Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 - 28th January 2011
It's really quite simple, when all is said and done, I am sorry folks but this should've been one single damn movie. The two movies are over indulgent, overly long, filled with needless stuffing and generally just not as interesting as they think they are.
I could leave the review right there and those who get it would get it and the rest could just argue amongst yourselves but I feel the need to explain, so strap in, shut up and let me begin.
First of all, somewhere along the line, I sort of ran out of interest in Quentin Tarantino. I was probably just 15 when my older brother took me to a midnight screening of Pulp Fiction, quite possibly, at the time, making it the coolest screening of any film ever. What I remember most of all about the film was the way it looked, the way the dialogue sounded and, of course, that iconic soundtrack. I can't actually lay claim to, at that age, knowing what anything really meant but I knew that what I was witnessing made me, for that moment at least, very very cool and blasted my mind open to a world of possibilities, as far as film was concerned.
Since then I have seen everything from True Romance to Inglorious Basterds and all that came between and I don't know, at some point, I just began feeling that something wasn't right.
I think, if I am honest, that feeling started with Kill Bill.
I saw both volumes of Kill Bill in the cinema, 6 months apart as they were released and I remember my reaction to the first one was excited amazement, I remember it just being a huge amount of escapist fun, loving the style, the colour, the sound and the way it just seemed to continue to top itself with one brilliant set piece after another.
Now, you have to bare in mind that, I suppose, up until that point, I had been raised pretty much on a steady diet of western or european made films and so, Tarantino throwing all these, often bright, stylistic, eastern, grindhouse or B-movie cinematic cliches at me was a pretty big eye opener, that and I remember leaving the cinema thinking 'shit, when did Tarantino learn how to direct action?!' because, well, we knew he could make people look cool pointing guns but never had he made anything like this before.
My reaction to Kill Bill Vol 2 was, I remember, a little bit more muted. I guess I wasn't prepared for and it wasn't really my sort of taste to watch a slower, more mumbly and, what I felt at the time was a bit of a pretentious film. There were things I liked about it, like the great Michael Parks second role, and a couple more great set pieces but over all I found it to be a saggy, plodding movie compared to the first which seemed over too quickly and the second which doesn't end soon enough.
This is why, for years, I have maintained the first film is the better film, despite the revisionist history I have heard, that has emerged more recently stating that, in fact, Vol.2 is the better film.
Since Kill Bill I have given Tarantino two more chances, first with Death Proof which has a great car chase yes but a wasted legend of a leading man and way way way too many scenes of sassy girls being sassy in sassville, oh and Eli fucking Roth. Then came Inglorious Basterds which proved to be ineptly made, boring, overly long and generally jaw droppingly crass and awful without really any exciting or interesting moments of the behind enemy lines, boys-own adventure stuff that it should've been.
I think, now I may have given up on him. With the announcement that he's planning Kill Bill 3, now may be the time.
That doesn't mean, though, I don't still like his earlier films and for some reason, this particular day I fancied doing something I don't think I have really properly done before and that is watch both Volumes of Kill Bill, back to back without any interruptions.
What emerged from this meagre experiment was basically my assertion that it should be one really good 2 and a half hour movie without all the superfluous waffle and ponderous mumbling with failed attempts at gravitas that come across as slow and pretentious, also that I can kind of see what the Vol.2 worshippers see in that film but I still don't fully agree and finally that Michael Parks is a solid gold genius and that the film isn't called "Michael Parks Kills uninteresting bastard Bill in the first 2 minutes and then spends the rest of the film telling amusing stories and playing the banjo" is a bit of a cinematic crime.
So, taking them separately then, Vol.1, a bit to my surprise, did not hold up very well for me, maybe because I have seen it too much and definitely more than the second one, maybe because I have gone off Tarantino but probably also largely down to the fact that since I saw these films in the cinema I have watched a few more original eastern films and realise where all this stuff originated from. The problem with it is that after a couple of viewings all the exciting flare, style and fun sensibility that it once had is replaced with predictability and the distinct impression that you, as an audience member are being taken on a messy ride by someone who doesn't care one iota for you. This was a film made for Tarantino by Tarantino, so that one evening in the distant future him and Eli Roth can sit around and watch it, probably sipping some annoyingly retro beer and congratulating each other with 80s style high fives on their ability to spot a few heavy handed references whilst perving over Uma Thurman's grotesque feet. Ok so that may be a little harsh, it's really not that bad but it would be nice if there was one single character in this film instead of just a bunch of people in various iconic cat walk knock off costumes spouting a series of well thought out quips or whispering supposedly heavy and important sentiments that are really complete gibberish and wouldn't look out of place in a fortune cracker.
You see, there is cool dialogue and then there is dialogue that is written to be knowingly cool, unfortunately since all the early praise he received was for his unique sounding dialogue, Tarantino, much like M Night Shymalalamama and his twists, thinks he must keep topping himself with each film and in the process has run out of anything to say, in fact in Kill Bill he even starts referencing himself which is a sure sign that the well is running dry.
When you look at his body of work post Pulp Fiction on the surface it appears he is just in pure genre territory: Blaxploitation, Kung-Fu Epic, car chase/horror & war movie, all of which sound vastly different but in fact they are all genres that have their origins mainly in the Grindhouses of the 70s, except war movie and he based his script and his title on a B-Movie from, yes, you guessed it, the 70s, add that to the fact that none of the characters in any of the films post Jackie Brown really leap off the screen and most of them sound identical, it begins to feel like Tarantino continues to make the same film over and over again. Still enough of this rambling and half finished thoughts about the man himself, back to the films...
