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

: 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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: 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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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.

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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

: 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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: Anchorman: The Ron Burgandy Story

Not as consistently funny as

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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

: 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+.

Topic: [/movie]

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: 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.

Topic: [/movie]

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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.

Topic: [/movie]

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