Saturday, September 25, 2004

MLS: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Not much to say about this game. It was a sellout crowd -- over 27,000 -- but the game was a snoozer. The finishing of both teams was terrible, and neither created many chances. There were some physical battles but both teams seemed more worried about giving up a goal than scoring. The result was a scoreless draw. This really hurts the Quakes' chances of making the playoffs. Final: 0-0.


Friday, September 24, 2004

Shaun of the Dead

Movie: Shaun of the Dead

This British film has one of the best premises I've ever heard of: the dead come to life in London and admidst all the regular drunks, losers, and McJobbers, and no one notices! Hilarious. We cut from scenes of our loser hero staggering zombie-like out of bed and to a dead end job to scenes of real zombies lose in the world. While this movie is funny, I really hoped for some witty and piercing social commentary. Unfortunately, the film turns into a real zombie movie. In that respect, it's very good within that genre, but without depth, the film's nothing more than an elaborate gag. But it's an excellent film, funny (not exactly a joke a line, but definitely comedic), intelligent, and cool. There are dozens of awesome scenes and killer moments. The zombie scares are good as well, though the humor takes the edge off the fear factor. The plot is merely survival as a loser tries to get back with his girlfriend by saving her from the zombies, and of course nothing goes as planned. The direction is wonderful, matching the film's humor (somewhat similar to Raising Arizona in that regard), with a high pace, energy-filled shooting. Great stuff, though I would have liked it even more if it was a touch more thoughtful (like the original Dawn of the Dead).


Friday, September 24, 2004

The Forgotten

Movie: The Forgotten

Perhaps this film ought to be forgotten. Okay, it's not that bad; the performances and presentation are sincere and it has some good moments (including a couple jarring shocks), but the entire movie is built around a single mystery that when revealed, isn't at all compelling. (In case you wish to see the film, I'll refrain from revealing the ending.) The premise is intriguing: a woman who appears to be suffering from a mental breakdown after her son was killed in a plane crash suddenly finds that all trace of her son's existence is being wiped away. Picture albums are empty, people who knew her son suddenly don't remember him, etc. She's told she never had a son but imagined one after a miscarriage, including elaborate details. Even her husband agrees. So, has she lost her mind or did her son exist? It's an interesting conflict, but unfortunately the film soon deviates down a strange path of shady government agents, a mysterious man who can't be hurt, and more. Obviously some sort of conspiracy is at work, but who's behind it? The answer's a letdown. It's not illogical or even implausible, it's just too pat and not satisfying. The conclusion is also too easy. The film has some excellent scenes, but on the whole it's awkward. The initial half, where you're not sure what's going on is exciting but you're emotionally held at arms length from the characters since you aren't sure if the mother is crazy or not. Later, when you realize she was right all along, the silly resolution to the mystery keeps you at odds with her. Thus the mother's pain never truly resonates with the audience.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

Life or Something Like It

Movie: Life or Something Like It

Predictable, boring, "live today for you may die tomorrow" movie. It feels like a disease-of-the-week TV movie, with gimmick moments obvious miles before they happen. The main character's an ambitious TV reporter gunning for a network job who finds out she's going to die and revises her life. It's not especially bad, just especially average. A good fast-forward movie.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Lady and the Unicorn

Book: The Lady and the Unicorn
Writer(s): Tracy Chevalier

Tracy has got to be one of the best writers alive today. I loved her Girl with a Pearl Earring and I loved this book. She's amazing. I don't know anyone who can paint with such realism. Her characters are so real they feel like best friends. It's like she's inside the character's heads writing down their thoughts. I feel like a voyeur as I read. As usual, her story is a fictional "history" of a work of art. In this case, it's a set of unusual tapestries found in France. These tapestries depict the seduction of a unicorn by a young woman, but no one knows the history behind the art or why it was created. So Tracy created her own story behind the story, masterfully weaving a fantastic tale about lust and seduction, young love, art, and the complicated conflicts of social classes in 15th Century Europe. She writes first person, each chapter by a different main character. We meet the artist assigned to paint the scenes, the weavers who have just two years to create the six huge tapestries and nearly kill themselves in the attempt, and the nobleman family who commissioned the work. Every detail of the artwork is explained via events in the story, filling in all the puzzle holes. The characters Tracy creates are wonderful, realisticly flawed, charming, and sympathetic. The story itself is life, with the good and the bad. It's amazing stuff. It's a breathtaking read, highly recommended. Marvelous. I can't say enough good things about it. It seems like it'd be difficult to write this kind of a book, but Tracy not only succeeds, she makes it insanely compelling.


