Wed, Dec 29, 2004

: Grandpa

Strange the way things happen. While I was visiting, Grandpa was doing fine, until the day I left (yesterday). Then suddenly he could hardly walk. He slid off the sofa and couldn’t get up — I had to help him to his feet. Later it took him an hour to get from the living room to the bathroom. After I left my mom had to call 911 because she couldn’t move him, and he ended up in the hospital with a touch of pnemonia. Now it looks like he’ll end up in nursing care while we take our trip to the mid-west early next year.

Topic: [/grandpa]

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Mon, Dec 27, 2004

: The Last Juror

Author: John Grisham

Cool book. The plot’s low-key and takes place across a decade (1970-1980). The point of view is the narrator, a young man who moves to a small town in Mississippi and takes over the town’s newspaper. He learns about the area and covers a sensational murder trial that takes place. In the process he meets a remarkable black woman who has seven children who’ve all grown up and earned PhDs. His weekly lunch with this woman becomes the rock of his life, and it is her story we glimpse through the man’s own, as she becomes a key juror in the murder trial. Unlike most of Grisham’s works, this is a character story, not a plot-driven thriller, and it’s his best novel to date. The story’s a touch slow at times and the ending’s slightly contrived (but still satisfying), but this is not a novel about a story but about a place and time and people: just let yourself get lost in a different world and enjoy it. Impressive. Show’s Grisham’s depth and growth as a writer.

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Dec 25, 2004

: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

Author: Alexandra Fuller

Apart from the strange and never-explained title, this is a remarkably well-written and fascinating book. The author tells of her childhood in war-torn Rhodesia and other South African countries, a lifestyle so different most of us can’t imagine it. I initially picked this book up because I grew up in Africa myself and was curious about another’s experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t find too much to relate to in this book as this author’s story is so different from my own, but I did enjoy the story. Fuller’s an excellent writer, bringing a distant world to life with simple, elegant turns of phrase and vivid dialog. The story’s not exactly pleasant — her childhood was rough with death, violence, racism, and insanity — but in the end it’s a triumph of the irrepressible spirit and life of children. A highly recommended read even if you aren’t interested in Africa.

Topic: [/book]

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: Christmas

Had a nice Christmas with Grandpa, my mother, Uncle Keith, and friends at the beach house. This was my first time away from the new house since I moved in and it was nice to get away, but I did find myself missing the place, which is a good sign. I couldn’t wait to get away from my old place!

Topic: [/event]

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Mon, Dec 20, 2004

: Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Another of those films I really wanted to like. I certainly adore this kind of film, but unfortunately this one fell short. The world is an awkward mix of fantasy, modernness, and ancientness that doesn’t quite jell. The story meanders and you’re never sure where it’s going. Handled correctly, with proper foreshadowing, that can be good, but in this case it just means that everything comes across as jarring and uncomfortable, like being on a roller coaster where the ride takes sudden turns in the wrong direction. You’re never quite sure who is good or evil, what you should root for, and worst of all, the story always ends up back where it started, with the unfortunate children in the clutches of the same villain (Jim Carey). It is very strange. It’s not a magical world, yet there are weird magical-like things (i.e. the professor’s strange plants, the rickety house, the prophetess aunt, etc.). It’s not a fantasy world (children do not invent mechanical contraptions to escape death in fantasies), yet there are fantasy elements. The story goes nowhere (the children do not seem to learn or grow from their experiences and use that in the climax which would at least give their adventures purpose), and in the end it feels like a whole lot of hubub over nothing much. The main plot is also quite predictable, which makes the unexpected and strange people and contraptions too much purpose, as though they are there to entertain us since the plot won’t. This is not a terrible movie — there’s nothing particularly horrible about it — but it’s not a great movie. It’s disappointing since it obviously cost a lot of money to make and comes across like a major special effects showcase. Unfortunately, colorful characters and fancy effects don’t make up for the drab story.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sat, Dec 11, 2004

: Ella Enchanted

This is a modern version of a fairy tale, with modern music, slang, and attitudes set in a Cinderella world. It’s a bit like

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, Dec 10, 2004

: The Grudge

I really wanted to like this but I found it stiffling, more weird than scary, and meaningless. The premise held some interest: when someone dies in a rage their ghost remains behind to torment the living, but even that didn’t really seem to connect much with the meandering storyline. Visually the film is fascinating with unusual perspectives, creepy sounds and images, and a surprising amount of tension built within ordinary scenes. Unfortunately it is the story that is weak and empty. It is relentless, with no point or meaning, and the film’s conclusion left me feeling like I needed to take a shower. The whole thing was simply unpleasant. Not recommended.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Dec 08, 2004

: Blade: Trinity

Not a terrible action flick, assuming you can avoid thinking about the silly plot. The additional cast helps move the Blade franchise along and gives it some new life (Ryan Rynolds smart-ass character helps bring in some needed humor and Jennifer Biel is obviously there for sex appeal), but overall this is by-the-numbers action. Routine.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Dec 05, 2004

: The Good Girl

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect about this film since I hadn’t heard anything about it, but it turned out to be a low-key drama about a bored married woman in a small town who has an affair with a troubled young man and then regrets it. Good performances from all and some interesting moments, but overall the story’s too light for much impact. Above your average Hollywood flick, though.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Nov 22, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today was a long day. Again simple things turned out to be much more complicated. I started by cleaning and moving garbage and empty boxes out to the garage. Then I tried making some phone calls I’d been putting off. I needed a phone book but it took me 30 minutes on hold with Verizon to learn that I have to pay $18 for one! Forget that. The phone company makes obscene amounts of money on those yellow page ads and they expect me to pay for a book? That’s insane! I flat out refuse to do that on principle.

I’d noticed the metal medicine cabinet in the main bathroom was rusted and in poor condition, so I decided to replace it. And I figured I’d get one for my master bath as well, since there isn’t one in there and I like being able to keep my contact lens stuff hidden instead of scattered across the counter. I also had a list of stuff to get a Wal-Mart, plus I need groceries as I’m going to be making dressing for Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s on Thursday. So first I went to the big hardware store, only to discover they don’t sell medicine cabinets. Another hardware store was the same. They sell toilets and showers and bathrooms, but no medicine cabinets! So I had to trek all the way out to Lowes, which is on the other side of town. There I was successful, finding two nice white wooden cabinets that fit in nicely with the decor of my house. I also got a few other things I needed, and got some good info on drapperies (something I know little about but need).

I also stopped at a couple furniture stores. Yikes! Beds that costs $5,000! A coffee table for $800? A $4,000 entertainment center? That’s a different world than I live in. Even if I could afford it I don’t know that I’d want to pay that kind of money for such stuff. I mean, it’s not like it’s unique hand-crafted art. I did find a coffee table I like for $250 but I hate that I have to pay $50 for delivery. They’re just milking it. Delivery ought to be free or at least really cheap. It’s not like I live far away. How much could it cost them to have a full-time guy driving a truck around dropping stuff off? Oh well, maybe I’ll wait until I need never items. I could rent a U-Haul for $20/day and do several pickups on the same day.

Then it was off to Wal-Mart, where I again overspent. But stuff there is so cheap it’s like you have to buy it! For example, I wanted to buy a knife block or a magnetic strip thing for my knives. I couldn’t find either of those, but instead found a knife set that came with a wooden block. The scary thing is that the knife set came with 45 pieces including twelve steak knives, a half-dozen other knives, plus kitchen utensils and more… all for less than ten bucks! I’d been prepared to pay $10 for a knife block alone, but here I got it plus a ton of knives. Crazy. I did get a lot of useful stuff, though, like a clock for the living room, a cabinet mount electric can opener, a tablecloth, and more. In the end, it was almost seven o’clock I was too tired to bother with the groceries. I’ll have to do that tomorrow.

After dinner I put together a CD cabinet I’d bought long ago but never assembled and put my CDs in it. Then I tackled the medicine cabinets, getting them installed in each bathroom. Finally things are starting to look more organized. Tomorrow I need to do more trash cleanup (there are still bags and piles of packaging lying everywhere, then vacuum and clean so the house will be ready for guests on Wednesday. It’s looking better and better, though I’m still missing some important things like drapes, molding, slipcovers for the sofa and loveseat, and other details.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sun, Nov 21, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Mostly did cleanup and unpacking today, and took it easy, watching soccer on TV. I wrote up a lot of the recent House Buy Adventures, too, which took about half my day as I hadn’t written anything in my log in over a week!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sat, Nov 20, 2004

: Scooby Doo Two

Pointless sequel. More misadventures of the Scooby gang. I didn’t like the cartoon much and the movies are even worse. In cartoon from the overacting and stereotypes are bearable, but in live action it’s astonishingly bad. I guess it’s a form of humor, but a low one. The cast is good for what they’ve got, but there isn’t much to work with scriptwise. Mostly dull with only the occasional smile. Appropriate if you’re in the mood for something mindless (like I was).

Topic: [/movie]

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: House Buying Adventure

Today I installed the two light fixtures I bought, and I put in a shelf in the laundry room. The purpose of the shelf is more to keep the cats from going behind the washer and dryer than needing a shelf, but it’s actually a very handy and convenient place for a shelf (it keeps laundry supplies very handy). The light fixtures were an adventure, being that they are nine and eleven feet in the air. But they work and look great. In the kitchen I removed the horrible dangling ugly chandelier thing that had way too much chain and hung too low and now we’ve got a clean ceiling fixture that doesn’t dominate the room. The fixtures I got have frosted glass so you can actually look at them without seeing the bulbs, which is nice. They put out a nice white glow. I’d like to get a few more for some other rooms but those rooms aren’t wired for overhead lights. I dread thinking what an electrician would charge to install those, but I guess I’ll have to check. With my poor eyes, I need lots of bright light. I don’t like dim lamps linked to switched outlets; I much prefer overhead lights.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Fri, Nov 19, 2004

: National Treasure

The conspiracy and clue-based premise of this movie is an obvious rip-off of the horrible Dan Brown code books, so I didn’t expect much. I got what I expected. It’s a routine adventure, with flimsy characters and plot, a rapid pace that leaves you confused and mindless, and a red herring ending that’s not especially satisfying. The ride’s not horrible, however. It’s mildly interesting, and there are moments of humor and a few good lines that make it enjoyable. I wasn’t overly impressed or depressed; it’s routine. I did like the luminous Diane Kruger as the love interest: her spicy character and beauty made the adventure more intriguing, though it wasn’t enough to overcome the movie’s inherent flaws. Still, it’s mildly enjoyable, though certainly don’t go into this expecting any kind of intelligence.

Topic: [/movie]

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: The Incredibles

This was very different from what I expected. I liked it a lot, though I wasn’t sure until about half-way through. From the promos I was expecting a sort of parody of superheroes. It appeared to be about hapless former superheroes who were now overweight and out of shape or something. But to my surprise these superheroes were really super. What’s happened is that lawsuits have made superheroes illegal, so Mr. Incredible and his superfamily have retired to normal mundane jobs and pine for the days when they used to save the world on a regular basis. They are forced to hide their superpowers and pretend to be regular folk, and that’s where the humor comes in. Eventually, of course, the entire family must combine their powers to stop a supervillain. The plot’s a little more routine than most Pixar films, but there is still heart in the story. The humor’s dry and understated, rarely the laugh-out-loud variety, but there’s plenty to smile about. Some of the lines are really funny but delivered so quickly and effortlessly that you don’t realize it until moments later. Overall, I was very impressed. Pixar’s done it again. While it’s a very different movie from previous outings, it’s another classic. Definitely one of the best of the year.

Topic: [/movie]

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: House Buying Adventure

Today was a very good day. I got up early and finished work on my magazine. That felt good to get that done. There’ll be more to do, but that was the primary deadline. About eleven a.m. I relaxed for the first time in a while, realizing that I was finally settling in. Getting some work done helped secure that feeling. I decided I deserved a break and would go see a movie for the first time in nearly two months. For someone who normally sees two or three matinees a week, it feel like a year since I’d been in a theatre. Since this theatre was in a different part of town from where I’ve been, I took a different route there, which proved interesting. It helped me figure out an even shorter route for the future. I saw National Treasure and then came back and watched The Incredibles later. I came home for dinner, and it was nice to relax. I put together the cabinet for my bedroom, unpacked a few things, and assembled a small lamp I’d bought for the guest room. The cats are more relaxed as well. I think they’re starting to think of this as home as well.

Topic: [/personal]

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Thu, Nov 18, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

The last couple of days have been a blur. I think I slept a lot. I didn’t get much work done. I had some business stuff I needed to do and only partially accomplished it. Tomorrow I’ll have to really crank down. But I’ve been physically tired. I get up early (between seven and eight), then take a nap around eleven, then I take another nap in the afternoon, and by ten o’clock at night I’m falling asleep. The house is a bit depressing. Everywhere I look I see projects to be done. Worse, I keep thinking of new ones to do. It seems endless and is overwhelming. I haven’t started unpacking yet. I’m still shopping for stuff, that also seems endless and the thrill of spending money is starting to grate on me. There are just so many little things I need. For instance, you really need trash containers for every room of the house. In my old house, that meant three. Here that means about eight. I need things for the kitchen. I need to put up towel racks in the main bathroom. It’s endless. Today I went to Lowes and bought a new digital cell phone. It’s a Tracfone, the pay-in-advance plan I’m already on. My old one’s an analog phone and doesn’t include voice mail, something I need. I also bought a small cabinet for my bedroom to use as a nightstand/bookcase, and some ceiling light fixtures to replaces ugly ones in the house.

I went by the post office today and showed them the deed to my house (that served as the second piece of identity they wanted) and got my mail. Nothing much has forwarded yet, but I expect that will start soon. I also went to a grocery store and picked up some much needed items. I got a frozen turkey for 19 cents a pound as well: even though I’ll be at my Aunt’s for Thanksgiving, at that price my own turkey’s a must.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Wed, Nov 17, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today I discovered that my programmable thermostat is incompatible with the heating system of this house. I thought I was so clever removing it from the old place and hooking back up the original mercury switch, but after all that it’s useless here. I had to go buy a new one. I found an Ace hardware one for $45 that appears to work, though I rarely hear the heater kick in. Usually when I check the temperature’s not low enough for the heater to turn on, so it’s working correctly.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Tue, Nov 16, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I woke up today with a simple task. One of my cats, Mayhem, loves to chew wires, so I’ve always got to think of him when wiring anything. In fact, the long Ethernet cable I had going down the hallway from my office is chewed up in a number of places. The cats had been locked in the laundry room since we arrived and I didn’t want to let them out until things had settled a bit and until I had all wires hidden. That meant I needed to wire Ethernet from my office to the living room before I could release them. I’d already plotted my route: instead of going under the house I’d simply lay a wire outside. There were already phone and cable wires there, so one more made little difference. That meant two holes: one out of the office and one in in the living room. Simple. I just needed some cover plates and Ethernet wire. I figured I’d have it done by noon. Silly me. I went to Radio Shack first thing and bought the bare wire, crimper, RJ-45 ends, and cover plates. Then I set about making a simple test Ethernet wire. Stupidly, I followed the directions on the crimper tool. I don’t know what kind of wire that was for but it was definitely not for Ethernet. My first several attempts failed. The cable didn’t work. Then I discovered I’d misread the box on the RJ-45 ends. It read “8-wire connector” and there weren’t eight connectors in the box, only five. So my two boxes were only ten, not sixteen. Suddenly I was down to just a few left and I still hadn’t created a cable that worked. I went on the Web and found a site that explained, with colorful diagrams, how to make an Ethernet cable. It’s not really that hard, but it’s tricky. The color sequence of the wires is critical, and you must get the wires to reach all the way to the end of the RJ-45 piece before you crimp. I discovered the key was cutting the wires to the same length after you had them unwound. You see, they are wound together in pairs and when you unravel them, they have different lengths. When you shove the wires into an end the longest wire might reach the end but some are shorter and don’t. By clipping them all to the same length you ensure that all the wires can reach the end. I created a few that had just one wire that didn’t each the far end of the plastic clip and the cable didn’t work. Once I figured that out, I could make a successful cable, but meanwhile I’d used all my clips testing and needed to go buy more! I decided to try drilling a hole in the wall to make sure I wouldn’t have trouble there. Ah, another problem. My drill bit wasn’t long enough! It went through the drywall but couldn’t reach the outside of the house. So off I went to buy a longer drill bit, and more clips. The bottom line: this two hour project took the entire day. The cover plate I’d bought need a cutout in the wall so I had to use my jigsaw to cut an opening in the wall so the plate would fit. Then I had to figure out how to get wire through the holes I’d drilled. It sounds easy, but isn’t. A house wall is really two walls, and outer and an inner, with open space filled with insulation in between. Getting a cable to pass through both holes is tricky. I finally unbent a metal clothes hanger and taped the Ethernet cable to the end and used the stiff hanger wire to poke through until I got it through both holes. This had to be done twice, of course, once in the living room and once in the office. I’d originally planned to run Ethernet to my bedroom as well, but this was taking so long I decided to postpone that for another day. In the end, I got everything wired and it worked. The Tivos, Playstation 2, and my laptop all have wired Internet in the living room, which is sweet indeed. Now there’s no cable traipsing through the hallway and the cats are free to explore the new house. The cats had thoroughly explored the laundry room and were really wanting out. The laundry room door has a vent that the cats could see through and watch legs passing by and see glimpses of the exciting new world but they couldn’t go out there. Now, finally, I flung the door open and they began to explore. It was hilarious watching them. I’d closed the doors to all the bedrooms and bathroom, so there was just the open dining room, kitchen, living room, and hallway to see. Immediately the cats began running about smelling everything. They quickly found the limits of the house (there was no way outside), but there was lots of explore inside. It was an hour or so before they settled down and came to purr at my feet. I was relaxing and watching some TV for what seemed like the first time in months but was really a couple weeks. Fortunately Tivo had recorded everything so I only missed last weekend’s shows. I was worried how the cats would settle in but as I watched TV, Mayhem came and hopped in my lap, purring happily. Mischief was not quite as secure, but seemed very happy to see me. He’d go explore then come back and rub against my legs and enjoy a pat on the head before going off again. When a truck rumbled by or a strange sound happened, he’d bolt for the safety of the laundry room. That was excellent: I wanted them to see that room as a secure refuge, not a prison. Cats need a den.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Mon, Nov 15, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Now it was time for the dreaded unpacking stage. At home, while packing, I’d fantasized about this stage. I pictured the joy of removing belongings from boxes and finding the perfect place to put the item in my new house with all it’s storage and space. The reality was far short of that. For one, I was exhausted. A month of non-stop stress and hassle and heavy lifting followed by a grueling and frantic trek and unloading had left little joy in the arrival. I just wanted to sleep. But there was still tons to be done. First on the agenda was telephone. I hadn’t bothered to have a land line installed and planned to use my Internet phone from Vonage instead. But hooking it up proved to be a challenge. It’s not that it’s complicated — far from it — but I had to find the correct power brick for the Vonage box. Of course all my computer cables were in one huge box, a massive tangle that would make the most fiercesome Christmas light tangle look organized. It took me over an hour to sort through and find the right adapters and get my Internet phone line going. Minutes after I did it, the phone rang — it was the DirecTV guy calling to say he’d be here in an hour. So then I had to rush and get my entertainment center assembled so he’d have a TV to test. Fortunately, he had some drilling and wiring to do, hooking up a satellite dish and wiring cable to various rooms. By the time he got there and did that, I had hooked up my AV system, surround sound speakers, my Tivos, DVD player, and more. Not wanting the nightmare of wires behind the entertainment center I’ve had in the past, this time I got smart and wired everything through a closed cabinet inside the center. I cut a hole in the back for the wires and kept the surge protectors and UPS in there. Some extra lengths of wire hang out of the back, but it’s a lot cleaner than before. I even labeled the wires so I can see what cable belongs to what device. After the satellite guy left I brought out a long Ethernet cable which I ran down the hallway from the office to the living room and hooked it up to the Tivos. Then I redid Guided Setup on the Tivos to alert them to the new zip code and cable system. This is much faster with an Internet connection than a phone line so I wanted to do it that way. By evening, the Tivos had processed all the new guide info and were recording. My mom left that afternoon, but we’d gotten a lot done, though there was still tons to be done.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sun, Nov 14, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I slept a good ten hours, Joel twelve. When I told him he’d had twelve hours and it was time to get up, he groaned that he only needed another twelve to be caught up. It took most of Sunday to get the truck unloaded. I was nervous for a while because it seemed interminable, but eventually we got to the back wall of my mom’s stuff and it all went into my garage (easy). I also got a bit frustrated, because some of my stuff got damaged in transit. We lost another bookcase (Joel had piled too much heavy stuff on a fixed shelf), and a lot of my boxes were put in upside down and sideways, whatever would fit, and that destroyed the boxes and sometimes damaged the contents. I’m the kind of person that throws out a piece of paper that gets a corner bent, so this was depressing for me. I supposed I should have packed better (anticipated boxes being stored sideways), or done the truck packing myself (though it would have taken me longer), but in the end, it really isn’t such a bad thing, just frustrating since we were short on space and I did have to abandon a few things in California I could have brought instead. I’d already been second-guessing on many items: is it worth bringing crappy old furniture I’d paid $100 when I could buy a new piece for less money up here? We’re talking cheap fabricated stuff here, not hardwood. Just simple bookcases and shelving. If I’d had more time to think and do the math, I probably would have done that, but with so little time to plan, I just hauled everything north, which might not have been the smartest thing. So when I saw that stuff breaking in transit it was annoying, to say the least. But I’ll live.

At about 12:45 I happened to hook up the TV in my bedroom. I’d brought in a cart for it to rest on and placed it there, then hooked up cable just to confirm everything worked. Why not? I was tuning in a channels when suddenly there was a soccer game on. I stared at the screen in disbelief. It was the 2004 MLS Cup final! Oh my Lord I had completely forgotten! I couldn’t believe it. How could I have forgotten the biggest game of the year? Of course my team wasn’t in it, and I did have a lot going on this weekend, but I did remember telling Joel that we had to have Tivos hooked up noon Sunday so I wouldn’t miss the game. And then I’d completely forgotten. Of course now I had deadlines (Joel’s flight) so there was no time to watch the game now: I needed to record it somehow. Hey, how about ancient technology known as a VCR? I found one in a box, hooked it up, and found a video cassette. I rewound the tape and got it recording, then went out to help Joel unload the truck. The game was 30 minutes in and already there were like three goals scored. Insanity. I still couldn’t believe I’d missed it. At one time I’d seriously considered trying to fly to L.A. for the game. If the Quakes had been in it I’d probably have tried that. But it was a good thing that didn’t happen because there was no way we’d have gotten the truck unloaded Saturday.

When the truck was finally empty we showered and dressed and went out for lunch at Izzy’s pizza. It had sounded good but wasn’t what I (or my mom) expected. It’s an all-you-can-eat pizza bar, basically. For $7.95 you get unlimited salad bar and pizza, plus the dessert bar (soft ice cream and treats). It was decent, but not exactly Sunday dinner material. My mother wasn’t too impressed, but I liked the value. Weekdays you can get the same thing for lunch for just $5.95, a real steal if you’re starving. Afterward we took the U-Haul over to Wal-Mart where I bought a six-foot ladder (something needed in a place with 12-foot ceilings and light bulbs to change). I knew a ladder wouldn’t fit in my car so I wanted to take advantage of the truck. Then we filled it with gas, returned it to the U-Haul place (right nearby), and were off to the airport. This time traffic was non-existent and we made it in a little over an hour, not bad at all. We dropped Joel off and my mom and I returned home.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Fri, Nov 12, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I was up before seven, packing. I emptied the fridge and packed stuff I wanted to keep in the chest freezer, figuring it would act as a nice cooler. I woke Joel up around eight fifteen and we started ripping apart my AV system and computer setup. There was no time for finese: everything just went into large boxes. I ripped out the cable modem since that needed to be returned today. I got a phone call from someone interested in the fridge, so Joel and I heaved it onto the porch. Then we went to Dave’s for breakfast, where he treated us with fresh crepes. He’s been into those since returning from a visit to France last summer. I had a package of frozen Oregon Marionberries (the best berry in the world) which I’d partially thawed and brought with me. We nuked them and they were delicious on the crepes.

Dave had planned to help us during the day but unfortunately there was an emergency with a client at work and he could only help until one o’clock. We made decent progress. Joel unloaded the truck and we began bringin in my furniture (most bookcases), and figuring out how to transport stuff. TV’s and computer monitors we placed face down onto chairs and sofas, surrounding them with pillows and blankets. Then we were able to pile other stuff on top and fill in the spaces with boxes. Dave took off about 12:30 to get ready for his client meeting, so then it was just Joel and I. I’d hoped to be on the road by mid-afternoon, but that was obviously not going to happen. By three o’clock I’d given up any thoughts of packing trash into bags: I just had to leave junk where it was. There just wasn’t any time. At about four we had the truck loaded, but again faced the same dilemma we’d had in Fresno: we still had my storage locker to come but the truck couldn’t be packed too efficiently without those ingredients. So once again we were faced with a pack, then unpack, then repack situation. We ran to the cable company to return the cable modem and close my account, then we stopped for some sodas as we needed refreshment. Then it was off to the storage locker. That is when the going got hard. My 5 x 10 storage locker was packaged to the ceiling with boxes, most of them heavy. After an hour of hauling boxes out to the truck it looked like I hadn’t started emptying the locker yet. I kept urging Joel to pack stuff efficiently as there were tons of boxes to come. We hadn’t even gotten to my books yet! We kept working. I was getting physically weak. A banker box full of books that was heavy was now nearly impossible to lift. A hand truck loaded with five boxes of books was barely managable, and I had trouble getting it up the ramp. I had to take a running start and sometimes I ran out of juice half-way up (or more crushingly, inches from the top) and would roll back down. Once I misjudged the run-up and crashed into base of the ramp: the hand truck just stopped dead, the handle digging hard into my mid-section. After that, I didn’t use the ramp any more. It was safer to park and lift the boxes one by one into the truck and let Joel store them. During this process I was getting depressed for it really seemed like we wouldn’t make it. I was worried because I couldn’t tell if we’d be able to fit everything, and because we were so far behind schedule. Then there was our first casualty: one of my bookcases was busted. We removed it, since there was no point in taking trash to Oregon. A glimmer of hope dawned when I finally saw the back of the storage unit, then reached the final row of boxes. We were running out of space in the truck but had reserved some room for some of the awkward furniture pieces we’d removed to make room for boxes (such as my gas barbeque). Finally, it was done. At about seven-thirty, we got on the road (after a quick stop for more caffeine).

Unfortunately, our exit proved short-lived. I’d been debating the best approach to take going home. Originally I’d figured we’d be heading north through the Bay area during rush hour (3-7) and traffic would be a nightmare, so I’d thought that maybe going south to Watsonville and over to I-5 near Los Banos would be the longer but faster approach. When we didn’t get on the road until so late, however, it seemed fastest to go through the Bay Area. But just before leaving Scotts Valley traffic on Highway 17 was stopped dead. Obviously there’d been an accident in the mountains. It had to be recent, too, since the signboard hadn’t indicated anything. That would be a least an hour delay, perhaps more. Many people were turning back and I made the decision to take the Los Banos route. I was driving my car, Joel in the U-Haul. He followed me as we took the exit, looped around, and headed south. Going was slow in the truck, but we plowed ahead. In the mountains of the Pacheco Pass I lost Joel for a while. He was going so slow he kept dropping further and further behind. Finally I pulled over and waited and he eventually showed up. Going downhill wasn’t a problem at all and he actually passed me! Shortly after that he put on his blinker indicating he wanted to exit. We got off at a truck stop in what I learned was Santa Nella, about a mile from the I-5 junction. I thought he wanted to eat or something, or perhaps he needed gas. But no, it was a truck problem. A red light reading “brake pressure” had lit up and was buzzing. I called U-Haul’s 800 number on my cell and got through and explained the situation. I had to do it twice, since the first guy didn’t put me on hold correctly or something, and someone else came on and began asking me all the stuff the first guy had already done! Eventually, though, the story got explained, I figured out where we were (I had to ask someone at the truck store), and U-Haul said they’d send out a mechanic to check on the truck. Someone would call in 30 minutes to let us know the schedule. Joel and I decided we’d eat at the truck stop. I’d originally thought of stopping at Anderson’s, the famous split pea soup place, which I knew was on nearby I-5. When Joel went to park the truck, however, the red light was off. About ten minutes later U-Haul called to say a technician would be out within 90 minutes. But when I mentioned that the light was now off, the U-Haul guy retracted his offer and said he wouldn’t send anyone out. “But there could be a serious problem,” I said. “Brakes are not something to mess with.” He countered that the light was off so there was no problem. But why did the light go on? Shouldn’t it be checked out to be safe? What if the light came back on a few miles down the highway? “Then call us back,” he said. So the bottom line is we’d be back in this mess again, starting from scratch, down the road a bit. Nice.

After a truck stop dinner — large volumes of mediocre food at cheap prices — we decided to take a little nap before getting back on the road. We slept for an hour, a much needed break, then got started again. It was about midnight and we were just reaching I-5! We still had an hour or so to get up near Tracy and be leaving the Bay area. Depressing. Then the rain came. It poured, an almost blinding sheet of water, and traffic, which was surprisingly heavy for that time of night, slowed. The conditions were horrible for mechanical problems and I prayed the truck would be okay. The pitch dark was also making me sleepy and I struggled a bit to keep away. My cats, which were in separate carriers in the back seat, had finally stopped meowing to be let out and were sleeping. We drove on and on and on. About one-thirty we passed through Sacramento. I’d forgotten that I-5 went over that way as usually I come over via Vacaville and by-pass the California capital. That was depressing because we still were so near the Bay area. A sign revealed we were still two hours from Redding. In the past I’ve left San Jose and gotten to Redding in four hours, so by now we should be in Redding. Of course the truck is slower than my car but even with that we should be closer than two hours. Perhaps my detour south had been a mistake? I was also falling asleep and knew I had to stop soon. Plans of driving all night seemed impossible now. It was two in the morning when we stopped north of Sacramento. We found a gas station that was closed but well-lit and a couple semis parked on the roadside. We parked and slept for a couple hours. It was good but I was still depressed at the distance left. It was like we had just started. Then I began doing the calculations. If Redding was two hours away, we’d be there by six. Redding is like three hours from Medford, so that would be nine a.m. Now obviously the truck was going to be slow going over the mountain, but maybe we’d be in Medford by ten. I told this Joel and suggested we plan for Medford for breakfast. Perhaps things weren’t so bad off. We dawn arriving we both woke up more, the glorious sun perking us up. The day was gorgeous, a stunning sunrise of purple and pink and orange. We drove on and on. Redding passed, then Weed, Yreka, and finally Ashland and Medford. It was ten-thirty. We had breakfast at Elmo’s. I had the eggs Benedict and Joel the Belgian waffle. Delicious. After getting gas (a length process with a car and a huge truck to fill), we were on the road again. Doing the math, I figured we’d be arriving at Lafayette about four o’clock. The walkie talkies I’d brought had proved useless (the truck was too loud to hear them even on max volume and there was frequent interference), so we communicated with cell phones instead. Even that proved only occasionally successful as once I called Joel several times and he didn’t answer, only later telling me he never heard the phone ring!

During the long drive that afternoon I had a couple interesting experiences with cops. The shoulder strap for my seat belt was cutting into my neck with the shirt I wore, so I’d slipped it under my arm. A cop was passing me on the left (I was only going 50) and suddenly he slowed down and began motioning to me. For a moment I was nervous, wondering what he wanted, then I saw him snapping his shoulder strap against his chest. I pulled mine back up and he waved and went on. It was good thing I was wearing my seat belt or it would have been a fine. But I did think it odd that the shoulder strap was so significant. But at least he didn’t pull me over. Later, though, I did get pulled over. I was sleepy and I kept zoning out. I don’t know if I actually fell asleep, but I would sort of tune out and then pay attention when I hit the bumps along the side of the road. The endless driving was just so boring and I had to go slow to not outpass the truck. In this instance, I was following Joel (that was easier than trying to lead, since he defined the pace). I was a mile or so behind but not worried, since I could catch up easily if needed. All I remember was suddenly seeing the rear of a cop car poking onto the highway (he had pulled someone over) and I swerved to avoid it. I overdid it a bit, fishtailing around a bit, and I worried the cop would think I was a drunk or something. Sure enough, seconds later he was there, lights flashing, pulling me over. He was a bit upset, claiming I could have killed him. I explained that I’d just over-reacted. I hadn’t seen his car until the last second and thought it was in my lane only later realizing it wasn’t, just on the side of the road. He told me I’d drifted on to the shoulder and that’s why his car was in my way. I’m surprised I didn’t appear drunk or something, with my lack of sleep, but apparently my answers satisfied the officer. After he ran my license he let me go without any penalty (no damage had been done and I suppose technically I hadn’t broken any laws). I was wide awake after that, though.

When we reached Salem, there was another dilemma: which way to Lafayette. There’s no direct road there, but you can get off at southern Salem and go west and north, or go north of Salem and go west and south. Though the latter appeared farther, I’d done it before and it was what Phil had recommended, but now I wasn’t so sure. In the end, we decided to go with the route I knew. I didn’t know what kinds of road or hills we’d find the other direction, and it was foggy with low visibility and we were making good time on I-5. We arrived in Lafayette at 4:30 p.m. My mom was already there (I’d given her a key) and was glad to see us. I could hardly believe we’d arrived in one piece with the truck intact. For the past twenty-four hours I’d doubted we’d arrive at all! We were still way behind schedule, as I’d hoped to have the truck unloaded on Saturday, but it was almost evening and we’d just arrived. We decided to go ahead and get started unloading, moving stuff into the garage for now, then we’d clean up and go to Ruby Tuesday for a nice dinner. That worked well and went until seven and managed to get a good quarter of the truck unloaded and I got some stuff settled into the house as well. I hauled boxes marked “kitchen” inside and my mom began unpacking them, putting stuff into cupboards where I’ll never find them again. A hot shower was heavenly and dinner was excellent. Then it was time to crash.

Topic: [/house purchase]

Link

Thu, Nov 11, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I was up at the crack of dawn, but it didn’t help. There was still way too much to do. There was tons of trash that needed to be put into bags, I still hadn’t packed up my computers or AV system, and I still had stuff to pack. My plan was to get most of that done in the morning, but unfortunately I ran out of time. I did some packing, then had to go to the hardware store for supplies like rope and dust masks and gloves. I went to the post office intending to close my PO box only to discover that the post office was closed! Apparently today was a holiday of some kind. That had not been on my calendar. I then had to stop at the printshop to help with a problem there, and that made me late for picking up Dave. We were slow getting to Oakland to pick up my cousin Joel and didn’t arrive until about 1:30 p.m. (I’d wanted to be there before one). We stopped in Pleasanton for a quick lunch that wasn’t quick and it was two-thirty before we were on I-5. Then we had a “discussion.” I was for staying on I-5 until we got to Los Banos and taking 152 over to 99, but Dave was looking at the map and seemed to think that would be much longer. He favored taking little 133 over to Modesto and catching 99 there. We finally followed his plan, though the mileage numbers he was quoting didn’t add up to me. We seemed to travel at a glacier pace though we actually made okay time. There was rain occasionally, but as I hoped, it cleared up as we neared Fresno. I’d wanted to be at the U-Haul place by three, but we didn’t arrive until twenty after five! The placed closed at 5:30, so we just made it. It was six o’clock or so as we made our way to the storage locker, and it was dark. I hadn’t counted on that. Daylight Savings Time strikes again! Of course the storage locker wasn’t lit, so we basically had to load in the dark. Brilliant. Or rather, not. I parked my car with the headlights pointing at the garage and we turned on the dome lights inside the truck. It probably was better, in a way, since we couldn’t see all the dust and dirt on the stored stuff. We sorted stuff a little, moving out some of the heavier stuff and finding boxes we could pack in the space above the cab (you don’t want heavy stuff there). We packed it in thoroughly and roped it in to help hold it, then brought up large furniture like the couch and loveseat to help hold it in. The next problem was that obviously there wasn’t enough stuff to fill the entire 26’ truck, so we were concerned about stuff sliding around in the half-empty truck. But of course we needed stuff packed efficiently because I had a ton of stuff at my place to come. That also was a problem because it was impossible to pack efficiently with only a third of the ingredients on hand. We finally just threw stuff on the truck, positioned and roped it not to move, and closed up shop. We reluctantly concluded that we’d simply have to unpack the bulk of the load the next day: there was no other way to do it.

Next we went to meet Dave’s dad for dinner, but it was eight-thirty and he’d already eaten and was ready for bed. So we all went over to Tahoe Joe’s and feasted on delicious steaks and shrimp appetizers, with a mountain of creamy cheesecake for dessert. After that it was a long drive home. We had to fill up the U-Haul with gas first, and I can’t remember what time we actually left Fresno, but it was probably approaching eleven. By the time we parked the truck at the printshop (they have a bigger parking lot than my driveway) and dropped Dave at home, it was two a.m. before we got to bed.

Topic: [/house purchase]

Link

Wed, Nov 10, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Glady and my mom went back home today. They were a great help. They put liners on all my shelves and cleaned the blinds, bathrooms, and more. The house was in surprisingly decent shape but it did need cleaning. A lot of the blinds need replacing but since I don’t think I want ugly blinds long term, I won’t bother doing that yet.

I had to go to the post office to get my box. Unfortunately, no one told me I needed two forms of ID. A driver’s license is enough ID to get me on a plane but not enough to open a PO box! Fortunately, the gal relented and went ahead and granted me a box with the promise that I’d return next week with a second form of ID. So now I know my new mailing address and can start informing people of that.

My flight home was scheduled for 6:55 p.m. so I’d planned to leave at four o’clock. That was three hours, but I wasn’t sure how long it took to get to the airport and I had to return the rental car. It seemed like plenty of time so I was a little lax leaving and didn’t get on the road until 4:15. Then I realized I’d miscalculated two other things. First, by the time I got to Portland area, it was basically five o’clock rush hour. Traffic was at a standstill. It was six o’clock before I got to the airport area. Then I remembered I was supposed to fill the rental with gas before returning it! I couldn’t remember the penalty if I didn’t, but since they’d offered me a “cheaper” option of buying a full tank for $36, I figured the penalty must cost more than that. Unfortunately, there were no gas stations near the airport. I ended up having to drive about fifteen minutes away to find one. By the time I got back, it was almost six thirty and catching my flight was going to be tough! Fortunately the rental return was a breeze. I pulled into a lane, the gal took my key, inspected the car and approved that no damage had been done, and I was off to the Southwest counter with my luggage. There was a minimal wait in line there but I’d already seen on the monitor that my flight was delayed. Sure enough, when gave me my boarding pass she informed me the plane would leave at 7:20 p.m. So suddenly I had plenty of time. It turned out I had even more time than that, because we didn’t leave until eight o’clock! It was a routine flight, except for the girl crying in the seat behind me during the decent. She apparently was suffering from some sort of sinus pressure or something due to the plane descending. It was painful and she was crying and moaning. It really unnerved a lot of people. The flight crew did nothing, of course. Just like that time I got sick on a flight. Southwest sucks. I really don’t like them as an airline. I thought the girl was a child but when we got off I was surprised to see she was a college-aged woman! We landed, I got my checked bag, grabbed a shuttle (perfect timing), found my car, paid for parking (since I was there for three days and five hours, I got socked for a full extra day, the lamers), and drove home. I was keyed up and needed to unwind, so I watched some TV and ate a late dinner. I went to bed about midnight, ready for an early morning. I was getting nervous because there was a ton to do and this was crunch time.

