Friday, November 30, 2001

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Movie: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

I really wanted to have a better reason to like this film than the fact that it stars Angelina Jolie, but unfortunately that's just not the case. She's perfect as the title character, and quite heroicly does her own stunts, but the film itself is a letdown, even by action standards. I knew I was in for trouble during the opening sequence where Lara is fighting a robot. After several minutes of bullet dodging and close calls, I said to myself, "This is probably her training program." Sure enough, the sequence ended when Lara ordered the robot to stop. Lame, lame, LAME! And that directly leads the next criticism of the movie's structure: except for the actual plot, Lara never raids any tombs! What's up with that? We're just supposed to assume she's some bad-ass tomb raider because that's the movie's title? The problem with never having her tomb raid is that to make the movie "suspensful" (like we actually believe she'll fail), she can't be entirely successful at her tomb raiding related to the plot -- that'd be too easy. So she struggles at that, and the end result is that we never really get to see her in her natural element kicking tomb butt. The plot -- don't get me started. What a ridiculous mishmash! This was almost as bad as the first Mission Impossible movie. It didn't even make any sense! While not making sense isn't the end of the world (lots of films don't), they don't take themselves seriously either. This film pretensiously acts like it's real life yet does things like have stone statues come to life to fight without even a wink at the viewer! (For more pretension, watch the DVD extras where the cast and producers incessantly rave about what an awesome movie it is.) And I never did figure out how the bad guy knew Lara was going to come to him with the secret clock key before she'd even found the clock in her attic! Was that just bad editing or was the bad guy supposed to be psychic or something? Oh, the film's beautifully shot, the scenery nice, the action sequences are pretty good, and Lara (Jolie) is great -- but there's no story to hold it all together. The mishmash "character stuff" about Lara missing her father (who vanished 15 years ago) is weak and underdeveloped; besides, I just didn't care about any of it anyway! The DVD's not bad -- the extras mean more Lara (Jolie), which is all you want to see anyway. I wouldn't mind a sequel: if they put together a decent structure they'd have something, but they need to hire Ang Lee to do the next one.


Sunday, November 25, 2001

Vertical Limit

Movie: Vertical Limit

Pleasant actioner about mountain climbing. The plot's worthless -- brother goes to rescue sister who's trapped on top of K2 -- but the action's not bad. It's so over-the-top I found it scarcely believable. I seriously doubt mountainclimbers face this much death in a lifetime of climbing, let alone during one rescue mission. But of course one doesn't watch a film like this for the plot, silly character pseudo-drama, or examples of logic: it's all about the adrenaline, and this kept me entertained.


Saturday, November 24, 2001


Movie: Bamboozled
Writer(s): Spike Lee
Director(s): Spike Lee

Wow, where do I begin? Lee's tackles an incredibly complex subject -- racism -- and throws everything on the screen. The plot is about a black TV producer who creates a new "racist" TV show which features black actors in blackface, sparking controversy and huge ratings. The producer did this just to spite his employers, but the show's success puts him in the middle of an awkward dilemma. As his actors begin to rebel, we're given lots to think about the nature of racism. Can a black man be racist? What about a black man who's white (in personality and attitude)? Is blackface, by its nature, racist? What if the intention is not racist -- like a mime's whiteface isn't racist? Does a person's perception of racism make an act racist? (In other words, if I feel I've been racially slurred, have I been?) As I said, lots of complex questions. Ultimately, I'm not sure how many of these Spike answers -- but its an intriguing film (though a little uneven).


Saturday, November 24, 2001

Cats and Dogs

Movie: Cats and Dogs

Silly but fun high-tech adventure about the war between cats and dogs. The two species do commando raids and use secret agents to foil each other. Terrific special effects (the animals were a combination of live animals, puppets, and digital and the result was seamless). Ultimately it gets rather ridiculous and carries the one joke premise too far, but it's still fun.


Friday, November 23, 2001

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Excellent film -- amazingly faithful to the book. I've never understood why Hollywood changes books when making films, but this one they did right. It's a bit long, yes, but the screenery is so lush and spectacular I doubt you'd mind (just empty your bladder before the film starts). The casting was wonderful -- far better than I could have hoped. Usually casting is awkward, since the readers feel they already know the characters and the movie feels too different, but this one worked. (I can only hope the same is true for the next month's Lord of the Rings -- I'll reserve judgment until I see it, but I have misgivings.) Overall, a good fun film.


