Sunday, June 27, 2004

Knife in the Water

Movie: Knife in the Water (1962)
Director(s): Roman Polanski

I saw this a long time ago but only recently got the DVD when it came out. This is Roman's first film and it's a masterpiece. It's very different from Hollywood productions. The story is unbelievable simple and complicated. There are only three actors in the entire production, a woman and two men. The gorgeous young woman is married to a wealthy older guy and they are going sailing for day and night (a quick 24-hour trip). On the way they meet a young hitchhiker and for reasons we aren't clear about initially, bring him along. Later this makes sense when the woman acuses her husband of bring the boy along just so he can show off and that makes a great deal of psychological sense. On the boat, the young man is clueless and repeatedly humiliated by the older man who's an expert sailor, but the young man has heart though he's not too intelligent (he's young). Of course two men and one woman is asking for trouble and that's exactly what we get. There are all sorts of emotions brewing below the surface: the mysterious relationship between the husband and wife; the relationship between the young man and the older one; the relationship between the boy and the woman. Eventually this leads to the violence we are expecting: the boy is killed by the man. Or is he? There's some question about that initially and soon we're wondering if it's the boy who will kill the old man. Or maybe the woman will kill her husband. Or maybe none of that. The entire film is essentially a setup for a dozen possibilities and I won't reveal the actual outcome, but just say that it's brilliant and very non-Hollywood. The final scene is so telling about the relationship of the husband and wife, and the final frame is amazing, and reminds me of the great short story, "The Lady or the Tiger." Modern film-goers will probably want more action in a movie; in this film nothing happens yet everything does. It's all about what could happen rather than what does. It's one of the best psychological thrillers I've ever seen. Fascinating and you could watch the "harmless" discussions over and over they are so filled with depth and drama and an undercurrent of potential horror.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Lunch with Foth

Got to meet with former Bethany College president Dick Foth for lunch today (he was speaking at a camp in Oregon). I hadn't seen him in at least ten years. He's now working with a Christian group in Washington, D.C., where basically his job is to act as a prayer partner for bigwigs in government. He meets regularly with conservative leaders like John Ashcroft, but what impressed me is that his job is supposed to be apolitical, so the people he meets with are of all denominations and political affiliations. I abhor politics so I like that he's there simply to pray with and for people and not to influence political decisions. He commented how one of the people he meets with is a General in the Pentagon who manages a multi-billion dollar budget and is responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. Every day he must make complex and difficult decisions -- and he's modest enough to admit he needs God help in that role. Who of us can say how we'd act in such a position? It's all well and good to agree or disagree with the current administration on the war, but when you're the one actually making decisions that could cost the lives of people (on either side of the battle), that's a massive responsibility. I don't know that I'd really like to be in those shoes. Anyway, I was impressed at what he's doing and he told a number of stories about some major people in D.C. that were fascinating.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Book: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Writer(s): Alexander McCall Smith

This is a fantastic novel. It's a new twist on a familiar genre, the detective novel. In this case the book is set in Botswana and the detective is a woman, both unique and unusual choices. The result is a fascinating blend of African culture, unusual characters, and clever mysteries. This book is more like a series of short stories instead of a long sustained story, but it still works. We learn about the lead character, her past and her family and how she decided to make the unusual decision to open her own detective agency. We follow her as she solves her first few cases (simple but interesting) and eventually as she solves a kidnapping/murder case. We're also involved with her personal life as she develops a connection with a man during her investigations. The book is very low-key, simple, and quite beautiful, just like Botswana. A must-read for all fans of different cultures or mysteries. There are more in the series and I'm buying them all!


