Ragnar's Reviews 2003
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Books

Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire 22 December
What were you doing in the spring of 1994? Did you pay much attention to the genocide happeing in Rwanda? It's pretty safe to say that you didn't do anything about it, along with most other Canadians. However, a Canadian General, Romeo Dallaire was in it up to his eyeballs and beyond. This is his story of how how he got involved, and how he was consumed. It isn't easy reading in places, but I think it's necessary reading. Dallaire spends quite a bit of the book showing the lead up to the slaughter. It may seem slow, or make for tedious reading, but he points out, step by step, how a genocide happens. Could he have prevented it if the UN had approved his plans and provided a few more troops and their supplies? Dallaire thinks so. I'd imagine for his sanity he must have to think so, but we'll never know. I only wonder how many more of these have to happen before the developed world steps in to prevent such atrocities from happening, rather than belatedly cleaning up after?
The Border Canada, the U.S. and Dispatches from the 49th Parallel by James Laxer 20 October
Canada and the U.S. are more similar than any other pair of countries I can think of, yet we are very different in ways that seem important to people on both sides of the border. Laxer explores some of the differences between us, along with the border that divides us. He discusses the history of the major border disputes, the implications for Canada, and the border culture that has grown up all along it. He also explores the economics of living next door to the only economic and military superpower on earth now.

This book is fascinating, and must reading for all Canadians who are concerned about the possibility of becoming American, by design or accident.


The Octopus and the Orangutan by Eugene Linden 9 August
I'm fascinated by accounts of animal intelligence, since I firmly believe that we share our planet with other intelligent species. Their only crimes are that they don't look like humans, don't speak a human language, and are the victims of a human-centric point of view. Yet some of them do communicate with humans, and demonstrate human traits, such as deception, stealth, theft, kindness, and friendship. Humans desperately want their intelligence to remain unique, so every time an animal or computer meets some criteria for demonstrating intelligent thought, the bar gets moved. These accounts do not claim scientific rigour, but there's something there that should open our minds.

The Curious Conspiracy and other crimes by Michael Gilbert 3 August
This book of short stories reminds me of "bar stories" about colourful characters and interesting or unique situations. Some of the stories are quite old, but all are high quality gems.

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende 30 July This is a book club selection and isn't something I would have read on my own. But once I got into it I was hooked. It was fascinating how the rise and fall of the family paralleled the rise and fall of the unamed country they live in. I suspect it's Argentina or Chile. Some of the minor characters and their children were a little hard to keep track of, but that was the only downside to the book. Watch for the movie review coming later in August.
The Invisible Future by Peter J. Denning, editor 20 June
Here is a series of essays by various future-oriented writers. Many of the essays are interesting, certainly enough so to get the book from the library. The most interesting is less is more (more or less) by William Buxton, discussing the state of desktop browsers, and comparing them to other such browsers as ink browsers (books, magazines et al), and radio wave browser (car radios). He writes a fascinating comparison between the Waternet and the Internet. What is the waternet, you ask? The network of pipes and pumping stations that delivers potable water to almost every home in North America, and takes away used water for treatment. Buxton says that the Internet will have become truly successful when it functionas as well as and is as invisibly as the waternet. I'd buy this essay if I could, because there's much more.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom 15 June
This could have been a fascinating story, but the author is a jerk. There's nothing about how learning from Morrie helped him be less of a jerk. Morrie seems like a fascinating person even before he got sick, and I'd love to read more about him, preferably by a competent biographer.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 10 June
A light, easy, self-help book that can be summed up as "follow your heart, and keep following it."
To Hell with Picasso and other Essays by Paul Johnson 18 May
I like reading essays, and enjoyed reading most of these. In some cases I disagree with Johnson's, point, in others I agree, and in some I have no opinion, which is as it should be. All these essays are well written and entertaining, but I have the odd feeling that I'm only getting part of the story. I'm sure there are people that were infuriated after reading some of these essays. Many of the essays are from the cultured point of view, decrying the barbarians that are taking over the world.
Hiroshima in America 14 May
"You cannot understand the 20th century without Hiroshima."
Almost every country in the world had to deal with WWII in one way or another. Germany was forced to come to terms with it's Nazi past, and Japan is inching toward acknowledging the horrors of it's imperial history. The United States has several stains coming from that war, but the ones that they have never really dealt with are called Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This book shows how America is still coming to terms with Hiroshima, how the government tried to minimize and hide the true horrors of what had happened. The authors go on to show how the governments actions just after the bombing have affected every postwar American government in the actions and reactions to various world situations. Of particular interest is the Smithsonian exhibit, and the various reactions to it by Congress, veterans, and historians. Fascinating reading.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn 26 April
NAB. New Age Bullshit. Fatally undermined by taking a swipe at all self-help books because they preach a solution to our troubles, then proceeds to preach a solution to our troubles. The problem? Our civilization. The solution? Go back to being hunter gatherers. This idea is promulgated by a telepathic gorilla. Enough said.
Cerulean Sins by Laurell K. Hamilton 21 April
I tried to like it, I really did. Yet the flaws that defeated me in previous books are present in this one. The uneven pacing is annoying. It drives me crazy when things are moving right along, and the heroine is in a crashing hurry, but stops for a pointless conversation. The other thing that bugs me is that Anita is such a wimp. Yes, you heard me. How, you ask, can a short woman that raises the dead as a sideline, hob-knobs with vampires, runs with the wolves, and leaps with the leopards be a wimp. Simple. Threaten someone she feels protective of and she turns into a marshmallow. Much of this book is talk, talk, and more talk. There were a couple places where all the blood that Hamilton splashed around really turned me off, but I guess she feels she has to top previous crime scenes. I didn't feel a sense of dread, horror, or even anticipation about the outcome. I'll tell you now, the ending is a total anticlimax. The book exists in hardcover in our house, but I didn't buy it.
Jane Eyre 8 April
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this, and was pleasantly surprised. There are some slow spots, and the moral tone is pretty lofty at times, but the vivid word pictures more than make up for that. The dialogue seems stilted to the modern ear, but in that time and place one had the time to express one's thoughts; to put them just so, saying just enough and no more. I don't think I understood Jane at first reading, and the perennial popularity of the book makes me think that other people need to read and re-read it to gain the sublties.
Happiness by Will Ferguson 4 Feb
This was a fun read. I suspect that those in the publishing industry will perceive more inside jokes than I did, and gain more enjoyment, but any reader will catch enough to make it worthwhile. The book takes a look at what happens if everyone finds happiness, or rather Happiness™. I had bought this to read for a book club, and will almost certainly read it again.

