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« Moviegoing Update 2 -- "Au Hasard, Balthazar" | Main | Moviegoing Update 4 -- "The Triplets of Belleville" »

November 04, 2003

Moviegoing: "Kill Bill"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --


Kill Bill: Is there such a thing as a movie that collapses under the weight of its own audacity? If so, "Kill Bill" is it. I'd read some enticing pieces about the movie; an email TurboKitty sent around was the most entertaining of the bunch. And I'd read some insightful (and funny) expressions of dismay too. What I wasn't prepared for was how how verrrrrrrrrry boring I'd find the movie. It's 25 minutes' worth of not-great story blown up big and wide to two hours of runtime. Some blaxploitation here, some Hong Kong action there; some yakuza here, some time-warping there ... It isn't a movie, it's an epic, po-mo "Guilty Pleasures" column.

I managed to get through it only by playing mind games with myself. I wondered, for instance, about the Leone spaghetti westerns. Tarantino's obviously lifting his stretch-it-out approach to time and space from Leone -- yet watching "A Fistful of Dollars," slow as it can be, I'm not bored. Leone drags moments out and surrounds them with tons of echo-effect space and time, but his movies are lewd and full of mischief. As expertly as Tarantino imitates Leone's techniques, "Kill Bill" is anything but. Why? My unsatisfying semi-conclusion is that with "Kill Bill" the only echoing that's taking place is going on in Tarantino's head.

I laughed a few times; I enjoyed Lucy Liu's sculptural stillness. I loved watching Julie Dreyfus, an eloquent French beauty who played Liu's right-hand gal, and the eerie Chiaki Kuriyama, who played Go Go, a teenage psychokiller in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit. Otherwise, lordy ...

But I'm not a Tarantino fan generally, are you? His work makes me picture a stiff-jointed white boy who's studied the mambo and the frug really, really hard. He's practiced a lot, and he knows more about the history and the techniques of the dances than the originators themselves do. And, by gosh, he executes the moves pretty darned well -- but, even so, watching him isn't like watching someone to whom this kind of thing comes more naturally. Tarantino's got energy, determination and skill but he lacks flair and ease; he's the James Woods of movie directors. I'd be willing to enjoy his uptight, headstrong-geeky thing if only he'd let us find the sight of his gyrations funny. But he doesn't. Despite the jokes and the malice, there's almost never a moment when you don't sense Tarantino's ambition bearing down on you. He writes and directs as though the Gods of Great Movies have left him no choice but to be intense and brilliant.

I'd be the last person to get moral about the way the movie's selling freakiness, bloodshed and kinkiness -- this is a film geek's cartoon splatterfest, and who am I to object to that? But the slow-mo pacing? The gloating and the chestbeating over every single "line," "scene," "touch" and "music cue"? The Tarzan-yodeling about his wonderful/awful taste? "Kill Bill" may be the most domineering junk jamboree I've ever seen. It's anything but a solemn movie, and it deserves brownie points for being determined to outrage. But it also suffers from a terminal case of swollen head.

Mischievous question: Hong Kong action pictures and blaxploitation movies: isn't making a big deal out of loving them ... I dunno. Already a little old?

Here's a page of links to everything "Kill Bill."



posted by Michael at November 4, 2003


I am a Tarantino fan, which is why Kill Bill disappointed me as much. The title, though, is great. It has a bluntness, brevity and directness the film sadly lacks...

Posted by: James Russell on November 4, 2003 3:49 AM

Jeeze, now I've gotta go see the damn thing just to make an intelligent comment.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 4, 2003 9:30 AM

Some of the scenes were kind of fun and exciting in a hyper-real, trippy sort of way. I really had the feeling it was trying to be anime with live actors--especially with the rediculous blood spraying from severed limbs. But I can't watch most anime from start to finish, either. I mean, are we supposed to care about what's going on, or just ahh at the visuals?

But Uma in that yellow motorcycle outfit! Now I know what I'm getting my wife for my birthday.

It might be a fun DVD to own. Then you could watch a little here, a little there, in music-video sized chunks. Like watching a porno.

