★★★☆☆
Review

Transsiberian

American missionary tourists on a trip through the bleak landscape of Siberia by rail. The train itself tries to become another character, but doesn’t really succeed. A thriller that isn’t totally thrilling, this film starts of slowly and builds slowly and then ends really quickly, degenerating from intriguing and edgy to slash and bash, with a denouement that leaves you utterly unfulfilled. I guess what happens in Siberia stays in Siberia?

It is hard to describe much of the plot without giving things away, but the advertising copy is fairly accurate:

A Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the film, but I did, at least until the last 20 minutes, and then I didn’t anymore. I’d compare it to Sunshine, a 2007 sci-fi thriller with a similar problem: some great, slow setup of the characters and environment, edgy and intriguing, and then it all goes to hell in utterly random and implausible ways at the end.

Or perhaps more accurate is to look to something like A Simple Plan, the excellent and disturbing film that spotlights so clearly how one bad action and one big lie, left uncorrected, can build and compound and snowball out of control, leaving in its wake misery and pain. That’s what should have happened in Transsiberian, but it didn’t, and I’m not really sure why.

★★★★☆
Review

Juno

I may be a bit late to this particular party. I just often find movies like this very difficult to get through. Especially if I have a pause button.

You’ve seen the trailer or at least know the story is about a pregnant teenager with an acerbic wit. But it isn’t really. It is about a pregnant teenager who knows she is a teenager and who knows she is in way over her head. She has a supportive and pragmatic family and a boyfriend that is pretty far out of the picture. She hooks up with an adoptive couple with some baggage of their own and stumbles through her interactions with them without either side being patronizing.

The film is sweet, even when it overreaches and strays into cringe-inducing turns of phrase that just cry out for you to revel in their cleverness. It is at other points understated and hilarious and the dialogue perfectly crafted. Several of the characters are introduced slowly, minimally, even obliquely, and yet they feel deep and fully formed. Many people love this film’s soundtrack; I thought it was distracting and tone-deaf. The acting, in contrast, was amazing. Everyone hit their notes, no one stole the spotlight. And Ellen Page is, obviously, one to watch.

★★★☆☆
Review

The Golden Compass

This review contains mild spoilers for the film The Golden Compass and its source novel, Northern Lights, but nothing too serious.

When Joss Whedon adapted _Firefly_ to the big screen in _Serenity_, he walked a delicate line, cramming in tons of exposition, character development, and plot in a very limited amount of time. He knew when to rush, when to slow down for the little moments of humanity, when to tell, when to show. It is a delicate art that very few can pull off, but when trying to translate a rich, pre-established universe in just two hours, it is essential.

_The Golden Compass_, adapted and directed by Chris Weitz from a novel by Philip Pullman, sadly lacks that deft touch, and that makes all the difference. The movie is suitably beautiful and fantastic, given its $180 million budget, but I’d take half of that money away if it could mean a better story and less obsession with effects. To be fair, the book itself is somewhat dry and over-expositive. Lyra is dashed from place to place and coincidentally winds up with the right people, making the right choices, all the time. There is too much exploration of the universe and not enough pay off for the reader’s patience. The business with the witches, the background of the Gyptians, the talk about the folks who put holes in their skulls, where does it all lead? Will there be some great payoff in book three?

But at the same time, Pullman forces the reader to figure out what is going on, what the rules of the universe are, dolling out information only slowly. As we discover more about daemons, about Dust, about the alethiometer, we become Lyra’s co-conspirators. Because the characters in her sphere have unclear motives and backgrounds, we are left to decipher the various shades of gray. And, dare I say, this requisite innocent curiosity plays very neatly into Pullman’s in-novel arguments about the relative goodness of independence and free inquiry over dogma and faith. All of these elements are what make the novel captivating, and they are dispatched of in the first two minutes of the film, with a ridiculous opening narration that sucks all the wonder out of the film. Oh! So *that’s* what Dust is! And the folks in the Magesterian are all uniformly evil!

