Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I Capture the Castle

Movie: I Capture the Castle

Unusual film about an odd British family in the 1930s. The father's a famous writer who hasn't written anything in twelve years and the family's going broke. They live in a castle, but haven't paid the rent in two years. One day two American brothers show up: they've inherited in the castle. The two daughters immediately see dollar signs and try to woo the brothers to save the family. What follows is a mad-cap dramedy about love (everyone falls in love with the wrong person). It's well done, though it takes itself a little too seriously sometimes, especially regarding the father's writer's block (the father was such a pathetic selfish bastard I really didn't care if he healed or not). The girls are wonderful, especially the narator, Cassandra, who's 17 and the wisest of the bunch. She lives in her sister's Rose's shadow (Rose is the pretty one, of course), but has inherited her father's give for words and sees everything. Overall the film has a positive spin, but in places it's rather wrenching and depressing (it's tough watching person after person express their love only to be rejected). It's also quirky and funny, and there's some excellent social commentary about class and wealth. Definitely unusual and definitely worth your time.


Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Legend

Movie: I Am Legend

This is a surprisingly good film. Will Smith is solo most of the screen time and manages to evoke depth of character without dialog and an actor to react with. The story -- about the last man on earth -- is compelling beyond the gimmicky premise. I wasn't crazy about the "monster" humans lurking about: they were unrealistic and inconsistent, but they were frightening (all the more so since they used to be human). The bottom line is that this is a film with a gimmick that proves deeper than its subject matter, and Will's acting is a tour-de-force.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

I Am Legend

Book: I Am Legend
Writer(s): Richard Matheson

This is the book the movie was based on; I listened to the audiobook edition while traveling. It's very different: the people are vampires, not mutants, and the story is hardly even similar, though there are occasional overlaps. For instance, a dog does die in the book, but it's not the man's only friend like in the movie, and the woman he meets has a different role and no kid. In some ways I prefer the movie version as the vampire thing seems sort of cheesy and unrealistic. (A plague that causes vampirism? Please.) But the book's interesting and less gimmicky in plot than the movie.


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I Don't Know Jack

Movie: I Don't Know Jack

This is a documentary about the life of actor Jack Nance, star of the cult hit Eraserhead. Nance had tremendous talent, but was an alcoholic for much of his life, which tragically limited his potential. Then just when he was sober and getting well his wife committed suicide. His life ended as mysteriously as he lived it, when he died after being beaten up in a donut shop. Police have never solved the case. The film features interviews with Jack's brothers, his friends and colleagues, and his first wife, and the stories about Nance are terrific. Unfortunately there still seems to be something missing: perhaps there are not enough clips of his acting, or enough of Jack himself in the film, because we don't really get much insight into who Jack was. The documentary's a terrific idea, and we do learn a lot, but Jack was such a unique personality I'd have loved to learn more about him.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I Heart Huckabees

Movie: I Heart Huckabees

This is a strange, uneven film that pretends to be deep but doesn't have much to say. The premise sounded awesome: it involves two "existential" detectives. They basically study your life and tell you what's wrong with it, what's missing, show you the meaning behind things. For instance, one of the clients is a guy who wants an odd coincidence explained as it troubles him. Unfortunately, there are many, many problems with this story. First, the film is one of those episodic collection of interrelated stories, which for a movie like this, is a terrible decision. Those kinds of films only work when the like or are at least interested in the characters but in this movie the characters are all quirky and odd and we don't give a hoot. Second, the eratic story meanders much too much and has no focus, no throughline. It's just a mass of strange situations, images, and people. Third, the author takes an interesting concept and goes so far with it that it becomes uninteresting and tepic. For instance, a film about existential detectives is intriguing. But the author goes beyond that by creating a competitor for the detectives, someone with an alternate approach that tries to steal clients away, and the result is confusing, it weakens the original detectives (we care less for them), and it just adds more meaningless intellinasia-talk (big words that mean nothing). In the end we don't have much. There are some nice individual scenes, some brilliant concepts that go nowhere, and a few clever directing techniques, but whole package is useless and, dare I say it, meaningless.


Monday, February 10, 2003

I Know Where I'm Going

Movie: I Know Where I'm Going
Writer(s): Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Director(s): Michael Powell

Surprisingly effective film. I loved the beautifully simple story: a strong-minded young woman who knows what she wants sets off from England to a remote Scottish island to marry her wealthy fiance. Unfortunately a gale blows in and boats can't get to the island, so she's stranded until the gale stops. She meets a nice man while waiting, and after days of trying desperately to get to the island to marry her rich fiance, when the sun finally emerges and the boat arrives, she realizes she doesn't want to go: she's in love with the other man. The simplicity of the story belies the complexity of emotions and character, and the frustration of a woman who's so sure of herself discovering she's not so sure of herself is delightful. The cinematography is excellent, and the dramatic storm/whirlpool scene is filmed better than today's films (the horrible The Perfect Storm comes to mind). Impressive technically, with a good story to make it worthwhile.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Shot Andy Warhol

Movie: I Shot Andy Warhol

I was curious about this because I don't know much about Andy Warhol, but unfortunately this is really about a bizarre feminist who shoots him for no real reason (she's pretty much angry at the world). The whole movie is about her, but though she has some interesting characteristics, she's so nasty and mean and bizarre that I just don't care about her and thus I don't care about the movie. By the time I got to the end I was just terrifically glad the movie was over. I kept thinking that perhaps she was a genius or special or something, but eventually I just decided she was a nutso feminist who hated men (for no real reason) and I can't figure out why anyone bothered to make a film about her.


Friday, November 1, 2002

I Spy

Movie: I Spy

I've heard criticism of this film which I can't figure out. I liked it a lot. It's nothing serious, just a good fun romp. It has action and humor and the "team" of Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy is great. It never takes itself too seriously, but just seriously enough to not descend into camp. It's fun, and much better than the lame trailers make it seem. My favorite scene was the ending, where spies are betraying each other right and left, and spy Owen gets completely confused and can't tell who's good or who's bad. Hilarious.


Friday, February 4, 2000

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

Movie: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Writer(s): Trey Callaway
Director(s): Danny Cannon

The plot: Every five minutes Jennifer Love Hewitt puts on a sexy new outfit and becomes terrified, seeing dead bodies or having a nightmare about a guy in a rain slicker with a hook for a hand. Most of the time these are lame fake scares (incredibly lame because it's easy to tell the fake from the real because the real ones happen without warning while the fake ones include about three or four minutes of "tension" buildup). I don't remember the original being this bad -- it's amazing what Hollywood can do to ruin a sequel.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Movie: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

The description of this movie was something like "guy hunts down his brother's killer" which sounded like a fun revenge thriller. It stars Clive Owen in an early role and so I checked this out. Unfortunately, there isn't much action at all. It's an odd film, very talky, and I guess we're supposed to feel the existential angst of these killers and mobsters (I didn't). All in all, I thought it quite disappointing, but that probably had more to do with my expectations which weren't at all meant. There are also so distasteful scenes that come out of nowhere (the rape one being foremost). Lame.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I'm Not Scared

Movie: I'm Not Scared

Unusual film from Italy. I hadn't heard of this but the reviews were astoundingly high and the plot sounded fantastic: a young boy in a tiny rural village finds a boy imprisoned in a hole in the ground and befriends him, only to later discover the boy's a kidnap victim and the whole town -- the first boy's parents included -- is in on the plot. The film is viewed from the main kid's point of view, which was an awesome decision because we see the world with the wonder and innocence and fear of a ten-year-old. When he learns of the kidnapping, the boy doesn't understand -- he can't figure out what the adults want with the boy. The performances of the children are incredible. My favorite scene was when the main boy, upset with his parents, decides to run away. He's hiding in a tree and his little sister comes to him. When he tells her their parents are not his parents any more, she says, in perfect lower-lip-trembling innocence, "Does that mean I'm not your little sister any more?" With stubborn cruelty he says, "Yes!" And then she asks if that means she can have his comic book collection! Great twisted moment, turning heart-break into humor. The ending of the film is both unexpected and satisfying, something most films of this type fail to do. Highly recommened and quite remarkable.


Friday, July 16, 2004

I, Robot

Movie: I, Robot

I'm a huge fan of Isaac Asimov's robot stories, but the previews of this film had me gagging. It looked like a ridiculous robots-take-over-the-world premise, and it retained none of the fascinating pyschological elements of Asimov's stories. But I knew I'd see it anyway. To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. Yes, the robots are dorky-looking, and yes, the plots is robots taking over, but the plot doesn't completely negate the three laws. (Asimov's robots are governed by the three laws of robotics, which says that robots can't harm a human, must obey a human unless it violates the first law, and can protect itself as long as it doesn't violate the first two laws.) I won't spoil the plot but the robot rebellion actually makes some Asimovian sense, though this movie's particular method of detailing the plot is predictable, attrociously stereotypical, and lame. The producers have turned a great psychological thriller into a mindless action flick. As such it's not terrible, and I wouldn't rate it at the very bottom of the scale, but it's unfortunate that such a great concept was wasted on this silly mess. I give it a C. The trailer I give an F.


Sunday, April 13, 2003

Ice Age

Movie: Ice Age

I'll confess up front that I have grudge against this film. The trailers when I saw them last summer just annoyed me and I had zero interest in seeing the movie. It just looked dumb. But recently I've heard it mentioned by critics as good, so I rented the DVD. Guess what? It is dumb, but it's not as bad as the trailer makes since the trailer just pulls out a few lame jokes. For instance, the first joke in the film is a penile length crack, quickly followed by an animal stepping in excrement. Disney this is not. The concept's okay: a motley group of animals (a sabertooth tiger, a sloth, and a wooly mammoth), while migrating to south to escape the cold ice age weather, seek to return a lost human baby to its tribe. Setting aside the fact that the humans are remarkably advances for ice age primates, the plot thickens when we realize the sabertooth is leading the others into a trap so his pack can kill the mammoth. Of course they all end up becoming best friends and living happily ever after. It's predictable and the silly stupid animals are rather annoying, but it's generally harmless. The animation is surprisingly low quality -- extremely computer-generated and cartoony. I guess this appeals to kids, but frankly, if you missed seeing this, don't worry, you didn't miss much.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

Movie: Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

I was disappointed by this sequel. It had a handful of good moments, but seems desperately stretched for material, and the 90 minute length felt like more than two hours. This time the ice age is melting and the characters from the first film have to figure out how to adapt and get along. The voice work is very good, there are some great new characters (such as the hilarious vulture), and the old ones are fairly reliable, but in the end, you sort of go, "Why bother?"


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ice Age 3

Movie: Ice Age 3

Surprisingly unfunny, though not awful. There are just many scenes and jokes you feel are supposed to be funny, as though they left a beat in to allow for the laughing, except that no one is laughing. The best parts for me are the visual gags: the rock flying through the air that splits off chunks like booster rockets, or the two long-necked dinosaurs who entwine to make the shape of a heart. But oddly, though those are clever and cute, they feel out-of-place. The world of Ice Age has never made much sense to me: it's too convoluted with modern sensibilities and talk, as though the creators just throw in everything without any rules (kind of like Airplane, where any out-of-context reference is permissible, except here it doesn't work). So so.


Friday, August 27, 2004

Ice Hunt

Book: Ice Hunt
Writer(s): James Rollins

I've never heard of Rollins, but this is an excellent old-fashioned adventure story a la Edgar Rice Burroughs and is surprisingly well-written. The detail is amazing, making everything feel very real, and though the story's long and complicated with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, they don't feel forced like with many poor writers (such as Patterson). The story's wild: a group of regular Alaskans find themselves immeshed in a covert superpower war for control over a secret polar ice station recently discovered. The ice station was lost before WWII, yet contains key technology. The Russians want to blow up the station so the U.S. don't find the technology, while the U.S. wants to study the find. But both countries would potentially be embarrassed by the contents of the ice station, so everything is being done "off the map," in secret. The public will never hear of what happens. That means anything goes: murder is okay. So the Alaskans find themselves in the middle of this covert war, with submarines and Delta Force troops. If that wasn't bad enough, there's an ancient secret hidden in the ice station: it's a nest for some prehistoric monsters that still live. These vicious monsters are nicknamed Grendel, after the Beowulf story. Rollins actually uses a lot of science to justify the existence of these creatures, so they come across as quite believable (he's a vetrinarian in real life and knows how to describe animals). Grendels are extremely dangerous, which puts our civilian heroes in even more jeopardy: now they are hiding from the Russians and the monsters! The result of all this is a nail-biter, can't-put-down book. It gets a little annoying because every time you think the heroes are saved, the situation gets even worse. It's "out of the frying pan into the fire" about twenty different times and after a while the tension becomes unbearable. It seems impossible that our heroes will emerge unscathed. But that also makes the ending a sweet relief and the book feverishly exciting. Terrific read. My only real criticism is that the title is extremely lame. Ice Station Grendel would have been a much more descriptive, interesting, and accurate moniker. Looking at the other books Rollins has written, I see similar titular problems (several are much worse than this one), so most likely either he's not good at creating titles or he lets the publisher pick them. Anyway, you're not supposed to judge a book by its title, so I'll reserve judgement until I've actually read the books. But if they're anything like this one, I'll be happy.


