Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Yep, it's early, but I'm with the people of London. The blog goes a bit dark now as we leave for our honeymoon in the morning. Take care all!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Roxy update

She's doing better. We're giving her pills. We're (still) giving her fluids. We're giving her Procrit. And we're giving her lots of love. She's on a stronger antibiotic now. With any luck that'll knock out the infection and she'll get better.

1999 in review

Green Mile
Cider House Rules
Sixth Sense
The Insider
American Beauty

(Last one!) Kind of a mixed bag of movies for this year. One great one. One near great one. Two good ones and one that's only fair. Great acting throughout. Interesting stories throughout. American Beauty brought home the Oscar. I rated the Sixth Sense a bit higher, but I've got no problem with the way it went.
The only music that really stood out was from American Beauty. It stood out for being different but not necessarily great.
This was a pretty good year for movies. About a dozen or so that are good enough to be nominated. Some of my choices would be Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, Princess Mononoke and Rushmore.

American Beauty - 1999

"Both my wife and daughter think I'm this chronic loser. And they're right. I have lost something." That's the central insight of this film. The engine that drives it.
Kevin Spacey plays a man who is lost and unhappy in his life. He doesn't respect himself. He doesn't like who his wife has become. He feels alienated from his daughter. And he doesn't know how to change. Until two chance meetings kick him out of his rut.
The first meeting is with his daughter's girlfriend (Mena Suvari). He instantly falls in love with her. The film shows this in a series of fantasies involving rose petals. She's much too young for him (and this subplot is a little creepy). His desire to become attractive to her makes him want to improve himself.
The second meeting is with the new neighbor kid (Wes Bentley). He's incredibly self-assured. And sells pot. This meeting brings back memories of his high school years and triggers him to try and regain his golden years. This involves lifting weights, driving a hot car and working fast food.
There are interesting points of view and wonderful dialogue throughout this movie. The story is well paced and very well told. The music is...different. But not in a bad way. And the acting is very good.
The biggest flaw is the portrayal of the Marine Colonel living next door. He's a caricature of the worst kind of right-wing nightmare that Hollywood can imagine. Right down to sitting at home with his catatonic wife and watching Ronald Regan movies. He's disgusted by gay people and of course that's only because of his own repressed homosexual feelings. I'm guessing one of the deleted scenes has him twisting his moustache and tying women to a railroad track.
I'm conflicted on how to rate this movie. It's very, very well done. But the message is flawed. A very good movie, at least.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Insider - 1999

I liked this movie a bunch better back in '99. Back then I still respected 60 Minutes and the idea of the hero journalist still had some credibility. It's much harder not to take sides in 2005 than it was six years ago.
The movie centers on Al Pacino playing a 60 Minutes producer as he stumbles across a former tabacco industry researcher. Russell Crowe plays the researcher. He's been fired from his position due to a combination of disagreement on research and an inability to control his temper. He thinks that Big Tobacco execs perjured themselves before congress when they testified that they don't think tobacco is addictive. He wants to tell his story but he has signed a confidentiality agreement and can't come forward.
Pacino helps Crowe to come forward. He urges Crowe to follow his consience. He manipulates a law suit in another state as a way to get his testimony on record. He brings security to his home to fend off death threats. He finally gets the interview and then runs into a wall.
CBS corporate is afraid of being sued for 'tortious interference'. The theory is that they have urged Crowe to come forward and break his agreement. CBS would then be liable for damages which could run into the billions. Corporate squashes the piece and what follows is a battle for the integrity of the journalistic effort.
I can't help but think that this movie was rewarded because it stuck it to Big Tobacco. The execs are cartoonish villans. The dramatic highpoints are mostly false alarms thrown in to break the tempo of the story. And the central point is that Tobacco execs lied (big surprise). The threat of 'tortious interference' is specious at best and you'd think the movie would have been happy to fight that fight. But it's hard to attack specious lawsuits and make a movie that's hard on tobacco.
I thought the movie was overrated. Fair at best.

