The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

This film has caused me to have a bit of a crisis about review-writing. More specifically, what the rating I give means. Should the number of stars be representative of how much I enjoyed the film or how much I think the average viewer will enjoy it? Or should I attempt to make it a more objective measure of the film's overall worth? I think the easiest and most honest way to use the ratings is to just give my own reaction to the film, and let you decide whether or not you are willing to trust me. Many of you may be surprised at my rating; in fact, I'm a little surprised myself. I always try to judge a movie on its own merits, without comparing it too heavily to another work from which it may be derived. But here the original is just too close to my heart, and I know it too well. I find myself unable to forgive Peter Jackson for changing the characters so drastically. You see, Jackson is a world-builder, not a storyteller. He sees the world of Middle-Earth and wants to give it to us, and as long as he can show us that world, it doesn't matter if he changes the story or the people in it. But I cannot accept that interpretation. I imagine that I am part of a tiny minority in my feelings on this film. Most people haven't read the books, so will find this movie awesome for its special effects, action, and acting. And many fans of the books will love Jackson for giving them Middle-Earth. But I just can't get past my own feelings of what's important in this story, and how absent it all is from this film.

Viewed: 12/25/2003 | Released: 12/16/2003 | Score: C

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Mona Lisa Smile

I expected that this film would be Dead Poets Society with a feminist slant, but it surprised me by managing to be its own movie. The film grapples with a question that seems to be on a lot of minds these days: what is the proper role of women in society? How does femininity fit into a modern world? And, remarkably, it acknowledges that it is a truly complex issue. At first it seems like we will be beaten over the head with women's lib, but, the film never really takes one of the "sides" we're used to. Rather, it takes what seems to be a partisan issue and individualizes it. I did have some problems with the story, but upon reflection, most of them were pretty trivial. The real bane of this movie was the acting. Kirsten Dunst gave a totally one-dimensional performance, and Julia Stiles and Julia Roberts were not far behind. The few particularly good moments seemed much more a product of the writing than any particular actor's choice. Still, Maggie Gyllenhaal was more than adequate, and Ginnifer Goodwin and Ebon Moss-Bachrach managed very good chemistry (sadly, they were more of a side-story).

Viewed: 12/20/2003 | Released: 12/18/2003 | Score: C

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Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Quite a remarkable book. It's a story about a castaway (I found it slightly reminiscent, in tone at least, of Eco's The Island of the Day Before) so it is a tale of hope, despair, courage, wonder. Yet it is also deeply concerned with God and religion, and, even more, the faith that underlies all religions. I think this may become one of those books I'll keep coming back to. All in all, a great read.

Started: 12/15/2003 | Finished: 12/15/2003

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Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson

I've heard so much about Neal Stephenson that I felt I had to check him out for myself. I find he's neither as good nor as bad as he's made out to be. On the one hand, I did find Snow Crash engaging and fun. It's no ground-breaking, Earth-shaking thing, but it was entertaining. On the other hand, I found Stephenson's constant puns (the main character's name is Hiro Protagonist?!) and use of the present tense to be jarring and pretentious. The book's premise is also one that I could easily see many people finding offensive, and I think his portrayal of memetics shows a sensationalist and ultimately flawed understanding. And, creatively speaking, he doesn't do much that people like William Gibson and Tad Williams haven't already done. Still, for all that, I did enjoy the book and found many of the characters intriguing.

Started: 12/14/2003 | Finished: 12/15/2003

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Undaunted Courage

By Stephen E. Ambrose

As you peruse the contents of this list, you may notice that this book has taken me considerably longer to finish than any of the rest. It was worth it. Meriwether Lewis was a fascinating man, and Ambrose's biography is a great read. Ambrose has little time for political correctness, so he doesn't hesitate to call Lewis a great and important man. At the same time, he's an honest historian and doesn't gloss over Lewis' faults and mistakes. As may be expeceted, Lewis and Clark's expedition takes up the majority of the book. What I would give to be able to see the America that Lewis saw, still wild and pristine, beautiful and new. But I also found, somewhat unexpectedly, that Ambrose's description of the American sociopolitical landscape both before and after the expedition was most intriguing. You might say that a great book should both interest and educate. This one certainly did both.

