Quentin Tarantino

Jackie Brown

Jackie-Brown-movie-poster

1997

Miramax Films

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Executive Produced by Elmore Leonard, Bob Weinstein & Harvey Weinstein

Produced by Lawrence Bender

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino based on the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard

My love affair with Pamela Michelle Byrd Grier began way back in 1974 when I saw “Foxy Brown” Never before in the movies or in real life had I seen a woman of such astonishing beauty combined with her effortless confidence and assertiveness. She seemed to possess an energy that came right off the screen at me. I was hypnotized and unable to take my eyes off of her. As I got older and got my hormones under control I began to realize that she actually was a much better actor than she got credit for. And believe me, I’ve studied Pam Grier as I’ve studied few actresses. I have seen every one of her movies since “Foxy Brown” in the theater and those I didn’t I quickly bought on VHS as soon as they were available and then wore out the tapes watching them over and over again. She is truly a legendary talent and one that I’m glad to see has been appreciated in her lifetime. It took quite a while but she has properly been heralded for the great actress she is and no one is more delighted than I am to see her success.

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JACKIE BROWN is just one of the reasons why I give Quentin Tarantino respect. There are black directors highly critical of his depiction of African-Americans in his movies and his use of the word ‘nigger’ which they think is thrown around way too freely by both black and white actors in his movies. Well, I didn’t see any black directors lining up to create movies specifically to give Pam Grier a role worthy of her talent and as for the highly controversial use of the word ‘nigger.’ Okay, it’s like this…in JACKIE BROWN we’re dealing with a character played by Samuel L. Jackson who uses the word just about every chance he gets. Because that is the character. You do a crime movie about a certain breed of criminal and he’s not going to talk like a MIT graduate. I respect a writer/director who respects his characters and is true to their nature and depicts them without the sugar coating or the bullshit of political correctness. Because I’m a big boy and I can take it. The use of the word in the context of the story being told and the character who uses it is doesn’t bother me at all. But if it bothers you then by all means, stay away from JACKIE BROWN. But that would be a shame because then you’d be depriving yourself of some terrific work by an all-star cast of actors in a truly great crime thriller.

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Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant working for a fourth rate Mexican airline. She supplements her income by smuggling money from Mexico to the United States for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) a gun runner working on that one big score which will enable him to retire and spend the rest of his life spending.

Jackie is picked up by ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and L.A.P.D. detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) who have had Ordell on their radar from some time. Jackie was ratted out by Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) another one of Ordell’s customers who had been arrested earlier and gave up the information before he could be released by bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster)

Evading an effort by Ordell to kill her, Jackie proposes a plan to Ordell to safely bring in half a million dollars of his money. The plan is going to need the assistance of Ordell’s stoner girlfriend (Bridget Fonda) and Ordell’s former cellmate, Louis Gara (Robert DeNiro) who’s just gotten out of jail. Part of the plan involves letting Nicolette and Dargus think that Jackie is double-crossing Ordell, allowing them to use her to arraign a sting. But Jackie has a plan all of her own to double-cross everybody and take the half million for herself. The only catch is that she’s going to need Max’s help to pull it off. Jackie’s pretty sure that Max is half in love with her but will that half help her? And while Max himself is impressed with Jackie’s brains and resourcefulness, he’s not entirely sure himself how far he can trust her. After all, she may have a plan for dealing with him as well.

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The main thing I love about JACKIE BROWN is that everybody in the movie is smart. Well, everybody except for poor Louis. But it’s fun to watch Robert DeNiro play a dimwit because you have to be really smart to play really dumb and Louis is really dumb. So dumb that the only solution he can come up with to shut up a woman who won’t stop talking is to shoot her. But everybody else is really smart and for me that adds to the suspense of the story. If everybody is smart then everybody has an equal chance of figuring out what Jackie is up to and that means she’s got to work twice as hard to be twice as smart if she wants to come out of this alive and with the money.

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There are so many good scenes in this movie there’s no way to list them all but some of my favorites: when Max sees Jackie for the first time and we hear “Natural High” on the soundtrack and it encapsulates perfectly how Max is feeling at that moment. We know the moment he falls in love with her when later on Max is simply watching her smoke a cigarette, wearing a bathrobe and listening to The Delfonics sing “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?” that may just be the sexiest moment in the entire movie. The scene where Ordell coaxes Beaumont into being a willing participant in his own murder with the promise of chicken and waffles. Any and every scene between DeNiro and Fonda as they’re all hilarious.

