Sunday, July 31, 2005

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Book: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Writer(s): Roald Dahl

I remembered I always liked this book even more than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but it's been so long, I couldn't remember why. Rereading it, I remember: it's much funnier. This book goes all out in wildness. Unlike the first book, which has a traditional structure, this sequel is more just a couple of tales put together. The first half is a space adventure and takes up right where the first book ended, with the whole family in the Great Glass Elevator (GGE). They go into outer space, interrupt the unveiling of the United State's new Space Hotel, escape from horrible space monsters, and save astronauts from the same monsters. The second half of the book deals with Wonka giving youth pills to Charlie's grandparents, but they take too many and end up as babies. What's wonderful, though, are the wacky characters, such as the President of the United States (and his nanny, who's Vice President), and the way Dahl mocks everyone and everything. Just wonderful. It would make a great movie, but I can't see Hollywood shooting it straight: they'd certainly muck it up and try to change it.


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Writer(s): Roald Dahl

It's been a while since I read the book but reading it I remembered why Dahl is my favorite author. He writes in such a clean, simple style, with ordinary words: he doesn't try to talk down to kids or up to adults. Yet somehow he creates a vivid, imaginative world that we can see as though we are there. Great stuff. The book's still far superior to either movie, though the second movie is definitely more faithful. Unfortunately some of the stuff they added in is awkward. Why is it Hollywood always feels it has to add or change a masterpiece?


Friday, July 29, 2005


Movie: Stealth

This is a movie about a robot jet that goes AWOL and I expected it to be terrible, but it wasn't as bad as I anticipated. It's not great, but if you like explosions and high-speed dogfights, it's got those. Mostly it's predictable, but there were a few subtle unexpecteds that meant the script didn't go strictly along conventional lines. The cast is good, and there are some good moments. The way the rogue robot learns to be bad and then learns to be good is cool, but unfortunately it doesn't really go far enough into psychological depth to be revolutionary. Enjoy it for the fun airplanes and explosions.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Seattle Trip

Took a nice trip up to Seattle yesterday and today (see yesterday's report on the soccer game). Got to eat at the Space Needle (hadn't done that since I was a kid) and see some of the city (fish throwing place, etc.). Went to the new Science Fiction museum which was pretty cool (lots of incredible SF memorabilia). Nice looking city from a distance; not as impressed with the dirty downtown and horrendous traffic. Suprised at how hilly it is, which made walking a pain.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

USL: Toronto Lynx at Seattle Sounders

Soccer: USL: Toronto Lynx at Seattle Sounders

Coordinated Seattle trip with USL soccer match at Quest Field. Nice stadium, though only a few thousand were at the game. Good atmosphere, though. Toronto's the worst in the USL and it showed: Seattle easily beat them 3-0, with all the goals coming in the first half. Pace of the game was moderate, but there was some definite skill. Quality of play definitely not MLS caliber, but not as bad as I figured. For my first USL match, I enjoyed it. I think I'll definitely have to go to some Portland Timbers games.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

Skeleton Man

Book: Skeleton Man
Writer(s): Tony Hillerman

This was a very strange book. Nothing much happens and the plot is told so many times I was sick to death of it halfway through. You see, there was this plane crash over the Grand Canyon like 50 years ago. A man with a briefcase of diamonds was on the plane. Now one of those diamonds has surfaced. A woman, who was the man's daughter, wants to find the source of the diamonds because they might lead her to her father's arm: if she can use DNA from the arm to prove she's related, she'll gain her father's fortune which was denied her by scheming relatives who never liked her mother and refused to believe the daughter was legitimate. Now that's a cool plot, but we first here that plot revealed by one of the characters who's telling the story. Then we hear it from the woman's perspective. Then we hear it like twenty more times from different character's views. It just gets ridiculous. I was just so glad when this book ended! Of course the search for the arm/diamonds is complicated by several factors, but it's still a straightforward plot. If we cut out all the repetitive stuff this novel would have been fifty pages long. Still, there were some interesting elements, the main one being the history and culture of the American Indians who are local to the area and some of the main characters. Unfortunately, some of that came across like the whaling data in Moby Dick: superfluous and irrelevant. While I liked the concept, the implementation was incredibly weak. I gather Hillerman's a successful author, but I think I'll skip his other books.