Topic: [/house purchase]

Link

Tue, Nov 09, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today the plumber arrived first thing. He was supposed to be here at 8:30 but he was at least fifteen minutes early. That was fine, though, as I was ready. He had a number of tasks to do: install a new sink, faucets, garbage disposal, and run a water line for the fridge. I figured water line would be the most complicated and thought the other stuff was so routine it would happen quickly, but it took a surprising amount of time. I didn’t watch everything he did, but he was busy under the sink area, putting in a new valve or something, as I think he had to repipe a few things to get everything to flow correctly. Then came the bad news. The first was a surprise. After the garbage disposal was installed he went to plug it in and realized there was no outlet under the sink. Apparently that’s normally standard but not in my house. For now I can run it with an extension cord (not a big deal as you don’t use the disposal often) but odd that no one noticed that until this late in the game (it was something I’d wondered about but hadn’t checked). Eventually I can have an electrician install a switched outlet but I’ll wait until I know what else I need an electrician to do. To continue the bad news, the plumber revealed that my water lines are “polybutelene” (?) and will eventually need to be replaced as they begin leaking after about fifteen years or so. That will cost three grand at some point in the future, but it’s not an immediate worry. That sounded sort of familiar — I think the home inspector might have mentioned something about it. But a more immediate bummer was that after connecting the dishwasher we discovered it didn’t work. Water wouldn’t pump inside it even though everything was connected. So now a new dishwasher is in the cards.

At about eleven Uncle Phil showed up. He’d actually arrived before my mom and her friends with the beds. They were in a pickup loaded with mattresses and couldn’t drive more than thirty-five or so. The beds arrived about eleven-thirty and we quickly hauled them inside. There was a double for my room and two twins for the guest room. Excellent! Now my mom and her friend Glady will have a place to stay tonight. I took everyone out for lunch at Ruby Tuesday (I had the Triple Play: ribs, shrimp, and chicken strips). It was delicious. Afterward Bob and his wife went home with the truck, Phil went off to work, and my mom and Glady and I went to home to clean. At least they cleaned. I busied myself putting closet doors back (someone had removed them from the tracks and never put them back), assembling beds, and putting outlet covers on all over the house (whoever had painted had removed them and only put half back).

Topic: [/house purchase]

Link

Mon, Nov 08, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Wow, what a day! I slept really well (about nine hours). Yes I was tired, but it was also nice and quiet here in the tiny town of Lafayette. At nine I left to go on several errands. First I visited the local plumber, where I’d made arrangements for them to install the kitchen sink. The place was a mere ten minutes from my house. I picked out a stainless steel sink, faucet set, and garage disposal and confirmed the Tuesday morning appointment. Then I went to Sears and bought the stuff needed to install the dryer. I stopped at a supermarket and picked up a few things (mainly some drinking water), then took some fast food lunch home. At about noon the Sears guys showed up. One of them was a real joker, asking me if I was ready for my new dishwasher, laughing at the confused look on my face. He had no idea I was expecting just such a screw up and it wasn’t funny at all! The installers were amazingly efficient, unpacking and lugging in the huge fridge (it just fit in the space provided) and the washer and dryer. (To my shock, they carried in the latter two in a single trip!) They were gone in less than an hour, hooking up everything and testing it to make sure it worked. Well, they didn’t do a load of wash or anything, but at least everything was hooked up. I’ve never owned a washer or dryer, so that’s kind of exciting. I feel like an adult!

After Sears left, I had a window of time, I went off to a lock shop I’d spotted. I needed a dead bolt for the front door (it had a hole but no lock) and I wanted all my locks keyed to the same key. Having the locksmith come to my place was an option, but it quickly got expensive when all the locks I needed where modified. In the end I decided to go with better locks and all new hardware. The total cost would be about the same, but I’d get better quality material. I bought two dead bolts and three locking door handles. Then it was off to Wal-Mart to pick up some household items. It took longer than expected — Wal-Mart has a lot of cool stuff — so I had to cut short my shopping trip and come home to meet the cable guy. I was a little late, but in time. I was still unloading the car when he pulled up. While he installed my cable and Internet lines, I figured out how to install the dead bolt in the front door. It was a little confusing at first, but once I understood the basic principle it was easy. The doorknob was much easier, just a few screws. I then did the dead bolt and doorknob on the back door, then took a break as the cable guy needed me to get my laptop and establish Internet access. Once that was working, he took off and I went and did the doorknob on the side door of the garage. All the locks were keyed to the same key, so I only had to worry about one key for everything. The locksmith even told me they could key a padlock to the same key if I wanted, so I can eventually do that for a padlock for my shed. Right now the shed has a lock on it and I have no key!

After my adventures locksmithing, I put up a shower curtain and installed two new shower heads. Then I went back to Wal-Mart to buy some more stuff: a folding table, a chair (There’s no place to sit in the empty house!), a toaster oven (my old one is pretty junky), a lamp (the new house is lacking overhead lights in several rooms, don’t ask me why), and a little clock radio I got for $5. The house is just too quiet with no TV or chaotic cats! At least this way I can get a little white noise with talk radio in the background while I do other things. Whew. After bringing everything home and putting everything away, I had a little dinner, and now I’m exhausted. I’m really ready for bed. It was a very long day. It was fun, but I didn’t have much of a chance to rest. Tomorrow should be interesting as the plumber’s coming early, my mom arrives from the coast with spare beds from Grandpa’s house, and my uncle might show for a visit as well. There’s still lots to do but the house is starting to feel a little lived in now!

Topic: [/house purchase]

Link

Sun, Nov 07, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Flew up to Oregon today. Check-in was a little slow, but okay. I was flying Southwest and got confused by their weird open seating policy. I’m used to assigned seats. In the waiting area I found an empty seat and waited until boarding began. The row I was in was boarding so I went along, only to get turned away at the gate because my ticket had a “C” on it and only “A” was boarding. Apparently “A” seats are window seats, so those people go in first, then “B” center seats, and finally “C” aisle seats. That sounds good, except that all the “B” people took the aisle seats so when I got on there were only middle seats left! Why have a policy if you don’t enforce it? Bizarre. I was not impressed with Southwest. Supposedly they are tons cheaper, but they’ve never seemed that way to me. In this case they were only about $10 cheaper than Alaska, but their tickets, while not refundable, can at least be used for airline credit. Since I was uncertain of my schedule I wanted tickets I could at least reuse if I had a change in plans. I had another negative when I went to get my checked bag. It’s a black traveler that looks like a million others so I had a purple ribbon attached to a strap on the bag. Well, somehow Southwest unclipped the strap and lost it! I saw my bag go by but thought it wasn’t mine because it didn’t have the ribbon. When it came around the third time and there were only a few pieces of unclaimed luggage left, I finally opened it and saw it was indeed mine. I was quite irritated, not just because Southwest lost part of my luggage, but also because it makes it more difficult to identify my bag. Stupid morons.

Had another adventure getting my rental car. I’d booked it online in advance for a total of $73. The guy at the Dollar booth immediately tried to upgrade me to an SUV. It was normally $89 a day but was on special for $49. That sounded like a terrible deal, nothing close to what I’d booked, and completely confused me. When a customer obviously wants something cheap, why counter with something expensive? Then he threw out some “LDW” term at me at the same time commenting that I wouldn’t need liability insurance, so I said yes. It turned out, that “LDW” was some sort of damage insurance and doubled my rate! I didn’t realize it until he handed me the bill to sign and I saw it was twice what I’d been quoted. “You said you wanted it,” he whined when I complained. I admitted I’d made a mistake, but later realized that he’d never said the “LDW” thing cost anything. What kind of business asks if you want something without telling you the cost? But we still weren’t done. Next he threw a bunch of fuel options at me. For just “$1.99” I could buy a tank of gas. Well, make that $1.99 per gallon. With a 16-gallon tank, that meant an additional $36. You see, I buy a full tank even if I return it nearly full! Of course if I don’t bring it back full, it costs even more per gallon, so it’s “cheaper” to buy the tank in advance. All these options were really annoying me and so I said so. “This feels like a bait and switch,” I told the guy, who got upset. He claimed it wasn’t and that I could get the price I was quoted if I wanted. I finally got out of there getting what I was quoted, but it felt like a hassle. I hate it went estimates and reality don’t match. It really pisses me off.

I got to my Aunt and Uncle’s place about 8:30, I think. My uncle gave me the key to my place. I could have stayed the night at their place, but I really was wanting to see my new house. I was nervous. It’s been a month since I’d been there. This was a huge commitment. What if the house or area didn’t match up with my memory? What if I discovered something I really hated? I headed out with some apprehension. Seeing it at night for the first time added yet another difference. It was dark and foggy, but there was little traffic. I found my way easily, arriving right at 10 o’clock. The house looked a little ordinary as I pulled into the driveway, causing another twinge of apprehension. Had I made a dreadful mistake? But coming since the main door (Whew! The key worked!) I saw the huge living/family room and remembered what I liked about the place. The lofted ceiling, hardwood floors, spacious kitchen, etc. where what I’d wanted. Trying to be more critical, I realized the limitations. There were a few aesthetic flaws such missing baseboard trim, no towel racks in the main bathroom, a kitchen sink that needed replacing (it wasn’t even hooked up), a shower door with no handle, etc. At first it was depressing thinking that the house wasn’t perfect or that some of the workmanship wasn’t top notch, but then I realized that every house has flaws and the ones here really are minor and all fixable. It may take me a little time to fix everything, but it’s certainly doable. By the time I went to bed (exhausted), I was very comfortable with my decision. The house isn’t a mansion, but it’s certainly a step up from my previous place and it’s got great potential. It will be an excellent place to live for a long time to come.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Sat, Nov 06, 2004

: Moving Sale

Things went surprisingly well. This was the first time I’d ever had a garage sale, though I remember helping at my cousin’s once many years ago. I’d prepared by placing a classified ad in the local paper and online; I even created a web page for the sale and put a link to it in the newspaper ad (better than paying extra for long text in the paper). At about seven this morning when I was out getting the sale ready and chatting with a neighbor, two different cars passed and asked about the sale! Wow, those garage sale people really get started early! I told them the sale didn’t start until nine, but about 8:30 someone asked to look and I said sure, though I was still setting stuff out. A woman who’d called last night about the storage shed came by (early) to pay for it. She also bought my collection of shelves and brackets. That seemed to start a flood. By nine-thirty I’d sold a bunch of stuff: half the videos, the air conditioner, and more. By noon I’d sold a few more things, then it got very quiet. Over the afternoon I only had a couple visitors. It seems the garage sale trade happens early. I didn’t sell a couple large pieces of furniture (primarily my kitchen hutch and loft bed), but I did sell the bedroom armoire, my stereos, almost all the videos. Only a few books sold, which was fine: I’d rather exchange them at a used bookstore anyway. I’d been thinking of selling them for a dollar (which seems cheap to a book lover like me) but someone told me I’d never sell them unless I went to fifty cents or less. Overall, I’m pleased with the sale. It brought it a little bit of cash, but mostly means I have less junk to haul to Oregon.

Topic: [/house purchase]

Link

Fri, Nov 05, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I’ve been telling people about the house and their reaction has been universal: “Congratulations,” they say, as though I’d had a baby or won an award. I thought that was strange. It’s not like you’re congratulated when you buy a car. It’s not like I did something extraordinary. But then I realized that buying a house is extraordinary. It’s not something you do that many times in your life. Going through the mortgage process is an achievement, having all the details work out satisfactorily for everyone involved is a challenge, and it’s difficult to find property and get it. So I guess congratulations is the right thing to say — I’ll just have to get used to hearing it!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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: House Buying Adventure

This morning I got up early and began preparations for my moving sale tomorrow. I disassembled my loft bed, cleaned the microwave and fridge, moved furniture out onto the deck. I took the air conditioner out of the window and replaced the windows (good thing I saved them). In the middle of all that I went to the bank to sign the auto-debit form and got some cash in case I needed change for customers at the sale. I then called the mortgage contact to let her know that the form was signed and faxed; she’d already received it and said funding would happen when the documents from Oregon arrived. I called the title company in Oregon to make sure they were planning to record the deed today if the funding arrived; everyone promised to call me once things happened. I continued my preparations and tried not to worry about the phone ringing, but by 1:15 I still hadn’t heard anything and was getting worried because the deed has to record by four or it wouldn’t happen until Monday. All I got was voice mail when I called the bank, but she called me back a little while later and said we’d funded! I called the title company again to see if we were recording and they said they’d call when they did. I received that call about three o’clock: they’d received the funding from California and were recording. So it’s now done! The house is officially and legally mine. I can get the keys when I fly up on Sunday. Whew!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Thu, Nov 04, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today I had to drive to Fresno to get my new contacts from my eye doctor, so I didn’t expect much to happen on the house. It’s out of my hands anyway. My worry was the auto-debit form. I left messages but never heard back (I was gone all day but gave out my cell phone). When I got home, I had a number of errands to run and a client to meet with. (One the errands was cool: I remembered I had an electronic range key from the local driving range that still had money credited to it and so I was able to turn it in and get $50 credit at the pro shop. I bought a pair of golf shoes which I’d been wanting but never gotten. I’m glad I remembered because that range key wouldn’t have done me much good in Oregon!) Late in the evening (after meeting with the client) I got home to receive a call from the mortgage lady who told me my answering machine hadn’t picked up all day. I’d wondered why I hadn’t received any messages! Apparently the cordless phone’s battery had gone dead and that somehow caused the base’s answering machine to not function. Anyway, she said that the auto-debit form wasn’t a big deal — it wouldn’t slow up my loan — but I could fill it out in the morning and have it faxed to the underwriter. So that gives me more to do tomorrow in addition to getting ready for the moving sale on Saturday.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Wed, Nov 03, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Great, it’s cloudy and potentially wet today: after I’d checked the advanced weather forecast earlier in the week to confirm no rain the reports were, of course, completely incorrect. Brilliant. Why do they bother?

I just signed the final mortgage documents (about 50 pages worth including a document in which I’d promise I sign more documents if these weren’t enough) and handed over a cashier’s check for the down payment and closing costs. The keys are almost in my hands. The documents must be signed by the seller in Oregon and then come back to the bank here for funding, but if everything goes as planned, we’ll close on Friday. There is one potential obstacle which has me worried: I am supposed to have auto-debit set up for the mortgage payment. I couldn’t do that earlier because I didn’t have my Oregon bank account yet, but I have it now and I tried to get the form today at the local branch but apparently it’s not that simple. Apparently that’s something that must come from the mortgage department. Supposedly this form must be signed before the bank will fund the loan, so I’m concerned.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Tue, Nov 02, 2004

: Voting 2004

Regardless of which side of the political line you fall on, you’ve got to admit that voting in this country is messed up. That’s putting it politely. Here we are the most technologically advanced country in the world and we can’t even figure out how to get people to vote electronically? That’s ridiculous. I’d fire the president and every single politician currently in office until that is fixed. Just fix it. No excuses. It’s absurd that we can’t know the count for days, and it’s absurd the incredible hassles we force people to go through to vote. For instance, I drove way out of my way and ended up at the wrong polling place — apparently it’d been changed since the last time I voted. At the new polling place there was no parking. I had to drive around the parking lot until a space opened up. Then there was a long time. Nothing like waiting five or six hours as in some states (ridiculous), but the entire process did take close to forty-five minutes (driving, parking, waiting, voting, etc.). That’s just too long, especially for young people who find it a drag waiting four minutes for a microwave dinner to cook. The bottom line is we need a uniform system that’s the same nationwide, we need a technological solution that eliminates errors and gives us a quick and accurate count, and we need a way to vote via the Web, cell phone, and other simple technologies so that voting is more convenient.

Topic: [/politics]

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: House Buying Adventure

This morning I got a call from the title company in Oregon. It appears this process is more complicated than I expected. Apparently the documents are overnighted to me in California (I receive them Wednesday), then they go back to Oregon (Thursday), then they have to come back to California (Friday) to the bank for funding. So the earliest we can close is Friday. That would be fine as long as it happens and we can record that day, but it’s certainly tighter than I prefer. I’m scheduled to be in the house on Monday the 8th, so if we don’t record on Friday, we could have a problem.

I just called the local notary I have to meet with tomorrow for signing the final docs: we’re going to meet at the local title company. So that’s at least set up. Once I sign those docs and deliver my cashier’s check for the down payment and closing costs, it’s out of my hands. Oh, I guess I also need to set up an automatic payment system for my mortgage as that was listed as a requirement for funding by the bank. I just got my account number for my new account in Oregon, so hopefully that can be done now.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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: Election 2004 and the Media

The media isn’t biased, eh? I don’t normally watch the news or read newspapers or magazines because I don’t like the bias, but for current election coverage I did tune in to see how the different networks were reporting on the Election 2004 mess. Wow, it was actually painful. Fox News made it sound like it was impossible for Kerry to win: he’d literally have to win every single remaining state and get all the provisional ballets in Ohio and even then the numbers didn’t quite add up. But on CNN they showed Kerry and Bush in a dogfight with almost identical electoral votes and had analysts who were pointing out what a tough road Bush had ahead and that once Kerry won Ohio it would be almost impossible for Bush to win! Dang, I hate this politicking and the divisiveness it creates. It was ridiculously easy to see the bias in the networks. I tuned to CBS to see Dan Rather viciously attack a Republican analyst, interrupting the guy’s spin with his own comments and conclusions, simply because it was obvious Dan didn’t want to hear that Bush had won. Why bother to have the guy on if you aren’t going to listen to what he has to say? I found it quite distasteful. On the other side, Fox News shows “Democrats” who agree with Republicans (i.e. a Dem who says that Bush won).

On another note, on several channels I saw reporters deny their own polls and surveys. The reporter would reveal a new poll that showed that the number one concern of voters were moral and ethical issues, but then the reporter would dismiss that and point that that was ridiculous and obviously the voter’s main concern had to be the war and terrorism and security! What war are they talking about? That silly little skirmish in Iraq? Please.

As to the whole “who won” issue, the media was at fault for encouraging it. Obviously controversy provides ratings, so the media purposely encouraged the concept that we didn’t know who won the election. In reality the numbers were clear that Kerry couldn’t win Ohio but still a number of networks wouldn’t call the election. If they had, perhaps Kerry would have conceded earlier like in a normal election. But with the precedent of 2000 before us, the media jumped on the slightest whiff that that could happen again. Instead of being responsible, the media hurt the country but promoting indecision and confusion.

Topic: [/politics]

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Mon, Nov 01, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today final documents were drawn up and sent to the title company in Oregon. This is the final step in the process, so this house buying adventure is (finally) drawing to a close. It’s exactly one month from when I first saw the house, which is interesting. I’m not sure exactly what happens next, but my understanding is that the docs have to go to Oregon and come back, then I sign them, and they go back. I’m supposed to get a call from the Oregon title company after they get the docs so I’ll know more then. Meantime, I’ve got a LOT of packing to do. Time is running out. Next week I’ll be gone most of the week so I’ve got to get all packed this week. This coming Saturday is my moving sale, so I’ve got to get ready for that as well. Thursday is my trip to Fresno for an eye doctor appointment for new contacts, so I lose a day there.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sat, Oct 30, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Just got the word that the underwriter finished my file tonight and everything’s a go. The final documentation I provided yesterday proved enough and all questions are answered. Since I’ve got the money for my place here, all that’s left is drawing the final docs and closing the deal. I’m not sure how long that will take — it could happen early in the week if everything goes well!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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: MLS Playoffs: San Jose Earthquakes at Kansas City Wizards

Well, so much for that. It’s the end of a troubled season for the Quakes. No miracle finish this time. They had a two goal lead coming in and played so well last weekend I thought they were going all the way to the Cup, but tonight they came out flat, gave up an early goal, then Brian Ching scored… in our own net! With the total goals tied, it looked like we were going into overtime, when a minute before the whistle somehow K.C. got a great goal from distance. The Quakes had chances but never looked themselves and never seemed to be trying that hard until the last quarter hour or so: the story of this season. For some unknown reason — overconfidence? apathy? — the Quakes did that all season long, not waking up until they were down a goal or two. This time it knocked us out of the playoffs and ended our season. Oddly, I’m not that depressed. In part that’s because it felt like a deserved loss. If we’d played like last week and lost I’d be upset, but in this case the better team won. Also, with the playoffs happening right in the middle of my move to Oregon, the Quakes advancing would have been a real distraction and in a way I’m almost relieved I don’t have to worry about it any more.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Oct 29, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Things had calmed for a bit and I thought we were through with the dramatics, but no, it was only the calm before the storm. Today everything happened and happened quickly. It began when I called the buyers of my place here to see if they could perhaps pay me a day or two earlier. The payment was scheduled for Nov. 5, but if they could pay earlier we could close earlier, which would help with the scheduling of my short prep trip to get the new house move-in ready. I’d hoped to close on the 8th and be in the house 8-10 and back here in California to move on the 11th. But the buyer here told me the parent company would issue a company check, not a cashier’s check, and there was no way to get it earlier. I pleaded but to no avail. Things were not looking good. If the payment was not a cashier’s check, we’d have to wait for it to clear before we could close escrow. That meant the house wouldn’t close until Nov. 9 or 10 at the earliest, ruining my prep trip plans. (The move itself is fairly concrete for Nov. 11-14.) Then things got a little worse when I spoke with the mortgage lady who intimated that docs couldn’t be drawn up until I had the money, which my real estate uncle said would really slow things down since the docs have to be signed both up in Oregon and down here by me. If we had to wait until the 9th or 10th for docs, we’d really be behind. We possibly wouldn’t close until the next week! This was frustrating news because up to now we’d been running on schedule and things seemed okay and I’d started making concrete plans. Now that all seemed in jeopardy. I started wondering if a prep trip was worth it, if I’d have to change the move dates, etc. I wondered if this tight schedule was really insane and if it was going to even work.

But literally minutes later everything turned. The mortgage lady talked with the underwriter who was going to try to get it ready for docs for Monday, and then the doorbell rang. To my surprise it was a rep from the company buying my place. He handed me a check! “It arrived just minutes after you called,” he said. “I knew you were in a hurry so I brought it right over.” The check was dated two days earlier and had been mailed to the local office. It was not a cashier’s check, but since it’s a full week earlier than scheduled, there’s time for it to clear. I rushed it over to the bank and deposited it.

Speaking of deposits, I had an interesting experience trying to open a new Bank of America checking account in Oregon. As I wrote I tried to do that last week. I had to do it over the phone because of a weird error on the website. They told me I’d receive my account info within five business days. Nothing had arrived, so I called today. Guess what? They had no record of me ever calling and opening an account! I finally went ahead and did it online again, and again I got the same error. The error was weird: it wouldn’t accept my credit card to fund the required opening balance because it said the name on the account must match exactly. Well, it wasn’t kidding. I finally got to work… by removing the period after my middle initial! I guess that was the hold-up all the time. Once the period was gone the name matched and the account process went through. Can anyone say lame?

Ordered a new washer, dryer, and refrigerator from Sears today. The big sale is over tomorrow, so I decided it was best to do it online and schedule the delivery for when I’m at the house during my prep trip. I would have preferred picking out the appliances in person, but saving a few hundred bucks seems worth it. Besides, all the stuff seems standard and I got the main features I wanted (i.e. water and ice on the fridge door). I did check with Consumer Reports and Kenmore is one of the top brands, so I feel good there. It’s a little strange ordering such items online and not being at the house to measure or prepare anything, but hopefully everything will work out. There were some odd questions like a 3-wire or 4-wire installation kit for the dryer: I held off ordering that hoping I can do it later when I find out what I need.

The bank had me running through hoops today. I didn’t get much packing or anything done. Apparently the underwriter came up with more questions, including providing evidence of my “undocumented” income. Now that’s just weird. If income’s undocumented, why do I have to document it? I had to go to one of my clients and get them to sign a letter saying they hire me for consulting work. I don’t know what that has to do with undocumented income, but apparently it satisfies the bank somehow. It’s weird, because the docs I already gave the bank show my “undocumented” income better anyway, but I guess it’s more difficult to decipher numbers than letters.

Got a few more evening calls from the mortgage lady with more questions from the underwriter. I again explained all my businesses, trying to keep things simple but accurate. It’s complicated having multiple sources of income. All the money ends up in the same pool so I don’t know what difference it makes, but what the underwriter wants the underwriter gets. I emailed a bunch more financial records to the mortgage lady during dinner. Hopefully that will be enough, but I’ll have to keep my cell phone handy tomorrow evening because I might get a call with more questions when the underwriter looks at it tomorrow. Sigh.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Thu, Oct 28, 2004

: Primer

An interesting concept and I loved the low, low budget approach. It was reminiscent of Pi in that regard. It actually made everything seem more real. The premise is science fiction: a group of amateur inventors have created some sort of strange device in their garage. It doesn’t do exactly what they expected; there are some anomalous results. Further analysis reveals they’ve created a sort of time machine, and soon they are using it to gain an advantage in the stock market. They must be very careful about time paradoxes, however, or they’ll run into copies of themselves, and therein lies the story’s key plot twist. Soon the film gets extremely confusing as you can’t tell who is who, what happened, or the “real” sequence of events as time is all messed up. The director does an amazing job for such a complicated concept, but I must admit it’s a challenge to follow. Some might argue that’s good — we need more films that make us think — but others, and I tend to fall into this crowd, want films that actually make sense at the end of the day. This film works a little better than Donnie Darko in that regard, which is impressive as it’s far more complicated and has a fraction of the budget (it was made for about $7,000). It didn’t completely work for me, but a lot of that was not so much the director’s intention but a consequence of the non-existent budget. For instance, though there are many scenes involving doubles, we never actually see any of the duplicates in the same shot. In several scenes that would have made things clearer but I suspect the director didn’t have the budget to do that effect. Another thing that bothered me is that the film has a monotone feel: it’s basically the main two characters talking and arguing for the entire film. We go from scene to scene but it’s the same two characters talking. Most of what they’re talking about we don’t understand: it’s either scientific gibberish or talk about people and situations we haven’t followed yet. The result is that the film feels repetitive, claustrophobic, and boring. While it’s not enough to destroy the film, it does hurt it: I’d love to see a bigger budget (bigger, not big) remake of this with a few special effects to explain the story better, action scenes to introduce some variety to the shots, and a director actually able to do what he really wanted but couldn’t afford. What’s he’s created is a real gem, but it’s unfortunately the kind of obscure thing that very few people would find interesting. Most people would find the story incomprehensible (it’s not, just complex, ambiguous, and technical) and the movie-making static. Unlike El Mariachi where you couldn’t really tell it was low budget, this is a film where the low budget must be part of the criticism since a lot of what’s impressive about it is the fact that something so ambitious was done for so little. If you were told this film cost $10 million to make you’d be wondering who ran off with the other $9.9 mil. You’d be upset by many scenes that obviously needed special effects or clearer filmmaking. But knowing it was done for nothing makes the film better, since we’re aware that many of the film’s limitations are really limitations of budget and not necessarily the director’s intention. The bottom line is that this is a fascinating film, one worth seeing several times (it’s practically required).

Topic: [/movie]

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: House Buying Adventure

Today I got a call that the seller in Oregon had finally signed all the paperwork and so I had to go sign my version of that. While I was talking with the mortgage lady it came up there were a couple questions from the underwriter, so I had to do some further explanations of my business. Of course right as I tried to email that to her my wireless Internet stopped working: it’s been doing that off and on lately and driving me nuts! Of course it would do it right when I had a critical need, and instead of only being off for a few seconds, it wouldn’t come back up. I finally gave up and hooked up a wire. I need reliability right now. This is insane.

Anyway, I headed downtown to Santa Cruz to sign the paper and then the mortgage lady said that she’d gotten an email from the underwriter and they wanted one of my financial documents on my “company letterhead.” Since time was critical, I actually used the mortgage lady’s laptop and grabbed my logo off my webpage and pasted it into Excel and created a nice summary page of the numbers. The previous document had all my calculations and was quite confusing. This way I only included the conclusions, not how I got there.

After arriving home, there was a message from the mortgage lady that now they wanted another document on company letterhead, just like the other one, so I whipped it out and emailed it to her. Hopefully this fulfills everything. Supposedly we’re near to “drawing docs,” whatever that means. I guess that happens just before closing.

Another decision we’ll have to make soon is to decide if it’d be better to close here in California instead of up in Oregon. We originally were thinking up there, but now we’re thinking it might be better to do it here. Up there the schedule would be tight; here we’d have more flexibility.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Wed, Oct 27, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today I drove to Fresno for an eye doctor appointment. I’d gotten new contacts a few weeks ago and this was the follow-up visit. One of the things I had planned to do was to visit my mom’s storage locker and inventory the contents. That didn’t go quite as well as planned. First, we had a lot of trouble finding the key. My mom had given me one three years ago, but I have no idea where it is now. She’d sent her key to friends in Fresno who were looking for some furniture a while back. She called them and they found the key and I made arrangements to meet them. Unfortunately, once I got to the locker, it was the wrong key! Fortunately I’d thought ahead and had my mother call the storage place to make sure I was an authorized user and I was able to get them to cut the lock for me. I bought a replacement lock and I’m keeping the key.

The stuff in storage presented another problem. It’s been in the locker for over three years and hadn’t been opened in almost all that time. Everything was coated with a thick layer of dust. I’m talking thick, folks. As in I was still sneezing ten minutes later! I took pictures but the bottom line is I couldn’t even get in there to do an inventory. For one, I didn’t want to get filthy, and for another, everything was piled and stacked so high I didn’t want to unpack and have to repack everything. Then there’s the fact that there’s a lot of stuff there! I didn’t see as much furniture as I was expecting: most of the stuff appears to be boxes. Supposedly there’s a sofa and recliner in there but I couldn’t see anything but boxes and dust. It’s going to be a mess getting that stuff out of there. So much more my idea of loading it onto the truck quickly: we’re going to have to dust and clean before we can do much moving. It’s not going to be fun.

Topic: [/travel]

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Tue, Oct 26, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

There’s been nothing much to report the last few days: I’ve been busy packing, carting stuff to the storage locker. I’m getting tired but there’s a long way to go and time is running out. At least the house is finally starting to look a little bare (only a little) and my storage locker is getting full. I’m making progress but there’s much to go.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sun, Oct 24, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I’m feeling better this morning. I got up early and made two runs to the storage locker, taking over 26 boxes of books. That finally made a slight dent. I now have two bookcases completely empty, and two others with only one shelf left. That just leaves two full bookcases and one partially full. If I can get in two or even three runs tomorrow before the big storm Tuesday, I should have made some good progress. If I can get the heavy but easy stuff — books, DVDs, videos, CDs — out of here, then I can begin on the more awkward things that take more time to pack. Of course the reason I wanted to get started early today is that I knew my afternoon would be wiped out: I am heading to San Jose for the Earthquakes big playoff match against the Wizards!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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: MLS Playoffs: Kansas City Wizards at San Jose Earthquakes

Can you say wonderful? How about awesome, amazing, superb? The fourth place Quakes played like a dream today, with the first place Wiz hardly having a chance the whole game. We were aggressive, dominating all over the pitch. K.C. didn’t want to place defense all night but was forced to as we created chance after chance (we outshot them 15-4 in the final analysis). Onstad only had to make one save all night, at the end of the game, while K.C.’s keeper, Bo, made a number of saves, a couple of them quite spectacular. The most impressive was a tip-over of a cracking volley by Brian Ching in the first half. San Jose opened the scoring on a great end-line run by Dwayne DeRosario. Somehow his shot/cross ended up in the goal from an impossible angle. Supposedly there was a slight deflection from the K.C. defender, but I couldn’t really see it on the replay. If there was it, it was so slight I’m not sure it would have made that much of a difference. I think it was just a great goal. DeRo had a fantastic chance for a second moments later when he was one-on-one with the K.C. keeper, but Bo tipped the ball off the post and the Wizards were able to scramble the ball away. In the second half, San Jose came out blazing with more of the same: solid defense and aggressive tackling, quick passing, and more goal chances. The second goal came on a corner — San Jose’s ninth! — when Goose’s curling ball found Waibel on the far post to thigh the ball into the net. What an important goal! In this first playoff round it’s total goals in two games that win, so taking a two goal lead to Kansas City is huge. K.C. will have to beat us by three goals to advance to the Conference Final. I’m sure our players are supremely confident they can do that. It won’t be easy as K.C. will be desperate to score, but if they push forward too much we’ll have opportunities to score ourselves, and with our speed I think we’ll do it. That game is next weekend with the Conference Final (against the winner of the L.A.-Colorado series) the weekend after that. Awesome game, great play, dream result. Final: 2-0 Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sat, Oct 23, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Oh my, the challenge of this move thing really hit home today as I began packing up my books. I packed a dozen boxes and lugged them to the storage locker. When I got I repeated the process, then sat back, tired, and realized with great depression that I hadn’t made a dent. Of the seven 68” bookcases in my living room I had only started on three of them and they still looked completely full! I have too many books. I have no idea how many I have, though I guesstimated once and came up with around 3,000. It could be more or less, though. Normally that’s a good thing, but when I have to lift them all, it’s a bit depressing. It’s frustrating that I’ve done all this work and you can’t even tell. It makes the mountain remaining seem even more daunting. Worse, it’s been raining lately and sprinkled a bit today — I moved boxes anyway — but that makes me worry that I could lose days in the future if the weather doesn’t co-operate. With so much to do in such a short time, I could run short if I don’t get moving. I hate leaving such a mountain of stuff to the last minute.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Fri, Oct 22, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I woke up today trying not to think and worry about the inspection happening; instead I focused on packing. It worked, for when the phone call came I almost wasn’t expecting it. Good news: the house passed inspection. Sure, there are problems, but all minor, mostly preventative maintenance stuff. Most of it isn’t even of immediate concern, but things I’ll work on next spring (i.e. painting, etc.). So now there’s no reason for this not to go through, as long as all the paperwork gets completed and the sale of my place here goes smoothly. The timing is still tight: I’d ideally like to have things happen earlier and close around the first instead of the fifth, just to have everything well and done and make scheduling the move easier.

I bought a hand truck. Rather than rent one from U-Haul during the move, I just bought one for $40. It’s a useful thing and it will help me while I move stuff to the storage locker. This one’s convertible from upright to a flatbed which is excellent.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Thu, Oct 21, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Started packing today, filling up my new storage unit with stuff. I also went ahead and opened a bank account in Oregon. Had a trouble doing it over the web and had to do it over the phone instead. The lame site wouldn’t accept my credit card because it said my name wasn’t my name! Worse, the site was basically locked at that step and wouldn’t let me go forward or backward, so I was completely stuck. But at least that’s one more task done.

I just got a call from the bank: my loan has been approved! So now we just need to dot a few more i’s and check off a few more to-do items, then this will actually happen. Wow, I’m almost starting to believe it!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Wed, Oct 20, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I spoke with the people purchasing my place and explained my concerns over the unsecured installment payment. They seemed to think it wasn’t a big deal either way, they’re a $100 million company and they pay their debts, etc. We didn’t exactly come up with a new contract, but at least it seemed like securing the loan was a possibility. If they’d balked at that it would have seemed fishy to me. I still haven’t decided if it’s really necessary; if it’s easy to do I’d prefer it secured, but if it jeopardizes the purchase or creates massive paperwork headaches I don’t want to go that route. That’s probably not intelligent of me but I’m a trusting person.

In other news, we’ve got our inspection of the new house scheduled for Friday. I don’t like doing it this late in the process — if we find a major problem now I’ll lose money and effort I’ve spent in this process so far, but of course I do need to know if there are any issues with the home. Despite my nerves, I’m moving ahead. I’ve started telling clients about the move, and today I rented a storage locker and will begin packing tomorrow.

I called a place in McMinnville that offers Wi-Band — wireless broadband Internet — but unfortunately it won’t work in Lafayette. They might eventually get it there, but I’m not crazy about the whopping $300 install fee (cost per month is $50, about the same as everything else). So I called up Comcast cable and it seems I can get setup with broadband pretty easy from them, so that’s what I’ll do. The one feature of Wi-Band that I really liked is that it’s synchronous, meaning that upload and download speeds are the same. DSL and cablemodem are asynchronous, so uploads a tenth of the speed of the download. For my business, that’s a disadvantage, though not that big a deal. As long as I can have fast, reliable Internet service, that’s the most important thing.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Tue, Oct 19, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Of course everything in this house-buying process is nerve-wracking and terrifying. There are so many possible mistakes to make. It’s a huge commitment, the financial burdens are immense, and it seems like every day there’s a twist that could ruin all the careful planning. One of these occurred to me over the weekend when I suddenly realized that I might have made a mistake. You see, when I negotiated the sale of my place here, the company buying it told me that due to cash flow issues they couldn’t come up with the full price in 30 days. At first I thought the deal was over and I wouldn’t be able to buy the house in Oregon. Then I realized that as long as I had enough cash in 30 days to cover the down payment and moving expenses, we could still make the deal work. So we agreed on a split payment deal where the buyer pays me some money in 30 days and the balance in 90. That sounded good to me until someone pointed out that there ought to be an interest penalty or something if they didn’t pay me that second installment on time. That’s when I realized that there’d be little to stop the company from delaying that payment or even paying it at all: it’d cost a fortune for me to take them to court to force payment and by that time I’d already be moved to Oregon in my new place and I’d have relinguished all rights to my current place. This made me nervous, so nervous that I actually visited a lawyer to get some advice. He agreed with my thinking: I basically am extending the company an unsecured loan. He advised I talk to them about securing the loan, perhaps attaching it to the property in some way so that they couldn’t sell it without paying me off first. So that’s the plan there.

I’d originally planned to open a storage locker today and start packing, but it was pouring rain so I scrapped that idea.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Mon, Oct 18, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Some crazy stuff happened today. At least it seemed crazy at the time, though in retrospect it wasn’t as bad as I thought live. The main things I knew waking up was that I had a major deadline with my magazine — I had to get the cover art FedExed to the printers today — and I we’d scheduled a mortgage meeting in the afternoon. The former I’d worked on over the weekend, so it was no problem, but I was a little nervous and unsure of what to expect about the latter meeting.

In the morning I ran into a fascinating chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. I asked my local bank branch about opening a checking account in Oregon since that’s one of the things on my to-do list. To my surprise, they cannot open an account there for me here: I have to do that up there. That creates a problem because I need to put the money from the sale of my place here into that account… at least that would be much easier than moving money around later. I really wanted to have that account all set up with a check card so I could use it on my trip to Oregon to prep the new house for move-in. It’s also supposed to be a free account with my mortgage and I’d get payments automatically debited. But if the bank here can’t create that account, that makes things awkward. There’s a chance I can open the account online or over the phone; I’ll have to explore those two options.

