January 31, 2004

The Banger Sisters

banger.jpgGoldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon play long-separated friends who were LA rock and roll groupies in the 1960s. Hawn's character is still the free spirit she was back then, but when she loses her bartending job, she drives to Phoenix and discovers that Sarandon's character has become an uptight beige yuppie mom. On the way to Phoenix, Hawn picks up another uptight character, this one a down-on-his-luck screenwriter played with scene-stealing quirkiness by Geoffrey Rush. From this setup the movie becomes a kind of mid-life crisis version of Mary Poppins with Hawn's character cracking Sarandon and Rush each out of their self-made shells. I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to with the exception of the exceedingly ham-handed announcement of the Moral Of The Story in a graduation speech given by one of Sarandon's daughters.

Posted by jeffy at 03:03 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Time Shall Not Mend by A.J. Hall

timeshallnotmend.jpgBack in September I read Hall's Lust Over Pendle which is Draco/Neville slash set in Rowling's Harry Potter universe. Time Shall Not Mend is also by Hall, but written earlier. It's set in an extremely unlikely combination of Rowling's Harry Potter universe with Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan universe.

Never mind that the Miles books happen a thousand years in the future and many light years from earth. Never mind that Bujold's books are firmly in the science fiction camp and Rowling's are strictly fantasy.

Hall first warps Ekaterin from the Miles books to Earth during the battle to subdue Voldemort. She assists Draco and Neville in procuring a necessary ingredient to make a potion to cure a plague let loose by the Dark Lord's minions. After that story line is wrapped up, Ekaterin is warped home and shortly thereafter, Draco is warped to Barrayar where he assists in foiling an attempt by the wizarding community on Barrayar (!) to take over the government in a bloody coup.

The book shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of Lust Over Pendle. The characters are richly and consistenty drawn. The plot is laughable, but fast-paced and entertaining.

Some members of the pre-teen set stumbled on my review of Lust a couple of weeks ago and opined that one must be pretty hard up for entertainment if one takes the time to post reviews of Harry Potter fan fiction on one's web site. It's a fair cop, but I'll take good writing wherever it presents itself.

Posted by jeffy at 02:50 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (1)

Revolt in 2100 by Robert A. Heinlein

revoltin2100.jpgFourth book in a four-book series, the third book of which was never written. The first two are The Man Who Sold the Moon and The Green Hills of Earth. I didn't realize the connections when I started, but only learned of them upon reading the afterword. I read Man Who Sold the Moon decades ago, but remember nothing of it. "Revolt in 2100" is actually the title of a novella that takes up most of the book with the remainder comprised of two short stories: "Coventry" and "Misfit".

In "Revolt", the United States has fallen into a totalitarian government headed by the Prophet Incarnate. Our hero is John Lyle, a young man in service as a guard at the Prophet's palace/fortress. This being Heinlein, Lyle soon falls in love with one of the Prophet's priestesses/concubines and is thus clued in to the corruption of the religion/government he'd grown up in. Fortunately this awakening coincides with his contact with a secret society dedicated to overthrowing the theocracy and replacing it with something pure and democratic. Like all Heinlein, the plot moves along at a fine clip with some surprising twists and turns in the fate of the hero.

"Coventry" takes place long after the successful revolt of the first story. We see the utopian society that has arisen through the eyes of David MacKinnon who doesn't fit in and doesn't want to be made to (through mental conditioning--a much more exact science in these stories than we've managed to make it so far). He chooses exile over reconditioning and is sent to Coventry, a section of the country walled off to provide a location in which to exile deviants. MacKinnon's vision of Coventry is an idealized version of the Old West where people are free to do as they like and leave eachother alone to do so. Needless to say, he is sorely mistaken and finds himself in a world where the "do no harm" law of the outside is suspended and instead people take what they can any way that they can. It's actually more civilized than that makes it sound, but compared to the world from which he is fleeing, it's downright barbaric.

"Misfit" also shows the world following "Revolt" with a bunch of not-quite-content young men going off-planet in a kind of interplanetary Civilian Conservation Corps where they, in this case, turn an asteroid into a space station. The story focuses on one member of the crew who distinguishes himself through his human calculator skills.

It's weird that since I read this book there have been at least half a dozen times where I've run across references to Coventry and Nehemiah Scudder (the original Prophet of the "Revolt" story) on various blogs. References that wouldn't have meant anything to me before reading the book. Of course with our current administration there are ample opportunities to be reminded of a theocratic dictatorship so perhaps the prevalence of such references shouldn't be surprising.

Posted by jeffy at 02:11 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

January 27, 2004


hulk.jpgI was never a reader of the Hulk comic books in the few years that I was into comics. I was a Marvel fan, though. I read Thor and Captain America and Daredevil and some of the short-lived 80s series like Dazzler (the roller-skating crime-fighting mutant disco queen. Really.) and Moon Knight. But Hulk, no.

So coming into this movie I didn't know anything about the character except that he turned into a big green guy when he got mad.

I loved this movie.

For my money, director Ang Lee has done the best job yet of taking the experience of reading a super hero-style comic and translating it into the language of film. I'm not saying it's going to have this effect on everyone--it obviously isn't since the movie didn't exactly rake in the bucks in the theatre.

There are three things that I think made it work this well for me.

First and foremost, Lee and his actors show nothing but respect for these characters. I think the scene that brought this home to me was the introduction of Betty Ross (played by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly) where Bruce Banner (Australian (though you'd never guess until you watch the documentaries, his American is that good) Eric Bana) rides his bicycle to the lab at UC Berkeley and walks through the building with his helmet on. He talks to a colleague and then talks to Betty, and these characters are capital-G Geeks! They're all totally gorgeous, they speak intelligently to each other, and yet they have the geek nature in spades. This is not something you see every day in a movie. Most movies can't resist falling into the lame stereotypes of pocket protectors and clumsily-repaired eyeglasses and mis-matched socks and verbal tics. Here in this movie, that little scene convinced me that these were real people, and nothing else they ever did made me lose that conviction even when they were turning green and being attacked by mutant poodles. Nick Nolte and Sam Elliott are both great as non-cliche father figures, too. Nolte especially managed to portray an over-the-top wacko without ever sinking into caricature.

