Tue, Oct 31, 2000

: Dutch: Ajax at PSV Eindhoven

These are the two biggest clubs in Holland. The battle started off with a lot of battling, but about fifteen minutes in a mistake put Ajax’s Machlas in good position and he chipped it over the keeper, who was helplessly off his line. Ajax got a second minutes later, but it was called back for offside. The game got very physical late in the half as PSV really pressed forward, but they couldn’t score. The scrapiest continued in the second half, but it was all the way to the 78th minute before PSV could equalize on a penalty kick (which Ajax keeper Grimes almost saved). Seconds later, Machlas could have put Ajax ahead again, but his shot went inches wide of the post. In a strange play toward the end of the game when PSV could have gone ahead, a PSV player got hit in the back of the head with the ball and was knocked out cold! I’ve never seen that before. He was fine after a couple minutes, but it was strange. Final: 1-1.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Dutch: Feyenoord at Utrecht

A top- versus bottom-of-the-table clash, Feyenoord was expected to dominate, but a terrific dribbling play got Utrecht the first goal by Dombi. Feyenoord really pressed after that, getting some opportune free kicks and corners, but failed to convert. But in the second half, Feyenoord came out kicking. African player Kalou did an amazing thing: in the penalty area he received the ball at his foot by a throw in, somehow muscled off the defender on his back, turned, and put in a low shot that went past two defenders and the keeper! Amazing goal, almost put in by sheer will alone. Kalou almost got another in the 64th minute, but hit it into the side netting. For the final twenty minutes, Utrecht put on some impressive, determined pressure, all heart, but it was for naught. Final: 1-1.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Worthington Cup: Blackburn vs. West Ham

After all the setup that this clash would prove to be competitive (West Ham has been knocked out of the Worthington Cup by a lower-division club five times in the last eight years), West Ham dominated. After an uneventful first half, Davor Sukor scored in the 67th minute on West Ham’s first corner kick of the game. That opened the game a bit, but when Man of the Match Paulo Di Canio was brought down in the box in the 83rd minute, you knew Blackburn was dead. Di Canio’s first shot scored, but the ref made him retake it for some reason. The second kick was blocked, but the rebound went right to Di Canio and he didn’t miss. And that’s the way she ended, 2-0 West Ham.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Author: Edgar Allan Poe

This is a short story, not a book, so one might wonder why I write about it; but it’s a remarkable story, one I’ve never before read, and it’s made quite an impression upon me. Poe begins with a lecture on the difference between mere intelligence and the analytical mind. What I liked about this was how he reveals the flaw inherent to the game of chess (proficiency is merely indicative of a strong memory more than any analytical skill). Chess has always puzzled me because skill at it is considered a sign of intelligence, yet I’ve found it to be more tedious than challenging. Poe has confirmed what I always thought! The actual story of the murders is a fascinating story of detection, with a brilliant (and completely logical) conclusion. The trick is the same as how magicians fool audiences — with distraction. The murders are so brutal and horrible they confuse you, causing your mind to go into the wrong direction. Fascinating. (I am pleased to report I figured out the solution long before the end of the story, but I must admit I had an unfair advantage: my mind was still filled with images from the book I just finished.)

Topic: [/writing]

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: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Terrific book of short Tarzan stories. The stories are not necessarily related, though they are chronological in order. They mostly deal with a very young Tarzan, still more ape than man, and his learning about the world. I love that sort of thing. (As a child I regularly read a French comic book series about a prehistoric man who traveled the world, meeting various peoples, having adventures, and always learning new things, such as swimming, fire, blowguns, glass, etc. I still have a couple of those books and they’re awesome.)

Anyway, in this book there’s lots of humor, action, and Burroughs does an incredible job of making us understand the savage mind and point of view. There is even some profundity: for instance, the story where Tarzan searches for God. God is a foreign concept to him, but he reads about it in the books left by his parents, and so searches for God, inquiring the wise old apes, the witch-doctor of the native village, and even asks the moon. Burroughs’ revelation of how Tarzan discovers God is clever: Tarzan discovers mercy and refrains from killing a helpless man. He cannot figure out what stayed his hand, but finally figures it must be God, because only God could be stronger than Tarzan. Neatly done (and probably a healthier concept of God than most people’s).

A central theme in all of Burroughs’ Tarzan stories is the conflict/differences between savagery and civilization, and he deftly brings that out in these stories, including one where he switches between the lives of two Lord Greystokes: the imposture in England and the savage in the African jungles, showing how each hunts, dines, and sleeps. The humor and irony is terrific: the “civilized” man shoots hundreds of harmless birds with a rifle as beaters drive the birds into the air, while the “savage” hunts with his bare hands and wits, and kills only what he needs to eat. In the end, it is the savage who sleeps peacefully, while the civilized man is up with pains from eating too much lobster and drinking too much wine. Hilarious!

Topic: [/book]

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Mon, Oct 30, 2000

: International Friendly: U.S.A. vs. Mexico

This game was on live last week on pay-per-view, but Fox Sports World aired it tonight for free. Nearly 60,000 at the L.A. Coliseum showed up, most cheering for Mexico. Terrific match, full of youngsters getting their chance on the full national team. Just like at the Olympics, it was Josh Wolff and Landon Donovan who stepped up when it mattered most. Defense held solid, with Mexico hardly getting a quality shot the entire game. In the second half Donovan started the play with a pass out to Mathis who led away several defenders and then passed it back. Donovan broke toward goal, dribbled around the keeper, and slotted the ball home. Wolff’s goal late in the half was similar, taking a nice pass from Donovan and sliding the ball under the keeper to bounce it off the near post. For Donovan, he couldn’t have had a better International debut! Things are looking good the United States and that critical game against Barbados in World Cup qualifying. Final: 2-0 U.S.!

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Restless Spirits

Cool little Canadian film about a 12-year-old girl recovering from the death of her pilot father a few years earlier. Her brother won’t talk and she and her mother fight constantly. They move to their grandmother’s in Newfoundland, where the girl meets some ghosts. The ghosts turn out to be two French pilots who’d flown from France in 1928 attempting to beat Lindberg at crossing the Atlantic, but crashed in Newfoundland. The trick is that the ghosts don’t know they’re ghosts, or that it’s 70 years later. Every time the fog comes in, they relive the crash again. Anyway, helping the lost pilots helps the girl cope with the loss of her father. Sounds a lot like a Hallmark movie-of-the-week thing, but very well written, with realism, logic, and sly humor. The girl is terrific.

Topic: [/movie]

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: EPL: Southampton at Manchester United

What can one say about Man. United? They haven’t lost in 35 Premiere League matches and aren’t about to do so to lowly Southampton. Goalkeeper Jones gifted United the first goal ten minutes in when he bobbled Cole’s top-of-the arc blast. Then Teddy Sheringham put in a nice chip in first half injury time to put Man. U. further ahead. Five minutes into the second half the champs stole the ball and broke away and a deft combination of passes left Sheringham wide open with the ball at his feet. That was his 100th Premiereship goal! Minutes after that, Cole received the ball in the box but his first touch only stopped the ball… and Sheringham ran up and put it in for the hat trick! With twenty minutes left, Gigg’s shot hit woodwork, as did Beckham’s free kick a few minutes after that. Beckham’s corner a moment later, however, did the magic: Scoles flicked it onward with his head, and Cole headed into the net for his second of the day. The scariest thing? What did Sir Alex Ferguson do next but take off the two scorers, Sheringham and Cole, and put in Yorke and Solskjaer! Imagine having that kind of firepower in reserve on the bench. Southampton must have really felt deflated seeing that. But though there were some nice chances on both sides (including an incredible near-net blast from Yorke that was stopped by Jones), that was it for the scoring. Final: 5-0 Manchester United.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sun, Oct 29, 2000

: U-571

WWII action flick. Impressive special effects and performances, with a cool story: a group of American submariners board a disabled German sub in order to steal an Enigma coding machine, but during the mission their own sub is destroyed, so they’re forced to try and repair and use the German sub. Exciting with non-stop action. The DVD is fantastic with surround sound — I loved hearing the creak of submarine metal straining echoing all around me, and feeling the room shake every time a depth charge exploded. The DVD has plenty of extras, like director’s commentary and about a dozen short documentaries.

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: Martin

Author: George Romero

Director: George Romero

Story about a 17-year-old vampire. Unusual, well-done, but slow-moving, and for some reason, not really my taste. I found it rather boring.

