A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 449 – Kill Bill vol. 2

Kill Bill vol. 2 – May 23rd, 2011

I’ve always felt it odd that this movie and last night’s were meant to be a single film. And from what I’ve read the decision to split the story into two parts came late in the game, which means a ton of it had been filmed. So I have to wonder if they’d been laid out yet. The episodic nature of them certainly would allow for some mixing and matching and the movies both play with timelines, so it’s entirely possible that had it been one long movie things might have been paced differently. I don’t know. I’m not Tarantino. As it stands, however, this movie just plain feels different than the first one and with good reason.

While we watched this evening I tried to explain how I saw the differences to a friend who’s not as familiar with the movies. I ended up having to list the important moments and plot points in the two and what I came up with was that where the first one is a barrage of choreographed fight scenes where the Bride is a vengeful badass, the second one spends a lot more time listening to what she has to say instead of watching what she has to do. We got our introduction to her as a deadly assassin in the first movie. We get our introduction to her as a person in this one. And I find that interesting. This movie isn’t as focused on the vengeance as it is on the Bride herself. The character, not the plot. And I’ve got to say I rather like that because I like that the Bride is a person here, not just a killing machine. And really, that’s part of the point of the background we get for her.

This movie is episodic, like the first one was, but while the episodes are announced by title card and all they don’t feel so clearly delineated. They bleed into each other more. They’re rougher around the edges. At the same time, I still get the feeling that this movie could have been split up and shown as a serial before other movies in the theater and Tarantino’s the sort of guy who I think would get a kick out of that. But the rougher splits between the sections definitely affect the feel and flow of the movie. So too do the locales used. Instead of the sleek scenery of Tokyo and the suburban settings of the first movie we get rural Texas and a remote temple in China and overgrown haciendas in Mexico. Everything feels isolated and out of the way. Off the beaten path. The people in it are rougher. Instead of Vernita in her soccer mom duds and manicured lawn we get Budd in his old bowling shirt and trailer in the desert. It’s a more intimate world our heroine has gotten to.

Of course, she’s still looking for Bill. And Bill knows she’s coming and he’s warned the remnants of the old gang. Now, I find the dynamics here interesting. Budd’s clearly had a falling out with his brother, Bill. He’s left the assassination squad and works as a bouncer in a strip club that never seems to have any customers. That’s a pretty long way to fall and we’re never given the exact reason. In fact, it seem the only member of the crew still working with Bill is Elle Driver. It’s implied in the first movie that Vernita got out around when she herself got pregnant (her girl’s about the same age as our heroine’s would be, so it stands to reason she didn’t stick around) and O-Ren’s gone on to bigger things. Elle’s apparently trying to take the Bride’s place as Bill’s favorite, which apparently never quite worked out, and then there’s Budd. Why did he leave? What did he argue with Bill about? Was it the attack in the chapel? He clearly has some remorse over it, but he’s also not about to sacrifice himself in the name of penance. He’s a scumbag who knows he’s a scumbag and lives with it. He’s a fascinating character and Michael Madsen plays him well.

Elle Driver is the other baddie here. She’s a far less in-control version of our heroine. The version who wanted all the things our heroine has and had but can’t quite manage it. She can’t quite get Bill. She couldn’t get the sword. She couldn’t get the training. She doesn’t deserve it and she hates that and therefore hates our heroine with a vicious and fiery passion. We never get much in the way of background for her, much like we don’t get much in the way of background for Uma Thurman’s character. Daryl Hannah plays Elle as a fact-obsessed sociopath and she does so with relish. Watching them face off together is one of my favorite moments in the movie. It’s a far less polished fight scene than anything in the first movie, but that’s the point. And we get to see just how much better our heroine is. Of course.

One of the other things I love about this movie is the training sequence with kung fu master Pai Mei. He’s a fantastic classic kung fu master, though not of the type who appears to be a regular every day guy. He lives in a temple on a mountain, all by himself, and teaches things like how to punch through wood with only three inches of clearance and how to pluck an eyeball out and how to kill someone with pressure points. But only after one has gained his trust and respect, which is, of course, a grueling task. There’s some great character development for the Bride here, long before she put on a wedding dress. Not only do we see that determination has always been one of her strong suits, but that she was enthusiastic at one point, and thoroughly enamoured of Bill. Watching her with Bill as he tells her a story about Pai Mei while they sit at a campfire is a fantastic look into her life before it all fell apart. Watching her with Bill outside the chapel even closer to the crucial pivot point in their lives is similar. You can see the relationship between the two of them and a level of understanding that wasn’t apparent in the first movie. I like how that’s expanded upon well before we get to Bill at the end of the movie here.

The thing is, the movie spends a lot of time on all these relationships. As I said early on, this is a movie that is more concerned with the character than the plot. We finally learn her name, though I’m still not sure why it was buzzed out all through the first one and into the beginning of this one. It’s not a particularly impressive reveal. It just is. Anyhow. We get to know her, and that takes a lot more talking and non-actiony interactions between characters. It’s not an entirely stationary movie but it ambles instead of zooms.

