Sunday, December 10, 2000

Pagan Babies

Book: Pagan Babies (2000)
Writer(s): Elmore Leonard

I'd never read an Elmore Leonard novel before, though I'd seen a number of films based on his books, so I was curious to see what he was like. As usual, this book is about confusion between semi-crooks and mobsters and a sum of money everybody is gunning for. It mostly deals with a guy pretending to be a priest, returning from five years in Rwanda, and orchestrating a scam to raise money for African orphans. Parts of this I found distastful, parts just boring, but Leonard does paint interesting and unusual characters. The ending's pretty good, with the scammers being scammed, but overall the book's so low-key one doesn't really feel that much excitement one way or the other. Basically light fun, but nothing significant.


Friday, February 2, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Movie: Pan's Labyrinth

A fascinating, dark tale, nothing like what I expected. I thought it was about a young girl's fantasy, but it turned out that's only a small part of the story which is mostly about life in Spain after their Civil War and how she imagines a world to escape the horrors of real life. In that respect it reminded a lot of Life is Beautiful, though it's a totally different story. It's a difficult film to categorize. The child and fantasy elements imply it might be good for children, but it's definitely not geared for children: it's extremely violent and gory and dark, and deals with mature subject matter. But I still liked it: it's not a pleasant film, not something you want to see every day, but profound, mysterious, and breath-taking. Recommended for those who can handle thinking about uncomfortable topics like death.


Monday, September 28, 2009


Movie: Pandorum

For some reason I got the idea that this was based on a video game, perhaps because the promos reminded me of Resident Evil. But it seems to be an original story. The film takes place in the future on a space ship and it's dark and spooky and there are mutant creatures wanting to kill you. While there are one or two actual scares, mostly this film seeks to gross you out, with characters finding themselves in claustrophobic situations face-to-face with gory corpses and swimming in putrid waste. It's pretty yucky and combined with 95% of the film being in the dark with eerie glow sticks the only light and it's not a pleasant film. It is interesting, and quite well done, though it's also over-done. The plot's too gimmicky, purposely holding back information to keep us in the dark, and there's an attempt for a "twist" at the end that's obvious a mile away. The basic plot is two guys way up from hypersleep with no memories, no idea how long they've been asleep, and a ship that's on life support. They can't even open the door to get out as there is no power. The quest to restore power is the story, as one of the men goes on a journey to do that, running into the strange creatures and a few crazy passengers. The title is apparently the name of a condition we'll call "space madness" -- not exactly original. That's actually one of the key flaws of the film because while the film is supposedly about paranoia, 80% of the time is spent running from the creatures and trying to figure out the "mystery" of the ship (which is not much of a mystery at all). I would have by far preferred a story exclusively about paranoia: adding in the creatures makes this a monster movie, which is not nearly as interesting. Unfortunately, the paranoia stuff is give short shrift and that's disappointing (for terrific paranoia films, see Bug or Roman Polanski's Repulsion).

The bottom line is this is a decent thriller. It is much more limited in scope than it could have been, but people who like this kind of genre will like it. I did, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone as it is gory and violent and depressing and not everyone likes such things. It could have been better but is above average for this kind of film.


Friday, November 15, 2002

Panic Room

Movie: Panic Room
Director(s): David Fincher

Surprisingly stale thriller. The plot's simplistic: a woman and her daughter buy a new Manhattan home that comes with a "panic room" -- a secure vault where you can lock yourself in case of an attack. (The former owner was a wealthy encentric.) Of course, in their first night, thieves break in. The mother and daughter manage to get into the panic room and close the steel door, but unfortunately these thieves are after money left by the dead previous owner and they happen to know the money's in a secret safe in the panic room. Doesn't sound like there's much room for drama with such a claustrophobic concept, but some interesting stuff happens. For instance, in one scene the thieves pump gas into the room's ventilation system to scare the two into coming out -- but their plan backfires when the woman ignites the gas and nearly blows them up! Unfortunately, that's about as exciting as it gets: after that the film goes downhill and just gets boring. Eventually it peters out in a predictable Hollywood ending.


Friday, September 3, 2004


Movie: Paparazzi

This isn't a terrible movie. It gives you exactly what you'd expect given the trailer and plot. A new celebrity struggles with really evil paparazzi (who are unbelievably insensitive). Eventually they cause a car accident and nearly kill his wife and son. Then, one by one, the four photographers involved die... the actor is killing them off. Kind of a revenge flick, in a way. Everything's average (script, acting [Tom Sizemore clods his way through his bad guy role, overacting up a hurricane], directing), but there are some decent moments. Some of the deaths are pretty cool, there are a couple twists and small surprises (some fun cameos by Mel Gibson, Chris Rock, and others), and it ends happily. Meaningless but mildly satisfying, like popcorn. Fun if you're in the right mood.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paperback versus Kindle

I have had a fascinating experience.

The last three novels I read on my Kindle. But this week I lent my Kindle to my mom so she can see how she'd like it, and if she would use it. I was going to start a new novel on my iPad, for comparison, but then I noticed a John Grisham paperback I'd bought recently at Costco. I'd forgotten about it, but since I just finished a Grisham book, I was in the mood for another, and I picked up the paperback and started reading.

To my surprise, I have found the paperback experience to be considerably worse than the Kindle!

Here are the negatives I discovered:

  • Paperback paper is thin, so there is show-through of the text on the back of the page. It makes all the text have a grayish dropshadow behind it.
  • Paperbacks tends to curve, especially toward the spine, so the reading surface is not flat. I have never noticed this as a reading detriment before (since there wasn't an alternative), but after reading the always-flat Kindle page, I dislike the curved surface intensely.

  • [Click to enlarge]

  • Paperback is bulkier than Kindle (though a similar weight)
  • Paperback requires I fuss with a bookmark to remember my place. (When I fell asleep while reading, the paperback closed and lost my spot. That does not happen with Kindle, as after ten minutes of inactivity it merely joins me in my slumber.)
  • Paperback requires more physical effort to turn pages.
  • Often I accidentally turn multiple pages as the thin paper allows two or more pages to stick together.
  • The paperback's margins are narrow, so on the outside my thumbs cover up the text, requiring me to shift my hands around constantly.
  • A paperback's paper quality is poor (not a bright white) resulting in a similar lower-contrast off-white reading experience as the Kindle. I had assumed paper would have a better contrast ratio, but that is not necessarily the case.

Possibly some of these issues are unique to this particular book or to paperbacks in general (i.e. hardbacks usually have better paper and wider margins, though of course they are bigger and heavier). Still, the results are intriguing: if after such a short time I prefer the Kindle this much more, I would guess that within a few months or a year, I shall not want to read any book in print form.

With print publishers cutting costs and using cheaper paper and manufacturing, the advantages of paper drop. (For instance, part of the reason I stopped buying hardbacks is because so many of them have unevenly untrimmed pages, which I find repugnant. This is a cost cutting method adopted a number of years ago by publishers. You used to see it only in book club editions, but now it's in hardbacks you buy at Costco and other places. I hate that and figure the hardback's not worth the extra money and I'm better off just waiting for the paperback.)

[Click to enlarge]


Monday, November 2, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Movie: Paranormal Activity

I've been hearing about this for a while and almost saw it a few weeks ago, but it didn't work out. Now it's everywhere and big hit. It cost about $11,000 to make and has grossed nearly $100 million, which is incredible. The story, if you're not familiar with it, is exceedingly simple: a young couple are experiencing a haunting and set up a video camera to record any "paranormal activity" and we get to watch the footage. Fortunately, there's not too much hand-held camera and it doesn't feel awkward or nauseating or cheap. The scares are of a mostly subtle nature: creepy sounds in the dark, mysterious movements, and so on. It's surprisingly effective. By showing so little, your mind imagines the worst, and that's far more frightening than seeing fake blood or a wax monster. I didn't find it particularly scary during the film (though the ending is creepy -- and good) but I didn't want to think about it later that night, alone in my house with the strange sounds outside. The main thing I enjoyed about this was the performances of the two stars. They are unknowns and they are perfectly cast and the acting feels real. They are sympathetic, too, so we feel bad that these things are happening to them, which keeps us involved. I also loved the choice of setting in a modern house in suburbia rather than in the traditional creepy falling down ancient mansion. The setting made this seem much more real and plausible and therefore scary. Storywise, the film feels light: it should have had a subplot that would tell us more about the characters and keep us engaged. The problem with the suspense nature of the paranormal activity is that it must be milked out carefully throughout the film, and thus there are places where activity lags and not much is happening and it's a bit boring. (Note: this is not always, just sometimes. Many times the slow pace is just perfect and totally creepy as you watch an empty room for many long seconds waiting for something to happen.) A subplot would have kept things entertaining and given the characters more depth. Still, it works as it is, though it's therefore not a profound movie: just a recorded event with not much else to go with it. Recommended, though I wouldn't recommend it if you live alone in a creaky house!


Sunday, August 25, 2002

Paris to the Moon

Book: Paris to the Moon
Writer(s): Adam Gopnik

This is a fascinating collection of essays by a writer for the New Yorker who moves to Paris for five years. His essays compare Paris culture with that of New York, France with America, and are funny, touching, and occasionally profound. Even if you're not a fan of French culture or have never been to Paris, there are stories and little discoveries that will entertain you. Adam's a brilliant writer, completely genuine, and his style is witty and engaging and makes Paris come alive.

While I didn't agree with all his observations (his comments on the world's sport of soccer were particularly naive and American), Adam often has some insightful comments on American society.

Personally, I found this book had a major impact on me for a number of unusual reasons. For instance, the fact that the author and his wife just up and decided to move to Paris was fascinating. I've often thought of moving overseas, but figured an opportunity needed to present itself. It never occurred to force an opportunity simply because it was something I desired. Another thing: since I myself grew up overseas (in Africa, France, and Belgium), I related and understood much of the cultural analysis that goes on when living in a foreign land. However, it's been years since I've done much thinking about that, and reading about the confusion of Adam's three-year-old as he's raised in Paris with a mixture of American and French cultures, reminded me of my unique perspective on the world and how valuable that is. I may not be very educated or knowledgeable, but I have had experiences that are uniquely mine, and there's power there. Basically, I'd like to write -- not non-fiction, but fiction -- about similar experiences. There were other aspects of the book that also influenced me heavily, from the talk about French cooking (while I love French food, I, unfortunately, also enjoy American cooking, and I think that's tarnished by taste buds) to Adam's writing style. Excellent book.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Partner

Book: The Partner (1997)
Writer(s): John Grisham

Somehow I missed this older (1997) book. I saw it recently and thought it was new! (I was puzzled as I read it why the action was all set in the early 1990s.) It's a fascinating read. We begin with the capture of a man on the run. We learn he's a former lawyer who faked his own death and stole $90 million from his firm and escaped to Brazil. The book deals with his return to the States and the maze of legal trouble awaiting him. This is an odd premise, as it seems our protagonist is a vile criminal, but early on I predicted where things were going and sure enough, there's a lot more to the story. Grisham takes his time unveiling the details, which is annoying at times, but it does keep you reading (I read about half the book in one day). Overall, a terrific read, but not without its flaws. There's one major plot hole I didn't understand (Why didn't the guy just turn himself in?) but the biggest mistake is the lame tacked on "twist" in the last couple of pages. I won't spoil it for you but basically it completely ruins the rest of the book and makes zero sense (a primary character acts completely out of character with no warning or hint). I basically just deleted those last couple of pages from my head and pretend the story ended the way I wanted and I would advise you to do the same!


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Passion of the Christ

Movie: The Passion of the Christ
Director(s): Mel Gibson

This is a brilliant film. But it's not perfect. It's extremely well-directed. Mel does an excellent job of telling the tale of the last 12 hours of Christ's life without the camera becoming too obvious and interferring with the story. I especially applaud his choice to do them in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles. It adds to the authenticity. On many levels the story is very simple and plain. Mel adds touches of complexity with strange visions and an obviously evil Devil, but in general it's the basic Bible story you expect. It is brutal, however. It is unflinching in portraying the violence inflicted on Jesus. The flogging scene will leave your stomach churning. Jesus is literally scourged until there's hardly any skin left: it's hanging from his body in shreds. And that, of course, is just the beginning of a horrible night of torture. While I applaud Mel for showing us the Crucifixion as it really happened (I'm sure it really was that bad), it is difficult to watch -- which is probably half the point. Mel does give us moments of relief via brief flashbacks into moments of Christ's life: breaking bread, washing hands at the Last Supper, writing in the dirt, etc. But the moments are not enough to redeem the oppressive nature of the film. The violence and gore is so strong it overpowers all else. To our modern eyes, unaccustomed to such brutality, it seems like too much; we want to protest, to try and stop it, and it's infuriating watching Jesus' mother stand by calmly watching the whole event. The biggest flaw is that film presents little hope. There's a brief resurrection scene, but it's far too brief. What I wanted to see was some glimpses of the lives affected by Jesus' sacrifice. Show us Malchus, the servant who's ear Peter cut off and Jesus restored, at home with his family that evening, a changed man. Show us Pilot, the roman governor who gave Jesus up for death, praying for forgiveness and mercy. Show us Simon, the man who carried Jesus' cross when he couldn't, and how his brief encounter with Christ changed his life forever. That was what the movie should have been about: changed lives. Instead, it's a sad film about a man who's tortured and horribly executed. Christians will understand the signficance behind the story and be moved, but unfortunately the film doesn't reveal much beyond the literal. That's too bad. It's an excellent film. But it could have been a masterpiece. I still recommend it. But it's definitely not for kids. Adults will find it difficult. It's a powerful film from opening scene until the end. You will be left emotionally drained. But it needed a little spark, something extra beyond the literal story, a glimmer of hope. Still, it's an amazing achievement, and it's even more amazing that so many will watch it. That's good. Hopefully it will touch people and motivate them to learn more about Jesus. If even one life is changed because of the film, it was worth making it.


Sunday, June 10, 2001

Pat and Mike

Movie: Pat and Mike

Mild Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy romantic comedy. Hepburn's a marvelous athlete with Tracy as her grumpy manager and of course they eventually fall in love. Rather dated in a lot of ways (i.e. Hepburn apologizes for wearing pants instead of a dress, but explains they are easier for playing sports).


