ReelReviews #15: Grindhouse (2007)

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APRIL 7-11, 2013 SCREENING: “GRINDHOUSE” MOVIES (2007-Present)
I watched a series of five films over two weeks ago, and then spent another week mulling over how the heck I would review five different films that are meant to be seen as a package deal. I’ve put it off until I reached a solution: write one review that its own five segment mini-reviews, just the movies its analyzing. You see, the basic concept from directors Robert Rodriquez and Quintin Tarantino was that they would each do a cheesy, low-budget, trashy movie that resembled the type of schlock you’d get in the ’60s and ’70s, and package the movies together as a “double feature” to watch back-to-back in a theater, complete with fake trailers and commercials between movies, and intentionally grainy, scratchy film to replicate stuff that was thrown together. After the double feature came out, it inspired three movie silly “grindhouse” type movie spinoffs. Did they succeed in this strange little parody/homage? Well, yes and no.

 

PLANET TERROR (2007)
Planet Terror is basically a “zombie movie”. I use the term in quotes because its made to look like a movie from an era where they probably wouldn’t call it a zombie movie (as the George H. Romero variety hadn’t become the definitive image of a zombie yet) and what’s more, the movie is actually about some kind of extremely grotesque mutated humans, rather than undead corpses eating human flesh. They do eat people, though, and it’s a heck a lot of more fun than people find in a lot of “modern” zombie movies like World War Z. The poster image of the girl with a machine gun for a leg is certainly exploited for all its worth in this movie, and even though they use modern CGI, the concept and execution definitely mimics the feel of a old low-budget garbage movie. There’s lot of extreme over-the-top violence as well, and this film certainly brought a smile to my face because it made me think back to the stupidest set of 70s horror movies I watched, like Laserblast (1978), along with some terrible blaxplotation movies of the same era. Where I think the film fell short were two elements where it simply ignored its own premise: 1) The movie was too long for a “Grindhouse” movie, and certainly as one half of a double feature that you’re supposed to watch back-to-back in one sitting. It should have been between 75-85 mins., tops. Second, although intentionally made it to look like it was shot in the 70s, the movie takes place in “modern times” and uses modern technology and so forth. I found that distracting. They went through so much trouble to give us scratchy looking 16mm film, why the cell phones that reminded us that this movie was not made in the era it pretends to be?
**1/2 out of ****

 

DEATH PROOF (2007)
Death Proof is the second half of the original “Grindhouse” experience, and considered the much weaker film of the two. Some people have even gone as far as to say its Tarantino’s weakest movie. But in many ways, I actually enjoyed it more than the first film. Like Planet Terror, the grainy film and ridiculous opening credits immediately make it look like you’re watching some piece of crap made around 1972 or so, but instead of just being an over-the-top splatter film, this one has something completely lacking in the first: atmosphere Apparently the “in-joke” is that it’s supposed to look like two different movies spliced together (which they actually did for really bad MST3k fodder like “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”), but the fact its obviously Kurt Russell in both halves of the movie – playing the same role – ruins this effect. As for me, I loved the first half the movie (where had a very good, creepy “70s stalker movie” vibe like I was watching The Last House on the Left or something), and I was indifferent/bored by the second half, which had a “70s stunt race car movie” feel. To convey that its “Two different movies” the second half was almost grain-free, and that didn’t work for me at all because you could tell it was shot on modern film equipment. Again, the same flaws from the first film were present, and even more apparent: the running time was too long, and it was obvious taking place in 2007. Nevertheless, I consider this film to be its own little modern cult classic, and the lap-dance scene in the movie’s first half is unforgettable
*** out of ****

 
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)
Machete is by far the better known and more popular of the Grindhouse spinoffs, but for me there was only one true heir to the original project, and that’s Hobo with a Shotgun. It was based off one of the “fake trailers” from the original 2007 double-feature, and expanded into its own feature length movie. Ironically, its got a completely different director (the little known Jason Eisener) and a different actor from the 2007 fake trailer (in this case, the far better known Rutgar Hauer), but I felt it was the most faithful to the whole grindhouse experience: It looks incredibly low-budget, trashy, over-the-top, gory, and tongue-in-cheek hilarious In many ways, this was actually more faithful to the concept, and really nailed the feel of a movie from another era. For example, the music soundtrack sounds exactly like some MIDI synthesizer score from the early 80s, making it seem like you’re watching a lost John Carpenter movie. I’d say the only jarring part of the this is because the earlier Grindhouse movies looked like they were attempting to copy films from the late 60s/early 70s, whereas Hobo definitely looks and feels like a mid 80s movie. Despite having no sci-fi elements and having a storyline more along the lines of Death Wish, Hobo With a Shotgun is pretty much the spiritual successor of 1987’s Robocop. If you liked Robocop, you’ll love with (complete with the excessive violence and biting satire). In fact, forget about watching the remake of Robocop and watch this instead, as its far more true to what the original Robocop was aiming for. This may be the best of the “Grindhouse” movies. Be prepared to be grossed out, offended, annoyed, and mesmerized by it all.
*** out of ****

