Tuesday, September 17, 2002


Movie: K-PAX

This is a film that started with a gimmicky premise -- is mental patient Prot really an alien from the planet K-PAX as he claims? -- and never gets beyond it. It could have been a good film if there was some depth too it, but it enjoys playing with the gimmick so much that it never gets around to anything intelligent. Ultimately pointless.


Wednesday, April 2, 2003

K19: The Widowmaker

Movie: K19: The Widowmaker

My first thought about this film: the producers should have made an executive decision to go with or without English in Russian accents because as it is, every other actor seems to have a different idea, and some actors change their mind during the picture. It hurts what's otherwise a well-acted story. The story is based on a real-life incident in the 1960's when a new Russian sub, K19, is dispatched on its first voyage. It was rushed to see for political reasons, and it's not ready. During the voyage, to test some nuclear missiles, one of the nuclear engine develops and problem. If it's not fixed, it could explode and set off the warheads. Since there's a U.S. destroyer nearby and tensions are high, it could also set off World War III. The captain must make decisions which effect the lives of his crew and his country, and oh yeah, the radio's out and he can't talk to Moscow for orders. The film is on the long side, and the story's certainly complex, with lots of Soviet political stuff going on, and there are scenes where the excitement of the story feels staged, like they throw in an emergency or two to keep you awake. But ultimately, the men are heroes, when that emerges the story's engaging on its own. I also liked that the story didn't just end with them being rescued, but followed up on what happened to them after they returned home to the Soviet Union. Much better that I'd heard.


Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Kate and Leopold

Movie: Kate and Leopold

Interesting little romance with a twist: Leopold is a 19th century Duke brought forward in time to modern New York City. Unfortunately, he only has a week before the time portal appears again. But during this week he meets Kate (Meg Ryan), a marketing consultant, and his achronistic ways (he's polite, stands up when a lady leaves the table, rides a horse to chase down a Central Park purse-snatcher, etc.) charm her. Silly and implausible, but the characters are so likable you don't care and just want to see them get together. Fun.


Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Keith Visit

Today I was planning to take my mom back home and we were just getting ready to leave when Uncle Keith showed up out of the blue. That was cool. His timing was better than if he'd come on the weekend when I was gone! I set up a video chat with Uncle Lloyd in Springfield and that was cool: he and Keith chatted for over an hour. Keith only stayed the one night, however, but Grandpa sure appreciated seeing his son for a bit.


Thursday, March 29, 2001

Kelly's Heroes

Movie: Kelly's Heroes (1970)

Cool WWII action-comedy with Clint Eastwood and a bevy of stars. Clint is Kelly, and he leads a group of men attempting to sneak behind German lines to rob a bank holding $16 million in German gold. Absurd spoof, but fun; I especially liked the music by Lalo Schifrin (the guy who created the Mission: Impossible theme.)


Friday, April 16, 2010


Movie: Kick-Ass

Unlike most movies, I had read some reviews about this one before seeing it. Thus I knew what I was getting into. Perhaps that tempered my reaction, but I don't understand the controversy. Sure, it's violent, but nothing more than Inglourious Basterds or Kill Bill. Yeah, much of that violence comes from a sweet-faced eleven-year-old girl who talks like a sailor, but is that so shocking these days? Besides, I enjoyed that character: I thought she was terrific. Bizarre and extreme, yes, but also entertaining. More important, her character made sense in her situation: her dad was a disgraced cop who'd been framed by the mob boss and sent to prison for years, so when he got out it was natural for him to train his daughter in his revenge-seeking footsteps. The bottom line is that this is a fun movie. It's stylishly done, sort of a blend between 300 and Watchmen and Kill Bill, but the story's realistic in the sense that nothing supernatural happens (there are no superheros, just regular people in costumes). The story's not as deep as Watchmen, but this is a comedy, not drama. It's fun. Don't take it or life so seriously. If you like this sort of film, you should enjoy it. If you didn't like the other films I mentioned, you probably should avoid this one. I liked it a lot, so I guess that tells you a lot about me!


Friday, April 16, 2004

Kill Bill Volume II

Movie: Kill Bill Volume II
Director(s): Quentin Tarantino

Wow! Even better than Kill Bill: Volume One! The first half (it really should have been one long movie) was long on action and short on depth; this half is the reverse (minimal blood this time). There is some cool action, but not the extended fight scenes of the original. In this movie we learn more about the backgrounds of the people involved, learn how Beatrice was trained, and discover why Bill tried to kill her in the first place. The ending is awesome: profound yet satisfying. The two together really make a long but terrific film. The visuals are incredible, and the music spans a dozen genres and styles, yet every song fits perfectly. The opening day matinee I went to received a huge applause when it ended, so I predict this is going to be a huge hit. It's deserved as well. You also don't need to see Volume One to enjoy this: the backstory is clear enough that this film works on its on, though a few jokes and references might be unclear without the first one.


Monday, October 13, 2003

Kill Bill: Volume One

Movie: Kill Bill: Volume One
Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
Director(s): Quentin Tarantino

Wow, what a film! While I can see that some people wouldn't like this -- it's violent, loud, and wild -- I loved it. I didn't go in thinking I would, either. While I'm a Tarantino fan, I don't worship him or anything. This film, split into two movies because it was too long, had me dreading it would feel incomplete. Far from it. The action is amazing and the finale makes Matrix Reloaded feel like an amateur production. No silly 100 Mr. Smith's here: this is real multi-fighting with Uma taking on a zillion samuri solo. I appreciated that unlike many multi-fight scenes that look staged because the fighters stand in line and wait their turn to be masacred, in this they attack in large batches (much more realistic) and she still dispatches them with terrific ease.

The plot is a simple one, brilliantly executed: Uma plays a member of an assasination team who was betrayed and left for dead. After four years in a coma she wakes up seeking revenge, and goes after her former teammates one by one. (That, essentially, is the plots for part two, as she doesn't get to all on her list in this movie.) The revenge plot has been done before (see Payback for instance), but what makes this so awesome is the way Tarantino directs it. He's totally aware that this is a film and shoves it in your face. It's all about style and every frame drips it. I heard him comment he's a Sergio Leone fan (he loves The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and this film could be an homage to Sergio. It's got the great close-up zooms of faces and the startling in-your-face music. Everything's over the top, from the colorful sets and costumes to the B-movie dialog and action. It's just a wonderful blend of camp, blood, and cartoon. In fact, there's an anime sequence in the middle that's bloody fantastic (literally).

If you're the least bit squeamish, don't see this film. There is a lot of blood. Literally. Only Peter Jackson's Dead Alive tops it in that category. Limbs and heads fly. But it's done in such a way that the violence is so artistic as to be beyond reality, mocking extreme violence. Besides, there's something satisfying and cathartic about the revenge fantasy. This is a live-action cartoon full of frenetic action, ultra-


Thursday, November 23, 2000

The Killer

Movie: The Killer
Writer(s): John Woo
Director(s): John Woo

John Woo's best film, an action movie with a conscience. It's a tale of duality, with the life of a cop mirroring the life of a hired killer who wants to go straight. Throughout the film, they constantly switch white and black hats: he's hero, no he's the hero, no he's the bad guy and the other guy's the hero. Lots of existential dialogue and more flashbacks than a time-travel pic. Dramatic visuals, more like an opera than a shoot-em-up, with excessive blood and violence that dance across the screen like poetry. Ultimately the film asks the question: who is the killer? The cop kills bad guys while the assassin is hired to kill other criminals, so is he okay? Complex, profound, and thought-provoking, with an action overlay that is exciting and humorous.