Friday, March 31, 2000

An Ideal Husband

Movie: An Ideal Husband (1999)

Very cool film. Witty Oscar Wilde lines fly fast and furious -- you'll want to keep the rewind button handy and/or watch this one several times. The plot's a little crazy and confusing, but everyone's having so much fun being mildly evil that the whole thing's a delight irregardless. They just don't write comedies like this any more.


Tuesday, April 29, 2003


Movie: Identity

After seeing the previews, I knew this was a gimmick film. It didn't look like much of a gimmick, however: the plot appears to be a "Ten Little Indians" knockoff where stranded visitors to a motel die one by one. The promos make it sound like it's something special, however, which can backfire if it doesn't. Well, it does, and while it's not as revolutionary as the gimmick in The Sixth Sense, it is moderately clever and original. It works, bringing new life into an familiar tale. The direction is tight and fast-paced, giving you no time to ponder anything, which is good: just sit back and enjoy the ride. While I wish the ending gimmick was explored in a little more psychological depth, the creators are certainly aware this is a gimmick film and intelligently deliver and get out quick (some gimmick films wallow in their own cleverness). Overall there's nothing hugely profound here, but it is interesting, intriguing, and certainly good fun. Above average.


Friday, April 6, 2007


Movie: Idiocracy

Two modern-day idiots are frozen as part of an experiment and wake up 500 years in the future to find that humanity has disintegrated into reality TV-watching morons and the two are the smartest people on the planet. It's actually amusing and surprisingly funny -- but it's not exactly high-brow humor. I liked the way the future is portrayed as being run by fast food companies -- sounds about right. Mildly amusing.


Thursday, January 5, 2006

If Death Ever Slept

Book: If Death Ever Slept
Writer(s): Rex Stout

I'm starting to get a feel for these Nero Wolfe novels now. Though I've only read a few, they do seem to have certain things in common: 1. The crime is always murder; 2. Nero never leaves his house and hates working. 3. The group of suspects is small and we know one of them is guilty; 4. There are no real clues; 5. Extra murders are always done to cover up the first murder, and it is these murders that help break the case (and Stout is oddly dispassionate about murder -- death is extremely casual in his stories); 6. Nero solves the murders using logic about human behavior (pyschology, if you will), instead of traditional crime detecting techniques (for instance, he can deduce that so-and-so wouldn't have done a particular murder because it wasn't done in their "style"); 7. Archie Goodwin, Nero's assistant and narrator of the stories, is really the main character as Wolfe just makes grand cameo appearances as necessary; 8. Wolfe is highly motivated by money but always seems to turn down fees or fire clients, which is rather odd.

This particular novel is more about Archie as he leaves Wolfe to live with a family as a spy for their client, and when murder happens, he's right in the middle of it. While this one is well-written and has some good characters, the mystery part of it -- including the conclusion -- is weak and boring. Wolfe does nothing extraordinary except fire his client. It's my least favorite of those I read so far.


Saturday, August 26, 2000


I went to Ikea today. Amazing store. They sell furniture and other things for the home. It's like a massive Costco except selling nothing but reasonably-priced home furnishings. Definitely an experience. I got a desk -- really it's their "IVAR" storage system -- but as it's configurable in to about a million variations, I was able to design a wall unit that will hold two complete computer systems, two printers, computer accessories, and much else. My current desk setup has never been optimal, being made up of a half-dozen pieces kludged together, and the maze of cords, contraptions, and awkwardness in the very small amount of space I have has made organization impossible. I've looked at many furniture stores for a decent desk, but either they're big and wide and with no vertical dimension, or if they do have a tall hutch (maximizing space) it's not big enough for my large screen monitors. The IVAR system looks to be the dream. We'll see how it works out!


Friday, September 8, 2006

The Illusionist

Movie: The Illusionist

Predictable ending, despite the "ta da" presentation, but the story and characters and intense scenes of magic performances more than carry the movie, and the ending is the satisfying one we wanted. Good performances from Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, the whole cast really. There's not huge depth here, despite the film's hints at such, but it's still an interesting and well-done film.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Movie: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Director(s): Terry Gilliam

Gilliam's one of my favorite directors but his stuff can be bizarrely incomprehensible so my chief worry about this movie involving fantastic imagination was that it would be impossible to follow. To my surprise, the story's fairly linear, though presented in pieces so that the full puzzle isn't complete until the end. The story involves an ancient man who made a deal with the devil for immortality. That's the Dr. Parnassus of the title. He runs a tiny traveling show with his daughter and two assistants. I never did quite get the purpose of the traveling show: they apparently sold tickets but it was unclear what the customers got for their money. The troupe is very poor, living like gypsies in their delightfully ramshackle two-decker caravan, and show is artfully old-fashioned. The group come across a hanging man, played by the late Heath Ledger in his final role. He survives the hanging but has no memory and informally joins their troupe, where he uses his considerable persuasive skills to bring people to their shows. Meanwhile, Dr. Parnassus is depressed because his bargain with the devil means his daughter will become the devil's property on her sixteenth birthday in a few days time and he hasn't told her. This storyline is the bulk of the film, and it is intersected with aspects of fantasy: the Imaginarium. This is a fantasy land entered through a magical mirror that's part of the show's set. Inside the mirror the world becomes whatever you imagine it to be. This is where the film's style shines so brightly: while the outside world is grimy and delightfully disgusting, these fantasy worlds are absurdly colorful or ominously dark. The person who enters is invited to make a decision: dark or light. Basically they are choosing between Dr. Parnassas and the Devil, which fits in with a new wager the two make: the first to secure five souls wins the daughter.

A few words here about the role of Ledger, who died before the film was finished. In many movies, that might have ended all hope of the film being completed, or given us an awkward film with missing scenes. Here the solution is brilliant and so thoroughly handled that you'd never know there was a crisis. Early on in the film we're shown that people's faces sometimes change when they enter the Imaginarium, and fortunately it seems that most (if not all) of Ledger's "real world" scenes were completed, so only the fantasy scenes remained. Thus it works brilliantly to use other actors in Ledger's role inside the Imaginarium. The others are made up to look similar to Ledger (but not so similar as to be trying to pass as him) and with similar mannerisms, it works and actually adds a better touch than if Heath had done all those scenes himself.

My favorite things about this film are the striking visuals and the performances. Gilliam is unsurpassed in visuals and he's at his best here, with amazing contrasts between filth and fantasy perfection. The performances by the cast are astonishing. Every one is brilliant. Because of the chaotic nature of the story, all essentially have multiple roles, or at least play their character at different times of their life, and the variety is mesmerizing. I was truly impressed with everyone. (Heath's role is sadly smaller than it should have been, and he's probably the weakest of them all simply because he wasn't in that much of the film, though there are hints of more dramatic moments later in the film.) In terms of story, I am unsure how I felt. On the one hand, it was fractured and typical Gilliam, and I departed thinking I need to see the film several more times to truly understand it. On the other hand, I couldn't tell if it really was deep or just felt deep: ultimately the story feels too slight to be profound. But you don't see a film like this for the compelling story. This is all about fantasy and adventure and wonder. See it for the fun, the wild, the crazy, and just go along with the story. It eventually makes some sense, though you'll probably be scratching your head at a few things that didn't seem to fit. Gilliam is not a man who explains things! But it's a journey well worth the ride simply for the beauty of the experience. This is an amazing film. I'm not convinced it's great, and I didn't like it quite as well as my favorite film of all time, Gilliam's Brazil , but it's definitely one of his best and I am delighted that Gilliam is back doing what he does best: a delicious blending of fantasy and warped reality. I shall definitely watch this again and again on Blu-Ray. It is fascinating.


Wednesday, August 6, 2003

The Importance of Being Earnest

Movie: The Importance of Being Earnest
Writer(s): Oscar Wilde

Not a bad adaptation of the famous Oscar Wilde play about false identities. Fairly true to the original, and well acted. It's a little light compared to today's spectacle-driven blockbusters, but there's some excellent comedy here. Great stuff.


Sunday, September 15, 2002


Movie: Imposter

Fascinating sci-fi based on the Philip K. Dick short story. The premise is cool: a top govt. scientist is suddenly arrested as a traitor and told that he's suspected of being a robot planted by aliens and he contains a bomb. Apparently the robot simulation is so perfect it's impossible to tell if he's human or not, except by disection. Of course the scientist believes he's not a robot -- but is he? That should be the core of the film -- he's own doubts as to his identity -- but instead the film's basically a big chase as he escapes and as a fugitive, tries to gain evidence to proof he's not an android. Somewhat predictable, especially the twist ending, but still enjoyable, and there a good performances. It could have been a better film, but it's still above average. It was originally supposed to be 30 minute short (as part of a sci-fi trilogy) but it was expanded to a full-length film. The original short's on the DVD and it was better (though the expanded material isn't that bad plotwise, it adds nothing characterwise).


Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Impressions of New York City

I took a taxi from JFK to my cousin's place. He's in the upper east side, near East Harlem. It's just a block from the top of Central Park, and twenty blocks of the Guggenheim Museum. On my first night we visited a Senegalese restaurant not far from where he lives, in an area known as "little Dakar" (Dakar is the capital city of Senegal, West Africa where I lived for much of my childhood). The food at the restaurant was fantastic: Phil (my cousin) had lamb on couscous with a spicy peanut sauce and I had lamb chops smothered with onions and a creamy mayonaise dip. Though the chops were small (three inches by two inches), there was at least a dozen of them: I ate and ate and ate. Delicious, and very reasonable: each of our meals was around $8!

New York City reminds me a lot of Dakar: there's the same electic mixture of poor and rich, garbage dumps and luxury hotels. On Tuesday I had my first adventures using the subways: they have a cool system where you can buy a 7-day pass for a mere $17 that lets you ride the subway as much as you want for seven days. Unfortunately, I discovered the subways don't always go where you want. In New York, you'll learn how to walk. I'm not much of a walker, and I quickly developed blisters and my first purchase in NY was a pair of sneakers (my normal shoes aren't walking shoes). Fortunately, the blisters didn't burst, and after a few days of taking it easier and using the new shoes, my feet were okay.

Macworld Expo itself was interesting. I hung out at the REAL Software booth and helped them demo REALbasic and gave away flyers and copies of my magazine to whoever was interested. Everyone liked the magazine and I think many people will subscribe. My hope is that the magazine will encourage people to purchase RB as well. So far I haven't seen a huge subscription spike, but subs are steadily being sold, so that's good. I expect some will subscribe later, since we gave them a copy of the first issue at the show.

Cousin Phil and I toured the City. He took me to the New York Public Library, which was impressive. They don't lend books there (you read them on site), but they had a nice area for you to hook up your laptop to the Internet and sit and research. Apparently there's an excellent interlibrary lending system: you can order books, videos, and even DVDs via the Internet and they're delivered to your local branch for you to pick up within a few days. Very cool. I got my first NYC hot dog (very good) and we went to Battery Park and saw the Statue of Liberty in the bay. We could also see from there the Twin Towers that aren't there (we compared the current view with pictures from before being sold in the park). That night we ordered pizza and then I went downtown my myself to meet the TidBITS gang for ice cream. That lasted until midnight and I got back very late (I took a taxi home rather than risk the subway, and the driver drove fast and with little traffic, it was less than $8).

As a media person, I got in to see Steve Jobs' keynote speech at Macworld, which was very cool (my first time). While there wasn't any exciting new hardware to announce, I felt good about the software he revealed (though a little miffed that it will cost me $129 to upgrade to the next version of Mac OS X). On Thursday night I attended the REALbasic NUG meeting and passed out copies of the magazine: everyone was excited and impressed. (One guy chided me the next day: he was reading the magazine on the way home and missed his subway exit!) Friday night we went to an Italian restaurant called Vespa's that was small and intimate and very cool. The food was excellent (I had breaded chicken with lemon sauce). Saturday was the Metrostars soccer game.

On Monday I walked to the Guggenheim. On the way I passed a film crew recording a scene for Molly Gunn outside a building that was supposed to be a private school. I didn't see any stars, though I did pass a lot of trailers (including one that said "Molly" on the door) parked along 5th Avenue. At the Guggenheim the current exhibit is called "Moving Pictures" and is all about photography and video. It was fascinating, though I question some of the exhibits as being art. A lot of it was very adult material (nudity, close-ups of genitals, etc.), which often had no point that I could tell. There were some traditional paintings (Picasso, etc.) in portions of the building, but most was devoted to the photography exhibit. Some of the video stuff was interesting, but the way they were presented was poor, since they were often just TVs set along the walkway, or within a small room, and people would just enter and leave as the mood hit them, meaning you usually came in in the middle of a show (something I abhor). Many exhibits were obviously full of themselves. One was several huge screens all showing the same images of a bare-chested guy smearing mud on his body. Yup, twenty minutes of that and then he started over. Ooh, that's deep. One video I liked consisted of a mother and her daughter laughing. Gradually the film was sped up and the soundtrack distorted, so you began to think maybe they weren't laughing and hugging, but that the mother was strangling the daughter. It was creepy and that was the whole point. Very cool. There were some other cool exhibits and photos I liked, but they're obviously difficult to describe (a photo's a thousand words, right?). You're best off visiting the museum yourself if you're so inclined.