Second, I loved the visual style of the movie. Lee makes copious use of crazy angles and multiply-split frames and simultaneous views of scenes from different angles that is straight out of the comic book vocabulary and, for me, he made it work on the screen. It bugged Becky and Rachel, but I thought it was great.

Finally, the movie is chock full of effects shots and they never once felt like effects shots. Partly this goes back to the fact that Lee and the actors made the characters so real to me that my suspension-of-disbelief system was charged up to eleven, but it's also a tribute to the artists who made a big strong green guy who can jump half a mile look totally real. We watched some of the documentary features on the DVD that show how they did some of that, and it just makes it more impressive to me. They got it right.

We watched it from the library but I need to go buy a copy so I can watch it again.

Posted by jeffy at 11:38 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)


x2.jpgSecond in the new X-Men franchise. The first one had to spend half the movie introducing all the characters, so this one had a little more screen time to devote to storytelling. In retrospect (it's been over a week since we watched it), I don't recall that they actually took advantage of the opportunity. There was a little bit of motion along a larger character arc for a bunch of the characters, but it seems like each one only got a few minutes of screen time for their story. If this were a weekly series that would be okay, but with years between installments it's going to take awhile to get to know these characters.

Actually, it'd make a great weekly series. It's got just enough of the soap opera thing going, and the overall comic book reality gives you plenty of opportunity for introducing outlandish events to keep the story hopping along. Probably wouldn't be able to get all these great actors in on a regular gig like that, though. Then there's the whole budget issue.

Still, it's a fun popcorn movie and left me looking forward to the next one.

Posted by jeffy at 10:35 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

January 25, 2004

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde

blonde2.jpgIt would be hard not to like this movie.

The character of Elle Woods as depicted by Reese Witherspoon nearly defies description. She is a cheerful ditzy blonde fashion plate. She's also an over-achieving lawyer career woman. But her defining characteristic is that she is unfailingly kind. Somehow Witherspoon manages to make all these alternate Elles work well enough that I completely accepted her as a real person.

The movie has her leaving her law practice after discovering that her chihuahua's mother is a cosmetics test animal. She takes her outrage to Washington D. C. where she goes to work for a senator played by Sally Field. Elle uses all her skills and resources to get her animal test ban bill passed in the face of resistance from various other cogs in the political machine.

It's a fantasy, sure, but a fantasy with a vital message: in a democracy, politics should not be a spectator sport.

Posted by jeffy at 09:18 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

January 19, 2004

Lost gloves in New York

Faithful reader Dan points out this item from Talk of the Town in The New Yorker about Alexandra Horowitz, a fellow collector of lost gloves.

Last winter, Horowitz began collecting the misplaced—trampled, forlorn, snot-slicked—mittens and gloves that she saw on the street, not for the sake of research or even, God forbid, art, but out of some deep-seated altruistic urge to see them reunited with their other halves.

Hers is more of an active search than the passive discovery that informs my own lost glove studies. She has a collection of 118+ gloves and mittens (excluding work gloves and disposables which she doesn't disturb), 10 times the number I have seen around Issaquah in a similar period, but that's no surprise since there are probably far beyond 10 times as many walkers on any given street in NYC than in my car-centric suburb.

As to motive, she says, "The melancholy of a lost glove sitting in the middle of a sidewalk struck me as minorly tragic, for the glove and for its owner." And on that I agree completely.

Posted by jeffy at 02:26 PM in Bloggage , Lost Gloves | Comments (1)

January 14, 2004

Lost Glove #12

glove040114T.jpgFirst lost glove of 2004. First lost glove with the OptioS4. I was spoiled by the fixed focus on the Chameleon. I haven't mastered the idiosyncracies of the Pentax's auto-focus yet. And sadly even at maximum enlargement on the lcd, it's hard to tell if you've gotten a sharp picture in the field. More practice is needed.

Anyway, this glove is in the gated fire lane behind the King County Courthouse in Issaquah.

My friends are starting to tease me about my glove fetish. I just keep seeing them. It's strange what you see around you if you adjust your focus. It's bizarre that so many gloves are lost in the three miles between my house and my job. Only two of the gloves I've posted so far (#7 and #8) have been outside of this tiny area. I should make a map while I can still remember them all.

I gave the gloves their own category so I don't have to keep putting in links to previous entries in the series.

Posted by jeffy at 10:53 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (1)

January 12, 2004

Ornamental vegetable

purple kaleIn the Puget Sound region, in the winter, kale isn't a vegetable, it's a landscape ornamental.
Posted by jeffy at 09:40 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

January 11, 2004

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A. N. Roquelaure

claimingbeauty.jpg"A. N. Roquelaure" is the pseudonym Anne Rice used to use for her erotic works. I say "used to" because the current cover of this book has "Anne Rice" a dozen points bigger than any other type on the cover.

The first few paragraphs of the book are just like the Sleeping Beauty story you're used to, but when the Prince finds Beauty, it rapidly diverges. He does bestow the kiss that lifts the curse that caused her and her household to sleep for decades, but it's only after "claiming" her in other ways first.

But the "claiming" of the title is a more complete possession yet as we find that Beauty will accompany the Prince back to his castle, and find further that her parents had been claimed by the Prince's household in a similar manner in their youth. It turns out that the Prince is heir to a kingdom that lords over all others, and takes as tribute a few years of service from the young royalty.

