Thu, Jul 24, 2008

: Golf Day

After my hike earlier in the week I was exhausted, but managed to put in nine holes of golf today. My cousin was in town from New York and he hadn’t golfed in years either. He still did much better than me, but then he was better before we got out of practice. I didn’t do that badly, hitting a handful of decent shots, though I was dreadfully inconsistent. I didn’t do enough to get into any kind of rhythm, so obviously I need more practice. It’s great weather now, so I need do that more often as it’s good exercise and a fun physical and mental challenge.

Topic: [/event]

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Tue, Jul 22, 2008

: Ocean Hike

Today I went to the Oregon coast and hiked nearly six miles! It was an overcast day, but still gorgeous, and the weather was cool and ideal for hiking. I went to Oswald West State Park and hiked out to Cape Falcon where I got some fanastic photos. I had a picnic lunch at the Cape and discovered I actually had cell phone coverage in that area and was able to surf the web and email photos from my iPhone! Lots of fun. Check out the photos linked above (which also include a previous hike up to Multnomah Falls I did last month).

Topic: [/travel]

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: The X-Files: I Want To Believe

I had little interest in this; the promos didn’t intrigue me at all and I only went because I liked the TV show. It turned out to not be that bad, but it’s not great, either. There’s a lot of weirdness: Gillian Anderson, while not looking bad, looks surprisingly old. Apparently her character and Fox Mulder are living (and sleeping) together, and they each take advantage of this being a movie and not a TV show to swear a few times for no good reason (and it feels odd). The plot is also strange: Mulder’s a runaway and the FBI bring him back in to help find a missing agent. They have a psychic who’s given them leads, but is he real or fake? Fox is the supposed expert, but it seems a flimsy reason to bring him in. After all, if the psychic’s leads work, why do they need Fox? And if they don’t work, what good is Fox? But the psychic gimmick does provoke some interesting debate over truth and the existence of God and such things; we get the irrational Mulder conflicting with the rational Scully, who’s now working as a doctor and struggling to deal with a terminal child she cannot help. I liked the debate, but as usual it’s just word games and there are no answers or conclusions, just more questions and mysteries. The plot turns out to be some sort of weird internal organ thief thing, which feels awfully small for a big screen movie. But at least there isn’t the dreaded “conspiracy theory” mantra that plagued the show. The first half of the movie is a bit too mysterious and muddled, but the latter half is more action (though of a low-key variety), which feels equally strange in that it’s such a change from the rest of the film. The best part is the middle, when Scully confronts the child molester-priest/psychic and he challenges her beliefs. It’s definitely an interesting film for fans of the series, but it’s still not the movie fans want (there are no answers).

Topic: [/movie]

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Mon, Jul 21, 2008

: World Without End

Author: Ken Follett

This is a “sequel” to Follett’s classic Pillars of the Earth. That one is an epic that covers a century or so of the building of a cathedral in 14th century England. This one is set about a hundred years later in the same town and features new characters, so it’s not a traditional sequel, but it’s an amazing story. Like the first book, it’s hugely long. I bought it in audiobook format and I’ve been listening to it for months every time I drive. It’s like six eight-hour parts! But the story is so good I wanted to drive just to listen, and sometimes I just parked in my garage and listened for a while. Follett is a master novelist and it shows with this masterwork as he artfully crafts wonderful characters from childhood to death, and he tortures us with disasters and challenges that face our heros and heroines, and he often lets bad people “win” in ways that are just like real life. The plot is slightly rambling as it’s merely the extended happenings of several people throughout their lives, but there are a few core characters and events. Basically there’s a genius builder whose ambition is to build the tallest building in England, but politics and greed seem to hamper his every progress as he struggles to get morons to heed his wise advice. The love of his life is Carice, the daughter of the town’s most prominent businessman, and she’s seemingly perfect to follow in her father’s footsteps and lead the town to glory, but when her plans threaten the wrong people, they attempt to kill her, and she’s forced into a nunnery to escape. There she discovers a new calling: medicine, as she ends up running a hospital and writing an acclaimed book on cures that actually work instead of ridiculous traditions like bleeding that weaken patients. Of course she’s constantly set back in her work as she’s a woman in a man’s world and isn’t “trained” as a doctor.

