Friday, June 6, 2003

2 Fast 2 Furious



Movie: 2 Fast 2 Furious

The original was okay; this one's best feature is its remarkably clever name (for the dead, that's sarcasm). Yeah, it's got more cars, more chases, more women, more noise. The plot is more linear than the first one, but still dealing with guys going undercover trying to pass as street drivers so they can nail the bad guys. Frankly, the car races were boring. Gee, will the good guy win? I don't know... there's so much suspense! Okay, one or two jumps or crashes were cool, and the cars are definitely hot, but that's not enough to sustain a whole movie. Paul Walker, the only return from the first movie, proves that he's one of the worst actors on the planet (watch the scenes where he's supposed to get angry: though anger's the easiest emotion to portray, bad actors can't do it convincingly). The new people are okay, but nothing remarkable. That pretty much sums up the movie: nothing remarkable. The action is most cars revving their engines and going nowhere: I actually fell asleep during part of the movie! Mildly fun, but not recommended unless you're a car nut.

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Saturday, January 29, 2000

200 Cigarettes



Movie: 200 Cigarettes (1999)
Writer(s): Shana Larsen
Director(s): Risa Bramon Garcia

One of the better episodic films I've seen, but still a bit choppy and non-linear. The "plot" is about a number of unrelated people all gathering for a New Year's Eve party in 1981. Parts were quite funny, others tragic. Ultimately we don't really care for most of the (unlikable) characters so the whole thing's kind of a wash. Some of the irony was sweet, though, and there were a few legitimately classic moments.

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Thursday, June 12, 2003

2001: A Space Odyssey



Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Writer(s): Arthur C. Clarke (novel)
Director(s): Stanley Kubrick

Scandalous, I know, but I'd never seen this before. I've watched the opening "Dawn of Man" segment numerous times, and seen clips of other bits on TV, but never the entire movie. I'd read the book years ago and it never made much sense, so I'd hoped the movie would explain things better. It does and it doesn't. The ending is a little more linear but still just as metaphysical, and instead of reading descriptions of the unimaginable we see wild pictures of it. Overall this fits in with the grand, epic scheme of the novel and film, and when the movie's over you feel you've experienced something profound (you just aren't sure what). However, while there's a place for mystery in literature, this story is being mysterious not to make us think but because the author really doesn't know what he means. He's therefore vague and metaphysical to imply something profound, but even he isn't sure what that is. Which makes sense to an extent: as the key plot is contact with extraterrestrials, who can imagine, fully, what that would be like? Despite a few problems with the odd story, I like this movie a great deal. It's an amazing cinematic feat. The photography and pace is incredible: it's like a space voyage, slow and ponderous and monotonous, yet moving at fantastic speeds. The music is key, like a narrator, explaining everything we're seeing. There's really only a few scenes with dialog -- the rest of the film is a visual feast. I can truly see why this is considered a classic, and I am amazed Kubrick managed to get it made at all considering it is so different and unorthodox. It definitely was before its time. The special effects are simple and subtle, and work well even thirty-five years later. A terrific experience, even if a bit mysterious and the conclusion unsatisfactory.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

2012



Movie: 2012

Remarkable spectacle. That pretty much sums this up. It's not a bad drama: there are a handful of compelling character moments and though they are not profound, they work well enough for this type of film. Story-wise this is well-structured, with a dad trying to save his family from the end of the world. The action is terrific and non-stop once the planet starts to break up, and the special effects are, frankly, astonishing. Most films have one or two scenes that are clearly the main spectacles, but here the effects just keep coming: out-driving an earthquake, skyscrapers falling, an entire city breaking up and falling into the ocean, volcanoes erupting, tidal waves wiping out mountains, just to name some of the bigger events. It's worth watching just to see the remarkable graphics. But I was pleased to see that the story is decent: we care for the family in danger, there are some non-stereotype events and characters, the plot is actually followable and not too ridiculous, and the ending is classic Hollywood feel-good. Enjoyable. Though it's over two-and-a-half hours long, I hardly noticed, which says a great deal.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

21



Movie: 21

This is a movie about the true story of MIT students who formed in a card counting club to gamble at blackjack in Vegas. They were led by their professor and the movie is the story of one young man who is trying to pay for his Harvard Medical tuition. Of course he gets greedy and wants more than the money he actually needs, and that leads to all sorts of trouble. The story is somewhat predictable, but it works. We like the main character and root for him to succeed. There isn't really a whole lot of story here -- it's mostly the thrill of the high lifestyle of Las Vegas. But it's fun and interesting, the performances are good, and the ending is typical Hollywood. I liked it.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2002

21 Dog Days: Doing Time at Amazon.com



Book: 21 Dog Days: Doing Time at Amazon.com
Writer(s): Mike Daisey

Hilarious book about the horrors of working at a dot-com startup. Mike is refreshingly self-effacing, witty, and incredibly lazy. He's not stupid, he just doesn't like to apply himself. Out of this comedy we get some interesting insight into Amazon, the whole dot-com-gold-rush thing, and life. Excellent read.

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Friday, January 2, 2004

21 Grams



Movie: 21 Grams

This is a remarkable film. It is similar to Memento in that respect, though the story's more dramatic. The film almost feels unedited: we cut from scene to scene with no preamble or explanation, and the scenes, at first, don't appear to be related. More important, there is no time indicator on these scenes, and some happened earlier, some later, so everything's a mixed up jumble. For instance, one of the main characters is Sean Penn. We see him seeingly healthy, smoking a cigarette. Then he's in the hospital, on his death bed. A couple scene's later he's at home, dragging around on oxygen tank and sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom. Then he's in surgery, then in recovery, and later he's leaving the hospital. Everything's out of order. After watching for a bit we gradually figure out that he was sick, was going to die, received a heart transplant, and now has a new life. That's the chonological order of those events. But by presenting them out of order, the filmmaker teases us and forces us to think. For instance, once we figure out that Penn is going to die and we see him "dying" in the hospital we assume that's what's happening -- but in reality his life is being saved via the transplant. This technique could be used to ill effect, but in this movie it is not. After the first few minutes I was thinking this was going to be painful, but my mind quickly adjusted. The technique actually enhanced the story, similar to Memento's reverse technique making for a remarkable film. Granted, for the first half hour you won't understand much: the intersecting stories have not intersected though there are scenes that show unrelated characters relating, so you realize that there is some kind of connection between these people, you just aren't sure what it is. What's well-done, however, is that every scene is interesting, and each scene gives us more and more info about the people. By presenting us with the scenes out of order, the director forces us to make assumptions about the characters, and those assumptions are often proven wrong later, which is incredibly interesting. As far as the story goes, it's much too complicated to explain everything here, and of course I wouldn't want to ruin the film for you, but let's just say that one character loses her husband and his heart ends up inside Penn, and that connection eventually draws Penn and her together. Throw in the story of the man who killed her husband and you've got three separate lives intertwining. By presenting their connections out of order the power of the story is magnified. It's an unusual film, very well done. The only flaw I found is that the movie feels extremely long. It's only two hours but feels like three. (I wasn't the only one that felt this: others were complaining as we exited the theatre.) That's because the short unrelated scenes each seem like a new movie and the story seems to progress at a glacier pace (only a little new info is gleaned from each new scene). The director would have been better to speed things up by taking out 20-30 minutes of footage and having things happen faster. That would have made this a great film. As it is it's an excellent film, but more of an experiment than a great movie.

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Saturday, May 19, 2001

28 Days



Movie: 28 Days

Sandra Bullock vehicle about a party animal who's sentenced to drug rehab (for 28 days). I'm a Bullock fan, but this was a weak concept: Bullock's too sweet to be believable as a drunk, and the script is TV movie of the week quality. Not terrible, just predictable and bland.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2003

28 Days Later



Movie: 28 Days Later
Director(s): Danny Boyle

Intriguing end-of-the-world horror movie, about a horrible infection that turns humans into rabid animals. The tinest bit of infected blood in your system and you go rabid in twenty seconds and try to kill your own family or anyone around you. Far fetched, yes, but intriguing. The main character, Jim, wakes up in an empty hospital. He was in a car accident. Now London is empty of people. Everyone's dead. Well, almost everyone. He meets up with a few non-infecteds and they set out to figure out a new life in this new world. Fairly routine, really. But what makes this film above average is the unusual style. Boyle's filmed it with digital cameras, which gives it a grainy, documentary, ultra-real feel. The second thing he does is do some cool hyper-speed blur movement thing to the attacking creatures, which makes them both hard to see clearly (the unknown adds to the fear factor) and frightenly fast. They keep pouncing out of nowhere, and the fact that they once were human makes them really creepy. Unlike zombies, these people are still alive. They're just really disgusting. No explanation is given as to what they want (the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead wanted to eat human brains) so I don't know if they eat the people they attack: it seems like they just bite them and thus infect them. Overall the story's not the point, though. It's just a wild adventure ride. The characters are interesting, a motley crew thrown together by circumstance, and since we actually care what happens to them we follow their adventures carefully. The film is surprisingly creepy (far more than The Blair Witch Project), especially toward the end when we see the infecteds more clearly. The story's a little light, but again, this is a film all about visual style, and it that respect, it succeeds admirably. But unfortunately is not much more than that -- a fun exercise in horror.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

28 Weeks Later



Movie: 28 Weeks Later

It's been a while since I saw the first movie and though I remembered I liked it, I couldn't remember the details. That wasn't a problem, though, as film stands on its own. It's basically a zombie movie, except instead of dead people coming to life it's regular people being turned into raging maniacs by a dangerous virus. In this film it is 28 weeks after the first and Britain, which had been evacuated, is being carefully repopulated as all the infected have died off and it is considered safe to return. Our focus is one particular family: the boy and daughter were overseas when the virus hit, but return to find out that their mother was infected and only their father is left. Of course you can't watch this without the dreadful feeling that things are going to go bad, really bad, and of course they do, as the virus reinfects and sweeps through the surviving population in a devastating and terrifying manner. It's pretty exciting and plenty horrifying. It's grim and dark and doesn't show much hope, but that's in line with the first film. Recommended it you're into this sort of thing.

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Sunday, March 24, 2002

2nd Chance



Book: 2nd Chance
Writer(s): James Patterson

If this isn't a textbook thriller, I don't know what is. And I mean textbook thriller in the weakest sense. The chapters are extremely short, 2-3 pages, and each ends with a "dramatic" cliffhanger or unexpected news. Except, of course, everything's so predictable, nothing's unexpected. Patterson brings back his "Women's Murder Club" from 1st to Die and seems to think his collection of brilliant women who solve crimes (led by Lt. ___) is innovative. He takes far too much time exposing us to the inner lives of his characters, as if we care. Though nothing like this happens in the book, the technique reminds me a lot of the way a TV show will introduce us to a character's former lover we've never met through a two minutes of flashbacks and then tragically kill her off at the end and we're supposed to be moved. Extremely artificial. Worse than that, the plot of his murder story is dull. It's serious: the serial killer takes out a lot of people, and there's a lot of hand-wringing and sighing, but we really don't care one way or the other. With this kind of writing, death is trivialized. There are also a number of extremely puzzling technical omissions. For instance, the cops have a tape of the killer making a fake 911 call, but later, when they've got a suspect but no evidence to arrest him, no one thinks of doing a voice match to the tape! Overall, this is a quick read, and nothing terrible, but it's predictable, and I liked my surprise ending then the one in the book. Ho hum.

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Friday, March 9, 2007

300



Movie: 300
Writer(s): Frank Miller (graphic novel)

Terrific! I have not read the graphic novel and the promos intrigued me a little but not that much as it seemed like just a film about a battle. Then I watched a TV show about the author and the project and found out the story is based on a real historical battle in ancient Greece, where 300 Spartans fought an army of a million. The story sounded a bit dreary to me -- after all, I knew the Spartans died, though it seemed obvious they won in the long run. But the film, it turns out, is much more complicated than such a simple telling. There are fascinating political reasons of why a mere 300 Spartans tried to fight off the army of a million, and a big part of the story is the king's wife, who faces a moral dilemma as she tries to save the life of her husband. The story's got everything: action, a flashy visual style, intense emotion, betrayal, horror, and a touch of the fantastic (the Spartans are practically superhuman fighting machines and some of their enemies are nearly demonic). So though I only expected a good movie I got a great one. Highly recommended.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

361



Book: 361
Writer(s): Donald E. Westlake

I'm not sure why I got this audio book. I don't remember what the description was, but I guess something intrigued me. It turned out to be about the mob, which is a topic that doesn't interest me (I don't understand the fascination people have with gangsters). That said, though, this one turned out to be a little different and interesting. It starts of dramatically with the young son returning home after being discharged from the military, and on the way home with his father, his father is shot and killed and the son badly injured. That starts the son on a quest to find out who killed his father and why. The secrets uncovered lead to organized crime and the son's surprisingly role in that gangster world. It's a decent yarn, well-written, and I ultimately liked it. However, in the middle of it I was somewhat bored as I didn't care for the topic, and secondly I was confused because the main character who seemed like a good guy was doing bad things and it seemed like he was going to do worse. Everything turned out appropriately in the end, but the journey was rocky for me. Interesting, but not a book I'd ever read again.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

3:10 to Yuma



Movie: 3:10 to Yuma

I've never seen the original, but it feels like it would have a hard time matching up to this one. Christian Bale as the flawed rancher hero and Russell Crowe as the charming villain are amazing, and the story and script really bring out the moral ambiguities of the situation. The plot is bare bones: the leader of murderous pack of outlaws has been captured and must be taken to the town of Contention to meet the 3:10 train to Yuma (which will take him to prison and the gallows). But no one wants the job because everyone fears his gang will kill to set him free. A desperate rancher takes the job for cash, but is it worth his life? Fascinating story and the ending is not what you expect at all.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2003

T3: Rise of the Machines



Movie: T3: Rise of the Machines

Okay, here goes. First, the Good: 1) The story continues and the trilogy comes to a logical (though not particularly satifying) conclusion; 2) There's some excellent action and tension, combined with good special effects; 3) The characters are interesting and well-played; 4) The new "Terminatrix" (the enemy female Terminator) works surprisingly well, though there's no explanation of why the robot was made in female form.

Now, the Bad: 1) The plot's basically just a rerun of Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the most part (including Arnold getting clothes from morons in a bar); 2) There's nothing here as remotely innovative as the liquid metal guy, motorcycle-into-helicopter, and other amazing stuff from T2; 3) While exciting in places, this movie doesn't have the no-letup, breakneck pace of the previous films that made them edge-of-your-seaters; 4) Still includes numerous utter idiotic fallacies, such as cyborgs going nude back through time, but once they've adopted human clothing, the clothing miraculously repairs itself after they've been shot up! In another example, Arnold steals a vehicle by finding the keys hidden above the visor -- that was a human trick taught him by John Connor in T2 as an alternative to tearing open the steering column. But of course this is a different cyborg -- how could he remember what his predecessor did? Even dumber, the film later points that out in a bit where the 20-something John Connor laments that he'll have to "retrain" the new Terminator because he doesn't remember anything. Lame!

But overall this isn't as disappointing of a sequel as I expected -- it's actually rather fun. I suppose people will be split on it, though. Some will hate the ending, others will agree it makes sense. I personally liked the way they tied all the loose ends. Some have reported the action was awesome, but I thought it only okay (but action doesn't impress me that much anyway).

