Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr (1987-1988): "Tunnel of Terror"




The Filmation animated series BraveStarr (1987 – 1988) ran for sixty-five episodes in the late 1980s. Produced by the late Lou Scheimer, the series is a “space western” set on the distant, multi-cultural planet called New Texas.

As the series theme song explains, New Texas, while on the space frontier, has proven a magnet for outlaws because of the valuable ores that exists in its mountain ranges.

Not entirely unlike Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-1982), BraveStarr also mixes hard science fiction with fantasy tropes. 

In this case the heroic Native American sheriff of New Texas’s Fort Kerium not only harnesses space age technology, but the mystical powers of his shaman ancestors. 

In particular, BraveStarr (Pat Fraley) can summon, in times of crisis, the ears of the wolf, the strength of the bear, the eyes of the hawk, and the speed of the puma.



BraveStarr’s allies in the series include a talking “techno-horse” called Thirty-Thirty (Ed Gilbert), who can walk on either all fours or his hind-legs, Jamie McBride (Susan Blu), the town judge and a fiery redhead, and her father, Angus, the town's newspaper man.




While protecting Fort Kerium from thieves and outlaws like Tex Hex (Charlie Adler), BraveStarr deploys such tools as a “laser lasso,”sonic shackles” (handcuffs), and gathers information on an early version of Google Glass, a shaded visor that conveys information when BraveStarr  needs to interface with criminal records, maps, or other data-bases.




In terms of stories, BraveStarr re-purposes all the old Western movie tropes for the galactic frontier.  

Typical stories involve miners, hijacked outlaws, slavers, and so forth.  And like many Filmation programs, every episode of BraveStarr concludes with a “message” from the characters, delivered directly to the audience.  

One episode reminds kids not to steal (“Tunnel of Terror”), and another reminds them not to judge people by their size or height (“The Day the Town was Taken.”)

Although listed 29th in the production roster (according to Wikipedia), the first episode of BraveStarr in the complete series DVD set is “Tunnel of Terror.” 


Here, BraveStarr, Jamie and Thirty-Thirty on patrol when they run across old Digger, a miner has found the mother lode of valuable ore in a nearby mine.  

Unfortunately, another miner seeks the same treasure, and causes a cave-in, trapping Digger, Jamie and BraveStarr inside.

While Angus and Thirty-Thirty attempt, from outside, to clear the cave-in, those trapped inside must escape poison gas, evade giant bats recently awakened  from hibernation, and escape the cave through a volcanic crater.  

Along the way, BraveStarr summons the power of his ancestors to save the day…


A fairly straight-forward action-adventure episode, “Tunnel of Terror” concerns greed, and forgiveness.  

Specifically, the old “coot” Digger and the other miner, Todd compete for riches, but in truth Todd is desperate to pay for medicine for his sick son.  At the end of the day, BraveStarr forges an agreement between these nemeses, and nobody goes to jail. 

Much more intriguing than this Old West parable of avarice and forgiveness is the nice visual presentation.  The episode opens, for example, with a sprawling view of the cosmos.  We pan over to New Texas’s three stars, and approach them, one at a time.  Then, we move through a solar flare, and after we pass through its light, we see the planet New Texas emerge.  It’s some grand and amazing imagery, and a perfect note on which to commence the series. 

Similarly, the three suns -- red, blue, and orange -- seem to represent the diversity of New Texas’s population.  Humans and aliens of all stripes share the land, and battle for resources and wealth. 






My biggest complaint about BraveStarr at this  very early juncture is merely that some aspects of the series remain unexplained.  



In particular, I would like to know how BraveStarr comes by his mystical powers, and how he manages to summon “the fire” of his ancestor’s “spirit.”   

It isn’t terribly difficult to imagine a space frontier, cyborg-horses, or giant bats on a distant world, but the “magic” behind BraveStarr’s abilities should receive the same attention and detail.

Next week, I’ll look at the next episode in sequence, “Memories.”  

Below, you can see the introductory montage to BraveStarr.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Monster Squad (1976): "The Skull"


In “The Skull,” a criminal master-mind called The Skull (Geoffrey Lewis) sets a plan in motion to awaken and re-animate all the evil geniuses in man’s history.  He decides to start with a famous Mummy, King “Toot.” 

Using the bandaged villain, The Skull plans to steal the 10 million dollar Selma Diamond.

Meanwhile, it is Frankenstein’s birthday and the Monster Squad celebrates the day before tangling with the Skull.

