Archive for August, 2013

31. American Beauty (1999)

Director: Sam Mendes

Starring; Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney

What in truth is beauty? This is a question for which the answer is so uniquely subjective that it will probably never be conclusively defined. “American Beauty” is a movie about the perception of beauty, the superficialities of youth and the yearning of the old to be young once more. It is also about the rare ability to look beyond the surface and see that there is beauty to be found in almost anything. “American Beauty” contains moments of hilarity, sadness and profundity, and each one is beautiful in their own special way.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is facing what you might call a midlife crisis. He has come to truly loathe his office job, his daughter hates him, and his marriage has also seen its share of better days. His wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is a real estate saleswoman with the personality of a power drill to the brain stem. Carolyn used to know how to have fun, Lester says, but now she cares more about the “stuff” they own than she does about her husband. This has forced Lester to resort to pleasing himself in the shower and under the covers while lying in bed right next to Carolyn. He feels dead inside, which in a year’s time will be completed by his physical demise. This is no major spoiler. Lester informs us of this in his opening monologue. The story he tells is of what he is able to make of his pitiful existence in the meantime.

One night, he and Carolyn attend a high school basketball game where his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is performing as a cheerleader, along with her friend Angela (Mena Suvari). Lester takes one look at Angela, and instantly lusts after her, fumbling for words like some kind of horny teenager. A single comment from her sparks within Lester the drive to set up exercise equipment in his garage so that he can get into shape. He wants her to know he’s been working out. Before anyone starts in on how wrong it is for a middle-aged man to be fantasizing about a teenage girl, let’s break this down. The key word here is “fantasize.” Lester is not breaking any laws by finding Angela attractive. No one in a free society is sent to prison for having a feeling. It’s a little sad, yes, but not illegal.

At one of those social gatherings of the most highly respected (re: obnoxious) members of the community, Lester steps outside to share a joint with one of the waiters, a teenage boy named Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who turns out to be his new next door neighbor. Ricky will eventually get romantically involved with Jane, but he also serves as a sort of inspiration for Lester. Ricky quits his job on the spot. He doesn’t really need it because he’s selling drugs on the side to pay for his electronic equipment, and only takes these other gigs to keep his ex-Marine father off his back. Ricky’s care-free attitude impresses Lester so much that he tells his own boss where to shove it, and manages to blackmail him on his way out the door.

The tagline for this movie is “Look closer…” This couldn’t be more appropriate. First impressions are deceptive more often than not. Not a single character in this movie is what they seem upon our introduction to them. When their complexities are revealed, the movie becomes something truly “spec-TAC-ular.” 1999’s winner for Best Picture, the movie itself calls for careful examination. In my favorite scene, Lester has decided to finally assert himself at the dinner table after growing tired of being ignored. All he wants is for someone to pass the f***ing asparagus! Also annoying him is the dinner music, of which Carolyn is always in control. Playing at that particular moment is Bobby Darin (whom Kevin Spacey later portrayed in 2004’s “Beyond the Sea”) singing “Call Me Irresponsible.” Pay attention first to the scene as it plays out. Then watch it again, this time listening carefully to the song. It fits Lester’s character so well in those two and a half minutes that it only serves to add to the scene’s greatness.

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32. As Good as It Gets (1997)

Director: James L. Brooks

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

The thing about Jack Nicholson is, no matter whether he’s the protagonist or the villain, Nicholson seems to always be Nicholson. Even when starring as the Joker in 1989’s “Batman,” he still somehow seems to be playing an extension of himself. This is not a criticism against the man. Nicholson is one of the greatest on-screen or off-screen personalities we’re ever likely to see from Hollywood. It’s also not to say he’s never tried anything different. In “As Good as It Gets,” he brings to life my very favorite of all of his characters.

