Reviews written by registered user
mweston

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124 reviews in total 
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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars (out of 4), 20 February 2003
8/10

This is a wonderful parody of Hong Kong action films, and also of "Star Wars," "Titanic," Quentin Tarantino, and probably many other things I've forgotten.

The film starts with two kids in an airplane piloted by the father of one of them, somewhere over the south Pacific. Marvin is not the pilot's son and is clearly Trouble--he refuses to stop kicking the back of the seat in front of him. Sione is the son of the pilot, and grows up to become the title character under the training of Master Magasaki. He doesn't *seem* much like a Ninja, though. He's more like a big, bumbling kid.

The look is intentionally that of a low budget Asian action movie, which is probably at least partially motivated by the fact that *this* film has a low budget. None of the acting is very good, many of the characters are dubbed (badly, for effect), and it looks like it was shot on video. In one particularly funny scene, you see a microphone stick down into the shot, and you think that it is a mistake. The second time, you decide it's probably intentional, at which point you see one of the characters on screen reach up, grab the microphone boom, and begin to use it as a weapon.

But wait! There's more! It's also a musical! And a floor wax! No, not really a floor wax, but it is a musical, complete with an Elvis, and with go-go dancers who suddenly appear for a musical number and just as suddenly disappear.

This is a film of continuous little jokes, like a Ninja having to move his mask each time he wants to take a drink. Think of it like "Airplane!" for the 21st century.

Seen on 11/8/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival, where an earlier showing was the U.S. premiere. Assuming it gets home video or theatrical distribution, you should definitely seek it out.

Tully (2000)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
8/10

Tully Coates, Jr. (generally just called "Tully," played by Anson Mount) and his younger brother Earl (Glenn Fitzgerald from "The Sixth Sense") live on a farm in Nebraska with their father, Tully Coates, Sr. (usually called "Mr. Coates"). We first see the brothers in a field goofing off. Earl is hurt when some dirt ends up in his eye, their father is not happy about this *and* that they aren't working, and Tully isn't too upset. This is pretty much standard operating procedure: their father has no sense of humor, Tully gets away with whatever he wants to do, and Earl comes out on the short end of the deal.

The other significant characters are the women. April Reece, who works as a stripper but prefers to call it burlesque, is seeing Tully and would like to make that exclusive. Ella Smalley (Julianne Nicholson, a bright spot from the last season of "Ally McBeal") is a tomboy friend of Earl's who is sort of interested in Tully but sees how he sleeps around. Tully and Earl's mother is unseen, having left the family long ago, but she is still an important character. And finally, Claire (Natalie Canerday from "Sling Blade"), the grocery store checkout woman, likes Mr. Coates and is probably my favorite character in the film, although it's a small role.

I won't cover the plot, since there are a number of twists along the way. That said, the characters and their interactions are the heart of this film, and if the outcome had been different the film would still have been worth watching. Every so often the acting felt forced to me, although there were also other times when I found the acting to be wonderful and I also gather that most other viewers did not feel the same way.

I saw this on 11/17/2002 at the Camera Cinema Club in Silicon Valley, CA. The director, Hilary Birmingham, was there to answer questions and to apologize repeatedly about the VHS copy that we were forced to watch due to a film print lost in transit. It actually looked substantially better than one would have expected due to the high end digital projector, and I'm told by the club programmer that the picture was only slightly cropped, from 1.66:1 to 1.33:1. The screenplay, which Birmingham helped write, is based on a short (15 page) story which took place over a substantially longer period of time than this film does. Birmingham's background is in literature and documentaries, and she cited "The Last Picture Show," "Badlands," and "Days of Heaven" as influences.

The film was shot in only 24 days, under sometimes difficult circumstances. A few scenes, for example, were shot in the director's parents' garage in Massachusetts in the dead of winter. The heaters were too loud to keep running during shooting, but it was so cold that the set cooled down too fast when the heaters were turned off. Eventually they had to wrap some insulation around the whole garage to keep the heat in. On the positive side, it rained for 14 days straight just before the farm scenes were filmed, but then *didn't* for almost the entire shooting schedule.

The film got distribution quickly, but almost as quickly the distributor went bankrupt. Since the distributor listed the film as an asset, it was held up. And since the distributor was Canadian, the filmmaker had to learn Canadian bankruptcy law in order to get her film back. So this really is a 2000 film that is just now being released.