Viking thoughts

And last night the Vikings season ended. Well, they play next Sunday but not for any purpose. Depending, they'll finish either 9-7 or 8-8. Which makes sense. They're an average team. Not bad, but not that good either. Middle of the pack.
Of course, middle of the pack is much better than anyone would have thought when they were 2-5. I'll take it.
The defense has improved quite a bit. And that's important. We've become defense starved up here after a near decade of ineptitude. Let's hope they can build on this for next year.
Speaking of, the number one thing they need to do in the offseason is make sure Ted Cotrell stays on as the defensive coordinator. Number two is to get healthy/add depth to the O-line. Number three is to figure out the QB and running back situations. The team is improving and a good draft could push them over the top. Let's hope that happens.
Tice? Did he redeem himself with this second half? Probably enough for the owner to keep him on. I don't really think he's the answer though.
Maybe next year 10-6.

Other football thoughts: Brett Farve is perhaps the greatest human being in the history of the world. At least you'd think so from the TV announcers. Seriously, has anyone ever had more excuses made for him than Farve? Every interception is the receivers fault. Any poor decision is blamed on the lack of talent around him. It's hard to listen to.
I expect he'll be back for at least one more year. And lead the Packers to a four victory year.

Sixth Sense - 1999

This is a great movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. ***Spoilers ahead*** You can't really discuss the movie without them.
The ending kind of overshadows the rest of the movie and that's kind of a shame. The movie is well written and very very well acted. Most people think of Bruce Willis as kind of a goofy guy that does action movies, but he shows quite a bit of depth in this movie. He plays a child psychologist who is beating himself up over a kid that he couldn't help.
Toni Collette is also very good. She plays the single mother of a troubled boy and she can't figure out why he's troubled or what to do about it. She's in an impossible position and does the best she can. Very good.
But the movie is stolen by Haley Joel Osmont. He gives one of the best performances by a child actor in the history of film. He plays a boy who is haunted. He can see dead people. They come to him at odd times and scare him badly. They don't understand that they're dead and he doesn't know what they want. He's trapped between wanting to avoid them and being afraid of being seen as a freak. It's a very demanding part and he does amazingly well.
This movie is probably (and rightfully) seen as a horror movie. It features dead people, many of them having died horribly. But the directing trandscends the horror genre. It builds tension masterfully. But it also tells it's story quite well. The emotional side is very well put together.
And the payoff is amazing. It got me completely. A great movie.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In related news...

I wish Brooke Burke would stop leaving notes on my car. I'm married, lady. Get over it.

Strange story here. (h/t Volokh Conspiracy)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Quick update

It's really really cold here. -8 degrees this morning. A milder climate would sure be nice...

Roxane seems to have slipped a bit. She's hanging out in strange places. Like the bathroom sink. Or the pantry where the garbage bags live. We've got a theory about what's going on. We just switched to a more kidney friendly cat food and the cats don't seem to care for it. Stopping eating could make her act differently right? We're hoping that hunger gets the best of her and she goes back to her regular ways.

The FP Gal and I went down to Austin over the weekend to celebrate Christmas with my family down there. We got to spend time with my sister and my brother-in-law which was nice. We went to the mall which just about has tumbleweeds blowing down the hallways. Very sad. Good times with the family and Grandma got her traditional last minute gift. Boxing gloves. And she was tickled to get them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hollywood woes

Just ran across this article (h/t Instapundit) and thought it very interesting. It looks at the Golden Globe nominees for 2005 and wonders if they aren't emblematic for Hollywood's well publiczed box office drop off. The list is here and none of them would really appeal to red state America. Not that every movie has to or should of course, but it's been an awfully dark year at the movies, no?
I haven't seen any of these movies and none of them have really jumped out at me. (Well, the acting buzz from Brokeback Mountain might pull me in but that's it.) I'll be surprised if I've seen any of the Oscar nominees either. Most of the serious films of the year have been political thrillers from outspoken Hollywood actors. A film involving Sean Penn and the UN is a complete non-starter for many millions of people.
A few months ago, I ran across this article about Hollywood's down year. It compares 2005 to the last down year, 1985. It contends that it took Schwarznegger and 'Back to the Future' to stem the tide back then. Not sure that's what's needed now but it's an interesting take.
The two most appealing movies of the year (from advertising) were 'Wedding Crashers' and '40 Year Old Virgin'. Both looked like light, fun movies. Neither one will be get awards. But sometimes movies can just be entertainment.

Update: And then I just ran across this one talking about the same thing from a different angle.

