Friday, December 29, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness

I was worried this film might be too much Oscar bait, a bit of showcasing, but it turns out to be merely a good movie. The trailer highlights the key dramatic points and fortunately that's as showy as the film gets. It's just a good story about a hard-working man trying to figure out life as he raises his young son. On paper the film's long but it didn't feel too much that way in the theatre, though there were a couple moments that dragged. Overall I really liked it, but it isn't a hugely dramatic story. The ending lacked: we spent the whole movie wallowing in the character's despair and when he finally succeeds the film just stops -- I desperately wanted to see him and his son enjoying life and the rewards of their struggles, see some happiness. A jump ahead to the son's college graduation would have been ideal.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Charlotte's Web

Book: Charlotte's Web
Writer(s): E.B. White

After seeing the recent delightful movie, I wanted to read the book, which I hadn't read since I was a kid. I'm really glad I did. It's just a wonderful book, elegant in its simplicity, but deep in heart. I listened to the audio book (unabridged) and it was read by the author, which was just wonderful: his gruff voice was just perfect for the story.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Nativity Story

Movie: The Nativity Story

I wanted to love this: it's a good cast, a great director, and the production values are high. But ultimately it lacks emotion. There's a spark missing. Mary hardly smiles throughout the whole movie, seemingly always carrying a heavy burden, which I found exhausting, and the story, of course, offers few surprises. Some of the structure of the film felt awkward as well. For instance, the movie started off with a "dramatic" scene of King Harrod's soldiers killing babies (except that the baby-killing was not actually shown, and cut so abrubtly it was hard to tell if the babies were being slaughtered or merely kidnapped), and then the film backtracked to a year earlier. Why? The drama of the baby killing should have been horrific; instead it was bewildering and out-of-sequence. There were some nice touches and scenes, but many of the dramatic high points of the story -- such as the angel's visits to Mary and Joseph -- felt underdone and ordinary. It was as though the producers didn't want to actually show anything supernatural (yet there was no problem emphasizing the Eastern mystics' philosophies). All-in-all this is a well-done film. It's certainly not bad, but unfortunately it's not great either, especially considering the story it's trying to tell. Still worth seeing, though don't expect the emotion of The Passion of the Christ.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

High Heels and Low Lifes

Movie: High Heels and Low Lifes

A surprisingly decent comedy caper about a couple women in London who happen to overhear a conversation about a bank robbery and decide to blackmail the gansters involved. Of course everything goes wrong and the gansters are not amused, but our plucky heroines, through dumb luck and the occasional bit of intelligence, manage to outwit professional killers. Quite fun.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Night at the Museum

Movie: Night at the Museum

This is an extremely light film: it stretches the single-gimmick premise (all the exhibits in a museum come to life at night) as far as it can, and it tacks the whole thing onto a tender-hearted divorced-loser-dad-wants-to-impress-alienated-son storyline. Still, despite misteps and some awkward unfunny moments, it mostly works, primarily through the irrascible charm of star Ben Stiller and a few of the shinning co-stars (an elderly but spry Dick Van Dyke is wonderful as the former night watchman). Still, it cannot overcome the limitations of its premise, and there are a few too many sight gags and pratfalls for true humor, but overall for silly, mind-numbing fun, it's not bad at all. There are definitely worse ways to waste your time.


Friday, December 22, 2006


Movie: Feast

Mildly interesting blood film (literally) about a strange creature attacking people trapped in a bar in remote area. I guess this was a "Project Greenlight" project, so it was by a first-time director. It had some style but was uneven and ultimately a meaningless splatterfest.


Thursday, December 21, 2006


Movie: Mandelay
Writer(s): Lars von Trier
Director(s): Lars von Trier

This is von Trier's followup to the incredible Dogville; it picks up where there first left off, with the girl and her father leaving Dogville. (This time the girl is played by Bryce Dallas Howard instead of Nicole Kidman; I didn't think that would work, but it was fine.) The family travel into the south and happen upon a plantation called Mandelay where Blanche discovers that slavery is still very much in force. She is shocked and horrified and vows to free the slaves -- yet like all good intentions, the results are not as she expected. Are the slaves better off free? Without any assets or education, are the slaves actually free? Many such questions are asked as the film explores racism from many angles. I found this fascinating, especially in light of what's happening today in Iraq where we get similar adverse reactions from those freed from oppression. Unfortunately, while this film has some of the elements that made Dogville so astonishing, it lacks drama and punch. There are a few twists, and it tries hard to be shocking, but doesn't live up to the first film. It's not bad, exactly; I suppose if you hadn't seen Dogville you'd find it remarkable. Unfortunately most people who see this would have seen the first and in comparison this one pales. It's still interesting and worth seeing if you liked Dogville; just don't expect the same magic a second time.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blood Diamond

