June 2010

Kill Bill, Vol. 2: More Average Cinema (Part Two)

The visual element is amped up here during the second installment of the Kill Bill films – and its not just about finally getting to see the man named in the title of the film either. There’s a wider color palette utilized here as the action moves from underground, literally, in Texas to somewhere atop a mountain in China. Simply by dearth of location, this second film looks different. But the Bride is transformed as well – no longer is she a Bruce Lee reference, but a stylish, if not casual, woman on a mission.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1: Appropriating Shakespeare and Kurosawa (Part Two)

With such a broad historical underpinning, it would make sense that the dialogue, something for which Tarantino was already known, would come off rather easy being cribbed, borrowed and appropriated from any number of sources. And maybe it would have if not for some of the wooden performances turned in.

As the Bride, Uma Thurman was extending her Hollywood cache to unforeseen places – being the focal point of about four hours of footage. Her performance in this first film, though, isn’t too remarkable. Certainly the physicality required for this role was daunting, but even in the Bride’s first fight scene where she’s pitted against Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), finds the actress trading nonsensical lines that could have come off if not for the delivery.

Death Proof: Q: Is Tarantino Sexist? A: Probably Not. (Part One)

Grindhouse was a flop. Even splitting the multi-film aggregate into two parts, separating the Robert Rodriguez effort, Planet Terror, from Tarantino’s Death Proof didn’t help at all. Inserting the in-between film mock advertisements didn’t ingratiate the film to aficionados, who were assumed to have been hip to such throw backs. Even the inclusion of Eli Roth, director of the Saw franchise, couldn’t add a bit of cool cache to the entire thing. It was a flop. And there was nothing to do about it – even turn it over to Cannes and hope that a longer version caught some critic’s eye.

Jackie Brown: Right and Wrong in the Criminal World (Part Two)

But is it wrong to cross a crook?

Right and wrong gets pretty fuzzy in scenarios like these. The vast majority of the film, though, concerns itself with the title character double and triple crossing her acquaintances.

After getting snagged by Michael Keaton’s cop character – the actor perhaps at the end of his high profile days – Jackie is eventually bailed out of jail by Ordell. Viewers, though, have already been privy to the criminal’s dealings with recently released associates. In sensible fashion, when Jackie and Ordell meet, she promptly borrows his gun and shoves it into the small of his back.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2: More Average Cinema (Part One)

Beginning with the Bride tooling down a midnight lit freeway, Kill Bill, Vol. 2 instantly realizes its campy potential. With the narrative being plainly spoken by the main character, there’s a sense of simplicity inherent in older, dismissed filmic work – the kind that director Quentin Tarantino fawns over.

Coming to terms with Kill Bill’s complete averagness is probably difficult for viewers, but it appears that Tarantino rendered the film in such terms for a specific reason. The films he enjoyed when a youngster stink. And portions of Kill Bill aim at the same stench. Anywhere from the aforementioned wooden acting during the film’s first installment to this campy opening is proof of that.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1: Appropriating Shakespeare and Kurosawa (Part One)

After what seemed like an eternity, Quentin Tarantino returned with Kill Bill, Vol. 1 in 2004. The long break between the director issuing work, though, is obviously as a result of concocting four hours or so of action and dialogue. That being said, it appears that the majority of the Kill Bill films were cribbed from other sources.

As this first installment opens, there’s an immediate reference to Japanese film history while the emblematic Shaw Brothers’ logo flashes on screen. It’s tantamount to the cheeseball opening that Jackie Brown started with, echoing Tarantino’s childhood spent watching B-movie fair.

Jackie Brown: Right and Wrong in the Criminal World (Part One)

Quentin Tarantino, in attempting to continue his success subsequent to his first two feature films, made an interesting decision for his next movie. Instead of relying solely upon his innate ability to create characters and storylines, although indebted to past films, Tarantino engaged an Elmore Leonard novel, Rum Punch, to scaffold the 1997 film Jackie Brown.

