Wed, Dec 31, 2003

: Paycheck

Author: Philip K. Dick (story)

Director: John Woo

I was looking forward to this film when I first heard about it. Based on a PKD story and directed by Woo? Wow! But unfortunately, Woo was not the right director for this film. The best aspect of Dick’s work is psychological complexity. Woo’s an excellent action director. The two compete against each other in this: it’s not a great action film, and it’s not deep enough to qualify as psychologically interesting. The story’s a great concept: an engineer does work of questionable legality for corporation and has his memories erased afterward so there’s no record. After his biggest job — three years of work erased — he discovers his big payday is nil. As he investigates, he discovers the FBI wants him, and his former employer is now trying to kill him. He has no idea why since his memories were erased. But a package he sent himself that contains twenty ordinary items (cigarettes, hairspray, matches, etc.) turns out to be exactly the items he needs to get himself out of troublesome situations. It’s like he knew what was going to happen and planned for it, sending himself exactly what he needed. It’s pretty cool and well done, but Woo throws in over-the-top action sequences that aren’t the least bit believable (two scientists outrun a dozen gunmen and the FBI on a motorbike, the engineer beats up fifty trained bad guys, etc.). The film suffers in other ways as well, including a weak beginning (it doesn’t get going until the big job presentation). The film’s best moments are the science fiction and psychological impact of the invention, but those are glossed over. Woo himself said he doesn’t like sci-fi and changed the script to be more action-oriented: a sad mistake. None of this makes for a terrible movie, but just not a great one. The middle of the film is the best part. The ending’s predictable Hollywood. Still, when it’s good, it’s excellent, and overall I liked it. Just don’t expect a great film and it’s enjoyable.

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: Peter Pan

Author: J.M. Barrie

Director: P.J. Hogan

Fantastic film! When I first heard of this I thought it was crazy and pointless: why remake Peter Pan? But this film is everything Hook was not: imaginative, fantastic, child-like, and meaningful. The Disney animated version never intrigued me: it was too happy, too light, and too innocent. There was no depth. This version is a marvel. The sets are literally fantastic, with pink clouds, supersaturated colors, and exotic textures. Even the “real world” of 19th Century London is unrealistic — it’s a pretty London of fantasy, not grim reality. The result emphasizes the movie’s point about fantasy and adventure. The casting of unknowns in the children roles is brilliant: not only are they physically perfect but there’s a touch of rawness to their performances that is delightful and endearing. They seem like real children, not polished actors. Equally important, the adults, while accomplished actors, don’t make the mistake of overacting and turning their roles into camp (like Hook did). The story’s true J.M. Barrie, much darker than the animated movie (for instance, Hook gets eaten instead of chased off into the sunset by the giant croc), and filled with philosophical insight into the whole problem of “growing up.” There were some really brilliant lines of dialog between Peter and Wendy (both characters are well fleshed out). With the theme repeated throughout, it’s obvious this is an important story and not mere entertainment. This is an excellent movie for the whole family. There’s humor and adventure, silliness and fun, and a genuineness to everything that all will enjoy. Within the world of Peter Pan this is a great movie: it’s the best Peter Pan ever. But if I had to come up with a negative, I’d say that it’s still Peter Pan. The film is trapped in a fantasy world within a fantasy world, and the story’s never going to go beyond those borders. For example, the story’s about young children — it’s never going to be about adults. That’s a minor nitpick, however. I generally liked everthing about the movie, even stuff I expected not to like (the amateur actors, the familiar story, etc.). This is a real gem. I hear it’s been a disapointment at the box office so far (duh, it’s competing with Return of the King), but it should have long legs as people who’ve seen it give it positive reviews. It’s really charming and wonderful, and if you’re not a kid, it will remind you of what being a kid was like.

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Tue, Dec 30, 2003

: Oregon Trip

I flew back from Oregon today. Had a few adventures. First there was a huge snowstorm in the area and I almost got stuck on the coast. The small highways that lead to Portland were potentially going to be snow-covered or iced over. I considered postponing my return, but the weather sounded like it was just going to get worse. Fortunately, the road was clear this morning and we made it fine. But at the airport security asked to do an extra test on my laptop. To my astonishment they picked up traces of nitro! I have no idea how it got there, but they claimed it’s surprisingly common: hand creams, medicines, fertilizer, fireworks, guns, etc. can all leave traces on your hands which can offset onto items you handle. It can stay there for weeks or months, too. Anyway, they had to test every item in my laptop bag, and a couple other things also set off the alarm. The guard was really nice and explained that the machine is sensitive to 60 billionths of a particle — amazing. He had to go through a specific procedure of tests, but in the end they cleared me and let me through. I was worried they’d want to confiscate my equipment. But there was nothing wrong with it — just that somehow I or my stuff came in contact with nitro somehow, which I suppose doesn’t mean much if there are so many ordinary uses of the stuff. Weird experience, though. The trip itself was pretty uneventful. Had an excellent time.

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Fri, Dec 26, 2003

: The Music Man

This musical is proof that you only need one or two good songs to have a musical. Other than “Seventy-Six Trombones” and a couple others, most of the songs are forgettable, but the story — about a con artist trying to sell band equipment to a small Iowa town who falls in love and comes clean in the end — is excellent. The film’s too long, and much of the dialog is extremely dated. Like the girl whose favorite expression is “Ye Gods!” Huh? What’s up with that? Some of the choreography feels dated as well, and looks rather silly. But then most musicals suffer from that as few people in real life burst into coordinated song and dance — it feels artificial. The film actually benefits from that with some nice theatre-style lighting effects, dropping out the background and highlighting the characters, which works well to emphasis the people. Several of the dance sequences are well-shot as well, particularly “Shipoopi” with its overhead camera. Overall I was pleased I saw this (though I didn’t watch the entire thing — I missed a few songs in the middle), but it violates too many of my musical no-nos to be considered decent, but though uneven, it has a few nice moments.

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Thu, Dec 25, 2003

: Door to Door

This is a terrific made-for-TV movie I just happened to notice was airing while with family for Christmas in Oregon. My mother quickly figured out it was a movie she’d heard that was filmed in Portland, and indeed, it turned out the story’s about a physically disabled Portland man who becomes a door-to-door salesman in the 1950’s. At first people are off-put by his disabilities, or try to buy stuff out of charity, but soon his winning personality and perseverance win people over. He eventually becomes a fixture in the neighborhood, mending marriages and making everyone feel important. Throughout this time he struggles with his personal life: a failed romance, his mother’s AlzheimerÕs, and eventually, progress, as the company he works for replaces door-to-door sales with telemarketers. The best part of the film was when a middle-aged newspaper reporter knocks on his door and it turns out the guy was the kid the salesman talked to with a puppet when he first started out. The guy remembered the salesman all those years and decided to write a feature on him (that’s how the story got told and eventually made into a film). William H. Macy is amazing as the salesman — he really is one of the best actors of all time. I believe he won an Emmy for this role: if not, he sure deserved it. Terrific film, way way above average for television.

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Wed, Dec 24, 2003

: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Fantastic book. The story is a fiction about the life of a 17th Century maid in Delft, Holland, who posed for Vermeer’s famous painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” What I liked about the book — besides the amazing detail of a maid’s life in Delft, the clash of classes and religions, the wonderful character of Griet, the young maid, the glimpse into the mind of a genius painter — is the simplicity of the story. Chevalier wisely allows the character to be story and doesn’t overcomplicate it with irrelevant subplots or flashy distractions. She’s a simple maid and has a simple life. That gives her story strength and makes it all the more remarkable. We relate to her: she’s not some ephemeral angel or distant, unknowable beauty. She’s human, an ordinary person, with an extraordinary spirit. She’s intelligent, kind, and a hard worker who struggles through life just the way we do. It’s a remarkable story and told in such an authentic way you have trouble believing it’s not factual. Amazing writing. The movie’s coming out next month and I can’t wait to see it. It sounds like it’s awesome and does the book justice.

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Mon, Dec 22, 2003

: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Director: Peter Jackson

Many times the second and third installments of a trilogy are not as good as the first, but in the case of Lord of the Rings, the series just keeps getting better and better. This one brings the trilogy to a close in grand fashion. The battles are even bigger, the story epic, the special effects amazing. The conclusion is satisfying. Oddly, of the three films, this is the most emotional; while there are huge battle scenes, those are interplayed with tight personal scenes of genuine emotion. Should be an Oscar winner for Best Picture just as a tribute to the series as a whole, but deserves it on many other levels as well.

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Fri, Dec 12, 2003

: Stuck on You

Director: The Farrelly Brothers

The trailers made this look awful, a sick, twisted joke about conjoined twins. But it’s suprisingly not. It’s about two brothers who share a liver and can’t be separated. They do everything together and are happy. But one’s got a dream of becoming an actor, so they move to Hollywood. There they run into Cher, who’s trying to get out a TV show contract, so she hires them to be in her show, thinking it’s so absurd the network will cancel the contract. Instead, they go ahead with the show and it turns out to be a huge hit. The conjoined twins are big stars, and that’s when they start to go different directions, and realize it’s time to move apart. They have the operation and are separated, and only later do they realize how much they miss each other and can’t live apart. It’s a suprisingly sweet drama from the usually crude Farrelly Brothers. Unfortunately, it’s not a laugh-a-minute as some of their other movies. Most of the jokes are either subtle or of the smile, not laugh-out-loud variety. Still, I liked it. It’s a bit long, as some of the story takes too long to tell, and a few of the jokes are too obvious, but in general it’s a decent tale of two brothers who figure out their lives.

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Thu, Dec 11, 2003

: Bad Santa

This is one of the most outrageous, disgusting films of all time. And it’s also one of the funniest. The story is simple: we have a crook who gets a job as a mall Santa every Christmas season to case a joint, and at the end of the year, robs the mall safe and loots the stores. That gives him enough money to get drunk until next Christmas. This Santa’s a hard luck case all right. He’s a Loser with a capital L. He’s mean, vicious, and a real jerk. He complains about how his life is hell and contemplates suicide. At first, the main joke seems to be watching “Santa” use the f-word, get drunk, and screw. But then Santa meets a fat little boy who’s developmentally challenged and appears to think Santa’s real. Nothing Santa does fazes the kid, who still seems to think Santa’s God. When Santa discovers the boy lives alone with his senile Grandmother, he moves into the kid’s nice house. The kid’s dad is off “mountaineering” for several years (he’s really in prison for an accounting discrepency) so Santa, in effect, becomes the kid’s dad. Gradually, though Santa’s still rude, crude, and socially unexceptable, he begins to be a little nicer to the kid, eventually helping him. The Santa never becomes an angel or anything, but at least he’s started on the path to redeeming himself. This film’s a lot like the cult classic, Shakes the Clown, Bobcat Goldthwait’s hilarious movie about a drunken birthday party clown. Both are uneven, with the key humor coming from normally positive characters (Santa or a clown) acting crude. This one’s a bit more of a story, however. They did an amazing job of keeping the Santa semi-likeable (somehow) despite his jerk behavior, so that we actually root for him in the end. But neither movie is for all tastes, that’s for sure. If you like your humor dark and mean, you’ll probably like this. If you’re looking for a typical Christmas feel-good movie, go see Elf instead.

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Wed, Dec 10, 2003

: The Missing

Director: Ron Howard

Some critics don’t like this film, though I’m not sure why. I found it riveting. The story’s simple, the characters more complex. Set in the Western era in New Mexico, a tough single woman with two children makes a living working hard on the land and doubling as a Healer. We meet her father, a white man who abandoned her as a child to take on Indian ways. One day a band of renegade Indians led by a savage Indian witch doctor kills her lover and kidnaps her oldest daughter. The army’s supposed to hunt them down, but are going in the wrong direction, so she reluctantly accepts help from her estranged father to track the band. Together, the woman, her father, and her youngest daughter, head off after the renegades. They must catch them before they get to Mexico where they’ll sell all the girls they’ve captured. But what will happen once they actually catch up with the Indians? How will they get her daughter back? Ah, that’s the adventure part of the film, and I won’t spoil it for you. The film’s exciting, interesting, and gruesomely shows how tough life was back in those days. It also tries hard to be a character drama, with strong acting and dramatic conflict. Unfortunately, it fails to an extent in that regard, for much of the conflict feels artificial. The woman reacts so violently to her father when he initially shows up that it’s surprising how much she relents later. Her hatred of him for abandoning her comes across as extreme: I’m not sure I buy it. The circumstances aren’t explained well enough for me to understand (for instance, there’s no mention of how old she was when he left). There are mysterious hints of what was possibly a rape (the first child the result), which would explain part of the woman’s rage, but this also isn’t clearly explained (I guess we’re supposed to infer that a 30-year-old mother with a 15-year-old child was young when she had the baby, but even there no specific ages of the characters are given, so the woman could have been 25 or 35). The father’s motives for leaving are left mysterious leaving us unsure of him (his explanation is to tell an Indian story about a brave who followed a hawk and kept going because the hawk kept going). Generally such vagueness just muddles the story; fortunately the action-driven plot (find and rescue the girl) keeps the story moving. The action’s good, and realistic, considering we’re talking about a woman and a bunch of girls against seasoned, desperate Indian warriors. I did find the whole “shaman” (witch doctor) aspect of the story disturbing, in particular the scene where the guy uses her hair to make her sick though she’s miles away. While I don’t have a problem with other aspects of the witch’s capabilities (for instance, blowing a powder into a man’s face making him go blind), that one strains credibility. And since the woman doesn’t die or anything, I’m not sure what that added to the film. Sure, it convinces her to accept the “magic” protective necklace her father gives her, but since we never come back to that in the rest of the film, why bother with the scene? The film was long — they should have just edited out that entire sequence and sped things along. Overall, though, I liked the film. With it’s simple plot, however, I’m not sure how it will hold up to repeated viewings, but it’s worth seeing once.

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Tue, Dec 09, 2003

: Knockaround Guys

Better than I expected. I’m not big on mob flicks, but this had a different premise as it’s about young guys looking to make their mark and move up in the mobster world. They’re led by the son of the head dude, who doesn’t think his son has what it takes to be in the business. Given his chance with a simple task of retrieving some money, everything goes wrong. The money is accidently lost in a small town, and the guy brings in his friends to track it down. The small town’s corrupt sheriff ends up with the money and won’t give it back, leading to a climatic gunfight. What I liked about the film was the money trail: that was humorous and reminding me of Elroy Leonard capers like Get Shorty or Quentin Tarantino films. Unfortunately, the money trail was too brief a part of the plot. Once the sheriff gets the money it’s down to a mere gunfight. I also thought it was rather absurd that the amount of money we’re talking about was a mere $500,000. Supposedly that was going to float the mobster’s business and if he didn’t get it, he’d be dead. Come on, a half mil? Wouldn’t it be like $5 million or something significant? You’re gonna bring an army of mobsters to a small town in the middle of nowhere over a half million? I don’t know. Not a bad film, but not a great one either. Extremely average, though it has a few nice moments. Generally a waste of a good cast.

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Mon, Dec 08, 2003

: Bringing Down the House

The previews made this look terrible so I didn’t bother with it in the theatres (even though it was a hit). Turns out it’s not so bad, though it was predictable. The story’s about an older, white, button-down tax lawyer who corresponds with LawyerGirl on the ‘net. When she shows up at his house, she’s a big black girl who’s an ex-con with plenty of attitude, and she turns the man’s life upside-down and shows him what life’s all about. There’s a lot of obvious jokes struggling to be funny, some silly slapstick stuff when the writers couldn’t write anything funny, and the obligatory touching moment when everything works out happily in the end. Fun most of the time, hilarious on a couple occasions, okay the rest.

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Sun, Dec 07, 2003

: Human Nature

Author: Charlie Kaufman

I’m a huge Kaufman fan and was shocked to discover that he’d written this film which sounded bad in the previews. Guess what? The previews are brilliant compared to the movie, which fails miserably. The movie’s supposed to be a comedy, but the jokes fall flat. It’s about a woman who’s got a rare genetic disorder that causes hair to grow all over her body like an ape. She leaves human society and lives like an ape and is happy. She becomes a nature writer and is very successful. But she has no man until she meets a weird scientist who’s trying to teach table manners to mice. Together they discover a savage ape-man living in the wilderness and civilize him. She’s against this as she thinks nature is beautiful, but her husband thinks civilization is superior. You can see the conflict here. Unfortunately, that conflict is buried within a mess of plotting such as extra-marital affairs, the fact that the whole movie is a flashback as the woman tells the story to the cops after she’s been arrested for shooting her husband, and worse. We end up with a jumbled mess that’s not funny, that does not enlighten us at all about nature or human behavior (the key joke seems to be that humans act like animals and animals are the more human — not only is that not profound or accurate, it’s not even funny), and degrades into a series of pointless sex jokes involving the ape-man who cannot restrain his natural urges. There are some attempts at humor — the scientist’s bizarre parents who send him to bed without supper when he uses the wrong fork at dinner — but most of these are of the “smile” variety of humor, not the laugh out loud kind, and this film desperately needs the latter. Whatever intellectual innovations Kaufman had planned for the story are either too subtle or aren’t there at all, and in the end we just get a unpleasant muck that’s not worth even the effort of pushing “play” on the DVD player. Skip it.

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Fri, Dec 05, 2003

: The Last Samuri

Different from what I was expecting. In many ways it’s deeper, but it wasn’t the cool action flick I was craving. Unfortunately, it’s a serious movie, and while at times that’s nice, it’s a darn depressing film. The story is about Japan in the 1800s when it was attempting to transition from the Samuri culture to a Western-style culture. The young emperor and his advisors want alliances with the West, but the Samuri want to preserve the old. The emperor brings in Western soldiers to train his troups in Western-style fighting, including Tom Cruise’s character, a drunk who’s fresh from the nightmare of the Civil War and Indian fighting. Tom’s obviously got a deathwish, but when he’s captured by the Samuri they don’t kill him, but keep him prisoner in order to study him. Slowly he learns the ways of the Samuri and eventually becomes one. This is the best part of the film as we see Tom’s character changing and developing, and the interaction and conflicts with traditional Japanese is fascinating. At some point, though, the film becomes an action flick, with Tom and his Samuri pals wielding sticks and swords. This is rather predictable and boring, routine stuff. Finally, we get a huge battle scene a la

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Thu, Dec 04, 2003

: Timeline

Author: Michael Crichton (book)

This film took a mediocre book and destroyed it. The first mistake is the pacing: the begining of the film where the whole time travel thing is established happens in like two minutes, and suddenly we’re in 17th Century France, running from the British and French who are in the middle of a war. Huh? Come on, at least treat the setup with a little respect and give us a realistic foundation for the film. That pacing problem continues throughout the rest of the film as it’s an action flick slash adventure movie. There’s no science fiction (or science) in sight. There’s no cool time travel dilemma, “should I change the past” sort of thing, or anything deeper than a pathetic romance. This film ought to end Paul Walker’s career: the guy proves he can’t act beyond his appearance. While it has a few interesting moments in the middle, overall this is just worthless sludge that will waste your time. If you’re really interested in it, read the book, which is marginally better.

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Wed, Dec 03, 2003

: The Mothman Prophecies

Bizarre piece of dump about people who see a strange moth-like figure just before they die. Apparently it’s a myth that goes back thousands of years and a reporter tries to figure it out. Is the mothman extraterrestrial? Is it trying to warn us or did it cause the deaths? Mildly intriguing at times, but generally incomprehensible with an ending that’s unfortunately anti-climatic because we really don’t care any more by that point. Stay far away from this film if you value your intelligence.

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Sat, Nov 29, 2003

: The Tenant

Director: Roman Polanski

Effective thriller about a meek man who rents an apartment in a strange building. The previous occupant, a young woman, killed herself, and slowly the man becomes haunted by her. Is he possessed, insane, or just weird? We’re not sure until the very end, which concludes in a hilariously bizarre sequence that I can’t tell you about because it would spoil it. Really cool. The ending makes the film worthwhile, but it does get slow in the middle (or muddle). Still, it’s worth watching, though it may not be for all tastes.

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Sun, Nov 23, 2003

: MLS Cup 2003: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire

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Sat, Nov 22, 2003

: Gothika

Not what I expected, but not the horror some critics are calling it. What intrigued me was the concept of a psychiatrist being locked up in a mental institution. Unfortunately, the movie skimps on any pyschological depth and instead turns into an absurd ghost story. Has a few half-decent chills and thrills, but more that flop. Overall, it’s an overacted, overdramatized, melodrama that isn’t anything significantly different from what you’ve seen before. Halle Berry’s fine in the lead role, but she’s not given much to work with. I liked some of the action scenes she does during her escape (it’d be fun to see her in an action flick). The ghost story stuff is just bizarre and lame.

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: LA Trip

Dave and I headed down to Los Angeles today for tomorrow’s big event: the MLS Cup at the new Home Depot Center (a.k.a. “The Toolbox”) in Carson, Calif. We had a great, uneventful trip. Stopped at a Sizzler for lunch. Then stopped at a Toy R Us where Dave bought a Gameboy Advance SP like mine so we could play FIFA 2004 (and other games) head-to-head. Went right to the stadium (right off 405) and got our tickets at the Will Call window so we wouldn’t have to wait in line on Sunday. Discovered the hotel we’d booked on the ‘net is right up the street from the HDC which was awesomely convenient. The movie theatre which I’d also found on the ‘net was up the street in the other direction, at a mall where we found a Red Robin for dinner. The trip to the stadium was easy and fun — we’ll have to come down next season when the Quakes play LA. Everything couldn’t have worked out better — especially considering Sunday’s dream game result!

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Thu, Nov 20, 2003

: The Italian Job

This was the original, and I’m sorry to say I liked the remake better. Not that the remake was that great, but at least it had stars I recognize (here I only knew Michael Caine and Benny Hill) and a story that was more than just a heist. This one has a somewhat similar story as the remake — robbing an armored car by creating a huge traffic jam — but the remake was cleverer and had more depth to the story. In this movie the heist is the film. It begins with the planning and ends in a cliffhanger — literally. I don’t know what to make of that. I was disappointed.

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Wed, Nov 19, 2003

: Donnie Darko

Bizarre film. I wish I’d known more of what to expect before I saw it. This is one of those odd, quirky movies that seems to be idiotic and inane but you eventually realize actually has some real intelligence deep down. Unfortunately, 90% of people won’t see that intelligence because the incomprehensible weirdness will turn them off and they’ll stop watching. The story goes like this. An alienated teenage boy hears a voice in the middle of the night that causes him to leave his house. He wakes up on the golf course. When he returns home, he discovers an airplane engine has crashed into his house and landed right on his bed! The voice saved his life. Later, the voice turns out to be the head of a giant rabbit — yes, I said this can seem idiotic — which warns him that the world will end at the end of the month. The voice encourages him to do all sorts of vandalistic behavior: break the water main at the school, burn down a self-help guru’s house, etc. None of this is clear, however: we don’t see him do this so we’re not even sure it’s him, but we strongly suspect it. The kid’s already in therapy so we wonder if he’s just insane. But he seems quite intelligent, smarter than his idiot teachers at school, so we aren’t sure. He begins to research time travel and becomes obssessed with the topic. Eventually — and this is a spoiler — he learns that the rabbit guy is an alien and this is all some sort of a twisted plot to take over the earth or something. For this plan to work they needed the boy alive, which is why they saved him from the airplane engine. So the boy goes back in time and doesn’t leave his bed, allowing himself to be crushed by the falling engine, thereby sacrificing himself for the world — only no one will ever know, of course, since that other timeline never happened. Pretty cool ending and great idea. The film’s direction is also unusual, and the 80’s period music distinctive. The school’s idiot teachers and community are strongly reminiscent of classics like Heathers. However, it takes so long for you to figure out this movie has a point (and unless you already have a warped sense of humor it’s difficult to tell the rabbit guy and other things are meant to be ironic and funny) that few people will wait that long and give it that chance. In many ways this is similar to do that, if you know what I mean. I can see a glimmer of profoundness inside the film, but frankly, I just don’t want to work that hard to understand something that doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated. I’ll watch it again someday in the future.

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: Save the Last Dance

Hideously bad, even worse than I expected. The film opens with the cliche of the dancing girl about to audition to Juliard, angry because her mother isn’t there, intercut with her rushing mother crashing her car and dying.

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: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Director: Peter Weir

I wasn’t too excited about this film, but when I heard the promos compare it to Gladiator — it’s one of the worst movies of all time). However, it was supposed to be good, and I decided it was my duty to see it. You know what? Unlike the pawning Gladiator, this one gives us a more subdued Russell Crowe. Sure, he’s the ship’s captain, but he’s not perfect, and we sometimes see the doubt in his eyes, and we definitely see the tremendous burdens he carries (the lives of his crew, the fate of Britain, etc.). The story is unusual in that it’s about the cat-and-mouse game between two ships off the coast of South America in the Napoleonic era. Crowe is the British captain and he faces a phantom ship, a French privateer that is larger and more powerful and seems to sneak up on them like a ghost. In the film we get an amazing look at what life was like in those days: how extraordinarily difficult even the simplest things were, and what primitive weapons and medicine were like. The film strives for authenticity and does an excellent job; however, the frentic battle scenes at the end are so realistically chaotic it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. You just basically hear explosions and see wood splintering and swords slashing and musket’s flashing and people screaming and have to wait until the end to figure out what happened (you can’t tell which side is which in the battle). The film’s too long, but the story’s different and interesting, and the visit to the Galapagos Islands was neat (though I wish they’d left out the superfluous and unrealistic hints about Darwinism). Overall I liked the film. It’s not great or wonderful (not hugely original), but well-done, and the fact that we haven’t seen a film like this in a long time makes it appealing. But it feels a little more educational and than entertaining.

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Mon, Nov 17, 2003

: Death and the Maiden

Director: Roman Polanski

I’ve been wanting to see this for a long time and finally rented the DVD. It’s set in a nameless South American country where an American woman and her husband, who live in a rural area, meet a man on a stormy night when the electricity is out, and she thinks he’s the doctor who tortured her years earlier. She holds him at gunpoint, determined to get the truth out of him. But is he really the guy? She was blindfolded and it was many years ago. She swears she recognizes his voice, but she’s not exactly stable. The debate is what makes the story interesting. This apparently is based on a play and it has that feel to it: it’s claustrophic with the remote house the main set and the three characters as the main actors. It’s talky, but the dialog is above average. With such a gimmicky premise I got a little tired of the “did he or didn’t he” games by the end, and the vagueness of the politics of the unnamed country made for a vague conflict, but it’s still an interesting experiment and worth seeing.

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Sun, Nov 16, 2003

: MLS Playoffs: Kansas City Wizards at San Jose Earthquakes

Oh my Lord, stop my beating heart! After last weekend’s heart-in-mouth affair already widely acknowledged as the best soccer game in U.S. soccer history, the Quakes do it again. They can’t seem make anything look easy. In this game for the right to the Western Conference Championship trophy and a place in the MLS Cup next weekend, the first half finished zero-zero. It wasn’t at all boring, however: there were good chances on both sides, with the edge to San Jose as having the best opportunities. But the second half was when things got going. The offside trap failed for San Jose and a KC player got behind the defense and scored. I wasn’t worried. In fact, I figured the goal would urge San Jose forward. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The Quakes rallied and a few minutes later equalized! But then, disaster: the far side ref blew an offside call and allowed KC a goal that shouldn’t have counted. This was particularly revolting for a playoff match considering the stakes, but worse because the Quakes were the better team. But the team didn’t give up and fought back and Brian Mullan, who’s had an awesome season and was a big influence in last weekend’s game, scored a terrific goal off a sharp feed from Ian Russell. The game was tied again with just minutes left! We go to Golden Goal overtime. This is true heart-in-mouth time as the slightest mistake from either team could give away the game. The first fifteen minutes the Quakes are on their heels a bit as K.C. pushes for a late winner. The Quakes had taken off a defender for an extra forward when they needed a goal so they were a bit exposed at the back at times, but sheer guts and battling kept the game tied. In the second fifteen the Quakes dominated and had several great chances, including a handball in the box that should have been a penalty kick, but the ref didn’t give it, and another play moments later that also looked like a penalty but wasn’t given. It looked like we might have to goal to penalty kicks to decide the winner. But finally, with just three minutes left to play, magic from the Quakes. A KC clearance drops the ball to Ronnie Ekelund who heads it to Landon Donovan, the young superstar who’d had a terrific game but missed a half dozen chances. Landon immediately passes it back to Ronnie, who kicks the ball into space in the penalty area. Landon darts between two defenders to latch onto the ball and calmly slices it into the goal. It’s a fantastic Golden Goal to send the Quakes to the MLS Final next weekend at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles! Unbelievable. Two incredible games in a week. A five-goal comeback win followed by a three-goal comeback win. Amazing drama. This sets up the dream final, San Jose versus Chicago, the best in the West versus the best in the East. The game airs on ABC next Sunday, the 23rd, at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time. Judging by these last couple of games, it should be a battle for the ages. Wow.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Thu, Nov 13, 2003

: The Matrix: Revolutions

Not as bad as I expected. A bit long, and the all-digital special effects war gets a little old after a while, but a decent conclusion to the trilogy. Nothing too new in the story: it ends the way you’d expect, with Keanu “The One” saving the day. How he does this is a bit unclear and probably frustrating to true Matrix fans, but frankly I’m not one of those who finds much intelligence in the “philosophy” of the Matrix, so I really couldn’t care less: I’m just glad it’s over.

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Tue, Nov 11, 2003

: Love Actually

Author: Richard Curtis

Director: Richard Curtis

The guy who brought us romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill is back with this interrelated collection of love stories. It’s excellent: funny, romantic, realistic, and has the occasional touch of magic. The all-star cast is fantastic: it seems everyone is in this. I liked the nature of the stories, which are low-key romance, people seeking love and wondering where it is, only to find it’s all around them. There’s a lot of humor and some silliness and fantasy, like the British loser who saves up his money to go the United States where he figures he’ll be considered cool just because he’s English… and he ends up with a foursome of hot American babes drooling over him! Fun film, not too sappy. Not particularly profound or anything, but very entertaining.

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Sun, Nov 09, 2003

: MLS Playoffs: L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Unfreakin’ believable! This was the best soccer game I’ve ever seen in my entire life! I went to the game depressed, knowing we would likely lose and not advance in the playoffs after our 2-0 loss last week in L.A. We haven’t been playing well and things looked grim. To advance, we’d have to win 3-0… which would be 3-2 on aggregate (total) goals. We’ve only scored a couple goals in our last five games or so, so that seemed to be a tough challenge. To top it off, the rain came on the weekend and it seemed we’d have to play in the rain. Would that cramp fan attendance?

The answer was no. Spartan Stadium was packed and the crowd in excellent voice. Fortunately, it didn’t even rain until after the final whistle. Earthquakes’ coach Frank Yallop changed the line-up significantly, which was good. But the Quakes started off poorly, quickly giving up two goals in the first twenty minutes! The crowd was stunned. Now our 2 goal hole was a 4 goal hole! We’d have to score 5 goals to advance! But the players didn’t let it get them down. They began to fight, and by half-time we’d tied the game on goals by Goose (free kick) and Landon Donovan (well started by Jamil Walker). Early in the second half Walker gave the Quakes the lead and hope started brimming. Just one more goal would tie the aggregate — could we do it? As time began to run out, nerves began to rattle. Would this be another sad defeat? No! With minutes left, Chris Roner is brought into the game and score in the final minute! The game is tied and we go to sudden death overtime. There are a couple scary moments early in overtime where L.A. had a chance or two, but then the Quakes came back with more and more pressure. Then, in a dream scenario, Rodrigo Faria, a late addition to the Quakes who hasn’t scored all season, scores the Golden Goal and sends the Quakes to the final!

The most amazing game I’ve ever seen. Coming back from 4 down is just impossible. Yet the Quakes did it. Being in the stadium was amazing. When Chris scored the tying goal in the final minute, I literally could not even hear the announcer report the goal: the crowd was so loud it was deafening. That screaming went on at that intensity for several minutes. I totally think the crowd helped contribute to the team, lifting the players. After the game, everyone in the stadium (except the few Galaxy fans) were screaming and cheering. We just couldn’t stop screaming. It was so freakin’ unbelievable. What a game. I still feel like I’m dreaming. GO QUAKES! Final: 5-2 Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sat, Nov 08, 2003

: Happy Campers

Author: Daniel Waters

Director: Daniel Water

This film was written and directed by the guy who did one of my favorite films, Heathers. Unfortunately, even though this movie is above average for its genre, it’s still a silly teen sex comedy. It’s about growing-up adventures by camp counselors at summer camp. It’s mildly interesting and has a few good moments, but really can’t get escape its genre.

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: The Crime of Padre Amaro

This was a controversial film when released in Mexico and in theatres. It deals with a young priest who has an affair with a 16-year-old girl, getting her pregnant and trying to get her an abortion. Obviously, that’s not priestly behavior. But what bothered me more than that — after all, he’s just one priest and is human — was that there are hardly any good priests in the film. All the others are portrayed as being corrupt. The effect is that the story comes across as extremely anti-Church, though I don’t think that was really the intention. I liked the concept, and the execution was decently done, but the attitude of the film bothered me. I’m not big on any church organization, but taking the flaws of a few and making them stand for the entire group isn’t right.

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Fri, Nov 07, 2003

: Elf

I had little interest in seeing this. The promos made it seem predictable and stupid. But the critics gave it suprisingly high marks, so I decided to check it out. I can’t believe it: it really is good! The crass gutter humor I associate with Will Ferrell isn’t present, and he’s actually quite likable (a bit like a lot of Adam Sandler’s characters). Will plays a human raised by Santa’s Elves who goes to New York City to see his real father, hilariously portrayed by a gruff James Caan, who anchors the film in reality. Caan’s on the Naughty List, a Scrouge who doesn’t believe in Christmas, but of course Will’s Elf-like personality eventually wins not only him but all of New York over, saving Christmas for everyone. It’s light-hearted and silly, but done with genuine heart, and it’s grounded enough in logic and reality to keep it from being plain old dumb. I liked the way little “insignificant” things from the beginning turn out to be important later, as everyone who meets Ferrell is eventually changed by his infectous personality. Funny, entertaining, and leaves you feeling Christmasy. I predict a hit.

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Thu, Nov 06, 2003

: Lost in Translation

Author: Sophia Coppolla

Director: Sophia Coppolla

Wow, what a terrific film! I’d been hearing good things about it but no one explained the plot so I didn’t really know what it was about. It turns out it has no plot! Well, there’s a shell of one. There two main characters. Bill Murray plays an American movie star visiting Tokyo to shoot a commercial for an ad campaign. In the same hotel is a young woman, married just two years and recently graduated from college with a degree in philosophy, who’s dissatisfied and wondering what life is all about. Bill’s disolutioned and using the trip to escape from his hectic family life (he’s married with kids), and when the two meet, they discover a connection. It’s all very sweet and innocent, but there’s a charged undercurrent in every scene the two share. Will they or won’t they? That’s the story. Having it set in Japan, where there’s humor in cultural differences, mistranslations, English that is as incomprehensible as Japanese, adds to the romantic melodrama. Oddly, nothing much happens in the film, and while the two ask many interesting questions, nothing is resolved or explained. No sitcom 22-minute resolution here. Yet it’s still a fascinating film. That’s mostly because of Scarlet Johanssen, who is going to be a huge star. She’s marvelous and carries every scene she’s in. Many scenes have no dialog and just focus on her, bored in her hotel room (her husband’s working), staring out the window, and yet somehow she makes that visually compelling. It’s not just that’s she pretty; it’s that she’s pretty with a vulnerability that draws us in, allowing us to see the gears turning in her head. Very impressive performance. Overall, this is a surprisingly entertaining film. It’s difficult to describe: you just need to see it. It doesn’t sound particularly interesting or compelling, but it was far better than the more lurid

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Wed, Nov 05, 2003

: In the Cut

This film is getting notority for the wrong reasons. I really liked Meg Ryan playing somewhat against type: those sweet romantic comedy roles must be getting rather boring for her. Nice to see her branch out, and nice to see real acting in a thriller for a change. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite work. It’s main problem is that it sets itself up as something really special and in the end, it’s a routine serial killer mystery. The plot deals with a female English profession (Ryan) who meets a cop investigating a murder in her neighborhood. As the two hook up, she begins to suspect he’s the killer. But she keeps seeing him anyway, of course (otherwise we wouldn’t have much of a movie). It’s all fairly routine, but it’s muddled by dark portents and superfluous secondary characters. In the end everything’s too convoluted for such a simple resolution, and the twist ending is clearly visible about 30 minutes in. But I did like some of the nice direction touches, particularly the ice skating dream sequences: the horrific ending one is hilarious like something out of a Coen brother’s movie. It’s worth the price of admission alone. This one’s a good rental.

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Sun, Nov 02, 2003

: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Predictable but fun romantic comedy. The “plot” is a forced gimmick: a female columnist for a women’s magazine is going to write about dating tips in reverse: what not to do. She’s going to date a guy and do all the wrong things and lose him within ten days. Unfortunately, the guy is an advertising executive who’s just made a wager to win a big account: he’s going to prove what a good salesman he is by making a woman fall in love with him in ten days. Yes, this is absurd, and yes there are enough coincidences here to shake the foundation of reality, but you go along with it because you want this couple to succeed. Of course you know from the first frame that the two will actually fall in love, which makes their games that much more amusing. The girl does all the horrible things that normally drive men away — smothers him, decorates his apartment with stuffed animals, fills his medicine cabinet with feminine hiegene products, has insane mood swings, etc. — and the guy takes it all like a pro, still pretending to love her. Since we as viewers know both sides of the story their interaction is doubly amusing. For instance, we know the woman eats meat because we see her eating a hamburger in one scene, but later she pretends she’s a vegetarian after the guy prepares a wonderful meal of grilled lamb for her. In the end, of course, all the lies are revealed and the truth comes out, everyone gets their promotions, and the couple live happily ever after. Light-hearted and surprisingly fun considering it’s predictability.

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: Antwone Fisher

Author: Antwone Fisher

Director: Denzel Washington

Not quite what I expected; it was both more impactful and less fancy than I anticipated. I was expecting a moving story about a trouble young black man with a complex history, and I got that, but while I’m not trying to knock his past, it wasn’t as troubled as I expected. Yeah, his mother abandoned him and he lived with foster parents who abused him, but it didn’t seem as bad as many people suffer. But in a way, that was a key part of the film because it was saying it doesn’t matter what you suffered, the point is that you did, and how it effected you is most important. In the case of Antwone Fisher, he rose above his past, learned to understand and control his anger, and eventually made peace with his family. While the film’s leisurely paced, it surprisingly doesn’t feel slow. Terrific performances and interesting characters. The final scene when he’s surrounded by relatives he didn’t know he had is awesome and extremely touching. A terrific film. It’s not overly dramatic like most Hollywood productions, but simple and realistic, much like the real Antwone Fisher who wrote the screenplay based on his life experiences. He’s a blunt, honest guy who doesn’t put on airs or try to magnify himself, and that comes across both in the character as portrayed on film, and in the unassuming story and script. I was expecting more of a weepy Oscar-contending film, but what I got was simply a great story about a remarkable man who just wanted to escape his troubled past and make a life for himself, and did it.