Movie: Blood Diamond

Warning: this film is definitely preachy. It has a "moral" and isn't shy about criticizing Americans for supporting civil wars in Africa by purchasing diamonds that fund the gun runners. For some, that preachiness overwhelms the film, but though I might have preferred it to be a little less heavy-handed (we are not stupid and don't need to be hammered), the preachiness did not bother me as much as it might have. For one, I don't buy diamonds anyway (I am not a fan of jewelry), so this was not targeted at me and I felt no guilt, and for another, I've lived in Africa and loved the authenticness of this tale. The casual cruelty of war in Africa is shocking for most Americans, but routine in countries where life is cheap. That made the quest of the central character, Solomon Senday, who's trying to rescue his kidnapped family, all the more poignant: here's a man willing to risk everything to save a life in a world where lives are so much chaff in the wind. The story's interesting: Senday's found a rare pink diamond worth millions and uses it to bribe Leo Dicaprio, who plays a South African gun runner, into helping him rescue his family; along for the ride is an American reporter played by Jennifer Connolly, who helps out by cutting through red tape. There were some fascinating sub-stories as well: the son's brainwashing by rebel troups and climactic confrontation with his long-suffering father was amazing. The end is somewhat predictable, as the soulless Dicaprio finds life-worth by helping the black man and the reporter is able to open the world's eyes to the deaths that surround conflict diamonds. While I enjoyed the film overall, it unfortunately is quite long and feels too much like health food: good for you but not necessarily tasty. The whole dilemma of conflict diamonds -- diamonds traded for guns are mixed with legitimate diamonds as a way around boycotts -- is never solved (I doubt there is a satisfactory answer) and the movie rather implies that buying diamonds of any kind supports civil wars, despite the film's own admission that the vast majority of diamonds are conflict free and boycotting those hurts the millions of legitimate workers whose livelihood depends on the diamond trade. Without a way to distinguish conflict diamonds from legitimate, there's no way to avoid supporting death in Africa short of a all-out boycott -- yet that means economic death for many. But all the controversy and simplication of complex problems aside, I still found the film remarkable, riveting, and well worth seeing. Two thumbs up.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Charlotte's Web

Movie: Charlotte's Web
Writer(s): E.B. White

Terrific, terrific film for all ages. This adapation of the classic children's book is heavy on the special effects of talking animals, but so well-done you can't tell what technology's used and you just fall into the story. The voice are just perfectly cast (especially the pig) so that even celebrity voices don't overpower their characters. The story seems quite faithful to the book (though it's been a long time since I read it), and though there are some liberties taken with comic relief (like the two hilariously stupid crows), it doesn't hurt the story. There's a tad too much silliness at times, with gags relying on pratfalls and crude humor like cow flatulence, but that's only in a handful of places and generally the film's just wonderful. I also wish there was a bit more screen time with Wilbur (the pig) and Fern (the little girl) as their relationship was more implied than shown, but the Charlotte-Wilbur relationship was amazingly presented. The bottom line: this is a classic story and a classic film. One of my favorites of the whole year. I'm sure I could watch it over and over.


Friday, December 15, 2006


Movie: Eragon

Today I had no electricity so I went to the movies. I wanted to see this film as I'd read the book. At first I was frustrated because it started off with a lot of narrated exposition and seemed to be skipping key events from the book, but somehow it still worked -- the heart of the story comes through and if you hadn't read the book you'd come away thinking it was pretty good. It's not as good as the book in many ways -- much of the drama is lost as time is compressed so that events that took months in the novel happen within minutes on film -- but in other ways, that's actually better, for the book did drag on and on bit too much. Overall, a decent and impressive adaptation. The CGI dragon is surprisingly well-done and the actors -- many unknown -- are not bad. The film does not have the epic feel of the Lord of the Rings films and comes across like a cheap clone; it would have been better served to slow the action at times and let the story build. But it does have a handful of emotional moments and times when you fee like there's more to the story than just action. But overall it's not a bad mix: kids will enjoy the action. Readers of the book will probably feel somewhat disappointed, but trust me: it could have been much worse.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Today there was a huge windstorm in Oregon (winds over 100mph at the coast) and a tree in my backyard fell onto my neighbor's house! Here's a picture of the tree:

Fallen Tree

I don't know what happens next -- the tree people are all extremely busy as practically every road in Oregon is closed with a tree down.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Castle in the Sky

Movie: Castle in the Sky
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki

Another terrific film from Miyazaki. This one again features a young girl, an orphan being hunted for the necklace she wears which contains great power. It turns out she's a princess from a lost world -- a floating city in the sky that's long thought to be legend. There's a slew of wild characters, from a female pirate and her offspring crew to an orphan boy whose father died trying to find the floating city to an odd-looking hulk-like giant metal robot, and it's quite a fun journey. Terrific story, good morals, and wonderful animation. A must-see!


Sunday, December 10, 2006


Movie: Possession

Interesting film I knew nothing about. It's set modern day with an American researcher in England studying the life of a poet who died 140 years earlier. He comes across a startling revelation -- that the chaste poet who's famous for his love poems to his beloved wife -- might have had an unknown mistress. His research leads him on a sort of detective's journey, trying to solve a 140-year-old mystery, restracing the steps of the poet and deciphering clues in his poems and those of his mistress. It's a bit clunky at times, but surpisingly good at others, and though, in the end, the mystery's not all that mysterious or exciting, it makes for a decent film. Thumbs up from me.


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

One False Move

Book: One False Move
Writer(s): Alex Kava

I like Kava's novels, but this one took me forever to get through. Part of it was that our perspective is from the viewpoint of the killer's sister, who's helping him, and he's such an unlikeable character I didn't want to spend any time with him at all. He kills people right and left, he seems like an utter idiot, dying to get caught, and his motives are a mystery until the very end, and so are the sister's; this made 90% of the novel an awkward and distasteful puzzle. It's not a bad book, and it has some decent moments, but some of the decisions Kava made should have been rethought. I'd give it a C+ if I was grading it.


Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Z/Web Makeover

You may have noticed that the Z/Web site has a completely new look! Not only have I improved the appearance, but there is more technology behind the scenes as well. I now support comments using the Haloscan system, so feel free to post feedback and opinion on any of my posts. I've also enhanced the blog with better topic support -- you can now browse posts by those topics as well. I'm sure there is still more to be done and perhaps a few glitches I missed in testing (please alert me to any issues you notice), but it's an improvement and I'll keep tweaking until everything's right.