Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Death Becomes Her (2002): A Review

A film by Robert Zemeckis

I think that it is fair to say that this is a strange movie. Helen (Goldie Hawn) is engaged to be married to Dr Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), a famous plastic surgeon. They watch a rather awful show at the theatre and go backstage to meet the star, Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep). Madeline and Helen knew each other in high school, and Helen believes that Madeline intentionally steals every boyfriend Helen has. This is the final test before the wedding. Naturally, Madeline, who is vain about her appearance and worried about aging, does steel Ernest away and ends up marrying him herself. This drives Helen crazy, literally. We flash forward seven years to get an update on the characters, then another seven years to bring us to the main section of our story. Madeline is aging and she hates it. She meets up with Helen again, and Helen looks fantastic, as if she hasn’t aged a day in the past 14 years. Helen is all glammed up and looks like a star. Madeline is starting to look frumpy. It is all starting to come full circle and Madeline’s jealousy is driving her to do something rash.

Rather than do something predictable (in the movies, anyway) like start killing people, Madeline goes to a strange woman named Lisle (Isabella Rossellini) and gets a potion that halts the aging process and returns the body to its youthful, more perfect image. It also bestows immortality. Now Madeline can compete with Helen again! This rivalry and this fight will continue on through life and even into death.

“Death Becomes Her” is a comedy. It is a very strange comedy, and has something of a dark humor, but it is without question an original movie. It is one of the more overlooked movies in Robert Zemeckis’s filmography. He is better known for “Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away”. This isn’t a perfect movie, but it is entertaining, creative, and interesting. One important thing that I can say is that I did not find this movie predictable at all. I had no idea where Zemeckis was going with “Death Becomes Her” until the end.

Does Michael Moore Hate America?

I don't think so, but Michael Moore Hates America is the title of a docmentary by Minnesota native Michael Wilson. According to the film's website,
Contrary to its title, Michael Moore Hates America isn’t a hatchet job on the filmmaker. It’s a journey across the nation where we meet celebrities, scholars and average folks alike, and we find out whether the American Dream is still alive! In the process, we’ll look at Michael Moore’s claims about the country, its people, and our way of life.

Since i enjoyed Fahrenheit 9/11, and thought it was an effective, well made (if deliberately biased) documentary, i want to be fair and see a film on the other side of the coin, especially one that is pushing against Michael Moore.

There is also an article in the St Paul Pioneer Press dated June 5, 2004. The article can be found here

The Original Stepford Wives

I watched the original Stepford Wives last night. It is a bit different from the new version that came out a couple of weeks ago. The original is supposed to be more of a suspense/thriller type movie where the tension builds throughout the film. We get hints of something strange going on in Stepford, that the women are different, strange...perhaps even robotic? (hmmm)

I understand that the original film is working with a different era and that it plays into (or with) the feminist movement by showing that deep down, all men really want is a "Stepford Wife" who has the singular aim to please her husband and have no thoughts to herself other than keeping a clean house. Men would go so far as to replace their wives with robots.

And with all the build in this movie to these "dramatic" moments in the isn't really an effective movie. Actually, it is a bit on the boring side. The women who are "acting" like robots don't seem to do a very good job with it (except for the scene where Bobbie goes on the fritz). Since we never really get the male motivation at all in the movie, for any of it, it seems so false. Plus the acting and some of the dialogue isn't that good.

It makes me wish even more than the updated Nicole Kidman version was able to make up its mind about what the wives are and have a more honest ending, because it would have been everything the original wasn't: such as, a good movie. Granted, the new version could never have had the same psychological impact of the original. The 00's are much different than the mid 70's and the social consciousness is much different now than it was then, but...i'm just disappointed.

As we said last night, "I'm sorry that it sucked."

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Hunting for Hidden Gold: A Review

This review is of the 1963 Revised Version of “Hunting for Hidden Gold”. The first 38 titles in the series were revised over the course of 15 years (some with minor changes, others were completely re-written). “Hunting for Hidden Gold” is the fifth Hardy Boys mystery. This edition is said to be drastically altered from the original. What this means, according to the Hardy Boys Unofficial Home Page, is that the text and plot have both been changed.

Frank and Joe Hardy become involved in another mystery when their father calls them out west to help with a case. They are searching for a gang that is involved in robbery, and even on the way out west, they are kidnapped and attacked and it is only with great luck that they even are able to meet up with their father. They find him hurt badly, but begin the investigation on their own and learn about a mystery about gold that was stolen from a prospector years ago. Can the brothers keep out of harm’s way long enough to solve the case?

“Hunting for Hidden Gold” is another solid offering in the Hardy Boys series, though I would not say this is one of the best. It is a bit of an adventure story and it gives the sense of really being out west (as opposed to a story set in Bayport). There is a definite sense of place in this book. As usual, this book is recommended for kids of all ages (even the 25 year old kid).

Police Academy 5 (1988): A Review

A film by Alan Myerson

Police Academy 5 is a disappointment. Sure, it is a Police Academy movie, so we know it is light slapstick humor, but this one is not nearly as good as any of the previous Police Academy movies. This fifth film is subtitled “Assignment Miami Beach” and this means that some of our favorite officers will be returning and heading south to Florida.

