July 2007 Archives

Buzzword.. Buzzword.. Buzzword..

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Very funny little script to generate a 4-6 word completely unintelligible yet plausable sounding phrase. I think I'm going to use the phrase "appropriately administrate backward-compatible convergence" in my next meeting!

The Out Campaign

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RDF (The Richard Dawkins Foundation) has just started up the "Out" Campaign, complete with logo, t-shirts and  the like. I need a coffee mug! The logo is simple yet bold, very much like a Scarlet Letter, which is a great allusion (don't be put off by the movie adaptations, it's a brilliant novel). I'll have to think about a t-shirt, for sure.

Here is PZ Myers post on it: Come out!.  And the image he hosts:

image

Yeah, that's how I feel after a week with a cough and sore throat, Calliope - sorry.



A Very Long Engagement is a movie by the Amelie team and included many of their signature video effects. It strained credulity in a few spots and so slipped down below their earlier efforts, but still worth viewing. I think Delicatessen remains my favorite Jeunet movie. I originally posted this on January 1, 2006.



A Very Long Engagement is the 2004 film from the Amelie crew, including director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and actress Audrey Tautou.  It concerns a young woman's search for answers after word gets back that her lover has been lost at the front.  It elegantly captures the ugliness of World War One's trench warfare, yet is curiously uninvolving after the mystery is solved.

As the movie opens, we see four men being marched along a trench, ankle deep in water as the rain pours down. We are sequentially introduced to each of the condemned men, as they were sentenced to death for "self mutilation", some on purpose and some by accident.  This death penalty was invoked to keep others from trying to get sent home due to injury by shooting themselves in the hand.  We follow this dreary, wet band of men as they get passed off from one guard to the next, eventually getting pushed up over the trench and into "no man's land", left to fend for themselves as daybreak comes.

One of the condemned men is Manech, who's lover awaits him at a seaside cottage, living with her aunt and uncle. Mathilde (Tautou) and Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) were engaged to be married upon his return from the front, and she doesn't believe his death, as she never felt the psychic shock.  She often plays mental games, to test her faith - "If my uncle knocks before the clock strikes 5, Manech is still alive.". Strangely enough, these games often end ambiguously.

Mathilde goes on a long search, hiring a renowned detective (Ticky Holgado, a veteran French film presence in his last film) to help in her search.  They unravel a tortuous paper trail, a vengeful other woman, and much sadness and lunacy.  Like her mind games, the movie ends in an ambiguous Pyrrhic victory.

Jeunet, who directed other wondrously inventive films like Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, goes for the more serious side here, and only partially succeeds.  He does have a couple of cool camera touches, of course, and the scenes from the front are truly visceral, right up there with Saving Private Ryan for visual and aural impact. The sound in particular is incredibly well done, and he mentions in the commentary that he made his sound folks go back and listen to Private Ryan whenever he felt they were coming up short.  And due to the subject matter of the nearly pointless trench warfare of World War One's Western Front, it has an even more visceral impact.

One problem I had was I felt Tautou was just too old for the part.  She was supposed to be 17 years old when he left for the front, and only a few years older during the main part of the movie, yet she is 26 at the time of the filming.  And a couple of places, where they put her in tiny braids, had an almost embarrassing touch, as it felt like they were truly straining to make her look younger.  And I just never felt her pain and sorrow, so by the time the movie ended, it was like "big deal".

Another problem is one Jeunet mentioned in his commentary, where it was hard to tell everyone apart.  Several had similar names and even despite the device he used whereby they were often mentioned with an identifying clause ("Benjamin the carpenter", "Benoit from Notre Dame", etc), it was still hard to tell who they were talking about.  I often couldn't follow the "mystery", nor even who was getting revenge on whom.  Even Jodie Foster making an appearance as a grieving widow didn't help.  I just plain never got involved in the whole thing.

So it makes for a fascinating, gut-wrenching view of life in the trenches, but it doesn't spend much time there.  The other story, the quest for "truth", is only partially successful. And I thought it went on for too long; I was ready for the ending after less than two hours, and I still had 15 minutes or more to go.  So it is worth a rental, but I wouldn't stand in line for it.



I sure could use one, Calliope...

PS: Anyone have any guesses why my mp3 files with images in them never finish uploading? If I cancel out of the upload, the mp3 is up there, but no image?