A blow for Private property rights

in Mpls. Who'd a thunk it? For the record, I'm a nonsmoker. Never smoked in my life. But I feel strongly that a bar owner should be able to decide whether to allow smokers or not. And that bar patrons can make their own decisions regarding second hand smoke.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Just for the heck of it

is this. And (an important building block in my early relationship with the FP Gal) is this.

Takes courage to wear a red hat

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Movie project

It seems like just a year ago that I started this project. I've only got two movies left and it's been fun. But I can't help but wonder what to do next year. I've got three real choices and I'd like some input from the five or six people that read this blog occasionaly.
One, I can continue the project until I reach the current year. That'd take until August or so. The list can be generated here. We own seven of the 30 films and I've already seen 16 of them.
The second option is to go back another decade and do the 80's. This would mean another year of movies, many of them good. I've seen 15 of the 50 and we own three of them.
The third option is to find something other than movies to write about.

Any thoughts?

Roxane update

She's getting better. We're still giving her fluids and she's fighting us more and more. She still seems weak. She's been given a prescription for Procrit. The FP Gal said that she's seen commercials where this drug causes old people to run on beaches and cancer patients to make pottery. She said we'll have to keep the doors shut and give Roxy access to clay.

Update: Her prescription is for Roxane C. Defor, which means they got one of her names correct. Her middle name is actually an unpronounceable glyph that looks like a tiger eating a chrysanthemum. But that's probably outside the ability of Target to put on a label.

Cider House Rules - 1999

This is the first time I've seen this movie. Good, but not really that great. It's based on the novel by John Irving and it feels cut down. The movie stars Tobey Maguire before he was bitten by a radioactive (er, genetically enhanced) spider. He plays an orphan who was never adopted. Instead he was trained by the resident doctor of the orphanage played by Michael Caine. The two have an ongoing discussion over the morality/necessity of abortion. The orphanage is something of a magnet for wayward girls and the doctor performs abortions regularly.
When Maguire's orphan comes of age, he leaves the orphanage to seek his fortune and see the world. He ends up at an apple orchard where he becomes a picker. His boss Mr Rose (Delroy Lindo) says that this is history referring to himself being the black boss of a white boy. Inside the bunkhouse is a list of rules. Maguire is the only one able to read them. Mr Rose says that the rules weren't written by the people who live in cabin and they're not going to follow them.
The story involves a love story with Maguire and Charlize Theron who sees him as a way to get past loneliness. It also involves incest and a conflicted Maguire performing the abortion.
The acting is quite good between Maguire and Caine. Their interplay is crisp. Especially with an exchange of letters after Maguire leaves. There's also dozens of cute orphans. Anyone who sees this and doesn't want to adopt three of them is heartless.
I puzzled over the title and it's emphasis. This is part of why the movie feels cut down. I think the message must be that rules made by people that don't have to live with them are suspect. The connection with abortion is then made somewhat clear. But the flaw in presentation is pretty obvious. The company policy at my job wasn't written by anyone in my office. But we don't just throw it out the window. Or follow it blindly. The abortion debate is more complex than office policy of course but I'm still far from convinced.
I read somewhere recently that movies from short stories feel stretched. I can't disagree more. 500 page books can't be cut down to two hours without suffering. I can only assume that this movie is an example of this. Good but not great.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

So long, Hurt

The White Sox are parting ways with Frank Thomas. A combination of injuries and age have led the Sox to look elsewhere. From a management standpoint, I can't disagree with them but as a fan it's very sad to see him go. I found this valentine (h/t Baseball Musings). It involves a bit of rebar and I've never heard this story before.
My favorite Frank Thomas story involved a game in August of 1993. It didn't figure big in the standings. It didn't involve late inning heroics. But it was the best game I've ever been to.
It was at the Metrodome, long before the Sox and Twins were rivals. Thomas batted third in the lineup. After two quick outs he came up and hit a long homerun to left center. That made the score 1-0 and that's how the game turned out. The Twins threatened in the middle innings with numerous runners on base but they just couldn't get them in. The differance had been Big Frank.
We can only hope that he lands somewhere nice. There's even the possibility that he'll land here in Minnesota. If he does, I hope he gets better treatment by White Sox fans than AJ has from Twins fans. And whenever he does decide to hang it up, I'll be marking my calendar for a five year wait for Cooperstown.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas tree! (And Roxane)