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Movie: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Director(s): Sam Peckinpaw

An old western about former friends where one is now the sherrif and must hunt down the other. Has some dramatic moments and characteristic Peckinpaw violence (I'm not a fan of the ultra-red blood which looks too fake and takes me out of the scene), but the story meanders too much, the inevitable conclusion takes too long to arrive, and in the end I just wasn't that moved by the "friendship" of the two gun slingers.


Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Patch Adams

Movie: Patch Adams (1998)
Writer(s): Dr. Hunter Adams (book) and Maureen Mylander
Director(s): Tom Shadyac

I hadn't heard good things about this, so I was prepared to be disappointed, but I loved it! It's a somewhat predictable story (the summary of "doctor believes humor is the best medicine" summarizes it well) and the lead character does fall to easily into a Robin Williams caricature, but the fact that it's based on a true story, and the way the doctor rails against the medical system and the arrogance of doctors struck home with me. My favorite moment? When student doctor Patch is doing rounds with one of his teachers who says, "Bed 6 needs blood work," pauses to blush, then corrects himself with "Mrs. Edwards needs blood work." Little things like the name of the patient, obviously trivial to busy a doctor with a head full of vital, life-saving information, do make a difference.


Sunday, February 24, 2002

The Patriot

Movie: The Patriot

Not as bad as I expected. Extremely predictable and routine, but well produced technically. Could have been more interesting with a plot that revealed something we hadn't seen before, but it was the pretty much the standard "hero" movie: reluctant hero spurred into action by evil villain destroying something he values and he eventually defeats villain. BTW, this was a very bloody movie: lots of gruesome shots like a cannonball taking a guy's head off. Wars back then were so much less humane than today (grin).


Thursday, June 5, 2003

Pattern Recognition

Book: Pattern Recognition
Writer(s): William Gibson

Strangely, considering his geek reputation, I've never been a Gibson fan. This, his most recent book, is the first I've managed to finish. I don't like his writing style -- he overwrites, tries to hard to be poetic, and uses elaborate vocabulary for no good reason. This book was better -- I was able to tolerate the style -- but it's a strange novel.

Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the crew meet that alien species that no one has been able to communicate with? Their speech is incomprehensible, even for the universal translator. Then Captain Picard figures out that their speech is entirely based on common historical references. For instance, if I said, "Romeo and Juliet at the balcony," you would know what I meant, and that simple phrase would conjure up images of romance. Well, to someone who's never heard of the play, the reference is meaningless. That made learning the alien's language tough. Gibson does a similar thing in this book (and perhaps his other books, I don't know). He casually throws out odd references and assumes we'll understand. While I, being a computer geek, understood the computer-related ones, there were a number that were fashion-oriented, and I didn't get those at all. Fashion plays a big role in this book, as do logos. You see the main character, Cayce, is allergic to certain logos and trademarks. She uses this "talent" to consult with companies on the logos they choose (she can tell them if the new logo they've picked is bad or not). That's a cool concept. But the woman is therefore extremely picky about the clothes she wears (she tears the labels off everything she buys), and I gathered there were subtle references to and jabs at fashion designers I missed because I pay no attention to that aspect of reality at all. Anyway, my point is that Gibson's prose is often impossible to comprehend because he doesn't explain anything. And he still overwrites. Here's the first sentence of the book: "Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm." Uh huh. Yeah. Beautiful. Fortunately the whole novel isn't that way, just bits and pieces. Unfortunately, the plot is rather mundane. It seems like it's got promise, and I kept reading, and there are some fascinating diversions, but in the end the conclusion was unsatisfying. I will say that in that respect the plot is like real life. Of course I don't read novels (especially this kind of novel) to experience real life. The story itself deals with an Internet phenomenon known as Footage. Clips of an unknown film are being released anonymously on the 'net. There are 135 of them so far, and fans edit the clips together in various assemblages, debate and argue various viewpoints, etc., but no one knows who's creating the clips, if it's a part of an ongoing work or a completed film being released in pieces, or why it's being released in this manner. But it's becoming a cult with millions of fans around the globe eagerly waiting the next clip release. Cayce is one of these fans. Then her current employer hires her to find the source of the Footage. Her quest takes her around the world, and there are mysterious events happening. Someone has been in her apartment, she's being followed, someone tries to mug her, and she learns she can't trust anyone. It's a wonderful concept, but the ending is unsatisfying both because it's so ordinary and because we still don't understand the motivations behind everything. There are too many unanswered questions (a few would have been okay, but here there are dozens). This book is apparently very different from Gibson's other works, which was why I was interested in reading it. I wasn't that impressed though: it took me weeks to slough through it and for what? I didn't get much out of it. I am interested in Gibson as I writer, though, so perhaps I'll try one of his other books and see if I can't make it through. Not right away, though. I need a break.


Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Movie: Paycheck
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick (story)
Director(s): John Woo

I was looking forward to this film when I first heard about it. Based on a PKD story and directed by Woo? Wow! But unfortunately, Woo was not the right director for this film. The best aspect of Dick's work is psychological complexity. Woo's an excellent action director. The two compete against each other in this: it's not a great action film, and it's not deep enough to qualify as psychologically interesting. The story's a great concept: an engineer does work of questionable legality for corporation and has his memories erased afterward so there's no record. After his biggest job -- three years of work erased -- he discovers his big payday is nil. As he investigates, he discovers the FBI wants him, and his former employer is now trying to kill him. He has no idea why since his memories were erased. But a package he sent himself that contains twenty ordinary items (cigarettes, hairspray, matches, etc.) turns out to be exactly the items he needs to get himself out of troublesome situations. It's like he knew what was going to happen and planned for it, sending himself exactly what he needed. It's pretty cool and well done, but Woo throws in over-the-top action sequences that aren't the least bit believable (two scientists outrun a dozen gunmen and the FBI on a motorbike, the engineer beats up fifty trained bad guys, etc.). The film suffers in other ways as well, including a weak beginning (it doesn't get going until the big job presentation). The film's best moments are the science fiction and psychological impact of the invention, but those are glossed over. Woo himself said he doesn't like sci-fi and changed the script to be more action-oriented: a sad mistake. None of this makes for a terrible movie, but just not a great one. The middle of the film is the best part. The ending's predictable Hollywood. Still, when it's good, it's excellent, and overall I liked it. Just don't expect a great film and it's enjoyable.


Thursday, April 24, 2003

Pearl Harbor

Movie: Pearl Harbor

Surprisingly good film. The special effects are useful in bringing the attack to reality, and the love story framework, while predictable and occasionally silly, does provide a good human element to the war. The second half of the film, where the U.S. retaliates, was new history to me and quite interesting. Considerably better than I expected (meaning it's above the "paint by numbers" piece I was anticipating).


Saturday, November 13, 1999


Movie: Pecker (1998)
Writer(s): John Waters
Director(s): John Waters

I'm not sure if John Waters is losing his touch or if nothing shocks any more, but this movie isn't as ground-breaking as past Waters' classics like Polyester. Like most Waters' films this is full of his trademark bizarre characters (except they don't seem especially bizarre in this one; perhaps I'm jaded), it's set in Baltimore, and it's uneven. But there are some funny, witty moments. Oddly, the plot is almost sitcom in nature: a teenage photographer makes it big on the New York art scene, but overnight success ruins his family and he finds he can no longer take photos anonymously, but in the end everything works out happily. Certainly not for all tastes and not Waters' best, but interesting. For Waters' newbies I'd recommend the more tame but funnier Cry-Baby.


Thursday, November 23, 2000

Peeping Tom

Movie: Peeping Tom
Director(s): Michael Powell

Considered the British version of Psycho, this is similarly tame film about a psychotic killer who's obsessed with filming the women he kills. There's very little violence; mostly it's shadows and expressions and the viewer's suspicion of what might happen that increases the tension. Not as good as Psycho, but it's a very different film, and excellent in its own regard. The significant flaw is that it's not particularly likeable, mostly because the lead character is not someone we want to relate to (even if we do).


Monday, September 4, 2000


Book: Pele
Writer(s): Pele

Terrific auto-biography of the greatest soccer player the world has ever known. I figured the book would be mostly about soccer, but I was wrong. Turns out the book is a fascinating account of a man's childhood, his longings and dreams, his struggles into adulthood, and the challenges of being a legend in his own time. Very well written, the book is profound in an elegant, simple manner, similar to the way Pele played soccer. Highly recommended for everyone.


Thursday, May 14, 2009


Movie: Penelope

This is a modern fable about a rich girl cursed to look like a pig until she can find a blueblood like herself to love her unconditionally. It's a fun premise and I remember fleetingly seeing something about this film when it came out, but it sure disappeared fast. I thought it must have been awful, but it's not at all: it's quite well-done and a lot of fun. The twist with the cure for the curse is brilliant, and there are other surprises. The problem is the make-up job is too good. Christina Ricci is one of my favorite actresses and she just looks breathtakingly adorable in this, even with a pig's snout! That's a problem because the main premise of the film is that she's supposed to be so hideous that she can find no suitor. Basically the first half of the film doesn't really work because it's unbelievable that so many men can't see that she's gorgeous (the pig's nose is so well-done and natural it's hardly noticeable). Later, when the world finds out she exists (she's lived in seclusion her whole life), the world loves her, which makes the first half even more of a puzzle. But beyond that little flaw, the film's fun and quite delightful. It's not quite a classic, and there are some odd scenes that don't quite work, but it's got a wonderful cast and the story is quite pleasant. Recommended.


Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Penultimate Truth

Book: The Penultimate Truth
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick

This book has a remarkable premise but unfortunately the ending is rather weak. The premise is brilliant and typical PKD: most of the population of earth lives underground while the nuclear war rages above. At least that's what the people think. Their only information from above comes via a television where their leader tells them what's happening. But when one man leaves the shelter for the surface, he finds the war's been over for years and the leader doesn't even exist -- he's an artificial man puppeted to keep the lie alive. Many of the concepts in his novel are just brilliant, but the ending just left me flat. It seemed like little had changed, though of course stuff had, it was just subtle.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Movie: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

From the opening scene, I knew I was going to have issues with this film. It begins with a giant Poseidon emerging from the sea and climbing onto a wharf and frightening an old fisherman speechless. After walking for 50 feet as a giant, he suddenly turns "waterish" and shrinks to normal human size. I'm saying to myself, "Huh? If he can appear as human, why start off as a giant? Wouldn't that draw undo attention? This makes no sense!"

The film continues from there, piling on the convenient coincidences, logic leaps, bad dialog and acting, and idiotic plot. The plot... oh dear, I must mention the plot. It is so lame as to be laughable. The premise of the film has potential: basically the ancient Greek gods and goddesses still exist and still occasionally, hem, "hook up" with mortals and produce demigod offspring. Our titular Percy Jackson is one of these, the son of Poseidon, one of the top three gods, but he has never known his dad (there's a rule forbidding gods to have contact with their half-human children). Percy has no idea he's a demigod and struggles with feelings of being different all his life. Our poor story consists of Zeus, the head god, being angry that someone has stolen his lightning bolt. (How that could happen to such a powerful god isn't explained and is one of the film's key skips of logic.) Only a demigod could have taken it and he assumes it must be Poseidon's son (presumably because only a child of the big three would be powerful enough). Zeus is so pissed he gives an ultimatum: there will be war among the gods if his bolt isn't returned in a fortnight. Apparently this war would accidentally destroy earth as a side effect, so it's important to us this war be stopped. Thus starts a crazy quest by Percy where he: is attacked by monsters and learns he's a demigod, goes to a secret training camp for demigods to learn to fight (with a mere ten days until the deadline, despite that many of the other demigod children have been training their entire lives), leaves the camp to rescue his kidnapped mother, and finds the lightning bolt and returns it to Zeus before the deadline. There are so many problems here I hardly know where to begin. For instance, Percy's life has always been in such danger that his mother was forced to stay with an abusive man because his repulsive odor masked the smell of Percy's blood from the bad creatures. But the camp is supernaturally protected: why couldn't he have stayed there like the others? Another issue is that Percy's goal isn't to find the lightning bolt and stop the war: he only wants to rescue his mother. But he's so dumb he's ready to leave camp on his own without even knowing how to find and get into Hades! (That's another thing: you would think that learning you're a demigod and have special powers and that creatures like furies and minotaurs exist would give you at least a little pause, but Percy takes everything in such uncritical stride it's a joke.)

But here's the strange thing. Despite a rocky start and a nonsensical plot, the film started to work for me. Oh, it's dumb. Really dumb. But it's sort of fun. It doesn't take itself too seriously. It throws out bits of pieces of random Greek mythology at the viewer with a tongue-in-cheek glee, and sometimes it's quite clever. For instance, I liked the way it would pair modern things with the ancient, such as making the new Mount Olympus the Empire State Building or setting Hades (Hell) in Hollywood. My favorite was having the "island of the Lotus eaters" myth set in a Las Vegas casino where our heros eat the free food and fall into a drugged stupor, not unlike the effect of real casinos!

The characters are also fun: our heroic trio consists of Percy, the beautiful Annabel (daughter of Athena and our requisite love interest), and Grover, a satyr (goat man), who's the much-appreciated comic relief. Grover really makes things tick because he's not so dumbed down as to be useless and annoying, but he's just off enough to be interesting. My favorite Grover moment was the one where he just nonchalantly starts tearing bites off an aluminum can and casually eats it. This was perfectly done, without undo emphasis (not even a raised eyebrow by the others). Hilarious!

Next we get cameos of famous actors slumming it up small but fun roles as various monsters and villains, such as Uma Thurman playing a terrific snake-headed Medusa. This adds to the film's charm and humor.

But what really makes things work are the well-done puzzles and challenges the team faces. Okay, we're not talking ingenious plot here, but it's deftly handled in ways that are believable and that push our hero into gradually learning about his powers. (He doesn't just automatically know how to do god-like things: he has to be clever, and each member of the trio contributes.) I also like that though the film repeats Greek mythology it doesn't just copy the solutions from the original stories (though there are echoes, like using the shiny back of an iPod touch as a mirror to face the can't-look-at-her Medusa). As you get into this part of the story, you're enjoying yourself and the plot silliness hardly matters. (It also moves at a fast pace, which helps.)

