Monday, May 23, 2011

D.A.R.Y.L.



Movie: D.A.R.Y.L.

I heard someone mention this the other day and I realized that thought I'd vaguely heard of this 80s film, I'd never actually seen it. It's about a lost boy with amnesia who shows up in a small mountain town. He's bit strange, really smart but doesn't know obvious things like how to catch ball thrown at him. It turns out (eventually) that he's a robot. The best parts of the film were him bonding with his foster family as they learn to love him, and the sadness when his "real" parents (government scientists) come to take him back. After that things get a little too actiony with the boy having to escape and things feel a little forced and Hollywoody, but it's not a terrible movie. Some of the child acting is terrible, the video game sequence is hilariously dated, and I didn't buy a lot of the boy's absurd robot capabilities (like him somehow retrieving extra dough from an ATM machine without actually doing anything but typing on the numeric keypad), but this film still holds up surprisingly well. Rather neat and sweet. It made me think, "They don't make movies like this any more." Made today, this thing would focus far more on the special effects and kid escaping the government facility, and it would lose out on the best parts, which were the family scenes. Fascinating.

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Saturday, August 17, 2002

D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes



Soccer: D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

Bizarre game. The Quakes have been struggling lately; I home this game is a sign that they're finally returning to form. Coming in to this game most figured it would be a rout: San Jose hasn't lost to D.C. in three years, and D.C. hasn't one a single road game all season (and only scored three away goals). But astonishingly, some sloppy play right off the bat allowed D.C. a goal in the fifth minute. The Quakes pressured and pressured and finally got a goal back on a penalty kick. In the second half the Quakes finally started to play better than they have in weeks, looking much more like themselves. But more sloppy play in not clearing a ball quickly from the penalty area resulted in another goal by D.C. (very similar to the first goal). With the Quakes down again, they fought back, and minutes later scored on a Ronnie Ekeland free kick (his first two-goal game for the Quakes). What was the coolest about the free kick was the positioning. From where I was sitting in the stands I could see the opening that Ekeland saw and I was thinking to myself "Go right through there!" and sure enough, that's what he did, putting it perfectly through the tiny gap and off the far post. Wonderful! That's the way it ended, preserving the Earthquakes' "no loss at home" record, but ending a long home winning streak. They're now just two points in front of a surging Dallas (whom they play on Wednesday), and the playoff crunch is looming. Still, the Quakes looked better in this game and I'm hopeful. Ariel hasn't scored in a bit, so it's time he gets a couple. Final: 2-2.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Da Vinci Code



Movie: The Da Vinci Code

Better than the book, which isn't saying much. I was surprised at how well the gobbledy-gook puzzles translated to film, but overall this still doesn't rate the hype. It's like it takes a big screen movie for people to realize how lame the book is!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Daddy Day Care



Movie: Daddy Day Care

Silly premise about a layed off executive who can't find a job or cheap day care and so decides to start his own day care center. Modestly funny, with the predictable humor of uncontrollable kids and diaper jokes, but has a decent heart and is ultimately a feel-good movie. Nothing profound or revelatory here, but okay for a few smiles.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Dakota Cipher



Book: The Dakota Cipher
Writer(s): William Dietrich

I don't know if this is part of a series, but it's sort of like The Davinci Code set in the early 1800s, with a rogue American adventurer discovering ancient artifacts while mingling with historical figures like Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson. The plot is wild -- the search is for Thor's Hammer, which apparently has been hidden in the United States back when the Vikings first landed here and explored the new world -- but I really liked the way the author balanced the outrageousness with facts and reality. It helps that our narrator and hero, Ethan Gage, is dubious along with us. But what makes the book worth reading is the hilarious writing style: Gage as the narrator writes in a quaint tongue with colorful terms of speech that are just wonderful. It would be over-the-top for a modern book, but works great for a book set in the old west. The historical aspects are also intriguing. However, I was disappointed with the ending which I found unsatisfying in two ways: first, it doesn't really end as it sets up for a sequel (ugh), and second (slight spoiler), it is not a happy ending. I suppose it makes sense in some ways in terms of the personalities of the characters, but I still wasn't too happy. It's probably not enough to ruin the book, which I really liked until that point, but it's not the ending I wanted. Still, it does make me curious about other books in this series. I shall have to check them out as I'd like to read more about the adventures of Ethan Gage!

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Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes



Soccer: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

The Earthquakes are back! Finally, a decent performance from the good guys in blue. The Quakes totally dominated, with chance after chance after chance, just the way they did earlier in the season. Dallas didn't deserve a goal, but got one anyway on a phantom penalty call. Speaking of that, what's up the refereeing in the league lately? It's really gone downhill. I've been noticing it at a number of home games and thought it was just me being biased for my team, but I've also been seeing it in other games as well. It's like league's gotten better but the refs are stuck back in 1996-quality. In this game the ref was totally inconsistent, giving out yellow cards to San Jose for the tinest thing, but hardly giving any to Dallas, despite their frequent extremely rough tackles. I mean, San Jose got like four cards for protesting while at least a half dozen yellow card fouls by Dallas didn't even get a warning. Crazy! At any rate, despite the ref's best effort to wear a Burn jersey, the blue won anyway. Even the ref couldn't stop the Quakes. Ariel Graziani got things going with a fanastic goal just seven minutes in: he took the ball down the left side, but inside of crossing it as expected, he shot the ball into the goal from an impossible angle. It happened right in front of me -- I was maybe twenty yards from him -- and it was totally unbelievable. One of the best goals I've seen all season. Later, Ariel and Landon Donovan paired up for Landon's easiest goal ever: a tap-in after a feed from Ariel. Late in the first half Dallas was given their invisible penalty kick, but the Quakes came back with more in the second half, playing aggressively and very organized. I saw a few poor passes but there was much more one-touch like they used to do, and in one terrific sequence of attack play Ramiro Corales shot the ball through a crowd of players to score the third for the Earthquakes. Great stuff, and the Quakes qualify for the playoffs with this win. Final: 3-1 San Jose.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Dan in Real Life



Movie: Dan in Real Life

I wasn't super sold on this movie and I didn't know anything about it other than it stars that guy from The Office who's usually in funny comedies so I assumed that's what this was and since that fit my mood, I went. It turns out it's really a sweet love story. Yes, there's humor, but it's gentle family humor. Basically Dan is a widower struggling to raise three daughters who writes a newspaper advice column for a living. He thinks he's got things under control but of course doesn't. During a family reunion, he meets a beautiful, fascinating woman, only to later learn she's his brother's girlfriend. He has to spend the entire holiday seeing her constantly while knowing he can't have her, and he learns he has trouble controlling himself. All sorts of sweet and funny little things happen and naturally, the two fall in love, but how can they tell the brother? It's a really well-done film, perfectly written, with just the right touches of humor, romanticism, and realism. I really liked it. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, November 22, 2001

Dancer in the Dark



Movie: Dancer in the Dark
Writer(s): Lars von Trier
Director(s): Lars von Trier

Fascinating movie, though a touch manipulative. It's a "musical" about an immigrant worker in 1964 who's going blind and is later set up for a murder rap. The woman is working to save money for an eye operation for her small son (so he won't inherit the same eye disease she has). Her pitiful life is made palatable via her love for musicals, and throughout the film she has "musical dream sequences" where she imagines her life is a happy musical. Singer Bjork plays the title role and she's excellent. The film's disturbing and sad; unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for it: I felt manipulated by the writer/director. I wanted some kind of resolution, an explanation, but instead all I got was purposelessness (which can be okay, if done right -- but in this case he's set the audience up to love this character and then he kills her). Definitely worth seeing, but be prepared to be disturbed.

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Saturday, February 15, 2003

Daredevil



Movie: Daredevil

Spoiler alert: in order to comment on this I'm going to reveal key plot points, so if you don't want to know, don't read this. First, this is a well-done film. The look is excellent (the "radarvision" is something we haven't seen before and well done), the action amazing, the acting above average. The barely-there plot's not even too dumb by comic book film standards. However, there are a couple key flaws that really ruined the film for me.

The story begins with a hero's backstory, how he was blinded as a kid and developed super senses as a result, including a kind of radar. He builds himself up physically and mentally, and when his father is murdered, vows to seek justice for those who can't afford it. He grows up to become a lawyer by day and the vigilante Daredevil at night. So far, everything's great. Then, as the lawyer, he meets the beautiful Elektra. They have an oddly confrontational initial meeting, which blossoms into true love. She's a strong character that matches his strength, and we know it's destiny that they be together. Then the bad guys kill her father and then her, and the movie goes downhill from there. When Daredevil finally confronts the killer of his girl and his father (of course they're the same bad guy), he doesn't kill him. How lame is that? Even worse, a hospital room scene that shows up during the credits reveals that the bad guys' associate didn't die when Daredevil threw him from the church tower. Now I know the filmmakers would tell me they didn't want to go with the cliche happy ending with the girl surviving the attempt on her left, but they turned right around and a did an even stupider cliche by having the hero not take his vengeance and kill the murderer. What's up with that? The result is bizarre: no bad guys die in the film. They murder dozens of good people, and though Daredevil defeats them in the end, they all live and he goes on with life alone. That's better than having the girl survive? Lame! First, Elektra's character was one of the strongest in the film: you're stupid to kill her off. Second, by letting all the bad guys survive while all the good die you've sent a horrible message to audiences. Finally, the whole film becomes a downer. Nothing about the ending makes it any less depressing. Spider-man ended on a poignant note (the girl loves him but he realizes he can't have her), but there was still hope left because at least she wasn't dead. This film ends with bleakness and despair. My advice? Watch the first hour or so, and leave before Elektra dies.

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Friday, February 21, 2003

Dark Blue



Movie: Dark Blue (2003)

Back when the whole Rodney King thing happened I didn't have a strong opinion: like most everyone else, all I had seen were the TV news clips of the cops beating King with batons. It seemed incredible that the jury would acquit the four cops. However, I later saw the full video on Court TV: in the full video you actually see the officers surrounding King, ordering him to comply, King lunging at them, the way initial attempts to subdue him failed, and the eventual beating footage shown on the TV news over and over again. I found it fascinating that the TV news never showed King acting violent, something the jury got to see. That still didn't change my mind about the verdict, but it did make me think that it's unfair for us to judge the jury since we didn't see the actual evidence presented in the trial. All we got to see is the biased footage the TV news showed us.

Well, minutes into this film I knew where this was going, for the film opens with the Rodney King beating, and once again, only the cops' actions are shown. Cut from that to a white cop making racist remarks and a black assistant police chief who's the good guy and you've got an excellent idea of which side this movie's going to take. Not that that's wrong, just interesting, and a point to keep in mind. I don't like being manipulated.

The story's about corruption and cover ups in the LAPD at the time of the King trial. The main characters are an older bad-ass police sergeant and his young new partner whom he begins to train in the ways of "the end justifies the means" police work. As the young cop's conscience waivers, the King verdict comes down and L.A. explodes into violence. The climactic riot scenes are really well done and frightening: people looting, flipping cars over, burning and breaking, and dragging white people from vehicles and beating them. The ending is a bit different and I won't give it away here, but I liked it. That surprised me, for if you'd told me what happened in advance I would have said I wouldn't like it, but it ultimately did make sense. Overall, a good cop film. I doubt you'll learn anything new about race relations, and the film doesn't unveil anything new about the King situation, but it is interesting and the dynamic between Kurt Russell and Scott Speedman is excellent.

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Monday, September 25, 2000

The Dark is Rising



Book: The Dark is Rising
Writer(s): Susan Cooper

Book two of the "Dark is Rising" sequence. A very different book from the first. Didn't seem at all geared towards children, though the main character is a boy who discovers on his eleventh birthday he has special magic powers. Unfortunately, those powers come with tremendous responsibility, and he's not at all happy with the situation: it's more of a curse than a blessing. Excellently written, but dark, abstract, and full of mystery and odd philosophical and theological explanations. The boy saves the world, but I never quite understood the how or why (the only time he does something creative, he's "inspired" by a voice inside him; otherwise everything seems to happen to him). For most of the book you aren't really sure what is happening. There's time travel, strange magic, mysterious things, evil everywhere, etc. Towards the end of the book we're treated with long-winded explanations of everything, but it's more like reading a textbook on magical history instead of an adventure story. The ending isn't as satisfying as it should be. In short, this is a well-written and thought-provoking book for adults, but the child in me wanted a lot more fun.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight



Movie: The Dark Knight

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

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

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

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Dark Water



Movie: Dark Water

This is a strange film: it's predictable, the big "mystery" is a letdown, and it's uneven throughout, yet somehow, despite all those flaws, it sorta works. That's mostly due to the casting -- Jennifer Connolly and the girl who plays her daughter are awesome -- and that the director shoots for more of a creepy, uncomfortable, frightening tone rather than outright shocks and scares. The film is creepy: the supporting characters are all weird, and we aren't sure what to make of the bizarre visions and strange dripping black water that frequents the film. The first two thirds are awkward, not quite working, but the ending, even though the mystery is a letdown, strangely satisfies. It's a sad film, grim and tormented.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Darkness Falls



Movie: Darkness Falls (1999)

I accidentally got this thinking it was the 2002 movie, and was surprised to find a small, rather elegant little thriller. It's about a guy who takes a wealthy couple hostage and for a while we can't figure out why. Slowly it comes out that his wife was recently killed in a car accident, and later we learn he suspects the man was having an affair with her and was driving the car in the accident. It's a lot like Phone Booth in many regards, but with more depth. I liked it.

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Thursday, July 24, 2003

Darkness Falls



Movie: Darkness Falls

Absolutely hideously bad horror flick. The best part about it is the 30 second narration at the beginning that details the ancient "legend" about the Tooth Fairy, a wealthy old woman who gives children gold coins in exchange for their baby teeth, but after a fire destroys her face, she's ostracized by the town and when some kids disappear, a lynch mob hangs her. In her dying breath she curses the town of Darkness Falls, and thereafter she periodically appears to murder young children and adults who get in her way. That's where the story starts to get stupid, because there's no rhyme or reason to what's happening. We go to modern day and watch as the Tooth Fairy -- is she a ghost? -- haunts and tries to murder various people. She hates light, so if you stay in the light she can't get you: so our hero travels with a bag full of flashlights. Everyone thinks he's nuts, as most people don't people in the Tooth Fairy legend, who knows why. After all, it makes perfect sense, right? The light business is mildly interesting, but the script overdoes it, and the climax at a lighthouse -- get it? -- really gets ridiculous. There's no explanation for what powers the Tooth Fairy has, or how she got them, why light hurts her (presumably it reveals her disfigured face), how she travels, why she targets some people and not others, etc. Shockingly bad.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

The Darkroom



Movie: The Darkroom

This felt like a low-budget slasher film, but turned out to be a surprisingly clever thriller. It opens with a young boy coming from the woods with hands dripping blood. He has no memory of who he is and ends up in an asylum for many years. Then a doctor arrives with an experimental drug that may help him recover his memories. What follows is a fascinating journey as the man escapes the institution and ends up homeless. He befriends a lonely boy getting beat up by some older boys and the two start hanging out. The boy's problem is his stepfather (brilliantly portrayed by Heroes' Greg Grunberg) who is acting strange. The dad is alternately sweet and angry, and switches instantly without warning, attacking the boy's mom (an excellent Lucy Lawless in a heartbreakingly submissive role a world apart from Xena). He is obsessed with his photography hobby and spends his nights going out to take pictures no one is allowed to see. The boy convinces the amnesiac to help him trail his stepdad and find out what he is doing, and their discovers are not pleasant. All this makes you wonder how this connects with the amnesiac's memories and I feared the connection would be lame, but it turns out to be terrifically logical in a way you don't see coming until late. Unfortunately, the film has far too many horror elements, with a Swamp Thing like monster seen in flashbacks murdering women and other slasher aspects that don't fit well with the cerebral and emotional story. That knocks a few stars off its rating for me as the gore is misplaced. Plenty of flaws, but surprisingly good with a terrific twist conclusion.

