Friday, September 28, 2001

Spy Kids

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

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


Wednesday, September 26, 2001

MLS Playoffs: Columbus at San Jose

Soccer: MLS Playoffs: Columbus at San Jose

What a day! I knew this was going to be a good day when I scored my lowest score ever in my morning golf game, and I had a feeling going to the Quakes game that evening that destiny was in the making. This was an amazing, incredible experience. San Jose has long been the whipping dog of MLS, not making the post season since MLS' first year of existence in 1996. To see them not just succeed, but play superbly well, was inspiring. They deserved this win and more. They just toyed with Columbus -- which aren't a bad team -- and I saw some quick passing sequences that took my breath away. Absolutely world class. I don't want to praise them too much: they are a young team, and there were a few frantic scrambles and some lucky breaks, but they are playing impassioned soccer like champions.
Manny Lagos scored the first goal just eight minutes in. Donovan spread the field by slipping the ball wide to Wade Barrett on the left, right below where I was sitting. From my view in the stands, it was clear what was going to happen and everyone began standing up in anticipation. Wade's cross was absolutely perfect, and Manny just needed a slight head flick to send it to the back post. Fantastic!
At halftime it was still 1-0 and I was a little nervous: would San Jose turn into the team of old and give up a late equalizer? Would they sit back and become defensive? The answer was a decided "No!" They attacked right from the start of the second half, not even giving the Crew a chance at offense as they were too busy defending. The Quakes' attacks didn't produce a goal, but they played smart and patient and didn't get carried away with attacking and give up a goal at the back. With about 20 minutes left, coach Frank Yallop -- easily my vote for coach of the year -- took off Agogo and put in regular season scoring leader Ronald Cerritos. Within one minute he scored a goal with a great header.
That second goal pretty much settled the match. The Crew became desperate, fouling regularly, but they were a beaten team and knew it. (Interestingly, no San Jose player received a yellow card in this game.) The deal was sealed with fifteen to go when 19-year-old superstar Landon Donovan (who else) pulled a nifty move. Inside the box, he received a pass from Agoos with his back to the goal. He chested it down and twirled: his second touch was a blast into the back corner of the net! (You can see video of the goal here.)
All in all, it was a terrific performance that gets the Earthquakes their first semifinal berth ever. As the only team this season to win their quarterfinal series in just two matches (all the others must play a game three), they've got a ton of confidence going into the semifinal series where they'll face either defending champions Kansas City or league-leading Miami. I was nervous about Miami, who've been the best in MLS all year, but with San Jose playing like this, no longer: bring 'em on! The Quakes can take 'em and will take the Championship!


Saturday, September 22, 2001

MLS Playoff: San Jose at Columbus

Soccer: MLS Playoff: San Jose at Columbus

Round One, Game One: Terrific game and terrific result. San Jose had never won at Crew Stadium, but because Columbus had the edge in head-to-head competition during the season (the teams were tied on points) Columbus got home field advantage. San Jose came out storming with a goal from Landon Donovan just five minutes in, a Manny Lagos goal in the 31st minute, and another goal from Donovan just before the end of the half. That stunned Crew Stadium and took the crowd out of the it; Columbus scored on a penalty kick in the second half to give them a slight chance, but some gutsy defending by the Quakes kept them ahead. In the end, San Jose preserved their lead and won game one. Final: 3-1 San Jose.


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.


Saturday, September 15, 2001

Boys Don't Cry

Movie: Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Extremely interesting and unusual film, made all the more dramatic as it's based on a true story. The gimmick, of course, is that it's about a girl who goes around dressed as a boy, but the film doesn't manipulate that gimmick: it's starts off with her as a boy and finishes with her as a boy. The core conflict isn't so much the boy-girl confusion as it is the confusion of life in general: all the slacker characters have little purpose except for getting drunk and/or laid. The confusion of sexual identity is ultimately a metaphor for seeking the purpose of life.
There are a few glaring flaws in the film that meant I found the story slightly confusing: those were cleared up in the DVD commentary, but it's poor direction when that's required. To give one example, the film begins with the girl getting her hair cut like a boy and going out with a girl: according to the commentary, this was the first time she'd dared to do this, but that wasn't at all clear from the scene. Without any knowledge of her previous life, I assumed she'd been doing this for years; but of course the events after that are more powerful when we realize that this is a new adventure for her. The film immediately cuts to a year later (there's a date on the screen), but since we don't know the date of the first scene, we have no way of knowing this is a year later! I figured it was later that night after that first date (which didn't make much sense).
I recommend the DVD commentary version -- it's helpful at explaining some of the thought behind this provoking picture. Excellent performances also make this a good film. However, there's still a gap between the audience and the main character: we're let in, but the girl's sexual confusion is never truly explained, and at the end of the film we're still wondering "Why?" Perhaps this is just a personal observation or perhaps the confusion of sexual identity is never to be understood by someone who doesn't suffer from it (though the writer in me refuses to believe that any experience can't be explained), but either way, I found the film left mysteries unexplored. Still, it's worth seeing just for the questions it asks.