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Hackers and Painters

Book: Hackers and Painters
Writer(s): Paul Graham

This is an impressive collection of essays by "hacker" (computer programmer) Paul Graham. Paul writes on all sorts of topics, from censorship to creativity, all from the unusual viewpoint of the hacker. A hacker, in his definition, is a clever programmer, not a criminal as inaccurately portrayed by the media. Hackers are not understood by the average person -- a hacker's world is inside the mysterious computer -- so hearing what a hacker thinks of philosophical topics, politics, technology, and other issues is fascinating. You may not always agree with Paul, but that's not the point. He writes well with clear analogies and logical arguments toward his theses, and the unusual perspective is designed to make you think of things in a way you didn't before. Paul comes up with some unusual ideas as well. For instance, his essay, "What Not To Say," proposes the concept that every society throughout history has had an unspoken list of things people are not supposed to talk about. What's okay in one country is forbidden in another. In one time period it was okay to say something but today we see that as racist and forbidden. Or how about science: a while back you could be jailed for saying the earth revolves around the sun! That all makes sense but the key here is that in every one of those situations, the people at the time -- just like us today -- thought they were 100% correct in their way of thinking. So the question becomes, if someone came back to today from the future, what would they discover that is forbidden to say today but in the future is considered normal? That's an interesting question and one well worth your time pondering. And why is that important? Paul writes that hackers, by definition, are people who think "outside the box" and they cannot do that if they are trained by society to not think certain thoughts. A hacker's brain must be free.

Not everyone will understand or appreciate this book. However, if you're into computers, technology, hacking, or philosophy, I think you'll find it fascinating. It's a surprisingly quick read for a book about such big ideas.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Winged Migration

Movie: Winged Migration

Remarkable film about the migration of birds from the birds' point of view. We actually follow along side of flying birds as they migrate, giving us an incredible, never-before-seen view. The closeups and photography are truly amazing. However, there isn't any sort of plot to the movie and it gets a little repetitive even with different species of birds. Bird lovers probably won't find it boring, but I'm not particularly in love with birds (though this film certainly took me a step in that direction). I found the "making of" documentary on the DVD more interesting than the film itself. Here we learn how 500 people spent four years making the film, actually growing the birds we see from hatchlings so they would grow up used to the sound of ultralight motors and the presence of humans. Very impressive.


Monday, June 21, 2004

Oregon Trip

Off I go to Oregon again! Actually, I'm already there. I left yesterday evening and intended to stop along the way but when I got to Medford about midnight I was wide awake and continued on, eventually driving all the way to Oceanside in one go. I arrived about 6 a.m. this morning. I didn't get sleepy until the final few miles, but that might have been because I took a Dramamine in Salem (the road to Hebo is extremely winding). Anyway, I'll be up here for a couple weeks.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

All I Wanna Do

Movie: All I Wanna Do

Strange title that sounds like a throw-away teeneybopper flick, but turns out to be a compelling film about girls at a prep school in the 1950s. Kirsten Dunst has the best role of seen her in: she's the leader of a rebellious group and has all the clever ways around the school rules, but deep down she's lonely and hurting and by the end of the film she's changed and matured. What's interesting about that is that she's not the main character. No, that's a girl who's sent to the prep school as a punishment and hates everything about it, but eventually, when the school is threatened with merging with a boy's school, she becomes a voice of the students who lead a rebellion protesting the move. Not a complex film, and there are a few stereotypes among the supporting cast, but pleasant, interesting, with witty dialog and excellent story structure. I liked it a great deal.


Friday, June 18, 2004

The Terminal

Movie: The Terminal
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Somewhat disappointing. The plot about a foreigner trapped in JFK International because a coup in his country has caused both his visa and his passport to be revoked, meaning he can't return home and yet can't enter the U.S., is too forced. It's amusing and overall well-done, but too predictable, with too much sentimentality for us to genuinely be moved. Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance, but the material's just not enough. The ending is awkward, and I didn't buy the lead character's absurd motivation to go to New York. It was meant to be heart-tugging but was laughably stupid. It didn't make sense. For such a simple task, why not have someone else go in his place? The whole film is filled with a number of awkward moments like that that just don't quite work. Still, it's not a bad film, just not a great one. With Hanks and Spielberg, one expects a little more. Above average, but not extraordinary.


