Monthly Archives: April 2007

License to Wed (2007)

Someone just tell Robin Williams to stop already. This painful and dated movie exists in another realm, a realm too fanciful and bizarre to exist even in sitcoms. The characters are all unlikable nitwits and I could not suppress to urge to want to dropkick William’s astoundingly annoying pre-teen sidekick. This implausible and puerile comedy is like an enema for the brain; it will wipe you clear out. The PG-13 movie regularly wades in tired pee and fart jokes, sometimes combing the two, but what really irritates me is how lazy the whole enterprise is. Williams makes a joke about O.J. killing his wife. I repeat, in the year 2007, Williams makes a joke about O.J. killing his wife. How topical and cutting edge. This whole movie induces one long, never-ending exasperated sigh from anyone that appreciates good comedy. If it weren’t for casual cameos by stars of NBC’s TV show The Office, this film would be totally worthless. As it is, License to Wed is yet another nail in Williams’ comedy coffin.

Nate’s Grade: D

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Black Book (2006)

If there’s one thing you can say about Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, it’s that his films are never boring. He’s shameless when it comes to the amounts of sex and violence he squeezes into his films, and this isn’t typical bouncy violence but cold, serious violence that manage to have whiffs of dark comedy to it. The sex is sleazy and ridiculous, often outpacing the late-night flesh peddlers on Cinemax. I don’t think Verhoeven knows how to do anything subtle, and frankly I wouldn’t want him to. The man is responsible for brawny sci-fi (Total Recall, Robocop), killer lesbians (Basic Instinct), the most subversive mainstream Hollywood movie of the modern era (Starship Troopers is pro-fascism, people), and the most surreal visual effect I have seen in my life – a breast groping itself (Hollow Man). Verhoeven even shows up in person to accept his Razzie award for Worst Director for 1995’s camp classic, Showgirls. This man doesn’t have an off switch. The man makes enjoyable movies, both intentionally and unintentionally.

It’s been a long six years since Verhoeven’s last film and in that time off he’s settled back into his homeland. Black Book (Zwartboek) is a tale loosely based around true stories involving the Dutch resistance in the Nazi-occupied occupied Netherlands. And if there is anyone that can throw in some sex with our good old-fashioned WWII violence, it is Paul Verhoeven.

Rachel (Carice van Houten) is a Jew hiding out in the Netherlands. She and her family is trying to pass out of the country by river when they are ambushed by the guns of a Nazi boat. Rachel is the lone survivor and watches all of her family members get mowed down. She joins the underground resistance movement to find out who betrayed her family. She dyes her hair blonde, both above and below the waist to be thorough, and cuddles up to a stamp-collecting S.S. leader, Ludwig Muntz (Sebastian Koch). She works her way into his trust and along the way uncovers a twisty conspiracy to trick rich Jews into ambushed escapes.

Black Book is skillfully made and pulpy enough to keep the viewer’s enjoyment level in a good place. From start to finish the movie presents enough trials and setbacks to keep an audience satisfied, and enough sex and violence to meet out the standard Verhoeven quota. Nazi occupation hasn’t been deeply explored from the Dutch point of view, and Verhoeven decides not to make everything so black and white. Muntz is a compassionate S.S. officer that wants to work negotiations with resistance fighters to stop further bloodshed. Rachel deeply falls for him, at the disgust of some of her fellow men at arms. On the other side of the coin, once the Nazis have been toppled there are several Dutch civilians and bureaucrats that can behave just as cruel. Those now with power strike out against those deemed to have sympathized and collaborated with German rule. Verhoeven is making a point that there was good and bad on both sides, which is admirable, though this point has been made better elsewhere. Black Book is filled with various twists and double-crosses, so the audience is involved until the very end. Plus, the sex and violence help too.

