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TV Review: The Final 'Apprentice'

David Bianculli reviews the final episode of The Apprentice.



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Other segments from the episode on April 16, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 16, 2004: Interview with John Linnell and John Flansburgh; Review of the reality television show "The Apprentice;" Interview with George Romero; Review of the film …


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: John Linnell and John Flansburgh discuss their music
as the group They Might Be Giants

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Their sound is distinct, their lyrics are unusual, and their range of topics
is nothing short of bizarre. The band They Might Be Giants is loved for their
clever and sophisticated songs about unusual subjects, like "Doctor Worm," a
song about a worm who dreams of being a rock 'n' roll drummer. Or this song,
"Au Contraire."

(Soundbite of "Au Contraire")

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) David Bowie came to town, flying over head.
`Don't you dig my chops?' he cried. This is what they said. Au contraire,
Dave, quite the opposite, in fact. As it happens, au contraire. Au
contraire, mon frere. Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew not what to do. `This
tie clashes with my hat!,' he cried, `don't you think that's true?' Au
contraire, Delano, hate to rain on your parade. As it happens, au contraire.
Au contraire, mon frere.

BIANCULLI: "Au Contraire" from "Indestructible Object," a new five-song EP by
They Might Be Giants. The collection is a preview of their upcoming
full-length CD called "The Spine," coming out later this year.

The band is made up of John Flansburgh and John Linnell who have been making
music together for about 20 years. Maybe it's surprising, and maybe it isn't,
that They Might Be Giants has a lot of fans who are kids. Last year, the band
released a new children's book and companion CD called "Bed, Bed, Bed," which
was a follow-up to their recent children's CD "No!" A profile in The New
Yorker described They Might Be Giants as `elders to a whole generation of
smart, earnest nerd rockers.' John Linnell plays keyboards and sings. John
Flansburgh plays guitar and sings. Terry spoke with Linnell and Flansburgh
last year. Here's the way they sound on one of their most recognizable songs,
"You're Not the Boss of Me," a defiant little jingle that sets the perfect
phrenetic tone for each week's episode of the Fox sitcom "Malcolm in the

(Soundbite of "You're Not the Boss of Me")

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) Yes, no, maybe, I don't know, can you repeat
the question. You're not the boss of me now! You're not the boss of me now!
You're not the boss of me now! And you're not the boss of me! You're not the
boss of me now! You're not the boss of me now!


I've always wondered about that song. How come it's "You're Not the Boss of
Me," and--as opposed to the more grammatically correct "You Are Not My Boss"?

Mr. JOHN LINNELL: Well, it was something that--you know, it was a very
popular expression in the household that I grew up in. And I think, you know,
grammar and syntax are not such a big deal with little kids.

Mr. JOHN FLANSBURGH: Yeah, I think that's part of the appeal of the song, in
a way, is that the grammar's so screwy, it gives it a special childlike

GROSS: Do you have kids of your own now, either of you?

Mr. LINNELL: I do, yeah. I've got a boy in kindergarten.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: And my wife and I are raising two cats.


Mr. LINNELL: They're in kindergarten as well.

GROSS: John Linnell, now that you have a child, are you more interested in
writing songs for children?

Mr. LINNELL: Well, there's sort of a more practical urgency to it. I realize
that a lot of the material that John and I have done in the past--well, we've
always sort of felt like we were a band that kids could like. There are
lyrics in our repertoire that I now see are pretty unsuitable for kids. So I
like having the opportunity to do stuff that I can actually play for my son
that doesn't scare him.

GROSS: You've said that writing kids' songs has been artistically liberating,
and I thought I'd play an example of a song I couldn't imagine you writing
without the premise of, `Well, this is for kids.' But it's a really terrific
song. It's called "I Am Not Your Broom." And why don't we hear it and then
maybe you can talk about the writing of it?


GROSS: This is "I Am Not Your Broom" from the They Might Be Giants' album,

(Soundbite of "I Am Not Your Broom")

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) Now, broom, you must now sweep for me. The
dust it fills my room.

No, John, I will not sweep for you, for I am not your broom.