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Sat, Nov 01, 2003

: Holes

I hadn’t read (or even heard of) the children’s book this film was based on, but after seeing the movie, I’m sure I would have loved it when I was younger. The tone is a lot like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a modern tall tale, with absurd reality hilariously presented. The main character is Stanley Yelnats (The last name is the first spelled backwards!), a boy who’s family has a history of bad luck due to a predecessor who failed to keep a promise. The boy is mistakenly arrested for stealing a pair of shoes he finds by accident. Instead of being sent to jail, however, he’s sent to Camp Green Lake, a work program in the middle of the desert. The people there are bizarre. Stanley discovers he and the other “campers” have to dig a five foot wide and five foot deep hole every day, to “build character.” But eventually Stanley figures out the warden is really seeking buried treasure… treasure, it turns out, that is linked to Stanley’s past and the curse on his family! The film’s excellent: the tall tales of the past are told via hilariously campy flashbacks, the modern kids bring a mild edginess to the film that keeps things hip, and the outrageous and bizarre adults make the children all seem rational and normal. The story is great the way everything comes full circle and every little detail is explained, linked through past events to the present, but one thing I really appreciated is that the movie doesn’t try to hammer those links home: they are often subtle and require you to put the last couple of pieces together (as challenging as putting the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle, but at least you’re doing some thinking). For example, the explanation of how the boys didn’t get bitten by the lizards is causually mentioned in one line narration that many might miss (it has to do with what the boys ate to survive in the desert) but it makes total sense and has a nice link to the past. This is a great movie: it’s well written, acted, and directed, and though it seems to be wild and crazy fun, it actually has some serious meaning behind it. There’s a good debating starting point on the nature of Fate and Luck here, and I think many young children who feel like the world’s against them (who doesn’t at that age), might find comfort and inspiration in the plucky attitude of the main character. Excellent. I didn’t see this in theatres because it seemed targeted at kids, but it’s intelligent and doesn’t talk down to kids at all, making it a wonderful experience for adults as well.

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Thu, Oct 30, 2003

: Body of Lies

Author: Iris Johansen

Not a bad book, but once again, Johansen is stretching to find her plots. This one is overly elaborate and ludicrous. Worse, we’re not given the explanation until the very end, when things make a little bit of sense: instead we have to wait through many pages of confusion and the unknown to get that explanation. The plot is revealed in reverse, and it’s very strange. We’re once again dealing with Eve Duncan, forensic sculpture. Johansen makes a brave attempt to develop the characters deeper with Eve’s lover, Joe, betraying her, forcing her to run off to do a scuplting assignment for a shady Senator, but the argument, while it could be legitimate, feels forced from the reader’s perspective. The two obviously love each other deeply, so why are they running away? At lot of the decisions made don’t make much sense and it feels like Johansen is manipulating the characters to fit into her planned plot instead of the other way around. That sounds worse than it is, because she does an excellent job at force-fitting, but there are subtle flaws that made reading it awkward for me. I suspect most wouldn’t notice, though. The actual plot, when revealed, turns out to involve a world cartel, one of those “secret society” things that run the world. Very strange, her going off into looney-land like that. Her novels are usually a bit more grounded in reality, but I think she’s trying to hard to come up with plots. Still, it’s an entertaining read, and the mystery’s intriguing, even if the payoff takes too long to deliver. Johansen does dot all the i’s and cross the t’s at the end, though everything is rather predictable by that point. A fun read that wants to be more than it is.

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Fri, Oct 24, 2003

: Scary Movie 3

Pretty much what you’d expect from this spoof franchise, though a little less raunchy than usual (though not by much) since this one is rated PG-13. The key films mocked are

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Thu, Oct 23, 2003

: Bissap Baobab

A few weeks ago my aunt read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Marco Senghor, the nephew of Leopold Senghor, the president of Senegal for many years. Marco has his own Senegalese restaurant in San Francisco and it’s getting rave reviews. My mother is in town visiting this week, so she and my aunt and my cousin and his girlfriend and I all went downtown to check out the restaurant. It was really neat! A year ago I went to a Senegalese restaurant while I was in New York; that was a more authentic experience. There my cousin and I were the only white people in the whole “Little Dakar” area. At Bissap Baobab the clientele was almost all white, for a very different atmosphere. Still, the food was excellent (the Yassa I had was spicy for me but not as spicy as it is often made in Senegal) and the desserts fantastic. We got to speak to Marco and tell him about our experiences in Senegal. He’s a really neat guy, very friendly and unassuming. We had a nice long chat before we left. We didn’t get home until midnight, so it was a long day, but well worth it for the experience. If I’m ever in the City around a meal-time, I think I’ll stop by again and try some of the other dishes.

Topic: [/personal]

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Mon, Oct 20, 2003

: Mystic River

Director: Clint Eastwood

Intense film about perception, violence, love, friendship, and fate. The plot’s simple: a group of childhood friends are now older, married, and have lives, but still live in the same New Jersey neighborhood. One’s life has been forever scarred by an incident of child abuse. Another fell into crime but managed to get out of it… or did he? The other became a cop. The three are brought back together when the daughter of the former thief is found murdered, and the sex victim is the prime suspect. As tensions and suspicions mount, we’re not sure who wears the white hat and who wears the black hat. This ambiguousness is at the heart of the film as it forces the viewer to think about the nature of violence, justice, and fate. The ending is disturbing and left agonizingly unresolved, exactly like violence in real life (which isn’t neatly wrapped up like cinema violence). Excellent film, but slow-paced, and unlike the awesome

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: Long After Midnight

Author: Iris Johansen

I have no idea what the title means. The book’s about a female research scientist in Oklahoma who’s developed a process that a world famous needs to perfect his new “RU2” drug that cures cancer. But powerful drug companies don’t want RU2 to hit the market, so they hire an assassin to kill the scientist. When his lab is blown up he’s presumed dead, and then the assassin goes after the woman and her son. So the top scientist — who’s not dead — shows up at the woman’s place and helps her and her son escape into hiding, where they can perfect the drug. It’s all rather forced and far-fetched, with Johansen really stretching for material. But she does paint interesting characters, though they’re ones we’ve seen before from her. A decent read, if you just enjoy it for recreation and don’t try to use logic or common sense regarding the plot. Not as profound as her better work.

Topic: [/book]

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Sun, Oct 19, 2003

: Real Women Have Curves

Excellent independent film I’d heard about but missed in the theatres. I thought it was a foreign film, but it’s not: it’s mostly in English, though the Hispanic characters have a few scenes in Spanish. The story is actually similar to

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Fri, Oct 17, 2003

: 8 Women

Author: Franciois Ozon

Director: Franciois Ozon

Delightfully bizarre mix of old fashioned English murder mystery and musical farce. Yes, musical! This is the story of several generations of a family (grandmother, mother, aunts, and daughters) and a couple female servants trapped by snow in a large house who discover one morning that the only man in the house has been murdered — stabbed in the back. The phone line has been cut, the automobiles sabotaged, and the snow is blocking the gate so the eight women are trapped. Then the fun begins as the women begin to bicker and accuse, and slowly all sorts of unexpected truths emerge and we learn that every woman has secrets. It’s completely soap opera absurd, and thus hilarious, and the director brilliantly plays this up with overly dramatic music and camera zooms. And each of the eight women has their own song they get to sing, breaking out with a tune in an (often) absurd moment, the room going dark with them in a spotlight, creating a hilariously campy feel. Fortunately, most of the tunes are pretty good (the first, in particular, is wonderful), and the camp feel is appropriate and gives the film an unexpected dose of fun. The murder mystery is a bit of joke (literally) but has a somber touch to it by the twist ending. Pretty good film. A bit long — it’d be better trimmed by 10 or 15 minutes — as it doesn’t quite live up to its promises and gets slow in places. But overall a lot of fun and silliness, witty and entertaining.

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: Runaway Jury

Author: John Grisham (novel)

Director: Gary Fleder

This kind of film is awkward as I’ve read the book (though not recently) and I find that distracts me as I’m constantly comparing the two as much as I try not to do so. The most significant change I noticed is that in the film the trial’s against the gun industry — in the book it was tobacco, if I remember correctly. Of course both the book and the film are blatantly anti-smoking/guns which is rather annoying: the other point of view isn’t even given the slightest voice (except that of irrationality). The trial itself is rather a joke, with neither side having much of a case (at least from what we see in the film). The characters are mildly interesting, especially Cusack and Weisz, but Gene Hackman’s jury consultant is too obviously evil to be human and Dustin Hoffman’s white hat lawyer is too inept to be heroic. What makes the film work is the whole con by Cusack and Weisz and our curiousity as to what will happen to their scheme. If you’ve read the book, this is an okay film — it’s on par with the novel. If you haven’t read the book I think you’d like it better as many aspects of jury duty will be surprising and interesting.

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Mon, Oct 13, 2003

: Kill Bill: Volume One

Author: Quentin Tarantino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Wow, what a film! While I can see that some people wouldn’t like this — it’s violent, loud, and wild — I loved it. I didn’t go in thinking I would, either. While I’m a Tarantino fan, I don’t worship him or anything. This film, split into two movies because it was too long, had me dreading it would feel incomplete. Far from it. The action is amazing and the finale makes

The plot is a simple one, brilliantly executed: Uma plays a member of an assasination team who was betrayed and left for dead. After four years in a coma she wakes up seeking revenge, and goes after her former teammates one by one. (That, essentially, is the plots for part two, as she doesn’t get to all on her list in this movie.) The revenge plot has been done before (see Payback for instance), but what makes this so awesome is the way Tarantino directs it. He’s totally aware that this is a film and shoves it in your face. It’s all about style and every frame drips it. I heard him comment he’s a Sergio Leone fan (he loves

If you’re the least bit squeamish, don’t see this film. There is a lot of blood. Literally. Only Peter Jackson’s

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Sun, Oct 12, 2003

: Joshua

I’d wanted to see this when it was in theatres but missed it. I’d heard about the book years ago from my cousin. It’s about a stranger named Joshua who shows up in a town and bears a striking resemblance to Jesus. He’s a carpenter and begins building a fallen-down church, and soon the whole town’s helping him. He helps people all over town, but everyone’s wondering who he is. Great idea, excellently done, especially in how Joshua “preaches” (he uses common sense and demonstrates love). I found it interesting there are no bad guys in the movie: the ones we think are bad turn out to be simply misled and Joshua heals them. The ending is weak as Joshua visits the Pope — I couldn’t really figure out what that was all about — but it’s still an interesting film. Perhaps filled with more potential than actual import, but it’s got some decent scenes and is worth seeing just for the concept.

Topic: [/book]

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: The Search

Author: Iris Johansen

Not a sequel to

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Fri, Oct 10, 2003

: Intolerable Cruelty

Easily one of the wittiest films of the year, with several scenes of high-speed dialog that’s just hilarious. The plot and characters are great as well. George Clooney’s finally in a decent film, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is just amazing. He’s a divorce lawyer and she’s a man-hunter out to scam millions in a settlement, but when he falls in love with her, is she going to scam him? Terrific fun with tons of wicked barbs at divorce, and a happy resolution. Excellent.

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Wed, Oct 08, 2003

: School of Rock

Undoubtedly the feel good movie of the year. While not the least bit complicated and totally predictable in plot, this film just hits all the right notes and is great fun. Jack Black is over-the-top magic and he carries the film, but the way they focus on the kids is great as well. I was worried Jack Black’s more adult-oriented rebel side would put a sour note on the mood, but the producers kept this at an above-crude level for wholesome entertainment the whole family can enjoy. Cool.

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Mon, Oct 06, 2003

: Under the Tuscan Sun

In some ways I liked this better than I expected, and in others ways I liked it less. One of the one hand it is cute and funny and Diane Lane is perfectly awesome as always, but on the other the story is a bit of a downer and the ending drags on too long. This is one of those films that must fight that delicate balance between being too predictable so it’s boring or so unpredictable it’s unsatisfying. The story sets us up for idealistic romance — a freshly divorced woman, shattered, buys a villa while visiting Tuscany, and meets her true love… except that’s not exactly what happens. Sure, what does happen is more realistic, but it’s not exactly satisfying. The ending implies everything will be okay, but I still found it an annoyingly pat solution (particularly the way she ends up with a guy at the end after all the work to show us that she doesn’t need a guy to be happy). See this for the fun, the humor, and Diane Lane, not for the romance or anything remotely profound.

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Sun, Oct 05, 2003

: MLS: Shake with the Quakes

Unfortunately the “Shake with the Quakes” event after the game — an exclusive party for season ticket holders — had a bit of a cloud over it due to the loss to New York. It wasn’t so much the loss as the manner of the loss. I even talked with a player or two about it, and got a kind of mysterious shrug as in “What else could we do?” or “How could that referee be so bad?” I suggested we just pretend the game never happened and he agreed. It was cool meeting the Quakes. I got my Landon Donovan T-shirt signed by a dozen players (okay, eleven players and one assistant coach). The guys were awesomely nice and in good moods despite being pestered for autographs and coming off a harsh loss. I joked with DeRosario that it was a good thing he plays with his feet after seeing him sign so many autographs. He laughed and massaged his hand which was no doubt sore. There were a number of soccer-related activities around at the party (mini-games, goal shooting, giant air slide, etc.), but they seemed all geared toward very young kids (kinda lame). This year the event was held in a back parking area in a much smaller area than last year’s event, making it extremely crowded, which was disappointing. But they did serve burgers: it was a nice catered spread with several side dishes including yummy fruit salad. Once again the “autograph alley” thing was lame as different players were scheduled to be there at different times, but the wait in line was probably an hour, meaning it was tough to get your target player’s signature. Most players wandered the event after their turn in the booth, though, and were willing to sign if you asked. Overall a good event, though it’d be nice if they fixed a few of the problems (like the long entrance line) for next year.

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: MLS: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Not much of a birthday present here. The Quakes came out and laid a goose egg. The Metrostars were without superstar Clint Mathis (red card last weekend) so I figured the Quakes had the definite edge, especially considering they scored nine goals in their last two games. But nope: this one was all New York. They scored early and held on. A big part of the problem was the referee, who was terrible. Of course home crowds tend to be biased, but players on both teams were obviously confused by his arbitrary calls. One time a foul is called one way and minutes later an identical foul isn’t called. Later on the same foul goes the other direction. Bizarre. That didn’t leave the Quakes with much confidence in the ref. When the Quakes tied the score with a great goal late in the first half, the ref disallowed the goal, apparently saying Dewayne DeRosario fouled an opponent while scoring. Late in the game the side ref blew an offside call to allow the Metrostars a chance. The Quakes were forced to give up a corner, and on that corner kick New York scored. That’s an excellent example of how poor refereeing trickles down and has direct effect on the play. In the final minutes of play the Quakes scored a second goal — and again the ref disallowed it! Supposedly this time it was a Quake handball. Both plays happened so quickly it’s hard for me to truly judge (though I was in the perfect position for the offside call that wasn’t made while the side ref was ten yards out of position), but I find it incredible that two goals could be discounted. There are some conspiracy-minded Quake fans who feel MLS wants New York to do well as they’re such a prime media market and think the league actually distorts the results — this sure feels like it. It doesn’t really mean anything to us as the Quakes still lead the league and are well into the playoffs, but the win was huge for New York who’ve been struggling as this puts them into the playoffs. Just a disappointing, frustrating day for Earthquake fans. Final: 2-0 Metrostars.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sat, Oct 04, 2003

: Birthday

Today’s my birthday. Happy birthday to me! Most of my family is out of town (the nerve) so we’ll be celebrating in the future (which is fine with me).

Topic: [/event]

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Fri, Oct 03, 2003

: Out of Time

Modest but effective thriller. Denzel Washington is the police chief of a small Florida town. His police detective wife is divorcing him and he’s having an affair with a local married woman. Her husband abuses her, making Denzel feel protective. Then he learns her cancer’s come back and she’s got no money for expensive treatments. When she names him the beneficiary in her million dollar life insurance policy, he stupidly gives her a half million in cash from a drug bust which he thinks won’t be needed as evidence until the trial a year away (by which time he’ll have the insurance money and he can pay back what he borrowed). When the woman’s house burns down and two bodies are found inside (and no money anywhere), a murder investigation is started with the wife assigned to the case. The first thing she does is look for any extra-marital activity and suddenly Denzel is rushing to cover up evidence before she can find it, desperately trying to keep one step ahead of her. It looks bad for him: he’s the insurance beneficiary, a neighbor saw him at the house the night of the fire, and the drug bust money is missing. It’s a great idea and fairly well implemented, at least as far as tension and drama are concerned. There are truck-sized plot holes (Why does the accomplice end up with the money? Why is this intelligent police chief stupid enough to borrow drug bust money?) but overall it’s fun. The ending’s convoluted, confused, and doesn’t make much sense, but by that time you just want a resolution, so to works. There’s some good humor and excitement and overall it’s a good film. But it’s too lightweight to be great or perfect.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Oct 02, 2003

: The Teeth of the Tiger

Author: Tom Clancy

I haven’t read much Clancy as I haven’t been a fan of his fragmented writing style, but this was a good book. It’s one scenario of what clandestine operation the U.S. might do in response to 9-11 (the “teeth” of the “tiger”). There’s a super-secret government organization that’s actually privately funded so there’s no connection to the government at all. But this organization has penetrated all levels of the government and thus has full access to all intelligence from all other agencies. Using this info, this organization will, essentially, kill terrorists before they can strike. Brutal and cold, but realistic. How else do you stop sucide bombers? The book devotes too much time to “debate” over the morality of this as though Clancy were defending the idea himself through his characters instead of getting on with the story, and in the end the story’s thin as everything happens the way we’d expect (and desire, i.e. the terrorists are stopped). One interesting thing is that this book is set in Clancy’s world and many of the characters are descendants of familiar Clancy characters (such as Jack Ryan’s son). I haven’t read enough Clancy to know if he always does this, but I found it interesting. A good read.

Topic: [/book]

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Wed, Oct 01, 2003

: Secondhand Lions

Another one of those films I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing, but timing meant I saw it, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was worried it’d be a bit smarmy and pretentious and too saccharine for my tastes, but it turned out to be an enjoyable film. The “plot” is about a little boy who goes to live with his two grumpy uncles for the summer in the early 1960s. The old men are rumored to have millions hidden away and thus are pestered by every distant relative and saleperson in the state. Their main activity is sitting on their porch with shotguns to scare away people. The boy’s arrival disturbs their lifestyle and gradually the boy learns to love his uncles and vice versa. Predictable overall, but there are many humorous little sidesteps in the plot — such as when the old men, who used to be in the Foreign Legion in Africa, buy a used lion which they plan to hunt, only to discover it’s so old it won’t even get out of the shipping crate. In the end the lion becomes the boy’s pet (his first). The title refers to the movie’s thought-line of how you don’t throw away a life, implying that the old men (who don’t act their age) are also secondhand lions.

There’s a lot about the story that’s unbelievable (intentionally: we hear fabulous stories about the old men’s past and we’re supposed to wonder how much of it is true), but the genuine performances help ground the film. The direction has some nice touches as well. My favorite was this: when the boy arrives at the uncles’ home, there are “no tresspassing” and other forbidding signs on the long dirt driveway leading to the home. The final sign says “Turn back now!” But at the end, when the boy is being driven away and he doesn’t want to leave, he’s looking longingly out the rear window of the car and we see the signs in the reverse, including the one that screams “Turn back now!” in huge letters — and this time the meaning is completely different. Really cool. Brilliant, in fact.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sat, Sep 27, 2003

: MLS: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

Wow, I thought last week’s televised game was awesome, but this time I got to see the Quakes turn it on in person. Last week the Dallas Burn were supposed to be eliminated from the playoffs when they played the top team in the East, the Chicago Fire. Instead they came out and won, beating the Fire 2-0. Which Burn would show up? Which Quakes? The answers started immediately after kickoff. Right away the ball was kicked out of play and the Quakes’ awesome rookie Todd Dunnivant took the throw-in. He’s famous for his ability to throw long, and boy did he deliver. From the sideline on the Quake’s half of the field, he threw the ball over the back of the Dallas’ defense. Dewayne DeRosario darted onto it, and as the Burn keeper came out to cut down the angle, Dewayne slid it under him to the far post for the opening goal. This goal set an amazing MLS record for the fastest goal in American soccer history at eleven seconds! Wow!

But that was just the beginning. I knew Dallas isn’t as bad of a team as their record indicates, and they showed it. Minutes later they tied the game on a corner kick that was headed into the goal. The crowd was stunned. But three minutes later the Quakes were back ahead when Donovan pressured away a ball just above the Quakes’ penalty area, sliding it to Chris Roner and darting ahead. Chris fed the ball back up the sideline, but it got away from Donovan as the Dallas defense picked it up. But Landon didn’t stop his run, continuing to pressure the defense. His pressure astonishly paid off as he won the ball and took off with a one-on-one with the keeper. But the angle was poor so Donovan did the unselfish thing and squared a ball over to an onrushing DeRosario who easily put it into an empty goal. The fans were going mad — three goals in just eleven minutes. But we hadn’t seen anything yet.

Just three minutes later, the Burn amazingly leveled the game again! The Quakes best defense in the league fell apart as Ali Curtis got ahold of a bouncing ball in the penalty area and managed to knock it around Pat Onstad to tie the score. The crowd went into stunned silence. My brother and I were freaking out — could our hearts stand this kind of up-and-down emotional rollercoaster? Well, we needn’t have worried. The Dallas goals seemed to inspire the Quakes who didn’t want to pull a Chicago and lose to the worst team in the league. They attacked with vigor and fury, and by the end of the half, the Quakes were leading 4-2! Both additional goals were scored by none other than Landon Donovan. The first was a simple ball over the top where Landon beat the offside trap and made the finish against the keeper look easy. The second was a great Brian Mullan cross which Donovan calmly headed into the goal at the near post, eeriely reminiscent of his great World Cup goal last summer. What was amazing about the goal was that Donovan started the play in his own half and ran all the way to the goal leaving Dallas in the dust. That kid can run! According to the league: “The six-goal first half set a number of League records, including the fastest four, five, and six goal totals in MLS history. The 4-2 score line equaled the largest first half total ever recorded in League play, tying the record set by Dallas v. Colorado (June 16, 2001) and Columbus v. Chicago (June 2, 2002).”

In the second half, it was obvious the Burn were beat, as they couldn’t get past Pat Onstad who made a handful of excellent saves. The Quakes certainly didn’t stop, with Dewayne DeRosario duplicately Donovan’s effort last week with a hat trick! He scored his third with his back to the goal, whirling and kicking without even looking, cleaning beating the Burn defense and keeper with a darting shot that curled into the far corner. Amazing! After never having a hat trick in team history until last week, the Quakes do it again a week later. Insane. The win eliminates the Burn from the playoffs (sadly, their first time not making the post-season leaving L.A. as the only team to make the playoffs every year) and puts San Jose eleven points ahead of second-place Colorado Rapids in the Western conference and six points ahead of everyone else in the league (awesome). With two more home games and a game in Colorado and L.A. left, San Jose has a chance to really distance themselves from everyone in the next few weeks. We’ll see what happens. Final: 5-2 San Jose Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Sep 26, 2003

: The Rundown

Fun actioner with typical lightweight full-of-holes plot. The Rock is surprisingly good, much better than in other movies. He plays a “retrieval expert,” who collects debts or people or whatever. His boss sends him to South America to retreive his son (Sean William Scott), who’s in the jungle looking for an artifact. What follows is beautiful choas and non-stop action as the son doesn’t want to go back until he’s found the priceless artifact, the wealthy mine owner (Christopher Walken) who rules that whole section of the jungle who also wants the artifact, and the rebels who want the artifact so they can free themselves from the rule of Walken. There’s a lot of comedy and entertaining silliness, great action by the Rock, and a light but satisfying story to hold the mess together. The Rock and Scott have great chemistry, and the action sequences are digitally enhanced (or something) to create something new (not quite as innovative as wirework and 3D cameras of

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Sep 23, 2003

: Anything Else

Author: Woody Allen

Director: Woody Allen

Interesting, though annoying, Woody Allen film about a comedy writer (Jason Biggs) struggling to figure out life. His girlfriend (Christina Ricci) is lovely but frightfully annoying as she can’t make up her mind and drives him insane. She eats before their dinner date, moves out without warning and moves back in just as abruptly, and worse. But he’s too chicken to leave her. Biggs gets bizarre advice from another comedy writer (Allen) he met in Central Park. Woody’s created some great characters here, and I really liked the intelligence of Bigg’s character (it makes him more sympathetic). Allen’s alter ego is hilarious and full of typical Woody Allen insecurity. The story is simple enough as Bigg’s figures out his life and learns to move on (not without help), but overall, while this is better than some of Woody’s recent films, it’s lightweight. Ricci’s character is too annoying to be likable (you want to slap her), and the best part is Woody’s amazing dialog which is mostly intellectual entertainment (I’d rather read it than watch it).

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Sep 22, 2003

: Thirteen

This is an amazing film, probably the best film I’ve seen all year. I could be biased, however, because I’m writing a novel that features young teens in similar situations. The story is wonderfully simple: it’s about an ordinary, clean-cut, modest girl who wants to be popular. She manages to make friends with the hottest, coolest girl in school, and under her influence, is soon doing drugs, shoplifting, and getting tattoos and body piercings. Her mother (separated from her dad) struggles with these changes in her daughter while trying to keep her own crappy life together (she’s apparently in AA or something similar). The film’s really about the mother-daughter relationship and how that changes as the girl becomes a teen, but it touches on so many aspects of life: adulthood, sex, popularity, friends, rebellion, independence, drug use, cutting, suicide, and more. (On an interesting side note, driving home I happened to hear Avril Lavigne’s “Anything But Ordinary” which could be the theme song for this film as it explains why kids want to do these crazy things — they don’t want to be ordinary. Since Avril was sixteen when her album was released, she was probably not much older than these characters when she wrote the song.) The film’s ending is abrupt and unresolved. We’re given hints that tragedy may be avoided, but there are no guarantees or pat sitcom answers here, just a faint moment of hope. I liked everything about this film. The acting was astonishingly awesome, from all the precocious teens (Evie is played by Nikki Reed who was thirteen when she wrote the story) to Holly Hunter who plays the mom. Someone in this cast has to win an Academy Award or there is no justice. The story is rough and realistic, and for once we see teens and adults arguing like they do in real life, not sitcom-speak. This movie is similar to the controversial Kids, but focuses more on the loss of innocence and is less into salacious activity for the sake of a movie and more into a documentary-style capture of real modern teen life. You must see this film.

Topic: [/movie]

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: The Killing Game

Author: Iris Johansen

I really like the way Iris bases her novels on character over plot. In this particular novel, however, she’s a little heavy-handed. In addition to the whole “serial killer on the loose” plot, we’re in the middle of a romance/war between the best friend, the heroine, and the wealthy lover. Some of the conflicts in this felt forced and overdone, and the outcome was brutally obvious from the beginning (which it was supposed to be, since the woman was closing her eyes to her best friend as a lover, but since we could see it from the beginning, it made wading through hundreds of pages of her hemming and hawking tedious). The serial killer plotline is superior, with an unknown killer telephoning our heroine with frighting threats and hints of future violence. She’s lost her young daughter to a killer years ago and that motivated her to become a top forensic sculpture (she creates facial models from skulls to help identify bodies). By threatening to kill a little girl, the killer forces the woman to bond with the new child (who’s physically similar to her own), with the plan to kill them both after they’ve bonded: diabolically cruel, to say the least. The chase is on, the killer always several steps ahead. Who is he? I fell for the red herring candidate, but right from the beginning, which made the ending uncomfortable. While the killer’s identity was thus a surprise, it felt a bit artificial, almost like Iris decided on the twist after the novel was originally written with the other guy as the killer. (I doubt she did that; my perception is clouded by my pre-judgement of the situation.) A good novel, exciting and tense, with some interesting bits on police work and serial killer stuff. There were stereotypical aspects I didn’t like — the killer’s dad was a religious fanatic (gee, that’s original) — and there were some odd technical mistakes toward the end (please, I retouch digital photos and if it’s done right, no one can tell). But overall this was an excellent book. Interestingly, two of the best characters in the book, Monty, a cadaver dog and his partner, a hard woman named Sarah, apparently feature in Iris’ next novel, of which this paperback included an excerpt. I’m definitely going to have to read that book.

Topic: [/book]

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: The Chocolate War

I remember struggling to read this “classic” novel as a kid and not getting very far. It’s a strange tale about kids in a private school, an obssessive teacher/headmaster, and a chocolate sale fundraiser. The main kid, a loner/loser type, refuses to “volunteer” for the sale, wreaking havoc on the whole order of things. The main “gang” (secret society) at the school sets out to force him to comply. The odd thing is the kid has no reason why he won’t sell the chocolates. It starts out as a whim, but ends up a war. Supposedly there’s something deep in there, and I get a glimmer of it, but just like the book, the film’s not very illuminating. This is a good production, and to the best of my memory faithful (I can’t remember if I even finished the book), but it ends up with the same flaws as the book: it’s pretentious and confusing. At least the all Peter Gabriel soundtrack’s awesome.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Sep 21, 2003

: Domestic Disturbance

This is a John Travolta film I’d never heard of, but it wasn’t that bad. The story’s light but filled with potential (unfortunately minimally realized). It deals with a young boy who’s parents have split and she’s getting remarried. The boy is struggling with this when he accidentally witnesses his new step-dad murder someone. But no one will believe him: they all think this is his way of acting out against the marriage. Only his dad believes and starts an investigation, eventually leading to the step-dad revealing his true colors and being arrested. Predictably done, but I liked the whole “kid against the unbelieving world” syndrome (similar to the murder witness in Rear Window). If Hitchcock had done this he’d have had the kid be the main character instead of the dad (Travolta) and had him figure out a way to out-smart the villain. As it is, the dad really doesn’t do much (which is lame): when he starts his investigation, that prompts the bad guy to attempt to kill him, which opens things up and spoils the “did he or didn’t he” subtlty that was so appealing. There’s also a scene near the beginning where Travolta querries one of the bad guy’s friends rather aggressively, almost as if he suspected there was something fishy about the guy (who is later murdered). Like the whole movie, it could have been much better handled, but on the whole a neat idea.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sat, Sep 20, 2003

: MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Kansas City Wizards

I usually don’t write about televised games, but this one was special. Not only did the Quakes play brilliantly, but they set several club records in the process. First, the win not only puts them at the top of the league again, the 46 points is the most San Jose has ever gotten in a season — and there’s still five games left to play (15 potential points)! But the story of the night was Landon Donovan, who not only scored his personal season best of 10 goals, but netted the first ever hat trick (three goals in a single game) for the Earthquakes! Even better, these weren’t simple goals. For the first goal, Landon faked out a defender like his was going right but instead slid the ball to his left foot and finished it into the back of the net for a gorgeous 1-0 lead. The Quakes extended the lead in the second half with defender Eddie Robinson’s first goal of the season (an excellent header), but Donovan wanted more. His second goal was the best goal I’ve seen all season (even better than the Quake’s awesome team goal in the 4-4 draw against New York earlier in the year). Landon started the play near mid-field, dribbled through two defenders, splitting them completely, broke in on two more defenders, sliding the ball to Dwayne DeRosario on the right while he dove left. The pass opened up space and Dwayne took the ball to the right and then crossed it in front of the goal where Donovan was heading. With a burst of acceleration he darted forward and beat a defender (former Quake Jimmy Conrad) and goalkeeper to slip the ball into the goal. The hat trick was complete late in injury time when Donovan got open at the top of the box and easily beat Meola to score his record third goal of the game. Wow, what a match! What a performance from Donovan, right as the team heads into the playoffs! This should boost the team’s confidence (which was already high) and really give the other teams something to think about when facing Landon. Terrific win.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Sep 19, 2003

: Cabin Fever

Another twist on the “end of the world virus” story. In this case it’s morphed with the typical “trapped teens in the woods with a serial killer” plot. We aren’t privy to where the virus came from (no silly lectures here on genetic research gone awry like in Dead Alive.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Underworld

Surprisingly fun and well-done vampire action flick. Kate Beckinsale takes a break from her serious drama roles and romatic leads and plays an action heroine. She’s a vampire and hunts down werewolves (Liken). The war between the species has been going on for over 1,000 years, though for the last six hundred it’s been less stressful since the key Liken leader was killed and the Liken have almost been completely exterminated. But she uncovers a conspiracy: it seems the Liken leader was not killed as reported. He’s still alive and rebuilding his army. He’s after a particular human for an unknown reason, and when the girl rescues him, she discovers he was bitten and is now Liken himself. But she’s fallen in love with him despite that such an affair is forbidden. So we’re in the middle of a war, a conspiracy within a conspiracy, and a forbidden love affair. Of course this isn’t great drama but cool action, and Beckinsale does a suprisingly awesome job at it: she’s sexy and cool and clever and ruthless. The story gets muddled at times (was the bad young vampire bad or not?) and is too cleanly explained in the end (all neat and tidy), but the ending drew an actual cheer from the theatre audience who delighted in seeing the bad guy defeated in such dramatic fashion. Nothing profound here by any means, but neat action, a fun heroine, good special effects (excellent werewolf transformations), and an interesting new take on the whole vampire legend.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Sep 18, 2003

: Buffalo Soldiers

Not a film I was interested in seeing, but it was the only thing on at the time I was ready to see a film. So I went with modest enthusiasm. To my surprise, I liked this film a lot. It is modest and predictable in concept. We meet an American soldier stationed in Germany around the time of the Berlin wall collapse. He’s the guy knows everyone and can get you anything. He’s a slick talker who knows how to weave his superiors to do anything he needs. Meanwhile, he’s selling U.S. goods on the black market, cooking drugs in the basement, and driving his fancy Mercedes. Then along comes a new officer who’s got his number. He breaks the guy down, and it becomes a battle of wits between the two. To piss the officer off, the soldier begins dating the officer’s daughter, but that backfires when the officer destroys the guy’s prized Mercedes. Like I said, in concept it’s predictable — like one of Zack Morris’ scams on Saved by the Bell going awry and him learning his lesson by the end of the episode. But this one escalates to death and serious drugs and money, and in the end our hero barely escapes with his teeth and returns to his old tricks. There’s nothing profound here. Some of the characters, while interesting, are stereotypical, and the “twists” at the end are yawners. The uncomfortable part is that we’re supposed to like the scammer when he’s just stealing 1,000 gallons of Mop’n’Glo from the army, but feel justice is served when his serious drug activity doesn’t go as he planned. It’s the old “white lies are okay” approach to morality. Oh well. It’s still fun, though I’m cautious in being manipulated to like the guy. And the film has a neatly packaged happy ending that leaves us wondering how we got there (much isn’t explained). Not a great film, but more fun than I expected. A good rental.

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Tue, Sep 16, 2003

: American Splendor

This is an excellent film about the life of Harvey Pekar, the ultimate ordinary Joe, whose mundane life was made into the American Splendor comic book series. What’s fascinating is that this is a combination of drama and documentary. We actually meet multiple Harvey Pekars: there’s the various cartoon drawings (portrayed by the many different artists who illustrate the comic), the real guy, and the actor who plays him in the movie. These various versions are blurred together. We cut from a comic drawing to the real or actor version, watch the actor and listen to the real guy narrarating, etc. It’s a wonderful technique because it allows us to know all the Harvey Pekars and thereby understanding the whole man better. The story is pretty much chronological: we see Harvey at his dead-end job as a file clerk, watch him meet artist Bob Crumb, see the comic book become a success, follow the story of Harvey meeting and marrying his wife (after knowing her for less than a week), and endure his battle with cancer. The whole thing is marvelously done. My only complaint is that ultimately we aren’t enriched by the process. Harvey seems like a decent ordinary guy, and it’s fun meeting the man behind the cartoon, but Harvey’s so ordinary and his morose attitude on life is so depressing that not much is to be gained by our experience with him. We’re just listening to a guy whine about his misery for decades, never once doing a thing to get off his ass and do something about it. Granted, that’s what his story is all about, and I suppose fans of the comic like that and would therefore like this film better. I found it interesting from a sociological viewpoint, and the presentation was fascinating, but I don’t want to spend any more time with Harvey than I already have.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Sep 15, 2003

: Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Author: Robert Rodriguez

Director: Robert Rodriguez

This is the third film in the

Topic: [/movie]

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: Trust Fund

Author: Stephen Frey

This is a can’t-put-it-down kind of book, which is excellent. The story’s about a rich son who’s being forced out of the family despite the awesome work he’s done turning the family fortune into a hundred billion dollar hedge fund. The guy’s a hard drinker and supposedly the family’s worried he’ll be a liability to the number one son’s presidential bid. But later he finds out secrets that reveal the truth. Eventually we’ve got a huge conspiracy that goes all the way to the highest levels of the government, murder and intrigue, and great action. It’s a fun read.

However, there are a number of huge flaws in this book from a writing perspective. First, the main character, who has the drinking problem, is presented as a flawed hero: that’s realistic, but it comes across awkwardly, for we’re told about his drinking after the fact and we’re not privy to the inner demons that drive him to drink. The author struggles with this because he doesn’t want to alienate us from the hero, yet the hero needs some flaws. Unfortunately, the result is the flaws seem patched on, not genuinely part of his character. And even bigger flaw, a sin that is committed not once but twice in this novel, is the introduction of main characters half-way through the book. Now that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, except in this case, both characters are supposedly extremely close to the hero. One is the hero’s best friend, the other the hero’s wife. Yet we don’t meet either until 200 pages into the book! That makes us immediately suspicious about the best friend (Who is this guy and why don’t we know if him if he’s such a good friend?), and wonder about the genuineness of the husband-wife relationship. That’s just poor writing. Still, the novel’s a fun, quick read, and it has a lot of excitement and suspense. I was disappointed by the ending: the dramatic reveal at the end was a bit of a tempest in a teapot (it was nothing more than a high tech twist of something from J. Edgar Hoover’s days), but that’s common in novels with so much setup. Frey does an excellent job of parsing information to us, piece by piece, in each chapter, revealing just enough to keep us starving for more. A good read.

Topic: [/book]

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: Jeepers Creepers

After seeing the sequel, it was fun to see the original. Two very different movies. This one is almost claustrophobic in that there are only two teenage potential victims who spend the movie running from the creature, and the creature itself is hidden and mysterious most of the film. In this one, we think the creature’s an ordinary serial killer or something, as the two teens witness him dumping bodies in an old drain pipe and go to investigate, finding more than they bargained for. Interesting ideas. Certainly neither film is great, but they are amusing.

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Fri, Sep 12, 2003

: Matchstick Men

Terrific film! Nicholas Cage stars as a con artist struggling with reality: he’s obsessive compulsive to the max (he cleans his house constantly), and he begins seeing a shrink to help him cope with life. He learns he’s got a daughter he’s never met from an ancient relationship, and she wants to meet him. The fourteen-year-old girl is the antithesis of him — wild, uncontrolled, impulsive, sloppy — and when she has an argument with her mother, she moves in for a week. The daughter is played by Alison Lohman (

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: John Ritter

I am so sad to hear the news that actor John Ritter died. While most dismissed his Three’s Company as silly, I consider him to be a comic genius. He was a master of physical comedy, making the incredibly difficult look easy (just try to make a fall look genuinely accidental, I dare you — it’s much harder than it sounds). John was back in a new hit series (though I never watched it), which was great, and things were going well. Very sad for him to go so suddenly and so young (he was only 54). Just another example of how we ultimately have no control over Life, no matter who we are, famous or infamous, rich or poor.

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Thu, Sep 11, 2003

: The Medallion

I’d heard this was a poor Jackie Chan film, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Sure many of the special effects were digital, but they needed to be with this kind of plot. The idea is that there’s this ancient medallion and it can bring you back to life after death and give you supernatural abilities, and so those abilities had to be done digitally. The bigger problem with the movie is that it doesn’t get to the main plot point until nearly half-way through (that’s when Jackie dies) which makes the first half seem rather pointless. (Why not just get to him dying right away?) The tone of the film is also odd: one of the minor characters at the beginning, an overplayed idiot, turns out to be a major character and one of the good guys (I never would have guessed from the initial scenes). Since he’s the only person in the whole movie playing for slapstick comedy, his scenes, while funny on their own, really clash with the rest of the “serious” film. The movie’s got a few fun moments, a few neat effects, but is generally quiet forgettable, but that’s not unlike most Jackie Chan movies.

