Sunday, February 2, 2003


Movie: L'Enfer

Remarkable French film about a guy who seems to have everything: he owns a nice resort hotel, has married a beautiful woman, and has a young son. But the man can't sleep, and his anxieties slowly get the better of him until he becomes obsessed with his wife's fidelity. Convinced she's being unfaithful, he's driven to madness. As we watch him sink into insanity, we aren't sure what's real or imagined ourselves. Excellent.


Saturday, September 21, 2002

L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I'm still getting used to this being a sports fan thing: it's harder than it seems. I think the fans suffer more than the players when the team suffers a loss. At least the players contributed something in the effort: the fans only contribute their emotions, and that's tough. This game could have been the highlight of the season. A win for San Jose meant much in the statistical department: a new MLS home unbeaten record, the Western Conference leader crown and home field advantage for the playoffs, a new San Jose season points record, winning the Supporter's Shield (which goes to the best team on the West Coast), and keeper Joe Cannon probably finishing the season with the best goals-against average. A monster crowd showed up for the game: 26,229 people! Officially a sellout! I arrived more than thirty minutes early and parking took so long I barely made the game. Incredible. It was the most people for a regular season game since the inaugural MLS game in 1996. Wow, the atmosphere was fantastic. Even the Galaxy fans and players were impressed (as they revealed after the game). Everything was set for a great Earthquakes victory. Unfortunately, that was not to be. It started off well, and the Quakes played marvelously, but couldn't finish to get a goal. Early on a great run by Donovan into the box was ended by a takedown and the ref immediately pointed to the penalty box. Ronnie Ekeland stepped to take the PK. He struck it hard, but too much up the center, and the Galaxy's Kevin Hartman blocked it. No goal. That should have been the start of an Earthquake rout. Instead it was the start of a stalemate. For 90 minutes the teams played to zero-zero tie, just like last week in L.A. But this time, instead of the game being given to L.A. on a blown offside call, it was the ref who stepped up and awarded a penalty when San Jose's Eddie Robinson knocked down Cobi Jones in the penalty box in the 93rd minute. The Galaxy's Ruiz easily converted the PK and that was it: L.A. wins 1-0.

This was a frustrating game, not only because San Jose played better soccer and certainly had the bulk of the chances, but the strategies of the teams were affected by last week's controversial loss. If that game had finished a tie, L.A. would have come into this game needing a win: instead a draw was enough for them and they didn't need to risk anything. Hartman had a great game and was definitely man-of-the-match, making 9 saves (several of them spectacular). But it's still a bitter pill to lose your last home game, especially against your most hated rival. San Jose is still in the playoffs in third place, and we face Columbus on Wednesday night, just like the playoffs last year. Some fans are saying the loss will motivate the Quakes: I sure hope so. However, after losing two games in a row, confidence and morale can't be too high. Still the playoffs are anyone's game. It doesn't matter how you get there: all that matters is that once you are there you win. Go Quakes! Final: 1-0 Galaxy.


Saturday, August 5, 2006

L.A. Trip

Soccer: L.A. Trip

Today my step-brother Dave and I drove down to Los Angeles (I stayed at Dave's in Northern California last night). We're going to the big soccer game tomorrow. Today we watched the All-Star game at a bar in Santa Monica and tonight we went to a movie. Great fun.


Monday, May 21, 2001

La Liga: Alaves at Barcellona

Soccer: La Liga: Alaves at Barcellona

Coming off their loss to Liverpool in the UEFA Cup, Alaves looked tired and spiritless. Barcellona, however, looked much more like the champs they're supposed to be. They scored early on a terrific Marc Overmars goal and held on for the 1-0 victory. Final: 1-0 Barca.


Tuesday, May 29, 2001

La Liga: Alaves at Real Madrid

Soccer: La Liga: Alaves at Real Madrid

Fun game, but poor Alaves can't do anything after their UEFA Cup final failure. Madrid came out and stomped on them. Raul started things with a goal in the 22nd minute, followed just a minute later by Guti. Then in the second half, Hiero and Helguerra added goals, and Raul got a second in the final minutes. Wow! Final: 5-0.


Wednesday, April 11, 2001

La Liga: Barceleona at Villareal

Soccer: La Liga: Barceleona at Villareal

Wow, what a game. Zillions of goals. Don't know that I've ever seen a soccer game quite like this one. Villareal came out storming, fulling intending to put a lock on the came early. They scored three goals in twenty minutes! Former Barca player Victor got the first one eleven minutes in, followed by Calleja seven minutes later. Victor added another in the twentieth minute. It looked like it was all Villareal, but then Kluivert got one in the 38th minute and Barca was awarded a penalty kick in the dying minutes of the first half. Rivaldo stepped up to take the kick and I was positive the score was going to be 3-2. But Rivaldo missed! His rebounded off the base of the post! After that brush with danger, Villareal looked like they would survive as Barca squandered chance after chance. But early in the second half Kluivert managed another, and then Rivaldo scored himself on about the hour mark, tying the score and making up for his missed penalty. But the game was by no means over. Villareal went up again just five minutes later, when Lopez scored after Palermo whiffed on his shot. As time ran out it looked like Villareal would get the three points for sure. The game went into injury time, one, two, then three minutes passed. There were just seconds left. Barca was still pushing hard, when, amazingly, Kluivert managed to score his third to complete his hat trick and give Barca a valuable road point. Wow, eight goals in one game! Final: 4-4.


Monday, December 11, 2000

La Liga: Barcelona at Celta Vigo

Soccer: La Liga: Barcelona at Celta Vigo

This was last week's Spanish soccer game, and I figured I'd better watch it before this week's. ;-) A well-fought match, as you might expect, but the smaller team took the lead first, just eight minutes in, on a goal from Catanha. A poor clearance gave the ball back to Edu, coming up on the left wing, who put in a cross to Catanha who simply deflected it into the open net (the keeper had moved to block a possible Edu shot). Then, amazingly, Catanha got another minutes later, when he got some space at the top of the key and slipped the ball past the keeper. But Barca's not a team you can keep down for long. Eighteen minutes in, Frank DeBoer scores on a header off a Rivaldo corner kick, meaning we've got a 2-1 game going. But just minutes later, Catanha got his hat trick (in less than 30 minutes!!!): a huge climbing header. Then we had a breather of 15 minutes with no goals. Late in the first half Barca's keeper had to go off injured, replaced by an 18-year-old. For most teams, a 3-1 score at the half pretty much means you're dead, but keep in mind this is Barcelona we're talking about. In the second half, Barca started their path back on a goal from Kluivert, a header off a free kick, training field stuff that Celta Vigo should have defended. Then good play on the wing by Overmars put in the ball to Rivaldo who passed it to an open Kluivert for an easy tap-in. The 3-3 score was maintained, though Barca had the edge for most of the rest of the game, Celta had their chances towards the very end. And that was it: a dramatic 3-3 draw!


Tuesday, October 3, 2000

La Liga: Barcelona at Deportiva

Soccer: La Liga: Barcelona at Deportiva

Last season's first-time Spanish league winners Deportivo doesn't have the respect and reputation of Barcelona, but here they outplayed their opponent in the season's first head-to-head clash. After a lackluster first half, a lucky deflection on a free kick went into the goal, and later Deportivo took advantage of a breakdown at the back to penetrate and score again. Barcelona looked dazed. Final: 2-0.


Tuesday, December 19, 2000

La Liga: Barcelona at Rayo Vallecano

Soccer: La Liga: Barcelona at Rayo Vallecano

Excellent game! Rayo's the up-and-comer, in 4th place, while traditional powerhouse Barca's in fifth. The battle began with Rayo's potent offense scoring in the fifth minute when Frank de Boer's mistake at the back allowed Rayo a chance. The cross went in and Bolic finished. But just three minutes later, Barcelona came back on a goal from Gerard. Gerard was brilliant, but it was mostly poor defense by Rayo that allowed him the chance. After that Rayo fell apart and lost confidence. Barca dominated into the second half, finally scoring in 75th minute. And who scored? None other than Frank de Boer, making up for his previous mistake!


Tuesday, March 6, 2001

La Liga: Barcelona at Real Madrid

Soccer: La Liga: Barcelona at Real Madrid

Awesome game! This is the match up that all of Spain waits for every season, and watching a 100,000 screaming fans certainly fills you with anticipation. The game started off with a bang just seven minutes in with Roberto Carlos putting in a shot that he scuffed, but the slower ball turned out to be the perfect through-ball for Raul, who finished it. Barcelona took over the game after that, but it took them until the 36th minute to score, when Rivaldo took on the keeper one-on-one and beat him. But less than a minute later, Raul scored his second when he poached a rebound of McManneman's shot. Rivaldo picked up his game, scoring his own second in the 70th minute, shooting from long range perfectly between defenders, the keeper, and the goalpost. There was a lot of rough, hassling play after that, and Rivaldo's hat trick was denied due to an offside call. Neither team was going to get the better of the other, and the game appropriately finished 2-2.


Tuesday, December 12, 2000

La Liga: Celta Vigo at Real Madrid

Soccer: La Liga: Celta Vigo at Real Madrid

Celta Vigo never had a chance. Madrid got their first goal eleven minutes in when Roberto Carlos put in a blistering grounder and Helguera just caught it with the back of his heel to deflect it into the goal. The keeper didn't even move. Brilliant! The second goal came at the half-hour mark, when Luis Figo (currently the world's most expensive player) took the ball at mid-field, did a little juggling move to get past his marker, then kept going all the way into the box, where he finished it into the corner of the net. Absolutely breathtaking. But you can't have a Madrid victory without a Roberto Carlos free kick, can you? Of course not! Fifteen minutes into the second half Carlos' free kick just blasts past the keeper with so much swerve and power he didn't even move. And that was from thirty yards out! Amazing. Final: 3-0 Real Madrid wipeout.


Monday, November 27, 2000

La Liga: Deportivo at Celta Vigo

Soccer: La Liga: Deportivo at Celta Vigo

The game started off all Deportivo, culminating with a controversial penalty call against Celta Vigo as it looked like the takedown was outside the box. Turu Flores, however, slipped while kicking and sent the ball wide. Celta took over in the second half, at least at first, but failed to convert. Deportivo regained their momentum when Djalminha's play in the box set up Flores, but he took five minutes to fiddle around with the ball instead of shooting, passing up a terrific chance. Then, with thirteen minutes to go, Djalminha put in a terrific angled kick over the keeper's head. He cut the ball back to his left foot with his first move, then curled the ball home. Terrific! Final: 1-0 Deportivo.


Tuesday, April 24, 2001

La Liga: Deportivo at Celta Vigo

Soccer: La Liga: Deportivo at Celta Vigo

Excellent game! The first half finished nil-nil and I thought this was going to be a low-scoring affair, but both teams came alive in the second half. Valeron scored early for Deportivo, but minutes later Djorovic equalized on a great goal. Then Mostovoi put in a blast from outside the box that beat the keeper and that was all Celta needed. Final: 2-1 Celta Vigo.


Monday, March 26, 2001

La Liga: Deportivo at Las Palmas

Soccer: La Liga: Deportivo at Las Palmas

Not a bad game, though a week old. Deportivo's the reigning champs, but tiny Las Palmas rained on their parade. They got their first goal just five minutes in from Josico, and another in first half injury time from Alvaro. That was all they need, for though Deportivo made a rash of changes for the second half, it was all for naught. Final: 2-0 Las Palmas.


Tuesday, October 17, 2000

La Liga: Deportivo at Real Madrid

Soccer: La Liga: Deportivo at Real Madrid

The first goal came early in the game, and while Raul got the credit, it should have gone to Figo. He made a long run up the right wing, dribbled through some defenders to get in deep near the corner of the goal, and sent back a sharp cross between two defenders. The cross hit a surprised Raul's knee and bounced off into the goal before Raul could even react! Real Madrid got another in the waning seconds of the first half on a penalty kick. Deportivo attacked in the second half, but it seemed like they never even got a shot on goal the whole game. Rather lackluster on their part. Madrid got a late header to finish the game 3-0.

The thing that really annoyed me was that ESPN2 aired this game at midnight Monday night instead of their usual daytime slot, meaning I didn't watch this until Tuesday night. And of course they promoted Tuesday's daytime Champions League match during the game, meaning I didn't know about the game until after it aired, and couldn't record it. These sports stations make it so difficult to figure out when soccer's on you'd think they didn't want viewers!


Monday, November 6, 2000

La Liga: Deportivo at Villarreal

Soccer: La Liga: Deportivo at Villarreal

Last year's champs Deportivo got things going with a quirky goal from Djalminha. A fantastic through-ball was sent ahead of him toward the keeper and he just managed a touch to detour it around the keeper. Unfortunately, he'd hit it too hard to catch it and it seemed like it was going wide. But at the last moment it banged the post and spun in! EPSN2 lost the signal toward the end of the half and after a break they came back to reveal Villarreal had tied the score on a shot from Victor. The replay revealed it was an amazing strike from just outside the box. In the second half it was all Villarreal, who outplayed Deportivo, but like often happens in soccer, it was Deportivo who scored. Substitute Pandiani beat the offside trap and pushed the ball through the legs of the keeper! Villarreal were deflated for a while, but kept fighting, and with less than ten minutes left, Victor scored his second with a shot from outside the top corner of the box, low and past the keeper. It looked for certain we were heading for a 2-2 draw. But in injury time, Moises ran onto a desperate cross that was going just in front of the goal, and he scarcely had to touch it to put it in. The giant was toppled and the crowd went mad! Final: 3-2 Villarreal.


Monday, May 7, 2001

La Liga: Espanyol at Barcelona

Soccer: La Liga: Espanyol at Barcelona

Boring game. Lots of battling but no goals. Final: 0-0.


Friday, December 29, 2000

La Liga: Rayo Vallecano at Real Madrid

Soccer: La Liga: Rayo Vallecano at Real Madrid

Both these teams are based in Madrid, but Real Madrid's a living legend (nearly every player is world famous). They started proving it just nine minutes in on a goal from freshly named European Footballer of the Year Luis Figo when he took a fantastic through-ball from teammate Ivan Helguera and found himself one-on-one with American top goalkeeper Casey Keller. Figo faked out Keller and easily scored. Minutes later, Figo provided the cross and Helguera headed the ball past Keller for goal number two. Keller redeemed himself a bit later with a couple great point-blank saves, but a free kick by Roberto Carlos took help from the post to keep it out. Rayo just really had trouble generating the offense, though late in the half they had a few chances, including a nice free kick attempt. In the second half, things started off rather evenly, with the edge to Madrid, but with 25 to play, Rayo's Michel put in a great sidefooted volley into the roof of the net, changing the game. But Rayo couldn't build on their momentum. With 15 minutes left, Raul kicked the ball straight up in the air to evade a diving Keller, then did an unbelievable volley while falling to put the ball into the empty net. Keller managed a good save late in the game, but it wasn't up to him to score, and failing late, Rayo lost. Final: 3-1 Real Madrid.


Monday, May 14, 2001

La Liga: Rayo Vayocana at Barcelona

Soccer: La Liga: Rayo Vayocana at Barcelona

Poor Casey Keller gave up a boatload of goals, but there was no question he was one of the best players on the pitch. Barcelona was just too strong for poor Rayo. Luis Enrique scored just seven minutes in, but Michel equalized about ten minutes later. After that, though, it was all Barca. In the second half, Rivaldo's brilliant chip beat Keller, and that was followed by Enrigue's second. Then Marc Overmars got one-on-one with Keller and finished, and to really pour salt on Rayo's wounds, Petite scored on a wonderful volley in injury time. Why didn't Barca play like this all year? Final: 5-1 Barcelona.


Tuesday, October 24, 2000

La Liga: Real Madrid at Barcelona

Soccer: La Liga: Real Madrid at Barcelona

What a huge game! You haven't lived until you've seen soccer played on the grand stage, one of the big English, Italian, Spanish, or South American derbies. This game is one of the biggest: the two best teams in Spain, perennial rivals Madrid and Barca. Real hasn't won in Barcelona since 1983 (though they have the edge in the series overall), so this was going to be a tough match. More drama for this season: this summer Barcelona's best player, Portuguese playmaker Luis Figo, turned traitor and transferred to the hated Real Madrid. Imagine having 80,000+ fans booing every time you touch the ball -- that's what Figo got (and cheers whenever he made a mistake). In pouring rain, the fans were mad with passion (and color-coordinated in Barca's colors). Absolutely amazing. Incredible soccer skill, unbelievable goal-keeping, and lots of hard, physical challenges. Real Madrid were off their game, while Barca, who've been slow in the league this season, got off to roaring start with a Luis Enrique header goal off a Rivaldo free kick in the 27th minute. (Enrique, ironically, transferred from Real Madrid years ago and still gets booed when in Madrid.) The game was a fair battle until late, when Madrid seemed to be getting things together and putting up some impressive attacks. Then, on a delicious counter-attack, Barcelona had three players take a crack on goal. Rivaldo took the first shot, brilliantly blocked by Madrid's young keeper. Alfonso tried to head in the rebound, but his knock hit the post, only to drop the ball at Simao's feet, and he calmly put it away. That was all Barca needed. Final: 2-0 Barcelona.