Everybody Needs A Holiday
Big Audio Dynamite



Audio-gasm

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Here's my 'latest songs' last.fm widget. Again, I welcome other last.fm users to add me as a friend. You can find my last.fm profile link in the link list on the left.



Disaster Planning

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While not nearly as catastrophic as it felt, the Vox outage reminded me to track down the US Government web site which details a basic emergency kit you should have stashed in your home. After digging deep into my Google-fu, I finally got to the site: http://www.ready.gov. All kinds of great info here, both in as a web site and some nice looking PDFs. Time to gather the stuff together, you know, just in case...

Playroom After

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So, after two solid weekends of working on it, here's the after picture of the playroom:


It came out pretty nice and the munchkins love their little nest. Not sure if you can see all the Webkinz scattered about. The computers are facing the two chairs on the right, and easily visible from up the stairs to the left, which leads into the main hallway and the kitchen, so we get to keep an eye out on the Internet activity. Spenser doesn't mind it either. We'll probably get them a couple of bean bag chairs or something to sit on for TV viewing.

Sickly Pursuits

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Still struggling with some kind of summer cold, so I have been spending very little time at the keyboard. I have watched couple of movies and finished a book, so I'll try to write them up here.

I watched the first Pirates of the Carribean movie, Curse of the Black Pearl and found it mildly engaging. I was unable to suspend my disbelief enough to really enjoy the ride, as it were. Depp was, once again, magnificent as the scene-chewing Jack Sparrow (oops, I mean Captain Jack Sparrow). I think he may be my favorite contemporary actor, as he truly rescued The Departed from being a complete waste of time. The picture was disappointing soft. So much so, I wondered if Disney, a big time BluRay studio, made the regular DVD especially soft to make you want to see it in BluRay.

I finished The Time Traveler's Wife over the weekend and really enjoyed it. Telling the story of Henry, who has CDP (Chrono-Displacement Order), and his wife Clare, it manages to make time travel a believable ailment, while telling the all too human story of love and loss. The ending, as you can imagine, was especially poignant. The time line can get a little confusing, as it is told from both Clare and Henry's point of view. Clare's continues to go forward, while Henry jumps around in time, but generally just during his lifetime or those around him.

I thought some of the emotions were a little over top and took too long, but in general it was very well written. And the various time traveling paradoxes were either well explained, or were left as satisfying mysteries. The one I didn't get was that Henry was afraid to fly, because he never knew when he would flit out of the current time and then flit back, so he was afraid he would appear in midair. But I would think the same problem would occur even just riding in a car or a train (he wouldn't drive a car for the same reason). But still, a highly recommended book.

While wasting time abed last evening, I watched my DVRed copy of 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice. A solid if somewhat low key effort on James Cain's novel, it features a stunning Lana Turner as the young wife and John Garfield as the drifter who comes in and complicates matters. Plenty of twists and turns, but lacking the dark edge of a truly great film noir, it was a fun ride anyway, although not as good as the steamy Lange/Nicholson remake of 1981.

The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger



Internet Theory

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I spun up the HD DVD version of The Bourne Supremacy over the weekend and found it an eminently watchable flick. Not quite as engaging as the first one, with perhaps a trifle bit of pretentiousness that especially shined through via the director's ( Paul Greengrass) various commentaries. It was, nonetheless, an excellent waste of time, with Matt Damon doing his usual great job as Jason Bourne and Joan Allen as the CIA opponent, looking for answers to several mysterious questions.

The movie opens with Jason Bourne and Marie (the ever luminescent Franka Poente) hiding out in India. Of course, real world events catch up with them when he is framed for the killing of a double agent and Bourne begins a hunt of his own. Meanwhile, there's trouble brewing in the CIA, where Pamela Landy tries to get answers to who killed her double agent, and it uncovers the slimy legacy of Treadstone, the assassination bureau that Bourne was an early member of and is now closed down and covered up. Many fights ensue and several great car chases, and finally Bourne gets to unburden his soul.

A truly excellent reference HD DVD, to be sure. Amazing clarity of picture and a real nice workout for the speakers contribute to a film for showing off your home theater setup. The explosions felt real and the crashes shook the floor. Even the soundtrack was pretty good. I did have a minor skipping problem, but a good cleaning fixed it up completely. I really have to get into the habit of cleaning the DVDs before viewing.

