Thursday, October 14, 1999

H20: Halloween 20 Years Later

Movie: H20: Halloween 20 Years Later (1998)
Writer(s): Robert Zappia
Director(s): Steve Miner

Halloween is supposed to be some sort of horror classic, but frankly I found it boring and predictable (I watched a year or two ago). I was curious if the 20-years-in-the-waiting sequel would prove better. The results are mixed. This movie is more fun, about the same on the mildly scary level, and similar in its lack of plot. Basically Jamie Lee Curtis' evil brother is back, this time out to kill her son and his high school friends. Eighty percent of the "chills" are fake (the scary noise turns out to be a cat or friend walking past -- lame, lame, lame) and Michael Myers himself is boringly ordinary (though absurdly hard to kill). Doesn't have the gritty documentary feel of the original, but that's not saying much. The best bit is the casting of Curtis' mother, Janet Leigh (of Pyscho fame) in a small part (the car she drives is the same one sunk in the lake in Pyscho).


Monday, May 5, 2003

The Hacker and the Ants

Book: The Hacker and the Ants (2003)
Writer(s): Rudy Rucker

I picked this book up after noticing it was written by a local author (Rucker teaches at San Jose State University). My first impression while reading this book was that it was obviously his first as it's so poorly written. Sometimes the story moves from one scene to the next at a bewildering rate, and at other times we're treated to pages of exposition and computer science lectures. I found wading through it tedious at best. What makes it worse is that the plot leaves us in a state of incomprehension until the end of the book when all is revealed. I found these aspects so frustrating I almost didn't bother finishing the book. When I did a little research into Rucker, I discovered (to my shock) that he's been writing books since the 1970s! He's written over twenty books and has actually won writing awards. Maybe I was misjudging him? I went back to the book and ploughed through to the end. The bottom line is that the plot is worth the read, and from a technical perspective, this virtual reality tale is rather ingenious. While I haven't read other Rucker novels (I might check out one or two), I will concede that perhaps this isn't badly written as I'd first assumed, it's just Rucker's style. Whatever it is, I didn't like it. The fast-slow, start-stop aspect of the story drove me nuts. For instance, while many tiny things happen in the first 100 pages, it isn't until page 120 that the main plot point happens: the virtual ants of the title are released onto the digital TV network and cause a massive shutdown and lead to the arrest of the main character. When I got to that point I wanted to continue reading to find out if and how he cleared himself of the charges -- but the first 100 pages are just babbling with only a couple scenes crucial to the main plot. I also felt the characters were extremely one dimensional (I guess that's a pun since the novel deals with virtual reality). While Rucker gives us plenty of detail about the main character's history, he still feels like a cardboard man. For instance, we know he's going through a divorce, but we don't know why. Throughout the novel Rucker throws in stuff to make the character well-rounded, but it feels forced. For example, there are a number of sexual encounters which feel extremely out-of-place (like the hacker sleeping with a woman he met hours earlier -- yeah, like that happens to geeks in Silicon Valley). I figured he just put that in so we'd know the guy's a man.

From a technical perspective Rucker definitely knows his stuff and does a better job explaining futuristic technology than most authors (though his theoretical plot is a little unrealistic), but the bizarre and inconsistent pacing of the book ruined it for me. In the end I liked the plot and resolution, but getting there was not fun (nothing makes sense until the end). I can see why cybergeeks would like this, but most probably haven't read much real literature and think this is pretty good. I'd give it an average for overall quality, above average for technical details, and a below average for characterization and pacing.


Saturday, June 2, 2001


Movie: Hackers

Fun film, though like most techno films, takes a great deal of license with reality. I don't like the stereotype that hackers are criminals (true hackers are computer experts, not kids with mischevious tendencies). Fun to see faces like superstar Angelina Jolie in an early role.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Hackers and Painters

Book: Hackers and Painters
Writer(s): Paul Graham

This is an impressive collection of essays by "hacker" (computer programmer) Paul Graham. Paul writes on all sorts of topics, from censorship to creativity, all from the unusual viewpoint of the hacker. A hacker, in his definition, is a clever programmer, not a criminal as inaccurately portrayed by the media. Hackers are not understood by the average person -- a hacker's world is inside the mysterious computer -- so hearing what a hacker thinks of philosophical topics, politics, technology, and other issues is fascinating. You may not always agree with Paul, but that's not the point. He writes well with clear analogies and logical arguments toward his theses, and the unusual perspective is designed to make you think of things in a way you didn't before. Paul comes up with some unusual ideas as well. For instance, his essay, "What Not To Say," proposes the concept that every society throughout history has had an unspoken list of things people are not supposed to talk about. What's okay in one country is forbidden in another. In one time period it was okay to say something but today we see that as racist and forbidden. Or how about science: a while back you could be jailed for saying the earth revolves around the sun! That all makes sense but the key here is that in every one of those situations, the people at the time -- just like us today -- thought they were 100% correct in their way of thinking. So the question becomes, if someone came back to today from the future, what would they discover that is forbidden to say today but in the future is considered normal? That's an interesting question and one well worth your time pondering. And why is that important? Paul writes that hackers, by definition, are people who think "outside the box" and they cannot do that if they are trained by society to not think certain thoughts. A hacker's brain must be free.

Not everyone will understand or appreciate this book. However, if you're into computers, technology, hacking, or philosophy, I think you'll find it fascinating. It's a surprisingly quick read for a book about such big ideas.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Movie: Hancock

(Spoiler alert: in order to cover this, I must reveal some plot points. You've been warned.) This is a confusing film. I don't believe it knows what it is either. It wants to be a superhero film, but wants to be both a traditional one and a new and different and edgy one. Hancock is the Superman-like superhero (excellently portrayed by Will Smith) who is nasty, mean, and drunk. In his heroics, he often damages more than he helps, and the people hate him. Then a PR guy befriends him and tries to reform his image and make him into a hero people will like. There's supposed to be some comedy in this, but it's done in such a nasty, negative manner, with a lot of foul language and dark humor, that it comes across as more uncomfortable than funny. If the film had stopped there, it might have worked. But it goes off the deep end with a bizarre plot twist: apparently the PR's guys wife, sheer coincidence, just happens to be another superhero, and one who knows Hancock's real identity and story (he's suffering from amnesia and doesn't know how he became super). The two fight and we aren't sure why and we don't know who to root for, and since this takes up ten or twenty minutes of the film, we're confused and disinterested for quite a while. In the end, things are explained (sort of) and everyone lives happily ever thereafter, but the ride to get there is bumpy. The special effects are cool, though often too fancy and fast to be visible, and are the main reason to see this. That and Will Smith's performance (and Charlize Theron as the wife). Unfortunately, the film just doesn't quite work or live up to its billing. It's not terrible, just a little disappointing. The jokes fall flat, the plot is weak, and the gimmick of a superhero as a mean drunk and a jerk grows old quickly. Still, it has some fun elements and scenes and is okay if you're not too discriminating.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Hangover

Movie: The Hangover

Not quite as crude as I expected and surprisingly funny and entertaining, though it definitely has its low-brow moments. (The really crude stuff is saved the for closing credits, so just skip those if you're squeamish. You won't miss much.) Not my favorite genre, but the trailer looked funny and I wanted to see this but was worried it would be worse than the trailer. It's a bit of a mixed bag: the trailer definitely captures the funniest scenes, but there's still some good stuff in the film, along with stuff that could have been left out. Still, overall, not as a bad as I expected.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hangover: Part II

Movie: The Hangover: Part II

I was not a big fan of the original, which, while it had its moments, seemed to go out of its way to be crude and socially unacceptable (to the detriment of the film). Perhaps because I knew more what to expect this time, I was surprised by how much I liked this one. It's basically the exact same plot -- drunk guys black out and can't remember their night and have to piece together what happened -- though this time it's set in Bangkok instead of Las Vegas. It's a little slow to get going -- the early workings aren't too funny -- but once the guys wake up with the hangover it starts to get good. Oh yes, it's still full of the socially unacceptable, and there are a several cringe-worthy moments, but except for one or two they are mercifully quick. What I liked far better was the nice blend of characters who are each pushed out of their element by circumstance (and the liberating influence of alcohol and drugs) and the excellent plotting, which never felt contrived or forced and came across as an outrageous but believable series of unfortunate events. The deadpan reactions, the unexpected oddities (I loved the stick attack by the monks, for instance), the way the characters stayed true to their personalities, the solving of the "what the hell did we do last night?" mystery, and, of course, that hilarious (and cute) monkey are all highlights. While the ending (where everything works out fine, of course) was a little too smooth and convenient, the whole thing was a fun, wild ride. While I could do without some of the shock/crude humor, I guess that's part of the whole point of this series (I mean, a hangover without shame and mystery isn't worth the trouble, right?). Not for everyone's taste (to understate it), but if you can handle this kind of thing, this is a quite funny and entertaining movie.


Friday, April 8, 2011


Movie: Hanna
Director(s): Joe Wright

I love the concept of the film as a thirteen-year-old girl is raised by a former spy to be the ultimate assassin, but the implementation had some issues for me. First of all, the story's fairly simple and basic, without a lot of subplot and twists and turns that typically fill this genre. There's nothing wrong with that and I rather liked it. However, the film is directed in a way that attempts to compensate for that, with certain "in your face" techniques (sharp cuts and edits, dramatic zooms, action camerawork, etc.) that sometimes feels overdone and occasionally actually make it confusing what is happening. This is especially true of the ending, which is supposed to be climatic, but left me scratching my head at what happened. (I didn't get the business with the arrow and some of the action editing there was really poor.) Fortunately much of the middle of the film is more human moments as we follow the girl trying to get back to father while being hunted by bad guys she doesn't know are on her tail, and that I enjoyed very much. Not a lot really happens, but it feels like a lot may happen, and that's entertaining. The performances are great all around. Ultimately I was pleased and I recommend the film, but it falls short of greatness for me. Some of its potential didn't get realized and I thought the ending needed something extra (it was too predictable and the confusing camerawork and editing didn't mask the lack of creativity of the conclusion).


Saturday, February 10, 2001


Movie: Hannibal (2001)
Writer(s): Thomas Harris (novel)
Director(s): Ridley Scott

First, let me say I liked the book -- most critics did not. The film is very similar to the book, except at the very end. Why they changed the ending, I don't know: I thought that was the crux of the book. For me, it was Harris' statement about society and the way we celebrate and glorify criminals (haven't you seen a Charles Manson T-shirt?). But I can see why people didn't like the book -- it's very different from Silence of the Lambs. That didn't bother me; I liked the humor and cheesy thrills. Harris gave the audience exactly what they wanted: a sequel, with lots of Hannibal.

That said, the early buzz on the film was that it wasn't going to be good. So I wanted to see it early, before I had my mind distorted by the media. I'm glad I did, because I liked the movie. It was loyal to the book in most regards, and well-directed and written. It would have been better with the original ending, and there were some confusing and rushed portions: Mason Verger's gory history was poorly edited and incomprehensible for those who haven't read the book, and the new ending was filled with bizarre inaccuracies and "clever" plot points which made no sense. The film is certainly not going to win Oscars for anyone; it is not the least bit ground-breaking like the earlier film. But it's a fun ride. Think of it like the new super roller coaster put in to replace the old one. There are many of the same thrills, and it's good fun, but it will never be as good as the original.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hannibal Rising

Book: Hannibal Rising
Writer(s): Thomas Harris

I bought Crichton's Next as a printed book and listened to this one as an audiobook; I should have done them the other way around. Harris' book is much better written, but confusing as an audiobook -- it's too easy to miss vital pieces of information if you aren't paying attention. Harris himself reads it, which is cool: he does an impressive job, even doing character voices and speaking various languages. The story is simple enough: this is about the childhood of Hannibal, the serial killer from several of Harris' other books. Here we meet Hannibal's parents, his tutor, and see Hannibal's keen intelligence. We also experience the horrors that turned him into a cold monster who eats human flesh. As you might expect, the book's exceedinly grim at times, though Harris' writing even makes that pleasurable (take, for instance, his description of a formerly bald man "who is now hirsute," with "green tendrils" coming from his head... and we gradually realize the man's head is severed and has been floating in a barrel for an extended period of time). The plot is not speedy, but the journey so delightful, filled with Hannibal's key influences and experiences, that we are happy to let Harris' pace things. We witness Hannibal's first kill, and then it becomes obvious that the main plot is Hannibal's quest for revenge. One by one he will kill the people who killed his family and abused him so cruelly as a child. Of course this is Hannibal Lector -- these cannot be ordinary killings -- and Harris makes them appropriately different and dramatic. The end result is surprisingly literate, considering the topic; Hannibal is without a doubt one of the most unusual and memorable characters in literature, and this book finally explains what created him, and why his character can be simultaneously sympathetic and horrific.


Friday, February 9, 2007

Hannibal Rising

Movie: Hannibal Rising

I'd just finished the book when I heard the movie was coming out; unusual timing. Unfortunately, though I really wanted to like the film, I can't recommend it. It has a lot of good things -- the cast, though unknown, is decent, and it's well-done from a technical perspective. Unfortunately all the book's profundity is lost and all that's left is a mere revenge story, a meaningless and extremely ugly story of violence and hate. In the book there were aspects of the story that revealed things about Hannibal's character; in the movie those are forgotten as the story's reduced to mere action plot points.


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Happening

Movie: The Happening
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan has made his reputation making suspense movies with unexpected endings. These have not always worked as they often rely too much on the gimmicky ending. They also can be inscrutible during the watching as you have no idea where the film is going or what is happening. This one follows the latter formula, but fortunately or unfortunately, it has no twist ending. Instead, the mystery is never fully explained. In a way, that is good: it's different and it fits with the film's message, but it's also exasperating if you're expecting a resolution. Instead you leave the film just as bewildered as before you went in! That said, I still liked the film. The premise is interesting -- a toxin of some kind is causing mass suicides and panic spreads as people flee to towns to rural areas to escape, and we follow a couple and their friend's daughter as they run away. No one knows why this is happening or how to stop it, which is the mystery which is never solved. But some of the characters are interesting (the wife and little girl are particularly good, though Mark Wahlberg as the man is poorly cast) and there are some shocks and frightening scenes which keep you intrigued. One thing Shyamalan did that was smart is to keep the film short: if it was longer than 90 minutes it would have felt too long. As it is, it's just long enough to feel creepy and fascinated, but not so long as to get annoying. I ended up liking the film, though it's certainly nothing remarkable. It's mildly interesting and has some good scenes and an idea or two, but in the end, like most of Shyamalan's recent films, it depends too much on a single idea and there's not enough depth or story. As entertainment, it's not bad, but don't expect much. Get out of it what you can. I did and liked it, but your mileage may vary.


Sunday, February 9, 2003


Movie: Happenstance

Terrific, clever French film about fate and coincidence, slightly similar to Serendipity and Amelie. The story deals with the interconnecting lives of a dozen or so people (so many it's difficult to keep track of them) and how the tiniest detail can change a person's future. For example, a girl abandons a bag in the subway and the train skips that stop because the authorities need to check the bag as a potential bomb. A man on the train therefore misses his stop and his reunion with his old girlfriend, who just happens to be the former roommate of the girl who left the bag! (And that's a simple example of the complex interlinking in this film.)

Remarkably clever and fascinating, but ultimately many of the coincidences fail to go anywhere (or aren't explained), which is a let down, and the abrupt ending leaves us a little puzzled. Still, this is way more ambitious than typical Hollywood offerings, and I think it would get stronger with repeated viewings (you'd notice details you missed earlier).


Sunday, September 10, 2000


Movie: Happiness

Bizarre, quirky film that deals with extreme subjects (like pedophilia) in a loosely satricial fashion. The whole point is summarized in the title, as in, the search for (Happiness) and what it all means. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really uncover anything too revealing, though the presentation is unique, and it has fun poking fun at society's trivialities. Some great characters and great moments, but falls a little short of a great film. Sample moment: fat slob loser geek with crush on beautiful neighbor (a successful writer with too many boyfriends and no painful life experiences) finally meet after his anonymous phone sex calls have got her extremely interested, and after a long, awkward silence, she finally says, "You're not my type." and that's that. Realistic. Best moment? When the fat neighbor with crush on fat slob loser geek finally go on a date and the unexpected happens. Hilarious!


Saturday, November 8, 2003

Happy Campers

Movie: Happy Campers
Writer(s): Daniel Waters
Director(s): Daniel Water

This film was written and directed by the guy who did one of my favorite films, Heathers. Unfortunately, even though this movie is above average for its genre, it's still a silly teen sex comedy. It's about growing-up adventures by camp counselors at summer camp. It's mildly interesting and has a few good moments, but really can't get escape its genre.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hard Candy

Movie: Hard Candy

Wow, what a FANTASTIC film. I realize that the subject matter might turn many people off, so this could be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film, but I thought it was incredible. The story's incredibly simple: a fourteen-year-old girl meets a 32-year-old guy online, meets him in person, and goes home with him. Then the tables turn as we discover the prey is the guy and she's the hunter, out to make him pay for his perversion. That's the gimmick, of course, and most films would just stop there, but this film was created by smart people: the script is written by a playwright, important for a film that almost entirely takes place in a house with just the two primary characters. Every line of dialogue is brilliant and subtle, charged with extra meaning, and the actors in this are incredible: Ellen Page as the girl and Patrick Wilson as the guy both deserve Oscar nominations. The girl is an incredibly intelligent teen and Page plays her with just the right amount of strength and volunerability, confidence and nervous fear, a fascinating mixture that makes her astonishing and fascinating to watch. Wilson doesn't play his villain as purely evil but as ordinary human, and many times during the film you're sympathizing with him, as horrifying as that seems later. Both characters are confronted with their demons and forced to see themselves for who they truly are and it's not always pretty. This film will make you think and think again, and you'll come away thinking and wondering. The film asks many questions and while it has a satisfying conclusion, it doesn't wrap up every detail and leaves you plenty of meat to gnaw on later. Wonderful!


Wednesday, March 12, 2003

A Hard Day's Night

Movie: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

I will date myself horribly here, but not only had I never seen this film, I am unfamiliar with the Beatles. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so I had to keep scratching my head in amazement that Paul McCartney was a Beatle! (When did that happen? ;-) But it makes sense: my familiarity with Paul, John, and George comes from the late 80's and their single careers (John of course was gone but still had hits like "Imagine"). I never connected those people with the Beatles, and the glimpses of the Beatles I'd seen showed young boys and I never really made the connection with them as adults. I'm sure that's strange for Beatle fans, but I doubt I'm the only one who thinks that way. Anyway, this is a pretty cool movie. I'm not sure if it's fiction, scripted or not (it feels unscripted like a documentary), but it's fun. It's basically just a day in the life of the Beatles, following them throughout London as they get ready for a TV appearance. They periodically sing, so this is in many ways the 1960's equivalent of the music video. The dialog between the four guys is totally like The Monkeys TV show -- I assume the show got that from this movie. As to the music, I recognized some of the classics and liked those, but the ballads put me to sleep. The piece is dated in some funny ways: the guys look pretty ordinary to me, but apparently there was some kind of scandal over their "outrageous" hairdos. I couldn't really figure that one out. Overall, two thumbs up.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hard News

Book: Hard News
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

The idea sounds good: a young, quirky cameraperson at a TV network gets a lead on an "innocent man imprissoned" story she wants to cover. She must find evidence to free him, but people and circumstance conspire against her. Unfortunately, the book's resolution is convoluted and doesn't make that much sense, and there are distracting personal stories that confuse things even more. The whole thing feels unfocused and directionless, though in the end progress is made. This would be a good novel for condensation. It's not that bad and it's got some interesting situations, but the overall story is weak.


Sunday, January 2, 2000

Hard Target

Movie: Hard Target (1993)
Writer(s): Chuck Pfarrer
Director(s): John Woo

Woo's American movie debut. I'd never seen it before, but it's a superior action flick despite staring Jean-Claude Van Damme (I like him, but his movies are usually routine). The plot's a familiar variation of "The Most Dangerous Game" (hunters hunting humans, in this case homeless veterans), but the action's cool and stylistic.


Saturday, February 15, 2003


Movie: Hardball

Routine, saccharine tale about a loser with gambling debts roped into to coaching a projects kids baseball team. He gradually learns to love the kids, they soften up to him, and the team of losers and misfits wins the championship against all odds. Hooray. Predictable as rain in May, but still competently done. Fun if you don't mind being shamelessly manipulated.


Sunday, February 27, 2000

Harmful Intent

Book: Harmful Intent (1990)
Writer(s): Robin Cook

Excellent medical/legal thriller, with an anesthesiologist, wrongly convicted of malpractice and second-degree murder, jumping bail to prove his innocence. Intelligent, well-drawn characters, believably paced (no superheroes here), with lots of medical detail, action, and suspense. I couldn't put it down (I started it on Saturday). The ending was a little suspicious (lawyers were at the heart the conspiracy), but it's such a feel-good conclusion you don't care.


Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

Movie: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

I figured this for a stupid stoner comedy and it is: but except for a few places where it tries to out-crude Dumb and Dumber, it's hiliarious. I rarely laugh out loud at a movie, but this one had me in stitches in certain places. Perhaps I was just in the mood (Could it have been the medical marijuana they gave out at the theatre entrance? Just kidding!), but it's just so outrageous, silly, and absurd I couldn't help but giggle. It's really cool. The plot is simple: two stoner dudes, one an Indian (Kumar) who keeps avoiding medical school and the other a straight-laced Korean (Harold) who's stuck working in a boring financial firm, decide to go to White Castle for some yummy burgers and find all sorts of odd obstacles in their way. It's a road trip film, with all sorts of detours and bizarre characters on the way. Of course the two stoners just blink and go right on, practically oblivious and single-minded in their determination to get to White Castle. Some of the scenes are classics. For instance, Kumar pulls the car over in the middle of nowhere and runs to pee in the woods. While he's doing his business, suddenly a strange guy -- I'm pretty sure it was Jamie Kennedy in a cameo -- comes up next to him and starts peeing in the same bush! They have this surreal conversation about what the heck's going on and it's just so out-of-place, uncomfortable, and funny you can't help but laugh. The whole film's like that, with strange moments that just make you grin. I won't spoil the details of all their adventures -- just trust that if you like silly comedies like Dumb and Dumber, you'll love this one. There's even some not-too-subtle jabs at society, such as when the entire police force attack an unarmed black man harmlessly reading a book for "attempting to escape his jail cell." The ending is awesome, with the two stoners growing from their experiences, but not too much: we certainly wouldn't want them being too responsible as that wouldn't be very funny.


Thursday, November 23, 2000

Harold and Maude

Movie: Harold and Maude (1971)
Writer(s): Colin Higgins
Director(s): Hal Ashby

My number two favorite film of all time. Amazing, mesmerizing, and hilarious story of a lifeless young "poor little rich boy" who discovers a vivacious 80-year-old woman who teaches him to enjoy existence. Every scene is masterfully orchestrated: not a word of dialogue is excessive, every happening is critical to the plot, every shot is flawlessly composed, and the performances are genuine. This is truly a perfect film. After 30 years it has lost none of its power: perhaps it's even gained import considering the pointlessness of modern life. This is a film I could watch every month and enjoy more every time.