When Frankenstein is captured by Skull and Toot, his friends must come to the rescue.



Although, like most episodes of Monster Squad (1976), “The Skull” isn’t particularly good, it is notable, perhaps because it hits so many mid-1970s Zeitgeist notes. 

For instance, the episode involves an ‘energy crisis’ -- a key term in the era of OPEC embargoes and gas 
lines.  

Secondly, there was a resurgence of interest in King Tut in the pop culture of the 1970s, and this episode transforms him into an evil henchman.

Thirdly, there is talk of “black outs” in the episode, another perennial problem of the mid-decade span.

Besides these specific 1970s touchstones, the episode actually features some new turns in the by-now highly repetitive formula. 



For example, the Skull escapes the climactic fight and flees to a graveyard, forcing the werewolf to fight him there.  The graveyard set is terribly cheap looking -- you can see the grass “sheet” moving back and forth as a battle in an open grave commences – but at least the episode doesn’t rely on the frequently seen final free-for-all or melee in the villain’s HQ that is usually featured.

Also, this is a nice episode for the Frankenstein Monster, who celebrates his birthday, and is threatened with death by electrocution by the Skull.  He survives, and even gets a “charge” out of his experience, but the character holds center stage well.

As Monster Squad episodes go, this is the most tolerable entry since “Ultra Witch.”

Next week: “The Weatherman.”


Friday, June 20, 2014

At Anorak: The Five Most Underrated George A. Romero Movies



My newest article at Anorak -- "The Same Animals...Only Functioning Less Perfectly" -- studies the five most underrated films in director George A. Romero's film canon.

Here's a snippet of the piece (and here's the URL since some folks are having trouble seeing the links: http://www.anorak.co.uk/400587/keyposts/the-same-animalsonly-functioning-less-perfectly-the-five-most-underrated-george-a-romero-movies.html/ )



GEORGE Romero’s impressive movie-making career stretches back to the Pittsburgh area in the late 1960s and spans over forty years.
Like many horror filmmakers of his generation, Romero has seen his share of big successes, like Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Creepshow (1982), critical darlings like Martin (1976), cult classics such as The Crazies (1973) and the occasional out-right bomb, like Diary of the Dead (2007).
But several of Romero’s finer films didn’t meet with financial or critical success, and deserve to have further light shone on them.  Accordingly, my selections for the most underrated of his feature films are listed below.


Cult-Movie Review: The Blood of Heroes (1989)


“Life is hard everywhere.”

-          The Blood of the Heroes (1989)





The Blood of Heroes (1989) -- a film concerning a particularly vicious sport called “Jugger”-- is one of my favorite, under-recognized genre movies of the late eighties.

Ever since I first saw Rollerball (1975), I have been fascinated with the future of professional sports. We know that professional sports will likely remain extremely commercial and profitable going forward, but we also know today that some are becoming more brutal, and that concussions and brain damage are often the unfortunate result for some football players.

Not exactly a “good sport” is it, when competitors end up with catastrophic brain injuries...

Regardless, The Blood of Heroes is a violent and enthralling post-apocalyptic film. In some senses, it’s actually the Rocky (1976) of the dystopia genre, because it gets the audience squarely behind its underdog heroes, and resolves in an incredibly hard-fought victory, with the heroic athletes bloodied but unbroken. 

Unusually, the film is also a rite-of-passage story with a strong female character, Joan Chen’s Kidda, holding center stage.  Most often, even in today’s cinema, the hero’s journey is a male one, but Kidda and her dreams of a better life pulsate at the heart of the film’s action.  Rutger Hauer portrays an experienced Jugger player named Sallow, but in many ways, this veteran actor takes on the supporting role of the “wise elder,” revealing to Kidda the ropes of the game, and, importantly, the politics behind the game.

Reviews for The Blood of Heroes were mixed upon theatrical release.  Vincent Canby at The New York Times championed the film and wrote that it is “entertainingly grim and, in an upside-down way, romantic.”

 Time-Out, meanwhile, noted that The Blood of Heroes (a.k.a. The Salute of the Jugger) offered little to look at and nothing worth hearing.

In this instance, I agree with Canby’s conclusion. 

Although characterization in the film is ultimately subordinate to the frequent and violent jugger matches, one nevertheless develops genuine affection for the players here: Hauer, Chen, Vincent D’Onofrio and Delroy Lindo. 

