Sat, Dec 31, 2005

: March of the Penguins

I wasn’t super excited about this documentary. Though I wanted to see it, my attitude was more like the way one views health food. I mean, how interesting can penguins be? To my surprise I was gripped by this amazing drama! It tells the story of how penguins — the only creatures that can survive Antarctic winters — travel many miles across the frozen desert to the nesting grounds where they were born. There they mate and the female eventually lays an egg. Then, exhausted by her ordeal, she makes the long trek back to the ocean while the male sits on the egg. Two months later she’s back with regurgitated food for the newly hatched baby. The fathers have gone without food for four months and now they get to trek to the ocean to swim and find food. This cycle of swapping off parenting duties continues through summer, until the chick is big enough to survive on its own. It’s just amazing that anything can survive such fierce winters. Many don’t, of course; chicks die, parents die (and if a parent dies, the chick dies as well, since it cannot be left alone). It’s a brutal, cold world, yet the beauty of these creatures is evident in their play. They joy they express at finding their mate or their chick is heart-warming. This is an amazing film, one you will definitely learn from. I found myself wondering for the first time why I’d never considered becoming a marine biologist. It really sounds like an interesting field (I had no idea we knew so little about penguins). Great film.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Dec 30, 2005

: Munich

Director: Steven Spielberg

Not a film for the faint of heart, I found the violence in this film to be extraordinarily grim and messy, extremely realistic, not cartoon-like as in action movies. The story itself is grim: after 11 Israeli atheletes are gunned down by Arab terrorists in Munich in the 1972 Olympics, Israel secretly puts together a covert team to hunt down and kill those responisible for Munich. The story is fascinating: it’s a story of revenge and death; it’s a story about the difficulties and dangers of tracking down killers; it’s a story about murder, unjustified and justified (if there is such a thing); it’s a story about the inner workings of governments, of secret black ops, of obeying the orders of your bosses regardless of what horrible thing they tell you to do. Ultimately the film’s a morality play, but unlike traditional morality plays, this one doesn’t have any anwers, only complex questions. Spielberg doesn’t tell us if he agrees with the Israeli play or condemns it: he just provokes us to think about which side we’re on. Obviously terrorists need to be punished, and since they have no morals about killing innocents for the purposes of terror, why should we have qualms about assasinating them? Yet are we bringing ourselves down to their level if we act like them? Those are just a few of the questions the film proposes. It’s a powerful and moving film and one everyone should see. I normally ignore the whole Israeli-Arab thing as I find it dreary and over-complicated and endless, but I was surprised that in this film I was thoroughly entranced by the complexities. There’s a great scene where an Arab and a Jew argue their viewpoints (the Arab thinks the Jew is German) and it brought the faults of both sides to the forefront and makes each think of the other in a different light. Good film.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Dec 26, 2005

: Might As Well Be Dead

Author: Rex Stout

Pretty good Nero Wolfe novel. This time Wolfe’s hired to find a rich man’s lost son and discovers the boy’s in prison and has just been convicted of murder. Not wanting to tell the father such bad news, he decides to prove to boy innocent, as he suspects a frame.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Dec 23, 2005

: Fun with Dick and Jane

This is apparently a remake of a 70’s film which I’ve never seen or heard of so I can’t compare the two, but I really enjoyed this one. It’s modernized, with Jim Carey’s character the patsy in an Enron-like corporate meltdown. He and his wife lose everything and eventually take to robbery to make ends meet. This kind of film is an extremely difficult balancing act to maintain: the characters must be sympathetic and can’t do anything too mean, yet we must believe they really do become successful bank robbers. Fortunately, the film does do this well and it works. There are many hilarious, classic scenes (like the family in swimsuits and soaped bodies running through the neighbor’s lawn sprinkler for showers). The film is tongue-in-cheek and makes fun of corporations and 9-to-5ers, has a few serious points about the evils of “keeping up with the Joneses,” and has a simple, elegant plot. The ending is great and satisfying, and the husband-and-wife team of Carey and Tea Leoni is wonderful and believable. This is not an especially deep film, but it’s good fun, and quite entertaining. Enjoy it!

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Dec 22, 2005

: Crash

Episodic-type films don’t always work, but when they do, they can be powerful. This one works. It’s an elaborate and complicated story about the inter-relationships of a group of strangers in Los Angeles; coincidence and happenstance connect the people but amazingly, the story never feels forced. The theme of the film is about racism, specifically the fear generated after 9-11. L.A.’s a wild mix of cultures and races and this movie puts them all in a pot and cooks until boiling. What’s great is the way the film plays up stereotypes and then destroys them. Like the bad cop that does something heroic, or the seeming gangster who’s really a loving family man. The film’s a bit slow to get going but eventually becomes really powerful.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Walk the Line

I knew nothing about Jonny Cash — I hadn’t even heard any of his music. But the trailers looked interesting and I loved the music. The movie’s excellent. Phoenix practicallly channels Cash, and Reese Witherspoon (as June Carter) is surprisingly good. The story focuses slightly too much on Cash’s controversial relationships, affairs, and drug abuse; I would have preferred more time on his music and how he created it. However, it does seem to be an accurate representation of his life and I liked much about the way it was presented. Excellent movie and I just bought two Cash albums.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Dec 20, 2005

: Finding Neverland

Surprisingly interesting film about playwright J.M. Barrie, who created Peter Pan. It’s about how things in his personal life inspired his play. He really was a kid at heart and his wife was more of a social climber who looked down on childish things, and thus he found a relationship with a widow with three active boys to be much more to his liking.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Dec 19, 2005

: Podkayne of Mars

Author: Robert Heinlein

The story’s a little odd. It’s simple at first — a Martian girl taking her first voyage to earth via a detour to Venus — but then in Venus we get into a political kidnapping and all sorts of nonsense, which is a bit silly and the action clashes with the non-action of 90% of the book. And we never get to see her actually get to earth, which makes the whole thing seem a bit pointless. But what makes the book work is the charm of the female narrator, young “Poddy” of Mars. She’s just amazing, hilarious, brilliant, witty, with wonderful ways of speaking (writing) that make the book, despite it’s early lack of action, a joy to read. Definitely a classic on that basis alone.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Thu, Dec 15, 2005

: The Silent Speaker

Author: Rex Stout

I’d heard about this author, who created the dectective Nero Wolfe, and wanted to read some of his novels. This is the first one I’ve read and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the story moves slowly and it seems no progress is being made to solve the murder, which is frustrating. On the other hand, the ending was good and you see Wolfe’s genius in retrospect. (Essentially, he’d solved the murder earlier but waited until the right moment to reveal his knowledge, which was quite clever.) Some of the writing and situations are severely dated (this novel was written in the forties), but overall this is remarkably good mystery writing. I’m going to read more Wolfe before I make my final judgements as to how much I like these mysteries.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Wed, Dec 14, 2005

: King Kong

Director: Peter Jackson

Really impressive film. I didn’t remember the original that well (except for the cheesy special effects), but this one gives it epic scale and realism the story deserves. In terms of special effects, I was slightly disappointed: while the digital animals and such are amazing and completely believable, it seems compositing is still a skill that needs work, as in several scenes the assemblage of people and digital creatures seemed slightly fake. But that’s a minor complaint. Overall, the film and story work. It’s a fun adventure ride with a real story behind it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Dec 09, 2005

: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I was really wanting this to be good as the series is one of my favorites. I expected it to be technically sound (good special effects, etc.) but I was nervous about the way the story might be changed or the characters adapted. Well, I’m pleased to report my fears were for naught. The adaptation is extremely faithful. In fact, it’s even better than the book in places. For instance, the film opens with WWII planes bombing London and we see the children having to hide in the bomb shelter. That’s not in the book, but it sets the tone better, as the children are sent to the country to be safe, and thus are parentless — perfect for an escape into a fantasy land like Narnia. The book doesn’t emphasize or set that up as well as the movie. I also loved the gradual pace of the film. Yes, it’s a long movie, but the setup is important, both for well-developed characters, but also for making the fantasy elements more exciting in contrast. In terms of the acting, story, and visuals, the film is excellent. The digital creatures are very well done, especially Aslan the lion. A few minor digital characters — like the fox — are not as well done, but the film still works. Overall, I was highly impressed. There is no moralizing or sermonizing, and yet C.S. Lewis’ original allegory is not thwarted in any way. It’s just a crisp, clean, well-done adaptation of the book. I can’t wait for all the others novels in the series to be done.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Dec 07, 2005

: Hotel Rwanda

Wow, what a film! I didn’t know much about this except that it was supposed to be good. I’d forgotten all about the whole Rwanda war and was surprised to find that’s what the film’s about. Well, it’s not about the war, per se, but about one apolitical man, the manager of an elite hotel in the capital of Rwanda, who saves the lives of over 1,200 he brings into his hotel and protects during the fighting. How does he protect them? Well, he calls in favors, manipulates, bribes, and conjoles — basically doing anything he can to keep his family safe. The Rwanda civil war was basically a race war — the Tutsis versus the Hutus, but it’s essentially impossible to tell the difference between the two by looking. But the Hutus are in power and they slaughter over 500,000 Tutsis in a massive genocide campaign (children and pregnant women were especially targeted as the Hutus wanted to wipe out the future generations). The hotel manager’s wife is Tutsi (he’s Hutu), so it’s amazing he was able to protect her. It’s a shocking story, grim and terrifying at times, and the way the West and the rest of the world abandonned and ignored the Rwanda situation is sobering. The director does a good job not making so grim it’s unwatchable — much of the violence is implied, not directly shown — and by focusing on one man and his family, we have a gripping story that’s just amazing in scope and power. Not only highly recommended, this is a MUST SEE. If you are human, you need to see this film. It’s is the kind of movie that will impact your life. You need to see it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Dec 04, 2005

: The Upside of Anger

This was a surprisingly good film. It’s a little heavy-handed. It’s about an older woman whose long-time husband suddenly leaves her and she becomes angry and drinks a lot. Because it’s about anger all the songs are about anger and the characters sometimes talk about anger; that’s too obvious. But the characters are interesting (the woman has four very different daughters she clashes with) and there is a bit of a story. The ending has a little twist that’s interesting and brings things to a new light. It’s not a great-great film, but it’s good, a little unusual, and I liked it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Dec 02, 2005

: Aeon Flux

I don’t remember much about the MTV series, other than I’ve heard of it, but I enjoyed this film. The plot interested me: it’s about a future society where one family (the Goodchilds) rule because hundreds of years earlier when a virus wiped out 99.99% of the population of earth his ancester found a cure. But Aeon is a female warrior who fights the Goodchild rule, but then begins to wonder if he’s really all that bad. The explanation of what’s going on makes sense and is surprisingly logical. In terms of action and film, however, the whole thing’s a bit weak and occasionally dull. As a first time viewer I still enjoyed it, but I doubt reruns would be very interesting.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Nov 27, 2005

: Be Cool

A surprisingly fun Elmore Leonard wacky crime caper story about a former gangster who’s become a movie producer and now decides to get into the music business. There’s mistaken identity, strange people, clever manipulations, and it’s just a lot of fun. I liked it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Nov 18, 2005

: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

What’s there to say? A good adaptation of a good book. It’s fairly faithful (especially considering the length of the original source), is entertaining, fun, and has some good drama as the tone of the series becomes more serious. Nothing remarkable here, however. It’s everything we expect in the series. Recommended, of course, but just don’t expect more than the book.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Nov 14, 2005

: Chocolate

Leisurely paced film about a young girl growing up in West Africa. It was full of interesting imagery, especially for someone like myself who grew up in Africa, but the story was slight, and it’s mostly just about her learning about life. It’s interesting but probably has narrow appeal.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Nov 11, 2005

: Zathura

Cool kid-oriented flick in the Jumangi vein, about a board game that comes to life. Films of this kind often try to hard to be something they’re not; this one just tells a simple story simply and it works. Good special effects, story, characters, and well-directed. May not be a world-changer, but it’s certainly entertaining and well done.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Nov 04, 2005

: History of Violence

Director: David Cronenberg

I wouldn’t say this is a great film, but it’s certainly above average. It’s an intriguing premise: a regular guy working in his diner defends himself from criminals and shoots and kills two of them. Where did he learn such skills? What is his background? Suddenly questions are being asked, and the man’s family begins to wonder who he is. Mysterious strangers visit the town and claim they know the man, that he’s not Tom, but Joey, a gangster. The film is a lot like Clint Eastwood’s amazing

That’s impressive, but the film has two key flaws. One, the story is too linear and ordinary. On the one hand I like that — it’s better than the overly complicated plots most films use — but this film hints at so much more that we’re left disappointed at the ordinary ending. We’re wanting to do something superhuman and have him kill like 50 people at the end instead of just a handful. This could have been corrected by less foreshadowing that something amazing was going to happen at the end. The second flaw is that the film only hints at the complex inter-personal relationships of the man with his family. When it does it’s very good, but it doesn’t go far enough. There are lots of scenes of “profound looks” between wife and husband, but I wanted more dialog, more literal expression, where she can question him about his past, ask him what it’s like to kill, etc. Instead she’s quietly angry and frustrated, sealing him off with silence, and he’s not the most talkative man. The result is that we’re left unsure of what we’ve seen. Is the man a hero? A murderer? An anti-hero? The silence leaves us with more questions than answers. While some abiguity is good, in this case, it weakens the most powerful aspect of the film. If you watch Unforgiven, it is filled with lectures on the nature of violence and evil, and it clearly condems killings. History has one such moment, where the killer dad scolds his son for fighting at school, but the moment is thrown away when the kid reacts angrily and storms off, reminding the dad of his own violence past, and the dad is left puzzled and unsure of himself. Granted, he’s a different character from Eastwood’s, but there are still many similarities, and Clint’s film is better. History isn’t bad at all: it’s just not quite great. I’d still recommend you see it for yourself and make your own judgement, however. It’s a deeply personal film and everyone must understand it in their own way.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Nov 02, 2005

: The Legend of Zorro

I remember I liked the first movie: it was fun and sexy, though the plot and action was overdone. This one tries to recreate the same, but unfortunately fails. The biggest problem I had was that the plot calls for the two main characters, Zorro and his lovely wife (the incomparable Catherine Zeta-Jones) to fight and separate (they actually get divorced). The fight seemed artificial and awkward. She was upset he still wanted to be Zorro, yet of course that’s why she loved him in the first place! After a lot of mysteriousness, we find out that the fight was not real: she still loves Zorro but was being blackmailed into the divorce by people who threatened to reveal his true identity. The whole thing’s a convoluted mess. Of course it all ends happily with everyone reuinited, but until that moment it’s an unpleasant, uncomfortable film. These two were meant to be together so why separate them so cruelly? Why make us endure watching Zorror become a depressed drunk and jealous husband? I would much, much, much rather have seen a husband-and-wife team of fighters who cooperate and love each other but one or the other is put in jeopardy during their adventures. Even worse is the reasoning behind the blackmailing of the wife doesn’t make any sense. Combine the plot nonsense with villains that Zorro keeps fighting but doesn’t defeat (Is he really that poor of a hero?) and lame action sequences that are ridiculously improbable and boring to watch and I couldn’t wait for this film to end. That was sad, as I expected it to be a lot of fun, but it was dreary and depressing, and much too long. And Zorro’s too-cute son is the worst actor I’ve seen in decades.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Nov 01, 2005

: Keith Visit

Today I was planning to take my mom back home and we were just getting ready to leave when Uncle Keith showed up out of the blue. That was cool. His timing was better than if he’d come on the weekend when I was gone! I set up a video chat with Uncle Lloyd in Springfield and that was cool: he and Keith chatted for over an hour. Keith only stayed the one night, however, but Grandpa sure appreciated seeing his son for a bit.