 
MACHETE (2010)
I think Machete is probably the most financially successful of the five Grindhouse movies, but it was one of the least creative, in my opinion. I still liked it, but I had a blast with the first three movies and I felt that was missing here. Despite this being directed by Robert Rodriquez, it is not a Grindhouse movie. It based on one of the fake trailers from one of his Grindhouse movies, and the opening credits even continue the same style, but it quickly becomes a very modern Hollywood movie. The only difference between this and a typical action comedy is that the script here is still obviously a satire of the whole genre. The actors play it straight, but Lindsay Lohan is here for one reason and its not to display her acting talent (ironically, she finally gets naked in the movie but you can’t see anything). Robert de Niro even shows up here, playing a buffoonish right-wing politician. There has been much talk about the movie having a liberal agenda, and I would agree that political conservatives will probably not like the film’s storyline or message, but the film is just too silly and frivolous for me to take offense as any kind of preachy liberal sneer It has some genuinely funny laughs, and its quick paced and quick witted, but nowhere near on the level of the three real Grindhouse movies. The “fake” trailer for Machete is better than the real one, because the real one is just another typical Robert Rodriquez movie like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or Spy Kids. The best scene may be Lindsay Lohan’s slutty character disguising herself as a nun. Oddly enough, it disgusted me, intrigued me, and had me cracking up at the same time.
** out of ****

 

MACHETE KILLS (2013)
The latest, last, and least of the films spawned by the whole Grindhouse concept. Naturally, it’s a sequel to Machete, but the best part of this movie was yet another “Fake trailer” for what eventually could become the real third movie: “Machete Kills Again… In Space” It cracked me up and every scene in the “trailer” was better than the real scenes in this movie, and made me wish that the still unconfirmed third film was the sequel instead of this movie. The actual film has plenty of action and a brisk pace, but goes nowhere and just isn’t very funny or interesting. Instead of de Niro like the first movie, this time we have Mel Gibson showing up in a “major role”, and it actually made me feel kind of sorry for him because his career has been reduced to doing this pathetic movie. Machete Kills is the opposite of the original intent of Grindhouse: rather than be made to intentionally parody the look of low-budget, crappy films, It’s a big budget, slick film that unintentionally looks very crappy. The best part of the movie may be former child actress Alexa Vega now appearing as a smoking hot, bikini-clad voluptuous adult character, but I got so bored with the movie I think I missed that part. I give it points for trying, but its just throwing a lot of crap at me, and thankfully, nothing is sticking.
* 1/2 out of ****

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ReelReviews #13: Hick (2011)

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APRIL 4, 2013 SCREENING: HICK (2011)

 

Like the previous film I reviewed, Hick takes another rising young child star (in this case, Chloe Grace Moretz) and gives her the first role of her career where she transition from child star to adult star. She gets to do a lot in the movie that quite frankly shocked a lot of critics, particularly because they were used to her playing innocent characters and here she uses some pretty colorful language and has some pretty risque scenes for a 13 year old. Moretz’s performance is good, and demonstrates the versatility of her acting abilities However, in other respects, its the opposite of the last film I reviewed. Push (2009) was at heart a good movie that inexplicably turned out to be bad in spite of everything it had going for it. On the other hand, Hick is a bad movie, seemingly made up of bits and pieces of good movies.

Yes, Hick is a mediocre movie at best, and none of its characters or situations will leave much impact on you, or any lasting legacy on film. There is an interesting side effect to watching the movie though, and its that Hick will evoke numerous scenes from other, better movies. I must have thought “Gee, this reminds me of so-and-so” over a half dozen times while watching Hick. I doubt this is an intentional effort from the filmmakers to “rip off” earlier movies, it just seems they had a number of good ideas that had been done before, and might have worked here, except they were done poorly. At various times, memories of Lawn Dogs (1997), The Professional (1994), Tideland (2005), Hound dog (2007), Lolita (both the 1962 and 1997 versions!), Black Snake Moan (2006), The Ice Storm (1997), and Badlands (1973) came to mind. There are even more examples that escape me at the moment. It was like someone took me on a tour of “greatest hits” from those movies and tried to re-enact several iconic scenes with new actors and dialogue, producing a far inferior version.

What most of the above films have in common is a basic premise of “underage girl behaving scandalously”, which is perhaps why many of the critics have said that “pedophiles” would enjoy the film Hick. I honestly don’t think anyone will enjoy the film Hick, because while there is the element of Chloe Grace Moretz dressing seductively and acting provocatively for some weird perverts, its not really aimed at the viewer, and the difference between this movie and a film like Lolita or Tideland is that she has zero chemistry with her adult co-star. In this case, its some cowboy hat wearing creep in a pickup that keeps showing up in her over and over again (and again makes me think of similar characters in good movies like Lolita, Pretty Baby, Taxi Driver, etc.), but here the situation goes nowhere and you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything the two characters discussed in the movie. There’s also a “graphic rape scene”, perhaps apeing what happened earlier in Dakota Fanning’s own heavily criticized “Hound dog” (where her 12 year old character is brutally raped), but the “rape scene” here occurs completely off camera, and a far more dramatic scene occurs earlier when Moretz’s character is nearly raped in a bathroom stall. In either case, neither scene seems to have any consequences for later in the movie, or the overall storyline.

The one positive here is that although the movie is called “Hick”, its not about exploiting backwoods country bumpkins for laughs, and although none of the characters are likeable or interesting, they”re all tolerable and believable enough. There’s even one actor I can’t stand (namely, Alec Baldwin) who makes a decent appearance towards the end of the movie. Like all the other scenes, its of little consequence, but Baldwin’s brief scenes are basically a glorified cameo and kept my interest long enough. I’ll rate that as a positive for this film – since I usually want to break my TV whenever Baldwin comes on screen, regardless of what role he’s playing.
Moretz really showed off a dramatically different side to her in this movie. Too bad she was stuck with a worthless script, and a movie that does nothing and goes nowhere. If you want to reminisce about earlier, better movies, then Hick is an interesting experiment to jog your memories. If not, you’ll be wasting two hours of your life.
* ½ out of ****