3 posts categorized "Grindhouse"

July 26, 2019



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Tarantino’s Gen X Ode to Hollywood Also-rans Dazzles and Disappoints

Once_upon_a_time_in_hollywood_Quentin Tarantino has created a fetishistic cinematic grab-bag of self-referential filmic delights that soars more than it limps, but limp it does. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of chewy suspense, jaw-dropping performances, lush and grotesque visuals, and music cues to die for. Los Angeles has never looked better on film.

Then there’s this film’s thousands-of-cameos cast, each one bringing his or her A-game to the set. Spot if you can Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry, Michael Madsen, Clifton Collins Jr., Scoot McNairy, or Timothy Olyphant.

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Yes this movie is a pure freaking joy.

Repeated viewings are all but mandatory. There are exquisite car driving sequences that transport you to a place in Cinema you didn’t know existed. “Once Upon A Time” contains a delicious treasure trove of juicy narrative details to relish even if the film doesn’t work as well as intended. The movie doesn’t earn its phantasmagoric climax of violence. An inexcusable burst of voice-over narration poops the pool. One more edit could elevate this film from an A- to an A. There is no such thing as a perfect movie.  Tarantino seems to accept this as fact for his own idyllic creation.

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Satirically, this is Quentin Tarantino’s most personal movie for a host generational reasons. Thematic onion-layers of pop culture references run deep, wide, and continuous. The fantasy is set during the looming cataclysmic moment of the 1969 Charles Manson murders that upended Hollywood culture and put a final nail in the fight-the-subjugation-of-the-man hippie movement that helped fuel Cinema movements such as Blaxploitation and Grindhouse.


Revenge is a prominent motivating value at play. ‘50s and ‘60s American television and movies taught its citizens to kill, and kill they did. At least, that’s one trenchant dig that one of Tarantino’s theme-speaking characters articulates before this film’s inevitable bloodletting begins. Tarantino rubs his critics’ noses in the dirt, and leaves the audience to contemplate a coup de grace of Grand Guignol spectacle that hits you in the guts. How numb to violence have we become as a society? You’ll get a quiz when you see this movie. If you want gratuitous violence, you’ll get your fill.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Sexual politics of the era goes under a microscope. You learn a lot about a man by the blowjob he refuses. Dig the cool vibe of Brad Pitt's and Leonardo DiCaprio's characters' airtight bromance. Their overflowing joy at playing Tarantino's dynamic comic creations is infectious. Neither actor has ever been so undeniably exquisite.

Brad Kicks Bruce Lee

Right wing capitalist forces that paid ‘50s and ’60s era television to do questionable stuff like sell cigarettes to kids, are skewered within the context of the culture. Tarantino isn’t complaining. He’s telling it like it is/was from a kid who ate up every bit of an American culture that celebrated Bruce Lee, Evel Knievel, Clint Eastwood, and James Bond knock-offs (check out Richard Johnson in “Deadlier Than The Male,” the film that Tarantino screened on the beach in Cannes when he helmed the Palme d’ Or jury in 2004).


The maverick behind “Reservoir Dogs” takes a metaphoric approach to epochal cultural shifts that upended careers and realities overnight in a deceptively fragile Hollywood ecosystem. Poking fun at lazy actors, passionate directors, and even Bruce Lee, comes with the landscape of filtering American television and movie values of the era into a thematically and satirically rich movie. I dare say there is ten times more thematic and narrative detail in this film compared to any other that Hollywood has produced so far this year. Here is a lovingly prepared filmic buffet of entertainment influences that Tarantino digs for all of their silly and frequently perverse associations.


There’s a great party scene where Damian Lewis’s Steve McQueen points out Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) to a fellow partier, before switching his attention to Tate’s former fiancé Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsh). McQueen goes on to explain how Sebring still follows Tate around even though she broke off her engagement with him to become engaged to Roman Polanski. McQueen “never had a chance,” but he wanted one. Audiences into such Hollywood mythologies can chew on things like the famous actor who got away with killing his wife, Natalie. Enter Leonardo DiCaprio as television western series “Bounty Law” leading man Cliff Booth to chew scenery like toothpicks. Check out the actual ‘50s television series “Wanted Dead or Alive” with Steve McQueen for backstory.


Al Pacino delivers the film’s inciting incident in a hilarious comic turn playing talent manager Marvin Schwarzs. The bespectacled Mr. Schwarzs gives Cliff a head-spinning wakeup call about the terrible fate of Cliff’s fading career. Playing bad guys on a string of TV shows is a dead end. Whether or not Cliff heads to Italy to make spaghetti westerns with second tier directors, his days are numbered. The truth hits Cliff like a ton of bricks, but his longtime stuntman and personal assistant Rick Dalton (Brad Pitt) isn’t rattled by the inevitable demise of his bread-and-butter, namely Cliff Booth.

QT on Set
“Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood” is not Quentin Tarantino’s best film; it may not be his worst, that distinction goes to “Jackie Brown,” but this is his most flawed, possibly even knowingly, if not intentionally. You need grit to make a pearl. 