There’s terribly little below the surface when it comes to Black Book. It’s a thrilling, unabashedly entertaining movie but nothing beyond a sexed-up, suped-up version of a 1940s behind-enemy-lines potboiler. The characters have little to them beyond basic motivations like greed and lust and revenge, so it all can seem like an empty but high-spirited, fun-filled time at the movies. Verhoeven has never imbued his female roles with much characterization, more often showcasing them as ass-kicking vaginas on legs (whoa, now there’s a mental image for you). Another flaw is how Black Book is structured. We open on a tourist trip to Israel in 1954 and see Rachel teaching a class of schoolchildren. This colossal misstep drains the tension from whenever Rachel is in danger; we already know she has to survive to teach our little ones. [I]Black Book[/I] is a largely fictional take, a collection of various historical pieces and figures, so that means that the outcome for our heroine is not preordained. Rachel very well could die amidst her undercover infiltration, but alas the movie opening in flashback erases this threat.

Van Houten is an enticing screen beauty that brings to mind Hollywood stars of old. She has a very simple, prim, elegant look to her, and a presence that is coy and sensual but far from trashy or vulgar. This helps add traces of believability to a figure that does some incredible acts in the name of God and country. Hollywood would have cast Rachel as a tall, buxom bombshell, but it would all be wrong. If this girl turned heads she would be dead. Van Houten gets thrown through the wringer, and at one point literally shit upon, and she handles it with steely grit. The best moments are when we see how Rachel rebounds from setbacks, when she is forced to break from her resolve and think. Her first encounter with Muntz in a train car is a good example, but even better is how she reacts when Muntz accuses her of dying her hair and being a Jew. She grabs his hands and places them on her hips and finally rests them on her exposed breasts. “Are these Jewish?” she asks. She defuses the situation and lives another day, and it’s perfectly played by a nervous but nervy Van Houten. She makes two plus enjoyable hours even more enjoyable.

Black Book is clearly and fairly rated R, but part of its rating piqued my curiosity. One of the items that help push the film into the restricted rating is “graphic nudity.” Now, what exactly is graphic nudity? I recall last year’s Babel also getting an R-rating for what was deemed “graphic nudity.” One thing the two films have in common is that they both show quick glimpses of exposed female genitalia. I suppose that the MPAA feels that nudity becomes graphic when we see pubic hair. This confounds me. What about pubic hair turns nudity into an extra, more offensive category of nudity? At the end of the day, it’s just hair, people. I did some quick research and [I]Basic Instinct[/I], infamous for Sharon Stone’s career-making leg crossing, is rated R for mere “strong sexuality.” For the record, when Stone flashes her naughty bits they were bare. So let the record show that hair seems to be the qualifier between what is nudity and what is graphic nudity. Maybe I’ll write a dissertation on this some day.

As for another aside, how freaking cool is the name Zwartboek? It sounds like some fun term I’d come across in the pages of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Dutch language is a tad bizarre for my American ears; it’s sounds like a mixture of English and German, and sometimes it seems like a subtitled sentence is actually direct English. I know I can’t stop saying “zwatboek” around my home in place of gasps and curses.

Black Book is Verhoeven’s first Dutch language film in over 25 years, and it also feels like he’s enjoying movies again after his bad experiences across the Atlantic. I welcome more entertaining Dutch films from their favorite filmmaking son. He may not be he most subtle man behind a camera, but we already have plenty Terrence Mallicks and Gus van Sants to bring confounding contemplation to movies. We need more people like Vanhoeven who know how to please the sense, kick you in the balls, and make you grateful for the experience.

Nate’s Grade: B

In the Land of Women (2007)

Nepotism is about as prevalent in Hollywood as venereal diseases. Plenty of people get their foot in the door because they just so happen to share genetic material with successful filmmakers. It happens all the time in the world of business, and movies rake in the cash, so the Kasdan clan isn’t any exception to the rule. Papa Lawrence has a storied pedigree. He’s responsible for Body Heat, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, and two, count ’em, two Star Wars movies (the good ones). His oldest son Jake has directed Zero Effect and Orange County. Now younger son Jon Kasdan is taking the leap into the family business with In the Land of Women.

