Tue, Dec 31, 2002

: Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Author: C.S. Lewis

This DVD is in two parts, each a separate book. The first, Prince Caspian, is only an hour long, and is a bit lame considering all the build-up to a big battle that never happens. In the book the best part was the part about Caspian escaping from home, and all the drama and excitement of that is lost in this production. Dawn Treader was much better. It was never one of my favorite books since it has minimal plot and wanders from adventure to adventure during the ship’s voyage, but in movie form it worked well. The special effects were pretty hokey, but the story was excellent. A few things were given short shrift. One of the best analogies in the book is the story of the arrogant Eustace during into a dragon and his humbling (and painful) restorance, and while that’s included in the film, it’s not as revealing as in the book. Still, all my favorite parts are included, such as the pool of water with the golden statue of a man inside that turns out to be magical water that turns whatever it touches into gold. Obviously, the man went for a swim and… oops! Overall, a pretty good film.

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Mon, Dec 30, 2002

: Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Author: C.S. Lewis

This film is the first is a 3-DVD set I bought at Costco. The films were made for BBC television. I was a bit disappointed at the low production quality, which is much more like a play than a film (the talking animals are people dressed up in occasionally silly-looking costumes). Some special effects and unusual animals (flying horse, etc.) are done with cheesy animation on top of the live action footage, with minimal attempt, it seems, to try to make it blend seamlessly. However, the scripts are remarkably faithful to the books, even including much of the dialogue, and each film is 168 minutes long (nearly three hours) so there’s little left out. The pace is leisurely and never rushed. This film was very good, except for a few oddities: for instance, the actual stabbing of Aslan, the Lion, isn’t shown. I presume that was done to keep the violence down for children, but it made the death much less dramatic. All in all, not bad, and I liked the script, but I definitely prefer realism to a children’s play. At least Aslan wasn’t totally unimpressive (his head is completely puppet so we don’t have human eyes and mouth like most of the other animals).

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Sun, Dec 29, 2002

: Amelie

Wonderful, quirky, odd, fantastic film! The premise is based on odd concidences that plague the life of Amelie, a young French girl, warping her view of reality from childhood. For instance, she loves her cold fish doctor father very much and longs for him to embrace her, but the only time he touches is her is during her annual physical, and thus her heart beats very rapidly when he examines her, making him think she has a weak heart and thus the family can never go on vacation and she must go to a special school. In another scene, she witnesses a car accident while taking pictures and a cruel neighbor tells her that her photo-taking caused the accident. She goes home and sees all sorts of tragedies on the news that night and imagines she caused them! But she’s not a doormat: when she figures out the neighbor’s “joke” she gets him back by disconnecting his TV antenna during the big soccer every time the French team is about to score (she’s listening to the game on a portable radio so she knows when to disconnect and reconnect the signal). Thus the girl grows up with a vivid imagination. As an adult, she works as a waitress in a small cafe, when she finds a hole in her apartment that reveals a secret compartment which contains a small box of a boy’s treasures (marbles, pictures, etc.). She decides her mission is to become a do-gooder, and her first task is to find the man who owned the treasure box and return it to him. What would a man say to have his childhood treasure returned to him after 40 years? Of course, the results are comic and heart-warming. Later, Amelie tries to be match-maker to her friends with great success, and then tries to set herself up as well, but the latter task proves much more difficult, with every trick failing. Eventually, though, Fate is kind and she and her mate finally connect and all live happily ever after. This film is just beautiful, one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I could watch it again and again and again, it’s so deep, and the frantic pace means you’re sure to see new things in it every time you watch. Just magical.

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: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Cool book of Sherlock Holmes short stories. I’ve read a number of Holmes stuff, but never this collection, which was apparently done after Doyle “killed off” Holmes in a previous story. It was six years before he used this book to bring Holmes back from the dead. The first story explains how that happened (Holmes was never dead, of course, but in hiding, something I found a bit odd for Holmes to do). The other stories deal with various adventures of the famous dectective, and they’re very cool. A few are simpler and involve less “detecting,” and a few annoyingly rely on knowledge Holmes has that Watson, the narrator, does not, making it nigh impossible for the reader to figure out the mystery. But the best thing about Holmes has always been his manner of stating something outrageous as fact, seeming gaining the knowledge from a supernatural source. But of course, once the explanation is provided, it seems too simple. It’s much like a magician’s trick, which seems impossible (did they cut her in half???) but is disappointingly down-to-earth when the secret is revealed (there were two women, one curled in each half of the box so the feet wiggled and made you think it was the same woman lying down). The magical explanation is much more satisfactory and fascinating.

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Fri, Dec 27, 2002

: Shoot the Piano Player

Director: Francois Truffaut

Interesting, if somewhat convoluted story about a former piano virtuoso who quit after his wife’s suicide, and now plays in a rundown bar. One of his brother’s tries to cheat on some gansters, and now they’re after him, so he runs to his brother for help, and then things get complicated. A fun sense of humor makes this an above average ganster film.

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Tue, Dec 24, 2002

: Kate and Leopold

Interesting little romance with a twist: Leopold is a 19th century Duke brought forward in time to modern New York City. Unfortunately, he only has a week before the time portal appears again. But during this week he meets Kate (Meg Ryan), a marketing consultant, and his achronistic ways (he’s polite, stands up when a lady leaves the table, rides a horse to chase down a Central Park purse-snatcher, etc.) charm her. Silly and implausible, but the characters are so likable you don’t care and just want to see them get together. Fun.

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Sat, Dec 21, 2002

: American Graffiti

Director: George Lucas

I’d heard this was a classic, but I’d never seen it. Interesting look at youth in the late fifties/early sixties, apparently based on Lucas’ own teen years. Reminded me of a number of other films, though this was probably the first of the genre. It’s not my favorite era or type of film (the “story” is one night in the lives of several characters as they cruise, party, and get into trouble before leaving for college the next day). Basically I give this an Okay. It’s well-done, and I suppose if you were into that era, it would really bring back memories. To me it seems like a rip-off of Happy Days.

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Wed, Dec 18, 2002

: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Director: Peter Jackson

One word: Awesome. This is not just a good adaptation of the book, it’s a great film. There’s action, drama, suspense, with a surprising amount of characterization and depth. We really get to feel Frodo’s internal conflict over the Ring, sense the peril of Middle-Earth as Sauruman prepares his forces for battle, and through unbelievable CGI, Gollum comes to life in a performance that ought to win an acting Oscar: he’s fantastic. There are minor quibbles about the story and Aragorn’s romances, but they’re such a small part of a beautifully crafted epic tale they’re hardly worth mentioning. The big battle scenes are impressive, but I’d heard so much amount them before the film that I found them a bit less impactful than I expected. Partly that was because Jackson chose to intercut the long battle with scenes from other stories, which diluted the battle a bit. But overall this is a five star movie, much better than the first one. Oddly, the first book is my favorite, and the second my least favorite, but so far the movies have that reversed.

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Thu, Dec 12, 2002

: Clockstoppers

Director: Jonathan Frakes

Mindless stuff about a watch that stops time. Okay, technically it speeds you up so fast it seems to you that everything around you has stopped, but it’s pretty much the same thing. The plot’s predictable (bad guys want the watch, kid saves the day, etc.), but overall the film has it’s moments. It’s mostly intriguing just for the cool special effects which are far better than any previous “time stopping” film.

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Wed, Dec 11, 2002

: The Thing

Director: John Carpenter

For some reason I thought I’d seen this long ago, but that was a completely different movie. I’d never seen this, though I wanted to after recently reading the short story upon which it was based. I’m not a big Carpenter fan, but this is one truly great movie. It’s extremely faithful to the story, which was great, and has an excellent visual appearance, terrific performances, and special effects that surprisingly still hold up today. On top of all that, it’s even scary! It also is thought-provoking: it’s sure to bring up some debates on trust. Worth seeing all the way. The DVD’s pretty good as well: there’s a long documentary that reveals much about how they created the special effects.

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Sun, Dec 08, 2002

: The Cat’s Meow

Interesting story about a murder that might have been committed by William Randolph Hearst way back when. He took a party of famous people (including Charlie Chaplin) out on his boat, but one member died and there was never an inquiry. This film is one possibility of what might have happened. Well done, with a great cast, but obviously a lot of history and Hollywood knowledge is required to really appreciate this: I’ve heard of Hearst and Chaplin, but those were the only ones, so I missed most of the rest. Still, it was interesting, though a llittle heavy-handed (I could tell there were aspects of the characters I was supposed to react to, assuming I knew the real-life person, but since I didn’t, the references went over my head and I found that got boring after a while).

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: The Road to Wellville

Strange film. I’d heard a lot about this and the premise sounded interesting: set in the early 1900’s, it’s based on the real-life of Dr. Kellogg (who invented Corn Flakes) and the strange cures offered at his sanitarium. Unfortunately, most of the humor is of a scatalogical nature, making it uncomfortable viewing. It’s not really funny… or is it? I guess that depends on your point of view. I found it more interesting from the historical perspective, and felt the plot was predictable and the comedy lame. Worth seeing just for it’s uniqueness, however.

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Sat, Dec 07, 2002

: The Queen of the Damned

I hadn’t realized this was based on the Anne Rice book when it was in the theatres: all I knew was that the star, some singer I’d never heard of, died in a plane crash before the movie opened. I guess it was just as well. While this had some interesting moments and I can see that it would have been a good book in Rice’s capable hands, as a film it became a meaningless action flick. Well done, but routine.

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Sat, Nov 30, 2002

: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)

Director: Peter Jackson

What can I say? This version is far superior to the one that aired in theatres a year ago. It doesn’t really feel that much longer (it’s 3.5 hours) — instead of feeling rushed and cutting scenes off before they’re done, this version gives us the full epic story. There’s still missing stuff: no Bombadil or giant spiders, and there’s still the silly bit with the troll in the Mines of Moria, but it’s still a better movie.

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Fri, Nov 29, 2002

: The Outlaw Josey Wales

Director: Clint Eastwood

Interesting revenge flick set after the Civil War when Union soldiers were “mopping up” in the South, often killing civilians in the process. Clint plays Josey Wales, who’s family is slaughtered by Union soldiers and then goes on a revenge killing spree. He’s chased all over the South as he heads for Mexico. Along the way he picks up an interesting posse of friends: an old Indian, a elderly woman, a young woman, and more. He ends up in a dying boomtown and helps defend the people, becoming a hero. There’s some great action, hilarious humor, and thoughtful characterization. Good stuff.

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: Solaris

Author: Stanislaw Lem (novel)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

I wondered why anyone in Hollywood thought this big budget big star production would make money: after all, this is a Thinking Story, not an action sci-fi flick. The answer is that the screenwriter (Soderbergh) turned this into a Hollywood movie by changing much of what made the story so unusual. “Loosely adapted from the book” is what the film should have had in its credits. Soderbergh even gave it a happy ending! However, this only pisses off fans of the original Russian classic or the novel: people who know nothing about Solaris will find this movie pleasant and entertaining. To us others, beware: it’s not a bad film, just lighter and less important than it should be.

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Tue, Nov 26, 2002

: Eight-Legged Freaks

A B-movie tribute to B-movies. Cool special effects, typical silly story about radiation creating giant spiders. Harmless fun, little else.

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Fri, Nov 22, 2002

: Die Another Day

Very good James Bond film, but overlong at 2.5 hours. It starts out as a darker Bond, but doesn’t sustain that, which is probably for the best. Unfortunately, the film feels a little divided into two parts — sad and fun — as a result. Otherwise this Bond has everything you want in a Bond film: action, humor, gorgeous women, and cool gadgets. What surprised me the most was the shockingly poor use of green screen in a few scenes (the hovercraft scene at the beginning and some later scenes with Berry and Brosnan flying). The out-of-focus backdrops look like TV from the 1980’s! I can’t imagine this was cost-cutting — this is a big budget Bond movie. Besides, get rid of just one of those 5,000 cars they blow up and it would pay for better green screen. I assume it’s just incompetence, which is almost as bad. While many special effects were very well done, a few — especially the digital airplane at the end — were badly done. The airplane breaking up looked really fake. That’s too bad, because script-wise, this was a better film, but I was distracted by all the bad special effects.

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Thu, Nov 21, 2002

: Not Another Teen Movie

Above average parody of teen movies. Some genuinely original funny bits, but occasionally gets unnecessarily crude and disgusting (that exploding toilet was just dumb). The DVD’s got some cool extras.

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Sun, Nov 17, 2002

: Insomnia

Director: Christopher Nolan

Initially I liked this better than the original: this appeared to be a frame-by-frame remake, and there was a lot of subtly that I missed in the foreign version. However, there were some interesting differences. In the original, the cop shoots a dog dead in order to get a spent bullet he could use to frame the dead girl’s boyfriend. In this version, however, he finds the dog already dead and shoots the dead body. But most disappointing, this version changes the ending dramatically. In the original, everything is left ambiguous: did the cop kill his partner on purpose? Here it’s less convoluted and he dies at the end. It was good until that point.

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Sat, Nov 16, 2002

: Mr. Deeds

It’s fascinating the way Adam Sandler can play such an appealing ordinary guy. In this film he inherits $40 billion, but doesn’t change his personality. He’s just a guy from a small town and doesn’t care about the money. Some might perceive him to be an idiot, but he’s just a guy. Though the plot’s completely different, the spirit’s the same as in Happy Gilmore and other Sandler movies: poor schlub makes good. For a light comedy, it’s very good. For a great film, it’s okay.

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: Big Fat Liar

Surpisingly good kiddie flick. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the promos, but the plot sounded lame: a kid’s story is stolen and being made into a Hollywood movie and he goes to L.A. to convince the evil director to own up to the stolen story. The way it’s written, however, makes it believeable. On his way to turn in a story for his English class, Jason crashes his bike into a limo. In the limo is Marty Wolf, Hollywood director. He gives Jason a ride to school, but Jason accidently leaves his story in the limo. The story’s called “Big Fat Liar” and is about a boy who gets larger every time he tells a lie. Later in the summer, Jason is at the movie theatre and sees a promo for an upcoming movie called “Big Fat Liar.” Since his parents never believed that he wrote the story he couldn’t produce, Jason and his friend Kaylee head for Hollywood to get proof. Paul Giamatti steals the film as the evil director, perfectly playing the comic villain in such a way that you both hate and love him. The two kids torture him in various ways (such as putting blue dye in his pool so his whole body turns blue) to try to get him to admit he stole the story. He continually refuses, of course, until the climactic finale. Fun and silliness, but done with such a genuineness that it works. Good performances, lots of clever cameos, and just a fun flick.

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Fri, Nov 15, 2002

: Joe Somebody

I recently saw this promoted on another DVD and was puzzled that I’d never heard of it: you’d think a film with Tim Allen would have been promoted. I figured it was a dog but rented it anyway.

To my surprise, this was an excellent film. Don’t judge it by the trailer (which is misleading) or Tim’s reputation. This is NOT a slapstick comedy goof-off, but a mildly comedic serious story about an average Joe trying to figure out who he is.

Tim plays Joe, a longtime cubicle worker for a huge corporation who’s a decent but invisible guy. He’s struggling through a divorce, but loves his daughter. On “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” the last parking spot gets taken by a jerk who cuts him off. Worse, this parking lot is reserved for employees who’ve worked at the company for at least ten years and Joe knows the guy’s only been there for seven. He confronts the guy and the guy (who’s big), slaps him down. Twice. In front of his daughter. Humiliated, Joe begins to wonder what went wrong with his life.

Inspired by a co-worker (the stunning Julie Bowen), he decides that what he wants is to beat the jerk up. He publicly announces he’s going to fight the guy in three weeks, and then sets out on a rigorous training regime. Suddenly everyone at the office knows Joe, likes Joe, and is rooting for him to beat the jerk.

Gradually the popularity and overconfidence goes to Joe’s head as he’s alienated from his potential girlfriend (Bowen) and his daughter, who don’t like the new cocky Joe. In the end, Joe must decide if beating up a co-worker will make him a man, or if he’s already a man.

This is a film about character: the plot’s predictable but that’s not why you watch this kind of movie. Tim Allen does an excellent job, but this is not the laugh-out-loud comedy you’d expect from him. I think that’s why it failed. People didn’t get what they expected. Watch this as a drama and you’ll find the humor amusing and the love story attractive. It’s well-written with some remarkably good dialogue, especially in the romance, which in comedic films often comes across as silly.

For instance, one of my favorite scenes occurs after Tim witnesses Julie Bowen playing basketball with some girls and doing a silly and embarrassing victory dance. Later, while walking and talking, she asks how long he was standing there watching. When he admits he saw her dance, she embarrassed and says, “Oh no, no. Please, say something right now to make me feel less like throwing myself down these steps.” Tim pauses, then says, “I’ll be flat out amazed if I can think of anything else for a least a week.” Very simple, but honest and effective. She’s flattered and that’s the beginning of their falling in love. Cool scene.

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: Panic Room

Director: David Fincher

Surprisingly stale thriller. The plot’s simplistic: a woman and her daughter buy a new Manhattan home that comes with a “panic room” — a secure vault where you can lock yourself in case of an attack. (The former owner was a wealthy encentric.) Of course, in their first night, thieves break in. The mother and daughter manage to get into the panic room and close the steel door, but unfortunately these thieves are after money left by the dead previous owner and they happen to know the money’s in a secret safe in the panic room. Doesn’t sound like there’s much room for drama with such a claustrophobic concept, but some interesting stuff happens. For instance, in one scene the thieves pump gas into the room’s ventilation system to scare the two into coming out — but their plan backfires when the woman ignites the gas and nearly blows them up! Unfortunately, that’s about as exciting as it gets: after that the film goes downhill and just gets boring. Eventually it peters out in a predictable Hollywood ending.

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: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Director: Chris Columbus

I had to see this one on opening day, so I went to a matinee to beat the crowds (there were still a couple hundred people in the theatre). It’s not the event the first film was, but as a film, it’s excellent — better than the first (just like the book). With the setting established, this time we could concentrate on a more complex plot and other adventures of the main characters. It’s three hours long, but you won’t notice it: there’s always something happening and it’s never boring (the first one bogged in exposition in a few places, like where they explain the rules to Quiditch, etc.). For someone who hasn’t seen the first, the lack of explanation could be a problem, but who’d want to see this that hasn’t seen the first one? Just great. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, but it appeared to be extremely faithful, though a few minor details might be been left out. I do love the attention to detail in these films — they are special effect heavy, but in the world of Harry Potter magic is so ordinary that they don’t bother making a big deal about it, so you’ll have a scene and notice that in the background, all the pictures are moving (the way they do in the magical world). Cool. I can’t wait for Harry Potter 3!

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Thu, Nov 14, 2002

: The Scorpion King

Surprisingly decent action film. Not a sequel to the The Mummy Returns, but staring The Rock who was in that film and made by the same people. The climax came sooner than I expected and thus seemed anticlimactic — but that impression might have been caused by the lame rental DVD I had that skipped 15 minutes in the middle. Fun.

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Wed, Nov 13, 2002

: Solaris

Author: Stanislaw Lem

Fascinating book. It reads like a scientific paper and I expected it to be difficult, but I just breezed through it. Somehow it keeps you interested. The plot is wild: a scientist (Kris Kelvin) arrives on a floating space station on planet Solaris, which has demonstrated many unexplained phenomena for nearly a century. The active theory is that the ocean is alive. However, no one has ever been able to communicate with it: it’s like its thinking process is so different from ours it can’t even recognize us as beings. Shortly after arriving on the station, Kelvin meets his wife who’s been dead for ten years. She’s not a ghost but a real physical person: apparently she’s been generated from his memories by the alien intelligence for unknown reasons. Unfortunately, she’s isn’t a perfect replica: the flaws in her creation are glaring to Kelvin. He can’t love her like she’s his wife, yet she reminds him so strongly of her he finds it difficult to hate her. That’s just creepy and weird, but it gets worse. The woman cannot be out of his sight or she goes insane — presumably she must stay near him or she ceases to exist. There are two other scientists on the station, but they keep to themselves: they each have their own ghosts to contend with. Everyone acts bizarre and the narrative and logic of these people was sometimes difficult to follow: you wonder if they’re sane. Still, this is a fascinating read about the nature of intelligence. Don’t expect easy answers (or answers at all — this book is mostly questions). Defintely a science fiction classic. I’ve never read any Stanislaw Lem before, but I’m definitely going to get some of his others. Great stuff. I’m looking forward to the new movie coming out.

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Tue, Nov 12, 2002

: Pollock

Director: Ed Harris

This is the film Ed Harris produced, directed, and stars in, about the life of the painter Jackson Pollock. I knew nothing of Pollock except that his paintings were abstract and worth a ton of money. This portrays him as a disturbed individual, extremely conflicted, agonizing over his craft, and a dangerous drunk. It’s a sad tale in many ways, but inspiring in others. Jackson seemed so desperately unhappy most of the time I wondered about the Catch-22 he seemed caught in: when he wasn’t painting he was frustrated and depressed, and when he was creating, he was still unhappy because no one understood his art. How many struggling artists (no just painters) are caught in that dilemma? Is it any wonder that most creatives are disturbed? Cool film, excellently done. A little slow.

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: Scooby Doo

Silly mess. I was never a fan of the TV series (I pretty much hated it), but was curious about the big screen rendition. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but that’s not saying much. First rule Hollywood needs to learn: animated hijinks don’t translate well into live action. Seeing a Wylie Coyote stand in midair for a few seconds before realizing he’s run off a cliff and then falling is hilarious: do that in live action and it’s just dumb. This film works best when it concentrates on characterization, not the lame plot or silly cartoon-like special effects. The translation of the characters to live action is pretty good. Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy is fantastic: it’s like he’s channeling the original character. Velma is great. The others are so-so (of course Fred and Daphne are the blandest of the characters anyway, so no great loss there). Scooby Doo (the dog) is better in the film than in the promos. Here you can actually understand him (something I liked from the show), though his animated reality is less than realistic (too cartoony for live action yet too realistic for animation). Weak for the title character. The plot is typical of the series (which, unfortunately, is not good as the series’ plot were horrible): bad guy disguised as something else and scary strange things happening. Some mildly entertaining moments. My favorite, honestly, was cut from the film: on the DVD are deleted scenes and there’s a terrific one of shy Velma doing a drunken lounge act on a piano singing “You’re Too Good to Be True” — hilarious! Why they cut it who knows: about par for the judgement of people who create this kind of dribble. I can’t believe they’re making a sequel.

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Mon, Nov 11, 2002

: Changing Lanes

I’m astonished that this film came out of Hollywood. It’s all about morality and ethics. The plot is simple enough: two rushed strangers get into a car accident one morning and that event intertwines their lives. The characters are complex and gray: there are no black and white hat wearing people here. One’s a lawyer who must suddenly decide if money and power are worth compromising ethics. The other’s a decent guy who’s overcome alcohol addiction and has anger management issues, who must decide what’s most important in his life. Excellent tale, well told, with a surprising amount of action and excitement. Great performances.

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Sun, Nov 10, 2002

: Mean Machine

This is a remake of The Longest Yard (which I’ve never seen), except that instead of American football in an American prison, this is soccer (real football) in an English prison. Basically, the former English team captain gets drunk and assaults an officer and gets thrown in jail. There, he’s recruited by the warden to coach the guards’ football team. Instead, he proposes to coach a team of inmates against the guards’ team. Of course others don’t like this, and he must earn the respect of his fellow inmates before they’ll trust him. All this leads to a climatic soccer match. Decently done, but unfortunately the premise makes it predictable, and the whole “will he throw the match” suspense at the end was pointless, since we knew he wouldn’t (audiences would never have forgiven the filmmakers for doing that). I liked the soccer references, though I suppose some Americans wouldn’t get them (like one of the guards telling a group of prisoners they’d just gotten a “yellow card” — in soccer, that’s a caution, or warning). Though the DVD does include American and British versions on it (I watched the British). At least I understood this one: if The Longest Yard included a lot of American football strategy and jargon, I probably wouldn’t have understood it.

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Sat, Nov 09, 2002

: Enough

What I kept thinking as I watched this was of those paint-by-number kits I had as a child. This is a paint-by-numbers movie. It’s got all the elements: tough lower-class chick falls in love with rich dude, they get married and start a family, he cheats and beats her, she runs away with daughter, and he uses influence to track her. In the end, he’s got all the power, so the only thing she can do is learn to defend herself and kill him. Not a bad film at all: mildly fun, somewhat interesting, and quite predictable. But that’s exactly what makes it mediocre. It’s got some nice touches and interesting scenes, and it’s well-done, but ultimately nothing much happens that we don’t know before it starts.

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Fri, Nov 08, 2002

: 8 Mile

An impressively good movie. I like Eminem. I don’t think I’d really buy any of his albums, but he’s an interesting guy. I get the feeling he really is a musical genius, though it’s not the kind of music most of us would appreciate. I wanted to see this film to learn more about him and his world, and I did. As I expected, he did a good job in the lead role. I don’t know why people are so suprised: it’s not like he’s acting. He’s just playing a version of himself. Besides, almost all famous people are putting on a persona — that’s how they survive the media — and that’s acting. He comes across as likable, intelligent, and troubled — pretty much who he is in real life, I suspect. The plot of the film is simple: a young rapper struggles to survive, being pulled different directions by friends and family and responsibility. He’s got a lot of talent and everyone wants a piece of him, but he doesn’t know who he is. By the end of the film he’s figured that out. I liked the way the film explored deeper aspects of existence without hammering us on the head with it, I liked the portrayal of the various characters and the conflicts. It was realistic and interesting. The “rap battles” — where two rap artists compete against each other and the audience votes on who advances to the next round — was unusual and fascinating. I’m not a rap music fan — it all sounds the same to me — but I definitely could appreciate the skill and amazing wit of these guys to think of rhymes on the fly as they sing. Very cool. Well-done film, with humor, drama, tender moments, coolness, and a touch of depth. Forget that Eminem’s a big star: watch this because it’s a good film.

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Wed, Nov 06, 2002

: In Like Flint

I’d never seen any of the Flint films, but I understood they were Austin Powers-like spy spoofs from the sixties. This one was cool. It’s a comedy, very but light: there are only a few one liners and occasionally silliness. The plot is semi-serious and handled more realistically than some legitimate spy films. (The biggest flaws were when the sonic gun was used in outer space and the space capsule exploded into flames. With no air in space, neither is feasible.) Overall, I liked it. A little long and slow in places, but Derek Flint is an cool superspy: he knows about everything (he’s a chemist, detective, ballet dancer, fighter, etc. etc.). Worth seeing.

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: Lost Souls

Strange, pointless tale about a guy who on his 33rd birthday will become host to Satan (a.k.a. the Antichrist). A woman, previously possessed by a demon herself, learns of this but few will believe her, especially the man. Has a couple of interesting things — I liked that the guy couldn’t hear the devil sounds on the cassette tape while his neighbors were banging on his walls for him to turn down the noise. Supposedly that was proof he was the selected one (why isn’t explained). But mostly this is a boring movie with no thrills, little originality, and one of the lamest endings ever. Stay away, far away.

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Tue, Nov 05, 2002

: 21 Dog Days: Doing Time at Amazon.com

Author: Mike Daisey

Hilarious book about the horrors of working at a dot-com startup. Mike is refreshingly self-effacing, witty, and incredibly lazy. He’s not stupid, he just doesn’t like to apply himself. Out of this comedy we get some interesting insight into Amazon, the whole dot-com-gold-rush thing, and life. Excellent read.

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Mon, Nov 04, 2002

: The Others

Kinda cool old-fashioned ghost story. It’s rather claustrophobic: practically every scene’s inside the haunted house. The story is about an overprotective mother who begins to see and hear strange things. Her two children have a strange disease, an alergy to light, and thus they must be kept in darkness all the time. Sunlight will kill them. The mother berates the servants if the rules aren’t followed exactly. Creepy, weird, with a decent endings. I’m not sure how it will hold up to repeated viewings, but I lliked it the first time.

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Sat, Nov 02, 2002

: Billy Elliot

A predictable plot, this goes a little slow for my tastes. It’s about an 11-year-old boy in Northern England who decides to become a ballet dancer. His dad and older brother are miners on strike and of course can’t stand the thought of him being a sissy boy. The boy must learn to stand up and fight for his dream. Well done, with excellent acting (the boy is great in the lead), but way too much fighting and swearing for such a feel-good film (I certainly wouldn’t call this a family film). And while visually impressive, the pace is slow for such a predictable plot. It’s good at 2x on DVD, though (turn on subtitles and you won’t miss anything).

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: The Sum of All Fears

Author: Tom Clancy

Excellent film. I don’t remember hearing much about this in the theaters, but I wish I’d gone. It’s great on DVD, though, with surround sound to capture the awesome nuclear explosion. Ben Affleck as the young Jack Ryan is great, and the script really sets him up correctly as being both young and precocious. The plot involves a stolen nuclear bomb that ends up being detonated by terrorists in the U.S. in an effort to provoke war between the U.S. and Russia, and it almost works except for Jack Ryan’s interference. Intelligent and thoughtful writing, with good performances. I’ve never the book (though I want to now), and I gather this is different, but I still like it. I hated the last one (Clear and Present Danger) but this one definitely reinvents the franchise and I look forward to more.

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Fri, Nov 01, 2002

: The Santa Clause 2

Most sequels start off great and end weakly; this one was the opposite. The first fifteen or twenty minutes are totally boring: nothing happens. It’s all exposition for us learning that Santa’s got to get married by Christmas or he’ll cease being Santa. But once we get that out of the way, things start to happen and the film gets good. A machine is used to create a duplicate Santa to stay at the North Pole and keep the elves making toys while the real Santa goes to help his son (who’s been put on the “Naughty” list) and find a wife. The robot Santa ends up taking over the North Pole and forcing all the elves to make lumps of coal instead of toys (since boys and girls deserve coal). Meanwhile, Santa starts the process of “desantification” — losing weight, his beard, and his magic. I liked that. The first film got a lot mileage out of Tim Allen physically becoming Santa, and this one cleverly does the reverse. Of course this is happening while he’s attempting to find himself a wife, creating comic situations. What’s impressive about this film is the way it really creates a believable romance in an extremely short period of time. Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays his love interest, is terrific and brings a nice dose of reality to the over-the-top stuff happening elsewhere. Overall, no huge suprises, but a pleasant and appealing film like the first one.

