Go to Home Page

Go to Index for All Movie Reviews

 

Movie Renter's Guide
 

Number 109 - April, 2004

Staff

 


Now Playing
Divider

Love Actually House of Sand and Fog
Something's Gotta Give Timeline
The Matrix Revolutions Ripley's Game
Kill Bill Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Divider

Columbia Pictures/Warner Brothers

2003, Color, Rated PG-13

2 Hr 8 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French DD 5.1

 

Starring Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, Amanda Peet

Directed by Nancy Meyers

 

DVD Release Date 3/30/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

N/A

Violence

No

Sex

Mild

Language

Occasional "F" and "S" Words

"Something's Gotta Give"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Harry Sanborn (Nicholson) is dating a woman, Marin Barry (Peet), who is much younger than he is. In fact, he only dates young women. Period.

Marin takes Harry on a weekend to his mother Erica's (Keaton) Hamptons beach house, thinking they would be alone. But, Erica and her sister Zoe (McDormand) show up unexpectedly, as Harry is getting something from the refrigerator, while just in his underwear.

After the initial shock, everyone calms down, and they decide to all stay for the weekend. After all, they are adults, aren't they?

The excitement is a bit too much for Harry, and he ends up in the hospital with a mild heart attack. Doctor Julian Mercer (Reeves) tells Harry he can't go home right away, but must stay locally for a week so he can check on his progress before he leaves.

So, Harry ends up staying in the beach house, even though he and Erica don't exactly get along.

Harry and Erica get to know each other, and bit by bit, Harry realizes what he has been missing by not paying attention to women his own age. He breaks up with Marin, and he and Erica begin a serious love affair, despite Harry's sworn bachelorhood.

It gets more complicated when Dr. Mercer becomes romantically interested in Erica, making Harry jealous.

After the week is over, Harry has to go home, reluctantly, and Erica, who has professed her love for Harry, pours her heart out, writing a play about her experiences with Harry.

Commentary

The film is delightful, and of course, Nicholson is at his best. Although Keaton was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, it is really Nicholson who should have had the accolades.

Extras

These include a Commentary by the Director, Audio Commentary by Nicholson and Keaton, Harry Sings Karaoke, Hamptons House Tour, Filmographies, and Trailers.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

Paramount

2003, Color, Rated 14A

1 Hr 55 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Surround

French Dolby Surround

 

Starring Paul Walker, Francis O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly

Directed by Richard Donner

 

DVD Release Date 4/13/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Occasional "S" Word

"Timeline"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

While excavating in the Dordogne Valley of France, a scientific research team's new invention, a time travel machine, has inadvertently sent archaeology professor Edward Johnston back to 14th-century France, and has landed him in the middle of the raging Hundred Years War between the French and English.  Johnston's only chance for rescue lies in the hands of his son Chris, his assistant professor Andre Marek, and several of his students.  The intrepid time travelers must make the same journey and, with the deadline of only eight hours now ticking away, must navigate through the hostile, war-torn territory and retrieve the professor before he's lost to history forever.

Commentary

Though I have not read it, I imagine that the Michael Crichton book, like the above synopsis, is good.  The movie unfortunately does not fare as well.

At first it seems we might be in for classic Twilight Zone material, or perhaps the fun of Back to the Future, but we get neither.  This movie is grossly overacted with incredibly bad dialogue.  Francis O'Connor comes across as too old for her roll, and we end up just not buying any of it.  The medieval war element feels second hand, and the whole picture is simply uninteresting.

While some high production values are evident, it failed to hold my attention for the duration.

Extras

There is a three part documentary, "Journey Through Timeline", covering the making of the film. Despite the movie scoring poor for me, I enjoyed these featurettes because, unlike so many making-ofs which are nothing more than extended previews, these really do take you behind the scenes and show us how much of it was made.

There is also "The Textures of Timeline" which is a documentary that covers creating the look of the period.  Most of it could have been spliced into the previously mentioned documentaries.