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: Crash

Author: David Cronenberg, Book by J.C. Ballard

Director: David Cronenberg

Yuppies get their sexual kicks from car crashes. Unusual premise, yes, but I expected the film to explain it. It didn’t. I guess you can’t really explain sexual arousal, but by the end of the film I was so disconnected with the characters I didn’t care if they lived or died. They were just weird (and not a good weird — more like sick). What kind of moron runs his girlfriend off the road so she crashes just so he can get off on it? An interesting sidenote: book author Ballard also wrote Empire of the Sun, which was made into the Spielberg’s award-winning film. Maybe the book worked, but the film didn’t. Unusual for Cronenberg, who usually does so well explaining the bizarre.

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: Sisters

Director: Brian DePalma

Basically an hommage to Hitchcock. It’s well-done, but tends to feel like a remake even though it’s new material. The plot’s a complex mess about separated siamese twin sisters and murder. A woman reporter witnesses a murder (shades of Rear Window), but has trouble proving it. Ending is pretty cool, which includes reporter being placed in an insane asylum where everything she says is just proof that she’s belongs there.

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: Braveheart

Author: Randall Wallace

Director: Mel Gibson

Amazing, impressive movie. I’d never got around to watching this, but I rented the DVD. Quite worth it for the widescreen picture alone. Fascinating story of Scotsman hero William Wallace, who kicked the English out of Scotland in the 13th Century. Incredible battle scenes, but most impressive was the well-told epic story — even the complex politics of the era was understandable. Wallace himself remains somewhat single-dimensional (everything relates to his career as a war leader), and I found his dalliance with the Princess of Wales difficult to believe, but overall an inspiring story.

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Sat, Oct 28, 2000

: EPL: Tottenham at Chelsea

According to Chelsea, they are “guaranteed six points every season as long as Tottenham’s in the same league.” Apparently, Tottenham has a long history of losing to Chelsea, and this day proved no different. Tottenham started things off with some decent offense, forcing Chelsea keeper De Hoy to make some key saves. But then a hand ball in the box gave Chelsea a penalty kick, and Hasselbaink put it away cleanly. Near the end of the half, Chelsea added another. Dennis Wise got free on the left and put in a nice cross which Hasselbaink headed to Zola, who headed it into the net. The game after that was routine. Chelsea gave up nothing and Tottenham did nothing but run around the field aimlessly. At the very end, Hasselbaink got another goal with a low-driven long-range curver. Final 3-0, Chelsea. Poor Tottenham.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Meet the Parents

Director: Jay Roach

Excellent movie! Just the perfect mix of realism and exaggeration. The plot’s simple: Ben Stiller plays a young man ready to marry his girlfriend, only first he must meet her parents. The parents are cautiously welcoming, but everything goes hilariously wrong. What I liked was that no one goes out of their way to make Stiller feel uncomfortable; what happens is a matter of clumsiness, bad luck, and Stiller’s own push to appear the perfect son-in-law. Classic example: in a “friendly” water volleyball match, Stiller’s team is criticizing his repeated mistakes. Finally Stiller has had enough. He rears up and hammers home a terrific spike — and gives his girlfriend’s sister a facial, on the eve of her wedding. Suddenly everyone’s acting like Stiller’s a serial killer. You feel tremendous sympathy for poor Stiller — no one does the hapless-but-likable victim better. Hilarious, well-acted, well-written. A bit silly in places, but doesn’t really hurt the film overall.

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Fri, Oct 27, 2000

: Reindeer Games

Waste of talent. Strong cast disappoints because of lame script. This is an example of a movie where someone says, “Hey, this plot is too simple — let’s muck it up a bit.” The result is a qualified mess. The plot sounds like it could be good. Two guys in prison are about to get out. One is going to meet his penpal girlfriend for the first time. Instead, he gets stabbed in a prison riot and the other guy pretends to be him and meets the girl for him. Turns out, her brother read their letters and knows the guy worked a certain casino and wants him to help them rob the place. So now the pretender’s in an awkward spot, right? He doesn’t know anything about the casino, but he’s being forced to assist in a robbery. Well, it goes downhill from there, as no one is what they seem. By the end of the movie, nothing surprises you, and you don’t care about any of the characters. The ending is so lame and convoluted that it ruins any momentum the rest of the movie had (which wasn’t much). Disappointing.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Final Destination

Not a bad film. A horror flick about a kid on a class trip to Europe, with a premonition that the plane he’s on is going to explode. He panics, and in the ruckus that ensues, he and a few friends are kicked off the plane. Seconds after take-off, the plane does explode, killing everyone. But it seems that Death doesn’t like being cheated: one by one, the survivors are dying. What’s cool are the Rube Goldberg-like death traps the victims experience. You’re never quite sure when or how death is going to happen. For instance, in one sequence, the surviving teacher fills a cracked mug with an alcoholic drink. The liquids drips across the floor as she moves around the house, then into the back of a computer monitor, where it causes a fire. Suddenly the monitor explodes, and a shard of glass catches the woman in the throat. She’s staggers around bleeding profusely, and slips on the spilled liquid. You assume she’d dead. But no, not yet. She crawls to the kitchen and reaches for a towel she earlier threw on the counter. As she pulls the towel, she knocks over a wooden knife rack and a butcher knife falls and stabs her right in the mid-section. She’s dead, right? Oh no, not yet! First we have to have a fire (from the exploded monitor) that streaks across the floor, following the trail of alcoholic liquid. That fire goes to the gas stove, and yes, eventually the entire house explodes. She’s dead. Finally. Hilarious, if you’re into that sort of thing. Not a profound movie by any means, but still somewhat suspenseful and interesting. Lots of macabre humor and quirky twists.

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Thu, Oct 26, 2000

: The Bicentennial Man

As a fan of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories since I was a child, I really, really wanted to like this film, despite the negative press. Sadly, the critics were correct: this is a terrible movie. The story is simple and wonderful (I had to read it in my college literature class): a unique robot spends his life attempting to become more and more human, with his ultimate quest being that he can officially be considered a man. He does this, in the end, on his 200th birthday, by allowing himself to become mortal, the ultimate human characteristic.

The early robot portions of the film, while terrific examples of Hollywood special effects, are corny, badly written and acted, and filled with inappropriate humor (such as the robot learning about the “birds and the bees,” how to swear, and how to tell dirty jokes). It’s awkward and lame. Once Robin Williams (the robot) becomes more human-like, the film is better, with the occasional touching moment. But during the whole film you feel manipulated; it’s very obvious where you’re supposed to be sad, sympathetic, or happy. Gone is all the surprise and gentle touches of the original Asimov story. Let me give you one example. In the original short story, the family likes the robot from the start (though they initially don’t see it as human). In one scene, the little girl give the robot a piece of wood and orders him to carve her an ornament. He’s never done such a thing, but he’s governed by the Three Laws of Robotics and thus must obey any human order. The object is beautiful, and shows imagination. His owner is amazed — it seems their robot is creative, an artist! In the movie, however, the family distrusts the robot. This creates an awkward, uncomfortable tone for the first part of the movie. The little girl (terribly acted by the “Pepsi girl” from all those dumb TV commericals) has a crystal horse which the robot accidentally breaks, and so she tells him she hates him (very unconvincingly, I might add). The robot then carves her a replacement horse, and then she loves him. (There’s a “poignant” scene later in the film, when the little girl is a dying old woman, and we see she’s clutching the ancient wooden horse in death. Oh dear. Start up the heart-stirring music, please.) The differences between the two versions are subtle, but significant. One shows us the Robotic Laws in action, cleverly implying that the girl is, in a sense, responsible for kickstarting the robot’s creativity. (She essentially ordered him to be creative, so he was.) In the other, we have bratty kids and a clumsy robot, and shameless, obvious manipulation of emotion. It’s stupid and melodramatic, and as a result we actually feel less emotion with the second version than the first (unless we count revulsion to all the saccharine).

The film got better in the final third. The romance angle, not in the original story, was not bad, though it could have used another scene or two for more depth. The courtroom scenes where the robot fights for freedom and humanity, were okay, but could have been more powerful, like they were in the short story. For instance, in one scene in the short story, the robot explains his desire for freedom like this: “I should think any creature capable of understanding the concept of freedom and desiring freedom, is capable of being free.” In the movie, his quest for freedom is incomprehensible. In another sequence, the legal manipulations to get the court to declare him a human being take decades. One clever part of the process is his law firm takes a lawsuit all the way to the World Court, declaring that a human with an artificial heart should not have to pay debts because he’s not human any more. Of course they lose, which is exactly what they want: they want a precedent that shows that non-human organs do not make a human non-human (thus the robot, which has some non-human organs, is not necessarily not human on those grounds). This stuff is a little complicated, but intelligent and realistic: the film dumbs this all down to single “climactic” courtroom scenes and the story suffers.

