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« Question for the Day | Main | Elsewhere »

June 03, 2005

Moviegoing: "Kill Bill 2"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I just caught "Kill Bill, Volume 2," which struck me as tiresome beyond the call of duty. After snoring through "Ocean's 12," I feel like I've become the official Sequel Sourpuss.

Although I shrank from the first "Kill Bill," at least it had a lot of showy (if stiff-jointed) action, and I loved watching a wonderful-looking young Japanese actress, Chiaki Kuriyama. But Volume 2? Overbearingly long-winded and gruelingly overdeliberate. The idea seems to have been to set aside most of the action and go into character and story-mythology instead. Given how wooden the film's characters are and how derivative the film's mythology is, this was a very dumb decision.

Tarantino's Mr. Self-Important Coolguy tone encases the action in block after block of slow-moving ice. Tarantino grants every cock of an eyebrow its own tracking shot, and gives himself a good half hour to establish each and every plot point. He seems to have taken for his basic template those crime movie scenes where the villain has the hero in his claws, and instead of killing him, pauses, trims the end of a cigar, and tells an endlessly circuitous parable. The awful monologues in "Kill Bill 2" never stop coming.

I can't think of another filmmaker who watches himself writing and directing with such intense self-admiration as Tarantino does. The movie-geek hijinks and the operatic '60s-'70s pop-culture echo-chamber thing that Tarantino seems devoted to creating seem self-conscious and juvenile to the max. I suppose I might find Tarantino's hyperbolic geek-diva act amusing. I'm not entirely sure why I don't. Maybe it's simply because I so seldom find his work convincing, let alone dazzling. While he's obviously talented, I simply don't find Tarantino all that talented. Even in brash, youthful-outrage terms, he seems to me a long way from playing in the same league as such real prodigies as Takashi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura.

By the way, am I the only person who thinks Michael Madsen may be the worst actor in all god's universe? He has exactly six acting moves, and every one of them is fraudulent. In "Kill Bill 2," Michael Madsen is at the center of a lot of scenes.

I beefed about "Kill Bill 1" here. I confess that The Wife enjoyed both "Kill Bill"s. She tells me that -- although she thinks Tarantino should never, ever write original scripts -- she does enjoy watching the way he gets away with shit.



posted by Michael at June 3, 2005


As usual, Michael, you are completely right. Indeed, you are so right, you make me wonder whether I was crazy to like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I avoided them both when they opened, as I usually do with hyped movies, then watched them and was pleasantly surprised. Even Jackie Brown had its moments, but the Kill Bills were so bad - with the second part being even worse than the first - that I think I will have to make sure I never see the first two ever again. I'm sure, second time around, I'd really hate them.

Posted by: Peter Briffa on June 3, 2005 4:25 AM

"I confess that The Wife enjoyed both "Kill Bill"s. She tells me that -- although she thinks Tarantino should never, ever write original scripts -- she does enjoy watching the way he gets away with shit."

I'm intrigued by this! Isn't Tarantino noted for the originality of his writing? Or at least, around the time Pulp Fiction came out he was. And what is meant by that last line? BTW have you ever read the 60+ page essay on Tarantino's films in Shelby Crouch's book The Artificial White Man? He's extremely complimentary on Tarantino's treatment of race.

Psst. I really liked Kill Bill but thought that it did fall short of what Tarantino can do.

Roger Avary collaborated with Tarantino on Pulp Fiction and since then I've often wondered whether Tarantino needed Avary more than he knew. Perhaps ego caused him to alienate and push away someone whose help he really really needed?

Going back to your post on Takashi Miike and Kitamura, I'm astonished by your praise of Robert Rodriguez. His films while containing elements of genius have always struck me as being too messy to be considered "good". He's got the spark, but he needs someone around to fill in the cracks.

Posted by: lindenen on June 3, 2005 4:49 AM

Didn't see 'em, didn't want to. I'm interested in your wife's comment about not writing original screenplays, though. I hated the experience of actually seeing "Pulp Fiction" in the theater---and left midway, at the rape scene. I didn't stay til the end. The violence and the wierdness got to me totally. But when people who enjoyed it TELL me about other scenes, I could see the humor in them from just hearing it. But there was something violent and awful and wierd about the actual movie--to me. conclusion had been that Tarantino was a better writer than director. I've steered clear of him since---he's one of those directors that I don't mind admitting if I'm just "not hip enough" for. I was kind of shocked by how desensitized the movie going public was that more people weren't nauseated by "Pulp Fiction."