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: Storytelling

Author: Todd Stolenz

Director: Todd Stolenz

Another well-done glimpse into the world of ordinary bizarreness from the director of

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: I Spy

I’ve heard criticism of this film which I can’t figure out. I liked it a lot. It’s nothing serious, just a good fun romp. It has action and humor and the “team” of Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy is great. It never takes itself too seriously, but just seriously enough to not descend into camp. It’s fun, and much better than the lame trailers make it seem. My favorite scene was the ending, where spies are betraying each other right and left, and spy Owen gets completely confused and can’t tell who’s good or who’s bad. Hilarious.

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Thu, Oct 31, 2002

: Formula 51

This movie is just fun. It’s totally dumb — all of the characters are hilariously idiotic. For instance, one bad guy tells another to “take care of Larry,” meaning to care for him, but the dumber associate thinks he means take care of him and kills him! The “plot” concerns a genius chemist (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who’s invented a new drug 51 times more powerful than heroin. He’s trying to sell it to drug dealers for $20 million. Of course, nothing goes right, and there’s lots of explosions, shootings, and back-stabbings. The film’s set in Liverpool, England, and part of the story is the big Liverpool vs. Manchester United soccer match (they’re two of the biggest football clubs in England, if you don’t know). I found that pretty cool, but unfortunately they don’t show much soccer. All in all a completely silly film, but fun for a lark. A lot of pointless bad language though.

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: The Time Machine

Not a bad remake, actually. It’s been a long time since I read the book or watched the original George Pal version. This one definitely has the special effect award, and I liked Guy Pearce in the lead, and the Morlocks were truly scary, but the film lost steam toward the end. The bizarre bit where Guy blows up the time machine and somehow erases the Morlocks from existence didn’t make any sense at all to me. Watch this one for the amazing special effects: the geological time passing while he’s zooming to the future is definitely worth seeing.

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Tue, Oct 29, 2002

: Punch-Drunk Love

Author: Paul Thomas Anderson

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

The trailers made this look a lot stranger than it is. It is unusual, but the story is surprisingly linear. It concerns a young man’s (Adam Sandler) romance with a woman (Emily Watson). The odd pairing of slapstick comic with serious actress makes the film work: Sandler plays the straight man and while he’s compentent (don’t except an Oscar or anything), there isn’t much emotional depth to his character (he’s just a weird geek). Watson gives Sandler credibility and tones down the comic vibes. Her presence combined with Sandler’s idiotic good guy likability makes it work. What makes the film interesting is the unusual approach to filmmaking. From cinematography to pacing to music, the film is just odd and unsettling. That works perfectly with the odd, unsettled characters in the story. There are lots of long tracking shots, following the characters as they walk out of a restaurant, for instance. Lighting is extremely significant, especially at the beginning, where we’re treated to extreme constrasts of dark and blinding white. The music is wild, transitioning through a variety of conflicting styles, and occasionally being a strange mix of sounds most people would call noise. (But even there, it blends in cleverly with the ambient sounds of the film.) Unfortunately, while I found the film fascinating, the story and the characters were a little too empty. They were a touch pathetic and therefore one sympathizes with their situation, but I never felt like I understood or related to them. For instance, what draws Watson to Sandler? We’re never told. She supposedly is attracted to him from seeing his picture, but surely his strange behavior would have either endeared him to her or frightened her off, but there’s no indication of either. Instead, she seems to have the same crush on him she had at the start. We’re also not given much to work with regarding Sandler’s character. There are glimpses of his past — he has seven sisters who drive him nuts, and he’s occasionally violent — but we don’t really understand him. He says “I don’t know” a lot when people ask him questions. He’s like Camus’ The Stranger, a man without personality or motivation. Portions of Sandler’s performance were too much like his idiot roles in Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy. Overall, this film feels like it was done by a director who wants to be avant garde and literary, but still produce a film that will do big box office. The casting is proof of that. I’m sure it will be successful financially, but there’s no real depth here behind the camera tricks and odd characters. Worth seeing just because it’s unusual, but don’t expect too much.

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Mon, Oct 28, 2002

: Abandon

Not a bad Hitchcockian thriller. If you like Katie Holmes you’ll probably like this film. If you don’t, you probably won’t, as she’s in nearly every scene. The director loves to do super-closeups so that the pimples on her forehead are the size of dinner plates. She’s a lightweight actress (though I still like her), but she’s smart in that she doesn’t try to overdo this role (which she could have easily done and would have been terrible). She does a good job in a complex role. The film is much less exciting than it appears in the promos — there’s virtually no story, and the pace is leisurely. But it’s still interesting. We follow Katie just before graduation as she prepares her thesis, studies for finals, and goes on job interviews. Meanwhile, a detective is looking into the disappearance of her old boyfriend who she hasn’t seen in two years. He’s an eccentric rich kid who is unpredictable, but no one has seen him. As the stresses of academic life pile up, Katie becomes unraveled as she thinks she sees the missing boyfriend. Meanwhile, she begins an attachment with the detective. I won’t spoil the twist ending; it’s predictable, but satisfying. Hitch would have liked it (but he would have done much more with this script). Overall, above average, especially if you like thrillers and/or Holmes.

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Sat, Oct 26, 2002

: Red Planet

Another “first manned mission to Mars” film. Not terrible like I expected, but nothing to write home about. Extremely predictable — the “loser” janitor (Val Kilmer) is the only survivor (duh, he’s the only star). Had a few interesting moments, but overall is a good movie to watch while reading a book.

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Fri, Oct 25, 2002

: The Sweetest Thing

Odd Something About Mary clone, with all the gutter humor coming from women this time. There are strange scenes like the sudden musical number in the middle. It’s funny, but an uncomfortable funny, and a lot of the jokes fall flat. The story is simple: three single girls search for love. One meets a guy but doesn’t follow him, then later decides she might regret that decision, so she and her friend go on a road trip to his brother’s wedding to find him. There are all sorts of strange mis-adventures on the way. The film very much has a “series of skits” feel to it more than a cohesive story, but there is a pleasant sense of genuine good feeling to the characters that helps gloss over the movie’s weak points.

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Thu, Oct 24, 2002

: In the Bedroom

Terrific low-key film about the after-effects of a murder in a small New England seaside town. The pace is slow and meandering, but somehow not at all boring. Even when the characters are discussing ordinary fishing, you sense deeper meaning behind the words. Excellent performances, especially from the two parents (Tom Williamson and Sissy Spacek). The film is modest and never assumes it’s anything it’s not (it’s not the least bit pretencious). The ending is predictable but extremely satisfying.

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Mon, Oct 21, 2002

: The Ring

The premise is totally a gimmick: everyone who watches a particular videotape dies seven days later. However, this is like really liked is the ring itself: you’ve probably seen the ring image in the promos. What’s cool is that ring image is core to the explanation: it’s something ordinary, just seen from an unusual perspective. Very cool. If you like intelligent, unusual suspense, like The Sixth Sense, you’ll like this film. It’s more complicated and less gimmicky than Sense, and the direction is excellent. This film is based on the Japanese film Ringu, which I’d love to see now. I’m sure some will be overly critical about the unexplained mysteries and gimmicks, but that’s part of what happens in this genre: there are always false scares and things that aren’t explained logically. But this film is definitely above average, and I personally love all the mysteries: there are plenty of clues in the film that explain them, if you’re willing to use your brain.

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Sat, Oct 19, 2002

: Murder by Numbers

A decent mystery movie with Sandra Bullock as a detective trying to nail two high school students for murder. The main problem is that we know from the beginning the students did it and framed someone else, so there isn’t much mystery. There’s some attempts at characterization, with Sandra’s character haunted by her past, but that’s mediocre at best. What’s interesting are the characters of the two high school students, a bored rich kid and an intellectual geek who knows all the forensic secrets of the police. Unfortunately, the ending is rather ordinary: I would have much prefered a Primal Fear type ending (where the geek gets away with it) — that would have been cool.

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: Reel Future

This is an excellent collection of science fiction short stories and novellas that were made into great motion pictures. It’s wonderful, with incredible variety that makes science fiction so awesome. We’ve got the original stories that inspired The Fly, Total Recall, The Thing, 2001 — A Space Odyssey, Re-Animator, The Illustrated Man, The Day the Earth Stood Still, They Live, Death Race 2000, Damnation Alley, Millenium, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Enemy Mine, and many more. The stories are often quite different from the films (“The Fly,” for instance, is set in Paris), but they’re obviously special stories that inspired directors to make them into films. This is a profound collection that will make you think and inspire you to watch some great science fiction films.

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Fri, Oct 18, 2002

: White Oleander

Author: Janet Fitch (novel)

Terrific film. I’m only a third of the way through the book, but I was very impressed at the accuracy of the script. The story’s condensed a bit, but captures the tone of the book. At lot of the dialogue is straight from the novel, as is most of the narration. The story is a coming-of-age tale about a 13-year-old girl whose mother kills her boyfriend after he abandons her. The girl must grow up in foster homes as she struggles to find her identity and come to terms with her mother. The performances are excellent, especially newcomer Alison Lohman as the girl and Michelle Pfeiffer as the mom. This is a fascinating story about psychology and characterization. It’s worth watching and I recommend the book as well.

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Tue, Oct 15, 2002

: Insomnia

Excellent somber mystery about a Swedish cop sent in to Norway (where it’s always daylight) to solve a murder. However, during a shootout the cop kills his partner and the only witness is the murderer, a novelist who the blackmails the cop into protecting him. Fascinating, creepy, and mysterious, never quite letting you know the cop’s true movitations. Stellan Skarsgaard is amazing as the cop.

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Mon, Oct 14, 2002

: Swimming with Sharks

Pretty cool flick about the dog-eat-dog world of the movie business. The harried assistant of an egomaniac producer gets fed up with being treated like dirt and kidnaps the producer, holds him and gunpoint, and tortures him. The film cuts back and forth between the “live” kidnapping and flashbacks to the guy’s Hollywood career. Smoothly done. Somewhat predictable, but still entertaining, and the ending has a unexpected twist that’s totally diabolical.

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Sun, Oct 13, 2002

: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Author: Coen Brothers

Director: Coen Brothers

Terrific, awesome, fantastic film. This is filmmaking as it was meant to be. Great story, great acting, great moody black-and-white cinematography, great everything. I love the black humor. The story’s about Ed, a barber who fell into the trade and doesn’t think of himself as one. He’s played by Billy Bob Thornton and I think it’s Billy’s best role and performance ever. Just awesome. He hardly talks and Billy’s got to convey his character through subtle facial expressions, posture, and gestures. Anyway, it’s 1949 and Ed hears about an investment in a new thing called dry cleaning, so he decides to blackmail his wife’s boss to get the $10,000 he needs to invest. His wife’s having an affair with her boss and he (anonymously) threatens to expose the affair unless he gets the money. This starts a complex chain of wild events. Eventually the boss is killed and Ed’s wife is jailed for the murder. From there it just gets more wild! I won’t say more because I don’t want to give all the twists and turns away. Let’s just say that nothing turns out the way you’d expect. Brilliant film.

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Sat, Oct 12, 2002

: Original Sin

Surprisingly poor movie considering the interesting plot and cast. The plot has potential: a wealthy Cuban orders a bride from America, but she turns out to be a con artist who steals his money and runs away. The guy chases after her to kill her, and we’re treated to scenes of each of them protesting love of the other and we don’t know who is telling the truth. Unfortunately, the acting is poor (Angelina Jolie, who is usually good, is little more than a pretty face here), the script awkward, and the direction confusing. Nothing gels or makes much sense. For instance, Antonio Banderas falls deeply in love with his mail-order bride within days of meeting her and gives her complete access to his bank account? Come on! The film has a few good moments, and the second half is better than the first (unusual), but as a whole the thing just feels like something with potential. Unfortunate.

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: From Hell

Author: Allen Moore

Really good film about Jack the Ripper based on Moore’s graphic novel. Fans of the novel weren’t pleased with the film, and I’m not sure why, as I haven’t read the comic yet (though I did recently buy it and will soon). The film projects a new theory as to the identity of the killer. At first this theory is excellent and understandable, but as the film continues, complications (such as the whole Free Mason conspiracy) convolute things to a degree that degrades the quality of the entire picture. My thinking is that probably this is better explained in the book, where there’s room for the complexity, but in this film this doesn’t work. Overall, the film’s interesting, has excellent cinematography, and is worth seeing.

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Fri, Oct 11, 2002

: The Transporter

Author: Luc Besson

Not terrible, but not as good as it could have been. I wanted to see it because Luc Besson was involved (though he didn’t direct). The acting is excellent, and the action is great. Unfortunately, there’s only half a plot. For many action films a plot is just a device to drive the action and that works because one can overlook the plot and enjoy the action. In this case, however, the plot is too key to the picture as it’s closely tied with the characters. The main guy’s an ex-military dude who is “the Transporter” — he delivers packages (of an illegal nature) for whoever hires him. He’s incredibly organized and precise, with exact rules for the transaction. No exceptions. Unfortunately, he breaks one of his own rules and opens a package and discovers it contains a Chinese girl. The results of that mistake last the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the plot gets messy when the girl — who was becoming romantically involved with the hero — confusingly turns against him, making us wonder who she is. That turns out to be a pointless red herring, and the whole thing about transporting Chinese into France is just bewildering. (I never could figure out how they profit from it, or what the point was. Even more sad, I didn’t really care, a sure sign that a film has lost me.) Overall, this will be great on DVD.

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Sun, Oct 06, 2002

: Blow

Depressing film about a guy who wastes his life selling (and doing) drugs. He brings cocaine to the U.S., makes $100 million, and loses it all. Mildly interesting but ultimately pointless (but of course, that’s the point — drugs are meaningless).

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Sat, Oct 05, 2002

: 13 Ghosts

A different kind of ghost film about a guy who catches ghosts to build a demonic machine that predicts the future. Okay, the plot sounds terrible, but what makes this different is the unusual set (the glass house full of ghosts is the machine) and the way the ghosts are visualized, as real creatures that can hurt you. The house reminded me a lot of Cube. Nothing profound, of course, but entertaining.

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Fri, Oct 04, 2002

: Red Dragon

Excellent film and good (accurate) adaptation of the book, including some important scenes left out of the original version of this film, Silence of the Lambs. That doesn’t make it bad, just not a miracle of filmmaking. I liked the way the film began with Hannibal’s capture by Will Graham (something the book only hints at via flashback) as does well to set the tone of the film. Unfortunately the horrible murders by the “Tooth Fairy” aren’t as horrific as they should be (like in Manhunter), though there are some chilling moments. The relationship between Dollarhyde (the killer) and Reba is handled extremely well and is one of my favorite parts of the film and the book. For me, that aspect is key to the novel: one gets the feeling how narrow the difference is between sanity and insanity. Under just slightly different circumstance, the two could have made a great couple. Ralph Fiennes does a good job as Dollarhyde, but he’s still too good looking (even with the hairlip makeup) to be convincing as a guy who’s embarrassed to show his face. I like Manhunter’s Tom Noonan better. Overall, however, this is a satisfying film for those who love the characters. I can’t say it’s better than Manhunter — they’re both different and there are things I like better about each. Both are excellent films worth seeing.

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: Birthday Dinner

Well, today was my birthday, so I had to endure a birthday dinner with friends and family. Just kidding — I had a great time and ate too much. I chose Hungry Hunter restaurant, which has my favorite meal, steak and fries with whiskey peppercorn sauce. The sauce wasn’t peppery enough and the fries were wimpy thin fries, not thick steak fries, but it was still delcious. The family was in good humor, teasing me about reaching the halfway point in my life (I’m 35), but I told them the average lifespan is always increasing and “halfway” is in the forties now and will be 50 by the time I’m forty-nine. It’s all irrelevant to me: I still have trouble thinking of myself as an adult, let alone a middle-aged man. Hopefully the “you’re only as old as you feel” phrase is true, for I feel like my life has scarcely started.

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Thu, Oct 03, 2002

: Dungeons and Dragons

What can I say? I’d heard rumors this was bad, and within the first five minutes I had that dreadful feeling that this was indeed a stinker. Fortunately, it had a couple moments that weren’t completely awful, but in general this film was one of the worst I’ve ever endured. The acting — or I should say overacting — was terrible. Shockingly bad. I’ve seen better acting in gradeschool Christmas pageants. Jeremy Irons, who should have brought a touch of class to things, just looked hopelessly overwhelmed and out of it, as though he was heavily drugged. A better script could have been written by a two-year-old. All the actors seemed to struggle with the bad material, and I got the definite impression that in several scenes the actors were just rushing through their lines as quickly as possible to get this mistake over with. The main focus of the film seemed to be the “incredible” digital effects. Well, even those were lame. We only get to see digital dragons a couple times, and they look incredibly… digital. The DVD I’d rented was so scratched the ending wouldn’t play and I didn’t even care. Unless you really hate someone, don’t let your friends watch this braindead turkey.

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Wed, Oct 02, 2002

: The Tuxedo

Jackie Chan vehicle about a super electronic tuxedo that enables anyone who wears it to become expert at any number of skills such as fighting, dancing, etc. Chan plays a taxi driver hired by a successful spy to be his driver, but when the spy is injured, Chan wears the tux and takes over the spy’s identity. The plot’s some absurd thing about a bottled water baron who wants to contaminate America’s water supply with a bateria that dehydrates a person to dust within a few seconds of drinking the water. Silly, but fun, with several good Jackie Chan moments. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those. First off, you’ve probably seen most of them in the trailor (doing the James Brown dance, a couple fight scenes, etc.). Second, I missed a lot of the trademark improvisation that is key to so many of Chan’s films and really is what puts him up there in the Charlie Chaplin brilliancy department. This film is more of a buddy movie, pairing Chan with Jennifer Love Hewitt, who’s a scientist/spy assigned to work with him, and all the problems they face as their personalities clash. While I love Hewitt and she does a fantastic job here, seemlessly metamorphasing between gorgeous and appealingly dorky like she did in

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Sun, Sep 29, 2002

: The Princess Diaries

Surprisingly poor dialogue — very Disneyish — but a pleasant family film about a shy girl who learns she’s really a princess and that brings her out of her shell. Predictable, but has its fun moments, and the cast is charming.

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Sat, Sep 28, 2002

: MLS Playoffs: San Jose Earthquakes at Columbus Crew

I don’t usually report on televised MLS games (just the games I attend), but this is the playoffs, and San Jose’s performance tonight makes them the first team eliminated from the playoffs. It just wasn’t meant to be. The Quakes played okay, but didn’t dominate, and let the Crew have a lot of dangerous chances. We had one guaranteed goal as Conrad got within a couple yards of the goal with only the keeper to beat, but his shot missed the entire goal. There’s a reason he’s not a striker. The first half was nil-nil, but San Jose’s lax defense undid them in the second half, allowing the Crew to score. Eight minutes later good work by Donovan and Graziani leveled things, but it was really a lucky goal as somehow Ariel’s slight touch got the ball through a forest of Columbus players on the line. For a time I thought that maybe the Quakes were really going to do it: a tie or a win and they’d have home field advantage in the next game and maybe they could win that. They’d certainly be psyched up and have a good chance. But instead the defense broke down exactly the same way they did in San Jose, with a long ball over the back line to Cunningham, who slid a cross over to an unmarked Garcia, who finished it off against Joe Cannon. Just terrible defending. Goose looked slow, Robinson was erratic, Manny struggled, and we missed Mulrooney and Ekelund (both out injured). Graziani and Donovan worked hard, but two players don’t make a team. What seemed to come so easily last year, as though we were fated to win, was a struggle this time, and the Earthquakes just didn’t have what it took. They looked tired and out of sorts, frantic in their defending, and hardly ever took shots. I’m not saying they were awful — just poor in comparison of how they used to play. Something just didn’t work this season. Perhaps it was Goose and Landon missing for a huge chunk with World Cup; perhaps Landon’s a known quantity in the league now and doesn’t get the breaks he used to; perhaps it was just the mix of injuries. Who knows? Something will need to be fixed for next year. At least LA lost their second game against KC in a 4-1 rout. Come on KC, win! I’d love the see LA knocked out early as well. Final: 2-1 Columbus.

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: The Glass House

Interesting, if tame, thriller about a young girl and her brother who end up moving in with their godparents after their parents are killed in a car accident. The children have a $4 million trust fund, so they’re financially secure. At first things seem okay, but gradually the girl begins to suspect the godparents of killing her parents in order to control the trust fund. A little obvious and heavy-handed at times, it’s none-the-less and interesting story. The girl character is very cool, intelligent and yet still realistic. The initial ending is pure poetic justice and satistifying, but then there’s a tacked on secondary ending that’s just lame. It still liked it, however; Stellan Skarsgard gives his usual excellent performance, and Diane Lane was good as the wife.

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Fri, Sep 27, 2002

: Mission to Mars

Director: Brian DePalma

This was kind of a cross between Apollo 13 and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a serious film, a realistic look at a fictional manned mission to Mars. The space ships and the problems the crew run into are handled pretty much the way we’d handle them today (no magical SF inventions here — for instance, the journey takes six months one way). However, that serious approach clashed with the occasional technical inaccuracies: clouds and wind on Mars? astronaut takes off helmet but doesn’t explode?

The plot is simple enough: a strange force on Mars destroys the original mission crew, so a rescue crew heads to Mars to find out what happened. Of course they find evidence of Martians — aliens who lived there long ago. Ho hum, and farfetched. However, I still like the film. It’s more lightweight than it wants to be, and some of the drama is rather contrived, but it’s still interesting and occasionally rivoting. Not great but not terrible.

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Wed, Sep 25, 2002

: MLS Playoffs: Columbus Crew at San Jose

The Quakes have been playing with fire lately, struggling to score and leaving huge gaps in their defense. Tonight they got burned. They poured on the pressure early, but couldn’t break through: the Crew got the first goal and San Jose had to struggle back on a huge goal by Landon Donovan. But then the defense collapsed late in the game to give a gift goal to the Crew. It was a good battle, though the ref was terrible. He didn’t directly cost San Jose the game, but he destroyed any rhythm the team had by his haphazard and random calls. He also didn’t call some pretty rough fouls by the Crew, including one that should have been a yellow and probably a red. A frustrating game for the Quakes, like many recent ones. They just aren’t in form, aren’t scoring, and can’t defend. At this rate, they don’t deserve to advance. Final: 2-1 Columbus.

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Tue, Sep 24, 2002

: Blade II

Much better than the first movie, but ultimately nothing but a slasher vampire flick. This time Blade joices forces with the vampires to stop a new species of vampire that’s killing both vampires and humans, but can’t be stopped with silver bullets. Of course he gets double-crossed, thousands of bad guys get massacred, and Blade looks cool doing it. Routine, but some of the action is impressive.

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Mon, Sep 23, 2002

: Trapped

Not a bad thriller. This is about a group of kidnappers who have the “perfect” plan: each kidnapping lasts exactly 24 hours. They grab the kid at night and one of the kidnappers takes the kid to a safehouse, while the other stays with the mother. A third stays with the husband. The three stay in touch via a network of cell phones, and they must call in every 30 minutes or the third kidnapper kills the child. The next day the husband gets the money from the bank, and once his captor is gone with the dough, the mother is reunited with the child. None of the families ever go to the police. Of course this wouldn’t be much of a movie if everything went according to plan, right? Of course not. And in this case, a wealthy doctor and his pretty wife (Charlize Theron) fight back. The bulk of the film is Theron and Kevin Bacon (the main kidnapper) and they have excellent chemistry with a lot of fascinating dramatic exchanges. One of the things I liked best about this film, however, is that we actually get to see the doctor husband in action: he’s more than stereotype. So many times in this kind of film the husband’s just an off-screen character we only see once or twice, and we often wonder what the woman sees in him. Yes, we know she loves him, we other than the token “kiss the wife goodbye” scene, we never see it. In this film, however, the husband has a prominent role, and he’s really pretty cool. The whole family is cool, and the little daughter is amazing. I have no idea how old she is in real life, but she gives the best young child performance I’ve seen in ages. Truly remarkable. Overall, this is a good film. It’s got humor, suspense, drama, and action, and it’s well done. However, it ultimately isn’t about anything more than it seems: a family is assaulted and fights back. The end. For it to be a truly great film, it needed some depth. It tries with some of the psychological scenes between Theron and Bacon, but while fascinating, there’s too little depth there for a profound movie experience.

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Sun, Sep 22, 2002

: Bandits

Director: Barry Levinson

Okay buddy film about two prison escapees who become bank robbers. Along the way they “kidnap” a troubled woman, and the threesome go up and down the west coast robbing banks and become famous as the “Sleepover Bandits” (they invade and sleep over at the bank manager’s home the night before the robbery so they can rob the bank early in the morning before it opens). Somewhat predictable (especially the ending), but still pleasant and interesting, with good performances. Interestingly for me, this happens to be another Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett film: coincidence that I rented this at the same time as The Gift?

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: The Gift

Author: Billy Bob Thornton

Director: Sam Raimi

This was a surprisingly cool film. It’s set in the south where a woman, Cate Blanchett, is a psychic. Her husband is dead and she’s rasing three boys on her own. Much of town thinks she’s a witch and ostracizes her. But in truth the “fortunes” she tells are closer to a form of counseling and therapy than ESP. She helps one young man haunted by nightmares of his father which he can’t explain. She tells a young woman whose redneck husband beats her to leave, but then the woman’s husband, Donnie, threatens her and her family. Then a girl goes missing and it’s the psychic who helps locate the body, which just happens to be on Donnie’s property, and she’s required to testify against him in the trial. But did Donnie really kill the girl? This is a terrific film about people: the “gift” is just a gimmick, a mystery that pervades the story, but the central thing is always the characters. Extremely well-written and directed. Totally worth your time.

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Sat, Sep 21, 2002

: L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I’m still getting used to this being a sports fan thing: it’s harder than it seems. I think the fans suffer more than the players when the team suffers a loss. At least the players contributed something in the effort: the fans only contribute their emotions, and that’s tough. This game could have been the highlight of the season. A win for San Jose meant much in the statistical department: a new MLS home unbeaten record, the Western Conference leader crown and home field advantage for the playoffs, a new San Jose season points record, winning the Supporter’s Shield (which goes to the best team on the West Coast), and keeper Joe Cannon probably finishing the season with the best goals-against average. A monster crowd showed up for the game: 26,229 people! Officially a sellout! I arrived more than thirty minutes early and parking took so long I barely made the game. Incredible. It was the most people for a regular season game since the inaugural MLS game in 1996. Wow, the atmosphere was fantastic. Even the Galaxy fans and players were impressed (as they revealed after the game). Everything was set for a great Earthquakes victory. Unfortunately, that was not to be. It started off well, and the Quakes played marvelously, but couldn’t finish to get a goal. Early on a great run by Donovan into the box was ended by a takedown and the ref immediately pointed to the penalty box. Ronnie Ekeland stepped to take the PK. He struck it hard, but too much up the center, and the Galaxy’s Kevin Hartman blocked it. No goal. That should have been the start of an Earthquake rout. Instead it was the start of a stalemate. For 90 minutes the teams played to zero-zero tie, just like last week in L.A. But this time, instead of the game being given to L.A. on a blown offside call, it was the ref who stepped up and awarded a penalty when San Jose’s Eddie Robinson knocked down Cobi Jones in the penalty box in the 93rd minute. The Galaxy’s Ruiz easily converted the PK and that was it: L.A. wins 1-0.

This was a frustrating game, not only because San Jose played better soccer and certainly had the bulk of the chances, but the strategies of the teams were affected by last week’s controversial loss. If that game had finished a tie, L.A. would have come into this game needing a win: instead a draw was enough for them and they didn’t need to risk anything. Hartman had a great game and was definitely man-of-the-match, making 9 saves (several of them spectacular). But it’s still a bitter pill to lose your last home game, especially against your most hated rival. San Jose is still in the playoffs in third place, and we face Columbus on Wednesday night, just like the playoffs last year. Some fans are saying the loss will motivate the Quakes: I sure hope so. However, after losing two games in a row, confidence and morale can’t be too high. Still the playoffs are anyone’s game. It doesn’t matter how you get there: all that matters is that once you are there you win. Go Quakes! Final: 1-0 Galaxy.

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Fri, Sep 20, 2002

: Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever

If you rate your movie money in terms of how many bullets get shot and explosions you see, this film will definitely get your vote. The producers must have spent $1 million on bullets alone, and triple that in vehicles (brand new SUVs get destroyed every few minutes), and God knows how much on fireworks. The “plot” is ludicrous, with holes big enough for several oil tankers, and it goes something like this: Bad Guy works for secret govt. intelligence agency (the cleverly named DIA), and he steals a new nano-weapon that would let him kill a remote target with the push of a button (it’s a micro machine that is “undetectable” in a person’s bloodstream yet can be remotely ordered to give the person a heart attack). Sever (Lucy Liu) kidnaps his son to get the weapon. Ecks in an ex-FBI guy who’s brought in to get Sever. Puzzled? You should be: it makes little sense that the hero is essentially helping the Bad Guy. Then the plot gets really wonky: Ecks is searching for his wife who was killed seven years earlier except that he just discovered she wasn’t killed: it turns out she’s… get this… married to the Bad Guy! I won’t go any further: just this much strains credibility. The movie filled with odd gaps in logic: bad guys magically appear whenever they’re needed (how did they know to go there?), good guys stupidly show up in bad guy territory for no reason, etc. Half the time the super-heros seem super-smart; the other half they’re super-dumb (for instance, Ecks stands on a land mine at one point, telling the Bad Guy to move away lest he get blown up also). Then there are all those guns and explosions. While cool, there were a number of things that bugged me. For instance, a few times actors held their guns awkwardly, like they didn’t know how to use them: odd for weapons experts. At other times, Ecks or Sever seemed to be very poor markspeople: Ecks once misses three guys five feet away in a narrow train car with his shotgun. Of course they complete miss him with their automatic weapons, but then he gets them on his second attempt (three shots, three kills). Huh? In other scenes, huge explosions that destroyed half the city just knocked down the bad guys and they just dusted themselves off and got back to work being bad. And speaking of bad guys: of the thousands that get shot, does nobody notice that these guys are all Federal agents? Sure, their leader is dirty, but are they are all dirty as well? Aren’t most just innocent agents obeying their boss? Very strange film in terms of plot, but if you ignore all that and just enjoy the wild action, it’s not half bad. The action is mostly average quality, though a few scenes are very cool. Mostly watch this if you want to see stuff get blown up.