The afternoon meeting proved anti-climactic. We just filled out a lot of forms for the new loan (remember, we switched loan programs last week). There was a bit of a scare earlier when I showed up at the Scotts Valley bank to meet the mortgage lady for our trip to San Jose for the meeting and she wasn’t there: I suddenly panicked and thought maybe I’d misunderstood and we were to meet at the Santa Cruz branch. I didn’t know her cell number and she didn’t know mine so I was unsure how we were going to connect. Fortunately, she was just a few minutes late and showed up and we made it to the meeting successfully. The loan process at the meeting was fairly routine, a few basic forms (I mostly signed my name) and a few questions. This is a loan only for first-time home buyers, but since I technically don’t own real estate (I pay rent for the land on my current place), I qualify. The loan guy said the bank would have all my material before we even got back to Santa Cruz, so things are moving.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sat, Oct 16, 2004

: MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Dallas Burn

I normally don’t write about non-local games, but this one was crucial as the playoffs were on the line. First a word about Major League Soccer. I’m a huge MLS fan. I love this league even better than the world leagues. There’s something special about having our own league here, about being able to go to a game and meet these players in person, even if the quality of play isn’t always world class. I think the current playoff structure in MLS is stupid with eight out of ten teams making the playoffs — it makes the regular season games meaningless and explains why so many of those games aren’t as exciting as they should be. I sure hope that next year they reduce the playoffs to six teams. Since it will be a twelve-team league that means only half make the playoffs which would be appropriate. Then we’d see teams battling in every single game since all games matter. But with all that good stuff said about MLS, sometimes they do some bonehead stuff. Like not having this game, easily the most important game of the season for the Dallas Burn and San Jose Earthquakes, on television. I pay for the soccer package on DirecTV and this game wasn’t on that, let alone on local TV. That’s just ridiculous. How can this be considered a “major league” sport if it doesn’t put crucial playoff games on TV??? MLS, fix it! Since this wasn’t on TV I had to listen to it on Internet radio. At least that worked, but it’s not as good as being able to see the goals

Now, about this game. The Quakes were in the driver’s seat: a win or a tie and they advance while the Burn had to absolutely win. But when the Burn scored early (twelve minutes in) my palms began to sweat. Then the Quakes came back big time: two goals in two minutes, one from Ching and one from Ramiro Corrales. Now the Quakes were really in the driver’s seat because Dallas would have to score two more goals to advance. Then in the second half the Burn scored — I have no idea how since the radio makes it hard to visualize — and now the margin was the slimmest. The slightest mistake as the Burn assaulted the Quakes’ back line could allow a goal and eliminate last year’s champions from the playoffs! My palms were sweating and I couldn’t breathe for the final fifteen minutes. Every time the Burn got the ball in the Quakes’ penalty area I was nervous. In the final minutes Ching hit the crossbar, almost guaranteeing a San Jose Victory. But Dallas had their own heart-in-mouth moment in injury time when a Cory Gibbs header skimmed the Quakes’ crossbar. It was that close. But the final whistle blew with no change in the scoreline: the draw means that the Earthquakes are in the playoffs! Whew. This team sure likes drama. Final: 2-2 tie, Quakes advance.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Oct 15, 2004

: Team America: World Police

Time again for a needed break and stress relief. This looked like a cool Thunderbirds spoof, but coming from the creators of the semi-funny South Park I wasn’t sure. Well, this film definitely had its crudity and foul language, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the South Park movie. That’s because it’s actually funny most of the time; even the dirty stuff was funny because it was parodying the original “tame” marionette show. The story itself is a jab against the USA being the world’s police force. For instance, Team America goes in and destroys Paris in the process of stopping a handful of terrorists. But what I really liked was the poke in the eye to Hollywood, where all the liberal actors (a group hilariously known as the Film Actors Guild… I’ll let you figure out the acronym) ban together to protest against Team America and violence, then end up helping the bad guy and getting slaughtered in the process. We actually get see marionettes of Helen Hunt, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and many others get destroyed. It was very fun.

The marionette work was very impressive. At the same time it was both cheesy (no attempt is made to hide the strings) and sophisticated (the puppets eyes and faces were amazing and actually conveyed real emotions), a tough thing to do. The bottom line is this a fun film. It’s hilarious, crude, and definitely socially unacceptable, which gives it a good rating in my book.

Topic: [/movie]

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: House Buying Adventure

I spent the morning trying to get homeowners insurance. Now this is where I get annoyed at the world. From articles I read my new home is considered a modular or pre-fabricated home. It is not a mobile (manufactured) home which sit on a permanent metal sheath and have wheels for transport. My new home was simply built in a factory (actually better than a site-built since it’s not sitting in the elements during construction) and transported to the site on flat-bed trucks and assembled there on a real concrete foundation. To me this is a real house: it has real 2x6 construction, real walls with drywall, etc. Unless you’re a contractor, you’d never know by looking that it’s manufactured. My current place is definitely a trailer: it’s above ground on wheels, has a hitch in front, and the walls are paper thin (literally only 3” thick). Yet for reasons of stupidity or politics, the two homes are both considered “manufactured” and exactly the same for purposes of mortgage loans and homeowners insurance! It is really annoying. Many homeowners policies don’t cover manufactured homes and most insurance companies charge a premium for them, as I discovered today. I finally found one that wasn’t charging me two to three times the typical rate (it’s still about 40% higher), but it took some research. What’s annoying is they are grouping me in with trailers and mobile homes when this place is definitely unlike those. My insurance is higher because I’m grouped in with trailers that blow over in wind storms! That’s really stupid but unless I want to start my own lobbyist group and fight huge corporations, there’s not a lot I can do to change those technicalities.

Got some encouraging news from the bank. We’re moving forward with the new loan, so that’s good. It’s still too early to tell if there are some obstacles ahead but we’ll know soon. Even better news came from the bank’s appraisal department. Because the appraiser is going to Hawaii next week for vacation, he got out to the house yesterday and turned in his report today — wicked fast! Normally it can take two or three weeks, apparently. Best of all, he appraised the house at more than what I’m paying! That’s really good news on many levels: it means it’s a good house, I’m getting a great deal, and it helps my LTV ratio. (That’s loan-to-value, a bank term expressing the ratio of my loan to the value of the property. Since my value just went up, that means my loan is for a smaller percentage of the value, so in a sense it’s like I’m borrowing less. You see, I’m learning a lot about these things!) Anyway, I feel much less depressed today. Depending on what happens with the loan meeting on Monday, I think I’ll start packing on Tuesday. My plan is to box up 85% of my belongings and put them in a storage unit. The only stuff I’ll keep out will be stuff I’m using on a daily basis (TV, computer, bed, furniture, some kitchen stuff) and things I plan to sell at a moving sale. That way when it comes time to bring the moving truck, I’ll be 85% packed. But for that to happen I’ve got to get started. I’ve got a small car, which means I can only move a few boxes at a time, and a lot of small stuff (tons of books) which takes a while to pack. I’d also like to sort through stuff and throw stuff away if I can. Usually when I move I run out of time and have to just throw everything in boxes for sorting later. I’ve still got boxes I haven’t unpacked from my last move eight years ago!

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Thu, Oct 14, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Now it sounds like there may be some issues with the loan (someone is “worried” about something, all very vague, could be something, could be nothing), and my uncle (my Realtor) is concerned because we still haven’t gotten signatures from the bank selling the property, only their fax that said they accepted the contract. In other words, I don’t officially have a contract yet. It’s most likely just bureaucracy and bank carelessness, but it’s frustrating because we can’t move ahead with the inspection and other details until we’ve got signatures.

More bad news. Apparently the bank’s just uncovered a technicality that means I can’t qualify for the loan I’d been trying to get, which means we must now switch trains and find an entirely new loan. I’m really depressed now because all my financial calculations were based on the current loan’s rates and payments, and a new loan means going through all that again. The previous loan had low initial interest-only payments for five years and then went to an annual adjustable, which suited my plans perfectly. Now we’re looking at a 30-year fixed which has the same payments always, but means my initial payments will be much higher. Either is doable but being self-employed I really preferred the lower rates as my income can fluctuate. This turns all my calculations and plans on their head. I’m really depressed and wondering if this is worth the hassle. I hate involving emotions because than my decision-making is suspect, but I can’t help but be emotionally involved. I feel there’s this huge mile-long “To Do” list on my head in order to move my life to Oregon, yet I can’t get started on it. According to our original schedule I’d be in Oregon exactly 30 days from now — not a lot of time to pack up my life, especially considering I need to continue working in the meantime.

I just found out this new loan is a special first-time buyer loan and thus the interest rate is much lower than I expected (lower than regular 30-year fixed loans). That’s better. My monthly payments will still be higher than before, but not as bad as I was thinking, and that negative’s offset by the fact that I’d have a really low rate fixed for the next 30 years. Unfortunately there’s still a question or two about this new loan: we’re not sure if self-employeds qualify and there might be another complication or two. I guess we won’t know for a day or so.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Wed, Oct 13, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I was up late last night and up early this morning working on mortgage stuff. Made some progress. Due to an odd set of circumstances (it was owner financed but payment was made via a bank) I never received a title on my current place and now the old owner can’t be found, but I did manage to get a report from the bank that shows I paid off the balance, so hopefully that’s proof enough that I own my place. I vaguely knew about that situation but of course I wasn’t planning on moving until next summer so I thought I’d have time to figure it out by then. Now I’m forced to do everything in a rush, which actually isn’t that bad of a thing because otherwise I’d probably put it off forever. Anyway, I’m well on my way to getting the rest of the list of documentation taken care of. A few of the things are items the bank and others must do (such as an appraisal of the property), so no worries there. Speaking of the appraisal, the mortgage lady had hoped that they might not need a walk-through appraisal (which takes longer) but word today is that they will. It’s been scheduled for tomorrow, though, which is quick. We haven’t even done our own inspection yet! I think that inspection will happen later this week; since this property further south than my Realtor’s normal inspector goes, Phil is trying to find a good local person.

The inspection makes me a little nervous. It’s not that I expect anything to be wrong, but simply because I’ve already invested so much into this purchase and if anything goes wrong now, I’m in a quandary. Since it’s a bank sale at the other end they have said they won’t fix anything and I suspect that means they won’t drop the price unless it was something so huge as to significantly effect the appraisal value. So say we discover an issue with the plumbing, something in the neighborhood of a few grand to fix. Do I eat that and go ahead or lose the inspection and other fees and tremendous amount of time invested in the purchase so far? Of course I’d be tempted to say I’ll take the house no matter what the condition simply because I’m now emotionally committed, but rationally that’s not always a good decision. Hopefully the inspection and appraisal go smoothly (the house is only ten years old, after all) and this will be all moot. But meantime, I can’t help but look at all the possibilities. Time is running out and I really need to start packing if I’m going to complete this move in the time allotted, but I don’t want to jinx things by starting too early. The waiting and unknown is driving me crazy. At this point I am starting to think I’m moving, but stuff could still derail the process. It’s frustrating. But I mustn’t let myself get down. We’ve made a ton of progress (it’s been less than two weeks since I first saw the house) and actually we’re going faster than scheduled. But the unknowns are making it difficult for me to concentrate on regular work. I feel like I can’t plan ahead. I have to make two schedules, one if I move and an alternate in case something falls through.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Tue, Oct 12, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today sounded simple enough: the contract was to arrive from Oregon by noon and I’d take it to the bank and meet the mortgage lady who’d make copies for me and her and then I’d overnight back to Oregon. But of course nothing can be simple, right? It started with phone calls: it was time to officially pick the mortgage I wanted and that involved some last minute calculating to decide if a lower interest rate with higher fees was better or vice versa. Fortunately rates dropped this morning so I got locked in at a great rate. There were more calls: reminders, questions, and slight changes in plans. Then mid-morning, as I waited for FedEx, my electricity went off. After ten minutes, I found a neighbor who had electricity and realized it was just my place. I played around the breakers and got it back on (they didn’t seem to be tripped but turning them off and then back on worked). I’ve no idea what made it shut off — I wasn’t doing anything unusual and I hadn’t just turned anything on. The electric outage caused complications, however, because my cordless phones were dead and the Internet went offline for some reason. Then I couldn’t print. My printer would print half the page and just stop. Here I was five minutes from meeting the mortgage lady at the bank and my printer’s refusing to cooperate! I tried three times, then switched to a different printer, finally getting some output to take to the bank. Crazy stuff.

After a long day, more news. The mortgage sent me a list of 14 items of documentation I need to get her: mostly routine stuff like a copy of my driver’s license, P&L statement from my business, tax returns, bank statements, etc. That’s going to be fun. I hate paperwork. Sigh. I’m glad one only buys a few houses in life.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Mon, Oct 11, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Wasn’t expecting any house news today as it’s a holiday, but lo and behold I get a call that the bank selling the house has accepted! So now we can begin the buying process for real. I spent some time last weekend reading about mortgages online, so at least now I’ve got so I understand the basic concepts, advantages and disadvantages of different types of loans. Going with an adjustable is a bit of a risk considering the low interest rates now, but the monthly payments are so it seems like the way to go. I was on the phone for over an hour with my mortgage rep going over options and giving her more information. Tomorrow we should be ready to file once I get the contract from Oregon.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sat, Oct 09, 2004

: MLS: Kansas City Wizards at San Jose Earthquakes

Terrific game, though the Quakes didn’t get the win they needed and deserved. Even though half the team was missing (national team call-ups for Onstad, DeRossario, Donovan; injuries for Goose; suspension for Dayak) the others really worked hard and put forth a great effort. Conway had little to do in goal because the team pressed forward so much and everyone worked hard on defense. The guys created tons of chances, hit the woodwork three or four times and forced K.C.’s keeper make a half dozen excellent saves. There were a couple goal-mouth clearances and a missed penalty kick call as well. All this made for an exciting game with a big crowd (over 25,000), but unfortunately there were no goals. The result means San Jose have a must win-or-tie next weekend against Dallas in Dallas to make the playoffs. While I’m confident they can do it, it’s not a good situation for the defending champs.

There was one funny bit toward the end of the game. The ball was out for a K.C. goal kick but there were two balls on the field. Ching was near one he threw it out. It hit the advertising board and came right back. He then kicked it out and it hit Bo and came back again! It was like the ball wouldn’t get off the field. The crowd was laughing — it was a nice tension release. Fun moment. Final: 0-0 draw.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Oct 08, 2004

: Taxi

After a week of acid stomach during the house situation, I needed a break and a really stupid movie seemed to fit the bill. I got exactly what I wanted in this “idiot cop is helped by streetwise female taxi driver” flick. It’s not great, not terrible, not much of anything. There are a few laughs, a few jokes that fail miserably, a few moments that actually work, but overall this definite B-movie territory. Still, if you’re in the right mood (as I was), it’s amusing and certainly non-threatening. The lead guy (Kattan from Saturday Night Live) does a decent job but is annoying; Queen Latifa rules, though. She’s a real star.

Topic: [/movie]

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: House Buying Adventure

The Waiting Game. Late today I got word from my Realtor uncle that the bank selling the house notified him that the bank officer in charge of looking at our offer was not in today, so there’s no progress to report. With Monday being a holiday, it’ll probably be Tuesday before anything happens.

Meantime, I used the delay to figure out my finances better. Being self-employed, I often pay myself by paying a personal expense from the business account. But I don’t track that well or officially break it out as salary, which is not a good habit. It turns out I pay myself more than I thought. That’s awesome for the mortgage loan, which is a relief. Hopefully that process will go smoothly. There are so many potential hang-ups in this house-buying thing that I can feel my stomach eating itself out of nerves. I can’t move forward until I know something more definitive, can’t stay the same because there’s a lot to do if I’m moving so soon. Frustrating.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Thu, Oct 07, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

More twists in the tale. My uncle called and said he’d finally gotten a hold of the other Realtor who had no explanation for our rejection. But even stranger, the bank had now suddenly lowered the list price on the house! We’ve decided to make a full price offer and are sending that in this morning. The funny part about that is the new lower price was less than the offer I had planned to make! Here’s hoping everything goes well and we get an acceptance this time. Now that we’ve got a sale on my place here, there really is no reason why they shouldn’t accept, unless they get a better offer. But why would they lower the price if other offers were coming in? It’s very strange, but as long as I can get the house, I won’t care.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Wed, Oct 06, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

After the high of yesterday’s “sale,” today ended on a strange note. I got a call from my uncle who was puzzled as can be: our offer had been rejected! The weird thing was that there was no counter-offer and no explanation. Of course we were dealing with a bank and they don’t always do things the normal way. My uncle couldn’t get a hold of the Realtor selling the place so we had no information. We assume this rejection means our offer was too low, but who knows. We’ve decided to make a higher offer in the morning.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Tue, Oct 05, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Day dawns with faxes, pages of them. I sign and initial in dozens of places, and fax back the stack of papers. It’s our offer on the house. My uncle submits it immediately. The seller is a bank so he’s worried it could take time to get a response. I’m nervous all day. This is exciting, terrifying, and I can hardly eat.

I stop by BofA with my $200 check for the loan app. I visit a local storage facility to make sure they have storage units available and confirm prices. My plan is to rent one and begin packing and moving my zillions of books and junk as soon as I can so that the move itself will be half done by the time it’s time to rent the U-Haul.

This afternoon I called the people who offered to buy my place. This was another nerve-wracking experience. Would the offer still be available? I had a letter from them, but that was from August. When the rep came over at five, I explained to him what was going on. I didn’t mention we’d already made an offer in Oregon, but implied I was interested and wanted to see if the sale offer was still open. I explained I was working with BofA on the mortgage loan. Because my income is modest and I’m self-employed, I needed a hefty down payment on the new place to get the loan. I also was going to have substantial moving expenses (including needing to purchase a fridge and washer and dryer for the new place) for which I would need cash. So I countered their offer by raising it by $10K. Timing was another crucial aspect of this, because I needed the cash in 30 days to complete escrow. That’s when things began to go south and I felt my dream come crashing around me. The rep explained that he was in the middle of four similar transactions right now and didn’t “need” mine; his plate was full. There was no way he could come up with all that cash in thirty days. Maybe 90 days, but not thirty. For a moment I thought all was lost. But I hinted that maybe I didn’t need all the money at once and the guy began sketching out ideas, playing with numbers. It looked like we could maybe figure out a multi-part payment plan that could work. The only remaining question was the final amount. Now the park I’m in has rent control, but the rep explained that since they, as a company, were not considered a tenant, rent control doesn’t apply to them. So my landlord charges them a whopping two grand a month “storage.” We agreed to deduct that amount, minus the rent they would normally pay anyway, from the purchase price I’d asked for. So the bottom line is I almost got my asking price! Then another twist: the guy whipped out a contract, filled it out, and had me sign right then. I had thought this was just a preliminary meeting, but suddenly I’d sold my house! (I did make him include verbiage that the sale was contingent upon me getting the property in Oregon.) He gave me a check for $1,000, so-called “earnest money” in real estate parlance.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Mon, Oct 04, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today’s my birthday but that is far at the back of my mind. Instead I am nervous as I go to Bank of America and begin talks about a mortgage loan. Since BofA has my business checking account and there’s a branch in McMinnville just up the road from my new place, it makes sense to go there for my loan. The first gal I talked with was really nice, but apparently manufactured homes are not something she can deal with, so she telephones another gal who handles those types of loans. After a few minutes going over the basic idea, she promises to call me that afternoon.

I waited on pins and needles all afternoon for her call, even left her a message. She finally called a couple hours late, having gotten tied up with a loan in a crisis. We went over my numbers and figured out which loan would work for me. Then she ran my credit report and called me back. There were some problems, but overall she felt the loan was doable. She put together a pre-approval letter which we sent to my uncle in Oregon so he could put together an offer.

I was on the phone for two hours until late tonight, giving the mortgage lady all my financial details. It was wild: every asset was computed, every liability figured out. I thought the next part of the process was she’d submit the loan to the bank but apparently that’s not how it works: she waits until we actually get an offer accepted on the house before she submits the loan, that way I don’t have to pay the $200 loan application fee unless I can actually get the house. That worries me a little because it could take time to get an offer accepted, and if there are any problems or delays with the loan process, the purchase time could extend out of my short window and I wouldn’t be able to do the move. I can’t have the move disrupting my business.

Topic: [/event]

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Sun, Oct 03, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

I spent a lot of time online today checking out the McMinnville area, making sure I can get broadband Internet, checking prices on moving trucks, doing mortgage loan calculations, trying to figure out a budget for the move, the timing of things, and monthly mortage payments. I found a huge number of fantastic moving sites on the Web: neat city comparison tools (shows you the differences between two places with everything from the cost of living to the weather), loan calculators, moving checklists, moving tips, articles on how to have a garage sale, and more. Very cool stuff. My head is about to explode.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Sat, Oct 02, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

My emotions are in a turmoil. Am I really doing this? Leaving my home of 17 years and moving? The whole twelve-hour drive home I pondered questions, analyzed and weighed the pros and cons. The only real negatives of moving were the hassles and expense, moving away from friends and community, losing a few design and consulting clients, and leaving my beloved San Jose Earthquakes soccer team. Countering that was a house that would cost half a million in the Bay Area. I’d have to stay in my trailer another ten years just to save up the down payment on a place like that. It really is a no-brainer. If I can get the timing to work, it’s something I want to do.

Topic: [/house purchase]

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Fri, Oct 01, 2004

: Oregon Trip

Was up in Oregon this past week for a quick visit and some house shopping, as I’m toying with the idea of moving up there. I got to test out my new Nikon D70 digital SLR and got some terrific pictures, if I do say so myself. I’ve put together some picture galleries if you’d like to see some of the photos.

Topic: [/travel]

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: House Buying Adventure

Went house shopping in Oregon today.

First, some history. I’ve been living in Scotts Valley, California in a tiny 450 square foot trailer which I bought in 1996. It’s a small mobile home park where I don’t own the land but pay rent for my space. It’s ridiculously cheap living for the Bay Area, but the trailer is very small and it’s gotten smaller when I began working from home and spending 24-7 there. This summer when I checked with a company about upgrading to a larger home (which turned out to be California-style expensive), they countered by offering to buy my home. They would replace my trailer with a large double-wide and resell the property for three times what they were offering me. The amount for my trailer was about four times what I paid and got me thinking, so I called up my Uncle Phil who’s a Realtor in Oregon. A few minutes of checking showed there were many properties up there in my price range. While in California my old home would barely qualify me for the down payment on a dog house, in Oregon it could buy me a three bedroom home. Since I went to high school in Oregon and love the area, the idea of moving back up there was appealing. Though I love this area, California is an expensive place to live, and all I really need is a broadband Internet connection to do my businesses.

My original plan was to move next summer. Since I was visiting Oregon this fall, I’d look at some places just to get a feel for what my money could buy up there. We started that process today. The very first home showed promise: nice size, good neighborhood, decent area, but it needed some improvements to be move-in ready and I felt the highway going through town (Forest Grove) was too trafficky. The houses we looked at were impressive, but of course each had a few drawbacks. Either the price was steep, the location awkward, the layout of the house wrong, or the condition was poor. In the afternoon we headed down toward McMinnville, a university town about halfway between Portland and Salem. Just a few miles north is the little town (3K people) of Lafayette. It’s a cute little town with one main street (the highway). I immediately liked the area, which is wine country with vineyards everywhere, similar to where I am now in the Santa Cruz mountains. Here we found a huge home (1800 sq. ft.) at a terrific price. On paper it sounded great so I was skeptical, but when we saw the corner lot it looked great with a nice yard. Inside, it was all on one level, ranch-style, with a huge great room with vaulted ceiling, wonderful kitchen with tons of cabinets and built-ins, and everything else I could want. It even had a fenced-in back yard and detached two-car garage. I could find very little I didn’t like, especially at the price. Then my uncle revealed it was a manufactured home. I was astonished: it appeared to be a normal house, though it did have siding. But unlike my trailer, this was not a mobile home: it just meant it was built off-site and assembled at this location. It also was not above ground but on its own concrete foundation. So it’s really a normal house just pre-built.

We continued looking, but I kept coming back to that house. It was huge, giving me the space I crave. It had all the features I wanted. The location was excellent, the price superb. I hadn’t plan to move now, but when I thought about it, the timing was right: I had the next issue of the magazine to do in October, during escrow, and if we closed early enough, I could move in November and be ready to resume business as usual in December. It would be tight but was theoretically feasible. And since I had already seen the difficulty of finding a home with all the features I wanted at a good price, I figured waiting would probably mean I’d end up having to compromise. Why not do it now and get the home I really wanted?

Topic: [/travel]

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Sat, Sep 25, 2004

: MLS: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Not much to say about this game. It was a sellout crowd — over 27,000 — but the game was a snoozer. The finishing of both teams was terrible, and neither created many chances. There were some physical battles but both teams seemed more worried about giving up a goal than scoring. The result was a scoreless draw. This really hurts the Quakes’ chances of making the playoffs. Final: 0-0.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Sep 24, 2004

: The Forgotten

Perhaps this film ought to be forgotten. Okay, it’s not that bad; the performances and presentation are sincere and it has some good moments (including a couple jarring shocks), but the entire movie is built around a single mystery that when revealed, isn’t at all compelling. (In case you wish to see the film, I’ll refrain from revealing the ending.) The premise is intriguing: a woman who appears to be suffering from a mental breakdown after her son was killed in a plane crash suddenly finds that all trace of her son’s existence is being wiped away. Picture albums are empty, people who knew her son suddenly don’t remember him, etc. She’s told she never had a son but imagined one after a miscarriage, including elaborate details. Even her husband agrees. So, has she lost her mind or did her son exist? It’s an interesting conflict, but unfortunately the film soon deviates down a strange path of shady government agents, a mysterious man who can’t be hurt, and more. Obviously some sort of conspiracy is at work, but who’s behind it? The answer’s a letdown. It’s not illogical or even implausible, it’s just too pat and not satisfying. The conclusion is also too easy. The film has some excellent scenes, but on the whole it’s awkward. The initial half, where you’re not sure what’s going on is exciting but you’re emotionally held at arms length from the characters since you aren’t sure if the mother is crazy or not. Later, when you realize she was right all along, the silly resolution to the mystery keeps you at odds with her. Thus the mother’s pain never truly resonates with the audience.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Shaun of the Dead

This British film has one of the best premises I’ve ever heard of: the dead come to life in London and admidst all the regular drunks, losers, and McJobbers, and no one notices! Hilarious. We cut from scenes of our loser hero staggering zombie-like out of bed and to a dead end job to scenes of real zombies lose in the world. While this movie is funny, I really hoped for some witty and piercing social commentary. Unfortunately, the film turns into a real zombie movie. In that respect, it’s very good within that genre, but without depth, the film’s nothing more than an elaborate gag. But it’s an excellent film, funny (not exactly a joke a line, but definitely comedic), intelligent, and cool. There are dozens of awesome scenes and killer moments. The zombie scares are good as well, though the humor takes the edge off the fear factor. The plot is merely survival as a loser tries to get back with his girlfriend by saving her from the zombies, and of course nothing goes as planned. The direction is wonderful, matching the film’s humor (somewhat similar to Raising Arizona in that regard), with a high pace, energy-filled shooting. Great stuff, though I would have liked it even more if it was a touch more thoughtful (like the original Dawn of the Dead).

Topic: [/movie]

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Sat, Sep 18, 2004

: Life or Something Like It

Predictable, boring, “live today for you may die tomorrow” movie. It feels like a disease-of-the-week TV movie, with gimmick moments obvious miles before they happen. The main character’s an ambitious TV reporter gunning for a network job who finds out she’s going to die and revises her life. It’s not especially bad, just especially average. A good fast-forward movie.

Topic: [/movie]

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: The Lady and the Unicorn

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Tracy has got to be one of the best writers alive today. I loved her

Topic: [/book]

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Fri, Sep 17, 2004

: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Terrific film intentionally reminiscent of Buck Rogers and other serials of the early 1900s. It’s even set in that time period. The entirely digital sets (only the actors are real) are fantastic: it would have cost a billion dollars to film this epic for real. The film moves at a good pace and the dialog between the main characters is witty and fun. The plot is your typical “nut takes over the world” thing, with a mysterious villain sending in skyscraper-sized metal robots into cities all over the world and stealing whatever he wants. Our heroes are pilot Joe (Sky Captain) and Polly Perkins, a female reporter out to cover the story. There’s also Frankie, a female pilot with a history with Joe, giving him a choice of women to fall in love with. Joe and Polly uncover the villain’s scheme and set out to defeat him, discovering he’s set off a doomsday device that will destroy Earth. The story, of course, is naturally cheesy, as are the characters who mug for all their worth, but that’s part of the charm, since it’s just like the adventures of old. The ending’s more of a whimper than a bang, but the whole ride is a lot of fun. Of course the biggest star here is are digital sets, and I hereby predict that we’ll see more movies made this way. Not just this genre, but all genres. As digital effects become more common and cheaper, this will eventually be less expensive than location shooting.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Mr. 3000

Predictable comedic fair, but truth in advertising in that you get what you expect. The gimmicky plot: a jerk of a former baseball star who’s built his post-baseball career around the fact that he had 3,000 hits suddenly discovers a counting error means he only had 2,997 hits, so at age 47, he goes back to playing to try to get three more hits. Of course he learns how not to be a jerk in the process, and everything ends happily ever after. Typical Hollywood, but well-done. It’s not a laugh-a-minute or anything, but has a lot of smiling moments, some cool scenes, and a satisifying conclusion. Bernie Mac is flawless in the lead.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Sep 16, 2004

: Criminal

Cool like con-job movie with terrific performances from John C. Reilly and Diego Luna. Reilly’s the experienced con who take the young Luna under his wing, then the two get involved in a major sting involving a forged piece of currency. Of course nothing goes quite as planned and more and more people get involved into the scam. It’s funny, cool, and you aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. The ending’s a bit of a gimmick, but a little too outrageous. It’s similar to Matchstick Men.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Hildago

I wanted to see this in the theatres despite the negative reviews but the timing didn’t work out. Now I’m glad I didn’t bother. The worst thing about this movie is that it is boring. It shouldn’t have been. The premise is great: an American long-distance riding champ goes to Africa to race 3,000 miles across the desert and beat the purebred Arabian horses with his wild Mustang. Unfortunately, endurance racing is like matching a marathon. It’s just endless riding, boring as watching sand blow. So the writers throw in all sorts of ridiculous side plots, involving battles, kidnappings, attempts to cheat, etc., to keep the movie interesting. The result is a dreary mess. You already know Hildago will win the race, so there’s no drama there, and the side plots are so obviously secondary we really don’t care about them. The film’s about 40 minutes too long, too. There are some good moments, but they are too few and too far apart. Mildly entertaining but mostly boring and meaningless.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Sep 15, 2004

: City of Glass

Author: Paul Auster (Adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli)

Last spring my cousin-in-law lent me a book by Paul Auster which included the fascinating story City of Glass. It’s an amazing story about a writer who’s mistaken for a detective and gets so involved in a complex case that he loses his identity. Recently, a classic graphic version of the story has been republished and I quickly bought a copy. I was intensely curious how such a complicated story could be transformed into a comic. Would it retain the magic of the original story? The answer is a tremendous “Yes!” The reason it works is that much of the text of the original story is used verbatim in the graphic novel. The graphics only add meaning and depth to the story. Honestly, I felt this version was even better than the original! It’s much more approachable, more interesting, less technical. Yet the full meaning and depth of the original story is preserved. While it’s been a while since I read the story, I can’t think of anything left out; the comic version includes all the important scenes and elements. As an introduction to Auster, this short graphic novel is ideal. I highly recommend it. It’s literary, profound, complex, unusual, and well worth your time.

Topic: [/book]

Link

: Car Adventures

My car’s been getting old (I’ve had it for over 10 years) and it lately started acting up. The air conditioner was making noise, it was creaking and not steering properly, and other weird things. Then last week I drove to Modesto and Fresno to visit my Aunt Joann and go to the eye doctor (my first visit in over two years). I had planned to get an oil change but when I went they were closed: it was Labor Day, the morons. So I left without having my car checked out. I was nervous, but everything worked great until I got to Fresno. Suddenly the car started making weird sounds (the engine was snorting during idling), the air conditioner made screeching sounds so I had to turn it off, acceleration pooped out, and then a strange bell began dinging randomly. I thought the car was toast for sure.

That evening I headed for home. I got on the highway and the bell began ringing again. It’s the same warning bell that rings when you leave your keys in the ignition and open the door. I thought something wasn’t working right with the system. I couldn’t see any warning lights on the dash. Then I noticed that the temperature gauge, which I’ve never seen above 30%, was at max. As I watched, it went all the way to the top and the bell rang. That happened again and cleared up the bell mystery: it was telling me my car was overheating.

I got off at the next exit and went to a gas station. There I sprayed water on the engine and after a 20 minute cool-down, added water to the radiator. Then I called my Uncle Phil for advice (I know less than nothing about cars) and added some oil (it seemed low). The odd thing was that after the car was cool, just sitting and idling made it overheat! I had to cool it down a second time (after turning off the engine, of course).

Once I got on the road, the wind kept the engine cool and I made it home just fine. But idling for more than a few minutes — in a parking lot, in traffic, etc. — would make the car overheat.

I dreaded taking the car to a shop. Who knows how much I’d be charged? Probably they’d tell me the engine was dead. Except the car did work fine on the highway. I was so nervous I actually checked out the prices of new and used cars. What I found was depressing, because used ones that I could afford were in even worse shape than my Neon, and because new cars are way out of my price range (which is pretty close to zero).

Finally, I decided I at least had to know how much it would be to fix, so I took it in. The shop had given me a $108 estimate to find the trouble and called a couple hours later. “You car’s fixed!” they said.

“What? Seriously? What was wrong?”

“It was simple: the relay to the cooling fan was bad. So the fan wasn’t turning on when needed. We replaced the relay and everything works great now.”

The total bill came to $88 labor/diagnostic and $12 for the part. Not bad at all. The odd thing is the overheating seemed to be the problem all along. The air conditioner now works fine (no more weird sounds), the engine noise I’d been hearing in retrospect was water boiling, and the sluggish acceleration is cured, probably because higher RPMs generated more heat. I don’t understand why overheating would effect the steering, but it’s fixed now, so I can only assume it was also related.

Weird the way a single problem could create such a variety of symptoms.

Topic: [/personal]

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: Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut

I was hoping this rerelease would clarify this muddled and confusing film, but no such luck. Supposedly twenty minutes of new footage has been added, but I couldn’t tell where. Some scenes seemed longer but there was much I didn’t remember anyway, so I found it hard to tell waht was new. Nothing new helped explain anything; my comments on the original

Of course this “off-screen action” problem isn’t limited to this one key scene. It happens throughout the film, to different degrees of harm. The most obvious are the sabotage events, which we don’t really see Donnie do, but suspect. Now those actually benefit from some abiguity as they make us wonder if Donnie’s really done them or just assumes he did them; unfortunately, they aren’t ambiguous enough. There’s far too much evidence that he did them, such as the shot of him with the ax, his own words that he did them, etc. So the question then becomes, if he admits he did them and it’s so obvious he did, why obscure that from the audience? Why not just show us plainly? What benefit is gained by obscuring those events? If the events were intended to be ambiguous there’d be a gain in mystery and complication, but since there is no mystery — he did the sabotage — the abiguity just confuses.

You can add to that his conversations with “Frank,” the giant rabbit. Apparently we’re only privy to parts of the conversation. For instance, we discover during Donnie’s therapy that the rabbit’s name is Frank — we never actually hear the rabbit tell him that even though we’re supposedly there during their first encounter. Withholding a little information from us, the viewer, is okay, but it’s obvious that Donnie knows way more than we do and we have no idea how he got that information. Apparently Frank talked with him but we don’t hear those conversations. Why not? Who knows. But since those conversations aren’t even hinted at, the info comes to us second-hand, via Donnie, and it’s a surprise. We’re like, “Oh? Donnie knows what’s going on?” One could argue this gives Donnie power: he’s like a superhero, with knowledge of the future. Unfortunately, this just serves to further alienate Donnie from us; it doesn’t endear him to us as he did earlier, when he was lonely and confused. By hiding information from us, the director has separated us from Donnie. We’re now alone in watching the film and our main link, Donnie, is a stranger. I think this one thing is probably the main flaw that turns people off from this movie. Initially they like Donnie and can relate to him, but when he starts mysteriously knowing stuff (and not sharing details) he becomes someone we don’t trust and can’t understand.

Of course the greatest “off-screen action” flaw is undoubtedly the conclusion, where Donnie goes back in time to save the universe. Since we don’t get to see how Donnie time travels (we don’t see him building a machine, riding a machine, or even using mind power or magic beans) that key aspect of the film is completely lost to the average viewer. The film is just suddenly repeating the beginning, the night of the engine crash, only this time Donnie sacrifices himself and does not leave his bed, thus saving the universe. On first viewing it is practically impossible to figure that out since it’s done so vaguely. Even the concept that Donnie is somehow special and his life was saved for a reason is never clear on first viewing.

The bottom line is that this film is not designed to be clearly understood. Some people would argue that directors like David Lynch do the same thing, but that’s not at all the case. Lynch definitely has weird scenes in his films, but everything serves a purpose and is designed. This film is a cheap hack. It’s got some great performances, some hilarious humor, and a potentially neat plot, but it’s ineptly put together. The creator of this film thinks abiguity is good for abiguity’s sake; he mistakes vagueness for philosophical depth. Lynch uses abiguity to guide the viewer down two equally plausible paths: the abiguity makes the story more complex and powerful, adding another layer of interpretation. Lynch’s films benefit from repeated viewing not because information was lacking in the original presentation like with Donnie Darko, but because so much information was given that it’s overwhelming and difficult for the brain to process. With Donnie Darko we’re forced to read between the lines and try to figure out what happened off-screen; Lynch never does that. We actually see what happened, we just don’t understand the significance on first viewing.

I really wanted to like this movie. I’m a huge fan of cult classics and this movie has a large following. I gave it a question mark after my first viewing, unsure of my feelings. Seeing it a second time, however, confirmed my conclusion that this is dreck. It’s a mess that severely needs a rewrite, editing, and a better director. Keep in mind that I normally like confusing, puzzling movies. For instance, I wasn’t sure about Donnie Darko could have been that kind of film, but it’s weakly done. Nothing is clear, even in retrospect, and much of what happens, even when cool, is never given a reason. For instance, it’s widely assumed by fans that the rabbit is an alien being, yet I saw not a shred of evidence to support that. Not even a hint. Why? If that’s a possibility, why wouldn’t the writer include a hint or two?

