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Death Proof Revisited (Spoilers)

Rick made a comment on my post about Edgar Wright that I should watch Don't. I've already seen it a few times, I just didn't feel like it warranted much discussion since it's not anything more than a quick laugh. It's funny but I would hardly call it essential to Wright's filmography.

Thinking about Don't made me think about Grindhouse. I'd been thinking about it anyways since Wright recently said in an interview that he recorded a commentary for Don't (which is sort of hilarious since it's only thirty seconds long) and followed that up with "You know what that means!" That means Grindhouse will finally be released on Blu-Ray how it was released in theaters. And that's a relief. I don't imagine I'll sit down to do the double feature aspect of it too often but I know people who have waited a long time for it and deserve to have that version instead of the split up one. I own both Planet Terror and Death Proof on DVD and bought them more as a completist than as something I thought I would watch a lot. I've only watched Planet Terror a couple times but I'm sort of shocked how often I've thrown in Death Proof.

Death Proof is a movie I haven't been able to get over. If I ever met Quentin Tarantino it would be hard not to say "I adore everything you've done and in some ways you changed my life!.....except Death Proof."

I went to see Grindhouse at a midnight screening with an audience that was pumped up and ready for that film. It was the perfect audience. And when it was over I felt betrayed. I'd never not loved something Tarantino did and it really kind of hurt when this one didn't live up to the standards I felt he had. Planet Terror was fun and stupid and I didn't expect much out of it because I don't really expect anything else from Robert Rodriquez at this point. Tarantino is different though. Thankfully Death Proof played second because I may have not stayed through Planet Terror if it was on after. I was that hurt.

So for reasons that are only clear to me, I bought it the day it came out. I had to watch it again and see exactly what it was that hurt me so much. I very clearly remember loving the first half of the film and just despising the second half. So I watched it again and felt less hurt because I knew what to expect this time. I realized there was stuff that worked on me again and things I really loved about it but also stuff that infuriated me.

And I've tried now four or five additional times to see if my feelings have changed. I keep going back to it because of the stuff I love, but I don't think my mind is ever going to change.

The first thing is the structure. I've read Tarantino interviews where he talks about what his intentions with it were and I see what he was going for but I don't think it works at all. He is basically going for the Psycho bait-and-switch. Audiences were thrown off in the 60's when Janet Leigh was killed 30 minutes into Psycho because they thought the movie was about her and it turned into a movie about Norman Bates. Audiences had never seen that before and it was a brilliant move on Hitchcock's part. The reason it works is because we're introduced to Norman in those 30 minutes and get to know him a bit and also get to meet Sam, Marion's lover. They carry us through the second half of the movie and, besides the loss of Marion, is very clear how the story shifted from one perspective to another.

Tarantino doesn't give us that carry over. Sure, Stuntman Mike is there, but only in the background for two minutes until he shows up for the final car chase that ends the movie. He is a big part of the first half of the film and all but vanishes for most of the second half.

We spend time getting to know the first group of girls and Vanessa Ferlito does a great job as "Butterfly" and really gets us to care about her. She stands out in the group and Ferlito proves she can be a very charismatic lead. The scenes are obviously modeled after slasher films of the 70's and 80's and have that typical extended-dialogue Tarantino touch. We spend time getting to know them and hanging out and generally recognizing how we've had nights just like the one they are having. Then they all get killed by Mike.

And then we start over....with a new group of girls....a far more annoying group of girls...and without Stuntman Mike as any kind of relief....

The second group of girls just don't work for me. The actresses don't work and neither do the characters they're given to play. They have the same "I fooled around with this guy" talk that we just heard from the first group of girls. And the scenes go on a lot longer than they seemed to in the first half.

The biggest offense for me is the diner scene. They talk about jobs and Zoe and car movies. It goes on for about 8 or 9 minutes. The reason it annoys me is because they are doing stuff that Tarantino has long been a critic of. He says he hates in movies when the actors are making references to stuff they clearly don't know anything about. He bashed Jason Biggs for talking about philosophy in Woody Allen's Anything Else for example. The girls in the second half of Death Proof don't know anything about cars or Vanishing Point and it shows. I just don't see them sitting down to watch it unless they were instructed to by Tarantino. These are EXACTLY the girls who would rather watch the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds over the original. And it just makes the scene so hard to watch.

And then we get a long scene of them talking about going to see the car. Then a long scene once they get there about what they're going to say to the guy to convince him to let them drive it alone. Then a long scene where they try to convince him. Then a long scene where they try to convince their friend to stay with him. Then a long scene where Zoe tells her plan about Ship's Mast. Then they debate doing it for a while. It just is long dialogue scene after long scene and it really feels like the first time Tarantino is stalling. I love his dialogue but he's usually been very good about knowing when he's pushed the scenes on too long. Even the 20 minute opening sequence of Inglourious Basterds feels shorter than this section of the film.

But then we finally get to the chase. And it is a great chase. Zoe Bell is a great stuntwoman and has bigger balls than I do. And we FINALLY get Mike back. All was right in the world.

