Local Hero (****)

Posted on June 8th, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Local Hero is my all-time favorite film. On the surface it’s a quaint  romantic comedy about an American fish-out-of-water in Scotland. But the film  has layers that at first may not be apparent. The first time I watched this  movie I knew absolutely nothing about it, and only watched it because I couldn’t  find the remote, didn’t feel like getting up, and this movie came on. I had been  planning to drift off for a lazy Saturday afternoon nap, and the slow, quiet  pacing of this movie seemed like the perfect background noise to lull me off to  la-la land. But a funny thing happened…I found myself getting caught up in the  story and the characters, in the music and the cinematography, and in the  near-magical mood of the film. The basic story is that an oilman from Houston, Mac MacIntyre (Peter Riegert),  is sent to Scotland to buy up an entire town to become the site of a refinery. 

The town is a tiny, idyllic fishing village, called Furness, populated by a cast  of characters who may at first appear to be stereotypical, but turn out to be  deeply drawn and fully realized, even if some of them only have a few moments of  screen time.  When I watch the film I get the feeling that each character,  no matter how major or minor, represents the tip of the iceberg of a complex and  real person.  And I don’t mean that in the intense, method-acted,  angst-filled, emoting-from-the-diaphragm perspective, I mean it from the  humorous, simple, and natural interaction of actual people perspective.   Mac tries to diplomatically address the disruption of lives and displacement of  the locals, while the locals joyously (and secretly) can’t wait to sell at a  high price.  Mac’s negotiating opponent is the local chartered accountant,  Gordon Urquhart, played with sublime canniness by Denis Lawson.

To tell more of the story would be a shame, as you should experience it for  yourself.  The layers of this film are not hidden or exposed, obscured or  highlighted — they are merely there for you to see and/or feel for yourself.   The topmost layer…which is the basic storyline…is very enjoyable in and of  itself.  The script is witty and poignant, the acting and directing are  flawless, and the scenery is beautiful beyond description.  My suggestion  is that you get a copy of this film on DVD, then wait for a cold, rainy day when  you have nothing much to do other than stay safe and warm at home.  Have  some wine, or a hot toddy, or some single malt scotch, unhook the phone, snuggle  in and watch this movie.  Then wait a few days, or a few weeks, or a few  months, or a few years, and then watch it all over again.  Repeat as  necessary.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (**½)

Posted on June 2nd, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

******************** Caution: May contain spoilers ********************

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is a good, solid, entertaining, escapist summer film. In addition to the stunts, explosions, prurience, humor, and action you would expect from this movie, there is also a dash of drama and a pinch of…well…tragedy. Nothing heavy-handed, mind you, but integrated well into the story and a bit unexpected.

Sadly, my first thought after leaving the theater was that seeing this film has caused me to like the Matrix films even less than I already do. The Angels director, McG, and company have of course included the requisite big-budget, CGI driven stunts that the movie studios expect that summer audiences expect from this type of film. I’m okay with that, in theory. However, my understanding is that the Angels, while being quite good at what they do (solving cases, kicking asses, titillating), are not superheroes, and they do not have any superhuman capabilities, nor do their adversaries. How, then, are they able to regularly violate the laws of physics? I’m not talking about a kung-fu move that seems implausible, I’m talking about the ability to change direction in mid-air, the ability to dodge bullets, and the ability to fly (or at least glide) by virtue of the aerodynamic properties of a lace blouse. I mean, I’ve never seen Stevie Nicks get airborne, and she’s spent most of her career spinning around in lace tops.

The blame is shared by the popularity of the Matrix films and the herd mentality of Hollywood. Even though I don’t care for the Matrix films, I will freely admit that the superhuman activities of their characters makes perfect sense within the logic of the story. Those same activities are ridiculous in a film like Full Throttle. Seeing McG insert these slavishly-wannabe-Matrix segments into his film was disheartening, as my opinion after the first Angels film was that he was developing a unique voice as a filmmaker. He still might, but I hope if there’s another film in this franchise that he remembers that there are a lot of folks in the audience like me, who will buy (and have probably come to see) the implausible, but who find themselves completely jolted out of the enjoyment of the film by seeing the impossible.

With the exception of this bad case of Matrix-pox, I enjoyed Full Throttle. The girls are very cute, Demi Moore is sufficiently menacing as the bad gal, the cameos are well done, and the soundtrack is nearly perfect. And the special effects, even if inappropriate, are also well done and state of the art. Bernie Mac is pretty funny as the new Bosley, and they handle the transition from Bill Murray fairly smoothly. The story revolves around the Federal Witness Protection program, and the various underworld syndicates (Japanese, Italian, Irish, etc) who want to get their hands on the list of hidden witnesses. The film even delves deeper into the back-story of one particular Angel, but I won’t spoil it by telling you which one. In a

Murder By Death (***)

Posted on June 2nd, 2003 in Movie Reviews by mynagirl

This movie came up randomly on cable last night, and it’s ridiculous and almost so silly you want to turn it off. But we just couldn’t! First of all, it’s hard to resist such a cast:

Sir Alec Guinness
David Niven
Maggie Smith
Peter Falk
Peter Sellers
Truman Capote
… and VERY young James Cromwell

