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KILL BILL VOLUME 1, 2003
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KILL BILL VOLUME 1 MOVIE POSTER
KILL BILL VOLUME 1, 2003
Movie Review

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Uma Thurmon, Lucy Liu, David Carradine, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen
Review by Christopher Stacey



SYNOPSIS:

The Bride wakes up after a long coma. The baby that she carried before entering the coma is gone. The only thing on her mind is to have revenge on the assassination team that betrayed her - a team she was once part of.

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REVIEW:

Prior to its release, there was a tremendous build-up of anticipation for the new Quentin Tarantino movie “Kill Bill Vol. I.” I felt it myself, but it was really felt throughout the entire film industry and movie-going public. Then, in the weeks leading up to Volume One’s release, we were inundated with TV commercials, trailers, print ads, and so on. Having been a big fan of Tarantino’s first three films – “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs” and “Jackie Brown” – I was indeed really looking forward to seeing “Kill Bill Vol. I.”

Unfortunately, upon viewing “Kill Bill Vol. I,” I was somewhat disappointed. Everything that I had enjoyed so much in Tarantino’s earlier works seemed to be sorely missing from “Kill Bill Vol. I.” However, this is not to say that his first three movies were any creations of perfection. I’d say that what I disliked about the first three was the fact that they seemed to lack any sort of coherent plot. Take “Reservoir Dogs,” for example. It didn’t seem to be about anything. Just a bunch of individual scenes. The same could be said about “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown.”

It took me a long time to warm up to Quentin Tarantino’s earlier works. “Jackie Brown” I saw right away, primarily because it starred my favorite actor, Robert DeNiro. But I didn’t see 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs” or 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” until about 2001. What I eventually came to discover was that Tarantino is, in my mind, a genius at writing dialogue. If one were to analyze “Pulp Fiction” and judge all of the otherwise unrelated scenes individually, he might soon realize that the dialogue is incredibly sharp, interesting, humorous and captivating. Indeed, this style – two guys talking about McDonalds’ in France right before a bloody hit – has become oft-repeated in movies that have followed. So it’s Tarantino’s fantastic dialogue, even more then his directing style, that drew me to his first three movies.

This is precisely what was missing in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” There weren’t any succint, wry, humorous back-and-forth dialogue exchanges between any of the characters. The dialogue itself was actually quite sparse, too, outshined by many long action sequences with very few words. There weren’t any prolonged conversations involving three or more people, such as the great opening scene in “Reservoir Dogs.” Indeed, some of the dialogue in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” was even in a foreign tongue.

The dialogue in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” was stale, flat and without wit or humor. Sure, there were perhaps a couple of memorable exceptions, like “silly rabbit, tricks are for kids,” or, Uma Thurman’s character The Bride, to the slain Vernita Green’s (Vivica A. Fox) daughter: “someday, if you decide to come and kill me for this, I’ll be waiting.” Actually, my favorite line, which was used to foreshadow “Vol. II,” since it was actually said in “Vol. II,” was when Michael Madsen’s Budd said something like: “that woman deserves her revenge, and we deserve to die.” He says this knowing full well that he’s going to be one of the targets of her revenge, and more importantly, he sums up the theme of “Kill Bill” in one cool line.

The theme of “Kill Bill” is that of revenge, and little, if nothing, more. Yes, there is the whole subject of the woman as the heroine, but in the era of “Charlie’s Angels,” “Lara Croft” and Clarice Starling, this is hardly something new. It is the idea of revenge that drives this movie, that gives it life and purpose. The movie’s theme was its most appealing quality to me, as I have always loved a movie with a good revenge theme and storyline. “Kill Bill” may fail to live up to some of its predecessors, some of the classics in the Western or Gangster genres – “Unforgiven,” “The Godfather”, etc. – but The Bride’s revenge is indeed bloody and thorough.

Then again, however, it raises the question of whether or not revenge is of any real value to the avenger. This is also one of the themes of “Mystic River.” If you get revenge on the wrong person but never know he was the wrong person, is your revenge any less sweet? In “Kill Bill,” if Uma’s character gets revenge on all the people that wronged her, is it going to make her feel better about the fact that she had been left for dead and her unborn child was seemingly killed? Probably not, but the revenge may have a certain satisfaction to it anyway. The problem with revenge is that it can never truly undo what’s been done, and this theme goes hand-in-hand with the overall theme of revenge itself.

Given the overwhelming gallons of fake blood that Tarantino chose to dump all over this movie, it was impossible to forget that death was of particular, significant importance in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” I think the general look of the movie could be summed up in two colors – red and yellow. In the beginning of the movie, we see a monstrous vehicle named “The Pussy Wagon,” and this huge truck is a screaming yellow. The Bride steals the Pussy Wagon from one of her victims and uses it to flee. Any scenes in which we see the Pussy Wagon are totally overwhelmed with its yellow color. Additionally, the martial arts, jump-suit, athletic-type outfit that The Bride wears is a yellow that’s just as dazzling. When I saw “Kill Bill Vol. I.,” I saw yellow.

Oh, and then there’s that blood that flows through the movie like a river. If the yellow images grabbed your attention, then the unbelievable amounts of red – usually blood-red – took your attention and ran away with it! From the moment O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) chops the man’s head off and blood spurts from his neck-stump as if a fountain, to the point at which The Bride slices up O-Ren’s pretty head, the audience is almost literally splattered with blood.

