprietor (Jeff Fahey), as they settle their family disputes during the uprising. Everything about the movie is crazy and over-the-top, and is an unbridled joy to watch. All of the standard B-movie conventions are employed, and while much of the film doesn't make sense, it's not really important. Rodriguez has a great sense of campy whimsy, and goes out of his way to entertain. Rose McGowan is awesome when she goes into kick-ass mode, and Marley Shelton is awe-inspiring in her presentation. Freddy Rodriguez is charming throughout, but the show is nearly stolen by Josh Brolin's engrossing portrayal of the creepy Dr. Block. Everyone else does a great job as well, with the single exception of an awful cameo by Quentin Tarantino. Just terrible. The only other complaint I have about the film is that a little too much effort was gone through to make the film print look bad - film scratches, audio pops, dropped frames, color shifts, and other "flaws" are too obvious and needlessly distracting.

Death Proof

Rating: *(*)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Sydney Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Zoë Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose McGowan, Quentin Tarantino, Marley Shelton

Simply AWFUL. Do yourself a favor and skip the entire first hour of this mind-numbing atrocity, and just watch the exciting climax. Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a retired Hollywood stuntman who now gets his thrills by stalking and murdering young women with the aid of his reinforced muscle car. Never before has Tarantino's self-indulgent masturbatory obsession with mindless banter been so fully realized as it has in this film, and the entire first hour is literally nothing but watching a bunch of girls drink, smoke, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and then talk some more. I nearly fell asleep on several occasions trying to endure this bullshit that never went anywhere or even attempted to further the plot. While I give credit to Tarantino for the technical challenges involved with shooting exceedingly long takes, watching people talk does not make good cinema. Only when the final showdown between the girls and Kurt Russell takes place do things start to get interesting, and still the action scenes are overwrought with way too much dialog and overstay their welcome just a tad. With the climax of the film, Tarantino revisits the golden age of car chase filmmaking, where real stunt drivers drove real cars way too fast and destroyed a lot of things in the process. The high octane climax truly shines in its harrowing stuntwork and superb cinematography, and ends the film on a very high note (hence the optional two-star rating). While it doesn't justify or nullify the pain of watching the rest of the movie, it at least lets you walk out of the theater on an adrenaline high.