• buy-from-tan

    "A fast, complex, exhilarating roadster ride through history and time.... Kino is an intoxicating Euro-brew, written with enormous skill and dedication." — Frederick Barthelme

    "Jürgen Fauth's deft mashup of genre and historical period is both a full-throttle literary thriller of ideas and a contemplative examination of film and fascism. Kino is a debut of great intellectual  force."– Teddy Wayne

    "A surprising alternative history. Kino brings the golden age of German cinema to light with loving, sometimes gritty, detail and great precision." – Neal Pollack, author of Jewball.

    "A delirious melange of conspiracy, magic, sex, history, bad behavior, and cinema, Kino is a stellar entertainment, and Jürgen Fauth is a writer of rare, sinister imagination." – Owen King, author of Reenactment

    "A light-hearted romp that leads straight into darkness and back through the shadows on the wall."– Ben Loory, author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

    "Movie nuts arise! A happy and felicitous debut."– Terese Svoboda

  • Recent Posts

Planet Terror

It’s one of the profound mysteries of the movie year 2007: why, exactly, did critics embrace Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof the way they did while dismissing the far superior Robert Rodriguez half of Grindhouse out of hand? I could go on about this, but instead of expounding on the comparative joys of Planet Terror yet again, I’ve decided to join the Close-Up Blog-a-thon underway at The House Next Door and post a number of dramatic close-ups that perfectly illustrate just how much fun Rodriguez is having with the Grindhouse concept. The DVD of Planet Terror, severed from its insufferably pretentious twin, is available tomorrow.

Planet Terror. Robert Rodriguez, 2007. ****

Leave a comment


  1. Probably because, as amusing as Planet Terror is, all of its pleasures are surface-level and uncomplicated, as opposed to the ‘pretentious’ complexities and paradoxes of the much better Death Proof.

  2. Hey Jeff, I guess that’s what I get for making grand pronouncements without backing them up. Fair enough.

    Two points though. Everything has complexities if you care to look for them. Like Death Proof, Planet Terror is intended as meta-commentary on a genre the director loves. Unlike Death Proof though, it actually has a well-structured script full of elegant set-ups and payoffs. If that’s not enough, you can read Planet Terror as implicit critique of racial stereotyping in horror movies; Rodriguez uses El Ray as tragic Mexican hero and Mexico as apocalyptic utopia. It might also be fruitful to look at the way loss of limbs is used as a theme throughout and consider the metaphorical implications (Shelton’s character, McGowan, and the incompetent cop lose hands, legs, and fingers, and somehow make do without them.) And so forth — it’s not that hard to dig this stuff up.

    On the other hand — and that’s my point about Death Proof — I often find that surface-level pleasures are underrated, maybe just because they’re more obvious. But all the complexities and paradoxes of the world won’t keep me interested if a film’s surface is as painfully dull as that of Death Proof. At least Rodriguez played by the rules and made a grindhouse movie. Honestly, I’m not sure what QT thought he was making.

    But hey, that’s just me. I’d really like for somebody to explain what people see in Death Proof.

  3. >>>>>”But hey, that’s just me. I’d really like for somebody to explain what people see in Death Proof.”

  4. Sorry if I sounded overly contentious before. If you don’t already see what’s so great in Death Proof I’m probably not the best one to try to tell you. Rodriguez was making a straightforward grindhouse movie in Planet Terror, which is fine, but something I’ve seen dozens of times before, so on that level it was more boring to me than Death Proof, which was a melange of about five different movies mixed in a combination I had never seen before. That Tarantino didn’t ‘play by the rules’ is why his is the better film.

    In Planet Terror, I don’t think it’s a meta-commentary on anything. It’s not ‘about’ cheesy zombie movies, it just is one. A self-conscious one, to be sure, but the self-critique doesn’t extend any deeper than that. The script has setups and payoffs but I wouldn’t call any of them particularly ‘elegant’. The only one that I like is the setup that Naveen Andrews will save everyone and then what happens to him. And I see nothing special or thematic about the loss of limbs – that’s what happens in these kind of movies.

  5. Well, I’m pretty sure Planet Terror is smart enough to warrant deeper analysis if that’s what you’re after. I don’t think it’s true for every zombie film that all main characters lose the use of their limbs (Freddy Rodriguez is handcuffed for a long stretch, too), and then there’s a political angle one might pursue with Bruce Willis’ character (who “killed Bin Laden”) etc. This post, though, was all about the surface pleasures, and the way the close-ups make it seem, to me at least, like a pretty exciting movie. Which is the first thing I expect from Grindhouse — excitement.