The ending has some issues but is decent enough, and certainly satisfying. I liked the way all the storylines were wrapped up. Overall, though filled with flaws, the film still works: it's silly fun, great for kids (though young ones might be frightened by some of the Hades imagery), and the special effects -- though shockingly fake-looking at times -- are occasionally superb. It's actually a pleasant film, which is more than I can say for many. I would liken it to the similarly flawed-but-fun Journey to the Center of the Earth from a few years ago. If you can turn off your brain enough to enjoy it, go for it!


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Perfect Getaway

Movie: The Perfect Getaway

Another film that surpassed my low expectations. This actually not a horror film as marketed, but a suspense film. No one even gets killed until very late in the movie. I had expected a slasher-type film with honeymooners and vacationers getting violently killed throughout, but instead it's more of a psychological mystery of trying to identify which couple is the killer. (The plot is simply that honeymooners in a remote are of Hawaii know that one of the couples are murderers but aren't sure which couple.) I will point out that the film has an intriguing twist ending. I will try not to give it away with my comments. While I liked the twist a lot, it unfortunately has a severe flaw. That flaw is that the film lies to the viewer to get you to believe something that isn't true. Then later the truth comes as a surprise. Very poor idea as it weakens and cheapens the twist and turns it into a mere gimmick. There are other flaws with the story and film, but there's also a lot of good: impressive acting, some nice directorial touches, some good story beats. Unfortunately, because of the flaw the gimmick seems cheap and stands out too much (the film desperately needs a subplot to keep things interesting early on), and the whole film is weaker as a result. With a little more work this could have been a terrific thriller. As it is it is above average, but it doesn't extend to greatness.


Friday, January 30, 2004

The Perfect Score

Movie: The Perfect Score

I wasn't expecting much, but I rather liked this. It was charming, in an idiotic way. It's about high school seniors who feel the SAT is ruining their lives, so they plot to steal the answers. It's a motley group of non-friends who form the team -- the brain, the pot-head, the poor rich girl, the jock, etc. -- and thus it feels like an 80's John Hughs movie. Fortunately the filmmakers see fit to recognize and mock that: The Breakfast Club references abound. Perhaps that's why I liked it (that was my high school time). It's predictable, fun, and certainly no brain stretch. The direction's got some panache (I liked the SAT opening credits and the way filled in answer circles spelled things), though he's obviously trying hard. I mostly wanted to see it because I was curious about my new screen favorite Scarlet Johansson; she's cute and funny and actually has one of the better roles. A good rental.


Wednesday, December 20, 2000

The Perfect Storm

Movie: The Perfect Storm
Director(s): Wolfgang Petersen

From the promos, I had no interest in seeing this film. It looked incredibly lame: a bunch of fishermen go out in a boat even though the storm of the century is approaching? How stupid is that? But that's not what happens: there is no storm when the men leave, but to get home they must return through the storm. If they wait, the 60,000 pounds of swordfish they caught will spoil.

Three-quarters of the way through the film I was saying to myself, "Wow, I like this better than Gladiator!" The action is non-stop and the special effects -- digital waves -- are astonishing. But then something incredibly dumb happens that completely ruined the movie for me (and I'm going to "spoil" the ending here): they all die and the movie ends. Now isn't that ridiculous? What's the point? Are we supposed to take away a cheesy moral: "storms are dangerous"? Is this supposed to be an educational film on the New England fishing industry? Why not do a documentary then? Is this supposed to be a mere tragegy? If so, where's the foreshadowing, the dramatic build-up, the subtle warnings that tragedy is in the air? Without them the movie is just dumb: our heros are killed off in mid-sentence without saving the pretty maiden tied to the railroad tracks. Stupid.

I'm not the kind of person that demands Hollywood give me a happy ending (I love the unexpected), but I do demand a good story. Stories are NOT reality. Reality is sad, ugly, and imperfect. Stories are crafted -- they seem real, but are crafted to guarantee certain emotions. As such they play by certain rules. When an author violates those rules, they violate us, the reader/viewer. This film is horrible in that respect. It reminds me of a short story I had to read in college: Max Apple's "The Oranging of America." Absolutely the worst short story I've ever read (even though, according to critics, it's in the top 100 of all time). The story is interesting and fascinating until the very end you find out that absolutely none of it is true or has any basis for reality at all. Essentially, everything you read was pointless. Instead of a traditional essay, I wrote a blistering rebuke of the story for my class response. I didn't even care what grade I got: I figured I'd probably get an "F" because if the teacher picked the story he must like it. If I remember right, I got a "C": he didn't agree with me, but what I wrote was certainly passionate and rational. I absolutely hated the story and I felt the author was a traitor to literature and mankind. (I will never read anything by him again.) This film doesn't quite raise my ire to that level, but it's close. I realize that the film is based on a real-life incident and that in real-life the boat did sink and everyone did drown: but that's not my problem with the film. My problem is that the film was written and directed like an action survival story, the kind where crafty people claw their way back to life with their fingernails and live to tell about it. Sure, maybe one or two of the group don't make it, and maybe there's a scar or two, but most live. If this film was supposed to have been a tragedy it needed a completely different feel. Look at Titanic: we knew going in everyone was going to die and that gave extra weight to all their words and actions. When we saw a character talking about his ambitions, we were horrified and sad because we knew he'd never get to realize those dreams. In this movie, there was no warning, no explanation, no healing, no hope. It's just an incredibly badly written film that had no point of being made except to show off some computerized special effects of giant waves. Sorry to be such a brute if you liked the film, but this one is definitely in my Top 10 Worst Films of 2000 category.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Perfect Strangers

Movie: Perfect Strangers

This is a film that doesn't seem to know what it is. Unfortunately that's key to its nature: there's a twist at the end that can't be revealed early, so the viewer's in the dark for most of the film. Halle Berry plays an undercover reporter trying to find evidence that a rich ad exec (Bruce Willis) killed her children friend. If they'd left it at that it could have been a could film, but instead they must get overly complicated and throw in some red herrings and a doozy of a twist that comes way out of left field and really ruins anything good the film originally had. Sigh. Don't waste your time.


Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Peter Pan

Movie: Peter Pan
Writer(s): J.M. Barrie
Director(s): P.J. Hogan

Fantastic film! When I first heard of this I thought it was crazy and pointless: why remake Peter Pan? But this film is everything Hook was not: imaginative, fantastic, child-like, and meaningful. The Disney animated version never intrigued me: it was too happy, too light, and too innocent. There was no depth. This version is a marvel. The sets are literally fantastic, with pink clouds, supersaturated colors, and exotic textures. Even the "real world" of 19th Century London is unrealistic -- it's a pretty London of fantasy, not grim reality. The result emphasizes the movie's point about fantasy and adventure. The casting of unknowns in the children roles is brilliant: not only are they physically perfect but there's a touch of rawness to their performances that is delightful and endearing. They seem like real children, not polished actors. Equally important, the adults, while accomplished actors, don't make the mistake of overacting and turning their roles into camp (like Hook did). The story's true J.M. Barrie, much darker than the animated movie (for instance, Hook gets eaten instead of chased off into the sunset by the giant croc), and filled with philosophical insight into the whole problem of "growing up." There were some really brilliant lines of dialog between Peter and Wendy (both characters are well fleshed out). With the theme repeated throughout, it's obvious this is an important story and not mere entertainment. This is an excellent movie for the whole family. There's humor and adventure, silliness and fun, and a genuineness to everything that all will enjoy. Within the world of Peter Pan this is a great movie: it's the best Peter Pan ever. But if I had to come up with a negative, I'd say that it's still Peter Pan. The film is trapped in a fantasy world within a fantasy world, and the story's never going to go beyond those borders. For example, the story's about young children -- it's never going to be about adults. That's a minor nitpick, however. I generally liked everthing about the movie, even stuff I expected not to like (the amateur actors, the familiar story, etc.). This is a real gem. I hear it's been a disapointment at the box office so far (duh, it's competing with Return of the King), but it should have long legs as people who've seen it give it positive reviews. It's really charming and wonderful, and if you're not a kid, it will remind you of what being a kid was like.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Phantom of the Opera

Movie: The Phantom of the Opera
Director(s): Joel Schumacher

I was not expecting to like this. First, it's a musical, and I'm really picky about my musicals (I abhor "talk-singing" and singing without a realistic reason). Second, it's opera, and I'm not a fan of unintelligble lyrics and high-pitched warbling that's supposed to be singing. Third, it's nearly two and a half hours long, which sounded awful. Finally, though I'd never seen any version of Phantom and didn't even know the story, I've seen enough parodies and derivative storylines that it seemed that I had. Well, I am pleased to report that despite all the above, I loved this film. Here is why. The first thing I liked was the modern direction. Joel did a great job of using modern techniques to enhance the story. For instance, the opening scene where the ancient, dust-ridden, falling apart opera house morphs into the colorful, grand Paris opera house of its prime is amazing. You really get a feeling for the building's impressive architecture, history, and style that you wouldn't otherwise. Next, though I did not like all of the music, and there were a few too many "talk-songs" (where people "sing" to tell you ordinary things as in "I'm walking along this corridor, heading to my bed after a long hard day of work, wondering what tomorrow will bring..."), I did like a fair number of the songs and several were quite excellent. The dramatic "phantom" organ music that plays whenever the phantom appears is really, really cool. Finally, the bare story was impressive and held a lot of emotion. It deals with a young girl, Christine, who lives at the opera house. For years she's been talking music lessons from a mysterious, unknown voice which haunts the opera house: it's the phantom. He's fallen in love with her and slowly his malignant nature emerges as he sabotages the star singer and (eventually) kills to advance her career. She becomes an overnight sensation, but also finds a suitor, a young man she knew as a child who's now a count. The Phantom, of course, is jealous, and thus the conflict is set. We feel for the poor Phantom, face disfigured and horribly mistreated as a child, who grew up alone in the vast underground recesses of the opera house, and who's a musical genius, and yet we are repulsed by his violence and unforgiving nature. We want a happy ending but sense a tragedy in the making. It's a dramatic and vivid story and the music enhances everything, heightening emotions, and helping us feel fear and love and chilling excitement. Impressive and well-done.


Wednesday, February 26, 2003

A Philosophical Investigation

Book: A Philosophical Investigation
Writer(s): Philip Kerr

Fascinating book. I'd never heard of British writer Kerr, but he's definitely on my list of writers to check out. This is a story about the search for a serial killer, but he's an unusual one in that he's a philosopher and thinks his killings are rational and justified. The female cop who trails him is great, and she and he have fascinating intellectual discussions. Great stuff if you're into philosophy. The story's set slightly in the future (2013) and so there's fancy new computers and other technology. As far as the mystery or tracking of the killer, it's so-so: in this particular book the focus is more on the side elements, like sexual harassment of the policewoman and the philosophical discussions. In that respect the story's a little light. But there's nothing wrong with that: it's very well written (Kerr has a great feel for language though, at least in this novel, he frequently uses $10 words where a fifty cent one will do). Overall, two thumbs up.


Monday, April 7, 2003

Phone Booth

Movie: Phone Booth
Director(s): Joel Schumacher

This is a lightweight film about a guy being held at bay in a phone booth by an anonymous sniper. However, it's so well done that you forget the slight plot and just enjoy the ride. Colin Farrell's on screen almost every minute and he does a competent job, but Kiefer Sutherland as the caller is what carries the movie. He manages to be reasonable and insane, moral and immoral, at the same time. The tension that mounts when Keifer shoots a bystander and the cops arrive thinking Colin did and order him out of the phone booth, but Kiefer tells him not to obey is cool. Colin sweats like a liar attached to a lie detector as he can't tell the cops what's going on, but must do everything the sniper says or be shot (or his wife, who is on the scene). Cool flick.


Friday, November 26, 1999


Movie: Pi (1998)
Writer(s): Darren Aronofsky (story) and Sean Gullette
Director(s): Darren Aronofsky

I original saw this in August, after renting it, and thought it was worth buying on DVD. It's a fascinating experiment of a movie. It was made independently for an extremely low amount of money ($60K). It's black-and-white and rather bizarre in places, but it's weakest parts are when it tries to be too Hollywood and turn the movie into an action thriller (which it does toward the end). It's basically the story about a mathematician who goes crazy while searching for the magic number that defines the pattern of the universe (represented by the stock market). It's an intellectual movie, represented more by concept than anything concrete, and while it seems a bit incomplete, or falls short of its lofty goals, it's a wonderful start for a budding filmmaker. It's certainly like nothing you've ever seen. Excellent, if you're in the right mood. (BTW, you don't really need to know anything about math to understand it.)


Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Pianist

Movie: The Pianist
Director(s): Roman Polanski

Is it possible to make a bad Holocaust film? With such drama and history, it seems difficult. This one is certainly moving, and even shocking: you'd think we'd have seen everything by now, but some of what the Nazi's did is beyond comprehension. The story is the true story of Szpilman, Poland's greatest pianist. The Germans take over Poland, put him and his family into the newly established "Jewish Sector," and eventually kill his family. It's a miracle he survived.

What I liked about this film is the way it's so understated. Our protagonist isn't a hero: he just a guy. I compare him to a rat. I don't mean that in a negative sense, just that he's a rat scrounging for survival, and every time you think he's down, up he pops again. But it's not really a survival story either: mostly the guy survives via luck and friends. He doesn't particularly want to survive in some ways, he just does. It's like he's so overwhelmed by his circumstance he doesn't know how to do anything else. Adrian Brody gives a terrific performance as Szpilman, especially toward the end when things get desperate.

Polanski is smart in his handling of the film: he just gets out of the way and lets the story tell itself. I didn't notice one superfluous camera movement or transition: you just forget you're watching a film and get wrapped up in the time period. It is a long film (over 2.5 hours) but every frame is important. One intriguing aspect that I felt was brilliant in retrospect (a bit of spoiler here) is that we don't get to really see Szpilman play the piano until late in the film. Sure there's a brief scene at the beginning, and a couple in the middle, but he's not really playing. That's wonderful, because part of Szpilman's pain is that throughout the war he has no piano to play, and we, the audience, glimpse that pain through the subtle absence of his playing during most of the film. When he does play at the end, it's a catharsis for both of us -- we've both been aching for that moment. We're overjoyed at his joy at being able to play again. Superb.