Throughout this story we are inside a wonderful ancient world that’s both astonishingly primitive and yet similar to our own. I found this educational and revealing as in a book of this magnitude and detail, you get a real feel of what live in the 14th century must have been like. There are so many tiny things we forget out in our modern lives, things we take for granted, like how our cities operate, the ability to print books and distribute information, and common medical knowledge — today even a child knows about germs and how diseases are spread. Then there’s more expert knowledge such as medieval building techniques: how do you build a spire or a stone bridge across a flowing river? Such engineering challenges with only primitive tools to work with is amazing and makes the accomplishments of our ancient bretheren that much more impressive.

I loved this book.

Topic: [/book]

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: Journey to the Center of the Earth

I didn’t hold out much hope for this as I figured it was a silly remake of the classic book, but it turned out to be a fun, hip, and tongue-in-cheek hommage. Instead of remaking the book, this movie is all new, but takes place in a world where Jules Verne’s books were based in reality. A scientist lost his brother who sought the center of the earth, and now he and his nephew end up on traveling there. It’s definitely silly with a number of B-movie type action sequences that are so far-fetched they are entertaining, but there’s a goodness at heart that’s endearing, and the movie is aware of it’s absurdity and that makes it not only tolerable but fun. This is not the kind of movie to ever win awards or anything, but it is remarkably entertaining. Two thumbs up.

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Sun, Jul 20, 2008

: Veronica Guerin

Was this Cate Blanchett weekend or something? I’m not sure how this happened but somehow I ended up recording this movie as well, and it’s another terrific performance by Cate. She’s amazing as a tough Irish journalist who’s almost stupid in how brazenly she attacks the mob. Despite numerous threats and physical attacks, she keeps writing and naming drug dealers, and in the end she’s murdered, but her death sparks riots and the people drum the drug dealers out of town. Pretty cool.

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Sat, Jul 19, 2008

: Elizabeth

Another serious drama of the kind that reminds me of “health food” — good for you but tastes horrible. But I’m currently almost finished with World Without End, a book set in England in the 1300s, and that’s why I recorded this film on my HD channel. To my surprise, this turned out to be a fascinating film of political intrigue. You learn how Elizabeth’s promotion to queen was unexpected and everyone thought she’d be dead in a week, but somehow she survived assasination attempts and political actions and became a great queen. Very cool.

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Fri, Jul 18, 2008

: The Dark Knight

Sequels rarely live up to expectations, but I am pleased to report that this film is actually superior to Batman Begins. Batman Begins was good; excellent, even. But this one is great. The first movie had to deal with all the set-up business: how Batman became Batman, etc. In this one he’s still dealing with some of that, but it’s much more about him as a “real” crime-fighter. In this one the Joker is the arch-villain and his goal is simply to bring chaos to the city. That randomness and illogic is confusing to Batman and makes the Joker hard to stop: he does not have the same goals as regular criminals. I really liked the gradual build-up: the Joker seemingly is almost harmless at the start, but only later are we shown how evil and vile he really is. Such subtle evil suits his character perfectly; it is masterfully done. The late Heath Leger seemed like a bizarre casting choice to me, but he is excellent (and he’ll probably win the Oscar just out of sympathy). He brings a shrill hysteria to the role that is superb, along with an eerie calmness, grinning manically through his caked on clown makeup, that convinces you that he is psychotic. This is definitely not the silly Joker from the TV series. This guy is deadly and wickedly cruel.

I don’t want to spoil the plot much by revealing too many details, but I will just say that the conclusion is fantastic. Essentially Batman takes on the sins of another in order to hide the truth and protect the city from self-destruction. He knows that doing this will make people hate him, and it will mean he’s now a true vigilante, with the police trying to hunt him down as well as the bad guys. But that’s a price he’s willing to pay: he understands that that is the purpose and advantage of a faceless Batman, that he can be whatever people need him to be (hero, villain, weirdo, etc.). This conclusion fits in perfectly with the rest of the movie in which Bruce Wayne wrestles with the idea of revealing his identity. What bigger hero is there than a man who’s willing to be hated in order to save lives?

I loved this film. I liked the first one, but this tops it by a wide margin, and that’s saying a lot.

Topic: [/movie]

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Wed, Jul 16, 2008

: Baadasssss!

This is a movie about a movie: Mario Van Peebles wrote, directed, and stars in this pseudo documentary about his father Melvin’s controversial 1971 movie, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song, which was not only one of the first films directed by a black man, but one of the first successful independent films. This movie shows the long, hard road he had to haul to get there: trying to get white people to finance a film they couldn’t understand about a revolutionary topic (a black guy beats up corrupt white policemen and goes on the lam), hiring staff from the porn business so he could avoid the unions, using his own money, borrowing and begging and stealing, etc. It’s a terrific look at that era, at independent movie-making, and it’s also a character study of Mario and his relationship with his dad (who is portrayed with many flaws as he was so driven to do the film he hurt many people in the process). Apparently the original film isn’t the greatest movie, but it had a huge impact on the movie industry and started trends in films that still exist today. This movie also isn’t the greatest — it focuses a bit too much on the lurid details at times and possibly overcelebrates Melvin’s “greatest” as a director — but it is extremely interesting, especially if you’re curious about the movie industry or racial relations in the 1970s.

