Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Book: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Writer(s): Kate Douglas Wiggin

I didn't know anything about the book except I had a vague impression that it was a "girlie" book. Nothing could be further from the truth! This is a classic novel about alienation. Rebecca's a girl who doesn't fit in at home, where she's just one of seven children, nor at the home of her two spinster aunts, where she lives for several years, nor at school, where she's not pretty enough for the boys and has too much imagination for her teachers. She's a delight! Modest and self-effacing, with a pure heart, she tries her best but always seems to be causing her conservative aunts trouble (like when she invites company over without telling them). The "plot" of the novel is all characterization: Rebecca, the wild child, is sent to live with her staid aunts in place of her more practical (i.e. useful) sister Hannah, and slowly, over a period of years, she humanizes the old crones into a semblance of life, while growing up herself. This book had many scenes that brought tears to my eyes. For instance, early on we learn about Rebecca's most prized possession, her pink parasol, so precious she carries it under her dress to keep the sun from fading the color. Later, when she earns the outrage of her aunt by inadvertently getting paint on her clothes (she was too busy enjoying the scenery to notice the "wet paint" sign), she concludes her aunt's scolding wasn't nearly enough punishment, so she decides to sacrifice her cherished parasol by throwing it down the well. The parasol gets tangled in the pump, and then her aunts are upset with her for ruining a valuable possession! Poor Rebecca. Her life is full of such minor high drama, and it is a delight to read about such innocent problems (especially in this callous age). The book is surprisingly witty and very entertaining. The humor is of the sneak-up-behind-you kind; I found it delightful. Here's an example. Rebecca has written a poem personalizing her family's dreadful mortgage. When her friend protests that mortgages don't have faces, she says, "Our mortgage has. I should know him if I met him in the dark. Wait and I'll draw him for you. It will be good for you to know how he looks, and then when you have a husband and seven children, you won't allow him to come anywhere within a mile of your farm." The book is full of wonderful stuff like that! A terrific read, highly recommended. Barely dated despite its age. Author Jack London (I'm reading his awesome Call of the Wild right now) wrote Kate Douglas Wiggin a letter about her classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm from the headquarters of the First Japanese Army in Manchuria in 1904: "May I thank you for Rebecca?... I would have quested the wide world over to make her mine, only I was born too long ago and she was born but yesterday.... Why could she not have been my daughter? Why couldn't it have been I who bought the three hundred cakes of soap? Why, O, why?" That sums up my feelings exactly!


Saturday, November 27, 1999

12 Monkeys

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

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


Saturday, November 27, 1999


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

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


Saturday, November 27, 1999

Cube (rewatch)

Movie: Cube (rewatch)

I watched Cube with the family. I don't know how they liked it -- some seemed to think it was violent -- but once I again I was impressed. It's not a happy tale, but it's one that makes you think.


Saturday, November 27, 1999


Movie: Desperado (1995)
Writer(s): Robert Rodriquez
Director(s): Robert Rodriquez

I wanted to see this again after seeing Rodriquez's El Mariachi. This is almost a remake, or pseudo sequel. It's more of the same, just with a bigger budget. It's done with class, but there's an emptiness about it I didn't like. I'm an Antonio Banderos fan, but he's lifeless in this movie. I think the plot is designed for the small screen. Take one of Sergio Leone's classic "spaghetti" westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It works because it fits its genre. If you took that same movie and made it bigger, with a huge budget and lots of explosions, it would be lifeless. It works because dumb people killing each other in tiny, insignificant towns in the middle of nowhere is meaningful within the context of their lives. It has no meaning to the big world. If you make an epic out of it, you are implying it has meaning to all of us, which it does not. Desperado is a shoot-em-up and nothing more, but it's filmed like a grand drama. Enjoy it as a fun, silly action flick. Don't expect depth and you'll be fine. And afterward, watch the smaller, better El Mariachi.


Friday, November 26, 1999

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Movie: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Writer(s): Mike Myers
Director(s): Jay Roach

I liked this one even better than the original. It's not as innovative in scope, but it's funnier, and way, way, way over the top. It's totally crude, rude, and socially unacceptable, which just makes it all the funnier. Like Airplane did for the seventies/eighties, the Austin Powers movies are doing for the nineties. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one.


Friday, November 26, 1999


Movie: Aliens (1986)
Writer(s): James Cameron
Director(s): James Cameron

It's been a while since I've seen this, but it doesn't lose much over the years. While it's not quite as nail-bitting as Cameron's The Terminator, it's a great, pressure-filled action film. It doesn't let up until the final frame. It's basically a monster movie and nothing more, but done with such class, it's a definite top 100.


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.


