Sunday, November 21, 1999

10 Things I Hate About You

Movie: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Writer(s): William Shakespeare (loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew) and Karen McCullah Lutz
Director(s): Gil Junger

The writer of this movie must be schizophrenic -- this movie is alternately a cheap, crass teen flick and occasionally a brilliant satire on American high school life. There are some really good moments and characterizations, but they are mixed in with unfortunate toilet humor. This inconsistency leaves you strangely uneasy. It's not like Animal House, where you expect raunchy, but more like a crude version of Clueless. A good example of this crudeness is the recurring character of the guidance counselor who writes pornography between student visits. It's funny at first, but her text is remarkably graphic and she shows no shame, leaving you more puzzled than amused. It's like a half-joke played for a real one. Still, there are some really cool moments. My favorite was when the Dad, who most of the movie was a stereotypical pregnancy-obsessed parent, reveals he's not as dumb as you thought. He's got two daughters: the younger one's pretty and perfect and popular, the older one an intelligent, independent-minded feminist-in-training. The older one's looking to move far away to college and her father's opposed to it. He tells her something along the lines of "Your sister at least lets me pretend to be a dad once in a while. You, you've had me on the bench for years." I thought that was really profound, as we saw the father's fear of losing his role as a parent as his children grow up and don't need him any more. All and all, uneven: surprisingly intelligent in places, surprisingly juvenile in others. Rentable, if you're curious for what passes for teen drama these days.


Tuesday, April 2, 2002

10,000 Men Named George

Movie: 10,000 Men Named George

Fascinating drama based on the life of black union organizer Asa Philip Randolf who, back in the 1920s and 30s, founded the first black union in a major U.S. corporation. It took twelve years to get Pullman to recognize the union of Sleeping Car Porters, and during that time the company tried every dirty trick in the book to stop the union from forming. The working conditions for porters were very poor. For instance, they didn't get paid if a train wasn't full! They also weren't allowed any rest between rides, and if they complained or were found sleeping on the job, they were fired. Add the indignity of being treated like scum (all porters were called "George" by the passengers), and these guys badly needed a union. Very interesting story and well-done.


Friday, March 7, 2008

10,000 Years B.C.

Movie: 10,000 Years B.C.

Flashy special effects are at the heart of this film and though the story tries (too) hard to be "important" it's way too generic and the "deep" aspects of the film just come across as silly. That said, it's not that bad a film. The story is simple: a tribe is attacked and their people taken captive, including a girl who is the main character's bride-to-be, so he sets out after them to rescue her. He has adventures along the way, there's action and drama, bla bla bla, he makes friends who help him overthrow the evil emperor, horray for everyone. There's a degree of "mystical" nonsense that plagues the film and that weakens the ending which goes a bit into weird territory with a death that makes no sense, but overall this is a fun film, the special effects are genuinely impressive and worth seeing just for them.


Saturday, November 27, 1999

12 Monkeys

Movie: 12 Monkeys (1995)
Writer(s): Chris Marker (film La Jetee) and David and Janet Peoples
Director(s): Terry Gilliam

Some might think this movie should win the "Most Confusing Movie Ever" award, but it's only confusing on your first viewing. It's designed to be a puzzle you unravel, and watch over and over and over. I saw much in this viewing I had previously missed. I think there are some flaws, and things Gilliam could have done to make the movie a little more accessible, but it's still a great film. It certainly does not dumb itself down for the audience, like so many Hollywood pictures. The plot is an incredibly complicated time travel riddle. It's also a psychological adventure. Are we trapped in someone's mind or is all this real? It's similar to Gilliam's classic Brazil (my pick for best movie of all time) in that regard. There are twists within twists within twists. Amazing, and well worth the thought-effort to puzzle it through. Rather than try to explain everything for those who haven't seen the movie, let me just throw out this bone: Bruce Willis is sent back in time to save the world from a plague that wipes out five billion people. But he ends up in a mental institution, where for some odd reason, no one will believe he's from the future and is there to save humanity. The beauty is that Willis sounds crazy to us, the audience. And we begin to doubt: is he really from the future or he really crazy? Classic!


Saturday, October 5, 2002

13 Ghosts

Movie: 13 Ghosts

A different kind of ghost film about a guy who catches ghosts to build a demonic machine that predicts the future. Okay, the plot sounds terrible, but what makes this different is the unusual set (the glass house full of ghosts is the machine) and the way the ghosts are visualized, as real creatures that can hurt you. The house reminded me a lot of Cube. Nothing profound, of course, but entertaining.


Wednesday, May 5, 2004

13 Going on 30

Movie: 13 Going on 30

I really really liked this movie! The critics compared it to a mediocre Big and we're impressed, but I thought it was great. It's obviously not a life-changing sort of film, but it's fun, clever, and very entertaining. Jennifer Garner is a vision and delight and displays some amazing comedic acting chops, somehow channeling a 13-year-old girl inside her adult body. The story itself is predictable: an awkward 13-year-old girl wishes she were a mature 30 and wakes up 17 years later. She's still 13 in her mind but has the body and career of a 30-year-old. Humor is gleaned from this mismatch, of course, but heart comes through when the innocent inner girl changes the cold-hearted bitch the 30-year-old had become. It's light-hearted fun, but Garner brings a warm sincerity to the role that makes it charming and wonderful. It can be trite or sacchrine at times, but overall it's pleasant and just plain entertaining. Highly recommended for the children in all of us.


Tuesday, March 28, 2000

The 13th Warrior

Movie: The 13th Warrior (1999)

I actually liked this, though the ending fell flat. It's based on Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, which is one of my favorite books (and one of his best). It's essentially a retelling of Beowulf, but from the perspective of an Arab visiting the Norsemen. The film's impressive in action and photography, but the story's slight. The ending fades in so gradually you're suprised. "Is that it?" you ask. In these blockbuster days we're used to much more dramatic conclusions. The best parts of the book (and film) are the ones that emphasize the cultural differences between the characters. Unfortunately, the film shows little of that, leaving us only with a weak action story. Watch it for the scenery and elaborate sets.


Friday, June 22, 2007


Movie: 1408
Writer(s): Stephen King (story)

While I liked this better than many of the newer ultra-gory horror films trendy right now, it unfortunately runs out of gas and doesn't have anywhere to go. The premise is cool: a ghost hunter author finds real ghosts in room 1408 of a New York hotel. It's a tour-de-force performance for John Cussack, who is practically the only actor in the thing, and the director does an excellent job keeping things interesting and surprisingly suspensive and alarming for much of the film. But a film like this only works when there's a payoff at the end (think The Sixth Sense) and this one has nothing. Well, it tries a little, but it's not satisfying and more than a little ambiguous. I liked Secret Window better, though this one is more of a horror film. In this end this is above average, but don't go in with high expectations.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

16 Blocks

Movie: 16 Blocks

A surprisingly decent little thriller about a flawed cop who's ordered to take a snitch to court (16 New York blocks), but soon learns it's all a setup as the snitch is testifying against some bad cops and they want him dead. There are stereotypical aspects of some of the characters, but the tense builds and the dramatic ending is good, and I liked it overall. Not great, but above average.


Thursday, July 4, 2002

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Writer(s): Coen Brothers
Director(s): Coen Brothers

Strange film: not what I expected, and I didn't expect anything. It didn't quite work for me. The comedy wasn't the laugh-out-loud kind, which made you wonder if you were supposed to be laughing at the odd things that were happening. The music was different and interesting, and I liked the musical aspects, though sometimes the songs were too long (they lived past their one-joke premise). Overall, I liked the whole Odyssey retelling aspect, set in the 1940's, but Clooney was an awkward casting choice, with an inconsistent performance. Worth seeing just because it's so different, but it's not one of my favorite Coen brother's films.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ocean Hike

Today I went to the Oregon coast and hiked nearly six miles! It was an overcast day, but still gorgeous, and the weather was cool and ideal for hiking. I went to Oswald West State Park and hiked out to Cape Falcon where I got some fanastic photos. I had a picnic lunch at the Cape and discovered I actually had cell phone coverage in that area and was able to surf the web and email photos from my iPhone! Lots of fun. Check out the photos linked above (which also include a previous hike up to Multnomah Falls I did last month).


