Review: To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief (1955)
Cary Grant, Grace Kelly. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by John Michael Hayes.

to_catchJohn Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired jewel thief, nicknamed The Cat. He has apparently paid his debt to society and is living in a country house where he tends his vineyards. When a recent series of thefts (mostly at high-end hotels) mimic The Cat’s style, the Parisian police come after him for questioning. Robie is sure he won’t be treated justly, so he avoids the police and attempts to catch the thief himself, seeing this as the only way to keep himself out of prison.

He becomes acquainted with a wealthy American widow (Jessie Royce Landis) and her impossibly beautiful daughter (Grace Kelly). Robie thinks they may be the thief’s next target, so he keeps an eye on them while pretending to be a wealthy something-or-other from America.

This is the setup for To Catch a Thief, and it takes up about a third of the movie. The middle third involves Grant and Kelly getting to know one another, in a series of witty exchanges and flirty activity. There is one sexually-laden scene in the water where the entendres fly about like a slightly (but only slightly) less crude episode of Wayne’s World, kind of a shocking thing to hear out of the ultra-civilized mouths of Grant and Kelly. It is the movie’s best scene.

a_thiefPursuing the thief while avoiding being blamed for it makes up the remainder of the film, but it only really exists so that Grant and Kelly can continue to do their thing: something, after all, must present itself as an obstacle to their eventually getting together. But it is all really a distraction; who the the thief is and how the thief is either caught or not caught is only mildly interesting, and if you’re into the film for its plot, you’re likely not going to think a whole lot of this film. If you’re in it to see two Hollywood icons set the cellulose on fire, however, here is a rather rewarding hour and forty-six minutes. Each actor is at the peak of gorgeousness, cool and sexy each in his or her own way, and it is a lovely thing to witness. I have said on occasion that Lauren Bacall is my favorite actress only because she got to me first. If I had seen Grace Kelly first, it almost surely would have been her. See this movie and you’ll see why.


Read More

Review: Divergent

Divergent (2014)
Shailene Woodley, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd, Theo James, Kate Winslett. Directed by Neil Berger.

diverIn Divergent‘s post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided into five factions named Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation. Amity values happiness and peace; Candor values honesty and fairness, Dauntless values courage, Erudite values science and knowledge, and Abnegation values selflessness and service. Each faction operates a distinct part of life within the fenced-in city (the Amity, for example, growing the food for the whole city, but the Abnegation governing the food’s distribution), raising its children until they are old enough to be tested for competency and inclination.

The test results are recorded but kept secret, and when the young adults are faced with the Choosing ceremony, they may choose to stay with the faction they were raised by (the most common outcome), or they may choose any other faction, either in line with their test results or not, since the test results are known only to the chooser.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) has always felt out of place in Abnegation, something that fills her with guilt. Her parents are leaders in the Abnegation community, models of selfless thought in service to others. Her brother, too, seems effortlessly to place the needs of others above his own desires. Beatrice thinks she’s too selfish for her community, although she certainly values what it stands for, and longs to be more like her family. But something strange happens at her testing, and she learns something about herself that she cannot tell anyone without risking death.

gentThis truth about herself affects everything Beatrice does, and this first film in an anticipated four-movie series (based upon Veronica Roth’s trilogy) traces her experience as she carries her secret through her post-Choosing life. She forms precious new friendships, changes her name to Triss, gains a few enemies, and comes under fire for accusations aimed at her parents. Somehow, what really emerges is something of a survival tale with elements (too many for my tastes) of romance.

It’s pretty good. The cinematography is thoughtful and at times creative, the editing comfortable yet excellent at building tension. My lone complaint is that the supporting characters aren’t developed well, something that might have been sacrificed for better pacing (an understandable choice, if this is the case). Triss’s friendships are a critical element in the trilogy’s developing story, the kind of thing that makes us care as much about her as we should, and while it may have been impossible to flesh out all of the important relationships, some care should have been taken to define at least a few of them. This lack of connectedness serves to flatten the overall film, leaving the plot to do the driving.