Friday, September 17, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Movie: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Terrific film intentionally reminiscent of Buck Rogers and other serials of the early 1900s. It's even set in that time period. The entirely digital sets (only the actors are real) are fantastic: it would have cost a billion dollars to film this epic for real. The film moves at a good pace and the dialog between the main characters is witty and fun. The plot is your typical "nut takes over the world" thing, with a mysterious villain sending in skyscraper-sized metal robots into cities all over the world and stealing whatever he wants. Our heroes are pilot Joe (Sky Captain) and Polly Perkins, a female reporter out to cover the story. There's also Frankie, a female pilot with a history with Joe, giving him a choice of women to fall in love with. Joe and Polly uncover the villain's scheme and set out to defeat him, discovering he's set off a doomsday device that will destroy Earth. The story, of course, is naturally cheesy, as are the characters who mug for all their worth, but that's part of the charm, since it's just like the adventures of old. The ending's more of a whimper than a bang, but the whole ride is a lot of fun. Of course the biggest star here is are digital sets, and I hereby predict that we'll see more movies made this way. Not just this genre, but all genres. As digital effects become more common and cheaper, this will eventually be less expensive than location shooting.


Friday, September 17, 2004

Mr. 3000

Movie: Mr. 3000

Predictable comedic fair, but truth in advertising in that you get what you expect. The gimmicky plot: a jerk of a former baseball star who's built his post-baseball career around the fact that he had 3,000 hits suddenly discovers a counting error means he only had 2,997 hits, so at age 47, he goes back to playing to try to get three more hits. Of course he learns how not to be a jerk in the process, and everything ends happily ever after. Typical Hollywood, but well-done. It's not a laugh-a-minute or anything, but has a lot of smiling moments, some cool scenes, and a satisifying conclusion. Bernie Mac is flawless in the lead.


Thursday, September 16, 2004


Movie: Criminal

Cool like con-job movie with terrific performances from John C. Reilly and Diego Luna. Reilly's the experienced con who take the young Luna under his wing, then the two get involved in a major sting involving a forged piece of currency. Of course nothing goes quite as planned and more and more people get involved into the scam. It's funny, cool, and you aren't sure what's going to happen next. The ending's a bit of a gimmick, but a little too outrageous. It's similar to Matchstick Men.


Thursday, September 16, 2004


Movie: Hildago

I wanted to see this in the theatres despite the negative reviews but the timing didn't work out. Now I'm glad I didn't bother. The worst thing about this movie is that it is boring. It shouldn't have been. The premise is great: an American long-distance riding champ goes to Africa to race 3,000 miles across the desert and beat the purebred Arabian horses with his wild Mustang. Unfortunately, endurance racing is like matching a marathon. It's just endless riding, boring as watching sand blow. So the writers throw in all sorts of ridiculous side plots, involving battles, kidnappings, attempts to cheat, etc., to keep the movie interesting. The result is a dreary mess. You already know Hildago will win the race, so there's no drama there, and the side plots are so obviously secondary we really don't care about them. The film's about 40 minutes too long, too. There are some good moments, but they are too few and too far apart. Mildly entertaining but mostly boring and meaningless.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

Movie: Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

I was hoping this rerelease would clarify this muddled and confusing film, but no such luck. Supposedly twenty minutes of new footage has been added, but I couldn't tell where. Some scenes seemed longer but there was much I didn't remember anyway, so I found it hard to tell waht was new. Nothing new helped explain anything; my comments on the original Donnie Darko are still valid.

I did, however, discover the key flaw in this film. The problem is that too much action happens off screen. This mostly seems to be intentional by the director, though the low budget could have been partly to blame. Either way, it was a poor decision. For example, when the airplane engine first crashes into the house, the scene is confusing: you see the house shake, the family rattled, then cut to the crew lifting a huge jet engine with a crane. You don't actually see the engine embedded into the house: you're forced to assume that's what happened. This makes the next scene -- when the family sees Donnie show up unhurt -- problematic, since A) we don't yet know the engine landed on his room and his sleepwalk saved his life, B) there's no evidence that Donnie was killed or not killed, since no shots of his crushed room are shown, and C) the family shows no surprise or relief at seeing him, which I found bewildering. Surely they either thought him dead or were shocked to see his bed was empty.

Of course this "off-screen action" problem isn't limited to this one key scene. It happens throughout the film, to different degrees of harm. The most obvious are the sabotage events, which we don't really see Donnie do, but suspect. Now those actually benefit from some abiguity as they make us wonder if Donnie's really done them or just assumes he did them; unfortunately, they aren't ambiguous enough. There's far too much evidence that he did them, such as the shot of him with the ax, his own words that he did them, etc. So the question then becomes, if he admits he did them and it's so obvious he did, why obscure that from the audience? Why not just show us plainly? What benefit is gained by obscuring those events? If the events were intended to be ambiguous there'd be a gain in mystery and complication, but since there is no mystery -- he did the sabotage -- the abiguity just confuses.

