Reviews written by registered user
mweston

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124 reviews in total 
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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
4 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
9/10

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.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
7/10

As the title indicates, this film is made up of three stories. The first is about Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), who has two children and is married to a man who we quickly find out abuses her. The film's male narrator fills us in on Delia's history as we see dream-like flashbacks to her in high school, where she was known for her ass and for being a slut. Back in the present day we see her bloodied from her husband's attack and needing to decide what to do.

The second story is about Greta (Parker Posey). She is a cookbook editor in New York City, and is married to a man who she is sure will never leave her. Her father (Ron Leibman) is a powerful lawyer who figuratively towers over both she and her husband.

The third story is about Paula (Fairuza Balk), who is pregnant and running away from a not very pleasant life when she picks up a hitchhiker.

There are similarities between the stories, most obviously that all are about women, and slightly less obviously that all have significant personal decisions to make in their lives. The stories also intersect, as all such films seem to be required to do, but this device doesn't really add much to the film. There are also differences between the women. Delia has two children, Paula is pregnant, while Greta is intentionally (presumably) childless, and is also much better off than the other two.

The looks of the three stories are very different. Greta's story, in the middle, is filmed very calmly and intellectually, and looks relatively conventional. Paula's story is filmed with enough nervous camera movement (SpastiCam™) to make people normally immune to motion sickness at the movies start to feel a bit queasy. Delia's story is also gritty, but with a more down-to-Earth feeling. Note that all three were filmed on digital video and transferred to film for exhibition. The middle story reminds you that digital video doesn't *have* to look bad, so the look of the other two stories is clearly intentional.

The film was written and directed by Rebecca Miller, daughter of the playwright Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis. On the whole it has some very good performances and is worth seeing, but it isn't a pleasant experience, and the short length of each segment prevents it from getting into as much depth as I might like.

I saw this at Talk Cinema in Palo Alto, CA on 11/23/2002. Here are a few more tidbits I picked up there (although some observations above probably also originated from other people at the screening):

* The acting, while seeming like it might have been at least partially improvised, was entirely scripted.

* Each of the three segments was filmed in about 5 or 6 days.

* The narrator is a man "for contrast."

* Greta's story might be autobiographical.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
8/10

This documentary... but is this really a documentary? I would argue that it is, sort of, although the filmmaker, Michael Moore (who wrote, directed, and helped produce), is the main on-camera character, and this is his opinion. There is also an extended cartoon sequence which I assume was made specifically for this film, which seems counter-documentary. So it's easy to argue that the film is more of a performance piece than it is a true documentary.

You might think that the question would be one of gun control, but it's really not. Moore turns out to be an actual lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and the film shows that gun ownership is high in some other countries (most notably Canada), but the rate of using guns to kill one another is much higher here in the United States. So the basic question is: why?

Moore covers a lot of ground in trying to answer that question, including, of course, Columbine High School (the film's title comes from the fact the the killers at Columbine went to a bowling class the morning of the shooting, by the way). I won't give away any conclusions that may or may not be reached, but he does talk with Charlton Heston (head of the NRA), Dick Clark, and, in a surprisingly down-to-Earth segment, Marilyn Manson. There is also a very funny stand-up comedy segment by Chris Rock, and a moving segment when Moore takes some survivors of the Columbine shooting to K-Mart, which is the store that sold the ammunition to the killers.

This film manages to be entertaining, disturbing, educational, and thought provoking. The only thing that kept it from reaching my top rating is Moore's tendency to try to milk a situation for everything possible. He sometimes asks questions that are the equivalent of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" And when people leave an interview early, Moore often keeps standing there, trying to look helpless and asking a final question to the air. This feels like pandering to the film's audience far more than it feels like true fact finding.

This film was the first documentary in many years to be accepted into the competition for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. It did not win that, but it was given a special 55th Anniversary Prize, unanimously. It has also won audience awards at many other film festivals.

Seen on 11/9/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival, although it was already playing in normal theaters at the time. I definitely recommend this film.

Princess D (2002)
3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
2 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
5/10

The film opens with a cool CGI cartoon of a fly, and then we see the fly in the real world. We meet Joker, a video game designer. In a bar he meets Ling, a bartender with an attitude, and she saves him in a impressive Hong Kong-style fight scene in the alley. My expectations were high.

Joker uses Ling as his inspiration for a video game character, but then the film ground to a halt for me. It became a love story, which would have been fine, except it seemed to move *very* slowly, with many details that seemed completely irrelevant. Granted, I was sleepy, but I started the film very interested and it lost me.