Topic: [/personal]

Link

Mon, Oct 31, 2005

: The Door Into Summer

Author: Robert Heinlein

Cool book. I read about this in an interview with Heinlein where he said he was inspired by his cat. He and his wife were staying in a cabin in the Colorado and it was snowing. Their cat wanted out and went to the door but did not like the snow. He kept going to different doors and windows, each time hoping there would be no snow. Robert’s wife said, “He’s looking for the door to summer.” Heinlein immediately said, “Don’t say another word!” and retreated to his study and wrote this novel in thirteen days! That cat story is in the book, of course, though Heinlein and his wife are not. Unfortunately, the title has little to do with the actual story. I had wondered if it might be a book about teleportation or something, sort of a stargate that takes you to another world. But instead the book’s about time travel and the “door to summer” is merely a metaphor about finding your nirvana. The time travel story is pretty cool, however. Our main character is an inventor who’s been screwed by his fiance and business partners. In his depression, he takes the Long Sleep: a 30-year hibernation. When he wakes up in the future, in the year 2000, he seeks revenge on those who betrayed him. It’s pretty cool. There’s nothing hugely brilliant, perhaps, but definitely entertaining and the writing style of the main character is fun. And of course there’s a lot about cats, which is always cool.

Topic: [/book]

Link

: Home Again

Well, I’m back home again. My trip south was fun, though tiring, and my Quakes didn’t advance in the playoffs, but I’m still glad I went. It felt good to be back at Spartan Stadium cheering on my team and eating bad stadium nachos and even worse pizza. I had a slight adventure with my rental car, as I forgot to find a gas station until I got off at the airport exit. Why the heck aren’t there any gas stations near airports??? I think it’s a plot by the rental companies. Mine wanted to charge me $5/gallon (For a full tank!) if I didn’t bring it back full, so I had to drive several miles out of my way, in five o’clock traffic, trying to find a gas station. That got me to the rental car place at ten after five for my 5:45 flight! Fortunately, the rental place gave me a quick ride to my terminal and I breezed through security and I made my flight in plenty of time (the incoming flight was a few minutes late). After that, there were no adventures: except when I got home at nine o’clock both my mother and my Grandfather (she’d stayed with him while I was gone) were already asleep! I was welcomed by snores!

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Sat, Oct 29, 2005

: MLS Playoffs: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

The atmosphere was great with a sizable, pumped up crowd, but it was not meant to be. The Earthquakes were starting behind the eightball with a two-goal deficit from the first leg in L.A. The team worked hard, but L.A. already had a lead and just needed to defend. Without needing to attack, they could keep eight or nine players on their half of the field and it was tough to get through. I thought San Jose would use the high-pressure techniques they’ve done in the past, but they were a little flat and trying too hard to keep their no-doubt wild emotions under control. The result was an addreneline rush that meant many passes and crosses were overhit, and too calm play when attempting to dribble through the Galaxy defense. The first half was uneasy, but the Quakes calmed when they scored on an L.A. mistake. Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman cleared the ball right to Quake Brian Mullan, who accepted the gift by crossing to teammate Brian Ching who headed the ball into the far corner. Great goal. Unfortunately, it was in the 42 minute, late in the first half. We were now only one goal down, but I figured the Galaxy would score — they have the talent to do so. The Quakes played with more passion in the second half, looking for that tying goal, but mid-way through their offensive drive caught them out and a great through-ball from Donovan led Ned Grabavoy and he carefully touched it around Quakes’ keeper Pat Onstad to tie the game 1-1 and restore the Galaxy’s two-goal lead. After that, the Galaxy simply wasted time. They did little ticky-tack fouls and took their time on restarts (Hartman even put on his groundskeeper hat at one point and tried to clear the field of paper streamers that had fallen from the stands). Unfortunately, the lame referee did nothing to prevent this, and in the last twenty minutes, when the Quakes needed two goals to advance, they struggled to find a rythmn and break down the Galaxy defense. They almost succeeded on a couple occasions, but bad luck or a good save from Hartman prevented a goal. If the Quakes had scored, I think that would have driven them all out for that tying goal, but they couldn’t get that one and as the clock ticked on, the knowlege that they needed two goals to tie loomed heavier and heavier. The fans fell quiet and with the refs’ final whistle, the best season ever for the Earthquakes (second best all-time in MLS), ended with a whimper. The final 1-1 score meant that LA advance and the Quakes’ season is over. It was a disappointing end to a glorious season. I’m not sure what happened, exactly; we certainly lost it early in the first leg and couldn’t regain it. To their credit the Galaxy played very well, far better than at any time during the regular season. They concentrated for 90 minutes in both games and worked hard for the result. It’s tough to come back against a determined team like that, especially one that continues to counter with offense instead of collapsing into a shell (like the Galaxy team of 2003 infamously did in the Earthquakes’ amazing five-goal comeback). After the game I was bummed, and I wished the game could have been a little more even and competitive. I also felt some bitterness about the MLS playoff format that essentially negates the whole regular season. All the Quakes got out of beating LA by a whopping 19 points in the regular season was home field advantage in the second leg of the playoffs. The playoffs are basically a whole new season and positioning doesn’t matter at all. In fact, I think the format helped LA: by playing first at home they had confidence to go away and get a result, and being the underdog they were prepared to work harder than the Quakes to get the goals they knew they needed (they knew they needed a large lead going into tonight’s game). The Quakes, on the other hand, seemed overconfident about their ability to score on their home field. They really needed four goals tonight, and even for the Quakes, that was a tall order. Goals are rare in soccer and it’s one thing to score them one-by-one as you need them, but scoring a set number is very tough. Still, the Quakes had a fabulous season, and I can’t complain too much. They won the respect of a lot of teams around the league and even the Galaxy admits the Quakes are a better team.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Fri, Oct 28, 2005

: Trip to San Jose

Well, today I headed south to San Jose, California, for a brief weekend visit. I’m going to see some clients and go to the Earthquakes playoff game on Saturday. Things did not get off to a good start. Last night was wild. I was just finishing watching The Apprentice and getting ready to pack my bags when the electricity went out. (Fortunately, my Tivo’s got battery backup and continued to record for the final seven minutes of the show.) The whole town was out. There wasn’t a storm, only rain, but I guess it was the first long rain of the season and took down a tree or something that messed up the electrical system. Anyway, I had to pack my flashlight and candles. That was not fun as I’m a “visual” packer: I need to see what I’ve got so I don’t forget anything. That left me rather jazzed and hyped and I couldn’t go to sleep for the longest time. I lay in bed and worried about things like how I’d get my car out of the garage without electricity (the door is electric) and if I’d get a hot shower in the morning. I finally fell asleep around one a.m. and at two a.m. all the lights in the house came on! I got up to turn lights off and noticed the TV’s sound system was on, so I checked my Tivos to make sure they were okay and set up for my absense. Then I went ahead and watched the end of The Apprentice, rebooted my computer and got it set up properly, checked and answered a few emails, and went back to bed. By that time it was three o’clock in the morning and my alarm was set for 3:45 so there was hardly any point in sleeping. I drowsed for a bit, but got up before the alarm and showered (plenty of hot water, fortunately). I was on the road about four a.m. and thankfully had an uneventful trip. No delays with parking the car, riding the shuttle, getting my boarding pass, or getting through security. I even had time for a bagel with cream cheese while I waited for my flight. I slept during most of the ninety-minute plane ride. Getting my rental car was a tiny hassle: you have to ride a shuttle to the rental car area, which took a few minutes. Still, by nine a.m. I had my car and was driving back to my old haunts. I spent the day helping a client of mine, then my brother and I went out for Italian food. Despite the inauspicious beginning, it was a good day.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Mon, Oct 24, 2005

: Stay

Director: Marc Forster

A disappointment. I didn’t know much about this going in and didn’t want to: the concept sounded bizarre and intriguing, which is usually a hit-or-miss kind of movie. For me, this missed. The premise is that a psychiatrist is treating a suicidal young man who seems to be able to predict the future. That sounds neat, but the idea is quickly dropped and the film becomes a chaotic mess where you’re not sure who is who or what is what. For instance, the boy says his parents are dead, but the psychiatrist meets the strange mom. So who’s going crazy, the kid or the doctor? The problem with this kind of film — similar to the mediocre Stay.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Oct 23, 2005

: Drunken Master

A fun, rather silly early Jackie Chan film about a young kid (Chan) who is undisciplined and trouble. Though his father is a Kung Fu master and the boy’s skilled, he’s assigned a new master who toughens him through a year of harsh discipline and training and eventually turns the boy into a master at Kung Fu. The twist is the new master is an old drunk and appears to be incapable of anything, but turns out to be an amazing fighter, and he teaches the boy his “drunken” style of fighting (which is the most powerful of all forms of fighting). Pretty good, with glimpses of Chan’s signature style, but there are a lot of meaningless side fights that don’t move the story along and are rather boring. Ultimately, the best parts of the film are the story and the awkward relationship between student and master and not the fighting, which seems a repetitive and occasionally goes on too long.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Ocean’s Twelve

This was surprisingly good, though the plot was overly twisted and convoluted, of course. This time the gang has been found out by the casino boss they stole from in the first movie and he wants his money back, plus interest, or he’ll kill them all. So the gang’s forced into action to steal $97 million in two weeks. Then it turns out that’s all a front to get them to compete in a robbery contest by a robber who wants the title of best thief for himself. That’s a stretch, but the movie’s fun enough to allow it. Basically, that’s all this film is: a fun ride with mildly amusing in-jokes and clever crimes, and the expected twist at the end that makes everything work out ideally. Good fun.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Oct 21, 2005

: Doom

I’m not heavily into video games, though I have nothing against them (just no time to play them and when I do, I’m more into strategy games). The thing about Doom is that it’s heavily action-oriented and that’s what I expected in this film adaptation. Unfortunately, the action doesn’t start until about an hour in — before that it’s all atmospheric horror and mysterious bumps in the night (no monsters are seen for a long time, just flashes of carnage and sudden death). That’s not what Doom’s about, folks. Doom’s about chaos and non-stop action, a pure adreneline rush. My expectation was that this would be an-edge-of-your seat thrill from start to finish with constant meaningless slaughter and violence until the resolution. Unfortunately, none of that happens until very late in the film (there’s a brief first-person-shooter perspective, just like the game), and by then you’re so bored by the cardboard characters and silly drama that it doesn’t matter. Basically, the movie fails for the fans, fails for the action crowd, and fails for the horror crowd. It doesn’t work for any of them because it doesn’t know what it is and thus becomes none of those genres. There is one redeeming moment, though ineptly done, and I will warn of slight spoiler here, in that one of the main characters, the one we assume is the hero, played by master thespian The Rock, where he turns evil and becomes the film’s villain. That’s an unusual twist and could have been interesting except that it happens so abrubtly without warning or foreshadowing that it feels false and bewildering. However, at least they tried to do something different. Still, it’s not enough. It’s a dismal experience, not worth your time even on DVD.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Oct 18, 2005

: Oliver Twist

Author: Charles Dickens (book)

Director: Roman Polanski

This is an excellent film. There’s nothing flashy, just gritty Industrial London in the 1800s filmed realistically, and a heart-wrenching story about a kind-hearted orphan boy’s trials and struggles. I’ve never been a huge Dickens’ fan (his works are so dreary), but I enjoyed this as a film (I’m sure the book would be difficult to endure). It was hard to watch at times — the world back then was so harsh and cruel — but in the end things work out for the poor boy and it’s a story of triumph over tragedy. My only criticism is that the main character is practically a mute; the actor only has to look cute and pathetic and rarely says or does anything (probably a good thing as I wasn’t impressed with his mediocre acting abilities). In the end it seems that Oliver’s main salvation isn’t his good heart but his pretty face; not exactly the kind of revelation that encourages the human condition. Not having read the novel, I’m not sure if this is the fault of Dickens or Polanski, but either way, it’s not a fatal flaw as the story still works on many other levels. It’s just a good story well told; you don’t even notice the director, and in fact, you forget you’re watching a film, which is the ideal. Highly recommended.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Oct 14, 2005