Speaking of stunts - top notch all the way around. I loved the explosions, especially the one in the apartment of the other Treadstone assassin. There was a great shot of this one from the outside and I wondered how they made it look so cool. And the car chases were amazing! I even watched the ending one in Moscow over again. There's a great view of them flying out of a side alley and into 5 or 6 lanes of traffic that is breathtaking.

Too bad the new car chase technology was abused horribly. According to one of the extras, they used a new toy called the "Go-Mobile", which basically let them do car chases in a brand new way. They could strap the body of the car in the chase onto a fast chassis and drive it with a stunt driver. This gave them nearly unlimited freedom in how to film it, as you could do it from the outside or the inside of the car. And they nearly ruined the movie, as any time the action heated up, they would move to these hand-held cameras with their faux-documentary shaky feel and it was jarring to say the least. In the extra, they even showed some cool panning shots they could do, which unfortunately they eschewed in favor of the jittery closeups. Even the fight scenes suffered from this defect, which actually seems to be more common. Just when the action heats up, they move in for closeups, making it virtually impossible to tell just what the hell is going on. Truly too bad.

The HD version had a plethora of extras. The unique to the HD "Total Experience" extra was much like a commentary track, only instead there was a tiny window at the bottom right. Once again, great technology horribly used, as most of it was merely the actors expounding gratuitously on their character's motivations and what they were doing - truly a pointless exercise. There were a couple of nice parts where they would show how it was getting filmed at the same time as it was showing on the screen, but in general it was a nice technology badly used.

But there were plenty of other extras on the DVD:

1. Commentary by Paul Greengrass - Director
Featurettes -
1. "Bourne Instant Access"
2. Deleted Scenes
3. "Bourne Instant Access"
4. "Keeping It Real"
5. "Blowing Things Up"
6. "On the Move With Jason Bourne"
7. "Bourne to be Wild: Fight Training"
8. "Crash Cam: Racing Through the Streets of Moscow"
9. "The Go-Mobile Revs Up the Action"
10. "Anatomy of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene"
11. "Scoring With John Powell"
12. "The Bourne Mastermind"
13. "The Bourne Diagnosis"

I particularly liked the "Blowing Things Up", which showed how they did the cool explosion, as well a the Go-Mobile description So, all in all, an HD DVD I might just be adding to my library, even despite the nauseating handheld work. I'll have to check out the original The Bourne Identity on HD DVD as well as perhaps reading the Identity book again, which was a huge favorite at the time I first read it, perhaps 20 years ago. I was a huge Ludlum fan, until I realized just how similar all his books were, so I gave up. And I've been afraid of going back and rereading Identity, as it might be another early idol shot down. But I thought the amnesia was a clever plot twist on the super spy genre, so it may be worth revisiting.


Our Dog

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"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You 
are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful
and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to
be worthy of such devotion." -- Unknown

QotD: The Deathly Hallows

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Did you see the Harry Potter movie this weekend?  Are you going to read the new book?

Absolutely not to both questions. And I'm proud to say not only have I never seen any of the movies (and have not the slightest bit of interest in them), I've only read about 1/3 of the first book before I got tired of its short, badly formed, declarative sentences and horrible abuse of adverbs, and promptly gave up on it as a perfectly reasonable book for today's world of short attention spans and instant gratification, but that my books need much more depth and better writing. In twenty years, no one will have ever heard of Harry Potter, so I'll continue to read the classics, thank you very much.

Movie Review : The Fifth Element

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Much like when I watched Escape From New York, a friend and I watched The Fifth Element by "renting" it via the free movies on HD from Comcast. We have a special, albeit slight, extra interest in the movie, as the director, Luc Besson, was a celebrity user of some software he wrote and I helped to grow. We both worked for Roger Wagner Publishing, makers of HyperStudio, a wonderfully easy to use multimedia authoring package, orginally on the Apple ][, then the Mac and I helped make the Windows version a reality. Besson used HyperStudio in the production of his movie ..., which was cool.

(later edit : oops, wrong director, wrong movie! It was Chris Marker, not Besson. And the movie was rumored to be La Jetée, which was used as the inspiration for the movie Twelve Monkeys. As a famous person once said, never mind...)

Anyway, The Fifth Element is a fun little Bruce Willis sci-fi action film. He plays a down and out cab driver who gets involved with saving the universe, while Mila Jovovich plays Leeloo, the alien being sent down to help out. He rescues Leeloo from the clutches of an ignorant government and an evil Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, played with gleeful delight by a scene chewing Gary Oldman. The movie hinges on a ridiculously far fetched coincidence, and a few other less blatant plot holes, but otherwise moves along nicely, with plenty of nice visuals.

