Sun, Dec 31, 2000

: The Lasko Incident

Author: Richard North Patterson

For some reason I’ve never read R.N.P. I guess I confused his books with James Patterson. Anyway, he’s a lawyer and writes political thriller type stuff. I heard a radio interview with him about his new book and thought I’d give him a read. I picked up a bunch of used copies of his books and started this with one, his first. Impressively, he won the Edgar Allen Poe award for Best First Novel in 1979. It’s easy to see why: he’s crafted an excellent mystery here, though not without its flaws.

The plot is convoluted: the main character is a government lawyer assigned to investigate stock manipulation by Lasko, a multi-millionaire tycoon who’s close friends with the President. The lawyer discovers conspiracy, corruption within his own agency, and murder. Unfortunately, while this is revealed in an extremely realistic fashion, it isn’t that exciting. A lot of the book reads like dry court transcripts. It’s like watching C-SPAN. Patterson makes other mistakes: for instance, he introduces characters by the dozens, then brings them back later simply by name (expecting us to remember that Di Pietro is the police sergeant we met once at the beginning of the book). That makes for confusing reading. The main character, the narrator, is also rather too into self-analysis and analysis of everyone he meets: I’m sure Washington is actually like that, with everyone scheming, weighing words and deciding what information to reveal, but it makes for ponderous reading. Such things are fine in two or three places in a novel, or about a select few characters, but we don’t need a psychological profile of every Tom, Dick, and Harry. With all the vague intrigue and mystery, the book didn’t get going until well-past the halfway point, but then I couldn’t put it down. Patterson has a gift for dialogue and intuitive psychological accuracy; even without reading his more recent stuff I can predict he’ll get even better.

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Sat, Dec 30, 2000

: EPL: Sunderland at Arsenal

Fantastic game. It started off without Sunderland. Arsenal’s Vieira headed in a goal in the 5th minute and Sunderland was living by the skin of their teeth as chance after chance almost went in. Finally, when none of the forwards could do it, defender Lee Dixon put in a marvelous strike from distance. In the second half it looked like it was going to be more of the same, but Sunderland began to press, and low and behold it was hero Vieira-turned-goat when his hand ball in the box was called. “Super Kev” Phillips finished off the penalty nicely, and it was just one down for Sunderland. Late in the game when it seemed like Sunderland’s luck was running out, along came Vieira to help out: his fumble of the ball left it open for an unmarked McCann to run on to, and he scored a brilliant goal that had the keeper hoping mad. Final: 2-2, and a valuable away point for Sunderland. Fantastic come-back!

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Fri, Dec 29, 2000

: The Getaway

Director: Sam Peckinpaw

Excellent actioner, with lots of tension and violence. Steve McQueen is awesome as a paroled convict released to do a bank robbery (the parole board was bribed). Of course everything goes wrong, with his friends attempting to do him in, and it’s up to him and his wife (Ali MacGraw) to escape both the bad guys and the cops. I saw the remake a few years ago and though it wasn’t bad, this was way, way better. Why remake such a great film? I’m definitely going to have to check out the original Thomas Crown Affair (also staring McQueen and remade recently).

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: La Liga: Rayo Vallecano at Real Madrid

Both these teams are based in Madrid, but Real Madrid’s a living legend (nearly every player is world famous). They started proving it just nine minutes in on a goal from freshly named European Footballer of the Year Luis Figo when he took a fantastic through-ball from teammate Ivan Helguera and found himself one-on-one with American top goalkeeper Casey Keller. Figo faked out Keller and easily scored. Minutes later, Figo provided the cross and Helguera headed the ball past Keller for goal number two. Keller redeemed himself a bit later with a couple great point-blank saves, but a free kick by Roberto Carlos took help from the post to keep it out. Rayo just really had trouble generating the offense, though late in the half they had a few chances, including a nice free kick attempt. In the second half, things started off rather evenly, with the edge to Madrid, but with 25 to play, Rayo’s Michel put in a great sidefooted volley into the roof of the net, changing the game. But Rayo couldn’t build on their momentum. With 15 minutes left, Raul kicked the ball straight up in the air to evade a diving Keller, then did an unbelievable volley while falling to put the ball into the empty net. Keller managed a good save late in the game, but it wasn’t up to him to score, and failing late, Rayo lost. Final: 3-1 Real Madrid.

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: Cousin Bette

A strange, convoluted mess. It’s a period piece about psychological manipulation in 19th century Paris, sort of a poor man’s Dangerous Liaisons. Cousin Bette is the neglected one of a once-prominent family, and she schemes to find money and love, but her schemes always backfire and don’t turn out the way she intended. Some interesting scenes and situations, but the characters are all unlikable. The acting was also poor, with some making attempts at accents and others not bothering in the slightest (British accents, at least, would been more appropriate than silly American drawls). Elizabeth Shue shows off her negligible singing ability (in addition to other assets), and the luminous Jessica Lange is supposed to be an old hag??? I also found the constant overly bold orchestrated music inappropriate, making every scene into dramatic melodrama.

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Thu, Dec 28, 2000

: EPL: Ipswich Town at Manchester United

Not much of a competition: Man. U., despite being without three of their top players, rolls over Ipswich easily. Both goals came from Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and both were brilliant. The first, at 20 minutes in, occurred on a give-and-go with Giggs. Solskjaer received the pass, calmly sidestepped the diving keeper, and kicked the ball into the heart of the goal. The second was even better: just twelve minutes later a gorgeous ball from Beckham (at the center line!), came floating in to Solskjaer in the box. He allowed the ball to land on the inside of his foot, deftly guided it to the ground, and then kicked it past the keeper. Amazing. And this is a player that normally sits on the bench! The second half was a mere formality: Ipswich hardly even threatened. Final: 2-0 Man. U.

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: The Ninth Gate

Mishmash about a book expert hired to authentic a copy of a rare book that’s supposed to hold the key to summoning Satan (and presumably, ultimate power). There are mysterious deaths and strange threats, and in the end, you don’t know much more than at the beginning. Mildly interesting, but doesn’t hold up to its promise.

