Sunday, December 24, 2006

Movie: Shop Girl (3/5 stars) 2005

Claire Danes, Steve Martin and Jason Schwartzman star in this quirky love story.

It isn't just that he like her, she likes someone else story, oh no. It couldn't be that simple.

She likes him, he kinda likes her and so does this other guy.

I have to say, I was expecting something completely different. From the previews I've seen, and this is a while ago, I was fully expecting two guys, one rich and successful and one poor, to be fighting over this girl.

That isn't the movie at all.

The movie is quite slow, and it starts as something quite painful to watch, as Jason Schwartzman's character comes onto the scene and asks Claire Danes's character out. He is out of focus, moving in five directions at once, not getting anywhere. It's like watching slow motion boxing, where you know it's even more painful for the people involved than for those watching.

A solid effort, and the first time that I've seen Steve Martin in a serious roll that I can remember. He was actually believable and I wouldn't have expected it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Movie: We Don't Live Here Any More, 2004 (3.5/5)

The movie boldly starts with a man making a pass at his best friend's wife and her accepting.

We then move into the story of two dysfunctional families where one wife loves her husband and the other doesn't, where one husband loves his best friend's wife and one husband doesn't really love anyone.

Strangely enough, there is a common theme of the struggling writer in my movies lately, and this is no exception. Peter Krause's character Hank is struggling with his writing and teaching a writing class where he tells his students, "all of you write as well as I do, which is really depressing."

The cons of this movie: it is slow moving and an ultra-realistic view of husbands, wives and their families struggling to live life (after all - who wants real life in their movies! )

The pros of the movie: there is tremendous power in each moment of the movie. There is tension and build up, and I was genuinely curious to know what was going to happen to these characters. Also, it's an ultra-realistic view of husbands, wives and their families struggling to live life (after all - we all want some real life in our movies!).

It is better than the average movie, but because of the slowness of the movie, I rate it 3.5 out of 5.

Book: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (4/5 stars)

This started as a low budget BBC movie and the script got turned into this book.

It's all about the London below, the underworld, where magic is common and people who live there are all but invisible to the people living above.

I love the story and the characters, especially Richard Meyhew. Richard is from the above world and completely over his head when he rescues Door, a princess from London below who desperately needs his help.

If you are trying to pick between the movie and the book, I would pick the book, since the BBC movie REALLY shows its budget.

This is probably my favorite Neil Gaiman book, and there are a few good ones, including "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys", both of which I enjoyed. Of course, his comics are even better, and if you can get a graphic novel version of his Sandman series, do so, you won't regret it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Movie: Inside Man (3/5 stars)

This is one of those "the villain is smarter than everyone else" movies. Denzel Washington plays a detective, while Clive Owen plays a very smart bank robber.

Thrown into the mix are Jodie Foster playing an ultra-competant someone who does "special jobs" for big bucks and Christopher Plummer playing an ultra-rich mogul with a big secret he wants to stay secret.

A day into this bank robbery, Denzel Washington realizes that something is up and starts to take unusual measures to see if he's right. Owen's character is always in control and knows exactly what he's doing the entire time.

While the movie is clever, and there is lots interesting going on, in the end, I found that there were mixed messages, and criminals end up being glorified a little too much for my tastes. Also, the movie makers try to put a moral message in the movie with Christopher Plumber's character, but they never really get to it.

Still, worth watching, and quite fun. It gives you a few ideas on how you might rob a bank too, just in case you were interested. The big message for bank robbers - you have to be really, really smart, smarter than any of the cops. And, for God's sake, do your research, and you'll come out just fine.

Movie: Mission Impossible 3 (MI3) (4/5 stars)

I didn't want to rent this one and I deliberately avoided it in the theater, since I didn't like the first two. They were full of plot holes and stupid ideas that were constantly jolting me out of any kind of suspension of disbelief that I might have had going into them.

As before, Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, the agent who goes out and takes on impossible missions (thus the title). In this movie, he's retired, and one of the students he has trained is in trouble and he rushes off to rescue her.

This is just a good, solid action movie. I liked it far more than I expected to.

It's worth your time, especially if you were avoiding it like I was. Lots of fun.

