Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baadasssss!



Movie: Baadasssss!

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

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Friday, January 31, 2003

The Baby



Movie: The Baby (1970)

This is a low budget thriller about a bizarre family: a woman and her two grown daughters who are raising "Baby," a fully grown man in diapers. Supposedly hes mentally retarded, but a social worker who visits has her doubts. She starts to investigate the family. The film delivers some surprisingly good performances: the looks exchanged between the mom and her daughters and the social worker are terrific, and reveal a lot of creepy subtext. You begin to wonder about the motivations of everyone involved. The ending is a nice little twist that's unexpected and worth the wait. This not high caliber art, but it is fun, and delightfully twisted.

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Sunday, October 1, 2000

The Bachelor



Movie: The Bachelor

Light romance about a guy who's so bad at proposing his girlfriend turns him down; then his grandfather dies and leaves him $100 million, but only on the condition that he gets married by his 30th birthday, which happens to be the next day. A few good lines, occasional biting satire, but generally silly and predictable, and not even that romantic. Harmless.

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Friday, December 31, 1999

Back from Oregon Christmas 1999



I made it back from Oregon. Had a great time with family; watched movies, played International Monopoly, ate too much. Flight home was canceled due to lack of demand, so they put me on an earlier flight. Made it with two minutes to spare. Airports and planes were deserted. Crazy! Don't know if it was Y2K related, but I did have a weird series of coincidences. My watch went dead (bad battery). Coming out of the coma of a vacation (where I found it hard to remember what day it was, let alone the time), this made it even worse. This is a data watch, which stores frequently needed phone numbers, so bye-bye data. I had a travel alarm I thought I'd use this morning, but its battery was also dead! So I resorted to my Palm III, only to discover that its batteries had also died and I'd lost all my Palm info! (Most of the data's backed up, but not all.) Welcome to 2000, I guess.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back Home!



I'm back! Whew, that felt like a long trip! I drove over 1,000 miles, saw a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles, had a long conference weekend, and got to sit on a tarmac in Minneapolis/St. Paul while my plane was de-iced so I didn't arrive into Portland until 1 a.m. this morning. Exhuausting, and I ate way too much delicious Southern food, but worth it.

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Monday, December 6, 1999

Back to School



Movie: Back to School (1986)
Writer(s): Rodney Dangerfield (story) and Greg Fields
Director(s): Alan Metter

I wasn't really watching this silly Rodney Dangerfield vehicle -- honestly -- but I saw in the credits that Terry Farrell (Dax of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame, was in it and I just had to see it. She plays the hot girlfriend of Dangerfield's son. Worth seeing for Trek fans.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Bad Boys II



Movie: Bad Boys II

I was expecting the worst, but this wasn't as bad as I'd thought. It's better than the first, in fact. It is long -- way too long at well over two hours. The plot meanders and in the end it's just a mini-war (literally) with a shootout ending. Along the way there's silly character-based drama with the two partners arguing and having conflict (of course all resolved by the end). The film's best when it's just the two guys shooting with guns and mouth and not trying to make the film more than it is. I could edit this down to a terrific 90 minute film that would be non-stop action. As it is, the film tries too hard. Still, it's not terrible, and there are a few good moments.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bad Lieutenant



Movie: Bad Lieutenant (1992)

This was not what I expected. I'd heard it was brutal and outrageous, and the corrupt cop who gambles, sniffs cocaine and shoots heroin, steals from crooks, and abuses his authority didn't surprise me. But I hadn't expected this to be about such an awful man having a pang of conscience over his crimes. When a nun is brutally raped, she claims to have forgiven the rapists. He even overhears that she knew who they were (kids from the Catholic school) but she refuses to tell on them. Our "bad lieutenant" can't fathom this as it goes against his every corrupt instinct and it torments him. Harvey Keitel is flawless in the awful role, utterly believable and disgusting, and to see him moaning and screaming in a spiritual quandary is amazing. The ending is surprising and makes you think. It's a surprisingly cerebral film, though it depends too heavily on the shock value of a ultra-corrupt cop. It's not a pleasant film at all, and the story, such as it is, is convoluted and rambling and confusing (the baseball betting left me baffled, as I don't follow the sport and I never did figure out which team he was betting on and if they ultimately won or lost), but it's worth seeing just for Keitel's performance.

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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Bad Santa



Movie: Bad Santa

This is one of the most outrageous, disgusting films of all time. And it's also one of the funniest. The story is simple: we have a crook who gets a job as a mall Santa every Christmas season to case a joint, and at the end of the year, robs the mall safe and loots the stores. That gives him enough money to get drunk until next Christmas. This Santa's a hard luck case all right. He's a Loser with a capital L. He's mean, vicious, and a real jerk. He complains about how his life is hell and contemplates suicide. At first, the main joke seems to be watching "Santa" use the f-word, get drunk, and screw. But then Santa meets a fat little boy who's developmentally challenged and appears to think Santa's real. Nothing Santa does fazes the kid, who still seems to think Santa's God. When Santa discovers the boy lives alone with his senile Grandmother, he moves into the kid's nice house. The kid's dad is off "mountaineering" for several years (he's really in prison for an accounting discrepency) so Santa, in effect, becomes the kid's dad. Gradually, though Santa's still rude, crude, and socially unexceptable, he begins to be a little nicer to the kid, eventually helping him. The Santa never becomes an angel or anything, but at least he's started on the path to redeeming himself. This film's a lot like the cult classic, Shakes the Clown, Bobcat Goldthwait's hilarious movie about a drunken birthday party clown. Both are uneven, with the key humor coming from normally positive characters (Santa or a clown) acting crude. This one's a bit more of a story, however. They did an amazing job of keeping the Santa semi-likeable (somehow) despite his jerk behavior, so that we actually root for him in the end. But neither movie is for all tastes, that's for sure. If you like your humor dark and mean, you'll probably like this. If you're looking for a typical Christmas feel-good movie, go see Elf instead.

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Sunday, February 16, 2003

Bad Taste



Movie: Bad Taste (1987)
Writer(s): Peter Jackson
Director(s): Peter Jackson

Peter's first film, shot over three years on weekends, is a cinematic masterpiece. Okay, perhaps "masterpiece" is not the word, but it's certainly an incredible achievement. It's a gory B-movie trip, and it's hilarious. The plot's great: a representative from an outer space fast food chain has arrived on earth with his cronies and is packing up humans for alien consumption. So far they've taken over an entire village of 75 people. This is just a trial run to see if the product's a hit, but with four billion "cattle" on earth, there are big profits to be had. The New Zealand government sends in "The Boys," a group of scientists and gunfighters to find out what's happened to the remote town, and of course, they discover the aliens and what follows is lots of bloodshed. Lots. Terrific action, editing, and gory special effects, astonishing with the minimal budget. (Peter spent $11,000 of his own money for the first 75 minutes shot on 16mm, then used funds from the NZ Film Commission to finish the film.) The special effects are really impressive even by modern standards: headless zombies, guy cut in half, body falling down a mountainside and bouncing. But the key to everything is the humor. In one scene, a guy has part of his brains fall out the back of his head. He replaces the missing piece of his head, but then something's not quite right -- he's a bit out of sorts. So he takes up some of the brain matter he finds scattered about, opens the head wound, and stuffs in the brains! Then he's okay! In other scene, a guy's Uzi runs out of bullets, but he realizes the alien zombies are pretty dumb, so he pretends to shoot and makes ch-ch-ch-ch sounds with his mouth. The alien dude flails his arms and staggers as though bullets are tearing him apart until he realizes he's fine! In another classic scene -- believe me, there are dozens and dozens -- a dead alien lies propped against a wall, a single bullet hole in his forehead gushing blood like a faucet... into a glass which he's holding in his hand! Oh, there's just too much of that -- it's awesome. This is definitely a midnight movie you can watch over and over and over again and always see something new. Amazing.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

The Ballad of Cable Hogue



Movie: The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Director(s): Sam Peckinpaw

This is a much better Peckinpaw film: it's lighter with a comedic element that's refreshing, and I really liked it until the very end, when it spoiled the fun by ending on a sour note that is out of line with the rest of the movie. The basic premise is about an old man who is left to die in the desert by two "partners" but he finds water and realizes that's his chance to make it. He stakes a claim and sets up an oasis, charging travelers for water. Jason Robards is the title character and he's fabulous, just absolutely wonderful. He's cranky and stubborn, ornery, mean, and quick to smile when you least expect it. There are a few other interestig characters, like the prostitute girlfriend, but Cable stands alone and carries the movie. Very cool and fun and except for the downer of an ending that's so unexpected and odd, it's a great film.

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Friday, September 20, 2002

Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever



Movie: Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever

If you rate your movie money in terms of how many bullets get shot and explosions you see, this film will definitely get your vote. The producers must have spent $1 million on bullets alone, and triple that in vehicles (brand new SUVs get destroyed every few minutes), and God knows how much on fireworks. The "plot" is ludicrous, with holes big enough for several oil tankers, and it goes something like this: Bad Guy works for secret govt. intelligence agency (the cleverly named DIA), and he steals a new nano-weapon that would let him kill a remote target with the push of a button (it's a micro machine that is "undetectable" in a person's bloodstream yet can be remotely ordered to give the person a heart attack). Sever (Lucy Liu) kidnaps his son to get the weapon. Ecks in an ex-FBI guy who's brought in to get Sever. Puzzled? You should be: it makes little sense that the hero is essentially helping the Bad Guy. Then the plot gets really wonky: Ecks is searching for his wife who was killed seven years earlier except that he just discovered she wasn't killed: it turns out she's... get this... married to the Bad Guy! I won't go any further: just this much strains credibility. The movie filled with odd gaps in logic: bad guys magically appear whenever they're needed (how did they know to go there?), good guys stupidly show up in bad guy territory for no reason, etc. Half the time the super-heros seem super-smart; the other half they're super-dumb (for instance, Ecks stands on a land mine at one point, telling the Bad Guy to move away lest he get blown up also). Then there are all those guns and explosions. While cool, there were a number of things that bugged me. For instance, a few times actors held their guns awkwardly, like they didn't know how to use them: odd for weapons experts. At other times, Ecks or Sever seemed to be very poor markspeople: Ecks once misses three guys five feet away in a narrow train car with his shotgun. Of course they complete miss him with their automatic weapons, but then he gets them on his second attempt (three shots, three kills). Huh? In other scenes, huge explosions that destroyed half the city just knocked down the bad guys and they just dusted themselves off and got back to work being bad. And speaking of bad guys: of the thousands that get shot, does nobody notice that these guys are all Federal agents? Sure, their leader is dirty, but are they are all dirty as well? Aren't most just innocent agents obeying their boss? Very strange film in terms of plot, but if you ignore all that and just enjoy the wild action, it's not half bad. The action is mostly average quality, though a few scenes are very cool. Mostly watch this if you want to see stuff get blown up.

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Saturday, November 24, 2001

Bamboozled



Movie: Bamboozled
Writer(s): Spike Lee
Director(s): Spike Lee

Wow, where do I begin? Lee's tackles an incredibly complex subject -- racism -- and throws everything on the screen. The plot is about a black TV producer who creates a new "racist" TV show which features black actors in blackface, sparking controversy and huge ratings. The producer did this just to spite his employers, but the show's success puts him in the middle of an awkward dilemma. As his actors begin to rebel, we're given lots to think about the nature of racism. Can a black man be racist? What about a black man who's white (in personality and attitude)? Is blackface, by its nature, racist? What if the intention is not racist -- like a mime's whiteface isn't racist? Does a person's perception of racism make an act racist? (In other words, if I feel I've been racially slurred, have I been?) As I said, lots of complex questions. Ultimately, I'm not sure how many of these Spike answers -- but its an intriguing film (though a little uneven).

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Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Bananas



Movie: Bananas
Writer(s): Woody Allen
Director(s): Woody Allen

Terrific! Absurdly witty farce about a moron (Allen) who ends up becoming the leader of a small South American country. A bit silly toward the end, but has some classic moments. Favorite part: Allen's "intellectual" conversation with his girlfriend where they both use $10 words that neither knows the meaning of. Hilarious!

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Sunday, September 22, 2002

Bandits



Movie: Bandits
Director(s): Barry Levinson

Okay buddy film about two prison escapees who become bank robbers. Along the way they "kidnap" a troubled woman, and the threesome go up and down the west coast robbing banks and become famous as the "Sleepover Bandits" (they invade and sleep over at the bank manager's home the night before the robbery so they can rob the bank early in the morning before it opens). Somewhat predictable (especially the ending), but still pleasant and interesting, with good performances. Interestingly for me, this happens to be another Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett film: coincidence that I rented this at the same time as The Gift?

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Friday, March 7, 2008

The Bank Job



Movie: The Bank Job

I thought this was a standard bank caper/con job sort of film, but because it's based on a real life story, it's much different. Everything gets really convoluted, just like in real life. Let me see if I can explain the mess. Basically in 1971 the British government tried to prosecute a bad drunk dealer from Trinidad, but he apparently had taken compromising pictures of the royal princess -- thus rendering him immune from prosecution as the govt. couldn't afford to let him release the photos. But MI-6 learns the pictures are in a safety deposit box at a certain bank in London and since they can't do anything official, they recruit a group of semi-criminal losers to rob the bank. The thieves think it's just for the money and know nothing about the photos. Everything goes as planned, to an extent, but then the thieves discover that in the safe deposit boxes are a mobster's account ledgers which incriminate a slew of cops on the take, as well as a madam's compromising video and pictures of some of her high-profile government clients. Everyone wants their stuff back, of course, and suddenly the robbers are being chased by everyone: the cops, the mob, MI-6. It's crazy!

Despite such complexities in plot, the film works -- it's easy to understand what is going on and the complications and problems are hilarious. Excellent film. Not particularly deep, but definitely fun and well-done.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Barcelona vs Chivas of Mexico



Soccer: Barcelona vs Chivas of Mexico

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

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Barnyard



Movie: Barnyard

I read something about this before it came out and it had me mildly intrigued, but I missed it in the theatres. Now I'm glad I did. This was horrible. We're talking barnyard manure pile horrible. It's just a bizarre mess of talking animals and weird humans, with male cows having udders (huh?), jokes that fall flatter than featherless chickens (A cow surfing off a mountain cliff?), and a touchy-feely obvious plot about a young bull learning to become an adult and take responsibility. An incomprehensible mess. I got distracted doing other things and realized I'd missed a portion of the film and I didn't even care.

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Monday, March 10, 2003

Barry Lyndon



Movie: Barry Lyndon
Director(s): Stanley Kubrick

Overlong epic about an Irish rogue who wheels and deals his way upper the social ladder in 18th Century England. It's impressively done, though I still question the odd casting of Ryan O'Neal to play the lead. He's not bad, but not great either, and throughout the film I kept seeing O'Neal instead of Barry Lyndon. There are some good moments and the plot is occasionally fascinating (I liked the hatred between Barry and his step-son), but ultimately it's a period piece, it's epic in length though not in scope, and it ends with a whimper (Barry sort of fades away). It's worth watching once, but not something I'd want to see again.

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Friday, March 28, 2003

Basic



Movie: Basic (2003)
Director(s): John McTiernan

Decent thriller about the cover-up of a mysterious incident by soldiers on a training mission. Only two survive and John Travolta, a former military man, is brought in to interogate them. However their stories conflict and it's up to him to figure out the truth. It's a little slow at times, a little obvious at others, but generally keeps you intrigued (the interrogations and scenes between Connie Nielson and Travolta are excellent). Unfortunately, the script falls into a common modern problem: multiple twist endings. The films ends at least three times, but those are just red herrings. Everything you think you know you don't. At times that can be interesting, but generally it's just annoying, since you begin to distrust everything. I'm sure the writers thought they were clever, but the constant pulling the rug out from the audience gets tiresome. Still, the film has enough style to make up for some of that. Travolta does a by-the-numbers performance (which is better than most actors' by-the-numbers performance), and Samuel L. Jackson is good as usual, though he's not in the story enough, but the real shining light is Connie Nielsen, who is outstanding and brilliant. She makes the film work as much as it does, and elevates it about the sub-standard script.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Basic Instinct 2



Movie: Basic Instinct 2

This was surprisingly good for a sequel. Unfortunately it has to live up to the salacious reputation of the original, which hurts it, since it's really more about psychology. Sharon Stone plays her same character, and once again we aren't sure if she's really a murderer or incredibly unlucky, as people tend to die around her. Instead of a cop, her male counterpart this time is a court-assigned psychiatrist, whom she flirts and toys with, manipulating him in devilishly clever ways. It's quite well done overall, and the London setting adds an interesting foreign element, but the film's heavy burden of delivering a sexual promise weighs throughout and undermines what would have been an excellent film on it's own. The producers even acknowledge this on the DVD extras, pointing out that the film could have been released under another name, and not as a sequel, which would have helped eliminate that burder, but of course they'd potentially lose some sales with that approach. At least as a sequel it's guaranteed a larger opening. I don't think the film was that successful at the box office, however, so that gamble didn't pay off. This would have been much better with a different, less sequel-ish title, like Baser Instincts or Primary Instincts. It's actually a good film and doesn't deserve the unfair expectations sequelitis puts on it.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Batman Begins



Movie: Batman Begins
Director(s): Christopher Nolan

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

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Battle for Terra



Movie: The Battle for Terra

It is so sad this film is not getting the publicity and distribution it deserves. It's terrific! It's a computer animated movie that is terrific science fiction. It is set on a peaceful alien world where we meet a few sympathetic characters, including the equivalent of a teenage girl (our heroine). She's a bit of a rebel, liking to invent things, and doesn't always obey authority, but she's got a loving heart. Suddenly the planet is attacked by alien invaders and her father is kidnapped. She manages to uncover one of the aliens and we see he is human (it turns out the humans destroyed Earth and need to take over Terra to save their species). She saves his life and befriends him -- and I really liked that this was not easy, for even after saving his life he's still distrustful and thinks of her as a monster. Eventually, of course, we come to the central conflict: betrayal of species. Is she a traitor for helping the invader? Should the man try to help the aliens and betray his people? These issues, while not debated in philosophical fashion, are not dumbed down to cartoon level, either: instead we have a simple, elegant story, told with action, humor, adventure, and surprisingly genuine emotion, and the resolution is excellent and satisfying. I left amazed and impressed. Unfortunately, this film is only being shown in a handful of theatres across the country (perhaps in part because it's in 3D format) and though it's getting great reviews, it's not getting the audience. I know I never saw any ads or trailers for this and I probably wouldn't have bothered except that I heard it was really good. It is: if you can find it, go see it! It's a terrific family movie: fun for the kids but not too dumb for the adults. The 3D is okay (nothing extraordinary or particularly needed), but the overall animation quality is impressive. The humans and creatures are okay, but I was most impressed by all the technology: the human spaceship really looks like it was assembled from space junk (it's in bad shape after centuries of drifting through space) and all the gadgets and tools are also really well drawn. Overall, this is a fantastic film and everyone should see it.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle Los Angeles



Movie: Battle Los Angeles

It's getting a critical drubbing as you might expect, but I'm not sure why. I got exactly what I expected: a decent actioner about a small group of marines fighting off an alien invasion. It's certainly way better than the awful Skyline that has a similar plot. I was disappointed at the lack of science fiction aspects -- we never really get to see the aliens, exactly, nor their technology -- but I was somewhat impressed by the group of characters making the last stand and the way they went about it. It's fairly shallow and the ending is feel-good, but that's what I expect for this kind of film. Just have fun and don't take it seriously.