I’ll try to sum this up as succinctly as possible, as the plot to this movie isn’t terribly important (or well done, for that matter). Captain Harris (G.W. Bailey) is after the job of Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes). Lassard has reached the mandatory retirement age, and Harris is going to make sure that Lassard retires. Meanwhile, Lassard is headed down to Florida to receive the award of “Police Officer of the Decade”, and he wants his favorite recruits (now officers) to come with him. This brings Hightower (Bubba Smith), Tackleberry (David Graf), Jones (Michael Winslow), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook) and the soft-voiced Hooks (Marion Ramsey) to Florida. Meanwhile, there is a robbery of a stash of diamonds from a museum (it seems), and due to a mix up at the airport, Lassard unknowingly switches bags with the thief. The thief will stop at nothing to get the diamonds back. Hilarity is supposed to ensue.

Unfortunately, hilarity does not ensue. For a fan of the Police Academy movies, the fifth installment is somewhat cute and friendly and easy going (perfect for kids, really), but it is lacking some of the heart and humor of the earlier films in the series. This one only has a PG rating, compared to the R of the first film, so it is plain that this has turned into a family friendly series. Part of the problem with this movie is the lack of Officer Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), who left the series after the fourth movie. While these have always been ensemble movies, Mahoney has been something of the heart and the closest thing to a “main character” that the Police Academy movies had. He is replaced by Lassard’s nephew, Nick Lassard (Matt McCoy). Nick Lassard is a police officer in Miami and, like Mahoney, is a friendly, smart-aleck, womanizer. He just isn’t as likeable as Mahoney was (as hard as McCoy tries), and feels like a poor replacement for Mahoney (who isn’t even mentioned in the movie). Nick has a love interest, also a cop, in Kate (Janet Jones, better known as Wayne Gretzky’s wife).

Overall, “Police Academy 5” feels flat, and much less funny than the earlier (though still silly) Police Academy movies. It may be cheap entertainment, but it’s just not well made cheap entertainment.

Another HP title confirmation, this time from CNN posted this article which gives a little bit more information about the new Harry Potter title. It also includes a quote from Jo Rowling in which she says "the HBP is neither Harry nor Voldemort". This same quote can be found on Rowling's website.

Half Blood Prince? Seriously?

J.K. Rowling has finally announced the title to the sixth Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. News will probably start popping up in various places on the net. For some reason, i can't access the flash portion of Rowling's website, so i had to get external confirmation of the title. Rowling's site notes that the title is officially revealed, and both The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet confirm it.

It is hard to say what i think of the title, because i don't remember being impressed with either The Goblet of Fire or The Order of the Phoenix, but both ended up making sense after reading the books and they fit the stories very well. Now i can't imagine the books without those titles. I'm sure it will be the same with this one. I'm fairly glad that the title didn't end up being The Green Flame Torch as had been long rumored (and long debunked).

Monday, June 28, 2004

One man's dispute with Fahrenheit 9/11, and Michael Moore's response

I know that i still have posted my thoughts on the movie outside of the review yet, but here is a rebuttal by Christopher Hitchens, a columnist at Vanity Fair. He takes Moore to task for the contents of the film, as many on the right do.

Moore himself offers a further rebuttal, though not directed at Hitchens. This rebutt can be found at Moore's website here.

Truth and Beauty: A Review

When she was an undergrad in college, Ann Patchett knew of Lucy Grealy. Everyone did. Most people only knew Lucy as the girl with the face. Lucy had lost part of her jaw on the right side of her face due to Ewing’s Sarcoma as a child. Lucy was incredibly popular and everyone knew who she was and because they knew her story, they thought they knew Lucy. Ann Patchett knew of Lucy, but when they were both starting out as graduate students at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, they ended up living together because neither could afford an apartment on her own. It was the start of an immediate and intense friendship that lasted nearly twenty years.

Truth and Beauty is Ann Patchett’s first non-fiction work. She is best known as being the author of Bel Canto. Lucy Grealy was Ann’s best friend. Lucy died in 2002 of an accidental drug overdose. I imagine that this is a book that never would have been written had Lucy not died, nor could it have been, given the nature of their friendship. Perhaps because of this, “Truth and Beauty” is a very powerful book. It is not quite a memoir, but rather the story of a friendship. It is neither about Ann nor about Lucy, but is about “Ann and Lucy”.

This friendship is one that spanned nearly two decades. Ann takes us from their first true meeting through Lucy’s numerous surgeries (nearly 40 during Lucy’s life), through drugs and loneliness, through writer’s residency programs and successful book publications, through the end of Lucy’s life and Ann’s grief. The only time Ann spends time about their lives apart from each other is only in how the separations were a part of the relationship and what impact they had, and how they kept coming back together.

“Truth and Beauty” is a deeply moving, sad, funny, and beautifully written book. The book jacket says that “this is a tender, brutal book about loving a person we cannot save.” It is this, and more. It is a book that I had a hard time putting down and while it is difficult to say that I “enjoyed” the book, because of the subject matter, I can say that “Truth and Beauty” is an excellent (written with excellence, in the true sense of the word) book.

The Da Vinci Code: A Review

I've been trying to get this posted at Amazon since April, so i might as well have it somewhere online....