Movie: The Shining (4/5 stars)

The classic Jack Nicholson horror movie based on Steven King's popular novel. Believe me, I've received a few strange looks that someone as movie-philic as myself has never seen this 1980 movie until 2006. I know, I know, and everyone under the sun has probably reviewed it too, and in fact, most people reading this have probably seen it.

Anyway - that aside, I loved the movie and thought that it was well worth my time. Fresh off my novel frenzy with Nanowrimo 2006, a friend of mine thought that it would be a great movie to see on a movie night, since it's about a novelist who goes insane ("All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.")

I paid close attention to this one for bits on how to build character, how to pace, dialog, climax and so on. It's got few weaknesses. Oh... a massive bonus to this is the re-make of the trailer on youtube/ebaumsworld, where the preview is done as a family movie, with appropriate music mixed in and just the right scenes shown for just the right amount of time. It was funny before I'd even seen the movie, doubly so after I'd seen it.

If you haven't seen this, waste no time when you are next at the movie rental place, grab a copy and watch it!

Book: Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson (4/5 Stars)

I love this book. It is about the history and strangeness of English. From English names to English words, statistics of how many people speak English worldwide and so on.

A few things I took away from this book and quote quite often - 1) English is strange 2) adding s isn't the only way to make a word plural (i.e. brethren and children) 3) people never pronounce the "t" in soften, even though people do with often 4) more people are learning English in China than speak English in the United States

And so on and so on. This is a real winner and I highly recommend it. It is quirky and looks at the subject from a sideways position giving many interesting and insightful views. If you've ever been interested in why English is the way it is, and why we say deer and not deers, sheep and not sheeps, spoke not speaked etc.. etc... then look no further.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Movie: {Proof} (3/5 stars)

Proof is about a mathematical proof. For a movie about math, you thought that there would be more lucid math discussions, but seeing as this is a hollywood movie and they have to give this to a broad audience, I guess I get why they left it out.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays the daughter of a world famous mathematician (yes, these people do exist) Anthony Hopkins. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the love interest and math student who hangs around (he plays Hal - that's important).

I liked almost everything about this movie - the acting was good (although I've seen Paltrow much better - Hopkins is his normal self), the writing, directing, dialog and the math nerd band playing "i" were brilliant. However, the one thing that I didn't like really took a toll on the movie. The editing was horrible and you never quite know if you are in the present or one of the many pasts involved in the story line.

The flashbacks have the same look and feel as the present, so it was never obvious until a couple of minutes into the scene where you were. This throws off my ability to immerse myself into the movie and I kept getting pulled back into my living room. It was annoying and detracted seriously.

Still, I feel it was ultimately worth watching and was enjoyable overall. There were some really funny scenes in this movie and it was a shade short of a comedy. I don't think it will change your life however, so if you're looking for a movie with real impact, look elsewhere.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

movie: "The Secret" (3/5 stars)

If you've ever seen "What the Bleep", this is a similar, but better movie. There is a quite cheesy opening about some women finding a note from her daughter, and some monks in the middle ages stealing away with a secret that the rich, Illuminati types don't want out in the world.

The movie shows a lot of people discussing the secret, which is given early in the movie, interspersed with shorts of people behaving a certain way, or having certain things happen to them.

Basically, the "secret" is the law of attraction, which says that what you think about is the kind of thing that attracts itself to you. There are some metaphysicians, philosophers, quantum physicists, reverends etc.. who are talking about this phenomenon as if it is a real phenomenon, a law that has to be explained by quantum physics and deep science. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant... as the people in the movie say, you don't have to understand how electricity works to use it - you cook things, and turn on lights all the time and it just works.

Apparently, the law of attraction is the same and is always at work. While I'm sure there is a logical explanation for all of these people's experiences, and it can all be explained away logically, statistically, scientifically, I say that it doesn't really matter.

The fact is that it's better to think about things that you want to have, things that make you feel good and would be good for your life, than it is to go around thinking about how bad everything is. Every psychologist, positive thinker, mother, father, person... would most likely feel that this is true, and it is.