Friday, July 22, 2005

The Island

Movie: The Island

Pretty cool popcorn flick, if you can ignore major plot holes (like clones somehow growing into full adults in three years and looking exactly like their donors). The action is decent, the science fiction sets cool and interesting, and several of the characters are compelling. The luminous Scarlet Johansen steals the show. For once I liked that a film had a logical reason for why her character needed to be so beautiful: the clones are created as spare body parts for the rich and her donor is a beautiful, wealthy model. Unfortunately, the sparse script hints at depth but fails to take advantage of it. For instance, when Scarlet videophones her donor, her donor's little boy answers the phone and says, "Is that you Mommy?" Later, she realizes that if she's not killed for spare parts, her donor -- the little boy's mother -- will die. That opened the door for an interesting conflict: guilt that your life will mean the death of another. Unfortunately, though the film hints at it in that one scene, it's never brought up again. So the film that could have been brilliant ends up being okay. It's got a few above average scenes (both in action and drama) that make better than most flicks of this kind, but it could have used this as an opportunity to make us think about it. I'd give it a solid B.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Writer(s): J. K. Rowling

I didn't particularly like the last book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so I wasn't sure what to expect of this new one. At least it reads quickly (I started reading it on Tuesday). This one is more fun and interesting than Phoenix, but I will warn you that it does not end. It's basically a pre-quel for the final book (book seven), so don't get your hopes up that anything's resolved her. I can see where Rowling is going and I like it and can't wait for the next one: she's really got Harry growing up and becoming a man and a viable foe to the evil Voldermort, which makes sense (the idea of a child beating the wizard always seemed a little too David and Golioth). Unfortunately, this book is mostly growing pains -- there is no real plot to speak of, which is a little disappointing. Instead we just have Harry and the gang growing older and learning new responsibilities. It's a bit tedious at times, though Rowling's magical world is amusing enough to make it endurable. I don't think this book would make a very good film, though: you'd probably have to combine with a bit of book seven so that something would happen. The odd thing is that I still liked this one better than Phoenix. I am prepared, however, to really like the seventh. That's where the fireworks hit the fan.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Jersey Girl

Movie: Jersey Girl
Writer(s): Kevin Smith
Director(s): Kevin Smith

I can see now why this movie flopped. The story's incredible simple (almost too simple) about a guy whose wife dies in childbirth leaving him a daughter he must raise on his own. He moves back to his childhood home of New Jersey and dreams of being back in Manhattan, where he was a big shot once. The film's basically about him figuring out where he belongs. Unfortunately, such a simple, sweet story is more than slightly at odds with the somewhat raunchy Kevin Smith, who likes to throw in awkward sex talk and scenes that really feel out of place and uncomfortable. (For instance, we cut from cute scenes of the eight-year-old to scenes of adults discussing masterbation.) It's very odd. The people who'd be interested in one topic are probably not interested in the other, so I'm not sure who the film is for. I think Kevin was going for humor and the adult topics were meant to be awkwardly funny, but instead they are just awkward. The film doesn't quite work. It's not a bad film at all: the story's sweet, the little girl is brilliant (she carries the movie), and the ending works, but the whole just doesn't add up to the sum of the parts. It's missing something, unfortunately.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Raising Helen

Movie: Raising Helen

Much better than I expected. The promos made this sound like Mr. Mom kind of fish-out-of-water story, as a career woman suddenly finds herself the mother to her dead sister's three children. I expected the typical Mom-can't-cook-and-is-covered-with-flour scenes, kids making a mess, etc. Instead, it's more a story of the heart, where the sister tries to do the right thing for her nieces and nephew, but keeps failing. In the end, of course, she finds a way. It's predictable and certainly not a stretch intellectually, but it's not slapstick silliness either. The cast is good and I liked it.


Sunday, July 17, 2005


Movie: Saved!

I was very curious about this film. It sounded blasphemous as it's a sort of parody of Christianity, but there were aspects that sounded promising as well. It turns out it isn't sure what it is. It's not an out-and-out attack on the Church, though it doesn't seem pro-religion. It's a comedy about Christianity, making fun of hypocrites and Christians, but it's not really very funny. Much of what it mocks is true (even Christians don't like Christian hypocrites), but much of the humor falls flat. The concept's a neat idea but ineptly done. While it's obvious the producers know something about Christianity, they are obviously not Christians, and their mockery comes across as an attack more than constructive criticism. I much prefer it when Christians do something like this. For example, musician and songwriter Steve Taylor's the master at satric Christian attacks, but he does so wanting to help Christians see their own hypocrisy and get them back on the right track. This film just wants a cheap laugh and unfortunately, that's all we're left with. That's not to say that the film doesn't have some good moments (it has some bad moments as well). The casting of the innocent-looking Mandy Moore as the evil Christian hypocrite is ideal; in fact, everyone in the cast is pretty good. I liked certain aspects of the plot, which is about a good Christian girl who gets pregant and questions her faith, but unfortunately this isn't a film that challenges intellect or discusses religion: instead it's just a movie that takes obvious shots at "weird" Christian things, like religious jargon or speaking in tongues. It's not a terrible film, but it could have been a realy great film if the creators had been more willing to go all out and