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: The Bourne Identity

When I first heard this was getting remade, I wasn’t the least bit interested. After all, the book was excellent, and there was already a decent film version. Why do it again? I also didn’t like the casting: Matt Damon is way too young for Bourne, and Franka Potente didn’t seem like a good fit. Boy was I wrong: this is a great movie. It’s got action, intelligence, and even a little depth (not too much, but a little). Franka was excellent, and though I still feel Damon is too young (his character is supposed to have years of experience being a top black ops spy), he does a very good job. I really liked the action sequences: the whole idea is that Bourne, a man without an identity (he’s lost his memory, remember), reacts instinctively, and in the film they did that excellently by speeding the action to super-human levels. For instance, in one scene two cops accost him in a park. When one puts his hand on Damon, he reacts without even thinking: in a flash he moves and the two cops are on the ground unconscious. Damon blinks, staring at them, and at his own hands, wondering how the heck he did that. Wonderful! That’s exactly what made the book so fascinating. Bourne’s reaction to his “super powers” humanizes him, makes him someone we can relate to and understand. Overall this is an a great ride: a non-stop action adventure with thrilling sequence after thrilling sequence. Great fun, well acted, and well written. There’s even some depth in the relationship that develops between Damon and Franka (she was excellent, BTW: a suprisingly subtle actress). Well worth your time and superior to the other film (which wasn’t that bad).

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Thu, Sep 19, 2002

: Sexy Beast

Stylish crime drama about a retired crook who’s “encouraged” to come back for one last score. Terrific dialogue, some great set pieces, and fantastic characters (and performances) make this well worth your time. Ultimately, like most crime dramas such as

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: Collateral Damage

Okay actioner with Arnold going to South American seeking revenge on the Columbian terrorist who accidentally killed his wife and child during a bombing. Arnold finds out the terrorist became a terrorist because his daughter was killed in an attack, which is an intriguing idea, but the script never develops that any further. The first half of the film is so-so: the later quarter, however, has a nice twist that makes it much more interesting and is pretty good. Prior to 9/11 this wouldn’t have been nearly as thought-provoking a film; now that reality has taken an ugly turn, this almost feels like art.

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Wed, Sep 18, 2002

: One Hour Photo

Unusual film; not quite what I expected. The “plot” was publicized: a lonely photomart guy (Robin Williams) develops a crush on a perfect family and decides to adopt them as his own family, so to speak. What starts out as a quirky, rather pathetic relationship soon turns dark and violent. Williams does a good job: he plays this role totally straight, hardly cracking a smile in the entire movie. I liked many things about the film: the family (especially the mom), the way the family fell apart, Williams’ character and the way he reacts to the situation. Unfortunately, not enough happens in the beginning (it’s slow), and when we get to the big pay-off at the end, nothing much happens their either. It’s like the producers chickened out from going all the way with Williams’ character. As it is, the film ends on a flat note: it needed a second twist at the end, something that would explain Williams’ character and his fate better. As it ends now, it feels unfinished and leaves you unsatisfied. An interesting film, worth seeing just because it’s different, but isn’t sure enough of what it is to be a classic.

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: Vanilla Sky

Director: Cameron Crowe

Some people might wonder why I chose to do a weblog of films and books; a key reason is that I don’t believe in coincidence, and yet throughout my life I’ve just happened to be reading a particular book at a particular time or seen a film right when another event crosses paths. In this case, I find it fascinating that I just “happened” to have watched two versions of Vanilla Sky, but it doesn’t save it for a gimmicky ending: it opens the book with it. Unfortunately for this film, while it makes a very interesting movie and the ending explains everything and makes sense, the ending is still unsatisfactory. I can’t say more than that without giving the plot twist away, and I don’t want to do that. Throughout the film I was gathering clues and trying to figure out a rational explanation for the mysteries of the story: basically Tom Cruise’s character begins to confuse the identities of the two women in his life, one of whom committed suicide but he still sees her. Is he crazy? Is he being set up somehow? The ending, when it came, made total sense: there are hints of it throughout the film to the extent that it’s rather obvious in a second viewing. But the nature of the explanation is unsatisfactory: we want more, something with meaning. Ultimately, that’s where I think the film fell apart: because of the twist ending, all the valuable insight and morality and lessons taught by the first half of the movie are meaningless. Or are they? Some might argue that it makes no difference. Tom’s character certainly grew from the experiences, so change came about. The bottom line: this is a personal film meant to be experienced by each person who sees it. Whatever you find in it is yours: your truth, your reality. I cannot argue that what you see in it isn’t there or doesn’t count, just as you can’t say that about my impressions. For me, the film wasn’t as eye opening as a classic like The Purple Rose of Cairo, but it’s certainly more thought-provoking that a cliche like

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Tue, Sep 17, 2002

: Legally Blonde

Decent, fun, silly film about a blonde girl who enrolls at Harvard Law to follow her boyfriend and discovers she good at being a lawyer. Reese Witherspoons character was really good: I loved the way she was so clueless as to not realize that people were making fun of her blondeness and just dive right in, being friendly and mindlessly happy to all. Her character has a gift for helping people out of their shell and uses that in her law career. Pretty cool idea and fairly realistic; she’s not stupid, just interested in fashion and other things. Ultimately this film flirts on the fence of being silly and stupid or silly and worth something, and I think it just tips toward the latter, though not by much. Good fun.

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: K-PAX

This is a film that started with a gimmicky premise — is mental patient Prot really an alien from the planet K-PAX as he claims? — and never gets beyond it. It could have been a good film if there was some depth too it, but it enjoys playing with the gimmick so much that it never gets around to anything intelligent. Ultimately pointless.

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Mon, Sep 16, 2002

: Lathe of Heaven

Far superior version of the film. According to the DVD, this was the first film every made for PBS. It’s amazingly high-tech for 1979, especially since it only cost $250,000. The script is much better in this version, with the dialog being much more interesting, conveying both character and plot. And the 2002 version left out critical details from the book, such as the invasion of the aliens. The aliens might seem silly or B-movie to some, but they’re critical to the story because they show us the ultimate, fantastical power of harnessing the man’s dreams to change the universe. By showing us that power, and the way it can be turned against us, we realize how dangerous it is manipulating reality through the dreams of another. Fascinating stuff. This version made it clearer that the doctor did know the man was telling the truth — his dreams did change reality, he wasn’t crazy — but that left me confused as to why and how, since supposedly everyone else forgot that the world had ever been different. The film has its flaws, but it’s still well above average, and amazing considering the complex subject and the budget and the year. The new version had a bigger budget and better special effects, but wasn’t as good.

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Sun, Sep 15, 2002

: Imposter

Fascinating sci-fi based on the Philip K. Dick short story. The premise is cool: a top govt. scientist is suddenly arrested as a traitor and told that he’s suspected of being a robot planted by aliens and he contains a bomb. Apparently the robot simulation is so perfect it’s impossible to tell if he’s human or not, except by disection. Of course the scientist believes he’s not a robot — but is he? That should be the core of the film — he’s own doubts as to his identity — but instead the film’s basically a big chase as he escapes and as a fugitive, tries to gain evidence to proof he’s not an android. Somewhat predictable, especially the twist ending, but still enjoyable, and there a good performances. It could have been a better film, but it’s still above average. It was originally supposed to be 30 minute short (as part of a sci-fi trilogy) but it was expanded to a full-length film. The original short’s on the DVD and it was better (though the expanded material isn’t that bad plotwise, it adds nothing characterwise).

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: Lathe of Heaven

This is the recent A&E production, and it was okay, though vaguely disappointing. Nothing much happens. The premise is fascinating: whatever a young man dreams comes true, and when he awakes, the world is different and no one recognizes that it’s changed but himself. He’s seeing a psychiatrist who begins to manipulate his dreams and give himself more power and fame. James Caan is excellent as the psychiatrist, but he’s not given much of a script. The dialog does nothing more than move the story forward; there is no depth. Good ending, and the production is okay, but ultimately the film has no soul. The scope of the changes made is minimal: there’s unlimited potential for changing the universe here and very little is done with that. Disappointing.

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Sat, Sep 14, 2002

: Resident Evil

Disturbing zombie flick based on the popular video game. A corporation’s underground research facility is contaminated by a biological weapon that reanimates dead tissue (i.e. turns the dead into the living dead). A team is sent in to investigate the status of the facility and discovers this, and must try to get out alive.

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Wed, Sep 11, 2002

: America’s Sweethearts

This is a “comedy” about a movie star couple who are America’s sweethearts. But they split and the world is shocked. Then they’re forced to be together during a press junket to promote their new film. Unfortunately, despite some decent, if routine, performances from some big stars, the film’s humor is too predictable to be funny. We’re treated to “hilarious” and “shocking” things like learning that big movie stars treat their assistants like dirt and have affairs (i.e. they’re human). Ho hum. Mildly entertaining, with the emphasis on the mild. The only really nice thing was seeing Julia Roberts in the non-star role as a wallflower.

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Sun, Sep 08, 2002

: Shake with the Quakes

Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Okay, this wasn’t a game, but it’s soccer related. As an Earthquake season ticket holder I got to go to this special event. I was surprised by how many people showed up: at least a thousand, maybe more. First there was a very interesting question-and-answer session with Coach Frank Yallop and several players. Some tough questions were asked (like how did Frank feel about the officiating in last night’s game or how would the Quakes rank in the English Premiership) but the group did a good job of being honest and open. The practice field was all set up with Soccer Celebration stuff: a goal where kids could practice goal-keeping as SJ keepers tried to score; two enclosed areas where informal soccer games were played by fans against SJ Earthquake pros; a rock climbing tower; a huge slide; and several other interactive events. Then there was the autograph tent: the line went on for at least two hundred yards. The dumb thing was that each autograph session was only a half-hour long and you’d have to wait in line at least an hour, meaning you probably weren’t going to get the autograph of the player you wanted. Still, it was a fun event (though I didn’t bother waiting for an autograph). Great to see so many Earthquake fans and families into soccer. I was definitely born too early. Can you imagine being a soccer kid and being able to play a scrimmage with your favorite local player? I would have died for such an incredible thing!

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Sat, Sep 07, 2002

: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

What an insane game! Tied with L.A. at the top of the table, this (and every remaining game) are critical. After two straight losses (3-0 and 4-2), the Quakes needed a big win. They got things going good immediately with a quick 4th minute goal by defender Robinson off a corner kick. About 15 minutes came what I think should be the goal of the year. The Quakes had earned a free kick about 30 yards out. Mulrooney takes it, but instead of shooting, he simply flips the ball in the air over to Ronnie Ekeland. Ronnie does the impossible: he vollies it into the back of the net! Amazing goal. Volley are impossible normally, let alone off a free kick. But minutes later, disaster! A terrific flick by Brian McBride over the San Jose defense put Cunningham in on goal alone. Joe Cannon came out well like he usually does, but Cunningham popped the ball over Cannon and into the goal. The lead was now a single goal. Then we had controversy when Landon Donovan, one on one with the Crew keeper, was taken down in the penalty box. It looked like it would be impossible to NOT call a penalty, but the ref waved it off. A great chance for SJ thwarted by a bizarre call (and not the only one of the match). In the second half, the Quakes came back with a goal from Graziani on his own breakaway, and it looked like things were sharp for the home team. But then, more disaster. Because it was at the other end of the field I couldn’t quite see how either goal happened. Both were by Edson Buddle. His first the ball just went right to his feet as he stood in the penalty area and he slid it into the net. I could see it happening and I’m screaming “No!” but it went in. The second I didn’t see at all, but it apparently was accomplished by a bit more skill from Buddle (according to the reports of others). That tied the game at threes with just minutes to play and I felt ominous dread that the worst was going to happen. But in sudden death overtime, things began to turn. First, San Jose finally got a break from the ref as he sent off a Crew player (something that should have happened an hour earlier), and then, during pressure on the goal by Graziani, there was a bit of confusion between the Columbus goalkeeper and a defender and they ended up knocking the ball into their own goal! Crazy way to end a game, and a bit harsh on Columbus, but I felt that San Jose deserved the victory and since it’s so close to the playoffs, I just wanted the three points however we got them.

Whew! What a game. With 15,000 in the stands, it was intense. I was swallowing my heart there at the end. But it certainly was entertaining. Now San Jose is on top of the league with two games left, both against L.A. who is tied with us. Next Sat. we play them in L.A., then here on the 21st. Those games are always heated and these are going to be championship intensity. If San Jose wins just one of the two games and doesn’t lose by a huge number of goals, we’ll win the Western Division (due to the tie-breaker of goal difference — we’ve scored more goals than L.A.) and have home field advantage for the playoffs. And with 15 games without a loss at home, that’s an advantage we want. Final: 4-3 Earthquakes.

After the game, an interesting thing: apparently this was “Faith and Family” night and as a special event, two members of the Columbus Crew, Daniel Torres and USA World Cup hero Brian McBride, came and gave their Christian testimonies to a group gathered in Section 115. It was very cool. Both had simple stories of faith and God’s blessing in their lives. Daniel’s from San Jose, Costa Rica, and he gave his testimony in both Spanish and English, and Brian told about growing up in a Christian family but never realizing the personal importance of God in his life until he was on his own. It was really neat and a good sized crowd of several hundred people stayed for it. It wasn’t preaching, just sharing, and very positive. Kudos to the organizers, and thanks to Brian and Daniel for taking time to do it (especially after a heart-breaking loss).

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Sun, Sep 01, 2002

: Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Playboy of the West Indies

Earlier this summer I traveled to Ashland Oregon to see some Shakespeare, and on this day I returned (driving six hours each way on the same day) to see this play. It was well worth the effort. I’d gone to a lecture by Kenny Leon, the director, and his comments made me want to see the play. The original version of the play is “Playboy of the Western World” and is set in Ireland. But it was renamed and rewritten and set in Trinidad by Mustapha Matura. Mustapha brilliantly realized that the cultures of Ireland and Trinidad aren’t that far apart and all he had to do was change a few references and put the dialog in dialect and he was done. The result just makes the play that much more fascinating. It’s a funny, absurd tale about romance and murder. The setting is in a bar (how Irish!) and deals with a handsome stranger who arrives in town who soon reveals he is running away from home after killing his father with a machete. Strangely the news of his crime doesn’t offend the villagers — it fascinates them, and he’s besieged by women who all want him. He falls in love with the lovely bar owner and everything’s going well when suddenly, who shows up but the boy’s father! He’s sporting a bloody head wound and an even fouler temper, wanting to kill his son. Crazy, yes, but the story tells us a lot about how we judge others. When the bar owner finds out the boy was lying about killing his father she dumps him: she’s no longer attracted to him if he’s not dangerous. Fascinating stuff. I won’t spoil the conclusion for you: I highly recommend you check out this play!

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Sat, Aug 31, 2002

: Clans of the Alphane Moon

Author: Philip K. Dick

Wild and wacky and insane — just a terrific book. One of the moons of Alphane used to be a mental hospital, but during the Alphane wars it was forgotten and the inmates took over. Now it’s 25 years later and an entire culture of insanity has taken over. The people live groups based on their symptoms: the Deps (depressed), the Pares (paranoids), the Mans (manic depressive), Skitz (catatonic schizophrenic), etc. What’s cool is that PKD allows to see bits of reality through the eyes of various insane characters, including their visions, making us wonder (as usual) which reality is real. The actual story is about an Earthman who’s being divorced by his psychiatrist wife. She doesn’t like his low-paying govt. job as a CIA propagandist and wants him to write for TV instead. By divorcing him and suing him for huge alimony, she forces him to take the TV job just to pay her. Meanwhile, she takes off on a volunteer mission to the Alphane Moon to “rescue” the poor insane people there. The CIA wants to monitor the situation, so they send along a “simulacrum” (a robot that appears human) which is controlled by the ex-husband — he, in effect, is traveling with his ex-wife! But his motivations aren’t pure: he wants to use the simulacrum to kill her. What follows is bizarre: a nightmare of twisted reality, paranoia, confusion, odd coincidence, and nonsense. The plot and characters go every which way (brilliantly) and every time you think you know where the novel’s going, it goes the opposite direction. It’s unique. But the novel is also socially relevant, and is not always subtle about it. For instance, when the psychiatrist ex-wife analyzes the insane moon society she’s horrified by it: but when someone asks her if it really differs that much from Earth, she’s hard pressed for an answer. Very cool. From a story perspective it’s a strange unpleasant tale (all the characters hate each other), but it’s definitely PKD at his most imaginative. It’s not one of his famous stories, but it’s one of my favorites simply because it’s so unconventional. Well worth your time and thought.

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Fri, Aug 30, 2002

: Simone

Interesting premise, competently executed, but ultimately trivial. It’s about a movie director who’s tired of his film career being sabatoged by prima donna movie stars so he replaces the lead in his upcoming film with a computer simulated actress. The public doesn’t notice the deception and falls in the love with the unknown actress, turning her overnight into a celebrity and the film into a hit. Suddenly the director’s huge, but his star is bigger, only now he’s worried about the backlash so he can’t tell anyone she’s not real. He does another film with her, then has her do interviews (via satellite, or course, not in person). Finally she gets so big (overshadowing himself) he pulls the plug, only to be arrested for her murder! Fun flick with decent performances, but there’s nothing earthshattering here. You won’t learn anything you didn’t know going in.

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Wed, Aug 28, 2002

: Road to Perdition

Wow, I had no idea what I was getting into. I guess I should have read up on this before going to see it. I figured it was a drama, but I didn’t know it was a gangster flick, and I didn’t know it was an action movie. In some ways that was a good thing, because I’m not crazy about Mob films (I find the American fascination with the Mob incomprehesible). But I did like this movie; very much, in fact. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year. The plot is about a 1930s family headed by Tom Hanks. Tom works as an enforcer for a mobster. That’s a role I didn’t quite buy for Tom. (The scene at the end, with him and the Tommy gun, didn’t work for me: I wanted to laugh at Tom pretending to be tough.) When his son accidently witnesses a hit, the entire family is to be terminated, and Tom only just escapes with his son and they’re on the run the rest of the film. It’s pretty exciting, with good characterizations and drama, and I really liked the story. The young son is excellent, one of the best performances of the year. He really captures the torment of a young child being forced to grow up overnight. The film touches on the question of morality, making us wonder if Tom Hanks is a good guy or a bad guy, but doesn’t really explore that as much as it could. It concludes with the boy saying, “He was my father,” something meant to be profound which comes across as avoiding the question, though it does remind us that fathers are only human. Good stuff overall. I loved the plot, the characters, and the way it was directed. The action sequences were very good, very gritty and realistic, though a portion of the Jude Law bad guy character came across as stereotypically evil. The performance of Paul Newman as the mobster was superb. Well worth your time, though I’m not completely convinced this is a classic we’ll watch in 50 years.

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: High Crimes

Decent little military court-martial flick, but with an overdone “Hollywood” plot. Good performances by Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, but the plot’s just too much. Judd plays a top San Francisco lawyer who’s husband is arrested for military crimes. She discovers he’s not who she thought he was: he has a different name and a past he never told her about. But he claims he’s innocent so she sets out to prove it, enlisting the help of former drunk Freeman who used to be a top military lawyer. Throughout the rest of the movie she’s fighting the dirty tactics done by the evil military cover-up people, plus wavering on whether her husband is innocent or not. Like I said, too much. Still, not a bad film, just not great.

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Mon, Aug 26, 2002

: Signs

Author: M. Night Shyamalan

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Strange film. It’s supposed to be scary, I guess, but the thrills are the silly B-movie type. Basically, aliens arrive on earth but remain in hiding, and we only catch occasional glimpses of them. The film’s very slow, almost ponderous, and while the characterization is modestly deep and interesting, the feel needs a lot more. The main character, a former priest, has lost faith in God after his wife’s death. The film is ostensibly about how he regains that faith. It’s well done, but the whole alien angle is rather ridiculous and cheesy. The motives of the aliens are never explained, they look too much like humans in monster outfits (sort of like Swamp Thing), and with the world media focusing on them, it’s absurd to think no one has seen them (not long after the invasion you’d think they’d be the focus of “alien autopsy” shows ;-). Mel Gibson does a decent job as the father, though I still find him a hard sell as a priest, but the real cause of his loss of faith is never really explained, Sure, his wife was killed in a freak accident, but why was that enough to destroy his faith? Was he so weak to begin with or was the love of his wife so strong (stronger than his love of God)? Weak. Overall, I give this film a B-. It’s well done and above average, but nothing that memorable. The performances of the kid is very good: Shyamalan is good at casting kids. But this is definitely the weakest of his three films. Could have been improved by being 30 minutes shorter.

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Sun, Aug 25, 2002

: Paris to the Moon

Author: Adam Gopnik

This is a fascinating collection of essays by a writer for the New Yorker who moves to Paris for five years. His essays compare Paris culture with that of New York, France with America, and are funny, touching, and occasionally profound. Even if you’re not a fan of French culture or have never been to Paris, there are stories and little discoveries that will entertain you. Adam’s a brilliant writer, completely genuine, and his style is witty and engaging and makes Paris come alive.

While I didn’t agree with all his observations (his comments on the world’s sport of soccer were particularly naive and American), Adam often has some insightful comments on American society.

Personally, I found this book had a major impact on me for a number of unusual reasons. For instance, the fact that the author and his wife just up and decided to move to Paris was fascinating. I’ve often thought of moving overseas, but figured an opportunity needed to present itself. It never occurred to force an opportunity simply because it was something I desired. Another thing: since I myself grew up overseas (in Africa, France, and Belgium), I related and understood much of the cultural analysis that goes on when living in a foreign land. However, it’s been years since I’ve done much thinking about that, and reading about the confusion of Adam’s three-year-old as he’s raised in Paris with a mixture of American and French cultures, reminded me of my unique perspective on the world and how valuable that is. I may not be very educated or knowledgeable, but I have had experiences that are uniquely mine, and there’s power there. Basically, I’d like to write — not non-fiction, but fiction — about similar experiences. There were other aspects of the book that also influenced me heavily, from the talk about French cooking (while I love French food, I, unfortunately, also enjoy American cooking, and I think that’s tarnished by taste buds) to Adam’s writing style. Excellent book.

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Aug 24, 2002

: Beautiful Creatures

This is an odd, quirky, comic murder caper. Two women, abused by their boyfriends, fall into together when the boyfriend one of is accidently killed in self-defense. Not sure what to do with the body, they end up pretending the missing man was kidnapped in order to extort money from the man’s rich older brother. However, the police officer investigating the missing person case sees through their scheme and decides to pretend to go along with the kidnapping in order to get the ransom for himself. Then things get interesting, as everyone gets into betraying everyone else. The film’s a bit brutal and extreme in place for a comedy, but it has a pretty cool black sense of humor. Fun if you like that sort of thing. Reminds me of films like Pulp Fiction.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Aug 22, 2002

: Girlfight

Though the title sounds garish, this is a surprisingly serious film about a young hispanic woman who wants to take boxing lessons. It’s very well done and interesting, though I wasn’t that into the fighting. Overall the plot’s simple, culminating the in the girl having to fight her boyfriend in a championship amateur match. Good performances, especially by the lead, Michelle Rodriguez, who was amazing.

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Wed, Aug 21, 2002

: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

The Earthquakes are back! Finally, a decent performance from the good guys in blue. The Quakes totally dominated, with chance after chance after chance, just the way they did earlier in the season. Dallas didn’t deserve a goal, but got one anyway on a phantom penalty call. Speaking of that, what’s up the refereeing in the league lately? It’s really gone downhill. I’ve been noticing it at a number of home games and thought it was just me being biased for my team, but I’ve also been seeing it in other games as well. It’s like league’s gotten better but the refs are stuck back in 1996-quality. In this game the ref was totally inconsistent, giving out yellow cards to San Jose for the tinest thing, but hardly giving any to Dallas, despite their frequent extremely rough tackles. I mean, San Jose got like four cards for protesting while at least a half dozen yellow card fouls by Dallas didn’t even get a warning. Crazy! At any rate, despite the ref’s best effort to wear a Burn jersey, the blue won anyway. Even the ref couldn’t stop the Quakes. Ariel Graziani got things going with a fanastic goal just seven minutes in: he took the ball down the left side, but inside of crossing it as expected, he shot the ball into the goal from an impossible angle. It happened right in front of me — I was maybe twenty yards from him — and it was totally unbelievable. One of the best goals I’ve seen all season. Later, Ariel and Landon Donovan paired up for Landon’s easiest goal ever: a tap-in after a feed from Ariel. Late in the first half Dallas was given their invisible penalty kick, but the Quakes came back with more in the second half, playing aggressively and very organized. I saw a few poor passes but there was much more one-touch like they used to do, and in one terrific sequence of attack play Ramiro Corales shot the ball through a crowd of players to score the third for the Earthquakes. Great stuff, and the Quakes qualify for the playoffs with this win. Final: 3-1 San Jose.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Tue, Aug 20, 2002

: XXX

Decent actioner, but not really as James Bondish as promoted. Partly that’s because this takes place almost entirely in Prague, where a characteristic of Bond films is they go all over the world. I went in not expecting much from Vin Diesel’s performance, but he actually did a decent job. Action-wise, the film’s pretty cool, though the endless hard rock music in every action scene gets old after a while. The plot’s pretty typical of the genre: a mad anarchist is going to bomb the planet with a bio-chemical weapon in order to destroy all government. A little long, but above average.

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Sun, Aug 18, 2002

: Shallow Hal

The plot’s predictable: shallow Hal is a guy obsessed with physically beautiful women until he is hypnotized into seeing the “inner beauty” and falls in love with a fat woman. Of course she doesn’t look fat to him — he sees her as Gwynth Paltrow. I liked that effect. The film was not quite as deep as I hoped, but in other ways deeper than I expected. The only thing I didn’t like was that the filmmakers had an automatic “fat = ugly” attitude, which was rather odd considering the theme of the film is that appearance doesn’t matter. One touching scene was where Hal meets a little girl burn victim and doesn’t recognize her because when he saw her the first time he saw her inner beauty and didn’t know she was scarred. Very cool.

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Sat, Aug 17, 2002

: D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

Bizarre game. The Quakes have been struggling lately; I home this game is a sign that they’re finally returning to form. Coming in to this game most figured it would be a rout: San Jose hasn’t lost to D.C. in three years, and D.C. hasn’t one a single road game all season (and only scored three away goals). But astonishingly, some sloppy play right off the bat allowed D.C. a goal in the fifth minute. The Quakes pressured and pressured and finally got a goal back on a penalty kick. In the second half the Quakes finally started to play better than they have in weeks, looking much more like themselves. But more sloppy play in not clearing a ball quickly from the penalty area resulted in another goal by D.C. (very similar to the first goal). With the Quakes down again, they fought back, and minutes later scored on a Ronnie Ekeland free kick (his first two-goal game for the Quakes). What was the coolest about the free kick was the positioning. From where I was sitting in the stands I could see the opening that Ekeland saw and I was thinking to myself “Go right through there!” and sure enough, that’s what he did, putting it perfectly through the tiny gap and off the far post. Wonderful! That’s the way it ended, preserving the Earthquakes’ “no loss at home” record, but ending a long home winning streak. They’re now just two points in front of a surging Dallas (whom they play on Wednesday), and the playoff crunch is looming. Still, the Quakes looked better in this game and I’m hopeful. Ariel hasn’t scored in a bit, so it’s time he gets a couple. Final: 2-2.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sun, Aug 11, 2002

: Rat

Weird Kafaesque film about a guy who turns into a rat. The story’s not about him, but his messed up family, who take this somewhat in stride, but proceed to turn on each other in an effort to capitalize financially on this strange occurrence. A reporter moves in with them to write a book about them. Some excellent performances (especially the mom), and a decent story, however I imagine this kind of thing really isn’t for all tastes. It’s well done and interesting, but not as deep as I might have liked. Why the guy turns into a rat is left to our imaginations, and I liked that.

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Sat, Aug 10, 2002

: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

For some reason this movie got dismal reviews and box office, but I liked it. It had a lot of the same spirit and humor of the original cartoon. The plot’s ridiculous, but even that was a characteristic of the original. I think perhaps people just expected too much.

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Fri, Aug 09, 2002

: Austin Powers in Goldmember

Mike Myers is a genius. He’s an incredibly gifted actor, and though this series has its coarse moments, every film is hilarious. Absolutely silly, of course, but nevertheless hilarious. This one is the best of them all as Myers really has the gimmick down and knows just what buttons to push. There’s a fair amount of retread here (similar humor as the previous film), but he still comes up with new twists on the old humor and even pokes fun at the old movie. This film has tons of cameos, including a great one by director Steven Spielberg! Just great stuff, very fun.