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Monday, April 19, 2004

The Battle of Shaker Heights



Movie: The Battle of Shaker Heights

Really cool understated verbal film, with dialog closer to a play than a movie. The main character, a teenage boy, is fascinated by war re-enactments. He's too smart for his own good and his intelligence gets him in trouble at home, at school, and with his friends. The plot's a sort of coming-of-age thing, but it's not really central to the movie. What drives the film is the boy's sly wit. For instance, in one scene, at the grocery story where he stocks shelves a night, he comments on how the store has more flavors of cat food than baby food. That's an interesting societal commentary. Overall low-key with lots of subtle humor, I really liked this. Definitely above average but doesn't try too hard. Excellent. I was, however, disappointed with the featureless DVD -- not a single extra. Since this was the "Project Greenlight" winner (an online screenplay contest) I expected at minimum a documentary on the making of the film and director commentary, but there was nothing. Thus this is a rental, not a purchase DVD. Lame.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Battlefield Earth



Book: Battlefield Earth

Very entertaining, though 400 pages too long. Hubbard seems too full of himself to see the preposterousness of his premise (like library books and nuclear bombs would survive 1,000 years of decay). Still, it's all good fun as long as you don't take it seriously. Very much a pulp novel. Hubbard is obviously good at plotting (he's just not much of scifi writer). I was especially impressed with the way he tied all the loose ends together via the characters' psychology. In other words, the plot came from the characters, not from an arbitrary need to force the action in a certain direction. Example: the evil alien, Terl, is a conniving schemer who's own paranoia and distrust for his fellow aliens help cause his downfall. So even though some things seemed to work out ideally for the humans, it wasn't a coincidence -- it was caused by the greed and hubris of the aliens.

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Friday, February 23, 2001

Battlefield Earth



Movie: Battlefield Earth
Writer(s): L. Ron Hubbard
Director(s): Roger Christian

Huh? I'd heard terrible things about this and expected that it couldn't possibly be that bad. It's not. At least if you liked the book, it's not, as it's close to the book to be mildly interesting. If you hated the book you'll hate the film. It essentially strips out all the unusual, interesting parts of the book and only keeps the action scenes. Incomprehensibly, however, the film makes astonishingly primitive and foolish errors. For instance, John Travolta plays an alien, a Psychlos named Terl. Yet he and the other Psychlos are nearly indistinguishable from the humans. Psychlos are supposed to be huge creatures, nine feet tall, and there's some awkward camera work to almost make that illusion happen, but then all the Psychlos machinery, chairs, etc. are human-sized! The pace of the whole film is rushed to the point of incomprehensibility -- key lines of dialog are thrown away or grunted in strange incomprehensible accents -- if you haven't read the book I doubt anything would make sense. But so much of the book is tossed out that what's left doesn't make sense anyway. And there are weird technical mistakes, such as the matter transportation special effect which was so badly done you couldn't figure out what was happening. I mean come on, Star Trek had that working in the sixties! And what was up with the acting? Performances varied all over the place, with the human hero played by Barry Pepper absolutely terribly, just a mishmash of rebellion and toughness. Now there were a few good things: I thought Travolta did a good job conveying the sliminess of Terl, and the special effects of planet Psychlos were fine, but the story just didn't mesh. It's an epic tale told by a kindergarten teacher, reduced of all complexity and science. Next time, get a decent script and director. I was shocked after the film was over to discover that the director, whom I was positive was a no-talent MTV video hack doing his first feature, is an industry veteran who's been making films since the 1970's (even winning an Academy Award for a short) and came personally recommended by George Lucas. Have we really sunk this low? Seventy percent of the problems of this film came from the director, the rest from the script (which wasn't that bad, though it had some serious deficiencies in places). Watching the pompous director on the DVD compare Hubbard's novel to Frank Herbert's Dune is not only an insult, it shows how little this guy about science fiction and literature. He ought to have to pay money to every person who suffered through this turkey.

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Sunday, April 2, 2000

The Battleship Potemkin



Movie: The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

This is one of those films you always hear about but have never seen. I'm glad I did. It's a little slow, and the silent movie stuff gets hokey and old after a while, but certain portions of the drama are absolutely as contemporary as anything you've ever seen. The classic "baby carriage" scene was a bit of a let down -- I've seen so many remakes and mockeries that it wasn't as poweful as it should have been. Overall, an amazing film; astonishing that it was made in 1925!

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Be Cool



Movie: Be Cool

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

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Tuesday, September 12, 2000

The Beach



Movie: The Beach (2000)

Interesting, if somewhat boring film. Reminded me a little too much of Lord of the Flies, but it's not as deep. In a nutshell, that's what I found most annoying about the film: it is pretentious, acting as though it's about profound existential issues, yet it's really just about anarchy and pleasure-seeking. I also couldn't figure out what was so special about the beach. There are millions of deserted, beautiful beaches all over the world. What's the big deal about this one (other than it's a big secret)? Lamely executed concept, though an interesting premise. Main character goes looney toward the end, which I didn't get at all.

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Saturday, January 4, 2003

Beautiful



Movie: Beautiful
Director(s): Sally Field

This was the directorial debut for Field and it's a predictable but still entertaining story. Minnie Driver stars as an odd woman who's spent her entire life trying to win beauty pageants. She does so to the point of ignoring everyone else in her life (except for her best friend) including her daughter, who she cannot reveal is her daughter as that would make her ineligible from entering beauty pageants. The daughter is raised by her best friend and thinks Driver is her aunt. Of course all this culminates in the national competition, where Driver goes as Miss Illinois. But will the evil newswoman spoil the party by revealing her secret? Yeah, you can see it coming. Still, it's fun, Driver's great, and the little girl is really good most of the time (in a few scenes she goes over the top).

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Saturday, August 24, 2002

Beautiful Creatures



Movie: Beautiful Creatures

This is an odd, quirky, comic murder caper. Two women, abused by their boyfriends, fall into together when the boyfriend one of is accidently killed in self-defense. Not sure what to do with the body, they end up pretending the missing man was kidnapped in order to extort money from the man's rich older brother. However, the police officer investigating the missing person case sees through their scheme and decides to pretend to go along with the kidnapping in order to get the ransom for himself. Then things get interesting, as everyone gets into betraying everyone else. The film's a bit brutal and extreme in place for a comedy, but it has a pretty cool black sense of humor. Fun if you like that sort of thing. Reminds me of films like Pulp Fiction.

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Friday, July 19, 2002

A Beautiful Mind



Movie: A Beautiful Mind

I was reading the book and hadn't finished it before seeing the film. Big mistake: see the film first. The film is very different: it works, but it's so different it will irritate you if you've read the book. Overall the film's okay. It's well-directed and the performances are good, but it's too simple. The character of math genius John Nash is a complicated one, and his trials with insanity and back to rationality are profound. Unfortunately, the movie gives us only a glimpse of that, and it's a Hollywoodized version of it, all wrapped up and nicely packaged. Real life is much more complicated and ambiguous. What I felt was the most significant part of the book, John Nash's realization that he was losing touch with rationality, is scarcely touched in the film. Think about it: for a genius to lose his abililty to reason, that's like an Olympic athlete losing his legs. It's a huge shock but the film doesn't deal with that at all. Still, the film isn't bad, just simple. I joked that it should have been called A Simple Mind, and maybe that's correct. The film also had a major flaw of not showing us Nash's genius early on: he had many accomplishments and is widely considered one of the top minds of the last century, but the film glosses over that, assuming that if they tell us he's a genius, that's enough. I would have done much of this very differently.

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Sunday, July 21, 2002

A Beautiful Mind



Book: A Beautiful Mind

The book is far better than the movie, though not as accessible. There is math here, though I couldn't understand much more than the rough theories (and barely that). Part of that is because the writer doesn't explain the math issues as well as she could (or as well as I'd like her too). Still, it comes across as an honest exploration of this character, John Nash. Nothing's glossed over: we see John with his warts and flaws as well as his genius. The author is a bit too focused on the physical characteristics of people: she describes Nash and everyone else by going on and on about how handsome and beautiful they are, which struck me as overkill. Still, it's a good read, and a much better portrayal of genius than the film.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Because of Winn-Dixie



Movie: Because of Winn-Dixie

I guess the Winn-Dixie grocery story chain is an East coast phenomena, because I'd never heard of it and thus the title and premise of this film turned me off. The story sounded generically sachrine -- a girl finds a stray dog at the local Winn-Dixie and he changes her life. Big deal, another dog film. The critics raved, but I wasn't too excited. But it turns out to be not only a charming family film, but has some surprising depth and reality to it. The dog isn't magical or anything. In fact, he has minimal personality and a lot of negatives (chews things up, barks and howls all the time, is terrified of thunderstorms). He's like a real mutt. But the ten-year-old girl, of course, falls in love with him. Her mother left her and she's alone in the world. Her dad's kind but distant, and as he's a preacher they move frequently, and she has no friends. But the dog opens the door to friends as he helps her meet all sorts of people throughout the tiny town and eventually, everyone is won over by the bubbly little girl and her mangy dog. The film isn't as dark or tragic as others (like the fabulous Bridge to Terabithia, which stars the same amazing young actress) and it occasionally drifts into slapstick territory, but it has its serious moments. Overall it was much better than I expected. It's not the best film ever made, but it's fun, interesting, gets an excellent performance from the little girl (she's going to be a huge star), and has heart without overdoing the schmaltz.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Beckham Experiment



Book: The Beckham Experiment
Writer(s): Grant Wahl

This is the "controversial" book about David Beckham's coming to Major League Soccer and his first couple of years with the L.A. Galaxy. It's a decent book, told chronologically, about his arrival and experiences, but there are several flaws. First, the book really doesn't give us much insight into Beckham. We learn far more about minor Galaxy players. David himself is hardly quoted at all. That's disappointing because many aspects of the book are theories as to what David is thinking or wanting and there is no conclusion there because David hasn't given his perspective (other than canned media presentations which aren't illuminative). However, I did enjoy learning about those minor Galaxy players -- a book about them would be more interesting than this one. But the book's biggest flaw is that its structure makes it sound like a bio or documentary but the ending is more like an essay with the author clearly making his point that he thinks the David Beckham signing was a mistake and has been a disaster. That is poor writing on two levels, one in that it is switching genres in mid-book, and another in that the conclusion is seriously flawed because the "Beckham experiment" is not yet finished. This book is doing the equivalent of judging a race at the halfway point: there is still much to happen and we don't yet know the final outcome. Really, in the case of Beckham, the final judgment will have to take place a decade or two from now when we can see the overall impact he has had on U.S. soccer. How he fares for a season or two with the Galaxy is minor in comparison to that lofty goal. Note that I don't disagree that the Beckham signing has been mishandled in some ways and there have been problems; I just don't agree with the conclusion that it was a mistake. It seems to me Wahl is wanting to make his book more controversial or dramatic by concluding that, possibly on advice from his editors (it feels like a tacked on conclusion). Unfortunately, the bottom line is that this book doesn't get you much (if any) insight into Beckham, most of the material is soccer history you already know if you've been following MLS and the Galaxy, and the conclusions of the book are misguided and premature (for instance, the Galaxy is having a good season this year but that is not in the book). Still, it's an interesting read for the soccer fan, but I would much rather see this book rewritten in twenty years to give us a more objective perspective.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Becoming Jane



Movie: Becoming Jane

I knew little about this other than I saw that it was about the life of Jane Austen and how she became a writer, so I knew I needed to see it. It's very good, though the period nature of the piece does make the story a little difficult to follow and the flowery language hard to understand. Early on I was confused as to who was who and how all the characters were related (too many characters introduced too quickly) and some aspects of the plot -- concepts like doweries and social propriety -- are unfamiliar to modern viewer and make understanding conflicts challenging. However, if you just relax and enjoy the story, understanding will come. Basically the is the story of Jane falling in love with a man who her family do not approve of and all the difficulties that creates. Jane's experiences with love effect her writing as we see her begining to write Pride and Prejudice during the film, though I'd have preferred to see more emphasis on that storyline. Recommended.

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Friday, October 26, 2001

Bedazzled



Movie: Bedazzled

Silly, predictable story with Elizabeth Hurley as the devil who trades wishes for souls, but her candidate eventually realizes the wishes don't work out the way you'd expect and he'd rather remain a dweeb. Not as bad as I expected: in fact, I rather liked it. Harmless.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bedtime Stories



Movie: Bedtime Stories

I really enjoyed this. Yes, it's formulaic and somewhat predictable, but in a good way. It's a feel-good family film, safe for the kids, and will appeal to both adults and the young. The concept is terrific: good-loser-guy has to babysit his niece and nephew and discovers that the bedtime stories he tells them come true the next day, so he starts to try and manipulate the stories to help himself in real life, with comic results. Of course it all works out great in the end. The acting's over-the-top, the bedtime stories childish (which fits with his kid-like character), but like most of Adam Sandler's films, the movie has a gentle heart and a good soul that shines through in the happy ending. Fun.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Bee Movie



Movie: Bee Movie

I knew zip about this except for the incessant ads on TV. It's not that bad, but it's definitely a little weird. The plot -- losely -- is about a young bee that wants to see the world, falls in love with a human woman, discovers that humans eat honey, and with the help of the girl sues humans in court for theft. The bee is voiced by Jerry Seinfeld and pretty much is Jerry. Unfortunately, his humor is not "ha ha" humor, but "hmmm" humor, and thus the film, while pleasant, is not a laugh a minute like it should be. There are the requisite jokes in the background (punny signs, bee/honey jokes, etc.), but the story is thin, and in the end the film isn't quite funny enough for kids and not serious enough for adults. It's not bad, and most adults wouldn't find it too unbearable to endure, but I wouldn't go out of your way to see it.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Being John Malkovich



Movie: Being John Malkovich

Amazing movie. Bizarre and surreal, with a lot of depth. Weak ending, and doesn't completely live up to its early promise, but well worth the viewing.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The Believer



Movie: The Believer

Fascinating film about a controversial subject. Difficult to watch in places, and I liked that. It's the true story of a young Jewish boy who's a Nazi skinhead. Surprisingly, he's remarkably intelligent, and he gives impassioned speeches against Jews, especially of their religion. (Raised as a Jew, he knows Hebrew and everything about Judaism.) One moment he's rational, eloquent, and persuasive, and the next he's wildly violent. For me, that was the most significant aspect of the film, that this skinhead wasn't an idiot. It was also the scariest aspect of the film. How many more "rational" racists are out there? The kid was a mass of contradictions, and that made him interesting. For instance, in one scene, while vandalizing a temple, he tries to stop his skinhead buddies from touching a scroll of the Talmund as it is sacred Jewish writing. He talked and talked about wanting to kill a Jew, and in the end he succeeded by killing himself. Sad and troubling. A well-done original Showtime movie.

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Thursday, April 3, 2003

Below



Movie: Below (2002)
Writer(s): Darren Aronofsky and David Twohy
Director(s): David Twohy

This is a murky thriller about mysterious happenings on a U.S. submarine during WWII. It rescues three survivors from a British hospital ship that was destroyed, one of the survivors a woman. She realizes that not all is right on the sub: it turns out the captain isn't the captain, but his replacement, as the original captain had an accident. Or did he? Ghosts, strange sounds, and horrifying visions begin to haunt the crew as they try to evade a German U-Boat, while secrets threaten to be exposed. It's very confusing and things don't get better (it gets even worse when the power goes off and we have a sub in the dark, scenes illuminated via glimpses with flashlights, reducing the film to an annoying series of flashing images instead of a motion sequence). While sometimes confusion is okay, the pay-off at the end better be worth the wait. In this case, it's not. While there's an explanation, it's not explained properly -- I'm still not sure what happened. The ending's just as murky as the rest of the film! It's sumptuously photographed and directed with style (there are some excellent scenes), and the movie is excellent from a technical perspective. The sound is awesome -- sounds are everything on a sub and this does an excellent job conveying eerie knocks and ominous rumbles and creaks. But the overall story just doesn't work. We never believe in the ghost theory, which just makes those scare tactics annoying, and while there are hints of murder, the vague ending doesn't connect all the dots for us. It's a puzzling mess.

