Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Family reunion, grad-school midpoint, X-FILES, MAMMA MIA, MUMMY 3 reviews

Okay, it's been a couple of weeks since I wrote, but lotsa awesome stuff has been going down. For starters I went to Utah for a family reunion! Woo-hoo! We stayed at this really posh resort in Midvale, courtesy of Gram and Grandpa Burke, named Zermat. Midvale, apparently, was settled by Mormons from Switzerland, because they designed it to look like a European paradise.

My cousin Carly (who is the female me; we even share a birthday) picked me up at the airport, and she, Matt (cousin-in-law) and I drove up together. This place ruled. It had a pool that was half indoor, half outdoor, a gym (where I pulled a bunch of shoulder and neck muscles), a giant hot tub with a hot waterfall (which I used on said injury), and suites that were more like homes, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, 3 flat-screen TV's, internet, and a living room. What's more, my grandparents paid for 15-20 of those suites to comfortably house the 70+ people who came.

Highlights included a cousins-only dinner (no aunts, uncles, in-laws, or kids allowed; pictured above), a rotating game night where groups of 8-10 people went from room to room and played a bunch of different games in the different suites, swimming with my family, going to see the midnight show of THE DARK KNIGHT, and having a picnic in a park with the little kids running all over the place and making us laugh. We had four generations there! Also, setting up for a family picture, with 20 of us trying to get organized and little kids' mothers fretting over their clothes and hair, only to have the sprinklers go off just as we were about to take the pic!

My grandparents are 85 years old. Nobody's sure they'll be around for the next reunion, so this was their unofficial last chance in this life to see all of us. They left us their "final" testimony of the Gospel, with Gram emphasizing virtuous thoughts and loving one another, and Grandpa bearing witness of the importance of "keeping your knees polished" through prayer and reliance on the Lord. To keep Gram happy, Carly and I did a rendition of "Getting to Know You." Cousin Logan and my brother Adam emceed the festivities on the different nights.

My personal favorite event was the "skit in a bag" activity, where different groups of us were given a short story from the lives of my grandparents, a bag full of random wacky props, and 15 minutes to prepare a 3 minute skit acting out the story, while using ALL the props. Needless to say, our versions were very loose adaptations, and we laughed our heads off. I especially enjoyed my uncle Bill (playing the role of my grandfather) tossing a baby doll (representing Bill's wife, Gayle, as a child) and dropping it on it's head, then deadpanning, "Well that explains a lot!" Cue Gayle shouting out from the audience: "HEY!"

We also performed an impromtu rendition of "Memory" from Cats, as we did at the reunion nearly 20 years ago. It wasn't the same without my dear mother, but we made do. I like to think we did it to honor her.

Anyway, Dad and Carol drove me to Provo that Saturday, and I spent the day with Charan, Tim, and Alan. It was exciting to live vicariously through the latter as he chases his film-making dreams. We went to see TDK at the IMAX and had a great time. Sunday I went to my old ward at BYU, then had lunch with good friend Kelsey Reynolds, dinner with Charan's awesome family, and played games that night with a group including Tim and my old neighbor Stephanie Cook. She's incredible amounts of fun. On Monday Charan and I went to the Provo temple, I went running, had lunch with my friend Jenny, then flew back.

Since then, I've finished my first year of my master's program! Only one to go, and I am done! I had a neat missionary experience when a couple in my apartment complex moved out and gave me their house fan and a bunch of frozen food. I gave them my testimony, the special Ensign about the Savior, and a copy of The Testaments. I went to my friend Janet's big Catholic wedding yesterday, in a beautiful church in Georgia. It was wonderful. I hung out with my buddies Rachel Birmingham, Ali Zaremba, Stefanie Goetz, Kelly Tu, and Marinda Levy. There was great food, an open bar (I had orange juice mixed with cranberry juice, Sprite, and a lime. So refreshing). The night before I went to a church dance in Atlanta; it was a 50's dance, but not everyone got the memo, so wardrobe ranged from 50's to casual to formal. It was fun regardless. I can do The Worm. That's right. On Wednesday we had an Institute closing social, playing sand volleyball, swimming, and having pizza. That night I also watched Xanadu. No shame.