Friday, June 8, 2007

Ocean's 13

Movie: Ocean's 13

While it has a completely ridiculous and unbelievable premise -- Ocean's team of con artists and thieves attempt to bankrupt a Las Vegas casino owner who's cheated a friend of theirs by rigging every game in the casino and engineering a simultaneous diamond robbery and fake earthquake -- the film's still entertaining, a guilty pleasure. It's so obvious but we still want to see the bad guy lose. Not nearly as clever as the first film, the series has definitely descended, but amusing and has its moments.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ocean's Twelve

Movie: Ocean's Twelve

This was surprisingly good, though the plot was overly twisted and convoluted, of course. This time the gang has been found out by the casino boss they stole from in the first movie and he wants his money back, plus interest, or he'll kill them all. So the gang's forced into action to steal $97 million in two weeks. Then it turns out that's all a front to get them to compete in a robbery contest by a robber who wants the title of best thief for himself. That's a stretch, but the movie's fun enough to allow it. Basically, that's all this film is: a fun ride with mildly amusing in-jokes and clever crimes, and the expected twist at the end that makes everything work out ideally. Good fun.


Saturday, February 19, 2000

October Sky

Movie: October Sky (1999)
Writer(s): Homer H. Hickam Jr. (book) and Lewis Colick
Director(s): Joe Johnston

This is one of those predictable but well-done films. A boy struggles to escape the drudgery of a coal-mining town by entering a science fair competition with his rocketry experiments. You know exactly what's going to happen but the performances are so perfect (especially Chris Cooper as the father) that you fall for it away. Excellent.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Off to the Midwest

To night I head off on my trip to Atlanta for a Real Studio conference. I'm flying in to Nashville (much cheaper) and renting a car and driving, which will allow me to see relatives in the area. I'm a bit nervous about the trip as it's been a long time since I've traveled and flying these days is no longer fun (both because of security precautions and airline cutbacks). I'm also experimenting by not taking my laptop or GPS -- instead I'll use my iPhone as a GPS and my iPad with Bluetooth keyboard as my laptop.


Monday, August 13, 2001

Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

Book: Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism (2001)
Writer(s): Andrei S. Markovits and Steven L. Hellerman

Fascinating book. In sociology, "American Exceptionalism" is an area (usually political) in which the United States is completely different (exceptional) from the rest of the world. Author Markovits realized that sports is another example of American Exceptionalism: while nearly the entire world is united in watching soccer, American does not. And yet just as American ignores soccer, the rest of the world ignores the American "Big Three" of American football, baseball, and basketball. Why is that? Why is there such a sporting disparity between America and the rest of the world?

Even if you're not a fan of soccer, or even interested in sports, this is a topic that should appeal to your cultural curiosity. A simplistic answer could be that Americans simply aren't used to soccer and the rest of the world is unfamiliar with our sports, but Markovits goes much deeper. He explores the history of amateur and professional sports in the United States and you may be surprised to see how prominent soccer was in the U.S. a hundred years ago. I learned many things in reading this book, including the surprising fact that college football was more popular than professional until just a few decades ago. It was college football that displaced soccer -- collegiate sports being the lead-in to the pros. College sports are another American exception since around the world, kids go from high school right into professional soccer. (In fact, now that the United States has a professional soccer league in Major League Soccer, students are doing just that, and it's a good thing, since soccer in American colleges is played with completely different rules than "real" soccer; yet another American exception.)

If you are fascinated by the sporting culture, society in general, or wonder what the world will be like in fifty years as we become a truly global nation, you need to read this book. Understanding the sporting culture of both American and the rest of the world is an important step to understanding society.

Markovits doesn't give solutions to the lack of enthusiasm Americans in general have shown to soccer, but he does conclude that there is hope. MLS is going well, and fulfilling its major goal in that it is producing new young American soccer stars like San Jose's Landon Donovan which will (hopefully) help lead the United States to success on an international level. There's also the advent of women's soccer, which is wildly popular in the U.S., while -- oddly -- mocked in other countries. The future's looking bright for American soccer, but only time will tell if soccer can become America's fourth sport.


Thursday, March 13, 2003

Old School

Movie: Old School

I'm not a fan of Animal House-type films and had no interest in seeing this, but it was doing big box office and there was little else in the theatre. I decided to check it out. It turned out it wasn't as gross or vulgar as I expected, but more puzzling is that it isn't very funny. I didn't crack a smile until about 30 minutes in, and I only laughed a few times. It's ponderous, plot-heavy, predictable, and the humor's low-brow. Compared to this, Dumber and Dumber is a classic. Still, there are a couple good scenes, some interesting drama, a pleasant cast (How did they coerce so many good actors to this crap?) and handful of funny moments (my favorite was the 90-year-old frat pledge singing "Dust in the Wind" during the closing credits). But there's basically ten minutes worth of material stretched into a 90-minute movie.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oliver Twist

Movie: Oliver Twist
Writer(s): Charles Dickens (book)
Director(s): Roman Polanski

This is an excellent film. There's nothing flashy, just gritty Industrial London in the 1800s filmed realistically, and a heart-wrenching story about a kind-hearted orphan boy's trials and struggles. I've never been a huge Dickens' fan (his works are so dreary), but I enjoyed this as a film (I'm sure the book would be difficult to endure). It was hard to watch at times -- the world back then was so harsh and cruel -- but in the end things work out for the poor boy and it's a story of triumph over tragedy. My only criticism is that the main character is practically a mute; the actor only has to look cute and pathetic and rarely says or does anything (probably a good thing as I wasn't impressed with his mediocre acting abilities). In the end it seems that Oliver's main salvation isn't his good heart but his pretty face; not exactly the kind of revelation that encourages the human condition. Not having read the novel, I'm not sure if this is the fault of Dickens or Polanski, but either way, it's not a fatal flaw as the story still works on many other levels. It's just a good story well told; you don't even notice the director, and in fact, you forget you're watching a film, which is the ideal. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Olympic Men: Chile vs. Cameroon

Soccer: Olympic Men: Chile vs. Cameroon

The winner of this game takes on Spain for the Gold, while the U.S. plays the loser for the Bronze. Chile totally dominated for 90% of the game, missing chance after point blank chance. They finally scored late in the second half... well, Cameroon scored for them, with an own goal. But the goal didn't dispirit Cameroon, who quickly came back with a surprise goal of their own. With Chile confused by the sudden change in the game, Cameroon pushed hard and in the 90th minute were awarded a penalty. It looked like a good call at first, but on replay seemed questionable. But that meant Cameroon finished 2-1 and the U.S. gets to play a talented and no doubt very upset and determined Chile for the Bronze. I don't hold out much hope for the U.S., but you never know. If they play up to their potential and if Chile doesn't really want a lowly Bronze medal, the U.S. could take it, but I suspect they are too tired. Remember, they've already done better than any U.S. soccer team ever, and these are young kids without a lot of experience. They'd love some sort of tribute to bring home, but just being in the semi-finals is an incredible feat, especially considering the international talent on the field. (Some of the internationals playing for Spain, Chile, etc. command transfer fees in the $20-$25 million dollar range, and many of the youngsters play for huge European clubs, so these are world class players the U.S. is competing against.)


