Monday, May 07, 2007

Grindhouse, March and April

A take on Grindhouse I put up here, then took down and now am putting up again:

I loved it, but I divide it up pretty snobbily between stuff that I felt had worth outside of the gimmick of the double feature B-movie thing and stuff that simply made me giggle while I sat there in the theater. All of it was enjoyable, except for maybe Rob Zombie's surprisingly dull "Werewolf Women of the SS" thing, but the two highlights were easily Edgar Wright's "Don't" and Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." Out of all the segments in the film, these were the two that felt like something beyond both parody and homage; they weren't even updates of the style, they were things that acknowledged their respective predecessors and then, in a true display of film geekery, decided to demonstrate what they learned from them by making something completely new and unique.

Obviously there's a huge degree of self-awareness coursing through this film, the very notion of bringing the grindhouse experience to an audience, largely unfamiliar with the phenomenon in question, sitting in a THX-certified auditorium requires some self-acknowledgement in order to even remotely work. Still, "Don't" and "Death Proof" felt like they weren't just self-aware jokes, like the rest of the stuff in Grindhouse did; instead, they were able to simultaneously make self-aware jokes about the influences they draw from and synthesize all those sources in provocative ways to make something that was both new and interesting.

At their core, both of these pieces seem to capture their creator's love of movies through their delirious, infectious enthusiasm. "Don't" literally explodes. "Death Proof," on the other hand, feels like a an aggressive piece of advocacy, a statement of affection for the cinema and a protest film against its current state at the same time. My gut reaction upon leaving the theater was that this is the best thing Tarantino's done yet. The dialogue scenes never bored me, but they did make me restless, knowing full well that something nasty was going to have to happen soon, given the nature of the whole grindhouse spectacle. My suspicions were confirmed - the first half of the movie ends with what is the only legitimately disturbing sequence of death in the entire 3 hour-plus runtime of Grindhouse, a savagely unexplained slaughtering of a group of girls by the villain, Stuntman Mike; his complete lack of motive and the relish that he takes in the killing pushing the whole scene over from "excessive and funny" territory to "pretty fucked up" land.

Of course it has to be fucked up; if the movie was pushing for cheap laughs, it'd be achieving nothing, and this movie feels like it's striving for a lot: a plea for less cgi in films and a return to practical effects and the kineticism of real objects shot on real film. You can feel it in every frame of that final chase; the movie seethes with anger, a sort of indiscriminate anger that the final, unbelievable beatdown caps off as a final rebel yell, about nothing in particular and everything all at once: the overuse of CGI in movies today, the state we've let our country get in, the state we've let our interpersonal interactions get in - "Death Proof" is the most girl-power thing I've seen in a long long time - this movie's a cathartic yell of frustration at it all and I found myself grabbing my hair, my jaw on the floor, a shit eating grin on my face when that ending came.

Here's March and April in review. Coming later (maybe): an evaluation of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's films. (hint: they're great!!)

The Palm Beach Story, George Cukor. [A-] march 6th 2007.

The Lady Eve, Preston Sturges. [B] march 13th 2007.

F for Fake, Orson Welles. [A] march 13th 2007.

Loose Change, ?. [whatever] march 14th 2007.

Gerry, Gus Van Sant. [A-] march 17th 2007.

What's Up, Doc?, Peter Bogdonavich. [B-] march 20th 2007.

Wild at Heart, David Lynch. [B+] march 20th 2007.

The Turning Gate, Hong Sang-soo. [B+] march 25th 2007.
A Tale of Cinema, Hong Sang-soo. [C+] march 25th 2007.
[I saw these two at USC, part of a triple feature put on by the Korean Film Club. I missed the last show. A Tale of Cinema didn't really do it for me that much, but The Turning Gate really kind of blew me away. It felt alien and intimate at the same time, the willfully long takes achieving the sort of objectivity that really allows you to sympathize with the characters on screen. This is a really beautiful film. A Tale of Cinema for some reason felt awkward for me. The decision to not include a single shot without a zoom felt contrived; at first I thought it was an interesting device that was meant to differentiate between the movie within the movie and the real life incidents, but when it persisted further, I started thinking it was interesting because it didn't distinguish between the two. Then after a while I just found it distracting and ugly to look at. Still, I'd like to see more of this guy's films.]

Something Wild, Jonathan Demme. [C-] march 27th 2007.

Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Richard Lerner. [B-] march 27th 2007.
[I saw this at Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse festival in LA, at the New Beverly Theater. We picked this one randomly from the schedule but a month or so after I saw it I learned that Tarantino touts it as one of his favorite grindhouse pictures. I can see why; it's one of the most enthusiastic movies I've ever seen. It's not very good, but its will to entertain is so blatant and sincere that I wound up appreciating the sheer amount of effort they put into it so much. These are people who aren't terribly talented but sincerely believe they can do something good, so they throw everything they've got at the audience. Some of them can dance, so there's a dance number; some of them are well endowed so when the picture slow's down we'll throw some breasts on the screen; there's a fight scene, a car chase, a cartoonish corridor chase, there's quicksand, a conspiracy, a food fight, a drug trip, there's EVERYTHING. Something about that is real beautiful to me.]

Zodiac, David Fincher. [B+] april 1st 2007.

Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Tarkovsky. [A] april 2nd 2007.

The Hudsucker Proxy, Coen Brothers. [C+] april 3rd 2007.

Chungking Express, Wong Kar-Wai. [B+] april 5th 2007.

Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino. [B] april 6th 2007.

Flirting with Disaster, David O. Russell. [B] april 10th 2007.

Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett. [B] april 10th 2007.

Playtime, Jacques Tati. [A-] april 11th 2007.
[I realize I'm only addressing films I saw at actual screenings, although I'm not even touching on all of them, but those experiences wind up being the most memorable and valuable to me, more so than a film I watch at home on my laptop. That's just how it is, experiences matter and they're one of the most valid reasons for going out to the movies - to allow the profundity of the world to interact with the film you've seen and really allow the film to reflect something new and interesting to you, something outside of the film itself. I saw this at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, projected on 70mm film, the movie was 25 feet tall. Pretty important for a movie that wants to overwhelm you with its environments and contain information in its reflective surfaces. There was no more appropriate place for a movie this excessive to be screened - I emerged from the theater onto the ridiculousness of Holywood Blvd and couldn't tell the difference.]

Intolerable Cruelty, Coen Brothers. [C] april 17th 2007

The Muthers, Cirio H. Santiago. [C] april 17th 2007.

Mean Girls, Mark Waters. [B] april 21st 2007.

Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright. [B+] april 23rd 2007.

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