Friday, May 31, 2002

World Cup: France vs. Senegal

Soccer: World Cup: France vs. Senegal

Finally, the World Cup is here! For the next 30 days I'll be in soccer heaven, attempting to watch every minute of all 64 games (while simultaneously working full-time and launching a magazine). This first game tested my loyalties slightly, as I've lived in France and am a big fan of the defending world champions, but then I grew up in Senegal, and while I don't literally have Senegalese blood in me, I certainly feel like I do. So it was great to see Senegal reach their first World Cup and play well against the champions. When Senegal got a shot on goal within the first minute of play, I knew they were a team I liked and this was going to be a great attacking game. Sure enough, Senegal scored first in the first half, and while France had a few good chances, in the end the Senegalese played excellently while the French were mediocre and never took a hold of the game. Final: 1-0 Senegal, a huge upset. Go Lions!


Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Rush Hour II

Movie: Rush Hour II

More of the same Chan-Tucker chaos, with cool action and silly arguments. The plot has something to do with counterfit money printing plates, but it's really irrelevant.


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.


Sunday, May 19, 2002

USA vs Netherlands

Soccer: USA vs Netherlands

Good game. The U.S. didn't win, but the Dutch are a very good team, and the U.S. looked very dangerous the entire game. The two goals they gave up weren't bad goals. One was the result of a bit of bad luck, the other a simple defensive error. While the latter mistake is not good, it's better to have that happen now instead of at the World Cup. The American players need to remember that against world class competition, two seconds lack of concentration will cost you a goal. It's a good lesson. Overall, though, I was pleased with the U.S. play, though of course winning would have been better, but it might have made them overconfident. Final: 2-0 Netherlands.


Friday, May 17, 2002

Steal This Movie

Movie: Steal This Movie

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


Thursday, May 16, 2002

USA vs Jamaica

Soccer: USA vs Jamaica

Good confidence builder for the U.S. Josh Wolff had two, Clint one in just a few minutes on the field (he came on to start the second half and left 15 minutes later with an injured toe), Beasley got one, and Donovan set up three and scored one (though he was only awarded one official assist). Not the strongest opposition, but the U.S. played very well, and I think the U.S. needed a World Cup preparation game like this. Final: 5-0 U.S.


Monday, May 13, 2002

American Pie II

Movie: American Pie II

More of the same raunchy humor and embarassing sexual situations. Funny and silly, with much of the same spirit as the original. Amazingly, the guys still come off with a hint of the appealing innocence they had in the first film, which is an impressive achievement. But overall the film breaks no new ground. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one, and vice versa.


Sunday, May 12, 2002

USA vs Uruguay

Soccer: USA vs Uruguay

Excellent game, the first of three final tune-ups before the World Cup. The U.S. came out storming, putting on a lot of pressure, and man of the match DeMarcus Beasley started things off by getting a corner kick in the fourth minute. Jeff Agoos put in a sharp cross that Tony Sanneh headed in to give the Americans the lead. Later, it was DeMarcus who pulled some incredible stuff at the top of the box to open some space for himself and he put it away beautifully. His first shot was parried by the keeper, but he pounced on the rebound and put it back in. In the second half, disaster. The Uruguayans really put on the pressure but the Americans defended well. They scrambled on more than one occasion, but when it comes to results, pretty doesn't matter. Then substitute Landon Donovan gave a lazy backpass to Earthquake teammate Jeff Agoos in the penalty box. An opponent picked off the ball and suddenly the U.S. was really under the gun. A shot went in but keeper Brad Friedel, who had an outstanding game, blocked it. A second shot followed but Friedel made another incredible save. Unfortunately, the rebound went right back to the Uruguayans and they put the third chance away. Controversy followed not long after as Uruguay scored again to tie, but the offside flag had gone up, nullifying the goal. On the replay it was clear there was no offside, but the goal had already been called back. The U.S. won 2-1, but it was a tough, physical match, with the Uruguayans playing their infamous rough style. Chris Armas left the game with a potentially serious knee injury, and that could really hurt the U.S.'s World Cup chances, but we'll have to wait and see if he'll be okay. Overall a good game, played with passion and World Cup seriousness, with nothing friendly about it.


