Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Review: From Paris With Love

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:52 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

So, Friday, I saw From Paris With Love.

At dinner, one of the guys I went to see the movie with went on at length about how the reviewers had panned it, but I figured there would be a good body count, so we went ahead and saw it. And, keep in mind, I’m not a fan of John Travolta or, honestly, anything that even indirectly benefits anything connected to Scientology, so this was a bit of a stretch for me.  But, it was a stressful week at the office and a nice, high body count really takes the edge off that, so, I was willing to take the risk.

As it turns out, I was rewarded for my faith.
I went into this movie expecting very little.  Even before the last minute, dinner-time warnings of suckitude, my expectations were low.  My expectations were met and exceeded.
The movie opens with James Reece, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers,  a nobody flunky at the American Embassy in Paris, getting a call while working with the ambassador and slipping out for a “secret” mission.  It’s not much, really, just flipping plates for higher-grade operatives, so that they’re not “made” by the locals.  Then, as his fiance essentially proposes to him, he gets the call he’s been waiting for; his new assignment is to partner up with a top-shelf, special-ops agent, Charlie Wax, played by a bald John Travolta.  When we first meet Charlie Wax in Customs at Charles De Gaul airport, he’s carrying on like a maniac about getting his energy drinks through security.  Reece, though amazed at the crazy partner he’s gotten hooked up with, uses a little lateral thinking and a knowledge of bureaucracy, along with a “Diplomatic Mail” sticker to get them out and on their way.  Naturally, nothing is quite what it seems to poor, inexperienced Reece.

After getting out of customs, and arming up, Wax drags Reece through a seedy underworld of Paris that he never knew existed.  Or, at least that’s how it seemed.  Chasing through everything from Chinese restaurants to back alleys to whore houses, all the while shooting and being shot at by just about everyone there.  In theory, chasing drug dealers responsible for the overdose of a high U.S. official’s niece, but, again, not everything is as it seems.
Also, along the way, Reece keeps trying to rein in Wax and get in touch with his fiance who he left at the last minute to chase off on this wild ride through Paris.

And, as usual, I’ll stop there before I give too much away.
Mostly, this movie was a simple and entertaining romp through an ultraviolent Paris.  The body count was satisfyingly high and the action was pretty non-stop, which was good.  It was good mainly because it distracted us from whatever it was that Travolta was trying to do with the character.  I suppose it was acting, though, why he was trying for subtlety in a movie that painted action with such a broad brush is beyond me.  Still, it took nothing important away from the film.
There was a bit of a plot twist, though it wasn’t a big surprise to me, frankly.  Just keep an eye on the fiance through the movie and see if you spot something that’s not quite right.

All in all, not a bad film.  Not a great movie, either, but if you want a mindless action movie, this is pretty much your best bet right now.  It’s fun, in a violent death sort of way, and a nice distraction from the stresses of my everyday life.  And, after all, isn’t that what we go to see movies for anyway?


Review: Inglourious Basterds and Gamer

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 9:31 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw a couple movies this weekend, and to ease your pain, I’m going to write one post that reviews them both.

I saw Tarantino’s latest, Inglourious Basterds, twice this weekend. First on Friday, and then again on Sunday morning. First of all, if you haven’t seen it yet, let me warn you to hit the bathroom first, because this is a long movie. Not only is it long, it’s fabulously detailed and filled with scenes and moments that you will absolutely not want to miss, so, trust me when I tell you, get to the theater with enough time to drain that bladder buddy!
Seriously, I’m actually not a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, but, no matter what else I may or may not like about his work, his cinematography is gorgeous. His grasp of visual, photographic art is simply astounding. And, this movie is no exception. There are scenes so well framed that I almost forgot to pay attention to the dialog. Seriously! And, that’s even allowing for the fact that Tarantino purposely made this film in the style of a spaghetti western, or a so-called macaroni combat movie of the same era. As soon as the titles started to roll up, I was put in mind of a B-grade copy of an old Lee Marvin WWII movie. Of course, it’s not exactly a secret that Tarantino loves movies from that time and, in fact, Inglourious Basterds might well contain everything that he loves about those movies and movies in general. That was one of the reasons I was so willing to see it twice, besides the company, just to try and catch all the dense iconography and try to figure out a few more of the allusions he makes to previous films and various cinematographic tropes.