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The Green Mile - 1999

This movie is one of the closest book adaptations I've ever seen. It's the second Stephen King story after 'Shawshank Redemption'. And it's the 37th movie starring Tom Hanks on this list.
The story is told as a very long flashback. It starts with a very old man named Paul Edgecombe (Hanks) in a retirement home thinking about his past. It turns out that he was the head guard on the Louisiana death row. His flashback involves a set of prisoners during the height of the Great Depression. The most notable is a giant man named John Coffey ("Like the drink, but spelled different"). Coffey is played by Michael Clark Duncan who is giant sized. He's been convicted of kidnapping and killing two twin girls.
But he has a very curious talent for a murderer. The power to heal. He first shows this by healing a urinary infection of Edgecombe's. He also brings a pet mouse back from the brink of death. Edgecombe becomes convinced of his innocence and eventually uses his healing talent to help someone else.
The movie has plenty of fine acting. Virtually all of the guards and inmates are very good. They each bring texture to a fine story. The execution scenes are very well done. But the movie falls short of greatness. The story doesn't have much punch. And the end has kind of a drawn out death wish scene that feels like it doesn't match the rest.
A good movie, but not great.

1998 - Review

Thin Red Line
Saving Private Ryan
Shakespeare in Love
Life is Beautiful

This year's movies are either WW II movies or Elizabethan England. Three of them are great. 'Thin Red Line' is just a pretentious bit of navel gazing. And 'Elizabeth' is only slightly above average. As far as I know, Oscar doesn't report the vote totals, but I'd be surprised if either one of them was competitive.
This year is remembered as a big upset with 'Ryan' being more deserving but losing to 'Shakespeare'. After watching them many years later, I'd have to agree. 'Ryan' had problems, but it's clearly a movie for the ages. It's probably the most technically well made movie of the decade. In fact, I'd probably put 'Life' in second place. Still, it's not that big of an injustice. I still love 'Shakespeare' and probably will watch it more times in my life than the other two.
As I mentioned in the review, 'Shakespeare's score is probably tops for the decade. 'Thin Red Line' had a surpisingly good score of it's own. None of the other movies was notable for music.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Roxane update

She's doing much better. She's gained back much of the lost weight. Must have been the dehydration. Starting on Saturday, she started eating again. We don't know how long she'd stopped doing that. The little habits that make every cat unique have come back too. One of her habits is to stand in one place and march with her back feet while her tail jitters like a snake's rattle. That's back. Another vet visit comes on Wednesday, so we'll get their opinion, but we're very encouraged.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Life is Beautiful - 1998

Another great movie and the second one of the project in Italian. Really it sets up as two movies in one. The first part sets up as a love story. Set in pre WWII Italy, it has the feel of an older romantic comedy. Roberto Benigni plays a country bumpkin named Guido, who is coming to the big city to find his fortune. He's incredibly carefree and playful. And his sheer happiness is infectious. "Bonjourno princepessa!", still brings a smile to faces. The story involves him wooing a teacher (Nicolleta Braschi) who is out of his league. He pulls wonderful stunts and wins her in the end.
The second part of the movie happens a few years later. A son has been added to our hero's lives. We get a sense of what their everyday life is. And then father and son are taken to a concentration camp. Mom decides that she's going wherever they go and talks her way onto the train as well. Once they get to the camp, Guido makes elaborate attempts to sheild his son from the danger and horror that's all around them. He turns it into a giant game where the prize is a tank.
This movie is an incredible blend of sweet and sad. A very tough thing to do and it pulls if off beautifully. It may have set itself the most ambitious task of this whole project. A great movie.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Playing with floss

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Who can resist a broken kitty?

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Haven't been sure how to write this post, but it's the biggest story in my life right now and I want to share it. We think we've figured out the sudden weight loss from our oldest cat, Roxane. She dropped about two pounds in the last few weeks. Yesterday she went to the vet. A physical and some bloodwork later, we think she has a kidney infection. The weight loss is due to dehydration.
This takes an enormous weight off of my mind. My brother and I got Roxane back in the heady days of '95. She was about six weeks old. Her extra toes made her paws look huge. She looked like she was ready to play firstbase. She stole my heart immediately. She's since had that effect on just about everyone else that's lived with her.
The good news is that we think she can be fixed. (Well, she was fixed years ago but you know what I mean...) I can only hope that she keeps up her kittenish, adorable ways for another ten years.