Saturday, January 13, 2007


UPDATE 1/15/07 3:30 p.m.: Here's a new image of some advertising for Grindhouse designed to make waiting out the three months a long and arduous process.


“You all know me. You know what I do for a livin’.” --- Quint (Robert Shaw), Jaws

As far as I’m concerned, the best movie, from frame one to the final fade-out, that Quentin Tarantino has made to date is Jackie Brown (1997), starring Pam Grier, Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Chris Tucker and Robert Forster, * who ended up with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. And I’ve enjoyed and/or respected, with reservations, just about everything else he’s done as a director (I’d rank the rest of Tarantino, in descending order, thusly: Kill Bill Vol. 1, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Reservoir Dogs- I have not seen Four Room). His geeky cool persona on talk shows and in interviews I find extremely annoying, but at least his movies split time between that geek passion and an at least fleeting awareness with the (non-movie-derived) world around him, and the movies he chooses to make movies about are at least ones in which I can share in his enthusiasm.

Robert Rodriguez, on the other hand, seems much more a self-bred legend far too beholden to his own image of cool (oh, how I’d love to burn that hat, bandana and ever-present guitar!), a master of making fast, cheap and out-of-control images that have, to date, signified almost nothing. I loved exactly one of Rodriguez’s films—the first, least self-conscious, most sprightly episode in the increasingly wearying Spy Kids series. I felt a distanced technical admiration for Sin City while at the same time being put off not by the violence so much as the “Look, Ma! I’m being gory and sick, and isn’t it neat?” sensibility behind it, that of a giggling adolescent pushing content to revolting limits just because. El Mariachi has the fire of its young filmmaker boosting it along, even though the legend of its shoestring production has inflated the movie itself far beyond its simple pleasures. And there’s much to like in his contribution to Showtime’s Roger Corman remake series, entitled Roadracers, which provided me with my introduction to Salma Hayek. His From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado and The Faculty, however, seem simply tiresome and overwrought. And tiresome can’t begin to describe the homegrown wretchedness and pointlessness of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (we can only hope) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. (I have not seen The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D-- I have not been that bad, and in any case, I would hope my optometrist would intervene if I ever was delirious enough to consider a viewing.)

All this said, after I saw this trailer for the duo’s upcoming Grindhouse-- a self-conscious attempt to fashion a tribute to the kinds of double features frequently featured in urban grindhouses and drive-ins in the early to mid ‘70s-- I had to admit it: I was in geek orbit. This should not be news to anyone who reads this blog regularly. As Quint said as he introduced his services to the good people of Amity, you all know me. And if the movie—or should I say movies (Tarantino’s Death Proof and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror)-- come anywhere near to fulfilling the giddy, pulse-pounding, absurdly pleasurable potential of that trailer, it may end up being just too much fun—I could easily slip out of geek orbit and head straight up to geek heaven.

And these posters, designed to set the hook deep into the soft palate of someone like me, have not only snagged this shark, but are reeling him hard and fast toward the boat.

Yes, I remember From Dusk Till Dawn and Once Upon a Time In Mexico. And I remember how overbearing Tarantino can be in his seemingly undiscriminating fandom. But, at the risk of a loss of circulation and use of four of my most important digits, I will keep my fingers crossed until early April, in the hopes that Grindhouse can actually deliver the goods and bring back someone of the vile, oily, mean-spirited, hallucinatory jolts and racy, vicious humor that Roger Corman, Crown International Pictures, and other even more low-to-the-ground distributors delivered right on schedule every weekend to the downtown flea pits and dusty drive-ins of the ‘70s of my youth.

At best, Grindhouse might be an answer to a question in Professor Dave Jennings’ Milton-Free, Universe-Expanding Holiday Midterm: “Name a movie that redeems the notion of nostalgia as something more than a bankable commodity.” Maybe it’ll land somewhere in the middle on the scale of expectations, like Sin City, flirting with transcendence as much as submission to the kind of mediocrity that was just as much in evidence at those ‘70s drive-ins as were pieces of pop nirvana like Death Race 2000. And at worst, it’ll be a loud clang of B-movie signifiers and in-jokes, just another annoying wallow by a couple of too-cool-for-planet-Earth filmmakers who have disappeared up the rectums of their own obsessions with trash movie culture. Call me an optimist, but as much as that trailer and these posters make me grin, I’ll keep my guarded hopes up for the moment. Stay tuned.

* If you're in the Los Angeles area this weekend, Robert Forster will be appearing at the North Hollywoodd Library to speak about his career. The actor will be appearing Sunday afternoon, January 14, at 2:00 pm. The admission is free. The North Hollywoodd Library is located at 5211 Tujunga Ave in North Hollywood. Call (818) 766-7185 for more information.


Alonzo Mosley (FBI) said...

I'm looking forward to it, too. At the very least, it'll be entertaining to see their explanation (if any) of how Rose McGowan manages to actually fire that weapon.

And Jackie Brown is my favorite of Tarantino's films. The DVD also features one of the best extras I've ever seen: About two dozen trailers from Pam Grier's and Robert Foster's careers. That's some drive-in movie goodness, right there.

