Fri, Dec 29, 2006

: The Pursuit of Happyness

I was worried this film might be too much Oscar bait, a bit of showcasing, but it turns out to be merely a good movie. The trailer highlights the key dramatic points and fortunately that’s as showy as the film gets. It’s just a good story about a hard-working man trying to figure out life as he raises his young son. On paper the film’s long but it didn’t feel too much that way in the theatre, though there were a couple moments that dragged. Overall I really liked it, but it isn’t a hugely dramatic story. The ending lacked: we spent the whole movie wallowing in the character’s despair and when he finally succeeds the film just stops — I desperately wanted to see him and his son enjoying life and the rewards of their struggles, see some happiness. A jump ahead to the son’s college graduation would have been ideal.

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Thu, Dec 28, 2006

: Charlotte’s Web

Author: E.B. White

After seeing the recent delightful movie, I wanted to read the book, which I hadn’t read since I was a kid. I’m really glad I did. It’s just a wonderful book, elegant in its simplicity, but deep in heart. I listened to the audio book (unabridged) and it was read by the author, which was just wonderful: his gruff voice was just perfect for the story.

Topic: [/book]

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Wed, Dec 27, 2006

: The Nativity Story

I wanted to love this: it’s a good cast, a great director, and the production values are high. But ultimately it lacks emotion. There’s a spark missing. Mary hardly smiles throughout the whole movie, seemingly always carrying a heavy burden, which I found exhausting, and the story, of course, offers few surprises. Some of the structure of the film felt awkward as well. For instance, the movie started off with a “dramatic” scene of King Harrod’s soldiers killing babies (except that the baby-killing was not actually shown, and cut so abrubtly it was hard to tell if the babies were being slaughtered or merely kidnapped), and then the film backtracked to a year earlier. Why? The drama of the baby killing should have been horrific; instead it was bewildering and out-of-sequence. There were some nice touches and scenes, but many of the dramatic high points of the story — such as the angel’s visits to Mary and Joseph — felt underdone and ordinary. It was as though the producers didn’t want to actually show anything supernatural (yet there was no problem emphasizing the Eastern mystics’ philosophies). All-in-all this is a well-done film. It’s certainly not bad, but unfortunately it’s not great either, especially considering the story it’s trying to tell. Still worth seeing, though don’t expect the emotion of The Passion of the Christ.

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Sat, Dec 23, 2006

: High Heels and Low Lifes

A surprisingly decent comedy caper about a couple women in London who happen to overhear a conversation about a bank robbery and decide to blackmail the gansters involved. Of course everything goes wrong and the gansters are not amused, but our plucky heroines, through dumb luck and the occasional bit of intelligence, manage to outwit professional killers. Quite fun.

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Fri, Dec 22, 2006

: Night at the Museum

This is an extremely light film: it stretches the single-gimmick premise (all the exhibits in a museum come to life at night) as far as it can, and it tacks the whole thing onto a tender-hearted divorced-loser-dad-wants-to-impress-alienated-son storyline. Still, despite misteps and some awkward unfunny moments, it mostly works, primarily through the irrascible charm of star Ben Stiller and a few of the shinning co-stars (an elderly but spry Dick Van Dyke is wonderful as the former night watchman). Still, it cannot overcome the limitations of its premise, and there are a few too many sight gags and pratfalls for true humor, but overall for silly, mind-numbing fun, it’s not bad at all. There are definitely worse ways to waste your time.

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: Feast

Mildly interesting blood film (literally) about a strange creature attacking people trapped in a bar in remote area. I guess this was a “Project Greenlight” project, so it was by a first-time director. It had some style but was uneven and ultimately a meaningless splatterfest.

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Thu, Dec 21, 2006

: Mandelay

Author: Lars von Trier

Director: Lars von Trier

This is von Trier’s followup to the incredible Dogville; it picks up where there first left off, with the girl and her father leaving Dogville. (This time the girl is played by Bryce Dallas Howard instead of Nicole Kidman; I didn’t think that would work, but it was fine.) The family travel into the south and happen upon a plantation called Mandelay where Blanche discovers that slavery is still very much in force. She is shocked and horrified and vows to free the slaves — yet like all good intentions, the results are not as she expected. Are the slaves better off free? Without any assets or education, are the slaves actually free? Many such questions are asked as the film explores racism from many angles. I found this fascinating, especially in light of what’s happening today in Iraq where we get similar adverse reactions from those freed from oppression. Unfortunately, while this film has some of the elements that made Dogville so astonishing, it lacks drama and punch. There are a few twists, and it tries hard to be shocking, but doesn’t live up to the first film. It’s not bad, exactly; I suppose if you hadn’t seen Dogville you’d find it remarkable. Unfortunately most people who see this would have seen the first and in comparison this one pales. It’s still interesting and worth seeing if you liked Dogville; just don’t expect the same magic a second time.

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Tue, Dec 19, 2006

: Blood Diamond

Warning: this film is definitely preachy. It has a “moral” and isn’t shy about criticizing Americans for supporting civil wars in Africa by purchasing diamonds that fund the gun runners. For some, that preachiness overwhelms the film, but though I might have preferred it to be a little less heavy-handed (we are not stupid and don’t need to be hammered), the preachiness did not bother me as much as it might have. For one, I don’t buy diamonds anyway (I am not a fan of jewelry), so this was not targeted at me and I felt no guilt, and for another, I’ve lived in Africa and loved the authenticness of this tale. The casual cruelty of war in Africa is shocking for most Americans, but routine in countries where life is cheap. That made the quest of the central character, Solomon Senday, who’s trying to rescue his kidnapped family, all the more poignant: here’s a man willing to risk everything to save a life in a world where lives are so much chaff in the wind. The story’s interesting: Senday’s found a rare pink diamond worth millions and uses it to bribe Leo Dicaprio, who plays a South African gun runner, into helping him rescue his family; along for the ride is an American reporter played by Jennifer Connolly, who helps out by cutting through red tape. There were some fascinating sub-stories as well: the son’s brainwashing by rebel troups and climactic confrontation with his long-suffering father was amazing. The end is somewhat predictable, as the soulless Dicaprio finds life-worth by helping the black man and the reporter is able to open the world’s eyes to the deaths that surround conflict diamonds. While I enjoyed the film overall, it unfortunately is quite long and feels too much like health food: good for you but not necessarily tasty. The whole dilemma of conflict diamonds — diamonds traded for guns are mixed with legitimate diamonds as a way around boycotts — is never solved (I doubt there is a satisfactory answer) and the movie rather implies that buying diamonds of any kind supports civil wars, despite the film’s own admission that the vast majority of diamonds are conflict free and boycotting those hurts the millions of legitimate workers whose livelihood depends on the diamond trade. Without a way to distinguish conflict diamonds from legitimate, there’s no way to avoid supporting death in Africa short of a all-out boycott — yet that means economic death for many. But all the controversy and simplication of complex problems aside, I still found the film remarkable, riveting, and well worth seeing. Two thumbs up.

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Mon, Dec 18, 2006

: Charlotte’s Web

Author: E.B. White

Terrific, terrific film for all ages. This adapation of the classic children’s book is heavy on the special effects of talking animals, but so well-done you can’t tell what technology’s used and you just fall into the story. The voice are just perfectly cast (especially the pig) so that even celebrity voices don’t overpower their characters. The story seems quite faithful to the book (though it’s been a long time since I read it), and though there are some liberties taken with comic relief (like the two hilariously stupid crows), it doesn’t hurt the story. There’s a tad too much silliness at times, with gags relying on pratfalls and crude humor like cow flatulence, but that’s only in a handful of places and generally the film’s just wonderful. I also wish there was a bit more screen time with Wilbur (the pig) and Fern (the little girl) as their relationship was more implied than shown, but the Charlotte-Wilbur relationship was amazingly presented. The bottom line: this is a classic story and a classic film. One of my favorites of the whole year. I’m sure I could watch it over and over.

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Fri, Dec 15, 2006

: Eragon

Today I had no electricity so I went to the movies. I wanted to see this film as I’d read the book. At first I was frustrated because it started off with a lot of narrated exposition and seemed to be skipping key events from the book, but somehow it still worked — the heart of the story comes through and if you hadn’t read the book you’d come away thinking it was pretty good. It’s not as good as the book in many ways — much of the drama is lost as time is compressed so that events that took months in the novel happen within minutes on film — but in other ways, that’s actually better, for the book did drag on and on bit too much. Overall, a decent and impressive adaptation. The CGI dragon is surprisingly well-done and the actors — many unknown — are not bad. The film does not have the epic feel of the Lord of the Rings films and comes across like a cheap clone; it would have been better served to slow the action at times and let the story build. But it does have a handful of emotional moments and times when you fee like there’s more to the story than just action. But overall it’s not a bad mix: kids will enjoy the action. Readers of the book will probably feel somewhat disappointed, but trust me: it could have been much worse.

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Thu, Dec 14, 2006

: Windstorm

Today there was a huge windstorm in Oregon (winds over 100mph at the coast) and a tree in my backyard fell onto my neighbor’s house! Here’s a picture of the tree:

Fallen Tree

I don’t know what happens next — the tree people are all extremely busy as practically every road in Oregon is closed with a tree down.

Topic: [/personal]

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Mon, Dec 11, 2006

: Castle in the Sky

Author: Hayao Miyazaki

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Another terrific film from Miyazaki. This one again features a young girl, an orphan being hunted for the necklace she wears which contains great power. It turns out she’s a princess from a lost world — a floating city in the sky that’s long thought to be legend. There’s a slew of wild characters, from a female pirate and her offspring crew to an orphan boy whose father died trying to find the floating city to an odd-looking hulk-like giant metal robot, and it’s quite a fun journey. Terrific story, good morals, and wonderful animation. A must-see!

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Sun, Dec 10, 2006

: Possession

Interesting film I knew nothing about. It’s set modern day with an American researcher in England studying the life of a poet who died 140 years earlier. He comes across a startling revelation — that the chaste poet who’s famous for his love poems to his beloved wife — might have had an unknown mistress. His research leads him on a sort of detective’s journey, trying to solve a 140-year-old mystery, restracing the steps of the poet and deciphering clues in his poems and those of his mistress. It’s a bit clunky at times, but surpisingly good at others, and though, in the end, the mystery’s not all that mysterious or exciting, it makes for a decent film. Thumbs up from me.

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Wed, Dec 06, 2006

: One False Move

Author: Alex Kava

I like Kava’s novels, but this one took me forever to get through. Part of it was that our perspective is from the viewpoint of the killer’s sister, who’s helping him, and he’s such an unlikeable character I didn’t want to spend any time with him at all. He kills people right and left, he seems like an utter idiot, dying to get caught, and his motives are a mystery until the very end, and so are the sister’s; this made 90% of the novel an awkward and distasteful puzzle. It’s not a bad book, and it has some decent moments, but some of the decisions Kava made should have been rethought. I’d give it a C+ if I was grading it.

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Tue, Dec 05, 2006

: Z/Web Makeover

You may have noticed that the Z/Web site has a completely new look! Not only have I improved the appearance, but there is more technology behind the scenes as well. I now support comments using the Haloscan system, so feel free to post feedback and opinion on any of my posts. I’ve also enhanced the blog with better topic support — you can now browse posts by those topics as well. I’m sure there is still more to be done and perhaps a few glitches I missed in testing (please alert me to any issues you notice), but it’s an improvement and I’ll keep tweaking until everything’s right.

Topic: [/zweb]

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Wed, Nov 29, 2006

: Deja Vu

I thought this was a murder-mystery of some kind and it is, but it’s really about time travel, not that the trailers give you any hint of that. Once you figure that out the story’s really fairly standard. The time travel aspect is given short shrift and is a bit clunky in how it’s presented — all the technical mumbo jumbo is glossed over in about thirty seconds — and it feels completely improbable. But somehow it still manages to work, mostly because of decent acting from Denzel Washington and others, and the film’s pace — non-stop action — also helps. Unfortunately the premise of the film is such a gimmick this isn’t a classic or even a film you’d want to watch a second time. I’d give it a B for first-time viewing and maybe a C for subsequent views in which all the drama and excitement is gone.