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: Serie A: Juventus at Roma

A fiercely competitive game, and not boring, though there were no goals. In the end, the teams were evenly matched. Juventus dominated the first half, but Roma was stronger in the second. But neither could penetrate the other’s defense. Final: 0-0.

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: Abducted

Author: Robin Cook

More of a sci-fi novel than a medical thriller, but well done. It’s a cross between Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Center of the Earth and The Abyss. Deep sea divers are sucked into a world underneath the ocean. Impressive from a scientific viewpoint, but the characters are rather stereotypical and the plot routine. But fun for a quick read.

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Wed, Dec 27, 2000

: EPL: Tottenham Hotspur at Southampton

What happened to Tottenham? Against a weak club like Southampton I expected them to dominate, but the reverse was true. Goals came late in the first half: Beattie scored on a great run from the left wing, curling his shot past a diving keeper. Seconds later, his teammate Davis scored to double the lead. In the second half Southampton still dominated, and with the Spurs lackluster performance it was an easy victory for the home team. Final: 2-0 Southampton.

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: EPL: Arsenal at Liverpool

Coming off last week’s win over the Kings of British football, Manchester United, Liverpool was on a tear. The clash of these two traditional powerhouses was everything you’d expect: hard physical play, exemplary skill, and great goals. Gerrard started things off for Liverpool just ten minutes in on a great grass-grazing volley that went through a crowd of players and easily beat the keeper into the corner of the net. In the second half, Arsenal’s Bergkamp managed to force a great save from Liverpool’s keeper, but not long after that a mistake by Arsenal’s keeper allowed superstar Michael Owen to double the lead. Liverpool kept the other team at bay, and then worked a great counter where Smicer put in a ball to Barmby who finished it admirably. If that wasn’t bad enough, Robbie Fowler added more insult with a cheeky goal in the dying seconds. Final: 4-0 Liverpool.

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Tue, Dec 26, 2000

: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Director: Ang Lee

Unquestionably the best movie of the year so far. This is an amazing fantasy, combining the best of Chinese mysticism, folklore, romance, intrigue, and absolutely unbelievable action. The fight scenes will make your jaw drop open in astonishment: the characters dance across rooftops and swordfight while leaping across swaying tree limbs. The story is equally enchanting: a priceless 400-year-old sword has been stolen, and the search for the thief overlaps a quest for an evil murderess. Intertwined are two stories of forbidden love: one by pledge to another, the other by a code of honor. The film is subtitled but after ten minutes or so, you’ll forget to notice: the dialog, action, and story will keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration. A must see film!

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: Xiu Xiu: the Sent Down Girl

Director: Joan Chen

Excellent movie with awesome subtle acting. Well-worth seeing twice so you really understand everything. There’s a lot of metaphor in the scenes and actions (i.e. the “gift” apples, bathing, sewing the tent, etc.). Very deep. The story is based on a program in China that ran from 1967 to 1976 in which Chinese youngsters are sent to remote parts of the country to broaden their skills, but many of these children came back as aliens to their families, and some didn’t come back at all. This is the story of one girl who is sent to a remote area of Tibet where she essentially becomes a prostitute: local officials promise her she can return home in exchange for sexual favors, but they don’t deliver their end of the bargain. Slowly she comes to realize she will never be allowed to go home. Some very strange reasoning from the Western perspective: our system of justice does not allow such things to occur. For instance, in one scene the girl explains she cannot simply run away because she’d be without papers, and there is no life in China without proper identification and work permits and stuff like that. Sounds like Big Brother from 1984. Makes me glad I live in the United States!

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Mon, Dec 25, 2000

: Scary Movie

Director: Keenan Ivory Wayans

A hilarious, outrageous spoof of the Scream-type movies, which is funny in itself, since those are basically parodies of the traditional slasher: we now have a parody of a parody. Laugh-a-minute film is occasionally overly crude, with a few too many gay jokes, but a lot of fun with some terrific “break the film barrier” type humor (my favorite was when the camera guy gets so close to the horror-stricken the lens smashes into her face). A few really brilliant moments like that save this film.

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Sun, Dec 24, 2000

: The Dead Zone

Author: Stephen King (book)

Director: David Cronnenberg

Cool Cronnenberg flick, perfect storyline for his unusual perspective. The story is about a guy who has a car accident and wakes up after a coma with the “gift” of second sight: he can see into people’s futures. The gift comes with undue notoriety and pain (use of the psychic powers is killing him). Fascinating film mostly due to Cronnenberg’s clever direction and Christopher Walken’s dynamic performance.

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: Pump Up the Volume

I haven’t seen this in a few years and it’s surprising how well it holds up. Terrific free speech movie (coincidentally similar to

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: Mission Impossible II

Director: John Woo

Fun actioner with some unique and innovative stunts. The plot meanders like a river and doesn’t make sense if you analyze it, but that’s to be expected. More of a James Bond film than an MI story, but still good.

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: Bullit

Director: Peter Yates

Unusual “realistic” cop story set in San Francisco. I felt the location was overemphasized, as though San Francisco’s like, special, or something, and the story dragged in several places (especially considering the plot’s payoff wasn’t that dramatic). But I was legitimately surprised and impressed by the famous car chase: even decades later it’s exciting, mostly because of the interior car shots with McQueen actually driving (you watch him turn a corner, tires squealing, from inside the car).

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Sat, Dec 23, 2000

: Serie A: Intermilan at Atalanta

Very poor game with few good chances. Both teams were weak, especially Inter. Inter finally did it, however, with a goal from Seedorf in the 65th minute, giving them their first away win of the season (and Atalanta’s first home loss). Seedorf’s goal was impressive: he did a flying tackle that kicked the rebounding ball past the keeper. Atalanta had the best chances throughout the game, but couldn’t quite finish. Final: 1-0 Inter.