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Monday, April 14, 2003

Bend It Like Beckham



Movie: Bend It Like Beckham

This is very similar in concept and tone to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but about ten times better! It's terrific. Like Wedding, it suffers from predictability (girl has culture clash with Indian parents when she wants to play soccer and they want her to marry a nice Indian boy), but it also features a terrific cast of wonderful characters. The biggest difference between the films is that Bend It, is more thoughtful. The cultural conflict is treated as a serious thing, not a joke. Even the minor love story is taken seriously. That's not to say there isn't a lot of humor: it's very funny and entertaining. It's got a lot of action as well, with some interesting camera-work designed to make the soccer exciting. Unfortunately, the soccer itself isn't clearly delineated, with several scenes shot in close-up, making it impossible to really tell what's going on (soccer is a game that needs to be seen from a distance to appreciate field strategy). The lead actress, the terrific Parminder Nagra, does a great job, though her kicking skills are questionable. Her co-star, Keira Knightley, is a delight -- she just lights up the screen every time she's on it. Plus she actually looks like she can play soccer. ;-) The other cast members, Parminder's family in particular, are excellent -- everyone's personality comes across and no one is given a sword-carrying role.

Considering this country's disrespect for the world's greatest sport, I found it deeply ironic that in this very British film, the soccer-playing girls' dream is of going to the United States to play soccer (the U.S. has the best women's league in the world), when, of course, most American male soccer players dream of playing in England (one of the best leagues in the world). Americans are even featured -- Keira's character has Mia Hamm posters all over her bedroom, and in one sequence she shows her friend video clips of goals from the WUSA featuring Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and others. Of course with America's success last summer at the World Cup, our Major League Soccer becoming bigger and bigger and blossoming a slew of new American superstars like Landon Donovan, the future of American soccer is huge worldwide, and this film, which promises to be extremely popular here in the U.S. (the matinee I went to was crowded!) will boost soccer even more. I'm relieved this is such a good film -- I worried it would hurt U.S. soccer by being mediocre. Awesome!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Beowulf



Movie: Beowulf

I was really impressed by this film. It sensationalizes certain aspects of the story but even those are part of historical accuracy since the whole point of the Beowulf story is about the legitimacy of our heroes and legends. The computer animation is generally phenomenal, though there are one or two shots where something feels a little artificial (like Angelina Jolie's face from a couple angles). But most of the time the animation is stunning: the water droplets dripping off Beowulf's chest when he climbs out of the water looks photographically real. Amazing. The key for me, however, is not mere realism but how well the characters act and provoke emotion from the audience, and in this regard, the acting and animation worked extremely well. The tormented monster Grendel is truly a hideous creation, but somehow still conveys human-like emotion and evokes sympathy.

The story is quite authentic. It tells of the hero Beowulf coming to the Danish king to rescue his kingdom from the dreaded monster Grendel. Beowulf boasts of his prowess but there are some questions as to his legitmacy. Is he a real hero or a fraud? But after he kills Grendel, all are convinced. But then Grendel's mother, a demon-thing, attacks the town in revenge, and it's up to Beowulf to deal with her. So far the story's simple, but then it becomes complicated, as we learn there are secrets hiding: Grendel is the old king's son, a hideous creation, the spawn of human and demon coupling. Grendel's mother transforms herself into a beauty and seduces Beowulf, and he falls into the same trap as the old king. We then cut to many years later with Beowful now the old king and history repeating itself as his own son, a new monster, is attacking the village. This time Beowulf, after decades of hero worship and feeling guilty because he knows he is no hero, must save the kingdom again. This story is an incredible one, especially for such an ancient tale, and this version of it brings its lessons and message to a modern audience where hopefully people will see how vital and current those teachings are. Who are our heroes and why? What does being a hero feel like? How must today's celebrities, today's "legends" feel about their role? Are they frauds or merely playing their part? Lots of fascinating questions.

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Monday, October 9, 2000

Best Laid Plans



Movie: Best Laid Plans

Really cool little film about money-making schemes going all wrong. Neatly directed, with some cool plot twists. I've seen other films that wanted to be this one. Written by the same guy who wrote Ravenous.

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Thursday, May 1, 2003

Better Luck Tomorrow



Movie: Better Luck Tomorrow

Unusual film from an Asian-American perspective. The main characters are high school seniors, overachievers working hard to get 4.0's and master extra-curricular activities in order to get into Ivy League colleges. In the process four Asian boys form a club to pull scams, sell cheat-sheets, and eventually get into drug dealing and murder. The plot's thin -- there isn't as much of a story here as a sequence of events -- but what holds it together is the terrific performance and character of the lead, Ben (Perry Shen), who comes across as intelligent yet naive, cool yet completely approachable. His love interest, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung) is also excellent, as are the actors who play his crime buddies. But it's Ben's moral confusion which fascinates, as he waffles between wanting to be cool and rich, wanting to earn his way on his own merits, and yet tempted by crime that is so easy. The conclusion does not end the way I might have guessed: in fact, it's left unresolved in some ways, which is an interesting choice. Overall this is a stylish, thoughtful film, reminiscent of teen classics like Pump Up the Volume (except without the big budget and spectacle). This has elements of the small town creepiness of Blue Velvet (see opening scene of each), along with many drug cartel movies you've seen. But in the end this is unique. One of the things I really liked is that while the Asian-American aspect is important and it enhances the film, it's presented in such a way that it doesn't alienate -- in fact, these guys are so American it's a clear demonstration of what we all have in common. Great flick.

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Saturday, November 13, 1999

A Better Tomorrow



Movie: A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Writer(s): John Woo
Director(s): John Woo

An action movie with a brain. John Woo's films are classics not only because the action is so stylish, but because he puts his characters into moral dilemmas. While I didn't like Tomorrow quite as well as Woo's incredible The Killer, this is a very good film. The plot has an idealistic young kid joining the police force not realizing his much older brother is a leader of a criminal syndicate. Because of his brother, the criminal decides to reform, but the young cop is devastated and decides to hate his brother. Then the cop's career is hampered by his criminal "connections" while the criminal's attempts to reform are met with resistance by the syndicate. It's complex and intelligent, rare items in the U.S. action film genre. I recommend the subtitled version if you can find it. (I watched the dubbed and it really cheapens the acting -- everything seems melodramatic and silly when the lips don't match the dialogue.)

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Thursday, March 23, 2000

A Better Tomorrow 2



Movie: A Better Tomorrow 2 (1986)
Writer(s): John Woo (story)
Director(s): John Woo

Stylish action flick picks up where the previous film left off, resurrecting Chow Yun-Fat's character as a twin brother. Well done, though overly complicated by a plot that gets forgotten in the ending's huge shoot-em-up. Some remarkable images and acting, including some poignant moments and a bizarre sequence in which one character goes catatonic for an extended period. Not quite up to the original, but worth it for Woo fans.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Bewitched



Movie: Bewitched
Director(s): Nora Ephron

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

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Thursday, June 3, 2004

Beyond Borders



Movie: Beyond Borders

Odd that this Netflix rental would arrive today, right after I watched Super Size Me, a film about how Americans eat too much: the opening half of this film was about starving Africans. Unfortunately, that ironic coincidence proved to about the most interesting thing in the film, which tells the story of a refugee camp doctor and a socialite who tries to help him and their romatic relationship that develops. Unfortunately, nothing about this film is pleasant or complete. Most of the time it's plodding, and when it's not boring, it's self-indulgent bullcrap. It's a muddled mess that's not really a romance nor anything else. It's preachy to the point of silliness, overacted, and even when something does happen, it's predicatable. Stay away, far away.

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Thursday, October 26, 2000

The Bicentennial Man



Movie: The Bicentennial Man

As a fan of Isaac Asimov's robot stories since I was a child, I really, really wanted to like this film, despite the negative press. Sadly, the critics were correct: this is a terrible movie. The story is simple and wonderful (I had to read it in my college literature class): a unique robot spends his life attempting to become more and more human, with his ultimate quest being that he can officially be considered a man. He does this, in the end, on his 200th birthday, by allowing himself to become mortal, the ultimate human characteristic.

The early robot portions of the film, while terrific examples of Hollywood special effects, are corny, badly written and acted, and filled with inappropriate humor (such as the robot learning about the "birds and the bees," how to swear, and how to tell dirty jokes). It's awkward and lame. Once Robin Williams (the robot) becomes more human-like, the film is better, with the occasional touching moment. But during the whole film you feel manipulated; it's very obvious where you're supposed to be sad, sympathetic, or happy. Gone is all the surprise and gentle touches of the original Asimov story. Let me give you one example. In the original short story, the family likes the robot from the start (though they initially don't see it as human). In one scene, the little girl give the robot a piece of wood and orders him to carve her an ornament. He's never done such a thing, but he's governed by the Three Laws of Robotics and thus must obey any human order. The object is beautiful, and shows imagination. His owner is amazed -- it seems their robot is creative, an artist! In the movie, however, the family distrusts the robot. This creates an awkward, uncomfortable tone for the first part of the movie. The little girl (terribly acted by the "Pepsi girl" from all those dumb TV commericals) has a crystal horse which the robot accidentally breaks, and so she tells him she hates him (very unconvincingly, I might add). The robot then carves her a replacement horse, and then she loves him. (There's a "poignant" scene later in the film, when the little girl is a dying old woman, and we see she's clutching the ancient wooden horse in death. Oh dear. Start up the heart-stirring music, please.) The differences between the two versions are subtle, but significant. One shows us the Robotic Laws in action, cleverly implying that the girl is, in a sense, responsible for kickstarting the robot's creativity. (She essentially ordered him to be creative, so he was.) In the other, we have bratty kids and a clumsy robot, and shameless, obvious manipulation of emotion. It's stupid and melodramatic, and as a result we actually feel less emotion with the second version than the first (unless we count revulsion to all the saccharine).

The film got better in the final third. The romance angle, not in the original story, was not bad, though it could have used another scene or two for more depth. The courtroom scenes where the robot fights for freedom and humanity, were okay, but could have been more powerful, like they were in the short story. For instance, in one scene in the short story, the robot explains his desire for freedom like this: "I should think any creature capable of understanding the concept of freedom and desiring freedom, is capable of being free." In the movie, his quest for freedom is incomprehensible. In another sequence, the legal manipulations to get the court to declare him a human being take decades. One clever part of the process is his law firm takes a lawsuit all the way to the World Court, declaring that a human with an artificial heart should not have to pay debts because he's not human any more. Of course they lose, which is exactly what they want: they want a precedent that shows that non-human organs do not make a human non-human (thus the robot, which has some non-human organs, is not necessarily not human on those grounds). This stuff is a little complicated, but intelligent and realistic: the film dumbs this all down to single "climactic" courtroom scenes and the story suffers.

But the final straw that totally ruined the film was the ending. My jaw dropped in disbelief at this one. The fundamental part of all Asimov's robot stories is the Three Laws of Robotics. The First Law is that a robot may not harm a human being (or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm). The Second Law is that a robot must always obey a human, unless it conflicts with the first law. The Third Law is one of self-preservation (as long as it doesn't conflict with the first two laws). These laws are critically important, for they govern all robotic behavior. There's even a science called robopsychology which deals with psychological aspects of these laws upon robots. (For instance, would a robot allow you to smoke a cigarette? What about letting you eat a potato chip?) So what do they do in this film? They explain the Three Laws at the start of the film, then never use them. Dumb. But the dumbest? At the very end of the film, when the Bicentennial Man dies, his ancient wife asks the nurse to "unplug" her, which the nurse does. Then it is revealed that the "nurse" is a robot! Yeah, right! No way a robot would be able to take a human off of life support! Impossible. A colossal mistake, even for Hollywood. Disgusting, revolting, and the ruin of a classic science fiction story. I wish this film had never been made, so it could have been done right at some point, by someone who loves and understands Asimov's robots, not some Disneyesque 1950's-style vision of what robots might be in the 21st century.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bickford Schmeckler's Cool Ideas



Movie: Bickford Schmeckler's Cool Ideas (2006)

This claims to be a few years old, but IMDB says it was released recently. I saw it on Showtime and found it interesting. It's not a great film, though it wants to be more than it is, but the cast is very good (lots of not-so-famous people such as one of the geeks on The Big Bang Theory and Topher, from Dollhouse). Olivia Wilde steals the show as the love interest. She is amazing. The story is a good premise but poorly executed. It involves a "genius" college kid whose notebook of "cool ideas" (philosophical and metaphysical ramblings) is stolen (by said love interest). He freaks out and tries to track it down, somehow finding himself in the process. Unfortunately the "tracking the book down" part isn't difficult, nor does the lost book take that great of a journey, so it's not that interesting of a process. There are a handful of cool moments: my favorite was when Bickford, focused on finding his book, rejects some weirdo in the quad trying to give him a free copy of a "mind-opening" book... that of course is his book the guy found! Towards the end there's revelation about Bickford and the book that seems to come out of nowhere and feels artificial and tacked on, but still helps everything make more sense. Overall, I liked the idea of the a genius kid whose thoughts are so potent that everyone who reads them has mind-orgasms and wants to steal his book, but like most stories that involve supposed genius, we're never really privy to what's in the notebook, so the whole thing feels mysterious and contrived. Ultimately, it's just another lonely geek who gets the hot girl story, when it could have been something deeper. Worth watching if you're a fan of the cast or "deep" philosophy.

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Thursday, February 5, 2004

The Big Bounce



Movie: The Big Bounce
Writer(s): Elmore Leonard (novel)

Usually Leonard's stuff is pretty good plot-wise, but this one's weak. The most surprising thing for me was that despite the cast and fun premise (con artists in Hawaii) the film was rather boring! In between the interesting scenes the film dragged. Part of the problem was the lack of stakes: the guy and the girl are going to steal $200,000. What's that? Some kid's lunch money? They're supposed to split that? Come on. Make it at least a million. The film had a few good moments. The opening scene where Owen Wilson hits a guy with a baseball bat is good, but after that we really aren't sure about him. Is he an idiot or a genius? That mystery taints everything that happens afterward and makes everything confusing. The end, when it comes, is convoluted and doesn't exactly make that much sense. It's an awkward film period.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2001

The Big Brass Ring



Movie: The Big Brass Ring
Writer(s): Orson Wells (original script)

Very talky political movie about a guy running for governor who has a deep dark secret. We think it's that he's gay, but it turns out to be something else. Unfortunately we don't find out for too long so the film's boring, and by the time we do find out, we no longer care. The film's dialogue and photography are all designed to make us think things of great import are happening, but who cares?

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Friday, April 7, 2000

Big Daddy



Movie: Big Daddy (1999)

Very funny silly film, like most of Adam Sandler's stuff. Goes for the cheesy, easy jokes sometimes, and it's a bit crude in places (especially inappropriate for such a young kid), but overall a good flick.

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Saturday, November 16, 2002

Big Fat Liar



Movie: Big Fat Liar

Surpisingly good kiddie flick. I wasn't sure what to expect from the promos, but the plot sounded lame: a kid's story is stolen and being made into a Hollywood movie and he goes to L.A. to convince the evil director to own up to the stolen story. The way it's written, however, makes it believeable. On his way to turn in a story for his English class, Jason crashes his bike into a limo. In the limo is Marty Wolf, Hollywood director. He gives Jason a ride to school, but Jason accidently leaves his story in the limo. The story's called "Big Fat Liar" and is about a boy who gets larger every time he tells a lie. Later in the summer, Jason is at the movie theatre and sees a promo for an upcoming movie called "Big Fat Liar." Since his parents never believed that he wrote the story he couldn't produce, Jason and his friend Kaylee head for Hollywood to get proof. Paul Giamatti steals the film as the evil director, perfectly playing the comic villain in such a way that you both hate and love him. The two kids torture him in various ways (such as putting blue dye in his pool so his whole body turns blue) to try to get him to admit he stole the story. He continually refuses, of course, until the climactic finale. Fun and silliness, but done with such a genuineness that it works. Good performances, lots of clever cameos, and just a fun flick.

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Friday, January 9, 2004

Big Fish



Movie: Big Fish
Director(s): Tim Burton

I love Tim Burton's weird movies and this is no exception. However, it's not his best. It's too light and not quite weird enough. There isn't the magic of Edward Scissorhands or the wonderful imagination found in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The story's about an old man dying and his son, who's starting a family of his own, troubled by the man's ridiculous tall tales of the adventures of his life. The boy thinks his old man's a liar, but soon learns there are glimmers of truth in the tales. How much is left ambiguous: that's for us to decide. The tales themselves range from mildly outrageous (when the old man was born he shoots out of his mom and slides across the hospital corridor threw the legs of doctors and nurses who fail to catch him) to the wild (he meets a circus director who turns into a wolf at night), and while they are uneven, they are mostly interesting. We learn how the man fell in love and pursued his girl, eventually married her, and more. The tales try to do a nice blend between legend and modern life, which is neat, but I felt Holes did that better. The problem with this story is that it sets itself up for outrageous things but doesn't quite deliver. It's too tame, and we leave slightly unsatisfied. It's good, very well done, and entertaining, but if you're expecting magic, you're probably going to be disappointed. Think along the lines of the okay The Neverending Story and you'll be fine. But don't expect the genius of Roald Dahl.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Big Lebowski



Movie: The Big Lebowski
Director(s): Coen Brothers

Though I'm a giant Coen Brothers fan, I disliked this movie intensely when I first saw it. I hated it so much I didn't even understand it: it was a bunch of crazy, lazy, horrible people doing incomprehensible things. This time I was able to follow the plot which is pretty good -- about a loser hired to pay off a ransom of a kidnapping that might or might not be a real kidnapping -- but I still didn't like the characters who are angry, swear constantly, and just unpleasant. That meant I didn't really care what happened to anyone in the film, which means I didn't care much about the film. So my revised opinion is that I can now see some of what inspired the Coens to make this, but sadly it's still their worst film. Not as bad as I remember, but still unpleasant.

