Double Bill #02: Grindhouse (Planet Terror & Death Proof)

This was the first time I saw the Rodriguez / Tarantino double feature as it was originally intended: back to back and with fake trailers in between. Originally, I saw the films separately when they came out in 2007 in an open air cinema on Crete. This was a special experience in itself and I really liked the movies. So what is the real authentic Grindhouse experience like? Well, what do you think? It kicks complete ass! It starts with the Machete trailer, which is so good they decided to actually make the movie. Then the first feature Planet Terror opens with that pole dancing sequence, the sexiest ever committed to celluloid. Rose McGowan is amazing as Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who’ll soon have a machine gun for a leg. Rodriguez’ his contribution is a bat shit crazy gory virus zombie splatterpiece, while the Tarantino film that follows is… well a masterful genre film (in this case a carsploitation-horror), like only the maestro knows how to make them. What’s beautiful is that the films actually go together like burgers and fries. Tarantino-Rodriguez is a unique partnership in the history of filmmaking and this is a once-in-a-lifetime project. The two films have a lot in common. Apart from the shared cast members, they feature lots of lethal ladies; girls who kick ass, though they also suffer a lot. The guys in the movies are mostly psychos. And one of them is unforgettable: Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike McKay. Another Tarantino-character made for the cinema wax museum. The Grindhouse versions of the films are cut a little shorter than the films released separately. Death Proof now also has a missing reel. Not coincidentally, it is the lap dance scene that is missing (Tarantino and Rodriquez are suggesting that a horny projectionist stole the reels, in Planet Terror a sex scene between Cherry and Wray is missing). Also, included in all gory glory are the fake movie trailers: Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, Edgar Wright’s Thanksgiving and Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving. O man, cult cinema just doesn’t come any better than this.

QT8: The First Eight

I was 13 years old when I saw the video Reservoir Dogs at my local video store. There were – for me at the time – not many familiar actors in it. But the cover looked pretty cool with guys in suits with guns. Plus there was a lot of praise on it from critics, so I decided to give it a shot. I had no idea what to expect, but Jesus Christ was it a good movie! Ridiculously great filmmaking. One of the best movies I had seen at that point and to this day still.

It is funny to hear all these actors in the documentary QT8: The First Eight basically relate to the exact same experience. Tim Roth, shown while being carried in the warehouse by Harvey Keitel, remembers talking to Keitel about what they had just shot and saying: “Man, this is going to be a really great movie!” Keitel agreed.

Reservoir Dogs premiered on Cannes in 1992, very prestigious for a debut, and it was a great success. Everybody wanted to meet Quentin there and he became a movie making star overnight. Everybody said: “Can you believe this guy? He can write and direct and it’s sensational stuff.”

For a long time I was jealous of Tarantino. And when I watch this documentary I still am. I mean, wouldn’t it be something to be able to write screenplays like this guy? And this is also a shared emotion by many people interviewed for this doc. Talent like this is rare. Many people, including me, tried to write scripts like him. But to no avail.

His first screenplays – True Romance and Natural Born Killers – he had to sell to pay the rent. True Romance was originally told in non-chronological order Tarantino-style. Oh and the pop culture loving Clarence, basically Quentin’s alter ego – died at the end. Luckily Tony Scott changed that. At least I for one liked the happy ending.

Tarantino wanted to become a director, so he wrote a script that he could do on a low budget: Reservoir Dogs. Harvey Weinstein distributed the film. After that everybody in Hollywood wanted to work with him, but the Weinstein’s got to produce all his movies up until The Hateful Eight. Then the scandal broke out, and Tarantino – who according to Michael Madsen had known about Weinstein’s misconduct for some time (read Tarantino’s confession-story here) – switched to Sony for his ninth movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

And this Weinstein-business is the only major stain on Tarantino’s career. That, and pushing Uma Thurman to do a car stunt in Kill Bill, which went wrong causing permanent physical problems for her. No good, Mr. Quentin. But there is a lot to balance it out. He is described by everyone in the doc as a very nice guy who enjoys life, and appears to be a great friend for his many cronies.