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Fri, Nov 24, 2006

: For Your Consideration

Another pretty cool documentary parody from the people who did Best in Show, Spinal Tap, and other films. Like those others, this misses the mark in some areas, and it’s never laugh-out-loud funny, but has a lot of in-jokes for those who know the entertainment industry (I’m sure I missed a lot). This film’s about a low-budget family drama with young unknowns and older has-beens who suddenly get an Oscar buzz going which dramatically changes the way the film’s made and the actors and writers see themselves. Unfortunately, there were some odd aspects I didn’t understand: the buzz starting while the film was filming, the Oscar nominations coming out before the film’s release in January (film eligible for Oscars are supposed to be released before the end of the year); that didn’t make much sense. But I give it literary license and go along with the gag, but overall the film’s too uneven for true brilliance, but it is a fun, decent movie.

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: The Fountain

Odd movie. Difficult to explain. Definitely science fiction, perhaps too much so, so that it’s a bit alienating. I liked it overall, but it felt like it missed the mark. The ending was anticlimactic and didn’t satsify me completely, but it was more than just that — the entire film felt like it didn’t quite reach the heights it was aiming for. The mystery of the Tree (the tree that gives eternal life) was never explained, but that wouldn’t have bothered if there weren’t so many other loose ends left dangling. It’s definitely a movie I want to see a second time before I really judge it.

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Fri, Nov 17, 2006

: Casino Royale

This is definitely a different Bond. My feelings are mixed: there are things I liked and things I didn’t. Daniel Craig is fine, and I like the “reboot” of the Bond franchise, but Craig’s grittier Bond isn’t carried through all the way leaving us with a fractured, mixed-bag Bond that is quite like the old Bonds yet isn’t new enough to be his own. I was also somewhat disappointed with the rather ordinary plot; while there are some action scenes, they feel inserted rather than part of the story, and much of the talky scenes go on way too long to the point of ponderousness. Craig is also given exhorbitant highlight scenes (him coming up dripping wet out of the water, etc.) which feel like silly Baywatch style slow-mo. There are a few sparkling moments: the super-human acrobatics on the cranes at the construction site, the delightful repartie Bond shares with his female love interest, and some of the poker scenes. But too much feels too ordinary; I wanted either the glamour and pizzaz of the splashier Bonds, or gritty realism. Instead I got this awkward mix. Note that this isn’t Craig’s fault and we can’t judge his Bond on this one script; I’d give him one more shot and see what he can do with the role. I suspect that the series will only get better (new Bonds are always a slightly awkward fit at first, Pierce Brosnan being the exception). All that said, this is definitely worth seeing. People have different tastes and you need to judge for yourself. I should also add that there wasn’t enough of the Bond theme music. Why was that? That great theme totally sets the tone and gets you in the mood. Without it the film just didn’t feel like a 077 movie.

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Fri, Nov 10, 2006

: Stranger Than Fiction

I’ve been looking forward to this for ages since the trailer premiered many months ago (it seems like years), but while I Iiked it, the long anticipation made it somewhat of a disappointment. It has a number of aspects to it that weren’t clear in the trailer (such as the romance), but the setup of the premise — established in 30 seconds in the trailer — takes a long time to get going, and the resolution doesn’t quite hit the mark. It’s good, but somehow not totally satisfying. It feels a bit like a cop-out, as though we, the viewer, were cheated or not given a clever enough ending. It’s not that the ending’s not good, it is; it’s just that the setup is so long and complicated and we expect a bigger payoff and the ending sort of trickles. It’s got a lot of excellent moments, however, including much that’s not in the trailer (good), but in the end it gets a B instead of an A.

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Thu, Nov 09, 2006

: Flushed Away

I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by this gem: I didn’t know much about it going in, but it was quite fun with unique characters and humor, and an excellent story. Two thumbs way up!

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Fri, Nov 03, 2006

: Borat

Not as good as I’d hoped; the premise is brilliant and at times the movie’s subtle and hilarious with unexpected humor, but far too much of the film is gross out humor (which I was not expecting) or one-joke premises that go on much too long (the endless gay jokes got tiring). Could have been so much better.

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Fri, Oct 20, 2006

: Marie Antoinette

This is one of those films where the trailer’s better than the movie. The trailer is brilliant: fun, funky, exciting, sexy, with a heavy rock beat. The film has some of that fun, but only on occasion — much of the time the film’s much too serious, with boring scenes of 18th century French court formality. There are some nice moments of humor — the scene where a chilly naked Marie has to impatiently wait while women of various nobility are privileged to help her dress is hilarious in mocking royal ridiculousness — but unfortunately those are few and far between. But the film’s biggest flaw is that at the end we still don’t know much more than we started about the characters: Marie seems to have had her life dictated for her, and other than a little partying and a couple tender moments with her daughter, we don’t learn much of what makes her tick. And she’s the deepest character we explore — the rest are mere mysteries or shallow stereotypes. Though I liked Kirsten Dunst in the role of Marie, the whole thing was so mild and tragic I was terribly disappointed not to see her get her head chopped off at the end. Conclusion? Mildly entertaining.

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: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

This was Miyazaki’s first film and it’s not his best or my favorite, though it has many Miyazaki touches. It’s just not as deep and complex as his later works, though it hints at it. Again the hero is a young girl, Nausicaa, who’s a princess of the people of the Valley of the Wind. She’s the best thing in the film, a fantastic character, a strong girl who leads her people and preaches against killing and war. She’s got a gift of being able to communicate with animals and insects — important in a world set 1000 years after war has decimated the earth and rendered most of the planet toxic and created giant cockroaches and poisonous plants. The environmental message is too heavily preached and the plot’s a little too linear and simple, as it mainly deals with warring cities set to attempt to burn the toxic jungle which will anger the giant insects who will destroy the Valley of the Wind for revenge, and only Nausicaa can stop the raging insects. Miyazaki does have some of his characteristic “gray” characters who are both good and evil, but doesn’t go as far with that as he does in later films like Princess Mononoke. Still, this is a good story and an excellent film, with an all-star cast of voices for the English-dubbed edition.

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: The Prestige

Director: Christopher Nolan

This is an excellent film, though not perfect. The beginning third is too confusing, with flashbacks within flashbacks (we have a character in prison reading a diary which flashes back to another character reading a different diary and flashing back to what he’s reading). But if you stick with it, everything starts to gel, and we soon realize the story’s about two magicians who used to be assistants together, but after a tragedy now hate each other and become rival magicians. The conflict starts out with mild sabotage but escalates into serious injury and murder. It takes a while to get to the good stuff, however, and at times the film’s ponderous. The ending has some surprises but is somewhat predictable and convoluted, but overall the whole thing works as the tricky plot’s somewhat like a magic trick itself. The performances are excellent. Recommended.

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Thu, Oct 19, 2006

: Hard Candy

Wow, what a FANTASTIC film. I realize that the subject matter might turn many people off, so this could be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film, but I thought it was incredible. The story’s incredibly simple: a fourteen-year-old girl meets a 32-year-old guy online, meets him in person, and goes home with him. Then the tables turn as we discover the prey is the guy and she’s the hunter, out to make him pay for his perversion. That’s the gimmick, of course, and most films would just stop there, but this film was created by smart people: the script is written by a playwright, important for a film that almost entirely takes place in a house with just the two primary characters. Every line of dialogue is brilliant and subtle, charged with extra meaning, and the actors in this are incredible: Ellen Page as the girl and Patrick Wilson as the guy both deserve Oscar nominations. The girl is an incredibly intelligent teen and Page plays her with just the right amount of strength and volunerability, confidence and nervous fear, a fascinating mixture that makes her astonishing and fascinating to watch. Wilson doesn’t play his villain as purely evil but as ordinary human, and many times during the film you’re sympathizing with him, as horrifying as that seems later. Both characters are confronted with their demons and forced to see themselves for who they truly are and it’s not always pretty. This film will make you think and think again, and you’ll come away thinking and wondering. The film asks many questions and while it has a satisfying conclusion, it doesn’t wrap up every detail and leaves you plenty of meat to gnaw on later. Wonderful!

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Tue, Oct 17, 2006

: Clear and Convincing Proof

Author: Kate Wilhelm

Pretty good mystery novel, though the plot feels too simple during most of the book until you get to the very end when there are a few interesting twists. Still it’s highly readable with some interesting characters. The murder’s an arrogant doctor everyone hates, so the suspects are many, and the heroine’s a criminal attorney hired to defend the two key suspects. Wilhem’s written books with this character before and at times some of the history is assumed, and I found certain portions of the book confusing (like her relationship with her father). But other than some minor flaws like that, it’s certainly worth the read.

Topic: [/book]

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: In Her Shoes

Definitely a chick flick, but not as sappy as I expected, though too predictable (the trailer gives away pretty much all the plot). The story’s about two un-alike sisters who love each other but drive each other crazy and how the one grows up and the others learns to be less serious. There’s some deep stuff underneath everything involving family secrets about their mother’s death, but the tone of the film’s too light for much profundity.

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Fri, Oct 13, 2006

: The Marine

The premise appealed to the guy in me — a marine’s wife is kidnapped by jewel thieves on the run so he goes after them, one man against many — but the film didn’t deliver much more than what you see in the trailer. It did have a few great lines and scenes (the black robber character was hilarious) but those were unfortunately well outweighed by mediocre action and an illogical script.

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Thu, Oct 12, 2006

: Nutrician Scale

I mentioned earlier about my bout in the Salter and it’s their Nutri-Weigh 1450 model. This scale is so cool: place any food on the scale and it will tell you exact what nutrients are in that food! It breaks down the calories, protein, carbohydrates, sodium, fat, saturated fat, fibre, and more! Built-in it knows about nearly 1500 foods, but you can easily add your own simply by entering the info on the food’s nutrition label. You can even compute the value of recipies by entering each item as you add it (you “zero” the scale between ingredients and it then calculates only the weight of the new item). Later, when you consume part of that recipe, you just weigh how much of it you’re eating and it will tell you exactly the nutrition break-down. This thing is sensitive to the single gram level: I can literally place a bowl of salad on the scale, zero the scale, and drizzle dressing on the salad and watch the calories and carbs and saturated fat count mount drop by drop of dressing! This thing can even total up how much you’re eating per meal, per day, or per week, and you can set target goals (for all ten nutrients) and it will compare to see how you’re doing. For me, this is a godsend, because I am terrible at judging portion sizes, and I’m a precise person and I love the precision of this device. You can literally butter your bread and see how much fat that adds! It’s just amazing. I feared it would be complicated to use but the interface, while not perfect, is not bad at all. You simply enter the first few letters of the food name, then scroll through a short list of candidates and press enter when the correct food is displayed. Immediately the scale tells you the nutrient amounts. If you want to save that data, just press the Memory+ button. Really the only thing this thing lacks is an interface to a computer so you could chart and graph and save the data permanently. But I have a form where I write down the values I want to track and it’s not a big deal. I thought maybe weighing all my food would be a pain, but it’s so easy to do it’s not a chore at all. In fact, it’s not only fun, it can help you eat more! That’s right: I often will use the scale to create a serving size that matches my diet plan, adding a food until the carbs or calories or whatever is within my diet goals. It’s pretty cool to be able to do that, and often the amount is more than I would have guessed I’d be allowed to eat. (The food type makes a big difference: when I can easily see that twenty-five chocolate chips has the same calories as a whole apple, I’m more likely to opt for the healthier and greater amount of food.) My dietician wants to me to watch my carbs (I’m supposed to eat a comparable amount at each meal to keep my diet consistent), my saturated fat (this one’s hard, as delicious cheese really knocks this value up), cholesterol (mainly in eggs and beef), and of course calories. This scale lets me do that and more, and it’s really impressive. Oh, I should also mention you don’t have to actually weigh the food if you don’t have it handy: you can type in the estimated weight, which is useful if you eat out. For instance, I had a bowl of chili at a restaurant yesterday, so I chose Chili and put in two cups for the amount and it told me the nutrients I consumed. That’s a bit rough as I was just guessing the amount and the chili I ate might have different ingredients than the one in the scale, but it’s at least in the ballpark, and it beats a wild guess. The thing I hate worst in the world about diet is when I think I’m doing something healthy or making a sacrifice, only to find out what I’m doing is actually bad. Like when you think you’re cutting your amount down to a good level but it’s still actually too much. With this scale, I don’t have that problem any more since it can tell me, exactly, what I’m consuming every day. Awesome!

