Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Five Obstructions (2003)

This is a moderate Danish movie. Film director Jorgen Leth made a 13-minute black-and-white film in 1967 called The Perfect Human, depicting a man and a woman with commentary by a narrator. Now his colleague Lars Von Trier challenges him to remake the short film five different times using specific rules about what he can do.

Normally, 24 frames are needed for one second of film. Computer programmer Bob Sabiston also helped with the animation for the 2006 film A Scanner Darkly.

Ava’s Man

This is an okay book written by Rick Bragg. The author never knew his grandfather, but through research and family stories he was able to gather information about his life. During the Great Depression, along a small strip of land on the Georgia-Alabama border, Charlie Bundrum moved his family 21 times. To keep them alive and out of poverty’s clutches, he worked any menial job available. He was a musician and an adept barterer, and his love of life was undeniable. When he died, he left a legend behind.

The book does a good job of describing the poverty of the depression and it makes me wonder about the lives of my own ancestors.

Ruby Holler

This is an okay book written by Sharon Creech. 13-year-old fraternal twins, Dallas and Florida, are planning to escape from the orphanage where they have lived all of their life. They meet Tiller and Sairy, an eccentric elderly couple looking for one last adventure while they are still spry. They take the twins to Ruby Holler, their home in a lush, green valley. The novel won the 2002 Carnegie Medal.


This is an okay book written by Avi. In Dimwood Forest, all the mice know that moving beyond Grey House requires the permission of the great horned owl, Mr. Ocax. No one but he can guarantee protection against the dangers lurking in the forest. But Poppy is a curious girl mouse, and a little foolish. When she goes with her boyfriend to Bannock Hill for privacy in the moonlight, she soon must face the great owl, and the outcome will affect her whole family.

The Best School Year Ever

This is an okay book written by Barbara Robinson. At Woodrow Wilson Elementary School everyone knows that the six Herdman siblings are a disaster – they smoke, they steal, and they terrorize the other kids. So when the fourth grade assignment for the year is to write compliments for each student in class, Beth struggles to find something good to say about Imogene Herdman.

Horse Heaven

This is an okay book written by Jane Smiley. Leo is a gambler with an incredible and intricate betting system. He and several other people and horses struggle through two years in the life of horse racing. Rich magnates rub elbows with stable managers trying to make ends meet. Trainers and jockeys balance the precarious demands of owners and horses. The horses are put through strict training and races that put strains on their bodies.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Election (1999)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is an ambitious high school student involved in numerous extracurricular activities. Since she doesn’t have time for a social life, she ends up in an affair with her married math teacher, causing him to be fired. Now she plans to run unopposed for class president. History teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is worried that once she wins, he will become susceptible to her wiles. He convinces a former football player to compete for the role.

The film is based on the 1998 novel by Tom Perrotta. The Celestine Prophecy is a 1993 novel by James Redfield which explores spiritual ideas based on ancient Eastern and New Age concepts. Over 20 million copies have been sold. The plot involves a manuscript written in 600 BC in the jungles of Peru in the Aramaic language. In the Spanish class near the end of the film, they are conjugating the verb perder, which means "to lose." There were not enough extras to fill the gym, so some are duplicated.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. In 1949, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) works in the barbershop owned by his in-laws in a small California town. His wife (Frances McDormand) is a bookkeeper and an alcoholic, having an affair with her department store boss, Big Dave. An investor comes into the barbershop and convinces Ed to help him start a dry cleaning business. Ed blackmails Dave and takes $10,000 from him. Dave tracks down the investor for information about the deal and then confronts Ed.

The film was shot in color and then transferred to black and white. The soundtrack includes music by Beethoven. The story is heavily based on the works by crime fiction writer James Cain and the 1942 philosophical novel The Stranger by Albert Camus. The uncertainty principle was created by German physicist Werner Heisenberg and it states that the position and momentum of a particle cannot both be known simultaneously with absolute certainty, because the more you know about one the less you can know about the other.

The Time Machine

I did not like this book written by H.G. Wells. An English inventor has built a time machine and decides to test it out. He arrives in the year 802,701 and discovers that humans have evolved into two separate species. The Eloi are small, childlike people who live in fear of underground creatures known as Morlocks that hunt at night and are more intelligent. He later jumps to 30 million years later and sees that life on Earth is starting to die off.

The book was published in 1895 and popularized ideas about a machine that would allow a time traveler to pick which time period to arrive in and also ideas about a dying Earth. The book is based on the Block Theory of the Universe, about time being another physical dimension. The book will not be included in the public domain of the European Union until 2017.

The War of the Worlds

This is an okay book written by H.G. Wells. A scientist is at an observatory and witnesses an explosion on Mars. Later a space object crashes near his home. Some octopus-like aliens step out, but seem to struggle in Earth's environment and go back into their vehicle. When people try to inspect the vessel they are shot by a heat-ray weapon. The scientist takes his wife to stay with some relatives. The Martians release three-legged robots that shoot out a heat-ray and a chemical substance.

