Archive for the ‘3 Women’ Category

350 – Death Proof

October 31, 2007

Grindhouse was originally released in theaters as one big movie comprising two feature-length parts, complete with fake trailers, that evoked the cheap and cheesy cinematic experience of low-budget movies in the olden days. However, each of the features was instead released separately on DVD, also in keeping with grindhouse theater tradition.

Death Proof, from Quentin Tarantino, relates the story of one Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a movie stunt dude who’s tricked out his kick-ass muscle car to be, well, death proof, mMeaning that it could be used as an actual stunt car, able to withstand high-velocity crashes without its driver sustaining much in the way of injuries. But see, Stuntman Mike isn’t just some guy with a mean-looking car, he’s also a sicko who gets off on killing young women. This is the kind of theme you’d see frequently in low-budget films of yesteryear – the sexy damsel in distress who’s mowed down by a some psychopath with no greater motivation than sheer lunacy. Mike’s a scary-looking fella, too – he has a long vertical scar that begins above his eye and travels down to his chin. He’s gritty, slimy, grizzled. Heck, he kind of looks like Snake Plissken, come to think of it; all he’s missing is that eyepatch.

In the first half of the movie, Mike stalks a group of young women, following them to a honkytonk bar. The women are luscious and oversexed, another theme of cheapo trash movies; eventually, Mike offers a lift to Pam (Rose McGowan), who’s not even in the group he’s been following. Do you think Pam will make it home in one piece? Yeah, I’m gonna go with “no” on that one, Johnny. Mike’s car is death proof, indeed, but as he accurately notes, you get the full effect only if you’re in the driver’s seat. Hey-o! Anyway, death happens. There is a huge, wildly violent crash, as Mike uses his car as the ultimate murder weapon.

Once you accept the concept of the movie – that it’s really supposed to be reminiscient of those crappy drive-in films of the past, complete with poor cinematography and editing – then you can somewhat enjoy the movie. I qualify that statement because there’s one big problem I had with the movie, and that’s while it should remind you of, say, a 1977 hot-rod/sexploitation movie, there are such curious anachronisms as cell phones and some late-model cars. There must be a logical explanation for this, but if we’re supposed to think of those older movies and the primary vehicles in the movie are from the 1970s, then why have modern gadgets? Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose a little?

Russell is awesome as the diseased creep – he reminds me not only of Plissken but of Rondo Hatten, who played many seamy and seedy monsters back in the 1930s and 1940s. Stuntman Mike is a typical tough, hard-ass Tarantino character who can also use words to knock down an opponent – or win a lady. With a squint and a glint, Mike is instantly a mysterious rascal with an agenda, although the exact nature of that agenda isn’t known until deeper into the film.

The rest of the cast is pretty good, although I do wish the entire atmosphere of the 1970s had been preserved; there was just too much modernity to the sets and the characters’ mannerisms to suit me. The women we see in the latter half of the movie outshine those in the first half, particularly real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing herself, natch) and Rosario Dawson. Not faring as well were Vanessa Ferlito and Jordan Ladd.

Beyond that little head-scratcher, though, the movie’s not half bad. Were it not released as a big budget movie to such fanfare, it might even qualify for cult-movie status. Heck, it still might. The crash scenes are wonderful, pulse-quickening shots born of angst and revenge; you can almost feel the glass splintering, the metal bending, the rubber leaving a mile-long skidmark. This, along with pepper-hot dialog, is Tarantino’s calling card – recall the crash scene in Pulp Fiction with Butch’s car. Tarantino, typically, writes himself a good part as Warren the Bartender, although he didn’t give himself a witty monologue like he did in Sleep with Me or even Pulp Fiction.

***

3 Women, Tomorrow

March 20, 2007

Sounds like a porn title, doesn’t it? Ok, maybe a bad porn title, but still. Anyway, these are two older films I saw recently via the good people at Netflix. I can recommend them both, although they’re not for all tastes, definitely.

3 Women (1977) seems, at first glance, to be misnamed, as much of the movie deals with the relationship between Millie (Shelley Duvall) and Pinky (Sissy Spacek). Pinky, new to California, gets a job in a convalescent home. Millie is the seasoned employee who shows her the ropes. But this is much more than a new girl learning how to do things on her own with the help of a mentor, oh yes. You see, Millie fancies herself as quite the social butterfly, but she’s oblivious to the opinions of basically everyone else, that she’s much more pest than paragon of excellence. For example, as the employees file in and out of the home, they’re paired off – except for Millie, who follows them alone and carries on a conversation with the others, even though no one’s listening to her. She also takes her lunches at the hospital across the street, the better to pick up guys, although the scene repeates itself there – she brays on and on about anything and everything while the interns and doctors and residents merely continue their meal, virtually ignoring her.

By contrast, Pinky is terribly shy and naive and sort of idolizes the more-worldly Millie. Looking to latch on to Millie’s brash personality, Pinky moves in as Millie’s roommate. Although the girls do clash on some issues, they more or less get along, although we get some glimpses at Pinky’s more-subversive attitude.

And then tragedy strikes, and everything you know goes out the door. Then the movie really takes off. To tell you more would be a crime, really, but let’s just say the tragedy isn’t something as banal as “girl gets in car accident, gets new outlook on life.” No, some serious stuff goes down in Millie’s and Pinky’s lives.  And the ending – the final fifteen minutes or so – are golden.

Oh, did I mention that Robert Altman directed this little gem? This would be after Nashville (1975) but before Popeye. Altman got the idea for the film from a series of dreams he had. Imagine that; you dream about something, and you go to a Hollywood studio to make a movie about it. They’d laugh at you. They didn’t laugh at Altman, because he’d recently made Nashville and he had a friend in the studio in the person of Alan Ladd, Jr., who cared that Altman the auteur got his vision made into a film. And so it was.

***1/2

Then we have Tomorrow (1972), a verrrrrrrry slow two-character study starring Robert Duvall and Olga Bellin. Duvall is a cotton farmer/handyman who lives a solitary life in a small shack as he waits for his new home to be built. One day, while warshin’ his pans, Jackson Fentry hears moans and groans and comes across a pregnant woman coming to. Seems her husband abandoned her months before when he learned she was expecting, and the other day she decided to just walk and see where she got to. Well, she got as far as Fentry’s home before collapsing. Rather than leave Sarah to fight the bitter cold winter, Jackson takes her in and nurses her to health. She eventually gives birth and they marry, and that’s when things go a little haywire.

Duvall is superb; his accent reminds me a bit of Billy Bob Thornton’s turn as Karl Childers in Sling Blade, although certainly Jackson is a bit more intelligent. Jackson Fentry is a man of few words but myriad emotions; he loves Sarah and wants to protect her and her baby but is helpless to prevent tragedy. By contrast, Bellin’s Sarah is loquacious, friendly, outwardly loving. Both actors do a lot with very little, which happens often in movies adapted from stage presentations. Horton Foote adapted his own play, based on a story by William Faulkner, and this stands as probably the best adaptation of Faulkner’s work to film. It’s slow, but engaging, thanks to wonderful performances by the two leads.

***1/2