Overall, my visit to New York was great. I got to see many parts of the city, though I avoided the tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I learned the subway system and how to hail a cab. I walked through portions of Central Park and bought hot dogs and croissants at the little stands everywhere. (I really like that.) What surprised me the most was how nice everyone was. People were helpful at guiding you on the subway, generally patient, the cabbies friendly (and spoke English, though always as a second language). The horror stories I'd heard of NYC were of a different town or time, I guess. It helped having a place to stay while I was there (I was less of a tourist), but it still was a surprisingly accessible city.


Thursday, February 12, 2004

In America

Movie: In America
Director(s): Jim Sheridan

Fantastic film! I'd wanted to see this when I first heard about it last summer, but when it finally came out I was more hesitant because the things I'd heard recently made it sound like health food: good for you but not enjoyable. The film sounded like a story about immigrants, but it's not. It's simply about a family. The story's really about the two children (in fact, it's narrated by the oldest). The Irish immigrant family struggles to survive in Manhattan, but we see their struggles through the eyes of the ever-positive kids, so the story's never depressing. The two girls are awesome, cute and innocent, completely lost in their roles. They both deserve Oscars. Because of their innocence, the film reminded a lot of Life is Beautiful, where bad things are happening but the adults are trying to protect the children from that knowledge and preserve their innocence. Except here it isn't a Nazi concentration camp but a bad New York City apartment filled with druggies and transvestites. The adults see the situation as grim, but the girls accept everything as normal. Meanwhile, beneath the surface of the day-to-day struggles, we learn that the girls had a little brother who died. Then we begin to see the parents are still coping with his tragic death. Then the girls meet "the screaming man" -- a strange guy in a nearby room who screams all the time. When the girls meet him, he's a huge black man. It turns out he's gentle and kind, and he's a painter. He's overly emotional (a fantastic performance) and there's a reason for his rage and emotions. It's awesome.

When the film was an hour in I was thinking that I would have been completely happy if it ended there. Even though the story was unfinished, I was satisfied. I just didn't want the rest of the movie to ruin what I'd already experienced. To my suprise, the second half of the film was even better! All sorts of things link together to complete the story and the ending is fantastic. You will cry tears of joy or you're not human. Terrific, terrific film. I love seeing adult things from the perspective of kids and I loved the way this film made unhappy things seem okay. This story could have been told in much more obvious heart-wrenching way and been really depressing -- and not much more impactful than a typical TV disease-of-the-week movie. Instead, this film captures a slice of a real-life family; not a perfect family by any means, but a family struggling to keep together, to survive financially, and to heal deep emotional wounds. Fantastic. In my top ten of all time, I think. For sure the top twenty-five.


Saturday, December 18, 1999

In Dreams

Movie: In Dreams (1999)
Writer(s): Bari Wood (novel) and Bruce Robinson
Director(s): Neil Jordan

This movie was better than I expected as the critics had panned it badly when it came out. It actually is an interesting psychological thriller about a woman (Annette Bening) who's haunted by an insane killer. Unfortunately, the killer, played by Robert Downey Jr., is weak and ineffectual in the role. Bening, on the other hand, is awesome. The direction is a bit heavy-handed, the editing so sharp it occasionally confuses things. Certain aspects of the plot didn't make any sense, and, of course, the reason for the dream-link between the two main characters is never explained. This is one of those scripts with a lot of potential, but several flaws weaken it so badly it ends up being a so-so movie. Don't pay more than a couple dollars to rent it, or better yet, watch it on a premium channel for free.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

In Good Company

Movie: In Good Company

Well-done film, but not quite what I expected. The trailers were deceiving, promoting this as a romance between a young man who's the boss and his older employee's daughter, but it really turned out to be more about the guy learning that life is not all about the rising up the corporate ladder. The romance is just a sideline, one of the things that helps him grow up. Even though I liked what I saw, I could help but be disappointed that what I got wasn't what was advertised.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In Her Shoes

Movie: In Her Shoes

Definitely a chick flick, but not as sappy as I expected, though too predictable (the trailer gives away pretty much all the plot). The story's about two un-alike sisters who love each other but drive each other crazy and how the one grows up and the others learns to be less serious. There's some deep stuff underneath everything involving family secrets about their mother's death, but the tone of the film's too light for much profundity.


Wednesday, November 6, 2002

In Like Flint

Movie: In Like Flint

I'd never seen any of the Flint films, but I understood they were Austin Powers-like spy spoofs from the sixties. This one was cool. It's a comedy, very but light: there are only a few one liners and occasionally silliness. The plot is semi-serious and handled more realistically than some legitimate spy films. (The biggest flaws were when the sonic gun was used in outer space and the space capsule exploded into flames. With no air in space, neither is feasible.) Overall, I liked it. A little long and slow in places, but Derek Flint is an cool superspy: he knows about everything (he's a chemist, detective, ballet dancer, fighter, etc. etc.). Worth seeing.


Thursday, October 24, 2002

In the Bedroom

Movie: In the Bedroom

Terrific low-key film about the after-effects of a murder in a small New England seaside town. The pace is slow and meandering, but somehow not at all boring. Even when the characters are discussing ordinary fishing, you sense deeper meaning behind the words. Excellent performances, especially from the two parents (Tom Williamson and Sissy Spacek). The film is modest and never assumes it's anything it's not (it's not the least bit pretencious). The ending is predictable but extremely satisfying.


Sunday, October 22, 2000

In the Company of Men

Movie: In the Company of Men (1997)
Writer(s): Neil LaButte
Director(s): Neil LaButte

Incredible, powerful, disturbing film. This is an unadulterated look at evil, up close, and it's designed to make you squirm. The plot is simple: a couple MBA-types, on a six-week business trip, pledge to take revenge on women as payment for all their own messed up relationships. They decide they'll find a shy, lonely, unnoticeable woman, and each romance her for the next six weeks, and then, when she thinks she's falling in love one or both of them, they'll dump her like yesterday's fish and laugh in her face. Bizarre concept, yes, but brilliantly executed. Author LaButte goes the extra mile to make us really realize what slimeballs these two guys are: the woman they toy with is deaf. Because she can't speak clearly, one guy calls her "retard mouth" behind her back. That's the kind of stuff you face in this movie. Tough, yes, but powerful and profound.

What's deeply ironic to me is that if Neil hadn't made the woman deaf, if she'd been a regular woman, perhaps not very attractive but not handicapped, would we have felt such a degree of disgust for these men? Is our outrage so intense because the woman is disabled, and thus a more sympathetic victim, or are we outraged out of principle? In other words, do we care about the person inside, regardless of the shell (flawed or intact)? If we saw this happening, like we do all the time around us (i.e. we know our co-worker's cheating on his wife but we shrug it off), would we be as upset? Food for thought, lots of food for thought. Definitely one of the best films I've ever seen. Even more amazing, LaButte made this for $25,000, I have no idea how: it looks like a million dollar movie. Acting, sound, photography -- everything is top notch. Impressive.


Wednesday, November 5, 2003

In the Cut

Movie: In the Cut

This film is getting notority for the wrong reasons. I really liked Meg Ryan playing somewhat against type: those sweet romantic comedy roles must be getting rather boring for her. Nice to see her branch out, and nice to see real acting in a thriller for a change. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite work. It's main problem is that it sets itself up as something really special and in the end, it's a routine serial killer mystery. The plot deals with a female English profession (Ryan) who meets a cop investigating a murder in her neighborhood. As the two hook up, she begins to suspect he's the killer. But she keeps seeing him anyway, of course (otherwise we wouldn't have much of a movie). It's all fairly routine, but it's muddled by dark portents and superfluous secondary characters. In the end everything's too convoluted for such a simple resolution, and the twist ending is clearly visible about 30 minutes in. But I did like some of the nice direction touches, particularly the ice skating dream sequences: the horrific ending one is hilarious like something out of a Coen brother's movie. It's worth the price of admission alone. This one's a good rental.


Friday, July 16, 2010


Movie: Inception
Writer(s): Christopher Nolan
Director(s): Christopher Nolan

Wow. Greatest mind-trip ever. Makes a Charlie Kaufman movie seem normal. I went in with the highest expectations and I can comfortably say those were more than met. I was leery about the two-and-a-half hour run time but I never even noticed the passage of time. It felt like minutes. (Which is interesting, since that's a key concept in the film.) The plot is too difficult to describe and it shouldn't be anyway, both since the film does it so well and it's a much more interesting journey not having it spoiled. Let's just say it's an incredibly convoluted story about dreams within dreams within dreams, where the difference between reality and dreams blend. But unlike so many films that introduce complications just to confuse the viewer and make the story seem deeper, here, though things are amazingly complex, it's handled to deftly that everything makes remarkable sense. Only at the very beginning was I confused, but it wasn't the kind of confusion that irritates. In many films information is deliberately withheld to keep the viewer in the dark and that's frustrating and tedious. Here the things we don't know are part of the plot. That beginning that seemed too convoluted, soon makes sense, and by the end of the film makes complete sense. This film feels like it should be more confusing than it is. I've seen many movies with much simpler stories that felt far more confusing. In fact, the plot seems almost simple the way it's dished out! But it's not at all simple: it's a powerful and intricate story, a story about love and loss and longing. The film has everything: action, fantastic scenery, drama, heartbreak, tension, wonderful characters and acting, surprise twists, and powerful emotions. What's amazing about the special effects is that despite being startling visuals, they feel like backdrop they are so seamless. In one sequence I realized I'd been watching for several minutes before I realized that everyone was floating (it was a world without gravity) and the technical difficulty of such visuals hit me. It had just seemed so natural and normal! The same with the excellent performances of the cast, who ground everything and keep our reality in check. I loved this movie. Highly recommend if you have a brain and like trippy rides. You won't be disappointed.


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Movie: The Incredible Hulk

I did not like the Ang Lee movie and hoped this one would be better. The good news is that it's more fun and more like the comic book hero, but it's not a great movie -- not even a great comic book movie. The story is much more traditional and linear. The opening sequence tells the tale of David Banner's exposure to gamma radiation and we meet him hiding out in Brazil, searching for a cure for his "problem." Of course the government catch up with him, the Hulk makes his appearance, all hell breaks loose, and in the end, the Hulk saves everyone. Nothing too earth-shattering storywise, but decent enough and well-done. The special effects are pretty good (the Hulk transitions are excellent) and even the digital Hulk's acting is better than the Hulk on the TV show (Lou makes a fun cameo as a security guard). But the main villain of the story is a soldier who injects some Hulk DNA to turn himself into a Super-Hulk, and the two creatures have a climatic battle. Unfortunately, that's a lame idea, and battle feels anti-climatic because duh, we know who must win. In the end this is not a bad movie. It's fun and has some interesting moments, and I definitely liked it better than the previous version or the silly TV show. But just don't go in with high expectations.


Friday, November 19, 2004

The Incredibles

Movie: The Incredibles

This was very different from what I expected. I liked it a lot, though I wasn't sure until about half-way through. From the promos I was expecting a sort of parody of superheroes. It appeared to be about hapless former superheroes who were now overweight and out of shape or something. But to my surprise these superheroes were really super. What's happened is that lawsuits have made superheroes illegal, so Mr. Incredible and his superfamily have retired to normal mundane jobs and pine for the days when they used to save the world on a regular basis. They are forced to hide their superpowers and pretend to be regular folk, and that's where the humor comes in. Eventually, of course, the entire family must combine their powers to stop a supervillain. The plot's a little more routine than most Pixar films, but there is still heart in the story. The humor's dry and understated, rarely the laugh-out-loud variety, but there's plenty to smile about. Some of the lines are really funny but delivered so quickly and effortlessly that you don't realize it until moments later. Overall, I was very impressed. Pixar's done it again. While it's a very different movie from previous outings, it's another classic. Definitely one of the best of the year.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Incredibles

Movie: The Incredibles

I liked this even better the second time. The first time it seemed extremely long and overly complicated, but this time it was a fun adventure. There's tons of depth in this film, with new things becoming apparent each time you view it. Great.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Movie: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Though I'm a fan of the original films, I went into this not expecting much. It's a sequel and the trailers I'd seen looked dorky and silly, and the title's lame. But you know what? This is a terrific film! From the opening scene where the Paramount mountain logo fades into a gopher hole where a funny gopher pops up and looks around, you know you're in the hands of a master film-maker. Spielberg still has it, folks. So many nice subtle touches, from interesting camera angles to the editing and superb special effects (which don't overwhelm the story) give the film life and humor and make this a movie a celebration of the classic action/adventure (which is almost a forgotten genre today). For example, our first view of Indy is classy: we see his hat on the floor and see his arm reaching for it and we're expecting to see him place it on his head in typical Indy style. But instead of just showing that, Spielberg shows us Indy's shadow on a car door: we see Indy's classic profile in silhouette and it's like we're home again, twenty years later.

The plot of the film is chaotic and wild and over-the-top, just like the other Indy films, but it works perfectly. It's set a decade or so after the last film, so Indy is older, and this time the bad guys are Russians who are seeking a crystal skull which is purported to hold psychic power. They kidnap an old archeologist friend of Indy's and it's up to Indy to rescue him. Along the voyage we meet a rebellious kid on a motorcycle who turns out (of course) to be the son Indy didn't know he had, and we meet the boy's mother, too. The action is wild to the point of being absurd -- in one scene the boy swings on vines through the jungle like Tarzan -- but the whole thing is done with fun and verve and sheer childish delight that you don't mind such silliness at all. In fact, you root for it and cheer the ridiculousness. Only Harrison Ford as Indy remains gritty and real, with a touch of grumpy old man, to balance out the fun and keep us sober, and the experience is just wonderful. I haven't had so much fun at a movie in a long time. So many movies that promise fun deliver tedium or a sitcom laugh track. This one takes us back to a simpler time when good and evil were more clearcut and shows us a good old fashioned adventure. Two thumbs way up!


