Friday, June 11, 2010

The A-Team

Movie: The A-Team

I went into this with trepidation and not much hope. I'm a fan of the cheesy-but-fun 80s TV series but I wasn't sure what direction they would take. Would this be a satirical vision of the show like the Brady Bunch movie? A clumsy and flat redo like Bewitched? Often these remakes are too self-aware or try to recreate the original so exactly it fails to be anything new.

I am pleased to report that the A-Team, while certainly far from perfect, gets most things right. It strikes a nice balance between new and familiar, with actors similar to the originals, but bringing their own flair for the role. (All are pretty good, but the standouts are Liam Neeson as Hannibal and Bradley Cooper as Face.) The script is excellent, with a perfect blend of humor and action. It's not so chock-full of one-liners it devolves into a parody or comedy, yet humor is a critical aspect of the original show. Plotwise, I was delighted. Yes, it's over-the-top, over-complicated, and over-done, but the best decision was the way they combined an origin story with a new conflict. This is both new and familiar. From the TV show we know that the A-Team was "set up for a crime they didn't commit" and now we get to see that, in addition to how the team members first met (and we find out why BA doesn't like flying). But a lot of films like this go strictly for the origin story, which can feel wimpy because we know much of it already, or they try to crap two completely different stories into one script, and neither gets the screen time they need. Such results are unsatisfying. This script cleverly intertwines both into something we know something about but is also new and I enjoyed it. This is a fun film. It's got a lot of what we love about the original show, but the remake modernizes some things, provides slightly more character development, and allows the new actors to provide their own stamp on things.

That said, there are lots of flaws. The plot's overly complicated and the film goes on forever (it should have been 20 minutes shorter). Some of the events are beyond far-fetched and the green screen special effects are truly horrible -- we're talking video game animation quality for explosions and stuff. The climax at the shipyard is truly awful. However, in a way that fits right in with the TV series, which, while it didn't have obviously digital effects, had pretty bad stunts. That's one of the things that gave the show its lovable B-movie nature. And it works here, too, though I think they should have gone even cruder. The way it is it feels like a mistake; like they tried and failed. It should have felt either low-budget or intentionally fake, like a parody movie. But if you don't take it seriously, it still feels fun.

Overall, that's the key to take from this movie. Have Face's reaction to everything -- always good-natured, with that too-perfect grin no matter what awful thing is happening to you -- and you'll have a blast. Leave your critical brain at home and go have fun!


Monday, October 28, 2002


Movie: Abandon

Not a bad Hitchcockian thriller. If you like Katie Holmes you'll probably like this film. If you don't, you probably won't, as she's in nearly every scene. The director loves to do super-closeups so that the pimples on her forehead are the size of dinner plates. She's a lightweight actress (though I still like her), but she's smart in that she doesn't try to overdo this role (which she could have easily done and would have been terrible). She does a good job in a complex role. The film is much less exciting than it appears in the promos -- there's virtually no story, and the pace is leisurely. But it's still interesting. We follow Katie just before graduation as she prepares her thesis, studies for finals, and goes on job interviews. Meanwhile, a detective is looking into the disappearance of her old boyfriend who she hasn't seen in two years. He's an eccentric rich kid who is unpredictable, but no one has seen him. As the stresses of academic life pile up, Katie becomes unraveled as she thinks she sees the missing boyfriend. Meanwhile, she begins an attachment with the detective. I won't spoil the twist ending; it's predictable, but satisfying. Hitch would have liked it (but he would have done much more with this script). Overall, above average, especially if you like thrillers and/or Holmes.


Thursday, December 28, 2000


Book: Abducted
Writer(s): Robin Cook

More of a sci-fi novel than a medical thriller, but well done. It's a cross between Jules Verne's Voyage to the Center of the Earth and The Abyss. Deep sea divers are sucked into a world underneath the ocean. Impressive from a scientific viewpoint, but the characters are rather stereotypical and the plot routine. But fun for a quick read.


Saturday, May 10, 2003

About a Boy

Movie: About a Boy
Writer(s): Nick Hornsby (book)

I was astonished at how much I liked this film. I'd never even heard of it until it showed up on DVD, so figured it probably wasn't good. It's great! It's based on a book by Nick Hornsby, the British author who wrote the excellent Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. It's about a 30-something guy who doesn't want to be tied down by a family, but finds his life upturned by a precocious 12-year-old boy. It's wonderfully sensitive -- the boy's mother suffers from depression and tried to kill herself -- yet terrifically funny. Hugh Grant as the lead is perfect, slightly goofy yet cool, hopeless yet appealing. He and the boy fit together perfectly. Great film.


Thursday, February 27, 2003

About Schmidt

Movie: About Schmidt

Excellent film. I hesitated seeing this thinking it would be boring, but the director does a good job of using unexpected camera angles and editing to keep even the slow scenes well-paced. It's the story of a man who retired after 32 years at the same insurance company, and is rather lost. His daughter's getting married and lives far away, and he wonders where his life went. He doesn't even recognize his wife of 32 years. Then suddenly she dies. Now he's all alone in this brave new world. He gets in the RV and drives across America, learning about himself, and eventually shows up for his daughter's wedding. The ending is simple and effective, like the entire film. This film is all about character, not about plot. There are a few stereotypical things, but mostly this is fresh and different and interesting. Like the basic main character's simple life, the film is not particularly deep or insightful, but it is pleasant and mildly thought-provoking. Jack is terrific as always. Good stuff.


Sunday, April 23, 2000

The Abyss

Movie: The Abyss

This was the extended DVD Special Edition -- with like an hour of extra footage (as if the original wasn't long enough). Still excellent, though most of the extra footage toward the middle wasn't noticeable (you'd never know if the booklet didn't tell you). But the ending was dramatically different -- I liked it much better (I always thought the original had a bizarre ending), though James Cameron's anti-war preaching (in all his films) gets a little tiresome. (As if there are people who are pro-war?)


Friday, September 28, 2007

Across the Universe

Movie: Across the Universe
Director(s): Julie Taymor

I had seen the trailers which intrigued me, but I didn't realize this was a musical. It's basically a story set to the music of the Beatles. The story is a simple love story about a boy from Liverpool named Jude who meets a girl named Lucy in New York City in the anti-war Vietnam era. The music is well integrated into the story and beautifully done, and I really liked the majority of the visuals and dancing and performances. A few of the songs are weaker and didn't interest me as much (some were too long), but most I liked, though I'm not familiar with many Beatles' songs (some I knew but never realized were Beatles' music). Some of the anti-war stuff is a bit too preachy with obvious pointers at today's "war" in Iraq (though it probably does fit with the era), and much of the 1960's hippy vibe is idealized. Still, it's a fun film -- good music, cool people celebrating life, clever camerawork and elaborate visuals, and a satisfying story -- but I wouldn't take it as seriously as it seems to take itself at times with its overly dramatic anti-war imagery and pro-free love idolatry. Just see it for the entertainment value.


Tuesday, January 21, 2003


Movie: Adaptation
Writer(s): Charlie and Donald Kaufman

Awesome, amazing film. I'm sure I feel more strongly about this since I'm a writer (a struggling screenwriter at that) and therefore related to everything in the film, but this is truly one of the most innovative scripts ever to hit the screen. While Kaufman's former effort, Being John Malkovich, was cool, it didn't quite work. This film, however, works beautifully.

Assigned to write a screenplay of Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief, Kaufman discovers the book has no plot, just unusual characters, and the journey of those characters is mostly mental. How do you translate that to the screen? Even more important, since it's such an important part of this book, how to you convey the writing style of the author to the screen? Kaufman's answer is both brilliant and diabolical: he writes a film about writing the film!

But it gets even better. Not only is he a character in the movie, but he creates for himself a twin brother (the film credits both as the screenplay author). Then he includes the author herself in the film (a wonderful Meryl Streep). The result is a wild, bizare, painful, hilarious tale about the trials and tribulations of writing a screenplay, dealing with life, and oh yeah, the Orchid Thief book.

That last part is the kicker. As we watch the process of writing the screenplay, we learn all about the book, and we learn about it in a much more intimate, in-depth manner than we would if the book had just been filmed as a "normal" adaptation. In fact, much of the book is read to us in voice-over narration as the character reads the book on the screen! The book itself is about a strange man Orlean interviewed for a piece in the New Yorker (where she works). The man has no front teeth, is obsessed with orchids, and has a mysterious past. He tries to steal orchids from a state park (cleverly using Seminole Indians to do the dirty work, as they aren't likely to be prosecuted, being an oppressed minority) and is arrested. Orlean's article is so successful she expanded it into a book about orchids, obsession, and this strange man. What makes the book work is her writing style, the bizarre main character, and her interpretations and observations on life and obsession. What's amazing is that all that comes through in the film. Even though the film is a film about the book, not a film of the book itself, it teaches us a great deal about the book. It's a brilliant workaround for an impossible task. It's definitely one of the best book-to-screen adapations of all time because it is it's own unique thing, yet it is inspired by the book and captures some of the book's magic, and yet it doesn't replace the book. (Some literal translations, like the Harry Potter series of films, are so faithful they might make some people think they don't need to read the books. The movies are fun but the books are better.) This is definitely one of the best films of the year and if Charlie Kaufman doesnŐt win the screenwriting Oscar, Hollywood should be embarrassed.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Movie: The Adjustment Bureau

The basic concept of this film isn't new -- it's man defies the gods who try to set his fate (in this case, a rising political candidate and the woman he's not supposed to have) -- but the methodology is somewhat different. In this case we have bureaucratic men in suits and hats who apparently "adjust" our lives when we "deviate from the plan." They intervene in subtle ways, for instance, making sure we misplace our keys so that we miss a meeting that would have sent our life down a different path. The film is so vague on who sets the plan and even who the men are (Angels? Aliens?) that they might as well be magical fairies. But that really isn't the point of the film. The real point is discussing whether or not we have control over our own destinies. Unfortunately, the film never reaches any deep point regarding that, staying on the surface and exploring the lighter side of such questions. The ending contributes to this because it feels too pat and our hero doesn't really do anything to decide the outcome (which could be a subtle point, but it's not well executed). So ultimately the film's not particularly satisfying or intriguing. However, the ride to get there is enjoyable. I liked the leads and their relationship, and I found it fascinating the way the plot balanced out our hero's ability to rebel against the gods with their seeming omnipotency. There are a few aspects of this that come across as silly (like the power of the hats), but there is good tension and drama throughout. One aspect that I found fascinating which wasn't properly explored is the concept that the reason this couple felt such a deep bonding was that the original plan called for them to be together, but then the plan changed. Remnants of that original plan remained and still pushed the couple together. That raises the key question, "Was their love real to begin with? Or just part of the plan forced upon them?" Sadly, the film doesn't ask this question or explore that path. There are also darker aspects, such as the possibility that the man's family was killed to help the plan, that are just skimmed over and not explicit enough for real emotion or drama to emerge. This could have been a remarkable and powerful film if it had explored some of these deeper questions. Still, as a lightweight mix of romance and philosophy, it's not bad, and I enjoyed it. Just go with the flow and enjoy it and try not to think too much about the obvious flaws.


Saturday, August 10, 2002

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Movie: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

For some reason this movie got dismal reviews and box office, but I liked it. It had a lot of the same spirit and humor of the original cartoon. The plot's ridiculous, but even that was a characteristic of the original. I think perhaps people just expected too much.


Friday, December 2, 2005

Aeon Flux

Movie: Aeon Flux

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


Monday, December 15, 2008

The Age of Innocence

Movie: The Age of Innocence
Writer(s): Edith Wharton
Director(s): Martin Scorsese

I thought of this as one of those boring literary period pieces and I'd never seen it, but it showed up on one of my movie channels and I saw it was based on a book by Edith Wharton, who's an author I admire. Yes, the movie is slow, and not that much happens in terms of story, but it is interesting. It does a great job of capturing New York in the pre-twentieth century era, particularly life in the upper class. The story is about a lawyer who's engaged but falls in love with another woman who is estranged from her husband. Morals of the day prevent their having an affair, as much as they desire it, so the whole thing is much ado about nothing, and yet the emotions involved are just as powerful. The subduction of passion is clear and fascinating, but what I liked best were the smarmy jabs at the upper crust and the mockery of the fashionable.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Agent Cody Banks

Movie: Agent Cody Banks

Critics have been lambasting this movie, which upset me since I've been looking forward to it for months. Those critics must have seen a different film than I did. I have no real complaints. I mean, come on, I got exactly what I expected: a Bond spoof about a teenage CIA agent who saves the world using lots of teen spunk and high-tech gadgets. This isn't going to win an Oscar, but who cares? It's mindless fun and completely harmless. The plot's thin (but not any worse than most) but the film even pokes fun at that. I'm sure kids will love it. Adults may not find it quite as fun, but at least it isn't offensive. In short: if you like the trailer, you'll like the film.


Sunday, November 19, 2000

Agentine: Racing at River Plate

Soccer: Agentine: Racing at River Plate

An own goal by Racing in the first half put River up, but that was the only goal either team could manage. Not a terrible game, but it should have been better.


Friday, July 4, 2003

Air Conditioner

Today I bought and installed an air conditioner. It wasn't that big a deal, but it was rather exciting tearing out a window in my house for the unit (my windows aren't the standard double-hung kind so the install wasn't as easy as it's supposed to be). Anyway, got it in and it works!