When it was first published, “The Da Vinci Code” was not a novel that I gave much thought about reading. But as the reports came in about how the novel was “bashing” Christianity, and that the book was selling incredibly well, I figured that maybe I should jump on the bandwagon and see what all the hype is about. What I found was a novel that was more about an idea than it was about the plot and telling the story. I’ll explain.

The curator of the Louvre is murdered in the museum after hours. The murderer is a member of an offshoot of the Catholic Church called Opus Dei, a very traditional and secretive organization known more for its scandals than for good works. The murderer was seeking information from the curator, and while the curator was able to feed him misinformation before he died, we learn that there were three other murders related to the same bit of information that is very, very important to Opus Dei. When the body is discovered, the French police call in Robert Langdom, an expert on symbols (as they relate to art) who was supposed to meet with the victim that night.

This isn’t a simple murder. The curator, before he died, arranged his body in such a way that it is a symbol. More than this, he drew symbols and wrote something next to his body that could only be seen using a blacklight. They are clues for Robert Langdon to unravel. The only problem is that while Langdon may be the only man who can unravel the clues, he is also the prime suspect and the French police will not let him go easily. Enter Sophie Neveu. Sophie is a cryptologist with the French police, but she is also the granddaughter of the murdered curator. She believes that Robert Langdon did not murder her father and helps Langdon to escape so that he can solve the murder.

“The Da Vinci Code” is no simple murder mystery, however. The plot, such as there is, is not very deep. The plot does serve to advance and to present the ideas of the novel. The ideas of “The Da Vinci Code” are such that, if true, would rock the Catholic Church and mainstream Christianity to its core. Revealing these ideas would spoil the story because the ideas are central to the novel. Suffice it to say that if true, in the context of the novel, what Christians think they know about Jesus and the early Catholic Church is entirely wrong.

What makes “The Da Vinci Code” an interesting novel is how these ideas are worked into the story, and even though it seemed to be exposition-heavy, I was always waiting for the next revelation, the next bit of hidden knowledge uncovered by Langdon. “The Da Vinci Code” is more about the ideas than it is about a story and a plot. That’s fine, because it works very well under those terms. This isn’t one of my favorite novels, but it was good enough and interesting enough that I wanted to keep turning the pages to find out about the next hidden “truth”.

A collection of Clinton reviews posted an article that has samplings from a collection of reviews of Bill Clinton's autobio and they can be found here. I cover this because Bill Clinton is a fascinating man and i think that holds up no matter whether or not one agrees with his policies or thinks he did a good job as president. I would be interested in reading his book, which will be a time consuming task whenever the book actually comes in from the library. I doubt i'll be able to finish it my before i have to return it.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004): A Review

A film by Michael Moore

Michael Moore has stated from the start what Fahrenheit 9/11 is and what it is intended to be. The film is an attack on President Bush about his handling of our country and his actions after September 11, 2001. The film is an indictment for his entire presidency and President Bush’s failure to truly “lead” our nation. Michael Moore has had no hidden agenda. His agenda with this film has been quite public. He wants to educate the public about President Bush and he wants President Bush out of office. Moore is using this documentary as a platform against President Bush and he is open about it. All documentaries, whether or not the director is open about it, have a certain amount of bias. I’m not sure it is possible to not show bias and still have a quality film that makes a point. Moore is just less subtle about his bias than most.

Since this is a documentary, there are three things that must be taken into consideration:
1. Is this a well made, quality piece of filmmaking?
2. Is this movie entertaining?
3. Is the documentary factual?

The first two questions are common to all movies. The third question is directed towards a documentary. I do not have the expertise to answer question 3, but I can say that many of the arguments Moore makes in “Fahrenheit 9/11” are ones that I have heard before, often from reputable sources, so I am inclined to accept the veracity of the facts presented in this movie. The facts may be accurate, but is Moore’s interpretation truthful?

Michael Moore opens “Fahrenheit 9/11” with the 2000 election and the claims that George W Bush, with the help of his brother and the official vote counter of Florida, cheated to win the election. Moore goes onto show the viewer how Bush always intended to invade Iraq, even before September 11, even if there was no connection between Iraq and the particular terrorists who were to blame. Moore continues to show the connection between Bush’s family and the Bin Ladin family (which is not the same thing as a connection directly with Osama) and how numerous members of the Bin Laden family were allowed to leave the United States without being questioned only two days after the 9/11 attacks. It is Moore’s contention that President Bush has been a failure as President, but worse, has been damaging to our country and to the world.

Right now I have no reason to doubt the facts presented in “Fahrenheit 9/11”, but it is Moore’s interpretation of the facts that point to a larger conspiracy among everyone in the administration to fight the war in Iraq no matter the provocation (or a lack thereof). It is Moore’s interpretation that says that President Bush deliberately manipulated America with the fear of post 9/11 that has allowed him to fight a war that nobody would have supported otherwise. I’ll admit that Moore makes a compelling and powerful case, but I’m not sure how much I am yet willing to accept all of his interpretations.

One thing is clear to me, however. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is a skillfully made political film that far surpasses any of the political advertisements that you see on television that are “approved” by the candidate. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is deeply moving, often funny, and is a well made, well crafted film. It goes without saying that this is a very divisive film and perhaps the viewer’s enjoyment of it (or even acceptance of it) may very well depend on what side of the political spectrum one finds himself (or herself).