From there it is just a frantic jump from scene to scene, trying to follow the novel faithfully here, veering wildly off course there, and now back, and now away, and now things are happening oddly out of order, changed after filming, but with some nice and creative editing covering the gaps. There are a lot of people to introduce and then perhaps dispatch of, but no one we really get to have much in the way of feelings for, not even Lyra.

I’m not one of those people who goes into a film adaptation with images of the characters already in my head. I liked seeing everyone on screen. What I didn’t like was seeing cardboard cut-outs of the original characters, so clearly good and evil, really comically so, and I also didn’t like at all the cavalier way in which dozens of red shirts (and their poor daemons) are killed off bloodlessly in various battles that were needlessly scaled up for the screen from the smaller, in many ways more powerful confrontations of the book. There was only one scary bit in the film, taken directly from the novel, where it was terrifying, and even that wasn’t really done properly.

If you haven’t read _Northern Lights_, you’re going to find the movie confusing and not much fun. If you have read it, you’re going to find it disappointing in various ways, but still interesting as an adaptation. If they make the sequels, maybe they’ll do better. If they don’t, I guess its not a huge loss.

★★★★☆
Review

There Will Be Blood

P.T. Anderson won me over with Boogie Nights and Magnolia, two amazing portraits of time and place and human life set in my native California. I left There Will Be Blood, an epic also based in California, but a century ago, unsure what to feel. Critics call this film a masterpiece, but I’ve spent a good hour thinking about it now and I still can’t figure out what story he’s trying to tell. Clearly the plot itself, about an up-and-coming oil tycoon on the great American frontier, is secondary to the characters, to the examination of a time and an industry and a singular life, but to what end? What are we supposed to feel? How are we supposed to react to the duel of wills of two very different but equally despicable men? Were all the oil drilling accidents that punctuated the film and cut short so many lives supposed to ground us? Was Plainview’s grotesque devolution after the injury of his adopted son supposed to convey to us something profound? Or was it all just a study in evil and self-destruction, a modern-day _Citizen Kane_?

And what was the deal with the third act? Seriously, 20 years later?

As a character portrait, I admit, the film is good. As a period piece, amazing — I was totally taken by the cinematography, the harsh brightness, the gritty scrubland, the ceaselessly pooling and oozing oil, the towering well lit up in flame. I felt the time and the place. But to what end? I left the film more confused than anything. I looked back and said, well, that happened. I don’t know what makes this film a masterpiece. I admit, maybe it was my mood, my seat in the theater, or the sound problems. Or maybe it just doesn’t speak to me. But if the consensus of the rest of the group I went with is any indication, it probably doesn’t speak to a lot of people.

★★★★☆
Review

Big Dead Place

Nicholas Johnson has a lot of ice time under his belt. He spent five summers and two winters at McMurdo base on Antarctica, mostly working Waste Management (a fairly complicated job in a place where everything that comes in needs to be taken out again). Thus his bug’s-eye view of the workings of the United States Antarctic Project (USAP) are not colored by bureaucratic doublespeak or corporate banality. It becomes abundantly clear very early that Johnson is his own man, and a very cynical one at that.

Big Dead Place offers a fascinating overview of the workings of McMurdo and South Pole stations, the United States’ two primary outposts in the Antarctic. While the program is operated under the auspices of the National Science Foundation and its mission is general thought to be the pursuit of scientific progress, one quickly learns that there are other, stranger forces at work. For one thing, for every one researcher on base, there are about five support staff. They run the facilities (electricity, heating, plumbing), machine shops, supply yards, logistics, cafeteria, waste disposal, janitorial services, housing, human resources, and on and on. While Antarctica is often portrayed as a land of harsh mystery, marvelous wonder, and funny penguins, the day-to-day truth is far more asinine. McMurdo and Pole are just like any other job, except that the weather rarely tops 0 degrees Fahrenheit and six months of the year see no sunlight at all.

