Thursday, July 9, 2009

Planet Terror (2007)

You guys are lucky I didn't have a blog when Grindhouse first came out, because guess what is the only movie I would have wanted to talk about for at least a month? I would have gone on and oooon about how fantastic the concept is, how spot-on the fake trailers are, how cool Zoe Bell is in Death Proof, how Rodriguez has awakened my love of the zombie genre, how Rose MacGowan has a goddamn machine gun for a leg. It would have become quite tiring, surely. Lucky for you, the films were released on DVD separately, and the trailers weren't included in either release, meaning I can not truly re-live that amazing theater experience. But I will talk at length about everything that's awesome about the first half, Planet Terror.

My friend and I have been educating each other on zombie movies (hence my recent viewing of 28 Days Later and yes, I understand it is not a "true" zombie film) so I immediately snatched up the opportunity to see Planet Terror again. It kicks off with a silly faux-trailer from Rodriquez for Machete, starring Danny Trejo as a vengeful, blade-wielding Federale and Cheech Marin as a priest with a gun. Awesome. When the movie really begins, it's just Rose MacGowan go-go dancing in a dim bar and crying silently before leaving the stage, all to a killer main theme. Her character, Cherry Darling, quits the job immediately after, citing a need for "a drastic change" in her life. Meanwhile, there is a top-secret military deal going down nearby. Scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews) is selling some kind chemical substance to soldier dudes led by Lt Muldoon (Bruce Willis), but things go wrong and some testicle-chopping is followed by a poisonous gas leak and melting faces. It is pretty ambiguous at this point.

Meanwhile still (meanwhiler?), Dr Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) and her husband Dr William Block (Josh Brolin) awake for their night shift. Dakota is secretly trying to leave her controlling husband, taking their young son Tony (Rebel Rodriquez, one of the director's kids) with her and former girlfriend Tammy (Stacy Ferguson aka Fergie from that band). While at the hospital, myriad cases of highly contagious viral infections come pouring in, as well as multiple violently torn-apart DOA's. Cherry soon becomes a patient, after she gets in a car accident with her ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodríquez), who was giving her a ride, and her leg is torn off by freakish humanoid creatures.

Wray is arrested for carrying a gun (he has done something criminal in the past that resulted in some measure against his gun-holding), but when Sheriff Hague's (Michael Biehn) office is attacked by these crazy infected people, Wray and what's left of the police force head to the hospital so he can get Cherry. Of course this is the center of the outbreak, where everyone had gone for infection treatment before turning into brain-eating zombies (again, I know they're not technically raised-from-the-dead zombies, but please, let me use the term). Wray slices up a bunch of zombies, finds Cherry, gives her a table leg to walk on, and the group makes it to the BBQ restaurant owned by JT (Jeff Fahey), the sheriff's brother. It is surprisingly well-equipped with transportation and guns.

Meanwhile again, Dakota finds Tammy killed by zombies and is almost killed by her husband, so she breaks out of the hospital and picks up Tony before driving to her father's (Michael Park) house. Eventually everyone winds up at JT's place, hoping to make it out of the area. They're taken in by the group of soldiers from the beginning to be "quarantined". Some gross things happen, some badass things happen, some explosions happen, and the gang does their best to make it to Mexico alive, hoping to "put their backs to the ocean and protect themselves there".

Wow that was long, sorry. But I wanted to give a clear picture of how interesting and inter-connected the story is. It's legitimately really well-plotted, with lots of great characters and unexpected developments. It sounds too character-heavy from a written summary, but Rodriguez does a really good job introducing everyone and giving them each the right amount of attention. Cherry is the main star, I'd say, along with Wray and Dakota to a slightly lesser extent, so it's not like a big confusing ensemble with no one as a focus. The dialogue is excellent, riding the line between self-aware cheesiness and downright hilarity. It's a great nod to the often overly dramatic or poorly structured writing of some B-movies.

The performances are top-notch, with the actors taking their roles seriously enough for the audience to care and lightly enough to keep it from being overdone. Rose MacGowan is adorable, foul-mouthed, sexy, and independent as Cherry Darling. It takes a while for her to be truly aggressive and machine-gunned, but she's still very entertaining until then. I also really enjoyed Freddy Rodríguez as "El Wray", a bad-boy-with-a-mysterious-past-type character. He's very gruff and commanding, with awesome battle skills and a charming bluntness. Oddly enough, Dakota Block is probably the most badass character in the film. She's a regular but very determined suburban lady thrust into a highly intense situation. She goes through a lot to protect herself and her son, and it's really impressive. She's all breaking through glass windows and shooting anesthetic needles at asshole cameo zombies and stuff. And I took her completely seriously, which I think is a testament to Marley Shelton's great performance. She should star in more/better movies.

