A Widow for One Year

By John Irving

In the first chapter of A Widow For One Year, Ruth Cole, a four-year-old child, walks in on her 39-year-old mother having sex with Ruth's father's teenage assistant. It's a shocking scene, but also a funny and revealing scene. It's a very John Irving type of scene. Irving has such an interesting style. He telegraphs everything; indeed, he tells you everything before it happens, and yet when the time finally comes you still find yourself completely drawn into the moment. That takes skill. The rest of the book follows the lives of Ruth, her parents, and Eddie, the teenage assistant. One of the things that intrigued me the most is Irving's descriptions of the types of writers that Ruth, her parents, and Eddie are, or become. There's a lot in there that seems like it must be autobiographical to some extent, which is ironic in light of the fact that Ruth, herself, disdains autobiographical fiction. I'm not sure what else I could talk about that wouldn't give away too much of the plot--and in a John Irving novel the plot is what drives the book--but suffice it to say that it was a great read.

Started: 10/11/2004 | Finished: 10/23/2004

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Friday Night Lights

Before I say anything else about this movie, let me offer one piece of advice: don't sit too close to the screen. I was in the second row, and between the hand-held camera, the frenetic action and cutting, and the frequent close-ups, it made the film difficult to watch. There. Now that that's done, let's talk about the rest of the movie. Friday Night Lights is one of the best sports movies I've seen. In a way, though, it's not even really about the sports. Well, that's a little misleading. It is a football movie, but it's much more about the town of Odessa, Texas and the way in which the town's obsession with high school football affects the people in it than it is about the sport itself. In that way it's a little like Varsity Blues, but where Blues is funny, Lights is gritty. Everything about the movie enhances that effect. The film is grainy, the camera is shaky, and the performances are so natural that you can even forget that you're watching actors. If you're looking for a movie that's uplifting or heartwarming or fun then this one isn't for you. But if you want a serious movie, a great movie, check this one out.

Viewed: 10/15/2004 | Released: 10/5/2004 | Score: A

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I Heart Huckabees

How can I describe I Heart Huckabees? I could tell you that it's about an existential detective agency, but that's a little inaccurate, and, besides, it's more confusing than revealing. It's a film about connectedness and separateness and people trying to understand. That makes it sound serious. In a way, it is, but it's also ridiculous. It's a silly movie that will make you laugh. I Heart Huckabees was written and directed by David O. Russell, who also wrote and directed Three Kings. You can see some similarities in the directing style, but the subject matter in this one is much more off-the-wall. The acting was, across the board, excellent. I always enjoy Naomi Watts and Dustin Hoffman, and Jason Schwartzman and Lily Tomlin were also fun to watch. Surprisingly enough, Mark Wahlberg was also very good. In fact, I think this role was perfect for him. It's a weird movie. I loved it.

Viewed: 10/9/2004 | Released: 9/30/2004 | Score: A

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The Stranger in Big Sur

By Lillian Bos Ross

I both enjoyed and didn't enjoy this book. Ross' story shows us the world of the Big Sur coast as it was in the mid-nineteenth century. Life is hard, but the land is beautiful. We follow the main character, Zande Allan, through the changes his life makes when he marries his mail-order bride, Hannah. On the one hand, the story resonated with me in much the same way that Steinbeck's works do. I have spent a lot of time in Big Sur; I've even lived there a couple of times. So, as I made my way through Stranger, much of description was familiar to me and made me feel connected to the story. On the other hand, I don't know that I really cared for the story or the way it was written. Ross wrote the story in the first person and so decided to write her prose as Zande Allan would say it. It added to the ambience, but made it harder to read. But even more, I just didn't care for Zande. In some ways his actions and attitudes can be excused as a product of the world he lived in, but even by the end of the story I just couldn't find it in me to like him. Even so, if the character tale was lost on me, I still found the book fascinating as a description of life on the coast.

Started: 9/23/2004 | Finished: 10/7/2004

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Mr. 3000

I love baseball movies. This one may not have been a Bull Durham, but even so I liked it quite a bit. I think that some people might go see it and be disappointed because it's not as funny as the previews make it out to be. Indeed, Bernie Mac is practically subdued compared to some of his other films. But even though he's not as funny as he could be, Mac manages a surprisingly nuanced performance that, by the end, even managed to get me a little choked up. Really, there's more of drama to Mr. 3000 than comedy, but there are enough laughs to keep the general tone light and the rest of the story works pretty well.

Viewed: 10/2/2004 | Released: 9/7/2004 | Score: B

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The Forgotten

This film aims to take you for a ride, and while on a certain level it succeeds, the journey is not as fun and the ending is not as satisfying as other, similar movies. While I disagree with many reviewers who found the film's main idea stupid, it still didn't really grab me. And I left the film feeling a little frustrated that so many of my questions remained unanswered. True, most of my questions were arguably not that important to the main action, but I think most viewers will share my frustration. Another problem I had was that the scenes shot with a hand-held camera gave me a bit of a headache. I'm not a big fan of that particular technique, and unfortunately it seems to be getting more and more widely used. The one particularly good thing about The Forgotten was Linus Roache. His character is listed in the credits as "A Friendly Man," and he managed the perfectly creepy performance.

Viewed: 10/1/2004 | Released: 9/23/2004 | Score: B

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Ladder 49

This movie had a lot of potential. I wanted to see a story about the life of a firefighter, about what his life and relationships are like, what his job entails, how he starts a rookie but grows into a veteran. And I did see that, but it just wasn't very well done. The film touches on all of these things, but it never delves very far below the surface. To make matters worse, the ending made no sense. I can't say much more about it without giving too much away, but I just didn't understand the writer's choice of ending; it didn't match the rest of the movie very well. The acting was hit or miss. Joaquin Phoenix was pretty good and most of the other firefighters were fine. Travolta was good in some parts, unbearably cheesy in others. The only performance that didn't work at all was Jacinda Barrett, who played Joaquin Phoenix's wife. It's not that she was particularly bad; she just didn't bring anything interesting to her character. I did enjoy the film, but I won't be looking for it on DVD.

Viewed: 9/30/2004 | Released: 9/19/2004 | Score: C

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