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7/10
A Funny and Original Wes Anderson Film
31 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is your typical Wes Anderson film. It is a funny and original comedy from the man that brought you Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. The screenplay for this film is brilliant and should deserve much more praise than it is receiving from critics. The plot centers around a 52-year old oceanographer named Steve Zissou who is searching for the infamous "Jaguar Shark or whatever it is" that ate his best friend and fellow oceanographer Esteban. The only scientific purpose he has to finding this shark is cold blooded revenge. Sounds like your typical revenge story, right? Wrong! This film is not about that at all. It is about how one man's life has affected all of the other people surrounding him. The whole film centers around Steve's relationship with his son, Ned and even has them fighting over a reporter doing a story on Steve named Jane. She is pregnant and doesn't like to curse in fear that her child may garner a bad influence from it. Throughout the course of the film, Steve attempts to get to know his son all while attempting to find the "Jaguar Shark or whatever it is". Wes Anderson has created a sophisticated comedy in which the characters are extremely developed and interesting. Bill Murray gives one of the best performances of the year as Steve Zissou and critics are underscoring the weight of his acting. He gives Zissou so much depth and personality that whatever he does on screen is funny. The movie works because Murray steers the character in the right direction. He is a lazy, pot-smoking, potty-mouth oceanographer who steals credit from other people. He is the worst guy to hang around with because he doesn't know what the hell he's doing or maybe he just doesn't care. He is so laid back that if you attempt to have any relationship with him, it goes sour. The only relationship that works with him is the one that he has with Ned. Steve doesn't discover that until the very end of the film when he decides to be the father to Jane's son, which is what Ned would have been had he survived. Bill Murray gives subtlety to his character and that is what makes his performance and the entire film amazingly good. There are also terrific supporting performances in the film from an all-star cast manned by Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Angelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum and the magnificent Willem Dafoe as Klaus, the German cameraman who steals the show in this film. Dafoe is perfect as Klaus and he is perhaps the funniest character in the entire film. The choice of music is brilliant and carefully chosen as it is in every Wes Anderson picture. The underwater world is vivid and highly imaginative as Anderson chose to have all the creatures appear animated. It gives the film a type of Burtonesque quality and a certain creepiness and dark edge to it. However, it is still amazing to look at. The action sequences with the Pirates are sophisticated and hilarious and it shows the genius of the script. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of the best films of the year and Bill Murray even gives a better performance than the one he gave in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Those of you who are fans of Wes Anderson will not be disappointed.

Lenny's Grade: A-
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5/10
Very Burtonesque but Not as Imaginative
28 December 2004
This is essentially a film made for kids. It kindles to their liking and allows for them to extend the boundaries of their imagination. The director, Brad Silberling, knows this and focuses on the stuff that kids will respond to. As a result, the film suffers because it does kindle to the adult world of imagination and creativity. My viewing of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was thus tampered with because I was unable to stretch the limits of my imagination and respond to the characters as willingly as the children in the audience. The film indeed had the opportunity to be a creative and original masterpiece in the tradition of Tim Burton. It started out that way but then faded into a lackadaisical endless struggle into a bizarre and primitive world. It wasn't aided by the sight of Jim Carrey playing Count Olaf. If you're looking for a great performance by Carrey in this film, you will not find it because his acting is way too over-the-top that it fails to illustrate the true evil that lurks within the confines of Count Olaf. We get the sense that Olaf is evil, but is he evil enough? Carrey goes for cheap laughter rather than acting with subtlety and cleverness, which I thought were the essential qualities that Olaf possessed other than the fact that he was a villain. He tries to act all comedic in his sinister planning and as a result, he fails to illuminate his character's personality. If you're looking for a great comedy starring Jim Carrey, don't see this film. Rather, go out and rent Liar, Liar because he is way more funnier in that film than in Lemony Snicket's. Carrey is looking to identify himself as one of the premier actors in Hollywood. If he keeps making films in which he goes for cheap laughter like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and this film, then he will never be considered as a premier actor. He has so much talent that he fails to realize that these types of films hurt his credibility. I am not criticizing the film as much as I'm criticizing Carrey's performance. The film does have some good qualities that make it worthy of 2 hours spent at the movie theater. The performance by the terrific Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine is subtle and filled with substance. She captures the essence of her character, who is a neurotic, grammatically obsessed woman who just wants to live in peace and Streep has fun while doing it. I only wish that we could have seen more of her. Timothy Spall is also very good as Mr. Poe. I didn't particularly like the actors who played the children except for the Sonny character (and she didn't even say a word). The look of the film is appealing enough for kids but not for adults. It is very Burtonesque in its design but not as imaginative as a typical Burton film. During my viewing, I saw a preview of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I hoped that what I saw in that preview would be similar to what I would see in Lemony Snicket. Unfortunately, that wasn't so and my expectations dwindled because of it. I did like the narration by Jude Law as Lemony Snicket and I felt that he was essential to the plot of the story rather than just a meaningless writer who happens to be narrating the story. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is vivid and imaginative...for kids. As for the adults, let's just say that there are much more creative films that have hit the market for us.