And suddenly the girls are free from danger. They have trashed a stranger's car. They thought they were about to die. Their friend is stuck with a redneck looking to get some action. It's best to call it a day. But no. When the words "Let's get that bastard!" come up, I immediately get annoyed. I get that this is one of the Grindhouse Women With A Vengeance storylines, but it just doesn't seem real here. I just don't buy it. And I've tried really hard several times to buy it.

THEN! OUT OF NOWHERE! Stuntman Mike turns into a giant vagina. I know there are people who think it's hilarious and I do actually find it funny in concept. The world is full of hardasses who are covering up just how wimpy they really are. But in execution? It just throws me off. It goes a little too over the top for me. It is funny at certain points but I just don't agree with it as a character choice. The biggest evidence I have for my case is the scene on the front porch of the bar in the first half of the film. Jungle Julia casually refers to him as "Stuntman Bob" and he instantly snaps back "Mike!" The way he says it and the look in his eyes sends chills through me. He isn't scared of anything in that moment and that's where the character became kind of iconic to me. He seemed like a perfect character for Tarantino's universe of amazingly written rogues gallery. But the crying and begging at the end robbed him of a little bit of that for me.

And for me to be so upset with it while it was happening, and then for it to end at that exact moment, I just felt betrayed. And watching it again and again hasn't changed any of my feelings on this. The only comfort I have is that I know how I feel about it so at this point I can kind of just take it as it is. I know what to expect from it now so it doesn't bother me as much.

I suspect (and hope) that this will always be my least favorite of anything Tarantino ever directs. And that's actually still high praise, because this is still a much better film than other people could ever hope to make. It's still fascinating because it's clearly got some incredibly revealing things about Tarantino all over it. I'm not angry the film exists, in a way all the problems I have with it have brought me back to rewatch it more than films I've enjoyed a lot more. I do hope to someday meet Tarantino and talk to him at length about his whole career, I'd love to hear his response to all this. He'd probably tell me he's a better writer than I could ever hope to be and I should just shut up. And he'd probably be right so I'll shut up now.

Random observations about to movie....
-It's still my favorite overall soundtrack of any Tarantino film. I actually was listening to it not that long ago and it rarely leaves my car.
-The best part of the movie's existence is that it really lowered my expectations for Inglourious Basterds, which made the first viewing of that film sooo much better than it may have been because it was like Tarantino was my best friend who got me exactly what I wanted for my birthday. I love that movie so much.
-When Tracie Thoms is chasing Mike and screaming over and over again about "tappin' dat ass!" and "gettin' a hard on!", I want to puke because it's so annoying.
-The extended cut of the film is better than the Grindhouse cut.
-I realize Mary Elizabeth Winstead is in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World but I swear she does not look like the same girl at all in the previews.
-The only complaint I have about the first half is Eli Roth annoys me. Nothing particular, just sort of generally.

I disagree about "Don't" not being part of Wright's lexicon of films because it shows that Wright is capable of emulating a style that was an indicative of the British horror films of the grindhouse era. But then I am the type to not overlook any of a director's projects, no matter how short.

That being said, I hated Death Proof right up until Zoe Bell and the other ladies came into the scene. The opening part with the dialogue is so dull that it drags everything down to a screeching halt. The only part worth watching at the beginning of the movie for me is the car kill where Stuntman Mike offs everyone in one shot. I agree that he suddenly loses his sack toward the end and while yes, it is kind of funny, he becomes the antithesis of everything that was established in the little screen time that he actually had. I have no problem with the second group of ladies. In fact, I prefer them over the first group. I think it's because of my crush on both Rosario Dawson and Zoe Bell.

Oh, and of the two, Planet Terror is the one that is more in my regular DVD rotation and I am so glad that Machete is coming out. I hope the same for both Wright's "Don't" and Roth's "Thanksgiving" will eventually happen.

Rosario Dawson is generally an extremely attractive girl but I think she looks terrible in the movie. It's a mixture of her hair and whatever the hell those pants are that she is wearing.

How can you like the second group more than the first? It baffles me. The first section has so much Kurt Russell. It has him stalking and reciting poetry. It has Quentin Tarantino as Warren, and whenever he acts I am generally in a good mood about it because it's so funny and his arrogance is so enjoyable. It has the lap dance. It has the better music. It's just better all around for me.

And we're just going to have to disagree on how important Don't is. I think Wright had already proven he knew how to lovingly imitate other genres/styles of film at that point.

I agree with Phil, Rosario Dawson is insanely hot, but unfortunately for this flick she was miscast. She just doesn't have that edge to her character that Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms had with theirs.

As for the first half of 'Death Proof' - I actually liked it. It's slow, unbelievably slow but it gives us time to get to know the 4 girls, so their deaths, when they do occur are a lot more heartbreaking (especially Butterfly's) than say some cheap slasher movie with no character substance whatsoever.

Having said that, I too prefer Planet Terror over Death Proof - but only just. On the other hand I HATE the extended versions. Thank God the 'Grindhouse theatrical cut' is coming to blu ray early october. Already got mine pre-ordered.

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