Saturday, September 30, 2000

Olympic Men: Spain vs. Cameroon (Gold Medal Match)

Soccer: Olympic Men: Spain vs. Cameroon (Gold Medal Match)

Incredible game, one of the best ever. Cameroon came in as the underdog to skillful Spain (the best team in the tournament, IMNSHO), and proved it quickly by giving up a free kick just outside the box less than two minutes in. Spain scored, and then just a minute later, were awarded a penalty kick on Jose Marie's take down in the box. But Cameroon's terrific 16-year-old keeper stopped the shot! Spain finally got another goal seconds before the half and went into the locker room safely up 2-0. But African teams are exciting to watch because they are so unpredictable, and a different Cameroon team came out. Within seconds they'd had a shot on goal, and push after push soon brought them their first goal (a lucky deflection off a Spanish player). More perseverance brought them a second, tying the score. Then Spain's Gabri was red-carded for a bad foul and had to play with 10 men. Everything was going Cameroon's way. With just seconds left in the game, Spain's best player, Jose Marie, fell down in the box in an obvious dive and received his second yellow to be kicked out of the game! We go into overtime with Cameroon up two men (an odd coincidence, since Cameroon beat Brazil in overtime while down to nine men themselves).

In the first 10 minutes of overtime Cameroon put an incredible 5 or 6 point-blank shots on goal, only to by stopped by Spain's quick keeper. Amazing turnaround for a game that started with Spain as the heavy favorite. But Spain played overtime intelligently -- wasting time and slowing things down. Cameroon's 120th minute goal should have counted, but a blind linesman called it offside and so it didn't count. Spain got what they wanted: for the first time, an Olympic gold medal match would be decided by penalty kicks. Like most, I'd have given the edge to Spain on PKs, but Cameroon kicked coolly and calmly like pros. When Spain's third kicker missed, it was all in Cameroon's lap, and Wome's finish put it beyond doubt: Cameroon beats Spain on PKs, 5-4, and wins the gold medal! It's Cameroon's first Olympic gold medal.


Saturday, September 16, 2000

Olympic Men: U.S. vs. Cameroon

Soccer: Olympic Men: U.S. vs. Cameroon

Wonderful, though frustrating, game. The U.S. had gobs of dead-on chances but couldn't finish. The only non-professional player on the U.S. team, Connor Casey, missed several sitters, alone with the keeper, but hopefully he'll learn from his experiences. (Amazing that the U.S. can now field a team of under 21-year-olds and only have one that doesn't play professionally!) While the game was exciting, the only goals came from penalties. Final: U.S. 1, Cameroon 1. With Cameroon winning their first game, and with Kuwait (the other team in the U.S.'s group) winning their second, the U.S. faces a must-win against Kuwait to advance. (Since Kuwait is currently in second with the U.S. in third, a win against them guarantees the U.S. moving forward in the tournament.)


Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Olympic Men: U.S. vs. Czech Republic

Soccer: Olympic Men: U.S. vs. Czech Republic

Great start for the U.S. Men's team; they dominated the game and should have won, but nerves and fatigue meant they gave up some goals they shouldn't and didn't pick up a winner in the second half. A 2-2 draw, it gives the U.S. a point in the standings, an excellent start from a game the U.S. expected to lose.


Friday, September 29, 2000

Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Chile (Bronze Medal Match)

Soccer: Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Chile (Bronze Medal Match)

The U.S. actually played for maybe 20 minutes in this game, and they had Chile nervous. But the rest of the time they simply defended and passed the ball around until a bad pass gave the ball away. Danny Califf's poor decision to tackle a Chilean player in the box gave away a penalty in the second half, and it was downhill from there. As often happens, a goal disheartens one team and enlivens the other, and with just minutes to go, Chile scored a second, and the American dream of a soccer medal was gone. A terrific tournament for the U.S.; fourth place is still fourth best, and on an international stage, playing the world's game, that's awesome. The U.S. just needs more experience. We played best when players like Josh Wolff or Connor Casey went one-on-one dribbling right through an opponent's defense, but too many times they missed the final shot the work brought them. The players need to take a lot more shots. Shots build confidence and make the other team falter (even misses). The U.S. often just passed the ball around (or tried) in the other team's penalty area. Shoot! That's the secret to scoring.


Saturday, September 23, 2000

Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Japan

Soccer: Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Japan

Talk about an exciting game! The U.S. spurned a couple early chances, then Japan took the lead with an awkward bouncing header and missed an open net just before halftime. U.S.A. got back in it with a goal from Josh Wolff, but Japan immediately game back with another goal to go ahead. Near the very end of the game, as the U.S. pushed and pushed and pushed, Wolff was pulled down in the back and the U.S. was awarded a penalty kick. With the converted PK, the score was tied and went into "Golden Goal" overtime (sudden death). With terrific chances at both ends, both keepers made fantastic saves to keep their team in the game. The U.S. dominated play, but the Japanese were very dangerous on the counter-attack. Somehow the U.S. survived and the game went to a penalty kick shootout. Each team got five kicks, and Japan's best player, Nakata, missed his shot! All five U.S. players made their PKs, and the U.S. advances to the semi-finals with strong hopes of a medal!


Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Kuwait

Soccer: Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Kuwait

With a must-win to advance, the U.S. started out slowly, with amateur Connor Casey once again missing obvious chances. When he was replaced by Landon Donnovan in the 31st minute and Albright was moved to forward, the U.S. took the game to Kuwait, finishing with a dramatic 3-1 win that not only meant the U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in history, but the U.S. won the group! (Winning the group is important, because group winners play second place teams from another group in the quarterfinals. Likewise, coming in second means you have to play a group winner.)


Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Spain

Soccer: Olympic Men: U.S.A. vs. Spain

Lackluster game in which the U.S. only showed flashes of their true capability; most likely they were exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Five intense matches in twelve days in five cities is a lot to ask of anyone (and one of those matches went 120 minutes). The U.S. started off disorganized and slow, and went down two goals early. When coach Clive Charles put in two substitutions, the game improved considerably, and the U.S. was able to draw a goal back via a penalty kick. (I don't know why Clive didn't start the game with subs Donovan and Victorine -- and he unfortunately took out Albright instead of moving him up front.) The U.S. should have capitalized on the Spain's defensive play in the second half, but couldn't, and with just minutes left Spain scored again, dooming the U.S. Final score: 3-1 Spain. That means the U.S. plays for the Bronze on Friday.


Sunday, September 17, 2000

Olympic Women: U.S. vs. China

Soccer: Olympic Women: U.S. vs. China

Good game, though the U.S. struggled at times. China played very well. 1-1 was the final score, though the U.S. could have won on a missed penalty kick (which was justice as it was a questionable call anyway). The U.S. needs at least a win or a draw against Nigeria to advance.


Thursday, September 14, 2000

Olympic Women: U.S. vs. Norway

Soccer: Olympic Women: U.S. vs. Norway

U.S. 2, Norway 0. Great start from U.S. They totally dominated and didn't give Norway a chance. Chances for gold medal look much better, considering Norway and China are in the same group as the U.S.


Sunday, September 24, 2000

Olympic Women: U.S.A. vs. Brazil

Soccer: Olympic Women: U.S.A. vs. Brazil

Boring, disappointing game. The U.S. was flat and hardly had a shot on goal the whole night. Their one goal was questionable, as it looked like Tiffeny Milbret fouled the Brazilian keeper to give Mia Hamm a shot at an open net, but nothing was called and the game finished 1-0 with the Americans advancing. Best move of the game was an incredible late second half save by the American keeper to keep Brazil out.


Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Olympic Women: U.S.A. vs. Nigeria

Soccer: Olympic Women: U.S.A. vs. Nigeria

Though Nigeria did get a goal to make things interesting, the U.S. was firmly in control, making this a fairly routine 3-1 victory. Things will become much more competitive now. Surprisingly, powerhouse China was eliminated and does not advance to the semifinals.


