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Quentin Tarantino:
The Man and his Movies
by Jami Bernard

. "Kill Bill, Volume 2"

The key to Quentin Tarantino's unique style and vision for his Kill Bill series, and most especially for Volume 2, is his taste for consummate killers and his desire to present them as complex human beings. This works as well as it does because he gets the most skilled of them on our side and makes it clear, through a succession of stylized scenes borrowing from epic sources in film genres, that in every encounter she's up against her match and can take as much bodily destruction as she renders, and then some. Ouch! Making his insistent survivor as athletic as she is gorgeous is another vital part of the formula. Which is not to say it's formulaic except within his own inventory of mind and body of work.

When last we saw "The Bride," aka Black Mamba (Uma Thurman), whose real name we learn in this episode, she was shot by ex-lover Bill (David Carradine) smack in the face, as far as we can tell. Making a continuation of her saga possible is the fact that people sometimes get over this kind of insult to their physical well-being, extremely life-threatening though it may be. In her case, she lapsed into a mult-year coma and came out of it in time to make this part of her drama by resuming her quest to eradicate the malicious bastard in revenge. To get back to him, however, after having dispensed with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and her horde, and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) in Volume 1, there remain two other threats who must be eliminated, like the cooly sardonic "Sidewinder" Budd (Michael Madsen) and the viciously deceptive Elle Driver, aka California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah).

Back when Bride and Bill were an item, he made the possibly lethal mistake of arranging for her final training under the tutelage of martial arts legend, Pai Mei (Chia Hui Liu). This long bearded monk has moves that are not restrained by gravitational force and techniques of deadly power that include the rarely used four-point heart burst attack which, when applied, leaves the subject four steps before absolute death. Acquiring this skill is like achieving the killer app for a programmer. It could be as important to her goal as the priceless sword made for her by Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba), the artistry of which is much revered by all involved.

When Bill shows up at The Bride's wedding in a small town church where Samuel L. Jackson is the organ player and where she's been in hiding because her pregnancy by Bill has changed her killer instincts, she is finally dressed in a wedding gown. He seems to be giving her a reprieve until his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad appears for a blood bath. He's not about to accept her new life and withdrawal from his own. Her small town groom is a victim, but The Bride survives as does her quest, now with even more conviction, as though it needed a boost.

The swordplay in this last segment of the second-parter is extremely toned down, reserving intense rounds of combat for the primary meetups and time for extended dialogue scenes in which characters and their motivations are as fully explored and expressed as mastermind Tarantino wanted them to be. You'd think that in an action piece in which people come to see the quick and violent carving of bodies, a long expose of character-delineation in very extended moments would drag the pace to a crawl, but these are encounters where we learn much about the spirit and thinking that has animated the action. They don't work as pauses in the action but a furthering of the themes that have been lurking in the minds of the people who have been too busy to get them out. These are moments of final discovery -- for them as well as for us. When Bill and The Bride have a final sitdown, he says that he has two questions for her. The audience becomes spellbound as he slowly works his way through his thought process. The very fact of having these arch enemies precede mortal combat with detailed palaver is a quite interesting groove for a movie to take. In any one else's hand such a maneuver would be highly risky, but here it's the intentional expression of a filmmaker who knows the medium and his audience.

He constantly creates payoff moments where the reading of a line is all important for a sparkling dramatic point. Wait'll you get to the instant when The Bride asks for a glass of water... you'll see what I mean.

The Tarantino cast is well designed to pull all these nuances of detail and motive off with incisive flair. Just as he gave a successfully well-rounded Bruce Willis a personna with an unexpected dimension in "Pulp Fiction," his use of Thurman and, even more so, Carradine, seems to have created an elevation in acting stature and accomplishment. He has tuned these parts so well to the nature of his actors that the thought of awards becomes inescapable. The same might be said as well for the eye-patched Hannah finding new assurance as a lethal amazon, and the slyly treacherous Madsen.

David Carradine, in interviews, points out that "Kill Bill" is not about good guys and bad guys. "They're all bad," he says. The Tarantino hero, however, is the bad guy with the sympathetic edge. The wronged hit-woman becomes an avenging angel. Stylistically, this is more animation than comic strip but, as live action, it's a vivid creation for film fans who enjoy a little stretch of the imagination muscles and the willingness to go where Tarantino so adventurously propels them. I don't think it's fan frenzy or worshipful idolatry to say that if interest in movies declined, he'd be the man to keep the flame of celluloid magic burning.

See Volume 1

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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David Carradine vs. Uma Thurman
Groom and Bride

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