Tag Archives: Death Proof

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof

Death Proof is regarded as the weakest link in Quentin Tarantino’s work, but in a career so consistently awesome does that really matter much? It might be weirdly paced and the inherent schlock in trying to recreate the Grindhouse aesthetic makes it hard to take seriously but it’s still a sterling flick in my book and one fucking wild ride at the movies.

I wasn’t around for the Grindhouse era but it seems to me like Quentin and Robert Rodriguez only partially aped the vibe and sort of trail blazed through their own stuff instead of sticking strictly to routine like, say, Hobo With A Shotgun did. It’s a good thing too, because you wouldn’t want two creative wellsprings like these filmmakers limited to doing something that’s cheap to its bones and has little innovation. As such (with QT’s half of the double bill anyways) we get something that’s a healthy compromise of balls out Mad Max style vehicular bedlam and leisurely paced, character heavy interludes of dialogue, which is of course his trademark. There are an absolute ton of characters here, but naturally the one that showboats across centre stage is Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, a charming but sadistic serial killer who mows down and decimates innocent women in his souped up Dodge Charger. That of course fills up the back half of the film, while initially we are treated to a solid chunk that sees different groups of girls bicker, banter, discourse on everything from John Hughes’ films to the benefits and drawbacks of being a semi-famous radio DJ and generally have a good time. Usually when you think of showcase Tarantino dialogue and characters this film wouldn’t enter the running, and I’m not sure why, he writes some of the most wonderful parts here and these gals positively act the pants off of them to the point that when the highway mayhem kicks in, you’re almost disappointed that the round table discussions and quirky friendships are done with. Russell is absolute perfection and seems born to play this peculiar villain. He’s so charming that bad vibes aren’t even perceived, and even later when he gets downright psychotic there’s this fourth wall breaking sheepishness that gets chuckles instead of screams, especially in the end when he turns into a big baby. My favourite of the gals has to be Vanessa Ferlito as sultry Arlene, Rosario Dawson as tomboyish Abernathy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as sensitive Lee and Sydney Tamiia Poitier as aforementioned DJ Jungle Julia. Others are fantastic too including Jordan Ladd, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thomas, Marcy Harriell, Helen Kim, Tina Rodriguez and Rose McGowan as angelic Pam, who squares off against Mike in both the funniest and scariest sequence of the film. Watch for cameos from several of the Inglorious Basterds as well as a brief turn from Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks).

The film consists mostly of two things: girls hanging around in apartments, cars and bars talking and beautiful old muscle cars playing havoc along the interstate. When you have Quentin at the helm providing pages of wonderful dialogue and overseeing practical effects based car chases, it makes for something endlessly fun. I saw this as a double bill alongside Rodriguez’s sometimes fun, often lame Planet Terror and viewed together is enough content to melt both brain and eyeballs, especially when you consider that they each have generous runtimes. This is the better of the two films and I think they should be viewed separately as their own entity. Not the weakest thing Quentin has done (Hateful Eight bears that crown for me) and so much more fun than people remember or give it credit for.

-Nate Hill

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Kurt Russell Week: Top Ten Performances

Leading up to one of the year’s most anticipated films Marvel’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which by and large promises another great performance from Kurt Russell, let’s take a look back at the ten best performances from one of cinema’s last standing movie stars.
Author’s note: There are so many performances of his to choose from and after spending more time than I probably should have narrowed down the list, here’s what I came up with.

10. Breakdown

In Jonathan Mostow’s 1997 thriller, Russell finds himself in a familiar Hitchcockian trope, the everyman put in an extraordinary situation. He’s not a cowboy or a guy trained in special forces, he is simply a regular man who’s wife gets snatched by a truck driver and is completely on his own finding her.

