further solidifying the recently-made-“homage”-to-exploitation-70s-grindhouse cinema as a subgenre, modus operandi joins planet terror, death proof, piranha 2010, machete, drive angry, and hobo with a shotgun paying tribute to something that doesn’t exist anymore: the grindhouse theatres. i don’t know what it’s like elsewhere but in my ‘hood, there is only one theatre left that’s not a multiplex, and this one-movie theatre was showing david fincher’s american english update of the girl with the dragon tattoo and the fourth underworld movie. they are currently showing the wim wenders 3D ballet movie, which is worth supporting but it’s as far away from grindhouse as you can get. it’s also kind of ironic that physical media (betamax/vhs/laserdisc/dvd/blu-ray), which more or less killed the grindhouse/repertory theatres, are also on their way out. there are no chain video stores or good book stores around anymore, at least not where i live.
so it’s weird that we’ve been getting all these grindhouse homage movies in the last few years. the 17-to-20-year-olds (old enough to get into r-rated or x-rated movies but not old enough to drink) today were born in the 90s, a time when direct-to-video had already replaced the grindhouse theatres. so the ever important 18-24 demographic weren’t even born yet when grindhouse movies were popular. in addition to the fact that major studios have been making b-movies for the last three decades (with bigger budget and stars), unless names like tarantino or rodriguez are attached, this new subgenre is relegated to midnight screenings and hipster festivals like fxff or maybe some other letters (where condescending tone is a must and so-bad-it’s-good movies are celebrated, ironically, of course), and eventually turns up on home media. that is, unless, said filmmakers decided they can make money under such attitude and retrospectively claim that their movies are intended as black comedies all along.
modus operandi doesn’t have the weinsteins behind it (instead, it’s presented by sasha grey from the girlfriend experience and um, other movies), or big names like rodriguez or tarantino behind the camera, therefore it barely got a theatrical release. the biggest name in the cast is danny trejo, though he’s only in two scenes. it does have two other familiar faces, both from chris smith documentaries: the lead is played by randy russell form american job, and mark borchardt from american movie.
speaking of american movie (and if you haven’t seen it, you should go do it right now), that is probably my worst movie viewing experience. it’s worse than the time i paid to see the r rated scream 2 where some junior high kids in the front row decided to make it an interactive experience. anyway, unlike my first viewing of american movie, which was in an almost empty theatre, this second viewing was on campus filled with my fellow collegians. while it’s a funny documentary, the laughs this time is more of the condescending kind, the laughing at how dumb they are variety, from privileged college students. not unlike those “festival” audience. and this was before the current incarnation of hipsters. i can’t remember another instance where the audience pisses me off. well there’s also the fear and loathing in las vegas experience where the whole theatre seems to think it’s hilarious that someone’s on drugs. but that’s pretty much what i expected from a neo-hippie whole-foods-loving organic/vegan indie-nazi college town.
but back to the m.o. russell plays stanley cashay, though the opening is narrated by his wife, we find out later that his wife has been killed. leading a miserable existence, he is called back in by his former boss, the cia, on a special mission to retrieve two suitcases that belong to presidential candidate squire parks. in return for accepting the mission, cashay will find out who killed his wife.
the plot gets more convoluted than that, and many more characters are introduced. yet at the same time the movie is pretty simplistic. in fact, cashay, the supposed lead, doesn’t do much. he simply accomplishes his mission by calling in favors from other characters. he doesn’t talk much either. there are barely any dialogues in the movie, though it does spare us any lengthy expositions.
like those other recent exploitation/grindhouse movies, i am not sure if modus operandi actually works as its inspiration. in its favor, it’s not a studio sanctioned grindhouse movie, an oxymoron in itself. as a result, it can get away with more nudity, violence, and artiness. not too many exploitation grindhouse movies contains reference to french new wave and expressionist cinema, or references to berlin alexanderplatz and the famous north by northwest crop-duster sequence. at times, the film feels like a collection of clips of exploitation films. rather than serving the movie as a whole, modus operandi is more of a showcase of its director frankie latina. it will be hard to sit through for most people, and i am curious what my fellow b-movie loving bloggers will think of it. i can’t say that i enjoy it but i respect and admire the fact that it got made and released, kind of like watching your friends’ homemade amateur movie. as far as retro grindhouse movies go, it’s more honest, and i’m more impressed by this than someone spending $50-$70 millions to make polished trash.
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