: Domino

Director: Tony Scott

This film looked unusual and interesting in the promos, and I’m a huge Keira Knightly fan, but I’m sad to say the film doesn’t work. I actually liked the director’s unusual style which is in-your-face and aggressive, like the title character, a model-turned-bounty hunter. Unfortunately, it’s the script that’s bad. The first problem is that the story is told in reverse order, via flashbacks, a forumla that works for some movies, but fails for this one. In this case it fails because the story isn’t really that interesting or unusual enough for us to put up with the technique. The other problem is that the writer (and director) seem to be overly enamored with the whole “bounty hunter” thing, as though it were the greatest or most unusual profession in the world. Granted it’s not that common a profession, especially for a beautiful model, but we don’t need to be reminded of that every two minutes. “Ooh, look at Domino be tough! Ooh, look at sexy Domino shoot a gun!” The story, which is overly convoluted because of the flashback technique, is disappointing in its ordinariness: it’s basically just a standard “oops we robbed a mobster” plot. I really wanted to like this and tried hard for almost the duration of the entire film, but in the end, I was left disappointed and cheated. It was a neat idea, but the film’s dramatic camera technique and unique visual style set the viewer up for great drama and the film only delivers disappointment.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Oct 11, 2005

: The Ring Two

I was not expecting this to be as good as the first one and I hadn’t heard positives about it in the theatres (though I hadn’t read any particular reviews or anything), but it turned out to be pretty good. It mostly reminded me how excellent the original one was: very intelligent despite the gimmicky premise. This one is similarly twisted, but has some intelligent logic in the story. In this case, Samara, the demon girl in the well from the first film, wants to take over our heroine’s son to use his body and escape her hell, and get her revenge as well. The mom and son have moved to Astoria, Oregon (very cool coastal town a couple hours from where I live) but Samara finds them. Again most of the horror is subtle mind tricks, but it’s effective, and the film feels dreadful even when it’s showing scenes of sunlight and beauty. Ultimately this film isn’t as good as the first one — it unfortunately deteriorates to typical horror — but it gets surprisingly close and the pyschological horror of a mother watching her son become another person is really interesting and terrifying. The performances are excellent and if you liked the first one, you should enjoy this one as well.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Oct 07, 2005

: Hide and Seek

This seemed pointless and derivative when I saw the trailers, but I actually liked it. The twist at the end explains things (it’s a

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Oct 06, 2005

: Sahara

This wasn’t at all as bad as I expected; it actually was pretty good. It’s a difficult film to make with the story as broad as it is, and there is definitely some plot silliness, but overall it’s just action-adventure and in that regard I liked it. Harmless.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Sep 30, 2005

: The Greatest Game Ever Played

This was a surprisingly good period film about an amateur golfer who wins the U.S. Open in 1913. Though sports films tend to be predictable (either he dramatically wins by overcoming huge odds or he loses by a hair but somehow it’s okay), this one still worked. It’s a little bit hokey at times, with obvious sentimentality, but only in a few places — most of the time it’s just a good story. My favorite thing was the golfer’s caddy, a little fat boy with the attitude of a king, who stole every scene he was in (loved it when he saw the President of the United States was in attendance and he waved and shouted at him like he was a regular person). Good show.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Serenity

This is an excellent film! Though I was a big fan of the TV series (it’s based on Firefly, the show Fox cancelled after 11 episodes), I was a little unsure how everything would transfer to the big screen. This film answers that easily: it’s even better on the big screen! Perhaps that was the problem with it on TV. The story was too big, too large for TV. It’s the same cast, which is awesome (the actors are so tied to their characters it would have been hard to watch with other actors in the roles), and the story is excellent. It’s high-speed action, great dialog, and terrific performances and special effects. About 90 minutes into the movie I was dreading the thought that it was going to end! That’s the opposite of my feeling in most movies. I sure hope they make this into a series and do more movies. It could easily become the next Star Trek.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Sep 23, 2005

: Flightplan

The premise of this reminded of the weak

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Corpse Bride

Director: Tim Burton

Wonderful, wonderful film! While Tim’s Nightmare Before Christmas (his other stop-motion fantasy) is uneven, this one is just terrific throughout. The characters are visually strange and bizarre and yet somehow appealing, and the story’s the same way. It deals with a shy young man set to marry a girl he’s never met. Later, when he’s in the woods practicing his vows, he puts the ring on a stick poking up out of the ground — but the stick turns out to be the blackened hand of a corpse… the Corpse Bride. She accepts his “proposal” and assumes the two are married and takes him to the land of the dead, where we see dancing skeletons and other hilariously creepy creatures. Somehow the young man has got to tell this dead woman that he doesn’t want to be married to her, that their differences are too great (she’s dead, he’s alive). It sounds grim, but it’s done with such life and heart and wonderful music that it’s remarkably light and fun. The story is sweet and moving and entertaining. You love all the characters (some you love to hate) and want everything to work out well. I was extremely impressed. It’s not a deep story, but it has a few clever jabs and a couple thought-provoking ideas. Mostly it’s just classic escapist entertainment, and utterly original and charming. A must see!

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Sep 19, 2005

: SoccerTalk USA Podcast Launched

Today marks the debut of my new soccer podcast, SoccerTalk USA. I even created a website for it: http://www.soccertalkusa.com (you can subscribe to the podcast at http://www.soccertalkusa.com/soccertalkusa.xml or via iTunes’ Podcast directory in the Sports category). I basically talk for 45 minutes or so about the most recent Major League Soccer results and other topics. I hope to do the show once a week during the MLS season, perhaps less often or shorter shows at other times of the year.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Sun, Sep 18, 2005

: Hostage

Surprisingly decent flick about a hostage situation gone awry. Hostage films are like sports films — there are only a couple plots available — but this one does manage a few intriguing twists. The lead is Bruce Willis who’s a retired hostage negotiator who finds his family kidnapped to force him to go back to his previous line of work. Unfortunately, the ending of the film negenerates into a strange insane-guy-watch-me-die thing, but the film still has a couple nice moments.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Sep 16, 2005

: Transporter 2

The

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Sep 08, 2005

: Constantine

This demon-hunter movie is better than I expected, but odd. The world in it is a strange blend of religion, mythology, magic, and superstition; what’s odd is that all are treated as interchangeable equals, so priests deal with “enchanted” amulets and witch doctors are just as valid as priests. Basically, the film’s saying that religion is just as real as magic; though in the film both exist, the conclusion drawn of course is that religion is myth just like magic. In other words, the Christian cross is no different from magic beans or an occult spell. I found that disturbing and troubling, but that’s really outside the film. As for the movie itself, it has some decent action and visuals. The story’s convoluted but works (or comes close to working, depending on your perspective). The ending’s too contrived but does give some mild satisfaction.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Aug 28, 2005

: The Target

Strange film. In many ways it’s strictly B-movie action shlock with overdone direction, gratutious sex and violence, and a convoluted, non-sensical plot. But it’s set in South Africa, which brings a different visual palette, and there are scenes in an African village (such as a tribal dance) that one would never expect in such silliness. I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s not a good film for many reasons, including that it thinks it is and is too self-concious and full of itself, but there are a few interesting scenes that make you wonder if the material itself is okay but it’s just poor direction that ruins it. The director does have some skills as their are a few well-done parts, but there’s nothing consistent: it’s almost like the film had multiple directors or the director was learning as the film went on (there are some really amateurish cuts and shots in places). Very strange. Probably not worth seeing unless you’re interested in film-making. You can learn a lot from a badly directed picture.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Aug 27, 2005

: The Menace from Earth

Author: Robert Heinlein

A neat little collection of science-fiction stories by Heinlein. I had not read these elsewhere, but they’re very good. There’s an interesting time-travel one that is too predictable and goes on too long (we see the obvious ending long before the main character does), and one about a flood that seems to have nothing sci-fi about. One of the best is the title story, about a 15-year-old girl who lives on the moon (she loves it and hates heavy earth) and wants to be a spaceship designer. She and her teenage partner have formed a company and are already working on the engineering. She’s very mature for her age, at least in terms of intelligence, but naive in terms of emotions. The “menace” referred to in the title is a beautiful earthwoman, who, it seems, has drawn her partner away from work on the spaceship design. Could she be jealous? Of course not! Don’t be absurd! She and her partner are just friends, associates, work-mates. She’s just worried about their business, of course. Without her partner, it will go down the tubes. In the end, of course, there’s a twist that reveals the truth to all, and it’s a wonderful little character study with some nice sci-fi accents. Great collection.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Aug 26, 2005

: The Brothers Grimm

Director: Terry Gilliam

I really wanted to love this film. Unfortunately, I just liked it. I didn’t know what to expect but it was not as charming as I wanted. All I knew going in was that it was about the Brothers Grimm, the guys who wrote all those classic fairy tales and legendary childhood stories. In this movie, those tales are based on truth, and I anticipated something along the lines of Grimm, the fairy tale references are too subtle to evoke much humor (like a person laughing at their own puns no one else quite gets), and the chaotic nature of the story too awkward to provoke much emotional connection with the characters. Everything’s much too serious. For instance, early on there’s a scene of the young Grimm brothers where Jake sells the family cow for some magic beans which are supposed to cure their dying sister. Throughout the movie, the rational older brother berates Jake for killing their sister — that’s certainly grim and not as humorous as it should be. Unfortunately, too much of the film is like that: the humor’s so dark and serious most people wouldn’t even think of it as humor at all, and even those who appreciate such things wouldn’t do more than crack a smile. The actual story itself is rather linear: the brothers make their living as con artists, liberating towns from fictious evil witches of their own creation for pay, and are forced to uncover another similar con artist kidnapping young children in a town. However, this new menace turns out to be real, as the forest is a magical place and a real evil witch is plotting to regain her lost youth with a spell. So there’s comedy in the con artists uncovering real magic — but it’s low key and mixed with realistic death and destruction, it’s not exactly pleasant.

Despite all these flaws, however, the film has some genuine moments of inspiration. The visual look of the film is amazing: it’s a visual feast of extraordinary proportions. The wonderful color palette, flawless special effects, and vivid presentation evoke a world that is both hyper-realistic and surreal, like a beautiful painting. There’s some excellent acting, some fascinating characters, and the occasional delightful surprise. Unfortunately, it is the story that doesn’t live up to expectations: though it tries hard, it has none of the magic of those fairy tales it is based upon, and in the end, it leaves you merely contented but not awed.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Aug 25, 2005

: The Phantom of the Opera

Director: Joel Schumacher

I was not expecting to like this. First, it’s a musical, and I’m really picky about my musicals (I abhor “talk-singing” and singing without a realistic reason). Second, it’s opera, and I’m not a fan of unintelligble lyrics and high-pitched warbling that’s supposed to be singing. Third, it’s nearly two and a half hours long, which sounded awful. Finally, though I’d never seen any version of Phantom and didn’t even know the story, I’ve seen enough parodies and derivative storylines that it seemed that I had. Well, I am pleased to report that despite all the above, I loved this film. Here is why. The first thing I liked was the modern direction. Joel did a great job of using modern techniques to enhance the story. For instance, the opening scene where the ancient, dust-ridden, falling apart opera house morphs into the colorful, grand Paris opera house of its prime is amazing. You really get a feeling for the building’s impressive architecture, history, and style that you wouldn’t otherwise. Next, though I did not like all of the music, and there were a few too many “talk-songs” (where people “sing” to tell you ordinary things as in “I’m walking along this corridor, heading to my bed after a long hard day of work, wondering what tomorrow will bring…”), I did like a fair number of the songs and several were quite excellent. The dramatic “phantom” organ music that plays whenever the phantom appears is really, really cool. Finally, the bare story was impressive and held a lot of emotion. It deals with a young girl, Christine, who lives at the opera house. For years she’s been talking music lessons from a mysterious, unknown voice which haunts the opera house: it’s the phantom. He’s fallen in love with her and slowly his malignant nature emerges as he sabotages the star singer and (eventually) kills to advance her career. She becomes an overnight sensation, but also finds a suitor, a young man she knew as a child who’s now a count. The Phantom, of course, is jealous, and thus the conflict is set. We feel for the poor Phantom, face disfigured and horribly mistreated as a child, who grew up alone in the vast underground recesses of the opera house, and who’s a musical genius, and yet we are repulsed by his violence and unforgiving nature. We want a happy ending but sense a tragedy in the making. It’s a dramatic and vivid story and the music enhances everything, heightening emotions, and helping us feel fear and love and chilling excitement. Impressive and well-done.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Aug 24, 2005

: I Heart Huckabees

This is a strange, uneven film that pretends to be deep but doesn’t have much to say. The premise sounded awesome: it involves two “existential” detectives. They basically study your life and tell you what’s wrong with it, what’s missing, show you the meaning behind things. For instance, one of the clients is a guy who wants an odd coincidence explained as it troubles him. Unfortunately, there are many, many problems with this story. First, the film is one of those episodic collection of interrelated stories, which for a movie like this, is a terrible decision. Those kinds of films only work when the like or are at least interested in the characters but in this movie the characters are all quirky and odd and we don’t give a hoot. Second, the eratic story meanders much too much and has no focus, no throughline. It’s just a mass of strange situations, images, and people. Third, the author takes an interesting concept and goes so far with it that it becomes uninteresting and tepic. For instance, a film about existential detectives is intriguing. But the author goes beyond that by creating a competitor for the detectives, someone with an alternate approach that tries to steal clients away, and the result is confusing, it weakens the original detectives (we care less for them), and it just adds more meaningless intellinasia-talk (big words that mean nothing). In the end we don’t have much. There are some nice individual scenes, some brilliant concepts that go nowhere, and a few clever directing techniques, but whole package is useless and, dare I say it, meaningless.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Aug 23, 2005

: Red Eye

Interesting and unusual thriller. Rachel McAdams is amazing and that’s a good thing, because the whole movie rests on her shoulders — she’s in nearly every frame. She has to convey a wide variety of emotions, and though she looks gorgeous, she can’t be too pretty as she needs to be sympathetic. All that is well-handled. Unfortunately, the story’s not as strong as I would have liked. It’s good but not great. It starts out awesome, with Rachel as a delayed passenger on a flight to Miami who meets a fellow passenger. They have a drink, chat and flirt a bit, and it’s all very charming. Then they end up sitting next to each other on the plane — a romantic coincidence, right? Until after takeoff when the man suddenly turns nasty: he knows all about her, knows her father, and claims to have an associate watching her dad and ready to kill him if she doesn’t cooperate. Rachel’s terrified, but when she finds out that what the man wants her to do will cost the lives of a politician and his family, she rebels. Thus begins a wonderful battle of wills in the belly of a 747. What I loved about this concept, and what the promos seemed to promote, was that the two would fight it out on the airplane — and I adore such tight-knit action, especially when it has to be done under the unsuspecting noses of the fellow passengers and flight crew. Unfortunately, while there’s a tiny bit of that, most of the action takes place after the plane lands, and then it’s derivative and falls into standard action fare. It’s not bad, just not as good as I wanted or it could have been. This film could have been unique and amazing, but as it is it’s just pretty good (and most of that is due to the first half and to McAdams’ performance). Still, it’s a fun ride and worth seeing.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Aug 22, 2005

: Visitors

My great-uncle and great-aunt visited this past weekend, all the way from Missouri. They mainly came to see my grandfather, my great-uncle’s brother, but we enjoyed some local sight-seeing and good eating. Now I’ve got leftovers to last me all this week!

