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Cut and run

Where is the line drawn for violence?

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Thurman
Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill Vol. 2."

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(CNN) -- There's an old Monty Python sketch, "Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days,' " in which a gathering of 1920s English country swells is interrupted by a man asking, "Tennis, anyone?"

One person bumps another, who bumps another, and suddenly arms are being pulled off, fingers are being severed, the tennis racket is lodged in someone's midsection and blood spurts everywhere in parody of the famous director's violent work.

When I first saw this sketch as a teenager, I thought it was hilarious. Now that I'm an adult, I still think it's hilarious.

In "A Clockwork Orange," a gang of thugs (or droogs, as they're known in the film), led by Malcolm McDowell's Alex, beats up an old panhandler, rapes a woman and beats her husband, and accidentally kills a wealthy, eccentric old woman -- all accompanied by synthesized classical music and an off-key rendering of "Singin' in the Rain."

When I was a teenager, I thought the movie was alternately repellent and cool. Now that I'm an adult, I find it almost impossible to watch.

In "The Passion of the Christ," as Jesus' cross is lifted, a steady stream of blood trickles down from the spike hole behind Jesus' hand. To that point I had found the film well-made and effectively brutal, even if I was largely unmoved by the violence, which seemed too heavy-handed (in more ways than one) to me.

But when the blood dripped down, I laughed. For me, the film had gone over the top and crossed the line from brutal to cartoonish. I couldn't help but think of the gushers of blood in "Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days.' "

All this is to say that the line between sickening bloodshed and cartoonish violence, between offensive and humorous, can be awfully murky -- and very much in the eye of the beholder. Quentin Tarantino is a master at blurring the line, and with his "Kill Bill Vol. 2" out this weekend, expect more debate about where the line belongs -- if it can be drawn at all.

Eye on Entertainment watches out for the knife.

Eye-opener

Though I admire Tarantino, I have mixed feelings about the violence in his films -- and violence is a big part of Tarantino films.

I can describe my ambivalence through two scenes in "Pulp Fiction." In the first, hitmen Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta shoot a roomful of college-aged kids who have played with the hitmen's patience. The gunshots are loud, damaging and shocking; this is what violence can do, and it isn't pretty, and yet I found the scene admirable in its honesty.

Later in the movie, a kid gets his head blown off in the back of Jackson and Travolta's car, his brains splattering the rear windshield. The scene is played on the borderline of comedy, which I assume was Tarantino's intention. But I didn't find it funny.

And yet, Tarantino's films are so thrilling in their dialogue, their acting, their sheer pleasure in the art of film, they're hard not to enjoy -- regardless of their violence.

As I said, the line is very gray. I'm not much on slasher films or gory horror flicks; I have friends who never miss 'em. Each to his own.

In "Kill Bill Vol. 2," the bride (Uma Thurman), fresh from dispatching some of the DiVAS, continues her pursuit of Bill (David Carradine) -- the man who left her for dead at her wedding. Amid flashbacks and set pieces, she works her way to that confrontation -- and finds a few surprises.

Early reviews note "Kill Bill Vol. 2" has more talk and less violence than "Kill Bill Vol. 1," which was a veritable bloodbath at times. More important, it pulls the themes of "Vol. 1" together and deepens the emotional quotient. It's violent, but Tarantino is mixing elements of Westerns, old kung-fu and grindhouse movies -- of course it's going to be violent. Still, the man knows how to draw a line -- and erase it, too.

"Kill Bill Vol. 2" opens Friday.

On screen

  • How does Nia Vardalos follow "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"? She writes and stars in "Connie and Carla," a film about two women, fleeing from the Mob, who masquerade as women pretending to be men. In other words, "Some Like It Hot" meets "Victor/Victoria." The film also stars Toni Collette. It opens Friday.
  • "The Punisher" is based on a comic book hero who, well ... consider his name. A former FBI special agent, he goes up against a businessman with underworld connections (John Travolta) and the businessman's wife (Laura Elena Harring). Thomas Jane plays the title role. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • "The Restaurant," another season of life at Rocco DiSpirito's Rocco's on 22nd, finds itself involved in some real drama -- the battle for control between DiSpirito and his investors. Monday, 10 p.m., NBC.
  • "Show Biz Moms" shows every kid's worst nightmare -- or, in at least one case, every parent's worst nightmare. Fame can do strange things to people. Tuesday, 9 p.m., Bravo.
  • Sound waves

  • Prince's new album, "Musicology" (Sony), is due Tuesday.
  • Hanson's new album, "Underneath" (3CG), is due Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • The latest volume of Alexander McCall Smith's gentle mystery series about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, "The Full Cupboard of Life" (Pantheon), is due Tuesday.
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore's comprehensive new biography of Josef Stalin and his times, "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar" (Knopf), is due Sunday.

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