Monday, June 6, 2005

The Alamo

Movie: The Alamo

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


Friday, March 5, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Movie: Alice in Wonderland
Director(s): Tim Burton

I went into this knowing only that Tim Burton was at the helm (that was enough for me). I was a bit worried that it would be more style than substance, but I am delighted to report that it's an excellent film. I loved the period setting, which establishes Alice as hampered by the restrictions of society at that time, and the visuals within Wonderland are excellent. (The 3D is well-done as well; not essential, but pleasing.) The story terrific: Alice is nearly twenty and doesn't remember being in Wonderland before (she thought those were childish dreams), so she experiences things for the first time (again) making most of this film aspects of the original story. It's definitely a character-driven piece, with Alice struggling to find her identity, both literally and figuratively, and that makes the story terrifically compelling. When she finally stands up for herself and pushes back, you want to stand up and cheer for her. The supporting characters are also wonderful, with Depp mesmerizing as the Mad Hatter, and Helena Bonham-Carter fantastic as the Red Queen. The animals are also incredible, especially the rabbit and the Chesire Cat. The story concludes with a little more action than was properly appropriate (I did not buy Alice as a sword-carrying action hero), but at that point I was so into the thing I didn't much care. It's fun, wacky, a faithful homage, and visually striking. Go see it!


Friday, August 6, 2004

Alien vs. Predator

Movie: Alien vs. Predator

This movie gave me pretty much what I expected, a fun actioner pitting Alien against Predator with humans in the middle getting killed by whichever monster happens to be in their path. The beginning's weak as the film struggles to concoct a "plausible" scenario for getting the two creatures into the same place at the same time. It's ridiculous and irrelevent: just get the humans in a remote place with the creatures and watch the blood splatter. Once the killing starts, it doesn't stop, and the film's pretty good. I liked the ending a lot -- it's a clever way to kill the monster -- and the human heroine is cool. I heard some reviewers don't think this was as fun or as good as Freddy vs. Jason, but this is a different kind of film, with no humor (neither Alien or Predator speaks) and the killing is grim, not funny. This isn't scary or even that brutal, but it's a fun ride after the first boring 30 minutes.


Friday, November 26, 1999


Movie: Aliens (1986)
Writer(s): James Cameron
Director(s): James Cameron

It's been a while since I've seen this, but it doesn't lose much over the years. While it's not quite as nail-bitting as Cameron's The Terminator, it's a great, pressure-filled action film. It doesn't let up until the final frame. It's basically a monster movie and nothing more, but done with such class, it's a definite top 100.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Aliens Versus Monsters

Movie: Aliens Versus Monsters

This is no Pixar film, but it is fun. The plot is rather childish (or perhaps I should say the evil alien antagonist is childish, which weakens the threat), and the humor is definitely uneven, but there are moments of brilliance and genuine hilarity that help make up for the weak spots. I liked the main character, an ordinary woman who on her wedding day is accidentally transformed into a 50-foot giant and must be spirited away by Men In Black, and how she learns to cope with her new life as a monster. Much of the humor is stereotypical (gee, a general who loves guns, a dumb, self-centered president -- how original), but it's still entertaining. Kids will probably like this better than adults, though if you're a fan of old-fashioned monster flicks there's a joke or two you'll get that kids won't. The animation and artwork are decent enough, with extraordinary detail in places but there's nothing ground-breaking. Overall, you get what you expect. If you liked the trailer you'll like the film.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

All I Wanna Do

Movie: All I Wanna Do

Strange title that sounds like a throw-away teeneybopper flick, but turns out to be a compelling film about girls at a prep school in the 1950s. Kirsten Dunst has the best role of seen her in: she's the leader of a rebellious group and has all the clever ways around the school rules, but deep down she's lonely and hurting and by the end of the film she's changed and matured. What's interesting about that is that she's not the main character. No, that's a girl who's sent to the prep school as a punishment and hates everything about it, but eventually, when the school is threatened with merging with a boy's school, she becomes a voice of the students who lead a rebellion protesting the move. Not a complex film, and there are a few stereotypes among the supporting cast, but pleasant, interesting, with witty dialog and excellent story structure. I liked it a great deal.


Thursday, December 2, 1999

Along Came a Spider

Movie: Along Came a Spider (1992)
Writer(s): James Patterson

Hmmmm. I don't know about Patterson. His books show great promise, but fail to deliver. This is the book where he introduces his arch-criminal, Gary Soneji. Frankly, I wasn't impressed. The guy's a nut, and I don't mean that in an interesting manner. Basically, the moron lets himself be captured by the police. While there's nothing wrong with that, since this is supposed to be a book about Detective Cross hunting down the insane killer, it's quite a letdown when the criminal does all the work for him! There are some interesting developments, including a romance with Cross by a Secret Service woman, but the final third of the book leaves you wondering why you bothered. I read this because they're supposed to be making this into a film. It might make an okay movie as movies tend to compress things -- this book drags out the minimal action over far too many pages. For books like this, the more pages, the bigger the payoff. Unfortunately, Spider (the title's never explained) goes out with a whimper instead of a bang.


Friday, October 12, 2001

Along Came a Spider

Movie: Along Came a Spider

I wasn't expecting this to be very good, but it was: I was actually surprised by the trick ending, and the plot and characters kept me interested the whole time. The only real flaw was the dreadfully stupid technology stuff the writers threw it (such as kids exchanging hidden messages in GIFs and a still picture that suddenly becomes part of a live website that tells detectives where the bad guy lives). Overall, a decent thriller.


Thursday, January 29, 2004

Along Came Polly

Movie: Along Came Polly

This film tried harder than I expected. If you've seen the previews, you pretty much know the entire story: neurotic guy's jilted during his honeymoon, goes after childhood sweetheart who's a hippie who turns his ordered life upside down, and he falls in love. It's rather slap-sticky with a number of crude Something About Mary-style jokes in it, but they fall flat. Instead of just being satisfied at being a dumb comedy the movie tries to add depth and characterization, but it just comes out as an awkward mess of cartoon and seriousness. It's still mildly fun and enertaining and there are some good moments, but you're probably better off sticking with the trailer, which has all the best parts.


Thursday, June 1, 2006


Movie: 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.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Amazing Grace

Movie: Amazing Grace

I knew little about this going in; I thought it was about John Newton, the man who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. Instead it turned to be the story of Wilbur Wilberforce, a contemporary of Newton, who struggles for years trying to get the British Parliment to abolish the slave trade. Very well done, with authentic performances and surprisingly clear and interesting political debates, but a bit slow at times, and in the end a bit too predictable for the length.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amazon Drops the Bomb

You may have heard the news about the fight between etailer Amazon and publisher MacMillan. If you're not an author or publisher, this may not seem important, but I am telling you right now, the outcome of this battle will define the future of the publishing industry.

Basically, the two disagree on the pricing of ebooks, and Amazon used their nuclear weapon: on Friday they pulled all MacMillan products from their store. We're talking paper books, not just ebooks. (You can still buy some MacMillan products via third parties, i.e. used books, but not from Amazon itself.)

I find this decision by Amazon shocking and I believe it will backfire and cost them dearly.

Amazon sees the writing on the wall and is terrified. They know that the future is all about the distribution of electronic content. Within the next decade, we are going to see a trend where physical media goes away. It's already pretty much happened with music, and is starting to happen with video and text. It's inevitable. People who are most opposed to electronic media are old and are literally dying off. The new generation is actually more comfortable with emedia than paper and that trend is accelerating. Many kids today have never even heard of an audio CD, let alone cassette tapes, 8-track, or records. It's a digital world for them.

For Amazon, this presents a problem. With physical products, they have a competitive edge: huge warehouses and a distribution system that can't be easily duplicated and they gain huge efficiencies in scale. But digital is easy: anyone can whip up a web store and beam electrons to customers and there is little difference from the customer's perspective between an outfit in a garage and Fortune 500 behemoth. Amazon's worry is that they'll become nothing more than a dumb pipe. They want to be more valuable than that, because dumb pipes are easily replaced.

Amazon's solution was to create the Kindle ereader hardware device and software platform in the hopes of building up a monopoly. That has been modestly successful. But Apple's upcoming iPad threatens to dwarf and obsolete Amazon's efforts. Apple's device is very different from a Kindle: for some hardcore readers it's a different category of product, but most people, who only read a few books a year, the more multi-functional iPad is all the ereader they need. In truth, far more people already read Kindle books on Apple devices than anything Amazon makes. Amazon has never stated Kindle sales numbers, because by their own admission the product doesn't make enough money to bother, but estimates are that Amazon has sold as many as 2.5 million Kindles after years on the market. Contrast that with Apple which has sold 75 million iPhones and iPod touches. With estimates of the iPad selling between 4 and 10 million in its first year on the market, the Kindle hardware is pretty much extinct and Amazon knows it. (If they were smart, they'd ship a $99 Kindle next week. Take out the cellular modem and ugly keyboard and sell it paperback cheap.)

That means Amazon can only make money off of content. With its iTunes and App Stores, Apple has set a pricing precedent: Apple keeps 30% and the publisher/author keeps 70%. It was logical Apple would do the same with their ebook store (which they did when it was announced last week). I recently put one of my novels up for sale in Kindle format and I was dismayed to see the paltry percentage Amazon would pay me: for simply selling my digital book they would pretty much give me the 30% and keep the rest! (This is, unfortunately, quite similar to the revenue of physical books, where the bookstore often makes more on the sale than the publisher and author.) Obviously Apple's store is a lot more attractive to me as a publisher/author.

To compete with Apple, Amazon must change its ebook terms to match. Yet if Amazon does that, Amazon becomes nothing but a dumb pipe. That's where it gets hairy, for Apple is delighted being a dumb pipe. All of Apple's digital stores are dumb pipes: they don't exist to make Apple a profit (Apple has stated their goal is just to "break even") but as a method of selling hardware. People are attracted to Apple devices because of the digital stores: iTunes makes it easy to buy songs for your iPod and Apps for your iPhone or iPod touch.

But Amazon doesn't have Apple's hardware sales to fall back on (Kindles probably don't make money already and if sales drop off because of the iPad, that's even less revenue). If Amazon competes with Apple's "break even" business as a dumb pipe, how will they make any money?

The solution is dangerously clear. There's a fixed amount of money on the table. Amazon can either raise prices to the customer, which would probably result in customers choosing to keep their money in their wallets, or Amazon can rape the publisher/author.

Amazon has chosen to do the latter.

They have announced new royalty terms that on the surface sound like they match Apple's 70/30 split. However, the fine print reveals that publishers must agree to Amazon's new terms to get that rate, and those new terms are insane. To get the higher royalty, the publisher basically hands over the reins of their business to Amazon, allowing Amazon to set the price of the product (even giving it away for free or dirt cheap if they want). The publisher cannot set a minimum price, and Amazon states that the maximum price will be $9.99. (So my niche-market technical books, which sell for $50 in print form, must sell for an absurdly low $10 in ebook form!) Even more outrageous, publishers agreeing to the terms are forbidden from selling their ebook elsewhere for more than Amazon charges!

That means that Amazon, effectively, would be setting the price of books on Apple's store. That's because Amazon sets the price on their store, not the publisher. So if Amazon decides my novel should sell for $2, I guess I have to lower the price to match on the Apple store or else I'm in violation of the agreement!

I do not foresee many publishers taking Amazon up on their offer. I know I won't. Those are ridiculous terms. Unfortunately for Amazon, their Kindle market is not strong enough for them to dictate them (Kindle ebook sales are still paltry). I'd rather miss out of the Kindle market completely and go with Apple's new and unknown market than be stuck in such a contract. (Kindle may have the edge today, but I'd be willing to be that by the end of 2010 Apple's iPad market will be larger.)

I feel sympathy for Amazon. They are caught in a bad position and don't see a way out. The future is digital and they want to be a part of that, but digital may not be profitable enough for them, at least at the terms Apple has defined. Amazon adds some value over Apple, but as anyone in retail knows, price reigns supreme and no matter how good Amazon's customer service and website is, they must compete with Apple on price (both on the royalty terms to publishers/authors and to customers). The danger is that Apple can afford to lose money on digital sales if they want. Amazon cannot.

If I was Amazon, I'd just accept that being a dumb pipe is the future and try to be more efficient at selling physical products. I would purchase UPS or FedEx and offer free shipping for all orders. That would give Amazon tremendous clout in the retail market of physical goods. But digital goods, by nature, don't care what pipe they travel down. Amazon is attempting to control that market by inventing weird contract terms and other artificial controls. (We're seeing this same battle for control developing in cellular networks and cable/satellite providers.)

Most alarmingly, and a clear sign of Amazon's panic and the high stakes in this game, Amazon has gone nuclear, dropping the biggest bomb it can on MacMillan by removing all their products. That is huge. I said earlier that it is going to backfire and it will: content makers are terrified of the clout of large sellers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Walmart. They are already wary of Amazon. Instead of Amazon trying to lure them in with more attractive terms than Apple, Amazon is attempting to bully them. The result, I predict, will be droves of publishers lining up to support Apple's book platform. They fear Amazon and don't want to be blackmailed. Amazon, by showing that they are willing to go nuclear, has made a horrible mistake. Publishers aren't going to commit financial suicide by abandoning Amazon in protest, but you can bet that every single one of them is exploring other options, such as Apple's new store. If Apple's iPad is even moderately successful as an ereader, you can bet that publishers will flock to it as a way to escape Amazon's grip.

This is an exciting time. Dangerous, thrilling, and unpredictable. Giant industries such as publishing, TV/film, and cable/satellite, are going to have to change the way they do business. Digital content and distribution is upsetting the old ways of doing business. It's not going to be an easy transition, but it will happen. It's inevitable. But in the meantime, there's going to be pain and adjustment on both sides. The Amazon-MacMillan battle is just the first skirmish of a long war.

[Update: Since I posted this, Amazon has capitulated and given in to MacMillan so this particular battle is done. It's also of note that Amazon has apparently used this nuclear option before, against UK publisher Hatchette, forcing them to capitulate to Amazon's terms. However, I don't think either of those things changes what I've said here: Amazon realized their mistake and they have spooked publishers just before a new option for those publishers opens (Apple's bookstore), and Amazon will regret their decision to go nuclear.]


Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Amber Spyglass

Book: The Amber Spyglass
Writer(s): 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.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ambler Warning

Book: Ambler Warning
Writer(s): 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 Bourne Identity. This time Ludlum has created two amazing characters. The first is Ambler, of the title, and he's got a fantastic skill. He's basically a human lie detector. While most of us don't notice the fleeting expressions that pass across a face, he sees everything -- it's almost superhuman -- and he can instantly tell, with near 100% accuracy, if a person is lying or telling the truth. And where is this skill most valuable? Why in the world of espionage, of course!