Friday, July 15, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Movie: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Writer(s): Roald Dahl (book)
Director(s): Tim Burton

The book is one of my favorites (Dahl's my favorite author) and I love Tim Burton's quirky films; but I wasn't sure about this going in. The casting of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka struck me as odd, and though he did a good job, in the end he's just too youthful for such a character. It didn't fit in well with the plot. My mom got strange Michael Jackson vibes from him and didn't like him. I didn't experience that but I can see where that might show up (Wonka and Jackson share many similar encentricies and both are adult children). Except for a few negative things about Wonka, however, I really liked the film better than the original. The special effects, children, script, direction, and music were all superior. The new film is not a musical, which is better, though it definitely has musical numbers (in this version, only the Oompa Loompas sing, not other characters). I did miss a few of the classic songs of the original ("Candy Man" and the "Oompa Loompa" songs). One cool touch of the new one is that each song the Oompa Loompa's sing is done in a different style, which is much more interesting. The Oompas put on a show, too, which is much less musical-like. The script is much more faithful to the book, which I greatly appreciated. The boy who plays Charlie is perfect: he has both naivity and cold intelligence in his eyes, which makes him more believable than the boy in the original film, who was merely innocent. Depp, like I mentioned, brings a strange weirdness to Wonka that I liked at times and didn't at others. When Wonka was being weird for humor it worked wonderfully; when he was being weird for some other reason, it felt awkward and unpleasant. The child in him was certainly visible, and in this movie, we get to learn about his past and how he became a chocolatier. The ending of the film was a little strange; it's been a while since a read the book so I can't remember if the emphasis on family was in the original, but it felt strange for Wonka to reject family and went on much too long. I also thought the resolution between Wonka's father was ridiculous and absurd; no two people with so much contempt for each other would just kiss and make-up so easily. Still, despite everything, this is a better film than the first. That doesn't mean the first isn't good, it is, but this one is simply more polished and more faithful to the novel.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Movie: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This film is both marvelous and terrible; the producers take some horrible liberties with the story (adding in a strange lurking villain that is so stereotypical as to almost ruin the film) and make it a musical (huh?). There are a few great songs ("Candy Man"), but there are also several duds, and the musical aspect feels awkward and destroys all realism of the story. The casting is decent; Gene Wilder's happy-go-lucky Wonka is great until the odd ending (anger and confrontation is so not Wonka). The strange deviations of the script seem pointless and contrived. One aspect I liked better than the new film is the way this one reveals more of the factory, showing us glimpses of all sorts of intriguing and marvelous inventions. The new film just sticks to the plot. Overall both are decent films. The special effects in this old one suck big time, but it's not so bad it detracts from the story.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Art of the Start

Book: The Art of the Start
Writer(s): Guy Kawasaki

Typical Kawasaki book, full of clever quotes, funny stories, brilliant analysis, and appropriate advice. This book's all about starting something: a company, an organization, a novel, whatever. It's excellent and recommended even to those who aren't in business and think they don't need such a book. It's fun to read and very helpful.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Dark Water

Movie: Dark Water

This is a strange film: it's predictable, the big "mystery" is a letdown, and it's uneven throughout, yet somehow, despite all those flaws, it sorta works. That's mostly due to the casting -- Jennifer Connolly and the girl who plays her daughter are awesome -- and that the director shoots for more of a creepy, uncomfortable, frightening tone rather than outright shocks and scares. The film is creepy: the supporting characters are all weird, and we aren't sure what to make of the bizarre visions and strange dripping black water that frequents the film. The first two thirds are awkward, not quite working, but the ending, even though the mystery is a letdown, strangely satisfies. It's a sad film, grim and tormented.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Maria Full of Grace