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Movie: Killers

I was mildly intrigued by these when I saw the trailers, and then it bombed at the box office and got such horrible reviews my interest evaporated. But I had a free movie ticket that was expiring, and this was the only film qualified (the ticket didn't work for new releases and I'd seen everything else). To my surprise, this isn't nearly as bad as people say. In fact, I rather liked it. The plot is incredibly, inanely dumb and makes no sense at all. Basically our hero's a spy or assassin or something, meets the beautiful girl and retires and marries her. Years later there's a hit out on our killer (someone's posted an absurd $20 million bounty for his head) and she learns of his past life. The two then try to fight off a hoard of killers when it seems everyone they know is a sleeper agent watching them and waiting for the order to kill. The key "reveal" at the end is even more ridiculous. But the lame plot is only an excuse to see the couple squabble over guns and killing, and for some mindless action. There are definite problems with those aspects of the movie as well, but I still liked their relationship and found it interesting and fun, especially as the girl learns how to shoot guns and becomes a little bit of a badass (her character is the non-adventurous type). One annoyance was when the two squabbled over silly marital things in the middle of running for their lives -- I guess it was supposed to be funny but it had a serious edge to it that I found distasteful and distracting. Overall, this is a weak film. It has many problems. It's slow to get going, it can't quite decide if it's a comedy, an action film, a drama, or a love story, and in the end it's just a mishmash of genres that doesn't work. But the film does have some good moments. There are some good scenes, some good lines and decent acting, and the leads are fairly charming. I might be biased because I had a free ticket, but I was surprised at how much I didn't hate this. It was amusing in a brain-dead way.


Monday, September 22, 2003

The Killing Game

Book: The Killing Game
Writer(s): Iris Johansen

I really like the way Iris bases her novels on character over plot. In this particular novel, however, she's a little heavy-handed. In addition to the whole "serial killer on the loose" plot, we're in the middle of a romance/war between the best friend, the heroine, and the wealthy lover. Some of the conflicts in this felt forced and overdone, and the outcome was brutally obvious from the beginning (which it was supposed to be, since the woman was closing her eyes to her best friend as a lover, but since we could see it from the beginning, it made wading through hundreds of pages of her hemming and hawking tedious). The serial killer plotline is superior, with an unknown killer telephoning our heroine with frighting threats and hints of future violence. She's lost her young daughter to a killer years ago and that motivated her to become a top forensic sculpture (she creates facial models from skulls to help identify bodies). By threatening to kill a little girl, the killer forces the woman to bond with the new child (who's physically similar to her own), with the plan to kill them both after they've bonded: diabolically cruel, to say the least. The chase is on, the killer always several steps ahead. Who is he? I fell for the red herring candidate, but right from the beginning, which made the ending uncomfortable. While the killer's identity was thus a surprise, it felt a bit artificial, almost like Iris decided on the twist after the novel was originally written with the other guy as the killer. (I doubt she did that; my perception is clouded by my pre-judgement of the situation.) A good novel, exciting and tense, with some interesting bits on police work and serial killer stuff. There were stereotypical aspects I didn't like -- the killer's dad was a religious fanatic (gee, that's original) -- and there were some odd technical mistakes toward the end (please, I retouch digital photos and if it's done right, no one can tell). But overall this was an excellent book. Interestingly, two of the best characters in the book, Monty, a cadaver dog and his partner, a hard woman named Sarah, apparently feature in Iris' next novel, of which this paperback included an excerpt. I'm definitely going to have to read that book.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Killing Room

Movie: The Killing Room

Interesting film about a strange -- and deadly -- psychological experiment conducted by mysterious black ops government types using volunteers from the classifieds. It's a little bit like the Saw movies (in the sense that imprisoned people are faced with unanswerable dilemmas, but without the gore), and also reminiscent of one of my favorites, Cube. It doesn't have the depth of Cube, unfortunately. It builds us up for a grand climax but the payoff isn't there. The explanation regarding the experiment is interesting, but not that plausible (I don't really buy it); it seems like there would be much easier ways to find out what they seek. Another flaw is that though the characters seem interesting and have potential, we really don't get to know them beyond the surface. There are some nice moments, some of the dialogue is excellent, and the performance of a few of the actors are terrific; however there's too little happening here. You're interested for a while, but that's mostly because of the mystery and your desire to find out what's going on, and ultimately it feels like a film short stretched to feature length.


Sunday, October 24, 2010


Okay, we all know I'm a glutton for gadgets. I was first in line for the original iPhone, got the upgrade this summer, and I got an iPad last April. But I've been keeping my eye on Amazon's Kindles since they were first released. The original versions intrigued me in terms of the concept, but the hardware was hideous. Later it got a little better, but it was still way too expensive at $260. Recently Amazon came out with a new version that tempted me, especially considering they dropped the price to a mere $139 (WiFi-only -- the 3G version is an extra $50). For a long time I've said they need to get the price down to $99 for it to be a true hit and get me to bite. Well, they got close enough to make it tempting, but I was still resisting.

Until recently, that is, when I actually got to see one at my local Staples. I've seen other ebook readers (Sony) and I wasn't impressed at all. The e-ink screens were black on gray and very hard to read (I have weak eyes that require high contrast, so that could be a factor). Two things stood out when I saw the new Kindle. First, the gray background is almost white with much more contrast. It is very readable. It really does look about as close to paper as you can get. Second, the thing is thin and tiny! That was the kicker for me: it is thinner than my iPhone, thinner than any magazine, and the size of a 6x9 paperback. Something that thin and light and yet still powerful (it can hold 3,500 books) gave it some real advantages over my iPad for pure e-reading.

Kindle and iPad showing the same page. [Click for larger image]

Don't get me wrong: I love my iPad and I do read a lot on it. I just haven't found myself reading too many novels. I've read some technical books, reference books, comic books, and cookbooks, but only a few novels. For the former, the iPad is ideal -- it's super fast for skimming through a book, examining diagrams (zooming in and out is instantaneous), or studying technical material. For just plain novel reading, however, I've found there are two problems.

One is the size of the device. An iPad is magazine size, nearly a letter-sized page, and while for actual magazines that's great, it's not so good for novels. I prefer the paperback size for casual reading and on the iPad, seeing so many words on a page is slightly intimidating. It makes reading feel more like work and it's easier to lose your place. (I can increase the font size so there's less info per page, but then it feels like I'm reading a large print edition which has its own weirdness.) The iPad is also dense and heavy, and while that's not a big deal (many of my paper books weigh more) as it's comfortable to rest the device against your chest or bed or table, it does add to the feeling of effort. Just like a four-inch thick novel is intimidating, a heavy iPad gives you the impression that there's a lot of words left to read.

The second and greater problem with reading novels on the iPad is one of distraction. Here I've found there are two types of distraction. One is actual interruptions: fresh email chiming, alerts from various programs, a Words With Friends' alert that it's my turn to play, and so on. The other distraction is simply the knowledge that there's so much I can do on my iPad: games, work, web pages to read, music, apps to check out, and so much more. This latter distraction is the worst because it saps my energy for novel reading. When it occurs to me I'd like to read and I reach for my iPad, it's natural to first check my email to make sure there's not an urgent message waiting, and then I see all my app icons and remember I need to do this or that, or maybe I'll play a quick game of solitaire or Boggle and before I know it I've used my reading time doing other things.

The Kindle, on the other hand, only lets you read. That's it. I hope they don't change that. They've got some simple games available as they're attempting to get developers to write apps for Kindles -- but I don't want apps and games on my Kindle. First off, apps on Kindle pale in comparison to the gorgeous color and touch-screen simplicity of the iPad. Second, because of the Kindles' e-ink screen limitations (more on that in a minute), stuff can't be very interactive. But most importantly, what I like most about Kindle is when I pick it up, it's to read and that's it. It's much more like a paperback in that respect -- you can't play games, surf the web, or check stocks with a paperback!

Though I felt sort of silly buying a Kindle when I already had an iPad, the two devices seem to serve such utterly different purposes that it also felt like the correct thing to do. An iPad is great as a lightweight general purpose computer. It also lets you read books. I'd recommend it for the casual reader. For the hardcore reader, I recommend both.

After using both, I've also come to realize that they each are best for different types of books. Kindle is ideal for novels. Novels are read linearly, you don't jump around in them, and they usually don't require pictures or complex formatting. All you really need is a good black-and-white display and a page turn button and Kindle does that pretty well.

Moving around a book on a Kindle is not easy. It's not terrible -- it's actually better than I expected -- but it's not as good as a real book and an iPad is actually better than a real book. For reference books or manuals where you flip through them a lot, I much prefer the iPad. Charts, diagrams, and pictures look far better on iPad as well. Of course, once you've established bookmarks you can jump around inside a book instantly, but that doesn't work for new books and even then a lot of the slowness is due to the Kindle's display and the cursor-based interface. For instance, if you have 10 bookmarks or a table of contents listing and you want the 8th one, you have to move the arrow down 8 times until that row is highlighted and then press the select button. On an iPad, you just touch that row with your finger. For novels this isn't an issue at all as you read them straight through, and if you didn't have an iPad for comparison, you probably wouldn't think the Kindle too bad. But for me, I'll just pick and choose which device I use for which kind of book.

