Friday, January 08, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: Remembering the year 2003

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

2003 was a big year for me. I shot my very first short film – also coincidentally my only short film – and I got involved in theatre production. It was also a big year for one of my favorite filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino. After his third film, JACKIE BROWN (1997), the follow-up to his contemporary masterpiece, PULP FICTION (1994), underwelmed both critics and audiences alike, Tarantino returned to theatres in 2003 with an epic so momentous that it needed to be split into two films. Clocking in originally at over four hours, Tarantino’s fourth film, as it is billed when the title appears on screen, KILL BILL, was both highly anticipated after a six-year hiatus on the part of the infamous filmmaker and highly criticized for being split into two parts (the second was released in the spring of 2004). Regular Tarantino distributor, Miramax, felt the film was just too long to be released as a whole; the industry meanwhile saw the decision as nothing more than a way to sell two tickets to one movie. Audiences did not care one way or the other; KILL BILL VOLUME ONE went on to earn over $180 million internationally and put Tarantino back on track to becoming the best of the contemporary film auteurs.

KILL BILL VOLUME ONE opens with a Klingon proverb … Revenge is a dish best served cold. Only Tarantino can open a film with a quote from a Star Trek character and transcend geekiness into authenticity. Besides, the quote fits as revenge gets served in the coldest of fashions in the two hours that follow. And with good reason, I might add. In a role that was written specifically for her (to the point that production was pushed back after she became pregnant), Uma Thurman plays The Bride and when we first meet her, she is lying on the floor, beaten and bloodied. A gun is pointed at her beautifully battered face and she tells the man standing above her, whose name, Bill, is all we know for now, that she is carrying his baby. Regardless, he shoots her anyway. Believing her and her entire wedding party to be dead, he leaves her to rot but The Bride is a character that will not be held down. Miraculously, she survives and devises a plan to obliterate the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (the group responsible for her wedding day massacre) one by one, including their leader, Bill (the recently deceased David Carradine). I’m a big supporter of turning the other cheek but this is one scenario where I can hardly blame her for exacting her revenge. In fact, I delighted in every second of it.

I was not the only one delighting in this blood-soaked revenge tale (nearly 100 people die in the film). Clearly, Tarantino was having so much fun too. Just as he did with PULP FICTION, he takes the story, based heavily on the 1973 Japanese film, LADY SNOWBLOOD, and breaks it up so that the timeline plays out non-sequentially. The through line is simply a death list that The Bride attacks one at a time. There are plenty of trademark Tarantino touches, from a bright, yellow truck called the Pussy Wagon to punchy dialogue like “My name is Buck and I like to fuck.” There is even a knowing nod to himself at one point when Thurman draws an imaginary square in the air, just like she did in PULP FICTION at the Jack Rabbit Slim restaurant on her date with John Travolta. Tarantino’s films are never fully out of the reach of his sometimes gigantic ego but he earns every indulgence in this film. Considering how playful his tone is, his care for the visual style is stupendous and the choreography of the all out brawl at the film’s climax is mesmerizing. All you can do is sit back and enjoy the bloodbath. And as much as Tarantino deserves all this praise for this picture, he could not have done it without Thurman. Her turn as The Bride is immensely demanding of her talents, both physically and emotionally, and she makes every moment on screen that much more urgent.

It seems that little is said about KILL BILL and what a strong picture it is for women working in the action genre. The rest of the cast is made up of Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox and Daryl Hannah and all of these ladies are not to be messed with. There is no denying their strength or the skills and Tarantino has far too much respect for both his characters and his actresses to ever allow them to be taken advantage of or exploited as girls gone wild. They are simply women who kick some serious ass paving the way for KILL BILL VOLUME ONE and Mr. Tarantino himself to do the same.

2003 Top 10
(in alphabetical order)

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, Andrew Jarecki (Director)
CITY OF GOD, Fernando Meirelles
ELEPHANT, Gus Van Sant
FINDING NEMO, Andrew Stanton
IN AMERICA, Jim Sheridan
KILL BILL VOLUME ONE, Quentin Tarantino
MONSTER, Patty Jenkins


Ryan McNeil said...

I don't know why, but 2003 felt like such an "off" year for me when I looked back at what was released...however, strangely three Christmas movies I now really dig all came out that year (ELF, BAD SANTA, and LOVE ACTUALLY).

Love me some KILL BILL...and never loved it more than the night I saw Vol. I & Vol. II as a double feature at Danforth Music Hall. Speaking of - when the hell are we getting a special edition dvd of the whole bloody affair???

For what it's worth, my 2003 post goes like this...

Black Sheep said...

Hey Hatter. I checked out your 2003 list. It's true; it was not a great year. I'm very happy with my list but a third American Pie isn't good for anyone. I was enjoying your list until I saw A Mighty Wind. This was a huge disappointment for compared to Best in Show. Still, it was better than For Your Consideration. That was horrible. And I must say that I find Mystic River to be one of the most overrated films I've seen from one of the most overrated directors of our time. I have not seen it since then but I just remember it being painful and misogynistic in its undertone (like a great deal of Eastwood's work). Oh and Marcia Gay Harden cried a lot. I wish Sean Penn had not gotten his first Oscar for this one.

Black Sheep said...

Also, I missed your 2002 list.

Ryan McNeil said...

Wowsers...been a hellish week, so I totally lost track of your decade series. Expect a flurry of comments on your '04, '05, and '06 posts in the next day or two ;)

As for 2003, A MIGHTY WIND (and FYC actually) are tricky beasts because neither of them are as good as BEST IN SHOW or GUFFMAN. That said though, I believe them both to be very good comedies and better than many of the comedies out there. Christopher Guest is a genius, but like any artistic brilliance he'll have his ups and downs. I don't know about you, but i'll happily take "downs" as good as A MIGHTY WIND.

As for Clint, I count myself a fan...but can see how he has been overexposed and overhyped this decade. MYSTIC RIVER is actually one of my all time faves, and all I can suggest is that if it's been six years since you gave it a look, perhaps give it another watch.

At the time I remember being struck by some subtly beautiful photography, and some top notch acting. What I liked most about it though, was how it seems like an MOTW story that begs for a scene of someone dramatically yelling...but aside from one moment, no one in this film ever raises their voice.

It's all preference of course, but what can I worked for me.

Oh, and my 2002 list can be found here:

Black Sheep said...

Mystic River is coming out on BD next month. I don't know if I can do it again. The last time I saw it, I was literally sinking into my seat because I was so uncomfortable with the overall tone of the picture. Eastwood just doesn't see that he is an old straight white guy and that his opinions on difference are not enlightened but rather condescending and over simplified. It happens in all of his recent work, with the exception of Iwo Jima. Have you seen Invictus?!?

I will consider watching Mystic River again but if I want to kill someone afterward, I'm coming for you.