What nonsense are you speaking, broom? My words you must obey.

Another life awaits me and I'm leaving you today. I am not your broom, I am
not your broom. I've had enough, I'm throwing off my chains of servitude. I
am not your broom, I am not your broom. No longer must I sweep for you for I
am not your broom.

(Soundbite of humming, harmonica music, sweeping noises)

GROSS: That's "I Am Not Your Broom" from the CD "No!" by They Might Be
Giants. And my guests are John Linnell and John Flansburgh, the founders of
They Might Be Giants.

Can you talk a little bit about writing "I Am Not Your Broom"?

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Sure, yeah. Well, that was actually written before we
started putting together a record for kids.

GROSS: That's not proving my point.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: I think it's an example of something that--there are a few
songs on "No!" that we sort of reworked to make them more appropriate for
kids. And that one, I guess, we just figured would be OK, though it includes
words like `servitude' which I guess you have to explain to kids what that's
about. Even the concept of the wage slave broom or whatever the relationship
is is a little bit hard for kids to understand.

GROSS: I suppose.

Mr. LINNELL: Well, getting back to "Boss of Me," I think it's sort of
actually a universal theme among little brothers everywhere.


Mr. LINNELL: Servitude is something every family understands.

GROSS: I love the song, though, because it works just on a--you know, on a
literal almost like housework level, but it also could be like the angry lover
or the angry worker and--it's really fun.

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah. Well, it was kind of meant to be completely literal. The
song was written after I got ahold of one of these little inexpensive cameras
in the shape of an eyeball that you can plug into your computer. And I
realized, like, John and I could actually make our own videos, not for $1/2
million, but for, you know, the $99 it cost to buy this thing. So I started
out, you know, looking around the room for something to use in the video, and
all there really was was my broom and my face. And so that pretty much was
the entire basis for the song.


GROSS: In addition to writing songs for children, you're still writing...

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah.

GROSS: ...whatever songs you want to write? And you just have this knack for
coming up with lyrics that say things that songs don't often say, or at least
they don't often say it in the way you say it in your songs. I guess I'm
thinking here, as an example, of your song, "Older." I mean, there's a lot of
songs that are kind of bittersweet about getting on in years and stuff, but I
can't think of one that's kind of as blunt as "Older."

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Yeah, I think that, you know, some of my favorite stuff that
we've done just kind of emerges. You know, I mean, it's not that we're not
thinking about what we're doing, but I think often stuff just kind of pops
out, and then you make sense of it after the fact. And "Older" was that kind
of song. It just--it kind of felt like it wrote itself because it had this
sort of weird, unconscious quality.

GROSS: John Linnell, were you thinking about getting older when you wrote
this song? Or did a clever rhyme just come to you and...

Mr. LINNELL: I pretty much think about getting older all the time.

GROSS: Do you?

Mr. LINNELL: In fact--I mean, the funny thing about our stuff generally is I
think that John and I have a lot of anxieties and concerns that are sort of
floating in the background that are just there in the songs because that's
what's in our heads. You know, the music is often much happier, and I think
that's one of the reasons why people think we're appropriate for their kids,
even our adult material. But, yeah, I mean, that's a--you know, death and
things like that are pretty much constant topics for us.

GROSS: Yes, with song titles like "Hopeless Bleak Despair."

Mr. LINNELL: "Hopeless Bleak Despair" being an example, yeah.

GROSS: But what I want to play is "Older." So why don't we give that a
listen? And this is from the They Might Be Giants album called "Mink Car."

(Soundbite of "Older")

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) You're older than you've ever been and now
you're even older. And now you're even older, and now you're even older.
You're older than you've ever been and now you're even older. And now you're
older still.

Time is marching on. And time is still marching on. This day will soon be at
an end and now it's even sooner, and now it's even sooner and now it's even
sooner. This day will soon be at an end and now it's even sooner, and now
it's sooner still.

Mr. LINNELL: Just for the edification of your listeners, that's a
rauschpfeife and a sarrusophone...

Mr. FLANSBURGH: That's right.

Mr. LINNELL: ...which you won't hear too often.