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.


Sunday, December 29, 2002


Movie: Amelie

Wonderful, quirky, odd, fantastic film! The premise is based on odd concidences that plague the life of Amelie, a young French girl, warping her view of reality from childhood. For instance, she loves her cold fish doctor father very much and longs for him to embrace her, but the only time he touches is her is during her annual physical, and thus her heart beats very rapidly when he examines her, making him think she has a weak heart and thus the family can never go on vacation and she must go to a special school. In another scene, she witnesses a car accident while taking pictures and a cruel neighbor tells her that her photo-taking caused the accident. She goes home and sees all sorts of tragedies on the news that night and imagines she caused them! But she's not a doormat: when she figures out the neighbor's "joke" she gets him back by disconnecting his TV antenna during the big soccer every time the French team is about to score (she's listening to the game on a portable radio so she knows when to disconnect and reconnect the signal). Thus the girl grows up with a vivid imagination. As an adult, she works as a waitress in a small cafe, when she finds a hole in her apartment that reveals a secret compartment which contains a small box of a boy's treasures (marbles, pictures, etc.). She decides her mission is to become a do-gooder, and her first task is to find the man who owned the treasure box and return it to him. What would a man say to have his childhood treasure returned to him after 40 years? Of course, the results are comic and heart-warming. Later, Amelie tries to be match-maker to her friends with great success, and then tries to set herself up as well, but the latter task proves much more difficult, with every trick failing. Eventually, though, Fate is kind and she and her mate finally connect and all live happily ever after. This film is just beautiful, one of the best films I've ever seen. I could watch it again and again and again, it's so deep, and the frantic pace means you're sure to see new things in it every time you watch. Just magical.


Wednesday, September 11, 2002

America's Sweethearts

Movie: America's Sweethearts

This is a "comedy" about a movie star couple who are America's sweethearts. But they split and the world is shocked. Then they're forced to be together during a press junket to promote their new film. Unfortunately, despite some decent, if routine, performances from some big stars, the film's humor is too predictable to be funny. We're treated to "hilarious" and "shocking" things like learning that big movie stars treat their assistants like dirt and have affairs (i.e. they're human). Ho hum. Mildly entertaining, with the emphasis on the mild. The only really nice thing was seeing Julia Roberts in the non-star role as a wallflower.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The American

Movie: The American

The trailers actually turned me off of this one, but then I read about the conflicting opinions of critics (highly positive) and audiences (highly negative). Apparently normal people hated it because the trailers led them to expect a big action thriller while this is a thoughtful, slow-moving art film. Aspects of the latter tempted me to see it, and I'm glad I did as I like it a great deal. It's not perfect, but it is a intriguing film. The best way to describe this film is to detail one scene: a woman approaches a staircase carrying a gun and as she climbs up, we see in the blurry background behind, almost as an afterthought, a body lying in a pool of red blood. There is no explanation of what happened to the man. What movie skips a chance to show the action of a kill? But this was far creepier, letting the mystery haunt us and raising our opinion of the woman's killing skills. It was brilliant and subtle and embodies the entire movie, which often eschews action for thought-provoking drama. In terms of story, there isn't much of one. Basically it's about a hit-man having qualms of conscience while hiding out in rural Italy. I had worried I'd be bored, but the European environment is so beautiful and real (ancient stone buildings, cobblestone walks, garden-like landscapes, outdoor cafes, and street markets), and scenes are shot with grim tension of mystery and something about to happen (an homage to Sergio Leone's amazing Westerns), that I was alert almost the entire time. A huge reason for that feeling is a shocking and unexpected event that happens minutes into the film that sets a tone for the unexpected. On top of great cinematography we have fantastic performances from the excellent cast: George Clooney in the lead does some of the best work I've seen from him, with huge stretches of him merely thinking and yet we can tell what's going on in his inscrutable mind. Impressive. Yes, the film is languid-paced and artfully photographed and there is little explained directly (the audience is expected to think), but if you're the type to see those as good things rather than negatives, you'll like this film. If they turn you off, you'll hate it. I will say I agree that the marketing of the film is completely wrong and the title is horrible as it implies a political thriller and this has nothing to do with that at all (in fact, we are never even told who the target of the assassin, or who is paying for it). I vastly prefer the book's title of "A Very Private Gentleman." I don't know why they changed it as the current title sets up expectations it can't deliver.


Sunday, July 16, 2000

American Beauty

Movie: American Beauty

Excellent film. Not as brilliantly original as some said (it rehashes themes from many other works, including Death of a Salesman), nor especially scandalous, but well done and well directed. The ending was predictable, and there wasn't as much depth as could have been included, but I liked the characters (especially Ricky) and the structure of the story. The casting of the much talked about Mena Suvari was a mistake, as she's unique-looking and her character's supposed to be pretty, but not extraordinary. Thus her character's revelation at the end fell flat, like when you see a beauty complaining about how ugly she is. I also didn't like the one-dimensional portrait of Ricky's father, a stereotypical gay-hater (Please, Hollywood, can't we come up with an original idea?), but overall it's worth seeing.


Monday, May 4, 2009

An American Crime

Movie: An American Crime

I saw this film show up on my movie channel and it had Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy) in it so I recorded it. It was about an abused teen, and as I watched I started getting the creepy feeling I'd seen this before yet I knew I hadn't. In the film two sisters are left with a babysitter for a few months and it turns out the woman is mentally ill and locks the older girl in the basement and tortures her and allows the neighbor kids to participate. That's just like Jack Ketchum's book The Girl Next Door. Finally I connected the pieces and figured it out: this film is based on the same real-life murder case as Ketchum's book -- the difference is that this one is the real story, while Ketchum's book used completely different characters. Personally, I prefer his book: I like the way he has the conflicted teenage narrator participate in the torture, so we feel his guilt and confusion. In this film, it's just awful to watch, with no redemption for any. I did like the little twist at the end when the girl briefly escapes. It's a very good film with excellent performances, but not pleasant, and I found it rather empty of meaning in the end.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

American Gangster

Movie: American Gangster

This is a terrific film. It's long at over two-and-a-half hours, but I wasn't bored for a second. It's a complicated true story set in the late sixties/early seventies about a black man's rise to power in Harlem. After 15 years as a sidekick, when the old druglord dies, Frank wants to take his place but discovers no one will let him. So Frank makes his own way, bypassing the middlemen and bringing his own heroin into Manhatten via a drug connection in Thailand. This results in a purer product that he sells cheaper than anyone else, and overnight he's a multimillionaire. But he's smart, keeping himself low-key and invisible, so few even know he's the one behind the drugs. Meanwhile, we follow the career of a police officer who's put in charge of a special drug-enforcement team designed to bring down the top drug leaders. These parallel stories culminate in the cop figuring out the black man's the leader (unusual back when Italian gangs ruled) and trying to bring him down. Terrific writing, performances, and film-making. Great epic story, fascinating moral lessons, and entertaining as well.


Friday, August 31, 2007

American Gods

Book: American Gods
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman

Wow. This is an amazing book, one of the most remarkable I've ever read. Gaiman is a genius, unquestionably. The variety of topics and ideas compressed into this novel is astonishing. I barely know where to begin plotwise, but I suppose the simplest way is to describe the novel's intriguing premise. Basically, we live in a world where the "gods" (with a lowercase g) of myth and legend still exist, and they exist via the belief of people. These gods are flawed and human-like and mortal, but do have special powers. Most of these gods are weak today because few people believe in them any more, and there are new gods, modern gods, such as Media, a powerful woman-like creature that is the television worshipped by millions. The story is set in modern day America, where we follow the adventures of an easy-going guy named Shadow who's just been released from prison and gets caught up in scams and cons by a god named Wednesday (Odin). Lots of things happen and the individual scenes are brilliant and incredible, but it takes long while before you can really see any plot or story forming: just stick with it as eventually everything will connect and make sense. The novel culminates in a huge battle between the old gods and the new gods, with Shadow right in the middle. It's an amazing story, and Gaiman touches on all kinds of aspects of American and modern life, history, religion, belief, and reality, but ultimately I was slightly disappointed at the conclusions because the book doesn't provide any answers or illumination, it merely stirs the pot and concludes life is a messy stew and then we die. There's no moral or explanation or belief system advocated; I would have preferred that, even if it was a belief I disagreed with. Instead, it merely seems Gaiman was just finding all this humorous and interesting, with no practical connection to real life. So when I finished the novel I was like, "That's it? There's no purpose or explanation to anything?" Gaiman has intriguing ideas, but in the ends just throws out the ideas with nothing to hang them on. Perhaps he didn't want to step on the beliefs of others, but as it is, I was left wondering what the point of the novel was. I guess you could just say it was mere entertainment, but it feels so much deeper than that and I wanted it to be deeper than that. But ultimately it seems that's all that Neil's given us, a good yarn, a tall tale and nothing more.


Saturday, December 21, 2002

American Graffiti

Movie: American Graffiti
Director(s): George Lucas

I'd heard this was a classic, but I'd never seen it. Interesting look at youth in the late fifties/early sixties, apparently based on Lucas' own teen years. Reminded me of a number of other films, though this was probably the first of the genre. It's not my favorite era or type of film (the "story" is one night in the lives of several characters as they cruise, party, and get into trouble before leaving for college the next day). Basically I give this an Okay. It's well-done, and I suppose if you were into that era, it would really bring back memories. To me it seems like a rip-off of Happy Days.


Saturday, January 1, 2000

American History X

Movie: American History X (1998)
Writer(s): David McKenna
Director(s): Tony Kaye

Was this movie ever in the theatres? I don't remember hearing anything about it, but it certainly deserves more recognition. It's a violent, sad, thoughtful look at the white supremacy movement in America. I especially liked the way it showed the grayness of evil, but toward the end the movie got a bit obvious and predictable. (I didn't like the way the main character's dad was suddenly revealed as a closet racist and that, of course, explained the son's behavior. It was trite and poorly done.) Overall, awesome acting (Edward Norton got a well-deserved Oscar nomination) and excellent direction. Thought-provoking (without being preachy) on a subject you didn't think you needed to know about.


Sunday, July 2, 2000

An American in Paris

Movie: An American in Paris

Rather pointless musical, though full of excellent performances. None of the songs were memorable, though overall the music wasn't bad. I just couldn't figure out what all the dancing had to do with the nearly non-existent plot.


Friday, November 2, 2007

American Pastoral

Book: American Pastoral
Writer(s): Philip Roth

I listened to the unabridged audiobook version of this novel and I found it lacking. It's the first audiobook I've heard that actually has technical problems (inconsistent sound quality and volume level) and the reading was poor. This made a remarkable book difficult to follow: from the beginning to the end I was confused and not sure who was who and what was going on. The actor's voice was the same for all characters -- I never could even figure out who the narrator was. I thought it was one person, but the viewpoint kept shifting, so I was forced to conclude that the book was narrated by different people at different times, but that was impossible to tell from the way it was read. Usually when there are technical issues like this it's disappointing but doesn't ruin the book; however, in this case, it did serious damage. I'm not quite sure I followed the story. The book itself is amazingly written and tells a character-based story of incredible depth. It's basically an old man looking back on his life and his family. Initially when we see him he has it all: he's the superstar high school athlete, he marries a beauty queen in college, takes over his father's leather glove business and is extremely wealthy, but later, as we piece together the traumatic events in his life, we see that there is conflict and tragedy. His wife hates the stereotype of beauty queen. Their beautiful daughter suffers from stuttering when younger, and eventually she rebells against her parents and runs away from home and is wanted by the FBI for murder. The mom suffers a breakdown and ends up in the looney bin. The dad is haunted by his daughter's bizarre behavior and his own guilt (which he isn't even sure he has). It's a fascinating look into a life. There's conflicts over personalities, religion, politics, economics, race. Scores of topics are touched upon. Unfortunately, the audiobook was so confusing that perhaps I didn't follow the novel properly enough to judge it right, but it felt like it peters out into nothing. It's a long story and I was expecting some sort of pay-off, some dramatic event at the end that would explain or justify everything, and I was given nothing but a "that's the end." Disappointing. I still think it's a remarkable book and I might actually try to read the print edition someday and give it a second chance and see if it was the reading that ruined it for me. I really liked most of what I heard; I just felt the story was confusing at times and the ending weak. Many scenes in the middle were powerful (though they might have been even better if I had a clearer understanding of what was going on). In the end, I recommend it with a "your mileage may vary."


Friday, February 4, 2000

American Pie

Movie: American Pie (1999)
Writer(s): Adam Herz
Director(s): Paul Weitz

All the reviews I'd heard of this comedy about teen life concentrated on how raunchy it was; I was pleasantly surprised that it actually has some depth, intelligence, and even a sweet love story. That said, it brings out all the extremes of high school life, mostly dealing with various forms of embarrassment, especially sexual. I suspect adults would find it shocking, but kids would just say it's normal life. Certainly better than Animal House, often used as a comparison film. (I've never understood the attraction of that movie; I thought it was lame and pointless.)


Monday, May 13, 2002

American Pie II

Movie: American Pie II

More of the same raunchy humor and embarassing sexual situations. Funny and silly, with much of the same spirit as the original. Amazingly, the guys still come off with a hint of the appealing innocence they had in the first film, which is an impressive achievement. But overall the film breaks no new ground. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one, and vice versa.


Thursday, October 5, 2000

American Psycho

Movie: American Psycho (2000)

I'd been interested in this movie since I heard they were going to film it, but the critics were somewhat correct: it's a rathe empty film that doesn't quite live up to its satirical premise. It is somewhat intelligent and has a few good points, but emphasizes the 80's far too much (as though we're more sophisticated in the 90's or 00's). I liked the way the film became surreal as the main character became more and more irrational, and I really liked the ambiguous ending. Not really shocking, except in a couple brief moments (most of the violence is off-screen -- we see blood spattering and such). I'm going to have to read the novel and see if it's better or worse. Great 80's soundtrack.