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).


Sunday, September 9, 2001

Road Trip

Movie: Road Trip (2000)

Surprisingly good. I expected this to be terrible, but it actually had a bit of heart. The plot's typical: a guy and his girlfriend go to different colleges and he accidentally mails her a videotape of his affair with another girl (instead of his video letter), so he and his pals hit the road to reach Texas and intercept the tape. Chaos ensues. But instead of a series of mindless visual jokes, the mishaps actually help grow the kids, and by the time the guy reaches the girl, he realizes he doesn't really love her and when she breaks up with him, he's okay with that. Meanwhile, the girl he had the "affair" with turns out to be a decent gal who really loves him. It's not Shakespeare by any stretch, but it's got its moments. It's not quite as funny as I might have expected, but I actually liked that it treated the characters more seriously than most of these kinds of films.


Saturday, September 8, 2001

Space Cowboys

Movie: Space Cowboys (2000)

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


Wednesday, September 5, 2001

World Cup Qualifier: U.S.A. at Costa Rica

Soccer: World Cup Qualifier: U.S.A. at Costa Rica

Another sad day for the Americans. This time, they have reason to be sad. Before last Saturday the U.S. was tied for first place: after this game, they are in fourth and in serious danger of not qualifying for World Cup 2002. If the way they played in this game is any indication of future performance, they not only don't deserve to go, but I would hope they don't go: this was positively embarrassing. Coach Bruce Arena made the unadvised decision to play for a tie and put in 9 defensive players. The plan backfired when the U.S. collapsed under the tremendous Costa Rican pressure and gave up a penalty kick goal early. Then the U.S. needed a goal for a tie, but there weren't enough U.S. attacking players on the field! From there it just got ugly: the U.S. hardly had any offense at all, gave up a second goal, and just looked panicked and beaten from the kickoff. It was one of the worst performances of the U.S. National Team I can remember (including France 98). Just terrible. The U.S. still has a chance for World Cup if they win the two final qualifying games (which are against weaker opponents). That's good, in a way, because Arena won't be able to play for the tie: he'll have to go all out on offense. But the Americans need some solution at the back to shore up the defense and they desperately need a spark up front with injuries to superstars Clint Mathis, Josh Wolff, and Brian McBride leaving the U.S. woefully lacking in striker talent. Final: 2-0 Costa Rica.


Monday, September 3, 2001

Fever Pitch

Movie: Fever Pitch

This British film is based on the book written by the same author as High Fidelity and once again deals with obsession. This time it isn't music, but soccer (football, in world parlance). The main guy's a huge soccer fan and his new girlfriend isn't, and that's the core conflict of the film. Nothing too much happens, but basically the guy learns to put sports in perspective in his life. Overall, pretty good, but a little light in substance. The one thing I found strange was that the girl was interested in the guy since she ostensibly hates everything about him. There wasn't much explanation of why she liked him. The soccer fan in me appreciated all the football references, but even there the film seemed to try to be a bit mainstream and didn't include enough soccer. Not outstanding, but interesting. The book's supposed to be better and funnier; the film's a bit too serious.


Sunday, September 2, 2001

The Art of War

Movie: The Art of War

I wasn't expecting much, but this was pretty good. A fun, mindless spy flick, with good action, neato high-tech gadgets, betrayal, and the requisite convoluted (and predictable) plot. Rent it if you're in an action mood.


Saturday, September 1, 2001

World Cup Qualifier: Honduras at U.S.A.

Soccer: World Cup Qualifier: Honduras at U.S.A.

Very sad that the U.S. lost their first game at home in sixteen years. It was a harsh loss: Earnie Stewart was both the hero and the goat, scoring two goals but missing the penalty kick that could have preserved at least a draw. Honduras certainly made the U.S. back line look feeble, beating them dozens of times, and requiring terrific saves by various players and the goalkeeper. The Honduras penalty was very weak (Agoos fell down before the other player; I find it difficult to believe that could be a foul): probably just a make-up call for penalty given to the U.S. Final: 3-2 Honduras.