The novels are wildly popular, and they’re at least interesting enough to keep me coming back for the next few films, but I suspect that if you don’t have that to motivate you, Divergent the film will only kind of make you want to see what happens next.


Read More

Stuff I Love Doing

I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about stuff I love doing that I don’t do. My daily life lately has been pretty decent. I go for walks. I read a little. I dine out more than I should. I enjoy television. I play games on my tablet once in a while. I meet friends sometimes.

But I am having some difficulty thinking of the last time I did something I love doing. I thought of two things, actually: I do love swimming at the beach, and I love driving around in my car. Both of these things I love have been curtailed (is that the word I mean?) because I wrecked my car and am at the moment wheel-less. So, minus those two things (and I’m not counting reading, which is the thing I love doing the most, and which I haven’t been doing enough of but I’m still not counting it).

So tonight, just for a few minutes, I’m going to brainstorm a little list of things I love doing but haven’t done in a really long time. I need to get more of this stuff in my life. I’m going to try to list without commenting, saving comments for later. Ha. That never happens.

Visiting new places.
Teaching high-schoolers.
Going to the movies on a regular basis.
Ice skating.
Taking photos.
Watching baseball.
Listening to live music.
Shooting pool.
Teaching high-schoolers.
Visiting the Big Island.
Having game night with the friends.
Playing video games.
Learning computer stuff.
Eating sushi.
Logic puzzles.
Hanging out with my high-school classmates.

…to be continued.

Read More

In a Cafe in Waikiki

IMG_0308.JPGKilling a little bit of time in a cafe in Waikiki. The bus ride from home to the office is long, and it helps me sometimes to get off, get some fresh air, walk around, and have a cup of coffee before jumping right back on the same line for the final fifteen minutes of the trip. I especially needed it today because my fellow riders for quite a ways were ten very noisy high-schoolers (there’s no public school on Election Day because they use the schools as polling places) and when they got off, they were replaced by a very comely young woman dressed for the beach (this bus passes right through the guts of Waikiki) who was inspiring me to think things I am better off not thinking.

By the time we got to Seaside Avenue (actually two blocks from the sea) I had to get off and clear my head. I do not ride long distances well anyway, even under the best of passenger situations.

This Starbucks, right at the bus stop, is always packed, but it’s got decent counter seating and the AC is usually blasting, which is exactly what need most of the time. There is a mid-thirties guy seated on my left, watching videos on FB on his MacBook Pro. On my right, around the corner of the counter, is a young visiting Japanese couple, just chatting and laughing over coffee. They seem nice.

I also like to get off here because there’s a むすび (musubi) place midway down Seaside, between Kuhio and Kalakaua, and the quality of the rice and うめ is excellent. It has multigrain musubi, which I appreciate (although the white rice there is also excellent). The only drawback is that it’s two bucks for one, which is slightly on the expensive side. I should really learn to make this myself, because few things make me happier than the simplicity of a well-made musubi. It almost always makes me think of my mom, who is a musubi master.

MacBook Pro guy and Japanese couple are gone. In the couple’s place is a hipster-looking dude reading an in-flight magazine.

I used to work in a cafe, and since the counter here is behind the barista, I can appreciate her technique. I have issues with the taste of Starbucks coffee (it’s one reason I almost always get a latte: to mask the taste of the roast), but the baristas here usually know what they are doing. They could do things sloppily but just about never do. Good skills. These things make a difference.

Oh, maybe that’s not an in-flight. It’s French.

I learned today that Tracy Austin is fifty-one. I’d have guessed a bit older. I’d totally go out with a fifty-one-year-old. So if you’re reading this, Tracy…

There are either rats or mice in my house. It’s super annoying.

Hipster dude left his cup on the counter and left. It irritates me when people don’t bus their trash and dishes in a cafe. I’m getting back on the bus before someone else does anything to irritate me.

edit: I threw hipster guy’s trash away as I left so others would know the counter spot was open.

Read More


I’m doing NaNoWriMo again. I’ll post a link to the novel in progress as soon as I set it up, probably sometime late Friday.