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Taken



Movie: Taken

I really liked this. What makes it work is Liam Neeson in the main role. He's former government security expert, a "preventer," and when his estranged daughter is kidnapped in Paris by white slavers, he hunts them down and kills them. In most such films they'd cast a bulky hunk like the Rock or Stalone and while the action would be fine, the dramatic scenes would be crap. But Neeson is terrific: we believe he's a sensitive guy who adores his daughter, and yet we can believe him to be a ruthless action hero, too. That's a rare feat and impressively done. Also, while the basic plot's predictable, the way it plays out is creative and interesting: all he's got to go on is a few seconds of cell phone conversation, but he manages to track down all the anonymous bad guys. Pretty cool. Great action (a la Bourne), but enough depth of character to make everything seem important.

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Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Takeover



Book: The Takeover
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

A fun book from Frey, with an outrageously ridiculous plot. Unfortunately the plot is revealed early on and we spend half the book wondering how things are going to be resolved, which they do at a slow pace. The plot's crazy: a secret society of seven powerful men engineer a scheme to take down a president. They set up the world's largest hostile takeover of a company and set up the president for insider trading on the stock. The main character's a young man who is setting up the takeover, not realizing he's a pawn in the larger scheme. When he finds out, he's got to stop them. Ludicrous, but I guess theoretically financially sound. Good fun.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Taking Lives



Movie: Taking Lives

This film gets a lot of comparisons to the recent Twisted (both have female cop leads) and usually comes out on top. I agree. It's a better film because Twisted wasn't very twisted (the twist ending was obvious a mile away) whereas this one is a little more subtle. Not much, but a little bit. They did a better job of keeping you guessing and the story after the story (the film keeps on going after you think it's over) is a nice touch. None of the characters are particularly original though the acting is decent. The film has an odd beginning as we focus on the serial killer's story; later that view is lost as we switch to the female FBI agent's viewpoint. I would have preferred sticking with the villain's perspective: that would have been something different. Still, a decent film, with a modicum of suspense.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Taking of Pelham 123



Movie: The Taking of Pelham 123

Incredibly disappointing. I remember I liked the original, and while this one had good performances from Denzel and Travolta, the film itself is awkward and weak. There's excessive bad language used for no real purpose, and the plot goes nowhere. The idea of taking hostages on a subway train seems odd, since you'd be trapped in a tunnel, so I kept expecting some brilliance out of the bad guys, a twist at the end revealing their clever plan. Nope. They all just get shot in the end. Lame. Most critical for me, I found myself completely baffled by Travolta's bad guy character: he made no sense and I felt I understood him less at the end than at the beginning.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux



Movie: The Tale of Despereaux

I was looking forward to this and expected to like it, but I was crushingly disappointed. I think I could go so far as to say I hated it, which shocks me. How could one go wrong with the story of a funny little mouse who's a hero? I don't know, but somehow this film does it. First of all, the story is way overdone: it's got too many things happening and jumps from plot to plot with no transition at all that it's confusing and breaks your chain of thought. For example, the basic story seems to be that of a brave mouse who saves a princess. But mixed in with that is the story of a rat who's somewhat similar and who helps the mouse. That is further complicated with the story a girl who's a "princess" serving as a maid in the King's castle. All of these stories sound generically familiar, but they purposely resolve differently than we expect; I suppose that's to make things more interesting, but I just found it annoying, since the whole movie you are confused as what is happening. Is the Desperaux the mouse the main character? Then why is so much time spent on the rat's story? And which princess are we to root for: both, neither? It's all bewildering.

Another fatal flaw is the animation. At times it's breathtakingly beautiful, with fantastic attention to detail. I loved the way Despereaux's nose glistened with faint wetness, for instance. Amazing. But the animation is inconsistent, with humans looking awkward and dorky, and very often the movement of characters defying real-world physics. Like in one scene Despereaux is bouncing on the end of a rope and he bounces as though the rope is elastic -- it just did not feel natural. In many scenes the editing is so choppy and the camera angles so poorly chosen it's difficult to tell what is happening. You get a vague impression and you're probably right, but it's not clear. Another problem is that the film's humor is odd: there are many scenes where the mice discuss Despereaux's problem in that he's not afraid and hasn't "learned to cower like a proper mouse." I guess that's supposed to be funny and it is the first time, but it's hammered over and over, with parent-teacher conferences with Despereaux's parents, etc., and in the end it just starts to get repetitive and puzzling. There's also bizarreness associated with the supernatural. While there's an aspect of the film that feels like it should be "magical" (fantasy), we're not really shown that anything is actually magic -- except for a strange talking vegetable man. This being assembles itself from a collection of vegetables (i.e. different vegetables for the mouth, nose, eyes, etc.) and he talks. We're given no history of him, no explanation of what he's doing there, how he can talk, what he is, or what happens to him in the end. (Does he die when he fell down the stairs or was he just forgotten on the cutting room floor?) I wanted to see a world with a lot more magic, or key magic used at just the right moment to save the day, or none at all. This bit of random magic for no good reason was just bizarre and weird and pointless.

There are a few moments of brilliance: Despereaux himself is very good (though he's not on screen enough), the narration has some good lines, and some of the scenes are interesting. But mostly this is just a mishmash of styles, stories, characters, and confusion. I really disliked it and found myself contemplating leaving the theatre on many occasions. Though it's not long, it felt endless. I am extremely disappointed.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Talent is Overrated



Book: Talent is Overrated
Writer(s): Geoff Colvin

Cool book with a simple premise: that what makes great performers -- in any field -- isn't innate "talent" but hard work. Lots of evidence and research is cited to prove this point, showing how even child prodigies aren't so prodigious when we really examine them. For instance, Tiger Woods' father starting teaching his son golf when the boy was 18 months old! Is it any wonder he was a "prodigy" by age five? The reality is simply that by that age Tiger had already had more golf experience and training than most of us do in our entire life, and by the time he was an adult, he'd been working extremely hard at his craft his whole life. Of course Tiger had drive and a keen interest in golf. If he hadn't, he wouldn't have kept up with his training. But basically any of us could be a great performer in any field we want simply by working really hard at it.

I like this premise because it makes more sense to me than the idea that some people are just born with a genetic disposition to do something like write or make music or trade stocks. The truth is we're born with no skills at all. We might have certain physical gifts that help us or family that lean us in a direction (i.e. literary parents are more likely to read to their young children who will grow up with stronger verbal skills), but it's up to us to do the work.

The book's well-written but takes a lot of pages to make its simple point. I suppose if you're inclined to disagree with the point you may need the additional convincing, but I really like the idea that there is no such thing as talent, only skill, so I didn't need much convincing. The good thing about the book is the way it has changed my thinking: I am literally deleting the word "talent" from my vocabulary. I will replace it with "skill." Think how that changes your perspective. If I say to you, "You don't have any talent for singing" versus "You don't have any skill for singing." With the first phrase, you're likely to just give up and not try. But with the second, you might think, "Hey! I could _learn_ that skill." In other words, this book is inspiring and empowering. Well worth the read.

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Monday, May 17, 2004

The Talented Mr. Ripley



Movie: The Talented Mr. Ripley

This was a surprisingly good film. I remember when it came out I wanted to read the book before seeing it, and I thought the reviews were not kind, but it was excellent. Jude Law is awesome, Matt Damon less so, but competent (he's slightly miscast in the role). The film made me want to read the book, so I'm going to do that. I'm very suprised Hitchcock never filmed this because it's exactly the kind of story he'd love.

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Monday, June 14, 2004

The Talented Mr. Ripley



Book: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Writer(s): Patricia Highsmith

Terrific book, really fantastic. I wish I'd read it before I saw the film. After reading the book, I like the film less. The book is far better, though the film stands on its own in a way, but I just liked the book's approach better. It's more believable and the characters better defined, especially Tom Ripley. In the book he's really a psychopath, unemotional and scarcely able to understand what's he doing; that wasn't at all the impression I got in the film, where they did things like weaken the murder scene by making his victim fight back in such a way that we felt some sympathy for Tom. The film is typical Hollywood, afraid to commit, wanting to please everyone. Tom is one of the most unusual characters in literature the film just does not compare to the book.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Talk to Her



Movie: Talk to Her
Writer(s): Pedro Almodovar
Director(s): Pedro Almodovar

Astonishingly good film, definitely one of Almodovar's best. I thought at first it might be a bit boring, but Almodovar never lets that happen, always jumping us from story to story, giving us fascinating tastes and moving us on before we get too much. There are two intertwined stories, both involving coma victims. One is about a male nurse who lovingly takes care of a young girl in a coma; the other is about a writer who falls for a female bullfighter not long before she's gorged in the ring and ends up in a coma. The two men become friends. Here Almodovar does something that I've never seen before (except in gimmicky films like Memento). He takes us on flashbacks to the relationships before the comas, but then later, we go back to those same flashbacks but a a few minutes earlier, and perspective totally changes based on the earlier conversation we didn't get to see the first time round. Very cool effect and it's efficient at giving us a lot of detail about the relationships. The result is that with all the characters we're left in suspense, never quite sure if what we see is reality. Is Benigno a creep to be in love with a living corpse or is his love pure? Or is he gay or perhaps just sexually confused? We don't know until the end (and maybe not even then). As usual Almodovar's created fascinating characters with intriguing, complex relationships, and he frames them with humor and provoking dialog. The ending is terrific, leaving us hanging with a new story brewing, making us wonder if another romance is in the air. Of course no mention of this film is complete without at least acknowledging Almodovar's brilliant film-within-a film: Benigno sees a silent film (Alicia, the coma girl, is a fan of silent films so he becomes one too) that is hilarious, profound, and outrageous. It's called the "Shrinking Lover" and is the tale of a female scientist and her lover. He drinks her experimental drug and shrinks to four inches in height, and what follows is even more audacious than the toy flipper man in Almodovar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. It's wild, and yet, when you compare it to the relationships the men have with the coma women, it's subtly profound. Remarkable film.

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Friday, September 8, 2000

A Talk With Hitchcock



Movie: A Talk With Hitchcock

Excellent DVD interview with Hitch, the greatest director of all time. This interview is apparently from a 1960-something TV Canadian TV show, and it included lots of great stuff from Hitch. He tells his vision of film in the year 3000 (we'll all just go and be hynoptized into living the film we experience), and reveals insights into modern debates like the issue over film violence. (Hitch claims no connection, and when asked about a serial killer who had watched a Hitchcock movie just before his third murder, Hitch said, "I wonder what he watched before his second murder?" He dismissed the whole thing and said that the killer was just as likely to have just drunk a glass of milk before his killing.) Classic Hitchcock, great video.

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Saturday, August 5, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby



Movie: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Wins silliest title of the year, but the movie's not bad. Extremely uneven, with some of the jokes falling flat and running too long (like the prayer scene at dinner), but overall it's relatively harmless stuff about stupid people driving race cars.

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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Tangled



Movie: Tangled

This is one of those small thrillers that has a cool concept with a neat twist at the end and could have been another The Sixth Sense but fails. The premise is simple: two guys love the same girl. One guy's the girl's best friend, the other her lover. One's safe, the other wild and impulsive. When she catches her lover with another woman, the relationship's over and she picks the best friend. But there's a twist at the end that I won't give away here. Unfortunately, the film fails for several reasons. First, there isn't enough material in the middle to keep the story moving. Once we know the main characters and where things are going, we have to endure until the twist ending. Second, much of the film is told in flashback. The film opens with the best friend character arriving at a hospital, bloody and injured, and we gather something has happened to his girlfriend. When the cops interview him, the backstory is revealed, and we find out the girl's lover kidnapped the two of them apparently intending them harm. By the time the backstory catches up with the present, we'rer ready for that twist ending. The problem is that the flashback technique implies something momentous is going to happen at the end, but we aren't given enough foreshadowing material to know how significant the ending will be. Second, the twist ending is such that, like Sixth Sense, it simply gives us a few pieces of information that radically change the way we think about everything we've seen. Unfortunately, this gets paid out so quickly at the end, there's little build-up or warning that a twist ending is coming. In this film, that's bad, because things seem too predictable. Also, the cop characters seem overly suspicious, which is confusing. It's like they are seeing something the rest of us don't. (In reality it's just bad writing -- the cops know how the script ends.) I liked the characters, though they're stereotypical, and I liked the twist ending. But the way this thing was put together it is a tangle itself, and that's not good for a story. Just watch the final thirty minutes, that's the only part that's important.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tangled



Movie: Tangled

I am delighted to report that this is a terrific film. It's not perfect, but it's definitely one of Disney's best in a long time. The best thing about it is the psychological behaviors of the characters are real, not cardboard mockups like in most Disney cartoons. For instance, Rapunzal's character loves the woman she thinks is her mother (she doesn't realize she was kidnapped as a child by the woman) and is in conflict with herself over obeying her mother and staying in the tower, or leaving and exploring the world she longs to experience. This conflict isn't just stated, but shown multiple times throughout the film. For a cartoon, it's amazingly realistically presented, and of course when Rapunzal finally figures things out at the end and stands up for herself, it's a powerful and emotional moment because of all that buildup. In terms of plot, I had expected that this would be an "alternative" telling of the Rapunzal tale, but it seemed to follow a fairly traditional story. That's a good thing, for why mess with a classic? (Last year's The Princess and the Frog took a ton of liberties with the original story and it wasn't always an improvement.) The animation and filmwork is awesome (the 3D is pretty good, too, though not a must). However, I have a beef with some of the physics. How can a horse and man fall of a cliff and just get up unhurt? Some of Rapunzal's violence to the man should have caused brain injuries (she keeps hitting him with a frying pan) and yet he seems no worse for the wear. Odd, in a film that is otherwise well-done and grounded in genuine human behavior (it's not like a regular cartoon where you'd expect such unreality). Another weak point is the music. From the trailers you wouldn't know this was a musical, but it is, unfortunately. While the songs are okay and blend in fairly well with the story, they poke one of my pet peeves about musicals in that the lyrics to the songs are basically just people singing what they want to tell us. For instance, if I was in a musical right now I'd be singing, "I'm writing movie commentary for my blog, criticizing the way musicals sing what should be said." I find that annoying and dumb: songs are poetry which are supposed to be metaphorical and give us insight into the characters and situation, not just tell us story. Fortunately, there aren't that many songs, and some are quite fun. (I liked the "Mama Knows Best" one the witch sings, and the "Everybody Has Dreams" one sung by all the cutthroats in the pub, which also had the best choreography and humor.) Another really smart feature is the way the way the script handles the animal sidekicks. Instead of having our main characters do low-brow humor, which demeans and simplifies them, the humor is mostly the left to the animal sidekicks (a horse and a chameleon). These animals can't speak, which is refreshing, as they must reveal their thoughts with exaggerated facial expressions and gestures. The result is hilarity and warmth. (Some of the best scenes are the conflict between the thief hero and the out-to-arrest-him police horse.) Overall, this is a wonderful story. It's rich enough in character that adults can get a lot out of it, and yet there's plenty of action and humor for kids. One thing I really liked is that the story isn't dumbed down for children -- there's a stabbing with real blood and consequences, as well as another key death -- but such delicate things are cleverly handled in a way that's not going to be traumatic for kids. The bottom line is this is one of the best animated films I've seen in a long time. It's perhaps not quite up to Pixar's impossibly high standards, but it's loads better than even above average fair such as Despicable Me and Megamind. Definitely put this on your must-see list.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Target



Movie: The Target

Strange film. In many ways it's strictly B-movie action shlock with overdone direction, gratutious sex and violence, and a convoluted, non-sensical plot. But it's set in South Africa, which brings a different visual palette, and there are scenes in an African village (such as a tribal dance) that one would never expect in such silliness. I'm not sure what to make of it. It's not a good film for many reasons, including that it thinks it is and is too self-concious and full of itself, but there are a few interesting scenes that make you wonder if the material itself is okay but it's just poor direction that ruins it. The director does have some skills as their are a few well-done parts, but there's nothing consistent: it's almost like the film had multiple directors or the director was learning as the film went on (there are some really amateurish cuts and shots in places). Very strange. Probably not worth seeing unless you're interested in film-making. You can learn a lot from a badly directed picture.

