BY EMILY GAGNE
Back in December, we went full tilt QT. That is, we went through Quentin Tarantino’s entire filmography, film by film, detailing the precise reasons (quotes, pop culture references, banging musical choices) why we think he’s the biggest, most badass movie-making mofo of them all. While the main motivation for this was to count down to the release of his latest film, Django Unchained, we were also driven to do it because, quite frankly, in the cinematic scheme of things, Tarantino means a lot to us. Particularly me. He is the person who gave me proof that I could be a film critic. He gave me Death Proof.
About 5 years back, I was still in Grade 12 and very into writing for my school paper, The Lyon. After a year of heading up the thankless “School Events” beat, I was offered a plum front page columnist gig. While I really enjoyed that job, especially since my editors treated me like Billy Idol, Robbie Hart and the rest of the first-class passengers on that Vegas-bound flight in The Wedding Singer (read: they pretty much let me do whatever I wanted), I kept yearning for something else, something more creative. So when they asked if I might like to switch up roles with another writer for a month, and take on a movie review, I jumped at the chance. In the back of my mind, I had always dreamed of writing film reviews. But before this moment, I had never had the official opportunity to do so (although passionate, journal entries on the sassy pull of Sandra Bullock movies, are not “official”), and — I’m so, so ashamed to say this now — having mainly read film reviews from male critics, I worried that being a female film writer was not quite sensible.
As I began researching for my assignment, I found out that Grindhouse, the Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature, was hitting theatres a few weeks before my deadline. I’ll be honest with you right now: I wasn’t particularly psyched about the flick/s just having read the plot descriptions. But the project was pretty hyped up, not just because of the names attached, but also because of the experimental format, which asked audiences to schlock out for three hours and watch two wannabe B-movies in a row. I figured it would at least make for a slightly interesting, slightly critical review, not to mention a fun, Emily-approved afternoon. So I dragged my dad and my QT-loving cousin to an Easter Sunday matinee, notebook and high hopes in hand.
Three hours, two completely unique movies and one melting QT peen later, I left the theatre feeling more excited (IN THE NON-SEXUAL SENSE) than I had felt in a long, long time. The films certainly were conversation-starters, prompting a heated debate between myself and my viewing partners. Some parties were offended by some of the segments (I remember my dad not approving of Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving trailer and me, then a budding Roth fangirl, trying to stifle my perverse laughter during the “head” scene). Some were just plain bored (Dad wasn’t big on the lengthy chatter in Death Proof). I was dead-set on proving them wrong, arguing my admittedly flushed face off in favour of my favourite of the two main segments, Pretty in Pink-referencing, girl-powered slasher flick Death Proof.
In the end, I didn’t win the live debate (for the record, no one did). But I still had so many feelings to express after it was done, particularly in reference to the Death Proof’s brutally feminist ending. So as soon as I got home, I put them to paper, churning out my first-ever to-be-published film review. Unlike my experience with my regular columns, writing this piece was an absolute blast. I could use the first person without having to feel like some self-righteous douche, and pop culture references, my bread and butter, were actually quite necessary to properly express a point. For the first time in written life, I felt like what I was doing was not only right, but also 100 per cent me.
While I played out the rest of the school year as The Lyon‘s front-page columnist, I felt sorta off about the whole thing. I had gotten a swig of a diehard cinema fan’s Chartreuse and boy, was it was a tasty, tasty beverage. Perhaps the tastiest beverage this side of a Jack Rabbit Slim’s milkshake. I mean, we’re talking so tasty that you could easily see yourself sipping on that thing at least once every day for the rest of your life. So tasty that you might be willing to strap yourself to the hood of a speeding vehicle to continue doing it.
I’m not going to say that my final Grindhouse piece was particularly great. In fact, looking back on it, I am totally embarrassed by the grammar, sentence structure and spelling errors (see: the unedited copy below). Still, that review is now, and will probably remain, my all-time favourite of my career. Because it made me realize that I actually could (and should!) turn my endless love of movies into a career, just as QT did, and continues to do, with his films. Because it made me realize that I’m a girl and I can do anything — kill a madmen with my a great car, write a great review — if I put the pedal to the metal and keep misconceptions in my rear-view.
An Escape from the daily Grind
Planet Terror: ***1/2 (out of *****)
Death Proof: ****1/2
What do the films Coffy, Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! and Vanishing Point all have in common? First off, they all fall into the cinematic genre of the B-movie in which explicit sex, horrifically gore-filled violence and exploitation of all kinds run wild. Secondly, and more importantly, they are the inspiration for the new Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill series)/Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) project, Grindhouse.
The A-movie disguised as a B-movie borrows its title from the theatres in which the directors spent their adolescence exploring genre. The 3 hour double feature (yes, 3 hours!) contains two films, one by each director.
The first of the two films is Rodriguez’s tribute to the sci-fi zombie genre, Planet Terror, which stars the former Mrs. Marilyn Manson, Rose Mcgowan, Freddy Rodriguez and Marley Shelton just to name a few. The campy delight takes place in a Texas towwn which has been overtaken by disease ridden zombies. As limbs begin to fly, hilariously deadpan lines become frequent and the undead run amuck, the characters are forced to adapt and quickly. McGowan’s character, go-go dancer Cherry Darling, loses her leg in the epic battle against the oozing (literally) masses, forcing her to take on an immaculately dramatic appendage, a machine gun. Cherry’s unique body part has already gained her cult status among fanboys (and girls) worldwide and rightfully so. Her performance is perfectly over the top.
Death Proof, Tarantino’s creation, is the second and unquestionably superior feature. The story focuses on a retired stunt man, Stuntman Mike, played by a splendidly creepy Kurt Russell. Mike gets his kicks by killing off groups of women. His weapon? His car. What begins as a story of misogynistic homicide soon becomes a fast paced feminist revenge film.
The laughs run high in Death Proof as the girls take about everything from sex, drugs and whether or not Pretty in Pink is a worthy film. However, the action filled third act is the film’s strongest point. Look out for the unforgettable chase scene which has stuntwoman Zoe Bell holding on for her dead life, strapped to the hood of a speeding Dodge Challenger. It’s an adrenaline rush that will satisfy even the biggest action junkie.
Some of the most amusing parts of the double feature are the trailers which run in between the two films. Created by horror directors Rob Zombie and Eli Roth (Hostel), the trailers include the fictional films Werewolf of the S.S., Don’t and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving proves to be the most horrific as it includes a turkey dinner scene that would have even Hannibal Lector cringing.
The movies themselves are rather choppy, especially Planet Terror, which randomly flips from one scene to another without notice. Both films include missing reels, in which at least 20 minutes of footage appears to be misplaced. While this is humorous, it also contributes to the genuine Grindhouse experience, in which missing reels are common. In addition, Tarantino and Rodriguez purposefully aged the films to make them appear fuzzy and unclear. In any other movie, this would seem ridiculous, but in Grindhouse, it more than fits.
Grindhouse achieves its purpose as it demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, bad can be good. Really good. A kitschy rollercoaster that leaves you wanting more, Grindhouse will undoubtedly become a cult classic.
What’s your Big (Screen) Love Story? What cinematic moment changed your life forever? Tell us in the comments section below!