Wednesday, April 2, 2003

C.S. Lewis: My Life's Journey

Movie: C.S. Lewis: My Life's Journey

This was a presentation from the University of California that aired on PBS recently. It was a one-man play about the life of writer C.S. Lewis. Basically Lewis came out and talked to the audience as though we were guests at his house, and he told us about his life, his conversion to Christianity, and his relationship with his wife Joy. It was execellent; witty and fascinating, and emotionally moving. There were a number of great lines. One of my favorites was when Lewis talked about being an atheist early his in life and what a contradiction that was. "I was extremely angry at God for not existing." His tales of his wife Joy proved she had a ready wit as well. Excellent, and helps one get to know Lewis the man versus Lewis the writer.


Friday, September 19, 2003

Cabin Fever

Movie: Cabin Fever

Another twist on the "end of the world virus" story. In this case it's morphed with the typical "trapped teens in the woods with a serial killer" plot. We aren't privy to where the virus came from (no silly lectures here on genetic research gone awry like in 28 Days Later) -- a diseased guy just shows up at some vacationing kids' cabin in the woods. The virus spreads, infecting the group, and we watch as the horrible skin disease mutilates them and they turn on each other in their fear and horror. In truth, the disease only kills one of them: the others all meet horrible fates but not by the virus. The idea's not that original, nor is the presentation, but it's done with such style and blatant gore that it's quite entertaining. There are a lot of "camera jokes" -- where the audience gets to see clues (like a closeup of the diseased water glass the victim is about to drink) the characters don't notice, which is the film's version of humor. There's plenty of blood and gore, but a surprising amount of the violence is off-screen. For instance, we hear a dog eating someone, but only see part of a leftover foot as evidence that it happened (hey, it could have been much worse). There's some bizarre stuff here as well: funny characters, idiot characters, and strange characters all keep you entertained and make you wonder who's going to die next. And oh, this is a wickedly horrible tragedy: don't hold out hope for anyone, as everyone dies. I do mean everyone. Pretty funny in a warped sort of way. Similar sense of humor to great gore films like Dead Alive.


Sunday, July 23, 2000


Movie: Caddyshack (1980)

After watching Tiger Woods complete the Grand Slam this morning, I had to watch a golf movie, right? Pretty dumb fun, but Rodney Dangerfield was great as obnoxious wealthy golfer.


Sunday, December 30, 2007


Movie: Cake

I liked this. I'd never heard of it, but it's about Heather Graham as a wild travel writer with committment issues who, when her magazine publisher dad has a heart attack, has to take over one of his publications as editor. It turns out it's a wedding magazine -- exactly the opposite of her personality and beliefs (she's anti-marriage). While occasionally uneven and some of the conflicts feel forced or ill-defined and of course the overall plot is obvious a mile away (yes, the anti-marriage girl falls in love and settles down), Graham's bubbly performance carries the day and makes this an entertaining exploration of marriage and love.


Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Call of the Wild

Book: Call of the Wild (1903)
Writer(s): Jack London

What a book. I believe I read this when I was twelve or so; it's even better now. In fact, it's even better a century after it was written, as our society is less wild and (presumably) more civilized. Few of us know the rawness of the pure struggle for survival. It's amazing to read this book, written from the intimate perspective of an animal, and relate it to the petty concerns of my own life. Modern society, gripped by the madness of political correctness, is mocked by London with brutal reality, for the wild knows no mercy. I found it a breath of fresh air. The book reads quickly, like a flowing brook; there's not a false step anywhere. It's truly one of the best books ever written, full of truth and reality. Here's my favorite quote:

"There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight."


Saturday, June 5, 2004

Canada National Team at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Canada National Team at San Jose Earthquakes

Exhibition matches are often boring. This wasn't, but it wasn't great soccer either. Canada, now led by San Jose's former coach, Frank Yallop, needed this game as they start World Cup qualifiying next week. The Quakes used the opportunity to give some of the lessor players minutes. At first it seemed like Canada could only foul (Canada's number six should have gotten a second yellow in the first half), but there were some small chances on both sides. Then Canada scored on a bad play by Quakes' backup keep Jon Conway, who blocked a hard but direct shot right to another Canadian who easily put away the rebound. In the second half, more problems. Rookie Ryan Cochrane made a horrible blunder at the back, completely missing the ball and stepping past it, leaving it behind him. Canada pounced, taking the ball in on goal in a two-on-one breakaway. The cross deflected off San Jose's Craig Waibel and into our goal to give the Canadians a two-goal lead. Their third goal came when a shot deflected, wrong-footing Conway. San Jose fought back, earning a penalty kick when Alavarez's shot was blocked by a Canadian's hands. Brian Ching finished off the goal nicely. A moment later, just as momentum was building for San Jose, the lights went out! A nearby electrical transformer blew, taking out most of the neighborhood. Fortunately it was still light enough to see and the came continue for a little while, getting an extra boost when San Jose's superstar Landon Donovan was finally put in the match, but just a couple minutes later the ref called it, as it was too dark to continue. So only 75 minutes was played instead of the 90, which was a little harsh on the Quakes and the soft result flatters the Canadians who should have out-played the home team to a greater degree. Still, it was an interesting experience! Final: 3-1 Canada.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Canadian Bacon

Movie: Canadian Bacon
Director(s): Michael Moore

Another cult classic I had never seen; I didn't realize until the opening credits this was written and directed by Michael Moore. I can't stand him lately, but this is in his earlier period when he was at least somewhat balanced and much funnier. This is pretty good, too, though too uneven to be a great film. The premise is that the U.S. president is down in the polls and the economy is tanking, so he conjures up Canada as the new red threat (a little bit like Wag the Dog, though that's a much better film). If this film had concentrated on that premise it would have been better; unfortunately it tries for broader comedy with slapstick and farce with a moron American sheriff trying to attack Canada himself and a bunch of other silly nonsense. The film is definitely biased, but not as much as you'd expect: there are humorous jabs in both directions (something Moore doesn't do any more and his work suffers because of it). The bottom line: fun


Friday, January 27, 2006


Movie: Capote

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


Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain America

Movie: Captain America

I had high hopes for this as the previews looked fantastic. But the opening scene had me worried as it was completely out of context and didn't make any sense. It turned out to make sense, but only once you knew what was going on. The filmmakers were being a bit too clever here. In my case, since there was no context or explanation, it put me in the wrong mood for the film. Thankfully, other things came along that were so good it almost eliminated that feeling, but every tiny mistake was exaggerated because of that awkward start. For instance, the worst thing about the film is the "magical" energy source the bad guy digs up in the Arctic: I found that ridiculous and silly and very comic booky. But my irritation with it came a lot from that rough beginning of the film which had me looking for flaws. All that said, once the film gets going (10-15 minutes in), it's quite wonderful. I loved the appropriately slow pacing of the initial story of our weakling hero transformed into muscular super-guy. That's my favorite part of the story and I had worried and expected the filmmakers would resolve that storyline in five short minutes. Instead, it's a major part of the film, and not only does that mean we actually get to know our hero as a person, but when he does transform it's far more believable and a bigger event. Though the film's action begins with that transformation, the pacing is still slow enough to be realistic, which I appreciated. I loved the way they had him come up with his "Captain America" name and costume; it's probably the most believable costume origin of any superhero ever. While the bulk of the film's plot centers around Captain America's origin, I liked that, for I found the Nazi super-villain storyline to stretch credibility so much that I wasn't interested (though the bad guy is deliciously performed by Hugo Weaving). The ending's slightly anti-climatic, but I also liked that, as it was appropriate. The very end of the film is really nice as it sets up everything for the inevitable sequel and does that brilliantly. I think they have a hit new series here.


Thursday, September 7, 2000

Captain for Life and Other Temporary Assignments

Book: Captain for Life and Other Temporary Assignments (1999)
Writer(s): John Harkes

On a soccer kick, I ordered this book at the same time as Pele and I just finished it. Terrific book, detailing lots about John Harkes' career I didn't know about, such as his time playing soccer in England. The whole fiasco about him not being selected to go to France 98 is dealt with, though not exlained: only former U.S. National Team coach Steve Sampson can explain that irrationality. Still, the behind-the-scenes look at the team and the building conflicts with the coach explains a lot of why the U.S. did so poorly in France (essentially Steve changed the lineup too frequently, didn't announce his decisions until the last minute, and destroyed both player morale and unity with his chaotic decisions). It's obvious Harkes was tremendously hurt by the whole mess, but he doesn't come across as whiney or complaining, just as a competent professional attempting to make the best of a poor situation. Good read, though probably only of interest to soccer fans.


Monday, July 16, 2007


Movie: Captivity

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


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Capturing the Friedmans

Movie: Capturing the Friedmans

Terrific documentary about a strange sexual abuse case and how it tears a family apart. The Friedmans seem to be an ordinary upper-middle-class family until the father, a computer teacher, is caught by a postal inspector receiving child porn in the mail. That starts a police investigation and when it's learned he's a teacher, his students are interviewed. While students had been attending his computer courses several times a week for years without a complaint, suddenly under pressure from the police the boys claim sexual abuse. And not just from the father, but from his youngest son, who was 17/18 at the time. The abuse described is extreme: hundreds and hundreds of cases, many times violent, yet the students were in computer class (in the family's home) for only an hour or so at a time and never showed any signs of trauma. The truth appears to be that the children were coached or pressured by the police into lying. This is not as unusual as it might seem, for children by their nature want to please adults, and if they sense a certain answer is expected, that's what they say. The result is that the father, who did seem to be a closet pedophile, is sent to prison and eventually dies there (possibly by suicide); the son, who seems to be innocent, is also convicted and locked up for many years. The film ends in modern day when the son finally released.

While this is an unpleasant topic and it's obvious the emotions of parents and those in the community are extreme, the film raises many questions about such cases are investigated and prosecuted. If the Friedmans were innocent, as they claim, then why did they plead guilty? Because if they did not, they felt they'd have been convicted any way and go away for a much longer time. It's a strange, sobering tale, and while the story asks many questions, it leaves many unanswered and we'll probably never know the truth. Really interesting look at a troubled family via personal videos and interviews, however. Highly recommended.


Saturday, July 5, 2003

Car Accident

On the way to the Earthquakes game tonight I was traveling over Highway 17, a horrible road over the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's two lanes each way, separated by a concrete divider, and there's rarely a shoulder on the right. The road's winding and cars travel at ridiculous speeds and there are frequent traffic jams. I've often thought someone needs to make a video game of the road: Highway 17: Corridor of Death.

Anyway, I came around a corner and saw traffic slowing, so I slowed. Then I saw traffic in my left lane wasn't just slowing but completely stopped. I put the brakes on full but was still traveling. I quickly realized I wasn't going to make it. With only a half-second to make my decision (there was no shoulder on the left, just the concrete divider), I threw the car to the right where there was an opening. I didn't have time to look behind me and collided with an SUV in that lane. Fortunately it wasn't too bothered by my tiny car and there was some room on the right for it to shift over, so I missed the stopped truck I would have hit. My little Neon was badly damaged. Pretty much the whole right side, from tire to tire, was thrashed. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the car was drivable, so once all the info was exchanged, we were able to go on to the soccer game just fine. About ten or twenty cars behind us, another accident happened at the same time (ripple effect, I guess), and that one was much worse. That car rear ended someone and looked like it was totalled, and we did see an ambulance arrive though I don't know how seriously anyone was hurt. That's an evil road.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Car Adventures

My car's been getting old (I've had it for over 10 years) and it lately started acting up. The air conditioner was making noise, it was creaking and not steering properly, and other weird things. Then last week I drove to Modesto and Fresno to visit my Aunt Joann and go to the eye doctor (my first visit in over two years). I had planned to get an oil change but when I went they were closed: it was Labor Day, the morons. So I left without having my car checked out. I was nervous, but everything worked great until I got to Fresno. Suddenly the car started making weird sounds (the engine was snorting during idling), the air conditioner made screeching sounds so I had to turn it off, acceleration pooped out, and then a strange bell began dinging randomly. I thought the car was toast for sure.

That evening I headed for home. I got on the highway and the bell began ringing again. It's the same warning bell that rings when you leave your keys in the ignition and open the door. I thought something wasn't working right with the system. I couldn't see any warning lights on the dash. Then I noticed that the temperature gauge, which I've never seen above 30%, was at max. As I watched, it went all the way to the top and the bell rang. That happened again and cleared up the bell mystery: it was telling me my car was overheating.

I got off at the next exit and went to a gas station. There I sprayed water on the engine and after a 20 minute cool-down, added water to the radiator. Then I called my Uncle Phil for advice (I know less than nothing about cars) and added some oil (it seemed low). The odd thing was that after the car was cool, just sitting and idling made it overheat! I had to cool it down a second time (after turning off the engine, of course).

Once I got on the road, the wind kept the engine cool and I made it home just fine. But idling for more than a few minutes -- in a parking lot, in traffic, etc. -- would make the car overheat.

I dreaded taking the car to a shop. Who knows how much I'd be charged? Probably they'd tell me the engine was dead. Except the car did work fine on the highway. I was so nervous I actually checked out the prices of new and used cars. What I found was depressing, because used ones that I could afford were in even worse shape than my Neon, and because new cars are way out of my price range (which is pretty close to zero).

Finally, I decided I at least had to know how much it would be to fix, so I took it in. The shop had given me a $108 estimate to find the trouble and called a couple hours later. "You car's fixed!" they said.

"What? Seriously? What was wrong?"

"It was simple: the relay to the cooling fan was bad. So the fan wasn't turning on when needed. We replaced the relay and everything works great now."

The total bill came to $88 labor/diagnostic and $12 for the part. Not bad at all. The odd thing is the overheating seemed to be the problem all along. The air conditioner now works fine (no more weird sounds), the engine noise I'd been hearing in retrospect was water boiling, and the sluggish acceleration is cured, probably because higher RPMs generated more heat. I don't understand why overheating would effect the steering, but it's fixed now, so I can only assume it was also related.

Weird the way a single problem could create such a variety of symptoms.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Car Problems

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


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Car Problems, the Sequel

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


Thursday, April 6, 2006

Car Update

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


Monday, March 19, 2007

Carol leaves for Togo

This morning I took my mom to the airport. She's flying to Togo, West Africa, for three months. She'll be staying with a missionary friend and helping her. It's been a ton of work getting everything she needed: passport and visa, innoculations, medicines for three months, setting up automatic bill paying for during her absense, packing, etc. She's been working very hard. But today was culmination and she's off. She hasn't traveled internationally for years, and with her recent health issues, wasn't sure if she'd be able to do so, but a short-term mission trip like this seemed an ideal way to try it.


Friday, June 9, 2006


Movie: Cars

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


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cars 2

Movie: Cars 2

I don't understand why the critics are giving this such a hard time. Or rather, I do: they feel this is their chance to pounce on Pixar and give them their first bad review. But this isn't a bad movie. It's just not a serious one. It's a silly spy spoof. It's fun. No, it doesn't have the heart and depth of any of Pixar's previous films (even the original Cars, which is probably the least literary of Pixar's films), and because it's a sequel, it doesn't feel very innovative. But it's still a good movie. It's certainly better than most films, especially those aimed at kids. Pixar does make an attempt to have a serious spine in the story as best friends McQueen and Mater have a conflict that threatens their relationship, but of course it's easily resolved, and with all the complex spy shenanigans going on, it feels like a minor aspect of the plot. The bottom line is this has a fun story with cool spy gadgets and intrigue, beloved characters, and it's a great around-the-world adventure with wonderful views of Tokyo and London in a car-only universe. I enjoyed it. It's ultimately silly as spy spoofs always are (think Get Smart), but there's nothing wrong with that at all. Go have and enjoy it.


Friday, May 28, 2004

Casa de los Babys

Movie: Casa de los Babys
Writer(s): John Sayles
Director(s): John Sayles

Unusual talky film about a group of American women in a hotel in a Latin American country waiting for their baby adoptions to go through. What's neat is that the film is half in Spanish as we observe both sides of the transaction: the hispanic workers and hotel owner, a pregnant teen who will give her baby up, as well as the stories of the American women who a desperate for babies. Nothing too dramatic happens, but characters are revealed and relationships formed. It's interesting. The film has flaws in momentum and an awkwardly abrupt ending, but it's a unique slice of life as scene from a different perspective. It makes you think about a number of things -- the meaning of motherhood, racism, nature versus nurture, abortion, America versus foreign cultures -- but in a low-key way and it never tries to manipulate your thinking or tell you to think a certain way. It's just a brief picture of a reality you're forced by its pressence to contemplate. I liked it.


Thursday, July 6, 2000


Movie: Casablanca

Another one of those "I'll see it someday" films. This happened to be the someday, and it was well worth the wait. I was expecting a routine mellodramatic romance along the lines of the supposedly great Gone With the Wind and discovered several surprises: 1) the main plot was WWII intrigue, not romance; 2) the romance was mostly handled in flashback, which minimized it's focus; and 3) plenty of witty humor, which modernized the movie considerably. Terrific film, with dozens of familiar lines. The romance angle was minimal, which I preferred, as the driving plot was much more interesting and that made the romance more significant.


Thursday, February 3, 2011


Movie: Cashback

Strange title, but a neat quirky British film about a young artist who's so devastated when his girlfriend breaks up with him that he goes weeks without sleeping. To occupy his time, he takes a job on the night shift at a supermarket. There he meets a bunch of strange fellow losers who each have ways to make the time go by while doing as little work as possible. He discovers his method is to stop time. He puts the world on pause and while everyone is frozen, he can use the time to draw pictures of any pretty female shoppers. I liked the way the film toys with the line of whether he's really freezing time or if it's just in his imagination (a question never really answered and truly, it doesn't really matter since the effects are the same either way). As an artist, his privilege is to see beauty everywhere, and he falls for a homely clerk who gradually becomes beautiful to us as well. There's not a huge amount of plot -- the love story of the two is simple enough -- and the main appeal is the young man's genuine personality and the fantasy of being able to stop time. I liked it.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Casino Royale

Movie: Casino Royale

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


Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Movie: Casonova

This was apparently meant to be a farce about the famous lover. It doesn't take itself very seriously and is basically in line with Shakespearean identity comedy. Unfortunately, it falls flat and doesn't quite succeed as a love story or a comedy. There are some good moments, and it has its charm -- it certainly was not as bad as I expected from the previews -- and the cinematography and recreation of ancient Venice is stunning. But the plot was too convoluted to be taken seriously, and though that was intentional, it still demeaned the whole project as a nothing but a broad joke. It's fun, but frivolous.


Friday, August 10, 2001

Cast Away

Movie: Cast Away

I didn't want to like this movie. It seemed like just another retread of Robinson Crusoe, and yes, that's exactly what it turned out to be. I saw very little that I didn't expect: I swear I could have written out the plot myself in advance. Much of the drama was forced and heavy-handed. For instance in the first few minutes Tom Hanks' calls his girlfriend from Moscow and just happens to mention he needs a dentist appointment for a tooth that's bothering him. "Oh great," I immediately think, "we'll be having an overly dramatic home dental surgery demonstration on the island." Sure enough, that's what happened (though I didn't know he'd use an ice skate). At other times the direction is too obvious: Tom flicking a lighter that instantly flames to show how "easy" it is to get fire (in contrast to his having to create fire via friction). But despite all that, I did like the film. It was well done, though there was nothing earthshattering about it. Just a realistic story about a man surviving for years on a deserted island. Hanks did a good job; he blended into the role completely, which is excellent acting, but I thought his character was a little boring. The special effects and plane crash and storms were very well done. Overall, a decent film, though lacking in depth. It tries to explore some complex issues (like Hanks coming home to find his girlfriend married with children), but it doesn't explore them beyond introducing the potential problems. For me, the film Alive did all this so much better with a positive message.


Sunday, December 2, 2001

The Castle

Movie: The Castle

Terrific Ausie film about a hilariously dimwitted family that lives near the airport and receives an eviction notice as the airport wants to expand (their home is being bought under eminent domain). They refuse to move out, however, fighting the action (with ineptitude) in court. Extremely well-written with sharp dialogue that's full of irony. It gets a little outrageous at times, but mostly stays grounded to its premise and is ultimately a feel-good story about a David-versus-Goliath battle. Funny and well-worth your time, and it just might make you think a little about what you've got in your own life.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Castle in the Sky

Movie: Castle in the Sky
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki

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


Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Cat in the Hat

Movie: The Cat in the Hat

I had zero interest in seeing this in the theatres after seeing the horrible previews. It turns out it's not as bad as I expected, but it's way overdone, tampered with by adults who don't have a clue about Dr. Suess, and includes much non-Suess material that falls flat. The parts where the film shines is when it uses real Suess material, actual rhyming lines from the Cat or the Fish or the narrator. Sometimes the sets are cool, and the special effects are amazing, but the core of the any movie must be the story, and there the producers destroyed what made the original great. Read the book instead of bothering with the film.


