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2003

Kill Bill (2003)

DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino

CAST:

Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, David Carradine, Julie Dreyfus, Sonny Chiba, Michael Parks

REVIEW:

Billed as The 4th Film From Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill is a stylish, colorful, gleefully over-the-top, and energetic hodgepodge that doesn’t quite keep up momentum for its entire runtime and engages in a few too many occasions of self-indulgence but should still provide plenty of entertaining scenes for fans of Desperado or Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The story is certainly simple enough, although we play around with the chronology. The nameless Bride (Uma Thurman) shows up on Vernita Green’s (Vivica A. Fox) happy homemaker doorstep in Pasadena, California to settle a score. The rest of the movie takes place before the opening scene, sketching out the massacre of the Bride’s entire wedding party by an enigmatic man named Bill (David Carradine, never clearly shown) and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Fox, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, and Michael Madsen), who put her in a coma and leave her for dead. After four years, the Bride awakes, escapes the hospital, and sets out to work her way down her Death List, until she can finally Kill Bill. But first, she sets her sights on O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), once a henchwoman of Bill’s, now the head of Tokyo’s criminal underworld.

As should be expected from a product of the twisted and quirky mind of Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill is off the beaten track, albeit not quite as bizarre as some of his other works, including Pulp Fiction. For those familiar with Tarantino, there are plenty of his usual calling cards: the eclectic soundtrack, including lots of 70s music and nods to spaghetti westerns, the titled chapters dividing the film, and the intentionally retro opening credits that look like we’re about to see a movie made around 1970. Tarantino pulls out the visual stops, doing lots of zoom-ins on feet and faces and eyes, freeze-frames when Bride recognizes one of her enemies, an entire lengthy backstory sequence shown in anime, and random switches to black-and-white and silhouette during the seemingly neverending climactic fight. Like Desperado (albeit with an extra dash of quirkiness), Kill Bill isn’t quite an outright comedy, but it’s not taking things very seriously either, as evidenced by the way blood shoots from wounds like a geyser. Many of the funniest bits are little throwaway touches: the sunglasses-wearing sheriff’s (Michael Parks in a cameo) dashboard lined with a row of more sunglasses, the way the Bride’s name is bleeped out whenever a character threatens to reveal it, and in a detail I found particularly amusing, the Bride carrying around a notebook with a page marked Death List, with the names written bigger the further down they go. Tarantino is telling a simple revenge story, but also makes it a parody of kung-fu movies and fills it with his usual wildly diverse and often deliberately ill-fitting soundtrack selections, and all kinds of either homages or jabs, depending on how you look at it, at pop culture and film cliches, like the climactic one-on-one fight between Bride and O-Ren just having to take place, of course, in an idyllic, snow-covered Japanese tea garden that looks straight out of a postcard. Looking for logic here is a fool’s game. How can the Bride carry her samurai sword onto the plane with her? Because she can.

Uma Thurman, who I usually find rather bland as an actress, is a firecracker here, perfectly credible as an unstoppable killing machine/action heroine, as well as in her few more serious moments. No one else has too much to do; Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox don’t have much required of them besides looking dangerous and performing one fight scene each (although the scene of Liu screaming at her underlings while holding a severed head is one of those things that lingers in the memory), while David Carradine, Michael Madsen, and Daryl Hannah are kept in the background to take their turns in Vol. 2.

Kill Bill has uneven issues. It starts off knocking one out of the park with a high-energy and wildly entertaining fight between Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox that would look right at home in one of the Jason Bourne films, and keeps up its momentum through the Bride’s escape from the hospital, but then Tarantino’s self-indulgences start to creep in. One entire chapter is devoted to a lengthy anime sequence detailing the origins of O-Ren Ishii that brings the pace firmly to a halt, particularly as none of the information relayed to us has any particular relevance at any other point in the movie (also, none of the other members of the wordily named Deadly Viper Assassination Squad is given anywhere near this level of backstory). As high-energy and gleefully over-the-top as the climactic fight scene is, with the Bride taking on what seems like hundreds of O-Ren’s bodyguards before the final one-on-one swordfight, it goes on for about half an hour and after a certain point it starts to feel redundant. There’s only so many times Tarantino can show blood shooting like a geyser, or switch to black-and-white, or show the figures fighting in silhouettes, to keep things original.

But despite its flaws, Kill Bill Vol. 1 still provides plenty of over-the-top gory action, and the kind of offbeat humor Tarantino’s fans expect. Don’t look for logic or realism, just strap yourself in and enjoy the wild ride.

