Thursday, September 10, 2009


Movie: 9

This film sounded intriguing, but proved disappointing. The computer graphics are fantastic: the level of intricate detail is amazing and the animation flawless. Unfortunately, the story, which starts out well, drifts into dreary action melodrama and the ending is too strange and makes no sense. The very premise of the piece is a contradiction: nine tiny burlap-sack beings are the only living creatures left on the planet after human-created machines take over the world. So these creatures aren't organic but they aren't robots either? Huh? Whatever. Enjoy it for the graphics -- it's worth seeing just for that -- but don't hold your breath that the story makes any sense or is anything but lame robots fighting for no reason.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Nanny McPhee

Movie: Nanny McPhee

Surprisingly decent children's film about a magical nanny who reforms a family of seven rambunctious children. A bit obvious at times, but has heart and the lessons the children learn and the way they are taught are creative and interesting. For instance, when the children pretend to be sick, Nanny McPhee doesn't expose their plot -- she merely uses her magic to pin them to their beds so they cannot get out of bed and are forced to spend the day in bed eating foul-tasting medicine and chicken broth. By the end of the day, of course, the children are more than ready to admit they aren't sick!


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

Movie: Napoleon Dynamite

Strangely appealing character study of a bunch of really weird people. Napoleon's a high school student who's seemingly a typical nerd, except he doesn't seem to realize it. He has an active imagination and just goes right ahead doing whatever he wants, not letting the opinion of others influence him. One of the key things I liked about this movie is that Napoleon does not change. In most of these kind of movies, the nerd changes to become "cool," but in this one his coolness comes from his being different. And he's not the only weird guy: his best friend is Pedro, a Mexican who doesn't talk much, but ends up running for class president. Napoleon's brother is a 32-year-old still living at home and spending all his time chatting with women on the Internet. When Napoleon's grandmother injures herself on her ATV, Uncle Rico moves in to watch the kids, and he's very strange, a loser who keeps reliving his 1982 high school championship American football game. He wants to go back so bad he even buys a time machine on the Internet! There's so much neat stuff in this film, you just have to see it. It's slightly predictable, but the plot's not really essential, so that doesn't matter much. What's cool is the low-key humor and bizarre characters and weird situations, and the characters that don't seem to realize anything is weird or abnormal! Very entertaining.


Saturday, February 26, 2000

Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister

Book: Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister (1984)
Writer(s): Lana Wood

Amazing book. I fell in love with Natalie Wood years ago when I first saw her in a film, and I remember being crushed when I learned she was dead (she drown in 1981). Other than her films, I knew little about her, and my searching for a biography went unanswered (they are all out of print). I ordered this one from Barnes and Noble's website, which has a terrific out-of-print section. This book is as much about Lana as it is Natalie, and at first that bothered me (who cares about the sister!) but gradually I grew to love Lana too. The early section, about their childhood, is the most poignant, as despite the significant age differences, the two were remarkably close. As they grew older, however, rifts developed, often with years going by with them barely speaking. Tragic, especially as Lana seemed to exist solely as a reflection of her sister, and when Natalie wouldn't acknowledge her, it struck me as horribly cruel. It's a sad book, thought provoking and challenging. It makes me question my own desires for wealth and/or fame, and it raises many questions in regards to the meaning and purpose and use of talent. Though the book is obviously written from Lana's point of view, it's extremely well-done (I don't know if she had help) and the perspective is so balanced it comes across as very truthful. Natalie is revealed a star practically from birth, who was both naive and remarkably adult. For instance, she never had any training as an actress, and while that shows in some of her films, in others her performances are nothing short of startling. In an event that reveals much about star life, Natalie, in her twenties, once flew to New York by herself (no manager) and called her sister to tell how she'd gone shopping and actually written a check (her first). She apparently never had much understanding of money (though her advisors invested it well and she was very wealthy when she died), and I got the impression that she didn't help her sister financially more out of ignorance of what it was like to be poor than spite. The differences between the famous and the not famous are revealed in many striking details, and the stories of encounters with big stars (for instance, Lana's tryst with Sean Connery) are fascinating, though gossipy. Natalie was a tragic figure: while successful, popular, and beautiful, she was obsessed with her appearance (i.e. worried about not looking good), frustrated in love (almost all her marriages ended in divorce), and spent most of her life in therapy (she even turned down the lead role in Bonnie and Clyde because it required location shooting in Texas and she'd be away from her therapist for two months). The wages of fame, I guess. I can see where being a star and having to be "on" constantly (always with the clever phrase, beautiful look, etc.) would be a huge burden.


Friday, November 19, 2004

National Treasure

Movie: National Treasure

The conspiracy and clue-based premise of this movie is an obvious rip-off of the horrible Dan Brown code books, so I didn't expect much. I got what I expected. It's a routine adventure, with flimsy characters and plot, a rapid pace that leaves you confused and mindless, and a red herring ending that's not especially satisfying. The ride's not horrible, however. It's mildly interesting, and there are moments of humor and a few good lines that make it enjoyable. I wasn't overly impressed or depressed; it's routine. I did like the luminous Diane Kruger as the love interest: her spicy character and beauty made the adventure more intriguing, though it wasn't enough to overcome the movie's inherent flaws. Still, it's mildly enjoyable, though certainly don't go into this expecting any kind of intelligence.


