Saturday, December 31, 2005

March of the Penguins

Movie: March of the Penguins

I wasn't super excited about this documentary. Though I wanted to see it, my attitude was more like the way one views health food. I mean, how interesting can penguins be? To my surprise I was gripped by this amazing drama! It tells the story of how penguins -- the only creatures that can survive Antarctic winters -- travel many miles across the frozen desert to the nesting grounds where they were born. There they mate and the female eventually lays an egg. Then, exhausted by her ordeal, she makes the long trek back to the ocean while the male sits on the egg. Two months later she's back with regurgitated food for the newly hatched baby. The fathers have gone without food for four months and now they get to trek to the ocean to swim and find food. This cycle of swapping off parenting duties continues through summer, until the chick is big enough to survive on its own. It's just amazing that anything can survive such fierce winters. Many don't, of course; chicks die, parents die (and if a parent dies, the chick dies as well, since it cannot be left alone). It's a brutal, cold world, yet the beauty of these creatures is evident in their play. They joy they express at finding their mate or their chick is heart-warming. This is an amazing film, one you will definitely learn from. I found myself wondering for the first time why I'd never considered becoming a marine biologist. It really sounds like an interesting field (I had no idea we knew so little about penguins). Great film.


Friday, December 30, 2005


Movie: Munich
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Not a film for the faint of heart, I found the violence in this film to be extraordinarily grim and messy, extremely realistic, not cartoon-like as in action movies. The story itself is grim: after 11 Israeli atheletes are gunned down by Arab terrorists in Munich in the 1972 Olympics, Israel secretly puts together a covert team to hunt down and kill those responisible for Munich. The story is fascinating: it's a story of revenge and death; it's a story about the difficulties and dangers of tracking down killers; it's a story about murder, unjustified and justified (if there is such a thing); it's a story about the inner workings of governments, of secret black ops, of obeying the orders of your bosses regardless of what horrible thing they tell you to do. Ultimately the film's a morality play, but unlike traditional morality plays, this one doesn't have any anwers, only complex questions. Spielberg doesn't tell us if he agrees with the Israeli play or condemns it: he just provokes us to think about which side we're on. Obviously terrorists need to be punished, and since they have no morals about killing innocents for the purposes of terror, why should we have qualms about assasinating them? Yet are we bringing ourselves down to their level if we act like them? Those are just a few of the questions the film proposes. It's a powerful and moving film and one everyone should see. I normally ignore the whole Israeli-Arab thing as I find it dreary and over-complicated and endless, but I was surprised that in this film I was thoroughly entranced by the complexities. There's a great scene where an Arab and a Jew argue their viewpoints (the Arab thinks the Jew is German) and it brought the faults of both sides to the forefront and makes each think of the other in a different light. Good film.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Might As Well Be Dead

Book: Might As Well Be Dead
Writer(s): Rex Stout

Pretty good Nero Wolfe novel. This time Wolfe's hired to find a rich man's lost son and discovers the boy's in prison and has just been convicted of murder. Not wanting to tell the father such bad news, he decides to prove to boy innocent, as he suspects a frame.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Fun with Dick and Jane

Movie: Fun with Dick and Jane

This is apparently a remake of a 70's film which I've never seen or heard of so I can't compare the two, but I really enjoyed this one. It's modernized, with Jim Carey's character the patsy in an Enron-like corporate meltdown. He and his wife lose everything and eventually take to robbery to make ends meet. This kind of film is an extremely difficult balancing act to maintain: the characters must be sympathetic and can't do anything too mean, yet we must believe they really do become successful bank robbers. Fortunately, the film does do this well and it works. There are many hilarious, classic scenes (like the family in swimsuits and soaped bodies running through the neighbor's lawn sprinkler for showers). The film is tongue-in-cheek and makes fun of corporations and 9-to-5ers, has a few serious points about the evils of "keeping up with the Joneses," and has a simple, elegant plot. The ending is great and satisfying, and the husband-and-wife team of Carey and Tea Leoni is wonderful and believable. This is not an especially deep film, but it's good fun, and quite entertaining. Enjoy it!


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Walk the Line

Movie: Walk the Line

I knew nothing about Jonny Cash -- I hadn't even heard any of his music. But the trailers looked interesting and I loved the music. The movie's excellent. Phoenix practicallly channels Cash, and Reese Witherspoon (as June Carter) is surprisingly good. The story focuses slightly too much on Cash's controversial relationships, affairs, and drug abuse; I would have preferred more time on his music and how he created it. However, it does seem to be an accurate representation of his life and I liked much about the way it was presented. Excellent movie and I just bought two Cash albums.


Thursday, December 22, 2005


Movie: Crash

Episodic-type films don't always work, but when they do, they can be powerful. This one works. It's an elaborate and complicated story about the inter-relationships of a group of strangers in Los Angeles; coincidence and happenstance connect the people but amazingly, the story never feels forced. The theme of the film is about racism, specifically the fear generated after 9-11. L.A.'s a wild mix of cultures and races and this movie puts them all in a pot and cooks until boiling. What's great is the way the film plays up stereotypes and then destroys them. Like the bad cop that does something heroic, or the seeming gangster who's really a loving family man. The film's a bit slow to get going but eventually becomes really powerful.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Finding Neverland

Movie: Finding Neverland

Surprisingly interesting film about playwright J.M. Barrie, who created Peter Pan. It's about how things in his personal life inspired his play. He really was a kid at heart and his wife was more of a social climber who looked down on childish things, and thus he found a relationship with a widow with three active boys to be much more to his liking.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Podkayne of Mars

