Saturday, August 31, 2002

Clans of the Alphane Moon

Book: Clans of the Alphane Moon
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick

Wild and wacky and insane -- just a terrific book. One of the moons of Alphane used to be a mental hospital, but during the Alphane wars it was forgotten and the inmates took over. Now it's 25 years later and an entire culture of insanity has taken over. The people live groups based on their symptoms: the Deps (depressed), the Pares (paranoids), the Mans (manic depressive), Skitz (catatonic schizophrenic), etc. What's cool is that PKD allows to see bits of reality through the eyes of various insane characters, including their visions, making us wonder (as usual) which reality is real. The actual story is about an Earthman who's being divorced by his psychiatrist wife. She doesn't like his low-paying govt. job as a CIA propagandist and wants him to write for TV instead. By divorcing him and suing him for huge alimony, she forces him to take the TV job just to pay her. Meanwhile, she takes off on a volunteer mission to the Alphane Moon to "rescue" the poor insane people there. The CIA wants to monitor the situation, so they send along a "simulacrum" (a robot that appears human) which is controlled by the ex-husband -- he, in effect, is traveling with his ex-wife! But his motivations aren't pure: he wants to use the simulacrum to kill her. What follows is bizarre: a nightmare of twisted reality, paranoia, confusion, odd coincidence, and nonsense. The plot and characters go every which way (brilliantly) and every time you think you know where the novel's going, it goes the opposite direction. It's unique. But the novel is also socially relevant, and is not always subtle about it. For instance, when the psychiatrist ex-wife analyzes the insane moon society she's horrified by it: but when someone asks her if it really differs that much from Earth, she's hard pressed for an answer. Very cool. From a story perspective it's a strange unpleasant tale (all the characters hate each other), but it's definitely PKD at his most imaginative. It's not one of his famous stories, but it's one of my favorites simply because it's so unconventional. Well worth your time and thought.


Friday, August 30, 2002


Movie: Simone

Interesting premise, competently executed, but ultimately trivial. It's about a movie director who's tired of his film career being sabatoged by prima donna movie stars so he replaces the lead in his upcoming film with a computer simulated actress. The public doesn't notice the deception and falls in the love with the unknown actress, turning her overnight into a celebrity and the film into a hit. Suddenly the director's huge, but his star is bigger, only now he's worried about the backlash so he can't tell anyone she's not real. He does another film with her, then has her do interviews (via satellite, or course, not in person). Finally she gets so big (overshadowing himself) he pulls the plug, only to be arrested for her murder! Fun flick with decent performances, but there's nothing earthshattering here. You won't learn anything you didn't know going in.


Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Road to Perdition

Movie: Road to Perdition (2002)

Wow, I had no idea what I was getting into. I guess I should have read up on this before going to see it. I figured it was a drama, but I didn't know it was a gangster flick, and I didn't know it was an action movie. In some ways that was a good thing, because I'm not crazy about Mob films (I find the American fascination with the Mob incomprehesible). But I did like this movie; very much, in fact. It's the best film I've seen this year. The plot is about a 1930s family headed by Tom Hanks. Tom works as an enforcer for a mobster. That's a role I didn't quite buy for Tom. (The scene at the end, with him and the Tommy gun, didn't work for me: I wanted to laugh at Tom pretending to be tough.) When his son accidently witnesses a hit, the entire family is to be terminated, and Tom only just escapes with his son and they're on the run the rest of the film. It's pretty exciting, with good characterizations and drama, and I really liked the story. The young son is excellent, one of the best performances of the year. He really captures the torment of a young child being forced to grow up overnight. The film touches on the question of morality, making us wonder if Tom Hanks is a good guy or a bad guy, but doesn't really explore that as much as it could. It concludes with the boy saying, "He was my father," something meant to be profound which comes across as avoiding the question, though it does remind us that fathers are only human. Good stuff overall. I loved the plot, the characters, and the way it was directed. The action sequences were very good, very gritty and realistic, though a portion of the Jude Law bad guy character came across as stereotypically evil. The performance of Paul Newman as the mobster was superb. Well worth your time, though I'm not completely convinced this is a classic we'll watch in 50 years.


Wednesday, August 28, 2002

High Crimes

Movie: High Crimes

Decent little military court-martial flick, but with an overdone "Hollywood" plot. Good performances by Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, but the plot's just too much. Judd plays a top San Francisco lawyer who's husband is arrested for military crimes. She discovers he's not who she thought he was: he has a different name and a past he never told her about. But he claims he's innocent so she sets out to prove it, enlisting the help of former drunk Freeman who used to be a top military lawyer. Throughout the rest of the movie she's fighting the dirty tactics done by the evil military cover-up people, plus wavering on whether her husband is innocent or not. Like I said, too much. Still, not a bad film, just not great.


