Judge Ryan Keefer wants to know if a "grindhouse" includes the popcorn trick.
A White-Hot Juggernaut at 200 Miles Per Hour!
So after an ode to revenge and kung fu films with Kill Bill, what was Quentin Tarantino's follow-up film to be? Of all the ones out there, I wouldn't have guessed that he would have done a double-feature with friend Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) which helps to serve as a jumping off point of sorts for the production company of their mutual friends the Weinstein brothers. So now that the dust has settled from the almost four hours of blood, guts, guns and cars from the Grindhouse double, how is Tarantino's Death Proof on its own?
Facts of the Case
Like most of Tarantino's films, he wrote the script and directs, and while the film is one part of a two-parter, it's also two distinct halves. The first half is in Austin, Texas, where a group of girls at a bar meet a man named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, The Thing), who has a creepy scar on his face and a really pimped out ride in the parking lot. During the second half we get to see Stuntman Mike again, but this is a slightly different take, as he focuses his attention on Kim (Tracie Thoms, Rent), Abernathy (Rosario Dawson, Alexander), Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Live Free or Die Hard) and Zoe (Zoe Bell, Lost). However, Mike is unaware that a couple of those girls are stuntwomen who tend to fight back, so things prove a little interesting.
As of this writing, Quentin Tarantino has started filming on Inglourious Basterds, a World War II-era film which may or may not be a remake of Enzo Castellari's film of the same name. While Tarantino manages to capture a certain emotional feeling in films like Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, it almost seems like the thrill is gone. When he's not making a film with a relatable or charismatic protagonist (as Death Proof seems to lack), then we get not too much more than a lot of talk that is self-reverential to other films and prides itself in doing so. Those people that liked the second part of Kill Bill more than the first might be citing something similar to this as the reason why. And for my money, Jackie Brown remains Tarantino's most underappreciated work (even as he threw all kinds of references in there) and a fine film.
Understanding that he did Death Proof for fun more than anything else just doesn't seem like a satisfactory excuse to me. The first half of the film accomplished much of the "grindhouse" feel that he and Rodriguez strived for, using beat up music and sound and trashy stories to do so. Never mind that I think Rodriguez accomplished it much better with Planet Terror. Then the film goes into the second half, when Mike is on the hunt for a new set of girls, and things culminate into a car chase that can be described as admittedly awesome and perhaps the first or second best I've seen (I'm on the fence with that and French Connection). Was there a need for it? Did Tarantino try to do this to one-up Rodriguez? Did he think he couldn't do a similar sequence in one of his own films and wanted to try it? Whatever the reason, the sequence, while cool, just doesn't seem to fit within the theme that Tarantino and Rodriguez set out for themselves. Fun or not, the only thing memorable about Death Proof is a really good car chase, and it's a shame, because with Russell, Dawson, Rose McGowan (Charmed) and others, it could have been an enjoyable film. Instead, Tarantino takes the premise of the exploitation film and automatically assumes that you're going to enjoy it, without even putting together a veneer where a novice viewer could be lured into liking it.
Technically it's hard to approach Death Proof (or Planet Terror, for that matter) with an overtly critical eye. I mean, the first half of the film is purposely designed to look old, right? It sure does do that rather well. It's soft, the detail is virtually non-existent, blacks tend to be crushed occasionally, it's not pretty to watch. Going straight from intent, it's an accurate high definition reproduction of the distressing that was done for the cinema. The second half is pristine and better looking, and the exterior car shots look excellent, with a touch of depth in the background here and there when the cars get on the freeway. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack also sounds old too, with very little punch and emotion to get excited about, but the car's revving engine in the first half sounds clear and right next to you, while the panning and subwoofer pick up a little more in the second half, though not all that much.
On the bonus material side of things, the content that's here appears to be identical to what was on the standard definition edition. "Stunts on Wheels" (20:39) discusses the intent of the driving sequences and what Tarantino wanted to accomplish in them, along with interview footage from the stunt drivers used in the film. It was interesting to see that Russell apparently might be a friend to a few of them, but otherwise, not so much. "Introducing Zoe Bell" (8:57) takes a look at the blond-haired Kiwi who spends most of her screen time in the film on the hood of a car. She truly is a bundle of energy and I for one want to see her in similar roles in the future. "Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike" (9:32) examines Tarantino's inspiration for the role, and Russell discusses coming to said role. I almost expected more time with Russell, but Tarantino talks about his thoughts on Russell and his work, who Stuntman Mike should have been, etc. "Finding Quentin's Gals" (21:13) is kind of like the Russell piece, except covering all of the girls in the film and ten minutes longer. There's an uncut performance of "Baby, It's You" with Winstead next, followed by "Guys of Death Proof" (8:14), which appears to give an excuse for Tarantino's friend Eli Roth (who directed Hostel and appears in this film) to talk about meeting Russell. Quentin's Greatest Collaborator" (4:36) examines the relationship Tarantino has with editor Sally Menke, even though strangely she's not interviewed for it, and trailers for Bell's documentary Double Dare and the international trailer for Death Proof follow. A poster gallery and extended music cues accompany this BD-Live enabled disc, along with the chance to select a scene by a specific song, as opposed to a chapter in the feature.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Dimension/Genius/The Weinstein Company continues to opt to release this set in two parts, as it had done for the standard definition versions of Grindhouse, and as it did for Kill Bill. There's a little more justification of keeping Kill Bill in two parts than Grindhouse, but the only place to see the whole shebang at this point is by importing the uncut set from Japan, or DVR an occasional airing on cable and burn it to disc. Either way, Bob and Harvey should get off the schneid and release a side-by-side edition of Grindhouse, as the viewing experience is much more enjoyable in one long tip, rather than two shorter ones.
[Editor's Note: At this time, Genius Products has no intention of release a complete Grindhouse edition.]
Death Proof contains what easily is the most memorable car chase sequence in recent memory, and one of the most memorable in cinema. That's in the second half of the film. The first half of the film is boring, with actors (except for Russell) who trudge through the dialogue without any real passion or fun, and a director who almost seems to not enjoy the work he's doing in the film, going so far as to switch it up to serve his own needs. Technically, it looks slightly cleaner on Blu-ray and the extras are all here, so if you like the film, feel free to double-dip.
Guilty as charged, and that includes you Mr. Weinstein!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• "Stunts on Wheels"
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