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Saturday, November 2, 2002

Billy Elliot



Movie: Billy Elliot

A predictable plot, this goes a little slow for my tastes. It's about an 11-year-old boy in Northern England who decides to become a ballet dancer. His dad and older brother are miners on strike and of course can't stand the thought of him being a sissy boy. The boy must learn to stand up and fight for his dream. Well done, with excellent acting (the boy is great in the lead), but way too much fighting and swearing for such a feel-good film (I certainly wouldn't call this a family film). And while visually impressive, the pace is slow for such a predictable plot. It's good at 2x on DVD, though (turn on subtitles and you won't miss anything).

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Saturday, October 4, 2003

Birthday



Today's my birthday. Happy birthday to me! Most of my family is out of town (the nerve) so we'll be celebrating in the future (which is fine with me).

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Monday, October 4, 1999

Birthday 1999



Well, today was my birthday. My thirty-second. Unbelievable. I don't know where they all went. I certainly don't feel that old. I told my uncle that since the first ten or twelve years of life are basically non-sentient they don't count, so really I'm twenty-two. That strikes me as more accurate. Of course I still feel like I should have done something with those twenty-two years. But then, half of those were in school, and what can one accomplish in school? So really I've had little more than a decade of independence -- and I feel I've gained a few things during those years though I haven't done many of the things I wanted to do. On the one hand I read stories about famous writers (like Oscar Wilde) who died young yet accomplished so much in the few years they had, and on the other I hear about people (like Colonel Sanders) who didn't start their famous careers until their sixties! So there's hope at either end of life, I suppose. I've decided to not worry about it. My writing career will take off when it is time and not before.

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Friday, October 4, 2002

Birthday Dinner



Well, today was my birthday, so I had to endure a birthday dinner with friends and family. Just kidding -- I had a great time and ate too much. I chose Hungry Hunter restaurant, which has my favorite meal, steak and fries with whiskey peppercorn sauce. The sauce wasn't peppery enough and the fries were wimpy thin fries, not thick steak fries, but it was still delcious. The family was in good humor, teasing me about reaching the halfway point in my life (I'm 35), but I told them the average lifespan is always increasing and "halfway" is in the forties now and will be 50 by the time I'm forty-nine. It's all irrelevant to me: I still have trouble thinking of myself as an adult, let alone a middle-aged man. Hopefully the "you're only as old as you feel" phrase is true, for I feel like my life has scarcely started.

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Sunday, April 13, 2003

The Birthday Girl



Movie: The Birthday Girl

I wonder why I'd never heard of this? It's an interesting idea. A lonely British bank clerk sends off for a Russian bride. She arrives not speaking a word of Russian, but since she's played by Nicole Kidman, he can't bear to send her away. Especially when she's so... willing. But when some of her male Russian friends visit, we sense something's not right. Then the Russian friends tie her up and threaten to hurt her unless the bank clerk brings them the money from the safe. So he does, only to discover that the girl was in on the scam. He's furious, but when the girl is abandoned by the Russians, he befriends her, still wondering if he can trust her. Interesting idea, and overall I liked the film, but it has some awkward aspects. For instance, there are entire scenes of Russians arguing in Russian with no subtitles. I guess we're supposed to figure out what's going on from their gestures or something, but often it's not clear what's going on. By the same token, the first half of the film Kidman's character pretends she can't speak English, so she and the guy never talk, meaning we've got scene after scene of near silence. Overall it's an interesting (though implausible) idea, but's a little dry to be as good as it believes itself to be.

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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Bissap Baobab



A few weeks ago my aunt read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Marco Senghor, the nephew of Leopold Senghor, the president of Senegal for many years. Marco has his own Senegalese restaurant in San Francisco and it's getting rave reviews. My mother is in town visiting this week, so she and my aunt and my cousin and his girlfriend and I all went downtown to check out the restaurant. It was really neat! A year ago I went to a Senegalese restaurant while I was in New York; that was a more authentic experience. There my cousin and I were the only white people in the whole "Little Dakar" area. At Bissap Baobab the clientele was almost all white, for a very different atmosphere. Still, the food was excellent (the Yassa I had was spicy for me but not as spicy as it is often made in Senegal) and the desserts fantastic. We got to speak to Marco and tell him about our experiences in Senegal. He's a really neat guy, very friendly and unassuming. We had a nice long chat before we left. We didn't get home until midnight, so it was a long day, but well worth it for the experience. If I'm ever in the City around a meal-time, I think I'll stop by again and try some of the other dishes.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Black Dahlia



Movie: The Black Dahlia

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

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Friday, December 22, 2000

Black Mask



Movie: Black Mask

Impressive Jet Li action flick. He's the superhuman product of a secret government genetic project gone awry, so they want to eliminate him. He escapes and hides out as a mild-mannered librarian, but of course gets involved when the police need help. He wears a black mask so people won't recognize him, but funnily, everyone knows who he is. Plenty of cool action and impressive stunts. Forget the silly plot. Good fun.

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Friday, November 24, 2000

Black Robe



Movie: Black Robe
Writer(s): Brian Moore
Director(s): Bruce Beresford

Authentic tale of French missionaries in 1634 attempting to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Clearly shows the difference in cultures and lifestyles. For instance, the Indians don't like the Christian concept of Heaven which is without hunting and killing and sexual relations, and thus conversions are difficult. The missionaries are determined, however, risking and frequently losing their own lives for the cause. The film is violent and savage in places, with majestic and vivid photography. Unfortunately, there isn't as much story as I desired: the obvious conflicts of human desires versus Godly plan is hinted at but rarely confronted. In the end, we are left with a film with no interpretation or purpose: it means everything and thus means nothing.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Black Snake Moan



Movie: Black Snake Moan
Writer(s): Craig Brewer
Director(s): Craig Brewer

Wow, this is a really wild film. I'm still digesting it. There are just so many ways to interpret this. On the surface it's a lurid gimmick: the story's about a white trash slut who winds up at a religious black farmer's house where he chains her up to keep her from running away and intends to "tame the wildness out of her." The promos are graphic images of a nearly naked tiny white girl with a thirty foot long iron chain around her waist and a giant black man leering over her. But the film's not exploitative at all. Instead it's a serious study of relationships, religion, race, meaning and purpose, forgiveness, God, sin, life, sex. The cast is phenomenal: Christina Ricci is utterly convincing in her role, somehow both stunningly beautiful yet filthy and slutty and yet adorably appealing. It's truly an amazing performance that I hope gets recognized, though I doubt that it will, considering the controversial nature and seemingly demeaning nature of the role. Samuel Jackson is also incredible as a flawed but genuine man, a simple farmer (and former bar singer), smoothly switching between furious vengeance and tenderness. It's tough to come across as both gentle and violent, yet he does it convincingly. The supporting cast is also terrific, with a surprisingly good job by singer Justin Timberlake as Ricci's troubled boyfriend.

This is not a pleasant film. It's violent, blatantly sexual, and occasionally shocking, especially as the film's tone morphs throughout. I was struck by the film's verisimilitude: the actors and storyline are utterly convincing and that's what makes the film work so well. For instance, one is shocked by Ricci's overly sexual character as it seems excessive -- we aren't just shown a token scene of her slutty lifestyle, but scene after scene after scene. The shock and horror and disgust just builds and suddenly most films, which do try to establish radical character with a single scene, seem inadequate and unrealistic, and that makes this film feels intensely genuine, which exacerbates our horror.

In the hands of a less capable filmmaker this easily could have been turned into B-movie dreck; instead, this is an edgy film that takes huge risks and the payoffs are massive, with tremendous emotion and profundity revealed. I just loved the way the movie kept evolving, never quite going where you thought it would. It reminded me a lot of Crash in that respect. Except in Crash is was a key gimmick, done with manipulative editing; here it's just part of the presentation and represents genuine aspects of the characters. For instance, in a pivotal scene, the town preacher stops by the black man's home. Our minds immediately go to what's going to happen if the girl reveals herself chained to the radiator. The scene culminates in the girl and preacher having one of the best conversations about God and forgiveness I have ever witnessed. It's just amazing and brings tears to my eyes even now, the next day. That scene is the heart of the film but it doesn't telegraph itself: there is no musical cue or grand widescreen shot announcing "big scene coming up." It just happens, out of the blue, which is so much like real life. The scene is a perfect encapsulation of the film: it's a heady mixture of surreal and real, an oxymoron brought to life. On the one hand you've got a half-naked girl, the town slut, chained to a radiator. On the other you've got a black preacher man, friendly and genuine, not particularly educated, but tremendously wise. The two sit at the kitchen table and talk as though this is normal. The girl's bitter and angry, rebellious, curses constantly, and distains religion. The two seem like polar opposites, yet somehow they connect in a way that's natural and believable. We see a vulnerable side to the girl, worldly understanding from the preacher. Each are true to their nature, yet each are deeper than we realized. The whole film's like that, with several scenes that repeat such contradictory tones.

This is truly a breakthrough film, unlike anything you've seen. It's harsh, it's real, it's tender, it's emotional. It's not flawless, but it's damned impressive. Considering he had to handle such tricky material, the direction and writing of Craig Brewer is amazing. All that said, this is a difficult film to recommend. It's violent and sexual, and not everyone is able to handle such material. If you can, however, I recommend you try. The payoff is worth it. Unfortunately, the film underrated and hard to find, which is a shame. This is a gem of a film. Ignore the lurid posters and trailer; this is a film of startling depth.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Black Swan



Movie: Black Swan

Where do I begin? I loved this film. It's authentic, mysterious, magical, wonderful. It catches you off guard, puts you on edge, and makes you think. It's full of so many powerful themes: young replacing old; the old living vicariously through the young; repressed emotional and sexuality; and the quest for immortality, greatness, and perfection. The film is supremely sexual without being titillating. It's horrific without violence or gore. I think that's what I loved best. My favorite scene was when the domineering mother catches her adult daughter scratching (an old bad habit) and furiously clips her fingernails with a pair of scissors as though she were a helpless little girl. It was so vicious, every snip so angry, you couldn't help but cringe in terror. Movies today show lopped heads and limbs ripped off and we don't bat an eye, but this scene (which is utterly harmless, for what serious damage could the tiny scissors do?) -- will have you on the edge of your seat wincing and chills shooting down your spine.

The story is simple and clean and beautiful. A young ballet star has the chance to get her dream role as the swan queen where in Swan Lake she'll play both the innocent white swan and the seductive black swan. It's a challenge that will force her out of her comfort zone, make her have to feel rather than think. It takes her to a dark place, so dark she has a mental breakdown. As someone who's been involved with theatre, I understand that completely. Such roles are heady and life-changing, forcing you to rethink everything you know about yourself. For a repressed person, they allow you to slip out of your skin and into a persona and behave in ways you normally couldn't. I understand the mother, a former ballet star herself, whose career was cut short by her pregnancy, and now she unintentionally puts incredible pressure on her loving daughter. The mother is both awful and tragic, the perfect example of how genuine love can be cruel.

Everything about this film -- the powerful story, the incredible performances by the leads (it's Natalie Portman's strongest role by far and it will be criminal if she doesn't win an Oscar), the subtle and fascinating direction, the music -- is amazing. It's reminiscent of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, but less claustrophobic. It's a subtle film, delicate, with much depth beneath the surface. It's the kind of film I could watch again and again and learn more from each time. The only flaw I can find, if it has any, is that main character's repression keeps the audience slightly at a distance. That, combined with the strange and mysterious happenings, some of which might be the girl's imagination, can be off-putting. But to me this is a minor issue, though I can see how some might be more disconnected from the story. I loved this. I can't recommend it more highly. It's not always easy to watch, but that's what makes it so powerful.

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Monday, January 27, 2003

Blackmail



Movie: Blackmail (1929)
Director(s): Alfred Hitchcock

Hitch's first sound picture, and it's pretty good, though the dialog in places gets a little expositional. It's about a Scotland Yard detective who's girlfriend is cheating on him with an artist. The girl goes to the artist's studio and when he puts the moves on her, she resists. He insists, and she stabs him with a bread knife. Hitch did a great job with that scene: the guy pulls her onto his bed behind a curtain and when she stabs him, we just see movement of the curtain. When the girl finally emerges, we can tell from her face what happened. Very cool. Later, the boyfriend detective is at the scene and finds his girlfriend's glove, which he hides. A blackmailer tries to extort the two of them, but the detective ends up turning the tables on him. Some great scenes, with classic Hitch camera work and detail (and let's not forget the hilarious cameo by Hitch on the train). Certainly not his greatest work, but it shows a lot of potential and there are masterful moments.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Blade II



Movie: Blade II

Much better than the first movie, but ultimately nothing but a slasher vampire flick. This time Blade joices forces with the vampires to stop a new species of vampire that's killing both vampires and humans, but can't be stopped with silver bullets. Of course he gets double-crossed, thousands of bad guys get massacred, and Blade looks cool doing it. Routine, but some of the action is impressive.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Blade: Trinity



Movie: Blade: Trinity

Not a terrible action flick, assuming you can avoid thinking about the silly plot. The additional cast helps move the Blade franchise along and gives it some new life (Ryan Rynolds smart-ass character helps bring in some needed humor and Jennifer Biel is obviously there for sex appeal), but overall this is by-the-numbers action. Routine.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Blades of Glory



Movie: Blades of Glory

This really surprised me. I expected silliness along the lines of Will Ferrell's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby but not as good, but I actually liked this one better! It's funnier, more absurd, and less crass. The pace is snappier, the humor both more biting and more subtle, as well as being on target (most of the humor is ice skating related, whereas in Talladega very little was racing related). I loved the cameos by famous ice skaters and the hilarious skating commentary during the competitions. Of course this isn't earth-changing filmography here, but it is rather fun and totally entertaining.

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Sunday, October 24, 1999

The Blair Witch Project



Movie: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Writer(s): Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Director(s): Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

If you haven't heard of Blair Witch, you must be living under a rock. This movie has turned Hollywood on its ear. An extremely low budget ($22,000) independent movie, it's made over $100 million! Released in theatres in July, it's now out on video. I got my copy on DVD and was very impressed. First, it's not scary at all. But it is authentic. It's presented as the video diary of a group of film-makers who go off to film a documentary on the Blair Witch and never come back. The "scary" stuff is nothing more than strange sounds and mysterious piles of rocks and sticks that appear during the night. There's no blood, no "fake scares" that populate so many of today's movies (where the killer turns out to be a neighbor visiting or a cat looking for food). It's just a simple tale of a group of frightened, nervous college students going insane. The script is remarkable -- I couldn't detect a flaw in it, which is good, because this kind of "real video" would suffer tremendously if there's any flaw in acting or dialog. Apparently a great deal of the movie was improvised, which explains why it feels so authentic. (My hairdresser complained that she thought it realistic until she noticed the girl's hair, after a week in the woods, still looked groomed.) To summarize: not a great film, but a good one. Don't expect too much or you'll be disappointed. But it's a remarkable achievement in this day where a typical Hollywood movie costs $30-$50 million!

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Sunday, January 30, 2000

Blast From the Past



Movie: Blast From the Past (1999)
Writer(s): Bill Kelly (II)
Director(s): Hugh Wilson

In this movie a couple holes up in their fallout shelter in 1962 thinking nuclear war has happened, and their son grows up entirely underground only to emerge in 1997, completely cluelss as to modern life. I was expecting a silly, rather lame film, but this turned out to be quite charming. It was surprisingly accurate in terms of scientific detail (i.e. one scene shows the dad pulling a live fish from a tank, which makes sense, since you couldn't live exclusively on canned goods for 35 years), and it was quite fun. It's obviously light, and could have used a bit more satiric bite (e.g. making more fun of modern day life), but well done. A nice feel-good movie.

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Tuesday, February 29, 2000

Blazing Saddles



Movie: Blazing Saddles (1974)
Writer(s): Andrew Bergman and Mel Brooks
Director(s): Mel Brooks

I'm not the greatest Mel Brooks fan, though I'd like to be. His sense of humor is the kind I like, but his films tend to fall flat. I'd never seen Blazing Saddles before, but I can see why it's considered one of his best. It's definitely funnier than his other films I've seen, though much of the humor is either too subtle or too outrageous to be "comfortable" humor. I enjoyed the film, but didn't laugh much just because it was too weird. Watching parts of it again, I can see that this is a film that gets funnier with every viewing: I found myself laughing out loud when Cleavon Little holds himself up at gunpoint (too difficult to explain -- you have to see it). (The first time through I just couldn't believe the townpeople were so dumb.) Cool flick. What impressed me the most was how current it was -- it could have been released a few years ago. Amazing for a seventies' film.

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Saturday, July 9, 2005

The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi



Movie: The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi (2003)

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

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blindness



Movie: Blindness

In some ways this film was exactly what I expected: the plot is a bare bones tale based on the premise that literally, every person in the world suddenly goes blind. In other ways this film was not what I expected: it is violent, gory, distasteful, and extremely grim. The film works hard to make its premise as realistic as possible and while it succeeds extremely well at that (both with script, sets, and acting) -- at times it felt like a reality TV show, that dozens of blind people were quarantined and filmed to see how they would react -- that realism is so unpleasant the film at times is almost not watchable. Some of the things that happen are outrageous -- and even though they are totally realistic -- they are not things we want to see. Basically picture a terrified government simply putting all the newly blind people into quarantine at gunpoint. There they have to fend entirely for themselves. Food is provided, but soon there are shortages, and the blind people fight over who gets the food. The place and the people soon become filthy -- they cannot see the filth to clean it up -- and we get to watch them stumble through garbage and feces. Yes, great fun. This is an intense film, not at all for the squeamish, and it definitely makes you think. But it is too long, too dark, and has such a one-note concept that can't explore much depth. You feel exhausted and dirty when you emerge. Perhaps that was the intent; if so, that was a mistake. The film has some fantastic moments, awesome performances, and an incredible script. It's a very good movie in terms of being well-made. But it is not pleasant. It reminded me a lot of films like 28 Days.