All that said, where does this film rank in cinema history? That's difficult to say: it's tough to criticize a Holocaust film without coming across as a brute. This is an excellent film, and I liked that it tells a different story of the war and shows us new images and a new perspective, but ultimately it can't escape what it is: a Holocaust film. That tag carries a lot of baggage, and frankly, once you've seen once Holocaust film you've seen a portion of all others. There's some new material here but it's definitely not as original as Life is Beautiful, a film I liked far more simply because it dared to be daring (a comedy about the Holocaust). This is a great film in the sense that it's well-done, emotionally moving, and has historical significance, but while I wouldn't have a problem watching Life is Beautiful over and over again, I can't say the same thing about The Pianist. I'm very glad I saw it, and I might watch it again on DVD, but like Schindler's List, this is not a movie you want to watch over and over again. That diminishes it slightly in my book (for instance, it wouldn't be in my top ten favorite films).


Sunday, October 22, 2000

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Movie: Picnic at Hanging Rock
Director(s): Peter Weir

Unusual Australian film based on the true story of a group of schoolgirls in 1900 who go on a picnic and several of them mysteriously vanish. Searchers and bloodhounds find no trace of the girls. Were they murdered? Did all of them fall down a hole at the same time (if only one or two fell down, surely the others would have gone for help)? Very strange. Languidly paced, with haunting pan flute music by Zamfir, the film builds a lot of suspense and is quite fascinating, but goes nowhere. In the end, the girls are never found, and to this day no one knows what happened. I hate mysteries like that. No wonder I prefer fiction -- it's much less messy than real life.


Thursday, November 18, 1999

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Book: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Writer(s): Oscar Wilde

My Mom lent me a condensed, children's version of this, which I read in about an hour, and it was so good I had to read the real thing. I'm glad I did, too, because the real version is awesome! It's definitely in my favorite book category. First, you've got a fascinating premise: a handsome young man gets his wish: his portrait will grow old while he will stay young. Second, you've got a book absolutely filled with Wilde's unparalleled epigrams and witty quotations. I literally at times wondered if I was reading a book of quotations or a novel! Almost every line is a gem. What surprised me was was how similar this book is to Dangerous Liaisons. One of the characters, Lord Henry, basically corrupts young Dorian Gray, seducing him with fine words and clever speeches. Henry leads Gray to the well of evil and the young man drinks deeply. His life becomes a moral wasteland, but while the cost of his crimes are revealed on his portrait, which grows gray and hideous with sin, Gray himself looks like a twenty-year-old. The ending is classic and appropriate. A hundred years after it was written, this book has profound modern relevance -- perhaps even more than ever, considering the state of the world today, where people sell their soul for youth on a regular basis. This book is a must-read.

I could quote from this book all day, but here are a few classic lines, just to give you a taste of Wilde's wit:

Lord Henry on pleasure:
"Anything becomes a pleasure if one does it too often. That is one of the most important secrets of life."

Lord Henry on women:
"How fond women are of doing dangerous things! It is one of the qualities in them I admire the most. A woman will flirt with anybody in the world as long as other people are looking on."

Lord Henry on boredom:
"The only horrible thing in the world is ennui. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness."

Lord Henry on skeptics:
"Skepticism is the beginning of faith."

Lord Henry on reason:
"I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect."

Lord Henry on youth:
"To get back one's youth, one merely has to repeat one's follies."

Mr. Erskine on America:
"Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected."


Thursday, May 6, 2004

Pieces of April

Movie: Pieces of April

I sort of wanted to see this but it sounded a little boring so I skipped it in the theatres. Big mistake. It's wonderful. It's not boring at all. The story's simple and the director intelligently keeps the film short (less than 90 minutes). I wish more directors would do that. Many, many of today's films would be better at 60 minutes than they are at 120. But back to the movie. I had heard this was about a girl preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner. Well, that didn't sound too exciting. But what was missing from that description is very important. First, the girl is estranged from her family: she hasn't seen them in years, and they disapprove of her lifestyle and choices. Second, the girl's mother is dying of cancer and this will probably be their last Thanksgiving and last chance for any kind of reconcilation. Ah, now the story has impact and importance! Why wasn't that info in the previews and descriptions? Who knows; it doesn't spoil anything but makes the film more intriguing. What follows is a relatively simple story: the girl struggling with the turkey dinner, her oven dying and her running from apartment to apartment trying to find an oven to use; the family driving to visit her, arguing and dreading a conflict-filled visit; the mother, troubled and dying and impulsive; and the girl's black boyfriend, not at all what her parents are expecting. The ending is fantastic: not a wrong note anywhere. Short and sweet, dramatic without being overdone. This film is a nice, well-done, emotional story without a lot of frills. Perfect.

One tip to the filmmakers: if you use an oven bag, you can cook that 15-pound turkey in two-and-a-half hours instead of five. Of course that would have eliminated one of the film's central conflicts!


Friday, February 18, 2000

The Pillow Book

Movie: The Pillow Book (1995)
Writer(s): Peter Greenberg
Director(s): Peter Greenberg

From Soderbergh's visually conservative approach to sex we jump to Greenberg's almost pornographic visuals. But this film isn't about cheap thrills. I'm honestly not sure exactly what it's about -- it jumps all around, touching on eroticism, literature, sexual identity, the meaning of life, death, calligraphy, beauty, ugliness. It's the story of a Japanese girl whose writer father painted stories on her face when she was a child, and now as an adult she seeks out lovers to paint beautiful words on her body. Her problem is that the good artists are poor lovers and the good lovers are poor artists. Later, the woman begins to write on her lovers, and realizes her dream of becoming a published author. Oddly, she "submits" her work to the publisher on the body of her lovers. I found it puzzling that one could write a whole book on the flesh of a person, but I guess these are poetry-type books (and since each character is a word, oriental languages are more compact than Western ones). Even more bizarre, the publisher doesn't seem to find this unusual presentation strange. The film's title is what we would call a diary or a journal, though with an Eastern slant: most of the writings are Confuscious-like phrases or "lists" (i.e. "Things that make the heart pound."). Interesting, but not exactly enlightening. (My favorite were the fun ones like "A hand cannot write on itself," written, of course, on the fingers of one hand.) My knowledge of Eastern culture is minimal, so I'm sure I'm missing a great deal of the film's message. It's a complex movie: Greenberg frequently uses overlapping video sequences so several events or perspectives are happening simultaneously. It's a powerful technique and beautifully done (in one scene he has everything in monotone except for the little girl's face in the mirror is in full color). Another thing I liked: the multitude of languages. There's English, French, Chinese, and Japanese mixed almost indiscriminately throughout the film. It's delightful. (The music's also similarly multi-cultural.) Overall, however, this is a bizarre, unsettling film: beautiful, exotic, and untouchable. (One other note: the DVD of this film is not widescreen and has zero extra features. Pretty much just VHS on a disc. Lame.)


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Piranha 3D

Movie: Piranha 3D

In short: if you're the type who finds the premise of this kind of film hilarious, you'll love this movie. If you're the type who wants to take this kind of film seriously, you'll hate it. Me, I'm the former: I always think of these kinds of films as comedies, even if they aren't, and this one fits the bill perfectly. It's so ridiculously over-the-top it's wonderful: corny, gratuitous, outrageous, scandalous, gruesome, and utterly hilarious. It's not scary at all -- the people feel like cartoons, and they're treated as such: there are perhaps more half-eaten torsos and severed limbs than intact bodies in the movie! The "plot" of the film is perfectly minimal: spring break on a lake with prehistoric piranha released by a recent subterranean earthquake. That gives the producers full license for a literal bloodbath of scantily clad beauties being eaten by veracious piranha. There's a slight story involving the rescue of the female sheriff’s two young children, which gives the film some needed tension, but I was impressed by the film's pitch-perfect setup and build-up to the grand fishfood climax. The film's definitely better done than most of these kind of low-budget made-for-cable flicks, with some big stars hamming it up (Christopher Lloyd was awesome and Elisabeth Shue was surprisingly terrific as the sheriff) and quite good special effects. The 3D is actually pretty cool. I hate the stupid glasses, but once you get into the film you soon forget about them, and in several of the scenes the 3D really added to the atmosphere. Overall, this is not a serious film by any measure. It's mere popcorn silliness, but it's a blast. Definitely rated R, this isn't for kids, but if you aren't offended by naked spring breakers being eaten by the dozen (or find it a positive thing ;-), then go for it!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

I enjoyed the first one but thought the second, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, was terrible because it didn't end. This movie is the conclusion of that one and at nearly three hours, it's some conclusion. Fortunately, it mostly lives up to the billing. It's definitely far too complicated, with numerous characters each with their own secret motivations and each plotting against the other, but at least it's more of a complete story than the second film. In this one the main characters head off to the end of the world to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow who was sent to Davy Jones' locker in the last movie, and then everything's set up for a big battle between the British armada and the nine pirate lords for who will rule the seas. It's overlong and overdone but there's enough going on to keep your interest. At least the film still has its irrascible sense of humor (which is much needed). Captain Jack is still the best character, though I was pleased to see that finally Kiera Knightly's actually got a meatier role (she's pretty much second to Johnny Depp in prominence). The special effects, even in this jaded day, are jaw-dropping impressive, and many are so subtly and effectively done you barely realize they are effects. Overall, I was entertained, though the film does feel long. There's a bit too much convoluted "pirate lore" and I found myself confused on several occasions, but just roll with it -- eventually everything works out. The ending is not exactly surprising or clever, but it works well enough, I suppose. I was a bit disappointed but the characters seemed happy enough with it. At least it's not a bland "everyone lives happily ever after" kind of thing.


Friday, July 7, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pretty much a by-the-book sequel, with all the familiar characters back, inside jokes, horrifically goulish creations, fun, mayhem, humor, and wild adventure. Unfortunately, while this is decently done and entertaining, the film ends in mid-plot as we're supposed to wait for the third part next summer to discover what happens! Back to the Future II did that and annoyed me greatly and I never quite forgave it; I can't believe I fell for the same trick again (I'd heard they were filming the two sequels at the same time but I didn't expect the story to not be concluded). Arrrgh!


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I'll be honest: I'm a bit of a sucker for these kinds of films. I love Johnny Depp and his Captain Sparrow and I could be entertained watching him read a phone book. That's pretty much all he's got to work with here, considering the lame script and feeble plot, but I still had fun. There are several good moments and some unusual ideas, such as the surprisingly vicious mermaids, but the plot -- a tiresome quest after the Fountain of Youth -- is much too direct (they basically get on a ship and go there) to be interesting. The whole thing is a mishmash. They introduce new characters, such a missionary prisoner of the pirates who falls in love with one of the mermaids -- kind of neat, but it felt out of place and awkward, like it was from a different film. On the other hand, I had expected to not like Penelope Cruz's character (I much prefer Keira Knightly), but she grew on me and there were times when I thought it worked (other times her chemistry with Depp fell flat and her strong Spanish accent made her difficult to understand). You'd think at least the swashbuckling action would be a positive in a film like this, but it's predictable and boring. There are too many easy coincidences (like when one of the bad guys sees Depp and runs, conveniently leaving his rifle behind for Depp to use) and outright defiance of physics (such as when tied-up Depp somehow goes backward up a tree). All-in-all, it's a real mess, and it's clear the franchise is running out of steam, but I still liked it better than the last two sequels which were artificially divided into two films. If you don't like Depp's Captain Sparrow there's nothing here for you, though.


Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Surprisingly terrific film. Astonishing: a film based on an amusement park ride is the most original film of the year so far! While almost every other big movie this summer is a sequel, and therefore familiar and lacking innovation, this smart movie is fun, funny, scary, and non-stop action. The story involves several people: the governor's daughter, who's kidnapped by Captain Barbarosa; pirate Jack Sparrow, who was betrayed by Barbarosa; Will Turner, an orphan who's in love with the girl; and of course, Barbarosa himself, Captain Sparrow's former first mate. Barbarosa and his men are cursed to not die but not be alive, and they sail the seas pirating and looting, searching for the secret to relieve the curse. While most of the characters are stereotypical, this is not supposed to be a deep movie. It's about fun. Johnny Depp is awesome as Sparrow, who is hilarious as he's every pirate stereotype yet still unconventional and quirky. He's a lot like the pirate in the classic The Princess Bride, surpremely confident to the point of absurdity. Keira Knightly, as the daughter, also raises her character above the role. She is feisty, strong, and rebellious, not to mention astonishingly beautiful. Geoffrey Rush and Orlando Bloom are also great. The combination of the acting, plus interesting special effects, great action, fun dialog, and a clever plot make for an excellent movie. It really is an amusement park ride! Don't expect profundity of any kind, but you should be thrilled and entranced.


Thursday, November 23, 2000

Pitch Black

Movie: Pitch Black

Terrific sci-fi thriller about a transport vessel that crash lands on an unknown planet. One of the members is a convict being returned to prison, and his escape creates the initial tension. Soon, however, it is discovered that much more dangerous brutes exist on the planet: dinosaur-like creatures (miniature raptors with wings) that consume a person in seconds, like piranha in the Amazon. The creatures, however, are killed by light, which means everyone is safe as the planet has multiple suns and there is no night. That is, until the group realize a once-every-twenty-two year total eclipse is about to occur, plunging the planet into complete darkness. You can imagine the rest.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Pitch Black

Movie: Pitch Black

I wanted to see this again after watching The Chronicles of Riddick since I couldn't remember much about the original. Far superior flick. First, it's self-contained, in a tight plot: a group of misfits are stranded on a strange planet and must work together to survive. Included in that group is the murderer Riddick, an escaped con being returned to prison by a bounty hunter. But it turns out that Riddick is the least of the group's problems. The planet is inhabited by raptor-like creatures that kill incredibly well. The creatures are wounded by light and thus only emerge in the dark -- but the planet's just about to have an eclipse that will darken it for a long period. When everything goes dark, the creatures will eat them. So it's a simple survival story, very well done. Unlike the new film which tries to be several films in one.


