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

: 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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: 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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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]

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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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