Killing Him Softly
Bill: Volume 2
Quentin Tarantino, USA, 2004
Posted: April 20,
Laurence Station, AKA Arthritic Anaconda &
Clemenza, AKA Asthmatic
Originally, I thought it'd be kind of cool to mirror the climactic titular
showdown of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies by having B-movie
maven Clemenza square off against more intellectual cineaste Laurence
Station. Which of these wildly different perspectives would triumph? Does
the resulting discussion offer an exciting battle of wits? Or, like
Volume 2 itself, does it ultimately prove too polite, long-winded and
pointless? You be the judge. --
Kevin Forest Moreau, Assassin-in-Chief, AKA Flexing
Station: So, Clemenza, the pupil now wishes to sit beside the
master to discuss Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Volume 2, a
continuation of last fall's
initial volume which followed an assassin named the Bride (Uma
Thurman) as she set about slaying the fellow assassins who had wronged
Clemenza: Excuse me? What's this pupil and master shit? Who are you
supposed to be, Chow Yun-Fathead? We've done this before, remember?
Jeepers Creepers 2 ringing any bells?
Station: So what was your general feeling regarding Volume 2,
as the lights came up and you were escorted from the theater?
Clemenza: Okay, look, Volume I was an all-out assault on the
senses: martial arts everywhere, unfettered violence -- a real
roller-coaster ride. And now, this utter mess.
Station: Yes, this is definitely the more cerebral of the two
films. To make a too-easy analogy, the mindless action of the first part
is to you as the headier, better-versed fare of the second part is to me.
Clemenza: Here we go again, Station. After all this time, you still
just don't get it. You can't make part of a film full of whacked-out
action, entitle it Kill Bill (which I also have a huge problem
with), throw in some zany cats called The Crazy 88s, and then just take
your foot off the gas and coast for the second part. That's not cerebral,
brother; it's just plain lazy.
Station: I agree that Kill Bill 2 lacks the sustained
tension of the first half, and even though Tarantino does a nice job
delving deeper into the characters (though nothing nearly as inventive as
O-Ren Ishii's anime back-story), the overall pacing suffers as a result.
Well then, what did you think was the strongest aspect, scene, or
character in the film?
Clemenza: Yeah, that's it, jump ship, Station. I swear, when the
"fop" makes a comeback, you'll be way ahead of the game. The strongest
character was definitely Bill. David Carradine does an excellent job as a
man who appears to be at peace with the world, yet who can turn to lethal
violence at the drop of a hat. When he's not on-screen, the film suffers.
I don't think he's gonna get the credit he deserves for this role.
Station: Really? Carradine did solid work, but I found his brother
Budd far more fascinating. Michael Madsen thoroughly inhabits
a character who's run out of options in life. When you're reduced to
cleaning toilets at a bottom-feeder strip joint, things can't get much
worse -- as I'm sure you can attest, Clemenza. Budd essentially doesn't
care whether he lives or dies. Madsen is pathetic, cagey, and resigned.
It's a masterful performance. Okay, so what about the best action
Clemenza: Here's where the wheels come off, homey. The question
should be: "What should have been the best action sequence?" But
we'll get to that later. I'd have to say the best was the vicious
grappling between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah. As fight scenes go, it was
magnificently brutal, far removed from the over-the-top (now there's
a film we should be discussing) comic-book action of the first film.
Grittier, dirtier, and darker.
Station: Hmmm. Again, I'm forced to agree. The showdown between
Thurman's Black Mamba and Darryl Hannah's California Mountain Snake was
the highlight, as far as adrenaline-fueled action sequences go. And you're
right: Tarantino went more for realistic violence, similar to his first
feature, Reservoir Dogs, than for the excessively cartoonish
gore-fest of the first volume. Why, in your opinion? Was it because he
wanted this volume to be taken more seriously than the first, or was it
simply another one of his stylistic tributes?