Friday, September 18, 2009

The Informant

Movie: The Informant

I want to like this, but I don't. It is good, but not great. The core problem is ingrained into the story: the main character is crazy. He's a pathological liar and mixes truth and lies so convincingly that we aren't sure which is which. Things that you think are lies turn out to be true and vice versa. That's utterly confusing, which is the whole point, of course, but it makes for unpleasant viewing. It's humorous and even touching, but the viewer is always at a distance. We cannot connect with the characters because we don't understand. (I would have loved to have the faithful wife featured more: their relationship was a mystery and by the end you cannot figure out why she's still with the guy.) The problem with all the lies is similar to the flaw of Duplicity: because we can't trust the character we aren't sure what's real and what's not. So I'm not even sure about the "facts" of the film because for all I know they were imaginary as well!

There are many great things about the film: the performances are excellent, above average, the script is well-done, the whistleblower story unusual, and the direction is playful and quirky. However, the pacing is slow, and the film has a strangeness that difficult to overcome (you're never sure if you should laugh, if the main guy is a genius or an idiot). Recommended if you like this kind of film (I'd love to have seen what the Coen brothers would have done with this story), but I suspect most people will be disappointed.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Movie: Inglourious Basterds
Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
Director(s): Quentin Tarantino

This movie was not what I expected. That is a good thing as it is better than it would have been. The basic story is simple enough: two groups of people plot to kill Hitler during WWII. But Tarantino does two unusual things that give this film it's unique voice and style. Both of these things seem in conflict with commercial success and other filmmakers wouldn't have been allowed to do them, but he's got clout. The first thing he does is that most of the film is not in English! About half the film is subtitled as the conversations are in French or German. This is not only realistic and historically more accurate, but gives the film an unusual air. The language barriers are even incorporated into the plot, as a British spy tries to pretend to be German and Jewish-Americans attempt to be Italian. In some scenes there's even a translator involved, which theoretically slows down the action even more as we get to hear every line twice. That relates to the second thing Tarantino does, which is to write long, scenes of dialog in which nothing happens. Most action films today are all about non-stop explosions and violence, but Quentin keeps you on the edge of your seat by not showing any violence! The opening chapter is so brilliantly simple: a German SS commander arrives at the home of a French citizen and chats with him and drinks milk and is so charming he's terrifying, and though this small-talk conversation goes on for a long time, every word is charged with explosives and you just know something awful is about to happen but you don't know why or when or how. The climax, when it comes, is suitably outrageously violent. The film repeats this technique throughout: practically telling us something bad is about to happen and then teasing us and making us wait for it. The effect is brilliant -- rather Hitchcockian -- in that the slightest thing in every scene is magnified. A sip of a coffee or a close-up of a dessert dish has your mind racing: Is it poisoned? Is the cup going to be shot out of his hand? Will a smiling face suddenly dissolved into sadness as blood trickles from the mouth after being mysteriously and unexpectedly killed? You don't know and the tension is marvelous. Tarantino makes this work via brilliant casting: Brad Pitt gets the headlines and he's okay but really a minor character. It is the work of the amazing Christoph Waltz as the evil Nazi Colonel and French actress Melanie Laurent as a Jew pretending to be French that really stand out. Scenes with them crackle and spark with mystery with every eye-blink holding the potential of a nuclear explosion. Everyone is good, but those two are standouts, and the result is that even in slow, seemingly meaningless scenes, the tension is unparalleled. The greatest compliment I can make about this film -- which is slow and long, with action only in a few quick, ultra-violent scenes -- is that though it is 2.5 hours long I never looked at my watch or wanted it to end. The ending is also excellent, and extremely satisfying (I was worried there for a while), and the most I can say about it without giving away details is that it is the right ending for this movie. Overall the film does not have a great deal of depth or philosophical message -- but Tarantino's films rarely do and survive, like this one, on style and the delivery of just the right sort of outrageous fun we want. Excellent. I wouldn't give it a perfect ten, but it's definitely a solid eight or nine.


Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Inner Sanctum

Book: The Inner Sanctum
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

What a bewildering mess! Take three ordinary thrillers, one legal, one financial, and one political and throw them in a blender. What comes out is this book. Be sure you don't rearrange the pages as you take them out of the blender, just use them in the order you find them. It will make as much sense as this concoction. Okay, it may not be quite that bad, but it's certainly not good. First, we are introduced to about 50 different characters over the course of 50 pages. Then, when you've completely lost track of who the first twenty or so were, we go back to them. Of course each scene is like two to four pages long, so it's not like there's much to work with. You literally don't have much of a clue what's happening until two-thirds of the way through the book. By that time the conspiracy is starting to take shape, but by then you don't really care. You're sick of all these people. The plot's about a giant conspiracy involving Senators, corporations, financial institution, and the little people who uncover the secret and are marked for death. Basically the book needs to be cut in half, simplify the plot considerably, and make the scenes longer and more interesting. Frey's usually better than this; this feels like he was trying to be ambitious and create an epic or something and instead we've got a fairly ordinary conspiracy that takes way, way too long to unravel. Skip it.


Wednesday, November 22, 2000

The Innovator's Dilemma

Book: The Innovator's Dilemma
Writer(s): Clayton M. Christensen

Immaculately researched business book exploring answers to the question of why successful well-managed business fail to adapt to innovative technology. The author primarily uses data from the disk drive industry, where, in just over three decades, hundreds of companies rose to power and were defeated by new companies employing the next wave of technology. Why did this happen, over and over again? For instance, all the makers of the 14" drives were killed by the 8" drive makers, and those were killed by the 5.25" manufacturers, and only a few of them survived to make 3.5" drives. Why?

Christensen discovers that lack of managerial or technical skill was not the problem: rather it was the ironic fact that the companies were well-managed that killed them! Let me explain. In successful companies, the entire company, from CEO to managers to the lowest manual laborer, instinctively know to operate in a manner that maximizes profit for the company. Everyone wants to work on projects that will bring in significant growth, so managers approve resources for projects that customers want. The problem is that innovative technologies, while simpler, cheaper, smaller, and more convenient, are initially of limited utility. Their initial markets are small. Being cheaper, they have smaller margins of profit. For example, the first 3.5" disk drives could only hold 10 megabytes while the top 5.25" drives held 100 MB. When successful drive makers went to their customers and said, "Do you want a 10MB drive?" the customers said, "No, we want a 250MB drive!" The smaller drives, while cheaper in total cost, were much more expensive on a cost-per-megabyte basis. The businesses buying storage wanted the cheapest cost-per-megabyte possible. So was there no market for the 3.5" drive? Of course there was! The problem was that the established companies could only look for a market within their existing market. New companies looked for any market, and quickly discovered an emerging market for laptop computers in which the smaller size of the 3.5" drives was an incredible asset and the higher cost per megabyte didn't matter. The bigger, established companies couldn't see the laptop market because it was too small for them to consider: for them a successful product sold hundreds of millions of dollars, not a few million. In a sense, this makes sense: emerging markets are not a huge source of profit, especially considering the lower margins on the cheaper products. But eventually, as the innovative technology improves, it pushes the older technology out of the market and takes over: no 5.25" drives are made today, for instance.

The way Christensen explains this process is to divide technology into two types: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology is an improvement that makes an existing product better. Disruptive technology is a simpler version of existing technology that isn't initially comparable in features, but has the advantage of being simpler and more efficient: in the long run it will take over. Initially it has its own market, but once features and specs improve to be competitive with its larger cousin, it takes over. For example, look at photocopiers: Xerox, long the leader in huge business-oriented monsters, completely missed out on the personal copier market. Obviously, this was good business: why would Xerox, who's business was tailored to huge customers buying extremely expensive machines want to bother with small sales to individuals? But of course we all know in retrospect that the personal copier market is much, much larger than the big copier market! (Xerox's mistake meant they came into the personal copier market very late, and thus they are not the leader.) Christensen shows statistical evidence to show that being first in sustaining technology isn't much of an advantage, but that being first in disruptive technology has tremendous advantages. In hundreds of cases, the makers of the older technology eventually shifted to the disruptive technology, but they were late and slow, and never regained the leadership position they originally had.

Fascinating, excellent, book, with lots of interesting stories and examples. My only criticism is that Christensen tends to repeat himself. For instance, in several places he points out that "successful" businesses are judged by their growth rate, not actual profit. The larger the company, the more new business must be generated. i.e. a $10 million company must earn only $2 million of new business to maintain a 20% growth rate, but the $100 million company needs $20 million and the $10 billion company needs $2 billion! Since there are no emerging markets of $2 billion, a huge company tends to avoid and thus miss emerging markets. This is an excellent point, but I can't figure out why Christensen needs to repeat it over and over, almost word for word, in different chapters. He does this with other key points as well, and while that might be helpful for busy business execs just browsing through a few key chapters, it makes the book awkward for the ordinary reader. I'd like to see Christensen write a much shorter version of the book suitable for a mass audience: the book's issues are important for anyone involved in society as they demonstrate how technology infiltrates our everyday lives. Fascinating and highly recommended.


Friday, March 31, 2006

Inside Man

Movie: Inside Man

Nice little bank job thriller with an unusual twist. I'm not sure the film works without that twist -- nothing much happens but the mystery of what is going on and once that's explained, there's not much left to watch -- but if you don't know what's going to happen it is interesting. Several of the characters are quite interesting and it's fun watching them fall or succeed. At times the music and edits are jarring -- for such a simple story, a simpler style would have been better. But overall it's not bad. It's paint-by-the-numbers, but the finished product still looks decent.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The insider

Movie: The insider
Director(s): Michael Mann

Interesting, though overly complex tale of a tobacco insider who turns whistle-blower. It's based on reality, and tells the story of a 60 Minutes producer who finds the insider and encourages him to blow the whistle. The producer soon finds his own network (CBS) is afraid to back him for fear of being sued by Big Tobacco and they leave the whistle-blower out on his own. Things are confusing as we watch the producer working on unrelated stories, and it's sometimes difficult to tell if the producer's the main character or the whistle-blower. The ending is also weak as we'd earlier watched the whistle-blower's life fall apart by pressure from the tobacco company (his wife left him) and that is never resolved. It's therefore implied that whistle-blowing will cost you everything you value, but of course, you must do it to be a good citizen. Overall an excellent film (good direction and performances), but a little convoluted and overlong.


Saturday, February 7, 2004

The Insider

Book: The Insider
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

A by-the-numbers financial thriller from Frey. We've got a young guy who jumps at the job of a lifetime with a $1 million guaranteed bonus. Unfortunately, he soon uncovers a conspiracy and figures out he's fall guy in an insider trading scandal. He's to take the blame for his boss' crimes. The scary part is this is being done by the U.S. government. So he turns the tables and blows the whole scheme and everything ends happily ever after. Hooray.


Tuesday, October 15, 2002


Movie: Insomnia (1997)

Excellent somber mystery about a Swedish cop sent in to Norway (where it's always daylight) to solve a murder. However, during a shootout the cop kills his partner and the only witness is the murderer, a novelist who the blackmails the cop into protecting him. Fascinating, creepy, and mysterious, never quite letting you know the cop's true movitations. Stellan Skarsgaard is amazing as the cop.


Sunday, November 17, 2002


Movie: Insomnia (2002)
Director(s): Christopher Nolan

Initially I liked this better than the original: this appeared to be a frame-by-frame remake, and there was a lot of subtly that I missed in the foreign version. However, there were some interesting differences. In the original, the cop shoots a dog dead in order to get a spent bullet he could use to frame the dead girl's boyfriend. In this version, however, he finds the dog already dead and shoots the dead body. But most disappointing, this version changes the ending dramatically. In the original, everything is left ambiguous: did the cop kill his partner on purpose? Here it's less convoluted and he dies at the end. It was good until that point.


Thursday, January 13, 2000

Inspector Gadget

Movie: Inspector Gadget (1999)
Writer(s): Andy Heyward (creator) and Jean Chalopin
Director(s): David Kellogg

If anyone would like this movie, it should be me, as I'm a huge fan of the cartoon. But while the movie felt like a cartoon, it didn't feel like an Inspector Gadget cartoon. What made the original great was that Gadget never realized it when his gadgets saved him or injured the bad guys -- he just kept going along in his own little world, accidentally setting off gadgets and saving the world. Like Inspector Cloussou, Gadget was always the irrepressible optimist and that made him likable, even if he was a terrible detective. The movie has some impressive special effects (though one aerial sequence has some horribly amateurish green screen work) and it's ultimately harmless. I was also impressed that the movie didn't include a lot of the vulgar, adult-oriented humor that seems to pervade most kid-oriented movies of recent days (Austin Powers and Wild Wild West come to mind).


Friday, May 19, 2000


Movie: Instinct

Slow, surprisingly boring, and ultimately unsatisfying. Pop psych hokum dialog. Not worth the rental.