Monday, August 26, 2002


Movie: Signs (2002)
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan

Strange film. It's supposed to be scary, I guess, but the thrills are the silly B-movie type. Basically, aliens arrive on earth but remain in hiding, and we only catch occasional glimpses of them. The film's very slow, almost ponderous, and while the characterization is modestly deep and interesting, the feel needs a lot more. The main character, a former priest, has lost faith in God after his wife's death. The film is ostensibly about how he regains that faith. It's well done, but the whole alien angle is rather ridiculous and cheesy. The motives of the aliens are never explained, they look too much like humans in monster outfits (sort of like Swamp Thing), and with the world media focusing on them, it's absurd to think no one has seen them (not long after the invasion you'd think they'd be the focus of "alien autopsy" shows ;-). Mel Gibson does a decent job as the father, though I still find him a hard sell as a priest, but the real cause of his loss of faith is never really explained, Sure, his wife was killed in a freak accident, but why was that enough to destroy his faith? Was he so weak to begin with or was the love of his wife so strong (stronger than his love of God)? Weak. Overall, I give this film a B-. It's well done and above average, but nothing that memorable. The performances of the kid is very good: Shyamalan is good at casting kids. But this is definitely the weakest of his three films. Could have been improved by being 30 minutes shorter.


Sunday, August 25, 2002

Paris to the Moon

Book: Paris to the Moon
Writer(s): Adam Gopnik

This is a fascinating collection of essays by a writer for the New Yorker who moves to Paris for five years. His essays compare Paris culture with that of New York, France with America, and are funny, touching, and occasionally profound. Even if you're not a fan of French culture or have never been to Paris, there are stories and little discoveries that will entertain you. Adam's a brilliant writer, completely genuine, and his style is witty and engaging and makes Paris come alive.

While I didn't agree with all his observations (his comments on the world's sport of soccer were particularly naive and American), Adam often has some insightful comments on American society.

Personally, I found this book had a major impact on me for a number of unusual reasons. For instance, the fact that the author and his wife just up and decided to move to Paris was fascinating. I've often thought of moving overseas, but figured an opportunity needed to present itself. It never occurred to force an opportunity simply because it was something I desired. Another thing: since I myself grew up overseas (in Africa, France, and Belgium), I related and understood much of the cultural analysis that goes on when living in a foreign land. However, it's been years since I've done much thinking about that, and reading about the confusion of Adam's three-year-old as he's raised in Paris with a mixture of American and French cultures, reminded me of my unique perspective on the world and how valuable that is. I may not be very educated or knowledgeable, but I have had experiences that are uniquely mine, and there's power there. Basically, I'd like to write -- not non-fiction, but fiction -- about similar experiences. There were other aspects of the book that also influenced me heavily, from the talk about French cooking (while I love French food, I, unfortunately, also enjoy American cooking, and I think that's tarnished by taste buds) to Adam's writing style. Excellent book.


Saturday, August 24, 2002

Beautiful Creatures

Movie: Beautiful Creatures

This is an odd, quirky, comic murder caper. Two women, abused by their boyfriends, fall into together when the boyfriend one of is accidently killed in self-defense. Not sure what to do with the body, they end up pretending the missing man was kidnapped in order to extort money from the man's rich older brother. However, the police officer investigating the missing person case sees through their scheme and decides to pretend to go along with the kidnapping in order to get the ransom for himself. Then things get interesting, as everyone gets into betraying everyone else. The film's a bit brutal and extreme in place for a comedy, but it has a pretty cool black sense of humor. Fun if you like that sort of thing. Reminds me of films like Pulp Fiction.


Thursday, August 22, 2002


Movie: Girlfight

Though the title sounds garish, this is a surprisingly serious film about a young hispanic woman who wants to take boxing lessons. It's very well done and interesting, though I wasn't that into the fighting. Overall the plot's simple, culminating the in the girl having to fight her boyfriend in a championship amateur match. Good performances, especially by the lead, Michelle Rodriguez, who was amazing.


Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Dallas Burn at San Jose Earthquakes

The Earthquakes are back! Finally, a decent performance from the good guys in blue. The Quakes totally dominated, with chance after chance after chance, just the way they did earlier in the season. Dallas didn't deserve a goal, but got one anyway on a phantom penalty call. Speaking of that, what's up the refereeing in the league lately? It's really gone downhill. I've been noticing it at a number of home games and thought it was just me being biased for my team, but I've also been seeing it in other games as well. It's like league's gotten better but the refs are stuck back in 1996-quality. In this game the ref was totally inconsistent, giving out yellow cards to San Jose for the tinest thing, but hardly giving any to Dallas, despite their frequent extremely rough tackles. I mean, San Jose got like four cards for protesting while at least a half dozen yellow card fouls by Dallas didn't even get a warning. Crazy! At any rate, despite the ref's best effort to wear a Burn jersey, the blue won anyway. Even the ref couldn't stop the Quakes. Ariel Graziani got things going with a fanastic goal just seven minutes in: he took the ball down the left side, but inside of crossing it as expected, he shot the ball into the goal from an impossible angle. It happened right in front of me -- I was maybe twenty yards from him -- and it was totally unbelievable. One of the best goals I've seen all season. Later, Ariel and Landon Donovan paired up for Landon's easiest goal ever: a tap-in after a feed from Ariel. Late in the first half Dallas was given their invisible penalty kick, but the Quakes came back with more in the second half, playing aggressively and very organized. I saw a few poor passes but there was much more one-touch like they used to do, and in one terrific sequence of attack play Ramiro Corales shot the ball through a crowd of players to score the third for the Earthquakes. Great stuff, and the Quakes qualify for the playoffs with this win. Final: 3-1 San Jose.


