Friday, September 29, 2006

Open Season

Movie: Open Season

Not as good as I'd hoped: the trailer gives away the plot and the best jokes, but overall it's not terrible. Just average, too predictable, and with a few distasteful scenes (I really don't need to see animals crap on screen). The film's inconsistent, at times running through jokes too fast to follow (the mini-mart scene), and at other times having long periods of minutes without much happening (such as the duo walking through the woods). Definitely not Pixar. The problem is the producers seem to think the characters are funny on their own. "A 900-lb pet bear. A mule deer with one antler. Ha ha!" The story is quite trite and deals entirely with stereotypes of hunters versus animals. There are definitely moments of fun, but only moments, and any cleverness feels forced, as though the writers wanted a particular thing to happen and made it, regardless of reality, plot, or character.


Friday, September 29, 2006


Book: iWoz
Writer(s): Steve Wozniak

Terrific book about Wozniak's life, from as a child winning science-fairs to an adult, inventing the personal computer and co-founding Apple Computer. Highly recommended if you're interested in technology or computer history.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Black Dahlia

Movie: The Black Dahlia

This is a strange film. In so many ways it's old school, a classic film noir with great visuals and mysterious characters. But in other ways it's much too modern, with an overly convoluted plot, multiple "surprise" endings, and too much gore and sex. The story's supposed to be about the murder of a girl, but that storyline only takes about 20 percent of the film -- the rest is about the lives of the police detectives we don't really care about (though in the end their personal lives end up being part of the mystery). The problem is everything's so dark and mysterious and we don't know where the story's going or who's good or who's bad, that we end up not caring about anything. We don't care about the police, who seem corrupt; we don't care about the dead girl, who's too sad and strange to be likable. We just don't care. And in the end, we don't even care about the messed up ending.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Amber Spyglass

Book: The Amber Spyglass
Writer(s): Philip Pullman

This is the third and final book in the "His Dark Materials" triology. The first half of the book is excellent -- creative and interesting, with imaginative new worlds, unusual species, and wonderful characters -- but unfortunately the novel peters out in the final third, rambling on and on with nothing much happening. Most of the resolution of the plot happens earlier, and most of that is foreshadowed in the earlier books, so there's very little surprise. I'd been hoping for an overall resolution to the plot, something that would summarize everything and explain, but there was nothing like that. While I don't want to spoil things for you -- stop reading here if you don't want to know what happens -- I must elaborate in order to explain. For instance, in all three books there's the concept of Dust. Dust is dark matter, something that holds the fabric of the universe together but is very difficult to see. Pullman goes so far as to suggest that Dust is Sin, and that sin is what gave humans consciousness and is what makes us alive and different from animals. Pullman is obviously anti-god and anti-religion, but though I'm not I found this concept intriguing and I wanted to hear more about it. Unfortunately, the novel does not elaborate or take the idea any further. It just ends. We're left scratching our heads as what this all means. I'm not sure Pullman himself knows. It's like he ran out of ideas, or his original idea just ran out of steam. Very strange, as his earlier stuff is so well-done I was certain he had an overall strategy in mind, but sadly I was mistaken. It's all smoke and mirrors and no substance. It's a disappointing ending to such a promising series.


Friday, September 22, 2006

The Tracker

Movie: The Tracker

Cool Australian film set in the early 1900s about a group of law officials tracking an Aborigine who supposedly killed a white woman. The group is led by a mysterious Aborigine tracker who plays games with the white men. As the group heads into the wilderness, the balance of power in the group shifts, from the racist leader to others, and it's quite fascinating. The film's slow-moving and thought-provoking, different from a lot of modern films. Highly recommended.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Constant Gardner

Movie: The Constant Gardner

This is really a simple story about a British man in Africa whose wife is murdered. Some of her mysterious activities made him think she was having an affair, but after her death his investigations reveal that she was uncovering a scheme by a drug conglomerate to test a new drug on unsuspecting Africans. Unfortunately, this simple story takes an eternity to reveal, and it's made from more complicated and convoluted than necessary. There are some good moments and it's an interesting story, but it could have been better if kept simpler and more linear.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hospital Visit

Today I got home from a week in the hospital! Last Thursday I woke up feeling horrible. My stomach was nauseated and hurting, and my chest felt like the worst case of heartburn. After I got up, the feelings just got worse and worse. I tried eating and drinking, but that didn't help. Nothing I did relieved the pain at all, though I felt slightly better after I vomited. Finally, after several hours of this and no relief, I went to the emergency room at the hospital. They quickly got me hooked up to an IV and administered morhpine to help with the pain and I think fluids, as they said I was dehydrated (which was weird as I'd been drinking non-stop for the previous week). They began doing tests -- an EKG, a CT scan of my chest, an ultrasound -- and quickly determined that it was not my heart but my pancreas. I had pancreatitis, which is a swelling of the pancreas. It's rather an unusual condition. At the time we weren't sure what caused it and we still aren't 100% sure, but the working theory is that sometime recently I became diabetic but didn't know it. That fits in well with the unquenchable thirst I'd had the week prior. Uncontrolled, the diabetes led to high triglcerides (fat in the blood), which led to pancreatitis. The treatment for pancreatitis is to let the pancreas rest -- which, since it's part of the digestive system, means no food or liquid for several days. It was Sunday before I was allowed to drink or eat anything except for the occasional ice chip, and it wasn't until today I was able to eat solid foods again. Quite an experience, one I wouldn't wish on anyone. I had to have a tube down my nose to my stomach for several days, and though I was incredibly thirsty, I couldn't even drink! But mostly it was boring as after the first couple days my brain was back online but my body was not, and I just had to lie around and wait for it to heal.