Tuesday, March 20, 2001

La Liga: Real Madrid at Mallorca

Soccer: La Liga: Real Madrid at Mallorca

Good, competitive match. Luque slipped in a deflection goal off a shot from Eto'o (who had several great chances but didn't score) near the end of the first half. Real Madrid really fought hard, but seemed baffled by Mallorca's amazing defense. There was always a player marking the man with the ball, and no one was allowed through. Good to see the champs suffer a little. Final: 1-0 Mallorca.


Monday, March 12, 2001

La Liga: Real Sociedad at Real Madrid

Soccer: La Liga: Real Sociedad at Real Madrid

What a wipeout! Morientes scored twice in the first half (the second a tap in), then Raul and McManaman add their own late in a second half in which they allowed Sociedad to dominate. They even had a great chance to go five up when the last shot of the game hit the goalpost! Final: 4-0 Real Madrid.


Monday, November 13, 2000

La Liga: Real Zaragoza vs. Deportivo

Soccer: La Liga: Real Zaragoza vs. Deportivo

Things were pretty routine in the first half until Diego Tristan put in a beauty late in the half. He received the ball at the far side of the penalty box and put in an elegant angled ball that easily beat the keeper. After the goal the game became a lot more competitive. About fifteen minutes into the second half, Tristan got his second on a long distance bomber that was gorgeous to watch. Zaragoza played well, but they couldn't come back from two down. Final: 2-0 Deportivo.


Monday, November 20, 2000

La Liga: Valencia vs. Alaves

Soccer: La Liga: Valencia vs. Alaves

A lackluster first half with no scoring led into a second half with two beauties. Alaves took the lead mid-way through the half, when a clever backheel gave the ball to an open player who put in a great cross which Ivan Alsono put away. As the game swung in Alaves' favor, they pressured and twice nearly scored again except for terrific saves by Valencia's keeper. One of these resulted in a quick counter by Valencia and John Carew took a splendid feed from Captain Mendieta and slipped the ball under the keeper to equalize. Final: 1-1.


Wednesday, February 14, 2001

La Liga: Villarreal at Oviedo

Soccer: La Liga: Villarreal at Oviedo

Great game. Villarreal just signed Martin Palermo from Boca Juniors; this was his second game. It started off badly for the visitors, however: in the dying seconds of the first half Oviedo was awarded a penalty kick because of a hand ball in the box. Worse, the player received his second yellow: he was sent off. So Villarreal was going to have to play the entire second half with ten men and a goal down. How could they come back? Well, whatever the coach said sure worked! Villarreal not only came back, they walloped Oviedo. It started when Palermo got his first La Liga goal: it was a cheeky poach goal, with him sticking his foot out to catch the end of a bouncing ball off a corner kick. You've got to clear those corner kicks, Oviedo! Then Unai scored just three minutes later on a free kick. Eight minutes after that Jorge Lopez added one of his own and Oviedo was down and out. I love comebacks! Final: 3-1 Villarreal.


Saturday, November 22, 2003

LA Trip

Soccer: LA Trip

Dave and I headed down to Los Angeles today for tomorrow's big event: the MLS Cup at the new Home Depot Center (a.k.a. "The Toolbox") in Carson, Calif. We had a great, uneventful trip. Stopped at a Sizzler for lunch. Then stopped at a Toy R Us where Dave bought a Gameboy Advance SP like mine so we could play FIFA 2004 (and other games) head-to-head. Went right to the stadium (right off 405) and got our tickets at the Will Call window so we wouldn't have to wait in line on Sunday. Discovered the hotel we'd booked on the 'net is right up the street from the HDC which was awesomely convenient. The movie theatre which I'd also found on the 'net was up the street in the other direction, at a mall where we found a Red Robin for dinner. The trip to the stadium was easy and fun -- we'll have to come down next season when the Quakes play LA. Everything couldn't have worked out better -- especially considering Sunday's dream game result!


Saturday, September 11, 2004

LA Trip

Soccer: LA Trip

This weekend I headed off for Los Angeles. The main purpose of the trip was to go to the Home Depot Center and cheer on my San Jose Earthquakes as they battled the evil LA Galaxy, but my brother and I decided that since we were in LA we should take advantage of that, so we got two-day passes to Universal Studios. It was a great weekend. We left early (about six a.m.) and got to Universal Studios about noon. That gave us a few hours before going to our hotel and getting ready for the game in the evening.

Universal Studios was interesting. I wasn't sure what to expect. It was more amusement park than studio, but there was some studio stuff. I'd have liked to see more behind-the-scenes things, peak on actual film productions, etc., but the atmosphere was fun. The studio tour was excellent. We rode on semi-enclosed wagons chained together to make a sort of train. The little buses drove through a large portion of the lot so you could see actual exteriors used in films. It took about 45 minutes. Each wagon included several small TVs which broadcast clips of movies in sync with the tour guide's commentary. This was neat because when we would enter a portion of the fake city Universal has on the lot, they could show a clip from a film in which that set was used. We saw the Back to the Future town clock set, which key in that film. There are also several "action" sequences during the tour. In one, you're inside a subway station when an earthquake hits: there's fire, the ceiling seems to collapse, an oil truck rumbles toward you, and there's water and darkness and chaos. In another the wagons are attacked by a shark. But the main thing is the film history, and it was cool to see the Bates Motel and Psycho house, though hilariously odd to see a portion of Whoville (from The Grinch) right behind the Motel.

The amusement park itself was a lot of fun. There were some rollercoaster-type rides, such as the Mummy ride -- all were movie-themed, of course -- which involved a very high-speed ride through a pitch black pyramid with occasional flashing monsters and such. The darkness meant you had no way of knowing which way the ride was going and it would go left, right, up, down in crazy fashion. Then at the end the ride almost crashes into a solid wall, then goes backwards through the same insanity you just went through forwards! Pretty cool. The Jurassic Park river ride was really cool, but we got absolutely soaked. The ending includes a real 90-degree free-fall that feels like you're totally out of control and are going to crash. The animatronic dinosaurs spray water at you. Some shows are not rides but performances, such as Waterworld, which was a really cool outdoor water set that included live stunts (a guy even catches on fire and drops into the water from 50 feet up), explosions, boat jumps, and even an airplane crash. Then there are the movies: the Terminator 2 and Shrek: 4D shows. Those include mini-movies shot in 3D (they give you 3D glasses to wear). I was very impressed by the 3D: it was actually frightening seeing stuff come right at you. In both shows they include some real-world effects to make the films even more alive: water sprays, air puffs, seats that rumble and move, etc. The effect is awesome: say something blows up on screen, you actually feel droplets of water and air pelt your face! Very impressive shows. I liked the way the Terminator show mixed live action actors with movie footage. Both shows, by the way, were new content shot exclusively for the park: the movies were not just recycled film footage. Other shows were informative, such as Backdraft, which goes into the history of that film and concludes with you standing in front of a set that basically blows up. There was a special effects show titled Chronicles of Riddick that had absolutely nothing to do with that movie but was a neat interactive demonstration of how special effects are done in movie. Audience members participated and saw themselves inserted into a film via a green screen, got to control an animatronic monster, and got to add sound effects to a soundless film. It was really cool: the hosts were amazingly good, making their canned lines sound original, and the scripts clever and hilarious. A great show.

Unfortunately, most of the shows are the kind of thing you only need to see once. There's nothing that deep with any of them. They're good, but not magical. Some of the rides you might like to do more than once, but even those are not necessarily worth the wait in lines to do so. I was also a little disappointed at the crass commercialism evident everywhere: almost everything you see is for sale. Rides and tours end within gift shops, there are food and shops everywhere. I wouldn't have minded those so much if they were unique, but the personality was all surface. For instance, one restaurant was the Jurassic Park Cafe, and its menu included Pizza Hut pizza, roast chicken, and Chinese food, exactly like another restaurant with a different theme in a different section of the park. The themes only effected the decor, not the menu, and prices were exactly the same all over the park. And of course nothing was cheap. Despite Arrowhead being listed as a park sponsor, the bottles of Arrowhead water were $2.75 each. Over two hot days of walking around, I went through four or five. The stores were boring, all carrying cheap junk: hats and movie-themed clothing, silly stuff like Terminator 2 mugs or Shrek ear hats, etc. If I was creating a theme park I'd create unique stores and restaurants with stuff you couldn't get anywhere else on earth. I'd include restaurants with different pricings, so people more interested in expensive food can go for that, and offer some cheaper stuff for people who'd prefer that. Of course it's been a long time since I've got to amusement parks: I went to many as a kid, but that was back in the 70's; no doubt things have changed a great deal since then, and not necessarily for the better. Still, despite my reservations and criticisms, I did enjoy myself. It was an experience. Not necessarily something I need to do again any time soon, but I'm glad I went.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Lady and the Unicorn

Book: The Lady and the Unicorn
Writer(s): Tracy Chevalier

Tracy has got to be one of the best writers alive today. I loved her Girl with a Pearl Earring and I loved this book. She's amazing. I don't know anyone who can paint with such realism. Her characters are so real they feel like best friends. It's like she's inside the character's heads writing down their thoughts. I feel like a voyeur as I read. As usual, her story is a fictional "history" of a work of art. In this case, it's a set of unusual tapestries found in France. These tapestries depict the seduction of a unicorn by a young woman, but no one knows the history behind the art or why it was created. So Tracy created her own story behind the story, masterfully weaving a fantastic tale about lust and seduction, young love, art, and the complicated conflicts of social classes in 15th Century Europe. She writes first person, each chapter by a different main character. We meet the artist assigned to paint the scenes, the weavers who have just two years to create the six huge tapestries and nearly kill themselves in the attempt, and the nobleman family who commissioned the work. Every detail of the artwork is explained via events in the story, filling in all the puzzle holes. The characters Tracy creates are wonderful, realisticly flawed, charming, and sympathetic. The story itself is life, with the good and the bad. It's amazing stuff. It's a breathtaking read, highly recommended. Marvelous. I can't say enough good things about it. It seems like it'd be difficult to write this kind of a book, but Tracy not only succeeds, she makes it insanely compelling.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Lady in the Water

Movie: Lady in the Water
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan

Disappointing film. It's interesting and has a few neat moments, but overall it's much ado about nothing. I was expecting the revolation about the characters to be something profound or unusual, but there's nothing like that. The story's simply about a water nymph that must be returned home, that's it. That could have been enough, if the film didn't build our expectations so much higher. But there are so many mysterious things -- strangely named characters, odd non-sensical behaviors, etc. -- that you expect the resolution to explain all of that and it doesn't. My theory -- which I came up with based on a misunderstanding of an article I read about the film -- was that the characters were all part of a story and trying to get back into it. That made all the weird people make sense, as they were not complete people but characters escaped from a book. That was not the case, of course, but I unfortunately liked my version better than the one in the movie!


Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Ladykillers

Movie: The Ladykillers
Director(s): Coen Brothers

I had little interest in this, even though it's a Coen Brothers film. It's a remake, and I usually don't know why films are remade. I also figured a remake was strange for the Coens, who usually use their own original material. I haven't seen the original film (and have no real desire to do so) so I don't know how this compares or if they changed stuff, but this turned out to be a total Coen movie. It's a definite black comedy, hilarious with those subtle Coen touches that make their films awesome. The plot is about a group of idiot thieves, led by the "Professor," hilariously portrayed by an over-the-top Tom Hanks, who plan to tunnel from the basement of an old house into the vault of a nearby casino. Unfortunately, there's a stubborn old black lady living in the house, so Hanks moves in as a room renter and asks to use the basement for his friends to use as rehearsal hall to practice renaissance music. It's a great scheme, but of course nothing quite goes as planned, with outrageous results. The old lady is amazing; actually, the entire cast is perfect. It's a just a great, fun, wonderful film. The ending is just killer and makes the whole thing worth watching. Really enjoyable. My only complaint was that there was an awful lot of unnecessary swearing; it felt out of sync with the rest of the film.


Tuesday, December 5, 2000

The Lair of the White Worm

Book: The Lair of the White Worm
Writer(s): Bram Stoker

I was curious to read this tale from the guy who wrote Dracula. It turned out to be an interesting, though obviously dated, thriller. I was especially disturbed by the obvious racism (an African character is described as though it's normal to assume he's subhuman). The story itself is unusual: it's about a woman who can transform herself into a giant snake. It's unfortunately not quite as exciting as it sounds, but has its moments. The most signficant thing I got from the novel is the realization of how different readers are today. Stoker spends most of the novel subtly building up to his premise (you don't actually find out the woman = worm until very late in the story); I assume that's because it's such a fantastic idea that he figured people would have trouble believing it. But today we are so jaded by Hollywood and such that a wild plot like this is like, "Okay, fine, so the woman's a snake. Big deal." For me, the premise that a woman is a giant prehistoric snake is not enough of a story; unfortunately, that's about all there is. I think I'll check out the movie and see if the special effects help any.


Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Lair of the White Worm

Movie: Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Writer(s): Book by Bram Stoker, Screenplay by Ken Russell
Director(s): Ken Russell

After reading the bizarre book, I wanted to see the film, but I wasn't impressed. Extremely cheesy special effects weaken what could have been a fairly creepy film, and Russell takes a number of liberties with the novel, including setting it in modern times, making the snake bites vampire-like in that they are contagious, and most seriously, not having the woman and the snake as one being (remember, in the book she is the snake, which is the whole point). The first half-hour or so of the film is almost incomprehensible and the film only gets going during the dream sequences and when the snake-woman is on screen. Russell puts forth a number of interesting images, but in the end all you have is a traditional horror film with some provoking dream sequences.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Lake House

Book: The Lake House
Writer(s): James Patterson

Heavens, Patterson is becoming an expert at being a bad writer. He used to create some decent thrillers, but his last few are just terrible. This one is sad. It's a sequel to the mediocre When the Wind Blows, about a secret government biotech project to create children with wings. This book takes up where the first ended, as the FBI agent and veterinarian who rescued the kids attempt to gain custody of the children. Unfortunately, there's yet another secret government project, this one even more evil, as a mad doctor is trying to steal organs from involuntary donors so he can prolong the lives of aging scientists, politicians, and billionaires and create a new world. For some reason that's never clearly explained, this doctor wants the kids dead or captured, and so the novel is mostly about the kids trying to escape. I cannot come up with words to explain how lame the plot is: Patterson throws in pointless scenes of a sharpshooter who is ready to kill but then doesn't (just to create artificial tension, I guess); the adults are absurdly stupid, going to their own homes wtih the children, even though killers are chasing them; there are many scenes where the doctor taunts the children but doesn't kill them, only to give them a chance to escape and/or attack him later; there's absolutely zero logic or explanations for how the bad guys keep finding the children (they just show up whenever the novel needs some "excitement"); and an ending that is just incomprehensibly stupid -- it's not even clearly written so we know what happened, the story just sort of peters out and I guess we're supposed to assume that things worked out more or less okay. Besides all that, the novel is distasteful, as Patterson kills off a main character we like, and throws in an awkward sexual relationship between two of the children (supposedly these bird children are more mature than humans, so that makes it okay). Then there's the "science:" Patterson actually wants us to believe this dreck is somehow realistic, with a note at the beginning of the novel claiming that this stuff will happen in our lifetime. What makes that laughable is that the stuff he comes up with is absurdly complicated (science is a long, long way from creating bird humans who can fly -- we might be able to grow a human ear on a mouse but it's not like that ear is functional). Top off the bad science, idiotic plot, and horrible story-telling with poor writing and you've really got a dog of a novel. Patterson uses his new favorite idiotic technique of making each chapter 2-3 pages long, made horrible because each chapter must begin and end on an "exciting" note (almost always artificial, of course). This gives the whole book a seesaw "oh that's good," "oh that's bad," "oh that's good," feeling and makes it impossible to get involved in the lives of any of the characters. And did I mention that Patterson can't write children dialog at all? He even has the eight-year-old awkwardly using the F-word, for reasons I can't fathom. This is just a sad, sad work, probably written in a single weekend by a moron who could do so much better. I don't expect Shakespeare from former ad man Patterson, but this is way below even his shallow standards.


Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Lake Placid

Movie: Lake Placid (1999)
Writer(s): David E. Kelley
Director(s): Steve Miner

Prior to viewing, I didn't know what to make of this horror flick about a giant crocodile, written by the king of TV comedy, David Kelley. Was it supposed to be scary? Funny? An intentionally bad movie? It turns out it's a quirky comedy with some action and a lot of cool special effects. It's a horror film that mocks itself, while at the same time being a somewhat intelligent horror film. Unlike Scream, it's not a spoof, and the humor is sly and devilish, and comes more from the odd characters than jazzy one-liners. The special effects rival Jurassic Park in quality, though there are less of them. Very cool flick.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lakeview Terrace

Movie: Lakeview Terrace

Strange film. I wanted to see this when it came out, but somehow missed it, and the impression I had was that it wasn't that good. It's not that bad, though, just weird. Basically an interracial couple moves into a new house with a black cop as their neighbor. From the beginning he's a mix of politeness and meanness, and we're not quite sure what his deal is. That's both what makes the film interesting, and its biggest flaw. His true nature isn't fully revealed until late, which means the bulk of the film we aren't sure what's going on, making the experience awkward and tedious, as we're unsure how to think. It keeps you on edge, which is interesting, but you're uncomfortable, which isn't pleasant. The film would have been far better if there had been some indication right at the beginning that this cop was a really bad dude. We get that idea, but it's not clear enough, and he's so nice at times that it's confusing. Ultimately the film doesn't quite work. It's got some fascinating psychological elements, but either we're never privileged to get inside the heads of characters or its treated too lightly. Either way, the film feels slightly unpolished, a coarse rough draft. It's got some terrific scenes and excellent performances (Samuel L. Jackson is amazing as the cop neighbor), but the story's too disjointed and odd to be successful. Interesting idea, though. Reminded me a lot of the far better Pacific Heights.


Monday, June 27, 2005

Land of the Dead

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

I'm a big fan of Romero and was looking forward to this. It didn't quite measure up to his Dawn of the Dead (my favorite), but it's still a good film. He takes it beyond the typical blood spatter flick by making social commentary. In this story, the living dead have taken over the world and a few non-dead have taken refuge in a city that is surrounded by water and thus protected from the zombies. The city is run by Dennis Hopper who controls everything and separates the haves and the have-nots. Some live in squaller while the wealthy live in splendor. Remarkably, the hero in this film is a zombie! What a great twist. He has no lines, but is intelligent and leads the living dead into the city. In a wonderful scene, the dead tear through the luxury mall and eat the yuppies and rich who are there. It's like the mall scene from Dawn except instead of the mall being empty, it's now full of people. Romero has put together a good story with interesting characters to found his movie and that's what makes it work. It's a lot of fun with a glimpse of social commentary, but not quite as innovative as his previous works. Still, it's better than 99% of other zombie films, and pretty cool overall.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Land of the Lost

Movie: Land of the Lost

I recently caught a replay of this series on the SciFi Channel and I'm glad I did. My recollection of the cheesy 1970s kids show was fuzzy and influenced by my adult standards of acting and special effects. Yes the original show was cheaply made with bad stop motion dinosaurs and horrible green screen effects, but the heart of the show was some quite brilliant science fiction, especially for a Saturday morning kids show. Extremely ambitious and innovative, and not actually that badly done considering the budget and the available technology. So I was looking forward to the film. I pretty much got what I expected. While I'd be interested in seeing a "serious" Land of the Lost film, this one was done as a comedy, and as such it works. It's fun, entertaining, and utterly mindless. I like the way they changed things but kept them the same. For instance, instead of a dad and his two kids being lost, it's a scientist, his colleague, and a stranger: the characters all have the same names as the original ones, giving it a familiar but different vibe. In another terrific move, the producers incorporated the cheesy TV show theme song in the film, but thankfully not as the main score, merely as a comic banjo scene. The film does that with a lot of familiar things from the show: what is old is new again. Of course the dinosaurs and special effects are terrific, and in the end you get what you expect: a silly romp with action set pieces and comic gags. My only real criticism is a minor one: there's some surprisingly adult humor in the film, which I found odd considering the target audience. Many adults who saw the series as a very young children probably assume they could bring their kids and this has some sexual innuendo, a drug scene, gay jokes, and other inappropriate topics. I think the writers could have been more imaginative in their source for humor. But other than that (and the adult stuff is not that bad), I liked the film. It's mindless and silly, but you'll laugh and forget about it.


Monday, July 28, 2003

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Movie: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Much better than the first film, though that's not saying much. It's got great action, a cool heroine, neat gadgets, and a globe-trotting plot. Unfortunately the plot's rather fantastic (literally), and without a good grounding in reality, we don't really care much about the end result. Yeah, the heroine wins, the bad guys dies, hooray. There's also a rather heavy-handed attempt at instilling three-dimensional characters into the movie: the script does this by bringing in a former lover of Lara's, which is supposed to bring all sorts of deep emotional baggage but is just off-putting and trite. Come on, folks: think James Bond. No deep characterization there. He doesn't need it. Lara, like James, is all about style, not substance. If she does cool stuff, we'll like her. That's pretty much it. Fortunately this film has some style, and except for a few misses, this isn't a bad ride at all. Good fun.


Friday, November 30, 2001

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Movie: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

I really wanted to have a better reason to like this film than the fact that it stars Angelina Jolie, but unfortunately that's just not the case. She's perfect as the title character, and quite heroicly does her own stunts, but the film itself is a letdown, even by action standards. I knew I was in for trouble during the opening sequence where Lara is fighting a robot. After several minutes of bullet dodging and close calls, I said to myself, "This is probably her training program." Sure enough, the sequence ended when Lara ordered the robot to stop. Lame, lame, LAME! And that directly leads the next criticism of the movie's structure: except for the actual plot, Lara never raids any tombs! What's up with that? We're just supposed to assume she's some bad-ass tomb raider because that's the movie's title? The problem with never having her tomb raid is that to make the movie "suspensful" (like we actually believe she'll fail), she can't be entirely successful at her tomb raiding related to the plot -- that'd be too easy. So she struggles at that, and the end result is that we never really get to see her in her natural element kicking tomb butt. The plot -- don't get me started. What a ridiculous mishmash! This was almost as bad as the first Mission Impossible movie. It didn't even make any sense! While not making sense isn't the end of the world (lots of films don't), they don't take themselves seriously either. This film pretensiously acts like it's real life yet does things like have stone statues come to life to fight without even a wink at the viewer! (For more pretension, watch the DVD extras where the cast and producers incessantly rave about what an awesome movie it is.) And I never did figure out how the bad guy knew Lara was going to come to him with the secret clock key before she'd even found the clock in her attic! Was that just bad editing or was the bad guy supposed to be psychic or something? Oh, the film's beautifully shot, the scenery nice, the action sequences are pretty good, and Lara (Jolie) is great -- but there's no story to hold it all together. The mishmash "character stuff" about Lara missing her father (who vanished 15 years ago) is weak and underdeveloped; besides, I just didn't care about any of it anyway! The DVD's not bad -- the extras mean more Lara (Jolie), which is all you want to see anyway. I wouldn't mind a sequel: if they put together a decent structure they'd have something, but they need to hire Ang Lee to do the next one.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Las Vegas Trip

I've never been to Vegas before. I have no interest in gambling, so it didn't attract me that much, however I was curious about the place, the architecture, the shows, etc. This particular trip was sudden: old friends of ours from France were visting their sister in Vegas for a week and we managed to get a cheap flight/hotel stay to join them. So we didn't gamble or anything like that; we just walked around, shopped, and ate -- a lot. They have really good food in Vegas. Especially the French restaurants in the "Paris in Vegas" casino, which even our French friends liked. I had to bring out my rusty French (it's been over twenty years since spoke it regularly) which was an adventure, but we had a great time. It was a quick trip as my mom had to get back for a doctor's appointment this afternoon, but we're glad we went.

I did have one sort of Vegas mysterious thing happen. I'd cleaned out my jeans pocket before we went as you can't take pocket knives and such on the airplane. So the only thing in my pocket was my Dramamine (I get airsick). My mom found a dime on the ground the first night we were there and gave it to me, so I put it in my pocket. The next morning, I had my hand in my pocket and I realized there were two dimes there! I was surprised, but a few hours later I was shocked, for again I put my hand in my pocket and this time there were three dimes! That's all I got, and I have no explaination. I am positive my pocket was empty before I put the first dime in, and I examined the original when my mom gave it to me, so I know it wasn't like two or three dimes stuck together. And I know absolutely that after I found the second dime I checked my pocket thoroughly for more -- so the third one appearing really makes this unusual. Oh, and we didn't spend any cash -- credit cards only -- so it's not like I got change back from a transaction and absent-mindedly put some of it in my pocket and forgot about it. Very strange and mysterious. I'm not a conspirist, so I'll leave the theories to readers, but it was interesting. The thought did occur to me that maybe I should have gambled these dimes -- like they were meant to be found and used -- but the slot machines just didn't interest me at all. I cannot fathom the fascination with them. What's the point? Where's the fun? (BTW, I was suprised that Vegas is 90% slot machines. I saw very little of other kinds of gambling. I guess you have to go into special rooms for other games, like poker, which does interest me as it's not entirely dumb luck.)


Sunday, December 31, 2000

The Lasko Incident

Book: The Lasko Incident (1979)
Writer(s): Richard North Patterson

For some reason I've never read R.N.P. I guess I confused his books with James Patterson. Anyway, he's a lawyer and writes political thriller type stuff. I heard a radio interview with him about his new book and thought I'd give him a read. I picked up a bunch of used copies of his books and started this with one, his first. Impressively, he won the Edgar Allen Poe award for Best First Novel in 1979. It's easy to see why: he's crafted an excellent mystery here, though not without its flaws.

The plot is convoluted: the main character is a government lawyer assigned to investigate stock manipulation by Lasko, a multi-millionaire tycoon who's close friends with the President. The lawyer discovers conspiracy, corruption within his own agency, and murder. Unfortunately, while this is revealed in an extremely realistic fashion, it isn't that exciting. A lot of the book reads like dry court transcripts. It's like watching C-SPAN. Patterson makes other mistakes: for instance, he introduces characters by the dozens, then brings them back later simply by name (expecting us to remember that Di Pietro is the police sergeant we met once at the beginning of the book). That makes for confusing reading. The main character, the narrator, is also rather too into self-analysis and analysis of everyone he meets: I'm sure Washington is actually like that, with everyone scheming, weighing words and deciding what information to reveal, but it makes for ponderous reading. Such things are fine in two or three places in a novel, or about a select few characters, but we don't need a psychological profile of every Tom, Dick, and Harry. With all the vague intrigue and mystery, the book didn't get going until well-past the halfway point, but then I couldn't put it down. Patterson has a gift for dialogue and intuitive psychological accuracy; even without reading his more recent stuff I can predict he'll get even better.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Last Airbender

Movie: The Last Airbender
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan

I had never even heard of the TV cartoon series this was based on until I heard about this film about a year ago (back then I mostly thought it was weird making a live-action film of a cartoon when it's usually the other way around). I guess that's a good thing, because it sounds like fans are disappointed. Me, not so much. Contrary to most critics, who are blasting this thing, I didn't have a problem with it. Now I had low expectations going in, so perhaps that helped, but the big thing was not knowing anything about the story and setting. Sure, the dialog was lame and hokey, the mostly no-name actors lived up to their billing, and there are serious problems with the script, but I found the fantasy story fascinating and interesting, and the unusual setting more than offset those negatives.

Basically in this fantasy world there are four groups of people, each corresponding to a different basic element (earth, wind, fire, and water). Some of these people can "bend" their element -- i.e. use their mind to manipulate matter. One special guy -- strangely called the Avatar -- can manipulate all four. Because of that, he's incredibly powerful and keeps the four nations in check. He's continuously reincarnated so he's always around in some form to keep the balance over the centuries. But 100 years ago he vanished and hasn't been seen since. The fire nation took over and started to beat up the other nations, and now they've taken over most of the world. At the beginning of the film two children of the Southern Water nation discover a child hidden beneath the ice: he turns out to be the Avatar, who thinks only a few days have passed. Unfortunately, his training is incomplete: he only knows how to master air, not the other elements. So begins a grand quest to fight the Fire nation. The Avatar must be trained, and there are interesting elements going on within the Fire nation camp as well. The plot is dense and has the feeling of an epic adventure, a la Lord of the Rings. I worried about how they could cram that into a 105-minute movie. The answer: they didn't. The film ends in the middle of a sentence, really, with everything set up for future films. In this one, there is resolution to a battle and there's a terrific sacrifice made (I loved that plot point). I can see enough of this grand story to understand both why fans loved the original series and why they are upset with this condensed version. This is deep, epic material, and it does not translate well dumbed down to a single film. This shows throughout the film, which feels choppy and awkward in many places, as though things were missing. Many scenes feel rushed or cut short, and some events are implied, rather than shown or explained. Sometimes this was confusing, but most of the time it was just odd. For instance, in one scene the children are in a forest with other people with no explanation of how they got there and no introduction of the others. Since the children are on the run, I found it odd that they would be hanging around near civilization where the enemy soldiers are located, and that's never explained. But while these flaws no doubt bother the purists and hard-core fans, I was intrigued by the wonderful scenery -- fantastic venues of landscape and ice worlds -- and compelled by the complex story. I never quite got the reward I wanted from the story, which felt incomplete, but the scenery at least made the ride pleasant.

I came out of the theatre satisfied. I got what I expected: a rousing adventure with an unusual setting and interesting (though not spectacular) special effects. I didn't expect great dialog or acting and I didn't get it (though one or two actors and scenes stood out). I was puzzled because I'd heard that critics thought this was awful, but it's not any worse than other big Hollywood action flicks such as Iron Man 2. This is a popcorn movie. Go, relax, and have fun. Most of the critics seem to be judging Shyamalan, not the movie, and expecting too much from a once-great director, and most of the disappointed viewers seem to be fans of the TV show who are annoyed at all the changes and chopped up bits. That the film also has myriad small problems makes it ripe for picking, but this film is typical Hollywood in my book. I don't get all the outrage. Sure, this premise had great potential that's unrealized, but it's not that bad. I wouldn't exactly recommend it, but it's watchable.


Sunday, December 10, 2000

The Last Debate

Movie: The Last Debate (2000)
Writer(s): Book by Jim Lehrer
Director(s): John Badham

This movie came out on Showtime a while back but somehow I missed it. Anyway, it turned out to be pretty good. I thought at first it was quite partisan, painting the Democratic candidate as perfect, but that's resolved in the cool ending. Basically it's a film about the media and a presidential race. Four journalists essentially sabotage the Republican candidate live on the air during a debate two weeks before the election, revealing scandalous information. This raises all sorts of ethical questions about the media's role in politics and the power of the media. Eerie, considering the political situation facing the country right now. An interesting aspect of the film is that it uses several dozens real-life journalists and pundits in cameos, the same ones seen on all the news networks during this election crisis. Pretty cool.


Thursday, October 19, 2000

The Last House on the Left

Movie: The Last House on the Left (1974)
Writer(s): Wes Craven
Director(s): Wes Craven

What's the purpose of this film? I don't know. It's supposed to be chilling or edgy or innovative or something, but it's just dumb. The film looks and sounds amateurish, and there are obvious editing mistakes. Craven uses techniques like rapid camera movement, odd cuts, and close ups of unusual cropping to generate "excitement," but all it does is bewilder the viewer, as you can barely tell what's going on. The main bad guys are all so much alike it's difficult to tell who's who, and the language and style are all so early seventies they're difficult to understand. The plot is just pointless: a group of prison escapees rape and murder two girls and are then murdered by one of the girl's parents. Fun. No, just dumb. Theoretically you ought to root for the parents as they take their revenge, but everyone in the whole film is so ugly, evil, and disgusting that you really just don't care about anyone. Very strange, distasteful, and vile film. Nothing really that shocking about the violence, though it is violent. Might have been mildly impressive at the time of release, but now it's dated and junk.


Monday, December 27, 2004

The Last Juror

Book: The Last Juror
Writer(s): John Grisham

Cool book. The plot's low-key and takes place across a decade (1970-1980). The point of view is the narrator, a young man who moves to a small town in Mississippi and takes over the town's newspaper. He learns about the area and covers a sensational murder trial that takes place. In the process he meets a remarkable black woman who has seven children who've all grown up and earned PhDs. His weekly lunch with this woman becomes the rock of his life, and it is her story we glimpse through the man's own, as she becomes a key juror in the murder trial. Unlike most of Grisham's works, this is a character story, not a plot-driven thriller, and it's his best novel to date. The story's a touch slow at times and the ending's slightly contrived (but still satisfying), but this is not a novel about a story but about a place and time and people: just let yourself get lost in a different world and enjoy it. Impressive. Show's Grisham's depth and growth as a writer.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Last King of Scotland

Movie: The Last King of Scotland

I still don't understand the title, but the film's a terrific perspective of Uganda dictator Idi Amin (who loved things Scottish). We follow his rise and fall via a Scottish doctor who ends up serving as Amin's personal doctor; he's a wonderfully flawed man, and we're shown all that, and he contrasts brilliantly with Amin's initially personable man. Then as Amin starts to show his true colors, the doctor has fits of conscience, and eventually the doctor is heroic as he helps expose the real Amin to the world. Tremendous acting.


