Monday, July 31, 2006

Grizzly Prancer-Spot has joined our family. The 3 month old, full-blooded Chi has already wormed his way into our hearts (wait, don't use the word "Wormed" in a sentence about a dog...)

In a twist on computer dating, we found our new puppy online with I didn't realize the posted picture was life-sized...

Rainy will never be forgotten, but I'm sure he would have welcomed Grizzly as whole-heartedly as we have.

Pirates – the Dentist’s Nightmare

Y’know, it’s sad when the guy who edits the preview knows more about what makes the movie work than the director. This movie felt like a nice, big, roomy house stuffed to the rafters with moving boxes. Really dirty moving boxes. Pirates is a crowded film.


Back when CGI first hit the screens, the question became “when will CGI replace actors?” This was a broad step in that direction, and I liked Davy Jones a lot more than anyone else, and I didn’t really like him all that much. Loved the way his face moved, and the accent was kinda cool, but I’m left wondering how in the world they forgot what made the first Pirates movie so much fun?

Curse of the Black Pearl had charm. The thing about pirate movies is our ironic suspension of the knowledge that pirates were hard-butt, evil creatures. We romanticize them something fierce, and part of the romance is that a pirate ENJOYS being a pirate. That’s what “swashbuckling” is all about. Jack was a dastardly fellow, but he LOVES being dastardly.

No one enjoyed themselves in this movie. It started out dour (and I admit to missing something. Was Liz upset because her wedding was rained out? Or was Will arrested and prevented from showing up? I felt like I was missing something a lot in this film). And our beloved Captain Jack Sparrow never enjoyed himself after getting the black spot on his hand (the “I can still see fine” joke went over everyone’s head at the sold out theater we were in. Partially due to poor delivery, but mostly to mis-editing. Did they gloss over it for the kid’s sake? But no child should see this movie…) It seemed Davey Jones’s goal to crush out enjoyment because he had none, but that’s the quality that a villain must have to be engaging, not just special effects.

The writers of this movie are a team for whom I have a great deal of respect, so I’m assuming the whole cannibal section has a purpose in the next film, because otherwise it was a half-hour of useless stuff. A half hour to cover the story point that Jack had to be stationary for awhile so Will could find him?

And how is it that the monkey is still undead, but Barbosa is not? Was that the bit at the end of the credits in the last one? He stole a piece of gold, so he’s cursed again? How (and why) did Jack get him?

Bootstrap is back, but now I have to go back to the first script to see if I can recall exactly why his blood was needed to break the curse. I actually felt for him, though. Being tied to a cannon unable to live and unable to die… a chilling image. Myth building is a strength of Pirates and they came through again (though why the Flying Dutchman? Legend has it that it was a Dutch captain twirling around the Cape of Good Hope, forever doomed to sail his ghost ship because of his blaspheme. I suppose since most know the name and few the legend, that T&T squatted on the mental real estate of the Flying Dutchman to give it some resonance).

I’m notorious for blasting movies, and it appears I’ve infected Lynette. While everyone around us was praising it as a good film, we looked at each other and said, “huh?”

The next movie should be better, though. No one knows how to chew the scenery like Mr. Rush...

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I was pre-disposed and the director used that to his advantage. Unlike Superman, which was sunk by the baggage, Poseidon got tricky with it. I loved the original Poseidon Adventure, watching it on TV as a kid several times. It was a star studded cast, most notabley Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, and Red Buttons. In my memory, at least, Shelley was a pathetic, annoying woman who did a long underwater swim. As I recall she wasn’t a survivor (but I have a bad memory. It could be I just didn’t want her to survive).

In these survivor movies, the director introduces his characters (in this movie a little too fast and formulaic in my opinion, but it served…) and the audience makes its list of who lives and who dies. In a remake, you also try to match up who is playing who in the update. (Incidentally, I really like every one of the actors in this cast – the main reason I saw it.)

My list was:

Josh Lucas: He’s going to live.

Kurt Russell: He’s going to die.

Richard Dryfus: He’s tricky. As a jilted gay man who wants to kill himself, he could well be a twist on the pathetic Shelley Winters character. While it would be ironic if he lived (since he originally wanted to die) I thought he was going to die, heroically. The director really played on this. Richard ended up being Red Buttons. Fooled me.

