CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
There are some who maintain that Quentin Tarantino started off brilliantly and then degenerated into boring video geekdom, riffing endlessly and liberally on obscure 1970s action movies, Shaw Brothers martial arts films, spaghetti westerns and cult classics. That he burst onto the scene with ferocious crime dramas dripping with snappy dialogue and splashy violence: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs (even if the latter owes a hell of a lot to Ringo Lam's City On Fire). But then, after Jackie Brown, he just gave up being a startling new voice and settled for nerdy fanboy homages to nerdy fanboy movies: the Kill Bill movies, Inglourious Basterds. I actually take the opposite view: maybe it's because I'm a bit of a nerdy fanboy myself that I enjoy the later movies more. "Normal" people don't get the Antonio Margheriti namedrop in Inglourious or the use of Bernard Herrmann's Twisted Nerve theme in Kill Bill Vol 1, or why Uma Thurman is wearing a yellow tracksuit (it's a nod to Bruce Lee's costume in Game Of Death) - well, it's their loss, frankly. I like spotting posters and dialogue in the way I like shouting out the titles of all the clips in Terror In The Aisles. That said, I also think Kill Bill Vol 1 and Inglourious Basterds are both terrific movies in their own right.
Tarantino's nerdiest film thus far is Death Proof, a celebration of 1970s B-movies and cult films in general and Vanishing Point in particular. Originally conceived as half of the Grindhouse double-bill project (along with Robert Rodriguez' gory zombie epic Planet Terror and a bunch of fake trailers that have already given us the ho-hum Machete), it doesn't actually work as a grindhouse movie as it's far too long; at least twenty minutes of dialogue could be hacked away without causing any damage. The film's main appeal lies not in the chat, no matter how smart, nor the two separate groups of smokin' hot chicks (including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose MacGowan, Rosario Dawson and Vanessa Ferlito): it's when they meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a homicidal maniac with a customised "death proof" stunt car with which he crashes into other vehicles causing spectacularly fatal accidents.
The second half is a riff on Vanishing Point in which a trio of girls take on Stuntman Mike in an extended car chase with the vehicles repeatedly crunching into each other (half the time with Zoe Bell clinging to the bonnet of a white 1970 Dodge Challenger), and this chunk of the film goes a long way to alleviating the relative dullness of the first half, which consists of little more than another group of women sitting in a bar smart-talking and lobbing pop culture references at each other. That's not necessarily uninteresting, but it isn't Grindhouse: the movies Tarantino is homaging here would cut out all his precious yadda yadda and cut straight to the screeching tyres and the splattery gore.
Tarantino's other long-standing habit, of licensing all the music from existing sources rather than having an original score, sometimes throws up moments that jar for soundtrack fans: when he needledrops Pino Donaggio's music from Blow Out it momentarily takes me out of Death Proof because I know where the music is originally from. Curiously a later instance, where Ennio Morricone's music to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage suddenly starts up, doesn't bother me nearly as much. Generally his musical choices are bang on. Maybe it would be nice if Tarantino allowed Morricone or Bacalov to provide a score rather than splicing in their existing works from his LP collection, but frankly anything which brings these composers to public light is to be applauded anyway.
But despite the overlength and the prattle and the occasional questionable music choice, I like the film a lot and watching it again on Blu today I liked it more than I did on its theatrical release. It's gorgeously photographed (Tarantino is billed as his own DP), the night scenes look rich and and are not lost in darkness, and even when it inexplicably switches to black and white it still looks great. Personally I could do without the scratches and splices and faked print damage: all the exemplary effort they've gone to to make Death Proof look like a 1970s film is rather diminished when the characters start sending text messages and talking about going online. But it feels like it's made by someone who loves movies - not "cinema", not the art of film, not just Battleship Potemkin and Citizen Kane, but "movies". Which is great, because I love "movies" too.