Sunday, October 31, 1999

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
Writer(s): J.K. Rowling

Almost as soon as I finished the first one, I started on the second. It's just about as good, picking up right where the previous book left off, and continuing to delight and inspire. Harry's a terrific hero: modest, imperfect, and with a heart of gold. He always wins, but not without help from his friends, and not by how you'd expect. Yet he's perfectly believable as the hero. Too many stories create larger-than-life heroes that are just ridiculous, while others take a nobody and suddenly have them doing noble and heroic things that just don't fit their mediocre character. Harry's wonderful! Makes me wish I had children to read the books to!


Friday, November 15, 2002

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Movie: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Director(s): Chris Columbus

I had to see this one on opening day, so I went to a matinee to beat the crowds (there were still a couple hundred people in the theatre). It's not the event the first film was, but as a film, it's excellent -- better than the first (just like the book). With the setting established, this time we could concentrate on a more complex plot and other adventures of the main characters. It's three hours long, but you won't notice it: there's always something happening and it's never boring (the first one bogged in exposition in a few places, like where they explain the rules to Quiditch, etc.). For someone who hasn't seen the first, the lack of explanation could be a problem, but who'd want to see this that hasn't seen the first one? Just great. It's been a while since I've read the book, but it appeared to be extremely faithful, though a few minor details might be been left out. I do love the attention to detail in these films -- they are special effect heavy, but in the world of Harry Potter magic is so ordinary that they don't bother making a big deal about it, so you'll have a scene and notice that in the background, all the pictures are moving (the way they do in the magical world). Cool. I can't wait for Harry Potter 3!


Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows

Book: Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows
Writer(s): J. K. Rowling

Wow. This book is the best since the first, and a terrific cap for the series. If you thought Rowling was making all this up as she went along, this proves she was not, for everything is revealed in this book. All the little storylines are wrapped up and questions answered. There are flashbacks to previous books and we suddenly see all sorts of hints and clues in those that we never noticed before. Rowling knew exactly what she was doing. It is brilliant. I can't think of another multi-series of books that are so tightly plotted. As for the story in this one, it's also brilliant. All the books so far have followed a similar plotline: Harry goes back to school, learns stuff, gets into mischief, and stops some evil Voldemort plot. But this one is different. This is a different Harry. In this one, he and Ron and Hermione skip school and set right out on the mission left them by Dumbledore in the last book, looking for additional devices containing portions of Voldemort's soul. If even one of these is not destroyed, Voldemort can rebuild himself, so all of them must be destroyed before Voldemort can be battled. This all leads to a dramatic wizard war at Hogwarts (I can't wait to see the battle on film) and the final controntation between Harry and Voldemort. (Come on, that was obvious -- I'm not giving anything away by telling you that.) I won't leak the ending, but I will say that it is exactly as it should be: appropriate, dramatic, and utterly satisfying. It's the perfect conclusion to the perfect series. This book is one of the fastest reading, too: it's just non-stop excitement and you can't put it down. I didn't start reading until late Saturday night and finished it Monday night. Highly recommended.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I heard the hype surrounding this and yesterday afternoon saw the lines already forming for the midnight showing and I wondered why I wasn't so enthusiastic. Then I remembered: this is just part one and we have to wait for summer for the rest of the story. How lame is that? It wouldn't bother me as much if part two was in January, but waiting eight months is ridiculous. (The girls behind me in the theatre complained of the same thing at the end.) But despite my reservations and the fact that it does end in mid-sentence as I'd feared, it is still a fantastic film. It's been too long since I read the book for me to remember if it got all the details right, but much seemed familiar and was extremely well done. (I especially liked the animated story in the middle, which had an interesting and unique style.) It's a darker tale, and it's long and slower than I expected. Probably too much of the film is the kids in isolation, hiding and hiking in remote locations while they try to unravel riddles. Yes, we are supposed to understand their bored nature and know that lots of time passes, but you don't have to literally bore the audience to convey boredom. Still, that slowness does work to convey expectations of later drama -- it's just a shame that most of that resolution comes in part two. There also wasn't as much humor as we normally expect in the Harry Potter universe (when it came in minor doses the audience laughed loudly with relief of tension), and it was depressing seeing the kids fighting amongst each other (though it's a key part of the plot and is justified and necessary). Despite these issues, it's just so wonderful to be back in that world that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I didn't want it to end! The drama and stakes have never been higher in the series and you can feel it building to a climax that will get even more intense in the final part. I can't wait for part two!


Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

I was somewhat against this movie being split in two, but I am glad they did in the sense that the story needed the length. It would have been awful chopped down to three hours. This one has a nice leisurely pace that's needed for some of the somber events that conclude the series and for sure that would have eliminated if they had tried to do the whole thing as a single film. (I still think this should have been released much closer to Part 1, though: by the time I saw this, I'd forgotten all about the first half.) As for commenting on this film, there are two ways to go: one can write about the film itself, or judge the story (which is judging the book). I'll do both. In terms of a film, this is very good. I liked a lot of the decisions made, such as minimizing the "war" and "battle" scenes (implying them or showing them in the background). I find such scenes tedious and boring and I had been dreading having to sit through long minutes of hordes of people and creatures battling. Though the film doesn't give you any sort of summary of the previous films and just continues right where the last one left off, you don't need to know much. The trio simply has a series of missions and sets out to accomplish them, with the inevitable final confrontation between Harry Potter and Voldemort the dramatic conclusion. Of course, people who didn't like the way the book ended will have similar problems with the film. But I still think it's a good ending and it works well for me.


Monday, July 31, 2000

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
Writer(s): J.K. Rowling

I finally got some time to finish this. Excellent, excellent book. Best of the series, though they are all very good. I was most impressed at how Rowling reinvents the series with each sequel, including enough familiar elements we're all comfortable with it, but with plenty of new stuff to delight us all over again. For instance, in the first three books a major part of the story was the annual Quidditch tournament. By the third book I was getting pretty tired of reading about Quidditch matches. But in this book the Quidditch tournament is canceled in favor of something else (I'll let you read to find out what) -- brilliant. And once again, Rowling surprises us with the twisting ending. Another change: this book ends with an ominous opening for plenty of sequels. I don't know what's going to happen, but I can see that she's set herself up for major changes in the wizardy world.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Movie: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

What's there to say? A good adaptation of a good book. It's fairly faithful (especially considering the length of the original source), is entertaining, fun, and has some good drama as the tone of the series becomes more serious. Nothing remarkable here, however. It's everything we expect in the series. Recommended, of course, but just don't expect more than the book.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Writer(s): J. K. Rowling

I didn't particularly like the last book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so I wasn't sure what to expect of this new one. At least it reads quickly (I started reading it on Tuesday). This one is more fun and interesting than Phoenix, but I will warn you that it does not end. It's basically a pre-quel for the final book (book seven), so don't get your hopes up that anything's resolved her. I can see where Rowling is going and I like it and can't wait for the next one: she's really got Harry growing up and becoming a man and a viable foe to the evil Voldermort, which makes sense (the idea of a child beating the wizard always seemed a little too David and Golioth). Unfortunately, this book is mostly growing pains -- there is no real plot to speak of, which is a little disappointing. Instead we just have Harry and the gang growing older and learning new responsibilities. It's a bit tedious at times, though Rowling's magical world is amusing enough to make it endurable. I don't think this book would make a very good film, though: you'd probably have to combine with a bit of book seven so that something would happen. The odd thing is that I still liked this one better than Phoenix. I am prepared, however, to really like the seventh. That's where the fireworks hit the fan.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Just as lukewarm as the book. It's the weakest novel of the series, as nothing really happens (Harry does not do anything heroic or save the day, just gathers knowledge for the next book). The film's better than the book in many ways, focusing on any hint of action, and it's pleasant enough, but it can't overcome the limitations of the original story.


Monday, July 7, 2003

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Book: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Writer(s): J. K. Rowling

Well, after years of waiting, the seventh book is finally published. It's a big book and took me just over a week to read it. Now I'm sad because I'll have to wait for years for the next one!

I don't want to make this a review of the book; that's not the purpose of my comments. I'm here to record my impressions, the aspects I found significant to me. In that sense, I found I was less impressed with the plot and the conclusion in this one. While Rowling does her usual excellent job of dotting all the i's and crossing the t's, connecting all the plot points, this book ends without Potter really doing anything heroic to stop He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Instead, it's Dumbledore who saves the day. While it makes sense in the context of the book, it's just not as satisfying as the previous novels. The bulk of the book is also quite depressing: Hogwarts is taken over by a horrible politician who has an evil agenda and is cruel to all our favorite characters, which makes for glum reading. While Rowling does keep funny things happening and the mystery makes things entertaining, this book is my least favorite of the series. That said, Rowling does an excellent job of preparing us for the battle and war to come in the future books. By the end of this one, it's obvious that the kids are not kids any more, and the conflicts upcoming will be serious ones involving death and mayhem, not just mild magical maladies. I love the direction she's going because it automatically keeps every novel fresh. This is a series, after all, and it's really one very long story. Rowling certainly hasn't lost her witty writer's touch, and I look forward to the future novels. This one certainly isn't bad by any means -- it's just an obvious stepping stone to the future instead of a complete story on it's own. (It's similar, in that respect, to Matrix Reloaded, which is weakened by being only a part of a longer story.) If you're a fan of the series, you've got to read it, of course. It's a little darker, but mostly it just hints at future darkness. By the end we can sense Potter has grown a great deal.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Movie: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This is one of my least favorite of the books and I wasn't expecting the movie to be very good. To my surprise, this is one of the best Harry Potter movies. The book is long and rambling and unfocused; it's too dark and missing some of the clever Potter humor, and the grim ending is depressing. The movie trims all this down into an excellent action-filled storyline. The plot is basically about how the Ministry of Magic is trying to cover up all rumors that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has returned, smearing Harry Potter's name in the process, and putting the marvelously acted Delores Umbridge in charge of Hogwarts School. She instigates a campaign of terror that rivals Hitler; all with a chillingly happy smile. Harry is worried because defensive magic skils are not being taught so he undertakes the task of training a group of student volunteers in secret. In the end, those students end up helping him to stop Voldemort, who's out to steal a prophecy about Harry from the Ministry. The ending is just as grim as the book, but in the film it works as the whole film is on the serious side with plenty of ominous foreshadowing. The climax between Voldemort and Harry is excellently done, with some impressive performances. All and all this is a Harry Potter who's growing up: he's still young but is believable as an adult in this one. Some people may not like that Harry and the film's are changing, but that is reality. I really liked this movie.


Saturday, December 11, 1999

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Writer(s): J. K. Rowling

Well, Rowling's done it again! I thought the first two were amazingly well plotted, but Azkaban is even more complex. The plot deals with an escaped convict who's out to kill Harry. He's Harry's godfather, the man who betrayed Harry's parents to You-Know-Who and got them killed. Of course, nothing's ever quite what it seems in a Harry Potter novel. This third book in the series wears a little, and many aspects of Harry's school are familiar and rather boring. (The subplot to win the sporting match was routine and not the least bit exciting.) Still, we learn a lot more about Harry's father, meet some interesting new characters, and there's plenty of magical mayhem and mischief to keep us hooked. All-in-all? A little uneven. Certain aspects I liked better than previous books (I loved the concept of the Dementors, the horrible prison guards from Azkaban), but there were other parts that felt flat. I especially didn't like the very end, which didn't really resolve anything and left a huge opening for a sequel. Still, if you're a Harry Potter fan, this book isn't to be missed!


Sunday, June 6, 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Movie: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Terrific film, my favorite of the series so far (it's also one of my favorite books in the series). In this one the kids are more grown up, the adventure more serious, the evil more ominous and sublte. And for once the bad guy isn't He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but escaped Azkaban prisoner Sirius Black, out to kill Harry Potter. All the same gang is here, and everyone contributes to the satisfying resolution. The film moves at a good pace, and its darker tone is fitting of a Harry Potter who is less innocent and shows signs of frightening power. The way the dementors are graphically presented is excellent, well-done considering their power is mostly psychological. Excellent all the way around; two thumbs up for the hippogriff special effects: astonishingly believable creature. Great stuff.


Saturday, October 30, 1999

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1997)
Writer(s): J.K. Rowling

I first heard of Harry Potter on a TV news report describing the British phenomenon -- kids lined up for blocks at bookstores in malls waiting for the next book in the series! My mother, as a teacher, had to find out what Potter was all about, and so this weekend when I visited, I read her copy (I started at 10 p.m. Friday and finished it before noon on Saturday). First, just forget the controversy that the Potter books are light or weird or demonic or whatever. This book is a delightful fantasy. Though geared toward children, it's very well written and surprisingly literate (and long at over 300 pages). It's witty and the silly adventures of the kid heroes are wonderful. I loved the charming characters and the plot was surprisingly complex -- about one hundred times more intelligent than a typical children's book (like a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery). There are clever twists and nothing's quite as simple as you assumed. This book is good enough I wouldn't mind reading it again the second I finished it (instead I rushed out and bought the sequels). If you like humor, fun, and adventure, you'll like this book. While it's not metaphorical like C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, it's a good versus evil story using magic as the medium. If this is what it takes to get children today to read, I vote for hundreds of sequels!


Friday, November 23, 2001

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Excellent film -- amazingly faithful to the book. I've never understood why Hollywood changes books when making films, but this one they did right. It's a bit long, yes, but the screenery is so lush and spectacular I doubt you'd mind (just empty your bladder before the film starts). The casting was wonderful -- far better than I could have hoped. Usually casting is awkward, since the readers feel they already know the characters and the movie feels too different, but this one worked. (I can only hope the same is true for the next month's Lord of the Rings -- I'll reserve judgment until I see it, but I have misgivings.) Overall, a good fun film.


Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Harsh Realm

Movie: Harsh Realm (1999)

Not a movie but a short-lived TV series from X-Files creator Chris Carter. This series was just released on DVD -- all nine episodes. Apparently six of those never even aired on TV as the series was canceled after just three shows! Was really pisses me off about that is that though I am an ideal candidate to watch this show -- I loved the X-Files, I'm a big Chris Carter fan, and I love science fiction -- I never even heard of this show until it was released on DVD! That's ridiculous. Why the hell wouldn't Fox promote the show? At least tell us it's a Chris Carter show! That would get me to tune in. And canceling it after just three shows? That's really dumb. Why even bother to make it in the first place with such a lack of commitment? As you can tell, I am rather vexed by this. That a show that appeals to me as much as the premise of this one and I never even knew it existed is just lame. I don't blame myself, I blame the morons at Fox. When I first saw this DVD set released I thought it must have been some weird Chris Carter cable show that only aired a few episodes -- I'm shocked that it was on a major network and I never heard of it. Just ridiculous.

Of course what makes that even worse is that the show is very good. It died too early to say if it would be great, but judging from the quality of the nine episodes, I'd say it started out good and was getting better and better (the ninth episode was my favorite). It's a real shame the show died before it was born. While this show came out the same year as The Matrix, this virtual reality premise is much better. Instead of robots running the show, the U.S. military as created Harsh Realm, a virtual reality world that mimics the real world. Unfortunately, a rogue general has hijacked the world and is remaking it in his image. He's created his own armies and is taking over Harsh Realm. The military in the real world can't do anything about it because they don't know where or how the general's gaining access into Harsh Realm. The only way to stop him is within the game. But that's almost impossible considering his power. So the military sends in volunteers and problem soldiers, leaving them in the game forever. Our young hero is one of these. Just before he's to leave the army and marry his fiance, he ends up trapped in Harsh Realm. The only way out is to kill Santiago, the rogue general. Unfortunately, Santiago makes a South American dictator seem like an amateur. So the TV series has twin plotlines: the adventures of the hero soldier within the game, and the conspiracy coverup his fiance faces in the real world as she searches for clues, trying to find her lost love (the government told her he died, but she's figured out that's a lie). Very cool premise. There are some things I don't like, just like in the Matrix: that death is real (i.e. you die in VR you die in real life); that certain people have "magical" abilities to modify "reality" within the game and "cheat" (i.e. heal bullet wounds, walk through walls, etc.); and the whole mystical "the one" silliness. Harsh Realm adds a couple new improbably technology wrinkles to the mix. First, that the Realm is an exact duplicate of the real world, down to the mole on your grandmother's neck and the fact that Aunt Sylvia loves strawberries and whipped cream, and second, that many of the "people" in the Realm are virtual characters (not real). Preposterious! No way even the military has storage capability to simulate the idenitities and behaviors of six billion people, let alone have some way to scan every human being and know everything about them. And virtual characters that act like real human beings? For that to happen the computer would have to understand language -- it would have to be human. We are hundreds of years from anything like that, if ever. But beyond those two conceits, the show's entertaining. It has an anthology, Twilight Zone feel to it. Since anything goes within virtual reality, stories have a wide range, often not having anything to do with the previous episodes. That's probably part of the reason the network balked at the show: anthologies are difficult to attract an audience because the stories are completely different every week. For instance, one episode of Harsh Realm had the two main characters stumble into a WWII simulation and get stuck, unable to escape, reliving the same battle over and over again. In another (my favorite), the two get caught up in a feud between two families living in the radioactive rubble of NYC who are after the same pile of gold (which turns out to be radioactive).

Good stories, stylish production, conspiracies, and more, the show had a great premise and should have been given a chance. Unfortunately, Fox sucks. They also cancelled the Lone Gunmen before it could get a foothold (though at least I heard about that one and tuned in). I guess Fox doesn't remember how long it took The X-Files to become popular.


Sunday, March 12, 2000

The Haunting

Movie: The Haunting (1999)
Writer(s): Shirley Jackson (novel) and David Self
Director(s): Jan de Bont

Nice idea -- a group of insomniacs stay at a haunted house as part of what they think is a sleep study (but really is a fear study) -- but it soon drops into a derivative ghost story. Impressive special effects, especially the amazing house. It's sad -- the film could have been so much better. For instance, I loved the concept that the insomniacs are so unstable that all the "ghost" effects are just their sleep-deprived imaginings. The director could have used that to better effect, making us, the audience, wonder if what we see is real or fake. Unfortunately, we are treated to exotic special effects right off the bat, making us realize that these "ghosts" are real -- there's no suspense or ambiguity. The conclusion's a gimmicky, far-fetched twist, and the overly complicated "ghost story" is interesting but ultimately unfilling. I never did figure out how the heroine suceeded. I didn't really care either. Not the least bit scary, this film is a good "might have been." Worth seeing only if you like the stars or want to see some cool special effects.


Thursday, April 10, 2003

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Movie: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2002)

Now this is the way to do a film! This clever movie lets us see it twice: once through the romantic eyes of the perfect Audrey Tautou, and then it rewinds and we watch it again from the perspective of her lover. Unlike Femme Fatale, where the rewind gimmick didn't quite work, here it works brilliantly. We totally buy the initial premise: that sweet, lonely Audrey is in love with a married doctor who teases her with promises of leaving his wife. We hate him and feel so sorry for her. But gradually Audrey's obsession with him becomes unhealthy, and soon that leads to tragedy. It's then the film suddenly starts over, and we watch the same events again, but this time from the man's point of view. Our first shock is that he doesn't even know who she is! In the first viewing, when she had a single rose delivered to him, he reads the card and smiles, and it only when we see it from his perspective that we hear him tell his secretary that the rose is from his wife (the card is unsigned). Slowly everything we knew about Audrey's character is ripped to shreds and we see that she's really a dangerous stalker and the poor doctor is an innocent pawn in a game he knows nothing about. Wonderful. The film's ending drags on a little and has a puzzling flaw -- surely the police would have picked her up before she attacked him -- but that's a minor gripe and the final scene is just wonderfully creepy. Tautou is absolutely perfect. She's got the romantic firepower of a Meg Ryan with the emotional depth of Meryl Streep. She plays her role with just the right mixture of innocence and lunatic obsession, coming across as sympathetic even as she's being diabolical! That's a feat few can master. Yes, the film is gimmicky, but like The Sixth Sense, it's a gimmick that works exceptionally well. Terrific film -- I can't wait to see it again.


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Head in the Clouds

Movie: Head in the Clouds

Not a bad concept, but the film is too complicated and too slow at times. It takes place in France before WWII, and deals with three people, a guy and two women. One woman is the free spirit who loves the other woman. The second woman is from Spain and wants to be a nurse. The guy loves the first woman but is involved with politics and wants to fight in the Spanish civil war. He and the nurse go there against the wishes of the first woman, who cares nothing about politics. Later, however, when the man is involved with the Allies in WWII and goes on spy missions to France, he meets the first girl and discovers her secret: she's really a spy passing information she gets from her German lover. The ending is sad and rather unusual (I guess it's meant to be ironic). Unfortunately, the whole movie takes way too long to get going. The real plot doesn't begin until the WWII spy stuff begins and that's not until 2/3rds of the movie. Not great, not terrible, above average at times and slow and boring at others.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Heading Home

The conference is over -- it was great. Lots of neat people (really, really smart people), some great sessions that will make me a better programmer, and some fantastic new products. I cannot tell you how excited I am about Yuma. It's a PHP replacement built using REALbasic as the language: not only does that make it much easier to program than PHP, but I can reuse existing code to easily turn my RB projects into web apps! Wow.

In other news, the new Association of REALbasic Professonals was formed and I have the honor of being elected as one of the five board members. I guess someone thinks I'm capable of something!

It's now Saturday morning and in an hour I leave for the airport and my flight home. I sure hope it's uneventful. I've had enough travel adventures this time to last me for a long, long time.


Sunday, April 7, 2002


Movie: Heartbreakers

Did this do well in the theatres? I saw the previews and thought it looked fun, but it seemed to disappear quickly. I don't know why: I liked it a lot. It's about a mother-daughter team of con artists. The mother marries rich men, the daughter seduces them and manages to get caught in the act, and then the mother divorces for a nice settlement. As the mom, Sigourney Weaver's good, but her character's too immoral for us to really like her. But we love Jennifer Love Hewitt, who's quirky, silly, arrogant, and drop-dead gorgeous. She really holds the movie, somehow managing to be an innocent sexy seductress. She's desperate to leave her mother and strike out on her own, but her mother won't let her go, to the point of conning her own daughter to trick her into staying. Best scene? When JLH, dressed to thrill, goes into a bar following a rich mark, a guy walks up and asks her if she'd like a drink. "Is that the best you can do?" she asks, scorning his offer. She then delivers a blistering speech on the stupidity of the guy and men in general. Finally, she stops to catch her breath. "So why'd you offer me a drink?" He smiles. "Because I'm the bartender." Wow, there's nothing more satisfying than a beautiful woman full of herself getting shot down! Of course, she and the bartender (who it turns out owns the bar) are such opposites they become romantically involved.

The film's comedy comes from outrageous characters and from putting the grifters in awkward situations, like when Weaver, pretending to be a Russian immigrant, is forced on stage at a Russian restaurant and told to sing a Russian song. You're fascinated, wondering how she'd going to get out of it, but somehow she does, all without her mark suspecting she's a phony. Most of the time the film moves at a rapid pace, providing us with interesting things to see. Unfortunately, it begins to fade after 90 minutes of excellency. The plot become complicated and takes off in a new direction, bringing back the ex-husband Weaver had divorced at the start of the film, and while I was expecting several "conning the con artists" twists, these were mediocre and too predictable. (I kept hoping the daughter would finally put one over her mother.) Still, the ending was appropriately pleasant, and the mother-daughter relationship was extremely convincing (Sigourney and JLH have great chemistry). The bottom line: a fun, sexy, and pleasant film that's just 20 minutes too long. (What's frightening is that the DVD includes over 20 minutes of deleted footage! Most of these explain plot things that are inferred anyway and are thus unnecessary, but a few are funny bits trimmed for time.)