But the final straw that totally ruined the film was the ending. My jaw dropped in disbelief at this one. The fundamental part of all Asimov’s robot stories is the Three Laws of Robotics. The First Law is that a robot may not harm a human being (or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm). The Second Law is that a robot must always obey a human, unless it conflicts with the first law. The Third Law is one of self-preservation (as long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two laws). These laws are critically important, for they govern all robotic behavior. There’s even a science called robopsychology which deals with psychological aspects of these laws upon robots. (For instance, would a robot allow you to smoke a cigarette? What about letting you eat a potato chip?) So what do they do in this film? They explain the Three Laws at the start of the film, then never use them. Dumb. But the dumbest? At the very end of the film, when the Bicentennial Man dies, his ancient wife asks the nurse to “unplug” her, which the nurse does. Then it is revealed that the “nurse” is a robot! Yeah, right! No way a robot would be able to take a human off of life support! Impossible. A colossal mistake, even for Hollywood. Disgusting, revolting, and the ruin of a classic science fiction story. I wish this film had never been made, so it could have been done right at some point, by someone who loves and understands Asimov’s robots, not some Disneyesque 1950’s-style vision of what robots might be in the 21st century.

Topic: [/movie]

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: UEFA Cup: Slovan Liberec at Liverpool

For an unknown reason, Liverpool seems to want to make their UEFA Cup games as boring as possible. This one was all routine midfield play, with neither keeper having to do any work. Liverpool was more offensive than the Ukrainian team, but that doesn’t mean much. In the end though (the very end), Liverpool came out ahead with a goal in the 87th minute. A tiny lapse in Liberec’s defense and Heskey put in a dropped ball a few feet in front of the net. 1-0 Liverpool.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Wed, Oct 25, 2000

: Champions League: FC Shakhtar at Lazio

Excellent game. Started off slow, with Lazio missing lots of chances and Shak keeper Yiriv Virt (great name, eh?) making a number of excellent shots. Shak got on the board late in the first half with a terrific angled shot by Vorobyey from twenty-some yards out. In the second half Lopez almost immediately put in a goal for Lazio, and that started the rout. Six minutes later Favali did a great move, nutmegging a defender, running around him to catch up with the ball, and putting it between the keeper and a defender to go 2-1. Just a minute or so after that, Veron added to the score with a fantastic free kick from the side that seemed to defy gravity. Picture this: he’s on the right side of the penalty area. The ball goes around the three man wall on the right, so you’d expect it to continue the same curl and go away from the goal and into the center of the penalty area. Instead, it goes into the goal! Crazy! Shakhtar got some chances after that, but in the 68th minute Claudio Lopez got another. On a clearance from a Shakhtar corner, Lopez received the ball all my himself at the halfway line. He ran, alone, with the ball, all the way to the penalty area, dribbled it to the side, allowing Virt to dive and miss, and Lopez calmly put the ball into the empty net. Lopez got his hat trick in injury time, putting the matter well beyond doubt. Final: 5-1 Lazio.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: EPL: Leeds United at Manchester United

This was a taped game from this weekend, but it proved Leeds substitute keeper Robinson was no fluke in yesterday’s Champions League match against Barcelona, as he did the same in this game, make a number of terrific saves. But it wasn’t enough, as Yorke put one in late in the first half, and David Beckham’s specialty, the free kick, proved too much early in the second half. Late in the game even Robinson’s teammates turned against him, with Jones accidentally putting the ball in his own net. Final: 3-0 Manchester United.

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Tue, Oct 24, 2000

: La Liga: Real Madrid at Barcelona

What a huge game! You haven’t lived until you’ve seen soccer played on the grand stage, one of the big English, Italian, Spanish, or South American derbies. This game is one of the biggest: the two best teams in Spain, perennial rivals Madrid and Barca. Real hasn’t won in Barcelona since 1983 (though they have the edge in the series overall), so this was going to be a tough match. More drama for this season: this summer Barcelona’s best player, Portuguese playmaker Luis Figo, turned traitor and transferred to the hated Real Madrid. Imagine having 80,000+ fans booing every time you touch the ball — that’s what Figo got (and cheers whenever he made a mistake). In pouring rain, the fans were mad with passion (and color-coordinated in Barca’s colors). Absolutely amazing. Incredible soccer skill, unbelievable goal-keeping, and lots of hard, physical challenges. Real Madrid were off their game, while Barca, who’ve been slow in the league this season, got off to roaring start with a Luis Enrique header goal off a Rivaldo free kick in the 27th minute. (Enrique, ironically, transferred from Real Madrid years ago and still gets booed when in Madrid.) The game was a fair battle until late, when Madrid seemed to be getting things together and putting up some impressive attacks. Then, on a delicious counter-attack, Barcelona had three players take a crack on goal. Rivaldo took the first shot, brilliantly blocked by Madrid’s young keeper. Alfonso tried to head in the rebound, but his knock hit the post, only to drop the ball at Simao’s feet, and he calmly put it away. That was all Barca needed. Final: 2-0 Barcelona.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Champions League: Barcelona at Leeds United

Incredible game. In the first match between these two, Barca whomped Leeds 4-0 and everyone expected the little club to die off quickly. This time around, their positions have reversed: with a win, Leeds would advance and Barcelona, incredibly, would be eliminated from the Champions League. No team has suffered more from injuries than Leeds, with half their team out. And with 20 members under age 25, Leeds is by far the youngest team in Champions League competition.

The game started off well for the smaller club. In the fifth minute, Lee Bowyer’s cross was miscalculated by Barca’s keeper and went straight into the net! After that, Leeds really turned on the offense, but Barca’s defense held and they got their own fifteen minutes or so of offense. In the second half, it was all Barcelona. Leeds attacked only a couple times, and then only on break-away counters. Amazingly, though it seemed like Barca would surely score, they didn’t. Leeds second-best keeper (Nigel Martin is out for six weeks on injury), 20-year-old Robinson came up huge, making at least a half-dozen world-class saves. Time drifted on and Barca attacked and attacked, but Leeds kept clearing the ball away. Could they hold out? The huge crowd booed when the ref put up 4 minutes of extra time, but Leeds held on, though they’d only made one substitution and all their players (many just back from injury and not fully fit) were exhausted. Two minutes past, then three. Still the one goal held. With less than a minute left, Barcelona made another run toward the Leeds goal. Lee Bowyer, exhausted, slipped and missed a tackle, which allowed a Barcelona player to put a cross into the box. Desperately Cocu headed the ball but it struck the post. As Leeds scrambled to recover, the rebound went to the dreaded foot of Rivaldo, who didn’t miss his point-blank chance. With just thirty seconds to the win, Leeds had missed their chance! Final: 1-1. The tie mathematically keeps Barcelona alive, but Leeds can advance with a tie or win in their next match against A.C. Milan, or a Barcelona loss.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Oct 23, 2000

: EPL: Manchester City at Southampton

With these two lowly sides, you’d figure the game would be even, but Southampton forgot to show up. Man. City’s Dickov scored in the 38th minute on a breakaway, and they easily held the lead until the final minutes when it looked like Southampton might trouble them. But some great defending kept the Saints at bay, and in injury time, Tiatto put the matter beyond doubt with a terrific finish on a counter-attack. Final: 2-0 Man. City.

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: Serie A: Lazio at Verona

You’d think last year’s champs Lazio would handle Verona easily, but the first half was nil-nil, though not without some impressive goal-keeping from Verona. Then young Romanian star Mutu crossed the ball in front of the Lazio net and a defender knocked it in! Fifteen minutes later, Mutu scored on his own, striking from an awkward angle and beating a defender and the keeper. Lazio had their own obvious chance on the penalty kick in the final minutes, but missed. Final: 2-0 Verona, and well-deserved.

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Sun, Oct 22, 2000

: In the Company of Men

Author: Neil LaButte

Director: Neil LaButte

Incredible, powerful, disturbing film. This is an unadulterated look at evil, up close, and it’s designed to make you squirm. The plot is simple: a couple MBA-types, on a six-week business trip, pledge to take revenge on women as payment for all their own messed up relationships. They decide they’ll find a shy, lonely, unnoticeable woman, and each romance her for the next six weeks, and then, when she thinks she’s falling in love one or both of them, they’ll dump her like yesterday’s fish and laugh in her face. Bizarre concept, yes, but brilliantly executed. Author LaButte goes the extra mile to make us really realize what slimeballs these two guys are: the woman they toy with is deaf. Because she can’t speak clearly, one guy calls her “retard mouth” behind her back. That’s the kind of stuff you face in this movie. Tough, yes, but powerful and profound.