Monday, December 13, 2010

American Psycho

Movie: American Psycho

I'm almost finished with the audio book of this novel and though I'd seen the movie a long time ago, I couldn't remember it very well. Let's just say I like the movie much more now, after (almost) reading the book. The movie really does an impressive job of capturing the spirit of the novel. That's great for fans of the book, though not so great those who haven't. The problem is that the novel's satire is subtle. Everything is presented with such seriousness that the satire isn't obvious and that same tone comes across in the film. You really aren't sure if you should laugh or be horrified. For instance, one of my very favorite things that happens in the novel is the way the main psycho killer constantly reveals his homicidal tendencies to his friends who are so clueless they don't even notice. Like he'll order a "decapitated coffee" or tell a bimbo he's in "murders and executions" and no one notices. In the book this sort of humor comes across brilliantly. It's there in the film, but I don't think I even noticed it the first time I saw the movie. It's too quick and we aren't sure what it means. If you've read the book you're prepared for it and it's wonderful.

Christian Bale's performance was a real positive I remembered from the first time I'd seen this and seeing it again, I am even more impressed. He really is fantastic. It's worth seeing this film just for his acting. One funny aside: his character's name is Bateman, just one letter removed from Batman. I found that eerie.

Even the first time I saw the film it seemed tame to me; I couldn't figure out why there were people outraged. Well, after reading most of the book, I understand, because the book is far more daring and outrageous. Ultimately that's my biggest disappointment of the film: it's too timid, as though they don't want us to not like Christian Bale. In the book his character is really repulsive and out there, eating his victims' brains, leaving body parts all over his apartment, immobilizing a girl's hands with a nail gun so he could rape her, and all sorts of really messed up stuff. In comparison, except for one scene where he chases a girl with a chainsaw, there's really little evidence he's that crazy. I don't think they needed to go quite as far as the book, but at least show one scene of him doing something really morbid so we know this is a serious psycho.

Another issue I should point out is the whole 80's setting. I was critical of that in my first viewing of the movie. After reading (most of) the book, I now see that's a key aspect of the book. The setting is almost a character as the novel is, effectively, a satire of the 80s. That was not clear in the film, even in my re-watching. It feels weirdly dated and odd, as though the setting was an afterthought. The setting is there in clothing and few other details, but it doesn't penetrate the atmosphere of the movie. When you do notice it, it just feels misplaced.

Overall, this is a fascinating film. It's definitely better if you've read the book, though, which is unusual for a film adaptation. The book isn't perfect (I'll comment on that when I finish it) and the film improves on the book in a few ways but falls short in others. Ultimately it's not quite great, but it does have some great aspects and a few classic scenes. Definitely worth seeing if you like Christian Bale and/or have read the book.


Friday, December 24, 2010

American Psycho

Book: American Psycho

I just recently wrote about my rewatch of the film version, but I finally did finish the audiobook today. This is definitely an unusual book. It's not pleasant (you may literally feel like puking), and it is way, way too long. It's basically one long bit of rambling by a serial killer, talking about his day-to-day life and his really disgusting murders in the same no-nonsense tone. He feels nothing. He's a psychopath. He's a lonely, alienated creature trying to fit in by mimicking the behavior of real humans and not quite getting there. The "gimmick" of the book, if you will, is that because he's wealthy and incredibly good looking, no one believes him capable of murder, even when he practically flaunts it. He walks down the street feeding stray dogs bits of brain of the prostitute he killed. He actually verbally tells girlfriends things like, "I'm feeling very homicidal today," and they don't even notice. He quotes serial killers to his friends and even points out women he'd like to rape and kill and they just think he's being a morbid joker. In other words, this book is a bit of a black comedy. At least that's how I looked at it and was able to get through it. (If I saw this as a documentary, I'd have to shoot myself and give up hope on the human race as a species.) The comedy is very dark and subtle, but that does lend a certain charm and fascination to the story. For instance, my favorite scene (slight spoiler here) is when he serves his fiance a used urinal cake dipped in chocolate. He watches her struggle to eat it, trying to pretend it tastes good. That scene epitomizes the entire book for me (it was missing in the film, much to my dismay). This is a guy with a sick sense of humor that no one else in his life gets. He's wanting them to get it, but no one does. That's his tragedy. In many respects, that's why this novel is brilliant and it raises the story to literature. There's also the satire of 1980s Wall Street, obsession with technology, the wealthy, and other aspects American life mocked, but for me the black humor was the key as it actually gets you to sympathize (ever so slightly) with the guy.

In terms of negatives, there are a few. The most significant is the length: the book is very long and much is repetative (endless restaurant meals, descriptions of music and TV shows, boring daily life, etc.). I be you could cut half the scenes out and it would still generate the same feeling. The length does help really hammer home the nails of how messed up this guy is and how utterly pointless his life is, but doesn't need to be that long as we get the idea quickly. The 80s setting is interesting, but it really dates the novel, especially when the guy keeps bragging about his hot technology and it's stuff like a six-CD changer or a casette Walkman and his main excuse to get away from people is to claim he has rented videotapes to return! Also, the endless lists of tech, clothing, and other details gets repetative and boring. I realize it does convey the personality of the psycho narrator, but that doesn't make it any less tedious. Still, despite these issues, the novel succeeds. That's surprising (and impressive) because on the surface this is a plotless story about a disgusting guy murdering people in brutal and horrible ways. Yet it rises above that low-brow shock value and gives us a convincing and sobering portrayal of an intelligent yet extremely flawed creature. Not pleasant, as I said, and not I book I would ever read again, I think, but definitely fascinating.


Tuesday, September 16, 2003

American Splendor

Movie: American Splendor

This is an excellent film about the life of Harvey Pekar, the ultimate ordinary Joe, whose mundane life was made into the American Splendor comic book series. What's fascinating is that this is a combination of drama and documentary. We actually meet multiple Harvey Pekars: there's the various cartoon drawings (portrayed by the many different artists who illustrate the comic), the real guy, and the actor who plays him in the movie. These various versions are blurred together. We cut from a comic drawing to the real or actor version, watch the actor and listen to the real guy narrarating, etc. It's a wonderful technique because it allows us to know all the Harvey Pekars and thereby understanding the whole man better. The story is pretty much chronological: we see Harvey at his dead-end job as a file clerk, watch him meet artist Bob Crumb, see the comic book become a success, follow the story of Harvey meeting and marrying his wife (after knowing her for less than a week), and endure his battle with cancer. The whole thing is marvelously done. My only complaint is that ultimately we aren't enriched by the process. Harvey seems like a decent ordinary guy, and it's fun meeting the man behind the cartoon, but Harvey's so ordinary and his morose attitude on life is so depressing that not much is to be gained by our experience with him. We're just listening to a guy whine about his misery for decades, never once doing a thing to get off his ass and do something about it. Granted, that's what his story is all about, and I suppose fans of the comic like that and would therefore like this film better. I found it interesting from a sociological viewpoint, and the presentation was fascinating, but I don't want to spend any more time with Harvey than I already have.


Thursday, April 27, 2000

Analyze This

Movie: Analyze This

Not bad, though a little slow at times, and not consistently funny (and sometimes not funny at all). Predictable. I love Billy Crystal, though.


Thursday, May 3, 2001

Anatomy of a Murder

Movie: Anatomy of a Murder

Cool film of a complex murder trial. An Army lieutenant kills the man who allegedly raped his wife. Jimmy Stewart -- in one of his best performances -- is the lawyer with no career that takes the case. Until the very end of the film you don't know if the man is guilty or not. Was the rape real or not? Was the husband really temporarily insane or was the shooting an act of revenge? This film has some of the best dialog I've ever heard: excelllent, excellent, excellent. Even the minor characters speak with intelligence and personality. Lee Remick, as the sexy wife, is really good. Complex, gray film, without any answers. Worth seeing more than once.


Monday, July 12, 2004

Anchorman: The Ron Burgandy Story

Movie: Anchorman: The Ron Burgandy Story

Not as consistently funny as Dodgeball: An Underdog Story, but pretty good. It starts out slow but gets better once the plot gets going. A lot of the humor is weak, sort of the "smile but not laugh" variety. For instance, there's a scene where Ron's dog talks to him. The dog barks, and Ron interprets for the audience. This is a mildly amusing idea. But this one-joke premise goes on way, way too long, and the pause while we wait while the dog barks are boring and the scene lasts forever. But once the plot starts to form -- a female anchorperson steps in to take Ron's job -- things get much more interesting. Of course the whole thing is very silly and the plot isn't there for much more than as a foundation for stupid jokes, so it's not that compelling. What does work are the performances, which are great, and in the end we laugh at all the great hammy acting and camera mugging (including some cool cameos by Ben Stiller and others) more than actual jokes in the script. Over all, a solid C+. Slightly above average for this kind of movie. Not great, probably not anything you'd want to buy and watch over and over again, but decent enough and good fun.


Monday, August 14, 2000


Movie: Android

Older scifi film with Klaus Kinski and his android on a space station and some escaped convicts who arrive to threaten them. Mildly interesting, technically ridiculous, and silly special effects by today's standards. Nice twist at the end, though.


Saturday, March 2, 2002

Angel Eyes

Movie: Angel Eyes

An interesting concept, but far too slow and doesn't do enough with the idea. It's a about a female cop who meets a strange guy. He tells her his name is Catch, no last name, and won't say anything about his past or what he does or anything. Anyway, she falls in love with, deduces his secret (he has a tragic past he's trying to forget), and when he comes around, they live happily ever after. Or something like that. The premise is good, but the love dialog tries so hard to be clever it comes across as inane, and despite the pretty presence of Jennifer Lopez, the film commits the cardinal sin of being boring.


Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Angel of Death

Book: Angel of Death
Writer(s): Jack Higgins

I'm completely ignorant of the whole Ireland mess (the IRA and all that), so I usually find books that deal with that bewildering and meaningless. Fortunately understanding Irish politics isn't a requirement for this novel. It's really almost like a series of short stories. Former IRA bad boy Sean Dillon, now working for MI-5, is back, and he has several adventures. Meanwhile, behind the scenes a group called January 30 (after Bloody Sunday) is assassinating important people, and eventually Dillon has to stop them. The title character is a woman, a famous actress, who is also January 30's main killer. The ending's a bit of a wimp out, with everyone killing themselves, but probably realistic. Okay, not great, but a very quick read.


Sunday, July 4, 2004

Angels and Demons

Book: Angels and Demons
Writer(s): Dan Brown

First, a warning. I will give away key plot elements in this "review." I will do this because the plot is one of the major flaws and I must reveal it in order to critique it. If you are wanting to read this book without knowing the outcome, don't read my comments!

This is a bizarre book. It's by the moron author of The Davinci Code. I bought this book before I read the other one, and if I'd known it was a prequel to that one, I never would have bothered. Unfortunately I did, so I forced myself to read it. Initially, my impressions were that this book was much better written (it felt less rushed than Davinci), but even more anti-Christian (specially anti-Catholic) than the other one. This book is basically a war between science and religion. An ancient pro-science cult has surfaced and has stolen some anti-mater from the CERN lab in Switzerland. As we all know, anti-mater explodes when it comes in contact with any regular matter, so this is effectively a tremendous weapon. The anti-matter is suspended inside the canister by magnetic force, but when the batteries run out (24 hours after the canister is disconnected from power), the anti-matter will drop, contact the canister, and explode. They hide this anti-matter in the Vatican so it will destroy the Catholic church. Robert Langdon, the symboligist from the other book, is brought in by CERN to help track down the ancient cult that did this, and he ends up (with a beautiful scientist partner) on a wild quest to stop the bomb. Okay, that's the basic plot, and it's not so bad. There are many nonsensical aspects to it (Why batteries that run out in exactly 24 hours? Why only have recharging stations at CERN? Why can't the recharging station be moved or plugged into an AC outlet? Why and how does the canister have no metal? How the heck does the canister know, exactly, to the second how long the batteries will last? Does anything rechargable you own predict usage that accurately?), but those are typical Dan Brown idiotics, where he forces the plot to go where he wants to go and if that means forcing a square into a round hole he'll damn well do it. But he does keep the action going, albeit with his trademark ploy of simply concealing information to build the suspense. (One feels extremely manipulated while reading a Dan Brown book.) The first half of the book has a distinctly anti-religious feel to it, with many unnecessary lectures on the superiority of science and the (obvious) fallacy of God. But in the second half, we meet the late Pope's assistant, a man who seems quite amazing. He says all the right things, is spiritual yet modern and practical, and seems to have a logical balance between God and science (they are not contradictory). Unfortunately, just when I thought at Dan Brown book might have a redeeming character, the author pulls a fast one. As the story was wrapping up I expected a twist; Dan loves his twists -- too bad he's inept at pulling them off. This one was a doozy. All of a sudden we learn that this Catholic hero, the religious man who seemed so rational and likeable, is well, the insane guy behind the whole bomb plot. He's responsible for all the murders and his stopping of the bomb was to make him a hero and get him elected Pope! This is a full 180-degree twist from the guy we knew, which is just ridiculous (I abhor unreliable narrators, especially omniscient ones), and his motives for his actions are obviously insane. Once again, Dan has succeeded in putting them blame on religion. In this case the whole anti-religion plot was fake, created by a religious guy to make science look bad! I don't know; nothing makes much sense at this point. Again, Dan just forces a plot to go where he wants, whether or not it makes any sense. The bottom line is this artificial ending just ruins the book, ruins what was a remarkable character, and demonstrates that Brown knows absolutely zilch about realistic writing, human characterization, or reality.