Lenny's Grade: C+
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10/10
A Heartwarming Tale That's Filled With Love
25 December 2004
As much as I love the cinema and all the gossip that comes with the cinema, I must confess that I had never seen It's a Wonderful Life until just recently. That's shocking for me because I love movies so much and I'm a big fan of the classics. I had heard that the film was a Christmas classic and one of the most heartwarming films ever made and I must say that everything that people say about this masterpiece is absolutely true. It's a Wonderful Life is filled with so many great things that one cannot feel humbled to be watching such a brilliant film. First of all, Jimmy Stewart's performance is one of the best ever given in the history of cinema. His portrayal of a broken-down loan officer named George Bailey is profound and deeply moving. He captures the essence of the character's personality and makes the audience literally weep for this man. The character of George Bailey is written as if he was the nicest and most generous person you could ever meet in your lifetime. And yet for some reason he is never able to catch a break and every stroke of luck that he receives just vanishes into thin air. Jimmy Stewart is perfect for that part because it seems as if he is just the sweetest guy you could ever meet in your lifetime and to witness him being swallowed into an inescapable black hole of bad luck is heart-wrenching and sorrowful. We feel sorry for George Bailey because we know how great a man he is. So when Uncle Billy misplaces that $8,000 deposit and George is literally petrified of what could happen to him, he loses his mind and contemplates suicide. Without the assistance of George's guardian angel named Clarence (who is only a second-class angel because he doesn't have his wings), George would never have realized just how great a person he really is and how wonderful a life he has. Jimmy Stewart's performance is richly detailed and he plays the nice-guy level so perfectly in this film that it makes the audience cry at the very end of the film. Frank Capra's direction of the film is flawless as always. He uses many layers of film-making to tell us this imaginative story and creates a masterful work of art. There are terrific supporting performances from Donna Reed as George's wife, Mary and especially from Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter. Barrymore is perfect in this film as the villainous Mr. Potter who controls everything in Bedford Falls except for the Bailey Bank & Loan. The scenes with Barrymore and Stewart are absolutely unforgettable and you love to see Potter suffer at the end of the film because he is indeed the meanest man you could ever meet in your life. The writing is masterful and imaginative and gives the film its heartbeat. It tells the story of a man who deserves to be rewarded in life but instead stands aside and cares for the welfare of others. He doesn't realize that his life is worth something until the very end of the film when everyone in Bedford Falls (except Mr. Potter) bails him out of his problem. It is then that he realizes that his ship has come in and he is now being rewarded for all the good deeds he has done. The film is inspirational and makes us realize that we should always have hope because without hope, we can never be able to realize just how wonderful life can truly be. "No man is a failure who has friends" That is the basic moral of It's a Wonderful Life and it teaches us that you don't need money to be happy. The film is not necessarily a Christmas movie but it still preaches the ideology of the holiday and that is what characterizes it as a Christmas film. Indeed, it is perhaps the greatest Christmas movie of all time and one of the best films ever made in my opinion. Thank You Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart for giving us this masterpiece of the cinema.

Lenny's Grade: A+
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8/10
One of the Best Films of the Year
9 December 2004
Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is a landmark film in American cinema. It is a very detailed and well-crafted critique on the Bush Administration from the day he was voted to be our next President to the present day with the war in Iraq. Moore does not shy away from his own opinion and presents it in a style that allows for the audience to decide for themselves whether or not what he says is the truth. Indeed, the film is completely biased but that doesn't matter because a lot of what Moore says is actually true. He provides us with statistical facts that may appear shocking to the average viewer but is considered to be common knowledge for any full-hearted liberal democrat. This is a serious drama that is told in a satirical way and I say that because the film is actually pretty funny. Clearly, Moore seduces the audience into believing that Bush and the rest of his cabinet are the stupidest people in the world. I mean you see the Attorney General John Ashcroft slick his hair back with his own saliva as he prepares to be interviewed. We also see the stressful work environment of the President of the United States as he takes a vacation to his Texas ranch. These shots are meant to influence the audience into believing that Bush has no idea what the hell he's doing and that he shouldn't have been President in the first place. But in a way that's not funny because America is run by a four-star idiot. Moore takes us on a journey into Bush's political mindset since 9/11 and we realize that he is so corrupted by the idea of supreme power that he loses focus on the American people. Moore believes that Bush cares about his own interests rather than the interests of the American people and has manipulated the people into siding with whatever he does. This film is mainly a propaganda picture for people who have no idea about the corruptive nature of the Bush administration, from their business collaboration with the Bin Laden family to the guarantee of economic profit for Bush's defense company with the manufacturing of a war with Iraq. You cannot be a liberal if you don't admire the vision of Michael Moore with 'Fahrenheit 9/11'. But you also don't have to be a liberal and stil admire this work of art. Moore doesn't simply focus on the severe strain provided by the Bush administration but rather the feelings and emotions of the American people. Moore's interview with the woman from Flint, Michigan is both powerful and engaging and we realize that soldiers are dying in Iraq for no good reason. That is the point of Fahrenheit 9/11. This war is being fought for nothing and if we don't do something about it, then America will fall in the end. If anything, this film is patriotic in nature and encourages people to seek the truth. Moore loves America and is a true patriot. But since the whole country is ignorant of what Bush is doing, we are unable to see it. Those who elected to keep Bush in the White House for the next four years are ignorant of the truth. That is the real sad part of 'Fahrenheit 9/11'. Even though the film is biased, it it still poignant and genuine and deserves consideration for Best Picture. Michael Moore is a talented filmmaker and definitely does not fail with this film.

Lenny's Grade: A
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Ray (I) (2004)
8/10
Amazing
14 November 2004
I have seen a lot of biography films. What's good about them is that they always focus on the title character. Whether it was Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X, the director would never focus on the supporting characters. I guess that is the purpose of a biographical film, but nevertheless it should still focus not just plainly on the title character but also on the lives of the supporting characters as well.