You can add to that his conversations with "Frank," the giant rabbit. Apparently we're only privy to parts of the conversation. For instance, we discover during Donnie's therapy that the rabbit's name is Frank -- we never actually hear the rabbit tell him that even though we're supposedly there during their first encounter. Withholding a little information from us, the viewer, is okay, but it's obvious that Donnie knows way more than we do and we have no idea how he got that information. Apparently Frank talked with him but we don't hear those conversations. Why not? Who knows. But since those conversations aren't even hinted at, the info comes to us second-hand, via Donnie, and it's a surprise. We're like, "Oh? Donnie knows what's going on?" One could argue this gives Donnie power: he's like a superhero, with knowledge of the future. Unfortunately, this just serves to further alienate Donnie from us; it doesn't endear him to us as he did earlier, when he was lonely and confused. By hiding information from us, the director has separated us from Donnie. We're now alone in watching the film and our main link, Donnie, is a stranger. I think this one thing is probably the main flaw that turns people off from this movie. Initially they like Donnie and can relate to him, but when he starts mysteriously knowing stuff (and not sharing details) he becomes someone we don't trust and can't understand.

Of course the greatest "off-screen action" flaw is undoubtedly the conclusion, where Donnie goes back in time to save the universe. Since we don't get to see how Donnie time travels (we don't see him building a machine, riding a machine, or even using mind power or magic beans) that key aspect of the film is completely lost to the average viewer. The film is just suddenly repeating the beginning, the night of the engine crash, only this time Donnie sacrifices himself and does not leave his bed, thus saving the universe. On first viewing it is practically impossible to figure that out since it's done so vaguely. Even the concept that Donnie is somehow special and his life was saved for a reason is never clear on first viewing.

The bottom line is that this film is not designed to be clearly understood. Some people would argue that directors like David Lynch do the same thing, but that's not at all the case. Lynch definitely has weird scenes in his films, but everything serves a purpose and is designed. This film is a cheap hack. It's got some great performances, some hilarious humor, and a potentially neat plot, but it's ineptly put together. The creator of this film thinks abiguity is good for abiguity's sake; he mistakes vagueness for philosophical depth. Lynch uses abiguity to guide the viewer down two equally plausible paths: the abiguity makes the story more complex and powerful, adding another layer of interpretation. Lynch's films benefit from repeated viewing not because information was lacking in the original presentation like with Donnie Darko, but because so much information was given that it's overwhelming and difficult for the brain to process. With Donnie Darko we're forced to read between the lines and try to figure out what happened off-screen; Lynch never does that. We actually see what happened, we just don't understand the significance on first viewing.

I really wanted to like this movie. I'm a huge fan of cult classics and this movie has a large following. I gave it a question mark after my first viewing, unsure of my feelings. Seeing it a second time, however, confirmed my conclusion that this is dreck. It's a mess that severely needs a rewrite, editing, and a better director. Keep in mind that I normally like confusing, puzzling movies. For instance, I wasn't sure about 12 Monkeys the first time I saw, but it's become one of my favorite movies of all time. The story is complex and confusing, but fits together beautifully in retrospect. It's confusing simply because the story's so complicated and because it's difficult to understand "current" events without understanding what happens later. Donnie Darko could have been that kind of film, but it's weakly done. Nothing is clear, even in retrospect, and much of what happens, even when cool, is never given a reason. For instance, it's widely assumed by fans that the rabbit is an alien being, yet I saw not a shred of evidence to support that. Not even a hint. Why? If that's a possibility, why wouldn't the writer include a hint or two?

I could write for a week and not list all the confusing flaws in this film, but the movie's just not worth it to me. If you're a fan and enjoy it, great; there are parts I like and I'll enjoy those, but for me the film's just too flawed to work.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

City of Glass

Book: City of Glass
Writer(s): Paul Auster (Adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli)

Last spring my cousin-in-law lent me a book by Paul Auster which included the fascinating story City of Glass. It's an amazing story about a writer who's mistaken for a detective and gets so involved in a complex case that he loses his identity. Recently, a classic graphic version of the story has been republished and I quickly bought a copy. I was intensely curious how such a complicated story could be transformed into a comic. Would it retain the magic of the original story? The answer is a tremendous "Yes!" The reason it works is that much of the text of the original story is used verbatim in the graphic novel. The graphics only add meaning and depth to the story. Honestly, I felt this version was even better than the original! It's much more approachable, more interesting, less technical. Yet the full meaning and depth of the original story is preserved. While it's been a while since I read the story, I can't think of anything left out; the comic version includes all the important scenes and elements. As an introduction to Auster, this short graphic novel is ideal. I highly recommend it. It's literary, profound, complex, unusual, and well worth your time.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Car Adventures

My car's been getting old (I've had it for over 10 years) and it lately started acting up. The air conditioner was making noise, it was creaking and not steering properly, and other weird things. Then last week I drove to Modesto and Fresno to visit my Aunt Joann and go to the eye doctor (my first visit in over two years). I had planned to get an oil change but when I went they were closed: it was Labor Day, the morons. So I left without having my car checked out. I was nervous, but everything worked great until I got to Fresno. Suddenly the car started making weird sounds (the engine was snorting during idling), the air conditioner made screeching sounds so I had to turn it off, acceleration pooped out, and then a strange bell began dinging randomly. I thought the car was toast for sure.

