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Grindhouse Double-Feature Review

"Come one, come all! Come witness a new experience in ultimate terror."

Read on as Philip J Reed, VSc and Andrew Edmark give their thoughts on the new film "Grindhouse" in their very own double-feature review format.

Andrew's Review:

The lights dim and the curtains open. The speakers rumble and crackle awake from their temporary slumber as I clench the arms of my seat, for I am just about to witness two of the coolest damn flicks ever to grace the silver screen: "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof."

Suddenly, a voice rasps into my ear, "They called him Machete."

Machete and some explosions.
Machete and some explosions.

And that is how the double-feature picture show “Grindhouse” opens. The first fake trailer, directed by Rodriguez, is my second favorite of the fake trailers. It features boobies, explosions, guns, more boobies, knives, machetes, and most of all, boobies. Danny Trejo plays the title character who battles his way through what seems like the most overplayed plot sequence known to man. But dammit if it doesn't look cool. Aside from Danny, who seems to have a habit of showing up in a lot of Rodriguez's films, there is a somewhat brief appearance made by Cheech Marin, who plays a vigilante priest who swore he would never kill another man. Guess he was wrong.

After the awesome trailer, which has been announced to be developed into an actual feature coming out to video next year, comes our first feature "Planet Terror." Sprinkled before it are some real clips from old grindhouse theaters, which really adds to the whole effect quite nicely.

What can I say about "Planet Terror?" Well, for one thing it was very entertaining. Of the two films, "Terror" is without a doubt the more entertaining film. This is because it is filled with beautiful women, explosions, blood, guts, humor, and mutant zombies. In my mind, there is nothing more exciting than zombies. But sadly, I must admit, that these very same features are what make "Terror" not quite as good as "Death Proof."

You see, the whole idea behind a grindhouse flick is that it's low-budget, often poorly made, and usually features bad acting and bad effects. "Terror Planet" didn't really have any of this. The budget was in the millions, it was very well made, and the acting was generally good (albeit bad only because it was supposed to be) and the effects were also rather polished for a so-called exploitation film. The use of artificial grain, scratches, dust, and film distortion in every single frame of the film really felt like overkill. I don’t really think is served well as a stylistic device because after a while it was just annoying. Also, it was used in a way that the simulated defects coincided with what was happening on the screen. Such as the film turning red when Tarantino was making his big monologue in the elevator, or little bumps and jumps and other crazy things at just the right moments. Basically "Planet Terror" was too slick and funny for its own good, which effectively prevented it from being an homage and made it into a parody. In my opinion, "Terror" was just too self-aware. It knew it was supposed to be a grindhouse film, and it took advantage of that fact to the point that it was just funny, not scary.

Wow, I never thought I'd be bashing a movie for being too good.

The "Terror Planet" crew ready for ass-kickery.

My biggest complaint, though, is not over the quality of the film. Instead, it's over Rodriguez himself. For a director who made his start doing ultra-low budget films and basically revolutionized the way indie films are made, he's really lost focus of his roots. Now that he's a big shot director with millions of dollars, he's forgotten how to be creative while maintaining a small budget. There's no doubt in my mind that he could've made a film equally as entertaining, and probably even better structurally if he would've ditched all the hokey grain effects and cut down on the CGI factor. In real grindhouse films they didn’t even have CGI. I DO have to admit, though, that this is probably the best film Rodriguez has ever made. Yes, it's even better than Sin City. That being said, I am still rather disappointed because Rodriguez has such a brilliant mind, but he has yet to prove to me his competency as a real director. Yes his films are entertaining, exciting, and fun to look at. But in my opinion, eye candy doesn't a good director make. I have yet to see compelling acting, deep meaning, or any sort of complex storytelling in a Rodriguez film. This leaves me to question if Rodriguez is really even capable of any of that.

As far as plot goes for "Terror," it's pretty simple. A military group tries to do shady business in buying illegal chemicals, but something goes wrong and the chemicals are released turning everyone in the area into flesh-eating, melting, and mutated zombies. The zombies then attack some secondary characters, while some minor development occurs with major characters. There's Dakota, who is trying to escape the clutches of her abusive husband Dr. Block. And then there's Wray, a badass with a mysterious past. And then there's Cherry, a go-go dancer who loses her leg (which is provides HILARIOUS visuals).

