Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

Release Date: April 8th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Julie Dreyfus, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, James Parks, Bo Svenson, Samuel L. Jackson, Larry Bishop, Sid Haig, Sonny Chiba

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 137 Minutes

Review:

“Bitch, you don’t have a future.” – The Bride

I dropped my review of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 a week ago but I watched them back-to-back and reviewed them that way, as well. But I like to save my last review on Fridays for bigger, well-known films, so that’s why this one dropped out of sequence.

I wanted to watch these back-to-back primarily to get the full effect of the story. I’ve done that before but it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched these and I wanted to really make a day out of it due to how much I loved them when they were still fairly current films.

As I said at the end of my review for the previous film, it was a near masterpiece but it was also outdone by this movie.

I think the main reason for that, is that this one switches to more of a spaghetti western style than the Yakuza revenge flick the previous movie was. Martial arts are still alive and well in this picture, though, and it gives this a really unique feel. Also, despite the tonal differences in the films, the martial arts aspects still tie them together well and in some regards, this reminds me of the Kung-Fu television series, which oddly enough, also featured David Carradine, this film series’ primary antagonist.

I liked the spaghetti western feel because, well, I’m a big fan of that style. This was also Tarantino’s first attempt at delving into a western aesthetic and he did a tremendous job with it. Sure, this is more of a neo-western, as it is set in modern times but it kind of laid a solid foundation for him to build his skills off of in the genre. Without this, he may not have done Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight. Granted, in my opinion, this film is still superior to both of those.

Another thing that makes this the better half of the series, is that it is the culmination of everything that The Bride has set out to achieve. It’s the finale, the big final fight. But this also doesn’t give you a grand final battle. Instead, it subverts expectations in a beautiful and much more meaningful way. Unlike most modern filmmakers who like to take giant shits on well-established franchises like that never-been-laid fucknut Rian Johnson and that fart sommelier J. J. Abrams.

Anyway, the climax of the film is incredible and it has probably the best acting I’ve ever seen from David Carradine, as well as Uma Thurman. You believe that they have a lot of love between them, as well as a lot of anger and it’s fucking heartbreaking to watch, regardless of how many times you’ve seen it. Adding in the fact that there’s a young child placed between them makes the final showdown emotionally tragic but more complex and serious than it otherwise would’ve been. At this point, this moves beyond just being a simple revenge story, as the hope for a real life emerges at the end of The Bride’s violent journey.

Apart from the finale, the film also subverts expectations well in how Bud dies. He’s someone else on The Bride’s hitlist but he gets the best of The Bride and actually defeats her, quite easily. He underestimates her drive, though, and she goes right back on the hunt while he feels he’s safe from her wrath. However, by the time The Bride reaches him again, there’s a pretty big twist, which pits her against Elle, the second to last name on her list.

The fight between The Bride and Elle in Bud’s mobile home is damn good and it utilizes the cramped environment exceptionally well.

In the end, this is just a great fucking motion picture and one of Tarantino’s best, hands down. It’s my favorite and even though it’s not as talked about, these days, as his other movies, it’s still the best of the lot from where I stand.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Release Date: September 29th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Kenji Ohba, James Parks, The 5.6.7.8’s

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most… [cocks pistol] masochistic.” – Bill

The Kill Bill films are my favorite movies from Quentin Tarantino, which makes me happy that there are two of them. I felt that reviewing them was long overdue, so I had myself a little marathon with these two movies and some of the classic Pai Mei flicks I’ve already reviewed on this site.

The two films work really well together even though the first one plays more like a martial arts/Yakuza flick while the second is more akin to a spaghetti western. I think this is probably why they were split into two parts, as opposed to giving us one big epic film. Granted, I’m still waiting for the combined version that Tarantino promised years ago. Hell, I think it’s also about time for the third film, which he also promised years ago.

Anyway, this is a review of the first movie, so let me get to it.

The film is just great from top-to-bottom from the opening scene to the big, action-packed, blood-soaked finale.