That's the real beauty of the Kindle system: I don't feel locked into the Kindle because all my Kindle books are available on both my Kindle device and my iPad (and iPhone and Mac). Of course, on the iPad, I can also use other bookstores (iBooks, Barnes and Noble's Nook app, Stanza, etc.) and my own content (PDFs, texts, etc.). Basically the iPad can read any digital format while the Kindle hardware is more limited. Having both is the ideal, but that somewhat depends on what you like to read (if you read only novels and have no interest in iPad's other functions, a Kindle might be all you need).

First Impressions
Though I'd never used or even seen a Kindle, I had read a lot about them and thought there would be little to surprise me. Instead, I got a number of surprises, most of them pleasant.

The e-ink screen on the Kindle is one pleasant surprise. It really is paper-like. I'd been skeptical of e-ink from what I'd seen in the past, both in terms of poor contrast and because of sluggish updating. But this latest generation Kindle is surprisingly fast.

If you aren't familiar with e-ink, the key difference between it and other kinds of display technologies, is that e-ink requires power only to change the display. Once pixels are set to "on," they stay in that state with no power. For book material where things are static while you read the page, that's ideal, as power is only used when you change the page. That's why a Kindle gets weeks of battery life compared to an iPad's one day. (iPads use color LCD screens which require constant power and backlight to be visible.)

The problem with e-ink is that it is slow to change state. Showing something like a movie isn't too feasible because the pixels can't be changed fast enough for animation (they're working on this but I don't think e-ink will ever be as good as LCD for movies). In earlier e-ink readers, the delay to change the entire screen was quite long -- two seconds, I think. I'm not sure how fast this one is -- maybe half a second -- but it's plenty fast enough for changing pages in a novel. I found I was able to read the line at the bottom of the screen, hit the next page button, and start reading at the top without missing a beat in the slightest (the screen refreshes in the time it takes your eye to move from the bottom to the top). It is actually smoother, easier, and faster than turning a page in a physical book! E-ink screens still have a brief flash when you change pages (the entire screen inverts for a fraction of a second) and I had worried that would bother me (or trigger an epileptic fit), but literally after minutes of use I forgot all about it and I don't even notice it now. It's quick enough it's hardly noticeable.

I had also worried that the device would feel sluggish because the screen wasn't updating very fast, but that wasn't much of an issue. There are times when you do something faster than the device can display it -- like move the cursor too fast or change several pages in a row -- and it feels like the device can't keep up, but it's only annoying, not terrible. Typing, for instance, can't be done too quickly. When I tried pushing buttons as fast I could, the display couldn't keep up and I ended up with different results than I expected. But since you don't need to type much on the Kindle and when you do it's usually just a word or two, it's not a problem.

I expected the display to work well out-of-doors and it does (it's way better than iPad's washed out display in bright light), but I hadn't realized just how poor the lighting in my living room is for reading. I've read paper books there okay, but the Kindle was nigh unreadable until I turned on a lamp. It really requires plenty of light. That tells me that its contrast, while far better than in the past, still isn't quite as good as paper. In dim light you're reading dark letters on a dark gray background and it's difficult. The solution of a reading lamp isn't a big deal and is probably better for my eyes anyway (I have a bad habit of reading wherever I am even if the lighting isn't ideal). This means you can't read Kindle in the dark, like an iPad. (But I wouldn't recommend reading an iPad in the dark as it's not good to stare at bright screen in the dark.) I was glad to see that my small bedside lamp gives off plenty of light for Kindle use; I'd been worried it wouldn't be bright enough.

One aspect of the display that's disconcerting is that never seems to go off! Even when asleep, the Kindle screen still has stuff on it -- since it doesn't use any power it doesn't hurt anything so this isn't an issue at all, but it feels odd. Amazon did a very cool thing to take advantage of this feature. When the Kindle goes to sleep (or you put it to sleep), the screen changes to a picture of a famous author. The pictures are old-fashioned woodcut-style drawings. Really nice. I don't know how many there are, but I haven't seen a duplicate yet. So when your Kindle is lying around unused, it has a picture of an author on it instead of an empty screen (see the cool Mark Twain one in the photo I took below). It's surprising to me how much pleasure this feature gives me!

Unfortunately, other surprises weren't as nice. The biggest for me was right away when the first thing I needed to do was enter the password for my wireless network. That's when I realized that the keyboard has no numbers! To type a number, you press the Symbol key to bring up an on-screen menu of special characters (punctuation, symbols, numbers, etc.) and you use the cursor keys to navigate to the character you want and press select to "type" it. It's a bit like typing text on a TV with a remote control. Not fun. My password is a long mix of random numbers and letters so it took forever to type it on the Kindle. Fortunately, it's a one-time thing as Kindle will remember it and automatically log in in the future, but it was still annoying.

On a similar note, when I noticed that Amazon had automatically named my Kindle "Marc's Kindle" I saw that it had used a straight quote (foot mark) instead of a curved apostrophe. Being a perfectionist and graphic designer, this irked me so I went to change it and was shocked to discover that curved quotes ("smart" quotes) are not on the symbol chart! There's just no way to type those on the Kindle. I ended up changing the name to "The Kindle of Marc" just to avoid looking at that awful foot mark. Later, I noticed that I can also set the name via Amazon's website on my Mac, so I changed it to "Marc’s Kindle" with a curved quote and it worked wonderfully! At least there's a workaround, but this example perfectly shows the kind of details that Apple sweats and Amazon does not.

Most everything else about the Kindle worked as I expected. It basically displays the text of books so you can read it. There are options for adjusting the font, text size, and some other visual aspects, but there's really not a lot of variation. (Most of the ereaders on the iPad give you much more control over how text looks.) I found the default settings were fine -- all I want to do is read.

One interesting thing is that the Kindle hardware allows you to create "collections" of books. These are sort of like named folders, except that books can appear in more than one collection. This is awesome. I've been dying for this on my iPad: none of the ereader apps support this and essentially show you a long scrolling list of books you have to wade through (which makes it really hard to find the right book). I like to organize my books by type, mood, and other characteristics. I sure hope Amazon updates the Kindle app for iPhone and iPad to support collections because they are awesome. For now, collections are only supported on Kindle devices. If I had known that, I might have been tempted to buy a Kindle earlier -- it's that important of a feature to me.

Putting your books into collections on the Kindle isn't trivial, but it's not too bad. On an iPad you would just touch and drag items around, but of course you can't do that on the Kindle. Instead, you have to use the cursor to move through each book, item by item, until you reach the one you want. It's tedious, but not complicated. Amazon has done some nice things to make it easier. For instance, when you go inside an empty collection there's only one thing in it -- a menu selection to add items to the collection. When you choose it, you're right within your list of books and just can just hit the select button on each one you want to add to that collection.

Speaking of that list, while it's a neat feature that Amazon lets you put items into multiple collections (each member of the family could have their old collection of books, for instance, with some overlap where reading tastes coincide), it is a bit annoying that Amazon has to show you the complete list of items on your Kindle when all you want is the last few that haven't been put into collections yet (you have to scroll through the entire list of every item on your Kindle to find them). It'd be nicer if there was an option to only show unfiled books. Amazon does help in subtle ways, like showing your most recently added books first, but that doesn't help when you're setting up a brand new Kindle and all your books are recently added. Also, there are other ways to put books into collections, such as selecting the book and then assigning it to a collection.

Getting Content
Getting books into your Kindle is easy. Once you register your Kindle -- a simple process of typing in your Kindle's serial number on your "Manage My Kindle" page on Amazon's website -- all books associated with that account are immediately available for that device. Since I'd already bought a bunch of Kindle books on my iPad, those books were now available on my Kindle. I still had to download them -- they're archived on Amazon's site until I request them -- but that's just a matter of selecting them from my archive list. You're allowed to download most books onto multiple devices (six is the typical limit though some have different restrictions) so you can read the same book on multiple Kindles, iPhones, iPads, etc. Amazon will keep them all in sync, too, jumping to the most recent place read, as well as copying all the bookmarks, notes, and annotations you've made.