Saturday, May 11, 2002

New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Good game. San Jose dominated the first half, easily going up 2-0 with gobs of chances that went begging. Without NY keeper Tim Howard and some bad luck, the score easily could have been 5-0. Ariel Graziani scored both goals for San Jose. The first, however, was all Ramior Corrales, who stole the ball from Metro Steve Jolley in the penalty area and passed to an open Ariel who calmly stuck it in the empty net. The second goal was a masterpiece. Ariel started it himself in the San Jose part of the field. After a botched Metrostar corner, Ariel got the ball fifteen yards short of the halfway line and started the counter-attack with a bomb up the left side. Then he booked up the field at a furious rate arriving at the New York penalty area unmarked. A perfect cross came in and Ariel's header beat Howard for the 2-0 lead. Fantastic run and a well-deserved goal. In the second half, the Quakes were on the defense. New York came out charging and really should have scored on a couple occasions. On at least two occasions they got behind the San Jose defense and had point blank chances which they missed. In one, Serna had an open net to shoot at but put the ball wide. In another, a Faria breakway should have given them a goal but again the shot was missed. Extremely poor finishing. Early in the half Joe Cannon apparently tripped a Metro in the box to get a yellow card and give up a penalty kick. However, I watched the replay on TV when I got home and from one angle it was clear there was no contact -- the player was already in the air and going down before Cannon even reached him! Still, the Quakes held on the for the win, and in the end it was deserved. I didn't like all the chances we gave New York, and our defense definitely scrambles more without captain Jeff Agoos, but in the end it's results that count, and it's great to see the team rallying and winning without our World Cup stars. San Jose did have a ton of chances they couldn't finish, including one terrific breakaway by DeRossario. He stole the ball from NY captain Hernandez, tore away toward goal, deked Howard to give himself and open net, and slid the ball forward. The entire stadium went up on its feet with a roar of anticipation of the guaranteed goal, but a sliding Hernandez, desperate to redeem himself for his dreadful giveaway, caught the ball on the endline and put it out for a corner kick. If the Quakes start finishing chances like that, they'll be the terror of the league. Final: 2-1.


Thursday, May 9, 2002

Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within

Movie: Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within

I'd been curious about this movie, as it made great break-throughs in computer animation, but it was horrendously expensive and flopped at the box office. It's easy to see why. I know nothing about the video game the film's based on -- perhaps the movie's plot comes from the game. Regardless, it was a mistake as it's a bizarre and incomprehensible plot. I watched completely bewildered for the first hour. Eventually, things made some sense, but without knowing where the film was going, it was an uncomfortable time. The Japanese love to fill a plot with "spiritual" overtones, but to Americans it comes across as weird, New Age, Eastern, and preaching. For example, a big part of this film involves the mysticism of "Gaia," which is apparently the "spirit" (soul) of the planet Earth. Perhaps that's a common philosophic theory in Japan, but here it's new, a bit absurd, and since it's never explained, but assumed it's true by the characters in the film, it makes for uncomfortable watching. The other thing I didn't like about the spiritual element of the film was the biased way the screenplay handled any controversy. Apparently some characters disagreed with the spiritual theories, but they were treated with dirision by the screenwriters, with it painfully obvious that all the heroic characters believed in Gaia and as viewers, we're idiots if we don't go along with it. Frankly, that condescending attitude pissed me off. I wanted to like the film, but that tone made that difficult.

As to the plot of the film, it goes like this: years earlier a fragment of an alien planet crashes on earth. On the metor were "phantoms," ghosts of alien creatures. When these phantoms come in contact with humans, they destroy the human's "spirit" (soul) and the human dies. Apparently, these phantoms are invisible without special viewing equipment, so humans seem to randomly collapse and die without a cause, but since we can see the phantoms in the film (as translucent flying snakes and dragons and other monsters), that point is fuzzy and unclear. So the story of the film is about a quest to stop these phantoms who have taken over almost all of earth (except for a few places protected by frorce shields) and destroyed all life they come in contact with. How to stop the phantoms? Well, a scientist has the idea that we need to find the "eight spirits" -- special spirits which apparently have some sort of default immunity to the phantoms, and when combined, will defeat the phantoms. For instance, one spirit turns out to be a tiny green plant growing in the ruins of New York City. Of course, there's no explanation of how these spirits work, how the scientist figured out there are eight of them (!), or what happens when all eight are found -- we're just supposed to assume that all this is correct and root for the good guys as they search for the spirits. As you can see, pretty hokey stuff. No wonder American audiences were turned off.

The animation in this film is spectactular -- the human characters are impressive, with occasions of fantastic detail, especially on the characters with more character, like the old man scientist, versus the smooth-skinned young girl who is the lead. The old man has marks and lines on his face that are incredibly realistic, while the girl looks as artifical as a model. There is one critical mistake regarding the animation, however: for several characters they used big Hollywood stars for the voices. I found it terribly distracting and confusing. For instance, the evil general is voiced by James Woods, a brilliant actor, of course, and this isn't a knock on him, but his animated character is physically completely different from him in real life. The general is a squat, muscle-bound jerk with a mustache and twenty years younger than Woods. It was just weird hearing Woods' voice coming out of this other body. If they couldn't pick more appropriate voices or draw the characters to match the actors portraying them, they should have used unknowns. Disney does an excellent job of picking voices that match characters -- this film did it badly. I also wasn't impressed with the girl who did Aki, the female lead. Sometimes she sounded American, sometimes British, and occasionally Japanese. It was very confusing: I kept changing my mind as to her nationality, and at one time I wondered if they'd replaced her with a different actress!

