Saturday, May 31, 2003

MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

Well, the Quakes were unbeaten going into this game, but I had a nervous feeling. Our leading scorer, Brian Ching, was injured mid-week and out, as well as Richard Mulrooney and several other starters. Most of the replacements inserted into the lineup were playing for the first time all season as they were either rookies or coming off an injury. Even worse, by half time two of those were injured and had to be replaced! By the end of the game we had only one sub left! The new line-up definitely struggled, but didn't play as badly as the final score indicated. Offensively the Quakes created a number of chances and put pressure on the Fire, but defensively there were serious lapses that in the end cost us the game. In the first half the Fire scored first, but when the Quakes scored the goal didn't count because the linesman claimed the ball had crossed the end-line before being played back in. It was a tight call and extremely questionable, especially since Manny put in the goal so sweetly. In the second half things immediately went downhill as a defensive mistake gave the Fire the ball in the area and allowed them to score. Just when I was beginning to wonder if anything would go right, the Quakes Chris Roner scored off a corner kick. Suddenly the momentum was there. Manny Lagos was really putting on the pressure when he was hip-checked in the box and flattened. Astonishingly, the ref didn't call the penalty. He didn't even award a free kick or anything! The TV replays showed it was a clear foul, but the ref was just blind (or being paid by Chicago). That was frustrating because it would have tied the game. Things got even worse minutes later when the Fire scored a third goal. Yet the replay of that goal clearly showed the Fire player who received the ball was several yards offside. But the same linesman who'd cancelled the Quakes' goal in the first half for being an inch out of play now didn't call a player yards offside! Ridiculous. After that the game was pretty much over, and though DaMarcus Beasley did add another in injury time to really warp the score, it didn't make much difference. It was an extremely frustrating day. The Quakes played better than they should have considering half the team hadn't played all season, and without the refs mucking up the calls, the game could have finished 3-3 or even better -- who knows what would have happened if the Quakes had been able to tie the game. But instead it finished 4-1, an unfair score if I ever saw one. MLS really needs to do something about the refs. I just don't understand how they can get away with such blatant manipulation of results. I understand close calls, but these weren't close at all -- there needs to be some sort of accountability system for these refs that change the results like that. Oh well. We'll have to see how the Quakes fair over the next few weeks. They've got three road games, and Landon Donovan will be gone for the Confederations Cup in France. It's going to be a real battle. Final: 4-1 Chicago.


Friday, May 30, 2003

The Italian Job

Movie: The Italian Job

Mild little robbery caper with a twist: this time the thieves are attempting to rob a thief, their former partner who betrayed them and killed one of them. One of the robbers is the murdered man's daughter, so we root for these guys to be successful. Overall there's nothing too surprising here, but the performances are good, there's humor, and the complex robbery schemes are interesting. Good fun.


Friday, May 30, 2003

Finding Nemo

Movie: Finding Nemo

I sure wish the people at Pixar would give screenwriting lessons to Hollywood. Why can't most films be as excellent as everything Pixar does? This movie is awesome. I wasn't really convinced Pixar could do it again, but they did. They created a wonderful character-based story. I'd heard that it was about a fish looking for his lost son, but that doesn't tell the whole story. What makes the story work is this: the father's overprotective of his only son, Nemo, and thus won't let him live life, and that creates conflict as the son gets older. When Nemo is captured by a human and put into a fish tank, it's up to the dad to find and rescue his son. The journey has many adventures (for each of them), and through the process both learn to compromise. Nemo grows up, realizing that he's not invincible, and the dad realizes he must let Nemo go in order to keep him. Great moral, great story, and terrific humor. The fish animation is wonderful, but the above water stuff is truly spectacular -- the Syndey, Australia bay looks like a photograph. Pixar just packs in so much stuff there's never a dull moment: it's just wonderful. It has a different feel from the Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc., which is great. Highly recommended. Brilliant writing. A must see for all ages.


Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A Mighty Wind

Movie: A Mighty Wind

Another mockumentary from the folks who brought us Spinal Tap and Best in Show. This is another success, this time about folk music from the 1950's. It's hilarious. The "plot" is about a modern day reunion show of several folk groups, but we get to see plenty of grainy black-and-white video clips and photographs of the original performances. Great stuff. There are two problems with this movie. One, these mockumentaries are done with such conviction, it's hard to tell when they are being funny. The humor is occasionally of the outrageous "ha ha" variety, but much of the time it's more subtle, making you unsure if you heard right or if you're supposed to laugh. A perfect example is the scene were the goody-goody wife of the New Mainstreet Singers is telling about her past and how she started out in San Francisco doing some "short films," and as she continues we gradually realize she's saying she was a porn star! Hilarious. Another problem with this movie is that the folk songs are too good. They are too real. Maybe they are real, I don't know, but they're actually quite good songs, and that takes some of the sting out of the parody. It's like when someone tries to do a sketch about singing badly and then sings well: it kills the humor. Not a terrible flaw, but it's more difficult to see the funniness in the songs. Overall, a great film, though. Lots of fun.


Monday, May 26, 2003

U.S. Men's National Team vs. Wales

Soccer: U.S. Men's National Team vs. Wales

While not the full, senior USA team, and competing in a "friendly" (read: exposition) match against a tiny country, this was still an interesting match-up and a rare opportunity to see the national team in action in person. Wales didn't bring their full squad either, but though the U.S. team was mostly made up of MLS players from the Earthquakes (5) and D.C. United (5) who didn't play on the weekend, it still wasn't much of a contest. The U.S. dominated play, and Wales really only had one clear chance on goal (U.S. keeper Nick Rimando blocked the shot). That unbalance was extended when Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick near the end of the first half after Jovan Kirovski was knocked down in the box. The Wales player who did that was already on a yellow and could have been sent off, but wasn't. Unfortunately he didn't learn from that lesson and when the second half started, he promptly used his hand to stop a ball from going past him, and the ref presented him with his second yellow, sending him off. After that the game was really all USA. Landon Donovan had several great chances, including one were he took the ball in his own half of the field and ran with it all the way into the penalty area on the other side, only to have his shot stopped by the Wales goalkeeper. That same keeper, however, made a terrible blunder and allowed a soft shot from former Earthquake Eddie Lewis (now playing in England) to slip under him and into the goal. Earlier Lewis had crossed instead of shooting, and the ball had been harmlessly headed away. This time he chose to shoot even though the angle was terrible, and the grounder somehow made it past the keeper. I wish more players would do that: a shot on goal, even if the keeper stops it easily, is still better than no shot at all or a wild shot that misses the goal completely. At least if it's on goal it tests the keeper who might give up a rebound or allow it through. In the end, there were only those two goals (there could have been many more if all the chances had been converted), but it was an entertaining match and it gave some players who haven't had much of a chance in the national team a way to show coach Bruce Arena what they can do. Final: 2-0 USA.


Friday, May 23, 2003

Bruce Almighty

Movie: Bruce Almighty

This is a terrific, fun, light-hearted comedy with a serious message at heart. It's like a Happy Gilmore without the crudeness. The plot is a great fantasy: a down-on-his-luck TV reporter played appealingly by Jim Carrey curses God and so God gives him all His powers and takes a vacation. At first Carrey just has fun with his new abilities, taking revenge on co-workers and the gangsters that beat him up, but he eventually learns what a deep responsibility being God is, and eventually gives the powers back and is happy with his "ordinary" life. The film has a great message, and despite being a mainstream film about God, manages to not insult anyone and actually be theologically sound (similar to the George Burns classic, Oh God!). (Morgan Freeman is a great God in this movie, by the way.) At the same time, the movie doesn't get so bogged down by seriousness it ruins the humor or pacing. It's a perfect blend of comedy and drama, childhood and adulthood. Two thumbs up!


Friday, May 23, 2003

Maid in Manhattan

Movie: Maid in Manhattan

Simple little Cinderella remake about a maid in a fancy New York hotel who's mistaken for a guest by a wealthy senatorial candidate. A romance blossoms, but when the secret's revealed, will the fantasy end? Yeah right. Completely predictable, but still done with charm. At least with this kind of movie you know exactly what you're getting.