Melvin Udall is a man so bereft of anything resembling happiness that his only defense mechanism is to tear others down, especially his gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear). He is a best-selling author who is very good at getting into the hearts and minds of his female characters, yet almost completely incapable of carrying on a conversation with a woman without finding a way to insult her. Melvin also suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He has a cabinet filled top to bottom with bars of soap still in their plastic wrap, and yet each one will be thrown in the garbage after just one use. The same goes for any pair of gloves he ever buys. He is meticulous about the locks on his apartment door. Stepping on cracks on the sidewalk are a no-no, and lord help you if you brush against him as you pass him by. Even when it comes to eating out, Melvin is very particular. Only the one restaurant will do, and he eats there often enough that everyone who works there is prone to gasping, “Oh, God!” when he walks in. The only waitress who he wants to serve his food, and the only one who doesn’t question his use of plastic silverware, is Carol (Helen Hunt).

A woman who appears to be suffocating under the weight of her everyday life, Carol still forges ahead as best she knows how. Carol is the single mother of an asthmatic boy, whose staggering medical bills are the chief reason for her employment at the restaurant. Relationships with men are hard to come by, as none seem to want to stick around for the long haul. At work, she will tolerate a lot of abuse from Melvin Udall when no one else will, but she’ll be damned if he’ll ever get away with throwing an insult in her son’s direction. When Melvin does the unthinkable by hiring for Carol’s son the best doctor that money can buy and paying for all the expenses, Carol’s conscience (“This can’t be right! CON-SCIENCE?!”) goes into overdrive and she is compelled to thank this man who has no idea how to accept a compliment.

Simon is a man who seems to have his entire life in order despite a sad childhood. Cast out by his father, Simon grew up to be a very talented painter, but one day he picks the wrong guy to model for him. Simon walks in on the guy’s friends in the process of robbing his home, and they commence to beating him up so badly that he is put in the hospital and requires stitches. Bills piling on top of bills, Simon now faces the facts that the only people he can turn to are the parents who disowned him because of his sexual preference, and the man across the hall who belittles him at every turn for the car ride to get him there. Melvin doesn’t like the idea of chaperoning Simon all the way from New York to Baltimore alone, so he drafts Carol to come along.

“As Good as It Gets” won Oscars for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt) which, to date, makes it the most recent film to sweep both categories. I’d have also thrown in my vote for Best Supporting Actor (Greg Kinnear, for which he was nominated) as well as Best Picture but, alas, nothing was going to beat “Titanic” that year. For my two cents, the great Jack Nicholson has never been better. The Baltimore sequence drags a little, but features my favorite Jack Nicholson line, as well as my favorite line in any romantic comedy. Melvin and Carol are on a dinner date. Melvin has said the wrong thing, and Carol has insisted that Melvin pay her a compliment or else she’s going to get up and leave right then and there. Then out come the words that surprise even him. The movie ends on a high note, as you would normally expect from a romantic comedy. Yet considering the kind of person we’ve seen Melvin to be, you can’t help but wonder how long it’ll take him to say the wrong thing again. The truth is, that doesn’t matter. He’s already experienced more growth in this short span than in his entire life, and that has to count for something.

33. Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazello

Through the years of my life, I have had many obsessions. I don’t know what my very first one might have been, but I can say with certitude that the first obsession I remember having was dinosaurs. I had the toys, the books, even the videotapes. There was something truly fascinating about this species which so prominently walked the Earth as it was, and then met its collective end long before we humans were much more than bacteria in a pond. But, fascinated though I was, I understood even as a child that the dinosaurs were a thing of the past and all that is meant to remain of them is what they’ve left behind and the creatures they’ve evolved into over the course of 65 million years.

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) doesn’t see it this way. Here is a man who has wanted for years to say he created an attraction that the people who came out to see it could almost reach out and touch. Knowing dinosaurs to be a worldwide phenomenon, his goal was to find a way to clone them and create a sort of dinosaur zoo. But, because of an incident involving a Velociraptor that resulted in one worker’s death, he can’t spring an idea like this onto the public without first gaining the approval of a few experts in the field of paleontology. Hammond chooses to invite Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sadler (Laura Dern), while the lawyer representing the park’s investors invites Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Along for the ride also are Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim Murphy (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazello).