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Davinci Code



Book: The Davinci Code
Writer(s): Dan Brown

All I knew about this book going in was that a) I found the previous Dan Brown book I'd read, Digital Fortress, horribly inaccurate, and b) it was a best-seller. Well, Dan continues the tradition. He makes his first mistake on the opening page where it states in bold letters "Fact:" and then lists several "facts" from the book. I put that in quotes because if you do any research at all on the topic you will find that at least half of what Dan claims are facts are not. Unfortunately, this "fact" page implies that much of you are about to read is true, and then the book begins to dispense a wild tale that takes direct aim at the Catholic Church, outlining a 2,000-year-old coverup by them hiding the "true" nature of Christ from the rest of the world. Now the book begins well with the intriguing murder of a Louvre curator in Paris. The man dies leaving clues to a deep secret, and it's up to his estranged grand-daughter and a visiting Harvard professor to solve the mystery. Generally Dan does well keeping the story moving and generating suspense; unfortunately, all too often he creates suspense by cheating, simply not revealing information to us. When we're not supposed to know the identity of someone the person is just mentioned as "the figure" or "the man" -- until Dan decides it's time to unveil the person. Lame. And it gets old very fast. Worse, in this book the story is interrupted by lectures and "science" lessons, where we are presented with more of the "facts" the book reveals. While interesting, up to a point, they are so outrageous -- that Jesus was really married to Mary Magdalene but the Church buried that fact and DaVinci left clues in his paintings to hint at that "truth" -- that it's just not even remotely believable. Combine that with Dan's amaturish writing, feeble plotting, and weak ending and we have a dreadful book. It's certainly not the worst book ever written, but it is a cheat. The "research" is awful and all one-sided; the characters limp and one-dimensional; and reality is twisted to force the plot Dan wants to use instead of the plot steming naturally from the characters. For example, the curator who is shot in the museum is shot in the belly and realizes it's a mortal wound: he will be dead in 15 minutes. But that's enough time for him to leave a coded message. But how did the murderer know that he would die? One bullet wound looks like another from a distance: if he's such a pro, shouldn't he make sure the man's dead before leaving? But no: the plot depends on the curator leaving his clues, so the killer takes off, leaving the curator to slowly bleed to dead. Lame. The whole thing is just weak and cheap. It's interesting, but hardly original (everything in the book has been written about elsewhere). Unfortunately, the way it's presented in the book it's designed to make it seem like this is new evidence and it's all factual. It's nonsense. One of the things that bugged me, for instance, is that a big part of the plot revolves around a secret society (I hate that gimmick). What's really dumb, though, is that the researchers and historians who are the heroes of the story seem to somehow know all about the secret society: they know the past member names, the rituals, the secret handshake, everything. Except who the current members are. That, of course, is a deep secret. Stoo-pid!

Okay, the book does have some interesting "codes" and little riddles, but it's nothing particularly challenging. They are interesting and occasionally clever. Dan even screws them up, though, by laughing at his own jokes, pointing out how clever and brilliant they are which is insufferably irritating. My favorite part of the book was the word etemology stuff, where word origins are used to supposedly "prove" assertions made in the book. I have no idea if any of that is accurate (I wouldn't trust anything Dan says -- in fact, if he says it, I'd bet it wasn't true -- the guy's a complete idiot), but it was interesting and fun. Sadly, the book fails in all regards. It's a quick and mildly interesting read, but certainly below average and a disappointment considering its best-selling status.

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Saturday, October 14, 2000

Dawn of the Dead



Movie: Dawn of the Dead
Writer(s): George Romero
Director(s): George Romero

I'd never seen any of the Dead series, and while I figured they were good, I assumed they were typical horror flicks. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Tomorrow night IFC airs the original The Night of the Living Dead, and I can't wait. This is the sequel and it's amazing. I can truly say this is one of the best films I have ever seen. It's a genre film, no question, but it breaks out of its genre in ways that you wouldn't believe possible without seeing it.

The plot is simple: the world is overrun by zombies (the living dead), who must eat human flesh to survive. Zombies are incredibly stupid, but tenacious -- they won't take no for an answer and just keep coming and coming (unless you shoot them in the head). Attempting to escape this nightmare is a small group of looters who have a helicopter but minimal gasoline. They land on the roof of a deserted mall: deserted of people that is, but filled with zombies. With a whole mall for the looting, the escapees decide benefits of staying outweigh the risks of the zombies. Here is where the film shines. The killing of zombies is relentless and gory throughout the film, but it is the mall scenes, where zombie life is a dull mimicry of real life, that director Romero plays with our minds. At times the zombies are ghoulish and evil, then pitiful, then heroic, then tragic, then mindless automatons. Within this satiric parody of life we see ourselves. It is a dangerous, uncomfortable vision.

This film asks all sorts of profound questions about the meaning of life. For instance, the zombies have life. Or do they? And our struggling heroes, secure in their mall fortress with everything they could ever need, face boredom: are they alive? Wow, profound, thought-provoking film. I never dreamed horror could be so intelligent (especially about mindless zombies).

Warning: this film is incredibly gory and violent, but the violence is almost comical. Romero is a master: he treats us with a series of violent images to desensitize us, then shocks us with a shot of humanity. Most unusual for a horror film. The movement of the zombies is a dance, elegantly choreographed, and like the tragedy inherent in string puppets who have no soul, is hopelessly sad.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Dawn of the Dead



Movie: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Unfortunately this film doesn't live up to the original's genius. Gone is the wonderful sociological humor of Romero's version (where zombies "shop" in a mall -- a hiliarous jab at consumer mentality). Instead this film takes the genre seriously and tries to generate true fear through vivid gore and tension. It suceeds to an extent, though it's not particularly scary. All the Hollywood horror standards apply (the main character survives, bad guys die, etc.). Still, it's a different script, which means it's fresh, and it's got some nice creepy visuals and style. It's certainly not a bad entry in the genre but I still prefer the intelligence of the original.

One unintentionally hilarious bit: the legal disclaimer at the end of the film, which appeared to be completely standard, cracked me up when I read, "Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental." Living or dead! Ha ha! I'm still laughing. (Yes, I am easily amused.)

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Friday, May 28, 2004

The Day After Tomorrow



Movie: The Day After Tomorrow

Okay, let's get it understood right off the bat that this obviously isn't Shakespeare. The story's so thin it's like it's not even there. It probably would be better if it wasn't, since it's so ridiculous. The idea is that global warming causes the next ice age, not over a period of a thousand years, but a week. The writers hammer home their environmental message a few too many times, which actually hurts their cause, because the movie's so preposterous it makes their dramatic "we must learn to care for our planet" speeches sound silly. Story itself is about a lone wolf scientist who's ringing the alarm bell on global warming, but of course no one will listen to him, until weird weather -- hail in Tokyo, tornados in L.A., etc. -- suddenly brings the matter to importance. Of course the scientist has a son who's trapped in Manhatten as it goes underwater when the polar ice caps melt and cause the ocean to rise. It's all very dramatic and unnecessary, with stereotypical characters like the homeless guy with his dog and the beautiful girl who's just a friend.

No, the reason you go to watch a film like this is for the spectacular special effects, and here the film succeeds remarkably. I wouldn't have thought weather would be that dramatic or interesting, but the producers include lots of amazing shots from space, showing the planet as it undergoes a fantastic climate shift. The scenes of towering storm clouds the size of mountains were amazing, and all the New York City stuff -- the ocean taking over and freezing solid, all the skyscrapers snowed under -- was impressive. I was less impressed by the wimpy tornadoes in L.A. That was all shown in slow motion, which didn't reveal the power of the wind properly: it looked artificial and much too clean. It should have been done at full speed and been totally chaotic: that would have been frightening. Overall, though, the effects are not like anything you've seen and make the film worth seeing. I don't put two cents toward the silly science, and the story's too ordinary and predictable with no emotional resonance at all, but it's still a fun amusement park ride.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

A Day of Sadness



Today my grandfather went to be with the Lord. About 18 months ago I took over his care. He had been living with my mother, but when he lost mobility, she was unable to continue (she could not lift him or properly assist him). At the time we weren't sure how much longer he would live -- my uncle warned me it could be months or years. Unfortunately, he continued to decline. He got a hip replacement, which helped ease the pain in his leg, but developed gastro problems at affected his eating until we found treatment, and last fall the hip replacement became infected, requiring constant antibiotics and caused severe leg pain. Most recently we did home infusion antibiotics, which eventually seemed to cure the infection, but during the process his kidneys began to weaken. Twice he ended up in the hospital due to kidney complications. Fortunately, they did recover, but were severely weakened. He was slowing down, not eating as well, but still mentally healthy. On Sunday evening, June 11, he seemed fine. I got him to eat half a grilled cheese sandwhich for dinner. About 3 a.m. the next morning he called me and was acting strange. He was having trouble breathing. He has asthma so I gave him his puffer, which helped. But every thirty minutes he kept calling for me, and each time it was strange requests, almost delirium. Once he wanted his pants so he could "go outside." I told him it was the middle of the night and he said, "Oh, I didn't know," and promptly laid back down and went to sleep! Another time I found him on the floor with no idea how he got there. I lifted him back into bed and he didn't seem to be in any pain. Later in the morning, he had trouble getting dressed: his right leg was in a lot of pain, making me think the infection had returned. His temperature was a low 94.6, but after breakfast (which he didn't eat), it was 99.4 -- we called 911 immediately. By the time he got to the hospital it was nearly 103! It turned out he was suffering from a myriad of inter-related problems: a bladder infection meant he wasn't urinating properly which resulted in kidney strain and fluid build-up in his body, which collected in his chest, causing congestive heart failure and pnemonia. It also turned out that he'd broken his leg with the hip replacement -- apparently the infection had weakened the bone so it was incredibly fragile and it had broken in several places (possibly that time I found him on the floor). But worst of all was something called sepsis -- an infection of the blood -- which is serious even among young healthy people (who can take months to recover). In the end, it was too much for the poor man. We'd just celebrated his 91st birthday in May, which is not a bad achievement, though he always talked about hitting a hundred. Always positive, even the day before he died he was telling the doctor he felt great.

Granda was a very special man. His sense of humor was dry and subtle, even to the end. While in the hospital, during his last week, I tried to get him to eat his lunch, and he wanted me to eat it. "No, it's yours," I told him. "You're the patient." He looked up at the nurse who was nearby. "Am I the patient?" he asked in convincing confusion. She was startled until I explain this was his form of a joke! I could see the twinkle in his eye.

I shall miss Grandpa dearly. He and I were very close. When I was a baby my father was killed in a car accident and he and my Grandma cared for me until my severely-injured mother was better (which tooks months). I lived with them for many years, off and on, over the course of my life. They even took me on as a teenager, during my high school years, something I wouldn't wish on young, healthy people. I feel blessed and honored I got to be with Grandpa during his last years. Caring for him was stressful, educational, and filled with magically tender moments of humor and love that made everything worthwhile. I shall miss Grandpa, but I know he's at peace and out of pain now.

F. Wildon Colbaugh
May 9, 1915-June 19, 2006

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day of the Dead



Movie: Day of the Dead
Director(s): George Romero

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

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Friday, December 12, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still



Movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Nothing too new here; it's a by-the-numbers film in most respects, with better special effects and more story flaws than the original. It's not bad, but it's not great. It's interesting, and there are some fascinating moments. I thought the little boy was grating and nasty for most of the film and then suddenly he changes (he's reformed). It made no sense and was ineptly handled, but it's unfortunately a key aspect of the plot. The best thing, for me, was that the way the aliens planned to destroy the earth was scientifically plausible: they released nanobots (microscopic robots) that swarm as a huge cloud and literally eat away buildings, machines, human beings, etc. and simply use the broken-down raw materials to build new nanobots and grow the swarm. The end result is that everything man-made on earth could be consumed, leaving nothing but nature left. That's pretty cool and effective; I can't remember what was supposed to happen in the original, but in most films like this the alien technology is just like magic and never explained. I was worried this film would be preachy, as it has a pro-environment theme, but it's minimally addressed and just hinted at, so that was good. But there really isn't anything here you have to see other than a few scenes with interesting effects.

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Monday, February 10, 2003

The Day Trader



Book: The Day Trader
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

Quick-reading thriller about a guy who quits his job to start day trading full time using the million dollars from his wife's life insurance policy. But his wife was murdered and suddenly he's a suspect. He finds himself surrounded by strange people who aren't who they say they are: what's going on? Interesting while you're reading it, but in retrospect a lot of stuff doesn't make much sense. Also, the story is told first person, and often we find out things just as the narator does (fine), but just as often he doesn't tell us stuff he knows until he deems it the appropriate time, making us wonder if he's reliable. The day trading stuff is interesting, though occasionally he lectures us like we're morons, or mentions something is "complicated" and proceeds to detail something that's pretty obvious. The writing is average (the first chapter is poor, but it gets better), but the story is pretty good. Unfortunately a lot of it strains credibility. The author also lives in a different world: the narrator claims he makes $39,000 a year at his job, and his wife also works full-time, they have no kids, drive old cars, and live in a modest home, and yet considers himself poor and in desperate financial shape. Come on -- $60K a year (assuming his wife doesn't make much) with no kids isn't poor. But then the author is a financial expert, so I guess he thinks anyone who doesn't make $100K a year is starving. This wouldn't be too bad if this was only mentioned once in the book, but it's practically a theme. At least by the end the narrator's come to his senses and isn't going to blow the entire million dollars day trading. A pleasant read; just don't expect too much.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Daybreakers



Movie: Daybreakers

Definitely an above-average vampire movie with a terrifically ironic conclusion that I loved, but it was much gorier than I expected (we're talking horror-movie blood splatter here) and the story itself is somewhat shallow. Things just happen too quickly without enough set-up or explanation of the whys and wherefores. The premise is interesting: it's a future world where 95% of the population has become vampires and now there's a severe shortage of human blood. The few remaining humans are hunted down to be stored in blood farms, milked for their blood. The main character's a blood scientist working on an artificial blood that would sustain the vampires. His money-hungry boss is head of the corporation and is the bad guy in the film. For some reason the scientist is human-sympathetic and ends up joining the humans in their battle against the vampires. The story's pacing is sometimes awkward, jumping around and leaping forward without warning, but mostly this is to give us pure action, and in that sense, the film delivers, but I found some parts that to be tedious and boring. Far more interesting to me were the detail moments, learning about this future world (i.e. cars equipped with blockout shields and cameras with internal screens to allow vampires to drive in sunlight). The most flawed character for me was the scientist's soldier brother, who appears out of nowhere with a "deep" backstory (it's implied that it's deep but it turns out to be trite) and though he's important by the end, I found his presence in the first half to be a distracting puzzle. I didn't buy the chemistry or bond between him and the scientist -- they were so different they felt like strangers and because I couldn't care less about the brother, I found the scientist's love of his brother not to be credible. The other characters were excellent: the CEO's spunky and beautiful daughter, Wilem Defoe's crusty former vampire, and of course the independent female soldier who was an obvious love interest of our hero. The film is somewhat inconsistent: at times it's visually striking and brilliant, but occasionally there's a shot or effect that seems mundane. That could be due to budget restrictions (this is an Australian film, not a huge Hollywood production). The filmmakers show great promise and I'd love to see more of their work. This is definitely better than most vampire films, and I enjoyed it a great deal. The story's choppy but does enough to keep you involved, and the performances are good. Recommended if you're into this genre.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Dead Aim



Book: Dead Aim
Writer(s): Iris Johansen

Decent Johansen thriller, well-written as usual, but unfortunately her characters are becoming stereotypes of themselves. As always, she has the gruff, grim, superhero man, who's an expert killer, in conflict with the independent, strong-minded, stubborn woman. The two are throw into an adventure together and fall in love while saving the world. This one isn't bad, but has a paint-by-numbers feel to it, with nothing fleshed out. It's still better than the average spy novel, but this one is weaker than Johansen's usual. I also was annoyed by one personality trait of the female lead that forced much of the plot: the woman, Alex, is being hunted, but rather than accept help from friends or hide out at a safe house, she wants to continue her work (she's a photo journalist). While that was supposed to demonstrate her independent mind and drive the plot, it felt forced and unnatural. Either Johansen didn't develop that aspect of Alex's character well enough, or it just wasn't there, because I just didn't believe it. If someone had just shot my friend and nearly killed me, and an expert offered me safety, I think I'd take it, at least for a little while, until things cooled down. Alex is such an idiot she's prepared to walk right into gunfire! Oh, and the plot's a little overdone on this one, involving a Congressman trying to take over the White House by creating a series of natural disasters to... oh never mind. It's too ridiculous to even bother explaining. But it's still a fun read, with some good scenes and situations, and Johansen's prose is well-written.