Media watchdogs could easily cite the fact that this much violence, which was the overall dominating look of “Kill Bill,” would be damaging to the psyches of the audience members, especially the younger people. However, I think that in “Kill Bill Vol. I.,” the ungodly amounts of blood spilled, and the cartoonish, over-the-top battle sequence in the Japanese club, are too impossible to even begin to accept as factual or somehow influential. Indeed, this overall look of the film was perpetuated even further by the actual use of an animated, cartoon sequence of O-Ren’s childhood back-story. The blood-red look of this movie was too over-the-top to even be mistaken real.

In general, the look of “Kill Bill Vol. I” was very memorable. It was brilliantly shot with vivid colors and interesting settings. The black-and-white flashback sequences were a perfect contrast to the rest of the colorful film. I also liked the director’s use of foreground and background scenes together. When The Bride and Vernita Green are fighting in Vernita’s house, we see through the window that Vernita’s child has gotten off the school bus and is coming to the house. Again, when The Bride is battling O-Ren’s army inside the club, in the background, her carnage is clearly visible, with severed body parts and dead people and pools of blood all over the place. I think that this is a shooting technique that is difficult to pull off well. I don’t see it used effectively in too many other movies, but Tarantino mastered it in “Kill Bill Vol. I.”

Finally, after all of this gross-out killing and blinding yellow, we are offered a moment of relative tranquility and beauty. The Bride and O-Ren move into the garden, and it’s so quiet and serene back there, a comforting scene of whiteness, with the snow falling and the snow-covered ground. That white snow is about to get caked in blood, but for just the briefest of moments, the look of the movie gives the audience a quick moment to relax.

Quentin Tarantino can always be counted upon to provide fabulous soundtracks for his movies. I am confident that even if he someday makes the worst movie in the history of movies, it’ll still have an awesome soundtrack. And for me, a movie’s soundtrack and/or musical score is a very important part of the whole.Tarantino’s trademark style of directing was on full display in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” The scenes were short, sharp, right to the point, with rapid cuts from one scene to the next. These short scenes often seem to reach a crescendo and then rapid-fire right into the next scene, a technique he’s also used in “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown.”

There is also the now commonly-known idea that “Kill Bill” was Quentin Tarantino’s homage to martial arts movies and TV shows of the 1970’s. This idea was perpetuated even further by the casting of the late, great David Carradine as Bill. I found that a problem existed with this homage. Only a limited number of the total audience for “Kill Bill” will actually be able to appreciate Tarantino’s nod to the old martial arts classics, and for those not familiar with the movies and shows he’s paying tribute to, the humor of such an homage will be lost.

The acting in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” was good, but certainly not memorable. I’ve never been a very big fan of Daryl Hannah. Her performance in Mario Puzo’s TV miniseries “The Last Don” was horrible, and I otherwised loved that show, so her lousy turn especially sticks out in my memory. In “Kill Bill Vol. I.,” her character, Elle Driver, was flat and empty – as an assassin, she’s surely meant to be cold – but there’s a big difference between being cold and being lifeless.

Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox and Lucy Liu were all adequate too, but not outstanding by any means. “Kill Bill” is a movie driven by plot and theme – revenge – more so than by its characters, so a little staleness in the characters is probably expected and tolerable. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned or sexist – probably a little of both - but I’ve never really been able to take much of an interest in action movies with female heroes or female villians. I’ll take Indiana Jones or Han Solo for good guys, or Goldfinger or Hannibal Lecter for bad guys, anytime.

I was looking forward to seeing Michael Madsen. He’s one of my favorite role-playing actors, and I’ve enjoyed his performances in “Donnie Brasco,” “Reservoir Dogs” and “Species.” Unfortunately, he was only seen as Budd in a brief flash-forward in “Kill Bill Vol. I.” We wouldn’t see more of him until Volume Two was released a few months later.

I thoroughly disagreed with the idea of cutting “Kill Bill” in half. Who cares if it’s three-and-a-half hours long? Some of the best movies in history have run 3+ hours: “Titanic,” “The Godfather (I and II),” all of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and so on. With “Kill Bill” in two volumes, we only see half the story, and if the movie’s three-act structure runs the length of the entire film, then Volume One ended somewhere in the middle of Act Two! I found that to be very unsatisfying.

I saw “Kill Bill Vol. I” on the day of its nationwide release, and then I saw it again about five weeks later, and what I discovered was that the movie’s incredibly long Japanese club action-death-gore sequence was actually quite boring. The over-the-top violence loses its impact, and watching The Bride chop off people’s heads for forty minutes becomes tedious and irritating. I’d have liked it more during a second viewing if new aspects of the main characters’ personalities were revealed, things I hadn’t learned before, but unfortunately, that was not the case. In revenge movies, the character seeking the revenge is often a fascinating, complex character, like Will Munny in “Unforgiven,” but there just isn’t much more to The Bride than a pretty face, a big sword and a cool-looking outfit.

Something big will happen in “Kill Bill Vol. II.” As Madsen’s character Budd said, “she deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.” Add to this the last-second suspense of “Kill Bill Vol. I.,” Bill asking over the phone if “she knows her baby’s still alive?” and we’re sure to see this movie reach its resolution, but how many people will have waited around four months and still be interested enough to go see that resolution? “Kill Bill Vol. I.” is an interesting enough movie on its own, but only when viewed with its companion piece, as it truly should have be, can it be appreciated as a classic.

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