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DavidRoss (Woodland, CA United States)

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Notting Hill (Widescreen)
Notting Hill (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Hugh Grant
Price: CDN$ 10.93
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentle Wit, Warmth, & Charm, Terrific Ensemble Cast, March 13 2004
This review is from: Notting Hill (Widescreen) (DVD)
My wife paid top dollar for this DVD when it was released, and I greeted it with contempt and dismay. I hadn't seen it, of course--but I had seen trailers promoting the corny contemporary inverted-gender Cinderella story in a tawdry attempt to cash in on the box-office appeal of stars Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Grudgingly agreeing to suffer through it for the sake of marital harmony, I soon discovered I'd been guilty again of contempt prior to investigation. Since then it has become one of my favorite movies. Perhaps even more surprisingly, it's become one of our teenaged boys' favorites as well, judging from the number of times they've seen it.
NOTTING HILL is a superb example of a movie with high Replay Value. Despite seeing it a dozen or so times over the past few years--most recently last night at the request of a dinner guest--it never fails to entertain. Credit, of course, goes largely to the writer, Richard Curtis, a modern master of the Romantic Comedy genre (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, LOVE ACTUALLY), for infusing the script with gentle wit and charm. But the ensemble cast deserves equal praise for fleshing out Curtis's characters with so much warmth and decency that they become precisely the sort of people we enjoy spending time with. Tim McInnery, Gina McKee, Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville, James Dreyfus, and especially Rhys Ifans make this movie special, in much the same way that the terrific ensemble cast made FOUR WEDDINGS so enjoyable before.
If you appreciate the warmth, wit, and maturity of movies such as IQ, NOBODY'S FOOL, and SENSE & SENSIBILITY, and require something more interesting than fiery explosions and flesh-eating zombies to feel entertained, then NOTTING HILL might be for you. Four stars for the overall quality of the film, plus one star more for its surprising high replay value.

Thirteen (Widescreen)
Thirteen (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Evan Rachel Wood
Price: CDN$ 16.98
36 used & new from CDN$ 2.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate, Committed Film about What Matters Most: Our Kids, March 12 2004
This review is from: Thirteen (Widescreen) (DVD)
The toughest and truest coming of age movie in years, THIRTEEN is not for the faint of heart--and not for children without a healthy dose of parental accompaniment. It's about what happens when the normal post-pubescent urge to individuate from family and find peer-group acceptance conspires with a severely decadent society to make adolescence a nightmare. Watching the downward spiral of the desperate-to-be-"all that" 13-year-old Tracy is as gut-wrenching as watching a car spin out in traffic yet being powerless to prevent the accident, partly because we've all known a "Tracy" or two, but mostly because of the passionate intensity that everyone involved has brought to this film. There's no sugar-coating to this story, no Disneyfication, no crippling compromise for the sake of broad box-office appeal, just utterly committed storytelling as authentic and chilling as BOYZ N THE HOOD and MI VIDA LOCA.
Writer-director Catherine Hardwicke, co-writer Nikki Reed, cinematographer Elliot Davis, and the entire cast have crafted a movie that adroitly navigates a minefield of clichés by focusing on telling details, thus particularizing Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), her girlfriend Evie (played by co-writer Reed), her mother (Holly Hunter), and their interlocking relationships as well. Hunter received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her searingly authentic performance as Tracy's recovering alcoholic single mom, Mel, who enables Tracy's self-destructive slide by ignoring the warning signs that something is dreadfully wrong and neglecting the active parental intervention that the situation demands. Co-author Reed is utterly convincing as the slyly manipulative Evie, who preys on Tracy's need to be regarded as cool, and on Mel's need to see herself as helpful and understanding. Yet as good as Hunter and Reed are, this is Wood's movie, and she all but steals the show with the gutsiest, most accomplished performance by a young teen actress that I can recall. (I suspect that only the MPAA's squeamishness about the subject matter kept Wood from an Oscar nomination of her own.) All the supporting actors give remarkably fine performances, too, especially Brady Corbett as Tracy's older brother, Mason, and Deborah Kara Unger as Evie's out-of-it guardian, Brooke.
I admired this movie far more than expected. It's not easy to watch, but that has nothing to do with D.P. Davis's judiciously artful use of the hand-held camera. Rather it's because the story rings so painfully true, and because--like Tracy's mom--our society often neglects what's best for our kids for fear of offending them or those who prey upon them. How many Evies and Tracys must suffer before we come to our senses and stop encouraging the conditions that enable such sorrows to flourish? In short, THIRTEEN is a gutsy and very accomplished film about something that really matters--our kids, and the need not to shirk our responsibility for their welfare, especially in the treacherously amoral world we are bequeathing them. I'd give it 4 1/2 stars if permitted, but given the choice Amazon allows, let's make it an even 5.