The Misunderstood: Toys

Toys is perhaps the biggest flop in the history of the Christmas movie season. The charitable yuletide spirit has a way of making audiences tithe a substantial portion of their gift budgets to films that would normally fail, but Barry Levinson's ostensibly sure thing in 1992 couldn't squeeze more than a few pennies and a boatload of bad reviews out of audiences and critics. Toys will be the second Robin Williams movie to be featured in this column after the debut defense of Death to Smoochy. This shouldn't come as surprise as Williams has had a prominent role in a lot of bizarre or just plain bad films. In the case of Toys, though, he actually gave a great performance and the film's failure wasn't really his fault.

Confessions of a Superhero: Hollywood's an Awful Place, Here's More Proof

The 2007 documentary directed by Mawthew Ogens entitled Confessions of a Superhero, possess so many different layers to examine, that the film can be pigeonholed as a take on wacky street performers, Hollywood hopefuls or just crazy people. The wide breadth of different people interviewed for the film, no matter their then current situations, personal and otherwise, makes the film seem like something larger than it should be. It’s a sociological study, a look at the fringes of society and an investigation of the less glamorous side to living within the media scope of Hollywood and really all of California.

Pulp Fiction: Tarantino's Sense of Storytelling (Part Two)

Conjecture is a fun tool, so let’s go ahead and figure the contents of the brief case that Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules’ character totes around as some personal and indispensible object (or concept) that his boss, Marsellus Wallace, can’t do without. Maybe it’s gold, or cash. Maybe it’s the man’s soul – that would explain the oddly placed band aid at the base of his neck – the site of the soul’s extraction. Whatever Tarantino’s intent, the brief case, disregarding its contents, is a dead ring for what Mike Hammer finds during the final half hour or so during Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly. What’s in side – it’s been guessed that the contents could be radioactive material, or even the harbinger of the apocalypse. Either is acceptable and still comes back around as a signifier of older films that deserve a few more proper examinations.

Burn After Reading: A Coen Extortion in DC (Part Two)

While there might be a number of slow sections in each of the Coens’ previous work, the idea of espionage along with that odd web of sex keeps the pace moving. But as Linda attempts to hock the supposed intelligence information she’s acquired, the various disparate parts of the film start to become a bit over whelming.

Linda accompanied by Brad Pitt’s Chad character engage the Russian embassy host. And with cash seemingly promised at some point, Linda appears satisfied that she’ll get what she needs to reinvent herself physically.

Pulp Fiction: Tarantino's Sense of Storytelling (Part One)

Following up his 1992 debut, Resevoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino endeavored to create another insular world, seemingly detached from what most of the film’s viewers were accustomed to. It was meant to take place during the present day, but aped a style pilfered from video store clerk’s collections, id and sublimated desires.

In its throw back good naturedness, though, Pulp Fiction presents an ever difficult realm to navigate as it’s populated by assorted killers, gamblers, drug dealers and crime figureheads. Each of these, however, becomes portrayed in a sympathetic light for at least a few moments.

No Country for Old Men: A Bloody Return to Texas (Part Two)

Coming off of both The Ladykillers and that disavowed film with Clooney, the Coens may have been looking to ditch the comedic flair so prevalent in its work. Of course, most of what the team is known for is its oddly amusing characters and the stultifying situations each finds themselves in. The biggest commercial success the Coens scored served up at least a modicum of laughs, even if those came at unsettling scenes as evidenced by watching Fargo and finally understanding it as the filmic equivalent to Evelyn Waugh’s take on the death industry in The Loved Ones. Crafting a story so void of humor – even as Trainspotting’s Kelly Macdonald seemed capable of levying a few off the cuff Texas-isms for the sake of levity – some critics have figured the Coens to have entered a stage in their careers that counts as being mature.

What Just Happened: Behind the Scenes of Behind the Scenes

There’s a really long and somewhat unruly lineage of Hollywood film aping a self reflex bent and castigating the goings ons the most normal folks not engaged with the industry just aren’t privy to. Everything from The Player back to Barton Fink and even the Jack Palance starring, Robert Aldrich directed The Big Knife comment on the travesty that is the Hollywood studio system.