Anonymous said...

As long as they spent no money on it, it should be awesome! Looks kind of fun. They should throw Switchblade Sisters in there and make it a triple-feature so the young kids can compare a real one to their new ones.

I liked From Dusk Till Dawn. What's wrong with you, dude? Jackie Brown is very good. Tarantino has certainly sunk irretrievably into the grindhouse mire now. I think he'll have to remove his name and enthusiastic quotes from the video boxes of Abbas Kiarostami films and other quality movies, since after Jackie Brown, all aspirations to any type of quality cinema (or straddling quality cinema and exploitation) have been abandoned.

Sin City was also good. I hated it at first for the same reasons you cited (seemed like another entrant in the competition to present most despicable disgusting demented worldview), but then when they played the standard heroic plots in contrast to that world it became much better. Usually most of those very negative worldview movies stay totally negative the whole way, but this had characters who were "nice" somehow, or good souls. The infectious narrating device was very effective as well, and I admire that he pulled it off in his own studio in Austin, TX.

The appeal of Rodriguez coming out with El Mariachi during my formative filmmaking years (in college, and taking film classes) is hard to forget, and I purchased and read his book "Rebel Without a Crew" at the time, which I still treasure and still aspire to. You should really be able to make a movie with nothing! He did. That's why I hope they spent NO fucking money on these grindhouse films. But in a way, the methods of shooting Sin City (and his other films he shoots in Austin) still have roots in El Mariachi and "Rebel Without a Crew".

I guess I'm on a bit of a personal film-world nostalgia trip since I also just randomly watched Clerks II last night. Gotta throw Clerks in there as another touchstone of no-budget filmmaking (that came out at the same time roughly as Pulp Fiction, not that that was no-budget). These three personas kind of came onto the scene in a roughly similar time frame. (Don't worry, I'm not going to call it a wondrous time or a frickin' golden age or anything!) Again, it was during my formative film interest years, so it's a bit of nostalgia for me, and I moved on from it to the whole Bergman/Tarkovsky/Eisenstein/Godard/Antonioni world that I much prefer. But it's interesting to reanalyze this earlier period of questionable taste and the formation of a serious interest in film. (I did watch other things like Breathless and the 400 Blows at this time, so it wasn't Rodriguez/Tarantino/Smith in a bubble. The Coen brothers were also fairly "hip" to like at the time.)

Which leads me to say it would be nice if someone (or these guys) would go for this no-budget filmmaking idea all over again and aspire to something more than low comedy or exploitation films. You can also make art with no money. And I hope these two who do now have money have fun with the Grindhouse, but maybe the T-man could aspire to something a bit more weighty from time to time. (Don't really think Rodriguez has that in him without Frank Miller or Tarantino's help.) Kevin Smith could certainly do what he does a lot better also. Clerks II was almost good except for its reliance on the original Clerks as a blueprint for the sequel, reducing the somewhat original first film to the basis of a formula to be followed/copied. The writing (hilarious at times!) and execution was good, but that negative underpinning of repetition was quite a bit of a spoiler for the quality of the film.

Hey, this was practically a guest-post. I better shut up now! Back into my hole!

-The Mizzteerious A|.dri!ann B++e==tamax

The 'Stache said...
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The 'Stache said...
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Joe Baker said...

And, if anyone is interested in reading up on grindhouse films, I highly recommend Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford's "Sleazoid Express", one of the more entertaining and definitive books I'v ever read on the subject. They break it up into sections such as "Bloodthirsty Butchers at the Lyric" and "Showcases for Euro Sleaze". Not only does the book give a pretty detailed history of the theaters that played these movies, but it often gives informative backgrounds about the actors and directors. I've hunted down some insanely crazy films this book mentions.

David Lowery said...

I love the trailer, too, but I'm not quite sure I can trust Tarantino and Rodriguez anymore. Sin City left a bad taste in my mouth (and I love the comics), as have Tarantino's increasingly grating off-screen antics, which I'm afraid may start to affect his work (up until the second Kill Bill, he managed to maintain a perfect balance of quality and cool, but now I wonder if he's not easing over to a single side and geting way too comfortable in cinematic recapitualtion). He needs to pull a Malick, stat!

But even if Grindhouse sucks in its expanded form, at least we have all the fake trailers sandwiched between the features to look forward to! In addition to the ones Tarantino and Rodriguez have made, there'll be additional sleazo-promos from Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Eli Roth. I can't wait!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Forster will discuss one of my favorite films, Noel Black's Cover Me Babe, or perhaps the Jesus Franco actor with the similar name?

Anonymous said...

As an addendum to my above comment -- I just read this piece on Zombie's fake trailer. It sounds like pure gold!

Usually in lycanthropictures, it’s the men who do the howling—unless you’re one of Rob Zombie's WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS. The writer/director is busy in preproduction on HALLOWEEN, but he has reserved a weekend to shoot WEREWOLF, one of the series of fake trailers audiences will see between Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR and Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF when they check out GRINDHOUSE beginning April 6. Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rodriguez and Tarantino all take their own crack at preview-makin’ too.