The Castle (Widescreen Edition)
The Castle (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ DVD
Price: CDN$ 12.75
15 used & new from CDN$ 7.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Typically Broad Aussie Comedy with a Warm Heart, March 8 2004
Rob Sitch has created a small comic gem in this unpretentious movie about an ordinary man's battle to save his family's home from compulsory annexation by the neighboring airport. Rife with the broad irreverent humor that practically defines the Aussies' national character (think of Paul Hogan's TV show or CROCODILE DUNDEE, or Baz Luhrmann's STRICTLY BALLROOM), the story manages to stay just one step ahead of farce. Though we can hardly take the characters seriously, they're good blokes nonetheless and it's easy to identify with their predicament.
Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is a good-natured family man who lives by simple principles. He values his home & family above all else in life. When the billion dollar corporation that owns the airport tries to oust him from his home, he just knows it isn't right. And he's too ignorant to know what he's up against when he decides to fight. Though chuckles abound throughout the film, real belly laughs are in order when his hapless lawyer (Tiriel Mora) challenges the constitutionality of 'compulsory acquisition' in court. (His legal argument will doubtless soon become a fixture in law schools throughout the English-speaking world.)
In fact, the story offers a solid critique of common law just as incisive and nearly as funny as Jonathan Swift's scathingly satirical critique in Gulliver's Travels. And it's expressed so plainly and clearly that anyone should be able to understand it--even poor benighted Darryl Kerrigan, whose command of legal jargon may be slight, yet who knows in his heart when he's right. 3 1/2 stars for this feel-good little comedy with its heart in the right place.

Freaky Friday
Freaky Friday
DVD ~ Jamie Lee Curtis
Price: CDN$ 5.97
68 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Entertaining (& Enlightening?) Family Fun, March 4 2004
This review is from: Freaky Friday (DVD)
See Bret Fetzer's editorial review for a right-on capsule analysis. I wish to add high praise for the surprisingly versatile Lohan, who shows potential star quality here, for it is largely her performance that lifts this movie well above average--though Jamie Lee Curtis and writers Heather Hach, Leslie Dixon, and Mary Rodgers certainly share the credit.

Disney's Holes (Bilingual)
Disney's Holes (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Sigourney Weaver
Price: CDN$ 6.25
32 used & new from CDN$ 2.06

3.0 out of 5 stars Good Enough for Kids to Enjoy & Adults to Tolerate, March 4 2004
This review is from: Disney's Holes (Bilingual) (DVD)
If you want a live-action family film that adults and teens can tolerate but pre-teens will enjoy, HOLES might fit the bill. Even though most of the action is set in a detention camp for young offenders, very little bad behavior is on display. There's no cursing, nudity, sex, violence (other than a couple of shoving matches) or other material similarly objectionable for children. The story is pitched at the average 10-year-old's level of sophistication, though even younger kids will get most of it, and the slow pacing is not so tedious as to prevent most adults from staying awake.
The production values and acting performances are generally first-class. Grown-ups might even enjoy the adult performances more than kids--especially Jon Voight's over-the-top camp guard and Henry Winkler's goofball inventor. Nevertheless, to award even three stars to this movie is rather charitable. Perhaps the many 4 and 5 star ratings reflect approval of family-oriented features in general, rather than the quality of this particular film. Surely those who've rated it so highly don't really believe that it compares with BABE or SHRECK or FINDING NEMO or BIG or THE SHAGGY DOG or any other truly good family film?