Friday, June 25, 2004

Men in Black II (2002): A Review

A film by Barry Sonnenfeld

After 1997’s wildly successful “Men in Black” film, someone apparently decided that it would be a good idea to make a sequel. After all, the director and the two stars are returning, what could possibly go wrong? A great deal, as it turns out. The first film covered a good deal of ground and a good deal of story points. The second film had the opportunity to really build on that as well as becoming a movie that is just as entertaining as the first. “Men in Black II” fails to measure up to the first film. What felt fresh in the first movie feels tired and just recycled in the sequel. There are some good moments, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you have seen most of the good moments.

The basic plot is that there is an alien named Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle) who is searching for something called the Light of Zartha. It would be very dangerous for the Earth, as well as several other planets if Serleena is able to acquire the Light, whatever it may be. When Serleena holds up a pizza place and leaves a witness, one of the Men in Black is called in to investigate. Agent J (Will Smith) meets the witness, an attractive young woman, and finds out what went down. But Agent J can’t solve this case on his own, he needs Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Viewers of the first movie will remember that K retired, had his memory wiped and is now working at a post office in some small town. Of course there is a way to reverse this and the partners are reunited and are fighting the evil aliens of the universe.

There are some funny parts to this movie. I loved the talking/singing dog/alien/agent. There were several funny gags and funny lines, but taken as a whole I didn’t care for the movie all that much. It passed the time. I know this is not the type of movie that one is supposed to take too seriously, but even on that basis, it’s still not that good. “Men in Black II” is not horrible, but everyone involved has done better work.

I hate it when they make a good point

Really, i do. I was watching Anderson Cooper 360 last night and there was an interview segment with Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton, which is quite an interesting pair to have on together (probably the point). The point of the segment had to do with religion and politics and there were some charts and polls showing that more people who think religion has an important role in politics are supporting Bush while the folks who believe religion has no place in politics are supporting Kerry. Questions were asked about that and i guess i was surprised at how both men answered the questions because i know of them only by reputation and not by personal investigation of their opinions and behavior. What struck me was how logical and frank both men were, and how their positions made sense even as they are in opposition. Here is a brief segment from the transcript of the interview. There is one section that i would like to highlight.

COLLINS: All right, Reverend Falwell I want to get to you. In the same "Time" magazine poll, I should share some more numbers, 69 percent of nonreligious people favor Kerry while just 22 percent support Bush. Now the GOP have done a pretty good job of appealing to conservatives, but do you think that the party needs to move beyond that in including more people?

FALWELL: Well, I don't think there's any question Mr. Bush would welcome any vote by anybody, atheist, believer, whatever. And Reverend Al Sharpton there is a friend of mine, and Al's an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ so he certainly does not object to any mixture of religion and politics.

He, at the same time, would, I think agree with me that one's faith, if that faith is genuine, will certainly impact our behavior, both in private and public life. Mr. Bush does not attempt to use religion, but he's a man of faith who has had a born-again experience with faith in Christ as Al Sharpton would, I think, testify to the same. And therefore, he's not ashamed to talk about it, let it govern his views and values and as a Christian who believes in the sanctity of life, born and unborn, he happens to be pro-life as millions of Americans are, as I am. I don't think it is bad for him to use that White House as a bully pulpit, as all presidents have.

COLLINS: Reverend Sharpton, let me ask you generally the same question. As long as mainstream Democrats seem to agree with pro- choice, supporting stem cell research, civil unions, do you believe they can actually attract church-going Americans? Do they have to modify their positions as well?

SHARPTON: No, I think they have to clarify. I think that there's a difference between, say, one believes in something or saying one believes people have the right to choose for themselves what they want to believe. And I think that once that's clarified, that's a big difference in me saying what I believe, and what my family believes. And then that I believe I have the right to impose that on you.

I feel I'm a good enough preacher to convert you. I don't have to use the law to force you to do what I believe in. I think that's where we part ways when many of the right wing Christian, in my judgment, ideologues that are trying to push this.

What struck me was that, in a sense, both men are correct in what they are saying and that it just comes down to perception. Falwell's position here makes sense in that President Bush would use his office to support those causes that he believes in, and his faith in Christ is a factor in this. This is a part of the man who was elected.

At the same time, Al Sharpton's position make sense. I would say that i fall on the side of Sharpton on this one, in that what i personally think is right for me and my family may not necesarrily be right for another family. At some point there has to be a moral absolute, but in many of the controversial issues i think it is a personal decision and should be left up the individual.

Like abortion. I'm not going to get too deep into this issue here because i don't think this is the place for it and i think i'm getting off the topic, but i am pro-choice. This is not to be confused with being pro-abortion. I do not agree with the idea of abortion (in most cases), but i do not feel that i have the right to impose my will upon another and say "you can't do this because I feel it is wrong". I can tell you why i feel it is wrong, if it comes up in conversation, but not to issue a blanket statement. Like Al Sharpton, in the above quote, there is a difference between what i feel is right, and what i feel is right to impose upon someone else.

