Adventures in Genre
I loved every frame of Kill Bill .
This movie has everything: fast swords, fast cars, and so many gallons of Kensington Gore that my audience laughed in awe, dismay, and bemusement at the sheer absurdity of the production.
In case you're just in from Baghdad, here's the story: Uma Thurman
is a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS), sort of
a Fox Force Five gone horribly wrong. When, on her wedding day, the
DiVAS strongly object to the union, Uma winds up single, angry, and
out for revenge.
Bill turns on three hinges: charisma, music, and fight choreography.
I've never been an Uma Thurman fan before. I didn't really buy her in
Pulp Fiction, she helped kill the Batman franchise, and, frankly,
I don't find her particularly attractive. But I'm an Uma Thurman fan
now. Thurman owns every minute she's onscreen, and I never dreamed she
had the athletic ability or the acting range she displays here. Lucy
Liu was another revelation. Though she'd never sparked my interest before,
her O-Ren Ishii is easily the coolest bad guy I've seen all year. Her
management style makes DeNiro's Al Capone look like a cheap thug. Finally,
there's Sonny Chiba in a role Mifune would've played had this movie
been made 20 years back. Chiba, as the master swordsmith who gives Uma
her blade, exudes a calm command that makes me want to see this guy
Music has been a big part of all of Tarantino's movies, and this is
no exception. Kill Bill 's music is infectious, and
by the time Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity"
came blaring out of the theater's speakers, I was literally bopping
in my seat. I've only done that once before, and that was for the Kill
Bill trailer. I'm buying a copy of this soundtrack.
In a movie like this, the fights are the big enchilada. Kill Bill
doesn't let you down. The fights are brutal, visceral experiences
look like they hurt. A lot. Combatants get tired. When they're cut,
they bleed. Done differently, these (really quite long) fights could
be grueling experiences for the audience, but Tarantino goes so ridiculously
over the top that, instead of flinching, the viewer is dazzled. The
film's biggest production number, the battle at the House of Blue Leaves,
begins with a wink to Monty Python and the Holy Grail that's
so gratuitous you can't help but shake your head and laugh. In Tarantino's
world, a 125-lb woman with the right katana can slice through bone as
if it were butter. By the time the battle ends with an homage to Thomas
Harris, you know you've gone so far over the top that you're on a different
Some people don't dig the Tarantino vibe. That's cool. If, however,
you can accept that there's an airline that'll allow you to bring your
katana into the cabin with you, that the police wouldn't think to post
a lookout for the world's most identifiable vehicle, or that the yakuza
thinks that guns are for sissies, then this is the movie for you. I
don't know if my schedule will permit me to see Kill Bill in
the theater again, but I do know I'm gonna try.
On the other hand, although I was all set to love Brotherhood
of the Wolf , the picture had me checking my watch well
before the end of its excruciatingly long 144-minute running time.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a monster/martial arts/drawing
room movie in which a chevalier from the court of Louis XV (Complete
with Mohawk sidekick! In stores soon!) comes to the provinces to hunt
a mysterious creature that's killing off the peasants. It starts off
well enough, with a fun Jaws tribute that's quickly followed
by a good martial arts set piece with the solid, if somewhat vacant,
Things go south, however, once the chevalier meets the noble gentry
and gets down to the business of solving the mystery. Unfortunately,
this happens pretty early in the first act. The primary love interest
can't hold a candle to the secondary love interest, leaving the viewer
seriously doubting the chevalier's judgment. The Big Villain is telegraphed
so early that there's no surprise later on. The Creature, which works
fine as long as it stays in the shadows, is so clearly a CGI creation
that it yanked me right out of the movie; and The Evil Posse is completely
ridiculous -- I pitied these people for being born 210 years too early
for Thunderdome. They get a couple of big battles against the heroes
and, though they give it their all, I couldn't help but think, "They're
no Crazy 88s."
movie needed a more ruthless editor. Slo-mo-ing a victim in mid-turn
as she faces the Beast? Cut it. Some guy picking up a pitcher, pouring
a beverage, quick-closeup on the beverage, then back to the guy? Cut
it. Just tell me what he has to say. Long scene of the chevalier practicing
his quick-draw, only to have him never call upon that skill later in
the picture? Cut it. Long scenes designed to show off the mystic nature
of the Indian dude? Cut it: let's get this picture moving!
As I said, I wanted to like Brotherhood of the Wolf . Too bad - it could've been so much better.
wrapped up my genre-themed weekend with a POW movie called Stalag
17. It's one of those pictures that I knew I was supposed
to see, that I knew I was eventually going to see, and that, frankly,
I was really looking forward to seeing. How did it fare? Not too
well. Stalag 17 is a movie that, for me, lands in the "just
Stalag 17 can't figure out what kind of movie it wants to
be. Is it a psychological thriller? A buddy movie? A comedy? A critique
of capitalism? I don't know. Neither, I suspect, did Billy Wilder, the
fellow behind this picture.
There's a spy among the POWs in a German camp, and suspicion falls
on Sgt. Sefton (William Holden), a selfish, unfeeling dealer who seems
to know all the angles. Sounds great, right? As a study of suspicion
and fear, I think it could have been. Problem is, as soon as it grabs
movie shifts its attention to Animal and Sugar Lips (Robert Strauss
and Harvey Lembeck), a comic-relief pair of buddies who appear
to be direct cinematic forebears of Timon and Pumbaa. These caricatures
are so broadly drawn that they yank me out of the movie every time they're
onscreen, and they're onscreen a lot. Just when I'm ready to submit,
however, and play along with their little jokes, I'm confronted with
the amazing self-centeredness of Sgt. Sefton, a man who cares only about
the bigger, better deal. He sobers me right up every time. This constant
whipsawing between various tones kept me off balance. Consequently,
I couldn't immerse myself in the universe of the film.
Sgt. Sefton is a selfish, nasty, cruel, totally unlikeable and totally
unsympathetic son of a bitch. That we care about him anyway is a testament
to the amazing performance on display here. As we see him go from self-imposed
isolation to group-imposed isolation, we see just how much of his disdain
is a front, hiding his desperate need for respect. When he finally makes
his play, we cheer him on, even though we know he has a lot more in
common with Ken Lay than with any of us. Holden's performance is 100%
gold, I tell ya, and it redeems the whole picture.
©2003 Alex Ellerman