5 Stinky thoughts on Grindhouse

With MrStinky out of town this weekend and with mounting threats to cleave its epicness into bits, 'tseemed necessary to prioritize a theatrical screening of Grindhouse. And, lo, was StinkyLulu glad to have done it. As an experience, 'twas both exhausting and exhilarating. (StinkyLulu arrived home & was wired for hours -- that like to never happens these days.) So, if you can, lovely reader, do rush out and catch the rollercoaster ride for yourself. 'Tis a four hour experience, so you may need to take the day off, but 'tis truly worth it. Can't really think of a film that's as much about the movie-going experience -- good and bad -- as this one. It's not necessarily a great movie, but it is an enthralling event with at least a little something for every movie freak... StinkyLulu, then, offers the following 5 Stinky Thoughts (which are, to the best of my limited ability, spoiler free) as both reward and incentive...

Thought #1: Oh, that Robert Rodriguez.
With Planet Terror, StinkyLulu enters the ranks of Robert Rodriguez's most weary fans. The man's clearly a brilliant and charismatic organizer. He can marshal more effects, actors and character schticks than anyone. Perhaps ever. And he's a brilliant scenarist -- creating the most enthralling and clever scenarios for cool characters to maneuver. But, criminy, RR just seems unable to tell a story in a way that sustains our emotional investment in all those totally cool things happening on screen.

Thought #2: The Sign in the Box Office Window
Last week, Stale Popcorn marveled at the American movie-going public's palate. And when StinkyLulu arrived the to the googaplex and noted the "warning" sign in the box office window...basically warning that the film was supposed to look like that...well, StinkyLulu just had to wonder. Golly. How dumb are U.S. movie-goers? To be sure, Stella Liebeck (the McDonald's coffee lady) was from ABQ so it may be that we are especially dumb in the Land of Enchantment. Then again, maybe it's not a question of smarts. Perhaps it's more that contemporary filmgoers are profoundly uncurious/uninterested in matters of cinematic style? (PapaStinky once tried convince StinkyLulu that a dvd-playing in "letterbox" mode was due to a manufacturer's defect.) Whatever the explanation, signs like the one in the box-office do not bode well for even mildly adventurous commercial filmmaking.

Thought #3: Can the interstitials get their own sequel?
Oh my jeepers. Those previews? Those "this film is restricted" cartoons? That psychedelic swirl between segments? Such filmgoing flashbacks. Lurv it. StinkyLulu could just watch that shit for hours. Literally. Hours. Honestly. Those interstitials are what elevate Grindhouse into the realm of the sublime.

Thought #4: OK. Is Eli Roth a...well, you know?
Just askin'...

Every time StinkyLulu sees/hears the man speak, that special "spidey" sense starts tingling. And a certain "ooh-wa" sound starts on loop. Maybe it's just the way he touched that other horndog's arm at the bar...with that curiously prolonged fingerpoint? I dunno... Like I said. Not sayin' -- just askin'...

Thought #5: Death Proof is pure genius.

