Wednesday, August 13, 2003

S.W.A.T.



Movie: S.W.A.T.

Not terrible, just predictable and routine, with stereotypical characters. It's about a group of misfits that aren't quite good enough for the L.A. S.W.A.T. team but are brought together by a specialist into a super-SWAT team, and of course they go about and save the day, hooray. Fun.

Labels:

Saturday, February 22, 2003

The Sadist



Movie: The Sadist

This is a low budget film from the 60's that has gained a cult rep. The acting is poor (only one professional actor in the group), but the story's interesting, though the title's misleading. The title made me think this was a serial killer type story, but the lead bad guy's a kid, a twenty-year-old punk who has no respect for life and murders indiscriminately. He and his girlfriend take hostage a group of schoolteachers on their way to a baseball game when they had car trouble and stopped in a small deserted town where the murder and his girl were hiding out. The kid shoots one of the teachers for fun after making him get on his knees and beg for his life. The other two know they'll be next, and they stall for time trying to fix the car and plot their escape. Interesting concept, claustrophobic atmosphere, tight direction, but mostly notable as this was the first film for Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (though he's credited as William). The lead bad guy, played by the producer's son who wanted him to be a star, is pathetically bad (he later dropped out of acting saying his father had pushed him into it), but a few others aren't too bad. Still, while "shocking" at the time of its release, it's mild like a TV movie for today.

Labels:

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Sahara



Movie: Sahara

This wasn't at all as bad as I expected; it actually was pretty good. It's a difficult film to make with the story as broad as it is, and there is definitely some plot silliness, but overall it's just action-adventure and in that regard I liked it. Harmless.

Labels:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Salt



Movie: Salt

The most interesting thing about this film is the pacing: non-stop. It's a little slow to get going, but once the action starts, it doesn't let up for a second. I'm not sure that's a good thing, though, because non-stop punching and running becomes monotonous and uninteresting just like anything else. As for the plot... the less said the better. It's one of those plots that is designed to sound impressive but has no meat on the bones. It's absurd and makes little sense (I think I missed something important because I didn't get it), but the movie moves so fast you don't notice or much care. You don't care much about anything or anyone in the film, really. It's an okay thrill-ride, but it reminds me of one of those amusement park rides with the four mile line and six hour wait and then the ride is two minutes of blur and you get off, slightly dizzy, wondering, "Is that all there is?"

Labels:

Friday, February 14, 2003

The Salton Sea



Movie: The Salton Sea

The worst thing about this movie is the title: it's meaningless and tells you nothing about the film. I thought it was some kind of thriller, but it's more of a dark mystery. It's about drugs and drug-dealing, though we soon learn that the narrator, a supposed druggie, isn't, and has a secret agenda. Overall the thing feels rather uncertain of itself: like the main character, who pretending to be something he's not, so's the film. It is an action flick? A drug pic? A thriller? A mystery? A revenge picture? It doesn't know and seems to waiver oddly between them. The actual plot, once we get halfway through and start to figure it out, is surprisingly clever and impressive, but we have to wade through a lot of crap to get there. The best thing in the film is unquestionably Vincent D'Onofrio as Pooh-Bear, a drug dealer who did so much crack he lost his nose and wears a plastic one. He's hilarious, unrecognizable, and an amazing character. Unfortunately, he's not in the film enough -- but the movie's worth watching just for his performance. Other than that, the movie's okay, though the second half is better than the first (which is unusual).

Labels:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Samantha: an American Girl Holiday



Movie: Samantha: an American Girl Holiday

I did not know anything about "American Girl" dolls prior to this film, but they sound like a neat idea: a line of young girl dolls from various points in history so that children can learn about history by exploring the lives of these doll characters. The "Samantha" doll/character in this movie is a girl from 1904 New York and in the story she befriends a working class girl and learns about the working conditions of child labor in that period. It's well done with impressive acting for such young girls, and the story, while not being profoundly deep, isn't totally smaltzy and has some emotional impact. Definitely the kind of thing you wouldn't mind your daughter watching. The DVD has some interesting extras that explain the whole "American Girl" doll phenomenon.

Labels:

Saturday, April 6, 2002

San Jose Earthquakes Home Opener vs. New England



Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes Home Opener vs. New England

It was an exciting day: for the first time in history, San Jose went to their home opener as the reigning Major League Soccer champions. Now it's up to them to prove to everyone that last year's worst-to-first wasn't just a fluke. Before the game, the players were presented their Championship rings (the first 10,000 fans received replicas, which are pretty cool, if I do say so myself). A first for me is that I bought season tickets this year, so I didn't have to wait in line at the entrance. Very cool.

The game itself was great: the Quakes were facing the Revolution, who had a horrible season last year, but with consolidation in the league ended up with five All-Stars on this year's team! But San Jose put a damper on NE's enthusiasm just 92 seconds in when a little feed by Ariel Graziani put Manny Lagos in on goal by himself and he first-timed it past Jurgen Summer to give the Quakes the lead. That started a trend of total Quake domination. They had about 70% possession for most of the first half and chance after chance on goal, looking extremely dangerous. New England could barely complete a single pass, giving up the ball right and left. I counted at least twice where every single player on their team was in their own half of the field! The Revs almost had a goal when a frantic clearance by Jimmy Conrad almost put the ball into his own net, but it hit the post. Joe Cannon was forced to make a save or two, but it was mostly all San Jose. A bit later, Ekelund made a terrific block to stop a shot, and I remarked to the guy sitting near me, "Look at that: New England almost got a shot on goal. Can't have that." Still, as the half drew to a close and San Jose hadn't increased their lead, I grew worried. They were easing up on possession, letting the Revs have more of the ball, and they were starting to actually connect a few passes and gain confidence. With their dangerous strikers, I worried that a slight mistake could let them in, and sure enough, late in the first half, Senegalese strike "Big Mama" Mamadou Diallo took a through-ball that gave him a slight opening and he finished it cleanly into the far post beating Cannon. It was a good goal, but it was still depressing and a little unfair considering how much the Quakes had dominated.

In the second half, New England played better, starting to look like a real team. But San Jose played excellent, controlling things well, though still unable to score. Finally, in the 77th minute, substitute Dewayne Derosario bolted aggressively up the right side and played a ball to Landon Donovan in the penalty box. Though Landon had his back to goal and was tightly marked, he still managed to control the ball, the slide it over to an on-rushing Ronnie Ekelund who side-footed it into the back of the goal. It was Ronnie's first MLS goal, which was great to see (last season he had assists, but no goals). That was the game winner, as New England was pretty much dead after that. San Jose kept up the pressure, looking for another goal and keeping the Revs afraid of leaving their half of the field, but mostly the Quakes intelligently kept the ball, knowing the other team can't score without it. Good game with a great result, though I'd certainly like to see Landon a little more involved with creative play, and the Quakes need to finish more their chances. I don't like games like their last one against Colorado where they dominated play but couldn't finish and lost. But this win does give them a 2-1-0 record (win/loss/draw) for the season, which is an excellent start. New England's lost both of their games, so they're starting to feel the pressure. Final: 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes.


[Click for full view of the Championship Ring presentation]

Labels:

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire



Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire

Excellent game, though San Jose didn't get the two goals for me to get a free chicken taco from Una Mas. San Jose dominated play pretty much the whole game, with the Fire's Zach Thorton forced to make nearly a dozen saves. Joe Cannon, the Quakes' keeper, only had to make a couple stops. The only goal came late in the first half, when Graziani headed it home on a feed by Donovan. Graziani almost had a duplicate in the second half, but Thorton impossibly stopped it. Donovan had a couple good chances himself, though he mostly played mid-field in this game. Good stuff and the result puts San Jose 8 points clear of second-place Dallas. Final: 1-0 San Jose.

Labels:

Saturday, June 22, 2002

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Colorado Rapids



Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Colorado Rapids

Awesome game, as useful. The Quakes come alive at home, and this was a celebration of soccer with the return of Landon Donovan from the great American success in South Korea. Before this game was a mediocre match between the Mexican side Morelia and the Argentinian River Plate. I like Argentinian soccer, but I wasn't familiar with this River Plate team, which seemed to be made of up extremely young players (probably River's "B" team). Morelia scored four minutes in and then just defended, while the young River players seemed to lose composure when they got near the goal and couldn't finish. Finally, late in the second half they equalized, and then the game got a little more interesting as both sides fought a bit. In the, however, it was a politically correct draw. The bigger news of this double-header, however, was that the match drew a large crowd of Mexican fans (there were a few Argentinian fans, especially one group of about 50 in the South end that danced and cheered wildly during the whole game). Most stayed for the Earthquakes game, and that changed the atmosphere of the game a great deal, as Americans still seem to be learning how to cheer.

In the Earthquakes game, we scored just five minutes in on a header by defender Jimmy Conrad. Great start. Then the Quakes struggled a bit. They had some good opportunities, but the mid-field got clogged and they couldn't work the ball up the way they like. Colorado never looked truly dangerous (though Cannon did have a couple solid saves), but it was worrying having the ball at that end of the field. In the second half, the Quakes played better, attacking with purpose and determination. DeRosario made a cool run up the left side, pausing before two Colorado defenders right in front of where I was sitting. I shouted "Go Dewayne!" and he listened, splitting the two brilliantly and charging toward the goal. The keeper blocked him, so he crossed the ball. I watched on my feet screaming, the action seemingly in slow motion, as the ball hit a Colorado defender on the chest. The player was facing his goal and the ball deflected behind his keeper (who was facing DeRosario) and into the goal! It was a bummer Dewayne didn't get credit for the goal, because he did all the work. Minutes later, another terrific attack. A ball was sent toward the near post with Grazianni sliding toward it. Since it was the near post and the keeper was flying there, and Ariel had to catch it with a difficult volley (while sliding), I had visions of it rebounding into the side netting. Suddenly the play was over and there was the ball bouncing inside the Colorado goal! Wow, what a great goal! But the Quakes weren't done. Superhero Landon Donovan, just 38 hours after playing against Germany half a globe away, came in with five minutes left in the game and immediately created a chance with a head-ball pass, but Colorado stopped that attack. Minutes later, however, he threw in the ball to DeRosario in the penalty area. DeRosario succeeded in getting the ball over the diving keeper (former San Jose keeper David Kramer, in his first start for Colorado this season -- his goals against average went down the tubes after this game), but in the mix-up the ball was put into the goal by a Colorado defender. Another own goal! Dewayne was again bummed he didn't get credit, but as far as I'm concerned, this night was a two goal game and an assist for him. Great play by the Canadian international. (With Donovan coming back, Dewayne knows he's got to produce to keep his starting place.) So it was another fantastic shutout for Joe Cannon (his goals against drops to a league-low .91), Graziani moves to third in the league in scoring, and the Quakes increase their lead at the top of the MLS table with 26 points (six points ahead of runners-up L.A. and Dallas)! Final: 4-0 Earthquakes.

Labels:

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

San Jose Earthquakes vs. CSD Municipal



Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes vs. CSD Municipal

I didn't hold out much hope of success going into this game: the Quakes lost the first game in Guatemala 4-2 meaning we had to win this one by three goals to advance. Plus had two of our best players red-carded, meaning they couldn't play in this match. Combine that with the fact that it's a new team this year and we're already suffering from a number of injuries, and that the MLS season hasn't started yet, I figured it was a long shot. But the first half went extremely well. The Quakes looked solid and Landon Donovan scored 20 minutes in, quickly followed by a goal from newcomer Brian Chin in the 35th minute. Everything was going sweetly -- just one more goal in the second half and a clean sheet and we'd be all set. But the Quakes seemed tired in the second half, and the Quatemalans played enthusiastically, and eventually scored on a good play, capitalizing on some defensive problems. San Jose fought back and almost regained the two goal margin on several occasions, but eventually ran out of time. Overall the Quakes played well and created a number of exciting chances, but it wasn't quite there. They lose the series 5-4 on aggregate goals. Though disappointed with the result, I was pleased to see some of the new players play well. Hopefully the Quakes will still be competitive this season, though many consider it a rebuilding year.

Labels:

Saturday, June 8, 2002

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Kansas City Wizards



Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Kansas City Wizards

This game started off slowly, with neither team moving very fast, but after a half hour or so, the Quakes got it going. Wade Barrett put forth a ball up the left side which Ariel Graziani ran on to, giving him a one-on-one with the keeper. Ariel finished it neatly, and the Quakes had the lead. Minutes into the second half Graziani got his second, pouncing on a rebound of a DeRossario shot, and as San Jose continued to dominate, Richard Mulrooney, who rarely scores, took a crack from long range and it curled into the top corner! Late in the game K.C. had a terrific chance with a shot that was going into the top corner, but keeper Joe Cannon made an incredible leap to palm the ball over the bar and away. And that's the way she ended. Great stuff. Final: 3-0 San Jose.

Labels:

Saturday, June 29, 2002

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Kansas City Wizards



Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Kansas City Wizards

Wow, what a game. You really appreciate a win when it comes this hard. San Jose started well, controlling the game, but gave up a soft goal early to K.C. The goal was at the other end of the field and I couldn't see it very well, but it looked like a keeper error. Cannon wasn't in goal tonight -- it was his backup, Jon Conrad. Sloppy play no matter what. The crowd wasn't worried, figuring the Quakes would equalize soon, but then something bizarre happened. After a routine foul by Richard Mulrooney on Mike Burns, Burns went nuts and attacked Richard. To me it looked like Richard was just defending him -- he was on the ground with Mike above him, striking at him, but after the melee that resulted, the ref gave both players red cards. With both teams at ten, the Quakes were hurt worse since Mulrooney's such a good player and controls the midfield for San Jose. For the rest of the game, K.C. did what I hate worse than anything: attempt to hold a 1-0 lead. While San Jose attacked and attacked, K.C. just sat back, smugly confident their lead would hold. Even worse, the Wizards resorted to fouling and play acting to slow up the San Jose attack. The Quakes have several attacking styles, but when down a goal, they usually resort to the "slow buildup" attack, starting the ball at the back and playing it forward in a series of passes until they can (hopefully) get a shot on goal. In this case, that strategy proved difficult, as K.C. constantly disrupted the attack. The ref sided with the Wizards on every 50/50 ball or challenge, and San Jose couldn't get anything going. Every time an attack was stopped, they had to build from the back again. San Jose really needs to try some alternatives: long shots, through-balls, something. If they get behind, that slow attack is just what the other team wants. In the second half the Quakes put in Landon Donovan, and he tried to get things going with some excellent touches, but the other players were asleep. Ekeland generated a few sparks, but again, the others were asleep. Time slowly eeked away and the crowd became restless and furious at the ref, who continued to call everything in K.C.'s favor. (I don't think Graziani got a single call all night, though several times he was obviously fouled.) In one sequence, a shoulder charge by San Jose was determined a foul. But two minutes later, a shoulder charge by a K.C. player in the penalty box was not a foul! Crazy, inconsistent refereeing. (I remember this ref from previous games, and he's always bad. I don't care if he makes a bad call or two, but he must be consistent.) Time was running out. The Quakes were trying, but either missed chances, gave the ball away trying to get an extra touch, or watched Meola save it for K.C. I was becoming depressed. I have so much to do before I leave town I had debated not going to this game, and now I was depressed at the thought of this feeble game being my last home game for a month. (I will miss the Earthquakes next few home games.) But finally, with just five minutes left in the game, DeRosario crosses to Graziani in the box. Ariel shoots and it deflects into the goal. But wait! A defender makes a spectacular goal-line clearance. The crowd gasps and moans. Everyone was on their feet, holding their breath. Suddenly the ref points to the center circle -- the ball crossed the line and it's a goal! Everyone is screaming and dancing. The Quakes surge forward with renewed momentum, suddenly a different team. With two minutes to go, DeRosario gets a one-on-one with the keeper. Instead of shooting however, he feeds an open Ramiro Corales who bangs it home for the game-winner! Amazing. All that time with no goals, and suddenly, two in three minutes. At that point K.C. decided they'd better play, but San Jose held the off with a great save by Jon Conway (he had a couple and amended himself for that early goal). After five minutes of extra time (K.C. players spent a lot of time on the ground, pretending to be injured), it was over, with the Quakes scoring a huge three points on a comeback victory (and preserving their long home win streak). Great stuff. When the Earthquakes scored that second goal the crowd was screaming so loud I couldn't hear the announcer over the loudspeakers! It was incredible: 88 minutes of pent-up energy and nerves released in a massive scream of excitement. Even Coach Yallop and Assistant Coach Dominick Kinear were screaming and jumping up and down like twelve-year-old girls at an N'sync concert. Very cool to see even the coaches so happy with a win. Wow! Final: 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes.

Labels:

Friday, November 1, 2002

The Santa Clause 2



Movie: The Santa Clause 2

Most sequels start off great and end weakly; this one was the opposite. The first fifteen or twenty minutes are totally boring: nothing happens. It's all exposition for us learning that Santa's got to get married by Christmas or he'll cease being Santa. But once we get that out of the way, things start to happen and the film gets good. A machine is used to create a duplicate Santa to stay at the North Pole and keep the elves making toys while the real Santa goes to help his son (who's been put on the "Naughty" list) and find a wife. The robot Santa ends up taking over the North Pole and forcing all the elves to make lumps of coal instead of toys (since boys and girls deserve coal). Meanwhile, Santa starts the process of "desantification" -- losing weight, his beard, and his magic. I liked that. The first film got a lot mileage out of Tim Allen physically becoming Santa, and this one cleverly does the reverse. Of course this is happening while he's attempting to find himself a wife, creating comic situations. What's impressive about this film is the way it really creates a believable romance in an extremely short period of time. Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays his love interest, is terrific and brings a nice dose of reality to the over-the-top stuff happening elsewhere. Overall, no huge suprises, but a pleasant and appealing film like the first one.

Labels:

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Sara Groves at the Top!



Christianity Today has released their "best of 2001" and Sara Groves' album Conversations is number two!

Labels:

Sunday, November 14, 1999

Sara Groves Concert



Sara is my second cousin. I hadn't seen her since we were both children so I was excited when I heard her tour was coming to a local church. A whole bunch of us relatives showed up. It was amazing to see how she's grown up! She was even better live than on her album. It was an informal gathering, which suits her style precisely, and the "concert" was more like VH-1's Storytellers. Sara sat at the piano and told wonderful stories introducing each song, revealing what inspired her to write it. The stories were funny and touching, and taught important life lessons. Her style is similar to Suzanne Vega -- almost talking through music. She's a great writer and a gifted musician. Her lyrics are simple and deceptively plain. I loved one phrase: "He didn't recycle for our gain," (speaking of Christ's sacrifice on the cross). What a neat way to put that! One other interesting occurrence: two or three times during the concert I'd been mentally comparing Sara with one of my favorite singers, Keith Green. At first this seemed like a strange comparision since she doesn't sound anything like him, but she does have a similar intimate style; friendly, yet with a serious point behind her smile. At the end the pastor of the church got up to say a few closing words. I nearly fell out of my chair when he compared Sara with... Keith Green! Sara's new album comes out soon -- I can't wait to get a copy!

Labels:

Sunday, November 12, 2000

Sara Groves Concert#2



A year later, Sara Groves is back on her California tour, promoting her new album (Conversations) and her new baby, 11-week-old Kirby. As usual, she was excellent, blending entertaining and meaningful stories in between her excellent, moving songs. For example, she had the place rolling with her embarrassing stories of birds pooping on her (which happened four times in her life, once during a first date)! The story brought the audience close to her, however, and then she quickly turned the humor into seriousness by relating how embarrassing moments tend to happen when you're trying to please other people, not God. That led into her song about "You face God alone," reminding us that we aren't validated by the people we try to impress, but by our relationship with God. Excellent. Download one of her songs from her website and give it a listen!

Labels:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saturday Night Fever



Movie: Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Director(s): John Badham

Is it weird that I've never seen this? It's a movie that supposedly everyone has seen and many people don't like because disco has such a bad rep. But I was surprised and even a little astonished. I thought this was some dumb dance movie, but it's really a character study about a young Brooklyn man trying to figure out his future. He enters a disco dance contest and dumps his sweet-hearted former partner for a hot new girl and eventually realizes he's a jerk. The film's surprisingly foul-mouthed and even violent, with fight scenes and pretty much a rape at one point, but it's got such an authenticity that it didn't bother me. I really felt like that's the way it was in Brooklyn back in 1977. People talked like that, had families like that, and so on. It's a very interesting film and probably underrated. The dancing's not really my thing and I didn't pay much attention during some of the longer scenes, but the music's actually kind of cool (maybe because it's new to me). How the heck did the Bee Gees sing so high? Were they on helium?

Labels:

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Save the Last Dance



Movie: Save the Last Dance

Hideously bad, even worse than I expected. The film opens with the cliche of the dancing girl about to audition to Juliard, angry because her mother isn't there, intercut with her rushing mother crashing her car and dying.

Labels:

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Saved!



Movie: Saved!

I was very curious about this film. It sounded blasphemous as it's a sort of parody of Christianity, but there were aspects that sounded promising as well. It turns out it isn't sure what it is. It's not an out-and-out attack on the Church, though it doesn't seem pro-religion. It's a comedy about Christianity, making fun of hypocrites and Christians, but it's not really very funny. Much of what it mocks is true (even Christians don't like Christian hypocrites), but much of the humor falls flat. The concept's a neat idea but ineptly done. While it's obvious the producers know something about Christianity, they are obviously not Christians, and their mockery comes across as an attack more than constructive criticism. I much prefer it when Christians do something like this. For example, musician and songwriter Steve Taylor's the master at satric Christian attacks, but he does so wanting to help Christians see their own hypocrisy and get them back on the right track. This film just wants a cheap laugh and unfortunately, that's all we're left with. That's not to say that the film doesn't have some good moments (it has some bad moments as well). The casting of the innocent-looking Mandy Moore as the evil Christian hypocrite is ideal; in fact, everyone in the cast is pretty good. I liked certain aspects of the plot, which is about a good Christian girl who gets pregant and questions her faith, but unfortunately this isn't a film that challenges intellect or discusses religion: instead it's just a movie that takes obvious shots at "weird" Christian things, like religious jargon or speaking in tongues. It's not a terrible film, but it could have been a realy great film if the creators had been more willing to go all out and

Labels:

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Saw II



Movie: Saw II

The first one was surprisingly intelligent for a horror film and this one continues that trend. It is on the grim side, but the devilish traps are horribly clever (i.e. the drug addict falling into a pit of used syringes -- eek). Pretty cool if you like the genre.

Labels:

Sunday, April 22, 2001

A Scanner Darkly



Book: A Scanner Darkly (1977)
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick

A remarkable book. Definitely the kind you could read fifty times and still not completely understand. I've never done drugs, but if I had, I'm sure this book would describe the experience exactly. It's set in the future (the 1990's) and deals with a narc out to find drug dealers. Fred goes under cover as Bob, a drug addict. As part of his cover he must take Substance D, also known as Death, a powerful drug that has a side effect of splitting the mind into duelling consciouses. Slowly Fred (and Bob) lose the ability to distinguish reality. Worse, Fred's secret identity is a secret even to his police bosses, and they assign him to monitor and keep tabs on... Bob. Yeah, that's right, he's to narc on himself! Eventually Fred can't tell that he is Bob and the book gets really bizarre as paranoid Bob does things to avoid Fred and Fred does things to stop Bob... and they're the same person! Incredibly powerful book on the dangers of drug abuse, but Dick doesn't play God: he doesn't judge these people, but he also doesn't protect them from the consequences of their actions. From the opening line, "Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair," to the end, this book is a trip. In some places it was so funny I had to stop reading to literally wipe tears of laughter from my eyes (like the part where the druggies argue that they were cheated on the ten-speed bike they bought because it only has seven gears, a two-setting gear and a five-setting gear for a total of seven). In other places it was so hard to read I couldn't get through more than a few paragraphs without having to put the book down and breathe for a bit. The novel is hilarious, scary, and sickening, occasionally all three at once. It's also a profound exploration of reality, unreality, consciousness, perception, personality, identity, and the meaning of existence. Very complex, very bizarre, very sad. Dick had his own drug problems, so this book speaks from experience. At the end he includes a list of close personal friends effected by drugs (some forming the basis of various characters in the novel), all of whom are either dead or permanently damaged by their habit. Frightening. He uses the analogy of a group of children playing in the street, being smashed and slaughtered by cars that pass, yet the children keep playing in the street, mindless of the deadly consequences of their actions. They just wanna have fun. Chilling. Highly recommended.

Labels:

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Scanner Darkly



Movie: A Scanner Darkly
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick (novel)

I'm a huge fan of the book (it's one of PKD's best) and thus I was wary of the film. But the adaptation is excellent. It really captures the spirit and essence of the novel and makes it much more accessible (as the plot, about an undercover narcotics cop tripping on drugs, is [deliberately] confusing to say the least). The rotoscoping animation technique is incredible: you can still recognize the real actors but the animation is totally appropriate for such an otherworldly novel. Excellent!

Labels:

Monday, December 25, 2000

Scary Movie



Movie: Scary Movie
Director(s): Keenan Ivory Wayans

A hilarious, outrageous spoof of the Scream-type movies, which is funny in itself, since those are basically parodies of the traditional slasher: we now have a parody of a parody. Laugh-a-minute film is occasionally overly crude, with a few too many gay jokes, but a lot of fun with some terrific "break the film barrier" type humor (my favorite was when the camera guy gets so close to the horror-stricken the lens smashes into her face). A few really brilliant moments like that save this film.

Labels:

Friday, October 24, 2003

Scary Movie 3



Movie: Scary Movie 3

Pretty much what you'd expect from this spoof franchise, though a little less raunchy than usual (though not by much) since this one is rated PG-13. The key films mocked are Signs (which needs mocking) and The Ring (which is also easy to mock). There are a number of laugh-out-loud moments, a lot of grins, a few gasps ("I can't believe they did that!"), a few jokes that fall flat. Overall it's harmless good fun.

Labels:

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Scary Movie II



Movie: Scary Movie II

Decent follow-up to the original, though just as raunchy and with plenty of bad taste. It's definitely got some funny bits, though. The DVD's cool as it's got over 30 minutes of deleted scenes (a few are better than the scenes in the film). In a nutshell, if you liked the first one, you'll like this one.

Labels:

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

School of Rock



Movie: School of Rock

Undoubtedly the feel good movie of the year. While not the least bit complicated and totally predictable in plot, this film just hits all the right notes and is great fun. Jack Black is over-the-top magic and he carries the film, but the way they focus on the kids is great as well. I was worried Jack Black's more adult-oriented rebel side would put a sour note on the mood, but the producers kept this at an above-crude level for wholesome entertainment the whole family can enjoy. Cool.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Science of Sleep



Movie: The Science of Sleep

Normally I like this sort of weird stuff and I'd wanted to see this before it vanished from theatres, but for some reason I just couldn't get into this at all. Utter disinterest. I'm not even sure what it was about. Something about a young Mexican artist moving to Paris after his father died, him struggling with a relationship with a woman, mixed in with lots of bizarre animation and weirdness and periodic television broadcasts from the dream center of his head. It's got some interesting visuals -- some of the funky hand-made animation is cool (like stop-motion cellophane used for flowing water) and I liked the multi-language approach, the way the film would randomly switch between English and French and Spanish -- but everything's so disjointed and illogical, like a dream, that the film cannot hold interest. It's just like hearing someone else tell you, in vague terms, about their dream. Who cares?

Labels:

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Scooby Doo



Movie: Scooby Doo

Silly mess. I was never a fan of the TV series (I pretty much hated it), but was curious about the big screen rendition. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but that's not saying much. First rule Hollywood needs to learn: animated hijinks don't translate well into live action. Seeing a Wylie Coyote stand in midair for a few seconds before realizing he's run off a cliff and then falling is hilarious: do that in live action and it's just dumb. This film works best when it concentrates on characterization, not the lame plot or silly cartoon-like special effects. The translation of the characters to live action is pretty good. Matthew Lillard's Shaggy is fantastic: it's like he's channeling the original character. Velma is great. The others are so-so (of course Fred and Daphne are the blandest of the characters anyway, so no great loss there). Scooby Doo (the dog) is better in the film than in the promos. Here you can actually understand him (something I liked from the show), though his animated reality is less than realistic (too cartoony for live action yet too realistic for animation). Weak for the title character. The plot is typical of the series (which, unfortunately, is not good as the series' plot were horrible): bad guy disguised as something else and scary strange things happening. Some mildly entertaining moments. My favorite, honestly, was cut from the film: on the DVD are deleted scenes and there's a terrific one of shy Velma doing a drunken lounge act on a piano singing "You're Too Good to Be True" -- hilarious! Why they cut it who knows: about par for the judgement of people who create this kind of dribble. I can't believe they're making a sequel.

Labels:

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Scooby Doo Two



Movie: Scooby Doo Two

Pointless sequel. More misadventures of the Scooby gang. I didn't like the cartoon much and the movies are even worse. In cartoon from the overacting and stereotypes are bearable, but in live action it's astonishingly bad. I guess it's a form of humor, but a low one. The cast is good for what they've got, but there isn't much to work with scriptwise. Mostly dull with only the occasional smile. Appropriate if you're in the mood for something mindless (like I was).

Labels:

Monday, March 5, 2007

Scoop



Movie: Scoop
Director(s): Woody Allen

I liked this. It's typical Woody, with fast-paced humorous dialog, fantastic elements, and a moderately clever plot. In this case we've got a young girl journalist played by the stunning Scarlet Johanson who's recruited by a recently deceased famous journalist who has a scoop for her: a certain millionaire playboy is the famous Tarot Card Killer. The only problem is the journalist has no proof, so the girl will have to find that. In trying to get close to the man she falls in love with him and then isn't sure if her suspicions that he's a serial killer are her imagination or reality. The girl's partner in this adventure is Woody Allen playing a talky stage magician, who's hilarious. Overall it's a lightweight story, but there are some classic Allen lines. My favorite is when the girl's debating over her boyfriend's guilt and Allen says in classic deadpan style something like, "Your parents will have a problem with having a serial killer in the family?" Fun stuff.

Labels:

Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Scorpion King



Movie: The Scorpion King

Surprisingly decent action film. Not a sequel to the The Mummy Returns, but staring The Rock who was in that film and made by the same people. The climax came sooner than I expected and thus seemed anticlimactic -- but that impression might have been caused by the lame rental DVD I had that skipped 15 minutes in the middle. Fun.