Seen on 11/5/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
8/10

Dean is visiting his uncle Edward (Charles 'Bud' Tingwell from "Innocence"), who has lived in the same house all his life. In fact, Edward's grandfather disappeared at the house years ago and was never seen again.

Dean is strangely drawn to the cellar where he finds a trunk. Locked inside is a book which seems to have all of history recorded in it. Scarier still, as things happen, they appear magically in the book, as if someone is writing it as the events unfold. It might sound like I have given too much away, but there are many more surprises after that.

I'm not a normally a fan of thrillers, so I was scared at times but many people probably would not be. The acting was only adequate, but I thought the story was extremely good and surprising. In fact, the writer (Robert Sutherland, who also directed) won the "Awgie" from the Australian Writer's Guild for best feature film screenplay.

Seen on 11/5/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival, where an earlier showing was the U.S. premiere. The executive producer (Robert A. Jones) was there to answer a few questions: The cost was about $2.5 million, the music is all original, it was filmed in Melbourne, and it does *not* have distribution yet. He also said that he found out that an executive producer's primary job is to write checks.

I think this film would be reasonably successful in general release. It's interesting, looks like it cost a lot more to make than it actually did, and I simply enjoyed it.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
7/10

Mrs. Iyer and her baby son Santanam are traveling to Calcutta by bus and train. A family acquaintance named Raja is making the same trip, and he is asked to keep an eye on Mrs. Iyer. He is a nature photographer, which seems somehow appropriate since in the course of the film we see a natural beauty in India (e.g., forests and mountains) that seems rare in films.

The beginning of the film moves fairly slowly, so to say much more would reveal events that occur perhaps a third of the way through the film. If you would like an unspoiled film experience, you should probably stop reading now, although I obviously haven't said much yet.

The key fact is that Mrs. Iyer is Hindu while Raja is Muslim. We first learn this when she drinks out of a water bottle without touching it to her lips, while Raja drinks in what we in the United States would consider the "normal" manner (the subtitles helpfully clue us into this difference). When the bus is stopped by Hindus out for revenge on Muslims, Mrs. Iyer saves Raja's life by lying and saying that they are a Hindu couple.

This film has a pretty clear message about violence between Hindus and Muslims, which is not too different from violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the Bosnians and Serbians, and so on throughout human history. I was glad to learn about this in what seemed like a balanced manner, and essentially without the usual Bollywood musical numbers, but the film seemed to be a bit one dimensional, without much else to recommend it.

Seen on 11/2/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Maile award for best feature.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 9 December 2002
7/10

The film opens with Martha (Martina Gedeck, who looks like a younger and thinner Kirstie Alley) on a psychologist's couch. But instead of talking about normal counseling things, she is talking about what flavors go together and other food-oriented things. The psychologist asks why she bothers coming, and she says that she only comes because her boss insists.

It seems that Martha is an outstanding cook, but is a little temperamental. Okay, maybe more than a little. If a customer has a complaint, her response is to attack the customer's lack of taste rather than to smooth the situation over. One is reminded of the film "Big Night" in these scenes. Needless to say, this doesn't work well. Oh, and Martha also has a tendency to "hide" in the restaurant's walk-in freezer when she gets overwhelmed by what's going on around her in the kitchen.

The second main character is another chef named Mario (Sergio Castellitto, who looks a bit like Barry Manilow). Martha assumes that he is intended to replace her when her boss hires him, and in fact he is very talented. I won't say much more, although this axis of the film is not exactly surprising.

The third main character is actually introduced before Mario, but because this character is not on the film poster and there is more surprise involved, I won't say more, except that this character's introduction makes a very large difference in Martha's life.

It's very hard to pin this film down. It is often funny, but it's also a drama, and a cooking demonstration, and more. The performances are all good, the story moves clearly but not overly predictably, and the film looks good. It is surprising to learn that it was made by a first-time feature film director.

You won't finish the film as hungry as you would after seeing "Big Night," but you will want something good to eat. As this film is now essentially gone from theaters, you will probably be seeing it at home, but do seek it out if the normal formula films are getting stale. Just make sure to stock your kitchen well first.

Seen on 10/23/2002.

5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 9 December 2002
7/10

This docudrama recreates the filmmakers' view of the events in the Northern Ireland city of Derry on January 30, 1972. It starts by showing an announcement by the British outlining the restrictions against public assembly in Northern Ireland. A protest march is clearly not approved.

