Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Back to work, and miscellany

Monday, October 8th, 2007

This is the end of my paternity leave. Back to work tomorrow. Don’t really feel ready; very tired. Making silly fatigue-related mistakes, like not noticing there was a diaper mixed in with some dirty blankets when I threw in a load of laundry. That crystallized diaper stuff is nasty and gets everywhere. Best to avoid!

Sammy’s doing a bit better with naps and bedtime, so hopefully we’re all getting back to normal. Sophie continues to be an angel; very easy baby and a great sleeper.

Been watching a bit of TV (since it’s easy to do that while feeding or burping a baby, especially with TiVo; couldn’t imagine it otherwise) and of the new shows so far I like Journeyman, am neutral on Bionic Woman, and pretty sure I won’t keep Moonlight but spared it for now. Kid Nation I’m still watching. Love the new season of Survivor. Have Pushing Daisies recorded and will check that out. The new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is especially cringe-worthy in a way that only that show can manage. The new season of Always Sunny in Philadelphia cracks Kimi up a lot. Plus there’s Robot Chicken and CSI.

Did see Resident Evil 3 last night — and for me, zombie movies are like pizza: even when they’re bad they’re good. Was just what I needed.


Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Kimi, John, Yvonne and I saw Stardust this evening. Kimi’s cousin Miranda drove up with her boyfriend Alex to babysit, and unfortunately Sammy was a bit upset with Kimi and me leaving, and ended up crying so hard that he threw up a lot. (How’s that for a reproduction deterrent?) But he settled down with them and ended up having a fun night — and so did we. I had read the Neil Gaiman book previously (long enough ago that I didn’t remember it very clearly) and it seemed that the movie was a nice melange of the book, the comic book, with a dash of The Princess Bride thrown in.

Several times Kimi squeezed my hand in delight; it is really a magical movie, well worth seeing. Many things invented for the movie — Robert DeNiro’s expanded character, “Billy” the man-goat — really work well cinematically. While I’d have loved to see the seven brothers have a fuller role as they do in the book, the movie gets the point across, and the two leads do a marvelous job.

I can’t figure out why this movie doesn’t have better reviews and box office numbers. It’s wonderful. See it.


Monday, July 9th, 2007

Kimi and I saw this Friday evening (thanks to Kimi’s Uncle Tom for babysitting Sammy), after gobbling down a quick dinner from Los Portales.

We both loved Ratatouille. Technically it’s an amazing achievement, with the human character animation, camera control and lighting incredibly advanced compared to previous computer animated efforts I’ve seen. That’s some realistic rat fur. As far the plot and story and acting goes, all very good but it’s more adult and not quite as universally engaging as some of the previous Pixar work. Overall, I’d rank it above Cars but below Finding Nemo. My favorite remains The Incredibles.

I have to say that there’s something a bit unappetizing about rats working on food that’s being served to humans. As much as they tried to work past that, part of me was a little repulsed. But there’s one scene, a flashback, that nearly brought a tear to my eye. Such a beautiful moment.

I had very high expectations for Ratatouille, and I wasn’t disappointed. And for a movie bearing the Disney logo, such a daringly non-Disney movie! The very name of the movie, a hard to pronounce and spell vegetarian stew, tells you that they’re not dumbing down anything for the audience.

Bravo, Pixar.

Pirates of the Threequel

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

Thanks to John and Yvonne watching Sammy after a noon time tofu dog bbq (don’t ask), Kimi and I managed to see Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End this afternoon.

Short review: Kimi hated it, I kinda liked it.

Regardless, getting out of the house and being able to see a movie? Definitely worth it. We couldn’t remember the last movie we had seen together. (Apparently, according to this very blog, it was Pan’s Labyrinth.)

To be honest, I fell asleep during the first two, and this one I stayed awake through, so could follow the plot better. It’s weird how over-plotted it is, but I’m glad they aren’t dumbing it down. It still feels ridiculously overblown for an anti-historical movie (by which I mean they seem to be intentionally ignoring any actual history of actual pirates) based on a carnival ride.