How to be a Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson
I bought this to read while flying to Winnipeg (in January of all places!) and it fit the bill perfectly. I had a great flight laughing to myself happily. What I really wanted to do was read some of the bits out loud to other people, but in some ways, airplanes are like elevators. Reading out loud, except to children, simply isn't done.

One Good Turn by Witold Rybczynski 10 Jan
Every one of us has dealt with screws and screwdrivers at some point in our lives. I can remember as a child having trouble remembering which was a Phillips and which was a Robertson. What I didn't know is how recent a tool the screwdriver is. Rybczynski was asked to write an essay about the tool of the millennium, and this book is about his journey to choose the screwdriver. He also documents his research about screws and screwdrivers, and to my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be fascinating. One of my book clubs is reading it for this month, and I'm looking forward to a good discussion. We bought it in hardcover on sale at Indigo Books.

2002 reviews

Movies
DVD of the Year (so far)

Return of the King 19 December
Wow! This was everything I had hoped for, with only the smallest of quibbles. Again, there are some changes from the book that will displease the purists, but it isn't possible to use the book as a script. That would make a terrible movie. Now that we've seen the 3 movies we can appreciate some of the choices Jackson made.

After Life 23 November
One of humanities most enduring conversations is about what's after death. Here's a movie taking a different approach. People arrive at what looks to be an old school, and are told they must select one memory. It will be enacted by the staff, and then you'll move on. People talk about their choices while the staff help them. Some people have difficulty, others don't. Surprising choices are made. This is one of the most thoughtful films I've seen in a long time. The people in the film have varying lengths of lifetimes to choose from, but that doesn't seem to matter.Some people won't like it because it's subtitled, but don't let that stop you from enjoying a wonderful film.

Beetlejuice 23 November
In a strange sort of way, I was reminded of American Graffiti. The film isn't much, but there's all these people that weren't stars yet.

T3 23 November
I would have thought this a pretty good movie if I hadn't seen T2 more than 10 years ago. However, T2 is the better movie, both from a plot and character point of view. T3 has some of the same problems as the second Matrix movie. Expectations were raised that can't be met. So now we see these sequences that would be incredible if we hadn't seen much of what makes them up already. I bought the first two Terminator movies, but I won't buy this one.

Master and Commander 22 November
We saw this in the theatre last night with our friends Gord and Gail, and we don't feel cheated in the least. A predictable plot, but extraordinarily well done. The movie took the time to show you the characters and the complex relationship between them. They aren't a simple cardboard cutout action figure. The CGI people are getting better all the time, and their skill shows here. I'll certainly watch this again on DVD.

Epoch 15 November
We were in the mood for a bad science-fiction movie, and we got one beyond our wildest dreams of bad-itude. It looked cheesy, had a stupid plot, terrible acting, and worst of all, took itself totally seriously.

Catherine the Great 9 November.
All I can say is that Zeta-Jones must have needed the money to take the lead role in such a boring film. It couldn't decide if it was a plotting at court film, a war film, or a love story, and ended up being none of them.


Finding Nemo 9 November
Pixar does it again. Superb animation and gorgeous visuals draw you into what should be a light and fluffy story. I could hardly take my eyes off the screen.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 3 November
I haven't seen this movie since it's theatrical release, and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. It's a little thinner as an action movie than RotLA, but the scenes between Ford and Connery more than make up for it. Somewhere along the way we watched Temple of Doom. It didn't annoy me as much as it did the first time, partly because there wasn't as much shrieking as I had remembered. Still, it's the worst of the three. I discovered there's going to be a 4th IJ movie, to be released in 2005. Lets wait so see what happens with a pair of Jones's that have had a drink from the Grail, and what they chase next.


Whale Rider 2 November
This is one of the best films I've seen all year. It's a fable, a feel good story, but told with uncommon skill and honesty. Not just a children's film, though it's accessible to them, it's also an adult's film, showing that adults still need to learn from the world around them to be fully alive.