Sunday, July 7, 2002

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Movie: Plan 9 From Outer Space
Writer(s): Ed Wood
Director(s): Ed Wood

Hilarious! I'd never seen this infamously bad film. I'd expected it to be bad from a technical perspective, but that wasn't it at all: it was the fact that this was very "B"-grade material which the author/director seemed to think was deeply literary. The ponderous narration that occurs throughout was way over the top without even realizing it. A classic of bad movie-making, so bad it's good.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Movie: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Writer(s): John Hughes
Director(s): John Hughes

This is an old movie from the 80s. I probably first watched it 20 years ago. It holds up surprisingly well. On the surface it's just your typical slapstick road movie with all kinds of chaos and bad things happening, but deep down it's got some heart. It is serious without being serious and fun without being too stupid. I actually was very impressed by John Candy's performance. He plays a buffoon, but with sincerity. It's really quite remarkable. Steve Martin is always good. A great classic flick.


Friday, July 27, 2001

Planet of the Apes

Movie: Planet of the Apes (2001)
Director(s): Tim Burton

Interesting film. Good fun. Not intellectually taxing, but visually appealing. The plot's a little simple for such a big budget flick, but it works, except the tacked on "complicated" ending weakens it. It's not a remake, which I liked. Some good performances. Mark Walberg's rather invisible as the human lead, and Helena Bonham Carter somehow still comes across as human. But Tim Roth as the evil ape is absolutely magnificent: completely believable as an ape with his frantic outbursts of rage, flickering eyes and rapid movements, and yet human in his greed and lust. He's an evil character with little good (unlike so many "gray" evil characters in modern films), which is a refreshing change as you can root for his demise with no guilt. The film looks great, has a nice twist midway through, and the apes are definitely an improvement over the original film, but the film wasn't as dark as I would have liked. At times the film reminded me of the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park -- remarkably evil and frightening -- but then it would make the apes do human-like things and they'd lose their power to frighten. Overall, it's a fun flick and worth seeing if you liked the original and/or enjoy science fiction.


Thursday, July 11, 2002

Play: As You Like It

On the way home from vacation, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon, to catch some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This one was in the outdoor theatre. I was not impressed. It was fiendishly hot, and at the back where we were, it was difficult to hear. The actors didn't help, with several amateurishly turning their back to the audience while delivering lines! The quality of the acting was disappointing: some were great, but others were quite mediocre, completely demolishing the meaning from Shakespeare's amazing poetry. I also had issues with the costumes: some were dressed in modern clothing, others in period dress. It was confusing. For instance, at the very beginning, a group of soldiers were dressed as Nazi's, making me wonder what interpretation the director had in mind. (It turned out they were just supposed to be soldiers, but their uniforms were too Nazi-like for me.) There were other errors as well: two characters were dressed in riding outfits, making it confusing as to which was which (they each appear briefly in different scenes in the beginning). As the play continued it got better, mostly because the story had more action and because the leads were on stage more. Still, it was a dull rendition of what normally is a hilarious play.


Friday, July 12, 2002

Play: Julius Caesar

A much better production. The costumes were modern, but consistent, so they made sense. I loved that Julius Caesar was dressed as the Godfather. Hilarious (and quite brilliant)! The only weak part was the role of Mark Anthony, which is key to the production, was performed by a non-actor. The guy wasn't the worst actor ever, but he wasn't outstanding, and if there ever was a role that needs an outstanding actor it's Mark Anthony (the play is essentially conflict between Brutus and Anthony). The actor who was Brutus was excellent, a terrific actor, but the second half of the play, which features Mark Anthony more, was much weaker. The guy even blew some of the best and most famous lines of dialog, screwing up the "lend me your ears" speech! Fortunately, everyone else was good enough to minimize the impact of the poor Mark Anthony, but I was still a bit disappointed. The play was still worth seeing, however. I liked the production and direction, and Brutus was awesome.

After the play ended, at about midnight, my cousin and I drove home to California. We arrived in Oakland about 5:30 a.m.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Player Piano

Book: Player Piano
Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut

Interesting and unusual book. I'm not sure exactly when it was written (I listened to the audiobook so I couldn't exactly flip to the copyright page), but it's obviously quite dated based on the technological terminology used. It's set in the future in a 1984-ish totalitarian state. It's a world where machines are replacing humans at all their jobs, upsetting the working class. It's an interesting idea of a society, though many of the machines are hiliariously primitive (reminding me of the tech on the Flintstones). For example, there's nothing like the Internet and even computers are hardly mentioned -- instead there's focus on automated machines that print and deliver newspapers.

But I found myself frustrated at the glacial pacing of the story. Individual scenes are entertaining and funny and interesting, but I wanted more of the actual story. The story, per se, is about our our main character, an elite of society, waking up and realizing what's wrong with the world and what's missing in his life. It is interesting but it just takes so long for this to happen. Many of the extra characters, like his wife, are purposely sketchy and thin, which meant I didn't care about them, but of course they are important to the main character, so many scenes involve those other characters -- meaning I was disinterested in many scenes. The whole thing just got tedious after a while. I think this is the type of book I would like better on a second reading. Once I actually know where the story's going I'm more apt to enjoy the scenes for their own sake. As it was, I kept itching for the scene to finish so I could get on with the plot, which never did get going. Not Vonnegut's best best work. It's not bad -- some aspects are quite brilliant and hilarious -- but as a novel the thing feels long and is hard to get through.


Thursday, April 13, 2000

Playing God

Movie: Playing God

I can see why this failed. Rather distasteful, confusing, and ultimately uninteresting. Supposedly we're supposed to feel compassion for a doctor who's lost his license being forced to work for a criminal, but who really cares?


Thursday, January 27, 2000


Movie: Pleasantville (1998)
Writer(s): Gary Ross
Director(s): Gary Ross

This is the film about two modern-day kids being transported into the black-and-white world a 1950's sitcom and slowly infecting that world with modern free thinking, thereby colorizing it. I watched this for the first time on DVD; my impression of the film changed considerably when I watched the commentary tracks (the DVD has two, one by the director, and one by Randy Newman, composer of the movie's score). My initial impression was that Gary Ross doesn't know the difference between reality and television -- he seems to think he's being clever satirizing a 1950's sitcom world (as if a 1950's sitcome isn't a satire in itself). Ross treats Pleasantville (the fiction TV series and town) as though it's real, and by mocking the archaic values of that world he can emphasis the superiority of today's open-minded world. Listening to the comentary, however, I realized there's a generation gap at work: I didn't live in the Fifties (or even the Sixties); what I know of the Fifties I know from television shows exactly like Pleasantville. The television of the Fifties is so hokey that I never dreamed that the world was ever really like that. Ross, however, makes it sound as though that world really did exist. If that's the case (I'm not convinced), then that changes how I feel about the film, because that world does sound repressive, and I agree with the film's "let's overthrow Eden" conclusion (though Ross goes to the extreme of throwing out the baby with the bathwater). If the real-life Fifties weren't like that, then the movie's nothing more than a cheap gag trying to sound profound (since it's illogical to draw conclusions while comparing apples and oranges).

That said, this is a film worth seeing. I was surprised at the depth of the film -- and I wondered why I'd never heard anyone discuss that aspect. Reviews and comments from fans always talked about the impressive special effects and unusual premise. But the movie's quite complex, with themes of sexual liberation, racism, feminism, existentialism, and anti-Communism. Draw your own conclusions as this is a movie that forces you to think. There were aspects I really liked -- such as the "No Coloreds" signs popping up when half the town residents were black-and-white and the other half Technicolor -- and aspects I profoundly didn't like, such as the sitcom Mom discovering her independence via an extra-marital affair. Overall I liked the movie's final moment, which basically said that we shouldn't hold our lives up to the expectations of others (such as assuming that our dream should be the "American Dream" of a husband and wife, 2.1 kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence).

The theme of Pleasantville has been done before, and better, in films like David Lynch's far more disturbing Blue Velvet. This is a gimmick film; well done, but ultimately it can't escape the limitations of its premise.


Monday, December 31, 2001

The Pledge

Movie: The Pledge
Director(s): Sean Penn

This film has two key flaws: one, it's a murder story without a resolution (extremely unsatisfying -- the murderer isn't caught), and two, the fairly ordinary plot is told at a snail's pace. While Penn's technically excellent (I liked a number of things he did, including an interesting camera move through the open skylight of a car), he seems to confuse a slow pace with depth: a glacier pan across a lake does not make a scene profound. Thus the film feels ponderous and heavy and several hours too long. That wouldn't be horrible if the payoff was worth it, but it's not: the tale is simply that of a retiring police detective who becomes involved in a case of the rape/murder of a little girl on his last day and can't let go, continuing to investigate even after his retirement. Basically, this is a film that wants desperately to be deep, but ultimately isn't as profound as an episode of Law and Order. Perhaps I'm just bitter because I put this in wanting an action film, but this isn't worth your time. It's a lot of potential wasted. Cut 50 minutes out of it and it might be a pretty good film.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Podkayne of Mars

Book: Podkayne of Mars
Writer(s): Robert Heinlein

The story's a little odd. It's simple at first -- a Martian girl taking her first voyage to earth via a detour to Venus -- but then in Venus we get into a political kidnapping and all sorts of nonsense, which is a bit silly and the action clashes with the non-action of 90% of the book. And we never get to see her actually get to earth, which makes the whole thing seem a bit pointless. But what makes the book work is the charm of the female narrator, young "Poddy" of Mars. She's just amazing, hilarious, brilliant, witty, with wonderful ways of speaking (writing) that make the book, despite it's early lack of action, a joy to read. Definitely a classic on that basis alone.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Point Blank

Movie: Point Blank

This is an old Lee Marvin flick from the 1970s. He's a criminal who is betrayed by his wife and his best friend who shoots him and leaves him for dead and he comes back for revenge. It reminds me of the excellent Mel Gibson film, Payback, but it's lower key and the violence is less violent. This one isn't bad, but it's not great either. It's got some neat moments but overall it's not a classic or anything.


Tuesday, November 12, 2002


Movie: Pollock
Director(s): Ed Harris

This is the film Ed Harris produced, directed, and stars in, about the life of the painter Jackson Pollock. I knew nothing of Pollock except that his paintings were abstract and worth a ton of money. This portrays him as a disturbed individual, extremely conflicted, agonizing over his craft, and a dangerous drunk. It's a sad tale in many ways, but inspiring in others. Jackson seemed so desperately unhappy most of the time I wondered about the Catch-22 he seemed caught in: when he wasn't painting he was frustrated and depressed, and when he was creating, he was still unhappy because no one understood his art. How many struggling artists (no just painters) are caught in that dilemma? Is it any wonder that most creatives are disturbed? Cool film, excellently done. A little slow.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


Movie: Ponyo
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki

Definitely a change-up from traditional Miyazaki animation as this one is skewed for a younger audience (think 5-10), has a simpler story, and isn't quite as serious. I loved it. My favorite thing is that this is set in the real world instead of a magical realm (though magic is in the film), and Miyazaki is surprisingly good at handling that material. The story is simple: a boy in a Japanese fishing village befriends a goldfish and she loves him and wants to be human. It turns out she is magic and can make that happen. The boy is five and adorable, and very clever, and his mom is wonderful. The human characters are realistically done, with my favorite moment being how upset the mom was when the dad took an extra run on the fishing boat and couldn't come home and it's the little boy who comforts mom. The mom's reactions were adult as she didn't try to hide her anger from the boy, and the boy's innocence and utter love for his dad no matter what he did was charming and wonderful. The story itself goes to strange places toward the end, with the goldfish girl's magic threatening the whole planet by somehow drawing the moon near and raising the sea level and flooding the fishing islands. It's a great little story, perhaps not up to Miyazaki's normal standards in terms of literary seriousness, but entertaining, charming, and surprisingly appealing to older adults.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Portland Timbers Home Opener

Soccer: Portland Timbers Home Opener

Portland 4, Chicago 2: Wow, what a game! I knew the fans and atmosphere would be great, but I honestly wasn't too hopeful that the team would back that up. But they were clearly the better team on the day and the scoreline actually flatters Chicago who showed very little. Portland seemed to score early via a Cooper header, but the goal was waved off by the ref, apparently because the ball curled out going in on the corner kick. Very questionable (and a call I'm not a fan of anyway). But justice came later in the match. Around the half hour mark Portland do get on the board, with terrific play in the midfield where a player was on the ground and leaped up to get the ball and play a beautiful through-ball into space for Perlaza who is in alone on the keeper. He cuts the ball back and I thought maybe the chance was gone, but the defender and keeper muck each other up and Perlaza feeds it into the goal and Portland lead in their home opener. Pandemonium in the Portland stadium. Portland use that energy to go forward and soon score another before the half, when a ball is poorly cleared out to the edge of the box where Wallace smashes it through the crowd and it deflects into the net. Timbers make it three-oh early in the second half when Chicago keeper Shaun Johnson can't hold a wet ball and Perlaza is there to tap home the rebound. It's looking like a dream match for Portland. Unfortunately things go a bit sour when a dangerous ball splits the defense and the Timbers' Brunner slides in to clear and ends up knocking the ball past his own keeper. With the goal Chicago have hope and play better and finally get their best chance with a nifty chance inside the box. Marco Pappa creates space for himself and curls one. Portland GK Gleeson slaps at it and gets his fingers on it, but can't quite get enough contact to push it over the bar. It strikes the underside and drops into the goal and suddenly the lead is just one. A tremendous victory starts to seem dicey. But Portland get the equalizer on a crazy play in the goal mouth when Cooper handles the ball during his leap and Chicago can't clear and in the scramble it's knocked in. Replay shows it's an own goal by the Fire, but Perlaza claims it. It shouldn't have counted, but Portland's first goal was taken away so counting this one is justice. With the two-goal margin restored, the Timbers hold out for their first MLS win. Huge!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Portland Timbers versus Dallas FC