Thursday, November 22, 2001

Dancer in the Dark

Movie: Dancer in the Dark
Writer(s): Lars von Trier
Director(s): Lars von Trier

Fascinating movie, though a touch manipulative. It's a "musical" about an immigrant worker in 1964 who's going blind and is later set up for a murder rap. The woman is working to save money for an eye operation for her small son (so he won't inherit the same eye disease she has). Her pitiful life is made palatable via her love for musicals, and throughout the film she has "musical dream sequences" where she imagines her life is a happy musical. Singer Bjork plays the title role and she's excellent. The film's disturbing and sad; unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for it: I felt manipulated by the writer/director. I wanted some kind of resolution, an explanation, but instead all I got was purposelessness (which can be okay, if done right -- but in this case he's set the audience up to love this character and then he kills her). Definitely worth seeing, but be prepared to be disturbed.


Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Sara Groves at the Top!

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


Monday, November 19, 2001


Movie: Chocolat

This was a neat idea: a mysterious, independent, openly immoral woman moves into a tiny highly-religious French town and opens a chocolate store during Lent, creating havoc in the town's ordered way of life. Are her chocolates really magical? There's a fairy tale sense to the film, similar to Edward Scissorhands. Unfortunately, the film takes itself a little too seriously and it's overly long with not much of consequence happening. It's still a good film, just not a great one.


Monday, November 19, 2001

The Wedding Planner

Movie: The Wedding Planner

Pleasant, if predictable, romantic comedy. Nothing remarkable one way or the other.


Sunday, November 18, 2001


I actually bought my iPod on Nov. 10, the day they went on sale, but I am writing about it now that I've had a chance to really play with it.

If you're not familiar with iPod, you've got to check it out. It's a tiny -- and I do mean tiny... it fits in your shirt pocket -- digital music player. The idea is nothing new, but Apple's implementation is incredible. This is the way a music player is supposed to be designed!

The key feature of iPod is that it uses a new Toshiba 1.8" 5GB hard drive. That allows it to store over 1,000 songs! (Most MP3 players can only store an hour or two of music.) Of course there are other hard drive-based players out there, but they're huge (the size of a portable CD player), only last three hours on battery power, loading your entire music library takes hours, and the interface for browsing through thousands of songs is actually painful.

iPod changes all that. The unique scroll wheel lets you zip through a thousand songs in seconds, with just one hand! The unit's 20 minute "skip protection" memory means it rarely needs to power up the hard drive (just three times an hour) and that means long battery life: try over 10 hours! The final major difference is Apple uses a FireWire connection instead of the more typical USB. FireWire is the standard for digital video and it's fast: you can copy over 5GB of music (over 72 hours worth) in about ten minutes! That same FireWire connector also provides power, so you use it to charge your iPod. You can even use iPod as a portable hard disk: move files between work and home, or give your laptop extra storage!

Apple doesn't stop there: they've incorporated iPod into their MP3 software player, iTunes. iTunes is free: you use it to convert your audio CDs to MP3 format and manage your songs. Plug in iPod and it automatically syncs your iTunes songs and settings with your iPod! Creating playlists is a snap in iTunes, and having them available on your iPod is terrific. iPod lets you browse songs by artist, album, playlist, or all your songs in one long list. It's really transparent and amazingly easy to use. iPod's going to be the hottest item on everyone's Christmas list this year.

Imagine holding a jukebox in the palm of your hand: that's iPod. Mine has nearly 1,200 songs on it, and there's room for a hundred more (I've got a few hundred megs of data on mine as well). I carry it with me everywhere, and it connects to my car stereo with a simple cassette adapter. It sounds great with headphones or plugged into my speaker system. I love having the ability to use my playlists to restrict music to my favorites or a particular genre that fits my current mood. If you love music, you'll love iPod.


Saturday, November 17, 2001

Monsters, Inc.

Movie: Monsters, Inc.

Cool movie! The plot is simple: harmless monsters live Monstropolis and collect the screams of children to power their city. But modern children are becoming jaded and more difficult to scare, so there's a power shortage (since I live in California, the shot of a newspaper heading proclaiming "Rolling Blackouts Scheduled" made me laugh). Then a child accidentally enters Monstropolis, contaminating the city. It's up to two monsters to protect her and return her home.

Not as wild and free as Shrek, and quite not up to the literary standards of A Bug's Life and Toy Story, but excellently done. I love the subtle detail in the humor (such as the "Grossery" store in the background) which gives adults things to smile about. The story itself isn't dramatically different, but it's fun. The animation is nothing short of awesome, almost photo-real in places.


Thursday, November 15, 2001

Michael Card/Sara Groves Concert

The concert was excellent -- almost 3 hours long (I guess that made the $22 entry fee worth it). Michael Card started, then Sara began accompanying him, then she sang "The Word," and after the huge applause, Michael said, "I've been trying to come up with a better way to introduce Sara Groves, but I haven't come up with anything better than that." Then Sara sang several and told some stories (including one or two I hadn't heard). Then Michael came back and did the bulk of the show, and finally Sara came back and they finished together with a few duets.