What’s deeply ironic to me is that if Neil hadn’t made the woman deaf, if she’d been a regular woman, perhaps not very attractive but not handicapped, would we have felt such a degree of disgust for these men? Is our outrage so intense because the woman is disabled, and thus a more sympathetic victim, or are we outraged out of principle? In other words, do we care about the person inside, regardless of the shell (flawed or intact)? If we saw this happening, like we do all the time around us (i.e. we know our co-worker’s cheating on his wife but we shrug it off), would we be as upset? Food for thought, lots of food for thought. Definitely one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Even more amazing, LaButte made this for $25,000, I have no idea how: it looks like a million dollar movie. Acting, sound, photography — everything is top notch. Impressive.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Argentine Soccer: Velez Sarsfield at Boca Juniors

With Boca well ahead in the standings, this game just meant further distancing from their opponents. Boca started off brilliantly as usual, bouncing the ball off the inside of the near post in the fifth minute, freezing the “world’s greatest goalkeeper” Chilavert as he thought the shot was going wide. Chilavert almost brought Velez back a few minutes later on a wonderful free kick (he’s one of the few goalkeepers in the world who’s an offensive threat). Velez had a goal called back for offside in the 21st minute, and hit the post a few minutes after that. But after all that offense, Velez had nothing to show for it at the end of the half. Starting the second half, just seconds in, Riquelme gave the ball a clever, soft touch, completely beating Velez’s defense, and rolling the ball into the back of the net. If that wasn’t enough to destroy Velez, Riquelme did it again eight minutes later, putting a slider under Chilavert. But seconds after that, Velez countered with Husain’s great finish. With one goal, Velez worked hard and had some chances, but couldn’t score. Then, in a bizarre twist, the two teams best players crashed into each other in an accidental clash, and the idiot referee handed out red cards to both Palermo and Chilavert! I always say, as a referee, if you aren’t sure what happened, the best thing to do is nothing. In this case the referee assumed something untoward had happened (clearly not, as seen on the replays) and ruined what had been a terrific game to that point. Lame. Give the ref a red card! Final: 3-1 Boca Juniors.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: EPL: Leicster City at Liverpool

Great battle between the fourth and fifth placed teams. Gobs of terrific “sure” goals impossibly blocked by Leicster. It looked like it was heading for a nil-nil draw, but then former Leicster strike Emil Heskey beat Leicster keeper Tim Flowers to the ball, literally kicking it out from under the keeper to score. Leicster hardly had a shot on goal the whole game, and that’s how it finished, 1-0 Liverpool.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Director: Peter Weir

Unusual Australian film based on the true story of a group of schoolgirls in 1900 who go on a picnic and several of them mysteriously vanish. Searchers and bloodhounds find no trace of the girls. Were they murdered? Did all of them fall down a hole at the same time (if only one or two fell down, surely the others would have gone for help)? Very strange. Languidly paced, with haunting pan flute music by Zamfir, the film builds a lot of suspense and is quite fascinating, but goes nowhere. In the end, the girls are never found, and to this day no one knows what happened. I hate mysteries like that. No wonder I prefer fiction — it’s much less messy than real life.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Dutch: Heerenveen at Feyenoord

Feyenoord got things off to a roaring start with several excellent chances in the first few minutes that culminated in a terrific curving strike from seventeen-year-old Brazilian phenom Leonardo. Heerenveen had only a few chances the entire match, and none of them really threatened, while Feyenoord continued to dominate with near misses and blocked shots. In the second half they scored again, with most of the work being done by Leonardo, but the scrapes being picked up by a teammate, who put the ball in the net. Final: 2-0 Feyenoord.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Sat, Oct 21, 2000

: The Breed

Author: David Cronenberg

Director: David Cronenberg

Weird story of a psychologically damaged woman who produces a brood of deformed offspring which do her unconscious bidding (similar to the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet in that emotions cause action). Of course, we don’t know that until the very end. Most of the movie deals with the treatment of pyschological trauma. That’s very interesting, but it doesn’t connect with the brood at all, giving us two very different films in one, which doesn’t work. And all the psycho-babble stuff, while interesting, is pointless as the woman has a physiological problem. No explanation is given about the woman’s ability to produce the brood, but I liked the ominous ending where it looks like her daughter is going to inherit her ability (which she apparently inherited from her mother).

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: U.S. Open Cup Final — Chicago Fire vs. Miami Fusion

After battling all season long to be the two teams left in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (the oldest soccer tournament in the U.S., founded in 1914), Chicago and Miami deserved to be here. With great chances at both ends in the first half, the Fire finally managed to sneak one in the final seconds on a terrific break by Razov and Stoitchkov, where Razov unselfishly passed up his chance to score by giving it to the wide-open Bulgarian. In the second half one expected Miami to come out fighting, but it was all Chicago, culminating in a penalty kick call. It was up to Razov to score but Nick Romando, Miami’s little goalkeeper, blocked the shot, keeping Miami in the game. He made another terrific save a few minutes later. It seemed like nothing Chicago could do would increase the score — and so Miami’s Marshall cleverly put the ball in his own net to save them the trouble. With just minutes left and two goals down, it seemed impossible for Miami to come back, but in a frenetic goal mouth scramble they managed to snag a late goal. Seconds later, however, the final whistle was blown and Chicago, for the second time in their short history, had won the U.S. Open Cup (and $100,000 in prize money). Final: 2-1 Chicago.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Serie A: Juventus at A.C. Milan

After a goalless first half it looked like this derby might be a lackluster 1-0 game. But Milan, after being dominated in the first half, came out with fire in their belly and possessed the ball and attacked non-stop for fifteen minutes. That run was capped by Ambrosini’s header in the 60th minute, and one minute later Shevchenko scored off a great Boban cross. Suddenly, in the span of a minute and a half, Juventus was down by two goals! But Juventus is infamous for being a team that doesn’t give up. A quarter of an hour later, just minutes after being put in the game, French striker Trezeguet (who scored the winner in France’s Euro 2000 win this summer) headed the ball into the back of the net. It still looked like Juventus was heading for a defeat, however, as the game entered injury time. Then, one minute in, making the coach look like a genius, substitute Antonio Conte scored a fantastic cross-court shot that just missed the keeper’s outstretched fingers. And that was the way it finished, 2-2.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Re-Animator

Another one of IFC’s horror classics, and this one is pretty good. Based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, this is about a genius medical student who invents a way to “re-animate” the dead — though they mostly turn out to be violent zombie-like creatures. Done with a nice touch of humor, but it’s the goriest film I’ve ever seen — really disgusting, especially the final 15 minutes, set in the hospital morgue, and filled with dozens of horrible corpses brought back to life. Not really scary, just ugly. Though Mischief and Mayhem loved the noisy cat-killing scene. ;-) And I can’t fail to mention the repetitive music which gets really annoying as it’s a blatant rip-off of Bernard Hermann’s classic Psycho score, and totally inappropriate (this is not a psychological thriller). The music during the opening credits had some humor to it, which was ideal.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Oct 20, 2000

: Shanghai Noon

Terrific Jackie Chan film, full of his characteristic humor and great action. This is described on the DVD as an “Eastern Western,” which is exactly what it is. It’s a period piece, which surprised me (I remembered very little from the trailers, only that critics had liked it). It’s totally cool. Set in the old West, it deals with a Chan as an Imperial Guard sent to America to rescue the Emperor’s kidnapped daughter. He meets up with an inept bandit (wonderfully played by Owen Wilson) and the two become uncooperative partners. Hilarious, witty, beautifully photographed (the Nevada landscapes are breathtaking), and filled with Chan’s amazing stunts. And I can’t fail to mention Ally McBeal’s Lucy Liu as the princess — she was perfect.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Dutch: Roda at Ajax

Only my second Dutch League game, I’m still adjusting. I find my interest level low going in, but once the game gets going, I can get into it. I suppose that’s just normal. I don’t know the teams or the players, so everything’s foreign. I was interested in this game because Amsterdam’s Ajax is so famous (pronounced “aye-axe”, btw), but their star has been fading lately and they’re in 9th spot this season. But they came out big against Roda, scoring at the mid-way point and again on a clear penalty kick late in the first half. In the second half the game got fun as Roda became desperate and Ajax just toyed with them, easily scoring two more times. Roda managed to scramble one goal back, and then got a stumbler in the final seconds. Final: 4-2 Ajax.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Rabid

Author: David Cronenberg

Director: David Cronenberg

Unusual horror film about a woman who undergoes major surgery with skin grafts and in recovery discovers a mouth has formed in her armpit! The mouth must eat: i.e. suck blood from people. Her victims become infected with a rabies-like disease that has them foaming at the mouth in blood lust themselves — and anyone they bite is also infected. If prevented from sucking blood, the victims fall into a coma and die within a day. Within a week half of Montreal is infected, and martial law is declared by the mayor. Policemen shoot rabid people on sight. Meanwhile, the woman is going around infecting people, oblivious to the chaos she is causing. Very well-done, realistic, but lacks depth. The story never goes back to explain the woman’s armpit mouth and we’re left with a strange feeling of “why?” Favorite moment: when one of the cops, shooting a rabid man in a mall, accidentally shoots Santa Claus! Delightfully sick (and a touch profound).