Johnson County Wars (Full Screen)
Johnson County Wars (Full Screen)
DVD ~ Tom Berenger
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 86.46
5 used & new from CDN$ 32.57

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing quasi-historical Western from Hallmark, March 3 2004
The Johnson County War is a great subject for an authentic Western, and Hallmark's track record (plus Larry McMurtry's pen) would seem to bode well for this production. Unfortunately it's not very good, despite magnificent scenery and adequate performances by Tom Berenger & Michelle Forbes. Rachel Ward steals her few brief scenes, but Burt Reynolds's acting is almost as garish as his face lift. If 60 of its 180 tiresome, cliche-ridden minutes were cut, it might make an above-average made-for-TV movie, but even that drastic snooze-factor reduction would fail to rescue it from mediocrity among theatrical releases.

The Man Who Wasn't There (Bilingual) [Import]
The Man Who Wasn't There (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Billy Bob Thornton
Price: CDN$ 16.39
28 used & new from CDN$ 5.52

2.0 out of 5 stars A Clever but Only Mildly Entertaining Exercise in Noir Style, March 3 2004
I thought O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? was the low point of the Coen Brothers' otherwise remarkably fine body of work, but THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE proves me wrong. This is like a film-school exercise, a demonstration of cleverness in reconstructing a post-war noir and pushing all the elements to extremes. It's so self-consciously stylish and tongue-in-cheek as to utterly defy suspension of disbelief, but seems to take itself too seriously to succeed as a spoof. It's somewhat amusing intellectually, on the meta- level, to see the Coens play with the genre's conventions, but hardly funny enough to justify the 2 hour running time. The gag wears thin long before it's over.
Many of the individual scenes and shots brilliantly reference the noir style, with striking high-contrast blacks and whites dominating the frame. And several performances are sufficiently entertaining to repay the time spent watching--especially Tony Shaloub, outstanding as always, playing the fast-talking defense attorney from Sacramento. Richard Jenkins's slightly saturated home-town lawyer is a small treasure. Adam Alexi-Malle makes a splendidly self-impressed piano teacher, and Frances McDormand has several strong scenes, most notably when congratulating the bride at a wedding in Modesto. And Billy Bob Thornton does an admirable job of playing an expressionless one-note character (maybe he should have gotten an Oscar, like Dustin Hoffman got for RAINMAN), but--like the story itself--that wears thin awfully fast.
Stylish? Yes. Skilful? You bet. But in the end far from satisfying--as one ought expect from a movie about a gimmicky idea instead of a story about characters we can care about. Sure, the Coens' work is always idea based--RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, for instance--but their success in turning an idea into interesting entertainment has always depended on characters the viewer can identify with. Otherwise, no matter how clever the movie, the bottom line will always be "Who cares?"

The Big Country
The Big Country
DVD ~ Gregory Peck
Price: CDN$ 6.99
37 used & new from CDN$ 4.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Good performances in a beautiful Hollywood Western, March 1 2004
This review is from: The Big Country (DVD)
THE BIG COUNTRY is a very good Hollywood Western, with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies: a first-rate cast and fine production values, but a less-than-imaginative script written by a studio committee. The story is a variation on the tried-and-true "Eastern Dude Tames Wild West" theme. Co-produced by director William Wyler and star Gregory Peck, it strives a bit self-consciously for epic grandeur, and lacks the comparatively gritty realism of John Ford's thematically related THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.
As the transplanted Easterner, Peck's understated performance is a pleasure to watch. Jean Simmons is fine as the schoolmarm, and the two Chucks (Conners and Heston) are equally good in their roles. A supporting actor Oscar went to Burl Ives, but the standout performance belongs to Carroll Baker as Peck's spoiled fiance. Franz Planer's cinematography is quite good, too, but like the script, performances, and pacing, it's just a little bit too self-conscious. The picture feels more like OKLAHOMA! than like THE SEARCHERS--altogether too theatrical to sustain the suspension of disbelief.
Yet this is a very entertaining movie--at least for those who value character, conflict, and beautiful imagery over car chases, explosions, and other special effects. And fans of Westerns in particular should appreciate the many virtues of this near-Classic. Four solid stars.