The story is very loosely based on World War Two, in the sense that it’s the backdrop of the movie, but the events are entirely fictional. And, by fictional I mean so fantastical that they’re pretty much alternate history. There are two plot lines, that end up focused on the same event, the attempted assassination of the entire Nazi high command, including Hitler. The main group of potential assassins are, of course, the Bastards, a group of Jewish American soldiers sent into occupied France by the OSS to kill as many Nazis as they can, sowing fear, chaos and destruction as they go. The other potential assassin is a young Jewish woman who escapes a purge conducted by a Nazi nick-named the Jew Hunter. She ends up in Paris, the proprietor of a cinema who gets pestered by a smitten Nazi “war hero”.

As you might imagine of a Tarantino film, it’s incredibly bloody and violent. It’s also funny in parts, quite intentionally, too. And, in spite of it’s length, there’s not a dull moment. Every second, it seems, is filled with something either beautiful to see or some plot point to absorb. It really is a masterful demonstration of movie-making. Again, I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino’s work, but this really is something to see, no matter how you feel about him.
Notice, I haven’t gone into much detail on the plot, because, well, it’s pretty complicated for such a simple premise, but also, because you should see this movie. Really. It’s truly amazing, and I think you should definitely see it on the big screen. Do NOT wait for this to hit Netflix. See this one in the theater!

Now, as for Gamer
Well, I saw this at a $4 matinee, so I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t think I would have been as sanguine if I’d paid full price. This was, as you might have guessed from the previews and ads, an action film. The premise is simple; nano-devices that rewrite human brain cells allowing for a “user” to take control of another person and use them like a puppet. There are two environments where users, or gamers, can use their puppets; the Society and Slayers. The Society is like an updated, 3d version of Second Life, but, oddly cruder, too. Several years after the Bill Gates-like Ken Castle brings out Society, he ramps up the super popular Slayers. Slayers is a war game. A war game played with people. In this case, convicts who will be released if they survive thirty “events”, or combats. The story follows Kable, a puppet in Slayers, or an “i-con, as they call them. He’s been wrongly convicted of a crime, separated from his wife and child. They’re the reason he fights and survives.
What he doesn’t know, however, is that his wife has lost their child to a corrupt version of Child Protective Services and has been forced to take work as an “actress”, or puppet, in Society, where she’s subjected to all kinds of degradation to earn money.

Now, there are a lot of interesting themes in this movie, but, sadly, few of them get explored in any real depth. What’s worse is that instead of spending time developing the potentially rich background for commentary on invasive media, the morality of controlling another human being, the morality of using convicts for purposes that may be harmful to them as human beings, and so on, the moviemakers when for the cheap shot. I imagine they were going after an R rating, for sales purposes, but the frankly unimaginative “fantasy” sex and gross-out behavior in the game world, is just boring and wasted time. I’m no wild-man, but, honestly, even I can be more imaginative than they were in the “virtually anything goes” sex environment meant to shock and titillate. And, I’d imagine from what I’ve read about Second Life, those folks who participate in that “hobby” are more imaginative than most of what we saw in Gamer, too.

All that said, though, the action sequences were great and Gerard Butler did everything he could with the limited role he had. Certainly, not the best of his career so far.
So, unless you’re a huge sci-fi fan, I can’t recommend seeing this one at anything more expensive than a matinee. In fact, you’d be better off waiting to see it on DVD, if at all.

So, to sum up, as Buckaroo Banzai put it, “…yes on one and no on two. ” Enjoy your movies!


Review: Julie And Julia

Filed under: Art,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:40 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Julie and Julia Friday with my usual movie-viewing pal.

I love movies and see as many as I can in any given year, a fact that regular readers know quite well. And, yes, I tend to enjoy more than the usual action thrillers you might suspect a guy like me would favor. Really, romantic comedies are mostly my favorite. Now, I wouldn’t quite classify Julie and Julia as a rom-com, but that’s closer than almost anything else.

It was a cute film, but a good one. The movie is really two parallel stories, one following Julia Child as she discovers French cooking and becomes the famous chef and teacher we all know, and the other following Julie, who blogs about a year of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The two stories work surprisingly well together for a number of reasons. For one thing, both women are trying to “find themselves”, each in their own way. They’re both trying to “fix” their lives and they both try to do it through cooking.

