Monday, December 31, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Movie: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Like the first film, this is not unwatchable (though you must leave your skepticism at the door). It's isn't up to the original's standards and the puzzles are both too convoluted and too simple and the ending is anti-climactic, but it's still harmless fun with quirky history lessons and amusing jokes.


Sunday, December 30, 2007


Movie: Cake

I liked this. I'd never heard of it, but it's about Heather Graham as a wild travel writer with committment issues who, when her magazine publisher dad has a heart attack, has to take over one of his publications as editor. It turns out it's a wedding magazine -- exactly the opposite of her personality and beliefs (she's anti-marriage). While occasionally uneven and some of the conflicts feel forced or ill-defined and of course the overall plot is obvious a mile away (yes, the anti-marriage girl falls in love and settles down), Graham's bubbly performance carries the day and makes this an entertaining exploration of marriage and love.


Saturday, December 29, 2007


Movie: Bound
Writer(s): Wachowski Brothers
Director(s): Wachowski Brothers

This was the Wachowski brothers' first film and one I'd heard about and been wanting to see for a long time. However, the "gimmick" factor is high (Lesbian lovers in some crimminal caper) and wasn't sure if the reputation was deserved. It turns out to be a pretty good film (other than one brief sex scene, the sleeze factor is more implied than shown). Basically we have a girl just out of prison who meets a mobster's mistress and they fall in love and contrive to steal $2 million of the mob's money. They've got a clever idea on how to steal it in such a way that the blame won't be attached to them -- but of course things go wrong and everything gets messy. What intrigued me the most about the film is the aspect of trust between the two female lovers: the thief went to prison for trusting her old partner too much, yet she trusts the new one. Or does she? Is everyone telling the truth? How much do you really trust another person, especially with life and death and $2 million on the line? Interesting questions, and though not explored enough for my taste, still a pretty good film.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kite Runner

Movie: Kite Runner

I knew little about this going in -- so little I thought the title was a metaphor. It turns about to be about kids flying kites in Afghanistan (apparently they do that there, though it seems an odd hobby for such a place). While overall this is an excellent movie, I found the beginning confusing: we open with a writer receiving a batch of his first book in the mail and the way it was shot you only caught a glimpse at the title and I must have been halucinating because I could have sworn in one shot it was a copy of The Kite Runner, which made me think the author's character was the author of the movie and that the extended flashback was everything that had happened to that author when he was a kid. Instead, it turns out the story is utter fiction -- but that confusing premise at the beginning weakened the film for me. Why not just show the book clearly so we can see what's going on? Why purposely play coy with the book like that? It was an odd directing decision that hurt an otherwise excellent film. The story is a powerful one of redemption: two boys grow up together in Afghanistan, but apparently one is lower class, the son of the other's family servant (this was also not clearly presented in the film until too late). When the rich boy doesn't rescue the servant boy he resents him for he reminds him of his guilt and he contrives to have the servant boy -- his former "best friend" -- sent away. Later the rich boy and his father must flee the country when the Russians invade and they end up in America, where the boy becomes an author, but he's still haunted by the way he treated his supposed best friend and returns to Afghanistan to make ammends. Some people I was with seemed shocked or horrified by the Afghanistan lifestyle (quite brutal under the Taliban), but I was much more intrigued by the bond of the two boys and felt that should have been explored more in the film as that was the core subject. Still, despite a few flaws, this is an excellent film and I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Burning Bright

Book: Burning Bright
Writer(s): Tracy Chevalier

I'm a huge Chevalier fan, but I was disappointed with this novel. I'm not sure where it was going or why it went there. It's basically the story of a rural family in the late 1700s who move to London and their lives overlap with that of poet William Blake. This brings us some fascinating insight into the life of the writer -- how he had his own printing press and the way that he produced his books -- but the main story is about the family, and that story meanders for a while and finally drifts off into the nothing. While it's realistic -- little more than youngsters falling in love and becoming adults -- I kept wating for something to happen and when nothing did, I was left disappointed. It's still an excellently-written book, it's just not up to Chevalier's usual standards.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Movie: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

This is a funny parody of Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash bio, this time about a fictional singer named Dewey Cox. It's an almost literal remake with the key momments of Cash's life mocked and mixed up, with hilarious results. What's interesting is the realism that's preserved: the singing's actually good, the story's good (not just silly), and the acting's excellent. Many parodies are so cheesy they demean themselves as well as the original work: here everything is celebrated. Only occasionally does the film lower itself into silliness, like the bit about Dewey accidentally cutting his beloved older brother in half with a machette -- and even there it's done in such a way that it's not so realistic that it's disturbing yet realistic enough that it doesn't ruin the tone. All-in-all, other than a few moments of questionable humor, I liked this. It's fun, silly, entertaining, and clever.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeney Todd

Movie: Sweeney Todd
Director(s): Tim Burton

I'd heard of the muscial Sweeney Todd and the premise of a murderous barber always intrigued me, but I'd never seen it, so I was looking forward to this presentation. Unfortunately, what disappointed me the most was the music: it's definitely poor, with zero memorable songs and only one or two even singable. The rest are boring or tedious, with a few just downright awful. Everything else about the film -- the story, the cast, the acting, the atmospheric sets, the direction -- I loved. But music is key for a musical and this was disappointing. So see it for the black comedy story and great performances from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and wear earplugs.


Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Legend

Movie: I Am Legend

This is a surprisingly good film. Will Smith is solo most of the screen time and manages to evoke depth of character without dialog and an actor to react with. The story -- about the last man on earth -- is compelling beyond the gimmicky premise. I wasn't crazy about the "monster" humans lurking about: they were unrealistic and inconsistent, but they were frightening (all the more so since they used to be human). The bottom line is that this is a film with a gimmick that proves deeper than its subject matter, and Will's acting is a tour-de-force.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Movie: Slither

Cool little monster-from-space flick that blends a lot of horror-scifi films into something new. Basically we've got a small town where an alien being that arrives via a meteorite takes over the body of a rich guy and has him start eating the neighborhood's dogs and cats while impregnating a woman with thousands of worm children who then invade other people, turning them into zombies. It's meant to be wacky and funny more than scary, and it succeeds while still keeping things realistic enough to be creepy. Fun characters and cool action -- a winner.


Monday, December 10, 2007


Book: Crisis
Writer(s): Robin Cook

I'm not usually this blunt, but this is a horrible, horrible, book. Absolutely nothing happens. The title and the book jacket implied this was an exciting tale about medical malpractice and knowing Cook's books I figured this would be cutting edge legal-medical conflict and raise a lot of interesting issues. Wrong! Instead we have what appears to be a routine death and a subsequent lawsuit that blames the doctor's personal problems which all get aired in court. The crux of the novel is about a potential autopsy of the victim -- and we literally must wade through hundreds of pages of incredible tedium as the doctor (the brother-in-law of the sued doctor) tries to fight through bureaucratic paperwork to get the body exhumed and examined. It's so boring! As if to make up for the lack of story, Cook suddenly throws in bizarre kidnapping and assaults... apparently instigated by the "evil" lawyer suing the doctor who doesn't want an autopsy. The assaults are so outrageous -- a gunfight on a freeway -- that all plausibility of the novel is lost. We're really supposed to believe an attorney would send goons to attack the defense? I mean, come on -- he's the obvious suspect. But of course nothing can be proven and the lawyer gets away with it. Preposterous. But the final insult was the book's ending. I had kept reading because the way the book made it sound we could expect some dramatic resolution at the end and I had to find out what would be discovered in the autopsy. What was discovered was just ridiculous: that apparently the sued doctor had killed the patient on purpose? Huh? I don't get it. It makes no sense and there's no explanation given. Just bizarre and totally out of character. Very odd novel, if you can even call it that. The plot would fit into a short story and even then it would be boring. I normally like Cook's books, but I feel this book stole years of my life. I want my brain back! Gag. Just horrible. One of the worst books I've ever read.


Friday, December 7, 2007

The Golden Compass

Movie: The Golden Compass

I read the trilogy over a year ago in anticipation of this film and I've been bummed that it took so long to be released. Initially I was irritated and unimpressed for the script seemed to be veering dangerously far from the book and eliminating many important scenes. For instance, the film debuts with narration explaining that this is set is an alternate universe, that in this world people wear their souls on the outside, etc. Narration like that's a warning sign for trouble, especially with such a complicated story. Fortunately, the narration was brief and hardly needed, for the story explained most everything, and once things got moving, the film was very good. The young actress who plays the lead was terrific, especially her impressive interactions with the CGI bear: excellent casting. I also liked the way they ended the film, resolving the current crisis but setting us up for the sequel (book two of the trilogy), but not including one key scene that's in the original book but would have complicated the ending by introducing too much fresh conflict at the very end. I believe they'll open the second movie with that scene, which is excellent and much better than including it in this one: otherwise people would have been frustrated ending the movie right in the middle of the story. So the bottom line is the film has as weak start but gets better and better and the second half is just terrific.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tin Man

Movie: Tin Man

This was a mini-series that aired on the Scifi Channel. It's surprisingly good. They've taken the original Wizard of Oz story and updated it into a science fiction version. For instance, Dorothy isn't taken to Oz but the "Outer Zone" a.k.a. the O.Z. The Scarecrow isn't really a scarecrow, but the former Queen's chief scientist and advisor, only he was tortured by the new evil queen and had half his brain removed (he's now called Glitch because he's only half there). The result is that we've got a story that's familiar yet new. Pretty cool, and the luxurious scenery and decent special effects make this a keeper. The ending's a bit too pat for my taste, but this is still a lot of fun with a charming cast.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Movie: Enchanted

This had gotten good reviews and though the premise seemed interesting, it also seemed like an easy movie to screw up, but it turns out it's really well handled. The concept is that an animated princess in a fairytale world gets transported to modern day live action New York City by the Wicked Witch. The princess is completely clueless, as everything in her world happens in a perfect fairytale fashion without all the complexities of real life. She ends up being rescued by a hardened divorce attorney who's about to get married without any romance in it at all -- and the princess, of course, shows him that there's magic in living and the world isn't all evil. It's fun the way the movie blends the animated and live action worlds, but that's just a gimmick -- far better is the way the film plays with all the fairytale stereotypes and mixes tales into a delightfully bizarre conconction. Great fun. Not too serious, and the finale's way over the top (literally), but still enjoyable. My favorite scene was the scene in the park where the princess starts to sing an improv and strangers in the park start joining in while the down-to-earth lawyer follows scratching his head in bewilderment and going, "Hey, how do they all know this song?" Hilarious, and one of my pet peeves about musicals.