That evening I headed for home. I got on the highway and the bell began ringing again. It's the same warning bell that rings when you leave your keys in the ignition and open the door. I thought something wasn't working right with the system. I couldn't see any warning lights on the dash. Then I noticed that the temperature gauge, which I've never seen above 30%, was at max. As I watched, it went all the way to the top and the bell rang. That happened again and cleared up the bell mystery: it was telling me my car was overheating.

I got off at the next exit and went to a gas station. There I sprayed water on the engine and after a 20 minute cool-down, added water to the radiator. Then I called my Uncle Phil for advice (I know less than nothing about cars) and added some oil (it seemed low). The odd thing was that after the car was cool, just sitting and idling made it overheat! I had to cool it down a second time (after turning off the engine, of course).

Once I got on the road, the wind kept the engine cool and I made it home just fine. But idling for more than a few minutes -- in a parking lot, in traffic, etc. -- would make the car overheat.

I dreaded taking the car to a shop. Who knows how much I'd be charged? Probably they'd tell me the engine was dead. Except the car did work fine on the highway. I was so nervous I actually checked out the prices of new and used cars. What I found was depressing, because used ones that I could afford were in even worse shape than my Neon, and because new cars are way out of my price range (which is pretty close to zero).

Finally, I decided I at least had to know how much it would be to fix, so I took it in. The shop had given me a $108 estimate to find the trouble and called a couple hours later. "You car's fixed!" they said.

"What? Seriously? What was wrong?"

"It was simple: the relay to the cooling fan was bad. So the fan wasn't turning on when needed. We replaced the relay and everything works great now."

The total bill came to $88 labor/diagnostic and $12 for the part. Not bad at all. The odd thing is the overheating seemed to be the problem all along. The air conditioner now works fine (no more weird sounds), the engine noise I'd been hearing in retrospect was water boiling, and the sluggish acceleration is cured, probably because higher RPMs generated more heat. I don't understand why overheating would effect the steering, but it's fixed now, so I can only assume it was also related.

Weird the way a single problem could create such a variety of symptoms.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Mean Creek

Movie: Mean Creek

Interesting film that didn't seem at all controversial to me; I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. The film has a low-key plot: a group of teens go to pull a mean prank on a jerk for revenge, but things don't go as planned and the kid dies, leaving the survivors to face their guilt. What makes the film work is the realistic teen dialog, terrific performances from a young cast, an appressive atmosphere of doom throughout, and the way the script incorporates and demonstrates interaction between three age groups of kids (remember, for teens and pre-teens, just a couple years is like a decade, so even slight differences in age puts people in different groups). Unfortunately, the whole of the film didn't quite live up to the sum of its parts for me. I was left a little empty, wanting more and not getting it. The film really needed an extra twist at the end, something to hammer home a moral or modify the simple story we'd already seen. It's still a solid story and good movie, but it just misses being great by a hair. I also found the guilt by the main group to be a little unrealistic. For some of the characters it makes a lot of sense (they are sensitive and guilt is natural), but for the older brother, for instance, I thought it was overdone. That's in part because the death is partially accidental (one could argue almost completely accidental), so all the guilt is questionable. However, the reality is that these kids were feeling guilty before anything happened -- they were feeling guilty about what they were going to do. Unfortunately the audience doesn't feel that as much as the guilt later one, making the latter guilt have more importance than it should. Overall, an interesting film, but it doesn't break new ground in teen behavior or anything. If the kids hadn't shown any guilt -- like in River's Edge -- that would be more significant. That these kids are actually repentent is what's remarkable.


Monday, September 13, 2004


Movie: Cellular

A decent thriller. It starts off a little weak: too much exposition, some pointless explanation. We're forced to see the mother kiss her son off too school (shows she loves him), hear that she's a science teacher (important as she'll use those skills throughout the movie), etc. Though why a science teacher doesn't leave for school before the boy gets on the school bus isn't explained (in my experience, teachers arrive before the students). Once the story gets going, however, it doesn't stop. The woman is suddenly kidnapped. She's locked in an attic room and the wall phone is smashed so she can't use it. But she figures out a way to rewire the fragments and make a call, but she can't control who she dials. She dials randomly and a kid answers on his cell phone. Since she doesn't even know what number she dialed or even if she could dial again, her life depends on that call. If he hangs up or they are disconnected, she's dead. Things take a little time to get going here -- at first he doesn't believe her story, then he tries to take the phone to the police -- but eventually it's just him and her. The kidnappers are going to go steal her kid from school so she pleads with the stranger on the phone to help her, to get to the school before the kidnappers. Thus a race is started and continues, with "drama" like the cell phone's battery dying, crossed lines with another cell phone user (Can that actually happen with today's digital phones?), signal problems within a tunnel, etc. It's a bit ridiculous but the performances keep you involved and things move too fast for you to be concerned about logic. The resolution is good, but the final fight in the boat house is too long and convoluted, though I did like the fight's conclusion (which cleverly involves a cell phone). All and all, this is an odd film. It's got moments that are obviously B-movie quality, but then it's got good actors and some good action and a story that keeps you involved. The sum of its parts is therefore slightly more than the whole, resulting in a decent -- but not great -- thriller. It's fun, but most of that fun comes from not knowing what's going to happen and wanting to see what the producers will do with the interesting premise. I don't know that there's enough here to want to see the film again, which means it isn't a classic, but it is entertaining. It's certainly better than a lot of current films.