The night before a planned civil rights march, Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt from "Waking Ned Devine"), a Protestant member of Parliament representing the Irish Catholic district where the illegal march will take place, is making preparations. We see him moving through the streets, greeting people and trying to reinforce peaceful, non-confrontational interactions with the "occupying" British military force. We see that there are doubts about whether the march should go on and whether or not the more radical marchers will remain peaceful, but Cooper is resolute: "If we don't march, civil rights is dead in this city."

Meanwhile, the leaders of the British military know that a march is planned the next day. The upper-level officers give the directive that success will be defined by the number of so-called "hooligans" who are arrested. They make detailed plans for exactly where the march will go and where they will attempt to make the arrests. They spend little time planning what forms of force are appropriate.

And so the stage is set. With thousands of marchers, most will be peaceful while a few will inevitably push the boundaries. And on the military side, some will have measured responses while others will overreact.

The film style is intense. One is reminded of Black Hawk Down, with the washed out, almost monochromatic, color palette. Another similarity is the shaky handheld camera work, although I believe this film goes too far (TurboSpastiCam(tm)). But a contrasting aspect of the style here is to cut to black and then pause briefly between scenes, which gives you a moment to think and catch your breath. The accents are difficult to follow, not just at the beginning of the film but throughout, and subtitles would probably help.

The acting is uniformly good, making you feel as if you are watching a true documentary, with James Nesbitt clearly standing out. He has the most interesting part, and he lets you inside to feel what he is feeling. The film has won many awards, including the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival and an audience award at Sundance.

After the film is over, one is left to wonder just how accurately it portrays the events. Not having studied the history, I can't say for sure, although I suspect the film is somewhat biased, but is probably not blatantly so.

If you have trouble with shaking cameras, you should stay very far away from this film. For everyone else, this film is worth watching. And if you wait for the DVD, you can decide if subtitles help.

Seen on 10/13/2002.

8 Women (2002)
3 stars (out of 4), 9 December 2002
7/10

*** 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.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
2.5 stars (out of 4), 9 December 2002
6/10

Christopher Doogan is dressed nicely, walking along a street in a marginal neighborhood at night in the fog. He passes a street preacher, and later goes into a church. Later he goes into a somewhat sleazy-looking bar where people are surprised to see him. Like the fog we see outside, we're not at all clear on what is going on in the early minutes of this film.

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Silicon Valley, CA on 10/20/2002. The director, R.T. Herwig, was there to answer questions afterwards. He said that the film is an "emotional tone poem," and that making an understandable narrative was not his main focus. That's good, because the film was often fuzzy.

But despite the fact that the story is apparently not very important, you might still want to know about it. If you don't, you should *skip* the rest of this paragraph... Christopher has just been released from prison were he has been for a few years for his part in a robbery of some sort. Christopher loyally took the fall for a man named Banion and the rest of his gang, but Christopher isn't sure he wants back into a life of crime. He goes home, where his parents and grandmother live, and is welcomed except for by his retired-firefighter father. And later in the film, we learn, not surprisingly, that Banion has plans to use Christopher for at least one more job.

The film was shot on Super 16 and blown up to 35mm. Despite some people saying that it looked good, I thought it looked very grainy, especially in darker scenes like the church. It was shot in 14 days, and the finished film feels like it drags on nearly that long - it really needs some significant trimming. The performances by the unknown cast vary from marginal to good, but even the better actors are sometimes given very stilted lines to read. And the lead actor is way too short to plausibly be the child of the actors who play his parents.

On the positive side, the direction is more interesting than most mainstream films, probably because the director sincerely seems not to care if this film makes money or not. The camera angles are tilted more often than they are straight, which effectively conveys the subjectivity of the main character's mind, while possibly also keeping the audience more detached (one audience member's reaction). The film is made up almost entirely of long shots, both in terms of camera distance and the time between edits (one memorable shot is of a dinner, shot through the spindles of a railing, with two spindles visually keeping the three diners separate, and all done in one very long take).

I would probably give the film a slightly lower rating than I have, except that the director was very entertaining, despite his obvious discomfort at being in front of a crowd. He says he was depressed when he made the film, and it shows. He repeatedly brought up "Charlie's Angels" and Jackie Chan films, more or less saying that since his film is more original than those (which were popular), it must be good. He sited John Ford as his biggest influence, and "The Informer" as the film closest to what he was trying to make here.

I would recommend this film if the director will be there to answer questions afterwards, such as at a film festival. Frankly, I would be surprised if this film ever sees a normal distribution, but if it is (and the director is back home in the Philadelphia area), I would marginally recommend *against* seeing it.


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