Hulk 1 November
I think it's pathetic that the best the Hollywood film-makers can come up with is comic book movies. It's a pretty good comic book, but there's nothing new, nothing interesting. The CGI effects aren't very good, and I had no particular interest in any of the characters. They've set it up for a sequel of course, and I'll tell you right now the odds are that it will be worse than this.


Raiders of the Lost Arc 24 October
We picked up the 4 DVD set, and are starting to work our way through them. Raiders is an old friend, one of my favourite movies. This print is beautiful, the story is none the worse for having been seen before, and the sound is great. The fourth disc is full of extras, which I've only begun to sample. This is a buy, in spite of the set including the terrible second movie.


The Italian Job 20 October
Who hasn't seen this fun 60's film, with the catchy music as the little Mini's chase themselves through Turin? It's been so long since I had seen it last, and was delighted to find it on DVD. It's still as much fun as I remember it being. This collecter's edition includes the only deleted scene, with the three Mini's in a choreographed dance with three police cars, done to the music of the Blue Danube. There's also a ton of other extras about the making of the movie.

The Seventh Seal 19 October
I've heard and read about this movie for years, and have been looking for it on DVD. The film and the film's subject match each other perfectly, stark and bleak. We see the futility of life, and how different people cope with death, and how little it matters in the end. Even the ending, where the young family is still alive, doesn't consider tomorrow, or the next day, or a certain day in the future, when they will meet death again. I can see that modern audiences wouldn't like this film; it's in black and white, it's subtitled, there's no action to speak of, no nudity, no happy ending, and worst of all, it makes you think. If all you've seen are muddy film screenings filled with scratches, you've got to rent this Criterion DVD. They've done a superb job of cleaning it up and transferring it to a digital format.
Stiff Upper Lip 18 October
One of the stupidest movies I've seen this year.
Neverwhere 18 October
Interesting, imaginative, twisted, and quirky are some of the things that come to mind after watching these episodes. I'm wishing there was more. We're going to keep an eye out for the book.
The Hard Word 17 October
A somewhat chaotic "betray your buddy first" heist movie. Australian movies are almost always interesting to watch, and this is no exception, even if I occasionally wished for sub-titles. It wasn't just the accents, sometimes the sound mix seemed off.
Ten 5 October (CIFF)
No, not the one with Bo Derek, though it was better looking and more intelligent. This one is ten clips of passengers of a female taxi driver in Tehran. I was looking forward to an interesting commentary about contemporary Iran, but all we got was her whining child, whom I could cheerfully throttle, and some other forgettable family member passengers. I never saw money change hands. It's clear that even pre-teen boys have learned to dominate and abuse adult women. No wonder they keep it up as adult men. Not exactly a penetrating social insight. This was the worst movie I saw at the 2003 Calgary International Film Festival.
And now Ladies and Gentlemen 2 October (CIFF)
I liked watching this movie. I had no idea where it was going or how it was going to come out. Trying to distinguish between dreams, fantasy, and reality was impossible. The movie is worth seeing just for the jazz singing of Patricia Kaas. The con-jobs were not particularly convincing, but I suppose that's what separates con men from the rest of us; they have a way of making even the most improbable circumstances seem reasonable.
My Life without Me 2 October (CIFF)
After making an extremely odd choice of reactions to being told she will die in a short time, the main character sets out on a totally self indulgent course. I suspect her husband will never forgive her for her deceptions. None the less, it's a great movie to watch for characterization. Everybody plays their roles well.
Queen of the Gypsies 30 September (CIFF)
We enjoyed this glimpse into the life of one of the best known Flamenco dancers ever. It would have been nice to see some of the old film clips they used restored.
Adrenaline Rush 27 September (CIFF)
Wow! Shown at the Science Centre, this is part of the Calgary International Film Festival. There's a few minutes where those afraid of heights can relax, as they discuss the biology of adrenaline, or the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. The rest of the film is full of people jumping out of airplanes, off cliffs, and from below a ballon. The scenery of the Norwegian fjords is stunning.
American Cousins 27 September (CIFF)
A fun film about 2 Amerian gangsters hiding out with their cousins in Scotland. A light, delicate tone made this a delight to watch, funny in places, but mostly interesting as you wondered where it was going.
The Hours 23 September
At a time when most movies don't have good roles for women, here's a film with 3 great female roles. This is one strike against it being popular. The second strike is that it's based on a literary novel. The third is that viewers are required to think, keeping track of what is going on in three different tracks, and how they relate to one another. That eliminates a movie for most viewers, but puts it up at the top of my list.
Confidence 21 September
A wanna-be Hollywood movie, which, like almost all Hollywood movies, could have been a lot better.
Russian Ark 20 Sept
I admire the director's nerve and daring. One 90 minute uncut tour of a stunning art museum, with strange commentary on events spanning 300 years. It has to be seen to be believed, but most people aren't going to like it. Fans of Russian history or culture are going to think they've died and gone to heaven.
My Fair Lady 18 August
Another old movie I had seen as a child, and never since. There were a few scenes I didn't remember ("...morals. No, I can't afford 'em...") but lots I had, only now I appreciate them more. That house and library made me drool with envy. The costumes are stunning. They made much of Hepburn's singing being dubbed, and maybe that was a big deal back then, but who cares now? All we care about is watching a wonderful movie that couldn't even begin to be made today.