The premise of the movie (which is a Neil Simon, by the way) is spoofy in the extreme: a psychotic and eccentric millionaire has invited the world’s greatest sleuths to his rambling, creaky English country house for a planned murder that they must all solve. The sleuths include:

Inspector Sidney Wang, a very toothy and hilariously un-PC Chinaman Peter Sellers
Dick and Dora Charleston, an upper-crust British crimefighting couple (Niven and Smith)
Sam Diamond, a hard-boiled San Francisco private eye (Falk, doing his best Bogart)
Jane Marbles, a tweedy old English sleuthing bird
Monsieur Perrier, an uptight and constantly ravenous crime-solving Belgian

The targets to be spoofed can hardly be mistaken. Having grown up on Agatha Christie novels (I literally read every single one and every play by the time I was 12), this was too hilarious to pass up. Although the premise hasn’t aged that well (what with the Clue movie, Austin Powers, and the like), the actors were so great in their adopted personae. Alec Guiness is especially hilarious as the blind butler; he looks like he’s just having the best time. Truman Capote is perfect as the effete marionette-master eccentric millionaire.

Of course, the murder occurs and the sleuths band together to try and solve the crime. There’s much silliness and slapstick, but some of the dialog is truly hilarious. To wit: Dick Charleston (David Niven) is inspecting the naked body of the dead butler (Guiness) for signs of a gunshot wound. “Wait, I think I found one… oh, nevermind, not a bullet hole.” It’s delivered so deadpan you almost miss it.
The movie has enough of these type of treasures to make it truly worth it. It’s a trifle, an old movie spoofing an even older literary genre, but it’s pretty darn funny. Set a Wish List on your TiVo, and check it out if you’re ever in the mood to watch something but you’re not sure what. This would be perfect.

Nowhere in Africa (***)

Posted on June 2nd, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

******************** THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********************

I am not particularly geeked out by art-house flicks, nor do I have any particular fondness for foreign-language films. Nowhere in Africa is both, and I still loved it. The film is not a stereotypical art-house flick, in that it is not avant-garde, film noir, experimental, hyper-sexual, nor stupid. What it is, is a very real story about real people trying to live their lives during extraordinary circumstances.

The film is set around the time of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. The story follows a married couple and their daughter, who are Jewish, as they try to adapt and survive in a changing world. When the story begins the mother, Jettel, and daughter, Regina, are living the last few precious days of their privileged lives in Germany. The husband, Walter, is off in Kenya (where there is a nascent Jewish community) attempting to create a livelihood and homestead for his family, and bring them out of Germany to escape what he senses is the upcoming devastation of the lives of Jews in Germany.

As we all know, his guess turns out to be correct, but at the time and place of this story it’s still not clear exactly what, if anything, might befall Jewish people, other than some more overt, but not catastrophic, anti-Semitism. But he finds work in Kenya as the bwana (manager) of a farm, working for an unsympathetic-but-not-evil landowner. Walter sees the drastic changes to their lives in crystal clear terms, and implores his wife to leave their fancy china behind in order to make room to bring a refrigerator. They will be living hard lives in an unknown land and won’t have the resources for frivolities. The wife, either not understanding this or refusing to accept it, brings the china, spends their last few marks on a ball gown, and unapologetically shows up refrigerator-less.

This begins one of the primary plot themes, as Walter expects his wife to quickly let go of her old world view and accept the new reality, and Jettel refuses to accept that everything that had defined her up until this point in her life was gone, and that all she has left is life as the wife of a poor farm manager in Kenya. Caught up in the middle of all this is Regina, who is five years old when they move to Kenya. She immediately bonds with their cook Owuor, who is a tall, good-natured, middle-aged Masai tribesman who is more than happy to work in the house of a bwana. Regina and Owuor develop a spiritual kinship despite the difference in their ages and backgrounds.

The story is told primarily from Regina’s point of view, as she explores the new world and new reality with the open mind, open heart, and resilience of a child. The story spans many years, from their emigration to escape the Nazis, to the end of WWII and their agonizing struggle to figure out what to do in the

An Open Letter to Palm, Inc.

Posted on June 1st, 2003 in Product Reviews,Technology by EngineerBoy

Way back in the dark ages, I bought my first Palm device – the PalmPilot Pro. It immediately became as indispensable to me as my cell phone, as it enabled me to view, edit, change, and delete calendar appointments, contacts, and tasks while I was out and about, and then synchronize them when I got back to my computer. I used the heck out of it until I lost it, and immediately bought a replacement (used, same make/model) for about 25% of what I originally paid. I used the replacement for several years, then lost it, too. Palm had just announced the forthcoming Palm V, so I waited a couple of months for it to be released before purchasing it.

The Palm V was sleek and small, with a stylish metallic case, sharper graphics, and more memory. I once again used the heck out of it for a couple of years, and then (as you may have guessed, given the pattern so far) eventually lost it. I very badly wanted to replace it immediately, but rumors had begun circulating about a new wireless Palm (the i705, not the Sputnik-sized Palm VII), so I vowed to wait until the release of the new model before making my purchasing decision.