The Boyfriend: I was figuring he would live, but thought he could die. Wasn’t sure. Again, the director played well on this.

The Daughter: Absolutely has to live.

The Mother: Also has to live.

The Little Boy: Absolutely-absotively has to live.

The Stowaway: I (forgive the expression) missed the boat on this one. I thought she’d live, because she had reason to live (her sick brother). Her claustrophobia edged her over to pathetic, though, but by THAT time I was convinced Richard was Shelley.

The Crewman and Lucky Larry may as well have worn red shirts ala Star Trek, because you knew they’d be the first to go. (Do NOT like the way the crewman went. Understand the choice, just disagree with it.)

Because of the rinky-dink start, I thought we had a poor director. Again, I think he used that well, because from then on I was underestimating him. By giving the stowaway good reason to live, I figured Dryfus had to die. So much so that when the stowaway lay there getting mouth-to-mouth I figured she had to come to. It was a race through the first and second act to see which would live and which would die – Dryfus or the girl. By making it the stowaway who died, the director was putting everyone on notice. “See? She had reason to live and she didn’t live! No one’s safe!” From that moment on, this movie was a winner. If he could kill her, then he could kill the kid (but, no, not really. Movies haven’t changed that much…)

In my opinion, there was only one major flaw (besides the convenient raft beside their departure tube – better would have been a ton of life boats. All empty.)… and that flaw was magnified by the strong cast. Where this movie was weak was finding the humor. You’ve got Dryfus, who is one of the funniest actors available, Russell and Lucas who are both very comedically talented, and the daughter (don’t know her name, sorry) who had a flair for it as well. Yes, it’s a disaster movie, but humor finds its way into anything, and the director should have trusted his actors to find the balance. As a result, the movie was good, but not great… and I think it could have been great.

Characters: C+ (they had to be stock characters, but these actors could all deliver more)
Director: B
Story: B+
Effects: C+
Overall: B

Movie Review Rationale

If I’m going to do movie reviews on this blog, then I’d like to lay some straight sticks to give readers of this blog (both of them) an understanding of my presumptions and process. Movie making is really hard.

No one has any idea what will be a hit and what won’t. There are some good ideas out there, and there are some stinkers. I’m thinking if you’re going to spend between 45 and 250 million dollars on a film, then for the investors alone (let alone the viewers) you should do the best job of bulletproofing everything that you can.

And that isn’t easy. A hundred thousand things can and will go wrong. The actors phone it in, are difficult, can’t act, can’t act today; the effects don’t work (which made JAWS a better movie, since it meant showing the shark less and building suspense more), the weather won’t cooperate, the star won’t cooperate… So you’d think nailing down the one thing that CAN be nailed down would be a safe bet.

That, of course, is the script. I understand that what’s written isn’t often actually shot, but it should be a good road map for the director. And it’s all about the director. A movie is a director’s medium. A good director can make bad actors good and good actors bad (anyone remember Tightrope? The director is SO BAD he makes Sean Connery boring. Something I wouldn’t have thought possible). You may think it’s a good actor that pulls a bad story along but if the director doesn’t use that footage, the actor’s in soup.

Tim Burton aside, most directors understand story. Nail that down, make sure you shoot it, and make sure the editor cuts it and you may not have a blockbuster, but you should have a good movie (not necessarily an enjoyable movie).

So my reviews will occasionally look at the actor, often at the director and ALWAYS at the story. And it won’t be often, because I don’t have much time to actually see very many movies...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Splashing in the Desert

Let's all take a lesson in patience. The ugly battle in Israel and Lebanon are the siblic splashing of kids in a pool. One splashes the other, the other doesn't like it and pretty soon water's flying everywhere while the UN plays the part of the little, smelly neighbor kid sitting on the steps yelling, "Nana-nana-booboo!" (with about the same effect).

And why is this happening? Because Abraham and Sarah tried to rush things by throwing Hagar into the tent. Next thing you know, Ishmael - father of the Arab/Muslims - is stirring up trouble. Don't blame the kid; he didn't ask to be born (though upon reaching majority he should take SOME responsibility). That leaves Abraham with egg on his face and us with shells all over the floor. The brass kind.