I don't know why this was so poorly reviewed. Perhaps people were expecting this to finally tie up all the loose plot threads the show left undone. Instead, this is a standalone suspense mystery that plays out like a director's cut of a good episode. It's genuinely scary, it's pretty well-acted, it's smart and unsettling. And as much as I tire of George W. Bush jokes, there's one here that's quite clever. All in all, if you like The X-Files, or if you just like to get creeped out, it's hard to go wrong here. ***1/2 (out of five) Rated PG-13 for moderate profanity and some violence.


Did you know Meryl Streep can do a toe-touch? Seriously! And that Pierce Brosnan has a raspy yet macho singing voice? Kind of like a deeper Bryan Adams. Basically, if you like ABBA, if you like fun fluffy musicals, if you dig that type of energy, this is a blast. If not, move along. Colin Firth adds charm, the young lady's got some pipes, the Greek scenery is gorgeous, and there's a lot of girl-power going on. Not a lot of substance, but that's not what it's going for. It just wants to give you a good time, and it succeeds. ***1/2 (out of five). Rated PG-13 for innuendo.


New director. New locale (China). Jet Li as the villain. Michelle Yeoh helping the heroes. New actress playing Brendan Fraser's wife. Abominable snowman. And yet, this all feels so familiar. We've seen it done before (and better) in the first two Mummy movies. This isn't terrible, it's just...meh. Fraser is good. The actor playing his son annoys the crap out of me (or maybe it's just how the character is written). The effects are great. The swordfight between Li and Yeoh (which could have been worth the price of admission alone) is neutered by up-tight camerawork, poor editing, and un-inventive choreography. The jokes, which were "tongue-in cheek" bad before are now just bad. Meh. ** (out of five). PG-13 for violence and mild married innuendo.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Though this film deserves a very long review, as I have so much to say about it, what more needs to be said than has already been mentioned by the nation's critics, who have contributed to The Dark Knight's whopping 94% rating on Some are saying it's better than Batman Begins, director Chris Nolan's first film in this new Batman series. I disagree, but only because I think that film is a lot better than some critics remember it. I do think, however, that The Dark Knight is just as masterful, and since I consider both to be nearly flawless enough to give them each five stars, it's high enough praise to say this new film is the rare sequel that lives up to the original. Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker? Everything you've heard, all of the praise and hype? All true. His is a riveting, terrifying, and darkly hilarious portrayal of the ultimate villain, and it's a completely original take on the character. Everyone will be talking about his performance, as well they should be, but I hope they won't lose sight of how terrific the acting is across the board. Christian Bale continues to impress as the best Batman/Bruce Wayne ever. Since he was so well established last time, he's given slightly less screen time here, but he's equally compelling as a man pushed to his limits. Michael Cain and Morgan Freeman have less to do, but every second they're on screen, they're terrific. Gary Oldman continues to show that he's just as compelling playing good guys as bad ones; his Commisioner Gordon is a pillar of virtue. Maggie Gyllenhall (Stranger Than Fiction) steps in for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. While I'm one of the apparently few people who didn't mind Mrs. Cruise in the first film, Gyllenhall adds a bit more life to the character. Finally, BYU graduate Aaron Eckhart gives a subtle and layered performance as Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent. If Ledger wasn't stealing the show, it'd be Eckhart's acting everyone would be talking about.

The action: terrific (a mid-movie chase scene stands out in my mind). The screenplay: just like Begins, it's full of fantastic moral investigations, fleshed-out characters, and plenty of surprises which I wouldn't dare reveal here. Like the first film, this is dark and scary, but with a lining of humanity and just a touch of humor. The direction is even better this time (thank you, Mr. Nolan, for allowing us to actually see the fights). Don't believe those reviews which say they don't know how this slipped by with a PG-13 rating; it is intense, and the Joker is brutal and horrific, but just like a great Hitchcock movie, the actual gruesome stuff occurs in your imagination, not on-screen. There's not any blood that I can remember, though there are some freaky images vis-a-vis the villains' physical appearance and the sight of some corpses. That being said, this is not a movie to take kids to. Just because you don't see a lot of gore, doesn't mean it isn't terrifying. If you're afraid of clowns, buckle up. Pushed to his limits, Batman gets mean. I mean Jack Bauer mean! At any rate, this is a terrific film; a crime/morality drama first, an action thriller second, and a comic book movie third. It isn't flawless, but the minor complaints are so nit-picky that I've no need to mention them here. Sorry WALL*E, but you're gonna have to pass the crown of year's best film over. The Dark Knight is king, and his jester is one bad motha! ***** (out of five).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy 2 Review- Surprise: it rocks!

