Kill Bill sucks.
Go ahead, ask me why.
Kill Bill is an expertly made piece of shit. In an effort to pay homage to the films he (and I) enjoyed as kids and as young adults, Quentin Tarantino has clevered himself right into shitsville, and as usual, we eat it up with a spoon. People loved this/these movie(s), talked about how artful it was/they were, and what a great comeback for Quentin. It sucks. It’s trite by design, but manages to achieve that thing you only seem to experience in bad Mad Magazine parodies: you set out to parody, and go so far in your efforts that you look directly into the abyss and become the monster you beheld, if you’ll pardon my runaway metaphor. If I needed an example of some one, in the past couple of years, deliberately shooting a scene like an old Kung-Fu movie, I would say to people, “Check out this scene in Kill Bill, but just watch that one scene, and turn the volume down. And wash your hands after.” By the end of these two films, you feel uncomfortable for Quentin Tarantino & Uma Thurman. And the snake. Poor snake.
I am glad to see Michael Madsen working again. He was in Die Another Day, but you really don’t see him that much anymore, and I feel he’s underrated. Daryl Hannah, too. Vivica was better in her role on Alias, and for that matter, so was Quentin.
I know a lot of people go to see his movies because they’re drawn to the violence. I’m a huge fan of violence, both in life and in film, and I hate this fucking movie, mostly because I will never get that time back. The violence doesn’t work. For a fight scene to work, you have to care. There needs to be a drive, a reason for fighting. Much has been made of the first volume showing you the war being fought, the action, and the second volume being the backstory, the character development. I have two things to say about that: if Quentin’s trying to come up with an unconventional way to tell a story, he did it better in Pulp Fiction, and I don’t think he’ll ever fucking top that. I think he knows that, too. Two? Well, the reason I don’t give a shit about what happens in the first movie is because I have no impetus or drive for what it is they are doing. You needed a whole fucking movie to explain that? Jesus, dude, Sergio Leone used to do it with zero dialogue and a squinty-eyed close-up. Yes, I’m jaded about movies - you have to be to appreciate this movie on any level. You have to have a built-in reason to care about a fight scene or it just sucks. Wesley Snipes even knows this. Check out his commentary track on Blade. Without that kind of thing, these movies are boring. Volume one was mind-shatteringly boring. Volume Two was less boring.
Yeah, I'm a fanboy. And I know about fanboys, too. You know what I know about them? There are varieties in the panoply of fanboy fauna. There is the righteous fanboy, who cries when characters die, who argues passionately about events in his chosen fan realm, and who forces the media on his friends, hoping that they'll like it. Then, there are the Dark Fanboys, who if you've got one that's good, they got one better. (I got issue one! Oh yeah, we’ll I got the special Zero Edition with the chrome cover where they die on every page.) They only care about being the hardest of the hardcore, and the love for the thing becomes nothing more than just lust, getting just to get, seeing just to see, absorbing the thing only just to do it, not because they love it anymore. I think that's Quentin. The Dark Fanboy has taken root, and he doesn’t see it. It’s like becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict. You watch for the signs, and quash certain kinds of behavior before they spin out of control. He's in it for the cool, not because he loves it - and that's the problem. His settings are so cool they lack originality, shooting only for cool at the expense of everything else. His characters are quirky, cool and strange, and about as deep as a puddle. He's a copycat of everyone, including himself, in the worst way, and he sucks. He didn't used to suck, but now he does, and it's only because we live in a bankrupt, ADA culture that he thrives.
We let him - shit, “let” - we encourage him to work from formula, too. Buck is Zed, the Pussy Wagon is the Bad Motherfucker wallet, and the personality quirks are so forced that they bore the shit out of me. Are we not noticing this, or is it bad form to bring it up, like making fun of the handicapped? Why does he keep retreading the same ground? How many slo-mo scenes of people in suits walking to cool music must we endure? How many body parts can Q remove? Is this meant to be charming? (in all fairness, I liked the Hannah eye-pluck - so personal.)
And also, why does he feel the need to take credit for creations that don’t belong to him? In these stunningly “original” films, I see the homage he was trying to pay, and then I see shit he just ripped the fuck off. The sword battle in front of lit panels that’s strangely evocative of the floodlight fight from Blade II, the trailer fight that looks like the one in Raising Arizona, down to the hole bashed in the bathroom wall. He owes a tremendous amount to Brian DePalma. In fact, he should just hand Brian a bag of cash. Oh, and I Spit On Your Grave, anyone? The speeches to victims before they die, like in True Romance. (So sad - Q wrote that one.) And the “bullet in the head.” Cute. Exploitation was better when it wasn’t as self-conscious.
Having said all of that, I liked the second one better than the first one - but I still didn’t like it. It suffers from bad dialogue, badly mismatched and overdone music cues, (not to fault the RZA's new tunes, for the most part) and long scenes of random quirkiness done for no particular reason. Revenge movies move, man. Move it along!
