Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fast Five

Movie: Fast Five

Another movie I expected to be terrible and had little interest in seeing. I thought the original film was okay, but the first sequel was so bad I never watched any after that. I wasn't into this one but the early reviews were highly positive (over 70% on Rotten Tomatoes) and since there was nothing else I wanted to see, I gave it a go. You know what? It's pretty fun. It builds on the previous films so I was confused as to who was who (I barely remember the first except it had fast cars in it and Paul Walker's unquestionably the worst actor on the planet), but you don't really need to worry that much about the plot. Whether people are good guys or bad guys hardly matters -- just enjoy the action and humor. The story ultimately is the gang are going to rob a drug dealer of his millions, so this really becomes a heist movie. It's pretty fun and the climax is so absurdly ridiculous that it's actually good. I won't spoil it by revealing details, but I will say that I was pleased that the producers went whole hog on the premise. I can envision a film with this type of the plot element where they just hint at what's going on and don't actually show it. Here they really show what's going on with nice long-range shots of what really appears to be main streets in Rio, and they must destroy -- and I mean destroy -- at least 500 cars in this film. Speaking of Rio, that was the other thing I really liked about this: the exotic location (almost the whole film is in Rio) really adds to the atmosphere. Ultimately this is a formula film, done very Hollywood, but if you aren't too much of a curmudgeon, you can enjoy this carnival ride. I liked it better than the first one.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


Movie: Hop

This looked incredibly lame from the previews. I was very surprised at how popular it was. Critics didn't like it but viewers seemed to think it was okay. Since I had a free movie ticket, I decided to give it a go. To my surprise, it's actually quite well done. The trailer made it look terrible, with nothing but an animated bunny gimmick cracking wise with lame jokes. There's some of that in the film, but it's done in a more realistic way than I expected. For instance, the human is actually quite shocked to find a talking bunny and some of his reactions were even plausible. The plot's light, and not all that interesting, but I found the pacing of the film good and the atmosphere fun. There are even some decent jokes. No, it's not a great film by any stretch, but it's wonderfully harmless and an interesting take on a holiday movie (and in this case that's an unusual holiday in Easter).


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Portland Timbers versus Dallas FC

Soccer: Portland Timbers versus Dallas FC

Portland 3, Dallas 2: After the high of Thursday's historic home opener, you had to wonder how this game would go. Would Dallas spoil the party? I was at this game in person and wow, what at atmosphere! The Timbers Army chants and sings the entire match, non-stop. Fans everywhere couldn't wipe the silly grins their our faces. Everyone was in a jolly mood and it wasn't just the rare sunny day. You could feel the electricity in the air, a sense of history in the making and we were all a part of it. From the collection of TV news vans out front (every local station is covering the Timbers like mad), to the renovated stadium which, while it has the bones of an old soul (to mix metaphors), is beautifully redone. The old stadium always had a split personality as it also awkwardly housed a minor league baseball team. Now everything about the place is Timbers, with Timbers green everyone and the famous axe logo tattooed on everything. It is awesome. Our seats were up in the second balcony the stands, near center field, but it felt really close on the action. We did have "obstructed view" seats with a roof-support column a few seats in front of us, but it wasn't that bad as you could lean to see around it. Actually worse were the trio of TV cameras right in front of us as they obscured any action along the sideline and leaning or standing didn't help see around them. I don't think I'd want my season tickets there, but for this game it was fine. Timber Joey, the lumberman who revs his chainsaw and cuts off slabs of a giant log every time the Timbers score, came by several times. On two occasions he brought by a slab for everyone to cheer and perhaps touch (I'm starting the rumor that "touching the slab" brings good luck, cures cancer, and promotes world peace). The game itself was fantastic. Portland played beyond their skill. You could just see the team improving with every pass. Confidence just grew and grew and lesser players began showing off their tricks. While it was obvious Dallas players are more seasoned and polished, the Timbers played them out of the park. Don't let the scoreline fool you: this was a rout, plain and simple. Dallas could scarcely get the ball out of their own half and I counted dozens of occasions where when they tried, they were forced to play it backwards because there was nowhere to go forward. I was really impressed with the work-rate of our guys. We get our first goal 12 minutes in, via a ball fed back to an open Jewsbury just inside the box and he runs on to it and smashes it. It hits the post, comes off and hits GK Hartman in the back, and goes in! After going down a goal Dallas try to mount a comeback but the Timbers repel all chances and continue to attack. Off a corner kick in the 35th, Kenny Cooper skies to head home his first against his old team. Beautiful goal. Love the way he goes to lift up tiny John Spencer in his goal celebration. Dallas continue to get a lot of corner kicks, but don't do much with them. Portland think they've scored a third just a minute or so into the second half, but the goal didn't count as Perlaza was a hair offside. But Portland continue to press and when Dallas fail to clear Alhassan slips the ball through into space deep in the box and Wallace is there to stab home his second of the season. On the hour Cooper misses a near post crossed by inches. But Dallas have chances too, with Milton Rodriques nearly getting behind on a 1v1. They get a header chance after that, though it was going wide, it still showed danger. Around the 70th I thought Dallas looked dejected and beaten and they looked like they were just going through the motions. I figured it they got a goal it would have to be somewhat flukey. To their credit they keep trying and in the 83rd, David Ferierra runs onto a ball in the box and just gets there an inch before the defender and knocks it in at the near post. That goal inspires Dallas and rattles the Timbers, who start to struggle and panic a bit, and then Brek Shay makes a great play, running onto a high ball in the box. He gets there just before the keeper who had come out to close him down and his little pop-over shot gets over the keeper and suddenly the lead is only a single goal. Nail-biting time! Soccer can be an unfair game sometimes, but it is a 90-minute game and the Timbers have to play every minute. Twice now they've led by three goals and then allowed the opponent to creep back into the match. But like I told my friend, "Later in the season I'd be more concerned about giving up goals. Right now I just want to see them chalk up wins." The Timbers defend a little frantically, especially in stoppage time as Gleeson slaps away a cross for a corner kick. Dallas nearly get an equalizer with a shot at the near post that Gleeson is forced to tip up off the crossbar. Whew! Crazy stuff, but Portland hold on for the three points and now are in fourth place in the West and tied with the highest scoring teams in the league. Amazing.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Movie: Rio

