Browsing Tag

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

We’ve waited an extra few months of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow thinking the worst about the film. After all, with such beautiful looking special effects, and a movie driven by them in all aspects, a delay of this scope could either be a blessing or a curse. In fact, it might have been a little bit of both, if you go by Paramount’s reasoning for delaying the film until September (from the original July release date). For one, you escape from Spider-Man’s shadow and are able to open up in a, nearly, clear field of films. Although, opening in the notoriously slow September month doesn’t guarantee big numbers, especially for such a costly picture. But what really matters is the film itself, and it was an enjoyable time, marred by some problems, but still very enjoyable.

The story focuses on Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) a boundless reporter investigating the disappearance of some of the world’s top scientists. When she gets a clue to the whereabouts of the last remaining man, she soon discovers that it may be too late. Huge, mechanical robots infiltrate New York City causing general havoc and providing some amazing images you wouldn’t think of ever seeing on screen again. After nearly getting herself killed, she calls upon the help of Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) to help her get to the bottom of her biggest story. Along the way they run into the still-hot-with-an-eye-patch Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who commands a flying fortress and aqua-enabled jets.

If there has ever been a film built completely on eye candy, and eye candy alone, this is certainly it. From the very beginning you are overwhelmed with the style of the fantastic looking special effects. They don’t look real, and they aren’t intended to, but what they do look like is an amazing throwback to the 1940’s sci-fi serials that had wondrous visions of the future. From mechanical robots to un-earthly creatures, your eyes are the most important part of your body during this film. The technology used by the characters in the film is certainly science fiction, even today, but there is something about seeing a fighter jet retract its propeller in mid-flight, and submerge below the ocean to do battle with giant robots. How many films give you that experience?

Although, with the all special effects you certainly get felling that they may have let some of the writers go as Sky Captain brings in some cringe worthy lines, and even manages to make some Hollywood’s power players almost unwatchable at times. Sitting with most of the Entopia staff through the film I could see Senior Editor entopia_john flinching at nearly every line Gwyneth Paltrow delivered. At times I thought it was funny, but the more I listened to the lines and forgot about the pleasing special effects, I heard what he was hearing. The dialog isn’t all that good, and it only servers to bring upon the next scene, and the next problem for our heroes to deal with. You have to wonder if they went back in at the last minute and decided to actually write a script for the film, or just release a bunch of cool looking clips with the actors just staring at the camera.

Shot in front of a blue screen, the actors do a very good job of interacting with their “environment.” Its one thing to act, but to act without any props or visual cues from a background has to be much, much harder. The highlight of the bunch is Jolie’s Franky who is underused in the film, but it gets her out of starring in a serious of commercial and critical duds that have plagued actors and consumers alike this year.

In the end, genre fans will be all too pleased by the visual effects and style of the film, but serious movie-goers will find much to fault in the 2D story and poorly done script. If only they had taken the time to flesh out the characters a bit more and the story in general we could be looking at one of the best movies of the year. As it stands now, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a visual effects achievement that is able to bring a smile to even the most jaded sci-fi fan’s face, but only those needing some visual assurance of its dominance need apply.