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Sunday, February 23, 2003

Dead Alive



Movie: Dead Alive
Director(s): Peter Jackson

This is Jackson's terrific follow-up to his first effort, Bad Taste. It's awesome. Definitely one of the bloodiest films ever. The story is about a mother-dominated guy who's horrible mom turns into a zombie and can't be killed. Everyone she kills gets infected and also becomes a zombie, and soon half the town is zombies. In the film's hilarious climax, the guy ends up mowing them down with a lawn mower. This film is gory and outrageously funny. We've got scenes where the entrails of a zombie try to strangle the hero! My favorite scene is one is which a zombie is given a spoon to eat with and he's so dumb and impervious to pain (he's already dead, remember) that he shoves the spoon so deep in his throat it comes out the back of his head! Just awesome.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Dead Girl



Movie: The Dead Girl

Interesting grouping of stories surrounding a murder victim. We follow the woman who discovers the dead girl's body, a woman looking for her missing sister, the killer, and the dead girl herself. Nothing much is repeated during the stories, which I liked (the somewhat similar Vantage Point got really old as so much was repeated); instead we just learn about the impact of the dead girl on various lives. It's surprisingly intriguing, though in the end, I'm not sure we're left with much: it's merely a tragedy with no explanation or resolution. Sad. But I guess I should have known that from the title. Impressive cast, though, and well-done. But not for all tastes.

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Sunday, December 24, 2000

The Dead Zone



Movie: The Dead Zone
Writer(s): Stephen King (book)
Director(s): David Cronnenberg

Cool Cronnenberg flick, perfect storyline for his unusual perspective. The story is about a guy who has a car accident and wakes up after a coma with the "gift" of second sight: he can see into people's futures. The gift comes with undue notoriety and pain (use of the psychic powers is killing him). Fascinating film mostly due to Cronnenberg's clever direction and Christopher Walken's dynamic performance.

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Monday, November 17, 2003

Death and the Maiden



Movie: Death and the Maiden
Director(s): Roman Polanski

I've been wanting to see this for a long time and finally rented the DVD. It's set in a nameless South American country where an American woman and her husband, who live in a rural area, meet a man on a stormy night when the electricity is out, and she thinks he's the doctor who tortured her years earlier. She holds him at gunpoint, determined to get the truth out of him. But is he really the guy? She was blindfolded and it was many years ago. She swears she recognizes his voice, but she's not exactly stable. The debate is what makes the story interesting. This apparently is based on a play and it has that feel to it: it's claustrophic with the remote house the main set and the three characters as the main actors. It's talky, but the dialog is above average. With such a gimmicky premise I got a little tired of the "did he or didn't he" games by the end, and the vagueness of the politics of the unnamed country made for a vague conflict, but it's still an interesting experiment and worth seeing.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Deception



Movie: Deception

This is a forty-minute concept fleshed out into a two hour movie. It's kinda interesting: a staid accountant accidentally swaps cell phones with a hip guy. When he answers the other guy's phone, he finds himself in a mysterious sexual network where people on the list call each other for anonymous sex. This is a new world for this quiet man, who opens up and starts having sexual encounters all over the city. Then he meets his dream girl via the list but she vanishes and it appears she's been kidnapped. Then the owner of the cell phone calls and it's revealed he's not out of the country, but has grabbed the girl -- and he demands that the accountant steal $20 million for him or he'll kill the girl. It's all a setup. Of course there's more to it than that, as the accountant has to turn the tables of the bad guy, but it's all too predictable and the ending is just weird and makes no sense. (He walks off and leaves the briefcases in the park? Huh?) Ultimately, this has potential, but there are huge flaws in the direction and script that bring it down. Ewan McGregor is miscast, too: I don't buy him as a wallflower accountant. The rest of the cast is decent, but there are just too many problems with this for it to matter. Nice idea, though.

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Deception Point



Book: Deception Point
Writer(s): Dan Brown

Dan Brown's best so far, though that's not saying much. This is one of his earlier books and is better written, though he still comes across with the same arrogant, know-it-all attitude despite many obvious inaccurances and errors. Brown also continues his same technique of building suspense by withholding information. For instance, the plot is about a mysterious discovery by NASA -- after pages and pages of build-up, we finally learn the fuss is about the discovery of proof of extra-terrestial life. It's kind of a let-down since that was so predictable. But what makes that discovery important is the fact that it's an election year and the budget of NASA is a big political talking point. Brown's characters are transparent cardboard (especially his ridiculously primitive and stereotyped political figures), but the story's mildly compelling. The ending's predictable and obvious and there wasn't the twist I expected, but overall a better novel than his others and much more readable and enjoyable.

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Decipher



Book: Decipher
Writer(s): Stel Pavlou

A rather remarkable book from a scientific perspective. Somehow Pavlou comes up with plausible science to back up a rather wild premise: that the people of ancient Atlantis were actually more advanced than us and they planted the seeds of language and myth and religion in all our cultures in order to send us a message to use the global machinery of Atlantis to save Earth from a pulsar wave that happens every 12,000 years. Storywise, it's a pretty good adventure tail, but the science is a little heavy-handed, slowing the action, and I found the anti-God aspects to be over-emphasized (similar to the awful The Davinci Code). But overall, not a bad, and impressive for a debut novel.

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Sunday, March 19, 2000

Deep Blue Sea



Movie: Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Writer(s): Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, and Dave Powers
Director(s): Renny Harlin

Cool little Jaws-like action romp. Scientists genetically enhance some sharks, making them smarter, and then all hell breaks loose. Fun, actually scary in a few places, with some amazingly realistic special effects. (Don't watch this if you're squeamish about seeing people being eaten.) Obviously not ground-breaking like Jaws, this is still well-done and a lot of fun. There are enough surprises and twists that even jaded action fans might find it cool.

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Friday, July 16, 2004

Deeply



Movie: Deeply

This was a strange little film that I wanted to like, but could not. The plot has a mean-spirited girl and her tired mother move to an island fishing village in the UK somewhere. The girl meets an old woman who tells her an elaborate story about a legend. The inner story is a romance about a sixteen-year-old girl and an ancient curse that makes all the fish go away every 50 years. The girl discovers that the fish only return when given a human sacrifice. Now the mean-spirited girl hearing this story is moved, seeing the girl in the story as much like herself, and eventually we learn her secret (she's apparently upset because her boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident). The girl then is healed by the story, hooray hooray. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen until the end, and the girl is so nasty throughout the film, that I didn't like her and didn't care what happened to her, didn't care about her past, or anything else. Also, the inner story is broken up too much, told in little bits and pieces during the outer story, and it took much too long to tell. Overall, the story was a bit boring (though it had potential), and it was poorly constructed and directed to over-dramatize events as though they were of profound significance. This movie also revealed some surprisingly poor acting from Kirsten Dunst, who's out of her element as the girl in the inner story. Basically, a lot of potential wasted. Not worth your time.

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Thursday, April 13, 2000

The Deer Hunter



Movie: The Deer Hunter

Very different film from what I expected. I almost turned if off during the 45-minute wedding sequence, but stuck with it. Then suddenly we're in Vietnam, and things were surprisingly interesting (I'm not a war movie fan). The ending and the character stuff and performances were tops. I don't know that I need to this again, however. Maybe just fast forward through the slow parts.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Defiance



Movie: Defiance

Yet Another WWII movie, but this one I wanted to see because it tells a story we haven't heard. This one is the true story of some Russian jews who set up camp in the forest to hide from the Nazi's. It's an incredible story, especially the stats at the end that reveal how many lives were saved by these men (the descendents of the survivors number in the tens of thousands). Much of the drama is predictable -- cold weather, starvation, betrayal, tragedy -- but it's well done with excellent performances and compelling characters. Unfortunately, it still seems a tad dry and long, but it's definitely worth seeing.

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Sunday, January 7, 2001

Degree of Guilt



Book: Degree of Guilt
Writer(s): Richard North Patterson

Really excellent book. This one picks up after The Lasko Incident, twenty years later. We find out the lawyer, Christopher Paget, had a son with Mary Carelli, the woman who betrayed him in the first book (in the first book I could never understand why they slept together, considering they hated each other). Now she's become a famous ABC television journalist and Paget has raised his son. Now she wants his help: she's killed a famous writer and needs a lawyer. She claims it was self-defense -- he tried to rape her -- but her story is full of holes. As the prosecution and Paget investigate, they discover more and more holes in her story, including not one, but two secret motives for killing the man. This is riveting drama: you can't put the book down. Patterson definitely understands lawyering and puts together a terrific and complicated case, interwoven with the personal issues of the two main characters. It's not a perfect book: Patterson still has his problem with referring to characters we don't remember (but it's not as bad as before); he sometimes quotes long passages verbatim from the first book as flashbacks (why not condense it for us?); and the very end conclusion, with Paget accepting the truth Carelli was trying to hide, is so obvious a conclusion it never occurred to me to think otherwise (if Paget had, I'd have thought him a monster). (Unfortunately, I can't get more specific than that without giving away a major plot point.) Excellent read: you may not need to bother with the first book, though it's good to read both to see how far Patterson has come as a writer. Very impressive, even brilliant in places, though I really dislike the way his politics and biases continue to shine through (he inserts snide little comments every now and then, very subtly, such as when he refers to the disgusting and out-and-out evil behavior of Mary Carelli as "amoral" -- that's in the same sentence where he suggests she might be a murderer -- that's a lawyer trick and so typical of what's taught in schools these days, degrading morality into something gray and less than pure, that it made me want to puke). My original interest in Patterson came from a radio interview where he talked about his new book which deals with the abortion issue, something his publishers begged him not to write about, and even though it was obvious I disagree with his perspective, he sounded like he'd be fair and the concept was intriguing. After reading just a couple of his novels, I seriously doubt that he could be fair, though we'll see. (What bothers me about bias in a novel like this is not that an author has an opinion: I have no problem with that, even if it's an opinion I violently disagree with. My problem is when the author claims to be fair and "unbiased" when it is obvious they are not. If I write a book, for instance, I won't claim to be the slightest bit objective: it will reflect my values and beliefs and that's the way it should be. When authors claim to be "fair" and are not, they essentially are redefining the word fair, i.e. fair is when their point-of-view is subtly projected and yours is mitigated or mocked. All that said, I must say that Patterson is not the worst author in this regard, just one of the most subtle, and therefore devious. Keep that in mind when you read him.)

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Deja Vu



Movie: Deja Vu

I thought this was a murder-mystery of some kind and it is, but it's really about time travel, not that the trailers give you any hint of that. Once you figure that out the story's really fairly standard. The time travel aspect is given short shrift and is a bit clunky in how it's presented -- all the technical mumbo jumbo is glossed over in about thirty seconds -- and it feels completely improbable. But somehow it still manages to work, mostly because of decent acting from Denzel Washington and others, and the film's pace -- non-stop action -- also helps. Unfortunately the premise of the film is such a gimmick this isn't a classic or even a film you'd want to watch a second time. I'd give it a B for first-time viewing and maybe a C for subsequent views in which all the drama and excitement is gone.

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Monday, December 20, 1999

Deliverance



Movie: Deliverance (1972)
Writer(s): James Dickey (novel and screenplay)
Director(s): John Boorman

I didn't know anything about this movie other it has a reputation as a classic. I thought it was a war movie, actually. For some reason I thought Marlon Brando was in it. It kept bugging me throughout the movie how much Brando looked like Burt Reynolds! (It is Burt in the movie, for the clueless like me.) This is not a war film, it's a survival story. Four guys go canoeing down a river and struggle for their lives. While I've seen more recent films that were similar (and less well done) and that took away some of the originality of this movie, it is excellent. The cinematography is awesome, the performances flawless. My favorite scene? The "dueling banjos" at the beginning. A classic. I also liked that the movie didn't just end when the guys made it home -- it kept going, showing us a bit of the aftermath. That's unusual for Hollywood movies.

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Monday, October 9, 2006

The Departed



Movie: The Departed
Director(s): Martin Scorsese

This is an incredible film. It's long but doesn't feel like it. In fact, it's paced just right. There's lots of character development, but unlike most stories, it doesn't feel boring but essential to the puzzles of the characters. The acting is superb, and the action is extremely sudden and violent and bloody, gritty with realism. The ending is quite terrible, and I mean that in the grimest sense. Just an amazing film that deserves a ton of Academy Awards.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Descent



Movie: The Descent

Much better than I expected. I thought it was merely a gory horror film but it took its time developing the characters and had a lot of intelligence behind the scenes. The story's simple on the surface (pun intended): a group of adrenaline junkies, female athletes who decide to go caving in a remote cave, get trapped underground, and suddenly find themselves beset by strange, humanoid cave creatures (who are really creepy). That sounds silly and it should be -- but the relationships of the women (and even the fact that these are all women) reduces the importance of the "monsters" to inconsequence. The real story here is the relationship. Granted the film doesn't get into real depth, but it does enough that you actually care about the characters and the events of the story are raised above mere horror shlock. Not bad at all. Visually interesting with some really shocking moments.

