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.

Topic: [/book]

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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.

Topic: [/movie]

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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).

Topic: [/movie]

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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]

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: 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]

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: 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]

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: 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]

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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]

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: 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]

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: 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]

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: 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]

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: 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.

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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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