That being said, Ray is an amazing biographical film. Director Taylor Hackford and Jamie Foxx have created a celebration of the life of Ray Charles Robinson and everyone who is a true movie-lover should experience this film. I have never seen such flawless acting and such great storytelling ever on the big screen. That says a lot about the power and the glory of this film.

The story is about the life of Ray Charles Robinson, a black man growing up in the rural areas of South Florida who experiences the tragic death of his brother, George. As a result of that experience, Ray goes blind and must learn to get around by using his memory. Encouraged by his mother, he is able to not be treated as a cripple but rather becomes a smart and witty individual by the time he reaches Seattle. However, the disturbing images of his brother's death still haunt him and as a result, he becomes addicted to heroin. Director Taylor Hackford does a great job at analyzing the dark side of Ray's past and doesn't just focus on the glorious music written by him. Speaking of the music, I think it was an excellent decision to not have Jamie Foxx sing the music because then it would lack originality. I was very proud to hear the voice of Ray Charles sing the music for this film. It was as if he had come down from heaven to give us one final performance. That was an amazing experience.

Now, on to the performances. To start off this paragraph, let me just say that Jamie Foxx gives perhaps the best performance of his career. Not only is he able to capture the extraordinarily complicated mental state of Ray Charles, but he is also able to capture the physical aspect of Charles as well. From shaking around while playing the piano to wearing prosthetics to enhance the blinding effect, Foxx does it all as he goes for Oscar glory with this film. Indeed, Jamie Foxx deserves a Best Actor nomination for his work and, barring any setbacks, should win the Oscar for this film. There are also terrific supporting performances in this film from Kerry Washington as Ray's wife and Regina King as his lover. Clearly, they were two extraordinary women whom Ray loved with a passion and both Washington and King do excellent work in capturing their personalities. In fact, I believe that Washington should garner a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film because I felt that she and Foxx had great chemistry together and that enhanced the powerful effect of the film itself.

The directing is flawless. The writing is superlative. The musical sequences are absolutely unforgettable. And the acting, well, the acting is a work of art. Accolades to Taylor Hackford, Jamie Foxx and the rest of the cast for creating such a great film. Oh, and thank you Ray Charles Robinson for your great personality and your great music. We miss you and we love you.

Lenny's Grade: A-
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7/10
Vivid and imaginative
11 November 2004
The Polar Express is indeed a vivid and imaginative film created by Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis. It is a stunning adaptation of a holiday classic that will be cherished by many for years to come. This is indeed the ideal Christmas story about a young boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, the boy encounters a massive locomotive known as The Polar Express, which guarantees a round-trip ride to the North Pole. The boy is reluctant at first but then decides to board the train perhaps because he is curious or perhaps because deep inside his heart there is still the belief in the unrealistic. While on board, the boy encounters a variety of characters including the appearance of a ghostly hobo, who teaches him that seeing is believing. However, the boy still has many questions which no one has the answer to except himself. Throughout the film, he goes on a journey of self-discovery and decides at the very end whether or not he still believes. The film has heart and is both touching and magnificent. Tom Hanks plays six characters in the film but does his best work as the conductor, who doesn't need proof that seeing is believing. There is also the appearance of the dead toy car, in which there are various amounts of toys that have been neglected over the years. The scene is both haunting and filled with sorrow at the same time. Yet the most touching sequence comes when the boy receives the first gift from Santa Claus towards the end of the film. The boy receives proof that some parts of life are not fantasy and learns that all of us must have faith in whatever you believe. Not only is the film powerful emotionally but it is also a visual wonder. Robert Zemeckis has used the remarkable technology of performance capture to create a world so genuine and realistic that you begin to question if the film is animated or not. It is a roller-coaster ride of adventure and Christmas spirit that never ceases to amaze. Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis have taught us to believe in the Christmas spirit with this magnificent adaptation of The Polar Express. The film will definitely go down in the annals of such Christmas classics as It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. Terrific, Terrific Film-making!

Lenny's Grade: A-
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Shrek 2 (2004)
7/10
Fantastic
7 November 2004
Shrek 2 is simply one of the best comedies of the year. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz are fantastic once again in the roles of Shrek, Donkey, and Princess Fiona. The writing is superlative and witty and the film itself is absolutely hilarious. It all begins when Shrek and Fiona are summoned to the magical kingdom of Far Far Away by Fiona's parents, who are appropriately titled the King and the Queen. It is apparent from the start of the film that Shrek and the King don't like each other and that no one seems to care about Fiona's feelings. There is also the appearance of a Fairy Godmother, who would seem to care about Shrek and Fiona but really doesn't. It turns out that she is the Fairy Godmother from Hell and she wants her son, Prince Charming, to marry Fiona instead of Shrek. That way, she can obtain more power for herself. As a result, the King and the Fairy Godmother hire an assassin called Puss in Boots to kill Shrek. The assassination attempt is perhaps one of the funniest scenes I've seen in a long time. Antonio Banderas is absolutely wonderful as Puss and should garner the same type of praise that Ellen Degeneres got for Finding Nemo. The story plays out with some other clever and totally funny sequences, including the appearance of a giant ginger-bread man named Mongo, and ends up with the King accepting Shrek and everything turning out to be happily ever after. The film is filled with great performances from John Cleese as the King, Julie Andrews as the Queen and Rupert Everett as Prince Charming. Shrek 2 is not as original as the first Shrek, but it comes pretty damn close.