Monday, March 26, 2007

The Last Mimzy

Movie: The Last Mimzy

Not bad at all. A bit convoluted and odd, and the mystery lasts a bit longer than it should, and though the resolution makes sense, it's a bit mundane. It's hard to reveal much without spoiling things, but the story's about a brother and sister who find some "toys" on a beach and these toys basically give them superpowers. The boy's suddenly smarter, the girl can float, etc. There's a lot of odd things happening and the viewer has no idea what's going on, but apparently the toys are there for a reason: the children need to use them to save the earth. Of course all the adults have no idea what's going on and don't believe the kids anyway, so it's all up to the children. While the film does a great job setting atmosphere with mere odd sounds and strange lights and such, it leaves things a bit murky for the audience: it's sometimes difficult to tell exactly what's happening. For instance, at times I wasn't sure if the sounds were sounds the characters were hearing or merely a spooky soundtrack for the film. But overall the film's really good. Kids would definitely enjoy it (there were a lot at the theatre were I went and they seemed entertained) but adults will find it enjoyable as well (fortunately, the adult characters in the film are not idiots, but realistically draw parents and teachers).


Monday, January 1, 2001

Last Night

Movie: Last Night

Huh? Some sort of mishmash about the last day of the world. Why the world is ending is never clearly explained, though hinted at, yet why does the world choose to end exactly at midnight? The film explores the lives of various interrelated characters as they party, pray, or weep as the end draws near. No doubt it's supposed to be profound, but I just couldn't get into it. I didn't care for most of the characters, and without a story driving the thing, everything was meaningless anyway. Boring and lame. A definite "must avoid" movie.


Friday, December 5, 2003

The Last Samuri

Movie: The Last Samuri

Different from what I was expecting. In many ways it's deeper, but it wasn't the cool action flick I was craving. Unfortunately, it's a serious movie, and while at times that's nice, it's a darn depressing film. The story is about Japan in the 1800s when it was attempting to transition from the Samuri culture to a Western-style culture. The young emperor and his advisors want alliances with the West, but the Samuri want to preserve the old. The emperor brings in Western soldiers to train his troups in Western-style fighting, including Tom Cruise's character, a drunk who's fresh from the nightmare of the Civil War and Indian fighting. Tom's obviously got a deathwish, but when he's captured by the Samuri they don't kill him, but keep him prisoner in order to study him. Slowly he learns the ways of the Samuri and eventually becomes one. This is the best part of the film as we see Tom's character changing and developing, and the interaction and conflicts with traditional Japanese is fascinating. At some point, though, the film becomes an action flick, with Tom and his Samuri pals wielding sticks and swords. This is rather predictable and boring, routine stuff. Finally, we get a huge battle scene a la Braveheart, and this a really special and awesome part of the film. But in the end, the Samuri are all defeated (or are they?) and everyone dies. Like I said, it's depressing. The film tries to make the ending upbeat by spinning hope into things, but it doesn't really work. Instead, watching the beautiful Japanese culture die, we feel like we just watched a thousand baby seals being clubbed to death. It's not a happy thing. The film is long, and there are a few weak scenes, but overall it's excellently written and performed. The only real flaw is that the film can't be catagorized easily. It's not an action flick, though there are scenes which qualify. It's got points of real characterization that are legitimate drama, but those are dropped when it's time for action. The battle scene feels epic and would make a great movie by itself -- but it's alone in the middle of the rest of the film. In short, this feels like it was shot by three different directors, each focusing on their specialty (drama, action, battle) and then the three parts were woven together by an excellent editor. That's not to say this is a bad film by any means: it's very good, one of the best of the year definitely, and top notch if you consider a good movie one that moves you emotionally. But it's just a little awkward at times, a little schizophrenic, and that takes some of the shine off its luster. I left feeling disappointed like this could have been a masterpiece but someone didn't finish polishing it. It's a fascinating film from a historical viewpoint, similar to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in that respect and worth seeing just for that, and the middle part, where Tom learns the ways of the Samuri, is spectacular, and a must see. But the whole is lacking; the parts don't add up to the whole.


Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Last Seduction

Movie: The Last Seduction

Fun thriller about a sexy con artist (deliciously played by Linda Fiorentina) who manipulates everyone around her. She convinces her husband to steal $1 million in drug money, then escapes with the cash. But now she needs a divorce before she can legally keep the money (the moment she spends it on anything, it becomes an asset he can argue is half his). So she seduces a young man and makes up a story to convince him to kill for her. It's stylishly done, but there isn't much substance. Still fun, though.


Sunday, September 15, 2002

Lathe of Heaven

Movie: Lathe of Heaven (2002)

This is the recent A&E production, and it was okay, though vaguely disappointing. Nothing much happens. The premise is fascinating: whatever a young man dreams comes true, and when he awakes, the world is different and no one recognizes that it's changed but himself. He's seeing a psychiatrist who begins to manipulate his dreams and give himself more power and fame. James Caan is excellent as the psychiatrist, but he's not given much of a script. The dialog does nothing more than move the story forward; there is no depth. Good ending, and the production is okay, but ultimately the film has no soul. The scope of the changes made is minimal: there's unlimited potential for changing the universe here and very little is done with that. Disappointing.


Monday, September 16, 2002

Lathe of Heaven

Movie: Lathe of Heaven (1980)

Far superior version of the film. According to the DVD, this was the first film every made for PBS. It's amazingly high-tech for 1979, especially since it only cost $250,000. The script is much better in this version, with the dialog being much more interesting, conveying both character and plot. And the 2002 version left out critical details from the book, such as the invasion of the aliens. The aliens might seem silly or B-movie to some, but they're critical to the story because they show us the ultimate, fantastical power of harnessing the man's dreams to change the universe. By showing us that power, and the way it can be turned against us, we realize how dangerous it is manipulating reality through the dreams of another. Fascinating stuff. This version made it clearer that the doctor did know the man was telling the truth -- his dreams did change reality, he wasn't crazy -- but that left me confused as to why and how, since supposedly everyone else forgot that the world had ever been different. The film has its flaws, but it's still well above average, and amazing considering the complex subject and the budget and the year. The new version had a bigger budget and better special effects, but wasn't as good.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Movie: Law Abiding Citizen

Somewhat atypical revenge flick, with a genius out to hurt the legal system that made a deal with the man who killed his wife and daughter. It's above average in some ways, as the clever man does most of this from inside prison, which is intriguing. However, the resolution is typical and the explanation unsatisfying. At first we are rooting for the guy but later he just seems crazy. I guess that's the point, but it made his revenge seem unsavory and the audience can't enjoy it then. It's not a bad film, merely uneven and inconsistent, and too manipulative. It's a fun premise and could have been done better. We certainly aren't given much of an explanation as to why the guy is so obsessed (supposedly he's been fighting the legal system legally for ten years and now is taking matters into his own hands, but it feels weak as he wasn't screwed that badly). Even the murder at the beginning is vague and undefined. (It took me a while to realize the wife and daughter had been murdered, and I never could figure out why he wasn't killed or why his family was attacked -- I kept expecting some late twist in the tale that would reveal some unethical behavior on his part had provoked the attack, so in reality he was angry at himself for indirectly killing his family, but that never happened.) All-in-all: see this if you like this sort of film, otherwise wait for the DVD.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Laws of Attraction

Movie: Laws of Attraction

Not as bad as I was expecting -- it's predictable as two rival divorce attorneys fall in and out of love with each other -- but with a degree of realism I wasn't expecting. Unfortunately, the film doesn't have much depth beyond the love story, and the resolution is so easy that one wonders what all the fuss was about.


Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Lazio versus Club America

Soccer: Lazio versus Club America

This was an exposition at Spartan Stadium, and the place was packed with Club America (Mexico) fans. I was more familiar with the Italian team, though I haven't been able to watch them lately since Fox Sports World no longer broadcasts Italian soccer (lame). But Club America was impressive: they played strong attacking soccer, were fairly well organized at the back, and it was fun to watch. Lazio was more controlled, very patient, and deadly when given an opening. Club America, after missing a slew of chances, had a potential penalty kick not given. Then they finally scored midway through the first half from the top of the box with a blister shot that gave the keeper no chance. But that woke Lazio up and not long after they equalized. A through-ball came over the top, and the Lazio player chested it, and volleyed it into the goal when it dropped to his foot. Great stuff. The second half was boring from a Lazio perspective, while Club America had a ton of chances, which was exciting, but in the end they couldn't take a lead and the game finished an appropriate draw. Final: 1-1.


Thursday, August 21, 2003

Le Divorce

Movie: Le Divorce

Strange film. If you took a number of film genres and put them in a blender and spun them around but forgot to put the lid on some pieces flew out, what you'd have left would be something like this. Part comedy, part drama, part romance, part Paris adventure, part French farce, part crime thriller. The end result? Confusion. The movie uncomfortably jumps from genre to genre, throwing in a psychotic killer periodically, humor, drama, romance, etc. The plot's about a girl who goes to visit her pregnant sister in Paris. Right as she arrives, her sister's French husband leaves -- permanently. He's just walked out without an explanation. The French (apparently) think it's weird that the American woman is bothered by this. They think it's a little tacky (after all, his wife's pregnant), but normal. As divorce proceedings start, things get complicated. The woman can't return to the U.S., because that might look like she's running away with assets. Then there's the matter of the family heirloom she brought with her from her parents: it's a painting that's been in their family for generations, but now it's assumed to be part of the estate that should be equally divided between the couple. As attention is focused on the painting, there's suddenly speculation that it's an unknown La Tour and worth a fortune. Then there's the visiting sister: she's quickly becomes the mistress of one of her in-laws, a wealthy Frenchman. Does she love him? Who knows? How can one know anything in this film? Some films that break genres are awesome because they do exactly that. This doesn't, however; it's just nothing. You never know if you're supposed to laugh, cry, take things seriously, be scared or happy, or what. It's very strange and uncomfortable. Now it's not badly done at all, and it is entertaining, and there are parts that are excellent. But the whole just didn't come together for me. The movie was far too long at two hours: it should have been trimmed to 90 minutes, eliminated a few of the silly, superfluous plotlines, and focus on whatever kind of movie it's suppsed to be (light comedy, drama, whatever). Then it would have been an awesome treat. As it is it's okay, but not great. It waters itself down.


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Le Prix D'Argent

Book: Le Prix D'Argent

This is a French graphic novel my brother brought back from Paris for me. I'd never heard of the series, about a wealthy American businessman named Largo Winch. The back story is that Largo was the illegitmate son who inherited a $10 billion empire one day out of the blue when his father died. Suddenly the earthy Largo is in a position of incredible power, and he chooses to use that power for good instead of evil, unlike his unethical father.

This book opens with Largo being interviewed on a TV show when a guest, a former employee of the man, blows his brains on TV. Largo learns that one of his many subsidiaries, a small snowboarding company in Montana, was closed for lack of profits, and in doing so essentially destroyed the economy of an entire mountain community. This man's business was ruined and so he shot himself, blaming Largo for his ruin. Largo decides to investigate and unearths a complex mess of fraudulent accounting and realizes that someone switched the books, making it look like the snowboarding company was failing, when in reality it was profitable. When Largo goes to Montana to follow up on a lead, he's framed for murder and arrested. He escapes and the book ends with him on the run. That's correct, I said the books ends... because apparently this is volume one of a multi-part series! I hate that. Worse, this book was published in June 2004, so I guess I'll have to wait for the ending. Bummer. But it was an interesting story, a little complicated for my French considering the accounting terminology, but it was good practice for me -- by the end I was reading it fairly well. Apparently Largo Winch is popular in Europe -- there's a TV show and everything. I'd have to read more to see how I like the whole series, but the concept isn't bad and the artwork is excellent.


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Movie: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Writer(s): Alan Moore

I'd heard this was weak, but it was better than I expected. I have not read the comic book, though I'm a big Alan Moore fan, so I cannot speak to the authenticity of the story (I've heard they changed it considerably, deleting some characters and adding others). The concept is wonderful: it's the late 19th century and a group of extraordinary people -- famous literary characters such Alan Quartermain, Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, etc. -- form a league to fight an ultra-villain. In the film, the ultra-villain is a guy who wants to provoke the world in a "world war" so he can sell his military equipment. Each member of the League uses their unique capabilities to help defeat him, and it's fun to see them do it. However, the film overdoes things. The villain steals Dr. Jeckyl's formula, the Invisible Man's invisibilty potion, etc., and then creates villains with those same powers to fight the League. Come on, can't we come up with villains with their own capabilities? Why do they have to reuse those of the League? Lame. The special effects are very impressive, probably the best I've seen of all the big blockbusters released so far this summer. Lots of explosions, Captain Nemo's huge submarine, the Invisible Man, the Vampire Lady, etc. are all excellent. Mr. Hyde's some huge ape-like creature that's close to the Hulk except he's not green. Unfortunately, there's isn't a lot of story to go with all this great technology. The first half is pretty good, while we build up, but in the second half we learn that the entire first half was a sham and everything we thought we knew is wrong. Basically the tail eats the head of the film. Dumb. The ending is predictable (the good guys win, duh) but satisfying. The whole thing goes down like a McDonald's Big Mac: easy to eat, not terribly good or bad, but not particularly wholesome either. It could have been much, much better.


Friday, April 12, 2002

Left Behind

Book: Left Behind
Writer(s): Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

I was not expecting much from this book, the first in the wildly popular series, but to my astonishment, this is an excellent book. It's surprisingly well-written, quick-paced, and interesting. The book begins with the Rapture -- where Christians are taken to heaven and mysteriously vanish from the earth. Whether or not you believe in the Rapture, it makes for fascinating reading, as those "left behind" desperately come up with wild theories to explain the disappearences of their friends and loved ones. I found it wonderfully ironic that if all Christians are taken away, those left behind are obviously the least likely to accept God as the cause, though of course a few are convinced the disappearances are of supernatural origin.

I've heard the series described as a soap opera, and that's probably true, but it's still good fun and the Christian message, while occasionally heavy-handed, is presented a realistic and wholesome manner. A lot of Christian books are terribly unrealistic with characters and situations that don't exist in the real world, but I was pleased that this book presented both secular and Christian views from a balanced perspective (that's difficult for a writer to do).

As to the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical prophecies that are the basis of the series, I must inject my own views and say that that's irrelevant. The Bible speaks of the end times in riddles and metaphor: who is to say that we can interpret them accurately? What difference does it make either way? While some thought of the end times is good and appropriate, no one can guarantee their interpretation is correct. I find the concepts and stories fascinating, but fiction is the best vehicle for these kinds of ideas (versus the numerous non-fiction books written on the subject).

The series apparently continues on through the Tribulation, the period of suffering God inflicts on the world after the Rapture, and the core group of new Christians in this book become leaders of a resistence group. While I'm expecting the series quality to decline, I find it interesting enough I've ordered the next several books in the series, so we'll see what happens next.


Sunday, July 6, 2003

Left Behind: the Movie

Movie: Left Behind: the Movie

I'd heard this was very bad, and while it's not good, it's not as bad as I expected. Well, it's uneven. In places it's really pathetic, in others it's passable, and in others it's actually quite good. But overall it's weak. The first problem is the script. The novel is trimmed quite a bit and events are condensed, which serves to eliminate a lot of the suspense and excitement of the book. Of course this was a Christian production, so they couldn't trim out the religious details, and unfortunately those come across as heavy-handed and awkward. There just wasn't enough substance to the script to support such drama. I like the effort, and it was an ambitious effort to make this outside the Hollywood system, but unfortunately it has a video-tape movie-of-the-week feel to it. The story would have been better served by allowing Hollywood to do it, but with Christians controlling the production and having final cut. Not only would the production have been higher quality, but the perspective would have been more genuine (much of the story is as witnessed by non-Christians). I wonder if it was a financial success and they'll do more?


Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Legally Blonde

Movie: Legally Blonde

Decent, fun, silly film about a blonde girl who enrolls at Harvard Law to follow her boyfriend and discovers she good at being a lawyer. Reese Witherspoons character was really good: I loved the way she was so clueless as to not realize that people were making fun of her blondeness and just dive right in, being friendly and mindlessly happy to all. Her character has a gift for helping people out of their shell and uses that in her law career. Pretty cool idea and fairly realistic; she's not stupid, just interested in fashion and other things. Ultimately this film flirts on the fence of being silly and stupid or silly and worth something, and I think it just tips toward the latter, though not by much. Good fun.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde

Movie: Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde

Decent sequel, with similar feel and humor to the first film, but the silly plot (about Elle going to Washington D.C. to pass anti-animal testing for cosmetics) is too predictable and the spark of originality the first one had is missing. Okay, fun, but very, very light.


Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The Legend of Bagger Vance

Movie: The Legend of Bagger Vance
Director(s): Robert Redford

This is the story of an early twentieth Century golf match between an unknown local kid and legendary golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. The kid (Matt Damon) is caddied by a black guy named Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who helps him overcome his fears after a bad experience in the war. The whole thing is rather pedestrian and predictable. I didn't buy Damon's psychic war wounds, and Smith talked like a Chinese riddle saying ordinary things that are supposedly profound similar to "wherever you go, there you are." I guess the faux-mystic stuff was supposed to be believable and moving -- on the DVD extras Redford seemed to buy into it -- but I thought it was corny and predictable. Visually the film's period look was interesting and I liked the way Redford showed certain special golf effects to go along with the mystic theme, but in most cases the golf itself was extremely lame: all we got to see was the players swinging followed by a close-up of the ball landing next to the cup (that's as bad as a sitcom's presentation of golf). The film was also way too long. But I loved the narrator, Jack Lemmon, who was a modern-day old geezer telling about the tournament he witnessed as a child. Not a terrible film, but a little boring, too predictable, mystically corny, and doesn't hold up over its length.