Many of the OnDemand HD movies do not have 5.1 sound, so it's always a little bit of a disappointment to watch them. Even many of the ones you pay a ridiculous US$6 for come with plain old stereo, but I think all of the free ones shortchange the viewer that way. I have resisted the urge to blow the money on a rental thus far, given that Netflix is a mere US$15 each month for all I can watch.


Can you blend an iPhone?

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Too funny! It answers the important question - Will an iPhone blend?

Vox Hunt: This Weekend

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Show us what the weekend has in store for you.

(My first cell phone picture post - now I'll probably have to add another service!)

I'm going to be cleaning, painting and setting up the new playroom, which used to be my office. We have a nice turquoise color, with blue edging. I like painting. I don't like cleaning.



New Cell Phone

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I bought a new cell phone yesterday! No, of course it isn't an iPhone, so I'm not nearly as cool as Yokimbo! Jeez, it'll be a cold day in Hell before I spend that kind of dough on a phone. Heck, the US$130 I spent on the one I got has me feeling bad enough, as it is exactly the kind of conspicuous spending we should be avoiding. But I had had my current phone for over three years, the battery was beginning to fade away, and I really wanted to get an MP3 player with my phone. I'm not really too keen on video or web browsing with a cell phone, but as I have taken to wearing mine all the time, an MP3 playing phone might come in handy.

So I wanted a phone that was easy to use, didn't require special software or connections to copy over my MP3s, was small and had a nice bright display. And after much browsing the Verizon Wireless offerings, and comparing them to the CNET cell phone reviews, I settled on a black Samsung SCH-u740. It was between that and the LG enV, but given the LG was US$20 more, I went with the Samsung.

The Samsung has a couple of cool features. One is a the way the phone opens up, either in Portrait (like a standard phone) or in Landscape, with a full QWERTY (albeit tiny!) keyboard. It has external music playing buttons and is slim and trim when folded up. I'm pretty happy with it so far, although it was easier to get the current time with my old flip up phone, as this one you have to press a button for 2 seconds before the front lights up. The other minor annoyance is that you can't just plug headphones into it, as you first have to use a little adapter. I'm not sure why they couldn't find room for a little tiny headphone jack, as I'm sure the adapter will be one of the first things I lose.

I even joined Twitter, hooked it up to my Remember The Milk account, and now I can add things to my To Do list by texting a message to Twitter. Of course, I also had to add V-CAST to my account in order to take advantage of the nice new phone, so now they are getting another $15 a month from me. Well, the first month is free and we'll see how much I actually use it. It has been fun watching ESPN on the phone, though!

It takes a micro-SD memory chip and when they say "micro", they mean "eeny weeny teeny"! Speaking of things easy to lose! The micro SD package came with two adapters, one for regular SD and one for mini SD, but the 1gb micro SD chip is smaller than my thumbnail. I was afraid I would need to boot into Windows to get it music to it, but after formatting it on the phone, which basically created a bunch of predefined folders like "my music", I was able to plug the micro SD into the SD adapter and plug that into my USB card reader and just copy music to it. Works great. Now I just have to find out where the heck I put my cheapo headphones. I love to listen to music while I work in the yard.

Reading can be boring

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So my attention span these days is virtually nil. I've actually made some good progress on my War and Peace journey, which I need to report on soon. But otherwise, it's been a pretty dismal month or so when it comes to reading. I've started many books and haven't been either capable or interested enough in finishing them. The ones I actually got through, I wrote about here, but for many others, I never made it to the last page. Like:

  •  The one from the other : a Bernie Gunther novel by Philip Kerr - now, I'm a big fan Kerr in general and his Berlin Noir trilogy in specific, but I've taken this book out 2 times and renewed it 2 times and started it 2 times and just haven't been able to focus on it. Perhaps some day again soon.
  •  Hammerhead Ranch Motel by Tim Dorsey - a thriller in the "crazy Florida" style of Hiassen, it was just too far over the top for me to stay interested in.
  •  The looming tower : Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright - a sad story about religious nuts (sorry for the oxymoron). It's just not a story I'm all that interested in.
  •  Moving the chains : Tom Brady and the pursuit of everything by Charles P. Pierce - I'm a huge Patriots fan and season ticket holder, but even I found the fawning idolatry of the book too much to take.
  •  Killing the Buddha : a heretic's Bible by Peter Manseau & Jeff Sharlet - I loved the start of this book, esp. the story at the start of the book:

Late morning, just before lunch, one of Lin Chi's monks comes up to him half-crazed, out of his mind with ecstasy, babbling about Buddha. Says he's seen him. Says he was just walking down the road when suddenly: Buddahamind. Enlightenment. Nirvana. The big payoff. The monk can't stop talking about it. Lin Chi strikes a match, lights his pipe, takes a long drag. Leaves the monk hanging, wiating for his reward. Instead, Lin Chi blows a cloud of smoke, reaches ou and smacks him.