Friday, September 19, 2008

Heaven's Gate

Movie: Heaven's Gate

Interesting Western from 1982 that I had never seen. This was the four hour extended version in high definition and I'm glad I saw it. It apparently bankrupted the studio it was so overbudget as the director was such a perfectionist. It's easy to see why: it's epic in scale and lush photography with huge scenes with hundreds of extras. The story is set in the 1870s in Wyoming as several college buddies end up on different sides of a dispute. Some work for the cattle barons who are upset at the stolen cattle being eaten by local immigrants who are starving. A death list is producing with 125 people on it: they are to be shot on sight. The sherrif is against this and fights the barons, and we basically end up with a war: hundreds of immigrants against hundreds of hired guns. It's chaos, bloody, and horrible. Another plot line deals with the sherrif and another man both involved with the same woman, a prostitute who can't decide which man she loves more. The two are at odds initially, but end up on the same side when her name shows up on the death list (she has accepted stolen cattle meat as payment for her services). Overall, I found the plot not that profound, though it was fascinating and educational. What really impressed me was the direction and photography, which is amazing. My favorite scene is near the beginning when an immigrant is gutting a cow behind a sheet curtain. We see the silhouette of a cowboy loom up on the white sheet, then the barrel of a rifle. Then there's an explosion and the immigrant is lying bloody next to his cow, and we see the cowboy ride off on his horse as we watch through the large hole in the sheet. Stunning.


Sunday, July 6, 2003

Heavenly Creatures

Movie: Heavenly Creatures
Director(s): Peter Jackson

This is an amazing film. It's the true story of two New Zealand teenage girls in the 1950's who conspire to commit murder. That alone would be sufficient spectacle for most films, but Jackson brilliantly takes it a step further. He gets us into the girls' heads by playfully making their fantasy lives real. In one sequence, as the girls play on the beach with the sand castle they created, the camera zooms inside the castle and in it we meet the prince and princess the girls imagine live there. The benefit of this technique, besides making for a fascinating visual presentation, is that it shows us the power of dementia, for these girls believe in their fantasies even more than they do their real lives. As the film darkens and becomes more tragic, the playful aspects of fantasy become morbid and disturbing; what was once an idle game is now grim horror. Amazing writing, acting, and directing. This is a must see film.


Monday, February 3, 2003


Movie: Heist
Writer(s): David Mamet
Director(s): David Mamet

Good crime thriller, though it gets a little too convoluted at the end. The main guy's a con artist/master thief. After he pulls his last job, ready to retire in South America with his girl, his fence partner won't give him his share of the loot unless he completes one more job. Reluctantly, he agrees, and he and his team pull off a gold heist. But there's lots of back-stabbing, betrayals, and sleight of hand until the final frame. It's a bit much. Still, it's interesting, well-acted, and the gold robbery is cool.


Monday, April 5, 2004


Movie: Hellboy

Surprisingly fun little comic-book adventure. The plot's rather pointless and obvious (evil guy wants to open portal to hell or some such nonsense and Hellboy must stop him), and most of the supporting characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical. One makes the film work is Ron Perlman has Hellboy. His sarcastic, self-depreciating attitude brings a rude humor to the proceedings that is delightfully subtle and grim. For example, in one scene while wrestling with a monster he mumbles something about "not on the first date" and it took me a second to realize he was talking about the monster's tongue wrapped around his body. That's great stuff. Too many films have fallen into the Shwartzenegger-style quip where the line mimics the situation too obviously (parodied so excellently on The Simpsons). While routine, this film was more fun than I expected.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Movie: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

I liked the first one mainly for its sense of humor and this one continues that trend. It's still a comic book movie with lots of action and special effects, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. The creatures/mutations (or whatever they are) are also humorously inventive, so that the whole thing is a fun crazy ride instead of being implausible. The plot's okay, but nothing special; this one is just one, especially Hellboy's sarcastic and blunt approach to everything.


Saturday, January 6, 2001


Movie: Hellraiser
Writer(s): Clive Barker
Director(s): Clive Barker

I like Clive Barker the writer and artist, but I hadn't seen his movie. It's actually pretty good, though in a gory fashion. It deals with a mysterious puzzle box that takes people into heaven/hell where monsters torture them for eternity. The people who open the box end up with more horror than they wanted. Kinda bizarre and flimsy concept, but the film is better than that: it primarily deals with a brother who was destroyed by the box coming back to life when given blood -- he convinces his brother's wife (with whom he had an affair) to kill people for him so he has more blood and can heal. Intriguing concept, and I liked the way the normal woman becomes a monster to help her former lover. The graphics were pretty good, too: the guy's a walking skeleton but each dead man adds flesh. Quite horrible, but interestingly, I found the human woman more frightening.


Saturday, January 6, 2001

Hellraiser II

Movie: Hellraiser II
Writer(s): Clive Barker (story)

This picks up right where the other left off, with the daughter put into an asylum because they think she's crazy with her story of the demons inside a box. It's pretty much more of the same after that, with the evil woman who died in the first movie coming back to life the way the man did in the first one (she needs fresh blood to revive). The daughter is looking for the soul of her father, who's in torment, but it turns out it was just a trick to get her back into the box. Okay. At least these are a different kind of horror film.


Thursday, November 18, 2010


Movie: Hereafter
Director(s): Clint Eastwood

Strange film. The marketing for this film is severely messed up. It comes across as a film about death, a depressing topic, and it doesn't convey much about the plot at all. I also didn't see how such a film could actually have any answers about death -- what is it supposed to tell us that thousands of years of religion and philosophy haven't explained? I had zero interest in seeing this from the trailer. The only thing that made me go see it was that it was directed by Clint Eastwood. It turns out to be a fun film with an interesting plot. It's basically three separate stories that join together at the very end (too long for that join, but that's a minor flaw). Often in such tales you'll find yourself intrigued by one storyline and bored by others, but I actually enjoyed all three. The first is about a French journalist who has a near-death experience that haunts and troubles her and she leaves her TV anchor job and defies convention to write a book about death and the afterlife, a touchy subject. I loved that her scenes were actually in French with subtitles and I could relate to her "rebel with a cause" mentality. The second story was more troubling: a boy's twin dies and he struggles with grief and the aftermath and seeks answers. The third story I though I would like the least, since it deals with a "real" psychic in San Francisco. That seemed cliche and lame, and I was skeptical. But he came across as a lonely man isolated from society because of his connection with death. His potential romance with the wonderful girl he meets in cooking class was the best part of the film for me. It was so bittersweet and tragic and magical. Matt Damon was surprisingly restrained in the role, which was good, and the girl was such an incredible actor I didn't even realize until the closing credits it was Bryce Dallas Howard, who I adore. The ending was clever (the way the stories finally intersected) and I liked the final resolution, though a few aspects were almost too clever and didn't feel natural. Overall the film's good but doesn't quite reach greatness. It is too slow at times and too inconsistent, part of the nature of a multi-story plot, but it's biggest flaw is that it doesn't really enlighten us in any way. I didn't come out of the showing with a greater understanding of death or coping. Instead I came out thinking that it was a clever script and liking the way the disparate elements all came together to resolve all the storylines. Unfortunately, while this has several amazing moments (particularly the Damon-Howard scenes for me -- she deserves an Oscar), the whole doesn't achieve greatness. It's still a good film and definitely worth seeing. It is surprisingly fun and even funny, with lots of nice human touches that make it compelling, and I didn't find it depressing. It's not really a "journey to the other side" the trailer seems to imply; it's merely three stories about troubled people seeing resolution who happen to find each other in the end.


Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Movie: Hero

In the trail of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon comes this Chinese action film that's even better. It's more complex on a moral level. Less fun, perhaps, for the stakes are higher, but marvelous direction makes it a treat for all the senses. The story seems simple: a young "hero" is brought to the court of the King to be rewarded for killing three deadly assassins who wanted the King dead. The King is skeptical: how could this nobody defeat three warriors when all his armies and top killers had failed? The hero tells his tale. But that's when things start to get complicated. Soon we wonder if the hero has an alternative agenda: is he telling the truth? Alternative versions of what happened swirl into the picture, truth emerging as the stories converge. The twists are delightful, completely logical and marvelous, and the moral dilemma at the conclusion will leave you pondering: what is a hero? In terms of its exploration of the morality of killing, this film strongly reminded me of the awesome Unforgiven. It's a film full of amazing action, color, striking visuals, and awe-inspiring vistas. The acting is also excellent (thankfully the film is in Chinese with subtitles, not dubbed, so we get the real performances of the stars). This is a film that will appeal to everyone: it's Chinese history, it's martial arts action, it's profound and thought-provoking, and it's emotional and moving. I expect it to win some major awards. Astonishing.


Friday, October 7, 2005

Hide and Seek

Movie: Hide and Seek

This seemed pointless and derivative when I saw the trailers, but I actually liked it. The twist at the end explains things (it's a Sixth Sense sort of thing). But unfortunately, without that twist, you don't have much. The Sixth Sense was fascinating even without the ending; this one is dreary, puzzling, and confusing until you get the explanation. All you know is the mother committed suicide and the daughter's troubled. She has an imaginary friend who's apparently doing bad things. As those get worse and worse, it's more and more serious. But without understanding what's going on, it's difficult to really steep yourself in the story. Still, I liked the ending, which was clever.


Wednesday, August 28, 2002

High Crimes

Movie: High Crimes

Decent little military court-martial flick, but with an overdone "Hollywood" plot. Good performances by Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, but the plot's just too much. Judd plays a top San Francisco lawyer who's husband is arrested for military crimes. She discovers he's not who she thought he was: he has a different name and a past he never told her about. But he claims he's innocent so she sets out to prove it, enlisting the help of former drunk Freeman who used to be a top military lawyer. Throughout the rest of the movie she's fighting the dirty tactics done by the evil military cover-up people, plus wavering on whether her husband is innocent or not. Like I said, too much. Still, not a bad film, just not great.


Sunday, January 7, 2001

High Fidelity

Book: High Fidelity

Essentially this film is about a record store owner griping about his shabby love life and trying to figure out why girlfriends keep breaking up with him. What's interesting is the perspective: John Cusack narrates directly into the camera, and his style of delivery and constant use of "Top Five" lists (best records, top five worst breakups, best jobs, etc.) is unusual. As for plot, there isn't much of one. Towards the end the griping gets on your nerves and you're ready to kick Cusack in the head for being such a moron, but finally he resolves his relationship and becomes an adult. Pretty good flick, especially interesting if you like music, though I'm not such a music geek as to actually have heard many of the albums and songs mentioned (my definition of "classic" music is music I've never heard of).


Saturday, December 23, 2006

High Heels and Low Lifes

Movie: High Heels and Low Lifes

A surprisingly decent comedy caper about a couple women in London who happen to overhear a conversation about a bank robbery and decide to blackmail the gansters involved. Of course everything goes wrong and the gansters are not amused, but our plucky heroines, through dumb luck and the occasional bit of intelligence, manage to outwit professional killers. Quite fun.


Thursday, March 13, 2003

High Noon

Movie: High Noon

A classic Western I'd never seen. Perhaps not quite as good as I expected, but excellent. A town's Marshall retires and gets married. Minutes later he's informed a killer he put away is returning to the town on the noon train. So the Marshall decides to stay and face him. His bride's a Quaker and against violence, and she gives him an ultimatum: she will leave if he stays. He stays. During the time before the villains arrive, he sets out to recruit some deputies, but everyone in town is afraid of the killers and won't help him. In the end he must face the killers alone. The gun battle is actually impressive: not a simple "fastest gun" shoot like you might expect, but a dodge-and-run shootout. Unfortunately, it takes place in the final five minutes of the film, and then the movie just ends. There's no follow-up, no explanations, no finishing of the story. Nothing wrong with that--I just would have preferred more story--especially why the wife changed her mind. There was also a lot of history regarding the Marshall and why the town wouldn't help him that was never made that clear. Sometimes that's fine--the author wants us to think--but in this case I felt a lot of the ambiguity was there to make things seem mysterious and profound. In other words, depth is implied, but it's not really there. Still, the film has a terrific atmosphere, superior acting, and a cool gunfight.


Thursday, September 16, 2004


Movie: Hildago

I wanted to see this in the theatres despite the negative reviews but the timing didn't work out. Now I'm glad I didn't bother. The worst thing about this movie is that it is boring. It shouldn't have been. The premise is great: an American long-distance riding champ goes to Africa to race 3,000 miles across the desert and beat the purebred Arabian horses with his wild Mustang. Unfortunately, endurance racing is like matching a marathon. It's just endless riding, boring as watching sand blow. So the writers throw in all sorts of ridiculous side plots, involving battles, kidnappings, attempts to cheat, etc., to keep the movie interesting. The result is a dreary mess. You already know Hildago will win the race, so there's no drama there, and the side plots are so obviously secondary we really don't care about them. The film's about 40 minutes too long, too. There are some good moments, but they are too few and too far apart. Mildly entertaining but mostly boring and meaningless.


Saturday, October 14, 2000

The Hills Have Eyes

Movie: The Hills Have Eyes
Writer(s): Wes Craven
Director(s): Wes Craven

I taped this from IFC last night. Not bad, certainly exciting and well done, but not particularly scary. More of a survival story than a horror story. It has a typical plot: family gets stranded in the desert unaware they are being watched by a bizarre family of mutant cannibals that want to eat them. As the family gets picked off one-by-one, it's up to the last remaining members to survive. Decent characterization, but doesn't have the shock of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


Friday, November 4, 2005

History of Violence

Movie: History of Violence
Director(s): David Cronenberg

I wouldn't say this is a great film, but it's certainly above average. It's an intriguing premise: a regular guy working in his diner defends himself from criminals and shoots and kills two of them. Where did he learn such skills? What is his background? Suddenly questions are being asked, and the man's family begins to wonder who he is. Mysterious strangers visit the town and claim they know the man, that he's not Tom, but Joey, a gangster. The film is a lot like Clint Eastwood's amazing Unforgiven, which deals with the nature of a killer. Unfortunately, this film, while similar, doesn't give us much more of an understanding of that nature. The killings and violence are brutal and shocking, quite gory, but take place so quickly and suddenly that we wonder if we saw what we thought we saw. It's a profound effect, powerful, and makes the violence something disturbing -- a near-impossible task in today's jaded world where casual violence is a media constant.

That's impressive, but the film has two key flaws. One, the story is too linear and ordinary. On the one hand I like that -- it's better than the overly complicated plots most films use -- but this film hints at so much more that we're left disappointed at the ordinary ending. We're wanting to do something superhuman and have him kill like 50 people at the end instead of just a handful. This could have been corrected by less foreshadowing that something amazing was going to happen at the end. The second flaw is that the film only hints at the complex inter-personal relationships of the man with his family. When it does it's very good, but it doesn't go far enough. There are lots of scenes of "profound looks" between wife and husband, but I wanted more dialog, more literal expression, where she can question him about his past, ask him what it's like to kill, etc. Instead she's quietly angry and frustrated, sealing him off with silence, and he's not the most talkative man. The result is that we're left unsure of what we've seen. Is the man a hero? A murderer? An anti-hero? The silence leaves us with more questions than answers. While some abiguity is good, in this case, it weakens the most powerful aspect of the film. If you watch Unforgiven, it is filled with lectures on the nature of violence and evil, and it clearly condems killings. History has one such moment, where the killer dad scolds his son for fighting at school, but the moment is thrown away when the kid reacts angrily and storms off, reminding the dad of his own violence past, and the dad is left puzzled and unsure of himself. Granted, he's a different character from Eastwood's, but there are still many similarities, and Clint's film is better. History isn't bad at all: it's just not quite great. I'd still recommend you see it for yourself and make your own judgement, however. It's a deeply personal film and everyone must understand it in their own way.


Friday, August 5, 2005


Movie: Hitch

Pretty much what I expected: Hitch is a "date doctor" but has trouble fixing himself when he falls in love. Still, it's fun, manages to be a bit romantic, and ends happily. Innocuous but harmless.


Saturday, July 27, 2002

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Writer(s): Douglas Adams

I read part of this back in high school, but never finished it (or don't remember finishing it). I liked it, but the story wasn't compelling enough to keep me from getting side-tracked. When Adams died I decided I needed to read his stuff, and so I recently picked up this as a starting point (I never read any of the sequels, though I plan to do so now). The book is very funny and wacky, mocking everything from existence to science. The story itself is slim and almost irrelevant -- you read this to be amused by Adams' wit and clever phrases. Essentially, the book proves that Murphy's Law is the only constant in the universe. My favorite thing is still the concept that mice are a more intelligent species than humans, and that they are here on Earth only to study humans by pretending to cooperate in scientific experiments. Very cool. Adams was definitely a genius.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Movie: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Writer(s): Douglas Adams

Not a bad adaption of the book. It includes a few things from other books and doesn't necessarily follow the plot of the first book exactly, but it does capture the soul of the books. The casting is excellent (especially Arthur Dent), but like the book, it's a little uneven. The humor's not always the laugh-out-loud kind, and not all of it translates well to the screen. Still, it's a decent film, and it's definitely fun.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Movie: Hitman

Kinda cool film about the "ultimate" hitman, a guy with no name (only a number) raised from birth to be a killer. When a hit turns out to be a fraud with himself as the target, the hitman must figure out who is trying to kill him, all while evading the cops and other hitmen. The film's fun and the action's good, but it's pretentious, with dark moody atmosphere and suggestive dialogue and photography as though we're supposed to think all this nonsense is important. It's quite silly, really, and I prefer my action flicks a little lighter and more aware of their silliness (like the excellent Die Hard series). But still, it's fun and entertaining and not the worse way to waste 90 minutes.


Friday, April 13, 2007

The Hoax

Movie: The Hoax

Disappointing story about a failed writer who comes up with a crazy scheme: he claims he's been authorized to write recluse Howard Hughes' biography and wants a million dollar advance. It's not badly done, but it's not enlightening either. There's never an explanation of why the writer would do this: it seems unplanned, inept, and a really, really, really stupid idea, but we're just supposed to go along with it that a writer could be that dumb. For example, a big part of the advance money is supposed to go to Howard Hughes and the writer's stumped at how to cash a check not made out to himself! It's a real-life story so maybe it's accurate, I don't know, but I found myself distracted by such stupidity throughout the entire movie. Oh, the film has some mildly interesting scenes when you're wondering when the scam will be uncovered, but it wasn't like I cared about these characters.


Saturday, November 1, 2003


Movie: Holes

I hadn't read (or even heard of) the children's book this film was based on, but after seeing the movie, I'm sure I would have loved it when I was younger. The tone is a lot like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's a modern tall tale, with absurd reality hilariously presented. The main character is Stanley Yelnats (The last name is the first spelled backwards!), a boy who's family has a history of bad luck due to a predecessor who failed to keep a promise. The boy is mistakenly arrested for stealing a pair of shoes he finds by accident. Instead of being sent to jail, however, he's sent to Camp Green Lake, a work program in the middle of the desert. The people there are bizarre. Stanley discovers he and the other "campers" have to dig a five foot wide and five foot deep hole every day, to "build character." But eventually Stanley figures out the warden is really seeking buried treasure... treasure, it turns out, that is linked to Stanley's past and the curse on his family! The film's excellent: the tall tales of the past are told via hilariously campy flashbacks, the modern kids bring a mild edginess to the film that keeps things hip, and the outrageous and bizarre adults make the children all seem rational and normal. The story is great the way everything comes full circle and every little detail is explained, linked through past events to the present, but one thing I really appreciated is that the movie doesn't try to hammer those links home: they are often subtle and require you to put the last couple of pieces together (as challenging as putting the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle, but at least you're doing some thinking). For example, the explanation of how the boys didn't get bitten by the lizards is causually mentioned in one line narration that many might miss (it has to do with what the boys ate to survive in the desert) but it makes total sense and has a nice link to the past. This is a great movie: it's well written, acted, and directed, and though it seems to be wild and crazy fun, it actually has some serious meaning behind it. There's a good debating starting point on the nature of Fate and Luck here, and I think many young children who feel like the world's against them (who doesn't at that age), might find comfort and inspiration in the plucky attitude of the main character. Excellent. I didn't see this in theatres because it seemed targeted at kids, but it's intelligent and doesn't talk down to kids at all, making it a wonderful experience for adults as well.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Holiday

Movie: The Holiday

This is a predictable but really well-done romantic film about two single women on the rebound, one in L.A. and one in England, who swap houses over Christmas to get away from their lives. Predictably, they each find someone new and fall in love, but the story's pitch perfect, with just the right lines and gestures, that we're swept along anyway. I did appreciate the side-story of the old Hollywood writer getting his life revived by the English girl visiting L.A. -- that was extremely cool. Overall, nothing revolutionary here, a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy, but so well done it's pleasing. Above average.


Friday, September 8, 2006


Movie: Hollywoodland

Disappointing ending, which answers not one of the questions the movie proposes. Basically the film explores the questions surrounding the mysterious death of Superman star George Reeves in 1959. We're presented with various possible scenarios, but then the film just ends without picking one. Huh? What's the point of that? I got that much from watching the A&E Biography episode on Reeves. Basically, no one knows what happened, and this film doesn't help. I really don't see the point of it. Why not make a documentary if that's all you want to explore? Sure, the film creates a fictional private detective, brilliantly portrayed by Andrian Brody, but in the end he doesn't solve anything, so why bother? I give the film a C.


Monday, October 31, 2005

Home Again

Well, I'm back home again. My trip south was fun, though tiring, and my Quakes didn't advance in the playoffs, but I'm still glad I went. It felt good to be back at Spartan Stadium cheering on my team and eating bad stadium nachos and even worse pizza. I had a slight adventure with my rental car, as I forgot to find a gas station until I got off at the airport exit. Why the heck aren't there any gas stations near airports??? I think it's a plot by the rental companies. Mine wanted to charge me $5/gallon (For a full tank!) if I didn't bring it back full, so I had to drive several miles out of my way, in five o'clock traffic, trying to find a gas station. That got me to the rental car place at ten after five for my 5:45 flight! Fortunately, the rental place gave me a quick ride to my terminal and I breezed through security and I made my flight in plenty of time (the incoming flight was a few minutes late). After that, there were no adventures: except when I got home at nine o'clock both my mother and my Grandfather (she'd stayed with him while I was gone) were already asleep! I was welcomed by snores!


Friday, March 3, 2006

Home Again

Whew! I was supposed to come in at 2 a.m. but instead I arrived in the early afternoon. My evening flight out of Houston on Thursday was delayed so they rebooked me for a flight this morning, as I would have missed my connecting flight in Vegas. I arrived in Portland and my mom picked me up -- and informed me that Grandpa was back in the hospital. She'd been caring for him in my absense. He's got an infection in his hip replacement and we've been fighting it with infusion therapy at home, but apparently his kidneys are not doing well and they wanted him at the hospital. Nice to come home to such calm chaos!