Saturday, May 17, 2003

MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

All I can say is Game of the Season! At least so far. Wow, what a game! It's a bummer there wasn't a bigger crowd and the game wasn't on national TV. This was a clash between the best team in the East (not counting New York's leapfrog over Columbus with their win earlier in the day) versus the only unbeaten team in the league (Chicago were unbeaten until they lost in New England today). Columbus and San Jose games have developed into a powerful rivalry -- we knocked them out of the playoffs two seasons ago (the year we won the championship) and they knocked us out last year. Last year we won against them at home but lost in Columbus. What would this season be like? How would San Jose, as the league's best defense, having given up only two goals the entire season, fair against the Crew's terrific offense?

The game started off with terrific pressure by San Jose. Several early chances didn't go in, but 30 minutes in Brian Mullen puts in a sweet one-time shot that beats the keeper. It looked like a dream start, especially when the Quakes had several chances to increase the lead. Then the ref decided to get involved. I missed what happened live at the game -- I was watching the ball as it did not go into the Quakes' goal -- but suddenly the ref was calling a penalty kick. On the replay which I watched at home, the call looked weak to say the least. The Crew's Jeff Cunningham went down, supposedly on a push from Weibel. Whatever. The call was made and Brian McBride converted easily, tying the score. In the second half, it was all Quakes. Sort of. Minutes in on a terrific feed from Donovan right up the middle, Brian Ching is in alone on goal. He slides it under the keeper and it's 2-1 Quakes. But the celebrations don't last long, and Columbus looks dangerous. The Quakes give away balls in the mid-field and every time the Crew nearly scores. Cunningham gets loose in the box and scores on a great header to equalize. So much for San Jose's vaunted defense -- we've just doubled our goals against in one game! But the game wasn't over. A free kick 30 yards out is given to the Quakes, and left-footed captain Jeff Agoos steps up. He bends it around the wall and into the top corner of the goal! Amazing! Bend it like Goose! But can the Quakes hold on to the lead? My heart was in my throat. But of course I knew we had an ace: Landon Donovan hadn't scored yet. It was his turn, right? Sure enough, with three minutes in the game Donovan breaks away down the left side. He cuts inside -- the angle's tight, and there's a defender and a goalkeeper to beat. No problem. He jigs, takes a step, fires, and scores. It's 4-2! The Quakes have another win! I joked to Dave, "Do you think the Quakes can hold on to a two goal lead with two minutes left?" Bad joke. In injury time, Columbus scores. It was another bit of poor defending, a man unmarked in the box, and bingo, it's 4-3. Wild! Would the game ever end? Yes, it finally did, and the Quakes remain the only undefeated team in the league! They also jump to 14 points in the standings, above all other teams (New York is second with 13). Best of all, with L.A.'s draw, the Quakes are now 10 points ahead of the hated Galaxy. Incredible! They're playing awesome, scoring goals (not counting last week's tough zero-zero draw with Chicago), and working well as a team. When we get our injured starters back, we could really be on fire. This could be another championship season. I sure hope so -- the guys deserve it. Final: 4-3 San Jose Earthquakes!


Friday, May 16, 2003


Movie: Secretary

Wow, what an amazing film! This was a "controversial" movie since it deals with nonstandard sexualty. I'd heard good things about it (it won an award at Sundance) and was curious, but suspected it couldn't be as good as I'd heard. To my surprise and delight, it's better!

The story is about a troubled girl who has a history of "cutting" -- she cuts herself with knives, razors, whatever she can find. After being released from an institution, she goes to typing school and then seeks out a secretarial job. The fragile girl winds up working for a strange lawyer (an excellent James Spader) who alternately builds her up and tears her down. Eventually their relationship develops into a full-blown dominant-submissive relationship, where he spanks her for typing errors and she makes errors on purpose to get him to punish her.

So far, nothing too controversial. The girl likes to be punished, but of course that's because she's mental case, right? Here's where the film takes a different approach and upsets feminists and others who can't handle reality. In this story, the girl's healthier in the "abnormal" relationship. She goes from a fragile wallflower who cuts herself for fun to a brave, bold, assertive woman who knows what she wants and demands she get it. That's the controversy. There'd be no controversy if her passions were depicted as irrational.