Monday, December 31, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Movie: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Like the first film, this is not unwatchable (though you must leave your skepticism at the door). It's isn't up to the original's standards and the puzzles are both too convoluted and too simple and the ending is anti-climactic, but it's still harmless fun with quirky history lessons and amusing jokes.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Nativity Story

Movie: The Nativity Story

I wanted to love this: it's a good cast, a great director, and the production values are high. But ultimately it lacks emotion. There's a spark missing. Mary hardly smiles throughout the whole movie, seemingly always carrying a heavy burden, which I found exhausting, and the story, of course, offers few surprises. Some of the structure of the film felt awkward as well. For instance, the movie started off with a "dramatic" scene of King Harrod's soldiers killing babies (except that the baby-killing was not actually shown, and cut so abrubtly it was hard to tell if the babies were being slaughtered or merely kidnapped), and then the film backtracked to a year earlier. Why? The drama of the baby killing should have been horrific; instead it was bewildering and out-of-sequence. There were some nice touches and scenes, but many of the dramatic high points of the story -- such as the angel's visits to Mary and Joseph -- felt underdone and ordinary. It was as though the producers didn't want to actually show anything supernatural (yet there was no problem emphasizing the Eastern mystics' philosophies). All-in-all this is a well-done film. It's certainly not bad, but unfortunately it's not great either, especially considering the story it's trying to tell. Still worth seeing, though don't expect the emotion of The Passion of the Christ.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Movie: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki

This was Miyazaki's first film and it's not his best or my favorite, though it has many Miyazaki touches. It's just not as deep and complex as his later works, though it hints at it. Again the hero is a young girl, Nausicaa, who's a princess of the people of the Valley of the Wind. She's the best thing in the film, a fantastic character, a strong girl who leads her people and preaches against killing and war. She's got a gift of being able to communicate with animals and insects -- important in a world set 1000 years after war has decimated the earth and rendered most of the planet toxic and created giant cockroaches and poisonous plants. The environmental message is too heavily preached and the plot's a little too linear and simple, as it mainly deals with warring cities set to attempt to burn the toxic jungle which will anger the giant insects who will destroy the Valley of the Wind for revenge, and only Nausicaa can stop the raging insects. Miyazaki does have some of his characteristic "gray" characters who are both good and evil, but doesn't go as far with that as he does in later films like Princess Mononoke. Still, this is a good story and an excellent film, with an all-star cast of voices for the English-dubbed edition.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

This is the seven-book series of graphic novels the animated film was based on; however, it's so much more elaborate, it's really a different story all together. I liked the books far more than the film, which felt generic in terms of plot. But with the books, you really get to see the elaborate and complicate world Miyazaki has created. In this future world, humanity has so poluted things that nature has taken over with huge forests, giant insects, and poisonous miasma that humans can't tolerate. Nausicaa is the young female leader of a small, insignificant clan of people, and through an elaborate series of adventures, she uses her talent of being able to communicate with animals and her instinctual love of all living things, to halt a war and stop the destruction of the world. It's an amazing and wonderful story and is highly recommended. The graphic novels were originally Japanese, so they read backwards, from right to left, which is odd at first, but soon is not an issue. Unfortunately, the black-and-white artwork varies in quality: most of the time it is excellent, but occasionally things are supposed to be in color (like when Nausicaa wears a blue dress) and other places the art is so sketchy and the reality so complicated that it's confusing figuring out what is going on (like some of the battle scenes, with explosions and chaos). But that's a niggling negative: overall this is an incredible, creative and fun, and far more worth your time than the movie. My cousin gave me the books at Christmas and I've been reading them every since, a few pages a day (about a book a month). Very enjoyable.


Thursday, January 4, 2007

Net 2.0

Movie: Net 2.0

This was a straight-to-video release and it shows: while the lead lacks the charm of Sandra Bullock in the original film, she's not bad, but the script doesn't give her much to work with. She's a computer tech who blindly accepts a job in Turkey (Why there?) but arrives to find her identity stolen and herself wanted for stealing millions from her client. So she's on the run in a foreign country. Of course she's plucky and smart and ultimately succeeds in clearing her name, but this should be called Net .5 -- its a beta test, not a finished film.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

A New Blog

Soccer: A New Blog

I've started a new Houston Dynamo blog on The Offside website. Check it out!


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Car

Well, all's well that ends well, I suppose. With both vehicles dead my mindset has changed. I liked having two vehicles as one backed up the other, but after this bad experience -- two dead cars in two days -- I'm leary of older models. That means springing for new or barely used (i.e. under warranty), which costs a lot more money. Not what I wanted to do, but I decided if I'm going to do that, it's best to just get one reliable vehicle. The thing is, I want something small and sporty and not too expensive, yet it needs to have enough cargo space to haul Grandpa's wheelchair around (collapsing the wheelchair is a major pain and greatly increases the time it takes to go anywhere). In the past I'd looked at PT Crusiers and so now I went that route again -- and this time I liked what I saw. Before I was comparing their gas mileage (29 hwy) to my Neon (44 hwy) and was not impressed. Compared to my Mazda MPV van, they don't hold much cargo either. But as a replacement vehicle, the PT met my needs: it has cargo space but it still a smaller vehicle with reasonable gas mileage. I checked with my local dealer and they had a slightly used one with less than 18K miles and a low price -- just what I was looking for. I got it with a seven-year Chrysler warranty. (It's an interesting warranty -- if I never use it, I get all my warranty money back!) It didn't have cruise control, which I regretted never getting for my Neon, so I included adding that into the purchase price. I traded in both my junkers as well, so now I'm down to just one "new" car! (If you want to see a picture of it, click here.) This was not planned but the outcome isn't terrible, though now I have to hassle with car payments. Ugh!


Monday, September 4, 2000

New Desk!

I spent Labor Day weekend destroying my office and putting it back together again. This was a massive project. With such a small room and so little storage space I first had to go through my storage boxes and consolidate and throw junk away. Once I'd made room, I was able to begin constructing my new IKEA desk, though with hardly any floor space putting it together in such cramped quarters was quite the adventure. Still, I made it, and my new office is amazing. I finally have space! Where before I literally couldn't turn around without knocking something over, I now have a four by twelve foot clear area for walking around. Plus, my new desk not only has room for all my equipment, but tons of extra room for future stuff and/or books and other accessories. Incredible!