The relationship between Jackie and Max is one that reminds us that Tarantino makes movies for adults and not for demographics. It’s a mature relationship that is defined as much as what is not said as by what is said. As always, Tarantino’s dialog is on point and compelling to listen to. The characters in any Tarantino movie are always worth listening to and JACKIE BROWN is no exception. Robert Forster is solid in his co-starring role and Michael Keaton is always worth watching and he plays Ray Nicolette in another movie based on a Elmore Leonard novel; “Out of Sight”

So should you see JACKIE BROWN? Chances are that if you’re reading this, you already have. If you haven’t seen it by now then chances are you have no interest in seeing it. Fair enough. But for those of us who have been life-long fans of The Filmic Goddess of War, JACKIE BROWN is the crown jewel of Pam Grier’s long and remarkable career and one of the best examples of Quentin Tarantino’s directorial and storytelling talent.

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Rated R

154 minutes

Django Unchained

Django-Unchained-Poster

2012

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Reginald Hudlin, Stacy Sher and Pilar Savone

At the end of the day after we’ve finally put to bed all the complaints about Quentin Tarantino’s use of the word ‘nigger’, the stylized ultra-violence and placing the story of DJANGO UNCHAINED in the pre-Civil War, slavery infested American South ultimately it comes down to one thing: is DJANGO UNCHAINED a movie worth your time and money seeing? I think it is. And I recommend it highly. But you have to keep in mind that I’m a confirmed Quentin Tarantino fan and so I tend to overlook a lot of the flaws in his movies. And they do have flaws, as do all movies as there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. It’s just that Tarantino gets so many things right in his movies I’m totally willing to cut him much slack on those flaws. And I just love his attitude about making movies. He just goes ahead and puts it all out there, manically throwing in so many influences from so many things that you can’t rightly point at a Tarantino movie and say that it’s strictly a crime story or a revenge drama or a war movie. And in the case of DJANGO UNCHAINED it’s a spaghetti western, a comedy, a romantic quest, a revenge saga and a surprisingly honest look at slavery as it existed in the period before the Civil War. That honesty comes with a whole lot of brutality and pain and Tarantino doesn’t turn away from it.

DJANGO UNCHAINED has nothing to do with the classic 1966 spaghetti western “Django” save that the protagonists share the name. There is a subtle passing of the torch in a nice little scene between Jamie Foxx and the original Django, Franco Nero himself but it’s not at all necessary to have seen the earlier movie. This new Django is a black man, a slave with no future save to work and die. But he’s given a new life when he is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a dentist turned bounty hunter. Schultz is hunting three men who have sizeable bounties on their heads. He’s never seen them before but Django has. Schultz makes a deal with Django who is frankly bewildered by this loquacious, articulate white man who treats him with respect and speaks to him as an equal. If Django helps him find the three men, he’ll give Django his freedom and part of the bounty money.

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During the course of their hunt for the Brittle Brothers, Schultz teaches Django how to shoot and how to track men as he discovers that the ex-slave in his words is “born for this line of work” and shortly the two men are full partners in bounty hunting. Their friendship grows such a degree that Schultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife Brunhilde/Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was separated from her husband and sold to Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) master of the fourth largest plantation in Mississippi, Candyland. Candyland is famous for the Mandingo fighters Candie trains and it’s by pretending that they are interested in buying one of his fighters that gets Django and Schultz inside Candyland. But due to the suspicious nature of Candyland’s majordomo Steven (Samuel L. Jackson) the partners may not make it out alive, much less accomplish their mission.

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I have to admit again that I’m a sucker for the reckless operatic nature of any Tarantino film and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no different. It looks and feels like a big movie should and it has the acting power to back it up. And in addition, Tarantino has put away his toolbox of his usual stylistic visual effects to just tell his story and trust the strength of that story and the performances to back it up. Christoph Waltz I fell in love with five minutes into the movie. At first I thought it was a little risky for Tarantino to put the beginning of this film on his shoulders the way he did in “Inglourious Basterds” but Waltz quickly establishes that this is a totally different character and does it very well with a quirky edge that is both very funny and very dangerous.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson appear to have some sort of private side bet to see who can out-ham the other in their scenes together and I mean that in the best possible way. They’re having fun with the material and their characters and it shows in their outstanding performances. I’ve never been much of a Jamie Foxx fan but I liked his performance a lot here. His transformation from raggedy slave to professional bounty hunter to avenging angel is thrilling to watch. And I thought it really refreshing to have as a protagonist an heroic black man who is motivated by the love he has for his wife and wants her back. It gives the movie an emotional core that puts it on a level above a simple revenge or hunt for gold plot.