Friday, November 26, 1999


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

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


Thursday, November 25, 1999

The Great Train Robbery (movie)

Movie: The Great Train Robbery (movie) (1979)
Writer(s): Michael Crichton
Director(s): Michael Crichton

I was a little disappointed by this movie. It wasn't as good as the book, and there were strange differences (like transporting a baboon instead of a tiger in one scene, Sean Connery's girlfriend pretending to be a prostitute [in the book there a real prostitute was used], and apprehending Connery as he gets off the train [in the book he's not caught until two years later]) that were never explained. These minor alterations bothered me a lot, as the author of the book wrote and directed the movie, and the novel's based on fact, so I expected an accurate transition. Still, it's not a bad movie. Very well done in places, though a bit obvious in others (Donald Sutherland is strangely flat in his performance). If you haven't read the book you'll find it fascinating. The biggest flaw was the lack of scope: the story has a bit of the epic about it, as this historical event was similar to the sinking of the Titanic in that it shocked the newly industrialized world that modern technology wasn't impenetrable. Unfortunately, Crichton doesn't shoot this as an epic -- instead he goes for an action drama, spending too much time on Connery's precarious run across the top of a moving train. Since that's a stunt we've seen hundreds of times in movies and on TV, it just wasn't memorable or exciting. I would have focused a bit more time on the trial and the aftermath, which puts the whole crime in scope (and gives Connery opportunity to deliver some of Pierce's hilarious one-liners). The DVD edition has comentary by director Crichton.


Thursday, November 25, 1999

Strangers on a Train

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

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


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!


Wednesday, November 24, 1999

The Bone Collector

Movie: The Bone Collector (1999)
Writer(s): Jeffery Deaver (book) and Jeremy Iacone
Director(s): Phillip Noyce

A decent thriller, though not in the class of Silence of the Lambs. The plot has a genius forensic detective (Denzel Washington), who's paralyzed and bed-ridden, team up with a troubled beat cop (Angelina Jolie) to track down a serial killer. Denzel was good with what he had to work with, but Angelina was awesome. She played her character with just the right subtle touches to make her completely believable. However, the early connection between the two was awkwardly done and ham-handled. Basically, Denzel wants her to work for him and she doesn't want to, so he forces her. Eventually she comes around, but not without a lot of fireworks. It seemed unrealistic to me that detectives would make so much effort to recruit an unwilling cop. I needed more motivation on their part. All in all, a good ride. Not especially scary (but what is), though some scenes are a touch graphic.


Monday, November 22, 1999

Civil Action

Movie: Civil Action (1999)
Writer(s): Jonathan Harr (book) and Steven Zaillian
Director(s): Steven Zaillian

Slow paced, empty drama. Narrated by star John Travolta, it sets itself up to be the Casino of personal injury lawyers, with John lecturing us on his skills and virtues. The movie has some decent performances (I liked Robert Duvall and William H. Macy was terrific), but overall it leaves you as void as a dud lottery ticket. The story sets itself up for drama, but nothing happens. It's not really that predictable, but it feels like it is (which is some ways is worse). Supposedly in the end Travolta's character is reformed, but he's so one dimensional to begin with, it's impossible to tell. Not worth a $3 rental. Watching my cat groom himself is much more entertaining.


Monday, November 22, 1999


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).


Sunday, November 21, 1999

10 Things I Hate About You

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

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


Saturday, November 20, 1999


Movie: Go (1999)
Writer(s): John August
Director(s): Doug Liman

I didn't know what to expect from this movie. Turns out it's a series of vingettes about the violent, crime-filled lives of a group of people one Christmas weekend. We get to see the same events from several perspectives, which is interesting, though repetetive. These people are not ones you'd want to hang around with, however. They are crude, desperate, and disgusting. Basically bad things happen to everyone, but since you don't really care for anyone, it's mildly entertaining. There are some interesting twists. In many ways this reminded me of 2 Days in the Valley except with teenagers. That was a better film, however. Go is a third-generation copy, though it has a good soundtrack. Like all vingette films, this one suffers from unevenness. I guess I don't quite see the point of such a technique. It's always an interesting concept, but it never quite works. Still, this wasn't boring. Rentable. Two thumbs sideways.