Continue reading “Big Dead Place”

★★★☆☆
Review

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

This review contains spoilers for Battlestar Galactica through episode 3×04 and for Razor.

Are we supposed to see Cain as a flawed but sympathetic human being? Because I can’t. Major Shaw? Yes, a sympathetic character — young, inexperienced, dead mom, led astray by a powerful force. But not Cain. The transition was too sudden, the decisions too rash and single-minded, the act of CIC brutality too disturbing, and the justifications too feeble for me to see her as a sympathetic character. I choose to ignore the coda and disbelieve the notion that Adama could have taken her place. But I could see Kara in Shaw’s place. Wasn’t she, after all, a surrogate Shaw to Cain in the time prior to Shaw appearing whole cloth in Razor?

Look back at Resurrection Ship. Look at how Cain was then: her strength, her will, her intelligence, her sensibility. She was measured. She was cold. Very often, she was right. Look at Kara’s eulogy. Do you feel like maybe Shaw should have delivered it?

So we get Shaw, and we get Kara, and they fight with each other, because they’re so similar, and we get Lee, and okay, he’s not a bad commander, and we get the rest of the people, and they’re all props, and we get flashbacks, and it’s all filler. It is all things we already know. There is nothing, nothing new here. Why bring it all back, why go to all the trouble, without making something new? If you’re doing a story about Shaw, do a story about Shaw, whoever the frack she is. But don’t do a rehash of Cain.

My opinion of Battlestar Galactica: Razor? Mediocre. A missed opportunity. There was so much potential here. I’d have loved to see a four hour mini-series called Battlestar Pegasus. Instead we get more of the same, ever since they left New Caprica, ever since the show lost its way.

★★★★☆
Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I have happy memories of these books from my childhood, and watching the film gave me the same feelings. At two and a half hours long it may be a bit much to sit through, but I was smiling throughout. It wasn’t the movie I expected it to be — an hour too long for a kids movie, too scary and bloody for one as well. And of course it opened during World War II England and with a visual palate and soundtrack to match. The story was simplistic, but I think it was pretty true to the book, although I read it 14 years ago so I can’t be sure. I wish Peter would stop drawing his sword. I wish that after they fell into a just-unfrozen lake they would shiver a bit, and after a long chase they might be the least bit out of breath. And a few of the green screen scenes could have been better. But these are quibbles. The movie made me happy, and made a long train ride feel shorter, and that’s what counts. With any luck it has that same effect on others. Plus, of course, it makes me want to pick up the books again, this time with an eye out for all of that Christ imagery.

★★☆☆☆
Review

Kid Nation

Portrayed as a “Lord of the Flies” type scenario with minimal adult intervention, _Kid Nation_ turns out to be fairly standard reality show fare. The movie set town that the kids inhabit had electricity and running water, but it was shut off for the production (except when it was not, for the purposes of various “challenges”). The kids lived alone, except for the large and ever-present crew of cameramen and producers. They had to build their own society, except that the structures of the society were imposed above, including a pre-selected town council, the edict that the children must be divided into four teams (and wear colorful bandanas to match), and the economics of the town that created social classes, including a ridiculous “upper class” that had no required work and earned the most money. All supplies were provided, including candy and games.

I don’t doubt the kids had to work hard. I don’t doubt that they were challenged by being away from their homes and families and friends for over a month. We know that mistakes and injuries did occur on set, including an unfortunate incident with bleach. But if the aim was to show that “real kids” can create a “real” and functioning society, all that was tossed out the window on day one, when the “Town Council” was brought in by helicopter while the rest of the kids traveled by yellow school bus.

I was hoping to see a show where adults were mostly hidden, cameras were mostly embedded (a la _Big Brother_), and kids were given guidance when they asked for it but no rules. What sort of government would they set up? How would they ration and divide the food? Would they have to farm? Slaughter livestock? Repair damaged buildings and transportation? Would the make candles? How about sanitation? Who would do the washing? If an adult guide (or two) could be accessible to suggest the proper course, that would be great. But instead we have producers feeding kids lines, scenes being re-shot, and all the usual trappings of a scripted and controlled television show.

