Kill Bill, Volume 1. (2003, Quentin Tarantino)
Oh, how happy am I to be able to type that name as the director of a movie again. Tarantino, it’s been too long. But the master of American independent film is back, going over budget and over time in magnificent, gore-filled style.
Uma Thurman is The Bride, whose boss and husband-to-be (Bill) double-crossed her at the altar and left her for dead. Four years later, she’s out to settle the score. She starts small, though, with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Think Charlie’s Angels, but a lot more violent.)
Tarantino had to divide the film in half because he couldn’t stomach the idea of trimming his baby down, but I think it’s worth it. He switches film stocks, shooting the climactic fight scene in black and white, and even tossing in an anime sequence, all gloriously tongue-in-cheek. This homage to grind-house kung-fu flicks is well-choreographed, witty (though not as dialogue-heavy as his earlier movies), and of course, gory. I can’t wait for Volume 2.
The Cooler (2003, Wayne Kramer)
William H. Macy is this year’s recipient of the Denver Film Festival’s John Cassavetes award, and to accompany the award, we have this brilliant perpetual supporting actor in a wonderful romantic lead role.
Macy plays Bernie Lootz, whose luck is so bad that he works in a casino as a cooler, a person who puts an end to gamblers’ hot streaks. Other coolers may need to use tricks, but Bernie can turn a winning streak cold just by standing next to the gambler.
That is, until he meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a cocktail waitress who falls for him and changes his luck for a time.
Macy always makes the most of whatever screen time he is given, so it’s a joy to see him as the full-fledged star of the film, with a beautiful woman in love with him. The story is one part True Romance and one part Rounders, but Macy is a far cry from (and more convincing than) Matt Damon or Christian Slater. That the movie was made for less than $2 million by a first-time director is unbelievable, since it’s equally as visually appealing as the far more expensive Ocean’s Eleven.
With a less talented actor than Macy, the movie could have become quirky and soulless, but his performance makes all the difference. Alec Baldwin is great as the casino boss desperately clinging to “the old ways,” and Shawn Hatosy (of Dallas 362) makes a memorable appearance as Bernie’s son, but the film belongs to Macy, and the intense, yet quiet honesty of his performance makes it clear why he was chosen to receive this award.
Colorado Independents: Documentary.
I was a bit put off by the fact that only one of the directors of these three documentary shorts showed up to talk about his film. After all, the festival is in Colorado, and short films traditionally don’t get a very wide audience to begin with.
Daniel Junge, the director of We Are PHAMALy, did appear with his 20-minute short, along with several of the actors from the PHAMALy troupe. For those of you who aren’t familiar (as I wasn’t) with PHAMALy, the initials stand for Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League, and they are a Denver-based theater company. What makes them different from other such companies is that they perform traditional musicals, not plays specifically written for their disabilities. Junge followed three of the actors from casting through rehearsals and to opening night of their performance of Once Upon a Mattress. The actors work hard to give performances that will transcend their disabilities, and they are inspiring.
Artistically, my favorite of the shorts was Asylum, by Sandy McCleod, the story of Baaba Andoh, a young woman from Ghana fleeing the threat of female genital mutilation. The story is narrated by Baaba herself, sitting alone in a dark room, and it is interspersed with scenes from Ghana, not directly illustrating what she is saying, but instead giving a mood to her words. The end result is a deeply moving 20-minute short that brings home the point that this woman only wanted to protect herself, and ended up spending a year in prison.
I must admit, I have absolutely no interest in architecture, so I may be the wrong person to review Spatial Dance: Daniel Libeskind and the Design of the Denver Art Museum Expansion. Libeskind comes off as a lovely person who would be great to work with, but I just can’t get excited about designing a building, and at 38 minutes, I felt the short wasn’t short enough. And frankly, I’m a little tired of hearing about these successful businesspeople who “don’t care at all about making money.”
Derrida (2002, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman)
Jacques Derrida is the originator of the philosophy known as Deconstructionism, which, to make things simple, changes the way one thinks about philosophy. This documentary amazingly manages to be an unstuffy look at a brilliant man, who manages to use the process of being taped as a way to explain his philosophy.
Interspersing clips of Derrida’s everyday life–lectures, breakfast, forgetting his keys–with clips of him moving in silence while a narrator reads excerpts from his work, Amy Kofman and Kirby Dick manage to help Derrida make his work easy to understand. This documentary is a wonderful way to look at a man who asks why philosophers have always removed themselves from their work. Though he is unwilling to talk about how he met his wife, he will discuss the nature of love, wonder what it is that makes us love, and make us think about why we think certain ways. If we’d had more films like this made about classical philosophers, more people would take philosophy classes