A set of trailers rounds out the extras.

Technical

While generally presenting us with a pleasing picture, there is enough ringing and/or edge enhancement to distract, and at times detail seems to have been filtered right out of existence.  It is, as we expect these days, very consistent from start to finish in terms of color and fidelity.  The blacks are right on the money, imparting dept without disappearing.

The soundtrack is an absolute delight.  There are dynamic explosions and wrap-around effects, all without being too loud, harsh, or over the top.  Subtle audio textures are exploited to put us into the locals without distracting us.  Dialogue is for the most part perfectly clear, but on one or two occasions, it comes across as muffled and one needs to strain a little to understand what is being said.

 - Brian Florian -

Divider

Warner Brothers

2003, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 9 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

 

DVD Release Date 4/5/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Occasional "S" Word

"The Matrix Revolutions"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

We come to the final installment in the Matrix trilogy.

Neo (Reeves) is stuck in a world between the real world of the machines and the Matrix world of being "jacked in". In this netherworld, Neo cannot perform his amazing acrobatics, but no one else can either.

Morpheus (Fishburne) and Trinity (Moss) are trying to get him back, but Neo remains, sitting in a train station that runs only in a circle.

Smith (Weaving) wants to find Neo and destroy him, as Neo is still a huge threat to the machines.

Meanwhile, the rest of humanity is hiding, waiting for the machines to attack them, and when they finally do, it is a battle beyond anything that has ever been seen before.

Smith finally locates Neo, and they have their own showdown, wherein Smith's true identity is revealed.

Commentary

Revolutions has an amazing series of CG battle scenes that make all previous movies with such things look like Captain Kangaroo. I remember one of the producers saying on a TV program that they wanted to have the CG in this film be something everyone would remember. Well, I will be remembering this for a long time. The deep bass is so tremendous, it moved the chassis cover on one of my amplifiers off to the side. If you want a DVD to test your system to the limits, buy Revolutions. It should be at CostCo as we speak.

Extras

The extras are on a separate disc, and include The Making Of, Special Effects, Analysis of Neo and Smiths' Final Brawl, Analysis of The Matrix Game, Matrix Timeline, and A Stills Gallery.

Technical

The only thing I don't like about this series is the omnipresent green cast to the picture. It looks like the whole thing was filmed in fluorescent lighting without any filter compensation. However, I simply reduced the green in my projector by 10 units, and it looked fine. I realize this is not the way the director intended for me to watch it, but it's my theater and my eyeballs. After all, they probably just added 10 units of green in post production. The green cast is related to the green computer screen monitor, representing the Matrix. But when was the last time you used a monochrome green computer monitor? 1989?

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

Fine Line Features

2002, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 50 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring John Malkovich, Dougray Scott, Ray Winstone, Lena Headey, Chiara Caselli

Directed by Liliana Cavani

 

DVD Release Date 4/5/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Bad

"Ripley's Game"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Tom Ripley (Malkovich) is retired and living in a small Italian town. He is rich and considered strange by the locals. Jonathan Trevanny (Scott) and his wife Sarah (Headey) are two of those locals. Unbeknown to the townspeople, Tom is an international criminal, wanted for grand theft and murder.

Jonathan is suffering from terminal leukemia and is short on money.

One of Tom's criminal associates, Reeves (Winstone), wants Tom to assassinate a competitor in Berlin, a Russian. Because Jonathan insulted him at a party, Tom chooses the naive Jonathan to do the dirty work.

Reeves contacts Jonathan and offers him $50,000 plus a second opinion from a renown doctor in Berlin if he will kill the Russian. When Jonathan turns it down, Tom tells Reeves to add $50,000 more to the offer, and he will pay it himself.

This time, Jonathan accepts the offer, but does not tell his wife what he is up to.

The murder goes well, and now Reeves wants Jonathan to kill more of the Russian criminals to stir up a war between the Russian gang and the Ukranians.