I don't know where Falwell and Sharpton stand on many issues, though i can probably guess with a fair degree of accuracy. I do know that i was impressed by how they came off during this interview segment and how respectful they were in stating their views. Granted a brief interview on CNN is not the forum to go spouting off raving mad, but both men came off very well. Bravo.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Pimping Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee is one of my favorite authors. I don't know when, where, or how i first heard about her and her novels, but one day i borrowed Rainlight from the library. Loved it. It immediately shot up onto my list of favorite novels. I thought it had a good story, but what set Rainlight apart was how well the story was told. The book description from McGhee's website is:

Even in a small town people have secrets, including how much they really mean to each other. In Alison McGhee’s haunting debut, a tragic event sparks revelations from nine-year-old Mallie, her mother, her grandfather, a waitress, and Mallie’s father’s ex-lover. They discover long-hidden truths and forge new bonds in this unforgettable, heartbreaking novel about parents, children, and love.

Rainlight is a very moving story and it is told through multiple narrators and they each give a little bit more to the story and each character has something interesting to tell and a new perspective that feels necessary.

McGhee's other novels are Shadow Baby and Was It Beautiful?. She also has two children's books and one young adult novel published.

This is a bit selfish, but i wish that McGhee would focus more on writing novels than the children's books (as good as Snap and Countdown to Kindergarten were). She has created a town near the Adirondack mountains and all of her novels (as well as Snap) are set in the region. You'll see characters from one novel mentioned in the others, but what works best is how strong of an emotional connection McGhee allows the reader to feel with her characters. I don't know how popular or well known McGhee is, but she is a top rate author and i am always looking forward to one of her new novels. I'll even read her children's books. Alison McGhee is a Minnesota author (which is always nice to see) and if you have not read any of her work, give Rainlight a try. I did, and i was hooked from that point on.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Missing Chums: A Review

This review is of the 1962 Revised Version of “The Missing Chums”. The first 38 titles in the series were revised over the course of 15 years (some with minor changes, others were completely re-written). “The Missing Chums” is the fourth Hardy Boys mystery.

The brothers are asked by Police Chief Collig to investigate the fighting that has been going on in the Shantytown neighborhood in Bayport. When Frank and Joe are on their way to a party thrown by Callie Shaw, they learn of a bank robbery and chase the crooks. This gets them involved into not only the Shantytown fights, but also into investigating the bank robbery as best they can. After the party, the brothers learn that two of their friends, Chet Morton and Biff Hooper, were abducted on the way home. Another mystery! Frank and Joe frantically look for clues so they can find their friends (not to mention the other mysteries).

This is another solid offering in the Hardy Boys Mystery Series. It is my understanding that the revised edition has been dramatically altered from the original, though it shares the abduction of Chet and Biff. This is not one of my favorite stories of the series, but like the rest, it is an interesting story and works several different storylines together (my favorites are the ones that can stick with one plotline for the entire book). “The Missing Chums” is recommended, like the other books in the series, for children of all ages.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Five: A Review

The fifth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” introduced the character of Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg). Dawn is the sister of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Now, if you have been watching for the first four seasons, you know that Buffy doesn’t have a sister. She is an only child. But, if you have been watching the show for several seasons now, you may also have noticed some odd things. It began near the end of Season Three, where we see Buffy and Faith (Eliza Dushku) talking. There is a flash of something on the bed, so quick that we can only get a hint that it is a person, but it is never explained. In Season Four, there is more clues that something or someone is coming and Buffy has dreams of preparing a bed for someone and in that dream Tara (Amber Benson) mentions the word “Dawn”, though we don’t know at the time that what she is referring to is Buffy’s sister.

Things are explained in due course, but the set up for this is that at the start of the season everyone is acting as if they have known Dawn for years and she has a family history. There is a reason for this, of course, but telling what the reason is would be spoiling the fun of discovering this fresh.

Season Five brings the characters back home again after the fourth season focusing on college (and the first three working around high school). There are several key elements introduced. The first is obviously Dawn, and Buffy’s relationship with her. This also changes the family dynamic with Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), of course. Another key element is the Big Bad for the Season, Glory (Clare Kramer). Telling too much about Glory would ruin nearly all of the surprises for the season. As in all of the seasons, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is ultimately rooted in the lives of the characters and while they are out killing vampires and fighting demons, the characters are also dealing the mundane details and facts of ordinary life, in all facets of life. This has been one of the strengths of the show (and this season, in heartbreaking detail).

I hesitate to say that any one season is “superior” to another since this is my favorite program. This season is slightly different than Season Four in that this time there is more of a direct storyline progression that Season Five is following. The Fourth Season was more a collection of episodes that tracked the emotional growth of the characters, but not really against a Big Bad. Season Five ended in such an incredible way that, some have suggested, it would have been the perfect place to have ended the series. While I agree that it would be a perfect conclusion, I am glad that I have two more seasons to watch. There are so many strong episodes in Season Five that it is tough to highlight just a couple, but some episodes of note are “The Body”, “The Gift”, and “Family.” Despite the fact that this is a show about a “Vampire Slayer”, this show is about so much more and is much deeper (and better) than the title might suggest.

Stepford thoughts

Spoilers will abound. You're duly warned.

It's the whole thing about robots. Are they robots? Are they regular people who have computer chips implanted in their heads? There are points that say it could go either way.

