The Grifters, Grindhouse, Grizzly Man, and a few more movies

The Grifters (1990)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Con artists Annette Bening, John Cusack, and Anjelica Huston pull a series of cons on each other and everyone else they meet or bump into.

The swindles are fun, it's all noiry and stacked with deception, wackadoodle plotting, arch dialogue, and dang fine performances. It rolls along at a wicked pace, and in the best tradition of con job movies, you're never sure who to trust, so your best bet is to trust no-one.

The Grifters isn't as great as everyone seems to agree that it is, but it's very good — slicker 'n snot, and like a runny nose it never lets up.

Directed by Stephen Frears, it's based on a novel by the great Jim Thompson.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

A Grin Without a Cat (1978)
Streaming free at YouTube (part 1)
Streaming free at YouTube (part 2)

"The struggle continues."

From Chris Marker, maker of La Jetée and Sunless, this is a more explicitly political film. It's a documentary, sort of, but more like an audio-visual presentation for the cause, and the cause is left-wing progress.

The best of it is about civil disobedience, the anti-war movement of the 1960s, and some shocking footage from that era — Republicans openly calling for 'Negroes' to be shipped back to Africa, an American fighter pilot who's nearly orgasmic about strafing and killing people as he flies over, lots of detail on the American-led coup that toppled Allende in Chile, and more.

#308  [archive]
JULY 9, 2024

Tellingly, the film was made in 1978, but not released in America until 2002.

It's three hours long, though, and Marker spends a lot of that time letting leftists make speeches to the camera. I'm the farthest left person I know, but I've never been a "by-the-book" lefty, and my eyelids grow heavy when people talk and talk about the virtues of communism and the principles of socialism, Lenin this and Marx that. I have never been big on sermons.

Still, it's unlike any movie an American would be allowed to make, and certainly earns my recommendation.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Grindhouse (2007)
Streaming free at Internet Archive (Planet Terror)
Streaming free at Internet Archive (Death Proof)

Robert Rodriguez and his pal Quentin Tarantino decided to have some fun, making a big-budget recreation of a low-budget double feature that might've played in scuzzy theaters in the 1970s. Both halves are feature length, which makes Grindhouse the length of an epic film, and both halves star Rose McGowan.

Grindhouse is a tribute or homage to low-budget schlock, but it's two very rich moviemakers spending very much money to make fun of a previous generation's moviemakers who had very little money at their disposal. Punching down, is what that's called.

But I quibble. The film is an intriguing idea. Like a genuine double feature, it comes with several fake previews, which are all amusing, a few so much so that they've later been made into actual schlock movies.

The Rodriguez effort is called Planet Terror. It's sci-fi, about genetically-engineered infections killing people gruesomely. Josh Brolin and Bruce Willis are featured, with lots of icky effects. It's true to the intended spirit here, but movie-gruesome doesn't do much for me, and neither did the story. I watched about a third of it before fast-forwarding to move the plot along quicker. 

Tarantino's half is called Death Proof, and it's better. Serial killer Kurt Russell (has he ever played a bad guy before?) drives a car that's specially rigged to keep the driver safe through almost anything, but the passengers and anyone in another car, not so much. In the style of a cheap 1970s horror, Death Proof is bloody as hell, and plays into my lifelong hatred and fear of cars, but same as Planet Terror, it has long boring stretches that had me zooming ahead.

All is forgiven, though, because Death Proof has legendary stuntwoman Zoë Bell, playing herself and strapped to the hood of a speeding car, with psycho Kurt Russell in pursuit. Now, there's something you don't see very often.

Verdict: MAYBE for Planet Terror.
Verdict: YES for Death Proof.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Grizzly Man (2005)
Streaming free at Watch Documentaries

Werner Herzog does it again, makes a movie nobody else could've made as well.

Grizzly Man delves deep into the bizarre tale of Timothy Treadwell, who lived among bears in Alaska, interacting with them all relaxed and friendly, for thirteen summers. He filmed many of his bear interactions, but YouTube didn't exist yet, so Treadwell's celebrity grew slowly.

