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124 reviews in total 
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
2.5 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002

Subjectivity: As much as any reviewer tries to see a film for what it is, the actual *experience* of seeing it is all there really is to go on. In the case of this film, I had seen the preview several times and was very motivated to see the film, but I waited until the last night it was playing nearby. That day (9/5/2002) I was seriously sleep deprived and also didn't have time for dinner, attempting to substitute a medium popcorn and a large Diet Coke. And I had a mild headache before the film started.

Someday I'll watch it again to see if the experience is different.


This film is about the early punk rock scene in Manchester, England, starting in 1976. Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) has a show called "So It Goes" on a local TV channel in Manchester where his bosses want him to do things like fly a hang glider and interview a dwarf elephant keeper. But he keeps reminding people that he went to Cambridge, and that this kind of thing is *not* why he became a journalist.

We learn that his real passion is music. Very early in the film he attends a concert of the Sex Pistols, correctly identifying this to be a key turning point in musical history despite the presence of only 42 people in the audience. He showcases them and other punk rock bands on his show, starts a record label (Factory Records), and opens a nightclub.

Besides the Sex Pistols, several other bands are featured, including Joy Division. The name of this particular band apparently comes from Nazi sex-slave camps, which some suggest is not a very good image for a band, but Wilson dismisses this issue with a comment about postmodernism and/or semiotics. Coogan manages to pull off this attitude in a believable and charming way, which is perhaps not surprising since he has apparently played a similar character on British TV for many years.

All of this is a great deal of fun, actually. My problem, at least of this day, was the presentation. From the start, the opening credits are essentially impossible to read, looking like they were passed through some sort of severe drug trip filter. The camera is highly unsteady, in the worst SpastiCam™ tradition. I started the film with a small headache and ended with a large headache and an upset stomach. The experience, for me, was unpleasant. Your mileage may, and hopefully will, vary.

8 Women (2002)
3 stars (out of 4), 9 December 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film looks like it was very fun to make, and thankfully it is also very fun to watch. Gaby (Catherine Deneuve) lives in a wonderfully grand country home, first seen from outside in the snow. The rest of the characters are all connected to her: her mother Mamy, sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), daughters Catherine and Suzon, maids Chanel and Louise, sister-in-law Pierrette, and husband (and token male) Marcel. All eight of the French actresses are well known to some, but certainly not all (I obviously need to see more French films).

The previews disclose that this is a murder mystery, and in fact the murder is discovered very early on. Someone comments that the dogs did not bark all night, so the murderer is probably still at the house. And, in classic tradition, the phone line has been cut.

But what really makes this film stand out from others of the murder mystery tradition is that it's a musical. I considered not disclosing this fact in my review since I had forgotten about it until the younger daughter first broke out in song, but this happens so early that it cannot be considered a spoiler. I overheard someone complain that the songs do not really advance the plot, but I dismiss that as this is not a plot-oriented film. It's the style, which is definitely in the classic musical mold of bright colors, bright lighting, and extravagant clothes (even on the maids). When Deneuve breaks into song, one is reminded a little of "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

While the overall feel is that of a Hollywood musical, one also notices that it feels like a stage play, because almost all of the action takes place in one room of the house. Unlike some other recent films adapted from plays, this one probably uses this simplification so that the filming could be done quickly, since I assume that it was a challenge to schedule these actresses all at the same time.

The standout performance (not that any of them are bad) is by Huppert, who plays her part of the spinster sister wonderfully, making you wonder at her ability to play this part so lightly after the damaged character she played in "The Piano Teacher." And Huppert is not the only person whose range is impressive. The director of this film is François Ozon, whose previous film (the excellent "Under the Sand") deals primarily with death.

The only thing keeping this film from a higher rating is an event at the end which seems out of character with the rest of the film. But I still highly recommend it to anyone who likes musicals or original films.

Seen on 10/19/2002.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars, 18 April 2002

I saw this on 2/19/2002. The title refers to the mind of John Nash, a brilliant but eccentric mathematician played by Russell Crowe. This film, which is based on the real life of John Nash, opens in 1947 when he arrives at Princeton, and continues through a period of 47 years. During this time his eccentricity is seen to deepen into mental illness, and we see his struggles against it in a way few others could attempt.

Crowe's performance here is quite remarkable, both in terms of portraying the changing phases of his life, but also his ability to show us what he is feeling in his early encounters with his schoolmates and his future wife (played very well by Jennifer Connelly) and his later battles with mental illness. Ed Harris, on the other hand, is under used. The direction, by Ron Howard, is quite good in its ability to show us the inner workings of Nash's mind, both in its mathematical brilliance and in its struggles with sanity.

The biggest aspect that holds this film back from greatness is its simplification and Hollywood-izing of Nash's life. For example, Nash's bisexuality is left out of the film. But even if the package is just a little too neatly wrapped, this is a film that is highly recommended.