Posted by: annette on June 3, 2005 10:34 AM

I didn't mind Kill Bill 2 so much, but I really resented Bill's long speech about superheros. Let me get this straight: you set up Bill as the ultra-cool killer, cast Keith Carradine to provide the gravelly voice, the roadmap face, and then make him recite some fanboy speech about Superman at the climax of the film??? Sheesh.

I had the same reaction when I finally saw Pulp Fiction. I'd heard so much about the great dialogue that I was set up to be even more disappointed than I might have been otherwise. Watch the horse-racing dialogue between Bogey and Bachall in The Big Sleep; check out what Mae West got away with in the days of the Hays Office; and then tell me why I'm supposed to be impressed with a long discussion of what Big Macs are called in Belgium.

Posted by: C.S. Froning on June 3, 2005 11:02 AM

I had bad dreams after seeing Pulp Fiction...for months! A nihilistic horror.

Posted by: ricpic on June 3, 2005 1:08 PM

You might enjoy a piece I wrote last year, Lavishly Praising Bloodbaths. Basically it tells about how I walked out of the movie and ended up seeing a movie I never heard of (Connie and Carla) and loving it.

One thing about Tarrantino: he's one of the most entertaining talk show guests I have ever seen.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on June 3, 2005 1:39 PM

Annette: "But there was something violent and awful and wierd about the actual movie--to me."

I don't think it was just you, I think it's the very core of what's interesting about Pulp Fiction and both Kill Bill volumes...that sort of voyeuristic look at a compellingly drawn nightmare of blood and pain. You don't want to look, but you can't look away.

As for me, I'm not sure that I can honestly say I enjoyed any of the above films, but on some level at least, I think I'm glad to have seen them.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 3, 2005 2:00 PM

Kill Bill 2 was horrible. I was ready to seek out a master remote control maker to acquire a remote with a Fast Forward that could combat such boredom.
I did not see any "compellingly drawn nightmare of blood and pain." I won't say the violence was divorced from reality because that would imply it was at some point connected to reality.
Uma Thurman could not carry out the spaghetti Western hero role. Whether this is due to her lack of the necessary skills or that such a role actually requires testosterone -- I would have to contemplate further. I do think Tarantino was probably blinded by his (whatever) for her.
And, YES, definitely, Tarantino needs a writer.
I think he can be entertaining when the gimmicks - which make up much of his style - are piled on the characters. But when characters are thrown on the pile of gimmicks, it just does not work.

Posted by: Steve A on June 3, 2005 3:17 PM

Steve A: "I won't say the violence was divorced from reality because that would imply it was at some point connected to reality."

It was a live-action comic book. I found it compelling not because it was realistic, but because I found the style interesting. I will certainly agree that it was not as interesting or as well done as Vol. I.

Oh well, in the minority again. Even when I like things almost purely for stylistic reasons, I don't like the same things as the cool kids. I guess it's a good thing they're all wrong.

(Before anyone gets too het up* about that, I intend it to be a joke. Your perception of the joke's inherent humor, like your perception of the value of, say, a Tarantino movie, may** vary from mine.)

* Heated up, if you prefer; I don't. Heck, it's even in my (entirely too descriptivist) dictionary.

** Yes, 'may' not 'might'; I'm giving you permission***. Am I not generous?

***And yes, I am aware that the use of 'may' to imply possibility is well attested, but we're back into descriptivist territory here and I don't have a visa.

ps. Help; I've fallen into a maze of footnoted footnotes and can't get out.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 3, 2005 5:23 PM

I don't mean to be rude but, why are you watching these particular movies? :)

You should try my method which is to randomly watch whatever is on cable. This means I spend a lot of time watching things like Intimacy, Noi, Georgy Girl, or A/The? Japanese Story (you know the movie with Toni Collette and that horrifying scene - you know, the really, really, really horrifying scene. That way, if I see something horrible, or horrifying, it is not my fault. It is just an accident of timing. But I digress).