Topic: [/personal]

Link

Sun, Aug 14, 2005

: Overnight

Really cool documentary about an idiot bartender who was made into an overnight celebrity when Hollywood bought his screenplay for $1 million and set him up to direct it. The guy was such a know-it-all he alienated everyone, friends, family, and colleagues, and in the end his film barely got made and he ended up with squat. The film (The Boondock Saints) was a disaster and a financial failure and a classic example of how to commit career suicide. Hilarious.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: The Food of the Gods

Author: H. G. Wells

I saw this book at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle and later bought a copy at Powell’s in Portland; I’d never heard of it and it sounded interesting. Wells’ idea is to wonder what would happen if growth would continue unabated instead of in fits and starts? He postulates a formula of food that causes this continuous growth, with the result of giant people, chickens, rats, wasps, and more. That’s exciting and all, but Wells’ real focus is on how Bigness changes society, and the discrimination and inevitable conflicts between giant and small people. Fascinating. It’s a little hard to read because of some of the obscure language issues, and obviously much of the science and setting is dated. It made me realize how much the world has changed since Wells’ time: even something as simple as 24-hour television news networks makes a huge difference in how quickly news spreads — surely today giant wasps or babies would make headlines overnight! Once again, Wells’ story peters out with a wimpy non-ending, but then story-telling was different back in those days and perhaps people didn’t expect action-oriented endings. This one basically ends implying there will be war between the species (giant and small) but doesn’t get into the details of such an event (which would have been interesting). The book takes a rather distant, scientific view which can be dry and uninteresting at times. Still, I liked the book better than much of Wells’ other stuff.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sat, Aug 13, 2005

: In Good Company

Well-done film, but not quite what I expected. The trailers were deceiving, promoting this as a romance between a young man who’s the boss and his older employee’s daughter, but it really turned out to be more about the guy learning that life is not all about the rising up the corporate ladder. The romance is just a sideline, one of the things that helps him grow up. Even though I liked what I saw, I could help but be disappointed that what I got wasn’t what was advertised.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Aug 12, 2005

: The Skeleton Key

Pretty cool little mystery-thriller with a lot of bewildering nonsense about magic (Hoodoo, not Voodoo). Silly but not badly done and has a few interesting moments. The ending is predictable but satisfying and helps make the whole thing work.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Aug 05, 2005

: Dukes of Hazard

I was embarrassed to buy a ticket for this movie, but there wasn’t anything else new out. I kinda wanted to see how it compared to the TV show, which I remember. I was expecting horror, but actually, it wasn’t that bad. Yeah, there is unnecessary language, and a few other crudities not on the TV show, but it really did capture the spirit of the original show in most ways (especially the narrator and occasionally mid-action pause) and was more fun than I expected. Casting wasn’t as poor as I expected, though I still like the TV show actors better (especially Sherrif Rosco and both of the Duke boys). Jessica Simpson as Daisy wasn’t that bad (certainly cute), but as to her acting skills… ahem… let’s just say this role stretched her to her limits. (Yes, she actually seems out of her depth!) As to the story, well, the series was never an intellectual exercise, and the movie follows suit: it’s just another mad plan by Boss Hogg the Dukes have to foil (this one involving strip-mining Hazard County and a road race). Basically, just forget the plot and enjoy the hammy acting, silly jokes, car crashes and jumps, and cool TV show references. It’s not much beyond an episode of the show, but if you can get over your embarrassment, it’s kinda fun.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Hitch

Pretty much what I expected: Hitch is a “date doctor” but has trouble fixing himself when he falls in love. Still, it’s fun, manages to be a bit romantic, and ends happily. Innocuous but harmless.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Aug 03, 2005

: U.S. Open Cup: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers

When I saw this game show up on the schedule I knew I had to go. My Earthquakes visiting Portland? A no brainer! Of course it is early in the Open Cup so the Quakes used a reduced line-up (and still won easily), but it was great to see DeRo and Mullan and Brad Davis and a lot of other Quakes play in person again. The team struggled slightly for the first ten minutes, showing a little vacation rust (they’ve been on the All-Star break), but they soon got going and easily dominated Portland. In the second half, Portland had some good chances, including one pass across an open goal mouth and a header during a scramble that hit the crossbar. But the Quakes squandered a bunch of chances, looking dangerous many times. The two goals were capitalizing on Timber mistakes. In the first half, Davis got in a good cross from the left and Wade Barrett was left unmarked in the Portland box and easily finished. In the second, it was Mullan, on a one-on-one with the keeper (former Quake Josh Saunders), who drew Josh out and deftly flicked it around him for an easy two goal lead. Portland made a big push at the end and while exciting, it was to no avail, as the Quakes move on in the Open Cup.

PGE Park, where the Timbers play, is a weird stadium. It’s apparently a baseball stadium and the seats and stands wrap only around one half. That makes it difficult to see action on the far side of the field. Still, the view isn’t bad, and I liked the atmosphere (the chainsaw-reving guy was awesome). The concessions were excellent (great pizza) and even the prices weren’t bad (not as high as Seattle). The only really bad thing is the parking, which is non-existent. I had to park at least a half-mile away. Not fun. I think next time I’ll definitely look into public transportation (which goes right to the stadium). Overall, though, great night for soccer. My Quakes won, but Portland didn’t embarrass themselves, and I had fun.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Sun, Jul 31, 2005

: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Author: Roald Dahl

I remembered I always liked this book even more than

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sat, Jul 30, 2005

: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Author: Roald Dahl

It’s been a while since I read the book but reading it I remembered why Dahl is my favorite author. He writes in such a clean, simple style, with ordinary words: he doesn’t try to talk down to kids or up to adults. Yet somehow he creates a vivid, imaginative world that we can see as though we are there. Great stuff. The book’s still far superior to either movie, though the second movie is definitely more faithful. Unfortunately some of the stuff they added in is awkward. Why is it Hollywood always feels it has to add or change a masterpiece?

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Jul 29, 2005

: Stealth

This is a movie about a robot jet that goes AWOL and I expected it to be terrible, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. It’s not great, but if you like explosions and high-speed dogfights, it’s got those. Mostly it’s predictable, but there were a few subtle unexpecteds that meant the script didn’t go strictly along conventional lines. The cast is good, and there are some good moments. The way the rogue robot learns to be bad and then learns to be good is cool, but unfortunately it doesn’t really go far enough into psychological depth to be revolutionary. Enjoy it for the fun airplanes and explosions.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jul 28, 2005

: Seattle Trip

Took a nice trip up to Seattle yesterday and today (see yesterday’s report on the soccer game). Got to eat at the Space Needle (hadn’t done that since I was a kid) and see some of the city (fish throwing place, etc.). Went to the new Science Fiction museum which was pretty cool (lots of incredible SF memorabilia). Nice looking city from a distance; not as impressed with the dirty downtown and horrendous traffic. Suprised at how hilly it is, which made walking a pain.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Wed, Jul 27, 2005

: USL: Toronto Lynx at Seattle Sounders

Coordinated Seattle trip with USL soccer match at Quest Field. Nice stadium, though only a few thousand were at the game. Good atmosphere, though. Toronto’s the worst in the USL and it showed: Seattle easily beat them 3-0, with all the goals coming in the first half. Pace of the game was moderate, but there was some definite skill. Quality of play definitely not MLS caliber, but not as bad as I figured. For my first USL match, I enjoyed it. I think I’ll definitely have to go to some Portland Timbers games.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Sun, Jul 24, 2005

: Skeleton Man

Author: Tony Hillerman

This was a very strange book. Nothing much happens and the plot is told so many times I was sick to death of it halfway through. You see, there was this plane crash over the Grand Canyon like 50 years ago. A man with a briefcase of diamonds was on the plane. Now one of those diamonds has surfaced. A woman, who was the man’s daughter, wants to find the source of the diamonds because they might lead her to her father’s arm: if she can use DNA from the arm to prove she’s related, she’ll gain her father’s fortune which was denied her by scheming relatives who never liked her mother and refused to believe the daughter was legitimate. Now that’s a cool plot, but we first here that plot revealed by one of the characters who’s telling the story. Then we hear it from the woman’s perspective. Then we hear it like twenty more times from different character’s views. It just gets ridiculous. I was just so glad when this book ended! Of course the search for the arm/diamonds is complicated by several factors, but it’s still a straightforward plot. If we cut out all the repetitive stuff this novel would have been fifty pages long. Still, there were some interesting elements, the main one being the history and culture of the American Indians who are local to the area and some of the main characters. Unfortunately, some of that came across like the whaling data in Moby Dick: superfluous and irrelevant. While I liked the concept, the implementation was incredibly weak. I gather Hillerman’s a successful author, but I think I’ll skip his other books.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Jul 22, 2005

: The Island

Pretty cool popcorn flick, if you can ignore major plot holes (like clones somehow growing into full adults in three years and looking exactly like their donors). The action is decent, the science fiction sets cool and interesting, and several of the characters are compelling. The luminous Scarlet Johansen steals the show. For once I liked that a film had a logical reason for why her character needed to be so beautiful: the clones are created as spare body parts for the rich and her donor is a beautiful, wealthy model. Unfortunately, the sparse script hints at depth but fails to take advantage of it. For instance, when Scarlet videophones her donor, her donor’s little boy answers the phone and says, “Is that you Mommy?” Later, she realizes that if she’s not killed for spare parts, her donor — the little boy’s mother — will die. That opened the door for an interesting conflict: guilt that your life will mean the death of another. Unfortunately, though the film hints at it in that one scene, it’s never brought up again. So the film that could have been brilliant ends up being okay. It’s got a few above average scenes (both in action and drama) that make better than most flicks of this kind, but it could have used this as an opportunity to make us think about it. I’d give it a solid B.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jul 21, 2005

: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Author: J. K. Rowling

I didn’t particularly like the last book, Phoenix, but I will warn you that it does not end. It’s basically a pre-quel for the final book (book seven), so don’t get your hopes up that anything’s resolved her. I can see where Rowling is going and I like it and can’t wait for the next one: she’s really got Harry growing up and becoming a man and a viable foe to the evil Voldermort, which makes sense (the idea of a child beating the wizard always seemed a little too David and Golioth). Unfortunately, this book is mostly growing pains — there is no real plot to speak of, which is a little disappointing. Instead we just have Harry and the gang growing older and learning new responsibilities. It’s a bit tedious at times, though Rowling’s magical world is amusing enough to make it endurable. I don’t think this book would make a very good film, though: you’d probably have to combine with a bit of book seven so that something would happen. The odd thing is that I still liked this one better than Phoenix. I am prepared, however, to really like the seventh. That’s where the fireworks hit the fan.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Tue, Jul 19, 2005

: Jersey Girl

Author: Kevin Smith

Director: Kevin Smith

I can see now why this movie flopped. The story’s incredible simple (almost too simple) about a guy whose wife dies in childbirth leaving him a daughter he must raise on his own. He moves back to his childhood home of New Jersey and dreams of being back in Manhattan, where he was a big shot once. The film’s basically about him figuring out where he belongs. Unfortunately, such a simple, sweet story is more than slightly at odds with the somewhat raunchy Kevin Smith, who likes to throw in awkward sex talk and scenes that really feel out of place and uncomfortable. (For instance, we cut from cute scenes of the eight-year-old to scenes of adults discussing masterbation.) It’s very odd. The people who’d be interested in one topic are probably not interested in the other, so I’m not sure who the film is for. I think Kevin was going for humor and the adult topics were meant to be awkwardly funny, but instead they are just awkward. The film doesn’t quite work. It’s not a bad film at all: the story’s sweet, the little girl is brilliant (she carries the movie), and the ending works, but the whole just doesn’t add up to the sum of the parts. It’s missing something, unfortunately.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jul 18, 2005

: Raising Helen

Much better than I expected. The promos made this sound like Mr. Mom kind of fish-out-of-water story, as a career woman suddenly finds herself the mother to her dead sister’s three children. I expected the typical Mom-can’t-cook-and-is-covered-with-flour scenes, kids making a mess, etc. Instead, it’s more a story of the heart, where the sister tries to do the right thing for her nieces and nephew, but keeps failing. In the end, of course, she finds a way. It’s predictable and certainly not a stretch intellectually, but it’s not slapstick silliness either. The cast is good and I liked it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jul 17, 2005

: Saved!