The service is in the form of sex slavery. Think black leather collars and fanny paddles. Beauty finds that what is required of her is absolute obedience to her master's whims. Early on we find out that there are a few ground rules such as the fact that the games played with the slaves are not to draw blood or do other lasting harm to them. Most of the gaming consists in various forms of humiliation with lots and lots of spanking, though there is some more mundane sexual activity as well.

The book is well enough written to make it more readable than not, but this is really not my kink. I got more enjoyment from pondering to what alternate use I might put such absolute power over a bevy of comely young princes and princesses.

Posted by jeffy at 07:41 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

January 10, 2004

Not a shy siskin

pine siskin on a thistle feeder pine siskin wing detailThe pine siskin have been sucking down the thistle seed in our feeder pretty fast. I was out filling it up and when I went to hang it back up I noticed this siskin sitting two feet away from me on the other feeder waiting impatiently for me to get done. I had my camera in my pocket, so I pulled it out and snapped a few pictures one-handed. It was completely fearless, not even twitching as I fired the flash at it repeatedly. After a couple of minutes of this it got even more impatient and flew to the feeder I was still holding in my other hand! I hung the feeder up with the bird perched on it the whole time and took a few more shots including the one here. The first picture is full frame in macro mode with no zoom at all. I had the lens just a few inches away. The second is a full-resolution detail from the same picture.

I was worried that the bird was injured as it was holding its wing kind of strangely, but after sitting and eating on the feeder for ten minutes while I did some other chores in the yard it flew away seeming fine.

Posted by jeffy at 05:29 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

January 08, 2004

deluge ends

Okay, that's all the backlog from 2003.

If I'm counting right, I reviewed 37 books last year. That's the fewest books I've read in any one year since I started keeping track. Not sure why I made it through so few. Might be all the graphic novels I read that I didn't consider review-worthy. Might have been all the time I spent reading peoples' blogs instead of reading books. Or maybe the time I spent writing mine. Probably all of the above and more. It kind of bums me out. Guess I should go read something to cheer myself up.

Posting should return to its usual sporadic level now. Thanks for bearing with me as I obsessively caught up.

Posted by jeffy at 11:00 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

Trader by Charles de Lint

trader.jpgI read this as an ebook that I got for free in a promotion from Palm. I think they were just trying to get people over the hurdle of loading the reader onto their devices and seeing how simple and easy it is to read a book on their pocket brain. Works for me... saved me having to check this one out of the library.

Max Trader is a luthier in de Lint's fictional city of Newford. One morning he wakes up in someone else's body. He soon finds that that someone else (an unsavory character by the name of Johnny Devlin) woke up wearing Max's. Yes, it's Freaky Friday.

But de Lint makes it work (and has the characters refer to "that movie" a couple of times to show he's aware the broad outline's been done before.)

Last year we went with friends to see singer/songwriter David Wilcox in Seattle. Wilcox sings songs that are full of truths about what it is to be human. He sings about stuff that keeps you up late at night and stuff that should. When we left the show, we were walking along sharing our impressions of the show, and when it came to be my turn I jokingly said "It was cheaper than therapy!" But it wasn't really a joke or at least it was a joke that was funny because it was true. Listening to a David Wilcox song shares a lot of qualities with a good boundary-stretching therapy session. It draws you out of yourself and lets you look at the way you think and the way you feel with some detachment so you can see where you've got things all wrong or where you're refusing to admit something to yourself. It's cathartic. And since he's busy making wonderful music while he's doing these things with you, it's also a beautiful and fun way to spend some time.

Charles de Lint is the David Wilcox of fantasy writers. I always seem to come away from his books feeling like I learned something about myself. In this book it was something that I've seen a million times in sound-bite form, but it takes an artist to bash away all the layers of insulation you have around your psyche and make you see that even though you knew something was true on a fundamental level, knowing it's true about the world is a different thing than realizing that it's true about you personally in a way that shakes you up.

Posted by jeffy at 10:56 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (1)

In the Hall of the Martian King by John Barnes

martianking.jpgBook three in Barnes's series portraying the adventures of Jak Jinnaka. In this one, young Jak is in his first administrative posting on Deimos, the moon of Mars. He is the assistant to the head administrator of the habitat, but since he's going on vacation, Jak will mostly be in charge. His departing boss has done everything in his power to ensure that Jak's tenure will be as boringly uneventful as possible. Naturally, it's not enough. Jak ends up having to travel to the surface of Mars where there's a major incident going on in relation to an archeological dig which has turned up some lost information about Paj Nakasen, the framer of the philosophy that underlies the entire culture of the solar system.

There's some serious action sequences and some serious drama in this volume to rival that of the prior volumes. Barnes is writing a series here that's got a space opera skeleton with a whole lot of philosophical, political, ethical, and psychological meat on it. Page-turner storytelling with heart and soul.

The philosophy centers around the aforementioned Nakasen and the 234 Principles that he recorded. Individual Principles are mentioned in passing in the text. I searched google to see if anyone had collected the ones thus-far mentioned, and since it seemed that no one had, I did it myself.

This book has an important revelation about Nakasen and his principles that I will not repeat as it's an enormous spoiler.

Posted by jeffy at 10:27 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

The Cassini Divison by Ken Macleod

cassini.jpgKen Macleod (who has a blog!) has written a series of loosely connected novels in the same setting. In this universe, Earth has become a global socialist culture that works. (This book doesn't provide the details of just how it works, but the glimpses he gives us certainly make it seem that it does.) The culture arose following a series of conflicts and revolutions that are strictly history in the context of this volume. Humans live on Mars and some of the moons of Jupiter. Out in the neighborhood of Jupiter is a gateway to a far distant star system where another human colony has been formed (subject in large part of another novel, The Stone Canal) with a more libertarian political framework. The far colony was imagined by some rogue artificial intelligences who still exist in some sort of habitat on Jupiter (as much as anything can be "on" a gas giant). The human colonies around Jupiter are mostly there in defense to blast away anything coming out of the gateway or Jupiter before it reinfects humans and their computer systems with various nasty viruses.