Pulp Fiction worked, I think, because of it's giddiness. It really *shouldn't* have worked, but it did. The thing is, you can't repeat that kind of giddiness (well, I actually haven't seen Kill Bill/1/2 so who am I to talk? And Ocean's 11 bored me to tears, so I passed on Ocean's 12. Plus, why was Matt Damon looking at Julia Roberts so rapturously as she descended the stairs? That gold lame outfit was atrocious. Really. That was not a va-voom dress. Someone erred.)

Pulp Fiction worked because anyone, not even a movie-phile, could see what he had poached, and how he had poached it. It was one big, cheeky, silly mess. High spirited. In a bloody, violent sort of way.

*Why is it that cutting-edge movies are all cutting-edge in the same way, sort of like how all the runway fashions in a season look the same, no matter the designer?

Posted by: MD on June 3, 2005 6:52 PM

that should be "not just movie-philes..."

Posted by: MD on June 3, 2005 6:53 PM


I thought about leaving a comment this morning to gthe effect that I completely agreed with you. But since then I have seen the Korean revenge movie "Oldboy", which makes the "Kill Bill" movies look like models of coherent, intelligent, and tasteful filmmaking.


Posted by: J.W. Hastings on June 3, 2005 8:00 PM

Peter -- I may just not be a Tarantino kind of guy. The only one of his movies that interested me at all was "Jackie Brown," which has come to seem like the least Tarantino-esque of his movies. But why carp? He's rich, famous, taken-note-of, etc. On the other hand: why not carp?

Lindenen -- I think we may agree about Rodriguez! I think he's got tons of talent, much more than Tarantino does. But you're right: he's usually a mess. IMHO, his prob is that he doesn't know enough to work with good writers, or to delegate some of the many moviemaking tasks he gives to himself. But as far as in-the-blood moviemaking talent goes, I think he's pretty amazing, don't you? Like a musician who has an innately amazing musical sense. Tarantino by comparison is very studious -- he's like a dancer who's watching where he places every footstep. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. But it isn't necessarily a good one either.

Annette -- I was pretty amazed by the hoopla about "Pulp Fiction," though less because of the violence and such than because I just wasn't wowed by the movie. I thought it was OK -- it held my interest for two hours, which isn't nothing. I don't tend to mind a little violence or nihilism in a movie, though I can certainly understand people who do. I just thought that as a bad-boy nihilistic po-mo jamboree went, it wasn't much. I guess I finally decided that the reason it created such a stir in the media was because Tarantino put onscreen a lot of attitudes that were very au courant in the media world itself -- mixing high and low, taking a scrapbook-collage approach, doing what you're doing as a kind of performance art, etc. But that's what insiders make of the movie. What still mystifies me is what the general public got out of the movie. Any theories about this?

C.S. -- Tarantino certainly likes the sound of his own voice, doesn't he? I think at first many people were dazzled and amused by his cheekiness -- all those crazy pop-cult riffs seemed fresh, and like some tangent a wacky friend might head off on. But it's gotten to seem ... I dunno. Repetitive. Shallow. Something. I really wish he'd quit grandstanding and get back to paying a little real attention to character and story. On the other hand, given how little I've enjoyed most of his movies, I could also just skip whatever else he comes up with.

Ricpic -- So nihilistic kicks don't do it for you generally? Or was it Tarantino's specific brand of nihilistic kicks?

Robert -- Thanks for the link, I look forward to reading your piece. Tarantino can be great on talk shows, can't he. The part of him I genuinely like is his appreciation for and generosity towards the movie people whose work he likes. He's a real enthusiast, and would probably be great fun to see a movie with, if you could get him to quit showing off. At the same time, I feel like his brand of movie-nerd-ness gets old pretty fast. Asian action ... Trash '70s ... And then what? Something I find fasincating about a lot of movie nerds is how sexless their passion for movies is. It seems to be all about being 13 years old and into comic books and rock and trash action movies. I lost track of that part of myself eons ago. And -- a strictly unnecessary note, I'm sure -- movies have always meant art and sex to me a lot more than they've meant action and violence. I'm probably even more tedious about the art 'n' sex movie-thing than Tarantino can be about Asian action ...

