Reviews written by registered user
mweston

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124 reviews in total 
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

A man (Matt Damon) is found floating in the ocean, miles from shore, by the men of a fishing boat. He is presumed dead, but, quite surprisingly, he is alive. Before he regains consciousness, the ship's doctor sees two bullet wounds on his back, and removes the bullets. He also finds another scar that hides a small object which projects some numbers and letters.

After the man regains consciousness, he says that he doesn't remember who he is, how he was shot, or how he ended up floating in the ocean. He recovers physically, but still has no idea who he is.

After he goes ashore in southern France, he uses the clue of the numbers and letters that were embedded in his body to start to learn more about who he is, including that his name might be Jason Bourne. He meets Marie (Franka Potente), who helps him, which is good since it seems that many people would like to see him dead.

Meanwhile, we see CIA agent Conklin (Chris Cooper), who is trying to clean up after an assassination that was planned but never happened, by an agent who has disappeared.

The plot is more involved than this, to the point where I wasn't 100% sure that I followed everything. There are some things that don't make sense and others that seem a bit unlikely, but it makes *enough* sense to avoid distracting you from the action scenes, which are the reason this movie exists, and which work *very* well. That you don't know exactly what's going on, especially earlier in the film, keeps the tension effectively high. And the acting and the special effects, like the story, are good enough to avoid distracting you.

Unlike "XXX," this film is definitely recommended if you're looking for an entertaining action film.

Seen on 8/23/2002.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

This is a film about Jane Marks (Brenda Blethyn) and her three daughters. Jane is reasonably well off but is getting older and heavier, and, hoping to improve her love life, decides to undergo liposuction. Besides herself, she also obsesses about how *other* things look, buying so many pillows to put on her bed that one of her daughters remarks that there is nowhere to sleep. And Jane is also very particular about how they are arranged.

Jane's oldest daughter is Michelle (Catherine Keener). Michelle was the high school homecoming queen, continuing the image obsession pattern, but that seems to have been the high point of her life. She is married with one daughter, but the marriage is far from a happy one. She makes crafts, exemplified by some overdone miniature chairs, and tries unsuccessfully to sell them. She is a very angry woman, using the F-word frequently and wondering why other people don't do the same. She hasn't ever had a real job.

The next daughter is Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), who is an actress with some small level of success but is very insecure. She is unmarried and has no children, although she is unable to resist bringing home stray dogs. Her nature journalist boyfriend is no help in the self esteem department, seemingly having infinite disdain for everything she does. When we first see Elizabeth, she is posing for a photo for a fashion magazine to promote a film she has a small part in. She is uncomfortable with the clothes and with the heavy makeup, but reluctantly goes along with the shoot anyway because she doesn't feel she has a choice.

The final daughter is much younger. Annie (first time actress Raven Goodwin) is an 8 year old adopted black girl who is close to her mother but not her two much older sisters. She is overweight, but her image issues also involve her skin color and her hair. She freely tells anyone who asks that her birth mother was a crack addict.

The men in the film have smaller roles because this is a film about (but not exclusively for) women. They include Jane's cosmetic surgeon, Michelle's husband, Elizabeth's boyfriend, Kevin McCabe (a star who Elizabeth reads for a part with, played by Dermot Mulroney), and one more I won't mention since to explain his role would give away a small plot point.

Okay, if you insist. If you want to avoid learning more about the plot, *skip the rest of this paragraph and all of the next one...* Michelle does eventually decide to take a real job, although she just takes the first job she sees, developing snapshots at a one hour photo place. Despite the fact that Michelle reminds her 17 year old boss (Jake Gyllenhaal) of his mother, he is attracted to her (he does comment that his mother is cute).

[*keep skipping*] The scene that is most talked about is one in which Elizabeth stands naked in front of Kevin McCabe and insists that he critique her body with complete honesty. He agrees only under extreme duress. She is particularly self conscious about her arms, which she believes are flabby but which he does not mention until she asks.

