Kill Bill


Gen X Review Kill BillJarring, violent, odd scenes of brutality: Check.

Disturbing, creepy misogynistic humor: Ditto.

Disjointed narrative punctuated with effects ripped off of ‘70s TV: Yep.

Weird disco kung-fu scenes… Weird disco kung-fu scenes? It must be the new Quentin Tarantino film! 
Hollywood just can’t kill Quentin Tarantino. The uber geek has done everything but club his career to a bloody pulp, but there’s no stopping this one-man car wreck from dragging a lot of bodies down with it.

Tarantino’s character-rich mug should be in the dictionary next to the words “overexposed,” “egotistical” and “faddish.” Not since Orson Wells has one man so completely sacrificed his skills to serve his ego.

(Tarantino appeared in so many places in the 1990s that rumors circulated that he’d somehow cloned himself in a satanic ritual overseen by fellow superstar nerd Bill Gates. How else could he occupy all the seats on the Hollywood Squares at one time?)

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is T-Bone’s fourth film and it’s a fun romp through Tarantino-Land, where every fight scene comes with a go-go dancer and a gong solo and every kiss is laced with blood. Kill Bill is sort of the campy lovechild of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Charlie’s Angels, with a few virgins tossed in for chuckles.

Kill Bill is without a doubt the most fun movie of 2003. How can you argue with a film as playfully sadistic as a mousetrap?

Ostensibly the story of an ex-assassin’s search for revenge against the gang that left her for dead four years earlier, Kill Bill is actually Tarantino’s cheesy stab at Citizen Kane. Its real purpose is to showcase the stunning directorial talent of a geek genius extraordinaire. Those looking for cohesive narrative structure or satisfying resolutions should just stay home and watch television, since that’s the only good reason to turn in to Law and Order.

Therefore I’m not going to bore you by going over the film’s plot. It’s unimportant and wouldn’t give you a clear impression of what the film is like. If you feel compelled to learn more about the characters go stare at the movie’s poster for a while.

Uma Thurman. Um. Samurai swords. Ah.  Okay, time to move on….

Tarantino is to films as Picasso was to art: He cuts things up in order to put them together in more interesting ways. Figures bubble up out of the chaos only to show he has the willpower to keep things in focus if he wants to, which marks him as a kind of weenie fantasy figure. But where most of us… erm, that is… most nerds can only pretend at this level of mastery, Tarantino is the real thing.

The newest Tarantino film is a behaviorist’s wet dream, presenting internal conflicts in the most basic manner and offering only superficial motivation. Working without a framing narrative, or with one so rudimentary as to be discarded in one sentence (that sentence being “Uma Thurman. Um. Samurai swords. Ah.”) Kill Bill is all about the body in motion – A stylized pornocopia of violence.

Like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, Kill Bill uncovers the ordinary in the heart of violence. Even killers have to use the bathroom and assassins eat Capt. Crunch cereal, too. Tarantino uses these scenes to disturb expectations and undercut dramatic moments, postponing the audience’s satisfaction.

The film is so fresh and new that it threatens to disappear off the screen. The color is in constant flux and the film goes to black and white without warning. Scenes begin in real life and end in anime or so weirdly stylized that they feel like they’re the work of a 19th century expressionist, not some creepy grade-school dropout.

This novelty-at-all-cost credo does work against the film sometimes. Although the timing is brilliant, it can grate on you and the tricks are sometimes irritating. True story: The film cell became dislocated during the lead-up sequence to the best fight scene of the film, so that Uma’s feet were on top and her lower torso took up the lower portion of the screen. Ah, thought I, how strange. What can it mean? Is Tarantino putting us in the position of a foot fetishist? Is he deconstructing the action scene, showing us that what appears to be solid is actually many moving parts working is concert?

(Of course it was all just a trick to make me personally feel stupid and eventually some pimply slacker picked the camera off the floor.)

The point is there’s no trust with Tarantino. He’ll show you a good time, but don’t expect a box of chocolates and don’t wait up for a goodnight kiss. If you’re looking for a benevolent older man who will show you some good times, maybe guide you through some life-lessons, consult the classifieds.

Tarantino is a modern Marquis De Sade in ray-bans and wing-tip shoes.


Lost in Translation


Gen X Review Lost in TranslationOur world is obvious. We’re so accustomed to life without nuance that we see only bright colors and things that explode. The universe has given up all its secrets – but what translates isn’t often worth hearing.

Lost in Translation is a quiet comedy about the sort of relationship that defies explanation. Starring Bill Murray as American actor Bob Harris and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, a young woman seeking direction and an identity of her own, the film explores a relationship that defies ordinary language.

Bob and Charlotte are strangers in a foreign city. Bob is an aging action film star who has been shipped to Tokyo to sell an idea of American style and elegance while Charlotte has recently graduated from college with a philosophy degree and is overseas with her photographer husband. They’re both alienated from their surroundings, placed out of context until they fear that they’ve lost themselves.

The city might as well be the surface of Mars. Tokyo is less a metropolis than a collection of images and shadow puppets. People walk the streets on automatic pilot, cut off from each other and the world. Mirrored walls close around them while conveyor belts feed their bodies to various toothy buildings. Interactions are strange in this climate, and both Bob and Charlotte feel estranged from reality, as though the only way people negotiate with one another is through machines and imperfect translators.

“I’m trying to organize a prison break,” Bob tells Charlotte. But why is the city so oppressive and what lies on the other side of this communication barrier? The city is a symbol of what divides us – the clothes, careers and faux identities – but how many of us could live without these fictions, naked to one another?

Charlotte feels even more lost when her husband leaves on a weekend shoot. Sitting near the window in her high-rise hotel room, she feels like she’s the last living thing on the planet, but also the only thing without purpose or place. She has followed her husband into an alien country without the familiar things that cement her identity, and when he’s not around she is diminished even more.

Meanwhile, Bob is shooting a commercial for a whiskey. The Japanese director barks orders, which are translated to Bob through a young woman who functions mostly as a kind of machine. Act like Roger Moore! More intensity! Mystery! Act as though you are really alive, as though this isn’t all just a rehearsal for life!

Both Bob and Charlotte are dislocated in the profoundest sense of the word. Neither knows how to act in this strange new world, and their interactions with one another are reticent and sweet. When Charlotte sees Bob alone in the bar at their hotel she approaches him. Their initial conversations are no different than most of ours, and we’re struck by how little they have to say to one another once the twenty-word introductions are over.

But it’s the unspoken connections that matter in this film – The shy hand holding and wayward glances, the way they brush against one another in a taxi. This is something new to them, something delicate and strange, like the taste of a new vowel on your tongue or the way your stomach feels when you’re leaving home for the first time.

Lost in Translation is not a love story, however, or even a story about an illicit affair. It doesn’t cheapen itself by pretending that Bob and Charlotte aren’t attracted to one another, but it also resists the temptation to follow in a familiar genre. It challenges our notions about love, lust, intimacy and identity by pushing the boundaries as far as they can go.

Their lives seem far away, and the possibility of something radical and new, some novel relationship, seems close enough to touch. The film sustains this tension until the audience feels like screaming. We want Bob and Charlotte to choose what sort of people they want to be, want them to fall into familiar categories.

But the film toys with our expectation by revealing only what is necessary and keeping the rest confidential.  The characters are naked to each other in a way they never are to us, and a lot is revealed in gestures and body language. This level of intimacy is startling and the film doesn’t talk us through Bob and Charlotte’s relationship.  The words would be so new that they’d trip off the tongue and disappear into thin air anyway.

What moves us most is what we can’t hear– all that strange and confidential stuff that passes quietly from person to person.

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