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...but don't want to sit for 24 hours, go catch a late-night screening of the three-hour Tarantino-Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse. I say late night because this is NOT a matinee type of movie. It needs to be experienced with a room full of people, preferably heavy on testosterone, who are going to react in all the right places. This is not a "film," it is a three-hour time-travel vacation package, transporting you to the sleazy grindhouse theaters of the 1970s.

I was not brought up on these kinds of films as Tarantino and Rodriguez were, but I've seen a fair few films of this ilk in the past several years at Butt-Numb-A-Thon. They are not the kind of movies that you really enjoy watching by yourself, but the experience of watching them with an audience is the thing that make them worth going to.

Part of the package is the look of the films (as well as the extra goodies). All of the trailers and all of the films are brand new, but the prints are rough and scratched, as if they have been mishandled by careless projectionists over the years. Each feature also has a "missing reel" - apparently a staple of traditional grindhouse films. The missing reels, however, are not just arbitrary holes in the story. They are part of the joke. The characters have been written into a corner, and suddenly, after the missing footage, the story has taken a sudden turn. We hear characters make references to things they said in the missing scenes and the relationships between the characters seem to have changed.

In addition to the films themselves, a major part of the Grindhouse experience is the extra stuff. Vintage headers like the "Prevues" and "Feature Presentation" clips and an old advert for a local Austin restaurant. And trailers. Oh my goodness, the trailers. Before the first feature, you're shown a trailer for a (sadly) nonexistant film called "Machete." Back in the day this would have been called a "redband trailer." Meaning that, instead of the green preview slide saying that what you're about to see has been approved for all audiences, there is a red slide, saying that this trailer - not just the film it's for, but the trailer - is for restricted audiences only. What you can expect from a trailer like this is more violence, probably a bit of profanity, and a flash of someone's boobs. The trailer for "Machete" delivers on all of those counts.

Planet Terror

I hate to tell you too much about the story of either of these films, but I'll try to give the basics. In Planet Terror, a sheriff's department tries to fend off people who have been infected by a virus that turns them into zombies. Gah, that just doesn't do it justice, but I can't start telling all the little side stories or I'll be here all day. There's Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who loses her leg to the zombies and eventually gets a replacement limb in the form of a machine gun. There's her ex, El Wray, a wrecker by day and a vigilate by night (don't miss the climactic scene where he rides a pocket bike!). The local sheriff (Michael Biehn), who tries to hold off the zombies while also trying to find out his brother's (Jeff Fahey) secret BBQ recipe. Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton play married doctors who attempt to treat the infected people while dealing with their marital problems. And there's Abby (Naveen Andrews), a biochemical engineer who's working on a cure for the virus and has a strange affinity for ... testicles.

The acting is wonderfully overdone, the dialogue suitably trite, and there are TONS of awesomely bad dialogue gags. Example ... Marley Shelton's character is trying to escape from her husband with her son. She goes to someone's house (we don't know whose yet) and tells the kid to get the gun out of the glove compartment and shoot anyone who comes to the car door and isn't her. Before going into the house, she turns back to the car for a second and tells her son to be careful where he points the gun, because he could shoot his own face off. She shuts the door and walks toward the house, and ... we hear a gunshot. :P

There are lots of little connections between the films. Michael Parks (one of the best things about Kill Bill) is in both films, as the same character, as is Marley Shelton. I think the events of Planet Terror are happening after the events of Death Proof, because there's a reference in PT to the death of one of the characters in DP.

Planet Terror is extraordinarily fun, fairly consistently funny and action-packed. Death Proof is very different, and a lot of viewers/critics don't seem to like it, but I think it was my favorite of the two.

Oh! But before I get to that, I have to talk about...

The Intermission Trailers

Werewolf Women of the SS - made by Rob Zombie. Hitler's master plan to raise a race of superwomen is finally revealed! Starring a couple of actors from Zombie's "stable," plus Udo Kier. And Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu ("THIS IS MY MECCA!")

Thanksgiving - made by Eli Roth. A holiday-themed slasher flick in the spirit of Silent Night, Deadly Night, Halloween, and April Fool's Day. You may never want to jump on a trampoline again. And the stuffed "turkey" shot at the end? ... Roth, you are one sick ****. Don't miss Michael Biehn, reprising his role from Planet Terror.

And my FAVORITE ... Don't (see icon) - made by Edgar Wright. Classic Euro-style horror. Features Jason Isaacs (briefly). Best title gag EVER. Possibly the greatest trailer ever. I wish this were actual film, but there's no way a film could live up to the genius of this trailer. As Harry Knowles describes it, "It makes you want to ask people innocuous questions and scream DON’T at them." BRILLIANT!

And now...

Death Proof

Kurt Russell is Stuntman Mike, a Q-level celebrity who stalks girls and kills them with his "death proof" car, making it look like an accident. I've always been kind of "meh" about Kurt Russell, especially the past 10 years or so. But he does some really incredible work here. He could have been just another slasher flick killer, but we get a chance to see a more human side here. The guy who just doesn't have a way with ladies anymore, and maybe never did. The disappointment in his face when no one he talks to knows anything about the TV shows or movies he's been in. And of course the little twist at the end.

But most of the movie doesn't focus on him at all. I heard someone comparing this to Carrie, in that it seems like such a slow-moving movie for so much of the time. The movie is in two halves - one half focusing on a group of girls in Austin that Stuntman Mike eventually kills, and the other half focusing on a different group of girls on a break from filming on location in Lebanon, TN (which, btw, is right next door to my hometown) who Stuntman Mike eventually ... tries to kill. :P

A lot of the movie's running time is consumed by these characters hanging out and talking to each other. This is a complaint that a lot of people have against this movie, but I think it's what makes it great, actually. You spend a lot of time getting to know these girls. Not fundamental things about their characters, but you get the feeling that you've been hanging out with them for a while. And even if they're annoying - which I found the Austin girls at times - you're invested enough in them to care a lot about what Stuntman Mike is trying to do to them.

What happens to the first set of girls is a pretty incredible crash, which Tarantino shows us from several angles, so that we can see exactly what happens to each person in the car. When he gets to the next group of girls, it's a whole 'nother thing, and what I think is one of the greatest car chases ever. One of the girls in the TN segment is Zoe Bell (playing herself), a stunt woman who is probably best known for doing Uma Thurman's stunt work in Kill Bill. What's extraordinary about this car chase is that Zoe Bell is not doubling for someone else, so Tarantino can shoot her amazing stunts head-on. Watching her during the chase scene is Ab. Solutely. Heart. Stopping. And when the girls get their revenge on Mike, it's just poetry. And then the movie just ends, without any "aftermath" scenes or anything, just BOOM, and it's over. Genius.

Grindhouse isn't for everyone, especially the squeamish. But it is an INCREDIBLY good time. I'm very curious about how they're going to handle the DVD release. I've heard something about "restored" versions, which sounds brilliant, but most real grindhouse movies are not the kind that are easy to find on DVD (or even VHS). And the "night at the movies" feel that the theatrical release has will be completely lost in a version that you can watch in your own home. I'm sure Robert and Quentin have something up their sleeve, though, and I can't wait to see what it is.

I should add in closing that, as you may have guessed, watching Grindhouse will not give you the total BNAT experience in a shorter time frame, as I intimated at the beginning of this post. So when you get home from Grindhouse, pop in one of your Lord of the Rings DVDs. That'll give you a more complete picture. :P


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