The Pro-Robot:
1. Faith Hill's character, Sarah Sunderson, seems to short out when at a dance and starts repeating herself and twitching (like a poorly wired robot). When she finally collapses, and just before Christopher Walken does something to her head, you can see sparks coming out of her ears. Joanna (Nicole Kidman) mentions that she was "sparking"
2. Later, Joanna, Bobbie, and Roger are trying to see if Sarah Sunderson is okay and they find a remote labeled "Sarah". When they press the remote we see (but they don't) Sarah's breasts growing, and then Sarah pauses and moves up and down the stairs in a robotic she responded to the remote.
3. When Bobbie is turned "Stepford", she places her hand on a stove while talking to Joanna. Her hand is directly on an open flame and there is no reaction. Even if she has an implant in her head, can a human do that?
4. Joanna researches the citizens of Stepford and finds that all the women were once high powered executives and judges and stuff. She also finds out that there was a dog that went missing...a dog that looks sort of like her new robot dog. Hmm, robot dog and robot people?
5. Near the end when Walter removes the "Stepford" program, there seems to be a flash of light from the bodies of the women.
6. Walter says that Joanna is not a robot.
7. When Joanna confronts the group at the Men's Club she sees a mostly finished robot on a table, it is implied that it is Joanna's robot.
8. There is a woman that is an ATM (inserts the card in her mouth, spits out money a few seconds later)
9. Mike is a robot (visually proven)

The Anti-Robot:
1. Mike (Walken) shows a advertisement for Stepford Wives, where men can bring their women in and computer chips will be implanted into their heads to make them more "perfect".
2. When Walter is deprogramming the women, there is no real conclusion that it isn't just the chips having the programs erases. Combine this with point 1, and the suggestion is no robots.
3. When the programs are erased, all of the Stepford Wives regain their original personality and have control over themselves again (best example: Roger).
4. Claire (Glenn Close) is not a robot.
5. There is no robot discussion at the end of the film where Bobbie, Roger, and Joanna are on tv talking about the whole Stepford experience. Remember, Bobbie and Roger were Stepford-ized.

The evidence that i can remember lines up more on the robot side, which makes sense because i think they were robots in the original source material, but...the film doesn't do a good job at making a decision on what they are. I don't accept that Frank Oz is leaving it up to the viewer because he doesn't give sufficient evidence during the film (because of the contradictory evidence) and also because the plausibility of the ending depends on whether or not they are robots. The ending works if they are not robots, but if they are not robots...the film doesn't work very well because the film leans more on the side of the wives being robots.

Sure, the ultimate suggestion of the film has to do with the feminist movement of the 70's (which is when the original was released...which puts it into a deeper context) and that what all men really want is a wife to take care of the home, sexually satisfy him at his whim, and to be physically perfect...and to not have a brain in her head because men are really threatened by a strong woman. And to accomplish this, men would rather have their wives be docile and submissive robots than be real, flesh and blood women.

But the movie doesn't really go there, does it?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Four Souls: A Review

Fleur Pillager is one of Louise Erdrich’s legendary characters. Fleur is legendary within the world Erdrich has created as well as being an iconic character of Erdrich’s work as a whole. “Four Souls” continues the story of Fleur that was begun in Erdrich’s second novel “Tracks”. Having lost her land to the white developers when Margaret Rushes Bear chose to use the money to save her own son Nector’s piece of the land rather than Fleur’s, Fleur Pillager walked away from the reservation. She walked until she was exhausted, and then she kept walking until she reached the Cities. She stopped, as if she was drawn, in front of a house that was hiring a cleaning woman. The house belonged to John James Mauser (a family name you should recognize from “Tales of Burning Love”). Mauser is the developer who purchased Fleur’s land and she seeks to exact revenge on Mauser. Fleur’s revenge is not the typical revenge where the person is quickly killed. No. Fleur’s revenge has Fleur become part of the household so that she can build up Mauser enough that he can sufficiently know what he is going to lose when Fleur decides it is time to take her revenge.

The novel is narrated by two characters. The first is the trickster, Nanapush. Nanapush tells the story of Fleur as he knows it (at no time is Fleur the narrator the story), so as he tells Fleur’s story, he also tells his own. The other narrator is Polly Elizabeth Gheen. Polly Elizabeth is the sister of Mauser’s wife. She is able to tell more of the story of Fleur’s arrival to the household and what the impact there was. She also reveals a bit more of her family’s history and that of Mauser’s history. In Erdrich’s world, everything is interconnected.

I have to be upfront in saying that Louise Erdrich has long been my favorite author, and it is with great anticipation that I look forward to the publication of a new novel. “Four Souls” did not disappoint me. Rather than having a simple plot, Louise Erdrich and “Four Souls” tells a story of Fleur Pillager, of revenge (in many forms), of love, and Erdrich continues to craft out a world that feels very real. Each volume only serves to add to the richness and the color of The Little No Horse Reservation and the characters which inhabit and intersect with it. This is a very lyrical (and perhaps spiritual) story and while it may not be the type of story that every reader is looking for, it is one that I love.