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Hip for Grandpa

Grandpa got a new hip today. Everything went beautifully. He didn't even know anything had happened. When my mom and I went to see him at noon, after the procedure, he wanted to know when the surgery was going to be! Looks like he'll be in the hospital for another week and then he'll go to rehab.


Wednesday, November 17, 1999

New Links

Somehow I forgot to link to several items on my website! I'd fully intended to, but somehow missed adding my graphic novel, The Traveler, and my film short, Burgar Wars. I've put them in a special "Projects" category above. In that same category I've also added a link to my "Rules for International Monopoly". It's a variation on the traditional Monopoly® that's a blast. You basically connect several Monopoly® boards together (each an different foreign version) and play across all the boards. There's more money, more property, and because of subtle differences between foreign and U.S. boards, actual surprises! Great fun and a great twist on a tired, familiar game.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

New York

I arrived at JFK just before midnight last night. The flight was uneventful, which is always best. My cousin Phil had borrowed a car and was able to pick me up, which made things easier, and we drove to his apartment in East Harlem. It was probably 2 a.m. before I actually got to bed and despite being tired, it took me a while fall asleep: it was hot so the window was open and the street noise was incredible. I'm used to the quiet of rural silence and on a Friday night in Manhattan it seemed everyone was out in the street partying. There were constant shouts and yells, music blaring from a half dozen boomboxes, people laughing and talking loudly, and the roar of bus engines as they revved past. I woke up a few times during the night and it seemed to me it wasn't until nearly 5 a.m. before things quieted. I'm sure New Yorkers get used to the noise and don't hear it after a while, but it sure kept me awake.

I was up shortly after eight, surprisingly not as groggy as I expected. There was bright sunlight coming through the window and it looked like a glorious day. At about 8:30 Phil and I walked around the corner to a little coffee shop and had breakfast (I had a decent omelet). Then we road the subway downtown to the Greenwich Village area where he was to work. From there I set off on my own. I had the whole day to kill and no set plans. This seemed odd but turned out to be fantastic: there really no better way to explore New York City than by walking it. Last time I was here I road the subway and took taxis and left with only a vague idea of the city's layout. This time I walked. And walked and walked and walked. I think I started somewhere around 34th Street (just south of Central Park) and ended up in Battery Park (the northern tip of Manhattan, where the ferries take you out to Ellis Island). That's a long walk. I did not take the direct route, either, wandering around, stopping at City Hall Park for a rest, swinging by Ground Zero (not much to see except construction and tourists), traipsing through the financial district and wondering why so many restaurants were closed and the place had few people and then realizing it was Saturday and Wall Street was closed. I had my iPhone with Google Maps so I was never lost -- but without a particular destination in mind, I just wandered. It was around noon when I got to Battery Park and just as I arrived it started to rain. The blue sky had gone, replaced by gray, and the misty spray I initially ignored soon became a downpour. Everywhere in Central Park vendors were rushing to cover their displays with plastic tarps to protect their merchandise (postcards, pictures, sketches, etc.). I chatted with one and he told me the rain was totally unexpected and unpredicted. He naturally was annoyed. I hung out with several hundred others in the Ellis Island ferry ticket shelter, waiting for the rain to subside. I had contemplated going out to Ellis Island, but the crowds and weather dissuaded me. There was a long line just to buy tickets, and an even longer line to board the ferry. The ferry itself is open to the elements and the ride looked cold and wet and I had no jacket with me and was dressed in short sleeves. I also saw no indication of the length of the boat ride, but I figured that at minimum, it would probably take several hours to get to the Ellis Island and back, depending on how long you spent on the Island. Since I had to be back at Phil's by five, I wasn't sure I had the time. I also was getting hungry and needed lunch soon.

Earlier I'd called my other cousin, Peter, who live in Brooklyn. He doesn't work on Saturdays and called me back and said he and his flat-mate were heading into town that afternoon, so we decided to reconnect later and meet. I got tired to waiting for the rain to stop -- it had lessened and I decided to brave it and resumed my walk, this time looking for an eating place. I was a little picky: I didn't want to go to a national chain and I stay away from fast food now. I also wanted a sit-down place. I headed off in a direction to see what I could find. Now a key attitude when in a foreign place is to at least pretend you know where you are going: walked with determination and confidence. It keeps away a lot of the riff-raff who target tourists. Unfortunately, this was a tourist-heavy area and I guess my attitude worked because I was accosted several times by people who wanted directions! One guy was hilarious. He wanted to know where to get on the Staten Island Ferry and I knew that, so I told him, but he wouldn't believe me! I was like, "Why do you ask me if you aren't going to believe me?"

I ended up passing the Wall Street bronze bull, which was surrounded by Japanese tourists taking photos of each other in front of it, and soon found myself in front of Trinity Cathedral. At this point the rain was really coming down again, and since I still hadn't found a place to eat, I ducked into a Borders bookstore. I had no intention of buying anything, but as I passed a "New in Paperback" display a book on soccer cried out to me and I began scanning it. It was really good and I bought it. I sat and read for a while, but it was restless and getting really hungry (by now it was after two o'clock). I decided to pay for the book and brave the rain in search of food. Right as I was paying for the book my phone rang and it was Peter: he was on his way downtown. He told me where he was going, but the places he mentioned were unfamiliar and I was in the middle of a credit card transaction and distracted. All I really heard was "I'll call you when we're down there."