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: Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton’s Impeachment

Author: David P. Schippers

This is written by the Democratic lawyer who was put in charge of the impeachment investigation. It’s the story of how Democrats voted along party lines and spineless Republicans wouldn’t stand up for principals. “A pox on both your houses!” might be an appropriate phrase. The politicians sold out the Constitution and allowed a sitting president to get away with lying under oath, abuse of power, witness tampering, voter manipulation, illegal campaign contributions, and even rape. If you thought you knew the details behind the impeachment (regardless of which side you were on), you don’t. As this book shows, only a tiny fraction of the evidence was made public. You don’t know anything. Some of the dramatic details unveiled in this book are things like how Clinton crony Janet Reno refused to release critical records so the investigation could proceed, and a witness having all four of her tires slashed and being stalked and threatened if she didn’t sign a false affidavit. Of course it’s tough connecting the President directly with such tactics, but, as the author shows, the coincidence of timing is too strong to be an accident.

This book reveals why I abhor politics: Senators swearing under oath to uphold the Constitution and investigate the President’s crimes thoroughly, and then not a single one went and looked at the evidence! (The author opines that the Senators were afraid to actually see the evidence, because if they did, they would have found it difficult to acquit. By not seeing the evidence, they could pretend the charges were “just about sex.”) Excellent, remarkable book, though very sad. Whatever you thought of impeachment, this book is a must read to anyone concerned with the future of this country. As Schippers pointed out in one of his presentations to Congress, if we don’t convict a sitting president for lying under oath, for whatever the reason, it sets a new legal standard for future presidents — they can get away with a lot more. I, for one, want my politicians accountable for their actions. Disgusting. The whole Senate ought to be impeached.

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: EPL: Aston Villa at Leeds United

This started of well with a lot of action, mostly in Leeds favor, but they couldn’t quite crack the Villains defense. Then Aston Villa found a break late in the half when keeper Robinson failed to completely clear a ball and stubborn defender Southgate put in a nice header. In the second half Leeds put Villa under tremendous pressure, but it wasn’t until the very end of the game they had a terrific chance by Kewell, unfortunately stopped. The Villains scored on the counter immediately after, on a goal by Boateng. Leeds finally broke through in injury time when Woodgate put it in, but it was too little, too late. Final: 2-1 Aston Villa.

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: Quills

Director: Philip Kaufman

Amazing, impressive, and shocking story about the infamous Marquis de Sade. The story has it’s ups and downs and occasionally tries too hard to be shocking, but its a fascinating and unique look at de Sade while he lived in an insane asylum. I really liked the aspect of the story that showed de Sade as an almost compulsive writer, unable to resist the lure of the quill. However, when the film attempts to explore the religious and moral aspects of de Sade’s writing, it is somewhat shallow and trite (and predictable). Terrific (and brave) performances, but this film isn’t for all tastes.

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Fri, Dec 22, 2000

: EPL: Manchester City at Aston Villa

Game was lackluster until the away team went ahead in the 65th minute on a great goal from Haaland. He got an assist from Wanchope who did a clever backheel to split two defenders and give him the ball one-on-one with the keeper. That enlivened the Villains who quickly responded with a glancing header from Dublin that went into the net. Just a minute or so after that, Wanchope headed in David’s James’ poor rebound to put Manchester up a second time! Then Villa’s Hendrie got ejected, so they were down a goal and down a man as well. Things didn’t look good. But a free kick gave Ginola an opportunity and he took it. The kick was headed out of the box and he volleyed it beautifully into the net to equalize the score. That was it for the scoring, but some wonderful, classy goals. Terrific second half. Final: 2-2 draw.

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: Black Mask

Impressive Jet Li action flick. He’s the superhuman product of a secret government genetic project gone awry, so they want to eliminate him. He escapes and hides out as a mild-mannered librarian, but of course gets involved when the police need help. He wears a black mask so people won’t recognize him, but funnily, everyone knows who he is. Plenty of cool action and impressive stunts. Forget the silly plot. Good fun.

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Thu, Dec 21, 2000

: My Dinner With Andre

Director: Louis Malle

This is an incredible, fascinating film. It literally is a man having dinner with a friend and their conversation, but what a conversation! They talk about life and death and reality and dreams and masks and acting and pretending and being alive but dead inside and what it all means. Great stuff. Certainly not boring. Unfortunately, other than the unique presentation, most of the philosophy unearthed is stuff I explored long ago. If I’d seen this in high school it probably would have blown my mind because my own thoughts at that time were running along these same lines. Excellent, especially if you’re into pointless philosophical and existential exploration.

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Wed, Dec 20, 2000

: Worthington Cup: Sunderland at Crystal Palace

One thing that’s interesting about open cups is that teams from different divisions get the chance to compete against each other. Sunderland’s a Premiere League team, while Palace is in the First Division. That didn’t mean the game wasn’t competitive, though. The first half was a bit boring, but the second half kicked off with a goal from Palace. Sunderland’s keeper did a great blunder, kicking the ball straight to a Palace player. He dribbled in alone, drew the keeper away from the goal, and slid the ball to a team who put it into the open net. A shocking mistake! But less than a minute later, Sunderland took control with a terrific series of passes in their opponent’s box. The defender had Sunderland’s player marked, but missed the ball, allowing him a point blank shot (which he scored). You’d have thought Sunderland would gain momentum from that, but it was all Palace, with a series of post shots and near chances. Finally, late in the game, Palace took it with a great goal from Morrison. He dribbled in on the right wing, fooled a defender, and put in a neat slider to the far corner of the net. Nice. Final: 2-1 Crystal Palace, who advance to the semi-finals.

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: The Son of Tarzan

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Amazing, incredible book. No one does plots like Burroughs. There’s just enough foreshadowing you can see where he’s going, but that just makes you anxious to get to the end of the novel so you have that wrap-up ending you crave. Burroughs’ plots aren’t fabricated, but completely character driven: one always feels like the actions of the good and bad guys are real. He’s great at taking fabulous situations and making them believable. In this case we’ve got Tarzan’s son, who grew up in England, completely ignorant of his father’s history. His mother didn’t want him risking his life in Africa. But the boy craves adventure and loves wild animals. Eventually, through a series of circumstances, he ends up leaving home and traveling to Africa, where he lives in the wild as Tarzan did. Many, many years later, after countless adventures, at the end of the book, he’s reunited with his parents. Great stuff. One of Burroughs’ best.

