Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Kill Bill

Kill Bill Vol. I (2003) 4/10
Kill Bill Vol. II (2004) 6/10
An entire bridal party, including the pregnant bride (Uma Thurman) is brutally murdered. We learn that The Bride was a top assassain who left killing behind when she became pregnant, and that, although everyone was left for dead, she survived in a coma for four years. Now she's out of her coma and looking to avenge herself on Bill (David Carradine) and the assassains who helped him destroy her. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Fairly early in Kill Bill Vol. I, the relentless, meaningless, over-the-top bloodshed stopped being watchable, and to the extent that I could still pay attention, I was watching color, composition, and cinematography without regard to the fact that the red was buckets of fake blood. KBI is a meaningless exercise in form over function. Sometimes it is kitch and even funny, but more often it is simply unpleasant.

In the "making of" feature on the DVD, Tarantino compares his film to Indiana Jones. Spielberg and Lucas, he says, were paying homage to 1930s serials, and he is paying homage in a similar manner to 1970s grindhouse. Set aside the obnoxious egoism of the comparison, Tarantino misses an important point. The Indiana Jones movies aren't just a tribute to the serials, they are also movies in their own right. The Kill Bill movies, especially the first one, are just homage, with no substance of their own.

Tarantino is thrilled with the whizzbang coolness of it all, and watching KBI is an awful lot like watching a loudish kid play with his GI Joes. Smash! Boom! Rat-a-tat-a-tat! Mom, did you see that? Yeah, whatever. There's no real movie here. I also think that Tarantino doesn't know how to distinguish something that's "great" because it's outrageous and overblown and delightfully ridiculous, and something that's "great" because it's actually of high quality. He is willing to layer any version of "great" into this over the top tribute.

Kill Bill Vol. II fares better. Large parts of it were extremely watchable and entertaining, mostly because the second movie, unlike the first, has real characters and a real story to tell. There's a scene between Bill's brother Budd (Michael Madsen) and the Bride that is genuinely suspenseful and exciting. There's a sense of substance in the flashbacks to the Bride's relationship with Bill, and her apprenticeship to assassain master Pai Mei (Chia Hui Liu). But even here, Tarantino is having too much fun by half. There's a "whoosh" sound effect every time Pai Mei moves his long beard. Once is kind of a giggle, but there were about ten and after a while you want to tell the kid to either put his GI Joes away or take them out in the yard and stop bothering the grown-ups.

There's a scene at the end of Vol. II where the Bride is explaining why she decided to leave Bill. As she explains, a flashback to the moment begins. It's a fairly long scene, with some comedy and a lot of violence. In the end, it says nothing about the Bride that she couldn't have said in five words, with no flashback, no story, no "Allow me to explain" at all. The scene is there because Tarantino wanted that one more fight, that one more joke.

A lot of film buffs really distrust the term "self-indulgent" when applied to a film or a director, but in this case, I don't know what else to call these movies. The Kill Bill films are Tarantino's version of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. These movies are about Tarantino. And after a while, that's kind of dull.

(It wasn't a cross-post. It was a cross-post rehearsal.)