Book: Podkayne of Mars
Writer(s): Robert Heinlein

The story's a little odd. It's simple at first -- a Martian girl taking her first voyage to earth via a detour to Venus -- but then in Venus we get into a political kidnapping and all sorts of nonsense, which is a bit silly and the action clashes with the non-action of 90% of the book. And we never get to see her actually get to earth, which makes the whole thing seem a bit pointless. But what makes the book work is the charm of the female narrator, young "Poddy" of Mars. She's just amazing, hilarious, brilliant, witty, with wonderful ways of speaking (writing) that make the book, despite it's early lack of action, a joy to read. Definitely a classic on that basis alone.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Silent Speaker

Book: The Silent Speaker
Writer(s): Rex Stout

I'd heard about this author, who created the dectective Nero Wolfe, and wanted to read some of his novels. This is the first one I've read and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the story moves slowly and it seems no progress is being made to solve the murder, which is frustrating. On the other hand, the ending was good and you see Wolfe's genius in retrospect. (Essentially, he'd solved the murder earlier but waited until the right moment to reveal his knowledge, which was quite clever.) Some of the writing and situations are severely dated (this novel was written in the forties), but overall this is remarkably good mystery writing. I'm going to read more Wolfe before I make my final judgements as to how much I like these mysteries.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

King Kong

Movie: King Kong
Director(s): Peter Jackson

Really impressive film. I didn't remember the original that well (except for the cheesy special effects), but this one gives it epic scale and realism the story deserves. In terms of special effects, I was slightly disappointed: while the digital animals and such are amazing and completely believable, it seems compositing is still a skill that needs work, as in several scenes the assemblage of people and digital creatures seemed slightly fake. But that's a minor complaint. Overall, the film and story work. It's a fun adventure ride with a real story behind it.


Friday, December 9, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I was really wanting this to be good as the series is one of my favorites. I expected it to be technically sound (good special effects, etc.) but I was nervous about the way the story might be changed or the characters adapted. Well, I'm pleased to report my fears were for naught. The adaptation is extremely faithful. In fact, it's even better than the book in places. For instance, the film opens with WWII planes bombing London and we see the children having to hide in the bomb shelter. That's not in the book, but it sets the tone better, as the children are sent to the country to be safe, and thus are parentless -- perfect for an escape into a fantasy land like Narnia. The book doesn't emphasize or set that up as well as the movie. I also loved the gradual pace of the film. Yes, it's a long movie, but the setup is important, both for well-developed characters, but also for making the fantasy elements more exciting in contrast. In terms of the acting, story, and visuals, the film is excellent. The digital creatures are very well done, especially Aslan the lion. A few minor digital characters -- like the fox -- are not as well done, but the film still works. Overall, I was highly impressed. There is no moralizing or sermonizing, and yet C.S. Lewis' original allegory is not thwarted in any way. It's just a crisp, clean, well-done adaptation of the book. I can't wait for all the others novels in the series to be done.


Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Movie: Hotel Rwanda

Wow, what a film! I didn't know much about this except that it was supposed to be good. I'd forgotten all about the whole Rwanda war and was surprised to find that's what the film's about. Well, it's not about the war, per se, but about one apolitical man, the manager of an elite hotel in the capital of Rwanda, who saves the lives of over 1,200 he brings into his hotel and protects during the fighting. How does he protect them? Well, he calls in favors, manipulates, bribes, and conjoles -- basically doing anything he can to keep his family safe. The Rwanda civil war was basically a race war -- the Tutsis versus the Hutus, but it's essentially impossible to tell the difference between the two by looking. But the Hutus are in power and they slaughter over 500,000 Tutsis in a massive genocide campaign (children and pregnant women were especially targeted as the Hutus wanted to wipe out the future generations). The hotel manager's wife is Tutsi (he's Hutu), so it's amazing he was able to protect her. It's a shocking story, grim and terrifying at times, and the way the West and the rest of the world abandonned and ignored the Rwanda situation is sobering. The director does a good job not making so grim it's unwatchable -- much of the violence is implied, not directly shown -- and by focusing on one man and his family, we have a gripping story that's just amazing in scope and power. Not only highly recommended, this is a MUST SEE. If you are human, you need to see this film. It's is the kind of movie that will impact your life. You need to see it.


Sunday, December 4, 2005

The Upside of Anger

Movie: The Upside of Anger

This was a surprisingly good film. It's a little heavy-handed. It's about an older woman whose long-time husband suddenly leaves her and she becomes angry and drinks a lot. Because it's about anger all the songs are about anger and the characters sometimes talk about anger; that's too obvious. But the characters are interesting (the woman has four very different daughters she clashes with) and there is a bit of a story. The ending has a little twist that's interesting and brings things to a new light. It's not a great-great film, but it's good, a little unusual, and I liked it.


Friday, December 2, 2005

Aeon Flux

Movie: Aeon Flux

I don't remember much about the MTV series, other than I've heard of it, but I enjoyed this film. The plot interested me: it's about a future society where one family (the Goodchilds) rule because hundreds of years earlier when a virus wiped out 99.99% of the population of earth his ancester found a cure. But Aeon is a female warrior who fights the Goodchild rule, but then begins to wonder if he's really all that bad. The explanation of what's going on makes sense and is surprisingly logical. In terms of action and film, however, the whole thing's a bit weak and occasionally dull. As a first time viewer I still enjoyed it, but I doubt reruns would be very interesting.