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If there’s anything in the movie I can point to and go, “say wha now?” it’s Kerry Washington’s performance in the movie. Not that it’s a bad one. Or even a good one as there simply isn’t enough there for me to say one way or another. Considering that it’s her character’s plight that gets the story going, Kerry Washington has surprisingly few lines and even fewer scenes. Oh, trust me when I say that she works with what she’s been given but it just struck me as odd that more wasn’t done with her character.

What else? There’s the parade of familiar and not so familiar faces in the movie. I didn’t recognize Lee Horsley, Tom Wopat, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini or James Remar. But I did recognize Dennis Christopher, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins and James Russo. And I most certainly did recognize Don Johnson and Jonah Hill in an absolutely side-splitting scene  involving The Klan and a discussion about the proper way to cut eyeholes in a hood that is hilarious enough to be worthy of Mel Brooks.

Two more things and I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. The language is extremely raw and graphic and ‘nigger’ is used freely, often and by every member of the cast. If you are offended by the word then I strongly urge you to give the movie a pass. However, if you can accept the usage of the word considering the period of American history the movie is set in as one where the word was used commonly, fine. Mind you, I’m not condoning or condemning the use of the word. But I do consider it my duty as a reviewer of the movie to inform you that the word is used and used a LOT.

The violence. I’d heard a lot about the violence in DJANGO UNCHAINED and maybe I’ve become desensitized due to all the violent movies I’ve seen but I actually didn’t see anything in DJANGO UNCHAINED I hadn’t seen before. The gunfights are obviously inspired by Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and there are some grisly scenes of mayhem and torture that actually could have been worse if Tarantino had lingered on them. But he stays on the shot just long enough for you to get the idea and then he cuts away to let your imagination fill in the rest.

So should you see DJANGO UNCHAINED? Chances are that if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan you’ll already made up your mind to see it and if you’re not then I doubt anything I’ve said here will change your mind. But for me, it’s another home run for him. Quentin Tarantino hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t enjoyed and I immensely enjoyed DJANGO UNCHAINED.

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Rated R

165 minutes

Better In The Dark #66: Director’s Court: The Case of Quentin Tarantino

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It’s the first segment of Director’s Court, where the Guys Outta Brooklyn put famous filmmakers before the court of public opinion and decide whether they’re still valid or funneling down the drain. This time up, it’s Quentin Tarantino who’s under the microscope. Tom and Derrick examine Tarantino’s use of cultural touchstones, whether some of his set pieces are homages or rip-offs, whether his frequent appearances have served to sour the public separate from the films themselves, and other outstanding issues revolving around the man who made being a film geek cool. Plus we review Inglourious Basterds, and make suggestions as to what Tarantino should pursue for future projects. It’ll get medieval on you ass, so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-61-70/

 

Death Proof

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Erica Steinberg

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed if you liked.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment most of them you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, DEATH PROOF and “Planet Terror” were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  However the two movies have been released on DVD as separate features.

DEATH PROOF begins with three Austin, Texas girls preparing for a weekend of partying to celebrate the birthday of Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) a local disc jockey.  Her two best friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) go with her to the Texas Chili Parlor where they’re going to hook up with Julia’s drug connection Lanna (Monica Staggs) and from there it’s on to the lake house owned by Shanna’s rich daddy.  But first the girls have planned a wild night of drinking, dancing and making out with some of the local guys (one of them played by writer/director Eli Roth) They also meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who claims to be a professional stuntman although he can only credit television shows thirty years old that he supposedly worked on.  Stuntman Mike flirts with the girls which earns him a highly erotic lap dance from Arlene who is both intrigued and repelled by the scarred but strangely charming man.

Turns out that Stuntman Mike is not only scarred physically but mentally as well since he’s a psychotic sadist who likes killing young woman with his special souped-up 1970 Chevrolet Nova which he proudly boasts is “death proof”.  It’s been tricked out so that Stuntman Mike can do things like ram another car head on at 120 miles an hour and survive.  Whoever is in the other car isn’t so lucky.  Stuntman Mike proceeds to show off just how deadly his “death proof” car is by killing not only the four girls but also a girl he’s tricked into actually riding inside the car (Rose McGowan) in a pair of truly horrific scenes.