Monday, January 27, 2003

Cat o' Nine Tails

Movie: Cat o' Nine Tails (1971)
Writer(s): Dario Argento
Director(s): Dario Argento

Supposedly the "Italian Hitchcock," this is Argento's second film and his most popular. It is a lot like Hitchcock in terms of camera angles, but certainly not in terms of depth of story and symbolism. The plot deals with a series of mysterious murders, including anyone who is investigating them. A blind man and a journalist team up to track down the killer, but there are too many leads (the "nine tails" of the title). Well done, especially for its time, but not that shocking or original today. The climactic unmasking of the murderer was a letdown, but I did like the poetic justice ending. Definitely a director to check out: I'm going to see more of his stuff.


Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Cat Tip of the Day: Keep Off

Here's my latest tip for cat lovers. Have a problem keeping your cat off your kitchen table or other non-kitty places? I bought a little battery-operated motion detector alarm at Radio Shack ($25) which is awesome. I leave it on pointed at the coffee table at night. Now when one of my cats jumps onto the table, the alarm chimes, and the cat runs and hides. They don't like loud sounds. The first night I tried this the alarm went off twice, but the second night only once. I think my cats are getting the message. I figure a week with it on the coffee table will cure them of that bad habit, then it's on to the kitchen counter!


Sunday, December 8, 2002

The Cat's Meow

Movie: The Cat's Meow

Interesting story about a murder that might have been committed by William Randolph Hearst way back when. He took a party of famous people (including Charlie Chaplin) out on his boat, but one member died and there was never an inquiry. This film is one possibility of what might have happened. Well done, with a great cast, but obviously a lot of history and Hollywood knowledge is required to really appreciate this: I've heard of Hearst and Chaplin, but those were the only ones, so I missed most of the rest. Still, it was interesting, though a llittle heavy-handed (I could tell there were aspects of the characters I was supposed to react to, assuming I knew the real-life person, but since I didn't, the references went over my head and I found that got boring after a while).


Monday, January 13, 2003

Catch Me If You Can

Movie: Catch Me If You Can
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Good film, though somewhat average. It's well done, but nothing extraordinary. The performances by Hanks and Leonardo are very good, though. The true story is remarkable, especially the feel-good ending: in the 60's, a teenage boy impersonates a Pan Am pilot and goes around the country cashing forged checks while an FBI agent tracks him. Eventually he's stolen more than $4 million, worked as a doctor at a hospital, and passed the bar to become a lawyer! Very cool, but not a classic or anything. It was much too long: at over 2 hours, it really only had enough solid material for an hour forty-five. I also hated the animated opening credits, which were full of themselves, like some sort of cheap rip-off of a Pink Panther movie.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Catch That Kid

Movie: Catch That Kid

What is it with Hollywood producing kid movies with adults with negative IQs? This is actually a fun film, but several of the adults are just absurdly moronic (i.e. security guard shocks himself unconscious with electric cattle prod) and it really means that only kids age five could completely enjoy this. Overall it's a decent concept for a film: a young girl teams with her friends to rob a bank to steal the $250,000 her dad needs to a critical operation. The bank robbery is overly elaborate to the point of being silly, but still fun. Unfortunately, everything is dumbed down. Why couldn't this be done intelligently and realistically? It could have been really cool? As it is, it's on about the level of a cheap sitcom, okay but not great.


Saturday, November 24, 2001

Cats and Dogs

Movie: Cats and Dogs

Silly but fun high-tech adventure about the war between cats and dogs. The two species do commando raids and use secret agents to foil each other. Terrific special effects (the animals were a combination of live animals, puppets, and digital and the result was seamless). Ultimately it gets rather ridiculous and carries the one joke premise too far, but it's still fun.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Movie: Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

I am embarrassed just to type the ridiculous title of this silly film, but even more shameful is that this was the best choice in new films this weekend. Still, talking animal movies can be fun. Unfortunately, this one isn't. It's sadly just not funny. (Tired jokes about dogs sniffing rear ends predominate.) The best jokes are the ones that are barely shown, almost afterthoughts. Such as my favorite: the labels on the gearshift in the jet car. High speed is K9 (ha ha) but stop is the classic, "Stay." These kind of background jokes provide a few smiles, but the surrounding film moves at a pace too quick for you to really see or enjoy those things. The film's worst flaw is that the creators seemed to think that animals talking exposition is not as bad as humans talking exposition. You know what? It's worse. When animals do it not only is it dreadfully boring, but it ruins the magic of animals talking at all. There are a few bright spots: I loved the pigeon's dim-witted and short-attention-span character, and I saw hope in the brief moments when talking animals and humans interacted: that, at least, was interesting, as the animals had to pretend to be dumb. But that happens too infrequently and doesn't go far enough: I would have liked to have seen that be a major aspect of the film: dogs and cats as spies in the human world, saving us from ourselves. Visually, the film isn't terrible, but it's nothing special either. I'm not even sure I recommend this on DVD. Young kids may find it mildly amusing, but adults should stay far away. Sad.


Monday, July 26, 2004


Movie: Catwoman

Why does Halle Berry pick such sucky movies to be in? She does her best with a feeble script, but she's the only thing good about this dud. What sucks is mainly the plot, which is thin, lame, predictable. The premise of Halle dying and having life breathed back into her by a cat, that giving her cat-like abilities, is fine. The idea that she's not exactly a good cat -- she initially uses her cat skills to rob a jewelry store -- is great. The special effects are good, even impressive, making Halle really move like a cat. But there just isn't anything to work with. The story's so thin you can see through it. Cosmetics queen Sharon Stone is about to go public with her new line of adictive, deadly face cream (How stupid is that?) and Catwoman must stop her. So after Catwoman has easily beaten up dozens of men, the "climax" of the movie is Catwoman versus Sharon in one of the silliest fights ever filmed. Why not give her a real opponent, someone challenging? Just stupid, stupid, stupid. This movie has a few good ideas and a nice scene or two, but basically it's about three or four rewrites from being ready for filming. Back to the drawing board, folks. Halle in a skimpy cat suit does go far, but not even she can replace an actual story.


Sunday, February 25, 2001

Cecil B. Demented

Movie: Cecil B. Demented
Writer(s): John Waters
Director(s): John Waters

Waters' big budget pictures just aren't as much fun as his low budget spoofs. It's partly the nature of his type of humor: he tends to take one premise and do a whole film, and the more Hollywood movies just can't support a one joke premise. This one is a great idea: a mockery of independent and big budget moviemaking via a renegade filmmaker who kidnaps a Hollywood A-list starlet and forces her to be in his film attacking Hollywood. There are some great lines, a fair amount of crudity, some excellent satire, but in the end it seems like a lot of fuss over nothing. Waters fans will enjoy it, of course, but the average viewer won't find too much too cheer.


Tuesday, January 18, 2000


Movie: Celebrity (1998)
Writer(s): Woody Allen
Director(s): Woody Allen

Amusing, lightweight comedy. It's different, perhaps the most successful working of an episodic film I've seen. Nice use of real-life celebrities in various low-key roles. Kenneth Branagh does a good Woody Allen imitation, but I think I would have preferred Woody in the role -- Branagh's too good looking for his bad luck to be believable. Overall, not up Woody's usual intellectual standard (it never really makes the statement I expect), but then that might make it more approachable for non-Woody fans.


Wednesday, January 3, 2001

The Cell

Movie: The Cell
Director(s): Tarsem

A visually striking film, with interesting special effects, but not much of a story. Well, actually, the story sounds fascinating -- a woman goes into a comatose serial killer's mind in order to find out where he hid his latest victim -- but doesn't deliver as much as promised. If the film had a better script and a real story, it would help. It's too one-dimensional, with all the psychological aspects of serial killing reduced to the obvious and routine (i.e. the killer was abused as a child). Not as bad as I'd heard, and the DVD's got some good extra material on the creation of the special effects.


Monday, January 30, 2006


Book: Cell
Writer(s): Stephen King (book)

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


Monday, September 13, 2004


Movie: Cellular

A decent thriller. It starts off a little weak: too much exposition, some pointless explanation. We're forced to see the mother kiss her son off too school (shows she loves him), hear that she's a science teacher (important as she'll use those skills throughout the movie), etc. Though why a science teacher doesn't leave for school before the boy gets on the school bus isn't explained (in my experience, teachers arrive before the students). Once the story gets going, however, it doesn't stop. The woman is suddenly kidnapped. She's locked in an attic room and the wall phone is smashed so she can't use it. But she figures out a way to rewire the fragments and make a call, but she can't control who she dials. She dials randomly and a kid answers on his cell phone. Since she doesn't even know what number she dialed or even if she could dial again, her life depends on that call. If he hangs up or they are disconnected, she's dead. Things take a little time to get going here -- at first he doesn't believe her story, then he tries to take the phone to the police -- but eventually it's just him and her. The kidnappers are going to go steal her kid from school so she pleads with the stranger on the phone to help her, to get to the school before the kidnappers. Thus a race is started and continues, with "drama" like the cell phone's battery dying, crossed lines with another cell phone user (Can that actually happen with today's digital phones?), signal problems within a tunnel, etc. It's a bit ridiculous but the performances keep you involved and things move too fast for you to be concerned about logic. The resolution is good, but the final fight in the boat house is too long and convoluted, though I did like the fight's conclusion (which cleverly involves a cell phone). All and all, this is an odd film. It's got moments that are obviously B-movie quality, but then it's got good actors and some good action and a story that keeps you involved. The sum of its parts is therefore slightly more than the whole, resulting in a decent -- but not great -- thriller. It's fun, but most of that fun comes from not knowing what's going to happen and wanting to see what the producers will do with the interesting premise. I don't know that there's enough here to want to see the film again, which means it isn't a classic, but it is entertaining. It's certainly better than a lot of current films.


Monday, June 4, 2007

The Chairman

Book: The Chairman
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

This book comes before The Protege, but I read it second. In this one the main character has just been elected chairman of the company and is struggling against conspiracies designed to destroy him and the company. The plot's overdone (there are several plots going on) and there's not enough interesting money stuff, but it's still rather amusing and harmless entertainment.


Thursday, April 5, 2007

Champions Cup Semifinal: Houston Dynamo at Pachuca

Soccer: Champions Cup Semifinal: Houston Dynamo at Pachuca

What a terrific game! I missed the first leg of this series as the schedule was changed at last minute, so I didn't get to see Houston win their home match 2-0. Unfortunately, this second leg was at high-altitude in Mexico in front of a packed stadium of soccer-crazy home fans. Houston are still in pre-season (the new MLS season starts on Saturday) and rusty, while Pachuca is in mid-season and firing on all cylinders. Houston got off to a bad start, surrendering a goal just 3.5 minutes in; but the replay showed he goal was offside and shouldn't have counted. That encouraged Pachuca who attacked even more, and by fifteen in Pachua were up 2-0 after Craig Waibel tripped a player in the box and the ref called a penalty kick. But Houston started playing better after that, holding off Pachuca until the second half, when Houston began to play much better and actually put together some attacking runs. When Ching and DeRossario combined to get the ball to an open Brian Mullan, he didn't disappoint, scoring to give Houston the aggregate lead. But it was too much to hope for, as shortly thereafter, the ref gave Pachuca another penalty, this time on a phantom foul (there was no contact). But Houston came right back with a terrific headed goal from Ching, and as the clock wound down it really looked like Houston might advance to the finals. The Pachuca fans were crushed, but their team was resillient, keeping up the tremendous pressure and scoring with just a few minutes left in the game. Now it was 4-4 on aggregat (combined score between the two games). That led to 30 minutes of overtime and an exhausted Houston could hardly walk, let alone run. But somehow they kept in going and DeRo had probably the best chance of the entire game with a point-black header that was miraculously saved one-handed by the diving Pachuca keeper. Then more controversy as the ref didn't blow the whistle at the overtime half-way mark, but allowed Pachuca one more opportunity on goal. As the Houston players dropped off, the player took a wild shot from long range. Everyone -- even the Mexicans, I think -- expected one of those "row Z" shots that miss the goal by a mile. Instead the rocket curled right into the top corner not even giving Houston keeper Zach Wells a chance. Wow. Nice game winner. Unfortunately Houston couldn't score in the second half, though they had a couple chances and nearly tied it on a Ching header. In the end, I can't say either team didn't deserve to advance. This was a game worthy of the final.


Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Champions League Final: Bayern Munich vs. Valencia

Soccer: Champions League Final: Bayern Munich vs. Valencia

Rather an annoying game: quite boring at times, and the only goals came from penalty kicks (all of them questionable). Valencia was awarded one just three minutes in and Medieta put it away. Bayern had one of their own not long after, but missed! It looked like it was Valencia's day, but shortly into the second half Bayern were awarded another penalty and Effenberg did not miss. The tie game went into overtime, and then to penalty kicks. The penalty kick contest was dramatic and exciting, as the Bayern missed their first kick and it was touch and goal for a while. There were a number of misses, but going into the fifth and final round, the teams were tied with two misses each. That's when my tape of the game ran out: I'd only recorded 45 minutes extra and that wasn't enough! Arrgggg! Well, I found out later Bayern won, and though it almost seems unfair that one team should be so successful, I did feel they deserved it slightly more, if only because Valencia deliberately wasted time in the overtime, wanting the game to go to penalty kicks. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. I lie offensive teams best. At least Valencia played better in this year's final than last years (where they were dreadful). Final: 1-1, Bayern Munich win on penalty kicks.


Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Champions League: A.C. Milan at Deportivo

Soccer: Champions League: A.C. Milan at Deportivo

Not a bad game, though a little dull: Deportivo tends to not win by scoring a lot of goals. It certainly was competitive, with chances on both sides. But late in the first half Milan went ahead on a goal by Helveg. He volleyed in a poor clearance off a corner kick, keeping the ball to go under the surprised keeper. In the second half, Deportivo came out kicking and dominated the play by a huge margin -- at one point they led on shots 18 to 5 -- but they couldn't score. With just a minute left in regulation, Helveg knocked heads with another player and was taken off the field with blood running everywhere. But Milan held on to win, 1-0.


Thursday, March 15, 2001

Champions League: Arsenal at Bayern Munich

Soccer: Champions League: Arsenal at Bayern Munich

Both teams needed a win in case Lyon won their game in Moscow. As it turned out, Lyon tied, so both Arsenal and Munich go through anyway, but the games were played simultaneously, so no one knew that. Still, Arsenal didn't play up to expectations at all: Bayern scored ten minutes in on a great diving header by Elber, but Arsenal just kept trying useless long balls all night and all except one were called offside. Really lame. Bayern deserved the win, and based on this game, Arsenal does not deserve to be the in quarter-finals, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Final: 1-0.


Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Champions League: Barcelona at A.C. Milan

Soccer: Champions League: Barcelona at A.C. Milan

WOW! What an incredible game. The UEFA Champions League is my favorite (only the top couple of teams in each country compete) and this game shows why. Barcelona lost their last two UCL games (they won their first) to put them at the bottom of their group, and so they really needed a big game. The game started off with a great free kick goal from last year's world Player of the Year Rivaldo kicking the ball under the wall as they leaped up. Minutes later, while Barca was in confusion after Cocu and Petite clashed heads and were carted off, leaving the team playing with just nine men, Milan's Albertini scored from a half mile away (at least it seemed like it). Unbelievably, Albertini scored a second -- only his sixth goal in league and international play -- on a free kick. Just minutes later, Rivaldo was brought down at Milan's end of the field to give Barca a free kick at almost the exact spot where Rivaldo scored his first goal. This time the wall didn't jump and Rivaldo put the ball high, just curling it under the crossbar and in! If that wasn't enough for one half, Milan busted back with a shot from Bierhoff that was blocked by Milan's keeper, only to the see rebound blasted in by a charging Jose Maria (three goals for Spain in the Sydney Olympics). Like I said, wow. Five goals in one half. Could the second be any better? Of course not. Both teams slowed down in the second half, with Milan defending their lead. Finally Rivaldo broke through with a terrific diving header to complete his hat trick and tie the score, and that's how the game finished, 3-all.


Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Champions League: Barcelona at Leeds United

Soccer: Champions League: Barcelona at Leeds United

Incredible game. In the first match between these two, Barca whomped Leeds 4-0 and everyone expected the little club to die off quickly. This time around, their positions have reversed: with a win, Leeds would advance and Barcelona, incredibly, would be eliminated from the Champions League. No team has suffered more from injuries than Leeds, with half their team out. And with 20 members under age 25, Leeds is by far the youngest team in Champions League competition.

The game started off well for the smaller club. In the fifth minute, Lee Bowyer's cross was miscalculated by Barca's keeper and went straight into the net! After that, Leeds really turned on the offense, but Barca's defense held and they got their own fifteen minutes or so of offense. In the second half, it was all Barcelona. Leeds attacked only a couple times, and then only on break-away counters. Amazingly, though it seemed like Barca would surely score, they didn't. Leeds second-best keeper (Nigel Martin is out for six weeks on injury), 20-year-old Robinson came up huge, making at least a half-dozen world-class saves. Time drifted on and Barca attacked and attacked, but Leeds kept clearing the ball away. Could they hold out? The huge crowd booed when the ref put up 4 minutes of extra time, but Leeds held on, though they'd only made one substitution and all their players (many just back from injury and not fully fit) were exhausted. Two minutes past, then three. Still the one goal held. With less than a minute left, Barcelona made another run toward the Leeds goal. Lee Bowyer, exhausted, slipped and missed a tackle, which allowed a Barcelona player to put a cross into the box. Desperately Cocu headed the ball but it struck the post. As Leeds scrambled to recover, the rebound went to the dreaded foot of Rivaldo, who didn't miss his point-blank chance. With just thirty seconds to the win, Leeds had missed their chance! Final: 1-1. The tie mathematically keeps Barcelona alive, but Leeds can advance with a tie or win in their next match against A.C. Milan, or a Barcelona loss.


Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Champions League: Bayern Munich at Manchester United

Soccer: Champions League: Bayern Munich at Manchester United

A surprisingly boring game, with Palo Sergio scoring for Munich in the 86th minute. Where was Man. U.'s offense? Final: 1-0 Bayern.


Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Champions League: Bayern Munich at Spartak Moscow

Soccer: Champions League: Bayern Munich at Spartak Moscow

It was miserably cold and snowy in Moscow, and the field was a muddy mess, but both teams gave it their all. Bayern moved ahead early when Scholl put in a great shot seventeen minutes in. Elber passed him the ball and he ran onto it, kicking it between two onrushing defenders to blast it past the keeper. Spartak really fought back but couldn't break the German side. In the second half a bad play on a counterattack gave Bayern a penalty kick and it was Scholl who roofed it to give his team a two goal lead. But that wasn't enough: substitute Paulo Sergio entered late into the game to head in a great goal with just minutes left. Final: 3-0 Munich.


Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Champions League: Deportivo at AC Milan

Soccer: Champions League: Deportivo at AC Milan

Boring game, even though it was a must-win for Milan. Deportivo finally went ahead on a soft penalty kick in the 74th minute, but Milan got one back with their own penalty twelve minutes later. But it wasn't enough. Final: 1-1.


Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Champions League: Deportivo at Leeds

Soccer: Champions League: Deportivo at Leeds

Does it make sense to insult your opponent before playing them? Probably not. It doesn't do you any good and it can only hurt you. No doubt Deportivo's coach regrets his critical comments on Leeds before this game. His team was roasted. Ian Harte scored just 26 minutes in off a wonderful free kick, and Smith and Ferdinand added to the total in the second half. Deportivo hardly had a shot on Leeds' goal all night. They'll have a tough job scoring more than three goals against Leeds at home. Final: 3-0 Leeds.


Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Champions League: Deportivo at Paris Saint-Germain

Soccer: Champions League: Deportivo at Paris Saint-Germain

Started off slow, with neither side doing much, but slowly PSG gained momentum and soon dominated. Then, on a weak shot from Algerino, Deportivo's keeper misjudged the ball and let it slip under him for a PSG lead. In the second half, PSG had several early chances to increase their lead but failed, and Deportivo made them pay with a great volley by Naybet inside the penalty box. Minutes later, Deportivo's Emerson was taken down in an obvious penalty kick, but the ref didn't call it. Deportivo had a one-on-one chance moments after that, but the attempt to chip over the keeper failed. It looked like a tie might be the result of the day. But then Deportivo's Turu Flores, in a brilliant run up the left side, feinted a stop at the edge of the box, then bolted past two defenders to free some space, and slotted the ball home. Both teams had a couple more chances (PSG's keeper made one great save), but in injury time Deportivo put the matter beyond doubt when Roy Makaay took a great feed to go one-on-one with the keeper and he calmly dribbled around him and kicked the ball into the open net. Final: 3-1 Deportivo!


Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Champions League: FC Shakhtar at Lazio

Soccer: Champions League: FC Shakhtar at Lazio

Excellent game. Started off slow, with Lazio missing lots of chances and Shak keeper Yiriv Virt (great name, eh?) making a number of excellent shots. Shak got on the board late in the first half with a terrific angled shot by Vorobyey from twenty-some yards out. In the second half Lopez almost immediately put in a goal for Lazio, and that started the rout. Six minutes later Favali did a great move, nutmegging a defender, running around him to catch up with the ball, and putting it between the keeper and a defender to go 2-1. Just a minute or so after that, Veron added to the score with a fantastic free kick from the side that seemed to defy gravity. Picture this: he's on the right side of the penalty area. The ball goes around the three man wall on the right, so you'd expect it to continue the same curl and go away from the goal and into the center of the penalty area. Instead, it goes into the goal! Crazy! Shakhtar got some chances after that, but in the 68th minute Claudio Lopez got another. On a clearance from a Shakhtar corner, Lopez received the ball all my himself at the halfway line. He ran, alone, with the ball, all the way to the penalty area, dribbled it to the side, allowing Virt to dive and miss, and Lopez calmly put the ball into the empty net. Lopez got his hat trick in injury time, putting the matter well beyond doubt. Final: 5-1 Lazio.


Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Champions League: Galatasaray at Deportivo

Soccer: Champions League: Galatasaray at Deportivo

Good game, but the Turkish club was sadly out-classed. They could do little against the Spanish champs, who were really in form. Victor scored first just 40 minutes in, and Djalminha added in a penalty kick in the 72nd minute, but the 2-0 scoreline doesn't show what a one-sided affair it really was.


Thursday, April 26, 2001

Champions League: Galatasaray at Real Madrid

Soccer: Champions League: Galatasaray at Real Madrid

Well, the Turkish club had a chance coming into this game, but Real was having none of it. They easily won, scoring three goals in the first half! Raul got things going with a goal fifteen minutes in, followed by Helguera in the 28th, and Raul got his second with ten minutes left in the half. After that Real just had to hold on for the win. They advance to the semi-finals. Final: 3-0 Real Madrid.


Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Champions League: Lazio at Leeds

Soccer: Champions League: Lazio at Leeds

A meaningless match, as Leeds is already through in the group, and Lazio can't advance even with a win. But instead of taking it easy, these teams battled ferociously. Awesome game! Lazio got going first, with a goal from Ravenvelli in the 21st minute, but Bowyer tied it miutes later with an unbelievable shot standing with his back to the goal and spinning around as he shot. Minutes later a penalty kick was awarded to Lazio, and Milhajlovic easily scored. But just before the half Wilcox got a goal on a corner kick to level everything. Viduka had an easy goal shortly into the second half, and Leeds hung on to their lead until the end of the game, when Milhajlovic got his second in injury time. Wow, six great goals! Great game, though ultimately it doesn't mean anything. Crazy. Final: 3-3.


Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Champions League: Lazio vs. Real Madrid

Soccer: Champions League: Lazio vs. Real Madrid

Real Madrid is at the top of their group while Lazio hasn't had a single win, but Lazio started things off boldly with a goal by Nedved in the fourth minute. His shot went through the legs of a defender, then went through the legs of the surprised keeper! Crazy goal, but they all count. Though Real Madrid had the most possession, Lazio looked more dangerous. So it was odd that the next goal was Madrid's, when Solari scored in the 32nd minute. Shortly into the second half Lazio regained the lead when Crespo poached a goal with pure persistence. But a perfect cross onto Raul's head allowed his header to tie the score with less than twenty minutes left. I thought there would be more scoring, but that was it. Madrid was happy with a tie. Since Leeds United won their game, Leeds and Real Madrid advance to the quarterfinals while Lazio's Champions League dreams are over for this season (even though there are two matches left, Leeds and Madrid have so many points the others can't catch up). Final: 2-2 draw.


Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Champions League: Leeds at Valencia

Soccer: Champions League: Leeds at Valencia

Well, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle for Leeds, but their fantasy season finally came to an end. They couldn't even score, and rarely looked dangerous, in fact. After Valencia's first goal by Sanchez (which looked suspiciously like he scored with his hand), Leeds had to press more and more forward, and gave up space at the back. Sanchez got his second just minutes into the second half, and Medieta got one on a counter when he was left on his own against the Leeds keeper, Nigel Martin. Just too much for Leeds to come back against. A disappointing way for Leeds to drop out. Final: 3-0 Valencia.


Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Champions League: Leeds United at A.C. Milan

Soccer: Champions League: Leeds United at A.C. Milan

After a last-minute tie against Barcelona, Leeds was in the position where they had to get something from this game: at least a draw to advance to the second round of the competition. Milan was already guaranteed to go through, so they had little to play for except for pride. The game started off poorly for Leeds when a very questionable handball penalty was called against them. Milan's top striker Shevchenko stepped up... and hit the post! Leeds was still alive. The game was even after that, with Leeds getting very few chances, and Milan frighteningly close on occasion. Then, as we entered first half injury time, Leeds got a corner kick. Matteo headed the ball toward the near post and it beat the keeper! Leeds was ahead! In the second half, Milan stepped up the offense, with Shevchenko desperately trying to redeem himself, but it was Serginho who broke Leeds with a goal late in the game. After that, it was nail-biting time as Leeds tried to possess the ball and Milan occasionally went forward, but basically the game was over, both sides satisfied with a 1-1 draw. Milan wins the group, Leeds advance in second place, and "poor" Barcelona is knocked out!


Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Champions League: Leeds United at Lazio

Soccer: Champions League: Leeds United at Lazio

What a terrific clash! Leeds struggled over the weekend in league play, while Lazio triumphed, yet both had problems in their last Champions League games. Who would survive? Well, the first half didn't tell us, as the teams were about even. Leeds started out dominating, but Lazio took over towards the end of the half. Leeds almost had a goal in injury time, but Lee Bowyer just missed. In the second half it was mostly Leeds. With twenty minutes to go and still no score, manager David O'Leary took a huge chance and put in another striker in place of a defender. Keeper Robinson made the save of the game a few minutes later, stuffing Crespo and keeping Leeds in the game. Then, with ten minutes left, Viduka, who'd been brilliant all game, gave a tremendous backheel flick to youngster Alan Smith, completely baffling two Lazio defenders. Smith, who'd started the play and kept running, picked up Viduka's pass with a splendid side-footed shot under the keeper to score! It was a goal worthy of the admittance price. It turned out to be historic, too, with Leeds winning in Italy for the first time ever! Final: 1-0 Leeds United. Very cool.


Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Champions League: Leeds United at Real Madrid

Soccer: Champions League: Leeds United at Real Madrid

Excellent game! Both of these teams were already through to the quater-finals, so the match was somewhat a formality. But the result would determine who would win the group and have home field advantage later in the competition. Leeds started off great, with Alan Smith scoring on a break-away just seven minutes in. But victory was very short-lived when Madrid struck back just sixty seconds later, when Raul finished. Before the half was over Madrid had pulled ahead on Figo's long cross that turned into a shot, and the awkward bounce fooled Leeds' keeper, Nigel Martin, and went into the goal. Viduka brought Leeds back ten minutes into the second half, but just a few minutes later Raul got his second goal to secure Real Madrid the victory. Great to see Leeds scoring against the titans of the league! Final: 3-2.


Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Champions League: Manchester United at Bayern Munich

Soccer: Champions League: Manchester United at Bayern Munich

Going into the second leg with a loss at home, United needed to not give up any goals. So of course that's exactly what they did just five minutes in, on Elber's shot. United showed hardly any offense and toward the end of the first half, Scholl added another, giving United a real mountain to climb. They came partway back just into the second half with a great goal by Ryan Giggs, but it was too little, too late. Munich held on to advance, and United's out of Europe for this season. Final: 2-1 Munich.


Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Champions League: Real Madrid at Bayern Munich

Soccer: Champions League: Real Madrid at Bayern Munich

After their win in Madrid, Munich was sitting pretty. Then Elber scored on a header eight minutes in to really put them ahead. Madrid came back on a Figo shot in the 18th minute, but when Jeremies' grounder went in fifteen minutes later, it was all over. Bayern wins on a 3-1 aggregate goal difference. Final: 2-1 Munich.


Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Champions League: Real Madrid at Leeds United

Soccer: Champions League: Real Madrid at Leeds United

Great first half, though without goals. Madrid possessed the ball but Leeds had the best chances. In the second half, Leeds continued the pressure, but it was Madrid who broke the deadlock. After a great save by Robinson on Figo's shot, Hierro's header beat him on the resulting corner kick. Minutes later, Raul got open alone and scored, leaving Leeds really in the pits. They fought hard, but to no avail. 2-0 Madrid.


Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Champions League: Sturm Graz at Manchester United

Soccer: Champions League: Sturm Graz at Manchester United

Nicky Butt's blast five minutes in put United in a good position, and Sheringham made his look easy fifteen minutes later. That lead was all Man. U. needed, but Roy Keane added one late to secure an easy win. Final: 3-0 Manchester United.


Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Champions League: Valencia at Arsenal

Soccer: Champions League: Valencia at Arsenal

This game started off with the Spanish team dominating. Ayala got a goal just before the half to put Valencia in good position. But Arsenal came back in the second -- a completely different team. Henry scored just before the hour mark, and that was followed two minutes later by a magnificent strike from Parlour. He blasted it from long range into the top corner of the net giving the keeper no chance at all. Brilliant! Final: 2-1 Arsenal.


Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Champions League: Valencia at Leeds

Soccer: Champions League: Valencia at Leeds

I hoped Leeds would do well in this one, and though they dominated significantly, they couldn't actually score, making the away game in Spain a tough challenge. Hopefully they can do it, though. Final: 0-0.


Monday, November 3, 2008


Movie: Changeling
Director(s): Clint Eastwood

This film is based on a true story about a woman in the 1920s fighting corruption in the L.A. police department. Her son is disappears and the police return a different boy to her and try to convince her that he's really her son -- to the point of throwing her in the looney bin to shut her up. But she does not keep quiet and eventually brings change to the department. It's a good story, well-told, but the there's something of a let-down about the way that it is presented. It's bit too long, and while there's seemingly a mystery about why the police would do such a bizarre thing, there really isn't much of a mystery: it's just a mistake and over-enthusiasm by the authorities to have a success and when they find a boy who claims to be the the woman's son, they take him at his word and later are too proud to retract because that would be embarrassing. Unfortunately, the film's also a bit of a downer, as the real boy's fate is left ambiguous, with the mother never really finding out -- for sure -- what happened to him (though it seems likely he is dead). That's real life, but it makes for a depressing movie. All-in-all, good but not great, and not nearly as intriguing as you might think. Horrible title, too.


Monday, November 11, 2002

Changing Lanes

Movie: Changing Lanes

I'm astonished that this film came out of Hollywood. It's all about morality and ethics. The plot is simple enough: two rushed strangers get into a car accident one morning and that event intertwines their lives. The characters are complex and gray: there are no black and white hat wearing people here. One's a lawyer who must suddenly decide if money and power are worth compromising ethics. The other's a decent guy who's overcome alcohol addiction and has anger management issues, who must decide what's most important in his life. Excellent tale, well told, with a surprising amount of action and excitement. Great performances.


Wednesday, July 3, 2002


Movie: Chaplin

We had to watch this biography of Chaplin after City Lights, of course. Very well done, with good performances. Definitely above average, though a little long. I had no idea Chaplin was as powerful as he was: he ranks as one of the highest paid entertainers ever, and his studio was extremely influential. A remarkable story about a remarkable man.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chapter 27

Movie: Chapter 27

This is a strangely claustrophobic film. A fat Jared Leto stars as Mark David Chapman in the days before he killed John Lennon, and the film is mostly him muttering insanely to himself and acting bizarre. I knew little of the story other than knowing that Chapman killed Lennon, so I was curious about the film, but I sadly did not come out knowing much more. The most enlightening aspect was Chapman's apparent reluctance to kill Lennon: he was a fan and was arguing with himself over the killing, apparently unsure he wanted to do it but hearing voices and urges to do it. Of course I take that info with skepticism as I'm not sure how accurate this bio-film is, but if it's true, it is something I didn't know. We also get a glimmer of insight into Chapman's reasoning: he felt betrayed by Lennon, someone he worshipped. Unfortunately, too much of the film feels overindulgent and self-important, with weighted words and dramatic pauses, as though we're supposed to feel the profoundness of the thoughts and comments. Perhaps ironically that is the same mistake as Chapman himself, who mutters nonsense that is supposed to be profound; the film falls into the same trap. Ultimately, just read an article about the crime: you'll save yourself 85 minutes and learn more.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Movie: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Writer(s): Roald Dahl (book)
Director(s): Tim Burton

The book is one of my favorites (Dahl's my favorite author) and I love Tim Burton's quirky films; but I wasn't sure about this going in. The casting of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka struck me as odd, and though he did a good job, in the end he's just too youthful for such a character. It didn't fit in well with the plot. My mom got strange Michael Jackson vibes from him and didn't like him. I didn't experience that but I can see where that might show up (Wonka and Jackson share many similar encentricies and both are adult children). Except for a few negative things about Wonka, however, I really liked the film better than the original. The special effects, children, script, direction, and music were all superior. The new film is not a musical, which is better, though it definitely has musical numbers (in this version, only the Oompa Loompas sing, not other characters). I did miss a few of the classic songs of the original ("Candy Man" and the "Oompa Loompa" songs). One cool touch of the new one is that each song the Oompa Loompa's sing is done in a different style, which is much more interesting. The Oompas put on a show, too, which is much less musical-like. The script is much more faithful to the book, which I greatly appreciated. The boy who plays Charlie is perfect: he has both naivity and cold intelligence in his eyes, which makes him more believable than the boy in the original film, who was merely innocent. Depp, like I mentioned, brings a strange weirdness to Wonka that I liked at times and didn't at others. When Wonka was being weird for humor it worked wonderfully; when he was being weird for some other reason, it felt awkward and unpleasant. The child in him was certainly visible, and in this movie, we get to learn about his past and how he became a chocolatier. The ending of the film was a little strange; it's been a while since a read the book so I can't remember if the emphasis on family was in the original, but it felt strange for Wonka to reject family and went on much too long. I also thought the resolution between Wonka's father was ridiculous and absurd; no two people with so much contempt for each other would just kiss and make-up so easily. Still, despite everything, this is a better film than the first. That doesn't mean the first isn't good, it is, but this one is simply more polished and more faithful to the novel.


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Writer(s): Roald Dahl

It's been a while since I read the book but reading it I remembered why Dahl is my favorite author. He writes in such a clean, simple style, with ordinary words: he doesn't try to talk down to kids or up to adults. Yet somehow he creates a vivid, imaginative world that we can see as though we are there. Great stuff. The book's still far superior to either movie, though the second movie is definitely more faithful. Unfortunately some of the stuff they added in is awkward. Why is it Hollywood always feels it has to add or change a masterpiece?


Sunday, July 31, 2005

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Book: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Writer(s): Roald Dahl

I remembered I always liked this book even more than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but it's been so long, I couldn't remember why. Rereading it, I remember: it's much funnier. This book goes all out in wildness. Unlike the first book, which has a traditional structure, this sequel is more just a couple of tales put together. The first half is a space adventure and takes up right where the first book ended, with the whole family in the Great Glass Elevator (GGE). They go into outer space, interrupt the unveiling of the United State's new Space Hotel, escape from horrible space monsters, and save astronauts from the same monsters. The second half of the book deals with Wonka giving youth pills to Charlie's grandparents, but they take too many and end up as babies. What's wonderful, though, are the wacky characters, such as the President of the United States (and his nanny, who's Vice President), and the way Dahl mocks everyone and everything. Just wonderful. It would make a great movie, but I can't see Hollywood shooting it straight: they'd certainly muck it up and try to change it.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

Movie: Charlie Wilson's War

I wasn't super excited about this one since it's so political, but it turns out to be a fascinating true story from the early 1980s about a clever yet unimportant congressman from a tiny county in rural Texas who ends up masterminding the greatest covert military operation in the history of the world. He's on the committee that oversees covert spending and manages to up the U.S. budget for helping Afghanistan defeat the Soviet invasion from $5 million to $500 billion. In the process he gives the rebels the weapons and training they need to fight and eventually outlast the Soviet empire, and indirectly bankrupting the Soviet Union and bringing the fall of Communism. It's a great story told well, with humor, charm, excellent pacing, and drama, and I really enjoyed it.


Friday, November 10, 2000

Charlie's Angels

Movie: Charlie's Angels (2000)
Director(s): McG

The original title of this movie was "Three Adorable Babes So We Don't Need a Coherent Plot" (the title was rejected by focus groups who didn't know what "coherent" meant). This is the kind of film I usually hate, as the plot is so nonsensical as to be worse than insulting, but this time is works. The angels are having so much fun and looking so cute doing it, you can't help but join in. Everyone knows their dialog is corny, and the director rushes through critical plot elements so quickly it seems even he's embarrassed to dwell on their stupidity, and the result is that you relax and just have some mindless fun. It's pure eye candy. There really are four angels, not three, as Cameron Diaz's butt gets enough screen time for a credit of its own. The director, obviously of MTV-influence, puts the film together like a series of music videos. The fight sequences are too Matrix-like for me to like them. The random slow-motion/fast-motion stuff quickly gets old: it reminds me of the campy old Batman TV show, with its balloon BAMS and BIFFS whenever Batman hit someone. But who cares? It's all meaningless anyway. What's important is that fourth angel.


Friday, March 30, 2001

Charlie's Angels (again)

Movie: Charlie's Angels (again) (2000)

Just got the DVD -- very cool, an even better film the second time around. Since you know what to expect (eye candy) you just ignore the silly plot and just enjoy the view. A blast.


Friday, June 27, 2003

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

Movie: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

The first film surprised many in how it was both a tribute to the TV series but established its own frantic identity as well. With the sequel you know exactly what you're getting and the film delivers. It's basically a 90-minute music video. It never lets up, is full of clever asides and in-jokes, and is just a blast. Everyone, from the writer to the director to the cast are obviously having a ball, and that shows. It's contagious. You want to join the cast and dance and have fun as well. There's nothing profound here -- you're an idiot if you're expecting anything remotely like depth -- but there hasn't been such a fun movie in years. Two thumbs way up!


Monday, December 18, 2006

Charlotte's Web

Movie: Charlotte's Web
Writer(s): E.B. White

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


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Charlotte's Web

Book: Charlotte's Web
Writer(s): E.B. White

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


Thursday, July 6, 2000

Chasing Amy

Movie: Chasing Amy

Of course I saw the Kevin Smith films in the wrong order, but I did remember I liked this one the best; on reviewing, it has all of the brash wit and intellectual wordplay of Clerks but with an actual plot. The conclusion is weak, but you don't really mind as you don't expect Kevin to actually answer the large questions he proposes.


Saturday, July 2, 2005

Chasing Liberty

Movie: Chasing Liberty

Surprisingly decent little film about a first daughter wanting privacy and a life of her own. In Europe, she escapes her security guards and has a little fling, not realizing that the young man she's run off with is really Secret Service. She falls in love, has heartbreak, yada yada yada. It's predictable but well-done and harmless. The cast is excellent and all-in-all it's a charming little flick.