Thursday, July 17, 2003

The Legend of Suriyothai

Movie: The Legend of Suriyothai

This is the incredible true story of a Thai legend, Queen Suriyothai. Back in the early 1500's when Thailand was known as Siam, Princess Suriyothai hid her feelings and married a Prince instead of the soldier she loved. She did this for her country, because not doing it would cause strife in the kingdom. What follows is a complex power struggle, as kings die and princes assume the throne. There's much plotting, assasination, beheadings, and illicit sex going on, and power shifts all around as different parties take control. Eventually it is up to Suriyothai to convince her husband to take the thrown, and to kill the current usurper of the throne. This must happen because without a strong leader, Siam will fall to their enemies, particularly Burma, in the north. In the end there's a huge battle and Suriyothai, who'd dressed in armor to fight along with the men, saves the life of her husband but is killed in the process. She is buried a hero and becomes a legend. Fascinating story, lavishly produced, with thousands of extras, elephants, and horses. The costumes are stunning, the palaces and sets extraordinary. The story's complex, but surprisingly easy to understand, even with subtitles. There's constant action, as the director never lets the story age, and though it's an epic that spans some twenty years, there's no dull exposition. It's really well-done and gorgeously shot. It is violent, and there are some gory beheadings (lots of murders). Amazing.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole

Movie: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole

The previews of this didn't make me want to watch it. It looked feeble and reviews were negative. But I really wanted to like it. It's about owls, which are cool; it's based on a book series, which is good; and it's directed by Zack Snyder (who did 300 and Watchmen) so the visuals and action would be good. Unfortunately the film makes so many elementary mistakes it ruins itself before it gets a chance.

The most critical mistake is one of confusion. The filmmakers were adapting dense books of a complex owl society so there's a lot of information the audience needs to know about this unfamiliar world. They should have bent over backwards to make sure that we understood what was going on, who was who, and how this world worked. Instead, they seem to have gone out of their way to make things more difficult and challenging. For instance, all the owls of the same species look alike. Sure, their are minor differences, but they are too subtle, especially for audiences seeing the film for the first time. (After 90 minutes, I still had trouble identifying the main character!) Even worse, the choice to use all Australia actors for the voices was a fatal one, because they all sound alike (not true for Australians, I'm sure, but the rest of the world just hears the Australian accents and can't hear anything else). So now we've got characters that look and sound alike, and they're talking about owl-things we know nothing about and referring to silly-named places like Ga'hoole, and they're not introducing any of this to us gradually but all at once, throwing us right into the deep end of the pool and expecting us to swim.

Another critical mistake is one of size. Size is all about proportion: we need to see owls next to something else to get a feel for the owl's size, but here the owls live in nature, so all we have for comparison are trees and other owls. I didn't even realize the main character was a child-owl until a good way through the film, and throughout I kept revising my estimation of his age: a baby, a child, a teenager, a young adult? I really have no idea! In one sequence he learns to fly, but I would think owls learn to fly at a pretty young age, so that would make much too young to do some of the other things he does. He's referred to as young by older owls but he's obviously older than the chicks they show, so I guess maybe he's the equivalent of a tweenager, but I don't know. That confused me, making the story more difficult to follow because I couldn't tell if the kid was doing something impressive or normal.

The bottom line is that the story ends up being a convoluted mess. I found myself distanced and put off. I didn't care much about any of the characters (okay, the comic relief owl was amusing) which meant I didn't care about the story. The story itself was both too bizarre (weird magical aspects that didn't seem to find the rest of the world) and too slight (young hero owl stops bad owls). I wanted more depth, more character. Instead the film spends much of its time attempting to present an interesting owl world, but it does it in such a convoluted manner that we just end up bewildered.

The film is beautiful, and some of the fighting action in the battle scenes is impressive. But I never once felt the least bit worried about any of the main characters, nor did I find anything about the film compelling. I feel sad because obviously tremendous effort went into this, but it was all in the wrong direction. The most interesting part for me were the closing credits, which had fantastic silhouette-style sketch animation. That was actually innovative and cool. All that said, I wouldn't necessarily advise against seeing this. It's probably worth it just for the visuals (though I wasn't at all impressed by the 3D -- it's decent, but not worth an extra penny). However, it's heartbreaking that so much potential was wasted as this could have been a classic.


Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The Legend of Zorro

Movie: The Legend of Zorro

I remember I liked the first movie: it was fun and sexy, though the plot and action was overdone. This one tries to recreate the same, but unfortunately fails. The biggest problem I had was that the plot calls for the two main characters, Zorro and his lovely wife (the incomparable Catherine Zeta-Jones) to fight and separate (they actually get divorced). The fight seemed artificial and awkward. She was upset he still wanted to be Zorro, yet of course that's why she loved him in the first place! After a lot of mysteriousness, we find out that the fight was not real: she still loves Zorro but was being blackmailed into the divorce by people who threatened to reveal his true identity. The whole thing's a convoluted mess. Of course it all ends happily with everyone reuinited, but until that moment it's an unpleasant, uncomfortable film. These two were meant to be together so why separate them so cruelly? Why make us endure watching Zorror become a depressed drunk and jealous husband? I would much, much, much rather have seen a husband-and-wife team of fighters who cooperate and love each other but one or the other is put in jeopardy during their adventures. Even worse is the reasoning behind the blackmailing of the wife doesn't make any sense. Combine the plot nonsense with villains that Zorro keeps fighting but doesn't defeat (Is he really that poor of a hero?) and lame action sequences that are ridiculously improbable and boring to watch and I couldn't wait for this film to end. That was sad, as I expected it to be a lot of fun, but it was dreary and depressing, and much too long. And Zorro's too-cute son is the worst actor I've seen in decades.


Friday, January 22, 2010


Movie: Legion

I did not expect this to be good, but I didn't expect it to be this bad. The premise of angels as the antagonists had me intrigued, but I expected at least a token bit of theology to explain it. Instead I got nothing: this could just has easily have been zombies, monsters, or alien creatures destroying humankind. There was the faintest hint of moral conflict in the final confrontation between archangels Gabriel and Michael, but it was so lamely done it meant nothing. All the film has going for it is some routine action and one dramatic (and fun) scene of a nice old lady suddenly turning vicious. That scene is in the trailer and is by far the best -- and only -- thing in the entire film worth watching. The plot itself was non-existent as nothing made any sense at all: it's basically a small group of humans and one angel holed up in a diner fighting off humans possessed by angels with the angels wanting to kill the pregnant girl's baby which is somehow supposed to save mankind. Come on: if God wants a baby dead, it's dead. That a million angels can't do it is absurd. The purpose of the baby is never explained, nor is why God is so angry with humanity. Pretty much nothing is explained. A handful of the characters are mildly interesting (most are so annoying you're rooting for them to be killed off), but it's not like we care about anyone here. Just terrible.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Movie: Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Another of those films I really wanted to like. I certainly adore this kind of film, but unfortunately this one fell short. The world is an awkward mix of fantasy, modernness, and ancientness that doesn't quite jell. The story meanders and you're never sure where it's going. Handled correctly, with proper foreshadowing, that can be good, but in this case it just means that everything comes across as jarring and uncomfortable, like being on a roller coaster where the ride takes sudden turns in the wrong direction. You're never quite sure who is good or evil, what you should root for, and worst of all, the story always ends up back where it started, with the unfortunate children in the clutches of the same villain (Jim Carey). It is very strange. It's not a magical world, yet there are weird magical-like things (i.e. the professor's strange plants, the rickety house, the prophetess aunt, etc.). It's not a fantasy world (children do not invent mechanical contraptions to escape death in fantasies), yet there are fantasy elements. The story goes nowhere (the children do not seem to learn or grow from their experiences and use that in the climax which would at least give their adventures purpose), and in the end it feels like a whole lot of hubub over nothing much. The main plot is also quite predictable, which makes the unexpected and strange people and contraptions too much purpose, as though they are there to entertain us since the plot won't. This is not a terrible movie -- there's nothing particularly horrible about it -- but it's not a great movie. It's disappointing since it obviously cost a lot of money to make and comes across like a major special effects showcase. Unfortunately, colorful characters and fancy effects don't make up for the drab story.


Sunday, January 9, 2000

Les Diaboliques

Movie: Les Diaboliques (1955)
Writer(s): Pierre Boileau (novel) and Henri-Georges Clouzot
Director(s): Henri-Georges Clouzot

I'd seen the Sharon Stone remake, and though I liked it, I found it confusing. The original is much easier to understand (even in French!), and the leisurely pace more appropriate for the story. I'm interesting in seeing the remake again, just for comparison purposes, but this original is definitely a classic. It reminds me a lot of The Sixth Sense, in that you need to watch the movie again once you've seen the twist ending. This is the film Hitchcock wanted to do, but Clouzot got the rights to it first.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Let Me In

Movie: Let Me In

This is a remake of the acclaimed Swedish film, Let the Right One In. I'll confess that I "sort of" watched that one: I was doing other things while watching it (not a good idea as it was subtitled). Also, I watched it via Netflix streaming, which meant rewinding for a missed bit of dialog was a bitch, so that film left me confused. (That's why I never "reviewed" it here as I don't really consider that I've seen it.) That said, I saw enough of the original to see where this one differed and for the most part, I believe this version is superior. At least I preferred it. (But keep in mind that my main bias against the first one was that I was often confused -- and that may have had much more to do with my lack of attention than the film itself.)

This version I found mesmerizing and clear. In the first, I was confused about who was who (for instance, for a long time I thought the caretaker was a vampire as well as the little girl). The car accident in this version was far superior, terrifically shot from inside the car as it crashed. But the main difference is the girl. When I saw the original, the girl didn't fit for me: she wasn't a bad actress, but just physically didn't fit the role. Chloe Moritz in the new version is perfect: she somehow expresses both youth and ageless maturity. Most important, she has a sweetness and innocence that was key to the character for me. What makes her character creepy is precisely that dichotomy. That was missing in the original where the girl seemed too goth and weird.

Where the new film is weak, however, is in the excess of vampire effects. The girl looking demon-like when she becomes a vampire was totally the wrong approach. (Just the fact that I wrote "becomes a vampire" shows how wrong, for vampires don't transform like a werewolf, but that's how this felt.) Fortunately, that only happens in a few scenes, so it doesn't ruin the film, but the film would have been far stronger -- and Chloe's character far creepier -- if she'd stayed normal-looking while acting savagely.

The bottom line is these two films are a fascinating exploration of the difference between the European and American approaches cinema. Both are excellent but differ in tiny ways. The European version is more subtle, intellectual, and lacks flashy special effects. The American version is less subtle, which is not necessarily bad -- I preferred the clearer story -- but it does try to add more action. (It is interesting that those are the weakest aspects of this new version.) Fortunately the American version had the European one to build upon and much of it is almost a shot-for-shot remake, so in the end this isn't truly American or European. It's a nice compromise between the two and I liked it very much. A perfect example of the differences is in the two titles: "Let Me In" is simple and makes sense (vampires can't come into your home unless you invite them), while I never understood the point of the extra words in "Let the Right One In."

One other important thought. There was a moment in this film that chilled me. It was during one of the conversations between the boy and the girl where I sensed her profound longing to be normal. For a moment, she truly seemed like an alien being. For me, that was awesome. Most vampire stories don't get that. Vampires are merely somewhat different from humans, are altered humans, or portrayed as humans with superpowers. I love the idea of vampires being completely alien from us. Looking like us but literally being unable to understand us. After all, we age and die, and they don't, and though that sounds like a simple difference, it changes everything about one's approach to life. That's why the connection of the boy and girl in this film was so powerful: the boy was alienated by the bullies at school and the girl was alienated because she's a vampire and together they formed a connection. Fascinating, amazing, and wonderful.

The debate over whether this version or the original is better is pointless: go see either or both. They are sides of the same coin. The main thing is you need to see the film. It is an incredible story, sad and creepy and wonderful and tragic, and well worth your time.


Saturday, July 1, 2000

License to Kill

Movie: License to Kill

Excellent Bond adventure, one of my favorites because the plot is different from the regular Bond cliche. Darker than normal, but with plenty of cool Bond action.


Thursday, February 3, 2000

Life is Beautiful

Movie: Life is Beautiful (1997)
Writer(s): Vincenzo Cerami and Roberto Benigni
Director(s): Roberto Benigni

All I can say is if you haven't seen this film, go see it right now! This is one of the best movies I've ever seen. It's ten times better than Schindler's List, mostly because it's bearable, and not literal. Instead of showing us the horrors of the Holocaust directly, it uses comedy and misdirection to lighten the mood. The effect of this is to emphasize the horrors even more powerfully because we're so emotionally open and involved with the characters. An example? The main character's son, earlier in the film, is revealed to hate taking a bath, and hide in a cabinet to escape such a trial. Later, in the concentration camp, the boy doesn't go with the other children into the gas showers because he thinks it's a normal shower! What powerful irony; sweet yet heart-wrenching. The film is packed with dozens of wonderful examples of bittersweet humor like that. My favorite aspect of the film? Probably the brilliance of the writing, which I thought was superb. I especially like the way nothing was wasted: every event was reused a way which was imaginative and touching. An example? Benini's waiter character befriending a visiting doctor, who later shows up as the concentration camp doctor (there are many better ones, like the classic scene with the key). Another cool thing: I discovered I can almost understand Italian!


Saturday, February 10, 2001

Life on Earth

Movie: Life on Earth (1998)

Great film if you love Africa, especially West Africa. Part of the "Celebration 2000" event, this was directed by a West African to show his view of the changeover to 2000. He lives in Europe and shows comparisons between the fast-paced, product-filled life of Europe versus the monotony of life in the African bush. His conclusion is appropriate: that the year 2000 means nothing in the bush, that nothing will change, and things won't get better. I don't take quiet such a negative view of bush life (it strikes me as almost idyllic in many ways, though of course starving isn't fun). The photography is spectacular, especially on the widescreen DVD. There's lots of humor (telephone communication madness, colorful black-and-white photography, etc.). Excellent. Only an hour long, it feels much longer as much of it is designed to show the slow, boring life of an African village. The film made me homesick (I grew up in West Africa).


Saturday, September 18, 2004

Life or Something Like It

Movie: Life or Something Like It

Predictable, boring, "live today for you may die tomorrow" movie. It feels like a disease-of-the-week TV movie, with gimmick moments obvious miles before they happen. The main character's an ambitious TV reporter gunning for a network job who finds out she's going to die and revises her life. It's not especially bad, just especially average. A good fast-forward movie.


Friday, February 4, 2005

Life with Grandpa

Grandpa has been living with me for a couple weeks now and life sure has been interesting! To provide family and friends with a glimpse at what it's like, I decided to start a little newsletter. It's full of little humorous stories about Grandpa and his new life here with me. Even if you don't know Grandpa, you might find it entertaining.


Monday, July 3, 2000

The Limey

Movie: The Limey

Unusual film presentation of a revenge story, excellently directed, but a little weak on meaning.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Movie: Limitless

It's a gimmicky premise -- a pill that allows you to use the supposed "full capacity" of your brain (it's not actually true that we only use a small percentage of our brain, so don't promote that myth) -- but it's surprisingly well-done. I expected everything to be trite and predictable, but it's spun out in an interesting and believable fashion as the guy uses his new brain power to take over the financial world. There's tension, our hero makes mistakes and is flawed, and the ending is good, though it doesn't exactly explain all the loose ends. I liked the cast and the direction was also good. I can't think of anything that's a huge standout -- it's simply a well-crafted thriller. It's fun and interesting and fairly intelligent, and these days one can't ask for much more than that.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Lincoln Lawyer

Movie: Lincoln Lawyer
Writer(s): Michael Connelly (book)

This started out being just what I expected: a by-the-numbers story of a too-slick defense attorney making clever deals, getting his clients off on technicalities, and charging healthy sums for his efficient work. The main case he takes on is deceptively simple: a rich young playboy is accused of battering a prostitute and attempting to rape her and it seems like she's just out for a payday. But then things get tangled as the lawyer discoverers there's more to the case -- and his client -- than he expected. He eventually finds himself pinned in by his client, basically blackmailed, and unable to do anything about it. Suddenly the lawyer is facing a philosophical and moral quandary and we get some real depth about innocence and evil. I was very surprised to find such material in a glossy Hollywood production, and it really raised the quality of the film. Not only does this work as thrilling entertainment, but it has some interesting meat for you to chew on afterward. Impressive.