The tone of the first scene is grim and realistic and not for kids. That tone has disappeared completely somewhere around the fifteenth Jack Sparrow mug for the camera (or about 90 minutes in). The climactic fight scene is so ludicrous that Ed Wood would not deign to include it in a work from his oeuvre. It is in fact impossible to watch the CGI pirates sailing around on CGI ropes in the CGI maelstrom and not have completely shattered any sense of immersion and disbelief suspension that you had held on to up until that point.

But, I did laugh out loud, and it was pleasant diversion. Keira Knightley isn’t hard to watch either.

In contrast, Kimi felt it was boring, stupid and pointless, and completely wasted the star power of everyone involved.

So, your milage may vary.

If you see it, stay until after the credits are over, there’s a bonus scene.

In the Cars universe…

Friday, May 11th, 2007

For our plane trip to Hawaii last month, we picked up a portable DVD player (off the TiVo Rewards site, actually, so it didn’t cost me any cash). And we picked up Cars, which may be a bit old for Sammy (who’s nearing 20 months) but he loves cars, so…

I missed this in the theatre, but we’ve seen it a lot now. A lot. A lot lot lot.

I have to wonder. In the universe of this movie, where everything (including bugs) is an anthropomorphic vehicle, where do new cars come from? Are they manufactured in an assembly line and given personality injections, or are they born? The cars are distinctly female and male, and show attraction to each other, but do they actually mate? If so, do they produce little toy cars that grow up into full size cars?

Also, what is the purpose of their doors? They seem to use the tires as hands (unless they’re a forklift or tow truck), so the doors themselves aren’t arms or hands, and I don’t recall ever seeing them open.

In the opening race sequence during the crash, how painful is a crash? How about a flat tire, does that cause pain? How much damage is required to kill a car, and why do cars even die at all, why aren’t they just repaired?

We have questions. Maybe I’ll hit up my friend Howard (who’s in the credits), a VP of software development over there, to see if he can get me answers.


Sunday, March 4th, 2007

I rented the Babel DVD on Saturday (from one of those kiosks at Safeway that Davis is always writing about), and we had Yvonne over tonight to make popcorn and help us watch it. (Thanks Yvonne!)

We switched on subtitles a bit of the way in, and I think I would have been frustrated to see this film in the theatre without subtitles.

I can see why it was nominated for an Oscar, and I’m always happy to see a movie depart from the traditional three-act structure. Brad Pitt almost seems like not Brad Pitt, but the other actors (especially the Moroccan children) deliver braver and more credible performances. Ultimately, I think this movie is less deep than it appears, and really despite the tension it builds has no teeth. Most of the characters in jeopardy don’t have enough screen time to really build up enough empathy.

So you’re left with a non-traditional structure that is interesting, excellent acting and cinematography, some compelling segments and some not so much. Despite the title, I don’t think the language barriers really come into play (with the exception of the Japanese girl’s story). I can already feel this movie leaking away, where, in contrast, I’m still thinking about Pan’s Labyrinth.

Worth the $1.50, but I’m going to go with thumbs down overall.

“Pan’s Labyrinth”

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Wednesday night is our new date night. After dropping off Sammy with Kyrie, we grabbed some quick food at Sushi Tomo on University in Palo Alto (not very good, sorry — Kimi hated her zaru soba, and the tempura was a little off, but the spicy tuna was ok). Then it was time for Pan’s Labyrinth at the Cinearts, where we arrived ten minutes late but just in time for the opening scene.

It’s hard to review this movie without revealing too much of the plot. I first have to say this: Do not take children. We were warned this was an intense film, but “intense” is too mild a word to describe the movie. A better word might be “brutal” but you could also add in “shocking” and “relentless.” The commercials that I’ve seen (or more accurately, the commercials I fast-forwarded through) give the impression of a gentle but sad and dark fairy tale. You’re better off expecting a violent war film with certain fightening fantastical elements.

Now that your expectations are set, the film is beautifully made, written in perfect balance, acted with rare skill, and fully deserving of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2006. It walks a delicate line between its fairy tale theme and its rebels vs. soldiers war story, and more than once I thought it was unraveling, only to realize I was being led deeper into the maze. There are certain foreshadowing elements that should have been a little less emphasized, but overall this is a film that will be haunting me for months. I recommend it highly as long as you have a strong stomach for violence; there were three or four scenes Kimi could not watch. Despite all that, it is a rare and breathtaking masterpiece.