Friday, November 19, 1999

The World is Not Enough

Movie: The World is Not Enough (1999)
Writer(s): Bruce Feirstein and Michael France
Director(s): Michael Apted

Unlike the lackluster last Bond outing (1997's Tomorrow Never Dies), this James Bond is excellent. The opening action sequence -- a speedboat chase the previews made seem routine -- is actually exciting. Other action sequences aren't as good (the skiing one is quite routine), but there are many of them, and most are mercifully quick (though a few drag on too long). What's most unusual about this Bond is that the villan isn't revealed until later in the movie. This is a good villian, too. As any Bond fanatic knows, a Bond film is only as good as its villan. The plot itself is so complicated is drags the story a bit. In fact, there were a number of key plot points that occurred before the movie started, meaning we're told about them retroactively, a poor method for revealing critical details. But since this is a Bond film, plot is almost irrelevant -- you know it's a diabolical scheme to rule the world and Bond's going to stop it, and in the end, that's all that matters. The fun is in the journey, and watching the suave Bond wiggle his way out of impossible deathtraps with a martini in his hand and narry a spot on his tuxedo. Acting? Well, Bond films aren't acting powerhouses, but Pierce Brosnan does an excellent job, bringing a bit of depth and complexity to his Bond. He's better than the plot, in most cases. What I like about Brosnan is that he has a ruggedness about him that fits Bond exactly, he's a decent actor, and he can deliver witty lines without turning the whole movie into cornball. This film brings back the Bond tradition of lots of innuendo and dreadful puns, but it doesn't turn into a cartoon Bond like many of the 70's films. As for the Bond women, Sophia Marceau was excellent, but I can't say the same for poor Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist. Let's just say she'd make an excellent store mannequin. She was fine eye candy... as long she didn't speak. Overall, an excellent follow-up to Goldeneye.


Thursday, November 18, 1999

The Picture of Dorian Gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 17, 1999

New Links

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


Monday, November 15, 1999

When the Wind Blows

Book: When the Wind Blows (1998)
Writer(s): James Patterson

Fascinating concept: a group of renegade geneticists create a new species of human, children with wings and the ability to fly. One of their experiements escapes and they must hunt her down (and destroy all witnesses) to protect their research. Unfortunately, it sounds more exciting than it is. Patterson throws in an unconventional FBI agent that's a cheap copy of Fox Mulder from TV's The X-Files and a beautiful veterinarian who falls in love with the agent and just happens to know a lot about genetics and birds. Basically, the whole thing's contrived, routine, and the ending makes you scratch your head and say "Why didn't they do that in the first five minutes???" Still, the book has good pace, and it's interesting, but like Chinese food, it leaves you hungry a few hours later.


Sunday, November 14, 1999

Sara Groves Concert

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


Saturday, November 13, 1999


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

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


Saturday, November 13, 1999

A Better Tomorrow

Movie: A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Writer(s): John Woo
Director(s): John Woo

An action movie with a brain. John Woo's films are classics not only because the action is so stylish, but because he puts his characters into moral dilemmas. While I didn't like Tomorrow quite as well as Woo's incredible The Killer, this is a very good film. The plot has an idealistic young kid joining the police force not realizing his much older brother is a leader of a criminal syndicate. Because of his brother, the criminal decides to reform, but the young cop is devastated and decides to hate his brother. Then the cop's career is hampered by his criminal "connections" while the criminal's attempts to reform are met with resistance by the syndicate. It's complex and intelligent, rare items in the U.S. action film genre. I recommend the subtitled version if you can find it. (I watched the dubbed and it really cheapens the acting -- everything seems melodramatic and silly when the lips don't match the dialogue.)


Friday, November 12, 1999

Psycho (remake)

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

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


Thursday, November 11, 1999


Movie: Goldeneye (1995)
Writer(s): Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein
Director(s): Martin Campbell

This was the first James Bond movie of the Pierce Brosnan era, and it's terrific. I've seen it a few times of course, but it'd been years. On DVD this is one cool movie (especially watching it on a high-tech laptop ;-). This has everything you expect from a Bond film: amazing action, incredible locations and cinematography, sexy women, and high-tech gadgets. What more could a guy want? What I like best about Bond films -- good Bond films -- is that they are several films in one. You've got the intro sequence, which, when long, is like a mini-movie in itself. Then there's the various stages of tracking down the Bad Guy -- each sequence is like a separate movie, each bigger and badder than the previous. It's totally cool and it's what makes the Bond movies so over-the-top. I wasn't that crazy about the last Bond, but I have high hopes for the latest (out next week, I believe). This just whetted my appetite.


Tuesday, November 9, 1999

Jack and Jill

Book: Jack and Jill (1996)
Writer(s): James Patterson

Interesting thriller about a plot to assassinate the president. Patterson lets us in on the killers' perspectives early in the book, but doesn't tell us their identity. This "tell, don't tell" creates a sense of impatience that's frustrating and artificial, but the book's pacing is fast enough that it's bearable. This book wasn't as fast-paced as Cat and Mouse, the only other Patterson book I've read, but it got better as the book went along. I still think Patterson's "great" detective, Alex Cross (who appears in many of his books), is boring; Patterson has made him so "everyman" that we see very little extraordinary. I prefer an outrageous character like Sherlock Holmes. We may not know every detail of his love life, but at least he's brilliant. One thing Patterson does that I really like is that when he ends one chapter on a cliffhanger he picks up the action right where it left off in the next chapter. Most writers throw in chapters with alternate storylines in the middle which, besides being exasperating and confusing, often comes across as artificial. I haven't read most of Patterson library, but I like quick-moving fiction -- looks like I've got some reading to do.


