The hype had been huge and mainly because of the failed release in the U.S. where Quentin Tarantino's film showed as part of a double bill alongside Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, both Grindhouse films with fake trailers in the middle. It sounded like a cinema fan's dream, and then the reviews came out.
The figures for the first weekend were terrible and reviews were harsh. Before we knew it the Weinstein's had pulled the plug on the double bill release in the UK and it was coming out as two separate films. That went the same for the rest of the world as well as the corresponding DVD releases. Suddenly Grindhouse was split and the fans weren't happy.
So I had a chance to see what all the fuss was about and try to find out what Tarantino's film was all about and why it wasn't so well received. Was it really just because the double bill was too long and people hadn't bought tickets for it? I couldn't believe that. At least I had the chance to see one of the films.
Looking back on the start of the film you can see the front end is heavily loaded with those Grindhouse moments. It’s almost as if Tarantino was shouting and pointing “look, this is what grindhouse is all about” to get it out of the way and move on with the film. We saw plenty of scratches, colour loss, missing reels, jumps, and so on.
In a way it almost feels like an upfront apologetic explanation. “The film is going to be this way because…” and it isn’t just left to play out on its own, perhaps the thinking was that it wouldn’t be accepted as anything else than copying the styles and ideas from old and cheap filmmaking.
I think that’s very wrong though, because the film actually does stand up on its own very well. In fact once these effects get out of the way, which they do after a little while, we move on with the film and you start to get pulled into the story.
They do come back occasionally through the film as quick reminders, but from here on they are much less intrusive and actually add to the style – for example the black and white section isn’t something that overly annoys you, but it’s the change back to colour that really hits the screen and gives you a strong hit. The colour of the cheerleading outfit, the bold colour of the gorgeous car, it’s a really good scene.
During the film there are a couple of standard Tarantino trademarks which stick out from the film and are becoming a bit of a weight around the Director’s neck. The first is the stereotypical arrogant, overly swearing speech makers, and there are two of them in this film and they are both instantly annoying and grating.
It’s fair to say that the first one we encounter is the most annoying, the character of Jungle Julia played by Sydney Tamiia Poitier. She's a strong and very beautiful actress, but you can hear Tarantino's brain speaking through her character along with every other speech making character he's written before, and it's getting a little tiring.
She comes out with the continual speeches, the rolling line after line, and the fast delivered words, and it just doesn't work. It stilts and falters, and pulls away from the work the rest of the story is doing.
In fact I'd go so far as to say that these speech making lines really stand out like a sore thumb when they are up against the natural tilt of the excellent and stunning Vanessa Ferlito who plays Butterfly.
The second time this character appears is in the guise of Kim, played by Tracie Thoms. For some reason though she isn't as grating as the character of Julia, I think this is most because of her lack of rampant speech making, and also that the character is a lot more fleshed out and grounded. Still, it does grate, but she fits more with the group dynamic and she feels like she's more part of a group of friends than Julia.
Even though, you do get the feeling that Tarantino has sat there and though “let's see how many times I can fit motherfucker in this sentence”.
There are two other moments that belong to another Tarantino trademark that just should be put to retirement, and that's the elongated group speech/rant that we first saw in Reservoir Dogs. There are two moments where the female groups go off on a rambling discussion that doesn't feel quite real and takes away from the story line. They both last too long and the second time it happened I actually realised that I had just switched off from the film and was willing the scene to end.
So let's talk about the performances in the film, because it has some big names. All the girls were really good in the film, and the casting is strong. However it was Vanessa Ferlito and Rosario Dawson who took the lead for me, both giving natural and strong performances, Dawson more so.
There's something about when she gets into full delivery that just makes her seem so relaxed and so real with her lines. She's not only gorgeous but a fantastic actress.
Sorry though, the winner on the gorgeous stakes for me was Ferlito. She does carry the same acting talent as Dawson, she's got this natural delivery and a superbly emotive and gorgeous face. Oh, and she's not overly thin than most Hollywood actresses, and I think that's gives her the edge in the good looking stakes.