I could write for a week and not list all the confusing flaws in this film, but the movie’s just not worth it to me. If you’re a fan and enjoy it, great; there are parts I like and I’ll enjoy those, but for me the film’s just too flawed to work.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Sep 14, 2004

: Mean Creek

Interesting film that didn’t seem at all controversial to me; I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. The film has a low-key plot: a group of teens go to pull a mean prank on a jerk for revenge, but things don’t go as planned and the kid dies, leaving the survivors to face their guilt. What makes the film work is the realistic teen dialog, terrific performances from a young cast, an appressive atmosphere of doom throughout, and the way the script incorporates and demonstrates interaction between three age groups of kids (remember, for teens and pre-teens, just a couple years is like a decade, so even slight differences in age puts people in different groups). Unfortunately, the whole of the film didn’t quite live up to the sum of its parts for me. I was left a little empty, wanting more and not getting it. The film really needed an extra twist at the end, something to hammer home a moral or modify the simple story we’d already seen. It’s still a solid story and good movie, but it just misses being great by a hair. I also found the guilt by the main group to be a little unrealistic. For some of the characters it makes a lot of sense (they are sensitive and guilt is natural), but for the older brother, for instance, I thought it was overdone. That’s in part because the death is partially accidental (one could argue almost completely accidental), so all the guilt is questionable. However, the reality is that these kids were feeling guilty before anything happened — they were feeling guilty about what they were going to do. Unfortunately the audience doesn’t feel that as much as the guilt later one, making the latter guilt have more importance than it should. Overall, an interesting film, but it doesn’t break new ground in teen behavior or anything. If the kids hadn’t shown any guilt — like in — that would be more significant. That these kids are actually repentent is what’s remarkable.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Sep 13, 2004

: Cellular

A decent thriller. It starts off a little weak: too much exposition, some pointless explanation. We’re forced to see the mother kiss her son off too school (shows she loves him), hear that she’s a science teacher (important as she’ll use those skills throughout the movie), etc. Though why a science teacher doesn’t leave for school before the boy gets on the school bus isn’t explained (in my experience, teachers arrive before the students). Once the story gets going, however, it doesn’t stop. The woman is suddenly kidnapped. She’s locked in an attic room and the wall phone is smashed so she can’t use it. But she figures out a way to rewire the fragments and make a call, but she can’t control who she dials. She dials randomly and a kid answers on his cell phone. Since she doesn’t even know what number she dialed or even if she could dial again, her life depends on that call. If he hangs up or they are disconnected, she’s dead. Things take a little time to get going here — at first he doesn’t believe her story, then he tries to take the phone to the police — but eventually it’s just him and her. The kidnappers are going to go steal her kid from school so she pleads with the stranger on the phone to help her, to get to the school before the kidnappers. Thus a race is started and continues, with “drama” like the cell phone’s battery dying, crossed lines with another cell phone user (Can that actually happen with today’s digital phones?), signal problems within a tunnel, etc. It’s a bit ridiculous but the performances keep you involved and things move too fast for you to be concerned about logic. The resolution is good, but the final fight in the boat house is too long and convoluted, though I did like the fight’s conclusion (which cleverly involves a cell phone). All and all, this is an odd film. It’s got moments that are obviously B-movie quality, but then it’s got good actors and some good action and a story that keeps you involved. The sum of its parts is therefore slightly more than the whole, resulting in a decent — but not great — thriller. It’s fun, but most of that fun comes from not knowing what’s going to happen and wanting to see what the producers will do with the interesting premise. I don’t know that there’s enough here to want to see the film again, which means it isn’t a classic, but it is entertaining. It’s certainly better than a lot of current films.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Sep 12, 2004

: Avenger

Author: Frederick Forsyth

Terrific thriller about a former soldier who’s now a lawyer who moonlights as a freelance “avenger.” He goes and catches bad guys who are above the law and brings them to justice. Forsyth goes into mind-numbing detail giving us entire life histories of all the main characters involved, even some of the more minor people. But all that detail is important, as we see later, when those experiences and connections prove useful in resolving issues encountered in the main plot. That plot is that a young American volunteer has been murdered in Bosnia by a Serb terrorist. The U.S. government, for many politcal reasons, has trouble bringing the murderer to justice, so Avenger is secretly hired to catch him. The climax of the book is when Avenger has finally tracked down the killer to his impregnable lair and must figure out a way to break in and kidnap him and return him to face justice in the U.S. It seems impossible, but Avenger is awesomely clever, fooling everyone: the CIA, the local police, the killer’s security force, etc. Very cool novel. I’d love to see it made into a movie some day.

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Sep 11, 2004

: LA Trip

This weekend I headed off for Los Angeles. The main purpose of the trip was to go to the Home Depot Center and cheer on my San Jose Earthquakes as they battled the evil LA Galaxy, but my brother and I decided that since we were in LA we should take advantage of that, so we got two-day passes to Universal Studios. It was a great weekend. We left early (about six a.m.) and got to Universal Studios about noon. That gave us a few hours before going to our hotel and getting ready for the game in the evening.

Universal Studios was interesting. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was more amusement park than studio, but there was some studio stuff. I’d have liked to see more behind-the-scenes things, peak on actual film productions, etc., but the atmosphere was fun. The studio tour was excellent. We rode on semi-enclosed wagons chained together to make a sort of train. The little buses drove through a large portion of the lot so you could see actual exteriors used in films. It took about 45 minutes. Each wagon included several small TVs which broadcast clips of movies in sync with the tour guide’s commentary. This was neat because when we would enter a portion of the fake city Universal has on the lot, they could show a clip from a film in which that set was used. We saw the Back to the Future town clock set, which key in that film. There are also several “action” sequences during the tour. In one, you’re inside a subway station when an earthquake hits: there’s fire, the ceiling seems to collapse, an oil truck rumbles toward you, and there’s water and darkness and chaos. In another the wagons are attacked by a shark. But the main thing is the film history, and it was cool to see the Bates Motel and Psycho house, though hilariously odd to see a portion of Whoville (from

Unfortunately, most of the shows are the kind of thing you only need to see once. There’s nothing that deep with any of them. They’re good, but not magical. Some of the rides you might like to do more than once, but even those are not necessarily worth the wait in lines to do so. I was also a little disappointed at the crass commercialism evident everywhere: almost everything you see is for sale. Rides and tours end within gift shops, there are food and shops everywhere. I wouldn’t have minded those so much if they were unique, but the personality was all surface. For instance, one restaurant was the Jurassic Park Cafe, and its menu included Pizza Hut pizza, roast chicken, and Chinese food, exactly like another restaurant with a different theme in a different section of the park. The themes only effected the decor, not the menu, and prices were exactly the same all over the park. And of course nothing was cheap. Despite Arrowhead being listed as a park sponsor, the bottles of Arrowhead water were $2.75 each. Over two hot days of walking around, I went through four or five. The stores were boring, all carrying cheap junk: hats and movie-themed clothing, silly stuff like Terminator 2 mugs or Shrek ear hats, etc. If I was creating a theme park I’d create unique stores and restaurants with stuff you couldn’t get anywhere else on earth. I’d include restaurants with different pricings, so people more interested in expensive food can go for that, and offer some cheaper stuff for people who’d prefer that. Of course it’s been a long time since I’ve got to amusement parks: I went to many as a kid, but that was back in the 70’s; no doubt things have changed a great deal since then, and not necessarily for the better. Still, despite my reservations and criticisms, I did enjoy myself. It was an experience. Not necessarily something I need to do again any time soon, but I’m glad I went.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

: MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy

Of course the real purpose of our trip south was to see our team beat the hated Galaxy. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but I had a good time anyway. The Home Depot Center is an impressive facility, though the food offers could be a little more varied (and cheaper). We had good seats in the Earthquakes section. I was a bit surprised there weren’t more: only about 75 of us showed up. But we were loud and apparently threatened the 26,925 Galaxy fans in attendance (it was a sell out) because they weren’t especially nice. Most were in good spirits and it was just friendly taunting (the Galaxy mascot had fun mocking us), but a few were nasty, including some idiots tossing beers and trash our way. The HDC security were too inept or unconcerned to stop it. The game itself was a bit of a disappointment. While we started okay and held the Gals off initially, I could tell our team was tired and not really into it. Their spirits were there but their bodies were not. This was the team’s third game in a week and for two of those we played without three key starters, which mean backups had to do a lot more work. Landon and Ching, our two national teamers, just got back from the U.S. game in Panama, and they looked tired from all the travel. Landon didn’t want to shoot but just passed the ball as soon as he got it. Ching out of it in the first half, but got a few chances in the second as he fought hard, but his touch was a hair off and things just weren’t gelling for the Quakes in the Galaxy box. In the end, the Galaxy got a lucky goal off a crossbar rebound that fell right to the foot of an LA player, and a second goal during a counter-attack when San Jose had everyone pushed forward. Onstad probably should have saved that goal as it almost missed and just needed a slight touch to push it wide, but he was slow off his line and didn’t cut the angle quite enough. The Quakes did get one back late when a poor clearance got Ronnie Ekelund the ball near the top of the Galaxy box. He took one touch to move the ball into position and cracked a brilliant shot off the underside of the crossbar to beat LA keeper Hartman. The ball bounced back out of the goal but had clearly crossed the line. That got the team going for a few minutes and for a while it looked like the Quakes might eke out a point. But with the Quakes pushing up so much the Galaxy’s counter-attacks were extremely dangerous: they could have scored a couple more times but desperate defending managed to stop them just in time. Coach Dom put in some subs at the end but it was too little too late. The Quakes lose two in a row, not good in such a tight conference. Fortunately, Dallas lost to D.C. today, so we’re still in fourth place. The top of the conference is extremely tight now with three teams within one point of each other. The Quakes still have their destiny in hand: all our remaining games are against Western opponents, so if we beat them, we can force ourself a playoff position. If we lose, however, they jump above us, so we just cannot lose. Win or tie are the only options left. If we win a lot we could even end up at the top of the group, though I think that’s dreaming considering the inconsistent play of the team. But I’d still like to see it! Final: 2-1 LA Galaxy.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Sep 10, 2004

: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

If you liked the first

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Thu, Sep 09, 2004

: Wicker Park

This is a severely flawed movie but it almost succeeds. It’s a neat concept, playing around with identity and heartbreak. Basically, our hero was in love but his girl took off for Europe without an explanation. He was heartbroken, but it’s two years later and he’s about to marry his boss’ sister. Then he thinks he sees his old girlfriend. She’s gone before he can catch her, so he plays detective and tracks her down. When he finds her, he’s disappointed to discover it’s not her, but a completely different girl with the same name, same perfume, same clothing, etc. Without spoiling the twist ending, let’s just say that explanations are forthcoming and make sense. Unfortunately, it’s both the complexity and method of revealing those explanations that make the film bewildering, uncomfortable, and much too long. The film, essentially, is all flashbacks and dreams. It’s often unclear if the scene was present day, two years ago, or a dream. Worse, the main character isn’t the only one flashing back: several other characters do so as well. While that gives us looks at familiar scenes from different perspectives, it adds to the confusion. For the first hour the film is just bewildering and makes little sense. Eventually it does, but by that time you don’t really care too much. The twisted plot is way too twisted, overdone, and full of itself; the movie goes on and on forever (it should have been 90 minutes max); and there are several sideplots and red herrings that should have been eliminated. That said, the film does have a number of positives. The twist in the plot is interesting. I liked it. (It just takes too long to get there.) The performances are also excellent, especially Rose Byrne, who is amazing: how she can alternatively be so plain and so striking I can’t fathom. She’s what makes the movie succeed for me. The others are decent, though mostly soulless. This is a strange film in that I didn’t like it at all for the first hour, but liked the second hour and liked it after it was done. That leaves it with a bitter taste, only awkwardly successful. It really needed better direction and/or a new script not so dependent on flashbacks (ugh).

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Wed, Sep 08, 2004

: MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

With four top players missing for national team duty (Donovan, Ching, Onstad, and DeRosario) the Quakes played short-handed again. They managed an impressive away victory on the weekend, but Columbus came in gunning for a 0-0 draw. They milked the clock whenever they could, relied almost solely on counter-attacks for their offensive play, and packed it in at the back and defended nine men deep. The Quakes dominated possession and play, creating a lot of decent chances, but few actual shots on goal (lots of almosts and what-ifs). What impressed me was the way the Quakes defended, with lots of early pressure and hardly letting any Columbus player have two touches on the ball. In the end, the Quakes seemed content with the zero-zero result, something I don’t like to see, and even Coach Dom didn’t try to shake things up with aggressive substitutions. Thus when the Crew had a slight opportunity in stoppage time and managed to score when tall Tony Sanneh went unmarked in the box, the Quakes ended up with a loss they didn’t deserve. Such is the breaks. The result doesn’t hurt the Quakes in the Western standings, but it doesn’t help. We could have jumped to a solid second; instead we remain in fourth. Our destiny is still in our hands as we face L.A. this weekend: that game is really a must-win now. With only two home games left and all Western opposition, losses now will doom us. We must win or miss the playoffs. Final: 1-0 Crew.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Sep 06, 2004

: Spy Games

This is a strange, uncomfortable film that doesn’t know if it’s a comedy or a drama. It’s about spies: an American spy is stationed in Finland romancing a Russian spy and they routinely use each other for information until a serious situation comes along and suddenly the games are real and loyalties are tested and truth revealed. Had a few okay, amusing moments; long boring periods; and a underwhelming conclusion. Not memorable.

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Sun, Sep 05, 2004

: Soho Square

Cool little low budget digital flick shot in London’s Soho district about a cop haunted by the memories of his wife’s suicide after a miscarriage. Someone is murdering young women in Soho and setting the bodies on fire leaving the police with minimal evidence and the cop is on the murderer’s trail. There’s a nice twist at the end that helps the plot fit together, but the main thing that’s interesting about the film is the way it is directed, especially for such a small budget (IFC said it was shot for about $7500 — if so, that’s amazing). It feels like a “real” movie. You certainly don’t notice any budget constraints, though occasionally the film’s digital origins are obvious. Overall, I nice tale, brilliantly told. Nothing earthshattering or magical, but certainly above average.

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Fri, Sep 03, 2004

: Paparazzi

This isn’t a terrible movie. It gives you exactly what you’d expect given the trailer and plot. A new celebrity struggles with really evil paparazzi (who are unbelievably insensitive). Eventually they cause a car accident and nearly kill his wife and son. Then, one by one, the four photographers involved die… the actor is killing them off. Kind of a revenge flick, in a way. Everything’s average (script, acting [Tom Sizemore clods his way through his bad guy role, overacting up a hurricane], directing), but there are some decent moments. Some of the deaths are pretty cool, there are a couple twists and small surprises (some fun cameos by Mel Gibson, Chris Rock, and others), and it ends happily. Meaningless but mildly satisfying, like popcorn. Fun if you’re in the right mood.

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Thu, Sep 02, 2004

: Intimate Strangers

This wasn’t as wicked as I hoped. The concept sounded amazing: a woman mistakes a tax attorney for her new psychiatrist (she goes into the wrong office and he assumes she’s a tax client) and spills her guts to him. By the time he realizes the mistake, he’s in over his head. Should he tell her? How will she react? She wants a regular session and he agrees, unsure what else to do.

Unfortunately, the scam is uncovered right away. I had figured the fake psychiatrist thing would go on for a long time, building suspense as the woman reveals more and more intimate information. Thus the film goes from being about complex mind games to being a long therapy session. In that regard it’s still interesting — the woman is mysterious and doesn’t reveal everything all at once and we’re not sure how much of what she says is factual — but it is talky and slow. Talky would have been fine if there was the undercurrent of the fake psychiatrist thing behind everything, but without that it’s really just eavesdropping on a woman and her therapist.

There is the intriguing question of why the woman continues to have therapy sessions with the man even though she knows he’s not a doctor. And of course the man is obviously falling in love with the girl. Those things make the film interesting, but it never quite lives up to its potential. I did like the ending, in which we find that the therapy has helped each of them heal. Good but not great.

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Wed, Sep 01, 2004

: Harsh Realm

Not a movie but a short-lived TV series from X-Files creator Chris Carter. This series was just released on DVD — all nine episodes. Apparently six of those never even aired on TV as the series was canceled after just three shows! Was really pisses me off about that is that though I am an ideal candidate to watch this show — I loved the X-Files, I’m a big Chris Carter fan, and I love science fiction — I never even heard of this show until it was released on DVD! That’s ridiculous. Why the hell wouldn’t Fox promote the show? At least tell us it’s a Chris Carter show! That would get me to tune in. And canceling it after just three shows? That’s really dumb. Why even bother to make it in the first place with such a lack of commitment? As you can tell, I am rather vexed by this. That a show that appeals to me as much as the premise of this one and I never even knew it existed is just lame. I don’t blame myself, I blame the morons at Fox. When I first saw this DVD set released I thought it must have been some weird Chris Carter cable show that only aired a few episodes — I’m shocked that it was on a major network and I never heard of it. Just ridiculous.

Of course what makes that even worse is that the show is very good. It died too early to say if it would be great, but judging from the quality of the nine episodes, I’d say it started out good and was getting better and better (the ninth episode was my favorite). It’s a real shame the show died before it was born. While this show came out the same year as Matrix: that death is real (i.e. you die in VR you die in real life); that certain people have “magical” abilities to modify “reality” within the game and “cheat” (i.e. heal bullet wounds, walk through walls, etc.); and the whole mystical “the one” silliness. Harsh Realm adds a couple new improbably technology wrinkles to the mix. First, that the Realm is an exact duplicate of the real world, down to the mole on your grandmother’s neck and the fact that Aunt Sylvia loves strawberries and whipped cream, and second, that many of the “people” in the Realm are virtual characters (not real). Preposterious! No way even the military has storage capability to simulate the idenitities and behaviors of six billion people, let alone have some way to scan every human being and know everything about them. And virtual characters that act like real human beings? For that to happen the computer would have to understand language — it would have to be human. We are hundreds of years from anything like that, if ever. But beyond those two conceits, the show’s entertaining. It has an anthology, Twilight Zone feel to it. Since anything goes within virtual reality, stories have a wide range, often not having anything to do with the previous episodes. That’s probably part of the reason the network balked at the show: anthologies are difficult to attract an audience because the stories are completely different every week. For instance, one episode of Harsh Realm had the two main characters stumble into a WWII simulation and get stuck, unable to escape, reliving the same battle over and over again. In another (my favorite), the two get caught up in a feud between two families living in the radioactive rubble of NYC who are after the same pile of gold (which turns out to be radioactive).

Good stories, stylish production, conspiracies, and more, the show had a great premise and should have been given a chance. Unfortunately, Fox sucks. They also cancelled the Lone Gunmen before it could get a foothold (though at least I heard about that one and tuned in). I guess Fox doesn’t remember how long it took The X-Files to become popular.

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Tue, Aug 31, 2004

: Hero

In the trail of

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Mon, Aug 30, 2004

: The Devil in the White City

Author: Erik Larson

I’ll begin by saying that I was mistaken when I purchased this book. I saw it in the paperback section at Costco. I glanced at the back and saw it was about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and told the twin stories of the architect behind the fair and a serial killer who used the fair as a source of victims. Only when I sat down to read the book did I discover that this wasn’t a fascinating fictional story but genuine history. I rarely non-fiction. It just doesn’t interest me. But this, I must say, is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down. It reads like a detective novel or thriller. On the one hand we have the story of the remarkable architect behind the fair, trying to do the impossible in an age when death was common and technology primitive. At the same time, we follow the life of one of the coldest, most evil killers in history. It’s a simultaneous celebration and exploration of the best and worst of humanity. As the one man puts together an artistic team never rivaled in the history of the world, the other ingeniusly murders and steals with no one the wiser. It’s truly an amazing story. This is a book all high school kids should have to read for history class: if this can’t get kids interested in history, nothing will. Larson does an incredible job of drawing us into 19th Century life, describing the conditions and daily experiences, and in doing so reminds us how much has changed and how priviledged we are to live in these times when we have such luxuries as good medical care.

I had minimal knowledge of the fair when I began the book, but it’s important to understand just how significant an event it was in the history of the United States. It’s not an understatement to say that except for the Revolution and the Civil War it was the single most important event in U.S. history. So much came out of the fair that it’s difficult for the modern mind to understand the significance. First, understand the scope of this fair. It was physically huge: over a square mile in area with over two hundred buildings. One single exhibit hall boasted the most interior space of any building in history. Inside it you could fit the U.S. Capital, Winchester Cathedral, the Great Pyramid, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Madison Square Garden — all at the same time! Second, note that this was an event in which over 27 million people attended — at a time when there were only 65 million in the whole country. Finally, this fair launched an era of imagination: it made many believe in the impossible. A carpenter who worked at the fair was named Elias Disney. He told grand stories of the incredible fair to his son Walt. The creator of Oz, Frank K. Baum, was inspired by the fair. So was a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. The decision by the fair to use the new alternating current (AC) system of electrical delivery pretty much killed off Thomas Edison’s push for direct current (DC). For most of the fair goers, the fair was their first opportunity to see electricity in use (one demonstration was an “electric kitchen” with all-electric appliances including a dishwasher) — most had never even seen incandescent lights before! New products debuted at the fair: Shredded Wheat breakfast cereal, a snack called Cracker Jack, a new beer that won an award and has been known ever since as Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Columbus Day holiday was created in honor of the fair (ostensibly the fair was the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America). And of course the fair was most famous for an engineering marvel that out did Paris’ new tower by Alexandre Eiffel: a giant 250’ wheel that held over two thousand passengers and rotated them through the air. The wheel was so massive (it used twice as much steel as the Brooklyn Bridge) few thought it would even support its own weight. Back then there was no technology to test it in advance: it simply had to be created and tried. But its creator, George Ferris, proved right in the end.

Is it any wonder that such a fair created huge impressions on the entire country? It influenced art, architecture, engineering, and much, much more. This book tells the story of the amazing fair and the amazing people who created it. At the same time, we have the darker story of the criminal who took advantage of the chaotic atmosphere the fair produced to murder. Both stories are compelling and revealing; alone each is incomplete. Together they give an astonishing view of a world gone by. Recommended more than I can say.

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Sun, Aug 29, 2004

: Athens 2004 Olympics

The Summer Olympics 2004 ended today and I thought I’d write a little about them. I actually watched a great deal of them. Between my two Tivos and the extensive coverage I was able to record all the prime time and much of the day time and late night events, then watch it later fast forwarding through the endless commercials and boring stuff. Sometimes a four-hour block would have only five or ten minutes of “real” coverage (I don’t need to watch an entire two hour marathon, for instance). With so many events races that are only decided in the final seconds, why watch all the build-up? Anyway, I managed to watch most of the Olympics and found that I enjoyed much of what I saw. I have an uncle who’s anti-competitive: he feels competition breeds contempt and superiority and we shouldn’t promote it as a nation. He’s also a pacifist and doesn’t like the nationalism events like the Olympics promotes. While I understand both of his points, I don’t completely agree. If competition is in the right spirit, one of comradeship and friendliness, such as two kids saying, “I’ll race you to that tree!” then it’s a good thing. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it brings out the best in people. Unfortunately little of that spirit remains in the modern Olympics. Where it was once an event for amateur athletes, today an Olympic medal seems mostly something to brag about, an event of huge financial and career consequences. Endorsements and other rewards have made the Olympics bigger than they should be, and thus we have athletes and children who are obssessed with training to the point of sacrificing much of their lives for just a chance at Olympic glory. When winners are measured in microseconds, does that mean so much? Is a gold medal winner proud of having beaten a competitor by one hundredth of a second? On any given day, any of the top ten could beat any other. That the Olympics happen so rarely means that whoever happens to be in form on that day wins. Is that an accomplishment? I find the stories of the underdogs, the ones who compete not for fame or money but simply out of love for the sport or to honor their country to be much more pleasing. Stories like the Bronze medalist from Brazil in the men’s marathon, who, when tackled by a deranged fan during the race, got back up and finished, and never once complained that the incident might have cost him the gold. Or the Iraq men’s soccer team, who came in unranked but finished a remarkable fourth while powerful soccer countries like Portugal went home early.

Then there’s the whole judging controversy in the gymnastics competition. Why don’t they just give everyone gold medals and be done with it? The absurdity of judging something so subjective!

While I realize that medals mean a great deal to these athletes, the average person only thinks of the Olympics once every four years, then it’s forgotten. Oh, we remember a few names, a few events. But mostly it becomes a blur. Does it really matter who won what? Our country does put a lot of emphasis on winners, too much so, especially in athletics. Athletics ought to be fun, not fail-and-you-die events.

But overall these were a good Olympics. There was fine competition, some excellent examples of good sportsmanship, the occasional controversy, and no terrorist attacks. That’s all good. Greece also shined: what an amazing legacy, history, and country! The opening and closing ceremonies were interesting and different, and that’s one of the things I most love about the Olympics: that different nations and different people can get together and join hands be one for a while.

Topic: [/olympics]

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Sat, Aug 28, 2004

: MLS: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

Not a lame game by any means, though a disappointing result. The Quakes dominated the whole game, but couldn’t score. Colorado keeper and former Earthquake Joe Cannon was a wall, controlling his box, catching and punching crosses, and stopping a number of point blank chances. It seemed like surely the Quakes would break the deadlock at some point, but the Quakes never really got angry enough to attack desperately. There was one sequence where they tried, but Colorado actually looked dangerous on the counter, and after that San Jose didn’t want to risk giving up a goal. The Rapids did have a chance to two, but our keeper only had to make a couple routine saves. I wonder if Coach Kinnear should have put in our subs earlier, tried to get a win. It was obvious the players were tired (they’ve played two games a week for several weeks now) and creativity was lacking. Subs wouldn’t have hurt and might have inspired something. The Quakes really deserved a win based on aggressive play, but they couldn’t finish and so we got yet another tie at home. That’s two points lost. With a win we would have jumped to third, but this tie and Dallas’ win over Chicago drops us back to the bottom. Fortunately, all the teams are tightly bunched now, and despite being in last place in the West, the Quakes are only four points from first! We do have a game in hand on everyone but K.C. and most of our final games are against Western Conference opponents, so the Quakes have it in their power to finish in the lead if we go on a good run. But with World Cup qualifying in full swing, it looks like we’ll be missing Landon Donovan and Brian Ching to the National Team, meaning we’ll have to win some of those key games with our B team. That’s asking a lot, but we’ll see. Final: 0-0 draw.

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Fri, Aug 27, 2004

: Ice Hunt

Author: James Rollins

I’ve never heard of Rollins, but this is an excellent old-fashioned adventure story a la Edgar Rice Burroughs and is surprisingly well-written. The detail is amazing, making everything feel very real, and though the story’s long and complicated with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, they don’t feel forced like with many poor writers (such as Patterson). The story’s wild: a group of regular Alaskans find themselves immeshed in a covert superpower war for control over a secret polar ice station recently discovered. The ice station was lost before WWII, yet contains key technology. The Russians want to blow up the station so the U.S. don’t find the technology, while the U.S. wants to study the find. But both countries would potentially be embarrassed by the contents of the ice station, so everything is being done “off the map,” in secret. The public will never hear of what happens. That means anything goes: murder is okay. So the Alaskans find themselves in the middle of this covert war, with submarines and Delta Force troops. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s an ancient secret hidden in the ice station: it’s a nest for some prehistoric monsters that still live. These vicious monsters are nicknamed Grendel, after the Beowulf story. Rollins actually uses a lot of science to justify the existence of these creatures, so they come across as quite believable (he’s a vetrinarian in real life and knows how to describe animals). Grendels are extremely dangerous, which puts our civilian heroes in even more jeopardy: now they are hiding from the Russians and the monsters! The result of all this is a nail-biter, can’t-put-down book. It gets a little annoying because every time you think the heroes are saved, the situation gets even worse. It’s “out of the frying pan into the fire” about twenty different times and after a while the tension becomes unbearable. It seems impossible that our heroes will emerge unscathed. But that also makes the ending a sweet relief and the book feverishly exciting. Terrific read. My only real criticism is that the title is extremely lame. Ice Station Grendel would have been a much more descriptive, interesting, and accurate moniker. Looking at the other books Rollins has written, I see similar titular problems (several are much worse than this one), so most likely either he’s not good at creating titles or he lets the publisher pick them. Anyway, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its title, so I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve actually read the books. But if they’re anything like this one, I’ll be happy.

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: Suspect Zero

I heard bad things about this going in, but the trailers made it seem cool: it stars the awesome Ben Kingsley as a serial killer killer. Unfortunately, the critics were correct. This film has many problems, mostly with the script. The film starts out well enough, with a series of murders getting the FBI involved. Soon we learn these are “messages” targeting a particular FBI agent who has a troubled background (revealed in flashback, of course). Eventually the FBI guy figures out that all the murder victims are serial killers and so he deduces that this guy is “helping” society — but his superiors don’t agree and want the guy taken out. It’s pretty much at this point that the film tanks. There are several reasons for this. One, the film has built so much around the gimmick of a “serial killing serial killer” that once that’s revealed there isn’t much left to the movie (and of course since that’s revealed in the film’s trailer, you know that going into the movie). Two, the pace of the film’s inconsistent. It starts out glacial, as we investigate murder step-by-step. Then it speeds up, jumping from murder scene to murder scene like a music video, which results in minimizing the significance of the latter murders. Three, the story falls apart and is very choppy and illogical when the FBI meets Ben Kingsley’s character, and in the “climax” of film when they meet up the final serial killer, “suspect zero.” The latter gets his name because he’s a killer under the radar, so good the FBI don’t even know he’s been killing, and yet he’s murdered thousands. Four, the ending is anti-climactic and badly filmed. Most of the time I liked the direction, but the ending consists of the FBI guy and the killer rolling around in dust “fighting” — yet all you can see is their legs entangled as they roll back and forth for like two minutes. Five, the film can be broken into two halves, the search for Kingsley’s character and the “climax” when the FBI finds him and they track down the final serial killer (suspect zero). Unfortunately, there’s no good transition between these halves. Even if the ending were decent, the film would still be awkward and incomplete because of that.

The whole film has a lot of puzzling logistical issues. For instance, I got very confused: I thought one location was supposed to be in Oklahoma City (the FBI guy is based in New Mexico), yet later in the film the FBI guy has a brain wave and rushes to that building to confirm something. He gets there, apparently, in minutes — so either it wasn’t so far away or he’s Flash in disguise. Who knows or cares? A similar problem is at the end, when he’s tracking “suspect zero.” He’s in the middle of nowhere and calls his partner who shows up within minutes, somehow knowing where he is from the phone call. There’s also some real stupidity. Like the FBI standing around in obvious fashion waiting for the serial killer to come home. When the guy drives up, he sees the FBI guy and takes off, provoking a road chase. How stupid is that? Wouldn’t even the dumbest cop know to hide? And even dumber is that the FBI guy’s in an SUV and the killer drives a huge semi… so the SUV, after calling for backup, keeps trying to pass the semi. What for I could never figure out. Backup is coming, the semi’s not getting away, so why risk your life trying to pass the semi? Basically the scriptwriter needed more action at the end and so forced a pointless high speed chase. Oh dear, there are so many problems with this film I could go on and on. It’s a fine concept and the direction’s actually pretty good, but unfortunately the foundation (the script) is unfinished. A waste of potential.

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Thu, Aug 26, 2004

: Walking and Talking

This is one of those modern independent films that tries to be like real life. That basically means it’s slow, talky, and nothing much happens plotwise. I guess some people think that’s profound. There’s some lovely dialog, good enough for a play in places, but unfortunately this just doesn’t work well as a film. It’s too slow, talky, and just plain boring. The “plot” is basically about two best friends who grow apart when one gets engaged, leaving the other feeling alone and even more desperate to get married. As she struggles with relationships, the engaged girl struggles with potential marriage. Basically, this is just real life filmed and it’s only slightly more interesting. It’s got some good moments, and some good acting. I didn’t not like it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it either. It’s certainly not a film you’d ever want to see more than once.

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Tue, Aug 24, 2004

: Open Water

Disappointing and depressing. It’s a good premise — a couple is accidentally abandonned at sea during a vacation diving session — and I liked the immediacy of the digital filmmaking, but it’s not particularly scary, and the ending is depressing (though probably realistic). The film spends a lot of time trying to establish the main characters, but they still come across as stereotypical yuppies, spoiled and irritating and incredibly stupid. I never did figure out why the couple didn’t at least try to figure out some way to survive. Swimming to shore may not have been a viable option, but wouldn’t you at least go down fighting? Seeing distant boats, wouldn’t you at least try to come up with a way to signal them? Strange film. I liked the concept and the technique, but the execution and story left a lot to be desired.

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: The Girl Next Door

Not nearly as raunchy or provocative as the advertising implied, this turned out to be a decent coming-of-age story about a conservative high school senior who falls for the “girl next door” who is a former porn star wanting to go straight. While the film glamorizes the porn industry too much, it does have a good heart and the twist ending is great. Elisha Cuthbert, from TV’s 24, is definitely the draw here as the lead, and she’s amazing, but everyone else is remarkably well-cast too. Certainly not a deep film, it’s far better than most in the teen genre. I don’t think it did too well at the box office, but that seems to be mostly due to poor marketing, since the ads implied sex and there really isn’t much in the film.

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Mon, Aug 23, 2004

: Northfork

Strange film set in the 1950’s where the town of Northfork is going to be flooded by a new dam being built and a group of black suited men are hired to evacuate the last few holdouts. One of these includes a priest with a sick boy, who’s too ill to travel. The boy has bizarre dreams of being an angel with weird visitors searching for him. Events in the boy’s dreams correspond in a timely fashion with other events, producing interesting coorelations. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels more like an avant garde film experiment instead of a movie. There isn’t much of a story, and while the whole thing reeks of pretentious intelligence, there isn’t much actual depth.

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Sun, Aug 22, 2004

: At the Stroke of Midnight

Author: Alex Kava

I picked this book up at Costco the other day as it sounded interesting, a track-the-serial-killer thriller. After reading it, I am most impressed with Alex. She writes with friendly, clean prose, creates some nice suspense and thrills, and most important, has a character-based storyline. This is a psychological thriller where we’re given insight into the mind of the murderer, seeing things from his eyes. Not constantly, as the novel does switch viewpoints, but enough that we think we understand him. That’s really interesting. I also liked that Alex didn’t enforce an artificial plot twist on the reader just for the sake of a twist. Too many authors make their endings overly complicated as they try to out-clever the reader. Just tell us an interesting story, that’s all we need. I’ll be seeking out more books my Alex Kava. She’s only written a few others, all in the same vein, but so far I’m impressed.

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Sat, Aug 21, 2004

: MLS: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

Wow, fantastic night. The weekend began with a downer in that AEG, the owners of the Quakes, officially announced a deadline: if the Quakes are not bought by local investors or a local stadium deal isn’t figured by Sept. 27 — yes, a mere month away — the Quakes will be relocated next year, most likely to San Antonio, Texas. Friday a huge rally in San Jose was scheduled, and tonight was a tribute to the original Earthquakes, the 30th anniversary of the original 1974 NASL team. In honor of those players, the Earthquakes wore red retro uniforms, quite a switch from traditional Quake blue. There was a good-sized crowd on hand and even Krazy George was back, beating his drum and riling up the fans who were in excellent voice. Besides the relocation drama, this was a huge game for the Quakes. Last in the West, this was a must-win against a Conference opponent. The game started with Dallas getting a couple early chances, but within a couple minutes the Quakes were humming and got an early goal with a terrific Ramiro Corrales left-footed strike. Donovan broke through with the ball on goal, took a defender with him to the side and played a fluff ball to Ramiro who blasted it into the far post netting. San Jose controlled play well after that. The Burn had some possession and created a couple chances, but nothing truly threatening. San Jose really dominated with some fantastic combination play. A quick series of passes sent Ronnie Ekelund in alone on goal, but Burn keeper Jeff Cassar managed to block the shot with his face! Sadly, he paid for the fine save, having to come out of the game as his left eye was nearly swollen shut. The Quakes’ continued pressure paid off and soon we were on the board again with another Ramiro goal… sort of. Off on the left he came into the box and took a low-percentage shot. Unfortunately for the Burn, their defender’s feeble block only succeeded in wrong-footing the keeper and generating an own goal. In the second half the Burn came out wanting to be strong but San Jose wouldn’t have it, continuing the route with another combination goal. Several touches in the Burn half resulted in Ekelund feeding Mulrooney who passed forward to Ching who chested it down to Donovan. Landon immediately slid the ball into space and Ching turned and was on-on-one with Scott Garlick, the Burn’s replacement keeper. Ching scored to give us a 3-0 lead and himself a league-leading eleventh goal of the season. After that it was routine, with the fans screaming with joy, the Quakes making the Burn look pathetic, and the home team squandering several good chances to add to the score. In the end the Quakes get themselves out of the cellar (the Burn deservedly get that spot), hold on to a nice shutout, and snag a priceless three points. And hopefully it will be a performance that will inspire a local ownership group to keep the Quakes here. Final: 3-0 Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Aug 20, 2004

: Lovely and Amazing

Interesting film about the interconnecting lives of a mother and her two daughters and her adopted black child. While the mother has complications from liposuction surgury and is hospitalized, the daughters struggle with their careers (or lack thereof) and love lives (or lack thereof). It’s slow and ponderous at times, and occasionally distasteful (sometimes you just want to slap an annoying, whiney character), but it has some unusual perspectives and is interesting. The storyline, if you can call it that, meanders. That leaves things a little unsatisfied and frustrating as we can’t tell where we are going. The abrupt ending doesn’t help matters, either. Not a great movie, but above average.

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Tue, Aug 17, 2004

: Garden State

Author: Zach Braff

Director: Zach Braff

Terrific, lovely film about a troubled slacker trying to figure out life. He seems like a typical loser at first, strangely distant when learning of his mother’s death early in the film, but we gradually learn that his psychiatrist father has had him medicated since he was a child. Returning home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, he rebells against his father and stops taking his medications, beginning to feel life the first time. He then meets an oddly charming girl, a compulsive liar fantastically portrayed by Natalie Portman in one of her best roles, with her own quirky family. The two form a bond that grows throughout the film, deepening to love. Astonishingly well-written, sensitive, funny, charming, and sweet, this is a great story — two hurt people find love in a painful world — beautifully and honestly told. The characters are well-defined and realistic, and the story retains enough grit and dirt to remain hip and modern and therefore be sincere without smaltzy saccharine romantic silliness. Fun, fascinating, and moving. A must-see.

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Mon, Aug 16, 2004

: Dead Aim

Author: Iris Johansen

Decent Johansen thriller, well-written as usual, but unfortunately her characters are becoming stereotypes of themselves. As always, she has the gruff, grim, superhero man, who’s an expert killer, in conflict with the independent, strong-minded, stubborn woman. The two are throw into an adventure together and fall in love while saving the world. This one isn’t bad, but has a paint-by-numbers feel to it, with nothing fleshed out. It’s still better than the average spy novel, but this one is weaker than Johansen’s usual. I also was annoyed by one personality trait of the female lead that forced much of the plot: the woman, Alex, is being hunted, but rather than accept help from friends or hide out at a safe house, she wants to continue her work (she’s a photo journalist). While that was supposed to demonstrate her independent mind and drive the plot, it felt forced and unnatural. Either Johansen didn’t develop that aspect of Alex’s character well enough, or it just wasn’t there, because I just didn’t believe it. If someone had just shot my friend and nearly killed me, and an expert offered me safety, I think I’d take it, at least for a little while, until things cooled down. Alex is such an idiot she’s prepared to walk right into gunfire! Oh, and the plot’s a little overdone on this one, involving a Congressman trying to take over the White House by creating a series of natural disasters to… oh never mind. It’s too ridiculous to even bother explaining. But it’s still a fun read, with some good scenes and situations, and Johansen’s prose is well-written.

Topic: [/book]

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Sun, Aug 15, 2004

: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

Surprisingly good Lindsay Lohan vehicle about a New York City girl who moves to New Jersey and pines for a life she doesn’t have. She’s a “drama queen” and makes up stories about her family and life to improve her situation, especially to help her fit into her new high school. This turns into a “girl who shouted wolf” story when something exciting really does happen but no one will believe her. Thus the girl learns her lesson and her positive attitude carries the day. This certainly isn’t deep but it’s fun, with distinct surreal direction that shows no one takes this too seriously. It’s light and very Disney, but above average.

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: A Wrinkle in Time

Author: Madeline L’Engle

I recorded this off TV a while back but hadn’t watched it yet. It was surprisingly good. I first read the book when I was a kid and though I liked it, didn’t really understand it that well. Even with this version the “battle” is all mental and abstract, and while it’s compellingly done, it’s not as concrete as say, the plots of the Harry Potter books. It reminded me a lot of my own “Traveler” graphic novel. I wonder if I had some sort of subconscious memory of this when I wrote it?