Thursday, August 5, 2004

Linuxworld San Francisco

Nice show. I wasn't sure what to expect. Very different crowd than the Macworld Expo, but that's to be expected. This was less individual users and more corporate, enterprise-level stuff. Lots of server-level software and the hardware tended to be high-end (terabyte drives, CPU clusters, etc.). I was impressed at how much stuff for Linux is available, though it's obvious the desktop has a long way to go. Also impressed at some of the big companies involved: IBM, HP, Novell, etc. It was good to see that despite the corporate influence, there was still an emphasis on open source and cross platform technologies. In many cases companies making stuff for Windows and Linux also support the Mac, which is excellent. Oh, and the vendors seemed eager to hand out their giveaways, unlike Macworld where they are hoarded and given out only to a select few (or all out by the last day of the show). Good show. I think I'll go again next year and see how it's developed.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Little Children

Movie: Little Children

This is a fantastic film. They had a free HBO preview this past weekend and this was one of the films I recorded. Though neither the title or the plot summary sounded familiar, I saw it had Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly and that sounded interesting and I didn't realize which film it was. This was actually a film I really wanted to see when it came out, mostly because I'd heard such rave reviews of actor Jackie Earle Haley's performance (warranted). The description of the film about two married people having an affair with each other didn't interest me much, but I must say, this is exactly the kind of film about that I've wanted my whole life to see. In most films when people have an affair it's all about the sex or the illicitness of it -- we never get a picture of how the affair started, the hows and whys, the doubts, the longings, the self-denial that you're doing anything wrong. This film does it in an awesome way: the affair isn't consummated until halfway through the film: prior to that we are learning about the characters. It's a realistic look at the way an affair blossoms, by decent people who wouldn't normally be tempted by such a thing.

The other great thing about this film -- my favorite thing, in fact -- is the narration and tone. The narration sets this up as though this were a "Wild Kingdom" episode and we're studying the human species in its natural habitat (in this case, a modern suburban neighborhood). The narration is perfect: not overdone, but frequent enough to keep the tone, and always done to provide us with valid insight into what characters are thinking. The narration empowers every scene, it doesn't distract or annoy or provide boring exposition: it's more like analysis and commentary.

Of course with the affair not getting hot and heavy until halfway through the film, there needs to be some other stuff happening, and that's where this film becomes fascinating: mixed in the middle of this affair we have the entire neighborhood on alert because a "sexual deviant" (Jackie Earle Haley) has just been let out of prison and is moving back into the neighborhood (he's moving in with his mother). Like everything else in this film, even this is not cut and dry: the deviant's character is sympathetic and tragic, as is his doting mother, and we're kept at edge over whether or not the public's outrage is justified or not. The deviant's story weaves in and out of the couple having the affair, and two seemingly unrelated events actually have a lot in common: tragedy, accusation without proof, guilt, etc. It's fascinating.

When I started watching this film I thought I would only watch a few minutes as it was long (2+ hours), but I was hooked from the first scene which was electric with tension and import and I just could not stop watching until the film was finished. Amazing. Highly recommended. Not always easy to watch, but definitely emotionally moving and intellectually riveting.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine

Movie: Little Miss Sunshine

This was actually better than I expected, but my expectations weren't that high. It's a decent movie, enjoyably harmless, about a dysfunctional family going a disasterous road trip. It's somewhat predictable and the payoff at the ending isn't quite worth the wait, but it is fun, and there are some excellent moments. Pretty good.


Sunday, July 22, 2001

Little Nicky

Movie: Little Nicky (2000)

Lame, lame, lame. Extremely unfunny story about the Devil's son who must go to earth on a mission to save his father's life. I think I laughed once, and that wasn't much more than a smile at one joke. There were a few things that were mildly amusing, but the whole film just reeked of bad taste, bizarre performances, and weird humor. (To give you one example of the "humor," "Doughnuts are fat free in heaven.") Not worth ten cents of your time.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

Movie: Live Free or Die Hard

Decent, though not great. It cannot live up to the original or even the sequels. It captures some of the flare and there are some good moments, but there's just no way this can have the originality of the first film. The first stood out for so many reasons: claustraphobic action, reluctant hero, brilliant criminal mastermind with diabolical plan, etc. This film has some of that but it comes across as forced and awkward. It goes big where it should have gone small. John McClain takes on the world when he should mano a mano with the bad guy. Still, it's an excellent action film. There are some good stunts, the plot's not as ridiculous as most action movies, and it's got some familiar characters. But it's not a breakthrough or very memorable.


Friday, December 10, 1999

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Movie: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Writer(s): Guy Ritchie
Director(s): Guy Ritchie

What an interesting movie! Set in Scotland, this starts off in a blur of incomprehensibility (a combination of fast pace, lots of slacker-type characters that all look alike, and thick accents), but soon it settles down into a neatly plotted criminal caper. The plot centers around four dudes who pool all their money so one can participate in a high stakes (100,000 pounds) poker game. He emerges ashen-faced, not only having lost the hundred grand, but owing a mobster 500,000! They have week before they start losing fingers, so they plan a robbery. That's where the fun starts, for nothing goes quite as planned, and you have robbers robbing robbers, crooks shooting each other dead, botched drug deals, crazy hitmen, and much mayhem. It's a quirky, fun, violent film, similar to Pulp Fiction. It can be confusing a times, but everything makes sense in the end. The continual plot twists are clever and fun. Neat movie from first-time director Ritchie.


Sunday, February 3, 2008


Movie: London

Now this is a terrible movie. First, the plot is so threadbare it's ridiculous: a guy finds out his old girlfriend is moving away without telling him and he crashes her going-away party to say good-bye. That's it. Nothing else happens except for angst and bitching and flashbacks of the same. The climax -- yes, I will "spoil" it for you -- is the guy finally having the "courage" to say the words, "I love you" to his ex-girl friend, words he couldn't say while they were together (he wrote them on her shoulder but couldn't say them). How lame is that?

Second, the creators are obviously pseduo-intellectuals who wanted so bad to make an "intelligent" movie that the script is filled with inane conversations and dribble about God and the universe and stuff that is supposed to sound smart yet comes across as either pretentious or dumb.

Third, the characters are all such losers -- drug-sniffing alcoholics who swear and fight and wear their misery for all the world to see -- that you can barely stand to watch them, let alone care about them or figure out how in the world they ended up together.

Finally, the cast, while gorgeous and young, are absolutely horrible actors, at least with this material. The fights and shouting feels staged, the anger comes across as random and pointless -- even the love-making is awkward it makes you go "Huh?" Just a terrible, terrible movie. Stay away, very far away.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lonely Hearts

Movie: Lonely Hearts

Strange film from a few years ago: it features a star cast of actors like John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, and Jared Leto, and it tells the sensational true story of an infamous male-female couple who swindled and murdered dozens of widows in the 1940s. I wondered why I hadn't heard of it. Unfortunately, that's clear when you watch the film. It is extremely uneven, both in script and tone. There's tons of modern swearing and dialogue, which feels out of place in a period piece. Some dramatic scenes are excellent, but others fall flat and obviously don't work. The charming couple, who pose as brother and sister and romance their way into the lonely hearts of wealthy war widows before murdering them, are too weird for the audience to connect with them. We never really understand their motivations. Hayek seems miscast as her Hispanic accent comes and goes and doesn't seem to fit her character. Her character is basically insane and she comes across as unlikable. The film's better moments come from Travolta's character, a widower struggling to connect with his troubled teenage son, but unfortunately that's an underdeveloped subplot that feels ham-handed and perfunctory. Interesting, with a handful of intriguing scenes, but way to incoherent to be watchable.


Monday, October 20, 2003

Long After Midnight

Book: Long After Midnight
Writer(s): Iris Johansen

I have no idea what the title means. The book's about a female research scientist in Oklahoma who's developed a process that a world famous needs to perfect his new "RU2" drug that cures cancer. But powerful drug companies don't want RU2 to hit the market, so they hire an assassin to kill the scientist. When his lab is blown up he's presumed dead, and then the assassin goes after the woman and her son. So the top scientist -- who's not dead -- shows up at the woman's place and helps her and her son escape into hiding, where they can perfect the drug. It's all rather forced and far-fetched, with Johansen really stretching for material. But she does paint interesting characters, though they're ones we've seen before from her. A decent read, if you just enjoy it for recreation and don't try to use logic or common sense regarding the plot. Not as profound as her better work.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Long Good Friday

Movie: The Long Good Friday

Good British gangster film. I'm not normally a big fan of the genre, but this one is good: the plot's simple enough I could follow it. It's basically the story of a ganster on Good Friday when his men start dying right and left, bombs going off, etc. Someone is trying to kill him and he has no idea who, so he sets out to find out and exact his rather grim justice. The ganster is played by the fabulous Bob Hoskins who is truly at his remarkable best in this film. The final scene of the film is a long closeup of Bob's face as he goes through a series of expressions. It's just amazing. You can practically see the cogs and wheels in his head turning as he's trying to come to terms with the situation and various emotions flitter across his face like images on a TV screen. Just incredible. Worth watching just for his performance.


Friday, March 30, 2007

The Lookout

Movie: The Lookout

I knew little of this but it was getting good reviews and it turned out to be more dramatic than I expected. It's the story of a high school kid who's in a bad car accident and suffers brain damage that makes him dysfunctional. He has trouble "sequencing," that is, getting the order of things right. So he might put on his shoes first and then try to put on his socks, etc. This makes it hard to hold a job. He works as a night janitor at a bank and hopes to be a teller someday, but struggles with the money counting. He's befriended by a guy at a bar who claims he used to know the kid when he was a high school hockey star, but soon we realize that he's just using the kid to help him rob the bank. The climax is pretty good: we aren't sure how the kid's going to worm his way out of all the trouble he's gotten himself into, but the resolution works. There's a lot of neat stuff in the film: the kid's roommate, a blind guy played by Jeff Daniels, is a brilliant character, full of insight; the pacing of the film is excellent, with a good balance of drama, humor, and thought-provoking; it's well-directed, too, though there are occasions where it tries too hard and almost resorts to melodrama. I also liked the way the kid changes and grows throughout the film. Overall, an excellent, thinking film. It ultimately is a little lighter weight than it should be, perhaps because of the action-oriented ending, but the majority of the film is character-based, with interesting people and terrific performances.


Saturday, December 22, 2001

Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring

Movie: Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Director(s): Peter Jackson

First, let me start by saying this is definitely the best film adaptation of the novel. Peter's an excellent director and what his team has accomplished here is impressive. Visually the film is amazing, everything you'd expect in a modern epic. However, that's also the problem: expectations on a technical level are so high these days that one loses a sense of wonder and astonishment at the achievement. You gaze at a real Hobbit village and go, "Yeah. Looks real. Neat." What that means is that the story must captivate you; unfortunately, even with three hours to tell it, the story gets short shrift. Jackson wants to explain everything, including a great deal of backstory that isn't openly explained in the trilogy but told in Tolkien's notes and other works, and the result is multiple movies within a movie. It's not confusing, per se -- he does an excellent job -- but it is distracting from the main film. Part of the problem isn't the director's fault: LOTR isn't a true trilogy (where each book stands on it's own) but one epic story: the films, like the books, are best viewed sequentially. I'm sure I will like this much better when I can sit down (for nine hours) and watch all three films in a row. Meanwhile, this film on its own, while excellent, feels both overwhelming (too much info) and too brief (it ends as the adventure's beginning).

Finally, I must protest at the script. Why the arbitrary changes? The writers and producers took years to write the three films and I'm sure there were rational reasons for the choices they made and if we were in a room together debating the issues, they might be able to convince me that they made the right decisions, but as a viewer and reader of the novel, I found their choices odd, puzzling, and occasionally distasteful. Why leave out the first adventures of the Hobbits in the Barrow-Downs and the characters of Bombadil and Goldberry? I always found those adventures critical in forming the partnership of the four Hobbits and establishing their ability to survive hardship: it preps them for the future, much more challenging difficulties. Now it's not a huge thing, but it's significant, and I don't understand why, if the movie's a rendering of the book, it can't be done faithfully. Why do it all if you're just going to change it? There are many other variations, along with some obvious mistakes. For instance, we're treated with a battle with a troll in the Mines of Moria sequence: a troll is mentioned, but never fought in the novel. Why include that elaborate battle scene? And they left out the attack of the wolves before that, something I found exciting and terrifying in the book and looked forward to in the fillm. Perhaps, you say, they just didn't have time to include everything, and I might agree except that the film often took time to include other scenes of less critical nature that wasted a great deal of time. For instance, the bit where Gandalf faces the three doorways and must decide which to take. They actually show him brooding for an extended period just like in the book: to me that's exposition and has little place in the film.

Which brings up the whole issue of time, something I felt the film struggled with. In the novels, it's never very clear when things happened throughout the history of Middle-Earth: events are refered to as being "long ago" or in the "Elder Days" and compared with other historical events that happened at a similar time, but you have to go to Tolkien's notes to really understand the entire history of Middle-Earth, in sequence. Jackson does a good job of explaining this in the film's prologue, which details the history of Ring, but then he plays fast and loose with time when it comes to the story itself: years pass between Biblo Baggin's birthday party and Gandalf's return to test the Ring by fire, yet in the film it's just minutes. In the book, it takes Frodo a year to prepare and leave the Shire, but in the film he leaves on the spur of the moment as the Black Riders approach. I'm not sure what the point of that change was: perhaps the idea was to make everything more exciting and time critical, but showing that time has passed wouldn't change that. To me that's an extremely important part of Middle-Earth: the concept that travel takes months of hard toil. After all, LOTR is all about travel -- the story's essentially a quest, and 70% of the text is about the difficulties of the journey. In the film, those difficulties are tossed aside. Jackson initially shows a sequence of the Hobbits traveling out of the Shire in a near series of shots of them in various locals giving the impression that they've walked a long distance -- but then he destroys that by having Sam pause and say that if he takes "one more step" he'll be the furthest away from home he's ever been! Obviously, they haven't gone very far. And then they run into Pippen and Merry, who were at the birthday party, so they haven't gone far at all! The key problem with this is that when the travel does take a long time -- such as the journey from Bree to Rivendell -- Jackson doesn't even bother to show us such a montage of walking, but just has the characters _there_. For me, that destroys a core element of the novels, and throws out one of the main difficulties with life in Middle-Earth (travel without modern transportation). Just think about what home-bodies most of us would be if it took months of hard work to travel the next state! Since a montage of three or four or five scenes of walking just takes a few seconds, why not include it? It would enhance the epicness of the tale, be more accurate to the book, and reveal to the audience the difficulties of the journeys. Yet Jackson rarely does this, especially compared to the trilogy, where Tolkien is extremely careful to be consistent with the lengths of journies (from a writer's perspective, it would be so much easier to just put down, "And after a fortnight's walk, they arrived at..." but Tolkien does it the hard way, detailing everything that happens along the way).

While in general, I felt the characters were extremely well done and faithful, and I really liked many things Jackson and the actors did, there were a few ocasions where the characters were substantially changed and for no good reason that I could see. For instance, Mr. Butterbur, the innkeeper in Bree, was a good friend of Gandalf's in the book he feigns difficulty remembering him: "Oh, tall fellow in grey with a beard? I remember him!" Now why do that? Why not just have him shrug and say, "I haven't seen Gandalf in months." Even if you don't include the other scenes of Butterbur that are in the novel (where he absent-mindedly neglected to send Gandalf's letter to Frodo and thus Frodo didn't set out on his journey as early as he should have), why completely distort his character? Pippen and Merry are also made to look like complete fools: in the books they are foolish, but not dolts. The same goes for Gimli, the Dwarf, who bellows and blusters for comic relief, but we rarely get to see his intelligence. Perhaps some of those omissions will be corrected in the future films (with respect to characters that continue on in the series), but at least within this film, I found a few things odd.

There are also a host of silly mistakes in the film, from continuity errors to strange things that don't correspond with the books. For instance, Frodo always calls Aragorn by the name of Strider, which is the name he first learned for the man. Yet in the film, when attacked, he calls out in desperation for Aragon to help him: odd considering that would be the time he'd likely use the name most familiar to him, Strider. I also found the "race to the ford" sequence confusing: the distance shots of Frodo on the horse show him ten to twenty feet in front of the Black Riders, but the intercut close-ups, the iron-clad hands of the Riders are grasping at his cloak! Very bizarre and childish error if you ask me.

Overall, however, this is an excellent film. I'm being nitpicky, of course, but readers of Tolkien know that he was the nitpickiest of us all. (In one rewrite he went through his novels and changed all references to tobacco to "pipe-weed" because he belatedly realized that the word "tobacco" hadn't been invented at the time the story took place! That's a stickler for detail.) Anyway, people who haven't read the book recently will probably find it excellent and not miss a single thing, but of course since I'm almost finished reading Fellowship of the Ring, I was painfully aware of all the omissions and changes. That was my decision: I'd debated for the past year of whether or not I should read the book before I saw the movie or afterward, and I knew that if I waited I'd probably like the movie more, but in the end I decided I wanted to refresh Tolkien's vision first, then see what Jackson had in mind. Overall I'm pleased, but a little disappointed, especially because there's no explanation for why he changed so much (90% of my gripes could have been solved without adding any length to the film because I'd trim scenes he didn't, and I wouldn't include silly made-up scenes like battles with trolls that didn't exist). Oh well. It's a shame, because after this epic movie-making adventure, no one will ever attempt to do another version of LOTR (though I hold out hope that someone might do The Hobbit). This was the one shot to do it accurately and Jackson failed. He did produce a good movie, and I guess that's good, but hardcore fans of the series will have mixed emotions because Jackson tampered with a masterpiece. Why he couldn't do it right I guess we'll never know, but it's a bit sad to put in all that effort and still fall short.