Friday, July 2, 2004

Cheaper by the Dozen

Movie: Cheaper by the Dozen

Okay film, not as slap-sticky as I expected (though still too much), about a couple with twelve children and the chaos in their lives as a result. Most of the plot's forced (Dad getting hot new job and moving the family, Mom suddenly off on book tour), but there are a few genuine moments and the film, while predictable, isn't as silly as it sounds.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Movie: Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Slapsticky, routine sequel. Not unpleasant, but not one moment of originality.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Cherry Orchard

I love Chekov but I was slightly disapointed by this play at Ashland, Oregon's Shakespeare Festival. Nothing much happens in it. It's about a rich Russian woman who's squandered all her money and the family must sell their beloved (but neglected) cherry orchard to save the estate but she refuses to see it. It's about how people react (or refuse to react) to change. There are a few side romance storylines and some good humor and the performances were good, but I wasn't wowed.


Friday, September 24, 1999

The Chessmen of Mars

Book: The Chessmen of Mars
Writer(s): Edgar Rice Burroughs

I read this a long time ago (back in high school) and I'd forgotten what a master storyteller Burroughs was. He remains one of my favorite writers; I'm going to find some more of his classics to read over the next few months. This story, part of Burroughs' Mars series, deals with John Carter's daughter, Lara, as a fierce storm sets her flier down in a remote part of Mars. As she attempts to return home, she is captured by various strange beings, including a bizarre parasitic species of large heads with crab-like feet who attach themselves to a species of genetically engineered headless humans. The heads are able to control the mindless bodies via a link to the spinal cord. Weird, yes. But Burroughs does more with this than most writers, for he gives the species characteristics appropriate for their kind. The brains, for instance, are intellectual thinkers who sneer at the organic and the practical. They think bodies are useless and strive to create the ultimate brain, a huge organ that can do nothing but think. Hilarious, when you think about it. (Burroughs had obviously met some people who fit that species perfectly.) The story is a delightful blend of adventure and romance, with a secret identity scam worthy of Shakespeare.


Friday, February 7, 2003


Movie: Chicago
Director(s): Rob Marshall

Wow! What else can I say? I loved the music, I loved the writing, I loved the direction, I loved the acting, I loved the story. My only criticism is that the movie isn't exactly intellectually deep, but it's fun, fantastic, and fast-paced, and it has Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. What more do you want?

I was very impressed with the direction: it's not a filmed musical, yet it incorporates a great deal of theatrical staging to generate the tone and style of a musical. For instance, Renee's character, Roxie Hart, dreams of being a performer, so she fantasizes herself and others in various musical numbers. Those songs help tell the story, but because they're fantasies, they aren't constrained by realism. Brilliant. I also liked the way the songs had double meanings. For instance, during "Mama's" solo (terrifically done by Queen Latifah), she sings lyrics with obvious sexual innuendo ("If you're good to Mama she'll be good to you!") to the male audience but this is intercut with her as the prison warden, where those same lyrics take a on a completely different meaning as she accepts bribes for better treatment. Very cool. Speaking of cool, the music is awesome. I often don't like musical music, especially period stuff (this is set in the 1920's), but these songs were jazzy, hip, and wildly fun. Everyone in the cast looked like they were having a blast making this film. The acting is mostly ham (which is perfect since that's the point of the story), though Zellweger has a few poignant moments where her acting is just breathtakingly real. (Like her great line when, right after being put into her jail cell for the first time, she tells the warden there must be something wrong with the heat because it's so cold. Others might have done that campy or slapstick, but she played that so innocent and sincere it made you laugh even as you felt sorry for the character.)

As to the story, it's wonderful. Hart wants to be a performer, while Velma (Zeta-Jones) is the toast of the town as a jazz singer. But when she finds her sister in bed with her husband, she shoots the both. Not long thereafter Roxie kills her lover and ends up in the same prison as Velma, and soon the two are vying for the attention of the press because they realize that public opinion will determine if they hang or not. The competition between the two women is terrific to watch, and the song and dance numbers great on all levels. There are a few places where things aren't quite perfect (at the beginning when Zellweger verbally explains a month has gone by is a dud since to us there was no cut), but overall this is a wonderful movie, sure to become a classic.


Friday, January 5, 2007

Children of Men

Movie: Children of Men
Writer(s): P.D. James

I read the book years ago and liked it, though reading P.D. James requires significant effort. As a result I liked the movie even better: it's dramatic, fast-paced, and fascinating where the book was interesting but plodding. I don't remember the specifics of the book well enough to judge the adapation, but the film worked for me. The story's a tale of the future, in a world where women all over the planet mysteriously stopped having babies -- and the doom of the human race is a mere generation away. This is a bleak future and society's gone downhill, of course: what point is there in living when there's no tomorrow? Why marry when there are no kids to raise? But that's just the setting: the story's about a man who gets involved with rebel forces who are trying to smuggle a pregnant girl -- the first in a generation -- out of England. The woman represents the future of humanity and everyone wants to use her for their own cause. Sometimes the politics of this future world are not explained well enough and the film occasionally is confusing as key facts are only stated once, indirectly (such as newspaper headlines shown briefly as the camera sweeps past). But these are minor gripes; the main premise comes across and the story's got emotion and energy.


Monday, November 19, 2001


Movie: Chocolat

This was a neat idea: a mysterious, independent, openly immoral woman moves into a tiny highly-religious French town and opens a chocolate store during Lent, creating havoc in the town's ordered way of life. Are her chocolates really magical? There's a fairy tale sense to the film, similar to Edward Scissorhands. Unfortunately, the film takes itself a little too seriously and it's overly long with not much of consequence happening. It's still a good film, just not a great one.


Monday, November 14, 2005


Movie: Chocolate

Leisurely paced film about a young girl growing up in West Africa. It was full of interesting imagery, especially for someone like myself who grew up in Africa, but the story was slight, and it's mostly just about her learning about life. It's interesting but probably has narrow appeal.


Monday, September 22, 2003

The Chocolate War

Movie: The Chocolate War

I remember struggling to read this "classic" novel as a kid and not getting very far. It's a strange tale about kids in a private school, an obssessive teacher/headmaster, and a chocolate sale fundraiser. The main kid, a loner/loser type, refuses to "volunteer" for the sale, wreaking havoc on the whole order of things. The main "gang" (secret society) at the school sets out to force him to comply. The odd thing is the kid has no reason why he won't sell the chocolates. It starts out as a whim, but ends up a war. Supposedly there's something deep in there, and I get a glimmer of it, but just like the book, the film's not very illuminating. This is a good production, and to the best of my memory faithful (I can't remember if I even finished the book), but it ends up with the same flaws as the book: it's pretentious and confusing. At least the all Peter Gabriel soundtrack's awesome.


Saturday, December 25, 2004


Had a nice Christmas with Grandpa, my mother, Uncle Keith, and friends at the beach house. This was my first time away from the new house since I moved in and it was nice to get away, but I did find myself missing the place, which is a good sign. I couldn't wait to get away from my old place!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Movie: A Christmas Carol

I was not too excited about this film: I didn't see much point as the Charles Dickens' story seems to have been done to death (my favorite is the whacky modernization, Scrooged, with Bill Murray). This seemed like a faithful rendition, which could be good or bad, depending on your viewpoint (you could see it as unoriginal or loyal to a classic). It also is a frightfully early release for a Christmas story, though there's a part of me that likes that. I went and saw the 3D edition which is probably not worth the extra money, though it's relatively harmless. The 3D is good, but doesn't add anything to the story. It's just a fun gimmick. The animation is fantastic, as you'd expect, though I thought some of the minor characters looked slightly odd and unfinished in places. Compared to the incredible detail of the main characters, they looked flat and cartoon-like. The historical detail of Victorian England is well done, providing some fascinating detail about life back then. For instance, the poor family doesn't have the facilities to cook their own Christmas goose: they use the bakery's oven down the street (presumably for a fee). As to the story, this is an extremely faithful adaptation, almost to a fault. Much of the language is archaic and can be difficult to understand, especially for young kids. But the ghosts are done in such a modern way it felt like it clashed. There's is much about the ghosts added in to pad the movie's length, like several wild action sequences (Scrooge on a rocket into space, Scrooge shrunk down to mouse size and chased, etc.) that add little to the story and strain credibility (you'd think the poor old man would have a heart attack considering all the trauma he's put through). Another problem is that some of the ghosts are extremely vivid and could be too scary for young children: for a family film, that's a strange decision. Overall, this is well-done and excellent. However, my major criticism is that other than being digitally animated and in 3D, it breaks no new ground. It's odd that I feel this way since usually my criticism of adaptations is that they change too much from the original, but in this case this is such a classic story and it's been faithfully done so many times before, it would be nice to see something more creative.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Movie: Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Writer(s): C.S. Lewis

First, I preamble my comments with an explanation that I tend to see movies adapted from classic novels in two ways: as an adaptation and as a stand-alone film. As such, this film is okay as a stand-alone, similar to the first one, but poor as an adaptation. The main flaw is that it has a totally different feel than the book. The book is a light-hearted fun fantasy, while this is a grimmer, darker, more serious "action-adventure" film. In the book, the battles are barely described and almost a minor part of the story; here they have been expanded to 50-60 percent of the film. That's not necessarily bad -- the action's decent and somewhat fun and exciting, though perhaps a touch violent for younger children -- but it's not the C.S. Lewis book we know and love.

I rather expected this. I reread the book the evening before and had decided it did not suit a big-budget film very well: not much really happens. In the book there are basically three events: the children are transported to Narnia, a backstory of what's been happening in Narnia the past few hundred years is explained, and then there's a climatic battle the children are involved with to help save Narnia. The problem with that structure is that in a movie, the main characters of the children would only be in a few scenes. The book's also quite brief. So the producers fleshed things out by mixing things around and putting the events in a different order. Sometimes this makes sense, but other times not: for instance, Susan's Horn (which magically pulls the children into Narnia) is blown not during the battle as in the book, but when Prince Caspian is running away from his uncle's soldier's. The dwarf is kidnapped at that time, not sent on a mission to find the children, and so later, when he does find the children, his reference to Susan's Horn makes no sense at all since he wasn't there when it was blown, didn't even know Prince Caspian had it, didn't even know Prince Caspian, for that matter! So the writers' changed things around and messed up some plot continuity.

I was most disappointed by the film's beginning, which dives right in with Prince Caspian's escape from his uncle. While I understand the desire to begin with action, this approach means all the exposition and setup of the situation is explained in a rush, and we don't get all the info we need to properly understand the story. I would have started with the Nurse telling the child Prince Caspian Narnian stories: the visuals would have a terrific montage to kick things off and it would have set up the current situation perfectly (talking animals are extinct, Prince Caspian's uncle's evil and hates true Narnians, etc.). As it was none of that is explained well and it's explained only in pieces throughout the film, which is much more awkward.

But despite these flaws, the film's not that bad. True fans of the book will be somewhat disappointed, but won't hate the film. I was impressed that many important scenes are actually in the movie, and a few are actually better than the book. For instance, the temptation to dark magic scene is fleshed out in the film with a visual of the White Witch from the first film and King Peter looking tempted; in the book we're only told that the hag's magic is like that of the White Witch and the temptation is not quite as clear.

Overall, this is a decent film. The special effects are occasionally over-the-top but generally well-done, the acting and casting is excellent, the scenery is stunning, the story faithful enough to the source, and whole thing a decent amusement park ride. It's definitely worth seeing just for the experience, though the book is still better.


Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Movie: Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Writer(s): C.S. Lewis

This DVD is in two parts, each a separate book. The first, Prince Caspian, is only an hour long, and is a bit lame considering all the build-up to a big battle that never happens. In the book the best part was the part about Caspian escaping from home, and all the drama and excitement of that is lost in this production. Dawn Treader was much better. It was never one of my favorite books since it has minimal plot and wanders from adventure to adventure during the ship's voyage, but in movie form it worked well. The special effects were pretty hokey, but the story was excellent. A few things were given short shrift. One of the best analogies in the book is the story of the arrogant Eustace during into a dragon and his humbling (and painful) restorance, and while that's included in the film, it's not as revealing as in the book. Still, all my favorite parts are included, such as the pool of water with the golden statue of a man inside that turns out to be magical water that turns whatever it touches into gold. Obviously, the man went for a swim and... oops! Overall, a pretty good film.


Monday, December 30, 2002

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Movie: Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Writer(s): C.S. Lewis

This film is the first is a 3-DVD set I bought at Costco. The films were made for BBC television. I was a bit disappointed at the low production quality, which is much more like a play than a film (the talking animals are people dressed up in occasionally silly-looking costumes). Some special effects and unusual animals (flying horse, etc.) are done with cheesy animation on top of the live action footage, with minimal attempt, it seems, to try to make it blend seamlessly. However, the scripts are remarkably faithful to the books, even including much of the dialogue, and each film is 168 minutes long (nearly three hours) so there's little left out. The pace is leisurely and never rushed. This film was very good, except for a few oddities: for instance, the actual stabbing of Aslan, the Lion, isn't shown. I presume that was done to keep the violence down for children, but it made the death much less dramatic. All in all, not bad, and I liked the script, but I definitely prefer realism to a children's play. At least Aslan wasn't totally unimpressive (his head is completely puppet so we don't have human eyes and mouth like most of the other animals).


Friday, December 9, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I was really wanting this to be good as the series is one of my favorites. I expected it to be technically sound (good special effects, etc.) but I was nervous about the way the story might be changed or the characters adapted. Well, I'm pleased to report my fears were for naught. The adaptation is extremely faithful. In fact, it's even better than the book in places. For instance, the film opens with WWII planes bombing London and we see the children having to hide in the bomb shelter. That's not in the book, but it sets the tone better, as the children are sent to the country to be safe, and thus are parentless -- perfect for an escape into a fantasy land like Narnia. The book doesn't emphasize or set that up as well as the movie. I also loved the gradual pace of the film. Yes, it's a long movie, but the setup is important, both for well-developed characters, but also for making the fantasy elements more exciting in contrast. In terms of the acting, story, and visuals, the film is excellent. The digital creatures are very well done, especially Aslan the lion. A few minor digital characters -- like the fox -- are not as well done, but the film still works. Overall, I was highly impressed. There is no moralizing or sermonizing, and yet C.S. Lewis' original allegory is not thwarted in any way. It's just a crisp, clean, well-done adaptation of the book. I can't wait for all the others novels in the series to be done.


Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

Movie: Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair
Writer(s): C.S. Lewis

One of the series' best novels. The film starts off well, with Aslan lecturing Jill in a scene that's just wonderful. "Are you a tame lion?" she asks tentatively. "I am not a tame lion," he says. And despite his non-assurance that he won't eat her, she must try him not to do so. Awesome. But then the film slides a bit. The owls are weak (the flying sequences laughably bad), and Puddleglum, one of the main characters, looks far too human (though the actor does a good job). Other subtle aspects of the story are somewhat confused (the business of Aslan's four signs is muddled on film). But once the trio go underground, things pick up a bit, though the pace is slow. The final confrontation with the witch has an odd change: in the book Puddleglum puts out the fire with one of his large webbed feet, yet in the film he uses his hand. Why? Don't know. I always thought he was only able to put out fire because his feet were big enough to do it, and the way it's done in the film with the hand is crazy, since it's like a huge bonfire and his hand only touches a small part of it (and doesn't even extinguish that). But overall the story's great and that comes through in the film. Pretty good.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I meant to reread the book before seeing the film, but didn't make it, which might be a good thing as otherwise I'd be more critical of changes from the source material. As it is, it felt pretty authentic. It's one of the more visual of the Narnia stories, an exciting ship journey with encounters with unusual creatures and people. The trailer had me worried because it showed all the kids from the earlier films in this one, while in the book it's just a couple of them, but that fear proved unfounded as the older kids are only there briefly. The actress who plays Lucy was frightfully young in the earlier films, but comes to her own here and is surprisingly good, showing a developing maturity which fits her character. Though there are some issues with the pacing and a few confusing editing problems, the movie does capture the spirit of the book pretty well. I'm not sure the film quite gets to greatness, but I did find the ending, with the loss of several characters, to be surprisingly emotional. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and recommend it. (Though we'll see if I'm as happy after I've reread the novel.)


Friday, June 11, 2004

The Chronicles of Riddick

Movie: The Chronicles of Riddick

Not a bad film, though not as good as the first (Pitch Black). It presents us with an interesting future universe but is weak on details, making everything feel like a simple backdrop for Riddick to shine. In this film he's escalated to some sort of legendary superhero, not a mere murderer and escaped convict; he's expected to save the universe from invasion by evil aliens. Unfortunately the initial setup depends on you understanding what happened in the first film (which I couldn't remember the details of); there are several "profound" references to key past events that were never explained. But I liked many aspects of the film and the obvious showpieces that set up fight scenes didn't bother me. But the action in the fights was often too fast and stylized to make much sense, and after a while, some of the fighting was just boring, since we know Riddick will always win. Overall it's a decent film, fun, with some good action, a great character in Riddick, some unusual science-fiction stuff, but lacking in a good story.


Friday, October 5, 2001

Chuck and Buck

Movie: Chuck and Buck

An interesting and unusual film. It's about two former childhood best friends. Buck's mother has just died after a long illness, and he's suddenly free. But he hasn't grown up yet: he tries to restore life to the way it was when he was a child. It's a fascinating, in-depth look at a dysfunctional man. My only complaint is that I wish I'd known a little of what it was about before I watched it: I didn't know if this was a comedy, drama, or anything, and that kept me a little on edge and focusing more on guessing where the story was going instead of just appreciating the characters. The film is well-written and acted, and frighteningly realistic. Lots of gray and little black and white. Definitely not Hollywood. It takes an honest look at a complex subject and shows it to us deformities and all. Excellent, though not always pleasant.


Saturday, November 25, 2000

The Cider House Rules

Movie: The Cider House Rules
Writer(s): John Irving
Director(s): Lasse Halstrom

Interesting, well-done period film about a boy who grows up in an orphanage, leaves, and returns to serve as the orphanage doctor. Supposedly controversial because of its pro-abortion views, but I didn't see much of that: the events in the film are too extreme to be taken as typical abortion situations. Overall, I liked the love story the best. It's not unusual -- boy leaves girl to go to war and while he's away she has an affair -- but I liked the dilemma it presented, and the main character's innocence. Not a great film -- it's a bit too manipulative ("Oh, aren't these poor orphans sympathetic!") -- but good.

That said, let me get on my high horse and condemn some of the heavy-handed subtle manipulation of this film. The "cider house rules" of the title turn out to be a list of some inane rules the apple pickers are supposed to follow. The point, heavily made, is to the effect of "those rules weren't made by people who live here so we don't have to follow them." One could look at this as a collery of the old "walk a mile in someone else's shoes before you judge them." Obviously, this is hinting at the abortion controversy, implying that anti-abortionists don't "live in the house" and therefore can't make laws for others (or if they do, abortionists don't have to follow those laws). Quite illogical, on several fronts; in the end, the "rules" are a very poor metaphor for violating anti-abortion laws. Besides it not making sense, I just found this obvious manipulation distasteful and dangerous (Irving makes the rules so childishly dumb as to be meaningless).


Friday, September 26, 2008

Cinema Paradiso

Movie: Cinema Paradiso

Terrific film. This is one of those films I've wanted to watch forever but never got around to it; I think I had the utterly wrong impression about what it was about. It's about a little boy in Italy in a small town where the only entertainment is the local movie theatre. The boy becomes friends with the projectionist, who teaches him some valuable life lessons, and eventually the boy takes over for him. The film looks at the boy's entire life in flashback, as a small boy, as a teenager falling in love the first time, and as a successful adult, coming back to the town to see how life has changed. Throughout the film we see clips of classic movies which establishes the time period and the mood, and shows the changing of morals over the years. Amazing.