The good news is that pancreatitis is usually a one-time thing and shouldn't happen again, and most people recover from it just fine. I just need rest and time to recover (I lost twenty pounds during my week in the hospital). The bad news is that now I'm diabetic and have to test my blood sugar several times a day and give myself insulin shots every day. I'm making radical changes to my diet: going low fat and low sugar and eating a lot more healthy vegetables and fruits, and eating three meals a day at the same time each day (I used to eat irregularly and probably gorged myself inappropriately after long fasts). This is quite a change, but fortunately I enjoy healthy foods for the most part (cheese is the one fatty thing I'll miss) and I like a structured routine, so I think I'll be fine with all the changes. Exercise is something else I'll have to start -- I'm not sure how well I'll do with that, but it's not like I've got much choice. With diabetes, I've got to get healthy or I run the risk of serious health problems down the road, and after this experience, I don't want to take any risks. One hospital visit was enough for me!


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Subtle Knife

Book: The Subtle Knife
Writer(s): Philip Pullman

The plot thickens in the 2nd book of the trilogy as we meet 12-year-old Will, a boy from our world, who ends up the bearer of the subtle knife, an ultimate weapon many want. I love the developing relationship between Will and Lyra, the girl from the first novel, and it's obvious the story is building to where the two will have prominent roles in the finale. In this story Will's looking for his father and Lyra is helping him. In the process there is danger and adventure, and more of the ultimate plot of the series is unveiled, though we're still not sure, exactly, who is good and who is evil. That's a strange thing and I'm not sure where Pullman is going with it, but I suppose that will be explained in the final book.


Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Golden Compass

Book: The Golden Compass
Writer(s): Philip Pullman

This is the first of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, a scientific-fantasy series from English writer Pullman. I hadn't heard of it but it's apparently good and they're making movies of them, so I wanted to read the series. This first book is quite impressive. It takes place in a parallel universe to ours, so things are similar yet not. Pullman brilliantly gets us involved right from the first page, with young Lyra sneaking into a meeting room at Oxford where she's not supposed to be, where she oversees a plot to kill her uncle. That sets her off on a series of adventures, where the improbable happens quite regularly, yet there's no disbelief at all as Pullman makes it convincing. The story is quite dark -- people die regularly, sometimes brutally -- but it is a brilliant novel with fantastic fantasy elements and a high-speed non-stop storyline.


Friday, September 8, 2006

The Illusionist

Movie: The Illusionist

Predictable ending, despite the "ta da" presentation, but the story and characters and intense scenes of magic performances more than carry the movie, and the ending is the satisfying one we wanted. Good performances from Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, the whole cast really. There's not huge depth here, despite the film's hints at such, but it's still an interesting and well-done film.


Friday, September 8, 2006


Movie: Hollywoodland

Disappointing ending, which answers not one of the questions the movie proposes. Basically the film explores the questions surrounding the mysterious death of Superman star George Reeves in 1959. We're presented with various possible scenarios, but then the film just ends without picking one. Huh? What's the point of that? I got that much from watching the A&E Biography episode on Reeves. Basically, no one knows what happened, and this film doesn't help. I really don't see the point of it. Why not make a documentary if that's all you want to explore? Sure, the film creates a fictional private detective, brilliantly portrayed by Andrian Brody, but in the end he doesn't solve anything, so why bother? I give the film a C.


Monday, September 4, 2006

The Wicker Man

Movie: The Wicker Man

I actually liked this. I haven't seen the original, so I don't know what that was like. The "surprise" is not much of one, and the long slow path to get there is exceedingly annoying, and there are huge holes in the plot and questions never answered. The worst is the strange car accident that opens the movie -- it was never explained and serves more as a red herring to confuse the situation and haunt the main character. But despite tons of flaws (including cult stereotypes), the story is somewhat intriguing, and though I thought I shouldn't have liked it, I did.


Saturday, September 2, 2006

The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus

Book: The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus
Writer(s): Harry Harrison

Uneven and not as dramatic as previous Rat books, this one starts off with a grand premise (the universe) and then reduces to a petite one (a small planet). I found that disappointing and it make it a bit hard to read, though some scenes and events were quite exciting. Unfortunately a lot of the novel has the Rat under the thumb of a real creep and that Rat books are at their best when the Rat is winning. Sure, in this one he wins in the end, but we have to suffer along with him for much of the book, which isn't much fun. I'm such a SSR fan I'll read any of them, but this one is not one of the best.


Friday, September 1, 2006


Movie: Crank

I loved the silly premise -- Speed with a poisoned man: adrenaline keeps him alive so if he stops moving, he dies -- but unfortunately the film's not quite as fun as it sounds. The first mistake is there is no mystery, as he's told right at the beginning he's been poisoned and he knows who did it. The second mistake is the film is inconsistent in tone and attitude. At times it's hilarious, a live action cartoon (like when a brick building, with guys fighting inside, digitally puffs and swells to the poundings inside); but other times it goes quite and stale, as though the filmmakers were out of material. Other times it's just distasteful, such as the outdoor sex scene, which was overly graphic -- and puzzling since moments earlier the girl had been frolicking nearly naked and the guy didn't make a move even though he needed the adrenaline. Huh? The action's okay, but it should have been non-stop and accelerating; the pauses in action don't fit with the plot. The ending is cool -- I was actually surprised they were so realistic. Overall, I give this a B-, with most of the goodness from the premise, not the execution.