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Friday, October 8, 2004

Taxi



Movie: Taxi

After a week of acid stomach during the house situation, I needed a break and a really stupid movie seemed to fit the bill. I got exactly what I wanted in this "idiot cop is helped by streetwise female taxi driver" flick. It's not great, not terrible, not much of anything. There are a few laughs, a few jokes that fail miserably, a few moments that actually work, but overall this definite B-movie territory. Still, if you're in the right mood (as I was), it's amusing and certainly non-threatening. The lead guy (Kattan from Saturday Night Live) does a decent job but is annoying; Queen Latifa rules, though. She's a real star.

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Friday, March 24, 2000

Tea With Mussolini



Movie: Tea With Mussolini

Cool movie. Light, low-key story about old women living in Italy before and during WWII. Not as emotionally compelling as Life is Beautiful, but the characters were original and well-done.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Teaching Mrs. Tingle



Movie: Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)
Writer(s): Kevin Williamson
Director(s): Kevin Williamson

From the creator of Scream and the TV show Dawson's Creek comes this black comedy, which isn't very dark or very funny. However, I still liked it, mostly because of the psychological manipulations of the evil Mrs. Tingle. She was a potentially fascinating character. Unfortunately, the contrived ending strips her of all realism, leaving us with another mindless movie villain. I don't know much about the background of this film, but I suspect studio manipulation toned down what was once a much darker script (the original title was Killing Mrs. Tingle). It's a shame, because it's an interesting concept with a lot of potential.

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Friday, October 15, 2004

Team America: World Police



Movie: Team America: World Police

Time again for a needed break and stress relief. This looked like a cool Thunderbirds spoof, but coming from the creators of the semi-funny South Park I wasn't sure. Well, this film definitely had its crudity and foul language, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the South Park movie. That's because it's actually funny most of the time; even the dirty stuff was funny because it was parodying the original "tame" marionette show. The story itself is a jab against the USA being the world's police force. For instance, Team America goes in and destroys Paris in the process of stopping a handful of terrorists. But what I really liked was the poke in the eye to Hollywood, where all the liberal actors (a group hilariously known as the Film Actors Guild... I'll let you figure out the acronym) ban together to protest against Team America and violence, then end up helping the bad guy and getting slaughtered in the process. We actually get see marionettes of Helen Hunt, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and many others get destroyed. It was very fun.

The marionette work was very impressive. At the same time it was both cheesy (no attempt is made to hide the strings) and sophisticated (the puppets eyes and faces were amazing and actually conveyed real emotions), a tough thing to do. The bottom line is this a fun film. It's hilarious, crude, and definitely socially unacceptable, which gives it a good rating in my book.

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Friday, March 7, 2003

Tears of the Sun



Movie: Tears of the Sun

I had little idea what to expect: somehow I'd gotten the impression this was an action flick, which quickly proved wrong as there isn't even a gunshot until the ninety-minute mark. That disappointed me, but the climax sort of made up for that. The story is frightfully simple: there's a civil war in Nigeria, with rebels taking over the government and performing "ethnic cleansing" on innocent civilians. A small team of soldiers led by Bruce Willis is sent in to rescue a female doctor from a small mission that's in the path of the rebel army. But she insists on bringing the mission's Africans with her. Bruce violates his orders to help the natives escape, leading them on a trek through the jungle to safety in Cameroon 40 miles south. But following them is a troop of 300 rebel soldiers, and the shoot-em-up climax is surprisingly dramatic. That's pretty much the movie: no real surprises, no unusual plot twists, and a few moments of realistic and gritty action. But somehow it works. On paper I'd have said it was weak, but seeing it, it works. The relationship between the doctor and Bruce is fascinating, with them battling wills and exchanging thoughtful glances. Bruce's military poker face compared with the woman's passion is a great foil, and we really can't tell what either are thinking inside. What also impressed me was the acting and focus on the Africans. In many rescue films like this the mass of innocents are a faceless group (usually represented by one heart-breaking child who dies tragically) with no personality. Here we actually get to meet some of these men and women, see them struggle, weep, and carry on, and there are some really great moments between them and the soldiers. They are brilliantly humanized, like in the moment when one of the American soldiers, a black man, tells Bruce, "These are my people too." It's more than him just recognizing his historical background, it's him recognizing himself in these people. The film's slow to get going, and there isn't a lot beyond the bare plot, but it's a heroic story where the African people come across as heroes just as much as do the American soldiers. I especially liked one scene where an African woman, after her husband is shot, takes up a fallen bad guy's gun and uses it to fight. It's quick moment but it embodies the spirit of the African people (and the American Revolution). Excellent, but go with caution and don't expect much. This is the kind of film that can easily be overhyped. Think simple and you won't be disappointed.

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Saturday, April 27, 2002

The Technicolor Time Machine



Book: The Technicolor Time Machine (1967)
Writer(s): Harry Harrison

Wild book with a crazy premise: a struggingly film studio finances a scientist's time machine project in order to go back in time to film a movie with real Vikings and have the film finished in four days. Unfortunately, the humor's dated: a lot of the satiric jabs at Hollywood's excesses fall hollow (and even worse, seem tame in today's world). Still, it's rather fun and interesting, and I love the concept of taking sci-fi and going a completely different direction.

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Thursday, October 2, 2003

The Teeth of the Tiger



Book: The Teeth of the Tiger
Writer(s): Tom Clancy

I haven't read much Clancy as I haven't been a fan of his fragmented writing style, but this was a good book. It's one scenario of what clandestine operation the U.S. might do in response to 9-11 (the "teeth" of the "tiger"). There's a super-secret government organization that's actually privately funded so there's no connection to the government at all. But this organization has penetrated all levels of the government and thus has full access to all intelligence from all other agencies. Using this info, this organization will, essentially, kill terrorists before they can strike. Brutal and cold, but realistic. How else do you stop sucide bombers? The book devotes too much time to "debate" over the morality of this as though Clancy were defending the idea himself through his characters instead of getting on with the story, and in the end the story's thin as everything happens the way we'd expect (and desire, i.e. the terrorists are stopped). One interesting thing is that this book is set in Clancy's world and many of the characters are descendants of familiar Clancy characters (such as Jack Ryan's son). I haven't read enough Clancy to know if he always does this, but I found it interesting. A good read.

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny



Movie: Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny

I thought this had a great premise -- two rocker dudes seek "The Pick of Destiny," a guitar pick with supernatureal rock powers that can turn anyone into a musical genius. But unfortunately the film isn't very funny and is mostly distasteful, with crass jokes and tons of bad language that passes for humor. Disappointing.

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Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Tenant



Movie: The Tenant (1976)
Director(s): Roman Polanski

Effective thriller about a meek man who rents an apartment in a strange building. The previous occupant, a young woman, killed herself, and slowly the man becomes haunted by her. Is he possessed, insane, or just weird? We're not sure until the very end, which concludes in a hilariously bizarre sequence that I can't tell you about because it would spoil it. Really cool. The ending makes the film worthwhile, but it does get slow in the middle (or muddle). Still, it's worth watching, though it may not be for all tastes.

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Friday, July 21, 2000

Terminal



Book: Terminal
Writer(s): Robin Cook

So so Cook thriller, with an obnoxious lead character you want to punch yourself, a chapter that's ninety percent incomprehensible medical terms, and a plot that's ridiculously obvious (I figured it out reading the back cover blurb) but "held" to the end to build suspense. Can't really think much to recommend it, other than it's still better than wasting a few hours watching TV.

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Friday, June 18, 2004

The Terminal



Movie: The Terminal
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Somewhat disappointing. The plot about a foreigner trapped in JFK International because a coup in his country has caused both his visa and his passport to be revoked, meaning he can't return home and yet can't enter the U.S., is too forced. It's amusing and overall well-done, but too predictable, with too much sentimentality for us to genuinely be moved. Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance, but the material's just not enough. The ending is awkward, and I didn't buy the lead character's absurd motivation to go to New York. It was meant to be heart-tugging but was laughably stupid. It didn't make sense. For such a simple task, why not have someone else go in his place? The whole film is filled with a number of awkward moments like that that just don't quite work. Still, it's not a bad film, just not a great one. With Hanks and Spielberg, one expects a little more. Above average, but not extraordinary.

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Saturday, April 1, 2000

Terminator 2: Judgement Day



Movie: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Writer(s): James Cameron and William Wisher
Director(s): James Cameron

I got this on DVD and had to watch it to test out my 5.1 surround sound system. Just as good as always, and the sound really puts this one over the top. One of the best films of all time.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator Salvation



Movie: Terminator Salvation

I wasn't going in with the highest expectations, but I really enjoyed this film. It's non-stop action from start to finish, with the rebel heroes continually getting out of the most incredible jams when it seems the odds are totally against them. The story isn't too complicated, but complicated enough: it's in the future during the war against the machines and John Connor is trying to find and save the man who will be his father (in the first movie). What I really liked is that the film tells the story of several groups of people and it does it in a non-rushed manner (most films give short shrift to secondary storylines). Another positive is the wide variety of machines we get to see: underwater snake-like machines, motorcycle-bots, giant multistory Transformer-like robots, and of course, a number of Terminator models. With such variety, the action sequences feel fresh and different, and the ways the humans escape death come out of the situation and tools at hand and don't feel forced like in some flicks. There's definitely a ton of explosions here: they must have spent half the budget on dynamite, though there are some other excellent special effects. All this is not to say the film's perfect: in a couple places the acting/writing/editing felt off, just awkward, but that's minor. For the most part the cast is great (though unknown) and the story fits in well within the Terminator lore. I wouldn't describe this film as being innovative the way the original and sequel were, but that's a tall order and this one is certainly better than the third film, maybe even better than the first. Definitely a great summer action movie. Go see it!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Terrorist Attack



If the events of Tuesday, the Eleventh of September, 2001, had been scripted in a film, they would have been scoffed at as unrealistic. That four teams of terrorists could manage to hijack four different American planes at the same time is unbelievable, let alone that they could manage to crash almost of all of them into major U.S. targets.
The physical events are distant from me, but like most Americans, I'm affected. I'm saddened by the loss of life and property, and horrified that people exist on this earth who find joy in such destruction, especially when they attempt to justify their actions via religion. I'm angry at their arrogance to dare do this, and even angrier at Americans who dare claim that we somehow deserved this. No nation on earth deserves this, no matter what they've done. I'm nervous at the future: I've never lived through a war (I won't count the Gulf War as a real war), but it looks like we may be heading that direction (as soon as we can identify an enemy).
The ray of hope through all this, and most touching to me personally, has been the response of nations throughout the world. In Europe, Champions League soccer matches were postponed in the wake of the tragedy, an unprecedented gesture. Weekend matches will feature a moment of silence preceeding the games. To see our allies and friends from around the globe unite in their sympathy is heartwarming; I only hope that American will respond in kind when it's our turn (not that an American baseball game would ever be postponed for another country's disaster).

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Friday, October 13, 2000

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre



Movie: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

In honor of the date, I guess, the Independent Film Channel has a weekend of classic horror movies. I'd never seen this one, but decided to watch it. I'm not really a fan of the slasher genre (except for the satiric or parodic); I generally find "horror" movies more funny than scary. This film, I must admit, was scary. I watched part of an IFC documentary on horror films later and director John Landis' comment about Chainsaw got it right. To paraphrase: "With a director like Hitchcock, you're in suspense knowing there's a master in control. With Chainsaw, you're quickly aware there's a maniac in control and you don't know what to think. Anything can happen." The cold brutality of the killings was startling. Without the gore and endless fake scares so typical of most slasher films, the deaths are truly unnerving. For instance, in one scene the bad guy (Leatherface) calmly picks up the screaming girl and sticks her on a meat hook. She's dangling there for several minutes, helpless, screaming horribly, while he goes about the business of using a chainsaw to cut up her boyfriend. Nice. The climactic finale is almost a black comedy: watching the ancient grandfather feebly attempting to club the screaming girl and repeatedly dropping the hammer is maddening. You want to scream, "Hurry up and kill her and get it over with!" until you realize what you are thinking, and then you feel guilty. Not an easy movie to watch; it's truly disturbing, and even after all these years is still easily a breakthrough film. Remarkable.

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Wednesday, November 24, 1999

TG 1999



It's the long Thanksgiving weekend, so I leave for my Aunt and Uncle's place in Oakland. I'm bringing lots of DVDs for my cousins and I to watch!

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Thank You For Smoking



Movie: Thank You For Smoking

Fun parody about a smoking lobbyist. While it's not laugh-out-loud funny, it has a lot of great moments, and I was really impressed by the unusual plot twists that did the unexpected (so many films today are totally predictable, especially comedies). I really liked the relationship between the smoozer dad and his son and the way he teaches his son to be just like him (we see the son out-arguing the mother, etc.). There's actually some very good information there on persuasion techniques. The bottom line is that the film's entertaining and fun, but not hilarious. Definitely worth seeing if you enjoy parodies.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There Will Be Blood



Movie: There Will Be Blood

I didn't like this as much as I expected -- perhaps the positive reviews got my expectations too high. (There's no question in my mind that the amazing No Country for Old Men deserves the Best Picture Oscar.) My dissatisfaction comes from the fact that story doesn't seem to have much of a point. The plot reminds me a lot of Citizen Kane except that there's no frame around which to find depth and meaning. Instead we merely have the story of a poor gold-digger in the late 1800s who discovers oil and connives his way to into buying oil-filled land undervalue so he can be even wealthier. The richer he get, the less morality he has. A key conflict in the story is the awkward battle between him and a local religious leader, a character so over-the-top as to be obviously flawed (he's a morally bankrupt mirror of the rich oil guy), but I found the conflict forced, trite, and wanting. Much more compelling for me was the relationship of the oil man with his adopted son who goes from beloved to pariah after an accident leaves him deaf, and the oil man's frustration at not being able to control the boy. Overall we've got a mediocre story with some fantastic characters portrayed by some brilliant actors and some incredible direction and camera-work, yet the pieces don't quite add up to the expected total. Don't get me wrong: this is a great movie, well above the average, but it falls just a step short of the greatest I anticipated. It is still well worth seeing, however, and I highly recommend it. Just don't expect it to cure cancer and change your life.

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Friday, December 17, 1999

Thief



Movie: Thief (1981)
Writer(s): Frank Hohimer (novel) and Michael Mann
Director(s): Michael Mann

This movie is similar to Heat, but I actually liked it better in some ways. It's a simpler story, about a diamond thief who wants to have a normal life. James Caan was really good in the title role: he plays a smart but rather dumb guy. That's realistic (most crooks are intelligent), but it's a tricky task to pull off. In two or three scenes Tuesday Weld shines as his girlfriend. The movie is slow-paced at times, but it keeps building and grows more and more interesting as it goes along. It's well-directed by Michael Mann (of "Miami Vice" fame). What I liked best was how realistic all the characters were: there's good and bad within them all.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The Thing



Movie: The Thing
Director(s): John Carpenter

For some reason I thought I'd seen this long ago, but that was a completely different movie. I'd never seen this, though I wanted to after recently reading the short story upon which it was based. I'm not a big Carpenter fan, but this is one truly great movie. It's extremely faithful to the story, which was great, and has an excellent visual appearance, terrific performances, and special effects that surprisingly still hold up today. On top of all that, it's even scary! It also is thought-provoking: it's sure to bring up some debates on trust. Worth seeing all the way. The DVD's pretty good as well: there's a long documentary that reveals much about how they created the special effects.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The Third Man



Movie: The Third Man
Writer(s): Graham Greene

I don't always like old "classic" films, but this one doesn't feel dated at all. It's in lovely black and white, filled with shadows, which makes the performances all the more dramatic. The story is set in Vienna during WWII, when it was controlled by four powers: American, British, French, and Russian. The black market ruled. The main character, an American writer of western novels, arrives because his old pal promised him a job. He gets there only to find his friend was killed by a car a few days earlier. The circumstances are mysterious, so he investigates, and what he uncovers... well, see the film. It's an interesting and unusual story, with poignant and profound moments, and some excellent thrills. Most dramatic of all is the incredible music: all performed on a zither, which has a unique and haunting sound.