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Wed, Aug 07, 2002

: U.S. Open Cup: L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I’d expected this to be a good game after a week’s rest with the All-Star game and the Quakes doing so good at home, and coach Yallop fielded a first-rate team, which was a good sign, and course, playing our rivals L.A., but the Earthquakes were off their form tonight, not playing well at all: lots of cheap give-aways, poor possession play under pressure, and even defensive mistakes. The Quakes had a few chances (including a couple sure goals turned away by the Galaxy’s keeper), but in the end this was looking like a clear nil-nil draw. In sudden death overtime, a simple mistake at the back allowed Ruiz in and he did a clever little move to pop the ball over Jimmy Conrad’s head, outran him to the ball, and easily beat our backup keeper for the Golden Goal win. Great, that the third year in a row the Galaxy have knocked the Quakes out of the Open Cup. At least we’re still top of the league, but not if we continue to play like this. Final: 1-0 Galaxy in OT.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Aug 05, 2002

: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Author: Philip K. Dick

Wow, where do I begin? This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, yet I can’t begin to explain it. PKD takes us into a future world in such a way that it seems ordinary, and it isn’t until later that we realize what a complex world he’s woven us into. For a while I wasn’t sure what it was that bothered me about PKD books, and then I realized what it was: none of his stories include a hero. Traditionally the main character in a book is the hero, but not in PKD’s world. He keeps switching character focus on us so we’re not sure who’s the hero or the goat. That’s what happens in this book. The story is about a world where drafted people are forced to become colonists on horrible desert planet Mars, and to escape their miserable experience, they take a drug, Can-D, which allows them to temporarily be transported to a virtual earth in a perfect body and experience great pleasures and, since it’s virtual, live without any moral consequences to their actions. Simple enough concept, right? Of course the drug is illegal but the colonists take it anyway and most are addicted: it’s the only glimmer of pleasure in their dismal lives. Then along comes a weirdo named Palmer Eldritch, a famous, wealthy encentric who years ago left the galaxy for the Proxer System. He’s now returned, and he’s brought with him a new drug, Chew-Z, which is supposed to be even better than Can-D. Unlike Can-D, which creates a virtual world, Chew-Z creates a new reality, and you aren’t limited to the established sets that Can-D uses (any place you can imagine you can visit). However, Chew-Z has some horrible side effects, including severe blurring of the lines between reality and unreality. That’s where things get wild, as PKD takes us on a journey through dreams and madness, where nothing makes sense and yet everything is sensible.

Unquestionably, this is a book for a Thinking Person. The book resinates with the typical PKD themes of reallity vs. unreality, but this time PKD blends them in with religious experience (most Can-D users think of it as a religious experience) and brings up all sorts of theological conundrums to challenge our thinking. Unfortunately, this stuff is so deep and complex and relies on so much of the jargon of the world of the novel, it’s impossible for me to explain it here. But it’s incredibly interesting and wonderful if you like to think about the unthinkable. Well worth the read (and reread).

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Jul 27, 2002

: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

I read part of this back in high school, but never finished it (or don’t remember finishing it). I liked it, but the story wasn’t compelling enough to keep me from getting side-tracked. When Adams died I decided I needed to read his stuff, and so I recently picked up this as a starting point (I never read any of the sequels, though I plan to do so now). The book is very funny and wacky, mocking everything from existence to science. The story itself is slim and almost irrelevant — you read this to be amused by Adams’ wit and clever phrases. Essentially, the book proves that Murphy’s Law is the only constant in the universe. My favorite thing is still the concept that mice are a more intelligent species than humans, and that they are here on Earth only to study humans by pretending to cooperate in scientific experiments. Very cool. Adams was definitely a genius.

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Fri, Jul 26, 2002

: Minority Report

Author: Philip K. Dick

Director: Steven Spielberg

Well-done film. Not as thought-provoking as Philip K. Dick’s stories usually are, this movie went more for flashy special effects and action sequences instead of mental struggles. Still, it was a good tale well-told. The plot deals with a “precrime” cop: based on the predictions of psychics, he stops murderers before they can commit their crime. Supposedly the system is flawless — the psychics are always correct. However, when he learns that he’s wanted for a future murder, he begins to question the system. The ending unravels into a typically Hollywood-style conspiracy (the bad guy is obvious from the beginning of the film as he’s too good an actor for a minor role), but it’s still a fun ride. The futuristic look of the film is unusual and interesting, though occasionally it feels artificial (I prefer the more realistic, gritty futures of films like

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Wed, Jul 24, 2002

: Impressions of New York City

I took a taxi from JFK to my cousin’s place. He’s in the upper east side, near East Harlem. It’s just a block from the top of Central Park, and twenty blocks of the Guggenheim Museum. On my first night we visited a Senegalese restaurant not far from where he lives, in an area known as “little Dakar” (Dakar is the capital city of Senegal, West Africa where I lived for much of my childhood). The food at the restaurant was fantastic: Phil (my cousin) had lamb on couscous with a spicy peanut sauce and I had lamb chops smothered with onions and a creamy mayonaise dip. Though the chops were small (three inches by two inches), there was at least a dozen of them: I ate and ate and ate. Delicious, and very reasonable: each of our meals was around $8!

New York City reminds me a lot of Dakar: there’s the same electic mixture of poor and rich, garbage dumps and luxury hotels. On Tuesday I had my first adventures using the subways: they have a cool system where you can buy a 7-day pass for a mere $17 that lets you ride the subway as much as you want for seven days. Unfortunately, I discovered the subways don’t always go where you want. In New York, you’ll learn how to walk. I’m not much of a walker, and I quickly developed blisters and my first purchase in NY was a pair of sneakers (my normal shoes aren’t walking shoes). Fortunately, the blisters didn’t burst, and after a few days of taking it easier and using the new shoes, my feet were okay.

Macworld Expo itself was interesting. I hung out at the REAL Software booth and helped them demo REALbasic and gave away flyers and copies of my magazine to whoever was interested. Everyone liked the magazine and I think many people will subscribe. My hope is that the magazine will encourage people to purchase RB as well. So far I haven’t seen a huge subscription spike, but subs are steadily being sold, so that’s good. I expect some will subscribe later, since we gave them a copy of the first issue at the show.

Cousin Phil and I toured the City. He took me to the New York Public Library, which was impressive. They don’t lend books there (you read them on site), but they had a nice area for you to hook up your laptop to the Internet and sit and research. Apparently there’s an excellent interlibrary lending system: you can order books, videos, and even DVDs via the Internet and they’re delivered to your local branch for you to pick up within a few days. Very cool. I got my first NYC hot dog (very good) and we went to Battery Park and saw the Statue of Liberty in the bay. We could also see from there the Twin Towers that aren’t there (we compared the current view with pictures from before being sold in the park). That night we ordered pizza and then I went downtown my myself to meet the TidBITS gang for ice cream. That lasted until midnight and I got back very late (I took a taxi home rather than risk the subway, and the driver drove fast and with little traffic, it was less than $8).

As a media person, I got in to see Steve Jobs’ keynote speech at Macworld, which was very cool (my first time). While there wasn’t any exciting new hardware to announce, I felt good about the software he revealed (though a little miffed that it will cost me $129 to upgrade to the next version of Mac OS X). On Thursday night I attended the REALbasic NUG meeting and passed out copies of the magazine: everyone was excited and impressed. (One guy chided me the next day: he was reading the magazine on the way home and missed his subway exit!) Friday night we went to an Italian restaurant called Vespa’s that was small and intimate and very cool. The food was excellent (I had breaded chicken with lemon sauce). Saturday was the Metrostars soccer game.

On Monday I walked to the Guggenheim. On the way I passed a film crew recording a scene for Molly Gunn outside a building that was supposed to be a private school. I didn’t see any stars, though I did pass a lot of trailers (including one that said “Molly” on the door) parked along 5th Avenue. At the Guggenheim the current exhibit is called “Moving Pictures” and is all about photography and video. It was fascinating, though I question some of the exhibits as being art. A lot of it was very adult material (nudity, close-ups of genitals, etc.), which often had no point that I could tell. There were some traditional paintings (Picasso, etc.) in portions of the building, but most was devoted to the photography exhibit. Some of the video stuff was interesting, but the way they were presented was poor, since they were often just TVs set along the walkway, or within a small room, and people would just enter and leave as the mood hit them, meaning you usually came in in the middle of a show (something I abhor). Many exhibits were obviously full of themselves. One was several huge screens all showing the same images of a bare-chested guy smearing mud on his body. Yup, twenty minutes of that and then he started over. Ooh, that’s deep. One video I liked consisted of a mother and her daughter laughing. Gradually the film was sped up and the soundtrack distorted, so you began to think maybe they weren’t laughing and hugging, but that the mother was strangling the daughter. It was creepy and that was the whole point. Very cool. There were some other cool exhibits and photos I liked, but they’re obviously difficult to describe (a photo’s a thousand words, right?). You’re best off visiting the museum yourself if you’re so inclined.

Overall, my visit to New York was great. I got to see many parts of the city, though I avoided the tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I learned the subway system and how to hail a cab. I walked through portions of Central Park and bought hot dogs and croissants at the little stands everywhere. (I really like that.) What surprised me the most was how nice everyone was. People were helpful at guiding you on the subway, generally patient, the cabbies friendly (and spoke English, though always as a second language). The horror stories I’d heard of NYC were of a different town or time, I guess. It helped having a place to stay while I was there (I was less of a tourist), but it still was a surprisingly accessible city.

Topic: [/travel]

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: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire

Excellent game, though San Jose didn’t get the two goals for me to get a free chicken taco from Una Mas. San Jose dominated play pretty much the whole game, with the Fire’s Zach Thorton forced to make nearly a dozen saves. Joe Cannon, the Quakes’ keeper, only had to make a couple stops. The only goal came late in the first half, when Graziani headed it home on a feed by Donovan. Graziani almost had a duplicate in the second half, but Thorton impossibly stopped it. Donovan had a couple good chances himself, though he mostly played mid-field in this game. Good stuff and the result puts San Jose 8 points clear of second-place Dallas. Final: 1-0 San Jose.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Jul 22, 2002

: Mulholland Dr.

Author: David Lynch

Director: David Lynch

Fascinating film. The mystery isn’t that mysterious: it should feel a little cheap (the “twist” near the end could have felt too much like the infamous Dallas “it was a dream”), but Lynch’s marvelous direction keeps things interesting and the ending fits. Even if you don’t know what’s going on, the film’s mesmerizing to watch. I want to watch it again to study it (Lynch’s films are always rewatchable), but I liked it a lot.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Jul 21, 2002

: A Beautiful Mind

The book is far better than the movie, though not as accessible. There is math here, though I couldn’t understand much more than the rough theories (and barely that). Part of that is because the writer doesn’t explain the math issues as well as she could (or as well as I’d like her too). Still, it comes across as an honest exploration of this character, John Nash. Nothing’s glossed over: we see John with his warts and flaws as well as his genius. The author is a bit too focused on the physical characteristics of people: she describes Nash and everyone else by going on and on about how handsome and beautiful they are, which struck me as overkill. Still, it’s a good read, and a much better portrayal of genius than the film.

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Jul 20, 2002

: New York Metrostars vs. New England Revolution

Cool game! This was my first MLS game not at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, and I’d definitely like to experience games at other stadiums. (Maybe I’ll go to LA for a game sometime.) Giants Stadium was not what I expected. First, getting there was easy: take the subway to the Port Authority bus terminal, then ride the shuttle bus to the stadium. We were dropped off right in front, with a shorter walk than those who parked in the parking lot! The stadium itself is a huge bowl. The seats were so vertical that they were all good, though some were in the sun or under an overhang (and hot). I was surprised by how close the field felt even though we were high above it. The game itself was great: Andy Williams scored first with a terrific power shot, followed by Diallo on a PK, and Davis with a fantastic blast from outside the box. Twellman got one for New England just at the end of the half, but it was all New York before that. Diallo got another just seconds into the second half, but the Revs didn’t give up, coming back with great goals from Steve Ralston (who pegged one from the top of the box) and Hernandez (who’s shot was the farthest of all, from maybe 45 yards out). Great stuff and an amazing display of long-range shooting. Final: 4-3 New York.

Giants stadium was cool because there were TVs everywhere so you could keep up with the action and watch replays (even at the concession stand). Unfortunately, the food was expensive and not great: $5 for a feeble excuse for nachos (a bag of chips and a little bit of cheese and salsa).

This game was part of a double-header, so we got to see Brazil’s Santo take on Scotland’s Rangers. Unfortunately, the Rangers weren’t that enthusiastic, and lost 1-0. That’s typical of exhibition games. The coach took out Flo, one of my favorite players at half-time, a sign that the game wasn’t real.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Jul 19, 2002

: A Beautiful Mind

I was reading the book and hadn’t finished it before seeing the film. Big mistake: see the film first. The film is very different: it works, but it’s so different it will irritate you if you’ve read the book. Overall the film’s okay. It’s well-directed and the performances are good, but it’s too simple. The character of math genius John Nash is a complicated one, and his trials with insanity and back to rationality are profound. Unfortunately, the movie gives us only a glimpse of that, and it’s a Hollywoodized version of it, all wrapped up and nicely packaged. Real life is much more complicated and ambiguous. What I felt was the most significant part of the book, John Nash’s realization that he was losing touch with rationality, is scarcely touched in the film. Think about it: for a genius to lose his abililty to reason, that’s like an Olympic athlete losing his legs. It’s a huge shock but the film doesn’t deal with that at all. Still, the film isn’t bad, just simple. I joked that it should have been called A Simple Mind, and maybe that’s correct. The film also had a major flaw of not showing us Nash’s genius early on: he had many accomplishments and is widely considered one of the top minds of the last century, but the film glosses over that, assuming that if they tell us he’s a genius, that’s enough. I would have done much of this very differently.

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Tue, Jul 16, 2002

: Bridget Jones’ Diary

Good performance by Renee Zellweger as a British single woman struggling to find balance in life and romance. I don’t know what the diary had to do with anything: it was only mentioned two or three times. Funny, a little corny, and somewhat predictable (she gets the guy in the end, duh). Not bad, though.

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Mon, Jul 15, 2002

: Travel to New York City

Today I flew to New York City. I’m here for the Macworld Expo to launch my magazine, but since I’m going to stay with my cousin, I’ll have some time for sight-seeing as well.

I flew the excellent JetBlue airlines, which are inexpensive but not only had a direct Oakland-to-JFK flight, they include free DirecTV in every seat! So the six hour flight passed quickly as I sat back and enjoyed A&E and other channels.

Topic: [/travel]

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Fri, Jul 12, 2002

: Play: Julius Caesar

A much better production. The costumes were modern, but consistent, so they made sense. I loved that Julius Caesar was dressed as the Godfather. Hilarious (and quite brilliant)! The only weak part was the role of Mark Anthony, which is key to the production, was performed by a non-actor. The guy wasn’t the worst actor ever, but he wasn’t outstanding, and if there ever was a role that needs an outstanding actor it’s Mark Anthony (the play is essentially conflict between Brutus and Anthony). The actor who was Brutus was excellent, a terrific actor, but the second half of the play, which features Mark Anthony more, was much weaker. The guy even blew some of the best and most famous lines of dialog, screwing up the “lend me your ears” speech! Fortunately, everyone else was good enough to minimize the impact of the poor Mark Anthony, but I was still a bit disappointed. The play was still worth seeing, however. I liked the production and direction, and Brutus was awesome.

After the play ended, at about midnight, my cousin and I drove home to California. We arrived in Oakland about 5:30 a.m.

Topic: [/theatre]

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Thu, Jul 11, 2002

: Play: As You Like It

On the way home from vacation, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon, to catch some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This one was in the outdoor theatre. I was not impressed. It was fiendishly hot, and at the back where we were, it was difficult to hear. The actors didn’t help, with several amateurishly turning their back to the audience while delivering lines! The quality of the acting was disappointing: some were great, but others were quite mediocre, completely demolishing the meaning from Shakespeare’s amazing poetry. I also had issues with the costumes: some were dressed in modern clothing, others in period dress. It was confusing. For instance, at the very beginning, a group of soldiers were dressed as Nazi’s, making me wonder what interpretation the director had in mind. (It turned out they were just supposed to be soldiers, but their uniforms were too Nazi-like for me.) There were other errors as well: two characters were dressed in riding outfits, making it confusing as to which was which (they each appear briefly in different scenes in the beginning). As the play continued it got better, mostly because the story had more action and because the leads were on stage more. Still, it was a dull rendition of what normally is a hilarious play.

Topic: [/travel]

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Wed, Jul 10, 2002

: Vacation 2002

Drove to Oceanside, Oregon on the first and spent my vacation at my grandfather’s home. Had a great time, though of course it passed much too quickly. Watched a lot of DVDs and played some golf (scored 105 on the full-length Alderbrook course, a significant improvement over last year’s 144).

Topic: [/travel]

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Mon, Jul 08, 2002

: The Iron Giant

Animated fare about a giant 100-foot robot that befriends a kid in the 1950s. It was surprisingly adult in tone and plot, though there were some nice kiddy touches. The robot is being hunted by an evil FBI agent and his army buddies and the kid tries to hide it. When the robot is found and attacked, it defends itself, making people think it really is dangerous, though the robot says (and wants to believe), “I am not a gun.” Pretty cool.

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Sun, Jul 07, 2002

: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Author: Ed Wood

Director: Ed Wood

Hilarious! I’d never seen this infamously bad film. I’d expected it to be bad from a technical perspective, but that wasn’t it at all: it was the fact that this was very “B”-grade material which the author/director seemed to think was deeply literary. The ponderous narration that occurs throughout was way over the top without even realizing it. A classic of bad movie-making, so bad it’s good.

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Fri, Jul 05, 2002

: Men in Black II

Disappointing sequel. Sure, it was fun, and there were some good gags, but most of it was a retread, and while I thought the premise of agent J recruiting agent K in this film (the reverse of the first) had some hilarious potential, it turned out to be a minor affair (K had his memory restored and that was that). The original picture had a great plot with multiple things happening and multiple tasks for the heroes to accomplish: this one was far too linear, and the film over too soon. Good for video, but don’t bother with the theatre.

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Thu, Jul 04, 2002

: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Author: Coen Brothers

Director: Coen Brothers

Strange film: not what I expected, and I didn’t expect anything. It didn’t quite work for me. The comedy wasn’t the laugh-out-loud kind, which made you wonder if you were supposed to be laughing at the odd things that were happening. The music was different and interesting, and I liked the musical aspects, though sometimes the songs were too long (they lived past their one-joke premise). Overall, I liked the whole Odyssey retelling aspect, set in the 1940’s, but Clooney was an awkward casting choice, with an inconsistent performance. Worth seeing just because it’s so different, but it’s not one of my favorite Coen brother’s films.

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Wed, Jul 03, 2002

: Chaplin

We had to watch this biography of Chaplin after City Lights, of course. Very well done, with good performances. Definitely above average, though a little long. I had no idea Chaplin was as powerful as he was: he ranks as one of the highest paid entertainers ever, and his studio was extremely influential. A remarkable story about a remarkable man.

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: City Lights

Very cool film: my first Chaplin and I’m now a huge fan. Physical comedy, which has always been one of my favorites, and Chaplin is amazingly deft at it. This is a silent film (there’s a musical score, but no dialog), and it’s wonderful. The lack of sound forces you to concentrate on the sight gags. The story is about a homeless man (a bum) who falls in love with a blind girl and has a series of adventures as he tries to woo her. Excellent, a definite classic.

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Sun, Jun 30, 2002

: Vacation/Travels

Well, tomorrow morning I head out for several weeks of vacation and traveling. Friday was my last day at the printshop — I’m now officially a full-time magazine publisher! So I’m off to Oregon to relax for a little while. I’ll get to play some golf, visit with my 87-year-old grandfather, read some books, and watch some DVDs. After that I head to New York City for the Macworld Expo where my magazine will be unveiled, and I spend a few extra days exploring the City. Then I’m back home and go to work. I’m nervous but excited. I don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but whatever it is won’t be the norm, and change is always interesting. After ten years at the same day job, I’m ready for anything different.

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: World Cup Final: Brazil vs. Germany

While others were predicting a goal-fest, that made no sense to me: I figured it would be 1-0 in favor of either team. First goal wins, in a sense. People criticize Brazil’s defense, but their defense is actually pretty good. Germany might be able to score, but would be happy would a one-goal lead. Brazil’s won their last few by one, as has Germany, so why not in the final where everything is at stake?

The first half was all Germany. They came out aggressively, but couldn’t really find much of a goal to shoot at. Brazil defended, and Germany’s physical play and tight marking meant they rarely got anything going. Although Brazil had the better chances, requiring a few desperate defender saves and saves from goalkeeper-of-the-tournament Oliver Kahn, Brazil only played in flashes, never able to build to a goal the way they like. In the second half, in was more of the same, but with Germany a touch more desperate and Kahn’s saves a bit more frantic. Finally, on a hard shot from Rivaldo that seemed harmless as it went right at Kahn, the wet ball dipped at the last moment and Kahn’s shutout streak went away. He couldn’t hold the ball and fumbled his catch. The ball bounced out of his arms and right to the feet of a charging Ronaldo, the last person on the planet you want with the ball in front of goal if you’re his opponent. He slid the ball into the net without breaking into a sweat, and suddenly Brazil was leading and Ronaldo had done what he’d vowed: score in every match of this World Cup! After that, it was time for Germany to attack ferociously, desperate for the tying goal. But that left them exposed at the back, and it didn’t take Brazil long to capitalize. A half chance for Ronaldo and it was 2-0 Brazil. Incredibly, Ronaldo ties Pele’s 12 World Cup goals (the most for a Brazilian) in the same 14 games. However, Ronaldo’s only 25 years old and potentially has two more World Cups left. He might win the Golden Ball (tournament Most Valuable Player, decided on Tuesday by the world media) but he definitely wins the Golden Boot (most goals in the tournament with seven). Overall, a predictable performance by both teams. Brazil was quieter than expected, more like the troublesome team we saw struggle through qualifying and occasionally hiccup in this tournament (like in their lackluster 2nd match against Turkey). Germany played their predictable boring defensive game, lots of high balls in the attack, and relied on their super-keeper Kahn to keep them in the game. In the end, Brazil won, and that’s great. It’s their record fifth World Cup title (Germany and Italy have three each), and though this particular Brazil team is beatable, they did what they had to do in this tournament, and that’s the bottom line. Good stuff. Final: 2-0 Brazil.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sat, Jun 29, 2002

: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Kansas City Wizards

Wow, what a game. You really appreciate a win when it comes this hard. San Jose started well, controlling the game, but gave up a soft goal early to K.C. The goal was at the other end of the field and I couldn’t see it very well, but it looked like a keeper error. Cannon wasn’t in goal tonight — it was his backup, Jon Conrad. Sloppy play no matter what. The crowd wasn’t worried, figuring the Quakes would equalize soon, but then something bizarre happened. After a routine foul by Richard Mulrooney on Mike Burns, Burns went nuts and attacked Richard. To me it looked like Richard was just defending him — he was on the ground with Mike above him, striking at him, but after the melee that resulted, the ref gave both players red cards. With both teams at ten, the Quakes were hurt worse since Mulrooney’s such a good player and controls the midfield for San Jose. For the rest of the game, K.C. did what I hate worse than anything: attempt to hold a 1-0 lead. While San Jose attacked and attacked, K.C. just sat back, smugly confident their lead would hold. Even worse, the Wizards resorted to fouling and play acting to slow up the San Jose attack. The Quakes have several attacking styles, but when down a goal, they usually resort to the “slow buildup” attack, starting the ball at the back and playing it forward in a series of passes until they can (hopefully) get a shot on goal. In this case, that strategy proved difficult, as K.C. constantly disrupted the attack. The ref sided with the Wizards on every 50/50 ball or challenge, and San Jose couldn’t get anything going. Every time an attack was stopped, they had to build from the back again. San Jose really needs to try some alternatives: long shots, through-balls, something. If they get behind, that slow attack is just what the other team wants. In the second half the Quakes put in Landon Donovan, and he tried to get things going with some excellent touches, but the other players were asleep. Ekeland generated a few sparks, but again, the others were asleep. Time slowly eeked away and the crowd became restless and furious at the ref, who continued to call everything in K.C.’s favor. (I don’t think Graziani got a single call all night, though several times he was obviously fouled.) In one sequence, a shoulder charge by San Jose was determined a foul. But two minutes later, a shoulder charge by a K.C. player in the penalty box was not a foul! Crazy, inconsistent refereeing. (I remember this ref from previous games, and he’s always bad. I don’t care if he makes a bad call or two, but he must be consistent.) Time was running out. The Quakes were trying, but either missed chances, gave the ball away trying to get an extra touch, or watched Meola save it for K.C. I was becoming depressed. I have so much to do before I leave town I had debated not going to this game, and now I was depressed at the thought of this feeble game being my last home game for a month. (I will miss the Earthquakes next few home games.) But finally, with just five minutes left in the game, DeRosario crosses to Graziani in the box. Ariel shoots and it deflects into the goal. But wait! A defender makes a spectacular goal-line clearance. The crowd gasps and moans. Everyone was on their feet, holding their breath. Suddenly the ref points to the center circle — the ball crossed the line and it’s a goal! Everyone is screaming and dancing. The Quakes surge forward with renewed momentum, suddenly a different team. With two minutes to go, DeRosario gets a one-on-one with the keeper. Instead of shooting however, he feeds an open Ramiro Corales who bangs it home for the game-winner! Amazing. All that time with no goals, and suddenly, two in three minutes. At that point K.C. decided they’d better play, but San Jose held the off with a great save by Jon Conway (he had a couple and amended himself for that early goal). After five minutes of extra time (K.C. players spent a lot of time on the ground, pretending to be injured), it was over, with the Quakes scoring a huge three points on a comeback victory (and preserving their long home win streak). Great stuff. When the Earthquakes scored that second goal the crowd was screaming so loud I couldn’t hear the announcer over the loudspeakers! It was incredible: 88 minutes of pent-up energy and nerves released in a massive scream of excitement. Even Coach Yallop and Assistant Coach Dominick Kinear were screaming and jumping up and down like twelve-year-old girls at an N’sync concert. Very cool to see even the coaches so happy with a win. Wow! Final: 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes.

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: World Cup: South Korea vs. Turkey

Third place games are usually boring, but this one was awesome. I figured Korea would dominate, being the home team, but they started off thinking this was a practice. Just ten seconds in Turkey scored. It was none other than Hakan Sukur, their top scorer, who hadn’t found the net all tournament! As a couple Koreans played pass with the ball in their own half, Sukur’s partner stole the ball with a flick to Hakan. He pounced and finished before anyone could react. South Korea was knocked down, but not out: they came back minutes later with a terrific free kick that was just impossible to stop. But then a mistake at the back let in Turkey for another goal. Minutes later, Ilhan chipped the keeper for a three-goal lead. Amazingly, South Korea gave up three goals in this game when before they’d only given up three goals in the entire tournament! In the second half, South Korea turned on the pressure something fierce — Turkey’s keeper Rustu made a half-million saves! He finally allowed one in on a terrific long bomb that was deflected, but unfortunately for South Korea that was two minutes into extra time. Still, a great showing by both teams, both celebrating their best World Cup ever. Final: 3-2 Turkey.

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Wed, Jun 26, 2002

: World Cup: Brazil vs. Turkey

Repeat games can be either duds or dynamite. The first game between Brazil and Turkey was terrific, but this one was lackluster. Turkey didn’t play nearly as good as they did the first time, and though their defense held up for a while, they gave a tiny bit too much room to Ronaldo and he took advantage with a quick shot that caught keeper Rustu off guard and knocked Turkey out of the semi-finals. Turkey rarely showed much in the way of offense, and in the end, they deserved to lose more than Brazil deserved to win. Final: 1-0 Brazil.

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Tue, Jun 25, 2002

: World Cup: South Korea vs. Germany

Excellent game. Both sides attacked relentlessly from the start, with the speedy work rate of the Koreans matching the tough physique of the Germans for most of the match. Unfortunately for South Korea, Oliver Kahn was a wall in goal, and Michel Ballock came through with another game-winning goal for his side. Unfortunately for Germany, Ballock’s second yellow means he’ll miss the final on Sunday. Will Germany be able to suceed without him? Final: 1-0 Germany.

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Mon, Jun 24, 2002

: Ghost World

Nothing like what I was expecting. The key flaw: promoting this as a film made from a comic book. That sets up a certain kind of expectation. If I’d known the comic, of course, that wouldn’t have mattered, but I didn’t, and I wasn’t sure what to expect throughout the movie. Basically, this is an existential angst teen flick. It reminds me a lot of black comedies like Heathers, though this isn’t dark. It’s more like a serious comedy. The story is about two unique high school girls who graduate and prepare to take on the world. They have a weird sense of humor and opinions about everything. Slowly the girls drift apart, as one becomes more normal and tries to fit in with society (gets a job, an apartment, etc.), while the other continues to rebel against normalacy. She falls for a strange guy, a record collector who claims he can’t relate to 99% of humanity. It’s basically about her trying to figure out who she is and what she’s doing on this planet. Ultimately, the film asks more questions than it answers, and the humor tends to dilute the message instead of expanding upon it. Still, it’s a good view. It’s the kind of film that gets better with each viewing. The first time you may not completely like or understand it, but with each subsequent viewing you’ll like it more and more.

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Sun, Jun 23, 2002

: Dracula 2000

Astonishingly, I liked this! Like most vampire movies, it’s rather silly, but I liked the “surprise” conclusion (the identity of Dracula). Some good action and fun special effects. Certainly nothing deep, but entertaining. Weaker toward the end, especially as the final set pieces aren’t very dramatic, but still fun.

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: King of Texas

Fascinating retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in Texas in the Old West. Lear, played by Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart, is a ruthless ranch owner with three daughters. After he divides his property among them, they throw him out. Good stuff, with complex gray characters, though it goes downhill a bit when it gets into action stuff at the end.