Thursday, September 28, 2000

Olympic Women: U.S.A. vs. Norway (Gold Medal Match)

Soccer: Olympic Women: U.S.A. vs. Norway (Gold Medal Match)

I sure hope you saw this match, because it was one of the best soccer games I've ever seen, men or women. Started off slow, with Norway sitting back and only attacking once in the first half. The U.S. totally dominated, though they only got one goal. Then on Norway's one push, they scored to tie the game going into the half. In the second half it was all Norway, at least at first. They really began to play and had the U.S. on their heels. Finally the U.S. began to fight back and it looked good for the U.S., but then Norway got a bit lucky with a good bounce and scored to put the ahead -- the U.S. was now down a goal for the first time in the entire tournament. The U.S. fought harder and harder, but time was running out. It looked like the gold medal was Norway's for sure. Two minutes of stoppage time was added as regulation ran out, and the U.S. was desperate. They fought back for possession of the ball and made one last dramatic drive toward Norway's goal. With less than 30 seconds left, a run up the right flank offered the opportunity for a last cross into the box. But the only was there was tiny Tiffeny Milbrett, a 5'1" mouse among the Norwegian trees. Somehow she skied about the others and got her head to the ball. With less than 15 seconds to go, the U.S. tied the game to send it into overtime!

Incredible, but sadly, that's all the U.S. had left. A few more attempts in overtime, but then a missed clearance and Norway's substitute with the fresh legs took advantage and drove the ball under the U.S. goalkeeper. Norway wins the gold medal, 3-2. An awesome game, valiantly fought on both sides, and the closeness of the battle just goes to show how little difference there is between gold and silver. The U.S. should have won based on their play, but that's the irony of soccer: it's not about who plays better, but who scores the most, and in this case, Norway came through while the United States missed chances, and that's the way it ended.


Sunday, October 1, 2000

Olympics Commentary

A word about the Olympic coverage. I'm a big Olympics fan, but I don't remember watching much of Atlanta. This year, despite the lame delayed coverage and NBC's ceaseless interruptions for commercials, I've watched a great deal more than usual. Why? It's simple: for the first time, they showed Olympic soccer. At Atlanta, they didn't televise any, mens or womens. As I watched Olympic soccer, I became more interested in the Olympics in general, and I ended up watching other events. NBC or whoever broadcasts the Olympics ought to remember that: part of what makes the Olympics interesting is the variety of sports, especially sports we don't regularly get to see. I was really hoping I'd get to see table tennis coverage, but sadly none of that was shown. Many other events received on minimal coverage (such as highlight packages). Hopefully by the next Olympics we'll be able to pick and choose the events we want to see on the Internet, and not have to rely upon an unreliable network.

Now, as to the coverage itself, it was pretty bad. In the past I enjoyed the bios of athletes and documentaries on the area, but that was because the event was live and there were delays and waiting periods. But this time, knowning the event had already happened 18 hours earlier, there was no excuse. The filler material was only thrown in to artificially increase the drama and milk the event for more commercials. Last night I recorded five hours of Olympic coverage and watched it in less than an hour by fast forwarding through all the nonsense. That's insane.

Finally, a comment on the Internet. NBC doesn't have a clue. They ceaseless promoted their lame website throughout the Olympics, but if you went to the website, what did you see? The final results before the action was televised! Now that's just sheer stupidity. No wonder the ratings have been horrible.


Sunday, May 28, 2000

On the Beach

Movie: On the Beach

Made for Showtime remake about the world after nuclear distruction. A bit disconnected in places, and seemingly pointless today (nuclear annihilation is not the threat it used to be), but interesting, and a bit moving (and sad) at the end.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos

Movie: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos

This is a fascinating documentary about the New York Cosmos soccer team of NASL (North American Soccer League) back in the 1970s. I knew some of the history, but I did not realize how extraordinary it was even at the time. Today we compared soccer in the U.S. to American football here -- but back then American football wasn't nearly as big as it is today (the Superbowl and televised games were just becoming popular), and soccer wasn't even played by kids in the U.S. (kids playing all started because of the Cosmos). The film shows how Warner Communications' head Steve Ross got involved with the team which at that time was really only semi-professional (the players all had separate jobs to make a living) and turned it into one of the best teams in the world, regularly drawing crowds of over 70,000 to Giants Stadium (which was then newly built). Ross did this by luring Pele, the world's greatest footballer (both at the time and all-time), for millions of dollars. I found hilarious the little montage of news reports and various people each throwing out wildly different amounts of how much Pele was supposedly paid, from as low as a million to seven million (the real amount is lost in history, no doubt). This was a multi-year deal, but what shocked me was the comparison to other sports figures at the time: the highest paid baseball player in the world was paid just $200,000 a year -- so Pele getting millions really was extraordinary. Another thing I found telling was the comments that Pele came to play and didn't complain about the conditions (horrible field, etc.) or the fact that the team initially sucked and Pele alone wasn't enough to create a winning team (contrast that with David Beckham's stint in L.A., where he seems unhappy to be on a losing team). To create a winning team Ross repeated the Pele formula bringing in numerous world class players so the Cosmos was essentially an all-star team with 14 nations represented. I was also surprised that this didn't happen all at once -- Pele's Cosmos didn't win the championship until his final year with the team, and when they won it several more times they did it with others. Since Pele is the main name you hear with the team, I had assumed he was part of all the championship teams, but he was not.

Of course the story has its downside, as the league collapsed. I wish the film had more about that (I'd love to see a documentary on the NASL itself), but of course this film is about the Cosmos. Still, some of the reasoning is explained: the league over-expanded (to a whopping 24 teams) too fast (there wasn't enough talent for all the teams and play suffered), many of the team owners couldn't afford losses, the Cosmos' high spending ways created an imbalance compared to other teams with smaller coffers, TV coverage that failed, and ultimately, when Warner Communications started to struggle and the Cosmos faced cutbacks (and eventual dissolution), that signalled the end of the league. In retrospect, Major League Soccer has fixed most of the problems of NASL (MLS has a shared structure, so all owners share in the entire league's profit/loss and no one team can outspend all the others). MLS has it's own issues -- mostly the fact that soccer here is still not as popular as other sports -- but I do appreciate that MLS' chief goal is to built a solid foundation for a league that will be around for hundreds of years, not an ill-conceived flash-in-the-pan like the NASL. Still, MLS -- and American soccer -- would not exist without the Cosmos, who certainly drew world attention and started a soccer foundation here in the United States. Very well done documentary.


Monday, September 15, 2003

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Movie: Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Writer(s): Robert Rodriguez
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez

This is the third film in the El Mariachi trilogy. It fits in wonderfully with the others. Like them, it's full of pure adrenaline, and the direction feels like a child let lose on a film set. The plot's a convoluted mess about an attempted assasination of a Mexican president by a drug lord, with a retired FBI agent and an eclectict CIA agent (played by Johnny Depp) in there to mix things up. El Mariachi, the guitar-playing gunman or lore, kills just about everyone, as usual, and the ending feels less like a conclusion than like we ran out of bad guys to shoot! Great action, stylish effects and direction, this feels a little like a live action cartoon, except for the serious nature of the killing and maiming (one guy gets his eyes routered out). This isn't meant to be a serious picture at all, of course. It's just wild fun and cool action. Forget the meandering plot and just sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.


Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Once Upon a Time in the West

Movie: Once Upon a Time in the West
Director(s): Sergio Leone

Terrific Western, as usual from Sergio. The pace is majestic, magnifying the sudden bursts of action. The long opening scene during which nothing seems to be happening but plenty is about to is filled with some of the best use of sound I've heard in a film. The creaking windmill, the buzzing fly, etc. are like music and heighten the drama making you want to scream. Speaking of music, Moricone's score is fantastic. It's there when it needs to be, and silent when appropriate. For instance, in the big showdown gunbattle there are screeches and cries like birds being slaughtered -- it's freakishly loud and in-your-face creepy. But when the battle is about to finally happen, suddenly everything is silent and then your ears are begging for any kind of sound to break the unbearable tension.