Of course, the stories are vastly different in many ways; location, time, people. None of those are the same. But, the universal problem of defining, or redefining, who we are as human beings is what drove both women to seek a way to become someone new. And, each in their own way, that’s just what they did.

Julia was married to a man who worked for the U.S. government, though, they had met during World War 2 when they both worked for the O.S.S. Yes, that’s right, Julia Child was a spy. Oh, they joke about her being a file clerk, but she was quite a bit more than that. Incidentally, that’s something to keep in mind when seeing the movie as it will open up a couple small, inside jokes for you. But, at the time, the 1950’s, diplomat’s wives were expected to be little more than busy and social, which, as you might imagine didn’t sit well with Julia. So, she tried a number of things, before finally finding cooking in Paris, where she and her husband were stationed. The rest of her story follows the history of how she came to co-author Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, well, and become famous.

Julie’s story is a little different.
She’s about turn thirty and feels like all her friends are far more successful than she. She’s a writer, who seems to have a hard time getting published. It’s a character and situation to which I can deeply relate. She toils away in a cubicle feeling under-appreciated and unfulfilled. So, to fight her way back to a bit of control over some aspect of her life, and with the encouragement of her husband, she decides to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year and keep a blog of her adventures along the way.
The effort changes her life in more ways than she could have ever expected. And, that, to me is the aspect of both stories that tie them together and made the movie good.

Both women discovered that life is an adventure. An adventure that happens in small increments on a daily basis. Those small moments that we meet with no fanfare or crowd which change us in some small way, over and over again, are what make life both interesting and worth living. But only if we pay attention to them and look for them.
To me, that was the message of the movie and why I recommend that you see it. If you’ve missed it in the theater, rent it. It’s a nice, little movie and I think you’ll enjoy it.


Review: Taken

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:26 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Taken Friday night with a group of friends for a “guys night out”.

First of all, let me say that this was a pretty simple, straight-forward movie in terms of plot and message. Of course, that was one of the things I liked about the movie. The bad guys were undeniably bad and the good guy was, well, a little bad, too, but considering that he was a father saving his daughter from a white slavery ring, I think that’s understandable.
Okay, so this movie is probably not going to win any awards or be very acclaimed by the critics, but I liked it a lot. It stars Liam Neeson as a former CIA agent who sacrificed his family and home-life in his dedication to the job. As a result, he’s become estranged from his now teenaged daughter. In an attempt to fix that, he’s given up his work and moved to L.A. to be near his daughter and his ex-wife and his ex-wife’s very rich new husband. Neeson plays a pretty sympathetic character, I think. At least, he’s sympathetic to anyone who’s ever been a father. He’s quite protective of his daughter, which is understandable both because of the world we live in and the job that his character used to do.
The plot, as much as I can say without revealing anything important, revolves around his daughter going on a trip to Europe. A trip about which she is not quite entirely honest with her father. It’s a classic plot launcher for simple, straight-forward movies like this that the dishonest must pay. And, she does. To start with, things aren’t quite as she’s been led to believe and she’s alone with another girl in Paris. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, but they run afoul of Albanian white slavers. Man, there’s nothing I hate more than Albanian white slavers. (Yes, I’m poking a bit of fun at how often they emphasized the fact that these guys were, in fact, Albanians. I guess someone had an axe to grind.)
In any case, Neeson’s character gets a panicked phone call from his daughter as she’s being taken. He warns the men to let her go or they’ll be sorry, but they don’t listen. Basically, they have no idea just what kind of damage Neeson’s character is capable of dishing out, or that they’re about to feel the full effect of that skill at hurting people.

And, again, without revealing too much, for about an hour and thirty minutes, what you have is Liam Neeson chasing bad guys all over Paris. Chasing them on foot, in cars and on a boat. Chasing them down alleys, hallways, stairways, through rooms filled with parties and criminals. Often, shooting them when he finally catches them. Occasionally cutting them or stabbing them. At least once, hitting them with a pipe and hooking one up to electricity. But, I assure you, he only does that to the bad guys. Oh, well, except for the one time he wings the wife of an old colleague who’s gotten corrupt. Other than that, though, he’s only shooting, stabbing, punching and torturing the bad guys. Honest.