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Saturday, November 27, 1999

Desperado



Movie: Desperado (1995)
Writer(s): Robert Rodriquez
Director(s): Robert Rodriquez

I wanted to see this again after seeing Rodriquez's El Mariachi. This is almost a remake, or pseudo sequel. It's more of the same, just with a bigger budget. It's done with class, but there's an emptiness about it I didn't like. I'm an Antonio Banderos fan, but he's lifeless in this movie. I think the plot is designed for the small screen. Take one of Sergio Leone's classic "spaghetti" westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It works because it fits its genre. If you took that same movie and made it bigger, with a huge budget and lots of explosions, it would be lifeless. It works because dumb people killing each other in tiny, insignificant towns in the middle of nowhere is meaningful within the context of their lives. It has no meaning to the big world. If you make an epic out of it, you are implying it has meaning to all of us, which it does not. Desperado is a shoot-em-up and nothing more, but it's filmed like a grand drama. Enjoy it as a fun, silly action flick. Don't expect depth and you'll be fine. And afterward, watch the smaller, better El Mariachi.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Despicable Me



Movie: Despicable Me

During this movie's opening trailers, they showed the promo for the movie Megamind, which is so similar sounding -- an animated story about an incompetent evil supervillain with a superarchrival -- that I realized I had two movies mixed together. I remember being surprised this was out now as I had thought it wasn't coming until later in the year (that's Megamind). So I really wasn't at all sure what to expect from this. It turned out to be an enjoyable film. Though there are numerous problems with pacing and the humor's inconsistent (it's not very funny very often), the heart of the film is genuinely touching. Basically our bad guy is Gru (The Office's Steve Carrell in an annoying Eastern European accent) who wants to be the best bad guy on the planet and to prove it comes up with an outrageous plot to steal the moon. There's zero sense of reality here -- no explanation of what monetary value would be obtained by doing that, nor any disastrous consequences to the planet if the moon were suddenly gone -- which I found unsettling. But what makes the film work is when Gru, as part of his nefarious plot, adopts three orphan girls who proceed, via their childish innocence and charm, to sabotage all of Gru's plans and slowly change him from a bad bad guy to a good bad guy. This part of the film is well done and I loved the way Gru's character reluctantly changed. It was both hilarious and touching. The ending is sweet and overall I was pleased. Though the first half of the movie is somewhat rough, the core story helps smooth things over and in the end, I really liked this.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Devil



Movie: Devil

The trailer and premise didn't interest me at all (nor did M. Night's involvement), but then I read some positive reviews and heard that the script was written by Brian Nelson, the guy who did fantastic work on Hard Candy. The kicker was that the movie was only 80-minutes and I didn't feel like a long movie today. So I gave it a go and came home happy. It's nothing remarkable, but a solid B- or C+. The premise is gimmicky -- a group of strangers are trapped in an elevator as one by one they are murdered by the devil who is one of the group -- but it surprisingly works. It's actually impressive they are able to pull it off. However, it is a strain to do it. One of the ways the film does it is by having a great deal of the story be set outside the elevator, detailing the rescue attempt and the police detective trying to solve he murders via the elevator's video feed. Unfortunately, that external viewpoint takes away from the claustrophobic atmosphere that I expected: this could have been a much more intriguing film if it felt more like we, the audience, were also trapped in the elevator with the tiny group and a murderous devil among us. I didn't feel it was scary at all. (As a side note, I thought the filming of the elevator sequences was poor as there was often little indication of the size of the room. Especially late on when there are few people left and the tiny room is full of dead bodies, it should have been incredibly confining and creepy, but from the camerawork it might as well have been a spacious hotel room.) Overall, this is a gimmick film, not particularly original and though some reviews thought the resolution clever, it was predictable and nothing more than a "Ten Little Indians" rehash for me. That doesn't negate the whole experience as there are some interesting aspects I enjoyed (the themes of crime and forgiveness are neat), but just don't expect awesomeness.

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Monday, August 30, 2004

The Devil in the White City



Book: The Devil in the White City
Writer(s): Erik Larson

I'll begin by saying that I was mistaken when I purchased this book. I saw it in the paperback section at Costco. I glanced at the back and saw it was about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and told the twin stories of the architect behind the fair and a serial killer who used the fair as a source of victims. Only when I sat down to read the book did I discover that this wasn't a fascinating fictional story but genuine history. I rarely non-fiction. It just doesn't interest me. But this, I must say, is one of the best books I've ever read. I couldn't put it down. It reads like a detective novel or thriller. On the one hand we have the story of the remarkable architect behind the fair, trying to do the impossible in an age when death was common and technology primitive. At the same time, we follow the life of one of the coldest, most evil killers in history. It's a simultaneous celebration and exploration of the best and worst of humanity. As the one man puts together an artistic team never rivaled in the history of the world, the other ingeniusly murders and steals with no one the wiser. It's truly an amazing story. This is a book all high school kids should have to read for history class: if this can't get kids interested in history, nothing will. Larson does an incredible job of drawing us into 19th Century life, describing the conditions and daily experiences, and in doing so reminds us how much has changed and how priviledged we are to live in these times when we have such luxuries as good medical care.

I had minimal knowledge of the fair when I began the book, but it's important to understand just how significant an event it was in the history of the United States. It's not an understatement to say that except for the Revolution and the Civil War it was the single most important event in U.S. history. So much came out of the fair that it's difficult for the modern mind to understand the significance. First, understand the scope of this fair. It was physically huge: over a square mile in area with over two hundred buildings. One single exhibit hall boasted the most interior space of any building in history. Inside it you could fit the U.S. Capital, Winchester Cathedral, the Great Pyramid, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Madison Square Garden -- all at the same time! Second, note that this was an event in which over 27 million people attended -- at a time when there were only 65 million in the whole country. Finally, this fair launched an era of imagination: it made many believe in the impossible. A carpenter who worked at the fair was named Elias Disney. He told grand stories of the incredible fair to his son Walt. The creator of Oz, Frank K. Baum, was inspired by the fair. So was a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. The decision by the fair to use the new alternating current (AC) system of electrical delivery pretty much killed off Thomas Edison's push for direct current (DC). For most of the fair goers, the fair was their first opportunity to see electricity in use (one demonstration was an "electric kitchen" with all-electric appliances including a dishwasher) -- most had never even seen incandescent lights before! New products debuted at the fair: Shredded Wheat breakfast cereal, a snack called Cracker Jack, a new beer that won an award and has been known ever since as Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Columbus Day holiday was created in honor of the fair (ostensibly the fair was the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America). And of course the fair was most famous for an engineering marvel that out did Paris' new tower by Alexandre Eiffel: a giant 250' wheel that held over two thousand passengers and rotated them through the air. The wheel was so massive (it used twice as much steel as the Brooklyn Bridge) few thought it would even support its own weight. Back then there was no technology to test it in advance: it simply had to be created and tried. But its creator, George Ferris, proved right in the end.

Is it any wonder that such a fair created huge impressions on the entire country? It influenced art, architecture, engineering, and much, much more. This book tells the story of the amazing fair and the amazing people who created it. At the same time, we have the darker story of the criminal who took advantage of the chaotic atmosphere the fair produced to murder. Both stories are compelling and revealing; alone each is incomplete. Together they give an astonishing view of a world gone by. Recommended more than I can say.

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Thursday, October 11, 2001

The Devil's Workshop



Book: The Devil's Workshop
Writer(s): Stephen J. Cannell

Typical bio-terrorism thriller, this time with a variation of Mad Cow disease. Not bad, with some interesting characters (including a woman as the heroine), but overly long and overly complicated for a simple techno-thriller. I didn't like that the main bad guys were a crazy military Admiral and a group of religious nuts: aren't we all tired of such stereotypes?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Devotion of Suspect X



Book: The Devotion of Suspect X
Writer(s): Keigo Higashino

Something about this novel caught my eye on Audible and so I bought the audiobook. I was nervous about reading a Japanese book: I have enough trouble keeping track of Western names in books (or in real life) and figured I'd end up hopelessly confused with who was who and aspects of the Japanese culture I don't know about. While there's a little of that -- I still have no idea what sort of electrical appliance was used as the murder weapon (the Japanese name is given) and I couldn't tell female names from males (and the male narrator of the audiobook didn't do female voices in a female voice) -- but overall I found it surprisingly easy to follow. The book itself is terrific. It starts with an amazingly simple premise and uncovers a boatload of complications. In the first chapter we meet three people: a lonely high school math teacher who leads a simple boring life and his next door neighbor, a woman with a daughter (I never could figure out how old the child was). We quickly realize the man has a secret crush on the woman. Every day he visits the lunch shop where she works but he never has the nerve to speak with her. Then her abusive ex-husband visits her and in self-defense she kills him. She's terrified that she'll be going to jail and leave her young daughter helpless and alone. (I guess they don't have self-defense justification in Japan.) The neighbor man shows up and volunteers to help her hide the crime. It turns out, he's a genius, a man of math and logic, and he proceeds to create an amazing coverup of the crime. We are then introduced to two new characters: a detective in charge of investigating the crime, and his friend from the University, a physicist who sometimes helps the detective when the crime is too puzzling. It turns out the mathematician and the physicist were in school together and knew each other. The physicist always wondered what happened to his old math buddy, so he goes to visit him. Through their connection, and the puzzling aspects of the murder, which has several elements that puzzle the physicist, he begins to investigate the crime. What follows is an amazing cat-and-mouse game between the detective, the physicist, and the mathematician. We layer onto that the woman and her story, as she begins to realize that by allowing her neighbor to help her, she is now at his mercy; with a word he could ruin her. What is he going to demand of her in recompense? That's the first two thirds of the novel, which is incredible. I loved it. Unfortunately that final third has some severe weaknesses. Some of those are endemic to the plot, such as the book's secondary ending, which is awesome. But the fact that the story has two endings is a problem, for it drags things out a bit too long. Then the book goes on with a third ending, which I found rather pointless and depressing. This last ending didn't really advance the story (which was long finished) but was more like a long epilog, and while it was interesting following the lives of characters, it would have been far better to leave things ambiguous and let us imagine our own endings for them. (As usual when I have a book that ends poorly, I mentally delete that bad ending and think of my own and use that instead.) I still rate this book extremely highly, but it's disappointing that such a great read runs of out steam in the end. A tighter ending would have made this a dynamite of a novel. Overall, though, this is a fantastic work. I love the simplicity of the story, the complexity of tiny things that become big, and the wonderful battle of wits between the physicist and the mathematician. And the twist ending is brilliant.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Dexter



Dexter is a wonderful TV show exclusive to Showtime, the pay channel. I watched the first season on DVD a few years ago, and caught the others when they aired on regular TV (CBS owns Showtime and aired part of the series). I think I've missed a few episodes, but I've seen most, and Dexter is one of my favorite series and characters. He's a serial killer. But he's a "good" serial killer, in the sense that he only kills bad guys (other serial killers, rapists, murderers, etc.). He's really good at what he does. His adopted father was a cop and recognized early on that Dexter was a psychopath. He's the one who taught Dexter a code: to only kill those who deserved killing and to do it in such a way that he wouldn't be caught. Dexter actually works for the Miami police department as a lab geek: he's a blood spatter analyst. Thus he has inside access to forensics and is involved in major investigations, but he's also surrounded by cops, which is dramatic and fascinating. The entire series hinges on Dexter's feelings of alienation and the potential of his dark secret being uncovered. We're also never quite sure about Dexter: though he seems likeable and is intelligent and cunning, he's also unemotional, distant, and slightly creepy. We see him do horrible things without an emotional waver and that makes us wonder just what he'll do next. But there are glimmers of hope. In the previous season he finally married his long-time girlfriend, a woman with emotional problems of her own (her ex-husband abused her). In this most recent season, he's trying to settle into domestic life: raise her kids, deal with their new baby, keep the wife happy and clueless, while still leading a double life as serial killer.

As usual, the series is terrific and every episode keeps you on the edge of your seat. I love the way they write this series. Each season is like a novel, with each episode a chapter. It's one long story with shorter events in between. There are always terrific plot twists and unexpected turns, secrets and discoveries, and dramatic events and plenty of bloody killings. It's wonderful. Though some episodes are naturally weaker than others, and some subplots distasteful or not that intriguing, overall this is one of the best series on TV. This particular season was incredible for a number of reasons. First, our bad guy was a serial killer played by the fantastic John Lithgow, who somehow pulled off the amazing feat of arousing our sympathy while being chillingly evil. Second, Dexter's quest into becoming a real person seemed to be making a great deal of progress: domestic life, while causing lots of complications for his extra-curricular activities, seemed to be helping him. He's the most human yet and that raises the stakes of the drama because as he becomes more human he's more prone to emotion and mistakes, and his relationship with his wife becomes less of an act and he's in greater danger of his secret being discovered. (That is one of the things that hooks us in: what would Dexter do if his family discovered his secret? Would he kill them in cold blood? Or is he human enough that would now be difficult?) The final thing that makes this season so incredible is the dramatic ending. I won't spoil it, but let's just say it's unexpected, tragic, and completely changes where the series is going. It makes you rethink everything that happened so far this season. While I didn't find it unbelievable (it fit with the characters and wasn't arbitrarily done), it effected me emotionally in ways I can hardly explain. I had trouble sleeping after the final episode. I felt like I'd lost someone close to me. It was a profound experience. I haven't felt that way since I first saw David Lynch's Blue Velvet or his Eraserhead. It was disturbing, creepy, sad, and left me bereft and confused. But it also left me fascinated, exhilarated, admiring the daring and brilliant writers of the show, and wondering where the series is going. I cannot wait for next season. I want to watch it right now. (Unfortunately, it won't presumably happen until next fall.) I should reveal my technique for watching this series. I had a free three-month subscription to Showtime, which was awesome, as Dexter was the only thing I really wanted on the channel. (I am now convinced it's worth paying for Showtime just for this series.) Anyway, all this fall I recorded the show on my DVD. When I saw that Sunday night was the final episode, I started watching all the episodes I had cued up. Yes, I watched twelve episodes of Dexter in a row. I won't say one sitting, since it took me a few days, but I knew that's how I had to do it: every episode ends on a cliffhanger and I hate that. I can't stand waiting in limbo for the next chapter. This was an excellent way to watch the show (as getting it on DVD is also). It also could be why the final episode effected me so dramatically: I was profoundly in the whole Dexter world and experience. Anyway, if you haven't seen Dexter, you need to do so. It is amazing. It's quirky, fun, creepy, bizarre, dramatic, and colorful. The characters are twisted, the violence is realistic and gory (yet not so bad it's unwatchable), and the pacing of the show is excellent. Highly recommend (but do start with the first season if you haven't seen it as you need to start at the beginning).

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid



Movie: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

The best indicator of how good this movie was is that not a single person left the theatre when the animated closing credits began. Everyone was having too good a time, adults and children alike! I was surprised and delighted. It's a terrific family film. The story is about a boy nervous about entering middle school. (I gather that's sixth grade -- they had junior high when I was growing up.) The boy thinks he's smarter than everyone else and is positive he's going to be king of the school. Instead, everything he does to become popular sinks him lower and lower on the popularity scale. It's fun, funny, and charming. I had feared from the trailer that there would be too much childish gross-out humor, but it's only occasional, and mild, and only in places where it makes sense for the kids' ages and the story. The film-making is well-done as well, with a nice blend of animation sequences mixed into the live action. The cast is phenomenal: the children are classic stereotypes but full of personality so that even the weird ones are hilarious charming. The film has a few slow moments and would have been even better trimmed by ten minutes, but mostly it's excellent. Nothing too earthshattering or remarkable, I suppose, as the theme of "weird kid struggles to be accepted" has been done to death, but pleasant and certainly entertaining. It's very family friendly, too (almost retro), which is somewhat remarkable in this day and age. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Diary of the Dead



Movie: Diary of the Dead

I love George Romero's dead movies and I noticed this one, which I'd never heard of, got a high critical rating, so I checked it out. It's not as good as his classics (like Dawn of the Dead, which is my favorite), but it does have its moments. When I read the description I thought it sounded fantastic: "a group of college kids making a horror film stumble upon real zombies." I pictured something like Shaun of the Dead with confusion over who are actor zombies and who are real zombies. But that's not what happens. Instead it's simply a film set that gets interrupted by news of zombie attacks, so the troop decides to head home and the director films the apocalypse for posterity. The whole movie is really a "found footage" film. The zombie adventures aren't that exciting, nor is the acting very good, but this does shine in its commentary on our video culture. When the director's friend is being attacked by a zombie while he just films and does nothing to help her says a lot about our society's values. I wish there was even more of that in the film, though. Still, this is much better than your typical slasher film. Worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.