Sunday, September 12, 2004


Book: Avenger
Writer(s): Frederick Forsyth

Terrific thriller about a former soldier who's now a lawyer who moonlights as a freelance "avenger." He goes and catches bad guys who are above the law and brings them to justice. Forsyth goes into mind-numbing detail giving us entire life histories of all the main characters involved, even some of the more minor people. But all that detail is important, as we see later, when those experiences and connections prove useful in resolving issues encountered in the main plot. That plot is that a young American volunteer has been murdered in Bosnia by a Serb terrorist. The U.S. government, for many politcal reasons, has trouble bringing the murderer to justice, so Avenger is secretly hired to catch him. The climax of the book is when Avenger has finally tracked down the killer to his impregnable lair and must figure out a way to break in and kidnap him and return him to face justice in the U.S. It seems impossible, but Avenger is awesomely clever, fooling everyone: the CIA, the local police, the killer's security force, etc. Very cool novel. I'd love to see it made into a movie some day.


Saturday, September 11, 2004

LA Trip

Soccer: LA Trip

This weekend I headed off for Los Angeles. The main purpose of the trip was to go to the Home Depot Center and cheer on my San Jose Earthquakes as they battled the evil LA Galaxy, but my brother and I decided that since we were in LA we should take advantage of that, so we got two-day passes to Universal Studios. It was a great weekend. We left early (about six a.m.) and got to Universal Studios about noon. That gave us a few hours before going to our hotel and getting ready for the game in the evening.

Universal Studios was interesting. I wasn't sure what to expect. It was more amusement park than studio, but there was some studio stuff. I'd have liked to see more behind-the-scenes things, peak on actual film productions, etc., but the atmosphere was fun. The studio tour was excellent. We rode on semi-enclosed wagons chained together to make a sort of train. The little buses drove through a large portion of the lot so you could see actual exteriors used in films. It took about 45 minutes. Each wagon included several small TVs which broadcast clips of movies in sync with the tour guide's commentary. This was neat because when we would enter a portion of the fake city Universal has on the lot, they could show a clip from a film in which that set was used. We saw the Back to the Future town clock set, which key in that film. There are also several "action" sequences during the tour. In one, you're inside a subway station when an earthquake hits: there's fire, the ceiling seems to collapse, an oil truck rumbles toward you, and there's water and darkness and chaos. In another the wagons are attacked by a shark. But the main thing is the film history, and it was cool to see the Bates Motel and Psycho house, though hilariously odd to see a portion of Whoville (from The Grinch) right behind the Motel.

The amusement park itself was a lot of fun. There were some rollercoaster-type rides, such as the Mummy ride -- all were movie-themed, of course -- which involved a very high-speed ride through a pitch black pyramid with occasional flashing monsters and such. The darkness meant you had no way of knowing which way the ride was going and it would go left, right, up, down in crazy fashion. Then at the end the ride almost crashes into a solid wall, then goes backwards through the same insanity you just went through forwards! Pretty cool. The Jurassic Park river ride was really cool, but we got absolutely soaked. The ending includes a real 90-degree free-fall that feels like you're totally out of control and are going to crash. The animatronic dinosaurs spray water at you. Some shows are not rides but performances, such as Waterworld, which was a really cool outdoor water set that included live stunts (a guy even catches on fire and drops into the water from 50 feet up), explosions, boat jumps, and even an airplane crash. Then there are the movies: the Terminator 2 and Shrek: 4D shows. Those include mini-movies shot in 3D (they give you 3D glasses to wear). I was very impressed by the 3D: it was actually frightening seeing stuff come right at you. In both shows they include some real-world effects to make the films even more alive: water sprays, air puffs, seats that rumble and move, etc. The effect is awesome: say something blows up on screen, you actually feel droplets of water and air pelt your face! Very impressive shows. I liked the way the Terminator show mixed live action actors with movie footage. Both shows, by the way, were new content shot exclusively for the park: the movies were not just recycled film footage. Other shows were informative, such as Backdraft, which goes into the history of that film and concludes with you standing in front of a set that basically blows up. There was a special effects show titled Chronicles of Riddick that had absolutely nothing to do with that movie but was a neat interactive demonstration of how special effects are done in movie. Audience members participated and saw themselves inserted into a film via a green screen, got to control an animatronic monster, and got to add sound effects to a soundless film. It was really cool: the hosts were amazingly good, making their canned lines sound original, and the scripts clever and hilarious. A great show.

