October 2007

(A.K.A the Rodriguez/Tarantino double-feature “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof.”) An intentionally retro, self-parodying duo of films, the two are intended to be played back-to-back, in the fashion of the low-budget grindhouse cinema of the seventies. Being relatively uninformed on the grindhouse tradition, I may not be the best placed to critique these films, but I shall anyhow. Short version of the review: disappointing. Long, rambling version: read on…

Planet Terror is a zombie splatter film, while Death Proof is a serial-killer car-chase thriller. Apparently.

Planet Terror (Rodriguez)

Planet Terror was the better film of the two, I think, although it's hard to tell, as it was also the most self-conscious. It's also the only time I can ever recall seeing an FPS-style rocket-jump on film. That this rocket-jump was performed by a girl with an assault-rifle/rocket-launcher for a prosthetic leg, and which she could control perfectly without using any hands, should tell you something about this movie.

The best moments of the film were those when it stopped trying to be a B-retro-splatter film and just let itself happen. And, not surprisingly, the worst moments were the most self-conscious – ridiculously scratched film distracted more than anything else, and the 5-minute chunk of plot cut out and replaced by a 'Missing Reel' message just felt like a cheap gag.

On the other hand, the absolutely over-the-top clichés were great fun, and there's a lot of entertainment value in watching talented actors ham it up, giving the ridiculous dialogue a run for its money.

On the whole, however, it just felt like a slightly self-conscious B-grade splatter movie. Instead of using the clichés and conventions of its chosen genres to add to the movie, they chose to rely on them, which unfortunately sucked all possibility for true enjoyment out of the movie. The most disappointing part was that it was easy to see many moments where Rodriguez could have restrained himself and made a vastly better movie, but it was obviously too easy to slap in another winking reference and carry on.

Death Proof (Tarantino)

I'm a fan of Tarantino; he usually manages to pull off his trademark combination of self-awareness, retro kitsch, pop-culture-heavy dialogue and unconventional structure. Unfortunately, this time around he wasn't so successful.

Death Proof's biggest failing was its pacing. It spent half an hour introducing you to a half dozen characters, only to kill them all at once in a single thirty-second scene. The entire first half of the film would have been a five minute prologue in any other movie.

On the other hand, Tarantino excels at his usual game here, managing to combine the kitsch and the contemporary in such a way that you have no real idea when the film is taking place. It is as if his films exist in a parallel world where the last four decades are are all taking place at once.

Aucklander stunt-woman Zoe Bell plays a major role as herself in this film; instead of performing stunts for Uma Thurman and Lucy Lawless, this time she's acting an entire role, stunts included. There's something a little bit meta about all this, such that I'm struggling to explain just what grabbed me about it. I think the key is that she's a real person in a very fictional world; she doesn't quite fit, at first, and possibly for the same reasons Temuera Morrison got such laughs at his first Star Wars appearance.

Anyone who's seen Attack of the Clones would be well aware of this, but genuine New Zealand accents and figures of speech are incredibly jarring when placed alongside the more usual American accents – Bell's “pop the bonnet, mate” just seemed completely out of place beside the ghetto-pop-culture American vernacular of the rest of the film, especially given the intentionally kitsch, affected flavour of typical Tarantino dialogue.

While the film felt more like half a film, the end sequence did make me happy. This was partly due to a car chase to rival the car chase sequences of classic sixties movies (intentionally so, judging by the amount of dialogue about said movies), but also, I fear, because there was something terribly terribly appealing about watching three very attractive young women beating the ever-loving hell out of a creepy psychopathic Kurt Russell. Ah well.