Topic: [/medical]

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Tue, Oct 10, 2006

: Mary and the Giant

Author: Philip K. Dick

This is one of Dick’s rare mainstream novels, which are among his best works. This one tells the story of a unique young lady in 1950’s Northern California as she struggles with existential issues and a disatisfied life. It’s remarkable in many ways, though the story’s simple and elegant, and it really captures life in the 50’s. I liked it a lot, but I’m a PKD fan — it might leave some people wanting more.

Topic: [/book]

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Mon, Oct 09, 2006

: The Departed

Director: Martin Scorsese

This is an incredible film. It’s long but doesn’t feel like it. In fact, it’s paced just right. There’s lots of character development, but unlike most stories, it doesn’t feel boring but essential to the puzzles of the characters. The acting is superb, and the action is extremely sudden and violent and bloody, gritty with realism. The ending is quite terrible, and I mean that in the grimest sense. Just an amazing film that deserves a ton of Academy Awards.

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Fri, Oct 06, 2006

: Jet Li’s Fearless

This is a little strange for an action film, as the action’s rather choppy and slightly one-dimensional, but I still liked it. It tells the remarkable story of a Chinese martial arts fighter who was able to best the best of the West, defeating four men in championship bout in the early part of the twentieth century. The film opens with that fight, but then we spend the bulk of the film watching major events of the fighter’s life: how he started out only motivated to win for pride, but later learned the true value of life. The ending is excellent, emotional even, but the fights are all competitions, and I found them to be a bit boring (though one fight on a platform 30 feet off the ground was pretty cool and thrilling).

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Wed, Oct 04, 2006

: Winter’s Bone

Author: Daniel Woodrell

This is a marvelously written book, practically poetry, with vivid descriptions of life deep in the Ozark mountains. The hero of the story is a 16-year-old girl whose drug-dealing father has disappeared, leaving her without any money to care for her two little brothers and her demented mom. Bravely she struggles on until she learns that her father put up their house and land as bond for his court appearance, but with him gone, it seems like the house will be forfit and the girl’s family will be living in the fields with nothing. Unless the girl finds her father in time. Thus she sets off on a wild quest that takes her into some pretty dark places. This is a fascinating, chilling story about a world most of us didn’t even know existed. Amazing. Highly recommended.

Topic: [/book]

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Fri, Sep 29, 2006

: Open Season

Not as good as I’d hoped: the trailer gives away the plot and the best jokes, but overall it’s not terrible. Just average, too predictable, and with a few distasteful scenes (I really don’t need to see animals crap on screen). The film’s inconsistent, at times running through jokes too fast to follow (the mini-mart scene), and at other times having long periods of minutes without much happening (such as the duo walking through the woods). Definitely not Pixar. The problem is the producers seem to think the characters are funny on their own. “A 900-lb pet bear. A mule deer with one antler. Ha ha!” The story is quite trite and deals entirely with stereotypes of hunters versus animals. There are definitely moments of fun, but only moments, and any cleverness feels forced, as though the writers wanted a particular thing to happen and made it, regardless of reality, plot, or character.

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: iWoz

Author: Steve Wozniak

Terrific book about Wozniak’s life, from as a child winning science-fairs to an adult, inventing the personal computer and co-founding Apple Computer. Highly recommended if you’re interested in technology or computer history.

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Thu, Sep 28, 2006

: The Black Dahlia

This is a strange film. In so many ways it’s old school, a classic film noir with great visuals and mysterious characters. But in other ways it’s much too modern, with an overly convoluted plot, multiple “surprise” endings, and too much gore and sex. The story’s supposed to be about the murder of a girl, but that storyline only takes about 20 percent of the film — the rest is about the lives of the police detectives we don’t really care about (though in the end their personal lives end up being part of the mystery). The problem is everything’s so dark and mysterious and we don’t know where the story’s going or who’s good or who’s bad, that we end up not caring about anything. We don’t care about the police, who seem corrupt; we don’t care about the dead girl, who’s too sad and strange to be likable. We just don’t care. And in the end, we don’t even care about the messed up ending.

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Sun, Sep 24, 2006

: The Amber Spyglass

Author: Philip Pullman

This is the third and final book in the “His Dark Materials” triology. The first half of the book is excellent — creative and interesting, with imaginative new worlds, unusual species, and wonderful characters — but unfortunately the novel peters out in the final third, rambling on and on with nothing much happening. Most of the resolution of the plot happens earlier, and most of that is foreshadowed in the earlier books, so there’s very little surprise. I’d been hoping for an overall resolution to the plot, something that would summarize everything and explain, but there was nothing like that. While I don’t want to spoil things for you — stop reading here if you don’t want to know what happens — I must elaborate in order to explain. For instance, in all three books there’s the concept of Dust. Dust is dark matter, something that holds the fabric of the universe together but is very difficult to see. Pullman goes so far as to suggest that Dust is Sin, and that sin is what gave humans consciousness and is what makes us alive and different from animals. Pullman is obviously anti-god and anti-religion, but though I’m not I found this concept intriguing and I wanted to hear more about it. Unfortunately, the novel does not elaborate or take the idea any further. It just ends. We’re left scratching our heads as what this all means. I’m not sure Pullman himself knows. It’s like he ran out of ideas, or his original idea just ran out of steam. Very strange, as his earlier stuff is so well-done I was certain he had an overall strategy in mind, but sadly I was mistaken. It’s all smoke and mirrors and no substance. It’s a disappointing ending to such a promising series.

Topic: [/book]

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Fri, Sep 22, 2006

: The Tracker

Cool Australian film set in the early 1900s about a group of law officials tracking an Aborigine who supposedly killed a white woman. The group is led by a mysterious Aborigine tracker who plays games with the white men. As the group heads into the wilderness, the balance of power in the group shifts, from the racist leader to others, and it’s quite fascinating. The film’s slow-moving and thought-provoking, different from a lot of modern films. Highly recommended.

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Thu, Sep 21, 2006

: The Constant Gardner

This is really a simple story about a British man in Africa whose wife is murdered. Some of her mysterious activities made him think she was having an affair, but after her death his investigations reveal that she was uncovering a scheme by a drug conglomerate to test a new drug on unsuspecting Africans. Unfortunately, this simple story takes an eternity to reveal, and it’s made from more complicated and convoluted than necessary. There are some good moments and it’s an interesting story, but it could have been better if kept simpler and more linear.

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Wed, Sep 20, 2006

: Hospital Visit

Today I got home from a week in the hospital! Last Thursday I woke up feeling horrible. My stomach was nauseated and hurting, and my chest felt like the worst case of heartburn. After I got up, the feelings just got worse and worse. I tried eating and drinking, but that didn’t help. Nothing I did relieved the pain at all, though I felt slightly better after I vomited. Finally, after several hours of this and no relief, I went to the emergency room at the hospital. They quickly got me hooked up to an IV and administered morhpine to help with the pain and I think fluids, as they said I was dehydrated (which was weird as I’d been drinking non-stop for the previous week). They began doing tests — an EKG, a CT scan of my chest, an ultrasound — and quickly determined that it was not my heart but my pancreas. I had pancreatitis, which is a swelling of the pancreas. It’s rather an unusual condition. At the time we weren’t sure what caused it and we still aren’t 100% sure, but the working theory is that sometime recently I became diabetic but didn’t know it. That fits in well with the unquenchable thirst I’d had the week prior. Uncontrolled, the diabetes led to high triglcerides (fat in the blood), which led to pancreatitis. The treatment for pancreatitis is to let the pancreas rest — which, since it’s part of the digestive system, means no food or liquid for several days. It was Sunday before I was allowed to drink or eat anything except for the occasional ice chip, and it wasn’t until today I was able to eat solid foods again. Quite an experience, one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I had to have a tube down my nose to my stomach for several days, and though I was incredibly thirsty, I couldn’t even drink! But mostly it was boring as after the first couple days my brain was back online but my body was not, and I just had to lie around and wait for it to heal.

The good news is that pancreatitis is usually a one-time thing and shouldn’t happen again, and most people recover from it just fine. I just need rest and time to recover (I lost twenty pounds during my week in the hospital). The bad news is that now I’m diabetic and have to test my blood sugar several times a day and give myself insulin shots every day. I’m making radical changes to my diet: going low fat and low sugar and eating a lot more healthy vegetables and fruits, and eating three meals a day at the same time each day (I used to eat irregularly and probably gorged myself inappropriately after long fasts). This is quite a change, but fortunately I enjoy healthy foods for the most part (cheese is the one fatty thing I’ll miss) and I like a structured routine, so I think I’ll be fine with all the changes. Exercise is something else I’ll have to start — I’m not sure how well I’ll do with that, but it’s not like I’ve got much choice. With diabetes, I’ve got to get healthy or I run the risk of serious health problems down the road, and after this experience, I don’t want to take any risks. One hospital visit was enough for me!

Topic: [/medical]

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Tue, Sep 12, 2006

: The Subtle Knife

Author: Philip Pullman

The plot thickens in the 2nd book of the trilogy as we meet 12-year-old Will, a boy from our world, who ends up the bearer of the subtle knife, an ultimate weapon many want. I love the developing relationship between Will and Lyra, the girl from the first novel, and it’s obvious the story is building to where the two will have prominent roles in the finale. In this story Will’s looking for his father and Lyra is helping him. In the process there is danger and adventure, and more of the ultimate plot of the series is unveiled, though we’re still not sure, exactly, who is good and who is evil. That’s a strange thing and I’m not sure where Pullman is going with it, but I suppose that will be explained in the final book.

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Sat, Sep 09, 2006

: The Golden Compass

Author: Philip Pullman

This is the first of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, a scientific-fantasy series from English writer Pullman. I hadn’t heard of it but it’s apparently good and they’re making movies of them, so I wanted to read the series. This first book is quite impressive. It takes place in a parallel universe to ours, so things are similar yet not. Pullman brilliantly gets us involved right from the first page, with young Lyra sneaking into a meeting room at Oxford where she’s not supposed to be, where she oversees a plot to kill her uncle. That sets her off on a series of adventures, where the improbable happens quite regularly, yet there’s no disbelief at all as Pullman makes it convincing. The story is quite dark — people die regularly, sometimes brutally — but it is a brilliant novel with fantastic fantasy elements and a high-speed non-stop storyline.

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Fri, Sep 08, 2006

: The Illusionist

Predictable ending, despite the “ta da” presentation, but the story and characters and intense scenes of magic performances more than carry the movie, and the ending is the satisfying one we wanted. Good performances from Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, the whole cast really. There’s not huge depth here, despite the film’s hints at such, but it’s still an interesting and well-done film.

Topic: [/movie]

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: Hollywoodland

Disappointing ending, which answers not one of the questions the movie proposes. Basically the film explores the questions surrounding the mysterious death of Superman star George Reeves in 1959. We’re presented with various possible scenarios, but then the film just ends without picking one. Huh? What’s the point of that? I got that much from watching the A&E Biography episode on Reeves. Basically, no one knows what happened, and this film doesn’t help. I really don’t see the point of it. Why not make a documentary if that’s all you want to explore? Sure, the film creates a fictional private detective, brilliantly portrayed by Andrian Brody, but in the end he doesn’t solve anything, so why bother? I give the film a C.

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Mon, Sep 04, 2006

: The Wicker Man

I actually liked this. I haven’t seen the original, so I don’t know what that was like. The “surprise” is not much of one, and the long slow path to get there is exceedingly annoying, and there are huge holes in the plot and questions never answered. The worst is the strange car accident that opens the movie — it was never explained and serves more as a red herring to confuse the situation and haunt the main character. But despite tons of flaws (including cult stereotypes), the story is somewhat intriguing, and though I thought I shouldn’t have liked it, I did.

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Sat, Sep 02, 2006

: The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus

Author: Harry Harrison

Uneven and not as dramatic as previous Rat books, this one starts off with a grand premise (the universe) and then reduces to a petite one (a small planet). I found that disappointing and it make it a bit hard to read, though some scenes and events were quite exciting. Unfortunately a lot of the novel has the Rat under the thumb of a real creep and that Rat books are at their best when the Rat is winning. Sure, in this one he wins in the end, but we have to suffer along with him for much of the book, which isn’t much fun. I’m such a SSR fan I’ll read any of them, but this one is not one of the best.

