1? 3? 5? stars out of 5
Paul reviewed Grindhouse last week, and we had the chance Tuesday night for a little debate of its merits over dinner in San Francisco. I clearly liked more of the "film" than did Paul, but I found it impossible to review it with a single rating – there are too many angles and perspectives to lump together. Grindhouse is the product primarily of Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) and Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Spy Kids, Sin City), aided by the likes of Eli Roth (Hostel) and the multi-faceted Rob Zombie. There are two separate films – Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof – plus four trailers for non-existent movies like Don’t and Werewolf Women Of The SS. Much of Grindhouse is a tribute to the trashy B-grade (or lower) sci-fi/slasher/sleazy films of the 70s – replete with scratched or melted celluloid, missing reels, out-of-focus or shaky camerawork, cheesy props, gallons of splashing fake blood, bad color, etc. The loving attention to detail – however gross and unpleasant – is impressive, though almost academic in feel. Scenes are often disgusting, yet it in a campy, "can you believe he did that?" way. But I found Tarantino’s Death Proof to be terrific on its own. While by the time this part of the three-hour-plus Grindhouse makes it on screen a certain amount of viewer fatigue is inevitable, Death Proof is completely captivating. What starts as the story of a depraved killer (Kurt Russell) stalking and perpetrating vehicular homicide turns into a buddy film, then a tale of female empowerment and revenge. I alternated among admiration, tedium, and revulsion with what had come before in Grindhouse, but I found Death Proof an intoxicating thrill ride.
4 stars out of 5
Experienced TV crime series director Gregory Hoblit (Bay City Blues, NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, LA Law) has turned the genre on its head with Fracture. Usually, the story is a whodunit. Here, the film starts with Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shooting his philandering wife. A gun is found, a confession is taken, and Crawford is taken away. An open-and-shut case – right? Wrong, and the fun is just beginning. Hopkins is superb, albeit in role we have all seen him play before – evil genius (think Hannibal Lecter) – and plays off perfectly against this year’s surprise Oscar nominee, Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), as the cocky prosecuting attorney. While there are moments of implausibility in the film (such as Gosling’s impetuous amorous interlude with the lovely Rosamund Pike – his boss-to-be), and the film occasionally overplays the drama and tension in certain key scenes, Fracture is a refreshing twist on a familiar motif and well worth seeing.
4 stars out of 5
The Hoax walks an intriguing line between fact and fiction. While the film ostensibly documents how Clifford Irving’s early 1971 fake Howard Hughes autobiography came to be, it is based on Irving’s follow-up book The Hoax – though Irving casts doubt on the accuracy of William Wheeler’s screenplay. So – is this truth or fiction? What do you believe from a convicted liar? It is an interesting conundrum, all the more so in light of a snappy and engaging film from esteemed director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What’s Easting Gilbert Grape?). Richard Gere does an excellent job as Irving, transforming himself into a creepy Hughes doppelganger as he crafts his fictitious memoirs. This performance is all the more impressive coming from an actor who, despite a long career, has shown only limited range in the bulk of his past work. The film – like last year’s Bobby from Emilio Estevez – does a compelling job of recreating its era. The connection among Richard Nixon, Hughes, and the Watergate break-in – implied, if not confirmed – adds a tantalizing extra dimension to the storyline.