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Monday, September 22, 2003

Thirteen



Movie: Thirteen

This is an amazing film, probably the best film I've seen all year. I could be biased, however, because I'm writing a novel that features young teens in similar situations. The story is wonderfully simple: it's about an ordinary, clean-cut, modest girl who wants to be popular. She manages to make friends with the hottest, coolest girl in school, and under her influence, is soon doing drugs, shoplifting, and getting tattoos and body piercings. Her mother (separated from her dad) struggles with these changes in her daughter while trying to keep her own crappy life together (she's apparently in AA or something similar). The film's really about the mother-daughter relationship and how that changes as the girl becomes a teen, but it touches on so many aspects of life: adulthood, sex, popularity, friends, rebellion, independence, drug use, cutting, suicide, and more. (On an interesting side note, driving home I happened to hear Avril Lavigne's "Anything But Ordinary" which could be the theme song for this film as it explains why kids want to do these crazy things -- they don't want to be ordinary. Since Avril was sixteen when her album was released, she was probably not much older than these characters when she wrote the song.) The film's ending is abrupt and unresolved. We're given hints that tragedy may be avoided, but there are no guarantees or pat sitcom answers here, just a faint moment of hope. I liked everything about this film. The acting was astonishingly awesome, from all the precocious teens (Evie is played by Nikki Reed who was thirteen when she wrote the story) to Holly Hunter who plays the mom. Someone in this cast has to win an Academy Award or there is no justice. The story is rough and realistic, and for once we see teens and adults arguing like they do in real life, not sitcom-speak. This movie is similar to the controversial Kids, but focuses more on the loss of innocence and is less into salacious activity for the sake of a movie and more into a documentary-style capture of real modern teen life. You must see this film.

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Friday, November 5, 1999

The Thirteenth Floor



Movie: The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
Writer(s): Josef Rusnak & Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez (Based on the book Simulacron 3 by Daniel Galouye)
Director(s): Josef Rusnak

This was a cool movie. I was hesitant, as the previews I saw last spring didn't explain much, and the critics didn't like it (I don't know why). I thought it was great. The liner describes the movie as a "sci-fi film noir" which is exactly what this is -- it's more of a murder mystery than science fiction, though of course, there are science fiction elements within it. The basic plot is that a scientist has created an artificial world within a computer -- a simulation of 1937 (his childhood). When the inventor's murdered, his assistant is suspect, and he's forced to journey to 1937 to try and clear himself. What he discovers blows his mind -- and possibly yours. The ending's a bit predictable -- but the lush photography, elaborate sets, and fascinating dual characters (all the actors play dual roles, one in modern day, one in 1937) make it so you don't care. The movie starts off a bit slow and you're not sure where it's going, but all in all, I liked this much better than The Matrix. It's also simular to Dark City (which is visually interesting and has more special effects but I didn't like quite as much as this). The DVD's got a director's commentary (which I haven't listened to yet) so it's got added value (I hate DVDs that just give you the movie and nothing else).

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Thirty Items or Less



Movie: Thirty Items or Less

Aspects of this looked like it might be funny (i.e. the cast, the premise of being forced to rob a bank, etc.), but I dreaded some of the raunchiness. It's definitely there (mostly foul language) and most of the time it's pointless and doesn't even do anything useful such as establishing character or being funny. But the core story is actually pretty neat, and I liked a lot about two main characters. I was really surprised by how much I liked this. I laughed and it was fun. Silly, but definitely entertaining, and there are enough surprises in the fairly basic story to make it interesting.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

This Film Is Not Yet Rated



Movie: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Interesting documentary about the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the organization put together by the big movie studios to rate films. The ratings system is not supposed to be censorship, but it effectly acts like it, by condeming certain films with ratings that mean the film won't get widespread distribution. Worse, the process is a bizarre cloak-and-dagger affair, happening in back rooms in the dark with no public involvement, and where independent filmmakers are given different treatment than big studio films. There's also damning evidence of tremendous inconsistency by the MPAA, where something is allowed in one film but disallowed in another. The part I found most enlightning was that filmmakers, who appealing a ruling of a rating, are not permitted to quote precedent! Knowing what's been allowed in previous films is the only guide filmmakers have to permissible content, so if they make a film that has similar content to another, it should receive the same rating as the older film, right? But when that fails, they are not permitted to use the other film as evidence! Crazy.

Now I do understand some aspects of the MPAA's perspective: rating a film is extremely difficult. Two different edits of a sex scene, for instance, can use the exact same footage but convey a completely different tone depending on how the scene is put together. With that it mind, how do you say that merely showing a particular body part or act is allowed or not allowed? Sometimes the implication of something is more powerful than the graphic depiction. But that said, the MPAA is totally a political organization. They are a lobbyist group and the ratings system was created to keep the government out of film's business.

I agree with the director of this film who said in a Q&A on the DVD that the solution is to get rid of the ratings and just use language description instead. That's totally the answer, though a couple categories -- Under-13 and Under-17 -- should be used as well. That way families know that films in those categories won't have too much of anything bad (the descriptive list would be included so parents could see just what is in those films), but films for adults would just be that. I just wish the director had included a solution like this as part of the documentary. Instead the doc just bashes the MPAA but never offers an answer to the problem.

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Thursday, January 20, 2000

The Thomas Crown Affair



Movie: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Writer(s): Alan Trustman (story) and Leslie Dixon
Director(s): John McTiernan

Fun romp with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo as an wealthy art thief and an insurance investigator tracking him down. Starts out a little slow -- Russo and Brosnan have some sort of instant link I found more mysterious than realistic, but later, once we really believe that Russo has fallen for the thief, it becomes fascinating: does Brosnan really love her or is he just stringing her along? Ultimately the movie, like Brosnan's character, is too much in control for you to really care about these characters (or believe for a moment that something bad will happen to them), but it's a nice ride. I haven't seen the original, but now I'm going to watch for it.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor



Movie: Thor

Surprisingly good, but not great. There's much to like. I loved the serious take of the film, which doesn't go for camp at all, and I liked the story of rebellious Thor being stripped of his powers and exiled to earth as punishment. In terms of action, there really isn't that much: a CGI battle scene in the first half, and an anti-climatic battle on earth against a strange robot creature at the end. I find such action tedious as there's zero suspense since we know Thor will win. I did like some of the action of his compatriots, a team of his friends who battle with him, but I think Thor's a difficult character to realize as a superhero since his powers are vague and undefined (he's a god and pretty much invincible) and I never did understand the power of his hammer. (What does it do, exactly?) I did like the nice blend of magic and science (the film even quotes Arthur C. Clarke's famous "advanced science appears as magic" line). Overall this is a well-acted, well-scripted piece. It's solid and entertaining, but not ground-breaking in any way. I had fun, but I doubt I'd bother seeing it a second time.

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Monday, February 6, 2006

Three at Wolfe's Door



Book: Three at Wolfe's Door
Writer(s): Rex Stout

This is a collection of three Nero Wolfe novellas. The first, "Poison a la Carte," is a tedious business about a poisoning at a dinner Wolfe attends. The suspects are a bewildering collection of female servers and the solution isn't particularly Wolfe-like (he basically figures out a way to trick the murderess to confess -- no brilliant deducting here). The next story, "Murder for Three" is better -- a woman returns to her vehicle to find there's a dead woman inside and hires Archie (Nero's partner) to help her -- but the ending is strange, as Wolfe unmasks the murderer (so he says) but can't prove anything. The third, "The Rodeo Murder," has a character so irritating I could hardly stand to read the story, and unfortunately the "solution" to this one turns out to be secret knowledge only Wolfe knows (cheating, in my book). Overall not great. This has tempered my enthusiasm of Wolfe novels for a while.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Three Kings



Movie: Three Kings

Comic Gulf War film about a group of soldiers who go off to steal gold Saddam stole from Kuwaiti, but end up helping homeless Iraqi rebels escape to Iran. It's like a remake of Kelly's Heroes. Some of the political issues were a little heavy-handed (preachy), and the constant military swearing (every other word) became tiresome after oh, thirty seconds, but overall it's a decent film, with some humor, action, and morally acceptable ending.

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Monday, August 5, 2002

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch



Book: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick

Wow, where do I begin? This is one of the best books I've ever read, yet I can't begin to explain it. PKD takes us into a future world in such a way that it seems ordinary, and it isn't until later that we realize what a complex world he's woven us into. For a while I wasn't sure what it was that bothered me about PKD books, and then I realized what it was: none of his stories include a hero. Traditionally the main character in a book is the hero, but not in PKD's world. He keeps switching character focus on us so we're not sure who's the hero or the goat. That's what happens in this book. The story is about a world where drafted people are forced to become colonists on horrible desert planet Mars, and to escape their miserable experience, they take a drug, Can-D, which allows them to temporarily be transported to a virtual earth in a perfect body and experience great pleasures and, since it's virtual, live without any moral consequences to their actions. Simple enough concept, right? Of course the drug is illegal but the colonists take it anyway and most are addicted: it's the only glimmer of pleasure in their dismal lives. Then along comes a weirdo named Palmer Eldritch, a famous, wealthy encentric who years ago left the galaxy for the Proxer System. He's now returned, and he's brought with him a new drug, Chew-Z, which is supposed to be even better than Can-D. Unlike Can-D, which creates a virtual world, Chew-Z creates a new reality, and you aren't limited to the established sets that Can-D uses (any place you can imagine you can visit). However, Chew-Z has some horrible side effects, including severe blurring of the lines between reality and unreality. That's where things get wild, as PKD takes us on a journey through dreams and madness, where nothing makes sense and yet everything is sensible.

Unquestionably, this is a book for a Thinking Person. The book resinates with the typical PKD themes of reallity vs. unreality, but this time PKD blends them in with religious experience (most Can-D users think of it as a religious experience) and brings up all sorts of theological conundrums to challenge our thinking. Unfortunately, this stuff is so deep and complex and relies on so much of the jargon of the world of the novel, it's impossible for me to explain it here. But it's incredibly interesting and wonderful if you like to think about the unthinkable. Well worth the read (and reread).

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Thursday, March 20, 2003

Thunder Point



Book: Thunder Point
Writer(s): Jack Higgins

This is an odd book. First, one of the key plot points is identical with Higgins' Angel of Death. Basically, the secret British spy organization Sean Dillon works for reports their activity to a couple politicians -- one of who's a traitor (just like in Angel). Second, and much worse, all the good guys are incredibly stupid. They know who the bad guys are, and yet they keep allowing them to try to kill them (the good guys barely fight back). There's no real action until the final chapter who Dillon defeats the bad guys. Lame. The plot's interesting: just before Hitler's suicide, his right-hand man escapes to a submarine which is to take him to South America where he can revive the Nazi dream. Unfortunately, the sub sinks off the U.S. Virgin islands. In modern times, a recreational diver discovers the sub, and in it contains the captain's diary revealing the details of his passenger. It also says that his passenger is carrying a book with the names of all those secret people loyal to Hitler, information that could be used to blackmail for millions. But the diver is accidentally killed before he can reveal the sub's location, so it's a race to find where it is hidden. It's a neat idea, but predictable, overlong, and there's that problem with the good guys being idiotically stupid.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Thunderbirds



Movie: Thunderbirds

I liked the original 1960s marionette series, though I only first saw it a couple years ago when TechTV was broadcasting the reruns. I wasn't sure about a live action remake -- wasn't the point of the original that it was all done with minature sets and marionettes? But actually the film wasn't that bad. It's certainly not Shakespeare, but it's fun, the plot was decent (youngest Tracey longs to be a full Thunderbird but is too young, until his family is trapped and he's the only one left to save them), and the special effects and ships are cool. The biggest problem with the movie is that the TV series isn't that well known here in the U.S. and while you can understand the movie without knowing the series, knowing the TV show certainly makes the film more interesting. It's a good kid/family movie, completely harmless. Deserves a better rep and box office than it is getting.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

THX-1138



Movie: THX-1138
Director(s): George Lucas

I saw this years ago -- it's George Lucas' debut film -- but watched it again to see how it holds up. I don't know if this was a re-edit or updated version, but the special effects were extremely impressive and modern-looking in places. Like in the car chase seen I swear the stuff looked digital -- so either it's been recently enhanced or Lucas was a genius back in the 1970s. As far as the story goes, this is still just as bleak and depressing as ever. It's quite remarkable that this movie got made. It's set in a future where humans all take government mandated drugs to keep them docile, and the story's about one man who rebels. But it's not an exciting rebellion, since he's sluggish and half-drugged, so the story's not really an action film (except for a couple sequences) and is slow moving. The sets are and performances are the most fascinating. On this viewing I was also really impressed with the background dialog and "cinema verite" style Lucas used (much of the film we see is security camera footage), so we have things like technicians chatting about computer glitches and stuff -- fascinatingly advanced for the early 1970s and well done. The film holds up astonishingly well.

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Sunday, February 16, 2003

Time and Tide



Movie: Time and Tide

This film is about scenes: just watch for the interesting ones and enjoy them. Don't even try to understand the incomprehensible plot that shifts from one place to another at a confusing and frantic pace. Perhaps partly due to the fact that it's in Chinese, and the dubbing and subtitles didn't match at all, I couldn't follow anything. I kept getting characters confused with each other (Were there two pregnant girls and which was which?), and I had a hard time following anything. But the action sequences were cool, especially the climax of a gun battle while a woman is giving birth, and the film's direction has some real flair in places. Overall, however, I found the thing made no sense at all.

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Sunday, August 12, 2001

Time Code



Movie: Time Code
Writer(s): Mike Figis

Unusual film. Like most of Figis' films, it's overlong, slow, and boring. In this case that's a surprise, since it's four films happening at once. The entire movie is an experiment: the screen is split into four screens in which multiple interrelated stories take place. Sometimes you see the same story from multiple viewpoints. Interesting idea, but since the whole film takes place in real-time, there are long periods in which nothing happens in one or more quadrants. For instance, in one, a woman waits in a limo, smoking and reading for thirty minutes. Yeah, that's entertainment. The film's multiple plots are interrelated and occasionally interesting, but the whole thing's too disjointed to be a real movie. It's an interesting experiment, but nothing more, and despite the presence of a number of big stars, it's not a good film.

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Thursday, October 31, 2002

The Time Machine



Movie: The Time Machine

Not a bad remake, actually. It's been a long time since I read the book or watched the original George Pal version. This one definitely has the special effect award, and I liked Guy Pearce in the lead, and the Morlocks were truly scary, but the film lost steam toward the end. The bizarre bit where Guy blows up the time machine and somehow erases the Morlocks from existence didn't make any sense at all to me. Watch this one for the amazing special effects: the geological time passing while he's zooming to the future is definitely worth seeing.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Time-Traveler's Wife



Movie: The Time-Traveler's Wife

I was curious about this mostly because it's such an intriguing premise: a guy randomly flitters through time (due to a genetic condition), meeting his wife at different times in her life. Of course this more focused on romance than science fiction, which was disappointing, as little of the time travel aspect is explained or makes any sense. It's just a gimmick for the story. Worse, this story is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off as a movie, since it's incredibly confusing, and I don't think the producers quite succeeded. It's an okay film, but it's in pieces -- individual scenes stand on their own, but the whole is a bewildering mess and too choppy to build any cohesive emotional resonance. Possibly better for fans of the novel, but I wasn't as impressed as I hoped I would be.