Friday, June 18, 2004

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Movie: Y Tu Mama Tambien
Director(s): Alfonso Cuaron

I have no idea what the title means; this is the controversial Mexican film from the director of the most recent Harry Potter film. Yes, it has tons of graphical sex -- I guess some people find that interesting. I found the characters idiotic and pointless. The story's about two rich Mexican teens who are bored with life and spend their time getting stoned or having wild sex. They go off on a trip to a secret beach with a beautiful woman who's just learned her husband is having an affair. On the trip the three talk about life, friends, sex, and have sex and fights. In the end they all go separate ways and it's like the trip changed them somehow; they grew up or changed or something. I didn't really care since I didn't really care for the loser characters. They were so full of themselves, bemoaning their lot in life yet ignoring everything given to them. However, I can see why some people found the film intriguing. It certainly is daring and provocative, both with the overt sexual imagery and the radical discussions of the characters. It's an unusual film in several ways. But none of that makes it a great film, especially if I'm not emotionally involved with the lives of the characters. It reminded me of Less Than Zero (a film about rich kids throwing away their lives for drugs). Daring and interesting, but distasteful at times and overall empty of morality or any kind of profound thought.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde

Movie: Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde

Decent sequel, with similar feel and humor to the first film, but the silly plot (about Elle going to Washington D.C. to pass anti-animal testing for cosmetics) is too predictable and the spark of originality the first one had is missing. Okay, fun, but very, very light.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Daddy Day Care

Movie: Daddy Day Care

Silly premise about a layed off executive who can't find a job or cheap day care and so decides to start his own day care center. Modestly funny, with the predictable humor of uncontrollable kids and diaper jokes, but has a decent heart and is ultimately a feel-good movie. Nothing profound or revelatory here, but okay for a few smiles.


Monday, June 14, 2004

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Book: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Writer(s): Patricia Highsmith

Terrific book, really fantastic. I wish I'd read it before I saw the film. After reading the book, I like the film less. The book is far better, though the film stands on its own in a way, but I just liked the book's approach better. It's more believable and the characters better defined, especially Tom Ripley. In the book he's really a psychopath, unemotional and scarcely able to understand what's he doing; that wasn't at all the impression I got in the film, where they did things like weaken the murder scene by making his victim fight back in such a way that we felt some sympathy for Tom. The film is typical Hollywood, afraid to commit, wanting to please everyone. Tom is one of the most unusual characters in literature the film just does not compare to the book.


Saturday, June 12, 2004

MLS: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes

Fantastic game! I knew it was going to be good when, while walking to my seat, I got a free T-shirt. Being in the front row I never get one as the rally team always throws them behind me. But tonight an errant throw meant it hit a slew of outstretched hands and bounced into the open path, right in front of me. I snatched it! When I got to my seat, a whole girl's team (the "Salinas Kiwis") was sitting right behind me and they were delightful, with constant chants, songs, and ear-piercing screams. They knew their soccer, too, understanding what was happening on the field. Great to see such energetic fans and they attracted a lot of attention in the whole area. It made the game so much more fun. In fact, the security guard sitting right in front of me with his back to the field toward the end of the game had gotten so into he said he wanted to take off his yellow jacket and sit next to me and enjoy the game!