I really liked Michael Card. I'd never heard him before. I bought a bunch of his CDs and a book he wrote. He has a similar style to Sara. He plays guitar or piano and tells stories like Sara. He reminds me of Keith Green (my favorite Christian artist).

Afterward, I went backstage and saw Sara and she dragged me to the RV to see Kirby (her son). He's huge! Almost a toddler. I told her, "I guess that's what happens when you only see a baby once a year." He kept watching me with these giant blue eyes. Sounds like touring is a real strain and stress, but its also got its joys. They seem to be doing well. They saw my mom at the Visallia (?) concert on Tuesday.

Sara will be back in this area on Sunday, Dec. 9. This one is without Michael Card. I don't know the time or anything, but there's a number for the church on Sara's website. It's in Menlo Park.


Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Missouri Trip

I just returned from a five day journey to my childhood home, Springfield, Missouri. Since I lived there during the key formative years of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, I always say that I "grew up" there. I have happy memories of many days in the woods near my grandfather's house, exploring caves, finding snakes and wild animals, picking blackberries by the bucketful, and doing daredevil bicycle stunts. The place is different now, with homes where there used to be trees I climbed, but it still has an Ozark feel. No matter where I settle down, there will always be a little Ozark in me.

I stayed with and had good long conversations with my Great-Uncle Lloyd and Great-Aunt Nita. When I lived in Springfield, we went to Lloyd and Nita's every Friday night. He's an artist and would let me go to his workshop and draw with his marking pens. (Now, like me, he does virtually everything on computer.) They've lived in Springfield just forever, and I was astonished to realize that Nita has been a member of the Central Assembly church choir since 1947! Now that's dedication!

Speaking of dedication, I got to learn a bit about my family's incredible history. I grew up knowing my grandfather and other relatives were prominent in the Assemblies of God denomination, but I had no idea to what degree. It was fascinating to visit the new A/G Museum and see pictures and artifacts detailing the history of the Assemblies and find out that my ancestors were part of that history (going back to the earliest days of the Protestant movement in the 20th century). It's humbling and makes you feel like you're part of a bigger picture. Since my father was killed when I was a baby, I've always felt a lack of history, like I came from nowhere. I know that doesn't make sense, since I was close with grandparents and relatives on both sides of my family, but it's just the reality I felt -- a little isolated. (Having no siblings contributed to that I'm sure.) Anyway, it was neat to see a glimpse of the lives my ancestors had and see them as real people, not just names on a family tree chart. It also balanced well with seeing some of my second cousins, the new generation who are out to set their mark on the world (and doing a good job of it, judging by the success of singer Sara Groves -- Lloyd found it amusing that he used to be known for himself, then he was "Dwight's Dad," and now he's most famous as "Sara's Grandfather").

Wildlife Museum & Bass Pro
On Saturday we went to the new National Wildlife Museum that just opened in Springfield. It was impressive: several ecologies within a huge building you walk through. There were many living animals and a number of stuffed exhibits (like the giant polar bear). My favorites were the otters, who loved to play.

The Bass Pro shop, apparently the largest in the world, was impressive. Picture three or four Costco warehouses with multiple levels full of outdoor gear, boats, sporting goods, a restaurant, a museum, a barber shop, artist gallery, all intertwined with an indoor waterfall, aquarium, and hundreds of mounted animals and you've got a fair idea of what it's all about. Wow, boy did I have a headache after seeing all that stuff! (Superstores tend to overwhelm me and turn me into a blithering idiot.)

Airport Security
This was my first trip after 9/11, and it was indeed an eventful experience. Most security measures were pretty standard, but there were some differences. For instance, my laptop had to go through the X-Ray machine by itself (separate from the bag), and they also scanned my coat. At San Jose, the guard made me take a swig from my water bottle -- I have no idea why. In Springfield, security was even tighter: they used the metal detector wand on me, and it beeped at a wadded up foil chocolate wrapper in my pocket!

Perhaps they are overdoing things a bit: I saw a sign prohibiting baseball bats as carry-ons, for instance, yet old people carrying canes were allowed those. But it was interesting that I didn't hear a single complaint from any passengers. Everyone cooperated and was in good humor, despite the delays and annoyances of the extra security.

BTW, if you're interested, you can see pictures from my trip using this link.


Sunday, November 4, 2001


Movie: Swordfish

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


Saturday, November 3, 2001


Movie: Loser
Writer(s): Amy Heckerling
Director(s): Amy Heckerling

Surprisingly good, low-key story about an ordinary country joe who goes to college in the big city and is treated poorly yet never loses his inherent goodness. It's mainly a love story, but well done and acted. Nothing too complicated or intellectual, but pleasant and amusing. Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who did the similar Clueless.