Monday, March 28, 2011

Lincoln Lawyer

Movie: Lincoln Lawyer
Writer(s): Michael Connelly (book)

This started out being just what I expected: a by-the-numbers story of a too-slick defense attorney making clever deals, getting his clients off on technicalities, and charging healthy sums for his efficient work. The main case he takes on is deceptively simple: a rich young playboy is accused of battering a prostitute and attempting to rape her and it seems like she's just out for a payday. But then things get tangled as the lawyer discoverers there's more to the case -- and his client -- than he expected. He eventually finds himself pinned in by his client, basically blackmailed, and unable to do anything about it. Suddenly the lawyer is facing a philosophical and moral quandary and we get some real depth about innocence and evil. I was very surprised to find such material in a glossy Hollywood production, and it really raised the quality of the film. Not only does this work as thrilling entertainment, but it has some interesting meat for you to chew on afterward. Impressive.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch

Movie: Sucker Punch

This movie is a fascinating concept: a girl is locked in a mental institution by her cruel stepfather who wants her inheritance and she plots escape within her imagination. The way this works is a cool sort of double-layer dream: she imagines the asylum is a brothel with the corrupt guard the pimp and the female psychiatrist as the madame. She and her fellow girl prisoners are to learn a dance to lure in the male clients and when she dances, she loses herself in an adventure fantasy where she fights warriors and dragons and goes on military missions with her girl friends (I enjoyed the odd mix of tech and eras, from medieval to WWII to science fiction). During the fantasy battle her friends are working in real life to gather the items needed for the escape. When she has all the pieces, they'll be able to escape for real. The over-the-top "live videogame" visual style (by the director of 300 and Watchmen) is fantastic, but the plot seems too simplistic in the first half and the lack of story means the visuals feel like a shallow gimmick. Later on in the film when reality and fantasy finally collide the film really gets going and from that point on I loved it, especially the terrific conclusion which is thoughtful and surprisingly deep. I understand why it was done this way -- as a writer if you know the deeper ending is coming it allows you to be more shallow at the start -- but an audience doesn't know that on first viewing and I found the first half of the film to be tedious and drawn out. I know I'll enjoy it much more in repeat viewings, but it felt way too long the first time. For instance, the opening sequence is a familiar tale of the stepfather abusing his step-daughters. It's told without dialog and done with style and panache and a rock-and-roll beat, but the story is so old it's almost trite and instead of lasting a mere 60 seconds, it feels like it's an eternal ten minutes. I just wanted it to hurry up and get the girl thrown in the asylum so the real story could begin. But despite this flaw, the rest of the film made up for it, and I have to give this one my recommendation. Though trimming 20-30 minutes off the running time might have made this a great film, it's definitely worth seeing for the fun videogame visuals alone.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Mischief (1996-2011)

Tonight I had to say good-bye to a close friend of nearly 15 years. A month or so ago I noticed Mischief was sleeping more than usual and he seemed to be a little depressed. He hadn't been eating well for the past few months. I thought Mayhem was stealing his food, but separating the two didn't seem to help. After I returned from my week away, I immediately knew something was wrong: he was dreadfully thin and he was so tired he could barely raise his head. He wouldn't eat and he wasn't responsive. He just sat and stared in a daze. I took him to the vet. Last time he was there he was over 11 pounds; this time he was 5.6. I don't think he ate at all the whole time I was gone. Tonight the vet gave me the sad news: his kidneys had shut down and he was anemic, which pretty much means there's no hope. She thought he had less a week (she was surprised he survived the night, though the fluid treatment she gave him helped). I spent a last few minutes with him. His eyes were alert and was he affectionate, but I noticed he didn't purr. (He hadn't purred at all since I returned, even when I rubbed his favorite spot under his chin.) He moved his head actively, but not his body. I think he was too weak to do more.

It's very sad, but at least he didn't suffer too much. I knew he was getting old but I hadn't expected him to go so soon and so suddenly. I was shocked at how emotional I was -- I'd mentally been preparing myself for the worst the last few days but it was very hard to let him go. At least I have Mayhem to comfort me (and me him, as I can already tell he's wondering where Mischief went). Here's a painting of Mischief I made on my iPad:

He was a wonderful and loyal friend.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Movie: Limitless

It's a gimmicky premise -- a pill that allows you to use the supposed "full capacity" of your brain (it's not actually true that we only use a small percentage of our brain, so don't promote that myth) -- but it's surprisingly well-done. I expected everything to be trite and predictable, but it's spun out in an interesting and believable fashion as the guy uses his new brain power to take over the financial world. There's tension, our hero makes mistakes and is flawed, and the ending is good, though it doesn't exactly explain all the loose ends. I liked the cast and the direction was also good. I can't think of anything that's a huge standout -- it's simply a well-crafted thriller. It's fun and interesting and fairly intelligent, and these days one can't ask for much more than that.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back Home!