3 stars, 10 July 2002

Hugh Grant plays Will, who is independently wealthy because his father wrote one hit song many years ago. His house looks like a Sharper Image catalog and he drives an Audi TT, but his friends, who are all married with children, keep asking him if he wants anything more out of life. One couple asks him to be their child's godfather, and Will suggests that that would be a really bad idea.

Will gets set up with a woman who turns out to be a single mother, which surprisingly turns out pretty well for him when she breaks up with him just as he starts to tire of her (he's never had a relationship last longer then two months). So he invents an imaginary son and attends a group meeting for single parents. As a result, he eventually meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), who is a 12 year old boy. His mother (Toni Collette) is a vegetarian hippy who dresses Marcus funny, but he loves her anyway. He ends up taking a liking to Will, and the bulk of the film revolves around them. A great deal of the narrative is carried in the form of voice overs by the characters, which works but may take you a little out of the film after a while.

The acting is good. This is perhaps the most interesting role I can recall Hugh Grant playing, since he begins the film as a proudly shallow man and evolves, in fits and starts, over the course of the film. Nicholas Hoult does a convincing job of portraying a child who doesn't really fit in anywhere. Toni Collette, as my wife pointed out, is under utilized, but is still good. All in all, the film presents an interesting set of characters that I was glad to have had a chance to meet.

One interesting technique which I don't recall being used before was what I would call a pan cut. The film pans from one scene to another, so that in the middle of the pan the left half of the frame is a different scene than the right half. I guess it's just a wipe, except with the camera movement of a pan. I imagine that it was probably done digitally.

The film is based on a novel by Nick Hornby, who also wrote "High Fidelity." In the early parts of this film, I was really enjoying myself and felt that it was in the same league, but in the end it didn't feel as complete somehow. But since that's a pretty high standard, I would definitely still recommend this film.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars, 17 April 2002

Rachel is a Jewish lesbian. Her parents are initially shocked by this revelation (the lesbian part, that is), but have come around so far that they are now leaders of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays). After a long, on again, off again relationship with a woman named Reggie in New York, Rachel moves to southern California and meets Christine.

This romantic comedy stars Helen Lesnick, who also wrote and directed it. Her character breaks the fourth wall frequently, speaking to the camera on and off from the very beginning of the film. While I really enjoyed the film, a couple of minor problems stood out: the actress/writer/director looks much closer to the age of the actress playing her mother than to that of her love interest, and the dialog seemed stilted and occasionally badly overdubbed. I can't help but compare this to "Kissing Jessica Stein," which I saw in Toronto last year but is only now being released in theaters. This film is more real, but is not as inventive or as well delivered, so I would have to give the edge to KJS. Seen at Cinequest (the San Jose, CA film festival) on 3/1/2002.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
4 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003

Phil (Timothy Spall) drives a taxi. When he can get motivated enough, anyway. He seems very disconnected from his life, and you can also get a subtle sense of sadness (the sense is subtle, not the sadness) and maybe a hint of desperation. We spend time watching him as he drives various people around, unshaven, harshly lit, and with an expression that never seems to change.

His wife, presumably common-law since they never formally married, is Penny (Lesley Manville). She works as a grocery clerk in the local supermarket. She's the one person in the family who isn't seriously overweight. She isn't quite as dead to the world as Phil is, but you wouldn't exactly call her happy either.

Their children are Rachel, who works mopping floors and the like in a old folk's home, and Rory, who only leaves the couch and television when it's time to eat, yelling angrily and defensively when anyone suggests that he do anything different.

Maureen (Ruth Sheen) is someone who works with Penny at the supermarket and also lives in the same building in London. She is a single mother who also does ironing to make money. She is by far the best adjusted significant character in the film, actually making jokes on numerous occasions. Her daughter is Donna, who has an angry boyfriend that Maureen doesn't like much.

The final family consists of Carol, who is constantly drunk, and Ron, who also drives a cab. Their teenaged daughter Samantha plays the tramp, using her sex appeal to get attention from the local boys.

The film looks grim, and the soundtrack is dominated by depressing strings. But it manages to transcend that and offer a little hope, without seeming manufactured or manipulative. And the performances, especially by Spall, Manville, and Sheen, would all be Oscar contenders if anyone actually had a chance to see this film. It's a crime that it only played in theaters here for a week.

If you saw Mike Leigh's earlier film "Secrets & Lies" and appreciated it, this film is one you should seek out.

Seen on 11/14/2002.

4 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
2 stars, 18 April 2002

This film is about a family of marksmen. The father was famous, and the older brother (who reminded me of David Spade) was a world champion in his day, but has become a junkie since the war. The younger brother (who reminded me a bit of Wes Bentley) is training for a big tournament, but external events such as his brother selling the shooting range are making this increasingly difficult.

This is a film with a very energetic style, including pounding music and an injection scene that reminded me a bit of "Requiem for a Dream," but it didn't connect for me. Seen at Cinequest (the San Jose, CA film festival) on 2/28/2002.