Once your Kindle is registered, it is tied to your Amazon account and able to make purchases. This is almost too easy: if you see a Buy button and select it, the book is immediately purchased and downloaded to your device. When Amazon says "books in sixty seconds," they are exaggerating -- it's much faster than that. While this is convenient, there is no confirmation dialog, which made me wary. Apple makes you tap twice before you buy something, to ensure you didn't hit the button by mistake the first time. Amazon just buys it. There does seem to be an "unbuy" procedure, but I'm not sure how that works and I didn't test that. (Apple, on the other hand, famously has a "no refunds" policy for their bookstore and app store.)

You can also get subscriptions to magazines and newspapers on the Kindle and the new issues are wirelessly delivered as made available. I'm not a newspaper reader, but that's partly because I hate getting the ink all over my fingers so this is somewhat tempting as Kindle obviously eliminates that problem. But I still don't know that I'd pay for a paper (or have time to read one). Magazines don't seem like a good fit for Kindle -- at least not glossy, design-heavy publications. They're awesome on iPad (I already have several subscriptions via Zinio). Some periodicals might work. I saw Reader's Digest is available via Amazon for a reasonable $1.25/month and gave it a try (easy as I can cancel within 14 days and not be charged). Since that publication is mostly bare text, it works extremely well. All the sections are easily jumped to via navigation tools, making it better than the print edition. However, the vocabulary quiz "Word Power" is really easy since on Kindle you can just point at a word and have the definition pop up! (Just to be clear, I didn't cheat: I just tested this on a word I knew to see if it would work and it did. I got a 14 out of 16 on the quiz, which isn't too bad, though I obviously need practice as I usually do better.)

Another way to get content into your Kindle is to email it to a special email address Amazon assigns to your Kindle. I wasn't too sure about this until I tried it -- it really is cool. It will even convert documents into a Kindle-friendly format if you want, though the formats supported are limited and the results are not always good (I converted a PDF and though it was generally readable, a lot of the formatting had been lost making the text awkward). I knew that Amazon offered this feature but thought that it cost money. Since Amazon pays for the free 3G service that comes with Kindles, they usually do charge for this. But the new Kindle I have is Wifi-only, so there is no charge! Because of that, I think I will use this. It's a great way to get stuff to the Kindle. From any computer, phone, or iPad, I can instantly email my Kindle one or more documents and within seconds they are on the device. You do have to register the email address you send from on Amazon's website or this won't work (it prevents unauthorized people from cluttering your Kindle), and there are some other limits, but generally this worked surprisingly well. I thought maybe it would take too long but it seemed really fast -- by the time I'd finished hitting send on my computer and picked up the Kindle, the new file was there. (As a nice touch, Kindle displays the email address that sent the file next to the file name so you can remember who sent it.) I bet family members with multiple Kindles could send things to each other this way as a "You should read this" suggestion.

You can also hook your Kindle to the USB jack on your computer to mount it like a flash drive and copy files to it that. That's how Amazon recommends you get big things like music and audiobooks onto the Kindle.

Other Features
Kindles can do more than just let you read digital books, but I question the need for some of these abilities. They add to the complexity and learning curve of the device, and yet I suspect that few use the features. But other things I hadn't expected to like might be useful, so I guess it's fine they offer these. I just don't want the device getting so feature-heavy it tries to be something it's not. What appeals to me about it its simplicity and as long as Amazon focuses on reading, it will sell, but if they try to make it more iPad-like, it'll fail.

I'd heard that the Kindle has a built-in voice that can read books to you. It didn't sound like such a good thing -- a robot can't read like a real person -- and I didn't think it would be that useful. I still don't think I'd use it often, but I tested it on the Kindle User Manual and it was great for that. I'm not sure it would work for fiction, but I listened to the manual being read while I fixed my breakfast and it was rather cool -- I could get the gist of what was being said without distracting me from my main task. It's a nice feature and would be useful for reading news reports, blogs, cooking instructions, or other non-emotional material. I can also imagine using it on a airplane when I'm exhausted of reading but I still want to follow a story.

The Kindle can also play real audiobooks and music (even music in the background). While there's nothing wrong with such features, they seem superfluous (but that could just be because I've got an iPhone for such tasks) and I expect they would severely damage battery life.

This new Kindle can read PDFs directly, which is really nice in principal. In practice, however, most PDFs aren't formatted for the Kindle screen, so the text ends up microscopic. Kindle will let you zoom in, but it's an extremely convoluted process, and once you're zoomed in, moving around the zoomed area is slow and awkward (you use the arrow keys to pan).

One tip is to read to-small PDFs while holding the Kindle sideways. You can do this by going to a menu and telling Kindle to rotate the screen. This works fine, but after using iPhone for years, it feels bizarre that the device can't tell which way I'm holding it and rotate automatically. It's also weird that all the controls (keyboard, etc.) are sideways. When you're working sideways you can't see the full page of the PDF, only about half of it, but the page advance controls work well to let you move through the document in half-page chunks (except that now those buttons are on the top and bottom of the horizontal device instead of the sides). In short, the PDF ability is useful in a pinch, but not too practical. If I had both an iPad and a Kindle, I'd use the iPad to read PDFs hands down.

Kindle includes a Web Browser under the "experimental" section. It works, but pictures look pitiful in muddy grays and it's rather painful navigating through web pages without a mouse (the arrow keys jump you between links and you can push select to open the link). Useful, but definitely not essential.

You can shop for books right from the Kindle, which is nice, but I wasn't too impressed with the options and presentation. For instance, it's easy to look at best-seller lists, Amazon's recommendations, etc., and you can search for titles by name or author, but there's no way to sort such lists by price or other characteristics. This makes finding a particular edition tedious as you have to go through each one (and you're fighting with Kindle's cursor-based navigation the whole way). This happened to me when I was looking for some free books -- I kept finding paid versions and yet knew those were old out-of-copyright books that should be available for free (I did eventually find some).

The bottom line: while it's handy to buy able to buy books right on the device and it works wonderfully if you know the exact book you're looking for, it does not work so well for browsing the store. For instance, when the lists show thumbnails of book covers, the art is in shades of gray and the pictures are so tiny (way smaller than a postage stamp) that you can't tell what it is. It's far more practical to shop for books on a real computer or iPad than on the Kindle.

One of my favorite extra feature of Kindle is the ability to see the definition of any word as you read. It's not quite as easy as on the iPad where you just touch the word -- on Kindle you have to use the arrow keys to move to the word which is slow.

Kindle also makes it easy to highlight phrases, add notes and annotations, and bookmark places. That's an obvious function, but what I didn't know is that Kindle automatically saves such highlighted text into a "clippings" file. It's a plain text file you can access on your computer when plug your Kindle in via USB, so it's a terrific way to preserve quotes or copy short passages of text. This is interesting because you can't copy text from Kindle books on the iPad, but this effectively gives you a way to do that on the Kindle device. The drawback is that the only way to access this file is via the physical cable connection -- it would be nice if you could email this to yourself or access it wirelessly.

I had expected the Kindle interface to be horrible. First of all, it's not made by Apple, who are famous for creating elegant interfaces, and second, the device's hardware by its nature prevents certain kinds of interfaces (i.e. touch). To my surprise, the Kindle's not that bad. There's a Home button which takes you to the main screen which lists all your content (collections, books, PDFs, music, etc.). You move around with the arrow keys, highlighting lines (one item per line). If you press the right arrow, you're given some options of what to do with the item (open it, delete it, etc.). If you press Select instead, the item opens up to the last page you read in it.

Amazon has placed two page turn buttons on either side of the Kindle. These are flush with the device and right in the middle. The bottom ones are taller than the shorter upper buttons. The bigger button is "next page," the smaller one "previous page." Presumably you flip to the next page a lot more often so it's bigger, but aesthetically it looks unbalanced. (Why not just make them both nice and big?) I'm also not quite convinced about the placement of these buttons in the middle of the device. If I grip the Kindle with one hand, my fingers wrap around the edges where these buttons are and I squeeze them accidentally. I can hold it lower in my hand, which isn't too bad, but then I have to use my other hand to press the "next page" button. It's not terrible, but I'm still not used to it, and I haven't quite figured out the ideal position for holding the Kindle and turning pages. It feels like more work than it should to turn a page, but that's probably because I'm too used to iPad, where I can just give the screen the faintest tap with my wrapped around finger (the iPad's wide bezel around the screen keeps me from tapping the next page area unintentionally).