The movie quotes Mother Theresa who said, "I'll never attend an anti-war rally, but if you're having a peace rally, please invite me along.", and Joseph Campbell who says, "Follow your bliss." The bottom line, think about, immerse yourself, really feel the things that you really want - it will make you happy, and thinking about these things will get you going in the direction you want to go in. If you attend an anti-war rally, all that will do is promote war, not matter how prominent the "anti" is at the front of the posters. Thoughts attract.

There are lots and lots of reasons why this law is wrong, but the most obvious, funny one that I could think of was the teenage boy with a condom in his wallet. Sex is on their mind all the time, almost certainly pictured in great detail. That being said, not many of them get it. It's probably easy enough for the film makers to find people whose dreams have come true and spun the story as if it happens all the time to everyone, and the only reason it isn't working for you is because you aren't thinking hard enough. This is a religious point of view and there is no way to disprove it.

I thought it was a positive movie and I enjoyed it, but I don't believe that the law of attraction is some quantum field that exists everywhere in the universe and you resonate with it if you think the right thoughts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Book: "No Plot? No Problem!" byt Chris Baty - (4/5 stars)

I love this book. It's written by the founder of Nanowrimo, and is more about completing 50,000 words in one month than anything about writing a novel, i.e. voice, point of view, characterization etc...

Still, that being said, from having done the 1 month novel, I realize that just sitting down and writing has more to do with writing than any of those other things, and in the end, that makes this a fantastic book for writers.

I love the humor of this book - Baty is a real wit, which makes it fun to read. He has tons of ideas from various nanowrimo participants, many of whom have written published novels, as well as great section on how to edit your novel, and something from publishers etc.

You have to know going in that it isn't really about the mechanics of writing, and when you do, you will find it exactly what you need to get that novel finished.

My only regret with this is that I bought it after starting Nanowrimo and only had the time to read it once I was finished my 50,000 word 1st draft. When reading it after, I felt that my novel could have been a lot better if I'd read this first.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

store: OPSM (1/5 stars)

OPSM is a New Zealand optometrist type store. I have bought glasses there in the past. The one that I'm talking about is at the Coastlands shopping mall in Paraparaumu, about 40 minutes outside of Wellington.

I bought some sunglasses at OPSM a while ago (they were Fish brand sunglasses, specifically the Cod model). They were getting a little loose when I was putting them on, so I brought them back, hoping they could fix them. "Sure, no problem.", the manager said. He put some kind of glue into the screw hole, and that was to fix the screw solidly. He also gave me advice on how to handle them, "They last longer if you take them on and off with two hands rather than one.", he said, being very helpful and friendly.

About 1/2 an hour later, I was walking along, still at the same mall, and the glasses literally fell off my face. The "glue" ate through the plastic like acid. I appeared at the OPSM store a few minutes later with the glasses in pieces in my hands. The manger who'd "helped" me, saw me and pushed some poor woman, a new worker, towards me to handle his screw up.

Since the service had been so friendly before, I was confident that they would take care of this without any issues. Unfortunately, the girl who was now helping me, didn't actually know what to do about this, and kept going back to the manager who had "helped" me, and kept coming back with advice. In the end, they searched all of New Zealand OPSM stores, and not a single one had the same pair of glasses. They wanted to give me another pair, preferably more expensive, but I didn't like any of them (these are a $70 dollar pair by the way).

In the end, I got my money back and used it to buy contact lenses for Una.

The story doesn't end there! The Fish sunglasses behind me, I bought a new pair of sunglasses at some some shoe outlet store for $20. I lost one of the screws holding one of the arms on and guess where I ended up to see if they could fix them? That's right, the same OPSM.

That poor woman who'd had me as a disgruntled customer was there again. There was no manger this time. I ask her if they have a screw that will fit the sunglasses and she's pretty sure, and goes into the back room. Sure enough, they have the right sized screw, and she'll fix it in right now for no cost. Sweet!

She plays with it for a minute while I look around the shop. "Oh no.", I hear over my shoulder. She comes over to me, and she's screwed the screw in too tightly, and broken the lens! There go another pair of sunglasses.

