This film is probably the least well-known of the quartet. In one respect, it doesn't have universal appeal - probably because it carries the "documentary" label, which automatically scares many viewers away. Spellbound is the story of eight kids and their differing roads to The National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. Now, I've always been a fan of the spelling bee (heck, I even one a spelling bee once - 5th grade), and I've especially been a fan of The National Bee. They air it on ESPN every year and it's spellbinding (yuk, yuk). But what is great about this film is how it treats its subjects. They are not circus freaks, or social aberrants. They are kids who do something very well, and they work hard at it.
The creators of the film chose eight kids from remarkably different ethnic, as well as socio-economic, backgrounds. One girl is the daughter of an illegal Mexican immigrant who still cannot speak English well. Another boy comes from a wealthy Middle Eastern family; one that can provide a "spelling coach" to further augment the work that his father does with him. One young lady lives in inner city DC, where her mother struggles to make ends meet. The other kids all have their own stories. Some are geeks, some are athletes, whatever.
I think that what draws me to this story so much is that (please forgive me for getting a bit political) this is conservatism in its purest form. Here you have eight kids that cover all sides, all angles, all ends of the spectrum in terms of ethnicity and economics and they compete with each other on equal ground. None of them bemoan their station, and the ones that are at some level disadvantaged work all the harder to overcome it, and improve their lives as a result. The Spelling Bee is pure meritocracy. No credit is given for having a particular parentage, or a particular skin color. On that stage, everybody gets a word and has to spell it right - they don't care where you're from. And because of that, there are no underdogs. I cheered for some of the kids I saw more than others, I picked sides - but I knew that at the end of the day, nobody had any better chance than anybody else.
It's a compelling film. Don't let the fact that it's a documentary run you off - the reality of the story makes it all the more enthralling.
Disclaimer: Spoilers will probably abound in all of these entries, so if that bothers you, just skip it
This is actually the film that I have seen the most recently, that's why I wanted to write about it first - it's nice and fresh on my mind. While I was watching it I was constantly thinking about how I could possibly capture the essence of a film like this in something as silly as a blog entry. And no matter what superlatives came to mind as I was viewing it, the one that popped up most often was this one: genius.
I never saw Jackie Brown. I have an enormous affection for Reservoir Dogs, and I, like every one in my generation, have seen Pulp Fiction quite a few times, and I believe it to be a staggeringly good piece of art. But I always sort of assumed that Tarantino was a bit of a one-trick pony. And when he left the scene for a few years, I thought he was pretty much finished; that, in fact, he had used up his store of good stuff. Then I saw Kill Bill, Vol. 1.
QT shows in this movie that he is not only a master of the craft of filmmaking, but he has a style that, while it evokes every genre of movie that you can come up with, is also the freshest thing since Buster Keaton.
While it continually evokes the the kung-fu movies of the 60s and 70s, it is simultaneously aware of the action genre of the present. In fact, there is, at one point, a clear reference to The Matrix Reloaded - Uma Thurman's character is assailed by seemingly hundreds of attackers from all directions, all dressed exactly the same (in black suits, of course). But there is no obviously overdone computer enhancement in this scene - it is far more interesting, and far, far, more bloody.
In fact, while the general bloodiness of the entire movie caused an uproar in some circles, it is, for me, one of the film's more endearing attributes. The blood and gore in this movie is so over the top, so ridiculous, that it is obvious to me that QT is simply going after the detractors of his other films (who said that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were overly gory). In fact, he seems to be saying, "You think that was bloody? I'll show you bloody!" And the result is laughable. The gore of KB is far closer to something like Evil Dead 2 than it is to Pulp Fiction.
KB is such a visually cool film that I could spend pages talking about different camera shots, and lighting, and mood, and so on - but that would probably be pretty boring, so I won't. I'll just bore my lovely wife with it at home.
But I think that what I love best about this movie can be summed up in one word: swagger. Absolutely everybody in this movie carries herself with a swagger that is immensely fun to watch.
While not a movie for everyone, KB is, for my money, the best of QT's lot. I really believe it to be brilliant - so, brilliant, in fact, that I am as nervous as hell about Vol. 2.
I have seen four movies in the past two weeks (God bless you, Netflix!) and every one of them has been absolutely wonderful, but each in its own way. I'm gonna take a shot at doing an entry each day for the next four days, to talk about each one in turn. I hope boredom doesn't settle in too quickly. Hopefully you can slog along with me!