And although it is easy to gaze at the film and conclude that the narrative is somewhat meandering or plot-less, this episodic quality, this loose structure, actually works in the film’s favor.  Watching The Blood of Heroes, you are afforded a real taste of the Jugger’s life, from the wearying nomadic existence, to the violence and intensity of the sport, to the seemingly-endless ritual of tending to wounds and bruises after a match.   The film repeats this sequence of events over and over, until you feel like you’re right there with the athletes, sweating and bleeding alongside them.

Perhaps The Blood of Heroes’ underlying message isn’t entirely deep, but it is, nevertheless worthwhile. The film suggests we are all tougher than we think, and that even when the forces of the world seem aligned against us, we’ll keep fighting and striving for something better than the status quo.

Play hard, you'll forget the fear.”


The Blood of Heroes is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which (most) folks no longer have the time or luxury to think about professional sports, at least as we understand them now.  The world’s infrastructure has collapsed following a series of wars, and folks no longer remember the “Golden Age of the 20th century” or “the miraculous technology or cruel wars that followed.” 

Accordingly, the popular game of Jugger removes the commercialism and professionalism of modern-day sports, but amps up the brutality angle.  In this violent game, a team consisting of several players -- a “qwik,” a “chain,” an “enforcer” and a “slicer” -- battles an opposing team.  The match is bloody and violent, and doesn’t end until the winning team manages to place a dog skull on a pike, or stake.  Roving Jugger teams subsist by beating local teams, and collecting tributes for their victories.

The film follows a group of nomadic players, led by taciturn Sallow (Hauer).  His team comes upon a farming community where a passionate young woman, Kidda (Chen) wants to join the team as “qwik.”  Kidda boasts dreams of playing in “the League,” inside one of the nine cities.  Sallow himself was once in “the League” but was expelled from high society for his inappropriate behavior with a lord’s concubine.  Since that time, Sallow has eschewed contact with the cities, but he nonetheless tells Kidda a challenge can be issued to the city’s team.  If the team accepts…they’re in!

After several victories, Sallow’s team travels to a city to mount such a challenge, but the wronged Lord – named Vile – still wants Sallow punished and humiliated.  He instructs the city’s team leader, Gonzo, to blind Sallow during the match, and then, essentially to beat him to a pulp.

The match in the city commences in bloody fashion, and for Kidda and Sallow, their future is on the line…

“Juggers can't fuck after the game. It doesn't work. Unless you like to rub wounds against wounds.”


In the introduction to this review, I mentioned Rocky as a clear antecedent to The Blood of Heroes, but perhaps, in terms of sports movies, I also should have made notation of Bull Durham (1987) too.  In that classic baseball movie – one of the best ever made -- a player named Crash (Kevin Costner) is cast out of the minor leagues and sent down to the Single A division to mentor a promising player, one who could make it all the way to the majors.  As that player rises, Crash hopes to rise again too…

In very, very broad strokes, The Blood of Heroes follows a similar sort of outline, with an aging player, tossed from the big leagues, coming to mentor a young, promising player in a smaller, less professional venue.  Sallow and Kidda represent those characters here, but in both situations there’s this the idea of a cycle: of the old, wiser player not only tutoring the young, but returning to the world that, at some point, wronged him.  In terms of visuals, The Blood of Heroes, written and directed by David Peoples, clearly owes a lot to The Road Warrior (1982) aesthetic, and yet thematically it is much more a sports movie than a science fiction epic.

Here – as in real life – athletic prowess is one of the few ways one can successfully bridge the gap in an unequal economic system.  In the film, we see the immaculately-dressed, immaculately-cleaned upper class citizens of the underground city, and can contrast their aristocratic look with that of the Juggers, who are leathery, filthy, wind-blown, and marred by scars and bruises.  Just as is the case in our society, the upper classes are willing to pay handsomely to be entertained by good athletes, and thus a sense of class warfare seems present in all interactions.  One upper-class woman likes to decorate her porcelain skin with the blood of Jugger players, and so there’s also an impression of a vampire-like over-class lording it over the under-class. .



Uniquely, at its valedictory moment, The Blood of Heroes visually mirrors to its spiritual cinematic antecedent, the aforementioned Rollerball.  There, in the final battle, James Caan’s player Jonathan E, defeated the last enemy player right in front of his nemesis, an executive played by John Houseman.  Specifically, he checked the opposing player into the glass barrier separating him from Houseman.

Here, director Peoples’ stages a nearly identical shot, with Sallow taking out Gonzo, just inches from Vile, in front of Vile’s box seats (behind a kind of protective cage).

