Friday, July 24, 2009


Movie: G-Force

Arguably the silliest movie of the year, about guinea pigs that are FBI agents, but you know what? I still liked it. It's fun and dumb and the plot is too ludicrous for words, but who cares? It's a summer popcorn flick for kids and there's nothing wrong with that. The special effects and talking guinea pigs are well-done, and there a number of unique and innovative moments. I'm still shocked the idiotic plot got approved (Coffee makers that come to life? Huh?) but just put your brain on hold and enjoy the goofy spectacle.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Book: Galapagos
Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut

This is a fascinating book on several levels. The main one is how it is written: the narrator is writing from a million years in the future as he has watched mankind's evolution from "big brained" creatures into simple-minded otters. The joke is that this is a huge improvement, because instead of using our big brains to steal and cheat and invent atom bombs, we evolve into simple creatures with simple needs and everyone's the better for it. Kurt does a number of unusual things from a writing perspective, including foreshadowing which characters will soon die by putting an asterix next to their names. These techniques make the first half of the book amazing, as we follow a motley crew of people and catch glimmers of how they are the future of the human race without knowing exactly how that will happen. Unfortunately, this technique fails in the later part of the book where we already know what's going to happen and the denouement is boring and feels like it goes on forever. The early parts of the novel are brilliant, however, and more than make up for the weaker conclusion. I love Kurt's wit and sarcasm, especially the way he mocks how our "big brains" get us into trouble. The plot is also terrific, as we learn the remarkable way an unusual set of people end up stranded on the Galapagos Islands and become the future of the human race. It's fun and fascinating, and highly recommended.


Monday, December 27, 1999

Galaxy Quest

Movie: Galaxy Quest (1999)
Writer(s): David Howard VI
Director(s): Dean Parisot

Silly movie that pokes fun at the Star Trek phenomena. The story's basically that the cast of Star Trek-like TV show are taken by aliens to help fight against their enemy, not realizing the people are just actors. Well-done, with a few choice gags, but not especially memorable. Better than most one-joke premises.


Saturday, July 29, 2000

Galaxy Quest (rewatch)

Movie: Galaxy Quest (rewatch)

I watched Galaxy Quest again, this time on DVD. This movie just gets better with each viewing. The DVD's cool, with some nice deleted scenes and stuff. Recommended.


Thursday, December 14, 2000


Movie: Galipoli
Director(s): Peter Weir

Excellent "war" movie without much war. Instead of focusing on the horrors of war, this film focuses on the characters, allowing us to get to know them for over an hour before they go into battle. The effect is excellent. Instead of numbing our minds to continual images of violence and horror, we relax as young boys play soldier and have fun, only to have the reality of war arrive as vivid and horrid shock. Dramatic, well photographed, interesting, and best of all, minimal war stuff. Really good.


Saturday, September 20, 2008


Movie: Gambit

Amusing little Michael Caine/Shirly Maclaine vechicle from the 1970s, where he plays a thief trying to steal a stature from the richest guy in the world and brings her alone to help him with his scam. Some nice moments and some unexpected twists.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

Movie: Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

I wanted to like this as the "chess master loses to computer" topic fascinates, but it's one of the worst documentary's I've ever seen. Things go bad from the opening, when the narrator speaks in a horrible harsh whisper that's so faint I had to pump up the volume to hear him and even then a lot of what he said was inaudible (and oh, the film has no subtitles or closed caption support). It just gets worse from there. Throughout the film time is confused: we aren't sure if the scenes are history or current. Some of the recent footage is dreary: scenes of Kasparov standing in a hotel room where the big match took place years earlier and remembering mundane details like "There was a table over there." are just pointless and boring. There is some good chess info, and interviews of the IBM programming team edge on perceptive, but unfortunately Kasparov himself, despite being heavily featured throughout, remains an enigma. Apparently he beat himself in the big loss (the machine didn't win, Kasparov lost), but the why is never revealed though that's the core question of the film. Very strange. I came away not knowing much more than I started with, which is not a good sign for a documentary. And there are lots of irrelevant stylistic techniques the film employs to gratuitous effect, such as the overly dramatic shots of the "Turk" (a famous manniquin chess-playing machine from centuries ago), which are confusing and never enlightening. The bottom line: the film's a muddle. You'd do better to read a good article on the topic.


Friday, September 4, 2009


Movie: Gamer

I wasn't too excited about this as the premise of criminals competing in death games seemed tired, but it had a big cast and seemed like it might be fun. Unfortunately, it takes itself far too seriously which is even more laughable considering the illogical concept of regular people controlling real people as pawns in war games. (Why would anyone agree to participate in a game in which you might die when your fate lies in some unknown controller's hands? And why is the public celebrating the pawn when he has nothing to do with the victory? Incomprehensible.) Another problem is the weird chop-editing and hand-held camera action. It reminded me a lot of Crank except without the fun, and in this film, that style clashed with the somber tone. Turns out, the film was made by the Crank guys, so that explains that. But while that one was fun, this one was dreary.


Thursday, January 16, 2003

Gangs of New York

Movie: Gangs of New York
Director(s): Martin Scorsese

Finally, a Scorsese film I can really like! (I've never been a big Scorsese fan. Shocking, I know.) This is an incredible film. And I say that as someone who doesn't like ganster, gang, or Civil War films. Yes, it is violent and difficult to watch at times, but the violence is all to make a point and paint a picture of how society was at that time. The story is "simple:" in the mid-1800s, a young man in New York seeks revenge against the gang boss who murdered his father. But the backdrop is a complex mess of racism, immigration policies, politics, religion, slavery, and a Civil War that divides not just the country, but New York as well. When you reflect that all this is happening in a brand new country less than a century old, you really feel the future of the U.S. hanging in the balance. Scorsese (and the script) do an amazing job of making all that complicated history understandable (much better than other "historical" films which assume you know the history) without lecturing or oversimplifying. Scorsese cleverly hints at the complexity, giving us glimpses, without trying to actually explain everything in detail (which would no doubt require several documentaries). This gives us entertainment mixed with a little education instead of the other way around. An excellent example is the intercut prayer scene: we watch as the main character, main bad guy, and a rich family each pray. All are sincere, all believe God is on their side, and yet we sense that disaster is about to befall them. This series of images is powerful, complicated, and thought-provoking. Very cool. Scorsese does a lot of simple imagery, camera movement, and very effectively tells a powerful story. (I liked the way he filmed the horrific battle scenes, not really showing that much gore, but implying it with quick flashes of alarmed faces. I will nitpick one detail, however: at least one battling couple in the opening fight appeared to be dancing than fighting. They were just tapping each other the shoulder with their clubs!)

In terms of performances, I must again put forth my vote for Daniel Day-Lewis as the greatest actor ever in the history of cinema. The guy is just amazing (he was my primary motivation to see this film). He never misses. Just flawless. The way he becomes a character is frightening. While I like Leonardo and Cameron Diaz, they're lightweights compared to Daniel. In the trailers I was cringing at some of their scenes, but that was just because they were out of context: in the film they're both fine. Their charisma does come through and their fight-slash-love scene is some terrific cinema (surely they had to hurt each other filming that). In general everything felt so authentic that I really fell for all the characters, sympathizing and hating, which is exactly what a good film is supposed to do.

This was just a great film. It was frightening, humorous, passionate, educational, historical, dramatic, and profound without being artsy or pretentious. It is long, but it doesn't feel like there's much that could be cut out. The final scenes showing old New York become modern-day New York were amazing: I'd love to study those images. I especially liked that Scorsese included the Twin Towers in the modern shot, rather than removing it the way so many recent films have done. To me that added a powerful message that history is real, and just like the Twin Towers not being part of the NY skyline any more, we can't see the blood on the streets left by the millions of people that built the city. Wow.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Garden of Beasts

Book: Garden of Beasts
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

Really enjoyable little twister. Unlike most WWII novels, this one was set before the war, during the Olympics in Germany in 1936 (where Jesse Owens won). The main character's a mob hit man in New York who's blackmailed by shady government types into going to Germany to kill a particular Nazi leader (not Hitler -- everyone felt he was so radical his reign wouldn't last long) who was the brains behind the throne. It's a wild and intriguing story, with an unusual setting, and a cool, twisting plot. Worth the read.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Garden State

Movie: Garden State
Writer(s): Zach Braff
Director(s): Zach Braff

Terrific, lovely film about a troubled slacker trying to figure out life. He seems like a typical loser at first, strangely distant when learning of his mother's death early in the film, but we gradually learn that his psychiatrist father has had him medicated since he was a child. Returning home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral, he rebells against his father and stops taking his medications, beginning to feel life the first time. He then meets an oddly charming girl, a compulsive liar fantastically portrayed by Natalie Portman in one of her best roles, with her own quirky family. The two form a bond that grows throughout the film, deepening to love. Astonishingly well-written, sensitive, funny, charming, and sweet, this is a great story -- two hurt people find love in a painful world -- beautifully and honestly told. The characters are well-defined and realistic, and the story retains enough grit and dirt to remain hip and modern and therefore be sincere without smaltzy saccharine romantic silliness. Fun, fascinating, and moving. A must-see.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Garfield: The Movie

Movie: Garfield: The Movie

Not as bad as I expected, but strangely flat. The cat's commentary and jokes aren't funny, and the plot -- the cat trying to save the dog -- isn't engaging or dramatic. The humans are just cartoons, not fleshed out enough for us to care. The whole thing adds up to sheer boredom.


Sunday, September 19, 1999

The Genesis Code

Book: The Genesis Code (1997)
Writer(s): John Case

I picked this up at a used bookstore; it seemed familiar. A while back I'd heard the author talk on KGO radio and his premise sounded intriguing -- creating a clone of Jesus by using DNA from hair and other "genuine" artifacts of the Church. Okay, I've just ruined the book for you. This is a one-joke book, and it's really annoying. You literally do not find out the key detail -- what I just told you -- until the last few pages of the book! It's lame, because from page one there are hints and mysteries and shadows but the author "cleverly" refuses to divulge what is happening. He does this poorly, by giving us a selective narrator. Instead of having a character talk to another with dialog, revealing the secret to us, he basically writes, "The man told him the secret and he was horrified." So you spend the whole book trying to figure out this great secret as characters do mysterious things and others kill and run and search -- but you don't have the faintest idea why any of this is happening! (Or why you should care.) Of course, in my case, I knew (or had a vague idea), so all the cloak-and-dagger was doubly annoying. I was hoping for a book that explored the religious and ethic impact of such a cloning -- what a fantastic idea -- but instead all I got was a routine mystery/spy/action novel with nothing new until the last page, and then, after dropping the bombshell, it ended. As a routine thriller; its not bad, though not as good as say, Ken Follett. Just don't set your expectations high, like I did.