"You meet the Buddha on the road," Lin Chi says, "kill him."

 The book is split into two interwoven parts. In one part, the co-authors invite other authors to write a short bit on each of the scriptures of the Old Testament. They were pretty free to choose the form they wanted to use, from autobiographical to fiction. And in the other part, the authors went on a wild quest to expose the truly bizarre and crazy ways Faith is displayed. I liked the travelogue, didn't like the essays. And even the travelogues got tiring, as it just isn't that hard to find bizarre aspects of Religion.

  •  Unweaving the rainbow : science, delusion, and the appetite for wonder by Richard Dawkins - a true hero of mine today, with his unwavering, outspoken, and intelligent support of Reason over Faith, but I just couldn't stick with this book. Here he rips apart those that either show a remarkable lack of imagination when it comes to science or, even worse, put down those that do. Once again, a cataloging of stupidity wore me down before I could finish it.
  •  Hell's gate by David Weber & Linda Evans - I had a vague craving for an epic fantasy novel, especially after reading Greywolf's review of Lord Foul's Bane, the first of the Thomas Convenant books, and ordering it from the library, so I went prowling through the sci-fi/fantasy New book shelf. I saw the first two of this series, so I picked up the first one. I enjoyed the few Honor Harrington books by Weber that I've read, even if they are a little "by the books" space opera, so I had some hopes. But I couldn't do it. All of the characters were archetypes - the honorable military leader, the incredibly capable sergeant, the bumbling and spiteful middle commander, the pulse pounding in love married explorers, etc. And a major problem for me in fantasy books, given my current lassitude, is that the first book is usually rampant with exposition, describing the world and its citizenry. And this one had it in spades, especially as it posits two distinct races meeting each other via a time portal, so it goes on and on for both of them. I gave up.

I did finally get Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson, but I have to admit, I'm not sure I'm going to make it through. I'm about half way and still bored to tears. Plenty of long exposition and mystical mumbo jumbo that just isn't drawing me in. Greywolf promises better things to come, so perhaps I'll soldier on. Jeez, I should try to finish one of these books!

It's actually pronounced "Bay-Lah", Calliope...



Movie Review : The Snapper

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The Snapper is a 1993 "made for TV" movie by Stephen Frears that later garnered a wider theatrical release. A slight comedy about a 20 year old who becomes pregnant, much to the chagrin of her dad and mum. It stars Colm Meaney as the father of a quite rambunctious crew, as he tries to adjust to the idea of an unwed mother in the house.

Sharon Curley announces to her parents that she is pregnant and she won't tell anyone who the father is. Her mom is shocked while her dad needs a pint at the local pub. Sharon accompanies her dad down to the pub, where she tells her pretty empty friends the news over a drink of her own (a jarring sight these days!), while he goes downstairs to commiserate with his chums.

Many people try to find out who the father is, while Sharon plays it cool. Much trouble and strife come down on an already hectic household, as everyone tries to adjust to the upcoming event. And the rumored father, vehemently denied by Sharon, is a real loser, which doesn't help. Eventually, a baby ("The Snapper") shows up and a new beginning starts.

A fairly slight movie by a favorite director, and one I didn't realize at the time had its origins on TV, which explains a lot, including the rather light, farcical touch as well as the pretty awful video quality. It dragged in spots, but there were some really funny moments, especially from Meaney as his gruff and bluff lower class dad tries to come to terms with the changes. And I was glad to see a household pictured that might just be even more hectic than our own! A fine, light evening, but not worth much effort really. But it does remind me that I need to see My Beautiful Laundrette again, as it remains a important piece of my film going history.



The Husband Store

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As an antidote to Lightchaser's girl tree, I'll post this old chestnut of a joke:

The Husband Store

A store that sells new husbands has just opened in New York City, where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates.