I was very curious about this film. It sounded blasphemous as it’s a sort of parody of Christianity, but there were aspects that sounded promising as well. It turns out it isn’t sure what it is. It’s not an out-and-out attack on the Church, though it doesn’t seem pro-religion. It’s a comedy about Christianity, making fun of hypocrites and Christians, but it’s not really very funny. Much of what it mocks is true (even Christians don’t like Christian hypocrites), but much of the humor falls flat. The concept’s a neat idea but ineptly done. While it’s obvious the producers know something about Christianity, they are obviously not Christians, and their mockery comes across as an attack more than constructive criticism. I much prefer it when Christians do something like this. For example, musician and songwriter Steve Taylor’s the master at satric Christian attacks, but he does so wanting to help Christians see their own hypocrisy and get them back on the right track. This film just wants a cheap laugh and unfortunately, that’s all we’re left with. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some good moments (it has some bad moments as well). The casting of the innocent-looking Mandy Moore as the evil Christian hypocrite is ideal; in fact, everyone in the cast is pretty good. I liked certain aspects of the plot, which is about a good Christian girl who gets pregant and questions her faith, but unfortunately this isn’t a film that challenges intellect or discusses religion: instead it’s just a movie that takes obvious shots at “weird” Christian things, like religious jargon or speaking in tongues. It’s not a terrible film, but it could have been a realy great film if the creators had been more willing to go all out and

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jul 15, 2005

: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Author: Roald Dahl (book)

Director: Tim Burton

The book is one of my favorites (Dahl’s my favorite author) and I love Tim Burton’s quirky films; but I wasn’t sure about this going in. The casting of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka struck me as odd, and though he did a good job, in the end he’s just too youthful for such a character. It didn’t fit in well with the plot. My mom got strange Michael Jackson vibes from him and didn’t like him. I didn’t experience that but I can see where that might show up (Wonka and Jackson share many similar encentricies and both are adult children). Except for a few negative things about Wonka, however, I really liked the film better than the

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This film is both marvelous and terrible; the producers take some horrible liberties with the story (adding in a strange lurking villain that is so stereotypical as to almost ruin the film) and make it a musical (huh?). There are a few great songs (“Candy Man”), but there are also several duds, and the musical aspect feels awkward and destroys all realism of the story. The casting is decent; Gene Wilder’s happy-go-lucky Wonka is great until the odd ending (anger and confrontation is so not Wonka). The strange deviations of the script seem pointless and contrived. One aspect I liked better than the

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jul 14, 2005

: The Art of the Start

Author: Guy Kawasaki

Typical Kawasaki book, full of clever quotes, funny stories, brilliant analysis, and appropriate advice. This book’s all about starting something: a company, an organization, a novel, whatever. It’s excellent and recommended even to those who aren’t in business and think they don’t need such a book. It’s fun to read and very helpful.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Wed, Jul 13, 2005

: Dark Water

This is a strange film: it’s predictable, the big “mystery” is a letdown, and it’s uneven throughout, yet somehow, despite all those flaws, it sorta works. That’s mostly due to the casting — Jennifer Connolly and the girl who plays her daughter are awesome — and that the director shoots for more of a creepy, uncomfortable, frightening tone rather than outright shocks and scares. The film is creepy: the supporting characters are all weird, and we aren’t sure what to make of the bizarre visions and strange dripping black water that frequents the film. The first two thirds are awkward, not quite working, but the ending, even though the mystery is a letdown, strangely satisfies. It’s a sad film, grim and tormented.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jul 10, 2005

: Maria Full of Grace

Really good film about a pregnant seventeen-year-old Columbian girl who is desperate for money and becomes a drug mule. She has to swallow over 60 thumb-sized rubber-coated pellets of drugs, fly to New York, and give them to those waiting for them. If a pellet leaks, she’s dead. It’s a harrowing tale, realistically done, revealing the horrors of such a life. But I liked that the film did this in an in-depth, personal way, showing us the anquish and challenge via close-ups of the girl’s face instead of images of blood and other gruesome details. For example, in one crucial scene, while on the airplane to New York, the girl isn’t feeling well. She has a bowel movement in the tiny airplane bathroom and is horrified to find one of the pellets in the toilet. She cannot be caught with it on her person, and yet she cannot lose it: the drug dealers know exactly how many pellets she has swallowed and if she loses even one, they will hurt her family in Columbia. So she’s forced to re-swallow the pellet she just evaculated. It’s a scene that could have been filmed to titilate, shock, or repulse a viewer, yet it’s not filmed in any of those ways. Instead it’s done in a cold, gritty, realistic fashion, where the girl just does what she has to do. We see the distaste and nervousness on her face, but the scene is not at all graphic or distateful. The power of the scene comes from the restrained emotions of the actress, where we sense her desperation and determination by what she’s willing to do, not gory detail or gruesome special effects. Excellent film, surprisingly tame considering its serious subject matter. I loved the ending.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jul 09, 2005

: The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi

I don’t know anything about the Zatoichi tradition in Japan (there have been many films made), but this was an unusual and pretty cool film. It is extremely violent, however: lots of death. Pretty much every fight scene involves dozens of dead bodies, with everyone killing everyone else; such a casual approach to death struck a wrong note with me. I also had a problem with the cheesy blood-spurting special effects. They looked ridiculously fake. Still, the story was cool. Zatoichi’s a blind masseur, traveling from town to town, and dispensing justice when appropriate. Even though he’s blind, he’s an amazing swordman, and no one can get him. When he finds bad guys dominating a small town, he sets out to stop them, with bloody results. Two things I really liked: 1) The swordfighting is realistic, in the sense that there are no more than two or three blows and someone dies. In most films the swordfight takes a long time and there are parries and thrusts and counter-thrusts. But that’s not reality, that’s fencing. In reality, swordfighting is over in seconds. Either you made the right decision and you’re alive, or you chose wrong and you’re dead. That’s it. 2) The second thing I really liked was Zatoichi’s character, which is unusual, mysterious, and interesting. Pretty good film overall.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jul 08, 2005

: Shark Tale

I missed this in theatres, though I intended to see it. Now I think I’m glad I waited. It’s certainly not bad; just uneven. And it has some dangerously provocative propaganda hidden within it (it practically preaches) which I found distasteful and inappropriate (especially in a kids’ movie). The plot deals who two main characters, Oscar, a small fish in a big ocean who wants more, and Lenny, a vegetarian shark, who’s the son of a mobster/killer. Oscar pretends to kill Lenny and becomes famous, while Lenny’s now free of his father’s demands to become a killer. The endings rather convoluted and weak, the jokes inconsistent, and there are certainly a few too many fish puns, but overall this is a good attempt at a story — it’s just not up to Pixar’s superior standards.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Fantastic Four

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. It’s a popcorn flick, and the science in the story was a joke, but I liked the way the focus of the story was on the characters and their relationships and personalities, not on a plot about saving the world or whatever. The characters, as they discover their superpowers and learn to live together, are much more interesting than stopping some bad guy (where you know the Four will win). The special effects are excellent, and the cast is awesome. Just a great popcorn movie. Don’t take it seriously, just go and have fun.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jul 04, 2005

: The Prince and Me

Similar in genre and spirit to the just watched

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jul 02, 2005

: Chasing Liberty

Surprisingly decent little film about a first daughter wanting privacy and a life of her own. In Europe, she escapes her security guards and has a little fling, not realizing that the young man she’s run off with is really Secret Service. She falls in love, has heartbreak, yada yada yada. It’s predictable but well-done and harmless. The cast is excellent and all-in-all it’s a charming little flick.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Jun 29, 2005

: War of the Worlds

I worried this would have the same ending as the book, which I hated, and it does. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to reveal the ending since that’s essential to my comments). That ending — that Earth bacteria/germs kill off the aliens — could be made to work, but unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, it’s even stupider and more illogical in the film, since in the movie, the aliens have been planning their invasion for “millions of years” (how dumb is that). Wouldn’t you think such a carefully planned invasion would sort of, like, check for diseases before invading? Wouldn’t that be like Rule One of space exploration? Silly. Beyond that little flub up, however, the film’s excellent. The character of Tom Cruise as a separated dad struggling to raise his rebellious kids part-time was good, and the action scenes and special effects were amazing. Unfortunately there isn’t much intellectual depth here — it’s just a run-for-your-life sort of deal — but it’s well-done and interesting, which is more than one can say for most films.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jun 27, 2005

: Closer

Director: Mike Nichols

Unusually frank film discussing sex and relationships. The plot’s a little too structured (forced) for my taste, but an interesting experiment. Basically we have two couples who, uh, interchange. The couples periodically switch who’s with who and it’s a fascinating view of relationships. Unfortunately, while the dialog is brilliant and characters are three-dimensional, we aren’t really given an understanding for why the different people do what they do. For example, people love or don’t love with minimal explanation — and it’s like the writer expects us to believe that the same way we believe fantasy elements in a fantasy film (i.e talking pigs in Babe). There were definitely uncomfortable scenes in this film — I didn’t appreciate some of the explictiness which felt over-the-top, like it was there just to shock or provoke me — but overall the story and some of thoughtful discussion was amazing and profound. Not for all tastes, but certainly provocative.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Land of the Dead

Author: George Romero

Director: George Romero

I’m a big fan of Romero and was looking forward to this. It didn’t quite measure up to his Dawn except instead of the mall being empty, it’s now full of people. Romero has put together a good story with interesting characters to found his movie and that’s what makes it work. It’s a lot of fun with a glimpse of social commentary, but not quite as innovative as his previous works. Still, it’s better than 99% of other zombie films, and pretty cool overall.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jun 26, 2005

: Jurassic Park

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this and I was surprised at how the digital dinosaurs actually look slightly dated already. They looked so good in the past but now they aren’t quite as realistic: they seem slightly out of fit with the backgrounds at times and I saw a few scenes where the special effects weren’t so special. Still, the overall story and pacing was quite impressive and obviously engineered by a master.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jun 25, 2005

: MLS: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I don’t usually write about televised games, but I’ll make an exception for this one. I should have been at the stadium, but I’m in Oregon now and 750 miles away. I was certainly there in spirit, however, to cheer our team and boo the traitor Landon Donovan who switched to our archrivals the Galaxy Scum in the off-season. Games against LA are always intense, but the build-up to this game was incredible, heightened by the Landon move and the Galaxy’s inability to win away from home. I really hoped the Quakes the would have a good game and they started off well, containing Landon and LA well and creating some good chances. But the goal didn’t come until two thirds of the way through the first half, which had me a little nervous (though Quakes’ keeper Pat Onstad didn’t have to make any saves). the goal was the result of terrific combo play with Brad Davis linking to Cerritos who crossed to Moreno who finished. Great stuff. In the second half, the Gals came out with a little fire and generated a scary moment about ten minutes in when a simple corner kick turned into a series of chances. Pat made the first save off a point-blank Kirovski header, then parried the second and third follow-ups. The ball still wasn’t cleared, however, and when the ball came in a fourth time, he ruthlessly punched it out. It fell to another Galaxy player who took a shot that was blocked by the Quakes who then went on a terrific counter-attack with Chung alone at the top of the LA box. Unfortunately, he thought he had more time than he had and a great tackle by the Galaxy defense took the ball away. But the Quakes were enlivened by that play and began to push harder, and not long after that a chance on goal created some confusion in the Galaxy box where a back-pass to the goalkeeper Kevin Hartman ended up in the goal! A two-goal lead was just what the Quakes wanted, and the rattled Galaxy foolishly gave up another own goal just a couple minutes later when Marshall’s header went past Hartman. Two own goals! Hilarious, but not undeserved by San Jose at all, who should have been leading by that score anyway. In the end, the 3-0 victory was just as it should have been, for other than that one flurry and a chance of a Landon free kick, Pat had nothing to do all night. A fantastic night for San Jose, deserved revenge on Landon, and a continuation of the Gals’ road woes. Final: 3-0 San Jose.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Fri, Jun 24, 2005

: Ray

Jamie Fox is certainly impressive as Ray Charles, but I wasn’t as impressed with the musician’s life. We learn a little about his childhood, which was interesting, but not much about what made him tick as a musician. We see his womanizing and drug use, but his motives for either remain a mystery. I liked the movie, but it was much too long and over-dramatized much that seemed rather pointless. The main reason to see this is definitely Fox, not Charles.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Bewitched

Director: Nora Ephron

I was surprised at how much I liked this. I was a big fan of the TV show and the premise of the movie sounded dumb. The premise was a team remaking the TV show modern day casts Nicole Kidman’s character as Samantha without knowing she’s really a witch herself. This creates a complex environment where we really have three sets of witch-mortal groups: the original 1960s TV show characters, the remake’s characters, and the actress playing Samantha and her mortal co-star. Things definitely get confusing! But I liked the realistic approach taken by the script, which is intelligent and doesn’t take things into silliness. Kidman’s witch character is wonderful, full of innocence and wonder at the human world, and we love to see her grow and prosper and fall in love. Will Farrell’s arrogant actor is a harder to love (I fail to see why she’s attracted to him), but the whole thing adds up to a pleasant adventure with lots of fun homages and references to the original. Several scenes are extraordinarily good (like the one with Kidman and the dog), while others are ordinary or fall flat. Kidman really is the movie, though Will has a moment or two of charm. Overall, it’s a nice flick; not particularly mindless, almost brilliant in places, but lacking depth similar to the TV show.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jun 23, 2005

: The Incredibles

I liked this even better the second time. The first time it seemed extremely long and overly complicated, but this time it was a fun adventure. There’s tons of depth in this film, with new things becoming apparent each time you view it. Great.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Jun 22, 2005

