Sunday, May 31, 2009

Before Sunset (2004)

This is an okay movie. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) has written a bestselling book about his life and is now visiting Paris where the story takes place. He is questioned by journalists who are trying to determine if the events really happened. After he finishes signing his autograph, he leaves the bookstore with a woman (Julie Delpy) he met several years before. The pair walk the streets of Paris and discuss the events of the past nine years, while Jesse struggles over whether to abandon his current life in order to rekindle the fling.

This is the sequel to the film Before Sunrise (1995). The film was shot with the Steadicam and the longest scene was 11 minutes. The events in the story unfold in real time at about the same length as the film. The sequel was done nine years after the first film, which is the amount of time that elapses in the story. Hawke was going through a divorce with Uma Thurman during filming. The bookstore at the beginning of the film is Shakespeare and Company in Paris's Left Bank.

Friday, May 22, 2009

25th Hour (2002)

This is an okay movie. Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is given 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to prison for seven years. In his last day on the outside, Monty tries to reconnect with his father who's never given up on him, and gets together with his two closest friends from the old days, Jakob (Philip S. Hoffman) and Frank. Also in the mix is his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), who might have been the one who tipped off the cops to his stash of money.

I find it unlikely that he could walk away after a felony and not be found by the police. The film was directed by Spike Lee. The story is based on the 2002 novel by David Benioff. At the time of release Anna Paquin was 20 and Rosario Dawson was 23. The Tribute in Light ran temporarily from March 11 to April 14, 2002, and has since been turned on to honor each anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Hustler (1961)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is an arrogant pool hustler, who’ll strip anyone of their money in a pool game. Facing off against the legendary champion Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), he knows it’s all on the line. At the local bus terminal, Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic who attends college classes twice each week, and he moves in with her.

A hustler is someone who disguises their pool skills in order to lure someone into making an unfair bet. The film is based on the 1959 novel by Walter Tevis. The three words Sarah writes on the bathroom mirror with lipstick are: perverted, twisted, and crippled, referring to the people Eddie associates with and specifically the one who abused her. Much of the action was filmed at two now-defunct pool halls, McGirr's and Ames Billiard Academy in New York City.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let the Circle Be Unbroken

I liked this book written by Mildred D. Taylor. Life in the South during the 1940s was turbulent and frightening for black landowners like the Logans. For young Cassie it was a time of growth, discovery and some very hard lessons about what it meant to be black in Mississippi. Her friend T.J. goes on trial for a murder he did not commit, confronting an all-white justice system. And a greedy white landowner tries to gain control of the Logan’s farm. But with strength and perseverance, Cassie and the rest of her family survive even the deepest prejudice.

The book is sad and touches on a serious topic, but it is well done. This is the sequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The book shows how poverty is a hard enough struggle without the extra burdens of racism and socialism. While the poor laborers were struggling to make ends meet the federal government under the New Deal, decided to restrict their crops and raise their taxes. White landowners were able to use a loophole to take some of the money the government intended to give to black farmers. The author was born in 1943 in Jackson, Mississippi.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Waterboy (1998)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Just an oddball mama’s boy from the back bayous of Louisiana, Bobby Boucher (Adam Sandler) never wanted anything more than to quench the thirst of the dehydrated football players, even though they treat him like dirt. But when Coach Klein tells him to stand up for himself, it unleashes a torrent of pent-up frustration and exposes his talent for tackling.

Sandler co-produced and co-wrote the film. This became his second $100 million film in a year, along with The Wedding Singer and helped him to become a recognized actor. Sandler's character is portrayed as a stereotypical cajun from the swamps of south Louisiana. The NCAA had been restrictive to home schooled students wanting to play collegiate sports, but they changed their policies in 2004 to make it easier to qualify. The movie was shot in Florida.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Champion boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) has decided to reverse his decision on a bribe. Honey Bunny and Pumpkin (Tim Roth) are a young couple and small time thieves who decide they need a change of venue. Meanwhile, two career criminals, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), go about their daily business of shooting up other crooks who are late on payments to their boss.

The plot, in keeping with most of Tarantino's other works, is presented out of chronological sequence. The film's title refers to the pulp magazines and hardboiled crime novels popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and pithy dialogue. The film revitalized the career of its leading man, John Travolta. In most markets unfamiliar with imperial measurements, the Quarter Pounder is known as the Hamburger Royale or McRoyal, in France it is officially called a Royal Cheese.

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

This is an okay book written by Nancy Farmer. In 2194, Zimbabwe’s General Matsika’s children sneak out of the house in the hopes of going on a scout trip, but they are soon kidnapped. They are taken by a dangerous gang that uses them for slave labor and eventually hopes to sell the children. The general hires three unusual detectives with superhuman abilities to find his children.

The story combines African folklore about ancestral spirits with futuristic technology. In the book there is a mile high hotel with a glass elevator. Currently the tallest structure is the Dubai Tower in the United Arab Emirates. The building is scheduled to be opened in September and is about ½ mile in height.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Chinese Connection (1972)

This is a moderate Hong Kong movie. After his martial arts instructor’s mysterious death, kung fu master Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) seeks out the perpetrators to find out what happened and to get revenge.