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Fri, Sep 01, 2006

: Crank

I loved the silly premise — Speed with a poisoned man: adrenaline keeps him alive so if he stops moving, he dies — but unfortunately the film’s not quite as fun as it sounds. The first mistake is there is no mystery, as he’s told right at the beginning he’s been poisoned and he knows who did it. The second mistake is the film is inconsistent in tone and attitude. At times it’s hilarious, a live action cartoon (like when a brick building, with guys fighting inside, digitally puffs and swells to the poundings inside); but other times it goes quite and stale, as though the filmmakers were out of material. Other times it’s just distasteful, such as the outdoor sex scene, which was overly graphic — and puzzling since moments earlier the girl had been frolicking nearly naked and the guy didn’t make a move even though he needed the adrenaline. Huh? The action’s okay, but it should have been non-stop and accelerating; the pauses in action don’t fit with the plot. The ending is cool — I was actually surprised they were so realistic. Overall, I give this a B-, with most of the goodness from the premise, not the execution.

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Thu, Aug 31, 2006

: Oregon Shakespeare Festival: King John

Definitely one of the best productions with some phenomenal acting. The story seems extremely complicated and intimidating but it’s really not. Basically King John has taken over power and there are questions as whether or not he’s the rightful king. Some think his 9-year-old nephew has a stronger right, so he orders the boy killed. The boy is not actually killed, but the King thinks he was and grieves and struggles with his quest for power. His heart soars when he learns the boy was not killed. But meanwhile the boy, depressed, kills himself, and when the King finds the boy really is dead, his health deteriorates. It’s a sad, somber play that deals with serious questions, and with wonderful speeches and drama, is highly recommended for viewing. Surprisingly, even though it seems steeped in complex history, this was the easiest of all four plays I saw to follow!

Topic: [/theatre]

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Wed, Aug 30, 2006

: Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Merry Wives of Windsor

Easily the worst of the plays at the festival this season. It’s mostly silly, but the exagerations of the performances seem to demean and take the play even lower than it should be. I also have a serious objection to an OSF policy of being racially blind during casting. While I certainly don’t think race should be a main factor in casting, it should be considered when characters are related. This play has a lot of characters already and I was completely confused when a black daughter had white parents and other racial confusions — I didn’t understand some of the relationships and had characters confused even after the play was over. This really hurt a lot of my understanding of the play and left me quite frustrated. If I could have asked for my money back, I would have on this issue alone, as I thought the production was shockingly poor. It’s just all confusion and trivialities.

Topic: [/theatre]

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: Oregon Shakespeare Festival:The Winter’s Tale

A superior play and production, with a fantastic set of tree silhouettes in the background, brilliantly lit for different moods: sunset, cold winter, dark night, etc. The play is one Shakespeare’s most melodramatic and fanciful, with a magic ending. The plot deals with a king who becomes convinced that his wife has been unfaithful with his best friend, and despite everyone trying to convince him otherwise, he refuses to believe her baby is his and he orders her executed. This so upsets the gods that sixteen years of winter follow. Meanwhile, the king’s daughter is not dead — she has been hidden away and is now a beautiful sixteen year old, and of course is ready to be romanced by a prince, except that she’s not royalty — until, of course, it’s revealed that she is, and with her father remorseful and delighted to discover his daughter is alive and well, all is forgiven and happiness is restored. I really liked this play and the forced happy ending as the absurd elements fit together well. Great job and some really amazing acting by several characters.

Topic: [/theatre]

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Tue, Aug 29, 2006

: Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

This was a play where the production was better than the play itself. The play is a light comedy without much substance; it’s about two friends (the “gentlemen” of the title) who are easily wooed. One, after getting engaged to his girlfriend, promptly falls for his friend’s newest girl and tries to break them apart. Meanwhile, his girlfriend disguises herself as a male servant and spies on him, with, of course, much hilarity. What was ingenius about this production was the clever modern visuals. For instance, when the boy first meets the girl, she and her friends and family are all preppily dressed for a tennis match (they are, after all, the elite of Verona, so it fits). As the play continues, we see them playing crocket, getting massages at the spa, etc. The modern settings through you for a minute, but are delightful and refreshing. My favorite was the bandits of the forest who are all dressed as goths and punks!

There’s also a key roll played by a real dog, where one of Shakespeare’s most colorful characters has hiliarious conversations with the dog. So overall, this was excellent. My only complaint was the poor performances by the two gentlemen, who, especially at the beginning, delivered Shakespeare lines in wooden voice as though reciting poetry. Quite shocking that they should be so bad; they did better in scenes of interaction, though I still felt it was a bit of bad casting.

Topic: [/theatre]

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Mon, Aug 28, 2006

: A Maiden’s Grave

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Terrific story about a hostage situation, with typical Deaver twists (though these are mostly predictable). A group of escape criminals take over a schoolbus with two teachers and eight girls of various ages — the children and one of the teachers are deaf, all out on an outing. The main character’s an FBI hostage negotiater who is older and wise but not perfect. We really get into the head of the deaf teacher, learning what it’s like to be deaf, and the whole novel is filled with tension and hard to put down. Excellent.

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Thu, Aug 24, 2006

: The Twelfth Card

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Pretty good Lincoln Rhyme novel about a killer tracking a young African-American girl in Harlem, for reasons unknown, but possibly related to a mystery involving an ancestor of hers from 140 years early. Unfortunately, a lot of the mystery which is so interesting in the beginning, fades over the long novel, and by the time we get to the dull and mundane ending, we hardly care. Still, it’s not a bad novel, just not one of Deaver’s better ones.

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: Barcelona vs Chivas of Mexico

The first half was so-so gamewise, but the atmosphere of being in a huge crowd of 92,650 screaming fans was amazing. In the second half both got going as Ronaldinho came on the field and every time he touched the ball 92,650 people would leap to their feet and cheer! It was really wild, crazy stuff. Lots of fun, great goals, and a peaceful conclusion as it finished with a 1-1 draw.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Fri, Aug 18, 2006

: Snakes on a Plane

Funny, gory, lots of snakes on a plane. Pretty much what I expected. A bit crude in places, but overall a lot of fun. Not really scary or anything, just hilariously silly.

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Fri, Aug 11, 2006

: The Night Listener

Lame gimmicky story that I’d heard about prior to the movie: I knew it was about a radio talk show host talking on the phone to an abused 14-year-old who, it turns out, might or might not actually exist. The host, played by Robin Williams, is progressively gay, and much of the story is about his dreary love life (he just got dumped so we get to be depressed with him), which seemed off-topic and more an ad for the gay lifestyle than part of the story (every scene shouts out, “This is normal! This is normal!”). The mystery — is the kid real or not — is milked for as long as possible but becomes more and more far-fetched as we go along, and in the end, there’s nothing much to it. We find out the answer and the film just ends. Lame and disappointing.

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Sun, Aug 06, 2006

: MLS: New England vs. Chivas USA

Too hot for a good game, and I was distracted by the 90,000+ people at the stadium, but there were some decent moments and a couple good goals. The game finished 1-1.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Sat, Aug 05, 2006

: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Wins silliest title of the year, but the movie’s not bad. Extremely uneven, with some of the jokes falling flat and running too long (like the prayer scene at dinner), but overall it’s relatively harmless stuff about stupid people driving race cars.

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: L.A. Trip

Today my step-brother Dave and I drove down to Los Angeles (I stayed at Dave’s in Northern California last night). We’re going to the big soccer game tomorrow. Today we watched the All-Star game at a bar in Santa Monica and tonight we went to a movie. Great fun.

Topic: [/travel]

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Thu, Aug 03, 2006

: Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Importance of Being Ernest

Of course it’s a terrific play but I was really impressed by this performance, which got a lot of fresh humor from non-vocal scenes. (For instance, the butler, setting a table for tea to the tune of piano playing off-stage, was hilarious.) I wish we’d had time to see other plays, but at least I got to see this one.

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Sat, Jul 29, 2006

: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Surprisingly complex and interesting sequel. I wasn’t expecting much and I’d heard that this wasn’t as good, but I liked it. It’s different — lots of philosophical talk about humanity versus machine, machines having souls, etc. In the end the story’s not quite as compelling as the first (there’s a little too much exposition and obscurity seems to be a substitute for actual complexity), but overall it’s much better than most American films and has a lot of incredible animation.

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Fri, Jul 28, 2006

: Miami Vice

I wasn’t too excited about this. The casting seemed uninspired and I didn’t really care much about the film’s plot (incomprehensible in the trailers), though I liked the TV series. Unfortunately, this turned out to be nothing like the TV series. I kept waiting of the great Miami Vice theme song to get me addrenalized and in the mood and it never happened — not even during the closing credits! Basically, other than the names of the two lead characters and the Miami setting, this film is nothing like the TV series. Gone are the distinctive visuals, replaced by gritty, out-of-focus hand-held camerawork that’s just nausiating. The plot’s a convoluted dark mess of confusion — Crocket and Tubbs go undercover to sting a drug lord — and the ending shootout is strangely cold and uninspiring. I read later the film cost $140 million to make, which shocked me: I would have guessed maybe $50 million tops, most of that going to the leads. There just isn’t much action or stuff happening. On it’s own the film would rate an average. It’s not terrible but there’s nothing special about it. But comparing it to the TV series, there’s just not enough flair and 80s over-the-top drama, and it rates lower than an episode of the TV show.

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Thu, Jul 27, 2006

: Monster House

Not quite what I expected. At first some of the death references and gory plot bits seemed out of character for a children’s animated film, but in the end most of these are resolved (I won’t spoil it by explaining but just trust that things aren’t quite as dark as they seem initially). The animation is pretty good, varying from astonishingly realistic (landscapes and the house) to surprisingly poor (the kids’ hair isn’t drawn as individual hairs but a simple lump on the head which doesn’t change with wind or events). The characters are interesting, though other than DJ, the main child, we don’t get too deep, and the character of the house is strangely non-sympathetic. But overall I liked it. I wouldn’t give it two thumbs up, but at least a solid one.

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Sun, Jul 23, 2006

: Howl’s Moving Castle

Terrific anime film. I didn’t know anything about the story and it was quite unusual and interesting, and kept taking shifts I didn’t expect. The main character’s a little girl who’s transformed by a spell into an old woman. At first she’s depressed and angry, but then she learns to live with herself and becomes a hero. It’s a complex story, wonderfully inventive, in a land where magic is common, and the animation is gorgeous. Definitely a keeper.

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Fri, Jul 21, 2006

: Lady in the Water

Author: M. Night Shyamalan

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Disappointing film. It’s interesting and has a few neat moments, but overall it’s much ado about nothing. I was expecting the revolation about the characters to be something profound or unusual, but there’s nothing like that. The story’s simply about a water nymph that must be returned home, that’s it. That could have been enough, if the film didn’t build our expectations so much higher. But there are so many mysterious things — strangely named characters, odd non-sensical behaviors, etc. — that you expect the resolution to explain all of that and it doesn’t. My theory — which I came up with based on a misunderstanding of an article I read about the film — was that the characters were all part of a story and trying to get back into it. That made all the weird people make sense, as they were not complete people but characters escaped from a book. That was not the case, of course, but I unfortunately liked my version better than the one in the movie!

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: My Super Ex-girlfriend

Fun silly movie that’s a little too dark and serious at times. None of the characters are fleshed out and the neurotic super-heroine is just crazy — her romantic appeal is implausible. But that’s nitpicky stuff in such a silly film: you watch this for the comic bits and just enjoy the fluff.

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Fri, Jul 14, 2006

: Mirrormask

Author: Neil Gaiman

I knew nothing about this film and wasn’t sure what it was or if I was interested. It turns out it’s an amazing fantasy film about a girl who goes into a dreamland inspired by her own drawings where she becomes trapped and has to solve a mystery in order to escape. The visuals are amazing and the story is delightful. The film is obviously targeted toward children, but it’s not childish. I enjoyed the film a lot and will be buying my own copy (this was a rental).

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Sun, Jul 09, 2006

: World Cup Is Done

Well, that’s it. The World Cup is finally over! After a month of 64 soccer matches, I’m pretty happy and exhausted. Despite the U.S.’s failure and France’s foul-up in the final, it was an excellent Cup. I’m disappointed that France couldn’t win — Italy played a dry, defensive game, despite all the talk about their new offensive style — but that’s the way it goes. Shameful of Zidane to lose his temper like that and get the red card; not a good note on which to end your career. But Germany, the hosts, were excellent, and the competition itself was wonderful, with lots of first-time teams competing well, some great goals. This Cup was more about parity than one team standing head and shoulders above the rest, but that’s just a sign of how well soccer is progressing around the world.