The book was published in 1898 and is the first story about an alien attack. Scientists in the mid 1890s thought there might be intelligent life on Mars.


This is an okay book written by Robert L. Stevenson. In 1751, 18-year-old David Balfour is cheated out of his inheritance by his malicious uncle Ebenezer, who also has him kidnapped and put on a ship bound for the Carolinas. After a few days journey, the ship hits a small boat during the fog and only one man is rescued from the small vessel. His name is Alan Breck, a Scotsman returning from political exile in France who has been accused of murder.

The story was first published in 1886 and there is a sequel called Catriona. The book is a historical fiction and many of the characters are based on real people. On May 14, 1752, a sniper shot government worker Colin Ray Campbell, but was never caught. James Stewart was falsely accused of the crime and hanged. The Jacobite Risings were a series of rebellions and battles from 1688 to 1746 intended to reinstate James II of England, or his descendants, to the throne. The rest of the story is possibly based on James Annesley, who was the presumptive heir to an aristocratic title, but was held captive by his uncle for 13 years.


This is an okay book written by Dick Francis. When an accident disables Neil Grifton’s father, Neil takes charge of his father’s racing stables that is financially in poor shape. Late one night two goons catch Neil alone. They beat him up for their boss, who wants one of Neil’s horses, Archangel, a sure winner at the upcoming derby.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Being John Malkovich (1999)

This is an okay movie. Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a gifted street puppeteer, but is unable to find a job with his skill. He lives with his animal obsessed wife (Cameron Diaz) and her many pets. In order to earn a living he takes a job as a filing clerk. The company is on the 7 ½ floor and the ceilings are only about 5 feet high. Behind one of the filing cabinets, he discovers a portal that allows anyone to go inside the mind of John Malkovich for 15 minutes and then fall onto the New Jersey turnpike.

Malkovich had previously acted in The Man in the Iron Mask, Con Air, In the Line of Fire, Dangerous Liaisons and several other films. He is 12 years older than Cusack. The New Jersey Turnpike is the nation's fifth busiest toll road. Director Spike Jonze was married to Sofia Coppola at the time.

The Hurt Locker (2009)

This is a solid movie. In the summer of 2004, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is part of a Bravo Company team during the Iraq War that is tasked with dismantling or neutralizing homemade bombs, known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). After one of their members is killed, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) takes over the group. His methods seem reckless, but actually he is the most experienced man for the job. During those tense moments in operation, there is no room for mistakes.

Screenwriter Mark Boal was an embedded journalist. The film was mostly shot in Jordan, near the southern Iraq border. The title refers to injuries from an explosion. The quote in the opening credits comes from the 2002 book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning written by Chris Hedges. Some Iraqi refugees had roles in the film. American soldiers have complained that the film gives a very inaccurate description of how an operation is performed.

The Dream Team (1989)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Four mental patients are taken by their doctor on a field trip to a Yankees game, expecting to be gone only five hours. Billy (Michael Keaton) has anger issues and is a pathological liar, Henry (Christopher Lloyd) is compulsive about cleanliness and pretends to be a doctor, Jack (Peter Boyle) claims to be Jesus Christ, and Albert doesn’t speak. When their supervising doctor is mugged and taken by an ambulance, the four crazy men must find out who the perpetrators were and stop them.

Jack claims that Leviticus 5:14 says: “Call not for a doctor, but an elder of the church,” but the actual verse is: “The LORD spoke to Moses.” Philip Rizzuto was a shortstop for the New York Yankees from 1941 to 1956. After retiring, he became an announcer for the team over the next 40 years.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Armored (2009)

This is a solid movie. Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) was recently hired as a security guard for an armored truck company that delivers large sums of money between banks. His teenage brother Jimmy is now living with him after the death of their parents. A social worker threatens to put Jimmy into a foster home unless he stays in school. Ty is worried about losing his house and his brother, and is pressured by his co-workers into faking a robbery. At first he supports the crime, but when it starts to get out of hand, he attempts to thwart the heist.

On January 2, 2010 Sony mistakenly released the movie onto their Playstation video sharing service. This is the first screenplay written by James Simpson. Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal also made the 2007 film Vacancy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Shining (1980)

This is a solid and suspenseful movie. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a teacher, but dreams of being a successful writer. He is offered the chance to be the caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado during the off-season winter. He brings along his wife (Shelley Duvall) and young son (Danny Lloyd) and looks forward to the isolation and time for writing. His son has a psychic gift known as the shining. Jack starts to see ghosts and is slowly driven into a vengeful insanity.