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Monday, November 22, 1999

Timeline



Book: Timeline (1999)
Writer(s): Michael Crichton

As a Crichton fan, I pre-ordered this from Amazon so I'd get a copy as soon as it was published. Once again, Crichton pulls a Jurrasic Park: we've got a huge corporation run by a renegade billionaire genius with an insane plan, radical technology breakthroughs that strain credibility to the limit, and of course, everything goes horribly wrong. In retrospect the story is much simpler than it appears while you're reading it. It's basically time-travel, with adventurers getting stuck in the past. Unfortunately, that's all it is. The mastermind's plan isn't revealed until the very end, and believe me, it's even lamer than a dinosaur amusement park! (What is it with Crichton and entertainment? He seems to think all multi-billion dollar technology breakthroughs will simply lead to a new entertainment medium. Very bizarre. I think the guy needs to see a shrink!) Still, the adventure's a good one: it's exciting, dramatic, and interesting. I liked the characters, and I was relieved that none of them did anything superhuman or absurd to get out of a fix. Crichton's writing style is quick and easy, but he has a horrible tendency to break his chapters into dozens of shorter subchapters, most of which are just a few paragraphs long. I guess he figures this increases tension, but it's merely annoying. Reminds me of students who triple space their three-page essay to make it the required five. Lame and artificial. There are also some obvious flaws that gives the feeling this book was a bit rushed toward the end. For instance, in one spot, a character's walking on a roof beam which is "six inches wide." This is too wide and too easy for the brute chasing her, so she moves to a narrower one: "This horizontal rafter was only a foot wide; he would have trouble." Huh? It's been a while since I've been to measurement school, but in my day six inches was less than a foot! One other thing that bugged me: a key part of the plot is the battery-operated time machines only have enough power to last for thirty-seven hours. For that section of the book, Crichton uses the amount of time left (i.e. "11:01:59") as chapter titles. Of course, the stranded adventurers can't quite get everything together to escape and thus the countdown trickles down, not to minutes, but literally seconds, before they can escape. Frankly, that's ridiculous. I understand the need to increase drama with the element of time, but what kind of scientist can predict, down the second, how much life is left in a battery? Batteries are probably the most unreliable, unpredictable technology we've got! Crazy, thoroughly dumb. Crichton's an excellent researcher, and he's got a decent grasp on technology, but his stories sound like, well, like a non-novelist doctor wrote them. If you're a Crichton fan, go for it. Otherwise, wait for the movie (which won't be as successful as Jurrasic Park, but it should be okay).

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Thursday, December 4, 2003

Timeline



Movie: Timeline
Writer(s): Michael Crichton (book)

This film took a mediocre book and destroyed it. The first mistake is the pacing: the begining of the film where the whole time travel thing is established happens in like two minutes, and suddenly we're in 17th Century France, running from the British and French who are in the middle of a war. Huh? Come on, at least treat the setup with a little respect and give us a realistic foundation for the film. That pacing problem continues throughout the rest of the film as it's an action flick slash adventure movie. There's no science fiction (or science) in sight. There's no cool time travel dilemma, "should I change the past" sort of thing, or anything deeper than a pathetic romance. This film ought to end Paul Walker's career: the guy proves he can't act beyond his appearance. While it has a few interesting moments in the middle, overall this is just worthless sludge that will waste your time. If you're really interested in it, read the book, which is marginally better.

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Thursday, July 6, 2000

The Tin Drum



Movie: The Tin Drum

Bizarre German film about a three-year-old boy who sees the absurdity of adulthood and decides to stop growing. Set during WWII, this is not a film that could ever be made in America, especially considering the child-adult sexual themes. The Tin Drum primarily deals with the infantilism of adults as seen through the eyes of an overly mature boy, but touches on dozens of other profound themes and has some of the most visually striking images I've ever seen. Best scene? My favorite is where the boy sneaks into a Nazi rally and begins playing his toy drum and gradually turns the dull march into a rousing tune and soon has everyone waltzing to Blue Danube!

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tin Man



Movie: Tin Man

This was a mini-series that aired on the Scifi Channel. It's surprisingly good. They've taken the original Wizard of Oz story and updated it into a science fiction version. For instance, Dorothy isn't taken to Oz but the "Outer Zone" a.k.a. the O.Z. The Scarecrow isn't really a scarecrow, but the former Queen's chief scientist and advisor, only he was tortured by the new evil queen and had half his brain removed (he's now called Glitch because he's only half there). The result is that we've got a story that's familiar yet new. Pretty cool, and the luxurious scenery and decent special effects make this a keeper. The ending's a bit too pat for my taste, but this is still a lot of fun with a charming cast.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2002

The Tipping Point



Book: The Tipping Point
Writer(s): Malcolm Gladwell

It might just be pop science, but this is a fascinating study about how trends and social epidemics happen. What makes a particular shoe suddenly popular? How does a book become a best-seller? Why are so many students pulling Columbines at their schools? Gladwell details some interesting studies that reveal unexpected answers. For example, violent crime in New York City went down dramatically after a crackdown on graffiti. Getting rid of graffiti was expensive and many were against it figuring it was a minor offense, but the results were astounding. It turned out that the presence of graffiti gave thugs confidence that even worse crimes also wouldn't be punished. After all, if the cops couldn't stop graffiti, how could they stop purse snatching? But once the graffiti was gone, low-lifes were much more hesitant to commit violent crimes. There are dozens of other examples of unorthodox solutions to problems, and the idea of the book is that you can learn from others and employ the same techniques in your own situations. For example, one woman was having little success with her campaign educating women about breast cancer. The women who showed up for her seminars were already interested in the subject. She wanted to reach the uninformed. Most people would assume an expensive advertising campaign would be the only way, but her non-profit organization had very little money. So she came up with a brilliant idea: instead of advertising, she picked a select group of women and focused her education efforts on them. Who did she pick? Hairdressers. Sure enough, once those hairdressers had been educated and trained in how to convey the important message about breast cancer, they promptly told all their clients about it! And since the presentation was casual and presented as friendly chatter, the retention rate of the information was fantastic. The number of women going in for mammograms skyrocketed. And the cost of the program was hardly anything. So thinking differently, and influencing the right group of influential people is much more effective than spending gobs of money on ad campaigns that are just going to be ignored anyway. Great book.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tiptoes



Movie: Tiptoes

Odd little independent film about a woman involved with a normal-height man, who, it turns out, is from a family of dwarves. She finds this out as she discovers she's pregnant, and worries about how genetics would effect her baby. However, it turns out she's more tolerant than her fiance, who's got hidden issues. Interesting but too dry and not as compelling as it sounds.

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Saturday, March 17, 2001

Titan A.E.



Movie: Titan A.E.
Director(s): Don Bluth

Cool animated film, though they never explained what A.E. meant. The DVD extras revealed it means After Earth, as the film takes place after Earth is blown up by aliens. The Titan is a new supership Earth was building just before it was destroyed, and it was saved and hidden, though no one knows where. The main character, a young man named Cale, learns that his late father was the ship's creator, and there's a secret map hidden in the ring his father left him. So Cale is roped into helping a handful of renegade humans find the Titan and save the human race. Cool animation, with lots of computerized effects, great voice acting (it took me until the credits to place the oh-so-familiar voice of the girl: Drew Barrymore), and some above average dialog. Overall the story's a bit predictable, but it's far more ambitious than your average animated film. Good job!

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Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Titanium PowerBook



My Titanium PowerBook G4 arrived today and it is awesome! There are a few glitches, widely reported on Mac websites, but the 'Book is so fantastic I don't even care! The 15." screen is H U G E -- it's wider than most 17" CRT monitors. Incredible. Playing a DVD on that wide screen is impressive, to say the least. The laptop is very speedy, too. I can't believe how light and thin it is. Really remarkable, considering all the stuff inside. I opened it up to install some extra RAM (I've got 384 megs) and the metal of the bottom of the laptop is right there -- it's like there's no room inside! It will be interesting to see how durable it is over the long haul, but for now I'm amazed.

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Thursday, August 23, 2001

Tivo Upgrade



Movie: Tivo Upgrade

This week I received up Tivo 80GB hard drive upgrade ($229 from www.digitalrecorder.tv/). Installing it was a simple hard drive swap of the existing drive (this does, apparently, void my Tivo warranty). The most difficult part was reinitializing everything to my settings again. This time I connected Tivo to DirecTV as well as cable, which is great. Now Tivo has 88 hours of time to record stuff for me! It will record all my soccer games and I don't have to worry about not having enough blank videotape (there are as many as ten on a weekend). Even better, everything is random access, so I can watch what I want when I want, not the order that I recorded it. I can also watch one thing while recording another, which is incredibly useful. A great upgrade.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2000

To Kill a Mockingbird



Movie: To Kill a Mockingbird

One of the best movies I've ever seen. Amazing. I've started the book (I'm on page 2 now ;-). I thought this was about racism or something, and while I knew it was good, I wasn't enthusiastic about having such a heavy subject pounded over my head. But instead this turned out to be about a six-year-old tomboy and her experiences growing up and how she sees the world. Amazing. (Sure, racism is hinted at. Her father is a lawyer and defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. But you see this from the perspective of the little girl who doesn't really understand any of that, and it's quite profound and different. I wish I'd read this 20 years ago.)

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

To Live and Die in L.A.



Movie: To Live and Die in L.A.

Interesting gritty 80's crime drama I somehow missed; it's a very good tale about a Secret Service agent who will do anything, even break the law, to nab a ruthless counterfiter who killed his partner and mentor. The ending is grim and not expected, but realistic.

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Monday, October 18, 1999

Tom Brown's School Days



Book: Tom Brown's School Days (1857)
Writer(s): Thomas Hughes

This book has two technical problems: one, it's old, and two, it's not written in English. Or rather, it's written in English and not American. It's an interesting read simply because English school life 150 years ago is so different from life today, but it's not an easy read. There was much I found incomprehensible. (For instance, what does being "floored" mean? It's apparently something bad, perhaps a punishment, but I have no idea what. There's lots of similar jargon that makes some scenes complete mysteries.) The book is written with exquisite detail, which, while it's good and often important, makes for slow reading. For example, despite the title, it takes a few chapters before Tom even goes to school. I liked the story, however: it's basically the characterization of Tom Brown and his growth and progress into a young man. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call this a classic, but it's interesting and I'm glad I read it.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Tomorrow Never Dies



Movie: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Writer(s): Bruce Feirstein
Director(s): Roger Spottiswoode

Not quite as flat as I remember in the theatre, this Bond film nevertheless fails to deliver. It's hard to point to any single flaw: the remote control car chase is weak, the motorcycle stunt goes on way too long, the villain isn't particularly scary, the plot (a media baron tries to start a war between England and China to give his new 24/7 news network something to broadcast) is ridiculous (even for a Bond movie), the line gags are so obvious as to literally gag you, and the women aren't really around (Teri Hatcher dies right away and Michelle Yeoh's character made a great foil for Bond, but she's too buff to be romantic). It's a strange film where nothing works. I never thought I'd find a Bond film boring, but here's the one.

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Thursday, December 23, 1999

Too Busy



What a crazy time! Things have been very busy at work the last couple of weeks, and I've been spending every spare moment working on The Dilemma, my film short. This has been a major project for me -- I've been working on it for months. Doing it with minimal equipment, zero budget, no staff, and myself as the lead actor (and camerman) was not a wise move. Still, it was tremendously educational, and I'm fully convinced that directing is somewhere in my future (though I obviously have gobs to learn). I finally got the movie completed this past weekend, but it was tight. Overall, it makes a fun Christmas present (ostensibly the purpose). On Monday, my car broke down, leaving me stranded in Santa Cruz. On Tuesday I discovered why: the car was out of gas. Turns out the "sending unit" was bad. Apparently this is the hardware that tells the fuel gauge how much gas is left. The dial was stuck at a quarter tank. Anyway, got the car fixed yesterday, and I drove to the airport and flew to Oregon this evening. (The plane flight was delayed by a similar situation: the altimeter went bad and they had to switch us to a different airplane. I didn't arrive until early on Christmas Eve.)

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Sunday, August 6, 2000

Topsy Turvy



Movie: Topsy Turvy
Director(s): Mike Leigh

Fascinating look at the lives of 19th century opera writers Gilbert and Sullivan and how they wrote their greatest work, The Mikado. A bit dreary in some places (you need to be in the right mood for a serious period piece), but hilariously funny in others. Lots of surprisingly good opera. I especially liked the way the film fleshed out all the supporting characters, bringing us into the lives of the actors, choreographers, etc. It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how stage actors really lived. Also interesting: the DVD includes background on Gilbert and Sullivan (you should read it before watching the film), including the amazing detail that Gilbert introduced the concept of “directing” upon the world — prior to him, there were no directors.

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Saturday, November 11, 2000

Total Recall



Movie: Total Recall (1990)
Writer(s): Based on story by Philip K. Dick

I felt like an action flick and this DVD suited my mood perfectly. It's a classic: excellent science fiction story, good action, and nice plot twists. Not nearly as violent as I remembered, but every well done. The plot is about a guy who chooses to have a memory implant of a vacation to Mars (cheaper than the real thing), but the process awakens real memories of Mars. It turns out he's a secret agent and everything about his life (family, wife, job, etc.) is nothing but a memory implant. It gets crazier from there. Based on the classic Philip K. Dick story (author of the book Bladerunner was based on), it's a terrific trip of wondering what is real and what is not (central themes of much of Dick's work).