Labels:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World



Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I had never even heard of the comic book this was based upon so I came into this with any expectations. The plot sounded interesting: a guy must defeat his new girlfriend's seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her. What surprised me was the film's unusual style -- perhaps that's similar to the comic, but I wasn't expecting that at all. It's very much a live action video game, completely with game sounds and animations when players -- I mean actors -- punch each other. Other aspects are comic booky, such as animated text indicating sounds (i.e. a phone goes "RRRIINNNNGGG") and text panes as transitions between scenes. This creates a certain surrealness to the proceedings, as well as a hip sense of humor. I like that a lot. At times, however, it seemed a bit much, and as the movie went on, it occasionally became irritating. Part of the problem is that the plot feels too slight, with the result that the film's style soon becomes the film's only depth, and that feels quite shallow and a bit silly. The plot is pretty much what I'd heard about the fighting the exes. It's very well done: each of the ex-boyfriends has a different fighting style, personality, etc., and the way Scott Pilgrim defeats them is cool and interesting. There's a hint of further depth -- sort of a catharsis of saying goodbye to your ex-loves and moving on -- but it's not very well handled and there never really is an explanation about why Scott must battle the exes. Ultimately, this is a wonderful spectacle: fun, imaginative, and colorful, with excellent performances by the cast who go whole-heartedly into this world, but the film lacks purpose and heart and ends up feeling like an experiment in style. That's too bad, because this could have been incredible. Instead it's worth seeing for the interesting style, but not much else. The story's just too weak to support the spectacle.

Labels:

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Scream 3



Movie: Scream 3

Excellent, hilarious, and a worthy conclusion to the horror parody series. It's been a while since I've seen the first couple Screams, so I'm sure there was humor and references I missed, but this one was the best of the three (though the first had originality going for it). The plot uses one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek techniques of having a movie within a movie: the story of the murders in the original movie has been turned into a series of slasher films, and it is during the filming of Stab 3 that we find our heroes being threatened yet again. There are hilarious confrontations between the characters and the actors portraying them in the film, and jabs at Hollywood, the horror genre, and at the Scream franchise. A lot of fun.

Labels:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scream 4



Movie: Scream 4
Director(s): Wes Craven

The first movie was innovative. Since then, not so much, as the series has turned into a parody of itself. Still, there's fun to be had in this one, with a clever opening sequence and a twisted ending. Other parts, especially the killings, are so self-referential they are almost silly. Characters are mere stick figures designed for plot purposes, and there's so much dependent upon slasher movie knowledge and the previous films in the series that if you haven't at least seen the original you're likely to be baffled. There are glimpses of genius, but ultimately the film falls a little flat; I craved a bit more depth. Still, as pure entertainment, this is certainly better than much, and way better than most of what passes for horror.

Labels:

Friday, August 29, 2003

Seabiscuit



Movie: Seabiscuit

I had zero interest in seeing this film. It's long at over two hours, it's about a horse (I'm not much of a horse person), about horse racing (even worse), and set fifty-some years ago. Boring! But the timing proved fortuitious. At the time I was ready to go see a film, this was the only one showing, so I decided to give it a whirl. It turns out the film's not about a horse, but about America. This is the story of how a nation was broken and battered by the Great Depression, but found inspiration in a broken horse that became a champion.

The film follows the life of the horse's owner, a penniless bicycle repair man (Jeff Bridges) who turned his talents to the new horseless carriages and made a fortune, but lost his son to accident and now carries a broken heart; the horse's trainer (played by the always excellent Chris Cooper) who's more horse than man; and the horse's jockey, a battered loser who's too tall and has no peripheral vision in his right eye. The group sounds like a setup for chaos, but the personalities all mesh with Seabiscuit, a horse of good lineage but poor treatment, who's tossed aside as worthless. With the proper training and loving attention, Seabiscuit becomes a champion, and eventually takes on the reigning champion. But just when you think the story's over, there's another twist: the jockey's horribly injured and will never ride again, and the horse ruptures a tendon and will never race. But despite those predictions by doctors, the two fight back and prove the naysayers wrong. Yes, it's long, but it's surprisingly interesting and keeps moving. It's not boring at all. I saw no evidence of the supposed $100 million budget: if there are special effects they are carefully hidden. The horse races are mildly interesting, but predictable (of course). But it's the characters you care about, and there's humor in their interaction. But mostly this is a story about an important time in American history. It's an excellent movie and worth seeing.

Labels:

Sunday, October 12, 2003

The Search



Book: The Search
Writer(s): Iris Johansen

Not a sequel to The Killing Game, but it does involve many of the same characters, particularly Sarah Patrick and her dog Monty. A romance is in store for John Dugan, who was shut out in first one, so that's rather nice. But the two are so obvious in their dislike of each other it takes forever for them to get together and yet we saw it coming from page one (rather annoying). The plot of the story is a bit weird: a guy from John's past wants to kill him and so is bombing John's research facilities, killing his workers. He won't stop until John's dead, so John must kill him. There's some good mystery and action, but it feels a heavy-handed and forced. Still, the characters are likable, but the real stars are the animals in Monty and Maggie, a wild wolf. I'd like a book just about them!

Labels:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Searching for Bobby Fischer



Movie: Searching for Bobby Fischer

This is about a seven-year-old boy with an affinity for chess. His dad encourages him, starts taking him on the competitive chess circuit, where the pressures of being perfect effect the boy. Eventually the mom and dad and the boy's teacher have conflict over the boy's future: how hard should adults push young geniuses to excel? The film raises some wonderful questions and doesn't give us pat answers, but story-wise it's sluggish, predictable, and not that unusual. The worst flaw for me is that the chess is presented at high speed with "dramatic" camera angles and quick cuts that make it impossible (at least for my slow brain) to keep up with the chess. I suppose this was done to make a "boring" game seem interesting, but because chess is such an important aspect of the story, I found it jarring and frustrating because the chess moves weren't explained and some of the interesting genius moves weren't demonstrated in a way that revealed their genius. They might have just as well eliminated the chess playing altogether and just cut to the trophy ceremony. Still, the film does have its moments.

Labels:

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Seattle Trip



Took a nice trip up to Seattle yesterday and today (see yesterday's report on the soccer game). Got to eat at the Space Needle (hadn't done that since I was a kid) and see some of the city (fish throwing place, etc.). Went to the new Science Fiction museum which was pretty cool (lots of incredible SF memorabilia). Nice looking city from a distance; not as impressed with the dirty downtown and horrendous traffic. Suprised at how hilly it is, which made walking a pain.

Labels:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Seattle Trip



Today I headed up to Seattle for the big soccer match tomorrow. Interesting trip: ran into horrible traffic outside of Tacoma which had me reconsidering taking the train instead of driving. A few miles from the hotel I heard my car making strange sounds but I thought maybe it was the pavement. When I got off at my exit, however, I knew something was wrong: my steering wheel was wobbling like mad and I could hear a regular thumping sound. It was only a mile to the hotel so once I got there I checked my tire and immediately saw the problem: a huge bubble the size of half a grapefruit was bulging my left front tire! The tire still had air so I thought I could make it to a nearby Costco, but on the way the tire went completely flat, so I had to change it. It's been a long time since I've done that, and never on this car. Lots of fun. Long story short: made it to Costco, ended up replacing all four tires (it was time). Learned that Oregonians don't have to pay Washington sales tax, which is really cool. I guess they do that so that we'll go up there and buy stuff instead of waiting until we get home, which was what I'd planned to do. All told, not a bad result (except for the tire cost, but I'd have had that later this year anyway): the new tires were on by seven o'clock and the car drives much better now (it feels like I've got new brakes, which is scary in retrospect). It could certainly have been much, much worse, like if the tire had given way on the freeway while I was going 60 mph!

Labels:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Seattle versus Chelsea



Soccer: Seattle versus Chelsea

Fun game! This was Seattle's new MLS team facing off against one of the best teams from England (and the world) and the lopsided result was expected (pretty much any single player on Chelsea's team makes as much as Seattle's salary cap for the entire team). Chelsea convincingly and deservedly won 2-0, but Seattle had tons of chances and it was a blast to be there among the 65,000 in the stands. Every time Seattle came close to scoring 65,000 people would leap up and cheer (and then groan when the chance was missed). We were up near the top under the roof with a great view and it was actually chilly with a strong breeze and no hot sun. A fun day, though $40 for parking is obscene. You can see some of the pictures I took on my Flickr account.

Labels:

Friday, April 18, 2003

The Second Angel



Book: The Second Angel
Writer(s): Philip Kerr

Surprisingly, a Kerr SF book that works! The plot's cool: it is 2069 and most of the earth's population is infected with a deadly blood virus called P2 that's an automatic death sentence. Many live for years, but when the disease is triggered, you die within three months. The cure is simple: a complete blood transfusion. However, the new blood but not be contaminated with the virus, of course. And thus clean blood has become the most precious commodity on the planet. The eleven pints of blood in a typical person has a value of over 7 million dollars. Frozen blood is stored in high-tech blood banks which are protected by elaborate security systems. The biggest blood bank is on the moon, and the designer of the security system, Dallas, has decided to rob it. He puts together a team of experts and sets out to do the impossible. Great concept, and well written, with a caveat or two. First, the actual robbery, though promised early on, doesn't take place until near the end of the book, and it's a little anti-climactic. Second, the narrator of the book is an important character, revealed at the end, which is a great twist. Unfortunately, he's a little inane. Almost every page of the novel has footnotes, which go into mind-numbingly minute detail about science and medicine. The narrator's interesting because he brings philosophical questions and observations to the events, but unfortunately he contradicts himself, in some places "proving" there is no God, in others proving that God must exist, and in others questioning God's existence as though he doesn't know. I'm not sure what Kerr's intent was in doing that: I don't doubt it was intentional, but whatever the reason it isn't clear and it doesn't work. It just makes me the think the narrator's a little unbalanced (maybe that was the point). The book's pacing could also use a work -- it drags on and on, mostly because we're told about the robbery early but since it doesn't happen until late in the novel, all the set-up stuff (which is important) seems to be a waste of our time. The book's bad guy (conflict) is also weak, almost a red herring with the ease in which he's dispatched when the time is right. That takes away some of the suspense. Overall, though, this is very good. It's definitely Kerr's best technology-related book, and the philosophical musing by the narrator are certainly thought-provoking (though many of the conclusions are inaccurate and incomplete, though as you'll see, that could be intentional).

Labels:

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs



Book: The Second Coming of Steve Jobs

This is an older book I picked up at a discount store. Somehow I missed it when it was published. As a huge fan of Jobs and Macintosh and Silicon Valley lore, it's a book I wanted to read. It tells the story of how Steve was kicked out of Apple, founded NeXT and rebuilt Pixar, and how he ended up back at Apple and took it to unprecedented success. All this was written back in 2000 and is, of course, pre-iPod -- Apple had their most successful quarter this past Christmas, selling nearly $6 billion worth of iPods and Macs, and making a huge $500+ million profit, and last week's Disney/Pixar merger just made Jobs a multi-billionaire -- so the book is ironic in that Jobs' turnaround was hardly started! The book uncovers fascinating personal details about Jobs, private conversations, both the Good Steve and the infamous Bad Steve. It's an amazing portrait of a private public man, a man who is full of seeming controdictions and despite being famous for more than 25 years, is still a mystery to most (even those who know him). This is excellently written and appears balanced, though of course I don't know the truth more than anyone else. It was fascinating to me that as I was reading about Jobs' dealing with the Pixar/Disney contracts, Disney and Pixar agreed to a merger. What a huge deal that is! Steve now has a seat on Disney's board and who knows where that will lead. The three companies -- for Apple, as the leading supplier of digital music and video content, is part of the trio -- are primed for massive growth. It's a fascinating time!

Labels:

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Secondhand Lions



Movie: Secondhand Lions

Another one of those films I wasn't terribly interested in seeing, but timing meant I saw it, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was worried it'd be a bit smarmy and pretentious and too saccharine for my tastes, but it turned out to be an enjoyable film. The "plot" is about a little boy who goes to live with his two grumpy uncles for the summer in the early 1960s. The old men are rumored to have millions hidden away and thus are pestered by every distant relative and saleperson in the state. Their main activity is sitting on their porch with shotguns to scare away people. The boy's arrival disturbs their lifestyle and gradually the boy learns to love his uncles and vice versa. Predictable overall, but there are many humorous little sidesteps in the plot -- such as when the old men, who used to be in the Foreign Legion in Africa, buy a used lion which they plan to hunt, only to discover it's so old it won't even get out of the shipping crate. In the end the lion becomes the boy's pet (his first). The title refers to the movie's thought-line of how you don't throw away a life, implying that the old men (who don't act their age) are also secondhand lions.

There's a lot about the story that's unbelievable (intentionally: we hear fabulous stories about the old men's past and we're supposed to wonder how much of it is true), but the genuine performances help ground the film. The direction has some nice touches as well. My favorite was this: when the boy arrives at the uncles' home, there are "no tresspassing" and other forbidding signs on the long dirt driveway leading to the home. The final sign says "Turn back now!" But at the end, when the boy is being driven away and he doesn't want to leave, he's looking longingly out the rear window of the car and we see the signs in the reverse, including the one that screams "Turn back now!" in huge letters -- and this time the meaning is completely different. Really cool. Brilliant, in fact.

Labels:

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Seconds



Movie: Seconds
Director(s): John Franenheimer

I'd heard of this and wanted to see if for some time. It's an unusual movie. The direction and dramatic music are overdone: you keep expecting something fantastic to happen, but nothing much does. It's still good, just not great. The plot is about a man who gets a mysterious phone call from an old friend... and old friend who's been dead for years. The man goes to a place specified by the friend and it turns out it's a company that will "kill" you and give you a new identity, a new start on life. I guess the "seconds" in the title has nothing to do with time, but with a second chance. The ending typifies the film, by being predictable and overdone. Odd film. It has a great deal of potential that's wasted. Favorite scene: when the man, now portrayed by Rock Hudson, visits his old wife (she thinks he's dead).

Labels:

Sunday, December 26, 1999

The Secret Agent



Movie: The Secret Agent (1936)
Writer(s): W. Somerset Maugham (novel) and Campbell Dixon
Director(s): Alfred Hitchcock

Interesting early Hitchcock film about secret agents trying to track down another secret agent. Great Peter Lore role. Quite sophisticated special effects for the train wreck at the end, considering the technology of the day. Hitchcock was famous for pushing movie-making technology; it's scary to think what he could have done with today's computer-generated stuff.

Labels:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes



Movie: The Secret in Their Eyes

This is a fascinating and amazing murder mystery film from Argentina. It's about a retired court worker who has been haunted by the brutal rape and murder of a young woman twenty-five years earlier, a case he was involved with, and he decides to investigate it again and clear up some of the mysteries about it. So the film jumps back and forth between the present and the past, as we follow the original investigation and the modern day follow-up. Mixed in with that are the stories of the interpersonal relationships of the various characters, such as the woman the man loved and how he could never tell her that. The film incredibly well-done, with fantastic acting. I don't know how they did the aging/youthifying of the actors, but it's subtle and realistic and extremely effective. The film deals with serious philosophical topics, such as the nature of time and the decisions we make. That fits, as the main character is old and retrospective and in the re-telling of the investigation, he's reliving his old life. The story itself is unusual and different, and I loved the ending. I had expected a final twist of some sort, but not what I got. Fascinating film. Highly recommended.

Labels:

Friday, March 12, 2004

Secret Window



Movie: Secret Window
Writer(s): Stephen King (book)

A nice little Stephen King story about a writer going mad as his life falls apart (he's in the middle of a divorce). It all begins when a stranger appears accusing the guy of plagerism, and then bad things begin to happen, like his dog being killed. As the stakes go up, intensity does as well, and the twisted ending is very cool. Johnny Depp, as the writer, is the best thing about the movie, giving a fantastic performance. He's a bit bizarre, a bit quirky, and yet still likable. Unfortunately, the film isn't perfect: the first half is slow, with not much happening, but once it gets going, it goes fast, and the ending is excellent. One of the best things is that the ending just ends; there's no series of silly red herring endings Hollywood seems to like so much. Good film.

Labels:

Friday, May 16, 2003

Secretary



Movie: Secretary

Wow, what an amazing film! This was a "controversial" movie since it deals with nonstandard sexualty. I'd heard good things about it (it won an award at Sundance) and was curious, but suspected it couldn't be as good as I'd heard. To my surprise and delight, it's better!

The story is about a troubled girl who has a history of "cutting" -- she cuts herself with knives, razors, whatever she can find. After being released from an institution, she goes to typing school and then seeks out a secretarial job. The fragile girl winds up working for a strange lawyer (an excellent James Spader) who alternately builds her up and tears her down. Eventually their relationship develops into a full-blown dominant-submissive relationship, where he spanks her for typing errors and she makes errors on purpose to get him to punish her.

So far, nothing too controversial. The girl likes to be punished, but of course that's because she's mental case, right? Here's where the film takes a different approach and upsets feminists and others who can't handle reality. In this story, the girl's healthier in the "abnormal" relationship. She goes from a fragile wallflower who cuts herself for fun to a brave, bold, assertive woman who knows what she wants and demands she get it. That's the controversy. There'd be no controversy if her passions were depicted as irrational.

What impressed me about this film is that it doesn't take advantage of the salacious nature of the subject matter. Most Hollywood films that deal with unusual sexuality do it primarily to exploit the topic for the purpose of higher viewership. I can envision this film being made into a vulgar, blatant sex-flick, full of scenes designed to shock and titillate. Instead, we're treated to an intelligent, unglorified presentation of a reality that most of us don't know about. The characters are real, the situations intense, the events thought-provoking. The photography and direction is spectacular, dramatizing seemingly ordinary situations to make them extraordinary. The camera hides more than it reveals, forcing us to use our mind to understand what's going on.This film reminded me a great deal about my favorite film, Harold and Maude . That movie's a black comedy about the sexual relationship between a twenty-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman. That relationship is completely consensual as well, and that's part of the controversy. In fact, there's a terrific homage to Harold and Maude toward the end of Secretary when a series of people try to persuade the girl to change her mind -- just like in Harold and Maude when the psychiatrist, priest, and others try to convince Harold he can't seriously love Maude.

Those who think Secretary is about violence toward women or something silly like that have missed the point. The film's a fantasy: in the end the two live happily ever after with their strange kink. There's a great scene where Spader tells the girl, "We can't just go on like this 24-7!" and she responds, "Why not?" It is her fantasy to have someone to dominate and "control" her (in reality, of course, she's the one in control by her willingness to allow the man to dominate her). It is the man's dark fantasy to have a sexual partner he can dominate and punish. His power is all an illusion, of course: she's the one running the show. But it's that illusion -- for both of them (his of power, hers of submission) -- that inspires their mutual passions. There is no genuine violence here; it's all an act. The girl understands that at a subconscious level as revealed when at one point, after Spader tries to fire her, she panics and cries "Time out!" She's realized that their relationship is a form of role-playing, and when he's doing something out of character -- firing her -- she's desperate to get back to the comfortable pretend world.

What makes the movie really good and takes it beyond a mere S&M show-and-tell, is that both the man and the woman's characters are fully-developed. Spader's character struggles with his dark desires. He hates and resents them, but he cannot control them. In one scene he writes a letter apologizing for his "disgusting" behavior. I found this deeply ironic: the man loves to degrade the woman, and she loves to be degraded; yet because society says their behavior is weird, they must not continue. The climax of the film is the resolution of this conflict, and the film does this in an unusual way as the girl stages a sort of hunger strike until the man gives in. That's rather over-the-top, but oddly, it works, especially if think of this film as a fantasy love story like Amelie.

Speaking of Amelie, America has produced their own Audrey Tautou with Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays the secretary in Secretary). She is the find of the new century. Like Audrey she's got huge eyes that are amazingly expressive, and she uses them frequently in Secretary to tell worlds of stories with just a glance. (Half the film is her and Spader exchanging power-draining looks.) The final few seconds of the film, where she turns to look straight at the camera, is some of the best acting I've ever seen. Her expression barely changes and yet a dozen emotions flitter across her face, including her arguing with all the critics of her decision (both as the character and as an actress in taking on this role). I rewound that a dozen times, just mesmerized. Amazing.

Throughout the movie Maggie is perfect in every scene. Have you ever seen one of those lame Hollywood movies where they try to take a beautiful actress and make her pretend to be unattractive so they can later have her get a makeover and reveal how pretty is? Pathetic, isn't it. We're never fooled: even ugly the girl's gorgeous. Well, Maggie does it for real here, not with makeup and a bad 'doo, but with acting brilliance. Her transformation is astonishing. She begins the film fragile and vulnerable, shy and naive. She doesn't feel attractive or wanted, and reality frightens her. By the end she's in complete control of herself and the world around her. She knows how to manipulate. She's discovered her sexuality and realizes she's beautiful. I loved that the filmmakers didn't try the cheap trick of changing her makeup or clothes as the film progressed to "symbolize" her transformation. No, she wears the same unattractive outfits at the end as at the beginning, but she looks completely different. It's all in how she carries herself.

Secretary is a challenging film. It's not for everyone. It reminds me of a European film in many ways (similar to the difficult-to-watch Irreversible). It's a bit too polished for that, however, and the happy ending candy-coats reality too much. But it's interesting; that's more than I can say about most American movies. It's well worth seeing if you can handle your reality a little twisted.

Labels:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seems Like Old Times



Movie: Seems Like Old Times (1980)
Writer(s): Neil Simon

I'd never even heard of this movie but it's based on a Neil Simon play and it's pretty funny. It stars Chevy Chase back when he was young and at his best, and Goldie Hawn as his ex-wife, is cute and terrific and probably the best I've seen her. The plot's chaotic: Chase is a recluse writer who is kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to rob a bank, so everyone thinks he's guilty and is out to get him. He goes to his ex-wife for help, but she's married to the district attorney who's about to get the nod to run for attorney general and is worried his wife's ex will ruin everything. Chase takes everything in stride with witty quips and hilarious casualness, while Hawn's character is a defense attorney who is kind-hearted to a fault and takes in every stray dog and criminal she can find (all of her help at the house are criminals she's defended). This results in chaos, of course, with Goldie trying to hide her wanted ex from her husband, manage her clueless staff, and so on. It's too slapsticky to be a great movie, but the dialog is great and the chemistry between Goldie and Chevy is wonderful. Worth seeing if you like this kind of farce movie.

Labels:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sellavision



Book: Sellavision
Writer(s): Augusten Burroughs

This is a bizarre book. I'd heard of the author (he did Running with Scissors) but this wasn't what I expected at all. I expected a biting satire about home shopping TV and while there's some of that, it's presented within interrelated tales of several "Sellavision" hosts. It's depressing, as the network seems to have a knack for destroying the lives of all these hosts, as we watch one guy get fired for accidentally exposing his penis on TV and then eventually, becoming a gay porn star, while a woman ends up in the looney bin. While some of these stories are interesting, I didn't really care about any of the characters, which made this for an endless read. It's well-done in many ways, and I liked the way everything wrapped up at the end, but throughout the entire book I kept wondering, "Where the heck is this going?" and I never did get a satisfactory answer. It's just a slice of life, I guess, like a stream of consciousness. There's no real plot, just excerpts. Not terrible, but not what I expected or wanted, and I was disappointed. And some of the sex stuff was really unanticipated and offensive.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Selling Grandpa's House



I worried it'd be hard to convince Grandpa to sell his beach house, but I explained it carefully and he seemed to understand, even pointing out that it's better for him to be more inland and that he doesn't go to the beach any way. This afternoon we met with the notary to have Grandpa sign. I'd given Grandpa a note that explained what we were doing and every time he wondered what we were doing I reminded him to read the note: "Sign papers to sell the Oceanside house." Everything was great until the actual signing. Then he balked. It wasn't that he wasn't wanting to sign it -- it was that he insisted on understanding every word of the one-page contract (power of attorney for my mom to sell the house). Nothing wrong with that, except his short-term memory is so poor he couldn't remember our explanations and kept asking the same questions over and over! Finally, however, after nearly an hour, he seemed to conclude that everything was in order and he signed. Whew! I'm glad we don't have to go through that again!

Labels:

Saturday, December 23, 2000

Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton's Impeachment



Book: Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton's Impeachment
Writer(s): David P. Schippers

This is written by the Democratic lawyer who was put in charge of the impeachment investigation. It's the story of how Democrats voted along party lines and spineless Republicans wouldn't stand up for principals. "A pox on both your houses!" might be an appropriate phrase. The politicians sold out the Constitution and allowed a sitting president to get away with lying under oath, abuse of power, witness tampering, voter manipulation, illegal campaign contributions, and even rape. If you thought you knew the details behind the impeachment (regardless of which side you were on), you don't. As this book shows, only a tiny fraction of the evidence was made public. You don't know anything. Some of the dramatic details unveiled in this book are things like how Clinton crony Janet Reno refused to release critical records so the investigation could proceed, and a witness having all four of her tires slashed and being stalked and threatened if she didn't sign a false affidavit. Of course it's tough connecting the President directly with such tactics, but, as the author shows, the coincidence of timing is too strong to be an accident.

This book reveals why I abhor politics: Senators swearing under oath to uphold the Constitution and investigate the President's crimes thoroughly, and then not a single one went and looked at the evidence! (The author opines that the Senators were afraid to actually see the evidence, because if they did, they would have found it difficult to acquit. By not seeing the evidence, they could pretend the charges were "just about sex.") Excellent, remarkable book, though very sad. Whatever you thought of impeachment, this book is a must read to anyone concerned with the future of this country. As Schippers pointed out in one of his presentations to Congress, if we don't convict a sitting president for lying under oath, for whatever the reason, it sets a new legal standard for future presidents -- they can get away with a lot more. I, for one, want my politicians accountable for their actions. Disgusting. The whole Senate ought to be impeached.

Labels:

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Seminar: Guy Kawasaki's Rules For Revolutionaries



This evening I went to Lighthouse Venture Forum's premiere event at Peachwoods restaurant, with special speaker Guy Kawaksaki (former Apple Fellow, CEO of garage.com, and author of Rules for Revolutionaries, The Macintosh Way, and other classic books). The place was filled with nearly 200 people, many of them CEOs of local companies such as Aladdin Systems, Thuridion, Tartan Technologies, and many others; I recognized a number of SVP's printing customers. Guy's presentation was amazing. He has such a flare for speaking, so relaxed and comfortable and witty he makes you feel the same. Nearly every sentence out of his mouth was a clever phrase, designed for you to remember (such as "Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant" -- his way of saving absorb information and spread it around, not just in your own company, but in your entire industry). He actually gave several presentations (each about 15 minutes), and he had a question-and-answer follow-up. Full of excellent tips on entrepreneurship, business development, and securing venture capital funding, he had the crowd laughing at his great stories and hilarious examples of business stupidity (including making fun of both Microsoft and Apple, calling "Apple Marketing" an oxymoron, and saying, "If Apple had licensed the Mac OS in 1987 the desktop market would be 95% Mac and 5% Linux."). Guy managed to offend most of the audience in one way or another, making Santa Cruz, women, men, guys with goatees who drive German cars and wear Armani, and other groups the butt of his jokes. It was hilarious, considering the CEO of Thuridion, founding member of the conference, drives a German car and has a goatee! (Even better was Guy's attack on Herman Miller chairs: he declared that if a start-up buys Aeron chairs they are guaranteed to fail. In fact, he's banned them at garage.com. I was at the Thuridion table, where the CEO was turning purple: everyone at Thuridion has an Aeron chair!) Note that Guy handled all this very well -- when he realized the event's sponsor had Aeron chairs he tried to use a different chair in his example, but finally gave up and picked on Herman Miller anyway. It was all in fun, but made a serious point about not wasting money just for the impression money creates. If you ever get the chance to hear Guy speak, take it. You'll remember it for the rest of your life!

Labels:

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Sentinel



Movie: The Sentinel

I wanted to like this. It looked interesting from the previews. Unfortunately, it's rather pathetic. The concept that there could be a mole in the Secret Service is the lure, and the idea that our hero is the fall guy and has to prove himself innocent while on the run from the feds is the intriguing action, but the film's choice of villain is obvious and stereotypical. The film starts out well but peters out into an anti-climatic nothing. I also didn't like that our "hero," Michael Douglas' Secret Service agent, was having an affair with the first lady and that's why some of his actions appear suspicious. Not only is that lame, unrealistic, unprofessional, and immoral, but we're supposed to feel sympathy for this idiot? Worse, he's apparently gotten himself into this kind of trouble in the past. I had zero respect for this moron and therefore I didn't really care if he got caught, found the mole, or got the president killed. In other words, with me not caring about the characters, I didn't care about the movie. The worst part was the films' laissez-faire attitude toward this indiscretion, making it seem almost heroic. Disgusting.

Labels:

Sunday, January 5, 2003

Serendipity



Movie: Serendipity

I really liked this romantic comedy. It stars Kate Beckinsale as a woman who's convinced that Fate rules us, so she refuses to tell the wonderful man she just met her name. If they are meant to be together, they'll find each other. He writes his name and phone number on a five dollar bill which she then spends, and she puts her name and phone in a book which she sells to a used bookstore. If they're meant to be together, they'll find each other. Crazy, but charming, and I loved the way the film is absolutely jammed with fascinating little hints and clues and coincidences. For instance, in one scene the two are in New York at the same time but don't know it. We see Jonathan (John Cusack) getting tangled with a Dalmation being walked by it's owner. Later there's a scene with Sara (the girl) and the same dog is passing by! Of course the two get together in the end, which is exactly what we want to happen. Because of the predictable story the pace of the film is fast (it's only 90 minutes long) which is just perfect: any longer and we'd start getting antsy. Cool flick.

Labels:

Friday, September 30, 2005

Serenity



Movie: Serenity

This is an excellent film! Though I was a big fan of the TV series (it's based on Firefly, the show Fox cancelled after 11 episodes), I was a little unsure how everything would transfer to the big screen. This film answers that easily: it's even better on the big screen! Perhaps that was the problem with it on TV. The story was too big, too large for TV. It's the same cast, which is awesome (the actors are so tied to their characters it would have been hard to watch with other actors in the roles), and the story is excellent. It's high-speed action, great dialog, and terrific performances and special effects. About 90 minutes into the movie I was dreading the thought that it was going to end! That's the opposite of my feeling in most movies. I sure hope they make this into a series and do more movies. It could easily become the next Star Trek.

Labels:

Monday, October 16, 2000

Serie A: A.C. Milan at Bologna



Soccer: Serie A: A.C. Milan at Bologna

This was one of those rare, odd games that was terrific only because of something that happened at the very end. Basically, the game was fairly routine. Bologna started things off with a goal in the first half, while Milan's defense seemed confused, but Milan answered with better play and a goal in the second half. Then the real game began and there was about 15 minutes of terrific action, but ultimately it looked like a 1-1 draw was to be the outcome. But four-and-a-half minutes into injury time, with just seconds left, Bologna's veteran defender Piacentini got open at the top of the key, wheeled, and scored on a terrific blast into the far corner. It was a magnificent strike, leaving the keeper helpless. Any forward would have been delighted by such a goal, but it was all the sweeter for Piacentini, as that was just his fourth goal in sixteen years of play! Bologna wins, 2-1. Awesome.