Red Dragon (Widescreen Collector's Edition)
Red Dragon (Widescreen Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ Anthony Hopkins
Price: CDN$ 9.99
50 used & new from CDN$ 1.55

2.0 out of 5 stars Stale white bread in slick packaging, Feb. 28 2004
An extraordinary cast and top-notch production values can't redeem this exercise in rehashed mediocrity. Watson, Fiennes, Norton, Hoffman, Hopkins, & Keitel--rarely has so much A-list star-power been gathered together to so little effect. We have seen it all far too many times before, and both SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and the B-grade MANHUNTER did it much better. No matter how slick the packaging, there's still a loaf of stale white bread inside. Even a gourmet like Lector would be hard-pressed to concoct an interesting dish from such bland ingredients.

Matchstick Men (Widescreen)
Matchstick Men (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Nicolas Cage
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 16.20
58 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly-crafted flim-flam tale with unexpected depth, Feb. 28 2004
This review is from: Matchstick Men (Widescreen) (DVD)
Nicolas Cage plays Roy, a master con-artist handicapped by a constellation of psychological problems, including agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Professional success has given him a nice home and car and plenty of money, but he's friendless, has no family, and cannot seem to connect with anyone except his protege, Frank (Sam Rockwell), who wants Roy to put together an ambitious swindle so they can make a big score together. Roy's life is further complicated by a psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) who forces him to confront his own guilt, and by his efforts to build a belated relationship with the abandoned daughter he never knew (Alison Lohman).
Enter a wealthy, unscrupulous mark (Bruce McGill) whom Frank & Roy set up for the big score, and all the pieces are in place for this unique grifter tale adapted by Nicholas & Ted Griffin from Eric Garcia's book. The story has nearly as many twists and turns as Mamet's HOUSE OF GAMES and THE SPANISH PRISONER, but there is much more to it than an ingeniously entertaining plot. At times it seems like a dark comedy that tickles the intellect more than the funny bone, yet it never fails to respect each of its characters and to regard Roy's predicament seriously. The unfolding story reveals surprising emotional and spiritual depth as Roy reluctantly confronts his karma and begins a quest for redemption. By suffering the consequences of his choices--and accepting responsibility for them--Roy discovers the power of forgiveness to radically transform his life.
Nicolas Cage is at his best as Roy. He pulls off an impressive balancing act by creating a believable, sympathetic, and fully-human character from material more prone to derivative mediocrity. The supporting cast is equally good, with not one sour note among the players. Rockwell gives his best performance since GALAXY QUEST. Newcomer Lohman shows star potential in her convincing portrayal of a girl scarcely half her own age. Altman is perfect as the psychiatrist, and Bruce McGill again demonstrates why he is the heir-apparent to the late J.T. Walsh as the consummate character actor.
Director Ridley Scott, of course, is one of the few contemporary masters of cinema. The auteur behind such landmark films as THE DUELLISTS, ALIEN, and BLADE RUNNER, in recent years he has de-emphasized the breathtaking imagery that established his reputation and now employs his impeccable filmcraft in making more apparently conventional Hollywood-type movies--i.e. THELMA AND LOUISE, GLADIATOR, and BLACK HAWK DOWN. With MATCHSTICK MEN, he reinterprets the con-artist flick, a perennially popular sub-genre (THE STING, PAPER MOON). True to form, it is masterfully crafted. Cinematographer John Mathieson (GLADIATOR) and editor Dody Dorn (MEMENTO) share the credit, for every shot is impeccably framed and the brilliant editing calls so little attention to itself that even Oscar overlooked it.
In short, this is an unpretentious and deceptively unambitious movie that succeeds on every artistic level. The MPAA may not have deemed it Oscar worthy, but posterity may judge it more favorably than any of this year's Best Picture nominees. If you appreciate tight plotting, good acting, subtle wit, splendid craftsmanship, memorable characters, and a story that rings emotionally true, you will probably like this movie as much as I did. Five solid stars.

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