The Illusionist

I had really high hopes for this one. Edward Norton is one of my favorite actors. Add Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell (who I quite liked in Dark City) as co-stars in a movie about intrigue and stage magic in turn-of-the-century Vienna and it seems like it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, The Illusionist was hampered by two big problems: Jessica Biel and poor pacing. The Jessica Biel problem is simple enough: she's really bad at acting. That's not such a big deal with something like Seventh Heaven, but when a big part of the story relies on the audience being invested in her character's relationship with the title character, well, it's not good. The pacing seems to me to have arisen in the transition from short story to film. I think the original story was probably quite good, but there were several stretches of the film that really dragged. My guess is that those parts were covered as narrative between scenes in the short story, but there just wasn't a very graceful way to do it in film and I found myself getting bored. Still, The Illusionist has been getting pretty good reviews, so you may want to make your own decisions on this one.

Viewed: 8/18/2006 | Released: 4/26/2006 | Score: C

IMDb Page

Little Miss Sunshine

I'd been looking forward to this one since I first saw a preview for it several months ago. Between The 40-Year Old Virgin and The Office, Steve Carell has been comedy's "it" boy lately and I have been consistently impressed by his work. I figured that Little Miss Sunshine would be a chance to see more of his dramatic side since the trailer had a much bleaker outlook than most of his previous work. It came as a surprise, then, that this movie was so funny. In fact, I think that this may very well have been the funniest movie I've seen so far this year. Carell's role was much more subdued than fans of his may be expecting, but it worked well in two ways. First, it allowed him to show off more of his acting chops. Second, it provided space for Alan Arkin to really cut loose. You know, I don't think I've ever disliked an Alan Arkin performance. The man is just brilliant, equally comfortable with comedy and drama. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and, what's more, I think it may just have the potential to become this year's indie hit.

Viewed: 8/16/2006 | Released: 7/25/2006 | Score: B

IMDb Page

Just Americans

By Robert Asahina

The short review: I was absolutely riveted by this book. Rather than being a complete history of the 442nd Regiment and 100th Battalion, Just Americans focuses on the formation of the units and the way that their actions in the Southern France campaign of World War II helped to end the internment of Japanese Americans back home. As a part of that Asahina examines the political motivations for and consequences of the internment, as well as an appendix that attempts to address some of the issues of revisionist history and the current state of the civil rights movement. I'm not sure I completely agree with everything Asahina says, and certainly fans of FDR will be struck by his scathing attack of New Deal social policies, but at the very least it's food for thought. That covers the intellectual part of my reaction. A more detailed discussion of the more personal part will follow in the Useless Opinions section.

Started: 7/29/2006 | Finished: 8/3/2006

Purchase from Amazon


By Steven Brust

I've liked everything I've read by Steven Brust, so the fact that I liked this one as well is no surprise. Just like the rest, Issola was a quick read, full of action and sarcastic wit. Brust has a real knack for characterization--not only have I enjoyed the recurring lead characters throughout the series, but he also brings in new ones with each installment, or expands on smaller characters from previous novels, that also get to me. It's that skill that makes the poignant ending of Issola effective--much in the same way that it did in Teckla and Athyra, two of my favorites in the series. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Started: 7/26/2006 | Finished: 7/29/2006

Purchase from Amazon