Labels:

Sunday, January 14, 2001

Serie A: A.C. Milan at Fiorentina



Soccer: Serie A: A.C. Milan at Fiorentina

What happened to Milan? They played like a Serie B team! Fiorentina continued their hot streak, scorching Milan from the 15th minute on. Gomes got the first goal when he snuck in a header, and Cois doubled the lead a minute into the second half when he got what appeared to be a harmless ball at the top of the box. But instead of dribbling and passing, he immediately shot -- and scored! Chiesa, who's been doing very well lately, got his goal twenty minutes later, on a nice little grounder. Finally, Rui Costa, the brilliant mid-field engine who'd been involved with every goal so far, got one for himself. He was open and one-on-one with the keeper, but confidently took a shot instead of passing it. Final: 4-0 Fiorentina.

Labels:

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Serie A: A.C. Milan at Inter



Soccer: Serie A: A.C. Milan at Inter

Terrific derby of the two Milan clubs, though not much of a contest as Inter was absent. Comandini scored his first two goals ever in Serie A in the 3rd and 19th minutes (the second was a great flashing header), followed by Guilito early in the second half. Then Shevchenko got two to keep himself at the top of the scoring chart, and Serginho, who was undoubtedly the man of the match with three assists, got a well-deserved goal for himself. What a disastrous blowout for Inter! Heads are going to roll over this result. A.C. will be gloating for years. Final: 6-0 A.C. Milan!

Labels:

Monday, February 26, 2001

Serie A: A.C. Milan at Juventus



Soccer: Serie A: A.C. Milan at Juventus

Great game! Juventus is in form and soaring, while Milan still can't quite figure out what game they are playing. Defender Tudor started things for Juve, scoring just nine minutes in. After that, Juventus settled down into defensive mode and when they do that, few teams can catch up. In the second half Milan began to press forward more and more desperately, and finally it cost them, when Inzaghi scored in the 67th minute. His first shot was blocked, and he fell down in the box, but managed to scramble to play the ball while lying on the ground, beating the keeper and scoring! Zidane added to Milan's injury with a cheeky goal in injury time. His chip went over the keeper and curled perfectly into the net. Fantastic! Final: 3-0 Juventus.

Labels:

Saturday, November 18, 2000

Serie A: A.C. Milan at Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: A.C. Milan at Lazio

Boy do I love Italian soccer. They are so passionate they make a 0-0 draw incredibly exciting. This game started off with a bomb, when the home team's Dino Baggio blasted the ball through the back of the net. Milan fought back and even out-played Lazio at times, but by the end of the first half, Lazio was attacking furiously, pressing their lead. I loved Crespo's run when he was brought down at the top of the box: he out-dribbled two defenders with some nice moves and had to be fouled to be stopped. In the second half, the stalemate after the first goal continued, but a split second gap between two defenders gave Serie A goal-scoring leader Shevchenko all the opportunity he needed to equalize. The teams battled on with near misses, post hits, and other exciting developments, but ultimately, neither team could hurt the other any further, and the result was a fair 1-1 draw. Excellent game.

Labels:

Monday, December 4, 2000

Serie A: Atalanta at Parma



Soccer: Serie A: Atalanta at Parma

I hadn't a chance to see Atalanta, a promoted club this season, and doing incredibly well as the only undefeated club in the Serie A (they are in second place overall). Both teams started off well, with a few nice chances, but it was Frenchman Lamochi who scored first on a pass from fellow Frenchman Michou. After that it was mostly Atalanta in the Parma penalty area, but they couldn't score. The second half started off with a Parma free kick that almost went in, but an Atalanta defender kicked the keeper's rebound out of play. A few minutes later Buffon made a great save to preserve Parma's lead, followed by a series of Parma free kicks that threatened Atalanta but didn't go in. With less than ten to play, Conceicao put the moves of a defender to free some space and then shot left-footed laser that grazed the inside of the near post. That pretty much did it. Atalanta was impressive, and certainly deserve to be in the Serie A, but Parma proved superior. Final: 2-0 Parma.

Labels:

Monday, December 18, 2000

Serie A: Bari at Perugia



Soccer: Serie A: Bari at Perugia

Unexpectedly, a very cool game, considering the teams. It started off with one of the best non-goals I have ever seen. Bari's young keeper made a mistake in positioning and the shot came in near post and he did an incredible flying leap to block it. The rebound was stopped by a defender on the line, and the next shot was stopped by the keeper. The final shot was wide, but it was an amazing 3-second sequence. After that, nothing much happened until the 30th minute when Perugi's striker was sent off for a stupid red card: he was the only one with a yellow and he did an obvious dive in the box and got his second yellow. But Perugi gained strength from being a man down: in injury time of the first half defender Tedesco was left wide open just outside the box and his shot went through the legs to a defender to score. In the second half, Tedesco amazingly got a second goal very similar to the first. That was followed a minute later by an incredible side volley from Saudati that left Bari stunned. They had a man advantage but were down by three goals! But the game was finished. Bari came back with a goal from Mazzarelli off a great free kick, but there was only ten minutes left to make up two goals. Perugia put the matter beyond doubt in the 88th minute, however, when Tatti's shot literally trickled into the open goal. Incredible! Final: 4-1 Perugia.

Labels:

Monday, January 15, 2001

Serie A: Bari at Roma



Soccer: Serie A: Bari at Roma

I expected this game to be high scoring: after all, it's the league leaders against the team at the bottom of the league, but once again, nothing's predictable in soccer. Bari played with heart, and Roma appeared to take the win too casually. The game didn't get going until about 30 minutes in, but it was still highly dominated by Roma, though Bari managed a few times to make Roma's keeper work for his pay. The first goal didn't come until late in the second half, when, to the astonishment of Roma, Bari's Mazzarelli brilliantly converted a free kick. After that Roma really began to try, but it seemed like too little too late. But then Bari gave Roma a gift by tripping Totti in the box, and Totti easily scored on the resulting penalty kick. The tie cut Roma's lead in the league from 8 to six points, as Juventus won their weekend game.

Labels:

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Serie A: Bologna at A.C. Milan



Soccer: Serie A: Bologna at A.C. Milan

I managed to stay awake through this one. Partly because I got up and had a late supper (soup, of course, since I'm sick), but also because the game was so exciting. Milan was out for revenge, having lost the game at Bologna earlier in the season, and they started off with two cheeky goals against the run of play by Shevchenko. It looked like it was all Milan, and though Bologna had been playing well, they'd given up two goals. Then, late in the first half, Cipriani pushed into the box and forced Italian great Pablo Maldini to foul him. The ref awarded a penalty, and just before the half, it seemed like the idea time to narrow the lead. But the Bologna player missed the penalty kick! So it was still a two-goal lead for Milan. In the second half, however, as the commentators were complimenting Cipriani's play (this was only his sixth Serie A appearance and his first start), he scored a goal. Scoring a goal in your first start is incredible, and Cipriani was ecstatic. But there was more. In the 75th minute, Cipriani leaped up to intercept a cross, beating Maldini, and caught the ball perfectly with his head. It ricochetted into the net with the force of a kick! Bologna had come back from two down to tie the score! Cipriani was suddenly a Bologna hero. Tears were running down his face as he celebrated his score. Unbelievable to do that your first start. That just doesn't happen except in books. But Cipriani wasn't done. As Bologna pressed, he managed to draw a defender away, leaving space for Signori, who put in a third for Bologna. The Bologna bench and fans were mad with joy. This was unheard of, to come to power-house Milan and beat them on their own turf (and hadn't happened since the 1960s), especially starting the game two goals down. But the joy was pre-mature. Though only seconds remained in the game, a mistake by Olive, substituted just a minute earlier for Locatelli, who'd pulled his hamstring, gave the ball to Sala, who tied the score for Milan. Twenty minutes earlier Bologna would have been delighted with a tie, and Milan crushed, but now it was Milan who breathed a sigh of relief and Bologna who were disappointed to come so close and miss victory. Great game! Final: 3-3.

Labels:

Sunday, November 5, 2000

Serie A: Bologna at Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: Bologna at Lazio

Bologna's been doing very well this season, but this game showed they're still not in the class of a club like Lazio. Early in the game Salas made a great run up the side, amazingly dribbling past about four defenders (nutmegging the last one). Once in the box he delivered an angled cross back toward the top of the box where my favorite Czeck Nedved ran on to it and put it away (the keeper was marking Salas on the near side). In the second half, it was Crespo, taking a nice through-ball and doing just enough to get it past the keeper. Good game, but all Lazio: 2-0.

Labels:

Monday, October 2, 2000

Serie A: Bologna at Roma



Soccer: Serie A: Bologna at Roma

Roma begins their campaign with their new signing Gabriel "Batigoal" Batistuta, but it was Totti who scored the first goal on an aggressive header (while being double marked) in the dying seconds of first half stoppage time. Batigoal did some great work himself to force an own goal in the second half, but he didn't get credit for the score. Final: 2-0 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, May 7, 2001

Serie A: Brescia at Lecce



Soccer: Serie A: Brescia at Lecce

Welcome to the Roberto Baggio show! He scores on a lucky bounce just five minutes in, then in the second half puts in a goal "Olympico" -- straight into the net from the corner flag! Amazing! He finishes his hat trick with a penalty kick, and Brescia go home happy. Final: 3-0 Brescia.

Labels:

Saturday, April 21, 2001

Serie A: Fiorentina at Intermilan



Soccer: Serie A: Fiorentina at Intermilan

After struggling a bit recently, Inter is suddenly back. Vieri got things going with a goal just twelve minutes in, followed by a penalty kick in the 40th minute after Seedorf was taken down in the box. Minutes later came the beauty: Dalmat (who assisted on the first goal) just blasted a shot from forty-some yards out that curled into the inside of the far post and into the net. Stunning! A goal to be talked about for years! In the second half, Fiorentina really turned on the pressure, but it was Inter, on the counter, who scored. Sukur got the ball at the top of the box and curled it over the keeper. Fiorentina got one back with Bressan's header, and with 11 minutes left, Chiesa got another with a chip over the off-his-line Frey, but despite the slight comeback, one just felt that this was Inter's day. Sure enough, they managed to preserve the win. Final: 4-2 Inter.

Labels:

Saturday, January 6, 2001

Serie A: Fiorentina at Juventus



Soccer: Serie A: Fiorentina at Juventus

TV Guide said there was no soccer game today, but when I tuned in mid-way, there was. Thus I missed the first three goals: Chiesa's and Gomes' for Fiorentina and Conte's for Juventus. I was rather bummed, thinking that I'd missed most of the action. But in the second half, Juventus immediately tied the score on a penalty kick. That started him off on a tear, breaking his streak of poor scoring this season. He caught a fantastic volley at the top of the box to put Juventus ahead (remember, in the first 20 minutes they were down by two!). But not long after that Chiesa scored a terrific free kick to equalize the score again. With 30 minutes left I figured there'd be another goal, but that was it. Terrific game, well-deserved result. Final: 3-3.

Labels:

Sunday, April 1, 2001

Serie A: Fiorentina at Vicenza



Soccer: Serie A: Fiorentina at Vicenza

Odd game in which Fiorentina scored the only goals but didn't win. Tiny Vicenza really battled, doing themselves well, but their goal came from Fiorentina when defender Repka scuffed his clear, sending the ball trickling into his own net instead of away. Fiorentina finally got the ball in the correct goal late in the game when Rui Costa scored, but couldn't do more than a draw. Final: 1-1.

Labels:

Monday, May 28, 2001

Serie A: Inter vs. Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: Inter vs. Lazio

Supposedly this was an Inter home game, but played on a neutral site because of problems with Inter fans. I don't know if that helped or hurt, but it wasn't that great of a game until late. Crespo scored late in the first half, and for the longest time it looked like Inter was done for, but suddenly an amazing goal from Dalmat tied the score in the 90th minute! Cool finish. Final: 1-1.

Labels:

Saturday, December 23, 2000

Serie A: Intermilan at Atalanta



Soccer: Serie A: Intermilan at Atalanta

Very poor game with few good chances. Both teams were weak, especially Inter. Inter finally did it, however, with a goal from Seedorf in the 65th minute, giving them their first away win of the season (and Atalanta's first home loss). Seedorf's goal was impressive: he did a flying tackle that kicked the rebounding ball past the keeper. Atalanta had the best chances throughout the game, but couldn't quite finish. Final: 1-0 Inter.

Labels:

Saturday, April 14, 2001

Serie A: Intermilan at Juventus



Soccer: Serie A: Intermilan at Juventus

The first half was boring, with no goals and no much offense by either team. I don't know what the coach said at halftime, but suddenly Juventus came alive. Tacchinardi scored six minutes into the second half, followed by a goal from Inzagi four minutes later. Eight minutes after that Del Piero put in a beauty and it was officially a rout! Vieri managed one for Inter on a penalty kick, but no one seriously expected Juventus to give up a three goal lead. Final: 3-1 Juventus.

Labels:

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Serie A: Intermilan at Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: Intermilan at Lazio

Average game, with Inter looking decidedly below average. Crespo got open five minutes in and finished easily, putting Lazio comfortably in front. They controlled the game after that, setting the pace, and though Inter tried, they never really got things going. Inter didn't play badly, just not as good as they used to play. Late in the second half a penalty kick by Salas put the matter beyond doubt. Final: 2-0 Lazio.

Labels:

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Serie A: Intermilan at Parma



Soccer: Serie A: Intermilan at Parma

Another rout for Inter. Brazilian Junior scores twice, early and late, and Di Vaio puts one in in the 74th minute, to give Parma a decided three goal lead. Christian Vieri brings one back in injury time, but that's much, much too late. Final: 3-1 Parma.

Labels:

Saturday, October 21, 2000

Serie A: Juventus at A.C. Milan



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at A.C. Milan

After a goalless first half it looked like this derby might be a lackluster 1-0 game. But Milan, after being dominated in the first half, came out with fire in their belly and possessed the ball and attacked non-stop for fifteen minutes. That run was capped by Ambrosini's header in the 60th minute, and one minute later Shevchenko scored off a great Boban cross. Suddenly, in the span of a minute and a half, Juventus was down by two goals! But Juventus is infamous for being a team that doesn't give up. A quarter of an hour later, just minutes after being put in the game, French striker Trezeguet (who scored the winner in France's Euro 2000 win this summer) headed the ball into the back of the net. It still looked like Juventus was heading for a defeat, however, as the game entered injury time. Then, one minute in, making the coach look like a genius, substitute Antonio Conte scored a fantastic cross-court shot that just missed the keeper's outstretched fingers. And that was the way it finished, 2-2.

Labels:

Sunday, February 4, 2001

Serie A: Juventus at Atalanta



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Atalanta

Amazing game, with everything on top. Juventus is almost always good, but Atalanta, though they started off the season well, have been struggling of late. Both are near the top of the table. The first hour of this game was routine, with neither team dominating or creating much. But then, late in the game, both teams started to play. Juventus began pushing forward aggressively, and this paid off when a gorgeous cross from Zinedine Zidane was missed by Inzaghi but headed into the goal by an opponent (Paganin). With that lead, you'd expect Juventus to win handily, as they are infamous for 1-0 victories. But just seconds later, in the 75th minute, Atalanta struck back. Off the kickoff the ball was played down the right wing, and eventually a cross was put into the box. In his first touch on the ball, substitution Lorenzi leaped up and headed the ball toward the goal. It arched over Van der Sar's 10-foot stretch, struck the underside of the crossbar, and dropped into the goal. Amazing! With the score tied, everything went berserk. The ref shoved Davitz for no reason (as if the ref should be assaulting players for any reason), and Juve's Kovacevic almost scored on a bicycle kick that cleared off the goalline. Then, in a tight offside call that wasn't called, Ventola was let through with the ball, to go one-on-one with Van der Sar. The Dutch keeper's good, but the player's got a huge advantage, and Ventola gave his side the game winner with eight minutes left. Incredible game. Final: 2-1 Atalanta.

Labels:

Friday, May 11, 2001

Serie A: Juventus at Fiorentina



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Fiorentina

Great game! Juventus was unstoppable, with Zidane playing awesome. He got the first goal in the 24th minute, followed minutes later by Tudor's header. Rossi got a goal back for Fiorentina just before the half ended, but after that Juventus shut down the gates. Then they got an insurance goal from Trezeguet with a minute left in regulation. Excellent win. Final: 3-1 Juventus.

Labels:

Saturday, December 9, 2000

Serie A: Juventus at Intermilan



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Intermilan

This was last Monday's Italian game that I taped. Amazing game. When you get two of the top teams in Italy clashing, the results can be dramatic. Juventus started things off quickly with a goal from Trezeguet after a series of brilliant passes in the box. Juventus absolutely stunned Inter with another goal just minutes later, when Zidane sent in a bomb off his left foot that keeper Frey couldn't stop. But Inter fought back just three minutes later with a terrific header from Frenchman Blanc off Recoba's corner kick. Less than fifteen minutes in and we've already got three goals! But then, as always happens in these derbies, controversy. Viera scored a magnificent header leaping about ten feet in the air to do it, but though countless replays showed no fouls of any kind, the ref wouldn't count the goal. Midway through the second half, Inter finally got their equalizer when Di Bagio's free kick deflected into the net. That ended it, though both keepers made great saves in injury time. Great game! Final: 2-2 draw.

Labels:

Sunday, March 18, 2001

Serie A: Juventus at Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Lazio

One of the most anticipated matches of the season, and with both teams at the top of the table, critical. Juventus played well, but shockingly it was Lazio who took the early lead on an easy feed to Nedved that beat the offside trap just 23 minutes in. Crespo, who's been off form the last couple of games, was back with his own goal just one minute into the second half, a great one-on-one finish against Van der Sar, Juventus' keeper. Juventus was down by two but not out, but then Davids got his second yellow and was ejected. It was starting to look bleak for Juventus, so Del Piero went in on his own and scored a magnificent roofer right on the hour mark. But Lazio wasn't going to let that stand: they came back with more: another from Nedved and another from Crespo, to really finished Juventus off (Lazio's first win against their rivals since 1985). Amazingly, a quarter of the goals that Juventus have given up this season they gave up in this game! Tons more stuff happened: a red for Trezeget late, leaving Juventus with only nine players; several top notch saves from Lazio's keeper; and a goal mouth clearance from Lazio's Nesta. Terrific game, exactly what soccer is all about! Final: 4-1 Lazio.

Labels:

Sunday, October 1, 2000

Serie A: Juventus at Napoli



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Napoli

Finally, the Serie A is back! I love Italian soccer, though defense-minded Juventus isn't my favorite team. They've been struggling in pre-season play, however, and promoted club Napoli went ahead with a goal towards the end of the first half. Juventus seemed to be struggling, but in the second half, Napoli was overconfident and didn't attack, and soon Juve tied things up. Napoli fell apart then, and Juventus moved ahead with a goal by Del Piero, and the game finished 2-1 Juventus.

Labels:

Monday, April 23, 2001

Serie A: Juventus at Parma



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Parma

A surprisingly good game, very entertaining and competitive, though no goals were scored. Final: 0-0.

Labels:

Thursday, December 28, 2000

Serie A: Juventus at Roma



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Roma

A fiercely competitive game, and not boring, though there were no goals. In the end, the teams were evenly matched. Juventus dominated the first half, but Roma was stronger in the second. But neither could penetrate the other's defense. Final: 0-0.

Labels:

Monday, March 5, 2001

Serie A: Juventus at Udinesse



Soccer: Serie A: Juventus at Udinesse

Excellent game. After a lag in which one began to wonder if Juventus would be happy with a draw, Zambrotta scored in the 38th minute. Udinesse fought back valiantly, but they couldn't do anything against the tough Juventus defense. An hour in Inzaghi increased Juventus' lead. There was some hope for Udinesse when Del Piero handled the ball and got his second yellow, but minutes later their own Alberto was sent off for the same offense. Juventus easily held on after that. Final: 2-0 Juventus.

Labels:

Monday, April 2, 2001

Serie A: Lazio at A.C. Milan



Soccer: Serie A: Lazio at A.C. Milan

Very slow first half, but in the second Milan began to really play, looking very impressive. Lazio looked mediocre the entire game. The goal came from my favorite Croatian, Boban, who played well, and put in a terrific long-range header that shot into the back corner like it came from a gun. How he got such control on it, I'll never know. Great goal. Final: 1-0 Milan.

Labels:

Monday, March 12, 2001

Serie A: Lazio at Bologna



Soccer: Serie A: Lazio at Bologna

You'd have that the Rome club would have dominated this one, but for some reason they forgot to show up. Nervo scored early for Bologna, and just before the half Lazio got a man sent off, leaving them just ten for the rest of the game. After that it was all Bologna, with Lazio hardly getting a chance on goal, and finally Signori scored against his old club to top things off. It was a cheeky goal, too: when the keeper went way out of his box to stop him, Signori scooted the ball around him. The ball trickled for twenty yards, everyone watching breathlessly as it curled into the net, no one near enough to catch it! Final: 2-0 Bologna.

Labels:

Monday, January 29, 2001

Serie A: Lazio at Fiorentina



Soccer: Serie A: Lazio at Fiorentina

Wonderful game! It started off a bit slow, with Fiorentina dominating, but Lazio showed real fire with the Nedved/Salas combination. That duo paid off thirty-four minutes in when Salas ran up the left wing and put back a beautiful arching ball toward the top of the key. Nedved ran onto it and delivered one of the most incredibly volleys I have ever seen, putting in a laser beam into the back of the net before the keeper could even blink. Fiorentina fought back, but there were no more goals in that half. Crespo had a chance early in the second half, but fluffed it, but not long after took a clever feed from -- who else -- Nedved, who was everywhere on the pitch today, and beat the keeper at his near post. Crespo got his second fifteen minutes later, when he had the chance to feed Salas but didn't, taking the shot himself from an awkward angle, but Toldo couldn't hold the ball and it dribbled into the goal. With less than ten minutes left Fiorentina got their chance on a penalty kick which Chiesa easily put away, but minutes after that hard-working playmaker Salas accepted the ball from teammate Crespo and nailed his own well-deserved goal from twenty yards out. Incredible. If Salas, Nedved, and Crespo play like this the rest of the season, Lazio's going to win the championship again, no question. Final: 4-1 Lazio.

Labels:

Saturday, November 11, 2000

Serie A: Lazio at Juventus



Soccer: Serie A: Lazio at Juventus

Two of my favorite Italian teams clash and it was terrific! Juventus had the better play over all, but Lazio did what was needed to come away with a point. The first goal was scored by defender Igor Tudor, on a header off a corner kick. The ball went over Veron's head (he was on the goal line) and hit the underside of the crossbar and went in. A few minutes later, Salas put in a great knuckling shot from distance. Even with the rain and everything, it should have been an easy stop for keeper Edwin Van der Sar as it was right at him, but he let the ball slip under his elbow for an easy equalizer. That was all the goals the game netted, but it was still a good game, with lots of chances, a couple redeeming saves for Van der Sar, and some quality attacking play on both sides. Juventus deserved the win, but they didn't get it.

Labels:

Monday, November 27, 2000

Serie A: Lazio at Parma



Soccer: Serie A: Lazio at Parma

Lazio started off in a lackluster fashion, with Parma scoring a great goal by former Lazio player Conceicao ten minutes in. Conceicao was a devil the entire match, running non-stop and pressuring Lazio constantly with great ball handling and clever passes. In the second half, Lazio scored but the goal was controversially called back for offsides: the replay clearly showed the player receiving the ball wasn't offside, however, the whistle went long before Ravanelli headed in the ball, so that didn't bother me too much (I hate it when the ref calls back a goal after it was scored). Anyway, Parma played much better than Lazio, possessing the ball and keeping Lazio at bay. Then late in the game Lazio went down a man when a player got a second yellow. In second half injury time, literally with seconds to play, Parma got their second on a goal by Frenchman Lamouchi who got a favorable bounce to beat a defender and still had the calm to put the ball past the keeper. Final: 2-0 Parma, well-deserved.

Labels:

Monday, October 23, 2000

Serie A: Lazio at Verona



Soccer: Serie A: Lazio at Verona

You'd think last year's champs Lazio would handle Verona easily, but the first half was nil-nil, though not without some impressive goal-keeping from Verona. Then young Romanian star Mutu crossed the ball in front of the Lazio net and a defender knocked it in! Fifteen minutes later, Mutu scored on his own, striking from an awkward angle and beating a defender and the keeper. Lazio had their own obvious chance on the penalty kick in the final minutes, but missed. Final: 2-0 Verona, and well-deserved.

Labels:

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Serie A: Lecce at Roma



Soccer: Serie A: Lecce at Roma

Roma looked the stronger from the start, though obtaining goals was tough. They finally managed in the second half, when defender Walter Samuel received a cross and headed in a goal. It was his first goal in the Serie A, and it proved to be the game winner. Final: 1-0 Roma.

Labels:

Sunday, November 26, 2000

Serie A: Napoli at A.C. Milan



Soccer: Serie A: Napoli at A.C. Milan

Nothing much happened initially, though Milan seemed in control, but with just a couple minutes left in the first half, Jose Marie's header rebounded off the post. On the resulting throw-in, Ambrosini headed the ball in. In the second half Napoli played much better, forcing Abbiati to make a few critical saves, but nothing every penetrated his goal. Final: 1-0 Milan.

Labels:

Saturday, December 9, 2000

Serie A: Napoli at Brescia



Soccer: Serie A: Napoli at Brescia

Two bottom-of-the-league clubs, and the game showed it. While spirited, it was mostly midfield play, and a lot of physical stuff. Diana put Brescia ahead thirty-two minutes in on a great goal where he went wide by himself, received the ball, and scored by pushing the ball past the diving keeper. With thirty minutes left in the game, Pecchia scored for Napoli on a great bomb shot from above the top of the key. That was how it ended, 1-1.

Labels:

Saturday, October 14, 2000

Serie A: Napoli at Intermilan



Soccer: Serie A: Napoli at Intermilan

Newly promoted side Napoli failed against Juventus, but thought they had a chance against a struggling Intermilan. They were wrong. With a new coach (Lippi was fired after they lost the first game of the season; ouch), Inter came out ready to play. Thirty minutes in it was 2-0 in favor of Inter. Then, in first half stoppage time, defender (and World Cup champion) Laurent Blanc found himself one-on-one with Napoli's keeper. Though the keeper had come up big twice against Seedorf, Blanc made him look foolish by calmly passing the ball around him then running onto it for a tap in. It was a classy goal finished with all the composure of a top striker! In second half Napoli managed to get one back, but it was too little, too late. Final: 3-0 Intermilan.

Labels:

Sunday, April 29, 2001

Serie A: Napoli at Regina



Soccer: Serie A: Napoli at Regina

I wasn't expecting much from this clash from the bottom of the table, but it proved an interesting game. Tiny Regina just thrashed Napoli. Dionigal scored just five minutes in, followed by a Marazzina goal at the end of the half off a great through-pass. Zanchetta scored early in the second half to really set things up for Regina. The goalkeeper Taibi saved a penalty kick. Napoli got a little bit of pride back in the 59th minute with a header from Edmundo, but that was the best they could do. Final: 3-1 Regina.

Labels:

Monday, April 16, 2001

Serie A: Parma at Atalanta



Soccer: Serie A: Parma at Atalanta

A hard-fought game, but Parma went ahead in the first half with a goal by Milosevic and that was all they needed. Final: 1-0 Parma.

Labels:

Monday, December 11, 2000

Serie A: Parma at Juventus



Soccer: Serie A: Parma at Juventus

Annoyingly, I got home fifteen minutes late and missed the first -- and only -- goal. With Juventus ahead, Parma struggled to score, but their form was off, and Juve is famous (or infamous) for protecting a one goal lead. Final: 1-0 Juventus.

Labels:

Monday, March 19, 2001

Serie A: Parma at Udinesse



Soccer: Serie A: Parma at Udinesse

Pretty good game, though the scoring took a while to start. DiVaio started things off in the 58th minute, but then a minute later Fiore tied things up on a penalty kick for Udinesse. Things were looking better, but only for seconds: a penalty kick was called the other direction. Amoroso put it away. He scored again toward the end, to really put the nail in Udinesse's coffin. Final: 3-1 Parma.

Labels:

Sunday, January 28, 2001

Serie A: Perugia at Regina



Soccer: Serie A: Perugia at Regina

Poor Regina. Not only do they not get respect from the top clubs, but lowly Perugia comes along to punish them as well! Materazzi started things off twenty minutes in, and six minutes before the end of the half Liverani scored his first of the year on a nice free kick. In the second half Regina fought hard but there was no way Perugia was going to give up that much momentum. Final: 2-0 Perugia.

Labels:

Monday, November 13, 2000

Serie A: Regina at Roma



Soccer: Serie A: Regina at Roma

Poor little Regina just couldn't get it going in the first half, which was completely dominated by Roma. Roma's only goal, however, came from a penalty kick by Totti. In the second half, Roma started off with Delvechio missing a keeperless net from eight yards out. Then Regina got their first shot on goal -- and it went in! Bogdani put in a tremendous header from distance that went right at the base of the post where the keeper couldn't get down fast enough. For fifteen minutes Regina looked like a real team, then Montella put in a great volley in the box on a feed from Totti. For a while it looked like Regina might make a second comeback, but it was not to be. Roma, while they won, should have done much better against such weak opposition. Final: 2-1 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, January 22, 2001

Serie A: Roma at A.C. Milan



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at A.C. Milan

What a match! With Roma leading the league by a comfortable margin they seemed unstoppable. Until today. The first goal came three minutes in on a glorious free kick by Milan's Leonardo (one of my all-time favorite players, though the Brazilian doesn't see much playing time any more -- perhaps he ought to come play in Major League Soccer, hint hint). Then Shevchenko beat Roma's offside trap to dribble in an easy one eighteen minutes later. Roma really poured it on after that, with Batistuta missing several excellent chances, but always looking dangerous. But it was captain Totti that did the trick: a blast from way out that gained from a slight deflection from defender Maldini to confuse the keeper and slide into a corner of the net. With just five minutes to go, Roma smelled a resurgence. But moments later Shevchenko took advantage of a open ball at the front of the net to put Milan back in front by two goals. In the second half, Milan sat back while Roma worked and worked. The effort paid off when a penalty kick was awarded and Totti made short of it (bringing him to nine goals on the season, just one behind teammate Batistuta). But that was in the 85th minute and there just wasn't enough time for Roma to equalize, and they go down for only their second loss of the season. Final: 3-2 Milan.