Carter (Adam Brody) is a Los Angeles writer for soft-core pornography. He?s just been dumped by an up and coming Spanish actress (Elena Anaya). He feels lost and comes up with a plan that will help inspire him to write his serious novel that’s been gestating for ten years. He heads out to a small Michigan suburb to live with his crabby hypochondriac grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). Across the street is a glum family. Sarah (Meg Ryan) is coping with raising a family and undergoing chemotherapy for the lump in her breast. Her teen daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart) is full of angst and hates her mom. Carter inserts himself into the family’s life and may just heal longstanding wounds.

In the Land of Women is a strange experience because it feels like the entire movie is cobbled together by subplots. There doesn’t seem to be a strong central storyline, a strong central character, or any real connective tissue. You start to feel the lack of direction and discipline from Kasdan. The characters are all underdeveloped when they aren’t behaving in unbelievable manners. This is another drama where the characters take long strolls and wax introspectively about their life, spelling everything out with rare clarity to strangers. This would be more permissible had the film presented any other avenue for character development. Ryan gets the sick mom storyline, Stewart gets the awkward and angry teen storyline, and Dukakis gets the crazy grandma storyline. It may be a land of women but these aren’t very well constructed women, and I’m uncertain what exactly Carter has learned from this supposedly life-changing experience. He met some women, he listened; in fact, I think that’s where the film takes its first wrong turn. Carter is a self-described great listener, so guess what happens when he meets women who have bottled up their secrets and true feelings? Yep, he listens. And we watch him listen for most of the movie. This allows characters to unload dramatic monologues that do the major work for characterization, but it still keeps our main character, the traveler to the titular land of women, as nothing more than a low-key cipher. He’s a handsome couch for the female characters to unwind. When Carter is typing his Big Serious Novel I’m clueless as to how he has changed as a person and how he reached his point of enlightenment.

I get the unmistakable feeling that Kasdan is really trying to make his own Garden State. This is another story of personal maturation and it takes places with a visit home to a simpler life with comic oddballs. He’s taken the elements that made Garden State click, including a hip and frequently heard soundtrack, but Kasdan must have missed the part where Garden State benefits from strong, likeable characters and a plot. Just like Carter, Kasdan is striving for something grandiose to say about the world, but the end results are no better, and no worse, than something you could catch on a nondescript cable channel. The movie is stuffed with familiar moments, like the bustling teen party, the precocious teen wise beyond her years, the feeble love triangles, and the asshole jock boyfriend. The handful of new wrinkles that Kasdan does explore is easily forgotten; Carter’s job deserves far more discussion. When the Hollywood life butts back in Kasdan doesn’t push the juxtaposition as hard as he should, so Carter’s troubles feel puny, especially compared with cancer. In the Land of Women has some touching moments to it and an occasional wise bit of dialogue, and they stand out amongst an otherwise underwhelming panorama.

In the Land of Women reaches its awkward peaks when it treats Carter?s mother-daughter interaction like two choices for romance. Carter is supposed to be 25, making him about 20 years younger than mom and 10 years older than daughter. In my book, that’s an “ick” on both accounts. Carter gets to smooch both women (hell, one of the kisses is the poster) and the audience gets to squirm both times. Our sense of guilt is alleviated by multiple characters telling us that Sarah’s father is having an affair, so then it shouldn’t matter if she finds understanding and warmth in the arms of a young emo pup. But what makes these sidesteps so awful is how clumsy and meaningless they prove to be.

The acting in the movie is well done. Brody is apt for a romantic comedy leading man. He’s got oodles of laid back charisma and a winning sense of humor that made him the breakout star of a prime time soap. He’s affable and enjoyable to watch, but his relaxed acting style doesn’t help an undefined character. Stewart is a wonderfully natural actress and largely communicates with her gangly physicality. She has the teen contempt down perfect and looks like an average teenager, which compounds how icky it seems to see her kiss Carter. Ryan hasn’t been onscreen in 3 years, and to tell the truth, I kind of missed her. She gets some standard emotional scenes as an afflicted, underappreciated mother and sells them well.