The House of the Spirits 17 August
This was a book club special. We read the book first, discussed it over a BBQ lunch, watched the video, and discussed both over ice cream and black berries. Oddly enough, to my mind, most of the group liked the movie better than the book, but not me. The movie was a servicable telling of the story, where the book explored more of the mysticism of the family. As well, the movie dated certain events, while reading the book you had to keep track of the characters ages, and you got a finer grain on the passing events. The movie was made only 10 years ago, with a stellar cast, yet there are few reviews of it in IMBD, and it's not available on DVD.
Vertigo 16 August
Will any of you believe that I've just seen Vertigo for the first time? I think I've seen bits of it over the years, but essentially the whole film was new to me. Not knowing when it was made, I got pretty close just from the cars one can see. By today's standards it's a little slow in places, just over 2 hours long, but I was totally drawn in. I'll be watching this one again. The DVD extras include interesting details of the film restoration, done by the same people that restored My Fair Lady.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth 10 August
The 1959 version, which I remember watching on television as a child. It stood up surprisingly well, but it is a product of it's time, and is laughable by the standards of today's audience. What makes it worthwhile is a ton of trailers for movies both recent and not so recent. Imagine seeing trailers for Independence Day and One Million Years BC on the same DVD. There's a sequence with split screen comparisons from the original film that shows what a great job they did of remastering it.
Agent Cody Banks 10 August
Banks tries to be James Bond jr, and succeeds in every way. More stupid Hollywood "entertainment."
Lost in La Mancha 8 August
One has to feel sorry for Terry Gilliam. Murphy's law struck with a vengence, and all we're left with is watching Gilliam, the cast, and the crew cope with rogue F-16s, torrential rain, hail, floods, wayward investors, predatory insurance companies, health problems for the lead actor, and more. It made me wonder how films get made at all.
Frida 4 August
This is one of the best films we've seen all year. A fascinating look at the life of a Mexican painter. Salma Hayek dominates the screen and brings Frida to life. Lots of interesting extras.
Simone 4 August
An interesting twist on an old story. I was more amused by the anachronisms, such as putting a 5.25 inch floppy into a computer, and seeing a gas plasma tv diminish to a central spot when turned off. Yeah, I can picture those under 30 saying "huh?"; they're so cute.
Nicolas Nickleby 1 August
I haven't read the book so I can't say how faithful an adaptation it is. I didn't think I'd be much interested, but I did stick around to see how it came out. Very Victorian.
Daredevil 31 July
Michael Clarke Duncan playing Kingpin is the only good part of the movie. The effects that try to show us what the Daredevil character "see" are annoying. The fighting looks choreographed; all movie fighting is, of course, but it shouldn't look that way so obviously. I understand why it went from the theatres to DVD so fast.
Collateral Damage 29 July
Another formula Arnie movie. I almost felt sorry for him. There he was, trying to project emotion and humanity, and failing miserably.
No Such Thing 28 July
At least there can't be a sequel. The Icelandic scenery was worth the price of rental, but the rest of it didn't do anything for me.
Mission Impossible 2 27 July
A Tom Cruise self-love fest. Boring. Stupid.
6th Day 27 July
Somewhere, buried deep down, there's a germ of a good movie. However, it's been ruined by some truly bad plot requirements. I don't mind a bit of suspension of disbelief for a movie, and granting them cloning is a fair request. But to believe that a person's entire memory can be extracted through the eyes in a few seconds, and inserted the same way is too much. Add in the idea that there is a seemingly endless supply of clones to be used as necessary. And as if that isn't enough, well, suffice to say that there is much more wrong with the film, and the weight of all this disbelief eventually drags the movie under.
Swordfish 26 July
I wanted to like this, I really did. It was stylish and moved along at a good clip. But the whole secret organization thing to protect America's "way of life" makes me gag.
12 Monkeys 26 July
Time travel movies can be kind of fun, especially if they try to resolve the paradox implicit in time travel. They don't here, but that's OK. This one isn't fun particularly, but it's competently done, and keeps you wondering how things are going to come out.
The Puppet Masters 25 July
All I can say is that it could have been much, much worse. It's a reasonably well done SF horror film, though the romance is terrible. The only thing missing from the book is the vengance ending, and mass nudity. Too bad about the latter.
A Beautiful Mind 14 July
Lots of people I know told me that I'd enjoy watching this film, but I'm not sure what they are saying to me. This is a Hollywood movie so it's no surprise to find a superficial "feel good" "true" movie of John Nash's life. The movie plays hob with the chronology of his life, and minimalizes the effects of his mental illness. Some of what he believed during his illness is politically incorrect to say out loud these days. My only consolation is that it could have been much worse.
Steel Magnolias 14 July
I liked this at first, then realized it had as much substance as candy floss. There's some good lines, and those prone to such things will need a hanky, but there's a lot of going over the top as well.