In both cases is the same idea is transmitted: the notion of individualism trumping established order, or authority. 

In both cases, defiance beats obedience.

If anything at all undercuts the success of The Blood of Heroes, it is the final triumphal note, however, the film sounds after Sallow and Kidda win the day.  Immediately, the vulture-like upper class descends upon them, congratulating the players, flirting with them, chatting them up.  The implication is that Sallow, Kidda and the others are now in like flint, and welcomed into a life of comfort and luxury.

But really, aren’t these Jugger players letting the establishment absorb them, at this point, and becoming part of the corrupt 1% percent in the process?  Aren’t they, by joining the league, playing the aristocracy’s game?  I like some of the early shots set in the city, where Sallow and Kidda are literally on the outside looking in (through bars on the windows) at the upper class, but the ending seems to undercut this crucial sense of outsider-ism. 

It seems that the real point of the movie is (or should be…) that reaching the top doesn’t necessarily put you where you want to be. 

Once you get there, you realize you’re still trapped playing another man’s sport.


Aside from that complaint, The Blood of Heroes is a rousing sports movie in a dystopian setting.  Shot in Australia, the film makes the most of its picturesque exteriors, and we see every variation of jugger match known to man.  The game is played in the scorching sun, and in the rain and mud.  There’s also some interesting symbolism in the film in the form of the game itself: a literalization of the notion of picking over the bones of a dead world.  That’s what Jugger is, literally, a battle to win a skull, a bone…something dead and useless.   

The Blood of Heroes is a visceral and involving film, in my judgment, and one made doubly so by the twin decisions to keep dialogue to a minimum and to not over-burden the narrative with more incident or detail than necessary.  As I wrote above, the film is extremely episodic and repetitive: travel, play, sew up wounds.  Rinse and repeat.  If you allow yourself to go with the flow, you can fall into synch with the movie’s distinctive, almost-trance-like rhythm and literally almost feel what it’s like to dwell in this world of sweat, dirt and blood.

And given the alternative of those porcelain-skinned, aristocratic vampires, you may even come to agree with Sallow’s opinion that scarred skin – like this violent but memorable film -- is strangely beautiful in its own way.

Movie Trailer: The Blood of Heroes (1989)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: Death Proof (2007)



Not long ago, director Quentin Tarantino called Death Proof (2007) -- originally on a Grindhouse double bill with Planet Terror -- his weakest film. 

This surprising claim drove me to watch the movie again for the first time in over five years.  I had rather liked Death Proof on original viewing, and felt, at least, that it was far superior to Planet Terror. 

But after a re-watch in 2014, I can detect more clearly why Tarantino himself seems so ambivalent about the picture.

There are actually two-ways to approach this film, I suppose, and each one yields different -- and even contradictory -- results.

If you go into Death Proof cold or unprepared it emerges as wildly self-indulgent. At nearly two-hours in duration, the film is bloated, repetitive, and ultimately somewhat baffling as a work of art. 

Furthermore, if the overriding idea here was simply to create a 70s-style exploitation film for the twenty first century, Death Proof is a bust.

And really, how many shots of female bare feet does a single movie need?


On the other hand, if you contextualize Death Proof as the master work of a talent who “lives and breathes” the movies and sets his films in a kind of movie-centric alternate “universe,” the film works much more successfully. 

In other words, Death Proof doesn’t seek to be realistic -- or set in the real world -- for even a second. It doesn’t even wish, honestly, to be judged as a coherent amalgamation of grindhouse style. 

Instead, Death Proof depicts a story set in a world wherein movie history and movie “laws” determine absolutely everything.  Thus it’s a movie about movie physics, not real-life physics.  Similarly, it’s a movie about movie villains, not realistic ones, and on and on.

Is this a far-fetched reading?

I would argue not, given the precedent we now have with Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), a fantasy film which offered an alternate --and movie-centric -- ending for World War II that doesn’t conform to the historical record.

So if we approach the film with an understanding that it occurs in an alternate “movie”-centric universe, Death Proof is much more fun to reckon with, and much more coherent in terms of its artistry.

I’ve always admired and appreciated the intellectual gamesmanship of Tarantino’s films, and there’s definitely that cerebral aspect to his work here too, even if it seems more difficult to parse in Death Proof than is usually the case.




“Looking good, Cannonball Run…”

In Austin, Texas, a psychotic stuntman named Mike (Kurt Russell) stalks a group of young woman late one night. 