Jon Kasdan’s filmmaking debut isn’t going to do much to redefine his artistic image other than that of a lucky genetic benefactor. In the Land of Women is earnest and well acted, but the movie is just far too underdeveloped and shapeless to succeed. The film is a collection of non-starting subplots and familiar elements; you just feel that the movie needs a kick in the ass to get on track. The soundtrack is pleasant, the production is competently made, but the story is ultimately lacking and underwhelming. The land of women and men deserves better.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Smokin’ Aces (2007)

Writer/director Joe Carnahan (Narc) wants to impress an audience so bad with his muscular and macho gangster flick, but his Smokin’ Aces is vapid, nihilistic, and opines not to simply be a Tarantino rip-off, but a rip-off of a Tarantino rip-off. The premise seems ripe enough as we follow a rogue’s gallery of hitmen and killers trying to be the first to knock off a mob snitch/Vegas magician (Jeremy Piven) for a million dollar bounty. The colorful characters are introduced and some are quickly and unexpectedly taken out, but Carnahan never fully knows what to do with his bushel of baddies after he establishes their character quirks. The killers don’t really interact that much with one another and some of them hardly have any screen time at all; perhaps less would have been more in this jumbled stew. Carnahan throws out a few nifty visual tricks but it’s all superfluous and empty. Smokin’ Aces moves quickly, doesn’t make much sense in the beginning and end, and little to any of the characters have satisfying conclusions. So much of the writing feels like lame macho posturing without anything new or interesting to add to an overstuffed shoot-em-up. There are cops, robbers, plenty of gunfire, lesbians, and all sorts of convoluted twists, but it never holds together. Carnahan throws a lot of different elements together but they never extend beyond the elemental stage, so every storyline and character feels like an introduction that?s never capped off. The man has no idea what to do with what he’s started, and a karate kid on Ritalin is all the proof I need. Guy Ritchie did this territory far better service with the marvelously entertaining 2001 film Snatch. Rent that instead and save yourself the headache.

Nate’s Grade: D+

The Reaping (2007)

Forgive me father for I have sinned… I think The Reaping is not a terrible movie. Now, that would be damning praise in most circles, but when it comes to the notoriously implausible and awful genre of religious-based horror, well then “not terrible” is worthy of being brandished in the film’s ad. All of my fellow critics need to take a step down from the pulpit and see The Reaping for what it is: mild harmless fun.

Katherine (Hilary Swank) is a professor at Louisiana State who specializes in debunking claims of religious miracles. “38 miracles and 38 scientific explanations,” she says matter-of-factly. Katherine has something of a grudge against the Big Guy, being that she used to be a minister before her husband and daughter were murdered on an overseas missionary trip. Doug (David Morrissey) has a case only that only Katherine can crack. In the sleepy town of Haven, along the Louisiana Bayou, is being beset by Old Testament style plagues. The river has turned to blood and the Bible-beating townsfolk are itching to blame a little blonde girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who they feel could be the spawn of Satan.

The Reaping starts off with tiny amounts of promise and intrigue because of Swank’s character. She?s a globetrotting spiritual investigator and a skeptic that an audience can get behind. She has a checkered history and Swank uses glances and moments to make her seem convincing. The Reaping isn’t complicated when it comes to its spiritual message. It’s all about renewal of faith, and I?m not exactly certain how all the pieces add up but that’s the gist. The Reaping isn’t too deep when it comes to thoughts of any kind, but that doesn’t mean much from a genre that requires a healthy suspension of rationale thought.