Overall, this is a slightly better book than Davinci Code, but that's not saying much. It doesn't have as many factual flaws as that book and is not quite so arrogantly presented, but this book is much nastier toward God (versus the Catholic Church). Dan's "solution" for the God vs. Science conflict is to conclude that God is Science and God is inside all of us... we are all gods. That doesn't make sense on so many levels. First of all, why does an atheist scientist even care? Second of all, by reducing God to something -- a mere technical fact -- you've eliminated all Godliness from God. Why even have Him around then? I don't understand the point of it. Either God is a supernatural being who created us and gives us a moral standard to live by, or there's no point in having a god. In other words, if God is whatever we define, than we, effectively, are God. That's hubris.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Angels and Demons

Movie: Angels and Demons
Director(s): Ron Howard

I will begin by saying that this film is not as bad as the book, and it's much better than the first film. Of course, those were so bad that is not saying much. Still, this has some compelling action, and the science-versus-God debate is kept at a neutral-but-still-interesting level. It still has many of the flaws of the book, but they are not as noticeable in the film. It follows the book's plot pretty well, as near as I can remember, with terrorists planning on blowing up Vatican City while a new pope is being elected. Robert Langdon, the professor character from other book, must decipher ancient clues to figure out where the bomb is located and stop it. The puzzles he solves go by at such a pace they are almost irrelevant, which is fine, but director Howard generates surprisingly decent action from such expository material. It does start to feel long toward the end, however, and just like in the book, the ending is one twist too many and unravels everything built up so far. Still, it's fun, and too dumb to warrant any controversy.


Friday, April 11, 2003

Anger Management

Movie: Anger Management

Except for an excess of penile jokes, this movie is much tamer than Adam Sandler's usual fare. It's okay overall, with Sandler as a shy loser who's mistakenly entered into an anger management course run by a lunantic teacher (Jack Nicholson). Jack's methods are bizarre but in the end effective, as Sandler learns to be a man. While the psychology's about as deep as a drop of water, it's an interesting ride. Jack's got the colorful role with Sandler playing the straight man. The ending is satisfying as ought to be expected in this kind of film.


Wednesday, May 1, 2002

The Animal

Movie: The Animal



Sunday, October 3, 1999

Animal Farm

Movie: Animal Farm (1999)
Writer(s): Alan Janes & Martyn Burke (based on the book by George Orwell)
Director(s): John Stephenson

I've been anticipating this brand new adaptation of Orwell's classic for months and couldn't wait for Sunday's premiere on TNT. Supposedly this movie cost $25 million to make -- amazing for a cable channel like TNT, but well worth it. Using the same techniques as the Babe movies, this is a live action film with talking animals interacting with humans. Very, very well done. Certainly not for kids -- this movie features graphic, realistic violence, and the animals are eerie they are so real. Probably traumatic for kids. It's a sad story, really; your heart really goes out to the poor, suffering animals. It's been a long time since I've read the book, but I saw little that seemed out of place. The ending's rushed (it just suddenly ends on a hopeful note), and there were a couple places I thought the "cruelty to animals will come back to haunt you" message was heavy-handed, but overall, a treat and well worth your time. My favorite moment was when the narrator (the mama dog) is looking through the window of the house and seeing a pig and a human drinking whiskey. There was some water on the window glass and as the camera view shifted, the features of the human warped into pig and the features of the pig warped into human likeness. It was amazingly subtle -- you had to blink, thinking you were seeing things -- and one of the most effective uses of special effects I've seen since Forest Gump. TNT repeats the movie on Wednesday, Oct. 6, so catch it then if you missed it. They'll probably repeat it more, too. (Why don't the "big" networks repeat their shows? I've never understood that. I love having a choice of viewing times.)


Thursday, February 1, 2001

Annie Hall

Movie: Annie Hall
Writer(s): Woody Allen
Director(s): Woody Allen

Pretty good Allen film, though it gets weaker as it goes along. Allen plays a comedian who's a loser at romance (there's something new) and he walks us through his life in retrospect. That's the best, because he frequently breaks down the wall between the camera and the audience, talking directly to the viewer, and intruding his present-day character upon his past-day character, and making snide remarks. Some good wit, cool cameos by big stars, but all the self-introspection gets old after a while, and the ending is flat. Worth seeing, though, especially if you like Allen's humor.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Ant Bully

Movie: The Ant Bully

I heard horrible things about this animated movie when it came out and stayed away. It seemed too predictable: a picked-on wimp takes out his vengeance on an ant colony (the bullied becomes bully) and the ant colony retaliates by shrinking him to their size and forcing him to live like they do, whereby he learns life-changing lessons. While the film takes too many shortcuts for cheap humor (like butt jokes) and the story is lightweight, there's enough interesting characters (I loved the glow worm and beetle) and unusual things going on and the heart of the story actually is pretty good, and in the end, I decided I liked the film. Not bad.


Friday, April 26, 2002


Movie: Antitrust

Great concept, poorly done. It's a thinly disguised mockery of Microsoft out to take over the world, except the company is given the idiotic name of NURV. The hero's a college kid who's a genius programmer, recruited by NURV to help finish their new satellite-based communication system (which ridiculously talks to any electronic device anywhere in the world in any medium). This could have been good, if they'd actually followed the rules of reality, and made use of the story's satric potential. Instead they went trite and predictable, with an overly complicated (and illogical) plot. Pretty lame and disappointing.


Sunday, November 2, 2003

Antwone Fisher

Movie: Antwone Fisher
Writer(s): Antwone Fisher
Director(s): Denzel Washington

Not quite what I expected; it was both more impactful and less fancy than I anticipated. I was expecting a moving story about a trouble young black man with a complex history, and I got that, but while I'm not trying to knock his past, it wasn't as troubled as I expected. Yeah, his mother abandoned him and he lived with foster parents who abused him, but it didn't seem as bad as many people suffer. But in a way, that was a key part of the film because it was saying it doesn't matter what you suffered, the point is that you did, and how it effected you is most important. In the case of Antwone Fisher, he rose above his past, learned to understand and control his anger, and eventually made peace with his family. While the film's leisurely paced, it surprisingly doesn't feel slow. Terrific performances and interesting characters. The final scene when he's surrounded by relatives he didn't know he had is awesome and extremely touching. A terrific film. It's not overly dramatic like most Hollywood productions, but simple and realistic, much like the real Antwone Fisher who wrote the screenplay based on his life experiences. He's a blunt, honest guy who doesn't put on airs or try to magnify himself, and that comes across both in the character as portrayed on film, and in the unassuming story and script. I was expecting more of a weepy Oscar-contending film, but what I got was simply a great story about a remarkable man who just wanted to escape his troubled past and make a life for himself, and did it.


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Anything Else

Movie: Anything Else
Writer(s): Woody Allen
Director(s): Woody Allen

Interesting, though annoying, Woody Allen film about a comedy writer (Jason Biggs) struggling to figure out life. His girlfriend (Christina Ricci) is lovely but frightfully annoying as she can't make up her mind and drives him insane. She eats before their dinner date, moves out without warning and moves back in just as abruptly, and worse. But he's too chicken to leave her. Biggs gets bizarre advice from another comedy writer (Allen) he met in Central Park. Woody's created some great characters here, and I really liked the intelligence of Bigg's character (it makes him more sympathetic). Allen's alter ego is hilarious and full of typical Woody Allen insecurity. The story is simple enough as Bigg's figures out his life and learns to move on (not without help), but overall, while this is better than some of Woody's recent films, it's lightweight. Ricci's character is too annoying to be likable (you want to slap her), and the best part is Woody's amazing dialog which is mostly intellectual entertainment (I'd rather read it than watch it).


Saturday, October 9, 1999

The Apostle

Movie: The Apostle (1997)
Writer(s): Robert Duvall
Director(s): Robert Duvall

Don't watch this movie if you believe in the Eleventh Commandment ("Thou shalt not shout!"). This is one of those movies that's impossible to classify. I knew little about it other than it was a low budget independent film written, directed, produced, financed by, and staring Robert Duvall. I saw a few bits of an interview with Duvall when this movie was released and it sounded fascinating, but I didn't know the story. I was leery of Hollywood's portrayal of a Pentecostal preacher. I'd heard the movie being praised because the lead character was a flawed preacher, and Hollywood seemed to think this was revolutionary. Frankly, hearing that didn't impress me: every preacher I've seen on film or TV has been flawed. Usually when there's a flawed preacher Hollywood sets out to revile in the flaws, to delight in showing the blackness under the Christian mask. But this film isn't like that at all. Duvall's character is incredibly human, but there's little fanfare. You have to work to see his flaws. The movie is about rebirth, about passion and commitment, about humanity, about frailty, about suffering and desire. There isn't a wrong step anywhere: it's amazingly realistic, eerily so. I grew up in Pentecostal churches and this movie was like a flashback to scenes from my childhood. I know that affects how I interpret the film: Duvall, for instance, said he made the movie because he was fascinated by Pentecostalism and so few Americans know about it (especially Hollywood). Indeed, the film has a documentary feel to it -- it's an inside look at the Pentecostal world. To me, Pentecostalism is as ordinary as a loaf of bread, but I can see from his outsider perspective, something like "tag team" preaching is bizarre and interesting. Because of my familiarity with the subject, certain parts of the film were slow and uninteresting. I also initially distrusted the movie's portrayal of Christians as I'm used to that being a setup in Hollywood films: the Christian always turns out to be the insane serial killer. I also am personally turned off by characters like Sonny (Duvall's role) who spew religious platitudes the way many men swear. But in this movie I slowly came to realize that this wasn't an act, this was legitimate. Sonny really believes every word he says, as trite as it sometimes sounds. This is not an impression you can gain from five minutes with somebody -- it requires you spend an incredible amount of time with the person, in all sorts of circumstances, and watch how they react. This movie allows you to do that. It's an intimate portrait unlike any I've seen. Truly a tour-de-force for Duvall, and well-worthy his Oscar nomination. The story itself is seemingly slight: a preacher runs away to a small town and works to rebuild a church. In the process he rediscovers himself, God, and gives hope to people who need it. It's fascinating: unexpectedly complex in this day of simplistic Hollywood plots where every detail is explained away. Instead of explanations, Duvall just shows things happening. It's up to the viewer to interpret them. Incredible, and it shows a great deal of faith in the intelligence of the audience (something rare in major motion pictures). I can picture myself watching this again and again in the future, each time discovering subtle aspects I missed. I think I'll like it better every time I see it. It's not a movie everyone will like: it's slow moving at times, low key, intensely passionate, shocking, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying. Whereas most Hollywood productions that involve religion deal with religious conflict (i.e. the clash between faith and science in Contact), this movie doesn't do that: it's a simple story about a human preacher. That's it. And amazingly, it works.


Friday, October 3, 2008


Movie: Appaloosa

At the end of this movie as we were leaving the theatre, I heard another view say, "Well, it's no Unforgiven." I started laughing, for that was exactly what I'd been thinking. It sure feels a lot like Unforgiven, but it doesn't live up to that classic. It's still a good movie and an above average Western. It's got some unusual characterizations that I found fascinating, especially the character of the woman (Renee Zellweger in a terrific performance) who is so confused even she isn't sure what she is. Is she a whore, a lover, or a wife? Which does she want the most? She's a tragic figure, extremely sympathetic, though we don't like what she does (she doesn't either but does it anyway). The other thing I found intriguing is that the film ends happily. I was totally expecting a grim "there will be blood" violent and tragic conclusion to everything, but instead the film unexpectedly has everything work out for the best. Yet the ending is not at all artificial or forced; it's just clever and appropriate. Others will write about the mood of this film, the great acting, the slender storyline, the cool action, and maybe some other positives and negatives, and they're probably right in whatever they say. I still liked the film, though it was overlong and had moments of dullness, but while it tries hard, this movie doesn't quite measure up to Unforgiven.


Friday, July 17, 2009

The Appeal

Book: The Appeal
Writer(s): John Grisham

Okay, I'll be honest: this is a horrible book. There are several reasons for that, but to explain them, I will have to spoil the ending, so if you'd rather not know, skip these comments. The book, overall, has a simplistic plot: it's set in Mississippi where a giant chemical corporation has poisoned the well water of a small town and given hundreds of people cancer. A sympathetic husband and wife team of lawyers has been fighting a wrongful death lawsuit against the company for four long years and when the verdict comes back in their favor it seems like good news. Unfortunately, it's just the beginning of the battle, for the corporation will appeal and it may be a couple more years before justice is served. That starts the second half of the novel, where the corporation begins machinations to elect their own anti-litigation candidate onto the Mississippi supreme court so that when the case comes up for appeal, the court can rescind the verdict. The book is long and detailed, going over every filing in the case and nearly every speech and promotion in the campaign. It is tedious and boring, and in the end, nothing happens. The chemical company's guy gets elected and votes against the lawsuit and none of the cancer-striken victims get any justice. Grisham write the novel this way in order to stir up the reader's anger at the supreme court election process (which is obviously ridiculous), but while it might be realistic, it does not make for a satisfying novel. Part of the problem is that Grisham goes so far overboard to make his hero characters sympathetic and good and his villains truly evil that the reader is naturally expecting justice in the end. The whole time you are reading the book you are motivated by the justice you know is coming and you can't wait to see the bad guy get his. In the end, he wins, which is outrageous. I'm sorry: I don't like predictable endings but when you set up a stereotypical storyline you need to follow-through with a stereotypical Hollywood happy ending. The odd thing is that Grisham's case against the election process and the evils of big corporations killing people was already made: a happy ending wouldn't have made us less outraged, just more satisfied readers. As it is, this is another "message" novel by Grisham, horribly disappointing, and it'll unfortunately make me think twice about buying any of his novels again. (It reminds me of his horrible The Chamber, an anti-death penalty rant with no story.)


Saturday, October 6, 2001

Apple Store Grand Opening

This morning I went to Palo Alto to witness the grand opening of the new Apple Store. Over a thousand people were there and it was a terrific celebration of Apple. Steve Jobs was even there (I took his picture). It was great fun and hilarious to receive the funny looks of passerbys who no doubt thought we were crazy to stand in line for hours to get into a mere computer store!


Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Apple's WWDC in San Francisco

Spent this week in San Francisco at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference. It was an exciting show, partly because it was my first time at a WWDC, and being surrounded by thousands of really smart Mac programmers was an interesting experience, but this year was significant as Apple announced their new G5 Macs (shipping in August). The new Macs look awesome and appear to be a huge leap forward in performance, though Apple's performance numbers include some questionable fudging that makes me question Steve Jobs' "fastest personal computer in the world" mantra. Overall it appeared to be a good show, with everyone enthusiastic and confident about the future of the Mac platform.


Saturday, December 4, 1999

Apt Pupil

Movie: Apt Pupil (1998)
Writer(s): Brandon Boyce (based on Stephen King's novella)
Director(s): Bryan Singer

Interesting, though I'm not sure I quite figured out the point. This is basically a psychological chess game between a 16-year-old student and a Nazi war criminal he's uncovered. However, instead of turning the Nazi in, he blackmails the old man into telling him gruesome stories of Nazi attrocities. In turn, the Nazi blackmails the boy, and the game escolates into murder and intrigue. Fascinating, with excellent performance by Ian McKellar as the Nazi (and the guy in the bed next to him in the hospital was awesome as a Jew whose family the Nazi killed). But overall we're left with a feeling of voyerism and no clear explanation of why the boy's so messed up. Watch this one for the performances and concept, but don't expect to grow from it.


Sunday, April 5, 2009


Movie: Arachnophobia

This is an old movie I wanted to see way back when but somehow never did. It seems rather dumb, a film about ooh, scary spiders, but actually is surprisingly intelligent and well done. The ending is silly and trite, however, as they worked way too hard to try to turn it into an action set piece. I much preferred it as a psychological thriller. Aren't little tiny spiders who happen to be deadly poisonous much more terrifying than a giant web in your basement?


Friday, October 13, 2000

Argentina vs. Uruguay (World Cup Qualifier)

Soccer: Argentina vs. Uruguay (World Cup Qualifier)

Terrific game, as could be expected. Argentina dominated the first half, with Gallardo scoring a terrific through-the-legs-of-the-hapless-defender goal, followed by an ignored Batistuta, left alone at the top of the box with the ball at his feet. (Message to Uruguay: don't do that. "Batigol" will make you pay.) Uruguay came back five minutes into the second half with a gift goal from Argentina's terrible defending. After that the game became very rough and physical (and Uruguay's coach stupidly took out Recoba, their best player), but neither team could anything else and so it finished Argentina 2, Uruguay 1.


Friday, December 8, 2000

Argentine League: Boca Juniors at Independiente

Soccer: Argentine League: Boca Juniors at Independiente

The action started with a bang when Diego Forlan scored for Independiente off a great cross into the box just six minutes in. Horrors! The mighty Boca behind? How could this be? Well, Boca didn't just sit still, but they couldn't score. Then, an odd thing. It must have been hot (remember, it's summer in Argentina now), because 33 minutes in the ref called a halt to the proceedings so he could get a drink! I've never seen that before. The brief break must have helped Palermo, because he soon had a header bounce off the crossbar. Unfortunately, that was to be Boca's best chance in the first half. Boca missed a point-blank chance in the second half, and just couldn't seem to score. Then Independiente got a player sent off (second yellow). But the advantage only lasted a few minutes for Boca, because they soon had a player sent off. Apparently that wasn't enough, so they had another player ejected a couple minutes after that! With only nine players, Boca was really behind, and then Forlan, amazingly, got his second when his shot was not completely stopped by Boca's keeper Cordoba. With just a minute left in regulation, it was all over: Boca would be handed their first defeat of the season! Good teamwork increased Independiente's lead in the final seconds when they did a little passing exchange in the box to wrong foot the keeper for an easy tap-in. Final: 3-0 Independiente. Unbelievable!


Sunday, October 15, 2000

Argentine Soccer: Boca Juniors at River Plate

Soccer: Argentine Soccer: Boca Juniors at River Plate

This game is known as the "Superclassico," as these two teams are the best and biggest in Argentina and have been rivals for over 100 years (they've played each other 166 times and each won about sixty and drawn the rest)! In Buenos Aires in front of 80,000 screaming fanatics, the two met. For Boca, a win would mean a significant lead in the tournament (they are in first place), while for second place River Plate, a win would help them gain on their arch-rivals. At first, as is typical in a Superclassico, the match was choppy, with hard fouls making it difficult to establish any kind of consistent play. River seemed to be doing the best, when out of nowhere, a simple cross into the box was met by a leaping Martin Palermo who headed into the far corner past a diving goalkeeper. Boca was ahead in the fourteenth minute. After that, Boca dominated (especially Riquelme and Serna), while River couldn't do much more than foul. Then in the dying minutes of the first half, River nearly scored, stopped only by a terrific save by Cordoba, Boca's keeper. Coming into the second half, Boca seemed to sit on the laurels, and fourteen minutes in River equalized on a terrific counter-attack. After that, play was frenetic, more like a ping-pong match, with chances at both ends. Keepers made saves, there were yellow cards galore, and finally, even though River's Ortega was sent off with a second yellow, the game finished an appropriate tie, 1-1.


Sunday, December 17, 2000

Argentine Soccer: Estudiantes at Boca Juniors

Soccer: Argentine Soccer: Estudiantes at Boca Juniors

Not a great game, but significant in that it gave Boca Juniors the Apertura 2000 title. Boca dominated, though not magnificently, with Arce's goal in the 65th minute. But it was enough as the win, with River Plate's loss, puts the championship beyond doubt. Boca wins it again! It's almost becoming routine. ;-)


Sunday, October 22, 2000

Argentine Soccer: Velez Sarsfield at Boca Juniors

Soccer: Argentine Soccer: Velez Sarsfield at Boca Juniors

With Boca well ahead in the standings, this game just meant further distancing from their opponents. Boca started off brilliantly as usual, bouncing the ball off the inside of the near post in the fifth minute, freezing the "world's greatest goalkeeper" Chilavert as he thought the shot was going wide. Chilavert almost brought Velez back a few minutes later on a wonderful free kick (he's one of the few goalkeepers in the world who's an offensive threat). Velez had a goal called back for offside in the 21st minute, and hit the post a few minutes after that. But after all that offense, Velez had nothing to show for it at the end of the half. Starting the second half, just seconds in, Riquelme gave the ball a clever, soft touch, completely beating Velez's defense, and rolling the ball into the back of the net. If that wasn't enough to destroy Velez, Riquelme did it again eight minutes later, putting a slider under Chilavert. But seconds after that, Velez countered with Husain's great finish. With one goal, Velez worked hard and had some chances, but couldn't score. Then, in a bizarre twist, the two teams best players crashed into each other in an accidental clash, and the idiot referee handed out red cards to both Palermo and Chilavert! I always say, as a referee, if you aren't sure what happened, the best thing to do is nothing. In this case the referee assumed something untoward had happened (clearly not, as seen on the replays) and ruined what had been a terrific game to that point. Lame. Give the ref a red card! Final: 3-1 Boca Juniors.


Thursday, January 25, 2001

Argentine: Boca Juniors at River Plate

Soccer: Argentine: Boca Juniors at River Plate

Odd game. Part of the "Tourno de Verano," a sort of mini-tournament between seasons (the Argentina league has two game seasons, the Apertura and Clousura, the Opening and Closing). Anyway, Boca finally scored late in the game on a somewhat questionable offside decision, but minutes later fans rioted and began throwing rocks onto the field and the game was called off. I say that's incredibly dumb, because it was the River fans who were doing the violence, and they took away any chance of River getting back into it by making the game end early! Stupid. Final: 1-0 Boca, game in the suspended 80th minute.


Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Argentine: River Plate at Boca Juniors

Soccer: Argentine: River Plate at Boca Juniors

Back again with more of the same, hopefully this time without the fan violence. Boca was looking good when 27 minutes in good play brought forth a clever goal. Riquelme, considered by many the best player in Argentina, received a header from a teammate with his side to the goal. Falling down he flipped the ball awkwardly backward as his body got out of the way, and it went right into the goal! Very cool, and quite cheeky. River were stunned. In the second half, Boca went further ahead with a goal from Rodriguez 62 minutes in, but River countered that with a goal from Cardetti twelve minutes later. But that was it for the scoring. Final: 2-1 Boca.


Sunday, November 12, 2000

Argentine: Rosario Central at Boca Juniors

Soccer: Argentine: Rosario Central at Boca Juniors

Wild game with tons of goals. I missed the first half hour, when Delgado scored, but in the second half it was crazy. Caceres tied the score a few minutes in, but twenty minutes later Palermo took an excellent feed from Schelotto and slid the ball under the keeper. Boca's joy was only temporary when Diaz put a header in the other goal. After some real battling, Boca went ahead of a Schelotto penalty kick. It seemed like it wasn't to be Rosario's day. But with seconds left in regulation, Caceres got his second goal on another header. Final: 3-3! Crazy!


Sunday, October 1, 2000

Argentinian: San Lorenzo vs. Velez Sarsfield

Soccer: Argentinian: San Lorenzo vs. Velez Sarsfield

Velez is one of my favorite Argentinian teams, simply because their goalkeeper, Chilavert, is so cool. In this game he started them off with a goal in just the second minute, when his free kick was blocked by the keeper but a teammate put the rebound away. Then San Lorezno's keeper was red-carded, so they played down a man. Unfortunately, Velez never took advantage, so the game went down to the wire. With just minutes left, San Lorenzo peppered Chilavert with shots, but self-acclaimed "best goalkeeper in the world" proved his merit and stopped them all (including a couple jaw-droppers). Great game!


Friday, April 21, 2000

Arlington Road

Movie: Arlington Road

Neat movie with a wonderful (non-Hollywood) ending. It's about a guy who thinks his neighbor is a terrorist but no one believes him. A little preachy, but worth it.


Thursday, August 5, 2004

The Art of Deception

Book: The Art of Deception
Writer(s): Ridley Pearson

Fascinating psychological profile of killers and the police who track them down. Perhaps too analytical and self-indulgent at times (self-anaylsis gets old quickly if you're not the focus) and not enough focus on the plot, but the unusually close perspective makes for an interesting book. It begins awkwardly, as there's obviously a lot of history between the characters that we don't know about. Some of that is because apparently this is part of a series of books that involve the same characters (this is the first Pearson book I've read), but some of that is because the novel begins after some crimes have been committed and the investigation is underway. That means we're given information in retrospect fashion, which is awkward, and leaves you the vague feeling that maybe you missed something along the way. It's also a lot of information to absorb: all the characters, their private lives and relationships, the murder victims and investigation details, etc. With a similar murder mystery kind of book (like Agatha Christie) you're just given the info you need, nothing more, nothing less. Here we're right in the detectives' heads, following along as they struggle with day-to-day life, follow the clues, and try to analyze and interogate suspects. The main character is Daphne Matthews, a psychologist and police lieutenant, which explains much of the novel's introspective feel. She analyzes everyone she meets, from police to criminals. I liked her a lot, but I found her character incongruous in that she appears to be strong but in the novel she's often frightened to immobility. There's some logic behind that as she's being stalked, the watching giving her a bad case of paranoia, but there were a few places where it felt overdone and out of character for her to be so frightened. Maybe it's a woman thing. A regular woman would have certainly felt what she felt, but she's a trained professional with years of experience -- shouldn't she have been able to keep her emotions at least a little in check? She also seems so logical most of the time, when she reacts out of pure emotion it felt incorrect. But other than that, the book is excellent. Good characterizations, fascinating pyschology, and an unusual plot that takes us into the Seattle Underground: literally a city beneath the city. Recommended.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Art of the Start

Book: The Art of the Start
Writer(s): Guy Kawasaki

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


Sunday, September 2, 2001

The Art of War

Movie: The Art of War

I wasn't expecting much, but this was pretty good. A fun, mindless spy flick, with good action, neato high-tech gadgets, betrayal, and the requisite convoluted (and predictable) plot. Rent it if you're in an action mood.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Arthur and the Minimoys

Movie: Arthur and the Minimoys
Director(s): Luc Besson

This is a movie of two parts: it's both live action and computer animated. A young boy becomes animated as he gets shrunk to smaller than an ant and helps rescue the Minimoys, tiny elf-like creatures that live in the gardens in his backyard. Unfortunately, just like the film is two halves, I have mixed feelings about the movie. While I love French director Besson's movies, this one is confusingly contradictory. One the one hand, it's deep with incredible artwork. On the other, the story is surprisingly childish, with almost melodrama live action acting and dialogue. The pace is so quick and non-stop it's difficult to keep up; it's as though it's targeted at kids with Attention Deficit Disorder. There are moments when the movie pauses as though for drama and you expect something profound, but it's just a miscue -- in seconds the movie's shooting off in some other direction, and that moment is lost. The story's too light and flimsy, the pace too thrilling, the characters too sketchy for this to be anything but a kid's movie, yet the obvious hard work and amazing artwork is obviously designed to appeal to adults. The result is that adults will be not too impressed, while children will probably adore this. Unfortunately, since adults are the ones who pay for the ticket, this film is not going to see the success of Pixar's animated masterpieces which deftly attract all ages. Still, this isn't a bad movie. It just doesn't meet adult expectations. Also, the concept, while nicely done, feels too familiar -- haven't we all seen minature worlds often enough?


Friday, April 19, 2002

Artificial Intelligence

Movie: Artificial Intelligence
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Huh? This film desperately needs some intelligence, artificial or not. I really wanted to like it. I'm a science fiction fan, and a huge robot fan. The promos for the film, telling us it's about a little robot boy who is programmed to love -- were a distinct turnoff. Exploring whether or not a robot's love is real or not has been done to death and isn't the slightest bit interesting (there's no conclusive answer to the question anyway), but I decided to give the film a chance. To my surprise, the heart of the film initially appeared to be a much more intriguing question: not whether a robot could love, but whether humans could love a robot. A young couple, whose own son is in a permanent coma, receive a prototype of a little boy robot programmed to love. Naturally, the mother initially resists, but the robot's so life-like and acts enough like a child that she eventually decides to adopt him permanently and treat him like a real child. Intriguing premise.