Talk about high caliber.
Talk about high caliber.

The list goes on. Basically, once the zombies hit, there is much chaos, including a very cool set piece involving a hospital and many fleeing patients. Somehow all of the surviving characters end up together in a BBQ diner, and they must fight their way to an answer to what the hell is going on.

The action in "Terror" is plentiful, as are the gross-out scenes of gunfire, gore, and pus-filled abscesses which must be drained. There is a point where a missing reel pops up, and a good 20 minutes of more mayhem is totally gone. This really pissed me off, because the movie kind of felt too short without it. Overall I give it three removed testicles out of five. (Trust me; this rating will make much more sense once you see the film.) The visuals, comedy, and non-stop action of this film really was quite impressive.

After the non-stop excitement of "Planet Terror" come three short trailers for movies that don't exist. First there is the trailer directed by Rob Zombie, which I found to be the weakest. While the concept of "Werewolf Women of the SS" is quite hilarious, the production values looked to be too high to actually be imitating a grindhouse movie. Instead it felt like another parody. Actually it just looked like Rob Zombie’s next movie. Second is Edgar Wright's masterpiece trailer for "Don't." With its annoying, drawn-out narration and the constant flashing of grotesque and cheesy imagery, it really feels like one of those terrible films you'd see in a grimy cinema. Finally there is someone who understands the difference between parody and homage! And of course it is Edgar Wright who's the first to get that. If you watch closely, you can see him make an appearance in the trailer, as well as an appearance by Nick Frost in chains. I tried looking for other "Spaced" cast members, but I didn't see any. After "Don't", which is by far the strongest trailer, is Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" trailer. Now the concept and title is obviously a play off of the "Halloween" films, but Roth follows suit with Wright and delivers a believable trailer to a movie that could very well have been shown in an honest to goodness grindhouse.

After the trailers are a few more odd little clips, and then the second feature "Death Proof." The opening credits set the mood instantly. I noticed right away, too, that there is an alternate title to the film. Before we see "Death Proof" in big letters, there is a quick flash of a different title, which is a blatant homage to all of the old Italian westerns made back in the 60's in 70's. It's not uncommon that low-budget films had their title’s changed by distributors, which would result in shoddy title cards in the beginning of the film. So it's no surprise that Tarantino uses this quirk in the film. I just wish I knew what title it was that came up before "Death Proof."

As the credits roll, we know almost instantly that “Death Proof” is a completely different film from “Planet Terror”. There is no heavy grain or apparent film scratches; it’s a pretty good print, actually, but the colors are faded as if it's a third-generation copy from some dudes cellar. But, as indicated by a warning before the film, the print does suffer from missing reels. It also suffers from some looping issues. Several times you'll see some glitches where dialogue is repeated once or twice, or the image jumps around and reverses. These errors are obviously simulated, but they are used effectively and randomly, having no significance to the actual plot... This was actually very smart of Tarantino to do.

Russell working the charm as Stuntman Mike.
Russel working the charm as Stuntman Mike.

Like most Tarantino films, the beginning is drawn out and injected with sharp, long-winded dialogue. It seems to go on forever, and it really isn't about anything important. To most people, it's boring. But that's simply by design, because after 30 minutes or so of babbling, I wanted those annoying girls DEAD!

As the film goes on, we meet Russell's character, Stuntman Mike. At first he's quite a likeable guy. He's very suave and charming, even though he has a car with a skull on the hood and a scar that runs down the length of his face. Personally I think Russell gives one of his better performances, as I was totally captivated whenever he was on screen. And how he develops in the second half of the film is so properly handled that even though it’s totally unbelievable, you believe every second of it. I can't say that much about any of the first group of female leads, though, but I don't think anyone is supposed to be able to say that about them.

After some more talking, a missing reel (which is a brilliant device to shorten the run length and to add to the style) skips over a lap dance scene with Butterfly and Stuntman Mike. Instead we are pushed ahead into more dialogue. But before we know it, the girls are killed in a completely horrifying but awesome way, and are totally forgotten about within minutes. Once you’re in the second half of the movie, it's as if the first part never even happened, because Stuntman Mike is on the road again looking for more victims.

