Volume 5, Number 41
This Week's Reviews: Thirteen, Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
This Week's Omissions: Good Boy, House of the Dead, Intolerable Cruelty, Step Into the Liquid.
Release: 20 Aug. 03
BY: DAVID PERRY
Co-written by a 13-year-old, Thirteen tells the story of expedited development, a female maturation that has become common in today’s commercial-minded world. Much news coverage has been made in recent years about young girls going through puberty earlier than ever before because of diets. The statement of this film seems to be that the earlier threshold to sexuality means that daddy’s little girl won’t be his for too long.
But as a social commentary film, Thirteen is lacking, showing an amateurishness beyond its high intentions. There is a strong statement within the film, but the direction by first timer Catherine Harwicke does everything it can to show that this is more than just a movie of the week by upping the style until that worry, which is somewhat unmerited, is underlined in her knee-jerk reaction.
The story begins with the type of bang that would be needed before the ABC After School Special credits music and first commercial break as two girls, apparently on some drug, begin punching each other with giddy pleasure, calling on the friend-assailant to do it again. While this is a nice introduction to the type of in-your-face dramatization of modern adolescence that Hardwicke relies on, it’s strength as an introduction is felt in the succeeding images of one of those girls, Tracy (Wood), a mere four months earlier.
Tracy is an upstanding member of the middle school student population, making good grades, sticking with a clique of honorable friends, and dressing in the epitome of good-girl couture. There is a seedy underbelly -- the recovering alcoholic mother struggling with expenses, the occasional moments of self-mutilation in the bathroom, the absentee father barely interested in his daughter’s problems -- but none of this seems even remotely close to the waif-like sado-masochist who opened the film, pierced and scantily dressed. The trailers for the film have made Tracy’s evolution from honor roll to jailbait explicitly known, which is a shame, because that is one of the hallmarks of Wood’s achievement in this role, never making the transfer seem too movie-world sudden (although the four month timeline is a stretch). If there’s anything this film prides itself in -- and should -- it’s that Thirteen refrains from being merely a cinematic variation on reality.
Much of this realism comes from the screenplay by Nikki Reed, who reportedly went through much of what happens in Thirteen. She also plays Evie Zamora in the film, the bad girl whose popularity is what gets Tracy into this quagmire. Her unaffected portrayal of someone she probably sees as a villain in her own life is surprising in its refusal of hyperbole. There isn’t necessarily much positive information given about Evie, but she’s got her background too, stuff that might not give complete reason for her actions but do give some understanding.
What realism Reed, as well as Wood and Holly Hunter (in a
terrific performance as the caring but emotionally lost mother) infuse is
often hurt, though, by Hardwicke’s in-your-face style. Jarring,
guerilla-like filmmaking serves to the detriment of Thirteen, as the
director overcompensates for her own moralizing (ultimately, the film makes
bold statements about advertising and fashion being to blame for the
destruction of our children -- a slowly deteriorating “Beauty is Truth”
sticker follows Tracy during her downfall) by turning to jagged edits, extreme
zooms, shaky cinematography, and washed out film stock. A slicked up
Rossellini is a Rossellini devoid of the attentiveness brought to realist
portrayals. Her best act was telling Reed to write this screenplay; her
worst act was deciding to direct it.
|©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 10 October 2003|
Release: 10 Oct. 03
|Kill Bill: Vol. 1
BY: DAVID PERRY
Kenji Mizoguchi, the pre-Kurosawa master filmmaker of Japan, made a 4-hour epic about samurais, The 47 Ronin, that would emblemize much of the country’s output for decades (Kurosawa was smartly emulating Mizoguchi in such films as Yojimbo and Seven Samurai). When released in America, it was cut into two parts since it was understood that American audiences (even in the 1970s) were unwilling to take in the entire production in one sitting (Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-hour Dekalog is lucky to get all-day treatments at many art houses). I’m not certain that this was part of the consideration when Quentin Tarantino agreed to slice his fourth film (in case you cannot count, the opening credits remind you) into a serialized pair. It certainly fits with the rest of this film’s proto-Japanese homage-come-thievery.
Opening with the ShawScope logo and a Feature Presentation frame, Tarantino succeeds in turning the suburban megaplexes showing Kill Bill: Vol. 1 into one of those seedy, rundown corner shop theatres that would play a kung-fu midnight double feature, merit conversations about Miike in the lobby, and feature posters for Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Inagaki. There is an ambiance to these places, which usually have theme periods allowing for Dario Argento and early Martin Scorsese to also get some time, that usually cannot be replicated. They become part of the film going experience because they fulfill the ideal of such a camp atmosphere surrounding inherently camp movies.
And I loved Kill Bill: Vol. 1 for doing just that as I sat in the middle of a mall. Rare is the film that can feature homage to the point of inconsequence (Brian De Palma has even given up on this), but Kill Bill: Vol. 1 shows that Tarantino recognizes that adding as much of his personal obsessions to his cinema (articulated here as much as in all his three other films combined) can make for not only a looking glass into the creator as a reminder of the very references he bares.
Without a doubt, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is soulless. It is based primarily on the emulations Tarantino is going for, finding a way to converge everything from Sonny Cheeba (who makes a cameo) to Bruce Lee (whose outfits -- including Kato eye masks and a motorcycle jumpsuit -- make a couture cameo) to Kinji Kukasaku (whose music from Battle Without Honor and Humanity makes an aural cameo). It is easy to write off Kill Bill as a numbingly violent experience in which a director masturbates to his fondest cinematic memories. Perhaps there is some truth to that criticism, but, regardless, the ease and thrust of Tarantino (no pun intended) is of such artistic grace that I cannot find debit in this level of artistic vanity.
This first half, told in mini-chapters, usually out of order (as is the case in all of Tarantino’s films thus far), looks at Uma Thurman’s The Bride (partly The Bride Wore Black’s Jeanne Moreau, partly The Avengers’ Diana Rigg, partly I Spit on Your Grave’s Camille Keaton) as she methodically hunts down and kills the people who are to blame for killing her wedding party, and leaving her for dead. Awakened from a four-year coma (check out the deus ex machina that revives her), The Bride prepares for a revenge against these people, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which she was formerly a member. In this half, the targets are Copperhead (Fox), now happily married in suburbia, and O-Ren Ishii (Liu), now the yakuza crime leader of Tokyo. In the next film, she will face California Mountain Snake (Hannah), Sidewinder (Madsen; Mr. Blonde himself), and the leader of the group, Bill (Carradine; doing more in voiceover than most actors do in a career of heavies).
There is no real reason to write on the real plot of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 because (a) it is still unresolved without the second part, and (b) it isn’t really that important anyway. There are films that are made for the pleasure of seeing what can be done with cinema, even when it means resurrecting the camp of some of the worst. Tarantino, with editor Salle Menke and cinematographer Ralph Richardson, elevate B-movie kung-fu (usually involving revenge after a rape and/or murder, not unlike Kill Bill) into a beautiful palette (there are some breathtaking shots, especially in Japan) that never looses the camp bite of its predecessors.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1, regardless of all the loose-ends,
intentionally stilted dialogue, sadistic violence, and overextended
sequences, is the year’s best action film. If this is any indication of what
is to come -- the cliffhanger ending, if it can be called one, blows away
anything ever achieved by Peter Jackson in his two attempts for The Lord of
the Rings trilogy -- Kill Bill: Vol. 2, the fifth film from Quentin
Tarantino, I suppose, will likely hold the same title for 2004.
|©2003, David Perry, Cinema-Scene.com, 10 October 2003|