Sat, Nov 29, 2003

: The Tenant

Director: Roman Polanski

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

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Sun, Nov 23, 2003

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

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Sat, Nov 22, 2003

: Gothika

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

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: LA Trip

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

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Thu, Nov 20, 2003

: The Italian Job

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

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Wed, Nov 19, 2003

: Donnie Darko

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

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: Save the Last Dance

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

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: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Director: Peter Weir

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

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Mon, Nov 17, 2003

: Death and the Maiden

Director: Roman Polanski

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

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Sun, Nov 16, 2003

: MLS Playoffs: Kansas City Wizards at San Jose Earthquakes

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

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Thu, Nov 13, 2003

: The Matrix: Revolutions

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

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Tue, Nov 11, 2003

: Love Actually

Author: Richard Curtis

Director: Richard Curtis

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

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Sun, Nov 09, 2003

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

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

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

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

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Sat, Nov 08, 2003

: Happy Campers

Author: Daniel Waters

Director: Daniel Water

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

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: The Crime of Padre Amaro

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

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Fri, Nov 07, 2003

: Elf

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

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Thu, Nov 06, 2003

: Lost in Translation

Author: Sophia Coppolla

Director: Sophia Coppolla

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

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Wed, Nov 05, 2003

: In the Cut

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

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Sun, Nov 02, 2003

: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

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

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: Antwone Fisher

Author: Antwone Fisher

Director: Denzel Washington

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

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Sat, Nov 01, 2003

: Holes

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

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