I'm back! Whew, that felt like a long trip! I drove over 1,000 miles, saw a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles, had a long conference weekend, and got to sit on a tarmac in Minneapolis/St. Paul while my plane was de-iced so I didn't arrive into Portland until 1 a.m. this morning. Exhuausting, and I ate way too much delicious Southern food, but worth it.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Dakota Cipher

Book: The Dakota Cipher
Writer(s): William Dietrich

I don't know if this is part of a series, but it's sort of like The Davinci Code set in the early 1800s, with a rogue American adventurer discovering ancient artifacts while mingling with historical figures like Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson. The plot is wild -- the search is for Thor's Hammer, which apparently has been hidden in the United States back when the Vikings first landed here and explored the new world -- but I really liked the way the author balanced the outrageousness with facts and reality. It helps that our narrator and hero, Ethan Gage, is dubious along with us. But what makes the book worth reading is the hilarious writing style: Gage as the narrator writes in a quaint tongue with colorful terms of speech that are just wonderful. It would be over-the-top for a modern book, but works great for a book set in the old west. The historical aspects are also intriguing. However, I was disappointed with the ending which I found unsatisfying in two ways: first, it doesn't really end as it sets up for a sequel (ugh), and second (slight spoiler), it is not a happy ending. I suppose it makes sense in some ways in terms of the personalities of the characters, but I still wasn't too happy. It's probably not enough to ruin the book, which I really liked until that point, but it's not the ending I wanted. Still, it does make me curious about other books in this series. I shall have to check them out as I'd like to read more about the adventures of Ethan Gage!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Real Studio Conference 2011

I'm in Atlanta at the conference and everything is going well. It's been a lot of fun, especially seeing all the people, though I was surprisingly nervous in my presentation yesterday. I geared it toward beginners, which worried me as the audience seemed very knowledgeable, but I did get a few compliments afterward (including one person who was new to Real Studio and said from his perspective it was the best presentation). It's really great meeting users in person and finding out what they are doing with Real Studio. I'm glad I came and I sure hope the conference returns to an annual thing.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dogs of War

Book: The Dogs of War
Writer(s): Frederick Forsyth

Very interesting book. It's older (1970s, I think), so many aspects are dated. The plot deals with a quest to overthrow a small African nation in order to gain mineral rights and most of the story is the technical details about how to buy arms on the black market, plot a coup, etc. Some of that is hilariously quaint, with mercenaries waiting weeks for instructions via snail mail (today we get annoyed when our email isn't responded to within minutes). The book's slow to get started, and it rambles in places, and there are strange parts like the romance in the middle that doesn't have anything to do with anything else, but it's an interesting book simply because of the topics of war, mercenaries, and greed.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Off to the Midwest

To night I head off on my trip to Atlanta for a Real Studio conference. I'm flying in to Nashville (much cheaper) and renting a car and driving, which will allow me to see relatives in the area. I'm a bit nervous about the trip as it's been a long time since I've traveled and flying these days is no longer fun (both because of security precautions and airline cutbacks). I'm also experimenting by not taking my laptop or GPS -- instead I'll use my iPhone as a GPS and my iPad with Bluetooth keyboard as my laptop.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle Los Angeles

Movie: Battle Los Angeles

It's getting a critical drubbing as you might expect, but I'm not sure why. I got exactly what I expected: a decent actioner about a small group of marines fighting off an alien invasion. It's certainly way better than the awful Skyline that has a similar plot. I was disappointed at the lack of science fiction aspects -- we never really get to see the aliens, exactly, nor their technology -- but I was somewhat impressed by the group of characters making the last stand and the way they went about it. It's fairly shallow and the ending is feel-good, but that's what I expect for this kind of film. Just have fun and don't take it seriously.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Movie: The Adjustment Bureau