Labels:

Monday, January 8, 2001

Serie A: Roma at Atalanta



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Atalanta

The game started off with a blast with Delvecchio scoring his first goal of the season in the first minute! After that it was all Atalanta, who did everything but score. Then, late in the first half, Tommasi scored on a counter-attack to put Roma up by two. Atalanta fought back in the second half, but just couldn't get anything going, even when Roma got a man ejected. Final: 2-0 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, May 21, 2001

Serie A: Roma at Bari



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Bari

What a great game! Candella started things off with an amazing juggling demonstration: he juggled the ball away from a defender, spun, knocked the ball up a second time to cue it, and then with his third touch, volleyed the ball into the net from twenty yards out! Definitely a goal of the year candidate in my book. Batistuta extended Roma's lead just before the end of the half, and in the second half, defender Cafu dove to catch the ball off the ground with his head, putting it into the goal. Batistuta got his second just before the end of the game to really pour on the pain for poor Inter. Inter saved a little pride with a 90th minute goal from Spinesi to prevent the shutout, but it was still a royal drubbing by the league leaders. Final: 4-1 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, February 12, 2001

Serie A: Roma at Bologna



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Bologna

Roma's just unstoppable. Bologna's a good team, but they've been struggling of late, and Roma made them look like a Serie B team. The game started off quickly with a penalty kick awarded to Roma, and Batistuta easily put it away. Then a Bologna player stupidly kicked a Roma player while the whole world watched. He tried to do it sneakily, but it was obvious was he was doing. He was immediately given a red card and he had the gall to argue! Down to ten men, Bologna had an uphill battle, and that was made even worse since they couldn't control the Roma team. In one of the most brilliant displays of teamwork I've ever seen, the Roma players took the ball into the Bologna penalty area and dribbled it around, passing and shooting at will. The ball kept ping-ponging around, resembling a pinball machine. Somehow, though, the ball always returned to a Roma player. Finally it fell to the Brazilian Emerson, back for his first game since being sidelined with a terrible knee injury, and he quickly drilled the ball into the back of the net. Very cool, very deserved. In the second half, Roma came back with a goal stolen by Brioschi, but Roma just clammed up and wouldn't let anything else go through. And that was that. Final: 2-1 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, November 6, 2000

Serie A: Roma at Brescia



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Brescia

Brescia hasn't won a game all season, so one was surprised, to say the least, when they led at the half! Candela started things off for Roma in the 13th minute, but nine minutes later Bisoli leveled things for the smaller club. A penalty kick at the 45 minute mark put Brescia ahead going into the half, but the second half was all Roma as they pressed and Brescia tried to play defense. Brescia's keeper made a spectacular double-save early on, but then Batistuta scored off a long shot that bounced to him off the post. He did the same thing again eighteen minutes later when Cafu's shot hit the post and felt right at his feet. Then, in injury time, Batigoal got a terrific feed from Delvechio and put it away sweetly. Final: 4-2 Roma!

Labels:

Monday, April 9, 2001

Serie A: Roma at Fiorentina



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Fiorentina

Another trouncing for a top club! Chiesa scored twelve minutes in to put Fiorentina on top, but that was equalized by Emerson twenty minutes later. After that the game sort of dragged, with neither team taking control. Then, in the 52nd minute, Candella's headed clear hit the post and bounced into his own goal! Fiorentina were leading again. Roma fought hard creating a slew of chances: at one point Fiorentina defenders made two off-the-line clearances in the span of a minute. But the ball never crossed the line, and with eight to go Chiesa got his second and put the result beyond doubt. The first win for new coach Mancini. Final: 3-1 Fiorentina.

Labels:

Friday, November 3, 2000

Serie A: Roma at Intermilan



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Intermilan

A big mid-week match for these two top clubs, I expected a battle and got it. After some Roma domination early on, Inter got a boost with the first goal. New signing Turkish genius Sukur misplaced his shot to give Roma's keeper a save, but what did he do on the resulting corner kick? Head the ball into the net, of course! In the second half, Roma torn into the Inter defense again and again, but nothing they did resulted in a goal. Then, with about twenty minutes left, a fantastic turn-and-shoot move from Recoba put Inter up 2-0, and that was all that it took to sent Roma home with their heads hanging.

Labels:

Sunday, May 6, 2001

Serie A: Roma at Juventus



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Juventus

One of the biggest games of the year in Italy, this one was worth the wait. An odd game. Juventus took off right from the start with two Zidane goals. Okay, he didn't score the first, but he definitely assisted Del Piero's 4th minute header. Two minutes later, it was Zidane, alone at the top of the box, who rifled in a drive to put Juventus up by two. Roma fought for the rest of the game, but it looked like they were never going to break the formidable Juventus defense. Then Japanese star Nakata was brought in. Just minutes later, in the 79th minute, he puts in one of the best goals of the year: a bomb from long range that nearly punched a hole in the back of the net. Amazing! Nakata was involved again, in injury time, when his shot was blocked by the keeper. The rebound, however, was loose, and Montella pounced on it to tie the score! Terrific game! Final: 2-2.

Labels:

Monday, December 18, 2000

Serie A: Roma at Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Lazio

Lackluster play by Lazio gave up this game. Technically, it was an own goal, when a defender cleared the ball into a teammate and it rebounded into the goal, but essentially it was that Lazio didn't play as well as they should have. Final: 1-0 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, February 5, 2001

Serie A: Roma at Parma



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Parma

Excellent game. Roma had the initial momentum, but then, amazingly, Captain Totti missed his penalty kick! (He's normally a perfect penalty kick taker.) Parma took momentum from that to score their own goal, by DiVaio in the 36th minute. Roma fought back in the second half, but while exciting, nothing was going in. Then Batistuta decided to get involved. In the 74th minute he put in a fantastic volley to tie the score. Even more amazing, nine minutes later, he did the same thing again! Incredible goals. Final: 2-1 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, November 20, 2000

Serie A: Roma at Verona



Soccer: Serie A: Roma at Verona

Early on this game looked unpredictable as lowly Verona went up 1-0 on a penalty kick in the fourth minute. But Roma took over after that, with Candela scoring in the 32nd minute on a great curling shot through a crowd of defenders and into the goal, and Totti putting in an easy goal in first half injury time when he was left completely unmarked at the top of the box. The second half was more of the same for poor Verona as Roma dominated. Thirteen minutes in Batistuta scored on a terrific free kick, blasting it through the wall and into the upper corner. Amazing, and worth the price of admission right there. Suddenly, Verona came alive, pressuring Roma with a long period of shots, free kicks, and corners, but they couldn't actually score. Then, with just minutes left, Batistuta finished them off with another goal, a simple tap-in from a cross just outside of the keeper's reach. Final: 4-1 Roma.

Labels:

Monday, April 30, 2001

Serie A: Roma vs. Lazio



Soccer: Serie A: Roma vs. Lazio

The Rome derby started off slow, but became excellent. The first goal came in the second half, from Batistuta, on an assist by Delvechio. Minutes later, Delvechio got one of his own. Then Lazio fought back with a brilliant volley from the top of the box by Nedved. There were a number of other great chances, but that was it for the goals. Awesome game. Final: 2-1 Roma.

Labels:

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Serving Sara



Movie: Serving Sara

Not as bad as I expected, though definitely predictable. It's a about a guy who works as a process server. He serves Sara her divorce papers, then explains that if she'd served her husband first, the divorce would take place in New York instead of Texas, and she'd get half her husband's money, whereas if the divorce is in Texas, she'd get squat. The two therefore scheme to serve her husband first and in exchange she'll give the guy a million dollars. A few interesting moments -- the competition between two process servers for jobs is fun -- but the romance between Sara and the guy is too obvious to be believable.

Labels:

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Seven Samurai



Movie: Seven Samurai

Interesting film about a tiny village hiring some Samurai warriors to protect them from a bandit army. Obviously a classic, but a touch overlong from a Western perspective. (In many ways I actually preferred the Western remake [The Magnificent Seven] mostly because it was easier to understand, though the American film obviously was just a mere action flick.) Definitely a film to see multiple times as there's plenty of depth.

Labels:

Thursday, February 17, 2000

Sex, Lies, and Videotape



Movie: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
Writer(s): Steven Soderbergh
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh

I hadn't seen this for years so it was cool to rent the DVD and see it again. What surprised me was how current the movie still is, and the amazing performance by James Spader. He's incredible in this film -- such subtle acting is extremely rare. The director's commentary on the DVD is pretty cool -- Soderbergh birdwalks all over the place, touching on his favorite films and scenes and occasionally commenting on "Sex, Lies." Seeing his perspective ten years after his directorial debuts is educational. As to the film itself, it was more impressive now than ever: the story's not especially unusual (an extramarital affair), but the perspective is different. Most impressive was how Soderbergh makes us feel like we're watching the extremely sexual, and yet there's no nudity or direct sexual activity -- it really is just sex talk.

Labels:

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Sexy Beast



Movie: Sexy Beast

Stylish crime drama about a retired crook who's "encouraged" to come back for one last score. Terrific dialogue, some great set pieces, and fantastic characters (and performances) make this well worth your time. Ultimately, like most crime dramas such as Snatch, this leaves you feeling a little empty, like you aren't sure exactly what the point was. Purposely morally ambiguous, these type of movies don't give you a clear conclusion. Some make like that, or think it's hip, but I find it a flaw. Not necessarily a fatal one, or even that big of one, but a flaw nonetheless. Good film. Fun. Wild. Entertaining. Not quite as profound as it could have been.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Shackleton



Movie: Shackleton

This was a made-for-A&E film about the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton, a British explorer who led several expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century. If I'd known it was a mini-series (four hours long if you include commericials), I don't know that I would have bothered, but after watching the intriguing first half, I had to watch the conclusion. In the first part, Shackleton raises funds and plans his second expedition, and in part two he and his ship are stranded in the middle of an ice flow for months and eventually are forced to abandon ship and crawl their way to land. The 28 men carry small boats over the ice searching for open water, eventually finding it and traveling to Elephant Island, where there's wildlife (mostly seals) they can eat. A group of six men led by Shackleton set off in a boat to find civilization and rescue. They find land, but unfortunately they land on the wrong side and must hike over a mountain. They arrive half-dead, but alive, and Shackleton organizes a rescue effort that eventually (on the fourth attempt) reaches the rest of his men stranded on Elephant Island. The men lived their for four months waiting for rescue.

This is an amazingly well-done film: the view of Antarctica are breathtaking and everything is extremely realistic. I tended to forget I wasn't watching a documentary. When I remembered this was a dramatization, I felt sympathy for the actors who had to live in the frozen wasteland just to make this movie. In a few places, the drama was overdone and occasionally there were minor skips in logic or events that confused me (for instance, the entire film takes place over a year and a half and it was often confusing as to how much time had passed between scenes). Still, the story was interesting and of historical importance, and I found fascinating Shackelton's remarkable fortitude and determination that allowed him to not lose a single man in this ill-fated expedition. Definitely worth your time.

Labels:

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Shadow of the Vampire



Movie: Shadow of the Vampire

Terrific look at the making of a classic silent film, Nosferatu, the first vampire movie ever made, and one of the most realistic. The premise of this film is that the obssessed German director used a real vampire for his lead actor! Throughout the shoot, the vampire keeps killing various crew members, upsetting the director who can barely control his star with the promise of being given the neck of the beautiful movie actress as his prize. Funny yet poignant, with a lot of inside jokes, this is a terrific film for anyone who loves movies.

Labels:

Sunday, September 8, 2002

Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes



Soccer: Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes Shake with the Quakes

Okay, this wasn't a game, but it's soccer related. As an Earthquake season ticket holder I got to go to this special event. I was surprised by how many people showed up: at least a thousand, maybe more. First there was a very interesting question-and-answer session with Coach Frank Yallop and several players. Some tough questions were asked (like how did Frank feel about the officiating in last night's game or how would the Quakes rank in the English Premiership) but the group did a good job of being honest and open. The practice field was all set up with Soccer Celebration stuff: a goal where kids could practice goal-keeping as SJ keepers tried to score; two enclosed areas where informal soccer games were played by fans against SJ Earthquake pros; a rock climbing tower; a huge slide; and several other interactive events. Then there was the autograph tent: the line went on for at least two hundred yards. The dumb thing was that each autograph session was only a half-hour long and you'd have to wait in line at least an hour, meaning you probably weren't going to get the autograph of the player you wanted. Still, it was a fun event (though I didn't bother waiting for an autograph). Great to see so many Earthquake fans and families into soccer. I was definitely born too early. Can you imagine being a soccer kid and being able to play a scrimmage with your favorite local player? I would have died for such an incredible thing!

Labels:

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Shallow Hal



Movie: Shallow Hal

The plot's predictable: shallow Hal is a guy obsessed with physically beautiful women until he is hypnotized into seeing the "inner beauty" and falls in love with a fat woman. Of course she doesn't look fat to him -- he sees her as Gwynth Paltrow. I liked that effect. The film was not quite as deep as I hoped, but in other ways deeper than I expected. The only thing I didn't like was that the filmmakers had an automatic "fat = ugly" attitude, which was rather odd considering the theme of the film is that appearance doesn't matter. One touching scene was where Hal meets a little girl burn victim and doesn't recognize her because when he saw her the first time he saw her inner beauty and didn't know she was scarred. Very cool.

Labels:

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Shanghai Knigts



Movie: Shanghai Knigts

Routine sequel that has the two from the first film going to England to find murderer of John Wayne's father. Plenty of humor, good Jackie Chan action, and enough silliness that who cares about the plot? Good fun, though a little long. Films like this need to be 90 minutes and no more or the concept starts to feel stale.

Labels:

Friday, October 20, 2000

Shanghai Noon



Movie: Shanghai Noon

Terrific Jackie Chan film, full of his characteristic humor and great action. This is described on the DVD as an "Eastern Western," which is exactly what it is. It's a period piece, which surprised me (I remembered very little from the trailers, only that critics had liked it). It's totally cool. Set in the old West, it deals with a Chan as an Imperial Guard sent to America to rescue the Emperor's kidnapped daughter. He meets up with an inept bandit (wonderfully played by Owen Wilson) and the two become uncooperative partners. Hilarious, witty, beautifully photographed (the Nevada landscapes are breathtaking), and filled with Chan's amazing stunts. And I can't fail to mention Ally McBeal's Lucy Liu as the princess -- she was perfect.

Labels:

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Shaolin Soccer



Movie: Shaolin Soccer

This is a wild fantasy of a film. It appears to have been created by a kindergarten kid on LSD. It bears no resemblance to reality, everything is stereotypical and exaggerated, and it has a number of bizare twists, like characters breaking into musical dance numbers for no apparent reason at all. To give you some idea of what the movie is like, the enemy team our heros must beat in the grand finale soccer match is called "Team Evil." And you know what? I liked it! It's great. Hilariously campy, fun, and so silly you can't help laughing and enjoying it. The special effects are amazing: not because they are cheesy (though some of them are), but because they are so over-the-top and non-stop you just can't help but admire them. For instance, a kicked soccer ball picks up so much speed flames burst around it like a meteorite coming through earth's atmosphere... and then the flames turn into the shape of a dragon! The whole film is filled with such craziness. It's great. Granted, there isn't much soccer here. Probably only about 20 minutes in the whole film. There's some soccer ball kicking, but the first "game" is more like a pub brawl than a match. The series of games at the climax bear little resemblance to anything in the soccer world, so soccer purists aren't going to be exactly overjoyed, but the film's not really about soccer: it's about fun. Soccer's just the excuse. The thread-bare plot's just a frame for all the cool martial arts special effects.

What makes the film work is that it is consistent. It's over-the-top from the beginning and never shies away from that all the way to the end. Too many American movies that try for a similar feel end up an awkward mess because they try to include some degree of realism that ruins the fantasy.

This is a creative gem, fun for adults and kids alike, regardless of whether you like soccer or martial arts. The digital special effects are like scenery painted with colorful candy, the characters so stereotypical they are parodies of themselves, and the wild camera angles so much fun you just have to smile. Go and have a good time. It's harmless. Relax and enjoy it. Be a kid again. Let your imagination rule. Color outside the lines.

Labels:

Friday, July 8, 2005

Shark Tale



Movie: Shark Tale

I missed this in theatres, though I intended to see it. Now I think I'm glad I waited. It's certainly not bad; just uneven. And it has some dangerously provocative propaganda hidden within it (it practically preaches) which I found distasteful and inappropriate (especially in a kids' movie). The plot deals who two main characters, Oscar, a small fish in a big ocean who wants more, and Lenny, a vegetarian shark, who's the son of a mobster/killer. Oscar pretends to kill Lenny and becomes famous, while Lenny's now free of his father's demands to become a killer. The endings rather convoluted and weak, the jokes inconsistent, and there are certainly a few too many fish puns, but overall this is a good attempt at a story -- it's just not up to Pixar's superior standards.

Labels:

Monday, May 10, 2004

Shattered Glass



Movie: Shattered Glass

Wow, this is a fantastic movie! It's about the real-life story of Stephen Glass, a writer for the New Republic, who fabricated dozens of stories for the magazine before finally getting caught. This is about how he was caught and what he did, and it's an exciting, interesting story. It's a little sad as well, because while Glass was certainly wrong, he does come across as pathetically young. He started off fabricating a quote or two, and when he got away with that, he started making up entire stories. A great movie, especially for those interested in writing and writers.

Labels:

Friday, September 24, 2004

Shaun of the Dead



Movie: Shaun of the Dead

This British film has one of the best premises I've ever heard of: the dead come to life in London and admidst all the regular drunks, losers, and McJobbers, and no one notices! Hilarious. We cut from scenes of our loser hero staggering zombie-like out of bed and to a dead end job to scenes of real zombies lose in the world. While this movie is funny, I really hoped for some witty and piercing social commentary. Unfortunately, the film turns into a real zombie movie. In that respect, it's very good within that genre, but without depth, the film's nothing more than an elaborate gag. But it's an excellent film, funny (not exactly a joke a line, but definitely comedic), intelligent, and cool. There are dozens of awesome scenes and killer moments. The zombie scares are good as well, though the humor takes the edge off the fear factor. The plot is merely survival as a loser tries to get back with his girlfriend by saving her from the zombies, and of course nothing goes as planned. The direction is wonderful, matching the film's humor (somewhat similar to Raising Arizona in that regard), with a high pace, energy-filled shooting. Great stuff, though I would have liked it even more if it was a touch more thoughtful (like the original Dawn of the Dead).

Labels:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

She's the Man



Movie: She's the Man

While the idea of turning Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" into a modern story about a girl soccer player who pretends to be a boy to get on the boy's soccer team isn't terrible, this dreadfully unfunny and cheesily over-acted dreck just makes a mockery out of everything: love and relationships, soccer, life, reality. It has some neat ideas and a decent cast (though the lead can't even kick a soccer ball convincingly) but everything is so ham-handled the result would bore 9-year-olds.

Labels:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes



Movie: Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Director(s): Guy Ritchie

I was intrigued by this, but cautious as the trailers gave no hint as to the story, and I came away from it with mixed feelings. It's not a great film, but it's good enough, I suppose. I liked many things about it. The casting is fine, though this "new" Sherlock Holmes is more modern and flawed (he's a drunken slob much of the time, something I found distasteful). I loved the humor, and the stylish direction of Ritchie definitely added a fun quirky touch. For instance, the film would occasionally double back to reveal more information about a previous scene. Like in one sequence, we saw a bum accost someone and later there's a speeded up sequence where we see Holmes changing into a disguise and we realize that he was that begger. That is very cool. Another technique was Holmes' thinking about what he was going to do with clipped previews showing his intention, and then the "real life" view of what he actually did (exactly what he planned). Overall, I liked this style a lot: that surprised me as it's a modern technique and not fitting with Victorian-era Holmes, but it worked. What didn't work for me was the overly-convoluted -- and boring -- plot. Basically we begin with Holmes catching a bad guy just before he kills a woman, and that bad guy's eventually hanging. But then the bad guy supposedly was into dark occult magic and rose from the dead and we learn he was part of some secret society out to rule to world. Yeah, really cutting edge stuff. A guess the trio of screenwriters were reading too much Dan Brown. What follows after that is a complicated mess of bizarre events, murders, and mayhem, with Holmes and Watson trying to figure out what's going on. We throw into that a mysterious and beautiful woman, Holmes' long-time love interest who's an international jewelry thief and her questionable motivations and apparent control by a third party, and the strange dynamic between Holmes and Watson, where Sherlock is attempting to sabotage his friend's impending nuptials. What all this means is non-stop action, either in physical battles, mysterious happenings, or hilarious dialogue, but it's all so convoluted and fast-paced that there's no time for genuine emotions or real character development. Nothing makes much sense until the end, and even then, it's questionable. The film also ends on an obvious sequel-is-coming note, a practice I find annoying. The bottom line is that this film is fun, it's entertaining, it's somewhat intelligent in terms of dialogue, but there's just not much of a mystery for Holmes to investigate. It's more physical action than mental genius, and the plot is more suited for a James Bond film than a Sherlock Holmes story. There are also many aspects of character that are so loosely defined I found them confusing: the back story between Holmes and the female thief are only hinted at, and I was never quite comfortable with the whole Holmes-Watson relationship (I couldn't tell if Watson hated Holmes or adored him, or both). I suppose the real bottom line is that I adored Morton Downy Jr. in the title role -- genius as usual -- but I didn't really like the Sherlock Holmes character in this film. Combined with the crazy plot, I have to give a big shrug at the whole mess. Enjoy it for the fun and stylistic filmmaking, but don't expect an intriguing mystery.

Labels:

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sherrybaby



Movie: Sherrybaby

Now this is an amazing film. Though the subject matter is unpleasant and many of the people are awful and the main character is thoroughly flawed, the story is reality and truth, with all the subtlties of real life. The story's about a young woman (Sherry) released from prison on parole. She's a drug addict who stole to support her habit. She has a five-year-old daughter she's barely seen being raised by her brother and his wife. The plot's about her trying to get her life back on track. Though her brother's sacrified to raise her daughter she resents that, frustrated that her daughter doesn't recognize her as mother. Through the film's simple story we see all the horrors of drug addiction, life on parole, life as a convict, life in a dsyfunctional family. The level of detail is amazing, and Maggie Gyllenhal deserves an Oscar for her incredible performance. I really liked this film. It's not pleasant, it's definitely adult material, but it's so honest and genuine, and the emotions all resonate as reality. Awesome.

Labels:

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Shipping News



Movie: The Shipping News

This was a terrific film. I don't even remember it in the theatres. I've seen the book but never read it; after the movie, I'm tempted to check it out. The story is complicated and a little meandering. Basically a loser, haunted by never living up to his dad's hopes, has a mindless job and a relationship with a strange woman, Petal, who treats him like dog poop. When she dies, he ends up moving with his young daughter and an aunt to Newfoundland, where his family is originally from. There he discovers he has a troubled past. His ancestors were pirates and did evil things, and the old house they live in seems haunted and troubled by awful secrets. The man gets a job the tiny local newspaper, where he struggles to learn to be a reporter, and slowly becomes part of the community. Even though the man is middle-aged, it's really a coming of age story, as he learns to forgive his father and be his own person. Excellent.

Labels:

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Shivers



Movie: Shivers (197)
Writer(s): David Cronenberg
Director(s): David Cronenberg

Nice little thriller from the master of the bizarre, Cronenberg. This was his first film, but even it shows the touches of a genius. As typical of Cronenberg, the plot is absurd to the point of silliness -- humans in a high-rise complex are infected by a parasite that makes them seek sexual pleasure -- but Cronenberg directs the film with a seriousness that makes it believable. Some nice chills and bit of gore, but mostly fun. Watching the hero run from a sex-crazed crowd is hilarious -- he's running because they want to have sex with him, not hurt him (though sex will infect him with the parasite). Not quite as much profundity as I would have liked, but more than your average horror flick (interesting that this was made in a pre-AIDS era). Recommended for Cronenberg fans.

Labels:

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shoot 'em Up



Movie: Shoot 'em Up

I got to see this while in LA. To describe this as "over the top" is gross understatement. This is so outrageous it's really a hilarious parody of action films. The plot is basically about a guy who witnesses an attack on a pregnant woman: toughs want her dead. So he kills them all, delivers the baby (while shooting bad guys), uses his gun to shoot the umbilical cord in half, and when the mother is killed, escapes with the baby and attempts to preserve his life. It gets more absurd from there, absolutely gleeful in its ridiculousness. It really is fun, if you're into this kind of a flick (and this is practically the definition of a "flick"). Two thumbs way up.

Labels:

Friday, December 27, 2002

Shoot the Piano Player



Movie: Shoot the Piano Player
Director(s): Francois Truffaut

Interesting, if somewhat convoluted story about a former piano virtuoso who quit after his wife's suicide, and now plays in a rundown bar. One of his brother's tries to cheat on some gansters, and now they're after him, so he runs to his brother for help, and then things get complicated. A fun sense of humor makes this an above average ganster film.

Labels:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Shooter



Movie: Shooter

A bit silly and convoluted with a rather obvious approach to politically correct conspiracy theory 101, this is the story of a former sniper recruited by a shadowy government organization supposedly to help stop a presidential assasination, but then it turns out it's all a setup and the sniper is the fall guy for the assasination. From that point it's just a mild action-adventure film with a few nice set pieces and a predictable, so-so ending. Entertaining, but not much beyond that.

Labels:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Show Business: The Road to Broadway



Movie: Show Business: The Road to Broadway (2005)

This is a fascinating documentary that follows the creation and production of four musicals on Broadway during the 2003-2004 season. What I especially liked is the broad treatment: we get to hear from actors, writers, musicians, directors, critics, and even fans. Each group has different insights into theatre. The second thing that makes this work is the variety: each of the four musicals ("Wicked," "Taboo", "Avenue Q," and "Caroline, or Change") are extremely different in subject matter, style, and tone, which helps give this documentary a broader appeal. There should be something of interest to everyone here.

But the thing that fascinated me the most -- pertinent right now as I'm polishing my second novel -- is the surprising knowledge at just how much these productions can change, even after opening night. Songs are rewritten, production numbers moved around, stories changed, scenes added or dropped, etc. I have worked in theatre and minor adjustments would be the norm, but I didn't realize they would actually rewrite the entire thing. Of course, the theatre I did was mostly unoriginal work, so we wouldn't have thought of rewriting a classic play, for instance. Broadway does a lot of brand new productions that are still in flux, so they change according to audience feedback. That's why shows that open to mixed reviews may find their feet later, as they figure out the bugs, enhance the scenes that work, and drop the problem areas. Fascinating. Worth watching.

Labels:

Sunday, May 20, 2001

Shrek



Movie: Shrek

Terrific film! Wonderful performances, great writing, amazing animation. Has stuff for the whole family. At a few points it's a little "adult," but kids won't get those jokes anyway (at least we hope). I especially liked the way the film incorporated hip modern elements with traditional fairy tale elements. It was also cool the way it mocked Disney stuff (this picture's made by Dreamworks). But the core of the film -- the story -- was excellent. Well worth seeing.

Labels:

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Shrek 2



Movie: Shrek 2

Terrific sequel. Has more of the same mixed-up fairy tale humor with a good heart. The story's a little slight -- Shrek and his new bride go visit her King and Queen parents -- but I loved the evil Fairy Godmother character, the witty jokes that come at you like from a gatling gun, and hilarious modern references (singing "Rawhide" during their journey, the "Far Far Away" kingdom as Hollywood, modern music, etc.). The ending's pat, but satisfying. All in all, a great sequel.

Labels:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shrek Forever After



Movie: Shrek Forever After

It is obvious the franchise is losing steam. In the first few films the jokes and visual puns came at a machine gun pace, almost too rapid for comprehension -- but in this one there were many long moments without any jokes at all. But it was still enjoyable, if not quite so innovative and funny. The plot was interesting and compelling. The story is about Shrek feeling overwhelmed as a new dad and husband and longing for his old life, so he makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to have his old life back just for one day. Of course there's a catch as he ends up in an alternate future where he never rescued and married Fiona. That, of course, makes him realize that his old life was great. Worse, at the end of his "day" he'll disappear, because in this version of the world he was never born. Only true love can break his contract with Rumpelstiltskin, so he has only one day to find Fiona and convince her that she loves him, though she's never met him. Interesting story, though perhaps too serious at times. It was amusing to see the various familiar characters in different roles (Donkey was way less annoying), but that running gag got old fairly quickly. Overall this is a decent entry in the franchise and though it won't disappoint too much, it's not remarkable like the first film.

Labels:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shrek the Third



Movie: Shrek the Third

I liked the first and the second was good, if a bit forced. This one is not as good as the first but better than the second. The story is slender -- the King dies and Shrek's off to find the heir while former foe Prince Charming is plotting to take over the throne. Most of the humor is familiar and there's nothing particularly clever, but there are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. It's mostly just harmless fun, nicely entertaining without straining your brain.

Labels:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shutter Island



Movie: Shutter Island
Director(s): Martin Scorsese

An incredible film. I purposely knew next to nothing about this going in. I'd seen a glimpse or two of a trailer, but all I knew is that it starred Leonardo DiCaprio and was directed by Martin Scorsese. That was enough for me to go. Oddly, despite knowing zero about the story, it turned out to be just what I expected. The film is about a U.S. marshall going to a remote island that houses a hospital for the criminally insane and looking for an escaped patient. As soon as I saw that we were dealing with crazy people, I had ideas about where the film was going, and that's what it did. Though I didn't know the specifics, it still felt predictable to me, though I suspect most people will find the "twist" surprising. What made the film work for me was everything else: the wonderful 1953 period setting and island location, the excellent performances, the flawless use of special effects to convey story not spectacle, the terrific dialog and writing, and the masterful direction. Everything is just so well done. The plot's gimmicky but it works because there's depth at every level of the story. The film's deeply emotional, disturbing, eerie, sad, and tragic. It's got some tough emotional moments in it that may not be for all people (for instance, one of the crazy people killed her three children, and there are also disturbing scenes at a Nazi concentration camp), but in general this is a must see film. It's not perfect -- the story's almost too clever for its own good -- but so much of it is done so well that it's worth seeing just for the experience. Go see it!

Labels:

Monday, August 26, 2002

Signs



Movie: Signs (2002)
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan

Strange film. It's supposed to be scary, I guess, but the thrills are the silly B-movie type. Basically, aliens arrive on earth but remain in hiding, and we only catch occasional glimpses of them. The film's very slow, almost ponderous, and while the characterization is modestly deep and interesting, the feel needs a lot more. The main character, a former priest, has lost faith in God after his wife's death. The film is ostensibly about how he regains that faith. It's well done, but the whole alien angle is rather ridiculous and cheesy. The motives of the aliens are never explained, they look too much like humans in monster outfits (sort of like Swamp Thing), and with the world media focusing on them, it's absurd to think no one has seen them (not long after the invasion you'd think they'd be the focus of "alien autopsy" shows ;-). Mel Gibson does a decent job as the father, though I still find him a hard sell as a priest, but the real cause of his loss of faith is never really explained, Sure, his wife was killed in a freak accident, but why was that enough to destroy his faith? Was he so weak to begin with or was the love of his wife so strong (stronger than his love of God)? Weak. Overall, I give this film a B-. It's well done and above average, but nothing that memorable. The performances of the kid is very good: Shyamalan is good at casting kids. But this is definitely the weakest of his three films. Could have been improved by being 30 minutes shorter.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Silent Partner



Book: Silent Partner
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

Strange book. It's both well-written and poorly written, as though the author's schizophrenic. At time's the writing's just bad, with trite phrases and cheesy scenes, then there'll be a portion of remarkable psychological insight. The problem is that the book isn't consistent, which makes for awkward reading. You're just not sure you trust the author. The plot's decent, at least in the sense of keeping you motivated to read, but unravels and bit at the end, with a pretentious and unrealistic resolution. The basic idea is that a reclusive billionaire -- worth an absurd $500 billion, ten times more than Bill Gates -- hires a pretty bank officer to handle a corporate merger. Why her? That's one of the mysteries. There's a whole lot of manipulation going on and we're not sure who is who and what is what. Unfortunately, indentities are at the core of the plot, and since everything isn't revealed until the end, it makes for a frustrating read since most of the time you don't really trust -- or like -- any of the shifty characters. Most of the characters are cardboard, anyway, typical for this genre, but Frey tries a little too hard to make them 3D and that shows. It's not that bad, but this must be one of Frey's earlier novels, because it comes across that way. Still, it's got a few good moments and isn't terrible.