Rant: “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a bit misleading as a translation of the Spanish title, El Laberinto del Fauno. I didn’t know the real Spanish title until afterwards, and so based on the English title, I expected Pan himself to show up or be referenced; a better title would be “The Fawn’s Labyrinth.”

Postscript: If you’ve seen the film, check out the interesting trivia.

“Reno 911!: Miami”

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Friday night was our date night this week, and we were lucky to have Nancy babysit for us. We started with sushi boats for dinner at Sono Sushi, then the movie choice this time was Reno 911!: Miami. I don’t usually watch the TV show, but Kimi’s a fan, and we both were in the mood for something lightweight.

Lightweight is what this is, all right. I definitely laughed, but I didn’t feel proud of myself for doing so. The comedy is about as low-brow as it gets. There are some amusing cameos (including The Rock in a tiny bit as an overzealous but undercareful SWAT team leader), and the physical comedy is well done, but I thought they should have come up with funnier jokes or more of an overall plot. If you like the show, you’ll probably like the movie, but ultimately I was a bit disappointed despite my low expectations.

Ads at Century 16

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

We live near the Century Shoreline 16, and I prefer going there over, say, the AMC Mercado 20 because it’s closer, it’s easier to park, and they don’t play commercials before the movies. (On the other hand, the Mercado’s stadium-style seats are better, and the theatre is better maintained.) Except last week, when we went to see Music and Lyrics, they had some horrible program playing. Fortunately we were late arriving and only caught the tail end of it, but what little we saw was back to back commercials mixed in with promotional puff pieces with no depth. Very similar to the AMC program called “The 20” or something like that, but a different name.

Evening movie ticket prices are now $10. (Grandpa mode: Why when I was a kid, movies cost $4.50, and we used to line up around the block and wait two hours to get in on opening weekend.) Anyway, they raise the price and have to have commercials as well? It used to be they advertised no commercials. Guess that’s changed. I’m going to complain. I can’t stand these pieces — you can’t talk while it’s playing.

Update, Feb 25th: Except no commercials on Friday before Reno 911. Guess they had a lot of complaints.

“Music and Lyrics”

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

After dinner, Kimi and I opted for a movie (and thanks again to Bob for baby-sitting). This was the first movie of the year for me. Since it was Valentine’s Day, I pushed for something light and romantic, and there was really only film fitting the bill: Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.

Hugh is perfectly cast as Alex Fletcher, an ’80s pop star who seems to relish the “has-been” label. (His character is modeled off of Andrew Ridgeley of WHAM!, the half of the duo who, unlike George Michael, did not remain famous). Drew plays Sophie Fisher, a klutzy aspiring writer who enters Alex’s life when she appears to water his plants.

I have to say I enjoyed the film overall despite some unconvincing plot twists to keep Alex and Hugh apart. It was refreshingly unconventional, and the backdrop of writing a hit pop song worked to distinguish this film from the countless other romantic comedies. Hugh can’t sing, and can barely dance, but his charm carries the day, and he remains the master of the throwaway line. The opening fake ’80s video (so good they had to show it twice) is spot on, and I liked the newcomer playing Cora, a teen sensation with a faux Buddhism fetish.

Deep? Nah. But a pleasant date movie with some laughs, and an incredibly catchy pop song at its heart. (Check out the movie’s MySpace page, switch off the video, scroll down halfway, and click on the first “Way Back Into Love” song in the embedded player to listen.) Pure treacle but with hooks that dig in for days; it was written by the bassist for Fountains of Wayne.

The Good Shepherd

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

My brother-in-law John’s dad (his real name is Howard but he always goes by “Foot”) treated John and me to a movie on Saturday night — The Good Shepherd. I was a little disappointed, because of how much praise I’d heard lavished on this movie ahead of time. While the acting was great, it was hard to treat it as a historical film given that the main character (played by Matt Damon) was a fictionalized composite, and it was hard to treat it as a spy drama when there was so little action or insight into the spying business or how the CIA was actually created. For all of its three hour running time, it feels like not much happens. I didn’t get bored, and I appreciated a lot of what was shown as a character drama, but ultimately I expected and wanted more. Be warned that the pace is quite slow, and Matt’s character is very remote and unemotional most of the time, which makes it difficult to relate to him.