Thursday, January 30, 2003


Movie: Intacto

Strange but fascinating film about the "gift" of luck. Apparently some people have it, and others want it. If you have the gift you can "steal" luck from others by touching them. This is the story of the intertwined lives of several lucky people who gamble. There's the casino owner and concentration camp survivor who's the luckiest of them all; a policewoman who survived a deadly car crash that killed her husband and child; and a thief who is the only survivor of an airplane crash. The film is strange: for a long time you aren't sure what's going on, but stay with it: everything is explained. For example, I didn't know what the pictures of people meant until I later I realized they represented the luck of that person. The picture was a symbol of that person's luck (somewhat analogous to the concept of a photo capturing your soul). The bizarre bets the characters make to trade photos are trading the cumulative luck of groups of people. Of course those whose luck has been stolen are in for bad luck: they are jinxed. The film's climax is terrific with an excellent ending. The performances are excellent (the policewoman is amazing), and some of the images created are startling. If you like quirky films, check this one out.


Friday, February 13, 2009

The International

Movie: The International

I was looking forward to this one: a great cast, an intriguing topical premise (a major international bank involved with shady dealings), and a good director. Unfortunately, I wasn't that enthused after I saw it. It wasn't bad. The cinematography is excellent, with gorgeous architecture from around the world show in exquisite detail. The acting is okay, but the actors weren't given much to do. And while the premise of the story is good, the characters aren't fleshed out so we don't much care what happens to them. The film is also uneven in pacing and action, at times playing out like a top-notch thriller, then going into long stretches of talking, and then going into a crazy gun battle that goes on forever. It's a bit bizarre. It even devolves into a strange philosophical discussion on the nature of evil and crime and how to stop people when our whole justice system is designed for their existence. Normally that might have been perceived as a positive to me, but in a different film. It just didn't fit here, and the producers didn't do anything with it. Ultimately this is just okay. I liked certain aspects but was disappointed by enough others that in the end, I just didn't care for it. It's too bad.


Wednesday, March 7, 2001

International Friendly: Argentina at Italy

Soccer: International Friendly: Argentina at Italy

This was a great game until I realized I'd only recorded the first half. I'd forgotten I'd told my satellite dish to switch to a movie that I thought I might be interested in, and so it switched away from the game and recorded only part of the movie. Brilliant. I did get to see Fiore score for Italy 26 minutes in, and then Gonzalez tied it up for Argentina ten minutes later. For all I know that's the way it ended. I'll have to check on the 'net for the final score.


Saturday, March 3, 2001

International Friendly: Brazil vs U.S.A.

Soccer: International Friendly: Brazil vs U.S.A.

Excellent game which aired on ABC Saturday afternoon. After their fantastic win on Wednesday, the U.S. team was pumped up, but come on, this is against Brazil, the best team in the world. Worse, most of our top players were heading back to their club teams in Europe and were unavailable. The U.S. barely had enough players to fill the field. The youngsters played well, though mistakes were made. The biggest was a pointless foul by Richie Williams to give up a free kick at the edge of the penalty box a half hour into the game. That gave Brazil a good chance and they took it, with Ronaldinho putting in a curling shot that cleared the wall and beat Tony Meola for the first goal of the game. I thought Meola should have done better on the free kick, but he looked very sharp the rest of the game. But the U.S. came back with a terrific goal by Clint Mathis, one of the heros of Wednesday's game. He ran down the right wing and instead of putting in a cross, saw that the keeper was guarding the near post and put in a shot to the far post. It was perfect, bypassing the keeper and grazing the post to go into the goal. Awesome! Scoring against Brazil is a career-making event and Mathis deserves notice. In the second half Brazil played much better and the U.S. players became tired. Brazil really should have had two or three more goals, but they did get one to go ahead and win the game. A great run by Silvinho up the left side allowed him to get behind the U.S. back line and put in a cross, which Euller ran onto just a step from the goalline for a simple finish. Brazil deservedly won, but the U.S. did themselves proud. Just scoring against Brazil is enough to widen the eyes of many who question the United States' soccer skill. Final: 2-1 Brazil.


Monday, October 30, 2000

International Friendly: U.S.A. vs. Mexico

Soccer: International Friendly: U.S.A. vs. Mexico

This game was on live last week on pay-per-view, but Fox Sports World aired it tonight for free. Nearly 60,000 at the L.A. Coliseum showed up, most cheering for Mexico. Terrific match, full of youngsters getting their chance on the full national team. Just like at the Olympics, it was Josh Wolff and Landon Donovan who stepped up when it mattered most. Defense held solid, with Mexico hardly getting a quality shot the entire game. In the second half Donovan started the play with a pass out to Mathis who led away several defenders and then passed it back. Donovan broke toward goal, dribbled around the keeper, and slotted the ball home. Wolff's goal late in the half was similar, taking a nice pass from Donovan and sliding the ball under the keeper to bounce it off the near post. For Donovan, he couldn't have had a better International debut! Things are looking good the United States and that critical game against Barbados in World Cup qualifying. Final: 2-0 U.S.!


Saturday, June 2, 2007

International Friendly: USA vs China

Soccer: International Friendly: USA vs China

Fun trip south to see the USA take on China. A bit disappointed that more U.S. star players weren't on hand, but the game itself was a nice 4-1 victory and there was a great raccuous atmosphere. I got to meet a listener of my soccer podcast, which was cool, and after the game we went to a SSV party and got the news that it sounds like the Earthquakes will be back in the Bay Area as early as next year! An official announcement should be made within the month.


Saturday, February 3, 2001

International Friendly: USA vs. Columbia

Soccer: International Friendly: USA vs. Columbia

In this warm up for World Cup qualifying later this month, the U.S. did well. Not great, but decent. We fielded mostly MLS kids, as our international stars are busy in leagues overseas, and there was some impressive play. The U.S. dominated for the first 15 minutes of each half, but slowed down after that, allowing Columbia time to get comfortable. In particular, we took very few long shots (or shots at all), a criticism I've often made of the U.S. We need forwards who aren't afraid to shoot. We've got a few players who don't mind shooting, like Cobi Jones and Clint Mathis, but neither play forward. Some of the younger players, like Josh Wolff, will take shots, but their experience is limited and they tend to miss. That just means they should shoot twice as often! Anyway, in this game Columbia didn't play as strongly as I expected, though there were some excellent players. They beat us on the counter, scoring mid-way through the second half, and defended heavily after that. It was a good experience for the U.S. players. They need to feel the desperation and frustration of losing against a quality opponent. Next up is USA vs. Mexico in a critical World Cup Qualifier on Feb. 28 (airing on ESPN2). Final: 1-0 Columbia.


Thursday, June 7, 2001

International Friendly: USA vs. Ecuador

Soccer: International Friendly: USA vs. Ecuador

An okay game, but neither team could score. The U.S. has a real problem playing without injured Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis. Final: 0-0.


Saturday, March 3, 2001

International: France vs. Germany

Soccer: International: France vs. Germany

Cool game. I just happened to catch upon this on Telemundo (a Spanish station) while channel surfing. France won on a great goal by Zidane, who took a through-pass and finished with such calm it was almost ridiculous. The guy scores and it's like, "Okay, that was fun. What's next?" Germany really struggled in the first half, but played much better in the second (including a terrific volley right on goal by Scholl that was saved by French keeper Bartez). But still, Germany's just not the soccer powerhouse they once were. Their big stars are retired and they don't have new ones to replace them. It will be interesting to see how they progress in the future. Final: 1-0 France.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Interpreter

Movie: The Interpreter

Nicole Kidman plays a U.N. interpreter who accidentally overhears a plot, in an African tongue she understands, to kill a controversial African leader, and then becomes a target herself. Nicely done by her and I was really impressed by Sean Penn as the Secret Service agent assigned to investigate/protect her. Things get a bit convoluted and probably go on too long, but it wraps up nicely and is a decent conclusion. Pretty good, overall. I liked it.


Friday, August 6, 2004

Interstate 60

Movie: Interstate 60 (2002)
Writer(s): Bob Gale
Director(s): Bob Gale

I don't know what I expected with this film, but I certainly got more than I bargained for. It's an amazing movie. It reminded me a lot of The Princess Bride -- not for the setting or plot, but in tone. That's a film with a seemingly straightforward story suddenly veers out of line and goes off on wild, surreal tangents, just like this one. The "plot" is about a young man trying to find himself. He's 22 and his attorney father is pressuring him to go to law school, but he's not sure what he wants to do with his life. When his birthday wish is granted, he ends up on Interstate 60 -- a highway that doesn't exist. Along this road he meets fascinating characters and visits strange towns. There's a town where drugs are legal and another where everyone is a lawyer and lawsuits are as common as breathing (as a matter of fact, breathing will probably get you sued for using someone else's air). This is bizarre, quirky, and magically brilliant. There's humor, drama, and deep thought. It's the kind of film you could watch multiple times and see new things each time. The cast is fantastic, with short pieces involving Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Kurt Russell, Ann-Margret, and more. The main characters of James Marsden and Gary Oldman are excellent. One of my favorite scenes involves the awesome Chris Cooper, who plays a terminally ill man determined to stop all dishonesty. When he sees a homeless guy with a "will work for food" sign, he tries to trade an apple for a windshield cleaning, but the bum doesn't actually want food, of course. He just wants a handout. The resulting clash is hilarious! Another great scene is in a diner when a guy with a bottomless stomach appears. He eats enough for ten people and is still hungry. It turns out that he was also granted a wish many years earlier, a wish to be able to eat as much as he wanted, and now he has to eat unbelievable amounts of food but stays hungry. The moral, of course, being that you should be careful what you wish for. (Really that's a theme of the whole film.) Now I don't want to give the impression that this is like the greatest movie ever, but it's charming, surprisingly deep and complex, has a lot of humor, great performances, and a number of classic plot twists that are just awesome. It's a little long at two hours and it's uneven in a few places, but once you get started, it will hook you in and you can't stop watching (it gets better as it goes along). You just have to see what weirder thing is coming next. Excellent.


Thursday, September 2, 2004

Intimate Strangers

Movie: Intimate Strangers

This wasn't as wicked as I hoped. The concept sounded amazing: a woman mistakes a tax attorney for her new psychiatrist (she goes into the wrong office and he assumes she's a tax client) and spills her guts to him. By the time he realizes the mistake, he's in over his head. Should he tell her? How will she react? She wants a regular session and he agrees, unsure what else to do.

Unfortunately, the scam is uncovered right away. I had figured the fake psychiatrist thing would go on for a long time, building suspense as the woman reveals more and more intimate information. Thus the film goes from being about complex mind games to being a long therapy session. In that regard it's still interesting -- the woman is mysterious and doesn't reveal everything all at once and we're not sure how much of what she says is factual -- but it is talky and slow. Talky would have been fine if there was the undercurrent of the fake psychiatrist thing behind everything, but without that it's really just eavesdropping on a woman and her therapist.

There is the intriguing question of why the woman continues to have therapy sessions with the man even though she knows he's not a doctor. And of course the man is obviously falling in love with the girl. Those things make the film interesting, but it never quite lives up to its potential. I did like the ending, in which we find that the therapy has helped each of them heal. Good but not great.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Into the Blue

Movie: Into the Blue

I assumed this was a silly bikini-fest treasuring hunting movie set in Jamaica or somewhere and I was right; but I was suprised it was as decent as it was. There actually is a slight plot, and even a couple faint efforts at characterization. Paul Walker is his usually wooden self, and Jessica Alba just has to look gorgeous but she brings a spunkiness to the role that really drives the film. Overall it is just drivel but I've definitely seen worse, much worse.


Friday, October 10, 2003

Intolerable Cruelty

Movie: Intolerable Cruelty

Easily one of the wittiest films of the year, with several scenes of high-speed dialog that's just hilarious. The plot and characters are great as well. George Clooney's finally in a decent film, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is just amazing. He's a divorce lawyer and she's a man-hunter out to scam millions in a settlement, but when he falls in love with her, is she going to scam him? Terrific fun with tons of wicked barbs at divorce, and a happy resolution. Excellent.


Friday, August 17, 2007


Movie: Invasion

While the idea -- alien infection taking over the population -- is trite, this is fairly well done, and even occasionally chilling. But most of the time it's predictable and the ending feels too War of Worldsish (in other words, a let down). It also can't make up its mind if it's a psychological thriller or an action film, dabbling in both ineffectively.


Monday, October 5, 2009

The Invention of Lying

Movie: The Invention of Lying

This is a film with a gimmicky premise -- only one guy in the whole world knows how to lie so everyone believes everything he says no matter how outrageous -- but it's done in such a heartfelt manner, with genuine emotions, that it doesn't feel gimmicky. The film's not a ha-ha laugh-track type comedy; it's more just amusing. It's very pleasant and mild and well-done. The only flaw is that I would have liked more social commentary: the film never judges whether lying is bad or total truth is good, even though some kind of moral seems like an obvious conclusion, but the romantic relationship in the film adds some depth and genuine emotion. Otherwise it's just a pleasant and fun movie.