The trailers did not give me confidence as most of the jokes seemed lame they gave zero indication of a plot. To my surprise, this is really very good. It's about a blue macaw that's birdnapped from Brazil as a child and grows up in icy Minnesota. He never learned to fly but was adopted by a little girl who grows into a geeky woman and the two are best friends and run a little bookstore together. I loved the way the film took its time establishing their relationship, which was wonderful and is the heart of the film. When she and the bird go to Brazil, he gets lost in the jungle. Not being able to fly and out of his element (almost literally a fish out of water), we follow his adventures as he seeks to return to her. There are dual romances happening: the bird with a female blue macaw, and the girl with a local ornithological who is helping her track down Blu. Mixed in with all this are wacky characters, both animal and human, and the feel of Rio was definitely captured. It's charming, fun, light-hearted, and it didn't have any of the sleazy cheap jokes that seemed to fill the trailer (they go by so quickly in the film they're scarcely noticeable). Definitely worth the look.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Scream 4

Movie: Scream 4
Director(s): Wes Craven

The first movie was innovative. Since then, not so much, as the series has turned into a parody of itself. Still, there's fun to be had in this one, with a clever opening sequence and a twisted ending. Other parts, especially the killings, are so self-referential they are almost silly. Characters are mere stick figures designed for plot purposes, and there's so much dependent upon slasher movie knowledge and the previous films in the series that if you haven't at least seen the original you're likely to be baffled. There are glimpses of genius, but ultimately the film falls a little flat; I craved a bit more depth. Still, as pure entertainment, this is certainly better than much, and way better than most of what passes for horror.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Portland Timbers Home Opener

Soccer: Portland Timbers Home Opener

Portland 4, Chicago 2: Wow, what a game! I knew the fans and atmosphere would be great, but I honestly wasn't too hopeful that the team would back that up. But they were clearly the better team on the day and the scoreline actually flatters Chicago who showed very little. Portland seemed to score early via a Cooper header, but the goal was waved off by the ref, apparently because the ball curled out going in on the corner kick. Very questionable (and a call I'm not a fan of anyway). But justice came later in the match. Around the half hour mark Portland do get on the board, with terrific play in the midfield where a player was on the ground and leaped up to get the ball and play a beautiful through-ball into space for Perlaza who is in alone on the keeper. He cuts the ball back and I thought maybe the chance was gone, but the defender and keeper muck each other up and Perlaza feeds it into the goal and Portland lead in their home opener. Pandemonium in the Portland stadium. Portland use that energy to go forward and soon score another before the half, when a ball is poorly cleared out to the edge of the box where Wallace smashes it through the crowd and it deflects into the net. Timbers make it three-oh early in the second half when Chicago keeper Shaun Johnson can't hold a wet ball and Perlaza is there to tap home the rebound. It's looking like a dream match for Portland. Unfortunately things go a bit sour when a dangerous ball splits the defense and the Timbers' Brunner slides in to clear and ends up knocking the ball past his own keeper. With the goal Chicago have hope and play better and finally get their best chance with a nifty chance inside the box. Marco Pappa creates space for himself and curls one. Portland GK Gleeson slaps at it and gets his fingers on it, but can't quite get enough contact to push it over the bar. It strikes the underside and drops into the goal and suddenly the lead is just one. A tremendous victory starts to seem dicey. But Portland get the equalizer on a crazy play in the goal mouth when Cooper handles the ball during his leap and Chicago can't clear and in the scramble it's knocked in. Replay shows it's an own goal by the Fire, but Perlaza claims it. It shouldn't have counted, but Portland's first goal was taken away so counting this one is justice. With the two-goal margin restored, the Timbers hold out for their first MLS win. Huge!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reality Check