Joe Pesci appears out of nowhere for one scene; Robert De Niro is only in a couple. But it is a very impressive cast overall.

One problem for me is that Matt Damon simply looks 25 to me. (I know he’s actually 36.) When called upon to be 55, his face just cannot do the job.

I was amused that another movie with a similar title, The Good German, was released the same week. (I haven’t seen it.) I thought of mixing the two, but someone already beat me to it. Hah.

If you can’t beat ’em, box ’em

Monday, November 27th, 2006

I mentioned earlier seeing BloodRayne with Harry on Thursday (a traditional Thanksgiving movie if ever there was one).

Turns out that BloodRayne is directed by Uwe Boll, the auteur behind the video-game-into-movie monstrosities House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark (I’ve played both those games, actually, and I regret to report I saw the House of the Dead movie, which is every bit as awful as BloodRayne). It further turns out that Herr Boll is getting a bit tired of his critics beating him up. So, he turned the tables and challenged them to a boxing competition (as reported in Wired News). It’s a fascinating story; thanks to John R. for providing the link.

Doesn’t make me want to see any of his upcoming movies, though.

Casino Royale With Cheese

Monday, November 27th, 2006

So Saturday night Kimi and I each saw different showings of Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig as the new (now blonde) Bond. This is a back-to-basics Bond, with no Q and few gadgets, basically rebooting the series, starting off with how Bond was promoted to double-oh status. (Hard to believe this is the 21st James Bond movie; it was definitely time for a reboot.)

In general, critics called the movie too long, and felt that it spent too much time in the casino playing Hold’Em (updated from baccarat in the original novel). I disagree — I thought the movie could have been longer, and as a poker player I appreciated the poker scenes.

Craig, who I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anything before, is easily the best actor to ever play Bond, although the best Bond in my mind remains Sean Connery, with Pierce running a close second. But I think in time Craig’s stock could rise further in my mind.

I was interested in the idea that they were setting up a multi-movie story arc (if rumors about Bond 22 can be believed). I was also fascinated by the Jackie Chan-esque free-running/Parkour action sequence at the beginning of the movie.

I definitely recommend the movie overall. It captures a lot of the essence of Bond while making it a more serious affair. One powerful scene focuses on the emotional impact of all the killing; no previous Bond movie would have spent the time on that portion. I like how the new movie throws away a lot of the ridiculousness while giving room for the legend to grow. There are still unbelievable elements (I’d love if someone made an action series in which the hero is not somehow able to miraculously dodge bullets even when sprayed from a machine gun, or didn’t depict that the best way for a woman to run away from danger is by holding hands with the hero). But no American spy series comes close — Bourne? XXX? Mission Impossible? all laughable in comparison — although it’s true that I’ve always loved Bond, even as a kid playing with the Corgi toy cars.

Happy Thanksgiving — let’s hear it for four-day weekends

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

The last few years we’ve had Thanksgiving at my parents’ place up in Elk Grove. This year, Kelly and Rob hosted. This was great for two reasons: First, it’s a lot closer, and second, they did almost all of the cooking, so we could relax a lot more. The only downside is that I didn’t get to see my brother Phil and his wife Erin and daughter Sarah, since they went to Erin’s parents instead.

Kimi made a pair of sweet potato cheesecakes topped with maple cream. In addition to the traditional menu (mostly cooked by Kelly and Rob’s friend Keith), Rob also cooked some crab, which tasted really great although I have to say it felt out of place. A memorable addition, to be sure.

Kelly’s step-mom, dad, sister Tara, and brother-in-law-to-be Geoff were also there, so it was a big group. After dinner, a few folks watched football and the rest of us played some Outburst (one of my favorite party boardgames). Sammy was well-behaved the whole day and managed to take a nap at 3 in the office. Kimi ended up taking him home around 7, and Harry and I followed a bit later (we had invited him to spend the night).