The first time I saw this film was a real head trip: the whole time I kept thinking I'd seen it before, though I knew I hadn't. It wasn't until the very end that I figured out I'd read Dick's short story as a child and the similarities were driving me insane. The overwhelming sense of deja vue I was suffering was literally making me nauseous. What this did, however, was immerse me into the film at a deeper level: I was the main character, trying to find my mind (and reality). Really, really cool.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Touching the Void



Movie: Touching the Void

Terrific film about the real-life story of two British mountaineers in the mid-80's who attempted to climb an unclimbable mountain and while they succeeded, one of them nearly died during their descent. It's a fantastic story of survival and human willpower. The one guy falls a short distance and breaks his leg horribly (the lower bone actually goes up into the thigh bone vertically). He's doomed, right? But his partner won't abandon him and comes up with a plan to lower him on a rope. The longest rope is 300 feet, so he's lowered 300 feet, hangs on the side of the mountain while his partner climbs down, then the process is repeated. In this mannor they descend most of the way down. But finally they reach a place where the guy is lowered over the edge of a cliff -- he's danging in open air and there's no way for him to grab a hold of anything. He's run out of rope and can't go any lower. With his broken leg, he can't climb the rope. He's stuck. He screams but his partner is too far away to hear. The partner is holding on for dear life, bracing himself, waiting for the weight to come off so he can climb down himself. He waits for hours, but nothing happens. Eventually he thinks his partner must be dead -- why else wouldn't he anchor himself to the snowy face of the mountain? As he begins to slip himself, he realizes he's got no choice. If he doesn't cut the rope, he'll be dragged down and both men will die. So he cuts the rope. The partner with the broken leg falls... into the jaws of a crevace! Thus when the partner descends, he never sees his friend and continues on, thinking him dead. The man with the broken leg reallizes he must find his own way down. Miraculously, he does, literally dragging himself across miles of ice, snow, and rock. It's just amazing. I really liked the way the film is presented. It's technically a documentary, but it doesn't feel like it. The two men talk to the camera, telling the story, and their voices are overlayed as actors re-enact their horrible ordeal. This works well as there's hardly any dialog necessary or even appropriate, as not much talking happens on a mountain (the men are usually separated and connected only by slender ropes). Excellent film.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Tourist



Movie: The Tourist

The critics were savaging this so badly I almost didn't go see it. I have no idea what they are talking about. I liked it. It's definitely not a great film. It's definitely flawed. Angelina Jolie is miscast and she and Depp don't have the best chemistry. The plot is weird and the ending predictable, but here's the thing: this is not a serious movie. There's an air of fun to the proceedings, even in the serious scenes, that gives everything a hint of silliness as though the writers, actors, and director are all winking and sharing a joke with us. The Paris and Venice settings are beautiful, the people are beautiful, and the adventure is wild and silly. Take the "boat chase" for instance. I'd read a comment on some website mocking the "slow chase" but when I saw it, I didn't see it as negative, but as a hilarious insider's joke. Basically the boat is moving so slowly (it's towing another boat and can't go fast) that people on land are outrunning the boat on foot! Hilarious! It's not meant to be a true high-adrenaline chase scene, but a spoof of a chase scene. The whole film is a caper. Johnny Depp is having a blast, hamming up his role like he does in the those Pirates movies, but in a far more subtle fashion (here he shows almost robotic expressions, reminding me of his performance in Edward Scissorhands, but there's a hint of a smile as he does so). Jolie looks pretty, but doesn't fit the role of the double agent she's supposed to be, and I thought the suggestion that her million-dollar character "falls in love with any man she spends more than five minutes with" absurd as she comes across as exactly the opposite. Despite the flaws, I had fun, and enjoyed the repartee between the two main characters. The plot is somewhat clever, but succeeds mostly because it doesn't take itself too seriously. The ending is predictable but so satisfying that you don't care. Ignore the critics. Have a sense of humor and go see this film.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Town



Movie: The Town
Director(s): Ben Affleck

The first trailer of this I saw was a bewildering mess. I saw zero that interested me. There was no story, or action, or anything. But then I started hearing the critics raving and then that the public liked it as well (it was the number one movie last weekend). That surprised me, so I watched the trailer. I don't know if it was different or I just noticed more, but this time I found something intriguing. It wasn't much: the whole bank robbery aspect seemed to be played down in such a way as to not be intriguing at all. What caught my attention was the subplot of Affleck's character falling in love with the bank manager he kidnaps during the robbery. He wore a mask so she doesn't know Ben was one of the gang that robbed her. That sounded fascinating, so I went and saw it today. It turns out to be an excellent film. I had worried that a lot of the Boston stuff would be too alien to me but other than a couple of scenes where I couldn't understand what heavily accented actors said, that wasn't an issue at all. The story is really about how hard it is to escape the criminal lifestyle when all your friends and family are trapped in that world. It's a repeating cycle, with our leading man's father already in prison and his son following his path. The romance with the girl helps change the man who wants out, but his pals don't want to let him. He owes them and feels obligated, but being a criminal is going to ruin his life. While the film feels a little long and is sluggish at times, there were some action and chase sequences that I hadn't expected. I also really liked the way the FBI guy tracking down the gang was presented, showing how he was, in his own way, just as ruthless as them. I really liked the ending, which was realistic and yet did not end the way I anticipated. Overall, an excellent film with solid performances, writing, and directing. I don't know if it's a great film -- it seems lacking some depth that would take it there -- but it's definitely above average and well worth seeing. A solid B+ in my book.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Toxin



Book: Toxin

An above average Robin Cook novel. Preachy against the meat industry, and tries to be disgusting in places, but surprisingly moving in characterization. The weak ending deteriorates into a traditional thriller that clashes with the emotional aspects of the first half of the book.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Toy Story 1-2 (Double Feature in 3D)



Movie: Toy Story 1-2 (Double Feature in 3D)

Though I have these on DVD I haven't watched them in years; it's amazing how well they hold up. The additional of 3D isn't a huge change, but it's fun in several of the scenes (I especially liked it when Zurg was shooting the puff balls from his cannon). What most impressed me was how the visual quality of the original 15-year-old technology still amazes, and the graphics improvements in Toy Story 2 (mostly in the humans who look like cartoons in the first film). Still, with both of these movies, it's the story that is key and is what makes these films classics. Now I'm excited about Toy Story 3 which is to come out next summer! As a three-hour double-feature, this is definitely worth the seeing as it's a good value, even paying extra for the 3D. It's only in theatres for a couple weeks so don't miss it!

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Toy Story 3



Movie: Toy Story 3

Would it be too much praise to say I liked this sequel better than the previous two? Yes, it's that good. This one is by far the most emotional. It tells the tale of the toys when their owner Andy is getting ready to leave for college and must decide what to do with his toys. The ending had me in tears. So bittersweet! I loved all the adventures of the toys: ending up in a day care center, a wonderful toy-filled environment. I loved the classic characters we get to see again, the new characters (including a sweet-looking teddy bear that is incredibly vicious), the hilarious Barbi and Ken combo, and even the humans have more of a presence this time. I loved the cleverness of the visuals and the imaginative use of toys for non-intended purpose. But most of all I loved the story, with its wonderful themes of loss and discovery and the inevitability of change and aging. Powerful stuff, wonderfully told. Plenty of meat for adults and wonderful for children. Hilarious, fun, and brilliant. Best movie of the year so far. Fascinating pre-movie short, "Day and Night," too. Very clever. A must see.

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Friday, November 26, 1999

Toy Story II



Movie: Toy Story II (1999)
Writer(s): John Lasseter (story) and Peter Docter
Director(s): Ash Brannon and John Lasseter

Wow, was I impressed! I seriously doubted the guys at Pixar could top the original, but they did. What impressed me the most about the original was that it was grounded in such a good, old-fashioned story. Ninety-eight percent of Hollywood would have created an empty feast for the eyes with nothing for the brain. With Toy Story II, not only did Pixar improve on the amazing graphics of the first movie, they made sure they had a great story for the foundation! We've got humor, adventure, sentimentality, parody, everything. This time the scope of the film is much bigger: we take the same characters outside of the house and have them travel through the town! There's a bit more focus on the humans, whose renderings are amazingly detailed. My very favorite scene was when the characters drive through the toy barn in a little car and stop to ask some Barbie dolls for help. "Tour Guide" Barbie jumps in to assist them, giving them a classic tour lecture as they weave their way through the aisles of toys! Priceless. Toy Story II has so much detail and moves so fast I need to see it again so I can drink it all in. Wonderful, and it will no doubt bear up to many, many repeated viewings.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Tracey Fragments



Movie: The Tracey Fragments

Bizarre film about a troubled teen looking for her little brother. The story's told in flashbacks with multiple video streams on the screen simultaneously, which is intriguing for five or ten minutes, but after an hour it just gives you a headache. It does help convey the idea that the girl's memory (and mind) might be unreliable, and the way information is parcelled out is interesting, but it feels like a lot work for not much payout. Ultimately it's an unusual experiment, but I didn't really like it. Mostly compelling because it stars the awesome Ellen Page (of Juno and Hard Candy).

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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Tracker



Movie: The Tracker

Cool Australian film set in the early 1900s about a group of law officials tracking an Aborigine who supposedly killed a white woman. The group is led by a mysterious Aborigine tracker who plays games with the white men. As the group heads into the wilderness, the balance of power in the group shifts, from the racist leader to others, and it's quite fascinating. The film's slow-moving and thought-provoking, different from a lot of modern films. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, January 11, 2001

The Train



Movie: The Train
Director(s): John Franenheimer

Why haven't I ever heard of this film? Excellent, really superb! It's a taut WWII drama about the French underground attempting to stop a train of priceless paintings (worth billions: stuff by Picasso, Cezane, Monet, etc.) from being shipped to Germany in the last days before the Allies regained Paris. The lengths these people go to to save these paintings are amazing -- I won't spoil it by describing it, but let's just say it's a plot involving hundreds of railway people deceiving the Germans by making them think the train's on it's way to Germany but really it's going in the opposite direction! Excellent: a non-stop thriller! (And I don't even like war movies.)

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Traitor



Movie: Traitor

Pretty good spy flick about an American Muslim who goes deep undercover to stop some terrorists, so deep his own government doesn't know he's a double and is trying to stop him. Unfortunately, that double agent aspect is clear from the title (I expected it) yet the film sets everything up as though that's a surprise somehow. That weakens things, but it's still a good film even though there aren't many surprises. Excellently written and acted, and there are hints at the debate on faith though the film doesn't get as deep as it could. It's a little too serious overall, quite somber, but has a good ending.

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Friday, July 6, 2007

Transformers



Movie: Transformers

I was disappointed by this, though apparently most people are not. I wasn't sure what to expect as I never watched the TV cartoon show or played with the toys, but there wasn't much scientific accuracy in the film, which I found confusing and distracting. The plot sounds impressive on paper, but is overblown. It starts out well, with mysterious happenings such as a metal creature attacking an army base and a kid buying an old car that turns out to be intelligent and transforms into a robot. But there's no explanation for the transforming technology and the magical cube thing at the end that somehow turns ordinary machines (like a soft drink vending machine) into evil robots is just bizzarre. Everything ends up rather convoluted and silly; think Independence Day with half the heart. This is an extremely shallow film that tries to make itself more complicated than it is. In the end, it's a mild action flick with some to-quick-to-see transformation effects. Fun and mindless and thankfully harmless, but not what I was hoping to see.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Transformers 2



Movie: Transformers 2

I hated the first one so my expectations were low. I will say this one is better, but that doesn't mean much. You don't watch a film like this for the story, but for little scenes of humor or drama, robots, explosions, and of course, Megan Fox. I would have been just as satisfied with 90 minutes of watching her chew gum, frankly, instead of pretending to act, but you know what your getting when you go to a film like this and I got it.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon



Movie: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I hated the first two, so I have no idea why I went to see this one. I guess I just want to like these. I love robots and tech and science fiction. These films have so much potential. But they waste it. Like the others, this one starts off well. I loved the way they mixed in historical President Kennedy and moon landing footage with new stuff. The conceit of a Transformer ship crashing on the moon in the 1960s setting off the space race is brilliant. But after that good start, the film just goes into typical Transformer nonsense where the laws of reality don't apply. Parts of it look cool, but I just don't care about anything or anyone since nothing's real and there are no consequences. I've watched the previous films several times because I keep falling asleep during the action scenes and when I wake up, I have no idea what's going on. (Of course, I was confused before I fell asleep.) I realized during this one that as I watch these I naturally try to make sense of things. But these films don't make sense so I literally turn off my brain. If I didn't, I'd go insane. So I turn it off and just try and enjoy the visuals. And that's why I eventually fall asleep. It happened in this one, too, though only for a few minutes -- which I guess means this is the best of the three (that's not saying much). I just don't understand why they can't get some screenwriters with a few brain cells. I mean, the lack of logic is mind-blowing. Like in one scene our hero is on the phone with a spy who then switches to a complicated-looking "encrypted phone" so that their conversation is "secure." Yet the original guy is still on his cell phone! I mean, that's idiotic. It not only wouldn't work (you can't have one-way encryption as the phone on the other end would only hear gibberish) but it obviously wouldn't be secure. In another scene, the boy and the girl apparently break up. While I was baffled by their relationship through-out the film (they did not seem like a couple, even an unlikely one), the break-up scene was incomprehensible. I have no idea why they broke up -- or even if they broke up (it wasn't really clear). Basically she walks in, sees him with spy stuff, and she's like, "I'm leaving" and he's like, "Don't go." Apparently she was mad at him for hanging out with the robots, but I have no idea why: it was like they'd had this fight fifty times before and this was the last straw, but since we didn't see the previous fights, were don't understand any of their shorthand fighting. Sadly, that's actually one of the better scenes in the film, too, because at least there's a vague pretense of acting. Speaking of the girl, what the hell was she doing there? Who is she? Apparently they met at the White House when he was there getting a medal for his heroics in the previous films, but I didn't understand at all why she was there, who she was, how they ended up together, why she liked him, why she was British, or just about anything else about their relationship. And how the heck does she know about the robots? Did he tell her? When? In one scene she says something about how she thought his stories were just stories, not real -- so did she not believe his stories about the robots? If so, then why isn't she surprised to see them? And why do all the top secret government people just accept her along with him simply because she's his girlfriend? I guess the good news is that they found a perfect replacement for Megan Fox: the new actress has a similar skinny-yet-over-sexed body type and the same deadpan acting range. Speaking of acting, there's isn't much for the actors to work with here, but I loved Patrick Dempsey's performance which was terrific. But Frances McDormand's character is too off-putting and I didn't like her strange personality switcheroo mid-movie, and John Malkovich's cameo is just bizarre. (Why would the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company be constantly checking up on a mail room kid? And what the heck was that bit about him basically worshiping the robot?) Maybe these characters were for comic relief but it wasn't very well done. I do like the comedy in these films (it desperately needs the relief), but it's so poorly done most of the time, with lines thrown around so quickly you can't even get the joke. The "action" is similarly fluid: basically everything's a metallic blur (especially the transform sequences which I want to love but they are too fast for me to understand and therefore they just annoy me to death). I can't distinguish one robot from another and when two or eight of them are fighting, they look like a metal tumbleweed. There's a vague attempt to give people critical missions so that all the characters are contributing to the big victory, but there's so much going on and ninety percent of it is pointless (most of the time it seems the moment they accomplish a task they find out it didn't help and there's a new task they now have to do or the world will end). I'm also sick and tired of super-advanced alien races that are so dumb they build a massive planet-wide super-weapon that can be disabled by knocking over a special "control module" bowling pin. (It's like blowing up the Death Star with an M80 dropped in just the right ventilation shaft.) As for plot, don't get me started. There are half-moments of sanity, and then the plot just veers around like a drunk driver with half-assed assassinations, betrayals that make no sense (if the traitor's got the super-weapon that can win the war, his reasoning that he defected to the other side because it was inevitable the bad guys would win is nonsense), and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bad robots. The bottom line: this is about ten minutes of story stretched into two-and-half hours of silly action nonsense. There are a handful of special effect sequences that are mildly interesting, but even during those reality is so far from being included I found them impossible to enjoy. (Like how come giant robots that can squash a metal dumpster flat with one step can't stop a weaponless teenage-boy-sized man? Or for that matter, why do giant alien robot lifeforms with missiles and special guns fight each other with giant X-Acto knives?) Okay, enough of this. The reality is this film has nothing to do with reality. If you can enjoy it despite that, good luck to you. All that said, of the three films, this one's the best. By the slightest of margins.

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Friday, October 11, 2002

The Transporter



Movie: The Transporter
Writer(s): Luc Besson

Not terrible, but not as good as it could have been. I wanted to see it because Luc Besson was involved (though he didn't direct). The acting is excellent, and the action is great. Unfortunately, there's only half a plot. For many action films a plot is just a device to drive the action and that works because one can overlook the plot and enjoy the action. In this case, however, the plot is too key to the picture as it's closely tied with the characters. The main guy's an ex-military dude who is "the Transporter" -- he delivers packages (of an illegal nature) for whoever hires him. He's incredibly organized and precise, with exact rules for the transaction. No exceptions. Unfortunately, he breaks one of his own rules and opens a package and discovers it contains a Chinese girl. The results of that mistake last the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the plot gets messy when the girl -- who was becoming romantically involved with the hero -- confusingly turns against him, making us wonder who she is. That turns out to be a pointless red herring, and the whole thing about transporting Chinese into France is just bewildering. (I never could figure out how they profit from it, or what the point was. Even more sad, I didn't really care, a sure sign that a film has lost me.) Overall, this will be great on DVD.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Transporter 2



Movie: Transporter 2

The first film had its moments and as a strictly action flick it was pretty good, but I never expected a sequel. This one's not bad, though some of the action struck me as pretty cheesy. For instance, in one scene the main guy's caught in a corridor with the female villain just down the hall with a submachine gun. He grabs the fallen door and uses it as a shield to protect himself from her hail of bullets. These bullets, which moments earlier were gouging holes in walls and moments later are dinging holes in metal, can't make it through the hollow frame of a wooden door! Pretty lame. There are a couple other scenes where the editing's choppy as though they didn't get enough footage for the scene. But the unusual thing is that despite a few silly scenes like that there's something charming about the film (mostly the presence of star Jason Statham) which makes the film fun to watch. The plot in this one is just an excuse for the action, so I won't even get into that (it deals with kidnapping and a plan to distribute a bio weapon). Just see it for the wild action and have fun.