Outside, it was really raining, but I couldn't wait. I needed to eat. But it was really coming down and in just a couple blocks I was soaked. I began choosing my path based on scaffolding location, as walking under the scaffolding was almost dry. Then I passed an entrance to the Fulton Street subway station and something clicked: hadn't Peter just mentioned that? I tried to call him but just got voicemail: he was probably already underground. Then I saw a little burger place with sit-down tables. That sounded as good as anything and I got a turkey burger which was delicious and didn't have too much bread (the bun was grilled). It was good and hit the spot, though a bit pricey at $8 with no fries or drink. Right after I finished and was trying to decide what to do next as it had stopped raining, Peter called. I went outside trying to figure out where I was; one street sign was obscured. He said he and Jon were on William and had me head east (an adventure for me to figure out since I'm terrible at compass directions). As I walked, we were still talking, when two things happened at once: up ahead I saw William Street and Peter suddenly reported that he and Jon were at William and John. "I'm on John and I can see William!" I shouted, and then I saw Peter with a cell phone to his ear. I hurried forward and we connected. I couldn't believe it. "I had lunch like two blocks up there," I told him. "John and Nassau." Peter and Jon had come out of Fulton Street Station and it was a terrific coincidence that we happened to be at the same place!

We then headed over to South Street Seaport where we found a TKTS booth with a ten minute line (instead of the three hour line at the Times Square location) and bought tickets for the Sunday matinee of Spamalot. I hadn't even been thinking about the expense of the tickets and was a bit shocked that our "half off" tickets still cost $60 each -- yikes! NYC is expensive.

After that we wandered the seaport (similar to San Francisco) and eventually walked up to City Hall Park (where I'd been earlier in the day) and over to Chinatown and Little Italy. Peter's friend Jon has been in New York for eight years and really knows the city -- it was handy having him as a guide. At about 4:45 p.m. it was time for me to head back to Phil's place, so with Jon's help, we found a subway station where I could catch the "6" train which took me to 116th Street, just two blocks from Phil's apartment. Phil had given me his only set of keys, so I needed to be there or else he wouldn't have been able to get in. He arrived just minutes after me -- I'd just barely gotten into the apartment. He'd picked up a rented "Zip Car," a cool New York system where you can reserve a car by the hour via the Internet and with pickup locations all over the city. We changed clothes and head off to Giants Stadium for the soccer game.


Saturday, May 11, 2002

New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Good game. San Jose dominated the first half, easily going up 2-0 with gobs of chances that went begging. Without NY keeper Tim Howard and some bad luck, the score easily could have been 5-0. Ariel Graziani scored both goals for San Jose. The first, however, was all Ramior Corrales, who stole the ball from Metro Steve Jolley in the penalty area and passed to an open Ariel who calmly stuck it in the empty net. The second goal was a masterpiece. Ariel started it himself in the San Jose part of the field. After a botched Metrostar corner, Ariel got the ball fifteen yards short of the halfway line and started the counter-attack with a bomb up the left side. Then he booked up the field at a furious rate arriving at the New York penalty area unmarked. A perfect cross came in and Ariel's header beat Howard for the 2-0 lead. Fantastic run and a well-deserved goal. In the second half, the Quakes were on the defense. New York came out charging and really should have scored on a couple occasions. On at least two occasions they got behind the San Jose defense and had point blank chances which they missed. In one, Serna had an open net to shoot at but put the ball wide. In another, a Faria breakway should have given them a goal but again the shot was missed. Extremely poor finishing. Early in the half Joe Cannon apparently tripped a Metro in the box to get a yellow card and give up a penalty kick. However, I watched the replay on TV when I got home and from one angle it was clear there was no contact -- the player was already in the air and going down before Cannon even reached him! Still, the Quakes held on the for the win, and in the end it was deserved. I didn't like all the chances we gave New York, and our defense definitely scrambles more without captain Jeff Agoos, but in the end it's results that count, and it's great to see the team rallying and winning without our World Cup stars. San Jose did have a ton of chances they couldn't finish, including one terrific breakaway by DeRossario. He stole the ball from NY captain Hernandez, tore away toward goal, deked Howard to give himself and open net, and slid the ball forward. The entire stadium went up on its feet with a roar of anticipation of the guaranteed goal, but a sliding Hernandez, desperate to redeem himself for his dreadful giveaway, caught the ball on the endline and put it out for a corner kick. If the Quakes start finishing chances like that, they'll be the terror of the league. Final: 2-1.


Saturday, July 20, 2002

New York Metrostars vs. New England Revolution

Soccer: New York Metrostars vs. New England Revolution

Cool game! This was my first MLS game not at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, and I'd definitely like to experience games at other stadiums. (Maybe I'll go to LA for a game sometime.) Giants Stadium was not what I expected. First, getting there was easy: take the subway to the Port Authority bus terminal, then ride the shuttle bus to the stadium. We were dropped off right in front, with a shorter walk than those who parked in the parking lot! The stadium itself is a huge bowl. The seats were so vertical that they were all good, though some were in the sun or under an overhang (and hot). I was surprised by how close the field felt even though we were high above it. The game itself was great: Andy Williams scored first with a terrific power shot, followed by Diallo on a PK, and Davis with a fantastic blast from outside the box. Twellman got one for New England just at the end of the half, but it was all New York before that. Diallo got another just seconds into the second half, but the Revs didn't give up, coming back with great goals from Steve Ralston (who pegged one from the top of the box) and Hernandez (who's shot was the farthest of all, from maybe 45 yards out). Great stuff and an amazing display of long-range shooting. Final: 4-3 New York.

Giants stadium was cool because there were TVs everywhere so you could keep up with the action and watch replays (even at the concession stand). Unfortunately, the food was expensive and not great: $5 for a feeble excuse for nachos (a bag of chips and a little bit of cheese and salsa).