Thursday, January 7, 2010


Movie: Invictus
Director(s): Clint Eastwood

For weeks I've been trying to decide if I should see this film. A part of me was interested: it's set in Africa and the historical aspects sounded intriguing. But it's also a sports film about rugby, which didn't interest me much, and the whole "uniting the country through sport" aspect sounded trite and predictable. While the reviews were positive, I didn't read anything that inspired me to go see the film. But today was the last day the film was showing at my local theatre, so I forced myself to go. Am I glad I did! It is an amazing film. Yes, like most sports films it is predictable. But that doesn't matter because that's only a small part of the movie. The first remarkable thing I found was not explained in the trailer and should have been. It's shown in the first few seconds of the film: rich white boys playing rugby on grass on one side of a road with the camera panning to the other side to see poor black kids playing soccer in the dirt. That is clearly the divide in the country. The whites play rugby, the blacks soccer. Thus "uniting the country" through sport is not the trivial task it seems. It is utterly remarkable, an astonishing achievement.

Thus the first two-thirds of the film is all about the politics of Nelson Mandela being released from prison, being elected president of the country, and his unusual ways of governing that transform and unite the country. He early on spots the importance of sport: for the whites, rugby is pride in their country. For the blacks, rugby represents everything they hate about white oppression. Their instinct, upon gaining power, is to repress it and forbid it, but Mandela uses his considerable charm and persuades the blacks to support their country. The result is the whites coming to respect him, while the blacks learn to grudgingly support the whites and even love the sport of rugby. The final third of the film is the actual rugby tournament which is shot as a traditional sports film: the South African team is painted as the lowly underdog which must somehow defeat the undefeatable. We have slow-motion rugby scrums and tackles, dramatic field goals, and whatever else happens in rugby. (The rules are not explained and could have been clarified but you get the gist of what's going on.) While this portion of the film is definitely the weakest of the story (especially if you're not a rugby fan), the drama is heightened because the film has built the fate of an entire country upon the results of the matches, and I found myself enthralled. What makes this film work so well is Eastwood's brilliant direction where he brings us wonderful human moments. The scene with the white and black presidential bodyguards who initially disliked each other, playing rugby on the grass during a break, was wonderful. The scene where the rugby captain brings home tickets to the big match to his family, was so precious because he brought an extra ticket for the family's black maid, and her surprised and grateful smile that she should be included in this historic moment makes you want to stand up and cheer. Best of all is the way Eastwood intercuts scenes of the critical rugby matches with human moments. One of my favorites is a terrific sequence, probably only thirty seconds long in total, but shown in eight-second increments and spread over five minutes of rugby footage. There's no dialogue, but we totally see what's happening. There's a parked taxi with a white driver and a white friend listening to the match on the radio. A small black boy nearby with wash rags is hanging out, his head tilted to hear the game. He inches closer and his longing to hear better is clear. In the first scene, one of the white guys scolds the boy rudely as though he's an undesirable insect and sends him away. In the next cut, he's closer, and as the rugby match is in a dramatic moment, the white guys are too excited to pay attention to the boy. Then the boy's on the bumper of the taxi, his face alight with joy at the game. In the next scene, he's cheering and dancing with the men, all animosity forgotten. It's beautiful, the entire movie told in a few seconds.

Go see this movie.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Invisible Prey

Book: Invisible Prey
Writer(s): John Sandford

Strange, rather pointless novel. It's got a one-shot premise about "invisible" robberies where someone is killing elderly people while robbing them of selected expensive antiques so subtly that no one notices the thefts. But our "hero" cop gets involved and figures things out and tracks the criminals down. What's weird is the lack of characterization -- I suspect these are characters the author has used in previous novels and that's why they aren't explained, but I found it jarring and odd. The novel also has a tasteless quality to it: ruthless murders happen almost at random and are described with such dispassion it feels dirty. The ending is equally strange: it's a decent resolution, but bloody and violent in a way that feels unexpected and wrong. Basically, it's just a poor novel all the way around.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

iPad Day

I pre-ordered my iPad weeks ago so I would be certain to have it today. At the time of ordering there was a warning about Saturday delivery not being available in all areas. I had been worried about that since I'm in a somewhat rural location, and I had been considering reserving an iPad at my local Apple store instead, but I didn't see that option on the website. But my order claimed April 3 delivery, so I decided to do that. Surely Apple would know the importance of on-time delivery to early adopters like me!

Unfortunately, this week I received notification that my iPad had shipped from China but that it would not arrive until Monday. I called Apple, but of course it was too late to do anything. I kept watching the UPS tracking info as my package went to Alaska and then Kentucky and finally to Portland, Oregon this morning. By eight a.m. it had reached the distribution center in Tualatin, but when I called UPS they told me that I wouldn't be receiving it and that the center was closed and I couldn't pick it up there. I tried that, since it was on the way to the Apple Store, but no go. There was only a security guard and no one to find my package. So I went on to the Apple Store and waited in line. Someone said that the initial shipment of 200 iPads was sold out, but another had just come in. At about 10:30 (90 minutes of waiting), I got my iPad. I drove home and just outside my town, I spotted a UPS truck.

"If he's this close to my house, why couldn't he stop by with my iPad?" I thought. When we reached my street, he turned and I followed, my jaw dropping. "No way," I'm thinking. Sure enough, he pulls into my driveway! I pull up beside him and hop out. It's my iPad, of course. Now I have two!

First Impressions
Physically, this thing is gorgeous. There is nothing cheap or cut-rate about it. The screen is amazing. Everything just gleams. The size and weight is perfect: heavy enough to feel solid and yet not too heavy. It's about the size and thickness of a magazine but with the weight of a hardback book. Not bad for holding even for long periods, though most likely you'll rest it on your lap or other places.

Setup was somewhat of a problem in a few minor ways. First, it was slow to copy over all my iPhone apps, photos, music, and other data. I blame that on slow USB. another annoyance was that it did not copy over the password to my home WiFi network, so I had to enter that manually before I could connect to the Internet. Another issue was that my email accounts didn't sync -- but that's because I don't have them activated on the desktop Mac I use for syncing (emails are on my laptop). I had to put in the setup details on the iPad myself, which was a minor delay. Once I'd done that, my emails showed up just like on my iPhone.

Another problem was that my iPhone apps did not move to the same position on the iPad, but alphabetical or random order. It took me a good hour to arrange all my apps in their proper locations (I did this in iTunes while it was copying everything to the iPad, so it wasn't too bad, but with 7 screens of apps this wasn't fun).

The virtual keyboard on the iPad will take time to learn. I am proficient on the iPhone, but some of the keys have been moved on iPad. The worst is the second Shift key on the right side, where the backspace key is on the iPhone.  I keep hitting that for delete, which doesn't work at all. As of yet, I don't use two hands in normal typing position on the iPad: the two-finger approach seems more comfortable at the moment, though I am making more mistakes than on iPhone and the auto-correction, which works well iPhone, doesn't seem to be as effective on iPad. I am writing this entire article on iPad (I'm using Pages), so perhaps with practice I'll get better.

My impression is that the virtual keyboard is great for small amounts of text and emails, but for a term paper or novel, get a physical keyboard. That doesn't surprise me. What does, is that I had dismissed the idea of needing an external Bluetooth keyboard as unnecessary, since I already have a laptop to use for "real" work, but this iPad is such a joy to use I am now -- just hours after my first use -- seriously considering using it for more work tasks. It is so small and lightweight and convenient, I wonder if I'll start resenting my beloved laptop!

Someone asked me if this feels like a bigger iPhone or a real computer, and it's definitely the latter. This might be based on a phone OS, but the bigger screen makes all the difference. Apps are larger with more vivid pictures and controls, more information is displayed, and you can accomplish more with them.

What shocks me is that after using iPad for just a few minutes, returning to the iPhone feels bizarre. The iPhone now seems like something absurdly miniature. I used to think it was a great size, but suddenly it is tiny!

What makes the iPad great, of course, are the apps that transform the slab of glass into just about anything you can imagine, from a television to a musical instrument. Almost all iPhone apps work just fine, though they don't fill the entire iPad screen without jagged edges on graphics. Apps rewritten for iPad really shine, however, and they show off the core difference between iPhone and iPad.  iPad apps seem to be so much more powerful and easier to use. Stuff that takes several screens on iPhone are just one on iPad, so you can accomplish tasks in less steps.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many apps specific to iPad are already available. Several of my favorites, like Words With Friends and IMDB, are ready and work beautifully. They take advantage of the larger space and are not simply enlarged.

There are also some brand new apps. I have yet to try a full-screen action game, but I did get the new Netflix app which lets you stream your Netflix movies right to your iPad! It is amazing. The quality of the picture is excellent, and the interface for finding movies, checking your instant queue, and even controlling movies is extremely well done. I can imagine myself actually using this app.

A similar app is ABC's video player which lets you browse through the video content on abc.com and watch it for free (there are commercials embedded). The video quality wasn't great, but just being able to catch shows you missed makes this one valuable.

I am writing this within Apple's $10 Pages app, which is remarkably powerful and similar to the Mac version. It's a real word processor with page layout capabilities, stylesheets, templates, spelling checking, and more. It has nice features like the ability to look up the selected word in a dictionary and show you the full definition. The look of the page as you write is impressive: it's fully WYSIWYG, and it's fast and responsive. Color me impressed!

There are also the native apps, such as Mail, Safari, Calendar, Contacts, etc., which have all been rewritten to take advantage of the iPad's bigger screen. In landscape view Mail shows you a list of emails in your inbox with the current message fully displayed on the right. Calendar looks like a traditional datebook and is gorgeous. But Safari is a killer app for this device: with its fast processor, web pages appear almost instantly, and zooming is magical it is so fast. It makes this the best web device in the world, better than any desktop. You actually touch the web and it's so intuitive and natural, everything other computer and browser feels clunky and old-fashioned.

Another killer app is book reading. An avid reader, I have been dreaming of something like this all my life. Apple's free iBooks app makes reading feel so close to a real book you can practically smell the paper. The pages turn with your finger, and they turn with real world lighting and physics. But that pretty stuff is useless if the books aren't readable, and I must say books are a joy to read in this format. It's too early for me to have read much, but considering I have read several books on my tiny iPhone screen, I feel safe in predicting that I will read a lot more on the iPad.

The Bottom Line
Despite the jokes, the supposed limitations (like not supporting Adobe's horrible Flash content), the iPad is going to change everything. Apple has not just hit a home run, they've knocked the ball out of the park and into the next county! This is an extremely well-thoughtout device. Out of the box it does tons of useful stuff right away, and it does them better than any other device, but the future's in fantastic apps that will be written that will turn this thing into just about anything. This thing will be used in kitchens and living rooms, by photographers and muscians, by executives, travelers, by doctors and hospitals, and so many fields. It's a blank slate.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad: First Thoughts

Unless you're dead, you know that Apple announced their perspective on tablet computing today with their iPad. This was much anticipated with rumors swirling for months, and the result has been greeted with either awe, disappointment, or disdain, depending on what the person was expecting.

Here's the thing about Apple. They do not do what people want or expect. While some might see that as a bad thing, it seems to work for them. People wanted something revolutionary. They wanted a $2,000 laptop in a touch tablet for $299 with a magical interface. Instead, Apple gave them a giant iPod touch for $500. Many yawned and said, "What's that good for?" Those people are still stuck in traditional thinking. They are thinking in traditional product categories (i.e. cell phone, media player, netbook, laptop, desktop). What Apple has done is create a whole new category of device.

You could see the iPad as a media player or ebook, but that's limiting its purpose. It's more of a computer than that, allowing you to work on spreadsheets, presentations, word processing, and other computing tasks. But it's not quite the same kind of a computer as a netbook or laptop. Traditional computers are complicated devices. What Apple has done with iPad is create the first real computing appliance. Think of it like a toaster or fridge or multi-functional kitchen tool. Like those, it just needs to work without fuss or maintenance. No cryptic commands or software to install or viruses to worry about. It needs to be simple and clean, super easy to use, and fun. Traditional laptops and netbooks are such heavy maintenance they are only fun for geeks. It's like the difference between being a car mechanic and a driver.

The real dilemma for a tablet like this is defining the market. Who is this for? Tablets have been done, but done poorly. Most take a desktop OS (like Windows) and add touch or stylus capability. The result is a kludge. It's not any easier to use, it's still expensive, and the awkward form factor means it's not good as a traditional laptop either. It's the old "jack of all trades, master of none" problem.

Apple has chosen to address this in a few key ways. First, they focused on price. Price is critical for a product like this. Too low and it's not economically worth making. Too high and it competes with laptops and no one will buy it. I believe Apple could have released this a year ago, but held off until they could get the price point just right. $500 is an excellent price. They aren't giving it away, and certainly not everyone can afford this, but it fits in well in between the $200 touch and the $999 MacBook.

Second, they focused on what a tablet-form computer does well. It's light, portable, and handy. It's quick on and off, and the large screen is ideal for things like browsing the web, reading books, and watching video. It makes an incredible calendar and digital photo frame. They did not try and hamper this with a physical keyboard. They did not kludge on a traditional laptop operating system. They did not try to make this do everything. They kept it simple, so that the functions it does, it does extraordinarily well, even better than a laptop. (Reading a web page with this is an order of magnitude better than any laptop and even a desktop with a large screen simply because of the elegant touch interface.) It's full of nice touches: hand an iPad to a colleague and the display reorients itself to be right-side-up for that person. There's no wrong way to hold the thing: use it in whatever way feels right to you. It's visually designed so everything looks gorgeous. (That may not seem important, but it's part of what makes a device like this a joy to use.)

