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Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed two full length feature horror movies put together as a two film feature including fake trailers in between movies.
'Planet Terror' - Robert Rodriguez's tale about two doctors that find their graveyard shift inundated with townspeople ravaged by sores. Among the wounded is Cherry, a dancer whose leg was ripped from her body. As the invalids quickly become enraged aggressors, Cherry and her ex- boyfriend Wray lead a team of accidental warriors into the night.
'Death Proof' - Quentin Tarantino's tale about Austin's hottest DJ, Jungle Julia, who sets out into the night to unwind with her two friends Shanna and Arlene. Covertly tracking their moves is Stuntman Mike, a scarred rebel leering from behind the wheel of his muscle car, revving just feet away.
For more about Grindhouse and the Grindhouse Blu-ray release, see the Grindhouse Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 2, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Rose McGowan, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier
Directors: Robert Rodríguez, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, Eli Roth
» See full cast & crew
Grindhouse Blu-ray Review
Return with us now to those thrilling (and schlocky) days of yesteryear.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 2, 2010
When Quentin Tarantino burst into mainstream film consciousness with the release of 1992's Reservoir Dogs, it was like, to utilize an image from Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, a massive shot of adrenaline to the heart of American cinema. While Tarantino's style, in fact his own zeitgeist, harkened back to the halcyon burgeoning days of indie film as personified by Dennis Hopper in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the writer-director brought a whole new level of structural ingenuity, lunatic violence, and weird philosophizing that made it clear Tarantino was a force to be reckoned with. While that 1960s-1970s independent spirit was rather quickly assimilated by "mainstream" Hollywood, for better or worse (usually worse), by the 1980s we were solidly ensconced in the often television-esque exploits of directors like John Hughes and even (dare I say it?) Steven Spielberg, directors who, despite their impressive craft, frequently provided the cinematic equivalents of comfort food to the filmgoing masses. Pulp Fiction's title itself indicated Tarantino's love of theshall we charitably say less artistically literary influences, and that same lowbrow tendency, albeit in a different genre—i.e., film itself—imbues the faux double feature Tarantino helmed with his friend and artistic compatriot Robert Rodriguez, Grindhouse. If you're not familiar with that titular term, you haven't been exposed (so to speak) to the grimy, gritty world of inner city urban movie "palaces," nicknamed grindhouses, destitute halls where B movies, usually exploitation flicks, played, shedding some flickering light onto rows of empty seats and the occasional human detritus who had come in from the rain to watch blood splatter impressively, zombies feast on human flesh, and the occasional love story blossom amidst the carnage. In fact, it's somewhat ironic that Grindhouse ostensibly recreates a late 1970s-early 1980s film "experience" at a decidedly non-Spielbergian or Hughesian level, as if Tarantino and Rodgriguez were snickering lightly into their sleeves and collectively saying, "While you may have been watching E.T. or The Breakfast Club, we were watching Suspiria." It's also somewhat ironic that that very weirdly anti- elitist elitism backfired on the two directors. While Grindhouse was hyped as the next big thing when it was released theatrically in 2007, it failed to churn up much business at the box office, and it hasn't been until its home video releases (as patently strange as those have been) that the film really finally found its audience.
Tarantino and Rodriguez are often intentionally ironic filmmakers, ones with a postmodernist edge that seems to speak directly to the minds, hearts (and let's be honest, crotches) of younger males. Part of the irony of Grindhouse is the fact that it celebrates a cinema that really never was. Yes, there was always the schlock of people like Russ Meyer or American International or even George Romero, but Tarantino and Rodriguez, as is frequently their wont, turn it all up to "11", weaving a breathlessly lunatic bunch of characters through some of the most goofily violent and erotic silliness imaginable. The fact that this is an hommage to an idea, a concept, is part of Grindhouse's insane appeal. Assembled as a typical night at a B (or even B-minus) movie house, probably in the late 1970s, we get ridiculous yet ridiculously entertaining "Prevues" (yes, vues) for such faux big screen wonders as Machete, a sort of Hispanic flavored Death Wish, and the hilariously awful Thanksgiving, where "turkey," like Soylent Green, is people. These trailers were made by an assemblage of Tarantino and Rodriguez' brothers-in-arms, guys like Eli Roth and even Rob Zombie, who approach the inarguably bad cinema of that era and lionize it. Could you ever imagine someone like Spielberg iconizing a schlock-fest he might have seen in his youth, something like Donovan's Brain or I Was a Teenage Frankenstein? I thought not. Even Spielberg's one passing glance at grindhouse fare, his acclaimed television film Duel (which has some similarities to Tarantino's half of the Grindhouse double feature), is a decidedly intellectual take on a fairly lowbrow premise.