He befriends them at a local bar, even though he creeps them out. 

Later that night, Mike uses his tricked-out movie stunt car -- “death proofed” for his continued survival -- to murder them all on a dark road.

Fourteen months later, Mike is up to his old and murderous tricks, and he stalks another car full of lovely young women, including Zoe (Zoe Bell), and Abernathy (Rosario Dawson).  This time, however, Mike has selected the wrong targets. 

Two of the women in the car are experienced movie stunt-women, and can go toe-to-toe with his death car, as well as any vehicular damage Mike seeks to mete out.



“To get the benefit of it, honey, you really need to be sitting in my seat.”

If the game is to go after Death Proof for self-indulgence and artistic contradictions, one can indeed have a field day.  That’s not my game because I admire the film, but let me present that particular case first.

The Grindhouse experiment was designed to visually recreate an era in exploitation (and movie-going experiences), and so Death Proof features scratched and grainy prints, black-and-white and color reels jumbled together, and a number of shot-to-shot discontinuities, like characters holding drinking cups in one composition but not in the reverse angle shot. 

Even the title card is a mess, with Death Proof awkwardly replacing “Thunderbolt” as the title after a split second.

The problem here is that, given film technology as it exists today, movies -- even bad ones -- don’t look like this. And because the characters drive twenty-first century vehicles in some cases, and use cell-phones to send text/e-mail messages to one another, it is clear that Death Proof is set now

Why not actually set it in the 1970s, without these modern affectations, so the movie could seem like a legitimate “found” film from the disco era? 

Because taken together -- 1970s-style screen affectations with a 2000s world -- the movie just doesn’t come together in a way that it should.  Instead, the visual jokes about bad-filmmaking and damaged prints seem half-assed. 

This feeling is augmented by the fact that the last portions of the film -- an amazing car chase – are brilliantly choreographed, executed and edited. A low-budget regional filmmaker (like, say, the great William Girdler…) could not have pulled off something like that with his budgets.

So -- to its apparent detriment -- Death Proof doesn’t even stick with its opening “meme” about bad-filmmaking.  The “badness” of the print and of the editing recedes dramatically by the film’s climax, essentially abandoned as a leitmotif.

Structurally, Death Proof has a problem to consider as well.

The first hour, which features character such as Arlene and Julia, is really, really good.  Their smart dialogue -- while ultimately meaningless in terms of the narrative -- portrays them as fun, unique individuals. 

But then every character in this interlude dies horribly, and we get a second, less-interesting group of female characters who also talk at length about matters that ultimately don’t move the plot forward. 

In other words, the story repeats itself, and much of the energy coming out of the diabolical “vehicular homicide” scene just bleeds out of the picture.  Instead of ramping up, we cycle down.

Finally, Death Proof -- as a distillation of the Tarantino aesthetic -- seems to showcase his arrested development. 

We get women performing seductive lap-dances, women showcasing their bare feet (ad infinitum), and women in tight, revealing clothing.  Ultimately, such attractive-- nay, hot! -- women triumph over the evil man, Stuntman Mike, but they do so by being as brutal and monstrous as he has been. 

If you’re looking for a straight on message here, that’s it: revenge. 

Women are ogle-worthy, have great and gorgeous feet, and are just as violent and murderous as men are. 

This has been interpreted as a feminist message, and yet if so, it is a deeply juvenile one. 

More accurately, you can distill Death Proof to the idea that Tarantino loves hot women who can be just as bad ass as men. And by being bad ass, I mean as murderous.

So there’s that.

Now, I would like to argue about the merits of Death Proof from a different and more appreciative standpoint all together.

I admire Death Proof as the work of a man who inhales movies like they are oxygen.

Seen from this perspective, the inconsistent use of film scratches, grain, color, and editing discontinuities alongside modern technology like cell phones isn’t bothersome at all.  If this film is set in an “exploitation” universe, then all the budgetary, creative, and distribution problems of grindhouse movies could, conceivably have continued right up until now. 

In other words, Death Proof is an alternate universe story in the same way that Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is.  It takes place in a realm where the universe -- not just movies -- is grindhouse.

And in this universe, every moment is a virtual replay or extension of other movie moments. 

For instance, Butterfly, or Arlene, spends the day leading up to her death seeing Stuntman Mike’s black car parked nearby.  It keeps re-appearing at different scenes, and so she experiences the sense that something is wrong, and that she is being stalked.  These moments very clearly reflect a slasher film ethos, but more than that, reflect, in particular, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). 