As a horror movie The Reaping relies on routine jump scares and the occasionally jump cut to a dream or a flashback in Africa with a lot of loud, abrasive sound effects to jolt the viewer. The plagues themselves are kind of weak, especially when plagues of maggots and frogs are seen as being so contained and limited. For maggots, we see a grill loaded with fish now covered in maggots. We never get any other anecdotes of what may have been reaped by the maggot plague. The frogs fall for about ten seconds and only in one part of the swamp. These pathetically isolated incidents don’t do much to ratchet up any scares and they certainly belittle the powerful wrath of the Almighty. Then again, maybe God is trying to tell people in unorthodox ways to eat less meat, thus the ruined fish and diseased cows. The plagues lack some oomph when they just happen to a handful of people, especially when it comes to lice or boils. I think the small-scale plagues really say, “We blew our budget on that river of blood, but hey, that was pretty cool right?”

I don’t think I’ll ever utter these exact words again but here goes. The Reaping is a rather so-so movie that is mostly redeemed by an implausible and foreseeable twist ending. Yes, as horror and supernatural thrillers are go, twist endings seem pretty common place and often times forced, like the studio is dictating that they need something just a little extra to fool the audience into thinking they got their money’s worth. We as a movie watching society are so attuned to twist endings now that we can sniff them out like bad CGI. Twists generally become worked into the advertising campaign. The Reaping has some last-second turns to it, and even though I had my suspicions, I was quite pleased the movie walked the path it did. In fact, I would even go as far to say that it turned a spiritually thin schlocky horror movie into a moderately enjoyable spiritually thin schlocky horror movie. This is far from a good movie, but as a dumbed down genre flick it will be like home cooking for the right audience. Now, I cannot defend the gaps in logic brought about by the twists in The Reaping, and you will be spending the rest of your day coming up with a new problem every minute (the line ?some people just don’t wanna go to heaven? takes new life). The film takes one step too far with trying to up the ante. Just know that the upcoming crisis in Katherine’s life has been solved by a little thing called Roe vs. Wade.

Director Stephen Hopkins has some stinkers to his resume, chief among them 1998’s abominable Lost in Space, so he will take kindly to having his latest film deemed “not terrible.” Swank struts around in a tank top in the balmy South, gets knee-deep in blood, and convincingly sells this nonsense as only a two-time Oscar winner can. The scares are clunky and the story is rife with lots of explaining for a 90-minute movie built around the simple concept that the devil is nasty. The Reaping will play best for fans of the religious horror genre as well as those willing to lower their expectations. This isn’t a good movie, but then again, it’s not terrible.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Grindhouse (2007)

The movie going experience isn’t what it used to be, and Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez want to do something about it. There?s no denying that the joy of seeing a movie has been watered down a bit; there’s soaring ticket prices, floundering product, and let’s not forget the influx of teenagers with cell phones. Rodriguez and Tarantino grew up gorging upon the exploitation films at their neighborhood grindhouse, where they could see kung-fu, blaxploitation, gory Italian zombie movies, and nearly anything that promised to be titillating and shocking. These movies dealt in copious amounts of sex and violence on a shoestring budget and teenagers lapped it up. Grindhouse was designed to be a double feature with Rodriguez and Tarantino each writing and directing an 80-minute movie. This three-hour plus movie is stuffed to the gills with 70s reverence, right down to cheesy retro clips telling us the film rating via an animated cat. If Rodriguez and Tarantino could, they probably would make the floors stickier just to round out the experience. But that’s the marvelous thing about Grindhouse –– it turns the filmgoing experience into an event once again.

First on the bill is Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. An outbreak is about to sweep across a small Texas town. A toxic green gas is causing people to break out in festering wounds that are spreading rapidly. Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) is a go go dancer who runs into an old flame, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a badass drifter with a dark past. They get attacked by a group of “sickos” who take Cherry’s leg as a chew toy. At the hospital we’re introduced in rapid succession to Dr. Block (Mary Shelton) and her creepy husband (Josh Brolin) she plans on leaving for the lovingly massive cleavage of Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas (she gets eaten and can, one assumes, be described as being Fergilicious). The sheriff (Michael Biehn) has an unsettled score with Wray and refuses to trust him, even though the town is slowly being overrun by what appear to be zombies. The survivors take refuge at a Bar-B-Q joint, run by the sheriff’s brother J.T. (Jeff Fahey), located only two miles away from the military outpost that released the gas.