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Sunday, March 19, 2000

Blindsight



Movie: Blindsight (1992)
Writer(s): Robin Cook

Once again, another "thriller" where you've figured out the plot by page 50 but Cook keeps you in "suspense" until the last page. If you've got a mobster who's blinded by acid and needs a cornea transplant, and suddenly ordinary people all over New York City are being killed by hit men, does it take a doctor to figure out what's going on? Apparently so. In the meantime you've got hundreds of pages of corny dialogue and artificial arguing (can't have the main characters getting along; gotta keep that tension up) to muddle through. It would have made a fine short story.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Blink



Book: Blink
Writer(s): Malcolm Gladwell

Another terrific Gladwell book. This was his second, which I read third, but I think it's of more practical use than Outliers or The Tipping Point. This one deals with the topic of "thin-slicing," or the human ability to make snap judgements. Malcolm argues that this is an instinct and innate skill we all have and use regularly, but because the process is hidden within our subconscious, we aren't aware of what we are doing or how we do it. He demonstrates via entertaining stories, the benefits and dangers of thin-slicing, and shows that thin-slicing is a skill that can be taught and learned. The stories are for the most part, dramatic and interesting. For instance, we see how cops can use thin-slicing to instantly assess a situation and decide if a person is hostile or benign, and the bad things that happen when cops fail to thin-slice and over-react. There are also many prejudices that are exposed via thin-slicing, where stereotypes make us assume something that isn't correct -- that's the danger of thin-slicing indiscriminately. When thin-slicing is used correctly, it can be terrifically useful, ranging from sales people who can instantly assess a potential customer to military decisions, and including activities like dating and interviewing job candidates. Well worth the read.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blood and Chocolate



Movie: Blood and Chocolate

This is a werewolf-romance film that intrigued me when it first came out, but I never got a chance to see it as it disappeared too quickly. It turns out there was a good reason for that: it is horrible! Everything is set in Romania but of course everyone speaks American English, the action is incredibly clunky, nothing about the werewolf mythology feels realistic, and worst of all the romance is idiotic with the two main characters disliking each other one minute and being so deeply in love the next they'd risk their lives and families. The whole thing feels awkward, a weird mix of low- and high-budget. The characters are weak, the dialog is feeble, and the story is boring. Basically, I can't think of anything in this that works even remotely. Perhaps my expectations were too high as I was intrigued by the "werewolf-girl falling in love with a human" premise, but this was extremely disappointing.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blood Diamond



Movie: Blood Diamond

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

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Friday, January 6, 2006

Bloodrayne



Movie: Bloodrayne

I knew this was supposed to be horrible before I went, but I was bored and there was nothing else even vaguely interesting available, so I gave it a whirl. I figured it would have action and couldn't be that bad, could it? Let me just say that this film makes Doom seem like a masterpiece of cohesion and brilliant acting. "Shockingly bad" is the mother of all understatements. This film is disjointed, with confusing out-of-sequence flashbacks that serve no purpose I could tell (nothing really is clear until later in the film when the backstory is actually explained). The story is lightweight with what I call "fake depth" -- that's where depth is implied but not delivered, so we're given the illusion that a character had a past without knowing much about it. The film, of course, is based on a video game (which I'd never heard of) and is about vampires. The lead is a woman named Rayne who's a "damfir" -- half human and half vampire, the result of a union between vampire and human. Thus she has some vampire qualities (drinks blood, etc.) but is immune from crosses. Supposedly her father is hunting her and she is seeking to kill him for killing her mother; but when she finds a relic her father seeks, it seems that's what he's interested in -- his original purpose in finding her is never explained. Besides the silly plot, which is only complicated because it makes little sense, everything else about this film sucks. The acting is terrible; wooden dialog just makes every scene plod as tortously slow as a root canal. A few of the actors get above their material, but several, such as the normally decent Michael Madsen, just seem to not even care. A variety of accents abound, which is bewildering: we've got broken English Germans, crisp British, and modern American drawls. Combined with the lame dialogue the result is chaos. Even the action, which I figured at least wouldn't be boring, was terrible. Except for the climactic fight at the end, none of the fights are the least bit interesting. There's a good dose of gore as heads are lopped off in close-up and such, but the fighting itself is awkward, especially by lead Rayne, who seems unsure of how to even hold a sword and moves slowly like a non-athlete. Speaking of the swords, many look like kids toys, way too light and not even sharp! Cinematically the film is decent, but over-directed, with the too many "clever" techniques and special camera effects that serve no purpose. I really am shocked at how bad this film is. It does get slightly better as it goes along, and there are a handful of half-decent scenes, and a few of the actors try, but there's no saving a mess like this. Great movie to watch if you want to learn about bad movies.

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Saturday, March 8, 2003

Bloodwork



Movie: Bloodwork
Director(s): Clint Eastwood

Dang I hate idiot critics! I didn't go see this in the theatre because I heard it was lame, but it's not at all. I liked it a lot. It's not a classic or anything, but a simple, well-done thriller. Clint plays a retired FBI profiler who has to have a heart transplant. While he's recovering, a woman visits him and reveals he has her sister's heart. Her sister was murdered, and she asks Clint to investigate. Against the advice of his doctor, Clint does, and what unravels is a clever tangle with a number of good surprises. The film's low-key and certainly not an action flick, but it moves well, is interesting, and I liked the way the script tied all the lose ends together in the twist conclusion. Good stuff.

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Sunday, October 6, 2002

Blow



Movie: Blow

Depressing film about a guy who wastes his life selling (and doing) drugs. He brings cocaine to the U.S., makes $100 million, and loses it all. Mildly interesting but ultimately pointless (but of course, that's the point -- drugs are meaningless).

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Saturday, April 6, 2002

Blow Dry



Movie: Blow Dry

Funny low-key comedy about a British competition of hairdressers. Similar to Bring It On (cheerleading competition) and Drop Dead Gorgeous (beauty pageant competition), it's a predictable story about the craziness and silliness of competition. I wasn't sure if hairdressers really have their own "Olympics" like this, but according to the extras on the DVD, they do. Still, the film's well done, with some good characterizations and a little bit of depth to the characters. However, the comedy is not laugh-out-loud outrageous, but merely the kind that makes you smile. Pleasant.

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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Blue Car



Movie: Blue Car

Terrific film about a troubled teenage girl who's father has left and who discovers a dangerous mentor in her poetry teacher. At first the relationship is innocent, but gradually becomes serious. It's a very simple story, elegantly portrayed, with terrific acting. The characters are believable and real; it's a beautiful film, though emotional and sad.

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Monday, August 9, 2004

Blue Crush



Movie: Blue Crush

Routine surf film, about a female surfer who's trying to compete in a big tournament while struggling with her love life and is haunted by a near-drowning incident a few years earlier. Silly drama, but earnestly done with an appealing cast, but mostly this movie is just an excuse for beautiful shots of beautiful surfers on beautiful waves.

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Friday, December 28, 2001

The Blue Nowhere



Book: The Blue Nowhere
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

Why is it that non-computer people always try to write hacker novels? This one is particularly far-fetched and ridiculous (A hacker's virus causes a computer to catch on fire!), topped with gobs of extremely inaccurate computer mumbo jumbo. (For example, supposedly the evil hacker's "trapdoor" virus can be embedded within a picture and just viewing it would cause your computer to be infected. That's obviously technically impossible since the virus would have to be decoded [separated] from the picture before it could do anything.) Technical errors aside, the plot would be excellent for a normal serial murderer hunt, but in this case the killer's a hacker using his computing skills for evil, so everything's got to be computer-related. Towards the end the novel just gets more and more ridiculous as red herring after red herring is exposed, and the "climax" that one of hackers sending emails is really a computer is just absurd. Basically, for non-computer people this novel would seem to be a chore as you wade through gobs of computer jargon (dutifully and tediously explained after each use), while computer-people will find it digustingly inaccurate. It's a no-win situation. However, if you can keep the computer falacies from bothering you, the novel is decent in terms of drama and it's fast-paced (I read it in half a day). Just please, don't take it seriously -- real hacking is nothing like this Hollywoodized depiction.

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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Body of Lies



Book: Body of Lies
Writer(s): Iris Johansen

Not a bad book, but once again, Johansen is stretching to find her plots. This one is overly elaborate and ludicrous. Worse, we're not given the explanation until the very end, when things make a little bit of sense: instead we have to wait through many pages of confusion and the unknown to get that explanation. The plot is revealed in reverse, and it's very strange. We're once again dealing with Eve Duncan, forensic sculpture. Johansen makes a brave attempt to develop the characters deeper with Eve's lover, Joe, betraying her, forcing her to run off to do a scuplting assignment for a shady Senator, but the argument, while it could be legitimate, feels forced from the reader's perspective. The two obviously love each other deeply, so why are they running away? At lot of the decisions made don't make much sense and it feels like Johansen is manipulating the characters to fit into her planned plot instead of the other way around. That sounds worse than it is, because she does an excellent job at force-fitting, but there are subtle flaws that made reading it awkward for me. I suspect most wouldn't notice, though. The actual plot, when revealed, turns out to involve a world cartel, one of those "secret society" things that run the world. Very strange, her going off into looney-land like that. Her novels are usually a bit more grounded in reality, but I think she's trying to hard to come up with plots. Still, it's an entertaining read, and the mystery's intriguing, even if the payoff takes too long to deliver. Johansen does dot all the i's and cross the t's at the end, though everything is rather predictable by that point. A fun read that wants to be more than it is.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Body of Lies



Movie: Body of Lies

I wasn't expecting to like this as it seemed like a serious drama with political overtones and crap about the war, but to my surprise it turned out to be an excellent movie. There's a lot more action than I expected, and though it's talky at times, it's fascinating talk, and it moves at a good pace. What really impressed me is that the plot is convoluted and yet I had no trouble following the story -- they do an excellent job at conveying exactly what being a spy in the Middle East is like. The plot follows an American spy as he attempts to locate a certain terrorist leader, but the way they go about it is tricky and complicated, creating a fake terrorist that will make him jealous and draw him out. There's a subplot involving the leader of the Jordanian security force who may or may not be an ally, and my favorite subplot which had the American romancing an Iranian woman living in Jordan. The romance was nothing like American-style dating: in one scene the man offers to shake the woman's hand after a dinner and she refuses, for her sister is watching, and such "intimate" contact would be inappropriate, of course. Great stuff, with a dramatic ending, and some excellent performances.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bolt



Movie: Bolt

What a delightful film! I went into this as a skeptic: the premise seemed fatally flawed. How could a dog not know he was just an actor on a TV show, especially a show where he has super powers? But the film does acknowledge this problem with an "eccentric" director who supposedly wants to get a real performance from his lead animal actor and everyone on the show cooperates to keep the truth from the dog. Still silly and absurd, but you suspend disbelief and go with it. Once you are past that quibble, though, the movie is wonderful. It's not quite up to Pixar standards, but it's darn close. Basically the dog ends up in the real world and is shocked to learn he doesn't have super powers, but he's still so brave and kind-hearted that he will do anything to be reunited with his little girl owner. In the end, of course, he is heroic, but the journey is fun, with some great supporting characters. I really enjoyed it.

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Bon Voyage



Movie: Bon Voyage

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

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Wednesday, November 24, 1999

The Bone Collector



Movie: The Bone Collector (1999)
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver (book) and Jeremy Iacone
Director(s): Phillip Noyce

A decent thriller, though not in the class of Silence of the Lambs. The plot has a genius forensic detective (Denzel Washington), who's paralyzed and bed-ridden, team up with a troubled beat cop (Angelina Jolie) to track down a serial killer. Denzel was good with what he had to work with, but Angelina was awesome. She played her character with just the right subtle touches to make her completely believable. However, the early connection between the two was awkwardly done and ham-handled. Basically, Denzel wants her to work for him and she doesn't want to, so he forces her. Eventually she comes around, but not without a lot of fireworks. It seemed unrealistic to me that detectives would make so much effort to recruit an unwilling cop. I needed more motivation on their part. All in all, a good ride. Not especially scary (but what is), though some scenes are a touch graphic.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Book is (sort of) Here!




The first samples of my new book, Eating BIG While Eating Lean, have arrived! (I just ordered a couple test books to make sure everything is working correctly.)

The book looks fantastic -- I am very impressed with the print-on-demand quality. I've gone ahead and ordered a bunch more and they should be here in a couple weeks (before the end of the month). You can go ahead and pre-order the book if you'd like: you'll get the digital version immediately and I'll ship the printed copy to you when I get them (end of March). As a reward for ordering early, you'll get a free license to my upcoming nuTracker nutritional management software!

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Book of Eli



Movie: The Book of Eli

I wasn't sure if I would like this or not, but I did. The story is slight: a mysterious man wanders a post-appocolyptic world hiding a book while a ruthless villain wants the book. The "mystery" of the book is extremely slight (and obvious), but what's initially unclear is why the villain wants the book. There's a twist at the end that's gimmicky and too much on the nose for true brilliance, but it is interesting. Overall, the film's more about atmosphere than story, and that's fine. This is a film about visual style, and in that role it succeeds. I loved the style: from the terrific action sequences to the look of the future world, it worked for me. The opening sequence was amazing: a snowy wood, panning across the ground, we come across an open revolver. As we slowly pan across that we come to an open hand, and eventually a dead body. Then a hairless cat approaches the body, obviously starving, and begins to gnaw on the leg. We continue to pan to the right, eventually seeing a strange astronaut-like figure in some sort of radiation garb. As we slowly zoom closer, we realize the figure is prone and there is a deadly metal-tipped arrow pointing right at the camera. It is our hero, and he has set a trap to catch himself some cat meat. Wow: obviously not our world, and sets up much of the story without a word. Late in the film it at times is little more than an action flick, and I wish it had more story depth, but overall it's a fun, stylish "what if" film, and worth seeing if you like the genre. I liked the revelation about the book, though it was slightly cliche and predictable.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Pre-Interest Strong



This week I began pre-sales of my forthcoming book, Eat BIG While Eating Lean and so far the interest has been amazing; much higher than I anticipated. In just a few days I've already sold several dozen books!

It really makes me hopeful that the book will be of help to people. It's always difficult to judge these things, especially when you're so personally involved. I mean, the techniques I discuss helped me lose 75 pounds, and I find the process of learning to eat healthy interesting and not difficult, but what will others think?

The book is in the final editing stages and will be shipping in March 2008. It'll be available in print and PDF formats; there's lots more information about it on the Eating Big blog link above. I'm also creating a companion software program for tracking nutritional information -- pre-orders of the printed book will receive a free license to the software!

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Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Book signing



This evening I went to a local book store for a book signing for Tom Alibrandi's just published Hate Is My Neighbor, his non-fiction account of his time battling white supremecy in Idaho. He gave a short talk, explaining that the heart of the neo-nazi movement is in Idaho, and that the first hate crime law in the United States was passed in Idaho as part of an effort to fight the white supremecy movement there. Some of the tales he told were chilling: since there aren't enough minorities in Idaho, groups were actually kidnapping blacks from Los Angeles and bringing them to Idaho to hunt them down "like a turkey shoot," commented Tom. But the story's also one of hope: he told how ordinary people would rally in support of human rights, including one woman, who after every meeting, would receive a telephone call from someone saying, "We know where you were. We know what time you came home. We can kill you any time we like." Yet this woman continued to faithfully attend the meetings! Tom's book is receiving rave reviews, and I'm anxious to read my copy. As soon as I do, of course, I'll post something here. Caveat: Tom and I are personal friends, as he heads the writing group I'm a part of (were currently on hiatus).

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Books Are Here!



Today the shipment of my new book, Eat Big While Eating Lean, arrived! That means I can start fulfilling early orders and new orders will be sent out quickly. Check out the book and let me know what you think!

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Friday, November 3, 2006

Borat



Movie: Borat

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

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Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Bottle Rocket



Movie: Bottle Rocket (1996)
Writer(s): Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
Director(s): Wes Anderson

Strange little movie. Interesting and fun in places, though low-key and modest (like most independent films). It's about some slacker friends trying to become successful thieves and figure out life in the process. What was strange was the complete lack of morality displayed -- there never was the slightest hint of guilt or remorse for their crimes. It was like the director thought stealing was funny and not wrong. Other than that, an okay picture.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bounce



Movie: Bounce

I don't know why I'd never heard of or seen this film, but I liked it. It's about a jaded advertising exec who (for not so nobel reasons) gives his free plane ticket (from his airline client) to a bumped passenger who then dies when the plane crashes. This event sparks a rethink for the ad exec who eventually meets up with the man's widow and falls in love with her and her kids but doesn't tell her he "killed" her husband. What's going to happen when she finds out? It's a little melodramatic, but mostly low-key and nice. Simple. I liked it.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bound



Movie: Bound
Writer(s): Wachowski Brothers
Director(s): Wachowski Brothers

This was the Wachowski brothers' first film and one I'd heard about and been wanting to see for a long time. However, the "gimmick" factor is high (Lesbian lovers in some crimminal caper) and wasn't sure if the reputation was deserved. It turns out to be a pretty good film (other than one brief sex scene, the sleeze factor is more implied than shown). Basically we have a girl just out of prison who meets a mobster's mistress and they fall in love and contrive to steal $2 million of the mob's money. They've got a clever idea on how to steal it in such a way that the blame won't be attached to them -- but of course things go wrong and everything gets messy. What intrigued me the most about the film is the aspect of trust between the two female lovers: the thief went to prison for trusting her old partner too much, yet she trusts the new one. Or does she? Is everyone telling the truth? How much do you really trust another person, especially with life and death and $2 million on the line? Interesting questions, and though not explored enough for my taste, still a pretty good film.