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Mon, Sep 08, 2003

: Jeepers Creepers 2

Strange movie. I never saw the original, but I like Ray Wise (of Twin Peaks fame) and there’s really nothing else out there, so I gave it a go. I’d give it a C- or C+, depending on my mood. It’s basically a mere survival story, but it’s done in such as way as to make you think the plot’s more than that, which makes it a bit of a letdown when you realize that’s all it is. There’s some flying goblin creature (it’s never named — no idea where the title comes in) that comes alive every 23rd spring and eats for 23 days. It’s apparently thousands of years old and no one can kill it. A schoolbus full of a high school football team and cheerleaders breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is picked off one-by-one by the creature. The early “scare” scenes I thought were lame because what made them “scary” was that we couldn’t see the creature. Once we get to the schoolbus at night, however, we really get to see the creature, which is cool. As he lurks about the schoolbus, we see him leer at the terrified teens, watch him eat and heal from horrible wounds, and more. The kids are all stereotypical and overdone, but there are a few suprises here. Then we get Ray Wise as the angry dad (he son was apparently killed by the creature in the opening scene though that was woefully unclear) who’s built himself a homemade harpoon which he uses to spear the creature. In the end, the humans win — sort of. The creature goes into hibernation, and he’ll be back… in 23 years.

Whatever. Who comes up with this stuff? It’s rather arbitrary. What’s significant about 23 years? Why not 25 or fifty? Why not link to to the position of the stars or something? We get no explanation about the creatures’ origin, and why can’t he be burned or disassembled or locked in a steel coffin or something? Oh wait a second: I’m using logic. Sorry about that. I forgot what movie I was talking about. Forget all those negatives. This is a modest thriller. Not as humorous or as clever as Freddy vs. Jason, but okay, and the creature is a little scary, especially when he grins at you just before he pounces.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Sep 07, 2003

: U.S. Women versus Mexico

Why do they bother with these games? Another blowout for the Americans, and I don’t remember Mexico ever having a shot on goal: they were scarcely in the U.S. half the entire game. I worry this will lead to overconfidence when the U.S. plays a real time in the upcoming Women’s World Cup. Of the five goals, three were penalty kicks (one shouldn’t have been given as an American handball wasn’t called seconds earlier). Late in the match an American player was red carded for a bad foul, but the Mexican’s couldn’t do much better with the extra person. Final: 5-0 U.S.A.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: MLS: New England Revolution at San Jose Earthquakes

Great atmosphere, part of the double-header Sunday following the U.S. women’s match. With Chicago’s tie on Saturday, the Quakes needed a win to reclaim top spot in the league, as well as distance themselves from Colorado (whom they lost to last weekend). Things started out well as the Quakes pressured and had some near chances, but quickly went sour as a counter-attack gave a goal to New England. A fantastic through-pass by Steve Ralston beat two defenders and sent Pat Noonan in alone on goal. Quakes’ keeper Pat Onstad was out quickly to shut down the play, but Noonan flicked the ball over Onstad as he dove, and the ball trickled into the open net. It was against the run of play and so quick the home crowd was stunned. But just a minute later the Quakes struck back! Brian Mullan threaded the ball into the New England penalty area to an open Dwayne DeRosario. It took Dwayne a touch to settle the ball, but no one closed him down, and his second touch was to blast the ball high into the net giving the Rev’s keeper no chance. One-all into the half! The Quakes came out aggressively in the second half, and soon took the lead. DeRosario was again involved, this time in a run up the side. He opted to go toward the center, sliding the ball over to an open Ramiro Corrales. He waited, then put in a perfect ball to Landon Donovan in the box. Landon’s header was hard and on target, but a sprawling Adin Brown punched the shot away. The rebound, however, fell into a crowd of players in the penalty area. Ronnie Ekelund managed to get the ball to Landon, who was open, and he easily finished it into the far corner. With the lead the Earthquakes sat back more than they should have, but fortunately the Revolution’s offense sucked and the Quakes’ weren’t burned. They never really threatened, though the Quakes had a couple more near chances. Just before the end there was a scuffle between Brian Mullan and Rusty Pierce and both were given yellows — but it was Rusty’s second, and so he was off with a red card. Somehow the ref found five minutes of injury time to add on, but the Quakes dominated that, nearly increasing their lead. In the end the Revs just couldn’t compete. The Quakes win, going to 43 points, nine points higher than the second place team in the Western Conference and three higher than Chicago, the top team in the East. Awesome, baby. Playoffs here we come! Final: 2-1 San Jose.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Thu, Sep 04, 2003

: Freaky Friday

A surprisingly excellent remake. I vaguely remember the original as being pretty decent, but this one is better. It’s nicely modernized, but has the same basic plot of mother and daughter switching bodies and having to learn lessons about how the other lives. Nothing revolutionary, certainly, but enjoyable, and the performances by the leads (Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan) are superb. Great fun.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Sep 02, 2003

: The Magdalene Sisters

Author: Peter Mullan

Director: Peter Mullan

What’s shocking about this film is that it’s based on reality. It tells the story of a group of girls in Ireland in the 1960’s (not so long ago) who are deemed sinners by society (i.e., they’ve had sex out of wedlock) and locked away in a convent laundry facility. Here the girls do penance with back-breaking labor, eat modest food, and have no privacy or rights of any kind. The nuns rule with the rod and the girls are not permitted to leave. They are scarcely permitted to talk! No one may visit them, not even family. Society is ashamed of them and wants to pretend they don’t exist. While supposedly they’re here for a finite length of time, the truth is they’re here forever, and it’s basically a slave camp. The film tells the story of three girls sent to Magnalene (we also get to know a fourth), and how they handle being there. They want to escape, but are afraid: the penalty could be severe. One girl is rescued by her brother, another locked up in a mental hospital, but the others must fight back to survive. It’s a terrific story, a bit one-dimensional (not much complexity here), but well-told. The Catholic Church is upset by this film, and for good reason: we see priests taking advantage of the girls, nuns abusing them, and other horrors. It is possible that things were not as bad as depicted in the film, and I’m sure most nuns are not as evil as the one portrayed here. But considering that the girls did nothing to deserve their fate (no actual crime), it’s criminal that they could be locked up like this with no rights to stop it. The scariest thing of all is that the last Magdalene laundress closed in 1996 — just a few years ago!

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Aug 31, 2003

: Ashland Play: The Piano Lesson

Author: August Wilson

Of the three plays I saw this weekend, this was undoubtedly the best. However, it was not perfect. It’s an amazing play: Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1990. It’s about a Black family in 1936 Philadelphia. A wild brother shows up from down south, ready to sell the family piano. He and his sister co-own it, but she refuses to sell it. He needs the money to buy a farm so he can control his own destiny. But the piano has a history for her family: their slave ancestors were bought with that piano, and it was paid for with their sweat and blood. The sister won’t play the piano, however: it’s haunted with too many memories. She also won’t marry, still stuck on her husband who’s been dead for three years. Thus the conflict brews. Meanwhile there are ghost sightings, and it turns out the piano really is haunted, and in the end, the sister must overcome her fears and play it, which (apparently) banishes the ghost… and her brother, who leaves peacefully without the piano.

Plotwise, there’s not too much to this story. This is a play all about the characters, and they are amazing. The varied personalities are all strong and bold, presenting plenty of conflict, and none are alike. Each has obvious good and bad aspects, just like real people. There’s tons of humor, as the outrageous situations are unusual and funny, yet that’s tempered with genuine drama, as the piano represents serious emotional baggage. I loved the play, the characters, the presentation, and the acting was astonishly good, but I found myself waffling over the whole ghost thing. Unlike the ghost in

Topic: [/theatre]

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: Ashland Play: Hedda Gabbler

Author: Henrick Ibsen

An amazing play about a bizarre, incomprehensible woman. Hedda is a newlywed who returns home with her husband, George, a boring academic who spent their seven-month honeymoon doing research. They’ve purchased a large house beyond their means, apparently because Hedda expressed a fondness for the mansion, but in truth she doesn’t like it, but now that her husband bought it for her, she must lie in the bed she made (there’s a significant pun in there). Bored, Hedda begins to manipulate the people around her. There’s a girl from her childhood who’s flightly and weak, who has left her husband to pursue a lover. That lover turns out to be Hedda’s former lover, and a man who’s competition to George: he’s in the same field and is working on a new book. George reads part of the book and thinks it’s brilliant, one of the best book’s ever written, but when the drunken author accidentally drops it, George recovers it. It’s the only copy. But before he can return it, the guy goes nuts, thinking someone stole it, and his violence ends him up arrested. When he’s released he goes to see Hedda, who encourages his sucidical thoughts — even giving him one of her pistols! She doesn’t tell him she has the manuscript and when he leaves, she burns it. Why? Good questions. She tells her husband it’s because of her great love for him and he believes her, though he’s horrified at the loss of such a great work. News comes that the author is dead, though not exactly the way Hedda expected. In the end she’s blackmailed and caught with the prospects of a husband she doesn’t love and forced romance with a blackmailer, she shoots herself. The end.

This is a play about questions, not anwers. The questions are many and fascinating. Why does Hedda marry George? Why is she so bored? Would anything satisfy her? Why does she waffle, changing her mind so frequently? Does she even know what she’s doing herself? Why is the play’s title her maiden name instead of her married name? Why does she keep seeing visions of her father? Why is she so jealous (if that’s what it is) of the other girl? (Hedda is beautiful and shouldn’t be jealous.) Why does she kill herself in the end? Was life so unbearable to her? Or was it guilt? The answers to these questions are not impossible, but they are subjective: everyone who watches the play will have to form their own conclusions, and every production interprets the play in their own way, making for a fascinating experience. Granted, Hedda’s incomprehensive behavior does make her difficult to like or relate to, but she’s fascinating. Most of the other characters are also severely flawed: the husband’s a simpleton, the author tempermental, the girl an idiot, the judge a corrupt blackmailer. The only innocent in the bunch is old Aunt Julia, virtual mother to George, but she’s not a main character. That lack of compassionate characters does make the play more difficult to connect with, but I still liked it. It’s a fascinating intellectual exercise. I’d actually like to see if again a few times: there’s enough depth here to study for a long time.

Topic: [/theatre]

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Sat, Aug 30, 2003

: Ashland Play: Lorca in a Green Dress

I drove up to Ashland, Oregon this weekend to see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. First up was this one, about the controversial Spanish poet, Fredrico Garcia Lorca. The description of the play intrigued me, but while the execution was superb, the play itself was flat. The description promised Daliesque surrealism and that was certainly present. The play is about Lorca waking up after he’s dead and in a sort of limbo, a 40-day quarantine, during which he’s to reflect on his life and become convinced of his own death. A series of actors dance around him, reenacting various scenes from his life: childhood, on the beach with Dali and his sister, the courtroom trial where he was accused of being a Communist, his death being shot by soldiers, etc. As Lorca struggles to remember and understand, we learn more about him. Unfortunately, despite the weight of the material, the play isn’t especially illuminating about death, Lorca, or anything else: it uses the conceit to bring in surrealistic imagery and concepts, but doesn’t deal with the deep philosophical issues it brings up. There are no answers here, and very few questions. For instance, I was surprised to find no mention of God in the entire play! For a play about the struggle between life and death that’s a striking omission. Even if Lorca didn’t believe in God, he surely would be questioning that belief when he wakes up dead! Instead the play’s mostly about drama and presentation, or “shocking” the audience with revelations such as Lorca’s homosexuality. That said, the play’s not bad: the set’s awesome and there’s some wonderful imagery and the acting was excellent. But we don’t really get to know Lorca that well, the surrealistic presentation distances us from him emotionally, and the lack of depth in subject makes for a weak play. It’s possible that my lack of knowledge about Lorca hurt my interpretation; a Lorca fan would probably get much more out of this.

Topic: [/theatre]

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Fri, Aug 29, 2003

: Seabiscuit

I had zero interest in seeing this film. It’s long at over two hours, it’s about a horse (I’m not much of a horse person), about horse racing (even worse), and set fifty-some years ago. Boring! But the timing proved fortuitious. At the time I was ready to go see a film, this was the only one showing, so I decided to give it a whirl. It turns out the film’s not about a horse, but about America. This is the story of how a nation was broken and battered by the Great Depression, but found inspiration in a broken horse that became a champion.

The film follows the life of the horse’s owner, a penniless bicycle repair man (Jeff Bridges) who turned his talents to the new horseless carriages and made a fortune, but lost his son to accident and now carries a broken heart; the horse’s trainer (played by the always excellent Chris Cooper) who’s more horse than man; and the horse’s jockey, a battered loser who’s too tall and has no peripheral vision in his right eye. The group sounds like a setup for chaos, but the personalities all mesh with Seabiscuit, a horse of good lineage but poor treatment, who’s tossed aside as worthless. With the proper training and loving attention, Seabiscuit becomes a champion, and eventually takes on the reigning champion. But just when you think the story’s over, there’s another twist: the jockey’s horribly injured and will never ride again, and the horse ruptures a tendon and will never race. But despite those predictions by doctors, the two fight back and prove the naysayers wrong. Yes, it’s long, but it’s surprisingly interesting and keeps moving. It’s not boring at all. I saw no evidence of the supposed $100 million budget: if there are special effects they are carefully hidden. The horse races are mildly interesting, but predictable (of course). But it’s the characters you care about, and there’s humor in their interaction. But mostly this is a story about an important time in American history. It’s an excellent movie and worth seeing.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Aug 25, 2003

: Midnight Runner

Author: Jack Higgins

Normally I love spy thrillers and I’m not too critical of them, but this one was bad. The concept was terrific: the wealthiest woman in the world, an heir to an Arab oil fortune, declares vengeance on former IRA gunman now British secret agent Sean Dillon, his boss, an American Senator, and the Senator’s friend, the President of the United States. Unfortunately, that’s about as exciting as it gets: after that set up I expected a lot and instead I got a mishmash of dropped plots and non-action.

First problem: dropped plots. The American Senator and President feature initially, but later are forgotten completely and have nothing to do with the book. The Senator’s daughter is killed by the wealthy woman, and he initially vows revenge (against the counsel of the President), but ends up doing nothing. Higgins spends a lot of time at the beginning letting us know the history of this man, reliving his Vietnam experiences, etc., and then… nothing.

Next problem: lackluster action. While the rich woman talks big, she doesn’t just try to kill her enemies. You’d think she’d be hiring killers, planting bombs, etc., but no. She has dinner with them! They chat about how she is planning on killing them. She keeps hinting to her cousin about this big plan she has in mind, and when it’s finally revealed, it’s a plot to blow up her own oil pipeline and thus destroy the world economy and ruin the U.S. President’s popularity. Gee, that’s brilliant. Wasn’t that the plot of a recent James Bond film?

We finally get some action toward the end of the novel, but it’s too late. We’re bored to tears by then, and the action’s so brief and odd (killing is usually so quick it’s over before it’s begun, and the good guys and bad guys do more talking with each other than shooting) it’s unsatisfying.

The book has a few nice points, but that’s the problem: it feels like a jumbled collection of semi-related stories jammed into a single book with a rough plot loosely tying the mess together. Lame.

Topic: [/book]

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Sun, Aug 24, 2003

: MLS: D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

What’s to say about this game? The guys gave it their all. It was a 3 o’clock kickoff and blisteringly hot and I wasn’t running for 90 minutes. The action was all Quakes: Pat Onstad hardly had to make a save all afternoon. Landon Donovan hit the cross bar and had several other close chances, as did a few other guys. Brian Mullan was subbed early for Dwayne DeRossario, who’s been out injured all season, and it was good to see him get some minutes. He’s still a bit rusty and this was an excellent game for him to face some real competition. He had a few near chances, but looked uncertain when it came time to finish or deliver that killer pass. But toward the end of the game he went forward eagerly, managing to catch up to a ball at the endline and deliver a perfect cross in front of the goal mouth. The pass beat goalkeeper Nick Rimando and cut off the defense: Ramiro Corrales just had to tap it into the goal to give the Quakes the lead. D.C. tried hard after that, but it was too little too late. The Quakes win and remain at the top of the league. Did I mention it was hot? Final: 1-0 Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Aug 22, 2003

: Dirty Pretty Things

Director: Stephen Frears

Now this is a film! Unlike

This film moves at a rapid pace, building drama and unraveling the mystery, and the love story between the two leads is one of the best I’ve seen, especially considering they barely acknowledge the love or even kiss! All this happens in a condensed 90 minutes, just perfect for a film of this nature. It doesn’t try to make itself more than it is. It’s a simple plot with a simple twist. But unlike films that either try to tack on multiple twist endings, throw in a few extra plotlines to complicate things, or just toot their own horn too much, this film is simple and honest and quite beautiful. Remarkable.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Aug 21, 2003

: Le Divorce

Strange film. If you took a number of film genres and put them in a blender and spun them around but forgot to put the lid on some pieces flew out, what you’d have left would be something like this. Part comedy, part drama, part romance, part Paris adventure, part French farce, part crime thriller. The end result? Confusion. The movie uncomfortably jumps from genre to genre, throwing in a psychotic killer periodically, humor, drama, romance, etc. The plot’s about a girl who goes to visit her pregnant sister in Paris. Right as she arrives, her sister’s French husband leaves — permanently. He’s just walked out without an explanation. The French (apparently) think it’s weird that the American woman is bothered by this. They think it’s a little tacky (after all, his wife’s pregnant), but normal. As divorce proceedings start, things get complicated. The woman can’t return to the U.S., because that might look like she’s running away with assets. Then there’s the matter of the family heirloom she brought with her from her parents: it’s a painting that’s been in their family for generations, but now it’s assumed to be part of the estate that should be equally divided between the couple. As attention is focused on the painting, there’s suddenly speculation that it’s an unknown La Tour and worth a fortune. Then there’s the visiting sister: she’s quickly becomes the mistress of one of her in-laws, a wealthy Frenchman. Does she love him? Who knows? How can one know anything in this film? Some films that break genres are awesome because they do exactly that. This doesn’t, however; it’s just nothing. You never know if you’re supposed to laugh, cry, take things seriously, be scared or happy, or what. It’s very strange and uncomfortable. Now it’s not badly done at all, and it is entertaining, and there are parts that are excellent. But the whole just didn’t come together for me. The movie was far too long at two hours: it should have been trimmed to 90 minutes, eliminated a few of the silly, superfluous plotlines, and focus on whatever kind of movie it’s suppsed to be (light comedy, drama, whatever). Then it would have been an awesome treat. As it is it’s okay, but not great. It waters itself down.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Aug 20, 2003

: Freddy vs. Jason

Suprisingly fun sequel. The film opens by “explaining” the history of the two horror villians, Freddy and Jason. Jason’s the one in the hockey mask and was drowned as a child when camp counselors were too busy making out to notice him — hence his passion for killing horny camp kids. His gift is that he can’t die. Freddy Kruger’s the one of the knife-fingers who was a child molester burned by angry parents, and now that’s he dead, he can only hurt people in their dreams. But he’s got a problem in that everyone’s forgotten about him. So he recruits Jason to start killing, and the people assume Freddy’s back, and of course, remember him, restoring his power to attack them in their dreams. But Freddy loses control of Jason, who goes on a killing spree, and the climax is set up as a conflict between the two villians. Who will win? Who cares: this just an excuse to merge two popular horror films. While I’m mildly amused by some of these (

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Aug 17, 2003

: Cousin’s Weekend Wedding

This weekend, Megan Mihm, my second cousin once removed (I think that’s right — she’s the daughter of my mother’s cousin) got married. Hordes of relatives descended on the area, so I got to see lots of family I hadn’t seen in a while. I’m not a huge fan of weddings — the formality bores me — but this one turned out to be a lot of fun. Except for the brief ceremony, which was emotional and heart-felt, there were informal dinners and gatherings at the beach. The entire affair was spread out over the whole weekend (things started Friday night with the rehearsal dinner) and capped off with a family lunch on Sunday. I really liked the way that was done because instead of the wedding being an isolated event it was part of a series. Also, there was time to actually meet the couple and talk with them, chat with distant relatives, and have a good time. Having it on the California coast was also brilliant, for many of the family came from back east and it was a terrific beach vacation for them (everyone but me, since I live here, stayed at a hotel right on the beach in Santa Cruz, so there was plenty of nearby activities for all). It was great to see everyone and I wish Megan and Tom the world.

Topic: [/personal]

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Fri, Aug 15, 2003

: Open Range

Director: Kevin Costner

Surprisingly good Western. The plot’s nothing fancy: a cattle baron’s out to harrass some freegrazers (played by Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner) and steal their cattle. It reminded me strongly of Unforgiven, the violence is furious and shocking as we watch the gentle characters we know turn brutal. The big gunfight at the end is excellent — long and detailed enough to feel like a good payoff, and yet still realistic and gritty and stunningly fast. Though the film makes and effort, there’s nothing deep here: just good old fashioned Americans fighting for freedom and justice against a corrupt sherrif and an evil rich dude. Much of the “profound” character-based stuff comes across as too light or is so heavyhanded as to not work (i.e., when the kid, Button, and Mose play-wrestle, we’re supposed to be moved by the contrast to their later tragedy). Still, it’s an interesting film, and the pace is unusual for a current release. It’s worth seeing.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Aug 14, 2003

: The One

It was an idea with potential: there are multiple universes and an interuniverse policeman discovers that if he kills off his identical selves in parallel universes he gains their energy and becomes superhuman, so he becomes a serial killer, killing himselves off, until he encounters a self which fights back, and two duel. I can definitely see how this could be sold as a script to Hollywood. Unfortunately, so much of the story is told via exposition that all that’s left is the fighting. Sometimes that’s a better way to go, but in this case the fighting is feeble and the duel anticlimatic (duh, who do you think will win, the good guy or the bad guy?). Great idea but lamely done.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Aug 13, 2003

: S.W.A.T.

Not terrible, just predictable and routine, with stereotypical characters. It’s about a group of misfits that aren’t quite good enough for the L.A. S.W.A.T. team but are brought together by a specialist into a super-SWAT team, and of course they go about and save the day, hooray. Fun.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, Aug 08, 2003

: Marc in the News

Shameless self-plug: I’m mentioned in a Wired News article that was posted today.

Topic: [/personal]

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Wed, Aug 06, 2003

: The Importance of Being Earnest

Author: Oscar Wilde

Not a bad adaptation of the famous Oscar Wilde play about false identities. Fairly true to the original, and well acted. It’s a little light compared to today’s spectacle-driven blockbusters, but there’s some excellent comedy here. Great stuff.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Aug 05, 2003

: Bad Boys II

I was expecting the worst, but this wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. It’s better than the first, in fact. It is long — way too long at well over two hours. The plot meanders and in the end it’s just a mini-war (literally) with a shootout ending. Along the way there’s silly character-based drama with the two partners arguing and having conflict (of course all resolved by the end). The film’s best when it’s just the two guys shooting with guns and mouth and not trying to make the film more than it is. I could edit this down to a terrific 90 minute film that would be non-stop action. As it is, the film tries too hard. Still, it’s not terrible, and there are a few good moments.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Jul 31, 2003

: Spellbound

This is an absolutely spellbinding movie — I could barely sit still the tension and drama was so high. This is a non-fiction film about the 1999 national spelling bee, and we watch with bated breath as kids compete and try to spell impossible words. It’s amazing. In the first half of the film we meet a number of spelling bee champs who’ve qualified to go to the national event in Washington, D.C. These kids come from all walks of life and nationalities, and they study spelling like you wouldn’t believe (we’re talking 8-10 hours per day). We fall in love with these kids, laugh at their quirky personalities, sit in awe and admiration of their work ethic, and groan in despair when we hear the impossible words they are asked to spell. The worst part is that the whole time you know there can only be one winner. Who will it be? In a way it doesn’t matter: the journey is a reward in itself. But it’s frightfully exciting, and the compelling drama as we see the lives of these kids change and the potential the spelling bee offers is amazing. You’ve just got to see this movie. It puts reality television to shame, yet it’s got that kind of realism. Just awesome. Nailbiting, but awesome. It’s surprisingly funny, too. Some of the bizarre parents are hilarious.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Gold Cup third place match: USA vs. Costa Rica

This was a frustrating tournament for me, with the USA giving a Jeckyl and Hyde performance. After their terrible game against Brazil, I was actually rooting for Costa Rica, figuring the U.S. didn’t deserve a win. After all, this was the senior U.S. team who’d lost to an under-23 Brazil team. Granted, Brazil’s youth teams are better than most country’s full national teams, but still: this was the U.S.’ tournament to win. Besides, if we aren’t there to win it, I resent the Earthquakes losing Landon Donovan and Richard Mulrooney to a useless exercise like this. At least get to the final so we can justify MLS losing top players!

Anyway, this game began with more of the same, with the U.S. defense leaving gaps for Costa Rica to pinch in, and shortly Costa Rica scored. But the U.S. came right back with a terrific goal from Donovan and Bocanegra. A long high ball over the back of the Costa Rica defense fell to Donovan on the line, but his quick turn of the ball inward went right to Bocanegra who finished it for his second goal of the tournament. But before the end of the half another defensive miscue (and potential Keller misplay as he gave up a rebound) gave Costa Rica the lead again. In the second half, however, the Americans finally started playing well. Defensively they closed down Costa Rica, and offensively they put on a lot of pressure. The game was tied early when Earnie Stewart scored with an incredible volley (possibly goal of the tournament), followed later by a fantastic run by Landon Donovan. He took the ball deep in the U.S. half and leisurely ran it to the half-way line. Here he was confronted by a Costa Rica defender, but Landon’s sudden deke was so quick and effective, the defender actually tripped himself up and fell down as he tried to follow the American! With acres of space in front of him, Donovan went ahead with a burst of speed, running toward the Costa Rican goal. His teammate Bobby Convey was slightly ahead of him, and that kept the two Costa Rican defenders in two minds: mark Covey or stop Donovan? Then Landon fed a perfect through-ball into the open space in front of Convey, who sped onto it, leaving his markers behind. Convey finished beautifully, scoring at the near post with one touch. Great sequence, great goal. That seemed to break Costa Rica, and the U.S. finished with a deserving win. Though the U.S. gave up far too many goals in those last two games, they finally did start to play well. But they definitely have some work to do before World Cup qualifying begins next year. Final: 3-2 USA.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Tue, Jul 29, 2003

: I Capture the Castle

Unusual film about an odd British family in the 1930s. The father’s a famous writer who hasn’t written anything in twelve years and the family’s going broke. They live in a castle, but haven’t paid the rent in two years. One day two American brothers show up: they’ve inherited in the castle. The two daughters immediately see dollar signs and try to woo the brothers to save the family. What follows is a mad-cap dramedy about love (everyone falls in love with the wrong person). It’s well done, though it takes itself a little too seriously sometimes, especially regarding the father’s writer’s block (the father was such a pathetic selfish bastard I really didn’t care if he healed or not). The girls are wonderful, especially the narator, Cassandra, who’s 17 and the wisest of the bunch. She lives in her sister’s Rose’s shadow (Rose is the pretty one, of course), but has inherited her father’s give for words and sees everything. Overall the film has a positive spin, but in places it’s rather wrenching and depressing (it’s tough watching person after person express their love only to be rejected). It’s also quirky and funny, and there’s some excellent social commentary about class and wealth. Definitely unusual and definitely worth your time.

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Mon, Jul 28, 2003

: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Much better than the first film, though that’s not saying much. It’s got great action, a cool heroine, neat gadgets, and a globe-trotting plot. Unfortunately the plot’s rather fantastic (literally), and without a good grounding in reality, we don’t really care much about the end result. Yeah, the heroine wins, the bad guys dies, hooray. There’s also a rather heavy-handed attempt at instilling three-dimensional characters into the movie: the script does this by bringing in a former lover of Lara’s, which is supposed to bring all sorts of deep emotional baggage but is just off-putting and trite. Come on, folks: think James Bond. No deep characterization there. He doesn’t need it. Lara, like James, is all about style, not substance. If she does cool stuff, we’ll like her. That’s pretty much it. Fortunately this film has some style, and except for a few misses, this isn’t a bad ride at all. Good fun.

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: The Ugly Duckling

Author: Iris Johansen

Better in concept than in reality. The idea is cool: an unattractive woman with low self-esteem is almost murdered, and gets a new face during her recovery. She finds strength to live through desire for revenge and sets out to kill the killer. Unfortunately, the novel goes on much too long, as we must endure months of the woman’s recovery with her, and the book takes a long time to get where we know it’s going. Once we do get there the resolution is well done and satisfying, but it feels like a lot of work for minimal gain. Iris does characters well, perhaps too well in this case, for we’re faced with too much psychological damage and healing for mere entertainment.

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Sat, Jul 26, 2003

: MLS: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

Sometimes the stars are against you; sometimes fate seems in your favor. Everything went the Earthquakes way tonight. Not only did they soundly trounce the visiting Burn, but New York lost to Colorado, and K.C. to Chicago, leaving the Quakes at the top of the entire league!

The game itself was fairly routine. The Quakes dominated from the start with a high pressure defense that blended well into a fierce attack. The guys just ran their boots off, never giving Dallas a second on the ball. In the first half, the Quakes scored twice. The first goal was mishandled by Dallas in the box and after bouncing around a bit, passed out to Chris Roner on the right who crossed the ball into the box where Brian Mullan was standing unmarked. He instantly roofed the ball into the top of the goal, giving the keeper no chance to stop it. 1-0 Quakes. About ten minutes or so later, on a deep free kick that was practically a corner, Captain Jeff Agoos’ curling cross found Manny Lagos at the far post and he headed it in for a two goal lead. Great stuff. The second half was more of the same, though the Quakes didn’t actually score for a while. There were a number of key chances, including several fantastic saves by Dallas keeper D.J. Countess. He stopped several players point-blank: the score could have easily finished 6-0. Late in the game Dallas almost got back in it with a terrific chance for former Earthquake Ronald Ceritos. He received the ball about three yards out and turned to goal with a sharp shot, but Quakes’ keeper Pat Onstad was there and blocked the shot to preserve the shutout (he leads the league in shutouts and goals-against average). Toward the end of the game substitute Jamil Walker was really giving Dallas problems with his speed and dribbling skills, and in a bizarre play, he was elbowed in the penalty box when the ball was elsewhere. The center ref had his back to the play but fortunately the assistant ref saw it and flagged it, and after conferring with him the ref awarded the Quakes a penalty kick. (Oddly, the player who committed the foul was not given a card.) Goose finished the penalty easily, and the Earthquakes ended the night with a sound victory and go into the All-Star break on top of the entire league. Awesome. Final: 3-0 Earthquakes.

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Fri, Jul 25, 2003

: Spy Kids 3D: Game Over

Director: Robert Rodriguez

I really like the Spy Kids series: Rodriguez has created a unique and interesting universe, part James Bond parody, all childhood fantasy. This third (and supposedly final) film in the trilogy continues the adventures of the Cortez family. This time the kids go into a virtual reality video game in search of the evil Toymaker, who’s out to imprison the world’s children in his game. It’s campy but great fun, with Sylvester Stallone as the Toymaker (plus several other roles), plus tons of other cameos (including characters from the first two films). Great stuff. The game itself blends several different genres of games (racing, fighting, etc.) and is cool. The big gimmick this time is the 3D effect, with blue/red glasses being given to all audience members. I’ve never seen a 3D film before so this intrigued me. It actually does work and objects seem to zoom out at you. The effect is a bit cheesy, and the dual-vision glasses take a little getting used to and give you a slight headache after a while. Unfortunately, watching the film without the glasses really sucks, because everything’s blurry with extra outlines in red and blue. I hope the DVD release would include 3D and 2D versions. Still, for this kind of film, the 3D thing works (it fits in with the campy style), and if you haven’t seen it before it’s interesting (kids will definitely love it). Storywise this one isn’t quite as complicated as the previous films, and the resolution is a letdown (the bad guy simply reforms instead of being defeated), and the movie’s too self-concious, celebrating itself too often, distracting from what little story there is. Still, it has its moments, and if you’ve enjoyed the first two films, you’ll like this one.

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Thu, Jul 24, 2003

: Feardotcom

This is a really cheap takeoff on the same concept used in the much better film, both a ghost and serial killer, and neither is particularly compelling. The Ring was done in style and we followed the clues in the investigation with enthusiasm. Here we don’t really care about anything. It’s dark, dreary, and there’s no logic to anything. Tiresome and pointless.

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: Darkness Falls

Absolutely hideously bad horror flick. The best part about it is the 30 second narration at the beginning that details the ancient “legend” about the Tooth Fairy, a wealthy old woman who gives children gold coins in exchange for their baby teeth, but after a fire destroys her face, she’s ostracized by the town and when some kids disappear, a lynch mob hangs her. In her dying breath she curses the town of Darkness Falls, and thereafter she periodically appears to murder young children and adults who get in her way. That’s where the story starts to get stupid, because there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s happening. We go to modern day and watch as the Tooth Fairy — is she a ghost? — haunts and tries to murder various people. She hates light, so if you stay in the light she can’t get you: so our hero travels with a bag full of flashlights. Everyone thinks he’s nuts, as most people don’t people in the Tooth Fairy legend, who knows why. After all, it makes perfect sense, right? The light business is mildly interesting, but the script overdoes it, and the climax at a lighthouse — get it? — really gets ridiculous. There’s no explanation for what powers the Tooth Fairy has, or how she got them, why light hurts her (presumably it reveals her disfigured face), how she travels, why she targets some people and not others, etc. Shockingly bad.

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Wed, Jul 23, 2003

: Lazio versus Club America

This was an exposition at Spartan Stadium, and the place was packed with Club America (Mexico) fans. I was more familiar with the Italian team, though I haven’t been able to watch them lately since Fox Sports World no longer broadcasts Italian soccer (lame). But Club America was impressive: they played strong attacking soccer, were fairly well organized at the back, and it was fun to watch. Lazio was more controlled, very patient, and deadly when given an opening. Club America, after missing a slew of chances, had a potential penalty kick not given. Then they finally scored midway through the first half from the top of the box with a blister shot that gave the keeper no chance. But that woke Lazio up and not long after they equalized. A through-ball came over the top, and the Lazio player chested it, and volleyed it into the goal when it dropped to his foot. Great stuff. The second half was boring from a Lazio perspective, while Club America had a ton of chances, which was exciting, but in the end they couldn’t take a lead and the game finished an appropriate draw. Final: 1-1.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Gold Cup Semifinal: USA vs. Brazil

This was a horrible game against Brazil: the U.S. let the Brazillians have dozens of uncontested chances, and only the continued heroics of U.S. goalkeeper Casey Keller kept us in the tournament. It was a stupid habit to get into, and sure enough, after the U.S. scored to lead, the Americans allowed the South American team more chances at goal and inevitably one snuck in with a minute to play. That sent the game into Golden Goal overtime, and there the U.S. promptly did the same thing again. Keller made a great initial save, but the lose ball was sent toward the empty goal. Defender Corey Gibbs blocked the sure goal with his hand and was promptly red-carded, but the U.S. still had a slight chance if Keller could stop the penalty kick. But he couldn’t and just like that Brazil won and the U.S. is out.

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Tue, Jul 22, 2003

: Swimming Pool

Author: Franciois Ozon

Director: Franciois Ozon

Wow, what a film. Or should I end that with a question mark? This strange thing is a real adventure ride. On the surface it’s a seemingly straight-forward tale about a British mystery writer who goes to France to stay at her publisher’s home to escape for a bit and get some work done. But she’s only been there a short while when the publisher’s daughter shows up and proceeds to turn everything upside down. She’s brazen, a slob, swims in the nude, has different lovers over every night, and drives the writer crazy. In a sense, she’s everything the older, prim and proper lady, is not.

But what seems so straightforward is not. Unforunately, this film tries to be too many things. It wants to be an erotic thriller, a mystery, a love story, a literary enigma.

The film is sensual. I mean every scene. The camera lingers on ordinary things like doorways and windows, the writer’s face as she types, etc. It is the visual aspects that propel the film. The audience is a voyeur. That part is incredible: the film’s worth seeing just for the visuals. However, the plot’s a mishmash of ideas, cliches, red herrings, tributes to other films and filmmakers (Hitchcock, Lynch, Clouzot), and more. There are hints and twists and echoes that make us think more is going on than meets the idea. This all leads up to a Sixth Sense-like twist ending that’s supposed to change everything we’ve seen so far. Unfortunately for Ozon, it does nothing of the kind. Right after I saw this I found myself frustrated, because the ending made no sense to me. Yet the reviews — while not revealing the ending — made it out to be brilliant and clear. To me it was ambigious and cliche. Could I be so wrong? But after reading comments on the Internet, I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one confused. Many people failed to understand the film. A few people wrote their own explanations, and in reading those I realized something significant: it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the ending, it’s that I was trying to make the ending more than it was. The twist ending isn’t that big of a deal (at least from my perspective). It changed little about the film. As a writer myself, I live within fantasy and reality and the two overlap constantly. So having a writer on a movie screen do the same is not a surprise at all: I expected it. (In fact, I remember thinking during the film that I was surprised Ozon didn’t show us fantasy sequences from the novel the author was writing.) So for me the ending, while it came as a surprise, didn’t change the film. I gather it was supposed to, just like Sixth Sense’s twist made you want to watch it again. No, I kept looking for a deeper twist, more meaning and complexity. I wondered if the daughter was the result of the publisher-author’s union, for instance — but there’s too much evidence against that to make any sense. I wondered many other things, all equally implausible. It was frustrating. But it was when I realized that most of the film is a red herring and it isn’t a complex film at all that things started to make sense to me. Now I appreciate the film’s simplicty and elegance. I still think it has flaws (not enough foreshadowing, for instance), and it’s too dependent on the gimmick ending, but if you just think of this as a simple little mystery-thriller it works much better. Don’t try to work too much symbolism into the characters and odd references: they mean nothing. Unlike a Lynch film, the whole thing’s not supposed to make sense. It’s just a visual feast. Enjoy it. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s profound.

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Mon, Jul 21, 2003

: A Walk to Remember

Okay, this film is definitely sappy, predictable, and a weepy ending, but it still wasn’t as bad as I expected. Mandy Moore is surprisingly low-key and does a decent job given the script. Unfortunately, her face is too cute to express real emotions. She needed scar or something to give her character. Make her bald; that would have worked. The story is nothing new: rebel boy meets geeky paster’s daughter and falls in love with her. Why? Who knows. Because she’s different, I guess. She sees promise in him. Her pastor dad is a horrible stereotype of religious fanatics, which is lame considering the circumstance and the way he’s suddenly completely different near the end of the film. Basically this is a hodpodge of stereotypes put in a blender. The only really likable thing is the long-suffering Mandy, and even she’s too good to be true. It has a couple moments and it was more interesting than I expected, but I still can’t figure out how the film got financed. This kind of junk food is marketable but genius David Lynch has to struggle for movie money? Give me a break.

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Sat, Jul 19, 2003

: Gold Cup Quaterfinal: USA vs. Cuba

Wow, not just a Landon Donovan hat trick, but four goals! The USA just cruised through this one. Cuba looked surprisingly good against Canada, but obviously poor in this one. Keller might as well sat and read a book — he saw hardly any action in goal. Great game for the USA. Admitedly it’s against a weak opponent, but it’s still a confidence builder. I’m very pleased to see the U.S. be cut-throat and really trounce someone. Too many times we win 1-0 or 2-0 against weaker competition. It’s like we get a goal or two ahead and we quit.

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Thu, Jul 17, 2003

: The Legend of Suriyothai

This is the incredible true story of a Thai legend, Queen Suriyothai. Back in the early 1500’s when Thailand was known as Siam, Princess Suriyothai hid her feelings and married a Prince instead of the soldier she loved. She did this for her country, because not doing it would cause strife in the kingdom. What follows is a complex power struggle, as kings die and princes assume the throne. There’s much plotting, assasination, beheadings, and illicit sex going on, and power shifts all around as different parties take control. Eventually it is up to Suriyothai to convince her husband to take the thrown, and to kill the current usurper of the throne. This must happen because without a strong leader, Siam will fall to their enemies, particularly Burma, in the north. In the end there’s a huge battle and Suriyothai, who’d dressed in armor to fight along with the men, saves the life of her husband but is killed in the process. She is buried a hero and becomes a legend. Fascinating story, lavishly produced, with thousands of extras, elephants, and horses. The costumes are stunning, the palaces and sets extraordinary. The story’s complex, but surprisingly easy to understand, even with subtitles. There’s constant action, as the director never lets the story age, and though it’s an epic that spans some twenty years, there’s no dull exposition. It’s really well-done and gorgeously shot. It is violent, and there are some gory beheadings (lots of murders). Amazing.

