Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Year 5, Day 110 - 4/20/13 - Movie #1,401

BEFORE:  I'm back from an 11-day vacation, we were on a cruise that stopped in the Bahamas, Aruba, Curacao, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica.  While I don't have time or space here for a whole travelogue, I bring up the itinerary to show how busy we were, by way of explaining why I didn't watch any movies over the last 11 days, even though they were (somewhat) readily available.  On our honeymoon cruise in 2002 we discovered a little film called "Shrek", and watched the heck out of it, and then on our cruise in 2006 we watched "Cars" quite a few times.  This time, though, none of the films on the ship's premium channels really appealed to me, plus they would have interrupted my planned thematic flow, plus I was trying to catch a little break from movies.

On top of all that, how many times in my life am I going to pass through the Panama Canal?  I thought that should take priority over movies.  That being said, we did watch most of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" together, but I had seen those before.  We also re-watched "Les Miserables", but I took a pass on other films like "Argo", "Silver Linings Playbook", "Jack Reacher" and "Skyfall".  I'll get to them all, I promise.

We like the Holland America line, since it tends to skew a bit older - average age of the passengers was probably over 70.  We joke about how much easier it is to be the first at the buffets, but the truth is, some of those oldsters are pretty spry, and many of them are on scooters.  But there was less competition for that wacky "internet" thing, and I came in handy at Team Trivia events whenever there was a question about Harry Potter films, or who Justin Timberlake is married to, for example.

We also had an edge because we sailed on the Zuiderdam, and we had taken our last cruise on her sister ship, the Noordam.  The layouts are almost identical, so even though the ship is enormous, it was pretty easy for us to figure out where the next meal was being served, and when.  You can probably find like 8 meals a day if you know where to look - unfortunately our language doesn't have a word for the meal between lunch and dinner, or a word for post-brunch snack, or what you eat after dinner if you weren't crazy about the menu in the main dining room.

The luxury came at a price, though, because a few nights on a soft mattress did a number on my back - a couple of bumpy bus tours on bad roads in Central America probably didn't help - so I had varying levels of pain throughout the cruise.  And my wife slipped on the balcony on the last night and her knee swelled up, so after hearing stories of sexagenarians ziplining over Costa Rica, we hobbled home like a couple of senior citizens ourselves.  Karma, she is a bitch. 

I left off my chain with Sunny von Bulow in a coma, and after keeping my blog dormant for a couple of weeks, I decided to kick it off again with this film, in which the Bride wakes up from a coma.  There's no other real connection beyond the loose theme of "killing", which I admit is tenuous.  Oh, but Glenn Close from "Reversal of Fortune" was also in "Dangerous Liaisons" with Uma Thurman (last seen in the 1998 version of "Les Miserables"), so there you go.

THE PLOT:  The Bride wakes up after a long coma. The only thing on her mind is to have revenge on the assassination team that betrayed her - a team she was once part of.

AFTER: I also scheduled this out of respect for Tarantino, after this the only films of his that I haven't seen will be "Django Unchained" and that "Grindhouse" thing.  I usually end up liking his films, even though some of them pale in comparison to "Pulp Fiction".  This one, however, just isn't my scene.

I'm not a fan of the martial arts thing - tried to watch karate movies when I was a kid, but just found them silly.  Even the ones that are high on the effects leave me cold, because then the stunts get so elaborate that they're impossible, and since I don't believe that ninjas have magical powers, it just ends up spoiling the illusion.  Something odd did happen with the fight choreography here - when it was set to music it almost became like dance choreography - but no dance I know features severed heads or lopped-off limbs, so that doesn't really make sense to me.  Who wants to see a music video with flying body parts?  I mean, I guess I enjoyed "300" but that's where I draw the line, apparently.

I'm not a fan of gore or ultra-violence, either.  Yes, I have a secret desire to create a Christmas slasher film (title: "Slay Ride") or a parody dance slasher ("Splatter-Day Night Fever") but that's really because I'm a fan of bad puns, not blood and gore.  Violence on screen either looks too real to me, or much too fake.  All the special effects technology we have, and we can't pump blood out of a severed arm at a realistic rate?  I guess it's kind of like a garden hose, it either comes out too weak or much too strong.

(ASIDE: I guess I see both sides of the violence issue.  Though I don't believe in a direct causal link between violent movies/video games and violent acts committed in the real world - I love playing "Grand Theft Auto" and have never gone on a rampage with a bazooka or beat up a hooker in real life - I also think the industry could make some strides toward dialing it back a bit, and this film is a case for that point.  Please note that this movie chain was planned well in advance of last week's bombing in Boston - but seeing a room full of people with missing limbs, I couldn't help but make a mental connection.) 

Heck, I'm not even a fan of most Asian culture, except for sushi, "Iron Chef" and that Wolverine limited series set in Japan.  Manga and anime, certainly not.  My co-workers keep trying to get me to watch Miyazaki films, but I just don't think I'll enjoy them.  So I'm really watching these "Kill Bill" films just to find out what they're all about, and get them off the list.

To really judge this film, I'm going to compare it to the entertainment we saw on the cruise - and I don't mean the piano-bar performers or the magic act, or the acrobatic duo that used to perform with Cirque du Soleil, I mean the in-house group of singers and dancers that perform in the revue, which was a mash-up of songs from the 1950's, 60's and 80's.  Hey, know your audience, I've got no trouble with that - but the songs were arranged in a loose storyline with two lovers who visit an amusement park.  They sang "Freeze-Frame" at the photo booth, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" at the shooting gallery, and "Thriller" at the haunted house.  They included "Love Potion #9", complete with gypsy and little potion bottles, but it didn't make sense somehow - the couple was already in love, why would they need a love potion?  There were no other characters to fall for, so their love was never in doubt - as a result, the storyline had no conflict.

"Kill Bill" sort of has a similar (but opposite) problem - it's all conflict.  There's only just enough plot to link to the next fight scene, just as the cruise ship show had barely enough plot to link to the next song.  And it seems like the fight scenes or songs are driving the plot, rather than the other way around.  What's missing in both cases is exposition or explanation.  WHY are they at the amusement park, WHY do they feel the need for a love potion?  WHY did Bill try to kill the Bride?  WHY is she no longer part of his team of assassins?

Of course, there may be more explaining in Volume 2 - but if I'm judging Volume 1 on its own merits, for me it came up short.  Plus they did more of that non-linear storytelling - we see the Bride crossing names off of her list, do we really need a flashback scene at the end that shows her making the list?  Shouldn't that be at the beginning, or maybe just taken as a given?  Gack, it worked in "Pulp Fiction" but it doesn't work here - let's backtrack and show just how this character got to be where she is.  No, let's not.  How much of this is filler that was created to justify splitting this story into two films?

Also starring Lucy Liu (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), David Carradine, Daryl Hannah (last seen in "Memoirs of an Invisible Man"), Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama.

RATING: 4 out of 10 katanas