The story is simple and elegant: a woman arrives in a desolate area to meet her husband-to-be and discovers he and his children have been slaughtered, and soon she's a target as well. Other classic characters intervenne: a crook named Cheyenne (marvelously played by the late Jason Robards) who's been framed for the murder, and a stranger with a harmonica (Charles Bronson) who, it turns out, has revenge on his mind. The bad guy's played by Henry Fonda, amazing as usual. Just terrific all the way around. The screenplay was co-written by Dario Argento, who later wrote and directed Cat o' Nine Tails which I recently saw.


Thursday, August 14, 2003

The One

Movie: The One

It was an idea with potential: there are multiple universes and an interuniverse policeman discovers that if he kills off his identical selves in parallel universes he gains their energy and becomes superhuman, so he becomes a serial killer, killing himselves off, until he encounters a self which fights back, and two duel. I can definitely see how this could be sold as a script to Hollywood. Unfortunately, so much of the story is told via exposition that all that's left is the fighting. Sometimes that's a better way to go, but in this case the fighting is feeble and the duel anticlimatic (duh, who do you think will win, the good guy or the bad guy?). Great idea but lamely done.


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

One False Move

Book: One False Move
Writer(s): Alex Kava

I like Kava's novels, but this one took me forever to get through. Part of it was that our perspective is from the viewpoint of the killer's sister, who's helping him, and he's such an unlikeable character I didn't want to spend any time with him at all. He kills people right and left, he seems like an utter idiot, dying to get caught, and his motives are a mystery until the very end, and so are the sister's; this made 90% of the novel an awkward and distasteful puzzle. It's not a bad book, and it has some decent moments, but some of the decisions Kava made should have been rethought. I'd give it a C+ if I was grading it.


Tuesday, June 17, 2003

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Not at all what I expected, especially the horrible things I'd heard about Nurse Ratchet (who wasn't that mean). The film's a comedy about people in an insane asylum, with Jack Nicholson's character the provoker of all sorts of mayhem. It's witty, fun, bizarre, and occasionally thoughtful, but my expectations were higher. It's a decent film, but I'm surprised it swept the Oscars the way it did -- looking at it 28 years later it doesn't seem that remarkable. I'm glad a saw it, and I liked it, but I was hoping for something more profound. There was no deep meaning or revelation.


Wednesday, September 18, 2002

One Hour Photo

Movie: One Hour Photo

Unusual film; not quite what I expected. The "plot" was publicized: a lonely photomart guy (Robin Williams) develops a crush on a perfect family and decides to adopt them as his own family, so to speak. What starts out as a quirky, rather pathetic relationship soon turns dark and violent. Williams does a good job: he plays this role totally straight, hardly cracking a smile in the entire movie. I liked many things about the film: the family (especially the mom), the way the family fell apart, Williams' character and the way he reacts to the situation. Unfortunately, not enough happens in the beginning (it's slow), and when we get to the big pay-off at the end, nothing much happens their either. It's like the producers chickened out from going all the way with Williams' character. As it is, the film ends on a flat note: it needed a second twist at the end, something that would explain Williams' character and his fate better. As it ends now, it feels unfinished and leaves you unsatisfied. An interesting film, worth seeing just because it's different, but isn't sure enough of what it is to be a classic.


Saturday, October 27, 2001

Open Cup Final: L.A. vs. New England

Soccer: Open Cup Final: L.A. vs. New England

As a San Jose fan, I had to root against the Galaxy, and for a while it looked like the underdog Revolution were going to succeed. They scored in the first half on a Harris deflected free kick, but then sat back and tried to defend in the second half, scorning some obvious goal chances. Big mistake. L.A. tied it up, N.E.'s Heaps got ejected for throwing an elbow, and in overtime, L.A. won it with a Danny Califf header. Not what I wanted, but justice was served. And I felt good for Danny, who was the one beaten by DeRossario in the Golden Goal in San Jose's MLS Cup win last weekend. Final: 2-1 Galaxy.


Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Open Cup Semis

Soccer: Open Cup Semis

Two terrific semi-finals tonight in the Open Cup. D.C. lost to a surprising New England, who played very well, with two great goals by Andy Williams. D.C. had two players sent off. The first was harsh, but the second deserved. For both teams, the Open Cup is their season (though NE has a slight chance of reaching the playoffs). The second game was a repeat of last year's L.A./Chicago clash, when Josh Wolff got a late game winner, and this year's game was very similar. The two teams played hard and well, but neither could break the deadlock. In extratime, it was substitute Alexi Lalas who scored the winner for L.A., scoring with his head off a corner kick. Revenge is sweet! So the final will be on Oct. 27 between the L.A. Galaxy and the N.E. Revolution. Should be good.


Friday, August 15, 2003

Open Range

Movie: Open Range
Director(s): Kevin Costner

Surprisingly good Western. The plot's nothing fancy: a cattle baron's out to harrass some freegrazers (played by Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner) and steal their cattle. It reminded me strongly of Unforgiven, and while it wasn't as good as that, it had its moments. Tonally it reminded me of High Noon: like that movie, you know there's a conflict coming from the beginning, but the film's in no rush to get there. The movie moves at a leisurely pace, but it somehow holds your interest with the promise of violence to come. Sometimes that's the kiss of death as the violence doesn't meet expectations, but in this case, like Unforgiven, the violence is furious and shocking as we watch the gentle characters we know turn brutal. The big gunfight at the end is excellent -- long and detailed enough to feel like a good payoff, and yet still realistic and gritty and stunningly fast. Though the film makes and effort, there's nothing deep here: just good old fashioned Americans fighting for freedom and justice against a corrupt sherrif and an evil rich dude. Much of the "profound" character-based stuff comes across as too light or is so heavyhanded as to not work (i.e., when the kid, Button, and Mose play-wrestle, we're supposed to be moved by the contrast to their later tragedy). Still, it's an interesting film, and the pace is unusual for a current release. It's worth seeing.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Open Season

Movie: Open Season

Not as good as I'd hoped: the trailer gives away the plot and the best jokes, but overall it's not terrible. Just average, too predictable, and with a few distasteful scenes (I really don't need to see animals crap on screen). The film's inconsistent, at times running through jokes too fast to follow (the mini-mart scene), and at other times having long periods of minutes without much happening (such as the duo walking through the woods). Definitely not Pixar. The problem is the producers seem to think the characters are funny on their own. "A 900-lb pet bear. A mule deer with one antler. Ha ha!" The story is quite trite and deals entirely with stereotypes of hunters versus animals. There are definitely moments of fun, but only moments, and any cleverness feels forced, as though the writers wanted a particular thing to happen and made it, regardless of reality, plot, or character.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Open Water

Movie: Open Water

Disappointing and depressing. It's a good premise -- a couple is accidentally abandonned at sea during a vacation diving session -- and I liked the immediacy of the digital filmmaking, but it's not particularly scary, and the ending is depressing (though probably realistic). The film spends a lot of time trying to establish the main characters, but they still come across as stereotypical yuppies, spoiled and irritating and incredibly stupid. I never did figure out why the couple didn't at least try to figure out some way to survive. Swimming to shore may not have been a viable option, but wouldn't you at least go down fighting? Seeing distant boats, wouldn't you at least try to come up with a way to signal them? Strange film. I liked the concept and the technique, but the execution and story left a lot to be desired.


