Kill Bill, Vol. 2
****/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah
written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
by Walter Chaw Genre poetry from B-movies' poet laureate, Quentin Tarantino's conclusion to Kill Bill is marked by the filmmaker's carefully-calibrated celluloid insanity, as well as a deceptive maturity that allows a few powerfully-struck grace notes for the cult of femininity and the sanctity of motherhood. Its first portion overwhelming for its craft before lodging in the craw with its ever-present but tantalizingly difficult-to-nail moral code, Tarantino's epic whole clarifies a dedication to a sort of low, Samuel Fuller/Nicholas Ray tabloid cosmology, grounding itself eventually in the bold, lovely, curiously old-fashioned declaration that the last best reward is to be true to the primal clay of an idea of innate gender roles. The Bride (Uma Thurman) is so named not merely for camp grandeur's sake, but also to highlight the power of cultural archetypes and their roots in biology.
Continuing her mission to kill those who left her for dead and stole her baby, The Bride (her real name revealed in the final reel) seeks out Bud (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah in her best performance, ever), and Bill (David Carradine). More backstory is provided in the form of The Bride's tutelage under master Pai Mei (Shaolin legend Gordon Liu), the relationship between Bud and Bill, and the ultimate fates of all involved, including the reason for Elle's missing eye and Bill's alarming masochism.
Kill Bill is passion for film captured on film, a picture that joins Hellboy on the shortlist of 2004 genre exercises that reveal a genuine voice, respect, and affection for genre filmmaking. It understands that the heartbeat of the cinema isn't the romantic comedy or the costume epic, but the magic and the joy of the impossible made light. Far from a series of empty stylistic flourishes and unrestrained fanboyism, Kill Bill demonstrates a keen understanding of narrative and character development--a reminder of why it is that Tarantino is possibly the most influential American director of the last decade on the strength of just four films. His work is instantly distinctive, not so much for his non-linear narratives as for that rarity of strong, dialogue-driven action films that honour traditional filmmaking techniques with a true acolyte's fanaticism.
Destined to be a possible career resurrection not so much for the slightly overmatched Carradine as for the revelatory Hannah (who reprises at the end of one stunning sequence the death rattle of her replicant Pris), Kill Bill, Vol. 2 replicates exactly the feeling of a thirteen-year-old me sneaking into a movie theatre with butterflies in my stomach to witness something truly transgressive and subversive. It makes of a jaded filmgoer a freshly-minted cinephile, offering the first genuinely delicious surprises of the year and providing one loaded scene, where two female assassins decide one another's fate over the hard-to-read results of a pregnancy test. It's a film with weight, then, and, despite easy-to-peg excesses that deserve to be read for their subtlety, elegance, and intelligence, it's the reason a lot of us started going to movies in the first place. Originally published: April 16, 2004.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Sourced from a master of slightly more recent vintage than its predecessor, Kill Bill, Vol. 2 looks even better on Blu-ray than the original does. There are fewer instances of black crush and the grain is tamed such that it never looks noisy; the 2.40:1, 1080p presentation is crisp, clean, and brilliant. The DTS audio of the standard-def DVD is again supplanted by a 24-bit, 5.1 PCM uncompressed option inaccessible by yours truly, while the DD 5.1 mix returns at a higher bitrate of 640 kbps and sounds a lot like the aforementioned DTS track. Long used to show off DTS systems, the burial sequence still packs a punch on BD, with clumps of shovelled dirt landing with a thump! in the subwoofer only to be followed by unnervingly realistic, dizzyingly directional trickles of sand and rock in the discrete channels. (The rest of the track is comparatively restrained but no less dynamic.) Light on supplementary material, the Buena Vista disc includes another making-of (26 mins., 480i/4:3), this one instantly dating itself with comments from Tarantino about how moviegoers are getting impatient waiting for Vol. 2 to come out. (It's also frankly overlong for a piece so promotional in nature.) "Damoe" (4 mins., 480i/16x9) is the mythologized deleted scene featuring Michael Jai White as a swordsman who challenges Bill to a duel for killing his master. I have this sneaking suspicion it was cut not for pacing considerations but because its execution didn't live up to the rest of the piece--it's really quite clunky, at least out of context. Capping things off is a live performance from Robert Rodriguez's band Chingon (11 mins., 480i/4:3) recorded at the premiere of Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Originally published: September 8, 2008.
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