GROSS: Oh. What...

Mr. FLANSBURGH: If there are any rauschpfeife or sarrusophone enthusiasts out

GROSS: It...

Mr. LINNELL: They're real ancient. Well, one of them, I guess, would be
called old.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: One of them's a 19th century instrument that's still...

Mr. LINNELL: Right.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: ...hanging around, and one of them really is like a--I guess,
from the Renaissance or something like that.

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah, the sarrusophone is sort of an ancestor of the saxophone,
and the engineer actually turned to us in the middle of the recording session
and said, `I know why this instrument didn't catch on. It doesn't work.'

GROSS: Well, maybe that's why there was something about the song that was
reminding me of, like, an early chant.

Mr. LINNELL: Right. That's correct.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Absolutely.

Mr. LINNELL: That's kind of what we're going for. I mean, it was definitely
a conscious effort to, you know, create a sort of other worldly, out of

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Something with spider webs on it.

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Get me some instrument that has some spider webs...

Mr. LINNELL: Right.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: ...please.

BIANCULLI: John Flansburgh and John Linnell who are the band They Might Be
Giants. They have a new five-song collection EP called "Indestructible."
It's a preview of their new CD, which comes out later this year.

We'll hear more of their interview with Terry Gross after this break. This is

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I'll be in the back and I don't need the help.
I'm good here in the back. I'm good all by myself. I'm busy taking stock of
all the things that I forgot and making mental notes of just exactly where I
lost ...(unintelligible). I stuck around too long feeling sorry for myself...

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with John Flansburgh and John
Linnell, who make up the band They Might Be Giants.

GROSS: My guests are John Linnell and John Flansburgh of the band They Might
Be Giants. They have a new book for children that comes with a CD. It's
called "Bed, Bed, Bed." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: You still have Dial-a-Song which is one of the early things that made
the band unique. You had--John, why don't you describe it?

Mr. LINNELL: Well, it's basically just a phone number in Brooklyn that's
connected to a phone machine. And we have a--you know, it's like an
'80s-style phone machine that breaks all the time because it can't really hold
up to the weight of the calls. But you simply hear a song. And the idea of
it kind of came out of, you know, we came up as a band in the mid-'80s in kind
of a weird downtown New York, Lower East Side, East Village art and
performance context. And it seemed like an interesting way to find a
different kind of audience for what we were doing. We were playing in a lot
of clubs at 1 in the morning, and it seemed sort of unreasonable to think that
a curiosity seeker would stay up that late. So this was a way to kind of
reach out to them.

And phone machines were really a fad at that moment. I mean, it's hard to
think of phone machines as being new, but they were a brand-new idea. So we
were kind of harnessing, you know, just the latest technology and using it to
sort of show our songs--you know, get our songs to people without having any
kind of, you know, other support.

GROSS: And how has the use and the meaning of the Dial-a-Song changed over
the years?

Mr. FLANSBURGH: I don't think it particularly has. I mean, it's still the
exact same set-up. There's only one line. It's the place where all of our
material kind of gets its beginning. All the demos of songs that will
eventually wind up in the show or on records or will be--you know, are doomed
to obscurity all make their way, you know, first through Dial-a-Song. And I
think that the audience has not changed all that much. I mean, originally,
there was this real--originally, I think it was a more local thing where they
were sort of downtown New York people at work listening on their speaker
phones. But I think there's still that element of people who call it up sort
of as a way to break up their day, you know, just something to amuse them.

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah, although I think the Internet has kind of largely--you
know, in some ways, the way people use the Internet for entertainment at work
reminds me--it's as if it's the biggest Dial-a-Song service of all time, you
know. It's just a great way to get away from your job.

GROSS: One of the things I was thinking about Dial-a-Song is that it must be
really liberating, you know, as a songwriter to have this venue where you can
just, like, toss something off if you wanted to, put it on there...

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and see how you like it, live with it a while.

Mr. LINNELL: It's super exciting.