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Oct 19, 2000

: EPL: Newcastle at Middlesborough

Once again, Middlesborough lives up to their name with a lackluster performance. I doubt they threatened the Newcastle goal more than once or twice the whole game. Okay, so they did get a little goal at the very end, when the ball literally trickled over the line, but that was ten seconds before the final whistle. Newcastle dominated, with a goal from Alan Shearer in the first half. (The defense left him alone with the ball, in the penalty area. Smart.) Two more goals in second finished the game nicely. Final 3-1, Newcastle.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: The Last House on the Left

Author: Wes Craven

Director: Wes Craven

What’s the purpose of this film? I don’t know. It’s supposed to be chilling or edgy or innovative or something, but it’s just dumb. The film looks and sounds amateurish, and there are obvious editing mistakes. Craven uses techniques like rapid camera movement, odd cuts, and close ups of unusual cropping to generate “excitement,” but all it does is bewilder the viewer, as you can barely tell what’s going on. The main bad guys are all so much alike it’s difficult to tell who’s who, and the language and style are all so early seventies they’re difficult to understand. The plot is just pointless: a group of prison escapees rape and murder two girls and are then murdered by one of the girl’s parents. Fun. No, just dumb. Theoretically you ought to root for the parents as they take their revenge, but everyone in the whole film is so ugly, evil, and disgusting that you really just don’t care about anyone. Very strange, distasteful, and vile film. Nothing really that shocking about the violence, though it is violent. Might have been mildly impressive at the time of release, but now it’s dated and junk.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Oct 18, 2000

: EPL: Manchester United at Leicster City

The two teams at the top of the table clash, but Man. U. quickly proves that they deserve to be on top. Two goals from Sherringham (the second on a counter after a terrible Leicster corner kick that passed the ball straight to a United player) put Manchester well in control, and Solskjaer added a neat one of his own in the final few to really dig the knife in. Final: 3-0 United.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Champions League: Barcelona at A.C. Milan

WOW! What an incredible game. The UEFA Champions League is my favorite (only the top couple of teams in each country compete) and this game shows why. Barcelona lost their last two UCL games (they won their first) to put them at the bottom of their group, and so they really needed a big game. The game started off with a great free kick goal from last year’s world Player of the Year Rivaldo kicking the ball under the wall as they leaped up. Minutes later, while Barca was in confusion after Cocu and Petite clashed heads and were carted off, leaving the team playing with just nine men, Milan’s Albertini scored from a half mile away (at least it seemed like it). Unbelievably, Albertini scored a second — only his sixth goal in league and international play — on a free kick. Just minutes later, Rivaldo was brought down at Milan’s end of the field to give Barca a free kick at almost the exact spot where Rivaldo scored his first goal. This time the wall didn’t jump and Rivaldo put the ball high, just curling it under the crossbar and in! If that wasn’t enough for one half, Milan busted back with a shot from Bierhoff that was blocked by Milan’s keeper, only to the see rebound blasted in by a charging Jose Maria (three goals for Spain in the Sydney Olympics). Like I said, wow. Five goals in one half. Could the second be any better? Of course not. Both teams slowed down in the second half, with Milan defending their lead. Finally Rivaldo broke through with a terrific diving header to complete his hat trick and tie the score, and that’s how the game finished, 3-all.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Tue, Oct 17, 2000

: La Liga: Deportivo at Real Madrid

The first goal came early in the game, and while Raul got the credit, it should have gone to Figo. He made a long run up the right wing, dribbled through some defenders to get in deep near the corner of the goal, and sent back a sharp cross between two defenders. The cross hit a surprised Raul’s knee and bounced off into the goal before Raul could even react! Real Madrid got another in the waning seconds of the first half on a penalty kick. Deportivo attacked in the second half, but it seemed like they never even got a shot on goal the whole game. Rather lackluster on their part. Madrid got a late header to finish the game 3-0.

The thing that really annoyed me was that ESPN2 aired this game at midnight Monday night instead of their usual daytime slot, meaning I didn’t watch this until Tuesday night. And of course they promoted Tuesday’s daytime Champions League match during the game, meaning I didn’t know about the game until after it aired, and couldn’t record it. These sports stations make it so difficult to figure out when soccer’s on you’d think they didn’t want viewers!

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Presidential Debate

I really hate politics. I hate the bickering, the divisiveness, the arrogance, and the dishonesty. Generally, when I bother to vote, I vote for “None of the Above.” That said, I have lot of political opinions (especially in regards to government reform). I tend toward the abolition of all government. I hate big brother. So I haven’t paid much attention to the presidential race. I don’t like Bush and I can’t stand Gore. Nader’s too much of an unknown, and no one is even in the running. I missed the earlier debates, but tuned to most of this one. Here’s what I thought.

Gore initially surprised me with his knowledge of facts and figures. Whereas Bush was very general, “This is going to cost a ton of money,” Gore was specific: “This will cost 53% more than 1% of the top tax bracket.” Of course I have no way of knowing if anything he said was accurate (I found out later that some was not), but it sounded impressive. But my initial warming toward Gore (which surprised me) quickly evaporated as Gore abused the debate rules. He continuously ignored calls for time and kept right on speaking, and near the end of the debate actually disobeyed Lehr’s command to not rebut and instead answer a different question, going off on a long rebutal. When he finally got around to the question, Lehr canceled it, saying “We’re moving on,” but he never gave Bush a chance to rebut Gore’s unauthorized rebut! (BTW, I thought Lehr was biased toward Gore, a moron, and a complete wimp. You could see him there waving his hand and stammering “T-t-time, Mr. Vice President,” but he never once cut Gore off, though he cut Bush off several times.) In short, Gore was a jerk, while Bush handled himself with dignity. My estimation of Bush (which had been pretty low, considering his father), rose considerably.

What I don’t like about politics came out early in the debate. Why did Bush refuse to answer Gore’s accusation about non supporting the Dingle-whatever bill (something with patient rights the Demos support and the Repubs don’t)? Bush kept ignoring the question, even though Gore pushed it several times. Either Bush supports the bill, in which case he should say so, or he doesn’t, so he should tell us why, or he’s never heard of the bill, and he should say that. Just ignoring it was dumb. There were lots of games like that. For instance, Gore seemed to have trouble understanding English. Bush said he supported “affirmative access,” not quotas (he explained affirmative access is a Texas program for encouraging ethnic diversity in schools and business). Gore said he wasn’t for quotas either, but he supported affirmative action (he didn’t say what that was). Bush came back saying “If affirmative action is not quotas, then I’m for it.” Then Gore pushed again (violating the debate rules by asking a direct question, not part of a rebuttal), “Well, do you support affirmative action?” Huh? These guys were agreeing and yet they were still arguing! Grrrr. Stupid, stupid. And what was the deal with numbers? Numbers should be easy to compare, right? One’s bigger or smaller, it’s simple! So why did they get into a silly “My plan’s cheaper, yours is more expensive,” “No, my plan’s cheaper, yours is more expensive!” It was like hearing two-year-olds argue!

The final straw for me was regarding taxes. I’m a tax hater, so I like Bush’s tax cut plan. Gore did a whole thing about how Bush’s plan is going to give tons back to the wealthiest 1% of America. Bush explained, “Everyone, wealthy or poor, is going to get a tax cut. You can’t give everyone a tax cut and not not give the wealthy a tax cut.” Makes sense to me. Sounds fair, too. I have nothing against the wealthy. I hope to be one of them someday. Why shouldn’t they get a break like anyone else? What’s the point of being wealthy if the government just takes more of it away? But Gore’s counter really struck me as being so Washington I wanted to barf. He just repeated himself, saying “See! I told you so! Tax cuts to the wealthy!” What a moron.