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Wed, Aug 11, 2004

: The Lake House

Author: James Patterson

Heavens, Patterson is becoming an expert at being a bad writer. He used to create some decent thrillers, but his last few are just terrible. This one is sad. It’s a sequel to the mediocre functional). Top off the bad science, idiotic plot, and horrible story-telling with poor writing and you’ve really got a dog of a novel. Patterson uses his new favorite idiotic technique of making each chapter 2-3 pages long, made horrible because each chapter must begin and end on an “exciting” note (almost always artificial, of course). This gives the whole book a seesaw “oh that’s good,” “oh that’s bad,” “oh that’s good,” feeling and makes it impossible to get involved in the lives of any of the characters. And did I mention that Patterson can’t write children dialog at all? He even has the eight-year-old awkwardly using the F-word, for reasons I can’t fathom. This is just a sad, sad work, probably written in a single weekend by a moron who could do so much better. I don’t expect Shakespeare from former ad man Patterson, but this is way below even his shallow standards.

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Tue, Aug 10, 2004

: Catch That Kid

What is it with Hollywood producing kid movies with adults with negative IQs? This is actually a fun film, but several of the adults are just absurdly moronic (i.e. security guard shocks himself unconscious with electric cattle prod) and it really means that only kids age five could completely enjoy this. Overall it’s a decent concept for a film: a young girl teams with her friends to rob a bank to steal the $250,000 her dad needs to a critical operation. The bank robbery is overly elaborate to the point of being silly, but still fun. Unfortunately, everything is dumbed down. Why couldn’t this be done intelligently and realistically? It could have been really cool? As it is, it’s on about the level of a cheap sitcom, okay but not great.

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: The Door in the Floor

Strange film. I wanted to really like it. It’s directed with distinction and seems to have more depth than it does. Sadly, the film’s not that profound. It deals with a family bereft by tragedy: their two older sons were killed in a car accident. The husband and wife have drifted apart after that, with the wife cold and distant. The husband, who’s an author/artist of children books, likes to seduce women by getting them to pose for him. Meanwhile, the wife begins an affair with her husband’s new teenage assistant. There’s lots of conflict, emotional tension, strange humor, and some interesting scenes, but everything adds up to a mystery that’s never explained. At the end of the film we’re finally privileged to find out what happened to the woman and her sons, but that explanation, while dramatic, is not earthshattering. The bottom line is her sons are dead no matter how it happened — why is she still so dead? The couple have a young daughter that needs a mother, but the woman abandons her, for reasons that aren’t explained. Some of this abiguity is good and thought-provoking, but much of it just creates empty characters that we can’t relate to and don’t care about. Overall this is a well-acted, well-done film that falls short of the profundity needed for this kind of a deep drama. The director needs to learn that a dramatic pause does not add drama — it merely announces it and gives us time to appreciate the drama that’s already there. In this case, there wasn’t enough drama in the actual story.

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Mon, Aug 09, 2004

: Blue Crush

Routine surf film, about a female surfer who’s trying to compete in a big tournament while struggling with her love life and is haunted by a near-drowning incident a few years earlier. Silly drama, but earnestly done with an appealing cast, but mostly this movie is just an excuse for beautiful shots of beautiful surfers on beautiful waves.

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Sat, Aug 07, 2004

: MLS: DC United at San Jose Earthquakes

Hooray! The Quakes get a much needed shutout and an even more needed win. The pregame had some drama as yesterday the league suddenly announced that Landon Donovan wouldn’t play as he would be suspended for his anti-ref gesture in the Quakes’ home game two weeks ago. After billing this as a “Landon vs. Freddy” shootout (they gave away posters with that message), Landon wouldn’t play. Good to see the league backing up the refs even if it means benching their superstar, but the timing is awkward. Anyway, I was a little unsure how a Donovanless Quakes would play. It turns, very well. Partly that was because D.C. just wasn’t playing well, but mostly it was because the Quakes were excellent. They controlled the play, passed the ball around like they owned the field, created gobs of chances, and finished a couple of them. The Quakes totally dominated the first half, with Ching missing a sitter five minutes in, Waibel’s shot cleared off the line by a defender, and Ching hitting the post twice before the end of the half! Fortunately, they did at least get one in the goal. After DeRo was taken down near the corner, Goose’s free kick bounced inside the box and D.C. couldn’t clear, sending it right to a Quake who took the ball back into the box, where Mullan’s initial shot was blocked but cleared right back to him, and his second a low slider to the opposite post that a DC defender couldn’t keep out. Wild, but a great goal. In the second half, DC came back and had a few chances. Onstad had one great save in the first half and in the second he made another one, two key plays in the game for him. The Quakes relaxed a little too much for a while, but fortunately didn’t give up an equalizer. Then as they began to attack more, Mullan put in a great cross that DeRosario finished with an amazing volley right into the upper net, giving the keeper no chance to save it. Fantastic goal, certainly a goal of the year candidate. Final: 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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: Just a Geek

Author: Wil Wheaton

Wil was once known as one of the excellent kid actors in the acclaimed film Stand By Me, and achieved even more fame as the teenage Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. After a few years on the show Wil was frustrated at all the movie roles he kept having to turn down, so he left — and the movie roles disappeared. Recently Wil has turned to writing. This came about by accident, as he started his own weblog. Initially this was simply to get more exposure for his dwindling acting career, but soon it was a way to communicate with fans, and eventually a way to excise his demons and figure out what he really wants out of life. By pouring your heart out to strangers on the web, you learn quickly what’s cool, pathetic, or real. This book is Wil’s story, and it tells of his journey from actor to writer, and it’s written with surprising honesty. It pulls no punches — Wil has been insulted a lot in his life and by now he has learned not to care what others think (or at least to do a good job of pretending not to care). He writes with plenty of humor, self-depreciation, and surprising intelligence and insight. There’s some insider info of what it’s like to be a famous Star Trek actor, work on the show, or meet famous actors, but much of Wil’s story is personal stuff, like how he felt when his dad was in the hospital, childhood memories, or spending time with his kids and wife. It’s nothing earthshattering, but it feels genuine, and that makes it special. If you’re a Wil fan or know his work as an actor, you’ll find the book a good read. Even if you don’t know him, you’ll probably still find it entertaining. It reads fast, and Wil is sarcastic and very funny. Excellent.

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Fri, Aug 06, 2004

: Interstate 60

Author: Bob Gale

Director: Bob Gale

I don’t know what I expected with this film, but I certainly got more than I bargained for. It’s an amazing movie. It reminded me a lot of The Princess Bride — not for the setting or plot, but in tone. That’s a film with a seemingly straightforward story suddenly veers out of line and goes off on wild, surreal tangents, just like this one. The “plot” is about a young man trying to find himself. He’s 22 and his attorney father is pressuring him to go to law school, but he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life. When his birthday wish is granted, he ends up on Interstate 60 — a highway that doesn’t exist. Along this road he meets fascinating characters and visits strange towns. There’s a town where drugs are legal and another where everyone is a lawyer and lawsuits are as common as breathing (as a matter of fact, breathing will probably get you sued for using someone else’s air). This is bizarre, quirky, and magically brilliant. There’s humor, drama, and deep thought. It’s the kind of film you could watch multiple times and see new things each time. The cast is fantastic, with short pieces involving Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Kurt Russell, Ann-Margret, and more. The main characters of James Marsden and Gary Oldman are excellent. One of my favorite scenes involves the awesome Chris Cooper, who plays a terminally ill man determined to stop all dishonesty. When he sees a homeless guy with a “will work for food” sign, he tries to trade an apple for a windshield cleaning, but the bum doesn’t actually want food, of course. He just wants a handout. The resulting clash is hilarious! Another great scene is in a diner when a guy with a bottomless stomach appears. He eats enough for ten people and is still hungry. It turns out that he was also granted a wish many years earlier, a wish to be able to eat as much as he wanted, and now he has to eat unbelievable amounts of food but stays hungry. The moral, of course, being that you should be careful what you wish for. (Really that’s a theme of the whole film.) Now I don’t want to give the impression that this is like the greatest movie ever, but it’s charming, surprisingly deep and complex, has a lot of humor, great performances, and a number of classic plot twists that are just awesome. It’s a little long at two hours and it’s uneven in a few places, but once you get started, it will hook you in and you can’t stop watching (it gets better as it goes along). You just have to see what weirder thing is coming next. Excellent.

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: Collateral

Director: Michael Mann

This film came out of nowhere — I saw not a single preview and barely heard about it, so I wasn’t at all sure it was any good. To my surprise, it was great! Tom Cruise plays a cool bad guy, one of the most ruthless hit men ever portrayed on screen. Jamie Foxx, usually reduced to comical idiot roles, plays straight here, as a taxi driver Cruise uses to drive him around to various kill sites in one night. The performances of both are great, which is good, because they take up most of the screen time. The characterization of the taxi driver is deep, and while we don’t learn as much about Tom’s character, we do learn some background that explains a little of his career choice. The plot is excellent, as against his wishes the innocent taxi driver is given more and more responsibility to help the hit man. The climax is great when the shy, reserved taxi driver finally takes action and tries to stop the hit man, and the two square off in a gun battle. It’s an excellent film. Lots of cool action, a non-stop pace, deep characters, and a satisfying ending.

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: Bubba Ho-Tep

Very strange, badly promoted film. The terrible title turned me off when this was in the theatres, but the genre surprised me even more when it turned out to be a comedic horror flick! In that light, it’s actually pretty good, bizarre and funny. The concept is great: Elvis Presley is still alive and in a retirement home in Texas. He apparently exchanged lives with a top Elvis impersonator and it was that man who died. Of course no one believes this old guy is the “real” Elvis: they think he’s the impersonator who fell off a stage and broke his hip. Anyway, that’s just the setting of the story, which deals with a strange Eqyptian undead monster that comes into the old folks home at night and robs people of their souls. Elvis and his pal (who’s delusional) set out to stop the monster. It’s silly, funny, and terrific, but the title still sucks.

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: Alien vs. Predator

This movie gave me pretty much what I expected, a fun actioner pitting Alien against Predator with humans in the middle getting killed by whichever monster happens to be in their path. The beginning’s weak as the film struggles to concoct a “plausible” scenario for getting the two creatures into the same place at the same time. It’s ridiculous and irrelevent: just get the humans in a remote place with the creatures and watch the blood splatter. Once the killing starts, it doesn’t stop, and the film’s pretty good. I liked the ending a lot — it’s a clever way to kill the monster — and the human heroine is cool. I heard some reviewers don’t think this was as fun or as good as

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Thu, Aug 05, 2004

: The Art of Deception

Author: Ridley Pearson

Fascinating psychological profile of killers and the police who track them down. Perhaps too analytical and self-indulgent at times (self-anaylsis gets old quickly if you’re not the focus) and not enough focus on the plot, but the unusually close perspective makes for an interesting book. It begins awkwardly, as there’s obviously a lot of history between the characters that we don’t know about. Some of that is because apparently this is part of a series of books that involve the same characters (this is the first Pearson book I’ve read), but some of that is because the novel begins after some crimes have been committed and the investigation is underway. That means we’re given information in retrospect fashion, which is awkward, and leaves you the vague feeling that maybe you missed something along the way. It’s also a lot of information to absorb: all the characters, their private lives and relationships, the murder victims and investigation details, etc. With a similar murder mystery kind of book (like Agatha Christie) you’re just given the info you need, nothing more, nothing less. Here we’re right in the detectives’ heads, following along as they struggle with day-to-day life, follow the clues, and try to analyze and interogate suspects. The main character is Daphne Matthews, a psychologist and police lieutenant, which explains much of the novel’s introspective feel. She analyzes everyone she meets, from police to criminals. I liked her a lot, but I found her character incongruous in that she appears to be strong but in the novel she’s often frightened to immobility. There’s some logic behind that as she’s being stalked, the watching giving her a bad case of paranoia, but there were a few places where it felt overdone and out of character for her to be so frightened. Maybe it’s a woman thing. A regular woman would have certainly felt what she felt, but she’s a trained professional with years of experience — shouldn’t she have been able to keep her emotions at least a little in check? She also seems so logical most of the time, when she reacts out of pure emotion it felt incorrect. But other than that, the book is excellent. Good characterizations, fascinating pyschology, and an unusual plot that takes us into the Seattle Underground: literally a city beneath the city. Recommended.

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: Linuxworld San Francisco

Nice show. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Very different crowd than the Macworld Expo, but that’s to be expected. This was less individual users and more corporate, enterprise-level stuff. Lots of server-level software and the hardware tended to be high-end (terabyte drives, CPU clusters, etc.). I was impressed at how much stuff for Linux is available, though it’s obvious the desktop has a long way to go. Also impressed at some of the big companies involved: IBM, HP, Novell, etc. It was good to see that despite the corporate influence, there was still an emphasis on open source and cross platform technologies. In many cases companies making stuff for Windows and Linux also support the Mac, which is excellent. Oh, and the vendors seemed eager to hand out their giveaways, unlike Macworld where they are hoarded and given out only to a select few (or all out by the last day of the show). Good show. I think I’ll go again next year and see how it’s developed.

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Wed, Aug 04, 2004

: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

I figured this for a stupid stoner comedy and it is: but except for a few places where it tries to out-crude Dumb and Dumber, it’s hiliarious. I rarely laugh out loud at a movie, but this one had me in stitches in certain places. Perhaps I was just in the mood (Could it have been the medical marijuana they gave out at the theatre entrance? Just kidding!), but it’s just so outrageous, silly, and absurd I couldn’t help but giggle. It’s really cool. The plot is simple: two stoner dudes, one an Indian (Kumar) who keeps avoiding medical school and the other a straight-laced Korean (Harold) who’s stuck working in a boring financial firm, decide to go to White Castle for some yummy burgers and find all sorts of odd obstacles in their way. It’s a road trip film, with all sorts of detours and bizarre characters on the way. Of course the two stoners just blink and go right on, practically oblivious and single-minded in their determination to get to White Castle. Some of the scenes are classics. For instance, Kumar pulls the car over in the middle of nowhere and runs to pee in the woods. While he’s doing his business, suddenly a strange guy — I’m pretty sure it was Jamie Kennedy in a cameo — comes up next to him and starts peeing in the same bush! They have this surreal conversation about what the heck’s going on and it’s just so out-of-place, uncomfortable, and funny you can’t help but laugh. The whole film’s like that, with strange moments that just make you grin. I won’t spoil the details of all their adventures — just trust that if you like silly comedies like Dumb and Dumber, you’ll love this one. There’s even some not-too-subtle jabs at society, such as when the entire police force attack an unarmed black man harmlessly reading a book for “attempting to escape his jail cell.” The ending is awesome, with the two stoners growing from their experiences, but not too much: we certainly wouldn’t want them being too responsible as that wouldn’t be very funny.

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Tue, Aug 03, 2004

: Thunderbirds

I liked the original 1960s marionette series, though I only first saw it a couple years ago when TechTV was broadcasting the reruns. I wasn’t sure about a live action remake — wasn’t the point of the original that it was all done with minature sets and marionettes? But actually the film wasn’t that bad. It’s certainly not Shakespeare, but it’s fun, the plot was decent (youngest Tracey longs to be a full Thunderbird but is too young, until his family is trapped and he’s the only one left to save them), and the special effects and ships are cool. The biggest problem with the movie is that the TV series isn’t that well known here in the U.S. and while you can understand the movie without knowing the series, knowing the TV show certainly makes the film more interesting. It’s a good kid/family movie, completely harmless. Deserves a better rep and box office than it is getting.

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Mon, Aug 02, 2004

: Lost and Delirious

This was a surprisingly good film. I didn’t know anything about it. I guess I’d added it to my Netflix queue at some point, but when it arrived I couldn’t remember anything. It turned out to be a coming of age film set in a private girls school. Our narrator is the shy Mouse (real name Mary), arriving at the school for her first time away from home, still struggling to recover from her mother’s death three years earlier. Her two roommates, Victoria and Paulie, are wild and crazy, the opposite of her, and she finds them fascinating. But when romance goes awry, the lonely Paulie goes crazy: she’s lost the only love of her life. The film tries a little too hard to be shocking and wild, but it’s got a great intellectual core. It’s at its best in the simpler scenes between mouse and the gardener (the terrific Graham Greene), where they talk in riddles and jokes about Serious Things. Like when they first meet and Mouse asks if she can help him garden — she used to help her mother and enjoyed it — and when he asks her name she replies, “It’s in transition,” a brilliant way to express that she’s migrating away from her Mouse nickname to something better. That’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s astonishing. Simple words, simple facial expressions, loads of meaning. Great stuff. If the rest of the film was up to that standard, this would be a masterpiece. Granted the cast is fantastic. All relatively unknown, Canadian actresses (the film is Canadian), but beautiful and amazingly good. Mouse is played by Mischa Barton, who looks like a smaller version of Sarah Michelle Geller. Jessica Pare and Piper Perabo are her roommates. Excellent.

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: The Manchurian Candidate

Director: Jonathan Demme

I wasn’t that crazy about the original, but then by the time I saw it I’d seen the same plot about fifty times in various TV shows. This film is decently done — it’s not a frame-for-frame remake but modernized and made relevant — but there’s no heart. I didn’t really care about the characters: they were all stereotypes. There are some excellent performances and the direction is good, but at the end I was asking “Why?” Why did they bother to do that? Why did I bother to see it? Is the problem of mind-controlled politicians really something I need worry about? The bottom line: well done but not worth the bother.

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Sun, Aug 01, 2004

: Outside Providence

Not as dumb as you’d expect movie about a drugged-out loser who gets shipped off to boarding school, meets a girl who reforms him a little, and eventually he gets his head on straight. Decent, low-key, but not earthshattering.

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Sat, Jul 31, 2004

: The Inner Sanctum

Author: Stephen Frey

What a bewildering mess! Take three ordinary thrillers, one legal, one financial, and one political and throw them in a blender. What comes out is this book. Be sure you don’t rearrange the pages as you take them out of the blender, just use them in the order you find them. It will make as much sense as this concoction. Okay, it may not be quite that bad, but it’s certainly not good. First, we are introduced to about 50 different characters over the course of 50 pages. Then, when you’ve completely lost track of who the first twenty or so were, we go back to them. Of course each scene is like two to four pages long, so it’s not like there’s much to work with. You literally don’t have much of a clue what’s happening until two-thirds of the way through the book. By that time the conspiracy is starting to take shape, but by then you don’t really care. You’re sick of all these people. The plot’s about a giant conspiracy involving Senators, corporations, financial institution, and the little people who uncover the secret and are marked for death. Basically the book needs to be cut in half, simplify the plot considerably, and make the scenes longer and more interesting. Frey’s usually better than this; this feels like he was trying to be ambitious and create an epic or something and instead we’ve got a fairly ordinary conspiracy that takes way, way too long to unravel. Skip it.

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Fri, Jul 30, 2004

: The Village

Author: M. Night Shyamalan

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

I went into this having heard nothing about it. After the lame

The second thing I liked about the film is that the twists work. No, they are not as earthshattering as those in Sense, they are predictable, and the revealing is more than a little gimmicky, but if you strip away the fanfare you have what is a simple, beautiful situation that makes sense from all angles. What makes the “twist” is simply that we are given information in the order we are given it, not that the information itself is so shocking. I can see where some people might be disappointed by the lack of a spectacular ending, but I liked it. It was in keeping with the simple, innocent lifestyle of the characters of the movie.

Third, I liked Night’s direction and simpleness of the film. There’s nothing especially horrifying or scary in the film — it’s very mild in that regard — but Night keeps us on the edge of seats by constantly implying that there might be something scary coming. I think he’s even playing on his own reputation here, teasing us. There’s a great scene where the girl is alone in the woods and we’re thinking a creature must be nearby and he shows shots of empty woods for long periods and after a few seconds you’re wondering if you saw movement. That’s exactly what happens in real life in such a situation: you really only have to fear fear itself.

Another thing I liked about the film was the acting. I predict Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter), will jump to stardom from this role. She was excellent as the blind heroine. All the others were also good, though few were given as much material as her.

All this is not to say this a great film. It’s good — I enjoyed it and found it fascinating — but there’s not much depth beyond the mild twists. It could have, except that Night’s not that kind of writer-director. I’d love to see what a genius like David Lynch would have done with this kind of premise. The world of the village is so steeped with fear, secrets, and past horror while on the surface being so tranquil and innocent that it would fit right into the Lynchian world. He would get inside these characters, tear back the veil, expose the secrets. Night just has the secrets to give him a twist ending and thus the secrets are mere device instead of being a core character element of the film. That’s too bad, but it’s still makes for a decent movie. The movie has other flaws as well, such as the lack of explanation over Adrian Brody’s character’s actions, a lack of plot other than the “creature versus village” concept, and some things I think sounded great on paper but were weaker on film. For instance, a key dramatic moment in the film is the journey of the blind girl (Howard) traveling by herself through the forbidden woods for medical help. While that sounds like awesome drama — she’s blind, she’s alone on a long journey in the scary woods, and the creatures are stalking her — in reality it came across as forced and unbelievable (She’s really able to journey miles through the woods blind? How come she doesn’t fall over logs and stuff every few steps? How does she know which way to go?). Anyway, the film’s not perfect, but I liked it. It has an interesting sociological message (one I’m not sure I disagree with). I did wish it had more depth, but I wish that about most movies. Obviously there’s plenty of silly Nightism to mock and critics will, but that’s really not fair, it’s like making fun of basketball stars for being tall. It’s their nature. And Night’s films are all about the setup for the twist and he controls our senses to manipulate until he’s ready to unveil his secrets. The point isn’t that those secrets are so exciting or unusual, but that we enjoy the ride. This movie is different enough that I did just that.

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Thu, Jul 29, 2004

: Cody Banks 2: Destination London

I adore the concept of this series — a teen spy — but the implementation this time is terrible. This ought to be the kind of film Hollywood could do in its sleep. Unfortunately, this time they did. The plot is pathetic (some silly mind control device will be used to take over the world) and predictable (as soon as I heard “mind control device” I knew it would be implanted into Cody at some point). But much worse is the garrish overacting and humor a six-year-old wouldn’t find funny. I swear the script was written by childish monkeys. I don’t think I even smiled at a single joke, let alone laughed. Everything’s either too ridiculously obvious or just plain stupid. How is Cody supposed to have any credibility when all the adults are idiots? A sad end to what could have been a terrific spy series.

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Mon, Jul 26, 2004

: Catwoman

Why does Halle Berry pick such sucky movies to be in? She does her best with a feeble script, but she’s the only thing good about this dud. What sucks is mainly the plot, which is thin, lame, predictable. The premise of Halle dying and having life breathed back into her by a cat, that giving her cat-like abilities, is fine. The idea that she’s not exactly a good cat — she initially uses her cat skills to rob a jewelry store — is great. The special effects are good, even impressive, making Halle really move like a cat. But there just isn’t anything to work with. The story’s so thin you can see through it. Cosmetics queen Sharon Stone is about to go public with her new line of adictive, deadly face cream (How stupid is that?) and Catwoman must stop her. So after Catwoman has easily beaten up dozens of men, the “climax” of the movie is Catwoman versus Sharon in one of the silliest fights ever filmed. Why not give her a real opponent, someone challenging? Just stupid, stupid, stupid. This movie has a few good ideas and a nice scene or two, but basically it’s about three or four rewrites from being ready for filming. Back to the drawing board, folks. Halle in a skimpy cat suit does go far, but not even she can replace an actual story.

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: Outside Providence

Okay little sleeper about a drugged out kid who gets sent to a private school where he gets in more trouble, then meets a girl and changes his life around. Surprisingly good, though simple, occasionally coarse, and overall too predictable. Not bad, but not great.

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Sun, Jul 25, 2004

: The Cat in the Hat

I had zero interest in seeing this in the theatres after seeing the horrible previews. It turns out it’s not as bad as I expected, but it’s way overdone, tampered with by adults who don’t have a clue about Dr. Suess, and includes much non-Suess material that falls flat. The parts where the film shines is when it uses real Suess material, actual rhyming lines from the Cat or the Fish or the narrator. Sometimes the sets are cool, and the special effects are amazing, but the core of the any movie must be the story, and there the producers destroyed what made the original great. Read the book instead of bothering with the film.

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Sat, Jul 24, 2004

: MLS: New England Revolution at San Jose Earthquakes

Wow, what can I say about this game? Plenty, of course, but it left me speechless for a quite a while. First, the Inconsistent Quakes of 2004 are back. After last week’s power demolishing of Colorado, the Quakes came out flat and uninspired in the first half. Nothing much happened and the players didn’t seem too eager to even try for a goal. We soon gave up a goal and I thought that would motivate the players, but they seemed content to go into the locker room only down by one with a whole second half to tie it up. We did get one great chance before the half when Brian Ching’s header was cleared off the line by NE. In the second half the Quakes looked a little brighter, but still nothing like the champions. Then Todd Dunivant made a crucial mistake at the back when his feeble clear (he was under no pressure but I guess thought he was) went right to the Rev’s Cancela who quickly finished from the top of the box. Now down by two goals, the Quakes seemed stunned. They began to play a little harder, but still not enough. The ref didn’t help matters, as he was inconsistent calling fouls and dives, and didn’t really have control of things the entire game, allowing it to get rather chippy. He topped off this error by ejecting Troy Dayak in his first game back after months of injury, for a supposed elbow in the NE penalty area. A straight red seemed harsh — there’s always lots of contact in the box on a corner kick — and it was strange to see that happen during a Quakes offensive play (usually reds go to defensive plays). Dayak’s hugely popular with the fans and when the walked off to a chorus of “ref you suck” he took of his shirt and waved it, stirring up the fans. That seemed to revie the team as well, who felt hard done by. A few minutes later two things happened almost simultaneously. First Brian Mullan was hacked down off the ball along the sideline, but play continued. Brian’s ball went back to Waibel, who put forth a long 35 ball into space for DeRosario, who was able to get onto the ball behind NE’s defense and score. But then it turned out the linesman had flagged the original foul against Mullan and apparently the ref blew his whistle, perhaps mistaking the flag as indicating DeRo was offside. But instead of simply giving the Quakes the advantage and allowing the goal, the moron ref cancelled the goal and awarded San Jose a free kick for the Mullan foul! That’s like winning the lottery then being told, “Oops, you didn’t win the million, you won the ten grand.” Yeah, the ten grand’s nice, but you thought you’d won the million. Anyway, it was still a two-goal defficit for the Quakes who began to battle a bit. As the game continued, both fans and players were disgusted. The ref had ruined things, though to be fair, the Quakes had dug themselves the two-goal hole. The Quakes had some good chances, but couldn’t finish. NE keeper Matt Reis made some excellent saves to keep his clean sheet. As the 90th minute approached, I was furious we were not only going to lose at home, but lose to a weaker team when we hadn’t played that badly (this was not like the Dallas game where we deserved to lose). The crowd was strong and vocal, and suddenly, there was magic. Landon Donovan got free in the box for a split second and hammered home a left-footed shot into the top corner. Now the crowd went ballistic. It was an electric atmosphere just like last year, in the 5-2 playoff rout of LA. Everyone in the stadium believed the Quakes could do it. We were screaming like mad and the players were pumped. Immediately they were back on the attack. The ref had indicated four minutes of injury time and two had elapsed but there was still time. The Quakes pressed forward again, and again, and suddenly, there it was. DeRo got free on the left and his cross somehow got through and Brian Ching was there with a foot inches in front of the NE defender. 2-2! In an amazing comeback, the Quakes had, in three minutes, playing a man down, forced two goals to tie the game! Wow! I can’t say great things about the first 90, but those injury time minutes were priceless. Unbelievable stuff. Champion stuff. Guts and glory. Wow. The result is only a point at home, not great, but far, far better than a loss, and if the team can build on this, we’re in for great things. I just hope the team can figure out why they can’t play like that constantly. Why have to wait until Troy gets an unfair red to get mad? Why have to wait until the ref calls back a valid goal? Come on: use the anger from this game in future games. We’re in last place in the West (we’d be tied for second if we were in the East) and we’ve got to start winning games, especially at home. Final: 2-2 draw.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Jul 23, 2004

: The Bourne Supremacy

I liked the first one, to my surprise (Supremacy isn’t quite up to the first, it is very good. The first was good because Bourne was without his memory and discovering his powers as things went along. That made it exciting. This time he’s more in control, but he still has amnesia and everyone on the planet is still out to get him. This time he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and he fights back to clear his name and bring the true guilty ones to justice. There are some great action scenes and the car chases feel astonishingly real the way they are shot — cars actually spin out of control and crash into things, unlike most car chases where everything feels extremely choreographed and precisely timed. The plot gets short shrift in some ways as action scenes take priority, but it’s still a fun film and a surprisingly good performance by Matt Damon (I think he’s got a franchise here). I can’t wait for the next one.

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Thu, Jul 22, 2004

: Mulholland Drive

Author: David Lynch

Director: David Lynch

This week is Lynch week, I guess. It’s been a while since I saw MD and on reviewing it again, it’s even more brilliant than I thought the first time. Lynch is unquestionably the deepest filmmaker ever, and he proves it with this movie. On the one level people can dismiss it as a mere gimmick, that the key twist toward the end is just a fun trick. For many filmmakers that would be the case. But not with Lynch. He begins where others stop. Where others stop at the gimmick and think that’s cool, that’s rad, he begins there and wraps the complex around that, going deeper and deeper into complex psychology of humanity. He reminds me of Philip K. Dick in that regard. Dick always had great twists but never relied on them. All I can say is that if you’ve only seen this film once, you haven’t seen it. And if you dismiss it, you’re dismissing it much too early. There are reasons for everything in a Lynch film, and while it can often feel random and bizarre, it’s not: there’s a pattern and explanation to everything. I shall have to write an essay on this film.

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Wed, Jul 21, 2004

: Eraserhead

Author: David Lynch

Director: David Lynch

It’s been probably more than ten years since I first saw this movie. The first time it made me physically ill, a claim I cannot make about any other movie. And that’s a compliment to the film, since its purpose is to be repulsive. It’s a remarkable film, unusual in many aspects, and enigmatic like much of Lynch’s work. On this second viewing I found that the story seemed much simpler, almost simplistic, but that there was lots of depth in all the bizarre imagery and symbols presented. It’s not a pleasant movie (there is humor but it’s very dark), but it is fantastic, though in a different way from anything else Lynch has done. This is probably his least understood work, though to me it seems clearer than anything else he has done. The “plot,” if you will, is about a couple who give birth to a deformed baby. The mother even has a line where she says the doctors aren’t even sure if it is a baby. The baby looks like a cross between a miniature ET and a snake or something, very alien. The baby’s crying eventually drives the mother away, and in the end the dad kills the baby. In the midst of all that we have strange dreams, fantasies, and weird imagery. But Lynch’s goal here is clear: he wants us to be simultaneously repulsed and sympathetic toward the baby. He wants us to sympathize with the confused father, yet be horrified by what he does. Lynch wants us to feel both sides of the horrible dilemma and Lynch succeeds brilliantly. You both hate and care for the baby. You feel for the father, yet are repulsed by his actions. That’s the whole point of the film: to put yourself into the film and think about how you might act in similar circumstances. How do you feel as the parent of a monster? What do you do? Is killing the monster a mercy or a crime? Complex questions that don’t have an answer — you’re simply supposed to think about them. Most people don’t want to face those questions, but the genius of Lynch is that he comes up with a way to make you do it anyway, and that’s what’s really disturbing about this movie.

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Sat, Jul 17, 2004

: MLS: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

Awesome, awesome, awesome. The champions have been struggling, losing three in a row putting them in last place in the Western Conference. They haven’t been playing well and injuries and national team callups and red cards have made for changing lineups and struggles to get anything to work. Well, on Wednesday the team went to Portland and knocked the Timbers out of the Open Cup competition, a nice 3-0 victory that I think really gave the team some confidence. Landon himself even said that the team practiced much better on Friday after the victory. They came into this game reved up for a win and got it handily. They dominated from the start, finishing the first half with 10 corner kicks to the Rapids zero. They had a number of great chances (including a fantastic volley by Mullan), but former Quake keeper Joe Cannon blocked the shots. But about twenty minutes in he couldn’t stop Brian Ching’s goal. It was a beautiful passing sequence, a work of art, involving several players with quick one touches finally feeding a streaking Ching who turned a fired a low ball into the corner of the net. I swear I could watch that goal a thousand times and not be bored by it. Truly a magnificent work of art. But for all their chances, the score was still only 1-0 and Colorado almost tied it up when John Spencer beat Onstad to a ball to tip it high over the keeper’s head. I thought for sure it was drifting into goal but it bounced off the post!

In the second half, I worried the Rapids would make changes and attack relentlessly, and they did, earning their first corner kick. But though the Quakes’ defense bent, it didn’t break, and five minutes into the second half San Jose had their second goal. It was a breakaway started by a clear from the back headed forward to Landon Donovan in the midfield. He headed the ball to himself, then used his foot to flick it over the defender. Then it was all speed as Landon darted around the defender and took off toward goal, just him versus Joe Cannon (his former roommate and good friend). Perhaps the battle of the minds made him hesitate, but he didn’t fire a shot right away, and a bump from behind from the defender put him off stride and he lost the ball to Cannon. But support was coming as another Quake got the ball and put in a cross to an open Landon standing in front of a nearly open net. But his left-footed shot came off the post! Landon didn’t give up but ran after the ball, got it, and fed Ramiro Corales who was rushing forward, and his tight cross somehow went through everyone, arriving at the feet of Ching, who calmly kicked it across the line — a shot of maybe two feet — for his second of the day! What a wild sequence! At first I dreaded, as probably the players did, that this would be yet another great play that didn’t result in a goal. Landon’s miss was the kind that makes you feel cursed, like you can’t score with the goal right in front of you. The Quakes have had more than their share of jinxes this season — it’s felt like that many times already — so it was depressing watching yet another play not score. But when the ball finally went it, a simple tap-in, what a relief! A huge confidence booster. The miss spurred Donovan on and five minutes later he scored a goal for himself. Richard Mulrooney was fouled near the top of the box as he played the ball to Mullan, and since we had advantage, the ref did not stop play. Mullan took a few steps and put in a beautiful, pinpoint cross that Landon darted onto, sprinting past two defenders and redirecting the hard cross right between Joe Cannon’s legs! A beautiful goal; what timing and teamwork! Great stuff.

Unfortunately the Quakes’ defenses problems still existed, and they allowed Colorado a late goal. It was a terrific long-range strike by Seth Trembly from about twenty yards out after he’d run around in a circle in the mid-field and gotten himself some space. Great goal, but bummer the Quakes can’t get shutouts the way they did last year. But I’ll take the win. Final: 3-1 Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Jul 16, 2004

: I, Robot

I’m a huge fan of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, but the previews of this film had me gagging. It looked like a ridiculous robots-take-over-the-world premise, and it retained none of the fascinating pyschological elements of Asimov’s stories. But I knew I’d see it anyway. To my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. Yes, the robots are dorky-looking, and yes, the plots is robots taking over, but the plot doesn’t completely negate the three laws. (Asimov’s robots are governed by the three laws of robotics, which says that robots can’t harm a human, must obey a human unless it violates the first law, and can protect itself as long as it doesn’t violate the first two laws.) I won’t spoil the plot but the robot rebellion actually makes some Asimovian sense, though this movie’s particular method of detailing the plot is predictable, attrociously stereotypical, and lame. The producers have turned a great psychological thriller into a mindless action flick. As such it’s not terrible, and I wouldn’t rate it at the very bottom of the scale, but it’s unfortunate that such a great concept was wasted on this silly mess. I give it a C. The trailer I give an F.

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: Deeply

This was a strange little film that I wanted to like, but could not. The plot has a mean-spirited girl and her tired mother move to an island fishing village in the UK somewhere. The girl meets an old woman who tells her an elaborate story about a legend. The inner story is a romance about a sixteen-year-old girl and an ancient curse that makes all the fish go away every 50 years. The girl discovers that the fish only return when given a human sacrifice. Now the mean-spirited girl hearing this story is moved, seeing the girl in the story as much like herself, and eventually we learn her secret (she’s apparently upset because her boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident). The girl then is healed by the story, hooray hooray. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until the end, and the girl is so nasty throughout the film, that I didn’t like her and didn’t care what happened to her, didn’t care about her past, or anything else. Also, the inner story is broken up too much, told in little bits and pieces during the outer story, and it took much too long to tell. Overall, the story was a bit boring (though it had potential), and it was poorly constructed and directed to over-dramatize events as though they were of profound significance. This movie also revealed some surprisingly poor acting from Kirsten Dunst, who’s out of her element as the girl in the inner story. Basically, a lot of potential wasted. Not worth your time.

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Thu, Jul 15, 2004

: Napoleon Dynamite

Strangely appealing character study of a bunch of really weird people. Napoleon’s a high school student who’s seemingly a typical nerd, except he doesn’t seem to realize it. He has an active imagination and just goes right ahead doing whatever he wants, not letting the opinion of others influence him. One of the key things I liked about this movie is that Napoleon does not change. In most of these kind of movies, the nerd changes to become “cool,” but in this one his coolness comes from his being different. And he’s not the only weird guy: his best friend is Pedro, a Mexican who doesn’t talk much, but ends up running for class president. Napoleon’s brother is a 32-year-old still living at home and spending all his time chatting with women on the Internet. When Napoleon’s grandmother injures herself on her ATV, Uncle Rico moves in to watch the kids, and he’s very strange, a loser who keeps reliving his 1982 high school championship American football game. He wants to go back so bad he even buys a time machine on the Internet! There’s so much neat stuff in this film, you just have to see it. It’s slightly predictable, but the plot’s not really essential, so that doesn’t matter much. What’s cool is the low-key humor and bizarre characters and weird situations, and the characters that don’t seem to realize anything is weird or abnormal! Very entertaining.

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Tue, Jul 13, 2004

: Le Prix D’Argent

This is a French graphic novel my brother brought back from Paris for me. I’d never heard of the series, about a wealthy American businessman named Largo Winch. The back story is that Largo was the illegitmate son who inherited a $10 billion empire one day out of the blue when his father died. Suddenly the earthy Largo is in a position of incredible power, and he chooses to use that power for good instead of evil, unlike his unethical father.

This book opens with Largo being interviewed on a TV show when a guest, a former employee of the man, blows his brains on TV. Largo learns that one of his many subsidiaries, a small snowboarding company in Montana, was closed for lack of profits, and in doing so essentially destroyed the economy of an entire mountain community. This man’s business was ruined and so he shot himself, blaming Largo for his ruin. Largo decides to investigate and unearths a complex mess of fraudulent accounting and realizes that someone switched the books, making it look like the snowboarding company was failing, when in reality it was profitable. When Largo goes to Montana to follow up on a lead, he’s framed for murder and arrested. He escapes and the book ends with him on the run. That’s correct, I said the books ends… because apparently this is volume one of a multi-part series! I hate that. Worse, this book was published in June 2004, so I guess I’ll have to wait for the ending. Bummer. But it was an interesting story, a little complicated for my French considering the accounting terminology, but it was good practice for me — by the end I was reading it fairly well. Apparently Largo Winch is popular in Europe — there’s a TV show and everything. I’d have to read more to see how I like the whole series, but the concept isn’t bad and the artwork is excellent.

