Monday, October 31, 2005

Home Again

Well, I'm back home again. My trip south was fun, though tiring, and my Quakes didn't advance in the playoffs, but I'm still glad I went. It felt good to be back at Spartan Stadium cheering on my team and eating bad stadium nachos and even worse pizza. I had a slight adventure with my rental car, as I forgot to find a gas station until I got off at the airport exit. Why the heck aren't there any gas stations near airports??? I think it's a plot by the rental companies. Mine wanted to charge me $5/gallon (For a full tank!) if I didn't bring it back full, so I had to drive several miles out of my way, in five o'clock traffic, trying to find a gas station. That got me to the rental car place at ten after five for my 5:45 flight! Fortunately, the rental place gave me a quick ride to my terminal and I breezed through security and I made my flight in plenty of time (the incoming flight was a few minutes late). After that, there were no adventures: except when I got home at nine o'clock both my mother and my Grandfather (she'd stayed with him while I was gone) were already asleep! I was welcomed by snores!


Monday, October 31, 2005

The Door Into Summer

Book: The Door Into Summer (1956)
Writer(s): Robert Heinlein

Cool book. I read about this in an interview with Heinlein where he said he was inspired by his cat. He and his wife were staying in a cabin in the Colorado and it was snowing. Their cat wanted out and went to the door but did not like the snow. He kept going to different doors and windows, each time hoping there would be no snow. Robert's wife said, "He's looking for the door to summer." Heinlein immediately said, "Don't say another word!" and retreated to his study and wrote this novel in thirteen days! That cat story is in the book, of course, though Heinlein and his wife are not. Unfortunately, the title has little to do with the actual story. I had wondered if it might be a book about teleportation or something, sort of a stargate that takes you to another world. But instead the book's about time travel and the "door to summer" is merely a metaphor about finding your nirvana. The time travel story is pretty cool, however. Our main character is an inventor who's been screwed by his fiance and business partners. In his depression, he takes the Long Sleep: a 30-year hibernation. When he wakes up in the future, in the year 2000, he seeks revenge on those who betrayed him. It's pretty cool. There's nothing hugely brilliant, perhaps, but definitely entertaining and the writing style of the main character is fun. And of course there's a lot about cats, which is always cool.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

MLS Playoffs: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS Playoffs: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

The atmosphere was great with a sizable, pumped up crowd, but it was not meant to be. The Earthquakes were starting behind the eightball with a two-goal deficit from the first leg in L.A. The team worked hard, but L.A. already had a lead and just needed to defend. Without needing to attack, they could keep eight or nine players on their half of the field and it was tough to get through. I thought San Jose would use the high-pressure techniques they've done in the past, but they were a little flat and trying too hard to keep their no-doubt wild emotions under control. The result was an addreneline rush that meant many passes and crosses were overhit, and too calm play when attempting to dribble through the Galaxy defense. The first half was uneasy, but the Quakes calmed when they scored on an L.A. mistake. Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman cleared the ball right to Quake Brian Mullan, who accepted the gift by crossing to teammate Brian Ching who headed the ball into the far corner. Great goal. Unfortunately, it was in the 42 minute, late in the first half. We were now only one goal down, but I figured the Galaxy would score -- they have the talent to do so. The Quakes played with more passion in the second half, looking for that tying goal, but mid-way through their offensive drive caught them out and a great through-ball from Donovan led Ned Grabavoy and he carefully touched it around Quakes' keeper Pat Onstad to tie the game 1-1 and restore the Galaxy's two-goal lead. After that, the Galaxy simply wasted time. They did little ticky-tack fouls and took their time on restarts (Hartman even put on his groundskeeper hat at one point and tried to clear the field of paper streamers that had fallen from the stands). Unfortunately, the lame referee did nothing to prevent this, and in the last twenty minutes, when the Quakes needed two goals to advance, they struggled to find a rythmn and break down the Galaxy defense. They almost succeeded on a couple occasions, but bad luck or a good save from Hartman prevented a goal. If the Quakes had scored, I think that would have driven them all out for that tying goal, but they couldn't get that one and as the clock ticked on, the knowlege that they needed two goals to tie loomed heavier and heavier. The fans fell quiet and with the refs' final whistle, the best season ever for the Earthquakes (second best all-time in MLS), ended with a whimper. The final 1-1 score meant that LA advance and the Quakes' season is over. It was a disappointing end to a glorious season. I'm not sure what happened, exactly; we certainly lost it early in the first leg and couldn't regain it. To their credit the Galaxy played very well, far better than at any time during the regular season. They concentrated for 90 minutes in both games and worked hard for the result. It's tough to come back against a determined team like that, especially one that continues to counter with offense instead of collapsing into a shell (like the Galaxy team of 2003 infamously did in the Earthquakes' amazing five-goal comeback). After the game I was bummed, and I wished the game could have been a little more even and competitive. I also felt some bitterness about the MLS playoff format that essentially negates the whole regular season. All the Quakes got out of beating LA by a whopping 19 points in the regular season was home field advantage in the second leg of the playoffs. The playoffs are basically a whole new season and positioning doesn't matter at all. In fact, I think the format helped LA: by playing first at home they had confidence to go away and get a result, and being the underdog they were prepared to work harder than the Quakes to get the goals they knew they needed (they knew they needed a large lead going into tonight's game). The Quakes, on the other hand, seemed overconfident about their ability to score on their home field. They really needed four goals tonight, and even for the Quakes, that was a tall order. Goals are rare in soccer and it's one thing to score them one-by-one as you need them, but scoring a set number is very tough. Still, the Quakes had a fabulous season, and I can't complain too much. They won the respect of a lot of teams around the league and even the Galaxy admits the Quakes are a better team.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Trip to San Jose

