Sunday, April 29, 2007

Faster, Quentin! Kill! Kill!

I'm not much on Quentin Tarentino so I was actually not terribly sad when I saw that the much-hyped GRINDHOUSE opened poorly in its first weekend. I had some mild interest in seeing the double-feature tribute to bad 70's B-movies, but thought that DVD would be the way to go, rather than spend over 3 intermissionless hours (two 90-minute movies) in a theater. But when I heard that the Weinsteins had decided, after it seemed to be dying at the box office, that they would release the two movies on separate discs, I decided to see it in a theater after all, if for no other reason than to be sure I got the full experience of the fake bad-movie trailers that were part of the theatrical package. I was pleasantly surprised by whole thing. I didn't really like the first half of the double bill, "Planet Terror" by Robert Rodriguez; it hews a little too closely to its inspiration, the bloody zombie movies that followed 1968'S NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, isn't very clever or funny, and adds nothing substantial to the genre except better effects thanks to CGI--which are then undercut by the deliberate aging and splicing of the footage to ape the experience of seeing a bad print of the film in a downtown "grindhouse." I liked leading man Freddy Rodriguez as a supporting player in "Six Feet Under," but he doesn't have the tougher-than-life look or aura required to play a bad-ass zombie killer, despite his (fake, I assume) tattoos and goofy goatee. Bruce Willis has a nice cameo, but the only saving grace of the film is Rose McGowan who takes her cardboard role seriously and looks totally killer with a machine-gun leg.

The second feature is Tarentino's "Death Proof," inspired by the drive-in car chase films of the 60's and 70's--it explicitly references many such movies, including DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, WHITE LINE FEVER, and VANISHING POINT--though it strikes me that a more direct inspiration, at least for the last half of the film, is Russ Meyer's FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! in which a group of women kick a lot of male ass for no particular reason except that they were bored one sunny day in the middle of a desert. Here the women (Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, and Rosario Dawson) do have a reason: while they are doing some wild stunt car driving, they are attacked by Kurt Russell in his tricked-out "death proof" stunt car (he's a professional stuntman turned psycho). The first half of "Death Proof" shows Russell terrorizing a different group of women (including McGowan, Sydney Poitier, and Vanessa Ferlito), leading to death and destruction, but in the second half, Bell and her friends manage to turn the table on Russell and I gotta say, even though I'm not a fan of car chases or gratuitous violence, I ate this movie up and will probably have to have it on DVD. Between the action scenes (which are incredibly well done with no CGI that I could see) are long sequences of people talking, just chattering, mostly about things that have no direct bearing on the plot. My partner Don didn't care for this, but I enjoyed those scenes almost as much as the car scenes. Don also doesn't think it's quite fair to judge the two films separately, as they were intended to be one experience, and there is something to that, but still, much as I liked the Tarentino half, I don't think I could sit through the Rodriguez half again. The fake trailers ("Werewolf Women of the SS," a slasher film called "Thanksgiving"--"White meat! Dark meat! All will be carved!!) are lots of fun. Nice soundtrack for "Death Proof,"; it jumps from The Coasters to T. Rex to Joe Tex, and it's the first soundtrack album in years that I've gone out and bought on CD.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My mixed media playroom

I’ve decided to expand my classic movie blogging by add a second blog to write about other forms of media that I "consume," namely music, books, TV, and recent films, so let me briefly note where my interests lie in these media. I have, over the years, been a record store manager, a bookseller, an English teacher, and a librarian, so all these media have not only been casual interests but have also been important to me in my careers. I grew up with the Beatles (I was 7 when they appeared on Ed Sullivan) and still love their music but was only a casual pop music fan until 1969 when I apparently has some kind of epiphany, the exact nature of which is lost in the mists of time, that caused me to surround myself with the sounds of AM radio as close to 24 hours a day as I could manage. I’ve never quite lost this love of pop music, even if most current radio fodder doesn’t engage me. In fact, with the coming of digital music, first through Napster and, later, iTunes, I have found my interest in pop music reignited and I have an iPod filled with pop, bubblegum, old school soul, folk, and psychedelic music, by artists such as T. Rex, Carly Simon, Sly and the Family Stone, R.E.M., Blondie, The Ohio Express, and Prince, up to Fountains of Wayne, The Decemberists, Wondermints, The Postal Service, and Franz Ferdinand. I feel lucky to be a baby-boomer, someone who can continue to cocoon himself in the music of his youth, unlike my parents who had to rely largely on scratchy copies of out-of-print records and didn’t have the music they loved coming at them from TV ads, radio stations, and computers.

As far as books, my favorite authors are Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, and Ray Bradbury; I used to read a lot of “midlist” fiction (not popular enough to hit the bestseller lists but not "literary" enough to be taken up by academics), but quite honestly, I find myself these days reading mostly non-fiction (WWII, movies, religion, biographies, pop culture) and classics. When it comes to TV, I’m a sucker for sitcoms, from Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore to Cheers and Friends, to Will & Grace and Arrested Development. I'm not much for hour-long dramas, though largely because of my partner's tastes, I have kept up, off and on, with shows like Lost, CSI, Invasion, and House. We're also devout watchers the Game Show Network's Lingo, Chain Reaction, and their weekend reruns of What's My Line. And that should be enough background for my occasional blog entries on things other than classic movies.