The biggest frustration I've found with Kindle is that there is no counterpart to the "back" button. The Back button returns you to the previous screen -- not the previous page within a book, but the previous screen where you had a choice (like the view inside a collection where you see the books in that collection). It also works if you follow a link in a book to jump to another section: pressing Back returns you to that original point. This is great and useful, but it's somewhat unpredictable. I'm not always sure where Back is going to take me. If it takes me to wrong place or I hit it by accident (easy to do), I can't figure out to to return to where I was as there's no Forward button. (It could be I just haven't explored Kindle deep enough and there is a way to do this, but I haven't found it yet.)

Another interface quirk that I haven't decided if I like or dislike yet, is the way the purpose of the Menu button changes depending on where you are. For instance, to get to Settings, where you can change some of the device's settings, you must be on the Home screen when you press Menu. If you press Menu while on a different screen, the options on the menu are completely different.

This context-sensitive menu can be helpful by eliminating unavailable choices, but it's often hard to remember where you saw an option. You remember that there was a way to move a book to collection, for instance, but when you press Menu, that option isn't listed. So where is it? You eventually figure out that you have to be on a book's nav page (right arrow) to find it. If you're inside the book or elsewhere, that option isn't available, which can be frustrating.

Earlier versions of the Kindle were hideously ugly. This new Kindle is far better, but unlike the clean and simple iPad, it does kludge the design by including the tiny keyboard across the bottom. It wastes a lot of real estate on the pad with something you won't use that often (unless you're really into typing notes on the books you read or do a lot of searches). If they can ever get a touch-screen Kindle with a virtual keyboard, I'd go for that option any day.

(For those who think a hard keyboard is so much better, it's actually not: on a device this small, neither is optimal and a hard keyboard isn't faster. Its disadvantages -- no automatic rotation, no foreign language support, and real estate wasted when you aren't typing -- outweigh any benefits of a hardware keyboard.)

Since this Kindle's not touch, the hard keyboard is far better than a virtual keyboard navigated by arrow keys, but it's still not great. The layout is poor, with dangerous keys right next to each other. For instance, there's a return key right below the same-sized Del (backspace) button, so when I was attempting to type the name of a Collection I'd created and needed to erase a typo, I accidentally hit return which accepted the incorrect name. In that case it wasn't fatal, as there is a rename feature, but in other situations return accepts the current or default answer to a question which could be something important like, "Are you sure you want to delete this?"

The Kindle keyboard. [Click for larger image]

The all-important Home, Menu, and Back buttons are not placed in any particular order (you could rearrange them and they'd be just as effective -- in other words, there's no logical reason for them to be where they are). I found I kept confusing Home and Back. Home is the most important, but Back is the bottom rightmost key which is the easiest to find by feel. Personally, I'd have put Home in the bottom right, Back above the directional pad, and the less-used Menu to the left of Home (this assumes I'm keeping the layout the same and just rearranging the keys).

The five-way arrow pad (with select button in the middle) is tiny. It works, but though I have small hands and love small things, it's really too small for me. It should be twice the size as it's the main thing you use on the device (far more than the keyboard).

I do like the feel of the keys. They are solid without being too hard to press, and they aren't so raised as to make the device feel thicker. But I don't know why more thought wasn't give to the layout. Why are so many keys the same size? Several control-type keys, such as Symbol and the "Aa" text resize button, seem stuck in random locations where there was some leftover space, and there's not even color distinction to show that these keys are different from regular letter keys. Another oddity is the naming of the Alt key which is used for keyboard shortcuts (like Command on the Mac or Control on Windows) which seems needlessly different from the Alt key people are accustomed to on computers.

The Bottom Line
Though I'm critical of the design in several areas, overall I am delighted with my Kindle. I've only had it for a couple of days so it's still too early for me to judge if it's something I'll use long-term or not. Right now it feels like I would, but my enthusiasm could wane. We shall see. (I have a 14-day return option, so if I actually use it, I'll keep it.)

What I like about the Kindle (compared to iPad):

Size. Remarkably and delightfully small and light. Makes me want to read.

Single purpose. I pick it up when I want to read novels. No distractions of other functions.

What's good about both iPad and Kindle:

Long battery life. With three weeks of reading time on the Kindle, it's nice to not have to worry about the battery at all. But in truth I don't worry much with iPad as its battery lasts more than a full day for me and it's no chore to plug it at night before bed.

Clear screen. For reading a good screen is vital. The iPad and Kindle both excel in this area. Some prefer one over the other, but that's a personality thing. Kindle definitely wins for outdoor reading, but how often do you do that? Kindle is definitely far worse in poor lighting which to me is a more often occurrence than the need to read outside (but then I live in Oregon where it rains all the time so we're indoor creatures here). I like both of them.

Overall, the Kindle ecosystem -- hardware, digital store, software readers on every platform -- is very nice. Using the Kindle you really get the feeling that this is the future of books. As a science fiction fan, this Kindle is something I would have imagined and lusted over as a child when I could never find enough books. The idea of a thin pad that holds thousands of books and can get any book over the airwaves in seconds is a dream. The future is here. Within a couple of years when these are selling for $59, I bet people will have several all over the house, each with all their books on them. For instance, I could keep one in my room for reading before bed. Why carry one around when I can have several and just use Wifi to keep them all in sync? Shoot, if they get cheap enough, you could have one in every bathroom instead of a stack of old magazines!

While I worry a little of Amazon's tactics to extort publishers, at this point the digital book market is still tiny and Amazon's monopoly is a problem for another day. For now, I'm pretty happy with it and the Kindle store. I really have the best of both worlds owning both iPad and Kindle.

If you're a reader, I encourage you to check one out in person (they're being sold at Staples and Target stores, I believe). Like the iPad, it's the type of device that is best experienced versus just reading about it.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Kindle Follow-up

Now that I've had a chance to use my Kindle a little more, I am more comfortable than ever with my original impressions:

  • size, weight, and readability is great
  • hardware user interface is poor

One of the most interesting things that happened to me recently was on two occasions, I got "lost" in the book I was reading. What happened was that I picked up the sleeping Kindle, turned it on, and started to read. But I couldn't quite remember where I was in the book, so as I often do with a paper book, I flipped back a page to begin reading at an earlier point to refresh my memory and catch up to where I'd been. Only with the Kindle, I was suddenly in unfamiliar territory. None of the text was remotely familiar. I hit the Previous Page button again, and then again, and then several more times in a row. Bizarrely, the Kindle kept showing me text I had a never seen. From my perspective, the Kindle had mysteriously jumped some unknown number of pages forward in the book!

My first thought was that I was encountering some strange syncing bug. As you may know, the Kindle has a feature where it will remember what page you are on even between devices. This allows you to read a few pages on your iPhone while in line at the grocery store and then when you get back home and pick up your Kindle, it jumps forward to the new location where you stopped reading. Very convenient, but it seemed feasible that the software could become confused and think I'd read further ahead than I really had. Initially that was my conclusion to the strange problem.

When it happened a second time -- and again it took me quite a while (several minutes) of paging around to find where I'd stopped reading -- I was really frustrated. If this was going to happen all the time, it would really make the Kindle a useless gadget. I wondered why I hadn't heard of this bug before.

But while I was trying to get back to my reading place, I suddenly noticed something. Occasionally, as I was trying to page through the book, I would hit the big lower button on the left side of the Kindle. If you're familiar with the Kindle hardware, there are four page turn buttons, two on each side. The upper two are smaller and mean "Previous Page." The lower two are bigger and mean "Next Page." From the beginning I'd wondered why Amazon included four of these buttons. It seemed excessive and pointless. Why not just have Previous on the left and Next on the right? But it didn't seem like a critical design flaw, only an annoyance.

