Sunday, April 08, 2007

Grindhouse Opening Night Madness

Friday night was one of the those nights that makes me very glad I live in LA. I decided to go to Grauman's Chinese Theater to see Grindhouse on its opening night. The Chinese is my favorite place to see a movie, and I knew Grindhouse would be truly killer on that giant screen.

Luckily, we bought our tickets ahead of time, because this 8pm showing was completely sold out. When I arrived a little after 7pm, there was a line stretching two blocks around the building of people waiting to get in. I joined the line and waited for my friends to show up.

Around 7:30pm, we got to the front door of the theater and one friend was still on his way, so I sent the 2nd friend in to save seats. This proved to be a daunting task. People were saving seats and guarding them fiercely. One guy actually brought his own roll of masking tape and taped an entire row to save it. When my friend tried to sit in that sacred row, a fight nearly erupted.

As I waited for my friend outside, I noticed a crowd near the entrance to the theater. Quentin Tarantino was there, greeting fans with hugs.
Once I got inside, I noticed Rosario Dawson and other cast members were also in attendance. The crowd went nuts when Quentin walked in. It was a kick to watch the movie and hear Quentin and the cast clapping and yelling things out. Only in LA!

is spectacular. I can't wait to see it a second time. I went to three nights of the New Beverly Theater's Grindhouse festival, a festival of films handpicked by Quentin from his own collection celebrating the inspirations for his new movie, and the movies I saw there were a great primer from the new Grindhouse.
The two films are neatly packaged with fake vintage trailers by directors like Rob Zombie and Eli Roth that are so gruesome and hilarious that I won't spoil them for you by going into detail. There are also vintage title cards, warnings that the film may have missing reels, deliberate scratches on the prints, all of which work to set the mood for the pseudo-70s exploitation fare.

The first film, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, was my favorite. It's sort of a zombie movie, except the zombies aren't really zombies but medical experiment mutants who move and eat human flesh, as zombies are wont to do. The cast is great. Sure, Rose McGowan can't really act, but that's kind of the point. She looks great and gets a machine gun for a prosthetic leg - does she really need to do more than that? Freddy Rodriguez is a strange choice for leading man, but he mostly pulls it off, and Josh Brolin does a good job channelling his father's performance from The Amityville Horror. The casting of B-movie regulars Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey lends authenticity, and the gore never stops.

Quentin's film, Death Proof, gets off to a slow start, with too much not-particularly-smart dialogue from 4 bad-ass chicks. Once the girls piss off Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, things take off. Russell manages to be hilarious and scary. His encounter with a second, tougher set of girls morphs into a chase scene that rivals The Road Warrior for sheer outrageousness and awesome stunt work (kudos to Zoe Bell, Uma's stuntperson in Kill Bill, who plays herself). The movie recovers from the slow start to emerge as a fun "girls who kick ass" and "redneck car chase" genre mash-up.

My only quibble with Grindhouse is that Quentin had to insert himself in acting roles in both movies, and the role in Planet Terror is too big. I find this really self-indulgent and whenever I see him acting, it just takes me right out of the movie. I wish he could be like Hitchcock and just show up in the background, but that would require him to be quiet, and I think that would be impossible. I love ya, QT, I'm just sayin'...

Believe me - Grindhouse is a tremendously entertaining 3-hour experience, even if you don't hear Quentin laughing at his own jokes in the background of your theater.

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