The game itself was important, as the Quakes were missing several key players (DeRosario, Onstad, and Donovan) to international call-ups. How would we play? New York was even more depleted, missing seven key players. No way this was going to be another 5-5 shootout! The Quakes dominated from the start, but it took a while to get things going. The ref was throwing out yellow cards right and left, for niggling fouls in some cases, and not even calling fouls for some rough play. It made for an uneven match. The side refs weren't much better, with a number of blown offside calls. Once again, weak officiating in MLS. But the Quakes battled on, dominating play but not able to connect with the final ball in the box. Finally first blood was drawn when a free kick was given at the corner of the box. Captain Jeff Agoos was brilliant: his pin-point placement of the curling shot could not have been stopped by any keeper; it was just a couple inches inside the far post and driven so hard the keeper could only watch it score. In the second half, the Quakes dominated even more, with a number of great chances that were blocked or missed. Then, against the run of play, the ref called a ridiculous foul on Richard Mulrooney. Richard isn't a big guy but he got up and headed the ball away on a clearance but collided with a NY player on the way down. Ref called a foul and gave Murooney a yellow card! Absurd. But worse was to come on the resulting play when New York's shot made it through the Quake wall and was well-blocked by backup keeper Jon Conway. Unfortunately, the rebound hit Goose and bounced up and hit the crossbar. It was just bad luck that it fell right to a Metrostar who easily headed it into the goal. The game was tied. The crowd was not at all happy with the ref, who was booed constantly after that, but the game continued. Again, a number of great chances for the Quakes as they got into dangerous situations in New York's box. There were at least two cases for penalty kicks, a blatant one on Ching and a potential one on Mullan, but the ref gave neither. Finally the Quakes broke through when a long ball over the back line was chested down by Ching (there was some question it might have struck his hand, but it didn't look intentional to me on the replay). Ching was alone in the box with only the keeper to beat. He deked left, foiling the keeper, but the ball got a little away from him and it looked like he was going to lose it as a defender was arriving. But Ching brilliantly pulled the ball back, shielding it from the oncoming defender with his foot, then, falling away from the goal, turned and flipped the ball into the open net! An awesome goal, totally done with heart and determination and not giving up on the play. Sweet! With only a few minutes left the game was iced when the other Brian (Mullan) proved he can be brilliant as well. He dribbled past a couple defenders into New York area and was double-teamed. A slick move split the defenders and he broke between them and onto the ball. However one of the defenders appeared to foul him in the box and Mullan went down. The defender backed away, not wanting to be called for a penalty kick, and with the ball right near Mullan the ref waved play on. Brian saw that and leaped to his feet and began dribbling. He ran along a whole line of white Metrostar defenders before suddenly turning and driving the ball back in the direction he'd come, into the corner of the goal. The NY keeper didn't even move! Brilliant goal, just totally awesome.

With the game now 3-1, the fans went nuts. I don't know who started it, but tonight being seat cushion night, someone in the West stands (where I am) threw their cushion onto the field. Instantly it was joined by a dozen others. Within seconds there were twenty, thirty, fifty, over a hundred seat cushions flying through the air. It was spontaneous and amazing. Both sides of the stadium were throwing their cushions and the field was covered with them! The sky was filled with them! It was incredible, very exciting and wild. Of course you're not supposed to throw things on the field and the game was delayed while the field was cleared, but it was fun. The ref tried to punish San Jose by adding a whopping five minutes of extra time at the end (clearing the cushions took maybe three minutes), but the defense held strong (Jon Conway had an excellent game, strong and confident, making only a few saves but lots of important catches and punches to defuse threatening attacks). The Quakes win! Terrific game, great performance without some key players. Everyone stepped up and worked hard. What a great team. A championship team. Final: 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes.


Friday, June 11, 2004

The Chronicles of Riddick

Movie: The Chronicles of Riddick

Not a bad film, though not as good as the first (Pitch Black). It presents us with an interesting future universe but is weak on details, making everything feel like a simple backdrop for Riddick to shine. In this film he's escalated to some sort of legendary superhero, not a mere murderer and escaped convict; he's expected to save the universe from invasion by evil aliens. Unfortunately the initial setup depends on you understanding what happened in the first film (which I couldn't remember the details of); there are several "profound" references to key past events that were never explained. But I liked many aspects of the film and the obvious showpieces that set up fight scenes didn't bother me. But the action in the fights was often too fast and stylized to make much sense, and after a while, some of the fighting was just boring, since we know Riddick will always win. Overall it's a decent film, fun, with some good action, a great character in Riddick, some unusual science-fiction stuff, but lacking in a good story.