This is the second film that writer/director Nicole Holofcener has made, and I think that she has succeeded very well in making a highly original film with very interesting characters. Some people feel that the dialog is very good, although on occasion it felt a bit off to me. The story doesn't really go much of anywhere, but that's not really the point of a film like this. The acting was uniformly very good among the adult Marks women. I thought Raven Goodwin was also very good as Annie, which is slightly surprising since the only other child in the film was Michelle's daughter, who may not even have had any lines (I can't remember any).

I did not learn until after the film had ended that it had been shot on 24 frame/second high definition video and later transferred to film. While the look is not that of a highly polished Hollywood film, the quality of the picture was fine throughout.

I saw the film at the Camera Cinema Club in San Jose, CA on 7/14/2002. It is recommended to anyone who likes original independent films.

2.5 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
6/10

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.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

This is the story of two men in England in the late 1800's. Algernon Moncrieff (Rupert Everett) lives primarily in the city, while his good friend Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) lives primarily in the country. Jack calls himself Earnest when he is in the city, so Algernon calls him that. Jack also uses the name Earnest to refer to an imaginary brother who lives in the city and always needs assistance, giving him an excuse to go to the city. Similarly, Algernon is always leaving the city to attend to an imaginary friend named Bunbury.

Jack is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Frances O'Connor from "Artificial Intelligence: AI"), who lives in the city and therefore knows him as Earnest. Gwendolen's mother is Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench), who is also Algernon's aunt. And the final main character is Cecily Cardew (Reese Witherspoon), who is Jack's ward, and who Algernon introduces himself to as Earnest. This of course makes sense to Cecily because she knows of Jack's brother (but obviously not that he is imaginary).

There is more to the story, but I don't want to give away too much, not that the story is really the important thing anyway. This is a comedy and not a serious period drama, and what makes it work is the dialog, which is based on the play of the same name by Oscar Wilde and adapted for the screen by the film's director, Oliver Parker. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, but I have not read the play or seen any other adaptations. My wife, who has, was disappointed, because apparently too little of Wilde's words remain in the finished product.

The acting talent is first rate, including, in addition to those mentioned above, Tom Wilkinson from "In the Bedroom." They do very well with the material, but it's so light you don't think about the skill required.

The bottom line is that this film is a good choice if you are looking for something frothy and entertaining, yet respectable, and you keep your expectations fairly low.

Seen on 7/15/2002.

Ivansxtc (2000)
4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

The film begins with Ivan Beckman's death. He says, in a phone call heard as we see various hazy images of Los Angeles, that the pain was so great that he took every pill in the house. He also says that he tried to think of one image that could help him get through it.

He does *not* get through it. So next we see his funeral, at which a fight breaks out between a screenwriter, who has recently been fired from his film, and the star of the film. We also hear people questioning the cause of death. They have been told that Ivan died of lung cancer, but they all assume that it was really drugs that brought him down.

And then suddenly we have jumped back in time, to the last part of Ivan's life. Ivan (played by Danny Huston, son of John Huston) is a Hollywood agent. He's trying to make a movie happen and to land the star, Don West (Peter Weller), as a client. The actual content of the script isn't important to Ivan, but the deal is. Other significant characters include the screenwriter Danny McTeague (played by James Merendino, who really is a writer) and Ivan's girlfriend Charlotte White (Lisa Enos, who also helped write and produce the film).

This is not a Hollywood film. It was shot on high definition video and doesn't look as good as some other high definition films I've seen. This plus the so-so acting of some of the minor character actors made the film feel amateurish at first, but after a while I was able to forget about the mechanics and get inside the story.

It is also clearly not a Hollywood film because of its very negative portrayal of the people in show business. Ivan is seen as a heavy drug user who doesn't really care about the film, and Don West (the star) is even less likable.

But while the characters may not be likable, they are all quite interesting. And the lessons about life and death and what happens in between also make this a film I was glad to have seen.

Credits: There's a new trend these days of saving all of the credits for the end, including the names of the stars and even the title. This film is the complete opposite - all of the credits are at the beginning of the film, leaving only the soundtrack credits for the end. I don't think this means anything, unless the filmmakers thought people would be walking out early, but it seemed worth mentioning. The credits do affect the feel of a film.