There, a final girl, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) kept seeing Michael Myers’ car during the course of a day, and so she too began to sense danger.

But this idea -- or cliché -- of the insightful final girl is overturned because Butterfly does not survive her encounter with her Boogeyman (who is also named Mike, by the way).

And furthermore, Butterfly’s death may come about because of her highly sexualized lap dance for him at the bar. To wit: Tarantino know his film history, and he knows his horror films.  The girls who act in a “sexualized” fashion in old fashioned horror movies typically don’t survive. 


So Arlene, or Butterly, in a sense, forsakes her final girl status with that lap dance (which Julia advises her not to proceed with…) and dies before the night is through.

Another scene, involving elaborate and extensive exposition delivered by two colorful Texas law-men similarly evokes the oeuvre of Brian De Palma, namely a scene in Raising Cain (1992), wherein two characters, a detective and a therapist, confer at length about the psychological nature of Carter Nix (John Lithgow). 

Here, the police discuss Stuntman Mike and the fact that he is getting away with murder, but that he better not do it again, at least not in Texas. 

The scene looks the way it does because there is no other “movie” way to do it, in a sense.  Death Proof takes place in the same world as a De Palma thriller would, and so the long, expository dialogue (told through long tracking shots) is a veritable necessity.  The meaning of this scene is pinpointed in its staging, and in its visual allusions.

The idea of Death Proof occurring in an alternate universe of “movie-ness,” essentially, also subtracts the criticism about the film’s repetitive structure.  We meet a group of loquacious women, spend some time with them, and then they meet Mike...who kills the women.

Then the film repeats, we spend time with some loquacious other women, and they too meet Mike. 

But, of course, what we have here isn’t so much a repeat as a remake. 

Abernathy, Zoe and Kim (the second group of protagonists) hail from the movie business -- like Stuntman Mike himself -- and are therefore able to defeat him and beat him at his own psychotic game. 

The second half of Death Proof is thus not a repeat of the first half, but a rewrite, a remake, but with characters capable of beating the film’s villain.  The old trope about sexually-active women dying because of their trespasses is re-written for a girl-power anthem.  Indeed, that is the note of triumph the movie ends on.


I’ve often written that people enjoy movies so much because movies can get right what life simply can’t.  We can get the happy or just ending in a movie that real life just can’t provide.  Set in the “movie-verse,” Death Proof sets up a scenario by which Stuntman Mike can be beat.

Generically, this is known as “poetic justice” because we expect to find such justice only in literature or drama, but not in reality.  In this case, Mike is conquered by fellow stunt-people, and superior ones at that.  

In real life, we would never expect him to meet up, by accident no less, with other stunt people on the road. This is a movie conceit, and intentionally so.

If you go down the line, almost every significant character in Death Proof is involved in the entertainment industry, whether as a dancer, a DJ, a stunt-person, or on some meta, post-modern level (with directors Tarantino and Eli Roth both appearing in cameos…).  This fact too is our key to unlocking the film’s true nature.  Death Proof is set not in the real world, but in the fake world of movies and movie tradition.

What Death Proof accomplishes, then, is the creation of a movie universe where every character is a type you know and recognize, where every scene is a scene that’s already been played in other films, and every new minute is but a variation on older stories, or even a deliberate rewrite of them. 

As I noted above, Tarantino even rewrites the first act of his film in his second act, down to the inconsequential expository talk.  This gamesmanship is quite an intellectual accomplishment, and it really goes beyond the Grindhousememe,” which is simply to make a bad but entertaining movie in the style of 1970s exploitation cinema. 

Death Proof doesn’t really accomplish that, because the dialogue is smart (and the dialogue in a lot of grindhouse movies usually isn’t…), the action is superb and expensively mounted (and grindhouse movies had no budgetary resources). 

Instead, Tarantino offers us something crazy and inspired: a veritable universe of grindhouse, grown-up thirty-to-forty years smarter, funnier, and more accomplished and savvy.

Stuntman Mike, at one point in the film, notes that to get the benefit of the death proof car, you need to be sitting where he sits. 

One could extend this metaphor to Tarantino and Death Proof itself.

To really get it, and really enjoy it, you need to sit where Tarantino sit:  at the head of a wonky film class, essentially.

Get inside Tarantino’s head -- or in his director’s chair if you will -- and Death Proof is an unrivaled cinematic experience, an experience both self-indulgent and brilliant at the same time.