That’s fine, but its not what we were told we were getting. It was certainly too much to ask or expect that _Kid Nation_ would be any different than the usual “reality” of television. I don’t know why I thought any differently.

★★★★☆
Review

Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban

This review contains spoilers for _Harry Potter_ books and films 1-3.

!>/files/2007/09/11-buckbeat-inside.jpg! I have this habit of waiting until things are done before staring on them. TV shows, for instance. Or phenomenally popular book series. I watched the first and second _Harry Potter_ films in near-realtime while reading the books and found the experience remarkably pleasant, mostly because those films hew so close to the source material. Pleasant, but not very notable.

The other day I finished book 3 (you know, the slightly longer one on the way to the massive tomb that is Potter 4). It was a better book than the first two in many ways; we spent less time with the Dursleys and more time with interesting characters who are growing into teenagers, who finally have some real conflict, who learn that its okay to turn to and rely on adults from time to time, and who go on an adventure that doesn’t have quite so clean a conclusion as the quest for the philosopher’s stone and the encounter with the serpent and the sorting hat.

_Azkaban_ the movie is brilliant because it is a film that has finally been allowed to take some liberties with the story, while never straying too far from the spirit. Much of that should probably be attributed to Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican director of, notably, _Y Tu Mama Tambien_ before _Azkeban_ and _Children of Men_ following it.

Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban”

Review

Movie trailers

I don’t watch commercials, only listen to public radio, block web ads, and read very few magazines, so sometimes I miss out on interesting stuff. Tonight I watched a bunch of movie trailers on Apple’s web site for things I probably won’t see in theaters, because I *hate* theaters. Anway, here are my reviews (of the trailers), for whatever they’re worth.

*This Is England*: An “important” movie about a 12 year old skinhead in the 80s, won lots of awards, not something I really want to see.
*Stardust*: A strange fantasy/fairy adventure with Claire Danes as a living star, but its Neil Gaiman so despite my doubts I’ll see it.
*The Brave One*: Jodie Foster as modern day female Bernie Goetz. I read the book and met the jury foreman, not interested in this.
*Into the Wild*: A guy goes on a cross-country journey to Alaska, lots of trials and tribulations. Sean Penn wrote and directed, and he still seems nuts, but it looks really pretty and probably worth seeing.
*Transformers*: Can’t tell from the trailer if this is bad or awful, there look to be a lot of explosions.
*Get Smart*: Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart? Trailer is stupid, but there is potential there. I remember _Get Smart_ rerurns fondly.
*In the Shadow of the Moon*: All the surviving Apollo astronauts talk about their adventures. I eat this stuff up. Doesn’t look as good as _The Right Stuff_, though.
*Margot at the Wedding*: Something about a wedding. Dunno. Sorta reminds me of _Home for the Holidays_?

★★★★☆
Review

Parade

This review contains spoilers for _Parade_.

!>/files/2007/06/paradebrown.jpg! In 1913 Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager in Atlanta, was accused of murdering a child employee, Mary Phagan, on Confederate Memorial Day. The violent murder provoked feelings of rage in a town and region uncertain about its place in the world and its future. The subsequent conviction, sentencing to death, and then commutation to life imprisonment of Frank led to a resurgent of the Ku Klux Klan as well as the founding of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. While there is substantial evidence that Frank was falsely accused and improperly convicted, his sentence has never been overturned, and many to this day continue to proclaim his guilt.

I saw _Parade_, a musical retelling of the Leo Frank story, back in 2003 and took issue with the book, worrying that the complexities and ambiguities of the story were lost in this retelling. And while the story was powerful, it was hard to get a real feel for the players.