Lenny's Grade: A
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8/10
A Brilliant Film
2 November 2004
From the acclaimed writer of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation comes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a magnificent romance story with so many twists and turns its unbelievable to watch. Jim Carrey gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Joel, who becomes attached to a young and somewhat bizarre woman named Clementine, played perfectly by Kate Winslet. The pair experience a bizarre connection with one another and gradually begin to fall in love. However, when Clementine decides to have Joel erased from her memory because she finds him boring, the story unravels into something more complicated than a romance story but rather an exciting odyssey into the deepest and darkest regions of the human psyche. As a result, Joel decides to have Clementine erased from his memory. However, as the process escalates throughout the course of the film, Joel discovers that he cannot live without Clementine and wants to end the process. What results is a masterful film that should definitely get Oscar nominations for Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Charlie Kaufman has written yet another brilliant screenplay and is probably going to receive his third Oscar nomination for this film. Hopefully, the third time is the charm and he will finally win the Oscar because he is quite simply a brilliant, sophisticated, and totally original writer. Accolades to Charlie Kaufman and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Lenny's Grade: A
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10/10
'The Passion' is a masterpiece
4 September 2004
To begin this review, one must acknowledge that I was very hesitant at first to see The Passion of the Christ. After all, the film is littered with controversy from it being too anti-Semetic to the extensive overuse of violence by Mel Gibson. However, I had heard that in seeing the film many people were moved by its emotional spectrum and the extraordinary power of the story. As such, I decided to see The Passion and try to judge it as a film and not a source of controversy. After watching it, I have concluded that all the accusations against this film are totally false. Indeed, the film is littered with graphic violence especially in the scourging of Christ. However, it adds to the realism of the story and creates a powerful effect upon the audience. There are some sequences in which the violence is absolutely shocking and what you would like to do is just leap out of your seat and scream at the top of your lungs for it to stop. But that is what makes the film so powerful. Mel Gibson refuses to let you shy away from such reckless violence because it is based on actual fact. Jesus suffered beyond recognition and died on the cross for the salvation of our souls. Gibson's depiction of the last twelve hours of Christ's life is without a doubt the most graphic, the most violent and the most realistic interpretation of the Bible story ever put onto the big screen. It doesn't hold back anything and brings with it a feeling of extraordinary sorrow within you that you feel as if it is you getting beaten right there along with Jesus. Those who are Christian should be embracing the sheer magnificence of this film because it is the first film to actually TELL Christ's story without holding back anything. Gibson's film is the definition of everything we believe in and to disregard it as some piece mindless, violent and gory trash is ignorant and selfish of the audience. Those who are not Christian will discover a well-crafted, flawlessly directed masterpiece that should be recognized as one of the best films of the year. Indeed, when one sees this, one is not seeing just a film but is also seeing a work of art, a true masterpiece that will down in the annals of cinema history. In 50 years, it will be compared to the likes of Schindler's List and Lawrence of Arabia for its sheer pageantry and graphic nature. But for now, I would accept this film as a Best Picture nominee come next February. Oh, and Jim Caviezel's Christ is perhaps the single greatest performance I think I've ever seen since Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. Caviezel conveys to the audience everything that Gibson tries to present. He presents the pain and the suffering to an extent that the audience believes that he is Christ. Without that emotion, the film is nothing. Maia Morgenstern as Mary is wonderful and deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination, as does Hristo Shopov in the Best Supporting Actor category as Pontius Pilate. But all this would have been impossible without the direction of Mel Gibson, a man who fought the controversy to create a film of sheer brilliance. Gibson deserves a Best Director nomination and should win. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and the music by John Debney are also magnificent. The Passion of the Christ is a visually dazzling, superior epic that is indeed one of this year's very best films and also one of the very best religious films ever made. Accolades to Mel Gibson for giving us this masterpiece.
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5/10
Not good but not bad
26 August 2004
The Girl Next Door is more than what it had been advertised. Fox chose to market it as a sex comedy, but indeed this film is way more than that. It follows in the footsteps of Risky Business and American Pie and does something that few sex comedies do anymore; give depth to the story. But that doesn't mean that the story is any good. In fact, it is so unrealistic and so overwritten that the film itself starts to get boring. The first half-hour is the most interesting because you care about the characters. However, when they drag in scenes like the one in Las Vegas or the robbery scene, then the story just dwindles so far down into a bottomless pit of nothingness. The screenplay does have some clever nuances like the creation of a new and totally original sex-ed video which would send shockwaves around the country if such a tape were ever released. But at the heart of the story is the relationship between Matthew and Danielle (played well by Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert) which is the most thoughtful thing about this film. But the story drags away from that and slips away from being more decent than it could have been. However, the film is better already in the fact that it is not just a flat sex comedy because then the film would not have any depth whatsoever. So I give credit to the writer and the director for making that happen. However, I guess I have to say that such depth is not enough to make this film good.