Holy Smoke 8 July
This movie got very strange. The deprogrammer claimed 189 successful jobs, and only 3 failures, but I suspect the reverse is true if he behaved the same way on his other jobs. But there I go bringing reality into it again. Beautiful Australian scenery, and Winslet isn't so bad either, but the trade-off is Keitel in a dress and lipstick.
East is East 7 July
The children of immigrants live in a different world than their parents. All too often the parents try to cling to their traditions, while the children pick up the culture around them. The children in this movie, ranging from young adults to a schoolboy, are like their peers in all ways but colour. The father here believes his children want to be Pakistani, but they consider themselves English. The movie is full of moments of one person warning another that the father is coming, and they all, including the mother, frantically collude to hide something. Eventually the father's will to dominate his family, and his families will to resist reaches a head. This only is available on video.
Insomnia 5 July
A Norwegian film, set far above the Arctic Circle during midsummer. A detective flies in to solve a brutal murder. We see him struggling with both the demands of the case and his insomnia from the constant daylight. I didn't know how the film was going to end, which is a big plus in my book. That plus some sly humour, plot twists, and wonderfully bleak landscape made this DVD a joy. Not many extras though.
Hamlet 5 July
This is the 2000 version, set in New York, in the Elsinore Hotel, where the Denmark Corporation is run. The performance is totally flat, and is missing substantial parts of the text. Don' t bother renting it.
Chunhyang 2 July
I loved the visual appeal, but hated the soundtrack. I ended up watching most of the movie with the mute button on. While I generally like foreign films, and mostly like the story here, the voice-over narration by the performer drove me crazy. That doesn't mean it was bad; the audience watching the singer telling the story is clearly enraptured. But it wasn't for me. However, the settings and the costumes make up for it. There's scarcely a frame on the DVD that you couldn't leave on screen as art.
Reign of Fire 1 July
I'm almost ashamed to say that I've watched it, the movie was that terrible. A stupid plot even by Hollywood standards, bad acting, and poor effects add up to a waste of time.
Mary Poppins 30
June Every now and then I like to revisit movies I haven't seen in a long time. Disney commercials aside, it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. The extras are a great look back to the early 60's, complete with breathless newsreel announcers. Plus, who can go wrong watching a very young, but completely assured Julie Andrews, and Dick Van Dycke at the top of his form?
Treasure Planet 30
Visual eye candy makes up for the absurd physics, although just barely. I loved the shot that starts with a cresent moon and moves in to a complex world, to a spaceport dock. That was worth the price of rental by itself.
Vatel 22 June
Beautiful costumes and settings in 17th Century France totally overshadow the story.
About a Boy 22 June
For some reason I had it in mind that I wouldn't like this movie. To support this, there are parts that are excruciating to watch, unless you LIKE "Killing me Softly" sung by someone who can't sing. Against this are inspired casting, a somewhat interesting story, and watching Hugh Grant living every bachelor's dream life.
Two Weeks Notice 15 June
A competently done romantic comedy with some pretty good lines. But it's more about New York than the nominal stars.
Equilibrium 31 May
This is a Hollywood attempt to cross an action thriller with a plot, and like most Hollywood movies, fails miserably. Gun-kata? I've never heard of anything so stupid. The plot exists to state the homily, again, again, and again. Boring.
K-19 23 May
I rented this movie because a buddy of mine worked on the interior sets, and another worked on some of the electronics. We know now that almost everything produced by Soviet Union was a hazard to all around it, so it's no surprised that their first nuclear powered submarine had some major problems. The movie has been Hollywood-ized, of course, most particularly in the breathless voice-over for the trailer and some of the features. Another of the Hollywood-isms was the character's belief that the failure of the submarine reactor would set off a thermonuclear explosion, when they would certainly have known otherwise. It's an ok thriller, mainly watchable for the interplay between the two captains.
Bais-Moi 23 May
A French Thelma and Louis, only much more violent and graphic. The warnings on the DVD label are not kidding.
Fantasia 2000 21 May
It was much too cute for it's own good. The problem with the concept is that everybody thinks about different things when listening to music. Even the same person thinks different thoughts each time they hear the same piece of music. The people that introduced the different segments totally destroyed whatever mood had been built up. It might keep children amused, but not an adult.
Italian for Beginners 21 May
A lot of people died in what is supposed to be a comedy. Maybe the Danes have a different sense of humour. None the less, I enjoyed this three cornered romance, for that's what I think it is. It had real people dealing with real situations without any artificial stupidity to prolong an inadequate plot that Hollywood insists on.
Waking Ned Devine 18 May
A delightful light-hearted comedy. I love foreign films because you'll see a different approach to the world, and to film making, than what Hollywood would show us. One small example is seeing a child of maybe 12 smoking a cigar in a bar, and being handed drinks in a grown up way, although we don't see him drinking. Some would say it's wrong for the child to be doing this, and even more wrong for it to be portrayed in a movie, but in some parts of the world, that's life. I'm tired of the same old Hollywood pap.
The Matrix Reloaded 17 May
This could have been a much shorter, much better movie. There was too much dialogue that didn't take the plot anywhere, and much too much of the crowd scene in Zion. Once the action starts it's pretty good, but we've seen it all before; this is just variations on a theme. Really, this is DVD fare, not movie theatre fare.
The Man from Elysian Fields 4 May
I didn't like the Garcia character for being such a wimp. He might have saved his relationship with his wife by telling the truth about the results of his second book. By not telling her he's demonstrating that he doesn't trust her with the truth. He thinks he's doing the right thing, providing for his family, and trying to shelter her, but like everything else he does in the movie, he's wrong. Coburn and Jagger are perfect in their roles. The movie is worth watching just for them, in spite of the Garcia character. The extra interviews are terrible.
The Transporter 4 May
The whole movie is one long, involved chase scene. An ingenious chase scene in places, but still and all, just a chase scene. No plot to speak of, no characters to be interested in, not even witty dialogue.
Secretary 21 April
A very odd love story. Some people will be offended, and some will be turned on, but that isn't the point of the film. The point is the emotional relationship between the two people. They each have needs the other can meet. The office has an amazing decor; the lawyer must charge high fees to be able to afford it, since he seems to be working alone.
Roger Rabbit 20 April
This movie first came out in 1988, and everyone was astonished at the interaction between the toons and the humans. Well, the astonishment still stands up. Even seeing the extras that explain how it was done doesn't diminish the pleasure of watching the effects. There are a ton of extras on the DVD. If you're a fan of animation you'll want to own this.
Monster's Ball 13 April
I was so happy that they didn't put a forced happy ending on this movie. Both main characters still have a lot to deal with, and may not get through it in one piece. I left the movie thinking that the only thing that is holding the relationship together is the Billy-Bob's character's basic decency towards the Halle character. If she can learn to trust him, they may be ok, but there is some tough sledding ahead. It's dark, and quiet, and moves along slowly, so it will probably annoy some people, but that's ok. Let them have the mainstream Hollywood trash. I'm just glad someone is making interesting films. I could actually see myself talking about this film in the same way I talk about books to fellow book club members.
Roger Dodger 12 April
Different, quirky, and off-beat. I was looking for something different and found it. I liked listening to the dialogue and watching Roger get shot down in flames. To make up one of his rambling thoughts as he thinks he is trying to talk his way into sex, "I can see Roger gradually drinking more and more, losing one job after the next, in a long free fall till he hits bottom, wasting his life, annoying those around him, and not getting laid even when he does pay for it."
Titanic 12 April
At last we broke down and rented the DVD. We've put it off almost six year since the movie hype and pathos put me off. All things considered, it wasn't as bad as I feared. The effects were neat, especially the cuts between the Titanic of today and the Titanic of yesteryear. Leo and Kate are too cute for words, but I only gagged a few times. I did get very tired of them wading through varying depths of water only to be confronted by a grill preventing escape. There isn't any extra's on the DVD, and I'd have cheerfully cut a half hour from the movie to make space for a "making of" featurette.