But really, everyone in this movie is swell. It's one of the best casts ever, except of course for two appearances: Stacy "Fergie-no-not-the-Duchess-of-York" Ferguson and Quentin "Douchebag" Tarantino. Both roles are small, but irritating. Especially Fergie's. I mean, what is she doing there? She can't act, so that's not the reason. She delivers her lines like she's unsure of the meaning of the words. She wears a tight-fitting, low-cut shirt so I guess that's the main reason. But aren't there many other, more talented women out there who could fulfill the same function? As for Tarantino, yeah I know he's Rodriguez's bffl and they're always doing things for each other's films. I get it! But jesus couldn't Tarantino just have filmed a small scene like he did for Sin City? Isn't it good enough that their Grindhouse contributions are set in the same world (which was a nice touch, I thought). I refuse to believe anyone ever wants to see his face in any con
text, especially when coupled with him (shudder) speaking. And of course he drops some movie references just in case we have forgotten that he is, indeed, Quention Tarantino, A Person Who Knows About Films. The good thing is his screen time is fairly short, and ends in gunfire. Finally.

Anyway, aside from those little hiccups, I completely in every way enjoy this movie. It's exciting and perfectly paced, with good moments of action and character development/interaction. The story is contemporary and inventive, while still paying fitting tribute to the grindhouse films Rodriguez sought to emulate. It's filmed in a gritty, dark style so it feels kind of like the 70's (in a good way). I really love the idea of making grindhouse films for a new generation. Planet Terror is similar in its concept and shooting style, but incorporates better effects and better writing. It's a great mix of two eras into one genre. It's just a really cool piece of cinema.

5/5

"Grindhouse Main Titles"- Robert Rodriguez. Love the film's score, primarily composed by the director himself.

Also please check out the fake trailers created by Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth. Really funny! Plus Roth has plans to actually make Thanksgiving as a feature-length film, which I find so awesome.

*A Note on the "Missing Reel" Moment (Some Spoilers)*
This is something I'm not sure is common knowledge, and I know people I've shown it to have questioned me about it. About two-thirds into the film, as Wray and Cherry are going at it, there's a sudden pause and the message "Missing Reel, Apologies from Theater Management" appears. Suddenly the story skips ahead several points and we have no idea what happened in between. This comes from an experience Rodriguez and Tarantino had while watching an old b-movie in Tarantino's home theater. The film was missing a reel in which something important about a character was explained, and they found that it made the movie that much better not knowing this mystery. They could try to predict themselves what happened during those missing scenes. So each of them have a "missing reel" moment in their grindhouse films. In this one, Wray's past is explained and Dakota somehow makes it to JT's along with several other minor characters we'd met earlier. It's a cool idea (though not one I'd like all the time- I want to know the secrets!), but kind of a weird thing to happen if you're not expecting it. Just fyi for all you fine trivia-digging folks out there!

5 comments:

  1. Planet Terror is definitely the better half of Grindhouse. Rodriguez has the feel of the style absolutely correct, and that includes the bits with bad actors. He was more true to the concept than Tarantino, though Death Proof has its moments.

    If you're right about Thanksgiving, I might actually go out to see it. Roth's was easily the best trailer of the bunch.

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  2. A short piece about the Thanksgiving movie.

    I read that he was asked to do a big-budget monster movie by a major studio (I forget which), and he accepted as long as they would also finance Thanksgiving, which he would shoot directly afterward for not very much money. I thought that was kind of cool.

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  3. I actually heard, RE: the missing reel, that Robert Rodriguez was remembering one specific movie with a missing reel that directly proceeded a sex scene, but for the rest of the movie the man claimed they had had sex and the woman claimed they hadn't, so there was no way for him to know what had actually happened.

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  4. I really did enjoy Planet Terror as well and I can't wait for Machete to come out (sometime in 2010).

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  5. Robert Rodriguez knocked this out of the park. Really captures that B-Movie that populated the 70's. It's funny, kinda gross and over the top but fun all the way.

    I just love this and if you get it on Blu Ray you can watch it without all the grain. Doesn't look nostalgic but on BD it is gorgeous:)

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