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Home Again

I'm back home! I made it. I had a terrific trip. There were a few glitches -- I didn't have a cell phone (Tracfone deactivated my old one and couldn't activate the new one in time), which made things more complicated than necessary, and my checked luggage missed the flight home (the airline will deliver it later) -- but it was mostly uneventful, which is good. My eating went well. My blood sugars were a little higher than normal but not bad, and I think I only gained a pound or two. I mostly made smart choices whenever I could, and I had some granola bars with me which I ate at times to keep my carbs up. So overall, a fine trip with no medical issues.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Home Again

Movie: Home Again

I made it back alive and in one piece. While I really wasn't gone that long -- just two weekends -- with everything I did on my trip it feels like I've been gone a month. I traveled light and did not take a laptop with me, relying on my iPhone for Internet access, and it worked wonderfully. I had intermittent access in Missouri and my Uncle's rural home, but other than there where the connection was sluggish, it worked great everywhere I went. Unable to do any work (without tools I couldn't even feel guilty about not working), I really did end up relaxing. I now feel refreshed and revived, though I am tired and probably behind on my sleep.


Saturday, July 3, 2004

Home Again!

Hooray, I'm back home! I drove part of the way yesterday and finished the trip today. It worked out well as I was about to have breakfast with some friends and relatives in the Bay Area on my way in. The cats didn't eat each other (my brother visited them while I was gone), which was good, and boy were they happy to see me. I'm writing this a couple days later and Mayhem is still purring. Even Mischief, who's usually too sophisticated for Public Displays of Affection, rubbed my leg and was happy to curl up in my lap for some chin scratching. It's good to be home but it feels like I just left. Where did the time go?


Monday, April 4, 2005

Home Again, Home Again

Ah, what a relief to be home. It was a long trip, nearly two weeks, five states, seven plane rides, five security checks (including a real hassle in San Jose where they made me take off my shoes and belt and wanded me and everything [Lesson: don't get to the gate an hour early as the bored security people have nothing to do but check you extra-thoroughly]), and six different sleeping places. I got a lot accomplished, but it's good to be home. Grandpa is here (came home last week) and seems to be doing well. He's sure glad to be out of Oakwood. It was a nice place -- even he admits that -- but he'd much rather be here. Of course he'd rather be at his own house, but we're going to have to sell that (he can't live there any more so there's no point in keeping it) and that's going to be our next big adventure.


Wednesday, February 16, 2000


Movie: Homegrown (1998)
Writer(s): Stephen Gyllenhaal (story) and Nicholas Kazan
Director(s): Stephen Gyllenhaal

Slow comedy about "America's number one cash crop" (i.e. marijuana). Fun performances from notable stars, but the humor falls flat. Rather violent (almost an action picture in places), and main characters are too moronic for us to really care what happens to them.


Friday, June 4, 2004


Movie: Honey

This was a huge flop in the theatres, so it intrigued me. I'm always curious why films fail. Actually, this wasn't as bad as I expected. Like so many films, it was badly promoted and attracted the wrong audience. First, the title (the name of the main female character) gave a salacious impression that the film doesn't live up to at all. While it sounded all sexy and exotic, the film's a simple, rather familiar story about a poor girl strugging for success. In this case, it's in hip-hop dancing and choreography. When Honey gets her big break she neglects her old friends, then discovers who her true friends are and learns a Big Lesson. Yeah, predictable, but still satisfying, like watching a sports film and having the "good" team win in the final seconds. Unfortunately, you really have to be into hip-hop dancing to want to endure all the boring dance sequences (fast forward works well). Not as terrible as you might have thought, this movie's biggest flaw is simply it's lack of originality. This is all stuff we've seen a thousand times before and dressing it up in different clothes doesn't change that.


Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

Book: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon
Writer(s): Billie Letts

Terrific book! I met Billie Letts when I was in college: I attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant where Billie lives. Her husand, Dennis, was my English teacher (an excellent one, too). I remember going to see a play she wrote and directed, and though I don't remember much in the way of the specifics, I do remember being keenly aware of the terrific dialog. It made an impression on me to create similarly powerful dialog in my own plays. I never got around to reading Billie's previous book, Where the Heart Is, since I discovered it just before the movie came out and then waffled over which to experience first and ended up doing neither. The title of this book intrigued me -- it's very Oklahoman -- and the promise of humor prompted me to give it a read. The title is the name of a small town carhop/diner: the owner was drunk when he ordered the sign and the "Opening Soon" portion was made in permanent neon along with the rest of the name -- something that's become a town joke. The story is about several characters who's lives interconnect around the Honk. There's the owner, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet, the new Vietnamese cook, and an American Indian woman who shows up one day and turns the vet's stationery life upside down. The story is simple and elegant as these people change as they experience life's troubles and rewards, in the end coming to an understanding and acceptance. What makes the story worth reading, however, is the humor, the vividness of the characters, the depth of their pain, and vibrancy with which they live life. Billie's done an amazing portrait of middle America here, creating unique, quirky, interesting characters and blending them into a fascinating tapestry of events. Her Bui Khahn (the Vietnamese chef) is a classic of literature, and I loved seeing small town Oklahoma through his innocent eyes. For instance, never having seen a carhop before, he assumes that the people being fed in cars aren't allowed inside the restaurant for some reason. He's just wonderful, and Billie lets us get inside his mind while at the same time showing us the way others perceive him. I was also impressed by Billie's writing style: she writes in a friendly, low key, country style that's as delicious as Grandma's apple pie. It's smooth as fresh butter with a hint of sass, and as you read you're comfortable knowing you're in the hands of a master writer who won't steer you wrong. Great stuff.


Thursday, March 1, 2007


Movie: Hoot

I dreaded the left-wing agenda the movie seemed to have, but it actually was rather low-key as the whole "save the owls" thing wasn't that big a deal. Actually it was a decent film. Definitely aimed a kids -- the film doesn't even try to be intelligent for adults -- and I found the Tarzan boy to be a bizarre inclusion and not believable. But this is a kid's film and in that regard it works and is harmless.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


Movie: Hop

This looked incredibly lame from the previews. I was very surprised at how popular it was. Critics didn't like it but viewers seemed to think it was okay. Since I had a free movie ticket, I decided to give it a go. To my surprise, it's actually quite well done. The trailer made it look terrible, with nothing but an animated bunny gimmick cracking wise with lame jokes. There's some of that in the film, but it's done in a more realistic way than I expected. For instance, the human is actually quite shocked to find a talking bunny and some of his reactions were even plausible. The plot's light, and not all that interesting, but I found the pacing of the film good and the atmosphere fun. There are even some decent jokes. No, it's not a great film by any stretch, but it's wonderfully harmless and an interesting take on a holiday movie (and in this case that's an unusual holiday in Easter).


Friday, February 7, 2003

Hornet Flight

Book: Hornet Flight
Writer(s): Ken Follett

Excellent, above-average, even for a Follett novel. This tells the story (apparently somewhat based on reality) of the Danish resistance movement during the early years of WWII. A teenager discovers a secret radio installation on a German base on the island where he lives, and figures out it's a radar station. Radar is something so new the Allies don't even have it yet, but Hitler's winning the war against the British bombers, destroying half of them every time they attack. The devastating loses threaten to turn the tide in the war unless the Allies can figure out the German technology and defeat it. The brilliant young man, an engineer by desire, must get the photographs of the German radio base to England. So he decides to fly across the sea in a tiny Hornet Moth, a two-seater that's frighteningly fragile, and did I mention it's broken and hasn't flown in years? Oh, and the boy doesn't know how to fly? Terrific action and suspense on every page. Follett is the best at creating well-rounded characters, especially those of the enemy. One of the main characters is a Danish police officer who's trying to gain a promotion by pleasing the German invaders and finding spies. We get great insight into this man as we things from his perspective, and he's not entirely evil. That's helpful, because imagining all Nazi's as faceless, vague representations of Evil isn't realistic and it makes us forget that some of the worst things done in the war were done by ordinary people with ordinary flaws. Excellent book, well-researched as usual, with a lot of fascinating historical and mechanical details.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Movie: Horrible Bosses

I love black comedies so this one about three idiots wanting to kill their bosses appealed to me, but the marketing gave it a raunchy comedy feel that worried me. I was pleased that though there are moments of that in the film, overall it's pretty tame in that regard (nothing as bad as The Hangover). It's quite funny and entertaining, and I loved the way everything resolved in the end.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hospital Visit

Today I got home from a week in the hospital! Last Thursday I woke up feeling horrible. My stomach was nauseated and hurting, and my chest felt like the worst case of heartburn. After I got up, the feelings just got worse and worse. I tried eating and drinking, but that didn't help. Nothing I did relieved the pain at all, though I felt slightly better after I vomited. Finally, after several hours of this and no relief, I went to the emergency room at the hospital. They quickly got me hooked up to an IV and administered morhpine to help with the pain and I think fluids, as they said I was dehydrated (which was weird as I'd been drinking non-stop for the previous week). They began doing tests -- an EKG, a CT scan of my chest, an ultrasound -- and quickly determined that it was not my heart but my pancreas. I had pancreatitis, which is a swelling of the pancreas. It's rather an unusual condition. At the time we weren't sure what caused it and we still aren't 100% sure, but the working theory is that sometime recently I became diabetic but didn't know it. That fits in well with the unquenchable thirst I'd had the week prior. Uncontrolled, the diabetes led to high triglcerides (fat in the blood), which led to pancreatitis. The treatment for pancreatitis is to let the pancreas rest -- which, since it's part of the digestive system, means no food or liquid for several days. It was Sunday before I was allowed to drink or eat anything except for the occasional ice chip, and it wasn't until today I was able to eat solid foods again. Quite an experience, one I wouldn't wish on anyone. I had to have a tube down my nose to my stomach for several days, and though I was incredibly thirsty, I couldn't even drink! But mostly it was boring as after the first couple days my brain was back online but my body was not, and I just had to lie around and wait for it to heal.

The good news is that pancreatitis is usually a one-time thing and shouldn't happen again, and most people recover from it just fine. I just need rest and time to recover (I lost twenty pounds during my week in the hospital). The bad news is that now I'm diabetic and have to test my blood sugar several times a day and give myself insulin shots every day. I'm making radical changes to my diet: going low fat and low sugar and eating a lot more healthy vegetables and fruits, and eating three meals a day at the same time each day (I used to eat irregularly and probably gorged myself inappropriately after long fasts). This is quite a change, but fortunately I enjoy healthy foods for the most part (cheese is the one fatty thing I'll miss) and I like a structured routine, so I think I'll be fine with all the changes. Exercise is something else I'll have to start -- I'm not sure how well I'll do with that, but it's not like I've got much choice. With diabetes, I've got to get healthy or I run the risk of serious health problems down the road, and after this experience, I don't want to take any risks. One hospital visit was enough for me!


Sunday, September 18, 2005


Movie: Hostage

Surprisingly decent flick about a hostage situation gone awry. Hostage films are like sports films -- there are only a couple plots available -- but this one does manage a few intriguing twists. The lead is Bruce Willis who's a retired hostage negotiator who finds his family kidnapped to force him to go back to his previous line of work. Unfortunately, the ending of the film negenerates into a strange insane-guy-watch-me-die thing, but the film still has a couple nice moments.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Movie: Hot Fuzz

Fun parody-type film, but seriously done with plenty of unpredictable humor. For instance, you'd expect the main cop to be a violence-prone idiot, but it's the opposite: he's a super-cop, so good that his outstanding arrest record is making the rest of the force (sorry, service) look bad, so he's shipped out to an isolated village as a "promotion." There he uncovers a huge conspiracy and the film concludes with plenty of mindless violence and hilarious action. The plot's purposely overly elaborate and convoluted since this is a parody and at times that slows things down a bit, but it's still plenty of fun. My favorite bit of humor: when the cop goes to see his girlfriend, a crime tech, she and her fellow techs are dressed in identical coveralls and dust masks, and he starts confessing his feelings to her only for her to say she isn't his girlfriend and point to a different identical-looking tech across the room!


Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Movie: Hotel Rwanda

Wow, what a film! I didn't know much about this except that it was supposed to be good. I'd forgotten all about the whole Rwanda war and was surprised to find that's what the film's about. Well, it's not about the war, per se, but about one apolitical man, the manager of an elite hotel in the capital of Rwanda, who saves the lives of over 1,200 he brings into his hotel and protects during the fighting. How does he protect them? Well, he calls in favors, manipulates, bribes, and conjoles -- basically doing anything he can to keep his family safe. The Rwanda civil war was basically a race war -- the Tutsis versus the Hutus, but it's essentially impossible to tell the difference between the two by looking. But the Hutus are in power and they slaughter over 500,000 Tutsis in a massive genocide campaign (children and pregnant women were especially targeted as the Hutus wanted to wipe out the future generations). The hotel manager's wife is Tutsi (he's Hutu), so it's amazing he was able to protect her. It's a shocking story, grim and terrifying at times, and the way the West and the rest of the world abandonned and ignored the Rwanda situation is sobering. The director does a good job not making so grim it's unwatchable -- much of the violence is implied, not directly shown -- and by focusing on one man and his family, we have a gripping story that's just amazing in scope and power. Not only highly recommended, this is a MUST SEE. If you are human, you need to see this film. It's is the kind of movie that will impact your life. You need to see it.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hour of the Wolf

Movie: Hour of the Wolf
Writer(s): Igmar Bergman

Really weird film about a couple on a remote island where the man slowly goes insane. At least that's what it could be about. It's purposefully left ambigous. The man sees strange visions and might have murdered a child -- or did he only imagine it? Not a lot actually happens, but the


Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The Hours

Movie: The Hours

This film affected me deeply. It's profound. It tells three stories simultaneously: author Virginia Woolf as she writes her novel Mrs. Dalloway, a post-war housewife who's contemplating suicide while reading the novel, and modern-day woman who's living the life of Mrs. Dalloway, preparing a dinner party just like her. All three are (at minimum) emotionally troubled or even seriously mentally ill.

I haven't read the novel, but that didn't seem to hurt my understanding of the movie (however, after seeing the movie I rushed out and bought the novel). The book is apparently about Mrs. Dalloway preparing to give a dinner party, and everyone thinks she's fine but inside she's cracking up. My understanding is that the novel was revolutionary in that it jumps back and forth through time (though the main story takes place during a single day), and that's what the film does as well, giving us insight into the past while telling the events of a single day. I won't spoil the ending by revealing some of the powerful suprises, but let's just say that all the characters become inter-connected even more than you expect. With this interconnectedness comes and increased understanding and compassion for these troubled women (and man). Very interesting and extremely well done. The performances are powerful, and the way the director intercut the various stories is masterful (in one sequence he cuts from flower pot to flower pot as each of the three women move a flower pot). A few things were a bit over the top: all the characters in the modern day story were gay, including one guy dying of AIDS. (That's good drama? How cliche!) But there's much to like: the performances are incredible and the make-up superb. However the best part of this film is something many won't like: it gives no explanations or answers. For instance, we aren't told why the middle woman wants to kill herself. She seems to have a loving husband, an adoring little boy, and she's pregnant. They have a good life. Why throw it all away? Well, nothing is explained in the film: it's up to us to figure it out for ourselves. Very unusual in this day and age where thinking is the last thing audiences are expected to do at the movie theatre. A number of other questions are left vague, forcing us to put ourselves into these characters and experience their lives as our own. That's powerful. My interpretation is that there are people all around us wearing masks -- inside they could be coming apart and we don't even know it. It's a sad tale in many ways, but includes some hope. I liked it.


Friday, October 1, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Went house shopping in Oregon today.

First, some history. I've been living in Scotts Valley, California in a tiny 450 square foot trailer which I bought in 1996. It's a small mobile home park where I don't own the land but pay rent for my space. It's ridiculously cheap living for the Bay Area, but the trailer is very small and it's gotten smaller when I began working from home and spending 24-7 there. This summer when I checked with a company about upgrading to a larger home (which turned out to be California-style expensive), they countered by offering to buy my home. They would replace my trailer with a large double-wide and resell the property for three times what they were offering me. The amount for my trailer was about four times what I paid and got me thinking, so I called up my Uncle Phil who's a Realtor in Oregon. A few minutes of checking showed there were many properties up there in my price range. While in California my old home would barely qualify me for the down payment on a dog house, in Oregon it could buy me a three bedroom home. Since I went to high school in Oregon and love the area, the idea of moving back up there was appealing. Though I love this area, California is an expensive place to live, and all I really need is a broadband Internet connection to do my businesses.

My original plan was to move next summer. Since I was visiting Oregon this fall, I'd look at some places just to get a feel for what my money could buy up there. We started that process today. The very first home showed promise: nice size, good neighborhood, decent area, but it needed some improvements to be move-in ready and I felt the highway going through town (Forest Grove) was too trafficky. The houses we looked at were impressive, but of course each had a few drawbacks. Either the price was steep, the location awkward, the layout of the house wrong, or the condition was poor. In the afternoon we headed down toward McMinnville, a university town about halfway between Portland and Salem. Just a few miles north is the little town (3K people) of Lafayette. It's a cute little town with one main street (the highway). I immediately liked the area, which is wine country with vineyards everywhere, similar to where I am now in the Santa Cruz mountains. Here we found a huge home (1800 sq. ft.) at a terrific price. On paper it sounded great so I was skeptical, but when we saw the corner lot it looked great with a nice yard. Inside, it was all on one level, ranch-style, with a huge great room with vaulted ceiling, wonderful kitchen with tons of cabinets and built-ins, and everything else I could want. It even had a fenced-in back yard and detached two-car garage. I could find very little I didn't like, especially at the price. Then my uncle revealed it was a manufactured home. I was astonished: it appeared to be a normal house, though it did have siding. But unlike my trailer, this was not a mobile home: it just meant it was built off-site and assembled at this location. It also was not above ground but on its own concrete foundation. So it's really a normal house just pre-built.

We continued looking, but I kept coming back to that house. It was huge, giving me the space I crave. It had all the features I wanted. The location was excellent, the price superb. I hadn't plan to move now, but when I thought about it, the timing was right: I had the next issue of the magazine to do in October, during escrow, and if we closed early enough, I could move in November and be ready to resume business as usual in December. It would be tight but was theoretically feasible. And since I had already seen the difficulty of finding a home with all the features I wanted at a good price, I figured waiting would probably mean I'd end up having to compromise. Why not do it now and get the home I really wanted?


Saturday, October 2, 2004

House Buying Adventure

My emotions are in a turmoil. Am I really doing this? Leaving my home of 17 years and moving? The whole twelve-hour drive home I pondered questions, analyzed and weighed the pros and cons. The only real negatives of moving were the hassles and expense, moving away from friends and community, losing a few design and consulting clients, and leaving my beloved San Jose Earthquakes soccer team. Countering that was a house that would cost half a million in the Bay Area. I'd have to stay in my trailer another ten years just to save up the down payment on a place like that. It really is a no-brainer. If I can get the timing to work, it's something I want to do.


Sunday, October 3, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I spent a lot of time online today checking out the McMinnville area, making sure I can get broadband Internet, checking prices on moving trucks, doing mortgage loan calculations, trying to figure out a budget for the move, the timing of things, and monthly mortage payments. I found a huge number of fantastic moving sites on the Web: neat city comparison tools (shows you the differences between two places with everything from the cost of living to the weather), loan calculators, moving checklists, moving tips, articles on how to have a garage sale, and more. Very cool stuff. My head is about to explode.


Monday, October 4, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today's my birthday but that is far at the back of my mind. Instead I am nervous as I go to Bank of America and begin talks about a mortgage loan. Since BofA has my business checking account and there's a branch in McMinnville just up the road from my new place, it makes sense to go there for my loan. The first gal I talked with was really nice, but apparently manufactured homes are not something she can deal with, so she telephones another gal who handles those types of loans. After a few minutes going over the basic idea, she promises to call me that afternoon.

I waited on pins and needles all afternoon for her call, even left her a message. She finally called a couple hours late, having gotten tied up with a loan in a crisis. We went over my numbers and figured out which loan would work for me. Then she ran my credit report and called me back. There were some problems, but overall she felt the loan was doable. She put together a pre-approval letter which we sent to my uncle in Oregon so he could put together an offer.

I was on the phone for two hours until late tonight, giving the mortgage lady all my financial details. It was wild: every asset was computed, every liability figured out. I thought the next part of the process was she'd submit the loan to the bank but apparently that's not how it works: she waits until we actually get an offer accepted on the house before she submits the loan, that way I don't have to pay the $200 loan application fee unless I can actually get the house. That worries me a little because it could take time to get an offer accepted, and if there are any problems or delays with the loan process, the purchase time could extend out of my short window and I wouldn't be able to do the move. I can't have the move disrupting my business.


Tuesday, October 5, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Day dawns with faxes, pages of them. I sign and initial in dozens of places, and fax back the stack of papers. It's our offer on the house. My uncle submits it immediately. The seller is a bank so he's worried it could take time to get a response. I'm nervous all day. This is exciting, terrifying, and I can hardly eat.

I stop by BofA with my $200 check for the loan app. I visit a local storage facility to make sure they have storage units available and confirm prices. My plan is to rent one and begin packing and moving my zillions of books and junk as soon as I can so that the move itself will be half done by the time it's time to rent the U-Haul.

This afternoon I called the people who offered to buy my place. This was another nerve-wracking experience. Would the offer still be available? I had a letter from them, but that was from August. When the rep came over at five, I explained to him what was going on. I didn't mention we'd already made an offer in Oregon, but implied I was interested and wanted to see if the sale offer was still open. I explained I was working with BofA on the mortgage loan. Because my income is modest and I'm self-employed, I needed a hefty down payment on the new place to get the loan. I also was going to have substantial moving expenses (including needing to purchase a fridge and washer and dryer for the new place) for which I would need cash. So I countered their offer by raising it by $10K. Timing was another crucial aspect of this, because I needed the cash in 30 days to complete escrow. That's when things began to go south and I felt my dream come crashing around me. The rep explained that he was in the middle of four similar transactions right now and didn't "need" mine; his plate was full. There was no way he could come up with all that cash in thirty days. Maybe 90 days, but not thirty. For a moment I thought all was lost. But I hinted that maybe I didn't need all the money at once and the guy began sketching out ideas, playing with numbers. It looked like we could maybe figure out a multi-part payment plan that could work. The only remaining question was the final amount. Now the park I'm in has rent control, but the rep explained that since they, as a company, were not considered a tenant, rent control doesn't apply to them. So my landlord charges them a whopping two grand a month "storage." We agreed to deduct that amount, minus the rent they would normally pay anyway, from the purchase price I'd asked for. So the bottom line is I almost got my asking price! Then another twist: the guy whipped out a contract, filled it out, and had me sign right then. I had thought this was just a preliminary meeting, but suddenly I'd sold my house! (I did make him include verbiage that the sale was contingent upon me getting the property in Oregon.) He gave me a check for $1,000, so-called "earnest money" in real estate parlance.


Wednesday, October 6, 2004

House Buying Adventure

After the high of yesterday's "sale," today ended on a strange note. I got a call from my uncle who was puzzled as can be: our offer had been rejected! The weird thing was that there was no counter-offer and no explanation. Of course we were dealing with a bank and they don't always do things the normal way. My uncle couldn't get a hold of the Realtor selling the place so we had no information. We assume this rejection means our offer was too low, but who knows. We've decided to make a higher offer in the morning.


