Friday, April 6, 2007

"Grindhouse": Good Friday = Death-Proof

In our last episode, I mentioned the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino movie Grindhouse, of which I’m seeing an opening-day matinee shortly. Maybe it’s all the comic books that saturated my brain for thirty years (until quitting the habit last year, but more on that another time), but unlike normal audiences who tend to complain when something isn’t realistic, I am often frustrated by the fact that Hollywood films aren’t more self-indulgently unrealistic and ridiculous. I suspect Grindhouse will make me very happy.

I mean, with all the special effects — and just artistry — at their disposal, why don’t more filmmakers do things that are surreal, dreamlike, cartoonish, impossible, or bizarre? Film is a visual medium and, aside from budget constraints, about as broad a palette as any artist could ask for (for an effectively unlimited budget, there’s always comic books). The ancients would have killed to have access to Hollywood’s tools (actually, they might well have made something like Romero-zombie-film veteran and likely Watchmen director Zack Snyder’s film of Frank Miller’s 300, which I loved). Yet most Hollywood films — and perhaps even more so most indie, arthouse, and European films — are aiming to be either quiet slices of life or convincing thrillers or historical anecdotes/epics. Where’s the insanity?

I breathe a sigh of relief, then, over strange flourishes like the giant, menacing eyeballs looming in the sky in the 90s movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula, self-consciously resembling an effect from the silent or early-talkie eras. I loved the fact that Natural Born Killers (written by Tarantino and directed, easy as this somehow is to forget, by Oliver Stone) contained moments such as the switch from L7’s grunge rocking to opera and slow-motion black and white during the knife-throwing shot, the life-as-sitcom sequence, and the background appearance by an angel when Mickey says he thinks he can see angels. I mean, why not do that? I’m stuck in the theatre for two hours, you may as well give me everything you’ve got.

Indeed, I’m saddened by the thought that Jonathan Demme’s reportedly completed script for Jurassic Park IV, like most ideas in Hollywood, will probably not be the version of the story that actually gets produced and makes it to the screen. Supposedly, his script would involve an evil Swiss biotech company (I’ll forgive the obligatory biotech-bashing for now) planning to mix dinosaur DNA with some dog DNA and human DNA to create highly loyal, obedient dinosaurs with opposable thumbs, able to hold tools, follow orders, and even form an army. And then one brave mercenary tries to take down the company by getting a small team of these smart-o-sauruses to imprint on him — giving them names derived from the Greek gods (not so unlike the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being named after Renaissance painters) and, more importantly, giving them machine guns, with which they have to fight hordes of more conventional dinosaurs as well as corporate hitmen.

I don’t care how ridiculous it sounds, I think that would quite possibly be the greatest movie ever made. But then, one of the first comic books I read as a child was Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur, about a highly intelligent, bright red tyrannosaurus and his furry proto-human sidekick, Moon-Boy, who fought everything from other, stupider dinosaurs to alien invaders who were trying to capture dinosaurs as samples to take back to their homeworld — and creating the Garden of Eden in the process. (Think big, inhibited Hollywood!)

In the meantime, Grindhouse offers an amputee with a stump-mounted machine gun, some sort of zombies, and various trailers for fake movies within the main movie, including two that have already generated their own fan followings: Hobo with a Shotgun [CORRECTION: the Hobo trailer is only showing in Canada, alas -- but I bet it'll be on the Grindhouse DVD] and one featuring a character named Machete armed with a trenchcoat full of knives and a motorcycle-mounted Gatlin gun (geeks of the trash-loving variety will be thrilled to hear that Machete will reportedly be getting his own direct-to-DVD feature film). I’m looking forward as well to the Rob Zombie-directed faux-trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S., featuring Nic Cage as Fu Manchu. Seeing this with my friend Chuck may make up for all those atrocious Howling sequels he convinced me to sit through when we were teenagers (fine though the first, very different Howling, with its werewolf-colony-as-alternative-medicine-ashram trope was).

This odd drive-in-marathon-in-one-film is not the first time Rodriguez and Tarantino have teamed up, for those keeping track. Tarantino directed a sequence of the Rodriguez/Frank Miller movie Sin City, for one thing, and, as the amputee preacher mentioned in my last blog entry observed, an even split in creative duties between Tarantino and Rodriguez, demarcated by the halfway point in the otherwise inexplicable film From Dusk Till Dawn, suddenly makes a lot of sense. For those who haven’t seen that very odd film — about which I knew nothing going in, which was a startling experience — the first half seems to be the Tarantino half, indeed seems to be derived from his leftover rough draft of Natural Born Killers, and the second half is quite abruptly…different.

May Grindhouse bring similar surprises. And let me note that I am not merely longing for more violence per se. (Indeed, even very artful films like Pan’s Labyrinth, by the somewhat similarly-minded — and Hellboy-comics-influenced — Guillermo Del Toro, lose a few points in my mind by being gratuitously violent, and I’ve skipped all the post-Seven torture fests that seem to come out with such regularity in the past few years.) Musicals, puppets, comedy, robots — I’m flexible — but please make my two hours in the theatre at least come close to being more strange and exciting and colorful than two hours of my real life. Maybe I’ll even end up seeing the next David Lynch movie out of a longing for something inspiring along those lines, despite the terrible crime against audiences that was Inland Empire.

1 comment:

Todd Seavey said...

[...] Even when describing more mundane environments, Janice is unsentimentally frank.  She has the honesty to note that in her high school, as in essentially all high schools, there was a clique of tough, brutal, often sadistic males who had fawning female groupies, Janice among them — while most of the girls scorned the majority of their own suitors.  We also get to see the painfully cyclical nature of Janice’s mom’s attraction to abusive boyfriends who became abusive pseudo-parents to Janice.  And we see Janice escaping some of the worst parts of her existence only to wander unreflectively into some pretty hardcore drug use — an aspect of the book as revealing as the glimpses of homeless shelters, at least for those of us who were lucky enough (as I see it) not to be teens in New York City during the 80s.  (All this street-level rough-and-tumble stuff is something of a welcome break from the usual theoretical-type-stuff I read, by the way, with the grittiest and realest volumes usually still be no scarier than, say, Laura Vanderkam’s Grindhopping, not to be confused with Grindhouse (which may actually have made less money), about how to use real-life job experience to start your own business.  No stabbings in that book, interesting though it is. [...]