The Weather Man

I came away from this one with kind of an odd feeling. You see, the film centers around the life and thoughts of Dave Spritz, a Chicago weather man who happens to be one of the whiniest, most awkward, bumbling, self-absorbed, self-pitying characters I have seen in recent years. For long stretches of the movie I just couldn't stand him. Add to that that the film was completely bleak and gray, both in outlook and in color, and that it was extremely slow-moving. I shouldn't have liked it, but, somehow, I did. There were just enough moments of profound emotional depth that I came out thinking that it was actually a pretty good movie. In fact, one particular scene--the last scene between Michael Caine and Nicolas Cage--really sticks with me as just beautifully done. Still, the beginning of the movie is so slow and so hard to watch that I just can't rate it higher than a 2.

Viewed: 10/29/2005 | Released: 10/27/2005 | Score: C

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I was pretty nervous about this movie when I first heard that it was getting made. You see, I liked Steve Martin's novel quite a bit, but about 85% of what made the book what it was was Martin's writing style--specifically, the omniscient narration, the whimsical prose, and the scarcity of dialogue. I thought, "How can you make a movie out of this?" Movies are all about scenes and dialogue, so taking a book that was almost entirely narrative prose and trying to turn it into a movie would be difficult at best. Fortunately, Steve Martin is a good enough writer to pretty much pull it off. He created a screenplay that captured all of the humor of the book and most of the fairy-tale quality. He even managed to mostly restrain the impulse to insert voiceovers. All in all, it was an effective little fable of LA, a town that at once repels and fascinates me. It only misses out on the fourth star because of the few instances of annoying voiceover and the fact that I think that Steve Martin may not have been the best choice to play Ray Porter. He did a fine job, I just think that someone else might have fit a little better.

Viewed: 10/27/2005 | Released: 10/20/2005 | Score: B

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The Wizard

By Gene Wolfe

As you may know, Gene Wolfe is one of my favorite authors. He has this way of writing books that are layered enough that you can keep coming back to them and finding new ways of understanding them, while at the same time creating worlds and characters that intrigue you on the first read. Even though I know that Wolfe demands attention from his readers, I read this book too quickly. I was just enthralled by the mythology of the story and by many of the characters, especially Able (the narrator and protagonist) and Toug (a boy he meets early in the first book). I did try to read critically, but I was just enjoying it too much. Consequently, I am left with many questions at the end of the book. That doesn't really bother me, though, because it gives me an excuse to go back and read it again some time.

Started: 10/19/2005 | Finished: 10/28/2005

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Danish Butter Cookies

As I am typing this, there is a tin of Danish butter cookies in my office's kitchen. This is not the first time there have been Danish butter cookies in the kitchen. Every so often, our company secretary restocks the snacks, and for the past few months this has included a tin of cookies. They never last very long--a week, tops--which is unsurprising because they are tasty and conveniently bite-sized. Everyone loves them. I have an especially hard time avoiding them because in addition to loving their crumbly, buttery goodness, they also remind me of Christmases during my childhood.

Every year when I was a kid, my dad's family would take a trip to Lake Tahoe for the week between Christmas and New Year's. My grandparents, my dad, an aunt and uncle, my brothers, and my cousins would all crowd into a cabin we'd rent and have a week of playing in the snow. It doesn't often snow where I'm from, so it was a big treat for me and the rest of the kids. My older brother usually brought friends and went skiing a lot; the rest of the kids only skied the last day. The rest of the time we'd go sledding or just play in the back yard, making snow forts, digging snow tunnels, and generally running around like crazy people in the snow. If we felt like staying inside, sometimes we'd play card games (my grandma knew about six million different games) or hide and seek, or play video games on the living room TV, which was next to a wood-burning stove that was kept going for more or less the entire week.

What does all of that have to do with cookies? Well, every time we went to that cabin, we brought the same snacks with us. One of those big tins with three kinds of popcorn in it (plain, caramel, and cheddar) and a tin of Danish butter cookies. That was pretty much the only time of the year I ever saw either of those, so now whenever I taste one of those cookies, I picture a scene from one of our Tahoe trips. Like my cousins and I playing with the little toy voice recorder one of us had gotten for Christmas, which let you speed up or slow down whatever you recorded. Or the time I found a rock that looked like ice under the deck. (I still have it.) Or knocking icicles off the roof with rocks and watching them crash on the ground below--and, of course, having my dad or aunt yell at us to knock it off before we broke a window.