I won’t tell you how it ends, but Taken is a very good action movie indeed. Edited down to a PG-13 here in the States, it was even more violent in other places, so I really look forward to a Director’s Cut DVD. It’s no surprise to me that this is at the top of the box office returns this weekend. It was a great movie and I recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone who digs action without gratuitous explosions. Again, it’s a simple, straight-forward movie, but it delivers on every promise it makes in the trailers, ads and reviews.
Well worth seeing in the theaters on the big screen!


“Papa” Hemingway’s Birthday

Filed under: Art,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:23 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Today is Ernest “Papa” Hemingway‘s birthday.

He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, which is not far from where I grew up, in 1899. Hemingway snuck off to fight in World War I when he was just 17. He got hurt early in the war, while serving as an ambulance driver, and spent weeks in the hospital before coming back home to his parents in Oak Park.  After his parents got tired of him hanging around, he started writing stories for Chicago newspapers and magazines, and then got a job as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star and went off to Paris with his wife Hadley. He became friends with a lot of writers who were in Paris at the time, including Fitzgerald and Joyce and Pound and Gertrude Stein. And he wrote every day, sometimes in his apartment, sometimes in cafés, but he wrote every day.  It’s this model of what a writer does, how he works, that I’ve always wanted to emulate.  But, honestly, the blank page has grown far too frightening to do that.

Oddly enough, Hemingway developed cancer and, in fact, grew his famous beard in an attempt to hide some of the scars which were a result.  In the end, he couldn’t live with the idea of cancer, or what it meant to his life and, in true “Hemingway hero” fashion, killed himself with a shotgun in 1961. But, by then, he was one of the most recognizable people on the planet.

Ernest Hemingway has been one of my heroes since I first read his work.  Not his most famous, Old Man and the Sea,  but rather some of his shorter work.  As I recall it was “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” or, possibly, “The Killers”.  That, along with The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro and The Sun Also Rises were the books and stories that got me.  The funny thing is, I’ve read that he really didn’t care for the Old Man and the Sea, even though that won more awards than anything.
I’ve read more of his work, of course, though certainly not all.  In fact, there was a time I wrote trying to emulate his style.  He’s also where I learned that the most beautiful art is that which seems so simple, so obvious that one thinks it must be easy to create, but then finds the execution of such art much harder to accomplish after all.

So, if you’re the drinking kind, raise your glass, whether that’s a daiquiri, absinthe, a martini, or a mojito, which are all said to have been his “favorite” drink at various times, and toast to Papa and all he wrote.