Friday, June 11, 2004

The Stepford Wives

Movie: The Stepford Wives

I've never seen the original so I can't really compare, but I understand that version was more of a horror emphasis, while this one is a comedy. That's a brilliant idea because remaking a film with such a well-known twist ("Oooh, the wives are robots!") would have just been silly. This film is definitely funny and very entertaining, but unfortunately all the fun's before the main character finds out the wives are robots; it all goes downhill once she does. It's like before that the humor is a subtle and interesting in-joke between the film's producers and us, the audience; but once she knows the women are robots, all the fun's gone. The ending is forced, predictable, and doesn't make much logical sense (not that there's much logic in the story anyway). The robots themselves are never really explained -- it was very unclear whether the women were really robots or humans with mind-control chips added. If the latter, the ending made some sense when they were restored to normality. But then why have robots sparking and going into "repeating record" mode? Humans don't spark, even those with a few implants in their head. Logic aside, the film's silly fun.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Pitch Black

Movie: Pitch Black

I wanted to see this again after watching The Chronicles of Riddick since I couldn't remember much about the original. Far superior flick. First, it's self-contained, in a tight plot: a group of misfits are stranded on a strange planet and must work together to survive. Included in that group is the murderer Riddick, an escaped con being returned to prison by a bounty hunter. But it turns out that Riddick is the least of the group's problems. The planet is inhabited by raptor-like creatures that kill incredibly well. The creatures are wounded by light and thus only emerge in the dark -- but the planet's just about to have an eclipse that will darken it for a long period. When everything goes dark, the creatures will eat them. So it's a simple survival story, very well done. Unlike the new film which tries to be several films in one.


Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Malibu's Most Wanted

Movie: Malibu's Most Wanted

Silly semi-parody movie about a white boy who wants to be a rapper and talks "black" -- but when that potentially threatens his father's campaign for governor, his dad hires black actors to pretend to carjack the boy and "scare the black out of him." Amusing premise and the film has a few funny moments, but it's generally too loud, too predictable, and too inconsistent. Mildly fun, but don't go out of your way for it.


Sunday, June 6, 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Movie: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Terrific film, my favorite of the series so far (it's also one of my favorite books in the series). In this one the kids are more grown up, the adventure more serious, the evil more ominous and sublte. And for once the bad guy isn't He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but escaped Azkaban prisoner Sirius Black, out to kill Harry Potter. All the same gang is here, and everyone contributes to the satisfying resolution. The film moves at a good pace, and its darker tone is fitting of a Harry Potter who is less innocent and shows signs of frightening power. The way the dementors are graphically presented is excellent, well-done considering their power is mostly psychological. Excellent all the way around; two thumbs up for the hippogriff special effects: astonishingly believable creature. Great stuff.


Saturday, June 5, 2004

Canada National Team at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: Canada National Team at San Jose Earthquakes

Exhibition matches are often boring. This wasn't, but it wasn't great soccer either. Canada, now led by San Jose's former coach, Frank Yallop, needed this game as they start World Cup qualifiying next week. The Quakes used the opportunity to give some of the lessor players minutes. At first it seemed like Canada could only foul (Canada's number six should have gotten a second yellow in the first half), but there were some small chances on both sides. Then Canada scored on a bad play by Quakes' backup keep Jon Conway, who blocked a hard but direct shot right to another Canadian who easily put away the rebound. In the second half, more problems. Rookie Ryan Cochrane made a horrible blunder at the back, completely missing the ball and stepping past it, leaving it behind him. Canada pounced, taking the ball in on goal in a two-on-one breakaway. The cross deflected off San Jose's Craig Waibel and into our goal to give the Canadians a two-goal lead. Their third goal came when a shot deflected, wrong-footing Conway. San Jose fought back, earning a penalty kick when Alavarez's shot was blocked by a Canadian's hands. Brian Ching finished off the goal nicely. A moment later, just as momentum was building for San Jose, the lights went out! A nearby electrical transformer blew, taking out most of the neighborhood. Fortunately it was still light enough to see and the came continue for a little while, getting an extra boost when San Jose's superstar Landon Donovan was finally put in the match, but just a couple minutes later the ref called it, as it was too dark to continue. So only 75 minutes was played instead of the 90, which was a little harsh on the Quakes and the soft result flatters the Canadians who should have out-played the home team to a greater degree. Still, it was an interesting experience! Final: 3-1 Canada.