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Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Dick



Movie: Dick (1999)
Writer(s): Andrew Fleming and Sheryl Longin
Director(s): Andrew Fleming

This spoof on the Watergate scandal has two dizzy teenage girls as "Deep Throat," the source of the leaks that brought down a President. Nice, light movie. Fun, but more like an extended Saturday Nigh Live sketch than a comedy. Most of the "humor" is so mild and subtle you'll never catch it. For one, you have to know a lot about Watergate to understand most of the in jokes. To give you an example of the type of humor: on the director's commentary on the DVD, he points out how in one scene Woodward has a pad but no pen and Bernstein has a pen and no pad. The director seems to think this is hilarious, and yes, it does bring a smile to the face, but it's not laugh out loud (which a comedy of this kind needs to be). On the other hand, a film like this could be profound by making powerful statements about society and politics... but this movie doesn't. So you get mild smiles and no Deep Thought (sorry about that ;-) -- basically you won't miss much either way on this one. The most profound and interesting thing for me was something on the director's commentary: he pointed out that a number of viewers expressed far more horror and outrage that the movie would dare make fun of Woodward and Bernstein than that it makes fun of Richard Nixon. "In a sense," said Fleming, "that's because the journalists are more revered figures than the President." A bit scary, that.

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star



Movie: Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Predictable, trite, silly comedy that falls flat far too often, but still has a few funny moments. The story is basically a washed up former child actor never had a childhood and thus can't relate to people or act, so he hires a surrogate family for a month to teach him what it's like to be a normal child. Yeah, a one-joke premise that quickly wears itself out. What makes it work, barely, is the presence of the "Mom," Mary McCormack, who plays everything straight and manages to keep things from going too over the top. Still, it's a weak film and not as funny as you'd expect based on the premise. The cameos of tons of former child stars adds to the movie, but generally the only humor derived from them is having them use foul language. Intelligent. Uh huh.

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Friday, November 22, 2002

Die Another Day



Movie: Die Another Day

Very good James Bond film, but overlong at 2.5 hours. It starts out as a darker Bond, but doesn't sustain that, which is probably for the best. Unfortunately, the film feels a little divided into two parts -- sad and fun -- as a result. Otherwise this Bond has everything you want in a Bond film: action, humor, gorgeous women, and cool gadgets. What surprised me the most was the shockingly poor use of green screen in a few scenes (the hovercraft scene at the beginning and some later scenes with Berry and Brosnan flying). The out-of-focus backdrops look like TV from the 1980's! I can't imagine this was cost-cutting -- this is a big budget Bond movie. Besides, get rid of just one of those 5,000 cars they blow up and it would pay for better green screen. I assume it's just incompetence, which is almost as bad. While many special effects were very well done, a few -- especially the digital airplane at the end -- were badly done. The airplane breaking up looked really fake. That's too bad, because script-wise, this was a better film, but I was distracted by all the bad special effects.

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Friday, January 9, 2004

Digital Fortress



Book: Digital Fortress
Writer(s): Dan Brown

From a story perspective, this was actually very good. The plot moves very fast, it's exciting, there are nice twists and turns, and while it's somewhat predictable in places, in general the author does a good job. The quality of the words themselves is mediocre to poor. But the biggest sin is that the book is technically flawed. The story's supposed to be about codes and code-breaking. A rebel hacker has created an "unbreakable" code and is blackmailing the NSA with it. This interested me a great deal, but it's painfully obvious the author is neither a code expert and knows nothing about technology. Horribly amateurish mistakes are rampant. For instance, he actually says that a 64-bit key has 64 letters! (Remember, every letter in a key is 8 bits, so a 64 letter key would be 512 bits.) I don't know if mistakes like that are just editing slipups, but I doubt it, since there are so many. These mistakes really make the whole novel an absurd joke and destroys any claim to realism, but I suppose only the more technically inclined would notice. Unfortunately, a number of plot points hinge on these mistakes, which makes for painful reading. For instance, the NSA has secretly created a $2 billion supercomputer with three million parallel processors that can break any encryption in minutes... yet they are worried about the computer being infected by a virus off the Internet! That's so absurd it's not even funny. Any computer person will tell you that a virus must be written specifically for the hardware: a Windows virus cannot infect a Linux machine and a Linux virus for Intel hardware won't run on Linux running on a PowerPC chip. The idea that somehow someone would write a virus for a proprietary computer that no one even knows exists is complete fantasy, and we're not even getting into the difficulties of programming parallel processing machines, which is a whole different problem. The bottom line is that a virus infecting a supercomputer is about as likely as lightning striking you the same moment you win the lottery. Our author, like so many other technoidiots out there, seems to think viruses are some sort of magical creature capable of doing whatever he needs to move his plot forward.

In the end this isn't that bad a book. The story's actually pretty good, if you can ignore all the technical flaws that make it impossible. Dan works too hard trying to establish "deep" characters (he tells instead of shows, a fatal flaw of amature writing), but the characters aren't really that important anyway, since this is a plot-driven book, not a character study. There's no depth here! But if you're wanting a fast and entertaining read (I read this mostly in one night and it's over 400 pages) and you like codes and government conspiracies, this should do the job.

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Friday, April 6, 2001

The Dinner Game



Movie: The Dinner Game

Hilarious French movie about a group of rich men who have a weekly contest where they each invite an idiot to dinner. The man with the biggest idiot wins. The idiots don't know why they're there, of course -- that's the whole joke. They think they're invited because the important men want to hear their ideas. Great premise, but the movie goes a completely different direction: we never even get to the dinner. Instead, the main rich guy tweaks his back golfing and can't go to the dinner. He finds himself stuck at home with the prize idiot of all time, who won't leave, and goes on and on incessantly about his matchstick models. Next, the phone rings and it's his wife saying she's leaving him, and what follows is a bizarre comedy of errors as the man, with the "help" of his idiot, try to track her down and save his marriage. Absolutely priceless. Great performances, especially by the idiot, who somehow manages to be an ingratiating moron and evoke sympathy from the viewer. Well worth your time. A classic.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Dinosaur



Movie: Dinosaur

Nice little Disney computer-animated film about a dinosaur that becomes the head of his tribe. The animation is very impressive. The story isn't terribly complicated (it's predictable) and it tends to be a little heavy on the preachiness (hammering home the "never give up" message), but it's harmless.

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Friday, August 22, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things



Movie: Dirty Pretty Things
Director(s): Stephen Frears

Now this is a film! Unlike Le Divorce which went on too long and overcomplicated its plot, this movie knew exactly what it was supposed to be and succeeds brilliantly. It's a very simple plot about the illegal immigrant class in London who will do anything to survive, including selling kidneys to obtain a valid passport and new identity. The lead is an amazing actor who plays an African doctor who, for political reasons, is wanted in his own country, and has escaped to London. Now he lives in the underground, working two jobs (taxi driver by day, hotel night manager at night), and sharing a room with a girl from Turkey. She's a maid at the hotel and has opposite hours of his, so they aren't in the room at the same time. During a shift at the hotel, the man discovers a clogged toilet which contains a human heart. He suspects foul play but can't go to the police. Later, he discovers its part of an organ market, with desperate immigrants allowing themselves to be butchered in order to become legal residents. Slowly the African is roped into the scheme when it is discovered he's a doctor: now they want him to do the surgeries. Meanwhile, the Turkish girl has fallen in love with him. The authorities are hot on her tail and against his advice, she decides her only chance is to sell her kidney and escape to New York with a new identity. Now he's going to have to operate on the girl who loves him!

This film moves at a rapid pace, building drama and unraveling the mystery, and the love story between the two leads is one of the best I've seen, especially considering they barely acknowledge the love or even kiss! All this happens in a condensed 90 minutes, just perfect for a film of this nature. It doesn't try to make itself more than it is. It's a simple plot with a simple twist. But unlike films that either try to tack on multiple twist endings, throw in a few extra plotlines to complicate things, or just toot their own horn too much, this film is simple and honest and quite beautiful. Remarkable.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels



Movie: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

This is one of those films I've seen snippets of, but never the whole thing (at least that I remember). It's a pretty funny story about two con artists trying to out-do each other. A lot of classic scenes but a tad uneven and occasionally slow. Great fun overall, though.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9



Movie: District 9

I wasn't too excited about this based on what I'd heard -- it sounded too much like a remake of Alien Nation. But in that one the aliens were quite human-like and they were incorporated into our society. Here they look like vertical crabs (they are called "Prawns"). They are still too humanoid in my opinion (Why does almost every scifi film or TV show feature aliens as humanoids?) but at least this is an attempt to show creatures that look different from us. Because in this one the aliens are kept in a concentration camp (aka refuge camp) I expected -- and dreaded -- heavy political content, but to my surprise there's hardly any (a little bit about how ruthless corporations can be) and the film actually would have been better with more. That really is my main criticism -- the last third of the film is little more than a meaningless action flick, which is sad since the first two thirds are an amazing setup for more depth. The lead actor is fantastic -- he really carries the film, being flawless as a fawning bureaucrat who ends up as a fighter. I also really liked the special effects, especially the huge mother ship floating over Johanesburg in the background of many scenes (which is a wonderful, oppressive touch considering it has been there for over 20 years and become part of the city's life). The handheld camera technique or pseudo-documentary style was kept to a minimum, which was good, but it still was a poorly used gimmick: it should have simply been used as the introduction and conclusion, leaving the middle for real filming. That's almost what they did except they occasionally showed us grainy footage from a security camera or whatever to remind us this was still a documentary, which was in total contradiction with the film footage we were seeing. Despite some obvious flaws like these, though, the film's worth seeing. It touches on some new things that we haven't see before, and some of the action and alien stuff is quite good. Ultimately it doesn't really go anywhere but the journey there is interesting.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Disturbia



Movie: Disturbia

With obvious plot allusions to Hitchcock's classic Rear Window, in this film we've got a troubled teen under home arrest (with an ankle bracelet to keep him on the property) watching the neighbors. He begins to suspect one neighbor of being a serial killer and sets out with the help of a couple friends to prove it. Not bad. It's well-done technically, but it's a bit long, the ending's typical -- the neighbor's guilt or innocence isn't confirmed until the end, of course. Basically, the premise just feels like something we've seen too many times before. Above average and the new characters and modern setting do bring a bit of freshness to the idea, but it's not quite enough to make this anything other than a mild diversion.

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Sunday, February 23, 2003

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood



Movie: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Not as pathetic as I expected: in fact, I kinda liked it (or at least one aspect of it). What I liked was the approach and premise: a young woman who's getting ready to be married has an antagonist relationship with her mother, who wants nothing to do with the wedding (and the daughter doesn't want her there). But the old woman's three friends (the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) drug and kidnap the daughter and take her back home in order to explain to her who her mother is and why she's not as bad as the daughter thinks. What follows is flashbacks to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood's childhood and youth (played by two generations of actresses) as dark family secrets are revealed. Eventually, of course, the daughter and mother reconcile. What I didn't like: first, the dark secrets revealed aren't very dark, secret, or particularly interesting or exciting; second, watching a bunch of old woman talk like sailors and whine and reminisce isn't my idea of quality entertainment; and third, the whole "Ya-Ya" thing, though portrayed as childhood girls club, had mystical elements that echoed occult-type ceremonies and left a bad taste in my mouth. It would have been okay if they'd left that stuff in childhood, but seeing 60+ old women do it was bizarre and uncomfortable. Still, the film wasn't as bad as I expected, and I liked some of the characters and scenes.

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Thursday, July 8, 2004

Dodgeball: An Underdog Story



Movie: Dodgeball: An Underdog Story

A surprisingly excellent film. Hilariously and continuously funny, and not as crude as I feared. The film doesn't just rely on it's one-joke dodgeball premise, but mocks sports in general (the whole ESPN 8 thing was awesome), sports commentators, fitness centers, self-help gurus, and more. My favorite running gag was the assistant commentator at the tournament who had a brilliant knack for stating the obvious as though it was profound insight. The story itself is predictable: a group of misfits must win a dodgeball tournament to win $50K to stop their gym from closing. Predictable, but there are many sidesteps and interesting twists along the way. My favorite scene in the whole movie was when the misfit's leader is depressed and quits and is hanging out at a bar feeling sorry for himself. Who stops by but Lance Armstrong, who gives him a little speech about how he (Lance) almost quit when he was diagnosed with brain, lung, and testicular cancer, all at the same time, but he fought it and went on to win the Tour de France five times in a row. Lance says, "But hey, that was me, I'm sure you've got a good reason to quit," totally making the guy feel like the dumbest ass on the planet! Hilarious "straight" scene (it's not played for humor), just great. There are a bunch of other cool cameos as well. Overall, just a great comedy. Silly, wild, and with a terrific feel-good ending. Most films of this type are uneven, but this one keeps things moving and is funny throughout. Recommended.

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Saturday, May 13, 2000

Dog Day Afternoon



Movie: Dog Day Afternoon

Intense. Great performances. Subject matter not unusual by today's standard, but must have been dramatic in the 70's. Like the sudden ending. Overall, however, a bit empty. Homo angle questionable.

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Saturday, July 8, 2000

Dogma



Movie: Dogma

This film tries too hard to be too many things and fails at all of them. It's not particularly clever, not a great satire, and not especially profound. It does bring up some unusual religious issues, but with so much material to work with, I expected much more. It's basically a much weaker version of Neil Gaiman's Good Omens (I expect that film to be terrific). Seems writer/director Kevin Smith either didn't have much to say or shied away from real controversy. The only thing even faintly controversial about this one is Smith's typical overuse of profanity, this time coming from the mouths of angels and religious people (which comes across as more silly than satirical).