It is based on the 1977 novel by Stephen King. The European release was almost half an hour shorter. In 1997 Stephen King remade the film in a 4 1/2 hour television miniseries starring Steven Weber. The Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon, was used for the exterior shots. The opening scene was shot by a helicopter on the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park in Montana. Every time Jack sees a ghost there is a mirror present. The hedge animals appear in the book, but a maze was used instead for the film.

Extraordinary Measures (2010)

This is a solid movie based on a true story. John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) works for a management consulting firm in San Francisco, with a lucrative health insurance policy. His two youngest children have a rare and deadly muscular disorder known as Pompe disease. He knows they have a short life expectancy and reads about current studies. He meets University of Nebraska researcher Dr. Robert Stonehill who has a new theory about a possible cure. With support from his wife Aileen (Keri Russell), Crowley raises the funds needed to search for a cure.

The movie was filmed in Oregon and Washington and was the first to be released by CBS Films. Genzyme Corporation is the world's third largest biotechnology company. The story is based on the 2006 book, The Cure, written by journalist Geeta Anand. Crowley’s children were actually younger than is shown in the film and they still must use a respirator. The fictional character Robert Stonehill is based on several scientists, but mainly Dr. William Canfield from Oklahoma.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Swan Peak

This is an okay book written by James Lee Burke. Dave Robicheaux has arrived in Montana with his wife Molly and their friend Clete Purcel. One day while fly fishing, Purcel is threatened by two thugs who tell him that he is trespassing on the Wellstone Ranch. The bodies of a college student, who was brutally murdered, and his girlfriend who was raped and killed, are discovered on the property. Dave suspects the property owner is guilty of the crimes, but has trouble getting support from the local police force.

Ten Days in the Hills

I did not like this book written by Jane Smiley. Max is a film director and the morning after the 2003 Academy Awards, he is in bed with his lover Elena. They are ready to start a 10 day vacation and have invited some of their friends and relatives over. The guests include Max's 23-year-old daughter Isabel who is having an affair with his 37-year-old agent, Max's ex-wife with her new boyfriend, Max's childhood friend Charlie, and Elena's 20-year-old son. The group discusses the politics of the Iraq war and their favorite films, while pursuing their romantic partnerships.

The Decameron is a collection of 100 novellas by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, written during the 1350s.

Bringing out the Dead (1999)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is an overworked and depressed paramedic who is tired of all the misery and death he has witnessed. He is haunted by images of a teenage girl he was unable to rescue. One night he is called out to see a man who just had a heart attack. At the hospital, Frank meets and befriends the man’s grieving daughter Mary (Patricia Arquette).

It is based on the 1998 novel by paramedic Joe Connelly. The film was originally released on Laserdisc.

The Godfather Part II (1974)

This is a noteworthy movie. Vito Corleone escaped from Sicily, Italy, when he was a young boy after his family was decimated by a rival mafia. He moved to New York’s Lower East Side and became a successful businessman. Now his son Michael (Al Pacino) is the new head of the family and he moves them to Nevada to make a profit with casinos. Over time his leadership style because increasingly paranoid and malevolent and he kicks his wife out.

The film won six Academy Awards and was the first sequel to win for Best Picture. The film was shot in Technicolor. The Cuba scenes were actually filmed in the Dominican Republic. The Lake Tahoe house belonged to industrialist Henry Kaiser.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sweeney Todd (2007)

This is a moderate movie. Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) was a man unjustly sent to prison by a lecherous judge, who wanted to steal his wife and daughter. Many years later while free again, he takes on a new name and vows revenge for his lost family. He meets Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a meat pie baker, and in the same building he returns to his occupation as a barber, this time using his tools to kill.

The violence and meat pies were really disturbing and I’m surprised the boy was the first to notice that something was amiss. The character of Sweeney Todd first appeared in an 1846 story called "The String of Pearls." There was also a 1936 British film and a 1979 Broadway musical based on the story. Johnny Depp took singing lessons for his role. The film won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. This is only Burton's second film to not include music by composer Danny Elfman.

The Godfather (1972)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. In 1945, Vito Corleone's (Marlon Brando) daughter Connie gets married. His godson asks for help to get an acting job and Vito sends an associate to Hollywood for the request. A rival family asks the Corleones to become partners in their heroin business, but when Vito refuses to support drug trafficking, he is shot six times and nearly dies. After Vito collapses in his vegetable garden and dies, his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) takes charge of the family's business.

It is based on the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo. The film won Academy Awards for best actor, best picture, and best adapted screenplay. Francis Coppola was reluctant to direct the film, because he did not want to glorify the Mafia. Talia Shire (who plays Connie) is his sister and Nicholas Cage is his nephew. This was the first major film role for Al Pacino. A real horse head was used in the scene where Jack Woltz is in bed. When I was watching that scene, I thought they had cut the guy's legs off, but actually they killed his prized racehorse.