Hammond explains during the tour of the park that the cloning process was achieved by using dinosaur DNA extracted from mosquitos trapped in amber, and completing any broken sequences with that of frogs. The movie’s logic regarding this process falls apart pretty fast if you think about it too hard, but “Jurassic Park” was never meant to be a scientifically accurate movie. Almost immediately, problems begin to mount. Some dinosaurs are no-shows, others turn up sick from eating things which are poisonous to them. But the real trouble starts as one disgruntled worker’s greed leads to the park’s systems shutting down and all hell breaks loose. When I say “all hell,” I mean all the really dangerous dinosaurs, including the Velociraptors, a Dilophosaurus, and a Tyrannosaurus.

“Jurassic Park” is based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name. Had the book’s version of events been filmed, there’s a strong possibility the resulting movie would have gained an NC-17 rating for violence. “Jurassic Park,” co-scripted by Crichton, is PG-13, and there are still several moments of genuine tension. I’ll never forget, when seeing this theatrically in 1993, there was a big muscular man wearing a football jersey sitting in the row directly ahead of me. There’s a moment when a Velociraptor lunges for Lex’s leg. It’s one of the best “jump scares” the movie has to offer and it caught this man so off guard that, after jumping in his seat, he sat in the same fixed position with his hand on his right temple for the remainder of the movie.

Steven Spielberg seems to always be at his very best when directing moments of awe and wonder, and the same is true with “Jurassic Park.” The one scene that I watch this movie for more than any other comes when we first arrive at the remote island housing the park. Everyone steps off the helicopter and get into a jeep that takes them through two large doors which Dr. Malcolm quite appropriately associates with “King Kong,” and the first thing that Dr. Grant sees is a gigantic Brachiosaurus. His reaction, as mine would be, is to get out of the car and drop to the ground needing to take a moment to breathe.

34. Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith

Suppose that you have become bored with the status quo. You feel the uncontrollable need for a little excitement in your life. Maybe you’re experiencing a bad romantic relationship. Maybe you’re just never satisfied. One day, you catch wind of an old Chinese peddler who is in possession of a puzzle box, one which is said to bestow upon anyone who solves it the furthest extremes of both pain and pleasure. Sounds weird, but you’ll try anything new at this point. What if your own desires turned out to be your ultimate undoing? This is the question posed by Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser,” based on his 1986 novella, “The Hellbound Heart.”

Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) is one such individual who took the puzzle box without realizing what he was getting himself into. With lit candles all around him, Frank is stowed away in the attic of his old childhood home in London, attempting to solve the puzzle box. All of a sudden, the box starts solving itself. Frank barely has time to react before hooked chains start appearing out of seemingly nowhere and begin tearing into his flesh. That would be the end of Frank’s story if it weren’t for a little fortuitous bloodletting. You see, that house is now the property of Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and wife Julia (Clare Higgins), with whom Frank previously had a one-night stand shortly after her marriage to Larry. While helping to carry a mattress upstairs, Larry gets a pretty nasty cut from a nail sticking out of the wall. He finds Julia up in the attic and gets her to take him to the hospital, but not before bleeding all over the floor, thus partially reviving Frank. Frank eventually coerces Julia into helping him complete his revival, which means luring horny, unsuspecting men up to the house to die. How in the world every man in this movie seems to find Julia attractive is completely baffling to me. Aside from being a murdering adulteress, she’s also not especially physically appealing.

What neither of them counted on was Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) finding out what’s going on. Lifting the puzzle box, she runs away but faints in the streets, exhausted from the shock of what she’s just witnessed. The fact that she doesn’t die from fright after what happens next is a testament to Kirsty’s inner strength. Now in a hospital room playing around with the puzzle box, she inadvertently solves it the same as Frank had, only this time we are introduced to the Cenobites, the minions of Hell that Frank had escaped from earlier. The truly fascinating aspect of the Cenobites, and in particular their leader whom fans of the movie dubbed “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley), is that they are either angels or demons depending on your perspective. Unlike any of the other horror icons of the 1980’s, the Cenobites are not completely evil. They can be bargained with, provided you have something or someone to trade that would be of greater interest to them than yourself.