Friday, April 11, 2003

A German Requiem

Book: A German Requiem
Writer(s): Philip Kerr

Finally Kerr's done it! I'm going to have to check out his earlier novels, because they're obviously better. This one is fascinating. It's set in Germany a few years after WWII, when the country was being occupied by the Allies (U.S., Soviet Union, France, etc.). This was especially interesting reading now, as the world contemplates a new Iraq. Germany after the war was a mess, with people starving and the black market practically the only way to get anything. In the middle of this hotbed Kerr sets a murder investigation. The hero's a former German police officer who's now a private investigator. The plot's incredibly intricate, so I won't explain much of it here, but let's just say he uncovers a conspiracy that involves the U.S. and Russian governments and Nazis who survived the war taking on new identities. While complicated (perhaps overly so), it's fascinating. Kerr is in top mode here, with excellent writing. His use of intricate detail is used here to paint a world for us, not impress us with his five-syllable vocabulary. Wonderfully written, suspenseful, and really makes the world of 1947 come alive. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Get Carter

Movie: Get Carter

This film is like a fuse being lit and slowing burning toward a grand explosion. It's a revenge flick of a ganster (Michael Caine) who's brother has died. He goes to the town to poke around and find out what happened and slowly uncovers a complex series of backstabbing gangsters, whores, and murderers, and then he instigates his revenge. Unlike a lot of modern action films which supply massive quantities of constant violence, this one doses it out only as needed, and thus it provides the appropriate shock value. Similar to Payback and Mad Max. The ending's a bit unexpected.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Get Smart

Movie: Get Smart

This is one of those films that could be great or mediocre, but fortunately this one is more the former. It's very funny and fun and well-done, with the character of Maxwell Smart perfectly running the borderline between idiotic stupidity and idiotic genius. It's also different enough from the TV series to be new and interesting, yet similar enough to be enjoyable by old fans. Two thumbs up.


Friday, December 29, 2000

The Getaway

Movie: The Getaway
Director(s): Sam Peckinpaw

Excellent actioner, with lots of tension and violence. Steve McQueen is awesome as a paroled convict released to do a bank robbery (the parole board was bribed). Of course everything goes wrong, with his friends attempting to do him in, and it's up to him and his wife (Ali MacGraw) to escape both the bad guys and the cops. I saw the remake a few years ago and though it wasn't bad, this was way, way better. Why remake such a great film? I'm definitely going to have to check out the original Thomas Crown Affair (also staring McQueen and remade recently).


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Getting Things Done

Book: Getting Things Done (2001)
Writer(s): David Allen

For a while now I've been hearing about this book. A lot of computer programmers are into it and aspects of it -- like the whole "Inbox Zero" concept -- are catching on worldwide. I finally had to check it out. It is extremely impressive. The writing itself is fairly routine, and the book rambles and repeats more than I'd like, but the overall concept is brilliant. Basically Allen starts with the premise that keeping track of projects in your head is a terrible idea because while your conscious mind forgets things, your subconscious does not. Consciously you might forget that you promised to trim the roses or sort those tax receipts or schedule your annual eye doctor appointment, but your subconscious knows and worries and frets in the background. Ever have one of those days (or weeks or months) where you feel like you worked hard and were busy and got nothing done? Or have you ever found it difficult or impossible to relax and watch a movie or something because you felt guilty and depressed about all this vague "stuff" you needed to be doing? Well, that's your subconscious at work, reminding you of all the things you have left unfinished. I'm extremely guilty of this and I've felt like crap about work for a few years now. There are just so many projects I start and want to do, but it's hard to keep up with everything. It's so easy to let things slip and get behind and then projects feel like mountains. Allen has some great tips on coping with these problems. There's nothing earth-shattering about these ideas: most are simple things like filing papers away, having a systematic structure to your workflow and life, etc., but what's different about Allen's approach is he reveals the benefits of being organized. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and crappy because you're so far behind on things, imagine feeling refreshed, revived, energized, creative, and inspired. That's what happens when you're organized.

Now most of us have tried to be organized, but we fail, and Allen covers the reasons for these failures. For instance, have you ever made the same "To Do" lists over and over, rewriting the list for a new day after you didn't finish most of those things the previous day? Well that happens because we don't know how to make proper To Do lists. First, To Do items (which Allen calls "Action" items) don't go on a calendar (are not tied to day) unless they really are date/time dependent. Calendars are sacred for date/time related events. Regular To Do items (action items) need to go on your Action Lists, and here Allen has another simple but brilliant idea: you separate your Actions into categories based on the type of task. For instance, have a "Calls" list, an "Emails" list, a "At Home" list, an "At Work" list, an "At Computer" list, etc. This makes much more sense than grouping unrelated tasks together at random on a traditional "To Do" list. This way when you find you're at the auto shop with 20 minutes to kill while your oil is changed or your colleague called and will be a few minutes late for a meeting, you can pull out your "Calls" list and make a few quick phone calls. You basically can match your environment and your energy level with your tasks. Haven't you ever been exhausted and though you just wanted to crash, but felt guilty because you knew there was work to be done but the thought of the huge project was too much to tackle right then? With David's system, if you looked at your list and saw you just needed to send a quick email or check a website for some information or make a phone call, you might decide you've got enough energy to do that, and thus the project moves forward a little.

Another great example of the practical nature of David's system is by grouping tasks by type you are able to only look at the tasks that are physically possible right now. If you are at a restaurant waiting for a date to show, it's not like you can be doing filing at the office. But you might be able to make some calls or send an email (if you have an email-capable phone). David suggests you create an "Errands" list, which I find incredibly helpful. Here you put every kind of errand you need to do at some point: stop at the bank, go to the post office, pick up light bulbs, groceries, refill the BBQ's propane tank, get a prescription at the pharmacy, etc. By grouping the errands and checking the list before you go out, you'll see efficiencies and make several stops in one trip instead of multiple trips. Haven't you ever gone out and gotten home only to realize you didn't pick up the dry cleaning right next door to where you just were?

All of David's ideas are simple, but the benefits are dramatic. The key is that he's very honest about how completely you must devote yourself to your system. If you rely on your brain to remember things, it will know it can't be trusted and will do things to remind you, like leaving things out instead of putting them away. Don't you do that? I have a paper on my coffee table right now that's been sitting there for over a month. It's there to remind me to make a phone call, but I have not done it. I only notice the paper at weird times, like at night, when I can't make the call. And the paper adds clutter and chaos to my home. Wouldn't it make more sense to file the paper away and add the call item to my action lists?

This is a terrific book and it has inspired me. I'm tackling my own home/life reorg of massive proportions. More on that in a future update!


Friday, January 21, 2000

Ghost in the Shell

Movie: Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Writer(s): Kazunori Ito
Director(s): Mamoru Oshii

I've never seen any Japanese anime, but this caught my eye at the video store and I rented the DVD. Supposedly a classic, I discovered the critics were correct: I watched it again on Sunday! Stop thinking of Saturday morning cartoons -- this is what I would call "live action animation." It's realistic in every category: wonderful artwork, dramatic camerawork, thoughtful characters, and an amazing story. It's got action and violence (it's definitely not a kid's film) combined with a fascinating science fiction story. The term "ghost" is analogous to the soul -- in this future world people are part computer (cyborgs), and your ghost refers to the part of yourself that is human. So the debate begins: what makes a human human? With enough electronic parts is a human a machine? With enough data could a computer be considered human? Fascinating.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Movie: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Surprisingly complex and interesting sequel. I wasn't expecting much and I'd heard that this wasn't as good, but I liked it. It's different -- lots of philosophical talk about humanity versus machine, machines having souls, etc. In the end the story's not quite as compelling as the first (there's a little too much exposition and obscurity seems to be a substitute for actual complexity), but overall it's much better than most American films and has a lot of incredible animation.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Ghost Rider

Movie: Ghost Rider

Strange film about a biker who sells his soul to the Devil and becomes the Devil's Bounty Hunter, whatever that means. It's visually different -- a night the rider has a flaming skull -- but the whole thing's rather meaningless, with an incomprehensible and feeble "legend" supposedly explaining everything. There are some fun moments with the casting and the performances are decent enough, but the story is so flimsy as to be see-through, and we aren't sure if the rider's a good guy or not, since he gets his powers from the Devil and apparently must do his bidding. Though the ending kind of explains that and sets up sequels, it's a bit too late. Overall it's mildly entertaining but it only wants to be innovative (or thinks it is).


Monday, June 24, 2002

Ghost World

Movie: Ghost World

Nothing like what I was expecting. The key flaw: promoting this as a film made from a comic book. That sets up a certain kind of expectation. If I'd known the comic, of course, that wouldn't have mattered, but I didn't, and I wasn't sure what to expect throughout the movie. Basically, this is an existential angst teen flick. It reminds me a lot of black comedies like Heathers, though this isn't dark. It's more like a serious comedy. The story is about two unique high school girls who graduate and prepare to take on the world. They have a weird sense of humor and opinions about everything. Slowly the girls drift apart, as one becomes more normal and tries to fit in with society (gets a job, an apartment, etc.), while the other continues to rebel against normalacy. She falls for a strange guy, a record collector who claims he can't relate to 99% of humanity. It's basically about her trying to figure out who she is and what she's doing on this planet. Ultimately, the film asks more questions than it answers, and the humor tends to dilute the message instead of expanding upon it. Still, it's a good view. It's the kind of film that gets better with each viewing. The first time you may not completely like or understand it, but with each subsequent viewing you'll like it more and more.


Friday, August 7, 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra

Movie: GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra

One of the most ridiculous films I have seen, and yet, you know what? I was not bored. The plot is ludicrous, especially the way so many of the main characters on both sides of the battle are interlinked. (A random soldier just happens to be the ex-fiance of the bad girl attacking his caravan? Come on.) The dialogue is pathetic, the special effects obviously digital and excessive, and the high tech battle equipment makes James Bond's gadget lab seem 17th century. And yet... I had fun. I am loath to admit it, actually, but despite all the flaws, this was somehow still entertaining. I doubt I'd want to waste two hours on a rewatch, nor can I actually recommend something so blatantly awful, and yet, if you're game, you might get some fun out of this. The film is so gleefully silly and slight, the actors all absurdly beautiful and buff, and some of the sights are definitely new and unique that it all somehow works (on a very limited level, yes, but it does work). Certainly not worth anything close to its reported $175 million budget, but surprisingly better than I expected.


Sunday, September 22, 2002

The Gift

Movie: The Gift (2000)
Writer(s): Billy Bob Thornton
Director(s): Sam Raimi

This was a surprisingly cool film. It's set in the south where a woman, Cate Blanchett, is a psychic. Her husband is dead and she's rasing three boys on her own. Much of town thinks she's a witch and ostracizes her. But in truth the "fortunes" she tells are closer to a form of counseling and therapy than ESP. She helps one young man haunted by nightmares of his father which he can't explain. She tells a young woman whose redneck husband beats her to leave, but then the woman's husband, Donnie, threatens her and her family. Then a girl goes missing and it's the psychic who helps locate the body, which just happens to be on Donnie's property, and she's required to testify against him in the trial. But did Donnie really kill the girl? This is a terrific film about people: the "gift" is just a gimmick, a mystery that pervades the story, but the central thing is always the characters. Extremely well-written and directed. Totally worth your time.


Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Gingerbread Man

Movie: The Gingerbread Man

I had hoped for better with a story by John Grisham, but this was strangely uncompelling. For one, it begins much too slowly, and what it develops into is different from how it starts. The story is actually intriguing: a hotshot lawyer finds himself embroiled in conspiracy and intrigue after he meets a girl who's being stalked by her mentally ill father. The lawyer has the man committed, but he escapes and kidnaps the lawyer's kids for revenge... or so the lawyer thinks. Things aren't quite what they seem, and soon he's set up for murder. Great idea, but done too dispassionately -- we're not sure who to root for or what's going on for far too long and in the end we really don't care about anything.


Saturday, November 18, 2000


Movie: Girl

Excellent small independent film about a high school senior finding herself. Dominque Swain (Lolita) plays an intellectual girl who has no identity -- she doesn't know what she wants in life. Everyone around her seems to her to be totally in control of who they are: pretty, talented, focused, etc. Then she becomes obsessed with a local rock star; the irony of such a smart mooning over a silly boy is entertaining, but as her character grows she slowly realizes that not only are others just as lost as she is, but that she isn't as much of a nobody as she thought. Very well done. My favorite thing was Swain's narration: she constantly says one thing in her narration and something completely different in real life, making for profundity and hilarity. (For instance, in one scene, coming home late, she waves to her parents and jovially narrates, "Hi! I'm not a virgin any more!" but then actually says, "Hi!")


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Book: Girl with a Pearl Earring
Writer(s): Tracy Chevalier

Fantastic book. The story is a fiction about the life of a 17th Century maid in Delft, Holland, who posed for Vermeer's famous painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring." What I liked about the book -- besides the amazing detail of a maid's life in Delft, the clash of classes and religions, the wonderful character of Griet, the young maid, the glimpse into the mind of a genius painter -- is the simplicity of the story. Chevalier wisely allows the character to be story and doesn't overcomplicate it with irrelevant subplots or flashy distractions. She's a simple maid and has a simple life. That gives her story strength and makes it all the more remarkable. We relate to her: she's not some ephemeral angel or distant, unknowable beauty. She's human, an ordinary person, with an extraordinary spirit. She's intelligent, kind, and a hard worker who struggles through life just the way we do. It's a remarkable story and told in such an authentic way you have trouble believing it's not factual. Amazing writing. The movie's coming out next month and I can't wait to see it. It sounds like it's awesome and does the book justice.


Wednesday, June 7, 2000

Girl Interrupted

Movie: Girl Interrupted

Really good film. Seemed like it should be talky and boring, but kept my interest. Ironic in that most of the film was good in that it showed there were no pat answers, then it tried to rush in some pat answers for a stilted conclusion. Still, decent overall. I liked it.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Girl Next Door

Movie: The Girl Next Door

Not nearly as raunchy or provocative as the advertising implied, this turned out to be a decent coming-of-age story about a conservative high school senior who falls for the "girl next door" who is a former porn star wanting to go straight. While the film glamorizes the porn industry too much, it does have a good heart and the twist ending is great. Elisha Cuthbert, from TV's 24, is definitely the draw here as the lead, and she's amazing, but everyone else is remarkably well-cast too. Certainly not a deep film, it's far better than most in the teen genre. I don't think it did too well at the box office, but that seems to be mostly due to poor marketing, since the ads implied sex and there really isn't much in the film.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Girl Next Door

Book: The Girl Next Door
Writer(s): Jack Ketchum

Talk about grim: this is an amazing horror book about genuine evil. Worse, it's based on a true story. In a nutshell, a psycho aunt locks up her orphaned 15-year-old niece in the basement to punish her, and allows her cousins and the neighborhood kids to visit and torture, rape, and eventually kill her. This would be a worthless story if told that way, however: what redeems it is the narrarator, a twelve-year-old boy from next door who is in love with the girl, and his conflicted feelings over the situation. On the one hand he's a pre-pubescent kid overwhelmed and confused by the pleasure he finds in seeing his object of lust naked and tormented. On the other, he knows hurting her is wrong, but he's just a powerless kid, unable to help. The story is helped by being set in the idylic world of the early 1960s in an ordinary suburban neighborhood; you just don't expect such things to happen in your backyard. The author has also brilliantly shielded us from most of the actual violence -- much is implied and not shown, and this allows us to participate from a safe distance. It's a quite remarkable book. Certainly not for all tastes, but genuinely frightening in a way that makes most horror books seem silly, because this is something that could happen anywhere to anyone because we are the evil.


Wednesday, August 1, 2001

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Book: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Writer(s): Stephen King (book)

I had no idea who Tom Gordon was when I got this (he's apparently a baseball pitcher) but it turned out to be a cool book. It's not about baseball at all, but about a little girl who gets lost in the woods and survives on her own. She survives in part because she gains strength by acting like her hero, Tom Gordon. Like him, she has "veins of ice." Well written, quick reading, exciting, and fascinating. A surprising change of pace from King.


Monday, February 2, 2004

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Movie: Girl With A Pearl Earring

Excellent film. Unfortunately, I must compare it to the book, since I read it first, and I have a difficult time divorcing the two. Visually, this film is a feast: masterfully done. But storywise there were a few mistakes and one improvement. First, the film makes light of why Griet is forced to become a maid -- we briefly see her blind father, but we never see her giving her wages to her parents. That's a critical aspect of the novel because she's trapped, not for herself, but by the duty she feels to help her parents (she's their only income and they are starving). The film left out the stories of her sibblings (sister who dies and brother who's a tile apprentice), but that was for the best (they distract from the main story). The film also tones down the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. It's mentioned, but never focused. In general I agree with that decision (though it was a fascinating part of the book), but one aspect of that -- the way Griet reacts to the Catholic paintings in her cellar bedroom -- was poorly implemented and could have been done better so that we got a reaction from her (have her cover the picture with a cloth, show her not sleeping because of the bloody paintings, etc.). The second big mistake was not showing us why Griet was such a good maid: the way she could clean Vermeer's studio without moving stuff (a skill she learned from having a blind father who needed everything in the same place). In the book that was important (it's how she got the job) and it showed her intelligence. There's a brief reference -- a "Don't move anything" line -- but that's about it. We only see her cleaning one thing and not moving it, but the point needed to be better emphasized. The very ending was also a little muddled, making it unclear that she had chosen to marry Pieter. However, the film did a terrific job of realizing the character of Vermeer's wife. In the book she was a shadow, but in the film she dominates: it's a terrific performance full of glare and subtlty. She really is the most fleshed out of all characters. Griet is simple and very young; Vermeer is morose and quiet, lost in his own world; the grandmother only cares about money; complexity comes in the role of Vermeer's wife, who seems the spoiled brat on the surface, but underneath knows her station and rebells against it the only way she knows how, through her connection to her husband. She's jealous of Griet because Griet actually understands Vermeer's work and seeing the girl reminds her that she is incapable of understanding it (which drives her mad). Great stuff. Overall, this is an excellent adapation of the book. Scarlet Johansson is amazing: she will go far despite being overlooked by Oscar. The pace of the film is a little slow (it's only an hour thirty-five but feels like two), but that's because there are many "still" scenes of artist staring at model, model staring at painter, etc. Despite my nitpicks, this is three thumbs way up.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Writer(s): Stieg Larsson

I've been hearing about these books and movies for a while, by Swedish author Larsson, but I hadn't realized until recently he actually died before they were published and became a worldwide phenomena (they've sold like 30 or 60 million copies or something). Anyway, this is the first complete book I've read on my Kindle (I finish Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop on it, but I'd read about half of it on my iPad first) and I dived in knowing absolutely zero about the story. It turns out to be a murder mystery. It's slow going at first, establishing characters and the situation, but once the mysteries start, they are intriguing. Basically our main protagonist is a disgraced journalist who is hired to investigate a young girl's disappearance from 40+ years earlier. He isn't sure he can do anything for the case has been studied for decades and there are no new clues, but he has nothing else to do, so he takes on the task. Eventually, of course, he makes breakthroughs, and the book takes an extremely dark turn (it's definitely not for kids). He has help from a fascinating character: the girl with the dragon tattoo. She's a hacker and information researcher who is exotic-looking, anti-social, and has odd personality problems, but somehow the two get along. The book is slow-moving, for sure, but never dull. You always feel you're on the brink of huge discoveries, though in truth most of the really big breakthroughs don't happen until the book's final third. (But I should point out that the progression is extremely realistic.) I would imagine some people would prefer a condensed version of the novel, but I really enjoyed the Swedish environment (I have Swedish ancestors), the complex world of corporate finance, hacking, psychology, and other detailed topics the author explores. It's a long book, but from the halfway point I read through it very quickly as the story really became exciting. It's a disturbing read, unpleasant at times, bizarre and confusing at others, but literary, intelligent, unique, and perhaps even profound. The interesting character of the hacker girl is one of the special aspects of the story. The final mystery, when revealed, makes sense and all the pieces fit together beautifully. I found it unusual that when the mystery's solved the book keeps going -- there's still more than 10% of the book to go! (I'm not sure I like that. Most things felt wrapped up and it felt odd for the story to continue and the later stuff that happened was not as compelling as the odd mystery that's at the core of the book.) Overall, I'm extremely impressed and can't wait to read the other books in the series, as well as see the Swedish films.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

After reading the book, I wanted to watch the Swedish film. I'd heard good things about it but wasn't really sure how well it would translate. It turns out to work just fine. It's a terrific film, beautifully shot and written. They do change some things from the book. Some of the things are clearly for simplicities' sake, but other aspects are baffling. One change which I didn't like is the way the main journalist character discovers the hacker Salander. In the book it was a believable mistake she made, which made sense. In the film, she actually sends him an apparently traceable email, which is just ridiculous and destroys the credibility of her hacker character as being intelligent and competent. But other changes are actually better in the film. The biggest is the ending. While the book only hints at Salander's sketchy past, the film shows us a flashback and links that with her actions at the end. At first I didn't like what she was doing because it was so different from the book, but the link actually tied everything together and in the end, I liked the film version of that aspect better than the book. I was curious how the film would handle some of the book's edgier aspects. Some parts they dropped (like the extramarital love affairs), but they did keep a lot of sex and violence and some of the scenes are more disturbing in the film than the book. (Just a warning if you're squeamish. It's one thing ton read about a brutal rape. It's quite another to watch it.) Overall, this is a terrific adaptation and now have trouble imagining how the Hollywood remake can be any better.


Thursday, August 22, 2002


Movie: Girlfight

Though the title sounds garish, this is a surprisingly serious film about a young hispanic woman who wants to take boxing lessons. It's very well done and interesting, though I wasn't that into the fighting. Overall the plot's simple, culminating the in the girl having to fight her boyfriend in a championship amateur match. Good performances, especially by the lead, Michelle Rodriguez, who was amazing.


