Mon, Jul 30, 2007

: Must Love Dogs

Surprisingly good romantic comedy. By definition the plot is predictable — a divorced woman struggles with dating as an older woman and finds a nice divorced man — but there are a few twists to keep things interesting (though some feel artificial and forced). Overall it’s not great but not bad. Diane Lane carries the film.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jul 27, 2007

: Voyagers III

Author: Ben Bova

This is the third book of the trilogy and they just keep getting better. I liked the second one better than the first, and I liked this one even more than the second, perhaps. This one combines exciting plot and our hero’s superhuman abilities with thoughtful projection of what technology can mean to humanity. We learn the scientific secrets behind the hero’s superhuman abilities (which now make total sense), but our main characters from the other books now must fight new enemies who seek the alien technology in a quest for power. The plot’s gripping and interesting, though it still moves at the slow pace Bova’s committed to for this series which makes it come across a little more heavy-handed than it should. But overall this is an excellent book and a great conclusion to the original storyline.

Topic: [/book]

Link

: The Simpsons Movie

This was great! I had no idea what to expect. The TV episodes are so scattered they hardly have a plot, a technique that I didn’t think would work well in a film. Fortunately the film does have a main plot to serve as a backbone, but it also skips around for lots of hilarious jokes and gags. The writers did a fantastic job of incorporating almost all our favorite characters from the decades the show has been on the air, and I adored the great self-deprecating humor. Right at the beginning there’s a great scene with the family at the theatre watching the “Itcy and Scratchy Movie” and Homer saying, “I can’t believe we’re payig to see something we can get on TV for free!” And then, just to make sure we get it, he turns and points right at us, the movie audience, and says, “That means YOU!” Great stuff. Like on the show, the plot’s almost irrelevant: something about Springfield being the most poluted town in the USA and so the EPA encloses the city in a giant dome so nobody can leave and Homer must save the city at the end. But the gags are great. If you like the TV show, you’ll like the movie.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Sunshine

Director: Danny Boyle

Wow, this is some fantastic, dramatic science fiction film. It’s far, far better than 99% of the scifi films out there. Unfortunately, its predictability — at least as far as the inevitable ending is concerned — weakens it a little. But it’s still good. The plot is simple: the earth’s sun is dying so a small group of astronauts and scientists are in a unique vessel carrying a special bomb that needs to be detonated inside the sun to restart it and save the solar system. The space ship is amazing: it’s not all Star Trek polish and gleam, but industrial and fragile, like something humans would actually create. It consists of a sort of huge satellite-dish that points to the sun and shields the actual ship from the sun’s intense light. What liked is that when the problems start, they are genuine scientific problems, yet they are explained in such a way that we actually understand what is going on. Complicated tragectory calculations, limited oxygen, shields that must be rotated at just the precise angle to the sun, communications failure because of the sun’s magnetism, etc. This isn’t the first attempt by humans to restart the sun: this is the Icarus II, the second ship sent 7 years after the first failed, and when they discover that the first ship is near their flight path, they have a decision to make: change their course in the hopes that the original ship might have needed resources they could use? Unfortunately, all this great drama is dappered a little toward the end by a “crazy psycho” plotline that gets inserted, turning the ending into too much of a slasher movie for me. Until that point everything was awesome. The acting is fantastic, the drama palatable, and the scientific aspects of flying into the sun are fascinating. This really is an excellent film, harrowing and exciting, and I recommend you check it out.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jul 23, 2007

: Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows

Author: J. K. Rowling

Wow. This book is the best since the first, and a terrific cap for the series. If you thought Rowling was making all this up as she went along, this proves she was not, for everything is revealed in this book. All the little storylines are wrapped up and questions answered. There are flashbacks to previous books and we suddenly see all sorts of hints and clues in those that we never noticed before. Rowling knew exactly what she was doing. It is brilliant. I can’t think of another multi-series of books that are so tightly plotted. As for the story in this one, it’s also brilliant. All the books so far have followed a similar plotline: Harry goes back to school, learns stuff, gets into mischief, and stops some evil Voldemort plot. But this one is different. This is a different Harry. In this one, he and Ron and Hermione skip school and set right out on the mission left them by Dumbledore in the last book, looking for additional devices containing portions of Voldemort’s soul. If even one of these is not destroyed, Voldemort can rebuild himself, so all of them must be destroyed before Voldemort can be battled. This all leads to a dramatic wizard war at Hogwarts (I can’t wait to see the battle on film) and the final controntation between Harry and Voldemort. (Come on, that was obvious — I’m not giving anything away by telling you that.) I won’t leak the ending, but I will say that it is exactly as it should be: appropriate, dramatic, and utterly satisfying. It’s the perfect conclusion to the perfect series. This book is one of the fastest reading, too: it’s just non-stop excitement and you can’t put it down. I didn’t start reading until late Saturday night and finished it Monday night. Highly recommended.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sun, Jul 22, 2007