The Stepford Wives (2004): A Review

A film by Frank Oz

Joanna (Nicole Kidman) is an executive who runs a television network. She seems to be responsible for some of the big reality shows that are being aired (we meet her as she is announcing several new shows that take “reality tv” to a ridiculous level). When one of the reality shows backfires in a public way, Joanna is fired from her job and suffers and emotional breakdown. It is to help Joanna and to begin a new life that her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick) moves the family from the big city up to Connecticut to a town called Stepford.

Stepford seems like the perfect town. Everyone is pleasant, if a little too perky and perfect. Joanna and Walter are welcome to the community by Claire (Glenn Close). Claire seems to be the leader of the Stepford women’s group and the town seems to be organized around the Men’s Club and the Women’s Day Spa. Walter is welcomed right into the Men’s Club and he feels at home. Joanna, on the other hand, is very skeptical because all the women seem like they are exaggerations and someone else’s idealizations. For example, the women all exercise wearing dresses because they wouldn’t want their husbands to see them wearing black sweatsuits and have stringy hair (which was exactly what Joanna was wearing at the time). Joanna befriends Bobbie (Bette Midler) and Roger (Roger Bart), the only other two women who are not in the “Stepford” mold. A note about Roger: Roger is a gay man, but because he fits the stereotype so well of what a gay man is, he counts in Stepford as “one of the girls”. Together, the three of them try to find out what is going on in Stepford and why the women are all so strange (and why one of them seemed to spark at the ears during a dance). Why are all the women such male fantasies and the men remain their geeky selves?

This 2004 adaptation of “The Stepford Wives” is more of a comedy than the horror leanings that the original is said to have had (I admit, I have not seen the original film, nor have I read the book). Since I cannot compare the film to either the novel or the original film, I can only work with what I am given on screen. The first half of the movie is fairly effective and interesting as the world of Stepford is being set up. The problem lies in the fact that the second half of the movie may or may not have contradicted information given in the first half. Something is going on with the women in Stepford, that is clear. The question is: What is going on with the women in Stepford. The term “Stepford Wives” is such a part of the Americal cultural lexicon that many people have an idea of what a Stepford Wife is, but the film never quite makes the connection. It sets up one idea, then gives us another idea, but in the end the film does not answer the question as to what exactly a Stepford Wife is. I am trying not to give away a spoiler, though the film’s trailer gives away much of the twist of the movie, so the most I can say is that “The Stepford Wives” as a film does not seem to know exactly what a Stepford Wife is at the most technical level.

It is my confusion with what the premise of the film ultimately is (and thus what the ending means) that is leading to my growing dissatisfaction with “The Stepford Wives” as a movie. I enjoyed my time in the theatre watching this movie, and it is pleasant enough, but the inconsistency of the plot is enough to knock the film down a couple of notches.

Master and Commander: Part I

A fellow at work lent me his copy of Master and Commander. This book, if you were not aware, is one of the two books that is the basis for the film adaptation. The other is the tenth book of the series.

I am only 80 pages into the book or so, so i don't know quite how much the book is different from the film, but i'm guessing quite a bit. See, in the film, Captain Jack Aubrey is the captain of the HMS Surprise, but in this book he is only getting his first captain assignment of the Sophie. He is just meeting Maturin the surgeon for the first time.

One thing that i have noticed is that the book is detail heavy and that author Patrick O'Brien intended the books to be as accurate as humanely possible, though in the forward he freely admits to changing the locations of some naval battles. I am enjoying the book so far and i'm not ashamed to admit that i have had to skim a little bit over the heavy nautical details of which i neither truly understand nor think i require to enjoy the book. I'm sure someone will disagree with me about that, but i just can't get that detail orientated.

a harsh review of Bill Clinton's memoir "My Life"

Famed NY Times Book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani slams Bill Clinton's new memoir in his review.

Kakutani writes: "The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history."

Because i do not read many of Kakutani's reviews and don't know how far in line they fall with my own, i don't know what to think about the review, only that it seems to be fairly indicative of the consensus on the memoir. Of course, Presidential Autobiography is probably never the most reliable of sources.

Glorious Appearing: Review

“Glorious Appearing” is the 12th volume in the “Left Behind series” that began in 1995. The first book, “Left Behind” began with the Rapture, where the true believing Christians were taken directly into heaven and the earth was about to begin the great Tribulation as was written about in the Biblical book of Revelation. Over the course of eleven books, judgment after judgment rained down about the planet as a small (but growing) group of new believers tried to spread the Word of God before it was finally too late. They also opposed the Anti-Christ that was foretold, Nicolae Carpathia and worked against him to help and save as many as possible. Book after book gave new judgments (with a literal approach to “Revelation”) and we were being led inexorably to the Glorious Appearing of Jesus. The series is written by two Christians, and having read one book you know that this is a pro-Christian series, so you know where they are going with the series. We just don’t know exactly how we are going to get there.

The first eleven books of the series, leading up to the Glorious Appearing, were bound with a black cover, suggesting the darkness of the state of the world and the judgments of God. When we finally get to book twelve, titled “Glorious Appearing”, we finally have a white cover. Don’t think this was done by mistake or just by chance. Finally, with the return of Christ at hand, there will be a light in the darkness that was the Tribulation. The light of Christ. It was a subtle decision, but I think it was a fairly clever one.