Saturday, December 2, 2000


Movie: Gladiator (2000)
Director(s): Ridley Scott

I'd heard really good things about this film, but frankly, I wasn't impressed. In the first 30 seconds I'd figured out 80% of the plot, and though there were a couple surprises, my predictions were quite accurate. The ending I found anti-climatic and improbable (not to give away the ending, but I didn't feel Commodus' character would really do that). That said, this isn't a bad movie: the dialogue was impressive, and the performances and sets were excellent. But this is not a great film; it's certainly no Spartacus. The special effects were the kind you don't notice (like the digitally created Roman Coliseum), which I usually like, but in this case, the film seemed to expect us to be awed by the spectacle, of which I wasn't. Perhaps I just expected too much, or maybe the big screen theatre presentation is much more dramatic than seeing the widescreen DVD, but I was left with a feeling disappointment and wondering what all the fuss was about.


Saturday, September 28, 2002

The Glass House

Movie: The Glass House

Interesting, if tame, thriller about a young girl and her brother who end up moving in with their godparents after their parents are killed in a car accident. The children have a $4 million trust fund, so they're financially secure. At first things seem okay, but gradually the girl begins to suspect the godparents of killing her parents in order to control the trust fund. A little obvious and heavy-handed at times, it's none-the-less and interesting story. The girl character is very cool, intelligent and yet still realistic. The initial ending is pure poetic justice and satistifying, but then there's a tacked on secondary ending that's just lame. It still liked it, however; Stellan Skarsgard gives his usual excellent performance, and Diane Lane was good as the wife.


Saturday, November 20, 1999


Movie: Go (1999)
Writer(s): John August
Director(s): Doug Liman

I didn't know what to expect from this movie. Turns out it's a series of vingettes about the violent, crime-filled lives of a group of people one Christmas weekend. We get to see the same events from several perspectives, which is interesting, though repetetive. These people are not ones you'd want to hang around with, however. They are crude, desperate, and disgusting. Basically bad things happen to everyone, but since you don't really care for anyone, it's mildly entertaining. There are some interesting twists. In many ways this reminded me of 2 Days in the Valley except with teenagers. That was a better film, however. Go is a third-generation copy, though it has a good soundtrack. Like all vingette films, this one suffers from unevenness. I guess I don't quite see the point of such a technique. It's always an interesting concept, but it never quite works. Still, this wasn't boring. Rentable. Two thumbs sideways.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Goal! The Dream Begins

Movie: Goal! The Dream Begins

This came out on the same day as Poseidon, but since it's a soccer movie, I had to see it. I was not expecting too much. Sports films are notoriously difficult to do well. After all, the plot's a given: either the underdogs win or lose, and if it's the former it's predictable and if it's the latter we're depressed and pissed. You basically can't please the audience. The secret to do this right is balance: don't rest the entire movie on the game's outcome, but include plenty of other interesting events. In that respect, Goal scores. It's the hard-luck tale of a young Hispanic immigrant in L.A. who loves soccer but has a stern father who wants him to stay home and run the family's landscaping business. But Santiago, the boy, gets a chance to try out for Newcastle United, the famed English club, and jumps at it. Of course it doesn't go well and he faces all sorts of obstacles. I though the story was well-done and somewhat realistic, showing he doesn't just snap his fingers and realize his dream. Sure, many aspects of the story and characters are typical, but there's only so many ways you can tell this story. I would have perhaps liked to see more of his early upbringing and his youth soccer experiences (I read Pele's bio and the most fascinating part for me was his childhood, playing backyard ball with a sock stuffed with paper since he couldn't afford an actual soccer ball, and how that awkward, unbalanced sock-ball taught him unparalleled ball control), but overall the story's decent, the soccer's good, and it's a standard feel-good sports victory story. I don't watch many sports films so I can't say how this compares to others, but I thought it was excellent. I really enjoyed it. There are fun cameos with famous soccer stars, and some nice characterization twists I didn't expect. For instance, one of the characters, a total showboat jerk who's the club's big new signing, seems like he's going to bring Santiago down by teaching him his bad habits. Instead, it's the other way around, with Santiago's honest heart reforming the bad boy. Rather cool!

This film is the first of trilogy. In this one, Santiago gets signed by a big club and his "dream begins" as the tagline says. In the next he struggles with overnight stardom, and in the third he leads his country in the World Cup. That one is being filmed at this summer's World Cup tournament in Germany, with unprecendent access to teams and venues, so it should be a fantastic movie, one of the most realistic ever. I can't wait for the rest of the movies!


Saturday, October 13, 2001

God's Debris

Book: God's Debris
Writer(s): Scott Adams

Fantastic little book! This is a book that has nothing to do with humor: it's all about philosophy. It purports to answer all the Big Questions of the universe: what is God, is evolution true, is science dependable, etc. All these ideas are put into a loose fictional frame, but it's really the ideas that move the pages, not any kind of story. This is the kind of I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys thinking about the unthinkable. It's for people with an open mind who aren't offended by new ideas and new ways of looking at things. It's well worth your time. I started it at 11:30 at night, just intending to read a chapter or two, and I read the entire book in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. It's that good! Read, then give copies to your friends and sit down and argue over it.


Saturday, January 22, 2000

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Movie: The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981)
Writer(s): Jamie Ulys
Director(s): Jamie Ulys

Accidentally started watching this and couldn't stop. Definitely in my Top Ten of greatest movies of all time. I was surprised at how much I'd forgotten; I've seen the sequel several times in recent years, but apparently it's been a long time since the original. Favorite moment? The part about how modern man has refused to adapt himself to his environment and instead adapted his environment to himself, and as a result we've got to spend half a lifetime going to school just to learn how to cope with that complex, self-created environment. The African Bushmen, on the other hand, have no concept of possessions, and no needs for anything: whatever they need is right around them. A classic; hilarious and thought-provoking.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Movie: Godsend

Unquestionably one of the worst films I've seen in many years. The dialog is stilted, the plot ridiculous. In the opening scene, in which the boy is killed, everything is done with such exaggeration and foreshadowing it's absurd: we see the mom worrying about where her son is (he's playing near the street) which is stupid because there's nothing to say this isn't another ordinary day in which the little boy does not get killed. And of course this happens to be the kid's birthday, which is excessively dramatic. The boy is a terrible actor, too, though he's okay when not talking. The plot is just bizarre. It sounds simple enough -- family's kid dies and they replace him with a clone. But instead of this being a drama about the morality of cloning, the film sinks into some sort of weird horror mode where the clone seemingly has memories of his previous life. Just silly. How Robert DeNiro got hook-winked into this mess I'll never know.


Saturday, July 19, 2003

Gold Cup Quaterfinal: USA vs. Cuba

Soccer: Gold Cup Quaterfinal: USA vs. Cuba

Wow, not just a Landon Donovan hat trick, but four goals! The USA just cruised through this one. Cuba looked surprisingly good against Canada, but obviously poor in this one. Keller might as well sat and read a book -- he saw hardly any action in goal. Great game for the USA. Admitedly it's against a weak opponent, but it's still a confidence builder. I'm very pleased to see the U.S. be cut-throat and really trounce someone. Too many times we win 1-0 or 2-0 against weaker competition. It's like we get a goal or two ahead and we quit.


Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Gold Cup Semifinal: USA vs. Brazil

Soccer: Gold Cup Semifinal: USA vs. Brazil

This was a horrible game against Brazil: the U.S. let the Brazillians have dozens of uncontested chances, and only the continued heroics of U.S. goalkeeper Casey Keller kept us in the tournament. It was a stupid habit to get into, and sure enough, after the U.S. scored to lead, the Americans allowed the South American team more chances at goal and inevitably one snuck in with a minute to play. That sent the game into Golden Goal overtime, and there the U.S. promptly did the same thing again. Keller made a great initial save, but the lose ball was sent toward the empty goal. Defender Corey Gibbs blocked the sure goal with his hand and was promptly red-carded, but the U.S. still had a slight chance if Keller could stop the penalty kick. But he couldn't and just like that Brazil won and the U.S. is out.


Thursday, July 31, 2003

Gold Cup third place match: USA vs. Costa Rica

Soccer: Gold Cup third place match: USA vs. Costa Rica

This was a frustrating tournament for me, with the USA giving a Jeckyl and Hyde performance. After their terrible game against Brazil, I was actually rooting for Costa Rica, figuring the U.S. didn't deserve a win. After all, this was the senior U.S. team who'd lost to an under-23 Brazil team. Granted, Brazil's youth teams are better than most country's full national teams, but still: this was the U.S.' tournament to win. Besides, if we aren't there to win it, I resent the Earthquakes losing Landon Donovan and Richard Mulrooney to a useless exercise like this. At least get to the final so we can justify MLS losing top players!

Anyway, this game began with more of the same, with the U.S. defense leaving gaps for Costa Rica to pinch in, and shortly Costa Rica scored. But the U.S. came right back with a terrific goal from Donovan and Bocanegra. A long high ball over the back of the Costa Rica defense fell to Donovan on the line, but his quick turn of the ball inward went right to Bocanegra who finished it for his second goal of the tournament. But before the end of the half another defensive miscue (and potential Keller misplay as he gave up a rebound) gave Costa Rica the lead again. In the second half, however, the Americans finally started playing well. Defensively they closed down Costa Rica, and offensively they put on a lot of pressure. The game was tied early when Earnie Stewart scored with an incredible volley (possibly goal of the tournament), followed later by a fantastic run by Landon Donovan. He took the ball deep in the U.S. half and leisurely ran it to the half-way line. Here he was confronted by a Costa Rica defender, but Landon's sudden deke was so quick and effective, the defender actually tripped himself up and fell down as he tried to follow the American! With acres of space in front of him, Donovan went ahead with a burst of speed, running toward the Costa Rican goal. His teammate Bobby Convey was slightly ahead of him, and that kept the two Costa Rican defenders in two minds: mark Covey or stop Donovan? Then Landon fed a perfect through-ball into the open space in front of Convey, who sped onto it, leaving his markers behind. Convey finished beautifully, scoring at the near post with one touch. Great sequence, great goal. That seemed to break Costa Rica, and the U.S. finished with a deserving win. Though the U.S. gave up far too many goals in those last two games, they finally did start to play well. But they definitely have some work to do before World Cup qualifying begins next year. Final: 3-2 USA.


Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Golden Compass

Book: The Golden Compass
Writer(s): Philip Pullman

This is the first of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, a scientific-fantasy series from English writer Pullman. I hadn't heard of it but it's apparently good and they're making movies of them, so I wanted to read the series. This first book is quite impressive. It takes place in a parallel universe to ours, so things are similar yet not. Pullman brilliantly gets us involved right from the first page, with young Lyra sneaking into a meeting room at Oxford where she's not supposed to be, where she oversees a plot to kill her uncle. That sets her off on a series of adventures, where the improbable happens quite regularly, yet there's no disbelief at all as Pullman makes it convincing. The story is quite dark -- people die regularly, sometimes brutally -- but it is a brilliant novel with fantastic fantasy elements and a high-speed non-stop storyline.


