April 10th, 2007

Mortal wound

Three Movies. One Body Count.

What's the latest movie everyone's talking about? That would be Grindhouse! upanashad, cadhla, and I saw it Friday night, and it was generally MADE OF AWESOME.

For the n00bs in the audience, Grindhouse is a unique theatre experience constructed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to replicate the old "grindhouse" flicks of the '70s. I use the term "experience" because it is truly that: you get a fake trailer at the beginning, followed by a full-length movie (Planet Terror, by Rodriguez), followed by more fake trailers and fake ads for local establishments, concluding with another full-length movie (Death Proof, by Tarantino). The film has been digitally altered to look like it's been scratched up and warped at times, and there are even missing reels, just like back in the old days. Some actors/characters show up in both movies, and even one of the fake establishments makes a small cameo on a drink cup. It's really unlike anything you've probably seen in a movie theatre for a long while, and for that reason alone, I recommend you go, if you're able to sit for three hours. The fake trailers are just as good as the movies themselves.

The main reason I recommend Grindhouse, however, is Planet Terror, which I LOVED. It's a ridiculous, balls-out (literally) zombie movie, and it's the most fun horror movie I've seen in a long time (it's better than Snakes on a Plane!). Personally, I was very impressed by how good of a movie it was, despite the B-movie qualities. It was well constructed and never boring. There's a diverse cast of characters, and, surprisingly, I ended up caring about them, which I can partly attribute to the cast, who give it their all. They don't act like they're in a cheesy, schlocky zombie apocalypse. They act like they're real small-town folk fighting for their goddamn lives. I also liked the script, which was full of repeated lines/phrases and callbacks; I'm a sucker for that shit, generally. Plus, Rodriguez composes this great main title theme that's only, like, seven notes, but it becomes this awesome leitmotif that appears throughout the film in various forms.

The movie is, of course, extremely violent and gory, with zombie heads exploding and limbs flying, and people's innards being eaten, and pus-filled boils, and all that good stuff, but it's really goddamn fun if you can take it. At one point, I turned to Seanan and said, "We are now in a Resident Evil game," and she shook my hand in glee. Besides, Rose McGowan ends up with a machine gun for a leg, and how is that not the coolest thing ever? (Of note: I didn't really care for Rose McGowan before, and I didn't even think she was hot. After seeing Planet Terror, I now love Rose McGowan and think she's totally hot. Go figure.)

Be prepared for Death Proof, however, which starts out slooooooow. You may appreciate it more if you know you have to wait for the good stuff, and it does eventually deliver the good stuff, but it's a very different movie from Planet Terror, and it's not exactly as fun because the content is more realistic and disturbing. But it sure was cool to see Tracie Thoms from Wonderfalls (and the unrecognizable Sydney Poitier, Ms. Dent from Veronica Mars) on the big screen. Generally, though, I agree with eirefaerie's review. I was not a huge fan of Death Proof, but other people I know preferred it to Planet Terror, so who knows where you'll fall?

Poll #963774 Grindhouse Deathmatch!

Which half of Grindhouse did you prefer?

Planet Terror
Death Proof
I loved them both equally!
I didn't LOVE either one.
I'm never going to see this movie, but I like taking polls.

The next day, for a change of pace, cadhla, aiglet, danea, ellric, and I saw The Namesake, which had far fewer grisly deaths. Of main characters, at least. The scene where Kali comes down and eviscerates everyone standing around Kal Penn kind of came out of nowhere, though.

I know that a lot of you have often had trouble understanding my life, as an Indian. How I relate to my family, how marriage works, how I uphold my cultural traditions, all that business. Go see The Namesake now, and I promise you will have a better understanding about things, because many scenes in the movie hit way too close to home. The characters are Bengali, not Gujarati, and it's not a perfect mapping, but it's a lovely movie, honestly. I read reviews that criticized it for trying to put in too much of the book (which I haven't read) and meandering too much, but I didn't mind it at all because it really worked for me, the way we sort of followed these characters' lives for years, getting glimpses into the major events, seeing the relationships change. It's full of small, perfect touches that make me tear up just thinking about them.