The theme of sadomasochism is prevalent throughout “Hellraiser,” extending to the extraordinary costuming and makeup on the Cenobites. It runs so deep that I would even argue that it acts as a metaphor for the viewer’s own desire to test the limits of their threshold for disturbing imagery. Speaking from experience, my first taste of “Hellraiser” came in the fall of 2000, which was around the time I first started sampling all of the most popular titles in the genre. For my initial viewing of this horror classic, I was alone and in the dark of night. Although this proved quite an effective tactic for me, I can tell you that it may not be the wisest way to introduce yourself to this movie. But regardless of the approach you take, there will definitely be a few images that will stick with you for a long time to come.

If this sounds similar to the warning I gave in my “Martyrs” review, that is not entirely by coincidence.  “Hellraiser” can be said to have at least some influence on Pascal Laugier’s 2008 masterpiece, and the director himself was at one point attached to a “Hellraiser” remake. In an interview, he stated that he would leave the project if he felt he was being forced to make a commercial film to appeal to the teenage audience. This did in fact happen, and Laugier stayed true to his word.

35. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Director: David O. Russell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz

Suffice it to say that 2012 was a great year for movies. “Silver Linings Playbook” is one of the most honest portrayals of mental illness I’ve ever seen committed to film. But most of all, it is a movie filled with top-notch casting, from top to bottom. “Silver Linings Playbook” features a pairing which might have seemed unlikely at first, yet became something more as time went on. In this way, fiction mirrors reality. The plausibility of teaming of 37-year old Bradley Cooper with the not quite 22-year old Jennifer Lawrence was doubted by many… even by director David O. Russell… due to their age difference, and in fact neither actor was the original choice for their role. As much as I like Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel, I cannot imagine those two creating the type of chemistry necessary for this movie to present itself authentically. Yes, “Silver Linings Playbook” would lack a certain amount of gravitas without one of the most ideal acting duos in recent memory.

Bradley Cooper is an actor whose career I’ve been following ever since his run on the TV series “Alias” as Jennifer Garner’s best friend, Will Tippin. It saddened me when, after Season 2,  he was reduced from a regular cast member to a guest star on special occasions, but I hoped I would see him in other things soon. The first would be 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” where he almost steals the show as the antagonistic Sack Lodge. But it wasn’t until 2009’s “The Hangover” that Cooper was finally gaining the recognition I always knew he deserved. With this raunchy buddy comedy and its sequels, Cooper became a household name and could now look for roles that might otherwise have passed him by.

In 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” as Pat Solitano, Jr., the former teacher-turned-mental patient with a diagnosed case of Bipolar Disorder, Cooper takes his career to a whole new level. A less talented actor might not have allowed the audience to get solidly behind Pat in his attempt to repair his life following his diagnosis and the incident that left him institutionalized: catching his wife in their shower with a fellow teacher, and subsequently beating the man within an inch of his life. Pat is also deathly afraid of his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” which was playing during the incident. At times when his anxiety levels are at their highest, he hears the song even when it isn’t playing. Then one night at a dinner date he meets Tiffany Maxwell, a girl who seems strange to him at first but, over time, becomes someone with whom he is able to relate.

Jennifer Lawrence, whose career I am only just beginning to sample, is one of the most talented actresses, if not THE most talented, of her generation. Not only is she able to make a bad movie (“House at the End of the Street”) at least watchable, but more importantly she is also able to display a wide range of emotions. Take for example the action immediately following the much-talked about diner scene (the one many have said led to her winning Best Actress). Tiffany has just stormed out of the diner, feeling taken advantage of after opening up to Pat about becoming a sex addict in response to the sudden demise of her husband. Pat catches up to her in front of a movie theater, where they have a heated conversation that catches the attention of those standing in line. In this one scene, she appears wounded, angry, perhaps even a little fearful and, after the cops have shown up and Pat starts hearing that song in his head again, regretful and sympathetic. Now she moves in to comfort him and get him to calm down. You can see in her eyes that this is the moment when Tiffany has fallen in love with Pat. She understands him because of the hurt she has been through in her own life. There’s no doubt in my mind that Lawrence deserved to be recognized as one of the youngest Best Actress winners in history (she “beat Meryl Streep” by nine years). Time will tell, but if it’s me reading the signs, I think that she has a very long and successful career ahead of her.