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Sat, Jun 22, 2002

: World Cup: Senegal vs. Turkey

Strange game. It started off wildly with both teams playing aggressively. Senegal had the upper hand in the attack, while Turkey controlled the ball better. Senegal’s defending was occasionally desperate, but they didn’t let in a goal. Unfortunately, they couldn’t quite score either. In the second half, it was obvious both teams were tiring. Senegal’s best advantage is their speed, but they allowed Turkey to set the pace, and they weren’t as quick as in the first half. Their lackluster play was extremely disappointing. Both teams seemed okay with going to Golden Goal in extra time — perhaps Senegal figured they could recreate their magic goal against Sweden. If so, their plan backfired, for Turkey scored and advance and Senegal is out. Very sad, as I was truly hoping for a terrific Senegal-Brazil match-up. Final: 1-0 Turkey.

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: World Cup: South Korea vs. Spain

Terrific battle, though Korea got some questionable calls as Spain had a couple goals cancelled. Perhaps that’s home field advantage. At any rate, Spain couldn’t score, and that’s what’s most important. The game went into overtime and then penalty kicks. Spain seemed confident that their keeper would rule the penalty area, but instead it was the other way around: Korea’s keeper Lee stopped a shot, while Korea scored all five shots. That puts Korea through and Spain go home, again disappointed. Final: 0-0 (Korea advance 5-3 on penalty kicks).

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: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Colorado Rapids

Awesome game, as useful. The Quakes come alive at home, and this was a celebration of soccer with the return of Landon Donovan from the great American success in South Korea. Before this game was a mediocre match between the Mexican side Morelia and the Argentinian River Plate. I like Argentinian soccer, but I wasn’t familiar with this River Plate team, which seemed to be made of up extremely young players (probably River’s “B” team). Morelia scored four minutes in and then just defended, while the young River players seemed to lose composure when they got near the goal and couldn’t finish. Finally, late in the second half they equalized, and then the game got a little more interesting as both sides fought a bit. In the, however, it was a politically correct draw. The bigger news of this double-header, however, was that the match drew a large crowd of Mexican fans (there were a few Argentinian fans, especially one group of about 50 in the South end that danced and cheered wildly during the whole game). Most stayed for the Earthquakes game, and that changed the atmosphere of the game a great deal, as Americans still seem to be learning how to cheer.

In the Earthquakes game, we scored just five minutes in on a header by defender Jimmy Conrad. Great start. Then the Quakes struggled a bit. They had some good opportunities, but the mid-field got clogged and they couldn’t work the ball up the way they like. Colorado never looked truly dangerous (though Cannon did have a couple solid saves), but it was worrying having the ball at that end of the field. In the second half, the Quakes played better, attacking with purpose and determination. DeRosario made a cool run up the left side, pausing before two Colorado defenders right in front of where I was sitting. I shouted “Go Dewayne!” and he listened, splitting the two brilliantly and charging toward the goal. The keeper blocked him, so he crossed the ball. I watched on my feet screaming, the action seemingly in slow motion, as the ball hit a Colorado defender on the chest. The player was facing his goal and the ball deflected behind his keeper (who was facing DeRosario) and into the goal! It was a bummer Dewayne didn’t get credit for the goal, because he did all the work. Minutes later, another terrific attack. A ball was sent toward the near post with Grazianni sliding toward it. Since it was the near post and the keeper was flying there, and Ariel had to catch it with a difficult volley (while sliding), I had visions of it rebounding into the side netting. Suddenly the play was over and there was the ball bouncing inside the Colorado goal! Wow, what a great goal! But the Quakes weren’t done. Superhero Landon Donovan, just 38 hours after playing against Germany half a globe away, came in with five minutes left in the game and immediately created a chance with a head-ball pass, but Colorado stopped that attack. Minutes later, however, he threw in the ball to DeRosario in the penalty area. DeRosario succeeded in getting the ball over the diving keeper (former San Jose keeper David Kramer, in his first start for Colorado this season — his goals against average went down the tubes after this game), but in the mix-up the ball was put into the goal by a Colorado defender. Another own goal! Dewayne was again bummed he didn’t get credit, but as far as I’m concerned, this night was a two goal game and an assist for him. Great play by the Canadian international. (With Donovan coming back, Dewayne knows he’s got to produce to keep his starting place.) So it was another fantastic shutout for Joe Cannon (his goals against drops to a league-low .91), Graziani moves to third in the league in scoring, and the Quakes increase their lead at the top of the MLS table with 26 points (six points ahead of runners-up L.A. and Dallas)! Final: 4-0 Earthquakes.

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Fri, Jun 21, 2002

: World Cup: USA vs. Germany

What a great game! While the result didn’t go our way, the Americans played well and gained a huge amount of international respect. It’s probably hard for non-soccer fans to understand how losing a game gets you respect, but we really pushed the Germans and until the final whistle sounded, they were very nervous we’d squeak by. My only regret is that we didn’t at least score, but losing 1-0 to Germany in a World Cup quarterfinal round is nothing to be ashamed of. The U.S. had most of the attack and the possession. In the first half, that was our choice and the Germans didn’t like it but couldn’t do anything about it. In the second half, it was a combination of the Germans letting us have the ball and us being desperate to score. We outshot them considerably, but that’s meaningless compared to the only stat that matters: the score. Still, all the Americans played well and you could see the Germans were surprised and impressed. Unlike their talk before the game, and unlike other teams, the Germans did take us seriously. They played a strategically sound match, getting a goal and then setting back and attacking us on the counters. Good job. But congrats to the U.S. team. Remember, this wasn’t supposed to be the team that did well at the World Cup. That’s not supposed to come for a couple more World Cups. By that time the Landon Donovans will be our senior players and we’ll have ranks of new youngsters lining up. The combination will be potent: our World Cup results proves Major League Soccer is an excellent development environment. Players that do well in MLS will do well in the world. That’s good for MLS and for U.S. soccer. Final: 1-0 Germany.

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: World Cup: Brazil vs. England

Disappointing game. England started off well. Brazil had most of the possession, but 23 minutes in, Michael Owen, on his first (and only) touch of the game, scored. The defender, Lucio, couldn’t control a pass, and left the ball for Owen, who pounced on it and cleverly (and easily) finished. It looked like England, who had one of the best defenses in the Cup, was going great. But in first half injury time, Beckham didn’t kick a ball out of play, allowing Brazil to start a counter-attack that culminated in Rivaldo scoring. Five minutes into the second half it got worse for England — with Seaman ridiculously off his line, Ronaldinho took a long distance free kick, and instead of crossing like everyone expected, he chipped Seaman to give the Brazilians the lead. I’ve never been a Seaman fan — I like Nigel Martyn way better — so hopefully this will be an inglorious end to his national team career. But I can’t say that Seaman lost the game for England. That second goal seemed to kill something in the team. A spark went out. Beckham was quiet, Owen invisible, Heskey did nothing, and Scoles was just terrible. Offensive substitutes Sheringham and Vassel added nothing, and England went out with a whimper, scarely fighting. A shame — I was hoping for a more competitive match. I love Brazil, but when their coach subbed out Ronaldo while they led by just one goal, I was rooting for them to lose to just spite his stupidity. I hate those kind of substitutions. But Brazil held on (or rather, England didn’t have anything to offer) and they advance. Final: 2-1 Brazil.

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Wed, Jun 19, 2002

: The Mummy Returns

I hated the original, which was bizarre and incomprehensible, but I liked this one. It was silly and pointless, but it knew that and had fun with it. Lots of cool special effects (digital creatures, landscapes, etc.) and some good action. The plot’s some ridiculous thing about — heck, I have no idea. Just go along for the ride and enjoy the scenery.

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Tue, Jun 18, 2002

: World Cup: Japan vs. Turkey

Yawn. Games are often tight in elimination bouts, with the team leading afraid to take risks. Turkey goal a goal early and just held on, taking the crowd out of it, and putting the pressure on Japan to score. Japan never looked into it, seemingly resigned to a loss from the beginning. Turkey had no problem with that, and though Japan looked dangerous a few times, they never truely threatened the Turkish goal. Rather a weak exit for Japan, who’d looked very strong in previous games. Final: 1-0 Turkey.

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: World Cup: South Korea vs. Italy

Wow! Start off with a massive crowd of screaming South Korean fans creating a deafening cauldron of sound, add a penalty kick to South Korea just minutes in, throw in a great Buffon save on the kick to keep the score at zeros, and you know this is going to be a great game. Ten minutes later, and Vieri scores on a header off a corner kick — gotta mark those Italians on the set plays, folks! So in minutes the tide turns from Italy potentially down to leading. And people don’t think soccer’s exciting? What other sport offers such drama?

After that, South Korea seemed to lose something. Italy controlled play, defended easily, and Korea was frustrated. But they didn’t give up. Late in the game Italy began to tire, but the Koreans pressed on. Not quite as intensely as in previous games — the tremendous efforts of their three previous games finally taking their toll — but with a lot of courage and fight. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came the equalizer. A missed clearance in the penalty area opened the tiniest sliver of an opening and a Korean player toed the loose ball into the back of the net. The tie sent the game into sudden death overtime. Both sides had chances, but after fifteen minutes there was still no goal. Then Totti was called for diving in the box and given his second yellow. It was a poor call — there was contact, just not a foul. But Totti was out. Then, in the second half of overtime, a shocker: Ahn, who’d missed the Korean penalty in the opening minutes, got a header on goal and scored! Golden goal! Korean advances. Italy is knocked out. Wow. Four out of the eight quarterfinalists are first timers. Final: 2-1 South Korea.

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Mon, Jun 17, 2002

: World Cup: USA vs. Mexico

Unfreakingbelievable! What’s not shocking is that the U.S. won this game, but the way they dominated. Sure, Mexico had chances, but in general the Americans totally frustrated them. You could see that in the way they tackled and tried to bait the U.S. The U.S. didn’t let the Mexicans play their game, but also played their own counter-attacking game that kept Mexico on edge. Claudio Reyna, who’ve I heavily criticized in the past for not playing well for the U.S., had a standout game. He played wide instead of in the middle, and that was a much better role for him. It opened up the mid-field, forcing the American players to pass the ball well, and it gave us a controlling pressence along the side. He started the first goal, getting past his man on the right and running impressively quickly up the side. He crossed it to Josh Wolff in the penalty area who had two men on him, so it didn’t seem like a threat. But Josh instantly fed the ball behind him — a brilliant pass that found an on-rushing Brian McBride who side-footed it into the goal. The early goal boosted the confidence of the U.S., who’d given up two early goals to Poland in their last game, and shocked the Mexicans. (Afterward, the Mexican coach said the Americans “Got lucky.” Give me a break. It was a fantastic goal generated out of team play.) The Mexicans tried hard but couldn’t equalize, and late in the game Eddie Lewis broke away on the left. Running at a full sprint he crossed the ball into the Mexican penalty area. Landon Donovan outran the Mexican defense and perfectly headed the ball home. With a two-goal lead, the Americans could smell victory. The Mexicans fouled hard and often, finally getting their captain sent off on a brutal tackle against Cobie Jones. But it was not Mexico’s day: the U.S. wins and advances to the quarter-finals for the first time ever! (Yeah, technically we made in 1930, but there was no “Round of 16” back then, so I don’t count it.)

A couple words about the missed penalty call. On replay, it looked like American John O’Brien played a ball with his hand but the ref didn’t give the Mexicans a penalty. The idiotic ESPN commentators should made a meal out of that, harping on it non-stop. Look, non-calls and missed calls are a part of life. Get over it. If you’re going to talk about that call, you must give equal time to the Landon Donovan goal against Poland that was taken away, and I’ve hardly heard anyone mention that. That was a key turning point in the Poland game for me, giving the U.S. a triple-whammy: giving up a goal, scoring a goal that didn’t count, and giving up a second goal. The non-penalty in the Mexico game, while it could have change momentum by tying the score, might not of: Friedel’s saved two penalties already, so Mexico is deluding themselves to think the penalty was a gimmie goal. Anyway, things like that happen. The U.S. had bad calls against it earlier in the Cup, and benefited in this case. Things balance out in the end.

So the U.S. plays Germany on Friday. In a way, I’d felt that reaching the quarters is good enough for the U.S. — no sense being greedy. But that was until I heard the comment by “The Kaiser,” Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary German. He said that Germany has “no hard matches until the Semi-finals.” Okay, Beck — get ready for the USA. We love being the underdog. We’re gonna kick your butt all the way home! Final: 2-0 USA!

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: World Cup: Brazil vs. Belgium

Ho hum game. Brazil played like they were asleep most of the game, and Belgium dominated and had a number of excellent chances (including a legitimate goal by Wilmots waved off). Finally, Brazil woke up on a great goal by Rivaldo, who spun 360 and put the ball away. Ronaldo added to the tally late in the game, continuing his ridiculous scoring rate. Belgium played very well and deserved more, but unfortunately them’s the breaks. They go home and Brazil advance to play England. Final: 2-0 Brazil.

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Sat, Jun 15, 2002

: World Cup: Tunisia vs. Japan

Good game. Japan was pretty much through, but they wanted to win because if they finish second in the group they would face Brazil in the “Round of 16.” So they fought, and Tunisia continued their weak play (though they had a few good minutes in this match). Japan scored twice, including Nakata finally got his first goal of the tournament, and that was nice to see. He headed it through the legs of the keeper! Not really contest, but fun. Final: 2-0 Japan.

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: World Cup: England vs. Denmark

Which England would show up for this game? The aggressive one, that’s who. Five minutes in Rio Ferdinand scores off a corner kick, then Michael Owen gets a great goal off a through-pass. The mediocre Heskey finally gets his first World Cup goal giving England a sweet three-goal lead into the second half. After that, the game was a bit boring. England controlled everything, delivering a perfect example of how to defend a lead (unlike the U.S. against Portugal). A deserved win, but now England must face the winner of Brazil/Belgium. Any bets on who that will be? Final: 3-0 England.

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: World Cup: Germany vs. Paraguay

Yawn. Boring game. There were pathetically few shots on goal in the game, especially in the second half. Paraguay was obviously playing for a penalty kick shootout, all defense, and Germany had trouble breaking them down. Finally, in the 88th minute a great cross and Oliver Neuville snuck in at the far post to flick it into the goal and the Germans are ahead. Desperate, Paraguay puts in a striker, but he’s only got minutes to do his magic, and that’s just not enough time. Suddenly Paraguay’s day is done, and deservedly so. Lame. To work so hard to get to that second round only to not even try to win is just dumb. Go home, Paraguay. Go home. Final: 1-0 Germany.

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: World Cup Commentary

What an incredible tournament the 2002 FIFA World Cup is turning out to be! Amazing, unexpected, historic events are happening in almost every game. I don’t know if it’s because the tournament is being held in the Southern Hemisphere, but everything is backwards in this competition. World champions France are out. Favorites Argentina, who looked so good in qualifying, are flying home. The U.S. and South Korea upset fifth-ranked Portugal, whose dream is over. Brazil, which shocked everyone by struggling to get the World Cup, are doing great — but they haven’t faced serious competition yet. One of only two teams with three wins in the opening round (Spain is the other), and with the confidence of having already scored 11 goals, they now are the team to beat. Nothing is predictable in this World Cup and that’s great. Anything can happen, and any team can be sent home.

The Americans, who played so well against Portugal, have struggled and played worse in every subsequent game. What’s up with that? I realize the players are tired, that other teams have studied the U.S. games and know our weaknesses (that was very obvious in the Poland game), but the U.S. defense has looked like they were out-classed and over-whelmed. Offensively we’ve been stronger, but even there we’re inconsistent. Mathis is a good player when he’s on, but he fades in matches and it’s like we’re playing with ten men. Claudia Reyna has never impressed me: he was the reason for our poor play in France 1998 and I can’t figure out why he’s our leader. He can play well — it’s just that he often doesn’t. The U.S. has a lot of players like that: Hejduk, Sanneh, Regis, etc. In the Poland game Reyna was ineffective in the attack, and he often gave the ball away leading to dangerous counter-attacks by Poland. Reyna does better when he sits back and defends, but he likes to move forward too much. I’d either bench him for the Mexico game or give him strict orders to sit back and act more defensively. At the back, Goose is a good player past his prime. I’m glad he’s gotten some World Cup experience, but in truth I’m relieved he’s out injured for the Mexico game. While he brings a lot of experience and stability to the U.S. team, he can do a lot of that from the bench. On the field he’s a liability at this level. Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t deep in quality defenders, and that’s definitely our primary weakness. But Mastroanni needs to be on the field (in any position). Pope has been great, but he can’t do it all. He needs a partner back there. Heiduk has been excellent, playing better than he’s played in years (people forget he was widely considered our best player at France 98 and he got his German contract based on that performance), but he’s out suspended for the Mexico game. Eddie Lewis strikes me as the best substitute, but he’ll need the game of his life. I’d tell him not to move up unless we’re down more than one goal or up several: that leftback position is primarily for defense and we don’t need forward runs that leave us exposed. Sanneh’s just been brilliant, with his only mistake giving up the penalty in the Poland game. He’ll be ready for Mexico. O’Brien had his weakest game against Poland, but he’s a strong player. Stewart is also important, though I don’t picture him going 90 minutes. Not starting DaMarcus Beasley in the Poland game makes me wonder what’s going on the Bruce’s head. Perhaps he was just trying to give DMB a deserved rest, but Beasley’s a critical player for us. Not only is he super dangerous on the counter-attack, but he does some incredible defensive work, coming back and stealing the ball from the other team. He’s our brightest star so far (not counting Brad Friedel, who’s been insanely amazing). Landon Donovan needs to be more involved. He’s already a much better player than Reyna, and the U.S. team would do better to run play through him instead of the captain. Landon’s got so many good attributes: he’s fast, has a great first touch, he’s a lethal finisher, and has the best vision of the field of any American player ever. His quick flicks and through-balls are breath-taking, and they make him a double-threat: he can score himself or slip a ball through to a teammate who can finish. The best position for Donovan is “sunken forward” — pair him with McBride and they can feed each other balls. McBride was invisible in the Poland game. After two great games from him, I put that to fatigue and the fact that the Poles were strong in the air. But McBride needs to be on the field: he’s strong, can be lethal if given the chance, and he’s a battler who can win balls for the U.S. in the upper midfield. I’d tell him in advance he’s going to play for fifty minutes — let him run his heart out — and then sub in Josh Wolff. Wolff’s speed make him dangerous and I’d like to see him get more playing time. Clint is the biggest puzzle. He’s such a one-dimensional player. When he wants to he can be a playmaker, but much of the time his task is just to score goals. He can be a liability in how he gives up the ball. His passes are often weak and easily picked off, and in the Poland game he caused us a lot of problems by helping Poland start counter-attacks. Still, Mathis can be magical. He’s got a spark that can invigorate a team. He can do amazing runs and strikes that are world-class. Depending on his attitude, he probably should start, though he’d make a dangerous sub as well.

Well, these are just my thoughts before the game. We’ll see late tomorrow (Sunday night/Monday morning) who Bruce puts out and what happens. Good luck, USA!

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Fri, Jun 14, 2002

: World Cup: Belgium vs. Russia

Terrific game! Why is Belgium producing some of the best games to watch in this Cup? Their game against Japan was one of the best so far, and this was a terrific game, with great goals at both ends. Belgium jumped ahead early on a fantastic free kick, but Russia came back to tie, then Belgium put a two-goal lead in the second half. Russia got one more and that made the final minutes of the game very exciting as a draw would see Russia through. Unfortunately, they couldn’t equalize, and Belgium advances to the second round. Good stuff. Final: 3-2 Belgium.

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: World Cup: Portugal vs. Korea

Wild game, especially if you knew what was going on in the U.S.-Poland game. With the U.S. losing badly, our best chance to advance was a loss by Portugal in this game, and they seemed to be doing everything to help make that possible. A horrible tackled from behind got a player ejected in the first half, and a second yellow (deserved) got another ejected early in the second half. So now it was nine men for Portugal fighting eleven Koreans. Stupidly, the Portugese sat back. Aware that the U.S. was losing and that a draw would advance Portugal, they didn’t attack as much as they should have. Suddenly, South Korea scored! It was a great goal where the Korean player did a cool move to pop the ball with his right foot over to his left, fooling the defender, and putting the ball on goal with his left. The quickness of the move and shot befuddled the keeper who let it slip through his fingers into the net. Suddenly Portugal was losing and had to fight. They put on a lot of pressure, but amazingly, the Koreans, who only needed a draw, played wonderfully, defending well and blocking every Portugese chance. In the last few minutes the U.S. hearts were in our mouths as we watch Figo’s free kick miss by inches, another player contrive to miss with just the keeper to beat, and the Korean keeper make a fantastic up-close save in the dying seconds to keep Portugal off the board. Wow. The result means the Koreans finish top their group and advance, keeping alive the World Cup record of every host nation advancing (co-host Japan also advanced), and the U.S. sneak in on their well-earned four points. Portugal goes home in misery, their only solace that other favorites France and Argentina were also eliminated. Final: 1-0 South Korea.

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: World Cup: Poland vs. USA

What can I say? The U.S. has done well tactically so far in the Cup, but they severely misjudged this Polish team. The U.S. did not play well, but this could have gone differently. First mistake: pre-announcing their strategy. I heard on ESPN before the game how the U.S. was playing to attack heavily in the first few minutes and get an early goal or two, and the Poles were prepared for that. With nothing to lose, they brilliantly pushed on the counter-attack, and with the U.S. all focusing on attack, we forgot to lock the barn door. Three minutes in, the U.S. is down a goal. That’s when fate dealt us a bad hand. We equalized a minute later on a great goal by Landon Donovan. But the Chinese referee (not to stir up controversy, but who’s idea was it to have an Asian ref for this game where a loss by the U.S. could help the South Koreans advance?) immediately cancelled the goal, saying Donovan fouled his opponent. On replay it’s clear there was no foul: it was a legal shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. Yes, sometimes refs do call those around the box (especially if against a keeper), but this wasn’t against the keeper, and it was the slight Donovan who outmuscled his opponent to get to the ball and he deserved the goal. If that had happened, the U.S. team could have settled down. Gave up an early goal, equalized. Back to business. Instead, the refs’ callback set the U.S. team on edge, and before we could recover, we gave up another goal at back! That’s right, we’re two goals down just give minutes in! Exactly the opposite of the strategy we planned coming into the game. Poland is an organized side, and though they’d had a terrible Cup so far, losing two games and not even scoring a goal, they played a good strategy against the U.S. After the two early goals they didn’t just sit back and defend like so many teams, but continued their deadly counter-attacks, keeping the U.S. from moving too many men forward. Poland kept enough men back that the U.S., while we had chances, could never quite get the goal we needed. In the second half it was more of the same, except the U.S. was more desperate. We pushed forward and twice got caught on the counter. One sequence game up a goal, and the other gave up a penalty kick. Fortunately, Superman (a.k.a. American keeper Brad Friedel), blocked his second penalty of the tournament (no one else has stopped even one). Wow! With just minutes left, Landon Donovan scored a terrific goal on a volley sneaking in from the left — but it was too little too late. They needed to get Donovan much more involved. I hope Bruce Arena puts Donovan up front for the next game. Speaking of the next game, despite the embarrassing loss, there is a next game for the United States. Our suddenly good friends South Korea saved us by beating Portugal, eliminating them from the tournament. That means the U.S. advances as the second-place team! That’s good for us because Korea gets to face Italy, while we get Mexico. We’re familiar with arch-rivals Mexico and that should be an awesome game. If the U.S. brings their A-game, we should be able to defeat them, but they might bring their A+ game, so we’ll see. Final: 3-1 Poland.

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Thu, Jun 13, 2002

: World Cup: Turkey vs. China

I liked Turkey a lot in their earlier games, but they didn’t display much in this game. Though they won solidly, they made it look like a struggle. Very odd. Interesting game, though. Poor China really wanted to at least score a goal so they could exit the tournament with something, but failed. Final: 3-0 Turkey.

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: World Cup: Costa Rica vs. Brazil

Costa Rica had impressed so far, but now their lackluster play against wimpy China (only winning by two goals) came back to haunt them as they needed a draw against Brazil. That seemed unlikely as Brazil quickly went ahead by three, including an amazing bicycle kick goal. But Costa Rica fought back with two goals of their own, a result that if it had remained, would have put them through on goals scored. But Brazil were merciless, playing wonderful soccer and putting a few more goals to finish them off soundly. In the other game, Turkey had the gall to win 3-0, a result that also hurt. So Costa Rica is done. Brazil has yet to face significant competition, but right now they are looking the best in the tournament, which, oddly, with all the struggles they had in qualifying, is surprising. Final: 5-2 Brazil.

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: World Cup: Ecuador vs. Croatia

Cool result. Ecuador really played well and Croatia was just anemic and deservedly lost. I’m delighted with the result, as considering the controversy with Croatia’s game against Italty it would have been unfair for Italty to have been knocked out. And by losing to Ecuador Croatia can’t blame anyone else for not advancing. Final: 1-0 Ecuador.

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: World Cup: Mexico vs. Italy

Wild game. Italy had an early goal called back for offside (again), and the day seemed to be darkening for the former champs. Mexico played well and got the first goal (fantastic header), and now the Italians were in a deep hole. With ten minutes to go Del Piero was inserted and minutes later he scored the tying goal. Great stuff. (Totti, who I really like, is just not having a good Cup. He had a shot at an open goal and sent it wide. Ridiculous.) The final minutes of the match were hilarious as the players had heard of Ecuador’s win which meant both these teams were through, and so the players just stood and passed the ball around for the four minutes of extra time. The ref finally blew the whistle to put an end to the silliness. Final: 1-1.

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Wed, Jun 12, 2002

: World Cup: Spain vs. South Africa

Good game. Unfortunately for South Africa, they didn’t quite get the result they wanted. Spain didn’t seem that concerned about the result (having already qualified), but the motivation of an extra day’s rest by finishing first did the trick as they pressed hard to win. South Africa came back twice to tie, but in the end Raul put Spain ahead. That result, combined with Paraguay’s two-goal win, sends South Africa home (the teams finished even on points and goal difference, but Paraguay scored six goals in group play while South Africa only scored five). Final: 3-2 Spain.

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: World Cup: Sweden vs. Argentina

Awesome game. In the first half it was all Argentina with 65% possession. But Sweden’s defense was impressive: organized and confident, they repelled attack after attack. It helped that Argentina, while they had tons of shots, couldn’t put hardly any on frame, but contrived to miss high and wide. Then Sweden went ahead on an incredible free kick goal. Argentina fought back, but it looked like they were done (a draw would not advance them). Finally, in the 88th minute, Argentina was awarded a penalty kick for a foul in the box. Ortega’s feeble penalty was blocked, but Crespo pounced on the rebound and put it away to level the score. But the lifeline came too late. Minutes later the whistle blew and the “Group of Death” had claimed another victim: Argentina. Wow! Favorites to win the whole lobster, they’re now on their way home. Amazing. England and Sweden advance, Nigeria and Argentina go home unhappy. Final: 1-1.

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: World Cup: Nigeria vs. England

Boring game. Started out well, but by the second half it was obvious England was content with a draw. Afraid of Nigeria’s speedy counter-attacks, they never committed forward. Both teams had a few chances, but overall there just wasn’t much happening. Nigeria goes home with a point, so they gained some respect, and England advances with a draw. Final: 0-0.

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: World Cup: Paraguay vs. Slovenia

What is it about the World Cup that brings out the best of teams? Paraguay has been talking a lot, but so far their performance in the competition has been poor. But they needed a big win here (as well as help from Spain). Unfortunately, things immediately went downhill. In the first half, one of their defenders was sent off for his second yellow. Then Slovenia had the gall to score a goal! That gave Slovenia confidence and rattled Paraguay, who started playing even worse, with even leader Chilavert fumbling the ball. But Slovenia’s attack went to their heads and they forgot about defense, sending too many forward. Substitute Jorge Campos capitalized, scoring twice for Paraguay. Chilavert almost made history scoring on a free kick, but the shot was blocked by the Slovenian keeper. Then Slovia had a player red carded for a bad tackle and the sides were even. Paraguay countered with a great goal from the top of the box to give them the two goal lead they needed to advance. Incredible. With Spain defeating South Africa, Paraguay go to the second round! Gutsy performance from a team a man down. Final: 3-1 Paraguay.

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Tue, Jun 11, 2002

: World Cup: Germany vs. Cameroon

Cameroon had a tough task: with Ireland most likely to win their game, giving them five points, and Germany’s incredible goal differential due to their 8-0 win over the Saudis, a tie wouldn’t be good enough: they must win to advance. They played best in the first half, but couldn’t finish. Germany had a man sent off late in the half and it seemed that Cameroon was in the driver’s seat. But in the second half, Germany’s substitute Bode scored just five minutes in. After that, the game was over. Cameroon tried, but still couldn’t finish, and then had their own man red carded. Then Germany added another goal and Cameroon’s World Cup is done. Final: 2-0 Germany.

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: World Cup: Senegal vs. Uruguay

What a great game! Senegal started a little slow, but after being awarded an early penalty kick (on a phantom call), got energized and tore into Uruguay with two great goals by Diop. The first was a poke from ten yards up, roofed into the upper net, and the second was a cheeky poach from the top of the box that hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced inside. Leading 3-0 going into the have, the Senegalese became overconfident, and one minute into the second half they gave up a goal. A penalty kick brought Uruguay closer, and with just minutes left, Uruguay had a great strike by Diego Forlan who scored on a blast from far out. Unbelievably, the score was now tied! Injury time was a hectic battle, but Uruguay couldn’t claim the winner. The result advances Senegal, but only as the second team in their group, meaning they’ll have to face the top team from the Argentina-England group. If they could have held on to the big lead, they would have finished first. But in truth it makes little difference — anyone from the “group of death” is going to be tough competition. The bottom line: former champions Uruguay go home and first-time participants Senegal advance. Final: 3-3.