Thursday, October 7, 2004

House Buying Adventure

More twists in the tale. My uncle called and said he'd finally gotten a hold of the other Realtor who had no explanation for our rejection. But even stranger, the bank had now suddenly lowered the list price on the house! We've decided to make a full price offer and are sending that in this morning. The funny part about that is the new lower price was less than the offer I had planned to make! Here's hoping everything goes well and we get an acceptance this time. Now that we've got a sale on my place here, there really is no reason why they shouldn't accept, unless they get a better offer. But why would they lower the price if other offers were coming in? It's very strange, but as long as I can get the house, I won't care.


Friday, October 8, 2004

House Buying Adventure

The Waiting Game. Late today I got word from my Realtor uncle that the bank selling the house notified him that the bank officer in charge of looking at our offer was not in today, so there's no progress to report. With Monday being a holiday, it'll probably be Tuesday before anything happens.

Meantime, I used the delay to figure out my finances better. Being self-employed, I often pay myself by paying a personal expense from the business account. But I don't track that well or officially break it out as salary, which is not a good habit. It turns out I pay myself more than I thought. That's awesome for the mortgage loan, which is a relief. Hopefully that process will go smoothly. There are so many potential hang-ups in this house-buying thing that I can feel my stomach eating itself out of nerves. I can't move forward until I know something more definitive, can't stay the same because there's a lot to do if I'm moving so soon. Frustrating.


Monday, October 11, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Wasn't expecting any house news today as it's a holiday, but lo and behold I get a call that the bank selling the house has accepted! So now we can begin the buying process for real. I spent some time last weekend reading about mortgages online, so at least now I've got so I understand the basic concepts, advantages and disadvantages of different types of loans. Going with an adjustable is a bit of a risk considering the low interest rates now, but the monthly payments are so it seems like the way to go. I was on the phone for over an hour with my mortgage rep going over options and giving her more information. Tomorrow we should be ready to file once I get the contract from Oregon.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today sounded simple enough: the contract was to arrive from Oregon by noon and I'd take it to the bank and meet the mortgage lady who'd make copies for me and her and then I'd overnight back to Oregon. But of course nothing can be simple, right? It started with phone calls: it was time to officially pick the mortgage I wanted and that involved some last minute calculating to decide if a lower interest rate with higher fees was better or vice versa. Fortunately rates dropped this morning so I got locked in at a great rate. There were more calls: reminders, questions, and slight changes in plans. Then mid-morning, as I waited for FedEx, my electricity went off. After ten minutes, I found a neighbor who had electricity and realized it was just my place. I played around the breakers and got it back on (they didn't seem to be tripped but turning them off and then back on worked). I've no idea what made it shut off -- I wasn't doing anything unusual and I hadn't just turned anything on. The electric outage caused complications, however, because my cordless phones were dead and the Internet went offline for some reason. Then I couldn't print. My printer would print half the page and just stop. Here I was five minutes from meeting the mortgage lady at the bank and my printer's refusing to cooperate! I tried three times, then switched to a different printer, finally getting some output to take to the bank. Crazy stuff.

After a long day, more news. The mortgage sent me a list of 14 items of documentation I need to get her: mostly routine stuff like a copy of my driver's license, P&L statement from my business, tax returns, bank statements, etc. That's going to be fun. I hate paperwork. Sigh. I'm glad one only buys a few houses in life.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I was up late last night and up early this morning working on mortgage stuff. Made some progress. Due to an odd set of circumstances (it was owner financed but payment was made via a bank) I never received a title on my current place and now the old owner can't be found, but I did manage to get a report from the bank that shows I paid off the balance, so hopefully that's proof enough that I own my place. I vaguely knew about that situation but of course I wasn't planning on moving until next summer so I thought I'd have time to figure it out by then. Now I'm forced to do everything in a rush, which actually isn't that bad of a thing because otherwise I'd probably put it off forever. Anyway, I'm well on my way to getting the rest of the list of documentation taken care of. A few of the things are items the bank and others must do (such as an appraisal of the property), so no worries there. Speaking of the appraisal, the mortgage lady had hoped that they might not need a walk-through appraisal (which takes longer) but word today is that they will. It's been scheduled for tomorrow, though, which is quick. We haven't even done our own inspection yet! I think that inspection will happen later this week; since this property further south than my Realtor's normal inspector goes, Phil is trying to find a good local person.

The inspection makes me a little nervous. It's not that I expect anything to be wrong, but simply because I've already invested so much into this purchase and if anything goes wrong now, I'm in a quandary. Since it's a bank sale at the other end they have said they won't fix anything and I suspect that means they won't drop the price unless it was something so huge as to significantly effect the appraisal value. So say we discover an issue with the plumbing, something in the neighborhood of a few grand to fix. Do I eat that and go ahead or lose the inspection and other fees and tremendous amount of time invested in the purchase so far? Of course I'd be tempted to say I'll take the house no matter what the condition simply because I'm now emotionally committed, but rationally that's not always a good decision. Hopefully the inspection and appraisal go smoothly (the house is only ten years old, after all) and this will be all moot. But meantime, I can't help but look at all the possibilities. Time is running out and I really need to start packing if I'm going to complete this move in the time allotted, but I don't want to jinx things by starting too early. The waiting and unknown is driving me crazy. At this point I am starting to think I'm moving, but stuff could still derail the process. It's frustrating. But I mustn't let myself get down. We've made a ton of progress (it's been less than two weeks since I first saw the house) and actually we're going faster than scheduled. But the unknowns are making it difficult for me to concentrate on regular work. I feel like I can't plan ahead. I have to make two schedules, one if I move and an alternate in case something falls through.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Now it sounds like there may be some issues with the loan (someone is "worried" about something, all very vague, could be something, could be nothing), and my uncle (my Realtor) is concerned because we still haven't gotten signatures from the bank selling the property, only their fax that said they accepted the contract. In other words, I don't officially have a contract yet. It's most likely just bureaucracy and bank carelessness, but it's frustrating because we can't move ahead with the inspection and other details until we've got signatures.

More bad news. Apparently the bank's just uncovered a technicality that means I can't qualify for the loan I'd been trying to get, which means we must now switch trains and find an entirely new loan. I'm really depressed now because all my financial calculations were based on the current loan's rates and payments, and a new loan means going through all that again. The previous loan had low initial interest-only payments for five years and then went to an annual adjustable, which suited my plans perfectly. Now we're looking at a 30-year fixed which has the same payments always, but means my initial payments will be much higher. Either is doable but being self-employed I really preferred the lower rates as my income can fluctuate. This turns all my calculations and plans on their head. I'm really depressed and wondering if this is worth the hassle. I hate involving emotions because than my decision-making is suspect, but I can't help but be emotionally involved. I feel there's this huge mile-long "To Do" list on my head in order to move my life to Oregon, yet I can't get started on it. According to our original schedule I'd be in Oregon exactly 30 days from now -- not a lot of time to pack up my life, especially considering I need to continue working in the meantime.

I just found out this new loan is a special first-time buyer loan and thus the interest rate is much lower than I expected (lower than regular 30-year fixed loans). That's better. My monthly payments will still be higher than before, but not as bad as I was thinking, and that negative's offset by the fact that I'd have a really low rate fixed for the next 30 years. Unfortunately there's still a question or two about this new loan: we're not sure if self-employeds qualify and there might be another complication or two. I guess we won't know for a day or so.


Friday, October 15, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I spent the morning trying to get homeowners insurance. Now this is where I get annoyed at the world. From articles I read my new home is considered a modular or pre-fabricated home. It is not a mobile (manufactured) home which sit on a permanent metal sheath and have wheels for transport. My new home was simply built in a factory (actually better than a site-built since it's not sitting in the elements during construction) and transported to the site on flat-bed trucks and assembled there on a real concrete foundation. To me this is a real house: it has real 2x6 construction, real walls with drywall, etc. Unless you're a contractor, you'd never know by looking that it's manufactured. My current place is definitely a trailer: it's above ground on wheels, has a hitch in front, and the walls are paper thin (literally only 3" thick). Yet for reasons of stupidity or politics, the two homes are both considered "manufactured" and exactly the same for purposes of mortgage loans and homeowners insurance! It is really annoying. Many homeowners policies don't cover manufactured homes and most insurance companies charge a premium for them, as I discovered today. I finally found one that wasn't charging me two to three times the typical rate (it's still about 40% higher), but it took some research. What's annoying is they are grouping me in with trailers and mobile homes when this place is definitely unlike those. My insurance is higher because I'm grouped in with trailers that blow over in wind storms! That's really stupid but unless I want to start my own lobbyist group and fight huge corporations, there's not a lot I can do to change those technicalities.

Got some encouraging news from the bank. We're moving forward with the new loan, so that's good. It's still too early to tell if there are some obstacles ahead but we'll know soon. Even better news came from the bank's appraisal department. Because the appraiser is going to Hawaii next week for vacation, he got out to the house yesterday and turned in his report today -- wicked fast! Normally it can take two or three weeks, apparently. Best of all, he appraised the house at more than what I'm paying! That's really good news on many levels: it means it's a good house, I'm getting a great deal, and it helps my LTV ratio. (That's loan-to-value, a bank term expressing the ratio of my loan to the value of the property. Since my value just went up, that means my loan is for a smaller percentage of the value, so in a sense it's like I'm borrowing less. You see, I'm learning a lot about these things!) Anyway, I feel much less depressed today. Depending on what happens with the loan meeting on Monday, I think I'll start packing on Tuesday. My plan is to box up 85% of my belongings and put them in a storage unit. The only stuff I'll keep out will be stuff I'm using on a daily basis (TV, computer, bed, furniture, some kitchen stuff) and things I plan to sell at a moving sale. That way when it comes time to bring the moving truck, I'll be 85% packed. But for that to happen I've got to get started. I've got a small car, which means I can only move a few boxes at a time, and a lot of small stuff (tons of books) which takes a while to pack. I'd also like to sort through stuff and throw stuff away if I can. Usually when I move I run out of time and have to just throw everything in boxes for sorting later. I've still got boxes I haven't unpacked from my last move eight years ago!


Monday, October 18, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Some crazy stuff happened today. At least it seemed crazy at the time, though in retrospect it wasn't as bad as I thought live. The main things I knew waking up was that I had a major deadline with my magazine -- I had to get the cover art FedExed to the printers today -- and I we'd scheduled a mortgage meeting in the afternoon. The former I'd worked on over the weekend, so it was no problem, but I was a little nervous and unsure of what to expect about the latter meeting.

In the morning I ran into a fascinating chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. I asked my local bank branch about opening a checking account in Oregon since that's one of the things on my to-do list. To my surprise, they cannot open an account there for me here: I have to do that up there. That creates a problem because I need to put the money from the sale of my place here into that account... at least that would be much easier than moving money around later. I really wanted to have that account all set up with a check card so I could use it on my trip to Oregon to prep the new house for move-in. It's also supposed to be a free account with my mortgage and I'd get payments automatically debited. But if the bank here can't create that account, that makes things awkward. There's a chance I can open the account online or over the phone; I'll have to explore those two options.

The afternoon meeting proved anti-climactic. We just filled out a lot of forms for the new loan (remember, we switched loan programs last week). There was a bit of a scare earlier when I showed up at the Scotts Valley bank to meet the mortgage lady for our trip to San Jose for the meeting and she wasn't there: I suddenly panicked and thought maybe I'd misunderstood and we were to meet at the Santa Cruz branch. I didn't know her cell number and she didn't know mine so I was unsure how we were going to connect. Fortunately, she was just a few minutes late and showed up and we made it to the meeting successfully. The loan process at the meeting was fairly routine, a few basic forms (I mostly signed my name) and a few questions. This is a loan only for first-time home buyers, but since I technically don't own real estate (I pay rent for the land on my current place), I qualify. The loan guy said the bank would have all my material before we even got back to Santa Cruz, so things are moving.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Of course everything in this house-buying process is nerve-wracking and terrifying. There are so many possible mistakes to make. It's a huge commitment, the financial burdens are immense, and it seems like every day there's a twist that could ruin all the careful planning. One of these occurred to me over the weekend when I suddenly realized that I might have made a mistake. You see, when I negotiated the sale of my place here, the company buying it told me that due to cash flow issues they couldn't come up with the full price in 30 days. At first I thought the deal was over and I wouldn't be able to buy the house in Oregon. Then I realized that as long as I had enough cash in 30 days to cover the down payment and moving expenses, we could still make the deal work. So we agreed on a split payment deal where the buyer pays me some money in 30 days and the balance in 90. That sounded good to me until someone pointed out that there ought to be an interest penalty or something if they didn't pay me that second installment on time. That's when I realized that there'd be little to stop the company from delaying that payment or even paying it at all: it'd cost a fortune for me to take them to court to force payment and by that time I'd already be moved to Oregon in my new place and I'd have relinguished all rights to my current place. This made me nervous, so nervous that I actually visited a lawyer to get some advice. He agreed with my thinking: I basically am extending the company an unsecured loan. He advised I talk to them about securing the loan, perhaps attaching it to the property in some way so that they couldn't sell it without paying me off first. So that's the plan there.

I'd originally planned to open a storage locker today and start packing, but it was pouring rain so I scrapped that idea.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I spoke with the people purchasing my place and explained my concerns over the unsecured installment payment. They seemed to think it wasn't a big deal either way, they're a $100 million company and they pay their debts, etc. We didn't exactly come up with a new contract, but at least it seemed like securing the loan was a possibility. If they'd balked at that it would have seemed fishy to me. I still haven't decided if it's really necessary; if it's easy to do I'd prefer it secured, but if it jeopardizes the purchase or creates massive paperwork headaches I don't want to go that route. That's probably not intelligent of me but I'm a trusting person.

In other news, we've got our inspection of the new house scheduled for Friday. I don't like doing it this late in the process -- if we find a major problem now I'll lose money and effort I've spent in this process so far, but of course I do need to know if there are any issues with the home. Despite my nerves, I'm moving ahead. I've started telling clients about the move, and today I rented a storage locker and will begin packing tomorrow.

I called a place in McMinnville that offers Wi-Band -- wireless broadband Internet -- but unfortunately it won't work in Lafayette. They might eventually get it there, but I'm not crazy about the whopping $300 install fee (cost per month is $50, about the same as everything else). So I called up Comcast cable and it seems I can get setup with broadband pretty easy from them, so that's what I'll do. The one feature of Wi-Band that I really liked is that it's synchronous, meaning that upload and download speeds are the same. DSL and cablemodem are asynchronous, so uploads a tenth of the speed of the download. For my business, that's a disadvantage, though not that big a deal. As long as I can have fast, reliable Internet service, that's the most important thing.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Started packing today, filling up my new storage unit with stuff. I also went ahead and opened a bank account in Oregon. Had a trouble doing it over the web and had to do it over the phone instead. The lame site wouldn't accept my credit card because it said my name wasn't my name! Worse, the site was basically locked at that step and wouldn't let me go forward or backward, so I was completely stuck. But at least that's one more task done.

I just got a call from the bank: my loan has been approved! So now we just need to dot a few more i's and check off a few more to-do items, then this will actually happen. Wow, I'm almost starting to believe it!


Friday, October 22, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I woke up today trying not to think and worry about the inspection happening; instead I focused on packing. It worked, for when the phone call came I almost wasn't expecting it. Good news: the house passed inspection. Sure, there are problems, but all minor, mostly preventative maintenance stuff. Most of it isn't even of immediate concern, but things I'll work on next spring (i.e. painting, etc.). So now there's no reason for this not to go through, as long as all the paperwork gets completed and the sale of my place here goes smoothly. The timing is still tight: I'd ideally like to have things happen earlier and close around the first instead of the fifth, just to have everything well and done and make scheduling the move easier.

I bought a hand truck. Rather than rent one from U-Haul during the move, I just bought one for $40. It's a useful thing and it will help me while I move stuff to the storage locker. This one's convertible from upright to a flatbed which is excellent.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Oh my, the challenge of this move thing really hit home today as I began packing up my books. I packed a dozen boxes and lugged them to the storage locker. When I got I repeated the process, then sat back, tired, and realized with great depression that I hadn't made a dent. Of the seven 68" bookcases in my living room I had only started on three of them and they still looked completely full! I have too many books. I have no idea how many I have, though I guesstimated once and came up with around 3,000. It could be more or less, though. Normally that's a good thing, but when I have to lift them all, it's a bit depressing. It's frustrating that I've done all this work and you can't even tell. It makes the mountain remaining seem even more daunting. Worse, it's been raining lately and sprinkled a bit today -- I moved boxes anyway -- but that makes me worry that I could lose days in the future if the weather doesn't co-operate. With so much to do in such a short time, I could run short if I don't get moving. I hate leaving such a mountain of stuff to the last minute.


Sunday, October 24, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I'm feeling better this morning. I got up early and made two runs to the storage locker, taking over 26 boxes of books. That finally made a slight dent. I now have two bookcases completely empty, and two others with only one shelf left. That just leaves two full bookcases and one partially full. If I can get in two or even three runs tomorrow before the big storm Tuesday, I should have made some good progress. If I can get the heavy but easy stuff -- books, DVDs, videos, CDs -- out of here, then I can begin on the more awkward things that take more time to pack. Of course the reason I wanted to get started early today is that I knew my afternoon would be wiped out: I am heading to San Jose for the Earthquakes big playoff match against the Wizards!


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

House Buying Adventure

There's been nothing much to report the last few days: I've been busy packing, carting stuff to the storage locker. I'm getting tired but there's a long way to go and time is running out. At least the house is finally starting to look a little bare (only a little) and my storage locker is getting full. I'm making progress but there's much to go.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today I drove to Fresno for an eye doctor appointment. I'd gotten new contacts a few weeks ago and this was the follow-up visit. One of the things I had planned to do was to visit my mom's storage locker and inventory the contents. That didn't go quite as well as planned. First, we had a lot of trouble finding the key. My mom had given me one three years ago, but I have no idea where it is now. She'd sent her key to friends in Fresno who were looking for some furniture a while back. She called them and they found the key and I made arrangements to meet them. Unfortunately, once I got to the locker, it was the wrong key! Fortunately I'd thought ahead and had my mother call the storage place to make sure I was an authorized user and I was able to get them to cut the lock for me. I bought a replacement lock and I'm keeping the key.

The stuff in storage presented another problem. It's been in the locker for over three years and hadn't been opened in almost all that time. Everything was coated with a thick layer of dust. I'm talking thick, folks. As in I was still sneezing ten minutes later! I took pictures but the bottom line is I couldn't even get in there to do an inventory. For one, I didn't want to get filthy, and for another, everything was piled and stacked so high I didn't want to unpack and have to repack everything. Then there's the fact that there's a lot of stuff there! I didn't see as much furniture as I was expecting: most of the stuff appears to be boxes. Supposedly there's a sofa and recliner in there but I couldn't see anything but boxes and dust. It's going to be a mess getting that stuff out of there. So much more my idea of loading it onto the truck quickly: we're going to have to dust and clean before we can do much moving. It's not going to be fun.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today I got a call that the seller in Oregon had finally signed all the paperwork and so I had to go sign my version of that. While I was talking with the mortgage lady it came up there were a couple questions from the underwriter, so I had to do some further explanations of my business. Of course right as I tried to email that to her my wireless Internet stopped working: it's been doing that off and on lately and driving me nuts! Of course it would do it right when I had a critical need, and instead of only being off for a few seconds, it wouldn't come back up. I finally gave up and hooked up a wire. I need reliability right now. This is insane.

Anyway, I headed downtown to Santa Cruz to sign the paper and then the mortgage lady said that she'd gotten an email from the underwriter and they wanted one of my financial documents on my "company letterhead." Since time was critical, I actually used the mortgage lady's laptop and grabbed my logo off my webpage and pasted it into Excel and created a nice summary page of the numbers. The previous document had all my calculations and was quite confusing. This way I only included the conclusions, not how I got there.

After arriving home, there was a message from the mortgage lady that now they wanted another document on company letterhead, just like the other one, so I whipped it out and emailed it to her. Hopefully this fulfills everything. Supposedly we're near to "drawing docs," whatever that means. I guess that happens just before closing.

Another decision we'll have to make soon is to decide if it'd be better to close here in California instead of up in Oregon. We originally were thinking up there, but now we're thinking it might be better to do it here. Up there the schedule would be tight; here we'd have more flexibility.


Friday, October 29, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Things had calmed for a bit and I thought we were through with the dramatics, but no, it was only the calm before the storm. Today everything happened and happened quickly. It began when I called the buyers of my place here to see if they could perhaps pay me a day or two earlier. The payment was scheduled for Nov. 5, but if they could pay earlier we could close earlier, which would help with the scheduling of my short prep trip to get the new house move-in ready. I'd hoped to close on the 8th and be in the house 8-10 and back here in California to move on the 11th. But the buyer here told me the parent company would issue a company check, not a cashier's check, and there was no way to get it earlier. I pleaded but to no avail. Things were not looking good. If the payment was not a cashier's check, we'd have to wait for it to clear before we could close escrow. That meant the house wouldn't close until Nov. 9 or 10 at the earliest, ruining my prep trip plans. (The move itself is fairly concrete for Nov. 11-14.) Then things got a little worse when I spoke with the mortgage lady who intimated that docs couldn't be drawn up until I had the money, which my real estate uncle said would really slow things down since the docs have to be signed both up in Oregon and down here by me. If we had to wait until the 9th or 10th for docs, we'd really be behind. We possibly wouldn't close until the next week! This was frustrating news because up to now we'd been running on schedule and things seemed okay and I'd started making concrete plans. Now that all seemed in jeopardy. I started wondering if a prep trip was worth it, if I'd have to change the move dates, etc. I wondered if this tight schedule was really insane and if it was going to even work.

But literally minutes later everything turned. The mortgage lady talked with the underwriter who was going to try to get it ready for docs for Monday, and then the doorbell rang. To my surprise it was a rep from the company buying my place. He handed me a check! "It arrived just minutes after you called," he said. "I knew you were in a hurry so I brought it right over." The check was dated two days earlier and had been mailed to the local office. It was not a cashier's check, but since it's a full week earlier than scheduled, there's time for it to clear. I rushed it over to the bank and deposited it.

Speaking of deposits, I had an interesting experience trying to open a new Bank of America checking account in Oregon. As I wrote I tried to do that last week. I had to do it over the phone because of a weird error on the website. They told me I'd receive my account info within five business days. Nothing had arrived, so I called today. Guess what? They had no record of me ever calling and opening an account! I finally went ahead and did it online again, and again I got the same error. The error was weird: it wouldn't accept my credit card to fund the required opening balance because it said the name on the account must match exactly. Well, it wasn't kidding. I finally got to work... by removing the period after my middle initial! I guess that was the hold-up all the time. Once the period was gone the name matched and the account process went through. Can anyone say lame?

Ordered a new washer, dryer, and refrigerator from Sears today. The big sale is over tomorrow, so I decided it was best to do it online and schedule the delivery for when I'm at the house during my prep trip. I would have preferred picking out the appliances in person, but saving a few hundred bucks seems worth it. Besides, all the stuff seems standard and I got the main features I wanted (i.e. water and ice on the fridge door). I did check with Consumer Reports and Kenmore is one of the top brands, so I feel good there. It's a little strange ordering such items online and not being at the house to measure or prepare anything, but hopefully everything will work out. There were some odd questions like a 3-wire or 4-wire installation kit for the dryer: I held off ordering that hoping I can do it later when I find out what I need.