As a branch grafted onto the tree, I don't have any real understanding beyond shallow metaphors. Largely because the solutions that glow in the dark are still beyond my will (though, admittedly, it wouldn't take much to edge me over into the plutonium crowd. ANY more Ishmaelites leaving a stink on our doorstep and I'm all for the Middle Eastern black-glass parking lot.) No diving, no running and NO SPLASHING!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

JetSki's Rock! Went to some wonderful friend's home for lunch after church and ended up jetskiing all afternoon. They know what they're doing on ski's; Lynette and I puttered around and felt like thrill seekers by rolling over small waves. Meanwhile, Mike a Malissa spend as much time in the air as they do in the rootbeer colored water. The kids fried like bacon despite 30 spf sunblock and Lynette has eyestrain from looking out for gators. This, more than anything, said we were back in Florida. Sure, they have jetskis in Seattle, but you have to wear forty layers of neoprene to avoid frostbite.

Wound up the evening at a kid's program of music, singing and stagework. Kudos to the directors for getting two dozen kids to work together, and even more fun than the performance was seeing what two dozen kids thought was "cool". Too good!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Superman Returns - A Review

SPOILER WARNING – I’m going to talk about details of the film, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t read any further.

NITPICK WARNING – I’m going to make a lot of picky comments about the movie, so if this kind of thing bugs you… be warned.


Story: C
Effects: A+
Characters: C-

I enjoyed the film. It was okay, not great, not epic, not iconic, just okay. I think Singer made a mistake in trying to follow the Donner film. As good as it was at the time, it doesn’t play well as a modern movie. As a result, Singer was saddled with way too much baggage to make a great movie, since most of the problems stem from that baggage.

Things I Really Liked:
The effects were fantastic. You really can believe a man can fly (a quick nit-pick, though. Flying is incredible, floating has all sorts of problems. Has to do with Supes looking lighter than air. Way too much floating…)

Sound editing was absolutely fantastic. Effects and Sound make this movie worth seeing no matter what the story.

Lex Luthor – As much as I love Gene Hackman, his Luthor was the pits. He was an egotistical clown who showed no menace whatsoever. Somehow Kevin Spacey took the same approach and made it work wonderfully. This was baggage turned into art. I wanted a better reason to have Kitty around, but at least there was no Ned Beatty this time.

Jimmy Olsen – This guy deserves an award. No one has ever made Jimmy work, in my opinion, but this guy makes him the most likeable character on the screen.

Heart and Soul – When the kid starts plunking this out, you expect that at some point in the film Clark will take up the other half. Having a bad guy do it was even better.

The costume – Routh is too skinny, and the cape needed a yellow S on the back, but I liked it anyway (except for the S’s on the heel of the boots. The belt, okay, cool, but the back of his boots?)

Where to begin? It’s going to sound like I hated this film, which I didn’t, but the problems! Oy!

It’s clear from the Kansas scenes and the New Krypton stuff that Singer was going for an epic feel. Unfortunately, he failed. Maybe the extended version will make that work. Singer doesn’t understand “epic” obviously. The shots of Kansas were beautiful. New Krypton was expansive. That’s scope, though, not epic. Singer tried to use silence to indicate great depth of soul and character, but all he got was a stiff Superman. We should have started on the graveyard of Krypton (a reference, which while evocative, doesn’t make much sense. The place blew up, what was there to return to?)

Let’s examine Story for a moment. Any story is constructed of story points. A story point is vital packet of information that you need to go onto the next story point and so on and so on. How a storyteller conveys that information, ideally with power, imagery and creativity, makes a story art. Singer skips over the first story point entirely (the information that Superman still considers Krypton “home”) and only alludes to the second point (Krypton really is dead and now Superman KNOWS that Earth is his home, which should make it a whole new ballgame, baby! Only it doesn’t). The third point is that Superman Returns! And that’s where things fall apart.

(Another nitpick while I’m there: Jor-El says he’s been dead for “thousands of your years” meaning he shot baby Kal-El off thousands of years ago, but Superman gets from Earth to Krypton and back in five years. ????)