In this book we follow Ellen May Ngewthu as she journeys to Earth to retrieve a physicist who might be able to make enough sense of the gateway to allow an expedition to go through to the distant colony. That's the action part of the story, but at least half of the book is dedicated to all the moral and political issues surrounding the situation. And Macleod is an author who can actually make that part of the story even more compelling to read than the action sequences. He's that good.

I need to read The Star Fraction and any other books in this series and then reread all the books in a more contiguous fashion to make all the interconnections make more sense. This'll be fun!

Posted by jeffy at 10:21 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

January 07, 2004

Evidence of visitations

quacker trackscoon tracksAn un-looked-for side effect of our recent snow is that it makes it harder for some of our more stealthy visitors to avoid leaving a trace. The thumbnails on these two are mostly useless, so click for the bigger versions. The first shows that the local flock of resident mallards played in our yard sometime in the last two days. The second reveals who has been tormenting our indoor cats from outside the patio door (looks like a raccoon to me).

Posted by jeffy at 11:45 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

Moonheart by Charles de Lint

moonheart.jpgVery much unlike other Charles de Lint novels I have read. For starters, this one isn't set in Newford, his fictional city of choice for most of his works. Instead it's set in the real city of Ottawa. The main characters are Sara, niece of a wealthy eccentric, and Kieran, a musician slash petty criminal turned shaman trainee. Sara lives with her uncle in Tamson House, a huge, mysterious city house which is a kind of character itself.

Sara runs a junk store and stumbles across a box of curious artifacts which lead her into some very scary and extremely dangerous adventures that, while fantastical, seem to grow plausibly from the way things work in our world. This is one of de Lint's great gifts: to portray magic as an integral part of existence, one which we just don't interact with very much in our mundane technological lives.

The book has all the other usual de Lint properties: realistic and engaging characters, interactions with the spirit world, and page-turner plot. There's also a police department investigation slash political intrigue plotline in this one.

The dangers are a little more dangerous than usual. There's an awful lot of gunplay that is conspicuously absent from his later work.

Posted by jeffy at 11:30 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

Illegal Alien by Robert Sawyer

illegalalien.jpgAn alien space ship lands on Earth. First contact proceeds very smoothly. The aliens learn English and tour the globe before taking up residence in Los Angeles while they bootstrap Earth industry sufficiently to produce the parts that have been damaged on their space ship. A human being is killed in the aliens' dormitory with evidence that indicates an alien killed him. The rest of the book is courtroom drama with aliens.

It's been a while since I read it so I can't recall the details, but Sawyer did some interesting things with the legal implications of an alien vs. human murder case and somehow managed to maintain enough mystery about the outcome to keep me turning pages.

Posted by jeffy at 11:20 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

fireuponthedeep.jpgI felt like reading a good science fiction novel and since I'd read this one before I knew what I was getting. Humans have made contact with a vast array of alien species throughout the galaxy. But the galaxy doesn't work exactly like we think it does. It turns out that the speed of thought is a function of where you are in the galactic gravity well. From impossibly slow at the galactic core to transcendentally fast in the outer reaches. In the middle zones reside most of the intelligent species who are all connected by a faster-than-light communication and travel network.

In this setting, a small group of humans activate an artificial intelligence that they found in an old data cache. It's not a good AI and it starts trying to take over the galaxy. Some of the humans manage to escape before it becomes too strong. They become stranded on a planet down near the slow zones. On this planet they come in contact with an alien species on the cusp of achieving a technological culture.

While the small group of surviving humans are dealing with their low-tech shipwreck situation, the rest of the galaxy is trying to deal with the AI. They suspect that the fleeing humans have the key to stopping it, but no one knows exactly where they are.

The book interleaves the two story lines into a fast-paced story with mystery, palace intrigue, and pan-galactic political machinations. Very fun.

Posted by jeffy at 10:16 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

January 06, 2004

An unexpected fountain

fount040106T.jpgSo you might have heard that we got a bit of snow today. The fun part is that the snow came after a couple of days of clear, consistently cold weather. This means there was a lot of ice around before the snow started falling. In particular, our rain barrel had a layer of ice across the top.

I started getting worried this afternoon when the snow turned to rain. The problem was that the drain pipe descends several inches into the rain barrel. I was afraid the bottom of the downspout was embedded in ice and the runoff from our roof would back up the pipe.

What actually happened is much more interesting. It seems that the pipe went deep enough into the barrel that it was below the ice on the top. This was only slightly better than my worst case scenario because there was still nowhere for the water to go and it was running over the top of the drain pipe and down the wall. The fun part is that the pressure created by that pipe full of water managed to find an outlet through several small holes in the plug of ice in the top of the barrel creating the little fountain in the picture. I made a little movie of the fountain too, but while the sound is cool, the picture's pretty dark. Need to figure out how to manipulate these AVIs.

I went out and bashed the plug out with a hammer after taking the picture so our poor roof will be able to drain without drenching the wall.

Posted by jeffy at 11:43 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

Movies caught up

That's it for movie reviews from 2003. Between us, Becky and I saw about 100 movies last year that we hadn't seen before (we don't record repeat viewings). That's down from about 180 in 2002. Here's hoping we manage to squeeze in at least as many in '04!

Now on to the book review backlog...