9. Bone Tomahawk

The gruesome horror western hybrid was anchored by Russell in a seminal turn as a lawman of the old west. Sporting a tamer version of his glorious facial hair that was the hallmark to his character in The Hateful Eight, here Russell plays the very stoic and calculated Sheriff Franklin Hunt who embarks with a small posse on a suicide mission into the heart of darkness. Sure, we’ve seen a character like this on screen before but what makes this performance so unique is that the familiar genre character is pushed beyond his limits with facing the primal humanoid tribe that has kidnapped a townsman’s wife.

8. The Deadly Tower

In Russell’s first major post-Disney role he took on the true story of Charles Whitman, who after killing his wife and mother buys a bounty of rifles and goes to the top of the tower at the University of Texas in Austin and begins to shoot random people. The film, but more importantly Russell’s performance, tackles the issue of mental illness decades before there was any emphasis put on treating it by our society.

7. The Hateful Eight

In Russell’s second collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, he is featured as a dopey, under-educated hangman with outlandish facial hair and a larger than life personality. In the film, Russell purposefully does the best John Wayne impression that we have ever seen on screen, and gives us a character who we’re not quite sure if he is supposed to be likable or not. Regardless of the nobility of John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth, Russell is an absolute joy to watch as he hams his way through Tarantino’s colorful dialogue and twisty narrative.

6. Escape from New York

The collaboration between filmmaker John Carpenter and Kurt Russell is one of the best actor/director pairings in cinema history. It ranks up there with John Ford and John Wayne, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro/Harvey Keitel, and any other pairing that you can think of. In 1981 the two of them made the greatest b movie ever with Escape from New York, a film that birthed one of our favorite antiheroes of all time, Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell smoothly navigates a post-apocalyptic New York City with his dry humor, gravely voice, and arctic camo pants. Truly a performance and character for the ages.

5. Tombstone

In the early 90s, there were two Wyatt Earp films in production. The smart money was on Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, and Dennis Quaid in a life spanning epic that underperformed at the box office. Parallel to that film, Tombstone quietly finished production with Kurt Russell in an uncredited role taking directorial duties over for original director George P. Cosmatos. In this film, Russell gives one of his staple performances as the retired lawman forced to pick up his six-shooter and gold star to stop Powers Boothe and his evil gang of red-sashed cowboys.

4. Big Trouble in Little China

In 1986 Carpenter and Russell reunited for a film that was a critical and commercial bomb, but over time the picture has reached an unbelievable cult following that is constantly championed by its fans. Present day, the film is universally loved with an abundant amount of quotable dialogue. Here, Russell gives a charming yet intentionally clumsy performance as the “everyman” put in an unheard of situation. Donning an amazing mullet and driving his big rig, the Porkchop Express, Russell gives one of his most iconic performances in an already crowded filmography.

3. Dark Blue

In 2002 director Ron Shelton, writer James Elroy and screenwriter David Ayer brought to the screen Kurt Russell’s most undervalued performance as a corrupt and racist cop navigating through his professional and personal life as it self-destructs while the entire country is waiting for a verdict on the Rodney King beating. Russell’s turn as Detective Eldon Perry is hands-down one of his best performances as he embodies a character who is cool on the outside but is being torn apart on the inside over his morality and emotional pain. Russell has never been one to make a political statement in the press or through his films, but Dark Blue tackles an important aspect of our society well before it was brought to national attention.

2. The Thing

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the best science fiction films ever made. It’s isolation, iciness, and the impending doom of a score by Ennio Morricone lays an incredible foundation of terror. Russell is forced to deal with an extreme threat, a space monster that can shape-shift and remain unnoticed as it slowly picks off each member of the small research outpost in Antarctica. Russell adds a ton of dimension to the apathetic helicopter pilot who lives by himself up in his outpost drinking J&B and playing chess on his computer.

1. Death Proof

While Death Proof remains Quentin Tarantino’s “worst film” (and if this is your worst film, you’re doing pretty terrific as a filmmaker), there is still a lot to love and admire about it. Particularly Russell’s villainous turn as Stuntman Mike. In this film, Russell is as evil as it gets yet he plays on his career’s worth of cinematic charm and affability so we not only accept Stuntman Mike, but we can’t wait to see what he does next. This film marks Russell’s first pairing with Quentin Tarantino along with a career resurgence that reminded us that after all this time that Kurt Russell is a cinematic treasure.

