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Directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Machete", "Planet Terror"), Rob Zombie ("Werewolf Women of the SS"), Edgar Wright ("Don't"), Eli Roth ("Thanksgiving") and Quentin Tarantino ("Death Proof").
Written by all of the guys above.
Starring Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell, and MANY others.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  4/7/07


Between trailers for real movies, trailers for fake movies, an ad for shitty fake Mexican food, and two feature-length movies, "Grindhouse" is one hell of a sit at about 200 minutes.  It's a production that turns out to be a mixed bag for reasons detailed below, but this is worth seeing either way...assuming that you have the stomach for pervasive blood, gore and profanity.


"Grindhouse" was originally going to be just two stand-alone movies that directors Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado", "Spy Kids", "Sin City") and Quentin Tarantino happened to be doing around the same time.  Then they decided to do this double feature bit, based on old-school 1970s double features that usually were shitty action/adventure/revenge/kung-fu thrillers featuring people who were never seen again.  The idea is brilliant, and the trailers for some fake 70s-style action & horror films are probably the best thing about "Grindhouse."

Using many of the actors from other Rodriguez & Tarantino productions, the trailers kick off with "Machete", featuring long-time Rodriguez favorite Danny Trejo as a Mexican man given the chance to dig himself out of shitty hourly-wage jobs here in America by fulfilling a contract on a politician's life; everything about this trailer is fucking perfect, right down to the gratuitous shot of Machete (Trejo) fooling around with two women in what looks like a waterfall for no good reason.  In between the two feature films, we get three more trailers and a commercial for a Mexican restaurant that works mostly because of its attachment to the past--apparently, all of these double features back in the day used to promote shitty neighborhood restaurants.

The three additional trailers are also perfect--featuring a horror theme throughout, we get contributions from Tarantino protégé Eli Roth ("Hostel" and "Cabin Fever"), Edgar Wright (who did "Shaun of the Dead" & the upcoming "Hot Fuzz") and Rob Zombie in various fake movies that seem to feature an odd array of killing and headless bodies.  Featuring a couple of funny cameos and the kind of voiceover work I just fucking love, these are the bits that I'll watch again and again on the internet.

Trailers Rating:  Opening Weekend

"Planet Terror"

"Planet Terror" is exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to assessing what a 70s-style action film should be about: pretty much nothing, as long as there is plenty of T&A, needless profanity, senseless but continuous violence, and actors so low-budget and shitty that they will (probably) never be heard from again.  Save for a cameo by Bruce Willis, this cast is so C-list--in other words, perfect--that Rodriguez ought to be nominated for some kind of genius filmmaking award for his work here.  Just casting Jeff Fahey alone (a B-movie meistro whose recent credits include "Scorpius Gigantus", "Ghost Rock" and "Locusts: The 8th Plague") makes "Planet Terror" a fucking work of art.

Centering around a zombie theme thanks to a biological weapon that gets into the wrong hands of a madman, we get a few characters to follow around in "Planet Terror."  There's Cherry (Rose McGowan), a stripper who works at a shitty club somewhere in Texas and is at the end of her rope when it comes to putting up with a shitty boss.  Freddy Rodriguez stars as El Wray, a stereotypical Man With a Past who was Cherry's former boyfriend; we also get the (unhappily married) husband & wife duo of Drs. William & Dakota Block (Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton), who are forced to put aside their differences for a little while so that they can help members of the community with their strange zombifying issues; and a sheriff (Michael Biehn) and his BBQ-shop-owning brother (Fahey), who are along for the zombie-fighting ride.

Gloriously violent, "Planet Terror" rips off nearly the entire zombie genre but somehow makes that work; Rodriguez uses explosion and special effects so cheap that you'll almost feel dirty yourself when it's over; almost everyone has a voice that screams pulp from the start--husky, smoky, and deep; the use of "dirtying" film effects (scratches in the visual and audio of the film; green lines running down the middle throughout; shots that are not lit right or centered correctly) makes the whole film look cheap.  It helps that the film is just a fun ride, and a perfect 80 or 90-minute's a lively production, one that follows the fake trailer for "Machete" and gets the whole thing off to a bangin' start.  And, the machine-gun prosthetic that Cherry has to wear after losing her leg to a zombie attack is easily the coolest thing in "Grindhouse."  Nothing's perfect, but since most cheap action films of the 70s weren't either, "Planet Terror" is the quintessential homage film.

"Planet Terror" Rating:  Opening Weekend

"Death Proof"

After "Planet Terror" and four great trailers for movies that we'll never see in real life--but who ISN'T thinking about making "Werewolf Women of the SS" after seeing a fake trailer for it?--Quentin Tarantino gets his turn to show off the talent with the thriller "Death Proof."

Simply put, "Death Proof" pretty much killed my "Grindhouse" experience.  After you have done about two hours in the theater up to the point that "Death Proof" begins, your excitement level goes from a crazy high to a low so low that you have to struggle a bit to remember that you loved this idea when it first got started.

Why does this happen?  The biggest problem: the "Grindhouse" trailers and "Planet Terror" are light on dialogue (and what IS there is really clipped, staccato lines), heavy on fun visuals, action and laughs.  "Death Proof" is as chatty as anything Tarantino has done, which is saying a lot when you think about all of the talking done in "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown."  To equate this more fully, going from "Planet Terror" to "Death Proof" is like watching a fast-paced, high-scoring Mavericks/Suns NBA game that goes to double-overtime, and then watching the first round of a seniors PGA golf tournament; you can almost GUARANTEE that you will fall asleep soon after the golf tournament starts, and that almost happens while watching "Death Proof."

"Death Proof" is basically about a drifter named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), who stalks hot women in Austin and hunts them down with his rollbar-safeguarded '71 black Chevy Nova.  The problem?  We don't meet Mike for about 30 minutes to start "Death Proof", and before we meet him, the film is essentially a slow burn as we meet his first potential victims, played by an array of hotties including Sidney Poitier's daughter, Vanessa Ferlito, and Jordan Ladd.  After the Stuntman makes an attempt on their lives soon after meeting them, we meet a second set of women, who are making a film somewhere in (I believe) Tennessee.  These women--including Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms and real-life stuntwoman Zoë Bell (she was Uma Thurman's double in the "Kill Bill" films)--get the chance to face down Mike in what ends up being a somewhat-interesting car chase to close the film.

"Death Proof" could have probably been 45 minutes long and accomplished its goals a bit more efficiently, but instead, it is double that in length and after the run-and-gun first two hours of "Grindhouse", "Death Proof" just kills all the momentum.  Sure, it's loaded with lots of skin, but that skin is just talking, talking, talking for so much time about so little that is interesting that you are looking around for an editor as the movie tries to desperately get to the finish line.  That car chase at the end is well shot (and, thankfully, light on talking, talking, talking), but it's still nothing that daring or spectacular (for the most part); the cool thing about it is mainly that it features the derring-do of Bell, who spends about ten minutes hanging on for dear life on the hood of a 1970 Dodge Challenger.


"Death Proof" Rating:  Rental

Overall, "Grindhouse" would have been a much better product if the Tarantino segment were replaced with another schlocky 70s motif piece; something that was heavy blaxploitation or badly-dubbed kung-fu, not a chatty chick flick mixed with a bloody bang-up car wreck.  As it is, you are truly best off watching the trailers before and after "Planet Terror" and then leaving the theater as soon as "Death Proof" begins.  With the internet these days and a DVD certain to be rolled out in the next three months, you'll be able to see the two best clips from "Death Proof" at a later date...and, you'll have saved yourself some time and misery in the process.

Overall "Grindhouse" Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09