X-Men: The Last Stand

This movie is definitely an example of an adaptation where familiarity with the source material can diminish your enjoyment. The previous two films made some significant changes to the Marvel canon--most notably the characters' ages and relationships. With that sort of setup, this one could hardly be different--in fact, the changes in this film are arguably even bigger. What was surprising was that although the film's overall storyline departs so radically from Marvel's chronology, some of the details were extremely accurate. For example, the scene at the lake with Cyclops and Jean Grey was directly lifted from the Dark Phoenix saga. In any case, some people will hate the changes and some will love them. As for me, I loved the comics but I also recognize that one of the truly great things about comic book universes is that they allow for real freedom to explore themes. In that respect, I think that even though the issues underlying this film--mutation as a metaphor for race or, perhaps, sexuality--are dealt with in a relatively crude manner, it's possible that films like X3 will be a stepping stone in the growth of speculative films. After all, the X-Men comic itself was also pretty heavy-handed and clumsy in its execution, but it was part of the movement that led to some of the more nuanced graphic novels we have today. As this review is getting rather lengthy, I'll go ahead and rush through the rest: the acting was mostly adequate with a few good moments and a few particularly bad ones, the effects and action were quite good, the dialogue was unsurprisingly mediocre, and the film was, overall, pretty good.

Viewed: 5/26/2006 | Released: 5/25/2006 | Score: B

IMDb Page

The Da Vinci Code

As I'm sure you know, Dan Brown's book was a huge bestseller, and more than a little controversial. I'm sure that the same will be true of the movie. The film has already made 77.1 million dollars, and I'm sure that the books popularity will carry it through at least three more weeks of huge box office sales. And it's already generating plenty of controversy buzz--on my way into the theater I was stopped by a guy who tried to give me a pamphlet about the inaccuracies in the film. Personally, I don't think it's all that great a story. I'm just not that into the whole conspiracy theory thing. I will say, though, that it works better in film than it does in print. You see, the main problem with the book was that the writing was mediocre at best. Movies get to avoid awkward prose by just showing you everything that's happening. And much of the acting was also quite good. Paul Bettany, Ian McKellen, and Jean Reno were all very good, which comes as no surprise. Audrey Tautou was OK, although I don't think that her part gave her much to work with. As for Tom Hanks, well, he did a fine job with his performance, but I think he was miscast. The thing is, I'm not sure who would have been better. Nic Cage and Tom Cruise have both done plenty of thrillers, but Cage isn't brainy enough and I haven't liked Cruise in a long time. Dennis Quaid might be another choice, but I don't know if he has the chops to do better than Hanks. George Clooney is too cocky, and Ewan MacGregor is too young (plus I would probably get hung up on his accent). But anyway, I'd say the movie was generally executed pretty well, and if you liked the book you'll like the movie.

Viewed: 5/19/2005 | Released: 4/18/2006 | Score: B

IMDb Page

Some Scattered Thoughts

I'm finding it a little difficult to focus at the moment. My mind is quite scattered, kind of like the way sunlight scatters as it passes through the atmosphere, producing the blue color we're used to seeing in the sky. So instead of a tight, cohesive, laser beam of an essay, today you get this dim, flickering candle of a post.

* * *

I'm not nearly as good a poker player as I would like, as evidenced by the $25 I've lost so far playing micro-limit online hold 'em. Does this mean I'm going to quit? Of course not.

* * *

I'm always a little behind the times, which probably explains why it was only this past week that I subscribed to my first podcast. At first I just didn't really get the point. For the most part, I don't listen to talk or news radio, so why would I listen to essentially the same thing on the Internet? Well, things have changed somewhat. Over the past few months the number of web comics I read has doubled, as have the number of blogs I regularly check. Text-only blogs led to video blogs and that, combined with my growing interest in indie music over the past year, led to podcasting.

The three main feeds I'm listening to at the moment are all from radio stations. KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, is well-known for its influential "Morning Becomes Eclectic" music program. That program was one of the few things I was sad to leave behind when I moved to San Diego, so I was delighted to find that they also stream it from their web site. And now they have two very interesting podcasts. The first is a collection of live sets from the show--only updated infrequently because they only include unsigned or independent artists--and the second is a "song of the day" list. The latter, along with a similar feed from Seattle's KEXP, have turned up some really interesting songs that I doubt I would have heard otherwise.

I also subscribe to the video podcast from Rocketboom but it has the irritating quality of failing to work from my office.