This game was part of a double-header, so we got to see Brazil's Santo take on Scotland's Rangers. Unfortunately, the Rangers weren't that enthusiastic, and lost 1-0. That's typical of exhibition games. The coach took out Flo, one of my favorite players at half-time, a sign that the game wasn't real.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New York Minute

Movie: New York Minute

I was surprised that I didn't hate this. It felt silly and contrived from the previews, but it actually isn't that bad. The problem is that it was marketed (or perceived) as the Olsen Twins First Feature Film, which takes away from the actual story and movie. That said, this isn't exactly strain-your-brain material. The plot's wispy thin. Basically you've got twin sisters who are opposites who annoy each other. The neat freak's set to give a speech that will earn her a scholarship to Oxford while the other wants to skip school to play in her band. Through a lot of silly slapstick scenes and ridiculous side plots about a piracy ring and a moron truant officer out to track the slacker, the two end up getting stranded in New York city, have wild adventures, and meet their new boyfriends. But the Olsen twins do have charisma and it shows, faintly, through the dim-bulb plot. In the end the film's as harmless as it is mindless. Kinda fun if you're in the right mood (which I was).


Sunday, January 7, 2007


Book: Next
Writer(s): Michael Crichton

What is it with Crichton lately? He can be a good writer, but in his last few books he seems to have forgotten that new technology does not make a story, it's only the vehicle. This is one of his most disappointing books yet: it's almost incomprehensible. There's no real overall plot: it's more like a collection of short stories on vaguely similar topics, with each chapter introducing new people until we're completely bewildered. Eventually some of these storylines are loosely tied together in what some might consider clever, but it's way too late by that time -- we've long since given up even pretending to care for any of the characters. The main technological problem the book explores -- the dangers of genetic engineering -- is a terrific topic with huge ramifications for society and there are a number of shocking revelations (with a few ridiculous bits of dramatic license), but the story is so light on plot I'd rather just read about these social problems as non-fiction than as a novel.


Friday, April 27, 2007


Movie: Next

The trailer didn't give me much hope for this, but it's actually not that bad. The premise that a psychic can see the next two minutes of his future doesn't sound like much of a superpower, but it turns out to be impressive. He's always one step ahead of his pursuers, and there's a funny scene where he hits on a girl multiple times until he figures out the approach that works. My favorite was an action bit where he throws a baton down an empty hallway and you're thinking, "Why on earth did he do that?" and suddenly a guard comes around the corner right as the baton whacks him in the face! But then of course the plot has to get too convoluted as our psychic hero tries to save his girlfriend and L.A. from a stolen nuclear bomb terrorists plan to detonate. The ending's supposed to be clever, though it's really not -- it's obvious and too gimmicky -- but despite all that I liked the ending which was simpler than I expected. Usually films like this have two or three red herrings and subplots and confusion. I actually like the film as a whole -- it's harmless fun and occasionally interesting -- but it's certainly not a work of art. Don't expect too much and you might be amused for a while.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Next Three Days

Movie: The Next Three Days

My feelings are split on this film. It has some great moments and some aspects of the plot are clever and extremely well-crafted. But it's badly constructed. The problem is the beginning. The premise is simple enough: a guy's innocent wife is in jail for murder and he decides his only recourse is to break her out. But apparently that was too simple, so the director mucked it up by introducing that plot in a confusing manner. For instance, the film begins with an odd scene of our main character driving frantically in a car with someone unseen who is, we gather, dying. This is short and abrupt, and since we only see the driver, who don't know who is dying. That may be designed to create suspense, but we need more information for suspense. Instead the scene falls flat, and out of context, we really don't care who died. Undoubtedly this scene was added so we could start off with some action, but it's too short and there's no purpose. (Even when we later catch back up with this scene, it's not that important of a scene.) Then we jump to three years earlier in a restaurant. The man character, our husband, is there with his wife, and they are with another couple. The two women are arguing. What's strange here is the wife's over-the-top reaction to the debate. She snarls at the other woman and accuses her of trying to flirt with her husband right in front of her. Since we've just met these people and have no idea who is who, this is a bizarre and uncomfortable scene. We aren't sure who to root for, and we aren't sure what the argument is about. We're given little information and everything feels odd and disjointed. Next we jump to a brief scene at home, the couple putting their son to bed, and then it's breakfast and suddenly the cops are there arresting the woman in an overly-dramatic fashion (lots of hysteria and the child crying). At this point I thought we'd have a trial or in some way explain about the murder. But no: we jump forward two years to where the husband is waiting for the results of the final appeal, and he is crushed when it is denied. His wife will now be in jail for the rest of her life. Of course the key question the viewer is asking is, "If she's innocent, how did this happen?" The evidence against is revealed much too slowly throughout the film. I think the writer did this to keep the wife's guilt or innocence ambiguous, but the problem with that is that her guilt or innocence is really irrelevant. If could have been made relevant, but other than one key scene, it's not even an issue. The result is that the viewer is left confused and puzzled for far too long. Once we get past all these preliminaries and the husband begins to plot to break his wife out of jail, the film really begins, and from that point on, it's actually a pretty good film. It's fairly believable. Our hero is a teacher and not a spy, so he makes mistakes as he works to get all the parts of his plan together. (Okay, the shootout with the drug dealer was a bit absurd, but the rest was pretty good.) The last quarter of the movie when he actually makes the escape attempt is really excellent. The problem is still that kludgy beginning. It leaves a shadow over the rest of the film. I honestly think you're far better off skipping first 20 minutes of this and starting mid-story: you'll be far less confused and enjoy the rest of the film much better. Part of the problem is the first part is all exposition and setup, which has a very different pace from the action-heavy rest of the film. Yet ironically, that first part really doesn't actually tell us anything so it fails as exposition! The director should have just started with the wife in prison: her pre-prison scenes don't tell us anything relevant about her, and the murder -- which we need to know about to sympathize with her "unjustly convicted" plight -- isn't explained until the very end of the film! In the end, this is a simple tale the director has tried to make complicated and ruined it in the process.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Night at the Museum

