April 2004

Kill Bill: Volume 2

Kill Bill: Volume 2
The Brides roaring rampage of revenge comes to a conclusion in this, the second installment of Quentin Tarantinos Kill Bill.

While the first film was very much a samurai film that wore its Asian influences on its sleeve, Volume 2 is much more of a western - and a spaghetti western at that. As such, the set pieces are both shorter and much less spectacular than those of the first film, but Volume 2 more than makes up fior this in terms of both dialogue and characterisation.

The final scenes in which The Bride finally meets Bill are both moving and powerful. But before that, we meet - and see the demise of - both the drunken loser that is Budd and the strangely honorable poisoner, Elle.

There is also much entertainment to be had from The Brides tutelage under kung-fu master Pai Mei.

As with Volume 1, Kill Bill: Volume 2 is a great film that manages to hold your attention even though the plot is completely lacking in twists, but I cant help feeling that Kill Bill would have been even better if it hadnt been split into two parts.

Starsky Hutch

Starsky and Hutch certainly has its moments - and some of the jokes did have me laughing out loud - but they are just moments.

Uptight, wannabe tough cop, David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is partnered with casual rule bending - and breaking - detective Ken Hutch Hutchinson (Owen Wilson), the two clash and wackiness ensues. The rift between the tow characters attitudes could have made for an interesting - and funny - twist on the original TV series, but this is quickly abandoned and what we get instead is a 100 minute episode from the TV series with jokes.

And this is the problem the film is neither an all out comedy nor a buddy film. Instead, it falls between the two - not incredibly bad, but not particuarly good either.

Its an easygoing enough film and there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours. However, there are also much better ways to spend your time.

Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the DeadThere is something fundamentally wrong about fast moving and feral zombies. The more traditional shufflers are horrifying not only because of their sheer weight of numbers, but also because they are clearly walking dead and their mindless persistence can be viewed as a metaphor for death itself – no matter how far or fast you run, they just keep on coming.

28 Days Later managed to make a different kind of zombie work by not explicitly claiming that the infected were zombies. Instead, the film derived it’s horror from different fears – disease and infection.

Unfortunately, following the success of 28 Days Later, someone, somewhere has decided that shufflers simply aren’t cool any more.

Which brings us to the remake of Dawn of the Dead. The fast moving zombies of this film are less horrific than the more traditional zombies of earlier films as their newly feral nature has caused them to lose overtones of the inevitability of death but without finding an alternative fear to trade off.

This makes the film much more of an action movie than a horror film.

Remaking a horror film as an action movie isn’t an altogether bad idea – it certainly worked with Aliens – and if you watch Dawn of the Dead with this genre change in mind, it’s a reasonably good film.

Ana (Sarah Polley) enjoys a happy suburban existence with a loving husband and a cheerful daughter. So it’s not giving much away to say that her world is turned upside down when her newly feral daughter attacks and kills her husband.

Things get even worse when her husband comes back to life and attacks Ana.

Escaping through a bathroom window, she steps into a world gone mad. Cars have collided, fires have started all over the place, the feral undead are rampaging and those that haven’t already been killed are both bewildered and paranoid.

Trying to escape by car, Ana manages to get away from the worst of the chaos, but not to safety.

Her chances of survival are improved, however, when she is found by Kenneth (Ving Rhames) who – fortunately for Ana – has cottoned on to the fact that the zombies aren’t very talkative.

Soon after, the pair of them encounter a further three people – including a pregnant woman (who, later, provides one of the few truly shocking scenes in the film) – led by the practical everyman Michael (Jake Weber) and, after some more paranoid negotiation, they head to the shopping mall.

In some ways it would have been better if this film hadn’t been sold as a remake of Romero’s film. Although the discussion between the characters does make it clear that there is no way forward and no way back, there is also a feeling that they have decided to go to the mall because they are in a Dawn of the Dead remake.

At the mall we are spared any attempt to emulate Romero’s satirical take on consumerism and, instead, see more paranoia, suspicion and the determination – on the part of CJ (Michael Kelly), the head of the three surviving security guards already in the mall – to maintain a pre-chaos hierarchy as a substitute for action.

That said, it’s a shame that the mall setting is so under used. The zombies are outside because the survivors are inside – there is no sense that they are drawn to the shopping centre itself and, from the behaviour of the characters, they could just have easily have been holed up in an office building.

Although there are some very downbeat elements to the film, these are not really developed and the sensibility is much more one of gung-ho action. Certainly there is a lot of suspicion and paranoia amongst the characters, but this is driven more by the requirements of the plot and justified (reasonably enough) in terms of the characters not really knowing what is going on.

However, with the arrival of a second group of survivors and a growing relationship with Andy (Bruce Bohne) – a gun store owner who has taken refuge on top of his own shop, in sight of the mall but out of reach –a more cooperative dynamic starts to emerge amongst the characters and the plot moves forward as they start thinking in terms of escaping.

At its best, Dawn of the Dead does deliver a sense of confusion and inertia amongst the characters, provides some nicely staged set pieces and does have a dark sense of humour to it.

On the downside, it lacks both the claustrophobic feel that Romero managed to give to being trapped inside a shopping mall and the characters are not particularly dimensional – coming across as stereotypes rather than people.

At the end of the day, Dawn of the Dead is an entertaining – if unambitious – action film that doesn’t really become horrific unless you are willing to sit through the end credits.