Mansfield Park 5 April
I haven't read the book so I can't compare the book to the movie. As a romance movie it works well enough, if a little forced by plot conventions at a couple points. It's a darker tale than other recently made Austin movies. Modern audiences might not understand how difficult it was for Fanny to say no to her uncle after he approved a suitor's proposal.
Bollywood / Hollywood 4 April
Cheerful, predictable fun. Lots of singing and dancing, colourful clothing, with some family complications to spice things up.
The Salton Sea 30 March
We ended up seeing this with our friends Gord and Gail at our place after other plans fell through. It's one of those movies that start at the ending, and spend most of the movie as a flashback to tell the story. There are some uncomfortable scenes involving drugs and drug culture, but the story of a guy in the middle playing both ends against each other is well worth it.
Ran 24 March
Kurosawa filmed at least part of this movie near Calgary, and I knew some of the extras. They had their own stories of their various trials and tribulations, but they are nothing compared to what the old Lord goes through. He makes a foolish mistake in thinking he can delegate authority and leadership, yet retain his position of respect. Things go predictably enough, with him descending into a stylized madness and his children going to war. We saw this in the theatre with friends at first release. We all walked out totally stunned. The movie on DVD is still stunning, though I remember the colours as being more vivid in the theatre.
Man Woman, Eat Drink 23 March
The family life of an aging master chef is almost incidental to the food that he prepares. Yet the two are tied together, in a subtle, circular way. A wonderful movie to watch, both for the food, and to see what will happen to the family.
Dinotopia 23 March
Much, much too long. Badly scripted. Poor plot construction even by Hollywood's low standards. Uneven special effects. Useful only for keeping young kids out of your hair for several hours.
Hidden Fortress March 16
Another of Kurosawa's masterpieces. Watching the two greedy peasants trying steal more gold than they can carry, and trying to prevent anyone else from having any, all while having no control over the situation they find themselves in is funny and sad at the same time.
The Tuxedo 14 March
Disappointed! Very disappointed! Tame stunts and lackluster fight sequences turn what little action there is over to the suit robs the movie of any comedic value.

Heartbreakers 14 March
I like elegant movies about con men carrying out elaborate swindles. I'm fine with a pair of con women, but as long cons go, theirs is pretty pathetic. Even the short cons are laughable; I'm surprised something so crude would work. The main story is whether Paige will stick to the blow-off or will stay with the mark. Given that it's a Hollywood movie the ending is pretty easy to predict.

Trainspotting 9 March
Anybody that argues that this movie is pro-drugs, or anti-drugs is missing the whole point. Drugs just are, and the people in the thrall of drugs are living in a different world than the rest of us. They will do anything for that next fix. Their common addiction brings drug users together more than anything else sets them apart. A difficult movie to watch at times, but funny in places.