Movie: Night at the Museum

This is an extremely light film: it stretches the single-gimmick premise (all the exhibits in a museum come to life at night) as far as it can, and it tacks the whole thing onto a tender-hearted divorced-loser-dad-wants-to-impress-alienated-son storyline. Still, despite misteps and some awkward unfunny moments, it mostly works, primarily through the irrascible charm of star Ben Stiller and a few of the shinning co-stars (an elderly but spry Dick Van Dyke is wonderful as the former night watchman). Still, it cannot overcome the limitations of its premise, and there are a few too many sight gags and pratfalls for true humor, but overall for silly, mind-numbing fun, it's not bad at all. There are definitely worse ways to waste your time.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian

Movie: Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian

I was surprised at how much I liked this. The first one was fun but I wasn't sure where they could go for a sequel, but this one succeeds by moving most of the action to a different museum so there are fresh characters brought to life and a bigger stage. It's still absurd but has a pleasant heart. A few places are surprisingly slow with odd exchanges of dialog that doesn't quite work, but for the most part this is quickly paced with non-stop fun. Amy Adams is delightful as Amelia Earhart who joins our hero in his quest to save his friends. There's nothing brilliant here (though the special effects are effective and pervasive) -- you certainly won't strain your intellect, but it's fun and harmless.


Friday, August 11, 2006

The Night Listener

Movie: The Night Listener

Lame gimmicky story that I'd heard about prior to the movie: I knew it was about a radio talk show host talking on the phone to an abused 14-year-old who, it turns out, might or might not actually exist. The host, played by Robin Williams, is progressively gay, and much of the story is about his dreary love life (he just got dumped so we get to be depressed with him), which seemed off-topic and more an ad for the gay lifestyle than part of the story (every scene shouts out, "This is normal! This is normal!"). The mystery -- is the kid real or not -- is milked for as long as possible but becomes more and more far-fetched as we go along, and in the end, there's nothing much to it. We find out the answer and the film just ends. Lame and disappointing.


Sunday, October 15, 2000

The Night of the Living Dead

Movie: The Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Writer(s): George Romero
Director(s): George Romero

Fascinating film. Not especially scary or gory, but an interesting story. I liked the odd mix of characters. I hadn't realized that the "living dead" thing was a national crisis (I figured it was a local phenomena); that broadened the scope of the victims' plight. One touch that was really profound is that few of the main characters are killed by zombies -- instead, it is human stupidity and greed that kills them. Very cool. I also loved the way Romero went to still shots at the very end. Just like a documentary, with grainy photos that strongly resembled a lynching.

I still liked Dawn of the Dead more. Now that I've seen the first film, the second is almost a remake, though more mature. All of those cheesy zombie movie imitations now seem really dumb.

Incredible the way a silly zombie film can make so many complex statements about existence, survival, human society, relationships, human nature in a crisis situation, civil rights and racism, and much, much more. It's now easy for me to see how someone could write a dissertation on these films. There's a lot of power in them.


Thursday, December 28, 2000

The Ninth Gate

Movie: The Ninth Gate

Mishmash about a book expert hired to authentic a copy of a rare book that's supposed to hold the key to summoning Satan (and presumably, ultimate power). There are mysterious deaths and strange threats, and in the end, you don't know much more than at the beginning. Mildly interesting, but doesn't hold up to its promise.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Movie: No Country for Old Men
Writer(s): Coen Brothers
Director(s): Coen Brothers

The Coen brothers are back! While some have reported this "better than Fargo," I wouldn't go quite that far. Fargo is funnier; here the humor is blacker and bleaker. This is the grim tale of revenge and greed. A hunter finds $2 million in cash at a drug-deal gone bad in the middle of a Texas desert. All the drug dealers are dead, having shot each other, so he escapes with the dough. But soon they are on his trail, with a psychotic killer not far behind. Typical of the Coen brothers, all the characters are distinct and memorable; even the "throw-away" roles with only a line or two are shown to be human and personable (which makes their tragic demises more cutting). The story is complicated and is slowly reeled out, as the hunter tries to outwit the pyschotic. There are so many fascinating aspects of the characters -- like the pyschotic's use of a cylinder of compressed air to kill people and blow out door locks. This is the kind of film that isn't about the plot, but about the people, the atmosphere, and the wonderful filmmaking that totally controls our perspective. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. You're in the hands of masters of their craft.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

No Reservations

Movie: No Reservations

I really liked this. The story is simple enough: a chef who's so focused on food she neglects her life inherits her young neice when her sister dies unexpectedly. Their relationship is awkward at first, but a new assistant chef at work charms the little girl and helps the two get along, and the two chefs fall in love. There's nothing hugely innovative here, but it's extremely well-done and the characters are all likeable (excellent casting). Enjoy it.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Book: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Writer(s): Alexander McCall Smith

This is a fantastic novel. It's a new twist on a familiar genre, the detective novel. In this case the book is set in Botswana and the detective is a woman, both unique and unusual choices. The result is a fascinating blend of African culture, unusual characters, and clever mysteries. This book is more like a series of short stories instead of a long sustained story, but it still works. We learn about the lead character, her past and her family and how she decided to make the unusual decision to open her own detective agency. We follow her as she solves her first few cases (simple but interesting) and eventually as she solves a kidnapping/murder case. We're also involved with her personal life as she develops a connection with a man during her investigations. The book is very low-key, simple, and quite beautiful, just like Botswana. A must-read for all fans of different cultures or mysteries. There are more in the series and I'm buying them all!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Son