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: Two Weeks Notice

Routine romantic comedy. Not especially believable, but still entertaining. Sandra Bullock is her usual excellent girl-next-door, and Huge Grant is the lovable idiot. This time she’s an idealistic lawyer and he’s a multi-millionaire businessman, and he backmails her into becoming his new lead counsel. After a while, she can’t take his insane demands and tries to quit, but he won’t allow it. Eventually the two realize they love each other (gee, never saw that coming). It’s uneven, better in some places than others, but relatively non-offensive and predictable.

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Wed, Jul 16, 2003

: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Author: Alan Moore

I’d heard this was weak, but it was better than I expected. I have not read the comic book, though I’m a big Alan Moore fan, so I cannot speak to the authenticity of the story (I’ve heard they changed it considerably, deleting some characters and adding others). The concept is wonderful: it’s the late 19th century and a group of extraordinary people — famous literary characters such Alan Quartermain, Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, etc. — form a league to fight an ultra-villain. In the film, the ultra-villain is a guy who wants to provoke the world in a “world war” so he can sell his military equipment. Each member of the League uses their unique capabilities to help defeat him, and it’s fun to see them do it. However, the film overdoes things. The villain steals Dr. Jeckyl’s formula, the Invisible Man’s invisibilty potion, etc., and then creates villains with those same powers to fight the League. Come on, can’t we come up with villains with their own capabilities? Why do they have to reuse those of the League? Lame. The special effects are very impressive, probably the best I’ve seen of all the big blockbusters released so far this summer. Lots of explosions, Captain Nemo’s huge submarine, the Invisible Man, the Vampire Lady, etc. are all excellent. Mr. Hyde’s some huge ape-like creature that’s close to the Hulk except he’s not green. Unfortunately, there’s isn’t a lot of story to go with all this great technology. The first half is pretty good, while we build up, but in the second half we learn that the entire first half was a sham and everything we thought we knew is wrong. Basically the tail eats the head of the film. Dumb. The ending is predictable (the good guys win, duh) but satisfying. The whole thing goes down like a McDonald’s Big Mac: easy to eat, not terribly good or bad, but not particularly wholesome either. It could have been much, much better.

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Tue, Jul 15, 2003

: Whale Rider

I loved this movie. Unlike most American “rebel” films, the girl in this movie is not intentionally rebellious. She’s a rebel simply because she’s not a boy. You see, the New Zealand family she’s a part of has a tradition where the first born son becomes the chief, but her twin brother died at birth. Her grandfather, the current chief, resents her, because she lived and her brother, the rightful heir, died. But while her grandfather treats her terribly, the girl adores him. She worships him and would do anything to please him, but she cannot be the one thing he wants: a male leader. It is the powerful performances of the daughter and grandfather that drive this film, as their conflict is the heart of the story. Somehow the grandfather’s stubbornness and loyalty to strict tradition must be overcome, and it is, in a moving and beautiful fashion that will leave only those without a heart without tears in their eyes. Terrific.

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Sat, Jul 12, 2003

: MLS: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

Today the only team that could surpass San Jose in the standings was New York, and when they were losing 3-0 against New England, I thought the game was wrapped up and was feeling good about tonight’s Quake game. Then New York came back to tie it! Admitedly, they had help, as New England gave them an own goal and fell apart defensively, but still, it was a bad sign. San Jose was missing our goalkeeper, Richard Mulrooney, and Landon Donovan to the Gold Cup competition, and I was not surprised to see the team struggle. At first it looked like Colorado’s defense was porous and we’d score, but after missing a half dozen chances, it was Colorado’s time to start pushing and they nearly scored on several occasions. Finally they did score when a Quake defender forgot to clear the ball and it went right to a Colorado player who put it away. The Quakes tried hard in the second half, but then gave away a second goal, and it just didn’t look like the Quakes had it in them to get the game back. They had no flow in the offensive end. They’d get the ball in Colorado’s penalty box and pass it around, with no one willing to take responsibility and shoot. Eventually they’d give the ball away and be frantically defending a rapid counter-attack. The Quakes had a few chances, but either didn’t take them, completely missed, or had them stopped by the Rapids’ keeper. Sucky game. It’s our third loss of the season, our second at home. That’s terrible, especially to one of the bad teams in the league (though Colorado’s finally looking good and played fairly well tonight). The Quakes really looked mediocre, and there was no spark between the midfield and the offense. They miss Mulrooney and Donovan terribly. Final: 2-0 Colorado.

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Fri, Jul 11, 2003

: Zodiac

Author: Neal Stephenson

This is a weird novel. It’s an intriguing idea — Stephenson calls it an “eco-thriller.” It’s a novel about an evironmentalist and his radical attempts to stop corporate pollution. The first part of the book is delightfully odd while you’re trying to figure out who’s who and what’s happening. But once you understand things, there’s no real story until much later in the book. That’s when you learn that a corporation has created pollution-eating bugs, but of course their pollution-creating bugs have been accidentally released into Boston harbor as well. But that storyline is suddenly resolved and it’s back to standard environmentalist tactics to stop the bad guys. That’s when the novel goes down hill. It’s much too long (though only 300 pages) and the last 50 pages or so really drag. I had to force myself to finish it, not a good sign. My advice? Read the first half which is great and forget the rest.

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: Max

Disappointing, lackluster film. I loved the concept — a fictional look at Hitler’s life before his rise to power, while he was a struggling artist — but unfortunately the film doesn’t get much beyond the idea. It’s slow moving (i.e. boring) and Hitler’s odd rantings aren’t particularly interesting. It’s a nice try, but it fails.

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Thu, Jul 10, 2003

: Serving Sara

Not as bad as I expected, though definitely predictable. It’s a about a guy who works as a process server. He serves Sara her divorce papers, then explains that if she’d served her husband first, the divorce would take place in New York instead of Texas, and she’d get half her husband’s money, whereas if the divorce is in Texas, she’d get squat. The two therefore scheme to serve her husband first and in exchange she’ll give the guy a million dollars. A few interesting moments — the competition between two process servers for jobs is fun — but the romance between Sara and the guy is too obvious to be believable.

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Wed, Jul 09, 2003

: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Surprisingly terrific film. Astonishing: a film based on an amusement park ride is the most original film of the year so far! While almost every other big movie this summer is a sequel, and therefore familiar and lacking innovation, this smart movie is fun, funny, scary, and non-stop action. The story involves several people: the governor’s daughter, who’s kidnapped by Captain Barbarosa; pirate Jack Sparrow, who was betrayed by Barbarosa; Will Turner, an orphan who’s in love with the girl; and of course, Barbarosa himself, Captain Sparrow’s former first mate. Barbarosa and his men are cursed to not die but not be alive, and they sail the seas pirating and looting, searching for the secret to relieve the curse. While most of the characters are stereotypical, this is not supposed to be a deep movie. It’s about fun. Johnny Depp is awesome as Sparrow, who is hilarious as he’s every pirate stereotype yet still unconventional and quirky. He’s a lot like the pirate in the classic The Princess Bride, surpremely confident to the point of absurdity. Keira Knightly, as the daughter, also raises her character above the role. She is feisty, strong, and rebellious, not to mention astonishingly beautiful. Geoffrey Rush and Orlando Bloom are also great. The combination of the acting, plus interesting special effects, great action, fun dialog, and a clever plot make for an excellent movie. It really is an amusement park ride! Don’t expect profundity of any kind, but you should be thrilled and entranced.

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Mon, Jul 07, 2003

: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Author: J. K. Rowling

Well, after years of waiting, the seventh book is finally published. It’s a big book and took me just over a week to read it. Now I’m sad because I’ll have to wait for years for the next one!

I don’t want to make this a review of the book; that’s not the purpose of my comments. I’m here to record my impressions, the aspects I found significant to me. In that sense, I found I was less impressed with the plot and the conclusion in this one. While Rowling does her usual excellent job of dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s, connecting all the plot points, this book ends without Potter really doing anything heroic to stop He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Instead, it’s Dumbledore who saves the day. While it makes sense in the context of the book, it’s just not as satisfying as the previous novels. The bulk of the book is also quite depressing: Hogwarts is taken over by a horrible politician who has an evil agenda and is cruel to all our favorite characters, which makes for glum reading. While Rowling does keep funny things happening and the mystery makes things entertaining, this book is my least favorite of the series. That said, Rowling does an excellent job of preparing us for the battle and war to come in the future books. By the end of this one, it’s obvious that the kids are not kids any more, and the conflicts upcoming will be serious ones involving death and mayhem, not just mild magical maladies. I love the direction she’s going because it automatically keeps every novel fresh. This is a series, after all, and it’s really one very long story. Rowling certainly hasn’t lost her witty writer’s touch, and I look forward to the future novels. This one certainly isn’t bad by any means — it’s just an obvious stepping stone to the future instead of a complete story on it’s own. (It’s similar, in that respect, to

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Sun, Jul 06, 2003

: Heavenly Creatures

Director: Peter Jackson

This is an amazing film. It’s the true story of two New Zealand teenage girls in the 1950’s who conspire to commit murder. That alone would be sufficient spectacle for most films, but Jackson brilliantly takes it a step further. He gets us into the girls’ heads by playfully making their fantasy lives real. In one sequence, as the girls play on the beach with the sand castle they created, the camera zooms inside the castle and in it we meet the prince and princess the girls imagine live there. The benefit of this technique, besides making for a fascinating visual presentation, is that it shows us the power of dementia, for these girls believe in their fantasies even more than they do their real lives. As the film darkens and becomes more tragic, the playful aspects of fantasy become morbid and disturbing; what was once an idle game is now grim horror. Amazing writing, acting, and directing. This is a must see film.

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: Left Behind: the Movie

I’d heard this was very bad, and while it’s not good, it’s not as bad as I expected. Well, it’s uneven. In places it’s really pathetic, in others it’s passable, and in others it’s actually quite good. But overall it’s weak. The first problem is the script. The novel is trimmed quite a bit and events are condensed, which serves to eliminate a lot of the suspense and excitement of the book. Of course this was a Christian production, so they couldn’t trim out the religious details, and unfortunately those come across as heavy-handed and awkward. There just wasn’t enough substance to the script to support such drama. I like the effort, and it was an ambitious effort to make this outside the Hollywood system, but unfortunately it has a video-tape movie-of-the-week feel to it. The story would have been better served by allowing Hollywood to do it, but with Christians controlling the production and having final cut. Not only would the production have been higher quality, but the perspective would have been more genuine (much of the story is as witnessed by non-Christians). I wonder if it was a financial success and they’ll do more?

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Sat, Jul 05, 2003

: Car Accident

On the way to the Earthquakes game tonight I was traveling over Highway 17, a horrible road over the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s two lanes each way, separated by a concrete divider, and there’s rarely a shoulder on the right. The road’s winding and cars travel at ridiculous speeds and there are frequent traffic jams. I’ve often thought someone needs to make a video game of the road: Highway 17: Corridor of Death.

Anyway, I came around a corner and saw traffic slowing, so I slowed. Then I saw traffic in my left lane wasn’t just slowing but completely stopped. I put the brakes on full but was still traveling. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to make it. With only a half-second to make my decision (there was no shoulder on the left, just the concrete divider), I threw the car to the right where there was an opening. I didn’t have time to look behind me and collided with an SUV in that lane. Fortunately it wasn’t too bothered by my tiny car and there was some room on the right for it to shift over, so I missed the stopped truck I would have hit. My little Neon was badly damaged. Pretty much the whole right side, from tire to tire, was thrashed. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the car was drivable, so once all the info was exchanged, we were able to go on to the soccer game just fine. About ten or twenty cars behind us, another accident happened at the same time (ripple effect, I guess), and that one was much worse. That car rear ended someone and looked like it was totalled, and we did see an ambulance arrive though I don’t know how seriously anyone was hurt. That’s an evil road.

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: MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

After the Quakes’ fantastic 4-4 draw on Wednesday in New York, I think they were tired and goaled-out, because while they tried hard, they weren’t sharp. They gave away passes, couldn’t finish chances, and seemed afraid to shoot in the box (on several occasions, a good chance was wasted when the shooter passed to another player who promptly lost possession). But at least the defense held (though barely at times) and the Quakes didn’t lose. The final was nil-nil.

The most exciting aspect of the night was the car accident I got in on the way to the game!

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Fri, Jul 04, 2003

: Fireworks

Dave and Diane had a Fourth of July party at their new house, right up the street from me up on the hill. Everyone was on their long deck and we got a great view of the city’s annual firework show. It was an impressive show — probably about 20 minutes long with a lot of neat fireworks. Made me wonder how they design those things to do the tricks they do.

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: Air Conditioner

Today I bought and installed an air conditioner. It wasn’t that big a deal, but it was rather exciting tearing out a window in my house for the unit (my windows aren’t the standard double-hung kind so the install wasn’t as easy as it’s supposed to be). Anyway, got it in and it works!

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Thu, Jul 03, 2003

: Nowhere in Africa

Director: Caroline Link

This is a remarkable film. It tells the story of a Jewish family who leave Germany in 1938 before the war and escape to Kenya. At first the mother hates it, and grows distant from her husband. Their 5-year-old daughter loves Africa and fits right in with natives. But later the mother learns to love Africa and doesn’t want to return to Germany when the war ends. Unusual in today’s blockbuster movie climate, the story’s all about complex characters and how they change. The story is told by the now-adult daughter, which gives us an interesting perspective. The heart of the movie is really how Africa — the people, the culture, the land — affects this family, alternatively tearing them apart and sealing them together. That heart is portrayed by excellent acting, especially the young daughter who’s a real find (speaking German, Swahili, and English). No doubt I’m biased, having grown up in West Africa myself (from when I was three), but I liked the child’s view best. That was what attracted me to the film. It was authentically portrayed as well, with the young girl seeing no color or cultural barrior. When her mom initially treats their native cook, Owuor, as a mere servant, the girl hugs him without reservation (and their wonderful relationship is a constant throughout the film). It’s a beautiful, touching, and realistic film. There’s a rawness to things (scenery, dialogue, etc.) that’s real and very African. One of the most fascinating things to me, to spoil the plot slightly, is that not that much happens, at least compared to most plot-heavy films. Yet the characters are profoundly affected by subtle events and circumstances. There’s no “lightning bolt” scene where suddenly the wife likes Africa — it’s a gradual thing, where after years of hating it, she slowly becomes aware of how much she likes it. Having lived in many places myself, I can tell you that’s reality. For example, the area where I lived was very much a desert with little green, and I remember visitors commenting on how dreary everything looked (which always seemed to surprise me). You see, after a while the desert becomes part of life, and even today, watching this film, seeing all the sand and dirt made me homesick! I miss the simplicity of African life, and the clean, unfiltered joy of the native people. This film captures a great deal of that, and it’s well worth your time.

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Wed, Jul 02, 2003

: T3: Rise of the Machines

Okay, here goes. First, the Good: 1) The story continues and the trilogy comes to a logical (though not particularly satifying) conclusion; 2) There’s some excellent action and tension, combined with good special effects; 3) The characters are interesting and well-played; 4) The new “Terminatrix” (the enemy female Terminator) works surprisingly well, though there’s no explanation of why the robot was made in female form.

Now, the Bad: 1) The plot’s basically just a rerun of T2; 3) While exciting in places, this movie doesn’t have the no-letup, breakneck pace of the previous films that made them edge-of-your-seaters; 4) Still includes numerous utter idiotic fallacies, such as cyborgs going nude back through time, but once they’ve adopted human clothing, the clothing miraculously repairs itself after they’ve been shot up! In another example, Arnold steals a vehicle by finding the keys hidden above the visor — that was a human trick taught him by John Connor in T2 as an alternative to tearing open the steering column. But of course this is a different cyborg — how could he remember what his predecessor did? Even dumber, the film later points that out in a bit where the 20-something John Connor laments that he’ll have to “retrain” the new Terminator because he doesn’t remember anything. Lame!

But overall this isn’t as disappointing of a sequel as I expected — it’s actually rather fun. I suppose people will be split on it, though. Some will hate the ending, others will agree it makes sense. I personally liked the way they tied all the loose ends. Some have reported the action was awesome, but I thought it only okay (but action doesn’t impress me that much anyway).

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Tue, Jul 01, 2003

: 28 Days Later

Director: Danny Boyle

Intriguing end-of-the-world horror movie, about a horrible infection that turns humans into rabid animals. The tinest bit of infected blood in your system and you go rabid in twenty seconds and try to kill your own family or anyone around you. Far fetched, yes, but intriguing. The main character, Jim, wakes up in an empty hospital. He was in a car accident. Now London is empty of people. Everyone’s dead. Well, almost everyone. He meets up with a few non-infecteds and they set out to figure out a new life in this new world. Fairly routine, really. But what makes this film above average is the unusual style. Boyle’s filmed it with digital cameras, which gives it a grainy, documentary, ultra-real feel. The second thing he does is do some cool hyper-speed blur movement thing to the attacking creatures, which makes them both hard to see clearly (the unknown adds to the fear factor) and frightenly fast. They keep pouncing out of nowhere, and the fact that they once were human makes them really creepy. Unlike zombies, these people are still alive. They’re just really disgusting. No explanation is given as to what they want (the zombies in

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Mon, Jun 30, 2003

: Crossroads

I just wanted to see how bad Britney Spears could be, and actually, she’s not bad, though there’s not much here to stretch her. The real problem is that the plot is so generic as to be obvious thirty seconds into the film. A trio of girls who used to be friends as children but now lead separate lives in high school, go on a road trip to California. Britney’s going to surprise her biological mother who left her when she was a baby — one guess how that goes. Another girl is going to surprise her fiance at school — one guess what she finds him doing. Yeah, there are no surprises, nothing exciting. Oh, the girls do sing karoke, and the guy with the car turns out to be a musician who puts Britney’s poetry to music, which she then sings at an audition… duh! Not bad, just boring.

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Sun, Jun 29, 2003

: Orange County

Author: Mike White

This was a completely different movie from what I expected. I thought it was a dumb teen comedy. It turned out to be a drama with some depth on top of a dumb teen comedy. The story’s about a surfer dude who discovers the miracle of literature and decides he wants to be a writer. But he’s trapped in Orange County, which he hates. He thinks he can escape by going to Stanford but when he’s not accepted, he goes on a road trip to find the dean and get himself admitted. It’s actually a pretty cool story with some interesting characters. There’s even some clever satiric jabs at life in Orange County. Unfortunately, it was marketed as a dumb teen comedy, and there are a few dumb teen comedy bits in it, which weaken the serious side, and the serious stuff totally dampens the comedy bits, with the result that this isn’t a comedy, and isn’t a drama. It’s… odd. It doesn’t really work.

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Sat, Jun 28, 2003

: MLS: Kansas City Wizards at San Jose Earthquakes

For a battle between the two top teams in the league, the first half was mediocre. There were a few chances both way, but the teams seemed to be cautious more than aggressive. In the second half things got wilder. Tackles were harder, and the ref began throwing around cards (eventually K.C.’s Nick Garcia got his second and was tossed), but though the Quakes certainly dominated the game, they couldn’t quite break throw. Meola had a few great saves, and the Quakes couldn’t quite complete a few other chances. The game finally went into overtime and finished nil-nil. A point each still leaves the Quakes on top of the league in points, but with a couple road games coming up I hope we don’t look back and see two missed points there. Still, it was a good game. Both sides had chances, both sides played well. Neither could quite get the momentum needed to actually win, however, though the Quakes certainly came the closest. A fair result. Final: 0-0.

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Fri, Jun 27, 2003

: Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

The first film surprised many in how it was both a tribute to the TV series but established its own frantic identity as well. With the sequel you know exactly what you’re getting and the film delivers. It’s basically a 90-minute music video. It never lets up, is full of clever asides and in-jokes, and is just a blast. Everyone, from the writer to the director to the cast are obviously having a ball, and that shows. It’s contagious. You want to join the cast and dance and have fun as well. There’s nothing profound here — you’re an idiot if you’re expecting anything remotely like depth — but there hasn’t been such a fun movie in years. Two thumbs way up!

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Thu, Jun 26, 2003

: Hulk

Director: Ang Lee

This film shows that good direction and special effects don’t make a film: you still need a good story. While I wanted to like it, it’s weak. For example, the opening credits reveal a lot of the back story: we see how Bruce Banner’s dad injected himself with an experimental drug, passed that on to his son, etc. Unfortunately, the rest of the film seems to think this back story is incredibly significant and spends a great deal of time letting us watch Bruce as he discovers his past. Boring! We already know all that so who cares? Before seeing the movie I was skeptical of having a CGI Hulk, and my doubts proved well-founded. While suprisingly well-done, with a scene or two of decent acting, the CGI Hulk never stops looking cartoonish, never is very believable as a human transformed, and never brings out viewer emotion. We just don’t care. The story is weak, the quality of acting average to poor, and the film is way, way too long. Ang Lee is an excellent director, and it shows with many deft touches, from numerous clever (yet not too extreme) fades and transitions between scenes, and occasional comic book style split screens. It’s wonderful in that it sets up the comic book mood. Unfortunately, the story isn’t there. And without characters we care about or a story where we care about the ending, the film’s rather pointless. That effect is actually heightened by Lee’s dignified presentation which gives serious import to such light content. The bottom line: why bother?

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Wed, Jun 25, 2003

: Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco

Spent this week in San Francisco at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference. It was an exciting show, partly because it was my first time at a WWDC, and being surrounded by thousands of really smart Mac programmers was an interesting experience, but this year was significant as Apple announced their new G5 Macs (shipping in August). The new Macs look awesome and appear to be a huge leap forward in performance, though Apple’s performance numbers include some questionable fudging that makes me question Steve Jobs’ “fastest personal computer in the world” mantra. Overall it appeared to be a good show, with everyone enthusiastic and confident about the future of the Mac platform.

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Sat, Jun 21, 2003

: MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

After being out of town for a couple weeks and missing being able to watch Earthquakes games, it was great to return home to Spartan Stadium. Despite missing Landon Donovan (on Team USA in France) and others through injury, the Quakes won and tied their last two games. They aren’t playing perfect soccer, but they are gutting out performances, and it’s great to see. Tonight was another of the same. The first half was a little sluggish, with the Quakes not working too hard and Columbus slowing down the play and sparking on the counters. Quakes’ goal-keeper Pat Onstad almost scored — his long kick bounced behind the Crew defense, catching the Crew keeper off his line and forcing him to backpedal and tip the ball over the crossbar to keep from going in. Hilarious! The Quakes had a few good chances, but nothing clicked. Then the Crew’s ‘keeper, Jon Busch, got injured on a play and was subbed. The first goal was awesome. Left fullback Todd Dunivant was next to the sideline, right in front of me when he passed the ball right to a Crew player. Spurred by the mistake, seconds later when he got the ball again, he delivered a long pass up the left wing. It was passed forward Brian Mullan, who ran onto it and scored, sliding the ball into the far side netting. It was cool to see such a key play happen right in front of me (my season ticket seat is in the front row). Going into halftime with a lead was great, but I worried because Columbus can be deadly (McBride hit the post on one chance). Sure enough, about ten minutes into the second half, the Crew was left open and got a hard shot on goal. Onstad made a terrific block, but the rebound fell right to McBride, who immediately kicked it in. It was a similar bad luck goal to the one we gave up in Columbus, where the ball bounced right to McBride. A little while later there was a huge scuffle. I missed the start of the innocent, but apparently the Crew’s Mike Clark hit Manny Lagos and Manny went nuts, attacking him. Both players were shown red cards. But things got better when rookie Jamil Walker was put on. He scored the tying goal in L.A. on Wednesday, and I was eager to see him in action. He started off with a lot of fire, which was great to see. Then, in the 77th minute, he scored the game-winner. It was awesome. Richard Mulrooney was on the left side and back-heeled a 10-yard pass to Ian Russell that caught the Crew off-guard. Ian blazed up the left side and fed a ball inside to Walker, who blistered a shot through the crowd of defenders and goal-keeper to give the Quakes the win! Terrific game, terrific result, and I just can’t say enough about how hard these young players are working. Players like Mullan who was tossed away by the Galaxy have really worked hard to prove themselves, and the rookies are learning from that spirit and giving it their all. The club has the feel of the 2001 championship team where the team works as a whole and there are no superstars. After the dream start this year I wasn’t sure if the Quakes were real or other teams were weak, but when decimated by injuries the Quakes are still getting results, I am now confident this team has what it takes to win another championship. With today’s win they now lead MLS with 21 points, one point ahead of the Metros and Kansas City. K.C. comes to town next Saturday, and that should be a real showdown with the two best Western teams battling it out for three key points. Landon Donovan should be back from France (with today’s lost to Brazil the U.S. is eliminated from the Confederations tournament and play their last game tomorrow), and hopefully some of the other Quakes are healed and ready to play. Final: 2-1 Earthquakes.

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Tue, Jun 17, 2003

: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Not at all what I expected, especially the horrible things I’d heard about Nurse Ratchet (who wasn’t that mean). The film’s a comedy about people in an insane asylum, with Jack Nicholson’s character the provoker of all sorts of mayhem. It’s witty, fun, bizarre, and occasionally thoughtful, but my expectations were higher. It’s a decent film, but I’m surprised it swept the Oscars the way it did — looking at it 28 years later it doesn’t seem that remarkable. I’m glad a saw it, and I liked it, but I was hoping for something more profound. There was no deep meaning or revelation.

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Fri, Jun 13, 2003

: Spartacus

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cool, though very long movie. A zillion times better than the lame rip-off,

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Thu, Jun 12, 2003

: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Author: Arthur C. Clarke (novel)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Scandalous, I know, but I’d never seen this before. I’ve watched the opening “Dawn of Man” segment numerous times, and seen clips of other bits on TV, but never the entire movie. I’d read the book years ago and it never made much sense, so I’d hoped the movie would explain things better. It does and it doesn’t. The ending is a little more linear but still just as metaphysical, and instead of reading descriptions of the unimaginable we see wild pictures of it. Overall this fits in with the grand, epic scheme of the novel and film, and when the movie’s over you feel you’ve experienced something profound (you just aren’t sure what). However, while there’s a place for mystery in literature, this story is being mysterious not to make us think but because the author really doesn’t know what he means. He’s therefore vague and metaphysical to imply something profound, but even he isn’t sure what that is. Which makes sense to an extent: as the key plot is contact with extraterrestrials, who can imagine, fully, what that would be like? Despite a few problems with the odd story, I like this movie a great deal. It’s an amazing cinematic feat. The photography and pace is incredible: it’s like a space voyage, slow and ponderous and monotonous, yet moving at fantastic speeds. The music is key, like a narrator, explaining everything we’re seeing. There’s really only a few scenes with dialog — the rest of the film is a visual feast. I can truly see why this is considered a classic, and I am amazed Kubrick managed to get it made at all considering it is so different and unorthodox. It definitely was before its time. The special effects are simple and subtle, and work well even thirty-five years later. A terrific experience, even if a bit mysterious and the conclusion unsatisfactory.

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Wed, Jun 11, 2003

: The insider

Director: Michael Mann

Interesting, though overly complex tale of a tobacco insider who turns whistle-blower. It’s based on reality, and tells the story of a 60 Minutes producer who finds the insider and encourages him to blow the whistle. The producer soon finds his own network (CBS) is afraid to back him for fear of being sued by Big Tobacco and they leave the whistle-blower out on his own. Things are confusing as we watch the producer working on unrelated stories, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the producer’s the main character or the whistle-blower. The ending is also weak as we’d earlier watched the whistle-blower’s life fall apart by pressure from the tobacco company (his wife left him) and that is never resolved. It’s therefore implied that whistle-blowing will cost you everything you value, but of course, you must do it to be a good citizen. Overall an excellent film (good direction and performances), but a little convoluted and overlong.

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Mon, Jun 09, 2003

: The Fog

Director: John Carpenter

Hilarious really bad B-movie. The story takes place at a small coastal town and as the fog rolls in one night, people die. It turns out that the fog is the revenge of a leper colony wiped out a hundred years earlier by the ancestors of the town’s current residents, and every hundred years the fog returns to claim six more victims. Completely ridiculous, with incredibly bad acting by people who seem to take the script seriously, and smoke machines as the major special effect, this is a cult classic of bad movies. It’s full of unintentionally hilarious lines like “Watch out! The fog’s coming! The fog’s coming!” Oooh, the fog, I’m so scared! I could go on and on, but it’s best you see the film yourself. It’s a great laugh, especially late at night in a small coastal town as the fog settles in….

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Fri, Jun 06, 2003

: 2 Fast 2 Furious

The original was okay; this one’s best feature is its remarkably clever name (for the dead, that’s sarcasm). Yeah, it’s got more cars, more chases, more women, more noise. The plot is more linear than the first one, but still dealing with guys going undercover trying to pass as street drivers so they can nail the bad guys. Frankly, the car races were boring. Gee, will the good guy win? I don’t know… there’s so much suspense! Okay, one or two jumps or crashes were cool, and the cars are definitely hot, but that’s not enough to sustain a whole movie. Paul Walker, the only return from the first movie, proves that he’s one of the worst actors on the planet (watch the scenes where he’s supposed to get angry: though anger’s the easiest emotion to portray, bad actors can’t do it convincingly). The new people are okay, but nothing remarkable. That pretty much sums up the movie: nothing remarkable. The action is most cars revving their engines and going nowhere: I actually fell asleep during part of the movie! Mildly fun, but not recommended unless you’re a car nut.

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Thu, Jun 05, 2003

: Pattern Recognition

Author: William Gibson

Strangely, considering his geek reputation, I’ve never been a Gibson fan. This, his most recent book, is the first I’ve managed to finish. I don’t like his writing style — he overwrites, tries to hard to be poetic, and uses elaborate vocabulary for no good reason. This book was better — I was able to tolerate the style — but it’s a strange novel.

Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the crew meet that alien species that no one has been able to communicate with? Their speech is incomprehensible, even for the universal translator. Then Captain Picard figures out that their speech is entirely based on common historical references. For instance, if I said, “Romeo and Juliet at the balcony,” you would know what I meant, and that simple phrase would conjure up images of romance. Well, to someone who’s never heard of the play, the reference is meaningless. That made learning the alien’s language tough. Gibson does a similar thing in this book (and perhaps his other books, I don’t know). He casually throws out odd references and assumes we’ll understand. While I, being a computer geek, understood the computer-related ones, there were a number that were fashion-oriented, and I didn’t get those at all. Fashion plays a big role in this book, as do logos. You see the main character, Cayce, is allergic to certain logos and trademarks. She uses this “talent” to consult with companies on the logos they choose (she can tell them if the new logo they’ve picked is bad or not). That’s a cool concept. But the woman is therefore extremely picky about the clothes she wears (she tears the labels off everything she buys), and I gathered there were subtle references to and jabs at fashion designers I missed because I pay no attention to that aspect of reality at all. Anyway, my point is that Gibson’s prose is often impossible to comprehend because he doesn’t explain anything. And he still overwrites. Here’s the first sentence of the book: “Five hours’ New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm.” Uh huh. Yeah. Beautiful. Fortunately the whole novel isn’t that way, just bits and pieces. Unfortunately, the plot is rather mundane. It seems like it’s got promise, and I kept reading, and there are some fascinating diversions, but in the end the conclusion was unsatisfying. I will say that in that respect the plot is like real life. Of course I don’t read novels (especially this kind of novel) to experience real life. The story itself deals with an Internet phenomenon known as Footage. Clips of an unknown film are being released anonymously on the ‘net. There are 135 of them so far, and fans edit the clips together in various assemblages, debate and argue various viewpoints, etc., but no one knows who’s creating the clips, if it’s a part of an ongoing work or a completed film being released in pieces, or why it’s being released in this manner. But it’s becoming a cult with millions of fans around the globe eagerly waiting the next clip release. Cayce is one of these fans. Then her current employer hires her to find the source of the Footage. Her quest takes her around the world, and there are mysterious events happening. Someone has been in her apartment, she’s being followed, someone tries to mug her, and she learns she can’t trust anyone. It’s a wonderful concept, but the ending is unsatisfying both because it’s so ordinary and because we still don’t understand the motivations behind everything. There are too many unanswered questions (a few would have been okay, but here there are dozens). This book is apparently very different from Gibson’s other works, which was why I was interested in reading it. I wasn’t that impressed though: it took me weeks to slough through it and for what? I didn’t get much out of it. I am interested in Gibson as I writer, though, so perhaps I’ll try one of his other books and see if I can’t make it through. Not right away, though. I need a break.

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Sat, May 31, 2003

: MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

Well, the Quakes were unbeaten going into this game, but I had a nervous feeling. Our leading scorer, Brian Ching, was injured mid-week and out, as well as Richard Mulrooney and several other starters. Most of the replacements inserted into the lineup were playing for the first time all season as they were either rookies or coming off an injury. Even worse, by half time two of those were injured and had to be replaced! By the end of the game we had only one sub left! The new line-up definitely struggled, but didn’t play as badly as the final score indicated. Offensively the Quakes created a number of chances and put pressure on the Fire, but defensively there were serious lapses that in the end cost us the game. In the first half the Fire scored first, but when the Quakes scored the goal didn’t count because the linesman claimed the ball had crossed the end-line before being played back in. It was a tight call and extremely questionable, especially since Manny put in the goal so sweetly. In the second half things immediately went downhill as a defensive mistake gave the Fire the ball in the area and allowed them to score. Just when I was beginning to wonder if anything would go right, the Quakes Chris Roner scored off a corner kick. Suddenly the momentum was there. Manny Lagos was really putting on the pressure when he was hip-checked in the box and flattened. Astonishingly, the ref didn’t call the penalty. He didn’t even award a free kick or anything! The TV replays showed it was a clear foul, but the ref was just blind (or being paid by Chicago). That was frustrating because it would have tied the game. Things got even worse minutes later when the Fire scored a third goal. Yet the replay of that goal clearly showed the Fire player who received the ball was several yards offside. But the same linesman who’d cancelled the Quakes’ goal in the first half for being an inch out of play now didn’t call a player yards offside! Ridiculous. After that the game was pretty much over, and though DaMarcus Beasley did add another in injury time to really warp the score, it didn’t make much difference. It was an extremely frustrating day. The Quakes played better than they should have considering half the team hadn’t played all season, and without the refs mucking up the calls, the game could have finished 3-3 or even better — who knows what would have happened if the Quakes had been able to tie the game. But instead it finished 4-1, an unfair score if I ever saw one. MLS really needs to do something about the refs. I just don’t understand how they can get away with such blatant manipulation of results. I understand close calls, but these weren’t close at all — there needs to be some sort of accountability system for these refs that change the results like that. Oh well. We’ll have to see how the Quakes fair over the next few weeks. They’ve got three road games, and Landon Donovan will be gone for the Confederations Cup in France. It’s going to be a real battle. Final: 4-1 Chicago.

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Fri, May 30, 2003

: Finding Nemo

I sure wish the people at Pixar would give screenwriting lessons to Hollywood. Why can’t most films be as excellent as everything Pixar does? This movie is awesome. I wasn’t really convinced Pixar could do it again, but they did. They created a wonderful character-based story. I’d heard that it was about a fish looking for his lost son, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. What makes the story work is this: the father’s overprotective of his only son, Nemo, and thus won’t let him live life, and that creates conflict as the son gets older. When Nemo is captured by a human and put into a fish tank, it’s up to the dad to find and rescue his son. The journey has many adventures (for each of them), and through the process both learn to compromise. Nemo grows up, realizing that he’s not invincible, and the dad realizes he must let Nemo go in order to keep him. Great moral, great story, and terrific humor. The fish animation is wonderful, but the above water stuff is truly spectacular — the Syndey, Australia bay looks like a photograph. Pixar just packs in so much stuff there’s never a dull moment: it’s just wonderful. It has a different feel from the Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc., which is great. Highly recommended. Brilliant writing. A must see for all ages.

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: The Italian Job

Mild little robbery caper with a twist: this time the thieves are attempting to rob a thief, their former partner who betrayed them and killed one of them. One of the robbers is the murdered man’s daughter, so we root for these guys to be successful. Overall there’s nothing too surprising here, but the performances are good, there’s humor, and the complex robbery schemes are interesting. Good fun.

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Wed, May 28, 2003

: A Mighty Wind

Another mockumentary from the folks who brought us Spinal Tap and Best in Show. This is another success, this time about folk music from the 1950’s. It’s hilarious. The “plot” is about a modern day reunion show of several folk groups, but we get to see plenty of grainy black-and-white video clips and photographs of the original performances. Great stuff. There are two problems with this movie. One, these mockumentaries are done with such conviction, it’s hard to tell when they are being funny. The humor is occasionally of the outrageous “ha ha” variety, but much of the time it’s more subtle, making you unsure if you heard right or if you’re supposed to laugh. A perfect example is the scene were the goody-goody wife of the New Mainstreet Singers is telling about her past and how she started out in San Francisco doing some “short films,” and as she continues we gradually realize she’s saying she was a porn star! Hilarious. Another problem with this movie is that the folk songs are too good. They are too real. Maybe they are real, I don’t know, but they’re actually quite good songs, and that takes some of the sting out of the parody. It’s like when someone tries to do a sketch about singing badly and then sings well: it kills the humor. Not a terrible flaw, but it’s more difficult to see the funniness in the songs. Overall, a great film, though. Lots of fun.

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Mon, May 26, 2003

: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Wales

While not the full, senior USA team, and competing in a “friendly” (read: exposition) match against a tiny country, this was still an interesting match-up and a rare opportunity to see the national team in action in person. Wales didn’t bring their full squad either, but though the U.S. team was mostly made up of MLS players from the Earthquakes (5) and D.C. United (5) who didn’t play on the weekend, it still wasn’t much of a contest. The U.S. dominated play, and Wales really only had one clear chance on goal (U.S. keeper Nick Rimando blocked the shot). That unbalance was extended when Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick near the end of the first half after Jovan Kirovski was knocked down in the box. The Wales player who did that was already on a yellow and could have been sent off, but wasn’t. Unfortunately he didn’t learn from that lesson and when the second half started, he promptly used his hand to stop a ball from going past him, and the ref presented him with his second yellow, sending him off. After that the game was really all USA. Landon Donovan had several great chances, including one were he took the ball in his own half of the field and ran with it all the way into the penalty area on the other side, only to have his shot stopped by the Wales goalkeeper. That same keeper, however, made a terrible blunder and allowed a soft shot from former Earthquake Eddie Lewis (now playing in England) to slip under him and into the goal. Earlier Lewis had crossed instead of shooting, and the ball had been harmlessly headed away. This time he chose to shoot even though the angle was terrible, and the grounder somehow made it past the keeper. I wish more players would do that: a shot on goal, even if the keeper stops it easily, is still better than no shot at all or a wild shot that misses the goal completely. At least if it’s on goal it tests the keeper who might give up a rebound or allow it through. In the end, there were only those two goals (there could have been many more if all the chances had been converted), but it was an entertaining match and it gave some players who haven’t had much of a chance in the national team a way to show coach Bruce Arena what they can do. Final: 2-0 USA.

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Fri, May 23, 2003

: Bruce Almighty

This is a terrific, fun, light-hearted comedy with a serious message at heart. It’s like a Happy Gilmore without the crudeness. The plot is a great fantasy: a down-on-his-luck TV reporter played appealingly by Jim Carrey curses God and so God gives him all His powers and takes a vacation. At first Carrey just has fun with his new abilities, taking revenge on co-workers and the gangsters that beat him up, but he eventually learns what a deep responsibility being God is, and eventually gives the powers back and is happy with his “ordinary” life. The film has a great message, and despite being a mainstream film about God, manages to not insult anyone and actually be theologically sound (similar to the George Burns classic, Oh God!). (Morgan Freeman is a great God in this movie, by the way.) At the same time, the movie doesn’t get so bogged down by seriousness it ruins the humor or pacing. It’s a perfect blend of comedy and drama, childhood and adulthood. Two thumbs up!