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Monday, September 23, 2002

Trapped



Movie: Trapped (2002)

Not a bad thriller. This is about a group of kidnappers who have the "perfect" plan: each kidnapping lasts exactly 24 hours. They grab the kid at night and one of the kidnappers takes the kid to a safehouse, while the other stays with the mother. A third stays with the husband. The three stay in touch via a network of cell phones, and they must call in every 30 minutes or the third kidnapper kills the child. The next day the husband gets the money from the bank, and once his captor is gone with the dough, the mother is reunited with the child. None of the families ever go to the police. Of course this wouldn't be much of a movie if everything went according to plan, right? Of course not. And in this case, a wealthy doctor and his pretty wife (Charlize Theron) fight back. The bulk of the film is Theron and Kevin Bacon (the main kidnapper) and they have excellent chemistry with a lot of fascinating dramatic exchanges. One of the things I liked best about this film, however, is that we actually get to see the doctor husband in action: he's more than stereotype. So many times in this kind of film the husband's just an off-screen character we only see once or twice, and we often wonder what the woman sees in him. Yes, we know she loves him, we other than the token "kiss the wife goodbye" scene, we never see it. In this film, however, the husband has a prominent role, and he's really pretty cool. The whole family is cool, and the little daughter is amazing. I have no idea how old she is in real life, but she gives the best young child performance I've seen in ages. Truly remarkable. Overall, this is a good film. It's got humor, suspense, drama, and action, and it's well done. However, it ultimately isn't about anything more than it seems: a family is assaulted and fights back. The end. For it to be a truly great film, it needed some depth. It tries with some of the psychological scenes between Theron and Bacon, but while fascinating, there's too little depth there for a profound movie experience.

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Monday, July 15, 2002

Travel to New York City



Today I flew to New York City. I'm here for the Macworld Expo to launch my magazine, but since I'm going to stay with my cousin, I'll have some time for sight-seeing as well.

I flew the excellent JetBlue airlines, which are inexpensive but not only had a direct Oakland-to-JFK flight, they include free DirecTV in every seat! So the six hour flight passed quickly as I sat back and enjoyed A&E and other channels.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Trial (audiobook)



Book: The Trial (audiobook)
Writer(s): Franz Kafka

Let me preface my remarks by pointing out that my opinion may be severely hampered by the medium I chose for this novel. This particular 1998 edition audiobook is horrible: not only is the narrator poor, with no voice distinction between characters making dialog scenes confusing, but from a technical standpoint the recording is awful. I've never experienced this before, but there are many, many places where they obviously went back in and re-recorded a line or two of text and the sound quality of these edits is completely different, as though they recorded these with different equipment in a different location. It literally makes the narrator sound like a different person, and when you have one sentence out of a paragraph read in a different voice, it's bewildering and off-putting.

Another flaw is that this particular version is a new translation, which is fine, but the audiobook includes an introduction by the translator explaining some of his choices. For someone who has read the book, this would have been fine and interesting, but I knew little of the story and this introduction actually gave away the ending! It would have been much more appropriate coming at the end, after I'd read the book. Besides, it was virtually useless to me anyway as it made reference to scenes and characters I knew nothing about, as well as to past translations I didn't know. In a book I would have been able to skip this intro, but that's much more difficult to do with an audiobook (especially while driving, which is when I listen to books).

I'm a big Kafka fan, but perhaps these flaws influenced my impression of this book, for I did not like it. It is entirely possible that a second reading (in print form) would change my opinion, or additional research into the novel, but I'm not sure. All I knew going in is that this is a famous novel about a guy put on trial for a crime he's not told about. That premise fit in with Kafka's absurdist tendencies and I've always wanted to read this novel but never gotten around to it.

Unfortunately, I found the novel too bizarre to be interesting. What confused me is the setting: I cannot tell if this is set in an alternate universe or if it's supposed to be the real world Kafka lived in. Basically, the steps of this "trial" bear zero resemblance to any court proceeding I've ever encountered. Court sessions are held in apartment buildings in the living rooms of bailiffs with the wife doing laundry in the corner. Huh? Apparently in this world, being accused of something is enough to put you on trial, and the suspect is never even told the charges and no one finds that the slightest bit remarkable.

Perhaps all this is intentional and the whole point of the novel. That is an interesting idea, but the way this is presented does not make that clear. Part of the problem is that the novel is old so it's essentially a period piece: it's hard to tell from the story when the events take place, for while there are modern things like telephones, there's also a lot of candles used for lighting, which sounds ancient. Because it's old and in a foreign country (presumably Germany, Kafka's country), one can assume some of the aspects of the trial are cultural or period specific. Someone of that era might immediately spot the absurdities but I could not. I had to take things at face value and I found the process annoying and tedious.

Not a lot happens in the actual story. It's mostly about one man's fight with absurd bureaucracy, but the situation is so off-putting I found in near unreadable. I was bored, distracted, and disinterested. Also, since I knew the ending (spoiled by the translator introduction), I really didn't care because I knew what was going to happen anyway.

I am sad, because I'm sure this is a good novel. It has flaws -- it is unfinished and there are fragments of the manuscript that weren't included in its original publication (these fragments are read at the end of this audiobook, which was nice) -- but I can sense some profound things happening. I would like to read it again, but in print form, where I have more control over pace and can reread passages I don't understand. I won't do it for a while, though, as I want to forget this memory. This audio edition is dreadful and really ruined the experience for me. I would also like to do more study and research before I read the novel, so I can make sure I understand the historical context, which I'm sure is important.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Trials of Oscar Wilde



Movie: Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960)

Interesting film. Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite writers, and though I knew he was involved with scandals, I knew little of his personal life. I have no idea how accurate this film is historically, but it is well done. It shows the destruction of his brilliance by scandal, and in the end his spirit is broken. I found that the most interesting part: he is initially so full of life and wit and humor, but his conviction overwhelms him -- he can scarcely believe what is happening to him. In many ways it is his own arrogance that destroys him (since he sues Lord Queensbury for slander and thus opens the door for his own criminal trial), except I don't really believe in his arrogance: it's too calculated. In truth, I think he felt a desperately inferior man and overcompensated and thus it was his inability to see reality properly that felled him in the end.
The film's full of terrific Wilde lines; it reminds me, I need to read more Wilde.

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Sunday, May 19, 2002

Tribulation Force



Book: Tribulation Force

The second book in the Left Behind series, and the quality definitely drops off a bit. My biggest complaint about this book is that nothing happens in it. Yes, the world domination of the Anti-Christ is set up, including a lot of difficult-to-believe instant power takeovers by him, but until the last 50 pages (which build to a climax leading into the next book), little happens that couldn't be explained in a few paragraphs of exposition. Still, the whole premise is intriguing, and I want to find out where the story's going, so I'll keep reading.

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Friday, January 19, 2001

Trigun: The $60,000,000,000 Man



Movie: Trigun: The $60,000,000,000 Man

Odd Japanese animation that's apparently a TV series. I liked the concept: bounty hunters are searching everywhere for Vash the Terrible who has a $60,000,000,000 reward on his head (dead or alive) and it turns out Vash is really an idiot who's just lucky. Or is he? The series does a great job keeping you from knowing the truth: is he just insanely lucky or extremely skillful? For instance, he'll walk into a room full of bandits armed with missiles and machine guns and he'll walk out unharmed, all the bandits destroyed. A lot of the humor of the series doesn't translate well, and speaking of translation, what is the deal with Japanese films and subtitling and dubbing? The dub track is completely different from the subtitle track: I mean completely different. One will used the word "worried" and the other "care." Huh? Quite disconcerting.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Trip to San Jose



Soccer: Trip to San Jose

Well, today I headed south to San Jose, California, for a brief weekend visit. I'm going to see some clients and go to the Earthquakes playoff game on Saturday. Things did not get off to a good start. Last night was wild. I was just finishing watching The Apprentice and getting ready to pack my bags when the electricity went out. (Fortunately, my Tivo's got battery backup and continued to record for the final seven minutes of the show.) The whole town was out. There wasn't a storm, only rain, but I guess it was the first long rain of the season and took down a tree or something that messed up the electrical system. Anyway, I had to pack my flashlight and candles. That was not fun as I'm a "visual" packer: I need to see what I've got so I don't forget anything. That left me rather jazzed and hyped and I couldn't go to sleep for the longest time. I lay in bed and worried about things like how I'd get my car out of the garage without electricity (the door is electric) and if I'd get a hot shower in the morning. I finally fell asleep around one a.m. and at two a.m. all the lights in the house came on! I got up to turn lights off and noticed the TV's sound system was on, so I checked my Tivos to make sure they were okay and set up for my absense. Then I went ahead and watched the end of The Apprentice, rebooted my computer and got it set up properly, checked and answered a few emails, and went back to bed. By that time it was three o'clock in the morning and my alarm was set for 3:45 so there was hardly any point in sleeping. I drowsed for a bit, but got up before the alarm and showered (plenty of hot water, fortunately). I was on the road about four a.m. and thankfully had an uneventful trip. No delays with parking the car, riding the shuttle, getting my boarding pass, or getting through security. I even had time for a bagel with cream cheese while I waited for my flight. I slept during most of the ninety-minute plane ride. Getting my rental car was a tiny hassle: you have to ride a shuttle to the rental car area, which took a few minutes. Still, by nine a.m. I had my car and was driving back to my old haunts. I spent the day helping a client of mine, then my brother and I went out for Italian food. Despite the inauspicious beginning, it was a good day.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Triplets of Belleville



Movie: The Triplets of Belleville

This is a hilarious, brilliant, bizarre, wonderful, magical animated French movie. It's almost impossible to describe without going over the whole story frame-by-frame. The story's about a young bicylist in the Tour de France who's kidnapped. His grandmother and his dog go after him and rescue him from the mob in Belleville with the help of a trio of old crones, the Triplets, former lounge singers. But the story's almost irrelevant. What makes this film so much fun is what happens between the plot points, and how information is conveyed. The animation is bizarre: wildly exaggerated, with distorted people and places. But everything's exaggerated to make a point, and because of that, it works. It's social commentary at the highest level. When the rich, obscenely fat woman emerges from her limousine with her husband missing... only to reveal the tiny mouse of a man stuck between her rear cheeks when she waddles by, is a witty mockery of high society. There's tons of that in this film. There's also plenty of heart, with a loyal, lovable dog who lives for scraps of food and barking at trains. There's hilariously French things, such as the train bridge that literally moves a house out of the way forcing it to lean to one side. There's jabs at Americans, the mafia, and everything in between. This is a rich stew of wonder, adventure, childish enthusiasm, determination, and magic. Amazingly, there's almost no dialog, so there's no subtitles: the story is conveyed entirely by action and facial expression. This is a charming tale, well worth your time. It's only 80 minutes and the time will fly by so fast you'll want to watch it again when it's over. Wonderful.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tron



Movie: Tron

I wanted to rewatch this before the new one comes out on Friday and it confirmed what I thought I remembered: this is not a great movie. It's slow, odd, doesn't really go anywhere, and the story is so full of holes it makes no sense at all. Its reputation as a classic comes from its innovative concept ("man goes inside computer") at the time of its release. I'm sure back when it first came out the special computer graphic effects and the concept were radical and that allowed people to overlook the flaws. But the story is hokey, and the science is a joke (the computer stuff was obviously written by people who didn't understand computers at all). There are some positives: the computer graphics are passable, even today, and the video games they created -- disc throwing and lightcycle -- are really awesome game concepts. This is a fun movie to rewatch just for its historical aspects, but just don't expect it to be a great film.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron Legacy



Movie: Tron Legacy

The first film is so obviously flawed I was hoping and expecting that this one would fix those issues. For instance, back in 1982 few people understood what a computer was or had even used one, so some of the silly things they created for the film were excusable. But today's audience is more sophisticated -- everyone has a computer and even if you aren't a geek and don't know how it works, I think you're pretty sure there aren't little people inside your computer playing video games! Unfortunately, this new film is just as bad as the original. It makes all the same mistakes: lame non-story, nonsensical plot, promises of philosophical significance but no delivery, and odd scenes and events that don't fit. It's not a terrible movie; just a disappointment. The special effects are fine, though almost too polished (at least in the first film there was a distinct look to the "computer world" -- here it's so realistically rendered it seems as real as our world). The action is pretty good, especially the lightcycle and video game stuff (though the lightcycle strategies weren't always clear the way things were shot and edited). I didn't at all understand what the "audience" was doing watching the video game competitions: why would programs need entertainment? And why would watching others play games be entertaining to a computer program? Most of the characters are weak. I liked the beginning of the film, with the setup of the Bridge's character's from the first film disappearing 20 years earlier and his son setting out to find him, but the film really lost it for me when he finally reunites with his dad -- a dad who supposedly loved him dearly -- and this great reunion lasts a whopping 30 seconds before the dad wanders off without an explanation. Huh? If you were trapping in a hidden world and you finally meet up with the first non-computer person you've met in 20 years, your beloved son, aren't you going to talk to him for more than 30 seconds???? I partially liked Bridges' Zen character: his tendency toward patience made sense considering his predicament and clashed well with his son's brashness, but the implementation of it was poorly done and used for no real purpose (we should have seen evidence of both tactics succeeding so we could know that both characters were partially right). The one good character thing I saw was one scene with Quorra, the girl the boy meets. It was my favorite scene in the film, where she's showing the boy all the books she's read and reveals her favorite is Jules Verne. "Do you know Jules Verne?" she asks. He says, "Sure." She eagerly replies, practically dancing with joy, "Ohh! What's he like?" That was brilliant, revealing her childlike innocence and showing her enthusiasm for the little things. Sadly, that was the only bright spot in the entire film. Otherwise, the characters are just stereotypes. Some have been critical of the digital "youthification" of Jeff Bridges -- but I had no problem with it. He only looked weird to me for a second or two in a couple of scenes. I didn't much get his character, however. He was the evil dictator who early on seemed to delight in destruction, but at the end somehow comes across as only slightly flawed. Huh? Basically, the whole things a muddled mess. The plot is artificial with the conflict forced. I genuinely liked certain scenes, and some of the acting is good. There's still some good to get out of the film. It's worth seeing if you're a fan of the franchise just so you can form your own opinion, and the special effects are cool. But I didn't notice the 3D at all, not even once -- the whole movie was as flat as a pancake as far as I'm concerned. Not worth even an extra penny for the 3D. I didn't hate the film. I wasn't bored. It was interesting, if only to see what they'd done with the digital world. But mainly it's a lot of wasted potential. Three years of labor to produce this? It feels like the script was written in a weekend and the whole thing rushed into production the next day!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Tropic Thunder



Movie: Tropic Thunder

This is not exactly a pleasant film -- it's raunchy, foul-mouthed, violent, gory, and has a lot of angry characters -- but it is hilariously funny. The premise is brilliant: it's about the making of a Vietnam war film called Tropic Thunder with an eclectic collection of big Hollywood stars who are each parodies of Hollywood stereotypes (action hero, brilliant method actor, rapper-turned-actor, fat comic/drug addict, etc.). Of course with that bunch, the film's a mess, and with a multi-million dollar bomb on his hands, the desperate director dumps his actors in the Vietnamese jungle so they can get a dose of "reality." Unfortunately, it turns out the remote location he picked is full of real-life millitant drug dealers, and so the actors, still thinking they are filming a movie, are suddenly in a real gun battle. What makes the film work and be so originally funny is a combination of the parodies of Hollywood actors, producers, agents, etc. and the hideously bad movie they are making, and the brilliant cameo roles by numerous A-list stars which lend a realistic feel to the film. Many stars play such opposite roles that you can hardly recognize them. Tom Cruise steals the show as a fat, balding, foul-mouthed, encentric billionaire who's financing the film, but there are many others. It's worth seeing just for that! But it's a lot of fun plot-wise, too, as the actors learn to be real action heros. This film is sort of a cross between the innovative humor of the original Airplane! and more modern shock comedies like Something About Mary. It's outrageous, but it's also outrageously funny.