Leo & Brad

Like Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello, Quentin Tarantino has always stayed ahead of culture. Hypernormalisation is catching up. Cliff Booth can’t make the transition from television to film that some of his peers have successfully done. This film comes at a time when Cinema is dying, if it isn’t already deceased.

Margo Robbie-once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-ac-715p_be72e9948eb6022a8b2a438abe029ea5.fit-760w

Movie theaters are closing at a rapid rate because American culture has changed. Audiences don’t know how to act in theaters anymore. There’s always someone turning on a cell phone, or as was the case with the screening I attended, can’t be quiet for more than 40 seconds at a time before verbally commenting on the action on the screen. Hollywood is its own worst enemy. Making endless superhero franchise flicks aimed at 10-year-olds is burying the industry in its own filth. By that standard, "Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood" is a shining example of how different things could be.

Rated R. 161 mins.

5 Stars ColeSmithey.comCole Smithey on Patreon

Cole & Martin at the Tiger

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Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

September 01, 2010


Taste the Fury
Mexpliotation Comes to Town
By Cole Smithey

MacheteRobert Rodriguez's co-directed grindhouse fun-fest "Machete" is loaded with laughs, gore, and sly '70s-styled social commentary about America's current immigration crack-down. Rodriguez has coined the phrase "Mexpliotation" to describe his ironic reversal on vigilante films, such as "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish," that were considered by some at the time of their release to represent a fascistic rightwing mentality.

Machete Kills,' movie review - New York Daily News

Extrapolated from the faux movie trailer Rodriguez created for the Quentin Tarantino-partnered "Grindhouse," "Machete" follows former Mexican Federale Machete (played with gusto by Danny Trejo), whose wife was brutally murdered before his eyes when he worked as an agent, by a vicious drug lord played by Steven Segal.


While looking for day labor work a few years later in Texas, the illegal immigrant Machete is propositioned by Booth (Jeff Fahey), a wily local millionaire, to assassinate Austin Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) during an election rally in exchange for $150,000. In his off-hours, McLaughlin has a penchant for videotaping himself riding around with his redneck border patrol buddy Lieutenant Stillman (Don Johnson) to mercilessly shoot Mexican immigrants attempting to cross the border. Needless to say, Machete soon becomes public enemy numero uno, and wages a one-man war against the bigoted powers that oppress and kill his people. You can easily guess at his weapon of choice.


As hilarious as "Machete" is, and it is an especially uproarious movie, it's funnier still that there's an internet buzz about the film's potential to set off a race war in places like Texas or Arizona. Evidently, the film's tagline, "If you're going to hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy isn't you!" has struck a nerve. It can't go unmentioned that "Machete" is a 20th Century Fox film, so its paradoxical proximity to Fox News is exceptionally amusing.


The genius of the picture is that Rodriguez has found a way to hitch the film's thematic wagon to a real issue in the same way that B-movies of the '60s and '70s did for their subjects. It's fascinating to see the grindhouse visual and narrative dialectic retrofitted with such energy and attentiveness to detail. There's a looseness to the hyperbolic way violence occurs that sets the tone for the corruption that underlies all aspects of border life. It's a given that all politicians and corporate figures on both sides of the perimeter are in bed with one another. For his part, Danny Trejo is so unattractive that, like "Have Gun - Will Travel's" Richard Boone (on television 1957-1963), he's positively perfect.


Jumping in the sack with Michelle Rodriguez's revolutionary leader Luz, comes across as a match made in cult movie heaven. Soul-kisses with Jessica Alba's smokin' hot U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana drives home the message that Machete is a superhuman rebel who exists so far beyond the law that such a romantic union is inevitable. Obligatory nudity also comes with the territory as Machete proves he's just as much a lover as a fighter when he frolics with Booth's naughty wife and daughter (Lindsay Lohan).


"Machete" comes closer to "House of the Devil" as a retro-homage picture than a throwback action film like "The Expendables." Jagged quick edits and cracked film stock lend an intentional feel of disintegration. An apocalyptic impression of social collapse lingers over the movie like the smell of butane lighter fluid in a freshly filled Zippo lighter.


Blaxploitation films of the '70s like "Shaft," or the lesser-seen but more incendiary "The Spook Who Sat By the Door," served an important function of giving minority audiences an outlet for their day-to-day problems. Clearly, the time is ripe for Mexican audiences to have flaws in the American immigration system put on the big screen in an explosive and funny way. An NRA member would say, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people."

DC Outlook: Machete Kills Movie Review

In the case of Machete, his very name is the blade that decapitates an entire system of calculated prejudice. There's a defiant expressiveness here that is easily more sophisticated than any argument a news pundit could articulate about America's confusion over immigration. Machete doesn't need no stinking card to prove his citizenship, and neither does anyone else. You can taste the fury.

Rated R. 105 mins.