The basic concept of this film isn't new -- it's man defies the gods who try to set his fate (in this case, a rising political candidate and the woman he's not supposed to have) -- but the methodology is somewhat different. In this case we have bureaucratic men in suits and hats who apparently "adjust" our lives when we "deviate from the plan." They intervene in subtle ways, for instance, making sure we misplace our keys so that we miss a meeting that would have sent our life down a different path. The film is so vague on who sets the plan and even who the men are (Angels? Aliens?) that they might as well be magical fairies. But that really isn't the point of the film. The real point is discussing whether or not we have control over our own destinies. Unfortunately, the film never reaches any deep point regarding that, staying on the surface and exploring the lighter side of such questions. The ending contributes to this because it feels too pat and our hero doesn't really do anything to decide the outcome (which could be a subtle point, but it's not well executed). So ultimately the film's not particularly satisfying or intriguing. However, the ride to get there is enjoyable. I liked the leads and their relationship, and I found it fascinating the way the plot balanced out our hero's ability to rebel against the gods with their seeming omnipotency. There are a few aspects of this that come across as silly (like the power of the hats), but there is good tension and drama throughout. One aspect that I found fascinating which wasn't properly explored is the concept that the reason this couple felt such a deep bonding was that the original plan called for them to be together, but then the plan changed. Remnants of that original plan remained and still pushed the couple together. That raises the key question, "Was their love real to begin with? Or just part of the plan forced upon them?" Sadly, the film doesn't ask this question or explore that path. There are also darker aspects, such as the possibility that the man's family was killed to help the plan, that are just skimmed over and not explicit enough for real emotion or drama to emerge. This could have been a remarkable and powerful film if it had explored some of these deeper questions. Still, as a lightweight mix of romance and philosophy, it's not bad, and I enjoyed it. Just go with the flow and enjoy it and try not to think too much about the obvious flaws.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Gun Has Bullets

Book: My Gun Has Bullets
Writer(s): Lee Goldberg

This is the first non-Monk of Lee's I've read and I wasn't sure what to expect. My first surprise was that the wonderful witty humor I love from the Monk books is fully on display here, in this hilarious skewering of Hollywood television industry. My second surprise was the decidedly adult nature of the writing and plot: sex scenes, murder and gore, porn stars, and a lot of rather disgusting imagery abound. It's done for appropriate reasons, for the most part, and it's meant to be funny, but it's sure a switch from the G-rated Monk series. It perhaps needs a warning label for Monk fans. Beyond that, it's actually a pretty great read. It's wild, perhaps too wild, as some of things were so over-the-top they pushed me into disbelief (such as the sitcom dog that bites a man's hand clean off). But I love the core concept of a mobster simply killing off the competition in his time slot so the TV show he's financing will get better ratings. The plot's crazy, with blackmail, murder, and everyone in TV land out to destroy everyone else, but if you take it as parody, it's works. My favorite was the fake networks and TV shows: they are hilariously ridiculous but enough like real shows to be fully plausible, and some actually sound cool enough to get on the air (like Frankencop, about a cop pieced together from dead body parts). Lee has been in TV for ages and it shows, as he nails everything Hollywood. (Some aspects are dated, as it's obvious the book was written in the mid-1990s.) It's a terrific education in the making of television as well as an entertaining spoof. There's more action than mystery solving, though, but it's still fun.


Friday, March 4, 2011


Movie: Rango

The previews of this animated film looked awesome and indeed the film is gorgeous with some of the most wonderful characterizations of creatures ever seen. The way the animals look like animals yet still look human is amazing. That feature alone is worth the price of admission. Johnny Depp as the voice of Rango gives a flawless performance of the wild title character, a domesticated chameleon who wants to be a thespian, as he's thrust into an old desert Western town where he accidentally becomes the sheriff. Unfortunately, his shtick gets a little old after a while and it isn't enough to hold up the weak story which meanders and takes forever to get us down its predictable path (it's about a bad guy hogging all the water supply, a plot that feels straight out of an episode of Bonanza or The Big Valley). There are moments of terrific fun, some good action, and the story isn't terrible (just routine), but the film's inconsistent and occasionally awkward. Some things just don't quite work. It's still worlds above most animated fare, but falls short of Pixar standards (it lacks the emotional wallop Pixar repeatedly delivers). Another disturbing aspect was that the film is quite adult at times, which feels odd. For instance, early on "actor" Rango seduces the headless nude torso of a female mannequin and in a barrage of dialog throws out, "Are those real?" Funny, yes, but no adults laugh because it feels inappropriate in a kids' film. That happens several times. Some of the violence seems too realistic for kids as well. Yet much of the film seems geared toward very young children, leaving me wondering if the creators even had a target audience in mind. The bottom line is that Rango is a good film. It's fun, interesting, and breathtakingly beautiful. However, I was expecting great and it didn't quite get there, so for me it's a little disappointing. I'd like to watch it again on DVD and I suspect I'll like it better the second time as I'm more prepared for what I get. But it's worth seeing just for the fantastic artwork.