Jersey Girl

Kevin Smith has made some very good movies. This is not one of them. Even though his films can delve quite deeply into the ridiculous at times, I still find the plots engaging and the dialogue clever. What happened here? The story was a completely pedestrian take on family life versus career, and the two leads, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, are two of today's least charismatic actors. Raquel Castro, as Affleck's daughter, was certainly cute, but she brought almost nothing else to a role that could have been very interesting. George Carlin, as Affleck's father, and his sidekicks Stephen Root and Mike Starr had some funny lines, but it wasn't enough to save the film. Still, it had my wife in tears no less than five times, so more sensitive viewers may find more here than I did.

Viewed: 3/25/2004 | Released: 3/25/2004 | Score: D

IMDb Page

Secret Window

Before I say anything else, I do want to note that Johnny Depp continues to impress me as an actor. His performances are so detailed, so quirky; he is a real pleasure to watch. However, even Johnny Depp couldn't make this into a good movie. There's a line in the preview that comes near the end of the film to the effect that the ending is the most important part of a story. In a sense, that's true. The ending has the power to transform the whole rest of the story. That's especially true in the thriller genre, where the climactic scene reveals the mystery that drives the entire plot. So the fact that the ending of Secret Window relies on one of the most tired, clichéd plot devices ever written completely ruins the entire experience for me. In case you still want to see it, I won't ruin it for you but don't say I didn't warn you.

Viewed: 3/20/2004 | Released: 3/11/2004 | Score: D

IMDb Page

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Charlie Kaufman may well be America's greatest living screenwriter. In terms of sheer creativity I can think of no one else who even comes close. Really, it's a testament to his talent that people even know his name. After all, you know the actors' and directors' names, but the writers? Despite the fact that Eternal Sunshine was written by Kaufman, I had my doubts, mainly because I couldn't help remembering Jim Carrey's truly awful performance in The Majestic. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. This was Carrey's best dramatic performance, better even than The Truman Show, in my opinion. Either the director or Carrey himself must have worked really hard to reign in his tendency toward ham; whoever is responsible deserves a whole lot of credit. The supporting cast was also great, but the film was really all about Carrey.

Viewed: 3/18/2004 | Released: 3/18/2004 | Score: A

IMDb Page

I Really Shouldn't Have To Say Any Of This

There are certain things that everyone should just know as a member of society. These aren't big, complicated things. You don't need to know how to solve differential equations or write sonnets. Little things. Like knowing how to use cutlery, or remembering to wear pants. It's come to my attention that there is one area that many people seem to think is exempt from these little courtesies: public restrooms. So I'm just going to take this opportunity for a friendly little reminder. Maybe this doesn't apply to you, but you may at least be able to sympathize with my frustration.

First, and I can't stress this enough, flush. Enough said.

Second, wash your hands afterwards. It's good for you, and it's good for the rest of us. There are so many germs that you pick up on your hands throughout the day, especially in the bathroom. Stop spreading them.

When you're done washing your hands and drying them, put your paper towels in the trash. Not on the floor. Not in the drain. Not stuck to the ceiling. In the trash.

Alright, guys, this one is just to you. I know exactly how much work it takes to aim properly, and it's not much. Make the effort. And make sure you're aiming where you're supposed to, i.e. not the floor.

If you happen to clog up the toilet, take responsibility for what you've done and inform the management. Don't leave an out of order toilet for whoever might come along next. It's not their fault. It's yours. Deal with it.

I don't know why some people turn into total slobs when using public facilities. Maybe they don't have to deal with the consequences of their actions, but do they not realize that the rest of us do? The bottom line is: if you wouldn't do it in your own bathroom, don't do it in the public restroom either.

In America

Some of you reading this are going to note the lack of a fourth star and start howling for my blood. Before you grab your nooses and torches and start looking for my address, let me say that I thought this was an excellent film. The performances were universally great, the direction seemed very personal, and the writing was solid. But for some reason it took me a really long time for me to connect with the story. I don't know why--maybe I thought there was a lack of urgency--but for the first half to three quarters of the film I just wasn't into it. But when it hit me, boy did it hit me. The last scene alone would have been enough to make this movie good, but fortunately the rest held up as well. I think maybe I'll like this movie better if I see it again.

Viewed: 3/6/2004 | Released: 4/28/2003 | Score: B

IMDb Page

Starsky &Hutch

Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller make a really great comedy duo. For me they're like this decade's Bing and Bob. Wilson's awkward charm and Stiller's latent rage contrast and balance each other perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The last episode of the 70's TV series aired when I was less than two months old, so I have no idea if the movie is true to the original, but it made me laugh big belly laughs multiple times, so it gets the thumbs-up from me.

Viewed: 3/5/2004 | Released: 2/25/2004 | Score: B

IMDb Page

The Crystal City

By Orson Scott Card

I sort of wonder if getting to know more about Orson Scott Card has affected my impression of his writing. I respect the man enormously, but I disagree with him on so many things that it seems like it would be impossible for that not to alter my judgment of his work. I did like this book. It was engaging and well-paced, and the inclusion of two real-life friends of mine as characters certainly didn't hurt. But it doesn't seem to hold up to the rest of his works for me. Books like Seventh Son, Ender's Game, Hart's Hope, and Treason have a sort of magical quality in my memory, while ones like Pastwatch, Speaker for the Dead and Lovelock stick out for having really interesting central ideas. This one really had neither of those for me. Still, I did enjoy it, and I don't think I could point to anything specific to criticize. I just can't find anything wonderful about it.

