Very few things could make me interrupt a week off from this column, especially since the time off was not for a vacation but for a minor health problem. (Kidney stones — don't ask!)
But then, yesterday afternoon, I got a sneak-peek at Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2." And even though early raves have appeared in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, I thought our Fox411 readers should know as soon as possible about this unexpected, terrific tour de force of a film.
Fans of the first "Kill Bill," myself included, probably thought "Vol. 2" would be more of what was in "Vol. 1" — comic violence, sparse dialogue, and lots of groovy choreography and cinematography. It turns out that "Vol. 1" was merely a tasty appetizer for a gourmet main course.
You may recall that in "Vol. 1" we learned that The Bride (Uma Thurman) abandoned her group of mercenary killers and, pregnant, was about to marry. The killers' leader, Bill (David Carradine), was so incensed that he ordered The Bride and her wedding party killed at the altar. But the Bride lived, and vowed vengeance. Ultimately, she killed two of the murdering group (played by Lucy Liu and Vivica Fox, with two more (Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen) to go. And of course, Bill himself. We also knew that the baby she was carrying at the time of the massacre lived. That was the end of "Vol. 1."
While "Vol. 1" was a tribute to the kung fu movies of the Shaw Brothers and Sonny Chiba, "Vol. 2" turns out to be quite different. In this episode, Tarantino also sends up spaghetti westerns and Mexican adventures, with just enough kung fu to satisfy the most ardent fans. But what Tarantino does in "Vol. 2" is flesh out the characters, the plot, and the dialogue, actually explaining the story as it goes along and making us care about these people in a new way.
The result is a cool and brilliant movie that stands on its own but will also work well with "Vol. 1" when they're shown together. But "Vol. 2" is so good it could even get its own Oscar nominations, specifically for Thurman, who really commands this movie as an actress and not just a martial artist, and for Carradine, who gets the kind of star treatment here that John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson received in "Pulp Fiction."
There are also terrific supporting and cameo appearances by Jackson (with a nod to late R&B great Rufus Thomas), Michael Parks (in a different role than he played in "Vol. 1"), and Hannah. There's also a completely mad and wonderful appearance by Gordon Liu as Pai Mei, who turns out to be the Yoda to all these nutty sword happy samurais.
Now, all this praise doesn't mean I've recanted my feelings for "Vol. 1." That film was a visual explosion, with so much style and energy I could have seen it over and over. But I do think Tarantino responded to critics who missed his crazy dialogue and had trouble liking the mostly unlikable characters. He might have just ignored the reviews and continued down a similar road. Thank goodness he didn't do that. Instead, in "Vol. 2" he crosses all the T's, dots the I's, and makes the audience smile even while the violence rains down.
The difference, this time, is that it's much wittier and fresher. There are some sequences, like one in which Hannah loses an eye, that are so brilliant they will never be forgotten. There are also some great lines and Tarantino-esque riffs ("When Will I See You Again?" by the Three Degrees gets a reference) and banter among the characters that was missing in "Vol. 1." In the end, without giving too much away, it turns out "Kill Bill" is about not samurais and bloodshed but about motherhood. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised.
"Vol. 2" finishes, by the way, with end credits for both movies, which is a little weird since they include information for "Vol. 1" not seen in this episode. I guess this was done for the eventual DVD or a theatrical release of both films together. All the titles in "Vol. 2" look much more professional and hip than in "Vol. 1" as well. The music is just as good, too, with a wonderful reworked version of The Zombies' hit "She's Not There" that could be a hit single.
Have a happy Easter. See you on Monday!