Hey guys. Uh, the “Lifeforce” watching is taking longer than I thought it would, but in the meantime, I thought I’d give you a different review, and one of a double feature, to boot. So, look at this as two-and-a-half reviews in one. What’s the half? Well, you’ll see in a little. For now, let’s talk about the feature-length movies, “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof.” (As usual, if you don’t wish to see a bunch of horrible violence and gross scenes, don’t watch this movie. By all mean, read on, but don’t watch the movie.) Let’s start with the first feature, “Planet Terror.”
For the most part, the story here accomplishes what it set out to accomplish, with the only exception being the ending, where it’s not addressed how the world survived the presumed outbreak at all. But it’s totally forgivable when you look back at the fun time the movie was up to that point, and the overall quiet mood of the last scene is a decent decompressor after the crazy stuff of the rest of the movie. It’s one heck of a thrill ride, and the story only goes slow during points where it needs to. If you were to look at the story from a purely academic standpoint, it’d be awful, but this ain’t that kind of movie, and the fact there’s a heavy dose of self-awareness that it has a (by most accounts) awful story means that writer and director Robert Rodriguez is able to focus on what the audience is expecting (lots of action, lots of high-octane stunts and lots of over-the-top violence), and somehow get those analytical thinkers in the audience to come along for the ride. I don’t know why, but this movie’s story got me right in the mood for what to expect, and for that, I salute it. But, that aspect of being intentionally (again, by most accounts) awful means that I can’t give a higher grade than…
Story Grade: 78% (C+)
This is, objectively, better than the story, but it still has plenty of issues. The only characters who aren’t blank slates (Dakota, the sheriff, etc.) are given one or two traits to identify them. This was, of course, done intentionally, but it does count just a wee bit negatively towards the total of the sum of its parts, as characters are pretty important to me. Thankfully, the characters aren’t insufferable unless they’re supposed to be. ([coughs] Doc Block.) This allows me to enjoy the movie on the virtue of not wanting to see the characters suffer. (Actually, now that I think about it, that seems to be a reason for the movie working so well.) Still, their lack of a fully-rounded personality holds me back from anything higher than a…
Characterization Grade: 82% (B-)
To the point, with a very wry sense of humor to the proceedings, to boot.
Script Grade: 85% (B)
This is one area where the movie really shines, and I can totally see the technical expertise of Mr. Rodriguez that put him on the map with his $7,000 debut film. (No, I am not understating the budget of his debut movie.)
Directing Grade: 88% (B+)
… What can I say? Given what’s happening around them and how ill-defined their personalities are, the actors do the best they possibly can. (And yes, I’m including pretty much every actor involved in that equation.)
Acting Grade: 85% (B)
Despite some explosions being there with no real context, the actual action is very well-done. The scenes with Cherry (or Palomita, or whatever she’d like to be called at the end) shooting people and mutants with a machine gun attached her leg stump without pulling the trigger while flying through the air to boot, especially, make not a lick of sense, but sometimes, it’s fun to give the middle finger to reality/logic and merely sit back and enjoy the show. And because of the way everything in the movie is constructed, this is definitely one of those times.
Action Grade: 100% (A+)
The way that things are executed is the reason this movie is so fun to watch. Even during the slower set-up periods of the movie, it’s constantly on the move, only pausing to catch its breath when it absolutely needs to.
Execution Grade: 95% (A+)
The story here is very simple. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. I could describe the story of the movie in one, maybe two paragraphs, and yet the movie has a lot of sitting around and talking to bring its running time up to even longer than “Planet Terror,” which, despite being the shorter movie, has much more story action in it. So, the question begs to be asked: Is the sitting around and talking interesting? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. I’ll have more on that in a moment, but the two final car chases and Stuntman Mike’s brutal beating make the movie… worth it, I guess? I mean, I’m glad I saw it, but I can certainly see why it’s often considered a weak Tarantino movie, even among his fans, and even though (confession time) I haven’t seen another movie of his yet. (Will I? Absolutely. Have I? No.)
Back to the story, though, I can’t say that it’s uninteresting, and it does deliver what it promises, but it takes a long time to deliver it. Honestly, as far as “carsploitation” movies go, I like “Mad Max: Fury Road” more. As for this movie, I can’t actually say I have much of an opinion on its story. At the time of writing, that’s never happened to me, and so I’m giving this area my first…
Story Grade: N/A
They’re a lot more interesting than the ones in “Planet Terror,” but that’s a low bar to clear, and they’re still rather two-dimensional. I liked spending time with them, but that’s mostly what I have to say.
Characterization Grade: 85% (B)
If you’re looking for dialogue that’s truly compelling or great or whatever, you’re not gonna get it; with that being said, the dialogue isn’t terrible, and even has a lot of witty jokes in it.
Script Grade: 80% (B-)
Solid, especially when it comes to the final two car chases and the dialogue said during them.
Directing Grade: 88% (B+)
Solid, but what else would one expect from a cast including Kurt Russell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosario Dawson?
Acting Grade: 88% (B+)
When it comes up, it’s pretty much every bit as good as “Planet Terror.”
Action Grade: 98% (A+)
What can I say? It’s well-done, but I was expecting such.
Execution Grade: 92% (A-)
Before I get to my concluding thoughts, I suppose I should bring up what I meant when I said at the beginning that this was two-and-a-half reviews in one. It’s because this movie has fake trailers. They don’t count towards the overall double feature, but let me give you my brief thoughts on them by ranking them and giving a brief overview of my thoughts on each of them. (I’m electing to leave out the Canadian-theater only trailer “Hobo with a Shotgun,” as I’ll save my thoughts on that one for my inevitable review of its feature-length adaptation.)
4. “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” Very bland and unmemorable in comparison to the others, but could be worse, especially considering writer-director Rob Zombie’s actual films. Two-and-a-half stars out of five.
3. “Thanksgiving.” More slasher movie violence, slasher-movie-related cheese, and black-humored Thanksgiving-related puns than you can shake a stick at. Not personally big on slasher movies, but still, three-and-a-half stars out of five.
2. “Machete.” The one with the most defined story, and more action-packed than a “trailer” has most rights to be. I thought for a minute about which was better, this or “Thanksgiving,” but since I like action movies more, I chose this one. Three-and-three-quarters stars out of five.
1. “Don’t.” This one is my favorite simply because it’s the one that made me laugh the most. It still has a lot of gory violence, but if you have the stomach for that, I’d actually recommend you looking for this one on YouTube to see for yourself. It not only works as a trailer for a phony Hammer-era horror film, but also as a great parody of those stupid trailers that sell themselves really aggressively without telling you a thing about what’s in the product they’re selling. I’ll stop here, as I could gush about it for a while, so… four-and-a-half stars out of five. In the words of Joe Bob Briggs, “check it out.” (Bonus points for you if you got that reference. Oh, and it was directed and written by “Baby Driver” director Edgar Wright, just so you’re aware.)
In the end, this double bill is worth it for three out of the four fake trailers and “Planet Terror” alone, and even my personal lack of a defined opinion on “Death Proof” can’t bring it down. If you’re in the mood for a violent, nonsensical and crazy turn-off-your-brain movie, check this double bill out, but do be prepared to be stumped about what to think of the second feature.
Final Objective Grade for “Planet Terror”: 80% (B-)
Final Personal Grade for “Planet Terror”: 90% (A-)
Final Grade for “Death Proof”: N/A
Collective Grade: 81% (B-)
And that’s just about all I have to say. Look out for my review of “Lifeforce” later today.