Starting Sunday mid-day I started getting the chills, which alternated with the sweats all day. It turns out that I spent basically three days lying on the couch under a blanket with a dog on my legs. It was one of those illnesses where I’d decide to turn on the TV, and then it would be 2 hours before I could actually work up the energy to roll over and pick up the remote.
I spent a little of that invalid time on the couch watching some of the older movies I had on my DVR, which included Grindhouse and two Cassavetes movies, A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Of those three, I’m somewhat surprised by how little I liked Grindhouse. I really hated the Rodriguez half, Planet Terror. Even as dumb homage to dumb movies, it didn’t work for me. It wasn’t fun, just gross and obvious and non-clever. I liked the Tarantino Death Proof a little better, but it was still pretty standard Tarantino – long tedious talky bits punctuated with brief outbursts of violence. Except, the talk bits are way longer than Pulp Fiction and the action bits less interesting. I really hated that both halves of the movie included the same “missing reel” gag. The final analysis is that I liked the fake trailers better than either movie because they didn’t have time to wear on me.
Of the two Cassavetes films, I think that A Woman Under the Influence might be my least favorite Cassavetes so far. Admittedly, that’s still better than most director’s high points. It was unusually slow and not that compelling. As much as I love Peter Falk, I found much of the movie meandering and kind of pointless, sort of like a repetitive SNL sketch that keeps repeating the same catchwords. I really liked The Killing of a Chinese Bookie though, which might be the favorite of the Cassavetes films I’ve seen. I deeply cared about Ben Gazarra as Cosmo Vitelli, a guy with aspirations beyond his abilities but a big, warm heart. One thing I’ve noticed as a commonality is that the male leads of all these Cassavetes movies have serious control issues. Was that a little of the auteur leaking out into his characters?
Final analysis: When you have a fever that is making life impossible, Grindhouse is not a great film. Go with the Cassavetes.