Given my minor misgivings about the acting and the VHS "print," I would probably give this a lower rating by half a star, which would still make it a film worth seeing. My guess is that on actual film this is a gem well worth seeking out.

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.

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

Danny (Noah Taylor) wants to be a writer. He has not been successful, however, so he is constantly moving to new apartments and houses all over Australia whenever the landlord insists on actually being paid, taking his Underwood typewriter with him. He uses a roll of teletype paper instead of individual sheets because he heard that Keroauc felt that pages are limiting. And he generally starts each piece based on a couple of lines on a poster he keeps on his wall (something like "Black is the ultimate").

Somehow the people Danny shares these residences seem to all stick together, which is convenient since that means we also get to know them. Sam is a girl, but is generally just another one of the "mates." Anya is a vegetarian and is a little dark and scary. Flip is known to lie in the backyard at night with a reflector catching moonbeams. And everyone seems at least a little mental.

Early in the film we see a toad being hit with a golf club, and we hear it hitting the side of the house. For the rest of the time at that house, we occasionally hear the thud of another toad. This explains the "professional cane toad whacker" credit at the end of the film. Note: You never actually see the club hit the toad. The toad simply disappears when the club swings through. So it's mentally but not visually gross.

The film is more style than substance. I was reminded a bit of the feel but not the subject matter of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." The dialog is very fun, although it is a bit too clever to be realistic. There are frequent movie and "Star Trek" references. There is drama mixed in to the comedy, but unlike in "A Hot Roof" (seen earlier the same day), it works quite well here. And the soundtrack is also quite good (the main song is "California Dreaming").

I came out grinning. I think I liked this film more than most, but if you like offbeat comedies, this is definitely one to look up, assuming it ever gets distribution.

Seen on 11/1/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival. Note also that this film is or is about to be the film of the month at Film Movement (see their web site), so there may be an opportunity to see it through them.

3.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
8/10

A Jewish family leaves Germany during the buildup before World War II, and goes to Kenya to manage a farm. The father, Walter Redlich, was a lawyer in Germany, so this is far from anything he is comfortable doing or anywhere he is comfortable being, but he rightly feels that deadly changes are inevitably coming to his home country, and so he has little choice.

His wife Jettel is also quite uncomfortable, having insisted on bringing the good china to the middle of nowhere. Only the daughter Regina finds things to like about their new home, including the native cook Owuor, who she becomes friends with. There is also a great deal of beauty, and the cinematography takes advantage of this wonderfully.

There are several complications during their time in Africa. It seems to me that some of these complications could have been left out without harming the film, but leaving them in is only bad in that they contribute to the film's length.

This film was put on the program at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival at Roger Ebert's request. He was at the beginning of the sold-out screening on 11/3/2002 to introduce the film and to encourage people to seek out the director's (Caroline Link) earlier film, "Beyond Silence," which was nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar. He also said that *this* film only lost first place at a film festival by one vote because one judge thought it was too well made. Indeed.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Gilda Mattei (Susan May Pratt), who just graduated from college (or possibly high school-I don't recall clearly), is obsessed with Michael De Santis (Chris Noth from "Sex and the City"), an actor. Perhaps it's because they are both Irish-Italians, as she learns by watching (and recording, and replaying many times) an interview with him on television.

Gilda is very close to her father, Giorgio. She knows Italian, and they share a love of opera and literature. Unfortunately, he is quite ill.

[*Skip* this paragraph if you haven't read any other reviews and want to avoid mild spoilers...] Giorgio dies, and Gilda discovers that he had a long-term mistress in Italy. This shakes her, driving her a little further into a fantasy world.

There's quite a bit more, but I don't want to give away too much. Even if I did, I would have a hard time justifying why I have rated this film as highly as I have. Mostly it is the appealingly intelligent/vulnerable performance of Pratt, but Noth is also given a much more complex role here than Mr. Big on "Sex and the City." The look is also interesting, with substantial use of handheld video, representing Gilda's always present video camera (think Ricky Fitts in "American Beauty"). It's just a simple, well-told story, and it's well worth seeing.

Seen on 11/4/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival.