Labels:

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Silent Speaker



Book: The Silent Speaker
Writer(s): Rex Stout

I'd heard about this author, who created the dectective Nero Wolfe, and wanted to read some of his novels. This is the first one I've read and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the story moves slowly and it seems no progress is being made to solve the murder, which is frustrating. On the other hand, the ending was good and you see Wolfe's genius in retrospect. (Essentially, he'd solved the murder earlier but waited until the right moment to reveal his knowledge, which was quite clever.) Some of the writing and situations are severely dated (this novel was written in the forties), but overall this is remarkably good mystery writing. I'm going to read more Wolfe before I make my final judgements as to how much I like these mysteries.

Labels:

Friday, August 30, 2002

Simone



Movie: Simone

Interesting premise, competently executed, but ultimately trivial. It's about a movie director who's tired of his film career being sabatoged by prima donna movie stars so he replaces the lead in his upcoming film with a computer simulated actress. The public doesn't notice the deception and falls in the love with the unknown actress, turning her overnight into a celebrity and the film into a hit. Suddenly the director's huge, but his star is bigger, only now he's worried about the backlash so he can't tell anyone she's not real. He does another film with her, then has her do interviews (via satellite, or course, not in person). Finally she gets so big (overshadowing himself) he pulls the plug, only to be arrested for her murder! Fun flick with decent performances, but there's nothing earthshattering here. You won't learn anything you didn't know going in.

Labels:

Thursday, November 30, 2000

Simpatico



Movie: Simpatico

Incomprehensible mess about horse racing fraud and blackmail. Told in a mishmash of flashbacks, you keep expecting something eventful to happen, but nothing much does. In the end, you wonder why you bothered.

Labels:

Friday, June 29, 2007

Simple Genius



Book: Simple Genius
Writer(s): David Baldacci

The strange thing about this book is that it takes a long time to get to the real plot. The first part of the book is about a woman struggling with some sort of psychological secrets; her boyfriend bails her out of trouble and gets her into a clinic. Then, to pay for her health care, the boyfriend has to get a freelance investigation job. Slowly I figured out that these two characters were supposed to be familiar to me from previous Balacci books. But since they weren't, I found this part of the book confusing and pointless. The real plot is the investigation, which takes place at a government think tank where a scientist has been murdered. The murdered man's daughter is the title character -- a semi-autistic or "special" child who's troubled but can do amazing math in her head. The investigator thinks she's got a secret code in her head but can't figure out how to access it. It's all muddled and the action takes a long time to get going as nothing much happens until toward the end. The ending is even more convoluted and doesn't really make much sense -- stuff about rogue CIA agents running drugs, government conspiracies, and hidden treasure. Yeah, you read right: there's hidden treasure through in the mix as well. Meanwhile the woman's working through her psychological problems (and finds something to investigate at the psycho clinic while she's there), and she ends up joining her partner for the final part of the book where things start to happen. Eventually we find out her psycological secrets, but the whole thing is bizarre and nothing really fits together: it's like the plots of several books were put into a blender and this is what came out. There are some nice ideas and some aspects of the story were interesting, but the explanations are a letdown and the character development is too dependent upon you knowing them from previous books. Odd.

Labels:

Saturday, January 29, 2000

Simply Irresistible



Movie: Simply Irresistible (1999)
Writer(s): Judith Roberts (II) and Elisabeth Robinson
Director(s): Mark Tarlov

Film classes now have a new film to use as the ultimate example of bad filmmaking. Like all really bad movies, this is tragic: almost all the jokes fall flat, the editing is listless, and there's a strange sitcom feel to the directing and sets. The plot is illogical and bizarrely paced -- events jump around chaotically, and many mysteries are never explained. Even the special effects, usually a given in today's film market, are feeble (even by TV standards). I wanted to like this: Sarah Michelle Geller is a favorite, and I liked the concept of magical foods that act as a love potion, but just about nothing in this film works. Truly a hideous mishmash. Worth watching only for the movie-making educational aspects.

Labels:

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie



Movie: The Simpsons Movie

This was great! I had no idea what to expect. The TV episodes are so scattered they hardly have a plot, a technique that I didn't think would work well in a film. Fortunately the film does have a main plot to serve as a backbone, but it also skips around for lots of hilarious jokes and gags. The writers did a fantastic job of incorporating almost all our favorite characters from the decades the show has been on the air, and I adored the great self-deprecating humor. Right at the beginning there's a great scene with the family at the theatre watching the "Itcy and Scratchy Movie" and Homer saying, "I can't believe we're payig to see something we can get on TV for free!" And then, just to make sure we get it, he turns and points right at us, the movie audience, and says, "That means YOU!" Great stuff. Like on the show, the plot's almost irrelevant: something about Springfield being the most poluted town in the USA and so the EPA encloses the city in a giant dome so nobody can leave and Homer must save the city at the end. But the gags are great. If you like the TV show, you'll like the movie.

Labels:

Friday, April 1, 2005

Sin City



Movie: Sin City
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez

This is a fantastic, brilliant, wonderful movie. It's full of anti-heroes, gray characters of criminal backgrounds. It's a collection of semi-related stories based on the comics of Frank Miller. The stories are unusual, ultra-violent, grim, and tragic, yet filled with an inspired sense of wild fun, witty dark humor, and film noir nostalgia (similar to the Kill Bill: Volume One series). Just wonderful if you're into that sort of thing.

Labels:

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Sirens of Titan



Book: The Sirens of Titan
Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut

This is a bizarre, ambitious, and genius bit of work from Vonnegut. It's somewhat a science-fiction piece, with time-travel and interplanetary voyages, but it really is about the quest for the meaning of life. The joke is that the sum total of all human endeavor turns out to be for the sole purpose of assisting a stranded alien motorist. But Kurt presents all this in a wild tale of manipulation, fortune-telling, war, and religion that is fascinating. The plot is difficult to describe. Basically a man on Earth tries to fly to Mars and gets caught in a time-loop of some sort: he's basically stuck in every moment time, past and future. He appears on earth and elsewhere as a projection, but he can communicate, so he starts manipulating people on Earth to start a war between Mars and Earth. You don't find out his ultimate purpose until closer to the end of the book. It's a wild story, interestingly told. I found Kurt's science-fiction aspects to be very well done. He invents cool new places and creatures really well. Some of the technology he describes is quite old-school and dated (I'm not sure when this story was written, but I think vacuum tubes were still popular then), but in the end such things are minor parts of the novel. Ultimately, I'm not quite sure where this all leads. If his purpose is to say that there is no purpose, he's defeated himself in the process. Either way, the ending is a letdown; much ado about nothing. That doesn't take away from the many positives of the book, but it does keep it from being great. It's a worthwhile read for everything else, however. I recommend it to Vonnegut fans.

Labels:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants



Movie: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Definitely a girly film, and the concept -- one summer as they are apart four girls trade a pair of magical jeans that fits each of them perfectly -- occasionally comes across as forced and juvenile. But the heart of of the story isn't the jeans but the lives of the teenage girls as they grow up, and that part is very interesting and well-done. Each of the girls is unique and their experiences are interesting. One girl visits her grandparents in Greece and learns to unwind and falls in love. Another struggles with her father's remarriage. Another meets a 12-year-old brat and resents her, until she learns the girl's dying of lukemia. The fourth struggles with handling her mother's sucide. It's at times overly dramatic but the cast is excellent, and the resolutions to the stories are very well done -- no sitcom quick fix here. I liked that the girls are all real with flaws, but not evil or really bad (i.e. no descent into drugs or alcohol abuse). Their problems are not necessarily huge (except to them), which is realistic. Overall, I was surprised and impressed.

Labels:

Sunday, October 29, 2000

Sisters



Movie: Sisters
Director(s): Brian DePalma

Basically an hommage to Hitchcock. It's well-done, but tends to feel like a remake even though it's new material. The plot's a complex mess about separated siamese twin sisters and murder. A woman reporter witnesses a murder (shades of Rear Window), but has trouble proving it. Ending is pretty cool, which includes reporter being placed in an insane asylum where everything she says is just proof that she's belongs there.

Labels:

Sunday, July 23, 2000

Site Change



I've made a number of changes in how I create this site and that's enabled me to rearrange the material available here. (I wrote my own database program that exports the necessary HTML.) Now you will find the Past News sorted by month or alphabetical listing, and there's even a complete listing of everything I've posted here. I've set this up to make it easier to maintain, especially over the long term, which should make me update it more frequently and allow you to find what interests you. Hope you like it! Be sure to let me know if you experience any problems or broken links.

Labels:

Saturday, May 20, 2000

Site Update: Change in News



I've been just too busy to update the site properly, so I'm going to forget (for now) the Amazon links and some of the other info on the stuff I read or watch. Reviews will mostly be short, one-line reviews (thumbs up/down). But I'll still update this list -- I find it fascinating for myself even if no one else cares.

Labels:

Friday, August 31, 2001

Site Updates



I'm trying to decide what to do about updates to this site. I'm thinking of dropping the soccer coverage of each game I watch: there are just too many, and it takes a lot of time to write up about them. I'm thinking of just focusing on a few key matches, like World Cup qualifiers and Earthquakes games I see in person. Another idea is to post a summary of a weekend's worth of games just listing the scores. We'll see what I decide to do!

Labels:

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Six Feet Under: First Season Disc 1



Movie: Six Feet Under: First Season Disc 1

I usually don't review TV shows, but an HBO series rented on DVD isn't regular TV, right? I'd heard something about this but had never seen it, so I rented the DVD. I'm very impressed. The series was created by Alan Ball (American Beauty) and is quirky and dramatic. It's about a family who own a funeral business. The older brother didn't want to be a part of the business and moved to Seattle where he manages a grocery store while he tries to figure out what he wants out of love; the younger brother runs the business while he doesn't tell his family he's gay; the teen sister struggles through high-school; the mom pretends everything is fine. And the dad? Oh, well, he dies in the first episode. Yup, they get to embalm and have services for their own father. Then the family clashes together and there's plenty of material for drama and quirky humor. The brothers hate each other, a "death services" corporate conglomerate wants to buy them out, and the brothers find out their mom had an affair a year earlier. Each episode centers around the death of someone, and it's both morbid and funny. In the third episode, for instance, a man is killed in a giant bread mixer and they must "reassemble" him for the funeral -- except they're missing his foot. Wild, but told with class and a genuineness that's surprising. The theme music is amazing at capturing the tone of the series: I can pretty much say listen to the theme and if you like it, you'll like the show. I'm definitely going to check out the other discs.

Labels:

Monday, July 3, 2000

The Sixth Sense



Movie: The Sixth Sense

Even better the second time around. Amazing performances, and this time I was really impressed with the direction. There were many places the suspense was heightened by excellent camera-placement decisions. This is a film that most dismiss as a mere gimmick, but the reason it works is because the film is excellently written with profound characters. My favorite is the way the little boy didn't want to tell his secret to his mother -- the person he was closest to in the whole world -- because it would change the way she looked at him. Meanwhile the mother is in agony because her son won't even tell her what's wrong. What a fantastic dilemma! Profound and heart-wrenching.

Labels:

Saturday, September 11, 1999

The Sixth Sense



Movie: The Sixth Sense (1999)
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan

Even better the second time around. Amazing performances, and this time I was really impressed with the direction. There were many places the suspense was heightened by excellent camera-placement decisions. This is a film that most dismiss as a mere gimmick, but the reason it works is because the film is excellently written with profound characters. My favorite is the way the little boy didn't want to tell his secret to his mother -- the person he was closest to in the whole world -- because it would change the way she looked at him. Meanwhile the mother is in agony because her son won't even tell her what's wrong. What a fantastic dilemma! Profound and heart-wrenching.

Labels:

Saturday, August 12, 2000

SJ vs. Tampa Bay



Soccer: SJ vs. Tampa Bay

I went to watch the San Jose Earthquakes take on the Tampa Bay Muntiny today. This was the first soccer game -- first sporting event of any kind actually -- I've seen in person (i.e non-televised). I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was intimated by all the crowds, but it turns out I had a great time and the crowd was a big part of it: you really get caught up in the momentum of the crowd's excitement at a game. I'm certainly going to go to more of these. I also -- and this was really cool -- got MLS leading scorer Mamadou Diallo's autograph, and had a brief (very brief) chat with him!

Labels:

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Skeleton Key



Movie: The Skeleton Key

Pretty cool little mystery-thriller with a lot of bewildering nonsense about magic (Hoodoo, not Voodoo). Silly but not badly done and has a few interesting moments. The ending is predictable but satisfying and helps make the whole thing work.

Labels:

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Skeleton Man



Book: Skeleton Man
Writer(s): Tony Hillerman

This was a very strange book. Nothing much happens and the plot is told so many times I was sick to death of it halfway through. You see, there was this plane crash over the Grand Canyon like 50 years ago. A man with a briefcase of diamonds was on the plane. Now one of those diamonds has surfaced. A woman, who was the man's daughter, wants to find the source of the diamonds because they might lead her to her father's arm: if she can use DNA from the arm to prove she's related, she'll gain her father's fortune which was denied her by scheming relatives who never liked her mother and refused to believe the daughter was legitimate. Now that's a cool plot, but we first here that plot revealed by one of the characters who's telling the story. Then we hear it from the woman's perspective. Then we hear it like twenty more times from different character's views. It just gets ridiculous. I was just so glad when this book ended! Of course the search for the arm/diamonds is complicated by several factors, but it's still a straightforward plot. If we cut out all the repetitive stuff this novel would have been fifty pages long. Still, there were some interesting elements, the main one being the history and culture of the American Indians who are local to the area and some of the main characters. Unfortunately, some of that came across like the whaling data in Moby Dick: superfluous and irrelevant. While I liked the concept, the implementation was incredibly weak. I gather Hillerman's a successful author, but I think I'll skip his other books.

Labels:

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sketches of Frank Gehry



Movie: Sketches of Frank Gehry
Director(s): Sydney Pollack

Wow, this is what a documentary is supposed to be like! Pollack's a personal friend of architect Gehry and we get amazing insight into what makes the man tick. My favorite parts were the scenes when we watch Gehry working on architectural models, playing with paper shapes and adjusting things to some unknown inner censor that tells him if it works or doesn't. To see a sketch turn into a model and then come to life as a building is awe-inspiring. Gehry's sketches are startling vague line scribbles that look nothing like a building... until you compare the sketch to the three-dimensional building and somehow it matches. Really weird! But what really makes this a great documentary is that there's impressive perception in interviews with other architects, artists, and Gehry fans. This isn't a puff piece or mere video recording of history, but an analysis of the creative spirit. We learn a lot about Frank Gehry, but also a lot about ourselves. Terrific film. Highly recommended.

Labels:

Friday, November 17, 2000

The Skulls



Movie: The Skulls

Interesting concept; it's about a young man being accepted into a collegiate an elite secret society. Suddenly he's given cash, a fancy car, and he college tuition is paid for. But then he discovers the society is a trap: once in, there's no getting out. He'll owe members favors for the rest of his life. Overall, the movie's a bit pretentious, mistaking a slow pace and thoughtful looks for philosophical depth, and it tends to be predictable and nothing much happens. I still liked it for concept alone, but it's only an okay film.

Labels:

Friday, September 17, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow



Movie: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Terrific film intentionally reminiscent of Buck Rogers and other serials of the early 1900s. It's even set in that time period. The entirely digital sets (only the actors are real) are fantastic: it would have cost a billion dollars to film this epic for real. The film moves at a good pace and the dialog between the main characters is witty and fun. The plot is your typical "nut takes over the world" thing, with a mysterious villain sending in skyscraper-sized metal robots into cities all over the world and stealing whatever he wants. Our heroes are pilot Joe (Sky Captain) and Polly Perkins, a female reporter out to cover the story. There's also Frankie, a female pilot with a history with Joe, giving him a choice of women to fall in love with. Joe and Polly uncover the villain's scheme and set out to defeat him, discovering he's set off a doomsday device that will destroy Earth. The story, of course, is naturally cheesy, as are the characters who mug for all their worth, but that's part of the charm, since it's just like the adventures of old. The ending's more of a whimper than a bang, but the whole ride is a lot of fun. Of course the biggest star here is are digital sets, and I hereby predict that we'll see more movies made this way. Not just this genre, but all genres. As digital effects become more common and cheaper, this will eventually be less expensive than location shooting.

Labels:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Skyline



Movie: Skyline

This looked like an interesting sci-fi premise (alien invasion), but it is very slow moving at the beginning and shows little promise of going anywhere. There are a handful of neat special effects but those are mostly shown in the trailer and they frankly work better there than in the lame film. In the end, the film is depressing and pointless, with a strange twist at the end that really is where the movie should have started (perhaps it was designed as the setup for a sequel, but there's no chance this dog will get a sequel). Bizarre that this pile of dog doo was ever greenlighted. There's just no story: aliens invade. That's it.

Labels:

Monday, May 29, 2000

Slaughterhouse Five



Movie: Slaughterhouse Five

Excellent, very impressive. Hilarious and poignant. Never read the book (it didn't sound funny) but will now. Kurt V's great.

Labels:

Monday, August 7, 2000

Sleepy Hollow



Movie: Sleepy Hollow
Director(s): Tim Burton

Odd film, but not in a good way. Started off well, and I disagree with the critics who thought the performances were poor: what was wrong with this movie was all in the script. It’s got a great setup: you’ve got Johnny Depp’s character (Ichabod Crane) who’s supposed to be an 18th century “scientific” detective who comes in direct conflict with the supernatural elements of the Headless Horseman. Sounds like the makings of a great battle between reason and the supernatural, right? But after all the setup, the film does nothing with that! After a slight doubt or two Ichabod immediately accepts that these are supernatural events (witchcraft) but obviously controlled by a human, and he sets out to discover which human. Huh? What’s scientific or reasonable about that??? From there it just gets worse, including the ending, where he concludes that his new girlfriend is the murderer, only belatedly realizing he was wrong, and then she isn’t even upset that he thought she was evil! Bizarre, unfinished, with impressive, gory effects, and some painfully obvious techniques like not showing a single bit of sunlight until the last frame of the film.

Labels:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Slither



Movie: Slither

Cool little monster-from-space flick that blends a lot of horror-scifi films into something new. Basically we've got a small town where an alien being that arrives via a meteorite takes over the body of a rich guy and has him start eating the neighborhood's dogs and cats while impregnating a woman with thousands of worm children who then invade other people, turning them into zombies. It's meant to be wacky and funny more than scary, and it succeeds while still keeping things realistic enough to be creepy. Fun characters and cool action -- a winner.

Labels:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire



Movie: Slumdog Millionaire

I'd heard a review that game me a good understanding of this and I got just what I expected: a Hollywoodized feel-good film about a poor boy in India who wins on the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" game show. The question is, how can an uneducated boy know the answers? So we see his life in flashbacks and each story contains the answer to the question. But it's an interesting and amazing life, especially from a non-Indian perspective. One of the things I had heard about the film was a comment that if it had been set in America, it would be an ordinary film, and I agree: what makes this work is the setting in a foreign culture. It's very well done, somewhat predictable but the kind of feel-good predictable you like, and there are several shocking and unusual scenes. Recommended.

Labels:

Friday, January 26, 2007

Smokin' Aces



Movie: Smokin' Aces

More flash than substance, with a few interesting twists and a fun cast, but the story's not much, and rather distasteful with an unsatisfying conclusion that thinks it's cleverer than it is.

Labels:

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on a Plane



Movie: Snakes on a Plane

Funny, gory, lots of snakes on a plane. Pretty much what I expected. A bit crude in places, but overall a lot of fun. Not really scary or anything, just hilariously silly.

Labels:

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Snatch



Movie: Snatch
Writer(s): Guy Ritchie
Director(s): Guy Ritchie

Very cool flick from the Guy who did Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. This one's better: the similarly convoluted story's much easier to follow. The plot's far too complex to reveal here: suffice it to say that we've got a variety of gangsters, thieves, and low-lifes and their lives intersect throughout the film. Everyone's after a huge 84-caret stolen diamond. It's funny, violent, and very entertaining. The directing is extremely self-conscious and highly stylized, and it works perfectly for this kind of picture. For example, one character, an American gangster who is waiting for the diamond to be delivered, flies to London (where most of the story takes place) and back to New York several times. Each of these "flights" is shown to the viewer as a series of lightning quick sequences in which total about three seconds of footage. We see a plane taking off, a high-speed swig from a liquor glass while on the plane (with appropriate "swoosh" sound effects), a plane landing, and we're there. Very cool, funny in its unrealism, and effective, in that it keeps the film moving. Great film, if you're into this kind of flick. Guy's the Quentin of the U.K.

Labels:

Sunday, September 12, 1999

Snow Crash



Book: Snow Crash (1992)
Writer(s): Neal Stephenson

The mammoth Cryptonomicon inspired me to purchase all of Neal Stephenson's other books. I started with his earlier novel, Snow Crash, what seems to be a "typical" virtual reality about a new software "drug" that kills computer programmers. The plot doesn't know whether it wants to be an action story (swordfights and armed assaults and chases play roles) or a detective story (researching the who, what, when, why of the killing gets overly technical and wearisome), but the world Neal creates is fascinating. Not the virtual reality world: there's little innovation there (at least to me), but the real world. It's a futuristic mesh of Bladerunner, 1984, and Something Else. For instance, all governments have been privatized -- so much so that one bandit rides around with a nuclear bomb on his motorcycle (in effect he's his own country). This new world is divided by franchises -- everything is a franchise (including religions and jails) -- a hilarious extreme. The characters are wild and different: YT as the 15-year-old skateboarder is particularly entrancing. The plot? Well, it was interesting, but it takes so long to get there it really feels like the payoff isn't worth it. (It basically takes the absurd assumption that Asherah, the pagan god of the Hebrews, created a mental virus that scrambles a person's ability to comprehend language, and the release of that virus is what caused Babel. Snow Crash, as the drug in the novel is called, is a resurrection of this virus, spread in modern day via a Protestant minister as "speaking in tongues" and a computer virus which has the mind virus embedded into an image of computer screen "snow" -- ones and zeros -- which only computer programmers can understand. Neal takes a hundred pages to explain this in a much more believable manner, but it's still stilly and a bit offensive if you're a Protestant.) Overall, entertaining, but take it lightly -- it isn't as deep as it purports to be.

Labels:

Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Snow Falling On Cedars



Movie: Snow Falling On Cedars

A murder trial told in reverse. There isn't much to the plot and the film's too slow, but interesting nonetheless. It's set in an island off the coast of Washington, back around WWII, and deals with the conflict between the resident Americans and Japanese-Americans. Good premise and could have been dramatic, but it's too slow and not enough happens.

Labels:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Snows of Kilimanjaro



Book: Snows of Kilimanjaro
Writer(s): Ernest Hemmingway

I "read" the audio book version of this which may not have been the best idea. I didn't realize it was short stories and those don't always work quite as well as novels in the car (where I listen to audiobooks). If you miss hearing a sentence in a novel, you haven't missed much, but in a short story, just one line can be critical. Because of that I found a few of these stories difficult to follow. Like the very first one, "Snows of Kilimanjaro," I didn't even realize was a story and thought it was the beginning of a novel (which seemed odd, since it's about a guy on his deathbed, which is an unusual way to begin a novel). I wasn't paying full attention, either, and suddenly the "novel" ended and I realized it was just a short story. Because of all that I'd like to go back and relisten to these at some point: I think I'd get more and more out of them over time. That said, I did enjoy the stories, and actor Stacy Keach did a surprisingly good job reading them. Some I liked more than others, though I can't say that any are particularly memorable. I did enjoy the writing style even in stories I didn't get (like in the boxing story, which I didn't really follow or understand). Probably my favorite was the story about the lion hunter in Africa. I need to read more Hemmingway.

Labels:

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Soccer News



Soccer: Soccer News

If you've been paying attention, you've noticed I'm now reporting soccer games I watch, as well as movies and books. I do a fair amount of the latter, depending on my schedule, but I've always got time for soccer. In fact, I watch so much I can't always keep it straight myself, so this is a good way to keep a record of it.

Labels:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Soccer Trip



Soccer: Soccer Trip

Tomorrow I head off for my trip across the country. This is the first purely vacation trip I've taken in a long time. I'm not even bringing my laptop -- I'm going to attempt to keep up with everything via my iPhone. That will be an interesting experience in and of itself. The plan is to head to L.A. to watch my favorite MLS team, the Houston Dynamo, take on the LA Galaxy on Sunday. Then I'll fly to Missouri to visit with relatives for a few days, and then I'm off to the Big Apple for another soccer game, the New York Red Bulls versus the New England Revolution. It should be a fun trip, book-ended with soccer games on each coast.

Labels:

Monday, September 19, 2005

SoccerTalk USA Podcast Launched



Soccer: SoccerTalk USA Podcast Launched

Today marks the debut of my new soccer podcast, SoccerTalk USA. I even created a website for it: http://www.soccertalkusa.com (you can subscribe to the podcast at http://www.soccertalkusa.com/soccertalkusa.xml or via iTunes' Podcast directory in the Sports category). I basically talk for 45 minutes or so about the most recent Major League Soccer results and other topics. I hope to do the show once a week during the MLS season, perhaps less often or shorter shows at other times of the year.

Labels:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Social Network



Movie: The Social Network

When I first heard of this movie, I wasn't interested. I am perhaps the only person on the planet who doesn't use Facebook, has never used Facebook, and has zero interest in using Facebook. (In fact, the more I've learned about Facebook, the more I'm actually anti-Facebook instead of just being disinterested.) When I saw the trailers, my interest when from low to negative, as the trailers were just awful. Horrible music, weird, cheesy, and depressing. But then the critical buzz started. There's Oscar talk, which I found bizarre. I finally decided I'd better see the film myself. It turns out, this is a really good movie. It's hard to say if it'll be a classic -- a minor one, perhaps -- because it's so culturally and technologically relevant to this specific time period, but it's incredibly well-written, dramatic, interesting, and thought-provoking. The biggest win for me was they didn't dumb down the tech. Zuckerberg's character actually talks tech like a real geek and though it was rapid, what he said seemed technically accurate to me. I had been dreading and expecting typical TV and movie tech fantasy (like on CSI when they zoom in a blurry security camera footage shot from across the street and magically enhance it to read a license plate in a window's reflection). This was realistic. The film's dialog is fantastic, with Zuckerberg spitting out lines like an ADD kid on speed. The third thing I liked is the way characters are portrayed with shades of gray: Zuckerberg is portrayed as flawed, socially impaired, brilliantly smart, naive, and a bit of a jerk, but he comes across as not that bad of a dude. (Mostly he seems young. Me saying that shows how old I'm getting!) It's not just his character, either: all the characters in the film are real, with good and bad points, and they fight the stereotypes the media and our instincts likes to label these people with.

In terms of the story, while things are slightly convoluted by the jumping back and forth between "current" lawsuit depositions and the original events, it is an interesting story. I knew nothing about Facebook's origins so this was fascinating. Who knows how much of it is true -- but even the gist of the story, which I'm sure is mostly accurate -- is worth knowing. What I learned is that it was Facebook's original exclusivity that made so hot. (Ironically, that's one of the things that makes me boycott the site. The fact that I have to join just to see my friends' stuff is an anathema to me.) But I can see where that exclusivity -- like a nightclub that only lets in the cool people -- makes everyone crazy to join. In terms of innovation, that's really all Facebook did differently than any other social networking site.

Another aspect of the film I liked, though I wish it had been elaborated more, is the theme of how fast money changes people. Facebook grew so big so fast and overnight had venture capitalists begging to give the company millions that it ruined lives and changed relationships. That's fascinating stuff. While that theme is in this film, it's really only hinted at, in part because Zuckerberg himself doesn't seem to care much about money (he famously still lives like a college student, despite being the youngest billionaire in history).

I was really surprised at how much I liked this film. My brain still rebels at the idea of it being Oscar-worthy -- but that's mostly because the idea of a movie about Facebook seems so silly. (That could just be me, who thinks Facebook itself is trivial.) But certainly the writing, directing, and acting are all Oscar-caliber, so why not? Andrew Garfield is a standout in the acting category (as is just about everyone else) and I would love to see him win Best Supporting. Sorkin's screenplay is also incredible. (I'm a huge fan of him as a writer, though I dislike his politics.) In the end, the only real flaw I can find in this is that it's too timely. It's relevant right now, while Facebook is new and relevant, but at the speed tech moves, will it feel quaint in just a few years? (Will Facebook even be in use in ten years?) In that regard, I urge you to see the film soon -- before its relevancy expires.

Labels:

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Soho Square



Movie: Soho Square

Cool little low budget digital flick shot in London's Soho district about a cop haunted by the memories of his wife's suicide after a miscarriage. Someone is murdering young women in Soho and setting the bodies on fire leaving the police with minimal evidence and the cop is on the murderer's trail. There's a nice twist at the end that helps the plot fit together, but the main thing that's interesting about the film is the way it is directed, especially for such a small budget (IFC said it was shot for about $7500 -- if so, that's amazing). It feels like a "real" movie. You certainly don't notice any budget constraints, though occasionally the film's digital origins are obvious. Overall, I nice tale, brilliantly told. Nothing earthshattering or magical, but certainly above average.

Labels:

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Solaris



Book: Solaris
Writer(s): Stanislaw Lem

Fascinating book. It reads like a scientific paper and I expected it to be difficult, but I just breezed through it. Somehow it keeps you interested. The plot is wild: a scientist (Kris Kelvin) arrives on a floating space station on planet Solaris, which has demonstrated many unexplained phenomena for nearly a century. The active theory is that the ocean is alive. However, no one has ever been able to communicate with it: it's like its thinking process is so different from ours it can't even recognize us as beings. Shortly after arriving on the station, Kelvin meets his wife who's been dead for ten years. She's not a ghost but a real physical person: apparently she's been generated from his memories by the alien intelligence for unknown reasons. Unfortunately, she's isn't a perfect replica: the flaws in her creation are glaring to Kelvin. He can't love her like she's his wife, yet she reminds him so strongly of her he finds it difficult to hate her. That's just creepy and weird, but it gets worse. The woman cannot be out of his sight or she goes insane -- presumably she must stay near him or she ceases to exist. There are two other scientists on the station, but they keep to themselves: they each have their own ghosts to contend with. Everyone acts bizarre and the narrative and logic of these people was sometimes difficult to follow: you wonder if they're sane. Still, this is a fascinating read about the nature of intelligence. Don't expect easy answers (or answers at all -- this book is mostly questions). Defintely a science fiction classic. I've never read any Stanislaw Lem before, but I'm definitely going to get some of his others. Great stuff. I'm looking forward to the new movie coming out.