Friday, December 7, 2007

The Golden Compass

Movie: The Golden Compass

I read the trilogy over a year ago in anticipation of this film and I've been bummed that it took so long to be released. Initially I was irritated and unimpressed for the script seemed to be veering dangerously far from the book and eliminating many important scenes. For instance, the film debuts with narration explaining that this is set is an alternate universe, that in this world people wear their souls on the outside, etc. Narration like that's a warning sign for trouble, especially with such a complicated story. Fortunately, the narration was brief and hardly needed, for the story explained most everything, and once things got moving, the film was very good. The young actress who plays the lead was terrific, especially her impressive interactions with the CGI bear: excellent casting. I also liked the way they ended the film, resolving the current crisis but setting us up for the sequel (book two of the trilogy), but not including one key scene that's in the original book but would have complicated the ending by introducing too much fresh conflict at the very end. I believe they'll open the second movie with that scene, which is excellent and much better than including it in this one: otherwise people would have been frustrated ending the movie right in the middle of the story. So the bottom line is the film has as weak start but gets better and better and the second half is just terrific.


Thursday, November 11, 1999


Movie: Goldeneye (1995)
Writer(s): Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein
Director(s): Martin Campbell

This was the first James Bond movie of the Pierce Brosnan era, and it's terrific. I've seen it a few times of course, but it'd been years. On DVD this is one cool movie (especially watching it on a high-tech laptop ;-). This has everything you expect from a Bond film: amazing action, incredible locations and cinematography, sexy women, and high-tech gadgets. What more could a guy want? What I like best about Bond films -- good Bond films -- is that they are several films in one. You've got the intro sequence, which, when long, is like a mini-movie in itself. Then there's the various stages of tracking down the Bad Guy -- each sequence is like a separate movie, each bigger and badder than the previous. It's totally cool and it's what makes the Bond movies so over-the-top. I wasn't that crazy about the last Bond, but I have high hopes for the latest (out next week, I believe). This just whetted my appetite.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Golf Day

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


Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Gone in 60 Seconds

Movie: Gone in 60 Seconds

I wasn't expecting much from this car chase movie; though it has big stars (Cage and Jolie), my main memory of it was that it was in theatres for less than sixty seconds. It turns out it's not such a bad film. It's about car stealing, not racing. The plot's rather lame, about an ex-car thief who's dragged back into the racket by a thug who's going to kill his brother unless he steals 50 cars in three days. Interesting idea, but lamely executed. Why not just get his brother and move away? The thug's also a moron yet is supposed to be scary (he wasn't in the least). And why was the little brother such an idiot? I was hoping he would get whacked just so I wouldn't have to listen to him whine and do stupid stuff. Angelina Jolie's part is so small in this she's hardly a presence (she's also a former car thief gone straight and apparently a former girlfiend of Cage's character). Really the only redeeming thing is Nicholas Cage and the car stuff. Cage is always good, even with weak material, and the car chase and other stuff is nice, though too much of the plot is predictable (especially the begining, middle, and end). But overall it's not unwatchable. There are some nice car chases and some of the car stealing stuff is interesting.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Gone, Baby, Gone

Movie: Gone, Baby, Gone

Rather glum film about a missing child and a private detective couple brought in to find the little girl. Things start to twist then as we learn that everything is not what it seemed, and then they twist again later, and again at the very end. All the twists are fairly believable, though the final one is one too many, and leaves you feeling manipulated and cheated. While I liked many aspects of where this was going and I loved some of the interesting characters, the ending is sad and uncomfortable. The story's confusing at times, also. All in all it's certainly not a bad film, but I can't say that I really liked it. It just made me sad and didn't provide much hope, though it asked some intriguing questions.


Sunday, December 5, 2004

The Good Girl

Movie: The Good Girl

I wasn't at all sure what to expect about this film since I hadn't heard anything about it, but it turned out to be a low-key drama about a bored married woman in a small town who has an affair with a troubled young man and then regrets it. Good performances from all and some interesting moments, but overall the story's too light for much impact. Above your average Hollywood flick, though.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Good Night, Good Luck

Movie: Good Night, Good Luck

I really, really liked this. It's a fascinating look at a serious newsman, Edward R. Murrow and his public battle with McCarthy (the "everyone's a Communist but me" guy). The theme is about censorship and the media, and acusing people without evidence, themes that obviously resinate today. What I found most interesting is that though this film was created by liberals with an obvious agenda, it's really a conservative film: today the liberals control the media and jump down the throats of any conservative that dares to speak the opposite, exactly what hero Murrow was doing back in the old days of the film! I myself am a Libertarian and can't stand censorship and believe in the rights of everyone to be heard, so I liked this movie a lot: I just wish both political parties would learn from it.


Sunday, January 9, 2000

Good Omens

Movie: Good Omens (1990)
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

My favorite director, Terry Gilliam, just signed to make this book into a movie, so I had to read it. (I'm a Neil Gaiman fan, so I was already interested.) This book is described on the cover as a comedy about the apocalypse, which is apt. I was a bit nervous when I started reading about angels and religious issues, but then I discovered that the book makes fun of God and the Devil equally (always appropriate in my line of thinking). The "plot" runs along the lines of an angel and a demon who conspire together to sabotage the apocalypse (because they live living on earth and don't want to see it destroyed). The writing is hilarious and witty, but begins to drag about halfway through. One can only take so much wit. The pace should have accelerated toward the end, but didn't, leaving me struggling to finish the book. Still, it's funny with no sacred cows, and it's certainly innovative and interesting, if a bit of a one-joke premise. There's some classic humor, like the running gag that (because of a demon's work) cassette tapes left in an automobile for longer than two weeks automatically turn into a "Best of Queen" album. Another joke I liked was that one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Famine, is the one responsible for nouvelle cousine and the "famished" trend for fashion models.


Tuesday, December 28, 1999

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Movie: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
Writer(s): Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli
Director(s): Sergio Leone

The ultimate Western, classic all the way. The memorable music is at least 50% of the movie. I watched part of The Mask of Zoro the other day and noted at least one instance of music stolen directly from GBU. There must be thousands of imitations, but none quite match up.


Friday, May 26, 2000


Movie: Goodfellas

Not as good as I was expecting; predictable and rather ordinary Mob movie, but with good performances. (Disclaimer: I don't like Mob movies.)


Saturday, March 25, 2000


Movie: Gorgeous

Bizarre movie that's not quite a love story, but not a true Jackie Chan action vehicle either. Action sequences are few but extended, and very well done. Female lead is amazing -- truly a star, especially for such a young girl. She showed terrific range. Slightly long and slow in places, but worth checking out if your looking for something unusual.


Saturday, February 22, 2003

Gosford Park

Movie: Gosford Park (2001)
Director(s): Robert Altman

While I'm a huge Altman fan, this is unwatchable. The premise has promise: a group of upperclass people gather in 1930's England for a weekend shooting party and one of them is murdered. We get to see a lot of the relationship between the servants and their employers. Unfortunately, the first twenty minutes is spent introducing characters one by one as they arrive, and if you're like me, after ten minutes you already have no idea who is who. There are like 50 main characters and each has one or two servants. I was completely lost from the start. Then the film meanders as we see the people in various scenes, learn the relationships, but basically we care for none of these people, there are so many it's impossible to remember who's who (I tended to them of them by actor names instead of characters). This continues for over an hour, as the "exciting" murder doesn't take place until more than halfway through this long film! By that time I was so bored I didn't care any more. I fell asleep and woke up during the credits. Even though I had no idea who had committed the murder, I was so put off by the film's glacial pace and arrogant, empty characters that I didn't even care! I had interest in rewinding and watching the ending I'd missed. I could barely figure out who had been killed let alone stir up any compassion for him or any of the others. And this was one of the best films of 2001 (it was nominated for Best Picture)? What a lot of rot! I've lost all respect for the Academy. This is just a PBS period piece with a lot of top actors that's like some sort of literary health food concoction -- "it tastes terrible, but eat it, it's good for you." I'll bet none of the academy members who voted for it had even seen it. If it had been shortened to 30 minutes it might have been interesting, but at over two hours it's just boredom on a disc. My vote for one of the worst films of 2001.


Saturday, November 22, 2003


Movie: Gothika

Not what I expected, but not the horror some critics are calling it. What intrigued me was the concept of a psychiatrist being locked up in a mental institution. Unfortunately, the movie skimps on any pyschological depth and instead turns into an absurd ghost story. Has a few half-decent chills and thrills, but more that flop. Overall, it's an overacted, overdramatized, melodrama that isn't anything significantly different from what you've seen before. Halle Berry's fine in the lead role, but she's not given much to work with. I liked some of the action scenes she does during her escape (it'd be fun to see her in an action flick). The ghost story stuff is just bizarre and lame.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Goya's Ghosts

Movie: Goya's Ghosts

This is a period film about the controversial Spanish painter Goya, during the Inquisition, involving his muse, a young model who is Inquisitioned due to her connection with Goya. Not quite what I expected. There are the salacious aspects of torture you'd expect, but it's both glorified and unrevealed, which is odd -- if they are condemning it, why hide it? The main problem is one of focus: is the film about Goya, the girl, or the strange priest? The girl's the most sympathetic and the one we understand the most, but much of the focus is on the others, and unfortunately those people remain mysteries. The spans a large number of years and by the end I found myself more confused than enlightened. Interesting, but in a limited way, like a historical documentary. I would like to have learned more about Goya, but we are only connected to him via the story of the girl, and he remains a question mark.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Gran Torino

Movie: Gran Torino

I had thought no film could compete with Doubt for best of the year, but if there is one, it's this one. What a fabulous film! This is why movies are made. Incredible performances, writing, directing, just perfect. I loved it. It's funny, unusual, interesting, and powerfully emotional. The ending is just right: I was weeping it was so beautifully sad. The story is elegant and simple: we have a grumpy old man, a Korean war vet, who is hard-core American and resents all the minorities moving into his neighborhood. The man is blatantly racist, doesn't like people, and even his own family avoid him. He's like the hermit grandfather in Heidi. But when a gang fight breaks out on his lawn and he scares them off with his rifle, the minorities think he saved them, and start bringing him gifts. Slowly, and I do mean slowly, the neighbor girl and boy next store change the man. The interaction between the intelligent girl and the old man is fabulous, him being grumpy and insulting, and her laughing it off and being cleverly self-effacing. I loved the clash of cultures as she tries to teach him the ways of her people (she is Mung), and the way food is a communication breakthrough (the old man pretty much lives on beer and jerky since his wife died so delicious Mung food is a way to his heart). The film is utterly realistic with the Mung people speaking in their own language (and it is not subtitled for us viewers) so we really get the feel of confusion and lack of communication. Yet at the same time, we are given glimpses of the true character of the people, from the way they treat each other as a family, to how they are helpful to a neighbor in need. The film pulls no punches and is blunt and direct; there is no sitcom-simple resolution. Instead, we're presented with a complex tragedy and dilemma and an amazing conclusion. I really can't say enough good things about this film. I just loved it. It's remarkable in nearly every aspect. About the only thing I would change would be the scene where Clint Eastwood drops the shot glass -- I would have had him crush it in his hand. It just seemed out of character for a strong man like him to drop it, no matter what the provocation (and crushing the glass in anger would have been perfect). Highly recommended: go see this film!