In retrospect, this isn't that bad of a film. The plot is different, but it does make sense after you've watched the film. Unfortunately, the way the plot is presented, the film's incomprehensible until the end. No doubt it would be better on a second viewing. In some ways, I'd say this film is worth watching just because it is so different, but it's unfortunately so foreign and difficult to get into, I can't really recommend it, especially when there are great films like Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke. Those have similar spiritual overtones and message but are much better written.


Sunday, May 5, 2002

The Fast and the Furious

Movie: The Fast and the Furious

Relatively plottless film about illegal street car racing. This is where ordinary guys supercharge ordinary cars and race them on city streets at night (often outrunning cops in the process). I know nothing about racing and even less about cars, and thus I found parts of the film confusing and/or meaningless. For instance, I don't at all understand the challenge in who can drive a straight quarter mile faster. With a curved track, I can see some driver skill involved (the risk/reward of how tight you take the turn), but on a straight track, a monkey could be driving for all I can tell. It's all about the car. (I understood a little more after going through some of the extras on the DVD.) Still, this was an interesting film with some decent action. The "plot" deals with a young hot rodder trying to fit in with the top group of racers, who turns out to be an undercover cop looking for a gang of thieves. Rather silly plot and amateurishly executed, but that's not why we watch this kind of movie anyway. We watch this for the action, style, and colorful visuals. And it's fun in that respect -- just don't take the film seriously.


Saturday, May 4, 2002

Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Amazing game! This is the first of two home games in a row, and the first game after captain Jeff Agoos and Landon Donovan were called up to the national team for World Cup preparation. How would the remaining Quakes perform? They started out well, with several near-goals in the first few minutes, including a great shot by Ariel that hit the post and bounced out. San Jose donominated for a while, then let Columbus have the ball for a while, and suddenly got bitten on a counter-attack. A great through-ball by Maisonneuve found rookie Kyle Martino who out-ran the backs to put in a cross which Washington managed to get into the goal. Sad, but it was an excellent goal. I thought San Jose might fight back, but the goal seemed to rattle them, and Columbus pushed their advantage, coming up with a couple near chances of their own. The Quakes were almost back in it when Dayak's point-blank header, of a great Barrett free kick, was somehow parried over the bar by Crew keeper Presthus (doing his own Spiderman move). Moments later, during another Crew attack, Ibsen took out Maise to give Columbus a penalty kick. Cunningham easily put it away. With a depressing 2-0 lead and only minutes left in the first half, it looked like the Quakes were doomed. But just seconds later, Wade Barrett, at the other end, put in a long cross that was blocked. He instantly followed it up with a hard right-footed shot... that went through the entire box and into the far corner of the goal! Just his second goal in two years, but wow! What a time to score. The Quakes go into the locker room only one down and feeling the momentum. They didn't lose that momentum, either, coming out and equalizing just minutes into the second half. Ekelund, who really needed a big game in the absence of Landon, fought hard after a no-win ball in the midfield... and won it. He ran down the right side and put in a cross. It traveled over the penalty box and out the other side, with no one getting to it. However, the ball was still in play, and retrieved by a Quake player who sent it back to Wade Barrett. He put in a great cross which Derosario headed back into the goal mouth, where Ekelund was waiting, and he cleanly stuck it in the back of the net giving Presthus no chance. After that, the game settled down to a nice battle, though it was obvious that the Crew would be happy with a tie and that the heat was a factor (the kickoff was 1 p.m. on a hot day). As the game neared the end, it looked like overtime was a certainty. With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, the ball came to an open Ramiro Corrales at the top of the box. He put in an extremely weak and off-target grounder with his right foot that went to Manny Lagos' feet. Manny scrambled it back to Ramiro. He tried again, this time with his left foot, and pegged the ball into the upper corner of the goal for the game winner! Fantastic win! This was just huge. Not only coming back from two down, something San Jose doesn't do particularly well, but playing without two key players. Gutsy play on a sweltering day. Final: 3-2 Quakes.


Friday, May 3, 2002


Movie: Spiderman
Director(s): Sam Raimi

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


Wednesday, May 1, 2002

The Animal

Movie: The Animal



Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Scary Movie II

Movie: Scary Movie II

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