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Friday, September 20, 2002

The Bourne Identity



Movie: The Bourne Identity (2002)

When I first heard this was getting remade, I wasn't the least bit interested. After all, the book was excellent, and there was already a decent film version. Why do it again? I also didn't like the casting: Matt Damon is way too young for Bourne, and Franka Potente didn't seem like a good fit. Boy was I wrong: this is a great movie. It's got action, intelligence, and even a little depth (not too much, but a little). Franka was excellent, and though I still feel Damon is too young (his character is supposed to have years of experience being a top black ops spy), he does a very good job. I really liked the action sequences: the whole idea is that Bourne, a man without an identity (he's lost his memory, remember), reacts instinctively, and in the film they did that excellently by speeding the action to super-human levels. For instance, in one scene two cops accost him in a park. When one puts his hand on Damon, he reacts without even thinking: in a flash he moves and the two cops are on the ground unconscious. Damon blinks, staring at them, and at his own hands, wondering how the heck he did that. Wonderful! That's exactly what made the book so fascinating. Bourne's reaction to his "super powers" humanizes him, makes him someone we can relate to and understand. Overall this is an a great ride: a non-stop action adventure with thrilling sequence after thrilling sequence. Great fun, well acted, and well written. There's even some depth in the relationship that develops between Damon and Franka (she was excellent, BTW: a suprisingly subtle actress). Well worth your time and superior to the other film (which wasn't that bad).

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Friday, July 23, 2004

The Bourne Supremacy



Movie: The Bourne Supremacy

I liked the first one, to my surprise (The Bourne Identity). I'd been expecting a cheap remake and got a great film. This time it was a similar feeling. Though Supremacy isn't quite up to the first, it is very good. The first was good because Bourne was without his memory and discovering his powers as things went along. That made it exciting. This time he's more in control, but he still has amnesia and everyone on the planet is still out to get him. This time he's been framed for a murder he didn't commit, and he fights back to clear his name and bring the true guilty ones to justice. There are some great action scenes and the car chases feel astonishingly real the way they are shot -- cars actually spin out of control and crash into things, unlike most car chases where everything feels extremely choreographed and precisely timed. The plot gets short shrift in some ways as action scenes take priority, but it's still a fun film and a surprisingly good performance by Matt Damon (I think he's got a franchise here). I can't wait for the next one.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum



Movie: The Bourne Ultimatum
Writer(s): Robert Ludlum (novel)

The only thing this movie seems to have in common with the novel is the title. The story takes up right after the second movie as Jason Bourne tries to find out who set him up in that movie and figure out who created him. But who cares about the shadowy spy plot: what makes this work is the non-stop action, and in that regard, the film works well. There are many great scenes where Bourne gets to show off his superior intellect, outwitting hundreds of CIA agents on his trail, and he ruthlessly defends himself as needed. It's great fun watching him turn the tables on evil people with power and that's what makes it a satisfying watch. But it's ultimately a popcorn flick (not that there's anything wrong with that).

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Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Bowfinger



Movie: Bowfinger (1999)
Writer(s): Steve Martin
Director(s): Frank Oz

Light spoof of wannabe filmmakers making a film with the world biggest action star, only he doesn't realize he's in a movie! Doesn't quite hit a home run; a few concepts fall short of their potential, and the comedy isn't laugh-a-minute. But it gets better with repeated viewings. This is the kind of movie that would be hilarious after midnight.

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Bowling for Columbine



Movie: Bowling for Columbine
Director(s): Michael Moore

A surprisingly excellent film. It's very entertaining, and not all doom and gloom, and though Moore's idiotic display at the Oscars last year made me dislike him, he's still an excellent filmmaker and humorist. I didn't find much to disagree with in the film, which is of course how Moore works, but then I'm a centrist on the gun issue anyway. I thought his main point was that gun violence is unique to the USA because of the fear our news media instills in us -- something I agree with completely. The scenes in the film in which Moore and a friend go to South Central L.A., infamous for shootings, and discover an ordinary neighborhood, reminded me of my recent first visit to L.A. where I was suprised at how not a war zone everything was, and my visit a couple years ago to New York City where I found the city to be friendly and helpful, not the horrible crime-ridden mess one hears about on TV. Unfortunately the bigger question -- why the media insists on selling fear isn't answered. Obviously it's for ratings, but why don't other countries exploit that? Moore also never really attempts to explain the Columbine shooting, something I'd like to see explored. There is a brief segment with South Park creator Matt Stone who grew up in Littleton which is enlightning, but after that the issue's dropped and the focus is more on guns. Moore also weighs heavily on the whole war issue, emphasizing things like Littleton's biggest employer is the world's largest defense contractor, etc. Of course there's no direct correlation but Moore tries to include one by implying that it's obvious (parents make big weapons at the plant so it's "natural" the kids feel it's okay to have guns). At lot of the stuff is just emotional resonance and has no logic value, but that's typical of Moore's documentaries. This is entertainment, not education. He does span a wide area in this film, tackling everything from racial issues to cultural differences between the U.S. and Canada. I'm not sure I learned anything per se, but it did make me think, which isn't a bad thing. A fun film, but treat it as entertainment propaganda and don't take it too seriously. Remember, it's only one side of the issue. That said, I again don't have much to disagree with, especially his comments about the news media.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Box



Movie: The Box

I was curious about this film because I made a similar movie short ("The Dilemma") about ten years ago (in mine, it's a website that offers the money for a mouse click instead of a button on a box). Unfortunately, this is a dreadful mess. It is truly one of the worst films I have ever seen. That said, there are aspects I liked very much: the problem is the whole package fails miserably. (Note: I will avoid spoilers in my comments, not that this movie could be spoiled any more than it does to itself, but I won't reveal the "twists" upon which it depends just in case you want to see it.) The main problem is that the main premise of a moral dilemma is never really explored. It's set up ("push the button and someone dies and you get a million dollars") but never really debated. After the button is pushed (not much of a story without that happening), the film veers off into unknown territory. There seems to be a vast conspiracy happening, with mysterious people and events, strange effects, supernatural stuff, etc. You are basically bewildered and confused for the next hour. That's not necessarily a problem if the final explanation is a good one. The problem I have with that explanation is two-fold. First, it's a cheap cop-out, akin to a beginning writer ending a story with "and then he woke up." Second, even if you ignore the flaws of the cop-out, the film could have gone further and explored the ramifications of that explanation which would have been a new and interesting exploration into ethics. But the film doesn't do that and instead ends with a bizarre and meaningless and illogical new "dilemma" which makes no sense, is horribly grim and depressing, and leaves you wondering why you wasted two hours of your life watching this dreck. So basically this film is a decent set-up, a middle that is fascinating but convoluted, with an explanation that doesn't justify any of the nonsense that precedes it, and a conclusion that as unsatisfying as any I've seen. There are parts of this that are brilliant: my favorite was the conversation with the babysitter and the husband, where she's apparently possessed or something and her words have double-meanings that freak out the husband. Some of the weird stuff is very well done, extremely creepy and bizarre without elaborate special effects. But all this is piecemeal and none of it fits together in any rational way. Frustrating.

One final note. I discovered after I'd seen the film that this was done by the director of the cult classic Donnie Darko, something that might have lowered my expectations going in. I did not like Darko and yet it's a much better film than this one, if that tells you anything. This has a lot of the same flaws, but at least Darko had a better plot.

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Saturday, September 15, 2001

Boys Don't Cry



Movie: Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Extremely interesting and unusual film, made all the more dramatic as it's based on a true story. The gimmick, of course, is that it's about a girl who goes around dressed as a boy, but the film doesn't manipulate that gimmick: it's starts off with her as a boy and finishes with her as a boy. The core conflict isn't so much the boy-girl confusion as it is the confusion of life in general: all the slacker characters have little purpose except for getting drunk and/or laid. The confusion of sexual identity is ultimately a metaphor for seeking the purpose of life.
There are a few glaring flaws in the film that meant I found the story slightly confusing: those were cleared up in the DVD commentary, but it's poor direction when that's required. To give one example, the film begins with the girl getting her hair cut like a boy and going out with a girl: according to the commentary, this was the first time she'd dared to do this, but that wasn't at all clear from the scene. Without any knowledge of her previous life, I assumed she'd been doing this for years; but of course the events after that are more powerful when we realize that this is a new adventure for her. The film immediately cuts to a year later (there's a date on the screen), but since we don't know the date of the first scene, we have no way of knowing this is a year later! I figured it was later that night after that first date (which didn't make much sense).
I recommend the DVD commentary version -- it's helpful at explaining some of the thought behind this provoking picture. Excellent performances also make this a good film. However, there's still a gap between the audience and the main character: we're let in, but the girl's sexual confusion is never truly explained, and at the end of the film we're still wondering "Why?" Perhaps this is just a personal observation or perhaps the confusion of sexual identity is never to be understood by someone who doesn't suffer from it (though the writer in me refuses to believe that any experience can't be explained), but either way, I found the film left mysteries unexplored. Still, it's worth seeing just for the questions it asks.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Brave One



Movie: The Brave One

This is one of those unfortunate films that seems to give the entire plot away in the trailer: a woman's fiance is brutally murdered and she becomes a vigilante killer, hunting down criminals and hiding from the police. It turns out there's more to the story than that, as the detective hunting the vigilante befriends her, making for some interesting scenes with the two of them. Unfortunately, except for that aspect, everything else is pretty much by the book in this one, a paint-by-numbers piece. Not bad, not great, just routine. The ending wraps things up nicely with a bit of a nice twist, but it's not enough to raise the film above average.

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Sunday, October 29, 2000

Braveheart



Movie: Braveheart
Writer(s): Randall Wallace
Director(s): Mel Gibson

Amazing, impressive movie. I'd never got around to watching this, but I rented the DVD. Quite worth it for the widescreen picture alone. Fascinating story of Scotsman hero William Wallace, who kicked the English out of Scotland in the 13th Century. Incredible battle scenes, but most impressive was the well-told epic story -- even the complex politics of the era was understandable. Wallace himself remains somewhat single-dimensional (everything relates to his career as a war leader), and I found his dalliance with the Princess of Wales difficult to believe, but overall an inspiring story.

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Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Brazil



Movie: Brazil (1985)
Writer(s): Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stopard
Director(s): Terry Gilliam

Brazil is my pick for the best movie of all time. It gets that honor because it's a fun movie, with action, humor, and drama, all packaged within an incredibly profound story. Brazil has many messages; you cannot watch it only once and expect to understand more a tenth of what it has to say. While there are more dramatic films, like Shindler's List, who would want to watch Shindler's List twice on the same day? Brazil is the kind of movie you can watch over and over, and each time you see more. Absolutely amazing. (I also watched a fascinating documentary included on the DVD on the battle over the release of Brazil. I'd heard of the controversy, where director Gilliam didn't want to make the changes the studio wanted, but never realized the version of I'd previously seen was the one I was supposed to see because the studio lost the battle. The cut version with the different ending was apparently only used for American TV. Thank the Lord I never had to endure that one.)

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Breach



Movie: Breach

This is a good movie, but it's so by-the-numbers it ends with a whimper and felt flat. It's the fascinating story of an American CIA agent who is really a double selling secrets to foreigners. A young kid is brought in to pretend to be the guy's new assistant, but really he's assigned to spy on him. The play between the two is the key aspect of the film and most of the scenes shine brightly. However the ending felt strange and lifeless, with the spy's actions incomprehensible. Did he want to get caught? Why, after all those years? Worth seeing if you're into acting; otherwise, wait for the DVD.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Break-Up



Movie: The Break-Up

I expected this to be much better considering the cast, but well, it stunk. There are two key problems. The first is that the film is about a couple breaking up which is unpleasant. We have to sit through weeks of their fighting, backstabbing, and mean-spirited, spiteful tricks on each other, which is just depressing. It's not funny at all. It's just sad. Of course all this would have been endurable because, of course, they get together in the end. But they don't. That's right. They stay broken-up. What was the point of that? I can see how some people might try to say that's realistic or dramatic or profound or whatever, but I don't really care. It's just depressing. It ruined anything good about the rest of the film and there wasn't much there to begin with. The film was marketed as a romantic comedy but there was nothing funny or romantic about it. It's just sad and spiteful and depressing. It reminded me of the horrible The Perfect Storm.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Breakfast of Champions



Book: Breakfast of Champions
Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut

Hilariously inventive novel about a bizarre science fiction author and a crazy-but-rich used car dealer whose paths overlap. The plot is slim-to-nothing, but this is all about the journey and the humorous narrating style of Vonnegut, who includes himself in the story and writes about his characters escaping his control and doing things he didn't anticipate. I haven't read much Vonnegut and really need to read more because I love what little I've read. In this book my favorite technique of his is when he explains common everyday earth things as though the reader might be an alien and not understand such things. For instance, when he mentions people drinking alcohol, he explains this is a beverage that is a biproduct of sugar-eating yeasts (tiny organisms) and thereafter refers to people "drinking yeast execrement" whenever he wants to tell about people drinking alcohol. Hilarious! Overall this is a witty, fun, and entertaining book, and Kurt wisely keeps it short so the joke doesn't overstay its welcome.

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Saturday, October 21, 2000

The Breed



Movie: The Breed
Writer(s): David Cronenberg
Director(s): David Cronenberg

Weird story of a psychologically damaged woman who produces a brood of deformed offspring which do her unconscious bidding (similar to the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet in that emotions cause action). Of course, we don't know that until the very end. Most of the movie deals with the treatment of pyschological trauma. That's very interesting, but it doesn't connect with the brood at all, giving us two very different films in one, which doesn't work. And all the psycho-babble stuff, while interesting, is pointless as the woman has a physiological problem. No explanation is given about the woman's ability to produce the brood, but I liked the ominous ending where it looks like her daughter is going to inherit her ability (which she apparently inherited from her mother).

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Saturday, June 24, 2000

The Brethren



Book: The Brethren
Writer(s): John Grisham

Strangely predictable tale (very much like Grisham's The Runaway Jury in that respect). Two days before reading this I watched an episode of Law and Order which featured prison inmates pulling the exact same scam as those in this book. It's an interesting idea, but difficult to sustain for a whole novel, especially when there's little else going on. But at least a Grisham book doesn't take more than an hour to read.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Brick



Movie: Brick

Fascinating modern film noir about a high school boy acting like a hard-boiled detective, trying to find out who murdered his ex-girlfriend. The plot wriggles around like a live fish but eventually the muddle makes a little sense. (That aspect reminded me of some David Lynch films.) The dialog is the most unusual and amazing thing -- rapid paced jargon unique to the film and the students. Also unusual is the lack of adults in the movie: we only see one or two in a couple scenes, otherwise it's all teens. Very interesting, but in the final analysis, missing a little something to tie it all together. That makes it good but not great. But oh, it's so very, very close.

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Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Bride of Chucky



Movie: Bride of Chucky (1998)
Writer(s): Don Mancini
Director(s): Ronny Yu

I'd heard this was a "good" Chucky movie, though considering the previous ones that wasn't saying much. In total I've seen maybe 10 or 15 minutes of the whole series, and that's all I needed to see. But this one is campy fun. It's witty and self-mocking, in the tradition of the most recent Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. My favorite bit of humor was the clever "homage" to the Cliver Barker Hellraiser "pinhead" character after Chucky kills John Ritter with a face full of nails and then says, "He looks familiar somehow." Warning: if you don't like spurting blood and violence, keep your finger near the fast forward button.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia



Movie: Bridge to Terabithia

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Did I mention this is a wonderful film? It's just beautifully simple and elegant. The lives of children are flawlessly portrayed, capturing that awkward time between childhood and adulthood. I knew nothing about this going in, but thought it was about a fantasy world like Narnia or something, and I didn't expect it to be as good. It turns out the bulk of the story's set in the real world, with the main characters two picked on kids who become best friends and use an imaginary place in the woods as their escape. It reminded me of a lighter version of Pan's Labyrinth, without that movie's grim undertone, though Bridge also has serious underpining's. My absolutely favorite thing was the terrific ending, which, though somber, completely changes the meaning of the title. I love it when stories do that. Two thumbs up, a Must See. High recommended.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Bridget Jones' Diary



Movie: Bridget Jones' Diary

Good performance by Renee Zellweger as a British single woman struggling to find balance in life and romance. I don't know what the diary had to do with anything: it was only mentioned two or three times. Funny, a little corny, and somewhat predictable (she gets the guy in the end, duh). Not bad, though.

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Sunday, March 25, 2001

Bring It On



Movie: Bring It On (2000)
Director(s): Peyton Reed

Cool flick! It's astonishingly refreshing to see a comedy that doesn't degrade its subject with stereotypes and crude jokes. Of all things, cheerleading is a subject you'd expect stereotypical humor, but I only counted one instance of "airhead cheerleader" humor. Instead this is a sharply written, realistic portray of the intensely competitive world of high school cheerleading. And yet it is a comedy, and manages to find lots of humor without degrading the characters. The characters are fun, cute, and likable: you want them to succeed. The story mostly centers around Kirsten Dunst's character, who's just been promoted to captain and is in charge of the squad. She then discovers that her predecessor stole the squad's routines from a rival black high school. But is there time to come up with completely new routines in the few weeks before nationals? While certainly not deep or profound, this is a fun, enjoyable film, quite funny, and remarkably tame for a modern teen flick. Dunst is ideal in her role -- so obnoxiously cute you want to slap her, but then she turns and smiles knowingly at the camera and you see that she's having fun with the role, and isn't vain or stuckup at all. Impressive performance.