What impressed me about this film is that it doesn't take advantage of the salacious nature of the subject matter. Most Hollywood films that deal with unusual sexuality do it primarily to exploit the topic for the purpose of higher viewership. I can envision this film being made into a vulgar, blatant sex-flick, full of scenes designed to shock and titillate. Instead, we're treated to an intelligent, unglorified presentation of a reality that most of us don't know about. The characters are real, the situations intense, the events thought-provoking. The photography and direction is spectacular, dramatizing seemingly ordinary situations to make them extraordinary. The camera hides more than it reveals, forcing us to use our mind to understand what's going on.This film reminded me a great deal about my favorite film, Harold and Maude . That movie's a black comedy about the sexual relationship between a twenty-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman. That relationship is completely consensual as well, and that's part of the controversy. In fact, there's a terrific homage to Harold and Maude toward the end of Secretary when a series of people try to persuade the girl to change her mind -- just like in Harold and Maude when the psychiatrist, priest, and others try to convince Harold he can't seriously love Maude.

Those who think Secretary is about violence toward women or something silly like that have missed the point. The film's a fantasy: in the end the two live happily ever after with their strange kink. There's a great scene where Spader tells the girl, "We can't just go on like this 24-7!" and she responds, "Why not?" It is her fantasy to have someone to dominate and "control" her (in reality, of course, she's the one in control by her willingness to allow the man to dominate her). It is the man's dark fantasy to have a sexual partner he can dominate and punish. His power is all an illusion, of course: she's the one running the show. But it's that illusion -- for both of them (his of power, hers of submission) -- that inspires their mutual passions. There is no genuine violence here; it's all an act. The girl understands that at a subconscious level as revealed when at one point, after Spader tries to fire her, she panics and cries "Time out!" She's realized that their relationship is a form of role-playing, and when he's doing something out of character -- firing her -- she's desperate to get back to the comfortable pretend world.

What makes the movie really good and takes it beyond a mere S&M show-and-tell, is that both the man and the woman's characters are fully-developed. Spader's character struggles with his dark desires. He hates and resents them, but he cannot control them. In one scene he writes a letter apologizing for his "disgusting" behavior. I found this deeply ironic: the man loves to degrade the woman, and she loves to be degraded; yet because society says their behavior is weird, they must not continue. The climax of the film is the resolution of this conflict, and the film does this in an unusual way as the girl stages a sort of hunger strike until the man gives in. That's rather over-the-top, but oddly, it works, especially if think of this film as a fantasy love story like Amelie.

Speaking of Amelie, America has produced their own Audrey Tautou with Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays the secretary in Secretary). She is the find of the new century. Like Audrey she's got huge eyes that are amazingly expressive, and she uses them frequently in Secretary to tell worlds of stories with just a glance. (Half the film is her and Spader exchanging power-draining looks.) The final few seconds of the film, where she turns to look straight at the camera, is some of the best acting I've ever seen. Her expression barely changes and yet a dozen emotions flitter across her face, including her arguing with all the critics of her decision (both as the character and as an actress in taking on this role). I rewound that a dozen times, just mesmerized. Amazing.

Throughout the movie Maggie is perfect in every scene. Have you ever seen one of those lame Hollywood movies where they try to take a beautiful actress and make her pretend to be unattractive so they can later have her get a makeover and reveal how pretty is? Pathetic, isn't it. We're never fooled: even ugly the girl's gorgeous. Well, Maggie does it for real here, not with makeup and a bad 'doo, but with acting brilliance. Her transformation is astonishing. She begins the film fragile and vulnerable, shy and naive. She doesn't feel attractive or wanted, and reality frightens her. By the end she's in complete control of herself and the world around her. She knows how to manipulate. She's discovered her sexuality and realizes she's beautiful. I loved that the filmmakers didn't try the cheap trick of changing her makeup or clothes as the film progressed to "symbolize" her transformation. No, she wears the same unattractive outfits at the end as at the beginning, but she looks completely different. It's all in how she carries herself.

Secretary is a challenging film. It's not for everyone. It reminds me of a European film in many ways (similar to the difficult-to-watch Irreversible). It's a bit too polished for that, however, and the happy ending candy-coats reality too much. But it's interesting; that's more than I can say about most American movies. It's well worth seeing if you can handle your reality a little twisted.