I am changing my opinion of that now: the four buttons are a major design flaw. You see, I finally realized that the Kindle had never jumped to a future reading point without my control. There was no sync bug. What happened was simple: when I intended to go back to the previous page, I hit the button on the left -- the big button. In my mind, that was the "Previous Page" button. After all, it's on the left. Left is previous and right is Next. That's just natural (at least with books that read left-to-right).

So I hit the wrong button. I told the Kindle to go to the next page when I intended it to go to the previous page. The result left me baffled and confused, and in a panic, I hit the button several more times, but again, I was going right in the book instead of left, but still thinking I was going left. It was the strangest feeling: like running toward your home and getting further away with each step but not being able to understand why!

The key is I wasn't thinking. I was operating on instinct. I wasn't conscious of what I was doing. I wasn't sitting down at a computer, interacting with a machine. I wasn't thinking, "How do I operate this machine?" Instead I was just trying to read a book. I was focused on my goal, on the content in front of me, and the machine was essentially invisible. That's a good thing. It's part of the purpose of the Kindle. But in this case, because of the confusing design of the buttons, the machine did not respond in the way my mind expected. That's poor design.

Now that I know this, I don't think I'll have the same problem again. I am aware of the situation and can compensate. For instance, if I go to a book and it's on an unfamiliar page, I won't start hitting the button a bunch of times to turn back pages. Instead I will concentrate to make sure I'm hitting the correct button for what I need the device to do. But just because I can learn my way around the machine's flaws, that doesn't mean there is no flaw or the Kindle shouldn't be corrected.

I find this situation a fascinating example in design. Apple, for instance, would never have designed a reading machine like this. Apple always goes for fewer buttons. At most Apple would have had a single page turn button on each side of the device. Such a design would be far simpler and clearer. Brains are good at left-right distinctions and once I learned which button was which, I would be able to operate the thing forever without once getting confused. The way Amazon designed the Kindle, however, dramatically increases the chances of problem operation:

  • I might press the wrong button subconsciously (like I did).
  • I might press the wrong button because my fingers happen to be in the wrong place.
  • I might press the wrong button simply because there are so many I'm not sure which is the right one.

Some may think this isn't a big deal, or that Amazon's approach is better because it gives the user more choices and it allows one-handed operation. But that is only true for a tiny subset of users. The vast majority of users want simple and transparent and could care less about choice.

That is the difference between Apple and Amazon.


Tuesday, February 4, 2003

King and I

Movie: King and I

I'd never seen this "classic" musical. It's not bad, but not as good as I expected. I'd actually heard of few of the songs before, but most are forgettable and I didn't particularly like style of music (too old fashioned for my taste). Yul Brynner won an Oscar as the king of Siam, I don't know why: his "Siamese" accent was terrible. In fact, most of the acting was bad, typical of musicals: singers are cast instead of actors. I can see that at one time this might have been more interesting, back when going to Siam was an exotic and rare journey, but these days with a global community at the touch of dial, it's rather pedantic. Boring.


Friday, July 9, 2004

King Arthur

Movie: King Arthur

A slight disappointment, mainly because it doesn't really achieve the levels it aims at. It's good. The cinematography is amazing, the acting is excellent, the story's not bad: but the whole doesn't add up to a great film. I did like that the creators came up with new perspectives on the King Arthur myth: this is different from the stories you've heard before. In this version, Arthur's a Roman who's stationed in far-away Britain, leading a troup of knights who've been conscripted to serve Rome for 15 years. He and his knights fight against the native Britons, blue-painted savages who live in the forest and are led by a mystic named Merlin. But when the Romans decide to leave Briton, abandonning it to the vicious Saxons of the north, the Britons need a leader, and Arthur ends up becoming that man. (Yes, he's leading the people he used to fight against.) Interesting twist, though I have no idea if it's actually based on any real evidence. It's an epic film with some good battles. The most spectacular scene is the battle on the ice where we have awesome shots from below the ice of soldiers marching across the frozen top. Overall it's an excellent film, but somehow feels empty and lacking by the finish. There's a spark missing. Everything's too pat, too polished, the grand speeches too obvious. Trimming it would have helped (it's much too long at 2:10). And the luminous Kierra Knightly doesn't show up until an hour in, another mistake (the story is much more interesting with her in it). I liked it, but I wouldn't bother watching it again, if that tells you anything. There's just not enough depth.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

King Kong

Movie: King Kong
Director(s): Peter Jackson

Really impressive film. I didn't remember the original that well (except for the cheesy special effects), but this one gives it epic scale and realism the story deserves. In terms of special effects, I was slightly disappointed: while the digital animals and such are amazing and completely believable, it seems compositing is still a skill that needs work, as in several scenes the assemblage of people and digital creatures seemed slightly fake. But that's a minor complaint. Overall, the film and story work. It's a fun adventure ride with a real story behind it.


Monday, September 29, 2008

King of Hearts

Movie: King of Hearts

This is a classic French film I first saw in a film class back in the 1980s. It's wonderful, one of my favorite films of all time. It's set at the end of WWI (I, not II), in a small town where the Germans have left leaving behind a bomb that will destroy the entire town. But their plot has been leaked to the British and so they send in a soldier to disarm the bomb. He's selected because he speaks French, not because he knows anything about explosives. But meanwhile the town has been evacuated, except for the residents of the looney bin, who escape and take over the town. Thus when the soldier arrives he thinks the crazies are the regular townspeople and when he uses obtuse code words the gibberish he gets back drives him batty. No one can understand anyone! That's just the beginning of the chaos, of course, as the film mocks the "rationality" that brings people to shoot each other and in the end, insanity seems the much saner choice. Extremely witty, clever, and wonderful. A must see film.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Movie: King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

I'd been wanting to see this documentary since I first heard about it, but by the time it was actually available, it had dropped off my radar. I discovered it on Netflix streaming and watched it. It's a fascinating story about setting the all-time scoring record in the Donkey Kong videogame, but the structure's awkward as it doesn't follow a traditional storyline. (That's because it's real life, but it seems like something that could be fixed in editing.) I don't want to spoil the story, but let's just say that it's difficult to see who the heros and villains are, making for uncomfortable viewing as we aren't sure who to root for and against, and the story's ups and downs often left me frustrated because I couldn't see where we were going (there's no important foreshadowing like in a fictional tale that prepares us for bad news). It also ultimately felt a little empty, without any moral or conclusion. It could be that is the point -- that people who spent zillions of hours mastering an ancient videogame are engaged in a pointless endeavor -- but I wanted at least a hint of something more. All that said, I'm a huge fan of Donkey Kong and that alone makes me love this film. Donkey Kong was the first videogame I ever played (I'm showing my age). I still have vivid memories of my eighth grade year when I walked to school every morning and stopped by the 7-11 on the way and spent my lunch money on Donkey Kong (yes, DK was more important than food). When I first started playing I could go through my $1.25 in quarters in fifteen minutes, but eventually I risked being late to school because one quarter would last me thirty minutes or more. (I'd play again on the way home from school, too, and then I didn't have quite such a deadline.) While I never achieved anything close to the scores of the phenoms in this film, Donkey Kong is still the one videogame I did the best at (I never had enough time for videogames after those halcyon days): I used to get groups of admirers watching me play as I was way better than most. (I once made it to the third pie factory, if that tells you anything.) This film resurrected a lot of memories. The endings is a little unsatisfying, but that's mostly because it takes textual explanation at the closing credits to really conclude things (I would have much preferred that to be filmed as part of the story). But it's definitely worth seeing, and if you're a fan of classic videogames like Donkey Kong, it's a must-see.


Sunday, June 23, 2002

King of Texas

Movie: King of Texas

Fascinating retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear set in Texas in the Old West. Lear, played by Star Trek's Patrick Stewart, is a ruthless ranch owner with three daughters. After he divides his property among them, they throw him out. Good stuff, with complex gray characters, though it goes downhill a bit when it gets into action stuff at the end.


