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.

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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!

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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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