Movie: Nobel Son

I saw something about this a while back and had wanted to see it, but it disappeared before I could. The plot sounded neat: the son of a horribly mean and arrogant Nobel laureate is kidnapped for ransom and he doesn't care or even believe the boy's been kidnapped (he's suspicious the boy is behind the kidnapping and that it is fake). I caught the film on a movie channel and was excited. Unfortunately, it wasn't as good as I hoped. I recommend it with reservations. The key problem is the film doesn't know what it is: it's really three films in one. The tone of the film is light-hearted humor like Get Shorty. We see hints of this in the quirky film-making style, the titles introducing the characters, and the outrageousness of the characters. But the kidnapping is grittily real, and the execution of the ransom pick-up is elaborate and intricate like an Ocean's Eleven heist. So that's a different feel than the humor we were expecting. Also, the humor is sparse and inconsistent. This makes the first half of the film uneven and confusing. As we get past the kidnapping and into the aftermath, suddenly the film takes a new twist (which I won't reveal) leading to something that reminded me strongly of the classic Pacific Heights, where a seemingly harmless and charming person diabolically takes over and threatens our hero with disaster. While I loved the psychological games this produced, it had a completely different feel from the light-hearted spoof of earlier, and it was too brief, for the film too quickly went on to the third (or fourth, depending on how you count) feel, with the hero teaming up with his mom to stop the bad guy. It was done well: extremely clever and realistic, and the tables turning on the bad guy was satisfying. However, it was yet another tone in a film that had too many. So the bottom line is that this film has a remarkably clever, intricate plot, some terrific psychological manipulation, and a wonderful table-turning conclusion, but the whole thing feels awkward, haphazard, and confusing. You aren't sure if this is comedy, dramedy, gritty crime drama, psychological thriller, or what, and that leads to confusion and unease. I found it awkward to sit through because of that. On the one that meant it kept surprising me, but on the other it really felt like three or four movies stuffed together into a mishmash. As I said, recommended but with reservations. Definitely see it to get what you can out of it, but don't expect a pure experience.


Monday, August 23, 2004


Movie: Northfork

Strange film set in the 1950's where the town of Northfork is going to be flooded by a new dam being built and a group of black suited men are hired to evacuate the last few holdouts. One of these includes a priest with a sick boy, who's too ill to travel. The boy has bizarre dreams of being an angel with weird visitors searching for him. Events in the boy's dreams correspond in a timely fashion with other events, producing interesting coorelations. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels more like an avant garde film experiment instead of a movie. There isn't much of a story, and while the whole thing reeks of pretentious intelligence, there isn't much actual depth.


Thursday, November 21, 2002

Not Another Teen Movie

Movie: Not Another Teen Movie

Above average parody of teen movies. Some genuinely original funny bits, but occasionally gets unnecessarily crude and disgusting (that exploding toilet was just dumb). The DVD's got some cool extras.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Notebook

Movie: The Notebook
Writer(s): Nicholas Sparks (novel)

I wasn't expecting much of this as Sparks' stuff is usually overly sweet and silly, but this one got to me. It's a wonderful, simple story about true love. It's told by an old man who reads the story from a notebook to an old woman in a nursing home and tells about a penniless young man who falls for the daughter of a rich man. Of course the daughter's forbidden to see the boy and they are separated only to be reunited years later and realize they are still in love. Sparks did well to not overly complicate this conflict, since it's really minimal, and the resolution is appropriately simple. (In too many love stories the conflict is silly and we're just wondering why the two can't just hook up and be done with it.) Anyway, this story has a little twist -- completely predictable (I figured it out in the first two minutes), but it adds a nice touch. And the concluding scene is rather sweet (though unrealistic). Overall a very good movie with impressive acting.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Notes from Underground

Book: Notes from Underground
Writer(s): Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This is a terrific understated Dostoyevsky novel about a strange man who overanalyzes everything in life and proceeds to tell us about it. He's an absurdity, with certain instrospective insights and alienation taken to the extreme limit, and the result is a classic character whose thoughts will make you ponder life, the universe, and everything. Definitely the type of thing you can read multiple times and get more from each time.


Monday, January 24, 2000

Notify Service

Sorry updates have been so infrequent of late; I had a bout of the flu, and with the European winter break over, there's been gobs of soccer to watch. (With several tournaments going on, like the African Nations Cup, there are one or two games on every night this week! After not watching soccer for a month, I'm going to O.D.!) Putting down my thoughts on each movie or book doesn't take that much time, but adding all the links and comfirming movie director and author data with the Internet Movie Database takes some effort.

Because of my irregular updating, I'm adding a new service. You can now subscribe to a mailing list where I will send you an e-mail whenever the page changes. This shouldn't be more than once per week (and possibly less often than that). To subscribe, simply send any message to To unsubscribe, send a message to That's it!


Sunday, February 27, 2000

Notting Hill

Movie: Notting Hill (1999)
Writer(s): Richard Curtis
Director(s): Roger Michell

Sweet romantic comedy about the conflicts in a romance between a movie star and a nobody. Nicely done, and occasionally even heartwarming, but basically too light to be significant. Julie Roberts tried hard, but never got beyond being a pretty face, and one can't help but be amazed that such a charming Hugh Grant could be single! The most interesting thing for me was the "coincidence" that Netflix just happened to deliver the DVD to me right after I finished reading the Natalie Wood biography (Netflix rentals are delivered by mail, so you must order several days in advance). Since that book is so revealing about the difference between the famous and not famous, I found the film more intriguing than I normally might have.