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: World Cup: Ireland vs. Saudi Arabia

Good game, with Saudi Arabia playing much better than in previous games, but Ireland persevered and played very well in the second half scoring two more goals to give them a decisive victory. Ireland needed a two-goal win, which sounded tough since Ireland has never scored more than one goal in a World Cup match, but they did it this time. Final: 3-0 Ireland.

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: World Cup: Denmark vs. France

World Cup 2002 has brought us many surprises, and is proving to be one of the most fascinating contests in years. This result is definitely one of the top stories. In France 1998 the French team was criticized because they had no real strikers (Henry, Trez, and others weren’t established), but they ended up scoring a boatload of goals and winning it all. Coming into this tournament France had proven goal-scoring talent, with three players leading three different leagues in scoring. Unbelievable talent and everyone predicted France would be in the Championship again. But all that individual talent didn’t translate into teamwork. In France 98 the team worked together, with everyone contributing the goals. This time it seemed all the pressure was on the forwards, but the link between the mid-field and them was weak, and they rarely even got positive chances. They lost against upstarts Senegal in the opening game, then had the tournaments only nil-nil draw. This game had more of the same. France needed a two-goal win to advance (a win would only tie them with Denmark with goal difference as the tie-breaker), but couldn’t even score one goal. Denmark scored twice and defended well, and though France through everything they had at them, it wasn’t enough to break through. Admitedly they were without their best striker, Henry, who was suspended because of his red card in the previous game, but that’s still no excuse. Unbelieveably, the World Champions go home not only without advancing past the first round, but without scoring a single goal. That’s worse than the U.S. in France 98 — we at least had one goal! Wow, astonishing stuff. With all these upsets, surely a lot of betting houses will be going under. Final: 2-0 Denmark.

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Mon, Jun 10, 2002

: World Cup: Belgium vs. Tunisia

Surprisingly interesting game. Belgium played their typical defensive style while Tunisia were impressive, attacking vigorously with lots of chances and keeping Belgium on their heels. Wilmots scored for Belgium, while a terrific free kick from Tunisia equalized. Unfortunately, though Tunisia tried hard, they just couldn’t quite get the winner. Belgium can still get through, but they need a big win against Russia. Final: 1-1.

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: World Cup: Portugal vs. Poland

Portugal started off slower than I liked, taking fifteen minutes to score the first goal and not adding to that tally until late in the second half. Finally they got their act together and scored a bunch of goals (including missing a bunch of chances), but for a while there I was worried. Pauletta got a hat trick, which was impressive, and this gives Portugal lots of momentum for their final game with South Korea, which is a must win if Portugal wants to advance. Poland is out, but playing purely for pride against the U.S., they could be tough. Final: 4-0 Portugal.

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: World Cup: Korea vs. USA

WOW, what a battle. The U.S. team that looked so strong against Portugal played more defensively this game and struggled, allowing Korea too much possession and fending off attack after attack. Right from the beginning the U.S. was defending, but they picked strategic times to attack, and mid-way through the first half a through-ball by O’Brien to Mathis and he finished it off perfectly, absolutely deadly finishing. But after gaining the lead, the Americans sat back too much. Late in the first half, a mass of bodies in the U.S. box lead to a bizarre penalty call against Jeff Agoos. Unbelievably, goalkeeper Brad Friedel makes the save (the first penalty kick stopped in this year’s competition). The U.S. take the lead into the second half, but it’s more of the same relentless, high-pressure attack with the American’s frantically defending. Brad made a number of key saves, as did the U.S. defense, but eventually the pressure was too much and something blew, with a Korean player getting a header into the goal. After that it was all-out war. Somehow the U.S. kept the Koreans out, and finally managed a few offensives runs that helped relieve the pressure at the back and almost scoring. Donovan had the Americans’ best chance when a beautiful ball dropped to him in the box, but surprisingly he didn’t get a shot off, hesitating and allowing the keeper to snare it. At least the U.S. held on for the draw, an excellent result. A loss would have been bad. Overall, the U.S. looked tired, especially in the second half, and one gets the feeling the overworked defenders never realized the incredible pressure one gets in a World Cup. They gave their all in the first game and had little left for this one. It was also disheartening to see the Koreans encouraged by the massive crowd of screaming fans make run after run after run. Still, the U.S. held on, played good enough, Brad had a phenomenal game (no doubt his price tag just went up), Mathis did what he gets paid to do (score goals), and everyone had a decent game. The match against Poland on Friday will decide the group — a tie should get the U.S. through, but a win would have them top the group. South Korea will not fare so well against Portugal and should be eliminated. Great stuff! Final: 1-1.

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Sun, Jun 09, 2002

: World Cup: Mexico vs. Ecuador

Good game, though Ecuador faded at times and allowed Mexico to dominate. Ecuador drew first blood scoring just four minutes in, but Mexico equalized twenty minutes later. In the second half, Mexico took the lead, and though Ecuador played hard in the final ten minutes or so, they couldn’t score again. Final: 2-1 Mexico.

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: World Cup: Costa Rica vs. Turkey

A critical game for Turkey as a loss would eliminate them. I was excited about this game after seeing Turkey’s terrific play against Brazil, but that must have been a different team: this collection of players did very little, and Bastuk, who was so good against Brazil, was a non-factor here. After a scoreless first half, Emre proved Turkey with a lead with a cool goal where he spun 120 degrees with the ball and slid it inside the near post. When Costa Rica couldn’t equalize, it seemed they were going down, but with five minutes left they managed an opportunity, and finally, after countless shots going way high, they put it in the goal. With just minutes left, Turkey scrambled desperately. Then came a bizarre sequence with Emre losing his temper and shoving the Costa Rican assistant coach who didn’t give the ball back fast enough after it had gone out of play near the Costa Rican bench. Ridiculous. In the end, though Costa Rica played better, neither team really deserved the three points. With Costa Rica scheduled to play an already-advanced Brazil in the next game, Turkey still has a chance. If they win against China and Costa Rica lose to Brazil, both teams will have four points, so the deciding factor will be goal difference, meaning a Turkish win by three goals over China will allow them to advance. Final: 1-1.

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: World Cup: Japan vs. Russia

Good game. The Japanese played with passion and vigor, while Russia was anemic. Japan scored a great goal by Nakata and earned their first World Cup victory. They now have a good shot at advancement, especially considering their next game is against Tunisia. Final: 1-0 Japan.

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Sat, Jun 08, 2002

: World Cup: Brazil vs. China

An absolute rout, but the Chinese, in their first World Cup, played well and deserve a handshake. Roberto Carlos got things started with an amazing free kick — a blast from forty yards out and nearly tore a hole in the net! Rivaldo was next, taking a great cross and finishing it easily. Then Ronaldinho got his chance on a PK after Ronaldo was taken down. In the second half, the Chinese got chances when a shot hit the post and a free kick almost went in. But Ronaldo got his goal to seal the victory. Final: 4-0 Brazil.

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: World Cup: South Africa vs. Slovenia

Rather silly game. Slovenia never looked dangerous, and South Africa seemed to be their own worst enemy, clumsily defeating their own best chances. South Africa did put in a good goal, but Slovenia was just feeble, and South Africa should have done considerably better against them. But still, this was South Africa’s first-ever World Cup win, so it is historic. But they’re still a weak team. Final: 1-0 South Africa.

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: World Cup: Italy vs. Croatia

Terrific game, though extremly controversial refereeing. Italy’s first goal was called back because of an invisible offside situation, but Vieri finished off a beautiful header to give the Italians the lead. That’s when I felt the Italians made their mistake: they didn’t continue to press, but sat back, content with their lead. Italy is famous for 1-0 victories, but this time it didn’t hold up. In the second half Croatia came alive and poor marking allowed a cross to be easily kicked in. Minutes later, one of the best goals of the Cup. After the first chance was rejected, the clearance was headed back in, and this time it was finished with a chip so soft it was almost a lob. It literally just floated into the top corner while half the planet watched with bated breath. With Croatia on top, Italy now had to play, and they pressured magnificiently. A Totti free kick hit the post, inches from equalizing. In injury time, Italy thought they’d scored, but the goal was called off due to a pulling foul. On replay, no foul was evident. In the end, Croatia’s goal stood, and since I love underdogs, I was happy, but the Italians have a case that they’d been robbed. Fun match, though. Final: 2-1 Croatia.

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: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Kansas City Wizards

This game started off slowly, with neither team moving very fast, but after a half hour or so, the Quakes got it going. Wade Barrett put forth a ball up the left side which Ariel Graziani ran on to, giving him a one-on-one with the keeper. Ariel finished it neatly, and the Quakes had the lead. Minutes into the second half Graziani got his second, pouncing on a rebound of a DeRossario shot, and as San Jose continued to dominate, Richard Mulrooney, who rarely scores, took a crack from long range and it curled into the top corner! Late in the game K.C. had a terrific chance with a shot that was going into the top corner, but keeper Joe Cannon made an incredible leap to palm the ball over the bar and away. And that’s the way she ended. Great stuff. Final: 3-0 San Jose.

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Fri, Jun 07, 2002

: World Cup: Spain vs. Paraguay

Rather boring game. I guess I’m just not a fan of Spain. Their play has a feel of struggle to it, as though even the most basic moves are a challenge. There are flashes of brilliance, and individually they have some great skill, but as a team though just don’t gel. Paraguay’s goal-keeper, Chilavert, is one of the most colorful characters in soccer, and his arrogant comments against Spain came back to haunt him in this game. Paraguay played poorly. They got a goal, but it was a gift from Spain when a defender put it into his own net! Spain came back with goals in the second half, however. A snap header gave Chilavert no chance, and then Chilavert himself made a ridiculous blunder, flailing hopelessly at a cross, leaving the goal wide open behind him. When he didn’t get the ball, it was child’s play for Spain to finish it off. Later in the game Spain was awarded a penalty kick, and Chilavert wasn’t even close to stopping it. Technically, Paraguay is still alive, but I doubt they’ll make it. Spain’s way overrated, and though they’ve got two wins to advance, they won’t make it past the second round. Final: 3-1 Spain.

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: World Cup: Argentina vs. England

Easily the most anticipated match of the first round, given the historic games between these two countries. It was a physical battle, but England took control from the start. Argentina had a lot of the ball, but rarely managed to get it out of their half. Batistuta had one good header on goal, but it was right at the keeper. Most of the time Seaman had little to do in the England goal. Michael Owen was brilliant, sometimes intimidating the Argentines to much they put five men on him! The scary part was that even with five men on him he still looked dangerous. Against three men he managed to ping a shot of the post, just inches from scoring. Though David Beckham was slow to get in the game, once he did his deft touches made a huge difference, keeping possession of the ball for England, and just being calm and confident on the ball. Late in the first half, Owen was brought down in the box and England awarded a penalty. David Beckham easily put it away and all of England went mad. In the second half it was more of the same, with England settling back but looking strong, and Argentina did very little. It looked like they didn’t want to win very badly, but their loss combined with Sweden’s win, puts Argentina at the bottom of the group and in danger of not making the cut. If Sweden and England both draw or better in their final games, they advance and Argentina goes home. Basically, it’s a must win for Argentina in their game against Sweden. That’s a game where Sweden would be happy with a tie, so it’s going to be tough against the organized Swedes. Should be good. England gets to play the eliminated Nigerians and should advance. Final: 1-0 England.

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: World Cup: Sweden vs. Nigeria

Great game. The Nigerians went all out with nine forwards and a “forget” defense attitude. Great for fans of scoring. Unfortunately, not so great for winning soccer games. Especially when the finishing’s weak. Though Sweden looked strong from the start, Nigeria scored first with a great header goal. The seven-flip celebration was one of the highlights of the Cup so far. But that was the last of the Nigerian celebrations. Sweden scored on a terrific bit of play by Larsson, who took a through-ball deep into the Nigerian penalty box, deked a couple defenders, and slotted the ball into the goal. Later, a Nigerian take-down gave Sweden a penalty kick, which Larsson brilliantly scored. Nigeria gave it a good run and played well, but this is the “group of death” — and they’re the first victims. Final: 2-1 Sweden.

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Thu, Jun 06, 2002

: World Cup: Cameroon vs. Saudi Arabia

You’d have figured that after their 8-0 loss to Germany, the Saudis would become the whipping boys of the group, but they put on a surprisingly feisty performance here. In the first half, the Cameroons couldn’t score, and Saudi Arabia actually had a few chances themselves (more than in the entire Germany game where they attacked maybe twice). In fact, at one point in the game they were out-shooting the Africans 9-7! But in the second half, a beautiful through-pass gave Cameroon a chance and they finished it off. After that, while the Saudis looked dangerous at times, it was over. Unfortunately for Cameroon, they couldn’t score more goals, and the way this group sets up, a tie against Germany in their next game, combined with an Ireland win against Saudi Arabia, would put three teams tied at 5 points, meaning that goal differential would be the deciding factor. With Germany’s huge 8-0 advantage in that category, Cameroon needed to score a bunch of goals in this game. It’s hard to predict, but I’d say Cameroon, who were considered by many to have an outside chance at the title, are going home (due mostly to their lackluster performance in this game). Germany and Ireland will advance. Final: 1-0 Cameroon.

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: World Cup: Senegal vs. Denmark

What a strange game! In the first half, Senegal played badly, completely differently from their first game against France. Here they struggled to get the ball through the mid-field and tried long ball instead and it just didn’t work. Sixteen minutes is, an idiotic tackle in the box gave the Danes a penalty kick, and they took the early lead. Denmark controlled the first half, keeping the pace leisurely, but even they had some odd defensive errors, giving the ball away and almost trying to give Senegal a chance. In the second half, a completely different Senegal team emerged from the locker room. They came out storming, counter-attacking with speed that terrified the Danish defense. About ten minutes in the Senegalese put in a goal that I consider the best of the tournament so far. Most “best goals” are the kind where the final shot is spectacular. This one was all about teamwork. Starting in their own penalty area, the Senegalese put together a series of brilliant passes and runs through the Danish defense that left them standing scratching their heads. In just a few seconds the ball was in the Denmark penalty area as a clever feed to Diao left him one-on-one with the keeper, and he easily put it into the far corner of the goal to equalize. Wow, what a sequence! Just mesmorizing, jaw-dropping stuff! But after that the Danes regrouped and though Senegal controlled most of the play and had several chances, they couldn’t take the lead. With about ten minutes to go, the goal scorer, Diao, did a foolish and incredibly dangerous tackle where he came in with his studs up into the shin of a Danish player, the kind of challenge that could easily snap a shin in half if the foot was planted. The stupid part was he did this literally right in front of the ref who had no hesitation in pulling out the imediate red card. So Diao’s World Cup is probably over — he’ll be suspended for the next game, and most likely FIFA will extend that, considering the severity of the foul. Just not smart. Playing with ten men, Senegal was never threatened by Denmark, but they never quite got that last challenge on goal they should have, pressing the older, tired Danes late in the game. So they ended up with a draw in a game they should have won. The two teams are now tied at the top of the group with 4 points each, but Denmark faces an uphill battle against France next, while Senegal tackles Uruguay. Assuming France wins both of their games, just a point from the Uruguay game would put Senegal through, but if France don’t win, goal difference could be significant in this group — Senegal needs to score a lot of goals. Final: 1-1.

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: World Cup: France vs. Uruguay

Well, it finally happened — the first scoreless game of WC2002. Who would have thunk it would happen in a game with France? But it wasn’t a boring game. France desperately needed a win. They managed a draw which barely keeps them alive. But they had an excuse this time, playing better than in their first game, but the surprising ejection of Thiery Henry mid-way through the first half after a rash tackle meant they had to play with a lone striker the rest of the game. That gave Uruguay plenty of opportunities on goal, but they squandered them. Recoba sent a free kick, his specialty, a mile high over the goal, and later, when he’d drawn Barthez out of his goal and dribbled around him, with an open goal to shoot at he hit the side netting! Granted, he was shooting from an angle and running in full stride, but still, at this level you just have to finish. Late in the game France put in Cissie, their other top striker, and he actually threatened the Uruguay goal better than either Henry or Trezuget ever did. He’s the leading scorer in the French league, but for some reason he’s sat on the bench the whole tournament. (France are blessed with three strikers who are the leading scorers in three different leagues. Wow. Yet shockingly, France haven’t scored a goal!) Ultimately this result keeps both teams alive, but just barely. They each need a massive goal-fest win in their final game to continue in the tournament. Final: 0-0.

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Wed, Jun 05, 2002

: World Cup: USA vs. Portugal

I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect the U.S. to win this game. I figured we might be able to take the lead at some point, and perhaps finish with a draw. When I saw Bruce Arena’s line-up I was pleased. He went with a nice mix of youth and experience, and though I was disappointed that Clint Mathis wasn’t playing, I was still optimistic. (Claudia Reyna I feel is over-rated and it wasn’t such a big deal that he couldn’t play. In a few years Donovan can take over his role and do it a hundred times better.) Anyway, I was getting so excited about this match, dying to see how the U.S. team would play, that I stayed up and watched the match live! Sure, it was a 2 a.m. kickoff, but who needs sleep when you’re rooting for your national team?

The U.S. team did me proud! Starting things off aggressively, the Americans looked sharp from the kickoff, putting pressure on Portugal, who looked a little surprised. We quickly won a corner kick, and when Stewart put in a great ball, Brian McBride almost scored on a strong header. The Portugese keeper blocked the shot, but the rebound fell to the feet of John O’Brien, and he calmly slotted it home giving the U.S. the lead in just the fourth minute of play! Twenty-five minutes later, Landon Donovan’s cross is deflected off the back of the head of a defender. The deflection wrong-footed the keeper who dived wildly but couldn’t stop the goal. It was ruled an own goal for reasons I don’t understand: own goals should be when the opponent does something deliberately, but in this case the Portugese player knew nothing about it. So Landon gets credit in my book, but not officially. In the thirty-sixth minute of play, Donovan was again involved, quickly sending the ball up the right side to a streaking Tony Sanneh. Tony placed a pin-point cross over into the goal mouth which McBride caught with a diving header to give the U.S. an amazing three goal lead! That’s the first time the U.S. has scored three goals in a World Cup match since 1930, and the first time we’ve ever done it in one half. Minutes later, unfortunately, Portugual got a goal back. On a corner kick the attacker beat Jeff Agoos to a head ball, but his shot was rejected by O’Brien. Unfortunately, his wimpy clearance gave the ball right back to the same player and he finished off the second chance. In the second half, Portugal put on gobs of pressure, and though the U.S. struggled at times, we managed to keep our lead until about twenty minutes left when Agoos’ attempt to clear a wicked cross deflected the ball into the U.S. net. An own goal both directions — justice? While the last twenty minutes were nail-biting, fortunately we managed to hold on for the win — a win most are calling a bigger upset then the Senegal-France shocker. I was especially impressed with how the U.S. played the final few minutes. The players were obviously exhausted, barely able to kick the ball, yet they got the ball into Portugal’s side of the field and wouldn’t let it out! Great time-wasting, and it obviously frustrated Portugal.

This was just a fantastic game. It wasn’t that Portugal played badly — the U.S. just played well. Figo was very good, very dangerous, but it’s possible he wasn’t up to his world class standards (he’s rumored to be nursing an injury, though he played the whole game). I think this was a case of the Portugal under-estimating the Americans. I was most impressed by the U.S. attack: I greatly favor offense over defense and I felt that the speed and skill of DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan was what won the game for us. Some great mid-field play by O’Brien and the others kept the ball well, allowing them to feed the ball forward giving some great chances for the forwards, and that kept Portugal from moving too many men up in the attack. The defenders fought hard and worked hard, and though Goose had a couple critical mistakes, he actually had a good game overall and saved a few plays. Even his own goal would have resulted in a goal anyway if he hadn’t blocked the shot (there were two Portugese players waiting for the ball on the other side of Goose). In short, this was a great team victory, with every U.S. player putting on a great show, playing with heart (Pope had an excellent game), and working very hard. Now they just have to do it again against South Korea! Final: 3-2 USA!

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: World Cup: Ireland vs. Germany

Routine game for the most part. Germany got on the board mid-way through the first half and really didn’t look back. Ireland pressured, but couldn’t break through the German defense. Late in the game the tall guy, Niall Quinn was put in, and injury time his knock-down header dropped between two defenders and in the path of Robbie Keane. He pounced on the loose ball and coolly stuck it in the net to tie the game. Germany’s hopes of a victory and advancement to the second wrong faded and Ireland’s huge point save keeps them alive in the group. With Saudi Arabia left to play, they’re in great shape. Final: 1-1.

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: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Director: Kevin Smith

Unusual entry in the Kevin Smith “view askew” universe. It’s almost a parody, with sequences that mock Star Wars and Scooby Doo, as well as lots of star cameos in self-mocking appearances and even jabs at Smith’s previous films. Uneven and more of a straight comedy than Smith’s previous outings. Unfortunately, still extremely foul and crude but without the character insights of his better films. In short, okay if you’re a Smith fan. (Certainly better than Mallrats but nothing like Chasing Amy Chasing Amy.)

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: World Cup: Russia vs. Tunisia

Okay game. Tunisia looked very interesting — a nice aggressive style — but their finishing was incredibly poor, with guys putting point-blank chances well wide of the goal. Russia should have dominated easily, but they struggled a bit, and didn’t look especially sharp. They finally got their goals, the first on a mistake by Tunisia’s keeper, and the second on a penalty kick, but if it wasn’t for either of those one wonders if they would have scored. Karpin had a terrific game, though. Final: 2-0 Russia.

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Tue, Jun 04, 2002

: World Cup: Costa Rica vs. China

Surprisingly good game. China started off attacking and looked pretty good. Costa Rica didn’t do much. But in the second half, China went defensive and Costa Rica turned it on, scoring twice in four minutes. Both goals were excellent. Gomez set up the first, sending a back heel through-ball to star Wanchope. But his shot was blocked. Gomez smacked the rebound with his left foot high into the net to give Costa Rica the lead. Four minutes later, Gomez’s blind cross into the middle found a wide open Maurico Wright (formerly of the San Jose Earthquakes) who beautifully finished with a glancing header that gave the Chinese keeper no chance. Final: 2-0 Costa Rica.

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: World Cup: Japan vs. Belgium

If you’re going to watch this game, just skip the first half, which was incredibly boring with no chances on goal from either team. But the second half was incredible, one of the most exciting so far in the Cup. First the Belgians go things going with a fantastic bicycle kick goal from Marc Wilmots. With their good defense, it seemed Belgium was all set. But minutes later a communication error at the back as a defender let the ball go through to his keeper, and a quick Japanese player (Suzuki) pounced on it and just managed a toe to put it in the goal. Japan was back in it with the huge Japanese crowd going mad. The goal awoke Japan and minutes later they scored again on a marvelous individual effort as Inamoto beat the back line and put in an incredible shot to beat the keeper. But Belgium had their own answer to that, capitalizing on a Japanese bad offside trap that let in a player behind the back line, and he gracefully chipped it over the keeper to level the score. Wow! Great stuff. Late in the game Japan had a terrific individual goal from Inamoto where he beat several players in the box to score, but the goal was called back, apparently for offsides. Belgium had their own appeal for a penalty in extra time, but it wasn’t given. In the end, a decent result for both teams. Great stuff. Final: 2-2.

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: World Cup: Korea vs. Poland

Terrific game, but bodes ill for the U.S. The Korean team was just on fire, playing attractive attacking soccer the whole game, and scoring two gorgeous goals of incredible skill. What can one say about Poland? Their keeper, Dudek (one of my favorites), played well, but every other player was asleep. If they play like this against the U.S., we should easily win. But with Korea already registering a win, that pretty much means the U.S. needs to win two to advance (a win and a draw might not be enough). Final: 2-0 Korea.

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Mon, Jun 03, 2002

: World Cup: Brazil vs. Turkey

Excellent game until the last few minutes. Brazil had tremendous offense and was only kept off the board by the Turkish keeper. Turkey looked dangerous on the counter-attack, and sure enough, just before the second half they took a 1-0 lead. Brazil quickly game back in the second half with a goal by Ronaldo, and after that it was a good old-fashioned battle. Near the end, however, the ref got involved, red carding a Turkish player for a foul outside the penalty box, but he gave Brazil a penalty kick anyway, and Rivaldo converted. That bad call put a sour note on the match, and then a Turkish player kicked the ball at Rivaldo as he waited to take a corner. He fell down like he was shot (it was not a hard kick) and the idiot Turkish player was sent off. Dumb play. Anyway, the good news was that Brazil played some beautiful ball and Turkey, despite the loss, played well. Final: 2-1 Brazil.

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: World Cup: Italy vs. Ecuador

Boring game. Ecuador forgot to show up. Italy scored twice in the first half hour, both goals by Vieri (the first was terrific with an assist by Totti), but after that Italy didn’t have to work hard. Ecuador played slightly better in the second half, but never really got into the game, barely registering a shot. Final: 2-0 Italy.

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Sun, Jun 02, 2002

: World Cup: Croatia vs. Mexico

Surprising game. After a tough qualifying round, the good Mexican team showed up and really pressed the Croatians. Croatia didn’t play badly, but they didn’t have the spark they did in France 98, where individual players lifted the team to unprecedented heights. Unfortunately, the ref had to help decide this match, awarding a deserved penalty to Mexico when Blanco was clearly taken down in the box. But the ref also ejected the Croatian player, which was harsh, and the result was that was the end of the day for Croatia. Mexico, while they played well, did not capitalize on their extra man, which could cost them if goal difference becomes a deciding factor to get out of the group. Final: 1-0 Mexico.

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: World Cup: Paraguay vs. South Africa

Terrific game. I figured this one would be a boring defensive affair, but it was anything but. Paraguay showed a lot of attacking prowess, scoring twice early, with one goal an amazing free kick that I could see a hundred times and still not quite believe. Incredible. But in the second half Paraguay fell apart. South Africa pressed hard and they crumbled, as a shot led to an own goal. It still looked like they had it won but South Africa didn’t give up, and the referee gave them their chance in the final minute of play when Paraguay’s substitute keeper fouled in the box for a penalty kick. It was converted and the score was tied. Wow. Final: 2-2.

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: World Cup: Argentina vs. Nigeria

Excellent game that could have gone either direction. The Nigerian’s showed great attacking drive, but were weak on the finishing. While their goalkeeper made a number of terrific saves, his indecision on a cross ended up costing his team a goal, which, of course, was scored by Batistuta. Argentina looked weaker than I expected. Though they’ll win this group, they didn’t dominate the way I thought they should have to be true champion contenders. But it’s a long tournament. Maybe their form will pick up. Final: 1-0 Argentina.

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: World Cup: England vs. Sweden

Odd game. I like both teams and I have Swedish ancestry, so the result is probably appropriate. But I was disappointed with England’s lackluster play. In the first half they were filled with fire, but after their early goal, they relaxed and Sweden got into the game. In the second half it was all Sweden, with England looking mighty pathetic and frantic. The result does neither side any favors, though it doesn’t hurt. The group’s still up for grabs. Final: 1-1.

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: World Cup: Spain vs. Solvenia

I found this game boring. I don’t know: I’m just not a fan of Spain. Occasionally they play brilliantly, but most of the time they just let you down. Solvenia was great in Euro 2000, but and they showed some interesting stuff here, but in the end the ref screwed everything up. Spain was up by two goals when Solvenia gained one back late, and they should have been awarded a penalty kick. Instead, the ref waved play on. But seconds later he awards a penalty kick to Spain on a non-foul at the edge of the Slovenia box. So what should have been a deserved 2-2 tie became a 3-1 Spanish win. Lame. Final: 3-1 Spain.

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Sat, Jun 01, 2002

: World Cup: Germany vs. Saudi Arabia

My only complaint here is about ESPN. What are they thinking???? ABC isn’t going to air the Ireland-Camaroon game until 3:30 p.m. this afternoon, yet in the first minute of this 4:25 a.m. broadcast they tell us the result of that game with no warning or anything! Don’t they want us to watch the ABC game? It’s so ridiculous and infuriating. While I appreciate ABC/ESPN covering the World Cup, if any other network would take over the duties, I’d go for it. They’ve go to be the most incompentent network on the planet. I already have to tape paper across the bottom two inches of my TV screen to keep from seeing the idiotic running scores ticker, which often reveal the score of the games you haven’t seen yet. But when they blantantly announce the final score of a game that hasn’t aired yet, that’s just stupidity.

Okay, rant off. Back to soccer. Wow, a complete blow-out. I wasn’t excited about this game (the Saudi’s are usually poor), but I was curious about Germany, who haven’t been in best form the past few years. But they showed world class domination in this affair, putting in four goals in each half! Wow. Absolutely incredible. Germany’s biggest win in World Cup history. I hereby predict the Saudi’s coach won’t last the day. Final: 8-0 Germany.

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: World Cup: Uruguay vs. Denmark

Great game, with lots of end-to-end action, passionate, aggressive play, and a deserved win by Denmark. Denmark’s goals were textbook, arising from team play; the goal from Uruguay was pure inspiration on a long blast by their leftback. Great stuff. Final: 2-1 Denmark.

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: World Cup: Ireland vs. Cameroon

Terrific game. The first 35 minutes stunk as neither side seemed to want to attack, but finally they got over whatever was making them tentative and began to fight. Cameroon owned the first half, with tons of chances that culminated in a goal. But Ireland showed they had skill in the second half, attacking relentlessly and nearly connecting on tons of chances. They equalized on a great long shot by Matt Holland. In the end neither side could top the other, but it was a great hold-your-breath fight until the final whistle. Final: 1-1.