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof: A Review by Nate Hill 

Death Proof is… not the best flick in Quentin Tarantino’s career so far, but an entertaining little ride through the B movie corn nonetheless. It’s Quentin playing in the sandbox, and although he tends to fling it about too energetically in spots, and dawdle around listlessly in others, one can forgive such pacing issues when you consider how much fun it is for the most part. It also helps that his Grindhouse effort is heaps better than his pal Robert Rodriguez’s painfully lame Planet Terror, but that’s a whole other chestnut. Death Proof works mostly thanks to the bubbly, endlessly sexy performances from an extensive roster of irrisistable cbicks, and one gleefully evil bit of work from genre legend Kurt Russell, having a devilish blast as Stuntman Mike, a psychopath who batters helpless chicks to death as he rattles them around in his specially rigged vintage muscle car, primed for murder and ready to burn rubber straight to the ER. A fair chunk of the film is spent simply observing these girls talking, bickering, socializing and indulging in idiosyncratic pop culture banter that’s a facet of the Q Man himself. He loves to project his own affinities onto the written page and use them as backbones for his characters, and although that may be one of the core elements of screenwriting in itself, it’s always a little more pronounced with QT. Writers are books, but he is a popup book, always a tad more garish than the rest of the kids on the playground. I don’t wanna say that such lenghthy swaths of running time spent on girls chilling out isn’t fun (it’s captivating, especially with this bunch), but it is essential to the Grindhouse vibe they set out to emulate? A minor quibble, but a quibble all the same. To their credit, the girls are simply terrific. The first bunch include Rose McGowan’s angelic and short lived Pam, Sydney Poitier’s spunky radio DJ Jungle Julia, and Vanessa Ferlito’s wiseass Latina. The first act sees them run into Stuntman Mike in a roadhouse bar owned by Tarantino himself, who just can’t resist casting himself in his own shit lol. Oh well, at least he didn’t try an Australian accent this time around. The second time act we meet Rosario Dawson, stuntwoman Zoe Bell and cutesy pie Mary Elizabeth Winstead, all in the crosshairs of Mike’s radar, but this time he may be in way over his greaser hairdoed head. The vehicular mayhem is traditionalist and non CGI, and quite honestly a spectucalr firework show of blood, glass, metal and scorched asphalt. I just wish there was more of it, man. Sure, the character building with the gals is awesome, but it eclipses the action in gross proportion. A little balance between talky talky and vroom vroom would have been appreciated. Russell is a hoot in a role that was originally going to be played by Mickey Rourke. He just has that knowing gleam in his eye and good ol’ boy charm that makes it work so well, especially in a naughty little fourth wall break that shows you just how much Mike enjoys his sick little game of bumper cars. There’s characters that bleed in from Rodriguez’s side of the fence, including Michael Parks as the seemingly immortal Texas Ranger Earl Mcgraw, and Marley Shelton as his daughter. It’s a valiant effort, with plenty of Mad Max style merit and a seriously smoking lineup of luscious ladies. I just feel like he over fed certain ingredients to the pot when cooking this one up, and neglected others in areas. Still though, even average Tarantino is brilliant, and this one glows, if for a few dull spots. 

EPISODE 27 THE WORKS OF TONY SCOTT AND QUENTIN TARANTINO with SPECIAL GUEST SHELBY SIM

SHELBY POWERCAST

We were honored to be joined by Shelby Sim who is the Executive Director of Visit Santa Ynez Valley, and who sponsored the press/filmmaker lounge where Frank hung out when he was at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.   The three of us riff on films that were filmed in the Valley, including Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF.  From there, we bounce all over Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s filmography.  Visit www.visitsyv.com and contact Shelby if you’re interested on going on an amazing vacation!