Unfortunately, that's as far as the film went with that. From that point on, the movie deteriorates and wanders aimlessly, looking for a reason to exist. The robot boy, remembering the story of Pinochio, seeks for a fairy to turn him into a real boy. That could be interesting, but it's not. The boy's kidnapped by robot-haters, who want to destroy him, but he escapes and eventually connects with his creator. The ending I won't reveal out of courtesy, but let's just say it's one of the most dissatisfying endings every filmed. Yes, it's completely logical. It makes perfect robotic sense. But it's horrible from an emotional perspective! It's inhuman. Why is it that Hollywood likes to play fast and loose with scientific reality when it won't affect the story, but when it makes the story depressing, they insist on verisimilitude? Crazy!

One last nitpick. You'd think with someone like Spielberg behind the picture they could at least create an interesting futuristic world for us to see. Instead, everything looks recycled from a 1930's sci-fi flop, except in color. For example, look at the stupid tri-wheeled car the mom drives: you got it, drives. Here we are in a future society where robots are so human you almost can't tell they're machines and we still have to drive our own cars??! Please.

Bottom line: I liked Bicentennial Man better, if that tells you anything. The only thing good: I did like The Sixth Sense kid's performance as the boy robot.


Sunday, August 31, 2003

Ashland Play: Hedda Gabbler

An amazing play about a bizarre, incomprehensible woman. Hedda is a newlywed who returns home with her husband, George, a boring academic who spent their seven-month honeymoon doing research. They've purchased a large house beyond their means, apparently because Hedda expressed a fondness for the mansion, but in truth she doesn't like it, but now that her husband bought it for her, she must lie in the bed she made (there's a significant pun in there). Bored, Hedda begins to manipulate the people around her. There's a girl from her childhood who's flightly and weak, who has left her husband to pursue a lover. That lover turns out to be Hedda's former lover, and a man who's competition to George: he's in the same field and is working on a new book. George reads part of the book and thinks it's brilliant, one of the best book's ever written, but when the drunken author accidentally drops it, George recovers it. It's the only copy. But before he can return it, the guy goes nuts, thinking someone stole it, and his violence ends him up arrested. When he's released he goes to see Hedda, who encourages his sucidical thoughts -- even giving him one of her pistols! She doesn't tell him she has the manuscript and when he leaves, she burns it. Why? Good questions. She tells her husband it's because of her great love for him and he believes her, though he's horrified at the loss of such a great work. News comes that the author is dead, though not exactly the way Hedda expected. In the end she's blackmailed and caught with the prospects of a husband she doesn't love and forced romance with a blackmailer, she shoots herself. The end.

This is a play about questions, not anwers. The questions are many and fascinating. Why does Hedda marry George? Why is she so bored? Would anything satisfy her? Why does she waffle, changing her mind so frequently? Does she even know what she's doing herself? Why is the play's title her maiden name instead of her married name? Why does she keep seeing visions of her father? Why is she so jealous (if that's what it is) of the other girl? (Hedda is beautiful and shouldn't be jealous.) Why does she kill herself in the end? Was life so unbearable to her? Or was it guilt? The answers to these questions are not impossible, but they are subjective: everyone who watches the play will have to form their own conclusions, and every production interprets the play in their own way, making for a fascinating experience. Granted, Hedda's incomprehensive behavior does make her difficult to like or relate to, but she's fascinating. Most of the other characters are also severely flawed: the husband's a simpleton, the author tempermental, the girl an idiot, the judge a corrupt blackmailer. The only innocent in the bunch is old Aunt Julia, virtual mother to George, but she's not a main character. That lack of compassionate characters does make the play more difficult to connect with, but I still liked it. It's a fascinating intellectual exercise. I'd actually like to see if again a few times: there's enough depth here to study for a long time.


Saturday, August 30, 2003

Ashland Play: Lorca in a Green Dress

I drove up to Ashland, Oregon this weekend to see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. First up was this one, about the controversial Spanish poet, Fredrico Garcia Lorca. The description of the play intrigued me, but while the execution was superb, the play itself was flat. The description promised Daliesque surrealism and that was certainly present. The play is about Lorca waking up after he's dead and in a sort of limbo, a 40-day quarantine, during which he's to reflect on his life and become convinced of his own death. A series of actors dance around him, reenacting various scenes from his life: childhood, on the beach with Dali and his sister, the courtroom trial where he was accused of being a Communist, his death being shot by soldiers, etc. As Lorca struggles to remember and understand, we learn more about him. Unfortunately, despite the weight of the material, the play isn't especially illuminating about death, Lorca, or anything else: it uses the conceit to bring in surrealistic imagery and concepts, but doesn't deal with the deep philosophical issues it brings up. There are no answers here, and very few questions. For instance, I was surprised to find no mention of God in the entire play! For a play about the struggle between life and death that's a striking omission. Even if Lorca didn't believe in God, he surely would be questioning that belief when he wakes up dead! Instead the play's mostly about drama and presentation, or "shocking" the audience with revelations such as Lorca's homosexuality. That said, the play's not bad: the set's awesome and there's some wonderful imagery and the acting was excellent. But we don't really get to know Lorca that well, the surrealistic presentation distances us from him emotionally, and the lack of depth in subject makes for a weak play. It's possible that my lack of knowledge about Lorca hurt my interpretation; a Lorca fan would probably get much more out of this.


Sunday, August 31, 2003

Ashland Play: The Piano Lesson

Of the three plays I saw this weekend, this was undoubtedly the best. However, it was not perfect. It's an amazing play: Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1990. It's about a Black family in 1936 Philadelphia. A wild brother shows up from down south, ready to sell the family piano. He and his sister co-own it, but she refuses to sell it. He needs the money to buy a farm so he can control his own destiny. But the piano has a history for her family: their slave ancestors were bought with that piano, and it was paid for with their sweat and blood. The sister won't play the piano, however: it's haunted with too many memories. She also won't marry, still stuck on her husband who's been dead for three years. Thus the conflict brews. Meanwhile there are ghost sightings, and it turns out the piano really is haunted, and in the end, the sister must overcome her fears and play it, which (apparently) banishes the ghost... and her brother, who leaves peacefully without the piano.

Plotwise, there's not too much to this story. This is a play all about the characters, and they are amazing. The varied personalities are all strong and bold, presenting plenty of conflict, and none are alike. Each has obvious good and bad aspects, just like real people. There's tons of humor, as the outrageous situations are unusual and funny, yet that's tempered with genuine drama, as the piano represents serious emotional baggage. I loved the play, the characters, the presentation, and the acting was astonishly good, but I found myself waffling over the whole ghost thing. Unlike the ghost in Hedda Gabbler, this one we never see: making it both creepier and less real. Was the ghost a figment of their imaginations? Was the ghost from the devil as some believed? Why did playing the piano banish the ghost? Why have a ghost at all? Couldn't the same thing have been accomplished in a different way? Would the ghost be considered a main character? There are many questions, and I'm not sure where I fall. I guess my main objection is that the ghost, for me, did not fit in with the period and the characters. The ghost felt tacked on, too modern, like some sort of psychic stuff that's so popular now. Either back then the ghost would have been different, or perhaps the presentation was flawed: it's hard for me to tell what was interpreted without seeing the script. I just found the ghost aspect uncomfortable and a little puzzling for a serious drama. But I loved everything else about the play, though the ending was a little abrupt and almost sitcomish in its easy resolution. It's a fascinating look at Black culture in the early part of last century.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Associate

Book: The Associate
Writer(s): John Grisham

I have to give a thumbs down on this one. It sounds interesting and exciting: a young law student is blackmailed into accepting a job at a huge NY law firm for the purpose of leaking secret info on a big lawsuit to his blackmailers. Unfortunately, this starts off weak and while it gets better in the middle, it falters at the end. The book opens with the young man being accosted by a lawman. This is strangely handled, as the man's reaction doesn't seem natural. He is alarmed but acts as though it's normal for cops to be following him, yet we later find out this is about a rape accusation from five years earlier... an investigation that was halted for lack of evidence after just a few days. In other words, a non-event. So why would the man be a cop expert and all worried about his past indiscretion just because he sees a man in an overcoat hanging around? That didn't make much sense to me. The next flaw is that the blackmail setup takes about 70 pages. This is way too long for something that's nearly irrelevant. We all know what blackmail is -- we don't need to have the concept spoon-fed to us. Just have the bad guy say "We've got a video. Do what we want or we'll release it." Once the blackmail is established, the novel gets going and it's pretty good. Our young lawyer has to learn spy-craft and figure out how to fight the bad guys. Everything's good until the ending, which is a horrible disappointment. Basically, little is resolved. After reading the ending, I asked myself why I'd wasted so much time reading the book. Maybe a condensed version of this would be better, but it mostly felt like hundreds of pages of reading about what boring work lawyers do in their 100-hour work weeks, with hints of spy stuff in various places to keep you entertained. I also felt like Grisham cheated in several places. For instance, in one scene we're taught that a particular computer system is impenetrable. All obvious methods of attack, such as a USB port, have been removed from this custom designed machine. Then later, a hidden USB port is discovered and used to crack the system. Huh? What kind of a moron designs an impenetrable system, specifically removing all ports, and then accidentally includes a hidden one? (Much of the computer tech in this novel left me scratching my head as it made little sense: Grisham obviously knows very little about computers.) Unless you're such a Grisham fan that you read everything he writes, this is one to avoid.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Astro Boy

Movie: Astro Boy

I like animated films and this one seemed interesting, but the trailer blew it for me with one scene that showed machine guns popping out of the robot boy's butt. That was so ridiculous and inappropriate that it turned me off and I skipped it, assuming the whole film would be such cheap humor. It turns out, it's actually a pretty good film. That single scene is really the only crass note in the thing. Though the plot's a little forced and simplistic (evil is red, good is blue), it's an interesting tale of a scientist who recreates his dead son in robot form. The boy doesn't even realize he's a robot but soon discovers he has rocket feet and can fly and he has super-strength. A big part of the story is the clash between classes, as the privileged live in a floating city above the ruined world with robots to do their bidding, while the people on the ground are poor and struggling. There's also an interesting side plot dealing with robot rights. The film is clearly for kids as the moral lessons are see-through thin, but I did like the ending a lot, where the boy gets saved because he saved a life earlier in the film (his goodness comes back to reward him in the end). I also really liked how the father-scientist role was not completely stereotypical and didn't just magically reform after his son died, but kept some of evilness and began struggling with his conscience. The film's a bit dark at times -- interesting for kid fare -- with the death of the human boy and robots killing each other for sport and the amusement of humans. Above average. I just wish that butt-gun thing had been left out. It was lame and completely out-of-character with the rest of the film.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Astronaut Farmer

Movie: The Astronaut Farmer

This was surprisingly good. I didn't know what to expect as the trailer didn't explain if this was a comedy or serious drama. It's about a farmer in Texas who builds his own rocket and plans to shoot himself into orbit. It turned out to be a serious story, with the guy completely legitimate (a former Air Force pilot, he dropped out of NASA and gave up his space dreams when his family needed him at home). A big part of the story -- my favorite part -- is his relationship with his loyal wife, who puts up with ridicule from people who think her husband's a nut and endures financial hardship and the potential of losing her husband if his rocket were to explode or crash. It's realistically done with wonderful husband-wife dialog and dynamic: even when fighting you can tell the two love each other. Unfortunately, the story's a bit predictable -- like any story of this nature, there are only so many ways it can end -- and that gives it a more lightweight feel than it deserves. But overall I liked it quite a bit. It's an excellent family film about good old-fashioned values and the value of hard work.


Saturday, March 4, 2000

The Astronaut's Wife

Movie: The Astronaut's Wife (1999)
Writer(s): Rand Ravich
Director(s): Rand Ravich

Bizarre film about an astronaut that goes out of contact with NASA for two minutes while on a mission -- and comes back a different person. I never could figure out what a big deal being out of contact for two minutes was: the film has NASA rushing to get the wife immediately and is all in a panic. What's the big deal? Doesn't that happen all the time up in space? They should have explained the significance of that better. Anyway, it starts out well, and the relationship between Depp and Theron is explored, but soon it drops into a standard "space aliens ate my husband" film. The ending is kinda cool, with both expected and unexpected twists. Watch it for the stars, not the story.


Saturday, March 18, 2000

At First Sight

Movie: At First Sight (1998)
Writer(s): Oliver Sacks (story) and Steve Levitt
Director(s): Irwin Winkler

An excellent movie. It's gimmicky -- a man blind since childhood is given the chance to see -- but what I liked was the way the characters were done. Many complex questions were raised: Is seeing that important? Do we see with our eyes or our hearts? (And which is more accurate?) What are our motivations when dealing with the disabled? Mira Sorvino's character, thinking she's acting out of love, persuades Val Kilmer to have the eye operation. But he's been blind for so long, seeing is frightening and unnerving for him. It turns his life upside down. When he was blind, he understood his role in life. But as a seeing person, he no longer knows who he is. Fascinating. Good performances by Kilmer and Sorvino, but especially remarkable was Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) as Kilmer's sister. She displayed amazing subtlty as the caretaker -- overprotective of her brother and neglecting her own life.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

At the Stroke of Midnight

Book: At the Stroke of Midnight
Writer(s): Alex Kava

I picked this book up at Costco the other day as it sounded interesting, a track-the-serial-killer thriller. After reading it, I am most impressed with Alex. She writes with friendly, clean prose, creates some nice suspense and thrills, and most important, has a character-based storyline. This is a psychological thriller where we're given insight into the mind of the murderer, seeing things from his eyes. Not constantly, as the novel does switch viewpoints, but enough that we think we understand him. That's really interesting. I also liked that Alex didn't enforce an artificial plot twist on the reader just for the sake of a twist. Too many authors make their endings overly complicated as they try to out-clever the reader. Just tell us an interesting story, that's all we need. I'll be seeking out more books my Alex Kava. She's only written a few others, all in the same vein, but so far I'm impressed.


