Saturday, October 27, 2007

Canned Tomatoes

I like PLANET TERROR more than most of the other Robert Rodriguez films I’ve seen, but I don’t want to go overboard in my praise or anything. Here’s how I look at the two halves of GRINDHOUSE: Rodriguez likes these films, from Carpenter to Fulci. He may have grown up watching some of them and probably got introduced to some of the more obscure titles (probably by Tarantino) when he got older. He likes them, he thinks they’re a blast. Period. But to Tarantino, he knows and loves these movies down in his bones. Somewhere in there is the difference in their approaches.

Instead of a spoof, it’s more of an arch pastiche of Carpenter, Romero, Fulci, regional drive-in fare, lesbian subplots and who knows what else. Maybe some Cronenberg—the hospital setting of the first half reminds me of RABID, but maybe that’s a reach.

Among other borrowings, and I'm sure the film is filled with them, the way Marley Shelton holds her hands in front of her face when being assaulted by husband Josh Brolin seems directly patterned on something Angie Dickinson does in De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL, just as a later scene seems to directly ape a bit from BODY DOUBLE.

It’s fun, but it’s so paper-thin in its archness that I’m not sure I have much of a reason to return to it all that much. In comparison, I still find myself getting more out of DEATH PROOF in multiple viewings. The DVD is a longer version than the GRINDHOUSE cut, with some cool transitions reinstated, but nothing that really changes my opinion of the film. (The missing reel is, amusingly, still missing).

If there’s anything that stands out for me on seeing PLANET TERROR again (not counting the extreme gore, which goes without saying) is Rodriguez’s use of his actors. Whether they are younger actresses who haven’t been used much lately (Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton) older actors who haven’t been used much lately (Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn) or semi-names who work fairly regularly anyway (Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin) there’s the continuous feeling throughout that he’s trying to use them in interesting ways. You can tell that he just loves putting them in front of his camera and givng them interesting things to say and do. It's a large part of what makes this movie so consistently enjoyable. That’s one thing missing from these genre films these days—characters, and the actors playing them, are way too colorless which make too many of these things no fun. If I do revisit PLANET TERROR most of my pleasure will probably come from things like Marley Shelton’s eyes, Josh Brolin’s on-point presence, the bickering between Fahey and Biehn and the offhand comments of the paramedic played by Andy Samberg-lookalike Tommy Nix.

It’s pointless to figure out what the ‘rules’ in this sort of grindhouse movie should be (many CGI shots, but the occasional set-up has that old-school locked down optical feel as a joke) since that’s just no fun. Maybe we could look at Rodriguez’s film as something that’s made in an alternate universe, where digital effects have developed differently and these lowbrow genre films still get made. Sounds pretty fun to me. The fake wear and tear on the ‘print’ works great here as well, maybe even better than in DEATH PROOF and adds to the feeling that PLANET TERROR should only be watched very late at night, maybe during heavy drinking, so it can correctly come of as some bizarre, twisted nightmare. That’s probably the best way to look at the movie, since reality is not what’s going on here. If PLANET TERROR can really only be looked at as a fake movie (unlike DEATH PROOF) at least it’s a fun fake movie. And at least the film proves that Rodriguez knows how to deliver the fun and enjoyment along with his gore and tasteless sleaze, which shows that he was paying attention back when he first saw these movies.

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