Monday, April 19, 2004

Saw Kill Bill, V.2 over the weekend and loved it. I put V.1 near the top of my 2003 list--it was a thrilling, lean showcase of slick, campy violence, founded on a cinemaniac's love of film (check out Dave Kehr's recent scratching of the surface of Tarantino's references) and a movie geek's love of Uma Thurman. V.2 is not quite so sleek, not as nonstop, taking a breath here and there. It pauses for a bit of oddball characterization, and there's some classic Quentin Tarantino dialogue (a lecture on the Superman mythology, for instance), but when the action strikes, it's just as giddy as V.1. After a beautiful retro opening, there's a good long stretch from the point where "the Bride" goes after Budd (aka Sidewinder) to her confrontation with Elle (aka California Mountain Snake) where the film is again on fire, with a hilarious and beautiful sequence showing Uma's character training with her Chinese martial arts master earlier in life, featuring priceless send-ups of typical Hong Kong camera moves and kung fu master cliches. (And the actor, Gordon Liu, was also featured in a completely different role in v.1!) The cast is excellent, again, and this time I think I would name Darryl Hannah as my favorite, though I plan to see it one more time in the theater before too long. Strictly for research for the blog, mind you.

Also took in, belatedly, in a moment when I needed a comedy badly, The Ladykillers. Sure, the reviews have been poor, but I figured, the preview was funny, Tom Hanks has been wonderful lately, and I've loved the last four Coen Brothers films. Unfortunately, this film's running with a flat tire. It's too obviously cut from the O Brother Where Art Thou? mould--with an electrifying gospel soundtrack that I'm still considering purchasing at some point. Basically the Coens just haven't taken enough care to give this one a full identity of its own. Irma P. Hall is delightful as the old church woman who unknowingly takes in the scheming ringleader of a heist mob, and Hanks gets an A for effort, trying to get a spark out of his eccentric character. But the supporting roles are underwritten and flat, the gags too repetitive (a portrait of the woman's dead husband appears to change expression; waste is disposed of over a bridge onto a passing scow). The Coens seemed to have a lock on witty, original dialogue, but there's too much fizzle here. I treasure George Clooney's performance in O Brother--his simpleton's attempts at educated speech and sermonizing are consistently hilarious. Hanks' part comes close at times here, but never quite sparks. The film has its moments--fine for a rental or to while away a dull afternoon. After recently seeing and enjoying The Lavender Hill Mob, I think I'd still like to check out the original version of this movie, starring Alec Guiness, but not until I've had a wee break (which is what I think the Coens need to do).

This weekend on Ebert's show, they mentioned that they've gotten a lot of flak from DVD renters of the film Lost in Translation, but that people who'd seen it on the big screen thanked them for the recommendation. They speculated on what made the difference. I have a few thoughts: first, the movie is slow and dreamy, with beautiful cinematography, which plays well on the big screen and puts people to sleep when they're on they're couch expecting a Hollywood film; and second, filmgoers who saw it on the big screen a few months ago could feel like they were discovering and championing a small film themselves. Seeing it after the end-of-the-year hype & Oscar win raises expectations too high for its relatively modest achievements (though Murray was extraordinary). Lastly, I hate to say it, but it was probably never going to play well to the mainstream. It's an urbane hipster's film, owing a lot to Wong Kar Wai, fer pete's sake.



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