April Fool’s Date

Filed under: Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Dog and Pony Shows,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:39 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m sure many of you are fully expecting me to say that my alleged date on Saturday was, in fact, a very elaborate April Fool’s Day joke. It was not. It was, in fact, not only quite real, but quite good.
Saturday afternoon, I got a haircut and the $100 detailing done on the car, which took longer than I’d thought it would, so I just barely had time to scoot home, wash up and change before going to church. I opted for a high level of casual in relaxed-fit Gap khakis with a white DKNY, long-sleeved shirt, lightly starched. After some debate and a check with Matt for spiritual guidance on my choice of shoes, I opted for black cowboy boots instead of the Cole Haans. My date is an inch, or so, taller than I am, so I figured the extra height couldn’t hurt. I cleansed my car of all heavy metal and replaced it with Sting, Bonnie Rait and some other mellow favorites. No Sade or Nina Simone, though, per the helpful suggestions or my gentle readers.
So, at church everyone was asking about my plans. In fact, I had a veritable legion of folks who seemed to know what I was up to that night. Matt checked me over to make sure I’d done okay, as did J.’s new girl L. The general consensus of opinion was a thumbs-up. I have no idea what went on during the service because, honestly, I was beside myself with nerves. First date in over ten years makes a guy a little nervous, you know?
So, with Sting’s Brand New Day in the CD player, I raced over to her place as soon as church was over. She lives over by Minute Maid Park, so there was a bit of traffic, due to the Astro’s exhibition game, but it wasn’t too bad. What was bad, however, were the directions that I got via Yahoo!Maps. They were fine right up to that one, illegal, left-turn onto Franklin. Thankfully, I’ve driven all over Chicago during construction season, so circling wide and around to get where I actually wanted to be was not a big stretch for me. Also, I called her to get pointed back in the right direction. I parked in a loading dock at her building, per her instructions, and met her out front as she was walking her dogs. The first thing that caught my attention was how blonde she was. I spotted that two blocks away. The other thing was how tall five-foot eleven was when you got up close. Yeah, she’s an inch taller than I am,when I stand up straight. Still, she was at least as good looking in person as she was in her pictures, so, all was well. (She said more or less the same about me, later, so, don’t think I was the only one worried about that!)
We took her dogs up to her apartment and I got the nickel tour. She runs her business out of her home, so she had an industrial oven, a bunch of baking racks, and assorted high-end cooking gear all over. Naturally, she had an enormous kitchen. She actually lives in a loft in a building that, except for the nice, wide halls, reminded me of places I’d been in Chicago. In fact, that was one of the reasons she like this building, because she used to live in Chicago and it sort of reminded her of there. So, yes, she lived in Chicago for nine years, working in catering, mainly, and she knew the edges of my old stomping grounds. In fact, she said that would be the only part of the country that she’d consider moving to again. Oh, did I mention that she took me by surprise with a kiss when I met her?
Anyway, after that it was off to La Vista, a little Italian place that she knew. It’s quaint and used to have a strictly BYOB policy, and they maintain that even though you can get wine there now. Apparently, it was run by a friend of hers from high school and was more wildly successful than he’d ever imagined it being. Who knew? But, here is where it got interesting. At this restaurant I noticed the difference between this one and everyone I’ve ever gone out with before. We ordered our dinners and I ordered a glass of iced tea. Well, our salads came, but my tea didn’t. I was willing to quietly ignore that, as long as it didn’t end up on the bill, but she caught our waiter and told him to get it for me. Honest to God, no one has ever been that attentive to me before, ever, much less on a first date. I thanked her, of course, then told her that I’d been willing to let it slide. And how thoughtful it was of her to catch that for me. Dinner was, of course, wonderful. Sadly, if we’d had dessert we’d be too late to catch a movie, so we skipped that and were off to the giant Edwards MarqE to catch a late show.
We got tickets to the 10:30PM showing of Ice Age: Meltdown, but we were cutting it close. The lines were too long at the candy stand, so, while she ran into the ladies room, I hit the quarter vending machines to feed her self-confessed sweet tooth. Generic Sweet Tarts and plain M&Ms for a buck’s not a bad deal at the theater, so I carefully filled my hand and waited for her by the door to the ladies room, feeling rather like a pervert. She came out and saw what I had in my hand and started giggling like a little girl. She grabbed my free hand and gobbled a couple of the candies while dragging me into the theater. She hesitantly lets me choose where to sit in the darkened movie house and I quickly point to two seats in the middle of the row in front of the main aisle. When she sighed with relief and called me a man after her own heart, I knew I’d done good. She hates climbing up to the higher reaches of seats as much as I do. Cool. I automatically lifted the middle arm between the two seats, because, well, just because. That, too, met with her instant approval. We dropped into our seats just as the last preview was ending and the main feature was starting. Perfect timing!
I won’t review the movie, but Ice Age Meltdown was hilarious. We laughed the whole way through. Great first date movie.
After that, it was back to her place for some mellow music, more talking and, well, stuff. It was at this point in the evening that I found out she was a published poet and a very accomplished photographer. Her black and white photos of Paris looked like they could have been hung in a gallery. I also got to know her geriatric basset hound and her two miniature Dachshunds. When I finally left, she sent me out into the world laden with her gourmet dog biscuits as a peace offering to my own dog. Also, she figured a bribe might get me back into the house.

She’s braving my house for pizza and a movie Tuesday night before heading out of town for a trade show. Next week, the Saturday before Easter, she’s going to come to Mercy Street with me. Apparently, she wants to meet the man who gave me spiritual advice about my shoes.
In short, I think I’ve got a winner. Now, if I can just get used to being fawned over for a change, and learn to take her compliments without a skeptical side-long glance, everything will work out just fine.

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