The party starts to get rough, and Jonathan starts to enjoy the game.

Commentary

This is an independent film, and it is very well done. I rented it because I like Malkovich, but it turned out to have great performances by Scott and Winstone as well. And, the plot is quite novel. It is shot entirely in Italy and Germany, so there is some fine architecture to boot.

Note that this is the same character as in The Talented Mr. Ripley, years later.

Extras

There are no extras.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

Dreamworks Pictures

2003, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 6 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French

 

Starring Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Frances Fisher, Kim Dickens

Directed by Vadim Perelman

 

DVD Release Date 4/5/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Bad

"House of Sand and Fog"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Kathy (Connelly) is a young woman living in San Francisco. Her husband left her six months ago, and she has no job.

Early one morning, she is served with an eviction notice for not paying taxes on her business. The problem is, she never had a business. Nevertheless, she has to pack up her belongings and leave the house that her father had given to her in his will.

She contacts a lawyer, Connie Walsh (Fisher) who tells her she can get her house back as soon as she processes some paperwork notifying the State Offices of the mistake.

In the meantime, retired Iranian Colonel Behrani (Kingsley) purchases the house at a state auction, and moves in with his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghadashloo) and son.

Behrani begins refurbishing the house so he can sell it at a big profit and move to a larger home.

One of the police officers, Lester (Eldard), who evicted Kathy, befriends her and tries to help by antagonizing Behrani to sell the home back to the state for the low price that he paid.

Things get out of hand, and tragedy strikes for all concerned.

Commentary

This is the most depressing movie I have ever seen, and yet, it is superbly entertaining. It has stellar performances not only by Connelly and Kingsley, but also Aghdashloo, who did not receive much credit in the billing, but who was praised at the Academy Award ceremony.

Extras

These include Deleted Scenes with Commentary, Commentary with Ben Kingsley, Director Vadim Perelman, and Andre Dubus III who wrote the novel on which the movie was based, Behind the Scenes Featurette.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

Universal

2004, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 15 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

Spanish Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Alan Rickamn, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neelson, Martine McCutcheon, and Rowan Atkinson.

Directed by Richard Curtis

 

DVD Release Date 4/27/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Yes, Nudity

Language

F&S Words

"Love Actually"

Plot Overview

There is no way to summarize the plot (even Universal doesn't attempt one on the DVD jacket) except to say that it is a collection of stories about couples, with some threads between each one to keep the bigger picture flowing.  A plot summary would just be too complex.  Through each couple, we explore love on various levels.  Some relationships are unspoken, some are awkward, some are youthful, some are at the office, some are dysfunctional at home, and so on.

Commentary

This is a brilliant piece of romantic comedy which cannot possibly be called a "chick flick".  The multiple intertwining storylines offer enough complication to stimulate us mentally, and it has a wicked British humor that at times had me roaring out loud.  At the same time it has that feel-good quality that is irresistible in an age where violence oriented depressing comic book anti-hero action movies seem to be the norm.

Music needs a special mention.  Pop music is used extensively to tie the various fragments together and it's use is brilliant, almost Tarantio-esque.

Extras

There is a feature length commentary which includes Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Thomas Sangster, and director Richard Curtis.  I've always said that to sit through any commentary track one has to really be interested in the fabric of a film.  Even so, this group is entertaining and hams it up enough to make a second trip through the film worthwhile.

There are over 30 minutes of deleted scenes.  It's fascinating that the original cut was about 210 minutes.  Obviously a lot had to be trimmed.  It might have been interesting to see the whole 3.5 hour cut but taken somewhat out of the larger context, the deleted scenes do seem, as most do, to have been deleted for a reason.

There is piece by Richard Curtis that discusses the Music of Love Actually.

A music video, The Trouble with Love Is, sung by Kelly Clarkson, rounds out the extras.