As action films go, it’s not a bad one - the pace of the film largely manages to cover the (occasionally huge) plot holes and, as remakes go, it’s certainly one of the better ones to have been released in recent years.

Gothika

Gothika
Clinical Psychiatrist, Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) wakes up to discover that she is now an inmate at the very hospital that she worked. Gothika then follows her attempts to discover how she got here.

Its an interesting premise which, unfortunately, the film doesnt really live up to. Instead, we get slightly muddled ghost story that is neither particularly good nor exceptionally bad.

I wouldnt recommend seeing this film, but if youre a ghost story completist you might enjoy it.

The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ If anyone sees The Passion of the Christ as being some sort of evangelical tool, I really wouldn’t want to meet any of their converts. The plot of this film – in a nutshell – is that some mad Judean prophet gets arrested, beaten, scourged and crucified.

It is an anti-Semitic film – the Jews are portrayed as a baying mob, led by an uncaring, politically astute, cadre of priests who are able to easily manipulate the well meaning but ineffectual Pilate.

And while the Roman leadership is portrayed as being weak-willed, indecisive and unable to keep control in the face of the Jewish priests’ manipulation, the Roman soldiers are largely presented as a bunch of ill disciplined, drunken thugs.

If this portrayal has even a passing resemblance to historical accuracy the Romans would have been simply incapable of building an empire.

As for whether the anti-Semitism present in the film derives from Mel Gibson’s beliefs or simply reflects the anti-Semitism inherent in the New Testament stories: I would really like to believe that Gibson doesn’t have an axe to grind here, but there were several scenes that seem to suggest otherwise.

The most obvious of these is during Jesus’ beating – immediately prior to the scourges (which, incidentally, is what the Bible tells us that Jesus used on the traders during his temper tantrum at the temple). During this scene, the camera turns to the audience, giving us a shot of the Roman centurion – looking uncomfortable – in front. Behind him are the priests – calmly watching to ensure the beating meets their standards. And among the priests is Satan.

The only motivation I can see for including this shot in the film is to attempt to align the motives of Satan with those of the priests. Even then it makes no sense – if Jesus really was the messiah, the last thing Satan would want to see would be his torture, execution and subsequent martyrdom.

Adding Satan to this scene in this way undermines both the logic of the film and its presumed message.

And then there’s the violence.

The Passion of the Christ does contain some very brutal imagery, but I have to admit that I found it surprisingly unmoving. Films such as The Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blood Sucking Freaks are all far more painful to watch that The Passion.

And the reason for this is that, although The Passion has both a greater quantity of on-screen violence, and although this violence is far more explicit than that in many other films, the film itself doesn’t provide the audience with any reason to connect with or care about its central character.

Instead, we are simply given a special effect to marvel at.

In making this film, Mel Gibson, seems to have assumed that the audience is not only familiar with the story but also in agreement with his own assumptions to the extent that he has no need to provide any explanation of what is going on or any indication of why.

The problem with taking this approach is that it causes the film to lack any sort of narrative hook. There is simply nothing in the film – in terms of either plot or character development – to draw the audience into the story. In fact, it’s worse than this because, by forcing the audience to refer to external knowledge in order to understand what is going on, the film makes it impossible to suspend one’s disbelief.

As such, rather than following the story, I found myself picking holes in it.

Judas’ character, for example, was so inconsistent as to become entirely unbelievable. And what was the point of his being harassed by childish demons? Are we expected to believe that Satan wanted to drive Judas to suicide? If so, why?

And while I’m in the subject, am I the only person who finds the child/demon link that pervades the film more than a little disturbing?

And, of course, there is the treatment of Jesus himself. We watch him being beaten to a bloody pulp and are then expected to accept that he was capable of carrying his own cross, if only for a few steps. Quite frankly, given the state he was portrayed as being in, any attempt to lift the cross – or even walk – would have resulted in his falling flat on his face and passing out. Any further beating would have killed him.

And, unfortunately for those that see this film as being some sort of evangelical tool, the existence of these narrative inconsistencies and the fact that you are constantly forced to refer outside of the film to understand what is going on means that your attention becomes drawn to the larger inconsistencies inherent in the Christian story.

Pilate, washing his hands of the affair, for example.

Crucifixion was a Roman punishment inflicted on the enemies of Rome. So, for Jesus to have been crucified, Pilate – far from washing his hands of the affair – would have to have considered Jesus to be a threat to his governorship or a danger to the empire.

If Pilate had decided that he wanted nothing to do with this, he would have handed Jesus back to the Jewish Council of Elders who were fully authorized to sentence him to death by stoning.

And while we’re on the subject of who did what, what about Barabbas?

We are expected to believe that the Romans – a ruthlessly successful military empire – had an annual tradition of letting dangerous criminals loose? Given that this idea gets no mention anywhere outside of the New Testament, I think it’s pretty safe to dismiss it as fiction.

And then we have the behaviour of Satan.

Here’s a character whose motivation is about as straightforward as it gets. Prevent Jesus from becoming a martyr or face ultimate defeat.

So what does he do? Slimes around looking smug.

It’s a pity real villains aren’t as stupid as this.

Overall, The Passion of the Christ is not a powerful film – neither is it a particularly good one. The violence is explicit without being moving and what little narrative there is is so weak that it merely highlights the multiple inconsistencies that exist in the source material.