So I waited. And waited. And waited. For almost a year. Palm-less, writing things on sticky-notes, having to *remember* commitments and tasks. It was not fun. Finally Palm announced the upcoming i705. It looked pretty good, bigger than the Palm V, but smaller than the Palm VII, which seemed about right. Integrated, internal antennae, as opposed to the Palm VII’s flip-out, plastic, auto-breaking one. So I weighed my options, between the new color Palms and the wireless, non-color i705, and finally decided that the convenience of wireless won out. I placed my advance order and got my i705 the day after it was released.

It was love at first sight, let me tell you. I activated the wireless service, synched up my information, took it out for a test spin, got my first pro-active, wireless email notification and knew I could never go back to non-wireless. *This* is what a PDA was supposed to do. And I used the heck out of it. *And* we got one for my wife.

And then I began to notice some little, nagging problems. I had to recalibrate my screen every couple of days, because the place I would touch on the screen would be translated by the device to a place near where I touched, but not exactly. And over time it would drift further askew, until it was impossible to do anything. But, recalibration was a 30 second chore, so I figured I could live with it. Also, the gray case was just painted plastic, not metal, and the paint started to flake off almost immediately. This made the device look old and cheap. Eventually the case cracked, right along the edge of the media card slot, which Palm had illogically place directly behind the power button, so

Ming’s Cafe – very ordinary

Posted on June 1st, 2003 in Houston,Restaurant Reviews by EngineerBoy

Ming’s Cafe
2703 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006
Phone: (713) 529-7888

We stopped by this kitschy little joint for dinner on the way home from work today. The atmosphere was Montrose-quirky, the menu was surprisingly deep for such a small place, and the fried dumpling appetizers were quite delish. However, our main dishes were extraordinarily ordinary. We may give them another try, as it wasn’t horrible, but with the huge selection of very good Chinese food in Houston, why?

28 Days Later (***½)

Posted on June 1st, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

******************** This Review May Contain Spoilers ********************
This is an intelligent, hardcore thrill ride of a movie. It’s part social  commentary and part philosophical exploration of the innate nature of humanity,  wrapped up and presented to the audience in the guise of an extraordinarily  well-done horror film. Actually, “horror” may be a mis-characterization of the  movie, depending on your definition. Suffice it to say that while nothing  supernatural happens, many horrible things do, so see it and decide the  semantics for yourself. I was pleasantly surprised to find a refreshing lack of preachiness or  over-explanation of the apocalyptic-ish events in this film. In fact, the events  are presented with almost no explanation, and the viewer is left to interpret  things based on what they (and the characters) experience. Also, the movie does  not resort to any sort of trickery, misdirection, or intentional ambiguity  designed to deceive the viewer, and instead tells a most extraordinary tale in a  most direct and unembellished fashion, as if a documentary film crew had  followed our protagonists during their adventure. 
******************** Okay, Definite Spoilers Here ******************** The movie starts at a primate testing lab, where some well-intentioned activists  have set out to free some chimpanzees that are being used for experiments.  Before they can open the cages, a hapless lab assistant stumbles upon them and  pleads with them not to release the chimps because they are infected with a  virus called “Rage”. They ignore him, open the first cage, are viciously  attacked by the chimp, and then the story jumps to 28 days later (hence the  title).  We now meet Jim, who is just waking up from a 4 week coma in a London hospital.  There are no doctors or nurses around, and Jim eventually wanders out of the  hospital and into the empty streets of London.
What has happened is that nearly  everyone in the city has either left, died, or become one of the “Infected”. The  Infected have the Rage virus, which gives them a sensitivity to light (so they  mostly come out at night), removes any semblance of humanity or abstract  thought, and seems to fill them with no instinct or feeling other than to spread  the Rage virus to any and all non-infected humans they can find. This transfer  is made via the blood, so you can imagine the carnage. Once the virus has been  transferred to a person, they transmogrify into one of the Infected within 10-20  seconds. 
As we follow Jim through the story, he meets up with a few non-infected humans,  some who live, some who die, and some who are more monstrous than the Infected.  Jim and his companions are on a quest – to stay alive, to keep from becoming  infected (because if you do your companions will instantly terminate you with  extreme prejudice, not to mention extreme haste), and to figure out what the  hell to do next. Our characters don’t really *know* anything. They don’t know  how long the Infected “live”. They don’t know the origins of the

The Italian Job (***)

Posted on June 1st, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

We saw The Italian Job last night, and it was a very enjoyable movie-going experience. I went in with lowwwww expectations, as the previews seemed to depict a movie that was The Fast and the Furious meets The Truth About Charlie, with a dash of Cooper Mini autos added for that “Do the Dew” cred. In other words, really not my cup of tea.

However, the movie was much better than I expected. Yes, the story is fairly predictable, but the action sequences are well-done, and there are some genuinely funny parts. There is also a wonderfully refreshing lack of forehead-slapping stupidity and triteness. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but the truth is that so many of the movies being made today are just slipshod repitition of ideas from other currently popular films. This one is different because it isn’t slipshod, and it has just enough originality to stand on its own merits.

If you’re looking for an entertaining, summer action flick check out The Italian Job.