Mr. LINNELL: Although there is this aspect of the phone machine that's
really deadly which is that when you put the cassette in the machine, like,
people start calling in and if they don't like the song, they'll hang up in
the middle. So you're immediately reminded of whatever--you know, you might
be just really digging yourself and the song you just did. And then, you
know, you pop it in and you think, `They are gonna love this.' And then, you
know, it's like, click, you know.

GROSS: How do you know that they've hung up in the middle?

Mr. LINNELL: 'Cause you can hear the machine rewinding...

Mr. FLANSBURGH: The machine stops, yeah.

Mr. LINNELL: ...before it finishes the song.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Yeah. We run the risk of--if we take that kind of thing too
seriously, of trying to make more and more spectacular-sounding music that
maybe would get away from what we were trying to do in the first place, you
know, so become more like, you know, "FOX News" or something.

Mr. LINNELL: Right.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: All the explosions right at the top.

Mr. LINNELL: That would be good. (Makes exploding sound) They Might Be
Giants (makes exploding sound) Dial-a-Song. Twenty-six hours a day, nine
days a week.


Mr. LINNELL: Oh, my God (makes exploding sound), unfiltered. My arms and
legs are on fire. Unfiltered music (makes exploding sound) if you can handle
it. Yeah, there's all sorts of things you can do with...

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Look forward to that.

Mr. LINNELL: ...recordings. You know, I mean, I don't know. We try not to
pay too much attention to the front row and, you know, too much attention to
people hanging up in the middle. I think, you know, we recognize what we do
is kind of fragile, in a way, so...

GROSS: Well, I thought this might be a good time to play what was, I think,
like your first, you know, hit. This is "Don't Let's Start." John, can you
talk about writing the song?

Mr. LINNELL: Well, this is one of those songs that is kind of in the
clothing of a pop song. It's got this sort of rockin' arrangement, but the
problem I've often had is I write songs starting with the music and the
melody, and then I have this job of trying to fill in the words to a melody
that's already written. So I end up having to sort of cram words in because
the syllables fit, and that I think accounts for a lot of the lyrics in this
one, which seem--they're not exactly on point all the time. It's a song that
has a, you know, sort of a strangely meandering lyric, and actually it was for
that reason, you know, when we put our first record out, I just felt like the
lyrics were so oddball that we originally talked about putting it first on the
record, and at the last minute swapped it out for another one, because I
thought "Don't Let's Start" was just too confusing.

GROSS: You know...

Mr. LINNELL: But people still wound up liking it, and I think it was because
the music was sort of, you know, appealing.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear "Don't Let's Start"? Anything else you want
to say about it?


GROSS: OK. So this is from the first They Might Be Giants recording.

(Soundbite of "Don't Let's Start")

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) Don't don't don't let's start. This is the
worst part. Could believe for all the world that you're my precious little
girl, but don't don't don't let's start. I've got a weak heart and I don't
get around. How you get around? When you are alone you are the cat, you are
the phone. You are an animal. The words I'm singing now mean nothing more
than meow to an animal. Wake up and smell the cat food in your bank account
but don't try to stop the tail that wags the hound. D, world destruction,
over and overture, N, do I need apostrophe T, need this torture? Don't don't
don't let's start. This is the worst part. Could believe for all the world
that you're my precious little girl. But don't don't don't let's start. I've
got a weak heart and I don't get around how you get around.

GROSS: That's "Don't Let's Start" from the first They Might Be Giants
recording, and my guests are the founders of the band, John Linnell and John

Mr. FLANSBURGH: I love being founders. It's a great feeling.

Mr. LINNELL: That's right.

GROSS: Oh, as if like populations have become members of the band in
subsequent years.


Mr. LINNELL: Well, also, it sort of suggests, yeah...

Mr. FLANSBURGH: That we're an institution.

Mr. LINNELL: ...that we'll carry on when we're gone as well...


Mr. LINNELL: know, that there will be statues of us...

Mr. FLANSBURGH: In `They Might Be Giants Hall.'

Mr. LINNELL: remind--right.

GROSS: Well, that's something to all look forward to.

Mr. LINNELL: No, no, it's a good way to describe it.

GROSS: Since you didn't really set out to be performers--at least that's how
it sounds hearing you talk...

