Friday, July 24, 2009


Movie: G-Force

Arguably the silliest movie of the year, about guinea pigs that are FBI agents, but you know what? I still liked it. It's fun and dumb and the plot is too ludicrous for words, but who cares? It's a summer popcorn flick for kids and there's nothing wrong with that. The special effects and talking guinea pigs are well-done, and there a number of unique and innovative moments. I'm still shocked the idiotic plot got approved (Coffee makers that come to life? Huh?) but just put your brain on hold and enjoy the goofy spectacle.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Beckham Experiment

Book: The Beckham Experiment
Writer(s): Grant Wahl

This is the "controversial" book about David Beckham's coming to Major League Soccer and his first couple of years with the L.A. Galaxy. It's a decent book, told chronologically, about his arrival and experiences, but there are several flaws. First, the book really doesn't give us much insight into Beckham. We learn far more about minor Galaxy players. David himself is hardly quoted at all. That's disappointing because many aspects of the book are theories as to what David is thinking or wanting and there is no conclusion there because David hasn't given his perspective (other than canned media presentations which aren't illuminative). However, I did enjoy learning about those minor Galaxy players -- a book about them would be more interesting than this one. But the book's biggest flaw is that its structure makes it sound like a bio or documentary but the ending is more like an essay with the author clearly making his point that he thinks the David Beckham signing was a mistake and has been a disaster. That is poor writing on two levels, one in that it is switching genres in mid-book, and another in that the conclusion is seriously flawed because the "Beckham experiment" is not yet finished. This book is doing the equivalent of judging a race at the halfway point: there is still much to happen and we don't yet know the final outcome. Really, in the case of Beckham, the final judgment will have to take place a decade or two from now when we can see the overall impact he has had on U.S. soccer. How he fares for a season or two with the Galaxy is minor in comparison to that lofty goal. Note that I don't disagree that the Beckham signing has been mishandled in some ways and there have been problems; I just don't agree with the conclusion that it was a mistake. It seems to me Wahl is wanting to make his book more controversial or dramatic by concluding that, possibly on advice from his editors (it feels like a tacked on conclusion). Unfortunately, the bottom line is that this book doesn't get you much (if any) insight into Beckham, most of the material is soccer history you already know if you've been following MLS and the Galaxy, and the conclusions of the book are misguided and premature (for instance, the Galaxy is having a good season this year but that is not in the book). Still, it's an interesting read for the soccer fan, but I would much rather see this book rewritten in twenty years to give us a more objective perspective.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Seattle versus Chelsea

Soccer: Seattle versus Chelsea

Fun game! This was Seattle's new MLS team facing off against one of the best teams from England (and the world) and the lopsided result was expected (pretty much any single player on Chelsea's team makes as much as Seattle's salary cap for the entire team). Chelsea convincingly and deservedly won 2-0, but Seattle had tons of chances and it was a blast to be there among the 65,000 in the stands. Every time Seattle came close to scoring 65,000 people would leap up and cheer (and then groan when the chance was missed). We were up near the top under the roof with a great view and it was actually chilly with a strong breeze and no hot sun. A fun day, though $40 for parking is obscene. You can see some of the pictures I took on my Flickr account.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Seattle Trip

Today I headed up to Seattle for the big soccer match tomorrow. Interesting trip: ran into horrible traffic outside of Tacoma which had me reconsidering taking the train instead of driving. A few miles from the hotel I heard my car making strange sounds but I thought maybe it was the pavement. When I got off at my exit, however, I knew something was wrong: my steering wheel was wobbling like mad and I could hear a regular thumping sound. It was only a mile to the hotel so once I got there I checked my tire and immediately saw the problem: a huge bubble the size of half a grapefruit was bulging my left front tire! The tire still had air so I thought I could make it to a nearby Costco, but on the way the tire went completely flat, so I had to change it. It's been a long time since I've done that, and never on this car. Lots of fun. Long story short: made it to Costco, ended up replacing all four tires (it was time). Learned that Oregonians don't have to pay Washington sales tax, which is really cool. I guess they do that so that we'll go up there and buy stuff instead of waiting until we get home, which was what I'd planned to do. All told, not a bad result (except for the tire cost, but I'd have had that later this year anyway): the new tires were on by seven o'clock and the car drives much better now (it feels like I've got new brakes, which is scary in retrospect). It could certainly have been much, much worse, like if the tire had given way on the freeway while I was going 60 mph!