Tuesday, August 20, 2002


Movie: XXX

Decent actioner, but not really as James Bondish as promoted. Partly that's because this takes place almost entirely in Prague, where a characteristic of Bond films is they go all over the world. I went in not expecting much from Vin Diesel's performance, but he actually did a decent job. Action-wise, the film's pretty cool, though the endless hard rock music in every action scene gets old after a while. The plot's pretty typical of the genre: a mad anarchist is going to bomb the planet with a bio-chemical weapon in order to destroy all government. A little long, but above average.


Sunday, August 18, 2002

Shallow Hal

Movie: Shallow Hal

The plot's predictable: shallow Hal is a guy obsessed with physically beautiful women until he is hypnotized into seeing the "inner beauty" and falls in love with a fat woman. Of course she doesn't look fat to him -- he sees her as Gwynth Paltrow. I liked that effect. The film was not quite as deep as I hoped, but in other ways deeper than I expected. The only thing I didn't like was that the filmmakers had an automatic "fat = ugly" attitude, which was rather odd considering the theme of the film is that appearance doesn't matter. One touching scene was where Hal meets a little girl burn victim and doesn't recognize her because when he saw her the first time he saw her inner beauty and didn't know she was scarred. Very cool.


Saturday, August 17, 2002

D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

Bizarre game. The Quakes have been struggling lately; I home this game is a sign that they're finally returning to form. Coming in to this game most figured it would be a rout: San Jose hasn't lost to D.C. in three years, and D.C. hasn't one a single road game all season (and only scored three away goals). But astonishingly, some sloppy play right off the bat allowed D.C. a goal in the fifth minute. The Quakes pressured and pressured and finally got a goal back on a penalty kick. In the second half the Quakes finally started to play better than they have in weeks, looking much more like themselves. But more sloppy play in not clearing a ball quickly from the penalty area resulted in another goal by D.C. (very similar to the first goal). With the Quakes down again, they fought back, and minutes later scored on a Ronnie Ekeland free kick (his first two-goal game for the Quakes). What was the coolest about the free kick was the positioning. From where I was sitting in the stands I could see the opening that Ekeland saw and I was thinking to myself "Go right through there!" and sure enough, that's what he did, putting it perfectly through the tiny gap and off the far post. Wonderful! That's the way it ended, preserving the Earthquakes' "no loss at home" record, but ending a long home winning streak. They're now just two points in front of a surging Dallas (whom they play on Wednesday), and the playoff crunch is looming. Still, the Quakes looked better in this game and I'm hopeful. Ariel hasn't scored in a bit, so it's time he gets a couple. Final: 2-2.


Sunday, August 11, 2002


Movie: Rat

Weird Kafaesque film about a guy who turns into a rat. The story's not about him, but his messed up family, who take this somewhat in stride, but proceed to turn on each other in an effort to capitalize financially on this strange occurrence. A reporter moves in with them to write a book about them. Some excellent performances (especially the mom), and a decent story, however I imagine this kind of thing really isn't for all tastes. It's well done and interesting, but not as deep as I might have liked. Why the guy turns into a rat is left to our imaginations, and I liked that.


Saturday, August 10, 2002

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Movie: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

For some reason this movie got dismal reviews and box office, but I liked it. It had a lot of the same spirit and humor of the original cartoon. The plot's ridiculous, but even that was a characteristic of the original. I think perhaps people just expected too much.


Friday, August 9, 2002

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Movie: Austin Powers in Goldmember

Mike Myers is a genius. He's an incredibly gifted actor, and though this series has its coarse moments, every film is hilarious. Absolutely silly, of course, but nevertheless hilarious. This one is the best of them all as Myers really has the gimmick down and knows just what buttons to push. There's a fair amount of retread here (similar humor as the previous film), but he still comes up with new twists on the old humor and even pokes fun at the old movie. This film has tons of cameos, including a great one by director Steven Spielberg! Just great stuff, very fun.


Wednesday, August 7, 2002

U.S. Open Cup: L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: U.S. Open Cup: L.A. Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

I'd expected this to be a good game after a week's rest with the All-Star game and the Quakes doing so good at home, and coach Yallop fielded a first-rate team, which was a good sign, and course, playing our rivals L.A., but the Earthquakes were off their form tonight, not playing well at all: lots of cheap give-aways, poor possession play under pressure, and even defensive mistakes. The Quakes had a few chances (including a couple sure goals turned away by the Galaxy's keeper), but in the end this was looking like a clear nil-nil draw. In sudden death overtime, a simple mistake at the back allowed Ruiz in and he did a clever little move to pop the ball over Jimmy Conrad's head, outran him to the ball, and easily beat our backup keeper for the Golden Goal win. Great, that the third year in a row the Galaxy have knocked the Quakes out of the Open Cup. At least we're still top of the league, but not if we continue to play like this. Final: 1-0 Galaxy in OT.


Monday, August 5, 2002

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

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

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

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