The style of “Grindhouse” films were something of a cult legend. More often than not, they were crazy over-the-top horror movies or action movies that had insane action that usually involved a body count that could rival an Arrrrrnold flic. These were referred to commonly as “B” flics due to the shoddy quality of the films. Video would be scratched up, missing reels were all over the place and audio would drop at the most inconvenient moment. More often than not they would be shown at some crusty drive-in for the change in your pocket. Fast forward to 2007 where Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez decided to resurrect the forgotten genre and brings us two movies (Death Proof and Planet Terror) to the screen.
The films unfortunately did not do so well at the box office. They were scrutinized for being too long (due to the Double Feature, the movie experience was roughly 4 hours) and many people just didn’t get “it”. When it came time for the two movies to be released on dvd, they decided to release them separately. Planet Terror would be released in mid-October and the focus of this review: Death Proof would be released in mid-September. I had the opportunity of picking it up at Best Buy with a special limited edition tin that included three discs rather than the standard two found in the other editions. Being the huge Kurt Russell fan, I leapt right in and paid at the counter.
The film can be divided into two parts. Each part has a set of girls that interact with the main male protagonist of the film, Stuntman Mike (played by Russell). The first set of girls include Jungle Julia, a local DJ (played by Syndney Tamiia Poitier), Arlene (played by Vanessa Ferlito), and Shanna (played by Jordan Ladd). They are driving around, spotting billboards with Jungle Julia on them as they head off to a local bar to hang out with a few guys before going to the lakehouse to spend the weekend. Stuntman Mike, face deep in nachos and virgin drinks is offering a ride to Pam (played by Rose McGowan), a local blonde in his “death proof” vehicle. Through a series of events (including a lap dance by Arlene), this leads up to an amazing car crash sequence and grizzly end of the first part of the movie.
The second part of the film features a new set of girls. This time, Zoe; a stuntwoman (played by Zoe Bell), Kim (played by Tracie Thoms), Abernathy (played by Rosario Dawson) & Lee, a model (played by Mary Elisabeth Winstead) round out the cast. The four girls head out to a house in the back woods after Kim and Zoe learn that the owner is selling a muscle car that is just like the one in Vanishing Point. Kim and Zoe decide they want to play “shipmast” when they test drive the car and after much pleading from Abernathy decide to take her along. Unfortunately, they decide to leave poor little Lee to tend with the owner. I suppose some things are best left to the imagination. (for which mine are too vivid). Meanwhile, the other three girls meet up on the road with Stuntman Mike who provides them with a car chase sequence that could certainly rival Vanishing Point and leads us to the unfortunate end of the movie.
For the first hour of the movie, the movie is amazing. It is shot in classic grindhouse style full of jumps, drop outs and grainy style. Stuntman Mike has one monologue in particular (We’ll call it the “Seduction”) that is downright Oscar worthy. The characters are interesting and the story makes sense. The girls have strong performances and actually make you care about their character. Once the movie turns to black and white and then full color is where the film starts to have trouble. This is where we are introduced to the rest of the girls and the film starts feeling very wooden. First, the grindhouse quality is gone and it turns into a rather ordinary & bloated revenge flic. I don’t have any problem with the film going in the revenge direction. That made sense. But how you turn Kurt Russell from this amazing and calculating mad man to a quivering pansy is beyond explanation. A more understandable scenario would be for the girls to come up with a plan that would outsmart Stuntman Mike and make the conclusion more satisfying. Instead we get him as a whiney bitch and a big WTF for the ending.
Furthermore, they mixed time periods with little or no regard. They had muscle cars and memorabilia directly out of the 70’s. Until they showed the cell phones and the IPods. If it was a true mixture, I would not have a problem with it. But they stick out so badly, that you just want to whack the offending characters with a large stick. (And no, I don’t care to know who Chris Simonson is since he has no bearing on the movie whatsoever). Before cell phones and Ipods there were such things as regular phones and radios. I know, I know; perish the thought. The other main issue I have is that every conversation seems like something borrowed from Pulp Fiction and other Tarantino-esque films. Branch out please and stop trying to reinvent the wheel with your dialog. Dialog and story direction aside, this film does deliver consistently in one area. The action, most importantly the stunts are something of wonder. Zoe Bell really shined here and her stunts with the car at the end are truly special. Not to mention, this is the real things folks; no CGI here. It’s a decent movie, don’t get me wrong; they just had a real chance to make something really special and fell short.
Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 is the setup here and is a very decent presentation. The effects for the first hour do make it hard to judge the quality. However when the print cleans up, it is adequate and does the job for the characters involved. But again, its hard to say this part has grain and the color crackles here. Well it’s supposed to do that. Furthermore, if it is not supposed to; who are we to know?
We get three flavors of audio here; English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French and Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital. We suffer from the grindhouse feel again and have scratchiness and complete audio drop out at times. It is supposed to be that way though. However, where this really shines is in the car chase or crash scenarios. The engines sound dead on, your speakers fill; surrounds energize, bass thumps and you scream “Kill those bitches!”. Wait, ummm that was just my house. Subtitles are also provided for English SDH and Spanish.
Death Proof International Trailer & International Poster Gallery – Elements they used abroad, some really nifty poster art and pictures.
Sneak Peaks – Planet Terror, 1408, Black Sheep (IFC – not Chris Farley & David Spade; I’m really speechless, if I get this sucker to review; it might be my best review ever), and Feast.
Scene Selection & Music Selection – I mention this only because of the music selection which enables you to go to a certain song in the movie which is really cool. Also three of the songs are extended thru this feature for your audiophile pleasure.
Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof 20:37 – Featurette that goes in depth about the great work behind the stunts of the film. Primarily capitalizes on the work of Buddy Joe Hooker and Traci Dashnaw. Fascinating feature here.
Introducing Zoe Bell 8:57 – The aussie is spotlighted here in her fantastic stunt and decent acting work. She has a lot of potential, especially in the stunt world and will continue to pop up in more than just Tarantino pictures.
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike 9:31 – A good feature about the other actors and their feelings about Kurt Russell. Kurt also talks for a bit about how he played the Stuntman. Always entertaining and always well spoken.
Finding Quentin’s Gals 21:12 – A featurette that shines the spotlight heavily on the two groups of girls in the film. Standard stuff as you would expect, but helps you to understand why certain girls were chose for certain parts. I’m surprised they didn’t bring up the dynamic of how the first set of four girls mirrored to some extent the second set of four girls. Guess it was too obvious to mention.
The Uncut Version of Baby It’s You (Performed by Mary Elisabeth Winstead) 1:47 – The entire cut of when Mary’s character Lee sings to her Ipod in the opening act of the second sequence. She has a lovely voice; it was nice to see it spotlighted here.
The Guys of Death Proof 8:14 – There were guys in this film besides Kurt Russell’s character? Like hell you say. Well the “guys” in the film get a short featurette and we find out that some of them are actually recognizable from other well known pictures. Go figure.
Quentin’s Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke 4:35 – A short featurette that goes into what Sally does for Quentin. However, they never actually show her which is odd (I guess she was edited out HAHA *sigh*, okay nevermind). This segment is mainly comprised of the stars doing “Hi Sally” moments knowing they will cut out of the final production film.
Double Dare Trailer 2:34 – This is the documentary film that showed the old (Jeannie Epper / Wonder Woman stunt woman) mixed with the new Zoe Bell (Xena, Charlie’s Angels 2) stuntwoman in Hollywood Today.
Disc Three (for those who bought the Best Buy Steel Tin Edition)
Grindhouse: Planet Terror / Death Proof: Featurette 24:15 – This featurette is split into 4 parts. Badass Girls, Renegade Guys, Hot Rods and Trailers of Grindhouse. As it sounds, it explains the females, males, cars and the awesome fake and real trailers that made up Grindhouse. Good promo featurette but sadly the only extra on this third dvd.
Death Proof is a classic case of an awesome movie that takes itself too seriously and goes downhill fast towards an ending that is a crying (or whiney) shame. That added to the grindhouse effect being inconsistent made for a movie hard to watch at times. The cast is strong for the first hour and then decides to go all wrong in the second. Kurt Russell’s character is amazing all around and I can safely say minus the last 15 minutes I enjoyed every second. The girls for the most part were decent in their roles and were certainly easy on the eyes. The dvd set was very well done with decent video and audio. The extras were awesome but I kept wishing for a Tarantino and/or Russell commentary as that would have brought it very close to a perfect score. For those who spent the extra dough on the Best Buy edition, you get a very nice steel tin case and a third disc with a decent length featurette. I am very eager to see Planet Terror (and the fake trailers) and await that to come out in less than a month’s time. Quick note; if you bought any copy of Death Proof, you will get a $5 coupon for Planet Terror.