Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

What this movie is: quite possibly the most amazing display of computer-generated imagery I've ever seen. What this movie is not: a great adventure film. As I'm sure everyone has already heard, the entire movie was shot in front of a blue screen; all of the sets and locations were computer generated. You could tell that this was the case, but it was very well done. Still, the film didn't really grab me. I appreciated the stylistic elements, but I just didn't get caught up in the action. Jude Law was pretty good and Omid Djalili made me chuckle, but Gwyneth Paltrow seemed out of place to me, except for a few moments of repartee with Law here and there. I did enjoy the movie, but it'll never hold the same place in my heart as, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Viewed: 9/24/2004 | Released: 9/13/2004 | Score: C

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The Pleasure of My Company

By Steve Martin

Steve Martin has a real way with words. His first novel, Shopgirl, had a sort of whimsical, lyric quality to the writing that I liked rather a lot. The problem was that the style had the effect of distancing me from the characters. I think Martin has solved that shortcoming in The Pleasure of My Company. It has the same sensitivity, the same dry humor, but it also manages to keep me very close to the main character. It's a very quick read, and the plot is rather sparse, but the character is rich enough to provide substance to the book. The story revolves around Daniel Cambridge and his host of obsessive-compulsive behaviors. But Martin is a skillful enough writer to help you see the person underneath the neuroses. I found myself becoming very attached to the characters in this book, despite the fact that it was so short. Interestingly enough, for most of the book I was able to hear Martin's voice in the prose; this is one of only a handful of books that have ever done that to me. It actually made the book seem more personal, almost conversational. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Started: 9/19/2004 | Finished: 9/21/2004

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The Horizontal Everest

By Jerry Kobalenko

Anyone who has ever enjoyed a solo hike knows that there's a certain something to being alone with nature that, though wonderful, is difficult to put into words accurately. In this book, Jerry Kobalenko gives us an insight into that feeling in his description of Ellesmere Island, one of the most northern places in the world. Kobalenko touches on nearly every aspect of the island, from the history of its exploration to its geography to its ecology, but what really comes out is his deep love of the place. It's enough to make me want to see the place myself--although given the difficulty I have carrying a pack with supplies for one day, I know I wouldn't last long dragging a hundred-pound sled for thirty miles a day. Even so, I really enjoyed reading about it.

Started: 8/30/2004 | Finished: 9/15/2004

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It's being marketed as a romantic comedy, but Wimbledon is really more of a romantic sports movie, if there is such a thing. The reason I say that is because, despite the fact that it does have a lot in common with romantic comedies, it is not particularly funny. In fact, for most of the film it's not even trying to be funny. There are some moments of comic relief, but, overall, Wimbledon is more about the love story and the sports story than laughs. The sports story was actually very good. I don't even like tennis and I still found the game scenes tense. The love story was, on the other hand, rather a flop, mostly because Kirsten Dunst isn't much of an actor. Fortunately, Paul Bettany is good enough to carry the film by himself.

Viewed: 9/17/2004 | Released: 9/12/2004 | Score: C

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This is probably the most beautiful film I've seen all year, and if you look over my film history for 2004, you'll see that this is no light praise. From a technical standpoint, Hero approaches perfection. Lighting, color, choreography, and camera work were all flawless. What keeps it from being a four-star movie is the writing. The story uses a very unusual structure, almost everything being told in flashback. It didn't quite click for me. And much of the dialogue in the present time portion was very stilted--at least, it came across that way in the subtitles. The overall message of the film, too, was just too bluntly delivered for me, though I hear it was received very well in its native China. Still, some of the performances worked well--I especially liked Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Broken Sword--and the visuals were so breathtaking that I still really enjoyed the movie.

Viewed: 9/10/2004 | Released: 1/13/2004 | Score: B

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Vanity Fair

One of the previews for Vanity Fair called it "the most romantic movie of the year." I just can't agree with that. In fact, I found it decidedly unromantic. The acting was all fine--in fact, it was kind of nice to see Rhys Ifans doing something different from his usual stuff--but I just didn't like the story very much. Almost none of the characters are what you would describe as "sympathetic," especially the protagonist, Becky Sharp. The film doesn't seem to make up it's mind on Becky, who is played by Reese Witherspoon. On the one hand, she's charming, vivacious, and witty. On the other hand, she's conniving and selfish and her only goal in life is to climb to a higher social station. To be fair, this ambivalence may not be entirely the film's fault; I understand that Thackeray's novel has much the same problem. Either way, it adds up to a story that I just couldn't get into.

Viewed: 9/4/2004 | Released: 8/31/2004 | Score: C

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The Eyre Affair

By Jasper Fforde

I found this one to be a nice little diversion after such a weighty undertaking. It probably wouldn't win any awards, but I found the characters engaging and the world delightfully quirky. I think I might even read the rest of the adventures of Special Operative Thursday Next. All in all a very fun read.

Started: 8/25/2004 | Finished: 8/29/2004

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