Labels:

Friday, November 29, 2002

Solaris



Movie: Solaris
Writer(s): Stanislaw Lem (novel)
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh

I wondered why anyone in Hollywood thought this big budget big star production would make money: after all, this is a Thinking Story, not an action sci-fi flick. The answer is that the screenwriter (Soderbergh) turned this into a Hollywood movie by changing much of what made the story so unusual. "Loosely adapted from the book" is what the film should have had in its credits. Soderbergh even gave it a happy ending! However, this only pisses off fans of the original Russian classic or the novel: people who know nothing about Solaris will find this movie pleasant and entertaining. To us others, beware: it's not a bad film, just lighter and less important than it should be.

Labels:

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Soloist



Movie: The Soloist

I was expecting a weepy melodrama and I'm pleased to say that I didn't get it. Instead I got a realistic portrayal of a mentally ill homeless musician and his journalist friend who tries to help him. We don't get a sappy Hollywood ending, which both pleased and disappointed me: it's perhaps not as satisfying as it should be, but it is realistic and I admire it. But ultimately the film has no answers and does not really go anywhere. It's a good tale and worth seeing, and there are some excellent performances, but it's not a film I'll ever need to see again.

Labels:

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Solution for Grandpa



A brilliant idea to the Grandpa dilemma: he will move in with me! The logic makes total sense: I work from home, so I'm almost always here. Unlike my mother, I can physically assist him if he needs help. I'm in a good location, near a hospital, near the Portland metro area, near relatives and friends. My house is one level and except for one step at the main entrance, wheelchair accessible with an open floorplan. Of course there will be changes to my lifestyle: Grandpa expects meals at regular times (so no more afternoon breakfasts for me); he won't like my TV programs; it'll be difficult to leave him alone for too long, so I won't be able to go away without arranging for a substitute sitter. But overall, I like the idea. Grandpa and I get alone well, he told me he'd like to be here over being in a care facility, and he sleeps most of the time, so I don't think he'll be that much of a burden. Besides, he raised me half my childhood, so this is payback, right?

Labels:

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Something's Gotta Give



Movie: Something's Gotta Give

A suprisingly good film about adult relationships. Jack Nicholson's a 64-year-old who dates girls under 30 and never commits. While visiting his girlfriend's beach house, he has a mild heart attack and can't leave, and ends up being cared for by the girlfriend's mom, a famous playwright in her fifties. The two end up falling in love and she turns their relationship into a hit Broadway play. Full of good humor and fun, the film has a number of serious moments as the man struggles to come to terms with commitment and his "older" relationship. Unfortunately, it goes on too long (it's over two hours) and a few of the extra scenes don't add much to the story. Still, above average.

Labels:

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

The Son of Tarzan



Book: The Son of Tarzan
Writer(s): Edgar Rice Burroughs

Amazing, incredible book. No one does plots like Burroughs. There's just enough foreshadowing you can see where he's going, but that just makes you anxious to get to the end of the novel so you have that wrap-up ending you crave. Burroughs' plots aren't fabricated, but completely character driven: one always feels like the actions of the good and bad guys are real. He's great at taking fabulous situations and making them believable. In this case we've got Tarzan's son, who grew up in England, completely ignorant of his father's history. His mother didn't want him risking his life in Africa. But the boy craves adventure and loves wild animals. Eventually, through a series of circumstances, he ends up leaving home and traveling to Africa, where he lives in the wild as Tarzan did. Many, many years later, after countless adventures, at the end of the book, he's reunited with his parents. Great stuff. One of Burroughs' best.

Labels:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice



Movie: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Surprisingly good. It's very light, a total popcorn flick, but well done and pleasant. There's nothing remarkable here -- but there's nothing horrible either. There's humor, action, overdone special effects, and the plot is slight (bad wizard against good wizard), but it works. Above average in a genre of average.

Labels:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorority Row



Movie: Sorority Row

Pretty much what you expect: sorority girls getting killed in horrible ways. Blech.

Labels:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Source Code



Movie: Source Code
Director(s): Duncan Jones

A fan of Jones' fascinating Moon, I was curious about this science fiction thriller with a Groundhog Day plot. It opens as a confused soldier wakes up on a train. The woman across from him calls him by a different name and when he looks in a mirror, a different face is looking out at him. Then a bomb explodes and destroys the train. The man wakes up imprisoned inside a small capsule with a military woman barking commands at him. She wants him to find the bomber. He's sent back to the train and the process starts all over. Gradually we learn that he's part of a scientific experiment known as "Source Code" where a person can be sent back into time via a parallel reality. He learns he can't actually save the people on the train, for they are already dead, but his info could help catch the bomber who has apparently threatened to nuke Chicago with his next bomb. With each visit to the train, the soldier gets a little more information and gets closer to the bomber, but he's also finding out more about himself and Source Code. This is an interesting, if repetitive, premise, but I was impressed the way Duncan keeps the action taut. Interesting things are constantly happening and the film felt too short instead of too long. In that regard, Duncan resisted the temptation to complicate the mission too much -- the whole bomb plot really feels like one of Hitchcock's MacGuffin -- which allows us to focus on the soldier and his relationship with the girl (who doesn't realize who he is) and the whole nature of the scientific experiment. In other words, the film has a gimmicky aspect but that's not the reason to see the film or what gives the film it's value. That's good, because the "science" side of the film is very light and many questions aren't answered. In other films such a lack of explanation could be fatal, but here it doesn't really matter. Perhaps it doesn't quite have the depth I crave, but it hints at it and gives you plenty to think and talk about, and most importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Labels:

Saturday, September 8, 2001

Space Cowboys



Movie: Space Cowboys (2000)

Fun flick, though extremely predictable. Several military test pilots in the 1950's are bumped out of the space program when NASA is formed and lose their chance to go into space. In the present, a Soviet satellite is threatening to crash to earth but its guidance system is so old no present astronauts know how to deal with it. So the original guidance system designer and his old teammates are called back and finally get their chance to go into space. The film is ninety percent casting: who can resist the teaming of Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner? Nothing new here, but the charisma of the stars makes up for the lack of plot.

Labels:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Spamalot



All I knew about this musical is that it had something to do with the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." It turns out it's basically the film turned into a stage production: the same lines, songs, and classic jokes. This could have been disappointing, except the stage version is different with some new songs and some amazing production values and little inside jokes. One of my favorite things was the role of the "Lady of the Lake," a minor character in the original that gives Arthur Excalibur and makes him King of Britain. In this version, the Lady's a diva, and after not seeing her for a while, in the second act she comes out dressed like a lounge singer and sings "What Ever Happened to My Part?" with hilarious self-absorption and jabs at her agent for getting her such a sucky role. Awesome!

I really enjoyed this. It was simultaneously new and familiar, totally hilarious, informal, cool, and fun. It really fit my mood as with sensory overload from my travels I'm not sure I could have handled a serious play.

Labels:

Thursday, February 10, 2000

The Spanish Prisoner



Movie: The Spanish Prisoner (1971)
Writer(s): David Mamet
Director(s): David Mamet

This is a slow-moving, mesmerizing account of con artists pulling a scam. It's intelligently done, though overly complicated, and the ending is contrived. Still, I was glad it ended happily, as this is one of those movies were tons of bad stuff happens to the innocent, sympathetic lead, and if it had ended badly it would have been a horrible movie. What most intrigued me was the pace -- slow and intriguing. I never did understand the title line. It refers to a con of a sort, but I couldn't figure out what it had to do with anything.

Labels:

Friday, June 13, 2003

Spartacus



Movie: Spartacus
Director(s): Stanley Kubrick

Cool, though very long movie. A zillion times better than the lame rip-off, Gladiator. It tells the epic story of slave Spartacus who's trained to become a gladiator and later leads a slave revolt against the Roman empire. It does get a little tedious with its excellent but complicated forage into ancient Roman politics, but as a whole the film deserves its reputation as a classic.

Labels:

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Spartan



Movie: Spartan
Writer(s): David Mamet
Director(s): David Mamet

I couldn't remember anything about this going in except that it was a David Mamet deal. I was surprised at how much action there was. It's about the kidnapping of a president's daughter -- at least I think that's who she was. The film was unclear about her identity. Val Kilmer plays a military guy who's job is to rescue the girl using any means necessary, and that part was very interesting. Later in the film the thing got bogged down in complexity as the girl was dead, then not dead, then this, then that -- too many twists for its own good. It's a good film, though a little uneven, and a bit sad (all Kilmer's friends keep getting killed). The ending is definitely overwritten (or not written enough). It's overly complicated and confusing, and the whole bit with the "poor rich girl" daughter was underdeveloped and vague. The film also seems to suffer from genre-switching, as though it's not sure if it's a psychological thriller, an action adventure flick, or an emotional drama. The genres mix awkwardly and the film feels disjointed as a result. Still, the whole thing almost works, and there are some good performances and some great scenes and scams that make the film worth seeing on their own.

Labels:

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Speaking in Tongues



Book: Speaking in Tongues
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

Better in concept than in actuality. The concept is cool -- a rogue pyschologist uses his gift of persuasion to cause all sorts of mayhem in a quest for revenge -- but the story turns out to be little more than a mild chase caper. There are a few nice Deaver twists, but the story still feels slight.

Labels:

Saturday, August 5, 2000

Species



Movie: Species

Above average sci-fi thriller starts off well with odd group assigned to find and retrieve government’s missing alien, but eventually denigrates into standard monster flick.

Labels:

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer



Movie: Speed Racer

I wanted to like this, but it is indubitably the worst film of the year. Its first problem is that it is an uneasy mix of cartoon and live action and it just doesn't work as the live action feels cheap and campy and the cartoony stuff feels to realistic for fun. The next problem is the script which is equally all over the map: the story is sophisticated and not cartoon-like at all (it involves match-fixing and stock market manipulation and touches on grown-up topics and ideas) but the characters are mere stereotype sketches and the dialog is cheesy camp. The one thing you'd think a film like this would get right would be the visuals and action, but sadly that's the third thing wrong with this film, and it's deeply wrong: the action is a blurry, indescribable mess, with the whole racing thing confusing and bewildering about what the heck is going on. The cars are supra-realistic and whatever future world this film is set in has its own set of physics that don't make sense as cars pretty much do whatever they want (driving upside down, flying, driving down a mountain cliff, etc.). When you should be intrigued by the plot or excited about the racing, instead you are just bored and eager for the film to end (which it doesn't, being well over two excruciating hours long).

The bottom line is that the film tries to be everything and ends up being nothing. It's got elements of campy cartoon, serious action, and futuristic coolness, but everything is so ineptly blended together nothing works. Just terrible. Not merely poor, as big budget films often are, but really bad.

Labels:

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Spellbound



Movie: Spellbound

This is an absolutely spellbinding movie -- I could barely sit still the tension and drama was so high. This is a non-fiction film about the 1999 national spelling bee, and we watch with bated breath as kids compete and try to spell impossible words. It's amazing. In the first half of the film we meet a number of spelling bee champs who've qualified to go to the national event in Washington, D.C. These kids come from all walks of life and nationalities, and they study spelling like you wouldn't believe (we're talking 8-10 hours per day). We fall in love with these kids, laugh at their quirky personalities, sit in awe and admiration of their work ethic, and groan in despair when we hear the impossible words they are asked to spell. The worst part is that the whole time you know there can only be one winner. Who will it be? In a way it doesn't matter: the journey is a reward in itself. But it's frightfully exciting, and the compelling drama as we see the lives of these kids change and the potential the spelling bee offers is amazing. You've just got to see this movie. It puts reality television to shame, yet it's got that kind of realism. Just awesome. Nailbiting, but awesome. It's surprisingly funny, too. Some of the bizarre parents are hilarious.

Labels:

Monday, March 3, 2003

Sphinx



Book: Sphinx (1979)
Writer(s): Robin Cook

Pretty good book, but I'd recommend the condensed edition if you can find it. It's overlong, and the "mystery" of Sphinx which taunts you the entire time turns out to be rather obvious and is somewhat of a letdown. Because so much of the plot is dependent on that secret, once that's discovered, the book just ends. I'd have preferred to read more about the aftermath, which promised to be interesting, but of course that wasn't the focus of the novel. The story deals with the black market of Egyptian artifacts. A young, beautiful woman (why are all Cook's main characters so physically perfect?) just out of college with a degree in Egyptology, arrives in Cairo for her first visit. She's immediately swept into the dark underworld of the black market, witnessing two murders in two days. Before it vanishes, she sees a priceless gold statue of Seti I, a remarkable piece that the scientific community has never seen. Where did come from? Risking her own life, she searches for the answers, and the handsome men she meets who want to help her are not what they seem. I liked the woman, and she does a good (realistic) job of tracking down clues, but the pace of the book is slow, the hidden "secret" annoyingly saved for the final pages, and some of the Egyptian research is dry academic stuff.

Labels:

Monday, April 7, 2003

Spider



Movie: Spider
Director(s): David Cronenberg

Extremely subdued for a Cronenberg film, but good. It's the story of Spider, a mental patient who's released from the asylum to a group home. As he lives he's relives his painful childhood and tries to make sense of the world around him. Gradually we learn the secret of his past and the darkness which has taken his mind. The ambiguous history is well done and forces us to think about everything we think we know. But unfortunately, that also means we never really get to under Spider, and a lot of his behavior is just eccentric and odd to us. That means the film never gets us deep enough to be truly profound, which is unfortunate. Still, it's an interesting film (though slow on occasion) and it has some terrific visuals and fantastic scenes. Above average.

Labels:

Monday, July 5, 2004

Spider-Man 2



Movie: Spider-Man 2
Director(s): Sam Raimi

Excellent sequel, better than the previous one in many ways. The first part of the film is great: amazingly excellent character-based stuff about Peter Parker, his complex double life, how he can't tell Mary Jane he loves her (he's afraid his identity as Spidey will put her in jeopardy), hiding his secret from his best friend who thinks Spider-Man killed his father and vows revenge, etc. The introduction of Octavious (who becomes Doc Oc) is great, but the "science" regarding Doc's multi-armed invention and fusion device is nonsensical. But this is a comic book so some suspension of disbelief is necessary. The action scenes are excellent, with some good fighting and cool stunts, but there's nothing exactly earth-shattering or remarkable about the action; it's just what you'd expect in a film of this type. What the film does well is that it's story-based, with the Peter Parker/Mary Jane relationship at its core. In this movie the key dilemma is Peter trying to decide if he really wants to be Spider-Man: it seems his Spidey activities are ruining everything he wants in life. Overall this is an excellent film. It's remarkable that the story-telling is so strong in a normally action-based genre, but Raimi knows that action is only good in support to the story because that's what gives the action meaning. Good stuff, and I'm very impressed with the way they've set things up for Spider-Man 3. I won't spoil the surprise but the ending promises some new twists and that's good: the whole Peter/MJ thing is rather exhausted in the first two and I'm delighted we'll get a different thing next time.

Labels:

Friday, May 3, 2002

Spiderman



Movie: Spiderman
Director(s): Sam Raimi

Terrific film. Not only exciting and fun, but filled with excellent acting and a solid story. Halfway through at the 60 minute mark, enough had happened I would have been happy if the film ended then -- and there was still an hour to go! The film is cleverly plotted: a trio of stories effortlessly woven together to create a realistic combination of characterization, humor, and romance. We follow young Peter Parker as he's bitten by a radioactive spider while on a high school science field trip, and that begins the biological changes that give him his new extraordinary abilities. Tobey Maguire is perfect -- he's an excellent actor, communicating volumes with little gestures, and he's convincing both as a geek and as a superhero: a seemingly impossible task. The gradual metamorphosis of Parker into Spiderman is patiently and logically handled, with the perfect motivations for why the young man becomes a superhero. For instance, wanting money for a car, he decides to enter a wrestling contest, and that forces him to conceive of a flashy costume and a character (Spiderman). Logical and neat. The romance between good-guy Parker and his longtime neighbor Mary Jane is also well done: instead of her being anti-Parker, like most geek-pretty-girl romances, she's very nice to him, but he lacks the self-confidence to tell her how he feels. Later, their romance blossoms as Spiderman saves her life on several occasions, including a hilarious upside-down "thank you" kiss, but of course she doesn't know he's Parker, creating the opportunity for some killer double entendre dialog later. Just as the plot of Parker becoming Spiderman is weaved throughout the Parker-MJ romance, the formation of the villian, the Green Goblin, is also part of the story. The Green Goblin is Parker's best friend's father, a wealthy scientist who drinks his own untested formula which causes him to gain physical strength and agility, but makes him go insane. Thus the main "character" stories of Parker growing up, his family, and the dream girl MJ, are all interconnected with the hero-villain plot. It's very well done meaning that no part of the story is pure expository (and therefore boring). The special effects, fights, and Spiderman acrobatics are appropriately incredible, and even more importantly, believable. For instance, Parker's initial Spiderman efforts are slightly flawed, but as he becomes more used to his powers, his skills naturally improve. Just a great film all around. Terrific fun.

Labels:

Friday, May 4, 2007

Spiderman 3



Movie: Spiderman 3

I loved the first one, tolerated the second, and I really liked this one. The trailers did not excite me at all: the multiple plots seemed overly complicated and I worried how the film would handle all the information. Fortunately, the script is excellent. Though a ton of stuff happens -- Mary Jane's Broadway sizzles and fizzles, Peter Parker plans to propose and goes through a dark period, we see the origins of "Sandman" and learn that he's the one who actually killed Parker's beloved Uncle Ben, a competing freelance photographer shows up a the Daily Bugle to steal Parker's job, and then of course there's Pete's best friend, who's trying to kill him -- despite all the details they are interwoven well and build on each other to create a fairly compelling drama with some real emotion and drama. That said, this is still an action film, heavy on the special effects and hyper-speed fighting, which I found boring and predictable and totally unrealistic. Logic and realism are not common in superhero films. Still, this franchise is better than most: intelligent and built on people, not gimmicky plots, and that makes this one of the better sequels. Worth seeing if you're into Spidey.

Labels:

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles



Movie: The Spiderwick Chronicles

I haven't read the children's book(s) this was based on, so I can't compare, but this is a decent kid-friendly film, though it's not earth-shatteringly original or particularly innovative. It reminded me a lot of Luc Besson's Arthur and the Minimoys (which I actually liked better). In both cases the premise is that we live in a world where we are surrounded by invisible faires and it requires secret knowledge to learn to see them. Spiderwick the film doesn't explain much about these secrets so it's unclear exactly what the main character does, but basically he and his family move into an ancient house of an old aunt and he discovers an old book of secrets protected by a brownie and learns about the world of magical creatures. It turns out there's an even shape-shifting orgre who wants the book so he can take over the world, but the house is protected by a charm. The little boy's family doesn't believe his stories until later, when he and his brother and sister all confront the bad creatures and try to save the book and the family. It's all convoluted and confused; there's no explanation of why the creatures weren't trying to get the book earlier, why the boy can't find help in the book (except when it's convenient for the plot), how he expects to defeat the evil by hiding out in the house, or a million other loose ends, but this is a harmless adventure for kids, so I guess that means logic need not apply. It's still mildly fun, there's a hint of personal growth for the boy as he copes with his parents' divorce, and the digital creatures are interesting, though perhaps too realisitic for really young kids. Overall this isn't terrible nor great; it certainly is nowhere near the story-telling level of the Narnia series or Bridge to Terabithia.

Labels:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spiral



Movie: Spiral

Interesting small film about a weird lonely painter who may or may not be a serial killer. Though he's strange, he apparently attracts women via his art, paints a series of pictures of them (always the same sequence), and then -- perhaps -- kills them. He's somewhat of a sympathetic character, but what intrigued me was the girl and her personality and relationship with the guy, which was interestingly done. There's sort of a twist at the end that I liked, but this is a fairly quiet movie, a film about thinking, not action. It's a tragedy, in a way. I rather liked it, but it's not for everyone. It can be slow and inconsistent, but it has its very good moments. I also discovered at the end that it was filmed in Portland, which is terrific. I need to watch it again just to see if I can spot familiar places.

Labels:

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Spirited Away



Movie: Spirited Away
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki

Wow. This is a fantastic film. It's perhaps not as philosophical as Princess Mononoke, but it's certainly just as symbolic. The story is about a little girl who frustrated by her parents move to a new town and having to go to a new school. During the drive to the new house, the dad takes a side road, which leads them to what appears to be an abandoned amusement park. The parents are hungry and when they spot an empty restaurant filled with wonderful food, they sit down and begin gorging. The girl, Chihiro, wanders off and receives a strange warning to leave from a boy named Haku. When she returns to her parents, they have turned into pigs! Slowly Chihiro figures out she's now in a spirit world and all the rules have changed. Here witches and magic rule, and she finds herself enslaved to Yubaba, a witch who runs the spirit bath house (where spirits come for baths and meals). She must free herself and rescue her parents, a seemingly impossible mission. What's wonderful is Chihiro's innocence and child-like determination. She has an idealistic sense of honor and goodness that no one can deter. There's amazing symbolism. For instance, when a "stink spirit" shows up, Chihiro's given the ugly job of bathing it (no one else wants to get near it), but she discovers a thorn in its side and removes it, and along with the thorn comes a rusty bicycle and a million tons of other rubbish and industrial garbage. Once purged of all that, the stink spirit turns out to be a good spirit contaminated, and he rewards her kindness. There's a lot of fantastic imagery, including cool "special effects" (magic), wonderfully expressive faces, great characters, and beautiful scenery. I was impressed with the English dubbing -- Disney did a good job. Usually I hate the dubbed versions of foreign films because it's so badly done, but I had no complaints here. This is very different from Mononoke. It's more approachable (the story's more linear), and though less complicated, it's lightyears ahead of American animation in terms of story. Perhaps not for really young kids (under 9?) -- they might have trouble understanding it. Otherwise highly, highly recommended. Definitely a film you'll want to own. Its Oscar is well-deserved.

Labels:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Splice



Movie: Splice
Director(s): Vincenzo Natali

Cube is one of my most favorite movies of all time, so when I heard the director of Cube was doing Splice, I was intrigued, though the trailer and premise did not seem to offer much in the way of innovation. The story seemed too basic and predictable: two scientists splice together the DNA of several species, including human, to create a new creature -- which then turns on them. Ho hum. Haven't we seen that hundreds of years ago with Frankenstein's monster?

I am pleased to report that this film is much better and deeper than the trailer suggests. What I didn't get from the trailer is that the creature is less a monster and is nearly human -- a beautiful woman, no less. That sets up intriguing relationship issues, which are really the core of the film. The husband and wife scientist team have their own problems, there's the whole moral dilemma of playing God with human DNA (an issue I would have liked to have been explored more), and there's the nature of the creature itself: is she human? The film asks a lot of intriguing questions. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite fit into any genre. That's a bad thing because this isn't quite enough of a horror film for folks who like that sort of thing, and science fiction fans will feel short-changed because there's too much emphasis on the horror. Another awkward aspect -- slight spoiler alert -- is the concept of inter-species sex. That caught me completely by surprise (the trailer doesn't even hint at that), and though it's essential to the plot and perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the story, it was so unexpected it felt like a clip from a different movie had been spliced in (ha ha). The result is an uneven film: not quite horror, not quite science fiction, not really a love story. There's not much action and the plot is fairly minimal as well (it reminded me of a play). The most intriguing aspect are the performances by the actors, which are all excellent, but even there we're cut off from the true impact of the situation, unlike in David Cronenberg's The Fly, which is probably the closest similar film. In that film, we felt the horror in our gut. In this one, it is interesting, but from a distance. We don't know the scientists well enough to care about them that much, we don't understand their motivations in creating the chimera, and we're not sure how we feel about the creature (Is she good? Is she evil? Is she human or animal?). The bottom line is that this is a fantastic premise with intriguing possibilities that aren't exploited, but skirted, and in the end, we're left a little short. That isn't to say this isn't a film worth seeing. It's got a lot going for it: great acting, unusual ideas, fascinating visuals, and a decent (though predictable) ending. Fans of Natali will probably like most of what they see. Hard-core horror fans will likely be the most disappointed as this really isn't a monster flick like the trailer makes it sound: it's much smarter than that, though not as smart as The Fly. Still, I recommend this if you're into the genre or curious about the premise. It is definitely above average; it just didn't quite reach the level I hoped.

Labels:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Springfield



Last night I arrived in Springfield, Missouri where I am visiting with my Great-uncle and great-aunt. I haven't been here in a few years, so it is wonderful to see them and my old town (I lived in Springfield for a few years in elementary school). It is interesting to see the way the place has changed and the way it is different from places I'm familiar with today. This country is so huge with such diversity -- it is fascinating. I love to travel and see the differences and unique aspects of difference cities and areas.

Labels:

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Springfield, Missouri



My mother flew in to Houston on Tuesday, and together we drove to Springfield, MO yesterday. We stopped briefly in Durant, OK, at Southeastern Oklahoma State University where I attended for a year (1986-1987).

Labels:

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Spy Games



Movie: Spy Games
Director(s): Tony Scott

I don't know where this film came from: I just saw at the DVD stores. I never heard of it in the theatres. I can't figure out why. It's got a great cast, good story, and a good director. I watched it with trepidation, figuring its direct-to-video status might portend bad things. But it turns out to be an excellent film. It's a bit overcomplicated and overdrawn, and too many flashbacks are always irritating, but when everything's wrapped up, it's a great story. The plot centers around two spies, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. Redford's retiring: today's his last day. But he arrives at the CIA to learn that Pitt's been captured by the Chinese and will be executed in 24 hours. The CIA, however, will not acknowledge his existence and plan to let him die. Redford's character has to figure out a way to save Pitt without his bosses knowing. It seems impossible but Redford is very cool and does it right under the noses of the higher ups. That's the basic plot. There's much more in terms of character, when we learn that Redford recruited Pitt, that Pitt loved a woman, that Redford gave that woman to the Chinese (she was a wanted criminal) and Pitt had gone in to rescue her and got himself captured. But all that is icing on the cake. The fun is in learning how the CIA operates, and this isn't James Bond type stuff but real spy stuff. Impressive. More of a thinker than an action film, though there is some action (in flashbacks).

Labels:

Monday, September 6, 2004

Spy Games



Movie: Spy Games

This is a strange, uncomfortable film that doesn't know if it's a comedy or a drama. It's about spies: an American spy is stationed in Finland romancing a Russian spy and they routinely use each other for information until a serious situation comes along and suddenly the games are real and loyalties are tested and truth revealed. Had a few okay, amusing moments; long boring periods; and a underwhelming conclusion. Not memorable.

Labels:

Friday, September 28, 2001

Spy Kids



Movie: Spy Kids (2001)
Writer(s): Robert Rodriguez
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez

Cool children's flick from one of my favorite directors. It's done with a lot of fun and style and moves at a frantic pace, and though the plot (evil genius wants to create robot army of children) is childish, it has enough intelligence to see that and spoof itself. It's not quite a James Bond parody, but close. Lots of fun gadgets and neat special effects. I liked the fact that the adults, while not the main characters in the story (after all, it is called Spy Kids), are not dumbed down and irrelevant. The adults are terrifically played by the suave couple Atonio Banderas and Carla Gugino. The kids... well, they're okay. Very ordinary, which is surprising for such a big movie, but I liked that they didn't cast typical Hollywood cuties in the roles. Ordinary kids would relate well to these two. The film also has a strong Hispanic flair to it; it's so strong that it makes you realize how few mainstream films included such characters (they may have a token minority or two, but it's not like real life). Overall, it's a lot of fun. I was disappointed that the DVD has zero extras: I would have expected much more from this kind of a disc (behind the scenes footage, documentary on all the special gadgets, interview with director Rodrigues, deleted scenes, etc.). Sadly there's nothing, which means you may be better off renting this.

Labels:

Thursday, March 6, 2003

Spy Kids 2



Movie: Spy Kids 2
Writer(s): Robert Rodriguez
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez

Fun sequel, better than the first one in many ways. Everything's more polished and slick. Great humor, great spy gadgets, great characters, typical silly spy story (which Robert makes fun of in the script), and great special effects. This really is a can't miss franchise and I hope Disney keeps making more. It's harmless fun. Now I just want to be able to buy all those cool gadgets at the toy store!

Labels:

Friday, July 25, 2003

Spy Kids 3D: Game Over



Movie: Spy Kids 3D: Game Over
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez

I really like the Spy Kids series: Rodriguez has created a unique and interesting universe, part James Bond parody, all childhood fantasy. This third (and supposedly final) film in the trilogy continues the adventures of the Cortez family. This time the kids go into a virtual reality video game in search of the evil Toymaker, who's out to imprison the world's children in his game. It's campy but great fun, with Sylvester Stallone as the Toymaker (plus several other roles), plus tons of other cameos (including characters from the first two films). Great stuff. The game itself blends several different genres of games (racing, fighting, etc.) and is cool. The big gimmick this time is the 3D effect, with blue/red glasses being given to all audience members. I've never seen a 3D film before so this intrigued me. It actually does work and objects seem to zoom out at you. The effect is a bit cheesy, and the dual-vision glasses take a little getting used to and give you a slight headache after a while. Unfortunately, watching the film without the glasses really sucks, because everything's blurry with extra outlines in red and blue. I hope the DVD release would include 3D and 2D versions. Still, for this kind of film, the 3D thing works (it fits in with the campy style), and if you haven't seen it before it's interesting (kids will definitely love it). Storywise this one isn't quite as complicated as the previous films, and the resolution is a letdown (the bad guy simply reforms instead of being defeated), and the movie's too self-concious, celebrating itself too often, distracting from what little story there is. Still, it has its moments, and if you've enjoyed the first two films, you'll like this one.

Labels:

Thursday, October 21, 1999

The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell



Book: The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (1996)
Writer(s): Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series has been a favorite of mine for decades, but his last few disappointed, and Hell, unfortunately, falls into the same category. In the original series, Jim DiGriz is a crook -- a rat -- but when Harrison turned DiGriz into a cop, married him, and threw a couple kids into the picture, the series went downhill. There's still some of the Rat's classic humor in this book, but too little, and the inane plot that just goes around in circles doesn't help matters. I had great hope upon reading this line on the opening page: "My morale plummeted as the name slithered across my eardrums. Of all the beautiful bores on Lussuoso, Rowena was possibly the most beautiful -- and certainly the most boring. I had to flee -- or commit suicide -- before she came in." That's classic Jim DiGriz -- unfortunately, he rarely appeared in the balance of the book. I usually read a SSR book in a couple hours -- this one required work.