Sunday, June 29, 2003

Orange County

Movie: Orange County
Writer(s): Mike White

This was a completely different movie from what I expected. I thought it was a dumb teen comedy. It turned out to be a drama with some depth on top of a dumb teen comedy. The story's about a surfer dude who discovers the miracle of literature and decides he wants to be a writer. But he's trapped in Orange County, which he hates. He thinks he can escape by going to Stanford but when he's not accepted, he goes on a road trip to find the dean and get himself admitted. It's actually a pretty cool story with some interesting characters. There's even some clever satiric jabs at life in Orange County. Unfortunately, it was marketed as a dumb teen comedy, and there are a few dumb teen comedy bits in it, which weaken the serious side, and the serious stuff totally dampens the comedy bits, with the result that this isn't a comedy, and isn't a drama. It's... odd. It doesn't really work.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Order

Movie: The Order
Writer(s): Brian Helgeland
Director(s): Brian Helgeland

I remember when this came out I had thought about seeing it until I heard the horrible reviews and it disappeared from theaters quickly. Now that star Heath Ledger is dead and getting acting accolades it seemed a good time to check it out. It's a strange film. It feels incomplete, as though this was a rough draft. It's got a shockingly talented cast and crew (it was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the Oscar-winning writer of LA Confidental), but it's haphazardly put together with inconsistent performances and structure. It's actually not that bad of a concept: a "sin eater" absorbs the sins of another, giving them redemption, but lives an immortal life of purgatory filled with the guilt of others' crimes. Such a person is very much opposed by the Church, who regard his actions as sacrilegious. Heath's character is a priest following up the death of his mentor and is offered the chance to become the next sin eater. He'd have power and immortality. He chooses love instead, and then is cruelly tricked into accepting the role. The moral questions surrounding this issue are interesting, but they aren't explored. The film is filled with so much mumbo-jumbo and cheesy special effects, and the simple plot is presented in such a confusing backwards manner -- apparently meant to be more of a mystery -- that it is utterly disinteresting. Worse, we never really meet or understand the main characters, so we care nothing about what happens to them. The misleading title doesn't help either (I was expecting more of a religious conspiracy theory along the lines of The Davinci Code). Ultimately, this is an idea that had potential, but it was ineptly handled in every manner, from script to directing to performing, and it's a disappointment throughout.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Oregon Hike

I forgot to mention, last week I uploaded some pictures from my recent hike on the Oregon coast. Check them out here.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: King John

Definitely one of the best productions with some phenomenal acting. The story seems extremely complicated and intimidating but it's really not. Basically King John has taken over power and there are questions as whether or not he's the rightful king. Some think his 9-year-old nephew has a stronger right, so he orders the boy killed. The boy is not actually killed, but the King thinks he was and grieves and struggles with his quest for power. His heart soars when he learns the boy was not killed. But meanwhile the boy, depressed, kills himself, and when the King finds the boy really is dead, his health deteriorates. It's a sad, somber play that deals with serious questions, and with wonderful speeches and drama, is highly recommended for viewing. Surprisingly, even though it seems steeped in complex history, this was the easiest of all four plays I saw to follow!


Sunday, September 1, 2002

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Playboy of the West Indies

Earlier this summer I traveled to Ashland Oregon to see some Shakespeare, and on this day I returned (driving six hours each way on the same day) to see this play. It was well worth the effort. I'd gone to a lecture by Kenny Leon, the director, and his comments made me want to see the play. The original version of the play is "Playboy of the Western World" and is set in Ireland. But it was renamed and rewritten and set in Trinidad by Mustapha Matura. Mustapha brilliantly realized that the cultures of Ireland and Trinidad aren't that far apart and all he had to do was change a few references and put the dialog in dialect and he was done. The result just makes the play that much more fascinating. It's a funny, absurd tale about romance and murder. The setting is in a bar (how Irish!) and deals with a handsome stranger who arrives in town who soon reveals he is running away from home after killing his father with a machete. Strangely the news of his crime doesn't offend the villagers -- it fascinates them, and he's besieged by women who all want him. He falls in love with the lovely bar owner and everything's going well when suddenly, who shows up but the boy's father! He's sporting a bloody head wound and an even fouler temper, wanting to kill his son. Crazy, yes, but the story tells us a lot about how we judge others. When the bar owner finds out the boy was lying about killing his father she dumps him: she's no longer attracted to him if he's not dangerous. Fascinating stuff. I won't spoil the conclusion for you: I highly recommend you check out this play!


Thursday, August 3, 2006

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Importance of Being Ernest

Of course it's a terrific play but I was really impressed by this performance, which got a lot of fresh humor from non-vocal scenes. (For instance, the butler, setting a table for tea to the tune of piano playing off-stage, was hilarious.) I wish we'd had time to see other plays, but at least I got to see this one.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Merry Wives of Windsor

Easily the worst of the plays at the festival this season. It's mostly silly, but the exagerations of the performances seem to demean and take the play even lower than it should be. I also have a serious objection to an OSF policy of being racially blind during casting. While I certainly don't think race should be a main factor in casting, it should be considered when characters are related. This play has a lot of characters already and I was completely confused when a black daughter had white parents and other racial confusions -- I didn't understand some of the relationships and had characters confused even after the play was over. This really hurt a lot of my understanding of the play and left me quite frustrated. If I could have asked for my money back, I would have on this issue alone, as I thought the production was shockingly poor. It's just all confusion and trivialities.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

This was a play where the production was better than the play itself. The play is a light comedy without much substance; it's about two friends (the "gentlemen" of the title) who are easily wooed. One, after getting engaged to his girlfriend, promptly falls for his friend's newest girl and tries to break them apart. Meanwhile, his girlfriend disguises herself as a male servant and spies on him, with, of course, much hilarity. What was ingenius about this production was the clever modern visuals. For instance, when the boy first meets the girl, she and her friends and family are all preppily dressed for a tennis match (they are, after all, the elite of Verona, so it fits). As the play continues, we see them playing crocket, getting massages at the spa, etc. The modern settings through you for a minute, but are delightful and refreshing. My favorite was the bandits of the forest who are all dressed as goths and punks!

There's also a key roll played by a real dog, where one of Shakespeare's most colorful characters has hiliarious conversations with the dog. So overall, this was excellent. My only complaint was the poor performances by the two gentlemen, who, especially at the beginning, delivered Shakespeare lines in wooden voice as though reciting poetry. Quite shocking that they should be so bad; they did better in scenes of interaction, though I still felt it was a bit of bad casting.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oregon Shakespeare Festival:The Winter's Tale

A superior play and production, with a fantastic set of tree silhouettes in the background, brilliantly lit for different moods: sunset, cold winter, dark night, etc. The play is one Shakespeare's most melodramatic and fanciful, with a magic ending. The plot deals with a king who becomes convinced that his wife has been unfaithful with his best friend, and despite everyone trying to convince him otherwise, he refuses to believe her baby is his and he orders her executed. This so upsets the gods that sixteen years of winter follow. Meanwhile, the king's daughter is not dead -- she has been hidden away and is now a beautiful sixteen year old, and of course is ready to be romanced by a prince, except that she's not royalty -- until, of course, it's revealed that she is, and with her father remorseful and delighted to discover his daughter is alive and well, all is forgiven and happiness is restored. I really liked this play and the forced happy ending as the absurd elements fit together well. Great job and some really amazing acting by several characters.


Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Oregon Trip

I flew back from Oregon today. Had a few adventures. First there was a huge snowstorm in the area and I almost got stuck on the coast. The small highways that lead to Portland were potentially going to be snow-covered or iced over. I considered postponing my return, but the weather sounded like it was just going to get worse. Fortunately, the road was clear this morning and we made it fine. But at the airport security asked to do an extra test on my laptop. To my astonishment they picked up traces of nitro! I have no idea how it got there, but they claimed it's surprisingly common: hand creams, medicines, fertilizer, fireworks, guns, etc. can all leave traces on your hands which can offset onto items you handle. It can stay there for weeks or months, too. Anyway, they had to test every item in my laptop bag, and a couple other things also set off the alarm. The guard was really nice and explained that the machine is sensitive to 60 billionths of a particle -- amazing. He had to go through a specific procedure of tests, but in the end they cleared me and let me through. I was worried they'd want to confiscate my equipment. But there was nothing wrong with it -- just that somehow I or my stuff came in contact with nitro somehow, which I suppose doesn't mean much if there are so many ordinary uses of the stuff. Weird experience, though. The trip itself was pretty uneventful. Had an excellent time.