Intacto (2001)
15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
3.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
8/10

This film puts you in the middle of a world where luck isn't all luck. In this world some people really *do* have more luck than others, and it can be transferred from one person to another by touch. But this isn't a film that spells things out-you're immersed and have to figure it out on your own.

Very early in the film we see Federico win several rounds of roulette in a row, betting on single numbers. He goes to see the owner of the casino, Sam (Max von Sydow), who hugs Federico (taking his luck) and then throws him out of the casino. Federico wants revenge, so he begins to look for a very lucky person to help him. He finds Tomás, the sole survivor of a plane crash.

To say more about the plot would give away too much, so I won't. The film is visually beautiful and unique, and there are a few scenes that will likely stick with you for weeks (I can say this with certainty since as I write this it's been over two weeks since I watched the film). I'm not normally someone who seeks out thrillers, but I'm very glad I saw this one.

Seen on 11/9/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
4 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
9/10

Chihiro is a little girl. She and her parents are driving to their new house in the suburbs to meet the movers, but they take a wrong turn and end up at the entrance to what looks like it might be an abandoned amusement park. She doesn't want to go in, but her parents insist. Things don't go smoothly, and soon Chihiro is on her own, exploring what looks like an enormous bathhouse.

But this is no ordinary bathhouse. Soon Chihiro discovers that it is populated by many spirits, mostly in the form of creatures the likes of which she (and the audience) has never seen before. I'd love to tell you about some of them, but I don't want to spoil the wonderful surprises. Okay, I will mention the soot creatures, who look like little black Koosh balls with eyes and whose job it is to carry coal for the boiler.

I went into this film on 11/22/2002 with very high expectations, since it has gotten universally good reviews. Usually high expectations are a bad thing, and in fact during the very early parts of the film I wasn't convinced. The green line running down the middle of the screen for maybe 10 minutes didn't help either. But once the story entered the spirit world, the film became simply *magical*. I was just watching to see what wonderful thing Hayao Miyazaki (the writer/director of this film and also "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke") would come up with next.

The animation is sometimes startlingly realistic and other times not at all, and the combination works wonderfully. About the only negative thing I can think to say is that the film seemed like it might have been a touch long, although I couldn't even begin to suggest anything to cut. I understand that this film is being distributed in subtitled form in addition to the dubbed version I saw, although for non-Japanese speakers the dubbed version is probably a better choice for the first viewing. Hopefully the eventual DVD will offer both options.

The United States doesn't consider animated films to be appropriate for anyone but children, but that's just wrong. This film passed "Titanic" to be Japan's number one grossing film *of all time*. It absolutely deserves consideration for the Best Picture Oscar, and if it does not get at least a nomination for best animated film, something is very wrong.

See this film!

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
2.5 stars (out of 4), 11 January 2003
6/10

The film starts out by making it clear that the country (Korea) is in the middle of a record-setting heat wave, and then sets up the various characters. The common thread is that the men are all lazy and/or abusive, while the women are abused sexually, physically, and emotionally, and in general are treated as second class citizens.

A group of women have an informal women's club (although the "president" of the club takes her job very seriously), and are eating watermelon outside when a man drags his wife out into the street. The couple are fighting, although it's the wife who is getting beaten up. The women's club members go after the husband, and other men join the rapidly growing fight. And in the aftermath of this fight most of the women end up on the roof of a building to escape the police.

I won't reveal much more, except that there is also a pair of bumbling thieves trying to rob an apartment in the same building, and they are trapped once the police surround the area. They might remind you of the robbers in "Home Alone," and they are definitely in the film for comic relief.

But really the whole film is far more of a comedy that one might expect since domestic abuse is the main topic. In fact, it's more like a comedy with occasional "drama relief." The acting is in keeping with this, seeming cartoon-like.

This didn't work for me. I rarely was able to laugh at the comedy, and the drama wasn't quite good enough or prevalent enough to keep me interested. The best thing I can say is that the production values were good, with crane shots and the like.

I guess I can *also* say that the rest of the audience all seemed to appreciate the comedy far better than I, and in fact I have rated the film maybe half a star higher than I would have based purely on my own reaction. Furthermore, this film won the top prize (the Golden Maile) at the 1996 Hawaii International Film Festival.

Seen on 11/1/2002 at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival, where this was part of the Golden Maile Korean Retrospective.


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