Sunday, April 22, 2007

KV, Grindhouse

Sad about Vonnegut. His books were a huge influence on me, and I liked having this ornery old codger around saying provocatively dour things about our government and society. It’s what I imagine it would have been like in the turn of the century with Mark Twain criticizing America’s occupation of the Philippines. However, I do hope K.V. wasn’t as depressed as he claimed to be.

Saw Grindhouse last night. Commercially speaking, Grindhouse is considered a flop, which means there’s been a constant stream of Hollywood navel gazing and backlash and 20/20 hindsight. Harvey Weinstein called it a “blow” to his perceived savvy. It’s an irritating fact of life that this industry still isn’t willing to admit they simply can’t predict this stuff, so we get inundated with this chatter. The business is a gamble. There was every reason to believe Grindhouse would be successful – both directors have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to their studios over the years. The Hollywood Reporter review predicted “box office gold” (no, seriously – that’s a quote. Kind of makes you picture a guy in Armani shades and a silk robe sitting by a pool.) In my opinion, the most savvy thing about Harvey Weinstein has been his willingness to take risks on projects like this in the past (even if this risk involved two incredibly profitable directors.)

That said, they made one colossal error worth noting: a grindhouse double feature should never have cost over $50 million dollars. I bet if you put all the 70’s exploitation flick budgets together, they wouldn’t be that high. If it was appropriately budgeted, its $11 million opening weekend would have made it far and away the most successful grindhouse film ever.

I enjoyed the movies a lot. With a smattering of fake trailers in between, it’s certainly a full evening for $10, and Edgar Shaun Of The Dead Wright’s haunted house spot made me laugh louder than I have at the movies in a while. But I’m not sure the directors achieved the aesthetic completely either – the most authentic moment was probably Eli Roth’s trailer for the holiday-themed slasher Thanksgiving. I say that because it made me feel like most 70’s exploitation movies do – amused and entertained but also a little depressed. The grainy, nearly-documentary footage, cardboard non-actors and glacial pacing made them – let’s face it – pretty dreary. Most of them have only a few brief moments of thrill with sixty or seventy minutes of padding, and in that respect, Quentin’s film had a pretty accurate structure.

In terms of high camp, there wasn’t much difference between Planet Terror and, say, the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead. I thought it was great, even though it felt very Hollywood A-movie to me (how much CGI money was spent rendering the pleasantly bipedal Rose McGowan peg-legged?) Death Proof, with all its yammering about 70’s low budget car chase flicks like Vanishing Point, felt very much like a Quentin Tarantino film, circa 2007.

Personally, I’ve been drifting away from the Tarantino boat ever since Jackie Brown. Quentin is revered for his dialogue, but I think great dialogue comes (mostly) from being specific to the character, where his characters all speak in one voice, like a long running monologue. Not only is he unwilling to trim dialogue, he won’t even let it overlap, so everyone kind of talks like they’re underwater. I liked the odd simplicity of Death Proof, and Kurt Russell’s performance, but I feel like in recent years Q.T. has completely abandoned any notion of good character. Maybe all the Variety box office blathering will lead Quentin to challenge himself a little more next time out. When the Coens were faced with their first high profile “failure,” The Hudsucker Proxy, they came back with the best film of the 90’s: Fargo.