Monday, April 26, 2004

Oregon Trip

I'm back in Oregon this week, just for a quick visit. I had to bring my Mom a new computer: her iBook died and I found her a used iMac for a replacement.


Monday, June 21, 2004

Oregon Trip

Off I go to Oregon again! Actually, I'm already there. I left yesterday evening and intended to stop along the way but when I got to Medford about midnight I was wide awake and continued on, eventually driving all the way to Oceanside in one go. I arrived about 6 a.m. this morning. I didn't get sleepy until the final few miles, but that might have been because I took a Dramamine in Salem (the road to Hebo is extremely winding). Anyway, I'll be up here for a couple weeks.


Friday, October 1, 2004

Oregon Trip

Was up in Oregon this past week for a quick visit and some house shopping, as I'm toying with the idea of moving up there. I got to test out my new Nikon D70 digital SLR and got some terrific pictures, if I do say so myself. I've put together some picture galleries if you'd like to see some of the photos.


Saturday, October 12, 2002

Original Sin

Movie: Original Sin

Surprisingly poor movie considering the interesting plot and cast. The plot has potential: a wealthy Cuban orders a bride from America, but she turns out to be a con artist who steals his money and runs away. The guy chases after her to kill her, and we're treated to scenes of each of them protesting love of the other and we don't know who is telling the truth. Unfortunately, the acting is poor (Angelina Jolie, who is usually good, is little more than a pretty face here), the script awkward, and the direction confusing. Nothing gels or makes much sense. For instance, Antonio Banderas falls deeply in love with his mail-order bride within days of meeting her and gives her complete access to his bank account? Come on! The film has a few good moments, and the second half is better than the first (unusual), but as a whole the thing just feels like something with potential. Unfortunate.


Monday, May 2, 2011


Book: Orion

Though Bova's one of my favorite SF authors, I somehow missed out on his Orion series. It's a difficult story to describe, especially without spoiling it. It involves beings who are described as gods, and they can do supernatural things, which is my biggest problem with the novel. Since none of that is explained very well until the end, the story felt groundless and I just drifted along without any way to frame my opinions. If these really were gods, that felt odd because they have limitations and aren't all-powerful. The actual plot seems to be full of holes as a result, since gods should be able to deal with the obstacles. By the time I understood what was going on I liked the novel a little better, but it still feels awkward and doesn't sit well. I feel manipulated. The plot itself is redundant, but has its interesting moments. The basic story is a man named Orion who discovers he's a creation of a god who has programmed him to hunt down and kill a rival god. The story begins in the modern world, and then moves back through time into different points in history. Each time, Orion's task is the same: find his enemy and defeat him. Their battles are each different and the solutions interesting and not always what you'd expect, but it still felt too much like Sisyphus and his rock, an endless tale of death and rebirth, throughout which Orion must always defeat the same foe over and over and over. What's the point of all that? Though I liked many aspects of the story (there's a love-relationship that's also key and that was intriguing), the very nature of the repetitive story turned me off and I was bored and found reading tedious. I just wanted it to end and it goes on and on and on. There are more in the series, but I'm not certain I want to explore them. It's possible they'll have a different feel to me now that I understand what's going on, so I might give one a try, but right now I'm tired of the Orion universe and want to move on to something else.


Monday, March 26, 2001

Oscar Commentary

Okay, I have officially lost all respect for the Academy Awards. There have been times in the past I've disagreed with their decisions, but mostly that was simply because I had a favorite I was pushing. But giving Gladiator Best Picture? Come on! That was the worst movie of the year! I'd rather watch Battlefield Earth again! Okay, maybe not quite, but close. Gladiator was predictable, pretentious, boring, and lame. There was some good acting: Russell Crowe (I've been a fan of his for years) gave a suitably wooden performance, and Joaquin Phoenix did an excellent villain, but the film itself broke no new ground. Nothing like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which was a revelation. So I guess the Oscars really are nothing but a popularity contest. I probably won't even bother to watch next year. (BTW, I did my trick again: I taped six hours of the ceremony and watched it all this morning in two hours. I didn't miss any jokes or any awards, just fast-forwarded through all the ads, pointless "thank yous," and people walking up and off the stage.)


Sunday, March 23, 2003


Interesting ceremonies. For one, this year I'd actually seen most of the films (some years it seems I haven't seen any), and for another the "war" toned things down to a much more pleasant level. All the glitz and silliness that usually goes on makes me nauseous. The Academy should do it like this from now on.

The war comments were more subtle than I expected, with the exception of Michael Moore. Fortunately, his attack on Bush, which was clearly in bad taste and out of place, was roundly booed by the liberal crowd. Surprising and pleasing. Adrien Brody's Best Actor speech gets my vote as the best speech (though it would have been nicely unifying if he'd prefaced his "war" mention with the fact that it doesn't matter which side you're on, war hurts everyone).

As to the awards themselves, I have few complaints. I was pleased Polanski got Best Director, and Brody for actor. Kidman's okay for Best Actress, but Selma Hayak would have been a more daring choice. Chris Cooper was my choice for Best Supporting Actor, and I have no problems with Catherine getting the Supporting Actress nod. Pedo Almodovar winning Best Screenplay was awesome, but Charlie Kaufman was robbed for Adaptation not winning. Chicago picked up a lot of undeserved minor awards (Costumes? Sound? Spread the love, Academy. Recognize some of the other good films.), then got the big one, Best Picture, which was deserved. Eminem winning Best Song surprised me, but it is a great song. Frida at least one some consolation Oscars, and The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers managed a few technical awards but was once again snubbed on the creative one. Maybe the third film will get the respect the saga deserves. If nothing else Jackson deserves an honorary Oscar for Film Achievement of the Decade or something. But then he is laughing his way to the bank, despite whatever the Academy does, and in the end that might be the best revenge.

In general I'm pleased: no minor artsy-fartsy film swept all the awards (like The English Patient, ugh), and a few films that actually made money were recognized (I hate it when the Academy picks art films no one has seen). I would have liked to see independent films get a little more recognition, but this wasn't a bad night with Frida and The Piano picking up some decent statues.


Friday, August 6, 2010

The Other Guys

Movie: The Other Guys

I wasn't super-excited about this as the trailer was hit-and-miss, but I had a ball. It was hilarious. I really like this kind of absurd, over-the-top humor. I actually laughed out loud on several occasions, and that's rare. Sure, it's a silly film, but there's nothing at all wrong with that. Some of the jokes are quite clever, and it's a lot of a fun. I worried there would be a lot of childish potty humor, but there wasn't too much. Mark Wahlberg's angry character got annoying after a while (I wanted to punch him myself), but fortunately that toned down as the film went on. The second half of the film is definitely weaker than the first, as it strains for sustainable ideas, but the ending is satisfying enough. I loved concepts like the wooden gun given to Farrell's cop character and how that was a running joke throughout the movie (same with the joke of Wahlberg's character having shot the famous baseball player I'd never heard of). Overall, I thought this was awesome. Way better than something like The Hangover (which was funny, but in a nastier way). This had a sense of fun to it, as though everyone involved was having a great time.


Monday, November 4, 2002

The Others

Movie: The Others

Kinda cool old-fashioned ghost story. It's rather claustrophobic: practically every scene's inside the haunted house. The story is about an overprotective mother who begins to see and hear strange things. Her two children have a strange disease, an alergy to light, and thus they must be kept in darkness all the time. Sunlight will kill them. The mother berates the servants if the rules aren't followed exactly. Creepy, weird, with a decent endings. I'm not sure how it will hold up to repeated viewings, but I lliked it the first time.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Our Town

It's has been a while since I've seen this and it's one of my favorite plays, but for some reason this particular OSF (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) production left me a little flat. I'm not sure if they made some subtle changes that didn't work me as well, or if the impact the play had on me the first time was so extraordinary that subsequent viewings would always pale in comparison. Overall, this was excellently done: the acting was superb (with several known stars such as the VP from Boston Public and even the "Log Lady" from Twin Peaks). Some of the pantomime was weak: one tall man leading a cow kept patting the cow's head well above his own, making the cow something like nine feet tall! A few other places didn't have too much emotional impact for me -- I think the Emily character was weakly done -- but overall the play itself is a fascinating look at small town life and the way life meanders. Recommended despite a few flaws.