Lenny's Grade: C+
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8/10
A Conclusion to A Masterpiece
14 August 2004
It's hard to review Kill Bill, Volume 2 without mentioning Volume 1, since both films make up an entire movie. So instead of just reviewing Volume 2, I shall end up combining the two films and submitting a review of Kill Bill. So let us begin. Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino's bloody epic masterpiece that pays homage to those 70's Japanese shows, Spaghetti Westerns and Italian Horror Films. He combines the three elements to create a masterful story of revenge, featuring Uma Thurman as The Bride. The Bride is an interesting character who is indeed a woman of the world. She was about to get married and have a baby and ended up being massacred by Bill and The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (composed of Elle Driver, Budd, O-Ren Ishii and Vernita Green) and left in a coma for four years. She wakes up and immediately wants revenge on all those who ruined her lives. What results is approximately 4 hours and 8 minutes (that's what you get if you add the two films together) of action-packed, in-your face drama that can't get any better. Quentin Tarantino is a masterful writer and director that one can compare to Martin Scorsese. He is totally original in what he creates and doesn't hold anything back from the audience. He shoves it in your face and all you can do is squeal when he does it. Uma Thurman delivers quite possibly the best performance of her career (the only one better maybe occurs in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction) and honestly richly deserves a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in this epic film. But what is really the centerpiece of this whole entourage of violence and blood is the character of Bill. One would expect bill to be such a hard-ass, a man so violent and so insane that you wouldn't be able to like him at all. Yet Tarantino creates him as an intelligent, sweet, loving man who feels sincere regret for what he did to The Bride. The man who plays him is David Carradine, son of the legendary John Carradine, whom, like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino resurrects with this film. Carradine plays Bill so well in Volume 2 that he too deserves a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in this film. Tarantino's writing and direction are nearly flawless in this movie, the editing of the film is spectacular, the cinematography is absolutely stunning, all making Kill Bill a vast, beautiful tale that is more than just about revenge. Volume 1 was a bloody masterpiece, Volume 2 was a beautiful masterpiece, Kill Bill is One of the Very Best Films Ever!

Lenny's Grade for Volume 1: A Lenny's Grade for Volume 2: A Lenny's Grade for KILL BILL: A
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6/10
Corporations, not Communism
14 August 2004
A massive global corporation is now the latest threat to American National Security. Or at least, that's what Jonathan Demme wants us to believe in his remake of John Frankenheimer's classic adaptation of George Axlerod's novel The Manchurian Candidate. Demme's version is more edgier than Frankenheimer's in so many ways. Maybe I shouldn't say edgier but rather more darker. He makes the film seem more in touch with a post-9/11 world and thus is able to consumate it with a vision of reality. It all begins with Ben Marco, a Gulf War veteran, leading his men into a mission. They are ambushed and are apparently saved by Sgt. Raymond Shaw. Shaw is made to look like the hero, everybody goes home happy, Shaw receives the Medal of Honor, and everything is all peaches and cream. Or is it? You see, the problem is Marco keeps having this recurring nightmare in which Shaw doesn't actually save his unit but rather the unit ends up being captured and brought to some secret location, where they are brainwashed into believing that Shaw saved their unit. The film thus begins to toy with the concept of illusion vs. reality. Which is the illusion and which is the reality? All the while, Shaw is being pushed by his egotistical mother, Sen. Eleanor Prentice Shaw, to run for Vice President of the United States. It seems to make sense, after all, he did win the Medal of Honor and all of his unit seems to believe so. But is this all a fantasy? Is it only a dream where Shaw is but a pawn trapped in his own self-conscience? The film is a mysterious, dark, twisted thriller that keeps you engaged just like the original did. We spend the entire film following Marco, trying to search for the answers. What he finds is a shocking revelation of a global conspiracy between the government and the corporation to assume the throne of power. It all leads up to a thrilling conclusion that keeps you on the edge of your seat. However, Demme's picture will never compare to the original version even though it is a taut, well-crafted political thriller. And I am sad to say that not even the decent performances of Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep or Liev Schreiber can compare to Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury or Laurence Harvey.

Lenny's Grade: B
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21 Grams (2003)
7/10
A powerful film
21 March 2004
21 Grams is a powerful film with powerful performances by all three of its stars. Sean Penn is nothing short of brilliant once again as Paul, a man who only has one month to live because of his bad heart. Penn gives extraordinary depth to a character who has lost the will to live. The only way he is able to get by during the day is to have a cigarette in a bathroom. He finds life redeeming when he meets Cristina, played excellently by Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, who is a woman on the threshold as well. She has just lost her husband and two girls who were run over by Jack Jones, played by Benicio Del Toro (I'll get to him later) and she is dueling with herself over whether or not to commit suicide or just let life go on. As she tries to answer that question, she gets back in the habit of using drugs and literally doesn't know what she's going to do with herself. However, that all changes when Paul comes into her life and she is able to find comfort in the fact that he is a lost soul like herself. Now, to Benicio Del Toro, whose performance in this movie certainly rivals what we saw in Traffic. He plays a religious guru who tries to find happiness in life by leaning towards the word of God and Jesus. He believes that everything in life happens because God wants it to happen. So when he runs over Cristina's family, it was because God had wanted him to. Jack Jones is a messy character to play and Del Toro plays him perfectly enough to make us care about what happens to him. The characters are all intertwined together because Cristina asks Paul to kill Jack. What results is a climatic scene that is in itself unforgettable and totally genuine. The film itself is a tribute to another great film called Memento, which, like 21 Grams, zig-zags through the story and leaves us all dazed and confused at the end. The directors of both films depend on us to rely on our intellectual capacity to follow what is going on and it works successfully. 21 Grams ends up being a powerful film with some of the best acting I have seen in a long time and a fine script to go along with it.

