Thu, Jul 31, 2003

: Spellbound

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

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

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

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

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Tue, Jul 29, 2003

: I Capture the Castle

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

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Mon, Jul 28, 2003

: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

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

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: The Ugly Duckling

Author: Iris Johansen

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

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Sat, Jul 26, 2003

: MLS: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

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

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

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Fri, Jul 25, 2003

: Spy Kids 3D: Game Over

Director: Robert Rodriguez

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

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Thu, Jul 24, 2003

: Feardotcom

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

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: Darkness Falls

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

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Wed, Jul 23, 2003

: Lazio versus Club America

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

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Gold Cup Semifinal: USA vs. Brazil

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

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Tue, Jul 22, 2003

: Swimming Pool

Author: Franciois Ozon

Director: Franciois Ozon

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

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

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

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Mon, Jul 21, 2003

: A Walk to Remember

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

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Sat, Jul 19, 2003

: Gold Cup Quaterfinal: USA vs. Cuba

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

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Thu, Jul 17, 2003

: The Legend of Suriyothai

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

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: Two Weeks Notice

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

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Wed, Jul 16, 2003

: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Author: Alan Moore

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

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Tue, Jul 15, 2003

: Whale Rider

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

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Sat, Jul 12, 2003

: MLS: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

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

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Fri, Jul 11, 2003

: Zodiac

Author: Neal Stephenson

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

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: Max

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

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Thu, Jul 10, 2003

: Serving Sara

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

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Wed, Jul 09, 2003

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

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

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Mon, Jul 07, 2003

: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Author: J. K. Rowling

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

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

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Sun, Jul 06, 2003

: Heavenly Creatures

Director: Peter Jackson

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

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: Left Behind: the Movie

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

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Sat, Jul 05, 2003

: Car Accident

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

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

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: MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

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

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

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Fri, Jul 04, 2003

: Fireworks

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

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: Air Conditioner

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

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Thu, Jul 03, 2003

: Nowhere in Africa

Director: Caroline Link

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

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Wed, Jul 02, 2003

: T3: Rise of the Machines

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

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

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

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Tue, Jul 01, 2003

: 28 Days Later

Director: Danny Boyle

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

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