Film grinds entertainment to a halt

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2007


Dimension Films

3 hours, 11 minutes

I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t I get together with a multimillion dollar friend of mine and get a powerful studio to bankroll a major vanity film project based on the movies I loved as a kid — movies like “The Billion-Dollar Hobo” and “The Apple Dumpling Gang.” It’ll be a double-feature — 3 1/2 hours of Tim Conway and Don Knotts references with bad lighting, scratchy sound and spit-takes galore. We’ll call it “GoofHouse.” It’ll be awesome!

If you’re thinking, quite appropriately, that sounds like an awful idea and that no one would ever go to see it, then I have a question for you. Why did millions of people line up for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ode to crappy ’70s trash films this weekend? That “Grindhouse” came in fourth place in the box office tallies is probably only due to the fact that its extreme length limits most theatres from showing it but half as many times as they normally would.

“Grindhouse,” actually a double feature of two 90-minute films, is a frustrating movie to review. On the one hand, it’s chock full of talent. The acting, directing, cinematography and effects are top-notch. The amount of effort and artistry that went into these films and the fake movie trailers that separate them is huge. Where the problem comes in is that all that effort, all that artistry went into creating perfect replicas of movies with terrible acting, directing, cinematography and effects.

Two of Hollywood’s hottest young directors just spent an amazing amount of money and time to make intentionally bad movies. They roughed up the film, making it look scratched and battered. They added filters to make it look like the director of photography didn’t know how to light a scene, leaving it either too dark or too bright. Occasionally a color would wash across the screen for no reason. There are even missing reels, where the film broke or was damaged and the projectionist would simply have spliced it back together in the middle of a scene.

And, no question, Tarantino and Rodriguez do a magnificent job of creating their vision. But why? Why waste all that time, talent and money? There is a reason these movies were shown in theatres called grindhouses, cheap, second-run joints that would “grind” out double-features of raunchy, violent crap: they’re bad.

The first film of the double-bill is “Planet Terror” — essentially a zombie movie replete with evil soldiers, small-town Texas cops and a go-go dancer with a machine gun for a leg. It’s definitely dumb, but there were a few moments I laughed out loud, and if you can get past the incredibly gross, though unquestionably fake-looking gore, this movie was almost tolerable. Pointless, but tolerable. Rodriguez definitely spent more time distressing his film, and from a purely technical standpoint, that was cool.

The second feature, by Tarantino, “Death Proof,” is about a maniacal stuntman who enjoys murdering pretty girls using his souped up stuntcar as the weapon. Tarantino, while capturing the ’70s look and feel, spends much less time on the “old” look of his film, which seems like cheating, considering the set-up of this whole project. “Death Proof” is probably a better movie than “Terror,” but it’s oddly broken into two parts and drags until the last 15 minutes or so, when “Grindhouse” finally offers up something worthy of an homage.

In a nod to furious car chase movies of days gone by, Tarantino gives us a thrilling, white-knuckle rollercoaster ride as two mean-looking muscle cars battle it out on a long Texas backroad. The stuntwork is amazing, and the chase itself is exactly what you would hope for. Unfortunately, when the chase is over, the movie quickly devolves, giving us a ridiculously cheesy, though I’m sure 100 percent accurately referenced ending. The chase isn’t worth the preceding two hours and 45 minutes, but I’m glad I saw it.

This film hits the mark in design. I have a real fondness for movie posters and other memorabilia associated with film marketing. The poster is an often overlooked artform too often a greater achievement than the film itself. That’s definitely the case here. The print advertising for “Grindhouse” is some of the best I’ve seen in years. These old posters, however, unlike the movies they advertised, were true works of art, and worthy of homage. Grade: C-

“Grindhouse” is rated R for extreme and sometimes disturbing violence, nudity, sexuality and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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