: Garfield: The Movie

Not as bad as I expected, but strangely flat. The cat’s commentary and jokes aren’t funny, and the plot — the cat trying to save the dog — isn’t engaging or dramatic. The humans are just cartoons, not fleshed out enough for us to care. The whole thing adds up to sheer boredom.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Godsend

Unquestionably one of the worst films I’ve seen in many years. The dialog is stilted, the plot ridiculous. In the opening scene, in which the boy is killed, everything is done with such exaggeration and foreshadowing it’s absurd: we see the mom worrying about where her son is (he’s playing near the street) which is stupid because there’s nothing to say this isn’t another ordinary day in which the little boy does not get killed. And of course this happens to be the kid’s birthday, which is excessively dramatic. The boy is a terrible actor, too, though he’s okay when not talking. The plot is just bizarre. It sounds simple enough — family’s kid dies and they replace him with a clone. But instead of this being a drama about the morality of cloning, the film sinks into some sort of weird horror mode where the clone seemingly has memories of his previous life. Just silly. How Robert DeNiro got hook-winked into this mess I’ll never know.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Jun 21, 2005

: Laws of Attraction

Not as bad as I was expecting — it’s predictable as two rival divorce attorneys fall in and out of love with each other — but with a degree of realism I wasn’t expecting. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have much depth beyond the love story, and the resolution is so easy that one wonders what all the fuss was about.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jun 19, 2005

: Wait Until Dark

Very good little thriller about a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) fighting off thieves. That sounds more dramatic than it is, because the bad guys are more like con artists, trying to manipulate her. Those mental machinations are a lot more interesting than mere violence, as the clever blind woman outwits the men. Excellent, though a little claustrophic — like Hitchcock’s Rope it’s based on a play and the “whole movie in one room” aspect shows.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Whiteout

Author: Ken Follett

Rather routine by-the-numbers thriller from Follet. He takes a claustrophic situation — bad guys holed up a family’s house during a blizzard — but the resolution is pretty ordinary. Some of the characters were interesting, but there wasn’t much depth. Overall, I kept wondering why the book was written.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sat, Jun 18, 2005

: Head in the Clouds

Not a bad concept, but the film is too complicated and too slow at times. It takes place in France before WWII, and deals with three people, a guy and two women. One woman is the free spirit who loves the other woman. The second woman is from Spain and wants to be a nurse. The guy loves the first woman but is involved with politics and wants to fight in the Spanish civil war. He and the nurse go there against the wishes of the first woman, who cares nothing about politics. Later, however, when the man is involved with the Allies in WWII and goes on spy missions to France, he meets the first girl and discovers her secret: she’s really a spy passing information she gets from her German lover. The ending is sad and rather unusual (I guess it’s meant to be ironic). Unfortunately, the whole movie takes way too long to get going. The real plot doesn’t begin until the WWII spy stuff begins and that’s not until 2/3rds of the movie. Not great, not terrible, above average at times and slow and boring at others.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jun 17, 2005

: Batman Begins

Director: Christopher Nolan

Good film. I wasn’t excited about reliving Batman’s origins again, but then discovered the story isn’t so much about the specifics of why Bruce Wayne seeks revenge as it was about power and the nature of evil (essentially a debate over vigilantism). That’s extremely interesting. Is what Batman does revenge or justice? Who does Batman answer to? That is cool stuff to consider. I wasn’t as impressed with the plot, which is overly convoluted, but the presentation is well-done with great visuals and a routine but satisfying conclusion. A good start for a new franchise.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jun 12, 2005

: The Notebook

Author: Nicholas Sparks (novel)

I wasn’t expecting much of this as Sparks’ stuff is usually overly sweet and silly, but this one got to me. It’s a wonderful, simple story about true love. It’s told by an old man who reads the story from a notebook to an old woman in a nursing home and tells about a penniless young man who falls for the daughter of a rich man. Of course the daughter’s forbidden to see the boy and they are separated only to be reunited years later and realize they are still in love. Sparks did well to not overly complicate this conflict, since it’s really minimal, and the resolution is appropriately simple. (In too many love stories the conflict is silly and we’re just wondering why the two can’t just hook up and be done with it.) Anyway, this story has a little twist — completely predictable (I figured it out in the first two minutes), but it adds a nice touch. And the concluding scene is rather sweet (though unrealistic). Overall a very good movie with impressive acting.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jun 11, 2005

: Wimbledon

Nice light romantic comedy with a couple surprisingly earthy moments from Kirsten Dunst. I liked her character, however, as the reigning “bad girl” of the tennis circuit who falls for a former tennis great who’s game is down but goes up when he’s around Kirsten. Having him win Wimbledon is absurd but fun and well-executed, but overall the film’s a little short of depth to be a true romance or classic.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jun 10, 2005

: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

This is a film where you get exactly what you expect. It’s nothing intellectually challenging or unpredictable, but the chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is electric and it’s a whole lotta fun. The two star as a married couple who each secretly work as paid assassins for different companies. Because of the elephant in the room neither will talk about (their secret jobs), their marriage is in the tank. Soon each have discovered the other’s secret and thinking the other was only pretending to fall in the love, their romance turns to anger and they try to kill each other in a spy-versus-spy comedy of failure. Eventually, of course, their fighting turns to lovemaking and all’s right with the world. Very cool, pretty, and loudly violent, with a suprisingly decent message about marriage at its core. Two thumbs up!

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jun 09, 2005

: Code 46

This is one of those movies that has potential but doesn’t use it, let alone live up to it. It’s got some great science fiction ideas: viruses people take to give them special abilities (the way we’d take drugs today), and the main language is a mixture of English, French, and Spanish (practically a reality all ready). The plot stems from a law that says no one can reproduce with someone of similar genetic background, and with clones so common, people might be related and not know it. That’s what happens to the two main characters, a man investigating fraudulent travel papers and a woman who creates them. Instead of arresting her, he has an affair with her, but eventually finds out it’s a Code 46 violation (they share similar DNA, meaning his mother and her are genetically the same as apparently they were both cloned from the same batch). Unfortunately, this is all done with such vague grayness and mythical confusion that we aren’t sure what’s going on until halfway through the movie and then it’s anti-climactic when we do find out. The ending, while an appropriate resolution, is also weak and unsatisfying. In short, the film is slow, confusing for no good reason, boring, and in the end, doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a useless ride that promises far more than it delivers.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Jun 07, 2005

: Love Song for Bobby Long

Pretty cool little flick. I doubt many have seen this, but it’s worth putting on your agenda if you like smaller slightly quirky films. It stars John Travolta as a washed up former English professor named Bobby Long. He’s now a drunk and a bum, living with his protege student at the house of his former lover, a famous regional singer. When Loraine, the singer, dies, her estranged teenage daughter, played by the lovely Scarlett Johannson, appears. Told that the house was left to the two bums and the girl, the three live together in chaotic harmony. The girl was raised by her grandmother and is angry and resentful of her mother; she’s confused by all the adoration her mother’s friends have for her. She’s critical of the two drunken bums who are useless and pointless; ostensibly working on a novel, nothing has been done. The girl is anti-school something the two educated men want to change, so they set out to help her graduate from high school. The film is basically about a group of misfits who each have problems but slowly learn to heal and help each other; they are like puzzle pieces who all fit together and make a whole. It’s well done and surprisingly entertaining, but can be slow at times and there’s an excessive amount of profanity — as though using the f-word is somehow brilliantly creative. It can be a touch elitist as well, as at times the author tries to show off how intellectual he is. But much of the movie is extraordinary and remarkable. It’s a little uneven at times and at least twenty minutes too long, but recommended.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jun 06, 2005

: The Alamo

Lackluster is how I’d describe this. I’m not sure why it didn’t work. The cast isn’t as bad as I expected (most do a good job), the script, while routine, is okay, and the production is of high quality. But somehow the pieces just don’t add up to much. The pacing is slow, there’s too much emphasis on “celebrity” Alamo victims like Davy Crocket, and the battles are too chaotic to be understandable. The Alamo itself — the fort, that is — is unimpressive. While that’s probably historically accurate, it is uninspiring in the film and a bit confusing since it appears that two kids with BB guns could take the thing so why can’t the whole Mexican army? I did learn some history (I hope it’s accurate stuff) and it’s not a particularly bad film; but it’s not a great movie. It’s boring at times and ponderous and suddenly it’s over. There’s just something missing.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jun 05, 2005

: Two Brothers

Terrific film with a sucky title from the director of The Bear. This is one of those films that I wanted to see in theatres — it’s about two tiger cubs who are brothers — but I kept forgetting the title because it’s so generic and has nothing to do with tigers. Stupid marketing. The movie itself is awesome. The tigers are amazing. This film has more humans in it than The Bear, but the tigers are still the main actors. What I liked was the story, the way the lives of the tigers intertwined, and the ending, where the tigers help each other to survive. (I don’t want to say more as it would spoil the plot.) Just trust that this is an excellent movie and everyone should see it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Just Married

Not as bad as I expected. In fact, I liked it. It was predictable, in certain ways, but the performances of Ashton Kutcher and Britney Murphy actually made it work. The plot is routine: a young couple are in love until a disasterous sexless honeymoon leaves them hating each other. It’s all a bit silly but not raunchy like the promos made it sound. There’s even a little bit of heart.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jun 04, 2005

: The Codex

Author: Douglas Preston

This is a surprisingly well-written book, though the plot is obvious and the execution weak. The premise bodes well: three distant brothers are brought together by their father, who’s dying. Then he drops the bomb. Since he got most of his $500 million wealth robbing tombs, he has buried himself with all his treasures in a tomb somewhere on the planet and it will be up to the sons to find him to claim their inheritance. In the process, he hopes his useless sons will become men. This sounded intriguing as I pictured a globe-trotting adventure as the sons followed clues leading from exotic country to exotic country, but unfortunately the story immediately leads to the wilds of Central America and stays there until the end. This makes it rather tedious and boring, since reading about weeks and weeks of starvation hiking through jungles gets old quickly. Fortunately, Preston does better with characterization and other aspects of the plot, but for this kind of novel, it needs to be driven by the story, not characters. Weak.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Wed, Jun 01, 2005

: Dogville

Director: Lars von Trier

This is an absolutely fantastic movie. It’s really a filmed play (which I did not know or expect prior to viewing) which I really loved. The set is sparse, an empty stage with painted lines signifying the boundaries of homes and rooms, and a few props like chairs and desks. The actors mime opening non-existent doors and such. This surrealist touch has dramatic import, since it reminds us we’re in a fantasy everyworld, and we focus on the characters and situations, not the props. The story is simple yet elegantly told. The town is Dogville, a tiny mountain community of a mere 15 people. These people seem normal, even idealisticly perfect, but as the play proceeds, we grow to realize that they are petty and mean, like everyone else. Innocence joins the picture in the form of a beautiful young woman who is running away from gangsters, though we don’t know why. In an exercise in acceptance, the town decides to host the girl, and hide her from those who seek her, though they are never given an explanation for why she’s being sought. The woman’s initial offers to help with physical labor are rejected, but eventually she finds ways to help people with “things that don’t need doing.” As pressures from the gangsters and the police increase, the town wavers on their commitment. What is the moral thing to do? Gradually the woman’s labors increase as she becomes, essentially, the town’s slave. People are mean to her, bossing her. One of the men threatens to expose her and uses her vulnerability to rape her and ensure her silence. Gradually the town of Dogville becomes a dark and evil place, the girl a captive. In the end the true colors of Dogville are shown, and the girl has her brutal revenge. It’s a fantastic, disturbing, and profound film. It shows the inherent blackness of the human heart, how people can turn, how what looks one way can really be another. Amazing. Highly recommended.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, May 30, 2005

: Mona Lisa Smile

Definitely a Dead Poet’s Society clone, except this time with women, but still well done. It’s not as serious or deep as the other, and its rather negative (and naive) message seems to be that being different is better than traditional values, with no regard to the actual differences. The plot is simple: a bohemian California teacher comes to teach art history at Wellesley and changes the lives of her conservative students. There are a few unexpecteds that make things not too predictable, but I found the lack of persuasive arguments to be the film’s weakest aspect. Instead of confronting the traditional values with logic or emotional arguments, the characters simply accept that they cannot change institutions and leave. I don’t really understand the point.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, May 29, 2005

: Bon Voyage

This French film is a little disjointed: it’s alternatively a farce and a drama, like it can’t decide which. It has moments of comedic ridiculousness tied with serious drama. It’s set in Paris at the eve of the German invasion and ultimately involves escaping from the Germans, which is rather serious. But having our former silly characters suddenly serious is odd. I liked many aspects of it but the whole left me a little hollow.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, May 28, 2005

: The Clearing

Unusually introspective film that’s more like a play. There are really only three characters, a man and his wife and the kidnapper. The woman tries to deal with the mystery of her husband’s disappearance and he and the kidnapper discuss the meaning of life. It’s a little slow and dull at times, and the ending’s not exactly surprising, but overall it’s a decent film with excellent performances. Unfortunately, it doesn’t break enough new ground to be a classic, but it’s interesting.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, May 27, 2005

: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The first film was poor, the second pretty good, and appropriately, this third one is a mixed of both. The dialogue and acting is extremely lame, but unlike the B-movie inspired original trilogy, the polished special effects and tone of this one makes the poor performances seem disjointed and awkward. Most of the action was also poor: the light saber sequences are so fast you can’t really make out what’s happening so you just sort of wait through the blur for the good guy to suddenly emerge triumphant. Boring. There are a few good scenes and sequences, but much is convoluted and drawn out far too long. The most anticipating and interesting aspect of this film is the story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Unfortunately, this is poorly done. The actor — and I hesitate to call him that — who plays Anakin is terrible beyond words and completely botches any drama in the situation. The complex and agonizing switch of his loyalties is heavy-handed and much too abrupt. George Lucas attempts to make this realistic by having Anakin show his frustration at not being promoted to Jedi Master fast enough, but this explanation is not carried out and eventually falls short. There was a hint that Anakin was drawn to the dark side as a way to save his love’s life, but then that plot line was totally abandoned: it was like once he made the leap to the dark side none of his motives for getting there mattered any more. Now if the darkness had consumed him and become an end to itself, like the Ring does in The Lord of the Rings, that would have been one thing, but that was not illustrated in this movie. I found this weakness the worst aspect of this film. However, the drama of Darth Vader’s creation is still the most dramatic and exciting part of the three recent films and finally gives us a hint of the drama of the first trilogy. Not the best, not the worst, but disappointing because I expected too much. Worth seeing for fans of the series; others will be bored.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: The House of the Flying Daggers

Another great movie from the director of

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, May 26, 2005

: The Aviator

Better than I expected, though the plot was rather routine and seemed to glorify Howard Hughes’ life a little much. The visuals were impressive, but the acting was a disappointment (especially Cate Blanchet’s Heburn which felt totally false to me), though I must admit, Leo DiCaprio’s Hughes — which prior to the film I thought was completely miscast — was actually pretty good. More interesting from a historical perspective (especially now that I live five minutes from the actual “Spruce Goose” airplane) than the story or performances, but not a bad movie. I had never realized that Hughes was an actual engineer and did so many things to revolutionize commercial aviation in this country (like retractable landing gear).