Lenny's Grade: A-
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8/10
A terrific film
14 March 2004
Lost in Translation is indeed one of the best films of the year. Bill Murray gives him a performance that clearly defines what it is to be an actor. The writing and the directing by Sofia Coppola is nothing short of brilliant. Scarlet Johannson will go on to be one of America's premier actresses because of this one film. Indeed, Lost in Translation is a film that will be remembered as an original, genuine, and magnificent story about two people lost in the midst of the Japanese world. It deserved all the praise that it got from America's best critics and Bill Murray deserved his Oscar nomination, as did Sofia Coppola for Best Director. Don't be surprised if by the time I've seen every Oscar-nominated film that Lost in Translation beats out Return of the King as my favorite film of the year.
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6/10
Mona Lisa tries to smile...
14 March 2004
Mona Lisa Smile is a fine B-movie with fine performances by its leading ladies. Julia Roberts is fine as the liberal arts teacher who tries to mold her students into becoming more than just wives to the rich. Kirsten Dunst is good as the egotistical bitch who ends up learning the most from Robert's character. Julia Stiles is fine as the very intellectual student who decides to set herself to standards in spite of the lessons from Robert's character. Maggie Gyllenhahl is terrific as the very promiscious student who tries to set herself to Robert's standards. So basically the whole movie revolves aroud Julia Roberts. And if she fails to deliver a brilliant performance, then the whole movie falls flat on his back. Well, she is well short of that brilliant performance but still manages to make this film worth seeing because she is Julia Roberts and there will never be another one quite like her.
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10/10
PERFECT!!!
20 December 2003
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a magnificent epic that could not have been made any better even if Steven Spielberg was directing it instead of Peter Jackson. Elijah Wood gives a tour-de-force performance as Mister Frodo in the final film of this series and should receive his very first Oscar nomination. Sean Astin is brilliant as Sam and should also receive an Oscar nomination. The story itself has brought much more depth to its characters giving it a superior strength that makes it unstoppable for 3 hours and 21 minutes. Yet the real brilliance comes in the form of visual effects. Shelob looks absolutely realistic and absolutely brilliant. The Dead Soldiers look amazing in every sense of the word. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest battle ever put on the big screen, surpassing that of D-Day in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Gollum is absolutely fantastic. The art direction is extraordinarily superb. The cinematography and editing of the picture is nothing short of brilliant. Viggo Mortenson gives a fine performance as does John Noble as Denethor, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, and Bernard Hill as King Theoden. Hugo Weaving (Elrond) is just as good as he was in Fellowship. Miranda Otto is nothing short of fantastic and stunning as Eowyn. What more can I say except that every aspect of this movie is brilliant and it will go down as one of the great movie classics. It shall win the Oscar for Best Picture without any competition from Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain. Accolades to Peter Jackson for taking a literary masterpiece so grand in scale and turning it into a film masterpiece so grand in scale. He should and will win the Oscar for Best Director. The Lord of the Rings shall forever be a classic movie trilogy and will go down as one of the greatest stories ever told not just in the cinema but also in the world as well.

Lenny's Grade: A+
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10/10
SIMPLY PERFECT!
13 October 2003
On the Waterfront is absolutely one of the best films ever made. It is made with incredible sharpness and technique that no other film has topped since it was made. Marlon Brando gives a pitch-perfect performance, Eva Marie Saint is wonderful, Karl Malden is brilliant as the Priest, Lee J. Cobbs is absolutely frightening as the Mob Boss, and Rod Steiger is amazing as Brando's brother. Brando plays a character torn by morality and whether or not to rat out his brother as well as his boss in a murder of Joey Davis. Obviously, his brother and the Mob attempt to convince him to not rat them out but since he becomes romantically entangled with Joey's sister, he is torn now between what is right and wrong. Brando plays his character with such depth and intellectuality that no other actor could play him better. That is what makes On the Waterfront quite simply a divine film on all levels and truly deserved all 8 of the Oscars that it received for its production. Elia Kazan has etched his name among such great directors as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick with this film that is the second best Mob film ever made, second only to The Godfather. Again, Perfect acting, directing, writing, etc. makes this film a true classic.

Lenny's Grade: A+
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1/10
The Worst Film of the Year
17 August 2003
I was expecting very much out of the Civil War epic Gods and Generals, a prequel to Ronald Maxwell's 1993 Gettysburg. After the first 45 minutes into the movie, I saw nothing but an absolute waste of time. Gods and Generals surpasses the stupid political comedy Head of State as the worst film of 2003 thus far. Ronald Maxwell has generated a story of the beginning of the Civil War in which the audience shares no compassion for the characters on screen. Stephen Lang is bland and utterly dull as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a man devoted to God and his home. He is supposed to be a spiritual leader to the Confederate soldiers similar to that of the likes of George Patton. What we are left with is an actor who appears to be struggling desperately to portray an important character and produce a fine accent. The battle scenes are not even that great, but what else can you expect from a PG-13 rated war epic. Forget about a biography about Gen. Jackson, get to the battles, the bloodshed. At least we will be able to care about these soldiers. Even seeing Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee is not enough to save this movie from sinking. Jeff Daniels is portraying the same character he did from Gettysburg but he is not as essential to the plot in this film as he was in that film. Many of the actors from the first film are missing i.e. Tom Berenger and Martin Sheen. Perhaps that is why the film sinks. I am personally a huge fan of American History and love when it is portrayed on the big screen. This is a film that could be a great 4-hour documentary on the History Channel. There is no story in his tediously boring God-awful mess which makes the audience feel less passionate about the characters. If Ron Maxwell makes a third portion documenting the end of the War, he must at least include a good story as he did with Gettysburg. If he doesn't, then young Americans will not see his movie nor will give a rat's ass about the Civil War. I thought I saw the worst in Head of State (which is also a mess of epic proportions), but I was wrong. Screw You, Ronald Maxwell, and Screw Ted Turner for allowing a story of American History to be made into a giant mess. This is a disgrace of a movie that without a shadow of a doubt could have been much better.