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: Maid in Manhattan

Simple little Cinderella remake about a maid in a fancy New York hotel who’s mistaken for a guest by a wealthy senatorial candidate. A romance blossoms, but when the secret’s revealed, will the fantasy end? Yeah right. Completely predictable, but still done with charm. At least with this kind of movie you know exactly what you’re getting.

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Sat, May 17, 2003

: MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

All I can say is Game of the Season! At least so far. Wow, what a game! It’s a bummer there wasn’t a bigger crowd and the game wasn’t on national TV. This was a clash between the best team in the East (not counting New York’s leapfrog over Columbus with their win earlier in the day) versus the only unbeaten team in the league (Chicago were unbeaten until they lost in New England today). Columbus and San Jose games have developed into a powerful rivalry — we knocked them out of the playoffs two seasons ago (the year we won the championship) and they knocked us out last year. Last year we won against them at home but lost in Columbus. What would this season be like? How would San Jose, as the league’s best defense, having given up only two goals the entire season, fair against the Crew’s terrific offense?

The game started off with terrific pressure by San Jose. Several early chances didn’t go in, but 30 minutes in Brian Mullen puts in a sweet one-time shot that beats the keeper. It looked like a dream start, especially when the Quakes had several chances to increase the lead. Then the ref decided to get involved. I missed what happened live at the game — I was watching the ball as it did not go into the Quakes’ goal — but suddenly the ref was calling a penalty kick. On the replay which I watched at home, the call looked weak to say the least. The Crew’s Jeff Cunningham went down, supposedly on a push from Weibel. Whatever. The call was made and Brian McBride converted easily, tying the score. In the second half, it was all Quakes. Sort of. Minutes in on a terrific feed from Donovan right up the middle, Brian Ching is in alone on goal. He slides it under the keeper and it’s 2-1 Quakes. But the celebrations don’t last long, and Columbus looks dangerous. The Quakes give away balls in the mid-field and every time the Crew nearly scores. Cunningham gets loose in the box and scores on a great header to equalize. So much for San Jose’s vaunted defense — we’ve just doubled our goals against in one game! But the game wasn’t over. A free kick 30 yards out is given to the Quakes, and left-footed captain Jeff Agoos steps up. He bends it around the wall and into the top corner of the goal! Amazing! Bend it like Goose! But can the Quakes hold on to the lead? My heart was in my throat. But of course I knew we had an ace: Landon Donovan hadn’t scored yet. It was his turn, right? Sure enough, with three minutes in the game Donovan breaks away down the left side. He cuts inside — the angle’s tight, and there’s a defender and a goalkeeper to beat. No problem. He jigs, takes a step, fires, and scores. It’s 4-2! The Quakes have another win! I joked to Dave, “Do you think the Quakes can hold on to a two goal lead with two minutes left?” Bad joke. In injury time, Columbus scores. It was another bit of poor defending, a man unmarked in the box, and bingo, it’s 4-3. Wild! Would the game ever end? Yes, it finally did, and the Quakes remain the only undefeated team in the league! They also jump to 14 points in the standings, above all other teams (New York is second with 13). Best of all, with L.A.’s draw, the Quakes are now 10 points ahead of the hated Galaxy. Incredible! They’re playing awesome, scoring goals (not counting last week’s tough zero-zero draw with Chicago), and working well as a team. When we get our injured starters back, we could really be on fire. This could be another championship season. I sure hope so — the guys deserve it. Final: 4-3 San Jose Earthquakes!

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, May 16, 2003

: Secretary

Wow, what an amazing film! This was a “controversial” movie since it deals with nonstandard sexualty. I’d heard good things about it (it won an award at Sundance) and was curious, but suspected it couldn’t be as good as I’d heard. To my surprise and delight, it’s better!

The story is about a troubled girl who has a history of “cutting” — she cuts herself with knives, razors, whatever she can find. After being released from an institution, she goes to typing school and then seeks out a secretarial job. The fragile girl winds up working for a strange lawyer (an excellent James Spader) who alternately builds her up and tears her down. Eventually their relationship develops into a full-blown dominant-submissive relationship, where he spanks her for typing errors and she makes errors on purpose to get him to punish her.

So far, nothing too controversial. The girl likes to be punished, but of course that’s because she’s mental case, right? Here’s where the film takes a different approach and upsets feminists and others who can’t handle reality. In this story, the girl’s healthier in the “abnormal” relationship. She goes from a fragile wallflower who cuts herself for fun to a brave, bold, assertive woman who knows what she wants and demands she get it. That’s the controversy. There’d be no controversy if her passions were depicted as irrational.

What impressed me about this film is that it doesn’t take advantage of the salacious nature of the subject matter. Most Hollywood films that deal with unusual sexuality do it primarily to exploit the topic for the purpose of higher viewership. I can envision this film being made into a vulgar, blatant sex-flick, full of scenes designed to shock and titillate. Instead, we’re treated to an intelligent, unglorified presentation of a reality that most of us don’t know about. The characters are real, the situations intense, the events thought-provoking. The photography and direction is spectacular, dramatizing seemingly ordinary situations to make them extraordinary. The camera hides more than it reveals, forcing us to use our mind to understand what’s going on.This film reminded me a great deal about my favorite film, Harold and Maude toward the end of Secretary when a series of people try to persuade the girl to change her mind — just like in Harold and Maude when the psychiatrist, priest, and others try to convince Harold he can’t seriously love Maude.

Those who think Secretary is about violence toward women or something silly like that have missed the point. The film’s a fantasy: in the end the two live happily ever after with their strange kink. There’s a great scene where Spader tells the girl, “We can’t just go on like this 24-7!” and she responds, “Why not?” It is her fantasy to have someone to dominate and “control” her (in reality, of course, she’s the one in control by her willingness to allow the man to dominate her). It is the man’s dark fantasy to have a sexual partner he can dominate and punish. His power is all an illusion, of course: she’s the one running the show. But it’s that illusion — for both of them (his of power, hers of submission) — that inspires their mutual passions. There is no genuine violence here; it’s all an act. The girl understands that at a subconscious level as revealed when at one point, after Spader tries to fire her, she panics and cries “Time out!” She’s realized that their relationship is a form of role-playing, and when he’s doing something out of character — firing her — she’s desperate to get back to the comfortable pretend world.

What makes the movie really good and takes it beyond a mere S&M show-and-tell, is that both the man and the woman’s characters are fully-developed. Spader’s character struggles with his dark desires. He hates and resents them, but he cannot control them. In one scene he writes a letter apologizing for his “disgusting” behavior. I found this deeply ironic: the man loves to degrade the woman, and she loves to be degraded; yet because society says their behavior is weird, they must not continue. The climax of the film is the resolution of this conflict, and the film does this in an unusual way as the girl stages a sort of hunger strike until the man gives in. That’s rather over-the-top, but oddly, it works, especially if think of this film as a fantasy love story like Secretary to tell worlds of stories with just a glance. (Half the film is her and Spader exchanging power-draining looks.) The final few seconds of the film, where she turns to look straight at the camera, is some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. Her expression barely changes and yet a dozen emotions flitter across her face, including her arguing with all the critics of her decision (both as the character and as an actress in taking on this role). I rewound that a dozen times, just mesmerized. Amazing.

Throughout the movie Maggie is perfect in every scene. Have you ever seen one of those lame Hollywood movies where they try to take a beautiful actress and make her pretend to be unattractive so they can later have her get a makeover and reveal how pretty is? Pathetic, isn’t it. We’re never fooled: even ugly the girl’s gorgeous. Well, Maggie does it for real here, not with makeup and a bad ‘doo, but with acting brilliance. Her transformation is astonishing. She begins the film fragile and vulnerable, shy and naive. She doesn’t feel attractive or wanted, and reality frightens her. By the end she’s in complete control of herself and the world around her. She knows how to manipulate. She’s discovered her sexuality and realizes she’s beautiful. I loved that the filmmakers didn’t try the cheap trick of changing her makeup or clothes as the film progressed to “symbolize” her transformation. No, she wears the same unattractive outfits at the end as at the beginning, but she looks completely different. It’s all in how she carries herself.

Secretary is a challenging film. It’s not for everyone. It reminds me of a European film in many ways (similar to the difficult-to-watch interesting; that’s more than I can say about most American movies. It’s well worth seeing if you can handle your reality a little twisted.

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Wed, May 14, 2003

: Matrix Reloaded

I can scarcely believe it myself: not only did I like this movie, I liked it better than the original. This time the action is so over-the-top it’s almost into parody, yet the seriousness of the situation (Zion is in peril) keeps things on a level keel. The video game music during the key action sequences (very Tekken-like) personifies the film which feels like an elaborate video game. Those action sequences are like video clips in games — the cool payoff to slower expositional scenes, which are like game puzzles you must solve before you can advance. The story is complex and overlong and unresolved (the film ends with “To be concluded”), but it does pay out new details about the Matrix, the machines that run it, and the human world of Zion. The biggest revelation — major spoiler alert! — is that the Oracle and all her prophecies were fake, controlled by the machines in order to manipulate Neo in doing exactly what they wanted. I liked that. However, there are still many questions, and the film continues to toy with its own rules to reality. For instance, it’s implied that a software agent (Smith) somehow transfers himself to reality (out of the Matrix) and controls a traitorous human. That makes no sense at all. Still, this isn’t a thinking person’s film, despite the fancy pseudo-philosophical dialogue. It’s an action flick. It’s well done, with several impressive climaxes that drew gasps from the audience. The fights are often too long and repetitive, but generally do build appropriately. Overall, a good fun ride. The bummer is that we have to wait until November for Matrix Revolutions.

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: I Don’t Know Jack

This is a documentary about the life of actor Jack Nance, star of the cult hit Eraserhead. Nance had tremendous talent, but was an alcoholic for much of his life, which tragically limited his potential. Then just when he was sober and getting well his wife committed suicide. His life ended as mysteriously as he lived it, when he died after being beaten up in a donut shop. Police have never solved the case. The film features interviews with Jack’s brothers, his friends and colleagues, and his first wife, and the stories about Nance are terrific. Unfortunately there still seems to be something missing: perhaps there are not enough clips of his acting, or enough of Jack himself in the film, because we don’t really get much insight into who Jack was. The documentary’s a terrific idea, and we do learn a lot, but Jack was such a unique personality I’d have loved to learn more about him.

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Mon, May 12, 2003

: Swimfan

What’s bad about this film isn’t that it’s badly done — it’s that there’s nothing the least bit remarkable about it. The plot’s a high school version of Fatal Attraction, with a psycho girl plotting against the guy she had a fling with. You’ve seen it before, better.

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Sat, May 10, 2003

: The Matrix

In preparation for the sequel coming out, I decided to watch the original film again. As you may remember, I hated the original — the depth of my hatred was proportional to the amount that most people loved it. While I still agree with my original assessment, I did like it much better on second viewing. For one, I knew I should ignore the silly spirituality hocus-pocus and just enjoy the movie as an action film. In that regard, it’s really pretty good. Note that my perspective is tattered a little because I saw it first on DVD and by that time I’d seen the “unique” special effects mimicked in TV commercials and other films, so they didn’t have the “wow” factor they must have for original movie-goers. I still think the film has too many logic flaws to make any sense at all (why in heck is a software agent harmed by virtual bullets???) — but then I’m a computer programmers so I probably think of this stuff at a lower level than most people, who just enjoy the action. The arbitrariness of what’s “real” and what’s not real makes me feel I’m just being manipulated by the authors, who can change whatever rules they want in control of their plot (whereas good writers allow the plot to come to them and don’t force scenarios). But if I ignore that and the meaningless “The One” psychobabble, I can enjoy this movie on a pure entertainment level. I am looking forward to the sequels, though I’m purposely keeping my expectations low. That way I won’t be disappointed.

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: About a Boy

Author: Nick Hornsby (book)

I was astonished at how much I liked this film. I’d never even heard of it until it showed up on DVD, so figured it probably wasn’t good. It’s great! It’s based on a book by Nick Hornsby, the British author who wrote the excellent

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Wed, May 07, 2003

: Full Frontal

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Supposedly this is Steven’s “karmic” follow-up to his first, Slacker or Soderbergh’s debut.

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Tue, May 06, 2003

: The Legend of Bagger Vance

Director: Robert Redford

This is the story of an early twentieth Century golf match between an unknown local kid and legendary golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. The kid (Matt Damon) is caddied by a black guy named Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who helps him overcome his fears after a bad experience in the war. The whole thing is rather pedestrian and predictable. I didn’t buy Damon’s psychic war wounds, and Smith talked like a Chinese riddle saying ordinary things that are supposedly profound similar to “wherever you go, there you are.” I guess the faux-mystic stuff was supposed to be believable and moving — on the DVD extras Redford seemed to buy into it — but I thought it was corny and predictable. Visually the film’s period look was interesting and I liked the way Redford showed certain special golf effects to go along with the mystic theme, but in most cases the golf itself was extremely lame: all we got to see was the players swinging followed by a close-up of the ball landing next to the cup (that’s as bad as a sitcom’s presentation of golf). The film was also way too long. But I loved the narrator, Jack Lemmon, who was a modern-day old geezer telling about the tournament he witnessed as a child. Not a terrible film, but a little boring, too predictable, mystically corny, and doesn’t hold up over its length.

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Mon, May 05, 2003

: The Hacker and the Ants

Author: Rudy Rucker

I picked this book up after noticing it was written by a local author (Rucker teaches at San Jose State University). My first impression while reading this book was that it was obviously his first as it’s so poorly written. Sometimes the story moves from one scene to the next at a bewildering rate, and at other times we’re treated to pages of exposition and computer science lectures. I found wading through it tedious at best. What makes it worse is that the plot leaves us in a state of incomprehension until the end of the book when all is revealed. I found these aspects so frustrating I almost didn’t bother finishing the book. When I did a little research into Rucker, I discovered (to my shock) that he’s been writing books since the 1970s! He’s written over twenty books and has actually won writing awards. Maybe I was misjudging him? I went back to the book and ploughed through to the end. The bottom line is that the plot is worth the read, and from a technical perspective, this virtual reality tale is rather ingenious. While I haven’t read other Rucker novels (I might check out one or two), I will concede that perhaps this isn’t badly written as I’d first assumed, it’s just Rucker’s style. Whatever it is, I didn’t like it. The fast-slow, start-stop aspect of the story drove me nuts. For instance, while many tiny things happen in the first 100 pages, it isn’t until page 120 that the main plot point happens: the virtual ants of the title are released onto the digital TV network and cause a massive shutdown and lead to the arrest of the main character. When I got to that point I wanted to continue reading to find out if and how he cleared himself of the charges — but the first 100 pages are just babbling with only a couple scenes crucial to the main plot. I also felt the characters were extremely one dimensional (I guess that’s a pun since the novel deals with virtual reality). While Rucker gives us plenty of detail about the main character’s history, he still feels like a cardboard man. For instance, we know he’s going through a divorce, but we don’t know why. Throughout the novel Rucker throws in stuff to make the character well-rounded, but it feels forced. For example, there are a number of sexual encounters which feel extremely out-of-place (like the hacker sleeping with a woman he met hours earlier — yeah, like that happens to geeks in Silicon Valley). I figured he just put that in so we’d know the guy’s a man.

From a technical perspective Rucker definitely knows his stuff and does a better job explaining futuristic technology than most authors (though his theoretical plot is a little unrealistic), but the bizarre and inconsistent pacing of the book ruined it for me. In the end I liked the plot and resolution, but getting there was not fun (nothing makes sense until the end). I can see why cybergeeks would like this, but most probably haven’t read much real literature and think this is pretty good. I’d give it an average for overall quality, above average for technical details, and a below average for characterization and pacing.

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Fri, May 02, 2003

: X2: X-Men United

A decent sequel, though not as innovative as the first. This time we know the characters so we don’t need time to be introduced to their powers, etc., which should make the film stronger, but it doesn’t. It feels like there’s less action. I also didn’t like that the film resurrects the same villains as the first film. Sure, this time the mutants are “united” against another enemy, but it would have been much more interesting to see some cool new mutants. The film’s climax was anti-climactic, and a bit of a downer (one of the main X-Men dies) in a way that seemed completely pointless to me (just while watching it I thought of four or five alternate escape methods and the film never did explain why that person couldn’t escape with the others). The ending did leave a lot of openings for a sequel, which, while I’d like to see it, weakens this movie by making it feel unfinished. The story, while it gave every character a brief moment to shine, didn’t focus enough on any of them (though again Wolverine appears to be the star). I was disappointed in the screen time for Patrick Stewart (Professor X) who’s barely in this. Also, the movie feels long at over two hours. And there weren’t enough new mutants.

All that negative stuff aside, however, the film’s still interesting, and I enjoyed all the different characters. There were some neat scenes and cool special effects. The Wolverine-Kitty fight was excellent, but the film really needed two or three more of those. Not bad, but I liked the first one better.

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Thu, May 01, 2003

: Revenge: A Story of Hope

Author: Laura Blumenfeld

I received this audio book as a gift: I doubt I would have gotten it on my own, but it’s a fascinating story. It’s a true story, something I didn’t realize until partway through. It’s about an American woman who’s father is almost killed while on a trip to Israel. Years later, the daughter, now a journalist, travels to Israel on a quest for revenge. She wants to seek out the man who tried to kill her father. It sounds like an outrageous idea, especially for a woman (and considering her father wasn’t permanently injured). Laura questions her quest frequently, and in many places the book resembles a journal of her doubts and fears more than a story about revenge. Ultimately, it’s a story about healing as she meets the assassinÕs kind family (they don’t know her true identity) and she begins to communicate with him (she discovers he’s in prison for his crime). Fascinating, even more so considering it’s true, and especially in light with Sept. 11 and the recent freeing of Iraq.

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: Better Luck Tomorrow

Unusual film from an Asian-American perspective. The main characters are high school seniors, overachievers working hard to get 4.0’s and master extra-curricular activities in order to get into Ivy League colleges. In the process four Asian boys form a club to pull scams, sell cheat-sheets, and eventually get into drug dealing and murder. The plot’s thin — there isn’t as much of a story here as a sequence of events — but what holds it together is the terrific performance and character of the lead, Ben (Perry Shen), who comes across as intelligent yet naive, cool yet completely approachable. His love interest, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung) is also excellent, as are the actors who play his crime buddies. But it’s Ben’s moral confusion which fascinates, as he waffles between wanting to be cool and rich, wanting to earn his way on his own merits, and yet tempted by crime that is so easy. The conclusion does not end the way I might have guessed: in fact, it’s left unresolved in some ways, which is an interesting choice. Overall this is a stylish, thoughtful film, reminiscent of teen classics like

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Wed, Apr 30, 2003

: Confidence

This isn’t a bad movie: its main flaw is that “grifter” films have become so common that they’re predictable in their unpredictability. What happens is what always happens: the con artist gets himself in deep trouble, has to pull an elaborate con to get himself out, is double-crossed, and must con the double-crossers to turn the tables over in the end. Sure, the details are always slightly different, and the characters occasionally intriguing, but in the end all these movies are the same (

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Tue, Apr 29, 2003

: Identity

After seeing the previews, I knew this was a gimmick film. It didn’t look like much of a gimmick, however: the plot appears to be a “Ten Little Indians” knockoff where stranded visitors to a motel die one by one. The promos make it sound like it’s something special, however, which can backfire if it doesn’t. Well, it does, and while it’s not as revolutionary as the gimmick in

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: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

Author: Billie Letts

Terrific book! I met Billie Letts when I was in college: I attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant where Billie lives. Her husand, Dennis, was my English teacher (an excellent one, too). I remember going to see a play she wrote and directed, and though I don’t remember much in the way of the specifics, I do remember being keenly aware of the terrific dialog. It made an impression on me to create similarly powerful dialog in my own plays. I never got around to reading Billie’s previous book, Where the Heart Is, since I discovered it just before the movie came out and then waffled over which to experience first and ended up doing neither. The title of this book intrigued me — it’s very Oklahoman — and the promise of humor prompted me to give it a read. The title is the name of a small town carhop/diner: the owner was drunk when he ordered the sign and the “Opening Soon” portion was made in permanent neon along with the rest of the name — something that’s become a town joke. The story is about several characters who’s lives interconnect around the Honk. There’s the owner, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet, the new Vietnamese cook, and an American Indian woman who shows up one day and turns the vet’s stationery life upside down. The story is simple and elegant as these people change as they experience life’s troubles and rewards, in the end coming to an understanding and acceptance. What makes the story worth reading, however, is the humor, the vividness of the characters, the depth of their pain, and vibrancy with which they live life. Billie’s done an amazing portrait of middle America here, creating unique, quirky, interesting characters and blending them into a fascinating tapestry of events. Her Bui Khahn (the Vietnamese chef) is a classic of literature, and I loved seeing small town Oklahoma through his innocent eyes. For instance, never having seen a carhop before, he assumes that the people being fed in cars aren’t allowed inside the restaurant for some reason. He’s just wonderful, and Billie lets us get inside his mind while at the same time showing us the way others perceive him. I was also impressed by Billie’s writing style: she writes in a friendly, low key, country style that’s as delicious as Grandma’s apple pie. It’s smooth as fresh butter with a hint of sass, and as you read you’re comfortable knowing you’re in the hands of a master writer who won’t steer you wrong. Great stuff.

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Sat, Apr 26, 2003

: MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I timed my return from Oregon around this game as I couldn’t afford to miss the Quakes’ big game against our rivals, the Galaxy. I didn’t dare hope the Quakes would win — last year’s disappointing results with L.A. striker Ruiz sneaking goals while offside are too fresh in my mind. Even if the Quakes managed a lead, I figured Ruiz would be up to his old tricks and figure out some lowbrow way to steal a goal. But to my surprise the Quakes dominated the game. I figured San Jose would come out strong, but what was unexpected was that L.A. never got going. The Quakes controlled the pace of the game and forced L.A. constantly on the retreat, protecting their goal. Oh, they had a few chances, and there were some heart-pounding moments around the San Jose goal (especially considering our goalkeeper’s mistake last week), but in general it was the Quakes who threatened the goal the most. Unfortunately, actually getting the goal proved tough, as their keeper made saves or our final shots were a hair off target. Finally, however, mid-way through the second half, Brian Ching was taken down by a Galaxy defender in the penalty box. The ref immediately pointed to the spot — a penalty kick! Up stepped Landon Donovan who calmly put away the goal. The Quakes were ahead 1-0! It was pandemonium in the stands, but everyone was nervously wondering if the Quakes could hold on to the lead. Indeed they could: the Galaxy never had a chance. Though it was a slim margin and I’d have preferred a rout, a win is a win, and the Earthquakes now sit atop the Major League Soccer standings with seven points (unbeaten in three games, their best start in team history). Awesome. Worth coming home for. Final: 1-0 San Jose.

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Thu, Apr 24, 2003

: Pearl Harbor

Surprisingly good film. The special effects are useful in bringing the attack to reality, and the love story framework, while predictable and occasionally silly, does provide a good human element to the war. The second half of the film, where the U.S. retaliates, was new history to me and quite interesting. Considerably better than I expected (meaning it’s above the “paint by numbers” piece I was anticipating).

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: The Royal Tennebaums

Director: Wes Anderson

While I’ve liked other Wes Anderson films like

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Sat, Apr 19, 2003

: MLS: Kansas City Wizards at San Jose Earthquakes

It was opening day at Spartan Stadium, and the second game of the double-header was the Quakes hosting K.C. A huge 17,000+ crowd on hand made for a wonderful atmosphere in a packed stadium. And wow, did the Quakes dominate! They pushed and pushed and had chance after chance, but either missed shots or K.C. keeper Tony Meola blocked them. He had 5 saves in the match, including a heart-stopping parry in the final seconds. Unfortunately, chances and possession don’t win games, and late in the second half of a zero-zero game something horrible happened. New Quake keeper Pat Onstad punched the ball to clear it, but it went straight up. As the ball was coming right back down in his area and several Wizards were closing in, he realized his mistake. He then went to tip the ball over the goal, but in his panic knocked it into his own goal! Just horrible. I feel bad for Pat, but it really was bad goal-keeping. You never hit it toward your own goal unless you are positive there’s no chance of it going in. (That’s why you’ll usually see keepers actually bend their wrist over the crossbar when they tip a ball over — they want to make sure it’s not bouncing off the bar or doing anything but what they want.) Going down a goal after dominating for so long was harsh, and with only 15 minutes left the Quakes had an up hill battle. Fortunately, they rallied and a fantastic through-ball from Landon Donovan put Mullen through and he finished to level the score. The battle continued into ten minutes of overtime, and though San Jose had several more chances (Ching got a free header in the box but mistimed his jump and bobbled it off his shoulder wide of the goal) including a Ching-Mullen combo in the final seconds that should have been the winner except for Meola who slapped it wide. That was the last play of the game and both teams share the points. Not a terrible result for San Jose, especially considering the new squad and all the players missing with injuries, but definitely a disappointment. San Jose has a tough match against uberrivals Los Angeles next Saturday and they’d better figure out how to finish those chances. L.A.’s gotten three 1-1 draws on the road to start the season, and they’d love to steal three points at Spartan Stadium. Still, the Quakes are playing well. The back looks strong, but the way MLS is today, the slightest mistake at the back will cost you, and I worry about them giving away the occasional easy goal. At the front they are proving to create opportunities and I’m impressed by the play of newcomers Ching, Mullen, and Dunivant. Landon’s playing well, and though he hasn’t scored yet, he’s set up three goals, which is great considering how tightly he’s marked. Considering this is really only half the team right now (the rest are injured), the Quakes are doing awesome. Final: 1-1 draw.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: WUSA: Washington Freedom at San Jose Cyberrays

I had never been to a WUSA game (women’s soccer) before, but finally the Earthquakes got their act together and organized a doubleheader with the two local teams. This was a great game to witness, too, since San Jose was taking on the Freedom, with star Mia Hamm. During the second half she was on the left side, right in front of where I was sitting, so I got to see a lot of her. She was excellent (her goal was a penalty kick). The game itself was ho-hum. It had a few moments, but Washington got the early lead on a PK, then scored a second not long after. After that they could safely defend and rely on rapid counter-attacks to keep San Jose at bay. The Cyberrays tried hard, especially near the end, but couldn’t make much progress at scoring. Final: 2-0 Washington.

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Fri, Apr 18, 2003

: The Second Angel

Author: Philip Kerr

Surprisingly, a Kerr SF book that works! The plot’s cool: it is 2069 and most of the earth’s population is infected with a deadly blood virus called P2 that’s an automatic death sentence. Many live for years, but when the disease is triggered, you die within three months. The cure is simple: a complete blood transfusion. However, the new blood but not be contaminated with the virus, of course. And thus clean blood has become the most precious commodity on the planet. The eleven pints of blood in a typical person has a value of over 7 million dollars. Frozen blood is stored in high-tech blood banks which are protected by elaborate security systems. The biggest blood bank is on the moon, and the designer of the security system, Dallas, has decided to rob it. He puts together a team of experts and sets out to do the impossible. Great concept, and well written, with a caveat or two. First, the actual robbery, though promised early on, doesn’t take place until near the end of the book, and it’s a little anti-climactic. Second, the narrator of the book is an important character, revealed at the end, which is a great twist. Unfortunately, he’s a little inane. Almost every page of the novel has footnotes, which go into mind-numbingly minute detail about science and medicine. The narrator’s interesting because he brings philosophical questions and observations to the events, but unfortunately he contradicts himself, in some places “proving” there is no God, in others proving that God must exist, and in others questioning God’s existence as though he doesn’t know. I’m not sure what Kerr’s intent was in doing that: I don’t doubt it was intentional, but whatever the reason it isn’t clear and it doesn’t work. It just makes me the think the narrator’s a little unbalanced (maybe that was the point). The book’s pacing could also use a work — it drags on and on, mostly because we’re told about the robbery early but since it doesn’t happen until late in the novel, all the set-up stuff (which is important) seems to be a waste of our time. The book’s bad guy (conflict) is also weak, almost a red herring with the ease in which he’s dispatched when the time is right. That takes away some of the suspense. Overall, though, this is very good. It’s definitely Kerr’s best technology-related book, and the philosophical musing by the narrator are certainly thought-provoking (though many of the conclusions are inaccurate and incomplete, though as you’ll see, that could be intentional).

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Wed, Apr 16, 2003

: The Mexican

This good have been a good film except it’s got 90 minutes worth of material and spreads it out over two hours. Thus all the scenes drag, and what little action there is isn’t enough to wake you up. The premise seemed routine to me — everyone wants a priceless pistol called “The Mexican” — but in the end it does make a little more sense than it seems on the surface. There’s some great stuff here: Brad Pitt as a loser sent off to fetch the gun for his ganster employers, and Julia Roberts as his girlfriend who’s kidnapped by a gay hit man who’s holding her hostage to ensure her boyfriend comes back with the gun. The scenes with Julia and the gay hit man are terrific, definitely the best part of the film, but even they drag occasionally and they give the film a very different feel from the action flick the rest of the movie purports to be. Julia and Brad have broken up, and she’s just hideous to him whenever she’s with him, nagging and screaming at him, so much so that her character is repugnant to the viewer. But in the scenes with the hit man she’s sweet and nice and charming — very odd change of character. Brad’s character is likewise strange: he’s such a idiot we have trouble relating to him or feeling too sympathetic since he creates most of his own problems. Both of these problems could have been minimized by tighter editing: with a faster-paced film we wouldn’t have time to be as bothered by such issues, and of course Julia wouldn’t have time to get on our nerves as the Shrew. Overall this isn’t a bad film, but it’s not great either. It’s falls into that dreadful “average” category. The sad thing is it had great potential and could have been really good as the material that’s there is excellent, it’s just spread out so much it’s almost incoherent.

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: Bulletproof Monk

Exactly what you’d expect from the ads: a slick action film with humor. Chow Yun Fat is awesome as always, and Seann William Scott is also good. Jamie King, as the girl, is also good, though she looks way too young for her character. The plot is silly, as you might expect, with the key villain an ancient Nazi who’s been trying to obtain a scroll from Chow Yun Fat for 60 years. Chow is the monk who guards this scroll, which gives the reader power to rule the world (so of course no one has ever read it). He figures out pickpocket Scott fits the prophecy and is to take over the job of guarding the scroll for the next 60 years, and together they defeat the Nazi. Nothing intellectual at all about this, but good fun.

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Mon, Apr 14, 2003

: Bend It Like Beckham

This is very similar in concept and tone to Wedding, it suffers from predictability (girl has culture clash with Indian parents when she wants to play soccer and they want her to marry a nice Indian boy), but it also features a terrific cast of wonderful characters. The biggest difference between the films is that Bend It, is more thoughtful. The cultural conflict is treated as a serious thing, not a joke. Even the minor love story is taken seriously. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of humor: it’s very funny and entertaining. It’s got a lot of action as well, with some interesting camera-work designed to make the soccer exciting. Unfortunately, the soccer itself isn’t clearly delineated, with several scenes shot in close-up, making it impossible to really tell what’s going on (soccer is a game that needs to be seen from a distance to appreciate field strategy). The lead actress, the terrific Parminder Nagra, does a great job, though her kicking skills are questionable. Her co-star, Keira Knightley, is a delight — she just lights up the screen every time she’s on it. Plus she actually looks like she can play soccer. ;-) The other cast members, Parminder’s family in particular, are excellent — everyone’s personality comes across and no one is given a sword-carrying role.

Considering this country’s disrespect for the world’s greatest sport, I found it deeply ironic that in this very British film, the soccer-playing girls’ dream is of going to the United States to play soccer (the U.S. has the best women’s league in the world), when, of course, most American male soccer players dream of playing in England (one of the best leagues in the world). Americans are even featured — Keira’s character has Mia Hamm posters all over her bedroom, and in one sequence she shows her friend video clips of goals from the WUSA featuring Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and others. Of course with America’s success last summer at the World Cup, our Major League Soccer becoming bigger and bigger and blossoming a slew of new American superstars like Landon Donovan, the future of American soccer is huge worldwide, and this film, which promises to be extremely popular here in the U.S. (the matinee I went to was crowded!) will boost soccer even more. I’m relieved this is such a good film — I worried it would hurt U.S. soccer by being mediocre. Awesome!

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Sun, Apr 13, 2003

: Ice Age

I’ll confess up front that I have grudge against this film. The trailers when I saw them last summer just annoyed me and I had zero interest in seeing the movie. It just looked dumb. But recently I’ve heard it mentioned by critics as good, so I rented the DVD. Guess what? It is dumb, but it’s not as bad as the trailer makes since the trailer just pulls out a few lame jokes. For instance, the first joke in the film is a penile length crack, quickly followed by an animal stepping in excrement. Disney this is not. The concept’s okay: a motley group of animals (a sabertooth tiger, a sloth, and a wooly mammoth), while migrating to south to escape the cold ice age weather, seek to return a lost human baby to its tribe. Setting aside the fact that the humans are remarkably advances for ice age primates, the plot thickens when we realize the sabertooth is leading the others into a trap so his pack can kill the mammoth. Of course they all end up becoming best friends and living happily ever after. It’s predictable and the silly stupid animals are rather annoying, but it’s generally harmless. The animation is surprisingly low quality — extremely computer-generated and cartoony. I guess this appeals to kids, but frankly, if you missed seeing this, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much.

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: The Birthday Girl

I wonder why I’d never heard of this? It’s an interesting idea. A lonely British bank clerk sends off for a Russian bride. She arrives not speaking a word of Russian, but since she’s played by Nicole Kidman, he can’t bear to send her away. Especially when she’s so… willing. But when some of her male Russian friends visit, we sense something’s not right. Then the Russian friends tie her up and threaten to hurt her unless the bank clerk brings them the money from the safe. So he does, only to discover that the girl was in on the scam. He’s furious, but when the girl is abandoned by the Russians, he befriends her, still wondering if he can trust her. Interesting idea, and overall I liked the film, but it has some awkward aspects. For instance, there are entire scenes of Russians arguing in Russian with no subtitles. I guess we’re supposed to figure out what’s going on from their gestures or something, but often it’s not clear what’s going on. By the same token, the first half of the film Kidman’s character pretends she can’t speak English, so she and the guy never talk, meaning we’ve got scene after scene of near silence. Overall it’s an interesting (though implausible) idea, but’s a little dry to be as good as it believes itself to be.

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Sat, Apr 12, 2003

: MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids

Though the official launch of season eight of Major League Soccer was last weekend when L.A. tied Columbus, today was the first full slate of games. The Quakes have struggled against Colorado in Denver and with the news that our forward Dewayne DeRosario is out for the season with an injury, I didn’t have much hope. The team’s gone through a huge amount of changes, though a few of the champions from 2001 remain, including Landon Donovan, Manny Lagos, Richard Mulrooney, Ronnie Ekeland, and Jeff Agoos. But without seeing the new guys, I didn’t know what to expect. Wow! First thing that happens, a mere 56 seconds into the game, the Quakes score! Brian Ching (the first Hawaiian player in MLS) scored on a break-away from the left side. With Colorado stunned, the Quakes pressed on the offense, and twenty minutes later rookie Todd Dunivant got open on the left and with a one-on-one against veteran ‘keeper Scott Garlick, calmly slipped it through Garlick’s legs to give the Quakes a two-goal lead! The game was practically over at that point, with the Colorado rarely threatening. In the second half, however, things changed as the Rapids came out storming. A long ball was sent into the Quake’s half and an attempted clearance by a defender came off as a deflection, sending the ball high behind the Quake’s back line. Two Rapids beat the offside trap and headed toward goal. New keeper Pat Onstad stopped the first shot, but the ball rolled to the second man (Zizi Roberts) who put it into the empty net. It was a combination of bad luck for San Jose and alertness for Colorado. After that the game was on, but neither team could really do much else, though there were a few near chances. In the end, though, the Quakes held on to the lead and start off the season with a terrific away win. The next two games are at home and I now expect a lot from this team. Come on, Quakes! Let’s have a repeat of the Champion year!

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Apr 11, 2003

: A German Requiem

Author: Philip Kerr

Finally Kerr’s done it! I’m going to have to check out his earlier novels, because they’re obviously better. This one is fascinating. It’s set in Germany a few years after WWII, when the country was being occupied by the Allies (U.S., Soviet Union, France, etc.). This was especially interesting reading now, as the world contemplates a new Iraq. Germany after the war was a mess, with people starving and the black market practically the only way to get anything. In the middle of this hotbed Kerr sets a murder investigation. The hero’s a former German police officer who’s now a private investigator. The plot’s incredibly intricate, so I won’t explain much of it here, but let’s just say he uncovers a conspiracy that involves the U.S. and Russian governments and Nazis who survived the war taking on new identities. While complicated (perhaps overly so), it’s fascinating. Kerr is in top mode here, with excellent writing. His use of intricate detail is used here to paint a world for us, not impress us with his five-syllable vocabulary. Wonderfully written, suspenseful, and really makes the world of 1947 come alive. Highly recommended.

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: Anger Management

Except for an excess of penile jokes, this movie is much tamer than Adam Sandler’s usual fare. It’s okay overall, with Sandler as a shy loser who’s mistakenly entered into an anger management course run by a lunantic teacher (Jack Nicholson). Jack’s methods are bizarre but in the end effective, as Sandler learns to be a man. While the psychology’s about as deep as a drop of water, it’s an interesting ride. Jack’s got the colorful role with Sandler playing the straight man. The ending is satisfying as ought to be expected in this kind of film.

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Thu, Apr 10, 2003

: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Now this is the way to do a film! This clever movie lets us see it twice: once through the romantic eyes of the perfect Audrey Tautou, and then it rewinds and we watch it again from the perspective of her lover. Unlike

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Wed, Apr 09, 2003

: Darkness Falls

I accidentally got this thinking it was the 2002 movie, and was surprised to find a small, rather elegant little thriller. It’s about a guy who takes a wealthy couple hostage and for a while we can’t figure out why. Slowly it comes out that his wife was recently killed in a car accident, and later we learn he suspects the man was having an affair with her and was driving the car in the accident. It’s a lot like Phone Booth in many regards, but with more depth. I liked it.

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: Femme Fatale

Author: Brian DePalma

Director: Brian DePalma

The problem with this film is it tries too hard. It tries too hard to be clever, too hard to be erotic, too hard to be complicated. It’s not terrible or unwatchable, it’s just not remarkable. There are also a number of elementary errors that are downright silly. We begin with a complicated jewelry-robbery during which a woman double-crosses her accomplices and runs away with the diamonds, leaving them to take the fall. Then we have an absurd coincidence when she just happens to find a woman who looks exactly like her who commits suicide and she takes over that woman’s identity. Seven years later, she’s back in Paris, now married to the U.S. Ambassador to France, and a photograph of her leads her former partners to discover her. So then she blackmails the photographer by framing him for her kidnapping in order to scam $10 million from her new husband. Then, suddenly, right as things start getting dark, the film takes a sudden turn into philosophy by examining the question of “What if?” and takes down an alternate path of events. While interesting, this is not the kind of film where you expect that. It’s actually one of the better things about the film, but it comes across as an awkward surprise. There’s not enough foreshadowing to make it feel natural. Then there are the strangely obvious mistakes. For instance, the diamonds are worth $10 million and we later hear the woman’s share is $4 million (naturally you don’t get full price on the black market). Yet when the bad guys catch up with the woman they ignore the $10 million in cash her husband brought for the ransom and go on about the diamonds! (Even dumber, they throw her off a bridge before she can tell them anything.) Another dumb mistake: when the bad guy gets out of prison he’s wearing the same blood-soaked tuxedo he wore during the robbery when he got shot. Come on, hospitals always cut clothes off, they don’t preserve them. Even if that wasn’t the case, the cops surely would have washed them. And even if they didn’t, the blood stains wouldn’t be bright red after seven years waiting for the guy to get out of jail! There are plenty more mistakes like that, but those are a sample. They don’t ruin the movie, but with a director of DePalma’s reputation, you’d expect more. Still, the film is stylish, a contemporary film noir, and ultimately plot and characters are sacrificed for that goal. For some that might be okay, since style is fun (this is certainly fun), but those looking for more depth won’t like this film. Finally, I guess I must say something about Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Her acting was paned, but she was surprisingly good at times, just inconsistent. She was also strangely non-charismatic and though beautiful, there was something artless about her. With this kind of film, though, it’s tough to tell if it’s her or the script.