When it came to education — an issue I see as being one of the most important — I could not support Al Gore. When a tiny private school, with 100th of the funds per student as a public school, can do a better job educating, it tells me that money isn’t the problem. The problem is bureaucracy. Gore wants to increase that bureaucracy by expanding the school system. Some of his ideas were good: I support standards and accountability, but Bush had a good point when he said that there were no consequences for bad schools. Bush claimed he wanted schools to be local, saying programs like vouchers should be up to the individual states. I can’t support Bush on that. If there’s one thing that should be standardized across the country it is schools. As someone who went to a different school for nearly every grade level, I had a “Swiss cheese” education, where different schools taught me the same thing and neglected other (mostly this was true in history and geography, where schools typically alternated between teaching national and international and I got one of the twice and none of the other). Anyway, I feel very strongly that schools need standards, teachers should be tested, and schools should all be the same, whether you go to school in Colorado, Connecticut, or California. One idea I think should be implemented: if I was President, I’d pass a law that says “No non-teaching personnel at a public school can make more money than the lowest paid teacher.” Bingo. Wouldn’t that solve a LOT of problems in our schools?

Conclusion: I hadn’t planned to vote for Bush, but after seeing him in the debate, I think I could. That doesn’t mean I will, but I could. I do know that I wouldn’t vote for Gore if you paid me: his arrogance, politicizing attitude is exactly what turns me off to politics. While I don’t agree with Bush on many issues, he seemed like a reasonable man. With Gore I felt he’d shove laws down my throat whether I liked them or not (which is exactly why I don’t like government).

Topic: [/politics]

Link

: Cat Tip of the Day: Keep Off

Here’s my latest tip for cat lovers. Have a problem keeping your cat off your kitchen table or other non-kitty places? I bought a little battery-operated motion detector alarm at Radio Shack ($25) which is awesome. I leave it on pointed at the coffee table at night. Now when one of my cats jumps onto the table, the alarm chimes, and the cat runs and hides. They don’t like loud sounds. The first night I tried this the alarm went off twice, but the second night only once. I think my cats are getting the message. I figure a week with it on the coffee table will cure them of that bad habit, then it’s on to the kitchen counter!

Topic: [/cats]

Link

Mon, Oct 16, 2000

: Serie A: A.C. Milan at Bologna

This was one of those rare, odd games that was terrific only because of something that happened at the very end. Basically, the game was fairly routine. Bologna started things off with a goal in the first half, while Milan’s defense seemed confused, but Milan answered with better play and a goal in the second half. Then the real game began and there was about 15 minutes of terrific action, but ultimately it looked like a 1-1 draw was to be the outcome. But four-and-a-half minutes into injury time, with just seconds left, Bologna’s veteran defender Piacentini got open at the top of the key, wheeled, and scored on a terrific blast into the far corner. It was a magnificent strike, leaving the keeper helpless. Any forward would have been delighted by such a goal, but it was all the sweeter for Piacentini, as that was just his fourth goal in sixteen years of play! Bologna wins, 2-1. Awesome.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: EPL: Aston Villa at Arsenal

A rather boring match; the Gunners struggled, though they managed a few decent shots, but the Villians didn’t even show up. Thierry Henry finally scored a terrific through-the-legs-of-the-defender goal, but that was all the action in the action.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Sun, Oct 15, 2000

: Argentine Soccer: Boca Juniors at River Plate

This game is known as the “Superclassico,” as these two teams are the best and biggest in Argentina and have been rivals for over 100 years (they’ve played each other 166 times and each won about sixty and drawn the rest)! In Buenos Aires in front of 80,000 screaming fanatics, the two met. For Boca, a win would mean a significant lead in the tournament (they are in first place), while for second place River Plate, a win would help them gain on their arch-rivals. At first, as is typical in a Superclassico, the match was choppy, with hard fouls making it difficult to establish any kind of consistent play. River seemed to be doing the best, when out of nowhere, a simple cross into the box was met by a leaping Martin Palermo who headed into the far corner past a diving goalkeeper. Boca was ahead in the fourteenth minute. After that, Boca dominated (especially Riquelme and Serna), while River couldn’t do much more than foul. Then in the dying minutes of the first half, River nearly scored, stopped only by a terrific save by Cordoba, Boca’s keeper. Coming into the second half, Boca seemed to sit on the laurels, and fourteen minutes in River equalized on a terrific counter-attack. After that, play was frenetic, more like a ping-pong match, with chances at both ends. Keepers made saves, there were yellow cards galore, and finally, even though River’s Ortega was sent off with a second yellow, the game finished an appropriate tie, 1-1.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Dutch: Sparta Rottenberg vs. Feyenoord

Fox Sports World is now carrying the Dutch league (I sure hope this does not mean the demise of them airing German soccer, one of my favorites). The Dutch league isn’t quite as respected as other European leagues, but it’s a good league, especially for such a small country. I’ve wished many times the league was broadcast here in the U.S. It’s going to take me time to learn about all the teams and players and figure out what’s going on. Feyenoord started this off with a penalty kick goal in the first half, but underdog Sparta quickly came back with their own terrific goal with five minutes left. After half time, the score stayed the same until late in the game when suddenly Feyenoord came alive with two goals within five minutes, and then put in another right at the end to really stamp their authority on the game. Final: 4-1, Feyenoord.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: The Night of the Living Dead

Author: George Romero

Director: George Romero

Fascinating film. Not especially scary or gory, but an interesting story. I liked the odd mix of characters. I hadn’t realized that the “living dead” thing was a national crisis (I figured it was a local phenomena); that broadened the scope of the victims’ plight. One touch that was really profound is that few of the main characters are killed by zombies — instead, it is human stupidity and greed that kills them. Very cool. I also loved the way Romero went to still shots at the very end. Just like a documentary, with grainy photos that strongly resembled a lynching.

I still liked really dumb.

Incredible the way a silly zombie film can make so many complex statements about existence, survival, human society, relationships, human nature in a crisis situation, civil rights and racism, and much, much more. It’s now easy for me to see how someone could write a dissertation on these films. There’s a lot of power in them.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: MLS Cup 2000: Chicago vs. Kansas City

Amazing game. Chicago came in with the best offense in the league against K.C.’s best defense. Who would win? Chicago started things off with potent offense, but couldn’t quite stick the ball in the back of the net. Then K.C., on a sudden counter, put themselves ahead ten minutes in! Chicago wasn’t the least bit worried, however, and they set up camp in K.C.’s penalty area and took shot after shot. But none of them went in. In the second half it was more of the same. Chicago brought in more offensive players off the bench, giving K.C. a few opportunities for counter-attacks, but neither team’s defense would give in. K.C. keeper and league MPV Tony Meola blocked shot after shot, and even Chicago’s Thorton had to make a couple good saves. Every two minutes you just knew Chicago had finally scored, only to see the ball somehow miss the target or be stopped. It was maddening. But soccer’s not a game about possession: whoever scores the most goals wins. And this time that was Kansas City, 1-0! So for only the third time in MLS history, the league has another first time winner. (The others were D.C. and Chicago.) It’s a great sign that the league is maturing and producing more than just one or two championship caliber teams. The level of soccer in this game was incredibly impressive: on both defensive and offensive skills, both teams were excellent, and I think the world would do well to notice that Major League Soccer has arrived. (Don’t feel too sorry for the Fire: they still have an Open Cup championship to fight for, against the Miami Fusion.)

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Sat, Oct 14, 2000

: Serie A: Napoli at Intermilan

Newly promoted side Napoli failed against Juventus, but thought they had a chance against a struggling Intermilan. They were wrong. With a new coach (Lippi was fired after they lost the first game of the season; ouch), Inter came out ready to play. Thirty minutes in it was 2-0 in favor of Inter. Then, in first half stoppage time, defender (and World Cup champion) Laurent Blanc found himself one-on-one with Napoli’s keeper. Though the keeper had come up big twice against Seedorf, Blanc made him look foolish by calmly passing the ball around him then running onto it for a tap in. It was a classy goal finished with all the composure of a top striker! In second half Napoli managed to get one back, but it was too little, too late. Final: 3-0 Intermilan.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: Dawn of the Dead

Author: George Romero

Director: George Romero

I’d never seen any of the Dead series, and while I figured they were good, I assumed they were typical horror flicks. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Tomorrow night IFC airs the original The Night of the Living Dead, and I can’t wait. This is the sequel and it’s amazing. I can truly say this is one of the best films I have ever seen. It’s a genre film, no question, but it breaks out of its genre in ways that you wouldn’t believe possible without seeing it.