On the subject of acting, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least mention Robert De Niro. One of my favorite actors for a very long time, De Niro’s career has unfortunately been experiencing a bit of a slump as of late. That is, until he landed the part of Pat Solitano, Sr. As the father of our protagonist, De Niro’s character has his own mental issues. Pat, Sr. has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Everything must be where he leaves it, and in a very precise order, right down to the last minute detail. He also practices gambling on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles’ football games to help finance his restaurant, and will insist until proven otherwise that Pat, Jr.’s presence while watching the games with him on TV is the only thing that will guide the Eagles to victory. De Niro’s best scene comes when father tearfully tells son that he feels guilty because, looking back, he believes he spent more time with the elder son that should have been devoted to Pat, Jr. It’s a really sweet moment that we know De Niro is perfectly capable of, but we haven’t seen from him in a while.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is more than just your typical romantic comedy. It’s one of those special movies that’s so endearing that you could start over and watch it twice in a row, provided you don’t have to get up and go someplace the next morning.

36. Les Misérables (2012)

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Daniel Huttlestone

Until as recently as three years ago, I was not a fan of musicals. Not one bit. Oh, sure, I liked movies such as “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but the genre as a whole left me rather cold. Then one day I played the DVD of 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly, and it was as if a light switch had been turned on inside my head. Later on came the total revelation that was 1965’s Best Picture winner, “The Sound of Music.” There were songs I’d known all my life which I had no idea actually originated with that movie. By that point, as far as musicals were concerned, anything was possible.

Similarly, I have had a long history of trying and failing to get enthusiastic about “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo’s 1862 story of Jean Valjean (a man jailed for 19 years upon stealing a loaf of bread), Javert (the law officer who chases him after he breaks parole), the revolutionaries fighting a no-win scenario, and the love triangle that provides a spark of hope for the future. I had seen several adaptations on film, each one more disappointing than the last. To this day, I’ve only attended one live performance of the musical, and it was substandard at best. I was just about to give up hope of ever finding a presentation of this tale to my liking… even as the hype surrounded a new movie in 2012 which, unlike all previous film versions, was an adaptation not of the novel but of the stage musical. Then I tuned in to the 85th Annual Academy Awards on the night of February 24th, 2013. Among the films competing for Best Original Song that night was “Les Misérables,” and the cast came out to perform “One Day More.” Well, I was blown away. I had to see more, and received a copy of the movie for my birthday. I’ll be forever glad that I did.

I defy anyone to resist being moved by at least one segment of “Les Misérables.” As almost the entire movie’s dialogue is sung rather than spoken, it is not all that hard to find multiple songs that stand out. I found myself drawn into the movie instantly by the opening shot, swooping down from overhead into the prison where Hugh Jackman and others start in on “Look Down.” Now, I know that there has been a lot of criticism regarding Russell Crowe’s singing voice. I refuse to take part, except perhaps to say that he sounds akin to David Bowie having a very bad day. Sorry if I’ve just ruined “Labyrinth” for anyone with that visual. Jackman himself excels at the songs “Look Down,” “Who Am I?” and “Suddenly.” It’s not hard to see how Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress. Her rendition of the popular “I Dreamed a Dream” sees her pouring as much emotion into any scene I’ve ever seen her play. Amanda Seyfried is stunning as Cosette, particularly in her parts of “In My Life” and “A Heart Full of Love.” But easily my favorite song of the lot is the rallying cry “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and its reprisal.

Although Hathaway got the acting award, I still personally find the breakout performance to be that of newcomer Samantha Barks as Éponine. Through her solo performance of “On My Own” and her duet with Eddie Redmayne on “A Little Fall of Rain,” Ms. Barks is absolutely breathtaking. Yet, both women could claim a certain amount of authority on their roles going in. Samantha Barks had previously played the part of Éponine for the London production of “Les Misérables.” Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, can literally be said to have been born to play the role of Fantine, as her mother had played the same role in the stage musical’s original American run.

37. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks

Sometimes, a good old fashioned revenge story is all you need. As there is generally not much more to them than “protagonist is wronged, protagonist tracks down the villain, villain gets their comeuppance,” it falls on the director to get creative. In the case of “Kill Bill,” this meant that Quentin Tarantino was able, as he was with his three previous feature-length efforts (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), to show us what sort of movies he grew up on or with which he is otherwise enamored. This creates a very special director/audience bond that I think is significantly undervalued these days.

Originally conceived on the set of “Pulp Fiction” by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, the plot revolves around a former assassin known to us only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), who four years earlier was beaten up, shot and left for dead at a wedding chapel in El Paso, Texas by the very people she used to work alongside. The trouble is that the Bride was also pregnant, and is none too pleased when she wakes up from her four-year long coma. From there, she makes it her mission to first will her limbs out of entropy, and then to go after the five people responsible for her predicament. In true Tarantino-like fashion, the movie is presented in a non-linear manner, and as such we are shown the Bride tracking down and dispatching her second target, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), in the movie’s first scene following the prologue and opening credits. The rest of “Kill Bill Vol. 1” then is devoted to the Bride tracking down her first target, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), including a beautifully animated sequence telling O-Ren’s ultra-violent origin story. As a result, instead of the question of IF she will succeed in her mission (How else would there be a “Vol. 2” if she doesn’t?), the question turns to HOW she will succeed. Vol. 1 leaves three names left on the Bride’s Death List: Bud (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Bill (David Carradine).

Everybody here does a great job. I would never have considered Uma Thurman as an action hero until this movie’s release in 2003. David Carradine, although his face is never shown in Vol. 1, is finally given a second iconic character for which he will always be remembered. But I think the scene stealers here are Sonny Chiba and Chiaki Kuriyama. Tarantino has a habit of forecasting people he wants to work with in future projects by doing a bit of name-dropping in each of his scripts. In “True Romance,” for which he wrote the script but did not direct, the main character played by Christian Slater is a huge Sonny Chiba fan through his “Street Fighter” movies (not to be confused with the videogames or Jean-Claude Van Damme film adaptation of the same name). Tarantino also is a fan of Sonny Chiba’s Japanese TV show “Kage no Gundan” (aka “Shadow Warriors”). The characters played by Chiba throughout each series are all named Hattori Hanzō. Chiba’s sword-maker in “Kill Bill” is simply meant to be the latest Hattori Hanzō. As for Chiaki Kuriyama, who plays O-Ren’s bodyguard Go-Go Yubari, she presents as great and memorable a one-on-one challenge to the Bride as any of the five on her Death List. Tarantino found Kuriyama by watching the 2000 film “Battle Royale,” which I am convinced must have served as at least a partial inspiration for the “Hunger Games” franchise of books/movies.

Tarantino’s own list of inspirations for “Kill Bill” does not end there. It includes, but is not limited to:

Sanjuro (1962), Death Rides a Horse (1967), The Mercenary (1968), Twisted Nerve (1968), Fists of Fury (1972), Lady Snowblood (1973), Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Deep Red (1975), Black Sunday (1977), Game of Death (1978), City of the Living Dead (1980), Samurai Fiction (1998), the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone & the suspense thrillers of Brian De Palma.

The music for “Kill Bill” is also made up almost entirely of things Tarantino borrowed from other movies/TV shows. THE very best for me is “The Lonely Shepherd.” With that song’s inclusion, this movie (along with “The Karate Kid”) taught me that it’s perfectly okay to be a fan of Gheorghe Zamfir. As for the movie itself, it took a second viewing for me to really get what it was all about. As I was re-watching it for the millionth time (exaggerated, of course) for the purposes of this review, I was reminded of my feelings at the time, and it struck me that I had a similar experience with “Inglourious Basterds.” I’m thinking now I may have to give that one a second look, soon, because if I can change my mind so drastically about “Kill Bill,” who’s to say I can’t do it again?