Saturday night, I watched Final Destination 3, which I thought appropriate since it starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was also in Death Proof. It wasn't as good as the first two, and I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected, which surprised me, given that I am all for Rube Goldbergian death schemes. It was interesting that the characters felt more fleshed out in Planet Terror, which wasn't even trying to be good. Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint what makes things work and not work, but I guess it's seeing when they don't work that makes you respect the talent behind the times it does.
Live fast

American Gothic? More Like Touched by Satan!

What do you get when Shaun Cassidy (Invasion), David Eick (Battlestar Galactica), Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man 2), David Kemper (Farscape), and Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) make a show together? You get one of the best shows CBS ever cancelled and one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, American Gothic.

American Gothic is a southern Gothic tale set in Trinity, South Carolina, where the most important person in town is Sheriff Lucas Buck, played by Gary Cole. Most people associate him with Office Space, but he'll always be Lucas Buck to me. It's like the role was made for him. Now, Lucas Buck is not the Devil himself, according to the creators, but he's close enough. He's always making deals that don't exactly turn out the way you expect them to. He can turn his swaggering charm on and off at the drop of the hat, leaving you with a manipulative beast not to be toyed with. But he's only doing it for the good of the community, after all. And, really, he only gave you the rope; you're the one who tied the noose.

Our protagonist is Caleb Temple, played by Lucas Black, the kid from Sling Blade and the X-Files movie. Lucas Buck takes a particular interest in him for reasons that will become clear in the pilot. Opposing him, however, is Caleb's sister Merlyn, played by Sarah Paulson, most recently of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (here, she's a brunette and still very pretty). Merlyn is alive for about five minutes, but it's a good thing she's on a supernatural show, since she gets to spend the series as a ghost. The main focus of the show is Merlyn and Lucas fighting the eternal battle between good and evil as manifested in the struggle for Caleb.

But there's also Gail Emory, Caleb's cousin, a reporter who comes to town both to take care of Caleb and to finally get some answers about her parents' deaths. And Dr. Matt Crower, another recent transplant who takes a liking to Caleb and a disliking to Sheriff Buck. And Selena Coons, the sultry siren of a schoolteacher who also happens to be Sheriff Buck's lover. And Ben Healey, Buck's protégée, who isn't sure how to continue working for a man whose motto is "All guilt is relative, loyalty counts, and never let your conscience be your guide."

At the heart of the show is the theme of choice. Nearly every episode involves Lucas Buck fucking someone over not by specifically doing anything to him but allowing him to make the wrong choices all by himself. Caleb Temple can choose whether he wants to accept Lucas's mentorship or not. The town is full of flawed characters who can choose whether Lucas's help is the kind of help they need (hint: it never is).

American Gothic had the same behind-the-scenes drama that plagues most cult hits. The people who bought the pilot were fired by the time the show went to air, and the new people were totally behind the show...as long as they made some changes. This may account for the fact that the first few episodes start off very strongly with a lot of momentum, and then the episodes get a little repetitive (Lucas sways Caleb for about forty minutes until Caleb decides he hates him again at the end, lather, rinse, repeat). At some point, Cassidy and Co. saw the writing on the wall, and they knew they weren't going to be back, so they started writing toward ending the series in the finale. About halfway through the series, the show gets really good again as the arc kicks back into gear. Crazy shit happens in the epic finale.

The show is not without its flaws, though. The special effects in 1995 were not very good, so that can be a little distracting. At times, the technique of flashing ominous images to create moodiness is overdone. I'm not sure the worldbuilding is completely sound, as the rules regarding the supernatural elements seem to change when it's convenient. Most maddeningly, however, characterization feels wildly inconsistent. You can have what look like really important character moments in an episode that don't seem to have any repercussions at all in future episodes (it doesn't help that some very important things happened in episodes that were unaired and CBS aired the show out of order (even the DVDs don't have the episodes in the right order).

Despite the flaws, however, it's still a great show that is likely different from what you're used to. It's the kind of show you might not want to watch in the dark, alone, because there's nothing happy about it. It's dark and twisted and creepy, like any good example of the southern Gothic. And you'll never, ever forget Lucas Buck. If you watch the show for no other reason, watch for Gary Cole's portrayal of pure, unadulterated evil. And remember:

Someone's at the door.