Lenny's Grade: D
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8/10
A brilliant study of Mob Rule in the 1920's
8 August 2003
The Public Enemy is more than just a story about the rise and fall of a crimean lord in the 1920's. Hell, it even says that at the beginning and end of the picture. It states, "The Public Enemy is not a man, nor is it a character, it is problem that we, The Public, must solve." James Cagney gives a magnificent performance as Tom Powers, a man who started off as a petty thief with sidekick Matt Doyle (played excellently by Edward Woods) and rose to become a powerful beer smuggler during the era of Prohibition and Gang Rule. Yet this film is not all about Tom Powers and his rise to power; it is about the vast feeling of change that America was experiencing during the Roaring Twenties. America was attempting to adjust to the aftermath of World War I (which is explored brilliantly in this film in a sequence through which Tom's brother, Mike, refuses to drink from a keg of beer smuggled in by Tom for his dinner party) People like Mike were still trying to feel that sense of loyalty towards the government after World War I. Yet that loyalty somehow vanished with the development of Prohibition and the rise of gang rule in urban society. Director William A. Wellman explores deeply with this subject matter as we analyze Tom's family and how they have adjusted to the effects of change upon American society. In Tom's case, he yearns for power which became a craving for all Americans during the 1920's. Matt also is one of those who yearns for power. Mike, on the other hand, wants to remain conservative about American values. He wants to keep things the way they are with his family. He does not crave for power as much as his brother Tom which allows him to survive at the end of the picture. As a result, we, the American Public, learn at the end of the picture that power is bigger than any one man and that it will smite any man who tries to take full control of it. Tom attempts to do that and ends up losing everything dearest to him. He loses his friends, his girls, but most of all, he loses his soul. "The Public Enemy is not a man, nor is it a character, it is a problem that we, the Public, must solve." James Cagney should have received an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for this film and Edward Woods should have received a Best Supporting Actor nomination as well.

Lenny's Grade: A
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Bad Boys (1995)
6/10
A funny, thoroughly entertaining action comedy
7 August 2003
Bad Boys is a great action comedy from producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. It features Will Smith (in his breakout performance) and Martin Lawrence, an unlikely pair who quite simply are the best movie duo I've seen since Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. The film features incredible action sequences (i.e. the Ether truck chase scene featuring massive explosions and pervasive gun fights) which all lead up to the film's action-packed climax which could only be done in a Jerry Bruckheimer film. The film also stars Tea Leoni (who is pretty good in playing the damsel in distress), Joe Pantoliano (whom we all know as Ralphie on The Sopranos, as a police captain) and Tcheky Karyo as the villain. (He was also the French officer opposite Mel Gibson in 2000's The Patriot) The movie features comedic one-liners from Smith and Lawrence as well as a few by Leoni. It also features a few sex jokes and just plain "disses". However, the characters are so underdeveloped that all we are left with is action and comedy. This formula is also seen in the recent summer blockbuster Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, in which we could care less about the characters and just look for the action. However, Simpson and Bruckheimer's Bad Boys succeeds where T3 does not. By the end of the movie, we care about the heroes because they are fun to watch. In T3, the great Ah-nuld is just a figurehead for a movie romped with action-packed sequences and jaw-dropping stunts. This is one of only three good Michael Bay films (right next to Pearl Harbor and The Rock) and should seen by any action movie fan.

Lenny's Grade: B
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6/10
Good, Not Great
12 July 2003
Those looking for extreme action this summer best catch a glimpse at Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. This is a movie that features pure action and nothing more. There are massive gun fights, car chases, explosions, the whole lot. T3 is a fast-paced action thriller that grabs you and never lets go. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks great for a 55-year old man and kicks serious ass in this film. Kristanna Lohken (who plays the T-X) is a sexy villain who enjoys kicking Arnold's ass all over the place (including a bathroom stall). So for those looking for nothing but action will truly get their money's worth after seeing this movie.

However, I prefer to look for more than action. I want to see just a slight bit of drama in this type of movie. T3 offers little to no drama except at the very end of the film (I will not reveal the ending because it is a surprise) Even so, you could probably see the ending coming since Arnold's character keeps hinting at it throughout the film. That is where T3 falters as a picture. The screenplay is so predictable and carries too many cliches. Also, there are too many comical lines which damage the film's credibility. As a result, what you see on the screen is a full-scaled action picture littered with explosive stunts and amazing special effects. T3 does not have the James Cameron touch that was present in the first two films which weakens it as well. T2 was much better because it was able to incorporate more emotion between John Connor and the Terminator all while presenting you with explosive stunts and special effects. Frankly, I missed Edward Furlong playing John Connor. He gave an incredible performance in T2 and Nick Stahl's portrayal is weak with no emotion whatsoever. It feels like he's trying his best not to act but to just get through his lines, which he can't do because of the weak screenplay. Claire Danes's character of Kate Brewster shows some emotion but not enough to make you feel for your loss. The only time you feel eligible to shed a tear is at the very end of the film.

Yet I believe that T3's pure action method saves it from becoming a failure of a movie which I why I praise it. It is a film solely for the people who want action and only action. It is also for the people who want to see Arnold kick a woman's ass and the woman kicking his ass as well. Although there is no drama, T3 is able to successfully continue the action half of the Terminator franchise which makes it a good film but not great.