The first "film" of the evening is Rodriguez' Planet Terror, a sort of hallucinogenic Night of the Living Dead which harkens back to classic (well, some think so, anyway) zombie movies while working in references to Osama bin Laden. Bruce Willis as Lt. Muldoon heads a troupe of returning vets who have been exposed to a poisonous gas which zombie-fies them if they don't continue breathing in small amounts of it. While attempting to engineer a deal for mass quantities of the "shit" (as Muldoon repeatedly refers to the gas) from scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews), a melee ensues and mass quantities of gas are released into the air, wreaking havoc on a nearby town. The town is home to go-go dancer (different than a stripper) Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), who chooses the night of the gas release to quit her job and find something better. Stopping by a rural diner run by J.T. (Jeff Fahey, like Andrews a Lost alum), she runs into her old boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a drifter with a mysterious past.
Meanwhile, we're trying to figure out who's more insane in a local marriage, Dr. Block (Josh Brolin), who's in charge of the local ER which is suddenly overrun with festering, oozing nascent zombies, or his anesthesiologist wife, Dakota (Marley Shelton). Block seems like a competent, cool doctor, but he evidently has a sadistic, controlling side. Dakota seems like a perhaps abused wife, but she is frighteningly quick with a series of syringes that knock out patients, plus she's keeping some kind of secret from Block about some kind of romantic tryst. Into this increasingly madcap fray wander everyone from J.T.'s brother, the local Sheriff (Michael Biehn) to Dakota's father, Rodriguez regular Michael Parks, to a cameo by Fergie, perfectly cast as the sort of hilariously bad actress who used to populate Russ Meyers' films, as one of the first victims.
Planet Terror perfectly recreates the nonplussed ambience of the worst (or is that best?) schlock films of 30 or more years ago, with completely over the top moments that manage to be both laugh out loud funny and completely gross at the same time. When McGowan's character Rose has to have her leg amputated after a run-in with the flesh eaters, she first gets a wooden peg leg courtesy of El Wray, and then later an upgrade to a sort of combo machine gun stiletto heel thingamajig that allows her to point and decimate. When Dakota is attacked by her husband, who injects her hands with novocaine to retrieve her cell phone she's been using to text her lover, that sets Shelton out on an absolutely hilarious quest to try to get into a getaway car to escape. Have you ever tried opening a car door handle with numbed, useless hands?
Rodriguez plays with clichés here with reckless abandon, including meta-clichés like having a "missing reel" show up right when we're getting to the "good stuff" between Cherry and El Wray. He also has post-processed this film with soundtrack pops and faux print blemishes galore, as if we're watching a film that has already made whatever "roadshow" circuit it managed to muster back in the day, and is now on its last sprockets. (A scratch free version of the film was included on Planet Terror's standalone Blu-ray, but alas it's missing on this new release).
After some interstitial trailers for such charming fare as Werewolf Women of the SS ("with Nicolas Cage as. . .Fu Manchu") and the hilarious Don't, which perfectly apes the trance inducing repetitive nature of vintage William Castle trailers, we move on to Tarantino's contribution to the double feature, Death Proof. If Rodriguez' effort can be seen as a sort of Night of the Living Dead update, Tarantino's antecedents seem to be Russ Meyers' Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and, perhaps, that aforementioned Spielberg telemovie, Duel.
If Rodriguez' half of the double bill is hyperkinetic theater of the absurd, Tarantino's is an odd combination of talk, talk, talk, interspersed with a couple of the most exciting car chase sequences in recent memory. Anyone who has seen virtually any Tarantino film knows the director is fond of long (as in loooong) philosophical soliloquoys between characters, and that tendency is fully on display in Death Proof. Here we get a serial killer named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who stalks gorgeous women (are there any other kind in films of this ilk?), and then slaughters them either in or with his souped up 1970 Chevy Nova. Stuntman Mike's motives are never very clear in Death Proof, but then again, they don't have to be. Tarantino is too busy filling the film with odd cultural references, such as Stuntman Mike's stunt doubling in largely forgotten shows like The Men from Shiloh and Galivan to really care about character as character.
Death Proof plays out in two large sections, both with more or less the same setup. We're introduced to a bevy of beautiful girls, Stuntman Mike ogles them, and then the chase is on. Part One is the less fun of the two sections, if only because the talkative women are so completely lame one almost wishes someone would kill them, if only to shut them up. And the death scene, while funny in that completely gross-out sort of way that Tarantino excels in exploiting, is too quick to really have much impact. (Though it's worth noting that evidently the Cannes audience erupted in applause at the sight of a severed leg bouncing down the highway. And people wonder why we question French taste in films.)
Part Two of Death Proof is decidedly more entertaining, if only for the fact that Stuntman Mike finds himself up against some worthy adversaries this time, other film crew professionals including a smack talking driver (Tracie Thoms) able to keep up with Mike's antics and Zoë Bell, a real life stuntwoman, here playing—a real life stuntwoman. This sequence is highlighted by two amazing car chase sequences, one with Bell straddling the hood of the girls' Challenger in a really scary, and very real looking, game of chicken with Mike. Once the girls begin to get their comeuppance on the freak stuntman, we get another exciting chase with a number of very well staged stunt driving moves.
Death Proof never really rises to the giddy heights of Planet Terror and Grindhouse may in fact have done better theatrically with the order of the films reversed. After Rodriguez' completely insane trip into zombie-land, Tarantino's effort, despite the great chase sequences, just seems tame and, well, often boring by comparison.