Posted by: Nate on November 4, 2003 12:50 PM

With great anticipation, I set out to see this film. Oh, how I craved the nuance and charm of "Pulp Fiction". Sadly, I was extremely disappointed. "Kill Bill" lacked so much of the character definition that "Pulp" did, I didn't really care about what was happening (and couldn't figure out WHY). There were no snappy conversations, no story line and even though it's great to see Uma light up the screen, where was the point? Overdone, too much thrown in, weak plot --where was the Tarantino that can put together a mix of characters and actually have us care and like them? Even though "Pulp" had violence--it also had humor.It's as if he threw too many gimmicks at us. We just wanted a story as great as "Pulp" did. Part two? I'm not so sure I care enough to sit through more(does anyone else think it was a worse take-off on Charlie's Angels than I did?)His homage to Leone notwithstanding, too long, too much, and therefore, not enough......

Posted by: iris on November 4, 2003 12:59 PM

If you do not like comic booky type stuff you won't like this movie.

I was entertained, but I went into the movie expecting disapointment. With the past list of movies that came out it is one of the few that I was actually interested in seeing.

Posted by: ShipShape on November 4, 2003 2:09 PM

Haven't seen it. May never see it. The comments here did produce a question in my mind. Has anyone reading this post and the comments thereon ever consider that Tarentino is showing how ridiculous superhero comic books would be in the real world? How silly manga is in a real world situation?

Methinks you see layer one and think it the whole of the tale. But when was the last time Quentin Tarantino used only one layer?

BTW, if you live in the San Diego CA area, I can go with you to see "Kill Bill V1". Your treat.:)

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 4, 2003 3:05 PM

How many of the pro-votes are from people who are fans of old-school, late-night TV, Kung Fu?

Posted by: j.c. on November 4, 2003 5:55 PM

James -- Given that I'm not much of a QT fan, I'd love to know why a genuine QT fan was disappointed by the new movie. Did I miss a blog posting you did about it?

Nate -- Uma made those racing stripes look pretty good, didn't she? How do you react to her these days? I was glad to see her looking long, lean and suave, kind of like a young female Clint Eastwood. She doesn't have the mystique or aura she had as a younger woman any longer. On the other hand, she finally seems to have developed a little spark about appearing onscreen ...

Iris -- Hear, hear to everything you said. (I always forget: is it hear hear, or here here?)

Shipshape -- You were smarter about getting your money's worth of entertainment out of the film than I was. Are you a QT fan generally? And how were you smart enough to crank down the expectations? Reviews? Friends?

Alan -- My impression was that the movie was nothing more or less than Tarantino showing off his great taste in crap movies, and then trying to put it over with tons of energy and wit and intensity. But maybe I missed something. Let me know what you make of the movie if you get a chance to see it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 4, 2003 7:06 PM

JC -- Good question. Have you seen the movie? How'd you react? And what do you think of the way it's such a standard thing these days to be ultra-knowingly in love with your own trash tastes? Is it genuinely cool? Or just anothter pathetic way wannabe-hip Americans have of trying to find themselves interesting?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 4, 2003 7:20 PM

I actually enjoyed it for what it was, but I too was disappointed with the direction QT had gone. Pulp Fiction had the same kind of hyperactive love for all sorts of trash culture, but it was using them to actually explore some deeper themes (kinda the same way the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" at its height used the cliches of the horror genre as metaphor) Maybe we're just awaiting some kind of tying-together that happens in the 2nd part, but there's just nothing to this one. Vincent Vega, or even Mr. Pink, was a real character - nobody in this movie makes enough of an impression to make you care if they live or die...

Posted by: jimbo on November 4, 2003 8:38 PM

M. Blowhard - Haven't seen it. Won't see it.

Asked because none of my ol' geek buddies have liked it. For that matter, none of my young geek buddies have liked it either. (They feel so... so violated!) The hipsters, though, they think it's hep. I guess it's Hong Kong Fooey for the kids who are too cool for Hong Kong Fooey.

Great post, if I didn't mention that before.

Posted by: j.c. on November 5, 2003 9:50 AM

Hmmmm....My first reaction was that this is a seriously feminist movie - and not in a "powerpuff" girls kind of way - you know, "oh look honey, women can be sexy and kick ass too"! No, this was much, well, deeper. I thought the main "line" of the movie (sorry for you who haven't seen it, but it really doesn't give anything about the plot away) is "How about if I penetrate you?" and that 2) the whole movie was Tarantino wondering why women aren't more angry than they are - thnk about in what direction the violence is going and what are the motivating actions, and who gets spared?