* * *

Speaking of video blogs, I started watching Ze Frank's The Show last week and I really like it. I understand that Ze's vlog (yes, it's a stupid word, but that's what they're calling them these days) is one of the more popular ones out there, so you may already watch it. If not, I suppose you'll want a description. OK. If The Show were an ice cream sundae, it would be two scoops of making fun of news items, one of making fun of his viewers, liberally drizzled with fart jokes, and sprinkled with tidbits (mostly complaints) from his own life. And, of course, the cherry on top would be the project to make a sandwich out of the Earth.

* * *

One of my good friends got her master's degree this past Sunday. A lot of thoughts and feelings were going through my mind as I watched her commencement ceremony--I felt proud of her for her accomplishment, a little jealous that I hadn't done it yet, and maybe a little hopeless at the recognition that I probably will never get around to grad school. But most of all I was struck by how boring the ceremony was. I mean, of course it was cool to see my friend walk across the stage, but that was the sole interesting thing about the entire two-hour event

I remember both my high school and college graduations quite well. Both consisted of what I think of as pretty standard graduation elements: a processional to "Pomp and Circumstance," the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, some opening remarks by the principal/president, one or two student speeches, a faculty award or two, a keynote speaker, the awarding of diplomas, some closing remarks, and, finally, the recessional.

Actually, my friend's graduation was actually pretty much the same, except that some of the elements had been changed. Instead of having short opening remarks, for example, they had long opening remarks that mainly consisted of introducing a bunch of faculty and staff that I didn't know or care about. (Judging by the applause, some of them didn't even matter to the students.) Instead of having a valedictory address, they had some student get up and accept a diploma on behalf of the whole class. And instead of a keynote speaker, they had, well, nothing.

I had figured beforehand that it would be somewhat different from my college graduation, being a huge state university instead of a small, private college. I thought that meant that the boring part would be longer, considering there would be far more diplomas to hand out. I didn't expect the extent to which my prediction would hold true. On the bright side, at least I know what to expect should I ever get back to school.

In any case, as boring as the ceremony was, it doesn't take away from the magnitude of my friend's accomplishment. I really am happy for her--I mean, not only does she have a master's degree now, but she also has all kinds of free time in the evening. So congratulations, Mel.

The Desert Can Be a Beautiful Place

One of my good friends from high school got married this past Saturday. Juliette was very excited about it because even though she was never actually the groom's friend, we hadn't been to a wedding since our own--almost three years ago--and like any good junkie she needed her fix. I was excited, too, but more because I was just so happy for my friend.

I ended up having quite a good time. At first I was a little worried because I didn't know anyone but the groom and a few of his family members, plus it was uncomfortably hot--the wedding was held in the town where the couple lives, which is way out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Anyone who has been to a large wedding knows that the newlyweds won't be able to make much time during the reception to hang out with any one guest--they've just got too many people that want a piece of them. So if you only know the couple and you're not very outgoing, you're in for a sort of slow night. As it turned out, though, my friend had invited another guy I knew from high school, and Juliette and I spent a fair amount of time that evening chatting with him and his wife, catching up and reminiscing. It was really nice to hear what was going on with him, not to mention interesting.

What will stay in my mind as the defining image of the wedding, though, was the look on the groom's face during the ceremony. As long as I've known this guy--and it's been about twenty years since we first met--he's always played it close to the vest when it came to emotions. We've had many a chuckle, but I can't think of a time I've ever seen him angry or depressed or ecstatic. But the expression he had when he was looking at his bride was so full--joy, love, amazement, one after another all nakedly present on his face. I swear I even saw him get choked up. It was amazing. In fact, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I'm glad I got the chance to see it--it's things like that that make your own life richer.

Congratulations, MacKenzie and Stephanie. I'm really happy for you guys.

MySpace and Me: A Little Cognitive Dissonance Mixed With a Bit of Existential Crisis

I broke down and registered a MySpace account a few days ago. I had formerly resisted the idea because all of what I'd seen and heard about the place made it seem like a club for illiterates. I know that sounds condescending. I suppose, when you get right down to it, it is. But I've been on the Internet now for a long time, and I've long since passed the point where "omg lol ur so funy!!1!!!1! kthxbye" constitutes stimulating conversation.

But I digress. I've been on Friendster and orkut for quite a while now, but those places seem to have more or less dried up in competition with MySpace. So, I told myself that if I really am interested in social networking, I have to go where the people are. Hence, MySpace. (If I'm being honest, though, I do have to admit that the social outcast side of my personality still hasn't completely died and that the validation inherent in getting friend requests is the sort of ego stroking that really soothes that part of me. So I guess I am shallow, after all.)