And it's all about the structure. QT very subtly organizes Death Proof into three acts, using little bits of Grindhouse schtick as bridges between. Thus organized, QT uses the first two sections of Death Proof to immerse, inoculate and initiate the 2007 audience to his chosen genre and its two main pleasures: tawdry tedium and gruesome sadism. Then, in the third section, QT deploys a set of genuinely charismatic char/actors to subvert the genre and its gender politics in startling and gratifying ways. TO EXPLAIN: Death Proof's first section (Jungle Julia) is all about the insipid voyeurism and languid, pointless titillation of schlock pics. The characters are barely distinguishable -- same bimbo, different flavors -- and are generally uninteresting (to the point of annoying). Plus, the basic scenario gets way too complicated, with so many flailing threads that it's easier to stop caring. The main point of this section, though, is to introduce Butterfly (the gorgeously retro Vanessa Ferlito, on whom StinkyLulu now has a total girlcrush), tracking her uneasiness and slow seduction by Stuntman Mike. And just as there promises to be a horndoggish payoff for all this tawdry tedium, QT interrupts the proceedings with a simple bit of fabricated "Grindhouse" schtick. (At the sparsely populated screening I attended, the offending intertitle elicited audible groans of frustration. Cinematicoitus interruptus, if you will.) Then, with an abrupt cut, QT zooms Death Proof into the film's second and briefest section -- that I'll just call "Left Turn" -- which gives full ride to the lurid sadism of the genre and which has women taking all the hits. Hard. That's followed by a denouement-like bridge to what looks to be a lamely appended but generically-appropriate "explanatory" epilogue (featuring, in a nice twist, a few intertextual treats in the shape of characters from Planet Terror popping up). Then, all of a sudden, QT yanks us into section three -- with Death Proof's only continuing character now clearly up to the usual tricks. But the film's feel has changed. Everything's a teensy bit clearer, brighter, more contemporary in feel and sound than anything up to this point in the film. Even more, the characters are interesting, as are the performances of most of the actors (especially Rosario Dawson and Zoƫ Bell). There's an ominous weight in the air, to be sure, but the patter of the four women keeps things amazingly light. (That round-the-table work in the diner? Evokes the contrived whimsy of Sex & The City even as it ratchets up the terror; imagine if Carrie and the gals had a really scary stalker... That scene's one of the best things Tarantino's ever done. Right along with the incredible, extended stunt set-piece that follows. Not to mention that crazy fist fight at the end. Wow.) With Death Proof, Tarantino's genre obsession finally marries with his storytelling ability and genuine interest in performances by powerful women. It's easily his most mature and successful work. And, quite frankly, it might be the first film in which Tarantino finds a way for the audience to ride shotgun on his filmmaking joyride.

So, lovely reader, do you have any thoughts on the wonders of Grindhouse? Do tell...


Biby Cletus said...

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Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

SamuraiFrog said...

Thank you for putting into words everything about Death Proof that I thought was brilliant. Great, great post.

Marius said...

Please don't get me started about Eli Roth. Great post! It stinkin' rocks!

JA said...

If Mr. Roth ain't... you know... he is def. a bit obsessed with... you know. I'm sorta obsessed with him for that, and other, reasons.

I'm so with everything you said on Death Proof. The whole dedicating four more hours of time that I don't have to seeing it a second time has kept me from doing so just yet, but I can't stop thinking about what a truly wonderful spectacle of structure QT built with DP. Just... phenomenal stuff.

JA said...

Er, not sure why that link goes funny.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

I know Stinkylu focuses on the supporting femmes here, but after watching Grindhouse, Kurt Russell’s at the top of my list for a Supporting Actor nomination (at least- it's early in the year, but I don't think I'll find another performance as enjoyable). He handled his villainy in high style, combining a zestful comic flair (love the screaming!!) with intensity and considerable acting skill to make Stuntman Mike one of the zaniest, most unforgettable (if sick) characters seen on the screen in a while. Russell appears to be having a ball illustrating every twisted element found in this creep’s makeup, while also masterfully putting over the juicy Tarantino dialogue. He’s looked at Goldie’s statuette lying around the house long enough- I say it’s time to give Kurt a shot at one!

As for the girls, the mellow, awesomely confident work of Sydney Poitier impressed me the most. She's a natural in front of the camera, and obviously has inherited star presence and acting ability from her legendary father (I couldn't keep my eyes off her during her scenes). Major props also go to Rose McGowan- I don’t believe she’s ever been this vivid in a role(s) before.

I preferred Death Proof, although I found the whole show a hoot. Too bad the box-office returns haven’t been through the roof (oddly enough, though, in my small, fairly rural town, the Wednesday night showing of Grindhouse I attended had a healthy turnout of 30-40 people. Normally midweek shows have 10-15 people in attendance, making Grindhouse an unlikely hit in these parts). If Grindhouse had solider returns, Rodriguez and Tarantino could’ve kept cranking these babies out in true grindhouse fashion.

REX said...

As for the artificially worn print, yes, the public is that dumb, but more to the point, Tarantino's "fans" (and he is the name draw here) far outnumber those who would actually get his obscure touches. Personally I thought it was good for a momentary laugh, but spreading it through the whole movie(s) was way much.

Rodriguez delivered at least as much as he promised, which is more than I can say for Mr. T, who might've given us a more consistently exciting movie if he'd spent a lot less time developing totally unlikable characters.

And yes, for what it's worth, Eli Roth has more than once struck me as that way, too, which is interesting only when juxtaposed with his horror movie obsession.