Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Movie: Where the Wild Things Are

It's been ages since I read the children's book and I don't remember it well. I will caution that I read the book as an adult, not as a child. For some reason this one escaped my notice as a kid. While I remember thinking it was good, I don't remember it being great. I could name a dozen other children's books I liked far, far better. So I come into this not being a huge fan, but more neutral. And that's kind of how I felt about the film. It's good. It's got a handful of great moments, but mostly it's just good. So don't go into this with huge expectations or you'll be disappointed. The acting is excellent (the little boy is fantastic). The monsters are wonderful: somehow simultaneously scary and friendly. The pacing is too slow, and I found several aspects of the story problematic. The biggest one for me was the kid and the monsters playing "war" by throwing dirt clods at each other. As you might expect, this was exceedingly violent, with serious injuries as a result. It felt wrong and off. While I understand youthful enthusiasm and the invincibility of youth, the tone felt wrong for this story and for this little boy. While it obviously echoed the snowball from the beginning of the film, that ended in tears and if anything should have taught the boy a lesson, but it didn't, since he wanted to do it again this time with heavy dirt clods and monsters four times his size who could easily toss boulders if they wanted. The scene had an ominous, serious tone that while I understand the producers wanted such a feeling, it was too strong and too much for me. The way this story works for me is to hint at such things, not actually be them. In other words, threaten injury, but not actually have injury. This had the feeling of the "ha ha" practical joke that suddenly goes deadly and isn't funny any more, except in this case, the producers keep laughing and carrying on, ignorant to the fact that the audience isn't laughing with them any more. Of course this is just one scene and it's not that horrible, just a little off tonally, so it's not a disaster, it does not ruin the entire film. But tone is vital in a story like this and it does effect matters. There are a couple other areas where this happens and it works: it's just off enough it unsettles you, makes you wonder if the monsters really are going to eat the boy or accidentally hurt him, and that's good. That's what the book did: it generated real (dangerous) emotions from children. But the book did it in a way that was somehow still "safe." One way it did that is via time, the book being so short that the reader is not in a scary place for long. The film, unfortunately, is much too long, leaving us in limbo for such a long time that it's actually disturbing, not merely uncomfortable. Ultimately, this is interesting. It's well-done, but it feels drawn out with not much beyond the original premise happening. It would have been far better as a short. Do a thirty-minute version, or maybe an hour. Maybe an hour-ten, if it could be stretched that far. That would have condensed all the wonderful moments into a terrific sequence that would have been awesome. As it is now there are so many lulls and dry spells that they weaken the really good moments, and the conclusion is that the film is only okay, not great.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Movie: Law Abiding Citizen

Somewhat atypical revenge flick, with a genius out to hurt the legal system that made a deal with the man who killed his wife and daughter. It's above average in some ways, as the clever man does most of this from inside prison, which is intriguing. However, the resolution is typical and the explanation unsatisfying. At first we are rooting for the guy but later he just seems crazy. I guess that's the point, but it made his revenge seem unsavory and the audience can't enjoy it then. It's not a bad film, merely uneven and inconsistent, and too manipulative. It's a fun premise and could have been done better. We certainly aren't given much of an explanation as to why the guy is so obsessed (supposedly he's been fighting the legal system legally for ten years and now is taking matters into his own hands, but it feels weak as he wasn't screwed that badly). Even the murder at the beginning is vague and undefined. (It took me a while to realize the wife and daughter had been murdered, and I never could figure out why he wasn't killed or why his family was attacked -- I kept expecting some late twist in the tale that would reveal some unethical behavior on his part had provoked the attack, so in reality he was angry at himself for indirectly killing his family, but that never happened.) All-in-all: see this if you like this sort of film, otherwise wait for the DVD.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Book: Prophet
Writer(s): Frank Peretti

