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Grindhouse (2007)

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Grindhouse (click for larger image)Starring Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodríguez, Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Danny Trejo, Bill Moseley, Rosario Dawson, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey

Directed by Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror and fake trailer segment “Machete”), Eli Roth (fake trailer segment “Thanksgiving”) Edgar Wright (fake trailer segment “Don’t”), Rob Zombie (fake trailer segment “Werewolf Women of the S.S.”), Quentin Tarantino (segment “Death Proof”)


Evil hitchhikers … teenage werewolves … Samurai cannibals … ventriloquist dolls … You won’t find a single one of these things in Grindhouse, and that in and of itself is a wonderful thing. After months of insufferable cinematic garbage, the hyped Rodriguez/Tarantino machine has burst forth like a mighty serpent to rain down fiery baptism on all the sinners. So how does it measure up?

For the uninitiated (why are you even reading this site?), Grindhouse harkens back to the era of B-movie theaters famous for cranking out exploitation double-bills in the 1970’s. The prints were battered, the chairs hurt your ass, and the interiors were cleaned maybe twice a year, but you would consistently get your money’s worth in over-the-top sleaze and splatter. Today many of us relive the good ol’ days each month at the Grindhouse Film Festival in Los Angeles (co-helmed by Tarantino himself), and this is the ultimate attempt to bring that experience to the masses.

The first and best half of this 3-hour double bill is Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a gore-drenched zombie love-fest that gets the ball rolling in a big way. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the full story: An engineered virus escapes into a small town (these things tend to happen) and turns unlucky souls into bloated walking corpses. Things go to hell pretty fast, so it’s up to a small band of survivors – comprised mostly of criminals, lawmen, doctors, and strippers – to survive the horde, battle the military, and save the day. In other words, take From Dusk Till Dawn, mix in some old school Peter Jackson, and hit frappé.

Grindhouse (click for larger image)This is a film that moves like a nitro-fueled bus of flaming nuns at the Indy 500! Not a single dull moment is to be found as we watch a dream cast of character actors – each with their own deadly talent – stumble from one jaw-dropping set-piece to the next, wasting virtually everything and everyone in their path. From relative newcomers Freddy Rodriguez and Marley Shelton to hardcore genre vets like Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey, this ensemble is one of the most memorable you’ll ever see in a genre film. Robert Rodriguez shows off his flare for blowing up everything in sight, throws red stuff in all directions, and even invents new (and truly sick) bodily functions for the undead. Set to a perfect John Carpenter-esque score, Planet Terror is a masterpiece of excess and sets the bar high (probably too high) for what follows.

What was the best part about going to these double features? The trailers, of course, and Grindhouse has a whole slate of fake movie previews to complete the experience. Featuring Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin, Rodriguez’s “Machete” tackles the vigilante movie with gusto and immediately makes one salivate for a feature. Rob Zombie tries his hand at Ilsa territory with “Werewolf Women of the SS” with the help of an all-star cast, but it feels too jokey and half-baked compared to the rest. If this were a retro contest, then Eli Roth would win hands down for “Thanksgiving,” a brilliant nod to holiday-themed slashers that looks like it was pulled directly from an old Vestron video tape. But the best of the bunch is Edgar Wright’s brilliant nod to supernatural British horror movies, “Don’t,” which may be the funniest thing he’s ever produced.

Finally, we come to Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, an homage to old school car chase flicks like Vanishing Point and the original Gone in 60 Seconds (both of which are discussed at length in one of many, many dialogue scenes) with a little slasher vibe thrown in for good measure. The centerpiece of the road rage is homicidal Stuntman Mike (played to perfection by Kurt Russell), who stalks two different sets of hotties around in his insidious stunt-rigged car. The old-fashioned ads declare this one “a white-hot juggernaut at 200 miles per hour,” but for most of its running time Death Proof barely breaks the speed limit. Aside from a few inspired moments of brutality, we’re treated to endless scenes of girl-talk as would-be victims B.S. about sex, work, and ultra-obscure grindhouse films (*sigh*) until this literally becomes a movie about people chatting. Following on the heels of Rodriguez and the faux trailers, it’s nothing but a come down from the previous high.

Grindhouse (click for larger image)Now it may seem ridiculous to criticize a Tarantino movie for being too talky. His characters are verbal kaleidoscopes who exist to babble. But in Death Proof every bit of dialogue feels overlong and completely self-indulgent to the point where Tarantino seems to be imitating himself rather than grindhouse movies. It’s hard to believe this is coming from the same guy who so perfectly captured the era just a few short years ago when he made Kill Bill. Ever the actor’s director, Tarantino is obviously focused more on performances than actual content, which explains why a stylist like Rodriguez feels more at home in this territory. Death Proof’s cast of vixens are drop-dead gorgeous and act well enough, but as characters, they’re also interchangeable. The stand-out is, of course, Russell, who remains a raging pillar of badassary; but even then he feels underused and strings this aimless script along by a thread.

Only in the last twenty minutes does Tarantino finally grasp what kind of movie he’s making when he delivers a spectacular car chase that would stun George Miller himself. Showcasing the power of practical stunts, the film dispenses with the CGI and over-editing that has all but ruined modern action movies, allowing cute actress/stuntwoman Zoe Bell to perform some of the most amazing spectacles in recent memory. With a bargain-basement style closing shot that’s nothing short of brilliant, the final act of Death Proof ultimately sends Grindhouse out on a high note, but it’s one helluva bumpy ride getting there.

Overall, the whole experience is like going from a back alley of crack-whores to a high-class brothel in Amsterdam: It just feels nice to get more bang for your buck. It may be radically uneven, but Grindhouse still gets the job done, and in an ideal world we’d get one of these double-bills every year.

Latest Grindhouse News:
==>Behind the Grind
==>Grindhouse Too Hard for R?
==>Machete Comes Home?
==>Making The S.S. Sexy
==>Grindhouse Split Outside the U.S.
==>More Grindhouse News

Planet Terror:

4 1/2 out of 5

Death Proof:

3 out of 5

Trailers:

4 1/2 out of 5

Overall:

4 out of 5

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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

Directed by Adrian Corona


I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!

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User Rating 2.92 (12 votes)
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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.

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User Rating 3.27 (11 votes)
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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

Directed by Guillermo del Toro


“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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User Rating 3.67 (15 votes)
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