One also has to wonder if a modern day audience was prepared for a three hour plus experience, which is what Grindhouse offered in its initial theatrical presentation. Filmgoers today are an impatient lot, especially the demographic to which Grindhouse probably most strongly appealed. That first hour and a half probably grabbed all the young males by all the right body parts, but lethargy quickly set in during Death Proof, until everything became. . .flaccid.
While both films were recut and released independently, diehard fans have long wanted the original Grindhouse experience on home video and this Blu-ray will no doubt find a strong and loyal following. One of the best parts of the home video experience is the ability to fast forward through the dull spots, which is what I suspect some, if not most, people will be doing through those interminable talky bits in Death Proof.
Grindhouse Blu-ray, Video Quality
How does one properly analyze a film which is so heavily post-processed to make it look like it's badly damaged? Grindhouse finally arrives in its original theatrical cut with an AVC encoded image in 1080p and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The only real question here is, does this Blu-ray accurately represent the directors' visions and the way the film actually looked in theaters? And the answer is a resounding yes. Rodriguez and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Tarantino have filled this film with scratches, flecks, pops, missing reels, missing frames and other "fun stuff" to help recreate the less than pristine screenings of second (or third, or fourth) run films back in the day. There's also intentionally overdone grain, low contrast and about everything else videophiles tend to complain about, offered here in unapologetic abundance. Death Proof, despite its "missing reel" and the kind of funny "stuttering" missing/repeated frame in the early bar sequence, looks a bit better than Planet Terror, but that is inarguably by design. Both of these films sport typically lurid color, redolent of American International's mid-60s schlockfests, and it's offered here in rich and gooey saturation. Detail is impressive, given the self-imposed limits the filmmakers were working under. Grindhouse must simply be taken on its own terms, warts (festering or otherwise) and all. This Blu-ray offers a near perfect recreation of what the film is supposed to look like, and that really should be all that matters.
Grindhouse Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Yes, you heard right (pun intended), Grindhouse is being presented on Blu-ray without lossless audio. Yes, it's lamentable, and, yes, it would have been better with a lossless track. But why don't we cut some slack and just say that the Dolby Digital 5.1 448kbps mix is retro, like the film itself. The fact is, despite the absence of thundering lows and blistering highs a lossless track would have offered, this is a pretty darned immersive piece of sound mixing, one which certainly does not have the complete range and power audiophiles would want, but one which for the most part does exceedingly well on its own lossy, low bitrate terms. Sound effects, especially in Planet Terror, are all over the map, soundfield wise, and that's a good thing. From the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire, to the weird oozing sounds the festering blisters make, surround channels are fully engaged and often filled to the brim with inventive effects. That said, Planet Terror never sounds overly busy, and dialogue is always well mixed into the soundscape. Rodriguez' retro score also lends a great supporting hand, and sounds cheesily perfect. Death Proof is a harder nut to crack, if only because there's so damned much talking to get through. As such, this is front-centric track, until the first crash scene, and then, later, the two chase sequences come into play. During those action segments, we get some great immersive effects, with roaring engines, and the girls' frightened cries spilling in from the surrounds. The bottom line is, obviously a lossless track would have been a better choice here, especially for Planet Terror. But is it a deal killer to have "only" a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix? Personally, I don't think so.
Grindhouse Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Grindhouse splatters onto Blu-ray with a truly impressive, indeed almost overwhelming, slew of extras. I've divided them into those specific to each film, and then to the faux trailers and other goodies.
Disc One, which contains the original theatrical cut of Grindhouse, also includes:
Two compendiums of all new material are also included on the second disc, again separated into the two films.
Grindhouse Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Grindhouse was a noble (no, really) experiment which failed to find an audience theatrically. Fans have been clamoring for a Blu-ray release (actually, any release) of its original theatrical version for years. It's here now, and the news is about 95% positive. This Blu-ray looks fantastic (within the confines of what Rodriguez and Tarantino were trying to accomplish), and there are copious extras, including several new to this set. The bugaboo here is the lossy audio, though I frankly don't think it's that big of a deal. Though the 1970s and 1980s were never really like this, even in grindhouses, Grindhouse is still hyperbolic fun in its own crazy way. Highly recommended.
Grindhouse Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Grindhouse German SteelBook Blu-ray with High-res Audio - December 14, 2010
Universum Film has announced that on March 4, 2011 it will release the Robert Rodriguez / Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse on a Blu-ray edition in SteelBook packaging. Apart from the case, there is a more substantive improvement: the film's soundtrack ...
• DVD-grade Soundtrack for Grindhouse Blu-ray - September 24, 2010
As previously reported, the eagerly-awaited Grindhouse: 2-Disc Collector's Edition - featuring the full "Grindhouse experience" directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino - is due out on Blu-ray on October 5. Technical specifications hadn't been officially ...
• Grindhouse Collector's Edition Blu-ray Detailed - August 11, 2010
Vivendi Visual Entertainment has revealed the disc contents for Grindhouse: 2-Disc Collector's Edition, which as previously reported , will be released on Blu-ray on October 5. This is the first time that the full "Grindhouse experience" is available on disc in ...
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