So in round-up Volume 1 is enjoyable fairly quick paced fun for the most part that after a few watches unfortunately begins to suffer from diminishing returns and flat characterisation. The anime sequence is still outstanding and the whole style of the piece, from the music to the direction and the costumes is still pitch perfect visual bubble gum. Everyone's performance is pretty comic book and/or James Bond villainy, which maybe the point, I don't know, but it blurs all the characters into one none of them particularly as exciting as the next. Uma Thurman though does an excellent job at trying to show the vulnerability of her character and obviously did a ton of training in preparation for the role, so big kudos to her for slogging it through. The big fight at the end, in the house of blue leaves, is expertly done and when I first watched it, I found it genuinely enthralling, now it does feel like it goes on a bit and the Crazy 88 begins to feel a bit like the Flabby 888.
Also, it's a shame that the O Ren Ishii ending, in the snow garden, grinds the whole climax to a halt and it feels that, despite the little tacked on, soap opera, twist ending he just doesn't know how to end the damn thing, even Volume 2 has like 3 endings and 2 credit sequences! and you think he isn't over indulgent?
That sort of segues nicely into Kill Bill Volume 2 which Tarantino likes to claim is his spaghetti western film but mostly it's just more of the same only predominantly in America with a brief flashback to China for the Pai Mei sequence. One of the errors of the film is possibly also one of its minor strengths and that is it contains most of the plot, usually not a bad thing but when you really wish it would just get to the point it takes what seems a millennia to set up something entirely obvious. The first film is really only about The Bride's first two kills, briefly sets up the massacre that started it all and concludes with the briefest bits of important knowledge, in Vol.2 he has seemingly left himself the arduous task of filling in everything else and so while Vol. 1 is fairly straight forward, Vol.2 is all over the place and doesn't know what it wants to be. It basically falls into two sections, one is excruciatingly long set-pieces that ultimately amount in very little or tiresome, irrelevant exposition and that, apart from the brilliant trailer fight between The Bride and Elle, is pretty much that.
It's style, one of the strengths of the first one which helped to glue all of the disparate parts together into some vaguely followable, is a complete mess. It starts with a film noir beginning, for reasons best known only to Tarantino, it features shots and soundtrack stolen left and right from better Westerns, it has a whole flashback in the middle that attempts to be both a serious and sometimes harrowing, authentic Chinese martial arts film and a cheesy, stylistic, montage heavy kung-fu film and then the rest of it is the sort of stuff we've seen QT do a gazillion times before like seedy bars, chats across a table and gangster business gone wrong.
None of it particularly makes much sense, is interrupted by captions and title cards, for very little reason (don't worry, we know what's going on, it's not hard, I don't now need to be told that she's going after Budd, I have worked this shit out!) and in the end are we meant to like or care about any of this? aren't they all, when all is said and done, fairly unlikeable, hired killers?
I wouldn't be the first person to point out that the whole ending, well the first ending anyway, set in Bill's hideout (which, after all this style over substance, looks like a suite at a cheap Holiday Inn), is, well, a bit crap. Nothing is revealed at this point that is in anyway going to change the ending and I am sorry but David Carradine wasn't nearly charismatic or interesting enough to pull off the clunky, Superman referencing final monologue. Why did we leave Michael Parks back at the cantina?
The ultimate conclusion, featuring the laughable, secret martial arts move feels not heroic or dramatic or even particularly emotional, it just feels like a complete cop out. In fact, come to think of it, none of the Viper Squad that she actually kills get very interesting or imaginative deaths. One gets stabbed in the chest, one gets a long drawn out, ponderous and uninteresting sword battle that ends with a fairly badly done scalping and Bill gets to walk away and fall over pathetically. We never know what happens to the now blind Elle, although her fight in the trailer with The Bride is Vol.2's high point and ace in its sleeve, and Budd is killed by her with a snake, which at least is fairly interesting. Even when Budd attempts to bury the Bride alive, in another pretty good stand out sequence, it's more imaginative than anything she does.
Vol. 2 then is still, for me, the weaker of the two films because as the first one tries to cram all the style and action into its running time, Vol. 2 struggles to cram all the substance into its running time. What needed to happen was for someone to march into the edit suite, slap Tarantino around the back of his head with a large wet fish, duct tape his mouth shut and tell him in no uncertain terms to put style and substance together into one coherent film and stop fannying about.
True film geeks are always going to prefer the original eastern martial art's movies than to wade through a carbon copy like Kill Bill and the rest of the people don't care about all the referencing and the long winded waffle, so you have to ask yourself, who is all this for if not just for Tarantino (and probably Eli Roth) to pleasure themselves to.
The second film then has all the stuff with Budd and that's all pretty cool, watchable and interesting, more or less, although bits still do drag on and on, and that's about it. Almost anything not featuring Budd or set around Budd's trailer in the second film is pretty drawn out and pointless. The Pai Mei training sequence could be good but the tone shifts wildly all the way through it, from comical, to menacing, to serious, to violent, to painful and to triumphant stylistic montages which might be the point but still leaves an audience either feeling disconnected and cold or confused and irritated. Michael Parks as Bill's father figure is a wonderful scene but I am not sure how much of it belongs in the film because it doesn't exactly add anything except, finally, some good acting.
So to sum up, I suggest putting the two films together, cutting out all the title cards, the rambling and the indulgent crap, telling Tarantino that he is human, fallible and he needs to edit himself in the future.
Vol.1 - 6.5 out of 10 Royales with cheese
Vol.2 - 5 out of 10 tasty beverages to wash this all down