What exactly was Eli Roth hoping to accomplish with Knock Knock? Awkward softcore porn? Crude exploitation? Trashy home invasion potboiler? Hard Candy-esque moral revenge fantasy? That Ana De Armas looks good in a blond dye job? Well I hate to break it to him but if it was any or all of the above, none of it works and this is just a hollow, misdirected, tasteless bit of pond scum trying to pass itself off as a thriller and I feel sorry for poor Keanu Reeves having to wade through the gauntlet of what has to be the worst film he’s ever graced his angelic presence with. He plays an upper middle class family man whose wife and kids go on a long weekend trip so he can stay home and get some work done. He’s keeping it mellow on a super rainy night until two unstable, whack-job gutter hoes (Ana De Armas and Lorenza Izzo) show up at his door under the pretence of being lost and insinuate their way into first his house, then his shower and eventually his bed, and you can guess where things spiral from there. These are two seriously disturbed, dangerous and fucked up individuals and both actresses are terrifically intense and deranged, while Reeves holds his end up nicely with a difficult role, the editing, photography, music and splashes of dark humour do what they can but to what purpose does the film work towards, and when it gets there, is it worth it? Not so much. If Roth has set out to convince us that the tables can be turned and men can be just as coerced, preyed upon, shamed and ruined by the other sex as women can by them then he’s somewhat succeeded in showing us a turn of events like that at a primal level, but any attempts at theme or subtext are buried or lost in translation and what could have been something of a message movie ends up simply being ‘two crazy bitches torturing Keanu Reeves for just over ninety minutes.’ There’s a haphazard attempt at *something* deeper involving words written on a mirror in lipstick and Armas going postal about something that seems like an event from her past but neither thread is explored or followed up on. I don’t even know whether to call this a missed opportunity or not because I can’t even tell if Roth set out trying to achieve anything of substance or just didn’t bother at all and deliberately aimed for below the audience’s belt. Also I didn’t buy that Keanu ‘John Wick’ Reeves could be physically outmatched to that extent by two college age chicks, but that’s the least of this film’s issues. There’s something to this idea on paper but it’s nowhere to be found in this film, which is simply an ugly, pointless fucking waste of time.
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.
Having rewatched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds the other night for the first time in years, I’d since forgotten what a fuckin rip snorting good time at the movies it is. It used to rank fairly low on my Quentin-metre, but not only has it aged quite nicely since 09′, it’s even better than I remember it being in theatres. I think that one of the reasons I didn’t hold it in such high esteem right off the bat is that I wasn’t prepared for the blunt revisionist history approach, which at the time I think felt very silly and fake. I get now what he was going for and appreciate it tenfold more than I did then. From the opening chords of a Morricone piece that signals the portentous arrival of Christoph Waltz’s terrifyingly affable Jew hunting SS nutbar Hans Landa, this film is a near perfect ballet of extended dialogue, shocking musical cues and sporadic bursts of satisfying and graphic violence. It’s an episodic roundtable outing that spins around to focus intently on specific scenarios for quite a bit of time before jarringly shunting off to the next. Young Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) runs a quaint cinema in rural France that garners the attention of a pesky German war hero (Daniel Brühl). Evil Landa and his corps doggedly hunt enemies of the state whilst preparing to act as a security force for a bigwig film premiere attended by the Fuhrur himself, et al. Elsewhere in Germany, a plucky band of double agents led by Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger await instructions on a small tavern, commissioned by Winston Churchill and Austin Powers to carry out their mission. This sequence is a textbook example on how to whip up vice grip suspense until one can barely breathe, then cut the cord loose all of a sudden, brilliantly structured, written and acted scene all round. Brad Pitt also leads his merry band of Nazi killers all over Europe creating havoc and delivering some of the best dialogue that the Q-Man has ever penned. The sequence where Aldo Raine (Pitt) and his crew must be ‘fake Italian’ to blend in at the film premiere is the single funniest thing in a Tarantino film to date. The cast is layered with all kinds of wonderful work, standouts from August Diehl, Richard Sammel, Eli Roth, a priceless Til Schweiger, as well as quick snippets from Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel. Waltz made a name for himself with the Landa character, and is a simultaneously freaky and funny villain who steals the film each time he shows up to smarm and charm the pants off of everyone else. Funny beyond words, brutally exploitive in the best possible ways, whip smart in writing and characterization and just a hell of a good time, Basterds has held up and even improved excellently since it’s release, and will likely stand as one of Tarantino’s key films in years to come. Gorlami.