Unfortunately, most of the shows are the kind of thing you only need to see once. There's nothing that deep with any of them. They're good, but not magical. Some of the rides you might like to do more than once, but even those are not necessarily worth the wait in lines to do so. I was also a little disappointed at the crass commercialism evident everywhere: almost everything you see is for sale. Rides and tours end within gift shops, there are food and shops everywhere. I wouldn't have minded those so much if they were unique, but the personality was all surface. For instance, one restaurant was the Jurassic Park Cafe, and its menu included Pizza Hut pizza, roast chicken, and Chinese food, exactly like another restaurant with a different theme in a different section of the park. The themes only effected the decor, not the menu, and prices were exactly the same all over the park. And of course nothing was cheap. Despite Arrowhead being listed as a park sponsor, the bottles of Arrowhead water were $2.75 each. Over two hot days of walking around, I went through four or five. The stores were boring, all carrying cheap junk: hats and movie-themed clothing, silly stuff like Terminator 2 mugs or Shrek ear hats, etc. If I was creating a theme park I'd create unique stores and restaurants with stuff you couldn't get anywhere else on earth. I'd include restaurants with different pricings, so people more interested in expensive food can go for that, and offer some cheaper stuff for people who'd prefer that. Of course it's been a long time since I've got to amusement parks: I went to many as a kid, but that was back in the 70's; no doubt things have changed a great deal since then, and not necessarily for the better. Still, despite my reservations and criticisms, I did enjoy myself. It was an experience. Not necessarily something I need to do again any time soon, but I'm glad I went.


Saturday, September 11, 2004

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy

Soccer: MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy

Of course the real purpose of our trip south was to see our team beat the hated Galaxy. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but I had a good time anyway. The Home Depot Center is an impressive facility, though the food offers could be a little more varied (and cheaper). We had good seats in the Earthquakes section. I was a bit surprised there weren't more: only about 75 of us showed up. But we were loud and apparently threatened the 26,925 Galaxy fans in attendance (it was a sell out) because they weren't especially nice. Most were in good spirits and it was just friendly taunting (the Galaxy mascot had fun mocking us), but a few were nasty, including some idiots tossing beers and trash our way. The HDC security were too inept or unconcerned to stop it. The game itself was a bit of a disappointment. While we started okay and held the Gals off initially, I could tell our team was tired and not really into it. Their spirits were there but their bodies were not. This was the team's third game in a week and for two of those we played without three key starters, which mean backups had to do a lot more work. Landon and Ching, our two national teamers, just got back from the U.S. game in Panama, and they looked tired from all the travel. Landon didn't want to shoot but just passed the ball as soon as he got it. Ching out of it in the first half, but got a few chances in the second as he fought hard, but his touch was a hair off and things just weren't gelling for the Quakes in the Galaxy box. In the end, the Galaxy got a lucky goal off a crossbar rebound that fell right to the foot of an LA player, and a second goal during a counter-attack when San Jose had everyone pushed forward. Onstad probably should have saved that goal as it almost missed and just needed a slight touch to push it wide, but he was slow off his line and didn't cut the angle quite enough. The Quakes did get one back late when a poor clearance got Ronnie Ekelund the ball near the top of the Galaxy box. He took one touch to move the ball into position and cracked a brilliant shot off the underside of the crossbar to beat LA keeper Hartman. The ball bounced back out of the goal but had clearly crossed the line. That got the team going for a few minutes and for a while it looked like the Quakes might eke out a point. But with the Quakes pushing up so much the Galaxy's counter-attacks were extremely dangerous: they could have scored a couple more times but desperate defending managed to stop them just in time. Coach Dom put in some subs at the end but it was too little too late. The Quakes lose two in a row, not good in such a tight conference. Fortunately, Dallas lost to D.C. today, so we're still in fourth place. The top of the conference is extremely tight now with three teams within one point of each other. The Quakes still have their destiny in hand: all our remaining games are against Western opponents, so if we beat them, we can force ourself a playoff position. If we lose, however, they jump above us, so we just cannot lose. Win or tie are the only options left. If we win a lot we could even end up at the top of the group, though I think that's dreaming considering the inconsistent play of the team. But I'd still like to see it! Final: 2-1 LA Galaxy.


Friday, September 10, 2004

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Movie: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

If you liked the first Resident Evil , you'll probably like this one. It's not as clausterphobic as the original (it takes place above crowd), but it's got action and plenty of famished undead. The "plot," if movies like this have one, is that the Umbrella Corporation has gone back into the underground labs from the first movie and accidentally released the zombie-creating virus into the city. Within hours the city is madness. The entire city is locked down and shut, leaving everyone trapped inside as dead. Of course that includes our heroes, the girl from the first movie, as well as some new characters: a female cop, a black cop, a reporter, a civilian, and a little girl. The child is the key: her father was the scientist who created the virus. He was evacuated but his daughter was trapped inside, so he makes a deal with the surviving group that if they rescue his daughter he'll get them out of the city. The film moves at a great pace, has some cool action, some gore (the business with the dogs was gross and scary), and a lot of paranoia. I really liked the ending, which twisted everything and sets up a third movie. It's a cool franchise: absurd but fun if you're into zombie flicks.