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dogs of War



Book: The Dogs of War
Writer(s): Frederick Forsyth

Very interesting book. It's older (1970s, I think), so many aspects are dated. The plot deals with a quest to overthrow a small African nation in order to gain mineral rights and most of the story is the technical details about how to buy arms on the black market, plot a coup, etc. Some of that is hilariously quaint, with mercenaries waiting weeks for instructions via snail mail (today we get annoyed when our email isn't responded to within minutes). The book's slow to get started, and it rambles in places, and there are strange parts like the romance in the middle that doesn't have anything to do with anything else, but it's an interesting book simply because of the topics of war, mercenaries, and greed.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Dogville



Movie: Dogville
Director(s): Lars von Trier

This is an absolutely fantastic movie. It's really a filmed play (which I did not know or expect prior to viewing) which I really loved. The set is sparse, an empty stage with painted lines signifying the boundaries of homes and rooms, and a few props like chairs and desks. The actors mime opening non-existent doors and such. This surrealist touch has dramatic import, since it reminds us we're in a fantasy everyworld, and we focus on the characters and situations, not the props. The story is simple yet elegantly told. The town is Dogville, a tiny mountain community of a mere 15 people. These people seem normal, even idealisticly perfect, but as the play proceeds, we grow to realize that they are petty and mean, like everyone else. Innocence joins the picture in the form of a beautiful young woman who is running away from gangsters, though we don't know why. In an exercise in acceptance, the town decides to host the girl, and hide her from those who seek her, though they are never given an explanation for why she's being sought. The woman's initial offers to help with physical labor are rejected, but eventually she finds ways to help people with "things that don't need doing." As pressures from the gangsters and the police increase, the town wavers on their commitment. What is the moral thing to do? Gradually the woman's labors increase as she becomes, essentially, the town's slave. People are mean to her, bossing her. One of the men threatens to expose her and uses her vulnerability to rape her and ensure her silence. Gradually the town of Dogville becomes a dark and evil place, the girl a captive. In the end the true colors of Dogville are shown, and the girl has her brutal revenge. It's a fantastic, disturbing, and profound film. It shows the inherent blackness of the human heart, how people can turn, how what looks one way can really be another. Amazing. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, September 21, 2003

Domestic Disturbance



Movie: Domestic Disturbance

This is a John Travolta film I'd never heard of, but it wasn't that bad. The story's light but filled with potential (unfortunately minimally realized). It deals with a young boy who's parents have split and she's getting remarried. The boy is struggling with this when he accidentally witnesses his new step-dad murder someone. But no one will believe him: they all think this is his way of acting out against the marriage. Only his dad believes and starts an investigation, eventually leading to the step-dad revealing his true colors and being arrested. Predictably done, but I liked the whole "kid against the unbelieving world" syndrome (similar to the murder witness in Rear Window). If Hitchcock had done this he'd have had the kid be the main character instead of the dad (Travolta) and had him figure out a way to out-smart the villain. As it is, the dad really doesn't do much (which is lame): when he starts his investigation, that prompts the bad guy to attempt to kill him, which opens things up and spoils the "did he or didn't he" subtlty that was so appealing. There's also a scene near the beginning where Travolta querries one of the bad guy's friends rather aggressively, almost as if he suspected there was something fishy about the guy (who is later murdered). Like the whole movie, it could have been much better handled, but on the whole a neat idea.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Domino



Movie: Domino
Director(s): Tony Scott

This film looked unusual and interesting in the promos, and I'm a huge Keira Knightly fan, but I'm sad to say the film doesn't work. I actually liked the director's unusual style which is in-your-face and aggressive, like the title character, a model-turned-bounty hunter. Unfortunately, it's the script that's bad. The first problem is that the story is told in reverse order, via flashbacks, a forumla that works for some movies, but fails for this one. In this case it fails because the story isn't really that interesting or unusual enough for us to put up with the technique. The other problem is that the writer (and director) seem to be overly enamored with the whole "bounty hunter" thing, as though it were the greatest or most unusual profession in the world. Granted it's not that common a profession, especially for a beautiful model, but we don't need to be reminded of that every two minutes. "Ooh, look at Domino be tough! Ooh, look at sexy Domino shoot a gun!" The story, which is overly convoluted because of the flashback technique, is disappointing in its ordinariness: it's basically just a standard "oops we robbed a mobster" plot. I really wanted to like this and tried hard for almost the duration of the entire film, but in the end, I was left disappointed and cheated. It was a neat idea, but the film's dramatic camera technique and unique visual style set the viewer up for great drama and the film only delivers disappointment.

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Saturday, December 25, 2004

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood



Book: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Writer(s): Alexandra Fuller

Apart from the strange and never-explained title, this is a remarkably well-written and fascinating book. The author tells of her childhood in war-torn Rhodesia and other South African countries, a lifestyle so different most of us can't imagine it. I initially picked this book up because I grew up in Africa myself and was curious about another's experience. Unfortunately, I didn't find too much to relate to in this book as this author's story is so different from my own, but I did enjoy the story. Fuller's an excellent writer, bringing a distant world to life with simple, elegant turns of phrase and vivid dialog. The story's not exactly pleasant -- her childhood was rough with death, violence, racism, and insanity -- but in the end it's a triumph of the irrepressible spirit and life of children. A highly recommended read even if you aren't interested in Africa.

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Friday, March 15, 2002

Don't Say a Word



Movie: Don't Say a Word

A bit of a different thriller: a top child psychiatrist's daughter is kidnapped in order to force him to get information from a mentally unstable patient. It's all about money, of course: the girl doesn't even realize she knows where the money is hidden. But I liked the aspect of a different kind of pressure on the psychiatrist. He's got to get through to the patient and find the information in her head, and he's got to do it in one day or else his own daughter will be killed. Good performances and direction, and the suspense and action isn't bad, but ultimately the psychology's thin. Of course the patient is "cured" during the process, and a lot of the trauma she supposedly suffers from is muddled and nonsensical. For example, she is aware that people want this information from her (she tells the doctor, "You want what they want.") but at the same time she's supposedly doesn't know what information she's hiding. How can you consciously hide something you're not aware you possess? As usual in these kind of movies, the cure happens too quickly, and the root cause of the girl's mental problems seems weak. Of course psychology's always intimate, so it's difficult for an outsider to judge. For instance, if a guy's insanely terrified of butterflies and we find out that was caused by him accidentally stepping on one as a child, that sounds stupid. But who knows? For him, that could have been an extremely traumatic event, and maybe an event linked with other intense emotions (like guilt over his parents divorce happening at the time) and it sent him over the edge. But on screen it could seem weak. Like in this case, it's caused by her witnessing her father's death as a child. Yes, that's a traumatic event, but we knew that at the beginning of the film. If that had been kept a secret and we drew it out of her at a climatic point in the film, that'd be one thing, but "revealing" something we already know was weak. Overall, still an above average film.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Donnie Darko



Movie: Donnie Darko

Bizarre film. I wish I'd known more of what to expect before I saw it. This is one of those odd, quirky movies that seems to be idiotic and inane but you eventually realize actually has some real intelligence deep down. Unfortunately, 90% of people won't see that intelligence because the incomprehensible weirdness will turn them off and they'll stop watching. The story goes like this. An alienated teenage boy hears a voice in the middle of the night that causes him to leave his house. He wakes up on the golf course. When he returns home, he discovers an airplane engine has crashed into his house and landed right on his bed! The voice saved his life. Later, the voice turns out to be the head of a giant rabbit -- yes, I said this can seem idiotic -- which warns him that the world will end at the end of the month. The voice encourages him to do all sorts of vandalistic behavior: break the water main at the school, burn down a self-help guru's house, etc. None of this is clear, however: we don't see him do this so we're not even sure it's him, but we strongly suspect it. The kid's already in therapy so we wonder if he's just insane. But he seems quite intelligent, smarter than his idiot teachers at school, so we aren't sure. He begins to research time travel and becomes obssessed with the topic. Eventually -- and this is a spoiler -- he learns that the rabbit guy is an alien and this is all some sort of a twisted plot to take over the earth or something. For this plan to work they needed the boy alive, which is why they saved him from the airplane engine. So the boy goes back in time and doesn't leave his bed, allowing himself to be crushed by the falling engine, thereby sacrificing himself for the world -- only no one will ever know, of course, since that other timeline never happened. Pretty cool ending and great idea. The film's direction is also unusual, and the 80's period music distinctive. The school's idiot teachers and community are strongly reminiscent of classics like Heathers. However, it takes so long for you to figure out this movie has a point (and unless you already have a warped sense of humor it's difficult to tell the rabbit guy and other things are meant to be ironic and funny) that few people will wait that long and give it that chance. In many ways this is similar to Signs which had a similar intentional B-movie feel and similar gimmicky plot. Unfortunately this one is buried under a mound of other bizarre, incomprehensible side-stories and events, so much so that even if you appreciate what's at the bottom you wonder if it was worth it. For instance, I read some of what other people thought about this (just to make sure I wasn't missing anything important) and their conclusion was that you need to see this film multiple times to really understand it. I agree completely. However, that wasn't enough to actually make me do that, if you know what I mean. I can see a glimmer of profoundness inside the film, but frankly, I just don't want to work that hard to understand something that doesn't seem like it should be that complicated. I'll watch it again someday in the future.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut



Movie: Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

I was hoping this rerelease would clarify this muddled and confusing film, but no such luck. Supposedly twenty minutes of new footage has been added, but I couldn't tell where. Some scenes seemed longer but there was much I didn't remember anyway, so I found it hard to tell waht was new. Nothing new helped explain anything; my comments on the original Donnie Darko are still valid.

I did, however, discover the key flaw in this film. The problem is that too much action happens off screen. This mostly seems to be intentional by the director, though the low budget could have been partly to blame. Either way, it was a poor decision. For example, when the airplane engine first crashes into the house, the scene is confusing: you see the house shake, the family rattled, then cut to the crew lifting a huge jet engine with a crane. You don't actually see the engine embedded into the house: you're forced to assume that's what happened. This makes the next scene -- when the family sees Donnie show up unhurt -- problematic, since A) we don't yet know the engine landed on his room and his sleepwalk saved his life, B) there's no evidence that Donnie was killed or not killed, since no shots of his crushed room are shown, and C) the family shows no surprise or relief at seeing him, which I found bewildering. Surely they either thought him dead or were shocked to see his bed was empty.

Of course this "off-screen action" problem isn't limited to this one key scene. It happens throughout the film, to different degrees of harm. The most obvious are the sabotage events, which we don't really see Donnie do, but suspect. Now those actually benefit from some abiguity as they make us wonder if Donnie's really done them or just assumes he did them; unfortunately, they aren't ambiguous enough. There's far too much evidence that he did them, such as the shot of him with the ax, his own words that he did them, etc. So the question then becomes, if he admits he did them and it's so obvious he did, why obscure that from the audience? Why not just show us plainly? What benefit is gained by obscuring those events? If the events were intended to be ambiguous there'd be a gain in mystery and complication, but since there is no mystery -- he did the sabotage -- the abiguity just confuses.

You can add to that his conversations with "Frank," the giant rabbit. Apparently we're only privy to parts of the conversation. For instance, we discover during Donnie's therapy that the rabbit's name is Frank -- we never actually hear the rabbit tell him that even though we're supposedly there during their first encounter. Withholding a little information from us, the viewer, is okay, but it's obvious that Donnie knows way more than we do and we have no idea how he got that information. Apparently Frank talked with him but we don't hear those conversations. Why not? Who knows. But since those conversations aren't even hinted at, the info comes to us second-hand, via Donnie, and it's a surprise. We're like, "Oh? Donnie knows what's going on?" One could argue this gives Donnie power: he's like a superhero, with knowledge of the future. Unfortunately, this just serves to further alienate Donnie from us; it doesn't endear him to us as he did earlier, when he was lonely and confused. By hiding information from us, the director has separated us from Donnie. We're now alone in watching the film and our main link, Donnie, is a stranger. I think this one thing is probably the main flaw that turns people off from this movie. Initially they like Donnie and can relate to him, but when he starts mysteriously knowing stuff (and not sharing details) he becomes someone we don't trust and can't understand.

Of course the greatest "off-screen action" flaw is undoubtedly the conclusion, where Donnie goes back in time to save the universe. Since we don't get to see how Donnie time travels (we don't see him building a machine, riding a machine, or even using mind power or magic beans) that key aspect of the film is completely lost to the average viewer. The film is just suddenly repeating the beginning, the night of the engine crash, only this time Donnie sacrifices himself and does not leave his bed, thus saving the universe. On first viewing it is practically impossible to figure that out since it's done so vaguely. Even the concept that Donnie is somehow special and his life was saved for a reason is never clear on first viewing.

The bottom line is that this film is not designed to be clearly understood. Some people would argue that directors like David Lynch do the same thing, but that's not at all the case. Lynch definitely has weird scenes in his films, but everything serves a purpose and is designed. This film is a cheap hack. It's got some great performances, some hilarious humor, and a potentially neat plot, but it's ineptly put together. The creator of this film thinks abiguity is good for abiguity's sake; he mistakes vagueness for philosophical depth. Lynch uses abiguity to guide the viewer down two equally plausible paths: the abiguity makes the story more complex and powerful, adding another layer of interpretation. Lynch's films benefit from repeated viewing not because information was lacking in the original presentation like with Donnie Darko, but because so much information was given that it's overwhelming and difficult for the brain to process. With Donnie Darko we're forced to read between the lines and try to figure out what happened off-screen; Lynch never does that. We actually see what happened, we just don't understand the significance on first viewing.

I really wanted to like this movie. I'm a huge fan of cult classics and this movie has a large following. I gave it a question mark after my first viewing, unsure of my feelings. Seeing it a second time, however, confirmed my conclusion that this is dreck. It's a mess that severely needs a rewrite, editing, and a better director. Keep in mind that I normally like confusing, puzzling movies. For instance, I wasn't sure about 12 Monkeys the first time I saw, but it's become one of my favorite movies of all time. The story is complex and confusing, but fits together beautifully in retrospect. It's confusing simply because the story's so complicated and because it's difficult to understand "current" events without understanding what happens later. Donnie Darko could have been that kind of film, but it's weakly done. Nothing is clear, even in retrospect, and much of what happens, even when cool, is never given a reason. For instance, it's widely assumed by fans that the rabbit is an alien being, yet I saw not a shred of evidence to support that. Not even a hint. Why? If that's a possibility, why wouldn't the writer include a hint or two?

I could write for a week and not list all the confusing flaws in this film, but the movie's just not worth it to me. If you're a fan and enjoy it, great; there are parts I like and I'll enjoy those, but for me the film's just too flawed to work.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Doom



Movie: Doom

I'm not heavily into video games, though I have nothing against them (just no time to play them and when I do, I'm more into strategy games). The thing about Doom is that it's heavily action-oriented and that's what I expected in this film adaptation. Unfortunately, the action doesn't start until about an hour in -- before that it's all atmospheric horror and mysterious bumps in the night (no monsters are seen for a long time, just flashes of carnage and sudden death). That's not what Doom's about, folks. Doom's about chaos and non-stop action, a pure adreneline rush. My expectation was that this would be an-edge-of-your seat thrill from start to finish with constant meaningless slaughter and violence until the resolution. Unfortunately, none of that happens until very late in the film (there's a brief first-person-shooter perspective, just like the game), and by then you're so bored by the cardboard characters and silly drama that it doesn't matter. Basically, the movie fails for the fans, fails for the action crowd, and fails for the horror crowd. It doesn't work for any of them because it doesn't know what it is and thus becomes none of those genres. There is one redeeming moment, though ineptly done, and I will warn of slight spoiler here, in that one of the main characters, the one we assume is the hero, played by master thespian The Rock, where he turns evil and becomes the film's villain. That's an unusual twist and could have been interesting except that it happens so abrubtly without warning or foreshadowing that it feels false and bewildering. However, at least they tried to do something different. Still, it's not enough. It's a dismal experience, not worth your time even on DVD.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Door in the Floor



Movie: The Door in the Floor

Strange film. I wanted to really like it. It's directed with distinction and seems to have more depth than it does. Sadly, the film's not that profound. It deals with a family bereft by tragedy: their two older sons were killed in a car accident. The husband and wife have drifted apart after that, with the wife cold and distant. The husband, who's an author/artist of children books, likes to seduce women by getting them to pose for him. Meanwhile, the wife begins an affair with her husband's new teenage assistant. There's lots of conflict, emotional tension, strange humor, and some interesting scenes, but everything adds up to a mystery that's never explained. At the end of the film we're finally privileged to find out what happened to the woman and her sons, but that explanation, while dramatic, is not earthshattering. The bottom line is her sons are dead no matter how it happened -- why is she still so dead? The couple have a young daughter that needs a mother, but the woman abandons her, for reasons that aren't explained. Some of this abiguity is good and thought-provoking, but much of it just creates empty characters that we can't relate to and don't care about. Overall this is a well-acted, well-done film that falls short of the profundity needed for this kind of a deep drama. The director needs to learn that a dramatic pause does not add drama -- it merely announces it and gives us time to appreciate the drama that's already there. In this case, there wasn't enough drama in the actual story.