In the second half, the victims are a group of girls working on a film in town. They're less cutesy, unfortunately, but they seem to be more level-headed and conventional than the other girls. One of them is even a stuntwoman, who is actually a real stuntwoman in real life (she doubled for Thurman in “Kill Bill”). I found these characters much more enjoyable and engaging; even though they too talk endlessly about nothing and they’re acting isn’t much better. But if one really listens to them, all of the talking in the film is not just filler this time. If one digs deep enough, much depth is conveyed in all of the characters through what they say, and in a relatively short amount of screen time we get to know these girls.

In the final act, we get to witness a car chase so shocking that I was literally on the edge of my seat. I was scared for the characters and really engaged in what was happening up on the screen. Dammit, I actually cared. And this is what makes "Death Proof" the stronger film. The ability to scare me the way he did makes Tarantino a truly great director. Even when he is presenting us with material that is inherently bad, he manages to hook the viewer in and create something meaningful, engaging, unique, and entertaining. And the fact that CGI wasn't used really makes the stunts in this film ultra-impressive. It really is a throwback to those old B Car movies, which is totally cool.

That's one gnarly fender-bender.
That's one gnarly fender-bender.

All in all, while "Death Proof" is slightly less entertaining than "Terror Planet," I believe it is the stronger film. I did enjoy "Terror" more, but there is no denying the fact that "Death Proof" is worthy of all the praise it gets. That does not change the fact, though, that "Death Proof" is probably the second worst Tarantino film to date (I didn’t care much for “Jackie Brown”). Though slightly disappointing, I don't think being Tarantino’s second worst film is necessarily a bad thing because "Death Proof" could've been a lot worse. And anyway the whole point of it was to BE bad.

I give Death Proof a total of four black Chevy Novas out of five for its consistency and accuracy in mimicking the original grindhouse films, the awesome death scenes, and a final act that really delivers.

If you live in the US, go see Grindhouse this instant. If you don’t, it looks like you’re gonna have to pay twice as much because those greedy executives are splitting the movies into two separate features. Bummer.

Phil's Review:

Here's something we can all agree with: if we're going to sit for three hours and eleven minutes in a theater, it had better be worth it.

The subjective bit is, well, what actually makes something worth it. In Grindhouse you should--in theory--have chance enough to find something you'll enjoy. You've got two distinct plots, two different directors, two batches of (mostly) unrelated characters to follow, two unique styles of film-making...

The problem is that Grindhouse doesn't quite get any of these right. That's not to say that it gets them wrong, I should mention...but it's still a far cry from getting them right.

The best thing about the Grindhouse experience is this: the fake trailers. You'll pardon me if I indulge myself by dealing with them up front, I hope...I promise to get to the proper films soon.

Each of the trailers is contributed by a different director...a very wise decision. Not that Tarantino and Rodriguez couldn't have handled this on their own (Rodriguez, in fact, does add a trailer to the mix...the hilariously spot-on Machete), but it's a big relief to the audience to find three very different directorial / comic styles coming so rapidly at us between the main features. It makes the film less claustrophobic...and more authentic.

Machete comes first...before the first feature...and it's very, very funny. In fact, it's the only one of the fake trailers that I'd actually like to see a complete film for...not that I expect it'll be good, but I'd certainly expect it to be a lot of fun. (Cheech Marin as a murderous clergyman? Yes, please.)

Then, between features, we have three more. The first one is Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS, which should have been much, much funnier than it really was. Halfway through the trailer I was sort of hypnotized into almost believing it was a real film. This might sound like a compliment, but in reality it's just down to how flat the humor was falling.

Nick Frost's cameo role in "Don't".
Nick Frost's cameo in 'Don't'

Edgar Wright's Don't was next, and it was the highlight of all three hours of Grindhouse. I don't know how long it was...maybe two minutes or so. But I laughed so hard it hurt. Not only was it a brilliantly observed send-up of every horror film ever made, it was a scathing indictment of sensationalist films in general. It really was a miniature masterpiece. Was there ever any doubt that Edgar Wright is a genius? Probably not. But it's nice to see that his talent is as cutting in a two-minute trailer as it is in a half-hour episode of Spaced or a full-length film of his own. Bravo, Edgar. If both feature films were complete crap they still would have been worth sitting through for this.