The film is also known as Fist of Fury. The story is loosely based on the Chin Woo Athletic Association. Huo Yuanjia (1868-1910) was a Chinese martial artist known for challenging foreign fighters in highly publicized matches. He died at age 42 from arsenic poisoning. This film is one of the main reasons behind the shift in Hong Kong cinema from swordplay to empty-handed fighting. Japanese martial artists are shown wearing their hakama (skirts) backwards.

The Protector (2005)

This is a moderate Thai movie. Kham's (Tony Jaa) life is turned upside down when an international mafia syndicate, based in Australia, shoots his father and captures their two beloved elephants. The animals were being prepared to be presented as a token of devotion to the King of Thailand. The only way Kham can possibly save the animals is by venturing into a foreign land for the first time. With the help of a Thai police Sergeant based in Australia, he takes on the ruthless gang of Madame Rose.

The movie case mentions Quentin Tarantino, but he did not direct, produce, or write the film. Madame Rose is a transsexual in the original story and so is the actor who plays her. Nathan Jones is a professional Australian wrestler. A body double portrays Jackie Chan in the Sydney airport. There is product placement in the film for M-150 energy drink. The fighting style shown in the movie is known as Muay Thai (Thai Boxing). This is the most successful Thai film released in the US.

The Time Machine (2002)

This is a solid movie. In 1899 Professor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) loses his fiancée in a park when a robber shoots her. Afterwards he spends his time in seclusion trying to build a time machine in order to save her. After the device is built, he realizes he cannot change the outcome and decides to go into the future. His final destination is 800,000 year later, when the human race has evolved into two separate species.

It is fascinating to imagine what the future will hold. The reason he wasn’t able to save Emma is because her death led him to build the time machine. It is based on the 1895 novel by H.G. Wells and is a remake of the 1960 film starring Rod Taylor. This film was directed by Simon Wells, who is the great-grandson of the original author. The location, romantic back story, and artificial librarian were new additions not in the novel.

Fair Weather

I did not like this book written by Richard Peck. In 1893, three siblings in rural Illinois are invited by their wealthy aunt to travel by train into Chicago to see the World’s Columbian Exposition. The children’s grandfather surprises them by sneaking onto the train. The family is exposed to a vastly different lifestyle than they are used to and they experience several adventures.

The book combines a fictional family with historical figures and events. The fair had the first Ferris Wheel and it was 264 feet in height and could carry 2,160 people. Buffalo Bill was a soldier, bison hunter, and showman, mostly famous for his Wild West show. He pushed for the rights of American Indians and women. In addition, he supported Bison conservation. Cody, Wyoming, is named for him.

Lillian Russell was an American actress and singer. She became one of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Potter Palmer founded a dry goods store on Lake Street in Chicago in 1852 called Potter Palmer and Company. He instituted a "no questions asked" returns policy. He built a castle on Lake Shore Drive in 1885 near Lake Michigan.

The "Rough Riders" was a group of 125,000 army volunteers raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War. Marshall Field was founder of Marshall Field and Company, the Chicago-based department stores.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Soloist (2009)

This is a solid movie based on a true story. Journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a classical music prodigy who dropped out of Julliard, playing his violin on the streets of L.A. As Lopez endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives. The musician suffers from mental illness and the journalist struggles with how to help him cope.

The film hints that newspapers are fading because they place too much emphasis on human-interest stories and don't focus enough on deeper societal issues such as poverty and neglect. The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation was started in 2008 with an aim to support artistically gifted people with mental illness. Ayers was one of the few black students at Juilliard when he attended and was later institutionalized due to a breakdown. The movie features a statue erected in the memory of William Andrews Clark, Jr., the founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and son of a senator.

Men In Black (1997)

This is a solid movie. New York City is being threatened by a giant villainous alien cockroach that has inhabited the body of a farmer. Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are sent on a mission to exterminate this bug and locate a marble sized galaxy. They use a pen shaped object called a Neuralyzer that erases memories and allows the MIB to maintain their secrecy.

The aliens that threaten to destroy the earth are part of the same species as the diamond merchant. The film is based on the comic book series written by Lowell Cunningham in 1990 and 1991. It was followed by a sequel, Men in Black II, in 2002, and an animated series, which aired on the Kids' WB channel from 1997 through 2001. Stephen Spielberg was the executive producer. Danny Elfman composed the score for the film.

Memento (2000)

This is an okay movie. Leonard (Guy Pearse) suffers from a rare brain disorder, the inability to form any new memories. He can remember in detail everything that happened before his injury, but anyone he has met or anything he has done since that fateful night, simply vanishes. His wife was killed and he was attacked when two robbers broke into their house. Now he must use notes and routine to keep track of everything he must do while he searches for the killers, but he isn’t sure who to trust.

The director based the movie on his brother's short story Memento Mori. The black and white scenes are told in chronological order, while the color sequences are in reverse order. The Travel Inn in Tujunga, California, was repainted and used as Leonard's and Dodd's motel rooms. The two-disk limited edition has a hidden feature that allows you to watch the film in chronological order. There is a quiz on the DVD showing four images of a woman changing a flat tire and you must put them in reverse order.