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I Don't Know Jack

Movie: I Don't Know Jack

This is a documentary about the life of actor Jack Nance, star of the cult hit Eraserhead. Nance had tremendous talent, but was an alcoholic for much of his life, which tragically limited his potential. Then just when he was sober and getting well his wife committed suicide. His life ended as mysteriously as he lived it, when he died after being beaten up in a donut shop. Police have never solved the case. The film features interviews with Jack's brothers, his friends and colleagues, and his first wife, and the stories about Nance are terrific. Unfortunately there still seems to be something missing: perhaps there are not enough clips of his acting, or enough of Jack himself in the film, because we don't really get much insight into who Jack was. The documentary's a terrific idea, and we do learn a lot, but Jack was such a unique personality I'd have loved to learn more about him.


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Matrix Reloaded

Movie: Matrix Reloaded

I can scarcely believe it myself: not only did I like this movie, I liked it better than the original. This time the action is so over-the-top it's almost into parody, yet the seriousness of the situation (Zion is in peril) keeps things on a level keel. The video game music during the key action sequences (very Tekken-like) personifies the film which feels like an elaborate video game. Those action sequences are like video clips in games -- the cool payoff to slower expositional scenes, which are like game puzzles you must solve before you can advance. The story is complex and overlong and unresolved (the film ends with "To be concluded"), but it does pay out new details about the Matrix, the machines that run it, and the human world of Zion. The biggest revelation -- major spoiler alert! -- is that the Oracle and all her prophecies were fake, controlled by the machines in order to manipulate Neo in doing exactly what they wanted. I liked that. However, there are still many questions, and the film continues to toy with its own rules to reality. For instance, it's implied that a software agent (Smith) somehow transfers himself to reality (out of the Matrix) and controls a traitorous human. That makes no sense at all. Still, this isn't a thinking person's film, despite the fancy pseudo-philosophical dialogue. It's an action flick. It's well done, with several impressive climaxes that drew gasps from the audience. The fights are often too long and repetitive, but generally do build appropriately. Overall, a good fun ride. The bummer is that we have to wait until November for Matrix Revolutions.


Monday, May 12, 2003


Movie: Swimfan

What's bad about this film isn't that it's badly done -- it's that there's nothing the least bit remarkable about it. The plot's a high school version of Fatal Attraction, with a psycho girl plotting against the guy she had a fling with. You've seen it before, better.


Saturday, May 10, 2003

About a Boy

Movie: About a Boy
Writer(s): Nick Hornsby (book)

I was astonished at how much I liked this film. I'd never even heard of it until it showed up on DVD, so figured it probably wasn't good. It's great! It's based on a book by Nick Hornsby, the British author who wrote the excellent Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. It's about a 30-something guy who doesn't want to be tied down by a family, but finds his life upturned by a precocious 12-year-old boy. It's wonderfully sensitive -- the boy's mother suffers from depression and tried to kill herself -- yet terrifically funny. Hugh Grant as the lead is perfect, slightly goofy yet cool, hopeless yet appealing. He and the boy fit together perfectly. Great film.


Saturday, May 10, 2003

The Matrix

Movie: The Matrix

In preparation for the sequel coming out, I decided to watch the original film again. As you may remember, I hated the original -- the depth of my hatred was proportional to the amount that most people loved it. While I still agree with my original assessment, I did like it much better on second viewing. For one, I knew I should ignore the silly spirituality hocus-pocus and just enjoy the movie as an action film. In that regard, it's really pretty good. Note that my perspective is tattered a little because I saw it first on DVD and by that time I'd seen the "unique" special effects mimicked in TV commercials and other films, so they didn't have the "wow" factor they must have for original movie-goers. I still think the film has too many logic flaws to make any sense at all (why in heck is a software agent harmed by virtual bullets???) -- but then I'm a computer programmers so I probably think of this stuff at a lower level than most people, who just enjoy the action. The arbitrariness of what's "real" and what's not real makes me feel I'm just being manipulated by the authors, who can change whatever rules they want in control of their plot (whereas good writers allow the plot to come to them and don't force scenarios). But if I ignore that and the meaningless "The One" psychobabble, I can enjoy this movie on a pure entertainment level. I am looking forward to the sequels, though I'm purposely keeping my expectations low. That way I won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Full Frontal