Thursday, September 9, 2004

Wicker Park

Movie: Wicker Park

This is a severely flawed movie but it almost succeeds. It's a neat concept, playing around with identity and heartbreak. Basically, our hero was in love but his girl took off for Europe without an explanation. He was heartbroken, but it's two years later and he's about to marry his boss' sister. Then he thinks he sees his old girlfriend. She's gone before he can catch her, so he plays detective and tracks her down. When he finds her, he's disappointed to discover it's not her, but a completely different girl with the same name, same perfume, same clothing, etc. Without spoiling the twist ending, let's just say that explanations are forthcoming and make sense. Unfortunately, it's both the complexity and method of revealing those explanations that make the film bewildering, uncomfortable, and much too long. The film, essentially, is all flashbacks and dreams. It's often unclear if the scene was present day, two years ago, or a dream. Worse, the main character isn't the only one flashing back: several other characters do so as well. While that gives us looks at familiar scenes from different perspectives, it adds to the confusion. For the first hour the film is just bewildering and makes little sense. Eventually it does, but by that time you don't really care too much. The twisted plot is way too twisted, overdone, and full of itself; the movie goes on and on forever (it should have been 90 minutes max); and there are several sideplots and red herrings that should have been eliminated. That said, the film does have a number of positives. The twist in the plot is interesting. I liked it. (It just takes too long to get there.) The performances are also excellent, especially Rose Byrne, who is amazing: how she can alternatively be so plain and so striking I can't fathom. She's what makes the movie succeed for me. The others are decent, though mostly soulless. This is a strange film in that I didn't like it at all for the first hour, but liked the second hour and liked it after it was done. That leaves it with a bitter taste, only awkwardly successful. It really needed better direction and/or a new script not so dependent on flashbacks (ugh).


Wednesday, September 8, 2004

MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS: Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes

With four top players missing for national team duty (Donovan, Ching, Onstad, and DeRosario) the Quakes played short-handed again. They managed an impressive away victory on the weekend, but Columbus came in gunning for a 0-0 draw. They milked the clock whenever they could, relied almost solely on counter-attacks for their offensive play, and packed it in at the back and defended nine men deep. The Quakes dominated possession and play, creating a lot of decent chances, but few actual shots on goal (lots of almosts and what-ifs). What impressed me was the way the Quakes defended, with lots of early pressure and hardly letting any Columbus player have two touches on the ball. In the end, the Quakes seemed content with the zero-zero result, something I don't like to see, and even Coach Dom didn't try to shake things up with aggressive substitutions. Thus when the Crew had a slight opportunity in stoppage time and managed to score when tall Tony Sanneh went unmarked in the box, the Quakes ended up with a loss they didn't deserve. Such is the breaks. The result doesn't hurt the Quakes in the Western standings, but it doesn't help. We could have jumped to a solid second; instead we remain in fourth. Our destiny is still in our hands as we face L.A. this weekend: that game is really a must-win now. With only two home games left and all Western opposition, losses now will doom us. We must win or miss the playoffs. Final: 1-0 Crew.


Monday, September 6, 2004

Spy Games

Movie: Spy Games

This is a strange, uncomfortable film that doesn't know if it's a comedy or a drama. It's about spies: an American spy is stationed in Finland romancing a Russian spy and they routinely use each other for information until a serious situation comes along and suddenly the games are real and loyalties are tested and truth revealed. Had a few okay, amusing moments; long boring periods; and a underwhelming conclusion. Not memorable.


Sunday, September 5, 2004

Soho Square

Movie: Soho Square

Cool little low budget digital flick shot in London's Soho district about a cop haunted by the memories of his wife's suicide after a miscarriage. Someone is murdering young women in Soho and setting the bodies on fire leaving the police with minimal evidence and the cop is on the murderer's trail. There's a nice twist at the end that helps the plot fit together, but the main thing that's interesting about the film is the way it is directed, especially for such a small budget (IFC said it was shot for about $7500 -- if so, that's amazing). It feels like a "real" movie. You certainly don't notice any budget constraints, though occasionally the film's digital origins are obvious. Overall, I nice tale, brilliantly told. Nothing earthshattering or magical, but certainly above average.


Friday, September 3, 2004


Movie: Paparazzi

This isn't a terrible movie. It gives you exactly what you'd expect given the trailer and plot. A new celebrity struggles with really evil paparazzi (who are unbelievably insensitive). Eventually they cause a car accident and nearly kill his wife and son. Then, one by one, the four photographers involved die... the actor is killing them off. Kind of a revenge flick, in a way. Everything's average (script, acting [Tom Sizemore clods his way through his bad guy role, overacting up a hurricane], directing), but there are some decent moments. Some of the deaths are pretty cool, there are a couple twists and small surprises (some fun cameos by Mel Gibson, Chris Rock, and others), and it ends happily. Meaningless but mildly satisfying, like popcorn. Fun if you're in the right mood.