Friday, June 4, 2004


Movie: Honey

This was a huge flop in the theatres, so it intrigued me. I'm always curious why films fail. Actually, this wasn't as bad as I expected. Like so many films, it was badly promoted and attracted the wrong audience. First, the title (the name of the main female character) gave a salacious impression that the film doesn't live up to at all. While it sounded all sexy and exotic, the film's a simple, rather familiar story about a poor girl strugging for success. In this case, it's in hip-hop dancing and choreography. When Honey gets her big break she neglects her old friends, then discovers who her true friends are and learns a Big Lesson. Yeah, predictable, but still satisfying, like watching a sports film and having the "good" team win in the final seconds. Unfortunately, you really have to be into hip-hop dancing to want to endure all the boring dance sequences (fast forward works well). Not as terrible as you might have thought, this movie's biggest flaw is simply it's lack of originality. This is all stuff we've seen a thousand times before and dressing it up in different clothes doesn't change that.


Thursday, June 3, 2004

Super Size Me

Movie: Super Size Me

Surprisingly witty and entertaining documentary skewering the fast food industry. The director/star goes on a 30-day "McDiet" -- where can can eat nothing not found at McDonald's -- and proceeds to go from perfect health to gaining 30 pounds and nearly destroying his liver. What I liked about the film is not only the excellent pacing and presentation, which kept things moving, but the variety of information. It smartly didn't limit itself to just McDonald's or even the fast food industry, but touched on American eating habits in general, exercise, school lunch programs, and more. A terrific film that will make you think about what you eat and our country's priorities. A must-see.


Thursday, June 3, 2004

Beyond Borders

Movie: Beyond Borders

Odd that this Netflix rental would arrive today, right after I watched Super Size Me, a film about how Americans eat too much: the opening half of this film was about starving Africans. Unfortunately, that ironic coincidence proved to about the most interesting thing in the film, which tells the story of a refugee camp doctor and a socialite who tries to help him and their romatic relationship that develops. Unfortunately, nothing about this film is pleasant or complete. Most of the time it's plodding, and when it's not boring, it's self-indulgent bullcrap. It's a muddled mess that's not really a romance nor anything else. It's preachy to the point of silliness, overacted, and even when something does happen, it's predicatable. Stay away, far away.


Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Gone in 60 Seconds

Movie: Gone in 60 Seconds

I wasn't expecting much from this car chase movie; though it has big stars (Cage and Jolie), my main memory of it was that it was in theatres for less than sixty seconds. It turns out it's not such a bad film. It's about car stealing, not racing. The plot's rather lame, about an ex-car thief who's dragged back into the racket by a thug who's going to kill his brother unless he steals 50 cars in three days. Interesting idea, but lamely executed. Why not just get his brother and move away? The thug's also a moron yet is supposed to be scary (he wasn't in the least). And why was the little brother such an idiot? I was hoping he would get whacked just so I wouldn't have to listen to him whine and do stupid stuff. Angelina Jolie's part is so small in this she's hardly a presence (she's also a former car thief gone straight and apparently a former girlfiend of Cage's character). Really the only redeeming thing is Nicholas Cage and the car stuff. Cage is always good, even with weak material, and the car chase and other stuff is nice, though too much of the plot is predictable (especially the begining, middle, and end). But overall it's not unwatchable. There are some nice car chases and some of the car stealing stuff is interesting.