Finally there's Eli Roth's Thanksgiving, which was just a tad too long, but that is the only negative thing I can say about it. It was funny. In fact, if Don't were removed from the sequence it probably would have been uproarious...but as it stood it paled in comparison. A necessary defeat. Anyway, I've seen enough 1970s 3rd-rate horror to really appreciate this fact, even though I know it's fake, I'm still convinced that I saw this movie at some point. Well done.

Ah, now we have to talk about the main films...don't we? A shame...because this is where all of the negativity lives.

Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror comes first. I've heard a lot of people complain about the sequence of the two films...and while there is a case to be made about Tarantino's coming first, I think that the order of the films is the least of Grindhouse's problems.

Planet Terror is a zombie movie. That's--honestly--about all you need to know about the plot. You know how these things unfold. A period of calm during which we meet the characters, an initial accident that produces a zombie or two, and the outbreak spreads from there. There's nothing in Planet Terror that you haven't seen before, but that's okay, because that obviously isn't the point. Rodriguez doesn't want a revolutionary zombie movie...he wants a really good zombie movie.

And is it really good? Yeah. Well, good enough. There are some really great moments, and the casting is phenomenal, especially Josh Brolin as Dr. Block...a character who manages to be both the good and bad guy the whole time through. It's a really excellent divided character...he's one way in public and another in private. It's also extremely well-acted.

Freddy Rodriguez holds this film together... Loosely.
Freddy Rodriguez holds this film together... Loosely.

Freddy Rodriguez also surprised me pleasantly. I still believe he was the only good thing about Six Feet Under, but he's a completely different character here...while still being just as believable. Planet Terror owes most of its best action to him...action which, otherwise, consists of shooting zombies who then explode like balloons full of red dye. Freddy Rodriguez brings a real element of humanity to the mayhem...he gives it a face and a personality, and does his absolute damnedest to salvage the film. And you know what? He very nearly does just that.

But Planet Terror is just a little too slight for its own good. In fact, for a zombie movie, it's oddly claustrophobic...especially when we see later that the epidemic has spread across the entire planet. Why, then, are we stuck in a room with the same handful of people we don't really care about? Why can't we get out there and see what's going on? Why can't the camera follow an interesting group of people?

I understand budget limitations (at least, perceived budget limitations for the sake of looking old-school) and the fact that the film wasn't supposed to seem large-scale, but come on. Even Shaun of the Dead did a better job of convincing me that the epidemic was a real danger, and Shaun didn't even have had much more going for had plenty of room to forsake realism...but it didn't. Planet Terror has no excuse. It'd be more aptly named Back Room at the BBQ Place Terror, Kind Of. For that film to have earned its final scene...or to have won me over as a needed at least an implied larger scale. I don't need to see it happen, I just need to believe that it is happening.

There were some beautiful gross-out moments, though...all of which were very well done...and if Quentin Tarantino has to act, I can only hope all of his characters end up with the same fate as his rapist here.

Oh, on a related note, why is Rose McGowan only attractive from the side? I mean, that seems a little strange to me. Most attractive girls I know look their best head-on. All I want to do when Rose McGowan looks into the camera, though, is reposition it.

2/5 stars for Planet Terror.

Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino's contribution to Grindhouse. And it's every bit as frustrating as Planet Terror, but for very different reasons.

Tarantino gets his scale right, at least, with Stuntman Mike being the perfect degree of dangerous to just the right number of victims. He's a fish in exactly the right-sized pond...maybe it'd be better to call him a shark.

But there's too much of Tarantino trying to be Tarantino in this film. So much that it's annoying. The first forty minutes of the film could be condensed down into around ten without losing anything.

That's not me being a smart ass...that's practically scientific fact. If you boil down everything important that happens in the first forty minutes, you could get it all out of the way in around a minute and a half. The ten minutes I quoted above was to allow Quentin some room to flex his wit and musical tastes.