Topic: [/book]

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Mon, Jul 12, 2004

: Anchorman: The Ron Burgandy Story

Not as consistently funny as

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: The Shipping News

This was a terrific film. I don’t even remember it in the theatres. I’ve seen the book but never read it; after the movie, I’m tempted to check it out. The story is complicated and a little meandering. Basically a loser, haunted by never living up to his dad’s hopes, has a mindless job and a relationship with a strange woman, Petal, who treats him like dog poop. When she dies, he ends up moving with his young daughter and an aunt to Newfoundland, where his family is originally from. There he discovers he has a troubled past. His ancestors were pirates and did evil things, and the old house they live in seems haunted and troubled by awful secrets. The man gets a job the tiny local newspaper, where he struggles to learn to be a reporter, and slowly becomes part of the community. Even though the man is middle-aged, it’s really a coming of age story, as he learns to forgive his father and be his own person. Excellent.

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Sun, Jul 11, 2004

: Sweet Home Alabama

This seemed like a predictable, by-the-numbers romantic comedy, and it was just that: a sucessful woman in NYC goes back to Alabama to finalize her divorce so she can marry the wealthy man of her dreams and ends up falling in love with her husband again. However, it is very well done, with some interesting moments. It did have one surprise: I could have sworn Matthew McConaughey was in this film: but no, it’s a look-alike, Josh something. I guess I just thought I saw Matt in the previews. That kind of bothered me the whole movie, like you’re expecting a premium product and instead you get this cheap generic brand stuff.

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Fri, Jul 09, 2004

: King Arthur

A slight disappointment, mainly because it doesn’t really achieve the levels it aims at. It’s good. The cinematography is amazing, the acting is excellent, the story’s not bad: but the whole doesn’t add up to a great film. I did like that the creators came up with new perspectives on the King Arthur myth: this is different from the stories you’ve heard before. In this version, Arthur’s a Roman who’s stationed in far-away Britain, leading a troup of knights who’ve been conscripted to serve Rome for 15 years. He and his knights fight against the native Britons, blue-painted savages who live in the forest and are led by a mystic named Merlin. But when the Romans decide to leave Briton, abandonning it to the vicious Saxons of the north, the Britons need a leader, and Arthur ends up becoming that man. (Yes, he’s leading the people he used to fight against.) Interesting twist, though I have no idea if it’s actually based on any real evidence. It’s an epic film with some good battles. The most spectacular scene is the battle on the ice where we have awesome shots from below the ice of soldiers marching across the frozen top. Overall it’s an excellent film, but somehow feels empty and lacking by the finish. There’s a spark missing. Everything’s too pat, too polished, the grand speeches too obvious. Trimming it would have helped (it’s much too long at 2:10). And the luminous Kierra Knightly doesn’t show up until an hour in, another mistake (the story is much more interesting with her in it). I liked it, but I wouldn’t bother watching it again, if that tells you anything. There’s just not enough depth.

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Thu, Jul 08, 2004

: Dodgeball: An Underdog Story

A surprisingly excellent film. Hilariously and continuously funny, and not as crude as I feared. The film doesn’t just rely on it’s one-joke dodgeball premise, but mocks sports in general (the whole ESPN 8 thing was awesome), sports commentators, fitness centers, self-help gurus, and more. My favorite running gag was the assistant commentator at the tournament who had a brilliant knack for stating the obvious as though it was profound insight. The story itself is predictable: a group of misfits must win a dodgeball tournament to win $50K to stop their gym from closing. Predictable, but there are many sidesteps and interesting twists along the way. My favorite scene in the whole movie was when the misfit’s leader is depressed and quits and is hanging out at a bar feeling sorry for himself. Who stops by but Lance Armstrong, who gives him a little speech about how he (Lance) almost quit when he was diagnosed with brain, lung, and testicular cancer, all at the same time, but he fought it and went on to win the Tour de France five times in a row. Lance says, “But hey, that was me, I’m sure you’ve got a good reason to quit,” totally making the guy feel like the dumbest ass on the planet! Hilarious “straight” scene (it’s not played for humor), just great. There are a bunch of other cool cameos as well. Overall, just a great comedy. Silly, wild, and with a terrific feel-good ending. Most films of this type are uneven, but this one keeps things moving and is funny throughout. Recommended.

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: The Story of the Weeping Camel

This is a film from Mongolia and it’s very different. I heard it was based on an ancient legend and so I was expecting something more like a myth or fantasy, but instead it’s more like a documentary. We peer into the life of a nomadic family in the Gobi desert. They live in large, dome-like tents and raise sheep, goats, and camels. There are several generations here: grandparents, parents, and children. Everyone works. For a while I wondered what time period this was in because it could have been modern or from 1,000 years ago. Then I saw the baby playing with a plastic lid, banging on it with a spoon, like a drum. All the modern stuff is like that, appearing anachronistic in such an ancient lifestyle. Very cool. The film moves slowly, just showing us bits of the life of these people, and eventually we learn a camel is about to give birth. The birth takes a long time (two days) and is not easy. The birthing is amazing: it’s completely real. No Hollywood sanitization here. I don’t know how they managed to find a camel that was about to give birth to a white calf, but they did. The white calf is rejected by the mother, and we’re treated with scenes of the lonely calf baying and crying for its mother, and the mother who refuses to let it nurse or comfort her. It’s heartbreaking. Eventually the family has an idea, so they send the two young boys away. This was fascinating. The youngest boy is probably about five, the older boy maybe twelve. Yet the parents have no problem sending the two off on their own, on camels, out into the desert on what’s apparently a multi-day trip to civilization. The two ride to an outpost where there’s a modern store (the young boy is fascinated by his first experience with TV), pick up some supplies, and then head to some relatives where they make arrangements for a violinist to come to their came. The next day, after they return home, the violinist comes, a passenger on a motorcycle, the long violin strapped to his back. Eventually the violinist plays and the mother sings, the mother camel is appeased and accepts the white calf. The baby camel is saved!

It is a simple and beautiful story. But what intrigued me the most was the glimpse we get into the life of this family. That was amazing. Such a different world, yet not so different. Babies cry and need to be nursed or amused, meals need to be prepared, animals cared for, things must be cleaned. The bare fundamentals of life do not change. There were a number of surprises. The tents, from the outside, look so plain and drag, but on the inside we find the walls are covered with elaborate and colorful tappestries, just gorgeous. It felt like a palace. Same with the bowls used for eating, as they were decorated with intricate patterns like the finest china. These are certainly people with good taste! I also found it amusing that the camels were so different from the African (single hump) camels I am familiar with. These two-humped camels are completely different, huge and hairy, with strange rather monsterish faces. I didn’t like them at first, but gradually got used to them by the end of the film. (The white calf is adorable, though. And there are lots of other animals in the movie, especially lambs, which are incredibly cute.) Another interesting thing was the “violin,” which had a very long neck and only two strings. The strings were wide and thin, like a rubber band. The tones produced were low and sort of monotone, but modified by the player sliding his fingers up and down the neck. Chords did not appear to be played, but simple variations of the main tone. It made a beautiful sound and was quite similar to the camel lowing. Another cool thing was the kids playing what looked like marbles but with what I thought had to be camel teeth.

Overall I give the story a B — it was beautifully simple but not much happened, making it slow — and the culture peek an A+.

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Wed, Jul 07, 2004

: MLS: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

After Sunday’s awkward (and unfair) loss to the Galaxy Scum, the Quakes really needed a win tonight against the last place Burn. Unfortunately, I knew from the start that wasn’t going to happen. The score was 0-0 as I arrived at the stadium. By the time I got to my seat with my dollar hot dogs (it was value night), the Burn had scored (just five minutes in). In the first half the Quakes were just terrible. I swear they connected more passes with Burn players than their own teammates! Unfortunately, the Quakes’ playing style is all passing-based, so if they can’t completely passes, they have no offense. They did manage to get one goal (off a corner, not a passing combination), and DeRosario criminally missed an open net to give the Quakes the lead. I don’t know what he did — he was alone in front of an open goal with the ball at his feet — but somehow he booted it over the goal. Was he trying to be fancy or something? It certainly didn’t look like it was spinning or bouncing weird (usually the reasons for a bad shank). Just side-foot it in, dude! When the Quakes gave up an awful goal late in the game with just minutes left, I wasn’t surprised at all. The players were just letting the Burn guy go right through the defense and stood around and watched him line up and take a shot. Goal-keeper Pat Onstad stood on his line and just watched the ball go in — it was like he thought it was going wide and didn’t even try to stop it. Very bizarre. When the Quakes earned a penalty kick in stopage time and had the chance to tie it, I told my brother “Watch Cassar [Burn keeper] stop it.” Sure enough, he did. Dallas won, deservedly. Not because they played great — they were pretty lousy — but because we played horrible. No rhythm, no communication, no passing, no creativity, no spark, no drive, no nothing. The worst performance in years. We haven’t played this badly since we last lost to the Burn in April 2001 (a terrible game I still have nightmares about). There was also so coaching strangeness. Granted, we really missed Brian Mullan (he got that ridiculous and unfair red card on Sunday when Carlos Ruiz dived and Hollywooded that he’d been shot), but Coach Kinnear made some unusual moves. First, he started both Donovan and Ekelund in the midfield, which didn’t work at all as neither saw the ball in the first half. Late in the game when Donovan was pushed up front, he played much better, actually running and creating a few chances. For MLS, I think Landon’s better up top, especially when paired with DeRo or Ching. Ching and Dwayne are too much alike to play up top together. Then the coach put in Chris Brown for an injured Ian Russell at minute 21, but in minute 72 he replaced Brown with Alvarez! Then he took out central defender Ryan Cochrane and put in Todd Dunnivant (later I found out Ryan was injured). But this wasn’t a game lost by coaching decisions or a single player: it was a team effort. Nobody played well (I swear Craig Waibel was the best player on the pitch), everyone was giving away passes (even our core of Donovan, Ekelund, and Mulrooney), DeRo played like he was the only one on the field, only passing when there was no Earthquake player around, and while Ching did his usual job, he’d not the kind of player who’s effective by himself: he needs teammates. The ref did suck, but not as bad as usual. He made one puzzling mistake. Twice when the Quakes had the ball in their offensive half and were attacking, the ref ordered our player to kick the ball out of play because a Burn player was injured. Why didn’t the ref just blow the whistle to stop play? Bizarre. But it got unfair when the Burn were attacking and one of their own players was down elsewhere on the field and everyone was shouting at the Burn to kick the ball out and they did not. Did the ref then order the Burn player to stop the play by kicking the ball out? No, he waved play on! Ridiculous and the ref should never be allowed in MLS again for blatant unfairness like that. But of course that wasn’t what cost us the game at all. As far as the game went, we did that to ourselves, and the ref actually gave us a gift with the penalty which we spurned.

Usually I’m so depressed after a Quakes loss I can’t go to sleep or get out of bed the next day, but for this game I was actually glad we lost. If we play that like, we deserve to lose, and I hope the players learn from it. This is a very competitive league and you cannot just go out and give a half-hearted performance and expect to get anything from the game. Final: 2-1 Dallas.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Jul 05, 2004

: Spider-Man 2

Director: Sam Raimi

Excellent sequel, better than the previous one in many ways. The first part of the film is great: amazingly excellent character-based stuff about Peter Parker, his complex double life, how he can’t tell Mary Jane he loves her (he’s afraid his identity as Spidey will put her in jeopardy), hiding his secret from his best friend who thinks Spider-Man killed his father and vows revenge, etc. The introduction of Octavious (who becomes Doc Oc) is great, but the “science” regarding Doc’s multi-armed invention and fusion device is nonsensical. But this is a comic book so some suspension of disbelief is necessary. The action scenes are excellent, with some good fighting and cool stunts, but there’s nothing exactly earth-shattering or remarkable about the action; it’s just what you’d expect in a film of this type. What the film does well is that it’s story-based, with the Peter Parker/Mary Jane relationship at its core. In this movie the key dilemma is Peter trying to decide if he really wants to be Spider-Man: it seems his Spidey activities are ruining everything he wants in life. Overall this is an excellent film. It’s remarkable that the story-telling is so strong in a normally action-based genre, but Raimi knows that action is only good in support to the story because that’s what gives the action meaning. Good stuff, and I’m very impressed with the way they’ve set things up for Spider-Man 3. I won’t spoil the surprise but the ending promises some new twists and that’s good: the whole Peter/MJ thing is rather exhausted in the first two and I’m delighted we’ll get a different thing next time.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sun, Jul 04, 2004

: Angels and Demons

Author: Dan Brown

First, a warning. I will give away key plot elements in this “review.” I will do this because the plot is one of the major flaws and I must reveal it in order to critique it. If you are wanting to read this book without knowing the outcome, don’t read my comments!

This is a bizarre book. It’s by the moron author of Davinci), but even more anti-Christian (specially anti-Catholic) than the other one. This book is basically a war between science and religion. An ancient pro-science cult has surfaced and has stolen some anti-mater from the CERN lab in Switzerland. As we all know, anti-mater explodes when it comes in contact with any regular matter, so this is effectively a tremendous weapon. The anti-matter is suspended inside the canister by magnetic force, but when the batteries run out (24 hours after the canister is disconnected from power), the anti-matter will drop, contact the canister, and explode. They hide this anti-matter in the Vatican so it will destroy the Catholic church. Robert Langdon, the symboligist from the other book, is brought in by CERN to help track down the ancient cult that did this, and he ends up (with a beautiful scientist partner) on a wild quest to stop the bomb. Okay, that’s the basic plot, and it’s not so bad. There are many nonsensical aspects to it (Why batteries that run out in exactly 24 hours? Why only have recharging stations at CERN? Why can’t the recharging station be moved or plugged into an AC outlet? Why and how does the canister have no metal? How the heck does the canister know, exactly, to the second how long the batteries will last? Does anything rechargable you own predict usage that accurately?), but those are typical Dan Brown idiotics, where he forces the plot to go where he wants to go and if that means forcing a square into a round hole he’ll damn well do it. But he does keep the action going, albeit with his trademark ploy of simply concealing information to build the suspense. (One feels extremely manipulated while reading a Dan Brown book.) The first half of the book has a distinctly anti-religious feel to it, with many unnecessary lectures on the superiority of science and the (obvious) fallacy of God. But in the second half, we meet the late Pope’s assistant, a man who seems quite amazing. He says all the right things, is spiritual yet modern and practical, and seems to have a logical balance between God and science (they are not contradictory). Unfortunately, just when I thought at Dan Brown book might have a redeeming character, the author pulls a fast one. As the story was wrapping up I expected a twist; Dan loves his twists — too bad he’s inept at pulling them off. This one was a doozy. All of a sudden we learn that this Catholic hero, the religious man who seemed so rational and likeable, is well, the insane guy behind the whole bomb plot. He’s responsible for all the murders and his stopping of the bomb was to make him a hero and get him elected Pope! This is a full 180-degree twist from the guy we knew, which is just ridiculous (I abhor unreliable narrators, especially omniscient ones), and his motives for his actions are obviously insane. Once again, Dan has succeeded in putting them blame on religion. In this case the whole anti-religion plot was fake, created by a religious guy to make science look bad! I don’t know; nothing makes much sense at this point. Again, Dan just forces a plot to go where he wants, whether or not it makes any sense. The bottom line is this artificial ending just ruins the book, ruins what was a remarkable character, and demonstrates that Brown knows absolutely zilch about realistic writing, human characterization, or reality.

Overall, this is a slightly better book than Davinci Code, but that’s not saying much. It doesn’t have as many factual flaws as that book and is not quite so arrogantly presented, but this book is much nastier toward God (versus the Catholic Church). Dan’s “solution” for the God vs. Science conflict is to conclude that God is Science and God is inside all of us… we are all gods. That doesn’t make sense on so many levels. First of all, why does an atheist scientist even care? Second of all, by reducing God to something — a mere technical fact — you’ve eliminated all Godliness from God. Why even have Him around then? I don’t understand the point of it. Either God is a supernatural being who created us and gives us a moral standard to live by, or there’s no point in having a god. In other words, if God is whatever we define, than we, effectively, are God. That’s hubris.

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Jul 03, 2004

: Home Again!

Hooray, I’m back home! I drove part of the way yesterday and finished the trip today. It worked out well as I was about to have breakfast with some friends and relatives in the Bay Area on my way in. The cats didn’t eat each other (my brother visited them while I was gone), which was good, and boy were they happy to see me. I’m writing this a couple days later and Mayhem is still purring. Even Mischief, who’s usually too sophisticated for Public Displays of Affection, rubbed my leg and was happy to curl up in my lap for some chin scratching. It’s good to be home but it feels like I just left. Where did the time go?

Topic: [/travel]

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Fri, Jul 02, 2004

: Cheaper by the Dozen

Okay film, not as slap-sticky as I expected (though still too much), about a couple with twelve children and the chaos in their lives as a result. Most of the plot’s forced (Dad getting hot new job and moving the family, Mom suddenly off on book tour), but there are a few genuine moments and the film, while predictable, isn’t as silly as it sounds.

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Sun, Jun 27, 2004

: Knife in the Water

Director: Roman Polanski

I saw this a long time ago but only recently got the DVD when it came out. This is Roman’s first film and it’s a masterpiece. It’s very different from Hollywood productions. The story is unbelievable simple and complicated. There are only three actors in the entire production, a woman and two men. The gorgeous young woman is married to a wealthy older guy and they are going sailing for day and night (a quick 24-hour trip). On the way they meet a young hitchhiker and for reasons we aren’t clear about initially, bring him along. Later this makes sense when the woman acuses her husband of bring the boy along just so he can show off and that makes a great deal of psychological sense. On the boat, the young man is clueless and repeatedly humiliated by the older man who’s an expert sailor, but the young man has heart though he’s not too intelligent (he’s young). Of course two men and one woman is asking for trouble and that’s exactly what we get. There are all sorts of emotions brewing below the surface: the mysterious relationship between the husband and wife; the relationship between the young man and the older one; the relationship between the boy and the woman. Eventually this leads to the violence we are expecting: the boy is killed by the man. Or is he? There’s some question about that initially and soon we’re wondering if it’s the boy who will kill the old man. Or maybe the woman will kill her husband. Or maybe none of that. The entire film is essentially a setup for a dozen possibilities and I won’t reveal the actual outcome, but just say that it’s brilliant and very non-Hollywood. The final scene is so telling about the relationship of the husband and wife, and the final frame is amazing, and reminds me of the great short story, “The Lady or the Tiger.” Modern film-goers will probably want more action in a movie; in this film nothing happens yet everything does. It’s all about what could happen rather than what does. It’s one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever seen. Fascinating and you could watch the “harmless” discussions over and over they are so filled with depth and drama and an undercurrent of potential horror.

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Sat, Jun 26, 2004

: Lunch with Foth

Got to meet with former Bethany College president Dick Foth for lunch today (he was speaking at a camp in Oregon). I hadn’t seen him in at least ten years. He’s now working with a Christian group in Washington, D.C., where basically his job is to act as a prayer partner for bigwigs in government. He meets regularly with conservative leaders like John Ashcroft, but what impressed me is that his job is supposed to be apolitical, so the people he meets with are of all denominations and political affiliations. I abhor politics so I like that he’s there simply to pray with and for people and not to influence political decisions. He commented how one of the people he meets with is a General in the Pentagon who manages a multi-billion dollar budget and is responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. Every day he must make complex and difficult decisions — and he’s modest enough to admit he needs God help in that role. Who of us can say how we’d act in such a position? It’s all well and good to agree or disagree with the current administration on the war, but when you’re the one actually making decisions that could cost the lives of people (on either side of the battle), that’s a massive responsibility. I don’t know that I’d really like to be in those shoes. Anyway, I was impressed at what he’s doing and he told a number of stories about some major people in D.C. that were fascinating.

Topic: [/travel]

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: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

This is a fantastic novel. It’s a new twist on a familiar genre, the detective novel. In this case the book is set in Botswana and the detective is a woman, both unique and unusual choices. The result is a fascinating blend of African culture, unusual characters, and clever mysteries. This book is more like a series of short stories instead of a long sustained story, but it still works. We learn about the lead character, her past and her family and how she decided to make the unusual decision to open her own detective agency. We follow her as she solves her first few cases (simple but interesting) and eventually as she solves a kidnapping/murder case. We’re also involved with her personal life as she develops a connection with a man during her investigations. The book is very low-key, simple, and quite beautiful, just like Botswana. A must-read for all fans of different cultures or mysteries. There are more in the series and I’m buying them all!

Topic: [/book]

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Thu, Jun 24, 2004

: Hackers and Painters

Author: Paul Graham

This is an impressive collection of essays by “hacker” (computer programmer) Paul Graham. Paul writes on all sorts of topics, from censorship to creativity, all from the unusual viewpoint of the hacker. A hacker, in his definition, is a clever programmer, not a criminal as inaccurately portrayed by the media. Hackers are not understood by the average person — a hacker’s world is inside the mysterious computer — so hearing what a hacker thinks of philosophical topics, politics, technology, and other issues is fascinating. You may not always agree with Paul, but that’s not the point. He writes well with clear analogies and logical arguments toward his theses, and the unusual perspective is designed to make you think of things in a way you didn’t before. Paul comes up with some unusual ideas as well. For instance, his essay, “What Not To Say,” proposes the concept that every society throughout history has had an unspoken list of things people are not supposed to talk about. What’s okay in one country is forbidden in another. In one time period it was okay to say something but today we see that as racist and forbidden. Or how about science: a while back you could be jailed for saying the earth revolves around the sun! That all makes sense but the key here is that in every one of those situations, the people at the time — just like us today — thought they were 100% correct in their way of thinking. So the question becomes, if someone came back to today from the future, what would they discover that is forbidden to say today but in the future is considered normal? That’s an interesting question and one well worth your time pondering. And why is that important? Paul writes that hackers, by definition, are people who think “outside the box” and they cannot do that if they are trained by society to not think certain thoughts. A hacker’s brain must be free.

Not everyone will understand or appreciate this book. However, if you’re into computers, technology, hacking, or philosophy, I think you’ll find it fascinating. It’s a surprisingly quick read for a book about such big ideas.

Topic: [/book]

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Tue, Jun 22, 2004

: Winged Migration

Remarkable film about the migration of birds from the birds’ point of view. We actually follow along side of flying birds as they migrate, giving us an incredible, never-before-seen view. The closeups and photography are truly amazing. However, there isn’t any sort of plot to the movie and it gets a little repetitive even with different species of birds. Bird lovers probably won’t find it boring, but I’m not particularly in love with birds (though this film certainly took me a step in that direction). I found the “making of” documentary on the DVD more interesting than the film itself. Here we learn how 500 people spent four years making the film, actually growing the birds we see from hatchlings so they would grow up used to the sound of ultralight motors and the presence of humans. Very impressive.

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Mon, Jun 21, 2004

: Oregon Trip

Off I go to Oregon again! Actually, I’m already there. I left yesterday evening and intended to stop along the way but when I got to Medford about midnight I was wide awake and continued on, eventually driving all the way to Oceanside in one go. I arrived about 6 a.m. this morning. I didn’t get sleepy until the final few miles, but that might have been because I took a Dramamine in Salem (the road to Hebo is extremely winding). Anyway, I’ll be up here for a couple weeks.

Topic: [/travel]

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Sun, Jun 20, 2004

: All I Wanna Do

Strange title that sounds like a throw-away teeneybopper flick, but turns out to be a compelling film about girls at a prep school in the 1950s. Kirsten Dunst has the best role of seen her in: she’s the leader of a rebellious group and has all the clever ways around the school rules, but deep down she’s lonely and hurting and by the end of the film she’s changed and matured. What’s interesting about that is that she’s not the main character. No, that’s a girl who’s sent to the prep school as a punishment and hates everything about it, but eventually, when the school is threatened with merging with a boy’s school, she becomes a voice of the students who lead a rebellion protesting the move. Not a complex film, and there are a few stereotypes among the supporting cast, but pleasant, interesting, with witty dialog and excellent story structure. I liked it a great deal.

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Fri, Jun 18, 2004

: Y Tu Mama Tambien

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

I have no idea what the title means; this is the controversial Mexican film from the director of the most recent Less Than Zero (a film about rich kids throwing away their lives for drugs). Daring and interesting, but distasteful at times and overall empty of morality or any kind of profound thought.

Topic: [/movie]

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: The Terminal

Director: Steven Spielberg

Somewhat disappointing. The plot about a foreigner trapped in JFK International because a coup in his country has caused both his visa and his passport to be revoked, meaning he can’t return home and yet can’t enter the U.S., is too forced. It’s amusing and overall well-done, but too predictable, with too much sentimentality for us to genuinely be moved. Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance, but the material’s just not enough. The ending is awkward, and I didn’t buy the lead character’s absurd motivation to go to New York. It was meant to be heart-tugging but was laughably stupid. It didn’t make sense. For such a simple task, why not have someone else go in his place? The whole film is filled with a number of awkward moments like that that just don’t quite work. Still, it’s not a bad film, just not a great one. With Hanks and Spielberg, one expects a little more. Above average, but not extraordinary.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Jun 15, 2004

: Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde

Decent sequel, with similar feel and humor to the first film, but the silly plot (about Elle going to Washington D.C. to pass anti-animal testing for cosmetics) is too predictable and the spark of originality the first one had is missing. Okay, fun, but very, very light.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Daddy Day Care

Silly premise about a layed off executive who can’t find a job or cheap day care and so decides to start his own day care center. Modestly funny, with the predictable humor of uncontrollable kids and diaper jokes, but has a decent heart and is ultimately a feel-good movie. Nothing profound or revelatory here, but okay for a few smiles.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Jun 14, 2004

: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Author: Patricia Highsmith

Terrific book, really fantastic. I wish I’d read it before I saw the film. After reading the book, I like the film less. The book is far better, though the film stands on its own in a way, but I just liked the book’s approach better. It’s more believable and the characters better defined, especially Tom Ripley. In the book he’s really a psychopath, unemotional and scarcely able to understand what’s he doing; that wasn’t at all the impression I got in the film, where they did things like weaken the murder scene by making his victim fight back in such a way that we felt some sympathy for Tom. The film is typical Hollywood, afraid to commit, wanting to please everyone. Tom is one of the most unusual characters in literature the film just does not compare to the book.

Topic: [/book]

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Sat, Jun 12, 2004

: MLS: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Fantastic game! I knew it was going to be good when, while walking to my seat, I got a free T-shirt. Being in the front row I never get one as the rally team always throws them behind me. But tonight an errant throw meant it hit a slew of outstretched hands and bounced into the open path, right in front of me. I snatched it! When I got to my seat, a whole girl’s team (the “Salinas Kiwis”) was sitting right behind me and they were delightful, with constant chants, songs, and ear-piercing screams. They knew their soccer, too, understanding what was happening on the field. Great to see such energetic fans and they attracted a lot of attention in the whole area. It made the game so much more fun. In fact, the security guard sitting right in front of me with his back to the field toward the end of the game had gotten so into he said he wanted to take off his yellow jacket and sit next to me and enjoy the game!

The game itself was important, as the Quakes were missing several key players (DeRosario, Onstad, and Donovan) to international call-ups. How would we play? New York was even more depleted, missing seven key players. No way this was going to be another 5-5 shootout! The Quakes dominated from the start, but it took a while to get things going. The ref was throwing out yellow cards right and left, for niggling fouls in some cases, and not even calling fouls for some rough play. It made for an uneven match. The side refs weren’t much better, with a number of blown offside calls. Once again, weak officiating in MLS. But the Quakes battled on, dominating play but not able to connect with the final ball in the box. Finally first blood was drawn when a free kick was given at the corner of the box. Captain Jeff Agoos was brilliant: his pin-point placement of the curling shot could not have been stopped by any keeper; it was just a couple inches inside the far post and driven so hard the keeper could only watch it score. In the second half, the Quakes dominated even more, with a number of great chances that were blocked or missed. Then, against the run of play, the ref called a ridiculous foul on Richard Mulrooney. Richard isn’t a big guy but he got up and headed the ball away on a clearance but collided with a NY player on the way down. Ref called a foul and gave Murooney a yellow card! Absurd. But worse was to come on the resulting play when New York’s shot made it through the Quake wall and was well-blocked by backup keeper Jon Conway. Unfortunately, the rebound hit Goose and bounced up and hit the crossbar. It was just bad luck that it fell right to a Metrostar who easily headed it into the goal. The game was tied. The crowd was not at all happy with the ref, who was booed constantly after that, but the game continued. Again, a number of great chances for the Quakes as they got into dangerous situations in New York’s box. There were at least two cases for penalty kicks, a blatant one on Ching and a potential one on Mullan, but the ref gave neither. Finally the Quakes broke through when a long ball over the back line was chested down by Ching (there was some question it might have struck his hand, but it didn’t look intentional to me on the replay). Ching was alone in the box with only the keeper to beat. He deked left, foiling the keeper, but the ball got a little away from him and it looked like he was going to lose it as a defender was arriving. But Ching brilliantly pulled the ball back, shielding it from the oncoming defender with his foot, then, falling away from the goal, turned and flipped the ball into the open net! An awesome goal, totally done with heart and determination and not giving up on the play. Sweet! With only a few minutes left the game was iced when the other Brian (Mullan) proved he can be brilliant as well. He dribbled past a couple defenders into New York area and was double-teamed. A slick move split the defenders and he broke between them and onto the ball. However one of the defenders appeared to foul him in the box and Mullan went down. The defender backed away, not wanting to be called for a penalty kick, and with the ball right near Mullan the ref waved play on. Brian saw that and leaped to his feet and began dribbling. He ran along a whole line of white Metrostar defenders before suddenly turning and driving the ball back in the direction he’d come, into the corner of the goal. The NY keeper didn’t even move! Brilliant goal, just totally awesome.

With the game now 3-1, the fans went nuts. I don’t know who started it, but tonight being seat cushion night, someone in the West stands (where I am) threw their cushion onto the field. Instantly it was joined by a dozen others. Within seconds there were twenty, thirty, fifty, over a hundred seat cushions flying through the air. It was spontaneous and amazing. Both sides of the stadium were throwing their cushions and the field was covered with them! The sky was filled with them! It was incredible, very exciting and wild. Of course you’re not supposed to throw things on the field and the game was delayed while the field was cleared, but it was fun. The ref tried to punish San Jose by adding a whopping five minutes of extra time at the end (clearing the cushions took maybe three minutes), but the defense held strong (Jon Conway had an excellent game, strong and confident, making only a few saves but lots of important catches and punches to defuse threatening attacks). The Quakes win! Terrific game, great performance without some key players. Everyone stepped up and worked hard. What a great team. A championship team. Final: 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Jun 11, 2004

: The Chronicles of Riddick

Not a bad film, though not as good as the first (

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: Pitch Black

I wanted to see this again after watching

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: The Stepford Wives

I’ve never seen the original so I can’t really compare, but I understand that version was more of a horror emphasis, while this one is a comedy. That’s a brilliant idea because remaking a film with such a well-known twist (“Oooh, the wives are robots!”) would have just been silly. This film is definitely funny and very entertaining, but unfortunately all the fun’s before the main character finds out the wives are robots; it all goes downhill once she does. It’s like before that the humor is a subtle and interesting in-joke between the film’s producers and us, the audience; but once she knows the women are robots, all the fun’s gone. The ending is forced, predictable, and doesn’t make much logical sense (not that there’s much logic in the story anyway). The robots themselves are never really explained — it was very unclear whether the women were really robots or humans with mind-control chips added. If the latter, the ending made some sense when they were restored to normality. But then why have robots sparking and going into “repeating record” mode? Humans don’t spark, even those with a few implants in their head. Logic aside, the film’s silly fun.

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Wed, Jun 09, 2004

: Malibu’s Most Wanted

Silly semi-parody movie about a white boy who wants to be a rapper and talks “black” — but when that potentially threatens his father’s campaign for governor, his dad hires black actors to pretend to carjack the boy and “scare the black out of him.” Amusing premise and the film has a few funny moments, but it’s generally too loud, too predictable, and too inconsistent. Mildly fun, but don’t go out of your way for it.

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Sun, Jun 06, 2004

: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Terrific film, my favorite of the series so far (it’s also one of my favorite books in the series). In this one the kids are more grown up, the adventure more serious, the evil more ominous and sublte. And for once the bad guy isn’t He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but escaped Azkaban prisoner Sirius Black, out to kill Harry Potter. All the same gang is here, and everyone contributes to the satisfying resolution. The film moves at a good pace, and its darker tone is fitting of a Harry Potter who is less innocent and shows signs of frightening power. The way the dementors are graphically presented is excellent, well-done considering their power is mostly psychological. Excellent all the way around; two thumbs up for the hippogriff special effects: astonishingly believable creature. Great stuff.

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Sat, Jun 05, 2004

: Canada National Team at San Jose Earthquakes

Exhibition matches are often boring. This wasn’t, but it wasn’t great soccer either. Canada, now led by San Jose’s former coach, Frank Yallop, needed this game as they start World Cup qualifiying next week. The Quakes used the opportunity to give some of the lessor players minutes. At first it seemed like Canada could only foul (Canada’s number six should have gotten a second yellow in the first half), but there were some small chances on both sides. Then Canada scored on a bad play by Quakes’ backup keep Jon Conway, who blocked a hard but direct shot right to another Canadian who easily put away the rebound. In the second half, more problems. Rookie Ryan Cochrane made a horrible blunder at the back, completely missing the ball and stepping past it, leaving it behind him. Canada pounced, taking the ball in on goal in a two-on-one breakaway. The cross deflected off San Jose’s Craig Waibel and into our goal to give the Canadians a two-goal lead. Their third goal came when a shot deflected, wrong-footing Conway. San Jose fought back, earning a penalty kick when Alavarez’s shot was blocked by a Canadian’s hands. Brian Ching finished off the goal nicely. A moment later, just as momentum was building for San Jose, the lights went out! A nearby electrical transformer blew, taking out most of the neighborhood. Fortunately it was still light enough to see and the came continue for a little while, getting an extra boost when San Jose’s superstar Landon Donovan was finally put in the match, but just a couple minutes later the ref called it, as it was too dark to continue. So only 75 minutes was played instead of the 90, which was a little harsh on the Quakes and the soft result flatters the Canadians who should have out-played the home team to a greater degree. Still, it was an interesting experience! Final: 3-1 Canada.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Jun 04, 2004

: Honey

This was a huge flop in the theatres, so it intrigued me. I’m always curious why films fail. Actually, this wasn’t as bad as I expected. Like so many films, it was badly promoted and attracted the wrong audience. First, the title (the name of the main female character) gave a salacious impression that the film doesn’t live up to at all. While it sounded all sexy and exotic, the film’s a simple, rather familiar story about a poor girl strugging for success. In this case, it’s in hip-hop dancing and choreography. When Honey gets her big break she neglects her old friends, then discovers who her true friends are and learns a Big Lesson. Yeah, predictable, but still satisfying, like watching a sports film and having the “good” team win in the final seconds. Unfortunately, you really have to be into hip-hop dancing to want to endure all the boring dance sequences (fast forward works well). Not as terrible as you might have thought, this movie’s biggest flaw is simply it’s lack of originality. This is all stuff we’ve seen a thousand times before and dressing it up in different clothes doesn’t change that.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Jun 03, 2004

: Super Size Me

Surprisingly witty and entertaining documentary skewering the fast food industry. The director/star goes on a 30-day “McDiet” — where can can eat nothing not found at McDonald’s — and proceeds to go from perfect health to gaining 30 pounds and nearly destroying his liver. What I liked about the film is not only the excellent pacing and presentation, which kept things moving, but the variety of information. It smartly didn’t limit itself to just McDonald’s or even the fast food industry, but touched on American eating habits in general, exercise, school lunch programs, and more. A terrific film that will make you think about what you eat and our country’s priorities. A must-see.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Beyond Borders

Odd that this Netflix rental would arrive today, right after I watched

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Tue, Jun 01, 2004

: Gone in 60 Seconds

I wasn’t expecting much from this car chase movie; though it has big stars (Cage and Jolie), my main memory of it was that it was in theatres for less than sixty seconds. It turns out it’s not such a bad film. It’s about car stealing, not racing. The plot’s rather lame, about an ex-car thief who’s dragged back into the racket by a thug who’s going to kill his brother unless he steals 50 cars in three days. Interesting idea, but lamely executed. Why not just get his brother and move away? The thug’s also a moron yet is supposed to be scary (he wasn’t in the least). And why was the little brother such an idiot? I was hoping he would get whacked just so I wouldn’t have to listen to him whine and do stupid stuff. Angelina Jolie’s part is so small in this she’s hardly a presence (she’s also a former car thief gone straight and apparently a former girlfiend of Cage’s character). Really the only redeeming thing is Nicholas Cage and the car stuff. Cage is always good, even with weak material, and the car chase and other stuff is nice, though too much of the plot is predictable (especially the begining, middle, and end). But overall it’s not unwatchable. There are some nice car chases and some of the car stealing stuff is interesting.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, May 28, 2004

: The Day After Tomorrow

Okay, let’s get it understood right off the bat that this obviously isn’t Shakespeare. The story’s so thin it’s like it’s not even there. It probably would be better if it wasn’t, since it’s so ridiculous. The idea is that global warming causes the next ice age, not over a period of a thousand years, but a week. The writers hammer home their environmental message a few too many times, which actually hurts their cause, because the movie’s so preposterous it makes their dramatic “we must learn to care for our planet” speeches sound silly. Story itself is about a lone wolf scientist who’s ringing the alarm bell on global warming, but of course no one will listen to him, until weird weather — hail in Tokyo, tornados in L.A., etc. — suddenly brings the matter to importance. Of course the scientist has a son who’s trapped in Manhatten as it goes underwater when the polar ice caps melt and cause the ocean to rise. It’s all very dramatic and unnecessary, with stereotypical characters like the homeless guy with his dog and the beautiful girl who’s just a friend.

