Monday, April 19, 2004

TV: Sunday at 9PM

Here’s what was on in this time slot on April 18. HBO’s double bill of THE SOPRANOS and DEADWOOD. Part 1 of PRIME SUSPECT 6 on PBS. And the first episode of BBC America’s critically-acclaimed political thriller STATE OF PLAY. (All right, and VH-1’s DIVAS LIVE. Happy?) Next week you can add the premiere of the Showtime movie STEALING SINATRA, starring William H. Macy, based on the true story of a nimrod named Barry Keenan (no relation, honest) and his plan to kidnap Frank Jr.

The only shows I’m interested in watching this week, all airing at the same time. I demand to know who’s responsible for this. TiVo, I’m looking at you. Granted, most of these shows are on cable so they’ll be repeated ad infinitum. But not everything; last week I had to miss the Nick and Jessica Variety Special on ABC. When’s the last time there was a variety special on TV?

I caught bits and pieces of the shows while getting the website up and running. Bill Nighy can play anything: jaded newspaper editor in STATE OF PLAY, dissolute rock star in LOVE, ACTUALLY, grumpy lord of the undead in UNDERWORLD. Any episode of THE SOPRANOS written by Terence Winter cannot be missed. And it looks like next week on DEADWOOD people will be outside, during the day, riding horses. You know, like a western.

Movie: Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

Long story short: I didn’t like it. But you should see it anyway.

Long story long: I loved Volume 1. Saw it twice on the big screen, which I hadn’t done since L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Yes, it features sketchy characters and the barest bones of a plot, and is essentially a hodgepodge of references to other, mostly obscure movies. It’s also unassailably cool, and burns with a fierce, crazy energy that at times threatens to burst free of the frame. Tarantino, with a huge assist from cinematographer Robert Richardson, throws everything he’s ever loved about cinema into the mix. The result is a singular work that represents a new way of both making and watching movies.

Volume 1 is all about synthesis, combining existing forms to forge something unique. In Volume 2, Tarantino is content with imitation. He recreates movie moments that he loves – full-frame Sergio Leone close-ups, the shaky zoom from so many martial arts epics – without commenting on them or adding a spin of his own.

I missed the loopy structure of the first movie. This installment is almost conventional in its storytelling, which only brings its flaws to the fore. All of the fight scenes are mano a mano; there’s nothing on a par with Volume 1’s mammoth battle between the Bride and the Crazy 88’s. The dialogue, Tarantino’s strong suit, here falls flat, largely because the characters have been such badasses for so long that they’ve gotten used to the fact that people are afraid to interrupt them. Which means they tend to ramble a bit. David Carradine is game, but he’s saddled with the worst of the speeches.

Having the Bride’s quest ultimately be about her maternal instincts (the queen of the jungle reunited with her cub, as the end card puts it) seems reductive and possibly even sexist. Isn’t being shot in the head and left for dead enough motivation to get a little getback? Can’t a woman just be royally pissed in a movie without bringing motherhood into it? They wouldn't foist a kid on Robert Mitchum.

Maybe when I watch both halves as a single grind house extravaganza I’ll feel differently. I have to wonder how they’ll fit together. I’m afraid I’ll always think of Volume 1 as the legend, and Volume 2 as just the facts.