In that, What Just Happened doesn’t present itself as anything relentlessly new and adventuresome. But starring Robert De Niro, the film deserves a glance if not two. But that’s about it.

The Awards Game: Up In The Air

I've never felt particularly connected to Big-N Nature, that abstract category of life that usually consists of trees, dirt and non-human animals while more importantly excluding everything related to humans and civilization. As a result, I've had to find special work-arounds for modern spirituality. Some years ago, I decided that Catherine Zeta Jones is my power animal and George Clooney my spirit guide. I decided this just after seeing Ocean's 12 because despite the fact that it's not a particularly good movie and makes no pretense whatsoever to seriousness, I found both of those actors' performances compelling. There had to be something mystical at work. Ever since my awakening, I've done my level best to give whatever George Clooney has taken part in a chance, even when it's a mediocre film like The Men Who Stare At Goats or a good but overrated prestige piece like Good Night and Good Luck. That doesn't always mean I get around to those films immediately. Clooney's 2009 nomination magnet Up In The Air didn't grace my DVD player until well after the 82nd Academy Awards where it was up for six statues but won none of them. Like most critics, I generally enjoyed Up In The Air but I can see why it didn't sweep the Oscars. Still, it deserves the recognition it got.

The Ladykillers: Coens' Second Period (Part Two)

Another reason this weird crime film works is that it’s a heist flick that awkwardly gives its viewers some moral advice. The awkward part comes as a result of the character that levies wisdom on us, but is subsequently shown to be daft enough to off himself.

Ryan Hurst’s Lump Hudson character isn’t full on retard, although, it’s close. But after the heist is all said and done, there’s a murder that needs to be taken care of. Lump just doesn’t want to be a part of it and instead preaches that a properly lived life is what all involved should be aiming for. Of course, moments later he shoots himself in the face. So either the Coens’ realize what a fantasy world the character is describing or they just find self inflicted pain to be hilarious. Maybe it’s both.

No Country for Old Me: A Bloody Return to Texas (Part One)

Much in the same way that re-imagined films shouldn’t necessarily be compared to source material, films dealing with literary appropriations can’t be properly contrasted with novels. Apples and oranges some might say. It’s true that maintaining narrative elements does tie film and novel together, but would it be fair to dissect the similarities and differences of a sculpture and a painting which attempt to represent the same figure? Probably not.

The Ladykillers: Coens' Second Period (Part One)

In our march through the Coen Brothers' canon, we’re going to forgo Intolerable Cruelty for a few reasons. Firstly, I have no intention of watching such tripe. More importantly, though, it marks a falling off point of the production team. But there’re a multitude of reasons why.

Joel Coen, who goes uncredited, has washed his hands of the proceedings. His stance and level of involvement in the film’s creation relegates the effort to second tier status regardless of personal views of the effort. Perhaps most importantly, though, Intolerable Cruelty doesn’t count any of the recurring character actors that populate all of the Coens' earlier efforts. Billy Bob Thornton crops up after having taken the lead in the preceding The Man Who Wasn’t There, but that hardly supplants a personage as important as Jon Polito or any of the Coens' other favorite small time players.

The Man Who Wasn't There: Billy Bob Kills for Love (Part Two)

In Ed’s narration, Thornton easily fits into the role that various cowboys and railroad men had occupied previously. His speech is measured, unhurried and seemingly in possession of a calm all-knowingness that eludes not just the other characters in The Man Who Wasn’t There, but in all of humanity. Ed is the average guy that didn’t have it all work out the way he imagined it during his younger days, but can’t really take issue with anything in his life.

Meeting his wife and subsequently marrying her – at her behest – only a few weeks after their introductions lends vast insights into the character viewers watching gaze at freshly cut heads of hair and pontificate on the meaning of its re-growth. In some ways, Ed is beyond the normal guy. And he does still have desire, the character just keeps it to himself.

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