Saturday, November 6, 1999

El Mariachi

Movie: El Mariachi (1992)
Writer(s): Robert Rodriguez
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez

The DVD of this movie is totally cool -- it's a dual-edition, with Rodriguez's Desperado on the second side. El Mariachi is essentially Rodriguez's first film. It's in Spanish, and amazingly, he filmed it for a paltry $7,000! This is for an action movie, folks! (The sequel, Desperado, cost $7 million!) The DVD has Rodriguez's audio commentary and it's terrific if you're into learning about movie-making. Tons of explanation and hints and tips on making a movie cheaply. (There's even a separate "10-Minute Film School" video on the DVD.) The commentary begins right at the Columbia Pictures logo, with Rodriguez, with biting wit saying, "This logo probably cost more than my whole movie!" As to the movie itself, it's not perfect. There are dozens of little flaws, gaffs, and glitches (I think they're cool). Rodriguez was fully aware of this, a side-effect of the non-existent budget (of the seven grand, he says only six hundred dollars actually shows up on the screen -- the rest was used to buy and develop the film). He originally intended to sell the movie to the Spanish language direct-to-video market and basically just hoped to recoup his costs. He was just practicing. Unfortunately, his movie went on to win an award at the Sundance Film Festival and the movie was picked up for wide release by Columbia, so now the whole world gets to see this marvelous film. It's worth it, too. To compensate for any flaws, Rodriguez edited the movie a frantic pace. There's cut-cut-cut, zooms, slow- and fast-motion, and the whole movie has an incredible feeling of action though there's not a single stuntman, crew, or explosion! A lot of this had to do with budget: for instance, Rodriguez couldn't afford Hollywood prop guns, so he borrowed some real machine guns from the local cops (the movie was film in Mexico). Real guns aren't designed for blanks, so they jam after one round. This meant no continuing shooting was possible. So Rodriguez would film the shot from multiple angles and zooms and then edit it all together to make it seem like continue action. Turns out the choppy effect is far more dramatic than a guy standing there firing for ten seconds. Basically this movie doesn't seem low-budget from watching it. It's a great action movie. The plot's cool: a mariachi (guitar player) is mistaken for a killer who carries his guns in a guitar case. The mariachi is chased and "accidentally" kills many of the bad guys (like the way Inspect Clousou always does things). It's funny, exciting, and if you weren't told how little it cost, you'd never know. You won't mistake it for a multi-million dollar blockbuster, but it looks better than 90% of the crap that's shown on cable TV. If you check this out, I highly recommend the DVD version. Besides the invaluable commentary, there's Rodriguez's neato movie short, "Bedhead." It apparently won awards and was aired on PBS. It's the tale of a little girl being tormented by her bratty brother and what she does for revenge. Hilarious! If you're a Rodriguez fan, you can also check out his ultra-violent From Dusk Till Dawn.


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).


Tuesday, November 2, 1999

Unnatural Causes

Book: Unnatural Causes (1967)
Writer(s): P.D. James

I wanted to like this book, I really did. Supposedly, mystery fans the world over love P.D. James' mysteries, but if this is characteristic of them, I'm definitely the opposite of a fan. If anything, James has a gift for making an exciting subject like murder boring. The book is tedious, glacier-paced, and as each character is introduced, we're given several pages of meaningless background material. The mystery itself is basically a "Who cares." The plot has a mystery writer discovered dead, floating in a dinghy, his hands chopped off at the wrist -- exactly like the opening scene of the novel he's writing. James seems to think this is a stunning opening, innovative as all get out -- I found it boring and pointless. I didn't like any of her characters, and thus didn't care one way or another what happened in the book. The murder mystery itself (i.e. the plot), wasn't bad, but I was so disinterested it's hard to judge. James is a good writer. Her style and diction is concise and elegant, remarkable in some ways, but there's something about her style that turns me off. It reminds me a lot of John LeCarre, who I can't read to save my life. Two paragraphs and I'm zoning, my mind drifting off. Nothing captures my interest for some reason. Strange and sad, but I've learned to accept it. I've stopped even trying to read LeCarre, and while I might give James another chance in the future, she's heading for that same inglorious position in my library. I liked her Children of Men and I'd had great hopes for one of her mysteries, but this one really let me down.