Clemenza: Good reference to Reservoir Dogs. That's exactly
what comes to mind. I think it bears his "stamp," if you will, and it had
to find a way into the film. But it should serve as a segue to the
mother of all battles: The final showdown with Bill. This is where
Tarantino drops the ball, big time. Again, you can't make the first half
of the film the way it was made, and then appeal for this one to be taken
"more seriously." That ain't an option here. Tarantino steps way outside
the genre bounds firmly established in Volume 1, and though some
people may find that cool and daring, I thought it sucked. It's like at
the end of Aliens, if Sigourney Weaver meets the monstrous mother
alien and easily defeats her, what's the point? It cheapens the entire
Station: True. Not only is the showdown with Bill anticlimactic,
but the crucial aspect of that showdown is baldly telegraphed early on in
the film. I'm not sure if Tarantino simply ran out of ideas at this point,
or if he thought it would be hip to have Bill polished off (by the way,
we're not giving anything away here folks: note the title) in such an
incredibly lame manner.
Which brings us back to your question: What should have been the best
Clemenza: Damn, Station! What's the title of the film? Hurt Bill?
Aggravate Bill? It Doesn't Look Good For Bill? NO! It's
Kill Bill! And while he certainly gets "killed," he might as well have
choked on a pretzel or slipped in the tub. How in the hell can you make a
film called Kill Bill, envelop it in a bloody gore-fest, and then
decide at the last minute you're gonna explore the more "human" side of
the characters? The showdown with Bill should have been the swordfight to
end all swordfights. Limbs flying, the glimmer of Hattori steel shimmering
in the moonlight as it cleaves Bill in twain. The whole film focuses on
ultra-freaking-sweet Samurai swords, and when the time comes... we get
this? I understand what Tarantino was trying to do, but in the end,
it's a cop out, a failure to honor the genres he claims to be paying
Station: A failure, young grasshopper? No. I feel there's something
deeper at play here -- an indication, perhaps, that Tarantino was trying
to pull the ultimate bait-and-switch on his audience. Bill is set up to be
this incredible badass; even as he approaches an age where social security
checks start appearing in his mailbox every month, he's still considered
this intimidating snake charmer, a seriously villainous figure. But what
do we see when the Bride finally confronts him? A grandfatherly figure
horsing around with a child. Not exactly the menacing force we were led to
believe. You have to ask yourself why, and the reason you come up with is
that the like that introductory moment, the nature of Bill's ultimate
demise (and no, we're not going to tell you what it is), Tarantino chose
the anti-climax to subvert our expectations -- to one-up the audience, if
you will. And it backfires.
Clemenza: Man, Station, Hollywood can feed you anything, and you'll
always look for a higher meaning to prove that you didn't get reamed. I
understand what he's going for; I just don't agree with it. I think he did
it because he tried to cram about four different genres into one film.
Endings are hard to write, except if you're coming up with one for that
dude Moreau hired -- we all know he'll be selling Amway products in the
near future. Hey, I understand that when you're spinning a tale like this
one, it's hard to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. It's easy to cop
out with warm and fuzzy ending and turn your back on the foundations of
the film. I can't speak intelligently on "why" he did it, but it has all
the makings of a film that just ran outta gas.
Station: Sorry, my Mafioso-rat-of-an-acquaintance, I can't buy into
the "ran out of gas" theory. If anything, Tarantino suffers from too many
ideas and not enough time or space to cram them all into. Hence, a
three-hour plus revenge flick paying tribute to everything from the
hyper-violence inherent to martial arts films to the raw urgency of French
New Wave camera techniques. That's Tarantino's problem here. That,
and that the film is just far too verbose for its own good. To put it in
words you can understand: Like you, it doesn't know when to shut up. On
that note: Final thoughts?
Clemenza: Well, at least I'm voicing an original thought, and not
trying to rationalize my way out of being disappointed in a crappy ending.
Here's my final thought: If you paid full price to see Volume 2,
you got screwed. End of story. Save your money and rent a real
action film that delivers on all levels, like Michael Mann's Heat.
Or, better yet, take the budget route and borrow a copy of C.H.U.D. from a
friend and buy a fifth of Jack. Now, that's entertainment.
Station: Wow. Perhaps you should just simmer down and go rent
Over the Top. With Stallone, at least you'll know what you're getting
into. Kill Bill 2, despite offering deeper character development
with the usual high technical standards, ultimately proves too long-winded
and self-consciously deceptive regarding its audience's expectations to
rate as highly as the first volume. Thanks for stopping by, Clemenza. It's
always a... well, an interesting experience.
Clemenza: Hey, you got a plasma TV in your office. Does Moreau know
about this? I don't have no plasma TV! He told me it wasn't in the budget.
How did you--
Station: (Ahem!) Hey, look! Haley's Comet!
Clemenza: What? Where?! Where?
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