Started: 2/15/2004 | Finished: 3/4/2004

Purchase from Amazon


With all the hype this movie had received, and with the assurance of Charlize Theron's Best Actress win (which she did), Juliette and I were very intrigued to see this film. It managed to fall short of expectations. We concluded that a lot of Theron's buzz must have been because of the way she changed her appearance for the role. Don't get me wrong, she did a very good job and was very convincing in her performance. I just didn't find it to be particularly amazing. Meanwhile, Christina Ricci was possibly as good as Theron, but she's been quite overlooked. But the biggest disappointment was the film itself. I just didn't get anything from it. It didn't take much of a stance on the subject of Aileen Wuornos or her crimes, and for the life of me I can't figure out why anyone would find this story compelling enough to want to make this movie.

Viewed: 2/26/2004 | Released: 11/15/2003 | Score: C

IMDb Page

Sakeriver Movie Awards for 2003

The Academy Awards are a mere two days away as I write this, and somehow I think that more people will notice them. But for the few of you who read this very infrequent column of mine, I give you the 1st Annual Sakeriver Movie Awards. In many categories--possibly all of them--I am recognizing different films and actors than the Academy will. This is in part because I have different tastes, but also because I haven't seen every movie that came out last year. So, rather than this being a list of the best films and actors of the year, it is a list of the best films and actors that I saw. Ready? Let's begin.

Best Drama: Whale Rider

There were a lot of good movies that came out in 2003, but Whale Rider really stands out in my mind. A well-written, deeply moving story, simply told and superbly acted, Whale Rider had everything I look for in a movie. It's the kind of movie that makes you forget that it's a movie. If you haven't seen it yet, you are really missing out.

Runners-up: Mystic River, Big Fish, Seabiscuit

Best Comedy: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

OK, it's not really a comedy per se. But I think it fits better in this category than the other. Pirates was a really fun movie. Like several films I saw last year it surprised me by being much better than I expected. In many ways it's the opposite of a film like Whale Rider; it's big, it has action and special effects, it made lots of money, and it wasn't particularly deep. But the acting was good--some of it especially good--and the movie was exactly what it needed to be: fun.

Runners-up: School of Rock, Finding Nemo, A Mighty Wind

Best Actor: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean)

In any given year there are plenty of good performances, and this year was no different. What separates Johnny Depp from the crowd is that I think he is more of an actor, in the truest sense of the word. You see, many actors go on screen or on stage and don't really separate themselves from their characters. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because often the roles they are chosen for fit the particular quality the actor brings. I have seen very few actors who so consistently immerse themselves in their characters the way Johnny Depp does, though. Many of his performances and characters are quirky, but none are the same.

Runners-up: Sean Penn (Mystic River), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Jeff Bridges (Seabiscuit)

Best Actress: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider)

Normally I'm not much for awards being given to child actors, but Keisha Castle-Hughes' performance in Whale Rider was so amazing that I actually couldn't even think of a woman in a lead role that compared. She gave a performance that was heartbreaking yet uplifting, strong yet vulnerable, mature yet childlike. In short, it was so real that you forget that she's even acting.

Runner-up: Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation)

Best Supporting Actor: Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai)

I had such mixed feelings about seeing The Last Samurai, because even though it looked interesting, I just can't stand Tom Cruise anymore. I'm glad I did, though, because it gave me a chance to get acquainted with Ken Watanabe. Watanabe brought a quiet dignity to the film that was a great match for his character. Perhaps real samurai weren't all that noble, but Watanabe's performance certainly was.

Runners-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Cold Mountain), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean), Kevin Bacon (Mystic River), Tobey Maguire (Seabiscuit)

Best Supporting Actress: Koyuki (The Last Samurai)

Koyuki is another reason that I enjoyed The Last Samurai as much as I did. She played her character so subtly that even though she didn't show much on the surface, you could still see all of the emotion underneath. Having grown up in a Japanese family, that aspect of her performance really resonated with me.

Runners-up: Natalie Portman (Cold Mountain), Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men)

The Years of Rice and Salt

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson has been sort of hit or miss with me before. Some of his books keep me up reading into the wee hours of the morning. Some are a struggle. This book was kind of both for me. The idea of the book--what the world might have been like if Europe had been completely wiped out by the Black Plague--fascinated me. Robinson has a real gift for alternate timelines, as evidenced by his Three Californias series. The problem is that the scope of the book is so sweeping that it's a little difficult to get involved with the characters. When the story arc covers multiple centuries, individual lives tend to become a little less important. So it was hard for me to really connect with the book. On top of that, much of the book involves long discussions of the nature of history, and while the ideas were interesting, it didn't make for an exciting read. Fortunately, something about the ending resonated with me, so I walked away from this book with a good feeling.

Started: 1/3/2004 | Finished: 2/14/2004

Purchase from Amazon