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Fri, May 31, 2002

: World Cup: France vs. Senegal

Finally, the World Cup is here! For the next 30 days I’ll be in soccer heaven, attempting to watch every minute of all 64 games (while simultaneously working full-time and launching a magazine). This first game tested my loyalties slightly, as I’ve lived in France and am a big fan of the defending world champions, but then I grew up in Senegal, and while I don’t literally have Senegalese blood in me, I certainly feel like I do. So it was great to see Senegal reach their first World Cup and play well against the champions. When Senegal got a shot on goal within the first minute of play, I knew they were a team I liked and this was going to be a great attacking game. Sure enough, Senegal scored first in the first half, and while France had a few good chances, in the end the Senegalese played excellently while the French were mediocre and never took a hold of the game. Final: 1-0 Senegal, a huge upset. Go Lions!

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Wed, May 22, 2002

: Rush Hour II

More of the same Chan-Tucker chaos, with cool action and silly arguments. The plot has something to do with counterfit money printing plates, but it’s really irrelevant.

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Sun, May 19, 2002

: USA vs Netherlands

Good game. The U.S. didn’t win, but the Dutch are a very good team, and the U.S. looked very dangerous the entire game. The two goals they gave up weren’t bad goals. One was the result of a bit of bad luck, the other a simple defensive error. While the latter mistake is not good, it’s better to have that happen now instead of at the World Cup. The American players need to remember that against world class competition, two seconds lack of concentration will cost you a goal. It’s a good lesson. Overall, though, I was pleased with the U.S. play, though of course winning would have been better, but it might have made them overconfident. Final: 2-0 Netherlands.

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: Tribulation Force

The second book in the

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Fri, May 17, 2002

: Steal This Movie

Strange film about 1960’s hippie rebel Abie Hoffman, telling his story about how he lived underground for years as the FBI tried to find him. The biggest problem with the film is that it assumes you know Hoffman. I’d never heard of him and spent the first half of the film wondering if this was fiction or reality. (But the DVD extras include interviews with Abie’s real-life wife, so I assume that means this is based on reality.) Knowing what I know now, I like the movie better than I did while I was watching it. It’s got some interesting 1960 philosophy, some cool free speech speeches by Abie, but it feels foreign and without an understanding of Abie’s beliefs in advance, you hesitate buying into what he’s saying as you’re unsure what you’re agreeing too. The problem with that, of course, is that the film sets up Abie as the hero and assumes you agree with everything he says. Cool idea, awkwardly done. For Abie fans I’m sure it’s great, but not a good introduction to him.

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Thu, May 16, 2002

: USA vs Jamaica

Good confidence builder for the U.S. Josh Wolff had two, Clint one in just a few minutes on the field (he came on to start the second half and left 15 minutes later with an injured toe), Beasley got one, and Donovan set up three and scored one (though he was only awarded one official assist). Not the strongest opposition, but the U.S. played very well, and I think the U.S. needed a World Cup preparation game like this. Final: 5-0 U.S.

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Mon, May 13, 2002

: American Pie II

More of the same raunchy humor and embarassing sexual situations. Funny and silly, with much of the same spirit as the original. Amazingly, the guys still come off with a hint of the appealing innocence they had in the first film, which is an impressive achievement. But overall the film breaks no new ground. If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one, and vice versa.

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Sun, May 12, 2002

: USA vs Uruguay

Excellent game, the first of three final tune-ups before the World Cup. The U.S. came out storming, putting on a lot of pressure, and man of the match DeMarcus Beasley started things off by getting a corner kick in the fourth minute. Jeff Agoos put in a sharp cross that Tony Sanneh headed in to give the Americans the lead. Later, it was DeMarcus who pulled some incredible stuff at the top of the box to open some space for himself and he put it away beautifully. His first shot was parried by the keeper, but he pounced on the rebound and put it back in. In the second half, disaster. The Uruguayans really put on the pressure but the Americans defended well. They scrambled on more than one occasion, but when it comes to results, pretty doesn’t matter. Then substitute Landon Donovan gave a lazy backpass to Earthquake teammate Jeff Agoos in the penalty box. An opponent picked off the ball and suddenly the U.S. was really under the gun. A shot went in but keeper Brad Friedel, who had an outstanding game, blocked it. A second shot followed but Friedel made another incredible save. Unfortunately, the rebound went right back to the Uruguayans and they put the third chance away. Controversy followed not long after as Uruguay scored again to tie, but the offside flag had gone up, nullifying the goal. On the replay it was clear there was no offside, but the goal had already been called back. The U.S. won 2-1, but it was a tough, physical match, with the Uruguayans playing their infamous rough style. Chris Armas left the game with a potentially serious knee injury, and that could really hurt the U.S.’s World Cup chances, but we’ll have to wait and see if he’ll be okay. Overall a good game, played with passion and World Cup seriousness, with nothing friendly about it.

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Sat, May 11, 2002

: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Good game. San Jose dominated the first half, easily going up 2-0 with gobs of chances that went begging. Without NY keeper Tim Howard and some bad luck, the score easily could have been 5-0. Ariel Graziani scored both goals for San Jose. The first, however, was all Ramior Corrales, who stole the ball from Metro Steve Jolley in the penalty area and passed to an open Ariel who calmly stuck it in the empty net. The second goal was a masterpiece. Ariel started it himself in the San Jose part of the field. After a botched Metrostar corner, Ariel got the ball fifteen yards short of the halfway line and started the counter-attack with a bomb up the left side. Then he booked up the field at a furious rate arriving at the New York penalty area unmarked. A perfect cross came in and Ariel’s header beat Howard for the 2-0 lead. Fantastic run and a well-deserved goal. In the second half, the Quakes were on the defense. New York came out charging and really should have scored on a couple occasions. On at least two occasions they got behind the San Jose defense and had point blank chances which they missed. In one, Serna had an open net to shoot at but put the ball wide. In another, a Faria breakway should have given them a goal but again the shot was missed. Extremely poor finishing. Early in the half Joe Cannon apparently tripped a Metro in the box to get a yellow card and give up a penalty kick. However, I watched the replay on TV when I got home and from one angle it was clear there was no contact — the player was already in the air and going down before Cannon even reached him! Still, the Quakes held on the for the win, and in the end it was deserved. I didn’t like all the chances we gave New York, and our defense definitely scrambles more without captain Jeff Agoos, but in the end it’s results that count, and it’s great to see the team rallying and winning without our World Cup stars. San Jose did have a ton of chances they couldn’t finish, including one terrific breakaway by DeRossario. He stole the ball from NY captain Hernandez, tore away toward goal, deked Howard to give himself and open net, and slid the ball forward. The entire stadium went up on its feet with a roar of anticipation of the guaranteed goal, but a sliding Hernandez, desperate to redeem himself for his dreadful giveaway, caught the ball on the endline and put it out for a corner kick. If the Quakes start finishing chances like that, they’ll be the terror of the league. Final: 2-1.

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Thu, May 09, 2002

: Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within

I’d been curious about this movie, as it made great break-throughs in computer animation, but it was horrendously expensive and flopped at the box office. It’s easy to see why. I know nothing about the video game the film’s based on — perhaps the movie’s plot comes from the game. Regardless, it was a mistake as it’s a bizarre and incomprehensible plot. I watched completely bewildered for the first hour. Eventually, things made some sense, but without knowing where the film was going, it was an uncomfortable time. The Japanese love to fill a plot with “spiritual” overtones, but to Americans it comes across as weird, New Age, Eastern, and preaching. For example, a big part of this film involves the mysticism of “Gaia,” which is apparently the “spirit” (soul) of the planet Earth. Perhaps that’s a common philosophic theory in Japan, but here it’s new, a bit absurd, and since it’s never explained, but assumed it’s true by the characters in the film, it makes for uncomfortable watching. The other thing I didn’t like about the spiritual element of the film was the biased way the screenplay handled any controversy. Apparently some characters disagreed with the spiritual theories, but they were treated with dirision by the screenwriters, with it painfully obvious that all the heroic characters believed in Gaia and as viewers, we’re idiots if we don’t go along with it. Frankly, that condescending attitude pissed me off. I wanted to like the film, but that tone made that difficult.

As to the plot of the film, it goes like this: years earlier a fragment of an alien planet crashes on earth. On the metor were “phantoms,” ghosts of alien creatures. When these phantoms come in contact with humans, they destroy the human’s “spirit” (soul) and the human dies. Apparently, these phantoms are invisible without special viewing equipment, so humans seem to randomly collapse and die without a cause, but since we can see the phantoms in the film (as translucent flying snakes and dragons and other monsters), that point is fuzzy and unclear. So the story of the film is about a quest to stop these phantoms who have taken over almost all of earth (except for a few places protected by frorce shields) and destroyed all life they come in contact with. How to stop the phantoms? Well, a scientist has the idea that we need to find the “eight spirits” — special spirits which apparently have some sort of default immunity to the phantoms, and when combined, will defeat the phantoms. For instance, one spirit turns out to be a tiny green plant growing in the ruins of New York City. Of course, there’s no explanation of how these spirits work, how the scientist figured out there are eight of them (!), or what happens when all eight are found — we’re just supposed to assume that all this is correct and root for the good guys as they search for the spirits. As you can see, pretty hokey stuff. No wonder American audiences were turned off.

The animation in this film is spectactular — the human characters are impressive, with occasions of fantastic detail, especially on the characters with more character, like the old man scientist, versus the smooth-skinned young girl who is the lead. The old man has marks and lines on his face that are incredibly realistic, while the girl looks as artifical as a model. There is one critical mistake regarding the animation, however: for several characters they used big Hollywood stars for the voices. I found it terribly distracting and confusing. For instance, the evil general is voiced by James Woods, a brilliant actor, of course, and this isn’t a knock on him, but his animated character is physically completely different from him in real life. The general is a squat, muscle-bound jerk with a mustache and twenty years younger than Woods. It was just weird hearing Woods’ voice coming out of this other body. If they couldn’t pick more appropriate voices or draw the characters to match the actors portraying them, they should have used unknowns. Disney does an excellent job of picking voices that match characters — this film did it badly. I also wasn’t impressed with the girl who did Aki, the female lead. Sometimes she sounded American, sometimes British, and occasionally Japanese. It was very confusing: I kept changing my mind as to her nationality, and at one time I wondered if they’d replaced her with a different actress!

In retrospect, this isn’t that bad of a film. The plot is different, but it does make sense after you’ve watched the film. Unfortunately, the way the plot is presented, the film’s incomprehensible until the end. No doubt it would be better on a second viewing. In some ways, I’d say this film is worth watching just because it is so different, but it’s unfortunately so foreign and difficult to get into, I can’t really recommend it, especially when there are great films like Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke. Those have similar spiritual overtones and message but are much better written.

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Sun, May 05, 2002

: The Fast and the Furious

Relatively plottless film about illegal street car racing. This is where ordinary guys supercharge ordinary cars and race them on city streets at night (often outrunning cops in the process). I know nothing about racing and even less about cars, and thus I found parts of the film confusing and/or meaningless. For instance, I don’t at all understand the challenge in who can drive a straight quarter mile faster. With a curved track, I can see some driver skill involved (the risk/reward of how tight you take the turn), but on a straight track, a monkey could be driving for all I can tell. It’s all about the car. (I understood a little more after going through some of the extras on the DVD.) Still, this was an interesting film with some decent action. The “plot” deals with a young hot rodder trying to fit in with the top group of racers, who turns out to be an undercover cop looking for a gang of thieves. Rather silly plot and amateurishly executed, but that’s not why we watch this kind of movie anyway. We watch this for the action, style, and colorful visuals. And it’s fun in that respect — just don’t take the film seriously.

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Sat, May 04, 2002

: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Amazing game! This is the first of two home games in a row, and the first game after captain Jeff Agoos and Landon Donovan were called up to the national team for World Cup preparation. How would the remaining Quakes perform? They started out well, with several near-goals in the first few minutes, including a great shot by Ariel that hit the post and bounced out. San Jose donominated for a while, then let Columbus have the ball for a while, and suddenly got bitten on a counter-attack. A great through-ball by Maisonneuve found rookie Kyle Martino who out-ran the backs to put in a cross which Washington managed to get into the goal. Sad, but it was an excellent goal. I thought San Jose might fight back, but the goal seemed to rattle them, and Columbus pushed their advantage, coming up with a couple near chances of their own. The Quakes were almost back in it when Dayak’s point-blank header, of a great Barrett free kick, was somehow parried over the bar by Crew keeper Presthus (doing his own Spiderman move). Moments later, during another Crew attack, Ibsen took out Maise to give Columbus a penalty kick. Cunningham easily put it away. With a depressing 2-0 lead and only minutes left in the first half, it looked like the Quakes were doomed. But just seconds later, Wade Barrett, at the other end, put in a long cross that was blocked. He instantly followed it up with a hard right-footed shot… that went through the entire box and into the far corner of the goal! Just his second goal in two years, but wow! What a time to score. The Quakes go into the locker room only one down and feeling the momentum. They didn’t lose that momentum, either, coming out and equalizing just minutes into the second half. Ekelund, who really needed a big game in the absence of Landon, fought hard after a no-win ball in the midfield… and won it. He ran down the right side and put in a cross. It traveled over the penalty box and out the other side, with no one getting to it. However, the ball was still in play, and retrieved by a Quake player who sent it back to Wade Barrett. He put in a great cross which Derosario headed back into the goal mouth, where Ekelund was waiting, and he cleanly stuck it in the back of the net giving Presthus no chance. After that, the game settled down to a nice battle, though it was obvious that the Crew would be happy with a tie and that the heat was a factor (the kickoff was 1 p.m. on a hot day). As the game neared the end, it looked like overtime was a certainty. With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, the ball came to an open Ramiro Corrales at the top of the box. He put in an extremely weak and off-target grounder with his right foot that went to Manny Lagos’ feet. Manny scrambled it back to Ramiro. He tried again, this time with his left foot, and pegged the ball into the upper corner of the goal for the game winner! Fantastic win! This was just huge. Not only coming back from two down, something San Jose doesn’t do particularly well, but playing without two key players. Gutsy play on a sweltering day. Final: 3-2 Quakes.

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Fri, May 03, 2002

: Spiderman

Director: Sam Raimi

Terrific film. Not only exciting and fun, but filled with excellent acting and a solid story. Halfway through at the 60 minute mark, enough had happened I would have been happy if the film ended then — and there was still an hour to go! The film is cleverly plotted: a trio of stories effortlessly woven together to create a realistic combination of characterization, humor, and romance. We follow young Peter Parker as he’s bitten by a radioactive spider while on a high school science field trip, and that begins the biological changes that give him his new extraordinary abilities. Tobey Maguire is perfect — he’s an excellent actor, communicating volumes with little gestures, and he’s convincing both as a geek and as a superhero: a seemingly impossible task. The gradual metamorphosis of Parker into Spiderman is patiently and logically handled, with the perfect motivations for why the young man becomes a superhero. For instance, wanting money for a car, he decides to enter a wrestling contest, and that forces him to conceive of a flashy costume and a character (Spiderman). Logical and neat. The romance between good-guy Parker and his longtime neighbor Mary Jane is also well done: instead of her being anti-Parker, like most geek-pretty-girl romances, she’s very nice to him, but he lacks the self-confidence to tell her how he feels. Later, their romance blossoms as Spiderman saves her life on several occasions, including a hilarious upside-down “thank you” kiss, but of course she doesn’t know he’s Parker, creating the opportunity for some killer double entendre dialog later. Just as the plot of Parker becoming Spiderman is weaved throughout the Parker-MJ romance, the formation of the villian, the Green Goblin, is also part of the story. The Green Goblin is Parker’s best friend’s father, a wealthy scientist who drinks his own untested formula which causes him to gain physical strength and agility, but makes him go insane. Thus the main “character” stories of Parker growing up, his family, and the dream girl MJ, are all interconnected with the hero-villain plot. It’s very well done meaning that no part of the story is pure expository (and therefore boring). The special effects, fights, and Spiderman acrobatics are appropriately incredible, and even more importantly, believable. For instance, Parker’s initial Spiderman efforts are slightly flawed, but as he becomes more used to his powers, his skills naturally improve. Just a great film all around. Terrific fun.

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Wed, May 01, 2002

: Scary Movie II

Decent follow-up to the original, though just as raunchy and with plenty of bad taste. It’s definitely got some funny bits, though. The DVD’s cool as it’s got over 30 minutes of deleted scenes (a few are better than the scenes in the film). In a nutshell, if you liked the first one, you’ll like this one.

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: The Animal

Purile.

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Sat, Apr 27, 2002

: The Technicolor Time Machine

Author: Harry Harrison

Wild book with a crazy premise: a struggingly film studio finances a scientist’s time machine project in order to go back in time to film a movie with real Vikings and have the film finished in four days. Unfortunately, the humor’s dated: a lot of the satiric jabs at Hollywood’s excesses fall hollow (and even worse, seem tame in today’s world). Still, it’s rather fun and interesting, and I love the concept of taking sci-fi and going a completely different direction.

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Fri, Apr 26, 2002

: Antitrust

Great concept, poorly done. It’s a thinly disguised mockery of Microsoft out to take over the world, except the company is given the idiotic name of NURV. The hero’s a college kid who’s a genius programmer, recruited by NURV to help finish their new satellite-based communication system (which ridiculously talks to any electronic device anywhere in the world in any medium). This could have been good, if they’d actually followed the rules of reality, and made use of the story’s satric potential. Instead they went trite and predictable, with an overly complicated (and illogical) plot. Pretty lame and disappointing.

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Wed, Apr 24, 2002

: Football Confederation Champions Cup: Pachuca at San Jose

Okay game, but I knew from the start that San Jose wasn’t going for it. They lost the away leg 3-0, so that meant they had to win the home leg 4-0 to advance. But Coach Yallop rested several of San Jose’s best players (which was fair, since they’d been playing non-stop for weeks) and I knew he’d given up. If the Quakes could have scored in the first half there’d have been a chance, but the first half finished nil-nil. San Jose did score in the second, and very late received a penalty kick call that should have made the score 2-0, but Ramiro’s penalty was blocked. So the Quakes won, 1-0, but are out of the tournament. Bummer, but good experience for their first champions cup.

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Sat, Apr 20, 2002

: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

Terrific game! I’ve never seen a team have so many chances at goal. The Quakes totally dominated. Colorado only had a handful shots on goal the whole night (they hit the post once, and forced Cannon to make a fantastic save on a blistering Mark Chung grounder). The rest of the time they were just scrambling. Ariel Graziani got things started in the 26th minute. He stuck with the ball, somehow managing to get free from his defender, and put it away. In the second half, in the 74th minute, he fed a fantastic through-pass which Landon Donovan ran onto, putting Landon one-on-one with the keeper. He duked to the left, Colorado’s Scott Garlick hit the dirt, and Landon calmly put the ball into the empty net.

The Quakes had an unbelievable number of terrific chances — if they could have finished the final score could have been 10 or 12 to zero. They hit the post, shot wide or high, stumbled on the ball, were a shade too slow to shoot, or were denied by Garlick. I know that makes them sound incompetent, but it was really just poor luck and timing (which is a form of concentration). For instance, DeRosario had a guaranteed goal when he and Garlick went after the ball and Dewayne came away with it. He found himself in front of an open net with Garlick behind him and no defenders in sight. The stadium was rising in anticipation of a goal, when Dewayne stepped on the ball. That fraction of a second lost was enough delay for Garlick to throw himself on the ball and the scoring chance was lost. I am a bit concerned the Quakes didn’t score more goals: they really need to start finishing their chances. Still, it is early in the season and they are creating the chances. And they got the result — ultimately that’s what’s important. I can’t complain too much if they keep winning! This win puts them tied for the overall lead in MLS with New York, and at the top of the Western Division. Final: 2-0 Earthquakes.

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Fri, Apr 19, 2002

: Artificial Intelligence

Director: Steven Spielberg

Huh? This film desperately needs some intelligence, artificial or not. I really wanted to like it. I’m a science fiction fan, and a huge robot fan. The promos for the film, telling us it’s about a little robot boy who is programmed to love — were a distinct turnoff. Exploring whether or not a robot’s love is real or not has been done to death and isn’t the slightest bit interesting (there’s no conclusive answer to the question anyway), but I decided to give the film a chance. To my surprise, the heart of the film initially appeared to be a much more intriguing question: not whether a robot could love, but whether humans could love a robot. A young couple, whose own son is in a permanent coma, receive a prototype of a little boy robot programmed to love. Naturally, the mother initially resists, but the robot’s so life-like and acts enough like a child that she eventually decides to adopt him permanently and treat him like a real child. Intriguing premise.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as the film went with that. From that point on, the movie deteriorates and wanders aimlessly, looking for a reason to exist. The robot boy, remembering the story of Pinochio, seeks for a fairy to turn him into a real boy. That could be interesting, but it’s not. The boy’s kidnapped by robot-haters, who want to destroy him, but he escapes and eventually connects with his creator. The ending I won’t reveal out of courtesy, but let’s just say it’s one of the most dissatisfying endings every filmed. Yes, it’s completely logical. It makes perfect robotic sense. But it’s horrible from an emotional perspective! It’s inhuman. Why is it that Hollywood likes to play fast and loose with scientific reality when it won’t affect the story, but when it makes the story depressing, they insist on verisimilitude? Crazy!

One last nitpick. You’d think with someone like Spielberg behind the picture they could at least create an interesting futuristic world for us to see. Instead, everything looks recycled from a 1930’s sci-fi flop, except in color. For example, look at the stupid tri-wheeled car the mom drives: you got it, drives. Here we are in a future society where robots are so human you almost can’t tell they’re machines and we still have to drive our own cars??! Please.

Bottom line: I liked Bicentennial Man better, if that tells you anything. The only thing good: I did like The Sixth Sense kid’s performance as the boy robot.

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Fri, Apr 12, 2002

: Left Behind

Author: Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

I was not expecting much from this book, the first in the wildly popular series, but to my astonishment, this is an excellent book. It’s surprisingly well-written, quick-paced, and interesting. The book begins with the Rapture — where Christians are taken to heaven and mysteriously vanish from the earth. Whether or not you believe in the Rapture, it makes for fascinating reading, as those “left behind” desperately come up with wild theories to explain the disappearences of their friends and loved ones. I found it wonderfully ironic that if all Christians are taken away, those left behind are obviously the least likely to accept God as the cause, though of course a few are convinced the disappearances are of supernatural origin.

I’ve heard the series described as a soap opera, and that’s probably true, but it’s still good fun and the Christian message, while occasionally heavy-handed, is presented a realistic and wholesome manner. A lot of Christian books are terribly unrealistic with characters and situations that don’t exist in the real world, but I was pleased that this book presented both secular and Christian views from a balanced perspective (that’s difficult for a writer to do).

As to the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical prophecies that are the basis of the series, I must inject my own views and say that that’s irrelevant. The Bible speaks of the end times in riddles and metaphor: who is to say that we can interpret them accurately? What difference does it make either way? While some thought of the end times is good and appropriate, no one can guarantee their interpretation is correct. I find the concepts and stories fascinating, but fiction is the best vehicle for these kinds of ideas (versus the numerous non-fiction books written on the subject).

The series apparently continues on through the Tribulation, the period of suffering God inflicts on the world after the Rapture, and the core group of new Christians in this book become leaders of a resistence group. While I’m expecting the series quality to decline, I find it interesting enough I’ve ordered the next several books in the series, so we’ll see what happens next.

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Tue, Apr 09, 2002

: Shackleton

This was a made-for-A&E film about the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton, a British explorer who led several expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century. If I’d known it was a mini-series (four hours long if you include commericials), I don’t know that I would have bothered, but after watching the intriguing first half, I had to watch the conclusion. In the first part, Shackleton raises funds and plans his second expedition, and in part two he and his ship are stranded in the middle of an ice flow for months and eventually are forced to abandon ship and crawl their way to land. The 28 men carry small boats over the ice searching for open water, eventually finding it and traveling to Elephant Island, where there’s wildlife (mostly seals) they can eat. A group of six men led by Shackleton set off in a boat to find civilization and rescue. They find land, but unfortunately they land on the wrong side and must hike over a mountain. They arrive half-dead, but alive, and Shackleton organizes a rescue effort that eventually (on the fourth attempt) reaches the rest of his men stranded on Elephant Island. The men lived their for four months waiting for rescue.

This is an amazingly well-done film: the view of Antarctica are breathtaking and everything is extremely realistic. I tended to forget I wasn’t watching a documentary. When I remembered this was a dramatization, I felt sympathy for the actors who had to live in the frozen wasteland just to make this movie. In a few places, the drama was overdone and occasionally there were minor skips in logic or events that confused me (for instance, the entire film takes place over a year and a half and it was often confusing as to how much time had passed between scenes). Still, the story was interesting and of historical importance, and I found fascinating Shackelton’s remarkable fortitude and determination that allowed him to not lose a single man in this ill-fated expedition. Definitely worth your time.

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Sun, Apr 07, 2002

: Heartbreakers

Did this do well in the theatres? I saw the previews and thought it looked fun, but it seemed to disappear quickly. I don’t know why: I liked it a lot. It’s about a mother-daughter team of con artists. The mother marries rich men, the daughter seduces them and manages to get caught in the act, and then the mother divorces for a nice settlement. As the mom, Sigourney Weaver’s good, but her character’s too immoral for us to really like her. But we love Jennifer Love Hewitt, who’s quirky, silly, arrogant, and drop-dead gorgeous. She really holds the movie, somehow managing to be an innocent sexy seductress. She’s desperate to leave her mother and strike out on her own, but her mother won’t let her go, to the point of conning her own daughter to trick her into staying. Best scene? When JLH, dressed to thrill, goes into a bar following a rich mark, a guy walks up and asks her if she’d like a drink. “Is that the best you can do?” she asks, scorning his offer. She then delivers a blistering speech on the stupidity of the guy and men in general. Finally, she stops to catch her breath. “So why’d you offer me a drink?” He smiles. “Because I’m the bartender.” Wow, there’s nothing more satisfying than a beautiful woman full of herself getting shot down! Of course, she and the bartender (who it turns out owns the bar) are such opposites they become romantically involved.

The film’s comedy comes from outrageous characters and from putting the grifters in awkward situations, like when Weaver, pretending to be a Russian immigrant, is forced on stage at a Russian restaurant and told to sing a Russian song. You’re fascinated, wondering how she’d going to get out of it, but somehow she does, all without her mark suspecting she’s a phony. Most of the time the film moves at a rapid pace, providing us with interesting things to see. Unfortunately, it begins to fade after 90 minutes of excellency. The plot become complicated and takes off in a new direction, bringing back the ex-husband Weaver had divorced at the start of the film, and while I was expecting several “conning the con artists” twists, these were mediocre and too predictable. (I kept hoping the daughter would finally put one over her mother.) Still, the ending was appropriately pleasant, and the mother-daughter relationship was extremely convincing (Sigourney and JLH have great chemistry). The bottom line: a fun, sexy, and pleasant film that’s just 20 minutes too long. (What’s frightening is that the DVD includes over 20 minutes of deleted footage! Most of these explain plot things that are inferred anyway and are thus unnecessary, but a few are funny bits trimmed for time.)

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: Mindbend

Author: Robin Cook

This is an older (1985) Cook book (ha ha) about the evils of businesses invading medicine. Instead of concentrating on just that, however, Cook throws in a few other gimmicks: the evil business is brainwashing doctors into increasing the number of unnecessary abortion so that the company’s labs have plenty of fetal tissue to use in their fetology research. Well, that’s a lot of stuff going on, and the mess it makes is, well, a mess. Worse, Cook’s main characters are so stiff and artificial and he forces conflict with such a blunt pen it’s aggravating. He has the hero husband fighting with his wife for no logical reason. He’s a medical student and doesn’t trust his wife’s doctor (who it turns out is controlled by the evil business), so she promptly leaves him and goes home to mama! Their relationship strains credibility and makes one wonder why they were together in the first place. The idiot guy stubbornly refuses financial help from her parents, preferring to drop out of medical school instead, and his own parents are barely on speaking terms with him — get this — because his older brother died in Vietnam (somehow they blame him). All this character assassination is done to force the plot: that the young man takes a job with a drug company whose parent happens to be the company controlling all the doctors and stealing fetal material. Of course, he discovers this and investigates. And thus we begin a race between him and his wife: can he find proof of the company’s illegal activities before his wife can abort the baby he doesn’t even want? Still, you’re reading this absurd mess hoping something exciting’s coming, and boy does it ever! (That’s sarcasm, for the clueless.) The hero figures out the company’s brainwashing methods: a combination of drugs and surgery, performed on doctors when they take medical seminar cruises sponsored by the evil corporation. Even better: these doctors have chips planted in their heads so they can be controlled by remote control! Even more absurd, these doctors are being remote controlled to make them order drugs made by the evil company! Absolutely ludicrous, though I suspect more than a few drug companies would love the concept. In the end, of course, the hero wins, gets back with his wife (who doesn’t have the abortion), and even makes up with his dad. That all happens in the final three pages. Despite this being a quick read, I can’t recommend this book at all: it’s lame all the way around, though I did manage to finish it. I just wish I hadn’t wasted the time. There is good news, though: this book has totally gotten me over my fear of writing a bad novel. If a book like this is a best seller, I have nothing to worry about.

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Sat, Apr 06, 2002

: San Jose Earthquakes Home Opener vs. New England

It was an exciting day: for the first time in history, San Jose went to their home opener as the reigning Major League Soccer champions. Now it’s up to them to prove to everyone that last year’s worst-to-first wasn’t just a fluke. Before the game, the players were presented their Championship rings (the first 10,000 fans received replicas, which are pretty cool, if I do say so myself). A first for me is that I bought season tickets this year, so I didn’t have to wait in line at the entrance. Very cool.

