There are certain stories that you can just feel the truth of. Whale Rider is one of those. The storytelling is so perfect that you forget it's a story; you feel like you are looking into the lives of real people. On the one hand, it's a glimpse into the Maori culture of New Zealand. On the other hand, it's a profound coming-of-age story. It's also a deep examination of why tradition is important, but also how it can hold us back. At times the film is heartbreaking, because Keisha Castle-Hughes' performance in the lead role is so honest, so vulnerable, so real that you forget you are seeing a performance; you see only a little girl trying so hard to be loved. Yet it is also a triumphant film, one which leaves you feeling good in the end. All I can say is, wow. What an amazing movie.
Viewed: 8/14/2003 | Released: 1/17/2003 | Score: A
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
I wasn't very excited about this movie. I saw the previews and figured it would be just another over-produced, under-talented Disney disappointment. Boy, was I wrong. A tight script, swashbuckling action, and well-written, well-acted characters made this one of the best adventure movies I've ever seen. Johnny Depp, who I always enjoy, gave a marvelously quirky performance with just the right combination of comedy and depth. Orlando Bloom was, in my opinion anyway, kind of boring and stilted, but he can hardly be blamed for the script, and besides, all the girls will love him anyway. The real surprise for me was Keira Knightley, who managed to turn the normally cliché ingenue role into one that I actually cared about. And, as usual, Geoffrey Rush was a pleasure to watch; his last line was haunting.
Viewed: 8/7/2003 | Released: 7/27/2003 | Score: A
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
By J.K. Rowling
Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I intended to stay up for perhaps another hour and read another hundred pages or so; I was about a hundred pages into it. I ended up not getting to bed until I had finished the last 700+ pages at three in the morning. It's still unmistakably a Harry Potter story, but I hesitate to call it a children's book. Darker in tone and heavier in content, Rowling is definitely allowing her work to mature. The only problem I had with the book was that it became difficult to like Harry. He became too moody and self-absorbed; in short, too much of a teenager (though I can't say I wasn't that way in my own adolescence; can any of us?). One warning and mild spoiler (in case you haven't already heard): something very sad happens in the climactic scene; prepare yourself for it.
Started: 7/27/2003 | Finished: 8/2/2003
Nope. Not even a sympathy star. This movie was awful. The writing was tragically unfunny, the editing was amateurish, and the direction suffered from a serious lack of timing. The story suffered from a serious lack of continuity with the previous films and the characters devolved into mere caricatures of themselves. The few scenes that might have had the capacity to be funny were destroyed by a total lack of timing and any understanding of comedy. Shallow, stupid, and simply dreadful.
Viewed: 8/2/2003 | Released: 7/23/2003 | Score: F
Our Nation's Capital
I recently had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for the first time. Having never been there before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I am, by nature, a rather patriotic person, but I'm also quite the small town boy. I love history, but I hate being a tourist. As luck would have it, I quite enjoyed my brief stay in our nation's capital.
You may think that much of what I have to say in the rest of this piece is hokey, strange, or at least uninformed; I can base my opinions on nothing more than my own experiences. But, like people, places have a certain quality, call it spirit or, if you prefer, personality, that can be sensed if you are open to it.
Washington is a beautiful city. It is beautiful in a way that Los Angeles never has been, and probably never will be. Like New York, it has that rather stately feeling of an East Coast city that knows its age and the respect that it is due. Yet where New York is vibrant and exciting, Washington has a sense of understated dignity that I found humbling. It is a city that is fully aware of its history and of the symbolism inherent in its very being.
I don't normally enjoy doing touristy things. I like to try to blend in wherever I go. I don't always, or even often, succeed, but I try. Washington was a different experience for me. I found myself trying to visit as many monuments and memorials as I could. I drove all over the downtown area, saw the Mall, the Washington Monument, drove past the Smithsonian museums, the Capitol, the White House. I didn't get a chance to walk around and really experience most--I was in the area for less than twenty-four hours--but I think that many of the attractions just need to be seen. The one place I did get out and explore was the Arlington National Cemetary. I'm glad I did.
As you enter the cemetary, there is a sign that informs you that you are entering the nation's most sacred shrine, and reminds you to conduct yourself with dignity and respect. Periodically, there are signs that say, "Silence. Respect." Here's the amazing thing: people read and obey the signs. The cemetary is not silent, but it is an exceptionally quiet place. I've noticed that certain outdoor places have a certain strange acoustic property wherein sound does not resonate. The Mojave Desert is one such place. The Arlington National Cemetary is another. Sound seems to be swallowed up by the air; you can hardly even hear your own footfalls.