Tuesday, April 1, 2003

The King of Torts

Movie: The King of Torts
Writer(s): John Grisham

Grisham's books lately all seem to be about money with no plot. This one's no exception: a penniless lawyer becomes a multi-millionaire overnight, then foolishly loses his fortune. It's a lightweight morality tale against greed. However, Grisham does tell a good tale, and while a lot of the book is numbers -- the costs of everything the guy is buying -- it's still an intriguing read. I would have preferred a different ending, where some of the people the guy hurt are compensated, and I have a few problems with the character development of the main character (one moment he's wanting to vomit listening to other lawyers talk about who has the most expensive yacht, the next he's buying a $30 million private jet), but overall it's good fun. Very lightweight, but it's fortunately not preachy (like the unreadable The Chamber).


Wednesday, September 15, 1999

King Solomon's Mines

Book: King Solomon's Mines (1885)
Writer(s): H. Rider Haggard

Similar in style to some of Edgar Rice Burroughs' stuff, this book was okay, but the foreshadowing was so strong it made the story too predictable. It's basically about a quest to find the lost diamond mines of King Solomon, and of course there are lots of trials and adventures along the way. Fun for a quick read, good for kids. I would have liked it more when I was younger, but somehow I missed it.


Friday, October 5, 2007

The Kingdom

Movie: The Kingdom

I thought this was more of a political thriller and wasn't too excited, but it had a lot more action than I expected and I liked it. (On the other hand, my mom didn't like it for exactly that reason.) The action is extremely realistic, sudden and chaotic, and deadly. It's a decent story about a terrorist attack on U.S. civilians in Saudia Arabia and in an unprecedented move, a team of U.S. investigators go in to find the killers. They are hampered by Saudi officials, red tape, and politics, which is realistic but frustrating to watch. In the end it's the killers who attack again and give themselves away. The last thirty minutes or so are non-stop action and it's excellent and the best part of the film for me -- though the trailers don't do a good job giving you the proper feel for the film. The ending is a bit depressing, implying that nothing has been accomplished. My reaction was, if that's the case, why even make the movie?


Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Kiss Before Dying

Movie: A Kiss Before Dying

I'm surprised I never saw this 1991 thriller staring Sean Young and Matt Dillon. It's definitely my genre. It opens with Dillon killing off his fiance in a shockingly calm way, and then killing more people to hide his crime. He later marries his dead fiance's twin sister and we learn that this is all a ploy to get to her rich father. It's a simple enough concept and we've seen similar stuff more recently, but I'm sure this was rather innovative twenty years ago. Seeing this now, though, it's lacking in a lot of ways: a lot of the material is too "on the nose" and not very subtle; some of the editing and direction comes off as thriller-cliché (like the dropping the coffee cup in shock slow motion effect); the acting, particularly by Sean Young, is atrocious (I'd heard her described as wooden but I always thought she was decent, but she does a wonderful impression of a wooden doll doing an emotionless script read in this film); there are a couple awkward sex scenes which feel strangely artificial as though the director was mandated by some studio policy to include a certain about of sex; there's no ambiguity or philosophical insight to anything -- we just see a greedy killer doing bad things; and the ending is trite and not particularly satisfying. But despite all these flaws, the film is still interesting and above average. I rather liked it.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Movie: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Pretty good crime drama flick with odd coincidences and mistaken identity themes. Not quite as good as I was led to believe by reviews, but decent enough.


Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Kiss of the Dragon

Movie: Kiss of the Dragon

Cool action flick with Jet Li chopping up bad cops in Paris. He's a Chinese cop brought in to help take down a Chinese criminal, but the corrupt French inspector kills the crook and frames Jet with the crime. From then on Jet's on the run, dashing all over Paris and beating up anyone who gets in his way. Good action, excellent fighting, and a decent (though predictable) story. Great fun.


Monday, March 27, 2000

Kiss the Girls

Book: Kiss the Girls (1995)
Writer(s): James Patterson

I saw the film a while back and it confused me enough I wanted to read the book. The book's typical annoying Patterson, pretentious and overly dramatic. But a few of the scenes are good, and some of the characters are well done. The casting in the film had always bothered me, but reading the book, I realized it was dead on. As to the "sensational" plot, it was overdone and forced. Can't he write about anything but psychotic killers? My understanding is that genuine psychotics are rare, but he makes it seem like every one of us has one for a neighbor. It gets old after a while, especially with no explanation. Not a badly written book, but one that promises more than it delivers. At least it reads fast. That's one thing I do like about Patterson's stuff.


Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Kiss the Girls (film)

Movie: Kiss the Girls (film)

I wanted to see this again after reading the book recently, and it's better on second viewing. I didn't like it that much the first time -- I thought it was confusing and a bit trivial. There are parts of the book that are much better, but the ending of the film is far better than the book's lame ending. Not bad, but just trimmed and sanitized too much compared to the book.


Friday, March 21, 2003

Kissing Jessica Stein

Movie: Kissing Jessica Stein

Interesting film which questions the whole sexual identity thing. A perfectionist woman who has yet to find Mr. Right, ends up falling for a girl. But she's so conservative and unsure about her sexuality that she doesn't want to admit the relationship to her friends or family. Though it tries, there is nothing earthshattering here (Chasing Amy covered similar territory), but the characters are different and the dialog occasionally innovative (Amy was more consistently brilliant). Unfortunately, the film doesn't really enlightened us about anything important and seems more like it's trying to capitalize on gay popularity.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kite Runner

Movie: Kite Runner

I knew little about this going in -- so little I thought the title was a metaphor. It turns about to be about kids flying kites in Afghanistan (apparently they do that there, though it seems an odd hobby for such a place). While overall this is an excellent movie, I found the beginning confusing: we open with a writer receiving a batch of his first book in the mail and the way it was shot you only caught a glimpse at the title and I must have been halucinating because I could have sworn in one shot it was a copy of The Kite Runner, which made me think the author's character was the author of the movie and that the extended flashback was everything that had happened to that author when he was a kid. Instead, it turns out the story is utter fiction -- but that confusing premise at the beginning weakened the film for me. Why not just show the book clearly so we can see what's going on? Why purposely play coy with the book like that? It was an odd directing decision that hurt an otherwise excellent film. The story is a powerful one of redemption: two boys grow up together in Afghanistan, but apparently one is lower class, the son of the other's family servant (this was also not clearly presented in the film until too late). When the rich boy doesn't rescue the servant boy he resents him for he reminds him of his guilt and he contrives to have the servant boy -- his former "best friend" -- sent away. Later the rich boy and his father must flee the country when the Russians invade and they end up in America, where the boy becomes an author, but he's still haunted by the way he treated his supposed best friend and returns to Afghanistan to make ammends. Some people I was with seemed shocked or horrified by the Afghanistan lifestyle (quite brutal under the Taliban), but I was much more intrigued by the bond of the two boys and felt that should have been explored more in the film as that was the core subject. Still, despite a few flaws, this is an excellent film and I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Soccer: Knee

A month ago I was playing soccer at a local indoor league and I twisted my knee. It was still bothering me last week, so I went to see an orthopedic surgeon who had me get an MRI on Monday. Today I got the results: my ACL is completely torn. The only way to fix that is reconstructive surgery. It will never heal on its own. That means getting a tendon from a cadaver and inserting it into my knee to replace my ligament (they screw it in with screws that dissolve over time). The recovery time for such an operation is long: at least six months before I can be physically active again, with a few weeks on crutches and physical rehab during that time. After that, I'd probably have to wear a brace during athletics for the first year. Not the most fun.

The other bit of news was slightly more encouraging. ACL tears normally don't cause continuing pain, and are mainly an issue if you're wanting to be athletically active. The reason I've been having pain is that I have a bone bruise between the two leg bones. Such bruises take a long time to heal: one to three months. Though there is no actual fracture, they heal like one. Thus the pain I am feeling that is causing me to limp will hopefully fade as the bruise heals (it has been getting better, so I am hopeful).

Fortunately, there is no huge rush to get the surgery done. It doesn't sound like waiting a few months to see how my knee heals and feels will hurt anything. I could even choose to not repair the knee, though that would limit my mobility, increase my chances of problems later in life (arthritis, etc.), and set myself up to where I could accidentally turn wrong on my leg and re-injure myself (without an ACL my knee is less stable).