I made the mistake of telling them that it was only a $20 pair, so they send me $20 in the mail a week or so later. I forgot to charge for the gas to drive down to the place where I'd gotten them in the first place and the hassle.

Anyway - I've only been into that shop twice, and twice I've come away with a broken pair of sunglasses. Not recommended.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Book: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (2/5 stars)

I read this during the November Nanowrimo month while trying to write my own novel. I didn't incorporate a single bit of this book into my novel.

This is quite an exciting title for would be writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Card is one of the greats with what I consider two real masterpieces of science fiction ("Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead") and three masterpieces of Fantasy (The first three books of the "Alvin Maker" series), I thought that he'd have a lot to say.

Not really. He points us a lot towards another book he's written called "Characters and Viewpoints" as well as other books in that series. In that way, quite a lot of the content of this turns out to be an advertisement for other books about writing. That also means that he's deliberately left out quite a lot that a writer would find useful and are left with quite a small amount of information.

There was this strange thing about how science fiction readers take metaphors literally and that we have to worry about this while writing. There is also a lot about hyper-drive and space travel in general and how it should work in your story (Warp drive is bad since it's Star Trek speak and will get laughs from readers). There is a lot about the price of magic as well, as all magic should have a cost.

The two best parts in the book are 1) the author lists - who are the writers to pay attention to - all worth a read and 2) What to do after you've written something. How to deal with agents and publishers etc... Note - these have nothing to do with the title "How to write...", but actually add to the value of the book.

Quite a poor attempt for such an esteemed author. I would have liked to see better.

Book: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (3/5 stars)

I heard about this book from Orson Scott Card's book "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy". It is being held up as a shining example of good writing. I read it in the middle of Nanowrimo month in November.

I have to agree with Card, the writing is very well done. There is a lot implied in each sentence and you can infer much about each character by their actions. I don't know if Butler does this on purpose, or has gradually internalized the process, but the more I look at it, the more impressive it is. She is a real master of point of view and implying important points without actually saying it directly.

We see an immortal man, Doro, who has been around for more than three thousand years who wanders the planet breeding a new race. Through this book, we get to see many of the results of the breeding program. We see ordinary, we see extraordinary, we see strange and even stranger.

Doro, our immortal, finds another immortal, a woman. They have several disagreements over the morals of the breeding program and how Doro treats his seed. This tension builds over the century and a half of the story. I found the characters well developed and deep.

That being said, if you were to graph the excitement versus time on this book, it would remain mostly flat. It is a subtle book in more than language, and I found it interesting, but mostly dull.

I'm still glad I read it, since it taught me that great books are more than just nice language and even an excellent premise. There is something more that I have yet to identify.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Movie: "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" 2003 1/5 stars

I like Clive Owen and Jonathan Rhys Meyers - they almost always pull out good performances. This is no different - they were both interesting and well portrayed characters.

The thing that killed this movie is the plot. When you get to the end, there are these huge, massive, gaping (I need another word for big!) plot holes, even entire threads of the story just dropped on the floor.

Until the very end of the movie, I thought it was going to be possible to salvage it into being an ok movie, but no, it didn't happen. It felt seriously like they ran out of budget and just dropped it. I'm pretty sure I wasn't missing any subtle bits of this one, it just stops.

I wouldn't bother with this movie, despite the ok first 95% of it.

Movie: "The Lake House" 2006 3/5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect with this movie. I haven't seen Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock together since "Speed", and wasn't sure what to expect. This certainly isn't "Speed", but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The premise is that there is a mailbox that can move stuff through time, and Keanu and Sandra are actually living 2 years apart and writing letters back and forth. They gradually fall in love.

Once you get past the premise and put it behind you, I find that the story is lovely. It's unabashedly romantic and I enjoyed it. Sure it's a chick flick, but a chick flick done well is still a good movie.

There is real chemistry between the two leads and I found myself saying, "Hey - that's the best acting I've ever seen Keanu do!".

I found myself enjoying the bits and pieces of architecture talk about lighting, settings and what the building is trying to say. I'm not an architect, so didn't notice anything fishy about the discussions and found myself more interested in architecture after that.

If you are in the mood for a romantic story, this is a good movie for you.

I rate it three out of five stars.