Cut to fourteen months later.  Stuntman Mike is in Tennessee and sizing up four new victims.  This time it’s Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Kim (Traci Toms) and Zoë (Zoë Bell) who are all in the movie business themselves.  Zoë is a stuntwoman and wants to do two things; buy a vintage 1970 Dodge Challenger and play a game called “Ship’s Mast” in which Zoë lies on the hood of the car, hanging onto two belts while Kim drives down the highway at high speed.  Bad time for them to pick to play this game because Stuntman Mike has been stalking them all day and he decides he wants to play as well.  But his idea of a fun game is way different from what the girls have planned.  Before it’s all over, everybody will have gotten their share of playing games.

DEATH PROOF is a way different movie in style and tone from “Planet Terror” in that where “Planet Terror” takes off at Warp Factor Five right from the first five minutes, DEATH PROOF takes it’s time to build up to the wild car chase that takes up the last fifteen minutes or so.  That’s why I advise everybody who plans on seeing these films back-to-back on a single night’s viewing (which is really the way to watch ‘em) to watch DEATH PROOF first, then “Planet Terror” DEATH PROOF takes it’s time telling it’s story and its certainly not boring but Q.T. takes his time in the first half so that we can get to know the first set of girls before the totally terrifying head on collision with Stuntman Mike’s car.  Then we’re introduced to the second set of girls and Q.T. takes another half hour with the characterization before we get down to their desperate 100 mile an hour road war.

It’s a solid movie full of the patented Tarantino dialog we’ve come to expect and there are extended scenes where it’s nothing but people just talking.  But since it’s Tarantino putting the words in their mouths and the actors are so good at what they’re doing I don’t think you’re going to mind a bit.  Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson and Zoë Bell are the acting standouts in this one, especially Zoë Bell.  She’s a real life stuntwoman who doubled for Lucy Lawless in “Xena” and for Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” movies and she’s totally charming here.  And that’s really her sliding around on the hood of that Dodge Challenger as it’s roaring down the highway.

Tarantino wanted to film a car chase without using CGI at all and it’s a really excellent car chase.  I’m glad to see that some filmmakers still like doing some things Old School: Tarantino put real stuntmen inside of real cars and let them do what they do best.  Vanessa Ferlito also does terrific work in this movie.  She does a mean lap dance and while doing it all I could think of was that she looks like she could be Rosario Dawson’s younger, sluttier sister.

And like all of Tarantino’s movies, the soundtrack is killer.  I don’t think there’s a director working today except for Martin Scorsese who uses music in his movies better than Tarantino.  The music he uses in his movie isn’t just stuck in there just to fill dead air between dialog scenes.  The songs uncannily fit the mood of a scene and get across exactly what emotion Tarantino wants to convey. And I always hear a couple of songs in his movies that I’ve never heard before from artists I assumed I was fairly familiar with.  Such as The Coasters song he uses for the lap dance sequence.  I’ve been listening to The Coasters since I was knee high to a knee as my father was a huge fan of theirs but I’ve never heard that song before I saw DEATH PROOF.

If I have any complaints with DEATH PROOF it’s this: despite Tarantino’s desire to make a grindhouse flick in the style of “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” (both of which are referenced several times by the characters) the movie is way too dialog heavy and far too polished to be considered a true grindhouse flick.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that while “Planet Terror” is by far way more fun to watch, DEATH PROOF is technically the better movie and the one that will most likely stay with you for days afterwards.  There’s just more meat on the bones of this one.  But that ending is just too abrupt for me.  But then again, “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” had similar out-of-left-field-what-the-hell endings and I was able to roll with them so I guess I can roll with this one.

So should you see DEATH PROOF?  You bet your ass you should.  It’s not one of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies but still, a minor flick from Q.T. is better than a lot of directors’ major works.  The performances are excellent, that car chase is a doozy and the story is tightly suspenseful.  By all means, Netflix and enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated R

Planet Terror

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment that you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, “Death Proof” and PLANET TERROR were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  Too bad.