Mr. LINNELL: Yeah. It's supposed...

GROSS: ...and it sounds like your goal in life wasn't to like be on stage,
what was it like for you when you were on stage early on and you had to find a
way to be?

Mr. FLANSBURGH: It was really mind-blowing. It was just a very different
sort of responsibility and a different kind of response than we were
anticipating. I mean, I remember our very first gig very vividly. We had,
you know, put the show together. We were working with a drum machine so
everything had to be kind of very tightly rehearsed with this, and our sort of
gimmick as a band was that we had these very tricky arrangements that were
very fast-paced and the tape didn't stop so it just was like this one long
performance of very short songs. And so it was a real memory test.

Mr. LINNELL: There was a reason for that, too.


Mr. LINNELL: Because we had this idea that if we stopped the tape or had
blank spots in the tape, that people would realize that no one was clapping.


Mr. LINNELL: So we decided to do a show that had no breaks whatsoever.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: It was a real defense mechanism. And we went up there and
did the show, and immediately, you know, people started kind of like laughing
in a very happy...

Mr. LINNELL: That's right.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: know--I mean, they weren't like laughing at us. They
were sort of--I think they felt like they were laughing with us, but it was
just very unexpected for us. We really didn't think it was going to be that

GROSS: Well, John Flansburgh, John Linnell, it's been great to talk with you.
Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. LINNELL: Nice talking to you.

Mr. FLANSBURGH: Thank you.

Mr. LINNELL: Thanks for having us.

BIANCULLI: John Flansburgh and John Linnell who are the band They Might Be
Giants. They have a new five-song collection called "Indestructible Object."
It's a preview of their new CD which comes out later this year. They have a
concert tonight in Anaheim and concerts this weekend in LA and Santa Barbara.
They'll also be playing later this year in Baltimore, Ann Arbor, Columbus and

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

Here's "Ant," a song from the new collection by They Might Be Giants."

(Soundbite of "Ant")

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) There's an ant crawling up your back in the
nighttime. There's an ant crawling up your back in the nighttime. But you
think that's OK while you're sleeping. That ant crawled in your head in the
nighttime. That ant crawled in your head in the nighttime. But you think
that's OK while you sleep...


BIANCULLI: Coming up, the zombies walk the Earth again. There's a new remake
of "Dawn of the Dead." We hear from George Romero, the director of the
original, and of its predecessor, "Night of the Living Dead." Also, David
Edelstein reviews "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" and we consider the finale of "The
Apprentice" and the return of "The Restaurant."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Reality television

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

Donald Trump's reality TV series "The Apprentice" ended its 12-week run on NBC
last night. The final competition was between Harvard MBA Kwame and Chicago
entrepreneur Bill. They were vying for a one-year job running one of Trump's
companies at a salary of $250,000 and it came down to the wire. Even Trump's
trusted lieutenants, George and Carolyn, saw different things in the two

(Soundbite of "The Apprentice")

Mr. DONALD TRUMP (Host): This is not easy. What do you think, George?

GEORGE: Well, as you say, it's a very tough decision. My vote would go with
Kwame. I think he handles himself well under pressure. I think he can adapt
to some very serious circumstances. I wouldn't hold his track record in the
past. There's much against him at this point as I've seen him now in really
the line of fire.

Mr. TRUMP: Yeah, but which...

GEORGE: I can honestly see him as a better fit in the Trump organization in
the long run. That's my feeling at that point. I--yeah.

Mr. TRUMP: He's outstanding. I agree with you. He's an outstanding guy.

GEORGE: He's outstanding.

Mr. TRUMP: Carolyn?

CAROLYN: Well, George, I agree with you on Kwame. However, I disagree with
the choice. I would go for Bill.

Mr. TRUMP: You agree with him in what way? He's outstanding?

CAROLYN: I think Kwame's outstanding but I do believe he is textbook where I
think Bill is practical. I actually see him as a better fit in this

BIANCULLI: In the last half-hour of the season finale, Trump called the two
men back into the boardroom, but this wasn't the fake boardroom set that was
constructed in Trump Tower. This was another fake boardroom set, constructed
for the occasion in a New York TV studio. And as Trump made and announced
his final decision, the walls were rolled back to reveal a previously hidden
and quiet studio audience which went nuts.