Planet Terror is a great blast of fun, a perfect ode to schlocky B-movies. Rodriguez creates action movies closer to cartoons, and the more over-the-top and crazy things get the more joyous his films generally turn out. This is a gonzo world cranked up to a wonderfully weird wavelength, where Cherry can have a machine gun leg without any nagging question on how she even gets it to fire let alone why it would be more accurate. It doesn’t matter because this movie is all about 80-minutes of awesome, twisted, gloriously gory fun. Planet Terror isn’t the first zombie comedy, and its inspirations are quite plain, but the film establishes a wide-range of colorful characters effectively and then ramps up the chaos. Rodriguez amuses with even small touches, like a woman trying to operate a car with a anesthetized hands, a pair of skimpy babysitters who clobber a car with baseball bats, and a bio-chemical scientist (Naveen Andrews) that has a penchant for collecting and bottling the testicles of the men who fail him (hey, we all need hobbies). Even amongst an exaggerated canvas there’s still plenty of humor and adoration for the grindhouse experience, like when the beginning of a sex scene is interrupted with a “reel missing” sign. Rodriguez also intentionally downgrades the look of his film, adding hairs and scratches and pops in the film to look like it had been dragged across the floor. Planet Terror even has a dreadfully dated synth score to compliment the full-tilt celebration of splattery schlock.

Tarantino’s Death Proof is going to sharply divide audiences. The action in Planet Terror is relentlessly paced, which makes the adjustment to Tarantino?s half all the more hard. Rodriguez is all about genre relevance and making a film that would excel in the grindhouse era; Tarantino, on the other hand, is all about taking the genre and catapulting it into something ambitious and different and greater.

Death Proof is Tarantino’s take on the slasher horror genre, with the unique twist being that Tarantino?s roving killer takes out his prey with his car. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a stuntman of the old guard. The youth of the day have no idea of the TV shows he worked on or the celebrities he rubbed elbows with. The only lasting visages he has from those removed days are a long scar decorating the side of his face and his stunt car. The vehicle has been outfitted to be death proof, meaning that Stuntman Mike can get into any wreck and come out alive. A group of women are visiting Tennessee for a film shoot. Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) is a makeup artist, Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an actress, and Zoe Bell (herself) and Kim (Tracie Thoms) are professional stuntwomen. The stunt ladies are interested in test-driving a Dodge Charger, the same iconic car used in Vanishing Point. Zoe wants to play a dangerous game known as “Ship’s Mast,” which entails strapping herself to the hood of the car as it speeds along. This is when Stuntman Mike comes roaring with his death proof material and plays an extreme game of chicken.

The narrative structure of Death Proof is deliberately slow. The focus is on a group of Texas girls (including Sydney Poitier’s daughter named, rather unoriginally, Sydney Poitier). They dance to jukebox jams and drink. And they talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. The dialogue is clever but you worry Tarantino has been hypnotized by his own pithy writing. The movie drags a bit but mostly because it follows a film that had the pace of a runaway train. The slow buildup is an intentional correlation to slasher films, which would spend their first half hour setting up characters for the eventual slaughter. I liked how Stuntman Mike was seen playing with his prey and interacting with them. The wait is worth it, though, but then Tarantino turns around and repeats this same setup with a new batch of girls. Many will grow impatient going through the same process all over again and become irritated that they have to endure another round of talky pop culture diatribes in order to get to some more vehicular manslaughter. And at this point, the only character the audience has any affinity for is Stuntman Mike, so it’s a little tough to wait so long for his reappearance. When he does appear, the movie takes some unexpected turns and transforms into a female revenge thriller that left my audience cheering by its conclusion. My wife loved it. I married the right woman.