    At the screening I saw when Grindhouse came out, everybody was in high spirits throughout Planet Terror and the trailers, but when Death Proof began, you could feel the air leak out of the place…. gone were the guns, exploding zombie heads, and bubbling goo, and it was just a bunch of Tarantino chicks sitting around talking Tarantino BS. I thought Death Proof was poorly written and completely devoid of tension, character, or jokes. The two halves were more or less unconnected, and I didn’t care for either set of characters — neither their death nor their triumph meant anything to me. I was just grateful when they finally stopped talking. You mention Tarantino grafting different styles of movies together, but I think I like the idea of that better than the reality.

    Keith, did you mean to post a link? I’d always rather like a movie than not like it, so if somebody has a convincing argument for Death Proof, I’m game.

  6. Kevin H.

     /  October 16, 2007

    Here’s a lengthy reaction to the film that I typed up some months ago in a forum discussion. It’s damned long, but I had a lot of points to cover. I’m a big fan of both the Grindhouse features, and hate to see either one casually derided, but since DP has a lot more support in the online community, I’ll leave its defense to someone else….

    “No love for Rodriguez? Edits too fast? Not enough care, concern and compassion for the viewers’ relish of blood, guts and gore? I think you’re crazy, but I’ll agree with your complaint regarding the film’s budget: just a bit too glossy, on the whole, and might’ve benefited from a smaller-scale approach. Of course, Rodriguez probably would’ve made a gag out of the low-budget effects/pyrotechnics/whatever anyway, so I’m not sure you would’ve been satisfied there either. I really love the “in on the joke” approach the film took, and even found it easier to care for the characters as a result, the pressure of most films’ pleas of “like me! like me!” carelessly (or not so carelessly) sloughed to one side.

    I think this is one instance where the film, the filmmakers and the audience are all on precisely the same page (under the right viewing conditions) and everyone knows what to expect and what they’re going to get — one of the brilliant side-effects of the marketing campaign/”thesis statement” of the Grindhouse project. And it’s refreshing to see a film that not only “knows” what it is (and what it’s about), but makes damn well sure the audience knows, and that they know it knows, and that everybody just bloody-well knows what this shit is. (I think I’m repeating myself.) It sweeps your expectations aside and allows you the opportunity to sit back enjoy the proceedings without getting too bothered by whether this bit was too tasteless, or that bit smacked of misogyny — the whole point is that this bit is supposed to play out tastelessly and that bit is precisely gauged to poke fun at the misogyny of many a “grindhouse” flick before it. The acknowledgement that this film is going to mimic, send up, revere and re-create the grindhouse tradition practically gives it carte blanche: they can do just about anything and we’ll be willing to buy it because that’s the name of the damned game.

    But Rodriguez doesn’t just up and pump out a piece of schlocky nonsense for the hell of it. His film is actually very carefully considered from top to bottom. In fact, complaints regarding cheesy acting, cheesy dialogue, cheesy this, cheesy that, don’t quite hold up, because I think so much of the film is balanced very carefully along the line of parody-comedy/serious-action-thriller: you don’t have to work too hard to buy into the movie (see above re: freedom from expectations) and even at the height of it’s silliness, the film can still affect you with its honest concern for its characters. When certain characters are threatened, we worry — when certain characters are killed, we care. This isn’t the usual way of things in a film parody, or even in an honest-to-goodness grindhouse film (which are often genuinely stupid enough to earn our contempt, rather than appreciation, unless a certain warmth towards their dog-eared goofiness wins us over…).

    And about that “damaged” look he applies to the film (far more frequently and effectively than Tarantino ever does in [the theatrical cut of] Death Proof) — I don’t think you can complain about its increase to the budget since I can almost guarantee you that he created the effect in his garage on his own in-house editing/effects station. Take a look at Once Upon a Time in Mexico for a whole slew of similarly snazzy effects made at a budget rate because he did them at home. And this stuff doesn’t just pop up for no reason (the damage, colour-”correction”, spotty frames, jumpiness, etc.) — it always occurs at specific moments of intensity or excitement, often increasing the overall “punch” of a given scene, sometimes playfully obscuring some particularly gruesome or tasteless bit of gore to make us think we saw more than we actually did (or would have, had we seen a freshly struck print… ).

    In this way, form and content often merge, becoming a uniform whole of presentation. Consider the film’s sex scene — a spectacularly racy bit of filmmaking — in which the characters’ passion, the “heat” of the on-screen action, and the film’s overall enthusiasm combine to create something so giddily joyous that it literally burns up the film with its ardour. And not only that, we discover upon returning from the “missing reel” gag (also better used here than in DP['s theatrical cut]), that not only the film stock, but the whole damed set is ablaze with the heat of their/our/the film’s passion. This is some great shit, don’tcha know? I was completely, 100% won over at this point.