Zombie dropped some WEREWOLF casting news on Fango’s front step overnight: In addition to Nicolas Cage donning creative facial hair as Fu Manchu, he tells us that genre legend—not to mention perennial creepy German guy—Udo (BLOOD FOR DRACULA) Kier and blonde knockout Sybil (THE HOWLING II) Danning, a grindhouse gal herself, are ready for some sinister experimentation. The director has also brought in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and DEVIL’S REJECTS pals Bill Moseley, Tom Towles and wife Sheri Moon Zombie. WWE wrestlers Test (a.k.a. Andrew Martin) and Vladimir Kozlov are providing the trailer some required testosterone.

Sounding like he’s taking the inspiration of Don Edmonds’ ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS quite literally, Zombie says his trailer “is the story of Hitler’s plan to create a race of superhuman werewolf women to win the war—based on actual documents found in Hitler’s bunker.” How Fu Manchu fits into this scheme, I guess we’ll just have to see, right?

Steve C. said...

As a card-carrying exploitation geek (and Something Weird enthusiast), that trailer makes the movie look like the coolest goddamn thing I'll see in '07. Of course, also as a card-carrying exploitation geek, I bloody well know that grindhouse trailers are 95% of the time more entertaining than the films they're promoting. However, I'm naively keeping the faith anyway. As I always do. (I still think, all evidence to the contrary, that The 3 Dimensions of Greta is going to be the greatest movie I'll ever see, once I see it.)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Joseph B: Thaks for reminding me about Sleazoid Express. I've been meaning to order that book for years, and it may be the perfect study in anticipation of Grindhouse.

David: I hadn't heard about the trailers in between the features!!! Holy 42nd Street! Oh, my goodness, even if Death Proof and Planet Terror stink, odds are these other trailers stand as good a chance as the one from Grindhouse itself of being satsifying little short films on their own.

One of the things about that Grindhouse trailer that made me sit up and take notice (and listen) is how accurately the scratches, blips, poor film threading and audio bumps from film crashing over the sound heads of a projector-- and, of course, the whirring of the projector motor itself-- were duplicated. I realized that a major part of my excitement over the trailer was due to the attention to these sorts of details. When I was a kid, I fantasized about having my own Super-8 sound projector (something I never ended up with). I distinctly remember thinking that one of the things I liked about the idea of viewing my own prints of films this way would be seeing the dirt and splices go by-- tactile evidence of it being a "real" film, like I saw in theaters every week, as opposed to TV (where prints were often crummy, but you couldn't literally and figuratively feel the flaws and patches). I actually coveted the rough spots on these reels for what they brought to the experience. The ragged, tattered aspects of Grindhouse may all be digital recreations, but they're evocative just the same. It's exciting to think of getting to sit through a double feature that will hopefully feel like it's just a stripped sprocket away from incinerating right there in the projector. How many complaints will multiplexes get about Grindhouse and the crappy prints and lousy projection offered to its customers?

Of course, you're right about Tarantino. As amped up as I am about Grindhouse, I really hope he does something radicaly different next time out. He's got the whole regurgitation-of-"low"-film-culture thing down. Time for, as you say, a Malick (which, if not for his incessant appearances as Quentin Tarantino all over the place, was what his time between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill approached) or something that will stand people's expectations on their ear again the way Jackie Brown did (only an even more radical departure from his cinematic comfort zones than that-- JB was more a departure in tone and introspective quality that stayed close to the melodramatic roots in which he so dearly loves being entangled.)

Steve: You're right about trailers most often surpassing the entertainment value of the movies they advertise. With trailers, we get the sizzle (and the boom, and the "yaaaaarrrgh!") without having to suffer through the reality of the filmmaker's often inescapable lack of talent, which can make for some awfully long stretches in between the good stuff. The real grindhouses are pretty much gone, and the ones that do survive don't get access to first-run movies for weeks or months after they're released. So I hope there's a drive-in near you, because I know you'll want to see Grindhouse in the great outdoors, where it can live and breathe and access those great exploitation reverberations even more readily. I'm already petitoning my favorites ozoners to make sure they play it opening weekend!

Anonymous said...

"The ragged, tattered aspects of Grindhouse may all be digital recreations, but they're evocative just the same."

One of my best friends has an office right next to the guys who are doing those vintage filmlook effects, and he got them to do some of the same work on the opening sequence of his new feature. Now if only we can convince them to let us steal an advance peak at Grindhouse itself..

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, you bet I'm looking forward to this! I actually think SPY KIDS 2 was much better than the first, but that's just me. And maybe SIN CITY plays differently for someone who knows the comic. I didn't really care for the Bruce Willis story arc, but I sure loved the faithful way with which they translated Miller's panels to the screen.

One a related note: can I interest you guys in a despicably fun horror trailer currently showing at my grindhouse Lost in Negative Space? It ain't something you've seen before, that's for sure...