Pulp Fiction, that followed Reservoir Dogs, is one of the masterpieces of the past 50 years. Michael Madsen, for whom the part of Vincent Vega was originally written, was committed to Wyatt Earp at that time. Nightmare! He takes it well, commenting on the extremely successful casting of John Travolta. “It is one of main reasons the movie worked.” Plus Travolta can dance and Madsen – who did a dance scene in Reservoir Dogs – can’t, at least in his own opinion. “They would have had to change the script into that they don’t win the dance contest.”

How do you follow up a masterpiece like Pulp? You don’t. Just make a very good genre film instead starring Pam Grier, queen of the blaxploitation movies Quentin went to see during his childhood. Jackie Brown is a beautiful film about people trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Then he made another genre film with a strong female lead, a mash-up between Hong Kong cinema and a spaghetti western. Kill Bill is an astonishing accomplishment. Bit of trivia: The razor the Bride uses to escape from the coffin in Vol. 2 is the same used by Mr. Blonde in the torture scene in Dogs. Everything is related in the Tarantino universe.

Then he went on to make another feministic movie with powerful girls in it. Death Proof is a clever slasher flick / carploitation movie shot by the maestro himself. With an unforgettable Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike. After that came his war movie effort. Inglourious Basterds is unlike any war film ever done before. It is storytelling at his best. Django Unchained is another historic film and it’s brutal. It might just be a little too funny for a film about slavery. But Tarantino likes to hand out justice to his characters. Hitler gets machine gunned to death in Basterds and in Django, the black hero – after having killed a ton of slavers – rides off into the sunset with his girl, an image you won’t find in many westerns.

The Hateful Eight, the final movie treated in this doc, is in a way Reservoir Dogs redone as western. Everything comes full circle. Even Weinstein’s story. Apparently John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (played by Kurt Russell) is based on the monstrous Weinstein. He gets a big fat lesson in the film. Tarantino said many times that he wants to quit at ten movies, because otherwise he fears the quality will go down and people will say: ‘This one is not so good, but this guy used to make great movies’. Let’s hope he will break his word and continue to make movies forever. His style and voice are unique and irreplaceable in Hollywood. Whatever happens, currently nine films are in the can. And I will certainly keep enjoying his work till the end of my days and share it with friends. When you absolutely, positively, want to blow away everybody motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.

Dungeon Classics #6: Escape from L.A.

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Escape from L.A. (1996, USA)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach
Running Time: 101 mins.

In 2013, an earthquake has separated a ruined L.A. from the rest of the United States. This is now the place where the government – which is run by a religious nutcase – sends their outcasts and prisoners. When the daughter of the president is kidnapped by a Che Guevara-like revolutionary, the eye-patch wearing Snake Plissken is send to retrieve her from Los Angeles. Turns out, the daughter stole a secret weapon – the Doomsday Device – that America can use to destroy its enemies, or vice versa. As soon as our cynical hero, played by the terrific Kurt Russell, arrives in L.A. it is non stop action delivered with a big smile. Carpenter and his team obviously had fun coming up the inventive set pieces, like the Hollywood sign on fire. The colorful cast of supporting characters Snake meets on his journey, includes some of the finest cult actors and actresses: Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Steve Buscemi and Pam Grier. A bleak vision on the future of America that is over-the-top, but – amazingly – still rings true in a sense.

The Hateful Eight (recensie)

The Hateful Eight

In de aankondiging van ‘Kill Bill: Vol II’ in 2005 werd gesproken van ‘the fifth film by Quentin Tarantino’. Een marketing dingetje, want het was natuurlijk nog steeds zijn vierde film. Nu komt hij met: ‘the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino’ en op het moment dat deze titel in beeld kwam wist ik het al: dit wordt een topfilm. En die verwachting kwam 100% uit. Ik hoorde in de bioscoop om me heen wat klachten – en ook veel recensies hadden de nodige kritiek – maar ik vond het de beste Tarantino in tijden. De klagers hebben het duidelijk niet begrepen.