The bank had me running through hoops today. I didn't get much packing or anything done. Apparently the underwriter came up with more questions, including providing evidence of my "undocumented" income. Now that's just weird. If income's undocumented, why do I have to document it? I had to go to one of my clients and get them to sign a letter saying they hire me for consulting work. I don't know what that has to do with undocumented income, but apparently it satisfies the bank somehow. It's weird, because the docs I already gave the bank show my "undocumented" income better anyway, but I guess it's more difficult to decipher numbers than letters.

Got a few more evening calls from the mortgage lady with more questions from the underwriter. I again explained all my businesses, trying to keep things simple but accurate. It's complicated having multiple sources of income. All the money ends up in the same pool so I don't know what difference it makes, but what the underwriter wants the underwriter gets. I emailed a bunch more financial records to the mortgage lady during dinner. Hopefully that will be enough, but I'll have to keep my cell phone handy tomorrow evening because I might get a call with more questions when the underwriter looks at it tomorrow. Sigh.


Saturday, October 30, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Just got the word that the underwriter finished my file tonight and everything's a go. The final documentation I provided yesterday proved enough and all questions are answered. Since I've got the money for my place here, all that's left is drawing the final docs and closing the deal. I'm not sure how long that will take -- it could happen early in the week if everything goes well!


Monday, November 1, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today final documents were drawn up and sent to the title company in Oregon. This is the final step in the process, so this house buying adventure is (finally) drawing to a close. It's exactly one month from when I first saw the house, which is interesting. I'm not sure exactly what happens next, but my understanding is that the docs have to go to Oregon and come back, then I sign them, and they go back. I'm supposed to get a call from the Oregon title company after they get the docs so I'll know more then. Meantime, I've got a LOT of packing to do. Time is running out. Next week I'll be gone most of the week so I've got to get all packed this week. This coming Saturday is my moving sale, so I've got to get ready for that as well. Thursday is my trip to Fresno for an eye doctor appointment for new contacts, so I lose a day there.


Tuesday, November 2, 2004

House Buying Adventure

This morning I got a call from the title company in Oregon. It appears this process is more complicated than I expected. Apparently the documents are overnighted to me in California (I receive them Wednesday), then they go back to Oregon (Thursday), then they have to come back to California (Friday) to the bank for funding. So the earliest we can close is Friday. That would be fine as long as it happens and we can record that day, but it's certainly tighter than I prefer. I'm scheduled to be in the house on Monday the 8th, so if we don't record on Friday, we could have a problem.

I just called the local notary I have to meet with tomorrow for signing the final docs: we're going to meet at the local title company. So that's at least set up. Once I sign those docs and deliver my cashier's check for the down payment and closing costs, it's out of my hands. Oh, I guess I also need to set up an automatic payment system for my mortgage as that was listed as a requirement for funding by the bank. I just got my account number for my new account in Oregon, so hopefully that can be done now.


Wednesday, November 3, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Great, it's cloudy and potentially wet today: after I'd checked the advanced weather forecast earlier in the week to confirm no rain the reports were, of course, completely incorrect. Brilliant. Why do they bother?

I just signed the final mortgage documents (about 50 pages worth including a document in which I'd promise I sign more documents if these weren't enough) and handed over a cashier's check for the down payment and closing costs. The keys are almost in my hands. The documents must be signed by the seller in Oregon and then come back to the bank here for funding, but if everything goes as planned, we'll close on Friday. There is one potential obstacle which has me worried: I am supposed to have auto-debit set up for the mortgage payment. I couldn't do that earlier because I didn't have my Oregon bank account yet, but I have it now and I tried to get the form today at the local branch but apparently it's not that simple. Apparently that's something that must come from the mortgage department. Supposedly this form must be signed before the bank will fund the loan, so I'm concerned.


Thursday, November 4, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today I had to drive to Fresno to get my new contacts from my eye doctor, so I didn't expect much to happen on the house. It's out of my hands anyway. My worry was the auto-debit form. I left messages but never heard back (I was gone all day but gave out my cell phone). When I got home, I had a number of errands to run and a client to meet with. (One the errands was cool: I remembered I had an electronic range key from the local driving range that still had money credited to it and so I was able to turn it in and get $50 credit at the pro shop. I bought a pair of golf shoes which I'd been wanting but never gotten. I'm glad I remembered because that range key wouldn't have done me much good in Oregon!) Late in the evening (after meeting with the client) I got home to receive a call from the mortgage lady who told me my answering machine hadn't picked up all day. I'd wondered why I hadn't received any messages! Apparently the cordless phone's battery had gone dead and that somehow caused the base's answering machine to not function. Anyway, she said that the auto-debit form wasn't a big deal -- it wouldn't slow up my loan -- but I could fill it out in the morning and have it faxed to the underwriter. So that gives me more to do tomorrow in addition to getting ready for the moving sale on Saturday.


Friday, November 5, 2004

House Buying Adventure

This morning I got up early and began preparations for my moving sale tomorrow. I disassembled my loft bed, cleaned the microwave and fridge, moved furniture out onto the deck. I took the air conditioner out of the window and replaced the windows (good thing I saved them). In the middle of all that I went to the bank to sign the auto-debit form and got some cash in case I needed change for customers at the sale. I then called the mortgage contact to let her know that the form was signed and faxed; she'd already received it and said funding would happen when the documents from Oregon arrived. I called the title company in Oregon to make sure they were planning to record the deed today if the funding arrived; everyone promised to call me once things happened. I continued my preparations and tried not to worry about the phone ringing, but by 1:15 I still hadn't heard anything and was getting worried because the deed has to record by four or it wouldn't happen until Monday. All I got was voice mail when I called the bank, but she called me back a little while later and said we'd funded! I called the title company again to see if we were recording and they said they'd call when they did. I received that call about three o'clock: they'd received the funding from California and were recording. So it's now done! The house is officially and legally mine. I can get the keys when I fly up on Sunday. Whew!


Friday, November 5, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I've been telling people about the house and their reaction has been universal: "Congratulations," they say, as though I'd had a baby or won an award. I thought that was strange. It's not like you're congratulated when you buy a car. It's not like I did something extraordinary. But then I realized that buying a house is extraordinary. It's not something you do that many times in your life. Going through the mortgage process is an achievement, having all the details work out satisfactorily for everyone involved is a challenge, and it's difficult to find property and get it. So I guess congratulations is the right thing to say -- I'll just have to get used to hearing it!


Sunday, November 7, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Flew up to Oregon today. Check-in was a little slow, but okay. I was flying Southwest and got confused by their weird open seating policy. I'm used to assigned seats. In the waiting area I found an empty seat and waited until boarding began. The row I was in was boarding so I went along, only to get turned away at the gate because my ticket had a "C" on it and only "A" was boarding. Apparently "A" seats are window seats, so those people go in first, then "B" center seats, and finally "C" aisle seats. That sounds good, except that all the "B" people took the aisle seats so when I got on there were only middle seats left! Why have a policy if you don't enforce it? Bizarre. I was not impressed with Southwest. Supposedly they are tons cheaper, but they've never seemed that way to me. In this case they were only about $10 cheaper than Alaska, but their tickets, while not refundable, can at least be used for airline credit. Since I was uncertain of my schedule I wanted tickets I could at least reuse if I had a change in plans. I had another negative when I went to get my checked bag. It's a black traveler that looks like a million others so I had a purple ribbon attached to a strap on the bag. Well, somehow Southwest unclipped the strap and lost it! I saw my bag go by but thought it wasn't mine because it didn't have the ribbon. When it came around the third time and there were only a few pieces of unclaimed luggage left, I finally opened it and saw it was indeed mine. I was quite irritated, not just because Southwest lost part of my luggage, but also because it makes it more difficult to identify my bag. Stupid morons.

Had another adventure getting my rental car. I'd booked it online in advance for a total of $73. The guy at the Dollar booth immediately tried to upgrade me to an SUV. It was normally $89 a day but was on special for $49. That sounded like a terrible deal, nothing close to what I'd booked, and completely confused me. When a customer obviously wants something cheap, why counter with something expensive? Then he threw out some "LDW" term at me at the same time commenting that I wouldn't need liability insurance, so I said yes. It turned out, that "LDW" was some sort of damage insurance and doubled my rate! I didn't realize it until he handed me the bill to sign and I saw it was twice what I'd been quoted. "You said you wanted it," he whined when I complained. I admitted I'd made a mistake, but later realized that he'd never said the "LDW" thing cost anything. What kind of business asks if you want something without telling you the cost? But we still weren't done. Next he threw a bunch of fuel options at me. For just "$1.99" I could buy a tank of gas. Well, make that $1.99 per gallon. With a 16-gallon tank, that meant an additional $36. You see, I buy a full tank even if I return it nearly full! Of course if I don't bring it back full, it costs even more per gallon, so it's "cheaper" to buy the tank in advance. All these options were really annoying me and so I said so. "This feels like a bait and switch," I told the guy, who got upset. He claimed it wasn't and that I could get the price I was quoted if I wanted. I finally got out of there getting what I was quoted, but it felt like a hassle. I hate it went estimates and reality don't match. It really pisses me off.

I got to my Aunt and Uncle's place about 8:30, I think. My uncle gave me the key to my place. I could have stayed the night at their place, but I really was wanting to see my new house. I was nervous. It's been a month since I'd been there. This was a huge commitment. What if the house or area didn't match up with my memory? What if I discovered something I really hated? I headed out with some apprehension. Seeing it at night for the first time added yet another difference. It was dark and foggy, but there was little traffic. I found my way easily, arriving right at 10 o'clock. The house looked a little ordinary as I pulled into the driveway, causing another twinge of apprehension. Had I made a dreadful mistake? But coming since the main door (Whew! The key worked!) I saw the huge living/family room and remembered what I liked about the place. The lofted ceiling, hardwood floors, spacious kitchen, etc. where what I'd wanted. Trying to be more critical, I realized the limitations. There were a few aesthetic flaws such missing baseboard trim, no towel racks in the main bathroom, a kitchen sink that needed replacing (it wasn't even hooked up), a shower door with no handle, etc. At first it was depressing thinking that the house wasn't perfect or that some of the workmanship wasn't top notch, but then I realized that every house has flaws and the ones here really are minor and all fixable. It may take me a little time to fix everything, but it's certainly doable. By the time I went to bed (exhausted), I was very comfortable with my decision. The house isn't a mansion, but it's certainly a step up from my previous place and it's got great potential. It will be an excellent place to live for a long time to come.


Monday, November 8, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Wow, what a day! I slept really well (about nine hours). Yes I was tired, but it was also nice and quiet here in the tiny town of Lafayette. At nine I left to go on several errands. First I visited the local plumber, where I'd made arrangements for them to install the kitchen sink. The place was a mere ten minutes from my house. I picked out a stainless steel sink, faucet set, and garage disposal and confirmed the Tuesday morning appointment. Then I went to Sears and bought the stuff needed to install the dryer. I stopped at a supermarket and picked up a few things (mainly some drinking water), then took some fast food lunch home. At about noon the Sears guys showed up. One of them was a real joker, asking me if I was ready for my new dishwasher, laughing at the confused look on my face. He had no idea I was expecting just such a screw up and it wasn't funny at all! The installers were amazingly efficient, unpacking and lugging in the huge fridge (it just fit in the space provided) and the washer and dryer. (To my shock, they carried in the latter two in a single trip!) They were gone in less than an hour, hooking up everything and testing it to make sure it worked. Well, they didn't do a load of wash or anything, but at least everything was hooked up. I've never owned a washer or dryer, so that's kind of exciting. I feel like an adult!

After Sears left, I had a window of time, I went off to a lock shop I'd spotted. I needed a dead bolt for the front door (it had a hole but no lock) and I wanted all my locks keyed to the same key. Having the locksmith come to my place was an option, but it quickly got expensive when all the locks I needed where modified. In the end I decided to go with better locks and all new hardware. The total cost would be about the same, but I'd get better quality material. I bought two dead bolts and three locking door handles. Then it was off to Wal-Mart to pick up some household items. It took longer than expected -- Wal-Mart has a lot of cool stuff -- so I had to cut short my shopping trip and come home to meet the cable guy. I was a little late, but in time. I was still unloading the car when he pulled up. While he installed my cable and Internet lines, I figured out how to install the dead bolt in the front door. It was a little confusing at first, but once I understood the basic principle it was easy. The doorknob was much easier, just a few screws. I then did the dead bolt and doorknob on the back door, then took a break as the cable guy needed me to get my laptop and establish Internet access. Once that was working, he took off and I went and did the doorknob on the side door of the garage. All the locks were keyed to the same key, so I only had to worry about one key for everything. The locksmith even told me they could key a padlock to the same key if I wanted, so I can eventually do that for a padlock for my shed. Right now the shed has a lock on it and I have no key!

After my adventures locksmithing, I put up a shower curtain and installed two new shower heads. Then I went back to Wal-Mart to buy some more stuff: a folding table, a chair (There's no place to sit in the empty house!), a toaster oven (my old one is pretty junky), a lamp (the new house is lacking overhead lights in several rooms, don't ask me why), and a little clock radio I got for $5. The house is just too quiet with no TV or chaotic cats! At least this way I can get a little white noise with talk radio in the background while I do other things. Whew. After bringing everything home and putting everything away, I had a little dinner, and now I'm exhausted. I'm really ready for bed. It was a very long day. It was fun, but I didn't have much of a chance to rest. Tomorrow should be interesting as the plumber's coming early, my mom arrives from the coast with spare beds from Grandpa's house, and my uncle might show for a visit as well. There's still lots to do but the house is starting to feel a little lived in now!


Tuesday, November 9, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today the plumber arrived first thing. He was supposed to be here at 8:30 but he was at least fifteen minutes early. That was fine, though, as I was ready. He had a number of tasks to do: install a new sink, faucets, garbage disposal, and run a water line for the fridge. I figured water line would be the most complicated and thought the other stuff was so routine it would happen quickly, but it took a surprising amount of time. I didn't watch everything he did, but he was busy under the sink area, putting in a new valve or something, as I think he had to repipe a few things to get everything to flow correctly. Then came the bad news. The first was a surprise. After the garbage disposal was installed he went to plug it in and realized there was no outlet under the sink. Apparently that's normally standard but not in my house. For now I can run it with an extension cord (not a big deal as you don't use the disposal often) but odd that no one noticed that until this late in the game (it was something I'd wondered about but hadn't checked). Eventually I can have an electrician install a switched outlet but I'll wait until I know what else I need an electrician to do. To continue the bad news, the plumber revealed that my water lines are "polybutelene" (?) and will eventually need to be replaced as they begin leaking after about fifteen years or so. That will cost three grand at some point in the future, but it's not an immediate worry. That sounded sort of familiar -- I think the home inspector might have mentioned something about it. But a more immediate bummer was that after connecting the dishwasher we discovered it didn't work. Water wouldn't pump inside it even though everything was connected. So now a new dishwasher is in the cards.

At about eleven Uncle Phil showed up. He'd actually arrived before my mom and her friends with the beds. They were in a pickup loaded with mattresses and couldn't drive more than thirty-five or so. The beds arrived about eleven-thirty and we quickly hauled them inside. There was a double for my room and two twins for the guest room. Excellent! Now my mom and her friend Glady will have a place to stay tonight. I took everyone out for lunch at Ruby Tuesday (I had the Triple Play: ribs, shrimp, and chicken strips). It was delicious. Afterward Bob and his wife went home with the truck, Phil went off to work, and my mom and Glady and I went to home to clean. At least they cleaned. I busied myself putting closet doors back (someone had removed them from the tracks and never put them back), assembling beds, and putting outlet covers on all over the house (whoever had painted had removed them and only put half back).


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Glady and my mom went back home today. They were a great help. They put liners on all my shelves and cleaned the blinds, bathrooms, and more. The house was in surprisingly decent shape but it did need cleaning. A lot of the blinds need replacing but since I don't think I want ugly blinds long term, I won't bother doing that yet.

I had to go to the post office to get my box. Unfortunately, no one told me I needed two forms of ID. A driver's license is enough ID to get me on a plane but not enough to open a PO box! Fortunately, the gal relented and went ahead and granted me a box with the promise that I'd return next week with a second form of ID. So now I know my new mailing address and can start informing people of that.

My flight home was scheduled for 6:55 p.m. so I'd planned to leave at four o'clock. That was three hours, but I wasn't sure how long it took to get to the airport and I had to return the rental car. It seemed like plenty of time so I was a little lax leaving and didn't get on the road until 4:15. Then I realized I'd miscalculated two other things. First, by the time I got to Portland area, it was basically five o'clock rush hour. Traffic was at a standstill. It was six o'clock before I got to the airport area. Then I remembered I was supposed to fill the rental with gas before returning it! I couldn't remember the penalty if I didn't, but since they'd offered me a "cheaper" option of buying a full tank for $36, I figured the penalty must cost more than that. Unfortunately, there were no gas stations near the airport. I ended up having to drive about fifteen minutes away to find one. By the time I got back, it was almost six thirty and catching my flight was going to be tough! Fortunately the rental return was a breeze. I pulled into a lane, the gal took my key, inspected the car and approved that no damage had been done, and I was off to the Southwest counter with my luggage. There was a minimal wait in line there but I'd already seen on the monitor that my flight was delayed. Sure enough, when gave me my boarding pass she informed me the plane would leave at 7:20 p.m. So suddenly I had plenty of time. It turned out I had even more time than that, because we didn't leave until eight o'clock! It was a routine flight, except for the girl crying in the seat behind me during the decent. She apparently was suffering from some sort of sinus pressure or something due to the plane descending. It was painful and she was crying and moaning. It really unnerved a lot of people. The flight crew did nothing, of course. Just like that time I got sick on a flight. Southwest sucks. I really don't like them as an airline. I thought the girl was a child but when we got off I was surprised to see she was a college-aged woman! We landed, I got my checked bag, grabbed a shuttle (perfect timing), found my car, paid for parking (since I was there for three days and five hours, I got socked for a full extra day, the lamers), and drove home. I was keyed up and needed to unwind, so I watched some TV and ate a late dinner. I went to bed about midnight, ready for an early morning. I was getting nervous because there was a ton to do and this was crunch time.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I was up at the crack of dawn, but it didn't help. There was still way too much to do. There was tons of trash that needed to be put into bags, I still hadn't packed up my computers or AV system, and I still had stuff to pack. My plan was to get most of that done in the morning, but unfortunately I ran out of time. I did some packing, then had to go to the hardware store for supplies like rope and dust masks and gloves. I went to the post office intending to close my PO box only to discover that the post office was closed! Apparently today was a holiday of some kind. That had not been on my calendar. I then had to stop at the printshop to help with a problem there, and that made me late for picking up Dave. We were slow getting to Oakland to pick up my cousin Joel and didn't arrive until about 1:30 p.m. (I'd wanted to be there before one). We stopped in Pleasanton for a quick lunch that wasn't quick and it was two-thirty before we were on I-5. Then we had a "discussion." I was for staying on I-5 until we got to Los Banos and taking 152 over to 99, but Dave was looking at the map and seemed to think that would be much longer. He favored taking little 133 over to Modesto and catching 99 there. We finally followed his plan, though the mileage numbers he was quoting didn't add up to me. We seemed to travel at a glacier pace though we actually made okay time. There was rain occasionally, but as I hoped, it cleared up as we neared Fresno. I'd wanted to be at the U-Haul place by three, but we didn't arrive until twenty after five! The placed closed at 5:30, so we just made it. It was six o'clock or so as we made our way to the storage locker, and it was dark. I hadn't counted on that. Daylight Savings Time strikes again! Of course the storage locker wasn't lit, so we basically had to load in the dark. Brilliant. Or rather, not. I parked my car with the headlights pointing at the garage and we turned on the dome lights inside the truck. It probably was better, in a way, since we couldn't see all the dust and dirt on the stored stuff. We sorted stuff a little, moving out some of the heavier stuff and finding boxes we could pack in the space above the cab (you don't want heavy stuff there). We packed it in thoroughly and roped it in to help hold it, then brought up large furniture like the couch and loveseat to help hold it in. The next problem was that obviously there wasn't enough stuff to fill the entire 26' truck, so we were concerned about stuff sliding around in the half-empty truck. But of course we needed stuff packed efficiently because I had a ton of stuff at my place to come. That also was a problem because it was impossible to pack efficiently with only a third of the ingredients on hand. We finally just threw stuff on the truck, positioned and roped it not to move, and closed up shop. We reluctantly concluded that we'd simply have to unpack the bulk of the load the next day: there was no other way to do it.

Next we went to meet Dave's dad for dinner, but it was eight-thirty and he'd already eaten and was ready for bed. So we all went over to Tahoe Joe's and feasted on delicious steaks and shrimp appetizers, with a mountain of creamy cheesecake for dessert. After that it was a long drive home. We had to fill up the U-Haul with gas first, and I can't remember what time we actually left Fresno, but it was probably approaching eleven. By the time we parked the truck at the printshop (they have a bigger parking lot than my driveway) and dropped Dave at home, it was two a.m. before we got to bed.


Friday, November 12, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I was up before seven, packing. I emptied the fridge and packed stuff I wanted to keep in the chest freezer, figuring it would act as a nice cooler. I woke Joel up around eight fifteen and we started ripping apart my AV system and computer setup. There was no time for finese: everything just went into large boxes. I ripped out the cable modem since that needed to be returned today. I got a phone call from someone interested in the fridge, so Joel and I heaved it onto the porch. Then we went to Dave's for breakfast, where he treated us with fresh crepes. He's been into those since returning from a visit to France last summer. I had a package of frozen Oregon Marionberries (the best berry in the world) which I'd partially thawed and brought with me. We nuked them and they were delicious on the crepes.

Dave had planned to help us during the day but unfortunately there was an emergency with a client at work and he could only help until one o'clock. We made decent progress. Joel unloaded the truck and we began bringin in my furniture (most bookcases), and figuring out how to transport stuff. TV's and computer monitors we placed face down onto chairs and sofas, surrounding them with pillows and blankets. Then we were able to pile other stuff on top and fill in the spaces with boxes. Dave took off about 12:30 to get ready for his client meeting, so then it was just Joel and I. I'd hoped to be on the road by mid-afternoon, but that was obviously not going to happen. By three o'clock I'd given up any thoughts of packing trash into bags: I just had to leave junk where it was. There just wasn't any time. At about four we had the truck loaded, but again faced the same dilemma we'd had in Fresno: we still had my storage locker to come but the truck couldn't be packed too efficiently without those ingredients. So once again we were faced with a pack, then unpack, then repack situation. We ran to the cable company to return the cable modem and close my account, then we stopped for some sodas as we needed refreshment. Then it was off to the storage locker. That is when the going got hard. My 5 x 10 storage locker was packaged to the ceiling with boxes, most of them heavy. After an hour of hauling boxes out to the truck it looked like I hadn't started emptying the locker yet. I kept urging Joel to pack stuff efficiently as there were tons of boxes to come. We hadn't even gotten to my books yet! We kept working. I was getting physically weak. A banker box full of books that was heavy was now nearly impossible to lift. A hand truck loaded with five boxes of books was barely managable, and I had trouble getting it up the ramp. I had to take a running start and sometimes I ran out of juice half-way up (or more crushingly, inches from the top) and would roll back down. Once I misjudged the run-up and crashed into base of the ramp: the hand truck just stopped dead, the handle digging hard into my mid-section. After that, I didn't use the ramp any more. It was safer to park and lift the boxes one by one into the truck and let Joel store them. During this process I was getting depressed for it really seemed like we wouldn't make it. I was worried because I couldn't tell if we'd be able to fit everything, and because we were so far behind schedule. Then there was our first casualty: one of my bookcases was busted. We removed it, since there was no point in taking trash to Oregon. A glimmer of hope dawned when I finally saw the back of the storage unit, then reached the final row of boxes. We were running out of space in the truck but had reserved some room for some of the awkward furniture pieces we'd removed to make room for boxes (such as my gas barbeque). Finally, it was done. At about seven-thirty, we got on the road (after a quick stop for more caffeine).