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Mon, Apr 07, 2003

: Spider

Director: David Cronenberg

Extremely subdued for a Cronenberg film, but good. It’s the story of Spider, a mental patient who’s released from the asylum to a group home. As he lives he’s relives his painful childhood and tries to make sense of the world around him. Gradually we learn the secret of his past and the darkness which has taken his mind. The ambiguous history is well done and forces us to think about everything we think we know. But unfortunately, that also means we never really get to under Spider, and a lot of his behavior is just eccentric and odd to us. That means the film never gets us deep enough to be truly profound, which is unfortunate. Still, it’s an interesting film (though slow on occasion) and it has some terrific visuals and fantastic scenes. Above average.

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: Phone Booth

Director: Joel Schumacher

This is a lightweight film about a guy being held at bay in a phone booth by an anonymous sniper. However, it’s so well done that you forget the slight plot and just enjoy the ride. Colin Farrell’s on screen almost every minute and he does a competent job, but Kiefer Sutherland as the caller is what carries the movie. He manages to be reasonable and insane, moral and immoral, at the same time. The tension that mounts when Keifer shoots a bystander and the cops arrive thinking Colin did and order him out of the phone booth, but Kiefer tells him not to obey is cool. Colin sweats like a liar attached to a lie detector as he can’t tell the cops what’s going on, but must do everything the sniper says or be shot (or his wife, who is on the scene). Cool flick.

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Sun, Apr 06, 2003

: Cube 2: Hypercube

This is a sequel to one of my favorite movies of all time, Cube, and if you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll definitely want to check out this one.

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Sat, Apr 05, 2003

: Esau

Author: Philip Kerr

Weak book that is almost identical in concept to Neanderthal by John Darton published in the U.S. the same year as this book. The premise is the oh-so-original concept that the Yeti (the Abominable Snowman) is the Missing Link and so a bunch of scientists go seeing to capture a Yeti for study and help prove evolution. Of course that’s not exciting enough, so Kerr throws in an off-the-wall spy plot in which a CIA agent is hidden among the team with a secret mission, except that after he’s on the mission the CIA discover that oops, someone mislaid his psychological profile and the guy’s certifiable. There’s lots of “fun” climbing accidents, avalanches, scary Yeti encounters, etc., and Kerr has definitely done his homework for the book’s practically over-researched, with minute detail about the most trivial things (which slows down the pace of the book). Plotwise Kerr’s most annoying habit (a mistake he also made in

: A Man Apart

This film has a lot of problems, but the main one is that there’s no action for the first hour. For an action film, that’s lame, but for an action film starring Vin Disel, that’s terrible, because it means he must pretend to act for that first hour. Tip for Vin: take a hint from Stallone and don’t take roles which require you to talk in complete sentences. Vin would be great in a film like Rambo: First Blood, but in a film like this where he’s supposed to be emotional because his wife was killed by a drug cartel, it’s just pathetic. The guy has a single expression on his face the whole movie and he utters lines as though he’s struggling to read. Aside from Vin’s weak performance, there just isn’t enough action in this film. The plot is weak as well (though it has potential). Mostly these flaws are magnified by the film’s glacier pace. I’d say run the film at 2x and trim the first hour to ten minutes and you’d have a decent little action piece.

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Thu, Apr 03, 2003

: Spirited Away

Author: Hayao Miyazaki

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Wow. This is a fantastic film. It’s perhaps not as philosophical as Mononoke. It’s more approachable (the story’s more linear), and though less complicated, it’s lightyears ahead of American animation in terms of story. Perhaps not for really young kids (under 9?) — they might have trouble understanding it. Otherwise highly, highly recommended. Definitely a film you’ll want to own. Its Oscar is well-deserved.

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: Below

Author: Darren Aronofsky and David Twohy

Director: David Twohy

This is a murky thriller about mysterious happenings on a U.S. submarine during WWII. It rescues three survivors from a British hospital ship that was destroyed, one of the survivors a woman. She realizes that not all is right on the sub: it turns out the captain isn’t the captain, but his replacement, as the original captain had an accident. Or did he? Ghosts, strange sounds, and horrifying visions begin to haunt the crew as they try to evade a German U-Boat, while secrets threaten to be exposed. It’s very confusing and things don’t get better (it gets even worse when the power goes off and we have a sub in the dark, scenes illuminated via glimpses with flashlights, reducing the film to an annoying series of flashing images instead of a motion sequence). While sometimes confusion is okay, the pay-off at the end better be worth the wait. In this case, it’s not. While there’s an explanation, it’s not explained properly — I’m still not sure what happened. The ending’s just as murky as the rest of the film! It’s sumptuously photographed and directed with style (there are some excellent scenes), and the movie is excellent from a technical perspective. The sound is awesome — sounds are everything on a sub and this does an excellent job conveying eerie knocks and ominous rumbles and creaks. But the overall story just doesn’t work. We never believe in the ghost theory, which just makes those scare tactics annoying, and while there are hints of murder, the vague ending doesn’t connect all the dots for us. It’s a puzzling mess.

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Wed, Apr 02, 2003

: K19: The Widowmaker

My first thought about this film: the producers should have made an executive decision to go with or without English in Russian accents because as it is, every other actor seems to have a different idea, and some actors change their mind during the picture. It hurts what’s otherwise a well-acted story. The story is based on a real-life incident in the 1960’s when a new Russian sub, K19, is dispatched on its first voyage. It was rushed to see for political reasons, and it’s not ready. During the voyage, to test some nuclear missiles, one of the nuclear engine develops and problem. If it’s not fixed, it could explode and set off the warheads. Since there’s a U.S. destroyer nearby and tensions are high, it could also set off World War III. The captain must make decisions which effect the lives of his crew and his country, and oh yeah, the radio’s out and he can’t talk to Moscow for orders. The film is on the long side, and the story’s certainly complex, with lots of Soviet political stuff going on, and there are scenes where the excitement of the story feels staged, like they throw in an emergency or two to keep you awake. But ultimately, the men are heroes, when that emerges the story’s engaging on its own. I also liked that the story didn’t just end with them being rescued, but followed up on what happened to them after they returned home to the Soviet Union. Much better that I’d heard.

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: C.S. Lewis: My Life’s Journey

This was a presentation from the University of California that aired on PBS recently. It was a one-man play about the life of writer C.S. Lewis. Basically Lewis came out and talked to the audience as though we were guests at his house, and he told us about his life, his conversion to Christianity, and his relationship with his wife Joy. It was execellent; witty and fascinating, and emotionally moving. There were a number of great lines. One of my favorites was when Lewis talked about being an atheist early his in life and what a contradiction that was. “I was extremely angry at God for not existing.” His tales of his wife Joy proved she had a ready wit as well. Excellent, and helps one get to know Lewis the man versus Lewis the writer.

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Tue, Apr 01, 2003

: The King of Torts

Author: John Grisham

Grisham’s books lately all seem to be about money with no plot. This one’s no exception: a penniless lawyer becomes a multi-millionaire overnight, then foolishly loses his fortune. It’s a lightweight morality tale against greed. However, Grisham does tell a good tale, and while a lot of the book is numbers — the costs of everything the guy is buying — it’s still an intriguing read. I would have preferred a different ending, where some of the people the guy hurt are compensated, and I have a few problems with the character development of the main character (one moment he’s wanting to vomit listening to other lawyers talk about who has the most expensive yacht, the next he’s buying a $30 million private jet), but overall it’s good fun. Very lightweight, but it’s fortunately not preachy (like the unreadable The Chamber).

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Mon, Mar 31, 2003

: City of Bones

Author: Michael Connelly

The story of a murder investigation told in excruciating detail from the perspective of the lead detective. A dog finds a human bone in the L.A. hills and the detective checks it out. It’s the 20-year-old remains of a 12-year-old child, and his bones tell the story that he was physically abused since he was two years old. The detective tries to figure who killed the boy. The story takes some unusual twists (including some sad ones), and the ending is quite unexpected (though not very satisfying). Still, the detective is an interesting character, the tension during the investigation strong, and it’s well-written. Recommended.

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Sun, Mar 30, 2003

: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

I never saw this in the theatres, the smash sleeper hit that won America’s heart and wallet. It’s surprisingly good. Light and predictable, but entertaining and fun. The best part was Nia’s sarcastic narration, but unfortunately that was only in a few places: the film needed more of that. The story of two cultures clashing when a Greek girl dares to marry a non-Greek boy is light, and a lot of the humor is repetitive (Gee, the Dad doesn’t like the new son-in-law, who would have thought), but it’s a happy story, wittily told, and I can see why it was such a hit. In fact, I had no interest in the TV show, but I might check it out now.

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Sat, Mar 29, 2003

: Auto Focus

This is a film about the secret sex life of Bob Crane, star of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, who ended up murdered in 1978. Gauging from what I’d heard, I expected it to be a lot darker, but it didn’t get dark until the last thirty minutes or so. Before that, Crane, though totally into infidelity and sex with strangers, seemed to be rather naive about his situation. He couldn’t seem to understand that his personal life was destroying his career. Definitely an odd duck. Unfortunately, the film never really explains him; I never felt I understood what he was about. It’s well done, but I was a bit disappointed in that it wasn’t as radical or outrageous as I expected. The murder at the end is brutal and shocking, but the film ends there, never explaining the real-life follow-up story (though the DVD includes a good documentary on the police investigation).

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Fri, Mar 28, 2003

: Basic

Director: John McTiernan

Decent thriller about the cover-up of a mysterious incident by soldiers on a training mission. Only two survive and John Travolta, a former military man, is brought in to interogate them. However their stories conflict and it’s up to him to figure out the truth. It’s a little slow at times, a little obvious at others, but generally keeps you intrigued (the interrogations and scenes between Connie Nielson and Travolta are excellent). Unfortunately, the script falls into a common modern problem: multiple twist endings. The films ends at least three times, but those are just red herrings. Everything you think you know you don’t. At times that can be interesting, but generally it’s just annoying, since you begin to distrust everything. I’m sure the writers thought they were clever, but the constant pulling the rug out from the audience gets tiresome. Still, the film has enough style to make up for some of that. Travolta does a by-the-numbers performance (which is better than most actors’ by-the-numbers performance), and Samuel L. Jackson is good as usual, though he’s not in the story enough, but the real shining light is Connie Nielsen, who is outstanding and brilliant. She makes the film work as much as it does, and elevates it about the sub-standard script.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: The Core

A film with a premise like The Core — about scientists who travel to the center of the earth to stop the total destruction of the planet — is either going be pretty good or absolutely horrible. Fortunately, this one falls into the former category. Like Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and Deep Impact, this takes a fanciful (one might say absurd) concept and turns into a pleasant adventure. It’s certainly nothing intellectually straining, but I was impressed that the film makes an attempt at being scientifically accurate (with a few odd exceptions). Decent special effects bring scope to the drama (though the special effects scream “special effect” and a few betray their digital origin). The story’s predictable but still interesting, with a good blend of characters. People die, people are heros, rah rah rah. Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart carry the picture, giving the minor script a bit of depth. Don’t expect the world, but it’s definitely a fun ride.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Mar 27, 2003

: Following

Author: Christopher Nolan

Director: Christopher Nolan

Terrific low-budget thriller from the director of Memento, which just captured your attention by its weirdness, but this film is very cool and impressive in being only 70 minutes and yet feeling complex enough for a 90 minute feature.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Final Target

Author: Iris Johansen

I was expecting a “mere” action thriller, and instead I got a fascinating character study blended with action. The story is about the President’s seven-year-old daughter who has retreated inside her mind since a kidnapping attempt. She has spoken or responded to anyone. The President has hired a radical psychiatrist who has experience with such cases: her own sister was incomunicado for six years following the car accident that killed their parents. The other main character is a mysterious man named Michael. He’s an international rogue, making his living in various underhanded ways, but he showed up at the President’s mansion in France to stop the kidnapping, and the daughter responds to him, he being the only one who can calm her violent nightmares. To help save the daughter from permanently being lost, the trio “kidnap” the President’s daughter. What follows is a wild chase through Europe as Michael has to evade several parties seeking his head, plus evade the CIA and Secret Service and European police that are trying to find them. Oh yeah, and there’s the original kidnapper who now wants Michael dead. It’s a race against time. There’s much more, but that’s the gist of the plot. Then there’s one key Stephen King-like twist: the sister of the psychiatrist has a psychic connection with the little girl. She can go into the girl’s mind. Very cool and unusual in a spy-type thriller. I really liked the characters and the way they interacted, and the whole concept of the little girl lost in her nightmares was excellent. A good read. There are a few criticisms. The beginning of the book introduces too many characters too quickly, which is confusing, and in places the novel gets distracted and slows a bit from the main plot. I also thought the aspect of the “Wind Dancer” (a priceless statue) was odd: Iris seemed to assume we knew the history of the statue and writes about it a vague, mysterious manner that implies a lot but doesn’t explain much about it (it took me a while to realize it was an important character and by then it was too late). At the back of the book she reveals she wrote three previous books about the Wind Dancer, so that explains some of that (she obviously doesn’t want to retread old stuff), but she should have handled that aspect of the story better (the way it is in this novel I would have preferred to have left it out entirely rather than leave it in the incomplete way). Still, those are minor gripes. It’s an excellent book and I’ll definitely be looking for more novels by Iris Johansen.

Topic: [/book]

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Wed, Mar 26, 2003

: San Jose Earthquakes vs. CSD Municipal

I didn’t hold out much hope of success going into this game: the Quakes lost the first game in Guatemala 4-2 meaning we had to win this one by three goals to advance. Plus had two of our best players red-carded, meaning they couldn’t play in this match. Combine that with the fact that it’s a new team this year and we’re already suffering from a number of injuries, and that the MLS season hasn’t started yet, I figured it was a long shot. But the first half went extremely well. The Quakes looked solid and Landon Donovan scored 20 minutes in, quickly followed by a goal from newcomer Brian Chin in the 35th minute. Everything was going sweetly — just one more goal in the second half and a clean sheet and we’d be all set. But the Quakes seemed tired in the second half, and the Quatemalans played enthusiastically, and eventually scored on a good play, capitalizing on some defensive problems. San Jose fought back and almost regained the two goal margin on several occasions, but eventually ran out of time. Overall the Quakes played well and created a number of exciting chances, but it wasn’t quite there. They lose the series 5-4 on aggregate goals. Though disappointed with the result, I was pleased to see some of the new players play well. Hopefully the Quakes will still be competitive this season, though many consider it a rebuilding year.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Mar 24, 2003

: The Grid

Author: Philip Kerr

Kerr’s an intelligent guy and I thought he knew something about computers until I read this preposterous tale. It’s about a “smart” building that goes awry when the computer controlling it obtains consciousness and starts killing everyone inside one by one. Gee, that’s original. Worse, Kerr spends the first third of the book setting up several red herring human murderers when it was obvious from the book’s premise that the building was guilty. Rather weak. He does a half-assed job of making the computer’s intelligence seem feasible, using a lot of real-life technology to explain things, but every now and then he casually throws out something completely absurd. For example, at one point he says the building can converse in 86 languages. Gee, and today we can’t even create a computer that can converse in one, let alone all those others! At other times he lapses into fantasy: a programmer, while trying to kill off a rogue program while a kid is playing a video game, supposedly causes the game code to “merge” with the computer’s main programming code, thereby making the computer think it’s part of a game. Ridiculous. Anyone who knows anything about programming knows that’s impossible. Even it you accept this as fantasy and not science fiction, however, the novel still fails. It’s very long, predictable (gee, everyone dies), and nothing much happens beyond people dying. Kerr sets up some tangents (like the mysterious Japanese guy) that he just drops. Strange. Definitely not his best.

Topic: [/book]

Link

: Irreversible

Author: Gaspar Noe

Director: Gaspar Noe

This is the controversial French film some critics are calling “unwatchable” because of the extreme violence and sex. It’s definitely an experimental film, but it worked for me. The story is a simple one: a girl is raped and her boyfriend kills the rapist. But Noe tells the story in reverse, which makes the entire movie far more complicated. We watch as this guy tracks down another in a gay sex nightclub. When he finds him, he smashes his head with a fire extinguisher again and again until it’s flattened into a bloody mess. The camera does not break away from this violent scene and it’s quite brutal, though not that long. Then we jump back in time to see how the guy found out about the nightclub, then how he found out about the rape (he sees his girlfriend being dragged away on a stretcher, her face covered in blood, and he’s told she’s in a coma). Then we see the rape itself — an amazingly frank piece of cinema. It’s long, ten or fifteen minutes, and the camera doesn’t move. It just goes on and on, and when it’s finally over, the guy totally beats the girl’s face into a bloody pulpy mess. This is definitely not an enjoyable film up to this point. As the “narrative” continues, we move to the party where the girlfriend and boyfriend are before she leaves early, and then before that on the way to the party. The final scene is the two alone at home, in bed, showing the playful and loving sides of their relationships, and making sex seem delightfully innocent.

As I said, a simple tale, but told in reverse. Here’s the effect of that reversal, however. First, when we see the guy seeking revenge against the rapist, we have no idea what he is doing or why. He seems like an insane person. Later, of course, we understand, but by showing his revenge first, we’re far more shocked and horrified by his violence than we would be otherwise. Second, when we experience the rape (and I do mean experience), we haven’t yet met the girl. She’s faceless at that point (emphasized by Noe by not showing us her face until later). This has the effect of both dehumanizing her (she’s faceless) and making her an everywoman (she could be anyone). Those are important because we don’t form judgements about her. Later, when we “meet” her for the first time, our perceptions of her change. We get to know her after the rape instead of before, and while you might think that knowing her first would make the rape more powerful, it works even better in reverse, since we have no opinion of her at all before the rape. That enhances the trauma of the rape, making it seem even more barbaric and unfair. For example, once we meet the girl we might see how provocatively she dresses and judge her, saying she asked for the rape. But Noe avoids us thinking that way by having the movie in reverse.

The other thing about the reverse gimmick that makes it so powerful is that we go from brutal, cruel, and ugly images to beautiful and innocent images (the reverse of real life which tends toward destruction not creation). The final shots of laughing children running through a lawn sprinkler is all the more heart-breaking because we know that that innocence is already (or will be) lost. The tragedy of lost innocence is expressed far more powerfully in this technique. The whole film is an exercise to show us this, as Noe emphasizes with two techniques: color and camera movement. The first fifteen minutes of the film is positively headache inducing as the camera is never still and never at any normal angle. It’s as though they mounted the camera on the back of a dog chasing his tail: the image spins and whirls and rarely do we see anything recognizable (which, while they’re in the gay nightclub, is a good thing ;-). But gradually, as the film continues, the camera becomes more and more passive, leading to total stillness during the rape. The colors at the beginning of the film (the end of the story) are all dark, bleak, and there’s a lot of red. By the time we get to the end (the beginning) there’s brightness, sunlight, happiness, and wonderfully green grass. While this makes the beginning of the film tougher to endure (wild camera and dark, ugly images), it makes sense storywise. As the boyfriend seeks revenge, he gets more and more angry and agitated, and so does the camera. Logically, the landscape gets bleaker as well.

Noe’s script uses what we might call reverse foreshadowing: in the normal direction there are hints of the dire future so that when it comes it subconsciously feels expected. But foreshadowing is such a subtle thing that few notice it. In reverse, however, foreshadowing is far more powerful. For instance, after we’ve seen the rape, we hear (before that) someone say, “Be safe” to the girl, and that takes on a terrible irony since we know she won’t be. In another scene, the girl talks about a book she’s reading where people dream of their future, and later (at the end of the film) we see that happen to her. Since we already know her future, her premonition is even more dramatic and there’s no suspense of “Is she crazy or do we believe her?” We know she’s right and that’s scary. The reverse technique is fascinating when used properly.

As many have said, this film is tough to watch. The violence is brutal and shown in an unflinching fashion. While difficult, that’s real life. I personally prefer this kind of realistic violence than Hollywoodized versions that glorify it. This absolutely does not glorify violence or rape at all: it presents it in horrible reality. Other films have tried to show realistic violence, especially rape (think Jodie Foster in The Accused), but this film, by getting rid of camera tricks and just showing us the brutal reality straight on without blinking, does a more credible job of expressing the horror and obscenity of such acts. Some critics have said that this film is obscene itself, but that’s not true: the rape and violence it shows is obscene, but not the film itself. The film is the messenger, not the message; the vehicle, not the passenger. The film makes an incredibly powerful statement about destiny, reality, violence, and sex, and provokes us to think about our attitudes toward those things. If you can bear it, it’s worth seeing.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Mar 23, 2003

: Oscars

Interesting ceremonies. For one, this year I’d actually seen most of the films (some years it seems I haven’t seen any), and for another the “war” toned things down to a much more pleasant level. All the glitz and silliness that usually goes on makes me nauseous. The Academy should do it like this from now on.

The war comments were more subtle than I expected, with the exception of Michael Moore. Fortunately, his attack on Bush, which was clearly in bad taste and out of place, was roundly booed by the liberal crowd. Surprising and pleasing. Adrien Brody’s Best Actor speech gets my vote as the best speech (though it would have been nicely unifying if he’d prefaced his “war” mention with the fact that it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, war hurts everyone).

As to the awards themselves, I have few complaints. I was pleased Polanski got Best Director, and Brody for actor. Kidman’s okay for Best Actress, but Selma Hayak would have been a more daring choice. Chris Cooper was my choice for Best Supporting Actor, and I have no problems with Catherine getting the Supporting Actress nod. Pedo Almodovar winning Best Screenplay was awesome, but Charlie Kaufman was robbed for Adaptation not winning. Chicago picked up a lot of undeserved minor awards (Costumes? Sound? Spread the love, Academy. Recognize some of the other good films.), then got the big one, Best Picture, which was deserved. Eminem winning Best Song surprised me, but it is a great song. Frida at least one some consolation Oscars, and The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers managed a few technical awards but was once again snubbed on the creative one. Maybe the third film will get the respect the saga deserves. If nothing else Jackson deserves an honorary Oscar for Film Achievement of the Decade or something. But then he is laughing his way to the bank, despite whatever the Academy does, and in the end that might be the best revenge.

In general I’m pleased: no minor artsy-fartsy film swept all the awards (like The English Patient, ugh), and a few films that actually made money were recognized (I hate it when the Academy picks art films no one has seen). I would have liked to see independent films get a little more recognition, but this wasn’t a bad night with Frida and The Piano picking up some decent statues.

Topic: [/television]

Link

: Oscars

Interesting ceremonies. For one, this year I’d actually seen most of the films (some years it seems I haven’t seen any), and for another the “war” toned things down to a much more pleasant level. All the glitz and silliness that usually goes on makes me nauseous. The Academy should do it like this from now on.

The war comments were more subtle than I expected, with the exception of Michael Moore. Fortunately, his attack on Bush, which was clearly in bad taste and out of place, was roundly booed by the liberal crowd. Surprising and pleasing. Adrien Brody’s Best Actor speech gets my vote as the best speech (though it would have been nicely unifying if he’d prefaced his “war” mention with the fact that it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, war hurts everyone).

As to the awards themselves, I have few complaints. I was pleased Polanski got Best Director, and Brody for actor. Kidman’s okay for Best Actress, but Selma Hayak would have been a more daring choice. Chris Cooper was my choice for Best Supporting Actor, and I have no problems with Catherine getting the Supporting Actress nod. Pedo Almodovar winning Best Screenplay was awesome, but Charlie Kaufman was robbed for Adaptation not winning. Chicago picked up a lot of undeserved minor awards (Costumes? Sound? Spread the love, Academy. Recognize some of the other good films.), then got the big one, Best Picture, which was deserved. Eminem winning Best Song surprised me, but it is a great song. Frida at least one some consolation Oscars, and The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers managed a few technical awards but was once again snubbed on the creative one. Maybe the third film will get the respect the saga deserves. If nothing else Jackson deserves an honorary Oscar for Film Achievement of the Decade or something. But then he is laughing his way to the bank, despite whatever the Academy does, and in the end that might be the best revenge.

In general I’m pleased: no minor artsy-fartsy film swept all the awards (like The English Patient, ugh), and a few films that actually made money were recognized (I hate it when the Academy picks art films no one has seen). I would have liked to see independent films get a little more recognition, but this wasn’t a bad night with Frida and The Piano picking up some decent statues.

Topic: [/oscars]

Link

: Riverworld

Author: Philip Jose Farmer (novels)

This was a SciFi Channel movie. I’ve seen Farmer’s novels but never read anything by him: I guess I’ll have to check him out. This is a fascinating premise: dead people wake up underwater, swim to the surface, and find themselves in a new world. All the people who ever died on earth are here, the famous and the infamous. Some unknown person or power has resurrected them, for an unknown purpose. This new world is ruled by primitive gangs, and the main character finds himself in a battle to help one gang who’ve built a riverboat. (The guy who runs it, Sam, turns out to be author Mark Twain.) Unfortunately, in this in this film we’re never given an explanation for the resurrection, which is what we really want. Instead we’re treated to a minor action saga of intrigue, betrayal, and sword fighting. Big whoop. As expected, the good guys win. Duh. Perhaps this movie will lead to a TV series or more movies: it certainly ends with that implication, as we see shadowy figures in hoods who apparently are in control behind the scenes. As this movie stands by itself, it’s TV quality, but the premise is above average and if they make sequels or a TV show, it could be excellent.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: War

Okay, I abhor politics but all this griping about the “war” with Iraq has got me irritated and I’ve just got to say my piece. Opinions to follow. You’ve been warned.

First, note that I put “war” in quotes. That’s because call this thing with Iraq a war is a joke. We’re talking Mike Tyson in the ring with a three-year-old with his ankles chained together. This is a skirmish or battle, not a war. That the media gives it this much attention is just because it’s easy news for them, and the footage of explosions and missiles launching is high ratings. Yes, there will be (and have been) coalition casualties. But were talking hundreds, maybe thousands. Not hundreds of thousands. This is not a war. This is a battle. A war is something that will last for years. This will be over in months.

Second, the “anti-war” protests really bug me. That’s mostly because they are supposedly against “war.” That makes it sound as though if you don’t agree with them, you are pro-war. Who was ever pro-war except for Gengis Khan or Hitler? War is horrible: people die. No one should be pro-war. Now there are many reasons to be against the decision of the U.S. to invade Iraq, but to be against it because you’re anti-war is just stupid. Would you have been against the U.S. entering WWII against Hitler? (If so, most of the world would be speaking German today.) War might be an ugly thing, but this country was founded on war, and I’m proud and grateful to be a recipient of the freedoms I have today because of the blood sacrifice those farmers and pioneers made. Having a military force to protect society is one of the only excuses for a government to exist. If you’re against us attacking Iraq, please say that. Say why (you think it’s about oil, Bush Junior finishing what his dad didn’t, political ratings, Saddam’s a good guy, etc.), but don’t just be “anti-war.” I hate that.

Finally, you may be wondering which side I fall on. The truth is I don’t know. The truth is my opinion doesn’t matter. Bush has attacked without my advice and will continue to do so. Do I like Saddam? Hell no! I thought it was absurd we left him in power after Desert Storm. Really dumb. Now we’re having to go back in and finish again, only this time he’s rebuilt, rearmed, and possibly has weapons of mass destruction he’ll use. The whole thing’s a mess but the bottom line is it doesn’t effect me directly and until it does I’ll refrain from having that much of an opinion. I am sick of the debate, though, and the attacks on our brave soldiers who are risking their lives to do their job. I’m glad that we’re actually attacking instead of sitting around talking about it for nine months. Maybe this will be over soon and we can concentrate on problems in the U.S. that actually effect Americans.

Topic: [/politics]

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Sat, Mar 22, 2003

: Tangled

This is one of those small thrillers that has a cool concept with a neat twist at the end and could have been another Sixth Sense, it simply gives us a few pieces of information that radically change the way we think about everything we’ve seen. Unfortunately, this gets paid out so quickly at the end, there’s little build-up or warning that a twist ending is coming. In this film, that’s bad, because things seem too predictable. Also, the cop characters seem overly suspicious, which is confusing. It’s like they are seeing something the rest of us don’t. (In reality it’s just bad writing — the cops know how the script ends.) I liked the characters, though they’re stereotypical, and I liked the twist ending. But the way this thing was put together it is a tangle itself, and that’s not good for a story. Just watch the final thirty minutes, that’s the only part that’s important.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, Mar 21, 2003

: Kissing Jessica Stein

Interesting film which questions the whole sexual identity thing. A perfectionist woman who has yet to find Mr. Right, ends up falling for a girl. But she’s so conservative and unsure about her sexuality that she doesn’t want to admit the relationship to her friends or family. Though it tries, there is nothing earthshattering here (

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Final Flight of the Osiris

This was a short that preceded Dreamcatcher.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Dreamcatcher

Author: William Goldman

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

I was so looking forward to this I worried I’d be disappointed because my expectations were too high. Instead, I forgot that movies based on books are rarely as good. In truth, this is better than the book in many ways: the background to the key Duddits character is explained earlier, we actually get to see the aliens, and many aspects of the novel which take hundreds of pages to explain are revealed in few seconds of screen time. Visually, the film is striking, the special effects are excellent, and the acting is good. The script is uneven: extraordinary in a few places, but shockingly poor in others (the usual flaw is it rushes too fast). But the real tragedy for me were the arbitrary changes. The first few changes were minor and didn’t bother me that much: the whole “alien virus causes telepathy” storyline was dropped, leaving only the four friends and Duddits as telepaths, and the “barn revolt” of the captured infecteds is left out. Okay, I can deal with that. But one of the best aspects of the book is the way telepathy is used by the friends (and the aliens) to get into other people’s heads. For instance, one of the aliens uses this to force a trucker to stab himself in the eye with a pencil: one of the most dramatic scenes in the book. That’s not in the film. Instead, the alien transforms into some sort of monster and kills people in ways we don’t really see (we’re shown shadows and see the dead guy covered in blood). It might be a minor difference, but why do this? The book’s approach was innovative and interesting. The movie’s method is the same-old alien monster thing we’ve seen in a thousand movies. Despite these flaws, however, the film was above average. It was interesting, suspenseful, and stylish — even if you compare it to the book.

But that was until we got to the end. Why, oh why, did they ruin it with that lame ending? The book’s ending made sense for the characters. But this goes way, way overboard. Not only does Duddits become a physical hero, absurdly fighting the alien (which transforms into a huge monster) and — get this — turning into a monster himself! That’s right, poor lovely Duddits, one of the best characters in literature, is really an alien. Granted, he’s working to help us, but in the end he turns into a monster and the two monsters fight! Ridiculous. That scene made everything that happened before it a mere joke. Maybe it “explains” Duddits’ special ability, but I’d rather that stayed a mystery. It made much more sense to me that he’s got an extraordinary gift to make up for his lack of other abilities. If you compare it to the book, this ending utterly destroys the film. If I was Stephen King, I’d disown it. It’s just terrible. If you watch this as just a movie, the ending’s not so disappointing, but it is trivial and ordinary, the kind of thing you’ve seen a hundred times before. I can’t figure out why Hollywood idiots do stuff like this. Coming from Kasdan and Goldman, I’m extra-disappointed. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve sold out and lost much of my respect for them. This was an excellent book, a film with so much potential and well-done until the final scene, and then everything’s just blown up like the infamous “everything was a dream” scene on Dallas. It’s still a film worth seeing, but be prepared for a real bummer of an ending.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Mar 20, 2003

: Thunder Point

Author: Jack Higgins

This is an odd book. First, one of the key plot points is identical with Higgins’ Angel). Second, and much worse, all the good guys are incredibly stupid. They know who the bad guys are, and yet they keep allowing them to try to kill them (the good guys barely fight back). There’s no real action until the final chapter who Dillon defeats the bad guys. Lame. The plot’s interesting: just before Hitler’s suicide, his right-hand man escapes to a submarine which is to take him to South America where he can revive the Nazi dream. Unfortunately, the sub sinks off the U.S. Virgin islands. In modern times, a recreational diver discovers the sub, and in it contains the captain’s diary revealing the details of his passenger. It also says that his passenger is carrying a book with the names of all those secret people loyal to Hitler, information that could be used to blackmail for millions. But the diver is accidentally killed before he can reveal the sub’s location, so it’s a race to find where it is hidden. It’s a neat idea, but predictable, overlong, and there’s that problem with the good guys being idiotically stupid.

Topic: [/book]

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Wed, Mar 19, 2003

: Agent Cody Banks

Critics have been lambasting this movie, which upset me since I’ve been looking forward to it for months. Those critics must have seen a different film than I did. I have no real complaints. I mean, come on, I got exactly what I expected: a Bond spoof about a teenage CIA agent who saves the world using lots of teen spunk and high-tech gadgets. This isn’t going to win an Oscar, but who cares? It’s mindless fun and completely harmless. The plot’s thin (but not any worse than most) but the film even pokes fun at that. I’m sure kids will love it. Adults may not find it quite as fun, but at least it isn’t offensive. In short: if you like the trailer, you’ll like the film.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life

Detailed documentary about the life of the famous author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Much was familiar to me, but I wasn’t aware of some of Ayn’s early life, especially that she got her start in Hollywood acting as a extra while trying to become a screenwriter. She eventually got some plays stages, including one that was a hit on Broadway. Her first novel, We the Living, was a modest success, but her later novels established her as one of the 20th Century’s best. She was always controversial, however, and one of the neat things about this film is actual footage of her debating her ideas on TV shows from Mike Wallace in the 50’s to Donahue in the 70’s. It’s great to hear her in her own words. Unfortunately, the film never really gets too deep into her philosophy or the controversy, teaching us the mere facts about her life and giving us only a glimpse at what made her tick. Still, if you’re an Ayn Rand fan (I am), you’ll find it fascinating (though it is overlong at 2.5 hours).

Topic: [/movie]

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: Six Feet Under: First Season Disc 1

I usually don’t review TV shows, but an HBO series rented on DVD isn’t regular TV, right? I’d heard something about this but had never seen it, so I rented the DVD. I’m very impressed. The series was created by Alan Ball (

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Mar 18, 2003

: City of God

This is an incredible film. It’s a true story, in Portuguese, set in Brazil. The “City of God” is the name of the slum outside Rio where anything goes. It’s literally one of the worst places on the earthy. Our hero is a young man who wants to get out of the slums and become a photographer, but lack of opportunity and the temptation of easy money via drug dealing stalls him. The story is told documentary-style, with hand-held camera and other techniques that make it seem astonishingly real. The violence is brutal, plentiful, continuous, but raw and unadorned, which has a powerful impact. We watch as a 12-year-old boy shoots people and laughs, and a gang of children assault another shooting him full of holes. Life is cheap in the “City of God,” and this film shows that vividly. But unlike many gangster films or drug movies, which either glorify or degenerate the hood lifestyle, this one presents it as simple reality, full of both the good and the bad. We see gangsters reveling in the luxury of owning a simple designer shirt — this is what their pathetic life of crime has earned them — and contrast that with families struggling just to put food on the table. It’s the story of boy photographer that elevates this above a mere exercise in violence. His story is poignant yet completely honest. He’s not perfect, and he’s tempted by the crime lifestyle, but he’s good at heart and we’re glad when he succeeds in the end. This is terrific film-making and story-telling. It never lets up for a second. It’s got humor (occasionally very dark), pathos, and tons of violence. It’s like a documentary of a Tarentino film. It’s hard to watch at times, but I will watch this again and again: there’s enough depth here to keep repeating viewings fresh.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sat, Mar 15, 2003

: Revolution OS

Interesting documentary on the development of the open source movement and Linux in particular. Little here I didn’t know going in, but it was interesting to put faces on people I’ve read on the Internet or heard about. Like most documentaries, this one commits the “introduce once and never again” flaw, displaying text to identify interviewees initially, but failing to do so later in the film. With 20-some people interviewed, it’s tough remembering who is who. I wish documentaries would just identify the person every time they are on screen, like a virtual name badge. That wouldn’t hurt anything and it’d be extremely helpful. There were a few people I never did figure out who they were. Lame. The big problem with this film is who is it for? It’s an excellent documentary for people who don’t know much about open source or the free software movement; for those of us who are fans, it’s not particularly informative and seems to try to avoid technical material. So if it’s not for geeks, it’s for average technical people, and yet the subject matter seems targeted at geeks. I guess you run that battle with anything technical. However, as usual, I find that filmmakers assume their audiences are dumber than they are (even documentary filmmakers). The most fascinating aspect of this film to me is the conflict between the free software movement and the open source movement. The distinction between the two is subtle but significant: the free software movement thinks all software should be free, while the open source movement simply thinks there’s a place for both free and commercial software in the same market. Watching the debate on this issue by the leaders of the movements would have been awesome, but while the film explains the debate, we aren’t treated to any kind of conflict, which was disappointing. I also would have preferred more Microsoft bashing, as that aspect of the software market is given short shrift. However, keep in mind this all from a geek’s point of view. If you don’t know much about this topic or want a refresher, this is an excellent film. The explanations and definitions come right from the people who invented this stuff and it’s surprisingly well-explained without getting too technical.

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: The Color Purple

Author: Alice Walker (novel)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Strange that I’d never seen this, but somehow I’d always missed it. It’s good. Long and slow, but good. It’s also depressing. It’s very similar to Roots, except not covering so many generations. Set in the early part of the 20th Century, it tells about the lives of a group of African-Americans. The basic story is two sisters who are separated when teens and reunite at the end. The older girl (a surprisingly good Whoopi Goldberg) has given birth to two children by her own father, and is distraught when the children are taken away. Then she’s given in marriage to a cruel man who just wants her as a maid (and whore). She’s long-suffering and raises his kids, keeps his house, all the time missing her beloved little sister which her husband sent away. She occasionally thinks of rebelling, dreams of a different life, but it’s not until the end when she has the courage to do so. The lives of others are intertwined within the main story. Like the story of Sophia, who marries the main sister’s step-son. She’s famous for beating up the son (she’s a big gal played, impressively, by Oprah Winfrey). Later she ends up in prison for striking a white man who slapped her. She’s a broken woman, and it’s very sad. It’s all wonderful drama, but sad and desperate, and rather depressing. The ending is much happier, but even then there’s a hollowness to things: can a little happiness make up for so many years of despair? My favorite moment was the fantastic line uttered by Oprah. At this point her character’s in a daze, almost a catatonic state, too depressed to be alive. When Whoopi talks back to her husband for the first time and makes everyone laugh at him, she’s warned that it’s bad luck for a woman to laugh at a man. Suddenly Oprah breaks into life, laughing hysterically. She laughs and laughs. Then she says, “I’ve had enough bad luck to keep me laughing the rest of my life.” Great stuff. That leads to another terrific line moments later when she tearfully thanks Whoopi for her kindness and says, “When I see’d you I knowed there is a God.” Wow, that’s some powerful compliment. Excellent film. A little too serious, but everyone should see it at least once.

