Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) &
Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino & Uma Thurman

Every time I watch a Tarantino flick, I'm reminded of the endless string of teachers and mentors who implored me to put my talent to "better use." Every single frame of each one of his films is impeccable; his soundtracks are supreme; he casts actors you wouldn't expect much out of in roles that clearly light their fires. Yet in every case, the emotional core is utterly hollow, and the film ends up merely amounting to a collection of really cool scenes.

Kill Bill doesn't break the trend. It's cool, alright; Quentin has distilled everything that's exciting and breathtaking about 90s Japanese cinema, mixed it up with spaghetti western and 70s kung-fu, for an unforgettable pastiche that is as undeniable as it is audacious. You can't argue with Kill Bill (as much as people try to) – for it is Kill Bill. So why do I want to sent Quentin home with a D-minus report card for his parents to sign? Should I just accept that since he's great, he ought to jut be allowed to do what it is that he thinks is great?

Probably. Yet there is such a sense of seeming purpose to his films, as though each is a statement about society wrapped up in a summation of his favorite cinema, that I keep waiting for the brilliant point to be made, and it never is. Kill Bill is wonderful – I enjoyed every minute of both installments – but ultimately it comes off as a shaggy-dog joke at the audience's expense. And we're talking a four-and-a-half hour shaggy-dog joke.

Part of the problem is that there is no inherent meaning to most of the choices he makes as director. Uma's character, "The Bride," has her real name bleeped out each time it is uttered for most of the film, and when it is finally revealed, it is Beatrix Kiddo. We'd seen Bill (David Carradine) call her "Kiddo" and assumed it was the nickname. If it's a joke, it's rather a blank-stare of a joke, and if there's a point, I'm at a loss to find it.

So it is with most of Kill Bill. The vague vibe of self-proclaimed "importance," coupled with Tarantino's visual mastery and unflagging hipness, leads me to want more from it than I do with, say, Ichi the Killer, or Battle Royale, or any of the numerous Japanese bloodfests that Kill Bill takes after. Were I to dispense with this longing for "meaning," what I'd see is simply a great fuckin' bloodfest – one that arguably tops 'em all.

Vol. 1 was more fun for me because it really was just horrendous brutality from start to finish, with bold touches (such as the animated sequence) that had me going, "My God, Tarantino's the fucking master!" Vol. 2 may be a better film, though it's a lot less fun to watch, particularly the very long scene in which Uma is shot with rock salt and then buried alive – the sadism here makes The Passion of the Christ seem like a Three Stooges short (specifically, the Three Stooges short Merry Martyrs, in which the three are comically flaggelated and crucified for 70 excruciating minutes … oh wait, that doesn't exist).

Uma delivers what is sure to be the single most astounding performance of her career – she won't win an Oscar, but that'll be Academy conservatism at play, nothing else. Her ability to put across conflicting, complex emotions with many shades, simply with her eyes, makes it impossible to keep your eyes off her. "OK, you're about to be buried alive, so you're scared, but you're really pissed … and you're determined – go!" Or: "OK, you're on a rageful adrenaline rush, about to kill Bill, you open the door, and there's your daughter, whom you thought was dead – go!" Amazing shit.

The rest of the cast is well-chosen and totally on the mark. The story is extremely simple, and the film didn't need to be nearly as long as it is … but I can't say I have forgotten even one scene in it. Though I want, and for some reason expect "better" (i.e. "something serious") from Tarantino, instead of the stubborn hipster food he creates, I wouldn't argue he's not great – certainly few directors can claim to have created as many memorable sequences, much less say that every film is about equally memorable.

Yet memorability is not enough, in the end. Taxi Driver is memorable, but it's ugly, indulgent, unpleasant, and pretentious. Kill Bill is great on many levels, but as a whole, it's a whole lot of shenanigans strung together to make people who believe they enjoy "dark shit" chuckle to themselves. I wonder whether Quentin knows that his biggest fans are frat boys.

Of course, most great directors made many films before they made one great one, and few have made great ones each time out. I will say that Tarantino has at least made some incredibly daunting and acrobatic films which are way beyond what his peers (and mentors, actually) are doing. But he truly is the kid in high school who could draw like Da Vinci, but refused to draw anything but ninjas disembowling each other. Whenever he gets around to making something really beautiful, or truly majestic, or completely penetrating, or anything but just "cool," it's going to be something else.

And incidentally, the irony of me wanting Tarantino to "put his talent to better use" is not lost on me, seeing as I'm sitting here all these years later, still willfully not putting mine to "better use." But then, no one's paying $10 a pop to see me jack off … that is, unless they buy bootleg copies of the video I did a few years back, Grad School Twinks 9.

Review by Mr. Benefits

–SECOND OPINION–

Volume One? Volume FUN. Volume Two? Volume POO!

Long, pointless, boorish, and lacking in the payoffs that made Vol. 1 a two-fisted popcorn-munching delight, Vol. 2 is as disappointing and unsatisfying as can be. Where's the action? What happened to the soundtrack? Am I missing something?

I think Quentin Tarantino is missing something … half his brain. KB2 somehow loses its way in a plot that merely entails killing three people. There are a couple of great sequences, but the writing is contrived and campy, quite a step down from the comic-book beauty of the first installment. The thrills are simply too few and far between, and the good gags (especially in the "Kung Fu" parody sequence) are beaten into the ground.

I couldn't have enjoyed the showdown between Beatrix Kiddo and Elle Driver more – easily one of QT's best-ever scenes. But it's a sad state of affairs to come away from a film, especially one for which I had high expectations, having enjoyed the Sno*Caps a good deal more than the movie.

the finger

Review by Hubert