: Tiptoes

Odd little independent film about a woman involved with a normal-height man, who, it turns out, is from a family of dwarves. She finds this out as she discovers she’s pregnant, and worries about how genetics would effect her baby. However, it turns out she’s more tolerant than her fiance, who’s got hidden issues. Interesting but too dry and not as compelling as it sounds.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jul 21, 2007

: Day of the Dead

Director: George Romero

This is the third in Romero’s Dead series. My favorite is still Dawn of the Dead, which is awesome. This one continues where that left off with a handful of survivors trying to figure out what to do next. They are holed up in an underground facility where scientists are trying to figure out what makes the living dead tick (so to speak) and a few psycho military guys. It’s a claustrophobic film with plenty of zombie gore, and while it’s interesting, much of the acting is obviously sub-par, and unfortunately the film doesn’t have the social relevance of the first two. In the end it’s just a zombie movie and not much more.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Dragonfly

Weird Kevin Costner movie where he plays a doctor whose doctor wife died in South America. Kevin’s character then gets messages from near-death patients who are telling him they are bringing back messages from his dead wife. The doctor becomes obssessed with this, convinced his wife isn’t dead, but of course no one believes him. The ending redeems things slightly — there actually is a point to all the silliness — but the film’s just bizarre and odd for much too long for any plot to redeem it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jul 16, 2007

: Captivity

This movie seemed so blatantly one-dimensional I wanted to find out if it really was. Besides, I’m an Elisha Cuthbert fan and this couldn’t be that bad, could it? Well, yeah. Sadly, it is just as one-dimensional as the trailer makes it out to be: a pretty model is captured and tormented by a psycho. The film tries to include a “twist” but it’s lame (extremely predictable) and not especially twisty; in the end there really is no point at all to this film. Fortunately, it was not as grisly as it could have been, other than a few gory shots early on. Weird. I can’t figure out why this was green lighted and why Elisha would have signed up for this. She must be desperate for a career or something.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jul 15, 2007

: Employee of the Month

Other than being a Costco addict, I had next to zero interest in seeing this, but got the DVD from Netflix and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. That’s not saying much, of course, but the promos made it sound like the plot was about two Costco cashiers competing for employee of the month because the winner would get to sleep with the girl and fortunately that sex part was deemphasized and not a signficant part of the plot. It’s really just about two idiots competing and we’re rooting for the underdog, of course. Surprisingly harmless.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jul 13, 2007

: You Kill Me

This is sort of a low key black comedy about an alcoholic hitman (brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley) who goes into AA and struggles to figure out his life. He meets a beautiful woman (Tea Leoni) who accepts his odd career choice, and together he learns to be a good hitman again. Not quite as brilliant as it sounds, but more interesting than most movies these days. Good performances and some moments of genius, but in the end, not much beyond the clever premise.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jul 12, 2007

: Hard News

Author: Jeffery Deaver

The idea sounds good: a young, quirky cameraperson at a TV network gets a lead on an “innocent man imprissoned” story she wants to cover. She must find evidence to free him, but people and circumstance conspire against her. Unfortunately, the book’s resolution is convoluted and doesn’t make that much sense, and there are distracting personal stories that confuse things even more. The whole thing feels unfocused and directionless, though in the end progress is made. This would be a good novel for condensation. It’s not that bad and it’s got some interesting situations, but the overall story is weak.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Wed, Jul 11, 2007

: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This is one of my least favorite of the books and I wasn’t expecting the movie to be very good. To my surprise, this is one of the best Harry Potter movies. The book is long and rambling and unfocused; it’s too dark and missing some of the clever Potter humor, and the grim ending is depressing. The movie trims all this down into an excellent action-filled storyline. The plot is basically about how the Ministry of Magic is trying to cover up all rumors that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has returned, smearing Harry Potter’s name in the process, and putting the marvelously acted Delores Umbridge in charge of Hogwarts School. She instigates a campaign of terror that rivals Hitler; all with a chillingly happy smile. Harry is worried because defensive magic skils are not being taught so he undertakes the task of training a group of student volunteers in secret. In the end, those students end up helping him to stop Voldemort, who’s out to steal a prophecy about Harry from the Ministry. The ending is just as grim as the book, but in the film it works as the whole film is on the serious side with plenty of ominous foreshadowing. The climax between Voldemort and Harry is excellently done, with some impressive performances. All and all this is a Harry Potter who’s growing up: he’s still young but is believable as an adult in this one. Some people may not like that Harry and the film’s are changing, but that is reality. I really liked this movie.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jul 07, 2007