He wrote a book about his buddies the bears, and even appeared on David Letterman's show, where the host asked, "Is it going to happen, that we read a news item one day that you have been eaten by one of these bears?" Treadwell replies no, immediately.

Spoiler: On October 5, 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear.

Does Herzog intend this documentary to be sad, terrifying, or humorous? Yes. It's simply the facts, that's all. He lets Treadwell have his say, and it's clear that Herzog has some admiration for the guy, but he also argues with the dead man's dumber statements, corrects him when he's wrong. Which is often.

Herzog interviews people who knew Treadwell, including a forest ranger who was un-surprised at the grizzly man's death. We're shown footage of Treadwell goofing around with the bears, close enough to hug them, saying "I love you," to a particular bear. He names each of them like they're pets — Mickey the bear, Mr Chocolate the bear, Wendy the bear...

"Treadwell is gone," says Herzog. "The argument how wrong or how right he was disappears into a distance, into a fog. What remains is his footage."

It's up to you to decide: Was Treadwell a hero? A hippie? A wingnut? A serious animalologist? Was he fantastically stupid, flat-out crazy, perhaps mentally subnormal? My answer is yes seven times, and it makes for a fascinating hour and a half.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Grizzly Rage (2007)
Streaming free at Tubi 

Four young white college kids are hate-worthy from their first moments of blabbery dumbass conversation, and then one of them accidentally drives his shiny new SUV over a grizzly cub. "There's a real pissed off momma grizzly real close," one of the completely interchangeable characters says.

Of course, four teens vs an angry bear wouldn't even be a movie — it would be a short subject. But this gets dragged out to feature length, and you'll be rooting for the momma grizzly, which is the only pleasure in watching this super cheapo flick.

Revel in high school-level scripting that's incompetently filmed and directed, and nonstop non-action that's flooded with bad rock songs and inexplicable strobe-light effects in the wilderness. Or better yet, watch almost anything else.

Verdict: BIG NO. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

"There are no old movies. There are only movies you haven't seen before." 

On the set of Apocalypse Now


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Groove Tube (1974)
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Groucho (1982)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Growing Up in America (1986)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting movie recommendations,
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. It was either Herzog or a reviewer of Grizzly Man that noted back in 2005 that something new was going to happen to documentaries about people: they were going to be increasingly "filmed" by the subject themselves. I think Grizzly Man and Capturing the Friedmans (released a couple years earlier) that were the sign of this change. Today it's everywhere, it's totally changed true crime-type documentaries, for instance.

    Herzog must appreciate this as he appreciated Treadwell's footage. As easy as it is to record your life now, it's even easier to delete it. It's a kind of truth which we usually hastily conclude is THE truth.

    1. My only complaint about that is that most people filming their lives have no idea how to compose a shot, hold a camera, or tell a story, and they tend to shoot everything vertical instead of horizontal. There's usually a crappy theme song, though!

  2. I thought Death Proof was even worse than Planet Terror. Feminist Tarantino is more nauseating than the zionist Tarantino of Inglorious Basterds. 20 years from now Tarantino will be regarded as the most over-rated *filmmaker* of the 1990s and 2000s.

  3. I'm gonna guess you like grindhouse-era gruesome more than me, so Planet Terror was to your liking. I never cared for gruesome, but I like violent revenge, so I'm a Death Proof guy. There's half a Grindhouse for each of us.

    Can't argue about Tarantino. Everyone says he's so great, how can he help but be overrated. I've liked most of his movies, derivative but definitely entertaining. I don't know that any of them have anything really to say, though, except 'nigger' a lot.

    1. Claude Migraine ReignsJuly 10, 2024 at 8:52 PM

      "Death Proof" is just a milquetoast version of Russ Meyer's great Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and its like.

    2. True, and you got me to look up milk toast, which now I gotta try it.

    3. If it's dairy you want, this is the all time champion:


      Surprisingly easy to make at home, too. I'm sure Deano could whip one up for a communal dessert. Unbelievably tasty.

    4. Always thought leeches might be involved, so now I'm possibly intrigued and might try it in a restaurant some day.

      Milk toast I might make at home, because it seems easy and my cat will eat it if it sucks.


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