By the time we hit the end and we see Bill and Beatrix (yep, that’s her name) and little B.B. we know why Beatrix left the group and we know why Bill killed off the whole wedding party, including the organist, and we know that the two of them had something. And now it’s gone. It was inevitable. While I could quibble over the pacing of the movie (I think it could have benefited from a little more editing) and I didn’t really need to see Budd at work at the strip club to understand where he is in his life (I’d rather have seen more of Elle’s life), overall I rather like this movie. It’s an odd marriage between it and the first part, but it still deals with vengeance. It’s just moved beyond what Beatrix is willing to do to get to Bill and moved on to what she’s willing to endure. And Uma Thurman carries off every moment, from the steely focus on beating her opponents to the determination to gain Pai Mei’s respect to the grinning protege to a brutal killer to the weeping mother finally reunited with her child. It’s a fantastic performance and she ties the movie together, episode by episode, to make a whole.

May 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Kill Bill: Volume Two

May 23, 2011

Kill Bill: Volume II

I’ve only just finished writing my somewhat tardy review for Volume One of the Kill Bill movies and now I have to start in on a whole ‘nother Kill Bill review. I remember thinking when I saw this movie in the theater that it was not as good as the first movie. It’s more cerebral. More talky and plotty. It has huge giant swaths of pithy dialog (a Tarantino specialty) but not the same level of awesomely choreographed fight scenes. Watching it back to back with the first movie helps though. They were conceived to be a single lengthy picture after all, so it makes sense that they work better together as a unit than individually on their own.

This is a movie that has to answer questions from the first half and tie up plot threads. There are questions that don’t particularly need answering, such as what is the Bride’s name which has been bleeped out up until now. (It’s Beatrix Kiddo by the way, and I honestly can’t think of any reason that I should care.) It resolves the mystery of what happened to Elle Driver’s missing eye. Most importantly it answers the question of why Beatrix left the Vipers (because she wanted to raise her unborn child outside the influence of her lover and handler Bill) and why Bill turned around and slaughtered her and her entire new life (he admits he over-reacted.)

I’m very much of two minds regarding this movie. There are parts of the movie I really enjoy. Everything having to do with Pai Mei – the Bride’s Chinese kung-fu master. He’s ornery and cranky and clearly a kung-fu legend. He has a long beard, bushy eyebrows and a big white top-knot. He laughs a lot. There’s the entire training montage, which is fantastic. There are the wild zooms in to Pai Mei’s cackling visage that feel so very authentic to the source material. (I particularly grinned at the zoom that leaves him all blurry until the focus pull brings him back.)

Michael Madsen as Bill’s down-on-his-luck brother is fantastic. You get the impression that his self-imposed exile and the crappy life he’s living is his penance for the part he played in Beatrix’s betrayal. Then he turns around and shoots her in the chest and buries her alive, so maybe he’s not too sympathetic after all. I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to think. It’s a great role for Madsen though – even if half the time I thought he looked more like Micky Rourke than like himself.

Daryl Hannah is wonderfully evil as Elle Driver. She’s just to malevolent and menacing. She’s the most heartless of all possible killers, which makes her a great foil for the Bride. It’s also great to see her get her comeuppance.

But this movie is mostly about Bill and Beatrix and B.B. The resolution of their collective plot threads is not an over-the-top super action extravaganza. It is a series of scenes with people talking at each-other. We get to see Bill finding Beatrix in the church in Texas where he first tried to kill her. We get a fairy store from Bill about Pai Mei before Beatrix goes to train with him. Bill soliloquises about learning about death, about the nature of Superman, about feeling betrayed. It should be some indication of just how talky this movie gets that a big action plot point is when Bill shoots Beatrix with a dart filled with truth serum. You thought there was going to be a shoot-out? Nope! More talking!

I do enjoy Tarantino’s pop culture dialog style in small doses. The Superman speech for example is a nice one even if it does sound more like Kevin Smith than Quentin Tarantino. It just doesn’t seem to fit the expectations set by the first movie. I wanted gallons of blood and hundreds killed. This movie (or half of the movie depending on how you view such things) is just so slow and deliberate in comparison.

One thing this movie has going for it, though, is Uma Thurman. Her performance in this movie is simply awesome. She gets to be the unstoppable killing machine, which is great. She also gets to be the mother reunited with the daughter she thought she has lost, though, and that role is such a powerful one. I am only willing to sit through David Carradine’s constant monologues because the powerful emotions that play out on Uma’s face as she reconciles her need to fulfil the title of the movie with her still existent love for the father of her child. (Well and because Carradine is fucking Kwai Chang Caine and Frankenstein – the guy could read the phone book and make it sound spiritual and sinister.)

I’ve watched both movies back to back now and I have to say that although I like the first a lot more, because it is full of light hearted action and awesome fight scenes, the second one has its place as well. I’d very much like to see the two edited together in some fashion that spreads the adrenal rush of the action a little better, but I’m happy with the product as it currently exists. I think I need a small break from Tarantino now before we embark on Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs or Inglourious Basterds. It’s very much possible to overdose.

May 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment