From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Friday, April 16, 2004

Movie Review: Kill Bill Vol. 2
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) Director - Quentin Tarentino; Starring - Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Gordon Liu; Screenplay - Quentin Tarentino, from a character created by Quentin Tarentino and Uma Thurman; Rated R for violence and language, plus one scene of drug use (yes, apparently the MPAA counts them now).

I wrote up Kill Bill Vol. 1 yesterday. While I think I managed to stay fairly spoiler free with that post, with this one, it will be much harder. There will be spoilers aplenty in relation to Vol. 1 and possibly Vol. 2. If you want to be surprised by either/both movies, you should refrain from reading this until you have had a chance to see them both.
I admit freely to being gaga over Vol. 1. I saw it 3 times within a 24 hour period when the movie first opened, due to commitments to see it with other people. Prior to the first screening, I have to admit being really nervous just because it had been so long since Quentin had released a new movie. He was branching out into new territory both in genre and stylistically. I wasn't sure what I would be getting, but I was more than pleasantly surprised with what I got. Vol. 1 was thrilling, hyperkinetic ride full of action, blood, and some truly kick ass characters. Depth was lacking to a degree, but I certainly didn't mind.
I had heard through the grapevine that Vol. 2 would be a different approach to the same characters. So again, I had some mixed feelings, but not the same feeling of trepidation, since I knew I really liked what I had gotten so far with the first half of the story. Now, having the whole story laid out before me, I can say that Vol. 2 is a radically different movie in my mind, but still a very solid and satisfying end to the story that Tarentino started last November.

What's the story for this Volume? (WARNING: Spoilers as pertains to Volume 1)
The Bride (Uma Thurman) has learned all that she can about the various member of the Deadly Vipers and their current whereabouts. She has also taken care of two of the names on her "Death List 5". She continues her search for revenge against the surviving members of the Vipers: Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and Bill (David Carradine), the leader of the group and The Bride's former lover. We know from the cliffhanger ending of the first Volume that the child The Bride thought she had lost when Bill shot her four years ago survived and was delivered while she was in a coma. What part will The Bride's offspring play in her search for vengeance? Will she be successful in knocking off all members of the "Death List"? And will we learn The Bride's true name?

Well? How is everybody? (more spoilers, both Vol. 1 & 2)
That's an interesting question. I feel very strongly that Vol. 2 takes us to the end of the road, but in a manner that is so different than Vol. 1 because it relies so little on the action, and so much more heavily on the dialogue and character development. In that respect, I feel like this is a more traditional Tarentino film.

Take as an example Uma's Bride. In Vol. 1 we know she was pregnant with Bill's child. We know that she was on the verge of marrying someone who wasn't Bill when the massacre occurred. But we don't know why she was marrying someone other than Bill. After Vol. 2, we know why she wasn't with the Vipers anymore. And while we don't really get anymore insights into the motives behind Vernita Green's (Viveca Fox) or O-Ren Ishii's (Lucy Liu) actions, we do get some appreciable insight into Budd and Elle, and a whole lot of insight into Bill's.

Michael Madsen's Budd is a really interesting character for me because he runs so against type compared to the others. While all of the other former Vipers are still very serious, and potentially very deadly people, Budd has really let himself go. He's a bouncer at a strip club in some backwater town. He lives in one of the nastiest trailers you ever did see. And while he's not happy about it, he's made his peace with who he is and where he is. In many respects, he's the anti-Bill: random, disheveled, a bit chaotic.

Elle Driver is also a serious piece of work. If Budd is the counter to Bill, I think Elle is very much cast as the dark side of The Bride's character. Once again, a study in the contrast between The Bride's controlled, single minded purpose and direction versus Elle's duplicitious nature, which I think divides her focus, especially when coupled with her arrogance. It really adds a lot of tension to her matchup against The Bride, and makes the resolution of that conflict almost more satisfying for me than The Bride's battle with O-Ren in Vol. 1.

But for my money, the centerpiece of this story really is Carradine's Bill. Carradine surprised me some with how much presence he exuded in limited screen time in Vol. 1. That still didn't prepare me for how much stronger he is in the second half. Bill is a study in vanity coupled with some very shrewd observational skills. There's a scene involving him, Uma, and their child that is a really fascinating thing to watch. The conversational material and tone in which its delivered really took me out of the movie for a minute. It could have been a random conversation being held among any modern family in a normal household. I think that made it much more jarring when not 5 minutes later, Carradine almost comes unhinged doing some very crazy, random stuff. And even then, within the context of the character Carradine has created, it's not crazy, it is most definitely not random.

But does it hold together as a story though?
I think so, absolutely. I mean, I freely admit, it is a flawed feature, much more so than the first volume in some respects. I feel like the pacing was just a little off. There is some very Quentin style dialogue throughout the movie (Carradine gives what for me is this film's answer to the "Madonna" speech in Reservoir Dogs, centered around Superman). There are moments where I think it runs a little long (most notably in a moment between Budd and Elle). But it's hard for me to see what could be cut. The story itself is very satisfying in the way it plays to the end. If Vol. 1 was an homage to martial arts style revenge flicks, this one is very much a spaghetti western style film with martial arts stylings. The final conflict between Bill and The Bride reminds me some of the showdown between Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Not in the way it's shot, but in the way the two characters measure each other up one last time to see who will be left standing.

That sounds like a good endorsement, but I detect some apprehension...
I think that's because while I found it very satisfying overall, I think there might be the potential for this movie to really struggle at the box office. In a conversation I had this afternoon with my friend Robert, who got to see it last night also, the first thing he said was that he thought there would be a significant backlash because of the change in style. He thought that with Vol.1 as a combined story it's good, but could stand editing.

I was fortunate enough to see the two films back to back last night at the Alamo Drafthouse (one of only two theaters in the country getting to show the double feature). I would have to agree with him viewing it as a 4+ hour affair. It really makes me a little angry at Harvey Weinstein at Miramax for not taking the chance and releasing Tarentino's original 3 hour cut. I hope like hell when Vol. 2 comes out that they do a special set where you can see that version and see what would have been taken out in the original vision.

But on the other hand, I think the flow of the narrative is much stronger having the two movies run together, than just viewing Vol. 2 by itself without seeing Vol. 1 somewhat recently before it. Without having Vol. 1 right there to provide some balance to the experience, I worry too many people will come out of Vol. 2 by itself and say "This isn't anything like the first one. This sucks." When watching the double last night, there was a group in front of us who were talking during the break between the two. I couldn't help overhearing one person complain about Vol. 1, because it didn't have good dialogue like Tarentino's other works. I think it's ultimately going to hurt this movie more if people fail to keep in perspective that this is all one body of work, and needs to be taken like that. If the box office doesn't reflect well on this effort, I worry it's going to adversely stifle other directors (including Tarentino) from really trying to take chances and breathe new life into some of their favorite genres.

Considering how rarely Hollywood really takes chances, I think I've earned the right to be. Take a look at this post from Norbizness that lists off some new projects that have recently been approved (the info in italics, Norbizness' biting commentary on the news in regular print). Tell me which of those on the list he provides really needed to be made. Which of them really are taking chances in an original way, not in an "Oh my god, the apocalypse is nigh!" kind of way? I don't think any of them qualify. Tarentino and Thurman really took a chance with this movie. I think Uma's more than acquitted herself to the point where I think she can get some really meaty action roles that are fun, in addition to some good dramatic work, throughout both parts. It's Tarentino who I think might stand to lose if the movie doesn't do well. I encourage anyone who liked the first half to definitely give Vol. 2 a shot, and make sure you do it with an open mind. Take it in the context of a complete story between the two, and not as a sequel. I think you'll get a lot more out of it that way.