For now, I'm holding off making a decision. I will wait and see how I heal. There are many factors to consider, such as the cost (insurance won't cover a significant amount), healing time, and so on. I have a feeling it's something I'll need or want to do, but I'll see how feel as the bone bruise heals. Maybe if I wait long enough Ombamacare will kick in and pay for the surgery. Yeah, I'm dreaming. There ain't no free lunch.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

Knife in the Water

Movie: Knife in the Water (1962)
Director(s): Roman Polanski

I saw this a long time ago but only recently got the DVD when it came out. This is Roman's first film and it's a masterpiece. It's very different from Hollywood productions. The story is unbelievable simple and complicated. There are only three actors in the entire production, a woman and two men. The gorgeous young woman is married to a wealthy older guy and they are going sailing for day and night (a quick 24-hour trip). On the way they meet a young hitchhiker and for reasons we aren't clear about initially, bring him along. Later this makes sense when the woman acuses her husband of bring the boy along just so he can show off and that makes a great deal of psychological sense. On the boat, the young man is clueless and repeatedly humiliated by the older man who's an expert sailor, but the young man has heart though he's not too intelligent (he's young). Of course two men and one woman is asking for trouble and that's exactly what we get. There are all sorts of emotions brewing below the surface: the mysterious relationship between the husband and wife; the relationship between the young man and the older one; the relationship between the boy and the woman. Eventually this leads to the violence we are expecting: the boy is killed by the man. Or is he? There's some question about that initially and soon we're wondering if it's the boy who will kill the old man. Or maybe the woman will kill her husband. Or maybe none of that. The entire film is essentially a setup for a dozen possibilities and I won't reveal the actual outcome, but just say that it's brilliant and very non-Hollywood. The final scene is so telling about the relationship of the husband and wife, and the final frame is amazing, and reminds me of the great short story, "The Lady or the Tiger." Modern film-goers will probably want more action in a movie; in this film nothing happens yet everything does. It's all about what could happen rather than what does. It's one of the best psychological thrillers I've ever seen. Fascinating and you could watch the "harmless" discussions over and over they are so filled with depth and drama and an undercurrent of potential horror.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Knight and Day

Movie: Knight and Day

When I first saw the short trailers for this I thought it looked awful. The story made no sense and it looked incredibly lame, especially because of the big stars and budget. But then I saw the full trailer in a theatre where they explained the part about Tom Cruise's character possibly being a rogue spy or mentally unstable. That sounded at least a little interesting and so I went to see it. I rather liked it. It's not a hugely complicated movie, but it is fun, quick-paced, and not boring. The "plot" is basically Cruise running into Cameron Diaz in an airport, and eventually kidnapping her and taking her on all sorts of wild adventures as people try to kill them. She's never sure if he's sincere or lying through those perfect teeth of his. That aspect is quite delicious and fun and Cruise is perfectly cast. Cameron does her job really well, but she still felt out of place. I really liked her in places and at other times she seemed miscast. But that's a niggling thing: most of the time the casting works great and the film's a fun roller-coaster that doesn't stop. The plot is gimmicky and doesn't make much sense, but this isn't an intellectual thing by any stretch. It's a fun shoot-em-up and watch-the-pretty-people-fall-in-love film. By that yardstick, I had a great time.


Friday, October 12, 2001

A Knight's Tale

Movie: A Knight's Tale

Surprisingly good film. Yes, it's predictable, and yes it's fun, but it has a few moments of actual decent dialog and an occasional thought. The plot's simple: a peasant boy takes over for a dead knight and becomes the best jouster in the world. My favorite thing about the film was the technique to include modern rock music and certain aspects of modern speech (like a character saying "Wow"). If that was badly or indiscriminately done, it would be terrible, but it works beautifully in this movie, giving us a medieval setting with a modern tone. It's a light comedy with some action and romance, and it works. There are so some nice conceits, like having Geoffrey Chaucer as one of the main characters.


Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Knockaround Guys

Movie: Knockaround Guys

Better than I expected. I'm not big on mob flicks, but this had a different premise as it's about young guys looking to make their mark and move up in the mobster world. They're led by the son of the head dude, who doesn't think his son has what it takes to be in the business. Given his chance with a simple task of retrieving some money, everything goes wrong. The money is accidently lost in a small town, and the guy brings in his friends to track it down. The small town's corrupt sheriff ends up with the money and won't give it back, leading to a climatic gunfight. What I liked about the film was the money trail: that was humorous and reminding me of Elroy Leonard capers like Get Shorty or Quentin Tarantino films. Unfortunately, the money trail was too brief a part of the plot. Once the sheriff gets the money it's down to a mere gunfight. I also thought it was rather absurd that the amount of money we're talking about was a mere $500,000. Supposedly that was going to float the mobster's business and if he didn't get it, he'd be dead. Come on, a half mil? Wouldn't it be like $5 million or something significant? You're gonna bring an army of mobsters to a small town in the middle of nowhere over a half million? I don't know. Not a bad film, but not a great one either. Extremely average, though it has a few nice moments. Generally a waste of a good cast.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Knocked Up

Movie: Knocked Up
Writer(s): Judd Apatow
Director(s): Judd Apatow

The premise felt totally predictable and a retread of countless other "oh I'm pregnant" movies, but it's surprisingly tender and well done, with a realistic and light-hearted approach to a complex and awkward situation. It does have the author's taste for crudity which occasionally goes too far, but most of the time it serves as dramatic contrast for the film's drama, enhancing the serious moments of the film. Nothing too profound, and not even that original, but decently handled with an appealing cast.


Monday, March 23, 2009


Movie: Knowing

Let's be up-front by saying this is obviously a gimmick movie: a series of numbers buried in a time capsule is unearthed and reveals a pattern of prediction of every major tragedy for the last 50 years and a few more to come. It's an interesting idea, and there are some good characters in the skeptic widower and his son (and a single mother and her daughter), but unfortunately the resolution is lame, and there are far too many incongruities, plot holes, and illogic for this thing to work. It tries hard at times, but in other places it feels rushed and incomplete. That said, these are typical flaws of gimmick movies. In comparison with others, this is worse in some ways and far better in others, but ultimately, it cannot escape its genre. There were some really neat concepts wasted: I really liked the whole debate over whether there's a plan governing the universe or whether things are just random. Unfortunately that aspect of the film peters out and is forgotten (or avoided) and the film never offers any answers, just teasing riddles.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Kung Fu Hustle

Movie: Kung Fu Hustle
Director(s): Stephen Chow

Really cool kung fu comedy with fantastic cartoon-like special effects, stylish martial art moves, crazy characters, and a hilarious plot. The story's about a war between the Axe Gang and the people of a slum. In the middle of the conflict is a young man who wants desperately to be a gangster but is hilariously incompetent. As the war escalates, better and better assassins are brought in, each crazier than the next. But all is not as it seems. I won't spoil it by revealing more, just emphasize that this is an awesome film with a great story at its core and it's probably the most fun you'll have at the movies this year.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Movie: Kung Fu Panda

I loved the concept of this, but it's one of those easily messed up ones and I half-expected it to be disappointing. Instead, I loved it! It's silly and goofy and clever, but never too much of any of them. For instance, the plot is pretty obvious -- a unlikely Kung Fu warrior, a fat panda bear, saves the world -- and most movies would try to complicate that with pointless sub-plots or feeble attempts at a surprise ending. This movie just accepts reality and gives you plenty of other entertainment besides the predictable plot, and thus it's just enjoyable, not annoying. The jokes are a bit, um, heavy on the fatness of the main character, but he's so lovable and doesn't seem to mind and even uses his fatness as a weapon and thus such humor doesn't come across as negative or in bad taste and we feel comfortable laughing when the panda struggles to get up the 1,000-step climb to the Kung Fu headquarters at the top of the mountain. The violence in the film is cartoony and harmless (no one dies or is even injured) so the film is appropriate for youngsters, but there's enough here that adults will find it pleasant. The conclusive moral is terrific as well: what makes you great is belief, not destiny or some secret charm. The film doesn't get much deeper than that, but that's just fine for this kind of movie. Lots of fun and you don't have to be a martial art fan to enjoy it.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

Movie: Kung Fu Panda 2

There's nothing too wrong about this: if you liked the first one you'll probably like it, but there isn't anything new or different, just more of the same and not quite up to the original's standard. It's pleasant, but probably not worth the trip to the theatre. I did like some of the Chinese-style hand-drawn animation used in parts of the film.