Thursday, September 2, 2004

Intimate Strangers

Movie: Intimate Strangers

This wasn't as wicked as I hoped. The concept sounded amazing: a woman mistakes a tax attorney for her new psychiatrist (she goes into the wrong office and he assumes she's a tax client) and spills her guts to him. By the time he realizes the mistake, he's in over his head. Should he tell her? How will she react? She wants a regular session and he agrees, unsure what else to do.

Unfortunately, the scam is uncovered right away. I had figured the fake psychiatrist thing would go on for a long time, building suspense as the woman reveals more and more intimate information. Thus the film goes from being about complex mind games to being a long therapy session. In that regard it's still interesting -- the woman is mysterious and doesn't reveal everything all at once and we're not sure how much of what she says is factual -- but it is talky and slow. Talky would have been fine if there was the undercurrent of the fake psychiatrist thing behind everything, but without that it's really just eavesdropping on a woman and her therapist.

There is the intriguing question of why the woman continues to have therapy sessions with the man even though she knows he's not a doctor. And of course the man is obviously falling in love with the girl. Those things make the film interesting, but it never quite lives up to its potential. I did like the ending, in which we find that the therapy has helped each of them heal. Good but not great.


Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Harsh Realm

Movie: Harsh Realm (1999)

Not a movie but a short-lived TV series from X-Files creator Chris Carter. This series was just released on DVD -- all nine episodes. Apparently six of those never even aired on TV as the series was canceled after just three shows! Was really pisses me off about that is that though I am an ideal candidate to watch this show -- I loved the X-Files, I'm a big Chris Carter fan, and I love science fiction -- I never even heard of this show until it was released on DVD! That's ridiculous. Why the hell wouldn't Fox promote the show? At least tell us it's a Chris Carter show! That would get me to tune in. And canceling it after just three shows? That's really dumb. Why even bother to make it in the first place with such a lack of commitment? As you can tell, I am rather vexed by this. That a show that appeals to me as much as the premise of this one and I never even knew it existed is just lame. I don't blame myself, I blame the morons at Fox. When I first saw this DVD set released I thought it must have been some weird Chris Carter cable show that only aired a few episodes -- I'm shocked that it was on a major network and I never heard of it. Just ridiculous.

Of course what makes that even worse is that the show is very good. It died too early to say if it would be great, but judging from the quality of the nine episodes, I'd say it started out good and was getting better and better (the ninth episode was my favorite). It's a real shame the show died before it was born. While this show came out the same year as The Matrix, this virtual reality premise is much better. Instead of robots running the show, the U.S. military as created Harsh Realm, a virtual reality world that mimics the real world. Unfortunately, a rogue general has hijacked the world and is remaking it in his image. He's created his own armies and is taking over Harsh Realm. The military in the real world can't do anything about it because they don't know where or how the general's gaining access into Harsh Realm. The only way to stop him is within the game. But that's almost impossible considering his power. So the military sends in volunteers and problem soldiers, leaving them in the game forever. Our young hero is one of these. Just before he's to leave the army and marry his fiance, he ends up trapped in Harsh Realm. The only way out is to kill Santiago, the rogue general. Unfortunately, Santiago makes a South American dictator seem like an amateur. So the TV series has twin plotlines: the adventures of the hero soldier within the game, and the conspiracy coverup his fiance faces in the real world as she searches for clues, trying to find her lost love (the government told her he died, but she's figured out that's a lie). Very cool premise. There are some things I don't like, just like in the Matrix: that death is real (i.e. you die in VR you die in real life); that certain people have "magical" abilities to modify "reality" within the game and "cheat" (i.e. heal bullet wounds, walk through walls, etc.); and the whole mystical "the one" silliness. Harsh Realm adds a couple new improbably technology wrinkles to the mix. First, that the Realm is an exact duplicate of the real world, down to the mole on your grandmother's neck and the fact that Aunt Sylvia loves strawberries and whipped cream, and second, that many of the "people" in the Realm are virtual characters (not real). Preposterious! No way even the military has storage capability to simulate the idenitities and behaviors of six billion people, let alone have some way to scan every human being and know everything about them. And virtual characters that act like real human beings? For that to happen the computer would have to understand language -- it would have to be human. We are hundreds of years from anything like that, if ever. But beyond those two conceits, the show's entertaining. It has an anthology, Twilight Zone feel to it. Since anything goes within virtual reality, stories have a wide range, often not having anything to do with the previous episodes. That's probably part of the reason the network balked at the show: anthologies are difficult to attract an audience because the stories are completely different every week. For instance, one episode of Harsh Realm had the two main characters stumble into a WWII simulation and get stuck, unable to escape, reliving the same battle over and over again. In another (my favorite), the two get caught up in a feud between two families living in the radioactive rubble of NYC who are after the same pile of gold (which turns out to be radioactive).

Good stories, stylish production, conspiracies, and more, the show had a great premise and should have been given a chance. Unfortunately, Fox sucks. They also cancelled the Lone Gunmen before it could get a foothold (though at least I heard about that one and tuned in). I guess Fox doesn't remember how long it took The X-Files to become popular.