Yojimbo 9 March
I saw a poor print of this back in the early 80's, and hadn't seen it since. The DVD we saw has been cleaned up, though there are still some film-ish artifacts. The subtitles are clear, and are placed in the black letterbox portion of the screen, at least on our TV. I'm not sure where they appear on a full widescreen TV.

This is one of the best films by one of the best and most influential directors in movie history. Through movies like Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress, and Seven Samurai, Kurosawa created the archetype for movies as varied as A Fistful of Dollars, Star Wars, and The Magnificent Seven, to say nothing of a host of lesser spin-offs. Two generations of directors have used Kurosawa for inspiration. The spin-offs might be more accessible to modern or younger audiences, but see Kurosawa to watch the subtlety of a master at work.

The Tailor of Panama 8 March
We had seen a trailer for this a long time ago on another DVD, and what with one thing and another had never rented it until now. It was fun watching all the lies escalating from person to person, and seeing how the stories changed. The US military and the ambassador were a lot more credulous than I would have believed possible. Excellent performances from the lead actors.

Ordinary Decent Criminal 1 March
A reasonably clever caper movie. It was a little thick on the self justification, and presented cops as much stupider than I think they'd be. Given the ending, I'm not going to be surprised to see a sequel.

8 Women 1 March
I had seen the trailer and was charmed. However, the move didn't live up to my expectations. It wasn't as clever and witty as I had hoped. The plot twists were interesting, but the conclusion was unsatisfying. Perhaps if you had followed the careers of the various actresses you'd get more out of it than I did.

Casablanca 16 Feb
What can I say about one of the all time great screen classics that hasn't already been said? Most movies are simply movies and one doesn't appreciate them until you see a truly terrible one. Some movies are art, in that you forget you are watching a movie. These kind of movies can be watched again and again, with the viewer getting more out of them each time. Lastly, some few movies are Art, with a capital A. They become part of the human experience, part of our common cultural reference. Just as everyone has seen at least a print of the Mona Lisa, people are assumed to have seen Casablanca. In the nearly 60 years since it was released, nobody has dared do a remake, and rightly so. We just bought this on DVD and enjoyed watching it again, even though I've seen it in the theatre several times, and have rented it on video. The print is superb, showing the mastery of shadow and texture that the movie-makers of the day had. The DVD includes the "You must Remember This" feature, and trailers for many of Bogart's most popular movies.

Dead Again 9 Feb
It all makes sense in the end, and the voyage getting there is wonderful. Well filmed, interesting plot twists. Even though it comes out the way you expect, the route there isn't what you expect.

Jumanji 9 Feb
Lots of fun for adults, but this isn't a kids movie. The carnivorous plant would have given me nightmares when I was a kid. Good special effects and a ton of extras on the DVD.

Chicago 1 Feb
We went to see this in the theatre with friends, and it turned out that 3 out of 4 liked it. The person who didn't like it found the constant cuts during the dance sequences distracting. I found it to be part of the performance, and enjoyed watching the overall choreography. The dance sequences are colourful, flashy, well done, and fun to watch. The rest of the show is almost an insult to the intelligence, but then, it wasn't designed as a courtroom drama. I found the combination of Gere, who is too pretty, and Zellweger, who isn't pretty enough, left me cold. We might rent it again, but probably won't buy it.

Who is Cletis Tout? 17 Jan
It's a little bit contrived, well, OK, I admit it, a lot contrived. Still, it's fun, and you don't know how it's going to come out till it does. I was expecting a slicker con, but wasn't disappointed. There are enough movie plot clichés that it flirts with disaster, but never quite flipped over into tedium for me. There are no extras on the DVD.

The Good Girl 17 Jan
Aniston spends much of the movie with a distant look, and tries to escape her tedious life with a desperate affair. The affair goes from bad to worse, with her looking like she is beginning to wish she had never got involved with the psychopathic kid. Everybody does their jobs well enough, and the movie is well enough made, but it's essentially a one note movie, and except for the gag clips on the DVD, it's a bit of a downer.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension 17 Jan
We saw this when it first came out in 1984, and loved it's breezy style. There is no plot, of course, it's almost stream of consciousness storytelling. The DVD has finally come out. To my surprise, the breezy style is still there, and it's just as much fun as it ever was. On top of that, there are a ton of extras.

Notting Hill 17 Jan
I hope you'll pardon me if I break out into a rant. This movie is a perfect example a DHM (Dreadful Hollywood Movie). I didn't buy it, not any of it. At last I understand why actors get paid so much money; I couldn't deliver a line like "I'm just a girl..." for love nor money, let alone keep a straight face while doing it, and I don't even want to think about respecting myself afterward. In some places the movie was actually painful to watch, unless you like watching people embarrassing themselves. I could have believed a brief fling between a famous person and a nobody, but marriage, especially after the ordeal they went through to get there? Nope, not here, not today, try next door. The only character I liked (and I normally like watching Hugh Grant (I still remember his eyes coming out of the elevator in whatsernose's Diary))(and most people don't mind watching Julia Roberts even if she does walk oddly) was Gina McKee, the woman in the wheelchair.

Tea with Mussolini 12 Jan
A graceful movie about how people cope when taken over by large events. Some refuse to believe what is happening until it is rubbed in their face, others go along and try to make the best of it, while others fight against the changes. It's a pleasure to watch such fine actors as Judi Dench, Cher, Maggie Smith and others work together.