Seen on 8/21/2002.

3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

It better be art, because it *sure* isn't entertainment.

Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) is a 40ish music professor who teaches people to play the piano. When the film opens she has come home later than expected to the apartment that she shares with her mother (Annie Girardot). Her mother is upset that Erika is so late and demands an explanation, going through Erika's purse when Erika won't say anything except that she was out walking. They have a huge fight and an equally passionate reconciliation where Erika's mother excuses both of them by saying that they have always been "hot blooded." And when they go to sleep, we see that they sleep in the same bed. And all this happens before the opening credits.

The opening credits are the first example of the interesting use of sound in this film. We see piano lessons being given, but when the credits are intercut, the sound goes away completely and suddenly, only to come back just as suddenly. The other sound-related technique I noticed was very long sound bridges, where the sound continues from one scene many seconds after the visual cut to the next, or vice versa where the sound starts significantly early. Perhaps this disconnection of the audio and the video is because Erika's work (music) and her personal life are so disconnected.

I don't want to give too much away, but if you've seen or read anything at all about this film, you know that there is a relationship with a much younger male student. His name is Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel), and he becomes fascinated with her at a recital in a private home where she plays and later he plays. Although he is majoring in engineering (the subtitles initially say "low voltage" as I recall), he pursues her, wanting to take lessons from her, and more. He is very confident, which is perhaps not a surprise for someone with such diverse talents.

This film won a grand jury prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, and Huppert and Magimel won the best actress and actor prizes there as well. Of these awards, Huppert's seems the most deserved. She manages to play someone who is generally very reserved and controlled, while somehow subtly hinting at the extreme turmoil below the surface. There are often very long takes of her where there is almost no motion, and yet there are shifts. It's pretty amazing.

I saw this film because of the awards, but I knew that it was going to be difficult going, and it was. And in some scenes it went well beyond what I was expecting. In order to avoid spoiling the film I have not told you what the difficult things are, but they are definitely there. You should only see this film if you are *very* open minded and also able to leave films behind when you leave the theater. This one may stick with you even if most challenging films do not.

Seen on 7/24/2002.

3.5 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
8/10

This documentary is based on the autobiography of Robert Evans, the head of Paramount during its rise in the late 1960's and early 1970's, with films like "Rosemary's Baby," "Love Story," "The Godfather," and "Chinatown."

The film begins with a quote: "There are three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently." This film, being based on his autobiography and narrated by Evans himself, is clearly his side. This makes it less objective than one normally expects documentaries to be, but also way more entertaining.

When the film starts in the mid-1950's, Evans was already doing very well as an executive in the Evan-Picone women's clothing company. He was poolside in Beverly Hills when he was discovered by Norma Shearer, who decided he was the right person to play her late husband, Irving Thalberg, in the film "Man of a Thousand Faces." Suddenly he became an actor on the west coast in addition to being a businessman on the east coast.

Next up was a key role in "The Sun Also Rises," but Ernest Hemingway and a number of the other important people involved in making the film demanded that Evans be fired. The producer, Darryl Zanuck, arrived on location, where Evans had been practicing bullfighting for several months, and announced that "the kid stays in the picture." Suddenly Evans realized that he really wanted to be a producer, so he could be the person who has that kind of power.

Evans' rise to the top is quite amazing. Only about 10 years after this pivotal event, he was running Paramount and was involved (instrumental, to hear him tell it) in some of the biggest films of the time.

The way Evans narrates the film is highly entertaining, both because of the actual content but also because you're always wondering just how much of what you're hearing is really true. But somehow he manages to weave enough self-deprecating words in amongst the self-congratulating ones to make you like him, in spite of his faults.

The film contains very little if any newly filmed material. It consists mostly of news footage, clips from films, and still pictures, with narration by Evans throughout. The handling of the still pictures was particularly interesting, because the foreground parts of the pictures were made to seem to float in a three-dimensional way above the backgrounds, making them far more alive and interesting than they could have been.