A little dash of foot fetish and some long-winded dialogue and we're set!
A little dash of foot fetish and some long-winded dialogue and we're set!

The dialogue was just appallingly bad. I mean...bad. I'd find it hard to believe even Tarantino die-hards gave a crap about anything these people were talking about. I find it hard to believe anyone could even consider them characters. This is bad news, folks, because Tarantino's a great director that we really can't afford to lose. But this is, seriously, the script-writing workshop stuff that a first-year student would write after watching Pulp Fiction for the first time. Too much effort, not enough to show for it.

That said, when the first death scene comes, it's just about worth the wait. It almost justifies the forty minutes of utter shash that precedes it. It's that good.

Do I ever say that killings make the film? No. But in this case, it was so good it became art. Gory, ugly, disgusting art...but art nonetheless.

Then we have a whole other group of characters to meet and this time around, luckily for us, they're worth caring about. (And is it just me, or does Tracie Thoms have one of the most beautiful faces in the whole wide world?)

Their dialogue is probably equally corny, but it's at least better structured, and since we'll be following them through the rest of the film it goes a long way toward establishing their traits and their roles in their little circle of friends. You can tell how much better this group of characters is than the first because, all of a sudden, the film seems like it's moving more quickly than it really is. Death Proof has hit its stride at the halfway point...but it only makes you wish you didn't have to sit through so much hollow pointlessness to get there.

The ending is well-earned...abrupt, but in precisely the right way. In fact, at the end, you are bound to be on the verge of cheering at Tarantino's absolute perfect timing in bringing his story to a close...and that's what makes his poor decisions early in the film so damn frustrating. Death Proof is the better of the Grindhouse films, but it still has so far to go before it could really be any good. And, when you tally it all up, it's not nearly as much fun as Planet Terror, which is a pretty harsh thing to say about any film.

2/5 stars for Death Proof.

Another few drafts and Death Proof could have been great. A wider scope and Planet Terror could have been genuinely scary instead of just implicitly so. Which means that, out there in the world of "Could Well Have Been," Grindhouse is a masterpiece.

Here in reality, though, we're stuck with what amounts to a very fun night out, but probably not one you'll remember much the next day.

3/5 stars for Grindhouse as a whole.

About this entry


If I said Tarantino hadn't made a *really* good film since Pulp Fiction, would I have to fight anyone? I'm so, SO sick of his crap dialogue. I thought Sin City was boring as hell too. I'm not going to "get" Grindhouse, am I?

By Michael Lacey
April 20, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

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>would I have to fight anyone?

You wouldn't have to fight me, at least. I did like Jackie Brown, though. Quite a lot. But I'd be lying if I said it was anywhere near as good as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs.

>I'm not going to "get" Grindhouse, am I?

It's a good, fun night out. There really isn't much to "get." Maybe that's by design...but, for my money, if there's very little to "get" I'd at least like to have my senses appealed to more frequently. Planet Terror has a lot of action and gore, and that was enough for the kind of movie that it was. I didn't expect anything more rewarding than that. But Death Proof is a bit light in the gore loafers. The deaths--when they come--are some of the best deaths I have EVER seen in film. But there aren't many of them. And almost all of the action is held off until the very last sequence.

I either wanted an all-out three-hour splatterfest, or two movies that were good enough on their own. What I got was something in between. I wouldn't turn people away from seeing it...I'm just surprised how restrained a lot of it was.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
April 20, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

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If I said Tarantino hadn't made a *really* good film since Pulp Fiction, would I have to fight anyone?

Jackie Brown was on last night, and I'd forgotten just how good it is. People never seem to mention that one, probably because it's his least flashy, most down-to-earth film. But I think it's excellent - a bit long, maybe, but possibly even better than Reservoir Dogs.

I think Kill Bill also has a bit more to it than people give it credit for. Though having said that, Kill Bill, Death Proof (which I haven't seen yet) and this rumoured Mandarin-language martial arts movie do feel a bit like him just messing around, experimenting to see what low-budget "genre films" would be like with more time and money. There's nothing really wrong with that, but some critics consider it a waste of his talent.