It felt good to see my parents again, and I appreciated Joanna driving them down and back. If we had more room in our house I think we would have invited them to stay as well as Harry.

At home, Kimi went to bed early so Harry and I played some Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, completing the series we had started the week before. In this two-player board game that shares some similarities with Stratego, the black side (Sauron’s minions — the orcs, cave troll, warg, and other bad guys) are definitely stronger than the white side (the Fellowship and assorted other good characters). Harry’s very good at this game, and gets a lot of practice since they apparently play a lot at his work. With Harry playing the more difficult white side, he beat me 2-1 in the first series, but I managed to win the second series 2-1. The new deluxe edition has some variant characters, and when we played with those, he beat me 3-0 alternating sides. I don’t like the variant characters nearly as much, but I do recommend the game overall — a really interesting game for two players that somehow manages to capture the feel of the books better than any other Lord of the Rings-inspired game I’ve played.

Thursday night we watched BloodRayne, a truly awful inspired-by-a-videogame-neither-of-us-have-ever-played movie, and Friday we basically vegged out and watched Heroes all a bit during the day and finishing up after Sammy went to bed. We had a mini-marathon and succeeded in watching the first nine episodes. I enjoyed Heroes quite a bit, and it’s clear the writers actually know where the first few episodes are going. I was a bit surprised at how much gore there was; it’s not for kids at all. The series plays around with comic books as a theme but ultimately I think the series has more to do with a cross between The 4400, X-Files and Lost than with any particular comic book.

As I write this, Kimi and I are doing a movie-trade. She’s seeing the 7:10 showing of Casino Royale and I’ll see the 10:30 showing.
I’ll add my impressions later.

Date Night: Inside Man

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Last Friday was date night, and thanks to the pro babysitting of John & Yvonne, Kimi and I headed out to dinner and a movie.

Our first intention was to try the world-famous Uncle Frank’s BBQ, which is around the corner from our house, but we got there at 8:30 and unfortunately it closes at 8. What!? First they don’t let us in with Sammy since it’s in a bar (21 and over required even for the restaurant). Now we learn that they close at 8. Damn you Uncle Frank, with your tantalizing but inaccessable BBQ.

So our second choice was Tomatina, in the Mercardo off 101. This is probably Kimi’s favorite restaurant. The parking lot was a madmadmadhouse as usual, so we got our garlic rolls and piadines and strawberry-lemonade to go, and ate in the cafe area at the Mt. View Century. Not romantic or elegant, but certainly delicious.

For the second movie I’ve seen this year, and Kimi’s first, we choose Spike Lee’s Inside Man. I recommend this film. You should know that it’s not really a standard caper pic as it advertises itself to be, and that Jodie Foster’s role is tiny. But Denzel and Clive did a great job, and Spike’s film-making was both engrossing and confident. I suspect there are about six or seven plot holes (and Kimi and I compared notes on them on the way home, each having found possible flaws the other one didn’t find), but ultimately this is a movie that riffs well off of bank heist pics and police standoff pics (such as Dog Day Afternoon, which it pays tribute to) and goes in a fresh direction.

Spike choose to open and close with a piece of Indian pop music — the deliciously catchy Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se (listen/watch it now!).

Epilogue: On Saturday night, we picked up food to go from Uncle Frank’s, and while I think eating it to go misses a majority of the experience, Uncle Frank’s is definitely the real deal. The cajun corn is so incredibly spicy that it’s a full-body experience. There are a few reviews that make for good background reading.


Friday, April 14th, 2006

It was John R.’s birthday back at the end of March, and to celebrate, I took him to a movie on Tuesday night.

Now I’ve known John since high school — we were debate partners (State Champions, in fact) and also went to college together. We’re best friends, and he’s one of the smartest guys I know, but I hardly get to spend much time with him these days. He has two boys, Isaac and Adam, and works at Cisco, so all that combines to keep him as busy as me. He does join in for the biweekly Tuesday night poker games from time to time, but it was good to be able to catch up.

After our sons were all asleep, John came over and we first went over to Red Rock Cafe on Castro. I was surprised to find (and didn’t recognize) a contractor working for my team, Emily, behind the counter. She had been working for us for a few weeks but out of context of seeing her at TiVo she looked like a different person.