I know I already wrote this, but if you haven’t seen HBO’s Silicon Valley, you really should check it out. I’m watching season one again for the fourth time. Hahaha. I laugh out loud just thinking about it. Seriously.

Read More

Review: Don’t Know Yet

Don’t Know Yet (2013)
James Kyson, Lisa Goldstein Kirsch. Written and directed by James Linehan.

don'tA guy in a car pulls over where a hitchhiker is standing on the roadside.

“Where are you going?” asks the hitchhiker.

“Uh, where are YOU going?” ask the driver.

“Shouldn’t I be asking you?”

“Are there rules to hitchhiking?”

It turns out there are, but not very many, at least for this driver named Taylor (portrayed by James Kyson). Taylor doesn’t know it at this moment, but this hitchhiker is the first in a long series of people needing a lift somewhere, and he’s happy to take them as far as they need to go in a cross-country Forrest-Gump-like journey away from the house he once shared with his fiance.

When he runs low on money, Taylor gets a cheap lunch in a diner, where he meets a very friendly, very pretty manager who gives him a job and then takes him to her house. Taylor is exceedingly friendly to the strangers he picks up, and other strangers he meets along the way are exceedingly friendly to him in a world that seems absent any threat to safety or well-being.

know yetThe people Taylor gives rides to all have different stories, some of them on their way to something, others on their way away from something, and still others not really sure whether they’re coming or going. Taylor gives transportation and friendship to them all, and in return they seem to offer some kind of gradual healing of the ailment that keeps Taylor behind the wheel. In one excellently conceived montage, we see Taylor from in front of the vehicle, driving on long stretches of road, a different passenger riding shotgun in each clip, a different hand-lettered cardboard sign resting upon the dashboard and visible through the windshield. Beyond “Minneapolis or Bust!” sentiments, they seem to act almost as subtitles for the thoughts in Taylor’s head as he listens to each story, his foot always on the pedal.

One day, a woman named Autumn (played by Lisa Goldstein Kirsch) slides into the passenger seat. She’s going to the East Coast, but she soon makes Taylor’s mission her own, the two of them stopping for hitchhikers, Autumn’s eventual destination apparently not pressing. They share a tent at night, stopping at campgrounds or wherever they find a good spot, and Taylor sees something inspiring in Autumn’s free spirit. They gaze at waterfalls together, watch in wonder as eagles circle high above them, make up songs as their campfires fling embers into the night.

There’s nothing new about the get-behind-the-wheel-and-just-go conceit Don’t Know Yet employs, but I’m willing to overlook what should be a tired device because I admit I still find the idea to be laced with romance. When you spend your whole life on an island, as I have, the very thought of driving in a straight line for more than an hour is simply mind-blowing. Where I come from, you can drive all day and all night if you want to, but you’ll find yourself right back where you began, a possibility that seems to defeat the purpose of soul-searching adventurers like Taylor and the many movie characters who’ve done it before him.

I’m less forgiving of the plot element that introduces a free-spirited, pretty woman (for she is always pretty in these things) who shows our protagonist a new way of looking at everything. While Taylor’s long, aimless drive seems to be a metaphor for something, Autumn’s very life seems to be the reality the metaphor suggests. It’s kind of a neat idea but you can’t help wishing Taylor could find some other way to climb out of the darkness and into something meaningful and new.

Before Taylor meets Autumn, most of the people he picks up are just normal people needing a lift, people you might meet in any town at any place you might be likely to hang out. I really like this approach, and wish the film’s writer-director James Linehan had stuck with it, but with Autumn riding along, the passengers become less ordinary, and for fifteen to twenty minutes, the movie takes on the tone of a Charles Kurault anthology, a decision that feels horribly misguided.