Monday, December 22, 2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Director(s): Peter Jackson

Many times the second and third installments of a trilogy are not as good as the first, but in the case of Lord of the Rings, the series just keeps getting better and better. This one brings the trilogy to a close in grand fashion. The battles are even bigger, the story epic, the special effects amazing. The conclusion is satisfying. Oddly, of the three films, this is the most emotional; while there are huge battle scenes, those are interplayed with tight personal scenes of genuine emotion. Should be an Oscar winner for Best Picture just as a tribute to the series as a whole, but deserves it on many other levels as well.


Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Movie: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Director(s): Peter Jackson

One word: Awesome. This is not just a good adaptation of the book, it's a great film. There's action, drama, suspense, with a surprising amount of characterization and depth. We really get to feel Frodo's internal conflict over the Ring, sense the peril of Middle-Earth as Sauruman prepares his forces for battle, and through unbelievable CGI, Gollum comes to life in a performance that ought to win an acting Oscar: he's fantastic. There are minor quibbles about the story and Aragorn's romances, but they're such a small part of a beautifully crafted epic tale they're hardly worth mentioning. The big battle scenes are impressive, but I'd heard so much amount them before the film that I found them a bit less impactful than I expected. Partly that was because Jackson chose to intercut the long battle with scenes from other stories, which diluted the battle a bit. But overall this is a five star movie, much better than the first one. Oddly, the first book is my favorite, and the second my least favorite, but so far the movies have that reversed.


Saturday, November 3, 2001


Movie: Loser
Writer(s): Amy Heckerling
Director(s): Amy Heckerling

Surprisingly good, low-key story about an ordinary country joe who goes to college in the big city and is treated poorly yet never loses his inherent goodness. It's mainly a love story, but well done and acted. Nothing too complicated or intellectual, but pleasant and amusing. Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who did the similar Clueless.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The Losers

Movie: The Losers

I was very disappointed by this film. I knew little about it and had never read the comic book, but the trailer had some cool moments and it looked like a fun action-comedy. Unfortunately, the film doesn't know what to be: it is deathly serious at times (starting off with the gruesome death of a bunch of children), and the so-called comedy is mostly wisecracks by certain characters that falls flat much of the time. The plot is very A-Team: a team of soldiers is ordered to blow up a town (with those children in it) and refuses to obey and go on the lam as renegades. The town's blown up anyway with the team framed for the murder, so the now they are on the run. A mysterious woman shows up with money and promises of assistance to help get them back into the USA where they can hunt down the bad guy who framed them. Speaking of him, he's probably the most interesting character in the film: a dandy in a suit who is gleefully ruthless. The team, along with the woman, are not so interesting. They bicker and betray each other, are stereotypes we don't get to know, and we really don't much care what happens to anyone. There's a lot of effort expended into making these guys "cool," in the way they talk and dress and pontificate, but even the somber, dramatic moments feel artificial and hollow, and we don't or care about the people. Take for example, the leader: he's gruff and tough and yet has a grumpy grin, and his supposedly serious moments with his love interest come across as melodrama, not characterization. We never do find out what makes him tick. All this wouldn't be the end of the world if the story was good or the action compelling. But the plot is so full of obvious holes and nonsense as to be ludicrous, and the action is too disjointed and cheesy (it's either too realistic or too comic booky). I also should criticize the directing and editing, which had severe flaws. There were several places in the film I found confusing simply because the film was so choppy, with scenes beginning right in the middle with you lost as to what was going on.

All that said, this is not a terrible movie. It's just inconsistent. There are moments that are fun, scenes that work, and people or action that are cool, but the pieces add up to less than the whole. I enjoyed it at times, and was annoyed, bored, or confused at others. But I wouldn't recommend it unless you're good at gleaning pleasure from slight events; a disappointment.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Lost (series finale)

The series is now concluded. Over the past weekend and several days, I watched the entire final season -- all 18 hours or so (much less when you skip commercials). I've been saving them on my DVR so I could watch them in one sitting, because the show's cliffhangers drive me nuts. I didn't quite do it in one sitting, but found it surprisingly compelling and often stayed up well past midnight to watch one or two more episodes.

First, let me give the standard spoiler warning, because I cannot discuss this show without giving things away, so if you haven't watched the finale yet, don't read any further. (I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as I can, but you are warned.)

Second, let me preface my comments by pointing out my history with the show since that influences my impressions. When Lost first debuted, I tuned in. After about two or three episodes, I dropped out. The show reminded me way too much of J.J. Abrams' Alias, which I hated. Like that show, Lost seemed to throw out lots of weirdness or dramatic plot twists with no rhyme or reason. I had little faith that the show had any rational explanation behind the weirdness. While I was intrigued by many of the ideas and I liked the concept of the show, I just didn't trust the producers (which I felt had betrayed me on Alias) and so I stopped watching.

Over the years, I tuned in occasionally, but I probably only saw an episode or two a year -- just enough to remind me how much I didn't know about the show. Some seasons I saw more episodes and had a slightly better idea of what was going on. More recently, Lost reruns started on cable and I recorded them and watched them on fast-forward. Basically I skipped through storylines I didn't understand or care about, and mostly followed the main plot and the stories of the main characters. That may not sound like the best way to watch Lost, but the interesting thing is that it worked. Not only did I catch up with what was happening (for the most part) without it taking nearly as much time, but I started to see how the show was tying in stuff from the earlier seasons. Events in earlier episodes that had seemed random and just bizarre for weirdness sake suddenly had real explanations. I got hooked. Last season I recorded and watched most of the season all at once, and I did the same thing this season. (That is by far the best way to watch Lost, in my opinion. It is not a show that benefits from a weekly break.)

So, what do I think of the final season and the show in general? Here we go.

In many ways, Lost is an impressive show. It features terrific drama, amazing actors, unusual story arcs, wonderful music, and of course, fantastic island landscapes and cinematography. From a storytelling perspective, it is almost the perfect show: a fantastic world where pretty much anything can happen. The show is an incredible blend of science fiction and fantasy, and I love the way it pits faith and science against each other, with non-spiritual characters becoming spiritual and vice versa. I also love the way its characters are not black and white, but wonderful shades of gray. You aren't sure if people are truly evil or just making mistakes. The way the show sets up a person as a bad guy one week, then switching it around the next, is truly astonishing.

Much of this season reminded me of the very best of Lost. Instead of backstory of the characters, we followed them into the "sideways" universe, where the plane hadn't crashed and things were similar but different. The crisis of faith versus science was brought to a head. Some of my very favorite moments of the series happened in this season.

Unfortunately, all that was ruined by the final episode. Take away the final episode and you're still left with mystery and wonder. The finale tries to pull back the curtain so we see the little man running the show and we're naturally disappointed. What I feared from the very beginning on the show became true: the producers had no idea where they were going and wrapped everything up in a convenient dream sequence. (I saw a joke on a competing show which claimed "the whole thing was a dog's dream" -- and sadly, that's not too far off.)

The problem that I have with the finale is that Lost, from its inception, was a show grounded in reality. People died. People suffered. There were injuries and recoveries, tragedies and triumphs. People sacrificed themselves for others. People were greedy and selfish and cruel and evil and loving and kind. We were shown this over and over. No matter what odd or weird thing happened, the consequences were real. The show gave us the impression that there was science behind the mysteries. The unusual things had rational explanations. That is what made the show interesting. We tuned in to discover those explanations.

Please note that I'm not against supernatural explanations. I am a spiritual person and I have no problem with such a resolution, if it is done correctly. This was not. The finale was ham-handled, promising a great explanation and delivering nothing at all. It was a thin excuse by the producers to flash back through all the show's events and actors and bring everyone together for a final scene. It was a feeble attempt to give viewers a "happy" ending while still resolving the show. It was a cheat and a con, and I feel betrayed. The finale taints the entire series for me. I would recommend people watch the show, but I would advise skipping the last episode which will only disappoint.

How should Lost have ended?
The problem, like I said, is that since the show has always been reality-based, it cannot suddenly turn to mysterious supernatural stuff at the very end. The show is violating its own laws of physics. That isn't to say there couldn't be a spiritual component to the explanation. The original Locke character, for instance, is considered the spiritual heart of the show. He was the man of faith -- a converted skeptic, the most dedicated of all. Why not end with a little mystery? Give us a rational explanation for 90% of what we've seen and leave us with a spiritual loophole that a character like Locke can point out. Have a scientist-type person accept the technical explanation with some doubts, wondering if there's more to the spiritual side that he's neglecting. The method the Lost writers took was a cop out.

Unfortunately, I don't know if there was ever a good way to end this series. The whole premise of the show was the mystery: what is the island? Why do such odd things happen there? Pretty much any explanation is going to leave you unsatisfied, either too mundane or too supernatural. The producers did a great job milking that mystery for six seasons, but end in the end, they ran out of places to hide. Far better to just let it end on a mysterious note, leave us wondering. Instead of wondering why we wasted six years of our life on this pointless story.


Monday, August 2, 2004

Lost and Delirious

Movie: Lost and Delirious

This was a surprisingly good film. I didn't know anything about it. I guess I'd added it to my Netflix queue at some point, but when it arrived I couldn't remember anything. It turned out to be a coming of age film set in a private girls school. Our narrator is the shy Mouse (real name Mary), arriving at the school for her first time away from home, still struggling to recover from her mother's death three years earlier. Her two roommates, Victoria and Paulie, are wild and crazy, the opposite of her, and she finds them fascinating. But when romance goes awry, the lonely Paulie goes crazy: she's lost the only love of her life. The film tries a little too hard to be shocking and wild, but it's got a great intellectual core. It's at its best in the simpler scenes between mouse and the gardener (the terrific Graham Greene), where they talk in riddles and jokes about Serious Things. Like when they first meet and Mouse asks if she can help him garden -- she used to help her mother and enjoyed it -- and when he asks her name she replies, "It's in transition," a brilliant way to express that she's migrating away from her Mouse nickname to something better. That's one of the best scenes I've ever seen on film. It's astonishing. Simple words, simple facial expressions, loads of meaning. Great stuff. If the rest of the film was up to that standard, this would be a masterpiece. Granted the cast is fantastic. All relatively unknown, Canadian actresses (the film is Canadian), but beautiful and amazingly good. Mouse is played by Mischa Barton, who looks like a smaller version of Sarah Michelle Geller. Jessica Pare and Piper Perabo are her roommates. Excellent.


Monday, February 24, 2003

Lost in La Mancha

Movie: Lost in La Mancha

This is the story of a film that was never made. Terry Gilliam, one of my favorite directors, wanted to create a film based on Don Quixote. It's been his pet project for a decade, but he couldn't get financing. He finally got it financed in Europe at a record-setting $32 (for Europe), but according to Gilliam, that's only half of what he really needed. What followed is a comedy of bad luck and mismanagement. Because of the tight budget, actors were hired at reduced rates and the production had to fit within the schedule of the actors instead of the other way around. Thus there was minimal pre-production time with the actors, leading to a number of problems. Then the production schedule was so tight that they couldn't miss a single day: combine that with location problems, such as military F16 jets flying overhead constantly in the desert location (they'd been told the base was only active an hour a day), and a sudden flash flood that ruined equipment, caused them to lose a couple days shooting, and changed the color of the desert meaning earlier footage wouldn't match. Then the lead actor, Don Quixote, played by 70-year-old French actor Jean Rochefort developed prostate problems and couldn't ride a horse or continue. Production ground to a halt and it was basically up to the film's insurers to decide if the film could proceed. To replace the main actor would mean refinancing from scratch, so that wasn't a simple option. Basically, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Definitely mistakes were made: the insurance wasn't quite the right kind (it covered lost equipment but not lost shooting time), some of the people in the production didn't make good decisions, etc. What struck me most profoundly was that what killed the film was dozens of small things, not any huge catastrophe. In other situations these problems could have been overcome, but with such an ambitious project, such an impossibly tight schedule, and inadequate financing, it was made for disaster. Gilliam is still trying to get the film made, and it would be nice to see it happen, though I suppose it will be years off and probably with a different cast. It's very unfortunate and this is a sad film in that regard, but it's a fascinating look behind the scenes of how films are (or aren't) made.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Lost in New York

Our plans sounded fine when we made them: after Spamalot, Peter and I went to Brooklyn for supper and to his place for a film. The plan was I'd return to Philip's at midnight (or later) when he'd be home to let me in. Time flew and it was suddenly 12:30 a.m. Sunday night and I departed from Peter's a little apprehensive about riding the subway in the middle of the night out to East Harlem. The subway ride was fine, utterly uneventful. I got out near Phil's and free from the underground, called his cell phone. Oddly, it went straight to voice mail. I left a message and walked on. But by the time I got there he hadn't called back. I called again, and then again a few minutes later. The apartment door was locked, and other than some "ladies" on the street corner, the area was strangely quiet and deserted, completely different from the previous two noisy nights.

The buzzer on the door did nothing (I found out later it doesn't work) and I racked my brains for a solution: I had absolutely no other way to get a hold of my cousin. If his mobile phone was turned off or out of power or broken or he was merely sleeping, I had no way to get in touch with him. I only knew the first name of his roommate, and I didn't know anyone else in New York. I had my cousin Peter's number in Brooklyn, but not only was that a 45 minute subway right in the opposite direction, Peter had told me he always leaves his phone on vibrate: he would be unlikely to hear me call. What was I to do? Here I was alone in East Harlem, with nothing but the clothes on my back, no way to get inside the apartment building, no way to wake Phil, and it was nearly two o'clock in the morning!

My first thought was that Phil had accidentally left his phone off and was sleeping: but surely he'd wake up a wonder where I was. He'd notice the voice mails I'd left him and call, right? But it might be a while before he happened to wake up, so I thought maybe there'd be a 24-hour restaurant I could hang out in. But this was East Harlem: even the McDonald's was closed except for the walk-up window. Google Maps on my iPhone was useless for finding a hotel (the one it found nearby turned out to be homeless shelter). Finally I found some cops and asked them for help. They were brilliant, suggesting that I was nuts for being there in the middle of the night. "What are you doing here? This isn't a safe place. You shouldn't be out here!" I was like, "Duh! That's why I'm asking for your help!"

Finally one of them suggested I find a taxi and have the driver find a hotel; that seemed as good as anything, though I dreaded the thought of what a hotel in Manhattan would cost me. The cost would be even more insulting since it would only be for half a night and I didn't even have a change of clothes or anything else for a comfortable night's sleep!

The taxi driver turned out to be a great guy: the first couple of places we stopped at were full, but then he found a place off Central Park that had a vacancy. The desk clerk said, "You know this is dormitory housing, right?" I was like, "Huh?" I soon learned this was a hostel, so most of the rooms were shared, with bunk beds. Under most circumstances that wouldn't have been my travel accommodation of choice, but in this situation it sounded perfect: for about $35 I could get off the street and sleep in relative safety and comfort. Much better than crashing on a bench in Central Park and probably not waking up!

I was a little nervous about the room as I made my way down the hall. What if someone stole my wallet or iPhone while I slept? But I was soon comforted in an usual way. The room was dark but I saw an empty lower bunk and took it. I found an awkward brick in my back and thought at first it was a heated blanket control unit as it had a cord attached. But the cord ended in two small knobs and wasn't connected to anything. Suddenly I realized I was holding an iPod with earbuds! Sure enough, when I touched the controls, the iPod lit up brightly in the dark room. For a moment I wondered why someone would leave a perfectly good iPod -- then I realized that the bed I was in was occupied! Probably the person had gone to the restroom or something. So I hastened out of the bed and up to the unused top bunk. Sure enough, a few minutes later a figure came in and climbed into that lower bed and began playing with the iPod. I lay back thinking, "Well, this can't be too unsafe if someone's willing to leave his iPod in the room."

I won't say I had a great night's sleep: I slept in my clothes with my shoes on and a hand on my wallet and iPhone. The place was quiet and I was tired, but I was also keyed up, uncomfortable, and my contacts were killing me since I had no way to take care of them. (I'm really not supposed to sleep in them but I had little choice.)

In the morning, I checked my iPhone but there was nothing from Phil, which I thought was odd. I knew he had to get up early to get his daughter, so surely he would have noticed my voice mails and called me. But nothing. I sent him a text message, and for good measure, an email as well.

At about 7:30 or so he called. He was shocked to discover I'd been trying to get a hold of him. "I have no messages, no voice mails, no missed calls, nothing," he said. "This is terrible. I had no idea. I waited up but when you didn't come or call, I figured you must have decided it was too late and crashed at Peter's place." Phil had seen my email and that's why he'd called.

We eventually learned there was a problem with AT&T's network that was effecting Phil's phone. If he reset his phone the new voice mails would show up, but they weren't showing up automatically when received. He'd also missed calls from other people. Emails went through fine, but not voice mails or text messages.

In the end, everything worked out fine. I had a bit of an adventure, and there was no real discomfort and nobody got hurt. It was a good lesson in over-reliance on technology: we should have had a backup plan. The same scenario could have happened if Phil had been hit by a bus or lost or broken his phone. It's really not good to only have a single source of communication. Something to think about.

I have chalked the whole thing up to a wild New York adventure! Though I must say I'm glad it's over.


Thursday, November 6, 2003

Lost in Translation

Movie: Lost in Translation
Writer(s): Sophia Coppolla
Director(s): Sophia Coppolla

Wow, what a terrific film! I'd been hearing good things about it but no one explained the plot so I didn't really know what it was about. It turns out it has no plot! Well, there's a shell of one. There two main characters. Bill Murray plays an American movie star visiting Tokyo to shoot a commercial for an ad campaign. In the same hotel is a young woman, married just two years and recently graduated from college with a degree in philosophy, who's dissatisfied and wondering what life is all about. Bill's disolutioned and using the trip to escape from his hectic family life (he's married with kids), and when the two meet, they discover a connection. It's all very sweet and innocent, but there's a charged undercurrent in every scene the two share. Will they or won't they? That's the story. Having it set in Japan, where there's humor in cultural differences, mistranslations, English that is as incomprehensible as Japanese, adds to the romantic melodrama. Oddly, nothing much happens in the film, and while the two ask many interesting questions, nothing is resolved or explained. No sitcom 22-minute resolution here. Yet it's still a fascinating film. That's mostly because of Scarlet Johanssen, who is going to be a huge star. She's marvelous and carries every scene she's in. Many scenes have no dialog and just focus on her, bored in her hotel room (her husband's working), staring out the window, and yet somehow she makes that visually compelling. It's not just that's she pretty; it's that she's pretty with a vulnerability that draws us in, allowing us to see the gears turning in her head. Very impressive performance. Overall, this is a surprisingly entertaining film. It's difficult to describe: you just need to see it. It doesn't sound particularly interesting or compelling, but it was far better than the more lurid In the Cut (which I saw the day before). Not everyone would find this worth going to the theatre, but it's certainly worth the rental.


Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Lost Souls

Movie: Lost Souls

Strange, pointless tale about a guy who on his 33rd birthday will become host to Satan (a.k.a. the Antichrist). A woman, previously possessed by a demon herself, learns of this but few will believe her, especially the man. Has a couple of interesting things -- I liked that the guy couldn't hear the devil sounds on the cassette tape while his neighbors were banging on his walls for him to turn down the noise. Supposedly that was proof he was the selected one (why isn't explained). But mostly this is a boring movie with no thrills, little originality, and one of the lamest endings ever. Stay away, far away.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Lost Symbol

Book: The Lost Symbol
Writer(s): Dan Brown

This is a strange book. I guess that should be expected, considering the author, but I still found it unusual. It doesn't quite know what it is: a thriller with pseudo-science/religious overtones? Is it an agenda piece? What's the point of it?

The pacing is as annoyingly Dan Brown as ever, with ultra-short chapters each ending on an overly dramatic suspense point (i.e. in the middle of a sentence). What I found most frustrating is the way he deliberately withholds information just to milk the suspense. Most writers do this to an extent, but only with one or two key secrets that are the core of the novel -- like the identity of the killer. Brown does it with everything. It makes the novel grating to read. Every chapter ends with, "And then he uncovered the shocking text. He stared in disbelief, unable to fathom what he was seeing. Could this really say what he thought it said? This was going to change the world!"

It would be one thing if the deep dark secrets hidden were actually deep dark secrets, but most of the time they aren't. Either the clues are fairly obvious, or we're so manipulated as a reader by Brown's information withholding that there's no possible way we could figure anything out. It feels like a cheat. The most egregious of these is when Brown actually goes back to an earlier telephone conversation, which we thought we had listened to verbatim, and reveals that there was more conversation we hadn't heard. WTF? That's traitorous on the part of the author, as far as I'm concerned.

Speaking of going back in time, Brown makes heavy use of that technique, too, with perhaps 80 percent of the novel being flashbacks. He presumably does this to provide "insight" to his characters, doing things like having a character remember his first meeting with another character. This often happens when the reader first meets the characters, with the result that the reader is left confused about time. Is this fifteen years ago? Is this today? Even worse, sometimes Dan flashes back within a flashback or re-flashes back to reveal new and different information he withheld from us the first time! Arrgh!

All this said, Dan still manages to create a somewhat compelling novel. There are moments of brilliance, in terms of plot, and some of the action sequences are surprisingly well done. There are several surprising events that as I read them, I thought he'd blown it, as they seemed farfetched or over-the-top, but his explanations proved surprisingly logical. And I really liked the secret twist at the end -- the identity of the bad guy -- which wasn't contrived and actually made sense.

The plot itself is fairly simple, though elaborately drawn out. It basically involves a bad guy kidnapping a friend of Robert Langdon, the symbologist from Brown's other novels, with Langdon forced to solve ancient clues left by the Masons to reveal the location of the knowledge of the "ancient mysteries" which supposedly would give a person incredible power. There's a time crunch involved with this task that's nothing short of absurd, with weeks worth of events happening within a few hours (apparently no one gets tired or overwhelmed by circumstance in Dan Brown's universe). The actual puzzles Langdon solves are not bad, though it's highly questionable they would have survived so many years unrevealed and mechanical things still in working order.

Brown sort of tones down the anti-religious rhetoric in this one, though that gets heavier (and more absurd) toward the end. While the plot is wrapped up sufficiently, his non-plot conclusion is awful, especially considering the hyped build-up since page one. After hundreds of pages of emphasizing the power of the "ancient mysteries" and how this knowledge would revolutionize the planet, he reveals it's nothing more than "humans are gods." Lame.


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Love Actually

Movie: Love Actually
Writer(s): Richard Curtis
Director(s): Richard Curtis

The guy who brought us romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill is back with this interrelated collection of love stories. It's excellent: funny, romantic, realistic, and has the occasional touch of magic. The all-star cast is fantastic: it seems everyone is in this. I liked the nature of the stories, which are low-key romance, people seeking love and wondering where it is, only to find it's all around them. There's a lot of humor and some silliness and fantasy, like the British loser who saves up his money to go the United States where he figures he'll be considered cool just because he's English... and he ends up with a foursome of hot American babes drooling over him! Fun film, not too sappy. Not particularly profound or anything, but very entertaining.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Love and Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans, and Freaks

Book: Love and Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans, and Freaks
Writer(s): Jamie Trecker

This book recalls the 2006 World Cup in Germany, telling a lot of the historical background of the event, the behind-the-scenes adventures, and summarizing the results. It's detailed, fascinating, and an excellent read if you're a soccer fan. I followed the Cup on TV and didn't think the book would really add much, but I was suprised at how much I learned. It's excellently written and highly recommended.


Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Love Liza

Movie: Love Liza

Sad tale about a man who has just buried his wife. We gradually learn that she committed suicide, and while he's smiling and pretending everything's okay, he's really fraught with guilt, confusion, and despair. His initial suicide thoughts turn to drug abuse in the form of gasoline sniffing, and he becomes addicted, eventually losing his job and his friends as his behavior grows more and more bizarre. In order to explain the smell of gas around him, he tells his boss he's got a remote control model airplane, and when she sends over her brother who's a fan, he has to follow through and becomes interested in the hobby. The whole film the man's carrying the suicide note left by his wife, still sealed in the envelope, afraid to open it. That was a bit disappointing for me: in the end it's nothing special (perhaps that was the point), but I would have preferred if he'd never opened it and it had remained a mystery (far more powerful). Sad, poignant, with an excellent performance by Philip Hoffman, this is a haunting tale. It's only 90 minutes but feels like hours as every event is traumatic. It's like watching a bomb about to go off. When will it explode? The story isn't much, but it's the characters who drive this and make it work (mostly Hoffman's character). It's exactly the kind of critical piece intellectuals like. I found it disappointing, however, as so much is left unsaid and vague (especially the ending). Long portions of the film are Hoffman in a drugged daze -- oh, that's revealing. Still, it's a fascinating experiment and worth seeing even if it's ultimately not that profound.


Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Love Song for Bobby Long

Movie: Love Song for Bobby Long

Pretty cool little flick. I doubt many have seen this, but it's worth putting on your agenda if you like smaller slightly quirky films. It stars John Travolta as a washed up former English professor named Bobby Long. He's now a drunk and a bum, living with his protege student at the house of his former lover, a famous regional singer. When Loraine, the singer, dies, her estranged teenage daughter, played by the lovely Scarlett Johannson, appears. Told that the house was left to the two bums and the girl, the three live together in chaotic harmony. The girl was raised by her grandmother and is angry and resentful of her mother; she's confused by all the adoration her mother's friends have for her. She's critical of the two drunken bums who are useless and pointless; ostensibly working on a novel, nothing has been done. The girl is anti-school something the two educated men want to change, so they set out to help her graduate from high school. The film is basically about a group of misfits who each have problems but slowly learn to heal and help each other; they are like puzzle pieces who all fit together and make a whole. It's well done and surprisingly entertaining, but can be slow at times and there's an excessive amount of profanity -- as though using the f-word is somehow brilliantly creative. It can be a touch elitist as well, as at times the author tries to show off how intellectual he is. But much of the movie is extraordinary and remarkable. It's a little uneven at times and at least twenty minutes too long, but recommended.


Friday, August 20, 2004

Lovely and Amazing

Movie: Lovely and Amazing

Interesting film about the interconnecting lives of a mother and her two daughters and her adopted black child. While the mother has complications from liposuction surgury and is hospitalized, the daughters struggle with their careers (or lack thereof) and love lives (or lack thereof). It's slow and ponderous at times, and occasionally distasteful (sometimes you just want to slap an annoying, whiney character), but it has some unusual perspectives and is interesting. The storyline, if you can call it that, meanders. That leaves things a little unsatisfied and frustrating as we can't tell where we are going. The abrupt ending doesn't help matters, either. Not a great movie, but above average.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Movie: The Lovely Bones
Writer(s): Alice Sebold (novel)
Director(s): Peter Jackson

This film's fatal flaw is also it's most compelling aspect. The story's a grim one about a 14-year-old girl murdered by a serial killer in 1973. This happens at the beginning of the film and she ends up stuck between heaven and earth and watches her family struggle to deal with her loss. That the subject matter is so somber is the heart of the film's problems, because it's not a pleasant subject to watch for over two hours. The film feels dreadfully long, probably double its runtime. It would have been far better if 30 minutes was cut. The storyline is so simple it holds no surprises: obviously the girl is already dead and she'll go to heaven once her family's properly healed. We're itching for that healing from the beginning, but of course it doesn't come until the very end, which makes all the stuff in between somewhat tedious. The writers and producers were somewhat aware of this problem; unfortunately their solution was to tame down the material. For instance, though I haven't read the novel, I heard that in that the girl's body is chopped up and the killer accidentally loses her elbow which the cops find and the family knows she's dead. That's grim. In the film, the cops only find her knit hat soaked in blood. Also in the film we're not shown the murder itself. I realize the producers wanted a more mainstream film, but all this weakens the effect of the murder. In fact, I wasn't even sure the girl was murdered (she wasn't either as she didn't realize she was dead). While the bad guy was definitely portrayed as creepy, we don't realize just how evil he is until much later in the film. The story could have been so much more powerful if we'd seen up front how this seemingly nice guy was really the most hideous monster. It wouldn't have been pleasant, but it would have been an emotional sock to the gut. Instead, we get this vague watered down thing with no violence shown and it's bewildering and too tame. Another weakness that annoyed me is there are many "spooky" scenes in the film: odd little glances and exchanges between characters, scenes of tension when the sister sneaks into the killer's house looking for evidence, etc. Unfortunately most of the time there's nothing concrete behind these moments. Or at least we aren't shown what triggers them. For example, the camera will pan by the killer's house with ominous music and he'll do something innocuous like close his curtains. The sister's watching as she jogs back and she's creeped out. Why? Do you get creeped out when your neighbor closes his curtains? I need some sort of a reason why she's bothered. Does she suspect he's the killer? (She doesn't until later in the film.) Is it just some weird sixth sense or instinct? If so, then show us something that tells us that. This happens in other ways as well, like when the killer returns home while the sister's in his house, he immediately starts looking around like he's suspicious. Why? Does he hear or see something? That is not shown and I found his action bizarre. If this had only happened once or twice it wouldn't be such a problem, but it happens dozens of times in this film, and the result -- at least for me -- was that by the end of the film wolf had been cried so many times that I didn't buy the tension and the dramatic music came across as cheesy melodrama. Tension is great: but do like Hitchcock and show us why we should be scared, why the characters are suspicious, etc.

Despite all these flaws, however, I still like this movie. I liked it far more than I expected. The heavenish fantasy scenes the murdered girl lives in are wonderful, both in beauty, imagination, and special effects. Peter Jackson's vision is terrific. I loved the way the girl's heavenly dream world mixed with elements of real life. My favorite was when her father, whose hobby was building model ships inside bottles, began smashing his collection in his grief. For the daughter, who was on a beach, this showed up as giant glass bottles with huge ships inside washing up on shore and shattering against the rocks. Jackson intercuts between the two scenes and it's tremendously powerful, as the giant glass bottle ships breaking up really feels like the world is ending, the girl crying and pleading to her dad to stop, and him basically losing it. Just wonderful and amazing. The film is full of great moments like that. There are many astonishing scenes of tenderness and beauty. There's sadness, but there's happiness as well. The film does of great job of portraying the healing that takes place over time. There are some weird things, like at the end when the dead girl temporarily exchanges bodies with a living character (I didn't get that at all and it didn't seem to fit within the story's reality), but overall this is an impressive film. It's far from perfect, however. It's long, focuses on a grim subject matter that the producers seemed afraid to mention (this story could have been so much more powerful), and much of the tension felt artificial to me, stirred by the score without anything in the shot to justify the alarm. The performances are excellent for the most part (though the father character felt dreadfully miscast and Mark Walberg needs to stay away from emotional scenes as he just makes me want to laugh when he pretends to cry). I thought the killer was fantastic, definitely awesome, and surprisingly the younger sister (who ages during the story which takes place over several years) was better than the murdered lead (not that the lead actress was poor, she just had the one-note role of being dead).

Overall, this is one of those odd films where the many flaws are clear, but I liked it anyway. In fact, I am shocked at how much I liked it. I think I would at least consider owning this on disc: the fantasy sequences alone are worth it to me to study, as are many individual scenes and shots. As a whole it doesn't quite work as a film and I don't think I would watch it entirely through again, but I would love to explore certain parts. It is mesmerizing at times. Recommended, but with caution: be aware going in that this isn't a great film. It has great moments, however, and if you can enjoy those, I think you'd find this entertaining and emotionally moving.


Friday, April 7, 2006

Lucky Number Slevin

Movie: Lucky Number Slevin

Way overly complicated and bewildering gambling-hitman flick with twists on top of twists and falsehood on top of lies. Still, it's not bad. It's fun and interesting. The characters are outrageous, especially the over-the-top pitch-perfect performances by Gandi (I mean Sir Ben Kingsley) and Morgan Freeman as the heads of two rival gangs. There's humor that tries to be Kill Billish, but doesn't quite succeed, and some of the violence is a bit too realistic and serious and clashes with the fun. I won't even get into the plot, which deals with hitmen and mistaken identity (a young man is recruited to pay off the gambling debts of someone else), as the plot careens around and keeps changing. Overall, I give it a B -- good but not great.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Lunch with Foth

Got to meet with former Bethany College president Dick Foth for lunch today (he was speaking at a camp in Oregon). I hadn't seen him in at least ten years. He's now working with a Christian group in Washington, D.C., where basically his job is to act as a prayer partner for bigwigs in government. He meets regularly with conservative leaders like John Ashcroft, but what impressed me is that his job is supposed to be apolitical, so the people he meets with are of all denominations and political affiliations. I abhor politics so I like that he's there simply to pray with and for people and not to influence political decisions. He commented how one of the people he meets with is a General in the Pentagon who manages a multi-billion dollar budget and is responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. Every day he must make complex and difficult decisions -- and he's modest enough to admit he needs God help in that role. Who of us can say how we'd act in such a position? It's all well and good to agree or disagree with the current administration on the war, but when you're the one actually making decisions that could cost the lives of people (on either side of the battle), that's a massive responsibility. I don't know that I'd really like to be in those shoes. Anyway, I was impressed at what he's doing and he told a number of stories about some major people in D.C. that were fascinating.


Wednesday, January 4, 2006


Movie: Luther

Surprisingly good film about the life of Martin Luther. I learned a great deal that I didn't know about what all the conflicts were, why he was ostricized from the Roman Catholic Church, and why he wrote his famous letters. I was expecting direct-to-video quality but everything -- the acting, writing, direction, costumes, etc. -- was surperbly done. I can't speak for the historical accuracy (this was produced, at least in part, by the Lutheran Church), but I enjoyed the story and the performances.