Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007)

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Food: I was visiting Los Angeles this past weekend, and therefore, got to enjoy West Coast Mexican food, and cool outdoor locations. We went to a flea market and afterwards wandered around the corner to a place called Salazar, with deep purple painted walls and palo verde trees. We started off with their prickly pear margaritas – a favorite of mine, which is much more difficult to find in the streets of New York – and they came complete with a small plucked flower garnish. They were vibrant and tangy. I had eaten a bagel about an hour prior, so just wanted something light, and settled on the beet salad. This dish involved añejo cheese, mosquite roasted beets, chipotle honey dressing, and pecans. It was really tasty, but extremely spicy. I was sweating and panting through the whole meal to my friends entertainment. Loved this place, if you’re ever in Silverlake, Los Angeles – it is worth checking out.

Film: Death Proof may not be Quentin Tarantino’s smartest movie, or even his best, but it’s too much fun to really care. It has this electric feeling, this simmering humid sexual tensity that propels the movie throughout the beginning, and then vengeance-filled-PowerPuff-Girl-Charlie’s-Angels-Girl-Power energy the whole second half. He calls it his worst movie he’s ever made, but I have to say, it is one of my favorites to re-watch.

For context, this film premiered as part of a sort of theatrical experiment called “Grindhouse” where Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez each made an exploitation film, and then presented them as a double feature for one ticket. First was, Tarantino’s “Death Proof” followed by Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” intermixed with a collection of fake trailers and vintage house ads, meant to recreate the experience of going to see sleazy movies at one of the ‘grindhouse’ theaters that were popular in New York in the 1970s.

Tarantino includes several elements of classic exploitation films, but then flips them: It’s a hot-chick movie without nudity. It’s a psychological thriller with minimal insight into the perpetrators’ psyche. It’s a slasher flick with more time developing their character of the victims than actually slashing them. To heighten the personal flare, in typical Tarantino style, he casts himself as the bartender of the spot these gorgeous women frequent and apparently provided his own jukebox to contribute the funky rock soundtrack that plays throughout most the beginning.

The opening scene is a beautiful set of feet – toes painted fiery red – kicked up on a dashboard swaying to some cool tune in a sunny day in Austin, Texas. There is a stocky typeface overlay with the credits, nailing the opening sequence of the pre-multiplex movie houses it set out to mimic.

We are introduced to Jungle Julia (a local radio sensation), Arlene, and Shanna who are gabbing about what to do with their night out, which guys they are going to meet up with, and who they want to invite to their cabin the coming weekend. Jungle Julia has – to Arlene’s chagrin – announced that Arlene will give a lap dance to the first guy who buys her a drink, as a playful gimmick for their night out.  They meet up with some of their guy friends at the local dive bar, and right away the audience is shown how unsavory they are, talking privately about trying to weasel their way into the girls weekend by getting them drunk enough to invite them. Next, we are introduced to Stuntman Mike (a tremendous Kurt Russell) who is chatting up a beautiful girl at the bar (Rose McGowan) and complaining about the way the digital age is changing the way action sequences are shown on film. Tarantino is writing a love letter to his love of original fimmaking and particularly the work of stuntmen (which is only made more clear by the end of this flick).

Stuntman Mike is a serial killer, who uses his stunt car to murder attractive women. His seat is death proof, and the rest of the car is not – allowing him to slaughter women in epic car crashes and then walk away with a clean bill of health and a clean criminal record. The first part of the film centers on the rainy, dewey night at this Austin, Texas bar as all the character entangle in some steamy foreplay to the aforementioned horror. Then, the second half flips gears, as Stuntman Mike arrived in Lebanon, Tennessee to find his next victims.

Now, we see ZoĂ« Bell (stuntwoman extraordinaire) playing herself, Abernathy (terrifically, Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracie Thoms), and Lee Montgomery (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who are putzing around town discussing the film industry and their upcoming projects. These thrill-seeking women find out about a guy who is selling a 1970 Dodge Challenger (the car from the 1971 film Vanishing Point) and Bell tells Kim she wants to play a game of “Ship’s Mast” on a test drive of the car. After wearing her down, Kim finally agrees, and Abernathy, feeling left out, convince them to bring her along. The three of them go out on this joy ride, where Bell rides on the hood of the car as Kim speeds up to over 100 MPH through the desert. Stuntman Mike finds this as the perfect opportunity to go in for the kill… only this time he has massively underestimated this gang of women.

Although, I felt like some of the dialogue is straining and drawn out in the second half, and there is an un-ignorable silliness to the whole film, Death Proof is still one of my favorite Tarantino films, and even though he claims otherwise, I think it serves as the perfect start to his revenge trilogy.

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