The plot is simple: the world is overrun by zombies (the living dead), who must eat human flesh to survive. Zombies are incredibly stupid, but tenacious — they won’t take no for an answer and just keep coming and coming (unless you shoot them in the head). Attempting to escape this nightmare is a small group of looters who have a helicopter but minimal gasoline. They land on the roof of a deserted mall: deserted of people that is, but filled with zombies. With a whole mall for the looting, the escapees decide benefits of staying outweigh the risks of the zombies. Here is where the film shines. The killing of zombies is relentless and gory throughout the film, but it is the mall scenes, where zombie life is a dull mimicry of real life, that director Romero plays with our minds. At times the zombies are ghoulish and evil, then pitiful, then heroic, then tragic, then mindless automatons. Within this satiric parody of life we see ourselves. It is a dangerous, uncomfortable vision.

This film asks all sorts of profound questions about the meaning of life. For instance, the zombies have life. Or do they? And our struggling heroes, secure in their mall fortress with everything they could ever need, face boredom: are they alive? Wow, profound, thought-provoking film. I never dreamed horror could be so intelligent (especially about mindless zombies).

Warning: this film is incredibly gory and violent, but the violence is almost comical. Romero is a master: he treats us with a series of violent images to desensitize us, then shocks us with a shot of humanity. Most unusual for a horror film. The movement of the zombies is a dance, elegantly choreographed, and like the tragedy inherent in string puppets who have no soul, is hopelessly sad.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: The Hills Have Eyes

Author: Wes Craven

Director: Wes Craven

I taped this from IFC last night. Not bad, certainly exciting and well done, but not particularly scary. More of a survival story than a horror story. It has a typical plot: family gets stranded in the desert unaware they are being watched by a bizarre family of mutant cannibals that want to eat them. As the family gets picked off one-by-one, it’s up to the last remaining members to survive. Decent characterization, but doesn’t have the shock of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, Oct 13, 2000

: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

In honor of the date, I guess, the Independent Film Channel has a weekend of classic horror movies. I’d never seen this one, but decided to watch it. I’m not really a fan of the slasher genre (except for the satiric or parodic); I generally find “horror” movies more funny than scary. This film, I must admit, was scary. I watched part of an IFC documentary on horror films later and director John Landis’ comment about Chainsaw got it right. To paraphrase: “With a director like Hitchcock, you’re in suspense knowing there’s a master in control. With Chainsaw, you’re quickly aware there’s a maniac in control and you don’t know what to think. Anything can happen.” The cold brutality of the killings was startling. Without the gore and endless fake scares so typical of most slasher films, the deaths are truly unnerving. For instance, in one scene the bad guy (Leatherface) calmly picks up the screaming girl and sticks her on a meat hook. She’s dangling there for several minutes, helpless, screaming horribly, while he goes about the business of using a chainsaw to cut up her boyfriend. Nice. The climactic finale is almost a black comedy: watching the ancient grandfather feebly attempting to club the screaming girl and repeatedly dropping the hammer is maddening. You want to scream, “Hurry up and kill her and get it over with!” until you realize what you are thinking, and then you feel guilty. Not an easy movie to watch; it’s truly disturbing, and even after all these years is still easily a breakthrough film. Remarkable.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Argentina vs. Uruguay (World Cup Qualifier)

Terrific game, as could be expected. Argentina dominated the first half, with Gallardo scoring a terrific through-the-legs-of-the-hapless-defender goal, followed by an ignored Batistuta, left alone at the top of the box with the ball at his feet. (Message to Uruguay: don’t do that. “Batigol” will make you pay.) Uruguay came back five minutes into the second half with a gift goal from Argentina’s terrible defending. After that the game became very rough and physical (and Uruguay’s coach stupidly took out Recoba, their best player), but neither team could anything else and so it finished Argentina 2, Uruguay 1.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: England vs. Finland (World Cup Qualifier)

After losing to Germany at home last weekend, England’s head coach resigned and the team desperately needed a win against Finland. Finland, however, played with considerable brilliance, but not quite enough break down England’s defense. A decent game, though no goals. 0-0 final.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Thu, Oct 12, 2000

: Dreamscape

Cool early-80’s flick about a scientific experiment to allow psychics to enter into the dreams of another person. Of course the big bad evil government gets involved and tries to use the technique as a weapon. Fun, with an all-star cast (even those with minor roles are famous today, like “Norm” from Cheers). I rewatched it with the DVD commentary, which was excellent (older films tend to have better commentary as time and distance give better perspective).

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Wed, Oct 11, 2000

: U.S.A. vs. Costa Rica (World Cup Qualifier)

With Costa Rica in first place and the U.S. in second in our group, this was an important home game for the U.S., though we were missing a number of top players (Reyna, Pope, McBride, Lewis, etc.) and coach Bruce Arena was suspended. Costa Rica was openly playing for a tie, defending with numbers and threatening on fast-paced counter-attacks. The U.S. pressed and played well most of the time, including some terrific chances that were only stopped by the Costa Rican goalkeeper. The U.S. was occasionally weak on defense, and a couple of times it looked like the U.S. would go down a goal. But neither team wilted and the game finished nil-nil. A tie isn’t terrible for the U.S. — if we tie or win in Barbados next month we qualify to the next round (remember, we beat them 7-0 here at home). But it’s a bit of an ominous sign that we should struggle so early in World Cup qualifying — the games are only going to get tougher.

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Tue, Oct 10, 2000

: Stir of Echoes

Author: Book by Richard Matheson

I had no idea until the opening credits that this film was based on a novel by one of my favorite Twilight Zone writers, Richard Metheson. The film is somewhat similar to the The Sixth Sense, but lower-key and not quite as scary. Still very interesting and well-done. I like “small” suspense/horror films like this: the big budget ones usually try too hard.

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Mon, Oct 09, 2000

: Jakob the Liar

Sappy, overly sentimental Oscar bid full of teary-eyed people making lame speeches in bad accents. Some parts were interesting, and there were a few excellent touches, but overall the film fell sadly flat. A feeble Shindler’s List wannabe.

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: Best Laid Plans

Really cool little film about money-making schemes going all wrong. Neatly directed, with some cool plot twists. I’ve seen other films that wanted to be this one. Written by the same guy who wrote Ravenous.

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Sun, Oct 08, 2000

: The Hurricane

Excellent film about the black boxer jailed for murders he didn’t commit. Seemed a bit heavy-handed as though just begging for an Oscar, but an excellent story. My favorite aspect was the young boy discovering life via reading his first book, the auto-biography of “Hurricane” Carter.

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Sat, Oct 07, 2000

: My Dog Skip

Author: Book by Willie Morris

Wonderful, wonderful film about a boy and his love for his dog. Similar to my favorite book Where the Red Fern Grows (though it’s not as epic). (Note that the film version of Where the Red Fern Grows was absolutely terrible; the worst film adaptation I’ve ever seen.) This could easily have tumbled into sentimentality, but the filmmakers do a good job of keeping things real. If you can watch this without watery eyes, you’ve got no soul.

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Fri, Oct 06, 2000

: MLS Playoff: New York at Chicago (Game 3)

With each team winning one of the series, the drama was set: whoever won this game, would go to the “superbowl” — MLS Cup 2000 final, on Oct. 15 (on ABC). Chicago had home field advantage and everything seemed to be going their way. They got a fluke goal in the fourth minute, followed by one of the best goals of the year from Stoitchkov, where instead of crossing, he blasted it just under the crossbar (placing it with the perfect amount of height so that NY keeper Mike Ammann couldn’t reach it and making it dip after passing Ammann to go under the bar). With a 2-0 lead, it seemed Chicago had it made. But a minute later, Valencia stole a goal at the other end. Then, four minutes after that, Valencia scored a second! With the score tied 2-2 at the half, it was anybody’s game. The second half was the keeper’s game, with both making good saves, but the most of the offense for both sides was muted. Finally, with just a couple minutes to go, Ante Razov got in behind New York’s defense and ran in alone on Ammann. Ammann had saved a shot in a similar circumstance before, but this time Razov put it away, and Chicago’s in the final.

