Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: Death Proof (2007)


Taking a 180-degree turn after postings on cutesy stuff like Keropla God Keron's Tamama Robo Mk-II and various Nendoroid Hatsune Mikus with this next visit to the Sunday Movie Theater. ^^

Movie poster is from IMDB.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Death Proof", a 2007 movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

For me, watching a movie made by Quentin Tarantino is like visiting a place where subtlety is non-existing. ^^; That's one of the consistent points about Tarantino's movie for me after watching "Pulp Fiction" (1994), "Kill Bill I" (2003), "Kill Bill II" (2004), "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), "Inglourious Basterds" (2009), and of course this movie as well. One second everything seems normal, the next second all hell is unleashed - all the terrible nasty events that happen to the characters and their effects are being thrown at you without any hesitation or reservation. Then almost instantly, all is quiet again. ^^ You won't get hurt because you're just an audience member, obviously, but the shock, bewilderment and sometime disgust would certainly linger for a while after a certain scene and after the movie. Tarantino's talent and creativity in projecting those powerful moments, often in very artistic but somewhat twisted ways is always amazing to me. For liking some of those crazy moments, especially those I find to be amusing somehow, I often have to ask myself, "Are you sure your head is alright?" ^^;

So, "Death Proof" is a movie not untypical of its director's usual style, yet, besides the more "common" Tarantino movie tricks, there are some parts that make it a very weird movie - weirder than almost all other movies directed by Tarantino I should say. ^^

A little bit more background information on "Death Proof": it was initially released as the second movie in "Grindhouse", with the first one being "Planet Terror", directed by Robert Rodriguez, a good friend of Quentin Tarantino. ^^ Eventually, both movies received their individual release. My first watch of "Death Proof" was through "Grindhouse" actually. "Planet Terror" was a really cool action-packed zombie movie (still is to this day for me), and I enjoyed all the fake movie trailers inserted in between the two movies as well. However, watching "Death Proof" right after that, the weirdness mentioned earlier on struck me before midway through that movie. ^^ I used to think that it was the rough "switch" between the two movies with contrasting directing style and story focus that caused me to have that feeling. Later when I re-watched just "Death Proof", and the individual release of the movie a while back before preparing for this review, I realized that no, that odd feeling about this movie was still there, and it had nothing to do with "Planet Terror". ^^

The story of "Death Proof" is about the encounters between a psychopathic stuntman, Stuntman Mike (played by Kurt Russell) and two completely unconnected groups of ladies at different time in different places. Jilted over the experience with the first group in a bar (run by Warren who was played by the director Quentin Tarantino himself ^^), Stuntman Mike used his modified "death-proof" car to kill the entire group, along with a lady companion called Pam (played by the lovely Rose McGowan) who tagged along in his car for a ride home. Returning after more than a year from the first accident in the movie, Stuntman Mike finally got a taste of his own medicine when his demented game plan against a second group of ladies didn't turn out as he imagined. The hunter became the hunted in a long car chase before the conclusion at the end of the movie.

The story seemed fairly simple and straightforward. The way all the plot points were presented in chronological order, very uncharacteristic of the director, definitely helped to make the entire story somewhat easy to follow as well. ^^ I said "somewhat easy to follow" because there were many parts which seemed excessive that were piled on top of the story. That was my initial thought when I watched this movie the first time. Then again, even though those parts may seem to be too much, they featured good cinematography, acting and music, so they were actually not bad at all. Just looking at the main story though, they were somewhat pointless. ^^; Tarantino certainly excelled in blowing simple things out of proportion in a good, creative and fun way to build up his stories. All the different segments in "Pulp Fiction" are great examples of this. There are more than just story to watch for in his movies, and I can definitely appreciate that, but for "Death Proof", that sense of excessiveness was quite overwhelming. ^^;