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: The Perfect Storm

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

From the promos, I had no interest in seeing this film. It looked incredibly lame: a bunch of fishermen go out in a boat even though the storm of the century is approaching? How stupid is that? But that’s not what happens: there is no storm when the men leave, but to get home they must return through the storm. If they wait, the 60,000 pounds of swordfish they caught will spoil.

Three-quarters of the way through the film I was saying to myself, “Wow, I like this better than

I’m not the kind of person that demands Hollywood give me a happy ending (I love the unexpected), but I do demand a good story. Stories are NOT reality. Reality is sad, ugly, and imperfect. Stories are crafted — they seem real, but are crafted to guarantee certain emotions. As such they play by certain rules. When an author violates those rules, they violate us, the reader/viewer. This film is horrible in that respect. It reminds me of a short story I had to read in college: Max Apple’s “The Oranging of America.” Absolutely the worst short story I’ve ever read (even though, according to critics, it’s in the top 100 of all time). The story is interesting and fascinating until the very end you find out that absolutely none of it is true or has any basis for reality at all. Essentially, everything you read was pointless. Instead of a traditional essay, I wrote a blistering rebuke of the story for my class response. I didn’t even care what grade I got: I figured I’d probably get an “F” because if the teacher picked the story he must like it. If I remember right, I got a “C”: he didn’t agree with me, but what I wrote was certainly passionate and rational. I absolutely hated the story and I felt the author was a traitor to literature and mankind. (I will never read anything by him again.) This film doesn’t quite raise my ire to that level, but it’s close. I realize that the film is based on a real-life incident and that in real-life the boat did sink and everyone did drown: but that’s not my problem with the film. My problem is that the film was written and directed like an action survival story, the kind where crafty people claw their way back to life with their fingernails and live to tell about it. Sure, maybe one or two of the group don’t make it, and maybe there’s a scar or two, but most live. If this film was supposed to have been a tragedy it needed a completely different feel. Look at Titanic: we knew going in everyone was going to die and that gave extra weight to all their words and actions. When we saw a character talking about his ambitions, we were horrified and sad because we knew he’d never get to realize those dreams. In this movie, there was no warning, no explanation, no healing, no hope. It’s just an incredibly badly written film that had no point of being made except to show off some computerized special effects of giant waves. Sorry to be such a brute if you liked the film, but this one is definitely in my Top 10 Worst Films of 2000 category.

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Tue, Dec 19, 2000

: Five Easy Pieces

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from this film. All I knew was that it was supposed to be good. Since it had Jack Nicholson in it, I figured it was probably a crime drama like Chinatown. Instead it turned out to be a character study of a bizarre, temperamental ex-musician-turned-odd-jobber who seduces women he treats like crap. Mostly I found it distasteful, though Jack, of course, radiates appeal even when he’s at his worst. The film is similar to As Good As It Gets, in that respect. But there’s no redemption for Jack’s character in this one: he’s a jerk to the end. I did sympathize with his character a bit, and I liked the ending. But I didn’t see anything that great about the film. I give it a firm “okay.”

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: La Liga: Barcelona at Rayo Vallecano

Excellent game! Rayo’s the up-and-comer, in 4th place, while traditional powerhouse Barca’s in fifth. The battle began with Rayo’s potent offense scoring in the fifth minute when Frank de Boer’s mistake at the back allowed Rayo a chance. The cross went in and Bolic finished. But just three minutes later, Barcelona came back on a goal from Gerard. Gerard was brilliant, but it was mostly poor defense by Rayo that allowed him the chance. After that Rayo fell apart and lost confidence. Barca dominated into the second half, finally scoring in 75th minute. And who scored? None other than Frank de Boer, making up for his previous mistake!

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Mon, Dec 18, 2000

: Serie A: Roma at Lazio

Lackluster play by Lazio gave up this game. Technically, it was an own goal, when a defender cleared the ball into a teammate and it rebounded into the goal, but essentially it was that Lazio didn’t play as well as they should have. Final: 1-0 Roma.

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: EPL: West Ham United at Everton

If you watch this game, fast forward until the 70th minute. That’s when stuff starts to happen. Before that it’s just boring, with neither keeper having to do anything. Seventy-five minutes in, however, Everton finally scores with a flick-on header from Cadamartori. A few minutes later, however, the Hammers equalize on a great goal from Kanoute, when his turn in the box gives him some space and he shoots it home. Final: 1-1 draw.

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: EPL: Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur

Terrific London derby. Spurs got going with a goal from Rebrov 30 minutes in, but Arsenal didn’t start playing until the second half. Then it was nothing but goal action. Spurs had a few good chances to extend their lead, but mostly it was Arsenal trying to equalize. Spurs keeper Sullivan was amazing, stopping at least a half dozen point blank shots. He kept Tottenham in the game. With five minutes to go it was a sure win… not. A momentary lapse in marking allowed bad boy Patrick Vieira — whom I can’t stand and think should be banned from the game of football — to head the ball home. Lame. Final: 1-1 draw.

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: Serie A: Bari at Perugia

Unexpectedly, a very cool game, considering the teams. It started off with one of the best non-goals I have ever seen. Bari’s young keeper made a mistake in positioning and the shot came in near post and he did an incredible flying leap to block it. The rebound was stopped by a defender on the line, and the next shot was stopped by the keeper. The final shot was wide, but it was an amazing 3-second sequence. After that, nothing much happened until the 30th minute when Perugi’s striker was sent off for a stupid red card: he was the only one with a yellow and he did an obvious dive in the box and got his second yellow. But Perugi gained strength from being a man down: in injury time of the first half defender Tedesco was left wide open just outside the box and his shot went through the legs to a defender to score. In the second half, Tedesco amazingly got a second goal very similar to the first. That was followed a minute later by an incredible side volley from Saudati that left Bari stunned. They had a man advantage but were down by three goals! But the game was finished. Bari came back with a goal from Mazzarelli off a great free kick, but there was only ten minutes left to make up two goals. Perugia put the matter beyond doubt in the 88th minute, however, when Tatti’s shot literally trickled into the open goal. Incredible! Final: 4-1 Perugia.