Monsoon Wedding 12 Jan
We really enjoyed watching this, even though we still aren't quite sure who all the people are. It's a little confusing being dropped into the middle of a large wedding and figuring out on the fly who is who and what is happening, and there's lots happening. There's lots of languages too, a mixture of English, Hindi, and Punjabi. There are subtitles where necessary, but not always, and somehow you still understand what is being said. One thing that surprised me a little is how like us those people are, and how likable they are. Well, except for one character.

Moulin Rouge 11 Jan
The love story was funny, and totally over the top. I all but laughed out loud as Satine was dying. I'm fairly sure that wasn't the intent. We won't go into tuberculosis here, but I'm pretty sure that people don't go from loud singing to dying in the space of a few minutes. The visuals are a treat, though, and worth the price of rental. Love story histrionics aside, Kidman is wonderful as Satine. I simply loved the tango sequence. Somehow I had never thought of "Roxanne" as a tango. The other song and dance numbers are well done, with tremendous energy. The plot machinations to develop the love story are acceptable froth. We didn't have time to explore all the extras on the DVD, so we'll probably rent this again sometime.

Buffalo 66 11 Jan
This is a very, very strange movie that's all about Vincent Gallo. Our friends picked this one for a movie night. I guess it's more about a journey of how he got to where he is, rather than about where he's going. I didn't understand any of the people in the movie nor why someone would make such a movie. I particularly didn't understand the Ricci character, and why she didn't flee when she had the chance. The storyline is that she fell in love, but I don't buy it.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil 10 Jan
I haven't read the book yet, so I can't compare the movie to the book. As a movie it was OK, but I spent a lot of time wondering if there was more of an explanation for what we were seeing, or if it was just part of the overall weirdness. The time the attorney takes the voodoo relic out of his pocket in the courtroom. What was that about? If it was some charm to help him win, you'd think he'd want to keep it a secret. If it was planted on him (how, when) to make him lose, you'd think he'd make more of a production of it. Almost all the extras are static images. Another for example, when the Lady Chablis crashes the debutante party. The people there have to know who she is, and how did she get in, in the first place?

Tango 5 Jan (movie of 2003 so far!)
Brilliant! Stunning Tango dance sequences mixed in with a love story, and the history of both Tango and Argentina, against a unique story told in coloured lights and backdrops. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, and will be going through some of the Tango sequences with the DVD on super slow motion. I've never seen anything like it. My only nit is that turning off the director's commentary is tricky. You have to turn on the Spanish language track, then turn on the English subtitles. Ignore the turn commentary on off control. The commentary is fascinating, and helps understand the film, but I wanted to listen to more of the music for the first viewing. On second viewing I heard the music and dialogue, and loved it. I even managed to find the soundtrack at the library. It's filled with great Tango music, some of which isn't on the film, and some of what's on the film isn't on the soundtrack.

Heist 4 Jan
We enjoyed this. It's a solidly built robbery and con man movie that keeps you guessing until the end. I was never sure if what appears to be holes in the plot are simply forks in the elaborate plan. There aren't many extras on the DVD.

The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course 4 Jan
I had seen only snatches of the television show, and didn't think much of that. There were too many exclamation marks for my taste, and the same is true of the movie. However, the movie surprised me by being better than expected, but what I really liked was the extras on the DVD. There is all kinds of information about the filming and rehearsals, and I just love that kind of stuff.

Pride and Prejudice 1 Jan
This is the one with Colin Firth. A beautiful production, full of costumes both lavish and appropriate. I was astonished that the younger sisters would be allowed to behave as such little trollops out in public. You'd think they would have been repressed long since. The camera spends a long time on Elizabeth's face, and it's a very handsome face, especially her expressive eyes and eyebrows. One could be fooled into thinking that she's prim, but we cheered when she laced into Lady Katharine. It's long, but never boring.

XXX 1 Jan
This is essentially a Bond movie for people who can't follow the complicated plot of a Bond movie. Anybody that likes explosions as a backdrop for dirt bike acrobatics is going to love it. I thought I was in the mood for cheerful, mindless violence, but it was a little more mindless than I had thought. There are lots of extras on the DVD.

2002 reviews


Miscellaneous

Robbie Burns Supper and Dance, hosted by the University of Calgary Pipe & Drum Band, and the Highland Dance Club. 18 Jan

Any Scottish blood in me is so far back that it's pointless to count generations, yet the sound of the pipes resonates within me. It isn't just the volume, though 10 pipers and 6 drummers in a small room will be loud, it's the sound, and the insistent beat. There's nothing on earth like the sound of the pipes, and you'll either love them or hate them.

We were surrounded by about 200 lovers of haggis and bagpipes last Saturday, in celebration of Robbie Burns's birthday. A wonderful time was had by all at this 3rd of an annual dinner. The Pipe and Drum band put on a great show, showing the talent that has them placing respectably in competition with other bands that are much older. I'm informed that the pipes were in good tune and that we got a good performance. I'm very impressed.

The food was good, and well served. Four couples attended from Skystone; we spent part of Monday telling people what they missed. We're planning to attend this dinner next year and hope to see you there.

2002 reviews