The amount of conversation in the movie was the first thing that jumped to my mind as one of the excessive parts of the movie. There was long conversation between members of the first lady group in the car and in a cafe before they headed over to the bar, and the bar scene itself was actually much longer. There were conversations between the ladies and their male friends, then with the bartender; there were conversations between Pam and Stuntman Mike, and more verbal interaction between them, including how Pam wasn't pleased with Jungle Julia (played by Sydney Poitier) from the group because of some childhood incident, and more talking when he offered to send her home. Different cast members talked inside the bar, outside the bar, in different corners of the bar, shot from different angles. In the second part of the movie, almost the same thing happened for the second lady group, except the change of venues and conversation topic. I did enjoyed some of the conversations, like when Stuntman Mike was introduced by Warren to Pam who asked about him.

Pam: "Who is this guy?"
Warren: "Stuntman Mike"
Pam: "Who is Stuntman Mike?"
Warren: "He's a stuntman"

Similar lines were presented in the second part of the movie, when Abernathy (played by Rosario Dawson) was introducing Lee to a rancher she was trying to con in letting her friend test drive his vintage muscle car.

Abernathy: "It's a cheerleaders movie and she's one of the cheerleaders."
Jasper: "What's a cheerleaders movie?"
Abernathy: "A movie about cheerleaders."

It's one of Quentin Tarantino's random magical touches in making his movie I suppose. For Stuntman Mike's introduction, it was a simple funny "Captain Obvious" moment, but it also hinted that nobody really knew Stuntman Mike other than his name and perhaps his car, so it made sense that nobody knew his violent and vengeful "dark side" that triggered the event after the cast left the bar. Anyway, apart from great performance by the cast members and great music in those scenes, most of the conversations are not exactly necessary in my opinion. ^^; While some were witty and interesting, most weren't as awesome and memorable as Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta's "Royale with cheese" moment in "Pulp Fiction", or Uma Thurman's final confrontation with David Carradine in "Kill Bill II". Knowing Tarantino's unconventional movie-making style, I took the excessive conversation moments as being just the special feature of this movie. However, even with that "it's a Tarantino movie" preconception, I could feel that he overdid this part in this movie. ^^; On that note, I think it's difficult watching this movie without that preconception, since the huge amount of conversations for a good half an hour since the start would probably turn many people off. ^^;

The gory mess at the end of the first part was pretty excessive as well. Some action sequences are good after a long run of conversation scenes in the first part of the movie, but I wonder if showing the same car crash in four different ways depicting different death scenes for the ladies was really necessary. ^^; Frankly speaking, I was more confused than shocked when the scene came on when I first watched the movie. ^^; "What just happened?" is usually the first response I get when a certain gory scene appears in Tarantino's movies. John Travolta's accidental killing of his passenger in "Pulp Fiction", Uma Thurman's final blow to Daryl Hannah in "Kill Bill II", or the end of the Mexican standoff in an underground bar in "Inglourious Basterds" are the immediate examples of that personal reaction that I can think of right now. This is one of Tarantino's magical touches in his movies as well. There is a brief second of shock ("What just happened?") as the action seems to just spring out of nowhere, but I usually get the answer to that question myself when the dust is clear, with or without subsequent lines and action from the characters involved to clear up the situation.

For the car crash scene in "Death Proof", "What just happened?" was the initial question that popped inside my mind as well, but it was more "literal" in nature. ^^; Trying to understand why were there four different crash "processes" almost took away the shock value of the scene, unfortunately. ^^; Then again, the scene was very well done, and I applaud the twisted creativity behind designing different death sequences for people inside a car from the same head-on collision. ^^ Like the excessive conversations as mentioned earlier on, the multiple designs in the car crash scene was not bad in execution (fast action and gory effect), but it was kind of pointless in context. The confusion of trying to understand what happened almost took away some of the fun. ^^;

The beginning half of second part felt almost like a repetition of the first part: a new group of ladies was introduced, three of them talked outside a convenient store before picking up a friend at the airport, they talked a lot in the car after that, then talked even more inside a cafe, then even more conversations happened when they were planning for their (mis)adventure. The emphasis of having a lot of conversations between the ladies was definitely consistent between the two halves of the movie there. ^^