Soccer: Trip to San Jose

Well, today I headed south to San Jose, California, for a brief weekend visit. I'm going to see some clients and go to the Earthquakes playoff game on Saturday. Things did not get off to a good start. Last night was wild. I was just finishing watching The Apprentice and getting ready to pack my bags when the electricity went out. (Fortunately, my Tivo's got battery backup and continued to record for the final seven minutes of the show.) The whole town was out. There wasn't a storm, only rain, but I guess it was the first long rain of the season and took down a tree or something that messed up the electrical system. Anyway, I had to pack my flashlight and candles. That was not fun as I'm a "visual" packer: I need to see what I've got so I don't forget anything. That left me rather jazzed and hyped and I couldn't go to sleep for the longest time. I lay in bed and worried about things like how I'd get my car out of the garage without electricity (the door is electric) and if I'd get a hot shower in the morning. I finally fell asleep around one a.m. and at two a.m. all the lights in the house came on! I got up to turn lights off and noticed the TV's sound system was on, so I checked my Tivos to make sure they were okay and set up for my absense. Then I went ahead and watched the end of The Apprentice, rebooted my computer and got it set up properly, checked and answered a few emails, and went back to bed. By that time it was three o'clock in the morning and my alarm was set for 3:45 so there was hardly any point in sleeping. I drowsed for a bit, but got up before the alarm and showered (plenty of hot water, fortunately). I was on the road about four a.m. and thankfully had an uneventful trip. No delays with parking the car, riding the shuttle, getting my boarding pass, or getting through security. I even had time for a bagel with cream cheese while I waited for my flight. I slept during most of the ninety-minute plane ride. Getting my rental car was a tiny hassle: you have to ride a shuttle to the rental car area, which took a few minutes. Still, by nine a.m. I had my car and was driving back to my old haunts. I spent the day helping a client of mine, then my brother and I went out for Italian food. Despite the inauspicious beginning, it was a good day.