The game itself was great: the Quakes were facing the Revolution, who had a horrible season last year, but with consolidation in the league ended up with five All-Stars on this year’s team! But San Jose put a damper on NE’s enthusiasm just 92 seconds in when a little feed by Ariel Graziani put Manny Lagos in on goal by himself and he first-timed it past Jurgen Summer to give the Quakes the lead. That started a trend of total Quake domination. They had about 70% possession for most of the first half and chance after chance on goal, looking extremely dangerous. New England could barely complete a single pass, giving up the ball right and left. I counted at least twice where every single player on their team was in their own half of the field! The Revs almost had a goal when a frantic clearance by Jimmy Conrad almost put the ball into his own net, but it hit the post. Joe Cannon was forced to make a save or two, but it was mostly all San Jose. A bit later, Ekelund made a terrific block to stop a shot, and I remarked to the guy sitting near me, “Look at that: New England almost got a shot on goal. Can’t have that.” Still, as the half drew to a close and San Jose hadn’t increased their lead, I grew worried. They were easing up on possession, letting the Revs have more of the ball, and they were starting to actually connect a few passes and gain confidence. With their dangerous strikers, I worried that a slight mistake could let them in, and sure enough, late in the first half, Senegalese strike “Big Mama” Mamadou Diallo took a through-ball that gave him a slight opening and he finished it cleanly into the far post beating Cannon. It was a good goal, but it was still depressing and a little unfair considering how much the Quakes had dominated.

In the second half, New England played better, starting to look like a real team. But San Jose played excellent, controlling things well, though still unable to score. Finally, in the 77th minute, substitute Dewayne Derosario bolted aggressively up the right side and played a ball to Landon Donovan in the penalty box. Though Landon had his back to goal and was tightly marked, he still managed to control the ball, the slide it over to an on-rushing Ronnie Ekelund who side-footed it into the back of the goal. It was Ronnie’s first MLS goal, which was great to see (last season he had assists, but no goals). That was the game winner, as New England was pretty much dead after that. San Jose kept up the pressure, looking for another goal and keeping the Revs afraid of leaving their half of the field, but mostly the Quakes intelligently kept the ball, knowing the other team can’t score without it. Good game with a great result, though I’d certainly like to see Landon a little more involved with creative play, and the Quakes need to finish more their chances. I don’t like games like their last one against Colorado where they dominated play but couldn’t finish and lost. But this win does give them a 2-1-0 record (win/loss/draw) for the season, which is an excellent start. New England’s lost both of their games, so they’re starting to feel the pressure. Final: 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes.

[Click for full view of the Championship Ring presentation]

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Blow Dry

Funny low-key comedy about a British competition of hairdressers. Similar to

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Wed, Apr 03, 2002

: Kiss of the Dragon

Cool action flick with Jet Li chopping up bad cops in Paris. He’s a Chinese cop brought in to help take down a Chinese criminal, but the corrupt French inspector kills the crook and frames Jet with the crime. From then on Jet’s on the run, dashing all over Paris and beating up anyone who gets in his way. Good action, excellent fighting, and a decent (though predictable) story. Great fun.

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Tue, Apr 02, 2002

: 10,000 Men Named George

Fascinating drama based on the life of black union organizer Asa Philip Randolf who, back in the 1920s and 30s, founded the first black union in a major U.S. corporation. It took twelve years to get Pullman to recognize the union of Sleeping Car Porters, and during that time the company tried every dirty trick in the book to stop the union from forming. The working conditions for porters were very poor. For instance, they didn’t get paid if a train wasn’t full! They also weren’t allowed any rest between rides, and if they complained or were found sleeping on the job, they were fired. Add the indignity of being treated like scum (all porters were called “George” by the passengers), and these guys badly needed a union. Very interesting story and well-done.

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Wed, Mar 27, 2002

: The Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

It might just be pop science, but this is a fascinating study about how trends and social epidemics happen. What makes a particular shoe suddenly popular? How does a book become a best-seller? Why are so many students pulling Columbines at their schools? Gladwell details some interesting studies that reveal unexpected answers. For example, violent crime in New York City went down dramatically after a crackdown on graffiti. Getting rid of graffiti was expensive and many were against it figuring it was a minor offense, but the results were astounding. It turned out that the presence of graffiti gave thugs confidence that even worse crimes also wouldn’t be punished. After all, if the cops couldn’t stop graffiti, how could they stop purse snatching? But once the graffiti was gone, low-lifes were much more hesitant to commit violent crimes. There are dozens of other examples of unorthodox solutions to problems, and the idea of the book is that you can learn from others and employ the same techniques in your own situations. For example, one woman was having little success with her campaign educating women about breast cancer. The women who showed up for her seminars were already interested in the subject. She wanted to reach the uninformed. Most people would assume an expensive advertising campaign would be the only way, but her non-profit organization had very little money. So she came up with a brilliant idea: instead of advertising, she picked a select group of women and focused her education efforts on them. Who did she pick? Hairdressers. Sure enough, once those hairdressers had been educated and trained in how to convey the important message about breast cancer, they promptly told all their clients about it! And since the presentation was casual and presented as friendly chatter, the retention rate of the information was fantastic. The number of women going in for mammograms skyrocketed. And the cost of the program was hardly anything. So thinking differently, and influencing the right group of influential people is much more effective than spending gobs of money on ad campaigns that are just going to be ignored anyway. Great book.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Tue, Mar 26, 2002

: The Believer

Fascinating film about a controversial subject. Difficult to watch in places, and I liked that. It’s the true story of a young Jewish boy who’s a Nazi skinhead. Surprisingly, he’s remarkably intelligent, and he gives impassioned speeches against Jews, especially of their religion. (Raised as a Jew, he knows Hebrew and everything about Judaism.) One moment he’s rational, eloquent, and persuasive, and the next he’s wildly violent. For me, that was the most significant aspect of the film, that this skinhead wasn’t an idiot. It was also the scariest aspect of the film. How many more “rational” racists are out there? The kid was a mass of contradictions, and that made him interesting. For instance, in one scene, while vandalizing a temple, he tries to stop his skinhead buddies from touching a scroll of the Talmund as it is sacred Jewish writing. He talked and talked about wanting to kill a Jew, and in the end he succeeded by killing himself. Sad and troubling. A well-done original Showtime movie.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Mar 24, 2002

: 2nd Chance

Author: James Patterson

If this isn’t a textbook thriller, I don’t know what is. And I mean textbook thriller in the weakest sense. The chapters are extremely short, 2-3 pages, and each ends with a “dramatic” cliffhanger or unexpected news. Except, of course, everything’s so predictable, nothing’s unexpected. Patterson brings back his “Women’s Murder Club” from 1st to Die and seems to think his collection of brilliant women who solve crimes (led by Lt. _) is innovative. He takes far too much time exposing us to the inner lives of his characters, as if we care. Though nothing like this happens in the book, the technique reminds me a lot of the way a TV show will introduce us to a character’s former lover we’ve never met through a two minutes of flashbacks and then tragically kill her off at the end and we’re supposed to be moved. Extremely artificial. Worse than that, the plot of his murder story is dull. It’s serious: the serial killer takes out a lot of people, and there’s a lot of hand-wringing and sighing, but we really don’t care one way or the other. With this kind of writing, death is trivialized. There are also a number of extremely puzzling technical omissions. For instance, the cops have a tape of the killer making a fake 911 call, but later, when they’ve got a suspect but no evidence to arrest him, no one thinks of doing a voice match to the tape! Overall, this is a quick read, and nothing terrible, but it’s predictable, and I liked my surprise ending then the one in the book. Ho hum.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sat, Mar 16, 2002

: Snatch

Author: Guy Ritchie

Director: Guy Ritchie

Very cool flick from the Guy who did Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels but better: the similarly convoluted story’s much easier to follow. The plot’s far too complex to reveal here: suffice it to say that we’ve got a variety of gangsters, thieves, and low-lifes and their lives intersect throughout the film. Everyone’s after a huge 84-caret stolen diamond. It’s funny, violent, and very entertaining. The directing is extremely self-conscious and highly stylized, and it works perfectly for this kind of picture. For example, one character, an American gangster who is waiting for the diamond to be delivered, flies to London (where most of the story takes place) and back to New York several times. Each of these “flights” is shown to the viewer as a series of lightning quick sequences in which total about three seconds of footage. We see a plane taking off, a high-speed swig from a liquor glass while on the plane (with appropriate “swoosh” sound effects), a plane landing, and we’re there. Very cool, funny in its unrealism, and effective, in that it keeps the film moving. Great film, if you’re into this kind of flick. Guy’s the Quentin of the U.K.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Mar 15, 2002

: Don’t Say a Word

A bit of a different thriller: a top child psychiatrist’s daughter is kidnapped in order to force him to get information from a mentally unstable patient. It’s all about money, of course: the girl doesn’t even realize she knows where the money is hidden. But I liked the aspect of a different kind of pressure on the psychiatrist. He’s got to get through to the patient and find the information in her head, and he’s got to do it in one day or else his own daughter will be killed. Good performances and direction, and the suspense and action isn’t bad, but ultimately the psychology’s thin. Of course the patient is “cured” during the process, and a lot of the trauma she supposedly suffers from is muddled and nonsensical. For example, she is aware that people want this information from her (she tells the doctor, “You want what they want.”) but at the same time she’s supposedly doesn’t know what information she’s hiding. How can you consciously hide something you’re not aware you possess? As usual in these kind of movies, the cure happens too quickly, and the root cause of the girl’s mental problems seems weak. Of course psychology’s always intimate, so it’s difficult for an outsider to judge. For instance, if a guy’s insanely terrified of butterflies and we find out that was caused by him accidentally stepping on one as a child, that sounds stupid. But who knows? For him, that could have been an extremely traumatic event, and maybe an event linked with other intense emotions (like guilt over his parents divorce happening at the time) and it sent him over the edge. But on screen it could seem weak. Like in this case, it’s caused by her witnessing her father’s death as a child. Yes, that’s a traumatic event, but we knew that at the beginning of the film. If that had been kept a secret and we drew it out of her at a climatic point in the film, that’d be one thing, but “revealing” something we already know was weak. Overall, still an above average film.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Mar 11, 2002

: The Summons

Author: John Grisham

I found this book fascinating. Not because the book’s that great, but because Grisham’s best-selling gimmick is so obvious. Grisham’s appeal is that he writes about a subject almost everyone’s interested in: money. (No reader actually cares about lawyers or the law.) In this book, the “plot” is about a law professor whose judge father dies. There’s supposedly little money in the estate, but when the son arrives at home, he finds $3 million in cash hidden in a cabinet. The question then becomes, “Where did the money come from?” Grisham throws in baddies who also want the money, so the law professor’s on the run with the cash in the trunk of his Audi, and it’s an entertaining read. But of course the real appeal is the juicy fantasy of finding $3 million in cash. We all want to be in those shoes! There are some illogical aspects to the plot, and the story, while interesting, takes too long to get to the mediocre payoff, but the ending is cool: without giving anything away, the tables are turned and the law professor’s greed is laid bare. I’d give this a solid B, in comparison to Grisham’s other works. He does a lot without much, and that’s an achievement. But this book says more about his readers than it does the author.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sat, Mar 09, 2002

: Evolution

I had wanted to see this in theatres, but it disappeared before I had the chance. I don’t know why: I rather liked it. It’s nothing profound, just a light-hearted scifi-comedy. Director Ivan Reitman does a great job balancing the opposites of science and comedy, giving us scientists who are borderline comedians. I guess that could be one of the reasons it wasn’t a big hit at the box office: it’s not terribly funny or terribly science fictionish. There’s also a bit too much toilet humor. Still, it’s mildly amusing and the special effects are terrific. The plot is simple: a meteorite lands in Arizona and it contains alien single-cell organisms which “evolve” into higher lifeforms incredibly quickly, threatening to take over the entire planet within a few months. Of course the military wants to burn them up, but the unorthodox scientist heros have a better idea and save the planet. Ultimately, the film relies on its special effects: the digital alien lifeforms are really well done, realistic with just a touch of wackiness.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Mar 03, 2002

: Summer Catch

Not bad, though extremely predictable. It’s about a talented baseball player who’s getting a shot at making the big leagues, but can’t keep his head together long enough to pitch a consistent game. Then he falls in love with the wrong girl (she’s rich, he mows her lawn) and we’ve got class warfare. Yes, of course everything ends up wonderfully: he goes to the Majors, she loves him, etc. etc. Still, it’s not as bad as you might expect from the recycled plot. The characters are appealing, and it’s harmless fun.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Mar 02, 2002

: Angel Eyes

An interesting concept, but far too slow and doesn’t do enough with the idea. It’s a about a female cop who meets a strange guy. He tells her his name is Catch, no last name, and won’t say anything about his past or what he does or anything. Anyway, she falls in love with, deduces his secret (he has a tragic past he’s trying to forget), and when he comes around, they live happily ever after. Or something like that. The premise is good, but the love dialog tries so hard to be clever it comes across as inane, and despite the pretty presence of Jennifer Lopez, the film commits the cardinal sin of being boring.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Feb 27, 2002

: Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine

Author: Cheryl Woodard

Excellent book. It delves more into the business side of publishing than in the production side (which is ideal for me since I know production but I’m weak in business). She gives tips on budgeting, estimating subscription sales, marketing, writing a business plan, wooing advertisers, creating an advertiser media kit, etc. The info varies from obvious to invaluable advice, and in general is well suited to just about anyone contemplating starting a publication.

Cheryl was involved in starting up a number of hugely successful magazines, like PC Magazine, MacWorld, and Publish. Unfortunately, she seems to assume that most of us are out to start empires of similar stature, and a lot of her ideas are out of reach of the ordinary person wanting to start a simple newsletter or Internet “ezine.” For instance, she recommends a particular software package to manage your subscriptions, but when I went to that company’s website, their package starts at $1500 plus $800/year mandatory support. It also runs only on Windows, something that just bites (and in my case would require a computer purchase). Yes, many medium-level magazines could afford such things, but there are many that can’t. Cheryl talks about $50,000 direct marketing plans, again something most publishers can’t afford. My feeling is that people with that kind of budget can afford to hire expert consultants like Cheryl to help them plan their business and they don’t need to read a book. But there are thousands of smaller publishers who’d like to start a simple newsletter for their hobby or fanclub or whatever, and many of Cheryl’s ideas are over their head. The book is still a valuable read: I just wish it focused on reality a little more.

Of course I’m reading this book because I’m launching my own magazine this summer. We’ll see how Cheryl’s advice works in the real world!

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sun, Feb 24, 2002

: The Patriot

Not as bad as I expected. Extremely predictable and routine, but well produced technically. Could have been more interesting with a plot that revealed something we hadn’t seen before, but it was the pretty much the standard “hero” movie: reluctant hero spurred into action by evil villain destroying something he values and he eventually defeats villain. BTW, this was a very bloody movie: lots of gruesome shots like a cannonball taking a guy’s head off. Wars back then were so much less humane than today (grin).

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jan 13, 2002

: Crazy/Beautiful

I have to be careful I don’t go overboard in my praise of this film. I was expecting a silly teen flick and instead I got a genuine story of teenage romance. Good performances, with realistic dialogue and storyline. I really lliked the characters: a rich white “bad” girl falls in love with a studious Hispanic boy from the wrong side of town. The boy’s a hard-working kid, riding the bus two hours each way just to get to the prestigious high school the girl keeps ditching. He wants to go to the Naval Academy and become a pilot, but his involvement with the wild girl threatens his future. Slowly, we learn about why the girl’s so screwed up (her mother committed suicide). Everyone tells the couple they’re wrong for each other. The ending is a little pat, but happy, and I liked it. Good movie.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jan 10, 2002

: MacWorld Expo

I don’t like big cities. I’ve been to San Francisco a handful of times, and usually the only thing going through my mind is “When can I leave?” However, this time I was taking a full day off of work to go to MacWorld Expo, and I had no pressing engagements or schedules to keep. I looked at the day as an adventure, and decided that I’d just enjoy whatever happened. Perhaps that new attitude helped. Whatever the reason, I had a good time, despite the traumas and few negative experiences.

It started out with the difficulties of getting to San Francisco. Even though I was driving through San Jose at 9 a.m., traffic was still bad, which surprised me: I figured everyone would be at work by that time. Driving in the City was even worse, though I tried to relax and tell myself to be calm. Nothing too terrible happened: I almost got run over by a fire truck; a few cars honked at me for not knowing what I was doing; I got stuck behind an armored truck for a bit when it pulled over for a pickup and the traffic going around wouldn’t let me out; and I drove the same parts of downtown SF several times, trying to figure out how to get where I needed to go. In the end, I figured out the secret to driving in the big city: there are no left turns. If you can get there by turning right, you’re fine, but with no left-hand turn lanes, you’re toast if you want to go left. Of course the parking garage I’d selected was to my left, so I ended up having to do a complex loop to my right and then go past the road I was on to end up to that road’s left and come back up it with the parking garage on my right. It took me a couple tries, but without a schedule, I didn’t have to worry about being late.

MacWorld Expo was very exciting. My entrance badge hadn’t arrived in the mail as promised, but they found on the computer in a few seconds and printed me one on the spot. Within ten minutes of arriving, I was inside the Expo. Moscone Center, where it’s held every year, is divided into two buildings, North and South (you can move between the buildings via a wide corridor that goes underneath the street that divides them). I started off at the smaller North Hall and was very pleased with all the booths. Everyone was friendly, demonstrations of products were lively and exciting, and I got some free stuff (T-Shirts, CDs, etc.). It had been oh, maybe eight years since I last went to a MacWorld Expo — I prefer the Seybold show, as it’s devoted to Electronic Publishing — and I was surprised to note that even I could see that the show was smaller than in the past. Curtain partitions had been erected around the perimeter so you wouldn’t notice that the booths didn’t extend all the way to the edges of the huge room. I don’t know if the show wasn’t sold out because of the economy or Sept. 11, but either way it was a touch sad. The expo organizers should have given more space to each exhibitor and used up that extra space: it would have felt like it was full. At any rate, the vendors who were there were excellent, and I discovered a number of products I’d never heard about, so that was good. At the REALbasic booth I met several of the REALbasic folks (REALbasic is the programming language I use), people I’ve talked with for years via email but never met in person. It was gratifying to walk up and not even have to introduce myself — they recognized my name from my columns and the software I’ve written. Later, in the South Hall, I ran into Matt Neuburg, author extraordinaire, the guy who introduced me to REALbasic via one of his articles. We had a great chat and he said he was eager to contribute to my REALbasic Developer magazine.

The South Hall was filled with larger exhibitors, including a monster Apple site which contains hundreds of the new flat-panel iMacs. They were impressive, by the way. I’d read the technical specs before coming and knew they’re excellent values, but seeing them in person you really get a feel for how fantastic those screens look. In the pictures, the new iMacs usually look like a bizarre kind of desk lamp (I call them iLamps). But in person, you really don’t notice the base: the screen takes all your focus, and with it in front of you, it covers up the base. The result is that the computer is the screen. Very cool effect but one that must be experienced in person. Overall, however, the South Hall disappointed me: most of the vendors were big huge companies, like Canon, Olympus, HP, Epson, etc., that are only peripherally Macintosh related. It was good those companies were there, sure, but their offerings are skimpy and not exactly innovative (gee, another scanner, another printer, whoop whoop). I liked the booths of the small vendors best. Here you were often talking with the actual programmer who wrote the software, or the president of the company would be giving you the demo of the product. It was a much more personal atmosphere. Some of the larger places were giving impressive demonstrations, especially the video and 3D software products, but those places were crowded, the demos long and technical (some of that software takes years to master and that assumes you’re already a video expert or artist), and the ones with chairs never had a free seat (I suspect most people just wanted to get off their feet). My suggestion to the Expo people would be to encourage more smaller exhitors. One thing I’d love to see, being a shareware author myself, is a shareware arena. Set up a large section with dozens of small booths, and allow several hundred shareware authors to promote their products. Each author wouldn’t necessarily get an exclusive booth but perhaps a set few hours each day. The cost would be free or minimal: just travel and living expensives to be at the Expo would be more than many authors could afford, but the benefits would be tremendous. I’d love to be able to demo my software to live people, meet users face to face, and listen to suggestions and problems and ideas for improvements. I’m sure I’d reach a new audience, people that hadn’t heard of Z-Write before, or didn’t understand it but suddenly do when seeing it demonstrated.

By four-thirty I was exhausted. I’d wandered through the entire show, seen just about everything I wanted to see, and I was lugging around my big bag of Expo goodies and my digital camera. I decided to call it quits and get some food. It felt great to sit and relax for a while. I ate a leisurely meal and started reading the new programming book I got at the Developer’s Depot booth. After dinner (I took an hour), I wandered over to the Yerba Buena Gardens area that’s on the back of the Moscone Center. It was surprisingly pleasant. There’s a nice fountain and a neat waterfalls and a little park. There’s a museum or something, too, but I didn’t go inside. I went over to the Sony Metreon building, which I’d heard about but never seen, and I wasn’t that impressed. It’s basically just a mall with restaurants, a multiscreen movie theatre, and a few Sony stores (there’s a Playstation store and Sony Style, which sells Sony electronics and DVDs). One thing was cool: a series of kiosks which would beam a Metreon map and movie timetable to your Palm handheld. I had my Handspring Visor with me and was tempted to try it, but I didn’t really need the info, and it just seemed unbelievably geeky, so I didn’t bother to try it. I’m sure it works as advertised. In the Sony Style store I got a neat demo of a hardware/software package for the Mac that lets you control your entire Sony stereo system, in particular, Sony CD changers. You can connect up to 12 changers and the software automatically gets the ablum and song titles from the Internet for you, and then it can control the changers and play the correct CD/song when told to do so. You can even mix CDs and MP3s together in your playlist! It was very impressive, with some features that I really like. For instance, you can tell the randomizer to only play songs you’ve haven’t heard in the last week (or month or 3 months)! There were also a zillion methods of organizing or searching the songs. It was very powerful, but the setup’s expensive: $300 and that doesn’t include the CD changer or the stereo system!

Finally, it was time to go to the REALbasic user group meeting. There was about a dozen of us there, and we got to share our concerns and suggestions with the REAlbasic team, and they gave us some hints and details at what improvements we can expect in the future. It was a great session: I was impressed at how open the RB guys were. They were honest and frank and willing to admit there were flaws in the product, and eager to hear from us users at what they could do to make it better.

It was ten o’clock by the time I got home. My parking garage bill was for $18, I got occosted by a begger wanting money for something I couldn’t understand (he mumbled terribly), and I discovered a huge blister on my left heel from all the walking. Next time, better shoes. But overall, a good day. A pleasant change from the ordinary. I wouldn’t want to do that every day, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live in the City, but I’m glad I went. I’ve put up some pictures of MacWorld Expo, if you’re interested.

Topic: [/technology]

Link

: MacWorld Expo

I don’t like big cities. I’ve been to San Francisco a handful of times, and usually the only thing going through my mind is “When can I leave?” However, this time I was taking a full day off of work to go to MacWorld Expo, and I had no pressing engagements or schedules to keep. I looked at the day as an adventure, and decided that I’d just enjoy whatever happened. Perhaps that new attitude helped. Whatever the reason, I had a good time, despite the traumas and few negative experiences.

It started out with the difficulties of getting to San Francisco. Even though I was driving through San Jose at 9 a.m., traffic was still bad, which surprised me: I figured everyone would be at work by that time. Driving in the City was even worse, though I tried to relax and tell myself to be calm. Nothing too terrible happened: I almost got run over by a fire truck; a few cars honked at me for not knowing what I was doing; I got stuck behind an armored truck for a bit when it pulled over for a pickup and the traffic going around wouldn’t let me out; and I drove the same parts of downtown SF several times, trying to figure out how to get where I needed to go. In the end, I figured out the secret to driving in the big city: there are no left turns. If you can get there by turning right, you’re fine, but with no left-hand turn lanes, you’re toast if you want to go left. Of course the parking garage I’d selected was to my left, so I ended up having to do a complex loop to my right and then go past the road I was on to end up to that road’s left and come back up it with the parking garage on my right. It took me a couple tries, but without a schedule, I didn’t have to worry about being late.

MacWorld Expo was very exciting. My entrance badge hadn’t arrived in the mail as promised, but they found on the computer in a few seconds and printed me one on the spot. Within ten minutes of arriving, I was inside the Expo. Moscone Center, where it’s held every year, is divided into two buildings, North and South (you can move between the buildings via a wide corridor that goes underneath the street that divides them). I started off at the smaller North Hall and was very pleased with all the booths. Everyone was friendly, demonstrations of products were lively and exciting, and I got some free stuff (T-Shirts, CDs, etc.). It had been oh, maybe eight years since I last went to a MacWorld Expo — I prefer the Seybold show, as it’s devoted to Electronic Publishing — and I was surprised to note that even I could see that the show was smaller than in the past. Curtain partitions had been erected around the perimeter so you wouldn’t notice that the booths didn’t extend all the way to the edges of the huge room. I don’t know if the show wasn’t sold out because of the economy or Sept. 11, but either way it was a touch sad. The expo organizers should have given more space to each exhibitor and used up that extra space: it would have felt like it was full. At any rate, the vendors who were there were excellent, and I discovered a number of products I’d never heard about, so that was good. At the REALbasic booth I met several of the REALbasic folks (REALbasic is the programming language I use), people I’ve talked with for years via email but never met in person. It was gratifying to walk up and not even have to introduce myself — they recognized my name from my columns and the software I’ve written. Later, in the South Hall, I ran into Matt Neuburg, author extraordinaire, the guy who introduced me to REALbasic via one of his articles. We had a great chat and he said he was eager to contribute to my REALbasic Developer magazine.

The South Hall was filled with larger exhibitors, including a monster Apple site which contains hundreds of the new flat-panel iMacs. They were impressive, by the way. I’d read the technical specs before coming and knew they’re excellent values, but seeing them in person you really get a feel for how fantastic those screens look. In the pictures, the new iMacs usually look like a bizarre kind of desk lamp (I call them iLamps). But in person, you really don’t notice the base: the screen takes all your focus, and with it in front of you, it covers up the base. The result is that the computer is the screen. Very cool effect but one that must be experienced in person. Overall, however, the South Hall disappointed me: most of the vendors were big huge companies, like Canon, Olympus, HP, Epson, etc., that are only peripherally Macintosh related. It was good those companies were there, sure, but their offerings are skimpy and not exactly innovative (gee, another scanner, another printer, whoop whoop). I liked the booths of the small vendors best. Here you were often talking with the actual programmer who wrote the software, or the president of the company would be giving you the demo of the product. It was a much more personal atmosphere. Some of the larger places were giving impressive demonstrations, especially the video and 3D software products, but those places were crowded, the demos long and technical (some of that software takes years to master and that assumes you’re already a video expert or artist), and the ones with chairs never had a free seat (I suspect most people just wanted to get off their feet). My suggestion to the Expo people would be to encourage more smaller exhitors. One thing I’d love to see, being a shareware author myself, is a shareware arena. Set up a large section with dozens of small booths, and allow several hundred shareware authors to promote their products. Each author wouldn’t necessarily get an exclusive booth but perhaps a set few hours each day. The cost would be free or minimal: just travel and living expensives to be at the Expo would be more than many authors could afford, but the benefits would be tremendous. I’d love to be able to demo my software to live people, meet users face to face, and listen to suggestions and problems and ideas for improvements. I’m sure I’d reach a new audience, people that hadn’t heard of Z-Write before, or didn’t understand it but suddenly do when seeing it demonstrated.

By four-thirty I was exhausted. I’d wandered through the entire show, seen just about everything I wanted to see, and I was lugging around my big bag of Expo goodies and my digital camera. I decided to call it quits and get some food. It felt great to sit and relax for a while. I ate a leisurely meal and started reading the new programming book I got at the Developer’s Depot booth. After dinner (I took an hour), I wandered over to the Yerba Buena Gardens area that’s on the back of the Moscone Center. It was surprisingly pleasant. There’s a nice fountain and a neat waterfalls and a little park. There’s a museum or something, too, but I didn’t go inside. I went over to the Sony Metreon building, which I’d heard about but never seen, and I wasn’t that impressed. It’s basically just a mall with restaurants, a multiscreen movie theatre, and a few Sony stores (there’s a Playstation store and Sony Style, which sells Sony electronics and DVDs). One thing was cool: a series of kiosks which would beam a Metreon map and movie timetable to your Palm handheld. I had my Handspring Visor with me and was tempted to try it, but I didn’t really need the info, and it just seemed unbelievably geeky, so I didn’t bother to try it. I’m sure it works as advertised. In the Sony Style store I got a neat demo of a hardware/software package for the Mac that lets you control your entire Sony stereo system, in particular, Sony CD changers. You can connect up to 12 changers and the software automatically gets the ablum and song titles from the Internet for you, and then it can control the changers and play the correct CD/song when told to do so. You can even mix CDs and MP3s together in your playlist! It was very impressive, with some features that I really like. For instance, you can tell the randomizer to only play songs you’ve haven’t heard in the last week (or month or 3 months)! There were also a zillion methods of organizing or searching the songs. It was very powerful, but the setup’s expensive: $300 and that doesn’t include the CD changer or the stereo system!

Finally, it was time to go to the REALbasic user group meeting. There was about a dozen of us there, and we got to share our concerns and suggestions with the REAlbasic team, and they gave us some hints and details at what improvements we can expect in the future. It was a great session: I was impressed at how open the RB guys were. They were honest and frank and willing to admit there were flaws in the product, and eager to hear from us users at what they could do to make it better.

It was ten o’clock by the time I got home. My parking garage bill was for $18, I got occosted by a begger wanting money for something I couldn’t understand (he mumbled terribly), and I discovered a huge blister on my left heel from all the walking. Next time, better shoes. But overall, a good day. A pleasant change from the ordinary. I wouldn’t want to do that every day, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live in the City, but I’m glad I went. I’ve put up some pictures of MacWorld Expo, if you’re interested.

Topic: [/commentary]

Link