Monday, September 24, 2007

Death Proof

This past Saturday night, I went to see Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." Originally released in the USA as half of a double feature, entitled, "Grindhouse" (the other half coming from Robert Rodriguez), disappointing ticket sales for "Grindhouse" in the states prompted Tarantino to agree to the studio's suggestion that they be released separately. Thus, here in Europe, we have "Death Proof," on its own. This film is a tribute to 70's slasher and muscle car films. Having read a couple of reviews which alternated between mixed, half-hearted praise and downright panning, I think the European reviewers have it wrong. That's probably because they aren't as familiar with the style of films Tarantino is trying to emulate, possibly because they are too young. Also, being from Europe, they just might not be getting the "American" feel of this film. Those reviewers who had anything good to say about "Death Proof," seemed to focus on the car chase sequences. While those are good, I think the other parts of the film are also entertaining, just in a different way.
The film shows a character, known as Stuntman Mike, stalk two groups of sexy, young women. He uses a stunt car to kill and is brilliantly played by Kurt Russell. The majority of the film is spent getting to know the women, as we listen in to their conversations about sex and dating. I find it interesting that the protagonists in the last three films that Tarantino has done, are women. First, there was "Jackie Brown," then "Kill Bill (volumes I and II...Tarantino speaks of them as one film), and now "Death Proof." That's over half his filmography. Perhaps he finds women as fascinating as I do. Not only are the women in "Death Proof" all visually good looking, Tarantino equips them with stereotypical, Tarantino dialog. While one might be tempted, at first, to dismiss the dialog as the unrealistic fantasy of a male screenwriter, given the enormous difficulty in writing dialog for characters of the opposite gender to the writer's, my experience of listening to the podcasts of my good friend, Anjelika Jinxs ( ), leads me to conclude that some young women do actually talk this way. All through the film, I kept being reminded of Anjelika talking with her friend and co-presenter, Wanda. If you haven't checked out Anjelika's "Naive London Girl" podcast, do so. They are very "adult" in content, but also very funny. Back to "Death Proof," one reviewer actually complained that the women are all sexy and dressed in revealing outfits. Duh! I'm thinking he must be gay. Far from being a negative, I'd say that's a plus, especially for male viewers. None of the women in the film are size zero waifs. They are curvy, real women. One even has a little bit of a belly going on.
The crowning glory for "Death Proof," as far as I'm concerned, is an aspect that, so far as I've read, has been totally lost on the reviewers. The second half of the film follows Stuntman Mike's second group of potential victims. These girls are working on shooting a movie, but the plot line centers around stuntwoman turned actress, Zoe Bell, playing herself. Zoe has a compulsion to drive a 1970, white, Dodge Challenger and perform a stunt called, "ship's mast" with it. Why is that significant? Well, if you have to ask, then you, like the reviewers, is missing out on one of the best aspects of "Death Proof." A 1970, white, Dodge Challenger is the car from the film "Vanishing Point" (1971). The fact that Tarantino has Zoe, and another of the girls, being fans of that film was great. The girls even refer to "Vanishing Point" as one of the greatest movies ever made, in the dialog. I'd qualify that by saying, "the greatest car film ever made," but it is in my top five. I love that Tarantino is also into "Vanishing Point." For most of my life, I thought it was just me. If you see "Vanishing Point," it takes "Death Proof" to another level. Zoe Bell ends up on the hood (bonnet) of the speeding Challenger, during a car chase sequence with Stuntman Mike in another 70s era muscle car, a Dodge Charger. The action, here, is truly breathtaking and Tarantino is quick to point out that no CGI or sped up film techniques were used to make the sequence. The cars are real and are really being driven as fast as they seem. This beats the hell out of the fake looking stuff you get in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise.
"Death Proof" has a simple plot, as is typical of the types of films it's emulating. It's not Shakespeare, but great escapist entertainment. It was able to hearken me back to my youth, when I spent many an afternoon in a darkened cinema, enjoying thrilling car chases. Tarantino manages to wed that to my adult interest in women and bring the whole package into the noughties. I found a common bond with the film maker. Perhaps we are both products of the same era.

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