Lenny's Grade: B
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Hulk (2003)
6/10
'Hulk' is fine, but his life story is unnecessary
3 July 2003
From the imagination of director Ang Lee comes a vision of epic proportions. However, that vision is unnecessary when talking about a film like The Hulk. His vision is to illustrate vividly why Bruce Banner is who he becomes and how the curse of turning into a 15 ft monster haunts him evermore. Ang Lee is able to do this rather successfully in The Hulk. However, in this type of film, audiences are looking to see more of The Hulk and want less of what appears on screen in this film. Audiences crave for less dialogue and more action which was the main problem with this film. When The Hulk appeared on screen, the film became a visual spectacle of magnificence and beauty. However, the film takes too much time to explain Banner's relationship with his father (elegantly portrayed by Nick Nolte) and how his actions lead Bruce into a world of fear and misfortune. Jennifer Connelly is fine as Banner's girlfriend Betty and Eric Bana is fine as Banner himself and does a great job at illustrating the fear within him. And whoever tells you that the Hulk looks fake and is portrayed as a Shrek on steroids, don't trust them. The Hulk looks amazing and much better than the one portrayed by Lou Ferrigno (plays a security guard in this film) in the 70's TV Show. Even when The Hulk is on screen, you can't see him because the scene is set in the dark. Ang Lee's vision is appreciated for this film. However, since it is a summer blockbuster, it is totally unnecessary because of the basic concept that WE WANT MORE HULK!
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9/10
THIS IS TRULY CAPRA'S MASTERPIECE
21 June 2003
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an honest and witty tale of the American political game. It also tells the tale of what happens when a simple and divine man suddenly decides to step into that game and play hardball. Jimmy Stewart gives his greatest performance in Frank Capra's funny and deliciously realistic take on the American political spectrum. This is truly a masterpiece of epic proportions with masterful writing, brilliant acting on the part of Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith, Claude Raines as Sen. Joseph Paine and Jean Arthur as Saunders, and extraordinary filmmaking on the part of Frank Capra. It is truly a classic among classics and should have taken Best Picture away from Gone with the Wind in 1939. The same could be said about Jimmy Stewart who did not take home Best Actor for his performance in this movie. However, he did take it home the following year for his role as a reporter in The Philadelphia Story. However, that performance does not even come close to the subtleness of his performance as Mr. Smith. Complete with scandal, love, and history that would blow your mind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is truly a film that the whole family could enjoy and demonstrates how brilliant a filmmaker that Frank Capra truly was.
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Iris (I) (2001)
5/10
Excellent performances, story slacks off
25 August 2002
There are biographies which attempt to tell the story of one's life with as much emotion and as much intensity as possible. Iris tries so hard to do so that it eventually slacks off in the end. Iris is the story of female writer Iris Murdoch, a world-renowned author who suffered Alzheimer's disease. Through the love and guidance of her husband, fellow author John Bailey, she was able to enjoy the last moments of her life and not feel frightened by death. Iris is played brilliantly by Dame Judi Dench and deserved an Oscar nomination for her role. Her facial expressions and personification of the character made us realize what Iris had become and made the audience feel sad. Equally compelling is Jim Broadbent as John Bailey, who gives a pitch-perfect performance as a husband who knows he has lost the woman he loves. He misses the fiery passion of Iris and longs for the freedom that she once had. Throughout the film, we are able to see glimpses of Iris's past and are able to see her freedom to speak her mind. We learn that she was indeed a passionate woman who was not afraid to express her sexuality and opinion on matters such as politics or society. Young Iris is played effectively by Kate Winslet and makes the audience realize with her tone of voice and character improvisation that the real Iris Murdoch was once a magnificent storyteller. The film is good performance wise and makes the audience realize that you could expect no more from such fine and respected actors. However, it is in the storyline in which the film loses its balance. It does not maintain the same passion as the actors present to the project and leaves us with a lot of questions and not enough satisfaction at the end of the film. The writers left a lot of details out of Iris's life and that is why the film is so poor. The storyline instead makes the audience hungry for more than what they bargained for. What we see on the screen is this interpretation of a woman's life that is a knockout performance wise. However, it leaves the audience with questions rather than answers.

Lenny's Grade: **1/2
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7/10
A riveting, compelling war drama
25 August 2002
We Were Soldiers is an intense drama set during the vastness of the Vietnam War. The story does not only focus on the grave depiction of this war, but also focuses on the lives of the American soldiers. The audience is able to realize that lots of these men who fought bravely were fathers to their children and husbands to their wives. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their country and fight for a nation they could be proud of. Mel Gibson is one of those soldiers (Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore) who must also leave his life behind and lead these young soldiers into the heart of doom. Writer/director Randall Wallace does a wonderful job at bringing the devastation of war and the emotion of soldiers to an even match and turns the film into an amazing portrait of the American spirit. He doesn't just make us absorb the harshness of war in which there is a good and an evil. Wallace makes us feel sorry not just for the American soldiers, but also for the enemy soldiers who are also sacrificing their lives for the good of their country. We realize that it is not their choice to fight in this war and are made to believe that it is a matter of duty and honor. Earlier in the film, Moore describes the soldiers as "young boys" who are being shed into a hellacious mixture of death and agony. This line allows the audience to feel proud for these young soldiers who fought for their nation. Moore also makes a promise that he will bring every man under his command home (dead or alive) "so help him God". We learn from this line at the end of the movie that Moore was indeed a man of his word and would die to see that these young boys made it home. Randall Wallace tells of the story of 7th company with such effectiveness and power that the audience must shed a tear at the end. Indeed, Wallace has improved himself ever since he wrote the disastrous screenplay for Pearl Harbor. I would not be surprised if this film was not recognized at the end of the year as one of the best films of the year.

Lenny's Grade: ***1/2
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