Anyway I'm not judging the actresses on looks...well I was, but that wasn't the main point. Dawson and Ferlito give the best female performances in the film, but something has to be said about Zoë Bell.
She's originally a stunt woman with a background in gymnastics and martial arts, and was really brought to the fore in the documentary Double Dare which profiled her and her friend Jeannie Epper and their work in the stunt business. Since working on Kill Bill Tarantino obviously thought that there was enough talent in her for a leading role, and he was right.
The early scenes for Bell do give her the feeling that she's a little out of place, but she soon settles in and is giving a good performance and showing great timing as well. Not only that but she's a stuntwoman, and a damn good looking one at that.
Her work on the front of the Dodge Challenger is superb and looks amazing on the cinema screen, who needs CGI when you've got stunt people like this. Unfortunately her throw from the car has been edited out and kills the following joke, frankly it seems like an insane decision to remove that short scene.
Russell is superb, and here he delivers another amazing character and packs him with bags of charisma and at the same time making him look and feel incredibly dangerous. He has such a great on screen presence and I wish he would use it a lot more than he does.
I can taste a Russell mini-film festival happening at the Filmstalker household.
Stuntman Mike's arrival is very cooly done and his speeches are excellently written and performed – you see, Tarantino can do it without resorting to the old gimmicks. His encounter with Butterfly is perhaps one of the strongest moments of the film and the two actors perform superbly off of each other. One pouring charisma and quiet deadliness while the other fear and a mixture of curiosity and a strange attraction. I loved that scene, and Russell's speech is chilling.
There are many great scenes for him and his character, but another two deserve a mention. His hundred percent death proof speech is the turning point of his character and the film and is delivered hard enough to chill the audience. Oh yes, you could believe he's a vicious and deadly animal.
One other moment is the one where he's just about to leave the first bar and the girl's car races off behind him, he turns to look to camera, which in most films would so easily have failed, but here his acknowledgement to the audience is perfect. He plays it for all it's worth and hits it head on.
There are a couple of other stars of the film, the cars. They look and sound superb in the latter half of the film and the chase sequences are very well done. They had me as tense as any chase scene I've...well, seen. Tarantino really poured his heart into this part of the film and it shows. Of course it helps that I love powerful cars.
Note to self: Dodge Charger is added to the list of possible cars to rent while on holiday in the U.S. next year.
There are some missed moments though, not just with the edited fall of Bell, but with other, bigger moments in the film that just don't seem to have been made enough of.
One is the sequence where the girls are racing along the side road looking to rejoin the main road where Stuntman Mike is racing. I didn't feel the tension I thought I was supposed to, would they make it back on in time, and there wasn't enough made of the fact that Mike didn't see them but we did.
With the tension not raised enough I thought the moment that they rejoined lack a certain power and we just watched it rather than feel it.
Likewise the car rolls at the end of the film weren't as dramatic as expected and left me feeling that there should have been some more to the ending of the chase. I did feel a little let down by that anti-climactic moment.
Then we moved forward to the fist fight, something that really felt a bit long in the tooth and seemed to step away from the film we had just been watching. Perhaps that would be put down to the Grindhouse effect again, but it didn't work for me.
All in all though I can't see why this film really got the response it did, was it really just down to the doubling up with another feature? Honestly, I can't believe that, especially as the word is that Rodriguez's film is even better, there has to be something else to it.
Still the rest of the world now has no choice, both the cinematic and DVD releases will be split into two separate films. Perhaps one day we'll see a Director’s Cut DVD released with both films, unedited, along with all the fake trailers. We can but hope.
In the meantime this is a much better film that critics have claimed and box office takings in the U.S. have shown. Perhaps though, and I do mean it, cutting them was right.
UK IMDB Film Details
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2007 News and Reviews