In the SpeakEasy production, running at the Boston Center for the Arts through June 15th, some of these problems have been remedied in brilliant fashion, while other fundamental flaws in the book remain.

Continue reading “Parade”

★★★★☆
Review

My 100 Million Dollar Secret

!>/files/2007/04/100milliondollarcover_sm.jpg! This post isn’t about Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, nor is it about the upcoming Everything is Miscellaneous, both of which are no doubt quite good, but neither of which I’ve read. Rather, this is a post about My 100 Million Dollar Secret, a marvelous Creative Commons-licensed young adult novel David published last year. It was the perfect remedy for lying in bed sick on a pretty Friday morning.

The story starts out a bit worrisome — slightly overblown analogies and other young adult tropes — but these just serve to introduce the reader to a quirky but well-meaning protagonist, a teenager who accidentally stumbles into a $110,000,000 lottery jackpot and needs to decide what to do with it. This is complicated because he feels the need to keep the winnings secret from his parents, who are ardently against the state lottery system. Accept that premise, as well as suspend a bit of disbelief about America’s tax laws and banking systems, and you end up with an interesting moral exploration as well as a story with surprising depth and interesting subplots. Along the way the story explores teenage relationships, town politics, microeconomics, and journalist ethics, all in an accessible and friendly way that enhances the primary plot. Plus you can feel intellectually superior if you spot from the beginning the clue that will eventually be the secret plot’s undoing!

Continue reading “My 100 Million Dollar Secret”

★★★★★
Review

Scrubs: My Musical

The cast of Scrubs spent two weeks shooting a musical episode Yesterday Scrubs aired their 123rd episode, titled “My Musical” and revolving around a woman with a mysterious illness that causes her to hear everything in song. You may recall that Buffy did an ingenious musical episode during their sixth season that brought up a lot of important character development and conflict that would otherwise have been difficult to portray on screen. Scrubs, which often looks to Buffy for inspiration, isn’t quite as able to do that (in part because of the nature of the show, in part because of the half hour format), but that doesn’t make the musical any less fun to watch.

Continue reading “Scrubs: My Musical”

★★★★☆
Review

Torchwood

!>/files/2006/11/_42229612_torchwoodbbc203300.jpg! I spent this weekend watching the first four episodes of _Torchwood_, the _Doctor Who_ spin-off series that debuted to record audience numbers last month, and I’m happy to report that it is just as much fun as its parent. The tone is darker, I would call it equal parts _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ and _X-Files_ (and creator Russell T. Davies acknowledges drawing inspiration from _Buffy_). The only way to watch the series in America currently is via BitTorrent or similar illicit distribution medium, but it may show up here eventually. Because the show is post-watershed in the UK, it is allowed to have more swearing and nudity and such, which could pose a problem for the American censors Standards & Practices departments, but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.

The story is set in the _Doctor Who_ universe, but in present day. The Torchwood Institute, independent of any government ministry or department, was established by Queen Victoria after an encounter with a werewolf in an episode of _Doctor Who_ titled “Tooth & Claw.” The organization’s mission is to investigate paranormal activity, collect alien technologies, and establish defenses against potential alien threats. Torchwood 3, the branch the series follows, is located in Cardiff, Wales, near a space-time rift previously established in _Who_. The team of five, headed by the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness, monitors paranormal activity in Cardiff, cleans up messes (and sometimes unwittingly causes them), neutralizes various threats, and collects alien gadgets and gizmos and tries to make sense of them (generally to no avail).

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★★★★★
Review

Life on Mars

Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is 100% a product of the “new” school of British policing — he follows the trail of evidence, reads suspects their rights, and leaves personal feelings out of the mix. Just as an important murder case goes bad and Sam’s detective girlfriend is plunged into danger, he gets hit by a car and wakes up to find himself on the same street, but in a different time. Is he in a coma? Gone mad? Or did he really somehow get transported to the year 1973? People here seem to know him as Detective Inspector Sam Tyler, recently transferred from Criminal Investigation Department in Hyde, and he certainly has the credentials and outfit to match.

!>/files/2006/08/annie_sam_11.jpg(Life on Mars)! In addition to having to deal with being an anachronism in the 70s, Sam must also learn to work with a different kind of police force, one where hunches are more important than evidence, getting bad people off the streets more important than respecting suspect’s rights, and a little bit of sexism and corruption are just par for the course. Through his constant clashes with his new boss, DCI Gene Hunt, a hardened lawman, Sam brings a little bit of modern policing technique back to the 70s while learning some valuable lessons of his own. After all, the 70s is not just an age where modern forensic techniques like DNA tests and computerized fingerprint databases don’t exist, its that plus a time of great social upheavel, changing gender roles, new societal norms, labor unrest, war, and scandal. Not only is Sam a fish out of water who has to relearn a profession he thought he had down cold, he is also confronted with a bigger investigation, and one not so easily solved — finding out how he got here, and why, and how he will get home.

_Life on Mars_ is a great concept, a police drama with just a dash of science fiction, and if works because the writers are very keen to get things right, representing both the fun and the very serious sides of the 70s, the actors are marvelous, and the stories are compelling. Sure there are a few repeating themes that drive me batty, and sure many of the British cultural references fly right over the heads of we Yanks, but the show is still an excellent watch and, beause its a BBC drama, there are only 8 episodes to get through in series one.

Want another reason to watch? David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Public) is producing an American version. Watch the original first, and then see what setting the story in a US context does to it. 🙂

★★★★★
Review

Doctor Who

This post contains spoilers for Doctor Who series 1 and 2.

Doctor Who and Rose Tyler The British cultural phenomenom Doctor Who was revived last year following a sixteen year hiatus. On Saturday it finished its second series run. For those not up to speed on their scifi television (or Brit pop culture), Doctor Who tells the story of a alien time traveler who jaunts across space and time in a ship disguised as a 1960s police box. He is generally accompanied by one or more “companions” to whom he reveals the wonders of the universe as his ship inevitably leads him and his travelers to space/time friction points where things have gone wrong. The Doctor has a strange obsession with Earth and with his own brilliance, and he battles various intersteller creatures and creations with sundry disruptive aims using his wit, ingenuity, and superior technology.

The Doctor comes out of this entire experience incredibly emotionally damaged, even for a man who has lived 900 years.

The brilliance of the current run of the show is that we meet the Doctor in a strange and volatile state, and soon learn that he is the last of his kind; his entire species, the Time Lords, having been destroyed in a great cosmic Time War with their most dangerous and ruthless enemy, the Daleks. It is later revealed (or at least strongly implied) that the Doctor himself was responsible for the final destruction of the Daleks and, faced with a terrible choice, saved the universe by sacrificing his own people. The Doctor comes out of this entire experience incredibly emotionally damaged, even for a man who has lived 900 years. Yet he continues on, purposeless, but doing his job, such that it is, mending space and time as he is led by his TARDIS to breakage. We meet him as he stumbled upon Rose Tyler, a simple London shopgirl with a high school education, and whisks her away with him to go galvanting across the universe.

Continue reading “Doctor Who”

★★☆☆☆
Review

The da Vinci Code

!>/files/2006/05/6311368.gif(The da Vinci Code)! Wikipedia notes that “fans have lauded [this] book as creative, action-packed, and thought-provoking. Critics have attacked it as poorly written, inaccurate, and creating confusion between speculation and fact.” A fitting critique, as both points of view are entirely accurate.

Not generally up on “popular fiction,” I picked up _The da Vinci Code_ in Paris yesterday for my flight home on the recommendation of my aunt and finished it today. The experience of having recently visited many of the most important settings of the novel heavily offset for me the awful prose and sloppy storytelling. In fact, as I read, I constantly noticed discrepancies between Brown’s travel guide descriptions and what I actually saw when I had visited the locations just a few days prior. One can forgive a novelist’s license in changing subtle details to help the story (metal detectors at Westminster Abbey, bar soap in the bathrooms at the Louvre, details of security systems and computers and display cases, etc.), but I was practically shouting at Brown’s description of the architecture of Westminster, including doors that and passageways that I knew (having just been there a week ago) did not exist. Luckily he redeemed himself later on, and all respect was not lost.