Sunday, March 2, 2003

Grand Illusion

Movie: Grand Illusion (1938)
Director(s): Jean Renoir

I'm never sure how to judge classics: they usually disappoint me because my expectations are too high. This French film fell into that category. It's a good movie, and I'm sure at the time of its release it was a great one, but I find it difficult to judge with my modern perspective. The story is similar to The Great Escape, which I recently watched, except this film is set in World War I, not II. Some things -- like the nonchalance of the captured officers and their German captors -- struck me as bizarre, but then I know little about WWI and the "rules" of warfare. To me this was familiar stuff, well done, but nothing to write home about.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Strange the way things happen. While I was visiting, Grandpa was doing fine, until the day I left (yesterday). Then suddenly he could hardly walk. He slid off the sofa and couldn't get up -- I had to help him to his feet. Later it took him an hour to get from the living room to the bathroom. After I left my mom had to call 911 because she couldn't move him, and he ended up in the hospital with a touch of pnemonia. Now it looks like he'll end up in nursing care while we take our trip to the mid-west early next year.


Monday, January 17, 2005


It looks like we're closer to making a decision about Grandpa. He's definitely not coming home: there's just no way. My mom isn't physically able to care for him there and it's just too dangerous. If he falls or struggles, all she can do is call 911. He's also isolated from the family way over on the coast. We think it's best he be put in a care facility in the Portland area where we can all visit him regularly and be available if he needs us. This means a lot of changes in the near future for everyone, but at least now we have a clear idea of where we're going. We could try to come up with ways to keep Grandpa at home (i.e. having one of my cousins move in), but such things would be difficult to engineer and only temporary fixes. Unfortunately, the time we've dreaded is at hand, and we can't care for him ourselves any longer. Even if he can regain some of his walking ability, it most likely won't be for long (he has a bad knee and hip), and he needs 24-hour care in case he falls or has a problem. I mostly worry about his own attitude: he does not want to be in a facility and he could simply give up if he's put in one, but I hope he doesn't. His general health is good and if has a positive attitude he could have many years left. It's just sad to see him fade away. His short-term memory isn't good and I dread the thought of his mind fading to the point where he can't recognize family, etc.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Grandpa and Other Troubles

Today was not a good day. The family had come to the uncomfortable decision that Grandpa most likely will not be able to come home, though we might still try to figure out a way (we're still not sure how well Grandpa is or isn't). After half a day of analyzing finances and trying to predict the future, my mom visited Grandpa (I was in bed with my cold) and found that he still can't really walk (though he thinks he can), and that he's got to be out of the care facility where he's at by this Sunday. It was evening by the time my mother was to go home so I suggested she stay at my place rather than drive home in the cold and dark, and she agreed. She telephoned her friend that's been watching Monica, her little crippled Pomeranian, and learned -- what timing! -- that Monica passed away yesterday at about three o'clock. My mom was devastated. Though the news wasn't completely unexpected as the dog's always been weak and over Christmas got so bad that she could no longer walk, it was still very difficult news to hear. In a way it was crueler that it happened while we were gone but it another way it was a blessing that she didn't have to deal with it directly. Still, the timing, with Grandpa's situation foremost in our minds, could not have been worse. My mom's gone through a lot the past few years: Ben's brain injury and personality change, the divorce, moving to Oregon, her own diagnosis and struggle with rheumetoid arthrisis, the dog's medical issues, and various emergencies with Grandpa, and Monica was her sole constant and comfort during that time. Now she's gone. It's a tough time.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Grandpa back in hospital

Today was supposed to be our long-planned trip to the coast with Grandpa. Instead he's in the hospital. Yesterday the home nurse was here to take a routine blood test and later I got a call to get him to emergency right away. Apparently his poor kidneys aren't processing potasium correctly and there's too much in his system, which can lead to heart failure. So I got him over there last night and he's staying there for a few days so they can monitor him. He feels fine and is in good spirits -- the potasium level showed no outward signs. It's a pretty silly muck-up: I've had him on water pills since last summer because he was retaining too much fluid (he swelled to 144 lbs. at one point -- he's normally around 100 lbs.). Because water pills drain your fluids, they always proscribe them with potasium pills, to replenish your supply. But Grandpa's kidney's aren't functioning as well as they used to do, so now the extra potasium's too much. Yet, of course, no one mentioned this or caught this after his last hospital stay with kidney problems, so the last few weeks I've been faithfully giving him potasium pills every day! The idiot doctors noticed the potasium levels rising last week but didn't say anything to me because the level wasn't dangerous. If they had, I could have stopped giving him the pills and he probably would have been fine! Instead they waited until the level was too high and I had to rush him to the hospital. There they gave him some stuff to bring the potasium level down and now they want to watch him for a few days. And of course, we're not giving him potasium pills any more. A big "Oops, someone should have noticed that" from the doctors. Nice.


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Grandpa Goes to Hospital

Today I had to take Grandpa to the emergency room. He couldn't get out of bed this morning. His right leg was bothering him too much. He screamed in pain when I just looked at it, let alone touched it or tried to move it. He decided he'd just stay in bed all day. Not a good solution, considering he might need to use the bathroom eventually. I was concerned because this was not normal. His leg frequently bothers him and he has good days and bad days, but this was almost complete immobility. To be safe, I called his doctor. The doctor on call freaked when I mentioned Grandpa had a slight temperature (99.2) and said I should immediately take him to the hospital. Apparently even a slight temperature is a sign of serious things in an 89-going-on-90 old man. At the hospital they took blood, urine, and x-rays, the ER doctor reporting that Grandpa had not broken his hip as originally expected, but he definitely needed a hip replacement. Since this hip issue had put Grandpa in a care facility at Christmas, the doctor couldn't figure out why nothing had been done then. But Grandpa's previous doctors hadn't suggested anything even though we asked if something couldn't be done to help him. This doctor immediately got on the phone with the hospital's orthopedic surgeon and within an hour he was there, dressed in jeans as he was not working on Saturday, and examining Grandpa. It was quickly decided that hip replacement surgery was the only thing to do. Without it Grandpa would remain bedridden and in pain. With it, he might even walk (with a walker or cane) and he should be pain-free. So it looks like that's what's on the schedule.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Grandpa home again

Grandpa's home again and doing great. He's eating like a monster, which is awesome. Last time he was at the hospital he stopped eating. He ate breakfast but no lunch, and barely any dinner. Now he's back to three meals a day. Not huge meals (though his breakfast is substantial), but anything's an improvement. We've got a whole new set of medicines for him, which is awfully exciting (not). But he feels great -- he told me he felt like he was 30!


Saturday, May 7, 2005

Grandpa's 90th Birthday

Today we celebrated Grandpa's 90th birthday. I had sent out invitations to many of his old friends and family and we received a ton of wonderful letters and cards. Probably close to 40 people actually came to the party, which was held "open house" style, from noon to evening. This worked well because people could come whenever it was convenient for them. Grandpa got to see many people he hadn't seen in many years and it was a wonderful day. He was amazingly alert, chipper, and healthy: people were astonished in what good shape he was in. It really is a remarkable achievement and wonderful to see him doing so well at 90 years of age.


Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Grandpa's Birthday

Grandpa turned 91 today! Amazing. That's a long time. He's seen a lot in his lifetiime. He insists he's got a long ways to go yet -- he wants to reach 100! So far he's been doing very good. His leg pain is minimal and he's pretty active, getting in and out of his wheelchair on his own, dressing and undressing himself, etc. Lately he's really been enjoying the cats, Mayhem in particular. Or maybe it's the other way around. Mayhem's figured out that if he jumps in Grandpa's lap he'll get petted, so all the time now I find him curled up in Grandpa's lap (on top of the hot electric blanket Grandpa insists on using) purring a happy tune. Grandpa is delighted and now refers to Mayhem as "my cat."


Friday, March 10, 2006

Grandpa's Home Again

Grandpa came home from the hospital. Even this wasn't as simple as it sounds. First, my van's battery was dead, as I expected, as it has a slow drain and if it's not driven at least once a week it won't start. Then, on my way to pick up Grandpa, my Neon started shuddering and not accelerating correctly. The "check engine" light came on. Unfortunately, I had a tight deadline: I had to get Grandpa home from the hospital in time for his next infusion of medicine which was to begin in a couple hours. Fortunately, the car made it, though it wasn't happy. The hospital's ten minutes away and by the time we got home, it was overheating. I just made it to my driveway. After getting Grandpa settled, I called a tow service to jump the van (it wouldn't jump connected to a car), which worked, but the tow guy knew something about cars and didn't like the sound of the engine. He checked the oil and found it was completely dry! I'd been meaning to get an oil change for a while (for both vehicles) but had kept putting it off. Unfortunately, my car knowledge doesn't extend much further than knowing where to put the key -- it had never occured to me to add oil (they usually do that when I change it). Anyway, we added oil and the van seemed okay -- at least the engine sounded better, though apparently the alternator belt was too tight and that's what was making the squealing sound on startup. We checked my Neon and found the same problem -- no oil -- and added some there also. During this period the nurse arrived to show me how to administer Grandpa's new medicine -- he's on a 24-hour a day pump that shoots in the antibiotics. Everything was happening at once!


Friday, January 11, 2008

The Great Debaters

Movie: The Great Debaters

Now this is an excellent film. It tells the true story of a group of young black kids at a black college way back when who become the first black debaters to compete against Harvard. It's a terrific tale about the lives of these amazing young people, their fabulous teacher, and the very different world they inhabited in those days. The film is a nice blend of plot, personal stories, history, and drama. It's definitely hte best movie I've seen this year. Of course it is only January, but I'll remember this one for a long time. The cast is unbelievable. If there's any justice, this will be remembered for the Academy Awards.