Labels:

Saturday, September 2, 2006

The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus



Book: The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus
Writer(s): Harry Harrison

Uneven and not as dramatic as previous Rat books, this one starts off with a grand premise (the universe) and then reduces to a petite one (a small planet). I found that disappointing and it make it a bit hard to read, though some scenes and events were quite exciting. Unfortunately a lot of the novel has the Rat under the thumb of a real creep and that Rat books are at their best when the Rat is winning. Sure, in this one he wins in the end, but we have to suffer along with him for much of the book, which isn't much fun. I'm such a SSR fan I'll read any of them, but this one is not one of the best.

Labels:

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Stand



Movie: The Stand (1994)
Writer(s): Stephen King (book)

This is the old mini-series from 1994. I'd heard good things of it and even read part of the book, but had never seen it. It was on SciFi channel over the weekend and I thought I'd fast-forward through most of it, but I found it compelling and ended up watching it. The series has an odd 80s feel to it (music, clothing, language, etc.) for a film from the 90s, and there's overuse of digital morphing (showing the chief bad guy as a demon). The story is familiar -- a government-created biological weapon escapes a lab and kills most of the people on the planet -- but Stephen King does something different than the mere fight for survival by introducing an interesting spiritual element. Basically the survivors are split into two groups (good and evil), each with their own leader who recruits via dreams. Ultimately, there's a battle between these two forces that will determine the future of the human race. It sounds hokey and at times it is, but many times it comes across as sincere, and it ads depth and a metaphorical richness to the drama. Surprisingly good.

Labels:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek



Movie: Star Trek
Director(s): J.J. Abrams

The good news: several times during this film I sat back in my chair thinking, "Now this is Hollywood at its best." This is the spectacular thrill-ride you can only get from a big budget Hollywood picture, and every required element -- action, sympathetic characters, subtle nods to the Trek fans, inside jokes, classic scenes redone, space battles -- is included as though checking items off a list. It's certainly not boring, it's tons of fun even if you don't know the Trek universe, and if you do, unless you're a really anal purist with no sense of progress, you should be delighted with what they've done here. It's simultaneously an homage to the original yet it breaks new ground, making old characters feel fresh and new. They really should have called this "Star Trek: Reboot" because it definitely feels that way, especially the ending which brilliantly reopens the Trek world for new adventures with these characters without them tromping on the existing Trek history. That's quite a feat.

The bad news: well, the climatic battle ending is pretty muddled (I'm still not sure what happened), and unfortunately not a lot of plot happens in this: it feels a bit like a TV pilot where all the characters have to be introduced and the story gets short shrift. Still, that doesn't make it bad: it only means that now I really want see the next one! Like, right away. Next week.

The other interesting thing about this film is that the audience at the matinee I saw included a much older crowd that I expected. Sure, there were a lot of young people, but I saw lots of couples in their sixties. That's fascinating. It makes sense since the TV show is over 40 years old, but it's neat those people are still such fans they'd come out to a matinee on opening day! I had wanted to see the IMAX version of this but it was sold out, so I saw it on the regular screen, which was fine. (I may rewatch it on IMAX -- I did that with Watchmen and that was pretty cool. I'm also curious how this stands up to repeated viewings: meeting Kirk and Uhura and Chekov and Sulu and McCoy and Scott and Spock and the others for the "first" time was a wonderful experience, but would it feel boring on the second viewing?

Speaking of those characters, I must say the casting and performances are brilliant. They went very young, almost too young, with many of their choices, which had me worried prior to seeing the film, but it turns out it works. Because they are so young they are similar but appropriately different from the characters we know. For instance, "Bones" (Dr. McCoy) mimics a lot of actor Deforrest Kelly's mannerisms and voice, but it's not so much as to be annoying or distracting: it's just a hint, and they perfectly captured the birth of his curmudgeonliness, which makes far more sense than having him be the same character as on the original TV show (he needs decades to grow into that old geezer). The same for Scotty and others. There may be the odd casting choice you disagree with -- it is too much to hope that everyone loves the entire cast -- but I am very impressed and pleased overall. There are very few wrong notes here. Chris Pine, the young actor who plays Captain Kirk and whom I've never heard of, is actually quite good. He reminds me a great deal of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films) -- not the best actor, but his very newness and occasional awkwardness comes across as part of the character (James T. Kirk was not a hero overnight). I still need to see him in a real Trek film rather than a set-up vehicle like this one to see if he can really hold his own, but I think we just might have found a new William Shatner (and say what you like about Shatner, he is unique and special). Spock, of course, is arguably even more important than Kirk, and Zachary Quinto (the guy from Heroes) unbelievable. (In the scene where he and Leonard Nimoy are together it is astonishing how much they look alike.) I feel like I could have Star Trek without Kirk and just enjoy Spock, but this film actually reminds us how important a character Kirk is -- Spock is emotionless and incomplete, too predictable, and Kirk provides the ideal foil.

Overall, it's a terrific job: a fantastic reboot of the series and I sure hope they make a bunch more films with this cast.

Labels:

Friday, December 3, 1999

Star Trek: Insurrection



Movie: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Writer(s): Rick Berman (story) and Michael Piller
Director(s): Jonathan Frakes

A more light-hearted fare than the previous excellent Trek outing, this one deals with a small race of people about to be annihilated because their planet contains the fountain of youth. It's a good movie, with good performances and some interesting plot points, but overall it doesn't feel tremendously threatening or exciting. There are special effects galore, but they are so muted that you don't even realize they are special effects. For most movies this is a good thing, but Trek films are about spectacle and the special effects should be eye-popping. While the many effects made this one of the most difficult and expensive Trek movies ever made, I'm suspect most fans would guess it to be among the least complex! Still, it's a fun outing, and certainly not a waste of time for fans of the series. There are several other Trek films that are worse than this one, despite it being a bit underwhelming.

Labels:

Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Star Trek: Voyager



I haven't mentioned any TV shows in my news yet, but this week's Voyager is a classic. It's hilarious. The holographic Doctor -- my favorite character -- suffers from bouts of daydreaming (in which he's always the hero and all the Star Trek women hit on him), while a race of aliens spying on the ship for a sneak attack tap into his dreams and think they are real and the Doctor's some sort of one-man army! You guessed it: the Doctor's required to save the day for real in the end. Great fun for ST fans.

Labels:

Friday, May 27, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith



Movie: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The first film was poor, the second pretty good, and appropriately, this third one is a mixed of both. The dialogue and acting is extremely lame, but unlike the B-movie inspired original trilogy, the polished special effects and tone of this one makes the poor performances seem disjointed and awkward. Most of the action was also poor: the light saber sequences are so fast you can't really make out what's happening so you just sort of wait through the blur for the good guy to suddenly emerge triumphant. Boring. There are a few good scenes and sequences, but much is convoluted and drawn out far too long. The most anticipating and interesting aspect of this film is the story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Unfortunately, this is poorly done. The actor -- and I hesitate to call him that -- who plays Anakin is terrible beyond words and completely botches any drama in the situation. The complex and agonizing switch of his loyalties is heavy-handed and much too abrupt. George Lucas attempts to make this realistic by having Anakin show his frustration at not being promoted to Jedi Master fast enough, but this explanation is not carried out and eventually falls short. There was a hint that Anakin was drawn to the dark side as a way to save his love's life, but then that plot line was totally abandoned: it was like once he made the leap to the dark side none of his motives for getting there mattered any more. Now if the darkness had consumed him and become an end to itself, like the Ring does in The Lord of the Rings, that would have been one thing, but that was not illustrated in this movie. I found this weakness the worst aspect of this film. However, the drama of Darth Vader's creation is still the most dramatic and exciting part of the three recent films and finally gives us a hint of the drama of the first trilogy. Not the best, not the worst, but disappointing because I expected too much. Worth seeing for fans of the series; others will be bored.

Labels:

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Star Wars: the Phantom Menace



Movie: Star Wars: the Phantom Menace

Not as bad as I feared. Yes, Jar Jar Binks was annoying and incomprehensible. But once you relaxed and stopped trying to understand him and just ignored him, it wasn't bad. Digital effects were very impressive, and surprisingly, I actually liked the story. It was modest, certainly not worthy of the hype, but competent. The worst thing was the dialogue: absolutely ridiculous. At times it made me laugh out loud it was so terrible. (Do they really use modern expressions like "brain-dead" in the Star Wars universe?) I suppose I had such low expectations that I actually liked the film when I finally saw it. Funny the way that works.

Labels:

Saturday, October 16, 1999

Stardust



Book: Stardust (1999)
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman

To demonstrate how good this book is, I'll say this: I read it (238 pages) in one sitting (I started it this morning and finished it this afternoon). If there's such a thing as an instant classic, this is it. Gaiman -- most famous for his incredible Sandman graphic novels, is an amazing myth-making genius. This book is up there with Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. The tale is simple and pure and beautiful: a boy sets out to retrieve a fallen star to impress his girlfriend. The journey is magical and delightful and the fairie world Gaiman takes us to is believable (and reminiscent of the fantasy of George MacDonald). Gaiman's use of wit, language, and incredible imagination makes this book a delight. For instance, one of the characters is enslaved by a witch. Asked if she's a prisoner forever, she replies, "Not forever. I gain my freedom on the day the moon loses her daughter, if that occurs in a week when two Mondays come together." Hilarious! This book reminds me a lot of Clive Barker's neat The Thief of Always in that it's a modern take on fantasy, but I liked Stardust better. I'd love to recommend it for young kids but it does include a bit of "modern" language and some to the sexual scenes are unexpectedly graphic (elegantly written, but detailed); these don't necessarily harm the story (they in fact add to the charm), but they do change the target audience. For adults who believe fantasy isn't just for children, this is highly recommended. I can't wait to read it again!

Labels:

Friday, June 1, 2007

Stardust



Book: Stardust
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman

Wow, what an excellent book! I listened to the unabridged audio book during my drive to California as the movie's coming out this summer and I wanted to read the book first. It's the story about a boy who, to impress the girl he thinks he loves, promises to bring her a star they watch fall. But the star has fallen into fairyland, where magical things happen, and the boy eventually discovers the star is a young lady. Their relationship is antagonistic at first, but eventually, as he protects her from harm and discovers his own special abilities, they (of course) fall in love. The magic and adventures are wonderfully done, very clever and interesting and charming, right in line with traditional fairy tales. Highly recommended! I sure hope the movie's good.

Labels:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stardust



Movie: Stardust
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman (novel)

This started off annoying me. This is such a wonderful book, short and simple and elegant, and written with such a visual style that I figured it would make a terrific film. You'd hardly have to change a thing. But right off the bat the screenwriters changed one of my favorite items. In the novel a certain character is enchanted by a witch and cannot be freed until "Two Mondays come together in a week" -- and of course that impossibility happens at the end in a brilliantly clever way. But in the film, the enchanted woman instead reveals that she can't be freed until the witch is dead. Huh? Why ruin such a wonderful part of the original story? I can see no reason. And the movie continued in that vein, changing little things here and there, for no discernible reason. In many ways that's worse than changing major plot points because it's just annoying for no reason. My rating of the film dropped to a 9, then an 8 as the little things became bigger. Toward the end the film got ridiculous, introducing a flamboyantly gay character that just felt wrong in tone for the film, and then the film had a utterly different ending. In the new ending things end up about the same, to an extent, but the tone is different, and it ends with a lot more dramatic action, and while I can understand why the producers wanted a more exciting finish, it just didn't fit with the tone of the story. A few of the elements just felt wrong, like the witch manipulating a dorky Gumby-like doll to control a dead man.

But all these issues aside, the film, for the most part, contains the heart of the novel. The shortcuts and arbitrary changes will annoy the faithful, but those who have not read the book should enjoy the film. Judging the film alone is difficult for me since I read the book and can't help making comparisons, but I bet most would give it 8 or more out of ten. My rating is closer to 7, but that's mostly because I was disappointed it wasn't a more faithful adaptation (like the Harry Potter movies). I'd encourage people to enjoy both the movie and the book. It's a wonderful story about a young man who promises the most beautiful girl in the village he'll fetch a fallen star to prove his love, but when he crosses into magical land to retrieve it, he's shocked to learn the star is not a rock but a girl. Witches are out to kill the star to eat her heart to regain their youth, and the boy and the girl set off on a series of adventures where the boy, of course, falls in love with the star. It's magical and brilliant and charming and marvelous. If you aren't going to read the book, at least see the film.

Labels:

Monday, March 22, 2004

Starsky and Hutch



Movie: Starsky and Hutch

Pretty silly and full of itself, but fun film. I initially wasn't too interested because I couldn't really remember the original TV show, but except for a brief cameo at the end by the original two stars, the old show was irrelevant. Though set in the 70's, this was a very modern film. Mere entertainment but enjoyable.

Labels:

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine



Book: Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine
Writer(s): Cheryl Woodard

Excellent book. It delves more into the business side of publishing than in the production side (which is ideal for me since I know production but I'm weak in business). She gives tips on budgeting, estimating subscription sales, marketing, writing a business plan, wooing advertisers, creating an advertiser media kit, etc. The info varies from obvious to invaluable advice, and in general is well suited to just about anyone contemplating starting a publication.

Cheryl was involved in starting up a number of hugely successful magazines, like PC Magazine, MacWorld, and Publish. Unfortunately, she seems to assume that most of us are out to start empires of similar stature, and a lot of her ideas are out of reach of the ordinary person wanting to start a simple newsletter or Internet "ezine." For instance, she recommends a particular software package to manage your subscriptions, but when I went to that company's website, their package starts at $1500 plus $800/year mandatory support. It also runs only on Windows, something that just bites (and in my case would require a computer purchase). Yes, many medium-level magazines could afford such things, but there are many that can't. Cheryl talks about $50,000 direct marketing plans, again something most publishers can't afford. My feeling is that people with that kind of budget can afford to hire expert consultants like Cheryl to help them plan their business and they don't need to read a book. But there are thousands of smaller publishers who'd like to start a simple newsletter for their hobby or fanclub or whatever, and many of Cheryl's ideas are over their head. The book is still a valuable read: I just wish it focused on reality a little more.

Of course I'm reading this book because I'm launching my own magazine this summer. We'll see how Cheryl's advice works in the real world!

Labels:

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Startup.com



Movie: Startup.com

Fascinating documentary following a new dot-com business from founding to floundering. The filmmakers had remarkable access and produced something that is truly profound, dramatic, in depth, and real. However, the editing is astonishingly shoddy. The story jumps around and there's little explanation for how or why anything happens: no subtitles, definitions, or setups, just raw camera-work that on occasion leaves you scratching your head wondering what happened. For instance, in two cases in the story, the company must terminate founding partners and the lead members go through the agony of having to battle with former friends. But there are no explanations for exactly what instigated the conflict, making our role as the observer an awkward and uncomfortable one (since we don't know who to root for). Timing is also often strange. For instance, dates are titled on the screen occasionally, such as "March" but there is no year. At one point there was a sequence about the big dot-com crash of Sept. 2000, and the next sequence was dated April, leaving me wondering if it was April 2001 or if we'd gone back in time to April 2000! (It turned out to be the latter.) Bizarre and elementary errors, but I guess the filmmakers can be forgiven as they only had to film 18 hours a day for over a year and ended up with over 400 hours of footage to edit to 90 minutes (yikes!). Despite the obvious and confusing flaws, the story is remarkable, and it is this story that will be remembered generations from now when historians want to understand the whole dot-com phenomena. Fascinating.

Labels:

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

State and Main



Movie: State and Main
Writer(s): David Mamet
Director(s): David Mamet

The first half of this is wonderful: clever dialogue, lots of intriguing build-up. Then it goes downhill and ends with a barely audible whimper. The story's about a Hollywood film crew making a movie set in small-town America. Unquestionably there's irony there. Of course they run into countless problems: their female lead is having second thoughts, the male star gets into a car accident while driving with an underage girl, the writer is having writer's block, etc. Of course in the end everything works out. Unfortunately it's too pat and ending, and the small town aspect of the film is lost in the ending. For example, right from the beginning we see that the dinner date with Mayor has been placed on the wrong evening on the schedule board. We're expecting that to have big implications, especially when the Mayor's wife redecorates her house just for the dinner! But in the end, nothing much comes of that, I have no idea why. Disappointing.

Labels:

Saturday, March 5, 2005

State of Fear



Book: State of Fear
Writer(s): Michael Crichton

I haven't been that impressed by Michael's recent releases, but went ahead and got this. I purposely avoided any knowledge about it, but knew that it was somehow controversial though I didn't know any details about why. Turns out, it's an anti-environmentalist novel. Michael uses extensive research to show that most of the environmental science is hogwash. It's an interesting and educational read. While I consider myself very pro-environment, I'm also rational and practical, and I don't believe most of the riduculous assertions I hear (on both sides) and so I enjoyed this part of the novel. Unfortunately, as a novel, the book suffers. The story's about several eco-terrorists who plan a series of artificially-created natural disasters (including a tsunami) in order to provoke more environmental laws and donations to environmental causes. Michael does his best spy-novel imitation, but everything falls a bit flat, and all the heavy science thrown in constantly really drags things down. A non-fiction book would have been better, or perhaps a simpler, more linear plot. As it is, it feels convoluted, bewildering, and a bit boring. The science, however, is fascinating, and it's worth reading just for that (regardless of which side of the issue you are on).

Labels:

Friday, April 17, 2009

State of Play



Movie: State of Play

At one time (before I was disillusioned) I considered becoming a journalist; this film revived some of those desires, making it seem exciting and a terrific public service. The plot is fairly standard "journalist uncovers conspiracy" stuff, but it's well-done and extremely realistic. We don't get ridiculous car chases and shootouts and leaping from skyscrapers -- these are writers, not action heros. There's unfortunately not a lot of depth, ultimately, as the consequences and ramifications of the events are never analyzed, but it's such an exciting ride you don't notice until later. Worth seeing, though I'm not convinced this will become a classic or anything; the nature of the plot is uncovering the mystery and once that's revealed, why would you want to watch this again? The ending's got a nice twist; not exactly surprising, but satisfying.

Labels:

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stay



Movie: Stay
Director(s): Marc Forster

A disappointment. I didn't know much about this going in and didn't want to: the concept sounded bizarre and intriguing, which is usually a hit-or-miss kind of movie. For me, this missed. The premise is that a psychiatrist is treating a suicidal young man who seems to be able to predict the future. That sounds neat, but the idea is quickly dropped and the film becomes a chaotic mess where you're not sure who is who or what is what. For instance, the boy says his parents are dead, but the psychiatrist meets the strange mom. So who's going crazy, the kid or the doctor? The problem with this kind of film -- similar to the mediocre Flightplan -- is that with such powerful build-up the resolution had better be damned good. The whole time you're thinking it can't be very good, and in this movie, you turn out to be right. Yes, the film has a dreary Sixth Sense-style twist at the end, but it's not very surprising, it's totally meaningless, and worst of all, it involves a complete point-of-view twist which is illogical and confusing (i.e. the movie is film from the perspective of one character but later we find out it's really been the POV of a different character). The result is an uncomfortable, surreal film filled with too-clever scene transitions (the director worked overtime trying to match elements from one scene to the next), a bizarre and incoherrent story where you can't tell reality from dream, and a distinctly ordinary and disappointing conclusion which, from the director's heavy-handed approach, is obviously supposed to be brilliant and profound. While there were definitely things I liked -- scenes, acting, certain shots -- I came out of the theatre wishing I had the two hours of my life back. That's when I looked at my watch and saw that the movie was only 90 minutes long -- it felt like well over two hours. This is basically a poor man's Mulholland Dr., a similarly surreal film with a twist ending that changes everything, except that one was done by a master director who knew what he was doing and created a unique puzzle film that works, and this director created a conglomeration that's just meaningless nonsense. I wanted to like it, but I must say, "stay away" from Stay.

Labels:

Friday, May 17, 2002

Steal This Movie



Movie: Steal This Movie

Strange film about 1960's hippie rebel Abie Hoffman, telling his story about how he lived underground for years as the FBI tried to find him. The biggest problem with the film is that it assumes you know Hoffman. I'd never heard of him and spent the first half of the film wondering if this was fiction or reality. (But the DVD extras include interviews with Abie's real-life wife, so I assume that means this is based on reality.) Knowing what I know now, I like the movie better than I did while I was watching it. It's got some interesting 1960 philosophy, some cool free speech speeches by Abie, but it feels foreign and without an understanding of Abie's beliefs in advance, you hesitate buying into what he's saying as you're unsure what you're agreeing too. The problem with that, of course, is that the film sets up Abie as the hero and assumes you agree with everything he says. Cool idea, awkwardly done. For Abie fans I'm sure it's great, but not a good introduction to him.

Labels:

Friday, July 29, 2005

Stealth



Movie: Stealth

This is a movie about a robot jet that goes AWOL and I expected it to be terrible, but it wasn't as bad as I anticipated. It's not great, but if you like explosions and high-speed dogfights, it's got those. Mostly it's predictable, but there were a few subtle unexpecteds that meant the script didn't go strictly along conventional lines. The cast is good, and there are some good moments. The way the rogue robot learns to be bad and then learns to be good is cool, but unfortunately it doesn't really go far enough into psychological depth to be revolutionary. Enjoy it for the fun airplanes and explosions.

Labels:

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Stepford Wives



Movie: The Stepford Wives

I've never seen the original so I can't really compare, but I understand that version was more of a horror emphasis, while this one is a comedy. That's a brilliant idea because remaking a film with such a well-known twist ("Oooh, the wives are robots!") would have just been silly. This film is definitely funny and very entertaining, but unfortunately all the fun's before the main character finds out the wives are robots; it all goes downhill once she does. It's like before that the humor is a subtle and interesting in-joke between the film's producers and us, the audience; but once she knows the women are robots, all the fun's gone. The ending is forced, predictable, and doesn't make much logical sense (not that there's much logic in the story anyway). The robots themselves are never really explained -- it was very unclear whether the women were really robots or humans with mind-control chips added. If the latter, the ending made some sense when they were restored to normality. But then why have robots sparking and going into "repeating record" mode? Humans don't spark, even those with a few implants in their head. Logic aside, the film's silly fun.

Labels:

Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Stir of Echoes



Movie: Stir of Echoes
Writer(s): Book by Richard Matheson

I had no idea until the opening credits that this film was based on a novel by one of my favorite Twilight Zone writers, Richard Metheson. The film is somewhat similar to the The Sixth Sense, but lower-key and not quite as scary. Still very interesting and well-done. I like "small" suspense/horror films like this: the big budget ones usually try too hard.

Labels:

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Stone Monkey



Book: The Stone Monkey
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

Pretty cool book, though it wanders around a lot, and the twist conclusion is a little too convoluted for my taste. Still, I liked the characters of bed-ridden Lincoln Rhyme, the detective, and his female partner. The story's about a Chinese criminal, a "snakehead," who smuggles people into the U.S., but when things go wrong, he murders them and sets out destroying all witnesses and connections to himself. Lincoln cleverly figures out where the guy is from hardly any information, but the guy's always one step in front (until the end, of course). Excellent.

Labels:

Sunday, February 27, 2000

The Storm of the Summer



Movie: The Storm of the Summer (2000)
Writer(s): Rod Serling
Director(s): Robert Wise

A remarkable little film (a Showtime original) with a brilliant performance by Peter Falk ("Columbo") as a grumpy, Jewish delicatessen owner who's stuck with a kid from Harlem visiting as part of a "fresh air" program for inner-city youths. It's predictable: obviously the kid melts the old man's bitter heart and the old man brings wisdom to the kid, but it's extremely well-written. Set in 1969, it touches on issues of war, death, and racism. It's occasionally bitter, often funny, and sometimes poignant. There are some great lines. In one, Falk says about his loser nephew, "He's got the mouth of a whale and the brains of a sardine." In another, Falk lectures the boy on racism, defending why he didn't fight back when attacked: "That's the worst thing about prejudice: it turns the hated into haters themselves. Line up the two sides and you can't tell the difference."

Labels:

Thursday, July 8, 2004

The Story of the Weeping Camel



Movie: The Story of the Weeping Camel

This is a film from Mongolia and it's very different. I heard it was based on an ancient legend and so I was expecting something more like a myth or fantasy, but instead it's more like a documentary. We peer into the life of a nomadic family in the Gobi desert. They live in large, dome-like tents and raise sheep, goats, and camels. There are several generations here: grandparents, parents, and children. Everyone works. For a while I wondered what time period this was in because it could have been modern or from 1,000 years ago. Then I saw the baby playing with a plastic lid, banging on it with a spoon, like a drum. All the modern stuff is like that, appearing anachronistic in such an ancient lifestyle. Very cool. The film moves slowly, just showing us bits of the life of these people, and eventually we learn a camel is about to give birth. The birth takes a long time (two days) and is not easy. The birthing is amazing: it's completely real. No Hollywood sanitization here. I don't know how they managed to find a camel that was about to give birth to a white calf, but they did. The white calf is rejected by the mother, and we're treated with scenes of the lonely calf baying and crying for its mother, and the mother who refuses to let it nurse or comfort her. It's heartbreaking. Eventually the family has an idea, so they send the two young boys away. This was fascinating. The youngest boy is probably about five, the older boy maybe twelve. Yet the parents have no problem sending the two off on their own, on camels, out into the desert on what's apparently a multi-day trip to civilization. The two ride to an outpost where there's a modern store (the young boy is fascinated by his first experience with TV), pick up some supplies, and then head to some relatives where they make arrangements for a violinist to come to their came. The next day, after they return home, the violinist comes, a passenger on a motorcycle, the long violin strapped to his back. Eventually the violinist plays and the mother sings, the mother camel is appeased and accepts the white calf. The baby camel is saved!

It is a simple and beautiful story. But what intrigued me the most was the glimpse we get into the life of this family. That was amazing. Such a different world, yet not so different. Babies cry and need to be nursed or amused, meals need to be prepared, animals cared for, things must be cleaned. The bare fundamentals of life do not change. There were a number of surprises. The tents, from the outside, look so plain and drag, but on the inside we find the walls are covered with elaborate and colorful tappestries, just gorgeous. It felt like a palace. Same with the bowls used for eating, as they were decorated with intricate patterns like the finest china. These are certainly people with good taste! I also found it amusing that the camels were so different from the African (single hump) camels I am familiar with. These two-humped camels are completely different, huge and hairy, with strange rather monsterish faces. I didn't like them at first, but gradually got used to them by the end of the film. (The white calf is adorable, though. And there are lots of other animals in the movie, especially lambs, which are incredibly cute.) Another interesting thing was the "violin," which had a very long neck and only two strings. The strings were wide and thin, like a rubber band. The tones produced were low and sort of monotone, but modified by the player sliding his fingers up and down the neck. Chords did not appear to be played, but simple variations of the main tone. It made a beautiful sound and was quite similar to the camel lowing. Another cool thing was the kids playing what looked like marbles but with what I thought had to be camel teeth.

Overall I give the story a B -- it was beautifully simple but not much happened, making it slow -- and the culture peek an A+.

Labels:

Friday, November 1, 2002

Storytelling



Movie: Storytelling
Writer(s): Todd Stolenz
Director(s): Todd Stolenz

Another well-done glimpse into the world of ordinary bizarreness from the director of Happiness. This film is split into two parts: Fiction and Non-fiction. The "fiction" story is about a girl in a writing class who seduces (or is seduced by) her teacher who then rapes her (or does he?). When she writes about it the experience, her critical classmates tell her such a thing would never happen. "But it did!" she cries. The teacher tells her, "Whatever happened in real life is irrelevant. Once you write it down, it's fiction." The second half of the film is about a documentary filmmaker who videos a "typical" American family: Mom and Dad, two kids, and the Hispanic maid. Hilariously shot, with killer scenes and dialog. My favorite stuff involves the young son and the maid. In one scene he finds the maid crying. Her son, in El Salvador, has been executed for rape and murder. The boy comforts her by saying, "Well, maybe it's for the best." After arguing with her that maybe she didn't know her son that well and maybe he wasn't innocent, the boy says, "I spilled grape juice upstairs. Are you going to come and clean it up now?" Wow! That's awesome. The bizarre ending is too sweet to spoil, so just get this film and enjoy it.

Labels:

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

The Straight Story



Movie: The Straight Story
Director(s): David Lynch

I was expecting this story to be a little slow, but while the film was paced as leisurely as a riding mower's speed, it wasn't at all boring. Lynch's use of camera angles, editing, and occasionally unusual methods of storytelling kept things interesting. For instance, in one sequence, a car crashes into a deer, but instead of showing us the accident, we only hear it and the camera focuses on the face of main actor Richard Farnsworth as he reacts to the tragedy. It was far more emotionally effective than showing a realistic accident. Slowly, throughout the film, we learn about the main character, understanding more and more about it. Unlike most films which try to dump a lot of exposition within a scant few seconds and then move on to action, this film reserves details and releases them gradually, when appropriate, and for maximum impact. I really liked that. For example, in an early scene we watch Farnsworth's daughter watch a ball roll down the street and eventually be retrieved by a small boy, and we see her sad face, but it's only later that it's revealed that her own children were taken from her by the state and she pines for them. It's much more powerful to have the two pieces of info given to us separately than all at once: I wish more filmmakers had the instincts to do stuff like that.

Labels:

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction



Movie: Stranger Than Fiction

I've been looking forward to this for ages since the trailer premiered many months ago (it seems like years), but while I Iiked it, the long anticipation made it somewhat of a disappointment. It has a number of aspects to it that weren't clear in the trailer (such as the romance), but the setup of the premise -- established in 30 seconds in the trailer -- takes a long time to get going, and the resolution doesn't quite hit the mark. It's good, but somehow not totally satisfying. It feels a bit like a cop-out, as though we, the viewer, were cheated or not given a clever enough ending. It's not that the ending's not good, it is; it's just that the setup is so long and complicated and we expect a bigger payoff and the ending sort of trickles. It's got a lot of excellent moments, however, including much that's not in the trailer (good), but in the end it gets a B instead of an A.

Labels:

Thursday, November 25, 1999

Strangers on a Train



Movie: Strangers on a Train (1951)
Writer(s): Raymond Chandler and Whitfield Cook
Director(s): Alfred Hitchcock

I'd forgotten how funny this movie is! What a delight! It's the kind of movie that gets better with each viewing. There's so much depth and complexity within the characters that every time you watch it, you see things you missed before. I don't know why scripts this good aren't written any more. It's sad, for nearly every line of dialogue has several shades of meaning. The plot, if you aren't familiar with it, is simple: two guys meet on a train and agree to "swap" murders (they'd each do the other's murder). Since they are strangers, there's nothing to connect them. Of course, this is Hitchcock, so nothing's as simple as you might expect. This movie has some of the most dramatic, classic scenes ever put on film. Absolutely amazing. It's a bit slower than more action-filled Hitchcock movies -- this one's all psychology. Hitch's daughter, Pat, is hilarious as one of the Senator's daughters.