Thursday, July 3, 2003

Nowhere in Africa

Movie: Nowhere in Africa
Director(s): Caroline Link

This is a remarkable film. It tells the story of a Jewish family who leave Germany in 1938 before the war and escape to Kenya. At first the mother hates it, and grows distant from her husband. Their 5-year-old daughter loves Africa and fits right in with natives. But later the mother learns to love Africa and doesn't want to return to Germany when the war ends. Unusual in today's blockbuster movie climate, the story's all about complex characters and how they change. The story is told by the now-adult daughter, which gives us an interesting perspective. The heart of the movie is really how Africa -- the people, the culture, the land -- affects this family, alternatively tearing them apart and sealing them together. That heart is portrayed by excellent acting, especially the young daughter who's a real find (speaking German, Swahili, and English). No doubt I'm biased, having grown up in West Africa myself (from when I was three), but I liked the child's view best. That was what attracted me to the film. It was authentically portrayed as well, with the young girl seeing no color or cultural barrior. When her mom initially treats their native cook, Owuor, as a mere servant, the girl hugs him without reservation (and their wonderful relationship is a constant throughout the film). It's a beautiful, touching, and realistic film. There's a rawness to things (scenery, dialogue, etc.) that's real and very African. One of the most fascinating things to me, to spoil the plot slightly, is that not that much happens, at least compared to most plot-heavy films. Yet the characters are profoundly affected by subtle events and circumstances. There's no "lightning bolt" scene where suddenly the wife likes Africa -- it's a gradual thing, where after years of hating it, she slowly becomes aware of how much she likes it. Having lived in many places myself, I can tell you that's reality. For example, the area where I lived was very much a desert with little green, and I remember visitors commenting on how dreary everything looked (which always seemed to surprise me). You see, after a while the desert becomes part of life, and even today, watching this film, seeing all the sand and dirt made me homesick! I miss the simplicity of African life, and the clean, unfiltered joy of the native people. This film captures a great deal of that, and it's well worth your time.


Friday, February 23, 2007

The Number 23

Movie: The Number 23

This film wants to be more clever and bizarre than it actually is. It's not really bad, but it's not great either. The story's about a guy who becomes obsessed with the number 23 and thinks he's going to kill his wife like a character in a novel he's reading. The most interesting aspect is the whole obsession aspect, and the question of whether you notice coincidental connections because they are really there or because you are looking for them. Unfortunately, the film gets overly convoluted toward the end, with several false endings (it reminded me of The Black Dahlia in that regard). Though the final explanation is fine, with all the red herrings it doesn't feel concrete. In the end, disappointing.


Saturday, May 12, 2001

Nurse Betty

Movie: Nurse Betty

Strange comedy: considerably more violent than I expected, and slow to get started. Betty's a Kansas housewife who's a fan of a TV soap opera doctor. When she witnesses her jerk husband being killed by hit men, she flips out and thinks the soap is real and she's in love with the doctor. So she travels to Hollywood with the hit men on her trail. What follows is hilarity as the actor thinks she's just playing a role to get on the soap, but she thinks everything's real! Pretty funny (and touching) once it gets going. The first half hour or so isn't much of a comedy.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nutrician Scale

I mentioned earlier about my bout in the hospital, where I learned I'm now diabetic. I've been making major changes to my diet and starting to exercise, and things are going really well. Hopefully I can get off insulin at some point. Last week I found the most marvelous device: it's an intelligent kitchen scale. It's made by Salter and it's their Nutri-Weigh 1450 model. This scale is so cool: place any food on the scale and it will tell you exact what nutrients are in that food! It breaks down the calories, protein, carbohydrates, sodium, fat, saturated fat, fibre, and more! Built-in it knows about nearly 1500 foods, but you can easily add your own simply by entering the info on the food's nutrition label. You can even compute the value of recipies by entering each item as you add it (you "zero" the scale between ingredients and it then calculates only the weight of the new item). Later, when you consume part of that recipe, you just weigh how much of it you're eating and it will tell you exactly the nutrition break-down. This thing is sensitive to the single gram level: I can literally place a bowl of salad on the scale, zero the scale, and drizzle dressing on the salad and watch the calories and carbs and saturated fat count mount drop by drop of dressing! This thing can even total up how much you're eating per meal, per day, or per week, and you can set target goals (for all ten nutrients) and it will compare to see how you're doing. For me, this is a godsend, because I am terrible at judging portion sizes, and I'm a precise person and I love the precision of this device. You can literally butter your bread and see how much fat that adds! It's just amazing. I feared it would be complicated to use but the interface, while not perfect, is not bad at all. You simply enter the first few letters of the food name, then scroll through a short list of candidates and press enter when the correct food is displayed. Immediately the scale tells you the nutrient amounts. If you want to save that data, just press the Memory+ button. Really the only thing this thing lacks is an interface to a computer so you could chart and graph and save the data permanently. But I have a form where I write down the values I want to track and it's not a big deal. I thought maybe weighing all my food would be a pain, but it's so easy to do it's not a chore at all. In fact, it's not only fun, it can help you eat more! That's right: I often will use the scale to create a serving size that matches my diet plan, adding a food until the carbs or calories or whatever is within my diet goals. It's pretty cool to be able to do that, and often the amount is more than I would have guessed I'd be allowed to eat. (The food type makes a big difference: when I can easily see that twenty-five chocolate chips has the same calories as a whole apple, I'm more likely to opt for the healthier and greater amount of food.) My dietician wants to me to watch my carbs (I'm supposed to eat a comparable amount at each meal to keep my diet consistent), my saturated fat (this one's hard, as delicious cheese really knocks this value up), cholesterol (mainly in eggs and beef), and of course calories. This scale lets me do that and more, and it's really impressive. Oh, I should also mention you don't have to actually weigh the food if you don't have it handy: you can type in the estimated weight, which is useful if you eat out. For instance, I had a bowl of chili at a restaurant yesterday, so I chose Chili and put in two cups for the amount and it told me the nutrients I consumed. That's a bit rough as I was just guessing the amount and the chili I ate might have different ingredients than the one in the scale, but it's at least in the ballpark, and it beats a wild guess. The thing I hate worst in the world about diet is when I think I'm doing something healthy or making a sacrifice, only to find out what I'm doing is actually bad. Like when you think you're cutting your amount down to a good level but it's still actually too much. With this scale, I don't have that problem any more since it can tell me, exactly, what I'm consuming every day. Awesome!