KILL BILL: VOLUME I
Miramax's decision to release Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill in two installments was probably smart, as it'll inevitably boost the film's collective box-office intake and doesn't require audiences to commit, all at once, to a three-and-a-half-hour homage to Japanese samurai flicks.
Yet I'm also hating the folks at Miramax for the decision, because it means, come February, I'll have to sit through this trash again. Put simply: I loathed Kill Bill: Volume 1. It's a debacle, much like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (which Tarantino originally scripted), that only a truly gifted filmmaker could make; Tarantino's technical razzle-dazzle is so overt that many viewers won't notice, or care, that nothing is going on in this picture. If the film has any theme at all, it's in the director's obsession with the shlocky, ultra-violent revenge fantasies of his youth - and crap in Japanese is still crap - and his attempt to mimic their brutishness, their stoic dialogue, their Zen-like focus on the art of exacting vengeance. In this, Tarantino succeeds. Big deal. The movie is nothing but an endless series of battles between Uma Thurman and those that done her wrong - brilliantly choreographed, yes, but so predictably outré that I started yawning after a half hour. And though he's obviously in awe of his star, Thurman's here only to be tormented and then to perform her share of tormenting. Despite valiant work, Thurman, like everyone else onscreen, is simply a pawn in Tarantino's gruesome chess match. We don't necessarily like her, but Tarantino doesn't care if we like her; humans aren't what interest him here. This movie reeks of smugness and condescension; if you don't like it, Tarantino seems to imply, it's because you don't get it. Kill Bill: Volume 1 is Tarantino's first release in six years, and such a dismal waste of time and talent it suggests he's been alone with this material for far too long.
Any fan of the Coen brothers' collective output - I consider myself an unrepentant devotee - will probably agree that even their lesser works get more entertaining with time; I, for one, didn't care for Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, or The Big Lebowski at first, but, after subsequent viewings, have grown enormously fond of all three. And yet, with Intolerable Cruelty, I'm confronted with a disturbing sensation: I don't ever want to see this one again, not because it's so terrible - the movie displays the brothers' usual technical acumen and George Clooney is often amusing - but because it's so damned bland. (Say what you will about the Coens, but until now, their works have never felt "Hollywood.") A screwball farce about an unscrupulous attorney (Clooney) who meets his match in a man-eating gold-digger (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Intolerable Cruelty, even with its presumably "nasty" edge, is by-the-numbers romantic comedy, which wouldn't be bad if the jokes were funny or Clooney and Zeta-Jones displayed romantic or comedic chemistry. Unfortunately, they aren't and they don't. Working from (and contributing to) a script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, and under the watch of uber-middlebrow producer Brian Grazer, the movie is slack and lifeless, and the Coens never establish any kind of comic rhythm. (Only in fringe gags - Clooney's teeth-whitening obsession, his partner's penchant for sobbing at weddings - is their comic style apparent.) Maybe this is the price the Coens must pay in order to finance offbeat works like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn't There; if so, Intolerable Cruelty is in service of a good cause. But the film itself isn't good; it's a Coen brothers movie for people who don't like Coen brothers movies.
OUT OF TIME
Out of Time is a rarity - a perfectly pleasant thriller. From the lighthearted jazz score of the opening credits to the jokey coda with our heroes basking in the relief of a concluded adventure (the ending wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Hart to Hart or MacGyver), everything about Carl Franklin's pseudo-noir is congenial; the film is a kinder, gentler thriller, one you could take grandma to. Yet it's not bad. In this tricky little caper, Denzel Washington plays the chief of police in a Florida resort town, a good man who, as a result of his love for a good woman (Sanaa Lathan), finds himself enmeshed in crimes including embezzlement, arson, and murder, most of which he's innocent of. The movie eventually resembles The Fugitive, as Washington's character must evade detection while attempting to prove his innocence, and avoid the suspicious glances of a local homicide detective ... who happens to be his ex-wife (Eva Mendes). This last twist is a bit too cute for words, as is the presence of Washington's nattering compadre (John Billingsley), and the suspension-of-disbelief required to enjoy Out of Time occasionally reaches epic proportions. But if you can put your gripes about, y'know, logic on hold, the movie is a lot of fun. It's beautifully paced - I don't think there's a dull scene in the picture - and Washington is a wonderful audience surrogate, supremely confident and likable. Out of Time is nothing more than a diverting time-killer, but in a week where even Tarantino and the Coen brothers don't pull that off, Franklin's work is nothing to sniff at.
After the enthusiastic audience response to Capturing the Friedmans, Winged Migration, and Spellbound this year, documentaries are now experiencing a rather astounding revival of interest, and for those whose appetites for quality docs aren't yet sated, the forthcoming MidCoast Film & Arts Festival, running from October 23 through 26, will more than satisfy. (Full details on the festival are available at http://www.midcoast.org.) This series will showcase eight feature-length documentaries, at least one of which, Carles Bosch's and Josep M. Domenech's Balseros, borders on the extraordinary. Focusing on a half-dozen Cubans who left their native country for America in 1994, the filmmakers detail the seven-year journey of the balseros ("rafters") - their initial escape from Cuba via homemade rafts, their detainment in Guantanamo, their arrival in Miami, their placement in assorted manual-labor jobs across the country - and subsequently create both a critique of and an odd tribute to the concept of The American Dream. Bosch and Domenech present each individual vividly and with enormous respect, showing how one person's dream come true is another's nightmare, and pull off a theatrical coup that's almost startling in its immediacy, as the videotaped footage we see is also shown to the balseros' families in Cuba; the mixture of pride, betrayal, and envy they experience while watching their loved ones in America is unforgettable. Heartbreaking, funny, and engrossing from beginning to end, Balseros is another topnotch doc in a year ripe with them, one of many reasons to see what this year's Midcoast Film & Arts Festival has to offer.