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Fri, Jul 07, 2006

: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Pretty much a by-the-book sequel, with all the familiar characters back, inside jokes, horrifically goulish creations, fun, mayhem, humor, and wild adventure. Unfortunately, while this is decently done and entertaining, the film ends in mid-plot as we’re supposed to wait for the third part next summer to discover what happens! Back to the Future II did that and annoyed me greatly and I never quite forgave it; I can’t believe I fell for the same trick again (I’d heard they were filming the two sequels at the same time but I didn’t expect the story to not be concluded). Arrrgh!

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Mon, Jul 03, 2006

: Click

Adam Sandler films tend to be gimmicky things that somehow work; yet every time I don’t think it will until I see it. This one seemed gimmickier than usual — a guy gets a magic remote that lets him pause and fast forward his life — but somehow Sandler makes it work, not just well, but extremely well. Sandler’s a workaholic trying to get ahead in business and somehow he ignores his gorgeous wife (quite improbable as Kate Beckinsale lights up the room in every scene she’s in) and his two kids. With the remote’s help he skips past the “boring bits” of life and suddenly discovers he’s missed most of his life (I didn’t understand why he couldn’t rewind but I suppose I’m being to analytical). The ending is nicely done and suprisingly emotional — Sandler is always over-the-top, even with happy emotions, and while you can resist his charm for a while, eventually you just have to give in and love the goofball. Certainly a brain strain movie, it was a lot of fun and had a surprisingly amount of depth to it.

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Thu, Jun 29, 2006

: Superman Returns

I had little interest in seeing this film. I didn’t understand the point. Hasn’t Superman been done to death? This film didn’t sound like any new take on the superhero, so why bother? Better special effects? Who cares? But as the release date (and hype) grew closer, I decided I needed to at least see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it would surprise me. Well, it did. I was surprised at how pathically awful it was. It’s truly one of the most uninspired films of the century. Everything in it we have seen before. Oh, sure, there are some “new” things — like the crystals Lex Luther steals from Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude” that can grow entire continents, and the ridiculous modern addition of Lois Lane as a single mom shacking up with a boyfriend and raising a son that might be Superman’s — but these new things are not particularly tasteful or interesting, and the implementation so poorly done that we really don’t care much either way. Everything else is stuff we’ve seen before — why rehash it? The concept of the plot was not bad: Superman has left earth for five years and suddenly returns, back to save the day, but the method of his leaving and his reasons (when finally revealed), are unbelievably lame. Apparently he beds Lois one night and disappears the next, without a word of explanation, when he hears astronomers might have discovered parts of planet Krypton still intact. He heads there hoping to find a trace of his ancestors (he doesn’t, of course). Granted I can see why he might be curious about his past, but it’s not like it’s urgent and he can’t take two minutes to leave a note! And why didn’t the world fall apart while he was gone? Shouldn’t Superman have been wracked with guilt when he returns at all the lives he didn’t save while he was gone? The producers could have done some neat things, like have 9/11 happen while he was gone and the world is angry at Superman for not preventing such a tragedy. Or perhaps his adopted parents, the Kents, could have died while he was away, and that causes some turmoil. Instead it’s all about Superman/Clark Kent, who’s shocked that Lois Lane has moved on, won a Pulitzer, and has a boyfriend and a kid.

This is a film that could have led us into a new era of Superman. I’d have loved to see a film that explores his dark side. For instance, have him fail to save someone he loved and that’s why he leaves earth for a while. Perhaps he returns and tries to be a regular guy, just ordinary Clark Kent. Maybe as Clark he’s tempted to use his powers for evil, like playing pranks on Lois’ boyfriend. He’s bitter, angry, and depressed. But some experience changes him and realizes his duty, like Peter Parker’s mistake costing his uncle’s life in

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Mon, Jun 26, 2006

: Memorial Service

Today we had the Memorial Service for Grandpa. I had an invasion of relatives (about a dozen stayed at my house), which was nice and kept me distracted. First we stopped by the cemetary and watched a short presentation as Grandpa’s ashes were placed in a crypt next to Grandma. That was very difficult for me. I couldn’t watch but had to look away. During the Service I was to give a eulogy, which I wasn’t sure how to do. Though I was close to Grandpa, I really only knew him for a fraction of his life. It’s rather a challenge to summarize 91 years on the planet! I thought I was going to go later in the service, but apparently things were switched around and I was told, seconds before the thing started, that I would go on right after the opening prayer. That didn’t give me time to reread and practice, which meant I was more unpolished than I preferred, but I was more worried at being overcome with emotion and being unable to finish (we had a backup reader if I couldn’t make it). Fortunately, except for a minor flub or two, it went okay, and the main thing was that people really appreciated my unique perspective of Grandpa. My eulogy told stories about what I learned from him and thus at least wasn’t dry and boring (which was what my aunt had wanted). I think Grandpa would have liked it.

After the Service we had a pot-luck dinner at the church, which was neat, as I was able to see some people I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager. Grandpa had been one of the people who’d started the monthly pot-luck tradition at that church and they still do it today, though the church has had different leadership for many years now. Funny the way things like that stick.

I have created a Memorial Page for Grandpa on my website. It contains links to all my “Adventures with Grandpa” newsletters, pictures and audio/video clips, as well as audio files of the entire Memorial Service. I also broke out just my Eulogy, in case you just want to listen to that (it’s much shorter than the entire service). It’s all MP3 and MPEG, so it should work on any computer platform.

Topic: [/grandpa]

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Thu, Jun 22, 2006

: USA Done

Well, the World Cup is officially over for the United States. It was not a good tournament for us. I hold our coach, Bruce Arena, at fault. He changed tactics and played a different formation and line-up in the World Cup than he’d ever used during the two years of qualifying. He played a conservative, defense-first style, and refused to start with two strikers or put in a second striker until late in matches, if at all. He blamed early mistakes and bad refereeing for the U.S. not having an aggressive attitude which his defensive line-ups were the true blame. We finish the Cup having scored only once (not counting Italy’s own goal) and giving up six. We did manag the impressive tie against powerhouse Italy, but most Americans won’t realize just how amazing that was. Unfortunately, while I was hoping Ghana had given it all in their win over the Czechs, it was the U.S. who had nothing left for the Africans, who deserved the win (despite the weak penalty kick call against the U.S.). Overall, not a huge surprise for the U.S. who were in the toughest group of the tournament, but what annoys me is the weak play, poor attitude, and defense-oriented tactics when we needed goals. Perhaps U.S. Soccer can get a new coach that will return the Americans to their aggressive style of old.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Mon, Jun 19, 2006

: A Day of Sadness

Today my grandfather went to be with the Lord. About 18 months ago I took over his care. He had been living with my mother, but when he lost mobility, she was unable to continue (she could not lift him or properly assist him). At the time we weren’t sure how much longer he would live — my uncle warned me it could be months or years. Unfortunately, he continued to decline. He got a hip replacement, which helped ease the pain in his leg, but developed gastro problems at affected his eating until we found treatment, and last fall the hip replacement became infected, requiring constant antibiotics and caused severe leg pain. Most recently we did home infusion antibiotics, which eventually seemed to cure the infection, but during the process his kidneys began to weaken. Twice he ended up in the hospital due to kidney complications. Fortunately, they did recover, but were severely weakened. He was slowing down, not eating as well, but still mentally healthy. On Sunday evening, June 11, he seemed fine. I got him to eat half a grilled cheese sandwhich for dinner. About 3 a.m. the next morning he called me and was acting strange. He was having trouble breathing. He has asthma so I gave him his puffer, which helped. But every thirty minutes he kept calling for me, and each time it was strange requests, almost delirium. Once he wanted his pants so he could “go outside.” I told him it was the middle of the night and he said, “Oh, I didn’t know,” and promptly laid back down and went to sleep! Another time I found him on the floor with no idea how he got there. I lifted him back into bed and he didn’t seem to be in any pain. Later in the morning, he had trouble getting dressed: his right leg was in a lot of pain, making me think the infection had returned. His temperature was a low 94.6, but after breakfast (which he didn’t eat), it was 99.4 — we called 911 immediately. By the time he got to the hospital it was nearly 103! It turned out he was suffering from a myriad of inter-related problems: a bladder infection meant he wasn’t urinating properly which resulted in kidney strain and fluid build-up in his body, which collected in his chest, causing congestive heart failure and pnemonia. It also turned out that he’d broken his leg with the hip replacement — apparently the infection had weakened the bone so it was incredibly fragile and it had broken in several places (possibly that time I found him on the floor). But worst of all was something called sepsis — an infection of the blood — which is serious even among young healthy people (who can take months to recover). In the end, it was too much for the poor man. We’d just celebrated his 91st birthday in May, which is not a bad achievement, though he always talked about hitting a hundred. Always positive, even the day before he died he was telling the doctor he felt great.

Granda was a very special man. His sense of humor was dry and subtle, even to the end. While in the hospital, during his last week, I tried to get him to eat his lunch, and he wanted me to eat it. “No, it’s yours,” I told him. “You’re the patient.” He looked up at the nurse who was nearby. “Am I the patient?” he asked in convincing confusion. She was startled until I explain this was his form of a joke! I could see the twinkle in his eye.

I shall miss Grandpa dearly. He and I were very close. When I was a baby my father was killed in a car accident and he and my Grandma cared for me until my severely-injured mother was better (which tooks months). I lived with them for many years, off and on, over the course of my life. They even took me on as a teenager, during my high school years, something I wouldn’t wish on young, healthy people. I feel blessed and honored I got to be with Grandpa during his last years. Caring for him was stressful, educational, and filled with magically tender moments of humor and love that made everything worthwhile. I shall miss Grandpa, but I know he’s at peace and out of pain now.

F. Wildon Colbaugh

May 9, 1915-June 19, 2006

Topic: [/grandpa]

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Fri, Jun 09, 2006

: Cars

Wow, what a great movie! It’s the best movie of the year so far. How does Pixar do it? I wasn’t sure going in if I was going to like this — I’m not a racing fan and don’t know much about cars and the story, about a hot shot racing car that gets stranded in the middle of nowhere didn’t sound particularly unique or exciting (think Doc Hollywood for the same plot with a human) — but to my surprise, Pixar turned a simple story into magic. The “car world” of the story (there are no people, only talking cars) is wonderfully complete with absolutely fantastic detail. Everything’s a car pun, many of them quite subtle and clever, from business names to idioms, with the result that the world feels real. Even better, Pixar’s animation quality is unsurpassed, with their “Route 66” town and desert graphics rivaling photographs for detail. Some of the highway scenes were truly astonishing. But Pixar never lets the graphics overshadow their characters — the story always come first, as the pictures support the story. Here again Pixar takes the simple — an arrogant race car who learns his place — and doesn’t trivialize it with easy solutions. The ending is surprisingly emotional and fulfilling. The film is fun, clever, and filled with all the right touches of emotion and humor. And stay tuned for the closing credits, which are hilarious (the cars go to the drive-in and watch clips of previous Pixar releases with cars as the stars). P.S. the opening short — a Pixar tradition — is worth the price of admission alone.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Jun 08, 2006

: World Cup Starts Tomorrow

The 2006 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament starts tomorrow! I am SO excited. I am feeling a little alienated. Here in the States I feel like a foreigner. No one seems to understand or care about the significance of the World Cup. “It’s like the Olympics times ten!” I cry, but I just get blank looks and bewildered shrugs. For most, it’s an event about a sport they don’t pay attention to, but for me the World Cup has nothing to do with sport: it’s all about history, human achievement, artistry, spectacle, and hundreds of cultures uniting for a full month of peace. It’s about celebrating life, your nation, and enjoying healthy competition.

I don’t hold out that much hope that U.S. will do as good as 2002 — we’re in an ridiculously tough group with Italy, Czech Republic, and Ghana, all great teams we’ve never beaten — but cheering on your nation is not the only reason to watch the World Cup. I watch every game, all 64, and I don’t care who’s playing, some unknown African nation like Angola or a powerhouse like host Germany. I know how important just getting to the finals is for a country like Angola, and what it will mean for their nation if they accomplish anything — a goal, a draw, a win. The World Cup is the most amazing event in the world, period. It’s every four years, like Olympics, but instead of watering down the event with hundreds of medals and sports, it’s just one medal, one champion out of 32 finalists out of 200 teams that took over two years just to qualify. The World Cup is a microcosm of human history in a nutshell, to playfully mix metaphors. It’s 30 days of glory, passion, agony, and triumph. There’s nothing else like it in the world.