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Fri, Mar 14, 2003

: The Hunted

Like again, and now he’s in the city and Tommy must track him through downtown Portland. Tommy’s tracking skills in the woods make sense, but in the city it’s just dumb. The camera pans around, Tommy looks thoughtful, and suddenly he darts off in the direction we know Benicio went. How did Tommy know that? Perhaps he saw the dailies, I have no idea. Worse, after like fifteen minutes of tracking the elusive Benicio with only a few glimpses of him, the two end up on a light rail train (Portland’s public transportation system). Benicio’s inside, Tommy’s climbed onto the roof. Now here’s the really dumb part: the FBI and cops are on the scene and they stop the train on a bridge, trapping Benicio. So what the hell was the point of Tommy tracking Benicio throughout town if the cops and FBI were going to be at his end location anyway??? (Tommy did not alert the cops.) Tommy could have saved his breath and waited until the cops had Benicio surrounded. But of course at this point Benicio escapes yet again, this time by diving into the river, and this leads to more absurdities. Benicio loves knives and during a flashback we saw how Tommy had shown him how to make his own. So when he crawls out of the river he finds a rusted iron bar, builds a fire, a forges his own knife! Besides the fact that a tiny fire of a few dozen sticks wouldn’t be hot enough to melt lead let alone iron, wouldn’t this take a lot of TIME? And even more significant, what’s the point? Does Benicio, this super soldier, not know how to fight without a knife? Is having a knife more important than getting away from the police dragnet? The answer is that Benicio needs the knife so he and Tommy can fight (Tommy has carved himself a stone knife and it’s a very bloody fight), and in the end, of course, Tommy can kill Benicio with his own knife. This is “drama,” folks, because in another mishmash of illogic, we’ve been told earlier that though Tommy has trained hundreds of soldiers how to kill, he has never killed himself (absurd). Until now, of course. Then the movie ends. Just bizarre. What was the point of all that? It’s basically a chase, target is acquired, movie ends. But the producers throw in all sorts of red herrings and distractions and artificial complications to make the story interesting, it’s just dumb. I would have liked this far better if the original search by Tommy in the woods would have lasted much longer, and forget all the nonsense in the city. Oh dear, there was just so much about this film that made no sense. Like Benicio’s justification for killing the hunters was they were using high-powered rifles and scopes and it was unfair competition. You’d think that argument would have some weight with Tommy’s character (whom we see rescuing a wolf from a trap at the beginning of the film), but Tommy isn’t even sympathetic. We’re never really given any other reason for Benicio’s behavior, which is weak. The whole movie just feels artificially cobbled together, as though some producers sat around a dreamed up what elements they wanted in an exciting action flick and them put them together without any thought of how they actually connected. Despite all the flaws, there is some decent action (though Tommy Lee looks pretty old for a lot of the stunts he does). The film has some style in direction. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s frustrating. What a waste of acting talent and budget. Why couldn’t this have been done right? It wouldn’t have been that hard to fix these obvious flaws. If you’re from the Northwest, you’ll get a kick from seeing the Oregon scenes and shots in Portland. That’s probably the best reason to see it.

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: Willard

This is the film about a shy loser who befriends rats and uses them to instigate his revenge. It’s a mildly entertaining effort at a cult classic that doesn’t quite make the cut. First, it’s not vicious enough: the rats really only kill one person (his mother was on her last legs so I don’t count her). For this to be really frightening or thrilling, we must see the rats’ power more than a handful of times. Second, a part of the plot is that Willard doesn’t have complete control over the rats — this is the ending, where the rats turn against him, makes sense. Unfortunately, this also weakens the whole rats-as-weapon thing. It would have been much better if there was only a hint of lack of control once at the beginning (like when Big Ben disobeyed and got into the sack) and then the rats always obeyed Willard until the final scene when there was a sudden table turn. That would have been exciting. As it was, the first point means the rats aren’t very scary, and the second means we aren’t too worried about what Willard will do with them (since his control is questionable). Finally, the writing sets up Willard as such a sympathetic character, and all the other people in his life (mother, boss, co-workers) as so over-the-top cruel, that we’re totally rooting for Willard and the rats. But then the film tries to make us think of Willard as evil for using the rats to kill, and that conflicts with the way we were set up to think. Weak. I also found it surprising that Willard had no special powers or connection with the rats. I guess the writer was going for realism, but I felt that weakened the story. It would have been much better if Willard had some sort of unique ability to “talk” to the rats and get them to do his bidding, like a Pied Piper sort of thing. (Speaking of viciousness like I did earlier, remember in the Pied Piper story he gains his revenge for non-payment by stealing all the children in the town. People tend to forget that tragic ending!) By giving Willard some sort of special ability, it would have enhanced his character, making him special. As it is he’s just another loser wimp who discovers a way to get revenge. I really wanted to like this film, and there were things about it I did like, but just not enough to take it above average fair. It could have been a classic with more character development (less stereotyping) and more ominous actions by the rats.

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Thu, Mar 13, 2003

: High Noon

A classic Western I’d never seen. Perhaps not quite as good as I expected, but excellent. A town’s Marshall retires and gets married. Minutes later he’s informed a killer he put away is returning to the town on the noon train. So the Marshall decides to stay and face him. His bride’s a Quaker and against violence, and she gives him an ultimatum: she will leave if he stays. He stays. During the time before the villains arrive, he sets out to recruit some deputies, but everyone in town is afraid of the killers and won’t help him. In the end he must face the killers alone. The gun battle is actually impressive: not a simple “fastest gun” shoot like you might expect, but a dodge-and-run shootout. Unfortunately, it takes place in the final five minutes of the film, and then the movie just ends. There’s no follow-up, no explanations, no finishing of the story. Nothing wrong with that—I just would have preferred more story—especially why the wife changed her mind. There was also a lot of history regarding the Marshall and why the town wouldn’t help him that was never made that clear. Sometimes that’s fine—the author wants us to think—but in this case I felt a lot of the ambiguity was there to make things seem mysterious and profound. In other words, depth is implied, but it’s not really there. Still, the film has a terrific atmosphere, superior acting, and a cool gunfight.

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: Old School

I’m not a fan of Animal House-type films and had no interest in seeing this, but it was doing big box office and there was little else in the theatre. I decided to check it out. It turned out it wasn’t as gross or vulgar as I expected, but more puzzling is that it isn’t very funny. I didn’t crack a smile until about 30 minutes in, and I only laughed a few times. It’s ponderous, plot-heavy, predictable, and the humor’s low-brow. Compared to this, Dumber and Dumber is a classic. Still, there are a couple good scenes, some interesting drama, a pleasant cast (How did they coerce so many good actors to this crap?) and handful of funny moments (my favorite was the 90-year-old frat pledge singing “Dust in the Wind” during the closing credits). But there’s basically ten minutes worth of material stretched into a 90-minute movie.

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Wed, Mar 12, 2003

: A Hard Day’s Night

I will date myself horribly here, but not only had I never seen this film, I am unfamiliar with the Beatles. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so I had to keep scratching my head in amazement that Paul McCartney was a Beatle! (When did that happen? ;-) But it makes sense: my familiarity with Paul, John, and George comes from the late 80’s and their single careers (John of course was gone but still had hits like “Imagine”). I never connected those people with the Beatles, and the glimpses of the Beatles I’d seen showed young boys and I never really made the connection with them as adults. I’m sure that’s strange for Beatle fans, but I doubt I’m the only one who thinks that way. Anyway, this is a pretty cool movie. I’m not sure if it’s fiction, scripted or not (it feels unscripted like a documentary), but it’s fun. It’s basically just a day in the life of the Beatles, following them throughout London as they get ready for a TV appearance. They periodically sing, so this is in many ways the 1960’s equivalent of the music video. The dialog between the four guys is totally like The Monkeys TV show — I assume the show got that from this movie. As to the music, I recognized some of the classics and liked those, but the ballads put me to sleep. The piece is dated in some funny ways: the guys look pretty ordinary to me, but apparently there was some kind of scandal over their “outrageous” hairdos. I couldn’t really figure that one out. Overall, two thumbs up.

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: Johnny Stecchino

Very cool Roberto Benigni flick. He plays an idiot everyman who drives a special education bus. One day a beautiful girl flirts with him, and he falls for her. We gradually learn Benigni is a dead ringer for her husband, a Sicillian ganster who is marked for death. The plan is to have the wimp knocked off in place of the gangster so he can be free to retire in South America. Of course Benigni is clueless, and has no idea everyone thinks he’s a mobster. Not as brilliant as

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: Angel of Death

Author: Jack Higgins

I’m completely ignorant of the whole Ireland mess (the IRA and all that), so I usually find books that deal with that bewildering and meaningless. Fortunately understanding Irish politics isn’t a requirement for this novel. It’s really almost like a series of short stories. Former IRA bad boy Sean Dillon, now working for MI-5, is back, and he has several adventures. Meanwhile, behind the scenes a group called January 30 (after Bloody Sunday) is assassinating important people, and eventually Dillon has to stop them. The title character is a woman, a famous actress, who is also January 30’s main killer. The ending’s a bit of a wimp out, with everyone killing themselves, but probably realistic. Okay, not great, but a very quick read.

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Tue, Mar 11, 2003

: Talk to Her

Author: Pedro Almodovar

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Astonishingly good film, definitely one of Almodovar’s best. I thought at first it might be a bit boring, but Almodovar never lets that happen, always jumping us from story to story, giving us fascinating tastes and moving us on before we get too much. There are two intertwined stories, both involving coma victims. One is about a male nurse who lovingly takes care of a young girl in a coma; the other is about a writer who falls for a female bullfighter not long before she’s gorged in the ring and ends up in a coma. The two men become friends. Here Almodovar does something that I’ve never seen before (except in gimmicky films like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. It’s wild, and yet, when you compare it to the relationships the men have with the coma women, it’s subtly profound. Remarkable film.

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Mon, Mar 10, 2003

: Barry Lyndon

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Overlong epic about an Irish rogue who wheels and deals his way upper the social ladder in 18th Century England. It’s impressively done, though I still question the odd casting of Ryan O’Neal to play the lead. He’s not bad, but not great either, and throughout the film I kept seeing O’Neal instead of Barry Lyndon. There are some good moments and the plot is occasionally fascinating (I liked the hatred between Barry and his step-son), but ultimately it’s a period piece, it’s epic in length though not in scope, and it ends with a whimper (Barry sort of fades away). It’s worth watching once, but not something I’d want to see again.

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Sun, Mar 09, 2003

: Circus

This movie is like one of those Russian Dolls: it’s a con within a con within a con within a con. It’s similar to films like

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: Dreamcatcher

Author: Stephen King (book)

I’d never even heard of this until I saw the promos for the upcoming movie but the trailers got me intrigued and I grabbed a copy of the book at a used book store. It’s an incredible tale. King is an amazing writer. I haven’t read that much of his stuff (I will, I will), though I love some of the films based on his work. He’s got a real gift for creating complex characters that intertwine with his otherworldly plots. In this case, this 900-page novel deals with memories. We meet the four main characters, friends since childhood, and see glimpses of their ordinary adult lives. But we realize they aren’t quite normal. When they go for their annual hunting trip in Northern Maine in November, we know something’s going to happen, something connected with their past, but we can’t figure out how it all relates. Then the bad stuff starts to happen. There’s a mysterious crash — an alien spaceship — and a deadly alien virus takes over people. People who are infected by the virus obtain telepathy, and that’s where the novel gets brilliantly weird. The four friends are already telepathic, and have been since an experience in childhood. It is they who discover the secret of the alien invasion and work to stop it despite impossible odds. Much of the novel takes place in the minds of the characters, minds filled with memories and secrets, and King does an incredible job of not just making that understandable, but believable as well. When all is said and done, this is a “mere” aliens invade Earth story, but King imbues it with complex characters, a roller-coaster suspense ride, and fantastic imagery. It’s the way he tells a tale that makes it so intriguing. With the film being directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by William Goldman, I’m optimistic it will be awesome and I can’t wait to see it. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the book!

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Sat, Mar 08, 2003

: Bloodwork

Director: Clint Eastwood

Dang I hate idiot critics! I didn’t go see this in the theatre because I heard it was lame, but it’s not at all. I liked it a lot. It’s not a classic or anything, but a simple, well-done thriller. Clint plays a retired FBI profiler who has to have a heart transplant. While he’s recovering, a woman visits him and reveals he has her sister’s heart. Her sister was murdered, and she asks Clint to investigate. Against the advice of his doctor, Clint does, and what unravels is a clever tangle with a number of good surprises. The film’s low-key and certainly not an action flick, but it moves well, is interesting, and I liked the way the script tied all the lose ends together in the twist conclusion. Good stuff.

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Fri, Mar 07, 2003

: Tears of the Sun

I had little idea what to expect: somehow I’d gotten the impression this was an action flick, which quickly proved wrong as there isn’t even a gunshot until the ninety-minute mark. That disappointed me, but the climax sort of made up for that. The story is frightfully simple: there’s a civil war in Nigeria, with rebels taking over the government and performing “ethnic cleansing” on innocent civilians. A small team of soldiers led by Bruce Willis is sent in to rescue a female doctor from a small mission that’s in the path of the rebel army. But she insists on bringing the mission’s Africans with her. Bruce violates his orders to help the natives escape, leading them on a trek through the jungle to safety in Cameroon 40 miles south. But following them is a troop of 300 rebel soldiers, and the shoot-em-up climax is surprisingly dramatic. That’s pretty much the movie: no real surprises, no unusual plot twists, and a few moments of realistic and gritty action. But somehow it works. On paper I’d have said it was weak, but seeing it, it works. The relationship between the doctor and Bruce is fascinating, with them battling wills and exchanging thoughtful glances. Bruce’s military poker face compared with the woman’s passion is a great foil, and we really can’t tell what either are thinking inside. What also impressed me was the acting and focus on the Africans. In many rescue films like this the mass of innocents are a faceless group (usually represented by one heart-breaking child who dies tragically) with no personality. Here we actually get to meet some of these men and women, see them struggle, weep, and carry on, and there are some really great moments between them and the soldiers. They are brilliantly humanized, like in the moment when one of the American soldiers, a black man, tells Bruce, “These are my people too.” It’s more than him just recognizing his historical background, it’s him recognizing himself in these people. The film’s slow to get going, and there isn’t a lot beyond the bare plot, but it’s a heroic story where the African people come across as heroes just as much as do the American soldiers. I especially liked one scene where an African woman, after her husband is shot, takes up a fallen bad guy’s gun and uses it to fight. It’s quick moment but it embodies the spirit of the African people (and the American Revolution). Excellent, but go with caution and don’t expect much. This is the kind of film that can easily be overhyped. Think simple and you won’t be disappointed.

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Thu, Mar 06, 2003

: Spy Kids 2

Author: Robert Rodriguez

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Fun sequel, better than the first one in many ways. Everything’s more polished and slick. Great humor, great spy gadgets, great characters, typical silly spy story (which Robert makes fun of in the script), and great special effects. This really is a can’t miss franchise and I hope Disney keeps making more. It’s harmless fun. Now I just want to be able to buy all those cool gadgets at the toy store!

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Wed, Mar 05, 2003

: Love Liza

Sad tale about a man who has just buried his wife. We gradually learn that she committed suicide, and while he’s smiling and pretending everything’s okay, he’s really fraught with guilt, confusion, and despair. His initial suicide thoughts turn to drug abuse in the form of gasoline sniffing, and he becomes addicted, eventually losing his job and his friends as his behavior grows more and more bizarre. In order to explain the smell of gas around him, he tells his boss he’s got a remote control model airplane, and when she sends over her brother who’s a fan, he has to follow through and becomes interested in the hobby. The whole film the man’s carrying the suicide note left by his wife, still sealed in the envelope, afraid to open it. That was a bit disappointing for me: in the end it’s nothing special (perhaps that was the point), but I would have preferred if he’d never opened it and it had remained a mystery (far more powerful). Sad, poignant, with an excellent performance by Philip Hoffman, this is a haunting tale. It’s only 90 minutes but feels like hours as every event is traumatic. It’s like watching a bomb about to go off. When will it explode? The story isn’t much, but it’s the characters who drive this and make it work (mostly Hoffman’s character). It’s exactly the kind of critical piece intellectuals like. I found it disappointing, however, as so much is left unsaid and vague (especially the ending). Long portions of the film are Hoffman in a drugged daze — oh, that’s revealing. Still, it’s a fascinating experiment and worth seeing even if it’s ultimately not that profound.

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Tue, Mar 04, 2003

: Jurassic Park III

This third sequel was a blip at the box office, and I really wasn’t that interested, but it turned out to be superior to the second (not a difficult accomplishment but still surprising). This time Dr. Grant is back, lured by a wealthy couple to visit the dinosaur island, where everything goes wrong as usual. Not only does the plane crash and leave them stranded, the soldiers hired to protect them are promptly eaten, and it is revealed the wealthy couple aren’t wealthy at all, but there seeking their young son who was stranded on the island. How? Ah, who cares about all that! The point is that there’s a bunch of amateurs and a lot of hungry and very real dinosaurs looking for lunch. Good action and special effects, including some new creatures. Predictable but still fun.

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Mon, Mar 03, 2003

: Sphinx

Author: Robin Cook

Pretty good book, but I’d recommend the condensed edition if you can find it. It’s overlong, and the “mystery” of Sphinx which taunts you the entire time turns out to be rather obvious and is somewhat of a letdown. Because so much of the plot is dependent on that secret, once that’s discovered, the book just ends. I’d have preferred to read more about the aftermath, which promised to be interesting, but of course that wasn’t the focus of the novel. The story deals with the black market of Egyptian artifacts. A young, beautiful woman (why are all Cook’s main characters so physically perfect?) just out of college with a degree in Egyptology, arrives in Cairo for her first visit. She’s immediately swept into the dark underworld of the black market, witnessing two murders in two days. Before it vanishes, she sees a priceless gold statue of Seti I, a remarkable piece that the scientific community has never seen. Where did come from? Risking her own life, she searches for the answers, and the handsome men she meets who want to help her are not what they seem. I liked the woman, and she does a good (realistic) job of tracking down clues, but the pace of the book is slow, the hidden “secret” annoyingly saved for the final pages, and some of the Egyptian research is dry academic stuff.

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Sun, Mar 02, 2003

: Grand Illusion

Director: Jean Renoir

I’m never sure how to judge classics: they usually disappoint me because my expectations are too high. This French film fell into that category. It’s a good movie, and I’m sure at the time of its release it was a great one, but I find it difficult to judge with my modern perspective. The story is similar to The Great Escape, which I recently watched, except this film is set in World War I, not II. Some things — like the nonchalance of the captured officers and their German captors — struck me as bizarre, but then I know little about WWI and the “rules” of warfare. To me this was familiar stuff, well done, but nothing to write home about.

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Fri, Feb 28, 2003

: Cradle 2 the Grave

The early reviews I saw gave this a mediocre grade, but I don’t know why. It’s a decent action flick. There’s cool stunts, high-tech thievery, bad guys, good guys, pretty girls — what more do you want? The plot’s mildly interesting: a black thief steals some black diamonds that a really bad dude wants. He kidnaps the thief’s 8-year-old daughter to force the thief to give him the stones. Jet Li comes in as a Taiwanese govt. agent seeking to return the stones to his country. He and the thief team up and become reluctant partners. Sure, the plot’s convoluted, but what action flick (other than the classic Die Hard) has a plot that makes sense? The action stuff is pretty good, though some of the scenes go on too long. I guess the better you are at martial arts the more hits it takes to actually down a man.

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Thu, Feb 27, 2003

: About Schmidt

Excellent film. I hesitated seeing this thinking it would be boring, but the director does a good job of using unexpected camera angles and editing to keep even the slow scenes well-paced. It’s the story of a man who retired after 32 years at the same insurance company, and is rather lost. His daughter’s getting married and lives far away, and he wonders where his life went. He doesn’t even recognize his wife of 32 years. Then suddenly she dies. Now he’s all alone in this brave new world. He gets in the RV and drives across America, learning about himself, and eventually shows up for his daughter’s wedding. The ending is simple and effective, like the entire film. This film is all about character, not about plot. There are a few stereotypical things, but mostly this is fresh and different and interesting. Like the basic main character’s simple life, the film is not particularly deep or insightful, but it is pleasant and mildly thought-provoking. Jack is terrific as always. Good stuff.

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: The Rules of Attraction

This nightmare is like some film school dropout’s hideous concoction. It’s a mess. There’s no story or plot, the characters are all horribly self-indulgent idiotic losers, and the director tries to make up for all that with fancy camera tricks, quick edits, freeze frames, and showing entire scenes in reverse. Here’s a tip, moron: if it doesn’t make sense going forward, running it backward won’t help! The story, what there is of it, is a bunch of college kids out to score drugs and sex. That’s pretty much it. It’s one party after another. It’s vulgar, dumb, and disgusting. Even the young and pretty cast can’t save it. Pointless. Unquestionably one of the worst films of all time.

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Wed, Feb 26, 2003

: A Philosophical Investigation

Author: Philip Kerr

Fascinating book. I’d never heard of British writer Kerr, but he’s definitely on my list of writers to check out. This is a story about the search for a serial killer, but he’s an unusual one in that he’s a philosopher and thinks his killings are rational and justified. The female cop who trails him is great, and she and he have fascinating intellectual discussions. Great stuff if you’re into philosophy. The story’s set slightly in the future (2013) and so there’s fancy new computers and other technology. As far as the mystery or tracking of the killer, it’s so-so: in this particular book the focus is more on the side elements, like sexual harassment of the policewoman and the philosophical discussions. In that respect the story’s a little light. But there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s very well written (Kerr has a great feel for language though, at least in this novel, he frequently uses $10 words where a fifty cent one will do). Overall, two thumbs up.

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Tue, Feb 25, 2003

: Spy Games

Director: Tony Scott

I don’t know where this film came from: I just saw at the DVD stores. I never heard of it in the theatres. I can’t figure out why. It’s got a great cast, good story, and a good director. I watched it with trepidation, figuring its direct-to-video status might portend bad things. But it turns out to be an excellent film. It’s a bit overcomplicated and overdrawn, and too many flashbacks are always irritating, but when everything’s wrapped up, it’s a great story. The plot centers around two spies, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. Redford’s retiring: today’s his last day. But he arrives at the CIA to learn that Pitt’s been captured by the Chinese and will be executed in 24 hours. The CIA, however, will not acknowledge his existence and plan to let him die. Redford’s character has to figure out a way to save Pitt without his bosses knowing. It seems impossible but Redford is very cool and does it right under the noses of the higher ups. That’s the basic plot. There’s much more in terms of character, when we learn that Redford recruited Pitt, that Pitt loved a woman, that Redford gave that woman to the Chinese (she was a wanted criminal) and Pitt had gone in to rescue her and got himself captured. But all that is icing on the cake. The fun is in learning how the CIA operates, and this isn’t James Bond type stuff but real spy stuff. Impressive. More of a thinker than an action film, though there is some action (in flashbacks).

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Mon, Feb 24, 2003

: Lost in La Mancha

This is the story of a film that was never made. Terry Gilliam, one of my favorite directors, wanted to create a film based on Don Quixote. It’s been his pet project for a decade, but he couldn’t get financing. He finally got it financed in Europe at a record-setting $32 (for Europe), but according to Gilliam, that’s only half of what he really needed. What followed is a comedy of bad luck and mismanagement. Because of the tight budget, actors were hired at reduced rates and the production had to fit within the schedule of the actors instead of the other way around. Thus there was minimal pre-production time with the actors, leading to a number of problems. Then the production schedule was so tight that they couldn’t miss a single day: combine that with location problems, such as military F16 jets flying overhead constantly in the desert location (they’d been told the base was only active an hour a day), and a sudden flash flood that ruined equipment, caused them to lose a couple days shooting, and changed the color of the desert meaning earlier footage wouldn’t match. Then the lead actor, Don Quixote, played by 70-year-old French actor Jean Rochefort developed prostate problems and couldn’t ride a horse or continue. Production ground to a halt and it was basically up to the film’s insurers to decide if the film could proceed. To replace the main actor would mean refinancing from scratch, so that wasn’t a simple option. Basically, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Definitely mistakes were made: the insurance wasn’t quite the right kind (it covered lost equipment but not lost shooting time), some of the people in the production didn’t make good decisions, etc. What struck me most profoundly was that what killed the film was dozens of small things, not any huge catastrophe. In other situations these problems could have been overcome, but with such an ambitious project, such an impossibly tight schedule, and inadequate financing, it was made for disaster. Gilliam is still trying to get the film made, and it would be nice to see it happen, though I suppose it will be years off and probably with a different cast. It’s very unfortunate and this is a sad film in that regard, but it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of how films are (or aren’t) made.

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Sun, Feb 23, 2003

: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Not as pathetic as I expected: in fact, I kinda liked it (or at least one aspect of it). What I liked was the approach and premise: a young woman who’s getting ready to be married has an antagonist relationship with her mother, who wants nothing to do with the wedding (and the daughter doesn’t want her there). But the old woman’s three friends (the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) drug and kidnap the daughter and take her back home in order to explain to her who her mother is and why she’s not as bad as the daughter thinks. What follows is flashbacks to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’s childhood and youth (played by two generations of actresses) as dark family secrets are revealed. Eventually, of course, the daughter and mother reconcile. What I didn’t like: first, the dark secrets revealed aren’t very dark, secret, or particularly interesting or exciting; second, watching a bunch of old woman talk like sailors and whine and reminisce isn’t my idea of quality entertainment; and third, the whole “Ya-Ya” thing, though portrayed as childhood girls club, had mystical elements that echoed occult-type ceremonies and left a bad taste in my mouth. It would have been okay if they’d left that stuff in childhood, but seeing 60+ old women do it was bizarre and uncomfortable. Still, the film wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I liked some of the characters and scenes.

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: Dead Alive

Director: Peter Jackson

This is Jackson’s terrific follow-up to his first effort, entrails of a zombie try to strangle the hero! My favorite scene is one is which a zombie is given a spoon to eat with and he’s so dumb and impervious to pain (he’s already dead, remember) that he shoves the spoon so deep in his throat it comes out the back of his head! Just awesome.

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: Brothers

Author: William Goldman

This book is a sequel to The Marathon Man, a novel I haven’t read, but it seemed like it was readable on its own. First, let me say that this is a superior book, so superior in fact, that it overcomes some major flaws. The first flaw is the opening few chapters which are poorly written and meaningless. The main character, who was supposedly killed in the first book, is the ultimate assasin, and he’s not dead, and the first chapter puts us into his stream of consciousness as he recovers from his injuries on a deserted island. Unfortunately, Goldman begins and ends every sentence with an ellipsis (three dots), and without understanding who this guy is or what the situation is, not a word makes sense, and all the dots and abbreviated sentences make reading tough. This chapter is followed by a scene involving two young kids, brothers, who are tragically killed in an explosion. What makes that confusing is that in the stream of consciousness portion, the guy talks about his brother, leading me to think this was a flashback of him and his brother in childhood, and the explosion that kills them blows that away, leaving me bewildered and puzzled. More incomprehensible scenes follow, but these are longer and more interesting, and they’re soon explained. The thing about the kids isn’t explained until the very end of the novel, however, which is a long time to go without understanding anything. However, once the novel gets going, it’s excellent. The assassin character is interesting and deadly, and Goldman does a great job keeping us in suspense while still keeping his main guy almost superhuman. We constantly think he’s failed and lost, but in the end he always wins. Very cool. The climax is terrific, and everything pays off in the end, making this a very exciting novel. The actual secret of the kids is a bit bizarre and never technologically explained (it’s like technomagic, I guess), but it does make some sense. I won’t reveal it here since that would spoil the book. I recommend you skim through or skip the first chapter or two — you won’t miss anything, and you’ll be a lot less frustrated. It took me a while to get into the book because of the poor start, but once it got going I couldn’t put it down.

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Sat, Feb 22, 2003

: Gosford Park

Director: Robert Altman

While I’m a huge Altman fan, this is unwatchable. The premise has promise: a group of upperclass people gather in 1930’s England for a weekend shooting party and one of them is murdered. We get to see a lot of the relationship between the servants and their employers. Unfortunately, the first twenty minutes is spent introducing characters one by one as they arrive, and if you’re like me, after ten minutes you already have no idea who is who. There are like 50 main characters and each has one or two servants. I was completely lost from the start. Then the film meanders as we see the people in various scenes, learn the relationships, but basically we care for none of these people, there are so many it’s impossible to remember who’s who (I tended to them of them by actor names instead of characters). This continues for over an hour, as the “exciting” murder doesn’t take place until more than halfway through this long film! By that time I was so bored I didn’t care any more. I fell asleep and woke up during the credits. Even though I had no idea who had committed the murder, I was so put off by the film’s glacial pace and arrogant, empty characters that I didn’t even care! I had interest in rewinding and watching the ending I’d missed. I could barely figure out who had been killed let alone stir up any compassion for him or any of the others. And this was one of the best films of 2001 (it was nominated for Best Picture)? What a lot of rot! I’ve lost all respect for the Academy. This is just a PBS period piece with a lot of top actors that’s like some sort of literary health food concoction — “it tastes terrible, but eat it, it’s good for you.” I’ll bet none of the academy members who voted for it had even seen it. If it had been shortened to 30 minutes it might have been interesting, but at over two hours it’s just boredom on a disc. My vote for one of the worst films of 2001.

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: The Sadist

This is a low budget film from the 60’s that has gained a cult rep. The acting is poor (only one professional actor in the group), but the story’s interesting, though the title’s misleading. The title made me think this was a serial killer type story, but the lead bad guy’s a kid, a twenty-year-old punk who has no respect for life and murders indiscriminately. He and his girlfriend take hostage a group of schoolteachers on their way to a baseball game when they had car trouble and stopped in a small deserted town where the murder and his girl were hiding out. The kid shoots one of the teachers for fun after making him get on his knees and beg for his life. The other two know they’ll be next, and they stall for time trying to fix the car and plot their escape. Interesting concept, claustrophobic atmosphere, tight direction, but mostly notable as this was the first film for Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (though he’s credited as William). The lead bad guy, played by the producer’s son who wanted him to be a star, is pathetically bad (he later dropped out of acting saying his father had pushed him into it), but a few others aren’t too bad. Still, while “shocking” at the time of its release, it’s mild like a TV movie for today.

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Fri, Feb 21, 2003

: Dark Blue

Back when the whole Rodney King thing happened I didn’t have a strong opinion: like most everyone else, all I had seen were the TV news clips of the cops beating King with batons. It seemed incredible that the jury would acquit the four cops. However, I later saw the full video on Court TV: in the full video you actually see the officers surrounding King, ordering him to comply, King lunging at them, the way initial attempts to subdue him failed, and the eventual beating footage shown on the TV news over and over again. I found it fascinating that the TV news never showed King acting violent, something the jury got to see. That still didn’t change my mind about the verdict, but it did make me think that it’s unfair for us to judge the jury since we didn’t see the actual evidence presented in the trial. All we got to see is the biased footage the TV news showed us.

Well, minutes into this film I knew where this was going, for the film opens with the Rodney King beating, and once again, only the cops’ actions are shown. Cut from that to a white cop making racist remarks and a black assistant police chief who’s the good guy and you’ve got an excellent idea of which side this movie’s going to take. Not that that’s wrong, just interesting, and a point to keep in mind. I don’t like being manipulated.

The story’s about corruption and cover ups in the LAPD at the time of the King trial. The main characters are an older bad-ass police sergeant and his young new partner whom he begins to train in the ways of “the end justifies the means” police work. As the young cop’s conscience waivers, the King verdict comes down and L.A. explodes into violence. The climactic riot scenes are really well done and frightening: people looting, flipping cars over, burning and breaking, and dragging white people from vehicles and beating them. The ending is a bit different and I won’t give it away here, but I liked it. That surprised me, for if you’d told me what happened in advance I would have said I wouldn’t like it, but it ultimately did make sense. Overall, a good cop film. I doubt you’ll learn anything new about race relations, and the film doesn’t unveil anything new about the King situation, but it is interesting and the dynamic between Kurt Russell and Scott Speedman is excellent.

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Thu, Feb 20, 2003

: Coma

Author: Robin Cook

Surprisingly well-written book for the genre. I’ve seen a bit of a movie and knew some of the story, but I’d never bothered with the book. It’s definitely Cook’s best. The characters are more defined and the writing style is more polished: much of his later work is rushed and cheap by comparison. He still throws in all the required elements of a paint-by-numbers thriller: gratuitous sex, violence, etc., but it’s well-done. The story is about a female medical student who is trying to figure out why so many patients at a Boston hospital are ending up in unexplained comas. During her investigation, she offends all her superiors and puts her medical career at risk, but she’s positive something sinister is going on. Plot-wise, it’s routine by today’s standards, but what makes the story compelling is the fact that the lead character’s a woman struggling to get by in a man’s domain (far more of a problem in the 70’s than today when female doctors are more accepted) and as a lowly medical student is a terrific underdog (arrogant doctors with decades of experience don’t want to hear her absurd theories because they would be shown up by a mere student). An excellent read, made even more interesting by today’s standards — it makes you realize how much things have changed in just a couple decades.

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Wed, Feb 19, 2003

: Frida

An absolutely amazing film. It’s the biography of a remarkable Mexican artist of the early and mid 20th Century, Frida Kahlo. I’d never heard of her before this film, but one of the things I liked is they displayed a lot of her artwork in the film and it truly is excellent stuff, rather Dali-like (Dali’s my favorite artist) with abstract and contradictory images mixed together. Frida’s story is one of trouble and struggle: a bus accident leaves her severely injured and the doctors say she’ll never walk again (but she does), and then she marries an unfaithful husband, and eventually her back and leg problems (which cause her pain all her life and lead her to an addiction to painkillers) mean she has to have her leg amputated. In every way Frida was controversial: she was an outspoken woman, an artist, politically she was a Communist, and she apparently was bisexual. Some of this stuff is celebrated in the film, some just presented, but it’s always done artistically, and that lessons the effect of any preaching. Salma Hayak in the lead role is incredible: she actually pulls off the early teenage schoolgirl scenes with complete believability as well as the 47-year-old woman Frida eventually becomes. (I loved that, for a it always annoys me when films use a different actor for the young character and the young actor doesn’t look anything like the real adult actor.) The movie is sad yet triumphant — like Frida herself, it celebrates life and living. There’s quite a bit of humor, from the infamous dance scene with Ashley Judd to great lines like the one near the end when Frida is caught drinking by her doctor and she says, “Let me drink this one tequila and I promise I won’t drink at my funeral.” Wonderful film.

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Mon, Feb 17, 2003

: The Great Escape

A classic I’d never seen, and it’s easy to see why it has such a good reputation. Based on a true WWII escape by POWs in a German camp, it tells about a daring attempt to escape 250 men (ultimately only 76 manage it and most of those are caught). The idea of the prisoners was to keep the Germans busy and distract them from the war effort, and in that regard it was an apparent success. The escape itself is fascinating and mind-numbingly difficult, but what I liked about the film is that it doesn’t end at the escape but shows us what happens to the escapees. However, I did think the German guards were too much like “Hogan’s Heroes” — completely different from the brutal reality of The Pianist.

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Sun, Feb 16, 2003

: Exocet

Author: Jack Higgins

Surprisingly well-written tale about espionage during the British-Argentina war over the Fawkland Islands. Basically the Argentinians need Exocet missiles desperately so they can sink the British battleships, and go on the open market to look for some. British intelligence is out to stop them from getting some. Things get a bit complicated as the French and Russians are involved, everyone with their own motivations. The plot promises a bit more than it delivers: the resolution is lightweight and rather routine. But what the book does offer is an intriguing love story and character studies. A beautiful woman, roped into working with British intelligence, seduces an Argentine pilot, only to really fall in love with him. Her conscience bothers her terribly as she spies on him, but in the end it’s the British who betray her. Fortunately, all ends happily for the good guys (and gal). The bottom line: the story’s routine but the writing is above average and the characters worth knowing. The only real character flaw is that enough though I wanted to believe it, I found the way the two main characters fell in love at first glance across a room unrealistic.

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: Time and Tide

This film is about scenes: just watch for the interesting ones and enjoy them. Don’t even try to understand the incomprehensible plot that shifts from one place to another at a confusing and frantic pace. Perhaps partly due to the fact that it’s in Chinese, and the dubbing and subtitles didn’t match at all, I couldn’t follow anything. I kept getting characters confused with each other (Were there two pregnant girls and which was which?), and I had a hard time following anything. But the action sequences were cool, especially the climax of a gun battle while a woman is giving birth, and the film’s direction has some real flair in places. Overall, however, I found the thing made no sense at all.

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: Bad Taste

Author: Peter Jackson

Director: Peter Jackson

Peter’s first film, shot over three years on weekends, is a cinematic masterpiece. Okay, perhaps “masterpiece” is not the word, but it’s certainly an incredible achievement. It’s a gory B-movie trip, and it’s hilarious. The plot’s great: a representative from an outer space fast food chain has arrived on earth with his cronies and is packing up humans for alien consumption. So far they’ve taken over an entire village of 75 people. This is just a trial run to see if the product’s a hit, but with four billion “cattle” on earth, there are big profits to be had. The New Zealand government sends in “The Boys,” a group of scientists and gunfighters to find out what’s happened to the remote town, and of course, they discover the aliens and what follows is lots of bloodshed. Lots. Terrific action, editing, and gory special effects, astonishing with the minimal budget. (Peter spent $11,000 of his own money for the first 75 minutes shot on 16mm, then used funds from the NZ Film Commission to finish the film.) The special effects are really impressive even by modern standards: headless zombies, guy cut in half, body falling down a mountainside and bouncing. But the key to everything is the humor. In one scene, a guy has part of his brains fall out the back of his head. He replaces the missing piece of his head, but then something’s not quite right — he’s a bit out of sorts. So he takes up some of the brain matter he finds scattered about, opens the head wound, and stuffs in the brains! Then he’s okay! In other scene, a guy’s Uzi runs out of bullets, but he realizes the alien zombies are pretty dumb, so he pretends to shoot and makes ch-ch-ch-ch sounds with his mouth. The alien dude flails his arms and staggers as though bullets are tearing him apart until he realizes he’s fine! In another classic scene — believe me, there are dozens and dozens — a dead alien lies propped against a wall, a single bullet hole in his forehead gushing blood like a faucet… into a glass which he’s holding in his hand! Oh, there’s just too much of that — it’s awesome. This is definitely a midnight movie you can watch over and over and over again and always see something new. Amazing.

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Sat, Feb 15, 2003

: Daredevil

Spoiler alert: in order to comment on this I’m going to reveal key plot points, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read this. First, this is a well-done film. The look is excellent (the “radarvision” is something we haven’t seen before and well done), the action amazing, the acting above average. The barely-there plot’s not even too dumb by comic book film standards. However, there are a couple key flaws that really ruined the film for me.

The story begins with a hero’s backstory, how he was blinded as a kid and developed super senses as a result, including a kind of radar. He builds himself up physically and mentally, and when his father is murdered, vows to seek justice for those who can’t afford it. He grows up to become a lawyer by day and the vigilante Daredevil at night. So far, everything’s great. Then, as the lawyer, he meets the beautiful Elektra. They have an oddly confrontational initial meeting, which blossoms into true love. She’s a strong character that matches his strength, and we know it’s destiny that they be together. Then the bad guys kill her father and then her, and the movie goes downhill from there. When Daredevil finally confronts the killer of his girl and his father (of course they’re the same bad guy), he doesn’t kill him. How lame is that? Even worse, a hospital room scene that shows up during the credits reveals that the bad guys’ associate didn’t die when Daredevil threw him from the church tower. Now I know the filmmakers would tell me they didn’t want to go with the cliche happy ending with the girl surviving the attempt on her left, but they turned right around and a did an even stupider cliche by having the hero not take his vengeance and kill the murderer. What’s up with that? The result is bizarre: no bad guys die in the film. They murder dozens of good people, and though Daredevil defeats them in the end, they all live and he goes on with life alone. That’s better than having the girl survive? Lame! First, Elektra’s character was one of the strongest in the film: you’re stupid to kill her off. Second, by letting all the bad guys survive while all the good die you’ve sent a horrible message to audiences. Finally, the whole film becomes a downer. Nothing about the ending makes it any less depressing.

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: Hardball

Routine, saccharine tale about a loser with gambling debts roped into to coaching a projects kids baseball team. He gradually learns to love the kids, they soften up to him, and the team of losers and misfits wins the championship against all odds. Hooray. Predictable as rain in May, but still competently done. Fun if you don’t mind being shamelessly manipulated.