We were able to drink hot beverages and warm chocolatey desserts, then headed over to the MV Century 16 for some pre-movie “House of the Dead” video game action that was a perfect mood-setter for Slither.

Slither is a horror comedy movie. It is very far from high art, but it was intelligently written, well-paced, genuinely funny when it wanted to be funny, and genuinely tense when it wanted to be tense. Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal Reynolds for Firefly fans) was very enjoyable to watch — maybe too many notes of that performance were similar to Mal, but a police captain in Virginia does have a lot in common with a starship captain in a frontier setting, right? No? Hell, I just like the character.

There is a line dividing homage and plagiarism, and I think this movie, while definitely derivative, managed to successfully stay on the homage side. I picked up on a number of nods to several different horror movies (there’s the beginnings of a list over at imdb), and the director has confirmed his intentions in an interview.

A raging debate concerns whether or not this movie is really a zombie film. (Forget about immigration or nuclear proliferation; here at Zeigen Inc. we focus on the true important matters of the day facing our society.) Certainly one should score the point that in this movie there are flesh-eating humans shambling around, converting others to their state. The writer/director here (James Gunn) was the screenwriter for the so-so 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But after those two facts, the zombie points break down. These zombies can talk, and there are other differences I won’t disclose due to my anti-spoiler policy. I conclude Slither is not really a zombie film. But despite that grave point against it, and the serious case of false advertising one might therefore be able to make, I actually do recommend this film to horror movie fans, since it’s fun and well-made.

Also, if you do see it: Stay until after the credits are done.

Victorious, we venture to V for Vendetta

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Saturday night, after Sammy went to sleep, John and Yvonne came over and it was movie night. John stayed home to watch Sammy and graded papers, while Kimi and Yvonne let me pick the movie, per my prize for the Oscar contest.

Munich was my first choice, but we couldn’t find any nearby theatres showing it. So my fallback was V for Vendetta.

As a former comic geek, of course I had read the seminal series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (in 1988, when the DC series came out). And since I read Boing Boing, I saw their post about an interview with Alan Moore wherein he talked about why he wanted to remove his name from the movie. (Interview by Heidi MacDonald.) The interview made me nervous; it did seem like the filmmakers had a fundamental misunderstanding of what the comic book was about. When I heard Joel Silver‘s name was attached, I was prepared to hate the movie. But seeing the high user ratings and good reviews (Ebert & Roeper, Peter Travers from Rolling Stone), I became interested again. This is the first time in 2006 that Kimi and I have gone to the movies.

Overall, I recommend the movie. While the English accents (from Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving) are a bit unstable, and the oversimplification of the plot is regrettable, I’m surprised they didn’t dumb it all the way down. The average American moviegoer doesn’t know who Guy Fawkes is, and may not even want to see a movie set in England (especially an alternate history near-future England). Visually it doesn’t resemble the Matrix movies very much (which is good, because I had suspected the Brothers Wachowski had but one trick), and the impenetrable pseudo-philosophy from the Matrix trilogy is fortunately absent as well. Less successful is the reinvention of Evie as a viewpoint character, but that’s now comparing the source material to the film and I almost never prefer the film version when I do that.

If you are not a comic book reader, I imagine that there is really little to tell you that this is a comic book movie. That’s a good thing, since most comic book movies are terribly dopey.

I think Yvonne liked it as much as I did, but Kimi liked it far less than I did, perhaps due to some of the more violent knife-fighting scenes (some of them more or less filmed in Matrix-like bullet time).

How daring for a movie, post-911 and in this political climate, to depict a terrorist-like anti-hero as the main character and establish sympathy and rapport for him. And by defanging the fascist English state portrayed (as Moore asserts was done), you really are risking audiences to rebel against watching a main character in a mask who blows up buildings. I suppose that without Natalie Portman’s character that gambit would not have succeeded at all.

In other news, on Sunday night, Kimi and I had dinner with Nancy at Mike’s Cafe in midtown Palo Alto. Poor Nancy, laid up with a broken foot. With Sammy in his stroller and Nancy in her wheelchair, we took up a lot of room. But I really like Mike’s.