    And about that misogyny business: I heard lots of complaints about Grindhouse that amounted to “real grindhouse films were appealing for their underlying socio-political protest of the status quo, pushing for the rights of this that or the other” and I wonder if these folks were watching the same film…. Yes, the trailer for Machete was more open in its protest of racial and political discrimination (though I still say that, whatever their “stance”, grindhouse films are pretty goofy, and any appreciation of their rebellious side only gets you so far), but Planet Terror is filled to the brim with themes of female empowerment, the subversion of male power (in a genre where it usually reigns supreme) and the collapse of patriarchy.

    I mean for heaven’s sake, the main story arc is all about the transference of male power to a female recipient! Cherry is working as a go-go dancer, she’s lost faith in herself and in her ability, she’s tired of being an object, but she doesn’t know how to break out of the spiral. What’s-his-face comes along, all badass, martial arts wielding, sharp-shooting and self-sufficient, and effectively empowers her with everything he’s got. The other woman (I haven’t seen the film in a while, I forget pretty much all the names) is both literally and figuratively paralyzed by her husband, either from fear or from an innate urge to conform in the face of (male) authority. It’s as if she chose a second father as a husband, which is perhaps why her own father is so disgruntled and upset with her. Only once she’s spent time with the group (mostly women, by the end) does she start to become empowered, and only during the climax (when her father retakes his place, simultaneously forgiving, saving and freeing his daughter from his own brand of oppression, made manifest in her husband) is she capable of fulfilling her potential. Yes, I suppose it would have been nice to see her free herself, but part of the scene’s raison d’etre is Park’s badassness, and the fact that he appears out of nowhere, which makes no sense.

    In any case, he’s putting an end to the cycle of male authority which he started.

    Finally, consider all the diseased phallus imagery. We’ve got the grotesque shots in the hospital, which the aide appears to be looking up for no reason other than to satisfy his own interest, the scene in which Tarantino (king of the cock) ends up losing his Johnny H. (but only after it melts into a grotesque mockery of itself, quite horrifically). This is a world in which patriarchy and male power are responsible for all the ills suffered and all the horrible events taking place. The inciting incident has everything to do with the American military, chemical weaponry, the endless pursuit of power, etc., etc. The guy who invented this shit actually carries around a vat of testicles, for christ’s sake. How can anyone think this film has no socio-political punch (on the silly level that it does)?

    And in the king of reversals (SPOILERS AHEAD), the male protagonist actually sacrifices himself to save the girl, who goes on to make the babies (creating life, rather than death), and lead the people to freedom in, of all places, Mexico! I nearly jumped out of my chair when the dude died because you never, ever see a sacrificial hero when there’s a male/female duo: the chick always bites it and the man gets revenge, yadda-yadda. I wanted to cheer. (I guess this film was some kind of penance for the generally unpleasant — in terms of its outdated sexual politics and overall gruesomeness — Sin City, a film I continue to view and admire, but often have trouble sitting through without balking now and then….)

    Female appropriation of the phallus (gun for a leg), a woman wielding male power (gun for a leg), subverting patriarchy with a unisex alternative (a woman, a mother, but with a gun for a leg), leading the people to freedom in Mexico….

    This movie kicks my ass all over the place and I can’t wait to get the damned thing on DVD.

    Right, so my prose is a little iffy (comes from trying to write too fast without thinking things through carefully), but I think you get the gist.”

  7. Fair enough statements really, I think (this is referring to the post and not the subsequent comments). I enjoy both films – prefer “Death Proof” quite easily, though – and think that this post gets at the wonderfully prurient drive behind the film. Admittedly, it took two viewings for me to like “Death Proof,” though – frankly, in retrospect, I totally dropped the ball the first time. That’s not to say that you WILL like it or that anyone who has disliked it is inherently wrong, but maybe my own words will help on this matter:

    http://projectionbooth.blogspot.com/2007/04/comenian-grindhouse.html (must click through)

  8. “On the other hand — and that’s my point about Death Proof — I often find that surface-level pleasures are underrated, maybe just because they’re more obvious. But all the complexities and paradoxes of the world won’t keep me interested if a film’s surface is as painfully dull as that of Death Proof. At least Rodriguez played by the rules and made a grindhouse movie. Honestly, I’m not sure what QT thought he was making.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more about surface level pleasures being underrated. I think a lot of people forgot that there is an element of “fun” about Planet Terror that was completely missing from “Death Proof”.

    I still liked “Death Proof” though, just not as much as “Planet Terror”. I have been a big fan of female revenge flicks since I was a kid, and I thought it pretty much followed the formula and had bit of the Tarantino kick to it. I found it interesting that you called it pretentious. I had never thought about it that way, but I kind of agree with you. I think “less talky more bloody” would have been more appropriate…

Leave a Reply

  • Tulpendiebe