Friday, April 13, 2007

Death Proof

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The second half of Grindhouse (after some tonally uncertain mock trailers) is Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, an ode to '70s car chase films and the story of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and his two attempts to use a "death-proof" stunt car to kill carloads of young women.

I've been as up and down on Tarantino as anyone over the years, and I'll give a quick summary:

  • Reservoir Dogs: I'm the only person I know who has seen this in a theater. Structurally daring, live-wire performances, and I thought a great overcoming of the limitations of budget.

  • Pulp Fiction: This is of course where everyone got on board with QT, and I was no exception. I still like the film today, though not as much as I did back then. The attempts to be cool, mostly involving Travolta, and the ironic attitude towards violence haven't worn well. Also, I have to admit that part of the reason I was so excited about it was that a woman I liked was all about us going to see it together. (see here)

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  • True Romance: Tarantino wrote it, Tony Scott directed. I still look at this film every time it comes on cable. I have to say that I care more about what happens to Clarence, Alabama, and Clarence's father (a great turn from Dennis Hopper) than I do about any character in a film QT has directed (except maybe....)

  • ...Jackie Brown: My favorite QT directed film. Thanks Elmore, Pam, Bridget, Sam, and Bob. (Also an issue of a crush turning me on to this one)

  • Kill Bill: A disappearance into style, and in my opinion a complete disaster. I certainly don't claim any originality of thought on this, but it's the lack of any attitude at all towards violence that disturbs me the most. I hope QT has gotten it out of his system.

    So that brings us to Death Proof, and I'm pleased to say it's good to see an entertaining if minor work from QT. He loves his actresses, and with apologies to Grier and Thurman I think Death Proof is his greatest mash note yet. The first group of ladies (Sydney Poitier and Vanessa Ferlito get most of the camera time) smoke, drink, and listen to music while waiting for a connection to show up. There's more fun and humanity in the writing and performance here than anything I've seen from QT in a long time, but I was unprepared for how much I liked the second group of women we meet.

    Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, and real-life stunt woman Zoe Bell take center stage after a car test drive turns into a battle with Stuntman Mike. Other critics have noted that QT didn't make a "Grindhouse" film, he made a QT film. That's 100% right, and the women of Death Proof sound just like the men of other QT films - shooting the bull and rendering their lives almost indistinguishable from the pop culture they experience. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed QT's characters, as opposed to the nihilistic love of style for style's sake that has been on his mind the last few years.

    I want to close with a quote from blogger Matt Zoller Seitz, from a long and important post at his blog called "My Tarantino Problem and Yours:"

    My Tarantino problem in a nutshell is that I recognize the things that he’s trying to do, and I concede that if the goal is to create an entertaining movie that is very much about other movies and very much informed by film history, then Tarantino has to be considered a major, major success, there’s no doubt about it; but as I get a little older, and get further away from my twenties, I look back on my positive review of Pulp Fiction, and I cringe a little bit, because what I’ve come to value in movies more than anything else is emotion, and a sense of connection to life. That is the one thing that I think is consistently missing from Tarantino's movies, with a couple of exceptions, which I think we’ll get to as we go through his career film by film.

    An excellent summation. I don't read the meaning into QT's work that many do, but with Death Proof I feel as though I've been reunited with an old friend.
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