Sunday, March 9, 2003


Movie: Circus

This movie is like one of those Russian Dolls: it's a con within a con within a con within a con. It's similar to films like Snatch, but with less flash and more substance. You don't really understand what's going on until the very end, and sometimes that can be annoying, but here's what makes that work: you think you do. Every time you think you've figured it out, you soon realize you don't. It's pretty good. Not entirely unpredictable, but there's enough double-crossing and mystery to keep you entertained and curious. The performances are good (excellent cast), and the main characters are cool. It's impossible to tell much about the plot without ruining it, but trust that it's about a con artist couple con each other and a ganster to grab a $20 million fortune, and are conned in return. It's really wild! Great fun.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

Movie: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

The "Cirque du Freak" in the title confused and bothered me: it seemed unnecessary and awkward ("The Vampire's Assistant" would be a great title on its own). But apparently this is based on a book series so that's why it's included. Of course I've never heard of the books and I doubt most people have and that's symbolic of the problems with this movie. Book fans rarely want to see their cherished stories warped by a screen adaptation, so why cater to them? Adding that tag line to the title just alienates non-connoisseurs like me. Anyway, the film itself has many flaws. It's extremely uneven. There are some brilliant concepts: I like the idea of a boy becoming a vampire's assistant and the freak circus is visually interesting with the opportunity for fascinating characters. But the freaks are not used well. Everything is for display purposes only and we don't really get to know anyone past the main characters and even they aren't that interesting. The main boy is a do-gooder who becomes a half-vampire to save the life of his best friend. He's rather bland but with a good heart, and represents humanity. Unfortunately, his reactions to the freaks are strange: he doesn't abhor them or even show much surprise, yet he is initially anti-freak and prejudiced. I found myself confused and unsure of how I was supposed to react: are the freaks good, bad, strange, exotic, normal, humorous, or what? No idea. The story is too convoluted and doesn't really go anywhere. There are mysterious bad guys, a whole vampire mythology that seems incredibly thin yet is trotted out in bits and pieces as though it's epic, and a horrible ending that resolves little and doesn't really end. (The ending is just a setup for sequels, which I doubt will ever happen. Apparently this movie is based on just the first book or two and there are something like eight books published in the series, so the producers were obviously hoping this was just the beginning. But instead of giving this one a conclusion, they end it in mid-sentence, so to speak.)

All these negatives aside, there is something above average in the film. It's got a sort of charm. It feels unpolished, like it's not sure what it is (Is it for children or adults?), but that doesn't necessarily ruin it. Ultimately, it's a weak film, a flawed film, but not a terrible film. It reminds me of a television pilot that sets things up wonderfully for the future but isn't really that good on its own. I actually wouldn't mind a sequel; just like TV series often find their rhythm after a few episodes, I could see this series becoming really excellent. But this first one is too confused. See it for the good performances, the exotic visuals, the vampire genre, and ignore the poor story and inconsistent tone. Overall I liked it, in a strange way, but I can't really recommend it.


Wednesday, July 3, 2002

City Lights

Movie: City Lights

Very cool film: my first Chaplin and I'm now a huge fan. Physical comedy, which has always been one of my favorites, and Chaplin is amazingly deft at it. This is a silent film (there's a musical score, but no dialog), and it's wonderful. The lack of sound forces you to concentrate on the sight gags. The story is about a homeless man (a bum) who falls in love with a blind girl and has a series of adventures as he tries to woo her. Excellent, a definite classic.


Monday, March 31, 2003

City of Bones

Book: City of Bones
Writer(s): Michael Connelly

The story of a murder investigation told in excruciating detail from the perspective of the lead detective. A dog finds a human bone in the L.A. hills and the detective checks it out. It's the 20-year-old remains of a 12-year-old child, and his bones tell the story that he was physically abused since he was two years old. The detective tries to figure who killed the boy. The story takes some unusual twists (including some sad ones), and the ending is quite unexpected (though not very satisfying). Still, the detective is an interesting character, the tension during the investigation strong, and it's well-written. Recommended.


Friday, October 10, 2008

The City of Ember

Movie: The City of Ember

This is an interesting and unusual film: it seems like a special-effects driven fantasty-type movie, but it's not that at all. It's very low-key, in fact, and though I rather liked that, I can imagine some people going away disappointed. The story is simple and almost elegant: Ember is an underground city apparently created when disaster destroyed the world above ground and after 200 years, the people are supposed to return to the surface (which should be safe by then). But those instructions were forgotten over time and now the people of Ember are barely aware an outside exists. They struggle for existence that has grown more and more difficult as their technology fails, in particular the generator that provides the city with light and power. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are our heros who discover the secret instructions on how to leave the city and they lead the people to a new world. Again, no magic or fantasy here -- though the film has that sort of feel with giant insects, weird gadgets and machines, and strange people. I loved the look of the film. The attention to detail in creating Amber is incredible, with crazy-looking machines made from leftover parts and a falling apart city. It's a cool mixture of low- and high-tech, similar to films like Brazil. The cast is great, the girl especially, though I found Bill Murray's silly-yet-evil mayor character to be out of sync with the rest of the film (like finding slapstick in a drama). I really enjoyed the movie but I can see how it's not for everyone's taste. It reminded me a lot of Arthur and the Minimoys, except that it's live action and not animated, in the sense that it has similar flaws. I relished the non-Hollywoodism of the film: I like it being less flashy and fancy, with a simpler more realistic story. Recommended.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

City of Glass

Book: City of Glass
Writer(s): Paul Auster (Adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli)

Last spring my cousin-in-law lent me a book by Paul Auster which included the fascinating story City of Glass. It's an amazing story about a writer who's mistaken for a detective and gets so involved in a complex case that he loses his identity. Recently, a classic graphic version of the story has been republished and I quickly bought a copy. I was intensely curious how such a complicated story could be transformed into a comic. Would it retain the magic of the original story? The answer is a tremendous "Yes!" The reason it works is that much of the text of the original story is used verbatim in the graphic novel. The graphics only add meaning and depth to the story. Honestly, I felt this version was even better than the original! It's much more approachable, more interesting, less technical. Yet the full meaning and depth of the original story is preserved. While it's been a while since I read the story, I can't think of anything left out; the comic version includes all the important scenes and elements. As an introduction to Auster, this short graphic novel is ideal. I highly recommend it. It's literary, profound, complex, unusual, and well worth your time.


Tuesday, March 18, 2003

City of God

Movie: City of God

This is an incredible film. It's a true story, in Portuguese, set in Brazil. The "City of God" is the name of the slum outside Rio where anything goes. It's literally one of the worst places on the earthy. Our hero is a young man who wants to get out of the slums and become a photographer, but lack of opportunity and the temptation of easy money via drug dealing stalls him. The story is told documentary-style, with hand-held camera and other techniques that make it seem astonishingly real. The violence is brutal, plentiful, continuous, but raw and unadorned, which has a powerful impact. We watch as a 12-year-old boy shoots people and laughs, and a gang of children assault another shooting him full of holes. Life is cheap in the "City of God," and this film shows that vividly. But unlike many gangster films or drug movies, which either glorify or degenerate the hood lifestyle, this one presents it as simple reality, full of both the good and the bad. We see gangsters reveling in the luxury of owning a simple designer shirt -- this is what their pathetic life of crime has earned them -- and contrast that with families struggling just to put food on the table. It's the story of boy photographer that elevates this above a mere exercise in violence. His story is poignant yet completely honest. He's not perfect, and he's tempted by the crime lifestyle, but he's good at heart and we're glad when he succeeds in the end. This is terrific film-making and story-telling. It never lets up for a second. It's got humor (occasionally very dark), pathos, and tons of violence. It's like a documentary of a Tarentino film. It's hard to watch at times, but I will watch this again and again: there's enough depth here to keep repeating viewings fresh.


Monday, November 22, 1999

Civil Action

Movie: Civil Action (1999)
Writer(s): Jonathan Harr (book) and Steven Zaillian
Director(s): Steven Zaillian

Slow paced, empty drama. Narrated by star John Travolta, it sets itself up to be the Casino of personal injury lawyers, with John lecturing us on his skills and virtues. The movie has some decent performances (I liked Robert Duvall and William H. Macy was terrific), but overall it leaves you as void as a dud lottery ticket. The story sets itself up for drama, but nothing happens. It's not really that predictable, but it feels like it is (which is some ways is worse). Supposedly in the end Travolta's character is reformed, but he's so one dimensional to begin with, it's impossible to tell. Not worth a $3 rental. Watching my cat groom himself is much more entertaining.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Movie: CJ7
Director(s): Stephen Chow

Quirky little Stephen Chow action-comedy. Like all of his stuff, this is best described as a live-action cartoon. This is one is a bit more magical than some of his films, with much less martial arts (he, in fact, doesn't do any). Instead the film focuses around a young boy (Chow plays his father). The boy's dad is incredibly poor but sacrifices everything to send his kid to private school where he is mocked for not being wealthy. The boy and the dad don't always get along, which is done in a surprisingly realistic fashion (considering other aspects of the film are a bit fantastic). One day the boy's dad finds a strange rubber ball at a junkyard and brings it home for his son. It turns out this "ball" is really an alien creature left by a spaceship and it morphs into a sort of alien dog that is able to do magic. Or is it? The boy wants to use the "dog" (which he names CJ7) to help him out at school (cheat on a test, win at sports, etc.) but things don't quite work the way he expected. I won't spoil the ending but let's just say it's very good. The alien dog is CGI, of course, with clever and fun digital animation tricks as typical Chow. My favorite was in a school fight scene when a bully gets beat up a fat girl -- she punches him and he goes flying like 100 yards and when he lands and screeches to a halt, his shoes leave rubber tire marks! Overall this is a fun and quite wonderful and touching film. It's not E.T., as it's got silly cartoony elements, but I liked it a lot. The most delightful thing was when the characters didn't act stereotypical as you'd expect, but did surprising things instead. That's very unusual for this kind of film. Fun!


Saturday, August 31, 2002

Clans of the Alphane Moon

Book: Clans of the Alphane Moon
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick

Wild and wacky and insane -- just a terrific book. One of the moons of Alphane used to be a mental hospital, but during the Alphane wars it was forgotten and the inmates took over. Now it's 25 years later and an entire culture of insanity has taken over. The people live groups based on their symptoms: the Deps (depressed), the Pares (paranoids), the Mans (manic depressive), Skitz (catatonic schizophrenic), etc. What's cool is that PKD allows to see bits of reality through the eyes of various insane characters, including their visions, making us wonder (as usual) which reality is real. The actual story is about an Earthman who's being divorced by his psychiatrist wife. She doesn't like his low-paying govt. job as a CIA propagandist and wants him to write for TV instead. By divorcing him and suing him for huge alimony, she forces him to take the TV job just to pay her. Meanwhile, she takes off on a volunteer mission to the Alphane Moon to "rescue" the poor insane people there. The CIA wants to monitor the situation, so they send along a "simulacrum" (a robot that appears human) which is controlled by the ex-husband -- he, in effect, is traveling with his ex-wife! But his motivations aren't pure: he wants to use the simulacrum to kill her. What follows is bizarre: a nightmare of twisted reality, paranoia, confusion, odd coincidence, and nonsense. The plot and characters go every which way (brilliantly) and every time you think you know where the novel's going, it goes the opposite direction. It's unique. But the novel is also socially relevant, and is not always subtle about it. For instance, when the psychiatrist ex-wife analyzes the insane moon society she's horrified by it: but when someone asks her if it really differs that much from Earth, she's hard pressed for an answer. Very cool. From a story perspective it's a strange unpleasant tale (all the characters hate each other), but it's definitely PKD at his most imaginative. It's not one of his famous stories, but it's one of my favorites simply because it's so unconventional. Well worth your time and thought.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Movie: Clash of the Titans

First let me advise you to avoid the 3D version of this film. The 3D effect is so subtle as to not be noticeable. In fact, several times during the film I looked at the screen without my glasses and I couldn't see much difference except that it was brighter without the glasses. Basically, it's not worth even 50 cents more, let alone several dollars for 3D.

As for the movie itself, it was about what I expected: myth and action, with a slight story. The biggest problem I had was that the action scenes go so fast you can't see anything or figure out what's happening. I found them to be boring. The special effects in this film are impressive and the only reason to see it. The story's about conflict between mankind and the gods and I found it troubling that somehow we're supposed to see the arrogant humans who challenge their gods as the heroes. What's heroic about insulting your gods? Is that a good thing to do? Basically the humans slap the gods and then are puzzled and terrified when the gods attack back, yet our demigod hero comes to save the day and he's going to rescue the humans from getting what they should get for poking a hornets' nest. I don't get much of that. But that isn't to see that film isn't interesting. The scenery and effects are worth seeing, and there are a few good moments. Mostly the film comes across as somewhat pretentious, as though every dramatic scene is world-shaking. The bottom line: it's just an average film with an average plot and some neat visuals. If that interests you, go for it!


Tuesday, May 2, 2000

Clay Pigeons

Movie: Clay Pigeons

Rather bizarre crime drama about a guy being falsely accused of being a serial killer. Fun.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Clear and Convincing Proof

Book: Clear and Convincing Proof
Writer(s): Kate Wilhelm

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


Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Clearing

Movie: The Clearing

Unusually introspective film that's more like a play. There are really only three characters, a man and his wife and the kidnapper. The woman tries to deal with the mystery of her husband's disappearance and he and the kidnapper discuss the meaning of life. It's a little slow and dull at times, and the ending's not exactly surprising, but overall it's a decent film with excellent performances. Unfortunately, it doesn't break enough new ground to be a classic, but it's interesting.


Thursday, March 9, 2000


Movie: Clerks
Writer(s): Kevin Smith
Director(s): Kevin Smith

I've seen several of Smith's more recent films, but Clerks is definitely superior. The dialog is wittier, the events more natural and realistic. It's believable that convenience store clerks would argue about the meaning of life -- after all, meaninglessness is all around them. Extremely impressive for a first film. Makes some of Kevin's bigger budget, glossier movies seem rather limpid in comparison.


Monday, July 3, 2006


Movie: Click

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


Thursday, December 12, 2002


Movie: Clockstoppers
Director(s): Jonathan Frakes

Mindless stuff about a watch that stops time. Okay, technically it speeds you up so fast it seems to you that everything around you has stopped, but it's pretty much the same thing. The plot's predictable (bad guys want the watch, kid saves the day, etc.), but overall the film has it's moments. It's mostly intriguing just for the cool special effects which are far better than any previous "time stopping" film.


Saturday, January 8, 2000


Movie: Clockwatchers (1997)
Writer(s): Jill Sprecher and Karen Sprecher
Director(s): Jill Sprecher

TV Guide called this a comedy, which I find strange, as it's not supposed to be funny. It's amusing, but not laugh-out-loud. It was interesting. It's about four young women who work one rung below the bottom one on the corporate ladder: they are temps. The film pokes fun at office politics and the corporate battle to get noticed. It's a light movie, not a biting satire like you might expect. Enjoyable. What I liked best was the casting: the four workers have distinct but believable personalities -- no glamor roles here.


Monday, June 27, 2005


Movie: Closer
Director(s): Mike Nichols

Unusually frank film discussing sex and relationships. The plot's a little too structured (forced) for my taste, but an interesting experiment. Basically we have two couples who, uh, interchange. The couples periodically switch who's with who and it's a fascinating view of relationships. Unfortunately, while the dialog is brilliant and characters are three-dimensional, we aren't really given an understanding for why the different people do what they do. For example, people love or don't love with minimal explanation -- and it's like the writer expects us to believe that the same way we believe fantasy elements in a fantasy film (i.e talking pigs in Babe). There were definitely uncomfortable scenes in this film -- I didn't appreciate some of the explictiness which felt over-the-top, like it was there just to shock or provoke me -- but overall the story and some of thoughtful discussion was amazing and profound. Not for all tastes, but certainly provocative.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I've never read the children's book this film is based upon so I can judge the adaptation, but my feeling is that I'd find the same flaws in both. It's probably just me being too rational, but I have serious trouble with this kind of story with no link to reality. Everything is just too illogical. It's not that I don't love fantasy or magic, I do: but good stories are consistent and believable in their own world. This one actually throws out scientific mumbo-jumbo as though it's being realistic, then has cooked chickens coming to life. Is this magic or science? I also had serious problems with the main character, which is at the heart of the film. The crazy scientistic/geek is someone we're supposed to love because he has a heart of gold and "thinks different" and yet he's a total moron and incompetent scientist. There was no explanation of why his inventions failed (most were jaw-droppingly stupid). Why not make him have some sort of block or reason why he fails and in the climax of the picture he overcomes that obstacle and invents something successful? I just couldn't relate or like someone so dumb, as lovable as he seemed.

All that said, I still sort of liked this. I wanted to really like it, but it's merely okay. It's silly and dumb but harmless and fun, the computer artwork is excellent, and it has humor and moves at a good pace. Unfortunately, I am saddened by the waste of potential: the idea of it raining food is brilliant (as is the title), but it's just an inept and nonsensical story.


Friday, January 18, 2008


Movie: Cloverfield

Surprisingly decent Godzilla-type movie filmed from the viewpoint of a found video camera with amateur recording of the events on it. It's a bit gimmicky, but fairly well done with an attempt at characterization and it's mercifully short and the gimmick isn't over-used. Fun.


Saturday, October 27, 2001

Club Quake Year-End Celebration

Soccer: Club Quake Year-End Celebration

I went to a wonderful dinner in Santa Clara last night to honor the San Jose Earthquakes for their great season. Almost all the Earthquakes players were there, and I got my picture taken with Landon Donovan. In fact, I got lots of pictures of all the players, so I put up a series of them on my website here. Check out the highlights!


Thursday, May 4, 2006

Coast Trip

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


Thursday, June 9, 2005

Code 46

Movie: Code 46

This is one of those movies that has potential but doesn't use it, let alone live up to it. It's got some great science fiction ideas: viruses people take to give them special abilities (the way we'd take drugs today), and the main language is a mixture of English, French, and Spanish (practically a reality all ready). The plot stems from a law that says no one can reproduce with someone of similar genetic background, and with clones so common, people might be related and not know it. That's what happens to the two main characters, a man investigating fraudulent travel papers and a woman who creates them. Instead of arresting her, he has an affair with her, but eventually finds out it's a Code 46 violation (they share similar DNA, meaning his mother and her are genetically the same as apparently they were both cloned from the same batch). Unfortunately, this is all done with such vague grayness and mythical confusion that we aren't sure what's going on until halfway through the movie and then it's anti-climactic when we do find out. The ending, while an appropriate resolution, is also weak and unsatisfying. In short, the film is slow, confusing for no good reason, boring, and in the end, doesn't go anywhere. It's a useless ride that promises far more than it delivers.


Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Code to Zero

Book: Code to Zero
Writer(s): Ken Follett

Excellent spy thriller, though slightly confusing in tense. It's set in 1954, when the U.S. is rushing to put their first satellite into orbit or lose out to the Russians in the space race. But then it keeps flashing back twenty-some years earlier to when the main characters were in college together. The flashbacks are clearly marked by year, so that's okay, but the "present" chapters don't say 1954 and Follett doesn't do quite enough in his descriptions to remind us that it's 1954 and not 2001. I kept forgetting which decade we're in. But Follett's details of the first successful U.S. rocket launch are fascinating, and the plot of his story is good. He starts us off with a rocket scientist named Luke who has lost his memory (a bit cliche) and doesn't know who he is. But people are following him, and he has secret agent-like skills. Is he a spy? Gradually, he pieces together the clues leading to the traitor who betrayed him, and discovers the plot to stop the launching of the rocket. Pretty good tale. There are a few flaws, but one thing I liked was the way Follett fed us information and backstory behind the group of characters. We see them dating in college, hear about their exploits during the war, and gradually find out how relationships fell apart or came together in unexpected ways. Worth the few hours it takes to read such a novel.


Saturday, June 4, 2005

The Codex

Book: The Codex
Writer(s): Douglas Preston

This is a surprisingly well-written book, though the plot is obvious and the execution weak. The premise bodes well: three distant brothers are brought together by their father, who's dying. Then he drops the bomb. Since he got most of his $500 million wealth robbing tombs, he has buried himself with all his treasures in a tomb somewhere on the planet and it will be up to the sons to find him to claim their inheritance. In the process, he hopes his useless sons will become men. This sounded intriguing as I pictured a globe-trotting adventure as the sons followed clues leading from exotic country to exotic country, but unfortunately the story immediately leads to the wilds of Central America and stays there until the end. This makes it rather tedious and boring, since reading about weeks and weeks of starvation hiking through jungles gets old quickly. Fortunately, Preston does better with characterization and other aspects of the plot, but for this kind of novel, it needs to be driven by the story, not characters. Weak.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Cody Banks 2: Destination London

Movie: Cody Banks 2: Destination London

I adore the concept of this series -- a teen spy -- but the implementation this time is terrible. This ought to be the kind of film Hollywood could do in its sleep. Unfortunately, this time they did. The plot is pathetic (some silly mind control device will be used to take over the world) and predictable (as soon as I heard "mind control device" I knew it would be implanted into Cody at some point). But much worse is the garrish overacting and humor a six-year-old wouldn't find funny. I swear the script was written by childish monkeys. I don't think I even smiled at a single joke, let alone laughed. Everything's either too ridiculously obvious or just plain stupid. How is Cody supposed to have any credibility when all the adults are idiots? A sad end to what could have been a terrific spy series.


