Well, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is now playing and you can discover for yourself why The Bride went bonkers after Bill, her former boss and lover, ordered the hit on her wedding party. Was it just the old green-eyed monster? As entertainment, the film’s got that great Tarantino pizzazz: a superb look, jazzy editing, perfect music, and some mystery to keep you alert. Uma Thurman is still otherworldly as The Bride and David Carradine finally gets to act as Bill, as opposed to being the mythic figure of the first part. The problem is that Carradine and Tarantino still think he’s in the television series Kung Fu, so we have that mystical serenity prattle that worked well on that program. And you have every right to laugh when Bill starts playing his bamboo flute. Daryl Hannah is a blonde with vengeance in her eye. Yes, you read that right, eye. A patch covers the other one, and don’t think for a moment that Tarantino doesn’t toy with that character trait. Michael Madsen continues his typecast career as a goonish bouncer. There’s a shade less violence in this second part, and it does tie up things from volume one. But, and this is a big but, it would have been much, much better as a single, solid Tarantino adventure.

Hollywood keeps rolling out the Marvel comic book characters. Now we’ve got The Punisher. If you feel like seeing this absurd mess, I will tell you that the Punisher is human, filled with anger and hate, and has no super powers. The movie is one of those revenge epics that seem concocted from ideas written on tissue paper. The Punisher is an FBI agent who has to even the score with a mob boss embarrassingly played by John Travolta, of all people. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays a character called “The Mouse,” and I’ll leave it at that. The film’s violence would make Mel Gibson shiver.

Frank Castle, the “punisher” of the title, is played by Thomas Jane who has about as much reason for being an action hero as I do. Oh wait, I would be better because I know the rules for action movies. Never let the bad guy know how smart you are. Never say more than a few words. Never let them see your hidden gun. Or knife. Or baseball bat. As an actor, Jane is about as intelligent as a rock and not very believable as a guy eager to crack the heads of the people who murdered his family. Also in the cast is some bozo wrestler, Kevin Nash, another guy who can’t act. The movie gets silly a lot. There’s one scene where Nash is fist-fighting and the movie crosscuts his action with neighboring tenants discussing how cooking can also be considered a dance routine. Honest, it’s that stupid. Mayhem galore and a total waste of time. The film is the directorial debut of Jonathan Hensleigh, who’ll only learn how to direct by watching the original version of The Punisher, which was released in 1989 and stars Dolph Lundgren. And it’s really saying something to note that Lundgren and his movie are light years better than the new edition.

The United States Of Leland is a risky enterprise, and I admire it because there are people involved willing to take the chance that audiences can handle something a little bit different and a little bit quirky. Screenwriter-director Matthew Ryan Hoge has crafted a movie that challenges preconceived notions about what makes a character sympathetic and where characters should travel in the arc of a story. Soft-spoken teenager Leland Fitzgerald (a superb Ryan Gosling) commits a senseless murder that shocks his community, affecting both his victim’s family and his own in awful ways. When asked why he killed an autistic boy, he replies: “because of the sadness.” Sent to a juvenile detention facility for his crime, Leland comes in contact with a prison teacher and an aspiring writer, Pearl Madison (a very good Don Cheadle). As Pearl delves into the mystery of Leland’s cruel act, he also sees the chance for a career-making book because the boy’s father is a world-renowned author, well-played by Kevin Spacey. Lena Olin is also excellent as Leland’s mother. The movie examines how each family, Leland’s and the victim’s, reacts differently to the crime. It explores motive, responsibility (parental and societal), and how some people are willing to use others for their own personal gain. The emotion-charged film has some frayed edges, but there’s a certain appeal in its resistance to tidying everything up into one neat package.

The Whole Ten Yards is the sequel to 2000’s The Whole Nine Yards, which was a breezy mob comedy that succeeded because the primary cast, Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Rosanna Arquette, Natasha Henstridge, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Amanda Peet had a brightness and sparkle that worked well. Now they’ve added a yard and created a movie that feels like it was bought at a dollar store. Once again, Willis is the mob boss, although this time he has a softer side. Peet, an actress I thoroughly enjoy, is Willis’ wry attractive wife. Perry, an actor of not much depth, is the neurotic who needs his help after his own wife has been kidnapped by some goofball Hungarian mobster, played to annoying heights by the grotesquely overrated Kevin Pollack, who was also a pain to watch in the first movie. Gangster stereotypes abound and attempted jokes fly high and crash to the floor like bricks in a tornado. Perry spends most of the movie falling over furniture. Hopefully, when his face hit the ground he saw his future and realized it isn’t very promising if he keeps making junk like this. By Michael Calleri
ALT Movie Editor

As I wrote when I reviewed Kill Bill Vol. 1, there’s no reason it should have been split off from the actual full-length feature that screenwriter-director Quentin Tarantino had made. Dividing Kill Bill into two films was an act of greed and nothing more. Although the first part was dazzling stylistically, it felt truncated and provided little more than clues as to what the purpose of The Bride’s vengeance was all about. It was also astonishingly violent and blood-soaked, a splatter movie with great-looking splatter. The reason for the emptiness of the storyline was because Tarantino made one interesting movie, not two, and he crafted Kill Bill to build to a crescendo.