Friday, July 17, 2009

The Appeal

Book: The Appeal
Writer(s): John Grisham

Okay, I'll be honest: this is a horrible book. There are several reasons for that, but to explain them, I will have to spoil the ending, so if you'd rather not know, skip these comments. The book, overall, has a simplistic plot: it's set in Mississippi where a giant chemical corporation has poisoned the well water of a small town and given hundreds of people cancer. A sympathetic husband and wife team of lawyers has been fighting a wrongful death lawsuit against the company for four long years and when the verdict comes back in their favor it seems like good news. Unfortunately, it's just the beginning of the battle, for the corporation will appeal and it may be a couple more years before justice is served. That starts the second half of the novel, where the corporation begins machinations to elect their own anti-litigation candidate onto the Mississippi supreme court so that when the case comes up for appeal, the court can rescind the verdict. The book is long and detailed, going over every filing in the case and nearly every speech and promotion in the campaign. It is tedious and boring, and in the end, nothing happens. The chemical company's guy gets elected and votes against the lawsuit and none of the cancer-striken victims get any justice. Grisham write the novel this way in order to stir up the reader's anger at the supreme court election process (which is obviously ridiculous), but while it might be realistic, it does not make for a satisfying novel. Part of the problem is that Grisham goes so far overboard to make his hero characters sympathetic and good and his villains truly evil that the reader is naturally expecting justice in the end. The whole time you are reading the book you are motivated by the justice you know is coming and you can't wait to see the bad guy get his. In the end, he wins, which is outrageous. I'm sorry: I don't like predictable endings but when you set up a stereotypical storyline you need to follow-through with a stereotypical Hollywood happy ending. The odd thing is that Grisham's case against the election process and the evils of big corporations killing people was already made: a happy ending wouldn't have made us less outraged, just more satisfied readers. As it is, this is another "message" novel by Grisham, horribly disappointing, and it'll unfortunately make me think twice about buying any of his novels again. (It reminds me of his horrible The Chamber, an anti-death penalty rant with no story.)


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Just as lukewarm as the book. It's the weakest novel of the series, as nothing really happens (Harry does not do anything heroic or save the day, just gathers knowledge for the next book). The film's better than the book in many ways, focusing on any hint of action, and it's pleasant enough, but it can't overcome the limitations of the original story.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Hangover

Movie: The Hangover

Not quite as crude as I expected and surprisingly funny and entertaining, though it definitely has its low-brow moments. (The really crude stuff is saved the for closing credits, so just skip those if you're squeamish. You won't miss much.) Not my favorite genre, but the trailer looked funny and I wanted to see this but was worried it would be worse than the trailer. It's a bit of a mixed bag: the trailer definitely captures the funniest scenes, but there's still some good stuff in the film, along with stuff that could have been left out. Still, overall, not as a bad as I expected.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Public Enemies

Movie: Public Enemies

I was disappointed, but I must preface my comments by stressing that I am not a gangster film fan. I find them boring, bewildering, and I don't get the fascination with such low-life killers. This film has its moments, it's certainly well done and acted, but I was surprised at the violence (the trailers didn't indicate that): this film has more gunplay than most action flicks, much of it involving machine guns, and those things are loud. I mean really loud. My ears were ringing after every gun battle. Storywise, there isn't much too this: John Dillinger is bad guy, good FBI agent is tracking him down, they fight, and -- since this is based on reality -- Dillinger loses. It's well done in that regard, but I didn't get much depth out of the character. I didn't learn what made John tick. I also found the film’s editing to be choppy and awkward, which surprised me. There were many scenes that jumped without a transition, leaving me confused as I suddenly realized we were in a completely different scene with other characters. (This problem was exacerbated by the fact that 90% of the gangsters looked identify in their dark suits and hats.) The hand-held motion photography was also a problem, making me queasy in many scenes.

All that said, this isn't a bad movie by any means. I'm sure many enjoyed it. It's well done, well-written, and well-acted. Visually it's interesting, being a period piece, and of course Jonny Depp is amazing as usual. But I found the gunplay boring and routine, the story endless (the film is nearly 2.5 hours long), and in the end, it did not live up to my high expectations.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ice Age 3

Movie: Ice Age 3

Surprisingly unfunny, though not awful. There are just many scenes and jokes you feel are supposed to be funny, as though they left a beat in to allow for the laughing, except that no one is laughing. The best parts for me are the visual gags: the rock flying through the air that splits off chunks like booster rockets, or the two long-necked dinosaurs who entwine to make the shape of a heart. But oddly, though those are clever and cute, they feel out-of-place. The world of Ice Age has never made much sense to me: it's too convoluted with modern sensibilities and talk, as though the creators just throw in everything without any rules (kind of like Airplane, where any out-of-context reference is permissible, except here it doesn't work). So so.