What a great game! Earlier I’d thought Chicago-New York sounded like a dream final, but unfortunately the way the playoffs are structured, those teams cancel each other out and there’s no way they can both make it. Still, even though it wasn’t the final, it was great to see these teams battle it out over three games. New York’s had an amazing turnaround, and they’ve got to be proud of themselves for such an incredible season (worst to nearly first).

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: The Grey King

Author: Susan Cooper

One of the better of the “Dark is Rising” series. This book continues the tale of eleven-year-old Will Stanton, who’s really an “Old One” (a magical being), fighting for the Light. A bit of a compromise between fantasy and reality, this book blends the two together nicely, just like Greenwitch (my favorite). Excellent characterization, drama, and suspense, though once again the Light wins almost without having to do anything (my chief criticism of the series). Not as cerebral as The Dark is Rising, it still might be a bit advanced for children. I know for certain that Welsh is a language I am not going to learn any time soon!

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: MLS Playoff: L.A. at K.C. (Game 3)

With L.A. winning game 2, Kansas City was desperate for a win. If they win, they push the series into a 20-minute sudden death “mini-game” in which the victor advances and the loser goes home. All L.A. needed was a draw to advance to the final. Unfortunately, L.A. played like it. Cobi Jones rarely made an entry into the penalty area — it was all Hernandez, by himself. The game was scoreless until a good run by Chris Henderson resulting in a penalty kick for K.C. The resulting conversion was enough to win the game and go into the sudden death mini-game. Whoever scored would win. L.A. still didn’t seem interested in doing much more than sending Hernandez in alone, while K.C. attacked and attacked. L.A. managed one weak shot on goal that was deflected, and then a dreadful mistake at the back let in “Danish Dynamite” Miklos Molnar alone against Kevin Hartman. He calmly dribbled around the keeper and chipped it into the net, and Kansas City is going to the final for the first time ever!

So the final is set: Kansas City versus Chicago, Oct. 15, 2000, televised on ABC.

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Thu, Oct 05, 2000

: American Psycho

I’d been interested in this movie since I heard they were going to film it, but the critics were somewhat correct: it’s a rathe empty film that doesn’t quite live up to its satirical premise. It is somewhat intelligent and has a few good points, but emphasizes the 80’s far too much (as though we’re more sophisticated in the 90’s or 00’s). I liked the way the film became surreal as the main character became more and more irrational, and I really liked the ambiguous ending. Not really shocking, except in a couple brief moments (most of the violence is off-screen — we see blood spattering and such). I’m going to have to read the novel and see if it’s better or worse. Great 80’s soundtrack.

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Wed, Oct 04, 2000

: The Dreamlife of Angels

Weird French movie. Not weird because anything usual happens, but because it’s just a movie of filmed life, which is rather boring. The “story” is about a young woman with no money arriving at a strange town and finding work, a place to live, makes friends, etc. Rather pedestrian, though it tries hard to be a bit profound in places (I didn’t fall for it, though -;). At least the French, like everything else, was fairly routine and understandable. Unfortunately, subtitles of languages I can understand drive me nuts because they are so inaccurate: why can’t movie people get good translators? Overall, an okay film, but rather long, and nothing much happens until the very, very end (and then it was something I expected at about the one hour mark).

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Tue, Oct 03, 2000

: MLS Playoffs: Kansas City at L.A.

L.A. took control 15 minutes in as their relentless pressure opened up a chance for Cobi Jones’s goal, but fifteen minutes after that Matt McKeon’s 30-yard bomb nearly blasted a hole in the back of the L.A. net. The game remained scoreless, though exciting, until overtime, when suddenly an asleep L.A. awoke just two minutes in and scored the golden goal that could send L.A. to the final: if they can tie or win in K.C. this Friday. Danny Califf’s late goal was similar to the one he scored in the Olympics (he just returned and was put in as a sub in this game).

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: La Liga: Barcelona at Deportiva

Last season’s first-time Spanish league winners Deportivo doesn’t have the respect and reputation of Barcelona, but here they outplayed their opponent in the season’s first head-to-head clash. After a lackluster first half, a lucky deflection on a free kick went into the goal, and later Deportivo took advantage of a breakdown at the back to penetrate and score again. Barcelona looked dazed. Final: 2-0.

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Mon, Oct 02, 2000

: Serie A: Bologna at Roma

Roma begins their campaign with their new signing Gabriel “Batigoal” Batistuta, but it was Totti who scored the first goal on an aggressive header (while being double marked) in the dying seconds of first half stoppage time. Batigoal did some great work himself to force an own goal in the second half, but he didn’t get credit for the score. Final: 2-0 Roma.

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: EPL: Liverpool at Chelsea

With their new coach, Chelsea came out looking for their first win since the first game of the season. They got it, and in spectacular fashion. Their first goal was a gift from Liverpool’s keeper Westerveld, who punched the ball, not clear, but into his own net! A minute later, however, Haisselbank made it clear that Chelsea deserved the lead by finishing a fantastic passing sequence in which he put the ball in the upper ninety with one superb touch. Liverpool could do very little, though Owen did come alive once and force a terrific save from Chelsea’s De Hoey. In the second half, all doubt as to the result was gone when spectacular newcomer Gudjohnsen finished an opening like a pro, dribbling around Westerveld and coolly slotting the ball into the open net. Final: 3-0 Chelsea, and well deserved.

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Sun, Oct 01, 2000

: The Bachelor

Light romance about a guy who’s so bad at proposing his girlfriend turns him down; then his grandfather dies and leaves him $100 million, but only on the condition that he gets married by his 30th birthday, which happens to be the next day. A few good lines, occasional biting satire, but generally silly and predictable, and not even that romantic. Harmless.

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: Argentinian: San Lorenzo vs. Velez Sarsfield

Velez is one of my favorite Argentinian teams, simply because their goalkeeper, Chilavert, is so cool. In this game he started them off with a goal in just the second minute, when his free kick was blocked by the keeper but a teammate put the rebound away. Then San Lorezno’s keeper was red-carded, so they played down a man. Unfortunately, Velez never took advantage, so the game went down to the wire. With just minutes left, San Lorenzo peppered Chilavert with shots, but self-acclaimed “best goalkeeper in the world” proved his merit and stopped them all (including a couple jaw-droppers). Great game!

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: Serie A: Juventus at Napoli

Finally, the Serie A is back! I love Italian soccer, though defense-minded Juventus isn’t my favorite team. They’ve been struggling in pre-season play, however, and promoted club Napoli went ahead with a goal towards the end of the first half. Juventus seemed to be struggling, but in the second half, Napoli was overconfident and didn’t attack, and soon Juve tied things up. Napoli fell apart then, and Juventus moved ahead with a goal by Del Piero, and the game finished 2-1 Juventus.

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: Olympics Commentary

A word about the Olympic coverage. I’m a big Olympics fan, but I don’t remember watching much of Atlanta. This year, despite the lame delayed coverage and NBC’s ceaseless interruptions for commercials, I’ve watched a great deal more than usual. Why? It’s simple: for the first time, they showed Olympic soccer. At Atlanta, they didn’t televise any, mens or womens. As I watched Olympic soccer, I became more interested in the Olympics in general, and I ended up watching other events. NBC or whoever broadcasts the Olympics ought to remember that: part of what makes the Olympics interesting is the variety of sports, especially sports we don’t regularly get to see. I was really hoping I’d get to see table tennis coverage, but sadly none of that was shown. Many other events received on minimal coverage (such as highlight packages). Hopefully by the next Olympics we’ll be able to pick and choose the events we want to see on the Internet, and not have to rely upon an unreliable network.

Now, as to the coverage itself, it was pretty bad. In the past I enjoyed the bios of athletes and documentaries on the area, but that was because the event was live and there were delays and waiting periods. But this time, knowning the event had already happened 18 hours earlier, there was no excuse. The filler material was only thrown in to artificially increase the drama and milk the event for more commercials. Last night I recorded five hours of Olympic coverage and watched it in less than an hour by fast forwarding through all the nonsense. That’s insane.

Finally, a comment on the Internet. NBC doesn’t have a clue. They ceaseless promoted their lame website throughout the Olympics, but if you went to the website, what did you see? The final results before the action was televised! Now that’s just sheer stupidity. No wonder the ratings have been horrible.

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: Mad Max

Director: George Miller

For some reason I’d never seen this film, the first of the series. Terrific! Much smaller and better than the sequels, this has fast action and good shoot-em-up style, but with some thoughtful story-telling. Max is a cop who’s out for revenge after hoodlums murder his wife and child. Similar to Mel Gibson’s recent Payback, but not as clever.

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