Technical

The video transfer is on the whole quite good.  There is only a faint touch of edge enhancement and/or ringing, certainly less than we are used to, and the dynamic range is balanced at both ends.  Blacks are nice and deep, while color saturation is consistent throughout.  Unfortunately, the picture does have a rather soft feel to it, and almost comes across as out of focus (likely an over aggressive use of the vertical filter during encoding).

The audio is absolutely perfect.  At no time did I strain to get a piece of dialog, and there was not a single instance of mic preamp clipping.  Music, being such a critical part of this soundtrack, is very well served, being distributed across the front soundstage, unlike lesser efforts which omit music completely from the center channel.  The few opportunities for surround effects are well implemented in a discretionary fashion and do not distract from the screen.

 - Brian Florian -

Divider

Miramax

2003, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 51 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

DVD Release Date 4/20/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Explicit

"Kill Bill"

Plot Overview

Thurman plays a woman ("the Bride") who wakes up from a four year coma, the only survivor of her own wedding party in El Paso, Texas, that has been attacked by a gang of assassins.

She regains her strength, and remembers the assassins' faces. They were members of a secret cult to which she had belonged herself.

The bride is out for revenge, not only for herself, but her husband and unborn child.

The first one, Vernita Green (Fox), is now a housewife with a daughter, but the bride gives no quarter, and kills her with a Bowie knife.

The second one, O-Ren Ishii (Liu), is the head of gang families in Tokyo, protected by many bodyguards, so she asks a master Samurai sword artisan to make her a sword that cannot be broken.

The bride now confronts Ishii and her band of cut throats.

Commentary

When I first heard of this movie coming to the theaters, I thought it must be ridiculous, going by the title. Little did I know it would turn out to be the masterpiece that it is. Bill is Tarantino's best work and is as good as anything Spielberg has ever done.

The film uses animation here and there, possibly because the scenes are so violent, that if they were live action, the movie would have had to be rated "X".

I can see why the DVD was released about the same time as Kill Bill, Volume 2 came out at the theaters. You will definitely want to see both movies if you rent the DVD.

Extras

These include "The Making of", Bonus Musical Performances by "The 5, 6, 7, 8s" (a band that is playing in the Tokyo nightclub where the bride confronts O-Ren Ishii), and Movie Trailers.

Technical

There is quite a bit of ringing in the image, indicating too much edge enhancement.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

Twentieth Century Fox

2003, Color, Rated PG-13

2 Hr 18 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany

Directed by Peter Weir

 

DVD Release Date 4/20/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

NA

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Occasional "F" Word

"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"

Plot Overview

In 1805, with Napoleon marching across Europe, Captain Jack Aubrey (Crowe) is given the order to take his ship, the Surprise, and hunt down the French ship Acheron.

First, he searches off the coast of Brazil, and then, thinks his best option of finding the Acheron is to look near the Galapagos Islands.

All the while, he must be careful not to let the Acheron sneak up behind him, since the French vessel is much faster and carries more guns.

Commentary

This movie is much overrated, and I can't imagine how it got such accolades, unless they were comparing it to Tommy Choo Choo or other such drivel. The story is filled with way too many mundane activities such as sitting around the dinner table and cracking ridiculous jokes, swabbing the decks, and measuring the necks of tortoises along with drawing pictures of bugs they find on the Galapagos Islands.

If you want to see a real swashbuckler movie that holds your attention from start to finish, you have to go back to the 1940s to see The Sea Hawk. With Commander, you will find yourself wanting to hit the chapter skip button quite often. There's no punch line, no intrigue, no surprises. In other words, dull. It moves far too slow, and could have been edited down to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Extras

There are no extras.

Technical

The movie is shot with a lot of haze and backlighting that obscure the visibility of the characters and their surroundings. Peter Weir is a good director, but this is just plain lousy choices. It does not create a mood. It just gets in the way of watching the story unfold.

The audio, though, is terrific, with great location sound effects on board the ship.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

 

Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this
Issue.

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use