Monday, February 17, 2003

The Great Escape

Movie: The Great Escape

A classic I'd never seen, and it's easy to see why it has such a good reputation. Based on a true WWII escape by POWs in a German camp, it tells about a daring attempt to escape 250 men (ultimately only 76 manage it and most of those are caught). The idea of the prisoners was to keep the Germans busy and distract them from the war effort, and in that regard it was an apparent success. The escape itself is fascinating and mind-numbingly difficult, but what I liked about the film is that it doesn't end at the escape but shows us what happens to the escapees. However, I did think the German guards were too much like "Hogan's Heroes" -- completely different from the brutal reality of The Pianist.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Great Gatsby

Movie: The Great Gatsby

I've never read the book but saw this film on my HD movie channel and it's really good. I liked the way the story seems so simple but is really deep. The story, set in the 1920s, is told from the viewpoint of an outsider, a young man just out of school and starting life, and observing the life of the super-rich around him. Gatsby's his millionaire neighbor and Daisy is his beautiful cousin. It turns out Gatsby has a thing for Daisy and so our narrator ends up in the middle. It is then the mysteries start to unveil as we learn that Gatsby's money may come from criminal enterprises and that Daisy rejected him years ago when he was young because he was poor. Now he's rich and a good candidate, but she's married. The tragic ending is sad but feels right and inevitable. It's a thoughtful film I thought would feel ponderous, but it moves surprisingly well, and there are some terrific performances from a young Sam Waterson (the prosecutor on Law and Order) and Robert Redford is the consumate Gatsby.


Wednesday, September 22, 1999

The Great Train Robbery

Book: The Great Train Robbery (1973)
Writer(s): Michael Crichton

Excellent, excellent book. It wasn't anything like expected. It's the true story of an 1856 train robbery in England. It's not exactly non-fiction, yet it's not a novelization of a real-life event either. It's more like a documentary, with some parts dramatized and other parts pure explanation. What's fascinating is the way Crichton reveals the mindset of the Victorian era, uncovering why this particular train robbery was so significant. I was enthralled at the sociological implications of technology, criminology, psychology, and other fields explored in this book. It's a terrific book that hasn't aged in the 25 years since it was written. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for an airing of the movie. (The robbery itself was an amazing feat considering the era.)


Thursday, November 25, 1999

The Great Train Robbery (movie)

Movie: The Great Train Robbery (movie) (1979)
Writer(s): Michael Crichton
Director(s): Michael Crichton

I was a little disappointed by this movie. It wasn't as good as the book, and there were strange differences (like transporting a baboon instead of a tiger in one scene, Sean Connery's girlfriend pretending to be a prostitute [in the book there a real prostitute was used], and apprehending Connery as he gets off the train [in the book he's not caught until two years later]) that were never explained. These minor alterations bothered me a lot, as the author of the book wrote and directed the movie, and the novel's based on fact, so I expected an accurate transition. Still, it's not a bad movie. Very well done in places, though a bit obvious in others (Donald Sutherland is strangely flat in his performance). If you haven't read the book you'll find it fascinating. The biggest flaw was the lack of scope: the story has a bit of the epic about it, as this historical event was similar to the sinking of the Titanic in that it shocked the newly industrialized world that modern technology wasn't impenetrable. Unfortunately, Crichton doesn't shoot this as an epic -- instead he goes for an action drama, spending too much time on Connery's precarious run across the top of a moving train. Since that's a stunt we've seen hundreds of times in movies and on TV, it just wasn't memorable or exciting. I would have focused a bit more time on the trial and the aftermath, which puts the whole crime in scope (and gives Connery opportunity to deliver some of Pierce's hilarious one-liners). The DVD edition has comentary by director Crichton.


Friday, September 30, 2005

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Movie: The Greatest Game Ever Played

This was a surprisingly good period film about an amateur golfer who wins the U.S. Open in 1913. Though sports films tend to be predictable (either he dramatically wins by overcoming huge odds or he loses by a hair but somehow it's okay), this one still worked. It's a little bit hokey at times, with obvious sentimentality, but only in a few places -- most of the time it's just a good story. My favorite thing was the golfer's caddy, a little fat boy with the attitude of a king, who stole every scene he was in (loved it when he saw the President of the United States was in attendance and he waved and shouted at him like he was a regular person). Good show.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Green Hornet

Movie: The Green Hornet
Writer(s): Michael Gondry

I was fully prepared to hate this movie. The trailers gave me little hope: it seemed like a feeble attempt at comedy, and the whole concept of this particular superhero was missing. I also kept confusing this with The Green Lantern, another superhero movie coming out this summer. To my surprise, I really liked this film! It's wonderful. The director shoots it in an interesting manner, with fun little quirky touches that don't overwhelm but do make things more interesting. The plot is simple and slight, but I actually liked that. It's really just an origin story and I like my origin stories pure. Too may of these kinds of movies try to do both an origin and a regular adventure plot at the same time and the result is that neither storyline is satisfactory. The origin of the Green Hornet is interesting. I'd actually forgotten until I read recently that this character started out as a radio play way back when (along with the Lone Ranger and The Shadow). This character is not actually a superhero: he's more like Batman in that he's just a regular guy. He's also unusual in that he's not that super: his sidekick, Kato, is the actual hero. The main guy's just the motivator and image. (The concept reminds me (a little) of the team of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, where one guy's the actual electronics genius and the other provides the marketing and charisma. Neither would have succeeded without the skills of the other.) The other thing I really like about the concept of this character is how he's actually perceived by the police and criminals as a bad guy. Everyone thinks the Green Hornet is a criminal. The logic behind this is that as a criminal he can get closer to the bad guys and stop their plans. If the crooks know he's a hero, they'll try and stop him or take advantage of his good nature to hurt innocent people. But since the criminals think he's a bad guy, they assume that he doesn't care about innocent people and thus can't use that as a weapon against him. Genius! The drawback, of course, is that he's hunted by both revengeful crooks and the police, but that's a minor price to pay.

Now this particular version of the story changes things a little bit and does make it more comical. Seth Rogan plays the Green Hornet and he fits his role as a useless playboy to a T. I love the way Kato was slowly brought into the story, the way Seth's character slowly gets into the superhero business, and the way the two bicker and fight but ultimately become best friends. Seth's character isn't much a hero, but he has a good heart, and it's his idealism that that motivates Kato who would never have thought of dressing up in costume and stopping bad guys. That's just the kind of thing a soft, spoiled, and bored rich kid would dream up. While I can see how some people wouldn't like this story -- not a lot happens -- I really liked it. I admire the restraint and subtlety and I like the careful pacing so that characters don't suddenly change overnight but gradually become superheroes. It helps that there's plenty of humor to keep us entertained, and some decent (though over-the-top) action late on. The villain is marvelously played by Christoph Waltz (from Inglourious Basterds) in a wonderful role as a bad guy who is overly concerned with what people think of him. The plot simply consists of him, as the town's leading bad dude, becoming jealous of the publicity the Green Hornet's getting and trying to kill him. It gets a little muddled with a whole corrupt politician angle, but overall is a simple plot that gets out of the way so we can focus on the Seth becoming the Green Hornet. I'm sure future movies in this series (assuming they are bad) would have a more conventional action plot and that will be fine.

Overall, this is not up to the level of the amazing The Dark Knight, but it's solid and surprisingly watchable. The comedy is light and appropriate. A few things don't work or fall awkwardly (some of the adult language felt really out of place in what feels like a movie appropriate for youngsters), and some of the fighting between the two main characters went too far as we want them to be friends, but the bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. That surprised me as I was really expecting to write a scathing commentary. Recommended!


Friday, June 17, 2011

The Green Lantern

Movie: The Green Lantern

Who comes up with this drek? The feeble trailers had me worried but I was still hoping that this might be better than it looked. Sadly, it's much worse. I don't know much about the Green Lantern superhero and this has some interesting aspects to it: Green Lanterns are part of an intergalactic peace-keeping force with one member selected to guard each of the 3,600 quadrants of the universe. That is different and cool, especially when we get shots of unusual-looking aliens and inter-species mingling. The basic origin story has our hero, an arrogant death-defying irresponsible win-at-all-costs fighter plane test pilot who is selected by the Green Lantern ring as the replacement Green Lantern when the old one dies. Parts of that story I really liked. But from there it falls apart. The biggest problem is the vague villain, which is a bizarre unseen force that feeds on fear and swallows entire planets with its black smoke-like being. He's threatening the entire universe because even the Green Lanterns can't stop him. I don't know who came up with this villain, if he's in the comics or what, but it was a lame choice for the film. It's too abstract, and the intergalactic nature of the story is much too big for a first film. Aspects of the philosophical debate between "fear" and "will" were interesting, but only hinted at instead of properly delved into, and the action felt forced. Of course that's not the only problem. The actress who plays the pretty girl in the film is pretty, but horrible at acting. In each scene she's like a different person. The first time we see her she's the Bitch. Then she's the long-loved childhood Sweetheart. Then she's the love interest. And so on. Every performance is one-note and bizarre. I cringed at every scene she was in for I didn't know who she was. Part of that could be the mediocre writing, but she still should have known to give some variance to her character. (Her "anger" scene was really unconvincing -- I kept thinking she was joking and going break out in a "just kidding" smile at any moment. It baffled me when I finally decided she was apparently supposed to be legitimately angry.) Ryan Reynolds as the lead is okay -- certainly buff and he brings a bit of charm and even emotion to the role -- but the character is still too one-dimensional. His test pilot character was much more interesting than once he put on the Green Lantern suit and became a superhero. Then he was just boring. That's really the key problem: with such an abstract conflict (a fear creature) and a simple origin story (dying alien hands him magical ring), there isn't anything special about the people or events. The conflict is vague and smoke monster special effects are underwhelming. Throw in weak writing and bad acting and a film that's not sure what it wants to be and you've got a real mess. I think this safely goes down as the worst movie of the year so far. Lots of potential, but just wasted.


Friday, November 24, 2000

The Green Mile

Movie: The Green Mile
Writer(s): Frank Darabont (screenplay), Steven King (novel)
Director(s): Frank Darabont

An even better film than I expected. It was its stereotypicalness that turned me off of it initially (that an Tom Hank's out-of-placeness as the prison guard), but despite certain predictable plot points, it invites thinking.


Sunday, January 23, 2005


Book: Greenwich
Writer(s): Howard Fast

This was a fascinating little book without much plot or action, but plenty of subtle drama and inuendo. It dealt with the lives of several families in Greenwich, Connecticut, in particular a multi-millionaire who had previously been a U.S. government official who ordered the deaths of a group of nuns and priests in South America. This white-handed murder (he did not do the killing, only signed the order) gives him guilt many years later when an investigation of the event is started. Not much happens in the book, but the collection of characters is interesting, and like on TV shows like Twin Peaks and Desperate Housewives, you sense hidden horrors behind the facade of civility. Fast is a very good writer; I was impressed by his mastery of the craft. But though the book hinted at philosophical and psychological depth, it didn't really have enough for my tastes (it was a little light, considering the subject matter), but it was entertaining and interesting.


Friday, September 29, 2000


Book: Greenwitch
Writer(s): Susan Cooper

Book Three of the "Dark is Rising" sequence. This is the best so far. The first, Over Sea, Under Stone, was modern and practical, with minimal fantasy. The second, The Dark is Rising, is almost completely fantasy, abstract and mystical like a dream. This book joins the two, bringing the characters of each together, and completes the story of the first novel. Excellent, with the perfect mix of fantasy and reality, while presenting a unique and interesting adventure.