No, the reason you go to watch a film like this is for the spectacular special effects, and here the film succeeds remarkably. I wouldn’t have thought weather would be that dramatic or interesting, but the producers include lots of amazing shots from space, showing the planet as it undergoes a fantastic climate shift. The scenes of towering storm clouds the size of mountains were amazing, and all the New York City stuff — the ocean taking over and freezing solid, all the skyscrapers snowed under — was impressive. I was less impressed by the wimpy tornadoes in L.A. That was all shown in slow motion, which didn’t reveal the power of the wind properly: it looked artificial and much too clean. It should have been done at full speed and been totally chaotic: that would have been frightening. Overall, though, the effects are not like anything you’ve seen and make the film worth seeing. I don’t put two cents toward the silly science, and the story’s too ordinary and predictable with no emotional resonance at all, but it’s still a fun amusement park ride.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Casa de los Babys

Author: John Sayles

Director: John Sayles

Unusual talky film about a group of American women in a hotel in a Latin American country waiting for their baby adoptions to go through. What’s neat is that the film is half in Spanish as we observe both sides of the transaction: the hispanic workers and hotel owner, a pregnant teen who will give her baby up, as well as the stories of the American women who a desperate for babies. Nothing too dramatic happens, but characters are revealed and relationships formed. It’s interesting. The film has flaws in momentum and an awkwardly abrupt ending, but it’s a unique slice of life as scene from a different perspective. It makes you think about a number of things — the meaning of motherhood, racism, nature versus nurture, abortion, America versus foreign cultures — but in a low-key way and it never tries to manipulate your thinking or tell you to think a certain way. It’s just a brief picture of a reality you’re forced by its pressence to contemplate. I liked it.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, May 26, 2004

: Uptown Girls

I’d been wanting to see this movie since I saw the filming of a scene when I was in

It turns out the scene I witnessed filming is an important one: it’s at the school where Molly picks up Ray after school, when they first meet! That’s cool because I was worried the scene might be too brief to notice in the film, but it’s key. I still can’t believe how many trailers and people they had on hand to film that one scene. Compared to some movies I suppose it really wasn’t that many, but there had to be at least 100 people and several long tables of food. The trailers took up several blocks of 5th Avenue. I think the same location was used for two different scenes in the film, so maybe they were filming much of the day (though I didn’t see them later when I passed back by). It was kind of interesting seeing the scene being filmed and then seeing it in the final movie, though. I’ve never done that before. There was one still photo on the DVD extras (in the “video stills” section) which had a behind-the-scenes shot with the street I stood and watch from in the background. That was neat: you could see a few bystanders hanging around, though I was not one of them. I only hung around for ten or fifteen minutes. It was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait and boring to watch. If I’d been more aggressive, I perhaps could have learned a bit more about the movie industry. I remember thinking that there appeared to be minimal security. I stood right next to a cooler of water bottles on ice and was tempted to help myself (it was a hot day). There were a lot of staff hanging around doing nothing — I’m sure I could have chatted them up and learned some interesting trivia. They were probably “important” people like a script supervisor or something (I was trying to guess the titles of the various people I could see). Anyway, I didn’t because I was too shy, which was really dumb. Oh well. Maybe it’ll happen again some day and I can get my big break in film.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, May 25, 2004

: Shaolin Soccer

This is a wild fantasy of a film. It appears to have been created by a kindergarten kid on LSD. It bears no resemblance to reality, everything is stereotypical and exaggerated, and it has a number of bizare twists, like characters breaking into musical dance numbers for no apparent reason at all. To give you some idea of what the movie is like, the enemy team our heros must beat in the grand finale soccer match is called “Team Evil.” And you know what? I liked it! It’s great. Hilariously campy, fun, and so silly you can’t help laughing and enjoying it. The special effects are amazing: not because they are cheesy (though some of them are), but because they are so over-the-top and non-stop you just can’t help but admire them. For instance, a kicked soccer ball picks up so much speed flames burst around it like a meteorite coming through earth’s atmosphere… and then the flames turn into the shape of a dragon! The whole film is filled with such craziness. It’s great. Granted, there isn’t much soccer here. Probably only about 20 minutes in the whole film. There’s some soccer ball kicking, but the first “game” is more like a pub brawl than a match. The series of games at the climax bear little resemblance to anything in the soccer world, so soccer purists aren’t going to be exactly overjoyed, but the film’s not really about soccer: it’s about fun. Soccer’s just the excuse. The thread-bare plot’s just a frame for all the cool martial arts special effects.

What makes the film work is that it is consistent. It’s over-the-top from the beginning and never shies away from that all the way to the end. Too many American movies that try for a similar feel end up an awkward mess because they try to include some degree of realism that ruins the fantasy.

This is a creative gem, fun for adults and kids alike, regardless of whether you like soccer or martial arts. The digital special effects are like scenery painted with colorful candy, the characters so stereotypical they are parodies of themselves, and the wild camera angles so much fun you just have to smile. Go and have a good time. It’s harmless. Relax and enjoy it. Be a kid again. Let your imagination rule. Color outside the lines.

Topic: [/movie]

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Sat, May 22, 2004

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

Yes yes yes yes! It seems like every trip to Spartan Stadium is special these days. The Earthquakes are rife with injuries and still haven’t regained their championship form of last year, but things are starting to gel. After last week’s victory in Dallas, a win at home against our archrivals, the L.A. Galaxy, who led the Western Conference by six points, was crucial. Memories of last fall’s tremendous come-back were there, of course, but it’s important to note that of the eleven Quakes who started that game, only five of those players started this one (mainly due to injury). L.A. had some injury problems of their own, but not nearly as bad as the Quakes. Midfielder Ronnie Ekelund was out and so Landon Donovan was moved back to play his role with Ching and DeRosario up top, a combination fans have been wanting for a long time. (Last year DeRo recovered from his injury about the time Ching went down, so they never had a chance to play together.)

San Jose came out storming, and the first half — really the entire game — was almost all Earthquakes. Chance after chance after chance was had, with L.A. keeper Kevin Hartman making a slew of excellent saves to keep the Galaxy alive. DeRosario was a monster, really aggressive and threatening every time he got the ball. After thirty minutes or so it started to get a little worrisome. With so much domination it’s easy to get overconfident and make a defensive mistake. I worried the Gals might score on a counter. They did have a chance or two, the strongest being Cobi Jones’ header which came off the crossbar, but the ball did not go in. Then on a brilliant corner kick Brian Ching was at the top the box and when the other Quakes moved away, dragging L.A. defenders with them, he went unmarked into the seam and banged home a terrific header to give the home team the lead just before the half. After the half Ching continued right on. A Mulrooney through ball sent DeRo up the wing and his pin-point cross eluded Hartman and found a rushing Ching who chested it into the goal. A minutes later another defensive mistake sent Brian Mullan in on goal. He’s missed a few sitters recently and I could see him hesitate. I was sitting at the perfect angle, directly behind him on his way to goal. I was saying to myself “Go for it, shoot!” and he did! The ball went right past Hartman and into the far corner, a brilliant goal!

But all couldn’t be perfect for the Quakes. The make-shift defense has cracks and a bit of bad luck came when a routine shot from Herzog was deflected to wrong-foot Pat Onstad and end up in the goal. Three-one was still a strong lead, but I knew that getting just one would energize the Galaxy and it did. They scrambled and managed to score with a glancing header off a free kick. With only a one goal margin things were really tight now: everyone was no down reliving the miraculous comeback from last November and wondering if the turnaround would be in the other direction this time. But those fears were quickly put to rest via a marvelous performance from Dwayne DeRosario, my man of the match. Hounded by several Galaxy players over on the left side, DeRo spun around, eluding them, and took the ball toward goal. A cut back lost another defender, and then he moved back toward goal in the free space and sent a low grass-buzzing shot into the left side of the goal past a diving Hartman. Four-two! The packed stadium went insane, the Galaxy’s spirits slumped, and I knew we had the game wrapped up. The Quakes played good controlled soccer for the final ten minutes or so, not letting the Galaxy have much of a chance and creating a few shots to keep their defense nervous. Then it was over, a rallying 4-2 victory for the Earthquakes, and L.A.’s dreams of revenge vanquished. It was a terrific team performance, with good defense, great attacking play, and tons of unbelievable hard work and running. To show how lopsided the game was, San Jose set a new team record of a whopping 29 shots in the game and Pat only had to make four saves (he had ten last weekend in Dallas). Just awesome. The Quakes are now just three back from the Galaxy in the West and second place in the entire league, and we have a game in hand on L.A. Sweet. Final: 4-2 Earthquakes.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, May 21, 2004

: Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Predictable, trite, silly comedy that falls flat far too often, but still has a few funny moments. The story is basically a washed up former child actor never had a childhood and thus can’t relate to people or act, so he hires a surrogate family for a month to teach him what it’s like to be a normal child. Yeah, a one-joke premise that quickly wears itself out. What makes it work, barely, is the presence of the “Mom,” Mary McCormack, who plays everything straight and manages to keep things from going too over the top. Still, it’s a weak film and not as funny as you’d expect based on the premise. The cameos of tons of former child stars adds to the movie, but generally the only humor derived from them is having them use foul language. Intelligent. Uh huh.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Manny and Lo

Excellent little gem of a film. It’s about two sisters, 15 and 11, who are on their own when the oldest, Lo, discovers she’s pregnant. Realizing she’s in over her head, she and her little sister Manny kidnap a maternity store clerk to help her deliver the baby. Funny as a black comedy, with oddly touching performances (a very young Scarlet Johansson steals the show and makes the film work), it’s a fun, quirky little adventure. Though nothing too unexpected happpens, I liked it a lot.

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Thu, May 20, 2004

: Shrek 2

Terrific sequel. Has more of the same mixed-up fairy tale humor with a good heart. The story’s a little slight — Shrek and his new bride go visit her King and Queen parents — but I loved the evil Fairy Godmother character, the witty jokes that come at you like from a gatling gun, and hilarious modern references (singing “Rawhide” during their journey, the “Far Far Away” kingdom as Hollywood, modern music, etc.). The ending’s pat, but satisfying. All in all, a great sequel.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, May 18, 2004

: I’m Not Scared

Unusual film from Italy. I hadn’t heard of this but the reviews were astoundingly high and the plot sounded fantastic: a young boy in a tiny rural village finds a boy imprisoned in a hole in the ground and befriends him, only to later discover the boy’s a kidnap victim and the whole town — the first boy’s parents included — is in on the plot. The film is viewed from the main kid’s point of view, which was an awesome decision because we see the world with the wonder and innocence and fear of a ten-year-old. When he learns of the kidnapping, the boy doesn’t understand — he can’t figure out what the adults want with the boy. The performances of the children are incredible. My favorite scene was when the main boy, upset with his parents, decides to run away. He’s hiding in a tree and his little sister comes to him. When he tells her their parents are not his parents any more, she says, in perfect lower-lip-trembling innocence, “Does that mean I’m not your little sister any more?” With stubborn cruelty he says, “Yes!” And then she asks if that means she can have his comic book collection! Great twisted moment, turning heart-break into humor. The ending of the film is both unexpected and satisfying, something most films of this type fail to do. Highly recommened and quite remarkable.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, May 17, 2004

: The Talented Mr. Ripley

This was a surprisingly good film. I remember when it came out I wanted to read the book before seeing it, and I thought the reviews were not kind, but it was excellent. Jude Law is awesome, Matt Damon less so, but competent (he’s slightly miscast in the role). The film made me want to read the book, so I’m going to do that. I’m very suprised Hitchcock never filmed this because it’s exactly the kind of story he’d love.

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Sat, May 15, 2004

: Cold Creek Manor

This film was badly mismarketed; I remember it being promoted as a supernatural thriller. I knew it was supposed to be bad, but I didn’t realize just how bad it was. The premise actually isn’t that bad: a family moves the country to avoid city dangers and buys a foreclosed piece of property, Cold Creek Manor. Then the former owner shows up, recently released from jail. He begins to hassle the family in subtle and then not-so-subtle ways, eventually leading to violence. This is supposed to be a psychological thriller similar to Pacific Heights (which was far superior to this dud), and I can see how that could have worked. But the characters are one dimensional and so stupid we really don’t care much about them, the plot’s predictable, and the ending trite. The whole thing is overblown and overdone. Worst of all, the film was just boring. I read a book during most of it. Not worth anyone’s time.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, May 14, 2004

: Troy

Big and spectacular, but Brad Pitt is woefully miscast as Achilles. He seems out of place in every scene — it’s pretty bad. Everyone else is awesome (especially Peter O’Toole). The story’s decent, but doesn’t seem to follow the original story very faithfully. (Didn’t the seige of Troy last ten years? Here everything takes place over a few weeks.) One problem is that there aren’t any real heroes. The Trojans have our sympathy, but they did steal Helen to provoke the war. The Greeks are greedy snakes and Achilles is a mere killer, so who does one cheer for? In the end the war is just sad and meaningless and the “glory” Achilles seeks seems tainted and worthless. Supposedly we’re to be impressed by the war, but I was just left feeling dirty. Still, the action is good: the sword fights are excellent and the battle scenes impressive. The shots of the city of Troy burning are amazing, as is the fleet of ships the Greeks bring. It’s a long movie at nearly three hours, but it didn’t feel as long as I expected. Overall I was pleased, but it was a shame the film was tainted with Pitt’s awkward presence. It could have been better.

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: Deception Point

Author: Dan Brown

Dan Brown’s best so far, though that’s not saying much. This is one of his earlier books and is better written, though he still comes across with the same arrogant, know-it-all attitude despite many obvious inaccurances and errors. Brown also continues his same technique of building suspense by withholding information. For instance, the plot is about a mysterious discovery by NASA — after pages and pages of build-up, we finally learn the fuss is about the discovery of proof of extra-terrestial life. It’s kind of a let-down since that was so predictable. But what makes that discovery important is the fact that it’s an election year and the budget of NASA is a big political talking point. Brown’s characters are transparent cardboard (especially his ridiculously primitive and stereotyped political figures), but the story’s mildly compelling. The ending’s predictable and obvious and there wasn’t the twist I expected, but overall a better novel than his others and much more readable and enjoyable.

Topic: [/book]

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Thu, May 13, 2004

: Blue Car

Terrific film about a troubled teenage girl who’s father has left and who discovers a dangerous mentor in her poetry teacher. At first the relationship is innocent, but gradually becomes serious. It’s a very simple story, elegantly portrayed, with terrific acting. The characters are believable and real; it’s a beautiful film, though emotional and sad.

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Tue, May 11, 2004

: Mean Girls

Author: Tina Fey

This was excellent; the plot’s predicatable to an extent — new girl has trouble fitting into school and figuring out who her real friends are and screws up but succeeds in the end — but the perspective is fresh, coming from a female writer. High school cliques are mocked, girls obssession with fashion and appearance, etc. It’s a bit like Clueless crossed with The Breakfast Club. Not particularly deep, but fun and funny, and well-directed and acted.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, May 10, 2004

: Shattered Glass

Wow, this is a fantastic movie! It’s about the real-life story of Stephen Glass, a writer for the New Republic, who fabricated dozens of stories for the magazine before finally getting caught. This is about how he was caught and what he did, and it’s an exciting, interesting story. It’s a little sad as well, because while Glass was certainly wrong, he does come across as pathetically young. He started off fabricating a quote or two, and when he got away with that, he started making up entire stories. A great movie, especially for those interested in writing and writers.

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Sat, May 08, 2004

: Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd

Well the first movie was crude but funny. This movie tried honestly in a few places, but in general was just dumb. Some of the verbal “dumb” jokes were clever but so quick they were easy to miss, and the dumbness of the plot just didn’t help matters. Not a needed sequel and it shows.

Topic: [/movie]

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: MLS: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

WOW! What a game! The Quakes have been off to a slow start this season and really needed a big win at home after two ties. Things started off poorly with a quick long-range goal from New York, but picked up with a terrific bit of play from Landon Donovan — a slick backheel to free Brian Ching who finished wonderfully. A few minutes later, new Quake member Chris Brown got his first goal, also with a nice assist from Landon, who had a fantastic game. But the lead didn’t last long when Vaca struck a laser into the upper left corner of the goal from a mile away. Just ridiculous. The Quake defense just gave him too much time and space. The Quakes came right back with a great opportunity from Landon who dribbled his way into the box and almost scored. A moment later, he did score — in the box he juggled the ball keeping it away from the defenders and finished it was a splendid side volley. Goal of the Year candidate in my opinion. That goal gave the Quakes the lead just before the half and it looked like ideal timing… until NY’s Fabian Taylor equalized on yet another long bomb that beat Pat Onstad. I don’t really blame Pat that much on the goals as it was more the defense that gave the Metros so much time to shoot, but man, that was a wild first half. Six goals!

In the second half the Quakes played better. It was obvious they were bound and determined to win this match. Landon was a phenom, just everywhere, and every touch productive and dangerous. It looked like things had gone the Quakes way when a run by Donovan was stopped by a foul and the ref ordered a penalty kick. Except that a moment later the ref reversed his own decision after discussing matters with his assistant ref. Crazy! Why not consult first and decide second? As it was the ref’s mind-changing was disappointing and confusing for the player. Yes, on the video replay it did look like the foul was outside the box so it shouldn’t have been a penalty — but why call it and then change it? And why no yellow card on the break-away foul? Stupid refereeing. A few minutes later the Quakes were given a penalty kick. It was a foul on Mulrooney in the box and Ekeland finished it easily. The one goal lead was padded to two when defender Craig Waibel headed home a Jeff Agoos free kick. Things were looking much better but then Goose foolishly tripped Glen in the box and New York was given a penalty of their own, which they quickly converted. The Quakes still led, but the game was now tight. The ref got involved again when he didn’t eject New York’s Glen after he deliberately shoved Waibel into the wall off the pitch, and when an elbow to Ching’s jaw went uncalled: it should have been another penalty kick. Those moments came back to haunt the Quakes when in the 90th minute a harmless shot by Eddie Gaven was deflected by Glen into the Quakes’ goal: the score was now tied at a whopping five each! That’s the way she finished; another draw at home for the Quakes. But what a game! Every goal was quality and show individual or team brilliance. Extremely entertaining, though heart-in-mouth for Quake fans. Wow, ten goals! That’s a tie for second place for most goals in a match (it’s only happened twice before and only one game had more goals, an eleven goal match by LA in 1998). Just crazy. The Quakes had the offensive hunger of last year, though: I expect them to keep it up! Final: 5-5.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, May 07, 2004

: Van Helsing

This film is receiving a critical bash and I can’t figure out why. it’s like film reviewers do not understand the concept of a movie as mere entertainment. To go into this movie expecting anything more than stylish action and spectacular special effects is just silly. While most critics are down on the slender storyline, I was actually impressed it was as full as it was! I’ve certainly seen movies with much less story than this one. But any story is almost beside the point. This is an action film and special effects vehicle. That’s it. Don’t go see it for any other reason. In that respect, the film delivers what it promises. The stars are cool and beautiful, the action is non-stop, the story has some unusual twists and nicely blends numerous classic horror elements like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman, and there’s the requisite moments of humor. It’s fun. The digital special effects are everywhere and generally very impressive, though occasionally cheesy or just move too fast for reality. The latter’s actually a criticism: often the action’s just too fast to appreciate what happened. It takes away from any realism (assuming anything in this type of film is believable). There are some strange action events, too, like a scene where the female lead, who is human, is tossed against the side of a castle and bounces downward like a pinball and then gets up just fine. I didn’t really get that. Sure, she’s supposed to be tough, but she’s not supposed to possess superhuman capabilities like the monsters in the film. Rather weird. Of course logic should not be used in evaluating this kind of a movie. In general, the action’s interesting and pretty cool, though the climax goes on too long. Fun.

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Thu, May 06, 2004

: Pieces of April

I sort of wanted to see this but it sounded a little boring so I skipped it in the theatres. Big mistake. It’s wonderful. It’s not boring at all. The story’s simple and the director intelligently keeps the film short (less than 90 minutes). I wish more directors would do that. Many, many of today’s films would be better at 60 minutes than they are at 120. But back to the movie. I had heard this was about a girl preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner. Well, that didn’t sound too exciting. But what was missing from that description is very important. First, the girl is estranged from her family: she hasn’t seen them in years, and they disapprove of her lifestyle and choices. Second, the girl’s mother is dying of cancer and this will probably be their last Thanksgiving and last chance for any kind of reconcilation. Ah, now the story has impact and importance! Why wasn’t that info in the previews and descriptions? Who knows; it doesn’t spoil anything but makes the film more intriguing. What follows is a relatively simple story: the girl struggling with the turkey dinner, her oven dying and her running from apartment to apartment trying to find an oven to use; the family driving to visit her, arguing and dreading a conflict-filled visit; the mother, troubled and dying and impulsive; and the girl’s black boyfriend, not at all what her parents are expecting. The ending is fantastic: not a wrong note anywhere. Short and sweet, dramatic without being overdone. This film is a nice, well-done, emotional story without a lot of frills. Perfect.

One tip to the filmmakers: if you use an oven bag, you can cook that 15-pound turkey in two-and-a-half hours instead of five. Of course that would have eliminated one of the film’s central conflicts!

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, May 05, 2004

: 13 Going on 30

I really really liked this movie! The critics compared it to a mediocre Big and we’re impressed, but I thought it was great. It’s obviously not a life-changing sort of film, but it’s fun, clever, and very entertaining. Jennifer Garner is a vision and delight and displays some amazing comedic acting chops, somehow channeling a 13-year-old girl inside her adult body. The story itself is predictable: an awkward 13-year-old girl wishes she were a mature 30 and wakes up 17 years later. She’s still 13 in her mind but has the body and career of a 30-year-old. Humor is gleaned from this mismatch, of course, but heart comes through when the innocent inner girl changes the cold-hearted bitch the 30-year-old had become. It’s light-hearted fun, but Garner brings a warm sincerity to the role that makes it charming and wonderful. It can be trite or sacchrine at times, but overall it’s pleasant and just plain entertaining. Highly recommended for the children in all of us.

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: The Eyre Affair

Author: Jasper Fforde

Fascinating book and hilariously witty idea. This is a story set in a fictional world where literature is all-important and reality is flexible. It’s a bit Harry Potterish, in that sense. But instead of magic, this is just fanciful strangeness, usually with grammatical humor. For instance, one of the characters, an encentric scientist, modifies the DNA of bookworms to turn them into a thesaurus. You feed them text and they read it, producing ampersands and apostrophes as a waste product! The main story is about Thursday Next, a Literary Detective, who’s out to catch the fiend who’s been messing with great novels. When the fiend kidnaps Jane out of Jane Eyre, Thursday must go into the novel to stop him. This sounds and is terrific, but unfortunately so much happens in this novel that’s not part of the main plot that I found it difficult to keep motivated reading. The main story would probably take less than 100 pages: the book’s 350. Some of the other stuff is really interesting and funny, but there’s a bit too much unrelated stuff going on and the main story lags. Still, it’s a brilliant idea and the characters are cool. Jasper’s written several sequels which I shall definitely be reading.

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: Duplex

Director: Danny Devito

Another black comedy from the director who brought us Throw Mama From the Train (I liked it, but I love black comedies). Like most of these kinds of films it’s uneven, but it has some really funny moments. Overall I liked it, especially the ending, but unfortunately the tone of the film feels negative. It’s not always fun to watch because so many bad things happen it feels like it’s too much. The basic plot is this: a young couple buy a duplex but because of rent control, they can’t kick out the old woman upstairs. She seems innocent and harmless, but she drives them crazy and makes their life miserable. Eventually they actually plot to kill her, but even that fails. It’s a neat idea — the ineptitude of failing to kill a harmless old woman is hilarious — but so much of the film is dark and depressing you want to turn it off before the end. Too bad, because it has some funny parts and the hilarious ending explains everything. Black comedy fans will like this; others may have reservations.

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Tue, May 04, 2004

: My Boss’ Daughter

A surprisingly okay comedy. It tries too hard at times and there’s too much gutter humor, but in general it’s not too bad. Certainly not as crude and lame as it sounded from the previews. The plot’s about a regular guy who’s interested in his boss’ daughter and ends up house sitting for the guy. Everything goes wrong to ridiculous extremes (strange visitors, distruction and mayhem, etc.) but ends up happily ever after. Predictable but has some good moments and the basic romatic storyline is okay.

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Mon, May 03, 2004

: Man on Fire

Director: Tony Scott

This is a strange and uncomfortable movie. It’s two different movies in one and doesn’t make a lot of sense. The script definitely needed another rewrite. It’s about a troubled man with a mysterious past who takes on a job in Mexico as the bodyguard for a little girl. When she’s kidnapped and killed, the guy takes it on himself to track down the kidnappers and kill them one by one. In the first half we meet the guy and see his relationship develop with the little girl. At first he wants to be cold and doesn’t want to be her friend, but she gradually wins him over. It’s touching and sweet, innocent and tender. But after the kidnapping suddenly the movie is explosions, blood splatter, and violent torture. It’s an uncomfortable switch. The first half feels like a light-hearted family comedy; suddenly it’s a dour, grim action movie. In his quest for revenge the guy has no scrupples whatsoever and it seems a deliberate tact on the part of the filmmakers to make us question if the guy’s a good guy or not. That’s not a good tact because the film should be telling us that, not forcing us to decide without giving us all the information. It makes watching the action uncomfortable. In

Another problem is the ending, whch is bizarre and doesn’t make much sense. I guess their’s some “justice” to it, but I was expecting more. (Spoiler alert: stop here if you don’t want the ending revealed.) In the film the bodyguard trades himself for the girl. That’s weird because the guy already has the kidnapper’s brother — wouldn’t he trade his brother for the girl? Yet he wants his brother and the bodyguard — weird. Finally, I was expecting — especially after earlier seeing the bodyguard’s expertise with explosives — that he would blow himself up with all the bad guys. But that didn’t happen. Instead he was apparently killed but the film tacked on some text to reveal that the kidnapper was later caught by the authorities. What kind of wimpy ending is that? Lame lame lame. At least let him take out 30 bad guys in a bang, making his trading of himself make some sense. As it was he just let himself be slaughtered and it was just dumb.

Overall, a lame and poor excuse for a film. Not worth your time. If you want, rent it and watch the pleasant first half, but stop when the girl’s kidnapped. Or just start it there and see it as a mediocre action film. But both parts together just don’t fit and the ending is just pitiful.

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Sat, May 01, 2004

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

After struggling last week in an extremely poor performance against Colorado, the Quakes are back with an improvement, but are still not the championship team from last year. I am not too worried, however. They show glimpses of their old form and just need more time to settle down. If they can peak toward the end of the season the team should be fine, make the play-offs, and defend their championship in the final again.

This game was a huge sellout (18,000 packed into tiny Spartan Stadium) because it was 14-year-old Freddy Adu’s first visit to the Bay Area. And he started his first match! It was cool to see Freddy — my season ticket seat is front row and he was almost close enough to touch — but other than a few nice plays, he really wasn’t a factor in the game. That’s too be expected: keep in mind he’s only 14 and though he’s got fantastic skills, it still takes a while to get used to playing at this level. He’ll be fine. I just worry the media will put too much pressure on the league, creating an atmosphere where the non-soccer watching public will expect Freddy to do awesome stuff and when he doesn’t, they’ll fade away. Freddy will do awesome stuff: just maybe not this year.

Not counting the Freddy factor, this was still a decent game. The Quakes had tons of early changes and scored in the first half off a Jeff Agoos free kick and Troy Dayak header. Great goal. But in the second half the heat (it was a 1 p.m. kickoff and quite warm) seemed to take its toll. Landon played 90 minutes for the USA against Mexico on Wednesday and it showed as he faded late in the half. None of the Quakes really sparkled in the second half. A bit of missed marking and poor timing gave D.C. a tiny opening and they took it, with Dema Kovalenko scoring. I felt that was harsh, because ten minutes earlier Dema should have been red carded. He had a violent foul against Brian Mullan and was yellow carded. In the very next play he deliberately shoulder-charged Mullan into the sideline, knocking Brian down. He didn’t even try for the ball, just took out the man. That’s normally an automatic yellow. If I was the ref I’d give it even faster considering he’d just been booked — a yellow’s supposed to be a warning after all — but this ref decided to be merciful and just called a foul with no second yellow card. Poor decision in my opinion, but we really can’t say it decided the match since the Quakes didn’t really deserve a win considering their lackluster second half. But they certainly didn’t deserve to lose and a point each seems like a fair result in the end. Final: 1-1.

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Mon, Apr 26, 2004

: Oregon Trip

I’m back in Oregon this week, just for a quick visit. I had to bring my Mom a new computer: her iBook died and I found her a used iMac for a replacement.

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Sat, Apr 24, 2004

: Capturing the Friedmans

Terrific documentary about a strange sexual abuse case and how it tears a family apart. The Friedmans seem to be an ordinary upper-middle-class family until the father, a computer teacher, is caught by a postal inspector receiving child porn in the mail. That starts a police investigation and when it’s learned he’s a teacher, his students are interviewed. While students had been attending his computer courses several times a week for years without a complaint, suddenly under pressure from the police the boys claim sexual abuse. And not just from the father, but from his youngest son, who was 17/18 at the time. The abuse described is extreme: hundreds and hundreds of cases, many times violent, yet the students were in computer class (in the family’s home) for only an hour or so at a time and never showed any signs of trauma. The truth appears to be that the children were coached or pressured by the police into lying. This is not as unusual as it might seem, for children by their nature want to please adults, and if they sense a certain answer is expected, that’s what they say. The result is that the father, who did seem to be a closet pedophile, is sent to prison and eventually dies there (possibly by suicide); the son, who seems to be innocent, is also convicted and locked up for many years. The film ends in modern day when the son finally released.

While this is an unpleasant topic and it’s obvious the emotions of parents and those in the community are extreme, the film raises many questions about such cases are investigated and prosecuted. If the Friedmans were innocent, as they claim, then why did they plead guilty? Because if they did not, they felt they’d have been convicted any way and go away for a much longer time. It’s a strange, sobering tale, and while the story asks many questions, it leaves many unanswered and we’ll probably never know the truth. Really interesting look at a troubled family via personal videos and interviews, however. Highly recommended.

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Fri, Apr 23, 2004

: Morvern Callar

This critically acclaimed film with a bizzare title sounded great: when a girl’s boyfriend commits suicide, she publishes his novel under her own name. It turned out, however, that was only a minor part of the story. The movie’s mostly just following this girl as she tries to figure her life out. I found it tedious and boring. Another annoying thing: the film alternates between long, extremely quiet scenes with no dialog to loud, noisy, dance club scenes where the music’s deafening. That was jarring and unpleasant. Overall, while I was curious about this strange woman, I was not intrigued enough to endure her boring life and follow the rather plotless storyline. It’s well done and some people might find it interesting, but I was just bored. A disappointment, but perhaps my expectations were too high considering what I’d heard.

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Wed, Apr 21, 2004

: The Recruit

Confusing and rather mindless story about a young guy recruited to join the CIA, only everything is not what it seems. Like Alias, the film is filled with cliches and back-stabbing, to the extent that it becomes predictable, because any time anyone says anything you can pretty much bet the opposite is true. Not terrible, not great, just average, and much too predictable. It ends with a whimper, too, which leaves you with a “So what?” kind of feeling. Mildly amusing.

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Mon, Apr 19, 2004

: The Battle of Shaker Heights

Really cool understated verbal film, with dialog closer to a play than a movie. The main character, a teenage boy, is fascinated by war re-enactments. He’s too smart for his own good and his intelligence gets him in trouble at home, at school, and with his friends. The plot’s a sort of coming-of-age thing, but it’s not really central to the movie. What drives the film is the boy’s sly wit. For instance, in one scene, at the grocery story where he stocks shelves a night, he comments on how the store has more flavors of cat food than baby food. That’s an interesting societal commentary. Overall low-key with lots of subtle humor, I really liked this. Definitely above average but doesn’t try too hard. Excellent. I was, however, disappointed with the featureless DVD — not a single extra. Since this was the “Project Greenlight” winner (an online screenplay contest) I expected at minimum a documentary on the making of the film and director commentary, but there was nothing. Thus this is a rental, not a purchase DVD. Lame.

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: The Punisher

This wasn’t as bad as the reviews make it sound. I got exactly what I expected: a comic book revenge story. Retiring FBI agent’s family is slaughtered so he becomes the “Punisher,” out for revenge. Nothing hugely outstanding or disappointing here. The plot’s predictable, the acting decent, and there are even a couple touching moments, though the whole “pity me my family’s been killed” thing was done to death. There were a few nice scenes, but overall the film’s just average. Also, the guy just doesn’t seem very superhero-like: he’s very much an average guy who just happens to be highly skilled at killing people (and he was before his revenge quest — it wasn’t like he bulked up for his task). The biggest problem is that the film is much two long: at a ponderous two hours it should have been condensed to an exciting 90.

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Sun, Apr 18, 2004

: Equilibrium

Interesting little sci-fi film that takes on 1984/Brave New World territory, with a futuristic society where human emotions have been purged in order to eliminate all conflict and war. Humans who experience emotion or who horde emotional content (such as books or paintings) are executed. The story’s rather predictable, with the top police guy discovering emotions and having trouble doing his job. It’s an interesting idea, and there are some neat scenes, but unfortunately the film doesn’t know if it’s sci-fi, action, or drama, and tends to wander between genres in an uncomfortable or predictable manner. Interesting but not remarkable.

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: The Footprints of God

Author: Greg Iles

Greg’s a much better author than

The first half of the book is very exciting: our narrator is running for his life as his super-secret goverment colleagues in the NSA are out to kill him for the knowledge of the super-secret project he’s been working on. The action doesn’t let up until two-thirds of the book have elapsed, and it’s compelling reading. Unfortunately, most of us readers are expecting a decent payoff: we want to know why he’s being hunted and what this secret government project is all about. We’re given clues in bits and pieces: we know it’s the most advanced computer ever, so intelligent it rivals God. Even more unfortunately, that is not a metaphor: the author means it literally. So the last third of the book is a complex mess of philosophical and intellectual ponderings, which is interesting, but that’s uncomfortably intermeshed with spy/action stuff from the main plot. The result is that the end of the book doesn’t make much sense. We don’t really buy the main character’s delusions or bizarre explanations of who God is, and the whole computer thing just doesn’t make much sense on any level. Worse of all, Iles makes the dreadful mistake of resorting to the typical cliche of “computer will blow up the earth” scenario for his central conflict. There are a lot of fascinating ideas here, but ineptly handled, and in an inappropriate forum. The bottom line: wasted potential.

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Fri, Apr 16, 2004

: Kill Bill Volume II

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Wow! Even better than

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Thu, Apr 15, 2004

: The Ladykillers

Director: Coen Brothers

I had little interest in this, even though it’s a Coen Brothers film. It’s a remake, and I usually don’t know why films are remade. I also figured a remake was strange for the Coens, who usually use their own original material. I haven’t seen the original film (and have no real desire to do so) so I don’t know how this compares or if they changed stuff, but this turned out to be a total Coen movie. It’s a definite black comedy, hilarious with those subtle Coen touches that make their films awesome. The plot is about a group of idiot thieves, led by the “Professor,” hilariously portrayed by an over-the-top Tom Hanks, who plan to tunnel from the basement of an old house into the vault of a nearby casino. Unfortunately, there’s a stubborn old black lady living in the house, so Hanks moves in as a room renter and asks to use the basement for his friends to use as rehearsal hall to practice renaissance music. It’s a great scheme, but of course nothing quite goes as planned, with outrageous results. The old lady is amazing; actually, the entire cast is perfect. It’s a just a great, fun, wonderful film. The ending is just killer and makes the whole thing worth watching. Really enjoyable. My only complaint was that there was an awful lot of unnecessary swearing; it felt out of sync with the rest of the film.

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Tue, Apr 13, 2004

: Silent Partner

Author: Stephen Frey

Strange book. It’s both well-written and poorly written, as though the author’s schizophrenic. At time’s the writing’s just bad, with trite phrases and cheesy scenes, then there’ll be a portion of remarkable psychological insight. The problem is that the book isn’t consistent, which makes for awkward reading. You’re just not sure you trust the author. The plot’s decent, at least in the sense of keeping you motivated to read, but unravels and bit at the end, with a pretentious and unrealistic resolution. The basic idea is that a reclusive billionaire — worth an absurd $500 billion, ten times more than Bill Gates — hires a pretty bank officer to handle a corporate merger. Why her? That’s one of the mysteries. There’s a whole lot of manipulation going on and we’re not sure who is who and what is what. Unfortunately, indentities are at the core of the plot, and since everything isn’t revealed until the end, it makes for a frustrating read since most of the time you don’t really trust — or like — any of the shifty characters. Most of the characters are cardboard, anyway, typical for this genre, but Frey tries a little too hard to make them 3D and that shows. It’s not that bad, but this must be one of Frey’s earlier novels, because it comes across that way. Still, it’s got a few good moments and isn’t terrible.

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Sun, Apr 11, 2004

: Rat Race

A surprisingly fun movie. Completely silly but aware of that, and just has fun with going over the edge. It’s a lose remake of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (which I haven’t seen yet) about a group of strangers who compete to see who can be first to a destination and win $2 million. Everyone tries to stomp out the competition while promoting themselves with boomerang results. Pointless, but fun.

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Thu, Apr 08, 2004

: The Reckoning

Too predictable — the trailer spoils all the secrets. It’s a great concept, though the title’s lame. (It’s based on a novel called “Morality Play” and that would have been a better title.) Set in medieval Europe, we begin with a defrocked priest who’s hiding a secret and seeking redemption. Escaping the authorities, he winds up with a band of actors, who end up in a town where a deaf-mute woman has just been sentenced to death for murdering a boy. The troup decides to perform a play of the murder, but soon learn that the woman is innocent. A new play, based on the truth the authorities don’t want revealed, is then presented, with the priest sacrificing himself for the truth. It’s a great concept, terrifically acted and photographed, but the story’s slim considering topic, and while much of it is designed to show profoundness, nothing much profound is really revealed. Worth seeing just for the concepts, but too predictable to be a great film.

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: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Author: Andy Kaufman

Brilliant film. It’s about a guy who has a doctor erase the memories of his ex-girlfriend. What’s brilliant is the way this is portrayed, because the guy is semi-conscious during the process and changes his mind, trying to escape from the erasing process by hiding in various memories. It’s like a dream-world where various memories are relived and overlap. For instance, in one scene he merges a childhood memory of a rainy day and it begins to rain in his living room. Such intriguing visuals make for a compelling story. There really are two stories, the “escape” story within memory-land, and what’s happening with the doctor and his assistants as they perform the procedure. These stories merge into a terrific ending. The film’s a little long and slow, especially at the beginning — it could be have edited down a good ten or twenty minutes. But it’s a brilliant concept from Kaufman and makes for a wild, entertaining ride. I’ve been studying and thinking about Philip K. Dick recently and I just know he would have loved this (all of his stuff deals with identity and the validity of memories).

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Wed, Apr 07, 2004

: Spartan

Author: David Mamet

Director: David Mamet

I couldn’t remember anything about this going in except that it was a David Mamet deal. I was surprised at how much action there was. It’s about the kidnapping of a president’s daughter — at least I think that’s who she was. The film was unclear about her identity. Val Kilmer plays a military guy who’s job is to rescue the girl using any means necessary, and that part was very interesting. Later in the film the thing got bogged down in complexity as the girl was dead, then not dead, then this, then that — too many twists for its own good. It’s a good film, though a little uneven, and a bit sad (all Kilmer’s friends keep getting killed). The ending is definitely overwritten (or not written enough). It’s overly complicated and confusing, and the whole bit with the “poor rich girl” daughter was underdeveloped and vague. The film also seems to suffer from genre-switching, as though it’s not sure if it’s a psychological thriller, an action adventure flick, or an emotional drama. The genres mix awkwardly and the film feels disjointed as a result. Still, the whole thing almost works, and there are some good performances and some great scenes and scams that make the film worth seeing on their own.

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: Taking Lives

This film gets a lot of comparisons to the recent Twisted wasn’t very twisted (the twist ending was obvious a mile away) whereas this one is a little more subtle. Not much, but a little bit. They did a better job of keeping you guessing and the story after the story (the film keeps on going after you think it’s over) is a nice touch. None of the characters are particularly original though the acting is decent. The film has an odd beginning as we focus on the serial killer’s story; later that view is lost as we switch to the female FBI agent’s viewpoint. I would have preferred sticking with the villain’s perspective: that would have been something different. Still, a decent film, with a modicum of suspense.

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Tue, Apr 06, 2004

: Dawn of the Dead

Unfortunately this film doesn’t live up to the original’s genius. Gone is the wonderful sociological humor of Romero’s version (where zombies “shop” in a mall — a hiliarous jab at consumer mentality). Instead this film takes the genre seriously and tries to generate true fear through vivid gore and tension. It suceeds to an extent, though it’s not particularly scary. All the Hollywood horror standards apply (the main character survives, bad guys die, etc.). Still, it’s a different script, which means it’s fresh, and it’s got some nice creepy visuals and style. It’s certainly not a bad entry in the genre but I still prefer the intelligence of the original.

