Schwarzenegger actually believes he will be able to do something about the California economy, which is absurd, as anybody who invests in the stock market knows. Jobs are being sent overseas in record numbers. And George The II is doing nothing about it. If you telephone help-lines or reservation lines for a lot of American companies, youll be chatting with some fellow in India, who actually thinks he speaks and understands American English. Hewlett-Packard, Delta Airlines, AOL are just a few of the conspirators who are determined that no American has a job by 2013. Except maybe the publisher of ALT and a few die-hard staffers.
With Schwarzenegger out of the way regarding movies (his career in films is essentially over anyway), this leaves room for new forms of on-screen action. Enter Quentin Tarantino. Well, actually, re-enter Quentin Tarantino. The video-geek turned screenwriter and director loves lousy movies, especially those cheapjack antic kung-fu exploitation efforts from Asia. Tarantinos directed three feature-length films, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, and he directed one of the short episodes in Four Rooms. His first amateurish effort was a messy 69-minute comedy entitled My Best Friends Birthday, and it seems best-forgotten, especially by Tarantino. With Reservoir Dogs, he reinvented the caper movie and spawned a gazillion imitators, just as director James Cameron and Schwarzenegger reinvented the psychotic robot movie with The Terminator. Whereas Arnolds violence is machine-tooled, Quentins idea of bloodletting takes grotesque human shape; hence the sliced ear in Reservoir Dogs and the anal rape in Pulp Fiction, not to mention the hypo in Umas heart.
Part of the folklore surrounding Tarantino is that he used to work as a clerk in a video store, and the inspiration for his own films is old movies, not real life. Thus his first film in six years is an ode to all those fast-moving, nonsensical, Hong Kong fake blood and samurai sword potboilers. Its called Kill Bill: Volume 1, and its actually the first half of a three-hour movie that was cut precisely in two by Miramax because, for some unexplained reason, Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein didnt want to release a three-hour action picture. Kill Bill: Volume 2 arrives in February 2004. For the past six years, Tarantinos been writing a war movie, acting in other peoples films (and on Broadway) and generally laying around watching television. Not a bad life. So the question is this: with Kill Bill, has he run out of ideas? Well, yes and no.
Story-wise, Kill Bill: Volume 1 is thoroughly uninteresting. In fact, the story is so slight that it hardly qualifies as a screenplay. Uma Thurman is a bride at a chapel in some seedy, dry and dusty burg. Her wedding party is slaughtered and she is left for dead. She lives, vows revenges, makes a list, checks it more than twice, and proceeds to travel around the world killing the folks on the list who are responsible for the mayhem in her life. A fellow named Bill (David Carradine) has something to do with the sketchy goings-on (which may be more fully explained in volume two) as do Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu. Primo bad guy portrayer Michael Madsen will also be around in the second installment, but Asian action legend Sonny Chiba has a big part in volume one.
Where Tarantino scores points is that he is a great visual stylist. There are images in the movie that are truly breathtaking. I loved the lush backyard snow scene as Thurman and Liu prepare to hack each other to pieces. The bulk of the film is comprised of fighting. One on one (Thurman versus Viveca A. Fox), and one on many (Thurman versus scores of black-suit clad henchmen who work for Liu). The copious blood flows without mercy in the movie, and the major set-piece involving Thurman, Liu, and her minions is depicted in rich black and white (the movie is in color, but Tarantino isnt afraid to mix his images and genres). Along with the black and white moments, theres also animation.
The Thurman-Liu orgasm of violence is an amazing feat. The action is furious and the editing is precise. But after twenty minutes of lopped-off limbs and spurting veins, with more to go, it all becomes rather uneventful. Too much of a fast-paced thing is too much of a fast-paced thing. Youre dazzled at first, but then a disinterested coldness sets in. Tarantino chills his own movie, and kills the momentum. What impresses you soon lulls you into checking your watch. Thirty dead and counting. Oops, there goes another arm. Did that guy lose his head? Look at these people jump through the air.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 is not a life-affirming feature. Its beating heart is a cycle of revenge, but shouldnt we want to know why Thurman is so angry and determined? And why was she targeted? And shouldnt we know more about Bill? Yes. As for any sociological thoughts from screenwriter-director Tarantino about women as killing machines or any commentaries on sexual politics, he has no interest in going down that road. Judging from what weve got on screen, I think it was a mistake to chop the film into two parts. This could have been a terrific homage to Asian action movies and a self-contained tribute to Tarantinos talent. As it is, his cinematically grand, albeit thematically shallow vision, has been reduced to a gimmick. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
What a glorious day! The good news from California, especially for critics, is that there wont be any lousy Arnold Schwarzenegger movies for three years. Makes you want to dance like Fred Astaire. Unless, of course, Schwarzeneggers recalled. And knowing California, anything is possible.