I'm not the biggest Peretti fan, but I find him and his work intriguing, and though I'd had this book sitting on my shelf for years, I'd never gotten around to reading it. It was not what I expected. The beginning sets itself up like the (sadly canceled) Eli Stone TV show where the main character has visions and sees the future. Unfortunately, unlike the TV show, where the visions play a key role, here it is almost a side story, as though Peretti didn't want to scare off readers with too much supernatural stuff and focused more plodding detective work instead. Another sad choice is that the murder involves the controversial topic of abortion, and while Peretti does play it well and fairly and doesn't preach, it's just a heavy topic to read over five gazillion pages and many, many hours. Overall, it's not bad, but just tedious and not interesting enough. It takes until halfway through the book to see where it's going and though the ending is visible from a hundred miles away, it takes forever to get there. It's well-done, but a condensed version would work just as well.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Son

Movie: Nobel Son

I saw something about this a while back and had wanted to see it, but it disappeared before I could. The plot sounded neat: the son of a horribly mean and arrogant Nobel laureate is kidnapped for ransom and he doesn't care or even believe the boy's been kidnapped (he's suspicious the boy is behind the kidnapping and that it is fake). I caught the film on a movie channel and was excited. Unfortunately, it wasn't as good as I hoped. I recommend it with reservations. The key problem is the film doesn't know what it is: it's really three films in one. The tone of the film is light-hearted humor like Get Shorty. We see hints of this in the quirky film-making style, the titles introducing the characters, and the outrageousness of the characters. But the kidnapping is grittily real, and the execution of the ransom pick-up is elaborate and intricate like an Ocean's Eleven heist. So that's a different feel than the humor we were expecting. Also, the humor is sparse and inconsistent. This makes the first half of the film uneven and confusing. As we get past the kidnapping and into the aftermath, suddenly the film takes a new twist (which I won't reveal) leading to something that reminded me strongly of the classic Pacific Heights, where a seemingly harmless and charming person diabolically takes over and threatens our hero with disaster. While I loved the psychological games this produced, it had a completely different feel from the light-hearted spoof of earlier, and it was too brief, for the film too quickly went on to the third (or fourth, depending on how you count) feel, with the hero teaming up with his mom to stop the bad guy. It was done well: extremely clever and realistic, and the tables turning on the bad guy was satisfying. However, it was yet another tone in a film that had too many. So the bottom line is that this film has a remarkably clever, intricate plot, some terrific psychological manipulation, and a wonderful table-turning conclusion, but the whole thing feels awkward, haphazard, and confusing. You aren't sure if this is comedy, dramedy, gritty crime drama, psychological thriller, or what, and that leads to confusion and unease. I found it awkward to sit through because of that. On the one that meant it kept surprising me, but on the other it really felt like three or four movies stuffed together into a mishmash. As I said, recommended but with reservations. Definitely see it to get what you can out of it, but don't expect a pure experience.


Friday, October 9, 2009


Movie: Moon

This film sounded fascinating: a low-budget sci-fi adventure about a guy alone on a station on the moon who starts seeing things and going crazy from being solitary. It also sounded somewhat predictable, since the plot I just revealed doesn't include room for a lot of surprises. However, the film turned out to be even better plotwise, as there is a rational explanation for what the guy sees (and it's far more satisfying than the old insanity chestnut). That said, I did find some flaws and the film left me slightly disappointed. Perhaps that because my expectations were too high. I hadn't expected a rocking shoot-em-up adventure, but I did find the film sluggish in places. Sometimes there was action but it wasn't compelling. Bigger than that, however, is the strangeness of the people. When the main character sees another version of himself he doesn't react the way we'd expect: there's no shock or even curiosity. The two people basically ignore each other, which made no sense to me. Later they do talk and confront one another. Now perhaps the first guy assumed the other guy was an illusion and that's why he ignored it, but that should have been made clear. I found that strangeness off-putting and it distanced me from the character, made me less involved, less intrigued. Like I mentioned earlier, the actual revelation in the plot is excellent and satisfying, but it would have been even better if I'd been more involved. There's also a certain amount of meaningless business: action for the sake of doing something, but it doesn't propel the plot much. Sometimes that can work, but in this film it felt forced and several times I was telling myself, "Come on, get on with it." There were other strange flaws. I'm not sure I can reveal them without spoiling things, but I'll do my best. One example is the main computer character that controls the moonbase. I was never quite sure what to make of him (it?). He seemed to know what was going on and have all the answers, but the human never directly asked him to explain. At minimum I would have expected him to ask and the computer refuse to answer or in some other way deflect the question. Strange. Another strange flaw was the whole business of the blocked communications system. Supposedly live communications with earth are down and -- minor spoiler alert here -- the human figures out that the signal is being jammed. But apparently this jamming is being controlled by the computer, who is lying to the human about the transmitter being damaged. It didn't make much sense to me why the signal needed to be jammed if the computer controlled the transmission anyway! Why couldn't the computer just say it was broken? How would the guy know? (There are some reasons for this in the film; they are just not clearly explained.) There's one other minor flaw and that is the very end of the film where the film ends too abruptly while there was still story to be told. I wanted to find out what happened next and though there was a one-line hint, the film stopped. It felt odd, as though the producers originally had more but ran out of money and just ended it there. Awkward.