My feelings through the first two thirds of the film were mixed: while part of me kept saying, “not this again,” another part couldn’t help responding in a positive way to these characters. Taylor is brooding and mostly quiet, but he’s a nice, friendly guy, the kind of guy others seem to have an easy time getting along with. His utterances are short and direct, but never brusque or dismissive. He’s just a guy who says what he has to say without wasting words or time. And he has a way of bringing out the the good, honest stuff in others. And if Autumn were your friend, you’d probably find a lot of her hipster new-ageism annoying at times, but you’d happily put up with it because the person spouting it is just so darned nice.

But there is a moment that forces you to look at Taylor’s journey differently, to rethink the judgments you’ve made about his wandering and his interactions with others, and although the moment feels kind of unreal, it’s not difficult to find yourself rooting for Taylor and hoping things work out well.

For this reason, despite a cheap, easy, post-resolution fadeout that had me thinking of twenty other movies and begging for the rolling of the credits, I really do like Don’t Know Yet and recommend it for good acting, well-conceived characters, and some admirable technical ideas.

7/10 (for good acting, likeable characters, and neat editing)

Read More

Review: A Letter to Momo

A Letter to Momo (Momo e no Tegami) (2011)

Japanese subtitled version: Karen Miyama, Yuka, Toshiyuki Nishida, Koichi Yamadera.
English dubbed version: Amanda Pace, Stephanie Sheh, Fred Tatasciore, Dana Snyder.
Directed and written by Hiroyuki Okiura.

a letterTwelve-year-old Momo has recently moved with her mother Ikuko from a condo in Tokyo to a tiny, rural island in Japan, where Ikuko grew up and where both try to deal with the recent death of Momo’s father.

They are grieving, each in her own, private way. Ikuko busies herself with trying to find a new job, leaving Momo to spend her days doing homework and making friends with other children on the island. In private moments, Ikuko kneels at the household shrine, looking through photo albums. Momo’s alone-time is often spent staring at a piece of paper, blank except for the words, “Dear Momo,” the beginning of a letter written by her father’s hand shortly before his death at sea.

to momoMomo doesn’t tell anyone, but her last words to her father were shouted in anger, a horrible expression of childish disappointment that she can never take back. As she tries somehow to manage the guilt, grief, loneliness, pain, and adjustment of this new life, mysterious things happen in her house and neighborhood. Small personal belongings disappear. Orchards are raided for their fruit before it is ready for harvest. Snacks disappear from the kitchen with only trash left in their place. Momo sees strange shapes and movements out of the corners of her eye as Ikuko leaves each morning, but nothing’s there when she turns her head to get a better look.

A Letter to Momo is directed by Hiroyuki Okiura (director of Jin-Roh and animator of Akira and Metropolis) who sticks mostly to light pastels and gauzy lighting in a way that both highlights the quietude of Momo’s farming community and hearkens to the illustrations in our favorite childhood storybooks. Yet while the I was reminded more than once of the gentle color tones in such stories as William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, the detail and scope of Okiura’s animation can only be compared to the best of its Japanese tradition. I paused the film at least ten times just to absorb the beautiful framing and composition, which ultimately was more affecting than the story’s climax and resolution.

For while this movie is a visual experience I wanted to go through again, its pacing is at times maddening for a grown-up viewer like me. Certain plot revelations take forever to arrive, and most teenaged audiences will see them coming like a bullet train on Lipovitan. I will concede that certain sight gags and bodily stunts will probably amuse a less mature audience, and there are a couple of chase sequences that manage to find a good groove, but even they feel just a bit long despite some excellent timing.

It is unquestionably a movie for children, and older elementary-schoolers will probably enjoy it. While the parents who take them certainly won’t be bored, they will find a good portion of the film silly, and they should be advised that A Letter to Momo doesn’t shy away from the despair two young women confront as they stare down the reality of death. When one major character falls dangerously ill, Momo must deal with the possibility of yet another death, a weighty, sobering thought for viewers of any age, and I would caution parents to consider their children’s sensitivity to such themes before heading to the box office. Young people who can handle the serious issues could leave theaters with a new favorite.

Recommended for tweens and their grown-up, animation-loving adults. Cautiously recommended for children slightly younger.

7/10 (points taken away for excessive silliness but points given back for gorgeous animation)

Read More