My only reservations with it, seeing it for the first time in quite a damn while, is that some of the dialogue came out fairly cringe. The scene with Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox exchanging pleasantries seemed a lot less cool and a lot more forced and unnatural for me. It never really bothered me before but it set them film up poorly and because of that, I thought I was going to be disappointed and discover that this just wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was a lot younger.

I’m glad to say that even though there is more dialogue cringe, it doesn’t really wreck the film or its dramatic effect. Quentin Tarantino is always getting props for the dialogue in his movies but I’ve never been as big of a mark for it. It’s almost always compelling but it tends to be an example of something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t work as well onscreen. And honestly, I think that’s what happened in some of these scenes and I don’t blame the actresses for it.

That gripe aside, everything else is pretty much perfect and the film moves at an incredibly brisk pace, leading to the big showdown with one woman against an army of Yakuza’s wielding samurai swords.

While Tarantino’s films always look fantastic and cinematically impressive, this one really takes the cake for me. Especially, during that final fight, as the film goes from color, to black and white, to just silhouette. The changes work really damn well and the visual tone helps to set the narrative tone, as it shifts during the battle. It also helps break it out into segments, keeping it fresh, as it does run on for a really long time.

Also, I love how after the fight, it switches back to regular color, where it reveals a giant hall full of downed Yakuza, blood absolutely everywhere and limbs just randomly dropped throughout the set. This whole sequence gives you pure, ultraviolence but you don’t actually see the sum of all its (body)parts until that final moment and its kind of breathtaking.

Additionally, the one-on-one final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii is a beautiful, artful and calculated confrontation that works in contrast to the massive fight before it while also being a stunning exclamation point on the film.

The movie is also full of stupendous dramatic scenes and places where the dialogue is so damn good that it sort of washes away the cringe from earlier in the film. The scenes between The Bride and Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzō are fucking beautiful, sweet and intense.

The closing moments of the movie, where The Bride explains her plan to Sofie is ominous as hell and spectacularly effective, as is the big reveal and twist, delivered by Bill, as the final line of the movie.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pretty close to being Tarantino’s greatest masterpiece. But then, it is slightly edged out by its sequel, which I will review in about a week.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

Film Review: Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994)

Release Date: January 14th, 1994
Directed by: Allan A. Goldstein
Written by: Allan A. Goldstein, Michael Colleary
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Terry Plumeri
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lesley-Anne Dowd, Michael Parks, Saul Rubinek, Ken Welsh, Robert Joy

21st Century Film Corporation, Trimark Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Let the law take these guys down. You know, sometimes the law works.” – Lt. Mickey King, “And sometimes it doesn’t! These people, they steal, they murder, they destroy people’s lives and they get away with it! They have alibis, money, lawyers, power. They have everything.” – Paul Kersey

This is the worst Death Wish movie. But that’s like saying that missionary is the worst sex position. Because frankly, you’re still having sex and that’s way better than not having sex.

Charles Bronson is back for the final time and this round, he gets to ham it up with Michael Parks, who makes a good final villain for the series.

This one is kind of bizarre though, in that it all takes place in and around the fashion industry. Bronson’s new girlfriend (and soon to be fiance a.k.a. dead) owns a fashion house but her ex-baby daddy is a piece of shit gangster that has his slimy hands in the business and is making her life hell.

Bronson’s Paul Kersey tries to fight back to save his new love and her daughter but this bad guy pretty much owns the town. So leaks in the district attorney’s office lead to tragedy and thus, intense revenge at the hands of Kersey.

Robert Joy also pops up in this, as probably the creepiest character he’s ever played. The scene where he’s dressed in drag, sneaks into the women’s restroom and then starts smashing Kersey’s fiance’s face repeatedly into a mirror is absolutely fucking brutal. And while I wouldn’t say that this is as violent as the Death Wish movies put out by Cannon, the moments of violence seem much more realistic and terrifying.