The experience has been somewhat strange. For a couple of reasons. Of course the first thing I did was look up various friends from college and high school as well as some relatives. That, in turn, brought me to browsing through their friend networks to see if I knew anyone. I also eventually poked through the alumni lists of the schools I attended. It was the high school list that really threw me.

See, I've been out of high school now for about nine years. For the most part, I haven't seen anyone from back then except for a few of my closer friends. Everyone else exists to me only as a memory. And, of course, since those memories are necessarily of the last time I saw them, they're all still kids. So it was kind of strange to see how these people I grew up with kept on growing up. The one that really made me do a double take was this girl I knew from chorus. I was only in chorus for my last semester and she was a freshman at the time. She must have been about 15 and she was small to boot, so when I looked at her profile and saw that she's 24 I had kind of a hard time digesting it. She looks older. Everybody looks older. Which is to be expected, of course, but somehow I just wasn't prepared to see all of these people in their mid-twenties when in my head they're still in their mid-teens.

And even seeing all of these people I knew, many of whom I was either friends or friendly with, I wasn't sure I really wanted to contact them. On the one hand it felt like a regression, and on the other, I didn't know if they'd want to hear from me. After all, if I wasn't close enough with them to keep in touch over the past nine years, why would they care to talk to me now?

I did contact a few of them, and some were even excited to hear from me. And I also got a few friend requests from some other people, some of whose lives I am really interested to hear about. It's a little exciting, in a way.

I think I'm coming to realize that I'm kind of lonely. Obviously, I'm not alone--I have my wife as well as a few friends in town. But when I got back from visiting my mom and stepdad I was in something of a funk for days afterwards. In fact, I'm not sure I'm completely out of it yet. It was just so nice to have other people in my life, people who I could really connect with and who I knew and who knew me. You know, family. I think I've been missing that for a long time, that I've been feeling isolated. It's been much better since I came to San Diego because at least here I do have friends. Back in Orange County it was just me and Juliette. But it's still not the same connection I had back home or even in college, where I was part of a bigger group. Maybe this explains why I've been so active on forums here and elsewhere on the 'Net--because I want that feeling of belonging and connection.

I haven't gotten to the other weirdness that has come out of my experience with MySpace but I've gotten rather long-winded in this bit, so I think I'll save it for another time.

Friends With Money

I walked out of this movie feeling like I didn't really get it. Maybe I'm just a little too stuck in the traditions of American film. You see, normally when you go see a movie like this one, you expect that there will be some sort of crisis for one or more of the characters, things are or will become complicated, and somewhere in the course of the movie the character(s) will grow or change or have some sort of revelatory moment, after which the crisis is resolved. This movie really didn't follow that pattern. It certainly sets things up that way--three of the four "main" characters are at some sort of turning point in their lives--but nobody really changes in any meaningful way. That is, while all of them change their circumstances, there's no real personal discovery for any of them, no admittance of any fault or change in character. What resolution there is seems unsatisfying--to me, at least--because it's either accompanied by a revelation that seems insincere or because it's only accomplished by sheer dumb luck. My guess is that this was intentional on the part of writer-director Nicole Holofcener, that it's a sort of postmodern challenge to traditional film notions, an attempt to make art imitate life a bit more accurately. And in that respect I guess it succeeds--Juliette, especially, found it to be a very truthful story. It was pretty good in the execution as well--the acting and dialogue were very natural, and the pacing, if a bit plodding at times, seemed to fit the rhythms of real life pretty well. I'd say I liked the movie, but I didn't connect with it well enough to give it a fourth star. I had a similar reaction to Holofcener's previous film, Lovely & Amazing, but, despite that, I find her work intriguing enough that I'm curious to see what she's going to do next.

Viewed: 4/28/2006 | Released: 1/28/2006 | Score: 3

IMDb Page

American Dreamz

A friend of mine with whom I went to see American Dreamz made a comment as we were leaving the theater that I think sums it up pretty well: "That was not a good movie, but there were moments of [sheer] brilliance." I don't see many satires, so it's unusual that I would see two in two weeks. This one certainly suffers in the comparison. It was just too absurd and too heavy-handed to be an effective commentary, and lacking that it can hardly be an effective satire. On the other hand, a lot of the jokes were very funny. The details, especially, were often hilarious. A song lyric here, a TV caption there--in those instances the ridiculousness worked. As a complete film, though, it was just over the top. Writer-director Paul Weitz has done some decent films in the past, but this is definitely not his best work.

Viewed: 4/27/2006 | Released: 3/3/2006 | Score: C

IMDb Page