In both films, here are some more specific things I had trouble with (or observations about):
- Rules. There are no rules. Sometimes the character is a superhero, sometimes not. If the character can pull any skill from their ass at the moment of its announced necessity - well, you say deus ex machina, and I say red kryptonite (tm). Quentin's a comic book fan, supposedly, so he should get this - back in 1986, they re-booted Superman, and gave him back the skill set we all know about - heat vision, super-breath, etc. They took away some of the ridiculous powers he'd gained over the years - turning back time, invisibility - not because they were dumb, which they were, but because he was too powerful, and thus, not interesting. If someone can do anything they want on command, then there's nothing they can't do - by definition. Limitations are interesting, and fixed limitations (for an audience) is why someone goes over the rules in almost every vampire movie ever made.
- Quantity. The same trap as the two inferior Matrix films - we need 100 guys, because that’ll up the intensity level. Best fight in these two films is the last one betwixt Uma and Bill, ‘cause it’s harsh, quick, and over real fucking fast. Like real fights, for the most part. QT will probably have a chance to be in a real fight real soon. Then he'll understand.
- Justice. What’s the point of a revenge killing? Vengeance, justice, balancing the scales. So how does Budd’s death at the fangs of a snake balance the scales? How does Buck getting crushed in a doorway balance that out? He subjected her to possibly thousands of paid-for rapes for four years, man. She’d have to cave in his skull and field dress him while he watched to come close to the perceived required retribution. (You’re welcome to consult the PRR scale if you don’t believe me.) The Daryl Hannah eye/thrashing in the bathroom thing works pretty well, though. You know who would have been better than her in that part? Kim Basinger.
- Music. Yes, I know that the overblown music cue, taken from the spaghetti westerns of bygone days, is something we should be expecting now, since he fucking does it all the time. Unfortunately, like most of his retinue, this has gone beyond expectation into self-parody, so overdone is it. The scenes now are laughable, ruining any kind of tension, and cutting into the action so as to be distracting. A good action music cue should have move to the edge of your seat and think, “Aw, yeah,” not thinking, “Hey, is this Earth, Wind and Fire?” while people are beating the shit out of each other. I will credit Quentin with the birth of a new martial art: Disco Fu. Disco Fu, for use when Tae Bo fails you - in a musical attack situation.
- Tools of the trade. A couple of observations. Good blades don’t sing, like the swords in the movie - they whisper. I know he’s got a thing he’s going for, I’m just saying that it’s a stupid thing. Oh, and straight razors? Straight razors have never been good for anything but shaving and making shallow cuts on punks in dark parking lots. And actually, they kind of suck to shave with.
- Lucy Liu. I can’t stand her. She drops the IQ of anything she’s involved with by about 35 points. Taking the abysmal Charlie’s Angels flicks, the Jackie Chan western, Ally McSingle Female Lawyer and now this, together - shit, I’m thinking the death penalty. Now, on a good note, for all the damage Lucy does to your cred, the obligatory Sam Jack cameo (part of the aforementioned formula) repairs lots of it. He improves almost anything he’s involved with, Shaft and Deep Blue Sea not withstanding. Don’t believe me? People are buying Star Wars movies again.
- Tragedy. Ultimately, every revenge movie should be a form of dramatic tragedy, and thus, a bastard child of Shakespeare. These films have every element of a tragedy, but collapse at the most crucial point: humanity. Hate, rage, remorse, crippling sadness, insanity - these are what drive good characters and make a story. I will give Uma this - when she wakes up in a hospital with an empty womb, her reaction is tragic and beautiful. Between that and the bathroom floor at the end - she embodies what these films are probably supposed to be about. But the relationship between the Bride and Bill strains the bounds of credulity, and so too do their reactions to each other and their motivations. Why does Daryl Hannah hate Uma so much? Why are they rivals? There is the thing with their sensei and her eye that’s hinted at, but is that really it? Is it a sex thing, with Bill? In short, what the fuck? Maybe, just maybe, when you traded Keitel, Buscemi, Tim Roth, and those guys for Lucy and Vivica and company, you shot yourself in the foot dramatically. (I like how that sounds.) We are confronted with horrible atrocity one right after another, until the heart is numbed by the experience - or we’re not meant to be taking this seriously at all. He just moves to the next setpiece and makes pretty action things. If I really spent hours watching a revenge tale that wasn’t meant to be taken as one - well, I’m getting a sword made for Quentin..
- Ham. Finally, much has been made of Quentin’s maverick status as a director, and I say this about some of the things he attempts - no. Just no. This hackneyed “voyage of discovery” that Uma undertakes? The change of heart Bill had after shooting her? The chaos of battle against the backdrop of a Japanese garden? How easy, how boring, how forgettable. How very film school. Wait, you never went to film school did you, Quentin?
Maybe it’s time.
(For those of you keeping score at home, this is the longest post thus far. Told you I was a fanboy.)