Thursday, October 26, 2006

all these things that i've seen, part 2

kill bill vol.1 [2003]- i remember seeing quentin tarantino at the mtv movie awards [where 'nappy d' beat 'kill bill' for best movie] as he accepted some award. he was up there with a couple of girls, cheering and yelling and possibly sauced, looking like the leader of a frat house--possessing some talent and leadership skills, but leading and inspiring a lower class.
it felt like that person made 'kill bill'.
vol. 1, anyway.
those of you who know my cinematic history know that 'pulp fiction' is a notable movie for me, and so i was quite excited to see 'kill bill' when they were on tnt.
i haven't seen vol.2 yet, but vol.1 was rather disappointing. 'lacking' may be a better term.
lacking the immensely catchy dialogue of 'pulp fiction', missing the quick intensity of 'reservior dogs', and a general absence of very cool music from a man who once stated that the combination of music and movies is about as raw, visceral experience as you can get.
i've heard that vol.2 is better, especially for those who like 'story' over cool action, but no one can go through byu's film program without a good dose of hong kong kung fu [thank you, darl], and this wasn't even that. kung fu is fun because we get to watch spectacular feats of physicality that leave us in awe--no editing, just a wide shot that lets us watch and know that that's that. the fight scenes in the movie are more eisenstein than bazin [learn your film history], and so less exciting.
the animated scene missed me, the conversation in the sushi bar with hanzo was dull, and i wondered if the black and white was solely a stylistic choice, or if it was easier to sneak past the censors ratings board that way.
it had some good and cool shots peppered throughout, and i liked the brief moment of music entering the o-ren night club [as well as the 'vonage' music] and the silhouetted fights in the blue room. but that's about it.
i heard it said of tim burton's 'mars attacks' that, in the attempt to satire bad alien movies, he ended up with a bad alien movie. tarantino's homage to old kung fu movies bows a little too deeply.

the conversation [1974]- every so often, a director has two movies up for 'best picture'; soderbergh did it in 2000 for 'traffic' and 'erin brockovich', and francis ford coppola did it in 1974 [how a person can even put out two movies in a year seems difficult enough; that they can both be considered among the five best of that year is beyond me]. 'the conversation' lost to 'the godfather part 2', but that doesn't say much about 'the conversation'--i'm hard pressed to think of anything that could beat 'godfather 2'.
'the conversation' stars gene hackman as a surveillance expert [the best, to be precise]. it follows him working through a recorded conversation, him piecing together the bits that he recorded, slowly realizing why he was hired and what his work may lead to. the movie is quintessential 70's cinema, from the use of zooms to the stark, bleak world the story creates, culminating in an ending that is laced with negativity [as well as a very young harrison ford].
technically and even craftsmanshiply, the movie makes no flaws. yet having no faults does not necessarily mean a movie has heart or soul.
worth seeing, but not a must see.

braveheart [1995]- big, long, grand historical epic with really cool blue face-paint. a darn good movie with a story derived from a very long epic poem and little else about a time where records are sketchy at best, mr. gibson does a wonderful job in fulfilling the tricky task of running things both in front of and behind the camera. the movie connects to us despite a few large barriers [set close to a millennium before our time, it is a foreign world about a people we know very little of] largely because the hero is an everyman who arises to greatness out of necessity. in one scene he is talking with a friend [who will later play 'hagrid', if i'm not mistaken], saying that his dream is to be a farmer with his family, but they have this problem to deal with a the moment. the average person achieving great things by choosing the right resonates with all of us.
i think we're also partial to scottish accents.

mr. smith goes to washington [1939]- now this is an american classic. and that's claude raines as senator paine! jefferson smith's [great name, isn't it?] genuine excitement and love for washington d.c. and all that it stands for is inspirational nearly 70 years later. it certainly inspired me to look at the capitol of our nation from a new point of view that is both more energetic and hallowed.
an interesting aspect of films is that they are inherently time capsules--snapshots of their time. in that light, mr. smith is fascinating. it is easy to look back to former days, when life was simpler and people were better [i would occasionally get these stories when i carried groceries for the older customers at sunmart]. if washington held a disgusting and corrupt world in 1939, what is it like now? did this and other criticisms help cleanse our national nervous system, or have things continued to decay? the spirit of jefferson smith lives on today, it seems. as has been written here before on sheep go to heaven, we are living in a nation where faith in our current government is polarized and wavering, while we still resolutely believe in the american government. we need a jefferson smith, an everyman who believes in america with all his heart and will stand up against the cancer of washington d.c. that's pretty much jack bauer.
like the poor, power corruption and all it's accompanying vices will always be with us, but pushing against it is to fight the good fight. mr. smith is not a pessimistic movie--not at all. it leaves us with hope and a resolution to stand a little taller.

to have and have not [1944]- they don't make them like they used to.
that's not a bad thing; there are plenty of really good and really great movies still being made, but that doesn't mean that they supercede the old ones. they don't make them like this anymore because they can't. it just doesn't work.
lauren bacall was nineteen when she asked the great humphrey bogart if he knew how to whistle. the french admired howard hawks because just about everything he touched was great. hawks said he just did what he liked, and if he didn't like it, he'd do something else. he must have liked bacall, because she's great in this, with a quasi-bad girl look that get just about anything she wants. bogart is the rough and tough blue-collar worker with the heart of gold, strong enough to take not only underground thugs and dangerous missions, but the even rougher exterior of bacall. [listen for her as the witch of the waste in howl's moving castle, one of the rare instances where the english over-dub is better than the original language]
foggy harbors, gunshots in the dark, a crooked police squad, and one of the best hollywood couples [who could totally take on pitt and jolie]--make this one on your watch list.