On to the content of the book. At the end of “Armageddon” we know that we are so close to the Glorious Appearing. Either Rayford Steele or Buck Williams died at the end of the previous book and near the beginning of this one we find out which one (I guessed wrong, but I think the clues were misleading). Other than learning that detail, the first half of the book seems to be in a holding pattern. There is a little bit of action, but what we’re waiting for is Christ’s return.

Much of the tension of the series has been the fact that we don’t know who is going to be alive by the time Jesus actually returns. I believe that it is stated in the first book that only one out of every four people will be alive. So, we see the Tribulation Force grow, and have members be cut away as the series progresses. We know how the series ends, so it is no spoiler to say that the most powerful scenes involve the reunions of the Trib Force with those who had died (or were Raptured). What is less effective is the lack of dramatic tension in the book, and I guess that there was no choice because of the nature of the series.

One of the drawing points of the series, and this book, was wondering just how it is possible to describe an event like the Second Coming of Christ. Jenkins does a credible, and powerful job at the “event” but because there wasn’t much story to tell in this book, a lot of it feels like filler. Even much of the action that happened after the Return felt like padding and repetition. Granted, one of the hallmarks of this series has never been excellent writing, but rather the emotional power of the story, however “Glorious Appearing” was somewhat of a let down. It was still a fast paced enjoyable book, but this is the concluding volume of the series and should have left a powerful, satisfying conclusion. It didn’t. It did leave room for the sequel that Jenkins and LaHaye has planned (something I never understood), and it did wrap up the storylines that were going on for 11 volumes, but it was a series that went out more on a whimper than a bang.

Glorious Appearing: Part II

I finished Glorious Appearing. I don't know. It was fine.

I had said that i was impatient for the return of Jesus in the book, which happens about halfway through it. The rest of the book is Jesus whupping a$$ and taking names. Seriously. He takes his time taking care of Carpathia's forces and slowly, slowly works his way to actually dealing with Carpathia (the Anti-Christ). As amazing as the event of the Second Coming of Christ is, I'm not sure there was really enough "stuff" there to give us an entire book worth of compelling story. After a bit, it got repetitive. The first half was so because of the time spent actually getting to the return, the second half took its time in dealing with the return.

I guess i wouldn't mind so much if this was actually the end of the series, but it is not. I didn't find the link i wanted, but Jenkins says several times that "more is to come". There will be a prequel and a sequel. Glorious Appearing does actually set up a sequel, i just don't like the idea of it. Nor the prequel.

I really did enjoy this series, despite the fact that i'm sounding negative right now. But twelve books is a big time investment, and i guess i just expected more from this last book...or something different and it is my own expectations that is dragging me down...but i don't think the storytelling was there in this book as it was in the first 11.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Hardy Boys

Recently i have begun re-reading The Hardy Boys books. Do you remember The Hardy Boys? It is a mystery series that was started in 1927 featuring two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, who solve mysteries. Their father, Fenton Hardy, is a famous detective and the brothers are chips off of the old block. The series began with The Tower Treasure and continues on to this day. Book 185, Wreck and Roll has recently been published.

When i was a kid, i wanted to be one of the Hardys. I wanted to live an exciting life like Frank and Joe, to solve crimes and be popular like they were. I grew out of that, but i loved those books when i was younger.

These are good wholesome stories (though the Casefiles later target a slightly older audience). I have currently read the first three (out of 185) books in the main series (the Casefiles are an offshoot that seems to either run parallel to the main series, or happens several years later), and i plan on working through the whole series. This assumes, of course, that my interest holds up. The next one that i'm planning on reading is book 4, The Missing Chums.

Glorious Appearing: Part I

I picked up Glorious Appearing from the library yesterday and i'm already 200 pages into the book. Glorious Appearing is the latest book in the Left Behind series. After 11 books leading up to this point, we know that Jesus will be returning in this volume. He has to. The title is "Glorious Appearing" after all. The return of Jesus has been called The Glorious Appearing all through the series, and we know how it will all end. Jesus will return and establish the Millenium Kingdom on Earth.

But how did this all start? The first volume, Left Behind started with the mysterious disappearance of millions upon millions of people throughout the world. It couldn't be explained, except by the Rapture (the event where God takes true believers to heaven before he begins the Tribulation in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. LaHaye and Jenkins accept a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. Others believe in a Post-Tribulation Rapture, where the Rapture will only happen after the seven year Tribulation). The authors, over the course of 12 books, takes us on a journey through the book of Revelation and they take a literal approach to the events described in the last book of the Bible.

By the time we get to Glorious Appearing, I'm ready for Jesus to come back. Seriously. There is a cliffhanger at the end of Armageddon where we don't know which one of the two main characters have died, but other than finding out which one lived (i guessed wrong, it turns out), I wanted the return of Jesus. It just took a while to get to that point. I suppose after waiting 11 novels (and 2000 years), i should have a little bit more patience, but i didn't. I have wondered since the beginning of the series exactly how this could be described. Think about it. How do you describe the return of Christ to this world? If you believe the Bible, this is the event that all of history and creation has been leading towards.

I'm not much past Christ's return (which i expected to happen at the end of the book), but it is shaping up to be fairly interesting. The first half of the book was fast paced, as usual, but i was ready for the EVENT.

I imagine i'll finish the book today or tomorrow, and will be back with my final impressions on tuesday.