Started: 9/19/2003 | Finished: 12/14/2003

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Stuck On You

What happens when you combine real acting talent with a couple of filmmakers the likes of Bobby and Peter Farrelly? You get Stuck On You. Far from being the gross-out fest or over-the-top histrionics that marked There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber (both of which I liked, mind you), this film took a premise ripe for cheap shots and made you actually care about the two main characters. Don't get the wrong idea, it's still very much a Farrelly Brothers movie; there's more than enough comedy to keep an audience in hearty belly laughs for the whole show. But the story had heart as well and never degraded itself or the two main characters.

Viewed: 12/13/2003 | Released: 12/11/2003 | Score: B

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Something's Gotta Give

The trailers for Something's Gotta Give leave you with the impression that it will be just another Jack Nicholson flick. But it's not. Take Nicholson's recent tendency toward introspective roles about the nature of aging, add Diane Keaton's strong yet feminine presence (and she is every bit as much the star of this film as old Jack), and a smart script that is both truly funny and touching, and you get this film, a fresh look at the familiar romantic comedy genre. The chemistry between Keaton and Nicholson was undeniable and made for a great performance. Even more surprising was Keanu Reeves, who gave his most natural, convincing performance to date.

Viewed: 12/11/2003 | Released: 12/11/2003 | Score: B

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Turkey, Please, and Hold the Mistletoe

It's nearly Thanksgiving, and that means that, wherever you may be, you've almost certainly heard someone complaining about the Christmas decorations which are already everywhere. They'll probably rant about the ever-increasing commercialization of the holiday perverting the Christmas spirit. Well, it's my turn to complain, but not for that reason. For me it's much simpler: I want to enjoy the coming holiday before I get to the next one.

In Huntington Beach, on the corner of Warner and Beach, there is a tall office building. Every year during the holiday season, a huge Christmas tree-shaped light arrangement is put on the roof. You can see it from literally miles around. My wife, of course, loves Christmas and can't wait to see that tree every year. This year it went up on October 30th. That's right, I said October. It's not enough that Thanksgiving is pre-empted, now we have to bulldoze right over Halloween as well.

Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family. It's a holiday I look forward to all year; it's my mom's favorite of them all. I think it has something to do with our love of food. Whatever the reason, Thanksgiving is a special time for me, a time for family and close friends, for tradition, for warm feelings and the satisfaction of an uncomfortably full stomach.

And why shouldn't Thanksgiving be a holiday for all Americans? It's not a religious holiday, and so it has none of the same controversy that Christmas does. No, it is a holiday for all Americans. It is a time for us all to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, a time to be with those you love and who love you, and, aside from all of the rest, a time to eat.

So come on and give Thanksgiving a chance! Leave your Christmas decorations down until Friday and have a happy Turkey Day!


This weekend, Juliette dragged me to this movie. I wouldn't say that I was quite kicking and screaming, but just about. So I'm sure you can guess my impression of the film before I saw it. Here's my impression afterwards: not as dumb as I expected. Actually, the script was pretty tight and it could have been quite a good movie. Tragically, the people in charge of this one decided to cast Will Ferrell as the lead, utterly ruining an otherwise good story. Why they would cast a guy whose performances are always so desperate for attention and so devoid of heart is beyond me. I did actually enjoy almost all of the time when Ferrell wasn't on screen. Unfortunately, that wasn't much.

Viewed: 11/14/2003 | Released: 11/6/2003 | Score: C

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The Matrix Revolutions

The second installment of this trilogy left a lot of people confused and unsatisfied. The concluding film certainly has some ambiguous moments, but far fewer than the second, and it does a good job of wrapping up the series. Don't worry if you don't understand everything on your first viewing--I don't--because you don't have to fully comprehend every nuance of the story in order to appreciate it. On one level, it's a story about good people in a terrible situation, and how they get through it. And even if you never look any deeper than that, it's still a good series. But the opportunity to look deeper is there, for anyone who wants to, so if you're the type to watch a movie ten times trying to figure everything out, I suspect analysis will not weaken this one.

Viewed: 11/7/2003 | Released: 10/26/2003 | Score: A

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