(Soundbite of "The Apprentice")

Mr. TRUMP: Kwame, I think you have an amazing future. You're a brilliant guy,
great education, and I have no doubt that you're going to be a big success,
but for right now, Bill, you're hired.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BIANCULLI: That energy made for terrific live television and a very
entertaining finale. It's also familiar because producer Mark Burnett who
concocted the series pulls a similar trick each year on another of his hugely
popular reality shows, "Survivor." That show, like "The Apprentice," starts
out with 16 contestants, divides them into teams, makes them perform a number
of challenges and each week makes some people vulnerable for rejection and the
rest immune. In the last phase, it becomes every man for himself and every
woman for herself in a high-stakes battle to be the last person standing. In
"The Apprentice," as in "Survivor," how you behave under fire and with your
peers may come back to haunt you because the semifinalists get to weigh in
with their opinions.

Even the live finale and the replication of the familiar set is ripped
straight from the "Survivor" playbook. And why not? Burnett's "Survivor,"
now in the last month of its all-star edition, continues to be entertaining,
surprising and totally worth watching. And on Monday, the second season
begins of another Burnett series, NBC's "The Restaurant," and it's a
significant improvement on the first season. Last summer, "The Restaurant"
was all about the effort by popular young chef Rocco DiSpirito to design and
open a restaurant in five weeks as reality TV cameras recorded everything. It
was a decent but contrived show and didn't really connect with viewers or
critics the way "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" did.

This new season, though, is about a battle of wills and control between
celebrity chef Rocco and the restaurant's financial backer Jeffrey Chodorow.
He owns 22 restaurants and Rocco's is the only one that loses money. Chodorow
wants change, but the two men haven't even spoken in months. Almost
instantly, the battle lines are drawn as consultants invade the restaurant,
staffers don't know where to place their loyalty and the tension gets and
stays unbelievably high. Oh, and in the continued sense of Burnett borrowing
from his other shows? It takes less than two hours of "The Restaurant" for
someone to utter Trump's famous catchphrase, `You're fired.'

"Survivor" and "The Apprentice" last night, "The Restaurant" next Monday,
that's three prime-time network series coming from the same TV producer within
one week and all of them are good, really good. That consistency and prolific
output is a rarity on television. Joss Whedon did it one year when "Buffy the
Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and "Firefly" all were on the air and David E. Kelley
managed it years ago when he was juggling "Ally McBeal," "The Practice" and
"Chicago Hope." Burnett is the first reality TV producer to pull off a
similar hat trick, and given the poor quality of most of his competition, it's
a good bet he'll be the last. In a TV genre devoted to recognizing and
getting the best from your talent and to beating the competition, Burnett has
proven to be a master at his own game.

Mark Burnett's "The Apprentice" ended its first season last night. Burnett
and Donald Trump will be back with a second season. Meanwhile, Burnett's "The
Restaurant" begins its second season Monday on NBC and his "Survivor:
All-Stars" continues Thursdays on CBS.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: That's Oscar Peterson recorded in 1959.

We'll be back with Terry's interview with film director George Romero
responsible for the cult hit "Night of the Living Dead" and its even more
ghoulish sequels.

This is FRESH AIR.

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2"

When film director Quentin Tarantino began assembling an early cut of his
action film "Kill Bill," it clocked in at more than three hours. So Tarantino
chopped it into two volumes. The first came out last year as "Kill Bill:
Vol. 1." Now just as that film is released on DVD, movie theaters make room
for "Vol. 2" in which Uma Thurman's blood-soaked Bride comes back to finish
off her remaining would-be assassins. Film critic David Edelstein has a


"Kill Bill: Vol. 1" became a litmus test on the subject of violence in
movies. The saga of The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, who set out to avenge
the murder of her wedding party and unborn child by a man named Bill and his
assassination squad, the film was easy to denounce because the gore was both
over the top and 100 percent gratuitous. It wasn't yoked to a death wish
message about liberal judges and courts that can't protect us and it didn't
have the righteous uplift of something like "Gladiator." I called it "An
American in Paris" with arterial spray, and the only emotion I perceived was
Quentin Tarantino's glee in trying to distill the hundreds of grind-house
pictures and chop-socky videos on which he'd been weaned into one fat
masturbatory epic in which a sexy chick fights other sexy chicks with a
humongous Japanese samurai sword. What's not to love?