Saturday, May 15, 2004

Cold Creek Manor

Movie: Cold Creek Manor

This film was badly mismarketed; I remember it being promoted as a supernatural thriller. I knew it was supposed to be bad, but I didn't realize just how bad it was. The premise actually isn't that bad: a family moves the country to avoid city dangers and buys a foreclosed piece of property, Cold Creek Manor. Then the former owner shows up, recently released from jail. He begins to hassle the family in subtle and then not-so-subtle ways, eventually leading to violence. This is supposed to be a psychological thriller similar to Pacific Heights (which was far superior to this dud), and I can see how that could have worked. But the characters are one dimensional and so stupid we really don't care much about them, the plot's predictable, and the ending trite. The whole thing is overblown and overdone. Worst of all, the film was just boring. I read a book during most of it. Not worth anyone's time.


Sunday, December 12, 1999

Cold Fall

Book: Cold Fall (1996)
Writer(s): John Gardner

I love audiobooks. They're especially good for thick classics that are too intimidating to read (like anything by Faulkner). I listen to them in my car and it's amazing how they change the way you drive. Suddenly stoplights, instead of being an aggravation, are a delight, because they mean you get to hear more of the story! I normally make it a point to only buy unabridged audiobooks, but every now and then I'll try a popular book, just for fun. This one was cheap, and it's a James Bond thriller, and I love James Bond. The book, however, was forgetable. An airplane's brought down by a bomb and Bond is sent to investigate -- but it turns out that has nothing to do with the plot of the book! We're vaguely told later who did the bombing, but it's confusing and lame. There's no real excitement to anything. Bond is rather feeble and human, unlike the Bond of the movies (whom I prefer) -- he walks right into the lion's den and gets attacked (and seems surprised). The worst aspect of the book for me was that this Bond is back to his old tricks, sleeping with every woman he meets, but the author, instead of just letting these one-night stands be one-night stands, describes the love scenes as though Bond is really falling in love each time. So we're supposed to feel sympathy or something when the woman turns out to be a criminal, or gets killed by the bad guys. Lame, very lame. I've read some of the original Ian Fleming novels and liked them (though they are very different from the movies). This book has reminded me that no one does it better than Fleming. I shan't bother with another non-Fleming Bond book.


Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Cold Mountain

Movie: Cold Mountain

I wasn't expecting to like this very much. I hate war movies and Civil War movies most of all. But like medicine, this was supposed to be good for you, so I went. It turned out to be a lovely love story, and I enjoyed it very much. In reviews I thought I'd read the story was about a soldier returning from war to his wife, but no: it's the story about a young man returning to his girlfriend; they are not married. In fact, they have scarcely talked! She is the conservative daughter of a reverend, raised in high society, while he is an ordinary farmer. He isn't much of a talker and their encounters are brief but there's hidden passion there. Then the Civil War begins and he goes off to fight, and she promises to wait for him. The war is awful, of course. One thing the movie does well is show us the brutality of both sides: neither is painted as completely evil or completely good. After being badly wounded the soldier ends up a hospital where he decides to leave and go home. It's dangerous. The South is losing and need every man: if he's caught he'll be shot as a deserter. So he begins a long and arduous trek home to Cold Mountain. Meanwhile, the girl is struggling. Her father has died and she doesn't know how to run a farm. Fortunately a more rugged girl (awesomely played against type by Renee Zellweger) ends up helping her, teaching her practical advice about how to build fences, care for animals, and raise crops. Somehow the two survive the winter. Throughout the film we are given close-up glimpses of 19th Century life in North Carolina during the war. It's not always pretty (though the pristine landscapes are incredible), and there are a number of scenes of horrible violence and cruelty, but there are also many powerfully human moments, where the simplest things like giving a freezing man a coat is miraculous. In the end the story's bittersweet, sadness blending with a wonderful love story, but unlike the weak House of Sand and Fog this movie ends on a positive note, leaving us with hope. Excellent. A bit long, but this is an epic tale and deserves it.


Friday, August 6, 2004


Movie: Collateral (2004)
Director(s): Michael Mann

This film came out of nowhere -- I saw not a single preview and barely heard about it, so I wasn't at all sure it was any good. To my surprise, it was great! Tom Cruise plays a cool bad guy, one of the most ruthless hit men ever portrayed on screen. Jamie Foxx, usually reduced to comical idiot roles, plays straight here, as a taxi driver Cruise uses to drive him around to various kill sites in one night. The performances of both are great, which is good, because they take up most of the screen time. The characterization of the taxi driver is deep, and while we don't learn as much about Tom's character, we do learn some background that explains a little of his career choice. The plot is excellent, as against his wishes the innocent taxi driver is given more and more responsibility to help the hit man. The climax is great when the shy, reserved taxi driver finally takes action and tries to stop the hit man, and the two square off in a gun battle. It's an excellent film. Lots of cool action, a non-stop pace, deep characters, and a satisfying ending.


Thursday, September 19, 2002

Collateral Damage

Movie: Collateral Damage

Okay actioner with Arnold going to South American seeking revenge on the Columbian terrorist who accidentally killed his wife and child during a bombing. Arnold finds out the terrorist became a terrorist because his daughter was killed in an attack, which is an intriguing idea, but the script never develops that any further. The first half of the film is so-so: the later quarter, however, has a nice twist that makes it much more interesting and is pretty good. Prior to 9/11 this wouldn't have been nearly as thought-provoking a film; now that reality has taken an ugly turn, this almost feels like art.


Saturday, March 15, 2003

The Color Purple

Movie: The Color Purple
Writer(s): Alice Walker (novel)
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Strange that I'd never seen this, but somehow I'd always missed it. It's good. Long and slow, but good. It's also depressing. It's very similar to Roots, except not covering so many generations. Set in the early part of the 20th Century, it tells about the lives of a group of African-Americans. The basic story is two sisters who are separated when teens and reunite at the end. The older girl (a surprisingly good Whoopi Goldberg) has given birth to two children by her own father, and is distraught when the children are taken away. Then she's given in marriage to a cruel man who just wants her as a maid (and whore). She's long-suffering and raises his kids, keeps his house, all the time missing her beloved little sister which her husband sent away. She occasionally thinks of rebelling, dreams of a different life, but it's not until the end when she has the courage to do so. The lives of others are intertwined within the main story. Like the story of Sophia, who marries the main sister's step-son. She's famous for beating up the son (she's a big gal played, impressively, by Oprah Winfrey). Later she ends up in prison for striking a white man who slapped her. She's a broken woman, and it's very sad. It's all wonderful drama, but sad and desperate, and rather depressing. The ending is much happier, but even then there's a hollowness to things: can a little happiness make up for so many years of despair? My favorite moment was the fantastic line uttered by Oprah. At this point her character's in a daze, almost a catatonic state, too depressed to be alive. When Whoopi talks back to her husband for the first time and makes everyone laugh at him, she's warned that it's bad luck for a woman to laugh at a man. Suddenly Oprah breaks into life, laughing hysterically. She laughs and laughs. Then she says, "I've had enough bad luck to keep me laughing the rest of my life." Great stuff. That leads to another terrific line moments later when she tearfully thanks Whoopi for her kindness and says, "When I see'd you I knowed there is a God." Wow, that's some powerful compliment. Excellent film. A little too serious, but everyone should see it at least once.


Saturday, April 20, 2002

Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

Terrific game! I've never seen a team have so many chances at goal. The Quakes totally dominated. Colorado only had a handful shots on goal the whole night (they hit the post once, and forced Cannon to make a fantastic save on a blistering Mark Chung grounder). The rest of the time they were just scrambling. Ariel Graziani got things started in the 26th minute. He stuck with the ball, somehow managing to get free from his defender, and put it away. In the second half, in the 74th minute, he fed a fantastic through-pass which Landon Donovan ran onto, putting Landon one-on-one with the keeper. He duked to the left, Colorado's Scott Garlick hit the dirt, and Landon calmly put the ball into the empty net.

The Quakes had an unbelievable number of terrific chances -- if they could have finished the final score could have been 10 or 12 to zero. They hit the post, shot wide or high, stumbled on the ball, were a shade too slow to shoot, or were denied by Garlick. I know that makes them sound incompetent, but it was really just poor luck and timing (which is a form of concentration). For instance, DeRosario had a guaranteed goal when he and Garlick went after the ball and Dewayne came away with it. He found himself in front of an open net with Garlick behind him and no defenders in sight. The stadium was rising in anticipation of a goal, when Dewayne stepped on the ball. That fraction of a second lost was enough delay for Garlick to throw himself on the ball and the scoring chance was lost. I am a bit concerned the Quakes didn't score more goals: they really need to start finishing their chances. Still, it is early in the season and they are creating the chances. And they got the result -- ultimately that's what's important. I can't complain too much if they keep winning! This win puts them tied for the overall lead in MLS with New York, and at the top of the Western Division. Final: 2-0 Earthquakes.


Saturday, May 4, 2002

Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Amazing game! This is the first of two home games in a row, and the first game after captain Jeff Agoos and Landon Donovan were called up to the national team for World Cup preparation. How would the remaining Quakes perform? They started out well, with several near-goals in the first few minutes, including a great shot by Ariel that hit the post and bounced out. San Jose donominated for a while, then let Columbus have the ball for a while, and suddenly got bitten on a counter-attack. A great through-ball by Maisonneuve found rookie Kyle Martino who out-ran the backs to put in a cross which Washington managed to get into the goal. Sad, but it was an excellent goal. I thought San Jose might fight back, but the goal seemed to rattle them, and Columbus pushed their advantage, coming up with a couple near chances of their own. The Quakes were almost back in it when Dayak's point-blank header, of a great Barrett free kick, was somehow parried over the bar by Crew keeper Presthus (doing his own Spiderman move). Moments later, during another Crew attack, Ibsen took out Maise to give Columbus a penalty kick. Cunningham easily put it away. With a depressing 2-0 lead and only minutes left in the first half, it looked like the Quakes were doomed. But just seconds later, Wade Barrett, at the other end, put in a long cross that was blocked. He instantly followed it up with a hard right-footed shot... that went through the entire box and into the far corner of the goal! Just his second goal in two years, but wow! What a time to score. The Quakes go into the locker room only one down and feeling the momentum. They didn't lose that momentum, either, coming out and equalizing just minutes into the second half. Ekelund, who really needed a big game in the absence of Landon, fought hard after a no-win ball in the midfield... and won it. He ran down the right side and put in a cross. It traveled over the penalty box and out the other side, with no one getting to it. However, the ball was still in play, and retrieved by a Quake player who sent it back to Wade Barrett. He put in a great cross which Derosario headed back into the goal mouth, where Ekelund was waiting, and he cleanly stuck it in the back of the net giving Presthus no chance. After that, the game settled down to a nice battle, though it was obvious that the Crew would be happy with a tie and that the heat was a factor (the kickoff was 1 p.m. on a hot day). As the game neared the end, it looked like overtime was a certainty. With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, the ball came to an open Ramiro Corrales at the top of the box. He put in an extremely weak and off-target grounder with his right foot that went to Manny Lagos' feet. Manny scrambled it back to Ramiro. He tried again, this time with his left foot, and pegged the ball into the upper corner of the goal for the game winner! Fantastic win! This was just huge. Not only coming back from two down, something San Jose doesn't do particularly well, but playing without two key players. Gutsy play on a sweltering day. Final: 3-2 Quakes.


Saturday, September 7, 2002

Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

What an insane game! Tied with L.A. at the top of the table, this (and every remaining game) are critical. After two straight losses (3-0 and 4-2), the Quakes needed a big win. They got things going good immediately with a quick 4th minute goal by defender Robinson off a corner kick. About 15 minutes came what I think should be the goal of the year. The Quakes had earned a free kick about 30 yards out. Mulrooney takes it, but instead of shooting, he simply flips the ball in the air over to Ronnie Ekeland. Ronnie does the impossible: he vollies it into the back of the net! Amazing goal. Volley are impossible normally, let alone off a free kick. But minutes later, disaster! A terrific flick by Brian McBride over the San Jose defense put Cunningham in on goal alone. Joe Cannon came out well like he usually does, but Cunningham popped the ball over Cannon and into the goal. The lead was now a single goal. Then we had controversy when Landon Donovan, one on one with the Crew keeper, was taken down in the penalty box. It looked like it would be impossible to NOT call a penalty, but the ref waved it off. A great chance for SJ thwarted by a bizarre call (and not the only one of the match). In the second half, the Quakes came back with a goal from Graziani on his own breakaway, and it looked like things were sharp for the home team. But then, more disaster. Because it was at the other end of the field I couldn't quite see how either goal happened. Both were by Edson Buddle. His first the ball just went right to his feet as he stood in the penalty area and he slid it into the net. I could see it happening and I'm screaming "No!" but it went in. The second I didn't see at all, but it apparently was accomplished by a bit more skill from Buddle (according to the reports of others). That tied the game at threes with just minutes to play and I felt ominous dread that the worst was going to happen. But in sudden death overtime, things began to turn. First, San Jose finally got a break from the ref as he sent off a Crew player (something that should have happened an hour earlier), and then, during pressure on the goal by Graziani, there was a bit of confusion between the Columbus goalkeeper and a defender and they ended up knocking the ball into their own goal! Crazy way to end a game, and a bit harsh on Columbus, but I felt that San Jose deserved the victory and since it's so close to the playoffs, I just wanted the three points however we got them.

Whew! What a game. With 15,000 in the stands, it was intense. I was swallowing my heart there at the end. But it certainly was entertaining. Now San Jose is on top of the league with two games left, both against L.A. who is tied with us. Next Sat. we play them in L.A., then here on the 21st. Those games are always heated and these are going to be championship intensity. If San Jose wins just one of the two games and doesn't lose by a huge number of goals, we'll win the Western Division (due to the tie-breaker of goal difference -- we've scored more goals than L.A.) and have home field advantage for the playoffs. And with 15 games without a loss at home, that's an advantage we want. Final: 4-3 Earthquakes.

After the game, an interesting thing: apparently this was "Faith and Family" night and as a special event, two members of the Columbus Crew, Daniel Torres and USA World Cup hero Brian McBride, came and gave their Christian testimonies to a group gathered in Section 115. It was very cool. Both had simple stories of faith and God's blessing in their lives. Daniel's from San Jose, Costa Rica, and he gave his testimony in both Spanish and English, and Brian told about growing up in a Christian family but never realizing the personal importance of God in his life until he was on his own. It was really neat and a good sized crowd of several hundred people stayed for it. It wasn't preaching, just sharing, and very positive. Kudos to the organizers, and thanks to Brian and Daniel for taking time to do it (especially after a heart-breaking loss).


Thursday, February 20, 2003


Book: Coma (1976)
Writer(s): Robin Cook

Surprisingly well-written book for the genre. I've seen a bit of a movie and knew some of the story, but I'd never bothered with the book. It's definitely Cook's best. The characters are more defined and the writing style is more polished: much of his later work is rushed and cheap by comparison. He still throws in all the required elements of a paint-by-numbers thriller: gratuitous sex, violence, etc., but it's well-done. The story is about a female medical student who is trying to figure out why so many patients at a Boston hospital are ending up in unexplained comas. During her investigation, she offends all her superiors and puts her medical career at risk, but she's positive something sinister is going on. Plot-wise, it's routine by today's standards, but what makes the story compelling is the fact that the lead character's a woman struggling to get by in a man's domain (far more of a problem in the 70's than today when female doctors are more accepted) and as a lowly medical student is a terrific underdog (arrogant doctors with decades of experience don't want to hear her absurd theories because they would be shown up by a mere student). An excellent read, made even more interesting by today's standards -- it makes you realize how much things have changed in just a couple decades.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Comedy of Errors

This is absolutely the worst production of any kind I've ever seen in over twenty years of attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. My frustration stems from the fact that I wasn't warned this was a radical departure from the original script. If I'd come prepared for something different my reaction might have been different. As it was, I was devastated.

The most major flaw in this production is that it makes too many changes. Sometimes changes are good: they can refresh a tired play, modernize it, bring forth a new perspective, make you see it in a new light. But this version attempts far too many radical changes and utterly destroys anything worthwhile in the original play.

The first change is that this uses a Western setting, moving the characters from Europe to the American Wild West. If that had been the only change, this could have succeeded brilliantly. Unfortunately, the director (or directors, as this felt like several conflicting collaborators were involved) chose to all make this a musical. Yes, that's correct: a musical. The production is filled with music that is not even in Western style, with modern lyrics that don't use Shakespeare's poetry, and songs that don't make sense or add to the production at all.

Now I'm not anti-musical. I love musicals, if they are done well. This was not. While some of the songs were well sung, only one was even slightly memorable, and the rest were indistinguishable from each other. Worst of all, there was no point to these songs. Do cowboys spontaneously break into song? Yeah, that's what I think about when I think of the Wild West... cowboys singing.

Another flaw was the bizarre introduction of multiple ethnicities into the play. For example, the play was narrated by a Mexican mariachi singer. He often spoke rapid Spanish and his English was so accented he was difficult to understand, ruining the whole point of adding a narrater character. Also included was a Chinese man with similar flaws of speech who strangely read modern-sounding fortune cookie fortunes. Another character was made into an Italian tonic-seller, an awkward combination of immigrant and classic Western quack who seemed utterly out of place and useless.

Through-out the piece modern language was mixed with Western terminology, so that along with with ethnic languages, the audience is expected to follow and understand a confusing variety of styles: Shakespearean poetry, Western drawl, modern singing, Mexican Spanish, Chinese English, Italian English, etc. The result is that it was a real challenge to understand anything: I had to concentrate hard to follow the play, which reduced the humor considerably as I couldn't relax.

It didn't help that about half the actors were obviously cast because of their singing abilities rather than their ability to perform Shakespeare. That doesn't mean they're bad actors, but performing Shakespeare does require a different kind of talent (making poetry sound like natural speech). This cast butchered what little Shakespeare was left after the changes and additions; I could hardly hear or understand them much of the time, and in an identity farce like "Comedy of Errors" that is not a good thing.

In short, this was a disaster. I laughed exactly four times during the first half, and once in the second. I had not thought it could get worse in the second act, but it did, dwindling into a horrible vaudeville act of slapstick and exaggerated "comic" reactions. It just was not funny. I kept wanting to laugh, but the play gave me nothing. The few times I did laugh were all due to Shakespeare's witty dialog, not anything new to this production. The fact that the biggest laugh of the night came from someone in the audience sneezing in the silence before the second act shows how everyone was filled with pent-up laughter wanting to be released. (Some people liked the slapstick or the songs, but I was so depressed by the desecration of Shakespeare that I couldn't enjoy anything. It was merely excruciating, like watching vandals destroy your most prized possession and being helpless to stop them.)

If I'd been warned that this play was so radically different from Shakespeare's original I might have come prepared and been less critical. I'm sure I would not have liked it, but at least I would not have felt cheated. As it is, I feel betrayed by OSF -- they sold me tickets to William Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" and gave me no Shakespeare, no comedy, only errors.


Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Commentary: Why Al Gore Lost

Why did Al Gore lose Florida? Greed.

You see, Al Gore didn't want to hand count all the votes. He just wanted to hand count extra ballots (undervotes, the ones missed by the machines) in a few select counties where he thought he had the most to gain. Right there that's unfair and the U.S. Supreme Court would undoubtedly throw out the results. But even that wasn't enough for Gore. He saw that just counting the undervotes normally wouldn't get him enough votes (most undervotes are real undervotes, i.e. people who didn't vote for President), so he came up with this scheme to count every dimple or microscopic mark on a chad as a vote. To "interpret the will of the people" as it were.

Regardless of which side of the selective hand recounts and dimple debates you find yourself on, the key point is that the issues are controversial and brought the ire of the Republicans (and quite a few fair-minded Americans). That was Gore's mistake. To actually think he could get away with such one-sided policies is shockingly arrogant. Of course the Republicans would fight him, delay the process, and eventually win. Gore will whine and complain about underhanded tactics or lack of time, but the end result is the same: Bush is the new president.