***

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez

CAST:

Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendes, Ruben Blades, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Enrique Iglesias, Gerardo Vigil, Pedro Armendariz, Julio Oscar Mechoso

REVIEW:

To put it simply and bluntly, Once Upon A Time In Mexico is a mess of a movie, but it’s enough of a colorful, stylish, entertaining mess that it’s possible to enjoy as a series of action/comedic setpieces even if the overall story is a convoluted jumble. Continue reading

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Mostow

CAST:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews

REVIEW:

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was probably the best summer action movie of 2003. As action flicks go, it’s above average. But it’s not up to the level of either the original Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day . Terminator 3 lacks the vision and depth of its predecessors, and coming next in line after Terminator 2, one of the best sci-fi/action films ever made, it’s a clear step down. This does not mean it is a bad movie. In fact, it is a thoroughly entertaining, sometimes spectacular action movie, a skillful and immensely enjoyable piece of summertime entertainment. But the first two installments were more than that. Continue reading

28 Days Later (2003)

140804165912-01-infectious-movies-horizontal-large-galleryDIRECTOR: Danny Boyle

CAST:

Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston, Noah Huntley

REVIEW:

Hailed as one of the most frightening movies ever made, 28 Days Later is one in a long series of films addressing mankind’s fear of and fascination with the end- a catastrophic apocalypse that nearly wipes out the human race, but in a different vein than most. Director Danny Boyle’s and screenwriter Alex Garland’s vision of the end isn’t nuclear war or environmental disaster, but disease, specifically a genetically engineered virus known as rage. One drop of infected blood and the victim is almost instantly driven into a berserk frenzy by uncontrollable rage. This leads to it generally being considered a zombie movie, but this isn’t your daddy’s zombie movie, where the decaying walking dead somehow manage to get the petrified victims despite moving like molasses. The zombies here are fast, vicious predators, the characters are three-dimensional individuals rather than cardboard zombie food, and the filmmakers supply a little depth alongside scaring the living crap out of the audience. The result is that rare breed, a film that is both smart and scary. Continue reading

The Italian Job (2003)

DIRECTOR: F. Gary Gray

CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland

REVIEW:

The Italian Job takes its name from a 1969 British film starring Michael Caine, but the two films have little in common besides the title and some minor plot elements, and 2003’s version is its own entity enough to disregard the original and review purely on its own merits.  The Italian Job is in the same vein as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, and will likely appeal to the same audience.  The Italian Job isn’t quite as much of a lighthearted lark—though apart from an occasional “dramatic” scene, it’s not taking things ultra-seriously either—but it follows the basic structure of this kind of slick whiz-bang heist/action caper, a colorful crew of thieves, a complicated heist (the movie is bookended with two), and a few twists and turns.  It’s not a great movie, but it goes on its way with slick panache, and is involving enough to be an entertaining diversion. Continue reading

X2: X-Men United (2003)

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST:

Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Davison, Kelly Hu, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford

REVIEW:

With the success of 2000’s X-Men, director Bryan Singer and cast and crew were free in this sequel to move forward without the necessary exposition and character introduction which took a large chunk of the first film. The result supplies a faster pace and a little more ambition, along with an even heavier helping of the original’s underlying social commentary. Fans of the first should be pleased by the second. Continue reading

Holes (2003)

DIRECTOR: Andrew Davis

CAST:

Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson, Shia LaBeouf, Khleo Thomas, Dulé Hill, Henry Winkler, Siobhan Fallon, Nathan Davis, Eartha Kitt, Scott Plank, Roma Maffia

REVIEW:

I wasn’t expecting too much from Holes the first time I saw it, and with some reason; Disney’s live-action films aren’t generally noted for their quality (or even for being bearable). Fortunately, Holes is a surprisingly enjoyable exception, well-acted, quirky, and with a surprising amount to offer adults as well as the young readers of Louis Sachar’s much-loved book. Continue reading

Red Dragon (2002)

DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner

CAST:

Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anthony Heald, Bill Duke

REVIEW:

Following in the footsteps of 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs and 2001’s Hannibal, 2002’s Red Dragon was purported to complete the Hannibal Lecter ‘trilogy’ (but then came the ill-conceived flop Hannibal Rising, detailing Hannibal’s childhood and thus removing the last shred of the character’s enigma- and whose bright idea was it to try to make a Hannibal Lecter movie without Anthony Hopkins?). Actually, Red Dragon is a remake of 1986’s Manhunter, which was itself an adaptation of author Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, the first to feature the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, meaning although it was the last made, Red Dragon is chronologically the first in the series.

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