Topic: [/soccer]

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Thu, Jun 01, 2006

: Alphaville

Strange older French film (apparently a classic) about a future society run by a totalitarian computer and the guy who’s out to stop it. While I was intrigued by the premise, I can’t say I liked the film: it was confusing (possibly on purpose) and the limited (lame) special effects (if any) and bizarre editing bewildered me. I couldn’t say if the lameness was due to low-budget, lack of special effects technology, or lack of futuristic vision, but the “computer” was the human voice narrator which was confusing (it was difficult to tell when the computer on screen was talking and when the narrator was narrating). On the whole this strikes me as a brilliant-for-its-time film, but its heavily dated now and we’re less wowed by brillance attempted than by brilliance achieved.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, May 26, 2006

: X-Men: The Last Stand

I hated the second film, and this one’s worse. Everyone dies in this one. As usual, the basic concept’s amazing — they just don’t do anything with it. In this case the plot’s about a “cure” for mutanism, which is a radically powerful idea: Do mutants want to be cured? Are they sick or special? Is this “cure” really the ultimate anti-mutant weapon? There are a few great scenes — my favorite is when Magneto dismisses Mystique as “no longer one of us” once she’s cured — but overall this overdone production is nothing but elaborate set pieces disjointed together and it completely misses on the human element it so desperately tries to figure out.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, May 19, 2006

: Over the Hedge

Not as bad as I was expecting. From the trailers I feared it would be a leftist, cartoon animal-based attack on human greed and lifestyle, an environmentalist manifesto, but other than a few lame barbs at humans as eating machines and couch potatoes, the film’s mostly about a self-centered racoon who manipulates a motley group of forest animals into doing his thieving for him, then repents when he realizes they’ve genuinely accepted him as part of the “family.” The story’s got some heart — not as much as Pixar films, but more than most animated fare. I liked it.

Topic: [/movie]

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: The Da Vinci Code

Better than the book, which isn’t saying much. I was surprised at how well the gobbledy-gook puzzles translated to film, but overall this still doesn’t rate the hype. It’s like it takes a big screen movie for people to realize how lame the book is!

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, May 12, 2006

: Goal! The Dream Begins

This came out on the same day as Goal scores. It’s the hard-luck tale of a young Hispanic immigrant in L.A. who loves soccer but has a stern father who wants him to stay home and run the family’s landscaping business. But Santiago, the boy, gets a chance to try out for Newcastle United, the famed English club, and jumps at it. Of course it doesn’t go well and he faces all sorts of obstacles. I though the story was well-done and somewhat realistic, showing he doesn’t just snap his fingers and realize his dream. Sure, many aspects of the story and characters are typical, but there’s only so many ways you can tell this story. I would have perhaps liked to see more of his early upbringing and his youth soccer experiences (I read Pele’s bio and the most fascinating part for me was his childhood, playing backyard ball with a sock stuffed with paper since he couldn’t afford an actual soccer ball, and how that awkward, unbalanced sock-ball taught him unparalleled ball control), but overall the story’s decent, the soccer’s good, and it’s a standard feel-good sports victory story. I don’t watch many sports films so I can’t say how this compares to others, but I thought it was excellent. I really enjoyed it. There are fun cameos with famous soccer stars, and some nice characterization twists I didn’t expect. For instance, one of the characters, a total showboat jerk who’s the club’s big new signing, seems like he’s going to bring Santiago down by teaching him his bad habits. Instead, it’s the other way around, with Santiago’s honest heart reforming the bad boy. Rather cool!

This film is the first of trilogy. In this one, Santiago gets signed by a big club and his “dream begins” as the tagline says. In the next he struggles with overnight stardom, and in the third he leads his country in the World Cup. That one is being filmed at this summer’s World Cup tournament in Germany, with unprecendent access to teams and venues, so it should be a fantastic movie, one of the most realistic ever. I can’t wait for the rest of the movies!

Topic: [/movie]

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: Poseidon

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

I’ve never seen the original and I hated Peterson’s last film,

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, May 09, 2006

: Grandpa’s Birthday

Grandpa turned 91 today! Amazing. That’s a long time. He’s seen a lot in his lifetiime. He insists he’s got a long ways to go yet — he wants to reach 100! So far he’s been doing very good. His leg pain is minimal and he’s pretty active, getting in and out of his wheelchair on his own, dressing and undressing himself, etc. Lately he’s really been enjoying the cats, Mayhem in particular. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Mayhem’s figured out that if he jumps in Grandpa’s lap he’ll get petted, so all the time now I find him curled up in Grandpa’s lap (on top of the hot electric blanket Grandpa insists on using) purring a happy tune. Grandpa is delighted and now refers to Mayhem as “my cat.”

Topic: [/grandpa]

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Fri, May 05, 2006

: Mission Impossible III

I hated the first film, which was horrible and way overplotted, but the second was good. This one falls in between the two. It’s not as good as the second but not nearly as bad as the first. It’s got some good moments, but they just don’t play that MI theme enough. For me, that’s what makes the movie (and the TV show). I hear that theme and I get goosebumps and whatever happens on screen is automatically cool. Here they only played it once, briefly, at the beginning, so that was the only cool part of the film. As for the plot, who cares? It’s action, not psychology like the TV show. This has a decent villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman in grand form) and your typical double agents (gee, quel surprise). There’s drama, but it’s forced and we’re not emotionally tied to any of the characters so it’s not like we really care. We just want to see cool missions and unfortunately there’s not enough of that (the ones shown are mediocre, at best). Overall, I’d say ho-hum, though watching this is not a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, May 04, 2006

: Coast Trip

The weather’s been improving and so we thought a trip to the coast would be a good idea. The last time we planned to go, Grandpa ended up in the hospital the evening before, which was annoying. I feared something like that would derail this trip, but everything worked out wonderfully. The day was stunning — not a cloud in sight — and Grandpa enjoyed the drive and the sights. The whole trip he sat with his eyes the size of silver dollars, taking everything in. He kept raving about the trees (and eventually the ocean, once we got there) and how beautiful everything looked. He normally sleeps half the day so I expected him to conk out during the drive, but he was wide awake the entire day. We went to Pacfic City to the pub and enjoyed a delicious lunch (Grandpa had the salmon, my mom and I had the fish and chips). Uncle Keith showed up, which was great. I’d sent him an email but hadn’t heard back (he doesn’t have a phone). After that we went and visited Grandpa’s old haunts, the town of Oceanside, his old beach house, Tillamook, etc. We got milkshakes at Dairy Queen for the drive home. It was great. On the drive home, two things happened. One, Grandpa kept thanking me for the wonderful day, telling me how much he’d enjoyed it. He really overdid it — he was overcome with emotion and it made me weepy too. But the second event was a little disturbing. His memory’s not great, of course, and it’s fascinating watching how it works (or doesn’t work). Earlier, right after we’d driven by his old house and looked at it for a few minutes, he suggested we go take a look at his old house. He’d already forgotten us doing that! But now, on the way home, he seemed to have lost himself in memories. He became confused, asking where “home” was, and thinking Carol (my mom) still lived at the coast. He seemed to remember nothing about living with me: he wondered where he was going to go and what was going to happen with him. It was like he’d forgotten the entire past year! Fortunately, once we got him home and into a familiar routine, he was fine. It was just a momentary lapse. Being at the coast reminded him of old times and he was back there, unable to distinguish past from present. Fascinating.

Topic: [/travel]

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Fri, Apr 28, 2006

: United 93

At first I had no interest at seeing this film. Who wants to relive 9/11? But then I heard there was “controversy” and people trying to stop the release of the film. That flabberghasted me. What on earth could be wrong with making a film like this? After all, it’s not political — it’s just a dramatization of the facts. So I went to see it. The first surprise was the Regal theatre I went to, which usually annoys me with 20 minutes of commercials and previews before the movie starts, had a sign up that said that due to this film’s topic, they were not showing any previews and the film would start on time! Very interesting, though I wish they’d communicated that before I got there. Fortunately, I was right on time, so I don’t think I missed more than few seconds.

The film itself is very good. It just tells a simple story well. However, because it focuses so much on that story, told in real-time, the film feels one-dimensional. We basically see the flight controllers and the passengers, but we only see them in their roles, not who they are in their personal lives. There’s nothing wrong with that — but it does lead to a narrow, focused film, which some people may not be happy with. It’s not a pleasant film, as we know the outcome before the movie starts, but it is an important film (everyone should see it once), and I liked that the story reminds of 9/11 and what happened on that day. I really liked that they actually show the towers burning, the airplane crashing into the tower, the shocked reactions of the air traffic controllers. So much of that is not shown on TV any more and people forget what that day was like.

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Apr 24, 2006

: Grandpa home again

Grandpa’s home again and doing great. He’s eating like a monster, which is awesome. Last time he was at the hospital he stopped eating. He ate breakfast but no lunch, and barely any dinner. Now he’s back to three meals a day. Not huge meals (though his breakfast is substantial), but anything’s an improvement. We’ve got a whole new set of medicines for him, which is awfully exciting (not). But he feels great — he told me he felt like he was 30!

Topic: [/grandpa]

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Fri, Apr 21, 2006

: The Sentinel

I wanted to like this. It looked interesting from the previews. Unfortunately, it’s rather pathetic. The concept that there could be a mole in the Secret Service is the lure, and the idea that our hero is the fall guy and has to prove himself innocent while on the run from the feds is the intriguing action, but the film’s choice of villain is obvious and stereotypical. The film starts out well but peters out into an anti-climatic nothing. I also didn’t like that our “hero,” Michael Douglas’ Secret Service agent, was having an affair with the first lady and that’s why some of his actions appear suspicious. Not only is that lame, unrealistic, unprofessional, and immoral, but we’re supposed to feel sympathy for this idiot? Worse, he’s apparently gotten himself into this kind of trouble in the past. I had zero respect for this moron and therefore I didn’t really care if he got caught, found the mole, or got the president killed. In other words, with me not caring about the characters, I didn’t care about the movie. The worst part was the films’ laissez-faire attitude toward this indiscretion, making it seem almost heroic. Disgusting.

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Apr 20, 2006

: Grandpa back in hospital

Today was supposed to be our long-planned trip to the coast with Grandpa. Instead he’s in the hospital. Yesterday the home nurse was here to take a routine blood test and later I got a call to get him to emergency right away. Apparently his poor kidneys aren’t processing potasium correctly and there’s too much in his system, which can lead to heart failure. So I got him over there last night and he’s staying there for a few days so they can monitor him. He feels fine and is in good spirits — the potasium level showed no outward signs. It’s a pretty silly muck-up: I’ve had him on water pills since last summer because he was retaining too much fluid (he swelled to 144 lbs. at one point — he’s normally around 100 lbs.). Because water pills drain your fluids, they always proscribe them with potasium pills, to replenish your supply. But Grandpa’s kidney’s aren’t functioning as well as they used to do, so now the extra potasium’s too much. Yet, of course, no one mentioned this or caught this after his last hospital stay with kidney problems, so the last few weeks I’ve been faithfully giving him potasium pills every day! The idiot doctors noticed the potasium levels rising last week but didn’t say anything to me because the level wasn’t dangerous. If they had, I could have stopped giving him the pills and he probably would have been fine! Instead they waited until the level was too high and I had to rush him to the hospital. There they gave him some stuff to bring the potasium level down and now they want to watch him for a few days. And of course, we’re not giving him potasium pills any more. A big “Oops, someone should have noticed that” from the doctors. Nice.

Topic: [/grandpa]

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Fri, Apr 14, 2006

: Thank You For Smoking

Fun parody about a smoking lobbyist. While it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, it has a lot of great moments, and I was really impressed by the unusual plot twists that did the unexpected (so many films today are totally predictable, especially comedies). I really liked the relationship between the smoozer dad and his son and the way he teaches his son to be just like him (we see the son out-arguing the mother, etc.). There’s actually some very good information there on persuasion techniques. The bottom line is that the film’s entertaining and fun, but not hilarious. Definitely worth seeing if you enjoy parodies.