The way it should have worked is Superman is back, he’s finally ready and excited to really take part in life on Earth so the very first person he should have sought out was Lois, expecting a joyful reunion… only to get a slap in the face (no physical pain for him, but tons of emotional pain, not to mention breaking Lois’ hand…). Wounded emotionally, he discovers that people who used to revere him are angry that he left. Then he discovers that Lois kicked it all off with her Pulitzer Prize winning article. That drives him back to Kansas and his mother where he finds the fortitude to go back and win what’s his.

Only that’s not what we get. He lands in Kansas first. Avoids him mom for awhile and remembers his boyhood (which was cool, but what was the point????).

The whole Lex Luthor thing was great (despite Kitty the ditz. Why did he have her around again?)

Then we have the constant problem of Clark Kent. Who is Clark? Is he the real thing and Superman the mask or is Superman the real thing and Clark the mask? He’s too bumbling to be the real thing, but isn’t Clark who he is to interact with the world on a human level? Even sticking to the Donner story, he had the perfect excuse to come back from Lama land as a new guy – he “found himself” on the mountains. No, instead he’s still lame, and while he gets his job back on the strength of former employment, he never DOES anything. He doesn’t research the story he was assigned. He doesn’t do ANYTHING but moon over Lois. And I don’t know about you, but if my former immoral girlfriend from five years ago has a five year old son, the investigative reporter should probably have some alarm bells go off. Man, LEX figures it out before Superman even wonders (and why didn’t Jason react to Kryptonite?).

Lois. Yeah, whatever. If she bounces from Superman to Richard quick enough that no one suspects it isn’t his kid, then she’s got some issues, doesn’t she?

Richard. Same actor who does the X-Men’s Cyclops. He was okay, I guess.

The kid. Good job. Liked him. Not sure I’m thrilled about Superman and Son in the sequels.

Superman. I bet Brandon Routh is a good actor. He managed to capture the essence of Reeve’s Superman well, but he didn’t have the chance to actually do much besides play on wires and grimace when he’s in pain or lifting New Krypton. My complaints are with Singer’s choices. Superman and Lois had an intimate relationship and he’s distant and cool with her when they first meet (yes, a great homage to the Donner Lois/Supes interview, but we’re talking story here). Sigh.

The problem with Superman is always going to be how do you have anyone menace him? When a machine gun – while pretty to watch – presents no conflict, where can you go?

The dramatic question was “Does the World Need Superman?” Five minutes after the question is posed, the answer is graphically answered “YES!” and the movie is over five minutes into Act Two. After a night like that, the question then becomes “How Did the World Survive WITHOUT Superman?” and that’s never answered.

The whole Lex thing was fun to watch, but New Krypton didn’t look like such great real estate. Who wants to live on a crystal? Further, if Superman was so moved by the graveyard of Krypton, shouldn’t there have been something there about the difficulties of destroying the last vestige of his homeworld? That would tie it into the epic theme of home that this film should have embraced.

Another question is “Is Superman a Cad?” Answer: Yes. He just takes off to Krypton without telling anyone (re: Lois) why or what he’s doing? Because it’s too difficult. Wimp. Clark, meanwhile, tells everyone he’s off to Tibet but still comes back unchanged. Then Superman finds out he has a son, does some peeping and takes off. Lois wants to know if they'll ever see him around. “I’m always around.” I guess there has to be something for the next movie, but come on! Superdeadbeatdadman

So, Lois and Clark – non-starter
Lois and Superman – Cold and distant
Lois and Richard – Doomed
I could go down the list, but not a single relationship is in any way resolved. Superman is adulated again, but has no friends or loved ones and he’s leaving the two who need him.

It’s as if the director really doesn’t understand real relationships… oh, wait. It’s Bryan Singer. Silly me. Of course he doesn’t…

Still, go see the movie. It's pretty, it's a good ride, just a poor story.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

We're home!

I've got a lot to learn about blogging... I posted a couple on the Homeschool site that said we're home, but that was an error. Shoulda posted here.

We're home! Our housesitters scrubbed the house clean before they left, so they can housesit anytime they want for us. Even when we're still here!

Now to work. Lots to do, lots to do. A trip isn't over until everything's unpacked...