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Monday, October 31, 2005

The Door Into Summer



Book: The Door Into Summer (1956)
Writer(s): Robert Heinlein

Cool book. I read about this in an interview with Heinlein where he said he was inspired by his cat. He and his wife were staying in a cabin in the Colorado and it was snowing. Their cat wanted out and went to the door but did not like the snow. He kept going to different doors and windows, each time hoping there would be no snow. Robert's wife said, "He's looking for the door to summer." Heinlein immediately said, "Don't say another word!" and retreated to his study and wrote this novel in thirteen days! That cat story is in the book, of course, though Heinlein and his wife are not. Unfortunately, the title has little to do with the actual story. I had wondered if it might be a book about teleportation or something, sort of a stargate that takes you to another world. But instead the book's about time travel and the "door to summer" is merely a metaphor about finding your nirvana. The time travel story is pretty cool, however. Our main character is an inventor who's been screwed by his fiance and business partners. In his depression, he takes the Long Sleep: a 30-year hibernation. When he wakes up in the future, in the year 2000, he seeks revenge on those who betrayed him. It's pretty cool. There's nothing hugely brilliant, perhaps, but definitely entertaining and the writing style of the main character is fun. And of course there's a lot about cats, which is always cool.

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Thursday, December 25, 2003

Door to Door



Movie: Door to Door

This is a terrific made-for-TV movie I just happened to notice was airing while with family for Christmas in Oregon. My mother quickly figured out it was a movie she'd heard that was filmed in Portland, and indeed, it turned out the story's about a physically disabled Portland man who becomes a door-to-door salesman in the 1950's. At first people are off-put by his disabilities, or try to buy stuff out of charity, but soon his winning personality and perseverance win people over. He eventually becomes a fixture in the neighborhood, mending marriages and making everyone feel important. Throughout this time he struggles with his personal life: a failed romance, his mother's Alzheimer’s, and eventually, progress, as the company he works for replaces door-to-door sales with telemarketers. The best part of the film was when a middle-aged newspaper reporter knocks on his door and it turns out the guy was the kid the salesman talked to with a puppet when he first started out. The guy remembered the salesman all those years and decided to write a feature on him (that's how the story got told and eventually made into a film). William H. Macy is amazing as the salesman -- he really is one of the best actors of all time. I believe he won an Emmy for this role: if not, he sure deserved it. Terrific film, way way above average for television.

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Saturday, October 16, 1999

Double Jeopardy



Movie: Double Jeopardy (1999)
Writer(s): David Weisberg & Douglas Cook
Director(s): Bruce Beresford

I'd seen a little about this, but while the concept intrigued me -- a husband frames his wife for his murder and when she's released double jeopardy means she can't be tried for killing him a "second" time -- and I've been a huge Ashely Judd fan since Ruby in Paradise, I was prepared for a typical Hollywood generic thriller. This one was definitely above average. Judd's awesome in the lead role (which is good, as she's in nearly every scene), and her relationship with parole officer Tommy Lee Jones is terrific. There's some great action, some nice emotion, a few genuine scares. "Concept" movies like these are easy to do badly; this one is very well done, and while it doesn't move much beyond the plot, it's an enjoyable ride (and we get to watch Ashley Judd the whole time).

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Doubt



Movie: Doubt

There are some who might be put off by this film's topic, which deals with a priest who may have done something inappropriate, but you shouldn't worry: the topic-that-mustn't-be-named never is, as everything is discussed in the vaguest of terms, and that is where the film gains its power. Instead of being blatant and obvious, everything here is subtle: once some doubt about someone creeps in, the slightest thing can increase that suspicion. The film keeps you on a knife edge throughout: did he or didn't he, and who is wrong and who is right? Do we believe or not believe? Are having doubts a good thing or a bad thing? This is a wonderful film, with incredible acting (Meryl Streep is astonishingly convincing -- she is truly the greatest actress of all time), powerful and clever dialog (the film is based on a play), and a subtle but dramatic plot. In one sense very little happens in this: there are some suspicions, some confrontations, some questions asked -- but in another sense, earth-shattering things are happening, because underneath every polite smile, shake of the hand, pat on the back, etc., is lurking something ominous and heavy. Wow. What a film. The best film of year (2008). Amazing, amazing, amazing. This is a film you could watch over and over and still gain insight from, as there's so much going on there's plenty of meat left on the bone even after several meals. Highly recommended for people who have brains and aren't afraid of thinking.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Doubting Thomas



Movie: Doubting Thomas

This is a kids film about a kid who's always telling stories (lies) when he uncovers a plot to kidnap the president's daughter (who is scheduled to visit his school) but of course no one will believe him, so he has to stop the plot himself. It's got some surprisingly good stuff -- the main kid cast is excellent (it includes the girl from Bridge to Terabithia who is awesome) -- and could have been terrific except that there are several adult characters overacted so badly that they come across as cheesy and childish. I'm not sure why aspects had to be dumbed down like that: I guess it's adults who think that kids need to be talked down to, and it's very odd in this since the main kid characters are quite adult-like (the boy is smarter than most of the adults). The bottom line is that the film is silly fun and very family friendly, but unfortunately to uneven to be great.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who



Movie: Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who

I had never read the original story, so I didn't know what to expect, but I think I like the original story better than the movie. There are places where the movie has obvious Hollywood-isms. When the movie sticks to the original story (the places where narration is used), the movie works very well. But often the movie add silly comic sidebars that don't work. But overall it's still a rather harmless, entertaining movie. Kids seem to like it, but I'm not sure adults will get much out of it. The story is surprisingly mature for kids, in the sense that it's about tiny creatures that live on a speck on a flower that an elephant is trying to protect. But the story's theme is that all people, no matter how small, are important -- and that's a good lesson for kids.

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Sunday, June 23, 2002

Dracula 2000



Movie: Dracula 2000

Astonishingly, I liked this! Like most vampire movies, it's rather silly, but I liked the "surprise" conclusion (the identity of Dracula). Some good action and fun special effects. Certainly nothing deep, but entertaining. Weaker toward the end, especially as the final set pieces aren't very dramatic, but still fun.

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Monday, January 19, 2004

Dragonfly



Book: Dragonfly
Writer(s): John Farris

A very strange and haunting novel. It's about a con artist who seduces women, promises to marry them, then skips out with their money before the wedding. After one of these "projects" goes wrong and he's nearly killed, the man begins to develop a conscience. So he sets out for another big score to prove to himself he's still got it. He goes after Pamela Abelard, a beautiful wealthy romance novelist. Despite being so beautiful, she's reclusive, and after he meets her, he discovers why: she's paralyzed from the waist down. Then begins a complex game of seduction and intrigue, for the more Joe finds out about her, the more mysteries crop up. Soon we suspect that Joe is truly in love with her but someone else is conning her. But Joe's a con himself: he can't blow the whistle without blowing his own cover. And that's where things get interesting.

First, let me say that this is a remarkably well-written book. In fact, that's the problem with it: it's too well-written. The diction, the descriptions, the metaphors, the scenes, the pychologically complex characters are all first class; unfortunately, this is a romantic thriller. That's the genre. And as such it must move at a certain pace and deliver a certain amount of tension and excitement. The good writing, however, bogs things down. It distracts when we don't want to be distracted. The book is way overlong -- over 500 pages -- when it has a 300 page story. Farris writes with tremendous detail, and while this increases verisimilitude and is fascinating, it slows down the plot and is really unnecessary for this kind of novel. I really liked many aspects of the novel, and I enjoyed Farris' excellent writing ability, but ultimately the story left me flat. The quality of the writing made me expect more, made me expect significance -- but of course this kind of novel isn't that deep, and the predictable, expected ending reveals that. It's still worth reading, but just don't expect as much as the writing implies.

I had one other interesting reaction to the novel. Generally when I read a book I'm not much bothered, influenced, or even aware of an author's religious or political leanings. Usually if such a thing is present, it's a necessary part of the story, and as such the views expressed are obviously those of the characters, not the author. Often other characters will offer a contrary perspective, and even if the view is distorted or weighed toward one side or the other, it's still done in a way that doesn't offend. In this book, however, I was surprised to find several seemingly superfluous anti-religious comments inserted into various characters perceptions. Now one character wouldn't have bothered me, but finding several characters, all with the same bias, all expressed in odd moments of self-revelation (not, for instance, one character talking to another), got me annoyed. Once I'd detected this, I noticed it throughout the novel, like bad smell you can't pretend to ignore. It was the author expressing his own bias, not the characters speaking. This annoyed me. Part of what made it annoying was the way it was done: the comments were snide, arrogant, and did things like imply religion = irrationality. I get the same perspective when I read Ayn Rand. However, that's part of her philosophy, and her books are complete propoganda for her philosophy (nothing wrong with that as long as you're aware of it). In the case of Dragonfly, however, this kind of thing was out of place and inappropriate, and struck me as odd. I'm actually more interested in my reaction to the viewpoint than the viewpoint itself (I don't really care about Farris' religious views one way or the other). There were only a handful of these points in the book, so I can't say if others would pick up on them, but I thought it was an interesting catch.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dragonfly



Movie: Dragonfly

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

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Sunday, March 9, 2003

Dreamcatcher



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

I'd never even heard of this until I saw the promos for the upcoming movie but the trailers got me intrigued and I grabbed a copy of the book at a used book store. It's an incredible tale. King is an amazing writer. I haven't read that much of his stuff (I will, I will), though I love some of the films based on his work. He's got a real gift for creating complex characters that intertwine with his otherworldly plots. In this case, this 900-page novel deals with memories. We meet the four main characters, friends since childhood, and see glimpses of their ordinary adult lives. But we realize they aren't quite normal. When they go for their annual hunting trip in Northern Maine in November, we know something's going to happen, something connected with their past, but we can't figure out how it all relates. Then the bad stuff starts to happen. There's a mysterious crash -- an alien spaceship -- and a deadly alien virus takes over people. People who are infected by the virus obtain telepathy, and that's where the novel gets brilliantly weird. The four friends are already telepathic, and have been since an experience in childhood. It is they who discover the secret of the alien invasion and work to stop it despite impossible odds. Much of the novel takes place in the minds of the characters, minds filled with memories and secrets, and King does an incredible job of not just making that understandable, but believable as well. When all is said and done, this is a "mere" aliens invade Earth story, but King imbues it with complex characters, a roller-coaster suspense ride, and fantastic imagery. It's the way he tells a tale that makes it so intriguing. With the film being directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by William Goldman, I'm optimistic it will be awesome and I can't wait to see it. Here's hoping it's as good as the book!

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Friday, March 21, 2003

Dreamcatcher



Movie: Dreamcatcher (2003)
Writer(s): William Goldman
Director(s): Lawrence Kasdan

I was so looking forward to this I worried I'd be disappointed because my expectations were too high. Instead, I forgot that movies based on books are rarely as good. In truth, this is better than the book in many ways: the background to the key Duddits character is explained earlier, we actually get to see the aliens, and many aspects of the novel which take hundreds of pages to explain are revealed in few seconds of screen time. Visually, the film is striking, the special effects are excellent, and the acting is good. The script is uneven: extraordinary in a few places, but shockingly poor in others (the usual flaw is it rushes too fast). But the real tragedy for me were the arbitrary changes. The first few changes were minor and didn't bother me that much: the whole "alien virus causes telepathy" storyline was dropped, leaving only the four friends and Duddits as telepaths, and the "barn revolt" of the captured infecteds is left out. Okay, I can deal with that. But one of the best aspects of the book is the way telepathy is used by the friends (and the aliens) to get into other people's heads. For instance, one of the aliens uses this to force a trucker to stab himself in the eye with a pencil: one of the most dramatic scenes in the book. That's not in the film. Instead, the alien transforms into some sort of monster and kills people in ways we don't really see (we're shown shadows and see the dead guy covered in blood). It might be a minor difference, but why do this? The book's approach was innovative and interesting. The movie's method is the same-old alien monster thing we've seen in a thousand movies. Despite these flaws, however, the film was above average. It was interesting, suspenseful, and stylish -- even if you compare it to the book.

But that was until we got to the end. Why, oh why, did they ruin it with that lame ending? The book's ending made sense for the characters. But this goes way, way overboard. Not only does Duddits become a physical hero, absurdly fighting the alien (which transforms into a huge monster) and -- get this -- turning into a monster himself! That's right, poor lovely Duddits, one of the best characters in literature, is really an alien. Granted, he's working to help us, but in the end he turns into a monster and the two monsters fight! Ridiculous. That scene made everything that happened before it a mere joke. Maybe it "explains" Duddits' special ability, but I'd rather that stayed a mystery. It made much more sense to me that he's got an extraordinary gift to make up for his lack of other abilities. If you compare it to the book, this ending utterly destroys the film. If I was Stephen King, I'd disown it. It's just terrible. If you watch this as just a movie, the ending's not so disappointing, but it is trivial and ordinary, the kind of thing you've seen a hundred times before. I can't figure out why Hollywood idiots do stuff like this. Coming from Kasdan and Goldman, I'm extra-disappointed. As far as I'm concerned, they've sold out and lost much of my respect for them. This was an excellent book, a film with so much potential and well-done until the final scene, and then everything's just blown up like the infamous "everything was a dream" scene on Dallas. It's still a film worth seeing, but be prepared for a real bummer of an ending.

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Dreamgirls



Movie: Dreamgirls

I really didn't know what to expect of this; I had little interest even though it had a good reviews and I'm not anti-musical. But it turned out to be pretty good. I wasn't that into the music -- most of the songs were rather anonymous, though a couple were excellent -- but I really liked the story, about a group of female singers and their rise to fame and manipulation by unscrupulous others. The character development was well-done. I also liked the way some of the same songs were presented in different styles by different characters. I'm not a musician and it was fascinating to see the way the same songs can be modified to sound so different.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dreaming in Code



Book: Dreaming in Code
Writer(s): Scott Rosenberg

This is a book about a "failed" software venture. It reads like a novel, telling about how Mitch Kapor (Lotus 1-2-3 inventor) formed an open source foundation with the vague goal of creating the ultimate information manager, discovered that was a lot more difficult than it seemed, and three years later they're barely out with a 0.5 release. It's a fascinating read about the difficulties of software creation, looking throughout history and comparing software development to fields like architecture, art, and engineering. Unfortunately, though an interesting read, the book fails to provide any conclusions, and the dramatic story of Kapor's company doesn't end, it just peters out, since Rosenberg didn't want to wait several more years until Kapor's software is actually released. A bit disappointing in that respect, but as long as you aren't expecting a resolution to the story, it's a wonderful intellectual read that will have you asking a lot of questions about how we develop software.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2000

The Dreamlife of Angels



Movie: The Dreamlife of Angels

Weird French movie. Not weird because anything usual happens, but because it's just a movie of filmed life, which is rather boring. The "story" is about a young woman with no money arriving at a strange town and finding work, a place to live, makes friends, etc. Rather pedestrian, though it tries hard to be a bit profound in places (I didn't fall for it, though -;). At least the French, like everything else, was fairly routine and understandable. Unfortunately, subtitles of languages I can understand drive me nuts because they are so inaccurate: why can't movie people get good translators? Overall, an okay film, but rather long, and nothing much happens until the very, very end (and then it was something I expected at about the one hour mark).

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Thursday, October 12, 2000

Dreamscape



Movie: Dreamscape (1983)

Cool early-80's flick about a scientific experiment to allow psychics to enter into the dreams of another person. Of course the big bad evil government gets involved and tries to use the technique as a weapon. Fun, with an all-star cast (even those with minor roles are famous today, like "Norm" from Cheers). I rewatched it with the DVD commentary, which was excellent (older films tend to have better commentary as time and distance give better perspective).