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Sun, Dec 17, 2000

: Argentine Soccer: Estudiantes at Boca Juniors

Not a great game, but significant in that it gave Boca Juniors the Apertura 2000 title. Boca dominated, though not magnificently, with Arce’s goal in the 65th minute. But it was enough as the win, with River Plate’s loss, puts the championship beyond doubt. Boca wins it again! It’s almost becoming routine. ;-)

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Sat, Dec 16, 2000

: Portrait of a Legacy

This was the Christmas special at Peoples Church in Fresno, Calif. (My parents attend Peoples.) It was pretty good, though a bit long at two hours. An original production, it told the story through song and drama of a musicical instrument maker in Scotland. The old man was ready to retire and close his shop; from one corner of the stage he reflects back on his life, from childhood where he first discovered music, through courtship and marriage, childbirth, the death of his wife, his son’s marriage and successes, etc. The cast was huge, with hundreds of choir members (children and teen groups as well as adults) participating in various numbers as well as most roles being portrayed by multiple actors (at various ages in life). Lots of costume changes. Some of the drama was weak (obviously not by professional actors); in places the story really dragged. The music was the highlight, but unfortunately not all the songs really gelled with the story; they felt rather tacked on. A few I really liked, but a couple had lackluster arrangements (“The Little Drummer Boy” was particularly woeful). Overall, interesting and extremely ambitious. I liked the main theme of a hard-working man leaving a legacy to his friends, family, and town (in the story the son, who originally was leaving home, decides to move back after seeing the influence his father had on the townspeople). The production was impressive: a huge set cleverly manipulated to serve multiple purposes, smoke and snow machines, and even a floating angel descending on wires from the ceiling! I found out later the troup was doing three performances a day for four days (2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.) — that’s crazy! I salute them.

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Thu, Dec 14, 2000

: Worthington Cup: Fulham at Liverpool

Though Fulham’s an English first division club, I’ve become a fan because they have an American, Eddie Lewis, on their team. Eddie used to play for my local team, the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS, and they are expected to be promoted to the Premiere League next season. But I was disappointed that Eddie was nowhere to be seen in this game. I don’t know why; perhaps he’s out injured. Anyway, this is the type of game you’d expect Liverpool to dominate easily, but Fulham’s been in great form of late, and neither team could penetrate the other’s defense. Sadly, the game went into overtime and Fulham’s impressive play weakened when super substitute and England international Michael Owen scored on the day before his 21st birthday. That was followed by goals from Smicer and Nick Barmby. Final: 3-0 Liverpool (in overtime).

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: Galipoli

Director: Peter Weir

Excellent “war” movie without much war. Instead of focusing on the horrors of war, this film focuses on the characters, allowing us to get to know them for over an hour before they go into battle. The effect is excellent. Instead of numbing our minds to continual images of violence and horror, we relax as young boys play soldier and have fun, only to have the reality of war arrive as vivid and horrid shock. Dramatic, well photographed, interesting, and best of all, minimal war stuff. Really good.

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: Marc’s DVDs

Well, I’ve finally gotten around to doing it. I’ve posted a list of the DVD movies I own. There’s a permanent link at the top of my main news page, so you can check it any time to see if I’ve bought anything new. DVDs have become my new drug: I can’t stop buying them. I have nearly 250 now. Keep in mind I only bought my first DVD player in August 1999! (I technically have three DVD players now, but two of them are DVD ROM drives in my computers, so I don’t know if those count.)

My DVD page is pretty cool: you can view the list by Title, Genre, Director, Marc Rating, etc. I put the whole thing into a custom database I made so I can easily update it as needed. I’ll be adding more categories and information as time passes. For now I just wanted to get the main thing up. Let me know of any suggestions you have to make it better and I’ll try to accommodate you.

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Wed, Dec 13, 2000

: Lair of the White Worm

Author: Book by Bram Stoker, Screenplay by Ken Russell

Director: Ken Russell

After reading the bizarre book, I wanted to see the film, but I wasn’t impressed. Extremely cheesy special effects weaken what could have been a fairly creepy film, and Russell takes a number of liberties with the novel, including setting it in modern times, making the snake bites vampire-like in that they are contagious, and most seriously, not having the woman and the snake as one being (remember, in the book she is the snake, which is the whole point). The first half-hour or so of the film is almost incomprehensible and the film only gets going during the dream sequences and when the snake-woman is on screen. Russell puts forth a number of interesting images, but in the end all you have is a traditional horror film with some provoking dream sequences.

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: EPL: Manchester United at Charlton Athletic

What an incredible game! It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to see the quality of Man. U., so I was excited about this game. But Charlton proved they are in the EPL for a reason. Ten minutes in they scored on a goal from new signing Barlett, in his first full game for the club. For a while it looked like United hadn’t shown up as Charlton nearly went ahead 2-0 on a couple occasions, but was stopped by United’s keeper. Late in the half United started things going with a lot of offensive pressure. Things paid off when Ryan Giggs scored 42 minutes in when he received the ball unmarked at the top of the box and calmly put it away. Less than a minute later, Giggs took a monster shot from the center line. Amazingly, he forced the Charlton keeper, who was off his line, into running backwards attempting to stop the shot. His missed blocking it, but the shot rebounded off the post! But then Solskjaer ran on to the rebound and kicked it into the open goal. Just like that, United was in front. The second half extended United’s lead when Keane finally got his first goal of the season when he became open in the box with the ball at his feet and took advantage of the slow marking. The keeper got a hand to his shot, but couldn’t parry it out of the net. With a two goal lead United fell asleep a bit, and in the 79th minute Barlett scored his second for Charlton. Six minutes later Charlton got the equalizer on a goal from Robinson, and that’s the way she ended: a 3-3 draw. Incredible come-back, incredible goals, incredible game.

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Tue, Dec 12, 2000

: Commentary: Why Al Gore Lost

Why did Al Gore lose Florida? Greed.