: Welcome Home Party for Carol

Today we had a welcome home party for my mom. She’s been in Togo for three months and this was a nice get-together of friends and family to hear her stories and see the pictures she took of her adventure. People came and went but I guess there were about twenty. We grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, and tons of veggies (zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and peppers), and I served it with brown rice with herbs. I made crepes for dessert. Filled with fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, marionberries, and raspberries) and topped with Cool Whip they were yummy and not too bad in the nutrition department. It was a pretty good party!

Topic: [/event]

Link

Fri, Jul 06, 2007

: Transformers

I was disappointed by this, though apparently most people are not. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I never watched the TV cartoon show or played with the toys, but there wasn’t much scientific accuracy in the film, which I found confusing and distracting. The plot sounds impressive on paper, but is overblown. It starts out well, with mysterious happenings such as a metal creature attacking an army base and a kid buying an old car that turns out to be intelligent and transforms into a robot. But there’s no explanation for the transforming technology and the magical cube thing at the end that somehow turns ordinary machines (like a soft drink vending machine) into evil robots is just bizzarre. Everything ends up rather convoluted and silly; think Independence Day with half the heart. This is an extremely shallow film that tries to make itself more complicated than it is. In the end, it’s a mild action flick with some to-quick-to-see transformation effects. Fun and mindless and thankfully harmless, but not what I was hoping to see.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Jul 04, 2007

: July 4 iPhone Showoff

Today I went to my aunt and uncle’s for a July 4th party. It was a whirlwind, though I did manage to find some time to eat. With seconds of arriving my uncle had let the word get out that I possessed an iPhone and suddenly I was mobbed. I must have done a dozen demos of the thing. There were several Mac folks in the crowd (I only knew a few people at the party) and that was cool, though one guy had just renewed his Sprint contract and thus is locked out from an iPhone (his family gets a huge Sprint discount via work). It was interesting seeing the reactions of people to the iPhone. Amazement was pretty consistent, along with little joys and delights when people discovered things like automatic rotation detection or pinch photo-resizing. The virtual keyboard was somewhat problematic, but interestingly, it was mostly so for experienced phone users: newbies went slowly and cautiously, tapping with one finger, and had few problems. I didn’t really take a survey of who was rushing out to get one, but everyone was pleased to see it and impressed. My mom had hers and was showing off her pictures from her trip to Togo to anyone who asked. It was impressive to see how she got long with such a new device. She asked me for a help a couple times, but mostly she was able to figure out how to use it just fine. Quite an excellent way to sell the thing, if you ask me!

Topic: [/technology]

Link

Mon, Jul 02, 2007

: Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny

I thought this had a great premise — two rocker dudes seek “The Pick of Destiny,” a guitar pick with supernatureal rock powers that can turn anyone into a musical genius. But unfortunately the film isn’t very funny and is mostly distasteful, with crass jokes and tons of bad language that passes for humor. Disappointing.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: Ratatouille

This film is typical Pixar: brilliant, clever, thoughtful, beautiful, and entertaining. It’s a great story about a mouse who becomes a chef at a Paris restaurant. Unfortunately, we expect so much from Pixar these days and there’s a lot of competition at the theatres right now, so I fear this is one flick that is getting lost at the multiplex. It should have long legs as people get around to seeing it, but it’s not like computer animation by itself is innovative any more. Also, the topic (fine cuisine) is a little high brow for kids and comedy isn’t as broad as in Cars or Finding Nemo, which may mean some kids will be content waiting for the DVD. That’s a shame because it’s an excellent film and highly recommended.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jul 01, 2007

: U.S. Marshalls

I figured this would not be good but at least it was an action movie. Sadly, it’s bewildered and befuddled, and much too convoluted to function as anything. There’s not enough action for an action movie, nor intelligence to be a criminal drama, it bears no resemblance to the original, Pathetic.

Topic: [/movie]

Link