Posted by jeffy at 11:32 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

The Return of the King

returnking.jpgI went and saw volume 3 of The Lord of the Rings at our local multiplex with a group from work, but Becky decided to join me so we could see it together. Multiplexes suck! We got spoiled very quickly with the level of respect that the Cinerama gives to the films they show and the people they host to view them.

But the movie is as good as I could have hoped. Peter Jackson and his enormous team of craftspeople have built a film in three volumes the likes of which has never been seen. And amazingly he has done it while staying faithful in large part to both the letter and the spirit of Tolkein's book.

The movie starts with a brief spurt of Gollum backstory that lets Andy Serkis actually show his face on the screen—exposure that he richly deserves.

But following that brief aside, Return picks up right where Two Towers left off and delivers more epic excitement than you can shake a gold ring at. Shelob is terrifying. Minas Tirith is awesome. The big battles are jaw dropping.

Don't get me wrong. I could pick nits all day, but they got so much right that I'll let them all go (or at least wait to see if they fix them in the extended version!)

Now what will we do next Christmas?

Posted by jeffy at 11:15 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

The Two Towers (extended version)

twotowers.jpgOn the Monday following our viewing of the extended Fellowship, we went to see the extended Two Towers. Unlike with the previous movie, we hadn't actually seen the extended cut of this movie before we went to catch it on the big beautiful screen at the Cinerama. Also unlike with Fellowship, there was a pretty good crowd there for this one. We decided to try out the balcony and sat in the third row up there where the entire screen is in your field of view.

Watching these extended cuts, it's hard to remember what the original cut was like.

Since we saw the two extended cuts in the theatre, Becky and I have been watching them at home again with the writer/director commentary. It's very interesting to hear Fran, Peter, and Philippa talk about how they agonized over what to cut to bring the films down to reasonable lengths for a theatrical release. Frankly, I would have made different decisions, erring on the side of reducing action in preference to increasing character moments. But I can't complain about what they've done too much. I couldn't have done as well as they have overall. But the stuff that's coming back in the extended versions is largely small character moments and a few canonical moments from the books that didn't sufficiently contribute to the narrative flow for the short cuts. With full post production behind them, the new versions look just as good as the originals.

I think my favorite restoration in The Two Towers is the scene where Sam and Frodo are using the Elven rope gifted to Sam by Galadriel. They descend a sheer wall and are lamenting the necessity to leave the rope behind since they know there's no way Sam's knot will let loose. Sam shakes the rope to demonstrate how secure it is and it immediately falls to the ground in front of them.

There's a little bit of a scene that explains where the mysterious horse that rescues Aragorn following his little float down the river (carrying a sheathed longsword and a bunch of other knives and such. That Aragorn is one buoyant dude. Must be a little known property of his Numenorian blood ;-). I would have been happier if the whole float down the river thing had been scrapped altogether, it's really the clumsiest bit in these movies as far as I'm concerned.

On midnight the day after we saw Two Towers at the Cinerama, The Return of the King was going to be opening. For the truly dedicated they were showing Fellowship and Two Towers back-to-back before Return started. The reason I mention it is that there was a small group of people already in line for the marathon when we went in. It'd been sold out for ages, so they presumably had tickets and were in line strictly to ensure they would get good seats. We're not that obsessed. Quite.

Posted by jeffy at 11:07 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

January 05, 2004

Picnic At Hanging Rock

hangingrock.jpgThis movie is set in the late 1800s, but from the first frame it's sadly obvious that it was filmed in the 1970s. It tells the true story of a picnic trip to the titular Hanging Rock, a volcanic formation in Australia. The picnickers are a group of boarding school girls. It's hard to tell how old they're supposed to be. The actresses all look to be in their 20s, but they act somewhat like teenagers and somewhat like pre-teens. During the picnic, a few of the girls wander off and are never seen again. The remainder of the film follows the community's attempts to find them and come to terms with their disappearance. Directed by Peter Weir, the story almost seems to suggest that something occult or extraterrestrial was going on with lots of shots of the girls wandering off zombie-like accompanied by strange humming spooky music. The overall effect seems to have been intended to be artsy, and you can still watch it that way if you are very careful to maintain a straight face and elevated nose throughout. But if at any point you allow yourself to subside into giggles, you'll be as lost as those schoolgirls.

Posted by jeffy at 11:21 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (5)

Catch Me If You Can

catchme.jpgSpielberg's movie treatment of the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. (played with aplomb by Leonardo di Caprio), who as a young man became the most successful check forger in US history. In his spare time he impersonated airline pilots so he could get free air travel deadheading. Later he impersonated a doctor and later still a lawyer. The character who provides the plot is the FBI agent who is trying to catch Abagnale with little success (played by Tom Hanks in full dork mode).

As you'd expect from Spielberg and this team of actors (Christopher Walken does an unusually subtle turn as Abagnale's under-achieving father), the movie is technically brilliant. But there's just not enough of a story to really hold my interest, and it suffers also from characters none of whom really inspire a lot of sympathy except for some of Abagnale's victims. Looking back on it, I think my favorite part of the movie is the cool 1960s-style animated opening title sequence.

Posted by jeffy at 11:03 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

The Fellowship of the Ring (extended version)

fellowship.jpgWe've seen this movie in the original theatrical version at least half a dozen times. We have watched the extended version of the movie off DVD repeatedly with and without commentary. We pretty much have it memorized.

So why a review now?

What are you? Living under a rock?!

In preparation for the theatrical release of volume 3 (The Return of the King in case you're living under two rocks), New Line released the extended versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to theatres so legions of rabid fans (like us) could get all charged up for the release of Return.