You see, Al Gore didn’t want to hand count all the votes. He just wanted to hand count extra ballots (undervotes, the ones missed by the machines) in a few select counties where he thought he had the most to gain. Right there that’s unfair and the U.S. Supreme Court would undoubtedly throw out the results. But even that wasn’t enough for Gore. He saw that just counting the undervotes normally wouldn’t get him enough votes (most undervotes are real undervotes, i.e. people who didn’t vote for President), so he came up with this scheme to count every dimple or microscopic mark on a chad as a vote. To “interpret the will of the people” as it were.

Regardless of which side of the selective hand recounts and dimple debates you find yourself on, the key point is that the issues are controversial and brought the ire of the Republicans (and quite a few fair-minded Americans). That was Gore’s mistake. To actually think he could get away with such one-sided policies is shockingly arrogant. Of course the Republicans would fight him, delay the process, and eventually win. Gore will whine and complain about underhanded tactics or lack of time, but the end result is the same: Bush is the new president.

But just think how things could have been: if Gore had called for a statewide hand recount on Nov. 8 using the established Florida (non-dimple) standard, the Republicans would not have had a leg to protest on. The American people would have rallied around the vice-president, supporting the “count all the votes” concept. Would Gore have won? Who knows? At least with those standards and a statewide recount it would have been fair. But Gore didn’t want fair:he wanted a guaranteed win. He wanted an advantage. But by playing the game the way he did, seeking an unfair advantage, he only generated controversy, opposition, and the resentment of the general public. Very sad, and he deserved to lose on those grounds alone.

(Note: I wrote this last Friday morning, but postponed posting it until tonight after the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision.)

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: La Liga: Celta Vigo at Real Madrid

Celta Vigo never had a chance. Madrid got their first goal eleven minutes in when Roberto Carlos put in a blistering grounder and Helguera just caught it with the back of his heel to deflect it into the goal. The keeper didn’t even move. Brilliant! The second goal came at the half-hour mark, when Luis Figo (currently the world’s most expensive player) took the ball at mid-field, did a little juggling move to get past his marker, then kept going all the way into the box, where he finished it into the corner of the net. Absolutely breathtaking. But you can’t have a Madrid victory without a Roberto Carlos free kick, can you? Of course not! Fifteen minutes into the second half Carlos’ free kick just blasts past the keeper with so much swerve and power he didn’t even move. And that was from thirty yards out! Amazing. Final: 3-0 Real Madrid wipeout.

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: Frequency

Author: Toby Emmerlich

Director: Gregory Hoblit

Where in the world did this movie come from? I’d never even heard of it, but saw the DVD at the rental store and it sounded interesting. It’s an excellent movie. The premise is intriguing: during the aurora borealis (Northern lights) a cop begins playing with his dead father’s old ham radio and picks up a transmission from a guy who turns out to be his father from 30 years earlier! It’s time travel via radio waves. The two begin regular conversations and learn that the father’s actions can change the present. The plot gets more complicated as they prevent the father’s death, then try to stop a serial killer. What’s cool about this is that there is no real time travel, just communication between time periods. Yet a lot can (and does) happen. It’s very clever. The films runs out of gas slightly toward the very end when it descends into an action film, but in general it’s a fascinating and exciting film, with nice special effects. I can’t figure out why I never heard of it, nor why it didn’t do better at the box office. Go rent it!

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Mon, Dec 11, 2000

: EPL: Leeds at Southampton

Leeds have been doing well in the Champions League, but can’t find their form in the English Premiere League. In this game they lost to lowly Southampton when Jamie Beattie scored late in the first half, even though Leeds dominated play. Leeds had just had a shot terrifically tipped over the crossbar by Jones, and on the resulting corner kick, Southampton gained possession and sent the ball long on a counter attack. Beattie, on the wing, got the ball and slipped it past the keeper. Excellent goal. Final: 1-0 Southampton.

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: La Liga: Barcelona at Celta Vigo

This was last week’s Spanish soccer game, and I figured I’d better watch it before this week’s. ;-) A well-fought match, as you might expect, but the smaller team took the lead first, just eight minutes in, on a goal from Catanha. A poor clearance gave the ball back to Edu, coming up on the left wing, who put in a cross to Catanha who simply deflected it into the open net (the keeper had moved to block a possible Edu shot). Then, amazingly, Catanha got another minutes later, when he got some space at the top of the key and slipped the ball past the keeper. But Barca’s not a team you can keep down for long. Eighteen minutes in, Frank DeBoer scores on a header off a Rivaldo corner kick, meaning we’ve got a 2-1 game going. But just minutes later, Catanha got his hat trick (in less than 30 minutes!!!): a huge climbing header. Then we had a breather of 15 minutes with no goals. Late in the first half Barca’s keeper had to go off injured, replaced by an 18-year-old. For most teams, a 3-1 score at the half pretty much means you’re dead, but keep in mind this is Barcelona we’re talking about. In the second half, Barca started their path back on a goal from Kluivert, a header off a free kick, training field stuff that Celta Vigo should have defended. Then good play on the wing by Overmars put in the ball to Rivaldo who passed it to an open Kluivert for an easy tap-in. The 3-3 score was maintained, though Barca had the edge for most of the rest of the game, Celta had their chances towards the very end. And that was it: a dramatic 3-3 draw!

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: EPL: Middlesbrough at Sunderland

What is this, boring soccer weekend? I just couldn’t get up much excitement to watch lackluster Middlesbrough, who sit at the bottom of the Premiere League table. After a back-and-fourth “table tennis” first half, Sunderland finally broke through 54 minutes in on a terrific goal from Michael Gray. A defender’s poor clearance left the ball rolling by itself in the penalty area and Gray ran on from the wing to blast the ball with his left foot, unforgivably beating the keeper at the near post.

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: Serie A: Parma at Juventus

Annoyingly, I got home fifteen minutes late and missed the first — and only — goal. With Juventus ahead, Parma struggled to score, but their form was off, and Juve is famous (or infamous) for protecting a one goal lead. Final: 1-0 Juventus.