Sunday, August 29, 2004

Athens 2004 Olympics

The Summer Olympics 2004 ended today and I thought I'd write a little about them. I actually watched a great deal of them. Between my two Tivos and the extensive coverage I was able to record all the prime time and much of the day time and late night events, then watch it later fast forwarding through the endless commercials and boring stuff. Sometimes a four-hour block would have only five or ten minutes of "real" coverage (I don't need to watch an entire two hour marathon, for instance). With so many events races that are only decided in the final seconds, why watch all the build-up? Anyway, I managed to watch most of the Olympics and found that I enjoyed much of what I saw. I have an uncle who's anti-competitive: he feels competition breeds contempt and superiority and we shouldn't promote it as a nation. He's also a pacifist and doesn't like the nationalism events like the Olympics promotes. While I understand both of his points, I don't completely agree. If competition is in the right spirit, one of comradeship and friendliness, such as two kids saying, "I'll race you to that tree!" then it's a good thing. It's fun, it's challenging, and it brings out the best in people. Unfortunately little of that spirit remains in the modern Olympics. Where it was once an event for amateur athletes, today an Olympic medal seems mostly something to brag about, an event of huge financial and career consequences. Endorsements and other rewards have made the Olympics bigger than they should be, and thus we have athletes and children who are obssessed with training to the point of sacrificing much of their lives for just a chance at Olympic glory. When winners are measured in microseconds, does that mean so much? Is a gold medal winner proud of having beaten a competitor by one hundredth of a second? On any given day, any of the top ten could beat any other. That the Olympics happen so rarely means that whoever happens to be in form on that day wins. Is that an accomplishment? I find the stories of the underdogs, the ones who compete not for fame or money but simply out of love for the sport or to honor their country to be much more pleasing. Stories like the Bronze medalist from Brazil in the men's marathon, who, when tackled by a deranged fan during the race, got back up and finished, and never once complained that the incident might have cost him the gold. Or the Iraq men's soccer team, who came in unranked but finished a remarkable fourth while powerful soccer countries like Portugal went home early.

Then there's the whole judging controversy in the gymnastics competition. Why don't they just give everyone gold medals and be done with it? The absurdity of judging something so subjective!

While I realize that medals mean a great deal to these athletes, the average person only thinks of the Olympics once every four years, then it's forgotten. Oh, we remember a few names, a few events. But mostly it becomes a blur. Does it really matter who won what? Our country does put a lot of emphasis on winners, too much so, especially in athletics. Athletics ought to be fun, not fail-and-you-die events.

But overall these were a good Olympics. There was fine competition, some excellent examples of good sportsmanship, the occasional controversy, and no terrorist attacks. That's all good. Greece also shined: what an amazing legacy, history, and country! The opening and closing ceremonies were interesting and different, and that's one of the things I most love about the Olympics: that different nations and different people can get together and join hands be one for a while.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Audrey Rose

Movie: Audrey Rose

I'd never heard of this film but it stars a 1970-era Anthony Hopkins, so I recorded it. It's got an interesting idea: a man (Hopkins) whose daughter has died, claims another couple's daughter is his reincarnated. The "evidence" to prove this is flimsy: a psychic's information, the new daughter being born at the same time his daughter died, and the new daughter suffering from strange visions and physical manifestations of being burned. The latter doesn't make any sense at all, but supposedly fits because the first daughter was burned to death in a car accident, so the new daughter is flashing back to that previous memory. It's all a little hokey and overly dramatic, but it's seriously approached and mostly low-key, and there are some fascinating moments (my favorite was when Hopkins' character approaches the family to explain why he's been stalking their daughter as the tension and drama in the scene was interesting). Unfortunately the little girl in question is one of the worst actresses I have ever witnessed -- she varies from looking cute and innocent to screaming insanely as she's "possessed" by the soul of the previous girl and she can't really pull either off believably and her screaming is unbearably annoying (I had to mute the TV at times). In the end the plot gets odd as the whole thing ends up in court where the jury will decide who's the daughter's father. (How many horror films are set in a courtroom?) The bottom line: an interesting piece for its time and some of the actors, but extremely uneven, a bit too strange, and definitely gimmicky.


Thursday, December 3, 2009


Movie: August

Strange movie that sounded interesting: it's about the downfall of a high-tech startup by two brothers. There are some cool moments and the lead character is certainly a character, but he's an arrogant jerk and isn't likeable so we are ultimately glad to see him fail. A bigger problem for me was the lack of information provided about what, exactly, the company did. There were hints and tech words dropped, but everything was vague, as though even the writer didn't really know what the company did. That gave a vague feel to everything, and though it was clear enough why the company was failing (the business model didn't work and revenue wasn't coming in as originally projected as new technology had changes the landscape). The relationship of the brothers was also vague and stereotypical. (One is the tech genius, the other the public face and business guy -- sound like two Steves you've heard about?) Ultimately, the film goes nowhere, nothing happens, we learn too little about anyone, and we don't really care.


Friday, August 9, 2002

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Movie: Austin Powers in Goldmember

Mike Myers is a genius. He's an incredibly gifted actor, and though this series has its coarse moments, every film is hilarious. Absolutely silly, of course, but nevertheless hilarious. This one is the best of them all as Myers really has the gimmick down and knows just what buttons to push. There's a fair amount of retread here (similar humor as the previous film), but he still comes up with new twists on the old humor and even pokes fun at the old movie. This film has tons of cameos, including a great one by director Steven Spielberg! Just great stuff, very fun.


Friday, November 26, 1999

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Movie: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Writer(s): Mike Myers
Director(s): Jay Roach

I liked this one even better than the original. It's not as innovative in scope, but it's funnier, and way, way, way over the top. It's totally crude, rude, and socially unacceptable, which just makes it all the funnier. Like Airplane did for the seventies/eighties, the Austin Powers movies are doing for the nineties. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Austin Trip

Today I headed off to Texas for the REAL World conference in Austin. This is going to be a whirlwind trip as I'll also visit relatives in Houston, Alabama, and Tennessee before return home next week. I am a bit nervous about this trip as it's my first major travel after being diagnosed with diabetes last fall -- I've been carefully controlling my diet and I'm not sure how well that will work on the road. So we'll see how it goes.


Friday, February 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.


Saturday, March 29, 2003

Auto Focus

Movie: Auto Focus

This is a film about the secret sex life of Bob Crane, star of TV's Hogan's Heroes, who ended up murdered in 1978. Gauging from what I'd heard, I expected it to be a lot darker, but it didn't get dark until the last thirty minutes or so. Before that, Crane, though totally into infidelity and sex with strangers, seemed to be rather naive about his situation. He couldn't seem to understand that his personal life was destroying his career. Definitely an odd duck. Unfortunately, the film never really explains him; I never felt I understood what he was about. It's well done, but I was a bit disappointed in that it wasn't as radical or outrageous as I expected. The murder at the end is brutal and shocking, but the film ends there, never explaining the real-life follow-up story (though the DVD includes a good documentary on the police investigation).


Friday, December 18, 2009


Movie: Avatar
Writer(s): James Cameron
Director(s): James Cameron

Obviously this film has been getting a lot of buzz and hype. The trailer didn't reveal much to me: it didn't turn me off, but didn't get me excited, either, mostly because it revealed nothing about the story. I think that's a mistake because the story is fascinating. The beginning of the film that sets up the story is a little confusing, which is a bummer, because it's a terrific idea. Basically we have the Avatar project on a distant planet: humans remotely controlling alien bodies so they can pass as natives. That's interesting, but not intriguing. But then we have twin brothers: one is a scientist trained for this mission and scheduled to go to the planet. An avatar body genetically linked to his DNA has been grown and it will only work with him. But then he's apparently killed (a random mugging or something) so his twin brother (with identical DNA) is recruited. He's a marine and has no scientific training, and even more interesting, he's a paraplegic stuck in a wheelchair (he can't afford spinal surgery to get his legs back). The beauty of that setup is two-fold: first, being disabled, the avatar project gives him his abilities back: while controlling the alien body he can run again, which is obviously tremendously appealing to him. Second, since he has no training about the world or the alien culture, he's a stranger in a strange land. That works both for the story, in that he has no preconceived notions and is open for indoctrination by the natives, and it works for the audience, who get to see this new world through his eyes (we are like him, seeing everything for the first time). The heart of the story is not unique: it's basically an environmental conflict between invaders and natives. The human invaders want to mine a rare ore, but the natives don't understand or care and won't get out of the way (their lands are sacred). The plot is very similar to The Battle for Terra, a digitally animated film from a few years ago. But I found the feeling of this film was much more like the epic Dances With Wolves. Instead of white men and Indians, this is science fiction set on another planet with an alien race, but the principles are the same. The human must infiltrate the alien tribe and become one of them, learning their ways and living the way they do. The experience is profound and exciting, for the alien world is brilliantly realized. Storywise, though there isn't much new, it is so well done that it is emotionally powerful. I actually found myself tearing up in a scene or two. Of course one of the main talking points about this film is how much of it was done digitally: the entire alien planet as well as all of the aliens themselves, were created inside a computer. It didn't seem that extraordinary in the trailer, but in the film itself I found myself immersed. I totally forgot that I was seeing digital people and just fell into the story. It's incredible I could be emotionally moved by animated pixels! Truly impressive technology.

I should also add that the alien world is also incredibly impressive. The amount of work to create the fauna and species of a foreign planet is amazing. All the creatures and plants look fully real, too. It's clear why this film took so long and cost so much to make.

I should put in my one criticism: why are the aliens so human-like? Sure they are ten-feet tall and blue, but they have the same humanoid structure, the same facial expressions, and even cry like humans. In real life, aliens are likely to completely different from us. They might be a gas or a rock or something like a spider or fish or bird. They wouldn't necessarily have the same senses as us (they could be blind or have abilities we don't) and we'd certainly find communication difficult (if not impossible). This is something I hate about most science fiction films and TV shows, but there it's usually because it's hard to find an actor to fit into a non-humanoid costume, so all the aliens are humanoid. This film, since it's a digital creation, could have done anything for the aliens. But for some reason, Cameron chose to make them extremely human-like. I find that frustrating. (While that's not a deal-breaker, it does weaken the power of the film for me. This could just as easily be a film from today with Westerners trying to force a native tribe off their Pacific island. There's no reason at all it needs to be on another planet if the aliens are so human-like.)

Another minor criticism is that the environmental message can be a touch preachy at times, but fortunately there's a practical reason the aliens value their land and environment more than just being nature-worshipers (on their planet, all living beings are psychically connected).

Overall, I was tremendously impressed. This film is not just a technological achievement, but it's a great story well-told. The acting is excellent, the visuals are spectacular, and the action and drama is top notch. I urge you to see this film. I won't say it's the greatest film ever or anything like that. It's very good. It actually is quite similar in tone to Cameron's previous film, Titanic: it's an epic with dramatic scenes and spectacular visuals and a solid-but-basic story anchoring everything. It's worth seeing just for the experience (just like Titanic). It's definitely a fun ride, but there are real emotions here. Two thumbs up!


Sunday, September 12, 2004


Book: Avenger
Writer(s): Frederick Forsyth

Terrific thriller about a former soldier who's now a lawyer who moonlights as a freelance "avenger." He goes and catches bad guys who are above the law and brings them to justice. Forsyth goes into mind-numbing detail giving us entire life histories of all the main characters involved, even some of the more minor people. But all that detail is important, as we see later, when those experiences and connections prove useful in resolving issues encountered in the main plot. That plot is that a young American volunteer has been murdered in Bosnia by a Serb terrorist. The U.S. government, for many politcal reasons, has trouble bringing the murderer to justice, so Avenger is secretly hired to catch him. The climax of the book is when Avenger has finally tracked down the killer to his impregnable lair and must figure out a way to break in and kidnap him and return him to face justice in the U.S. It seems impossible, but Avenger is awesomely clever, fooling everyone: the CIA, the local police, the killer's security force, etc. Very cool novel. I'd love to see it made into a movie some day.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Aviator

Movie: The Aviator

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


Monday, November 30, 2009


Movie: Awake

This is an odd film. It came out a few years ago and the premise sounds so unpromising I had little interest in seeing it. It actually isn't as bad as it sounds. The idea is a young man goes in for heart surgery but the anesthesia only paralyzes him: he can still hear and feel everything that happens to him. Such a premise seems tremendously limited: are we in for two hours of a patient screaming as his heart is transplanted? How can this idea be turned into an actual story? Well, it spoils things slightly to reveal some more plot, but it makes the film far more appealing: basically, during the surgery, the man learns he's the victim of an elaborate murder plot. Unfortunately, he's paralyzed and can't do anything about it, but at least we've got a conspiracy to entertain us. What follows could be called clever or convoluted, depending on your perspective: it didn't quite work for me and comes across as silly, but mostly that has to do with a poor script and even worse execution. This could have been made into a half-decent thriller; some of the ideas have real promise. Unfortunately, the set-up and execution is heavy-handed, the performances are weak, and the whole thing collapses under its own weight in the end. Still, it was not as bad as I expected, which surprised me greatly, though my expectations were dismally low.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life

Movie: Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (1998)

Detailed documentary about the life of the famous author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Much was familiar to me, but I wasn't aware of some of Ayn's early life, especially that she got her start in Hollywood acting as a extra while trying to become a screenwriter. She eventually got some plays stages, including one that was a hit on Broadway. Her first novel, We the Living, was a modest success, but her later novels established her as one of the 20th Century's best. She was always controversial, however, and one of the neat things about this film is actual footage of her debating her ideas on TV shows from Mike Wallace in the 50's to Donahue in the 70's. It's great to hear her in her own words. Unfortunately, the film never really gets too deep into her philosophy or the controversy, teaching us the mere facts about her life and giving us only a glimpse at what made her tick. Still, if you're an Ayn Rand fan (I am), you'll find it fascinating (though it is overlong at 2.5 hours).