Third, they have leveraged the existing iPhone/touch platform, by making this run all those 140,000+ apps, plus new ones written for the larger iPad screen. That's a huge existing infrastructure. No one else who has tried a tablet has had a platform like that to build upon. This is already Internet-savy with all the social media apps it needs. (Imagine checking Twitter or Facebook on this thing while watching TV: similar to doing it on an iPhone, but the bigger screen makes it even easier.) And don't forget the games: iPhone games -- and eventually iPad games -- will rock on the larger display.

Finally, Apple hasn't forgotten productivity. If this tablet was merely a media consumption device (i.e. a media player), it wouldn't be nearly as significant. It would be nice, though perhaps expensive. But Apple has completely rewritten their iWork suite for the iPad. That means full word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software. This not only signifies that this is a "real" laptop capable of getting work done, but Apple has set an example of how such software can function on the device. All those thousands of iPhone app developers are now working frantically on rewriting their apps to take advantage of the iPad's larger screen and faster processor.

The result is a simple and elegant device. It feels like it's no more complicated than a magazine. But the full color touch screen means you can interact with what you see. You move pictures around with your fingertip. You tap an email to open it. Touch a video to play it or pause it. It's natural, intuitive, and effortless. That makes it fun.

This isn't a traditional laptop. It really is just a big iPhone, but the larger screen size changes the paradigm far more than you'd think. Being able to see more at once gives you more power. Applications can be more complicated. Ebooks can be read at full size. Magazines can contain audio and video. This is the future we saw on Star Trek decades ago made real.

How useful will an iPad be? That depends on your lifestyle. If you don't have a computer at all, it's useless. (Apple products require a computer as a base to sync information.) If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, you'll want this, but you may not need it. If, on the other hand, you have neither, or have been considering a touch, an iPad might just be the ticket. It can do many of the functions of a traditional laptop (not everything, but many). It can do just about everything you can do on an iPhone or iPod touch, but easier, since the bigger screen makes you more productive and efficient.

In my case, I had been considering a touch even though I have an iPhone. I use my iPhone constantly. A touch would give me additional storage, allow me a second device to read in bed, play games with without running down my iPhone's battery, etc. It didn't make a lot sense since the form factors are the same, but I was still tempted. Now I'm seriously thinking that an iPad makes more sense. It's that thing in-between a laptop and a phone. It's perfect for a guest computer (visitors could easily check their email, flight schedule, etc.) or for surfing the web while you watch TV. I can imagine using the case to prop it up in the kitchen while I follow the directions to a recipe on the screen (and even watch an embedded video demonstrating the cooking technique I'm trying to do). With something like Slingbox running on it, it's a portable TV! Or how about this: instead of buying those expensive DVD systems for your car, why not get a couple of these for the kids? You can store movies and TV shows and music and games on them, good for infinite hours of entertainment. They'd cost less than an in-car system and can be used anywhere, not just while driving. (Kids could do homework on them, too.)

In short, no one knows what this is for. The apps haven't been written yet. No, it's probably not essential (everything really essential in our lives has already been invented -- if it hasn't, we'd be dead). But I think the way the iPad works will be so wonderful, so natural and beautiful, that everyone will want one. And the reasonable price means that many people can afford one. (Why buy one $1500 laptop when you could get three iPads for the whole family?)

I picture these as being awesome for schools (goodbye physical textbooks), terrific for executives who don't need a "full" laptop, elderly people befuddled by technology or with poor eyesight (just make the book font larger), frequent travelers who find traditional laptops too heavy and overkill most of the time, presentation makers, doctors or consultants or salespeople (pretty much any person who needs lots of info at their fingertips and doesn't want to fuss with a clumsy laptop), and probably a few dozen other categories of people I've left out. The iPad isn't for everyone and that's fine. It doesn't need to be. But many will adopt it, I am sure. The iPad's going to be huge. It could even be bigger than the iPhone: more people want a cell phone than a pad, but there's a lot more competition in the cell phone area. Nothing really competes with the iPad (netbooks are the closest thing, but far inferior on specs and usability). Apple can own this market since they created it.

Sure, there are things Apple has left out. There's no camera, an odd omission, but no doubt due to cost cutting to reach the magical $500 price point. Apple will probably add that in a future model as manufacturing prices come down. Some are critical that it doesn't support Flash, but I never expected it do so (Apple does not like to support other company's proprietary standards and really would like Flash banned from the Internet and I full support them as I abhor Flash). Apple also does not support add-on memory cards, a removable battery, or apps not installed via the App Store. Those things were a given, and people who expected something else were deceiving themselves. Some are critical of the virtual keyboard, but people were worried about that before the iPhone and now many prefer it. (I personally feel that a software keyboard is fine for limited use, which is all most people would use this device for. If you really want to type, you'll use an external keyboard.) There are some dumb jokes about the name, iPad, but it really does make sense when Apple has the iPod. It's not my favorite name, but it's growing on me. (I wasn't a giant fan of the name "iPod" in the beginning, either.) As for most other criticisms, don't forget that this is just the 1.0 version of the device. In a few years this will be even better and sell for $200!

My only criticism is that I had hoped Apple would create an ecosystem for digital magazines. I had hoped there would be a new digital magazine format and a store for selling them, so that I could sell my magazine that way. Unfortunately, while Apple announced a book store, it appears that magazines aren't a part that (it's looking like only the big publishers can put their stuff on the store, though hopefully that's just temporary). Magazines can still be created as individual applications and sold via the App Store, but that's a lot more work than just distributing content. Because Apple hasn't created their own system, the magazine market will end up fractured, with everyone doing their own thing: not as good as the more unified book market. Still, this is a minor quibble, and just because nothing was announced today doesn't mean it will never happen. If this tablet takes off and magazine publishers find it lucrative, it could spark a whole new industry. I can't wait!

But I must. The iPad doesn't ship for 60 days!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad: Second Thoughts

I've been reading nothing but iPad comments and news for the last two days and I see one clear trend: people into technology, the geeks and computer people, aren't too excited.

Why? Because they don't see a need for this product. They already have laptops, netbooks, cell phones, and other gadgets. They aren't intimidated by complex technology. Some even like it. Plus, all of them have been thinking about the "Apple Tablet" for months, dreaming of what they would want in a tablet. Instead, Apple has gone and produced something unique that doesn't fit in any existing category, and these tech people are bewildered and underwhelmed. They see all the "missing features" and think that's a mistake.

But that's the whole point: Apple is about reducing complexity. The key is that these idiots are not the target market! That's right: Apple did not create the iPad for them! The iPad was created for the non-tech person. It really is the ultimate "computer for the rest of us."

My grandfather, for instance, would have loved an iPad. He knew nothing of computers and always struggled with them. But he knew how to touch things. Babies know how to touch things. He knew how to read. He would have loved to do email and keep in touch with people, but a computer was far too complicated for him. An iPad would have been ideal. It has the form factor of a magazine, which he knew and understood. Email would have been dreadfully simple for him. No, he wouldn't use it to write a novel or do real work: he'd use it to read articles, books, emails, watch TV. Sure he could that with an iPod touch: but a touch is too small. That's why many people haven't gotten one. It's not the price. They look at the iPod touch and think, "Why would I want that? I've got a big screen Mac in the other room to read email on!"

But an iPad should appeal to everyone. Imagine being on the sofa watching TV. The iPad is lying on the coffee table. A commercial comes on TV or you're not really into the show. You pick it up and it turns on. You casually flick through emails, perhaps fire off a quick response or two. You check the CNN website, maybe browse a few other sites. The interface for web surfing is amazing, so natural: you hold the thing like a magazine and flip through content the way you flip through magazine pages. Maybe you open an ebook and read. Maybe your show is on and you hand the thing to your spouse who works on the latest NYT crossword puzzle on it or plays a game. Maybe it's so easy and convenient and handy that everyone in the family starts to use it for the occasional email. Most don't want to bother with the big, complicated, fixed-location computer in the other room, but this handy tablet can be read anywhere in the house. Read the news while eating breakfast. The thing is a gorgeous calendar for scheduling all those doctor appointments and church commitments. The thing makes a beautiful animated picture frame, wonderful for showing a slideshow of the great-grandkids. It'll even act as a weather station, showing you the weather coming for the next week!

Do you know how many people in the world are in that situation? Millions! Everyone complains about their computers being a hassle. I know many who respond slowly to emails (i.e. days). Why? Because it's a hassle. You do it when you have to, not when it's convenient. How many times a day do you think of a website you should visit (i.e. while you're watching TV and you see an ad or mention of an interesting site on the news) but you never do because it's too much of a pain to go to your office and fire up the computer and web browser and find the site. With an iPad, you've got the Internet right there in your hand, anywhere in your house!

Just like with iPhone before it was released, all the anti-Apple and supposed tech experts are predicting doom and gloom. iPhone doesn't have a real keyboard, limited battery, the screen will get fingerprints on it, it doesn't support Flash, won't "multitask," bla bla bla. Forget about them. Those people are either biased (i.e. employed by Apple competitors) or they aren't the target market for this. I fully agree it's not for everyone. Someone already with a netbook, or a tech guy who wants a fully customizable experience, won't go for this. That's fine. This isn't for them.

Think of the iPad as an elaborate digital photo frame. It's beautiful, handy, and narrowly functioned. It's not meant to replace a full computer. It doesn't do that much more than an iPhone. But it's a bigger screen than an iPhone, which means it's more convenient for reading, interacting with, and using. In some ways, it's expensive: $500 for a device that "doesn't do much." But it's a game-changer, a new paradigm. Your life will never be the same after you have one. Just like the iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone industry -- every new phone now can do Internet, let you look up things on Google from anywhere, etc. (though few let you do it as easily and conveniently as an iPhone) -- the iPad will change everything. The iPad will change the way we live our lives. In a few years, many homes will have several of these lying around. You'll use them for reading, news and weather, checking email and social networking accounts (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), showing off family photos to visitors, etc. No more having to remember cryptic commands, worry about viruses or crashes, or even having to "save a file." (Like iPhone, all data is saved automatically, transparently, as you create it. You'll never lose anything again.) You'll integrate iPads into your life in such a simple, natural, elegant way that if your iPad was suddenly taken away, you'd be lost and confused, wondering how you'll get along without it!

And once that happens, $500 starts to seem like the bargain of the century. Which it is.


Saturday, June 30, 2007

iPhone First Impressions

Okay, I've had a chance to play with the iPhone a bit and let me tell you, this thing is astonishing. It feels like a third- or fourt-generation product. Apple has thought out so many tiny details it really does almost seem like magic. It blows away every existing product in ways to numerous to mention. People who argue it's "just" a phone have no clue. Not only is this the best phone ever made, it's the best handheld Internet device and best iPod. That is saying a lot. The thing is, Apple not only combined those three functions into a single device, they did in such a way as to make the thing easier to use, simpler instead of more complicated! That is revolutionary.

I had expected this thing to be a like diet food: it looks appetizing but is tasteless and leaves you feeling hungrier than when you started. That's the way of most promising tech gadgets. Instead, the iPhone is even better than the demos would suggest. No, it's not flawless. I can think of improvements. But the problems are minor and one of the best things about the device is that it really is a sort of miniature laptop, so it's infinitely upgradeable. A new software update could be released tomorrow that would fix the flaws I noticed or add some new features. Who knows what the future will bring? This thing is the future. The real Internet in the palm of your hand, and so easy a caveman could use it. Jaw-dropping incredible.


Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone Mania

Today was "iDay" -- the launch of the iPhone. If you haven't heard of the iPhone, you truly must have been living under a rock. The nifty handheld device uneveiled by Steve Jobs last January caught the imagination of the world. It literally seemed like some piece of future technology sent back through time. Today it was finally released. I took photos of the lines at my local Apple Store and AT&T outlet -- quite entertaining, though I didn't understand the point of waiting in the rain all day. I went back in the evening and there was no line and plenty in stock. I picked up two, one for myself and one for my mom. I figured out a loophole to save $20 on the AT&T monthly fees by signing up onto my mom's account via a family plan. Less voice minutes, but I don't need many minutes. I just want the Internet features. Some people had activation problems, but because I'd gone to the AT&T store earlier in the day and had them pre-transfer my old phone number to my mom's account, I was already an AT&T customer and the activation process just took minutes and my iPhone was working.

Quickly: this thing is breathtaking. The user interface is so fluid you have to see it and try it to believe it. The high resolution is greatly responsible as photos and icons look stunning, but also all the animations and text are crystal clear and completely smooth.


Sunday, November 18, 2001


I actually bought my iPod on Nov. 10, the day they went on sale, but I am writing about it now that I've had a chance to really play with it.

If you're not familiar with iPod, you've got to check it out. It's a tiny -- and I do mean tiny... it fits in your shirt pocket -- digital music player. The idea is nothing new, but Apple's implementation is incredible. This is the way a music player is supposed to be designed!