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Tue, Jul 15, 2008

: A Cry in the Dark

This is one of those serious dramas with awesome acting you’re supposed to see but like medicine, isn’t supposed to actually taste good. Therefore, though the actor in me wanted to see Meryl Streep’s fine performance, another part of me wasn’t too excited about seeing this. I actually recorded it on my HD movie channel several times and deleted it, but this time I finally got around to watching it, and you know what? This is an awesome movie! It’s not boring at all. It’s fascinating story. It’s based on real-life events that happened in Australia back in the early 1980s: a pastor and his wife, while vacationing in a rural area, have their baby daughter stolen by a dingo (a wild dog). The tragedy upsets the nation and spotlights the couple with media attention, but then the baby’s clothes are found, supposedly “folded,” and the police lab reports that the clothes have no dingo saliva on them. Suddenly the couple go from sad victims to murder suspects. Another key aspect of the story is that since the couple are religious and a little bit fantatical about it (vegetarian, etc.), people start to use that against them, with the police finding highlighted passages of scripture in the couple’s Bible that might implicate them, etc. We watch as the media circus hurts the couple and tries to tear them apart, and eventually there’s a big trial with the wife accused of murder despite little concrete evidence. It comes down to her personality: does the jury like her or think she’s capable of murdering her own baby? Well, she comes across as unemotional and detached, capable of calmly discussing a wild dog eating her baby, and the jury thinks that makes her seem guilty. Like I said, it’s a fascinating movie. It’s very similar to the hype and media sensation of something like the O.J. Simpson trial here. Definitely worth your time and highly recommended. And Streep as the wife is amazing.

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Fri, Jul 11, 2008

: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

I liked the first one mainly for its sense of humor and this one continues that trend. It’s still a comic book movie with lots of action and special effects, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The creatures/mutations (or whatever they are) are also humorously inventive, so that the whole thing is a fun crazy ride instead of being implausible. The plot’s okay, but nothing special; this one is just one, especially Hellboy’s sarcastic and blunt approach to everything.

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Wed, Jul 02, 2008

: Hancock

(Spoiler alert: in order to cover this, I must reveal some plot points. You’ve been warned.) This is a confusing film. I don’t believe it knows what it is either. It wants to be a superhero film, but wants to be both a traditional one and a new and different and edgy one. Hancock is the Superman-like superhero (excellently portrayed by Will Smith) who is nasty, mean, and drunk. In his heroics, he often damages more than he helps, and the people hate him. Then a PR guy befriends him and tries to reform his image and make him into a hero people will like. There’s supposed to be some comedy in this, but it’s done in such a nasty, negative manner, with a lot of foul language and dark humor, that it comes across as more uncomfortable than funny. If the film had stopped there, it might have worked. But it goes off the deep end with a bizarre plot twist: apparently the PR’s guys wife, sheer coincidence, just happens to be another superhero, and one who knows Hancock’s real identity and story (he’s suffering from amnesia and doesn’t know how he became super). The two fight and we aren’t sure why and we don’t know who to root for, and since this takes up ten or twenty minutes of the film, we’re confused and disinterested for quite a while. In the end, things are explained (sort of) and everyone lives happily ever thereafter, but the ride to get there is bumpy. The special effects are cool, though often too fancy and fast to be visible, and are the main reason to see this. That and Will Smith’s performance (and Charlize Theron as the wife). Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t quite work or live up to its billing. It’s not terrible, just a little disappointing. The jokes fall flat, the plot is weak, and the gimmick of a superhero as a mean drunk and a jerk grows old quickly. Still, it has some fun elements and scenes and is okay if you’re not too discriminating.

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: The Human Stain

Author: Philip Roth

Fascinating exploration of the llife of a college professor whose career is finshed when he’s accused of making a racist remark. Through flashbacks of his life we learn about his former lovers and discover his great secret: his parents were black. He has kept this from everyone, including his wife of many years, because of the prejudice he suffered in his youth, and it’s a fascinating exploration of the psychological aspects of race and culture. The film’s slow and at least 30 minutes too long, but has some nice words and is interesting. Recommended.

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