Death Proof

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-02-07 15:11:42

Death Proof - Rank A

Let me start off by saying that Grindhouse was the best movie idea to come along since, well, Kill Bill. Do you ever get the feeling that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez aren't really working when they're directing - no, creating - their movies? I mean, I wouldn't call Reservoir Dogs or From Dusk Til Dawn cinematic masterpieces by any stretch, but, you have to admit, the duo has taken us on some wild rides since El Mariachi. The word I'm looking for here is fun. To say that that their movies are "retro" or "throwbacks" or even "homage" is an insult to their filmic importance. Take Pulp Fiction, for example: that kind of disjointed storytelling is not new (ever read an Elmore Leonard novel?). It is, however, fresh and entertaining and so delivers its subtext with a weightier punch than most "serious" dramas.


When I first heard about the release of Grindhouse as two separate DVDs and that neither disc would carry many of the faux trailers (i.e. Thanksgiving, Don't, and my personal favorite Werewolf Women of the SS) I was pissed. I mean, I still haven't bought Kill Bill because I know a special edition DVD will be released one day with both movies (and perhaps what many Tarantino enthusiasts are hoping to see: volumes I and II as one whole movie) in the same box. As I sat in my car, driving to God knows where for my day-job (ever heard of a place called Rancho Cucamonga? Didn't think so), I realized the genius of not putting the trailers on the DVDs: they were a special treat for people who actually went to the theater to see them.

[Editor David Yun: Rancho Cucamonga was featured prominently in the film Next Friday. Some film buff you are, Paul! ;]

Not only that, but it fits with the whole grindhouse theater experience. They didn't have high density 24-bit optical storage devices that contained the movie and all of the subsequent trailers you just saw. No. You would've only seen the trailers in the theater. But why then, you ask, do we get the movie on DVD? Shouldn't they then have forgone a DVD release of the movie so that we might more fully enjoy the grindhouse theater experience? Don't be silly. That's like saying that baseball should do away with the infield fly rule. Pffft.

When I saw Grindhouse in the theater I often wondered about the choice to put the more campy Planet Terror in front of the dialogue-rich, and therefore, slower paced Death Proof. I thought it really knocked the wind out of Death Proof and it left many people feeling that Planet Terror was the superior movie. This is a mistake. Death Proof is good enough to stand on its own two legs. Had Tarantino decided to abandon the tongue in cheek homage to old shitty moviemaking, what with all the jump cutting and missing reels and whatnot, he would've had himself "the next Tarantino movie".

How do I know this? How can I be so fucking certain? Check this out: the scene where Zoe is hanging on for dear life on the hood of that gorgeous white Challenger, Stuntman Mike is relentlessly harassing the girls, hootin' and hollerin' and punctuating every hit of his car with that maniacal laugh that Kurt Russell does so well. In the middle of that chase sequence, a truck comes barreling down on Stuntman Mike's side of the road. Now here is where Tarantino, as the director, is presented with several choices: 1) have the truck hit Stuntman Mike's car head on, thus prematurely ending this beautifully choreographed car chase 2) have Stuntman Mike see the oncoming truck at the last possible moment and swerve just in the nick of time, thus prolonging - albeit in a conventional way - the car chase sequence or 3) have the truck swerve out of the way. Tarantino does none of the above and goes with this: Zoe sees the oncoming truck and Zoe looks right at camera from Stuntman Mike's POV and yells, "Look out!" Do you see the natural conundrum here? Stuntman Mike is trying to kill her and yet Zoe stays in character and saves his life. Yes, saves his life, because she doesn't know his car is "death proof" nor does she know that Stuntman Mike is, well, a stuntman.

This is Tarantino's genius. This is what separates him from all those wannabes out there who think that if you just put a few gun-toting maniacs in a coffee shop talking about bullshit before they go do some gun-toting maniac stuff, you've got yourself a Quentin Tarantino movie. Fuck that. Stuntman Mike and the girls are interacting on a subliminal level. There's language in the driving, there's character arcing over the stunts, there's movie magic being weaved before our very eyes! To be able to show so much humanity in the briefest of movie moments is, well, sublime.

The DVD comes with several interviews and, of course, it is the unrated extended version. Usually those last three words "unrated extended version" are enough to send me out looking for old ladies to beat senseless and children to punch in the face, but with a Tarantino movie, you actually get more movie which, at least with him, usually means a better movie. There are a lot of "behind the scenes" stuff, as well as an introductory piece on the stunt drivers of Death Proof. This movie, by the way, was Zoe Bell's first speaking role. Talk about talented.

Well, I'm off to get Planet Terror. And Kill Bill (yes, I know, I'm weak).

Ciao. We'll do lunch. Have your people call my people.

The second link is the Blu-Ray version of the film.

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