Despite a heaping pile of flaws, this is still damn enjoyable to Death Wish fans. It’s lacking that ’80s Cannon Films magic but Bronson, Parks and Joy all carry the picture. Additionally, Saul Rubinek brings something solid to the movie too.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Rating: 8/10

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Rating: 7/10

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Rafe Spall, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: Tusk (2014)

Release Date: September 6th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Based on: SModcast #259: The Walrus & the Carpenter by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Génesis Rodríguez, Johnny Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp

Demarest Films, SModcast Pictures, A24, 102 Minutes

tuskReview:

Kevin Smith had an awful idea. Sure, it was fun fleshing out and debating over a podcast but that bad and bizarre idea became a film. It is now a film that Kevin Smith will have to live with as part of his film catalog that seems to get tarnished more and more with each release since the late 90s.

Maybe Smith never had it, maybe he was a one trick pony, maybe that less than a handful of films he did in the 90s were the best he’d ever produce. If you have ever wondered whether or not Kevin Smith was a hack and were still undecided, this film should make that decision much easier for you.

I don’t want to hate on Smith. I’m part of that group of people that wants to see him find his mojo again. However, Tusk makes me question if there was any mojo to begin with. Maybe those earlier films weren’t as good as I thought they were. Maybe I am just falling victim to nostalgia for films I fell in love with when I was still a teenager without a palate as vast as the one I have now. I can’t say for sure but I can say that Tusk is fucking dreadful and it puts a big exclamation point on everything wrong with Smith, not just as a filmmaker, but as an entertainer.

Tusk is one bad joke told over an hour and forty-two excruciating minutes. It is supposed to be a horror comedy. Sure, it is horrifying but mostly for the wrong reasons. It is only funny in one bit of the film – where Justin Long’s character meets a border agent when he first arrives in Canada. Other than that one minute exchange, the comedy is lost in this ridiculous exhibit.

Justin Long has always been pretty horrible. Sure, he seems like a nice enough guy in the real world but Tusk doesn’t do anything to help his case.

Michael Parks is sometimes amazing and delightful, he may be the bright spot of this film but he’s still thrown into a mess of a movie and what may be a great performance is ruined by the absurdity of everything else happening. You can be the best actor in the world but if you are fed shitty lines and are in a premise that even you aren’t buying into, your performance is doomed.

Johnny Depp shows up and plays one more in a string of really bizarre characters, which has been Depp’s trend since he shook off that teenage heartthrob persona years ago. While this sometimes works for Depp, his weird character in this film is unfunny, boring and falls flat. He is some sort of Canadian private investigator but comes off as someone doing a bad impersonation of John Malkovich playing a French person.

Haley Joel Osment appears in this and it is truly nice seeing him do something as an adult. Also, Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughters play clerks in a convenient store and do a pretty okay job with their limited time.

Génesis Rodriguez plays Justin Long’s girlfriend and she is maybe the best performer of the movie – beating out Parks because she didn’t have to perform in as many ridiculous situations. She is also extremely beautiful and from what I can gauge, a much better actress than the roles she’s been given so far in her career.

If you don’t know about the premise of this film, it is about a crazy old man who invites a podcaster into his home for an interview, only to drug him, keep him captive and physically morph him into a walrus. If you want it visually ruined for you, just Google “tusk” and hit images. There you will see Justin Long in all his walrusy glory.

The pace of this film was disjointed. It was slow for a bit, then it jumped ahead a great deal. It was confusing. For example, Justin Long finds himself losing body parts and the process to full walrus seems slow. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he is a full fledged walrus chained to a floating slab.

By the time you get to the end of this film, you are left wondering what the whole point was. Well, the point is that Kevin Smith had a dumb idea on a podcast, his legions of Smithites told him to make it and like a soulless whore, he did. And while I am sure those loyal Smithites jack off to Tusk daily, until the next Smith schlock comes out, the rest of us are left baffled, confused and disgusted.

This is the worst film Kevin Smith has ever made. In fact, it is the worst film that I have seen in a really long time and I went to the theater for Fantastic Four and Terminator: Genisys. I still want Kevin Smith to return to glory. Maybe he should stay away from the horror genre, as he has had two awful duds with this and Red State. Maybe focusing on Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2 is what he should do. But at the same time, the novelty of those films wore off a long time ago.

Rating: 1/10