Some Good, Some Bad

This week has been sort of a hodgepodge. I ended up watching five or six movies, some good, some bad, one that was just amazingly awful, and I read a book that tried awfully hard but never quite made it to good. The subject matter was all over the place, a Tyrannosaurus Rex that could end the world, rewritten Shakespeare, lonely old ladies and (wait for it) genetically engineered sharks designed to fight terrorists. (No, they didn't have lasers on their heads but at one point one of them swam around with a "Severe tire damage" sign in its mouth, which is nearly as good.)

Blue Demon

Let's start with the shark movie. In 1999 there was a film called Deep Blue Sea, about smart sharks with enlarged brains that go on a rampage. Samuel L. Jackson was the best thing in the film, which was okay but nothing to write home about. Fast forward to 2004 and we get a straight to video flick called Blue Demon that is once again about sharks with more than ordinary smarts. But you know Hollywood, someone's always got to try and top the last extravaganza so these sharks aren't just smarter, they can live in salt or fresh water. But that's not all, they're also part of a defense system to keep our waters free from terrorists. Obviously water is a strong terrorist weapon, that's why we can't take it on airplanes anymore.

Blue Demon is bad on a whole new level; the kind of bad that makes you wonder if it's supposed to be bad. Is it camp? The head of the lab is a dwarf so maybe they are going for camp. If so it's not funny enough. Maybe it's somehow supposed to be a postmodern ironic statement about shark movies. But if so it's far too stupid. And yet it's weirdly watchable. I could not turn it off.

I felt compelled to see what awful thing would happen next. And I don't mean awful like awful things happening to people who are making out in a graveyard awful, I mean awful like a character who resembles J. Jonah Jameson, but without the charming personality, explaining that a suitcase nuclear device is a nuclear device that fits into a suitcase. Or possibly a backpack. And this character's name? Remora. In case don't know that's the name for the suckerfish you sometimes find stuck to sharks. How witty! The best way to enjoy this film is to have a bunch of friends over and mock it mercilessly. The trailer is available here.

Tyrannosaur Canyon

Now that I think about it Douglas Preston's novel Tyrannosaur Canyon has some elements in common with the dreaded shark movie. Don't worry, there aren't any genetically engineered T-rexes running around fighting terrorists (although a small part of me thinks that would be awesome) but it does have "a dark agency with a deadly mission" to quote the website. There's also murder, mayhem, mystery and what's hailed as the greatest scientific discovery of all time. Really, of all time. It tops fire, it's better than figuring out what caused disease, it's even bigger and better than gravity. It's the humdinger of all discoveries. And yet despite this, despite the monk with a flair for the hunt, despite the psychotic killer who kidnaps the blonde (I mean what else are they going to do?), despite the dedicated and plucky girl scientist who does amazing work, despite the car chases and the foot chases and even the drone plane attack, Tyrannosaur Canyon just didn't engage me. I never felt a bond with the characters, I never really cared what happened next and certainly didn't stay up past my bedtime turning the pages, too enthralled to put the book down. Of course your mileage may differ, a lot of people seem to think the book is better than Crichton (but then aren't most books?) so you may want to listen to an excerpt here and decide for yourself.

Ladies in Lavender

The best film I watched this past week was called Ladies in Lavender and it was quite good. It starred Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as elderly sisters living in a small Cornwall village in the 1930's. The sisters' lives are thrown into turmoil when a beautiful half-drowned young man, who speaks no English, washes up on their beach. If Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Transformers) had directed it the young man in question would have been a spy and there would have been all sorts of explosions and shots of men walking in slow motion. If I'd written it the young fellow would have been a mythological creature but no, it was written by the director, Charles Dance, based on a short story by William J. Locke, and the young man is a Polish violinist. The sisters take him in and care for him, teaching him English while nursing his broken ankle and while she's not paying attention, Ursula, the self-proclaimed naive sister, begins to care for him a little too much. The acting is incredible, the little comic touches are a delight and if the overall feel is bittersweet it's not too bitter. Emotional, but not sentimental, it's a lovely film.

Ten Things I Hate About You

The other movie I enjoyed, much more than I thought I would, was Ten Things I Hate About You. I'm probably the last person on earth to see it so I'll keep this short. This update of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is filled with delightful characters. Bianca and Kat's father is an obstetrician obsessed with the idea that his two girls are going to get pregnant. His rants are hilarious, mostly because he's expressing fears that most parents have had, albeit probably not quite so vividly. The crazy rumors spread about Heath Ledger's character, Patrick Verona, like that he sold his liver to buy some speakers, are great and reminiscent of the kinds of rumors that runs like wildfire through every high school. Julia Stiles is terrific as the extremely abrasive Kat and is just as good when she lets her guard down and shows her vulnerability. Ten Things I Hate About You is very funny and charming with the skeleton of the original Shakespeare shining through brightly.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Double C who is comparing granola snacks. "Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars taste much better than Kudos. Don't let the candy in the Kudos trick you, they don't taste that good." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at