Monday, October 20, 2003

Me on Lileks on Kill Bill

This pains my heart to say this, but I think James has fallen off the credibility wagon as far as his movie reviews have been going as of late. He wrote about Kill Bill on Thursday of last week, so after having seen the movie, I figured I'd swing by and take a gander. Turns out although he hates it, he hasn't even seen it yet.

The following rantiness is more for my own edification, so if you don't like reading this sort of thing, my apologies. Also, there's spoilers ahead, so be warned.

He starts off with:

Wrote about Kill Bill in the paper the other day, and how I really had no desire to see clever violence. Lots of letters telling me I am an idiot or I am just misguided and owe to myself to see this marvelous homage to 70s Hong Kong decapitation-genre movies, and lighten up dude! Fine. I’m not opposed to violence in movies or games. Hardly. I just don’t want to give Tarantino any money.

This is about where the review should have ended, because to this extent I can agree with anyone. If you don't want to go see it, that's cool. If, however, you're going to go on and make assumptions and judgements about the piece, you might actually want to have seen the object of your derision.

For all the “art” in his movies, they’re about nothing more than degradation. Of the audience, the characters, the actors, and anything that isn’t yet spattered with blood, spit or shit. “Reservoir Dogs” was on TV the other night, and I hadn’t seen it in a while. There he was in the opening scene with that interminable monologue about Madonna, and it now sounds so forced, so precious, so Quentin.

While I get tired of the same soundbites over and over and over again just as much as the next guy, you really can't criticise the guy for being himself. I mean, that would be like saying that "Lileks spends too much time doting about his daughter. And Macs. And really old movies. And politics. That's so Lileks." I'd imagine that's a big reason why people actually go to your site, James (myself included). You know, your fans? The people who enjoy your particular style and are looking for more of the same, with subtle variation and growth, day after day?

As an aside, I think you're spot on. Tarantino isn't really one of the "great" directors. His shit is derivative. I think he knows this. Anyone who's seen Resevoir Dogs and the Hong Kong movie (I think it might be City on Fire) he practically lifted it from scene for scene knows this. And no, that's not me pulling a Quentin. I'm just saying.

It’s like the dialogue he wrote for “Crimson Tide” - it clangs on the ear. It jumps up and down and demands attention. Listen to me, listen to me! I’m a clever boy who knows the distinctions between Silver Age Jack Kirby “Silver Surfer” comic books and the latter artists whose work will always stand in their shadow! None of this matters, but I know the difference and you don’t, and that makes me matter.

See, to me that was the most interesting scene in the entire film. It established that the two characters had things in common other than driving a submarine. Characters who have some driving hobby or motivation other than the plot of the movie is interesting to me. The fact that it was about comic books rather than old 30's cinema, or NY architecture or matchbooks or really bad 60's interior decorating is irrelevant. It was interesting dialog. Why should the subject matter matter?

In the trailer there’s a fight sequence - yeah, that really narrows it down - between The Bride and some other woman who I’m sure dies in a way that’s spectacular, well-shot and edited, and contains 298 references to other such deaths in mid-60s Thai “Battle Royale” precursors whose actors were drawn entirely from Bangkok brothels, etc. The fight is interrupted when the child of Uma’s opponent comes home from school. The women have to hide their weapons behind their backs. Hah hah! Go up to your room, mommy’s busy. Then Uma kills mom.

Hah hah! It rocks! Awesome! The way she stabbed her, and that soundtrack!

But now the little girl has no mommy.

Dude, it’s just a movie.

Okay, so then it’s okay if Uma goes upstairs and cuts the little girl’s head off?

Well, no -

Why not? It’s just a movie.

The other woman was bad. She deserved it.

Yes, “bad.” A complex moral position in a Tarantino film. He’s really wrestled with the definition of “bad,” hasn’t he.

Actually, he has. I'm going to ignore the assumptions made above and instead revisit Uma's driving motivation to kill Mommy.

Mommy and Uma were in an assassin's gang together. One day, Uma gets knocked up and decides she's going to get married and keep the baby. Then Mommy and the gang shows up at the wedding, and proceeds to kill everyone. The husband. The wedding party. The kids at the wedding party. The preacher. The pregnant bride.

So Mommy killed about ten people, including a pregnant woman. Pregnant woman happens to live, loses the baby, and while in a coma (due to Mommy's beatings) is repeatedly raped.

If that doesn't qualify as bad, I really don't know what does.

One of these days he’ll make a movie where the hero kills a kid. And if it gets cut from the final release, he’ll hang on to a copy so he can run it in his home theater, and sit in the middle of the room with a bucket of popcorn in one hand and his personal pink crayola-stub in the other.

I have a hard time reading the above and associating it with James Lileks, the previous king of non-assumption. The same guy who rides journalists for not backing up their own statements of over-generalisation with facts or quotes.

Look, she doesn't kill the kid. In fact, she even apologizes to the kid. She feels downright awful about being forced to kill Mom in front of the kid. Because since you didn't see the movie, you didn't see Mom try and shoot Uma through a box of Froot Loops while they were conversationally having coffee and arranging the final showdown far from the house so that the kid wouldn't be traumatised. Uma had no choice but to throw the knife at that point and defend herself. She goes so far to let the kid know that if she's still cross and wants to kill Uma in thirty years, that Uma will be waiting for her.

It's a revenge movie. The opening quote of the movie is the old Klingon Proverb: "Revenge is a dish best served cold." Should this be amended to state "Unless there's a child in the way of you getting your revenge. Nevermind that the mother of the child is the one who put her boot on your pregnant neck four years ago. Heck, throw that revenge in the microwave and thaw it out for thirty seconds. Maybe Revenge is really a dish best served tepid or at the very least luke-warm or perhaps even room temperature."

If you saw it and liked it, fine; matter of taste...It’s one thing to watch it and get it...It’s another thing entirely to want to make it.

Actually, no. If I saw it and liked it, fine. Matter of taste. If I saw it and didn't like it, fine. Again, matter of taste. If I didn't see it and said "I don't like Tarantino movies" and left it at that, again, fine, matter of taste.

But for the love of god, don't go off on a rant about how awful the movie is when you haven't even seen it yet. Criticising the character's motivation or their awful twisted background is incomprehensible without seeing the film. Hell, there's background information on other characters in that movie that makes what happened to Uma's character seem downright wholesome. But you haven't seen any of that. Because you haven't seen the movie. Going off on what you haven't seen makes you sound uninformed, old, and bitter.

And that's very not Lileks.

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