2.5 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002

The plot is not really important. Essentially all of the characters from the previous film are back, except that this episode's female sidekick is Foxy Cleopatra (singer Beyoncé Knowles). Star Mike Myers has also added a new character named Goldmember, who lost his, uh, member in "an unfortunate smelting accident" and likes to eat the pieces of his skin that flake off regularly. He is also Dutch, which provided numerous opportunities for Dutch jokes, which aren't funny but are *supposed* to be because they aren't. Visually he reminded me a bit of Arte Johnson.

Also new is Austin's father, played by the *ideal* British actor (I won't reveal who) for the part. He helped fill in some of Austin's history and was generally good in the role, but I couldn't help but feel that something was missing.

One good scene involved the use of subtitles when some characters were speaking in Japanese. Specifically, the white subtitles were made partially invisible by a partially white background. This being an Austin Powers film, the remaining letters spelled out dirty jokes, but the fun part was that the characters were aware of the subtitles, reading them and taking steps to eliminate the white background so that they became legible. It wasn't actually the funniest scene in the film, but perhaps the most inventive.

But for me the two things that worked the best were 1) the cameos by some *really* big stars, and 2) the musical numbers. Maybe halfway through the film I thought that it was basically a musical, but unfortunately as the plot (such as it was) got going, the musical numbers dropped off. And since the cameos were also concentrated up front, I found this to be a film that promised a great deal but then mostly failed to deliver. Still, the best scenes make it marginally worth seeing, and if you liked the second film, you'll like this one.

Seen 7/25/2002 at the pre-opening party for the Camera 7 theater (in which I am an investor), at the PruneYard in Campbell, CA.

Auto Focus (2002)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a controversial film. I saw it on 10/12/2002 in Palo Alto, CA at Talk Cinema, where few people other than the professional critics (Jonathan Curiel from the San Francisco Chronicle, and the host, Marlyn Fabe) liked it. Because the title of the book it is based on is shown in the opening credits and telegraphs the eventual outcome, and because the previews make the real subject matter clear, this review is less concerned with spoilers than most that I write. So consider yourself warned.

This is the story of Bob Crane (played in the film by Greg Kinnear), who played the title character in "Hogan's Heroes" in the late 1960's. He starts the film as a part-time actor and full-time radio disc jockey. On his radio show he is interviewing Clayton Moore ("The Lone Ranger"), but is more interested in making jokes and playing the drums. Crane comes across as a nice, very friendly, outgoing puppy dog of a man.

When he gets offered the part of Hogan, his initial reaction is that a comedy about a German prisoner of war camp sounds like career suicide. His wife Anne (Rita Wilson) has the same reaction, but after reading the script, they both agree it might work. So he takes the job and starts to become famous as the show becomes a hit.

One day on the studio lot, Bob has a chance meeting with John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), who is a provider of cutting edge audio and video equipment to the stars. He has just finished installing a fancy new stereo in Richard Dawson's trailer, and soon figures out that Crane's passion is photos. And once Carpenter introduces him to video equipment, Crane is hooked.

But the real change that Carpenter brings to Crane's life happens when he starts to invite Crane to go out to strip clubs after work. At first Crane continues to project a Boy Scout image, ordering straight grapefruit juice to drink and reminding interested women that he is married, but these barriers quickly fall and Crane begins his downward journey. And as he falls, the film changes from bright colors, steady camera work and upbeat music, to a washed-out, shaky SpastiCam™, downbeat mood. During this process, Crane seems remarkably oblivious to how different he is becoming from normal people, insisting to his critics, and to himself, that sex is normal. This is most evident during the taping of "Celebrity Cooks," where Crane makes outrageous sexual comments about a woman in the audience.

The film is about addiction. Crane is addicted to sex and images of naked women, but I think also to attention of any kind. He loves to be recognized by fans, even when sex is not on the agenda. The film also offers a first hand look at how the temptations that accompany fame can bring someone down, which might change how you look at stories of powerful people doing stupid things (President Clinton's name came up more than once during the post-film discussion). This is a film with lots of nudity and a fair amount of sex, but it all feels dirty and/or empty. You'll leave not titillated, but feeling like you need to take a shower.

I cannot really recommend this film, since it seems that few will enjoy it. But it is well made, offers some excellent performances (especially by Dafoe), and will make you think. It opens locally in Silicon Valley on October 25th.

Baran (2001)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
3 stars, 18 April 2002

Like the Iranian film "Djomeh," which I saw in November, this film's main character is a young man living in Iran working for an older relative, this time in a construction job. Also similarly it involves the relationship between the native Iranians and refugees from Afghanistan.

The story, which moves slowly, involves sacrifice and a degree of romance. The cinematography is gorgeous, with a much more mobile camera than was seen in "Djomeh," and some truly beautiful compositions. This film was Iran's entry for the best foreign language film Academy Award, and is to be distributed in the US by Miramax, although they have apparently delayed it until the Spring. I saw it at the Camera Cinema Club (in San Jose, CA) on 2/17/2002.

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