PLANET TERROR begins with go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) quitting her job and hitting the road to pursue her dream of being a stand-up comedian.  She herself doesn’t think she’s very funny but since everybody she knows says she’s hilarious she figures what the hell.  Cherry literally hits the road when she’s almost run over by a convoy of Army trucks heading for a military base outside of Austin, Texas led by the smirkingly sinister Abby (Naveen Andrews) and Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) who are looking for canisters of a top secret biological weapon hidden at the base.  In a movie like this it’s almost a given that things go wrong.  They do and the biological weapon is unleashed in the form of a sick-looking green mist that infects the townspeople, turning most of them into flesh-eating mutant zombies and leaving only a handful of desperate characters who must band together to stay alive during the hellish night.

Let me say right off the bat that if you’ve got a sensitive stomach and really don’t enjoy the sight of bodies being Swiss-cheesed by thousands of rounds of machine-gun fire or pulled apart like fried chicken and devoured then this isn’t the movie for you.  Robert Rodriguez doesn’t hold back on anything in this one and the sheer exhilaration of the violence in this movie might freak out some people.  There’s stabbings with hypodermic needles, zombies are doused with gasoline and incinerated, zombies are blown up, run over, decapitated and that’s the light stuff.  After seeing this movie my wife Patricia was speechless.  Seriously.   Depraved souls like myself are going to have a great time with this one.

You really have to throw out everything you thought you knew about movies to appreciate PLANET TERROR especially if you’re someone who’s never seen a movie that’s less than ten years old.  That’s because in terms of acting, cinematography, special effects and story, PLANET TERROR scores as being a successful throwback to the 70’s/80’s style of movie.  It looks, sounds and feels like somebody was rummaging around in a long forgotten storage room somewhere and found a lost John Carpenter flick from the 70’s.

A lot of the fun comes from the eclectic cast, all of whom look as if they’re having an absolute blast because they throw themselves in the ridiculously loopy story with gusto, energy.   While they’re all having fun with the material they respect it and make even the most bizarrely outrageous plots twists seem logical.  Freddy Rodriguez is really good as the mysterious badass El Wray who apparently can do anything and do it with a James Coburn-ish cool I found tremendously appealing.  And it adds to his mystique and badass status that El Wray is an average sized, average looking guy.  He certainly doesn’t look like a cat who can walk through a wall of zombies with nothing but a pair of switchblades and take ‘em all out.  Josh Brolin’s performance was one that struck me as oddly familiar for some reason and I couldn’t put my finger on it until the second time I watched the movie: he’s doing Nick Nolte.  In appearance, voice and mannerisms he’s a dead ringer for Nick Nolte in his younger days.  Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey are a lot of fun as brothers.  Biehn is the local law while Fahey runs the best BBQ shack in Texas.  They brothers have spent years feuding over the family BBQ recipe but put their differences aside to fight zombies.  There’s some nice cameos and small but memorable supporting bits courtesy of Stacy Ferguson (of The Black Eyed Peas) Bruce Willis, Nicky Katt, Tom Savini, the Original El Mariachi himself: Carlos Gallardo, Q.T. and Robert Rodriguez’s patch encrusted leather motorcycle jacket.

But the movie belongs to Rose McGowan and she knows it.  From her opening scene to the closing she owns the movie and strides through it with a confidence and sly smile that seems to be communicating something private to those of us watching it.  She’s beautiful, funny, serious, droll and best of all; she plays Cherry Darling with respect.  It can’t be easy playing a zombie fighting go-go dancer with an M-16 for a leg but she plays it straight enough with just the right shadings of humor that we go along with it.  I’d like to see Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman try to play the same character half as well.

So should you see PLANET TERROR?  Absolutely.  I applaud Robert Rodriguez for saying “the hell with it” and just going all out crazy with this one.  I mean, if you’re gonna make a movie then dammit make a movie as if you’ll never make another one in your life and that’s how PLANET TERROR plays.  It’s a wonderful homage to a  style of filmmaking we don’t see anymore and it’s done with such brilliant energy and imaginative power that I was truly sorry when it ended and I can’t say that about too many movies I see these days.

But again I have to warn those of you who are sensitive to violence to steer clear of this one.  Especially since there’s a scene involving a little boy and a handgun.  I realize that even though it’s a movie there are those who take such scenes as that one very seriously and would rather not see scenes such as that one even though you don’t actually see anything.   And if you decide to Netflix both PLANET TERROR and “Death Proof” to watch on the same night (which is really the best way to see ‘em) let me make a suggestion: Watch “Death Proof” first then PLANET TERROR.  Even though in the theaters they were shown in the opposite order trust me on this one.  I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.  Then go email Robert Rodriguez and demand a movie starring The Crazy Babysitter Twins.

105 minutes

Unrated