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Monday, December 8, 2003

Bringing Down the House



Movie: Bringing Down the House

The previews made this look terrible so I didn't bother with it in the theatres (even though it was a hit). Turns out it's not so bad, though it was predictable. The story's about an older, white, button-down tax lawyer who corresponds with LawyerGirl on the 'net. When she shows up at his house, she's a big black girl who's an ex-con with plenty of attitude, and she turns the man's life upside-down and shows him what life's all about. There's a lot of obvious jokes struggling to be funny, some silly slapstick stuff when the writers couldn't write anything funny, and the obligatory touching moment when everything works out happily in the end. Fun most of the time, hilarious on a couple occasions, okay the rest.

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Thursday, March 16, 2000

Broadband



I've got broadband! Yes, I finally succumbed to this Internet thing and subscribed to DSL. Now I can access the Internet 35 times faster than before. What an amazing difference! Highly recommmended. (And not costly, considering I was already paying extra for a second phone line anyway.)

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Broken Window



Book: The Broken Window
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

This is another Lincoln Rhyme detective novel, with Rhyme up against perhaps his most formidable foe yet. This time he's going against an information guru, a guy who knows everything. He's an identity thief who uses computerized info about people to commit crimes and set up the perfect fall guys who are convicted of the crimes so he's never caught. Since he knows everything about people, his frame-ups are amazingly air-tight, but in this book he makes the mistake of setting up Lincoln's cousin, which brings Lincoln into the investigation and of course that sets up his downfall. The book is quite thick and long, as Deaver's books usually are -- this one moves pretty well but feels too long and it should have been about 75% of its length. For the most part I enjoyed the action, and the computer/tech stuff was, except for a few odd errors, pretty accurate and interesting. A large part of the novel centers around the debate over consumer privacy, and the book raises a lot of good concerns (not the least of which is the killer's ability to know everything). Unfortunately I was not as big of a fan of the ending of the book, which has too much of Deaver's typical manipulation (just tell us the story and stop trying to be clever and screw with our minds), and the climax is pretty much a big fight which is anticlimactic. I would have preferred a more tech-oriented ending, something more worthy of the intelligence of the opponent than a mere fight. But all that said, this is an above average Lincoln Rhyme novel, and worth the read if you're a fan.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Brother's Bloom



Movie: The Brother's Bloom

I have a love-hate relationship with con artist movies. Much of the time they are too clever for their own good, becoming so convoluted they lose any thread of story. Often I'm so aware of being deceived that I give up caring. I feared that in this one, but I'm glad to say that this film, though it treads the line at times, succeeds. The key is what happens at the very beginning, when the younger Bloom brother can't get up the courage to talk to a girl so his older brother invents an elaborate scam and gives him a role to play. With a script, so to speak, the younger Bloom blossoms, and that becomes their life. Unfortunately, by the time he's 35, he feels he's never actually lived, and longs for "an unscripted life." The script is brilliant: for as the brothers go to pull off one last con we are reminded that the best cons are when everyone gets what they want, so how can Bloom get an unscripted life? The object of their con is, of course, a woman: a wonderfully quirky woman, and of course Bloom falls in love, against the script's rules, and that sets up a marvelous adventure. I won't spoil the story with any more details, but if you're a fan of con films, I must conclude that this is the ultimate one. That's because instead of just coning money or even coning bad people for good reasons, this film is all about con artists coning themselves. That's the ultimate con: a con so good even they believe it. Terrific. Strongly recommended.

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Saturday, January 11, 2003

Brotherhood of the Wolf



Movie: Brotherhood of the Wolf

Interesting French action film. It's a period piece set in old France, where a strange "beast" is killing women and girls (apparently based on a true story). A scientist from Paris arrives with his companion, a Iroquis from America. The two make their presence known, but though there are several more beastly murders, the scientist doesn't kill the beast, whom he believes is controlled by a man. Later, he uncovers a vast conspiracy against the King. Some excellent action, and an interesting story, but somewhat uneven. A little confusing for us Americans unfamiliar with ancient French politics.

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Sunday, February 23, 2003

Brothers



Book: Brothers
Writer(s): William Goldman

This book is a sequel to The Marathon Man, a novel I haven't read, but it seemed like it was readable on its own. First, let me say that this is a superior book, so superior in fact, that it overcomes some major flaws. The first flaw is the opening few chapters which are poorly written and meaningless. The main character, who was supposedly killed in the first book, is the ultimate assasin, and he's not dead, and the first chapter puts us into his stream of consciousness as he recovers from his injuries on a deserted island. Unfortunately, Goldman begins and ends every sentence with an ellipsis (three dots), and without understanding who this guy is or what the situation is, not a word makes sense, and all the dots and abbreviated sentences make reading tough. This chapter is followed by a scene involving two young kids, brothers, who are tragically killed in an explosion. What makes that confusing is that in the stream of consciousness portion, the guy talks about his brother, leading me to think this was a flashback of him and his brother in childhood, and the explosion that kills them blows that away, leaving me bewildered and puzzled. More incomprehensible scenes follow, but these are longer and more interesting, and they're soon explained. The thing about the kids isn't explained until the very end of the novel, however, which is a long time to go without understanding anything. However, once the novel gets going, it's excellent. The assassin character is interesting and deadly, and Goldman does a great job keeping us in suspense while still keeping his main guy almost superhuman. We constantly think he's failed and lost, but in the end he always wins. Very cool. The climax is terrific, and everything pays off in the end, making this a very exciting novel. The actual secret of the kids is a bit bizarre and never technologically explained (it's like technomagic, I guess), but it does make some sense. I won't reveal it here since that would spoil the book. I recommend you skim through or skip the first chapter or two -- you won't miss anything, and you'll be a lot less frustrated. It took me a while to get into the book because of the poor start, but once it got going I couldn't put it down.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brothers



Movie: Brothers
Director(s): Jim Sheridan

I originally did not want to see this movie. The trailer intrigued me by the casting -- Tobey, Jake, and Natalie -- but the story seemed entirely elaborated in the trailer and entirely trite and predictable. Basically we have the two brothers, one of whom goes off to war and gets killed, while the other falls in the love with his brother's wife. At least that's what the trailer implied and I had little to no interest in such a film. Such an idea has been done a million times and I didn't want to watch another film about an affair. But I heard a review of the film that warned me not to watch the trailer (too late) and said that the trailer ruins an excellent film. That intrigued me that perhaps the film was different from the trailer, so I went, and I'm glad I did. This film is nothing like the trailer. There are several key differences. The first is that we don't learn in the trailer the interesting relationship between the two brothers. One is "good" and one is "bad." The bad one has just gotten out of prison. The good one is the loyal soldier who's going off to war. He's always been the good son, the other the screw-up, and their ex-military father treats them accordingly. That sets us up with a familiar but still interesting conflict, especially when it's the good son that gets killed overseas. I don't want to spoil all the plot details, but let's just say the implications of the "affair" in the film are overblown. The film is far more about family relationships: the daughter-in-law struggling to cope with her husband's death, the "bad" brother trying to figure out how to form a new life after time prison, and both trying to help the dead brother's young daughters. For me, the daughters are the film: the two little girls are so darling and quirky and wonderful, they break your heart in every scene they are in (scenes like the one where the girls attempt to make pancake breakfast for mom are incredibly precious and real). The relationships between them and their mother, their father, and their uncle are all fascinating. That is why you see this movie: to see the amazing family dynamics, adults trying to protect kids, kids who are simultaneously wiser and more innocent than the adults, etc. Forget the silly plot about a brother stealing his brother's wife or whatever: that is not what this film is about. It's about lost people attempting to be found. The film has some obvious plot twists that I won't spoil here, but they are interesting and important, and the climax is dramatic and thought-provoking and doesn't turn out quite the way you'd expect. This is a very good movie. It's an amazing emotional journey. It's less about the plot and more about various emotional states. Definitely one of the best films of 2009. My one criticism concerns a certain violent act in the middle of the film. This act is crucial in understanding one of the characters and the entire story, but the director shields us from the violence by cutting away so we don't see it clearly. Honestly, that confused me. I wasn't even sure the act had happened. I thought maybe something else had transpired and it wasn't until later events that I realized it had happened. Even more important, the violence of the act is critical to establishing to true horror of the act and our understanding of the character's later regret. Yet since the audience is shielded from the violence, it minimizes the act. Combined with my confusion over whether or not the act had actually happened, it softened the impact of the event tremendously, which weakened what should have been the film's most profound aspect. I can only think about how much more powerful this film would have been had we been given at least a glimpse -- one quick shot -- of the raw, bloody violence. It would have been horrible and gut-wrenching, but that's the whole point, of course. Everything that transpired after that would have been ten times more emotional. I don't know if the director chose this approach or if he was pressured by the studio or others into toning down the act, but the sequence felt badly edited to me. Perhaps I need to see it again. Whatever the case, that was the only major flaw I noticed: I thought everything else about this film was fantastic. The daughters were amazing, the lead actors were terrific, all the scenes were wonderful with just the right mix of conflict and interesting dialog and tension. The dinner scene where the black sheep brother has his first family meal after being in prison was incredible, with each family member's personality being evident and the drama and tension overwhelming. Just terrific. Ignore the trailer, don't even bother to watch it, and just go see this film. Be prepared for an emotional journey that will affect you profoundly. It's not necessarily a sad film -- don't think this is a Kleenex festival -- it's just emotional. There's happy, sad, tragic, melancholy, touching, precious -- all sorts of emotions. You'll leave somewhat drained, and perhaps changed, and that's the sign of truly powerful art.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

The Brothers Grimm



Movie: The Brothers Grimm
Director(s): Terry Gilliam

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

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

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Friday, May 23, 2003

Bruce Almighty



Movie: Bruce Almighty

This is a terrific, fun, light-hearted comedy with a serious message at heart. It's like a Happy Gilmore without the crudeness. The plot is a great fantasy: a down-on-his-luck TV reporter played appealingly by Jim Carrey curses God and so God gives him all His powers and takes a vacation. At first Carrey just has fun with his new abilities, taking revenge on co-workers and the gangsters that beat him up, but he eventually learns what a deep responsibility being God is, and eventually gives the powers back and is happy with his "ordinary" life. The film has a great message, and despite being a mainstream film about God, manages to not insult anyone and actually be theologically sound (similar to the George Burns classic, Oh God!). (Morgan Freeman is a great God in this movie, by the way.) At the same time, the movie doesn't get so bogged down by seriousness it ruins the humor or pacing. It's a perfect blend of comedy and drama, childhood and adulthood. Two thumbs up!

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Friday, August 6, 2004

Bubba Ho-Tep



Movie: Bubba Ho-Tep

Very strange, badly promoted film. The terrible title turned me off when this was in the theatres, but the genre surprised me even more when it turned out to be a comedic horror flick! In that light, it's actually pretty good, bizarre and funny. The concept is great: Elvis Presley is still alive and in a retirement home in Texas. He apparently exchanged lives with a top Elvis impersonator and it was that man who died. Of course no one believes this old guy is the "real" Elvis: they think he's the impersonator who fell off a stage and broke his hip. Anyway, that's just the setting of the story, which deals with a strange Eqyptian undead monster that comes into the old folks home at night and robs people of their souls. Elvis and his pal (who's delusional) set out to stop the monster. It's silly, funny, and terrific, but the title still sucks.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Bucket List



Movie: The Bucket List

This is the kind of gimmicky movie that can be poorly implemented, but I'm pleased to report that this was handled excellently. It's the story of two elderly men who meet in the hospital while they are dying and decide to do everything on their "Bucket List" -- the list of things they wanted to do before they died. The two aren't exactly friends but become close, and the film takes what could be a grim and depressing topic and makes it entertainment, touching, and humorous, but without cheapening it. It is a bit Hollywood -- that is to say light -- but that doesn't mean it's not worth enjoying.

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Buffalo Soldiers



Movie: Buffalo Soldiers

Not a film I was interested in seeing, but it was the only thing on at the time I was ready to see a film. So I went with modest enthusiasm. To my surprise, I liked this film a lot. It is modest and predictable in concept. We meet an American soldier stationed in Germany around the time of the Berlin wall collapse. He's the guy knows everyone and can get you anything. He's a slick talker who knows how to weave his superiors to do anything he needs. Meanwhile, he's selling U.S. goods on the black market, cooking drugs in the basement, and driving his fancy Mercedes. Then along comes a new officer who's got his number. He breaks the guy down, and it becomes a battle of wits between the two. To piss the officer off, the soldier begins dating the officer's daughter, but that backfires when the officer destroys the guy's prized Mercedes. Like I said, in concept it's predictable -- like one of Zack Morris' scams on Saved by the Bell going awry and him learning his lesson by the end of the episode. But this one escalates to death and serious drugs and money, and in the end our hero barely escapes with his teeth and returns to his old tricks. There's nothing profound here. Some of the characters, while interesting, are stereotypical, and the "twists" at the end are yawners. The uncomfortable part is that we're supposed to like the scammer when he's just stealing 1,000 gallons of Mop'n'Glo from the army, but feel justice is served when his serious drug activity doesn't go as he planned. It's the old "white lies are okay" approach to morality. Oh well. It's still fun, though I'm cautious in being manipulated to like the guy. And the film has a neatly packaged happy ending that leaves us wondering how we got there (much isn't explained). Not a great film, but more fun than I expected. A good rental.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Bug



Movie: Bug
Writer(s): Tracy Letts (play)

Wow, what a film! This is quite an amazing production. Except for a couple scenes and long distance two helicopter shots the entire story takes place inside a crappy hotel room in rural Oklahoma. While the trailers make it sound like this is a scifi flick it is absolutely not: it's a psychological horror trip. Basically we meet a rundown struggling woman. She's living in that crappy hotel room, waitressing at a honky tonk bar, and drinking a lot. Her abusive ex-husband just got out of jail and is harrassing her and we learn that years earlier she lost her son (literally he vanished one day at the supermarket). This woman obviously has a lot of baggage. Into the picture comes a strange mild-mannered man. He's very quiet, polite, doesn't drink, and seems thoughtful. A little odd, but harmless. He has no place to stay so the woman invites him to crash on her sofa. Soon the two develop a relationship, and then the man finds a bug in the bed. It's so tiny she can't even see it but he kills it. He talks intelligently about bugs and seems to know what he's talking about. Later he finds more bugs, and he gets sprays and decorates their room with fly paper. Slowly the man's story comes out: he was a soldier and the army did experiments on him and he escaped a hospital where they had him imprisoned. Gradually things get dark and scary: the man pulls out a tooth, insisting it was recently filled at the army base and the evil doctors put in an egg sac in the tooth and that's the source of the bugs. Paranoia builds into hysteria and soon the woman is completely enveloped into the man's crazy world, turning her back on her best friend, and absolutely convinced the disappearance of her son was part of the conspiracy. The ending -- while predictable and inevitable -- is still chillingly real and devasting. The performances by everyone, especially Ashley Judd as the woman, are amazing. The film is claustrophic and you feel your own mind going part-way through. All the crazy theories begin to sound plausible after a while. It's a powerful demonstration of what can happen if you let yourself believe. Amazing. Definitely not for the weak of heart or squeamish. This film reminded me most of Roman Polanski's incredible Repulsion, which is similarly constrained to a single room and about a woman going mad. Recommended. I will also add this film is based on a play by Tracy Letts who's the son of my former college teacher in Oklahoma, Dennis Letts (Dennis' wife is author Billie Letts).

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Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Bulletproof Monk



Movie: Bulletproof Monk

Exactly what you'd expect from the ads: a slick action film with humor. Chow Yun Fat is awesome as always, and Seann William Scott is also good. Jamie King, as the girl, is also good, though she looks way too young for her character. The plot is silly, as you might expect, with the key villain an ancient Nazi who's been trying to obtain a scroll from Chow Yun Fat for 60 years. Chow is the monk who guards this scroll, which gives the reader power to rule the world (so of course no one has ever read it). He figures out pickpocket Scott fits the prophecy and is to take over the job of guarding the scroll for the next 60 years, and together they defeat the Nazi. Nothing intellectual at all about this, but good fun.

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Sunday, December 24, 2000

Bullit



Movie: Bullit (1968)
Director(s): Peter Yates

Unusual "realistic" cop story set in San Francisco. I felt the location was overemphasized, as though San Francisco's like, special, or something, and the story dragged in several places (especially considering the plot's payoff wasn't that dramatic). But I was legitimately surprised and impressed by the famous car chase: even decades later it's exciting, mostly because of the interior car shots with McQueen actually driving (you watch him turn a corner, tires squealing, from inside the car).

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Friday, February 2, 2001

Bundesliga: B. Dortmund at 1860 Munich



Soccer: Bundesliga: B. Dortmund at 1860 Munich

These two teams have reversed their fortunes from last season, with Dortmund just one point away from leading the league and 1860 down in the cellar. With that the case, it seemed like an easy win for Dortmund, but they didn't show up. Oh, sure, they had a few chances, but it was 1860 who attacked constantly and deserved the three points. 1860's attack wasn't really successful, but at least they were trying. They finally got their goal via a questionable penalty kick awarded in the 53 minute: Thomas "The Little General" Hassler took it well. I figured that Dortmund would surely rebound after that, but they played as though they'd already lost. Final: 1-0 1860 Munich.