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, Apr 07, 2006

: Lucky Number Slevin

Way overly complicated and bewildering gambling-hitman flick with twists on top of twists and falsehood on top of lies. Still, it’s not bad. It’s fun and interesting. The characters are outrageous, especially the over-the-top pitch-perfect performances by Gandi (I mean Sir Ben Kingsley) and Morgan Freeman as the heads of two rival gangs. There’s humor that tries to be

Topic: [/movie]

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Thu, Apr 06, 2006

: Car Update

I was disappointed my new car didn’t have power door locks and keyless entry, something I’ve always wanted. So I had them added! It cost money, yeah, but I decided if I’m going to the trouble of getting a new car I might as well get it with the features I want, so I went for it. Why not? Now it’s got everything: power windows and locks, keyless entry, cruise control, AC, CD player, XM Radio (via my portable MyFi unit), and GPS navigation (I have a portable Magellan Roadmate GPS). Pretty cool! The only thing missing is a way to connect my iPod to the stereo — I’ll either have to invest in an addon, replace the stereo with a different model, or buy an FM transmitter (the latter’s the cheapest, so I’ll probably start with that). Anyway, I’m pretty happy now. It’s taken me a while to get used to the idea of a new car and car payments, but I do feel much better about having reliable, comfortable transportation, and it’s nice having room in my driveway again. But I will be having regular oil changes on the PT, I can guarantee that! I learned my lesson the hard way. (I don’t know for sure if my lack of oil maintence killed the old cars, but I’m sure it didn’t help. I still don’t know why cars need stuff like that, though. I’m used to computers: plug them in and they work for years. With all our technology, why the heck can’t we invent maintenance-free vehicles?)

Topic: [/car]

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Wed, Apr 05, 2006

: A Very Long Engagement

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Though this French movie is way too long for the simple premise, it’s really well done. Audry Tautou plays a girl waiting for her lost fiance, who’s been “killed” in WWI. She hires a private detective and searches for information, slowly unraveling a complex series of coincidence to find out the truth about her lover. She’s convinced he can’t be dead or she’d “know” it, and thus, despite all the odds and peer pressure, she keeps looking for him. This sounds like it could be dry, but it is isn’t. Director Jeunet cleverly keeps the action going with odd twists, bizarre characters, and his unique brand of humorous editing. Unfortunately, the obvious payoff at the end is minimal, and not completely worth the wait. It’s like watching a sports movie about an underdog team: will they actually win? Gee, I don’t know…

Topic: [/movie]

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Fri, Mar 31, 2006

: Inside Man

Nice little bank job thriller with an unusual twist. I’m not sure the film works without that twist — nothing much happens but the mystery of what is going on and once that’s explained, there’s not much left to watch — but if you don’t know what’s going to happen it is interesting. Several of the characters are quite interesting and it’s fun watching them fall or succeed. At times the music and edits are jarring — for such a simple story, a simpler style would have been better. But overall it’s not bad. It’s paint-by-the-numbers, but the finished product still looks decent.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Mar 29, 2006

: Good Night, Good Luck

I really, really liked this. It’s a fascinating look at a serious newsman, Edward R. Murrow and his public battle with McCarthy (the “everyone’s a Communist but me” guy). The theme is about censorship and the media, and acusing people without evidence, themes that obviously resinate today. What I found most interesting is that though this film was created by liberals with an obvious agenda, it’s really a conservative film: today the liberals control the media and jump down the throats of any conservative that dares to speak the opposite, exactly what hero Murrow was doing back in the old days of the film! I myself am a Libertarian and can’t stand censorship and believe in the rights of everyone to be heard, so I liked this movie a lot: I just wish both political parties would learn from it.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Mar 22, 2006

: The United States of Leland

This wasn’t what I expected; it’s good, not great. I thought it was supposed to be funny, but it’s dead serious. It’s about a boy who murders another for apparently no reason and we track his time in jail and try to figure out why he did what he did (even he doesn’t seem to know). If that’s all it was, it’d be a decent Kafaesque premise, but unfortunately the film undermines itself by gradually trying to show us why the boy did it. Since the main interest in the film is that we don’t know why, revealing the why is anticlimactic and not satisfying. I’d have prefered if it would have remained a fascinating mystery.

Topic: [/movie]

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Tue, Mar 21, 2006

: Car Problems, the Sequel

Well, I am bummed. Yesterday I drove the Neon to a repair place — barely made it without overheating — and the guy told me it was a blown head gasket. Apparently that’s expensive, at least $1000, and the car’s hardly worth that. And of course the problems could be even worse. I drove the Neon home, sort of — it took me an hour to go five miles as I had to stop every 200 feet and let the car cool. I didn’t quite make it, leaving the car a few blocks from my house as it was overheating on idle even after ten minutes of cooling time. I went back later that night and moved it. Cooled, it worked just fine. Meanwhile, I took the van down to have that alternator belt looked at. And this morning I got word that the van also has major trouble — to the tune of $1200+. So this afternoon I’m out two vehicles.

Topic: [/car]

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: New Car

Well, all’s well that ends well, I suppose. With both vehicles dead my mindset has changed. I liked having two vehicles as one backed up the other, but after this bad experience — two dead cars in two days — I’m leary of older models. That means springing for new or barely used (i.e. under warranty), which costs a lot more money. Not what I wanted to do, but I decided if I’m going to do that, it’s best to just get one reliable vehicle. The thing is, I want something small and sporty and not too expensive, yet it needs to have enough cargo space to haul Grandpa’s wheelchair around (collapsing the wheelchair is a major pain and greatly increases the time it takes to go anywhere). In the past I’d looked at PT Crusiers and so now I went that route again — and this time I liked what I saw. Before I was comparing their gas mileage (29 hwy) to my Neon (44 hwy) and was not impressed. Compared to my Mazda MPV van, they don’t hold much cargo either. But as a replacement vehicle, the PT met my needs: it has cargo space but it still a smaller vehicle with reasonable gas mileage. I checked with my local dealer and they had a slightly used one with less than 18K miles and a low price — just what I was looking for. I got it with a seven-year Chrysler warranty. (It’s an interesting warranty — if I never use it, I get all my warranty money back!) It didn’t have cruise control, which I regretted never getting for my Neon, so I included adding that into the purchase price. I traded in both my junkers as well, so now I’m down to just one “new” car! (If you want to see a picture of it, click here.) This was not planned but the outcome isn’t terrible, though now I have to hassle with car payments. Ugh!

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Fri, Mar 17, 2006

: V for Vendetta

My pick for best film of the year so far (not that that’s hard this year). I really liked the casting, performances, plot, everything. The film stirred the political winds due to its terrorist themes, but that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s actually a relatively mild film, a 1984ish fantasty about rebellion. The violence, though real, is symbolic, and innocent people are not hurt. Natalie Portman, who I wasn’t sure was right for a role involving physical action, turned out to be great and doesn’t actually do any stunts or action sequences — instead she’s merely a cog in the plot, and she brings humanity to the story. V, on the other than hand, is pure outrageous fantasy, brilliantly done, but always distant and incomprehensible like most superheroes. He’s not always nice — witness his brilliant-yet-warped trick on Natalie’s character — but that’s part of the purposeful ambiguity of the story. I liked that there’s not that much to the story or plot. It’s a simple, elegant little plot, not overly complicated like so many of today’s pieces.

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Tue, Mar 14, 2006

: Car Problems

Well, today was not a good day. I had plans to take a trip toward Portland to go to Costco and Fry’s Electronics, but on the way my car overheated. I had to stop and add water and head back home and it overheated going home — I barely made it. I took the van instead, but noticed it was getting hot as well, so I decided to get the long-delayed oil change it needed. I never did make it to Costco, though I did get to Fry’s to return something I bought at Fry’s in California. What sucked about that is the Oregon Fry’s won’t refund the sales tax I paid in San Jose, so I lost that. Stupid!

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: Garden of Beasts

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Really enjoyable little twister. Unlike most WWII novels, this one was set before the war, during the Olympics in Germany in 1936 (where Jesse Owens won). The main character’s a mob hit man in New York who’s blackmailed by shady government types into going to Germany to kill a particular Nazi leader (not Hitler — everyone felt he was so radical his reign wouldn’t last long) who was the brains behind the throne. It’s a wild and intriguing story, with an unusual setting, and a cool, twisting plot. Worth the read.

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Fri, Mar 10, 2006

: Grandpa’s Home Again

Grandpa came home from the hospital. Even this wasn’t as simple as it sounds. First, my van’s battery was dead, as I expected, as it has a slow drain and if it’s not driven at least once a week it won’t start. Then, on my way to pick up Grandpa, my Neon started shuddering and not accelerating correctly. The “check engine” light came on. Unfortunately, I had a tight deadline: I had to get Grandpa home from the hospital in time for his next infusion of medicine which was to begin in a couple hours. Fortunately, the car made it, though it wasn’t happy. The hospital’s ten minutes away and by the time we got home, it was overheating. I just made it to my driveway. After getting Grandpa settled, I called a tow service to jump the van (it wouldn’t jump connected to a car), which worked, but the tow guy knew something about cars and didn’t like the sound of the engine. He checked the oil and found it was completely dry! I’d been meaning to get an oil change for a while (for both vehicles) but had kept putting it off. Unfortunately, my car knowledge doesn’t extend much further than knowing where to put the key — it had never occured to me to add oil (they usually do that when I change it). Anyway, we added oil and the van seemed okay — at least the engine sounded better, though apparently the alternator belt was too tight and that’s what was making the squealing sound on startup. We checked my Neon and found the same problem — no oil — and added some there also. During this period the nurse arrived to show me how to administer Grandpa’s new medicine — he’s on a 24-hour a day pump that shoots in the antibiotics. Everything was happening at once!

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Mon, Mar 06, 2006

: The Empty Chair

Author: Jeffery Deaver

One of my favorite Lincoln Rhyme stories: it’s a bit long and a key twist at the end is rather obvious (I saw it coming right at the beginning), but it’s still a fun read. I do get tired of Lincoln’s self-centeredness and self-pity for his paralysis, but then I’m not paralized, so I don’t know how I’d react. But that aspect is just not fun to read. What is cool in this story is the main “bad guy” is a kid: the Insect Boy, so dubbed because of his interest in bugs. He kidnaps a girl and uses his bug knowledge to set up traps and false paths for his persuers and is shocked when Lincoln Rhyme keeps right on his tail and eventually catches up with him. Pretty cool.

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Fri, Mar 03, 2006

: Home Again

Whew! I was supposed to come in at 2 a.m. but instead I arrived in the early afternoon. My evening flight out of Houston on Thursday was delayed so they rebooked me for a flight this morning, as I would have missed my connecting flight in Vegas. I arrived in Portland and my mom picked me up — and informed me that Grandpa was back in the hospital. She’d been caring for him in my absense. He’s got an infection in his hip replacement and we’ve been fighting it with infusion therapy at home, but apparently his kidneys are not doing well and they wanted him at the hospital. Nice to come home to such calm chaos!

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Thu, Mar 02, 2006

: Speaking in Tongues

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Better in concept than in actuality. The concept is cool — a rogue pyschologist uses his gift of persuasion to cause all sorts of mayhem in a quest for revenge — but the story turns out to be little more than a mild chase caper. There are a few nice Deaver twists, but the story still feels slight.

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Wed, Mar 01, 2006

: REAL World 2006

It was another great conference. Exhausting, but that’s to be expected. I learned a great deal and made some good contacts. Had a fun time. It’s really wild meeting people in person you only know online, and even stranger being at a place where everyone knows and uses REAlbasic! Tonight I head off to Houston, where I’ll stay with my cousin and her husband before returning to Portland.

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Sun, Feb 26, 2006

: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Pretty good crime drama flick with odd coincidences and mistaken identity themes. Not quite as good as I was led to believe by reviews, but decent enough.

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Fri, Feb 24, 2006

: Autin Trip

Today I head for Austin, for the annual REAL World conference. I go to San Jose first, to visit a client, and on Sunday I fly to Austin.

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Fri, Feb 10, 2006

: Firewall

What’s the point of this? It’s not badly done, and even mildly interesting at times, but we’ve seen it all before dozens of times. The trailer gives away 99% of the plot and that’s pretty much all this movies has. Disappointing.