The key feature of iPod is that it uses a new Toshiba 1.8" 5GB hard drive. That allows it to store over 1,000 songs! (Most MP3 players can only store an hour or two of music.) Of course there are other hard drive-based players out there, but they're huge (the size of a portable CD player), only last three hours on battery power, loading your entire music library takes hours, and the interface for browsing through thousands of songs is actually painful.

iPod changes all that. The unique scroll wheel lets you zip through a thousand songs in seconds, with just one hand! The unit's 20 minute "skip protection" memory means it rarely needs to power up the hard drive (just three times an hour) and that means long battery life: try over 10 hours! The final major difference is Apple uses a FireWire connection instead of the more typical USB. FireWire is the standard for digital video and it's fast: you can copy over 5GB of music (over 72 hours worth) in about ten minutes! That same FireWire connector also provides power, so you use it to charge your iPod. You can even use iPod as a portable hard disk: move files between work and home, or give your laptop extra storage!

Apple doesn't stop there: they've incorporated iPod into their MP3 software player, iTunes. iTunes is free: you use it to convert your audio CDs to MP3 format and manage your songs. Plug in iPod and it automatically syncs your iTunes songs and settings with your iPod! Creating playlists is a snap in iTunes, and having them available on your iPod is terrific. iPod lets you browse songs by artist, album, playlist, or all your songs in one long list. It's really transparent and amazingly easy to use. iPod's going to be the hottest item on everyone's Christmas list this year.

Imagine holding a jukebox in the palm of your hand: that's iPod. Mine has nearly 1,200 songs on it, and there's room for a hundred more (I've got a few hundred megs of data on mine as well). I carry it with me everywhere, and it connects to my car stereo with a simple cassette adapter. It sounds great with headphones or plugged into my speaker system. I love having the ability to use my playlists to restrict music to my favorites or a particular genre that fits my current mood. If you love music, you'll love iPod.


Sunday, January 4, 2004


Movie: Iris

This is a surprising film on several levels. The story's about famous British writer Iris Murdoch, who was a brilliant novelist and intellectual, as she succumbs to Alzheimer's disease. I expected this to be arty, pretentious, and tedious. Instead the movie's entertaining, moves quickly, and is only 90 minutes long. The film switches back and forth between the young Iris, brilliant and daring and non-conventional, and the old Iris, bewildered by life as her brain erodes. The film's not sad, for as we see one Iris die, we see the other living life to the fullest. There is some drama and emotion, of course, but it's not overdone like a "disease of the week" TV movie. However, the one flaw I found is that the film's surprisingly light on profundity. For instance, while we see glimpses of the young Iris' brilliance, I never understood much about her politics or writing: she's still a mystery to me. There are a few scenes where she lectures but they are too brief and don't really explain her philosophies. In the end, the film's too light and brief: there's not much here that isn't predictable (the woman inevitably dies), and because we don't really learn much about the author, we don't really learn much from the film. It's a good but not great film. The performances by all are excellent, but I wanted more depth, more revealing. The movie ended without me knowing much more about Iris than I did before the movie started. I now know she existed and died of Alzheimer's, but that's about it.


Monday, July 8, 2002

The Iron Giant

Movie: The Iron Giant

Animated fare about a giant 100-foot robot that befriends a kid in the 1950s. It was surprisingly adult in tone and plot, though there were some nice kiddy touches. The robot is being hunted by an evil FBI agent and his army buddies and the kid tries to hide it. When the robot is found and attacked, it defends itself, making people think it really is dangerous, though the robot says (and wants to believe), "I am not a gun." Pretty cool.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2

Movie: Iron Man 2

For the most part this is a by-the-numbers sequel, though there are a few character moments. The plot is somewhat convoluted: Mickey Rourke plays a Russian mad scientist whose father was ruined by Tony Stark's father and he wants revenge so he forms his own Whiplash suit. He later joins up with Tony's rival arms manufacturer to build evil robots to kill Ironman. Tony himself is typically sour and moody and outrageous, as he's secretly dying (radiation from the suit is killing him). The film tries to eke drama from this but I found it dreary: we're really expected to buy that Ironman would die? Please. The ending is typical action silliness, though not unpleasant. In fact, that's how I'd describe he entire film. It's eminently watchable, but not great. The only thing of real interest to me was Scarlet Johanson's intriguing character, who was awesomely gorgeous and cool and seemed like a wonderful foil for Tony Stark. Every time she came on screen you didn't know what was going to happen and I liked that. Unfortunately, she's only in a handful of too-brief scenes. (There are rumors she'll get her own spin-off movie and I'd love that.) Worth seeing if you're a fan, but this isn't going to bring new people to the franchise.


Friday, May 2, 2008


Movie: Ironman

Wow. I wasn't expecting much of this at all, considering the level of most superhero adaptations, but this is pretty good. Very good, in fact. The overall plot is limited, but that doesn't matter. What shines here is Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role. He plays a billionaire playboy-slash-wonderkid who has inherited his father's weapons company and believes he's protecting the world with his weapons. When he's kidnapped by rebels in Afghanistan he discovers they have all his weapons as his company sells them to both sides in the war. The rebels force him to build them a supermissle (improbable) but he builds a robot rocket-suit instead and uses it to escape. Back home, he announces the company is getting out of the weapons business and faces a battle with his own board of directors and company president. Meanwhile, he refines the suit idea and perfects it. Of course from scene one we knew that the bad guy was his friend and mentor, the real power at the company, and it is obvious to everyone but the main character that it was him selling the weapons to the enemy to prolong the war and escalate profits. The climax is ridiculous as the bad guy creates his own even bigger and better robot suit (lame) and of course there's the big fight scene at the end. But despite many stereotypes, the film works. It works mostly because of Downey, who is magnificent as the guy you hate/love/envy/cheer for all at the same time. He's both super and pathetic, weak and strong, genius and stupid, which is just like real life. His character allows us to ignore the plot's failings and occasionally silliness and just enjoy the entertainment. The bottom line: totally a popcorn movie but above average with perfect casting. Lots of fun.


Saturday, December 2, 2000


Book: Irresistible (2000)
Writer(s): Ethan Black

Interesting, though uneven, thriller about New York's first female serial killer. Perfect for reading while watching the Gore election contest hearing going on today. Parts of the plot depend too much on coincidence -- like the fact that the main detective happens to be on the victim list -- why? Overall, though, I liked the serial killer's psychological history, though the story itself seems to depend more on sensationalism than a realistic look at what could be a female serial killer.


Monday, March 24, 2003


Movie: Irreversible (2003)
Writer(s): Gaspar Noe
Director(s): Gaspar Noe

This is the controversial French film some critics are calling "unwatchable" because of the extreme violence and sex. It's definitely an experimental film, but it worked for me. The story is a simple one: a girl is raped and her boyfriend kills the rapist. But Noe tells the story in reverse, which makes the entire movie far more complicated. We watch as this guy tracks down another in a gay sex nightclub. When he finds him, he smashes his head with a fire extinguisher again and again until it's flattened into a bloody mess. The camera does not break away from this violent scene and it's quite brutal, though not that long. Then we jump back in time to see how the guy found out about the nightclub, then how he found out about the rape (he sees his girlfriend being dragged away on a stretcher, her face covered in blood, and he's told she's in a coma). Then we see the rape itself -- an amazingly frank piece of cinema. It's long, ten or fifteen minutes, and the camera doesn't move. It just goes on and on, and when it's finally over, the guy totally beats the girl's face into a bloody pulpy mess. This is definitely not an enjoyable film up to this point. As the "narrative" continues, we move to the party where the girlfriend and boyfriend are before she leaves early, and then before that on the way to the party. The final scene is the two alone at home, in bed, showing the playful and loving sides of their relationships, and making sex seem delightfully innocent.

As I said, a simple tale, but told in reverse. Here's the effect of that reversal, however. First, when we see the guy seeking revenge against the rapist, we have no idea what he is doing or why. He seems like an insane person. Later, of course, we understand, but by showing his revenge first, we're far more shocked and horrified by his violence than we would be otherwise. Second, when we experience the rape (and I do mean experience), we haven't yet met the girl. She's faceless at that point (emphasized by Noe by not showing us her face until later). This has the effect of both dehumanizing her (she's faceless) and making her an everywoman (she could be anyone). Those are important because we don't form judgements about her. Later, when we "meet" her for the first time, our perceptions of her change. We get to know her after the rape instead of before, and while you might think that knowing her first would make the rape more powerful, it works even better in reverse, since we have no opinion of her at all before the rape. That enhances the trauma of the rape, making it seem even more barbaric and unfair. For example, once we meet the girl we might see how provocatively she dresses and judge her, saying she asked for the rape. But Noe avoids us thinking that way by having the movie in reverse.

The other thing about the reverse gimmick that makes it so powerful is that we go from brutal, cruel, and ugly images to beautiful and innocent images (the reverse of real life which tends toward destruction not creation). The final shots of laughing children running through a lawn sprinkler is all the more heart-breaking because we know that that innocence is already (or will be) lost. The tragedy of lost innocence is expressed far more powerfully in this technique. The whole film is an exercise to show us this, as Noe emphasizes with two techniques: color and camera movement. The first fifteen minutes of the film is positively headache inducing as the camera is never still and never at any normal angle. It's as though they mounted the camera on the back of a dog chasing his tail: the image spins and whirls and rarely do we see anything recognizable (which, while they're in the gay nightclub, is a good thing ;-). But gradually, as the film continues, the camera becomes more and more passive, leading to total stillness during the rape. The colors at the beginning of the film (the end of the story) are all dark, bleak, and there's a lot of red. By the time we get to the end (the beginning) there's brightness, sunlight, happiness, and wonderfully green grass. While this makes the beginning of the film tougher to endure (wild camera and dark, ugly images), it makes sense storywise. As the boyfriend seeks revenge, he gets more and more angry and agitated, and so does the camera. Logically, the landscape gets bleaker as well.

Noe's script uses what we might call reverse foreshadowing: in the normal direction there are hints of the dire future so that when it comes it subconsciously feels expected. But foreshadowing is such a subtle thing that few notice it. In reverse, however, foreshadowing is far more powerful. For instance, after we've seen the rape, we hear (before that) someone say, "Be safe" to the girl, and that takes on a terrible irony since we know she won't be. In another scene, the girl talks about a book she's reading where people dream of their future, and later (at the end of the film) we see that happen to her. Since we already know her future, her premonition is even more dramatic and there's no suspense of "Is she crazy or do we believe her?" We know she's right and that's scary. The reverse technique is fascinating when used properly.

As many have said, this film is tough to watch. The violence is brutal and shown in an unflinching fashion. While difficult, that's real life. I personally prefer this kind of realistic violence than Hollywoodized versions that glorify it. This absolutely does not glorify violence or rape at all: it presents it in horrible reality. Other films have tried to show realistic violence, especially rape (think Jodie Foster in The Accused), but this film, by getting rid of camera tricks and just showing us the brutal reality straight on without blinking, does a more credible job of expressing the horror and obscenity of such acts. Some critics have said that this film is obscene itself, but that's not true: the rape and violence it shows is obscene, but not the film itself. The film is the messenger, not the message; the vehicle, not the passenger. The film makes an incredibly powerful statement about destiny, reality, violence, and sex, and provokes us to think about our attitudes toward those things. If you can bear it, it's worth seeing.


Friday, July 22, 2005

The Island

Movie: The Island

Pretty cool popcorn flick, if you can ignore major plot holes (like clones somehow growing into full adults in three years and looking exactly like their donors). The action is decent, the science fiction sets cool and interesting, and several of the characters are compelling. The luminous Scarlet Johansen steals the show. For once I liked that a film had a logical reason for why her character needed to be so beautiful: the clones are created as spare body parts for the rich and her donor is a beautiful, wealthy model. Unfortunately, the sparse script hints at depth but fails to take advantage of it. For instance, when Scarlet videophones her donor, her donor's little boy answers the phone and says, "Is that you Mommy?" Later, she realizes that if she's not killed for spare parts, her donor -- the little boy's mother -- will die. That opened the door for an interesting conflict: guilt that your life will mean the death of another. Unfortunately, though the film hints at it in that one scene, it's never brought up again. So the film that could have been brilliant ends up being okay. It's got a few above average scenes (both in action and drama) that make better than most flicks of this kind, but it could have used this as an opportunity to make us think about it. I'd give it a solid B.


Friday, May 30, 2003

The Italian Job

Movie: The Italian Job

Mild little robbery caper with a twist: this time the thieves are attempting to rob a thief, their former partner who betrayed them and killed one of them. One of the robbers is the murdered man's daughter, so we root for these guys to be successful. Overall there's nothing too surprising here, but the performances are good, there's humor, and the complex robbery schemes are interesting. Good fun.


Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Italian Job

Movie: The Italian Job (1969)

This was the original, and I'm sorry to say I liked the remake better. Not that the remake was that great, but at least it had stars I recognize (here I only knew Michael Caine and Benny Hill) and a story that was more than just a heist. This one has a somewhat similar story as the remake -- robbing an armored car by creating a huge traffic jam -- but the remake was cleverer and had more depth to the story. In this movie the heist is the film. It begins with the planning and ends in a cliffhanger -- literally. I don't know what to make of that. I was disappointed.


Friday, September 29, 2006


Book: iWoz
Writer(s): Steve Wozniak

Terrific book about Wozniak's life, from as a child winning science-fairs to an adult, inventing the personal computer and co-founding Apple Computer. Highly recommended if you're interested in technology or computer history.