Death Proof (U.S., 2007) * * * *
D: Quentin Tarantino
Grindhouse remains one of my favorite films of the year (I'll place it a close second after David Fincher's Zodiac), but it's also quickly become a rarified experience, as the complete, double-feature, faux-coming-attractions-filled, three-hour-plus version was a financial flop, and withdrawn in favor of two separate video releases for Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Well, both are now "director's cuts," with plenty of deleted scenes added back in, but there's no excuse to withhold the complete Grindhouse experience from those who didn't have a chance to see it in the theaters. Oh, all right. Those who didn't see it in the theater are suckers and deserve all the pain they get. Grindhouse played brilliantly as a late-night movie with a packed house of semi-drunk cinephiles, hooting and hollering at all the carefully-arranged pseudo-scratches on the print. I loved the whole package, but suspected strongly that Death Proof was the real gem; now, in its "international" or "Cannes cut" version, and unreeling at about an hour and forty-five minutes, I'm happy to see that it's an even better film. And freed of the baggage as the bottom half of a double bill, supporting its own weight and without the sagging attention of an audience that's already just sat through a mindless (though hilarious) zombie-fest, the chitter chatter of Tarantino's Faster-Pussycat females can be better appreciated for its languorous rhythm and melody, and one can more easily see how, like a concert maestro, he guides his characters casually but inexorably toward climactic moments of intensity and violence with impact all the greater because of the calm that came before. He up-ends the expectations of the slasher film, not just in mechanical details--the weapon is not a knife but a car--but, more critically, in the overall structure and the treatment of the victims. There is no familiar Freudian reasoning to the mayhem--the sluts get killed, the virgin triumphs, etc.--but instead the writer-director's unending sympathy and admiration for all his women, which makes the deaths twist all the more sharply. Plus it has one of the most hilariously over-the-top cathartic finales you'll see, which plays to genre conventions while perversely inversing. I have "Chick Habit" playing in my head right now. It's a sweet aftertaste.