Here in Seattle, this feeding frenzy of Jackson's epic was taking place at the Cinerama a fine old big-screen theatre that has been restored by Microsoft gajillionaire Paul Allen. Becky and I had never been there before. We went to see Fellowship on a Tuesday night two weeks before the release of Return. We weren't quite sure what to expect in the way of crowds so we got there pretty early to get a good spot in line, but we needn't have worried as there were only a few score people there when the doors finally opened at 8pm.

We took seats in something like the 8th row of the center section. It's a beautiful theatre with red velvet seats, a real curtain, and a screen thiiiiiiiis wide. I moved up a row when it turned out that the guy sitting behind me was unable to sit still without kicking the back of my seat for two minutes let alone 3-1/2 hours, but other than that, the Cinerama provided a near-optimal environment for appreciating the spectacle of film one.

Oh, you thought this was going to be about the movie itself?

Just go read the book. Skip the Tom Bombadil section and you pretty-much get Jackson's movie of Fellowship. About as much fun as you can have in a theatre these days.

Posted by jeffy at 10:54 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Bend It Like Beckham

beckham.jpgMore multi-cultural girl power. Jesminder 'Jess' Bhamra (played by the very cute Parminder K. Nagra) is the daughter of Indian immigrants to England. Her parents' expectations for her center exclusively on college and marriage. Her hopes for herself are all about football. She meets Juliette 'Jules' Paxton (played by the very cute Kiera Knightley) who invites her to join a women's football team coached by Joe (played by the very cute Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). The story and characters are funny and fun (and cute) and the direction is energetic and respectful of the people and cultures involved. The soccer scenes are especially notable for being a blast to watch (and I'm no sports fan).

The DVD has a bunch of fun extras including a session of director Gurinder Chadha cooking Aloo Gobi while supervised by her mother and aunt.

Posted by jeffy at 10:46 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

Pieces of April

piecesofapril.jpgHosting your family for Thanksgiving dinner has got to be one of life's most stressful moments. Add in a complete ignorance of cooking, a family that has written you off as an anti-social deviant, and an oven that doesn't work in a tiny New York apartment and you have the makings of a complete disaster. Katie Holmes's April somehow manages to summon the determination and ingenuity to fight her way back from an impossible beginning into something that while far from strictly traditional is an affirmation of the value of family and community in adversity. Patricia Clarkson is marvelous as April's mother who is dying of cancer (though she and April are the only ones who have accepted that fact (pretty much the only thing they have in common)). Oliver Platt has a fine understated performance as the father who still thinks that if he believes it hard enough, his family will not be falling apart.

The film is shot in a coarse indy style (and I bet they were wishing desperately that they'd been able to write it in a way that didn't involve having 5 people driving around in a car for much of the film) but since it's depicting a family with so many raw bleeding edges, the almost documentary shooting style fits perfectly. It's written and directed by Peter Hedges who wrote What's Eating Gilbert Grape and the screenplay of About a Boy.

I liked it a lot more than I expected to. The trailer makes it look like it's going to be a holiday disaster movie, and that kind of thing just makes me cringe and squirm. The actual film is far more subtle and human, managing to avoid nearly all of the cliches of the holiday film genre. The plot kept surprising me, and the surprises were always perfectly in character. Good stuff, and if you can watch the final scene of the movie with dry eyes, then you're more stoic than I am.

Posted by jeffy at 10:34 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Whale Rider

whalerider.jpgIn every generation there is a Chosen One... Oops, wait, wrong story. In a Maori tribe in New Zealand, there's a patriarchal transferrence of power, but as the tribe's traditional culture collides with the modern world, the sons of the chief choose other paths than those of tradition. The chief tries to train the other young boys of the tribe into the position. He can't accept that his granddaughter is his clear successor. She trains behind his back and everything ends about like you'd expect. It's really a fairy tale story so you can excuse the fact that the plot seems derivative. It's derivative because it tells one of the stories that all the others derive from. What really makes the movie wonderful, though is the performance of first-time actress Keisha Castle-Hughes as the granddaughter. She's wonderfully natural as a girl called to lead her people. Beautiful magical movie.

Posted by jeffy at 10:24 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

master.jpgI haven't read any of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels which is a good position to be in when viewing a Hollywood adaptation of a literary work. Peter Weir's bracing flick passes my test for such occasions in that seeing the movie made me want to go grab the first book and dig in. There's really not all that much to the movie that you haven't seen in a million other high seas adventure films, at least in outline, but Weir's flick goes for a level of verisimilitude that will have you ducking and cringing as cannon balls rip through the wood work of the HMS Surprise (and it warmed the cockles of my galoot heart to see that same woodwork all being repaired without resort to skilsaws, electric screwdrivers, and three trips to Home Despot ;-) Russell Crowe manages to play a part that strays dangerously close to Ahab without making you think of the mad sea captain more than once or twice which is quite an accomplishment.

Posted by jeffy at 10:13 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

January 04, 2004


The reviews will keep on coming for another couple of days. While they're all written, I generally don't remember character and actor names well enough so I have to go through putting names in based on the IMDB (and adding the imdb links and poster shots) which takes some time. Plus I don't want to swamp my regular readers with reams of prose. About 16 movie and book reviews left to go.

In other news we got some snow over the weekend. About an inch fell here in Issaquah over the course of a couple of days. And it's so cold outside that it's staying around. The rest of the area didn't get very much. We drove over to Ballard to run an errand for Rachel today and there wasn't any snow to be seen west of Lake Washington.

Here's what downtown Issaquah and Squak Mountain looked like yesterday afternoon.

squak120.jpgThis picture was taken with my new Optio S4. I took a similar picture at each supported resolution. Click the thumbnail to see a 640x480 version (140kb) (same resolution as the max resolution on the Chameleon) Or for the bandwidth- or time-rich, click one of these other resolutions: 1024x768 (263kb), 1600x1200 (597kb), or 2304x1728 (1.36MB). These are all at the medium jpg compression level. These aren't the greatest test pictures, but they'll have to do for now. I plan to shoot at maximum resolution and shrink them to 640x480 for posting, so if I post a picture you'd like to see the original of, just give a shout.