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Fri, Feb 14, 2003

: The Salton Sea

The worst thing about this movie is the title: it’s meaningless and tells you nothing about the film. I thought it was some kind of thriller, but it’s more of a dark mystery. It’s about drugs and drug-dealing, though we soon learn that the narrator, a supposed druggie, isn’t, and has a secret agenda. Overall the thing feels rather uncertain of itself: like the main character, who pretending to be something he’s not, so’s the film. It is an action flick? A drug pic? A thriller? A mystery? A revenge picture? It doesn’t know and seems to waiver oddly between them. The actual plot, once we get halfway through and start to figure it out, is surprisingly clever and impressive, but we have to wade through a lot of crap to get there. The best thing in the film is unquestionably Vincent D’Onofrio as Pooh-Bear, a drug dealer who did so much crack he lost his nose and wears a plastic one. He’s hilarious, unrecognizable, and an amazing character. Unfortunately, he’s not in the film enough — but the movie’s worth watching just for his performance. Other than that, the movie’s okay, though the second half is better than the first (which is unusual).

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Thu, Feb 13, 2003

: Windtalkers

Director: John Woo

Somber WWII film, with plenty of graphic action and gore. The extended battle sequences are impressive, giving me a better understanding of the big picture of how a war works. For example, in one scene the group of men radio the ship of shore the coordinates of where to shoot the big guns, successfully blasting out some bunkered enemy troups. I never thought about the foot soldiers and the battleships working in cooperation like that. Educational. Unfortunately, what intrigued me about the film — the Navajo “codetalkers” — isn’t enough of the plot. (I love codes and code-breaking stuff.) Instead the Navajos are merely pawns in the game, and we get to see racist treatment of them by other soldiers. Good performances all around, amazing action, but ultimately still a war film, which means it’s a downer.

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: Shanghai Knigts

Routine sequel that has the two from the first film going to England to find murderer of John Wayne’s father. Plenty of humor, good Jackie Chan action, and enough silliness that who cares about the plot? Good fun, though a little long. Films like this need to be 90 minutes and no more or the concept starts to feel stale.

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Wed, Feb 12, 2003

: The Yards

Interesting crime drama about a young parolee who finds himself enmeshed in the criminal underworld when he gets out of prison, soon he’s the scapegoat for murder. Somewhat familiar story, but told with style and good performances.

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Tue, Feb 11, 2003

: The Hours

This film affected me deeply. It’s profound. It tells three stories simultaneously: author Virginia Woolf as she writes her novel Mrs. Dalloway, a post-war housewife who’s contemplating suicide while reading the novel, and modern-day woman who’s living the life of Mrs. Dalloway, preparing a dinner party just like her. All three are (at minimum) emotionally troubled or even seriously mentally ill.

I haven’t read the novel, but that didn’t seem to hurt my understanding of the movie (however, after seeing the movie I rushed out and bought the novel). The book is apparently about Mrs. Dalloway preparing to give a dinner party, and everyone thinks she’s fine but inside she’s cracking up. My understanding is that the novel was revolutionary in that it jumps back and forth through time (though the main story takes place during a single day), and that’s what the film does as well, giving us insight into the past while telling the events of a single day. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing some of the powerful suprises, but let’s just say that all the characters become inter-connected even more than you expect. With this interconnectedness comes and increased understanding and compassion for these troubled women (and man). Very interesting and extremely well done. The performances are powerful, and the way the director intercut the various stories is masterful (in one sequence he cuts from flower pot to flower pot as each of the three women move a flower pot). A few things were a bit over the top: all the characters in the modern day story were gay, including one guy dying of AIDS. (That’s good drama? How cliche!) But there’s much to like: the performances are incredible and the make-up superb. However the best part of this film is something many won’t like: it gives no explanations or answers. For instance, we aren’t told why the middle woman wants to kill herself. She seems to have a loving husband, an adoring little boy, and she’s pregnant. They have a good life. Why throw it all away? Well, nothing is explained in the film: it’s up to us to figure it out for ourselves. Very unusual in this day and age where thinking is the last thing audiences are expected to do at the movie theatre. A number of other questions are left vague, forcing us to put ourselves into these characters and experience their lives as our own. That’s powerful. My interpretation is that there are people all around us wearing masks — inside they could be coming apart and we don’t even know it. It’s a sad tale in many ways, but includes some hope. I liked it.

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Mon, Feb 10, 2003

: The Day Trader

Author: Stephen Frey

Quick-reading thriller about a guy who quits his job to start day trading full time using the million dollars from his wife’s life insurance policy. But his wife was murdered and suddenly he’s a suspect. He finds himself surrounded by strange people who aren’t who they say they are: what’s going on? Interesting while you’re reading it, but in retrospect a lot of stuff doesn’t make much sense. Also, the story is told first person, and often we find out things just as the narator does (fine), but just as often he doesn’t tell us stuff he knows until he deems it the appropriate time, making us wonder if he’s reliable. The day trading stuff is interesting, though occasionally he lectures us like we’re morons, or mentions something is “complicated” and proceeds to detail something that’s pretty obvious. The writing is average (the first chapter is poor, but it gets better), but the story is pretty good. Unfortunately a lot of it strains credibility. The author also lives in a different world: the narrator claims he makes $39,000 a year at his job, and his wife also works full-time, they have no kids, drive old cars, and live in a modest home, and yet considers himself poor and in desperate financial shape. Come on — $60K a year (assuming his wife doesn’t make much) with no kids isn’t poor. But then the author is a financial expert, so I guess he thinks anyone who doesn’t make $100K a year is starving. This wouldn’t be too bad if this was only mentioned once in the book, but it’s practically a theme. At least by the end the narrator’s come to his senses and isn’t going to blow the entire million dollars day trading. A pleasant read; just don’t expect too much.

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: I Know Where I’m Going

Author: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Director: Michael Powell

Surprisingly effective film. I loved the beautifully simple story: a strong-minded young woman who knows what she wants sets off from England to a remote Scottish island to marry her wealthy fiance. Unfortunately a gale blows in and boats can’t get to the island, so she’s stranded until the gale stops. She meets a nice man while waiting, and after days of trying desperately to get to the island to marry her rich fiance, when the sun finally emerges and the boat arrives, she realizes she doesn’t want to go: she’s in love with the other man. The simplicity of the story belies the complexity of emotions and character, and the frustration of a woman who’s so sure of herself discovering she’s not so sure of herself is delightful. The cinematography is excellent, and the dramatic storm/whirlpool scene is filmed better than today’s films (the horrible The Perfect Storm comes to mind). Impressive technically, with a good story to make it worthwhile.

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Sun, Feb 09, 2003

: Happenstance

Terrific, clever French film about fate and coincidence, slightly similar to simple example of the complex interlinking in this film.)

Remarkably clever and fascinating, but ultimately many of the coincidences fail to go anywhere (or aren’t explained), which is a let down, and the abrupt ending leaves us a little puzzled. Still, this is way more ambitious than typical Hollywood offerings, and I think it would get stronger with repeated viewings (you’d notice details you missed earlier).

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Sat, Feb 08, 2003

: Jason X

Surprisingly cool twist on the Friday the 13th series, with Jason being frozen and reawakened 450 years in the future. Even with the futuristic weapons available, Jason still can’t be killed, and continues his murderous death spree, killing the students on an exploration spaceship one by one in gruesome and horrific ways. Typical of Jason films, he says nothing but is simply an unstoppable killing machine. Still, putting Jason in space is different, and some of the unusual deaths are interesting. If you like this kind of film, this one is above average.

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: Venus Beauty Institute

A French film with more potential than what it actually delivers. The story centers around several women who work at a beauty store, doing massages and facials and stuff. The lead woman is over 40 and losing her youth and desperately seeking a man, yet she is disillusioned and convinced that love doesn’t exist. Some excellent dialogue, good humor, and intriguing bizarreness, but the story moves slowly and while the ending makes sense, it’s somehow not as satisfying as we’d like. The film’s worth seeing, but its tone promises more than it delivers.

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Fri, Feb 07, 2003

: Chicago

Director: Rob Marshall

Wow! What else can I say? I loved the music, I loved the writing, I loved the direction, I loved the acting, I loved the story. My only criticism is that the movie isn’t exactly intellectually deep, but it’s fun, fantastic, and fast-paced, and it has Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. What more do you want?

I was very impressed with the direction: it’s not a filmed musical, yet it incorporates a great deal of theatrical staging to generate the tone and style of a musical. For instance, Renee’s character, Roxie Hart, dreams of being a performer, so she fantasizes herself and others in various musical numbers. Those songs help tell the story, but because they’re fantasies, they aren’t constrained by realism. Brilliant. I also liked the way the songs had double meanings. For instance, during “Mama’s” solo (terrifically done by Queen Latifah), she sings lyrics with obvious sexual innuendo (“If you’re good to Mama she’ll be good to you!”) to the male audience but this is intercut with her as the prison warden, where those same lyrics take a on a completely different meaning as she accepts bribes for better treatment. Very cool. Speaking of cool, the music is awesome. I often don’t like musical music, especially period stuff (this is set in the 1920’s), but these songs were jazzy, hip, and wildly fun. Everyone in the cast looked like they were having a blast making this film. The acting is mostly ham (which is perfect since that’s the point of the story), though Zellweger has a few poignant moments where her acting is just breathtakingly real. (Like her great line when, right after being put into her jail cell for the first time, she tells the warden there must be something wrong with the heat because it’s so cold. Others might have done that campy or slapstick, but she played that so innocent and sincere it made you laugh even as you felt sorry for the character.)

As to the story, it’s wonderful. Hart wants to be a performer, while Velma (Zeta-Jones) is the toast of the town as a jazz singer. But when she finds her sister in bed with her husband, she shoots the both. Not long thereafter Roxie kills her lover and ends up in the same prison as Velma, and soon the two are vying for the attention of the press because they realize that public opinion will determine if they hang or not. The competition between the two women is terrific to watch, and the song and dance numbers great on all levels. There are a few places where things aren’t quite perfect (at the beginning when Zellweger verbally explains a month has gone by is a dud since to us there was no cut), but overall this is a wonderful movie, sure to become a classic.

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: Hornet Flight

Author: Ken Follett

Excellent, above-average, even for a Follett novel. This tells the story (apparently somewhat based on reality) of the Danish resistance movement during the early years of WWII. A teenager discovers a secret radio installation on a German base on the island where he lives, and figures out it’s a radar station. Radar is something so new the Allies don’t even have it yet, but Hitler’s winning the war against the British bombers, destroying half of them every time they attack. The devastating loses threaten to turn the tide in the war unless the Allies can figure out the German technology and defeat it. The brilliant young man, an engineer by desire, must get the photographs of the German radio base to England. So he decides to fly across the sea in a tiny Hornet Moth, a two-seater that’s frighteningly fragile, and did I mention it’s broken and hasn’t flown in years? Oh, and the boy doesn’t know how to fly? Terrific action and suspense on every page. Follett is the best at creating well-rounded characters, especially those of the enemy. One of the main characters is a Danish police officer who’s trying to gain a promotion by pleasing the German invaders and finding spies. We get great insight into this man as we things from his perspective, and he’s not entirely evil. That’s helpful, because imagining all Nazi’s as faceless, vague representations of Evil isn’t realistic and it makes us forget that some of the worst things done in the war were done by ordinary people with ordinary flaws. Excellent book, well-researched as usual, with a lot of fascinating historical and mechanical details.

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Wed, Feb 05, 2003

: Once Upon a Time in the West

Director: Sergio Leone

Terrific Western, as usual from Sergio. The pace is majestic, magnifying the sudden bursts of action. The long opening scene during which nothing seems to be happening but plenty is about to is filled with some of the best use of sound I’ve heard in a film. The creaking windmill, the buzzing fly, etc. are like music and heighten the drama making you want to scream. Speaking of music, Moricone’s score is fantastic. It’s there when it needs to be, and silent when appropriate. For instance, in the big showdown gunbattle there are screeches and cries like birds being slaughtered — it’s freakishly loud and in-your-face creepy. But when the battle is about to finally happen, suddenly everything is silent and then your ears are begging for any kind of sound to break the unbearable tension.

The story is simple and elegant: a woman arrives in a desolate area to meet her husband-to-be and discovers he and his children have been slaughtered, and soon she’s a target as well. Other classic characters intervenne: a crook named Cheyenne (marvelously played by the late Jason Robards) who’s been framed for the murder, and a stranger with a harmonica (Charles Bronson) who, it turns out, has revenge on his mind. The bad guy’s played by Henry Fonda, amazing as usual. Just terrific all the way around. The screenplay was co-written by Dario Argento, who later wrote and directed which I recently saw.

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Tue, Feb 04, 2003

: King and I

I’d never seen this “classic” musical. It’s not bad, but not as good as I expected. I’d actually heard of few of the songs before, but most are forgettable and I didn’t particularly like style of music (too old fashioned for my taste). Yul Brynner won an Oscar as the king of Siam, I don’t know why: his “Siamese” accent was terrible. In fact, most of the acting was bad, typical of musicals: singers are cast instead of actors. I can see that at one time this might have been more interesting, back when going to Siam was an exotic and rare journey, but these days with a global community at the touch of dial, it’s rather pedantic. Boring.

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Mon, Feb 03, 2003

: Heist

Author: David Mamet

Director: David Mamet

Good crime thriller, though it gets a little too convoluted at the end. The main guy’s a con artist/master thief. After he pulls his last job, ready to retire in South America with his girl, his fence partner won’t give him his share of the loot unless he completes one more job. Reluctantly, he agrees, and he and his team pull off a gold heist. But there’s lots of back-stabbing, betrayals, and sleight of hand until the final frame. It’s a bit much. Still, it’s interesting, well-acted, and the gold robbery is cool.

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: Final Destination 2

This is an educational film: I had no idea there were so many ways one could die! This film reveals the dangers of spaghetti, gasoline, barbed wire, and vehicle airbags, to name a few ways people die in this movie. It’s very fun, but rather graphic. If you’re not familiar with the first movie, this one does a good job continuing the concept. Basically, via a premonition people escape death, so Death comes after them later, killing them in freak accidents one by one. Death occurs in many surprising ways. I loved the way the film sets up red herrings — like the guy who puts his hand in the garbage disposal to get out the ring he dropped in there. His watch catches on the lip of the drain and he can’t get it out. We’re watching with hands over our face, dreading and yet expecting the worst. Sometimes the red herrings get to be a bit much, but they are effective in making the actual method of death a surprise. Very cool and well done… for this type of film.

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Sun, Feb 02, 2003

: L’Enfer

Remarkable French film about a guy who seems to have everything: he owns a nice resort hotel, has married a beautiful woman, and has a young son. But the man can’t sleep, and his anxieties slowly get the better of him until he becomes obsessed with his wife’s fidelity. Convinced she’s being unfaithful, he’s driven to madness. As we watch him sink into insanity, we aren’t sure what’s real or imagined ourselves. Excellent.

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Sat, Feb 01, 2003

: Prey

Author: Michael Crichton

Pretty cool (though futuristic to the point of improbability) story about nanotechnology gone wrong. Nanotechnology, if you’re not familiar with it, is making ultra-tiny machines: machines literally at the cellular level (or smaller). This novel brings into question the nature of intelligence (can machines think?) and what happens when we underestimate the technology we create. It’s far-fetched, though theoretically technically possible. The horrible creatures created are quite frightening, though Crichton takes them too far into the fantastic for them to be completely believable. (I can believe in machines escaping and living on their own, but not them infecting people and taking them over.) Still, it’s a fun book and will make a cool movie.

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Fri, Jan 31, 2003

: Frailty

Director: Bill Paxton

Was this ever in the theatres? I’d never heard of it until I saw it at the video store. It’s a really good thriller. Matthew McConaughey is excellent in an understated but powerful performance. And the two kids (especially Fenton) are outstanding. The story opens with Matthew (Fenton) visiting an FBI agent and telling him that the notorious “Hand of God” killer was his brother. What unfolds is a bizarre and horrifying story: young Fenton and his little brother Adam live with their father in a small town in Texas. Their mother has died. One night their kindly father suddenly reveals that angels have told him his family has a new mission in life: to kill demons. Because their family is special, only they can see these demons. Everyone else sees them as regular people. The older brother Fenton slowly realizes his father means to murder people, but finds himself unable to stop him. He watches in horror as his father brings home strangers and chops them up with an axe. The poor kid is terrified, yet what can he do? The FBI agent listens to this story and slow begins to believe it. But he wants proof, so Fenton agrees to take him to the rose garden where the bodies are buried. What follows is a great twist (I saw it coming but it’s still very well done) and the ending is truly chilling.

I usually don’t like films that portray religious fanatics as killers. After all, who decides what’s fanatical? If I go to a church and raise my hands when I pray, does that make me a fanatic? If I decide Gods wants me to become a missionary to India does that make me a fanatic? God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son and Abraham was going to do it. Was that fanatical? The line between faith and madness is narrow — frail — and this film raises lots of provocative questions. Fascinating. In many ways it’s a simple thriller like so many Hitchcock films: McConaughey and the FBI agent (awesomely done by Powers Boothe) spend their time in just a handful of scenes talking, but every line of dialogue is loaded. The flashbacks are more dramatic, but even there there’s not a lot of special effects. It’s a very raw, realistic, and morbidly believable tale of murder and mayhem. Well done; an impressive directing debut by Paxton (who also plays the creepy-but-friendly murdering dad).

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: The Baby

This is a low budget thriller about a bizarre family: a woman and her two grown daughters who are raising “Baby,” a fully grown man in diapers. Supposedly heÕs mentally retarded, but a social worker who visits has her doubts. She starts to investigate the family. The film delivers some surprisingly good performances: the looks exchanged between the mom and her daughters and the social worker are terrific, and reveal a lot of creepy subtext. You begin to wonder about the motivations of everyone involved. The ending is a nice little twist that’s unexpected and worth the wait. This not high caliber art, but it is fun, and delightfully twisted.

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Thu, Jan 30, 2003

: Intacto

Strange but fascinating film about the “gift” of luck. Apparently some people have it, and others want it. If you have the gift you can “steal” luck from others by touching them. This is the story of the intertwined lives of several lucky people who gamble. There’s the casino owner and concentration camp survivor who’s the luckiest of them all; a policewoman who survived a deadly car crash that killed her husband and child; and a thief who is the only survivor of an airplane crash. The film is strange: for a long time you aren’t sure what’s going on, but stay with it: everything is explained. For example, I didn’t know what the pictures of people meant until I later I realized they represented the luck of that person. The picture was a symbol of that person’s luck (somewhat analogous to the concept of a photo capturing your soul). The bizarre bets the characters make to trade photos are trading the cumulative luck of groups of people. Of course those whose luck has been stolen are in for bad luck: they are jinxed. The film’s climax is terrific with an excellent ending. The performances are excellent (the policewoman is amazing), and some of the images created are startling. If you like quirky films, check this one out.

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Wed, Jan 29, 2003

: State and Main

Author: David Mamet

Director: David Mamet

The first half of this is wonderful: clever dialogue, lots of intriguing build-up. Then it goes downhill and ends with a barely audible whimper. The story’s about a Hollywood film crew making a movie set in small-town America. Unquestionably there’s irony there. Of course they run into countless problems: their female lead is having second thoughts, the male star gets into a car accident while driving with an underage girl, the writer is having writer’s block, etc. Of course in the end everything works out. Unfortunately it’s too pat and ending, and the small town aspect of the film is lost in the ending. For example, right from the beginning we see that the dinner date with Mayor has been placed on the wrong evening on the schedule board. We’re expecting that to have big implications, especially when the Mayor’s wife redecorates her house just for the dinner! But in the end, nothing much comes of that, I have no idea why. Disappointing.

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Tue, Jan 28, 2003

: The Pianist

Director: Roman Polanski

Is it possible to make a bad Holocaust film? With such drama and history, it seems difficult. This one is certainly moving, and even shocking: you’d think we’d have seen everything by now, but some of what the Nazi’s did is beyond comprehension. The story is the true story of Szpilman, Poland’s greatest pianist. The Germans take over Poland, put him and his family into the newly established “Jewish Sector,” and eventually kill his family. It’s a miracle he survived.

What I liked about this film is the way it’s so understated. Our protagonist isn’t a hero: he just a guy. I compare him to a rat. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, just that he’s a rat scrounging for survival, and every time you think he’s down, up he pops again. But it’s not really a survival story either: mostly the guy survives via luck and friends. He doesn’t particularly want to survive in some ways, he just does. It’s like he’s so overwhelmed by his circumstance he doesn’t know how to do anything else. Adrian Brody gives a terrific performance as Szpilman, especially toward the end when things get desperate.

Polanski is smart in his handling of the film: he just gets out of the way and lets the story tell itself. I didn’t notice one superfluous camera movement or transition: you just forget you’re watching a film and get wrapped up in the time period. It is a long film (over 2.5 hours) but every frame is important. One intriguing aspect that I felt was brilliant in retrospect (a bit of spoiler here) is that we don’t get to really see Szpilman play the piano until late in the film. Sure there’s a brief scene at the beginning, and a couple in the middle, but he’s not really playing. That’s wonderful, because part of Szpilman’s pain is that throughout the war he has no piano to play, and we, the audience, glimpse that pain through the subtle absence of his playing during most of the film. When he does play at the end, it’s a catharsis for both of us — we’ve both been aching for that moment. We’re overjoyed at his joy at being able to play again. Superb.

All that said, where does this film rank in cinema history? That’s difficult to say: it’s tough to criticize a Holocaust film without coming across as a brute. This is an excellent film, and I liked that it tells a different story of the war and shows us new images and a new perspective, but ultimately it can’t escape what it is: a Holocaust film. That tag carries a lot of baggage, and frankly, once you’ve seen once Holocaust film you’ve seen a portion of all others. There’s some new material here but it’s definitely not as original as The Pianist. I’m very glad I saw it, and I might watch it again on DVD, but like Schindler’s List, this is not a movie you want to watch over and over again. That diminishes it slightly in my book (for instance, it wouldn’t be in my top ten favorite films).

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Mon, Jan 27, 2003

: Blackmail

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Hitch’s first sound picture, and it’s pretty good, though the dialog in places gets a little expositional. It’s about a Scotland Yard detective who’s girlfriend is cheating on him with an artist. The girl goes to the artist’s studio and when he puts the moves on her, she resists. He insists, and she stabs him with a bread knife. Hitch did a great job with that scene: the guy pulls her onto his bed behind a curtain and when she stabs him, we just see movement of the curtain. When the girl finally emerges, we can tell from her face what happened. Very cool. Later, the boyfriend detective is at the scene and finds his girlfriend’s glove, which he hides. A blackmailer tries to extort the two of them, but the detective ends up turning the tables on him. Some great scenes, with classic Hitch camera work and detail (and let’s not forget the hilarious cameo by Hitch on the train). Certainly not his greatest work, but it shows a lot of potential and there are masterful moments.

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: Cat o’ Nine Tails

Author: Dario Argento

Director: Dario Argento

Supposedly the “Italian Hitchcock,” this is Argento’s second film and his most popular. It is a lot like Hitchcock in terms of camera angles, but certainly not in terms of depth of story and symbolism. The plot deals with a series of mysterious murders, including anyone who is investigating them. A blind man and a journalist team up to track down the killer, but there are too many leads (the “nine tails” of the title). Well done, especially for its time, but not that shocking or original today. The climactic unmasking of the murderer was a letdown, but I did like the poetic justice ending. Definitely a director to check out: I’m going to see more of his stuff.

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Sun, Jan 26, 2003

: The Count of Monte Cristo

Author: Alexander Dumas

Really good film. I’ve never read the book so I’m not sure how faithful this adaptation is, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A man (Edmund) is betrayed by his best friend in order to steal his fiance. He’s falsely imprisoned at Chateau D’If, an island castle of stone. He lives there in misery for 14 years. During this time, he loses faith in God and desires nothing but revenge. Then he meets a fellow prisoner who spent 7 years digging a tunnel which led him not outside, but to Edmund’s cell! The old man, who’s a priest, teaches Edmund how to read and write, about the arts and sciences, languages, sword-fighting, and more. Eventually he tells him the location of a secret treasure on the island of Monte Cristo, and after he dies, Edmund escapes, finds the treasure, and sets himself up as Count of Monte Cristo. Wealthy beyond imagining, he uses his new power to take revenge on his enemies. Terrific tale, well-balanced by thoughtful commentary on God and morality. My favorite line: “But I don’t believe in God.” “That’s okay, He believes in you.”

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: 40 Days and 40 Nights

What should have been (and in places certainly is) a silly tale about a young man who decides to abstain from sex for the 40 days of Lent, turns out to be a fairly decent love story as the guy figures out that once sex isn’t in the equation, he can see a woman for who she really is. Predictable, and in places crass, but it doesn’t degenerate like most wild premise stories. Not bad.

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Sat, Jan 25, 2003

: Enigma

Author: Tom Stoppard

Impressive WWII film about code-breaking (Enigma was the famous cipher machine the Germans used and the Allies broke). The plot splits into two stories: the Germans have suddenly changed their code and the Allies have less than four days to break the new code before a huge convoy of critical supplies is destroyed (it took 10 months the first time) and it’s up to a genius mathematician to do it; the second plot deals with the mathematician’s ex-girlfriend who’s disappeared and might have been a traitor (he discovers secret codes hidden in her room). Unfortunately, while all this is interesting, the split plots complicates things too much, and in the end, the second plot (which is really the main plot) gets totally convoluted and confusing (I didn’t understand what the stuff about Russia had to do with anything else). In the end, it seems a lot of the mystery had to do with silly politics. Rather a whimper of a ending. My advice: watch the first half which is great, and once they break the new German code, fast forward through the rest.

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Fri, Jan 24, 2003

: Rabbit-Proof Fence

Director: Philip Noyce

This is an amazing film. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest theatre and see it. If you’re not into “arty” films and think this might be depressing, let me assure you it’s anything but. It is emotionally moving, but not the least bit slow or boring. Impressively, Noyce tells a wonderful story in a mere 95 minutes — unlike say, Spielberg and his overlong

The performance of the girls is incredible; they are all darling and completely convincing. The Aborigine tracker is also amazing. But what really shines is the incredible story of human will and the horribly inhuman treatment by the government bureaucrats. The ending is both joyous and sad, and will leave you thinking for a long time. Highly recommended.

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: The French Connection

Director: William Friedkin

One problem with older classic films is that your expectations are too high. I’d never seen this before, but of course heard it’s supposed to be good. It was good, but the actual plot seems rather wimpy today. It’s basically about a big drug deal with the drugs coming from France. Unfortunately, the deal is for a “whopping” half million dollars, which even in 1970 dollars seems like a small amount for all this fuss. It’s well done, with interesting cop characters, but not all that much happens. Basically the cops figure out the drug deal is upcoming, track down the perps, and try to stop it from going down. A lot of the battle seems to be cop versus administration, cop versus cop, cop versus FBI, etc., which I found annoying (though it’s probably realistic). Good flick, but not quite as good as I expected.

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: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Author: Charlie Kaufman

Hilarious film about the life of “Gong Show” creator Chuck Barris. Supposedly he was a TV producer by day and a CIA operative by night. Of course there’s no way to prove the latter, so the film has a lot of fun with it. Witty, well-acted and directed, fun yet with some serious moments. Excellent.

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Thu, Jan 23, 2003

: The Gingerbread Man

I had hoped for better with a story by John Grisham, but this was strangely uncompelling. For one, it begins much too slowly, and what it develops into is different from how it starts. The story is actually intriguing: a hotshot lawyer finds himself embroiled in conspiracy and intrigue after he meets a girl who’s being stalked by her mentally ill father. The lawyer has the man committed, but he escapes and kidnaps the lawyer’s kids for revenge… or so the lawyer thinks. Things aren’t quite what they seem, and soon he’s set up for murder. Great idea, but done too dispassionately — we’re not sure who to root for or what’s going on for far too long and in the end we really don’t care about anything.

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Tue, Jan 21, 2003

: Adaptation

Author: Charlie and Donald Kaufman

Awesome, amazing film. I’m sure I feel more strongly about this since I’m a writer (a struggling screenwriter at that) and therefore related to everything in the film, but this is truly one of the most innovative scripts ever to hit the screen. While Kaufman’s former effort, quite work. This film, however, works beautifully.

Assigned to write a screenplay of Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief, Kaufman discovers the book has no plot, just unusual characters, and the journey of those characters is mostly mental. How do you translate that to the screen? Even more important, since it’s such an important part of this book, how to you convey the writing style of the author to the screen? Kaufman’s answer is both brilliant and diabolical: he writes a film about writing the film!

But it gets even better. Not only is he a character in the movie, but he creates for himself a twin brother (the film credits both as the screenplay author). Then he includes the author herself in the film (a wonderful Meryl Streep). The result is a wild, bizare, painful, hilarious tale about the trials and tribulations of writing a screenplay, dealing with life, and oh yeah, the Orchid Thief book.

That last part is the kicker. As we watch the process of writing the screenplay, we learn all about the book, and we learn about it in a much more intimate, in-depth manner than we would if the book had just been filmed as a “normal” adaptation. In fact, much of the book is read to us in voice-over narration as the character reads the book on the screen! The book itself is about a strange man Orlean interviewed for a piece in the New Yorker (where she works). The man has no front teeth, is obsessed with orchids, and has a mysterious past. He tries to steal orchids from a state park (cleverly using Seminole Indians to do the dirty work, as they aren’t likely to be prosecuted, being an oppressed minority) and is arrested. Orlean’s article is so successful she expanded it into a book about orchids, obsession, and this strange man. What makes the book work is her writing style, the bizarre main character, and her interpretations and observations on life and obsession. What’s amazing is that all that comes through in the film. Even though the film is a film about the book, not a film of the book itself, it teaches us a great deal about the book. It’s a brilliant workaround for an impossible task. It’s definitely one of the best book-to-screen adapations of all time because it is it’s own unique thing, yet it is inspired by the book and captures some of the book’s magic, and yet it doesn’t replace the book. (Some literal translations, like the Harry Potter series of films, are so faithful they might make some people think they don’t need to read the books. The movies are fun but the books are better.) This is definitely one of the best films of the year and if Charlie Kaufman doesnÕt win the screenwriting Oscar, Hollywood should be embarrassed.

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Sun, Jan 19, 2003

: Reign of Fire

Oddly uninteresting special effect action flick about an earth dominated by fire-breathing dragons who’ve destroyed 99% of the world’s population. What bothered me the most is that with this kind of special effect vehicle what we want to see are the dragons, and we don’t. Well, we catch glimpses, but there’s little except for fire that shows us how powerful they are. But it’s not convincing — we don’t really believe that even nuclear weapons couldn’t even stop them. Ridiculous. At the film’s climax we’re finally face-to-face with a dragon, but that’s way too late. Lame. It’s actually not that badly written or acted, it’s just not compelling. The dragons just aren’t enough of the film. Since they’re supposed to be the main villains, it’s dumb not to show them.

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: Unfaithful

Director: Adrian Lyne

Terrific, fascinating film. I love films that take a very simple plot and spin a lot story out of it. That’s what Hitchcock did so well. It’s so much interesting than these modern films that have a super plot and four or five subplots and two or three twist endings. Here we’ve got a happily married suburban housewife with an eight-year-old child. Suddenly she meets a guy, he’s French, exotic, young, charming, and she’s having an affair with him. Diane Lane is amazing: not only is she beautiful, but she’s beautiful while being older, and she’s an incredible actress. Somehow, despite what she’s doing, despite lying to her husband and son and friends, she still comes across as sympathetic. That’s because we can see the guilt on her face even as she succumbs to temptation again and again. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, and hates herself for it, but she keeps on doing it. That’s very powerful to watch. While the first half of the film focuses on the woman and her affair, the second half focuses on the husband and his reaction. I liked that a great deal because we got to see both sides. Richard Gere is cast somewhat against type as a regular family man (he usually would be playing the guy having the affair) and he’s surprisingly good. In the end, the film turns dark as a murder is committed, and suddenly the fate of this couple is out of their hands. A beautiful, complex film. The sequence with Diane Lane on the train, remembering her affair, is worth the price of admission alone.

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Sat, Jan 18, 2003

: Monster’s Ball

Incredible film. It’s fascinating that I just happened to watch another great film dealing with racism (

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Thu, Jan 16, 2003

: Gangs of New York

Director: Martin Scorsese

Finally, a Scorsese film I can really like! (I’ve never been a big Scorsese fan. Shocking, I know.) This is an incredible film. And I say that as someone who doesn’t like ganster, gang, or Civil War films. Yes, it is violent and difficult to watch at times, but the violence is all to make a point and paint a picture of how society was at that time. The story is “simple:” in the mid-1800s, a young man in New York seeks revenge against the gang boss who murdered his father. But the backdrop is a complex mess of racism, immigration policies, politics, religion, slavery, and a Civil War that divides not just the country, but New York as well. When you reflect that all this is happening in a brand new country less than a century old, you really feel the future of the U.S. hanging in the balance. Scorsese (and the script) do an amazing job of making all that complicated history understandable (much better than other “historical” films which assume you know the history) without lecturing or oversimplifying. Scorsese cleverly hints at the complexity, giving us glimpses, without trying to actually explain everything in detail (which would no doubt require several documentaries). This gives us entertainment mixed with a little education instead of the other way around. An excellent example is the intercut prayer scene: we watch as the main character, main bad guy, and a rich family each pray. All are sincere, all believe God is on their side, and yet we sense that disaster is about to befall them. This series of images is powerful, complicated, and thought-provoking. Very cool. Scorsese does a lot of simple imagery, camera movement, and very effectively tells a powerful story. (I liked the way he filmed the horrific battle scenes, not really showing that much gore, but implying it with quick flashes of alarmed faces. I will nitpick one detail, however: at least one battling couple in the opening fight appeared to be dancing than fighting. They were just tapping each other the shoulder with their clubs!)

In terms of performances, I must again put forth my vote for Daniel Day-Lewis as the greatest actor ever in the history of cinema. The guy is just amazing (he was my primary motivation to see this film). He never misses. Just flawless. The way he becomes a character is frightening. While I like Leonardo and Cameron Diaz, they’re lightweights compared to Daniel. In the trailers I was cringing at some of their scenes, but that was just because they were out of context: in the film they’re both fine. Their charisma does come through and their fight-slash-love scene is some terrific cinema (surely they had to hurt each other filming that). In general everything felt so authentic that I really fell for all the characters, sympathizing and hating, which is exactly what a good film is supposed to do.

This was just a great film. It was frightening, humorous, passionate, educational, historical, dramatic, and profound without being artsy or pretentious. It is long, but it doesn’t feel like there’s much that could be cut out. The final scenes showing old New York become modern-day New York were amazing: I’d love to study those images. I especially liked that Scorsese included the Twin Towers in the modern shot, rather than removing it the way so many recent films have done. To me that added a powerful message that history is real, and just like the Twin Towers not being part of the NY skyline any more, we can’t see the blood on the streets left by the millions of people that built the city. Wow.

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Wed, Jan 15, 2003

: Get Carter

This film is like a fuse being lit and slowing burning toward a grand explosion. It’s a revenge flick of a ganster (Michael Caine) who’s brother has died. He goes to the town to poke around and find out what happened and slowly uncovers a complex series of backstabbing gangsters, whores, and murderers, and then he instigates his revenge. Unlike a lot of modern action films which supply massive quantities of constant violence, this one doses it out only as needed, and thus it provides the appropriate shock value. Similar to Payback and

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Tue, Jan 14, 2003

: Pumpkin

This could have been the

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Mon, Jan 13, 2003

: Catch Me If You Can

Director: Steven Spielberg

Good film, though somewhat average. It’s well done, but nothing extraordinary. The performances by Hanks and Leonardo are very good, though. The true story is remarkable, especially the feel-good ending: in the 60’s, a teenage boy impersonates a Pan Am pilot and goes around the country cashing forged checks while an FBI agent tracks him. Eventually he’s stolen more than $4 million, worked as a doctor at a hospital, and passed the bar to become a lawyer! Very cool, but not a classic or anything. It was much too long: at over 2 hours, it really only had enough solid material for an hour forty-five. I also hated the animated opening credits, which were full of themselves, like some sort of cheap rip-off of a Pink Panther movie.

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Sat, Jan 11, 2003

: Brotherhood of the Wolf

Interesting French action film. It’s a period piece set in old France, where a strange “beast” is killing women and girls (apparently based on a true story). A scientist from Paris arrives with his companion, a Iroquis from America. The two make their presence known, but though there are several more beastly murders, the scientist doesn’t kill the beast, whom he believes is controlled by a man. Later, he uncovers a vast conspiracy against the King. Some excellent action, and an interesting story, but somewhat uneven. A little confusing for us Americans unfamiliar with ancient French politics.

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Fri, Jan 10, 2003

: Macworld Expo San Francisco

This week was the big Expo, and I went every day to promote my magazine. I got to go to the Steve Jobs’ keynote address, which was amazing, as usual. Apple introduced a lot of new software and some new PowerBooks. Plus, everyone at the keynote got a free copy of Apple’s new Keynote presentation software (which is excellent). I had quite an adventure driving in San Francisco in the dark in the rain, including getting stuck on a steep hill. I think I’ll take cabs from now on. Overall, though, it was a good show and a good week.

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Sun, Jan 05, 2003

: Serendipity

I really liked this romantic comedy. It stars Kate Beckinsale as a woman who’s convinced that Fate rules us, so she refuses to tell the wonderful man she just met her name. If they are meant to be together, they’ll find each other. He writes his name and phone number on a five dollar bill which she then spends, and she puts her name and phone in a book which she sells to a used bookstore. If they’re meant to be together, they’ll find each other. Crazy, but charming, and I loved the way the film is absolutely jammed with fascinating little hints and clues and coincidences. For instance, in one scene the two are in New York at the same time but don’t know it. We see Jonathan (John Cusack) getting tangled with a Dalmation being walked by it’s owner. Later there’s a scene with Sara (the girl) and the same dog is passing by! Of course the two get together in the end, which is exactly what we want to happen. Because of the predictable story the pace of the film is fast (it’s only 90 minutes long) which is just perfect: any longer and we’d start getting antsy. Cool flick.

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Sat, Jan 04, 2003

: Beautiful

Director: Sally Field

This was the directorial debut for Field and it’s a predictable but still entertaining story. Minnie Driver stars as an odd woman who’s spent her entire life trying to win beauty pageants. She does so to the point of ignoring everyone else in her life (except for her best friend) including her daughter, who she cannot reveal is her daughter as that would make her ineligible from entering beauty pageants. The daughter is raised by her best friend and thinks Driver is her aunt. Of course all this culminates in the national competition, where Driver goes as Miss Illinois. But will the evil newswoman spoil the party by revealing her secret? Yeah, you can see it coming. Still, it’s fun, Driver’s great, and the little girl is really good most of the time (in a few scenes she goes over the top).

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Wed, Jan 01, 2003

: Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

Author: C.S. Lewis

One of the series’ best novels. The film starts off well, with Aslan lecturing Jill in a scene that’s just wonderful. “Are you a tame lion?” she asks tentatively. “I am not a tame lion,” he says. And despite his non-assurance that he won’t eat her, she must try him not to do so. Awesome. But then the film slides a bit. The owls are weak (the flying sequences laughably bad), and Puddleglum, one of the main characters, looks far too human (though the actor does a good job). Other subtle aspects of the story are somewhat confused (the business of Aslan’s four signs is muddled on film). But once the trio go underground, things pick up a bit, though the pace is slow. The final confrontation with the witch has an odd change: in the book Puddleglum puts out the fire with one of his large webbed feet, yet in the film he uses his hand. Why? Don’t know. I always thought he was only able to put out fire because his feet were big enough to do it, and the way it’s done in the film with the hand is crazy, since it’s like a huge bonfire and his hand only touches a small part of it (and doesn’t even extinguish that). But overall the story’s great and that comes through in the film. Pretty good.

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