All this said, however, these flaws are fairly minor. It's a good film. Perhaps not great, but definitely above average. The explanation for the weirdness is excellent. The story is mostly compelling, except that some of the weird stuff that happens can be off-putting and confusing. The performances are awesome. Sam Rockwell is amazing. The two versions of himself seem completely different even when dressed identically. I'd say the acting is one of the best reasons to see this. I just also add that this film doesn't at all feel low-budget: the sets and setting are tremendously well-done and everything feels realistic. I definitely recommend this film. It's not for all tastes, can be a little slow (very much like 2001: A Space Odyssey), and there are some minor technical and story flaws, but overall this is a unique experience that is worth your time.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Toy Story 1-2 (Double Feature in 3D)

Movie: Toy Story 1-2 (Double Feature in 3D)

Though I have these on DVD I haven't watched them in years; it's amazing how well they hold up. The additional of 3D isn't a huge change, but it's fun in several of the scenes (I especially liked it when Zurg was shooting the puff balls from his cannon). What most impressed me was how the visual quality of the original 15-year-old technology still amazes, and the graphics improvements in Toy Story 2 (mostly in the humans who look like cartoons in the first film). Still, with both of these movies, it's the story that is key and is what makes these films classics. Now I'm excited about Toy Story 3 which is to come out next summer! As a three-hour double-feature, this is definitely worth the seeing as it's a good value, even paying extra for the 3D. It's only in theatres for a couple weeks so don't miss it!


Monday, October 5, 2009

The Invention of Lying

Movie: The Invention of Lying

This is a film with a gimmicky premise -- only one guy in the whole world knows how to lie so everyone believes everything he says no matter how outrageous -- but it's done in such a heartfelt manner, with genuine emotions, that it doesn't feel gimmicky. The film's not a ha-ha laugh-track type comedy; it's more just amusing. It's very pleasant and mild and well-done. The only flaw is that I would have liked more social commentary: the film never judges whether lying is bad or total truth is good, even though some kind of moral seems like an obvious conclusion, but the romantic relationship in the film adds some depth and genuine emotion. Otherwise it's just a pleasant and fun movie.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Soccer: Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

This was the second leg of the playoff match to see who gets to the championship game. I haven't been to a Timbers game in a while (I'm not sure why, exactly) and I am definitely going to go to some next year. This was a lot of fun. There was a great crowd of nearly 15,000 and the atmosphere was exciting. The game was terrific, with six goals. Sadly it finished 3-3, a draw, which eliminated Portland as they lost their away match in Vancouver. They came very close to tying the aggregate and sending the game to overtime, but just didn't quite make it. I can't wait for the Timbers to be part of MLS!


Friday, October 2, 2009


Movie: Zombieland

Fun, playful zombie film, not too scary, but with enough action to be interesting. It's got a touch of social commentary in the lead character's narration and could have used more, but there's a bit of heart in the quirky relationships that come together. Nothing too original or unusual, but the characters are fun and the film's sense of humor is entertaining.