Sundseth -- I think you've just retired the self-footnoting trophy for good! As someone who enjoyed or at least got a lot out of some of Tarantino's movies, do you mind a question? Is it just a matter of joyriding pop-cult kicks? Did you find something more than that going on in the movies? Since I blank out on them pretty quickly, I wonder if I might not be missing some things that are in them...

Steve A. -- That's a really nice distinction, between piling gimmicks on real characters, and making the characters just part of the gimmick-heap. Tarantino too often seems to think that he can bring his steals and hommages and ripoffs to life via sheer bravado, and I don't see it happening. (Although his energy and conviction does make me wonder about ... well, the role drugs or sociopathology play in his life, to be honest.) I like your idea of a master remote control too. I could sure use one in my life generally.

M.D. -- "Cheeky" and "giddy" are the best ways of explaining "Pulp Fiction"s appeal that I've ever encountered. The cheekiness didn't speak to me, but you're certainly right, there it was. You've got me wondering about the whole "cutting edge" thing too. Is the cutting edge a real phenomenon? Just a catch-all way the media present certain kinds of work? A mixture of the two? It's certainly funny the way "cutting edge" has become its own category. It reminds me of the way that "literary fiction" has become its own kind of genre fiction ....

JW -- I confess I've only seen about a half-dozen Korean pictures. But I didn't enjoy a one of them. Have you made any finds?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 4, 2005 1:45 AM


It might be of interest to some that the premise of "Kill Bill" is in part lifted from a Truffaut movie called "The Bride Wore Black" (itself an homage to Hitchcock). I'd be curious to know if anyone's seen both movies -- I have to confess that I've only seen the Truffaut film, which is a quite good and at times really chilling psychological thriller.

Posted by: R.J. on June 4, 2005 1:54 AM

"Asian action ... Trash '70s ... And then what?"

Well, his next one is either going to be a WWII movie or a splatter flick with Robert Rodriguez.

I'd heard OldBoy was quite good except for a gross eating scene. His next is called Sympathy for Lady Vengeance that I'd like to see.

Posted by: lindenen on June 4, 2005 5:40 PM

I thought "Reservoir Dogs" (which was highly praised by crusty old highbrow Stanley Kauffmann in The New Republic when it came out) and "Pulp Fiction" were ingeniously constructed, brilliantly entertaining films. I was disturbed by Tarantino's cavalier treatment of violence and torture, but my appreciation of his art won the upper hand. But "Kill Bill" was just atrocious. How anyone could find value in this boring, heartless and content-less bloodbath is beyond me. So I have zero desire to see the sequel.

The violence in that movie wasn't entertaining or funny, it was just stupid and sick. Limbs getting hacked off ad infintum, blood spurting from a screaming man's knife-penetrated crotch (as a cool, funny punishment for hitting on a girl in a bar)... How could anyone not be sickened by that movie?

Posted by: dan g. on June 4, 2005 8:09 PM

As an admitted Tarantino fanboy, let me say that, first of all, you watched them wrong. They MUST be seen back to back, as the one work of art that they are. Ideally on the big screen, but back to back regardless.

Secondly, they are an homage, primarily to hong kong/tiawanese action movies, superhero comics, and film-noir like graphic novels. With obligatory head nods and in-jokes about many, many things. Only being a Tarantino fan, and not deeply into most of those things, reading 'spoiler heavy' analyses by those who are ahead of time GREATLY helped my enjoyment of what is essentially a love letter from Quentin to the things he loves that have inspired him in his other work.

Wish I had links handy to the reviews and interviews I read prior to seeing it that include the above themes. Google may reveal all (or not!)



Posted by: David Mercer on June 5, 2005 12:01 AM

Michael: "The part of him I genuinely like is his appreciation for and generosity towards the movie people whose work he likes."

When the NY Times did a series featuring film stars reviewing their favorite movies, Tarantino did a 1949 Roy Rogers flick called The Golden Stallion. He claims the director, William Witney, is an unheralded auteur, and says he's seen friends moved to tears when Roy saves Trigger from being sent to prison. He doesn't seem to be kidding about it, either.

The interview is in the collection Watching Movies by Rick Lyman.

I'll differ with the rest of you and say that Quentin is the best writer of his generation. What he lacks is directing chops. I found Pulp Fiction neither "cheeky" nor "giddy" but leaden and dull (except for the Harvey Keitel bits). Rodriguez, on the other hand, is cheeky/giddy as all get out, and a Tarantino script directed by Rodriguez would likely be magnificent.