A very good book about the films Tarantino's been involved with, which I'd highly recommend, is this Virgin Film Guide:

I bought my copy from this eBay seller, who's got another copy listed at the moment:

By Nick R
April 20, 2007 @ 6:40 pm

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If I said Tarantino hadn't made a *really* good film since Pulp Fiction, would I have to fight anyone? I'm so, SO sick of his crap dialogue. I thought Sin City was boring as hell too. I'm not going to "get" Grindhouse, am I?

All hail Lacey - in this instance at least, he's right on all counts.

Pulp Fiction is actually one of my favourite films, but it's the only thing QT's ever done that really interests me in any way whatsoever.

By Seb
April 20, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

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I think Jackie Brown is an interesting, well-cast thriller - but it's too long by about half, jettisons all of the novels amusing subplots, and I really wish someone else had written the script. The direction is by and large fine, but it's the first film where the "Tarantinoesque" dialogue starts to feel shoehorned in, and the structural tomfoolery that was such an integral and excellent part of Pulp Fiction is fairly un-necessary I think.

The Kill Bill films, on the other hand, contain some excellent sequences, but overall the films a complete fucking mess considering what a stylish, visual film-maker Tarantino is supposed to be. If he assimilated his cinematic expertise and myriad influences into a tight, stand-alone thriller, I'd love it, but it seems that with increasing frequency he's happy to simply muck about pretending its the 70s with more money and getting his characters to spout increasingly hackneyed and ridiculous pop-culture shit. How my heart sank when halfway through one of the few scenes where Kill Bill 2 approached some emotional impact, Carradine went "HERE'S THE THING ABOUT SUPERMAN COMICS, YO". He needs to stop trying to DEFINE himself with every film - because essentially, I suspect, he's just a bit of a spoddy wanker. His skills are perfectly suited to creating taut, thrilling, stylish films on a fairly small scale I think, films where a good plot is augmented by his casting/music choices etc. The thing about Pulp Fiction is that in synopsis form, there's nothing THAT unusual about it - it's just a really well directed crime film. But his desire to create a pastiche of shit films from the 70s has spilled over to the point where he's using crap plots too, and I just have no interest in that. At all.

By Michael Lacey
April 20, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

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>But his desire to create a pastiche of shit films from the 70s has spilled over to the point where he's using crap plots too

The fact is, though, that plots were never his forte. I'd argue that precisely none of his films have original plots.

Which isn't a bad thing in's just important to channel your disappointment in the appropriate directions (which you did otherwise...I'm just nit-picking).

When Tarantino's doing his best, it's all in how he uniquely handles ideas that have already been done to death. He breathes life into the lifeless. Or at least he did. In two (arguably three) films.

But I still believe he's got another several brilliant films left in him. He's fully capable of it. I don't think anyone would argue with me on that. He's proven just seems he's not ready to buckle down and get to work on that masterpiece of his that exists somewhere out there in the aether.

Give him some time. Let him get older. Wes Anderson might be writing films like a grizzled veteran, but Tarantino seems to need to make a few more mistakes along the way.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
April 20, 2007 @ 11:04 pm

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>But his desire to create a pastiche of shit films from the 70s has spilled over to the point where he's using crap plots too

"The fact is, though, that plots were never his forte. I'd argue that precisely none of his films have original plots."

Especially Jackie Brown! I don't think *originality* is that important - I'd certainly be happy to see him tackle more adaptations. I just object to someone as intelligent as Tarantino clearly is settling to make films with plots like "there's a woman who gets SHOT and then she comes back to life and KILLS EVERYONE" or "there's a man who drives a car and HE KILLS EVERYONE. Well, some people. It's a bit disappointing". I mean, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown are the kind of films you need to actually pay attention to, whereas there's maybe four important scenes in the whole bloody Kill Bill fiasco.

"But I still believe he's got another several brilliant films left in him. He's fully capable of it. I don't think anyone would argue with me on that. He's proven just seems he's not ready to buckle down and get to work on that masterpiece of his that exists somewhere out there in the aether."

I agree with this. I think he's in a Scorcese-style fallow period of self indulgent, repetitive, shallow film-making. He just needs to get a bit simpler.

By Michael Lacey
April 21, 2007 @ 12:17 am

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