Ik houd van mooie introscenes en Tarantino heeft er verschillende van op zijn naam staan (‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Kill Bill: Vol I’ & ‘Inglourious Bastards’). ‘The Hateful Eight’ mag direct aan dit rijtje toegevoegd worden. Het is heel minimalistisch: simpele titels tegen kale bomen in een ruig sneeuwlandschap, prachtig geschoten (Oscar nominatie), en een waanzinnig goede muzikale score (ook Oscar nominatie) van Ennio Morricone (ik dacht dat de maestro nu wel te oud zou zijn voor dit werk, how wrong I was). Van de muziek gaat grote dreiging en spanning uit. Er staat iets gigantisch te gebeuren…

Dan verschijnt een koets in beeld met premiejager John Ruth (Kurt Russell) aan boord. Hij vervoert de bloedlinke gevangene Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) die 10.000 dollar waard is. Ruth is van plan deze beloning te incasseren. Waarom hij haar niet gewoon doodschiet terwijl de beloning voor dead or alive geldt, is omdat hij niet graag de beul van zijn brood berooft. Een man met principes dus. Onderweg pikt hij aarzelend twee lifters (Samuel L. Jackson en Walter Goggins) op, paranoia dat ze er met zijn beloning vandoor willen gaan. Dan stranden ze in een loge en moeten ze met vier andere gevaarlijk ogende reizigers een sneeuwstorm uitzitten. Vanaf dat moment is de vraag wat de echte motivaties van deze mensen zijn en wie in deze slangenkuil het eerste gaat bijten. Hoeveel van de acht zouden levend het pand gaan verlaten? Weinig, Tarantino kennende.

‘The Hateful Eight’ doet in meerdere opzichten denken aan ‘Reservoir Dogs’, Tarantino’s veelgeprezen debuutfilm van alweer 24 jaar geleden. Het speelt zich grotendeels op één locatie af alsof het een theater is, bevat veel horrorachtig geweld waarbij liters bloed worden vergoten en komt op gepaste momenten met een flashback waarin we meer te weten komen over de achtergrond van sommige personages. In de 24 jaar dat zijn carrière nu duurt is Tarantino volwassen geworden als regisseur. Oké, er zit een ontploffend hoofd in, maar het is misschien wel zijn meest volwassen film sinds ‘Jackie Brown’. Hij heeft nu zoveel vaardigheid opgebouwd dat hij met enorm veel bravoure en zelfvertrouwen de gebeurtenissen in de loge laat voltrekken. Hij neemt de tijd – bijna drie uur – maar de opbouw en stijl zijn zo meesterlijk dat het bijna ongemerkt voorbij gaat.

Tarantino houdt van groepen: the Reservoir Dogs, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the Inglourious Basterds. Daar mag nu the Hateful Eight aan worden toegevoegd. Een gelegenheidsformatie bestaande uit echte rouwdouwers die elkaar voortdurend naar het leven staan. Dit is weliswaar een noodzaak in dit tijdperk van doden of gedood worden, maar behalve noodzaak genieten zij ook van elkaars pijn en zijn daarmee inderdaad ‘The Hateful Eight’, Tarantino’s versie van ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

Zoals we van hem gewend zijn, zijn de dialogen fantastisch (en vaak hilarisch). Tarantino heeft zich echt diepgaand verdiept in de tijden waarin dit verhaal zich afspeelt, waardoor hij de karakters echt tot leven weet te wekken. Toch bleef een Oscarnominatie voor beste screenplay uit en ook voor beste regie. Vreemd, vreemd, vreemd. Ook de acteurs – die zonder uitzondering geweldig zijn – moeten het zonder nominatie stellen, behalve Jennifer Jason Leigh voor beste vrouwelijke bijrol. De Academy en een deel van het publiek mogen deze film dan niet voldoende credits geven, van mij krijgt de achtste film van Tarantino een dikke negen. Dit is een western zoals alleen een meesterregisseur hem kan maken.