Friday, October 6, 2000

The Grey King

Book: The Grey King
Writer(s): Susan Cooper

One of the better of the "Dark is Rising" series. This book continues the tale of eleven-year-old Will Stanton, who's really an "Old One" (a magical being), fighting for the Light. A bit of a compromise between fantasy and reality, this book blends the two together nicely, just like Greenwitch (my favorite). Excellent characterization, drama, and suspense, though once again the Light wins almost without having to do anything (my chief criticism of the series). Not as cerebral as The Dark is Rising, it still might be a bit advanced for children. I know for certain that Welsh is a language I am not going to learn any time soon!


Saturday, January 8, 2000

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

Movie: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)
Writer(s): Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel) and Robert Towne
Director(s): Hugh Hudson

As a huge ERB fan, I've wanted to see this movie for years. Of course I was hesitant, as I've been disappointed at all Tarzan adoptations so far. This one's supposed to be the truest, but I wasn't that impressed. Yes, it was better from a technical perspective (but even there there were minor mistakes like Tarzan, learning to speak, muttering "razor" perfectly on the first try). Mostly this movie suffered from two faults: it was boring; there was essentially no "Tarzan action" like you'd expect, and it had a serious misinterpretation of Burroughs. In ERB's books, Tarzan, a.k.a. Lord Greystoke, was as comfortable in a suit as in a loincloth -- the whole point was he could live in either world (but chose to live in the wild). He simply was a superior man all around. In this movie, however, they made Tarzan out to be a wildman who could never be comfortable in society. Essentially that was the central conflict of the film, so I can see why they did that, but that was not ERB's intent for the character. The key to Tarzan for me (and how I relate to him) is that he is not truly a part of either civilization or the wild. He is something of both worlds but does not belong to either. He is man, not ape, yet he lives with apes. He is man, and lives with men, yet he is not man. When he is with men he feels the calling of the wild. When he is in the wild, he feels the calling of civilization (not strongly, but it is there). That, for me, was the genius of ERB. Tarzan was ultimate alien. That's how I relate to him. Growing up in West Africa and the United States, I never felt a part of either world: I was a tourist in either location. So you can see that I was disappointed by this adaptation, which took out what I consider the most important part of Tarzan's character! (The elimination of this aspect of Tarzan also eliminated the reason for Tarzan to leave the wild and explore his history in the first place. The film gives no clear reason as to what motivates Tarzan to the jungle.)


Monday, March 24, 2003

The Grid

Book: The Grid (1995)
Writer(s): Philip Kerr

Kerr's an intelligent guy and I thought he knew something about computers until I read this preposterous tale. It's about a "smart" building that goes awry when the computer controlling it obtains consciousness and starts killing everyone inside one by one. Gee, that's original. Worse, Kerr spends the first third of the book setting up several red herring human murderers when it was obvious from the book's premise that the building was guilty. Rather weak. He does a half-assed job of making the computer's intelligence seem feasible, using a lot of real-life technology to explain things, but every now and then he casually throws out something completely absurd. For example, at one point he says the building can converse in 86 languages. Gee, and today we can't even create a computer that can converse in one, let alone all those others! At other times he lapses into fantasy: a programmer, while trying to kill off a rogue program while a kid is playing a video game, supposedly causes the game code to "merge" with the computer's main programming code, thereby making the computer think it's part of a game. Ridiculous. Anyone who knows anything about programming knows that's impossible. Even it you accept this as fantasy and not science fiction, however, the novel still fails. It's very long, predictable (gee, everyone dies), and nothing much happens beyond people dying. Kerr sets up some tangents (like the mysterious Japanese guy) that he just drops. Strange. Definitely not his best.


Saturday, November 25, 2000

The Grinch

Movie: The Grinch (2000)
Director(s): Ron Howard

Very good, though occasionally includes crude, inappropriate jokes (considering its audience). Makeup and special effects were awesome, and Jim Carey did a wonderful job. I liked the way they did the story: it followed the Suess one mostly, but included enough new material to be interesting.


Friday, April 6, 2007


Movie: Grindhouse

I've been eager for this for months. Just the idea of a Tarantino-Rodriguez double feature had me sold, and then the previews looked amazing. And guess what? You get exactly what's promoted: two full-length features (about 90 minutes each), plus some fake movie trailers in between that are hilarious and practically worth the price of admission alone. The first feature is Rodriguez' Planet Terror, which takes the zombie flick to a new level. Even for a zombie movie this has got an unbelievable amount of gore and blood. The premise is simple -- a military bio-weapon has been released and except for a handful of survivors, everyone's turning into zombies. Lots of eclectic characters, inventive and gruesome deaths, and pure B-movie adrenaline. Everything climaxes when Cherry, our heroine, who's lost a leg at the knee, is outfitted with a machine gun for a leg -- hilarious! It's so over the top it's brilliant. Wonderful. If you like the premise you'll love the movie. If you don't like the premise, you won't. It's as simple as that. Tarantino's contribution (other than cameos in both films) is called Death Proof and stars Kurt Russell as a stuntman with a "death-proof" car. Unlike the non-stop Terror, this feature has less action with delicate character building that's like the lull before the storm. When the action hits, it's violent and loud and fitting. The story's elegantly simple: Russell stalks beautiful women and kills him with his car, knowing that he'll be the only one to survive the crash and no one can prove it wasn't accidental. But then he picks on the wrong girls -- and the tables are turned. This feature had some of the most realistic dialog I've ever seen in any movie. The four movie girls' conversation was amazingly natural and flawlessly acted -- it's really amost too good for the supposed B-nature thrills of Grindhouse.

I liked both movies a lot. I was a bit worried about the cheapo "bad movie print" effects I'd heard, like grainy and scratchy film and missing reels, but there's just enough of it to be interesting and add dimension without it actually interferring with the film or getting annoying. The only negatives I have is that Death-Proof is a little slow, especially after the frantic chaos of Terror -- perhaps the order of the two films should have been reversed? By the third hour you're really eager for mindless action. The only other negative is that the previews are so detailed that the films have few surprises. Oh, you get what you pay for and expect, which is good, but it felt a little bit like "Yeah, that's what I expected." In other words, there was nothing wrong with it but I felt just the tiniest bit of a letdown -- probably because all the key set pieces are telegraphed in the trailers. Still, this movie is a blast. It's very retro, and the sensationalism of the presentation is just brilliant. Two thumbs up.


Friday, December 10, 2004

The Grudge

Movie: The Grudge

I really wanted to like this but I found it stiffling, more weird than scary, and meaningless. The premise held some interest: when someone dies in a rage their ghost remains behind to torment the living, but even that didn't really seem to connect much with the meandering storyline. Visually the film is fascinating with unusual perspectives, creepy sounds and images, and a surprising amount of tension built within ordinary scenes. Unfortunately it is the story that is weak and empty. It is relentless, with no point or meaning, and the film's conclusion left me feeling like I needed to take a shower. The whole thing was simply unpleasant. Not recommended.


Saturday, September 8, 2007


A couple weeks ago I bought the book Getting Things Done and I have been hard at work since putting its ideas into practice. A key concept of the book is you must get your entire life in order: you cannot leave "open loops" of things unfinished. So my first task has been a mammoth one: sort and process the hundreds of boxes of stuff I have in my garage and house that I never unpacked from my move to Oregon two years ago. Much of that stuff was in boxes in storage while I was in California and it's stuff I haven't gone through in decades. I never had the time (or took the time) to sort through everything in the past and just moved it, and of course that's been a huge open loop for me, always feeling like "someday" I needed to get around to sorting through things and getting organized. So for the past two weeks I've been working. I moved my office (swapped it with the spare bedroom) which is a zillion times better and makes much more sense structurally. The new office is larger and can double as a spare bedroom if needed, which is awesome. It's also organized from scratch to fit my work needs, with places for all my office supplies, storage, files, and more. Everything is organized and labeled. For instance, I used to have four 11x17 boxes of nothing but cables and cords all jumbled and tangled together. We're talking A/V cables, computer cords, electric cables, phone wiring, you name it. So I literally wrapped up every single cable with zip ties and filed them each in their own labeled plastic box (over a dozen of them). Now I can actually find an extension cord or USB cable when I need it!

Among other tasks, I have installed new shelving, new ceiling light fixtures, and bought and installed new shelving units in the garage. It's been a long two weeks. I've been physically exhausted and tired -- I haven't done so much manual labor in years. But it's healthy: I feel my psyche relaxing and being healed from all the stress and chaos I've put it through for years being so disorganized and carrying such a huge burden. I'm still not done: a few more boxes in the garage to process, a garage sale to do, and a few rooms in the house that are not quite purged of clutter yet, but I'm getting very close. I am not kidding when I say that I've accomplished more in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years. It's amazing and I feel good. Next I need to use the principles of GTD to establish some organization routines for my daily life and work, create a filing system, and then actually start getting some real work done. It's been a sacrifice to get here, but I am confident it will pay off. I'll be more organized and able to concentrate, keep up with my projects, keep all the projects moving, and I've no doubt I'll be inspired and more creative. I'll also live without guilt and be able to relax and enjoy life instead of my subconscious worrying and nagging me about things left undone.


Thursday, February 10, 2000

Guarding Tess

Movie: Guarding Tess (1994)
Writer(s): Hugh Wilson and Peter Torokvei
Director(s): Hugh Wilson

This film was incredibly disappointing. It wasn't the least bit funny, nor were any of the characters sympathetic. Shirley Maclaine's character was supposed to be annoying and she was, but even when she wasn't supposed to be annoying she was. And Nicolas Cage was such a doormat I wanted to punch him myself! I frankly wished they'd all drop off a cliff and leave me in peace. The ending was muddled and confusing -- I couldn't even tell if the kidnapping was real or staged or what was going on. I've never heard the phrase "Yes, Ma'am" more times in my entire life -- and I hope to never hear it again!


Friday, December 28, 2001

Guys and Dolls

Movie: Guys and Dolls

Good musical: I liked the story, though it was predictable (like most musicals). This particular version was extremely choreographed, making everything artificial (my usual pet peeve about musicals is how unnatural they are), but in this case it set a particular tone and style that after I while I accepted and kind of liked. There was a grace to the choreographed movements and blocking. Overall, there was too much exposition and setup (the film's 30 minutes too long), and only a few of the songs are memorable, but the characters were well done and well acted. Marlon Brando was a particular surprise: he was excellent. Jean Simmons was terrific. Right off, however, I remarked at how the guy who played Nathan Detroit couldn't sing. I cringed every time he tried. Later, while studying the DVD box, I discovered that that was Frank Sinatra! Well, I listened to him sing again, and I'll stick with my original assessment: the guy was weak (can't act, can't sing -- but hey, he's famous, so give him a role). The guy who played Nicely Nicely was the best singer of them all (especially in his "testimony" song, "Sit Down, Don't Rock the Boat" which was one of the best songs in the film).