kill bill and what great films and terrible films have in common

My favorite parts of the Kill Bill movies come in the time between Budd showing up in Vol. 2 to just after his death.

The Budd parts of Kill Bill show what I like about Quentin Tarantino and what he seems to specialize in: Being weirdly ambivalent about what tone he’s trying to strike, often even within a single scene. Tarantino movies will shift from highly stylized and theatrical one minute to undermining that theatricality the next, or they will celebrate excess but follow it with a heartfelt moment that’s almost sentimental, then throw in a streak of zany for good measure.

Take Budd’s death scene. He’s just collected a cheap little suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills from Elle Driver, his fellow assassin. (In case you can’t IMDB it: He’s played by Michael Madsen and she’s played by Daryl Hannah.) Budd starts pulling out the money and finds, buried there, one very angry black mamba.

15-06-08 snake in money
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this star trek time-travel episode makes you remember what they’re forgetting (which is memorable)

One the nice things about my minor obsession with time-travel movies is that there are so many of them to compare and so many manners of temporal discombobulation in fiction to consider. Almost any variant of time-travel can be found in some movie somewhere, so potential parallels abound, even among movies and shows whose only similarity is a questionable use of physics.

Which leads me to my comparison du jour, between last summer’s would-be blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, a Tom Cruise action vehicle, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect.”

The connections are obvious if you know both: Edge of Tomorrow is about Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who experiences one day on repeat, ending each iteration with his death. Upon dying, he awakes at the beginning of that same day, except with the knowledge of every pass-through he’s done before. Similarly, “Cause and Effect” reiterates a single (roughly) 24-hour period, each time ending with the destruction of the Enterprise and everybody aboard.
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beginners: like a slide show going off the rails

There’s a key scene in Mike Mills’ 2010 film, Beginners, that I think is worth looking at in some depth. But to get why it’s meaningful, it will help to have some context.

Beginners alternates between two timelines, both following artist and Angeleno Oliver (Ewan McGregor). One story has him taking care of his dying father, Hal, played by Christopher Plummer, who came out not long ago after the death of his longtime wife, Oliver’s mother. The other story, told in parallel, is Oliver’s new romance with Anna, one that begins some months after Hal has died.

Each of these plots is smartly written and performed, but there’s much more to love here. For one, there’s its tone: Lonesome and quiet, the movie’s approach to death and love is reserved. Also, maybe most importantly, it manages to make the whole context and history of 20th century America seem as though they are waiting just off screen. It does this through occasional sequences composed of stills and footage — the President, a shot of the night sky, the colors of the rainbow flag — forming a haphazard assortment of facts about our lives and culture of the past several decades. These odd little sets of curated images are like a slide show, with voiceovers from Oliver that sound like the field notes of a very sad anthropologist.

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beauty and the beast (1946): the cost of growing up

It’s hard to imagine that Google directed you here because you were looking for an article about Jean Cocteau’s 1946 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, rather than the Beauty and the Beast with animated dancing teapots or even the Beauty and the Beast TV series featuring romance-novel Hellboy. But Cocteau’s masterpiece is what this post is about, so, sad to report, if you were hoping to hear about candlesticks voiced by Jerry Orbach, you’re out of luck.

Jerry Orbach

That said, Cocteau’s take on the classic story still feels fantastical, even at a remove of nearly 70 years. For whatever reason, I find it somehow gratifying to find that a film from just after the Second World War could use practical effects to evoke magic so … magically … and without the raw power of CGI. This occurred to me in an early scene, when Belle’s father stumbles into the front hall of the Beast’s enchanted manor. The candelabras lining the walls are held up by human hands and arms, and as he walks forward, the candles suddenly light and the arms extend in turn, evidently living but also doing a perfect imitation of an unliving mechanical process. A moment later, a disembodied hand in the table pours Pops a drink while the eyes of statues follow him around the room. This is typical of the Beast’s residence, which seethes with animation, and not of the cartoon sort.
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vol 2. of my comments on the house of blue leaves in kill bill: vol. 1

When I wrote about Kill Bill a couple of weeks ago, there was another whole aspect of the House of Blue Leaves sequence I didn’t get around to. It was the way the movie creates an action sequence that feels like more than just a bunch of noise and fury — an action sequence that causes the viewer to sense the violence and the physical aspect of the fight on something more like a gut level.

What I’m trying to describe could be called an aesthetic of brutality. With “brutality,” I’m trying to put a label on the general idea of destruction and mayhem as depicted in movies. Across movies, some punches seem to land harder than others, and some explosions seem more propulsive than others. Some movies, for lack of a better word, are more artful in their brutality than others.

The House of Blue Leaves section of Kill Bill: Vol. 1, for instance, has a higher brutality quotient than a lot of battle scenes I’ve watched, and I’ve been thinking about why. Part of the effect, I think, is achieved just by the length of the battle, which takes place over 30 odd minutes. Another reason the action feels so visceral, though, is what Quentin Tarantino does not just in the night club but to the night club. That is, he lets the Bride and the Crazy 88 gradually destroy it and leave a heaping mess of blood and body parts every which place, until the place is nothing but a war zone, totally transformed from the hip dance joint it was only minutes before.
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the house of blue leaves in kill bill is neither a house nor leaves. discuss.

I was watching Kill Bill, Vol. 1 the other day, not thinking much about it. Then a question sort of popped into my head: What is up with the House of Blue Leaves, the Tokyo nightclub where the whole end third of the movie takes place?

Over the course of more than 30 minutes, the House of Blue Leaves becomes much more than a backdrop or a location. It takes on the properties of a palpable space that has volume and a kind of complex presence. We’re used to considering nuanced characters and relationships, but spaces, not so much. Watching Kill Bill, though, I have the sense that Tarantino’s treatment of the set creates a sense of space that is nuanced and specific.

Describing how, though, will take some doing.

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man of steel: i heart krypton (probably more than i heart superman)

In all probability, last year’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel, was not designed to make me want to watch an entire movie about Krypton. But that’s what it did, maybe more than it did anything else.

That probably says more about how totally effective the early scenes of Krypton were more than it means anything about how much I liked the rest of the film (which was fine or something). Man of Steel’s Krypton is a vividly foreign place that clearly establishes its own peculiar aesthetic, one that is a lot more than a mere extrapolation from present trends in American design. Just as it should, the planet feels remote from anything we know in modern America.

First, as we see the birth of Superman (the first Kryptonian born the old fashioned way for quite some time, it seems), there’s a floating monitor-type thing that uses a bunch of pebbly metal beads to display information, like a picture of the Super-fetus. Like a lot of Kryptonian tech, it’s distinctly beyond anything humanity could build right now, but more importantly, it doesn’t look like anything Apple would make any time in the next century, either. The shapes of their buildings, tools and costumes, as well as the green-brown color palette of Krypton, build up a cultural context unlike anything you or I ever normally see – which makes perfect sense.

14-06-30 Man of Steel - 1a super-fetus
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