I highly recommend that you make an effort to see this film. And if you don't normally like documentaries, this one will change your mind.

Seen on 8/29/2002.

Possession (2002)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart, who I read recently lives nearby in Cupertino, CA) is an American living in London. He is working as an assistant to a literary professor and specializes in the work of Randolph Henry Ash, a 19th century poet known for his single-minded devotion to his wife. At the start of the film Roland is going through old books at the British Museum when he finds a letter between the pages. He brashly decides to "borrow" the letter, which seems to be a love letter from Ash to a woman who is *not* his wife.

The letter is written to Christabel LaMotte, another 19th century poet. The best expert on LaMotte is Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), so Roland goes to see her. At first she dismisses his suggestion that Ash and LaMotte had ever even met, much less carried on any sort of affair. But Roland and Maude dig further, finding out far more about these two long dead people than they ever expected.

As this mystery and investigation is going on in the present day, the movie begins to flash back to the 19th century story. We see Ash (Jeremy Northam) meet LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, who visually reminded me a bit of Meryl Streep at times) at a party, and we see them develop a relationship through letters written back and forth. There is more, but I don't want to give away too much.

If you've heard anything about this film, you know that Roland and Maude also develop a relationship. But the construction of the two romances is far less parallel than I would have expected. Ash and LaMotte are immediately drawn to one another, but have serious social forces keeping them apart. Roland and Maude, on the other hand, have only their own internal issues keeping them apart. I don't think this was as clear to me as I watched the film as it is now, and it seems to add something to my appreciation of the film's structure.

The aspect of the film which bothered me a bit was the ease with which the modern couple solves the series of mysteries that they are confronted with. I can only think of one case where they initially guess wrong, and the certainty with which they move forward makes it seem as if they are also seeing the flashbacks to the 19th century that the film's audience is seeing, which confirm each of the steps along the way. On the positive side, the fast progression of the mystery kept the film from feeling as slow as I initially feared it might be.

In the film's favor is the cinematography, which captures England both present and past beautifully. The acting is fine but not memorable, perhaps because the characters seem to think more than they feel.

All in all, this film is a good romance that is well worth seeing.

Seen on 9/8/2002.

Auto Focus (2002)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

*** 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.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
3 stars (out of 4), 15 October 2002
7/10

As the film opens we see a table of men in later middle age, very well dressed, around a table having dinner. In the same room, nearby, there is a boxing match going on, mostly ignored or perhaps taken for granted. The men remember shared events, but with fading memories. Their heavy accents tell us that we are in England. And we begin to see that these are people are criminals. Our main focus is on a character ("Gangster 55") played by Malcolm McDowell. When someone says that Freddie Mays is getting out of prison, Gangster 55 reacts and leaves the table.

We flash back to 1968. Now the Gangster 55 character is played by Paul Bettany (who played the roommate in "A Beautiful Mind"). We see him get recruited by Freddie Mays (David Thewlis), a.k.a., "the Butcher of Mayfair." Freddie is dressed impeccably, as we hear Gangster 55 describe in the voiceover. Soon, after he joins Mays' gang, Gangster 55 is also.

I was reminded of a couple of films. It reminded me of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," in that it involved gangsters with heavy English accents. This film also has some flashy camera work, but on the whole is more straightforward than the earlier film. This is appropriate, because while I would call "Lock" primarily a comedy, this was most definitely not. While there were a small number of humorous times, on the whole this is a serious and far more violent film.

The other obvious connection is to "A Clockwork Orange." The films are related because of Malcolm McDowell, who figures prominently in both films, by the way that the young Gangster 55 is photographed glaring into the camera in a very similar manner to McDowell's Alex in the earlier film, and by the general level of violence.

This isn't really my kind of film. I went because I read some very strong reviews. I admired it, but I felt drained when I left, and I couldn't really say that I enjoyed the experience. Even though that doesn't sound like a recommendation, it is, for the right people.

Seen on 8/2/2002.


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