Planet Terror (2007) *****
I think this might arguably be Robert Rodriguez's best, and he has some pretty ones ("Sin City" is probably a close second). Rodriguez is not an arthouse director by any means, but he is a director of wildly entertaining films and I think this may be his most entertaining, though I'll also say this film probably has the narrowest audience appeal. The story is a zombie one about a government experiment gone wrong that infects the populace of a small Texas town, but this film is unique in that it was one half of Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's "Grindhouse" double feature, that tried to recreate the experience of going to rundown theaters and watching low budget explorations films of the 1970s, complete with fake exploitation film trailers, damaged film prints, and missing reels to round out the experience. That's what I think limits the film's appeal to a wide audience, because not only does Rodriguez embrace the visual aesthetics of these films, he also fully embraces the ratcheted up sex and violence of these same exploitation films that he's celebrating, which is not going to appeal to all audience members. I can't speak from personal experience in regards to attending grindhouse theaters, but I can attest to watching many of these films during the VHS heyday. Those VHS video gems did include cheesy trailers for cheap low budget films and often did include poor film transfers that included damaged film prints, so even for a gen-xer like me, this film provided a lot of nostalgia. Freddy Rodríguez is the hero of the film who helps save his stripper girlfriend, Rose McGowan, from zombies. In the process McGowan loses her leg, which is eventually replaced with an M-16. Josh Brolin plays a terrifically villainous doctor after his ex-wife Marley Shelton. I think this was the first film I saw him in where I realized this guy can really act and isn't just the guy from "Goonies" and "Thrashin'". You also have Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Fergie, Nicky Katt and Bruce Willis. A great touch is that Willis is never shown in the same shot as the rest of the cast, which was a favorite trick of exploitation films who would hire one major (usually fading) start to film one or two days worth of footage that could be inserted into the rest of the film, then giving producers the opportunity to boast about the films' fabulous cast. Rodriguez pretty much summed up this love letter to exploitation films of yore when he said, "The posters were much better than the movies, but we're actually making something that lives up to the posters." and he absolutely did!
Death Proof (2007) ***1/2
As a complete film, I'm not sure this one quite comes off, but in terms of being a love letter to grindhouse cinema, it's filled with wonderful touches throughout that make it an absolute treat for fans of 1970s exploitation flicks (which I came to love in the 80s on VHS). Touches that I loved in "Death Proof" were the faux scratched up print, the costumes that looked both contemporary and period, the missing scenes, the film's title change ("Quentin Tarantino's Thunder Bolt" that appears onscreen for a split second), bad rack focusing, the film title font choice, the subtle reference to other classics like "Gone in 60 Seconds" in the film's opening title sequence or references to cheerleader and muscle car movies or to voyeuristic giallo films or even dialogue references to classics like "Vanishing Point" or "Big Wednesday," and then there's the casting of Kurt Russell, which that in and of itself is enough to evoke nostalgia from 80s Gen-Xers who should be thrilled to see Russell getting to play a badass once again. The story is one of the film's weak points, which is unusual for a Tarantino film. The story follows two separate sets of beautiful women being stalked by serial killer Stuntman Mike (Russell) and his Death Proof car, but maybe the implausible story and gaps in logic are part of Tarantino's homage to exploitation cinema. Another complaint is that some of the dialogue, particularly in the first half of the film, although entertaining didn't seem to serve either the story or character development, which Tarantino usually does so well. But again, Tarantino may just have been riffing and having fun with this freewheeling film. But for all it's flaws, this is still a highly entertaining film and it's impossible not to enjoy the badass showdown between Stuntman Mike and the second set of women, who happen to include amazing stuntwoman Zoe Bell. This film should have made Zoe Bell an action star, but that may not have happened since there are so few female action roles in Hollywood. Tarantino really knocks it out of the park with the film's final chase and action sequences, which are greatly aided by Tarantino's excellent choice of music (though the music choices throughout the film are great). If you had any misguided belief that this was a throwaway film on Tarantino's part, he again proves himself as a true "cinema guy" and does deliver some moments of pure cinema (moments that could not be captured in books, animation, comics, or any medium outside of film). Besides any scene with Russell, I think my favorite moment of the film is was when Zoe Bell is on the hood of the Dodge Charger and Tarantino has the camera go into close-up on Rosario Dawson's face, who is at first terrified by Bell on the hood and then slowly comes to the realization that Bell is loving it, as Dawson breaks out into a smile. It's a great performance by Dawson, but Tarantino's slow zoom and patience to hold on Dawson are just brilliant. Like most Tarantino films, this one features a deliciously eclectic cast, that besides Russell and Bell includes Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd, the underrated Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eli Roth, Michael Parks as Earl McGraw and James Parks as Edgar McGraw, Marley Shelton, and Nicky Katt. Although this film is likely Tarantino's weakest film, it's still a solid film and well worth watching.
a decade later and this movie still kicks so much ass
at least the first film in my opinion
the Grindhouse cinema trope comes back with modern actors but still sticking to vintage material
Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez collaborate once more to deliver a bloody, violent, funny, and fierce cinema experience
Planet Terror takes a standard plot of zombie-like creatures eating the human race due to a gas exposure
Rose McGowan is a stripper that wants to be a comedian and she runs into her old flame Rey amidst all the carnage
a lot of gore and a lot of laughs
great supporting actors from Marley Shelton, Elizabeth and Electra Avellan, Josh Brolin, Bruce Willis, and Fergie
the movie is also filled with hilarious fake trailers for other Grindhouse flicks; they're filled with the same ridiculousness
the second feature Deathproof is more of a slow burner
Kurt Russell is a professional stunt driver with a car that is supposedly death-proof but every one that ends up in his car never makes it out
his latest target are a group of women traveling the countryside
this film is more talk-heavy and it's a bit off putting considering how Quentin Tarentino writes most of this dialogue
but the end sequence is very exciting as these girls fight for their lives against this driver
Lucy Lawless, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
if you have the patience the payoff is so much fun
this is a hell of a ride bringing back the classic style of 1970's filmmaking
Rodriguez over-stuffed 'Planet Terror' with too many characters and too many sub-plots for a film that's only an hour long. It doesn't deserve to labelled a zombie flick as the zombie's don't seem to do anything (I can't even remember a zombie being in it).
What can I say about Tarantino's 'Death proof'? Too much talk, not enough Kurt Russell, and when he was on screen, he was all flimsy and misdirected. The ending was absolutely terrible with him breaking down into a blubbering mass.
Death Proof was a straight up slasher, just with awesome cars. I liked death proof more, maybe because it was simple and quick. Wish there was a proper explanation for the killer's motif though. Also this is one of those movies where the "good guys" are also scumbags so it's really hard to root for a side. 2.5 out of 5 stars in my book.
Together with all the fake trailers, grain and theater cards, this movie emulates a classic theater style which plays on one's nostalgia of those days but the grain effect and the missing reel that cuts a chunk of a movie is exaggerated in my opinion. 3 out of 5 Stars total in my book.