The makeup work is outstanding. Most of the effect work gets its spotlight during Rodriguez’s half, and Greg Nicotero and KNB have created the most gut churning, sickeningly inventive makeup work since John Carpenter’s The Thing. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is dripping in blood, and the gore is heightened to such an unrealistic, comical degree that it becomes more tolerable and, in the end, another element in the overall outrageous vibe of the film. Some memorable gore work includes makeup pioneer Tom Savini being ripped apart like a child’s jigsaw puzzle, soldiers whose faces undulate and bubble until they look like close relatives of the Elephant Man, and a truck smashing against bodies like they were made of paper and filled to the brim with Kool-Aid. This is the kind of movie where entire hoses of blood explode from single gun shot wounds. It is a gory, gruesome, sticky icky movie but that?s part of the fun.

Whereas the makeup work shines in Planet Terror, the stunt work in Death Proof is stupendous. Bell was Uma Thurman’s stunt double in the Kill Bill tandem, so by writing a part specifically for her Tarantino knew he could get up close and personal during the scary moments. Seeing Bell struggling to stay atop the hood of a car zooming at 80 miles per hour is nerve-racking and exhilarating, and you know there isn’t any computer trickery given how Tarantino’s own characters bemoan how computers have blunted action cinema output. That really is Bell and even though it’s all a movie a part of you does think, “Oh my God, this woman is going to die for real.” This killer bumper-car sequence in Death Proof will have you holding your breath. It takes much longer for Tarantino to rev up his action, but when he does he puts the pedal to the mettle.

But don’t get up for pee breaks once Planet Terror is over, because you may miss some of the best parts of Grindhouse. In between the feature films are three fake trailers directed by friends of Tarantino and Rodriguez, who made a fake trailer himself for Machete, about a Federale (Danny Trejo) out for revenge. The Machete trailer gave me the everlasting gift of a line, “They f***ed with the wrong Mexican.”

The best trailer, hands down, is Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright?s trailer for Don’t, a Dario Argento style horror film where a narrator instructs the audience lots of items not to do (“If you are thinking about turning this door… DON’T! If you think about going into the basement… DON’T!”). What makes Don’t so wonderful is that the trailer builds a thick head of steam, to the point where all wee see are bizarre rapid-fire images and the announcing repeating the message, “DON’T!” The momentum builds to a great comic high that left me giggling.

Eli Roth, who gave us Hostel and Cabin Fever, one of my all-time favorite filmgoing experiences, runs a close second with his slasher trailer for Thanksgiving. The concept is rather straightforward, a person dressed as a Pilgrim picks off residents around Turkey Day, and a great showcase for Roth’s sense of tongue-in-cheek homage and his warped sense of humor. This trailer has some gasp-inducing moments, chiefly among them a topless cheerleader who performs the splits right onto a knife blade. Wow. Then there’s a guy humping a stuffed turkey with a human head attached. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Roth is one sick bastard but he’s my kind of bastard.

Rob Zombie’s trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S. sounds better on paper than how it turns out. There’s a subgenre of Naziploitation films (did you know you could add “-sploitation” to damn near any word?), most famously popularized by Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S. Zombie?s trailer has got hairy wolf boobs, Nazis, shiny fetish outfits and S&M, but it feels too new and doesn’t work on the same vibe of Grindhouse. It feels too polished and too happy with itself; it spends more time telling you who’s in this fake movie than delivering anything juicy. The trailer is saved by a brilliant cameo by an actor whom I will not spoil, but suffice to say that I was left in stitches.

Honestly, I cannot say another movie released this year that provides more bang for your buck than Grindhouse. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s double bill will leave you giddy. This is the fastest 3 hours and 10 minutes of your life, folks. Unfortunately, the film hasn’t been doing as well at the box-office and this has caused the Weinsteins to contemplate splitting the films into two to make the most of their investment. I suppose Grindhouse was never going to have a 300-sized audience, since the idea of making a sloppy three-hour love letter to trashy cinema seems destined for a limited appeal. This is a high-art tribute to high camp, and you really do feel you get more than your money’s worth even if you pay, like I do, 10 bucks a pop for a show. I can’t imagine having a better time at the movies this year than the one I had during Grindhouse.

Nate’s Grade: A

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