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, May 07, 2005

: Grandpa’s 90th Birthday

Today we celebrated Grandpa’s 90th birthday. I had sent out invitations to many of his old friends and family and we received a ton of wonderful letters and cards. Probably close to 40 people actually came to the party, which was held “open house” style, from noon to evening. This worked well because people could come whenever it was convenient for them. Grandpa got to see many people he hadn’t seen in many years and it was a wonderful day. He was amazingly alert, chipper, and healthy: people were astonished in what good shape he was in. It really is a remarkable achievement and wonderful to see him doing so well at 90 years of age.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Sat, Apr 30, 2005

: The Penultimate Truth

Author: Philip K. Dick

This book has a remarkable premise but unfortunately the ending is rather weak. The premise is brilliant and typical PKD: most of the population of earth lives underground while the nuclear war rages above. At least that’s what the people think. Their only information from above comes via a television where their leader tells them what’s happening. But when one man leaves the shelter for the surface, he finds the war’s been over for years and the leader doesn’t even exist — he’s an artificial man puppeted to keep the lie alive. Many of the concepts in his novel are just brilliant, but the ending just left me flat. It seemed like little had changed, though of course stuff had, it was just subtle.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Apr 29, 2005

: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Not a bad adaption of the book. It includes a few things from other books and doesn’t necessarily follow the plot of the first book exactly, but it does capture the soul of the books. The casting is excellent (especially Arthur Dent), but like the book, it’s a little uneven. The humor’s not always the laugh-out-loud kind, and not all of it translates well to the screen. Still, it’s a decent film, and it’s definitely fun.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Apr 22, 2005

: Kung Fu Hustle

Director: Stephen Chow

Really cool kung fu comedy with fantastic cartoon-like special effects, stylish martial art moves, crazy characters, and a hilarious plot. The story’s about a war between the Axe Gang and the people of a slum. In the middle of the conflict is a young man who wants desperately to be a gangster but is hilariously incompetent. As the war escalates, better and better assassins are brought in, each crazier than the next. But all is not as it seems. I won’t spoil it by revealing more, just emphasize that this is an awesome film with a great story at its core and it’s probably the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Tue, Apr 05, 2005

: Selling Grandpa’s House

I worried it’d be hard to convince Grandpa to sell his beach house, but I explained it carefully and he seemed to understand, even pointing out that it’s better for him to be more inland and that he doesn’t go to the beach any way. This afternoon we met with the notary to have Grandpa sign. I’d given Grandpa a note that explained what we were doing and every time he wondered what we were doing I reminded him to read the note: “Sign papers to sell the Oceanside house.” Everything was great until the actual signing. Then he balked. It wasn’t that he wasn’t wanting to sign it — it was that he insisted on understanding every word of the one-page contract (power of attorney for my mom to sell the house). Nothing wrong with that, except his short-term memory is so poor he couldn’t remember our explanations and kept asking the same questions over and over! Finally, however, after nearly an hour, he seemed to conclude that everything was in order and he signed. Whew! I’m glad we don’t have to go through that again!

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Mon, Apr 04, 2005

: Home Again, Home Again

Ah, what a relief to be home. It was a long trip, nearly two weeks, five states, seven plane rides, five security checks (including a real hassle in San Jose where they made me take off my shoes and belt and wanded me and everything [Lesson: don’t get to the gate an hour early as the bored security people have nothing to do but check you extra-thoroughly]), and six different sleeping places. I got a lot accomplished, but it’s good to be home. Grandpa is here (came home last week) and seems to be doing well. He’s sure glad to be out of Oakwood. It was a nice place — even he admits that — but he’d much rather be here. Of course he’d rather be at his own house, but we’re going to have to sell that (he can’t live there any more so there’s no point in keeping it) and that’s going to be our next big adventure.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Sat, Apr 02, 2005

: MLS: New England Revolution at San Jose Earthquakes

One of the coolest things about the timing of this trip was that I was able to end up in San Jose the weekend of the Earthquakes’ opening game of the season — awesome! It felt a little surreal going to a game now that I live so far away, but the stadium atmosphere was a familiar feeling. The game was good. Not great, but good. The Quakes looked awesome in the first half, totally dominating with a solid two goal lead, but in the second half they got too comfortable and pressed forward too much and forgot to defend: New England came back into it with two goals to tie it up and that’s the way it ended. At least it wasn’t a loss — that would have been horrible — but it still felt a lot like one. Blowing a two goal lead at home doesn’t inspire confidence. Still, the game showed that San Jose can score and play, though their defense — what used to be their best attributed — needs a lot of work. Fun evening, though. I will miss this dreadfully.

Topic: [/soccer]

Link

Fri, Apr 01, 2005

: Sin City

Director: Robert Rodriguez

This is a fantastic, brilliant, wonderful movie. It’s full of anti-heroes, gray characters of criminal backgrounds. It’s a collection of semi-related stories based on the comics of Frank Miller. The stories are unusual, ultra-violent, grim, and tragic, yet filled with an inspired sense of wild fun, witty dark humor, and film noir nostalgia (similar to the

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Mar 31, 2005

: Decipher

Author: Stel Pavlou

A rather remarkable book from a scientific perspective. Somehow Pavlou comes up with plausible science to back up a rather wild premise: that the people of ancient Atlantis were actually more advanced than us and they planted the seeds of language and myth and religion in all our cultures in order to send us a message to use the global machinery of Atlantis to save Earth from a pulsar wave that happens every 12,000 years. Storywise, it’s a pretty good adventure tail, but the science is a little heavy-handed, slowing the action, and I found the anti-God aspects to be over-emphasized (similar to the awful The Davinci Code). But overall, not a bad, and impressive for a debut novel.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Mar 25, 2005

: REAL World 2006

Excellent conference. It’s so inspiring. It made me want to do more programming. So many brilliant people doing so many exciting things! It’s just wonderful. In the keynote we heard about a couple guys who are building an entry to the DARPA Grand Challenge — that’s where you build an autonomous vehicle that can drive itself with no human control. Their entry has a budget of ten grand and the two guys are writing all their software in REALbasic. This to compete with university and other research labs with budgets in the millions! And already it looks like these two guys, in just a few months, are going to be very competitive. Really cool story.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Wed, Mar 23, 2005

: Marc’s Trip

Today I leave on my big trip. Grandpa’s still at Oakwood but will be discharged next week — my mother will stay with him at my house until I get back on April 4. Meantime, I’m heading to Austin, Texas, for the REAL World 2006 conference, then on to Houston to see my cousin Tami, on to Nashville where I’ll rent a car and drive to Maryville, Tennesee to see my aunt and Alabama where I’ve got some cousins and an uncle. I fly back next Thursday via San Jose where I’ll spend the weekend and come back home the following Monday. Whew! It makes me tired just thinking of it! But flying beats last year’s driving expedition.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Sat, Mar 19, 2005

: The Stone Monkey

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Pretty cool book, though it wanders around a lot, and the twist conclusion is a little too convoluted for my taste. Still, I liked the characters of bed-ridden Lincoln Rhyme, the detective, and his female partner. The story’s about a Chinese criminal, a “snakehead,” who smuggles people into the U.S., but when things go wrong, he murders them and sets out destroying all witnesses and connections to himself. Lincoln cleverly figures out where the guy is from hardly any information, but the guy’s always one step in front (until the end, of course). Excellent.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sun, Mar 06, 2005

: Pre-Birthday Party

Today we celebrated Grandpa’s pre-birthday. His birthday really isn’t until May 9, but two of my cousins, Tami and Philip, flew in this weekend as it fit into their schedules the best. Philip’s in Manhattan, Tami’s in Houston. Tami brought her 14-month-old son, Rowan, so Grandpa got to see his great-grandson and boy was he proud! I escaped Grandpa from Oakwood and he was at my house all afternoon and we had a great time of fellowship, fun, and way, way too much food (for some unknown reason I’d prepared for 50 people when we only had a dozen). It was a terrific experience and Grandpa really enjoyed it.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Sat, Mar 05, 2005

: State of Fear

Author: Michael Crichton

I haven’t been that impressed by Michael’s recent releases, but went ahead and got this. I purposely avoided any knowledge about it, but knew that it was somehow controversial though I didn’t know any details about why. Turns out, it’s an anti-environmentalist novel. Michael uses extensive research to show that most of the environmental science is hogwash. It’s an interesting and educational read. While I consider myself very pro-environment, I’m also rational and practical, and I don’t believe most of the riduculous assertions I hear (on both sides) and so I enjoyed this part of the novel. Unfortunately, as a novel, the book suffers. The story’s about several eco-terrorists who plan a series of artificially-created natural disasters (including a tsunami) in order to provoke more environmental laws and donations to environmental causes. Michael does his best spy-novel imitation, but everything falls a bit flat, and all the heavy science thrown in constantly really drags things down. A non-fiction book would have been better, or perhaps a simpler, more linear plot. As it is, it feels convoluted, bewildering, and a bit boring. The science, however, is fascinating, and it’s worth reading just for that (regardless of which side of the issue you are on).

Topic: [/book]

Link

Tue, Mar 01, 2005

: Excursion

Today I took Grandpa out of Oakwood to the doctor. He needed a local doctor, so I arranged a new patient visit and today I took him there. I was leary about transporting Grandpa and how he’d handle everything, but it turned out to be just fine. He managed to get into my van just fine — the new hip has certainly minimized the pain he used to experience when getting in and out of vehicles. After the routine doctor visit, Grandpa didn’t want to go back to Oakwood yet, so I took him to Shari’s restaurant where he ordered the shrimp lunch and loved it. He hasn’t been eating the hospital food very well, so I was delighted to see him add soup to the meal and eat most of it, eat all the shrimp and most of the fries, and ask for ice cream for dessert! It was a great excursion and something I think we should do regularly.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Mon, Feb 21, 2005

: Rehab

Today Grandpa was transferred to Oakwood, a local care facility, where he’ll stay for a few weeks, learning to use his new hip. There are things he’s not supposed to do (like bend over 90 degrees) because that might dislocated his hip. He rode over to Oakwood in a wheelchair van and seemed to like that a lot — he didn’t even have to get out of his wheelchair. His room at Oakwood is nice and there’s a facility cat that visits his room regularly as it has the best window. Oakwood actually encourages pets — it suggests you bring yours when you come to visit. That’s awesome. Instead of regarding pets as dirty animals, they feel they are a health benefit, and I agree (especially for the elderly).

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Tue, Feb 15, 2005

: New Hip for Grandpa

Grandpa got a new hip today. Everything went beautifully. He didn’t even know anything had happened. When my mom and I went to see him at noon, after the procedure, he wanted to know when the surgery was going to be! Looks like he’ll be in the hospital for another week and then he’ll go to rehab.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Sat, Feb 12, 2005

: Grandpa Goes to Hospital

Today I had to take Grandpa to the emergency room. He couldn’t get out of bed this morning. His right leg was bothering him too much. He screamed in pain when I just looked at it, let alone touched it or tried to move it. He decided he’d just stay in bed all day. Not a good solution, considering he might need to use the bathroom eventually. I was concerned because this was not normal. His leg frequently bothers him and he has good days and bad days, but this was almost complete immobility. To be safe, I called his doctor. The doctor on call freaked when I mentioned Grandpa had a slight temperature (99.2) and said I should immediately take him to the hospital. Apparently even a slight temperature is a sign of serious things in an 89-going-on-90 old man. At the hospital they took blood, urine, and x-rays, the ER doctor reporting that Grandpa had not broken his hip as originally expected, but he definitely needed a hip replacement. Since this hip issue had put Grandpa in a care facility at Christmas, the doctor couldn’t figure out why nothing had been done then. But Grandpa’s previous doctors hadn’t suggested anything even though we asked if something couldn’t be done to help him. This doctor immediately got on the phone with the hospital’s orthopedic surgeon and within an hour he was there, dressed in jeans as he was not working on Saturday, and examining Grandpa. It was quickly decided that hip replacement surgery was the only thing to do. Without it Grandpa would remain bedridden and in pain. With it, he might even walk (with a walker or cane) and he should be pain-free. So it looks like that’s what’s on the schedule.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Sat, Feb 05, 2005

: Crazy Marc buys truck, er, van

I’ve been wanting a truck, van, or stationwagon for a while now: anything that would carry more than my tiny Neon. Especially with the new house, I’m finding I need stuff (furniture, accessories, tools, etc.) and it’s tough getting them home. Most of my needs are simple and it’s annoying to find an inexpensive desk costs more to deliver than it costs for the desk! Yesterday I started shopping, just checking local dealers to see what was available. At first I was pleased to see that there was so selection in my price range (I was thinking about $5K for a used vehicle), but once I started thinking about it, I got depressed. You see, most of the vehicles I was finding were ten years old and had more miles than my Neon! Paying $5K for a used vehicle with unknown problems and 100,000+ miles was not exciting. Then today I stopped at the local Mazda dealer. The car I really wanted was the Mazda3 5-door, but for right now, it’s too small for my needs so I’d decided to buy a used truck and wait a year or two for the Mazda. But the Mazda dealer had some used vehicles in stock. After considering a Ford Focus Wagon, I saw a large van/truck and asked the sales guy about it. “Oh, that’s a little older, but hey, it would probably work for you.” It was a third to a quarter of the cost of most of the vehicles I’d been studying, but was a 1990 model with nearly 200,000 miles. But it started right up. It was a Mazda MPV which Consumer Reports rates highly (though unfortunately their ratings don’t go back to 1990). It’s in great physical shape and seemed to run well, though of course you never know about an engine that old. In the end, as the price dropped during our negotiations, I decided to take a gamble. I wrote a check and drove home a new minivan/truck! (It’s technically classified as a minivan, but has four-wheel drive, so I guess that’s why Mazda calls it a Multi-Purpose Vehicle.) Here’s a picture if you’re curious. I’m not sure exactly how I’ll use the van: if it drives well I may use it a lot, or I could only use it when I need to haul things. I hope it lasts a year or two. It seems like it should, unless I discover the engine needs some major work. Then it because a dilemma of how much to put into an old vehicle. But if I can get a year or two of good use out of it, it’ll be a steal. Meantime it’s so cheap I can keep my Neon and have two vehicles, which is nice as they back each other up (my Neon will be eleven years old in March). I’m probably crazy to be so impulsive, but that’s how I do things.