Monday, October 24, 2005


Movie: Stay
Director(s): Marc Forster

A disappointment. I didn't know much about this going in and didn't want to: the concept sounded bizarre and intriguing, which is usually a hit-or-miss kind of movie. For me, this missed. The premise is that a psychiatrist is treating a suicidal young man who seems to be able to predict the future. That sounds neat, but the idea is quickly dropped and the film becomes a chaotic mess where you're not sure who is who or what is what. For instance, the boy says his parents are dead, but the psychiatrist meets the strange mom. So who's going crazy, the kid or the doctor? The problem with this kind of film -- similar to the mediocre Flightplan -- is that with such powerful build-up the resolution had better be damned good. The whole time you're thinking it can't be very good, and in this movie, you turn out to be right. Yes, the film has a dreary Sixth Sense-style twist at the end, but it's not very surprising, it's totally meaningless, and worst of all, it involves a complete point-of-view twist which is illogical and confusing (i.e. the movie is film from the perspective of one character but later we find out it's really been the POV of a different character). The result is an uncomfortable, surreal film filled with too-clever scene transitions (the director worked overtime trying to match elements from one scene to the next), a bizarre and incoherrent story where you can't tell reality from dream, and a distinctly ordinary and disappointing conclusion which, from the director's heavy-handed approach, is obviously supposed to be brilliant and profound. While there were definitely things I liked -- scenes, acting, certain shots -- I came out of the theatre wishing I had the two hours of my life back. That's when I looked at my watch and saw that the movie was only 90 minutes long -- it felt like well over two hours. This is basically a poor man's Mulholland Dr., a similarly surreal film with a twist ending that changes everything, except that one was done by a master director who knew what he was doing and created a unique puzzle film that works, and this director created a conglomeration that's just meaningless nonsense. I wanted to like it, but I must say, "stay away" from Stay.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ocean's Twelve

Movie: Ocean's Twelve

This was surprisingly good, though the plot was overly twisted and convoluted, of course. This time the gang has been found out by the casino boss they stole from in the first movie and he wants his money back, plus interest, or he'll kill them all. So the gang's forced into action to steal $97 million in two weeks. Then it turns out that's all a front to get them to compete in a robbery contest by a robber who wants the title of best thief for himself. That's a stretch, but the movie's fun enough to allow it. Basically, that's all this film is: a fun ride with mildly amusing in-jokes and clever crimes, and the expected twist at the end that makes everything work out ideally. Good fun.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Drunken Master

Movie: Drunken Master

A fun, rather silly early Jackie Chan film about a young kid (Chan) who is undisciplined and trouble. Though his father is a Kung Fu master and the boy's skilled, he's assigned a new master who toughens him through a year of harsh discipline and training and eventually turns the boy into a master at Kung Fu. The twist is the new master is an old drunk and appears to be incapable of anything, but turns out to be an amazing fighter, and he teaches the boy his "drunken" style of fighting (which is the most powerful of all forms of fighting). Pretty good, with glimpses of Chan's signature style, but there are a lot of meaningless side fights that don't move the story along and are rather boring. Ultimately, the best parts of the film are the story and the awkward relationship between student and master and not the fighting, which seems a repetitive and occasionally goes on too long.


Friday, October 21, 2005


Movie: Doom

I'm not heavily into video games, though I have nothing against them (just no time to play them and when I do, I'm more into strategy games). The thing about Doom is that it's heavily action-oriented and that's what I expected in this film adaptation. Unfortunately, the action doesn't start until about an hour in -- before that it's all atmospheric horror and mysterious bumps in the night (no monsters are seen for a long time, just flashes of carnage and sudden death). That's not what Doom's about, folks. Doom's about chaos and non-stop action, a pure adreneline rush. My expectation was that this would be an-edge-of-your seat thrill from start to finish with constant meaningless slaughter and violence until the resolution. Unfortunately, none of that happens until very late in the film (there's a brief first-person-shooter perspective, just like the game), and by then you're so bored by the cardboard characters and silly drama that it doesn't matter. Basically, the movie fails for the fans, fails for the action crowd, and fails for the horror crowd. It doesn't work for any of them because it doesn't know what it is and thus becomes none of those genres. There is one redeeming moment, though ineptly done, and I will warn of slight spoiler here, in that one of the main characters, the one we assume is the hero, played by master thespian The Rock, where he turns evil and becomes the film's villain. That's an unusual twist and could have been interesting except that it happens so abrubtly without warning or foreshadowing that it feels false and bewildering. However, at least they tried to do something different. Still, it's not enough. It's a dismal experience, not worth your time even on DVD.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oliver Twist

Movie: Oliver Twist
Writer(s): Charles Dickens (book)
Director(s): Roman Polanski