5 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

April 02, 2007



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!



Two For the Price of One

Tarantino & Rodriguez Wang It Up Old-School
By Cole Smithey

ColeSmithey.comThe palpable cinematic elation and hip vibe that wafts from the screen is more than contagious; it’s stupefying. In their overzealous double bill homage to the cheap grungy urban cinemas of yore, that featured an ever-changing orgy of back-to-back exploitation B-movies, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have created an unparalleled irreverent concoction of dueling films.

Loving attention is given to recreating the grindhouse experience of damaged film stock, melting celluloid, missing reels and trashy trailers that distorted the experience of watching something like 1974’s "Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry" coupled with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" beside an audience of snoozing bums and pot-smoking teenagers.


Rarely did the movies live up to the promise of their tantalizing posters and outrageous tag lines, but the experiences were nonetheless unforgettable. Here, the movies go far beyond anything you could imagine. It’s all about the pay-offs, and there are many.


The auteur directors share a proclivity for pulling out all the stops, and while Tarantino is famous for his take-no-prisoners approach it’s Rodriguez who pushes the limits of how many gross-out gags he can squeeze into every frame. Inspired by movies like "Zombie" and "Dawn of the Dead," Rodriguez’s "Planet Terror" leads off the set as a zombie thriller born of toxic green vapors released from a Texas military base. Cherry (Rose McGowan) quits her go-go dancer job before running into her former beau Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) at a local barbecue roadhouse.


Already, wedded doctors William (Josh Brolin) and Dakota (Marley Shelton) have been overrun with sicko patients (read: zombies) suffering from bubbling facial boils, repulsive skin lesions and marinated flesh that only momentarily disguises their bent for annihilation. Juicy fake-blood-bloated zombies explode under endless rounds of ammunition as Cherry is elevated to humanity’s salvation Queen after Wray replaces her freshly amputated leg with a machine gun that she inexplicably fires without the aid of pulling a trigger.


Tarantino appears briefly in "Planet" as a recently infected sadistic soldier who takes Cherry prisoner in the lower depths of the army base. There, he attempts to rape her with his less than kosher member. Wikipedia might discover a new definition for the term over-the-top from this groan-inducing scene alone. Ravenous movie fans will appreciate cameos from Maveen Andrews ("Lost"), Michael Biehn ("Aliens"), and makeup artist Tom Savini ("Dawn of the Dead") who gets his ring finger bitten off before he’s tossed upside-down against the broadside of a police cruiser.


An intermission between the movies comes complete with a restaurant spot featuring glimpses of remarkably unappetizing food. Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead"), Eli Roth ("Hostel"), Rob Zombie ("The Devil’s Rejects") and Robert Rodriguez each directed their own faux movie trailers with titles like "Werewolf Women of the SS" and "Thanksgiving" to elaborate on the ‘70s era mood of raunchy low-budget movie-going. The astonishing previews are glorious models of decade-accurate atmosphere, but with added touches of outrageous ironic humor. Gratuitous nudity and decapitations are punctuated with flashes of familiar faces, as with Nicholas Cage appearing briefly as a gleefully diabolical Dr. Fu Manchu.


"Death Proof," the fifth of Tarantino's deliberate career, draws on Richard C. Sarafian’s "Vanishing Point," and H.B. Halicki’s "Gone In 60 Seconds," as much as it does from the director’s personal predilection for slasher films and hot girls talking like splintered versions of himself. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) quietly invades Austin’s real-life Guero’s Taco Bar where a cluster of badass gal-pals (Sydney Poitier, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito) get their weed and drink on in preparation for a weekend getaway.


A nasty scar on Stuntman Mike’s face foreshadows events when he agrees to give lone hippie-chick Pam (also played by Rose McGowan) a ride home, but abruptly changes character once she gets in the passenger bucket of his skull-emblazoned "death proof" stunt car. What follows is the most horrific car crash ever intentionally committed to film. Mike is a deranged stalker who lives to mangle the bodies of pretty girls with his car. But he more than meets his match in the third act when he attacks a trio of film industry women driving a white Dodge Challenger, just like the car that Barry Newman’s Kowalski drove in "Vanishing Point."


Real-life New Zealand stunt woman Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in "Kill Bill") shows off her best daredevil skills in a car chase unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. As Tarantino has pointed out in interviews, he has officially thrown his hat into the ring of famous movie car chases.


The result is a white-knuckle experience that validates the stretches of goofy dialogue-heavy scenes that came before. It’s clear that Russ Meyer’s "Faster Pussycat, Kill!…Kill!" played into Tarantino’s version of "belted, buckled, and booted" female characters. In "Death Proof" alone, Tarantino gives more roles to female actors than three Hollywood films put together.


Say what you will about Tarantino’s functional embrace of the n-word in his characters’ ever-spicy dialogue; this do-it-all writer/director/cinematographer knows how to up the stakes on bad girls with fast cars. Haaruumph!

Rated R. 191 mins.


Cozy Cole


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