One unintentionally hilarious bit: the legal disclaimer at the end of the film, which appeared to be completely standard, cracked me up when I read, “Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.” Living or dead! Ha ha! I’m still laughing. (Yes, I am easily amused.)

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: What a Girl Wants

As I expected: if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the film. The movie is just longer.

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Mon, Apr 05, 2004

: Hellboy

Surprisingly fun little comic-book adventure. The plot’s rather pointless and obvious (evil guy wants to open portal to hell or some such nonsense and Hellboy must stop him), and most of the supporting characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical. One makes the film work is Ron Perlman has Hellboy. His sarcastic, self-depreciating attitude brings a rude humor to the proceedings that is delightfully subtle and grim. For example, in one scene while wrestling with a monster he mumbles something about “not on the first date” and it took me a second to realize he was talking about the monster’s tongue wrapped around his body. That’s great stuff. Too many films have fallen into the Shwartzenegger-style quip where the line mimics the situation too obviously (parodied so excellently on The Simpsons). While routine, this film was more fun than I expected.

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Sun, Apr 04, 2004

: Midwest Trip

Whew! I’m back from my long trip! Here’s what I did. I departed on March 17th for Arizona and stayed near Phoenix, then made it to Fort Stockton in Texas the next day. On Friday I arrived in Houston, where I stayed with my cousin, Tami, and her husband, Scott. Tami just had a baby, Rowan, in January. He’s now over 14 lbs. and growing! He’s just adorable. A very happy baby, laughing and smiling all the time. After a few days with them, I went to the

Overall, this was a great trip. While driving across deserted states like Nevada and Wyoming is boring, you get a better feel for the country driving. I really enjoyed seeing the differences in the various states; different foods, stores, accents, people, pace of life, etc. It was a terrific experience — it’s been a long time since I’ve done it.

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Sun, Mar 28, 2004

: Springfield, Missouri

My mother flew in to Houston on Tuesday, and together we drove to Springfield, MO yesterday. We stopped briefly in Durant, OK, at Southeastern Oklahoma State University where I attended for a year (1986-1987).

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Fri, Mar 26, 2004

: REAL World Conference 2004

I had a wonderful time at the first REALbasic conference. There were about 150 REALbasic fanatics, most of whom I knew via the Internet but had never met in person. It was great to put faces with names, domains, and products! I even learned a few things at the conference sessions and sold a few subscriptions, so the trip was well worth it.

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Mon, Mar 22, 2004

: Starsky and Hutch

Pretty silly and full of itself, but fun film. I initially wasn’t too interested because I couldn’t really remember the original TV show, but except for a brief cameo at the end by the original two stars, the old show was irrelevant. Though set in the 70’s, this was a very modern film. Mere entertainment but enjoyable.

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Wed, Mar 17, 2004

: Midwest Trip

Today I embark on my road trip to Chicago via Houston. Yes, that’s bizarre, but that’s the way it works. I’m going to the REAL World Conference in Austin next week, and instead of flying, I’ll drive and visit relatives in Houston, Missouri, and Illinois. It will be a lot of driving but should be fun!

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Fri, Mar 12, 2004

: Secret Window

Author: Stephen King (book)

A nice little Stephen King story about a writer going mad as his life falls apart (he’s in the middle of a divorce). It all begins when a stranger appears accusing the guy of plagerism, and then bad things begin to happen, like his dog being killed. As the stakes go up, intensity does as well, and the twisted ending is very cool. Johnny Depp, as the writer, is the best thing about the movie, giving a fantastic performance. He’s a bit bizarre, a bit quirky, and yet still likable. Unfortunately, the film isn’t perfect: the first half is slow, with not much happening, but once it gets going, it goes fast, and the ending is excellent. One of the best things is that the ending just ends; there’s no series of silly red herring endings Hollywood seems to like so much. Good film.

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Wed, Mar 10, 2004

: Touching the Void

Terrific film about the real-life story of two British mountaineers in the mid-80’s who attempted to climb an unclimbable mountain and while they succeeded, one of them nearly died during their descent. It’s a fantastic story of survival and human willpower. The one guy falls a short distance and breaks his leg horribly (the lower bone actually goes up into the thigh bone vertically). He’s doomed, right? But his partner won’t abandon him and comes up with a plan to lower him on a rope. The longest rope is 300 feet, so he’s lowered 300 feet, hangs on the side of the mountain while his partner climbs down, then the process is repeated. In this mannor they descend most of the way down. But finally they reach a place where the guy is lowered over the edge of a cliff — he’s danging in open air and there’s no way for him to grab a hold of anything. He’s run out of rope and can’t go any lower. With his broken leg, he can’t climb the rope. He’s stuck. He screams but his partner is too far away to hear. The partner is holding on for dear life, bracing himself, waiting for the weight to come off so he can climb down himself. He waits for hours, but nothing happens. Eventually he thinks his partner must be dead — why else wouldn’t he anchor himself to the snowy face of the mountain? As he begins to slip himself, he realizes he’s got no choice. If he doesn’t cut the rope, he’ll be dragged down and both men will die. So he cuts the rope. The partner with the broken leg falls… into the jaws of a crevace! Thus when the partner descends, he never sees his friend and continues on, thinking him dead. The man with the broken leg reallizes he must find his own way down. Miraculously, he does, literally dragging himself across miles of ice, snow, and rock. It’s just amazing. I really liked the way the film is presented. It’s technically a documentary, but it doesn’t feel like it. The two men talk to the camera, telling the story, and their voices are overlayed as actors re-enact their horrible ordeal. This works well as there’s hardly any dialog necessary or even appropriate, as not much talking happens on a mountain (the men are usually separated and connected only by slender ropes). Excellent film.

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Fri, Feb 27, 2004

: Twisted

A decent thriller with good performances, but it’s too dependent upon the twist ending, which I saw coming a mile away. The story’s cool: a female police officer’s been promoted to homicide detective and her first case turns out to be a series of murders of her former lovers. Suspicion naturally falls on her, and soon she begins to suspect herself. Her father was a cop who killed her mother and then himself when she was five, so she’s been haunted by that her whole life. Does she have the same evil gene as her dad? The murders always happen while she’s blacked out, so perhaps she did do it. That’s the mystery. When the answer’s revealed it’s good and makes sense, but it’s not all that surprising. Above average but not outstanding.

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Wed, Feb 25, 2004

: The Passion of the Christ

Director: Mel Gibson

This is a brilliant film. But it’s not perfect. It’s extremely well-directed. Mel does an excellent job of telling the tale of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life without the camera becoming too obvious and interferring with the story. I especially applaud his choice to do them in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles. It adds to the authenticity. On many levels the story is very simple and plain. Mel adds touches of complexity with strange visions and an obviously evil Devil, but in general it’s the basic Bible story you expect. It is brutal, however. It is unflinching in portraying the violence inflicted on Jesus. The flogging scene will leave your stomach churning. Jesus is literally scourged until there’s hardly any skin left: it’s hanging from his body in shreds. And that, of course, is just the beginning of a horrible night of torture. While I applaud Mel for showing us the Crucifixion as it really happened (I’m sure it really was that bad), it is difficult to watch — which is probably half the point. Mel does give us moments of relief via brief flashbacks into moments of Christ’s life: breaking bread, washing hands at the Last Supper, writing in the dirt, etc. But the moments are not enough to redeem the oppressive nature of the film. The violence and gore is so strong it overpowers all else. To our modern eyes, unaccustomed to such brutality, it seems like too much; we want to protest, to try and stop it, and it’s infuriating watching Jesus’ mother stand by calmly watching the whole event. The biggest flaw is that film presents little hope. There’s a brief resurrection scene, but it’s far too brief. What I wanted to see was some glimpses of the lives affected by Jesus’ sacrifice. Show us Malchus, the servant who’s ear Peter cut off and Jesus restored, at home with his family that evening, a changed man. Show us Pilot, the roman governor who gave Jesus up for death, praying for forgiveness and mercy. Show us Simon, the man who carried Jesus’ cross when he couldn’t, and how his brief encounter with Christ changed his life forever. That was what the movie should have been about: changed lives. Instead, it’s a sad film about a man who’s tortured and horribly executed. Christians will understand the signficance behind the story and be moved, but unfortunately the film doesn’t reveal much beyond the literal. That’s too bad. It’s an excellent film. But it could have been a masterpiece. I still recommend it. But it’s definitely not for kids. Adults will find it difficult. It’s a powerful film from opening scene until the end. You will be left emotionally drained. But it needed a little spark, something extra beyond the literal story, a glimmer of hope. Still, it’s an amazing achievement, and it’s even more amazing that so many will watch it. That’s good. Hopefully it will touch people and motivate them to learn more about Jesus. If even one life is changed because of the film, it was worth making it.

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Tue, Feb 24, 2004

: The Triplets of Belleville

This is a hilarious, brilliant, bizarre, wonderful, magical animated French movie. It’s almost impossible to describe without going over the whole story frame-by-frame. The story’s about a young bicylist in the Tour de France who’s kidnapped. His grandmother and his dog go after him and rescue him from the mob in Belleville with the help of a trio of old crones, the Triplets, former lounge singers. But the story’s almost irrelevant. What makes this film so much fun is what happens between the plot points, and how information is conveyed. The animation is bizarre: wildly exaggerated, with distorted people and places. But everything’s exaggerated to make a point, and because of that, it works. It’s social commentary at the highest level. When the rich, obscenely fat woman emerges from her limousine with her husband missing… only to reveal the tiny mouse of a man stuck between her rear cheeks when she waddles by, is a witty mockery of high society. There’s tons of that in this film. There’s also plenty of heart, with a loyal, lovable dog who lives for scraps of food and barking at trains. There’s hilariously French things, such as the train bridge that literally moves a house out of the way forcing it to lean to one side. There’s jabs at Americans, the mafia, and everything in between. This is a rich stew of wonder, adventure, childish enthusiasm, determination, and magic. Amazingly, there’s almost no dialog, so there’s no subtitles: the story is conveyed entirely by action and facial expression. This is a charming tale, well worth your time. It’s only 80 minutes and the time will fly by so fast you’ll want to watch it again when it’s over. Wonderful.

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Mon, Feb 23, 2004

: 50 First Dates

Ocasionally sacchrine, sometimes childish, usually predictable romantic comedy. It’s by-the-numbers for the most part, but decent. It tries to get a little too serious at times. The plot reveals everything: a guy falls for a girl who has no short-term memory, so he has to get her to fall in love with him anew each day. One thing they did do well is not give us a cheap “She’s cured!” ending. Not excrutiating.

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Sun, Feb 22, 2004

: The Davinci Code

Author: Dan Brown

All I knew about this book going in was that a) I found the previous Dan Brown book I’d read,

Okay, the book does have some interesting “codes” and little riddles, but it’s nothing particularly challenging. They are interesting and occasionally clever. Dan even screws them up, though, by laughing at his own jokes, pointing out how clever and brilliant they are which is insufferably irritating. My favorite part of the book was the word etemology stuff, where word origins are used to supposedly “prove” assertions made in the book. I have no idea if any of that is accurate (I wouldn’t trust anything Dan says — in fact, if he says it, I’d bet it wasn’t true — the guy’s a complete idiot), but it was interesting and fun. Sadly, the book fails in all regards. It’s a quick and mildly interesting read, but certainly below average and a disappointment considering its best-selling status.

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Sun, Feb 15, 2004

: The Takeover

Author: Stephen Frey

A fun book from Frey, with an outrageously ridiculous plot. Unfortunately the plot is revealed early on and we spend half the book wondering how things are going to be resolved, which they do at a slow pace. The plot’s crazy: a secret society of seven powerful men engineer a scheme to take down a president. They set up the world’s largest hostile takeover of a company and set up the president for insider trading on the stock. The main character’s a young man who is setting up the takeover, not realizing he’s a pawn in the larger scheme. When he finds out, he’s got to stop them. Ludicrous, but I guess theoretically financially sound. Good fun.

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Thu, Feb 12, 2004

: In America

Director: Jim Sheridan

Fantastic film! I’d wanted to see this when I first heard about it last summer, but when it finally came out I was more hesitant because the things I’d heard recently made it sound like health food: good for you but not enjoyable. The film sounded like a story about immigrants, but it’s not. It’s simply about a family. The story’s really about the two children (in fact, it’s narrated by the oldest). The Irish immigrant family struggles to survive in Manhattan, but we see their struggles through the eyes of the ever-positive kids, so the story’s never depressing. The two girls are awesome, cute and innocent, completely lost in their roles. They both deserve Oscars. Because of their innocence, the film reminded a lot of

When the film was an hour in I was thinking that I would have been completely happy if it ended there. Even though the story was unfinished, I was satisfied. I just didn’t want the rest of the movie to ruin what I’d already experienced. To my suprise, the second half of the film was even better! All sorts of things link together to complete the story and the ending is fantastic. You will cry tears of joy or you’re not human. Terrific, terrific film. I love seeing adult things from the perspective of kids and I loved the way this film made unhappy things seem okay. This story could have been told in much more obvious heart-wrenching way and been really depressing — and not much more impactful than a typical TV disease-of-the-week movie. Instead, this film captures a slice of a real-life family; not a perfect family by any means, but a family struggling to keep together, to survive financially, and to heal deep emotional wounds. Fantastic. In my top ten of all time, I think. For sure the top twenty-five.

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Wed, Feb 11, 2004

: Something’s Gotta Give

A suprisingly good film about adult relationships. Jack Nicholson’s a 64-year-old who dates girls under 30 and never commits. While visiting his girlfriend’s beach house, he has a mild heart attack and can’t leave, and ends up being cared for by the girlfriend’s mom, a famous playwright in her fifties. The two end up falling in love and she turns their relationship into a hit Broadway play. Full of good humor and fun, the film has a number of serious moments as the man struggles to come to terms with commitment and his “older” relationship. Unfortunately, it goes on too long (it’s over two hours) and a few of the extra scenes don’t add much to the story. Still, above average.

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Sat, Feb 07, 2004

: The Insider

Author: Stephen Frey

A by-the-numbers financial thriller from Frey. We’ve got a young guy who jumps at the job of a lifetime with a $1 million guaranteed bonus. Unfortunately, he soon uncovers a conspiracy and figures out he’s fall guy in an insider trading scandal. He’s to take the blame for his boss’ crimes. The scary part is this is being done by the U.S. government. So he turns the tables and blows the whole scheme and everything ends happily ever after. Hooray.

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Thu, Feb 05, 2004

: The Big Bounce

Author: Elmore Leonard (novel)

Usually Leonard’s stuff is pretty good plot-wise, but this one’s weak. The most surprising thing for me was that despite the cast and fun premise (con artists in Hawaii) the film was rather boring! In between the interesting scenes the film dragged. Part of the problem was the lack of stakes: the guy and the girl are going to steal $200,000. What’s that? Some kid’s lunch money? They’re supposed to split that? Come on. Make it at least a million. The film had a few good moments. The opening scene where Owen Wilson hits a guy with a baseball bat is good, but after that we really aren’t sure about him. Is he an idiot or a genius? That mystery taints everything that happens afterward and makes everything confusing. The end, when it comes, is convoluted and doesn’t exactly make that much sense. It’s an awkward film period.

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Tue, Feb 03, 2004

: The Cooler

This is a film about luck, good and bad. William H. Macy is a “cooler” — a loser with such bad luck he’s brought in to the casino near whoever’s on a hot streak to bring them down. The film’s not as metaphysical as the Spanish indie Intacto

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Mon, Feb 02, 2004

: Girl With A Pearl Earring

Excellent film. Unfortunately, I must compare it to the book, since I read it first, and I have a difficult time divorcing the two. Visually, this film is a feast: masterfully done. But storywise there were a few mistakes and one improvement. First, the film makes light of why Griet is forced to become a maid — we briefly see her blind father, but we never see her giving her wages to her parents. That’s a critical aspect of the novel because she’s trapped, not for herself, but by the duty she feels to help her parents (she’s their only income and they are starving). The film left out the stories of her sibblings (sister who dies and brother who’s a tile apprentice), but that was for the best (they distract from the main story). The film also tones down the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. It’s mentioned, but never focused. In general I agree with that decision (though it was a fascinating part of the book), but one aspect of that — the way Griet reacts to the Catholic paintings in her cellar bedroom — was poorly implemented and could have been done better so that we got a reaction from her (have her cover the picture with a cloth, show her not sleeping because of the bloody paintings, etc.). The second big mistake was not showing us why Griet was such a good maid: the way she could clean Vermeer’s studio without moving stuff (a skill she learned from having a blind father who needed everything in the same place). In the book that was important (it’s how she got the job) and it showed her intelligence. There’s a brief reference — a “Don’t move anything” line — but that’s about it. We only see her cleaning one thing and not moving it, but the point needed to be better emphasized. The very ending was also a little muddled, making it unclear that she had chosen to marry Pieter. However, the film did a terrific job of realizing the character of Vermeer’s wife. In the book she was a shadow, but in the film she dominates: it’s a terrific performance full of glare and subtlty. She really is the most fleshed out of all characters. Griet is simple and very young; Vermeer is morose and quiet, lost in his own world; the grandmother only cares about money; complexity comes in the role of Vermeer’s wife, who seems the spoiled brat on the surface, but underneath knows her station and rebells against it the only way she knows how, through her connection to her husband. She’s jealous of Griet because Griet actually understands Vermeer’s work and seeing the girl reminds her that she is incapable of understanding it (which drives her mad). Great stuff. Overall, this is an excellent adapation of the book. Scarlet Johansson is amazing: she will go far despite being overlooked by Oscar. The pace of the film is a little slow (it’s only an hour thirty-five but feels like two), but that’s because there are many “still” scenes of artist staring at model, model staring at painter, etc. Despite my nitpicks, this is three thumbs way up.

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Fri, Jan 30, 2004

: The Perfect Score

I wasn’t expecting much, but I rather liked this. It was charming, in an idiotic way. It’s about high school seniors who feel the SAT is ruining their lives, so they plot to steal the answers. It’s a motley group of non-friends who form the team — the brain, the pot-head, the poor rich girl, the jock, etc. — and thus it feels like an 80’s John Hughs movie. Fortunately the filmmakers see fit to recognize and mock that: The Breakfast Club references abound. Perhaps that’s why I liked it (that was my high school time). It’s predictable, fun, and certainly no brain stretch. The direction’s got some panache (I liked the SAT opening credits and the way filled in answer circles spelled things), though he’s obviously trying hard. I mostly wanted to see it because I was curious about my new screen favorite Scarlet Johansson; she’s cute and funny and actually has one of the better roles. A good rental.

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Thu, Jan 29, 2004

: Along Came Polly

This film tried harder than I expected. If you’ve seen the previews, you pretty much know the entire story: neurotic guy’s jilted during his honeymoon, goes after childhood sweetheart who’s a hippie who turns his ordered life upside down, and he falls in love. It’s rather slap-sticky with a number of crude Something About Mary-style jokes in it, but they fall flat. Instead of just being satisfied at being a dumb comedy the movie tries to add depth and characterization, but it just comes out as an awkward mess of cartoon and seriousness. It’s still mildly fun and enertaining and there are some good moments, but you’re probably better off sticking with the trailer, which has all the best parts.

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Fri, Jan 23, 2004

: The Butterfly Effect

Not a bad film. I liked the concept: a boy suffers from memory blackouts, moments of time where he can’t remember what he was doing. Since his father was insane, the boy’s mother is worried. The doctors suggest the boy keep a daily journal of every activity to help stimulate his memory. Eventually the blackouts stop and boy grows up. While he’s in college (majoring in psychology) he studies his old journals and discovers he can go back in time and relive those experiences and even change what happened. When a friend commits suicide, he goes back in time seeing answers and tries to change things so she won’t have been sexually abused by her father and commit suicide. It works, at least on the surface, but he soon learns that other things have changed as well, especially in his own life. So he’s forced to go back in time again and again, trying to fix things, but each time screwing up it worse. The idea, of course, is that the smallest change in the past brings forth a completely new future. What I really liked about the film was the way they did that, and the fact that the childhood blackouts corresponded to the times he goes back to change things — that’s why he couldn’t remember. Very cool, though it is a circular plot (because the blackouts “cause” him to write the journal and later use it go back in time, etc. yet the blackouts are caused by his going back in time). I love time paradoxes, though. The ending’s okay, though abrupt. I’d have liked to see the ending show a few more differences in his life (i.e. a different girlfriend, etc.) just to show that that one change also changed other things. The film’s not as dramatic as the promos make it sound (the supporting cast is better than Ashton Kutcher, though he’s surprisingly not as bad as you might expect). I really liked the way the supporting cast each had to play multiple characters, showing how Ashton’s changes changed their characters. Overall, while there’s some decent acting and a good story, the film relies on its gimmick too much. It tries too hard (Ashton especially). Still, it’s not bad and it’s good fun. Recommended.

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Mon, Jan 19, 2004

: Dragonfly

Author: John Farris

A very strange and haunting novel. It’s about a con artist who seduces women, promises to marry them, then skips out with their money before the wedding. After one of these “projects” goes wrong and he’s nearly killed, the man begins to develop a conscience. So he sets out for another big score to prove to himself he’s still got it. He goes after Pamela Abelard, a beautiful wealthy romance novelist. Despite being so beautiful, she’s reclusive, and after he meets her, he discovers why: she’s paralyzed from the waist down. Then begins a complex game of seduction and intrigue, for the more Joe finds out about her, the more mysteries crop up. Soon we suspect that Joe is truly in love with her but someone else is conning her. But Joe’s a con himself: he can’t blow the whistle without blowing his own cover. And that’s where things get interesting.

First, let me say that this is a remarkably well-written book. In fact, that’s the problem with it: it’s too well-written. The diction, the descriptions, the metaphors, the scenes, the pychologically complex characters are all first class; unfortunately, this is a romantic thriller. That’s the genre. And as such it must move at a certain pace and deliver a certain amount of tension and excitement. The good writing, however, bogs things down. It distracts when we don’t want to be distracted. The book is way overlong — over 500 pages — when it has a 300 page story. Farris writes with tremendous detail, and while this increases verisimilitude and is fascinating, it slows down the plot and is really unnecessary for this kind of novel. I really liked many aspects of the novel, and I enjoyed Farris’ excellent writing ability, but ultimately the story left me flat. The quality of the writing made me expect more, made me expect significance — but of course this kind of novel isn’t that deep, and the predictable, expected ending reveals that. It’s still worth reading, but just don’t expect as much as the writing implies.

I had one other interesting reaction to the novel. Generally when I read a book I’m not much bothered, influenced, or even aware of an author’s religious or political leanings. Usually if such a thing is present, it’s a necessary part of the story, and as such the views expressed are obviously those of the characters, not the author. Often other characters will offer a contrary perspective, and even if the view is distorted or weighed toward one side or the other, it’s still done in a way that doesn’t offend. In this book, however, I was surprised to find several seemingly superfluous anti-religious comments inserted into various characters perceptions. Now one character wouldn’t have bothered me, but finding several characters, all with the same bias, all expressed in odd moments of self-revelation (not, for instance, one character talking to another), got me annoyed. Once I’d detected this, I noticed it throughout the novel, like bad smell you can’t pretend to ignore. It was the author expressing his own bias, not the characters speaking. This annoyed me. Part of what made it annoying was the way it was done: the comments were snide, arrogant, and did things like imply religion = irrationality. I get the same perspective when I read Ayn Rand. However, that’s part of her philosophy, and her books are complete propoganda for her philosophy (nothing wrong with that as long as you’re aware of it). In the case of Dragonfly, however, this kind of thing was out of place and inappropriate, and struck me as odd. I’m actually more interested in my reaction to the viewpoint than the viewpoint itself (I don’t really care about Farris’ religious views one way or the other). There were only a handful of these points in the book, so I can’t say if others would pick up on them, but I thought it was an interesting catch.

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Sun, Jan 18, 2004

: The Last Seduction

Fun thriller about a sexy con artist (deliciously played by Linda Fiorentina) who manipulates everyone around her. She convinces her husband to steal $1 million in drug money, then escapes with the cash. But now she needs a divorce before she can legally keep the money (the moment she spends it on anything, it becomes an asset he can argue is half his). So she seduces a young man and makes up a story to convince him to kill for her. It’s stylishly done, but there isn’t much substance. Still fun, though.

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Tue, Jan 13, 2004

: The Fifth Angel

Author: Tim Green

I’ve never read a Tim Green book before (what’s up with all the color-oriented authors I’ve been reading lately?) but I’m impressed. I think he’s a lawyer or had lawyer training or something, since that seems to be thematic to his writing, but this book is from an unusual perspective. Our “hero” is a tragic one: Jack’s a successful attorney but his daughter’s in a mental institution after being raped and tortured by a sex fiend for 10 days. The rapist gets off with 8 months on a technicallity. The lawyer vows revenge and sets off on a murderous spree across the country, killing freed sex perverts who prey on children. As a lawyer he knows about evidence so he makes sure he leaves none. Meanwhile, we also follow the story of Amanda, a beautiful FBI agent. She’s on Jack’s trail. Slowly the two stories lead toward each other as we wait for Jack to make a mistake and Amanda to catch him. Who do we root for? It’s pretty cool stuff and the ending is both plausible and pleasing, a difficult combination. An excellent read.

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: Monster

This is a disturbing film about the life of real-life prostitute/serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in 2002. She’s played by the usually glamous Charlize Theron, who’s unrecognizable (using make-up to physically transform herself the way Nicole Kidman did in really crappy lives.

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Sun, Jan 11, 2004

: Tuck Everlasting

Surprisingly poor movie. All I knew about this film was that it was about a girl who befriends a boy who cannot die — and that’s pretty much all I knew when it finished. Nothing much else happens. We meet the girl in early 20th century where she’s frustrated by her restricted life (corsets, piano lessons, dignified behavior, etc.). After an argument with her parents, she runs into the woods and meets Tuck — well, the youngest of the Tuck boys. The whole family cannot die. There’s a secret spring and if you drink from it, you don’t die. They kidnap the girl to prevent her secret from getting out, but in the end let her go, and she falls in love with the son. Eventually, of course, she grows old and the Tucks don’t. The film ends in modern day with the Tuck boy the same as ever. That’s pretty much the movie. It’s rather boring. I guess it works as a one-dimensional children’s story, but I need something with more depth. It’s not terrible; it just sort of makes you ask why they bothered.

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Sat, Jan 10, 2004

: Bowling for Columbine

Director: Michael Moore

A surprisingly excellent film. It’s very entertaining, and not all doom and gloom, and though Moore’s idiotic display at the Oscars last year made me dislike him, he’s still an excellent filmmaker and humorist. I didn’t find much to disagree with in the film, which is of course how Moore works, but then I’m a centrist on the gun issue anyway. I thought his main point was that gun violence is unique to the USA because of the fear our news media instills in us — something I agree with completely. The scenes in the film in which Moore and a friend go to South Central L.A., infamous for shootings, and discover an ordinary neighborhood, reminded me of my recent first visit to L.A. where I was suprised at how not a war zone everything was, and my visit a couple years ago to New York City where I found the city to be friendly and helpful, not the horrible crime-ridden mess one hears about on TV. Unfortunately the bigger question — why the media insists on selling fear isn’t answered. Obviously it’s for ratings, but why don’t other countries exploit that? Moore also never really attempts to explain the Columbine shooting, something I’d like to see explored. There is a brief segment with South Park creator Matt Stone who grew up in Littleton which is enlightning, but after that the issue’s dropped and the focus is more on guns. Moore also weighs heavily on the whole war issue, emphasizing things like Littleton’s biggest employer is the world’s largest defense contractor, etc. Of course there’s no direct correlation but Moore tries to include one by implying that it’s obvious (parents make big weapons at the plant so it’s “natural” the kids feel it’s okay to have guns). At lot of the stuff is just emotional resonance and has no logic value, but that’s typical of Moore’s documentaries. This is entertainment, not education. He does span a wide area in this film, tackling everything from racial issues to cultural differences between the U.S. and Canada. I’m not sure I learned anything per se, but it did make me think, which isn’t a bad thing. A fun film, but treat it as entertainment propaganda and don’t take it too seriously. Remember, it’s only one side of the issue. That said, I again don’t have much to disagree with, especially his comments about the news media.

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Fri, Jan 09, 2004

: Digital Fortress

Author: Dan Brown

From a story perspective, this was actually very good. The plot moves very fast, it’s exciting, there are nice twists and turns, and while it’s somewhat predictable in places, in general the author does a good job. The quality of the words themselves is mediocre to poor. But the biggest sin is that the book is technically flawed. The story’s supposed to be about codes and code-breaking. A rebel hacker has created an “unbreakable” code and is blackmailing the NSA with it. This interested me a great deal, but it’s painfully obvious the author is neither a code expert and knows nothing about technology. Horribly amateurish mistakes are rampant. For instance, he actually says that a 64-bit key has 64 letters! (Remember, every letter in a key is 8 bits, so a 64 letter key would be 512 bits.) I don’t know if mistakes like that are just editing slipups, but I doubt it, since there are so many. These mistakes really make the whole novel an absurd joke and destroys any claim to realism, but I suppose only the more technically inclined would notice. Unfortunately, a number of plot points hinge on these mistakes, which makes for painful reading. For instance, the NSA has secretly created a $2 billion supercomputer with three million parallel processors that can break any encryption in minutes… yet they are worried about the computer being infected by a virus off the Internet! That’s so absurd it’s not even funny. Any computer person will tell you that a virus must be written specifically for the hardware: a Windows virus cannot infect a Linux machine and a Linux virus for Intel hardware won’t run on Linux running on a PowerPC chip. The idea that somehow someone would write a virus for a proprietary computer that no one even knows exists is complete fantasy, and we’re not even getting into the difficulties of programming parallel processing machines, which is a whole different problem. The bottom line is that a virus infecting a supercomputer is about as likely as lightning striking you the same moment you win the lottery. Our author, like so many other technoidiots out there, seems to think viruses are some sort of magical creature capable of doing whatever he needs to move his plot forward.

In the end this isn’t that bad a book. The story’s actually pretty good, if you can ignore all the technical flaws that make it impossible. Dan works too hard trying to establish “deep” characters (he tells instead of shows, a fatal flaw of amature writing), but the characters aren’t really that important anyway, since this is a plot-driven book, not a character study. There’s no depth here! But if you’re wanting a fast and entertaining read (I read this mostly in one night and it’s over 400 pages) and you like codes and government conspiracies, this should do the job.

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: Big Fish

Director: Tim Burton

I love Tim Burton’s weird movies and this is no exception. However, it’s not his best. It’s too light and not quite weird enough. There isn’t the magic of Edward Scissorhands or the wonderful imagination found in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The story’s about an old man dying and his son, who’s starting a family of his own, troubled by the man’s ridiculous tall tales of the adventures of his life. The boy thinks his old man’s a liar, but soon learns there are glimmers of truth in the tales. How much is left ambiguous: that’s for us to decide. The tales themselves range from mildly outrageous (when the old man was born he shoots out of his mom and slides across the hospital corridor threw the legs of doctors and nurses who fail to catch him) to the wild (he meets a circus director who turns into a wolf at night), and while they are uneven, they are mostly interesting. We learn how the man fell in love and pursued his girl, eventually married her, and more. The tales try to do a nice blend between legend and modern life, which is neat, but I felt The Neverending Story and you’ll be fine. But don’t expect the genius of Roald Dahl.

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Tue, Jan 06, 2004

: Cold Mountain

I wasn’t expecting to like this very much. I hate war movies and Civil War movies most of all. But like medicine, this was supposed to be good for you, so I went. It turned out to be a lovely love story, and I enjoyed it very much. In reviews I thought I’d read the story was about a soldier returning from war to his wife, but no: it’s the story about a young man returning to his girlfriend; they are not married. In fact, they have scarcely talked! She is the conservative daughter of a reverend, raised in high society, while he is an ordinary farmer. He isn’t much of a talker and their encounters are brief but there’s hidden passion there. Then the Civil War begins and he goes off to fight, and she promises to wait for him. The war is awful, of course. One thing the movie does well is show us the brutality of both sides: neither is painted as completely evil or completely good. After being badly wounded the soldier ends up a hospital where he decides to leave and go home. It’s dangerous. The South is losing and need every man: if he’s caught he’ll be shot as a deserter. So he begins a long and arduous trek home to Cold Mountain. Meanwhile, the girl is struggling. Her father has died and she doesn’t know how to run a farm. Fortunately a more rugged girl (awesomely played against type by Renee Zellweger) ends up helping her, teaching her practical advice about how to build fences, care for animals, and raise crops. Somehow the two survive the winter. Throughout the film we are given close-up glimpses of 19th Century life in North Carolina during the war. It’s not always pretty (though the pristine landscapes are incredible), and there are a number of scenes of horrible violence and cruelty, but there are also many powerfully human moments, where the simplest things like giving a freezing man a coat is miraculous. In the end the story’s bittersweet, sadness blending with a wonderful love story, but unlike the weak House of Sand and Fog this movie ends on a positive note, leaving us with hope. Excellent. A bit long, but this is an epic tale and deserves it.

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Sun, Jan 04, 2004

: Iris

This is a surprising film on several levels. The story’s about famous British writer Iris Murdoch, who was a brilliant novelist and intellectual, as she succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease. I expected this to be arty, pretentious, and tedious. Instead the movie’s entertaining, moves quickly, and is only 90 minutes long. The film switches back and forth between the young Iris, brilliant and daring and non-conventional, and the old Iris, bewildered by life as her brain erodes. The film’s not sad, for as we see one Iris die, we see the other living life to the fullest. There is some drama and emotion, of course, but it’s not overdone like a “disease of the week” TV movie. However, the one flaw I found is that the film’s surprisingly light on profundity. For instance, while we see glimpses of the young Iris’ brilliance, I never understood much about her politics or writing: she’s still a mystery to me. There are a few scenes where she lectures but they are too brief and don’t really explain her philosophies. In the end, the film’s too light and brief: there’s not much here that isn’t predictable (the woman inevitably dies), and because we don’t really learn much about the author, we don’t really learn much from the film. It’s a good but not great film. The performances by all are excellent, but I wanted more depth, more revealing. The movie ended without me knowing much more about Iris than I did before the movie started. I now know she existed and died of Alzheimer’s, but that’s about it.

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Fri, Jan 02, 2004

: 21 Grams

This is a remarkable film. It is similar to Memento’s reverse technique making for a remarkable film. Granted, for the first half hour you won’t understand much: the intersecting stories have not intersected though there are scenes that show unrelated characters relating, so you realize that there is some kind of connection between these people, you just aren’t sure what it is. What’s well-done, however, is that every scene is interesting, and each scene gives us more and more info about the people. By presenting us with the scenes out of order, the director forces us to make assumptions about the characters, and those assumptions are often proven wrong later, which is incredibly interesting. As far as the story goes, it’s much too complicated to explain everything here, and of course I wouldn’t want to ruin the film for you, but let’s just say that one character loses her husband and his heart ends up inside Penn, and that connection eventually draws Penn and her together. Throw in the story of the man who killed her husband and you’ve got three separate lives intertwining. By presenting their connections out of order the power of the story is magnified. It’s an unusual film, very well done. The only flaw I found is that the movie feels extremely long. It’s only two hours but feels like three. (I wasn’t the only one that felt this: others were complaining as we exited the theatre.) That’s because the short unrelated scenes each seem like a new movie and the story seems to progress at a glacier pace (only a little new info is gleaned from each new scene). The director would have been better to speed things up by taking out 20-30 minutes of footage and having things happen faster. That would have made this a great film. As it is it’s an excellent film, but more of an experiment than a great movie.

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: House of Sand and Fog

I usually admire films that go against Hollywood cliches and try to be different, but every now and then there’s a film that rubs me the wrong way. This was one. Many of you will disagree with me on this movie and that is fine; I change how I feel.

This was a great film: fantastic acting, with wonderful, fascinating characters, and an intriguing story. Basically a recovering alcoholic (Jennifer Connolly) wakes up to discover her house is being auctioned off by the county because of an unpaid tax. It’s a total mistake, but because she was out of it and didn’t respond to letters, the ball is rolling and now must be stopped in court. She gets a lawyer but it’s too late: the house has been sold to a former Iranian Colonel (Ben Kingsley). He refuses to sell it back for the amount he paid, wanting to make a profit, which the county won’t pay without a lawsuit to force them (which will take months). So what we’ve got is a conflict in which both parties are victims: the Iranian immigrants, who are strange but wonderful people, who’ve saved every penny for years to afford to buy this house and are desperate to make their investment pay, and the lonely, troubled girl who foolishly lost the house her late father left to her. We like both groups. Both are sympathic yet have their flaws. In fact, every character in this movie is gray: I have never seen a movie with such a beautiful balance of characters. The people are all flawed yet have positive aspects as well. In most films it’s obvious who the hero is and who the bad guy is: in this movie it’s impossible to tell and that’s the whole point. We’re supposed to be torn by these people and how their lives play out tragically.

However, that’s where the movie goes downhill. The ending is terrible; it’s unbearably sad. The first three quarters of this film made me fall in love with the people, then the ending ruined everything the movie had built. I won’t reveal the specifics of the ending, but it’s incredibly depressing. I walked out of the theatre wanting to blow my brains out. That feeling lingered for hours. It was horrible. Honestly, while I understand why the writer(s) wrote it this way, and perhaps it was realistic and appropriate, it was not a good ending to the movie. The film ends with no hope, no explanation, no redemption, just cold, hard, depressing reality. I’m not saying the events needed to change: the director could have had the same things happen but ended on a different, more positive note. Give us some inkling that things are not so bleak, that there is purpose to life, that the world is not over. But no. My heart sank when I saw the credits begin to roll: the film was over and there was no hope. Honestly, unless you’re a masochist and enjoy being depressed, I cannot recommend this film. It’s too heartless and cruel. The fantastic benefits of the first half, where you love the characters, and is what makes the film so powerful, is all destroyed by the cruel and horrible ending. Though my heart tells me the film’s sad ending just made me sad, because I loved everything else so much, the ending actually makes me angry: I now hate this movie and feel the director ought to be shot. My emotions take new extremes because of how much potential this film had. But it’s ruined by the horrible ending (or perhaps I should say non-ending since it stops where most films continue). There are some who’d argue that this film breaks the Hollywood cliche of the happy ending and that’s good, but I’d have to disagree. Normally I’m not opposed to an unhappy ending, if it’s done in a way that works. For instance, the bad guys are seemingly punished, and even if bad things happen to good people, there’s a hint of hope implied. But in this film none of that happened: it’s just horrible and that’s it. It doesn’t work. I can’t imagine anyone going out of the theatre after this heart-wrenching experience and recommending the film to their friends. Why would you want to force that experience on someone else? Isn’t there enough hard reality on the news? We hear about horrible tragedies all the time — whole families destroyed in a car wreck, for instance — but because we aren’t intimately connected with them, we are able to bear it. In this film we make an amazingly strong connection with everyone and when it ends tragically we are given no way to handle it. I’m sorry, but that’s just bad filmmaking. Go and watch the first 3/4 if you want, but leave before the ending. This is just too depressing.

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