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Sun, Dec 10, 2000

: The Last Debate

Author: Book by Jim Lehrer

Director: John Badham

This movie came out on Showtime a while back but somehow I missed it. Anyway, it turned out to be pretty good. I thought at first it was quite partisan, painting the Democratic candidate as perfect, but that’s resolved in the cool ending. Basically it’s a film about the media and a presidential race. Four journalists essentially sabotage the Republican candidate live on the air during a debate two weeks before the election, revealing scandalous information. This raises all sorts of ethical questions about the media’s role in politics and the power of the media. Eerie, considering the political situation facing the country right now. An interesting aspect of the film is that it uses several dozens real-life journalists and pundits in cameos, the same ones seen on all the news networks during this election crisis. Pretty cool.

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: Pagan Babies

Author: Elmore Leonard

I’d never read an Elmore Leonard novel before, though I’d seen a number of films based on his books, so I was curious to see what he was like. As usual, this book is about confusion between semi-crooks and mobsters and a sum of money everybody is gunning for. It mostly deals with a guy pretending to be a priest, returning from five years in Rwanda, and orchestrating a scam to raise money for African orphans. Parts of this I found distastful, parts just boring, but Leonard does paint interesting and unusual characters. The ending’s pretty good, with the scammers being scammed, but overall the book’s so low-key one doesn’t really feel that much excitement one way or the other. Basically light fun, but nothing significant.

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Sat, Dec 09, 2000

: Serie A: Napoli at Brescia

Two bottom-of-the-league clubs, and the game showed it. While spirited, it was mostly midfield play, and a lot of physical stuff. Diana put Brescia ahead thirty-two minutes in on a great goal where he went wide by himself, received the ball, and scored by pushing the ball past the diving keeper. With thirty minutes left in the game, Pecchia scored for Napoli on a great bomb shot from above the top of the key. That was how it ended, 1-1.

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: River’s Edge

A gripping, disturbing film about callous teens and a murder. I saw this many years ago and it hasn’t lost its edge. If I remember right, it was based on a true story. Essentially, one boy murders a girl and his friends don’t really seem bothered by it. Quite revealing about modern society. Some really good moments with Keanu Reaves’ character’s screwed up mother and how she can’t figure out why her kids are so messed up.

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: Serie A: Juventus at Intermilan

This was last Monday’s Italian game that I taped. Amazing game. When you get two of the top teams in Italy clashing, the results can be dramatic. Juventus started things off quickly with a goal from Trezeguet after a series of brilliant passes in the box. Juventus absolutely stunned Inter with another goal just minutes later, when Zidane sent in a bomb off his left foot that keeper Frey couldn’t stop. But Inter fought back just three minutes later with a terrific header from Frenchman Blanc off Recoba’s corner kick. Less than fifteen minutes in and we’ve already got three goals! But then, as always happens in these derbies, controversy. Viera scored a magnificent header leaping about ten feet in the air to do it, but though countless replays showed no fouls of any kind, the ref wouldn’t count the goal. Midway through the second half, Inter finally got their equalizer when Di Bagio’s free kick deflected into the net. That ended it, though both keepers made great saves in injury time. Great game! Final: 2-2 draw.

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Fri, Dec 08, 2000

: UEFA Cup: Olympiakos at Liverpool

The game started off competitive, but soon Liverpool dominated. Finally, in the 28th minute a through-ball to Heskey allowed him to go one-on-one with the keeper and he easily scored. The Greek club fought back, but other than the occasional free kick, didn’t threaten the Liverpool goal much. In the second half, Liverpool started off mostly on the defensive, but then fifteen minutes in Nick Barmby headed toward the enemy goal with the ball at his feet. The keeper came out, pushing Barmby toward the corner. Barmby dribbled past the keeper and put in a shot from a ridiculous angle… and somehow the ball curled, hitting the near post, then bouncing to the inside of the far post and in! After that, the game was in little doubt, though the players on both sides fought hard. Final: 2-0 Liverpool (they advance on aggregate).

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: Project A

Director: Jackie Chan

A Jackie Chan “chop suey” action flick. Set in 19th century Hong Kong, this is the convoluted story of navy and police out to stop some pirates. The navy guys hate the cops, and vice versa, and the first half of the film is mostly them fighting each other. The pirates really don’t get involved until the last third or so of the film. It’s basically a rather confusing plot, but who cares? All you watch a film like this for is some cool action, and this has some neat stuff, including a little of Chan’s patented action humor. Not as good as some of his more recent stuff, but above average.

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: Argentine League: Boca Juniors at Independiente

The action started with a bang when Diego Forlan scored for Independiente off a great cross into the box just six minutes in. Horrors! The mighty Boca behind? How could this be? Well, Boca didn’t just sit still, but they couldn’t score. Then, an odd thing. It must have been hot (remember, it’s summer in Argentina now), because 33 minutes in the ref called a halt to the proceedings so he could get a drink! I’ve never seen that before. The brief break must have helped Palermo, because he soon had a header bounce off the crossbar. Unfortunately, that was to be Boca’s best chance in the first half. Boca missed a point-blank chance in the second half, and just couldn’t seem to score. Then Independiente got a player sent off (second yellow). But the advantage only lasted a few minutes for Boca, because they soon had a player sent off. Apparently that wasn’t enough, so they had another player ejected a couple minutes after that! With only nine players, Boca was really behind, and then Forlan, amazingly, got his second when his shot was not completely stopped by Boca’s keeper Cordoba. With just a minute left in regulation, it was all over: Boca would be handed their first defeat of the season! Good teamwork increased Independiente’s lead in the final seconds when they did a little passing exchange in the box to wrong foot the keeper for an easy tap-in. Final: 3-0 Independiente. Unbelievable!

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Wed, Dec 06, 2000

: Champions League: A.C. Milan at Deportivo

Not a bad game, though a little dull: Deportivo tends to not win by scoring a lot of goals. It certainly was competitive, with chances on both sides. But late in the first half Milan went ahead on a goal by Helveg. He volleyed in a poor clearance off a corner kick, keeping the ball to go under the surprised keeper. In the second half, Deportivo came out kicking and dominated the play by a huge margin — at one point they led on shots 18 to 5 — but they couldn’t score. With just a minute left in regulation, Helveg knocked heads with another player and was taken off the field with blood running everywhere. But Milan held on to win, 1-0.