Labels:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Strangers with Candy



Movie: Strangers with Candy

Pretty funny parody-style movie. The humor's a little odd and takes some getting used to -- it's not laugh-out-loud comedy, but more word and absurd situation comedy. The premise is a (rather moronic) middle-aged woman returns home after a failed life culminating with a stint in prison and finds her father's remarried and is now in a coma. She decides to "restart" her life by going back to high school and getting the diploma she never got. This sets up all sorts of bizarre situations where the older woman mixes with teens and tries to pretend to be one. There is a rough plot -- winning a science fair to be "special" to her father will come out of her coma -- but mostly the story's just an excuse for silliness. Some fun cameos and casting, and overall the film's entertaining. Not brilliant, but I can see where this would get a cult following.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Street Kings



Movie: Street Kings

The promos of this didn't interest me at all: a gritty crime drama of some kind with mysterious goings-on and good cops and bad cops and no suggestion of a story. But I went anyway and it turned out to be an excellent movie. I really liked the way it plays with shades of gray instead of black and white. Our "hero," for instance, is a bad cop. He's loose with the rules, violent, and racist. But he is honest, and when he finds himself in the middle of a cop cover-up, he's determined to uncover the truth no matter what the cost. The ultimate bad guy is totally predictable, but the adventure of getting there is interesting, and there are a few surprises on the way. There are times when the film's too talky and the plot slows, and occasionally scenes come across as pretentious, but it general this is surprisingly well-done and definitely will have you thinking about the complex morality of police work. Ultimately the subject is given short shrift, but just the exploration of it is worth the ride.

Labels:

Monday, September 3, 2007

Stuart Little 2



Movie: Stuart Little 2

Somehow I missed the first one. I thought I had it on DVD but couldn't find it. So I watched this one a bit in the dark about who Stuart Little was (other than the obvious fact that he's a mouse). Apparently he can talk and he's treated like a miniature human, with ridiculous things like him going in as a sub in a kid's soccer game. (The ball is 10 times bigger than him -- what's he supposed to do? Squash himself? How does that help his team?) So that aspect I found odd and confusing, but the plot itself, while heavy-handed, was decent and the overall film pleasant and entertaining. Great for kids, certainly. Stuart befriends a hurt bird who it turns out is working with the evil Falcon to steal Mrs. Little's wedding ring, but of course plucky little Stuart faces his fears and saves the day in the end. Hooray.

Labels:

Friday, December 12, 2003

Stuck on You



Movie: Stuck on You
Director(s): The Farrelly Brothers

The trailers made this look awful, a sick, twisted joke about conjoined twins. But it's suprisingly not. It's about two brothers who share a liver and can't be separated. They do everything together and are happy. But one's got a dream of becoming an actor, so they move to Hollywood. There they run into Cher, who's trying to get out a TV show contract, so she hires them to be in her show, thinking it's so absurd the network will cancel the contract. Instead, they go ahead with the show and it turns out to be a huge hit. The conjoined twins are big stars, and that's when they start to go different directions, and realize it's time to move apart. They have the operation and are separated, and only later do they realize how much they miss each other and can't live apart. It's a suprisingly sweet drama from the usually crude Farrelly Brothers. Unfortunately, it's not a laugh-a-minute as some of their other movies. Most of the jokes are either subtle or of the smile, not laugh-out-loud variety. Still, I liked it. It's a bit long, as some of the story takes too long to tell, and a few of the jokes are too obvious, but in general it's a decent tale of two brothers who figure out their lives.

Labels:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Stupids



Movie: The Stupids

Strange old Tom Arnold film that I suspect might have a cult following. It's about a family of idiots who completely misinterpret reality and get into all sorts of crazy adventures involved in stopping an arms dealer plot. Many parts of this are pure genius, as Tom's character is like Inspector Clouseaux in his ability to inadvertently stop the bad guys, but the film's too uneven and strange for most people, I suspect. The best part for me was the hilarious song, "I'm My Own Grandpaw," which Tom sings when he accidentally ends up as a guest on a daytime talk show. It's a catchy tune with funny lyrics and he gets the entire stage audience to sing along with him! Worth catching if you're in the right mood.

Labels:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Subtle Knife



Book: The Subtle Knife
Writer(s): Philip Pullman

The plot thickens in the 2nd book of the trilogy as we meet 12-year-old Will, a boy from our world, who ends up the bearer of the subtle knife, an ultimate weapon many want. I love the developing relationship between Will and Lyra, the girl from the first novel, and it's obvious the story is building to where the two will have prominent roles in the finale. In this story Will's looking for his father and Lyra is helping him. In the process there is danger and adventure, and more of the ultimate plot of the series is unveiled, though we're still not sure, exactly, who is good and who is evil. That's a strange thing and I'm not sure where Pullman is going with it, but I suppose that will be explained in the final book.

Labels:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch



Movie: Sucker Punch

This movie is a fascinating concept: a girl is locked in a mental institution by her cruel stepfather who wants her inheritance and she plots escape within her imagination. The way this works is a cool sort of double-layer dream: she imagines the asylum is a brothel with the corrupt guard the pimp and the female psychiatrist as the madame. She and her fellow girl prisoners are to learn a dance to lure in the male clients and when she dances, she loses herself in an adventure fantasy where she fights warriors and dragons and goes on military missions with her girl friends (I enjoyed the odd mix of tech and eras, from medieval to WWII to science fiction). During the fantasy battle her friends are working in real life to gather the items needed for the escape. When she has all the pieces, they'll be able to escape for real. The over-the-top "live videogame" visual style (by the director of 300 and Watchmen) is fantastic, but the plot seems too simplistic in the first half and the lack of story means the visuals feel like a shallow gimmick. Later on in the film when reality and fantasy finally collide the film really gets going and from that point on I loved it, especially the terrific conclusion which is thoughtful and surprisingly deep. I understand why it was done this way -- as a writer if you know the deeper ending is coming it allows you to be more shallow at the start -- but an audience doesn't know that on first viewing and I found the first half of the film to be tedious and drawn out. I know I'll enjoy it much more in repeat viewings, but it felt way too long the first time. For instance, the opening sequence is a familiar tale of the stepfather abusing his step-daughters. It's told without dialog and done with style and panache and a rock-and-roll beat, but the story is so old it's almost trite and instead of lasting a mere 60 seconds, it feels like it's an eternal ten minutes. I just wanted it to hurry up and get the girl thrown in the asylum so the real story could begin. But despite this flaw, the rest of the film made up for it, and I have to give this one my recommendation. Though trimming 20-30 minutes off the running time might have made this a great film, it's definitely worth seeing for the fun videogame visuals alone.

Labels:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sugar and Spice



Movie: Sugar and Spice

Silly film about a pregnant cheerleader desperate for money who gets her fellow cheergirls to help her rob a bank. Stylishly done with quirky narration by a resentful "B-squad" cheerleader, it has many nice elements, but it's way too light. I read online that this was originally conceived as a black comedy but the script rewritten to make it lighter and I think that was a mistake. This would have been far better dark; instead it feels funny but meaningless.

Labels:

Saturday, November 2, 2002

The Sum of All Fears



Movie: The Sum of All Fears
Writer(s): Tom Clancy

Excellent film. I don't remember hearing much about this in the theaters, but I wish I'd gone. It's great on DVD, though, with surround sound to capture the awesome nuclear explosion. Ben Affleck as the young Jack Ryan is great, and the script really sets him up correctly as being both young and precocious. The plot involves a stolen nuclear bomb that ends up being detonated by terrorists in the U.S. in an effort to provoke war between the U.S. and Russia, and it almost works except for Jack Ryan's interference. Intelligent and thoughtful writing, with good performances. I've never the book (though I want to now), and I gather this is different, but I still like it. I hated the last one (Clear and Present Danger) but this one definitely reinvents the franchise and I look forward to more.

Labels:

Sunday, March 3, 2002

Summer Catch



Movie: Summer Catch

Not bad, though extremely predictable. It's about a talented baseball player who's getting a shot at making the big leagues, but can't keep his head together long enough to pitch a consistent game. Then he falls in love with the wrong girl (she's rich, he mows her lawn) and we've got class warfare. Yes, of course everything ends up wonderfully: he goes to the Majors, she loves him, etc. etc. Still, it's not as bad as you might expect from the recycled plot. The characters are appealing, and it's harmless fun.

Labels:

Friday, February 25, 2000

Summer of Sam



Movie: Summer of Sam (1999)
Writer(s): Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli
Director(s): Spike Lee

I wasn't sure if this was a thriller or what, but it turned out to be a what. The "Son of Sam" killings in New York in the 1970's are the backdrop for the lives of a number of distasteful and unlikable characters (some played by big stars). I found the mystery over the killer much more interesting than the lives of these pathetic characters. While there were attempts to make them human and likable, they didn't completely succeed, leaving us uneasy no matter what happens to them (good or bad). The ending's predictable, and the whole thing's about an hour too long. Some of the relationships in the film are completely incomprehensible. This is a good rough draft a movie -- a couple more rewrites and it might have had something.

Labels:

Monday, March 26, 2007

Summer of the Monkeys



Movie: Summer of the Monkeys
Writer(s): Wilson Rawls (novel)

Terrific film! My favorite book of all time is Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows and the movie version was horribly butchered -- it changed the ending which is the book's title and entire premise -- so I was nervous about this one. Fortunately, it's remarkably faithful to the source material, acted with charm and dignity, and is just a beautiful movie about a boy becoming a man one summer. Wonderful, suitable for the whole family. I actually liked it better than the book!

Labels:

Monday, March 11, 2002

The Summons



Book: The Summons
Writer(s): John Grisham

I found this book fascinating. Not because the book's that great, but because Grisham's best-selling gimmick is so obvious. Grisham's appeal is that he writes about a subject almost everyone's interested in: money. (No reader actually cares about lawyers or the law.) In this book, the "plot" is about a law professor whose judge father dies. There's supposedly little money in the estate, but when the son arrives at home, he finds $3 million in cash hidden in a cabinet. The question then becomes, "Where did the money come from?" Grisham throws in baddies who also want the money, so the law professor's on the run with the cash in the trunk of his Audi, and it's an entertaining read. But of course the real appeal is the juicy fantasy of finding $3 million in cash. We all want to be in those shoes! There are some illogical aspects to the plot, and the story, while interesting, takes too long to get to the mediocre payoff, but the ending is cool: without giving anything away, the tables are turned and the law professor's greed is laid bare. I'd give this a solid B, in comparison to Grisham's other works. He does a lot without much, and that's an achievement. But this book says more about his readers than it does the author.

Labels:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sunshine



Movie: Sunshine
Director(s): Danny Boyle

Wow, this is some fantastic, dramatic science fiction film. It's far, far better than 99% of the scifi films out there. Unfortunately, its predictability -- at least as far as the inevitable ending is concerned -- weakens it a little. But it's still good. The plot is simple: the earth's sun is dying so a small group of astronauts and scientists are in a unique vessel carrying a special bomb that needs to be detonated inside the sun to restart it and save the solar system. The space ship is amazing: it's not all Star Trek polish and gleam, but industrial and fragile, like something humans would actually create. It consists of a sort of huge satellite-dish that points to the sun and shields the actual ship from the sun's intense light. What liked is that when the problems start, they are genuine scientific problems, yet they are explained in such a way that we actually understand what is going on. Complicated tragectory calculations, limited oxygen, shields that must be rotated at just the precise angle to the sun, communications failure because of the sun's magnetism, etc. This isn't the first attempt by humans to restart the sun: this is the Icarus II, the second ship sent 7 years after the first failed, and when they discover that the first ship is near their flight path, they have a decision to make: change their course in the hopes that the original ship might have needed resources they could use? Unfortunately, all this great drama is dappered a little toward the end by a "crazy psycho" plotline that gets inserted, turning the ending into too much of a slasher movie for me. Until that point everything was awesome. The acting is fantastic, the drama palatable, and the scientific aspects of flying into the sun are fascinating. This really is an excellent film, harrowing and exciting, and I recommend you check it out.

Labels:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning



Movie: Sunshine Cleaning

I knew little of this going in except that it was about a woman (the adorable Amy Adams) who starts a crime scene cleaning service. It turns out her character was a little deeper than that, as we learn she was the head cheerleader in high school with the quarterback boyfriend (who is now a cop, married to someone else) and she and he are having an affair. Essentially, she's still stuck in high school, while her peers have moved on, and the cleaning business is her way out. Unfortunately, she's dragged down by her screwball sister, her weird son, and loser dad. Not a huge amount happens in the film, storywise, but that's okay: it's a fun little quirky adventure. Not the greatest film, and certainly not to everyone's taste, but there were scenes that I really, really liked. I wish her relationship with the one-armed guy was developed further, and I would have liked the weird-for-no-reason son be elaborated more, but overall it's a fun little independent movie.

Labels:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8



Movie: Super 8

I really dreaded this would be like Cloverfield, a gimmicky film whose "big secret" turns out to not be much of a secret at all. My biggest criticism of this is the marketing, which hints at a monster we never see, as though that's the draw of the film. In truth, though, the monster is only 10% of what this film is about. What works is the excellent 1970s setting and the relationships between the kids. (The plot is about some kids making an 8mm horror film when they witness a terrible train derailment and after that, mysterious bad things start to happen all over town.) I loved the kids, realistically portrayed with all their awkwardness and innocence and childishness. There are characters you can relate to: the main kid's mother has just died, there's a girl who might be abused by her drunken father, a fat kid who's forgotten in a crowded family, a firebug, and so on. All this is set in an atmosphere of the 1970s, with paranoia of a Russian invasion high and a government that does mysterious things seemingly without oversight. I loved that the casting is mostly unknowns: that helps sell this and makes it feel more real. Their performances are slightly uneven, but that just makes everything even better, and most of the time they are astonishingly good. And I really loved the movie within the movie (stay tuned during the credits to actually see the zombie movie the kids made -- it's hilarious and worth the price of a movie ticket on its own). Film-wise and thriller-wise, this doesn't feel too innovative. It's fairly paint-by-numbers, with a few nearly silly scenes of mysterious sounds, off-camera monster attacks, etc. I guess that's supposed to build our anticipation of seeing the monster (a la Cloverfield), but I just found it tedious and insulting. It's one thing if the characters in a scene don't know what's going on, but it's quite another when they can see stuff and tricky camerawork hides the details from the audience. (At least Cloverfield had a "found footage" motif that meant the missing details were the result of amateur camerawork; here we know it's deliberate and it feels like a cheesy slap in the face by the director as he yells "Ha ha!" at us.) But fortunately, this film has plenty of other juicy meat for us to chew on (unlike Cloverfield) so this technique doesn't ruin the film. The plot, while it has a few puzzling holes (Security cameras at rural gas station in the 1970s?), generally works and I liked the ending and explanations very well. There's nothing earth-shattering here, so don't expect much, but trust that despite the gimmicky film techniques, things do make sense in the end. The bottom line is that this is a terrific film: it's interesting and different, fun with a hint of camp, and has both tender and humorous moments. Two thumbs up.

Labels:

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Super Size Me



Movie: Super Size Me

Surprisingly witty and entertaining documentary skewering the fast food industry. The director/star goes on a 30-day "McDiet" -- where can can eat nothing not found at McDonald's -- and proceeds to go from perfect health to gaining 30 pounds and nearly destroying his liver. What I liked about the film is not only the excellent pacing and presentation, which kept things moving, but the variety of information. It smartly didn't limit itself to just McDonald's or even the fast food industry, but touched on American eating habits in general, exercise, school lunch programs, and more. A terrific film that will make you think about what you eat and our country's priorities. A must-see.

Labels:

Friday, August 24, 2001

Supercup: Liverpool versus Bayern Munich



Soccer: Supercup: Liverpool versus Bayern Munich

What a game! Last year's Champions League winner against the UEFA Cup winner. Liverpool's off to a great start this season with a win over West Ham on two Michael Owen goals, and he did it again in this game. Early in the first half his cross set up a teammate, and Heskey finished a great chance of his own just before the break. He caught a through-pass then easily outran the defenders and finished around a diving Khan. As the second half started, Munich had reason to wear red: ten seconds in Owen received a long ball from the back, darted forward with it, and put it past Khan to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead. Wild! Finally, with 30 minutes to go, Bayern showed signs of life when one of the smallest on the pitch, Salihamidozic, put in a great header to get one back. Then, after a lull, they got another with 10 minutes left, with Jancker's header. But even with Khan playing forward and leaving his goal empty, Bayern couldn't do it. Final: 3-2 Liverpool!

Labels:

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns



Movie: Superman Returns

I had little interest in seeing this film. I didn't understand the point. Hasn't Superman been done to death? This film didn't sound like any new take on the superhero, so why bother? Better special effects? Who cares? But as the release date (and hype) grew closer, I decided I needed to at least see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it would surprise me. Well, it did. I was surprised at how pathically awful it was. It's truly one of the most uninspired films of the century. Everything in it we have seen before. Oh, sure, there are some "new" things -- like the crystals Lex Luther steals from Superman's "Fortress of Solitude" that can grow entire continents, and the ridiculous modern addition of Lois Lane as a single mom shacking up with a boyfriend and raising a son that might be Superman's -- but these new things are not particularly tasteful or interesting, and the implementation so poorly done that we really don't care much either way. Everything else is stuff we've seen before -- why rehash it? The concept of the plot was not bad: Superman has left earth for five years and suddenly returns, back to save the day, but the method of his leaving and his reasons (when finally revealed), are unbelievably lame. Apparently he beds Lois one night and disappears the next, without a word of explanation, when he hears astronomers might have discovered parts of planet Krypton still intact. He heads there hoping to find a trace of his ancestors (he doesn't, of course). Granted I can see why he might be curious about his past, but it's not like it's urgent and he can't take two minutes to leave a note! And why didn't the world fall apart while he was gone? Shouldn't Superman have been wracked with guilt when he returns at all the lives he didn't save while he was gone? The producers could have done some neat things, like have 9/11 happen while he was gone and the world is angry at Superman for not preventing such a tragedy. Or perhaps his adopted parents, the Kents, could have died while he was away, and that causes some turmoil. Instead it's all about Superman/Clark Kent, who's shocked that Lois Lane has moved on, won a Pulitzer, and has a boyfriend and a kid.

This is a film that could have led us into a new era of Superman. I'd have loved to see a film that explores his dark side. For instance, have him fail to save someone he loved and that's why he leaves earth for a while. Perhaps he returns and tries to be a regular guy, just ordinary Clark Kent. Maybe as Clark he's tempted to use his powers for evil, like playing pranks on Lois' boyfriend. He's bitter, angry, and depressed. But some experience changes him and realizes his duty, like Peter Parker's mistake costing his uncle's life in Spiderman make him realize he must use his gift to help people. At least with such a storyline we'd get to see aspects of Superman we haven't and we'd explore deeper into some classic characters. This film has none of that. The only thing I liked -- which suprised me greatly -- was Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. She came across as genuine, conflicted, and the only real, non-stereotypical character in the film.

Labels:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Surf's Up



Movie: Surf's Up

Weak. I didn't even crack a smile until about 15 minutes in, and only laughed maybe twice in the whole movie. It's too predictable -- an arrogant surfer penguin kid faces the reality of real competition and has to learn humility and the meaning of competition and surfing for fun -- and there just isn't much of a story here. Worse, the premise of the film is fundamentally flawed. Almost all the characters are penguins... why? There is no reason. They are merely humans in penguin suits. The physics are ridiculous: penguin stubby arms are somehow able to hold on to things and climb and do tons of human stuff. It makes no sense and feels incorrect and weird. Most of the jokes are obvious and tired; to put them in perspective, realize that penguin puns are among the better jokes, as are feeble attempts to mock penguin pysiology (like that male penguins sit on the eggs). The bottom line: while essentially harmless, this is definitely a movie for very young kids. There's nothing here for adults. Avoid at all costs.

Labels:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Surrogates



Movie: Surrogates

I love robots and this is sort of a robot story: "surrogates" are mechanical duplicates of people that can be remotely controlled, so people never have to leave their homes and can always be safe. They operate their surrogate to go to work, travel, take physical risks, etc. It's a neat idea and the film actually hints at the sociological impact of such technology. Unfortunately, within minutes of the beginning the film shows us illogic by telling us that surrogates were invented a mere 14 years ago and that now 98% of the population uses surrogates. Huh? It took like 50 years for cars to be common and the whole world will switch to remote controlled robots in just 14 years? That sent up red flags for me and the rest of the film's illogic made it painful to watch.

There are some neat ideas (i.e. humans = ugly, robots = pretty), and the special effects of a young Bruce Willis as a robot is pretty cool, but the story is far too convoluted with a murder conspiracy and technology that can kill the human operator remotely. The ending isn't that bad and has a preachy moral message for us ("be human"), but the whole film feels like pieces that don't fit together. The plot's a mishmash of ideas and the film bounces around between talky/social commentary scenes and action as though it can't decide what kind of film it wants to be. The action feels like it was thrown in to sell the film and the robot action looks like badly faked digital. Nothing makes much sense, but strangely, I still kind of liked this movie. It's fun, proposes some unusual ideas, and some of the performances are interesting. There's not much meat on this bone despite the heavy-handed approach to preaching, but if you can ignore that and the giant plot holes, there are worse ways to waste a couple hours.

Labels:

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Survivors of the Chancellor



Book: The Survivors of the Chancellor
Writer(s): Jules Verne

I've been listening to this audio book for a couple weeks and it was an interesting coincidence that on the way home from watching the end-of-the-world caper 2012 I finish this book which is also a survival story, though set 150 years earlier. This is about a ship that sinks while crossing the Atlantic and the survivors who build a raft and try to stay alive long enough to reach land or be rescued. It is a harrowing and grim tale, and halfway through you think surely they've suffered enough, but the bad stuff is only beginning. It is a quite remarkable story of survival and the ending has an unexpected aspect that I enjoyed. There are aspects of the book that are a challenge to understand because of differences in time and culture (many of the nautical terms were meaningless to me, for instance), but the human condition and will to survive is understandable to all. Excellent.

Labels:

Friday, August 27, 2004

Suspect Zero



Movie: Suspect Zero

I heard bad things about this going in, but the trailers made it seem cool: it stars the awesome Ben Kingsley as a serial killer killer. Unfortunately, the critics were correct. This film has many problems, mostly with the script. The film starts out well enough, with a series of murders getting the FBI involved. Soon we learn these are "messages" targeting a particular FBI agent who has a troubled background (revealed in flashback, of course). Eventually the FBI guy figures out that all the murder victims are serial killers and so he deduces that this guy is "helping" society -- but his superiors don't agree and want the guy taken out. It's pretty much at this point that the film tanks. There are several reasons for this. One, the film has built so much around the gimmick of a "serial killing serial killer" that once that's revealed there isn't much left to the movie (and of course since that's revealed in the film's trailer, you know that going into the movie). Two, the pace of the film's inconsistent. It starts out glacial, as we investigate murder step-by-step. Then it speeds up, jumping from murder scene to murder scene like a music video, which results in minimizing the significance of the latter murders. Three, the story falls apart and is very choppy and illogical when the FBI meets Ben Kingsley's character, and in the "climax" of film when they meet up the final serial killer, "suspect zero." The latter gets his name because he's a killer under the radar, so good the FBI don't even know he's been killing, and yet he's murdered thousands. Four, the ending is anti-climactic and badly filmed. Most of the time I liked the direction, but the ending consists of the FBI guy and the killer rolling around in dust "fighting" -- yet all you can see is their legs entangled as they roll back and forth for like two minutes. Five, the film can be broken into two halves, the search for Kingsley's character and the "climax" when the FBI finds him and they track down the final serial killer (suspect zero). Unfortunately, there's no good transition between these halves. Even if the ending were decent, the film would still be awkward and incomplete because of that.

The whole film has a lot of puzzling logistical issues. For instance, I got very confused: I thought one location was supposed to be in Oklahoma City (the FBI guy is based in New Mexico), yet later in the film the FBI guy has a brain wave and rushes to that building to confirm something. He gets there, apparently, in minutes -- so either it wasn't so far away or he's Flash in disguise. Who knows or cares? A similar problem is at the end, when he's tracking "suspect zero." He's in the middle of nowhere and calls his partner who shows up within minutes, somehow knowing where he is from the phone call. There's also some real stupidity. Like the FBI standing around in obvious fashion waiting for the serial killer to come home. When the guy drives up, he sees the FBI guy and takes off, provoking a road chase. How stupid is that? Wouldn't even the dumbest cop know to hide? And even dumber is that the FBI guy's in an SUV and the killer drives a huge semi... so the SUV, after calling for backup, keeps trying to pass the semi. What for I could never figure out. Backup is coming, the semi's not getting away, so why risk your life trying to pass the semi? Basically the scriptwriter needed more action at the end and so forced a pointless high speed chase. Oh dear, there are so many problems with this film I could go on and on. It's a fine concept and the direction's actually pretty good, but unfortunately the foundation (the script) is unfinished. A waste of potential.

Labels:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeney Todd



Movie: Sweeney Todd
Director(s): Tim Burton

I'd heard of the muscial Sweeney Todd and the premise of a murderous barber always intrigued me, but I'd never seen it, so I was looking forward to this presentation. Unfortunately, what disappointed me the most was the music: it's definitely poor, with zero memorable songs and only one or two even singable. The rest are boring or tedious, with a few just downright awful. Everything else about the film -- the story, the cast, the acting, the atmospheric sets, the direction -- I loved. But music is key for a musical and this was disappointing. So see it for the black comedy story and great performances from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and wear earplugs.

Labels:

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Sweet Home Alabama



Movie: Sweet Home Alabama

This seemed like a predictable, by-the-numbers romantic comedy, and it was just that: a sucessful woman in NYC goes back to Alabama to finalize her divorce so she can marry the wealthy man of her dreams and ends up falling in love with her husband again. However, it is very well done, with some interesting moments. It did have one surprise: I could have sworn Matthew McConaughey was in this film: but no, it's a look-alike, Josh something. I guess I just thought I saw Matt in the previews. That kind of bothered me the whole movie, like you're expecting a premium product and instead you get this cheap generic brand stuff.

Labels:

Friday, October 25, 2002

The Sweetest Thing



Movie: The Sweetest Thing

Odd Something About Mary clone, with all the gutter humor coming from women this time. There are strange scenes like the sudden musical number in the middle. It's funny, but an uncomfortable funny, and a lot of the jokes fall flat. The story is simple: three single girls search for love. One meets a guy but doesn't follow him, then later decides she might regret that decision, so she and her friend go on a road trip to his brother's wedding to find him. There are all sorts of strange mis-adventures on the way. The film very much has a "series of skits" feel to it more than a cohesive story, but there is a pleasant sense of genuine good feeling to the characters that helps gloss over the movie's weak points.

Labels:

Monday, May 12, 2003

Swimfan



Movie: Swimfan

What's bad about this film isn't that it's badly done -- it's that there's nothing the least bit remarkable about it. The plot's a high school version of Fatal Attraction, with a psycho girl plotting against the guy she had a fling with. You've seen it before, better.

Labels:

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Swimming Pool



Movie: Swimming Pool
Writer(s): Franciois Ozon
Director(s): Franciois Ozon

Wow, what a film. Or should I end that with a question mark? This strange thing is a real adventure ride. On the surface it's a seemingly straight-forward tale about a British mystery writer who goes to France to stay at her publisher's home to escape for a bit and get some work done. But she's only been there a short while when the publisher's daughter shows up and proceeds to turn everything upside down. She's brazen, a slob, swims in the nude, has different lovers over every night, and drives the writer crazy. In a sense, she's everything the older, prim and proper lady, is not.

But what seems so straightforward is not. Unforunately, this film tries to be too many things. It wants to be an erotic thriller, a mystery, a love story, a literary enigma.

The film is sensual. I mean every scene. The camera lingers on ordinary things like doorways and windows, the writer's face as she types, etc. It is the visual aspects that propel the film. The audience is a voyeur. That part is incredible: the film's worth seeing just for the visuals. However, the plot's a mishmash of ideas, cliches, red herrings, tributes to other films and filmmakers (Hitchcock, Lynch, Clouzot), and more. There are hints and twists and echoes that make us think more is going on than meets the idea. This all leads up to a Sixth Sense-like twist ending that's supposed to change everything we've seen so far. Unfortunately for Ozon, it does nothing of the kind. Right after I saw this I found myself frustrated, because the ending made no sense to me. Yet the reviews -- while not revealing the ending -- made it out to be brilliant and clear. To me it was ambigious and cliche. Could I be so wrong? But after reading comments on the Internet, I soon discovered that I wasn't the only one confused. Many people failed to understand the film. A few people wrote their own explanations, and in reading those I realized something significant: it wasn't that I didn't understand the ending, it's that I was trying to make the ending more than it was. The twist ending isn't that big of a deal (at least from my perspective). It changed little about the film. As a writer myself, I live within fantasy and reality and the two overlap constantly. So having a writer on a movie screen do the same is not a surprise at all: I expected it. (In fact, I remember thinking during the film that I was surprised Ozon didn't show us fantasy sequences from the novel the author was writing.) So for me the ending, while it came as a surprise, didn't change the film. I gather it was supposed to, just like Sixth Sense's twist made you want to watch it again. No, I kept looking for a deeper twist, more meaning and complexity. I wondered if the daughter was the result of the publisher-author's union, for instance -- but there's too much evidence against that to make any sense. I wondered many other things, all equally implausible. It was frustrating. But it was when I realized that most of the film is a red herring and it isn't a complex film at all that things started to make sense to me. Now I appreciate the film's simplicty and elegance. I still think it has flaws (not enough foreshadowing, for instance), and it's too dependent on the gimmick ending, but if you just think of this as a simple little mystery-thriller it works much better. Don't try to work too much symbolism into the characters and odd references: they mean nothing. Unlike a Lynch film, the whole thing's not supposed to make sense. It's just a visual feast. Enjoy it. Just don't be fooled into thinking it's profound.

Labels:

Monday, October 14, 2002

Swimming with Sharks



Movie: Swimming with Sharks

Pretty cool flick about the dog-eat-dog world of the movie business. The harried assistant of an egomaniac producer gets fed up with being treated like dirt and kidnaps the producer, holds him and gunpoint, and tortures him. The film cuts back and forth between the "live" kidnapping and flashbacks to the guy's Hollywood career. Smoothly done. Somewhat predictable, but still entertaining, and the ending has a unexpected twist that's totally diabolical.

Labels:

Monday, June 12, 2000

Swingers



Movie: Swingers

Rather boring film about slackers. At least, I think that's what it was about. Only notable scene was when main character did the bit with the answering machine.

Labels:

Sunday, November 4, 2001

Swordfish



Movie: Swordfish

Okay action film with mishmash plot about computer bank robbery. It tries a little too hard to be overly cool, and as you might expect, it's ninety percent BS (none of the computer stuff makes sense), but that's okay, since the ride's colorful. The ending was a little different, which was good (the DVD has multiple endings -- the one they used was the best).

Labels: