A few decades ago, Bruce Lee's entry vehicle (in India) "Enter the Dragon" introduced a couple of new faces - John Saxon and Jim Kelly, who could match Lee's lightning speed karate kicks and good screen presence, enough to see a bunch of movies starring them as the main leads lining up at the box office, following the enormous success of "Enter the Dragon". Those movies, particularly of Jim Kelly's, were a little different from the mainstream ones, in that the entire movies comprised of black actors and the story lines had uncanny resemblances to the Indian movies in content and presentation, like low-budget caper movies, low-budget revenge dramas, and low-budget action thrillers. "Black Belt Jones" staring Jim Kelly was one such, that enjoyed great patronage raking in considerable moolah. Little did the country realize that those movies, known as blaxploitation (black + exploitation) movies were purposefully made cheesy, low-budget, to have a very unpolished, raw and an earthy feel. In effect, the entire country completely missed the point since it had no frame of reference as far as blaxploitation was concerned. The audience saw it straight, enjoyed for what they were, without any idea of the underlying social commentary behind those racially specific ventures. The movies enjoyed their limited run of success in India and then faded away as was natural to any genre.
A few years ago was released a very interesting spin on the entire teenager slasher movies that usually have loads of blood, gore, violence and sex, where people get mutilated and murdered in a variety of fashions at regulars intervals. Wes Craven's "Scream" trilogy was a brilliant take satirizing and spoofing the very same genre of teenage slasher movies, that it shamelessly indulges in, pointing out each and every rule ("Never say "I'll be back" because you are going to be killed right after", "The black guy is in the first one in the movie to die", "Well-endowed blonde girls have a near 100% fatality rate right after a mating act") that had dictated those kinds of movies so far, and then executing those rules in that exact manner, creating a darkly comic and a strangely surreal effect. "Grindhouse" belongs to another genre that is again alien to the Indian milieu. A double-billed feature of low-budget exploitation movies that are so over the top and so exaggerated in their nature that it is an exercise in futility trying to sit through the movie straight-faced and trying to take the movie seriously. In a way these movies are like the "Austin Powers' International Man of Mystery", which spoof the James Bond movies. Since James Bond himself is a satirical icon vastly exaggerating the notion of spy and spy movies (particularly during the Cold War period), Austin Powers is a satire of a satire (if there ever could be one). So, in effect, trying to analyze and dissect Austin Powers is to miss the point completely. They are above criticism, review or even revile. The best that could be seen is how well it tries to parody the original material without reducing itself to a parody.
Going by that tenet, "Grindhouse" falls well below the expectations, considering the kind of devious genius talents of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino helming the affairs. The first of the double bill "Planet Terror" is a blood, guts, gore fest of a zombie infested place rampaging a town adjoining a military base over the period of a single night. It contains heads being blown up, limbs being torn apart, torsos being dismembered and guts being spilled and sometimes devoured, all in a very graphic, gory detail that is too farcical to be taken seriously and too comical to be considered a satire. Rodrigeuz had already indulged himself to his heart's content in "From Dusk till Dawn" which was also about a group of people fighting off warring vampires in a night club from, as the name indicates, from dusk till dawn, which makes "Planet Terror" an encore exercise of pretty much similar plot, similar format and similar execution. As his other movies like "El Mariachi" and "Desparado" are themselves (quite stylish) derivatives of the exploitative genre, it is difficult to find any redeeming value in the repetition, even if it is done in zest and playful ribbing, which reduces "Planet Terror" a Cliff Notes' version to "From Dusk till Dawn".
The second feature by Tarantino, "Death Proof", suffers from an entirely problem - excess, the irony not withstanding. The delightful homage to the old kung-fu movies (which the Indian audience can completely relate to owing the familiarity to the genre through such movies as "36th Chamber of Shaolin", "Shaolin Vs Ninja", "Snake in the Monkey's Shadow", "Mad Monkey Kung Fu" etc) that Tarantino payed with his "Kill Bill" movies casts a long shadow over "Death Proof", the supposed homage to the exploitation features of the yester years. Tarantino's setting up the movie has an eerie resemblance to the style of another personality in an entirely different medium - Stephen King, the renowned author who refuses to finish any novel for under 700 pages. Whenever Stephen King dabbled in the short story format, for a change from his otherwise monstrous novels, he didn't completely subscribe to the cardinal rule of short stories - that the stories have to short in the first place. No matter the kind of story he attempts, the result is nothing short of a 350 page volume, either because he is unable to filter out other ideas impertinent to the central plot or stubbornly unwilling to budge to the format's requirements. "Death Proof" proceeds along those similar lines. It is too long to fit in a double-feature and too short to stand on its own as an independent one. Another comparison to Stephen King is the way the movie spends so much time setting up the pieces purely through dialogue (which, again, is not as sparkling as it is in say "Reservoir Dogs" or a "Jackie Brown" in similar situations where a bunch of characters sit around a table and dissect the trivialities of every day life with an interesting perspective). It works for King (even in his short stories) as there is no restriction or limit on the level to which he could bloviate before retuning to to the central point after rounding off all the bases. Conversely in a twin movie segment, where audience's time and patience come at a premium, Tarantino spends way too much time in talk, starting way far on the periphery, and taking his own sweet time to finally get to the core (however much great the payoff might be), that by the time it gets to the action part, it is too little too late. Though the action sequences involving car chases are certain to become the new benchmarks in the industry, rivaling the best in "The French Connection", "Ronin" in the process, they come at a point when the interest has already disengaged from the proceedings. It appeared as though Tarantino tried to redefine the exploitation genre, like what he achieved with "Kill Bill", by trying to rise above it instead of what was the need of the hour - wallow in it.
"Grindhouse" would ultimately remain as a movie of the fans, by the fans and for the fans, and for the rest, who have no frame of reference whatsoever, the first feature remains sub-par and the second, under-par. Either case, the erstwhile exploitative genre is better off without this undercooked-overcooked homage.
Ramblings on films
Lage Raho Munnabhai
The Da Vinci Code
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Mughal E Azam
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article