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Tue, Dec 05, 2000

: Champions League: Leeds United at Lazio

What a terrific clash! Leeds struggled over the weekend in league play, while Lazio triumphed, yet both had problems in their last Champions League games. Who would survive? Well, the first half didn’t tell us, as the teams were about even. Leeds started out dominating, but Lazio took over towards the end of the half. Leeds almost had a goal in injury time, but Lee Bowyer just missed. In the second half it was mostly Leeds. With twenty minutes to go and still no score, manager David O’Leary took a huge chance and put in another striker in place of a defender. Keeper Robinson made the save of the game a few minutes later, stuffing Crespo and keeping Leeds in the game. Then, with ten minutes left, Viduka, who’d been brilliant all game, gave a tremendous backheel flick to youngster Alan Smith, completely baffling two Lazio defenders. Smith, who’d started the play and kept running, picked up Viduka’s pass with a splendid side-footed shot under the keeper to score! It was a goal worthy of the admittance price. It turned out to be historic, too, with Leeds winning in Italy for the first time ever! Final: 1-0 Leeds United. Very cool.

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: The Lair of the White Worm

Author: Bram Stoker

I was curious to read this tale from the guy who wrote Dracula. It turned out to be an interesting, though obviously dated, thriller. I was especially disturbed by the obvious racism (an African character is described as though it’s normal to assume he’s subhuman). The story itself is unusual: it’s about a woman who can transform herself into a giant snake. It’s unfortunately not quite as exciting as it sounds, but has its moments. The most signficant thing I got from the novel is the realization of how different readers are today. Stoker spends most of the novel subtly building up to his premise (you don’t actually find out the woman = worm until very late in the story); I assume that’s because it’s such a fantastic idea that he figured people would have trouble believing it. But today we are so jaded by Hollywood and such that a wild plot like this is like, “Okay, fine, so the woman’s a snake. Big deal.” For me, the premise that a woman is a giant prehistoric snake is not enough of a story; unfortunately, that’s about all there is. I think I’ll check out the movie and see if the special effects help any.

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Mon, Dec 04, 2000

: EPL: Leeds United at Leicster City

I’m not a huge Leicster fan, mostly because they don’t score goals. Well, color me wrong, at least for this game. Seven minutes in Robbie Savage heads in a keeper’s rebound, and ten minutes after that Akinbiyi heads in a second goal. You might have thought that was Leicster’s quota for the month, but then, on a clever free kick play, the ball was crossed instead of driven in, and Taggert leaped up to head the cross past the keeper. Three-zero in less than 30 minutes! In the second half Leeds really pressed, getting numerous corners, but couldn’t score. Then defender Lucas Radebe got sent off with his second yellow, putting Leeds down to ten men. Leeds finally got a goal when Smith’s shot rebounded to Viduka, who had an easy tap-in. After that Leeds had some good chances, including a free kick that hit the post. But it was too much of a lead to overcome: 3-1 Leicster.

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: Serie A: Atalanta at Parma

I hadn’t a chance to see Atalanta, a promoted club this season, and doing incredibly well as the only undefeated club in the Serie A (they are in second place overall). Both teams started off well, with a few nice chances, but it was Frenchman Lamochi who scored first on a pass from fellow Frenchman Michou. After that it was mostly Atalanta in the Parma penalty area, but they couldn’t score. The second half started off with a Parma free kick that almost went in, but an Atalanta defender kicked the keeper’s rebound out of play. A few minutes later Buffon made a great save to preserve Parma’s lead, followed by a series of Parma free kicks that threatened Atalanta but didn’t go in. With less than ten to play, Conceicao put the moves of a defender to free some space and then shot left-footed laser that grazed the inside of the near post. That pretty much did it. Atalanta was impressive, and certainly deserve to be in the Serie A, but Parma proved superior. Final: 2-0 Parma.

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: EPL: Everton at Sunderland

I like both these teams: Sunderland for their fighting underdog spirit and scoring phenom Kevin Philips and Everton because they’re intelligent enough to have an American player, Joe-Max Moore. Unfortunately, Moore sat on the bench for most of the game, and thus Everton dominated. The first half remained nil-nil until last minute, when defender Rae ran onto a rebound and blasted it into the net. In the second half, Sunderland peppered the Everton goal with shots, and finally Philips broke his own goalless streak with a simple tap-in. Moore was put in with 20 minutes left, which was great to see, but still Sunderland dominated. Moore put in a corner kick which was very nearly headed in, and he got a few other good touches, but he didn’t have time to do enough. Final: 2-0 Sunderland.

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Sat, Dec 02, 2000

: Irresistible

Author: Ethan Black

Interesting, though uneven, thriller about New York’s first female serial killer. Perfect for reading while watching the Gore election contest hearing going on today. Parts of the plot depend too much on coincidence — like the fact that the main detective happens to be on the victim list — why? Overall, though, I liked the serial killer’s psychological history, though the story itself seems to depend more on sensationalism than a realistic look at what could be a female serial killer.

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: Gladiator

Director: Ridley Scott

I’d heard really good things about this film, but frankly, I wasn’t impressed. In the first 30 seconds I’d figured out 80% of the plot, and though there were a couple surprises, my predictions were quite accurate. The ending I found anti-climatic and improbable (not to give away the ending, but I didn’t feel Commodus’ character would really do that). That said, this isn’t a bad movie: the dialogue was impressive, and the performances and sets were excellent. But this is not a great film; it’s certainly no Spartacus. The special effects were the kind you don’t notice (like the digitally created Roman Coliseum), which I usually like, but in this case, the film seemed to expect us to be awed by the spectacle, of which I wasn’t. Perhaps I just expected too much, or maybe the big screen theatre presentation is much more dramatic than seeing the widescreen DVD, but I was left with a feeling disappointment and wondering what all the fuss was about.

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