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Troy



Movie: Troy

Big and spectacular, but Brad Pitt is woefully miscast as Achilles. He seems out of place in every scene -- it's pretty bad. Everyone else is awesome (especially Peter O'Toole). The story's decent, but doesn't seem to follow the original story very faithfully. (Didn't the seige of Troy last ten years? Here everything takes place over a few weeks.) One problem is that there aren't any real heroes. The Trojans have our sympathy, but they did steal Helen to provoke the war. The Greeks are greedy snakes and Achilles is a mere killer, so who does one cheer for? In the end the war is just sad and meaningless and the "glory" Achilles seeks seems tainted and worthless. Supposedly we're to be impressed by the war, but I was just left feeling dirty. Still, the action is good: the sword fights are excellent and the battle scenes impressive. The shots of the city of Troy burning are amazing, as is the fleet of ships the Greeks bring. It's a long movie at nearly three hours, but it didn't feel as long as I expected. Overall I was pleased, but it was a shame the film was tainted with Pitt's awkward presence. It could have been better.

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Sunday, March 25, 2001

True Grit



Movie: True Grit

Cool movie. I'd never seen this, or much of any John Wayne movie, but I started watching it on TV and then went and found my tape of it. It's the story of an ornery Marshal (Wayne), a Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell), and a stubborn teen (Kim Darby). Darby's father has been shot and she's out to catch the man that killed him, so she hires John Wayne. Campbell ends up joining the party as the murderer's wanted in Texas for shooting a senator and there's a big reward out for him. The movie's got some good action, lots of big stars in early roles (Robert Duvall's one of the bad guys), great scenery, and of course the three main characters like to argue with each other. But it's the teen, Darby, who's character holds the film together, with her intelligence and determination: she hires Wayne because he's got "grit," but it's really her who's got true grit. Fun, though a little long.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

True Grit



Movie: True Grit

What a fantastic film! There are so many things that make this amazing, but the best is the language: every line is poetry. I mean that most literally. What's amazing, though, is that even when the most coarse and illiterate criminal low-life speaks poetry in this film it still feels utterly natural and normal, the way such a person would actually speak. I have no idea if they actually spoke so colorfully in the Old West, but I love listening to it. Just wonderful. (My favorite sequence was when the character LaBeef was arguing with the girl and tries to flatter her by saying how he'd originally considered kissing her, but now that she was being such a brat he was considering switching her instead; she responds with a haughty, "Either option would be equally unpleasant.") The film itself is an incredible story about a tough fourteen-year-old girl out to hunt down the man who murdered her father. I never saw the first film or read the book (sadly the novel isn't available on Kindle, which is profoundly stupid), so I can't comment on the differences, but this version is magical. The casting is superb, with everyone utterly convincing in their roles (I barely recognized Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges, as "Rooster" Cogburn, is in the role he was born to play). The young girl is great (though I think it could be more the role than her acting). I really hope this wins a boatload of Oscars. It's a film everyone, especially young women, need to see. Though it's a Western, it isn't that violent: there's really only one scene of close-up violence and though that's pretty intense, it gives the film much needed sobering reality. (It's a critical scene where the girl realizes the true cost of her quest.)

The only bummer for me was the theatre I was at screwed up the airing of the film and so I missed the first few minutes (I did get a free movie ticket, but I'd give that up in a second to see the parts I missed). Just a joy from beginning to end.

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Monday, September 15, 2003

Trust Fund



Book: Trust Fund
Writer(s): Stephen Frey

This is a can't-put-it-down kind of book, which is excellent. The story's about a rich son who's being forced out of the family despite the awesome work he's done turning the family fortune into a hundred billion dollar hedge fund. The guy's a hard drinker and supposedly the family's worried he'll be a liability to the number one son's presidential bid. But later he finds out secrets that reveal the truth. Eventually we've got a huge conspiracy that goes all the way to the highest levels of the government, murder and intrigue, and great action. It's a fun read.

However, there are a number of huge flaws in this book from a writing perspective. First, the main character, who has the drinking problem, is presented as a flawed hero: that's realistic, but it comes across awkwardly, for we're told about his drinking after the fact and we're not privy to the inner demons that drive him to drink. The author struggles with this because he doesn't want to alienate us from the hero, yet the hero needs some flaws. Unfortunately, the result is the flaws seem patched on, not genuinely part of his character. And even bigger flaw, a sin that is committed not once but twice in this novel, is the introduction of main characters half-way through the book. Now that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, except in this case, both characters are supposedly extremely close to the hero. One is the hero's best friend, the other the hero's wife. Yet we don't meet either until 200 pages into the book! That makes us immediately suspicious about the best friend (Who is this guy and why don't we know if him if he's such a good friend?), and wonder about the genuineness of the husband-wife relationship. That's just poor writing. Still, the novel's a fun, quick read, and it has a lot of excitement and suspense. I was disappointed by the ending: the dramatic reveal at the end was a bit of a tempest in a teapot (it was nothing more than a high tech twist of something from J. Edgar Hoover's days), but that's common in novels with so much setup. Frey does an excellent job of parsing information to us, piece by piece, in each chapter, revealing just enough to keep us starving for more. A good read.

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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Tuck Everlasting



Movie: Tuck Everlasting

Surprisingly poor movie. All I knew about this film was that it was about a girl who befriends a boy who cannot die -- and that's pretty much all I knew when it finished. Nothing much else happens. We meet the girl in early 20th century where she's frustrated by her restricted life (corsets, piano lessons, dignified behavior, etc.). After an argument with her parents, she runs into the woods and meets Tuck -- well, the youngest of the Tuck boys. The whole family cannot die. There's a secret spring and if you drink from it, you don't die. They kidnap the girl to prevent her secret from getting out, but in the end let her go, and she falls in love with the son. Eventually, of course, she grows old and the Tucks don't. The film ends in modern day with the Tuck boy the same as ever. That's pretty much the movie. It's rather boring. I guess it works as a one-dimensional children's story, but I need something with more depth. It's not terrible; it just sort of makes you ask why they bothered.

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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Tumbleweeds



Movie: Tumbleweeds

Unusual drama of a girl and her mother as they struggle for existence. The mother moves from boyfriend to boyfriend, leaving town after each failed relationship, and the girl grows frustrated by the constant moving. Well-done, with very good performances and strong characters, but it tries a bit too hard to be daring, with "open" mother-daughter conversations on crude topics like farting and having the young girl swear frequently (as though that's innovative or shocking these days). (The opening scene, where the mother and her boyfriend fight and she and her daughter flee, is filled with foul language that comes across as strangely false, as though either the writer doesn't know how to swear or just uses swearing as a substitute for characterization.) Still, the characters are real and the story and emotions overall ring true. My only real complaint is the flaw central to the film: the explanation of why the mom always leaves town when a relationship goes bad is weak, leaving the viewer wondering if the mom's a little weak in the head. (She claims she doesn't want to run into the old boyfriend, but that's not enough to justify moving to a different state every four to six months.) If it wasn't for this flaw the film would be Oscar-caliber, but this makes it fall a little short.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2002

The Tuxedo



Movie: The Tuxedo

Jackie Chan vehicle about a super electronic tuxedo that enables anyone who wears it to become expert at any number of skills such as fighting, dancing, etc. Chan plays a taxi driver hired by a successful spy to be his driver, but when the spy is injured, Chan wears the tux and takes over the spy's identity. The plot's some absurd thing about a bottled water baron who wants to contaminate America's water supply with a bateria that dehydrates a person to dust within a few seconds of drinking the water. Silly, but fun, with several good Jackie Chan moments. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of those. First off, you've probably seen most of them in the trailor (doing the James Brown dance, a couple fight scenes, etc.). Second, I missed a lot of the trademark improvisation that is key to so many of Chan's films and really is what puts him up there in the Charlie Chaplin brilliancy department. This film is more of a buddy movie, pairing Chan with Jennifer Love Hewitt, who's a scientist/spy assigned to work with him, and all the problems they face as their personalities clash. While I love Hewitt and she does a fantastic job here, seemlessly metamorphasing between gorgeous and appealingly dorky like she did in Heartbreakers, she's not enough to hold up the film. The whole thing feels like a cheap spoof, and there's very little Jackie Chan (unless you like watching him dance or struggle with English dialog). Ho hum. Not terrible, but not great. Watch it for Hewitt's fun performance, but don't bother if you're looking for Chan action.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Twelfth Card



Book: The Twelfth Card
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver

Pretty good Lincoln Rhyme novel about a killer tracking a young African-American girl in Harlem, for reasons unknown, but possibly related to a mystery involving an ancestor of hers from 140 years early. Unfortunately, a lot of the mystery which is so interesting in the beginning, fades over the long novel, and by the time we get to the dull and mundane ending, we hardly care. Still, it's not a bad novel, just not one of Deaver's better ones.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Twilight



Movie: Twilight

I missed this in theatres and never rented it, but a Showtime preview started this weekend and I finally got to see it. I've been trying to read the book (it's incredibly dull) and thought I'd like movie better. It is pretty good, but it has some bizarre flaws. The vampire special effects are totally hokey -- it's like there's no physics involved. People fly through the air or climb trees like magic. Incredibly lame. (Worse, these supernatural events are set up dramatically by the director so that the audience can sense them coming, and when they do, they are invariably weak. I much prefer more subtle effects, like seeing a vampire across the room and when you turn away, he's somehow right beside you. That's far more creepy than seeing him run in blurry high-speed.) There's other weird stuff done direction-wise (odd camerawork, jarring music choices, confusingly shot fight scenes), but the Washingon landscape is gorgeously photographed. There are also occasional moments of movie magic, either excellent chemistry between the leads or a scene or two that worked really well. I'm still uncomfortable with the casting of Pattinson as the lead vampire: his accent is all over the place, he looks weird to me (I'm surprised he's considered good-looking), and I totally fail to see his charm. (Admittedly, I did like him more by the end than at the beginning, but that's not saying much.) But Kristen Stewart is really good as Bella, and the supporting cast is excellent (though they aren't given much to do). Scriptwise, I can't compare to the book since I haven't finished it, but there were several choppy scenes that felt shortened or out of context. The relationship between the two main characters at the beginning, for instance, was weakly handled, and some of the action stuff toward the end seemed to all blur together without a lot of explanation (like they leave Washington state and end up in Phoenix like thirty seconds later). Most bizarre to me was that the core love story happened out of nothing. It starts off with the two as antagonists, then suddenly they are in love. And not just ordinary teen love, but give-up-life love. There was no point when Bella "fell in love" with Edward, or vice versa. They were just magically destined for each other, apparently. Very odd. I wanted to understand why they were attracted to each other but it wasn't explained. Another problem was the shallow relationship of Bella with her parents. I believe it must be deeper in the book, but on film it's so sketchy that when it becomes important later, it feels weird, as though we skipped a chapter. But I'm probably overanalyzing this film. It's not meant to be this deep in the first place. It's a silly teen romance with vampires, and as such, it's not terrible. It didn't live up to the hype for me. I'd give it a six out of ten.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Twilight: New Moon



Movie: Twilight: New Moon

I'm not really into the Twilight series and this one started off horrible: it was incredibly boring, tedious, and I didn't have a clue what was going on. Basically the girl's vampire love splits on her, apparently because he loved her so much he didn't want to see her hurt, so she goes into a deep depression and discovers that when her life is in jeopardy she can sense him. So to get closer to him and see him again, she starts risking her life with crazy stunts. The drama gets better when he mistakenly thinks she's dead and decides to kill himself and she has to race to stop him. This whole mess is complicated by a second romance with another boy who turns out to be a werewolf. Werewolves hate vampires and thus she's torn between two species. The special effects are extremely weak (the human-to-werewolf transformation is especially cheesy), the action is minimal, the conflict artificial and forced, and other than the love story, there isn't much to this story. The real problem is that the love story doesn't really come into play until the end: prior to that it's just 90 minutes of walloping in a girl's depression and self-pity, which makes me feel like shooting myself just to stop the pain. All that said, the later part, toward the end, did get more interesting, and I did like some of the vampire ideas and dilemmas presented, especially the concept that the girl is actually special as some of the vampire's powers won't work on her (no one knows why). This says to be the series is going somewhere, but I am still in awe of how this series manages to make exciting stuff like vampires so boring! It's a real gift, that is.

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Saturday, March 25, 2000

Twin Dragons



Movie: Twin Dragons

Fun Jackie Chan flick with him playing twins. Lots of slapstick and identity confusion. Pace is bewildering. Above average.

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Thursday, June 1, 2000

Twin Falls Idaho



Movie: Twin Falls Idaho

Very cool film. I was expecting something David Lynchish, or perhaps a black comedy, but it's really a fairly normal story about identical Siamese twins and their relationship and the way people treat them. Excellent.

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Friday, February 27, 2004

Twisted



Movie: Twisted

A decent thriller with good performances, but it's too dependent upon the twist ending, which I saw coming a mile away. The story's cool: a female police officer's been promoted to homicide detective and her first case turns out to be a series of murders of her former lovers. Suspicion naturally falls on her, and soon she begins to suspect herself. Her father was a cop who killed her mother and then himself when she was five, so she's been haunted by that her whole life. Does she have the same evil gene as her dad? The murders always happen while she's blacked out, so perhaps she did do it. That's the mystery. When the answer's revealed it's good and makes sense, but it's not all that surprising. Above average but not outstanding.

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Sunday, June 5, 2005

Two Brothers



Movie: Two Brothers

Terrific film with a sucky title from the director of The Bear. This is one of those films that I wanted to see in theatres -- it's about two tiger cubs who are brothers -- but I kept forgetting the title because it's so generic and has nothing to do with tigers. Stupid marketing. The movie itself is awesome. The tigers are amazing. This film has more humans in it than The Bear, but the tigers are still the main actors. What I liked was the story, the way the lives of the tigers intertwined, and the ending, where the tigers help each other to survive. (I don't want to say more as it would spoil the plot.) Just trust that this is an excellent movie and everyone should see it.

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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Two Weeks Notice



Movie: Two Weeks Notice

Routine romantic comedy. Not especially believable, but still entertaining. Sandra Bullock is her usual excellent girl-next-door, and Huge Grant is the lovable idiot. This time she's an idealistic lawyer and he's a multi-millionaire businessman, and he backmails her into becoming his new lead counsel. After a while, she can't take his insane demands and tries to quit, but he won't allow it. Eventually the two realize they love each other (gee, never saw that coming). It's uneven, better in some places than others, but relatively non-offensive and predictable.

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