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Sunday, September 17, 2000

Drive Me Crazy



Movie: Drive Me Crazy

Teen movie about... well, about teens. I never could quite figure out the plot, as it seemed to change throughout the film (loosely it's "good girl bribes bad boy to be her date and they fall in love for real"). Quite derivative in every way. More or less harmless, though. Not half as good as an Eighties classic like Can't Buy Me Love (which it superficially resembles).

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Friday, October 19, 2001

Driver



Movie: Driver

Pointless drivel about race car drivers. Confusing if you're not a race car fan -- I couldn't even figure out what was going on! The special effects were impressive, though obviously digital. The non-race "character drama" stuff was just lame.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Drop Dead Gorgeous



Movie: Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Writer(s): Lona Williams
Director(s): Michael Patrick Jann

In what country do they show these movies? This was a cool movie, but I don't remember ever seeing it on theatre marquees. I liked this a lot. It was a satire of beauty pageants, set in a tiny town in Minnesota (with everyone speaking with Fargo accents). It was clever, though not brilliant, with good performances. Like all satires, uneven, but occasionally hilarious. All-in-all a pleasant little comedy (dark in places, but I love black comedy).

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Drunken Master



Movie: Drunken Master

A fun, rather silly early Jackie Chan film about a young kid (Chan) who is undisciplined and trouble. Though his father is a Kung Fu master and the boy's skilled, he's assigned a new master who toughens him through a year of harsh discipline and training and eventually turns the boy into a master at Kung Fu. The twist is the new master is an old drunk and appears to be incapable of anything, but turns out to be an amazing fighter, and he teaches the boy his "drunken" style of fighting (which is the most powerful of all forms of fighting). Pretty good, with glimpses of Chan's signature style, but there are a lot of meaningless side fights that don't move the story along and are rather boring. Ultimately, the best parts of the film are the story and the awkward relationship between student and master and not the fighting, which seems a repetitive and occasionally goes on too long.

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Friday, August 5, 2005

Dukes of Hazard



Movie: Dukes of Hazard

I was embarrassed to buy a ticket for this movie, but there wasn't anything else new out. I kinda wanted to see how it compared to the TV show, which I remember. I was expecting horror, but actually, it wasn't that bad. Yeah, there is unnecessary language, and a few other crudities not on the TV show, but it really did capture the spirit of the original show in most ways (especially the narrator and occasionally mid-action pause) and was more fun than I expected. Casting wasn't as poor as I expected, though I still like the TV show actors better (especially Sherrif Rosco and both of the Duke boys). Jessica Simpson as Daisy wasn't that bad (certainly cute), but as to her acting skills... ahem... let's just say this role stretched her to her limits. (Yes, she actually seems out of her depth!) As to the story, well, the series was never an intellectual exercise, and the movie follows suit: it's just another mad plan by Boss Hogg the Dukes have to foil (this one involving strip-mining Hazard County and a road race). Basically, just forget the plot and enjoy the hammy acting, silly jokes, car crashes and jumps, and cool TV show references. It's not much beyond an episode of the show, but if you can get over your embarrassment, it's kinda fun.

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Saturday, May 8, 2004

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd



Movie: Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd

Well the first movie was crude but funny. This movie tried honestly in a few places, but in general was just dumb. Some of the verbal "dumb" jokes were clever but so quick they were easy to miss, and the dumbness of the plot just didn't help matters. Not a needed sequel and it shows.

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Sunday, April 23, 2000

Dune



Movie: Dune

Gets better every time I see it. Incredible visuals and amazingly compact story for such an epic novel. It's so compact I can see how on first viewing you think it left out tons from the book, but it really didn't. Might be confusing to people who haven't read the book -- watch it more than once to understand all the nuances. A classic.

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Thursday, October 3, 2002

Dungeons and Dragons



Movie: Dungeons and Dragons

What can I say? I'd heard rumors this was bad, and within the first five minutes I had that dreadful feeling that this was indeed a stinker. Fortunately, it had a couple moments that weren't completely awful, but in general this film was one of the worst I've ever endured. The acting -- or I should say overacting -- was terrible. Shockingly bad. I've seen better acting in gradeschool Christmas pageants. Jeremy Irons, who should have brought a touch of class to things, just looked hopelessly overwhelmed and out of it, as though he was heavily drugged. A better script could have been written by a two-year-old. All the actors seemed to struggle with the bad material, and I got the definite impression that in several scenes the actors were just rushing through their lines as quickly as possible to get this mistake over with. The main focus of the film seemed to be the "incredible" digital effects. Well, even those were lame. We only get to see digital dragons a couple times, and they look incredibly... digital. The DVD I'd rented was so scratched the ending wouldn't play and I didn't even care. Unless you really hate someone, don't let your friends watch this braindead turkey.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Duplex



Movie: Duplex
Director(s): Danny Devito

Another black comedy from the director who brought us Throw Mama From the Train (I liked it, but I love black comedies). Like most of these kinds of films it's uneven, but it has some really funny moments. Overall I liked it, especially the ending, but unfortunately the tone of the film feels negative. It's not always fun to watch because so many bad things happen it feels like it's too much. The basic plot is this: a young couple buy a duplex but because of rent control, they can't kick out the old woman upstairs. She seems innocent and harmless, but she drives them crazy and makes their life miserable. Eventually they actually plot to kill her, but even that fails. It's a neat idea -- the ineptitude of failing to kill a harmless old woman is hilarious -- but so much of the film is dark and depressing you want to turn it off before the end. Too bad, because it has some funny parts and the hilarious ending explains everything. Black comedy fans will like this; others may have reservations.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Duplicity



Movie: Duplicity

What's cool about this movie is also what's yucky about this movie. Basically it's a film about a spy couple who can't trust each other (someone at the theatre said it reminded them of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and that's a good comparison, though that one was more action-oriented and this one is more cerebral and more like a con or scam film). That lack of trust is humorous and fascinating, as we are never sure what's really going on: who is conning who? But that lack of knowledge is also what makes the film frustrating, since nothing is revealed until the very end. While that ending is good, the film still feels aggravating and tedious at times, and the endless plotting and mysteries within riddles within enigmas gets tiresome at about the halfway point. To make matters worse, about half the film is flashbacks, so the director is purposely withholding information from us, making us believe (assume) something, and then pulling the rug from under us later with a flashback that reveals the truth. This means that we, the audience, is being conned as well, which is not a pleasant feeling (especially when it happens several times in a row). While the dialog and performances are excellent, and the plotting is clever at times, I did not enjoy this as well as say, the Ocean's movies, where the unexpected happens but we can at least see where the story is going. Here we know some kind of scam is in the works, but we don't know any details, and with everyone on screen lying, there's is nothing in the story to ground us. In a way this is brilliant, as the film demonstrates empirically the lessons it shows visually, but in practice it's not fun to endure. While I enjoyed this with my head at times, my heart was not in it.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Dutch: Ajax at PSV Eindhoven



Soccer: Dutch: Ajax at PSV Eindhoven

These are the two biggest clubs in Holland. The battle started off with a lot of battling, but about fifteen minutes in a mistake put Ajax's Machlas in good position and he chipped it over the keeper, who was helplessly off his line. Ajax got a second minutes later, but it was called back for offside. The game got very physical late in the half as PSV really pressed forward, but they couldn't score. The scrapiest continued in the second half, but it was all the way to the 78th minute before PSV could equalize on a penalty kick (which Ajax keeper Grimes almost saved). Seconds later, Machlas could have put Ajax ahead again, but his shot went inches wide of the post. In a strange play toward the end of the game when PSV could have gone ahead, a PSV player got hit in the back of the head with the ball and was knocked out cold! I've never seen that before. He was fine after a couple minutes, but it was strange. Final: 1-1.

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Monday, November 6, 2000

Dutch: Ajax at Willem II



Soccer: Dutch: Ajax at Willem II

Willem dominated in the early part of the game, but Ajax struck in the 11th minute. Machlas' low grounder was going wide of the goal, but it was just outside of the keeper's reacher. Brazilian winger Wamberto ran onto it and amazingly put it in from the end line, just over the diving keeper's fingers. After that, except for the occasional counter-attack, Willem was on their heels as Ajax pressed forward. In the second half, Willem really tried, and had the superior play, but couldn't capitalize. They had numerous chances, but either the shots went wild or Ajax's Grimm made the key stop (he had several nice saves). And that was it: 1-0 Ajax, for their first win on the road this season.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Dutch: De Graafschap at Ajax



Soccer: Dutch: De Graafschap at Ajax

The Brazilian Wamberto got things going for Ajax in the sixth minute on a great through-ball that put him one-on-one with the keeper, and he didn't miss his chance. Then Viscaal put in an amazing blast from the top of the arc to equalize in the 32nd minute. You'd have thought the stronger Ajax would have won easily, but it took a lot of work for them to move ahead. de Graafschap gave up a series of free kicks and corner kicks that culminated in a penalty kick for Ajax, which Chivu put away. Then Ajax took over, with a great goal by Van Der Gun on a ball played over the top of the defense. Van Der Gun got his second moments later on a blast inside the box. That was it: 4-1 Ajax, in a well-deserved win.

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Saturday, November 18, 2000

Dutch: FC Ultrecht at Roda JC



Soccer: Dutch: FC Ultrecht at Roda JC

A fairly even first half, though Roda dominated and had several point blank shots that missed (including a miss on an open net that was scandalous). I thought the second half was going to be more of the same, but ten minutes in Ultrecht's terrible defense left Lawal alone in the box. He took a nice pass and put it away. A beautiful play, but really poor marking by Ultrecht. Ultrecht fought back, getting some free kick opportunities, and then on a corner kick a player centered the ball with an overhead kick which Dombi nicely headed into the goal. The even battle continued until seven minutes left when Van Der Luer's free kick bounced off a man on the wall to deflect into the goal. Ultrecht had their chance with seconds left, but their shot went into the side netting. That was it: 2-1 Roda.

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Monday, November 20, 2000

Dutch: Feyenoord at NEC Nijmegen



Soccer: Dutch: Feyenoord at NEC Nijmegen

I'd never even heard of Nijemegen, so I figured mighty Feyenoord had it in the bag, and I was right. Feyenoord had most of the offense in the early going, and a great cross in the 25th minute was mistakenly knocked in by the Nijemegen defense. Ten minutes later Emerton was left unmarked with the ball. He was a good distance from the goal, but he chipped the keeper perfectly, putting Feyenoord up by two. In the second half, Emerton was awesome: he took the ball at mid-field and ran through the entire defense and single-handedly put the ball into the goal! A bit later, Nijmegen did a little damage control with a header off a corner kick to cut the lead to two. But that was all they could do, so the game finished, as predicted, with Feyenoord easily winning.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Dutch: Feyenoord at Utrecht



Soccer: Dutch: Feyenoord at Utrecht

A top- versus bottom-of-the-table clash, Feyenoord was expected to dominate, but a terrific dribbling play got Utrecht the first goal by Dombi. Feyenoord really pressed after that, getting some opportune free kicks and corners, but failed to convert. But in the second half, Feyenoord came out kicking. African player Kalou did an amazing thing: in the penalty area he received the ball at his foot by a throw in, somehow muscled off the defender on his back, turned, and put in a low shot that went past two defenders and the keeper! Amazing goal, almost put in by sheer will alone. Kalou almost got another in the 64th minute, but hit it into the side netting. For the final twenty minutes, Utrecht put on some impressive, determined pressure, all heart, but it was for naught. Final: 1-1.

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Sunday, October 22, 2000

Dutch: Heerenveen at Feyenoord



Soccer: Dutch: Heerenveen at Feyenoord

Feyenoord got things off to a roaring start with several excellent chances in the first few minutes that culminated in a terrific curving strike from seventeen-year-old Brazilian phenom Leonardo. Heerenveen had only a few chances the entire match, and none of them really threatened, while Feyenoord continued to dominate with near misses and blocked shots. In the second half they scored again, with most of the work being done by Leonardo, but the scrapes being picked up by a teammate, who put the ball in the net. Final: 2-0 Feyenoord.

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Friday, October 20, 2000

Dutch: Roda at Ajax



Soccer: Dutch: Roda at Ajax

Only my second Dutch League game, I'm still adjusting. I find my interest level low going in, but once the game gets going, I can get into it. I suppose that's just normal. I don't know the teams or the players, so everything's foreign. I was interested in this game because Amsterdam's Ajax is so famous (pronounced "aye-axe", btw), but their star has been fading lately and they're in 9th spot this season. But they came out big against Roda, scoring at the mid-way point and again on a clear penalty kick late in the first half. In the second half the game got fun as Roda became desperate and Ajax just toyed with them, easily scoring two more times. Roda managed to scramble one goal back, and then got a stumbler in the final seconds. Final: 4-2 Ajax.

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Sunday, October 15, 2000

Dutch: Sparta Rottenberg vs. Feyenoord



Soccer: Dutch: Sparta Rottenberg vs. Feyenoord

Fox Sports World is now carrying the Dutch league (I sure hope this does not mean the demise of them airing German soccer, one of my favorites). The Dutch league isn't quite as respected as other European leagues, but it's a good league, especially for such a small country. I've wished many times the league was broadcast here in the U.S. It's going to take me time to learn about all the teams and players and figure out what's going on. Feyenoord started this off with a penalty kick goal in the first half, but underdog Sparta quickly came back with their own terrific goal with five minutes left. After half time, the score stayed the same until late in the game when suddenly Feyenoord came alive with two goals within five minutes, and then put in another right at the end to really stamp their authority on the game. Final: 4-1, Feyenoord.

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Sunday, November 5, 2000

Dutch: Twente Enschede at PSV Eindhoven



Soccer: Dutch: Twente Enschede at PSV Eindhoven

Once again, the big club dominates, with PSV scoring by Ramzi ten minutes in. In the second half Twente hit the post and the rebound turned into a great counter in which Twente's keeper had to make a terrific save. But in minute 66 a poor clearance from Twente on a corner kick and the Finn Kolkka made a great trap for his first touch, and scored with the second. That was all the scoring, though the game had some good action, injuries, and yellow cards. Final: 2-0 PSV.

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Thursday, November 2, 2000

Dutch: Vitesse Arbgen at PSV Einhoven



Soccer: Dutch: Vitesse Arbgen at PSV Einhoven

Two good teams clash with passion and vigor. PSV started things off with a terrific goal from Finn Kolkka in the 10th minute -- he dribbled through the heart of the defense and put in a cracker shot that went through the legs of a defender and beat the keeper. Vitesse struggled hard, but could do nothing, and finally in the 90th minute PSV scored another. A shot was saved amazingly by the Vitesse keeper, but the rebound went to the dreaded Kolkka, who finished it with class and finesse. Final: 2-0 PSV.

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Tuesday, December 14, 1999

DVD Player



Hey, my DVD player arrived today! I've been watching DVDs on my Powerbook. It's great to have that feature, and the portability's unmatched, but it's awkward for connecting to the TV and the software's sometimes glitchy and slow. So I bit the bullet and bought myself an early Christmas present: a home theatre system. If you haven't tried DVD yet, do so. There's no going back. The picture is unbelievably clear, even an on old TV like mine. DVDs have twice the resolution of VHS videotapes, plus there's no rewinding! Most DVDs have extra content (director's commentary, making of featurettes, delete scenes, music videos, etc.), too. I also like the fact that since they are the same size as CDs, they take up a lot less space! (Come see my tiny house, which is filled from floor to ceiling with videotapes and you'll understand. One of these days I want to put my movie collection on my website. I suspect I'm approaching 1500 movies by now.) But DVDs are also about sound: they include Dolby Digital surround sound, just like you get in the movie theatre! Surround sound is amazing -- it really puts you in the middle of the action. It changes the whole movie experience.

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