Halloween Scene: Planet Terror (2007)

In my post about the exceptionally disappointing Death Proof, I talked about how excited I was about Grindhouse, the combined efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to recreate the feeling of going to a 70s drive-in complete with double bill and even trailers for movies that didn’t–at the time–exist. What I forgot to mention was how inundated we were with Grindhouse stuff at the time for Wizard. I was working in the research department at the time, which meant it was my job to find images to go along with features and news stories. As you might expect, there was a good deal of Grindhouse coverage leading up to the movies, but not a lot of images released. While watching Planet Terror again last night I kept having these weird flashes when particular scenes came on. At first I thought I was just remembering the movie from the first time I watched it a few years ago, but then I realized that they were the stills we kept running over and over in the mag.

Anyway, I was flipping through my DVDs last night to see if there was anything I wanted to watch more than the intended night’s flick X2 and stopped as soon as I saw Planet Terror. I had completely forgotten that I had picked the movie up on one of my many trips through the sale racks of my nearby Blockbuster before it closed down. Bonus! Aside from the freeze frames I mentioned above, I didn’t remember much of the movie other than it had zombie-esque people attacking a girl with a gun leg and a guy who owns a barbecue joint.

Unlike Death Proof, I had a delightful time watching Planet Terror. I think the difference between those two movies is that Rodriguez had a much better understanding of what makes the kinds of movies he was paying homage to work than Tarantino did, which is strange because Quentin has made a whole career based on taking a genre and updating it while also making callbacks to other movies. As far as I’m concerned, Rodriguez completely nailed the zombie outbreak story. He dealt with elements we’ve seen since Night Of The Living Dead but also turned a lot of them on their ears (what happens to Dakota’s son, what happens to Naveen Andrew, etc.). He did a great job of presenting the characters and getting me interested in them–even if it is because of the very B-movie idea that they’re just cool looking so I want to know what happens to them–before getting into the zombie goodness.

And once we do get into the zombie goodness, it’s SOOO good. It looks like some of the blood might have been added with CGI, but for the most part it looks so real and good and gross and bloody that those little bits of computer generated saturation didn’t bother me. The gore is fantastic and something that I’ve missed a lot from most of the modern horror movies I’ve seen lately (maybe I’m just watching the wrong ones, but I felt like I hadn’t seen this kind of big budget feel in a gore-filled horror flick in a while). I also really loved the ending which didn’t just leave our heroes wondering what was happening with the rest of the world, but showing a bit of it. There was something very 70s feeling about it, which was the whole point.

While watching the movie, I came to the realization that Robert Rodriguez might be the most consistent of the directors I like. Quentin really faltered with Death Proof, but I also tried to watch Jackie Brown in the past year or two and was bored to tears. I like the rest of his movies, but those are two pretty big strikes. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith seems to have gone down in quality over the past few years, especially with Cop Out. However, I’m excited about Red State, so he’s in a little better shape in my book. Then you’ve got Rodriguez who has never disappointed me. I’ve watched El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Sin City, Planet Terror and Machete and have never once been less than impressed. I’m actually excited about delving into his kid friendly flicks like the Spy Kids movies, Shorts and Shark Boy & Lava Girl because I bet they have as much fun with the tropes of those genres as he does with the ones he’s played with in his more grown up flicks.

Train-ing Video: Death Proof (2007)

I was incredibly excited for Grindhouse and planned on seeing it in the theaters, but it wasn’t meant to be. The marketing folks decided that this Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino jam fest should come on, when else, but Easter weekend? Well, I had to go to New England, so I missed it while all my friends, who were still here, went. Soon enough, Grindhouse wasn’t in theaters anymore and I had to wait until the movies came out on DVD as Death Proof (Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Rodriguez). I checked them out, dug Planet Terror and was left feeling lukewarm towards Death Proof, which bummed me out cause I’m a big Tarantino fan. I gave it another shot on the train yesterday and, unfortunately, was left with the same feeling.

The first time I watched DP, I actually fell asleep just before the big switch in main characters, so I didn’t realize how it would take a Psycho-like turn and follow completely different characters for the rest of the movie. Something very similar happened to me when I first watched Usual Suspects.

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with that switch, what I do have a problem with is the tone. I understand that the film was shot to look like an old grindhouse movie and is written to match, but the problem from me comes from the inconsistencies I noticed. See, the first group of girls all seemed pretty real and fleshed out even when they’re spurting out some of Quentin’s clunkiest and most repetitive dialogue. But then, the second group of girls flips the script and happen to be these caricatures of humanity who have no problem beating a man to death and leaving their fried by herself with a highly suspect individual in the middle of nowhere. I understand them wanting revenge and maybe the two stuntwomen being a little off their rockers, but why does Rosario Dawson’s character want to kill him so bad, going so far as to kick his head in? I didn’t get it. And the “It’s like a grindhouse movie, duh!” argument doesn’t hold up when the first half of the movie didn’t reflect that aesthetic.

I also found Kim to be incredibly annoying. I get it, she’s from the street, I don’t need to be reminded of it with every single piece of dialogue she spouts off. Other than Kim, though, I really liked the rest of the characters and would like to know what happened to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character (and why she was wearing a cheerleader costume throughout the whole thing, I don’t buy Dawson’s explanation).

But that’s not all, I also hated how much of a pansy Stuntman Mike turns into. Kurt Russell did SUCH a great job of making him likable at first, but then completely terrifying, but then, as soon as he gets shot, he starts crying? Seriously? I like the idea of flipping the script and putting him at a disadvantage, but seeing him be such a bitch just makes me want to see him dead NOW and you’ve got to sit through a long car chase to get there.

In a weird twist of fate, we got the fourth disc of Alias Season 1 today, which boasts a two part episode called “The Box” (2002) which stars none other than Tarantino himself. This was during a few year period where he would pop up with a different TV project every now and then. Anyone else remember his episodes of CSI where the dude who would voice Captain Atom in the JLU cartoon was buried alive? Good stuff. It looks like he only acted in the part in Alias, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote his own dialogue as well because it definitely has that Tarantino vibe to it.

I’ll get more into my thoughts on Alias when we’re done with the first season, but this was definitely one of the better episodes and Tarantino does a great job of playing an unhinged man.

And, of course, even with all the above things I disliked about Death Proof I’m still crazy-excited for Inglourious Basterds which drops in a few. Never let it be said that I’m a fair weather fan!