Grindhouse (Rodriguez, Tarantino, 2007)

At times completely self-indulgent and but unbelievably fascinating, director’s Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse exemplifies their blatant need for recognition from the film savvy minority of American movie audiences. Whenever one or the other releases a project, it’s an event for those in the know. Movie nerds flock as does the film press, but rarely do these director’s films mean much to the American public as a whole. Maybe that’s why this experiment in distribution, that is giving audiences two films for the price of one, has failed on it’s opening weekend, sending producers Weinstein screaming to split the pair up and re-edit. What’s more interesting remains how Tarantino and Rodriguez have fashioned themselves within the film industry, mainly playing up to the fact that they are hipper and cooler than anyone else working. To know them is to be as cool by association. Yes, both men are talented, but their image of suave outplays any talent whatsoever. While watching a Rodriguez film, those in the know recognize the mariachi music, the dangerous anti-heroes, the dashing babes with quirky talents. Tarantino on the other-hand, offers his faithful a patented style of “cool” banter between characters, usually stars playing against type and a storytelling pattern which must, make than demands to be told out of chronological order. It’s like these guys can’t just sit down and make an old fashioned movie because it just wouldn’t be cool enough to sustain their reputations. Grindhouse, a strange juxtaposition of both director’s talents and weaknesses, is the closest each has come to making a genuine genre film. Oddly enough, both Planet Terror, Rodriguez’s eco-zombie movie, and Death Proof, Tarantino’s slasher film, recognize themes of outsider mentality, and each film charts it’s character reactions, both violent and passive, to being on the outside of popular culture.Honestly, Grindhouse is more an experience than a film. It begins with a fake trailer directed by Rodriguez called Machete. It stars Danny Trejo in the role he’s been born to play, of a day laborer hired to assassinate a Senator, then turning rouge and killing his employers. It’s stylish, has great subtext, and entices the viewer to want to see the film. Amazing stuff. Rodriguez’s feature, Planet Terror, is an over the top romp through zombie iconography. Planet follows a group of survivors, headed by stripper Rose McGowan and renegade Freddy Rodriguez, as they muddle through the convoluted plot in order to save the planet from the flesh eaters. Planet revels in it’s own idiotic notions, and one can’t fault people for thinking it’s overtly stupid in execution. I found parts of it extremely fun, mostly the scenes anchored by the McGowan and Rodriguez relationship, a dynamic and gun toting outsider couple lost amidst the gore but able to fight back one leg at a time. They are constantly on the fringe of society and their relationship is Robert Rodriguez’s finest moment in Planet. Then come the other fake trailers, a lame addition by Rob Zombie called Werewolf Women of the S.S., a clever haunting parody by Edgart Wright called Don’t, and finally an unforgettably awful trailer by the overrated Eli Roth called Thanksgiving. Now, to the main event, Tarantino’s Death Proof, starring Kurt Russell as a killer named Stuntman Mike, who murders women with his invincible car. This is no typical slasher movie. Tarantino plays with you for the first half, following three young women around Austin, Texas as they party it up, menacingly followed by a black Dodge Charger with Stuntman Mike behind the wheel. These haunting early moments create an alluring subtext behind the trashy pop dialogue and salacious babes. After the fates of the first group are sealed, Stuntman Mike goes after a different group and I’ll stop there. The less you know the better. Russell’s Mike is a wolf, as he calls himself in the film, but he’s also a lone wolf, an outsider unlike any other killer I’ve seen on screen. He’s blatantly callous about his victims, even chats them up before the fatal crash occurs. The first 45 minutes of Death Proof is the most mature and tantalizing material Tarantino has ever done, all leading up to a crash sequence cringing with tearing flesh, breaking glass, and burning rubber. Unfortunately, the second half goes in typical Tarantino directions, empowering women with the outsider becoming prey to those in the know. It’s like Rodriguez and Tarantino understand what the outsiders around them are thinking, they just can’t quite rack up the balls to let them win every once in a while. Which makes sense, because if Stuntman Mike, or the Zombies in Planet Terror ever did reign supreme, it would undermine the very essence of cool these directors stand for. And we can’t go showing all the outsiders the power they really hold over these autuers. Tarantino and Rodriguez are more afraid of not being cool than anything else, and it’s frightening to see the compromises each will make to keep the status quo alive, endlessly ticking and humming with alienating pop culture ideology to fill the airwaves.

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