Unfortunately, our exit proved short-lived. I'd been debating the best approach to take going home. Originally I'd figured we'd be heading north through the Bay area during rush hour (3-7) and traffic would be a nightmare, so I'd thought that maybe going south to Watsonville and over to I-5 near Los Banos would be the longer but faster approach. When we didn't get on the road until so late, however, it seemed fastest to go through the Bay Area. But just before leaving Scotts Valley traffic on Highway 17 was stopped dead. Obviously there'd been an accident in the mountains. It had to be recent, too, since the signboard hadn't indicated anything. That would be a least an hour delay, perhaps more. Many people were turning back and I made the decision to take the Los Banos route. I was driving my car, Joel in the U-Haul. He followed me as we took the exit, looped around, and headed south. Going was slow in the truck, but we plowed ahead. In the mountains of the Pacheco Pass I lost Joel for a while. He was going so slow he kept dropping further and further behind. Finally I pulled over and waited and he eventually showed up. Going downhill wasn't a problem at all and he actually passed me! Shortly after that he put on his blinker indicating he wanted to exit. We got off at a truck stop in what I learned was Santa Nella, about a mile from the I-5 junction. I thought he wanted to eat or something, or perhaps he needed gas. But no, it was a truck problem. A red light reading "brake pressure" had lit up and was buzzing. I called U-Haul's 800 number on my cell and got through and explained the situation. I had to do it twice, since the first guy didn't put me on hold correctly or something, and someone else came on and began asking me all the stuff the first guy had already done! Eventually, though, the story got explained, I figured out where we were (I had to ask someone at the truck store), and U-Haul said they'd send out a mechanic to check on the truck. Someone would call in 30 minutes to let us know the schedule. Joel and I decided we'd eat at the truck stop. I'd originally thought of stopping at Anderson's, the famous split pea soup place, which I knew was on nearby I-5. When Joel went to park the truck, however, the red light was off. About ten minutes later U-Haul called to say a technician would be out within 90 minutes. But when I mentioned that the light was now off, the U-Haul guy retracted his offer and said he wouldn't send anyone out. "But there could be a serious problem," I said. "Brakes are not something to mess with." He countered that the light was off so there was no problem. But why did the light go on? Shouldn't it be checked out to be safe? What if the light came back on a few miles down the highway? "Then call us back," he said. So the bottom line is we'd be back in this mess again, starting from scratch, down the road a bit. Nice.

After a truck stop dinner -- large volumes of mediocre food at cheap prices -- we decided to take a little nap before getting back on the road. We slept for an hour, a much needed break, then got started again. It was about midnight and we were just reaching I-5! We still had an hour or so to get up near Tracy and be leaving the Bay area. Depressing. Then the rain came. It poured, an almost blinding sheet of water, and traffic, which was surprisingly heavy for that time of night, slowed. The conditions were horrible for mechanical problems and I prayed the truck would be okay. The pitch dark was also making me sleepy and I struggled a bit to keep away. My cats, which were in separate carriers in the back seat, had finally stopped meowing to be let out and were sleeping. We drove on and on and on. About one-thirty we passed through Sacramento. I'd forgotten that I-5 went over that way as usually I come over via Vacaville and by-pass the California capital. That was depressing because we still were so near the Bay area. A sign revealed we were still two hours from Redding. In the past I've left San Jose and gotten to Redding in four hours, so by now we should be in Redding. Of course the truck is slower than my car but even with that we should be closer than two hours. Perhaps my detour south had been a mistake? I was also falling asleep and knew I had to stop soon. Plans of driving all night seemed impossible now. It was two in the morning when we stopped north of Sacramento. We found a gas station that was closed but well-lit and a couple semis parked on the roadside. We parked and slept for a couple hours. It was good but I was still depressed at the distance left. It was like we had just started. Then I began doing the calculations. If Redding was two hours away, we'd be there by six. Redding is like three hours from Medford, so that would be nine a.m. Now obviously the truck was going to be slow going over the mountain, but maybe we'd be in Medford by ten. I told this Joel and suggested we plan for Medford for breakfast. Perhaps things weren't so bad off. We dawn arriving we both woke up more, the glorious sun perking us up. The day was gorgeous, a stunning sunrise of purple and pink and orange. We drove on and on. Redding passed, then Weed, Yreka, and finally Ashland and Medford. It was ten-thirty. We had breakfast at Elmo's. I had the eggs Benedict and Joel the Belgian waffle. Delicious. After getting gas (a length process with a car and a huge truck to fill), we were on the road again. Doing the math, I figured we'd be arriving at Lafayette about four o'clock. The walkie talkies I'd brought had proved useless (the truck was too loud to hear them even on max volume and there was frequent interference), so we communicated with cell phones instead. Even that proved only occasionally successful as once I called Joel several times and he didn't answer, only later telling me he never heard the phone ring!

During the long drive that afternoon I had a couple interesting experiences with cops. The shoulder strap for my seat belt was cutting into my neck with the shirt I wore, so I'd slipped it under my arm. A cop was passing me on the left (I was only going 50) and suddenly he slowed down and began motioning to me. For a moment I was nervous, wondering what he wanted, then I saw him snapping his shoulder strap against his chest. I pulled mine back up and he waved and went on. It was good thing I was wearing my seat belt or it would have been a fine. But I did think it odd that the shoulder strap was so significant. But at least he didn't pull me over. Later, though, I did get pulled over. I was sleepy and I kept zoning out. I don't know if I actually fell asleep, but I would sort of tune out and then pay attention when I hit the bumps along the side of the road. The endless driving was just so boring and I had to go slow to not outpass the truck. In this instance, I was following Joel (that was easier than trying to lead, since he defined the pace). I was a mile or so behind but not worried, since I could catch up easily if needed. All I remember was suddenly seeing the rear of a cop car poking onto the highway (he had pulled someone over) and I swerved to avoid it. I overdid it a bit, fishtailing around a bit, and I worried the cop would think I was a drunk or something. Sure enough, seconds later he was there, lights flashing, pulling me over. He was a bit upset, claiming I could have killed him. I explained that I'd just over-reacted. I hadn't seen his car until the last second and thought it was in my lane only later realizing it wasn't, just on the side of the road. He told me I'd drifted on to the shoulder and that's why his car was in my way. I'm surprised I didn't appear drunk or something, with my lack of sleep, but apparently my answers satisfied the officer. After he ran my license he let me go without any penalty (no damage had been done and I suppose technically I hadn't broken any laws). I was wide awake after that, though.

When we reached Salem, there was another dilemma: which way to Lafayette. There's no direct road there, but you can get off at southern Salem and go west and north, or go north of Salem and go west and south. Though the latter appeared farther, I'd done it before and it was what Phil had recommended, but now I wasn't so sure. In the end, we decided to go with the route I knew. I didn't know what kinds of road or hills we'd find the other direction, and it was foggy with low visibility and we were making good time on I-5. We arrived in Lafayette at 4:30 p.m. My mom was already there (I'd given her a key) and was glad to see us. I could hardly believe we'd arrived in one piece with the truck intact. For the past twenty-four hours I'd doubted we'd arrive at all! We were still way behind schedule, as I'd hoped to have the truck unloaded on Saturday, but it was almost evening and we'd just arrived. We decided to go ahead and get started unloading, moving stuff into the garage for now, then we'd clean up and go to Ruby Tuesday for a nice dinner. That worked well and went until seven and managed to get a good quarter of the truck unloaded and I got some stuff settled into the house as well. I hauled boxes marked "kitchen" inside and my mom began unpacking them, putting stuff into cupboards where I'll never find them again. A hot shower was heavenly and dinner was excellent. Then it was time to crash.


Sunday, November 14, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I slept a good ten hours, Joel twelve. When I told him he'd had twelve hours and it was time to get up, he groaned that he only needed another twelve to be caught up. It took most of Sunday to get the truck unloaded. I was nervous for a while because it seemed interminable, but eventually we got to the back wall of my mom's stuff and it all went into my garage (easy). I also got a bit frustrated, because some of my stuff got damaged in transit. We lost another bookcase (Joel had piled too much heavy stuff on a fixed shelf), and a lot of my boxes were put in upside down and sideways, whatever would fit, and that destroyed the boxes and sometimes damaged the contents. I'm the kind of person that throws out a piece of paper that gets a corner bent, so this was depressing for me. I supposed I should have packed better (anticipated boxes being stored sideways), or done the truck packing myself (though it would have taken me longer), but in the end, it really isn't such a bad thing, just frustrating since we were short on space and I did have to abandon a few things in California I could have brought instead. I'd already been second-guessing on many items: is it worth bringing crappy old furniture I'd paid $100 when I could buy a new piece for less money up here? We're talking cheap fabricated stuff here, not hardwood. Just simple bookcases and shelving. If I'd had more time to think and do the math, I probably would have done that, but with so little time to plan, I just hauled everything north, which might not have been the smartest thing. So when I saw that stuff breaking in transit it was annoying, to say the least. But I'll live.

At about 12:45 I happened to hook up the TV in my bedroom. I'd brought in a cart for it to rest on and placed it there, then hooked up cable just to confirm everything worked. Why not? I was tuning in a channels when suddenly there was a soccer game on. I stared at the screen in disbelief. It was the 2004 MLS Cup final! Oh my Lord I had completely forgotten! I couldn't believe it. How could I have forgotten the biggest game of the year? Of course my team wasn't in it, and I did have a lot going on this weekend, but I did remember telling Joel that we had to have Tivos hooked up noon Sunday so I wouldn't miss the game. And then I'd completely forgotten. Of course now I had deadlines (Joel's flight) so there was no time to watch the game now: I needed to record it somehow. Hey, how about ancient technology known as a VCR? I found one in a box, hooked it up, and found a video cassette. I rewound the tape and got it recording, then went out to help Joel unload the truck. The game was 30 minutes in and already there were like three goals scored. Insanity. I still couldn't believe I'd missed it. At one time I'd seriously considered trying to fly to L.A. for the game. If the Quakes had been in it I'd probably have tried that. But it was a good thing that didn't happen because there was no way we'd have gotten the truck unloaded Saturday.

When the truck was finally empty we showered and dressed and went out for lunch at Izzy's pizza. It had sounded good but wasn't what I (or my mom) expected. It's an all-you-can-eat pizza bar, basically. For $7.95 you get unlimited salad bar and pizza, plus the dessert bar (soft ice cream and treats). It was decent, but not exactly Sunday dinner material. My mother wasn't too impressed, but I liked the value. Weekdays you can get the same thing for lunch for just $5.95, a real steal if you're starving. Afterward we took the U-Haul over to Wal-Mart where I bought a six-foot ladder (something needed in a place with 12-foot ceilings and light bulbs to change). I knew a ladder wouldn't fit in my car so I wanted to take advantage of the truck. Then we filled it with gas, returned it to the U-Haul place (right nearby), and were off to the airport. This time traffic was non-existent and we made it in a little over an hour, not bad at all. We dropped Joel off and my mom and I returned home.


Monday, November 15, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Now it was time for the dreaded unpacking stage. At home, while packing, I'd fantasized about this stage. I pictured the joy of removing belongings from boxes and finding the perfect place to put the item in my new house with all it's storage and space. The reality was far short of that. For one, I was exhausted. A month of non-stop stress and hassle and heavy lifting followed by a grueling and frantic trek and unloading had left little joy in the arrival. I just wanted to sleep. But there was still tons to be done. First on the agenda was telephone. I hadn't bothered to have a land line installed and planned to use my Internet phone from Vonage instead. But hooking it up proved to be a challenge. It's not that it's complicated -- far from it -- but I had to find the correct power brick for the Vonage box. Of course all my computer cables were in one huge box, a massive tangle that would make the most fiercesome Christmas light tangle look organized. It took me over an hour to sort through and find the right adapters and get my Internet phone line going. Minutes after I did it, the phone rang -- it was the DirecTV guy calling to say he'd be here in an hour. So then I had to rush and get my entertainment center assembled so he'd have a TV to test. Fortunately, he had some drilling and wiring to do, hooking up a satellite dish and wiring cable to various rooms. By the time he got there and did that, I had hooked up my AV system, surround sound speakers, my Tivos, DVD player, and more. Not wanting the nightmare of wires behind the entertainment center I've had in the past, this time I got smart and wired everything through a closed cabinet inside the center. I cut a hole in the back for the wires and kept the surge protectors and UPS in there. Some extra lengths of wire hang out of the back, but it's a lot cleaner than before. I even labeled the wires so I can see what cable belongs to what device. After the satellite guy left I brought out a long Ethernet cable which I ran down the hallway from the office to the living room and hooked it up to the Tivos. Then I redid Guided Setup on the Tivos to alert them to the new zip code and cable system. This is much faster with an Internet connection than a phone line so I wanted to do it that way. By evening, the Tivos had processed all the new guide info and were recording. My mom left that afternoon, but we'd gotten a lot done, though there was still tons to be done.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

House Buying Adventure

I woke up today with a simple task. One of my cats, Mayhem, loves to chew wires, so I've always got to think of him when wiring anything. In fact, the long Ethernet cable I had going down the hallway from my office is chewed up in a number of places. The cats had been locked in the laundry room since we arrived and I didn't want to let them out until things had settled a bit and until I had all wires hidden. That meant I needed to wire Ethernet from my office to the living room before I could release them. I'd already plotted my route: instead of going under the house I'd simply lay a wire outside. There were already phone and cable wires there, so one more made little difference. That meant two holes: one out of the office and one in in the living room. Simple. I just needed some cover plates and Ethernet wire. I figured I'd have it done by noon. Silly me. I went to Radio Shack first thing and bought the bare wire, crimper, RJ-45 ends, and cover plates. Then I set about making a simple test Ethernet wire. Stupidly, I followed the directions on the crimper tool. I don't know what kind of wire that was for but it was definitely not for Ethernet. My first several attempts failed. The cable didn't work. Then I discovered I'd misread the box on the RJ-45 ends. It read "8-wire connector" and there weren't eight connectors in the box, only five. So my two boxes were only ten, not sixteen. Suddenly I was down to just a few left and I still hadn't created a cable that worked. I went on the Web and found a site that explained, with colorful diagrams, how to make an Ethernet cable. It's not really that hard, but it's tricky. The color sequence of the wires is critical, and you must get the wires to reach all the way to the end of the RJ-45 piece before you crimp. I discovered the key was cutting the wires to the same length after you had them unwound. You see, they are wound together in pairs and when you unravel them, they have different lengths. When you shove the wires into an end the longest wire might reach the end but some are shorter and don't. By clipping them all to the same length you ensure that all the wires can reach the end. I created a few that had just one wire that didn't each the far end of the plastic clip and the cable didn't work. Once I figured that out, I could make a successful cable, but meanwhile I'd used all my clips testing and needed to go buy more! I decided to try drilling a hole in the wall to make sure I wouldn't have trouble there. Ah, another problem. My drill bit wasn't long enough! It went through the drywall but couldn't reach the outside of the house. So off I went to buy a longer drill bit, and more clips. The bottom line: this two hour project took the entire day. The cover plate I'd bought need a cutout in the wall so I had to use my jigsaw to cut an opening in the wall so the plate would fit. Then I had to figure out how to get wire through the holes I'd drilled. It sounds easy, but isn't. A house wall is really two walls, and outer and an inner, with open space filled with insulation in between. Getting a cable to pass through both holes is tricky. I finally unbent a metal clothes hanger and taped the Ethernet cable to the end and used the stiff hanger wire to poke through until I got it through both holes. This had to be done twice, of course, once in the living room and once in the office. I'd originally planned to run Ethernet to my bedroom as well, but this was taking so long I decided to postpone that for another day. In the end, I got everything wired and it worked. The Tivos, Playstation 2, and my laptop all have wired Internet in the living room, which is sweet indeed. Now there's no cable traipsing through the hallway and the cats are free to explore the new house. The cats had thoroughly explored the laundry room and were really wanting out. The laundry room door has a vent that the cats could see through and watch legs passing by and see glimpses of the exciting new world but they couldn't go out there. Now, finally, I flung the door open and they began to explore. It was hilarious watching them. I'd closed the doors to all the bedrooms and bathroom, so there was just the open dining room, kitchen, living room, and hallway to see. Immediately the cats began running about smelling everything. They quickly found the limits of the house (there was no way outside), but there was lots of explore inside. It was an hour or so before they settled down and came to purr at my feet. I was relaxing and watching some TV for what seemed like the first time in months but was really a couple weeks. Fortunately Tivo had recorded everything so I only missed last weekend's shows. I was worried how the cats would settle in but as I watched TV, Mayhem came and hopped in my lap, purring happily. Mischief was not quite as secure, but seemed very happy to see me. He'd go explore then come back and rub against my legs and enjoy a pat on the head before going off again. When a truck rumbled by or a strange sound happened, he'd bolt for the safety of the laundry room. That was excellent: I wanted them to see that room as a secure refuge, not a prison. Cats need a den.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today I discovered that my programmable thermostat is incompatible with the heating system of this house. I thought I was so clever removing it from the old place and hooking back up the original mercury switch, but after all that it's useless here. I had to go buy a new one. I found an Ace hardware one for $45 that appears to work, though I rarely hear the heater kick in. Usually when I check the temperature's not low enough for the heater to turn on, so it's working correctly.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

House Buying Adventure

The last couple of days have been a blur. I think I slept a lot. I didn't get much work done. I had some business stuff I needed to do and only partially accomplished it. Tomorrow I'll have to really crank down. But I've been physically tired. I get up early (between seven and eight), then take a nap around eleven, then I take another nap in the afternoon, and by ten o'clock at night I'm falling asleep. The house is a bit depressing. Everywhere I look I see projects to be done. Worse, I keep thinking of new ones to do. It seems endless and is overwhelming. I haven't started unpacking yet. I'm still shopping for stuff, that also seems endless and the thrill of spending money is starting to grate on me. There are just so many little things I need. For instance, you really need trash containers for every room of the house. In my old house, that meant three. Here that means about eight. I need things for the kitchen. I need to put up towel racks in the main bathroom. It's endless. Today I went to Lowes and bought a new digital cell phone. It's a Tracfone, the pay-in-advance plan I'm already on. My old one's an analog phone and doesn't include voice mail, something I need. I also bought a small cabinet for my bedroom to use as a nightstand/bookcase, and some ceiling light fixtures to replaces ugly ones in the house.

I went by the post office today and showed them the deed to my house (that served as the second piece of identity they wanted) and got my mail. Nothing much has forwarded yet, but I expect that will start soon. I also went to a grocery store and picked up some much needed items. I got a frozen turkey for 19 cents a pound as well: even though I'll be at my Aunt's for Thanksgiving, at that price my own turkey's a must.


Friday, November 19, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today was a very good day. I got up early and finished work on my magazine. That felt good to get that done. There'll be more to do, but that was the primary deadline. About eleven a.m. I relaxed for the first time in a while, realizing that I was finally settling in. Getting some work done helped secure that feeling. I decided I deserved a break and would go see a movie for the first time in nearly two months. For someone who normally sees two or three matinees a week, it feel like a year since I'd been in a theatre. Since this theatre was in a different part of town from where I've been, I took a different route there, which proved interesting. It helped me figure out an even shorter route for the future. I saw National Treasure and then came back and watched The Incredibles later. I came home for dinner, and it was nice to relax. I put together the cabinet for my bedroom, unpacked a few things, and assembled a small lamp I'd bought for the guest room. The cats are more relaxed as well. I think they're starting to think of this as home as well.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today I installed the two light fixtures I bought, and I put in a shelf in the laundry room. The purpose of the shelf is more to keep the cats from going behind the washer and dryer than needing a shelf, but it's actually a very handy and convenient place for a shelf (it keeps laundry supplies very handy). The light fixtures were an adventure, being that they are nine and eleven feet in the air. But they work and look great. In the kitchen I removed the horrible dangling ugly chandelier thing that had way too much chain and hung too low and now we've got a clean ceiling fixture that doesn't dominate the room. The fixtures I got have frosted glass so you can actually look at them without seeing the bulbs, which is nice. They put out a nice white glow. I'd like to get a few more for some other rooms but those rooms aren't wired for overhead lights. I dread thinking what an electrician would charge to install those, but I guess I'll have to check. With my poor eyes, I need lots of bright light. I don't like dim lamps linked to switched outlets; I much prefer overhead lights.


Sunday, November 21, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Mostly did cleanup and unpacking today, and took it easy, watching soccer on TV. I wrote up a lot of the recent House Buy Adventures, too, which took about half my day as I hadn't written anything in my log in over a week!


Monday, November 22, 2004

House Buying Adventure

Today was a long day. Again simple things turned out to be much more complicated. I started by cleaning and moving garbage and empty boxes out to the garage. Then I tried making some phone calls I'd been putting off. I needed a phone book but it took me 30 minutes on hold with Verizon to learn that I have to pay $18 for one! Forget that. The phone company makes obscene amounts of money on those yellow page ads and they expect me to pay for a book? That's insane! I flat out refuse to do that on principle.

I'd noticed the metal medicine cabinet in the main bathroom was rusted and in poor condition, so I decided to replace it. And I figured I'd get one for my master bath as well, since there isn't one in there and I like being able to keep my contact lens stuff hidden instead of scattered across the counter. I also had a list of stuff to get a Wal-Mart, plus I need groceries as I'm going to be making dressing for Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt and Uncle's on Thursday. So first I went to the big hardware store, only to discover they don't sell medicine cabinets. Another hardware store was the same. They sell toilets and showers and bathrooms, but no medicine cabinets! So I had to trek all the way out to Lowes, which is on the other side of town. There I was successful, finding two nice white wooden cabinets that fit in nicely with the decor of my house. I also got a few other things I needed, and got some good info on drapperies (something I know little about but need).

I also stopped at a couple furniture stores. Yikes! Beds that costs $5,000! A coffee table for $800? A $4,000 entertainment center? That's a different world than I live in. Even if I could afford it I don't know that I'd want to pay that kind of money for such stuff. I mean, it's not like it's unique hand-crafted art. I did find a coffee table I like for $250 but I hate that I have to pay $50 for delivery. They're just milking it. Delivery ought to be free or at least really cheap. It's not like I live far away. How much could it cost them to have a full-time guy driving a truck around dropping stuff off? Oh well, maybe I'll wait until I need never items. I could rent a U-Haul for $20/day and do several pickups on the same day.