Topic: [/car]

Link

Fri, Feb 04, 2005

: Life with Grandpa

Grandpa has been living with me for a couple weeks now and life sure has been interesting! To provide family and friends with a glimpse at what it’s like, I decided to start a little newsletter. It’s full of little humorous stories about Grandpa and his new life here with me. Even if you don’t know Grandpa, you might find it entertaining.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Tue, Feb 01, 2005

: Revolution in the Valley

Author: Andy Hertzfeld

Terrific annecnotes about the creation of the Macintosh computer back in the early 1980s. Andy was one of the original software developers who wrote many key parts of the OS and his insights and memories in these short stories really bring the creation process to life. Read it even if you’re not interested in computers or Macintosh, simply because it provides a wonderful look at what it was like to create something so ground-breaking.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sun, Jan 23, 2005

: Greenwich

Author: Howard Fast

This was a fascinating little book without much plot or action, but plenty of subtle drama and inuendo. It dealt with the lives of several families in Greenwich, Connecticut, in particular a multi-millionaire who had previously been a U.S. government official who ordered the deaths of a group of nuns and priests in South America. This white-handed murder (he did not do the killing, only signed the order) gives him guilt many years later when an investigation of the event is started. Not much happens in the book, but the collection of characters is interesting, and like on TV shows like Twin Peaks and Desperate Housewives, you sense hidden horrors behind the facade of civility. Fast is a very good writer; I was impressed by his mastery of the craft. But though the book hinted at philosophical and psychological depth, it didn’t really have enough for my tastes (it was a little light, considering the subject matter), but it was entertaining and interesting.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Thu, Jan 20, 2005

: Solution for Grandpa

A brilliant idea to the Grandpa dilemma: he will move in with me! The logic makes total sense: I work from home, so I’m almost always here. Unlike my mother, I can physically assist him if he needs help. I’m in a good location, near a hospital, near the Portland metro area, near relatives and friends. My house is one level and except for one step at the main entrance, wheelchair accessible with an open floorplan. Of course there will be changes to my lifestyle: Grandpa expects meals at regular times (so no more afternoon breakfasts for me); he won’t like my TV programs; it’ll be difficult to leave him alone for too long, so I won’t be able to go away without arranging for a substitute sitter. But overall, I like the idea. Grandpa and I get alone well, he told me he’d like to be here over being in a care facility, and he sleeps most of the time, so I don’t think he’ll be that much of a burden. Besides, he raised me half my childhood, so this is payback, right?

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Mon, Jan 17, 2005

: Grandpa

It looks like we’re closer to making a decision about Grandpa. He’s definitely not coming home: there’s just no way. My mom isn’t physically able to care for him there and it’s just too dangerous. If he falls or struggles, all she can do is call 911. He’s also isolated from the family way over on the coast. We think it’s best he be put in a care facility in the Portland area where we can all visit him regularly and be available if he needs us. This means a lot of changes in the near future for everyone, but at least now we have a clear idea of where we’re going. We could try to come up with ways to keep Grandpa at home (i.e. having one of my cousins move in), but such things would be difficult to engineer and only temporary fixes. Unfortunately, the time we’ve dreaded is at hand, and we can’t care for him ourselves any longer. Even if he can regain some of his walking ability, it most likely won’t be for long (he has a bad knee and hip), and he needs 24-hour care in case he falls or has a problem. I mostly worry about his own attitude: he does not want to be in a facility and he could simply give up if he’s put in one, but I hope he doesn’t. His general health is good and if has a positive attitude he could have many years left. It’s just sad to see him fade away. His short-term memory isn’t good and I dread the thought of his mind fading to the point where he can’t recognize family, etc.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Thu, Jan 13, 2005

: Grandpa and Other Troubles

Today was not a good day. The family had come to the uncomfortable decision that Grandpa most likely will not be able to come home, though we might still try to figure out a way (we’re still not sure how well Grandpa is or isn’t). After half a day of analyzing finances and trying to predict the future, my mom visited Grandpa (I was in bed with my cold) and found that he still can’t really walk (though he thinks he can), and that he’s got to be out of the care facility where he’s at by this Sunday. It was evening by the time my mother was to go home so I suggested she stay at my place rather than drive home in the cold and dark, and she agreed. She telephoned her friend that’s been watching Monica, her little crippled Pomeranian, and learned — what timing! — that Monica passed away yesterday at about three o’clock. My mom was devastated. Though the news wasn’t completely unexpected as the dog’s always been weak and over Christmas got so bad that she could no longer walk, it was still very difficult news to hear. In a way it was crueler that it happened while we were gone but it another way it was a blessing that she didn’t have to deal with it directly. Still, the timing, with Grandpa’s situation foremost in our minds, could not have been worse. My mom’s gone through a lot the past few years: Ben’s brain injury and personality change, the divorce, moving to Oregon, her own diagnosis and struggle with rheumetoid arthrisis, the dog’s medical issues, and various emergencies with Grandpa, and Monica was her sole constant and comfort during that time. Now she’s gone. It’s a tough time.

Topic: [/grandpa]

Link

Wed, Jan 12, 2005

: Mid-west Trip

Our trip is finally over. It was only a week, but felt like a month. On Tuesday we drove to Leighton, Alabama, which is west of Huntsville and in the middle of nowhere. It was great, though. We got to see my Uncle Jack and Aunt Wanda, and my cousins JJ and Corina and their families (they both have spouses and kids I’d never met). JJ barely remembered me — he was probably only about four the last time I saw him. I was worried it would be a little awkward seeing relatives I haven’t seen in so long, but it was great. I don’t know how or why we drifted apart (this country’s just too large), but it was great to see them again. I’m glad we made the effort and they really appreciated it. We couldn’t stay long at all — just had dinner — and then we were off to Nashville. We arrived before midnight and crashed, my flu or cold or whatever wiping me out. I was slow going in the morning, but there was lots to do. We had to return our book-on-CD to Cracker Barrel restaurant (they have a nice lending program), fill up the rental SUV with gas, return the vehicle, and check into our flight home. Fortunately the weather cooperated and everything was on schedule. After the mess on the west coast for a while there, it was dry and our flight into Oakland was routine. We had a two-hour layover there, then it was back home to Portland. I was exhausted and sick and just wanted to sleep, but my mom was already trying to figure out how to deal with Grandpa and his situation.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

: The Zero Game

This was a book on CD we rented for listening during our trip. It was okay, a mindless political thriller that entertained, but had some surprisingly artificial action sequences and forced drama that didn’t gell with the cerebral storyline. The idea was interesting: the “zero game” is a game bored politicians in Washington came up with in which they bet on the outcomes of various bills and events. It’s all secret, with no one knowing who else is in the game. The bets are always on “sure things,” events where the outcome is practically guaranteed, or silly meaningless things like if someone can insert certain keywords into a senator’s speech. The idea is to bring spice into trite and staid political lives of endless speeches. This all goes wrong, however, when someone uses the game to murder, and then the main character uncovers a huge conspiracy. Unfortunately, the novel’s strangely and awkwardly paced: one main character dies early into the story, suddenly shifting to another. That character is written first person, but we occasionally switch to an omnicient narrator at times to keep up with other threads of the story. Then the link between the game and conspiracy is extremely weak, and the conspiracy itself is convoluted, and if you think about it for oh, two seconds, you’ll find about fourteen dozen plot holes big enough to drive semis through. Pretty lame. Add in an overly dramatic reading, forced drama (The main character’s flashlight dies so he’s trapped in the dark — ooh, drama!), and you’re in for a tiring read. It’s also much too long. But it’s not all bad. There are a couple interesting characters, and some of the political stuff is astute. Unfortunately nothing works together and the whole thing is rather a mishmash of dreck in the end. Save your time and do something more valuable, like counting the bumps on your ceiling.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Mon, Jan 10, 2005

: Mid-west Trip

It was a nice wedding Saturday, with some good family time afterward. The turnout was surprisingly good, perhaps a hundred or more people. Several relatives on our side of the family came from nearby Springfield, which was nice. Funny that my California cousin would meet and marry a girl from Missouri (our family has a lot of Missouri connections and I lived up in Springfield myself for a time). Sunday I woke up with a full-on cold: I’d been fighting it since before Christmas, a slight sore throat that warned of more. But all the travel and lack of sleep brought it on full and this morning I couldn’t swallow without screaming. We stopped at a Wal-Mart and I stocked up on cold medicine. The rest of the trip is appropriately hazy. We drove to Springfield yesterday and stayed with my great-Aunt and Uncle. Today we headed for Alabama. This was a bit unexpected, but when I talked with my Uncle Jack on Friday, he mentioned he was only two hours from Nashville, so we decided instead of returning via the northern route, we’d go south and come up to Nashville from below, passing through Alabama and visiting Jack and my cousins. It meant less time in Springfield, but I haven’t seen Uncle Jack and family since I was nine years old. We thought we’d go as far as Memphis but apparently stopped in West Memphis, a city that’s apparently in Arkansas, not Tennessee. Weird.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Fri, Jan 07, 2005

: Mid-west Trip

Yesterday we drove to Maryville, near Knoxville, to visit my aunt and her husband (who is ill). It was a great visit. We also got to see my cousin Jodi (who I haven’t seen since I was a kid) and her family (she has three great children). Today we (I should say I) drove for eleven hours as we went from Maryville to Eminence, Missouri. That’s in the middle of the Ozark mountains near nothing. It’s about half-way between Paduca and Springfield, if that means anything. Anyway, it was a long, long drive across all of Tennessee, up into Kentucky for a spell, then halfway across Missouri. It rained a lot and there were flood warnings. Not long after we left Paduca there were reports on the radio of the Ohio river there flooding there. We were also delayed by a multi-car wreck on I-40 before Nashville. We saw two ambulances go by, but the main vehicle in the accident appeared to have gone over an embankment and we couldn’t see anything but the rescue workers. We did see a few other banged up vehicles that appeared to be rear-enders that couldn’t stop in time. It made me drive carefully, let me tell you. Fortunately the weather, while wet, wasn’t terrible. We got into Eminence late, missing most of the evening dinner reception, and after a short while at the dinner word was out that it was starting to freeze and people should get to their motels ASAP. Sure enough, as we were getting settled in our motel room, the rain had turned to sleet and was icing on the cars. The “outdoor” wedding scheduled for tomorrow has been changed to indoors, thank the Lord.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Wed, Jan 05, 2005

: Mid-west Trip

Wow, what a day! Though our flight wasn’t until noon, we still had to get up early and leave the house by nine. Crazy the way that works, but you need to get to the airport a couple hours early (to park the car, get through security, etc.) and I am an hour or so from the airport. The flight was packed and my mom’s expandable carryon proved too big to fit into the overhead bins so it had to be checked (Why do they sell carryon-sized luaggage that expands to be too big?). The outgoing flight was slow to leave (I don’t know why), so we arrived in Reno thirty minutes behind schedule. We didn’t get off the plane there, but sat for a while and looked at all the snow. Then it was off to Phoenix where we had a two hour layover before our next flight. The food at the Phoenix airport was terrible. We arrived in Nashville a little early, at about 15 after eleven, but it was still midnight by the time we got my mom’s checked bag, got the rental car, and checked in to our motel room. A long day.

Topic: [/travel]

Link

Mon, Jan 03, 2005

: Mid-west Trip

My mother and I are heading east for the next week. My cousin’s getting married in Missouri on Saturday and we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to visit some relatives in the area. We leave Wednesday, but the trip sort of started today, as my mother had to come over from the coast to bring Grandpa some clothes — he’s been put into a facility in Forest Grove (40 minutes from me) where he’ll stay while we’re gone. Now we’re facing the task of deciding what to do with him long-term. If he can’t walk, my mother can’t take care of him, so probably our only choice is to put him into long-term care. It’s not something he wants, and we’d probably have to sell the beach house (meaning my mom will be without a place to live), but it’s not like there are many other choices. My mom was originally planning on coming here tomorrow but it doesn’t make sense for her to come over today and then again tomorrow, so she’ll stay here tonight as well. I’ve got a ton of packing and planning and work to do before we go.

Topic: [/travel]

Link