Friday, October 3, 2003

Out of Time

Movie: Out of Time

Modest but effective thriller. Denzel Washington is the police chief of a small Florida town. His police detective wife is divorcing him and he's having an affair with a local married woman. Her husband abuses her, making Denzel feel protective. Then he learns her cancer's come back and she's got no money for expensive treatments. When she names him the beneficiary in her million dollar life insurance policy, he stupidly gives her a half million in cash from a drug bust which he thinks won't be needed as evidence until the trial a year away (by which time he'll have the insurance money and he can pay back what he borrowed). When the woman's house burns down and two bodies are found inside (and no money anywhere), a murder investigation is started with the wife assigned to the case. The first thing she does is look for any extra-marital activity and suddenly Denzel is rushing to cover up evidence before she can find it, desperately trying to keep one step ahead of her. It looks bad for him: he's the insurance beneficiary, a neighbor saw him at the house the night of the fire, and the drug bust money is missing. It's a great idea and fairly well implemented, at least as far as tension and drama are concerned. There are truck-sized plot holes (Why does the accomplice end up with the money? Why is this intelligent police chief stupid enough to borrow drug bust money?) but overall it's fun. The ending's convoluted, confused, and doesn't make much sense, but by that time you just want a resolution, so to works. There's some good humor and excitement and overall it's a good film. But it's too lightweight to be great or perfect.


Friday, November 29, 2002

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Movie: The Outlaw Josey Wales
Director(s): Clint Eastwood

Interesting revenge flick set after the Civil War when Union soldiers were "mopping up" in the South, often killing civilians in the process. Clint plays Josey Wales, who's family is slaughtered by Union soldiers and then goes on a revenge killing spree. He's chased all over the South as he heads for Mexico. Along the way he picks up an interesting posse of friends: an old Indian, a elderly woman, a young woman, and more. He ends up in a dying boomtown and helps defend the people, becoming a hero. There's some great action, hilarious humor, and thoughtful characterization. Good stuff.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Book: Outliers
Writer(s): Malcolm Gladwell

I loved Gladwell's The Tipping Point and this is his latest. Though the title's awkward, it's about leaders -- people outside the norm, who stand out. Gladwell's goal is to change the way we think about such people. Our assumption is that they are extraordinarily gifted, geniuses, but he reveals that it's much more about hard work than talent, and that luck, timing, and culture play huge roles in who we become. He destroys the myth of the "self-made" man, the idea that someone can rise from nothing to be extraordinarily successful, showing via statistics and stories and scientific studies that talent or genius alone is useless without the proper environment for that to grow. For example, he reveals that overwhelmingly kids in Canada's hockey league are born in the early months of the year. That same trend follows through school and into the professional league as well: most are born in January, February, and March. Why is that? It's not that talented hockey players aren't born at other times, but that they never get a chance to develop. That's because the enrollment cut-off for the league is January 1, so kids born in those early months tend to be the biggest and strongest, and stand out. Thus they are given more training and attention, are groomed to be stars by putting them into more competitions and special programs, and of course they use that extra experience and go pro and succeed. This effect is seen not just in hockey, but all sporting programs all over the world. Gladwell shows that similar things happen in education and even historic events: if you were unlucky enough to be born at the wrong time, for instance, you might have reached age 18 right as a major war was in progress and been drafted, or a tragedy like the Great Depression or an epidemic could have completely changed the world available to you. Gladwell shows how tech leaders like Bill Gates succeeded not because they were that much more brilliant than anyone else, but because they had the right set of skills at the right time, catching the computing revolution as it was being born.

What does all this mean to you and me? It means that we need to rethink our views of success. We need to change how we educate. In one study he shows that kids from lower income areas do just as well as those from higher income areas, but only if they work harder (for instance, going to school year around instead of taking the summer off). It turns out that kids with economic advantages are simply given more opportunities to learn year around, while those from disadvantaged homes tend to be stuck watching TV instead of having books and workshops and summer camps and such. Once you get both on the same playing field, their chances of success -- of getting into good colleges and good careers -- are about the same. Speaking of that, it also turns out that going to an Ivy League college is not necessarily a guarantee of success, nor is graduating from a lesser school. You just need "enough" schooling; the specifics aren't as significant. All this means that everyone can succeed if they work hard, which is a far cry from the general assumption that some people are just "smart" or that some people just "get" math, etc. In truth, it's all about how hard you work, and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way. If you're not prepared when those doors open, you'll miss them and miss out.

This is a fascinating book -- highly recommended. I will point out one caution, however. I read this while flying to and from California and there's a whole section about the causes of airplane crashes that might make for uncomfortable reading if you're a nervous flyer. (It didn't bother me -- I actually found it comforting to know why planes crash -- but I might have picked a different book for my trip if I'd known that was in there.)


Monday, July 26, 2004

Outside Providence

Movie: Outside Providence

Okay little sleeper about a drugged out kid who gets sent to a private school where he gets in more trouble, then meets a girl and changes his life around. Surprisingly good, though simple, occasionally coarse, and overall too predictable. Not bad, but not great.


Sunday, August 1, 2004

Outside Providence

Movie: Outside Providence

Not as dumb as you'd expect movie about a drugged-out loser who gets shipped off to boarding school, meets a girl who reforms him a little, and eventually he gets his head on straight. Decent, low-key, but not earthshattering.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Over Her Dead Body

Movie: Over Her Dead Body

I didn't hold out much hope for this, and for good reason, as it is as trite as it sounds. It's mildly entertaining, however, with an excellent cast. The plot is pretty much what you know from the trailer -- Eva Longoria's character was killed on her wedding day and she comes back as a ghost to haunt her fiance's new girlfriend. Unfortunately, the script mucks this up by having the new girlfriend be a psychic, which just confuses everything, and the film low-balls into some dangerously lame slapstick and crude humor (i.e. a fart scene). There are a handful of interesting moments in the film, and some of the romance between the new girlfriend and the boyfriend are nice, but moments clipped together do not make a film. Overall this is nothing original and though it's mild and not horrible, it's barely good either. Disappointing.


Friday, September 15, 2000

Over Sea, Under Stone

Book: Over Sea, Under Stone
Writer(s): Susan Cooper

First book in the "Dark is Rising Sequence." I'd never heard of this series until recently, when it was compared favorably to the Harry Potter books. These were written in the sixties and seventies, and deal with children and the legend of King Arthur (as near as I can figure without having read them yet). This book has children discovering a map that leads them to the Holy Grail. A bit light, but interesting and well-written. I've started the second book and it is even better, so I think this is going to be a good series. There are five books in all.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Over the Hedge

Movie: Over the Hedge

Not as bad as I was expecting. From the trailers I feared it would be a leftist, cartoon animal-based attack on human greed and lifestyle, an environmentalist manifesto, but other than a few lame barbs at humans as eating machines and couch potatoes, the film's mostly about a self-centered racoon who manipulates a motley group of forest animals into doing his thieving for him, then repents when he realizes they've genuinely accepted him as part of the "family." The story's got some heart -- not as much as Pixar films, but more than most animated fare. I liked it.


Sunday, August 14, 2005


Movie: Overnight

Really cool documentary about an idiot bartender who was made into an overnight celebrity when Hollywood bought his screenplay for $1 million and set him up to direct it. The guy was such a know-it-all he alienated everyone, friends, family, and colleagues, and in the end his film barely got made and he ended up with squat. The film (The Boondock Saints) was a disaster and a financial failure and a classic example of how to commit career suicide. Hilarious.