But just think how things could have been: if Gore had called for a statewide hand recount on Nov. 8 using the established Florida (non-dimple) standard, the Republicans would not have had a leg to protest on. The American people would have rallied around the vice-president, supporting the "count all the votes" concept. Would Gore have won? Who knows? At least with those standards and a statewide recount it would have been fair. But Gore didn't want fair:he wanted a guaranteed win. He wanted an advantage. But by playing the game the way he did, seeking an unfair advantage, he only generated controversy, opposition, and the resentment of the general public. Very sad, and he deserved to lose on those grounds alone.

(Note: I wrote this last Friday morning, but postponed posting it until tonight after the U. S. Supreme Court's decision.)


Friday, January 19, 2001

CONCACAF Champions Cup: DC United v Alajuelense

Soccer: CONCACAF Champions Cup: DC United v Alajuelense

DC lead early with a goal from Talley, but Alajuelense came back halfway through the second half with one of their own. It looked like we were going to penalty kicks. Then, in something you just can't script, Ben Olsen came through with a header in injury time to give DC the win and advance to the semis.


Sunday, January 21, 2001

CONCACAF Champions Cup: DC United v LA Galaxy

Soccer: CONCACAF Champions Cup: DC United v LA Galaxy

LA seemed to want the win more than DC, and really battled, but it didn't get them much. They were awarded a penalty kick in the first half, and converted it nicely, but DC was awarded a very questionable one in the second half (and converted it nicely). With a 1-1 score at the end, we went to penalty kicks, and once again, LA won (needing only four kicks). The Galaxy advance to the World Club Championships in Spain this summer, but first they play Olimpia for the first place title.


Tuesday, January 23, 2001

CONCACAF Champions Cup: LA Galaxy v Olimpia

Soccer: CONCACAF Champions Cup: LA Galaxy v Olimpia

Cool game with plenty of goals. Things started off poorly for LA when Lalas, back after a year's retirement, handled the ball in the box. Tosello converted the penalty in the 34th minute. But just two minutes later, Lalas pushed forward aggressively, no doubt wanting to make up for his mistake, and managed to head the ball into the box where Hendrickson headed it home to level the score. The move gave the Galaxy momentum, and a few minutes later Lalas assisted Cobi Jones on his amazing goal where he literally threaded the needle to slot the ball home. The angle was so acute an inch to either side and his shot wouldn't have gone in! In the second half, Olimpia came back with a header goal, but some how the Galaxy were still winning, despite the even score. Hendrickson proved it by getting his second at the 78th minute, and it proved to be the tournament winner. LA gets to go to Spain this summer as the champions, and they take home their first hardware. Final: 3-2 LA Galaxy.


Friday, January 19, 2001

CONCACAF Champions Cup: LA Galaxy v Real Espana

Soccer: CONCACAF Champions Cup: LA Galaxy v Real Espana

A boring first half led to chances in the second, but still no scoring. On penalty kicks, Real Espana's Hector Gutierrez missed his kick, and all five Galaxy shooters made theirs, with Sasha Victorine scoring the winner, so LA faces DC in the semifinal.


Sunday, February 27, 2000

Concert: Weird Al Yankovic, "Touring with Scissors"

What a terrific concert! Weird Al is so often dismissed as nothing more than a parasitic comedian, living off the art of others, but he is really an incredibly talented musician and consummate entertainer. He pulled out all the stops in his live show, incorporating a light show, smoke, bubble, and snow effects, costumes, and video clips. The video stuff was hilarious, including clips from "Al TV," mock celebrity interviews, music videos, parody commercials (my favorite was an ad for a nature-horror film called "60 Percent Chance of Rain"), and twisted 1950-style public service films educating us on things like personal hygiene (with practical advice like "Wash your hands every five minutes" and "Visit your dentist every day"). Between the one or two minute video segments Al would change costumes, wearing the same outfits used in his classic videos (i.e. dressed in hospital scrubs for "Like a Surgeon," in black with a beard for "Amish Paradise," and in his fat suit for "I'm Fat"). He did a ton of songs (over two hours worth), including recent stuff from Running With Scissors and classics like Dare to Be Stupid. There were classic moments, like when Al's piano player interrupted his monologue to go off on a wild impromptu (and very cool) keyboard solo, and Al, waiting until the man finished, calmly pulls out a gun and shoots the man! The audience was having a blast: most knew all the lyrics, even little children. I don't any performer than spans generations like Al: there were toddlers to grandparents! (It's also a clean show the whole family can safely enjoy.) Al goes across all music genres, from rap to country, and he not only mimics singing styles to perfection, he mimics dance moves, costumes, and gestures. Absolutely amazing. He's a genius. (Who else do you know who can sing and dance with one foot behind their head?)


Friday, January 24, 2003

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Movie: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman

Hilarious film about the life of "Gong Show" creator Chuck Barris. Supposedly he was a TV producer by day and a CIA operative by night. Of course there's no way to prove the latter, so the film has a lot of fun with it. Witty, well-acted and directed, fun yet with some serious moments. Excellent.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

Movie: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

Surprisingly good Lindsay Lohan vehicle about a New York City girl who moves to New Jersey and pines for a life she doesn't have. She's a "drama queen" and makes up stories about her family and life to improve her situation, especially to help her fit into her new high school. This turns into a "girl who shouted wolf" story when something exciting really does happen but no one will believe her. Thus the girl learns her lesson and her positive attitude carries the day. This certainly isn't deep but it's fun, with distinct surreal direction that shows no one takes this too seriously. It's light and very Disney, but above average.


Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Movie: Confidence

This isn't a bad movie: its main flaw is that "grifter" films have become so common that they're predictable in their unpredictability. What happens is what always happens: the con artist gets himself in deep trouble, has to pull an elaborate con to get himself out, is double-crossed, and must con the double-crossers to turn the tables over in the end. Sure, the details are always slightly different, and the characters occasionally intriguing, but in the end all these movies are the same (The Spanish Prisoner, Heist, Snatch, etc.). For a film like this to work, the characters must be engaging and the grifts must be bold and daring. While this succeeds in the former, in fails in the later, with the big grift a strange ploy to set up a fake corporation, get a $5 million corporate loan, and somehow convert that money to cash and escape. The ones that involve daring robberies are far better, though this does have a nice twist or two. Even so, this is an above average film. The characters and cast are good, and though certain plot points are average, it still works and is interesting. I don't think it will hold up as well as others of its genre, however. Within the genre it's average.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Constant Gardner

Movie: The Constant Gardner

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


Thursday, September 8, 2005


Movie: Constantine

This demon-hunter movie is better than I expected, but odd. The world in it is a strange blend of religion, mythology, magic, and superstition; what's odd is that all are treated as interchangeable equals, so priests deal with "enchanted" amulets and witch doctors are just as valid as priests. Basically, the film's saying that religion is just as real as magic; though in the film both exist, the conclusion drawn of course is that religion is myth just like magic. In other words, the Christian cross is no different from magic beans or an occult spell. I found that disturbing and troubling, but that's really outside the film. As for the movie itself, it has some decent action and visuals. The story's convoluted but works (or comes close to working, depending on your perspective). The ending's too contrived but does give some mild satisfaction.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Contender

Movie: The Contender (2000)

This is a movie about the nomination process of the first female vice-president in U.S. history after the current VP dies in office. Fortunately, it's realistically done, so we get an inside glimpse of all the dirty back-room dealings, subtle manipulations of public perception, and more. Like sausage, you don't want to know how politics gets done. Unfortunately, that realism is also the movie's flaw, for it can be quite tedious -- like watching an afternoon of C-SPAN. For the political afficianado, it's great. For those like me that abhor politics, it has its moments, but should have been at least thirty minutes shorter. Still, I loved the subtle way the politicians manipulated each other, and the ending was predictable but extremely well-done. I'd give it a B.


Tuesday, February 3, 2004

The Cooler

Movie: The Cooler

This is a film about luck, good and bad. William H. Macy is a "cooler" -- a loser with such bad luck he's brought in to the casino near whoever's on a hot streak to bring them down. The film's not as metaphysical as the Spanish indie Intacto Intacto (which also dealt with luck), but simply expects us to accept the whole good luck/bad luck premise. But when Macy meets a pretty cocktail waitress his fortunes change: suddenly his luck is good. She loves him and he loves her. Life is great. His contract is up and he can leave Las Vegas. But the casino boss doesn't want him to leave and will do anything to make him stay. That's where the film fell apart a little, for the clearly "bad guy" boss suddenly has a slight change of heart and does something good -- but it doesn't feel realistic. He was too evil before and we don't see what motivated his change (Macy did give him a nice speech, but it didn't seem to affect him). So the film dwindles a little and has a predictable (but good) ending. It's mostly about the concept, about Macy's awesome acting, and about how luck runs in both directions. Neat idea, decently done, and a lot of fun. But not enough depth for a serious film.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Book: Coraline
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman

Cool little book. I'd bought this years ago and it's been on my to-read this forever, but with the film coming out, I had to read the original version first. It tells the tale of a little girl name Coraline (not a typo) who discovers a magical door that takes her in a mirror world. At first it seems cool and better than the real world, but then she discovers it has serious drawbacks and is actually an evil trap. She has to figure out how to escape and rescue others trapped there as well. Very well done, though in places the foreshadowing's heavy-handed making things too predictable, and the story as a whole feels rather slight in the end. Still, it's fun, and extremely well-written with terrific descriptions. (My favorite was this: "It wasn't the kind of rain you could go out in--it was the other kind, the kind that threw itself down from the sky and splashed where it landed. It was rain that meant business, and currently its business was turning the garden into a muddy, wet soup.") Delightful, though perhaps a bit ominous for younger kids. I can't wait to see the movie.


Thursday, February 12, 2009


Movie: Coraline
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman (novel)

If you haven't read the book, you'll probably think this film is okay or pretty good. If you're a fan of the book, however, you'll come away disappointed. That's a shame, for the animation is fabulous. The 3D version is worth the trouble and it is well suited for this kind of stop-motion animation. The level of detail is astonishing. For instance, in one scene a character pours coffee and though the mugs are a tiny part of the overall screen, I could see a droplet of coffee splash out of the cup and trickle down the side. That was realistic and considering the difficulty of implementing something that subtle via stop-motion is impressive. Unfortunately, the writer changed much of what was good about the book. Why, I'm not sure. I thought it might have been to make the story long enough as the film feels padded over the first half, but then the last third feels rushed, which is weird. The two main problems I had with the story modifications -- spoiler warning -- are 1) a new character, a boy Coraline's age, is added. This goes completely against the whole point of the book, which is that she is lonely and alone and bored. Inserting this superfluous boy changes the dynamic of Coraline's character, and not in a good way. People who haven't read the book wouldn't notice this, but book fans will be horrified. 2) The terrific ending in the book, where Coraline outsmarts the witch, is changed to an accidental victory (with a little help from the idiot boy). Why? Why? Why? I find this change incredibly shocking as that aspect of the book's plot was terrific and really showed that Coraline was an intelligent, above average girl. She'd gotten a bit lucky throughout the rest of the story and so for me, that ending was crucial to the novel. In the movie that "fate" aspect is made even worse, with Coraline receiving help and good fortune and hardly doing anything on her own. At least the book had foreshadowing and made events look plausible; here stuff happens without any logic behind it at all. Despite these writing flaws, the movie did improve on several problem areas of the book. For instance, one area that troubled me about the book was how quickly the "alternate world" Coraline discovers turns sour. I wanted to see her more tempted by that world and her "other mother," not almost immediately want to go home to the real world. The movie does this superbly well, with Coraline visiting her Other Mother several times and the place initially being very pleasant and only gradually showing a darker side. There were a few other places were the film script fixed minor issues with the novel, but I still don't understand why they made those two crucial changes which pretty much ruined the film for me. It's very sad because there's so much to like. Many of the "boring" parts of the book are some of the film's best scenes: the bizarre theatre of the actresses, the circus mice performance, Other Father's piano song, the whole garden scene (which is not in the book at all but wonderfully illustrated). These are areas where the film enhances what the book only sketched. One of my favorite things was the whole spider motif of Other Mother, with her parlor web and her hand becoming an artificial metal claw that by the end of the film is independent of her and looks extremely spider-like. Certain things like that are absolutely classic and put this among the best films of all time. But the destruction of the author's writing is absolutely criminal and ruins what could have been a fantastic work. It's such a shame. In short, if you've read the book, see this just for the animation and be prepared for disappointment and you'll come away pleased. If you haven't read the book, go to be entertained and you will be impressed. Don't expect the greatest film of all time, as the weak areas do show through, but expect an average story and you'll get it.


Friday, March 28, 2003

The Core

Movie: The Core (2003)

A film with a premise like The Core -- about scientists who travel to the center of the earth to stop the total destruction of the planet -- is either going be pretty good or absolutely horrible. Fortunately, this one falls into the former category. Like Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and Deep Impact, this takes a fanciful (one might say absurd) concept and turns into a pleasant adventure. It's certainly nothing intellectually straining, but I was impressed that the film makes an attempt at being scientifically accurate (with a few odd exceptions). Decent special effects bring scope to the drama (though the special effects scream "special effect" and a few betray their digital origin). The story's predictable but still interesting, with a good blend of characters. People die, people are heros, rah rah rah. Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart carry the picture, giving the minor script a bit of depth. Don't expect the world, but it's definitely a fun ride.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Corpse Bride

Movie: Corpse Bride
Director(s): Tim Burton

Wonderful, wonderful film! While Tim's Nightmare Before Christmas (his other stop-motion fantasy) is uneven, this one is just terrific throughout. The characters are visually strange and bizarre and yet somehow appealing, and the story's the same way. It deals with a shy young man set to marry a girl he's never met. Later, when he's in the woods practicing his vows, he puts the ring on a stick poking up out of the ground -- but the stick turns out to be the blackened hand of a corpse... the Corpse Bride. She accepts his "proposal" and assumes the two are married and takes him to the land of the dead, where we see dancing skeletons and other hilariously creepy creatures. Somehow the young man has got to tell this dead woman that he doesn't want to be married to her, that their differences are too great (she's dead, he's alive). It sounds grim, but it's done with such life and heart and wonderful music that it's remarkably light and fun. The story is sweet and moving and entertaining. You love all the characters (some you love to hate) and want everything to work out well. I was extremely impressed. It's not a deep story, but it has a few clever jabs and a couple thought-provoking ideas. Mostly it's just classic escapist entertainment, and utterly original and charming. A must see!


Saturday, February 26, 2000

The Corruptor

Movie: The Corruptor (1999)
Writer(s): Robert Pucci
Director(s): James Foley

Interesting, convoluted film. It tries to defy stereotypes by making almost all the characters gray, but only succeeds in creating a plot that's nearly unintelligible. You've got corrupt cops and corrupt cops who are really Internal Affair agents, and villains who are snitches and villains who are playing the cops. There's some good action, and Chow Yun-Fat is amazing as usual, but ultimately it's just another action film.


Sunday, January 26, 2003

The Count of Monte Cristo

Movie: The Count of Monte Cristo
Writer(s): Alexander Dumas

Really good film. I've never read the book so I'm not sure how faithful this adaptation is, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A man (Edmund) is betrayed by his best friend in order to steal his fiance. He's falsely imprisoned at Chateau D'If, an island castle of stone. He lives there in misery for 14 years. During this time, he loses faith in God and desires nothing but revenge. Then he meets a fellow prisoner who spent 7 years digging a tunnel which led him not outside, but to Edmund's cell! The old man, who's a priest, teaches Edmund how to read and write, about the arts and sciences, languages, sword-fighting, and more. Eventually he tells him the location of a secret treasure on the island of Monte Cristo, and after he dies, Edmund escapes, finds the treasure, and sets himself up as Count of Monte Cristo. Wealthy beyond imagining, he uses his new power to take revenge on his enemies. Terrific tale, well-balanced by thoughtful commentary on God and morality. My favorite line: "But I don't believe in God." "That's okay, He believes in you."


Friday, December 29, 2000

Cousin Bette

Movie: Cousin Bette (1997)

A strange, convoluted mess. It's a period piece about psychological manipulation in 19th century Paris, sort of a poor man's Dangerous Liaisons. Cousin Bette is the neglected one of a once-prominent family, and she schemes to find money and love, but her schemes always backfire and don't turn out the way she intended. Some interesting scenes and situations, but the characters are all unlikable. The acting was also poor, with some making attempts at accents and others not bothering in the slightest (British accents, at least, would been more appropriate than silly American drawls). Elizabeth Shue shows off her negligible singing ability (in addition to other assets), and the luminous Jessica Lange is supposed to be an old hag??? I also found the constant overly bold orchestrated music inappropriate, making every scene into dramatic melodrama.


Sunday, August 17, 2003

Cousin's Weekend Wedding

This weekend, Megan Mihm, my second cousin once removed (I think that's right -- she's the daughter of my mother's cousin) got married. Hordes of relatives descended on the area, so I got to see lots of family I hadn't seen in a while. I'm not a huge fan of weddings -- the formality bores me -- but this one turned out to be a lot of fun. Except for the brief ceremony, which was emotional and heart-felt, there were informal dinners and gatherings at the beach. The entire affair was spread out over the whole weekend (things started Friday night with the rehearsal dinner) and capped off with a family lunch on Sunday. I really liked the way that was done because instead of the wedding being an isolated event it was part of a series. Also, there was time to actually meet the couple and talk with them, chat with distant relatives, and have a good time. Having it on the California coast was also brilliant, for many of the family came from back east and it was a terrific beach vacation for them (everyone but me, since I live here, stayed at a hotel right on the beach in Santa Cruz, so there was plenty of nearby activities for all). It was great to see everyone and I wish Megan and Tom the world.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Covenant

Movie: The Covenant

This is a movie about teenage male witches and though it got dreadful reviews, it wasn't that bad. Granted, the plot's idiotic and the climatic "battle" between two witches is just lame, but I found the premise intriguing. Rich New England teens, with the world at their feet, also have superpowers? Isn't that the ultimate guy's fantasy? The film also had a few striking visuals -- unfortunately these are wasted early on and the film has nothing left for the climax. Certainly not recommended, but one of those Hollywood movies that irritates me due to its waste of a good idea.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

Movie: Cowboys and Aliens

I had really high expectations for this, considering the cast, director, and concept. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to them. The problem is that it falls just a little short in almost every aspect of the film. For instance, the gritty cowboy world is wonderfully done with some terrific character setup, but then that's all abandoned as the film descends into a mere Us-versus-Them battle. The aliens are similar: kind of cool in some ways, but ultimately little more than random monsters (they are certainly not explained or personalized in any way). Even the action and special effects fall short. Throughout there are glimmers of greatness, but every time the film fails to deliver what it hints at or promises. It's entertaining, but not much more than that. The bottom line is we end up with a ton of wonderful potential wasted.


Friday, February 28, 2003

Cradle 2 the Grave

Movie: Cradle 2 the Grave

The early reviews I saw gave this a mediocre grade, but I don't know why. It's a decent action flick. There's cool stunts, high-tech thievery, bad guys, good guys, pretty girls -- what more do you want? The plot's mildly interesting: a black thief steals some black diamonds that a really bad dude wants. He kidnaps the thief's 8-year-old daughter to force the thief to give him the stones. Jet Li comes in as a Taiwanese govt. agent seeking to return the stones to his country. He and the thief team up and become reluctant partners. Sure, the plot's convoluted, but what action flick (other than the classic Die Hard) has a plot that makes sense? The action stuff is pretty good, though some of the scenes go on too long. I guess the better you are at martial arts the more hits it takes to actually down a man.


Friday, September 1, 2006


Movie: Crank

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


Friday, April 24, 2009

Crank 2: High Voltage

Movie: Crank 2: High Voltage

Basically, if you're a fan of the original, you'll probably like this one: it tops everything in the first one even going further and more ridiculous. It's so over-the-top it's not quite as much fun (it gets distasteful and disturbing more than once), but there are some clever gags and it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not.


Sunday, October 29, 2000


Movie: Crash
Writer(s): David Cronenberg, Book by J.C. Ballard
Director(s): David Cronenberg

Yuppies get their sexual kicks from car crashes. Unusual premise, yes, but I expected the film to explain it. It didn't. I guess you can't really explain sexual arousal, but by the end of the film I was so disconnected with the characters I didn't care if they lived or died. They were just weird (and not a good weird -- more like sick). What kind of moron runs his girlfriend off the road so she crashes just so he can get off on it? An interesting sidenote: book author Ballard also wrote Empire of the Sun, which was made into the Spielberg's award-winning film. Maybe the book worked, but the film didn't. Unusual for Cronenberg, who usually does so well explaining the bizarre.


Thursday, December 22, 2005


Movie: Crash

Episodic-type films don't always work, but when they do, they can be powerful. This one works. It's an elaborate and complicated story about the inter-relationships of a group of strangers in Los Angeles; coincidence and happenstance connect the people but amazingly, the story never feels forced. The theme of the film is about racism, specifically the fear generated after 9-11. L.A.'s a wild mix of cultures and races and this movie puts them all in a pot and cooks until boiling. What's great is the way the film plays up stereotypes and then destroys them. Like the bad cop that does something heroic, or the seeming gangster who's really a loving family man. The film's a bit slow to get going but eventually becomes really powerful.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crater Lake

Today my cousin and I stopped by Crater Lake for a few hours on our way home from Ashland. It was a gorgeous day and we hike around the lake for a mile or two. I hadn't been there since I was a small child -- it is a breathtaking place. I recommend it for a visit! Here are some pictures I took.

[Click thumbnail for larger view]


Friday, February 26, 2010

The Crazies

Movie: The Crazies

This is a surprisingly good film. I haven't seen the original, so I can't compare, but though it feels like a generic premise (mysterious virus makes townspeople crazy) and some aspects are familiar, it's done in such a compelling manner it's interesting. It reminded me a lot of the tongue-in-cheek Final Destination films in that it's self-aware of its genre and plays on that. For instance, there's a scene where the wife goes to the barn looking for her weird-acting husband and stands in front of a spinning combine and you're positive he's in the driver's seat and is going to run her over in a gruesome death, but it's just a tease. Another aspect that I liked is that the main story is not so much about surviving the crazy people, but doing that while outwitting the ruthless military types sent in to quarantine the area. That gives the story a different feel from the standard zombie flick. The ending is good, too. Not that there aren't flaws in the film -- it's still a limited story and genre -- but it's good fun with a few thrills and characters you want to see succeed.


Saturday, February 5, 2005

Crazy Marc buys truck, er, van

I've been wanting a truck, van, or stationwagon for a while now: anything that would carry more than my tiny Neon. Especially with the new house, I'm finding I need stuff (furniture, accessories, tools, etc.) and it's tough getting them home. Most of my needs are simple and it's annoying to find an inexpensive desk costs more to deliver than it costs for the desk! Yesterday I started shopping, just checking local dealers to see what was available. At first I was pleased to see that there was so selection in my price range (I was thinking about $5K for a used vehicle), but once I started thinking about it, I got depressed. You see, most of the vehicles I was finding were ten years old and had more miles than my Neon! Paying $5K for a used vehicle with unknown problems and 100,000+ miles was not exciting. Then today I stopped at the local Mazda dealer. The car I really wanted was the Mazda3 5-door, but for right now, it's too small for my needs so I'd decided to buy a used truck and wait a year or two for the Mazda. But the Mazda dealer had some used vehicles in stock. After considering a Ford Focus Wagon, I saw a large van/truck and asked the sales guy about it. "Oh, that's a little older, but hey, it would probably work for you." It was a third to a quarter of the cost of most of the vehicles I'd been studying, but was a 1990 model with nearly 200,000 miles. But it started right up. It was a Mazda MPV which Consumer Reports rates highly (though unfortunately their ratings don't go back to 1990). It's in great physical shape and seemed to run well, though of course you never know about an engine that old. In the end, as the price dropped during our negotiations, I decided to take a gamble. I wrote a check and drove home a new minivan/truck! (It's technically classified as a minivan, but has four-wheel drive, so I guess that's why Mazda calls it a Multi-Purpose Vehicle.) Here's a picture if you're curious. I'm not sure exactly how I'll use the van: if it drives well I may use it a lot, or I could only use it when I need to haul things. I hope it lasts a year or two. It seems like it should, unless I discover the engine needs some major work. Then it because a dilemma of how much to put into an old vehicle. But if I can get a year or two of good use out of it, it'll be a steal. Meantime it's so cheap I can keep my Neon and have two vehicles, which is nice as they back each other up (my Neon will be eleven years old in March). I'm probably crazy to be so impulsive, but that's how I do things.


Sunday, January 13, 2002


Movie: Crazy/Beautiful

I have to be careful I don't go overboard in my praise of this film. I was expecting a silly teen flick and instead I got a genuine story of teenage romance. Good performances, with realistic dialogue and storyline. I really lliked the characters: a rich white "bad" girl falls in love with a studious Hispanic boy from the wrong side of town. The boy's a hard-working kid, riding the bus two hours each way just to get to the prestigious high school the girl keeps ditching. He wants to go to the Naval Academy and become a pilot, but his involvement with the wild girl threatens his future. Slowly, we learn about why the girl's so screwed up (her mother committed suicide). Everyone tells the couple they're wrong for each other. The ending is a little pat, but happy, and I liked it. Good movie.


Saturday, November 8, 2003

The Crime of Padre Amaro

Movie: The Crime of Padre Amaro

This was a controversial film when released in Mexico and in theatres. It deals with a young priest who has an affair with a 16-year-old girl, getting her pregnant and trying to get her an abortion. Obviously, that's not priestly behavior. But what bothered me more than that -- after all, he's just one priest and is human -- was that there are hardly any good priests in the film. All the others are portrayed as being corrupt. The effect is that the story comes across as extremely anti-Church, though I don't think that was really the intention. I liked the concept, and the execution was decently done, but the attitude of the film bothered me. I'm not big on any church organization, but taking the flaws of a few and making them stand for the entire group isn't right.


Thursday, September 16, 2004


Movie: Criminal

Cool like con-job movie with terrific performances from John C. Reilly and Diego Luna. Reilly's the experienced con who take the young Luna under his wing, then the two get involved in a major sting involving a forged piece of currency. Of course nothing goes quite as planned and more and more people get involved into the scam. It's funny, cool, and you aren't sure what's going to happen next. The ending's a bit of a gimmick, but a little too outrageous. It's similar to Matchstick Men.


Monday, December 10, 2007


Book: Crisis
Writer(s): Robin Cook

I'm not usually this blunt, but this is a horrible, horrible, book. Absolutely nothing happens. The title and the book jacket implied this was an exciting tale about medical malpractice and knowing Cook's books I figured this would be cutting edge legal-medical conflict and raise a lot of interesting issues. Wrong! Instead we have what appears to be a routine death and a subsequent lawsuit that blames the doctor's personal problems which all get aired in court. The crux of the novel is about a potential autopsy of the victim -- and we literally must wade through hundreds of pages of incredible tedium as the doctor (the brother-in-law of the sued doctor) tries to fight through bureaucratic paperwork to get the body exhumed and examined. It's so boring! As if to make up for the lack of story, Cook suddenly throws in bizarre kidnapping and assaults... apparently instigated by the "evil" lawyer suing the doctor who doesn't want an autopsy. The assaults are so outrageous -- a gunfight on a freeway -- that all plausibility of the novel is lost. We're really supposed to believe an attorney would send goons to attack the defense? I mean, come on -- he's the obvious suspect. But of course nothing can be proven and the lawyer gets away with it. Preposterous. But the final insult was the book's ending. I had kept reading because the way the book made it sound we could expect some dramatic resolution at the end and I had to find out what would be discovered in the autopsy. What was discovered was just ridiculous: that apparently the sued doctor had killed the patient on purpose? Huh? I don't get it. It makes no sense and there's no explanation given. Just bizarre and totally out of character. Very odd novel, if you can even call it that. The plot would fit into a short story and even then it would be boring. I normally like Cook's books, but I feel this book stole years of my life. I want my brain back! Gag. Just horrible. One of the worst books I've ever read.


Friday, February 9, 2007


Book: Cross
Writer(s): James Patterson

This is supposed to be the story of detective-psychologist Alex Cross's most dangerous opponent, the man who killed his wife. Unfortunately I found the antagonist to be weakly done; he wasn't that scary (he's merely an efficient mob hitman), and Patterson ineptly plays with the time-line of events making everything quite confusing (like one day his wife is killed and suddenly it's ten years later). Patterson's generally a poor writer (so much so that I've started avoiding his books), but in this one he has a few moments of decency. A couple times I was shocked to almost hear genuine insight. Unfortunately, all is ruined by the book's dismal finale, which is competely anticlimatic, boring, and unsatisfying. The book should be cut in half as it's way too long for the material, with lots of pointless meandering (like whole storylines of his counseling patients that are just dropped with no resolution). The whole thing felt like so much melodrama, overhyped and overdone. Note: I listened to the unabridged audiobook, so some of this could have been the presentation, which was definitely over-the-top, but then again, it's probably just the poor writing.


Monday, June 30, 2003


Movie: Crossroads

I just wanted to see how bad Britney Spears could be, and actually, she's not bad, though there's not much here to stretch her. The real problem is that the plot is so generic as to be obvious thirty seconds into the film. A trio of girls who used to be friends as children but now lead separate lives in high school, go on a road trip to California. Britney's going to surprise her biological mother who left her when she was a baby -- one guess how that goes. Another girl is going to surprise her fiance at school -- one guess what she finds him doing. Yeah, there are no surprises, nothing exciting. Oh, the girls do sing karoke, and the guy with the car turns out to be a musician who puts Britney's poetry to music, which she then sings at an audition... duh! Not bad, just boring.


Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Director(s): Ang Lee

Unquestionably the best movie of the year so far. This is an amazing fantasy, combining the best of Chinese mysticism, folklore, romance, intrigue, and absolutely unbelievable action. The fight scenes will make your jaw drop open in astonishment: the characters dance across rooftops and swordfight while leaping across swaying tree limbs. The story is equally enchanting: a priceless 400-year-old sword has been stolen, and the search for the thief overlaps a quest for an evil murderess. Intertwined are two stories of forbidden love: one by pledge to another, the other by a code of honor. The film is subtitled but after ten minutes or so, you'll forget to notice: the dialog, action, and story will keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration. A must see film!


Saturday, January 13, 2001

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (again)

Movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (again)
Director(s): Ang Lee

Even better the second time around. This time I could concentrate more on the action and acting than the subtitles, and I was pleased to see the subtle performances by Michelle Yeoh and the script's terrific dialog. There were some plot points that confused me the first time, but on second viewing I was able to follow things better. Some of that comes from trying to follow plot while reading subtitles, and some comes from the Western eye not recognizing Chinese faces (if you're not from a culture, faces often seem identical, particularly if you're only given a quick initial glimpse). On the first viewing there were several characters I thought were different people but now I saw they were the same, which helped the plot make a bit more sense. Minor flaws, awesome movie.


Sunday, September 2, 2007


Movie: Croupier

This was not what I expected at all. It's slow, odd, and rather boring. It's about an aimless guy who gets a job at a London casino as a croupier, then gets himself involved in some sort of robbery scam. It didn't make a lot of sense to me. I never could figure out who the guy was or why he did what he was doing (like cheating on his girlfriend, which made no sense). Weird.


Tuesday, March 27, 2001

The Crow: Salvation

Movie: The Crow: Salvation

Weak sequel with more of the same revenge killing; a few good scenes but the plot has large jumps in logic which hurts momentum. Okay; some of the action is decent. Starts off too slowly and the ending is feeble.


Sunday, February 13, 2000


Movie: Crumb (1994)
Director(s): Terry Zwigoff

This is a documentary on the bizarre artist and cartoonist Robert Crumb. I rented it primarily because it was produced by David Lynch and I'm a huge Lynch fan. I thought I'd never heard of Crumb before the film, but seeing his artwork I realized I was somewhat familiar with his style and some of his more famous works. Crumb's art is distinctive and unique, and above all, controversial. He mixes biting humor, social commentary, and pornography. His drawings of women are exaggerated to absurdity, essentially mocking the male obsession with sex while at the same time gratifying it. The film interviews Crumb and various members of his family, including his two brothers. The Crumb family is the ultimate in dysfunctionality, with Charles living at home with his mother and taking anti-depressants and Max begging on the streets of San Francisco and spending hours every day on a bed of nails. Their lives are so pathetic they will surely improve your perspective of your own. But the frightening thing is how intelligent and creative these two are: both are artists, like Robert, and both show tremendous talent. Also like Robert they are obviously misfits, but while he found a place in the world, they did not. Who was it who said the difference between genius and insanity is a hairline? This documentary showed it to be true. While this film is incredibly disturbing (to the point of nausea), it's also an amazing, honest portrait of the link between insanity and creativity. If you are interested in creative endeavours or the creation process, I highly recommend seeing this film. It will open your eyes and make you ponder.

In closing, here's an example of a cartoon that epitomizes Crumb: there's a depressed man with an absurdly huge nose (we're talking two feet here). Behind him is a naked woman on a bed. Her entire face is sunken in... in a similar bulbous shape to the man's tremendous proboscis! (Yes, it is sick and twisted... and hilariously funny. And profound when you think about it.)


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Cry in the Dark

Movie: A Cry in the Dark (1998)

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


Monday, August 23, 1999


Book: Cryptonomicon (1999)
Writer(s): Neal Stephenson

I first heard of this book in a review in Newsweek. The review was written by Steven Levy, an author I've read for years, and I respected his opinion. Based on his positive review, I bought the book and instantly became a Neal Stephenson fan. His books are not for all tastes -- they deal heavily with computers and technology, sort of like sci-fi for computer geeks. He even includes programming code in his books, making them attractive to hard-core UNIX types. This particular book is broader in scope, and while the plot is entertaining, I found two things made this book a classic. The first is Neal's unusual method of following two plots simultaneously in different time periods -- we follow several people during World War II and also deal with their grandchildren today. Fascinating. The second is Neal's style of writing, which, while it occasionally overachieves, is remarkable both for its varied diction and unusual yet precise metaphors, and its humor. This is a very funny book. There are passages where I had to stop reading I was laughing so hard. It's not that funny things happen -- it's just the way he writes about them makes the slightly unusual outrageous. The plot is far too complicated to explain here, and learning about it is half the fun: it basically deals with secret codes in World War II and modern cryptography. It's a huge read -- nearly a 1,000 pages (and probably 250 pages too long) -- but it's terrific entertainment, dealing with history, computers, cryptography, finance, romance, language, travel, Eastern culture, and spies. Don't read for the lukewarm plot; just sit back and enjoy the ride.


Sunday, October 3, 1999


Movie: Cube (1997)
Writer(s): Andre Bijelic, Vincenzo Natali, and Graeme Manson
Director(s): Vincenzo Natali

If you don't like existential suffering, you may not appreciate this wonderful movie! It's an independent science fiction film from Canada. The only "star" you might recognize is a very different-looking Nicole DeBoer (from the last season of TV's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- she's Canadian, if you didn't know). The plot is simple and claustrophobic: a motley group of individuals wake up to find themselves trapped inside a bizarre maze of square rooms. They are wearing prison uniforms and no one remembers how they got there. Each room has six exits -- one door on each side (top, bottom, and four sides). But all lead only another, seemingly identical room. Some of the rooms are booby-trapped with fantastically horrible gadgets: slicing machines, acid-spraying devices, spikes, noise-activated knives, etc. During their explorations, they discover the Cube is 26 rooms wide by 26 rooms tall by 26 rooms deep: 17,576 rooms! With no food and water, it's a race to get out of the maze before they're too weak to move. It's a high-pressure environment: we watch seemingly normal people become paranoid, angry, frustrated, and terrified as everything they try fails. The script is amazing, with some profound observations on the meaning of life as people theorize on the meaning of the Cube and who could have created it. The pre-ending is incredible (and subtle) -- what happens seconds later is too Hollywood (but still fits the concept, though I would have preferred the earlier ending). All in all, a complex psychological drama with some impressive special effects, excellent acting, and a thought-provoking story. This is a movie you'll want to watch several times.


Saturday, November 27, 1999

Cube (rewatch)

Movie: Cube (rewatch)

I watched Cube with the family. I don't know how they liked it -- some seemed to think it was violent -- but once I again I was impressed. It's not a happy tale, but it's one that makes you think.


Sunday, April 6, 2003

Cube 2: Hypercube

Movie: Cube 2: Hypercube

This is a sequel to one of my favorite movies of all time, Cube. Cube doesn't seem like a movie you could make a sequel of, and I must admit I'm impressed at the audacity and cleverness of the authors to do this. They try hard to not make this a straight repeat, but at the same time keep a similar feel. It almost works. Unfortunately, we end up with an average movie instead of a great film. Still, this movie has some interesting twists (a even leaves the door open for further sequels). Once again we've got a group of strangers trapped inside a giant cube with thousands of square rooms. These occupants have no idea why they're there, or how to get out. There are deadly traps, but not as bad as in the first film (where only certain rooms had traps -- here there seems to be no logical reason for the traps). The characters are the best part: we've got a similar mix as the first film, with some new twists. For instance, one is an old woman who's senile, but we discover she used to be a theoretical mathematician. Another character is a blind girl. Slowly each of the group figure out they've got something in common with a military contractor that possibly built the Cube. Of course the big feature of Cube 2 is that the building is a now a Hypercube, meaning that it is a cube not of three dimensions but of four. This means the rooms now involve teleportation and time-distortions. Unfortunately, while that's an interesting idea, it doesn't really do much for the story or make things particularly more interesting or complicated. The digital special effects are also not particularly interesting or innovative; the original was actually better in that regard. Still, this is cool just because it's related to Cube, and if you're a fan of that movie, you'll definitely want to check out this one.


Friday, January 2, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Movie: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My original expectations were high, but they lowered when I heard some reviews and comments, and when I saw the nearly three hour running time. But you know what? I liked this. It is a little long, but it generally holds your interest and the characters are compelling enough you want to find out what is going to happen to them. I read the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story this is based on and the story's completely different. In the story the baby can talk right out of the womb, which is farfetched (not that living life in reverse is that realistic either, but that's a premise you buy for the sake of the story). In the film the baby is given away to a black nurse who raises Benjamin as her own, and I liked the way he's raised in an old folks home, which fits him well, as he doesn't even realize he's different from all the old people around him. Overall the story's somewhat tame and predictable in direction (not in specifics), but it still works. The special effects and acting are fabulous; the film's worth seeing just for that. I was a little disappointed that more creativity didn't go into more of a plot, per se; other than the "old-to-young" aging gimmick, there isn't much here, but it's still worth seeing just for the novelty. There was also a rather useless "framing" gimmick of a daughter visiting her dying mother in the hospital and reading Benjamin's story, and that was set in New Orleans just before hurricane Katrina hit. I felt this storyline added little to the overall story and just interrupted the flow far too often. It was also boring and though there was supposed drama with Katrina coming, it didn't have anything to do with anything, and just felt out of place and odd.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

Movie: Curse of the Golden Flower

This is a film about historic Chinese royalty. There are three princes, a convinving queen, and a stiff king. I certainly don't pretend to understand all the confusing Chinese politics, but while basic, the story is interesting enough to hold your attention. The main attraction is the film's incredible visuals. Every scene is filled with amazingly bright colors: the golds of the opulent palace, the finery of the period costumes, elaborate tapestries and intricate flooring, and the huge courtyard filled with miles of yellow flowers. Even if you're not into the story, the visuals are remarkably entertaining. There is martial arts fighting, but instead of a single warrior hero dominating the story as in most martial arts films, here the fighting is mostly groups of anonymous warriors, mere soldiers dying for their cause. Some of these fight scenes are dramatic and wonderful (my favorite is when, in the dead of night, a hundred Ninjas drop into a village on long ropes from the mountains, gliding in as though flying), but none of the individual fighting is particularly remarkable. The story has to do with betrayal and the odd relationship between the king and the queen -- I never did quite follow or understand all that, and the ending of the film seemed incomplete to me, but maybe I just missed some important plot point earlier. At any rate it didn't make that much difference -- I enjoyed the film anyway.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


Movie: Cursed
Director(s): Wes Craven

This is apparently supposed to be a fun spoof of werewolf films but it's just flat and terrible. Not a single joke works and the horror stuff is just weird -- too realistic for comedy and too corny for horror. There are a handful of mildly interesting moments, but mostly this is just dreary.