It was a fantastic and beautiful movie, but then again, I've seen a lot of anime, and I've always liked the wistful, stylized, high-tech, human/industrial struggle kind of thing that they do (but I also think Babette's Feast is a great film, so don't pigeon hole me, 'k?...)

Posted by: Marnie on November 5, 2003 12:45 PM

Ha! Just saw j.c.'s post - interesting comment about the buddies feeling violated.....

Posted by: Marnie on November 5, 2003 12:47 PM

I had a blast at the film ... left it, and didn't think about it a great deal until this post. I''m not torn, on the fence, like this but not that, analyzing the crowd that would or wouldn't enjoy it, care about his latent movie history lesson ... or even feel passionate about my opinion on the film to bother defending it.

It's a base response that found a back door around my better judgment. I won't lie and say I didn't get off ... cream tracks visibly staining my pants legs as I exited the theater. I wish I possessed your will power to not submit ... but I'm a whore without the sense to feign superiority.

so why post this response at all?

... that poster attached to your post is an incredible piece of design work. Why is this the first time I'm seeing that version of the poster? Brilliant.

Posted by: pinky on November 5, 2003 12:56 PM


No, you didn't miss my blog post, in fact you linked to it in one of your "Elsewhere" round-ups a couple of weeks ago :) It's here for anyone who wants to read it, though a lot of the points have already been made in the discussion here.

Here's something I'd like to throw into the discussion, i.e. Tarantino's use of black and white in the swordfight scene, the avowed reason for which is that, in QT's opinion, Americans have a problem with blood and filming it in colour would be too much. Does anyone actually buy that explanation? I ask because I saw George Romero's Day of the Dead yesterday, and there's a reasonably extreme amount of gore in that (e.g. the scummy army captain being ripped in half by the zombies at the end), none of which Romero felt compelled to shoot in black and white to make his audience feel less queasy. Admittedly that was 18 years ago, maybe audiences have lost the taste for blood since then, but even so, does anyone else out there believe Tarantino's reason for using b/w for that scene?

Posted by: James Russell on November 6, 2003 4:08 AM

James -- Apologies for forgetting it was you who wrote that posting. First-rate critique! Lordy, the way your memory starts to go as you get close to 50. I was flossing my teeth and reading a blog late last night, and a little single-brain-cell alert went off ... And I realized I'd already flossed my teeth. I was flossing my teeth for the second time because I'd forgotten that I'd already flossed my teeth. I understand it only gets worse, though I forget who said that ...

Anyway, James' posting on the movie makes a lot of good points -- he's more sympathetic to QT, so he's got a lot more insights into the movie than I do. Check it out.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 6, 2003 11:43 AM


I am a QT fan. Not die hard or anything but his movies are entertaining if you view them as an escape from reality.

I picked up the revenge tone from the title. Advertisements filled in the rest of the plot. I did not expect much when uma was shown with a samurii sword. That was the final clue. Who brings a knife to a gun fight?

So I went to the theater ready to watch a comic book movie.

Posted by: shipshape on November 8, 2003 10:37 AM

I wasn't a QT fan before this movie and I'm not one after. I'm strictly a Kill Bill fan. I wrote a review of it and one of Pulp Fiction, which I absolutely hated.

I can't say I understand why you guys don't like the movie, but to each their own.

Posted by: Bill Brown on November 9, 2003 2:33 AM

I was entertained, but like many movies of today it is so unrealistic you sometimes can't stomach it. Kill Bill can be like that. If you want to pick apart the movie it is easy to do.

I could really use some movies that are amazing stories grounded firmly in fact and reality that inspire people to be something more than what they have allowed thier lives to become.

Posted by: shipshape on November 9, 2003 1:21 PM

It'd be near impossible to make a realistic movie nowadays, it seems. I don't mean one with canned optimism, cute platitudes, and all that self help BS(or on the other end, cliched pull self up by the bootstrappism that ignores 99% of life)

It just wouldn't sell, because in life, there are no easy answers, no cute little platitudes you can follow, and noone wants a party pooper.

Posted by: Shannon on November 28, 2003 11:26 PM

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