the philadelphia story [1940]- grant. stewart. hepburn. they could be reading the phone book and it'd be interesting. [hmmm; stop and consider that for a moment--that really could be interesting. if i had the clout of steven soderbergh, i'd try something like that....] i'd seen this once before, when i was still a neophyte cinephile, renting the video shortly after i'd seen the a.f.i top 100. i didn't think much of it then, but i do now.
the philadelphia story is a classic example of golden hollywood screwballism and witty dialogue. the story bounds deftly from character to character, giving ample material to three silver legends. similar to ocean's 11 [and 12], it seems that they enjoyed working together and really having fun with the work. stewart is his slightly sarcastic and straight man, grant is the smooth-talking charmer who can return hepburn's wit and fire without breaking a sweat, and hepburn, well, i'm starting to warm up to her brash attitude and at times find myself really enjoying her. and, unlike a lot of movies that leave you guessing who will end up with who, only to make a choice that doesn't quite work, the ending choice is really the only option they had, although i didn't see it until the end.
it's a classic folks.

ninotchka [1939]- i'd never seen a gretta garbo movie before, which was a severe fault in my cinema culturability. and so, i can't compare it in the compendium [e.g. this is the movie where 'garbo laughs', if i'm not mistaken, but that doesn't mean much to me]. i will forego any rantings about how much i loved the movie in favor of some samples:
ninotchka: we don't have men like you in my country.
leon: thank you.
ninotchka: that is why i believe in the future of my country.
* * *
leon: don't you like me just a little bit?
ninotchka: your general appearance is not distasteful.
* * *
ninotchka: the last mass trials were a great success. there are going to be fewer but better russians.
* * *
leon: a russian! i love russians! comrade, i've been fascinated by your five-year plan for the last fifteen years.
* * *
ninotchka: what have you done for mankind?
leon: not so much for mankind... for womankind, my record isn't quite so bleak.
* * *
ninotchka: i should hate to see our country endangered by my underwear.


Alyssa Rock said...

This comment is deeply buried in your blog so I doubt you'll ever see it, but I just wanted to offer my empathy on Kill Bill. I had to watch both Kill Bills for my "Intro to Graduate Study" class at the University of Kansas. My prof thought it was a brilliant example of post-modernism. And yes I agree with him that they're quite brilliant from a post-modern perspective. For one, they're so packed full of references to popular culture and Asian camp that it would take many, many days to annotate all of the other films that Tarantino references in this one. And yes, Kill Bill 2 is much better than 1 in my opinion.

That being said, I strongly regret having seen them. I watched them unedited and they were pretty difficult to stomach. It's being required to watch films like that which made me leave my PhD program. I don't mind violence if it has some sort of transcendant purpose. But Kill Bill just felt *so* post-modern it was just self-indulgent. Anyhow... thought I would offer some validation for ya.

-->jeff * said...

first off, i do browse older postings to see what comments do get left. of course, i can't help but wonder if you'll see this reply....

tarantino is perhaps the film critic's poster child for the post-modern film of the last 20 years ['annie hall' is a great example of inter-textuality from 30 years ago, by the way], and i think he has become overly conscious of that trait, though perhaps not to the self-destructive extent that shaymalan did with his own style.
talking with darl larson shortly after the movie came out [and long before i had seen it], he commented on the massive amounts of nods and homages to the kung fu movies and obscure asian films [and i'm sure darl has seen more of them than anyone else i know, even dean].

yet referencing your vast personal knowledge of film does not make your movie a masterpiece. perhaps if i could recognize what godzilla movie that sunrise shot was from i might get a few of the movie's winks and nudges. i've read before, in reference to adaptations [particularly comic book to movie adaptations] that a movie should stand on it's own; if i have to have read a fair amount of the 'fantastic four' canon to appreciate the movie, then the movie cannot stand on it's own and is therefore not a good adaptation.

all that being said, i don't think that knowing those references would make me appreciate the movie more [knowing that uma's yellow jumpsuit is a nod to bruce lee hasn't done a lot for me], although if i had seen hundreds of kung fu movies, i would most likely have developed a taste for it and therefore enjoy the movie more on the basis of a love for the genre.

i do not think, however, that the majority of movie-goers did not like the movie because they recognized motiffs from 'tokyo showdown.' rather, i think they reveled in the obscene amounts of gore. as several friends told me, 'yeah, but it's so over the top it's hardly even real'. perhaps, but if a movie is finding its strength on absurd shock, that's not much a of movie, even if it is 'done well'.

now, there is the argument that perhaps the film maker was making a commentary on how extreme violence has become in our society [i've heard that a few times in regard to 'natural born killers']. ok, though i again would be surprised if even 'most' of the audience left thinking that society was too violent and that they needed to make a change [if that were their train of thought, they probably wouldn't buy the dvd when it came out].
so then the argument becomes a kind of 'caveat emptor', placing the responsibility on the viewer, saying that we, as viewers, need to be educated and aware of what we watch, not sitting back for a rollercoaster, but keeping our minds awake and considering what the director is saying.
and if the intended audience was for darl or dean, i would concede to that.
but it's not. tarantino is a film maker for the masses [although the bergman/renoir crowd likes him, too; the circles are not mutually exclusive], and that carries responsibility [no, he is not the culprit, just the topic at the moment]. true, guns can be used well with responsibility, but that does not mean they should be given to the careless or the youthful.

i didn't think 'kill bill vol.1' was a very good movie, and that it gleaned its power from extreme shock violence. surprisingly to even me, i quite enjoyed 'vol.2'. but that's for another post.