The cemetary is a place of awesome dignity, but one place above the rest sticks with me: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. The Tomb stands before the Memorial Amphitheater, looking out over the hills and the river toward the capital. A lone sentry stands guard, pacing back and forth in front of the tomb. The only sound, apart from the occasional bird call, is the click of his heels as he turns. The tomb bears this inscription:
IN HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD
As I read these words and looked out over the city I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat. These were ordinary people, as much so as you and I, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their way of life. It is a poignant reminder that this land was built and sustained by the hopes, dreams, sweat, and, sometimes, blood of such people.
This was the kind of movie that really draws you into the story and makes you care about it. I don't normally care about horse racing at all, but I found myself holding my breath during the racing scenes, and felt like cheering each time Seabiscuit won one (many of the audience members did, in fact). Chris Cooper will likely not get an Oscar nod, because although his performance was brilliant, it was probably too understated to be noticed (which is unfortunate because that's exactly what the role required). Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, may be nominated; he is really starting to mature as an actor. The only problem with this film, and it may be a bigger problem to some than it was to me, was that the writer/director didn't seem to fully make up his mind whether he was making a movie or a documentary. Each aspect of the film would have been interesting to watch, but the combination seemed to clash.
Viewed: 7/25/2003 | Released: 7/21/2003 | Score: B
By Kurt Vonnegut
Such an interesting novel, at once hilarious and tragic. I wasn't crazy about all of the ideas put forward in the book, but I can't deny that I found it gripping. There's something bordering on insane about Vonnegut's writing, and it intrigues me to no end.
Started: 7/16/2003 | Finished: 7/23/2003
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
I had a great time watching this movie. Yes, the action sequences defied physics and, yes, a lot of stuff was extraneous to the plot, but it was a fun movie. Don't think of it as an action movie with good one-liners, think of it as a comedy with fights and explosions. And there's plenty of comedy: the dance scenes, the costumes, and, of course, Bernie Mac.
Viewed: 7/17/2003 | Released: 7/17/2003 | Score: B
Things I Highly Recommend
- Getting married in Big Sur, CA. Not only one of the most naturally beautiful places I've ever seen, but also very special to me because that's where my wife grew up as well as where I lived for a while in my childhood.
- Breakfast at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. Some of the best Eggs Benedict I've ever had.
- Lunch at the Big Sur River Inn. Sure, the burger is kind of expensive, but it's mighty tasty (and still the cheapest in Big Sur). Plenty of good stuff apart from the burger, too; it's my favorite restaurant for lunch. And, for dessert, the apple pie is my second favorite in this world (I have to give my mom's the number one spot).
- Dinner at Ventana. They have a filet mignon that just melts in your mouth, and if you go right around sunset you have a spectacular view of the sun going down over the ocean.
- The bathrooms in the Salt Lake City Airport. Cleanest airport bathrooms ever.
- Renting a convertible in Hawaii. Yeah, it immediately marks you as a tourist, but it's so nice to feel the wind in your hair.
- The Hotel Hana Maui. Hands down the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. The road to Hana is very twisty and a bit stressful (since all of the other people on the road are also tourists), but as soon as you get there it all just melts away. The staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. It's also very close to Hamoa Beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. And if you're into horseback riding, the hotel runs tours on a couple of trails that offer some amazing views.
- Tony and Tina's Wedding. A very interesting off-Broadway production that makes you feel like you really are a wedding guest. It takes interactive theater to a level I've never experienced before.
- Breakfast at the Sea House Restaurant. About six or seven miles outside of Lahaina, it overlooks a beautiful bay and has a great view of Molokai (or maybe it was Lanai, I can't remember) and the food is excellent.
- The Koloa Fish Market. In Koloa, on Kaua'i, there is this tiny, hole-in-the-wall fish market that sells lunch plates that are to die for. There are no seats, indeed there's barely enough room to turn around, but the fish is so fresh and the prices are extremely reasonable.
- Air Kaua'i Helicopter Tours. Not for those who are afraid of heights, but for everyone else, it's amazing. Even the locals on Kaua'i say the helicopter tours are great, and with good reason. Such a beautiful place, and seeing it from a bird's-eye view is even better. And the Air Kaua'i helicopters have huge windows, which makes for a great viewing experience.
- Brick Oven Pizza, in Kalaheo. Also on Kaua'i. They have good pizza. Really good pizza.
- Marrying the one you love. My wedding was the best day of my life. We've been together for almost seven years, since high school. In that time we've had a lot of experiences. We've grown, and grown up, together. I can think of nothing better than knowing that this is the person that I'm going to grow old with, share my life with. I can't wait to see what the future will bring.
By John Ringo
The fourth installment of the Legacy of the Alldenata saga concludes the Human-Posleen War series. It lived up to the first three novels, if it did resort to a bit of deus ex machina in the end. I would have been upset with all the loose ends, but Ringo made it clear in his afterword that he will be writing more about these characters (although perhaps after a not-too-brief hiatus).
Started: 7/9/2003 | Finished: 7/13/2003