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eli roth

Grindhouse, the double-bill experiment from cult directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, is a hard movie to review because each film has its own unique style and its own premise, and largely varying degree of quality. Planet Terror, from Rodriguez, and Death Proof, from Tarantino, are spliced together with purposely distressed film, scratches, missing reels, and fake movie trailers connecting the two like an old school, double feature. Unfortunately, none of those in the film’s target demographic could even tell you what a Grindhouse was, let alone try to comprehend what a double-bill would be.

Planet Terror is the better half of Grindhouse, there’s no doubt about that, Robert Rodriguez’s zombie adaptation is fresh, action filled, humorous, and brimming to the top with style and enough substance to keep the audience entertained through its brisk 90 minute runtime. The characters have enough dimension to keep you enticed in their actions, and the missing reel gag only seems to further solidify them as some of the coolest you’ll see on the big screen this year even though, by all other standards, they are 2D replicas of archetypes we’ve seen on the big screen thousands of times.

Still they feel fresh, almost as though the stigma of knowing that Grindhouse, and the films contained within are suppose to be hollow, action-filled romps where enormous amounts of gore fill the screen and movie-making caution is thrown to the wind.

The story focuses on a group of survivors, lead by the mysterious El Wray (Freddy Rodriquez) who can do more with two butterfly knives than most can do with a fully automatic machine gun. The most memorable action sequences in the double-bill take place in Planet Terror, notably Rose McGowan as the gun-legged go-go dancer who lays waste to a group of zombies near the end of the film from the back of a bike and later rocket jumping over a wall. Outlandish? Most definitely. Fun? Most certainly.

With characters like the aforementioned El Wray, devilish Doc Block (Josh Brolin), and Bruce Willis as a corrupt, and changing, Army officer you’d be hard pressed to not find something to smile and awe about in Planet Terror. There might not be something for everyone here, but you’d have to really hate movies in general to not find something to laugh, gasp, or cringe at in this explosive exposition.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Tarantino’s contribution to the film which comes off as a long, boring, talking-head theater filled with nonsensical dialog that does little to forward the story, and without focusing on the main attraction (Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike) the audience is left amazingly bored.

Death Proof feels like part of a Tarantino movie, but without the snappy dialog and intertwining action sequences to fill up the slow parts. Whereas Pulp Fiction gave us a long conversation at Jack Rabbit Slim’s but rewarded us with good dialog and the knowledge that Uma Thurman was about to get a six-inch needle in the chest. In Death Proof we get four twentysomething girls talking for what feels like hours, like we are caught in a bad dream where teenage girls rule the world and we can’t get off the phone with them.

When the action finally starts up, we’re left with one car chase, as spectacular as it is, it feels almost forced, to the point where when the words “The End” appear on the screen the audience is left dumbstruck with confused looks, almost as though they’ve just witnessed something utterly perplexing there isn’t words to describe it in the English language. The feeling is a wave of disappointment filling over you as you realize that the genius who brought us such masterpieces as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction also gave us this in a Grindhouse format that was suppose to blow our socks off.

Something can be said about the quality of the film when several of the audience members were calling for more fake trailers from director’s Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and Edgar Wright just so they didn’t have to listen to more talking in Death Proof.

Grindhouse‘s varying degree of quality is a real shame because both directors are versatile, talent individuals who should have made double-bill the very best film of the year. Instead, Rodriguez once again impresses and Tarantino uncharacteristically disappoints and we’re left to wonder what could have been. What if both films were released separately? What if Tarantino had added more action? And will we ever get to see the contents of those missing reels? One can only hope the inevitable superstar DVD release will answer more than a few of these lingering questions.

Planet Terror Rating: B+
Death Proof Rating: D

Cabin Fever has been compared to 28 Days Later, the sleek, original horror film to hit theaters earlier this summer, and after viewing the film I can’t think of a better, more comparable fit to this highly original, highly entertaining joy-ride.

The film, distributed by the independent Lions Gate Films, stars virtually no name actors in a surprisingly original take on a very tired, old formula. Reverting to the 1980’s cookie-cutter horror flicks, including the venerable Friday the 13th series, Cabin Fever puts a group of teenagers in a cabin, in the woods, with a remote chance of reaching civilization, should anything happen. The horror staples of doing drugs, drinking, and having sex all present a death kiss to our protagonists. Highlighting the cast, as the only recognizable face, is Rider Strong, best known for his role on the ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World,” which, after hearing about the featured programming on Bravo, could be a unique name for an adult video. But I digress.

While the trailers and promotional material show Cabin Fever in the same vein as 28 Days Later where, in this case, a flesh eating virus debilitates its victims, causing them to vomit virus infected blood all over the place. But it is the psychological aspect of the film that the trailers aren’t able to show, and this is where Eli Roth’s script finds its voice.

Life time friends turn on life time friends with the first indication that they have the virus. Everyone becomes so paranoid about getting sick, and if they have the virus that the biggest enemies are also your biggest friends, much akin to the psychological appeal of 28 Days Later and the basic human needs that take over.

Cabin Fever, written and directed by Eli Roth, does suffer through a few problems, such as the whole “crazed dog” subplot that keeps our campers from going outside. Rather than just shooting the animal they proceed to scare it away again and again, only to have it keep coming back as if the guys were wearing Bacon Bits Aftershave. Still these few shortcomings don’t detract from the overall experience enough to warrant a lower score.

One of the most refreshing parts of Cabin Fever is the humor. The jokes in the film rival anything seen in last week’s Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Also returning is the gratuitous nudity for the sake of having gratuitous nudity, something sorely missing from modern horror films. And for all the horny guys out there who don’t want to see a repeat of the eye-burning horror that was Jason Goes to Hell, you can be safely assured that all the nudity comes from Cerina Vincent, best known for her role as Areola in Not Another Teen Movie.

Whether you are a fan of the classic horror genre, horror/comedy genre pioneered by Evil Dead II, or a good psychological thriller, Cabin Fever will serve all purposes. You will laugh, you will cringe, you will think, and while doing all this you will have a good time.