Tuesday, January 29, 2008

 

It's not always best to go second

By Edward Copeland
I got through the second part of the surgically altered DVD of Grindhouse, finally seeing the extended version of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Aside from Kurt Russell's fun performance as Stuntman Mike, the movie is a real letdown.


I doubt if I'd seen the shorter version I would have felt that much more favorably toward Death Proof.

In Planet Terror, all the actors seemed to be on the same page as to what type of movie they were in. In Death Proof, few of the characters have any sort of distinct personality outside of Russell, especially in the case of the first group of young women Stuntman Mike terrorizes.

Most of the actresses in the early sequence are really bad, and not in a good way. Since we spend nearly an hour with them, it gets to be unbearable.

The second group of women, which includes Rosario Dawson, are slightly better, but their repartee comes off as very tired. On top of that, Tarantino seems to have grown bored with his own movie.

Whereas the first portion of the film functions with the same spirit as Planet Terror in terms of washed-out colors and scratched-up prints, when he leaps ahead to the second batch he films an entire sequence in vivid black-and-white for no apparent reason. Then, when he switches back to color, the film seems like just any other reasonably well-shot color film.

Russell's hilarious performance can only take you so far and by the time Death Proof finally wraps up, it seems as if it had been running on empty for quite some time. It did remind me of something I meant to write in my Planet Terror review that has been driving me crazy ever since: I remember clearly going to the movie theater chain in the 1970s that played that clickety little tune that you hear over the "Feature Presentation" card of both films, but for the life of me I can't remember which chain it was.

Anyone out there have any idea?


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Comments:
General Cinema had that clickety tune. They had a projector animation that was a G as the camera with two C's as the film. I can hear it in my head right now.
 
That's right. It was a mostly blue screen too, wasn't it? Now I remember. Thanks Odie.
 
As I said before, the film's length is a huge problem. It goes on bloody forever without anything really happening. It spends way too much time with the group of girls from the first section of the film only to discard of them relatively unceremoniously, and then the whole thing starts again with a second batch of women who are even less likeable than the previous lot.

I'm also tired of that idiosyncratic middle-brow geekspeak that Tarantino's characters revel in. The scene where the second set of girls talk about Vanishing Point and Pretty in Pink is lumbersome, and it actually sounds like a third-rate hack trying to write like the Tarantino of Pulp Fiction/Jackie Brown. Interestingly, Tarantino cut the scene in Pulp Fiction where Mia interviews Vincent Vega while filming him on a Handicam for that very reason. I guess his better angels were out that day quote-whoring for the next torture porn.
 
I liked Death Proof very much because I guess I liked what might be its downfall - and that is that it was unexpected. I had no idea where it was going. On second viewing, I picked up that the second set of girls was not blown out and scratchy and I thought that strange. The uncut version is way to talky. My problem with the film is that Tarantino's ego gets in the way. He tries to attempt an homage, but still wants to show off. But Russell makes this movie. He was fantastic.
 
I sure wish I'd been able to see Grindhouse the way it was originally intended. I agree with you about Tarantino's dialogue sounding almost as if he was trying to do a parody of Tarantino dialogue. Russell was by far the highlight. I don't know if it was intentional, but being the Twin Peaks nut that I am, I thought it was interesting that Stuntman Mike said his brother was Stuntman Bob.
 
Has Tarantino jumped the shark? Sure appears that way. His dialogue is now a parody of itself, and the banter between the gals here drove me bonkers. But -- whenever Russell is on screen the movie clicks. But ultimately QT reduces Russell's character to a sad sack, hardly the menacing figure who initially grabs us.
 
Death Proof is a brilliant structural film, best seen in terms of its formal structure, especially within the confines of Grindhouse as a whole. I haven't seen the longer version yet, and I'm a bit leery of it, because the original cut is so perfectly constructed with its elegant halving, which works so well in a film that is itself split in two. The two halves of Death Proof, besides mirroring on a micro-scale the macro-structure of the 3-hour film that is supposed to contain it, also provide opposing views of serial movie violence, as well as of the role of gender politics in these types of films. The first half is the traditional slasher-stalks-sexy-girls scenario, which has always been the dominant mode of the slasher flick, with its subtext of male fantasy wrapped up with an urge to punish those whose sexual urges aren't properly repressed. This underlying conservative ideology is answered by the second half of the film, in which the tables are turned and Stuntman Mike is revealed as a blubbering and pathetically outdated icon of an earlier era. It's a great film, right up there with Jackie Brown as Tarantino's best.
 
Ed,

I was able to see it in its original form and it was better, but I would still say a bit too talky. That's a good call on Stuntman Bob. Didn't even think of that.
 
Ed (Howard), the structure isn't the problem, and neither are the aspects of the film that work as genuine homage to 70s exploitaions films. It's the awful, awkward, bloated, tedious, interminable conversations between the girls (which wouldn't be half as tedious if the actresses weren't so chronically bereft of charisma). They go on for much longer in the extended version.
 
ha, yea, they ever so funky 70's favourite tune, the "funky fanfare" by keith mansfield. ahh man the flashbacks!
 
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