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Mon, Feb 06, 2006

: Three at Wolfe’s Door

Author: Rex Stout

This is a collection of three Nero Wolfe novellas. The first, “Poison a la Carte,” is a tedious business about a poisoning at a dinner Wolfe attends. The suspects are a bewildering collection of female servers and the solution isn’t particularly Wolfe-like (he basically figures out a way to trick the murderess to confess — no brilliant deducting here). The next story, “Murder for Three” is better — a woman returns to her vehicle to find there’s a dead woman inside and hires Archie (Nero’s partner) to help her — but the ending is strange, as Wolfe unmasks the murderer (so he says) but can’t prove anything. The third, “The Rodeo Murder,” has a character so irritating I could hardly stand to read the story, and unfortunately the “solution” to this one turns out to be secret knowledge only Wolfe knows (cheating, in my book). Overall not great. This has tempered my enthusiasm of Wolfe novels for a while.

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Tue, Jan 31, 2006

: The Second Coming of Steve Jobs

This is an older book I picked up at a discount store. Somehow I missed it when it was published. As a huge fan of Jobs and Macintosh and Silicon Valley lore, it’s a book I wanted to read. It tells the story of how Steve was kicked out of Apple, founded NeXT and rebuilt Pixar, and how he ended up back at Apple and took it to unprecedented success. All this was written back in 2000 and is, of course, pre-iPod — Apple had their most successful quarter this past Christmas, selling nearly $6 billion worth of iPods and Macs, and making a huge $500+ million profit, and last week’s Disney/Pixar merger just made Jobs a multi-billionaire — so the book is ironic in that Jobs’ turnaround was hardly started! The book uncovers fascinating personal details about Jobs, private conversations, both the Good Steve and the infamous Bad Steve. It’s an amazing portrait of a private public man, a man who is full of seeming controdictions and despite being famous for more than 25 years, is still a mystery to most (even those who know him). This is excellently written and appears balanced, though of course I don’t know the truth more than anyone else. It was fascinating to me that as I was reading about Jobs’ dealing with the Pixar/Disney contracts, Disney and Pixar agreed to a merger. What a huge deal that is! Steve now has a seat on Disney’s board and who knows where that will lead. The three companies — for Apple, as the leading supplier of digital music and video content, is part of the trio — are primed for massive growth. It’s a fascinating time!

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Mon, Jan 30, 2006

: Cell

Author: Stephen King (book)

It’s a bit of an absurd premise — a pulse or some signal hits all the cell phones on the planet, erasing the minds of anyone who hears it. This causes instant insanity, as people resort to mindless beings of extreme violence. Since cell phones are everywhere, this is basically the end of civilization as we know it. People driving crash, kill their children, children attack their parents, planes fall out of the sky, and pretty much all authority — fire, police, rescue, etc. — use cell phones and are destroyed. Some withiin a couple days civilization is back to the stone age. Partly this is King’s playful attack on cellular phones, partly it’s just an excuse for a good zombie flick (since the “phoners” are essentially zombies, except the aren’t dead). King takes pains to vividly describe all the gory details of society’s derailment, and the result, while interesting, is too grim and not particularly enlightening. It’s a one-joke premise stretched out too long. Cell phone users are bad, we get it. They’re rude, wealthy, privileged, we get it. Using them to destroy the earth is ironic, we get it. But come, enough already! Move on. But King doesn’t. Fortunately the book is saved by King’s unique prose and an actual plot, though the latter isn’t evident until late in the novel. The book does remind me a lot of King’s

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Fri, Jan 27, 2006

: Capote

I knew nothing about Truman Capote before going to see this film. I’d heard the name and knew he was a writer, but that was about it. I vaguely remember the title In Cold Blood, which was a non-fiction book about some murders, but not much beyond that. Well, I learned a great deal. I had no idea he was such an influential writer (or that he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s). I definitely must get a few of his books. This film is not about Capote’s life, as I expected, but entirely about his writing of In Cold Blood, which was his final work (other things of his were later published, but he never finished anything after Blood). I also learned that Bloodreally did invent a new form of writing: what Truman called the “non-fiction novel.” That’s how he wrote the story of the murders of an entire family in Kansas, and about the killers who were caught and executed for the crime. It’s an amazing four years of research and writing, countless interviews with the criminals on death row, and he even watches one of them hanged. The film’s incredibly well-done with a fantastic performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my favorite actors, but I did find some aspects confusing, simply because I knew nothing about Capote. The film assumes we know things about him and I didn’t. I would have preferred a little more biographical info, details about his other works, etc. I guess I’ll have to watch a real biography to get that. Other than that, though, this is a terrific film, engrossing, deep, and thought-provoking.

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Wed, Jan 25, 2006

: Ambler Warning

Author: Robert Ludlum

Ludlum’s back! I’ve stayed away from his recent books as they were co-written (I hate that) and seemed derivitive. I am pleased to say that the old Ludlum is back with his best book since

The second cool character is the antithesis of cool. He’s a real geek, an accountant, an auditor. He works in the CIA. This guy’s so dry he makes the Sahara seem wet. But he’s also got an amazing skill. Though he seems invisible and powerless, via his audits, he can find almost anyone or anything. By following the money he can infer all kinds of information. No one has to tell him about top secret missions and plans because he sees the invoices and can deduce what’s really going on!

The book begins with Ambler locked in a psychiatric facility, a particular high-security government institution where former spies and others with secrets are kept so they don’t accidentally spill the beans. The difference is that Ambler is not insane — he’s been put away by people unknown and he’s desperate to escape and find out what’s going on. Once again, Ludlum’s created an amnesiac character (like Jason Bourne), this time with a twist. And trust me, you can’t put this book down until you get to the dramatic conclusion. Awesomely fun book, surprisingly eloquent, and Ludlum at his very best.

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Mon, Jan 23, 2006

: Underworld: Evolution

Like the first one, this is not a serious film, but pure fun. Kate Beckinsale is back as the lead, and looking gorgeous in her tight leather outfits as she slaughters werewolves and others. This movie takes up right where the last one ended, getting us deeper into the mysterious past of the vampires and werewolves. It actually makes some sense, though it’s not really worth explaining — after all, the plot’s mostly an excuse to kill things. It’s fun with plenty of gore and monsters and such.

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Fri, Jan 20, 2006

: End of the Spear

This is a film updating the “Through Gates of Splendor” story about missionaries in South America in the 1950s who are killed trying to make contact with a remote and savage native tribe. The story is amazing: the Indians have a culture of killing and are literally wiping themselves out (at one point there were only 60 or so natives remaining) through vengeance killings. When the white missionary men come, the distrustful and supersticious Indians spear them. Then it is the wives of the missionaries who come and live with the Indians. The Indians are not fearful of the women, dismissing them, and thus a communication is formed. Eventually the missionaries’ word of peace and of a loving God is communicated, in part because the Indians are shocked and bewildered that the wives and children (especially the son) of the murdered men are not after revenge but offering love. Today there are more grandparents in the tribe than any time in hundreds of years. In the past, the grandparents were all killed before their grandchildren were born.

I was familiar with most of this story, but the film brings the story to modern day, where the son of one of the murdered missionaries has gone back with his own family to live among the Indians. That is quite a legacy. But do you see God’s incredible plan? The Indians would never have accepted the missionary men. Men, to them, were warriors, always to be distrusted as the enemy. But the women had an “in” with the natives that only God could see. By allowing the missionary men to die, God opened a door for communication with the Indians that never would have been possible in any other way.

While surprisingly well-done in many ways, this film is not without flaws, however. The producers purposely left out much religiosity, a decision I’m generally in favor of as we don’t want the movie to be preachy or detract from the story. Unfortunately, too much was removed, for we never see the missionaries praying or doing anything remotely religious — if we weren’t told they were missionaries we might have thought they were anthropologists or something! The first third of the movie’s confusing, and there are some technical issues, but this gets better as the film progresses — it made me think they started with one budget and got more money and were able to up the quality mid-stream. The acting and directing was decent, but much of the film takes place among the natives, speaking their tongue with subtitles, so it’s difficult to judge performances. Overall I was pleased. I was impressed at how much care was given to the native’s dilemma of giving up their killing lifestyle. This was a huge decision for them. It was not easy to put down their spears. The film respects this and does not give us a sitcom resolution. The women were in constant danger for the Indians threatened to kill them many times and in anger and suspicion almost did on several occasions. But eventually, gradually, the Indians put down their spears and began to live in peace. Quite an amazing transformation, when you think of it. My thought was that gangs in L.A., NY, etc. ought to see the film since they subscribe to the same circle of violence (vegeance killings).

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Fri, Jan 13, 2006

: Las Vegas Trip

I’ve never been to Vegas before. I have no interest in gambling, so it didn’t attract me that much, however I was curious about the place, the architecture, the shows, etc. This particular trip was sudden: old friends of ours from France were visting their sister in Vegas for a week and we managed to get a cheap flight/hotel stay to join them. So we didn’t gamble or anything like that; we just walked around, shopped, and ate — a lot. They have really good food in Vegas. Especially the French restaurants in the “Paris in Vegas” casino, which even our French friends liked. I had to bring out my rusty French (it’s been over twenty years since spoke it regularly) which was an adventure, but we had a great time. It was a quick trip as my mom had to get back for a doctor’s appointment this afternoon, but we’re glad we went.

I did have one sort of Vegas mysterious thing happen. I’d cleaned out my jeans pocket before we went as you can’t take pocket knives and such on the airplane. So the only thing in my pocket was my Dramamine (I get airsick). My mom found a dime on the ground the first night we were there and gave it to me, so I put it in my pocket. The next morning, I had my hand in my pocket and I realized there were two dimes there! I was surprised, but a few hours later I was shocked, for again I put my hand in my pocket and this time there were three dimes! That’s all I got, and I have no explaination. I am positive my pocket was empty before I put the first dime in, and I examined the original when my mom gave it to me, so I know it wasn’t like two or three dimes stuck together. And I know absolutely that after I found the second dime I checked my pocket thoroughly for more — so the third one appearing really makes this unusual. Oh, and we didn’t spend any cash — credit cards only — so it’s not like I got change back from a transaction and absent-mindedly put some of it in my pocket and forgot about it. Very strange and mysterious. I’m not a conspirist, so I’ll leave the theories to readers, but it was interesting. The thought did occur to me that maybe I should have gambled these dimes — like they were meant to be found and used — but the slot machines just didn’t interest me at all. I cannot fathom the fascination with them. What’s the point? Where’s the fun? (BTW, I was suprised that Vegas is 90% slot machines. I saw very little of other kinds of gambling. I guess you have to go into special rooms for other games, like poker, which does interest me as it’s not entirely dumb luck.)

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Fri, Jan 06, 2006

: Bloodrayne

I knew this was supposed to be horrible before I went, but I was bored and there was nothing else even vaguely interesting available, so I gave it a whirl. I figured it would have action and couldn’t be that bad, could it? Let me just say that this film makes

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Thu, Jan 05, 2006

: If Death Ever Slept

Author: Rex Stout

I’m starting to get a feel for these Nero Wolfe novels now. Though I’ve only read a few, they do seem to have certain things in common: 1. The crime is always murder; 2. Nero never leaves his house and hates working. 3. The group of suspects is small and we know one of them is guilty; 4. There are no real clues; 5. Extra murders are always done to cover up the first murder, and it is these murders that help break the case (and Stout is oddly dispassionate about murder — death is extremely casual in his stories); 6. Nero solves the murders using logic about human behavior (pyschology, if you will), instead of traditional crime detecting techniques (for instance, he can deduce that so-and-so wouldn’t have done a particular murder because it wasn’t done in their “style”); 7. Archie Goodwin, Nero’s assistant and narrator of the stories, is really the main character as Wolfe just makes grand cameo appearances as necessary; 8. Wolfe is highly motivated by money but always seems to turn down fees or fire clients, which is rather odd.

This particular novel is more about Archie as he leaves Wolfe to live with a family as a spy for their client, and when murder happens, he’s right in the middle of it. While this one is well-written and has some good characters, the mystery part of it — including the conclusion — is weak and boring. Wolfe does nothing extraordinary except fire his client. It’s my least favorite of those I read so far.

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Wed, Jan 04, 2006

: Luther

Surprisingly good film about the life of Martin Luther. I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about what all the conflicts were, why he was ostricized from the Roman Catholic Church, and why he wrote his famous letters. I was expecting direct-to-video quality but everything — the acting, writing, direction, costumes, etc. — was surperbly done. I can’t speak for the historical accuracy (this was produced, at least in part, by the Lutheran Church), but I enjoyed the story and the performances.

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