Here's a few other pictures just for grins.

Rosalind pointing with the pointy-haired kingThis is a 640x480 (ish) crop from a 2304x1728 original. That's Rosalind with the pointy finger and the pointy-haired finger puppet.
Rhiannon, Rosalind, jeffy, and CarolineThis one and the rest are full frame 2304x1728 shrunk down to 640x480. (Well, the thumbnails are 120x90, but you get 640x480 if you click on them.) That's Rhiannon in the foreground with Rosalind and Caroline being read to by Uncle Jeff.
Rosalind laughing at off-screen kittiesRosalind again.
Moet & Chandon capMacro mode shot hand-held with available light.
jeffy playing with new camera in the darkThis is using the camera's night-scene mode where it does a long exposure with a flash somewhere in the process so you get people as well as nighttime background. I set the camera on a picnic table to take it. Focus is bad in the full-size version. Might be from me moving around during the long exposure...
Decaying corrugated plastic towing signDecaying corrugated plastic towing sign in Ballard.

I'm really enjoying this camera's feature set. Especially entertaining is the movie mode. It takes 60-second clips at 12 frames per second (320x240, I think). But the big fun is the "high-speed" option that lets you do timelapse, stretching that 60 seconds out to 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, or 100 minutes. I shot a movie of the view as I walked to the hardware store the other day, I'd put it up here but it's about 8MB of AVI and you'd get seasick watching it with the high-speed amplification of my gait bouncing the camera around. If you're really bored, here's a 1.1MB clip of walking around our living room. I need to figure out a way to secure the camera to my handlebars for recording rides. Probably want some sorbothane or something in there to damp out any vibrations. Design suggestions accepted.

Posted by jeffy at 10:47 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

The Castle

castle.jpgThe folks down under make some pretty odd movies and The Castle poses no threat to that stereotype. The Kerrigan family is helmed by eternally optimistic and cheerful patriarch Darryl. They live in a house right off the end of the runway of the local airport. And they love that house like it's the castle of the title. Along comes an evil developer who wants to extend a runway through their neighborhood. The Kerrigans don't know anything about the law, but they know this is their house being stolen from them and they fight. Not very traditionally, but they fight and lose and lose and lose and... guess. The fun of the movie is in the characters of the family for whom nothing is more important than their love for each other and the house that is their home. They're goofballs, but loveable ones.

Posted by jeffy at 05:29 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

Two Weeks Notice

twoweeksnotice.jpgThere are only two reasons to watch this movie. Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. They're doing their usual schtick with their usual aplomb. If that doesn't appeal to you, then give it a pass. If you start giggling just thinking about it, here's a way to kill an evening. I'd love to see this pair in a good movie, but for now, this will have to do.
Posted by jeffy at 02:13 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Dancer in the Dark

dancerdark.jpgFrom the Danish director Lars von Trier and starring Icelandic singer Björk as a Czech woman who escaped to the Pacific Northwest with her young son in the 1960s. Björk's character is going blind, and as she loses her visual link to the real world she is more and more absorbed in her internal fantasy that she is living in a musical extravaganza. The musical numbers that result are surreal but sweet in a Bergmanesque sort of way. Their dreamlike quality is enhanced by von Trier's use of 100 fixed digital video cameras throughout the set to catch the action simultaneously from as many angles in a single (or a couple) takes. The scenes have a strange omniscient (or polyniscient) feel that is unique in my cinematic experience. Not sure I like it, but it's definitely interesting and von Trier does a good job of making it work within the sense of the movie. Despite the peppy musical numbers, this is a very dark movie with nothing even vaguely resembling a happy ending. I found that the immediacy of the digital video approach worked well to immerse me in the world of the film such that I found myself having personal emotional responses to the events depicted much more than I have from other films. It made me feel stuff vs. feeling that the people in the movies were feeling stuff, if you see what I mean. Weird. Dark. Good.

The DVD has a very interesting featurette showing how the 100 camera setup was used to film the musical numbers. There's also a couple of commentary tracks which we did not view.

Posted by jeffy at 02:03 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

What a Girl Wants

girlwants.jpgAmanda Bynes plays a young woman who's grown up with her mother, a singer in a rock band. Her father (Colin Firth) is nothing more than a picture from her Mom's time in Morocco and a story of how they met and fell in love.

Bynes goes to England to find her pa. He's a minor noble running for public office. He has a social-climber fiance with a similarly aged snooty daughter. Long lost American daughter doesn't fit with fiancee's plans. Cute plucky American girl wins over now-stodgy dad and reminds him of how much more fun his life was before he gave up his bohemian youth in exchange for a mundane adulthood.

All ends happily (unless you're the fiancee). It's a confection, but it has some cute moments.

Posted by jeffy at 01:39 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

A Mighty Wind

mightywind.jpgChristopher Guest has somehow managed to thrive as a one-man genre. First This is Spinal Tap, then Best In Show, and now A Mighty Wind, all "mockumentaries", movies about made up stuff in the documentary style. In a lot of ways, Wind is the best of the bunch. It's about a loosely connected group of folk-pop bands from the 1970s. What makes it work so well is that the cast wrote and performed all of the songs in the movie. The conceit of the film is that a reunion concert is staged following the death of the producer that gave them all their start back in the day. The movie shows what they've been up to since their heyday, how they get back in form for the reunion, and then the performance of the live show itself. The documentary bits are hilarious and filled with ad-libbed dialogue. The music is catchy and insanely silly. What's not to like?