"You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the products increase as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!"

So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband.

On the first floor, the sign on the door reads: Floor 1 - These Men Have Jobs.

The second floor sign reads: Floor 2 - These Men Have Jobs and Love Kids.

The third floor sign reads: Floor 3 - These Men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking.

"Wow," she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads: Floor 4 - These Men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Good Looking, and Help With Housework.

"Oh, mercy me!" she exclaims, "I can hardly stand it!"

Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads: Floor 5 - These Men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak.

She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor and the sign reads: Floor 6 - You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.

To avoid gender bias charges, the store's owner opens a Wife Store just across the street.

The first floor has wives that love sex.

The second floor has wives that love sex and have money. The third through sixth floors have never been visited.

Movie Review: Walk on Water

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Walk on Water is an interesting little diversion of a movie, well worth its relatively short running time of about 100 minutes. This 2004 Israeli movie tells the story of a cold-blooded Mossad agent as he tries to recover from the suicide of his wife while regaining his humanity. Touching on subjects like the Holocaust, homosexuality and terrorism (normally subjects I shy away from), it does a good, albeit not incredibly deep, job of gettings its point across.

Eyal returns back from an assassination mission to find that his wife has committed suicide. He's pulled out of active Mossad duty and given time to recover, but he chafes at the bit and wants to get back into the game. To ease his way in, he's given the low key job of spying on Axel Himmelman, a visiting German who has come to see his sister Pia at a local kibbutz. Eyal poses as a tour guide and gets to show Axel around, while trying to figure out if he has any contact with his grandfather, a wanted Nazi war criminal.

Eyal, Axel and Pia struggle with plenty of internal and external pressures. Axel is gay, a fact that comes as quite a surprise to poor Eyal. Both Pia and Axel try to deal with the knowledge that they have a Nazi concentration camp commander in their family tree and there are some good scenes as they try to explain what it is like to have that kind of German heritage. In the end, it all comes together perhaps too neatly, but at least it is believable.

I enjoyed this movie, which I came across while channel surfing. The actors are all very good in it, and there are some poignant and some funny scenes. It touches on some admittedly very deep topics and does it in a light handed way, but still makes you think. Definitely worth a rental, I would say.



Movie Review (repost) : Rififi

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I originally posted this review of Rififion September 11, 2006 - not all that long ago! I'm a real fan of "heist" movies and this is a true classic of th genre and still one of my all time favorites.


Rififi is an archetypal heist film, where many of the forms of the movie were created.  Other heist films that come to mind include Rififi's own director, Jules Dassin's Topkapi (in which Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award), and several of the Pink Panther movies.  The most interesting part of these movies is the actual robbery, and here it was, for the first time, filmed sans dialog or music.  A full 28 minutes go by during the heist without either, and believe me, you don't notice them missing for a second! It is an incredible piece of movie making, and even without a solid film backing it up, would make this movie a must see.

Tony le Stéphanois, played with a gruff weariness by Jean Servais, has just been released from prison after serving 5 years, taking the fall for his substitute son, Jo le Suedois, played by the prototypical Aryan, Carl Möhner.  With his girl stolen, no future, and a haggard face to reflect the losses, he turns to his old partners, who are planning a new heist and want him aboard.  After a run-in with his old girlfriend, he decides to take them up on it - the robbery of a fortress-like corner jewelry store.  Much planning follows, and then they pull off the heist.  But the ex-girlfriend's new beau, a gangster leader, tries to horn in, with tragic results for everyone.

It was interesting to note that one of the 4 robbers was played by the director Dassin - the Italian dandy safe cracker.  One of the extras with the DVD is an extensive set of production notes as well as an interview with Dassin, where he explained that the original actor backed out at the last minute so he had to step in, and he did a wonderful job.  Also, the black and white filming of Paris is beautiful, and the acting is top notch all around.

As I mentioned before, the actual robbery is breathtaking.  In fact, until I read about it later, I didn't even notice the lack of dialog or music; that's how involved you get with the job.  And the terrible repercussions don't feel like some kind of Hayes Code-demanded retribution, but rather it somehow seemed preordained how it would work out for these guys.

Jean Servais was perfect for the part.  He plays Tony with a real weathered outlook, both internal and external.  He seems revived by the new "job" and gives it his all.  But his eyes show no surprise in how badly it all turns out, and he uses all his cunning to get the kidnapped boy back.  I really liked this movie and have added Topkapi and the Italian Big Deal on Madonna Street to my list of movies on Netflix, as this genre really showed its stuff.