Of course, back then I was still energetic and growing, so cookies and popcorn were no big deal. Nowadays, on the other hand, with my sedentary lifestyle and general laziness, I do everything I can to distract myself from the knowledge that rich, sugary nostalgia is just down the hall. My only hope is hoping that the other engineers will have eaten them all before I crack, giving me a few weeks of reprieve. Unfortunately, having written this piece has brought the cookies to my attention, and the new tin just showed up on Friday.

Ah, screw it. Isn't this why I bought an elliptical trainer, anyway?

The Knight

By Gene Wolfe

I'm pretty wrapped up in the second book, and the first one alone doesn't stand alone as a story, anyway, so instead of reviewing both books separately, I'm going to cop out and review them together when I'm done with The Wizard. I know you are all terribly disappointed.

Started: 10/7/2005 | Finished: 10/18/2005

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Nearly every aspect of this movie was terrible. To begin with--and this is by far the most minor offense--neither Orlando Bloom nor Kirsten Dunst could do the accents they were trying to do. Yeah, it's just one thing, but even if the rest of the performance is great, a bad accent pulls you out of the moment and reminds you that you're seeing actors. And in this case the two leads were far from great actors. Far from good. Bad, in fact. But even if they had been great, the script was this rambling, nearly incoherent monstrosity that never focused itself enough to say anything, despite the fact that it was obvious that writer/director Cameron Crowe was trying so hard to convey meaning. The dialogue was trite, when it even made sense. I mean, seriously, this movie was so bad that I have no idea how it even got picked up. The worst part is that it's quite obvious that the film was written straight from the heart, that it meant a lot to Crowe. The one redeeming thing was the road trip that takes up the last 15 or 20 minutes, but by that point I had already been bored for two hours. If only Crowe had just taken that part and made that the movie, maybe this review would have read differently. Unfortunately, he didn't.

Viewed: 10/15/2005 | Released: 10/13/2005 | Score: F

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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

By Milan Kundera

It took me a pretty long time to finish this book considering that it wasn't terribly long. (My edition is 312 pages.) I never really got into it, I think. Even so, I got the sense that there was a whole subtle world of meaning that I was unable to connect with. There's a very Eastern European feeling of gravitas about all of the vignettes Kundera presents, and I did find his obsession with borders intriguing; it reflected the same sort of transitional moment that I find fascinating in Westerns. Still, I finished the book feeling like I didn't get it. Perhaps I'm just too entrenched in the modern sensibility that he seems to criticize to be able to fully appreciate what he's trying to say. Or maybe I just disagree with him. Or maybe he's not even really criticizing. I don't really know. I think in order to really understand Kundera's message I would have to put a lot more work in, but I don't think I'm willing to invest that much effort. Not right now, anyway.

Started: 8/30/2005 | Finished: 10/6/2005

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For those of you browncoats out there who think it's ridiculous that I didn't award this one a fourth star, let me just say that I liked it. I really did. Firefly is, in my opinion, one of the best science fiction shows ever made, and Serenity had pretty much everything that made the show so great. But the switch from a series of one-hour episodes to a single two-hour film inevitably brought about some changes. The biggest change, one that I'm not sure is good or bad, is that where the show was truly an ensemble piece, the film really revolves around Mal, River, and the nameless bad guy. I don't really think this could be helped--there just wasn't time to really showcase all of the characters--and the performances were still great, but it was definitely different. There were also a few small instances of retcon, but it wasn't too bad. My main problem was that while I think that the writing was good at both the high and low levels--the overall story arc, structure and pacing were well done and the dialogue was, as always, excellent--there were some writing choices at the middle levels that bothered me. I can't really get into it without some significant spoilers, but suffice it to say that I think Whedon got it wrong in at least one place. Despite that, I still think it was a great movie and I highly recommend it to anyone who's seen the show. And if you haven't seen the show, why are you still reading this? Didn't you read where I said it's one of the best shows ever? Go see it!

Viewed: 9/29/2005 | Released: 9/29/2005 | Score: B

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