This is an excellent film. There's nothing flashy, just gritty Industrial London in the 1800s filmed realistically, and a heart-wrenching story about a kind-hearted orphan boy's trials and struggles. I've never been a huge Dickens' fan (his works are so dreary), but I enjoyed this as a film (I'm sure the book would be difficult to endure). It was hard to watch at times -- the world back then was so harsh and cruel -- but in the end things work out for the poor boy and it's a story of triumph over tragedy. My only criticism is that the main character is practically a mute; the actor only has to look cute and pathetic and rarely says or does anything (probably a good thing as I wasn't impressed with his mediocre acting abilities). In the end it seems that Oliver's main salvation isn't his good heart but his pretty face; not exactly the kind of revelation that encourages the human condition. Not having read the novel, I'm not sure if this is the fault of Dickens or Polanski, but either way, it's not a fatal flaw as the story still works on many other levels. It's just a good story well told; you don't even notice the director, and in fact, you forget you're watching a film, which is the ideal. Highly recommended.


Friday, October 14, 2005


Movie: Domino
Director(s): Tony Scott

This film looked unusual and interesting in the promos, and I'm a huge Keira Knightly fan, but I'm sad to say the film doesn't work. I actually liked the director's unusual style which is in-your-face and aggressive, like the title character, a model-turned-bounty hunter. Unfortunately, it's the script that's bad. The first problem is that the story is told in reverse order, via flashbacks, a forumla that works for some movies, but fails for this one. In this case it fails because the story isn't really that interesting or unusual enough for us to put up with the technique. The other problem is that the writer (and director) seem to be overly enamored with the whole "bounty hunter" thing, as though it were the greatest or most unusual profession in the world. Granted it's not that common a profession, especially for a beautiful model, but we don't need to be reminded of that every two minutes. "Ooh, look at Domino be tough! Ooh, look at sexy Domino shoot a gun!" The story, which is overly convoluted because of the flashback technique, is disappointing in its ordinariness: it's basically just a standard "oops we robbed a mobster" plot. I really wanted to like this and tried hard for almost the duration of the entire film, but in the end, I was left disappointed and cheated. It was a neat idea, but the film's dramatic camera technique and unique visual style set the viewer up for great drama and the film only delivers disappointment.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Ring Two

Movie: The Ring Two

I was not expecting this to be as good as the first one and I hadn't heard positives about it in the theatres (though I hadn't read any particular reviews or anything), but it turned out to be pretty good. It mostly reminded me how excellent the original one was: very intelligent despite the gimmicky premise. This one is similarly twisted, but has some intelligent logic in the story. In this case, Samara, the demon girl in the well from the first film, wants to take over our heroine's son to use his body and escape her hell, and get her revenge as well. The mom and son have moved to Astoria, Oregon (very cool coastal town a couple hours from where I live) but Samara finds them. Again most of the horror is subtle mind tricks, but it's effective, and the film feels dreadful even when it's showing scenes of sunlight and beauty. Ultimately this film isn't as good as the first one -- it unfortunately deteriorates to typical horror -- but it gets surprisingly close and the pyschological horror of a mother watching her son become another person is really interesting and terrifying. The performances are excellent and if you liked the first one, you should enjoy this one as well.


Friday, October 7, 2005

Hide and Seek

Movie: Hide and Seek

This seemed pointless and derivative when I saw the trailers, but I actually liked it. The twist at the end explains things (it's a Sixth Sense sort of thing). But unfortunately, without that twist, you don't have much. The Sixth Sense was fascinating even without the ending; this one is dreary, puzzling, and confusing until you get the explanation. All you know is the mother committed suicide and the daughter's troubled. She has an imaginary friend who's apparently doing bad things. As those get worse and worse, it's more and more serious. But without understanding what's going on, it's difficult to really steep yourself in the story. Still, I liked the ending, which was clever.


Thursday, October 6, 2005


Movie: Sahara

This wasn't at all as bad as I expected; it actually was pretty good. It's a difficult film to make with the story as broad as it is, and there is definitely some plot silliness, but overall it's just action-adventure and in that regard I liked it. Harmless.