Skip 'Grindhouse,' Consider 'The Lookout' and See 'Black Book'
by Scott Holleran
Rose McGowan in Grindhouse
April 13, 2007

Burbank, California—The critical consensus on Grindhouse is that Quentin Tarantino's segment, dubbed Death Proof with Kurt Russell and a roster of babes, is much better than the Robert Rodriguez-directed piece, Planet Terror, about a zombie siege. Neither is appealing but the latter is more proficient.

Rodriguez's horror satire moves fast, makes sense and doesn't junk its own story for grins halfway through the picture like its Tarantino counterpart. Neither are crude enough for the targeted audience of death-premise nihilists yet they're both too revolting and long-winded to pass with the civilized moviegoer.

Tarantino's car chase is a bit of a kick two hours into the show, though it is noticeably choreographed, but this pointless, overproduced trash makes White Line Fever look downright substantial. Some may wonder why someone who loves Doris Day and Disneyland would see this movie in the first place—it was an attempt to see if I was missing something (I couldn't make it past the first 15 minutes of Pulp Fiction and thought Once Upon a Time in Mexico was a bust) but I did want to give Grindhouse an honest try.

As far as what the movie means, who knows, and that is the point for an indulgence like this, full of fake trailers, fake blood and lots of jiggle. It comes off like a prolonged plea for attention. Grindhouse's theme, in total and if it has one, is anti-male to the extent that it puts its Amazon-strength women in control, which really isn't that surprising from two hyper-macho directors. Their combined effort is ho-hum.

A better picture is The Lookout, strengthened by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a high school hockey stud derailed by one reckless act and Jeff Daniels as his blind roommate. Gordon-Leavitt's bank janitor depends on Daniels to do routine tasks and their relationship feeds a crucial turn of events when bank robbers set the maintenance man up for a heist. It's too slow and convoluted but both actors notch another solid performance. The climax—especially for anyone facing trauma recovery—fits the bill.

Sebastian Koch and Carice van Houten in Black Book
Besides Disturbia, this week's theatrical pick is Paul Verhoeven's Black Book starring the versatile Carice van Houten as Rachel and Sebastian Koch, the playwright in The Lives of Others, as a Nazi. Though not perfect—the notion of a sympathetic Gestapo officer is outrageous—it explores what constitutes sanction of evil in a mostly exciting and constantly evolving war thriller.

A moral dilemma motors the movie, which follows beautiful Dutch Jew Rachel in a flashback, and the photography, cast, and scenery are eminently watchable and that's a rare quality on screen. Energy dissipates and it lacks a cohesive historical philosophy, but when resolute Rachel—who sings, dances and dyes her hair—goes undercover to nab the Nazis who murdered her family, you're hooked.

You never know where the bombs will drop, who to trust—Holland's pragmatists and Nazi collaborators really get their due—and, even when the story is stretched to dramatize a ridiculous point, such as comparing post-war treatment of Nazi types to the Holocaust, Black Book is a breathless, cinematic experience.


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