Heaven :: Just Like Heaven

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Can you imagine, Calliope,  that even Robert Smith can be romantic?

I dare you to jump

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Lightchaser's rave thumbnail review of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, prompted me to post a picture from our hike of Kings Canyon in the Aussie Outback. I guess they couldn't get permission to film at Uluru (Ayer's Rock), so instead they had the "girls" hike Kings Canyon in their high heels. Just one of many memorable scenes in the movie.

It's quite a place. Midway between Alice Springs and Uluru, it's a nice place to spend the night on the way to the big rocks of Uluru and the Olgas. We stayed in a very rustic cabin and G impressed me mightily with how well she dealt with the various creepy crawlies we found there. One of my fondest memories of the place was when she came back from the communal bathroom with her eyes as big as saucers, amazed at the size of the bugs attracted to the lights!

But they also have a very nice boardwalk that leads out into the desert. You walk out to the end of this, lie down and look up. You haven't seen stars until you've seen them from a spot hundreds of miles from the nearest city, and even then, it is many hundreds (thousands?) more to find something bigger than the small bustling city of Alice Springs. It may have been G's first real glimpse of the Milky Way, being a city girl and all.

And the hike through the canyon is memorable and a true "Red Center" attraction. Especially the memorial crosses showing the final resting spots of some of the less physically capable tourists! We also saw the biggest spider of our lives, hanging in the middle of a huge web stretched between two scrub pines. Easily the size of my fist, we did get a picture but unfortunately we forgot to show something to give it scale. And plenty of rocks to hang over Yes, I have a picture of G doing the same silly thing. Can you tell this was before we had kids?-) Now she won't even fly on the same airplane as me!

Let's quickly move on, Calliope!



Yes, Calliope, the Dead can Dance.

Severance
Dead Can Dance



Some pretty funny Computerworld ads found in issues past. These include:

  • 80 megabytes for under $12,000
  • modems that run up to the blazing speed of 4,800 bit/sec
  • "WYSIWYG" word processors
And many other wonders of the "modern" electronic world.

Movie Review : Children Of Men

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Alfonso Cuarón's 2007's critically acclaimed (3 Oscar nominations) dystopian view of a childless future, Children of Men was next up in the HD DVD player. Currently clocking in at number 124 in IMDB's admittedly bizarre movie rankings, Children of Men stars Clive Owen as the reluctant hero, and Michael Caine as the retro-hippy elder who helps him out.  Cuarón has crafted an interesting, bewildering and ultimately unsatisfying science fiction movie.

The movie opens with the news of "Baby Diego"'s death. Diego was the youngest person on earth who, at 18 years old, was th last one born before the woman stopped having babies. Theo (Owen), a disheveled invisible civil servant, gets a coffee and ignores the news.  Soon, however, an ex-lover (Julianne Moore), leader of some nebulous terrorist group, drags him into the fray when she asks him to help an immigrant get out (or is it in?).

So he sort of volunteers to help out, then gets dragged into a real political tussle as various factions try to get the woman he is safeguarding, as she is, miracle of miracles, pregnant. He battles to get her out of a barricaded and viciously bleak England to meet a boat from the mythical(?) "Human Project". He gets help along the way from a hippie recluse played by Cain, who is something of a mentor to Theo.

What a peculiar movie. While I appreciate a movie that doesn't come right out and explain everything, Cuarón seems to go the other extreme and doesn't explain anything, even peripherally. By the end of the movie, major questions still remain unanswered, like why England is some immigration battleground, with strange shots of caged people peppering the movie. Or even who the various factions are and, really, why they want the woman so desperately, save as perhaps a publicity pawn. He probably meant for things to remain mysterious, but personally it meant I remained detached from the action.

There were some pretty cool shots though, and the HD DVD really shined. The sound was great too, as Cuarón loves to have very quiet scenes exploded (usually literally). There were a couple of touching scenes when the baby makes an appearance, but I remained distant from whatever he was trying to say, and never felt as emotionally involved as it seemed he wanted me to be. Can't say as I was overly impressed. Serendipity arises, as I just noticed the "kid" movie I have had for a couple of weeks is also done by Cuarón, A Little Princess. It will be interesting to see how that one plays out, as basically I just didn't get Children of Men.



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