Soccer: Portland Timbers versus Dallas FC

Portland 3, Dallas 2: After the high of Thursday's historic home opener, you had to wonder how this game would go. Would Dallas spoil the party? I was at this game in person and wow, what at atmosphere! The Timbers Army chants and sings the entire match, non-stop. Fans everywhere couldn't wipe the silly grins their our faces. Everyone was in a jolly mood and it wasn't just the rare sunny day. You could feel the electricity in the air, a sense of history in the making and we were all a part of it. From the collection of TV news vans out front (every local station is covering the Timbers like mad), to the renovated stadium which, while it has the bones of an old soul (to mix metaphors), is beautifully redone. The old stadium always had a split personality as it also awkwardly housed a minor league baseball team. Now everything about the place is Timbers, with Timbers green everyone and the famous axe logo tattooed on everything. It is awesome. Our seats were up in the second balcony the stands, near center field, but it felt really close on the action. We did have "obstructed view" seats with a roof-support column a few seats in front of us, but it wasn't that bad as you could lean to see around it. Actually worse were the trio of TV cameras right in front of us as they obscured any action along the sideline and leaning or standing didn't help see around them. I don't think I'd want my season tickets there, but for this game it was fine. Timber Joey, the lumberman who revs his chainsaw and cuts off slabs of a giant log every time the Timbers score, came by several times. On two occasions he brought by a slab for everyone to cheer and perhaps touch (I'm starting the rumor that "touching the slab" brings good luck, cures cancer, and promotes world peace). The game itself was fantastic. Portland played beyond their skill. You could just see the team improving with every pass. Confidence just grew and grew and lesser players began showing off their tricks. While it was obvious Dallas players are more seasoned and polished, the Timbers played them out of the park. Don't let the scoreline fool you: this was a rout, plain and simple. Dallas could scarcely get the ball out of their own half and I counted dozens of occasions where when they tried, they were forced to play it backwards because there was nowhere to go forward. I was really impressed with the work-rate of our guys. We get our first goal 12 minutes in, via a ball fed back to an open Jewsbury just inside the box and he runs on to it and smashes it. It hits the post, comes off and hits GK Hartman in the back, and goes in! After going down a goal Dallas try to mount a comeback but the Timbers repel all chances and continue to attack. Off a corner kick in the 35th, Kenny Cooper skies to head home his first against his old team. Beautiful goal. Love the way he goes to lift up tiny John Spencer in his goal celebration. Dallas continue to get a lot of corner kicks, but don't do much with them. Portland think they've scored a third just a minute or so into the second half, but the goal didn't count as Perlaza was a hair offside. But Portland continue to press and when Dallas fail to clear Alhassan slips the ball through into space deep in the box and Wallace is there to stab home his second of the season. On the hour Cooper misses a near post crossed by inches. But Dallas have chances too, with Milton Rodriques nearly getting behind on a 1v1. They get a header chance after that, though it was going wide, it still showed danger. Around the 70th I thought Dallas looked dejected and beaten and they looked like they were just going through the motions. I figured it they got a goal it would have to be somewhat flukey. To their credit they keep trying and in the 83rd, David Ferierra runs onto a ball in the box and just gets there an inch before the defender and knocks it in at the near post. That goal inspires Dallas and rattles the Timbers, who start to struggle and panic a bit, and then Brek Shay makes a great play, running onto a high ball in the box. He gets there just before the keeper who had come out to close him down and his little pop-over shot gets over the keeper and suddenly the lead is only a single goal. Nail-biting time! Soccer can be an unfair game sometimes, but it is a 90-minute game and the Timbers have to play every minute. Twice now they've led by three goals and then allowed the opponent to creep back into the match. But like I told my friend, "Later in the season I'd be more concerned about giving up goals. Right now I just want to see them chalk up wins." The Timbers defend a little frantically, especially in stoppage time as Gleeson slaps away a cross for a corner kick. Dallas nearly get an equalizer with a shot at the near post that Gleeson is forced to tip up off the crossbar. Whew! Crazy stuff, but Portland hold on for the three points and now are in fourth place in the West and tied with the highest scoring teams in the league. Amazing.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Soccer: Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

This was the second leg of the playoff match to see who gets to the championship game. I haven't been to a Timbers game in a while (I'm not sure why, exactly) and I am definitely going to go to some next year. This was a lot of fun. There was a great crowd of nearly 15,000 and the atmosphere was exciting. The game was terrific, with six goals. Sadly it finished 3-3, a draw, which eliminated Portland as they lost their away match in Vancouver. They came very close to tying the aggregate and sending the game to overtime, but just didn't quite make it. I can't wait for the Timbers to be part of MLS!


Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Portland Trip

Friday I flew up to Oregon for the three-day weekend. The flight up was delayed for an hour by an "emergency"... the coffee pot was broken (we also didn't have a pilot, but that was a minor detail). By Sunday I had caught my uncle's flu, and Monday evening I was not feeling well at all. For some reason my stomach was ridiculously upset. I totally felt like vomiting even before I got on the plane (which was thirty minutes late departing). The flight was hell. I threw up once in the bathroom, and I couldn't sleep at all. Just miserable. When we finally got near SFO, the pilot came on and said we were going into a holding pattern because of bad weather at SFO they wouldn't let us land. After thirty minutes of that, they decided to land at Oakland airport instead, as we were running out of fuel. That descent, through a violent rainstorm, was worse than hell. At one point we dropped 20 feet in half-a-second. All the passengers gasped and I saw the people in front of me rise up out of their seats we dropped so fast. If I hadn't been so sick, I'd have been terrified. As it was, crashing seemed like a pleasant alternative. I don't really remember the actually touchdown, which occurred a few minutes later, as I had my head in the barf bag. Once we've arrived at Oakland, we were told the plane would refuel and in one to three hours we'd head to SFO, once the weather cleared. Well, it was already almost midnight. Waiting for several more hours before I could get to my car and drive two hours home in my condition did not seem like a great plan. And knew positively, absolutely, that I was not going to survive another take-off and landing that night. So I deplaned at Oakland and called my Aunt, who was gracious enough to pick me up and let me stay at her place. On Tuesday she gave me a ride to SFO where I got my car to come home. Now I'm in bed, trying to recover from this flu. I only slept twelve hours yesterday, I think I'll go back to bed.


Saturday, December 16, 2000

Portrait of a Legacy

This was the Christmas special at Peoples Church in Fresno, Calif. (My parents attend Peoples.) It was pretty good, though a bit long at two hours. An original production, it told the story through song and drama of a musicical instrument maker in Scotland. The old man was ready to retire and close his shop; from one corner of the stage he reflects back on his life, from childhood where he first discovered music, through courtship and marriage, childbirth, the death of his wife, his son's marriage and successes, etc. The cast was huge, with hundreds of choir members (children and teen groups as well as adults) participating in various numbers as well as most roles being portrayed by multiple actors (at various ages in life). Lots of costume changes. Some of the drama was weak (obviously not by professional actors); in places the story really dragged. The music was the highlight, but unfortunately not all the songs really gelled with the story; they felt rather tacked on. A few I really liked, but a couple had lackluster arrangements ("The Little Drummer Boy" was particularly woeful). Overall, interesting and extremely ambitious. I liked the main theme of a hard-working man leaving a legacy to his friends, family, and town (in the story the son, who originally was leaving home, decides to move back after seeing the influence his father had on the townspeople). The production was impressive: a huge set cleverly manipulated to serve multiple purposes, smoke and snow machines, and even a floating angel descending on wires from the ceiling! I found out later the troup was doing three performances a day for four days (2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.) -- that's crazy! I salute them.


Friday, May 12, 2006


Movie: Poseidon
Director(s): Wolfgang Petersen

I've never seen the original and I hated Peterson's last film, The Perfect Storm, so I didn't hold out much hope for this one. Surprisingly, the story was decent. It's one-dimensional and somewhat predictable -- a motley group of people try to escape when their cruise ship flips upside down and one-by-one they die except for a final handful that actually do escape -- but it was the lame special effects that I found most irritating. The outdoor shots of the wave hitting the ship looked uncomfortably fake and digital to me; either I'm getting jaded or perhaps they cut some budget there. Fortunately the majority of the movie takes place inside, with trapped passengers trying to escape "up" to the bottom of the ship. There things were well done, with scenes of tension and drama and people randomly dying. It's pretty good, though the technique reminded me of a typical slasher flick. Not a lot of character depth here, but it's an okay film overall. I liked some of the actors/characters better than others, which made it more watchable.


Sunday, December 10, 2006


Movie: Possession

Interesting film I knew nothing about. It's set modern day with an American researcher in England studying the life of a poet who died 140 years earlier. He comes across a startling revelation -- that the chaste poet who's famous for his love poems to his beloved wife -- might have had an unknown mistress. His research leads him on a sort of detective's journey, trying to solve a 140-year-old mystery, restracing the steps of the poet and deciphering clues in his poems and those of his mistress. It's a bit clunky at times, but surpisingly good at others, and though, in the end, the mystery's not all that mysterious or exciting, it makes for a decent film. Thumbs up from me.


Tuesday, March 7, 2000

Practical Magic

Movie: Practical Magic (1998)
Writer(s): Alice Hoffman (novel) and Robin Swicord
Director(s): Griffin Dunne

Odd film that doesn't know what it is. Is it a love story? A thriller? A mystery? A fantasy? I expected the latter, but instead was treated to a bizarre mix of all of the above. Basically two sisters, both witches, are suspected of killing the one's evil boyfriend, and face investigation into their lives by a snoopy police detective. The film's supposed to be "enlightening" about the effects of discrimination (ordinary townspeople are critical of magic) -- the sister witches just want to be normal -- but I find the TV show Bewitched did that much more effectively thirty years ago. This was heavyhanded and silly.


Sunday, March 6, 2005

Pre-Birthday Party

Today we celebrated Grandpa's pre-birthday. His birthday really isn't until May 9, but two of my cousins, Tami and Philip, flew in this weekend as it fit into their schedules the best. Philip's in Manhattan, Tami's in Houston. Tami brought her 14-month-old son, Rowan, so Grandpa got to see his great-grandson and boy was he proud! I escaped Grandpa from Oakwood and he was at my house all afternoon and we had a great time of fellowship, fun, and way, way too much food (for some unknown reason I'd prepared for 50 people when we only had a dozen). It was a terrific experience and Grandpa really enjoyed it.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Movie: Predators

I've seen the original Predator a few times. The first two times, I fell asleep watching it. The first time I had an excuse, since it was very late at night, but the second time I was just confused and bored. It wasn't until the third when I actually figured out what the heck was going on. The film is dark and confusing, intercut with scenes from the alien's point-of-view and blury shots of mindless action. But that third viewing showed me it's not a bad movie and I sort of liked it. I'm not the biggest fan, though, and I wasn't super-excited about this retread. I am surprised to express how much I liked this. It's not a great film, and there are many flaws, but the ride was fun. The premise is old (a minor variation of the old "hunter becomes the hunted" chestnut and the whole "Most Dangerous Game" story). In this case, top criminals and killers from Earth are kidnapped and dropped onto a strange planet with several Predators hunting them. The very beginning is rocky and not too interesting as these strangers all wake up on the planet and want to kill each other. Most of the characters are little more than stereotypes and we aren't given much in the way of backgrounds, only job titles. Once they figure out where they are and who the real enemy is, things get more interesting. (Part of the problem with a film with such a simple premise like this is that while we, the audience, understand the premise in ten seconds, it takes the characters on the screen a laborious 30 minutes to figure things out.) There are a few twists and turns, but overall this is little more than a "kill one character off a time" story. But there were aspects that kept me interested: dramatic tension, good performances (Topher Grace in particular), decent action and special effects, the seemingly overwhelming odds against the humans, occasional humor (very welcome), the pluckiness of some characters, and curiosity as to how the story would end. There was nothing truly surprising, but that was okay, as the conclusion was satisfying enough. Again, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Somehow the mediocre pieces assembled into something that was greater than their sum. It's not a brain stretcher by any measure, but definitely entertaining.


Friday, March 16, 2007


Movie: Premonition

The key problem with this film is that the setup -- a woman alternately waking to find her husband dead and later alive and later dead again, leading her to realize that somehow she's getting a glimpse of the future and he's not really dead yet -- takes way too much time to establish and the film has little to happen in the meantime. The filmmakers therefore added in red herrings which just confuse an already confusing mess. In the end things do make sense, but the journey takes too long. Too much of the film is bewildering, leaving the audience frustrated. Sometimes such a story can work, if the main character is just as confused as we are and is searching for answers too, but only in the hands of a masterful director, which is decidely not the case here. The film feels slipshod to the point of embarrassment. In several scenes the director resorts to cheap techniques such as handheld cameras to indictate tension, with the result being audience nausea from the awkward movement and a complete breakdown of the story (like the coffin scene, which was so ineptly handled it was difficult to figure out what was going on). This is all unfortunate, because the story had some potential. I liked the resolution, and some aspects of the characters was good. But it was poorly written and directed. For example (and I'll spoil a few minor plot details here), in the opening scene we see the loving couple buying their first home. Then we see them with their children and realize that years have passed. But then they act odd: the woman's reaction to hearing her husband's dead is under-dramatic, and later, when her husband is alive again, she does not rush to embrace him, but simply stares at him in bewilderment. He leaves for work without any affection toward his wife: no kiss, no good-bye, not even a wave. This seems very odd. Of course the film by this point is deep into the whole "premonition" plot thing, and so we're wondering if this behavior has something to do with that. No, it turns out their relationship is on the rocks and has been for some time. Once we understand that, of course, their behavior fits perfectly. It's well-done, actually. The problem is that because we don't know that in advance, those scenes feel off and don't work for us. The film has several instances of this problem by nature of the gimmicky plot, which gradually reveals information from the future and the past. The producers obviously thought this revealing of new information would be shocking or interesting or dramatic, but because it's all arriving out of context, it's not: it's just confusing or lame. A better director would have realized this and compensated by giving us subtle clues and signals. For instance, just add in an earlier scene that shows the tension between the couple -- then the death announcement scene and her subdued reaction makes sense. Instead, we see it and are wondering all sorts of theories, connecting her reaction with the plot, which it's not. It's merely the director holding back information from us. Pretty lame and inept.

There are other problems, too. The whole "premonition" thing does not fit the definition of premonition. Instead, this is more like Groundhog Day, where every time the woman goes to bed, the next day is either the future or the present. In the future world her husband has already died. In the present, he's still alive, but she knows he'll die soon. Traditionally premonition is a vague feeling that something bad is going to happen, but in this film, it's more like a vivid dream or alternate reality. That is confusing to the audience and should have been explained or foreshadowed.

