club: Liu (center) and posse in Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
Youre Killing Me
Bill Vol. 1
by Quentin Tarantino
on in his long-awaited new film, director Quentin Tarantino
taunts his critics. Coming upon a scene of mass murder, a
sheriff comments on the obviously professional nature of the
killing: If you was a moron, you could almost admire
me among the morons. Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a wildly entertaining
orgy of hyperkinetic violence and insanely detailed movie
geekdom, celebrating martial arts B-movies, Japanese anime,
Italian westerns and blaxploitation flicks. (Biker and redneck
movies will be covered in Vol. 2.) You dont need
footnotes to enjoy it, either: Tarantino has an artists
gift for stealing ideas and making them his own.
also a bloody,
subversively reductive celebration of action as character.
If, in Jackie Brown, Tarantino fleshed out his characters
until they possesed some resemblance to real people, this
film is just the opposite. The assassins, perverts and killers
in this universe are all superhuman, and, therefore, not human
plot is simple. The Bride (Uma Thurman) is beaten and shot
(along with the entire wedding party) on her wedding day by
former coworkers in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
Except, of course, that the Bride isnt dead. After four
years in a coma, she wakes with revenge on her mind. This
is bad news for DiVAS O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green
(Vivica A. Fox), Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl
Hannah) and Bill (David Carradine). With a wild arsenal of
knives and swords, the Bride hunts each of them down; since
this is only half the story, she has time to kill only two
in Vol. 1.
of the fights are human-scaled, if not exactly human; most
are deliriously over-the-top. Thurman, Fox and (especially)
Liu are all able killers. The films climactic fight
is a 40-minute-plus sequence in a nightclub called the House
of Blue Leaves, in which the Bride slices and dices an army
of Yakuza gangsters. Before this, Tarantino even gives the
audience a breather with a nice, calm section in which the
Bride visits a legendary swordmaker, Hattori Hanzo (Sonny
Chiba, in the films only charming performance).
Bill Vol. 1 is also one of the funniest movies youll
see this year.
might think this statement is facetious; its not. Tarantinos
splattered tale of revenge is intentionally, if brutally,
funny. Example: A killer tells a little girl that, first,
she didnt intend to whack her mother in front of her,
and, second, if the girl still feels raw about
this when shes grown, she should feel free to look the
killer up for payback. It isnt presented as tragedy;
the child is expressionless (no tears or screams to spoil
the mood), and the killer sounds more like a kindergarten
teacher than an assassin. Is it heartless? Yes, but in the
manner of those brutal 1940s Looney Tunes (the kind that end
with murder, suicide or both as the punchline).
are only two things really wrong with the film. First, theres
the fact that its only part one. Splitting the film
in twomuch as the Bride slices villains from stem to
sternhas the unintended consequence of giving the Brides
story short shrift. Kill Bill may be, principally,
an homage to the Hong Kong martial arts films of the 70s,
but the story structure is pure spaghetti western. As with
the unnamed Third World hero played by Charles Bronson in
Sergio Leones Once Upon a Time in the West, the
Brides motivating tragedy is shown only in brief flashbacks.
Im willing to bet that, à la Leone, the complete
wedding massacre wont be shown until the very end of
the film, just before the Bride kills Bill. In terms of dramatic
impact, this makes perfect sense only if youre watching
it in one three-hour sitting.
other problem with the film is ratings-related. The dizzying
fight scene at the House of Blue Leaves is mostly in black-and-white.
The purpose is to dampen the visual shock of the spraying,
squirting blood and avoid an NC-17 rating. While, generally,
its hard to be in favor of senseless gore, we really
need to see those rivers of blood in living (dying?) color.
these problems aside, however, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is
still a prime moviegoing pleasure. Take the soundtrack, for
example. Whether its a goofy-but-effective music cue
(Quincy Jones Ironside theme kicks in whenever the Bride
meets someone she must kill), or spine-chilling sound effect
(like the whirring of a deadly mace wielded by a psychotic
Japanese teen), the film is as much fun to listen to as it
is to watch.
Kill Bill may not mean anything more than its pile
of severed plastic limbs and a couple hundred gallons of fake
blood; in this case, however, the means justify the ends.
by Joel Coen
Wow, do Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney look gorgeous.
For Intolerable Cruelty, a screwball romantic comedy
for the new millennium, that the leading screwer-uppers be
jaw-droppingly glamorous is more than an homage to those fabulously
photogenic faces of the 1940s. Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta-Jones)
and Miles Massey (Clooney) must be alluring enough to climb
to the top of their professionstrophy wife and society
divorce attorney, respectivelywithout opposition. Which
they have, and then they meet during a divorce proceeding
and face the ultimate antagonist: each other. Directed by
Joel Coen with the expected off-kilter style and technical
proficiency, Intolerable Cruelty is pure pleasure for
its first half, and an over-the-top crowd pleaser for its
second. If the film had maintained its drolly cynical sophistication
to the end, it mightve ranked with the Coen brothers
best comedic work (Raising Arizona, Fargo).
As is, its just high-sheen entertainment.
set in the Hollywood Hills, the opening segment features a
wickedly adrenalized Geoffrey Rush as a cuckolded husband
whose litigious instincts kick in even in the midst of a crime
of passion. This is a bang-whiz set-up for how greed and wounded
egos can be a hilariously lethal combination, and its
to the credit of the clever script (polished by the Coens)
that Rushs TV producerwho is left bankrupt by
Mileswill reappear at the appointed hour. Meanwhile,
Marilyn has caught her billionaire husband, Rex Rexroth (Edward
Herrmann) in flagrante with a floozy, and is awaiting
a stratospheric settlement. But Rex retains Miles, dashing
Marilyns hopes for financial independence. Miles is
distracted all right, but wins the case with the help of some
underhanded tactics. In retaliation, Marilyn turns her feminine
wiles on Miles. A consummate womanizer, the overconfident
Miles lets his guard down.
viperish distillation of the battle of the sexeswomen
want security, men want sexis played with the bracing
effervescence of top-shelf champagne. The strategic flirtation
between Marilyn and Miles crackles with snappy repartee, and
sizzles with an extravagantly staged mutual attraction. At
the top of their games, both achieve new successes to up the
ante: Marilyn gets engaged to a naïve oil tycoon (Billy
Bob Thornton), and Miles receives the personal approval of
his firms legendary founder, a scarily ambitious and
decrepit old man (Tom Aldredge) who still puts in 80 billable
hours a week. The Coens zippy camera work, Clooneys
crack comic panache, and the enthusiasm of the supporting
players (including Cedric the Entertainer as a private dick
who isnt as nimble as his Ninja self-image) add to the
films fizzy energy. And with its glitzy settings and
nasty jabs at vanity and materialism, it seems the film might
be getting at something, perhaps even something perversely,
as the battle between the would-be lovers heats up, the conflict
slides into empty farce (although an asthmatic hit man does
have a moment of truly inspired slapstick), and it becomes
dismayingly apparent that the inner workings of Intolerable
Cruelty dont have the same snazzy appeal as its
surface. The sleekly archetypical leads are too one-dimensional
to generate any real romance, and much of the subtext is mere
cliché (especially Herrmanns infantile moneybags),
leading to a conclusion thats practically a cop-out.
Just like an infatuation, the film fills the audience with
giddiness and then wears out its charm.