You have to see this movie.

In the theater. It is worth $7, although be warned you may want to see it again with friends who haven’t seen it already, because you’ll want to watch their faces as the movie BLOWS THEIR MINDS.

You would make out with ALL OF US.

The technical achievement of “Children of Men” but with relatable characters and no CGI babies. The using-your-expectations-against-you of “Sixth Sense.” The terrible-things-dogpiling of “Babel” but with momentum and emotional payoff.

I’m gonna go on to Raleigh to see my people for Easter. See “Grindhouse” so we can talk about it.


Okay, I’m back. What can I say about this movie that doesn’t give its many merits away? I went in with no knowledge but the trailer, and that’s safe, because the trailer is such an inscrutable mess of actors and explosions that I couldn’t tell what was feature and what was faux trailer, making it perhaps the mathematical opposite of the trailer for, say, 1408, which looks interesting but I can tell you now that 1) I’m gonna spend the first twenty minutes waiting for them to get to room 1408, and 2) if it’s based on a Stephen King short story it’s going to have some good scares and then an annoying deus ex ending that makes me mock Johnny Depp forever.

Johnny Depp
The mysterious stranger tormenting me is… MYSE-E-E-ELF!

Anyway. Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror, the first feature, is like a zombie movie calculus problem, an origami crane, a dodecahedron, a New York strip — precise, effective, and lean. Every moment is either setup or payoff, and most of them pull double duty, like Cherry’s (Rose McGowan’s) expository exit from the go-go club that pays off line-by-line in the last act.

Rose McGowan
She has a gun. For a leg. People.

This is what Sin City was supposed to be, and maybe the gleeful melee of mess is what Sin City needed. Maybe 66% fewer on-camera castrations is what Sin City needed. Who can say.

The women are impossibly hot. I don’t know how. Something about the long shag hair and glimpses of skin and occasional jiggle is terribly effective, moreso than any straight-up nudity or sex or whatever in any movie I’ve seen in years. The Crazy Babysitter Twins alone were seared into my memory from the trailer. Even Fergie was burnin’. What is going on?

Whatchagonnado with all that plas’?

Freddie Rodriguez is ridiculagood. Can’t think of real words to describe him. Every actor rises above the cliche that his (or her) character is [intentionally] based on by turning in an amplified but sincere performance. Heightened reality, not self-awareness.

I really don’t know how actors do this. The more I learn about acting (not for myself, for actual actors — don’t be scared) the more I’m baffled that anyone can act in a movie at all. I don’t know how you can be completely in character AND in the moment AND STILL hit your mark AND stay in frame AND keep your voice in the volume limits you did in rehearsal so the sound editor doesn’t get mad AND remember the last note the director gave you AND try not to break the prop wristwatch because art department doesn’t have another one.

I WOULD PASS OUT BEFORE LUNCH. It must take more focus and trust than Jake’s got butt-fluff — and as soon as I get video of me pulling out the gray clumps of hair he’s shedding you’ll see what I mean.

You love my butt fluff

The point is that, like The Sixth Sense, this movie uses your experience with previous movies. You know and accept certain tropes (hero has a dark past, dancer has a heart of gold, last refuge will catch fire) and explaining them wastes time.

The exposition in action movies tends to be so unrelated to events that we’d be just as happy without it. F’rinstance, it’s like how in most James Bond movies the action bits are black boxes. There’s one piece of input (the assassin just got on a speedboat) and one piece of output (the assassin got away… but left a clue!). What happens in the middle doesn’t affect any other part of the movie — there’s no character development, no momentum — plot, not story.

This is why Casino Royale was so damn fine — segueing into motivated action sequences that express character, and leaving James Bond with consequences for his actions — and in my opinion better than:

  • 1) The Departed (named for the departure it takes from both character and theme in the last ten minutes)
  • 2) Babel (where gritty realism [piss! gangrene! pubic hair!] meets fantastic contrivance [let’s wait here instead of taking the bus! let’s not go into shock! let’s pretend you’d even feel a needle piercing your bullet wound! let’s drink and drive! let’s evade border patrol! let’s have a firefight!])


Planet Terror is smart because it leverages what you know about movies to make itself leaner and more effective. I’d like to do that. Since watching The Village I still have a fantasy about writing a script that uses your tolerance for bad filmmaking against you — where foreshadowing is hidden in continuity errors, anachronisms, etc. Unfortunately, writing something that sophisticated is going to take talent and experience, so don’t let dinner get cold waitin’ on that one.

Okay. That was an awful lot of analysis with nothing to do with Planet Terror. I’m-a take that as evidence that it’s a thinking man’s zombie movie — maybe because you have to do some thinking to explain to suspicious acquaintances why they should come with you to see it while you sneak peeks at them during the parts that will make them yell.

Speaking of yelling.

Death Proof.

Kurt Russell
Don’t call it a comeback. I been here for years

I’ve cried at movies. I’ve laughed at movies. At Little Miss Sunshine I laughed, cried, then laughed ’til I cried, then laughed at how hard I was crying. I can still work up some water if I think about the last scene.

But at Death Proof I YELLED. I don’t want to get too into it because I don’t want to give anything away. But most of the sounds coming out of me were wild laughter and very loud yelling. My heart pounded. The movie kicked my butt. And I liked it.

It’s art to Planet Terror‘s craft, and a perfect complement. Tarantino uses what you know about Tarantino movies against you. You recognize his tropes, his self-references, his cameo, his underrated star, his endless dialogue, his self-indulgence. When we see Jungle Julia text-message in real time, it’s mostly a parody of the slow-build-to-nothing of seventies horror movies like The Wicker Man, and partly a parody of his own rambling verite approach to characters.

Edward Woodward
They can’t all be Breaker Morant

I thought it wouldn’t pay off. I thought I got one good movie out of this double-feature and one clunker.

I was hella hella hella wrong.

I see it as the ultimate meta-horror movie. Jaws preys on your fear of sharks, the ocean, what you can’t see, et cetera, et cetera. Death Proof preys on your fear of being stuck watching a crappy movie.

I was filled with dread. I thought, “Do I want to spend another hour with these characters? I’m kind of done with them.” My endocrine system didn’t care where the dread came from — and the dread multiplied the movie’s satisfaction of my desires.

Then… it did it again. And I was so excited I started yelling.

Then… it did it again. And I was so hella satisfied I nearly died of excitement.

Then… I had to think. About what it means if my loyalty isn’t to the most moral characters, but the most exciting ones.

Then… I had a series of cinematic and human questions after watching a zombie movie and a fast car movie that made me laugh, scream and yell. YOU CAN’T ASK FOR MORE THAN THAT.

And that is why I like Grindhouse more than Children of Men — which left me with no questions other than why a movie about the emotional necessity of babies didn’t use a real baby, or why they staged the reveal of a pregnant woman in a barn full of cows (OW THE SYMBOLISM; or why they diverged from the book by making women infertile, sidestepping questions of female power and the relationship between literal and figurative male impotence. BUT WHATEVS.

Clive Owen
Going from depressed to dead is not a character arc

A-a-a-and. Spent.


Draws. Sweats. Eats too much sugar-free candy.

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2 Responses

  1. Tory says:

    Alena! It’s good to hear from you! Also good to hear I am not alone in my CoM disassifaction.

    Let me know what you think of Grindhouse. Tell me if you yell!

  2. Alena says:

    I love your movie reviews! I don’t know much about film making, but I always come away from your reviews feeling more enlightened. Plus, you totally have made me want to see this film (Grindhouse).

    Children of Men.. so much promise squandered. I kept waiting for it to pick up or something, but I was sorely disappointed at the end when I realized they’d just made me sit through hours of depressive muck for no payoff. I never felt I really understood what the movie was trying to tell me. The book sounds much more interesting.

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