The bottom line is that despite a handful of good scenes and a potentially good concept, the movie's so incompetently written and directed that anything good is washed away to nothing. Sad.


Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Presidential Debate

I really hate politics. I hate the bickering, the divisiveness, the arrogance, and the dishonesty. Generally, when I bother to vote, I vote for "None of the Above." That said, I have lot of political opinions (especially in regards to government reform). I tend toward the abolition of all government. I hate big brother. So I haven't paid much attention to the presidential race. I don't like Bush and I can't stand Gore. Nader's too much of an unknown, and no one is even in the running. I missed the earlier debates, but tuned to most of this one. Here's what I thought.

Gore initially surprised me with his knowledge of facts and figures. Whereas Bush was very general, "This is going to cost a ton of money," Gore was specific: "This will cost 53% more than 1% of the top tax bracket." Of course I have no way of knowing if anything he said was accurate (I found out later that some was not), but it sounded impressive. But my initial warming toward Gore (which surprised me) quickly evaporated as Gore abused the debate rules. He continuously ignored calls for time and kept right on speaking, and near the end of the debate actually disobeyed Lehr's command to not rebut and instead answer a different question, going off on a long rebutal. When he finally got around to the question, Lehr canceled it, saying "We're moving on," but he never gave Bush a chance to rebut Gore's unauthorized rebut! (BTW, I thought Lehr was biased toward Gore, a moron, and a complete wimp. You could see him there waving his hand and stammering "T-t-time, Mr. Vice President," but he never once cut Gore off, though he cut Bush off several times.) In short, Gore was a jerk, while Bush handled himself with dignity. My estimation of Bush (which had been pretty low, considering his father), rose considerably.

What I don't like about politics came out early in the debate. Why did Bush refuse to answer Gore's accusation about non supporting the Dingle-whatever bill (something with patient rights the Demos support and the Repubs don't)? Bush kept ignoring the question, even though Gore pushed it several times. Either Bush supports the bill, in which case he should say so, or he doesn't, so he should tell us why, or he's never heard of the bill, and he should say that. Just ignoring it was dumb. There were lots of games like that. For instance, Gore seemed to have trouble understanding English. Bush said he supported "affirmative access," not quotas (he explained affirmative access is a Texas program for encouraging ethnic diversity in schools and business). Gore said he wasn't for quotas either, but he supported affirmative action (he didn't say what that was). Bush came back saying "If affirmative action is not quotas, then I'm for it." Then Gore pushed again (violating the debate rules by asking a direct question, not part of a rebuttal), "Well, do you support affirmative action?" Huh? These guys were agreeing and yet they were still arguing! Grrrr. Stupid, stupid. And what was the deal with numbers? Numbers should be easy to compare, right? One's bigger or smaller, it's simple! So why did they get into a silly "My plan's cheaper, yours is more expensive," "No, my plan's cheaper, yours is more expensive!" It was like hearing two-year-olds argue!

The final straw for me was regarding taxes. I'm a tax hater, so I like Bush's tax cut plan. Gore did a whole thing about how Bush's plan is going to give tons back to the wealthiest 1% of America. Bush explained, "Everyone, wealthy or poor, is going to get a tax cut. You can't give everyone a tax cut and not not give the wealthy a tax cut." Makes sense to me. Sounds fair, too. I have nothing against the wealthy. I hope to be one of them someday. Why shouldn't they get a break like anyone else? What's the point of being wealthy if the government just takes more of it away? But Gore's counter really struck me as being so Washington I wanted to barf. He just repeated himself, saying "See! I told you so! Tax cuts to the wealthy!" What a moron.

When it came to education -- an issue I see as being one of the most important -- I could not support Al Gore. When a tiny private school, with 100th of the funds per student as a public school, can do a better job educating, it tells me that money isn't the problem. The problem is bureaucracy. Gore wants to increase that bureaucracy by expanding the school system. Some of his ideas were good: I support standards and accountability, but Bush had a good point when he said that there were no consequences for bad schools. Bush claimed he wanted schools to be local, saying programs like vouchers should be up to the individual states. I can't support Bush on that. If there's one thing that should be standardized across the country it is schools. As someone who went to a different school for nearly every grade level, I had a "Swiss cheese" education, where different schools taught me the same thing and neglected other (mostly this was true in history and geography, where schools typically alternated between teaching national and international and I got one of the twice and none of the other). Anyway, I feel very strongly that schools need standards, teachers should be tested, and schools should all be the same, whether you go to school in Colorado, Connecticut, or California. One idea I think should be implemented: if I was President, I'd pass a law that says "No non-teaching personnel at a public school can make more money than the lowest paid teacher." Bingo. Wouldn't that solve a LOT of problems in our schools?

Conclusion: I hadn't planned to vote for Bush, but after seeing him in the debate, I think I could. That doesn't mean I will, but I could. I do know that I wouldn't vote for Gore if you paid me: his arrogance, politicizing attitude is exactly what turns me off to politics. While I don't agree with Bush on many issues, he seemed like a reasonable man. With Gore I felt he'd shove laws down my throat whether I liked them or not (which is exactly why I don't like government).


Friday, October 20, 2006

The Prestige

Movie: The Prestige (2006)
Director(s): Christopher Nolan

This is an excellent film, though not perfect. The beginning third is too confusing, with flashbacks within flashbacks (we have a character in prison reading a diary which flashes back to another character reading a different diary and flashing back to what he's reading). But if you stick with it, everything starts to gel, and we soon realize the story's about two magicians who used to be assistants together, but after a tragedy now hate each other and become rival magicians. The conflict starts out with mild sabotage but escalates into serious injury and murder. It takes a while to get to the good stuff, however, and at times the film's ponderous. The ending has some surprises but is somewhat predictable and convoluted, but overall the whole thing works as the tricky plot's somewhat like a magic trick itself. The performances are excellent. Recommended.


Saturday, February 1, 2003


Book: Prey
Writer(s): Michael Crichton

Pretty cool (though futuristic to the point of improbability) story about nanotechnology gone wrong. Nanotechnology, if you're not familiar with it, is making ultra-tiny machines: machines literally at the cellular level (or smaller). This novel brings into question the nature of intelligence (can machines think?) and what happens when we underestimate the technology we create. It's far-fetched, though theoretically technically possible. The horrible creatures created are quite frightening, though Crichton takes them too far into the fantastic for them to be completely believable. (I can believe in machines escaping and living on their own, but not them infecting people and taking them over.) Still, it's a fun book and will make a cool movie.


Friday, May 13, 2011


Movie: Priest

This was both better and worse than I expected. The better parts were things I didn't know coming into the film (I never read the graphic novel). For instance, the story takes place in an alternate earth history where vampires and humans have been battling for thousands of years. The humans eventually won the war with the aid of warrior priests, and now a totalitarian church rules everything. The priests are feared and shunned, and pretty much useless since the vampire threat has been eliminated. This world is divided into two parts -- cities that look like something out of George Orwell's 1984, and the desert outlands that are just like our Old West (complete with shyster potion salesmen). Unfortunately, little is done with either of these setups. The Big Brother world is in the background, largely ignored, and one or two scenes feel like a Western. I would have much preferred more of that as it was different and interesting. Instead, most of the vampire stuff takes place underground in bleak caves and there's a climatic battle on the top of a moving train. The action was okay, with a few half-hearted attempts at 300-style slow-motion coolness. It's not bad, but nothing extraordinary. In the end, this seems like a waste of potential.


Thursday, October 28, 2004


Movie: Primer

An interesting concept and I loved the low, low budget approach. It was reminiscent of Pi in that regard. It actually made everything seem more real. The premise is science fiction: a group of amateur inventors have created some sort of strange device in their garage. It doesn't do exactly what they expected; there are some anomalous results. Further analysis reveals they've created a sort of time machine, and soon they are using it to gain an advantage in the stock market. They must be very careful about time paradoxes, however, or they'll run into copies of themselves, and therein lies the story's key plot twist. Soon the film gets extremely confusing as you can't tell who is who, what happened, or the "real" sequence of events as time is all messed up. The director does an amazing job for such a complicated concept, but I must admit it's a challenge to follow. Some might argue that's good -- we need more films that make us think -- but others, and I tend to fall into this crowd, want films that actually make sense at the end of the day. This film works a little better than Donnie Darko in that regard, which is impressive as it's far more complicated and has a fraction of the budget (it was made for about $7,000). It didn't completely work for me, but a lot of that was not so much the director's intention but a consequence of the non-existent budget. For instance, though there are many scenes involving doubles, we never actually see any of the duplicates in the same shot. In several scenes that would have made things clearer but I suspect the director didn't have the budget to do that effect. Another thing that bothered me is that the film has a monotone feel: it's basically the main two characters talking and arguing for the entire film. We go from scene to scene but it's the same two characters talking. Most of what they're talking about we don't understand: it's either scientific gibberish or talk about people and situations we haven't followed yet. The result is that the film feels repetitive, claustrophobic, and boring. While it's not enough to destroy the film, it does hurt it: I'd love to see a bigger budget (bigger, not big) remake of this with a few special effects to explain the story better, action scenes to introduce some variety to the shots, and a director actually able to do what he really wanted but couldn't afford. What's he's created is a real gem, but it's unfortunately the kind of obscure thing that very few people would find interesting. Most people would find the story incomprehensible (it's not, just complex, ambiguous, and technical) and the movie-making static. Unlike El Mariachi where you couldn't really tell it was low budget, this is a film where the low budget must be part of the criticism since a lot of what's impressive about it is the fact that something so ambitious was done for so little. If you were told this film cost $10 million to make you'd be wondering who ran off with the other $9.9 mil. You'd be upset by many scenes that obviously needed special effects or clearer filmmaking. But knowing it was done for nothing makes the film better, since we're aware that many of the film's limitations are really limitations of budget and not necessarily the director's intention. The bottom line is that this is a fascinating film, one worth seeing several times (it's practically required).


Monday, July 4, 2005

The Prince and Me

Movie: The Prince and Me

Similar in genre and spirit to the just watched Chasing Liberty, this one was also surprisingly well-done. I wasn't expecting much -- it's about a regular American girl who falls for a Danish prince masquerading as a regular guy -- but the romance was actually realistic and the concept entertaining. Not as stereotypical as I expected. Good ending, too.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Prince of Persia

Movie: Prince of Persia

I went into this movie with very low expectations based on my disinterest in the trailers (which were really boring and colorless) and my lack of knowledge about the video game upon which this is based. I had played an ancient version of the game once or twice, but not enough to understand the mythology of the story. The trailers gave me no hint of the story so I went in blind, expecting lame action without a brain. To my surprise, the story was quite good. It's about an orphan boy adopted by the King and raised as a prince. His character's somewhat roguish (it needed more development) but I liked the way the film played with our expectations of brother versus step-brother hatred and delivered something else (still a predictable storyline, but slightly more compelling than the obvious).

Anyway, there are plots and machinations against the King, the orphan prince becomes a fugitive framed for murder, and he escapes with a mysterious princess and a magic dagger that can turn back time. Once you get to the midway point things start to get overly convoluted and silly, and the ending is predictable and boring. But overall the film turned out to be better than I had expected. It's actually got a decent story and okay action. It's not a great movie by any stretch, but it's not that bad. Much better than lame fluff like the Transformers franchise. Quite fun and some of the visuals are very well done. (The desert landscape and ancient Persian scenery is excellent. Why didn't they show that in the trailers?) There are certainly worst ways to waste your time.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Princess and the Frog

Movie: The Princess and the Frog

Let me begin by saying that the trailers for this film were horrible. Normally I love the whole "reinvention" of a legend or fairy tale, and on paper this sounded great: changing the setting to New Orleans, having the main "princess" be a black girl, having her change into a frog instead of the frog changing into a prince, etc., but the trailer was so poorly done and revealed so little of the key story that it turned me off and I had little desire to see this film. For instance, the black girl isn't really a princess: she's a waitress working two jobs to save up to buy her own restaurant. That is far more interesting, but that was not revealed in any of the trailers I saw. In the full film she and the frog prince hate each other: she's a workaholic and he's a lazy playboy, but of course, during their adventures in the Bayou as frogs, they grow to complement each other and fall in love. This is pretty fun and well-done. The animation is excellent, with many clever touches (such as the frog prince playing a "guitar" of a forked branch with spider webs as strings). Some of the characters were terrific, too. My only criticisms are that there was too much emphasis on the dark Voodoo magic (some of the imagery might frighten young children) and that the story gets stretched out too long toward the end. But the ultimate ending is sweet and fulfilling and overall, I liked the film. It's not the greatest ever (not up to Pixar standards), and some of the jokes aren't particularly inventive (and are too modern), but it's a decent return for Disney. At least they're finally returning to having a good core story.


Sunday, September 29, 2002

The Princess Diaries

Movie: The Princess Diaries

Surprisingly poor dialogue -- very Disneyish -- but a pleasant family film about a shy girl who learns she's really a princess and that brings her out of her shell. Predictable, but has its fun moments, and the cast is charming.