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Sunday, April 1, 2001

Bundesliga: B. Dortmund at Kaiserslautern



Soccer: Bundesliga: B. Dortmund at Kaiserslautern

Wild game with gobs of goals. Things started a little slow, but heated up when Bobic scored in the 33rd minute. In the second half, Dortmund came of gunning for more: seconds after the kickoff, Addo got a great goal, getting himself alone against the keeper and finishing with confidence. Eight minutes later Kaiserslauten came back with a goal from Lokvenc, but just minutes after that Lars Ricken scored for Dortmund, restoring their two goal lead. The matter was put beyond doubt when Heinrich scored in the 76th minute: Kaiserslautern was going to lose. Final: 4-1 Dortmund.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Bundesliga: B. Dortmund at Schalke



Soccer: Bundesliga: B. Dortmund at Schalke

Boring game. All rough fouls, yellow cards, and shots over the bar. Maybe one or two good saves from the keepers, but mostly everything was dreadfully off target. Final: 0-0 boredom.

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Sunday, April 8, 2001

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at B. Dortmund



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at B. Dortmund

Exciting game. It started off as a normal Bayern win, with Santa Cruz scoring just six minutes in. But 30 minutes later Lizarazou was sent off for his second yellow. In the dying minutes of the half Dortmund had two goals called off for off-side, one of them unfairly. In the second half, Bobic finally got his goal, tying the score. It was a ground shot that keeper Kahn should have stopped: the ball went right past his foot, but instead of kicking it, he tried to dive and save it with his hands. (Stupid. If I was a goal-keeping coach I'd make my keepers practice with their hands tied behind their backs: they depend too much on their hands.) Moments after the goal Effenberg was red carded for a horrible tackle and Munich was down to nine men. Dortmund really poured on the pressure, but couldn't get another goal, making this the equivalent of a loss for them. In injury time Evanilson was sent off for Dortmund. Final: 1-1.

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Saturday, May 5, 2001

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Bayern Leverkusen



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Bayern Leverkusen

Interesting game, but both teams struggled offensively. Finally Munich's Santa Cruz got a goal in the 87th minute. Final: 1-0 Munich.

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Sunday, May 20, 2001

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Hamburg



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Hamburg

Strange game: all the goals came in injury time at the end of the game. Ninety minutes of nothing, and then bam! Goals. The title race came down to this game: if Bayern lost and Schalke won, Schalke would have the title. The games were played simultaneously, and when Schalke won and saw that Bayern were losing, they thought they'd won. Bayern had gone down to a late goal from Barbarez. With only seconds left, it seemed like Munich was done for. But a free kick was awarded outside the box: surely they couldn't score on the last play of the game, could they? Unbelievable, they could. The Swede, Patrick Andersson, took the kick. Somehow it made its way through about twenty players and into the goal. That tied the game and gave Bayern the German Championship for the third year in a row. Ridiculous, but the ball doesn't lie. Even stranger, that was Andersson's first goal of the year! Final: 1-1.

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Sunday, March 4, 2001

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Hansa Rostock



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Hansa Rostock

What a crazy, amazing game! It had everything. A mistake by Jens Jeremies gave Nigerian Victor Agali an in on goal and he dribbled around Oliver Kahn to score in the first half. Jeremies' mistake was that his clear hit Agali and bounced forward, the exact thing Jeremies was trying to prevent! But seconds later, defender Sammy Kuffour equalized for Bayern with a terrific header, and ironically, Kuffour was being poorly marked by none other than Agali! Good for Kuffour, who's still most famous for his mistake in the 1999 Champions League final that gave the trophy to Manchester United. In the second half, Rostock was back with fantastic goal from Salou, who dribbled through what seemed like half the Bayern defense to score! Amazingly, on the hour mark Bayern gave up another free kick near the box and Jakobsson put in a leaping header on the cross to put Rostock up by two. But Bayern cut the lead when Jeremies ran from midfield straight through the defense and beat the keeper. Elber missed a great chance for the equalizer late in the game when he had the ball at his feet in front of an empty net but somehow couldn't get the shot off in time. Rostock held on and held on through all sorts of drama, and then, in stoppage time, on a Bayern corner kick, goalkeeper Kahn went forward. When the cross came in, he inexplicably punched the ball to score (obviously the goal was disallowed)! I know Kahn's Germany's national goalkeeper, but doesn't he know that keepers are only allowed to use their hands in their own penalty box??? Incredibly stupid! He was given his second yellow card and ejected from the game! (He'll also get at least a one match suspension too.) Wild! A few more seconds passed, during which a field player played goalkeeper for Bayern, and then it was over, with Rostock beating the perennial champs! Final: 3-2 Rostock.

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Thursday, February 15, 2001

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Stuttgart



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Stuttgart

An affair you'd expect top Bayern to win and sure enough, Elber started things off just seven minutes in. A simple pass put three Bayern players behind the Stuttgart defense, and Elber was open for a tap-in. But that seemed to be enough for Bayern: they clearly dominated, though Stuttgart had some chances in the second half, and that was all they wanted. Final: 1-0 Bayern.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Unterhaching



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bayern Munich at Unterhaching

A slow game, with Bayern forgetting to show up. Unterhaching's a tough, tenacious team, especially at home. The first half was a nil-nil draw, but in the second, Unterhacking put together a great series of passes which left Spizak open to shoot. He finished beautifully, putting the ball past a diving Oliver Khan. Bayern fought back, but it seemed like destiny was against them this day. Final: 1-0 Unterhaching.

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Friday, April 20, 2001

Bundesliga: Bochum at B. Dortmund



Soccer: Bundesliga: Bochum at B. Dortmund

Poor Bochum's at the bottom of the league, with Dortmund in the logjam at the top, and this game showed why. Ricken scored in the 18th minute, followed by Heinrich at the 29th, two impressive goals from Reina in the second half, and finished off with a penalty kick by Stevic. Final: 5-0 Dortmund.

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Friday, February 23, 2001

Bundesliga: Energie Cottbus at Bayern Leverkusen



Soccer: Bundesliga: Energie Cottbus at Bayern Leverkusen

Crazy game. Cottbus is at the bottle and Leverkusen's just two points behind leaders Bayern Munich, and Cottbus haven't even won a single away game all season, so I figured this was an easy one for Leverkusen. It was not. A half hour in Mirluta scored on a breath-taking free kick, and just ten minutes after that Labak increased the lead to two. In the second half Leverkusen were just as bad, giving up a second goal to Mirluta on the hour mark, and only getting a consolation goal from Ze Roberto with fifteen minutes left. Leverkusen really looked dismal. Final: 3-1 Energie Cottbus, with their first away win of the season.

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Sunday, February 11, 2001

Bundesliga: Energie Cottbus at Eintracht Frankfurt



Soccer: Bundesliga: Energie Cottbus at Eintracht Frankfurt

Odd game. A real scraper at the bottom of the league, so that was interesting, but there was only one goal, which was frustrating because the game deserved more for all the hard effort put in. Heldt scored for Frankfurt in the 65th minute, and it was a good goal, but Cottbus never really got into the game. Final: 1-0 Frankfurt.

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Friday, April 13, 2001

Bundesliga: Energie Cottbus at Stuttgart



Soccer: Bundesliga: Energie Cottbus at Stuttgart

Boring bottom-of-the-barrel clash. Stuttgart finally went ahead on Balakov's penalty kick, but that was the game's only goal. Final: 1-0 Stuttgart.

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Saturday, April 21, 2001

Bundesliga: Hamburg at Leverkusen



Soccer: Bundesliga: Hamburg at Leverkusen

Tough battle with Hamburg desperate for some points and Leverkusen needing a win to keep themselves in contention at the top of the league. Hamburg scored first on a deflected free kick by Danish international Tofting, but Leverkusen equalized in first half injury time by Kirsten off a deflected cross into the box that dropped for him. The second half was more battling but no more scoring. American and my personal favorite Frankie Hejduk made a saving tackle on a Hamburg run but found himself staring at his second yellow (therefore a red). A rather harsh call. But ten men Leverkusen didn't give up any more goals and the game finished a draw that doesn't help either team. Final: 1-1.

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Sunday, February 4, 2001

Bundesliga: Hamburg at Werder Bremen



Soccer: Bundesliga: Hamburg at Werder Bremen

Cool game. I'm a Hamburg fan, and I thought they were going to take this one, but they let me down. Still, it was a good game. Bremen started things off with a brilliant free kick goal right at the stroke of halftime. Literally. It was the last play of the half. Pizarro's kick went right into the corner, where Hamburg keeper Butt couldn't possibly get it. But Hamburg came back in the second half with a great goal from Heinz. The ball basically bounced around in the box a bit, then was passed to the top of the key where a running Heinz blasted it. No chance for the keeper. Heinz had two more great attempts that were stopped by Roos, Bremen's keeper, who made a number of great saves and I think was their most valuable player. But Ailton scored on a questionable penalty kick in the 76th minute, and then Pizarro got his second in injury time to put the matter beyond doubt. He ran up the left flank without a single player marking him! Final: 3-1 Werder Bremen.

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Friday, January 26, 2001

Bundesliga: Hansa Rostock at Schalke



Soccer: Bundesliga: Hansa Rostock at Schalke

The Bundesliga's back! The Bundesliga's back! After half a season of missing on Fox Sports World, German soccer is back. And it's good. Schalke is the league leader while Rostock is struggling at the bottom. This first game after the winter break proved that that's the way things would remain. Just four minutes in Bohme scored on a wonderful free kick, and Nemeo added to it an hour or so in. Rostock never had a chance. Final: 2-0 Schalke.

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Friday, March 30, 2001

Bundesliga: Hansa Rostock at Wolfsburg



Soccer: Bundesliga: Hansa Rostock at Wolfsburg

Okay game, with Wolfsburg dominating. They scored 14 minutes in by Kuhbauer, and he got his second on the hour mark (chipping the ball over the keeper). Majak scored on a header on a corner kick to bring Rostock back for a little while, but their new-found faith didn't last long, and they finally fell. Final: 2-1 Wolfsburg.

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Saturday, January 27, 2001

Bundesliga: Kaiserslauten at Wolfsburg



Soccer: Bundesliga: Kaiserslauten at Wolfsburg

This was a real battle, played in a blinding snow storm. The Red Devils dominated, and when Wolfsburg had a player sent off late in the first half, it seemed like surely they would succeed. But neither team could gain the advantage, and Kaiserslauten finally had their own man sent off, evening the number of players. While the game ended without a goal, it was still a pretty good game, with some nice chances. The terrible weather no doubt had an influence on the lack of goals. Final: 0-0 draw.

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Sunday, April 8, 2001

Bundesliga: Kaiserslautern at Schalke



Soccer: Bundesliga: Kaiserslautern at Schalke

What's wrong with Kaiserslauten? Schalke just overpowered them. Waldoch scored twice in the first ten minutes, followed by two goals from Sand in the second half. Mpenza got one of his own in the last few minutes as well. Kaiser did manage one goal, in the 72nd minute, but Schalke ruled. Final: 5-1.

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Friday, March 16, 2001

Bundesliga: Koln vs. Wolfsburg



Soccer: Bundesliga: Koln vs. Wolfsburg

Neither team did much, and the result was a boring 0-0 draw.

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Saturday, March 17, 2001

Bundesliga: Leverkusen at B. Dortmund



Soccer: Bundesliga: Leverkusen at B. Dortmund

Why can't they play like this all the time? They started with a goal from Schneider eight minutes in, quickly followed by one from Kirsten a minute later. Worns got one back for Dortmund fifteen minutes in, but they still trailed. There was some good goalkeeping, but Leverkusen held on. Finally, in the end, Dortmund keeper Lens Lemann went forward in injury time to see if he could help out on a corner kick. He got caught out on the counter, and Brdaric easily scored into the empty net. That was the last play of the game. Final: 3-1 Leverkusen

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Sunday, April 29, 2001

Bundesliga: Leverkusen at Kaiserslautern



Soccer: Bundesliga: Leverkusen at Kaiserslautern

Boring game: Neuville scored in the 10th minute on a great free kick, but nothing much happened after that. Final: 1-0 Leverkusen.

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Sunday, April 15, 2001

Bundesliga: Schalke at Bayern Munich



Soccer: Bundesliga: Schalke at Bayern Munich

A critical game. No league is tighter than the German Bundesliga, with three teams tied for second place, all one point behind Munich. Schalke is one of them, and a win puts them in first place. Bayern had six starters serving suspensions for this game (all those reds and yellows in last week's Dortmund clash) so things looked good for Schalke. But then just three minutes in a long through-pass put Jancker in on goal alone, and he beat the keeper. A dream start for Munich. But Sand scored in the 14th minute to equalize, and after a scoreless thirty minutes more, it seemed like a draw might be in order. But minutes into the second half Sand scored his second, putting him at the top of the Bundesliga scoring chart. His pal Mpenza tried and tried, but kept getting foiled by Munich's Oliver Khan in goal. Finally, he and Sand did a give and go, but Mpenza couldn't reach the final ball. It was loose, in the box, and Sand pounced on it for the hat trick! So there's a new leader in Germany, and Schalke are in good position to be the champs. With so few games left in the season, the trophy is theirs to lose. Final: 3-1 Schalke.

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Monday, May 14, 2001

Bundesliga: Shalke at Stuttgart



Soccer: Bundesliga: Shalke at Stuttgart

Boring game, with both teams overly defensive. Stuttgart's Balakov scored a great goal in injury time to give them the win and save them from relegation, and probably ending any change Shalke had of winning the league. Final: 1-0 Suttgart.

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Friday, May 4, 2001

Bundesliga: Stuttgart at B. Dortmund



Soccer: Bundesliga: Stuttgart at B. Dortmund

Essentially a victory for struggling Stuttgart, though I can't figure out what happened to Dortmund's normally potent offense. Final: 0-0.

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Friday, March 9, 2001

Bundesliga: Werder Bremen at Bayern Leverkusen



Soccer: Bundesliga: Werder Bremen at Bayern Leverkusen

Okay game, but it was too one-sided. Leverkusen dominated from the start and ended Bremen's good streak. The Brazilian Lucia started things off for Leverkusen with a goal just 12 minutes into the game, then things settled down for a while with neither team doing anything. In the second half, however, Leverkusen came alive again, with Neuville scoring early, and Brdaric adding to the tally ten minutes after that. Those goals pretty much did Bremen in, and Leverkusen easily defended their lead. Final: 3-0 Leverkusen.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Burn After Reading



Movie: Burn After Reading
Director(s): Coen Brothers

Hilarious Coen brothers' romp about spies and amateurs colliding. The plot's a bit too complicated to explain entirely, but basically we've got a drunken spy who retires/is fired and decides to write his memories. A CD of his book gets into the hands of two gym works who think the information is classified stuff and decide to blackmail him. In the middle of this we have married spies having affairs and other chaos, and basically the CIA can't figure out what's going on aren't sure what info is where and must assume the amateurs actually know what they are doing and are real threats. The end result is a lot of nasty people fighting and dying, and it is quite hilarious. Unfortunately, the story peters out at the end and the finish is disappointing. The whole thing is a little uneven and tends to promise more than it delivers. I went away wanting more, but it's still classic Coen brothers and is worth seeing.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Burning Bright



Book: Burning Bright
Writer(s): Tracy Chevalier

I'm a huge Chevalier fan, but I was disappointed with this novel. I'm not sure where it was going or why it went there. It's basically the story of a rural family in the late 1700s who move to London and their lives overlap with that of poet William Blake. This brings us some fascinating insight into the life of the writer -- how he had his own printing press and the way that he produced his books -- but the main story is about the family, and that story meanders for a while and finally drifts off into the nothing. While it's realistic -- little more than youngsters falling in love and becoming adults -- I kept wating for something to happen and when nothing did, I was left disappointed. It's still an excellently-written book, it's just not up to Chevalier's usual standards.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2000

The Burning Hills



Movie: The Burning Hills (1956)
Writer(s): Louis L'Amour (novel) and Irving Wallace
Director(s): Stuart Heisler

This is a western about a Mexican girl helping a cowboy escape some bad dudes. Natalie Wood's miscast as the girl, and though she's not terrible, she looks like she's in pain having to pretend to be something she's physically not. The accent's piled on as thickly as her dark make-up. Though there are a few scenes of romantic humor where Natalie shines, overall the movie is slow and rather boring compared to modern shoot-em-ups.

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Friday, January 23, 2004

The Butterfly Effect



Movie: The Butterfly Effect

Not a bad film. I liked the concept: a boy suffers from memory blackouts, moments of time where he can't remember what he was doing. Since his father was insane, the boy's mother is worried. The doctors suggest the boy keep a daily journal of every activity to help stimulate his memory. Eventually the blackouts stop and boy grows up. While he's in college (majoring in psychology) he studies his old journals and discovers he can go back in time and relive those experiences and even change what happened. When a friend commits suicide, he goes back in time seeing answers and tries to change things so she won't have been sexually abused by her father and commit suicide. It works, at least on the surface, but he soon learns that other things have changed as well, especially in his own life. So he's forced to go back in time again and again, trying to fix things, but each time screwing up it worse. The idea, of course, is that the smallest change in the past brings forth a completely new future. What I really liked about the film was the way they did that, and the fact that the childhood blackouts corresponded to the times he goes back to change things -- that's why he couldn't remember. Very cool, though it is a circular plot (because the blackouts "cause" him to write the journal and later use it go back in time, etc. yet the blackouts are caused by his going back in time). I love time paradoxes, though. The ending's okay, though abrupt. I'd have liked to see the ending show a few more differences in his life (i.e. a different girlfriend, etc.) just to show that that one change also changed other things. The film's not as dramatic as the promos make it sound (the supporting cast is better than Ashton Kutcher, though he's surprisingly not as bad as you might expect). I really liked the way the supporting cast each had to play multiple characters, showing how Ashton's changes changed their characters. Overall, while there's some decent acting and a good story, the film relies on its gimmick too much. It tries too hard (Ashton especially). Still, it's not bad and it's good fun. Recommended.

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