"Kill Bill: Vol. 2," the second half of Tarantino's revenger epic, is far
less absurdist than its predecessor. The blood flow is stanched, the body
count low and the quotient of chatter is way, way up. It's a climatic
decrescendo. I'm not saying it's subtle. The wit is broadsword rather than
rapier, the motives are elemental and there's still a load of gross-out
violence. The difference is that Tarantino finds ways other than carnage to
give pleasure. There's a magnificent perversity in the tender first scene, a
flashback between the bride and Bill whose face was never seen in part one.
Played by David Carradine, Bill has shown up out of the blue at the wedding
rehearsal of the woman he calls Kiddo. We now know because her name is
Beatrix Kiddo. Beatrix was Bill's number-one assassin until she fled pregnant
with his baby in search of a quieter life. Now in an El Paso church, she
hears a familiar panpipe and moves through the doorway in a shot straight out
of "The Searchers."

(Soundbite of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2")

Mr. DAVID CARRADINE: (As Bill) Hello, Kiddo.

Ms. UMA THURMAN: (As The Bride) How did you find me?

Mr. CARRADINE: (As Bill) I'm the man.

Ms. THURMAN: (As The Bride) What are you doing here?

Mr. CARRADINE: (As Bill) What am I doing? Well, a moment ago I was playing
my flute. At this moment, I'm looking at the most beautiful bride these old
eyes have ever seen.

Ms. THURMAN: (As The Bride) Why are you here?

Mr. CARRADINE: (As Bill) Last look.

Ms. THURMAN: (As The Bride) Are you going to be nice?

Mr. CARRADINE: (As Bill) I've never been nice my whole life, but I'll do my
best to be sweet.

EDELSTEIN: I love Thurman's giddiness. She's just mad about Bill before he
shoots her down and even after. Tarantino famously courted Warren Beatty for
Bill which would have been heaven because of the childlike narcissism in
Beatty's charm that you know could spill over into monstrousness, but
Carradine is wonderful, too, intense but preternaturally cool, his weathered
face held aloft by that triumphant Carradine family bone structure. The
scenes with Thurman are both scary and, yes, sweet.

The movie is a cartoon, though; the banter, second tier Tarantino, a cut above
his imitators, but below the standard set by "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie
Brown." He's only in peak form at playing with your expectations, setting you
up for one thing and blindsiding you with something else. I loved Michael
Madsen's ex-assassin, a drunk who seems to have grown fatalistic and lost his
taste for killing. And Beatrix's four-year-old daughter is neither angel nor
devil but something tantalizingly in between.

Tarantino serves up a parody of '70s Hong Kong martial arts training flicks
that had me howling at its tacky zoom-ins and zoom-outs and at Gordon Liu's
huffy sadistic master with his flyaway eyebrows and a long white beard that he
whips over his shoulder like a scarf.

"Kill Bill: Vol. 2" is in a different league than "The Punisher," also
opening this week, a sickeningly manipulative by-the-numbers revenge movie in
which the presumed dead hero comes back to get the people who wiped out his
wife and little son. It's a bloodbath with one thing on its mind, making you
go, `Yeah! Punish him! Make him die slowly.' But neither of these movies,
needless to say, is a patch on our greatest revenge drama, "Hamlet," the story
of a first-rate intellectual who finds himself trapped in a third-rate revenge
play and can't quite get in sync with it and neither has the moral horror of
Steven Soderberg's "The Limey" in which a father's quest for revenge on the
man who killed his daughter leads straight back to him.

"Kill Bill" volumes one and two are great fun, but when they're over, there's
nothing to give us pause about our addiction to fantasies of retribution. The
whole is a little less than the sum of its volumes.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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