Posted by: Brian on June 5, 2005 12:15 AM

I'm pretty much with the Blowhard on this one. I'd only say that, while I wasn't terribly enamoured of the second film, I wasn't disappointed by it... probably because the first part was the biggest letdown of 2003 for me so that I knew not to expect much from the follow-up. I think the title is brilliant -- two almost identical words of one syllable each formed as an imperative statement, personally I think it's hilarious but that may just be me -- but the films themselves are pretty poor.

Lindenen said:
Isn't Tarantino noted for the originality of his writing?
Tarantino... original... does not compute... *head explodes*

I think MD's point about the high-spiritedness of Pulp Fiction is a good one. Tarantino may not be original but he can do funny. The humourlessness of the Kill Bills was the most disappointing thing about them.

Oldboy is fucking great. It's the film Kill Bill would like to be. I got a genuine emotional kick from Oldboy that action films do not commonly give me.

R.J. notes that part of the inspiration for Bill was a Truffaut film; another, more direct influence is a Japanese film called Lady Snowblood. You may want to check that out too, although I found it quite dull.

Dan G. said:
How could anyone not be sickened by that movie?
The film was too boring to be sickening. That's why it didn't sicken me.

I'll go now.

Posted by: James Russell on June 5, 2005 11:17 AM

Hi All,

Well I think it's a matter of taste on this one. To anyone who has ever taken the martial arts for any period of time, the movie is masterful in its treatment of time in the mind of the practitioner as it is occurring.
He effectively plays with time to reveal how the ancient minds were able to see with complete clarity, the elements of the universe with an uncluttered mind. Of course, it appears ridiculous to people in whom it does not trigger an absolute fondness of having ever competed in contact sports of any kind. Contact sports foster this kind of single-minded thought by which the thinker is able to consolidate his/her whole universe into the thought of obtaining absolute victory - and for a moment of two in time, you are able to have one goal only - beating the opponent.

Kudos to Kill Bill

Posted by: hank on June 5, 2005 2:35 PM

Tarantino is talented but his talents don't mesh well. I think Tarantino's hyper-artificial writing style would work better on the stage than on screen. He's a decent film director, but he should try directing other people's scripts.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on June 5, 2005 4:22 PM

Steve: "He's a decent film director, but he should try directing other people's scripts."

Well, I guess none of us are ever going to agree on anything.

Posted by: Brian on June 5, 2005 5:32 PM

"R.J. notes that part of the inspiration for Bill was a Truffaut film"

Actually, I've read that Tarantino claims to have never seen the Truffaut film, but does name check Lady Snowblood and a stack of other films as being influences.

And yeah, when Pulp Fiction first came out, I think he really was lauded for his dialogue. Just from memory, the Ebert review waxes melodic about the dialogue in the film.

Posted by: lindenen on June 5, 2005 6:32 PM

Incidentally, I forgot to pick up on this comment from Brian:

a Tarantino script directed by Rodriguez would likely be magnificent

It's been done (From Dusk Till Dawn). I've never seen it myself but I don't think I've ever read the word "magnificent" used in connection with it.

Posted by: James Russell on June 6, 2005 9:33 AM

Michael: "I think you've just retired the self-footnoting trophy for good!"

Well, if there's ever competition, I think I might be able to stretch just a bit more.

"As someone who enjoyed or at least got a lot out of some of Tarantino's movies, do you mind a question? Is it just a matter of joyriding pop-cult kicks?"

I think that's mostly it, but I enjoyed the way that the movies seemed to simultaneously take themselves seriously enough while still making fun of the genres of which they were parts. They were similar in that way, though not much else, to True Lies.

"Did you find something more than that going on in the movies? Since I blank out on them pretty quickly, I wonder if I might not be missing some things that are in them..."

I think you have to enjoy watching artistically arranged mindless violence for its own sake to enjoy any of the movies mentioned. From other comments of yours, I suspect that condition isn't met in your case.

ps. I wonder whether these movies belong on my list of guilty pleasures alongside The Truth About Cats and Dogs?

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 6, 2005 5:19 PM

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