Movie: Full Frontal
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh

Supposedly this is Steven's "karmic" follow-up to his first, Sex, Lies, and Videotape. It's also famous for being shot digitally (and done for a mere $2 million). It's pretty good. The "plot" is difficult to describe -- it's a collection of relationships that eventually overlap at the birthday party of a movie producer. There's also a movie within a movie, a trick I always like. Soderbergh claims one of his goals was to use that and the digital video footage to explore why one method of filming seems more "real" than another (in this case they are equally fake), however that didn't come across as well on DVD since the film and digital video sequences look too much alike (I'm sure on a big screen the digital video would appear grainer). But I didn't really care about that aspect anyway. What interested me were the characters and situations, which were intriguing. It's definitely a low-key film, a "talky" without a lot of action, but it's worth seeing if you liked films like Slacker or Soderbergh's debut.


Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The Legend of Bagger Vance

Movie: The Legend of Bagger Vance
Director(s): Robert Redford

This is the story of an early twentieth Century golf match between an unknown local kid and legendary golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. The kid (Matt Damon) is caddied by a black guy named Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who helps him overcome his fears after a bad experience in the war. The whole thing is rather pedestrian and predictable. I didn't buy Damon's psychic war wounds, and Smith talked like a Chinese riddle saying ordinary things that are supposedly profound similar to "wherever you go, there you are." I guess the faux-mystic stuff was supposed to be believable and moving -- on the DVD extras Redford seemed to buy into it -- but I thought it was corny and predictable. Visually the film's period look was interesting and I liked the way Redford showed certain special golf effects to go along with the mystic theme, but in most cases the golf itself was extremely lame: all we got to see was the players swinging followed by a close-up of the ball landing next to the cup (that's as bad as a sitcom's presentation of golf). The film was also way too long. But I loved the narrator, Jack Lemmon, who was a modern-day old geezer telling about the tournament he witnessed as a child. Not a terrible film, but a little boring, too predictable, mystically corny, and doesn't hold up over its length.


Monday, May 5, 2003

The Hacker and the Ants

Book: The Hacker and the Ants (2003)
Writer(s): Rudy Rucker

I picked this book up after noticing it was written by a local author (Rucker teaches at San Jose State University). My first impression while reading this book was that it was obviously his first as it's so poorly written. Sometimes the story moves from one scene to the next at a bewildering rate, and at other times we're treated to pages of exposition and computer science lectures. I found wading through it tedious at best. What makes it worse is that the plot leaves us in a state of incomprehension until the end of the book when all is revealed. I found these aspects so frustrating I almost didn't bother finishing the book. When I did a little research into Rucker, I discovered (to my shock) that he's been writing books since the 1970s! He's written over twenty books and has actually won writing awards. Maybe I was misjudging him? I went back to the book and ploughed through to the end. The bottom line is that the plot is worth the read, and from a technical perspective, this virtual reality tale is rather ingenious. While I haven't read other Rucker novels (I might check out one or two), I will concede that perhaps this isn't badly written as I'd first assumed, it's just Rucker's style. Whatever it is, I didn't like it. The fast-slow, start-stop aspect of the story drove me nuts. For instance, while many tiny things happen in the first 100 pages, it isn't until page 120 that the main plot point happens: the virtual ants of the title are released onto the digital TV network and cause a massive shutdown and lead to the arrest of the main character. When I got to that point I wanted to continue reading to find out if and how he cleared himself of the charges -- but the first 100 pages are just babbling with only a couple scenes crucial to the main plot. I also felt the characters were extremely one dimensional (I guess that's a pun since the novel deals with virtual reality). While Rucker gives us plenty of detail about the main character's history, he still feels like a cardboard man. For instance, we know he's going through a divorce, but we don't know why. Throughout the novel Rucker throws in stuff to make the character well-rounded, but it feels forced. For example, there are a number of sexual encounters which feel extremely out-of-place (like the hacker sleeping with a woman he met hours earlier -- yeah, like that happens to geeks in Silicon Valley). I figured he just put that in so we'd know the guy's a man.