Saturday, April 7, 2001

Princess Mononoke

Movie: Princess Mononoke

This is an amazing film, unlike any animated film I've ever seen. For one, it's over two hours long! For another, it violates stereotypes of characters, something that few live action films do effectively. This is an incredibly complex film: I'll probably have to watch it several times to understand all the nuances. Unlike most movies, where there's a clear good guy and bad guy, in this film everyone's good and bad. For instance, the main hero's a young man who saved his village from a monstrous demon but in the process the demon touched his arm, which becomes infected. He is told he must leave the village forever: the infection of hatred and evil will eventually kill him. The man leaves on a quest to remove the curse and on his journey learns that his arm has a will of it's own, causing him to brutally kill two Samuri who were abusing a villager. So we've got a hero who must battle against himself: hatred and anger give strength to his evil arm. But that's just part of the story. Things get really complicated as he discovers the origin of the demon that tried to destroy his village and cursed him. A tip sends him to the primordial forest where giant animals from the dawn of time still live, and he seeks out the Forest Spirit, who can perhaps remove his curse. He ends up at Irontown, a village where the major industry is the ironworks, run by a ruthless woman who, contrary to stereotype, cares for lepers and abused women. The woman is out to destroy the forest so they can mine the iron under the mountain, so the young man finds his loyalties divided: he cares for the animals of the forest and doesn't want to see them destroyed, yet he also cares for the humans, who need to survive. He confronts Princess Mononoke, a wild girl-child who was raised by giant wolves (and thinks she's a wolf and hates humans). As the conflict between the humans and the animals escalates, we realize this is the primary theme of the film: hatred on the part of either party, anger and senseless killing, are the real evils of the world, not individuals we blame for causing us pain. It is hatred and bitter rage that turns animals from gods into cursed demons that are neither human nor animal, and who hurt both. Fantastic movie, far too complex to analyze in a few brief paragraphs. Just go get it and watch it. Buy it: it's a film you'll watch over and over again. There are no easy, trivial answers in the film, only that hatred is bad and it takes willpower to defeat it.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Princess of Mars

Book: Princess of Mars
Writer(s): Edgar Rice Burroughs

It's been a long time since I've read Burroughs' Mars series -- I first discovered them in high school (25 years ago, wow!) -- but with the new film coming out I thought I'd give them a reread. (And they're free on Kindle, so yeah!) This is an enjoyable book. Burroughs doesn't much limit himself to science so these are more fantasy than science fiction (remarkablely imaginative considering when these were written), but he does an excellent job at creating interesting and unusual cultures (that's my favorite thing about his books). Here he's got warring populations and species of Martians, a lone human (John Carter) thrust in the middle and trying to survive, and a terrific adventure tale of daring and brawn. Things are a little tedious at times as Burroughs has to spend a great deal of time explaining the world -- it's our narrator hero's first time there, too -- and while some of that exposition is interesting, more action would have been preferable. (I'm really curious about how the subsequent books handle this as they should have more story.) A few of the details are almost too pat (you can see solutions to future problems as things happen to him earlier on), and I found the descriptions of battles boring (war isn't interesting to me). The love story is the most fascinating part of the book, as he's falling in love with an alien with a different thought process and culture. Overall, it's a book that holds up remarkably well. I'm not sure if this is the book they're making into a movie -- it's the first novel but there is a book called "John Carter of Mars" which I heard was the movie title -- but I'm very curious to see what they produce. Considering the nature of the novels -- a foreign planet, strange beasts and creatures, epic battles, airships, alien cities -- these are not books that were filmable (at least realistically) without today's special effects abilities. We shall see!


Friday, December 8, 2000

Project A

Movie: Project A
Director(s): Jackie Chan

A Jackie Chan "chop suey" action flick. Set in 19th century Hong Kong, this is the convoluted story of navy and police out to stop some pirates. The navy guys hate the cops, and vice versa, and the first half of the film is mostly them fighting each other. The pirates really don't get involved until the last third or so of the film. It's basically a rather confusing plot, but who cares? All you watch a film like this for is some cool action, and this has some neat stuff, including a little of Chan's patented action humor. Not as good as some of his more recent stuff, but above average.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Book: Prophet
Writer(s): Frank Peretti

I'm not the biggest Peretti fan, but I find him and his work intriguing, and though I'd had this book sitting on my shelf for years, I'd never gotten around to reading it. It was not what I expected. The beginning sets itself up like the (sadly canceled) Eli Stone TV show where the main character has visions and sees the future. Unfortunately, unlike the TV show, where the visions play a key role, here it is almost a side story, as though Peretti didn't want to scare off readers with too much supernatural stuff and focused more plodding detective work instead. Another sad choice is that the murder involves the controversial topic of abortion, and while Peretti does play it well and fairly and doesn't preach, it's just a heavy topic to read over five gazillion pages and many, many hours. Overall, it's not bad, but just tedious and not interesting enough. It takes until halfway through the book to see where it's going and though the ending is visible from a hundred miles away, it takes forever to get there. It's well-done, but a condensed version would work just as well.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Protege

Book: The Protege
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

Tame but easy to read story about a wealthy chairman of a private equity firm who's in charge of billions of dollars as he tries to manage his personal life, threats against himself and his company, and deal with some sort of weird spy-novel plot that ultimately didn't have much to do with anything. Entertaining, despite being over the top in certain plot elements and scenes. At least the financial stuff is interesting.


Saturday, November 27, 1999


Movie: Psycho (1960)
Writer(s): Robert Bloch (novel) and Joseph Stefano
Director(s): Alfred Hitchcock

What more can be said about one of the most talked about movies of the century? I can only approach this movie from someone of my generation. Every horror movie or psychological thriller made since 1960 borrows from Psycho, which ought to make it seem derivative and trite. In some ways it does. The "plot" of Norman Bates being a schizophrenic killer who murders and then cleans up his own mess without realizing he did it is old by modern standards. There's no way any of us can beam back to 1960 and see what a true shock that was in that day. But Psycho is much more than plot. It's subtlety in acting, directing, and violence. Even by 1960 standards, Psycho had very little violence. The graphic aspects are all in your mind. You watch the infamous shower scene and think you saw more than you really did. In the remake they actually did show more, and it weakened the scene because your imagination had less work to do (imagination is one of those muscles that needs practice and stimulation to work). Psycho is a classic that you can watch over and over and see new things every time. Definitely one of history's best films. Modern people often think it's not "scary" but they are missing the point: none of Hitch's movies are scary in the convention sense (movies in general aren't scary, unless you have trouble deducing film from reality), but they hold us fascinated. When you watch a Hitchcock movie you might find you go long stretches where you forget to take a breath. In a modern "slasher" film you might cover your eyes, but that's only because you're afraid of seeing the excessive gore (which usually causes me to burst out laughing it's so ludicrously done). With Hitch, you're caught in a spell and can't get out.


Friday, November 12, 1999

Psycho (remake)

Movie: Psycho (remake) (1998)
Writer(s): Joseph Stefano
Director(s): Gus Van Sant

If the question of "Why?" is what you think when you see this exact remake, that's only because you're a Hitchcock fan. Gus claims he did this for the under-20 crowd for whom black-and-white is an enemy. It's an homage to Hitch, not an attempt to outdo. Frankly, I can understand Gus' interest -- as a Psycho fan I'd love the chance to put myself in Hitchcock's shoes. What I can't see, however, is the point in me watching this. Basically, if you've seen the original, you've seen this one. Other than color, less capable actors (sorry, but Vince Vaughn just isn't as scary as Anthony Perkins), and a better shower curtain, this one's identical. If you haven't seen the original and this one interests you, see it -- it's good. It's just not Hitchcock.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Public Enemies

Movie: Public Enemies

I was disappointed, but I must preface my comments by stressing that I am not a gangster film fan. I find them boring, bewildering, and I don't get the fascination with such low-life killers. This film has its moments, it's certainly well done and acted, but I was surprised at the violence (the trailers didn't indicate that): this film has more gunplay than most action flicks, much of it involving machine guns, and those things are loud. I mean really loud. My ears were ringing after every gun battle. Storywise, there isn't much too this: John Dillinger is bad guy, good FBI agent is tracking him down, they fight, and -- since this is based on reality -- Dillinger loses. It's well done in that regard, but I didn't get much depth out of the character. I didn't learn what made John tick. I also found the film’s editing to be choppy and awkward, which surprised me. There were many scenes that jumped without a transition, leaving me confused as I suddenly realized we were in a completely different scene with other characters. (This problem was exacerbated by the fact that 90% of the gangsters looked identify in their dark suits and hats.) The hand-held motion photography was also a problem, making me queasy in many scenes.

All that said, this isn't a bad movie by any means. I'm sure many enjoyed it. It's well done, well-written, and well-acted. Visually it's interesting, being a period piece, and of course Jonny Depp is amazing as usual. But I found the gunplay boring and routine, the story endless (the film is nearly 2.5 hours long), and in the end, it did not live up to my high expectations.


Sunday, December 24, 2000

Pump Up the Volume

Movie: Pump Up the Volume

I haven't seen this in a few years and it's surprising how well it holds up. Terrific free speech movie (coincidentally similar to Quills in that respect). Great line: "You can't just cry 'Fire!' in a theatre and walk away -- you've got to finish what you've started." In other words, finish crying "Fire!"? Another interesting aspect of this film: the Internet essentially makes the whole concept of pirate radio stations moot. Great film.


Tuesday, January 14, 2003


Movie: Pumpkin

This could have been the Harold and Maude of the 21st Century, but it's too timid to be challenging. The story's about a snotty sorority girl who ends up falling in love with a mentally retarded boy. A nice premise, but awkwardly handled. In the beginning the girl's a dim blonde and finds the idea of working with a retarded boy horrifying, but then she meets him, falls in love, and realizes how empty her life is. Unfortunately, in the beginning, when she's critical of the retarded, the other characters are supportive and critical of her: then later, when she falls in love with the boy, the others turn on her and mock the retarded. I can see that happening, to an extent (people are weirdly inconsistent), but the way it's done in the film is too jarring and too blatant to be real. There are a few good lines, and some interesting scenes, but on the whole the film tries to be everything and ends up being very little. It's too bad because it had a lot of potential. Chistina Ricci is great (as usual), but it's not enough. It's still worth seeing as an experiment, but not as the profound film it tries to be. The DVD's especially worthless, with not a single extra feature.


Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Punch-Drunk Love

Movie: Punch-Drunk Love
Writer(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Director(s): Paul Thomas Anderson

The trailers made this look a lot stranger than it is. It is unusual, but the story is surprisingly linear. It concerns a young man's (Adam Sandler) romance with a woman (Emily Watson). The odd pairing of slapstick comic with serious actress makes the film work: Sandler plays the straight man and while he's compentent (don't except an Oscar or anything), there isn't much emotional depth to his character (he's just a weird geek). Watson gives Sandler credibility and tones down the comic vibes. Her presence combined with Sandler's idiotic good guy likability makes it work. What makes the film interesting is the unusual approach to filmmaking. From cinematography to pacing to music, the film is just odd and unsettling. That works perfectly with the odd, unsettled characters in the story. There are lots of long tracking shots, following the characters as they walk out of a restaurant, for instance. Lighting is extremely significant, especially at the beginning, where we're treated to extreme constrasts of dark and blinding white. The music is wild, transitioning through a variety of conflicting styles, and occasionally being a strange mix of sounds most people would call noise. (But even there, it blends in cleverly with the ambient sounds of the film.) Unfortunately, while I found the film fascinating, the story and the characters were a little too empty. They were a touch pathetic and therefore one sympathizes with their situation, but I never felt like I understood or related to them. For instance, what draws Watson to Sandler? We're never told. She supposedly is attracted to him from seeing his picture, but surely his strange behavior would have either endeared him to her or frightened her off, but there's no indication of either. Instead, she seems to have the same crush on him she had at the start. We're also not given much to work with regarding Sandler's character. There are glimpses of his past -- he has seven sisters who drive him nuts, and he's occasionally violent -- but we don't really understand him. He says "I don't know" a lot when people ask him questions. He's like Camus' The Stranger, a man without personality or motivation. Portions of Sandler's performance were too much like his idiot roles in Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy. Overall, this film feels like it was done by a director who wants to be avant garde and literary, but still produce a film that will do big box office. The casting is proof of that. I'm sure it will be successful financially, but there's no real depth here behind the camera tricks and odd characters. Worth seeing just because it's unusual, but don't expect too much.


Monday, April 19, 2004

The Punisher

Movie: The Punisher

This wasn't as bad as the reviews make it sound. I got exactly what I expected: a comic book revenge story. Retiring FBI agent's family is slaughtered so he becomes the "Punisher," out for revenge. Nothing hugely outstanding or disappointing here. The plot's predictable, the acting decent, and there are even a couple touching moments, though the whole "pity me my family's been killed" thing was done to death. There were a few nice scenes, but overall the film's just average. Also, the guy just doesn't seem very superhero-like: he's very much an average guy who just happens to be highly skilled at killing people (and he was before his revenge quest -- it wasn't like he bulked up for his task). The biggest problem is that the film is much two long: at a ponderous two hours it should have been condensed to an exciting 90.


Friday, December 29, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness

I was worried this film might be too much Oscar bait, a bit of showcasing, but it turns out to be merely a good movie. The trailer highlights the key dramatic points and fortunately that's as showy as the film gets. It's just a good story about a hard-working man trying to figure out life as he raises his young son. On paper the film's long but it didn't feel too much that way in the theatre, though there were a couple moments that dragged. Overall I really liked it, but it isn't a hugely dramatic story. The ending lacked: we spent the whole movie wallowing in the character's despair and when he finally succeeds the film just stops -- I desperately wanted to see him and his son enjoying life and the rewards of their struggles, see some happiness. A jump ahead to the son's college graduation would have been ideal.


Friday, February 6, 2009


Movie: Push

I'll admit I was not excited about seeing this; I really wanted to see Coraline, but I wanted to see it in 3D and that meant going to a theatre further away, so I saw this instead. Big disappointment. The trailers made me think it was derivative, reminding me of Jumper and TV shows like Heroes and though it turned out to have some interesting ideas, the way they were implemented was ultimately disappointing. It's not really an action film; it's not a special effects film; it's not a comic book film; it's not a film noir, though it has that kind of mysterious tone at times. In short, it's a film that isn't quite sure what it is and ends up being nothing. It's not the worst film; it's just decidedly average. There are some intriguing ideas: for example, the whole "how do we come up with a plan which the enemy prophets can't predict?" presented a fascinating problem, but the solution was implemented in such a clunky and clumsy manner it was confusing at best and boring at worst. Basically, this is a movie with some really good scenes, some really poor scenes, and the whole thing averages out to the utterly mundane.


Sunday, March 19, 2000

Pushing Tin

Movie: Pushing Tin (1999)
Writer(s): Darcy Frey and Glen Charles
Director(s): Mike Newell

Not quite what I expected; more character-driven, less action and comedy. But still fun. Essentially this film is about control over your life, as the characters are air traffic controllers who have to be in constant control. Slow in a few places, the story drifts a bit in the middle, but ultimately winds up being satisfying. Good performances.