Book: Reality Check (2008)
Writer(s): Guy Kawasaki

Pretty cool book of tips for entrepreneurs and startups. Nothing revolutionary, but lots of helpful advice on everything from wooing venture capitalists to hiring and firing staff. It's all written in Guy's entertaining and playful style with "top ten" lists and chapter titles like "Lies CEOs Tell." There are stories and anecdotes, quizzes, and best of all, interviews with the authors of other books, so you get a glimpse into other topics (there's even one chapter written by a lawyer who disagrees with some of Guy's advice on patents). I thought at first the book would be slim and not that deep, but it's actually quite extensive and broad, hitting on a wide variety of topics. I especially liked the ending, which featured several chapters on non-profits with some personal stories and interviews that were inspiring. And I loved Guy's Baccalaureate speech on hindsights, a speech Guy has regularly given over the years. (If nothing else, just read that speech and you'll get most of what you need from the book.) There were a few things I didn't like: the main one was the use of a certain profane word for orifice that's repeated like 100 times in one chapter on that topic, and the fact that some of the material is repetitive and feels stretched or padded to reach a certain book length. A condensed version of the book might be more appropriate for most people. But I still enjoyed this and appreciated Guy's common sense approach to business and I learned a few things. I just hope I can remember them!


Friday, April 8, 2011


Movie: Hanna
Director(s): Joe Wright

I love the concept of the film as a thirteen-year-old girl is raised by a former spy to be the ultimate assassin, but the implementation had some issues for me. First of all, the story's fairly simple and basic, without a lot of subplot and twists and turns that typically fill this genre. There's nothing wrong with that and I rather liked it. However, the film is directed in a way that attempts to compensate for that, with certain "in your face" techniques (sharp cuts and edits, dramatic zooms, action camerawork, etc.) that sometimes feels overdone and occasionally actually make it confusing what is happening. This is especially true of the ending, which is supposed to be climatic, but left me scratching my head at what happened. (I didn't get the business with the arrow and some of the action editing there was really poor.) Fortunately much of the middle of the film is more human moments as we follow the girl trying to get back to father while being hunted by bad guys she doesn't know are on her tail, and that I enjoyed very much. Not a lot really happens, but it feels like a lot may happen, and that's entertaining. The performances are great all around. Ultimately I was pleased and I recommend the film, but it falls short of greatness for me. Some of its potential didn't get realized and I thought the ending needed something extra (it was too predictable and the confusing camerawork and editing didn't mask the lack of creativity of the conclusion).


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Source Code

Movie: Source Code
Director(s): Duncan Jones

A fan of Jones' fascinating Moon, I was curious about this science fiction thriller with a Groundhog Day plot. It opens as a confused soldier wakes up on a train. The woman across from him calls him by a different name and when he looks in a mirror, a different face is looking out at him. Then a bomb explodes and destroys the train. The man wakes up imprisoned inside a small capsule with a military woman barking commands at him. She wants him to find the bomber. He's sent back to the train and the process starts all over. Gradually we learn that he's part of a scientific experiment known as "Source Code" where a person can be sent back into time via a parallel reality. He learns he can't actually save the people on the train, for they are already dead, but his info could help catch the bomber who has apparently threatened to nuke Chicago with his next bomb. With each visit to the train, the soldier gets a little more information and gets closer to the bomber, but he's also finding out more about himself and Source Code. This is an interesting, if repetitive, premise, but I was impressed the way Duncan keeps the action taut. Interesting things are constantly happening and the film felt too short instead of too long. In that regard, Duncan resisted the temptation to complicate the mission too much -- the whole bomb plot really feels like one of Hitchcock's MacGuffin -- which allows us to focus on the soldier and his relationship with the girl (who doesn't realize who he is) and the whole nature of the scientific experiment. In other words, the film has a gimmicky aspect but that's not the reason to see the film or what gives the film it's value. That's good, because the "science" side of the film is very light and many questions aren't answered. In other films such a lack of explanation could be fatal, but here it doesn't really matter. Perhaps it doesn't quite have the depth I crave, but it hints at it and gives you plenty to think and talk about, and most importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.