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★★★☆☆
Review

Les Miserables

Tonight we saw _Les Miserables_ in the West End, my third live viewing of the show. The performance was technically excellent — the actors hit their marks, their notes, and their lines. What they didn’t hit was the emotions. The innkeeping duo was flat, as was the boring portrayal of Javert, the rebel leader seemed like he was putting on a show of his own, and Eponine was just completely off the wall in her scene with Marius at the barricade, seeming more like a obsessed crazy serial killer than a sweet, misguided young girl. In contrast, Gavrosh was great, Valjean did fine, and Fontine was fairly captivating. There were some interesting lighting and set decisions that I really liked. The rest of the cast was hit-or-miss, with some of the ensemble doing a perfectly good job and others overacting in awful ways. At the barricade, the attempts at battle felt very half-hearted, with some actors (including he who played Valjean) really not selling the whole load, aim, and shoot sequence. They were treating it more like a tea break than a battle to the death.

The crappy sound levels were a major detractor from overall enjoyment of the show. _Les Mis_ is difficult enough to understand even when you *can* make out the words. The producers would do well to chuck the sound engineer in favor of someone with a normal sense of hearing. They’d also do well to provide a free program note explaining the story, rather than only giving the explanation to those who will pony up the £3 or £5 necessary for a real program.

★★★★☆
Review

The Big U

!>/files/2007/11/0-380-81603-2.jpg(The Big U)! I can’t remember the last time I read an entire book in a day, but when I picked up Neal Stephenson’s 1984 debut novel in the afternoon I found that I kept coming back to it as the day wore on, only to finally finish it early in the morning. Staying up this late almost makes me feel like I’m back in college, and the subject matter certainly doesn’t hurt that view.

_The Big U_ begins as a straight satire of life at a big public university. The setting is American Megaversity, the campus of which is made up of one massive building — the Megaplex — 20 stories tall and spanning nine city blocks of an unnamed metropolis with an unsurprising resemblance to the Boston University environs. Stephenson effortlessly skewers pretty much every single aspect of college life, from a bureaucracy seized with political correctness disorder to asinine course requirements, uncaring students, a useless student government, and tenured faculty content to coast along.

And lets not even discuss the massive central cafeteria constructed to feed 20,000, with its huge pressurized vats of processed food pastes and enriched soy substitutes.

As the story unfolds, characters end up interacting with radical student groups, strange religious cults, crazy academic departments, and a maintenance staff composed entirely of refugees from a Eastern European country with an unpronounceable name. And lets not even discuss the massive central cafeteria constructed to feed 20,000, with its huge pressurized vats of processed food pastes and enriched soy substitutes, or the complex battle plan used to respond quickly and efficiently to the ever-present threat posed by food fights.

Continue reading “The Big U”

Review

Syriana

This synopsis contains comprehensive spoilers for _Syriana_.

Having finally seen this thought-provoking film and understood much but by no means all of it, I’m providing a fairly complete story synopsis that might serve to clarify things a bit. I really recommend seeing the film first, as it was quite good (and in storytelling somewhat similar to _Traffic_).

Syriana is a complex and layered film that in the end is concerned with only one thing: examining the political and human consequences of the oil trade. Early on, we meet Bob Barnes, a CIA agent who performs his duties without question or complaint in the service of his country, even though it has cost him his relationships with his wife and son. Bob is involved in an arms deal that goes wrong when one of the two shoulder-mounted missile launchers disappears into the arms of a mysterious blue-eyed Egyptian rather than blowing up and killing the targeted terrorists.

Continue reading “Syriana”