Movie: Maria Full of Grace

Really good film about a pregnant seventeen-year-old Columbian girl who is desperate for money and becomes a drug mule. She has to swallow over 60 thumb-sized rubber-coated pellets of drugs, fly to New York, and give them to those waiting for them. If a pellet leaks, she's dead. It's a harrowing tale, realistically done, revealing the horrors of such a life. But I liked that the film did this in an in-depth, personal way, showing us the anquish and challenge via close-ups of the girl's face instead of images of blood and other gruesome details. For example, in one crucial scene, while on the airplane to New York, the girl isn't feeling well. She has a bowel movement in the tiny airplane bathroom and is horrified to find one of the pellets in the toilet. She cannot be caught with it on her person, and yet she cannot lose it: the drug dealers know exactly how many pellets she has swallowed and if she loses even one, they will hurt her family in Columbia. So she's forced to re-swallow the pellet she just evaculated. It's a scene that could have been filmed to titilate, shock, or repulse a viewer, yet it's not filmed in any of those ways. Instead it's done in a cold, gritty, realistic fashion, where the girl just does what she has to do. We see the distaste and nervousness on her face, but the scene is not at all graphic or distateful. The power of the scene comes from the restrained emotions of the actress, where we sense her desperation and determination by what she's willing to do, not gory detail or gruesome special effects. Excellent film, surprisingly tame considering its serious subject matter. I loved the ending.


Saturday, July 9, 2005

The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi

Movie: The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi (2003)

I don't know anything about the Zatoichi tradition in Japan (there have been many films made), but this was an unusual and pretty cool film. It is extremely violent, however: lots of death. Pretty much every fight scene involves dozens of dead bodies, with everyone killing everyone else; such a casual approach to death struck a wrong note with me. I also had a problem with the cheesy blood-spurting special effects. They looked ridiculously fake. Still, the story was cool. Zatoichi's a blind masseur, traveling from town to town, and dispensing justice when appropriate. Even though he's blind, he's an amazing swordman, and no one can get him. When he finds bad guys dominating a small town, he sets out to stop them, with bloody results. Two things I really liked: 1) The swordfighting is realistic, in the sense that there are no more than two or three blows and someone dies. In most films the swordfight takes a long time and there are parries and thrusts and counter-thrusts. But that's not reality, that's fencing. In reality, swordfighting is over in seconds. Either you made the right decision and you're alive, or you chose wrong and you're dead. That's it. 2) The second thing I really liked was Zatoichi's character, which is unusual, mysterious, and interesting. Pretty good film overall.


Friday, July 8, 2005

Shark Tale

Movie: Shark Tale

I missed this in theatres, though I intended to see it. Now I think I'm glad I waited. It's certainly not bad; just uneven. And it has some dangerously provocative propaganda hidden within it (it practically preaches) which I found distasteful and inappropriate (especially in a kids' movie). The plot deals who two main characters, Oscar, a small fish in a big ocean who wants more, and Lenny, a vegetarian shark, who's the son of a mobster/killer. Oscar pretends to kill Lenny and becomes famous, while Lenny's now free of his father's demands to become a killer. The endings rather convoluted and weak, the jokes inconsistent, and there are certainly a few too many fish puns, but overall this is a good attempt at a story -- it's just not up to Pixar's superior standards.


Friday, July 8, 2005

Fantastic Four

Movie: Fantastic Four

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. It's a popcorn flick, and the science in the story was a joke, but I liked the way the focus of the story was on the characters and their relationships and personalities, not on a plot about saving the world or whatever. The characters, as they discover their superpowers and learn to live together, are much more interesting than stopping some bad guy (where you know the Four will win). The special effects are excellent, and the cast is awesome. Just a great popcorn movie. Don't take it seriously, just go and have fun.


Monday, July 4, 2005

The Prince and Me

Movie: The Prince and Me

Similar in genre and spirit to the just watched Chasing Liberty, this one was also surprisingly well-done. I wasn't expecting much -- it's about a regular American girl who falls for a Danish prince masquerading as a regular guy -- but the romance was actually realistic and the concept entertaining. Not as stereotypical as I expected. Good ending, too.


Saturday, July 2, 2005

Chasing Liberty

Movie: Chasing Liberty

Surprisingly decent little film about a first daughter wanting privacy and a life of her own. In Europe, she escapes her security guards and has a little fling, not realizing that the young man she's run off with is really Secret Service. She falls in love, has heartbreak, yada yada yada. It's predictable but well-done and harmless. The cast is excellent and all-in-all it's a charming little flick.