First time seeing the whole Grindhouse since I saw it in 2007, in my most entertaining theater excursion of that year. I have since seen Death Proof many times but I had never revisited Planet Terror or the fake trailers. So much fun.
It's interesting, too, the different approaches taken by Rodriguez and Tarantino here. On a double bill, the "B" movie was the second one shown; it was assumed to be the lesser effort. The opposite is true here, both from a marketing perspective and in terms of quality.
Rodriguez throws everything he can think of into his extremely gory exploitation spoof, and it's a good time. But, as with so much of his work, Planet Terror is as slipshod and overwrought as it is gleefully malign. It's a lot of fun, but weightless—three stars.
Tarantino, on the other hand, for my money, delivers one of his best films—an unpopular opinion, to be sure, but every subsequent viewing for me only confirms this view. In form, Death Proof is a car horror/serial killer-cum-rape revenge exploitation flick. Functionally, however, Tarantino delivers a Bechdel-acing, feminist thriller, full of his trademark loquacity, bravura directing and at least seven sharply differentiated women whose greatest delight is each other's friendship—five stars.
The slow-burn, talky setups to each half of Death Proof helps the film pay off tremendously, in the first section in a nauseating death by stunt car sequence and in the second section in what is arguably the greatest car chase in film history. Between Planet Terror and Death Proof a meta-argument about new-school and old-school filmmaking takes place. Terror's funny, but absurdly over-the-top effects, is contrasted with Proof's literally strapping one of its characters to the hood of a speeding muscle car (stuntwoman Zoe Bell, playing herself), while said car is repeatedly smashed by another speeding muscle car. The scene is gut-wrenching, heart-in-throat action, earned all the more because we have gotten to know Zoe Bell and understand that she's really doing the stunt.
On this viewing, though, I found myself paying even closer attention to the relationships between the women, which are as joyous, fraught and complex as any real women's friendships. Yes, the dialogue is stylized, heightened, but Tarantino's genius here lies in his creation of friendship dialects that feel exclusive, unique and authentic, even if we don't catch everything at first—because we are not in the circle yet.
In a way, it's because he is not tackling an Important Topic here that the film feels so fresh and buoyant. It's not Quentin vs. the Nazis or Quentin vs. Slavery or Quentin's ultimate statement on Hong Kong cinema. It's Quentin's Women—always his downtime subject anyway—and they are thrillingly alive.