From a technical perspective Rucker definitely knows his stuff and does a better job explaining futuristic technology than most authors (though his theoretical plot is a little unrealistic), but the bizarre and inconsistent pacing of the book ruined it for me. In the end I liked the plot and resolution, but getting there was not fun (nothing makes sense until the end). I can see why cybergeeks would like this, but most probably haven't read much real literature and think this is pretty good. I'd give it an average for overall quality, above average for technical details, and a below average for characterization and pacing.


Friday, May 2, 2003

X2: X-Men United

Movie: X2: X-Men United

A decent sequel, though not as innovative as the first. This time we know the characters so we don't need time to be introduced to their powers, etc., which should make the film stronger, but it doesn't. It feels like there's less action. I also didn't like that the film resurrects the same villains as the first film. Sure, this time the mutants are "united" against another enemy, but it would have been much more interesting to see some cool new mutants. The film's climax was anti-climactic, and a bit of a downer (one of the main X-Men dies) in a way that seemed completely pointless to me (just while watching it I thought of four or five alternate escape methods and the film never did explain why that person couldn't escape with the others). The ending did leave a lot of openings for a sequel, which, while I'd like to see it, weakens this movie by making it feel unfinished. The story, while it gave every character a brief moment to shine, didn't focus enough on any of them (though again Wolverine appears to be the star). I was disappointed in the screen time for Patrick Stewart (Professor X) who's barely in this. Also, the movie feels long at over two hours. And there weren't enough new mutants.

All that negative stuff aside, however, the film's still interesting, and I enjoyed all the different characters. There were some neat scenes and cool special effects. The Wolverine-Kitty fight was excellent, but the film really needed two or three more of those. Not bad, but I liked the first one better.


Thursday, May 1, 2003

Better Luck Tomorrow

Movie: Better Luck Tomorrow

Unusual film from an Asian-American perspective. The main characters are high school seniors, overachievers working hard to get 4.0's and master extra-curricular activities in order to get into Ivy League colleges. In the process four Asian boys form a club to pull scams, sell cheat-sheets, and eventually get into drug dealing and murder. The plot's thin -- there isn't as much of a story here as a sequence of events -- but what holds it together is the terrific performance and character of the lead, Ben (Perry Shen), who comes across as intelligent yet naive, cool yet completely approachable. His love interest, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung) is also excellent, as are the actors who play his crime buddies. But it's Ben's moral confusion which fascinates, as he waffles between wanting to be cool and rich, wanting to earn his way on his own merits, and yet tempted by crime that is so easy. The conclusion does not end the way I might have guessed: in fact, it's left unresolved in some ways, which is an interesting choice. Overall this is a stylish, thoughtful film, reminiscent of teen classics like Pump Up the Volume (except without the big budget and spectacle). This has elements of the small town creepiness of Blue Velvet (see opening scene of each), along with many drug cartel movies you've seen. But in the end this is unique. One of the things I really liked is that while the Asian-American aspect is important and it enhances the film, it's presented in such a way that it doesn't alienate -- in fact, these guys are so American it's a clear demonstration of what we all have in common. Great flick.


Thursday, May 1, 2003

Revenge: A Story of Hope

Book: Revenge: A Story of Hope
Writer(s): Laura Blumenfeld

I received this audio book as a gift: I doubt I would have gotten it on my own, but it's a fascinating story. It's a true story, something I didn't realize until partway through. It's about an American woman who's father is almost killed while on a trip to Israel. Years later, the daughter, now a journalist, travels to Israel on a quest for revenge. She wants to seek out the man who tried to kill her father. It sounds like an outrageous idea, especially for a woman (and considering her father wasn't permanently injured). Laura questions her quest frequently, and in many places the book resembles a journal of her doubts and fears more than a story about revenge. Ultimately, it's a story about healing as she meets the assassinŐs kind family (they don't know her true identity) and she begins to communicate with him (she discovers he's in prison for his crime). Fascinating, even more so considering it's true, and especially in light with Sept. 11 and the recent freeing of Iraq.