Posted by jeffy at 01:52 AM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

Love Actually

loveactually.jpgIf you've seen any of the romantic comedy blockbusters Richard Curtis has written, (like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill), you should know just what to expect from this, his first outing as writer/director. And your expectations will be fulfilled. Lots of charming attractive people and some quirky attractive people have various romantic entanglements and some life-changing events while being cute, witty, and all British-like. The casting makes it watchable. You can't lose with Emma Thompson or Alan Rickman or Liam Neeson or Colin Firth or Laura Linney. And Hugh Grant somehow even manages to make his rumpled charmer thing watchable for the 17th time. Add in more excellent casting and performances in the more minor parts and you get a movie that while predictable to an absurd degree is still somehow fun to watch.
Posted by jeffy at 01:46 AM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

January 03, 2004

The Matrix: Revolutions

revolutions.jpgThird volume in the Wachowski brothers' existential action trilogy. There was a lot of carping and moaning about last summer's Reloaded and about this finale. I understand what people are kvetching about, but really, if it bothers you that much you're taking these movies way too seriously.

There really aren't too many surprises here, but what is here is presented with the same eye for over-the-top visuals and action. The main problem in the movie is that after two other over-the-top movies there's not much space at the top for this one to move into. Billions and billions of Agent Smiths, billions and billions of squids.

The highlights of this movie are all character pieces, though. The little bit acknowledging the new face of the Oracle (Gloria Foster, the actress who played her in the first two films, died and was replaced by Mary Alice). Trinity's part in the standoff in the Merovingian's night club. The awesome job Ian Bliss did playing Bane while posessed by Agent Smith. The very end of the Neo vs. Agent Smith battle. Jada Pinkett Smith's Millenium Falcon chase scene. Colonel Mifune's death scene. I swear I even saw Keanu emote a couple of times as Neo.

Anyway, it's not a masterpiece of the cinematic art, but it was sure fun to watch (2.1 times. I went to the show that started 10 minutes before the one I had a ticket for. I realized this before the previews ended and decided that I could use this like the Omega 13 in Galaxy Quest, so that I could rewind the film by 10 minutes at any one point. I never had occasion to use it, so I just left as the credits rolled and caught the Smith vs. Neo battle again. My second full viewing was on the 6-story-high Boeing IMAX screen at Pacific Science Center. That was fun, but about half-way through the movie I stopped noticing how big the screen was and was just watching the film.)

Posted by jeffy at 08:57 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

Laurel Canyon

laurelcanyon.jpgChristian Bale and Kate Beckinsale play Sam and Alex, a young engaged couple. Sam is doing his psychiatric internship in LA and Alex is joining him while she works on finishing her doctoral thesis in genomics. We meet Alex's parents who are sheltered high society suburbanites on the East Coast. Alex seems like she's on course to follow them. The plan while the young lovers are in LA is that they will stay at the home of Sam's mother while she is away.

When they arrive, they find that Mom's plans have changed because the album she's producing isn't finished yet and the band is staying at the house, too (the lead singer in her bed). Hearing just that much, this sounds like pure farce, but with Frances McDormand playing the mother, the film proceeds in much more interesting directions. McDormand plays an unapologetic sex, drugs, and rock & roll record producer. She's very good at what she does and she doesn't take any shit about who she is. Sam is appalled at his mother's lifestyle. Alex, though, is attracted to the danger and otherness of McDormand's world. While Alex is being seduced by hedonism, Sam is similarly distracted by a fellow intern played by Natascha McElhone.

The movie that results from this setup is a test of Alex's and Sam's commitment both to each other and to their chosen images of themselves. Good meaty performances by the principals captured with intimate direction by Lisa Cholodenko make it a sexy and thought-provoking film.

Posted by jeffy at 08:20 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Door To Door

doortodoor.jpegWilliam H. Macy wrote, directed, and starred in this made-for-tv film depicting the life of Bill Porter. The story starts as Porter's mother helps him prepare to go interview for a job as a door-to-door salesman. From the beginning it's clear Porter has some condition that makes him talk funny (later we find out it's cerebral palsy). Through sheer determination, he gets the job and the rest of the story is how he kept it and how he affected his customers and how they affected him. It's got sort of a Hallmark feel to it, but that doesn't reduce the impact of Macy's depiction of a life well and usefully lived. And almost incidentally, the film shines light on another of the careers of old that no longer exists in the US.

Posted by jeffy at 02:18 AM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

January 02, 2004

Lost In Translation

translation.jpegWe've enjoyed Scarlett Johansson's work since we first saw her in Manny & Lo as a precocious young girl. Her portrayal of Rebecca in Terry Zwigoff's great Ghost World moviefication just confirmed Manny & Lo wasn't a fluke and she jumped to our list of young actresses to keep an eye on. Second-time director Sophia Coppola puts Johansson's talents to good use in this understated film which deserves all the critical attention it's gotten. Johansson plays the bored, over-educated wife of a distracted pop-culture photographer (played with forgettably cipher-like blandness and distraction by Giovanni Ribisi). She has come along with him on a work trip to Tokyo and is mostly left to herself in the elegantly insulated hotel. In the bar she encounters the other character in the movie: Bill Murray. Murray plays a past-his-prime adventure movie actor in town to film a commercial for Suntory Scotch.

The movie is a series of simple interactions between these two people at very different places in their lives. The plot is minimal, and what there is of it is kind of klunky. But while the movie doesn't say very much, it shows quite a lot in its depiction of a bit of authentic human connection in an environment that makes such a thing virtually impossible.

Posted by jeffy at 05:40 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (2)

Catching up...

I've got almost all of my review backlog written and I'll be webifying them over the next couple days (or weeks, depending ;-) All this stuff was seen or read in 2003...

Posted by jeffy at 05:00 PM in Administrivia | Comments (0)