As with the conversations and car crash scene mentioned earlier on, the car chase sequence that marked the movie's climax was pretty long. I would call it excessive as well, but the awesome cinematography, action sequence and the fact that it was a showdown between two vintage muscle cars made the whole sequence extremely exciting to watch. ^^ On a related note, as part of the visual feel of "Grindhouse", the entire movie has "real fake" film problem to enhance its vintage look. Adding that plus a classic rock themed background music to the car models used, the entire car chase scene seemed like it was from a 70's or 80's race car movie, which was really cool. ^^ Of course, you would have to forget all the newer cars as seen on the road in some part of the chase to get that vintage feel though. XD

I really love the acting performance of the characters in this movie. Kurt Russell was amazing as the psychopathic Stuntman Mike. ^^ His action (as in fighting, kicking and shooting guns ^^) usually speaks louder than his words (lines) and emotions. His roles in some of the movies I watched in the past, including "The Thing" (1982), "Escape from New York" (1981), "Stargate" (1994), "Escape from L.A." (1996) and "Soldier" (1998) seem to fit that character mold pretty consistently. In "Death Proof" however, his grizzled, scarred look plus his portrayal of Stuntman Mike's evil, arrogant and demented characteristic was just incredible. His timid and pitiful cry in the end when he was confronted by the three ladies was both silly and pathetic. It made me think, "Is that really Kurt Russell? Seriously?" XD It was the same case with Willem Dafoe's role in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004) mentioned back in January. ^^

Zoe Bell who played the stuntwoman in the second part of the movie did an amazing job for her role as well. I always remember her as Uma Thurman's stunt double in "Kill Bill" I and II. It was definitely great to see her getting a front role character in this movie. Given her skills as a stuntwoman, she performed all her stunts, including the crazy car bonnet action in the car chase sequence. It was perhaps an acknowledgement to her skills and performance that she actually played herself - a stuntwoman from New Zealand in this movie. ^^ Not too long ago, I watched Zoe Bell played the protagonist Eve in "Angel of Death" (2009). It wasn't a good movie per se, but it was great watching Zoe Bell in action with a prominent role in that movie. ^^

Overall, being excessive in various parts of the movie seemed to be a major theme of "Death Proof". With that in mind, I think the movie certainly did a very good job in showing excessiveness "consistently". ^^; However, the theme isn't exactly obvious until one gives the movie a couple more watch, which isn't going to be easy if you're not particularly interested in the many long conversations throughout the movie. ^^; On the other hand, if you watch "Death Proof" because of the director, certain parts of the movie would still stand out as overkill on the theme of excessiveness I would say. Also, while there were many verbal references made to his earlier movies and old movies in general in some of the conversations, their impact wasn't as strong and memorable as Tarantino's other movies. So there are elements in the movie that did follow the usual Tarantino formula. The combination of all these factors made "Death Proof" a very weird movie in my opinion. ^^

For me, I did enjoyed many parts of the movie. Some funny lines between the characters, great performance by the cast members, tremendous music and the exciting muscle car showdown near the end of the movie are my favorites from this movie, all which are mentioned in details earlier on. To be able to enjoy all that, I think one has to accept how the entire movie is being presented and not picking out certain parts. Even though I mentioned time and again that certain parts of the conversations felt excessive, cutting to certain scenes to pick out some funny lines would definitely disrupt the natural feel of the cast members' performance; while jumping directly to the car chase scene would spoil the buildup. On top of everything, the flow of the background music would be ruined, and that's certainly not good for this movie. ^^; How different elements are tied together so nicely the entire movie doesn't feel right to be watched in bits and pieces is perhaps a sign that it's a very well done movie I suppose. For that, I would definitely say that "Death Proof" is a very well done movie. ^^

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