Then it was off to Wal-Mart, where I again overspent. But stuff there is so cheap it's like you have to buy it! For example, I wanted to buy a knife block or a magnetic strip thing for my knives. I couldn't find either of those, but instead found a knife set that came with a wooden block. The scary thing is that the knife set came with 45 pieces including twelve steak knives, a half-dozen other knives, plus kitchen utensils and more... all for less than ten bucks! I'd been prepared to pay $10 for a knife block alone, but here I got it plus a ton of knives. Crazy. I did get a lot of useful stuff, though, like a clock for the living room, a cabinet mount electric can opener, a tablecloth, and more. In the end, it was almost seven o'clock I was too tired to bother with the groceries. I'll have to do that tomorrow.

After dinner I put together a CD cabinet I'd bought long ago but never assembled and put my CDs in it. Then I tackled the medicine cabinets, getting them installed in each bathroom. Finally things are starting to look more organized. Tomorrow I need to do more trash cleanup (there are still bags and piles of packaging lying everywhere, then vacuum and clean so the house will be ready for guests on Wednesday. It's looking better and better, though I'm still missing some important things like drapes, molding, slipcovers for the sofa and loveseat, and other details.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The House of Mirth

Book: The House of Mirth
Writer(s): Edith Wharton

This is an incredible book. I think it will change my writing forever. Wharton has a blunt, clear style encased in poetic metaphors that is a joy to hear (I listened to the audiobook). Every line is full of insightful truths and perceptions. The pace of the story is glacier; a two minute conversation might be spread over dozens of pages as Wharton delves into important backstory of the characters, detailing each's perceptions of the conversation, so that we are fully aware of the dramatic import each line provides. It's an amazing way of writing and it's a kind of writing I would like to do; I feel it's a style near my own (I tend to be extremely detailed).

The story of the novel is about the clash between money and morals in the early 1900s. It is set in the extremely wealthy New York aristocracy, with a beautiful young lady, Lilly Bart, struggling to find her way. Her whole life she's been trained to be an ornament, a pretty thing destined to be the trophy wife of a wealthy man, yet that conflicts with something deep inside her which she cannot name. Her suitors are many, yet she is reluctant to marry. Her parents are dead and she's got expensive tastes and no money; she lives off rich friends, traveling on their yahts to Europe, going to fancy balls and operas and restaurants, and racking up debt to dressmakers for expensive gowns she cannot afford. She is a tragic figure, beautifully lonely, yet her prison is of her own making, for she is too self-centered and naive to see her way out. Wharton paints an amazing picture of old New York society. We get to see, in precise detail, what makes such people click, and how words don't mean what they seem on the surface. The morals of the day are complex. Sexual standards for a young girl, of course, are strict, and Lilly finds herself in the middle of complicated circumstances. She's faced with difficult problems: she's inadvertantly offended wealthy friends who make life hard for her, she's spurning suitors who could help her, and she's got deep financial worries. But worse is that there are so many solutions to Lilly's problems: Should she marry a man she dislikes just for his money? Should she use secret information she has to blackmail a former friend who is hurting her? Should she marry a man she loves though he is not wealthy? These are a few of the moral quandries Lilly struggles with. The story is beautiful, complex, tragic, and amazingly believable. Wharton is witty and wonderful, and this novel is one of the best I've ever read (heard). Highly recommended.


Friday, January 2, 2004

House of Sand and Fog

Movie: House of Sand and Fog

I usually admire films that go against Hollywood cliches and try to be different, but every now and then there's a film that rubs me the wrong way. This was one. Many of you will disagree with me on this movie and that is fine; I change how I feel.

This was a great film: fantastic acting, with wonderful, fascinating characters, and an intriguing story. Basically a recovering alcoholic (Jennifer Connolly) wakes up to discover her house is being auctioned off by the county because of an unpaid tax. It's a total mistake, but because she was out of it and didn't respond to letters, the ball is rolling and now must be stopped in court. She gets a lawyer but it's too late: the house has been sold to a former Iranian Colonel (Ben Kingsley). He refuses to sell it back for the amount he paid, wanting to make a profit, which the county won't pay without a lawsuit to force them (which will take months). So what we've got is a conflict in which both parties are victims: the Iranian immigrants, who are strange but wonderful people, who've saved every penny for years to afford to buy this house and are desperate to make their investment pay, and the lonely, troubled girl who foolishly lost the house her late father left to her. We like both groups. Both are sympathic yet have their flaws. In fact, every character in this movie is gray: I have never seen a movie with such a beautiful balance of characters. The people are all flawed yet have positive aspects as well. In most films it's obvious who the hero is and who the bad guy is: in this movie it's impossible to tell and that's the whole point. We're supposed to be torn by these people and how their lives play out tragically.

However, that's where the movie goes downhill. The ending is terrible; it's unbearably sad. The first three quarters of this film made me fall in love with the people, then the ending ruined everything the movie had built. I won't reveal the specifics of the ending, but it's incredibly depressing. I walked out of the theatre wanting to blow my brains out. That feeling lingered for hours. It was horrible. Honestly, while I understand why the writer(s) wrote it this way, and perhaps it was realistic and appropriate, it was not a good ending to the movie. The film ends with no hope, no explanation, no redemption, just cold, hard, depressing reality. I'm not saying the events needed to change: the director could have had the same things happen but ended on a different, more positive note. Give us some inkling that things are not so bleak, that there is purpose to life, that the world is not over. But no. My heart sank when I saw the credits begin to roll: the film was over and there was no hope. Honestly, unless you're a masochist and enjoy being depressed, I cannot recommend this film. It's too heartless and cruel. The fantastic benefits of the first half, where you love the characters, and is what makes the film so powerful, is all destroyed by the cruel and horrible ending. Though my heart tells me the film's sad ending just made me sad, because I loved everything else so much, the ending actually makes me angry: I now hate this movie and feel the director ought to be shot. My emotions take new extremes because of how much potential this film had. But it's ruined by the horrible ending (or perhaps I should say non-ending since it stops where most films continue). There are some who'd argue that this film breaks the Hollywood cliche of the happy ending and that's good, but I'd have to disagree. Normally I'm not opposed to an unhappy ending, if it's done in a way that works. For instance, the bad guys are seemingly punished, and even if bad things happen to good people, there's a hint of hope implied. But in this film none of that happened: it's just horrible and that's it. It doesn't work. I can't imagine anyone going out of the theatre after this heart-wrenching experience and recommending the film to their friends. Why would you want to force that experience on someone else? Isn't there enough hard reality on the news? We hear about horrible tragedies all the time -- whole families destroyed in a car wreck, for instance -- but because we aren't intimately connected with them, we are able to bear it. In this film we make an amazingly strong connection with everyone and when it ends tragically we are given no way to handle it. I'm sorry, but that's just bad filmmaking. Go and watch the first 3/4 if you want, but leave before the ending. This is just too depressing.


Friday, May 27, 2005

The House of the Flying Daggers

Movie: The House of the Flying Daggers

Another great movie from the director of Hero. This one's not as profound, but it's stylish and interesting. The story's convoluted with almost every character a sort of double agent. The basic premise is military people trying to track down the unknown new leader of the Flying Daggers rebel gang. The main guy romances a woman who he thinks is the daughter of the former leader, but things are not as they seem. Is he genuinely falling in love with her or is it an act? It's a pretty cool scenario, but the unexpected tragic ending was a disappointment.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Houston Beat Seattle in 2009 Playoffs

Soccer: Houston Beat Seattle in 2009 Playoffs

What a terrific day. Not only did I get up early this morning and finish the last chapter of my novel, but my team (the Houston Dynamo) has advanced in the playoffs to the Western Conference Final! They beat the expansion team Seattle Sounders in overtime on a terrific Brian Ching volley. Fantastic! They thoroughly deserved it, too, out-playing the Sounders with tons of possession and good passing, but it was still an extremely tight game and could have gone either way. Seattle had a great first season and I give them props, but they I'm cheering for Houston to go all the way. They need to beat LA on Friday to advance to the final. Because of the league's silly tie-breaking rules, that game is in LA so it's not going to be easy, but if they play like they did today, they'll do it.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Houston Out

Soccer: Houston Out

The Houston Dynamo have won Major League Soccer for the last two years. After a slow start where they played well but had trouble scoring and therefore weren't winning matches, they turned it on mid-season and ended up as the best team in the West and the second-best team in the whole league. Unfortunately, that cursed them, as for the past five years, the team that's won the conference has been knocked out in the playoffs. Houston drew away in NY last week and it seemed a lock for them to win at home today: they'd only lost once all season and NY only won once away. NY also just squeaked into the playoffs, getting in on a wild card slot only because D.C United lost their final game. NY was missing some key players and Houston had their full line-up, and this was a home game with 30,000 fans dressed in Orange. But nothing went Houston's way. After early pressure created tons of chances but no goals, a NY counter with speedster Dane Richards got through the back line and Dane beat Onstad for an early goal. A minor setback for the champs, right? Unfortunately, moments later NY was awarded a penalty kick. The call was questionable: the ref claimed a cross hit Richardo Clark's hand in the box. But it wasn't deliberate and the rule is that handballs are supposed to be intentional. Be that as it may, being two goals down in the first half was not good, and even worse, the Dynamo were cursed at the other end as they just could not score. They possessed the ball well, attacked as a team, created tons of chances, and sure have scored half a dozen goals. In any other match, they would have. But like at the beginning of the year when they couldn't finish, they just couldn't get the ball to cross the line. Rookie goalkeeper Ceparo for NY was brilliant, making a number of fine stops and showing no playoff nerves at all. His reclaim of the ball from Brian Ching after initially dropping it was amazing, and a couple other times he took hits but got right up and grabbed the ball showing no fear. Very impressive. Meanwhile, Dane Richards was awesome, using his speed to torment Houston, and he assisted on a third goal late as the Dynamo were pressing forward to score. Really, I can't say that much critical about Houston: they did everything right except for finishing their chances. There's always a bit of luck in that (in this case bad luck), but other than the first goal, Houston didn't make that many mistakes. NY only had a few chances and capitalized. Houston had tons and didn't. The end result: Houston is out of the playoffs and the chance to be the first team to ever win three championships in a row is gone. Sometimes it just happens like that. And lowly NY will now take on Real Salt Lake for the Western crown and the chance to be in MLS Cup on Nov. 23. I'm now a big RSL fan, as I love rooting for the underdog. This is their first playoff qualification ever, so good luck to them. Either way, though, we'll have someone new in the final: neither NY nor RSL has made an appearance there, so this will be historic. On the East, it's either Chicago or Columbus -- Chicago won it in their first year in 1999, but Columbus has never won the Cup, so I'm hoping for a Columbus-RSL final (though Columbus-NY would be interesting, too).


Sunday, November 2, 2003

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Movie: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Predictable but fun romantic comedy. The "plot" is a forced gimmick: a female columnist for a women's magazine is going to write about dating tips in reverse: what not to do. She's going to date a guy and do all the wrong things and lose him within ten days. Unfortunately, the guy is an advertising executive who's just made a wager to win a big account: he's going to prove what a good salesman he is by making a woman fall in love with him in ten days. Yes, this is absurd, and yes there are enough coincidences here to shake the foundation of reality, but you go along with it because you want this couple to succeed. Of course you know from the first frame that the two will actually fall in love, which makes their games that much more amusing. The girl does all the horrible things that normally drive men away -- smothers him, decorates his apartment with stuffed animals, fills his medicine cabinet with feminine hiegene products, has insane mood swings, etc. -- and the guy takes it all like a pro, still pretending to love her. Since we as viewers know both sides of the story their interaction is doubly amusing. For instance, we know the woman eats meat because we see her eating a hamburger in one scene, but later she pretends she's a vegetarian after the guy prepares a wonderful meal of grilled lamb for her. In the end, of course, all the lies are revealed and the truth comes out, everyone gets their promotions, and the couple live happily ever after. Light-hearted and surprisingly fun considering it's predictability.


Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Movie: How to Train Your Dragon

The title pretty much explains everything about the story. The only thing I didn't know was that it was about "Vikings" (I put that in quotes since they are so modern they're hardly Viking at all). So it's a Viking sea village that's always had problems with dragon attacks, and there's the spindly chief's son who wants to be a warrior but is more of a wimpy inventor instead, and after he accidentally captures a dragon, they become friends, and duh, save the village. Storywise, there's little going on here. It's competent and pleasant, but not a Pixar story. Animiation-wise, I wasn't impressed: except for the landscapes, which are fantastic, the people and animals are much too cartoony. What makes this work are the three-dimensional flying sequences. I will say that this is the first 3D film I've seen where the 3D is actually worth it (yes, that includes Avatar). When the boy is learning to fly the dragon it really feels like a roller coaster ride, like you're on the dragon with him, whizzing past rocky cliffs and swooping through the clouds. Fortunately, there's quite of bit of this sort of action (perhaps as much as half the film), which makes up for the ordinary story and duller parts where the 3D is meaningless. Overall, that makes this film a win. It's pleasant and harmless otherwise, but in 3D it's extraordinary and worth seeing.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

Movie: Howl's Moving Castle

Terrific anime film. I didn't know anything about the story and it was quite unusual and interesting, and kept taking shifts I didn't expect. The main character's a little girl who's transformed by a spell into an old woman. At first she's depressed and angry, but then she learns to live with herself and becomes a hero. It's a complex story, wonderfully inventive, in a land where magic is common, and the animation is gorgeous. Definitely a keeper.


Thursday, June 26, 2003


Movie: Hulk
Director(s): Ang Lee

This film shows that good direction and special effects don't make a film: you still need a good story. While I wanted to like it, it's weak. For example, the opening credits reveal a lot of the back story: we see how Bruce Banner's dad injected himself with an experimental drug, passed that on to his son, etc. Unfortunately, the rest of the film seems to think this back story is incredibly significant and spends a great deal of time letting us watch Bruce as he discovers his past. Boring! We already know all that so who cares? Before seeing the movie I was skeptical of having a CGI Hulk, and my doubts proved well-founded. While suprisingly well-done, with a scene or two of decent acting, the CGI Hulk never stops looking cartoonish, never is very believable as a human transformed, and never brings out viewer emotion. We just don't care. The story is weak, the quality of acting average to poor, and the film is way, way too long. Ang Lee is an excellent director, and it shows with many deft touches, from numerous clever (yet not too extreme) fades and transitions between scenes, and occasional comic book style split screens. It's wonderful in that it sets up the comic book mood. Unfortunately, the story isn't there. And without characters we care about or a story where we care about the ending, the film's rather pointless. That effect is actually heightened by Lee's dignified presentation which gives serious import to such light content. The bottom line: why bother?


Sunday, December 7, 2003

Human Nature

Movie: Human Nature
Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman

I'm a huge Kaufman fan and was shocked to discover that he'd written this film which sounded bad in the previews. Guess what? The previews are brilliant compared to the movie, which fails miserably. The movie's supposed to be a comedy, but the jokes fall flat. It's about a woman who's got a rare genetic disorder that causes hair to grow all over her body like an ape. She leaves human society and lives like an ape and is happy. She becomes a nature writer and is very successful. But she has no man until she meets a weird scientist who's trying to teach table manners to mice. Together they discover a savage ape-man living in the wilderness and civilize him. She's against this as she thinks nature is beautiful, but her husband thinks civilization is superior. You can see the conflict here. Unfortunately, that conflict is buried within a mess of plotting such as extra-marital affairs, the fact that the whole movie is a flashback as the woman tells the story to the cops after she's been arrested for shooting her husband, and worse. We end up with a jumbled mess that's not funny, that does not enlighten us at all about nature or human behavior (the key joke seems to be that humans act like animals and animals are the more human -- not only is that not profound or accurate, it's not even funny), and degrades into a series of pointless sex jokes involving the ape-man who cannot restrain his natural urges. There are some attempts at humor -- the scientist's bizarre parents who send him to bed without supper when he uses the wrong fork at dinner -- but most of these are of the "smile" variety of humor, not the laugh out loud kind, and this film desperately needs the latter. Whatever intellectual innovations Kaufman had planned for the story are either too subtle or aren't there at all, and in the end we just get a unpleasant muck that's not worth even the effort of pushing "play" on the DVD player. Skip it.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Human Stain

Movie: The Human Stain
Writer(s): Philip Roth

Fascinating exploration of the llife of a college professor whose career is finshed when he's accused of making a racist remark. Through flashbacks of his life we learn about his former lovers and discover his great secret: his parents were black. He has kept this from everyone, including his wife of many years, because of the prejudice he suffered in his youth, and it's a fascinating exploration of the psychological aspects of race and culture. The film's slow and at least 30 minutes too long, but has some nice words and is interesting. Recommended.


Sunday, September 26, 1999

The Hunt

Book: The Hunt (1990)
Writer(s): William Diehl

This is a WWII spy novel. Not a bad book, though you don't really know what's going on until about the halfway point. Good for a quick read. My recommendation is to skim until page 200 or so. It's all pages and pages of setup and the payoff isn't that great. Predictable toward the end, and the plot relies on some unbelievable coincidences. Some interesting characters, however, and the heartbreak of the dispassionate hero, as he learns his love is in a German concentration camp is truly moving. From that great emotion, however, the novel descends into a generic action thriller. I vote for more Dostoyevsky and less Clint Eastwood. Not quite up to Diehl's Primal Fear, though meticulously researched.


Friday, March 14, 2003

The Hunted

Movie: The Hunted

Like Willard, which I also saw today, this is another empty film. There's just no real point to anything. Worse, the plot's full of contradictions. Basically we've got two loner characters: our hero, Tommy Lee Jones, plays a tracker who was formerly a military consultant, who now works in so-very-PC job of protecting wildlife; his foil is a former student turned renegade played by Benicio Del Toro. Benicio was taught to kill by Tommy, and after missions in Bosnia, he is haunted by what he has done. So he assuages his "guilt" by stalking and killing hunters in the forests of the Northwest! Despite that not making any sense at all, the film shoves that down our throat early on (we see Benicio waking up at night in a cold sweat after dreaming of Bosnia), and it's then dropped and never mentioned again the rest of the movie! Come on, either that's an important part of his character or it's not. Of course the main thing in this film is the prospect of Tommy hunting down Benicio. But then the film does a number of strange things. First, at the crime scene in the of the forests in Silver Falls, Oregon, hundreds of FBI agents and cops haven't found anything. Tommy Lee arrives and in minutes finds Benicio. They fight (pretty good fight), but Benicio is ambushed by an FBI agent and is caught. Film over, right? No. Benicio escapes. Ah, now we've got a chase, right? No. Benicio goes to his girlfriend's house and of course Tommy finds him there. Now the film's over, right? No, he escapes again, and now he's in the city and Tommy must track him through downtown Portland. Tommy's tracking skills in the woods make sense, but in the city it's just dumb. The camera pans around, Tommy looks thoughtful, and suddenly he darts off in the direction we know Benicio went. How did Tommy know that? Perhaps he saw the dailies, I have no idea. Worse, after like fifteen minutes of tracking the elusive Benicio with only a few glimpses of him, the two end up on a light rail train (Portland's public transportation system). Benicio's inside, Tommy's climbed onto the roof. Now here's the really dumb part: the FBI and cops are on the scene and they stop the train on a bridge, trapping Benicio. So what the hell was the point of Tommy tracking Benicio throughout town if the cops and FBI were going to be at his end location anyway??? (Tommy did not alert the cops.) Tommy could have saved his breath and waited until the cops had Benicio surrounded. But of course at this point Benicio escapes yet again, this time by diving into the river, and this leads to more absurdities. Benicio loves knives and during a flashback we saw how Tommy had shown him how to make his own. So when he crawls out of the river he finds a rusted iron bar, builds a fire, a forges his own knife! Besides the fact that a tiny fire of a few dozen sticks wouldn't be hot enough to melt lead let alone iron, wouldn't this take a lot of TIME? And even more significant, what's the point? Does Benicio, this super soldier, not know how to fight without a knife? Is having a knife more important than getting away from the police dragnet? The answer is that Benicio needs the knife so he and Tommy can fight (Tommy has carved himself a stone knife and it's a very bloody fight), and in the end, of course, Tommy can kill Benicio with his own knife. This is "drama," folks, because in another mishmash of illogic, we've been told earlier that though Tommy has trained hundreds of soldiers how to kill, he has never killed himself (absurd). Until now, of course. Then the movie ends. Just bizarre. What was the point of all that? It's basically a chase, target is acquired, movie ends. But the producers throw in all sorts of red herrings and distractions and artificial complications to make the story interesting, it's just dumb. I would have liked this far better if the original search by Tommy in the woods would have lasted much longer, and forget all the nonsense in the city. Oh dear, there was just so much about this film that made no sense. Like Benicio's justification for killing the hunters was they were using high-powered rifles and scopes and it was unfair competition. You'd think that argument would have some weight with Tommy's character (whom we see rescuing a wolf from a trap at the beginning of the film), but Tommy isn't even sympathetic. We're never really given any other reason for Benicio's behavior, which is weak. The whole movie just feels artificially cobbled together, as though some producers sat around a dreamed up what elements they wanted in an exciting action flick and them put them together without any thought of how they actually connected. Despite all the flaws, there is some decent action (though Tommy Lee looks pretty old for a lot of the stunts he does). The film has some style in direction. It's not unpleasant, but it's frustrating. What a waste of acting talent and budget. Why couldn't this have been done right? It wouldn't have been that hard to fix these obvious flaws. If you're from the Northwest, you'll get a kick from seeing the Oregon scenes and shots in Portland. That's probably the best reason to see it.


Friday, April 14, 2000


Movie: Hurlyburly

Bizarre, talky movie. Well done, but the dialog's obviously from a play -- it's much to dense for a film. You'd have to see this one several times to keep up with it. I found the characters difficult to comprehend. On the one hand they're pretty dumb (their lives are crap), but then they turn around and spout profound philosophy. Bizarre but interesting. DVD commentary from the play's author, David Rabe, helps a lot.


Sunday, October 8, 2000

The Hurricane

Movie: The Hurricane

Excellent film about the black boxer jailed for murders he didn't commit. Seemed a bit heavy-handed as though just begging for an Oscar, but an excellent story. My favorite aspect was the young boy discovering life via reading his first book, the auto-biography of "Hurricane" Carter.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hustle and Flow

Movie: Hustle and Flow

Really interesting and unusual film. It takes assumptions you have and turns them on their ear. We've got a dispicable character, a pimp and drug dealer, who's suddenly reached mid-life and realized his life has not turned out the way he dreamed. As a kid he wanted to be a rapper but that never happened. When he hears a former neighborhood kid who's now a big rap star is returning for a visit, he decides to create a record and get the guy to listen to it and help him with his big break. What follows is a series of struggles to write songs, figure out his style, come up with money, and record them. In the middle of all this we see a close-up of this guy's tragic life and the life of his whores. I'm not a fan of rap but the way the music was done in this film I could appreciate it and see the genius in it. The ending is wild -- realistic but unusual, and just a perfect way to wrap up this unique experience. Not always a pleasant film, but certainly one you'll remember and learn from. Recommended.