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. 2004's Hellboy was mostly a dull, plodding movie. Every once and a while there were flashes of potential from the creative team: a crackling one-liner, an iconic image, a piece of hard-hitting action, a great character moment. But on the whole, the whole thing felt watered-down, forced, and a waste of talent. Rumor has it that studio suits interfered, as they're wont to do, with the creative vision of the director. But that director was Guillermo Del Toro, whose next film, the visionary Pan's Labrynth, won three Academy Awards, received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, and got a whopping 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This time, the studio suits politely stood out of his way. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is at once an altogether superior sequel as well as a highly entertaining standalone adventure movie. The characters are terrific, the action sequences genuinely thrilling, the comedy hits the mark (it rarely did in the first film), and the visual design is at times among the most original and unique of anything I've ever seen. Oh, and there's a character who sounds just like Elder Uchdorf, and Selma Blair is quite comely in this. Go see this movie to enjoy the craft of a great director on the rise. You don't have to have seen the first film to enjoy this one; all you need is my brief plot synopsis (after the review) to get you up to speed for the second. For me, this is on par with Iron Man as the summer's best action entertainment so far (The Dark Knight, of course, soon cometh). While no character in this shines as brightly as Robert Downey Jr's ultra-cool Tony Stark, the ensemble here is better, the action is just as good, and the creativity and visual imagery are terrific. Del Toro is contracted to direct The Hobbit, with Peter Jackson producing. Having seen Hellboy II, I'm salivating for that product. Even more complimentary, when I saw Hellboy I didn't care to see the series continue; having seen it's brawny, spunky, and imaginative sequel, I cannot wait for another installment. **** (out of five) (Rated PG-13 for creepy images, action violence).

In 1944, the Nazis open a portal to Hell, hoping to unleash its power on the Earth. Allied soldiers stop it, but not before a newborn demon gets through. Adopted by a paranormal scientist (and man of faith), the creature develops a love for humanity, kittens, and Baby Ruth candy bars. In the present day (he ages differently) he works undercover for the FBI, fighting demons and monsters, with his best friend Abe (who is amphibious and psychic), and the girl of his dreams, Liz (whose superpower is creating and controlling fire). By the end of the movie, Hellboy chooses good over evil and gets the girl, though he loses his father. He yearns to be accepted by the people he's protecting, but the government insists he keep his existence hidden.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

San Francisco trip, HANCOCK review

Alright! I just got back from a fantastic six-day trip to San Francisco for a Smart Marriages conference. The top minds in the field of family studies (and marriage and family therapy) gave seminars over four days at the Hilton, and hundreds (thousands?) attended. I myself attended some fascinating seminars on "hot monogamy" (sex in marriage), the portrayal of marriage and family in the media, emotionally-focused therapy, stepparenting, and more. I learned a lot, but I also had time for plenty o' fun!

I arrived Wednesday night and relaxed. Thursday I had some killer Vietnamese food for lunch with my friend Mallory and my professors Scott and Tommy (deep friend banana with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Fantastic). That night, a big group of us took a limo to Pier 39 (limo was actually cheaper than taxis when there were ten of us) for terrific sea food at Neptunes.

We saw big fat seals (or are they sea lions?) chilling on the pier. Pier 39 has a bunch of shops, as well as a Captain Jack pirate show. Pretty sweet.

Friday night was the 4th of July. We had pizza and drinks in the hotel room of Amy and Stan (a coworker and her husband). I had a Martinelli's apple cider. Didn't need no booze to get crazy. My friends, however, did, if only to get to my level of shameless, embarrassing behavior.

We drove out in a limo (again) to the harbor, where we gathered with hundreds for the fireworks show.

It was foggy in the harbor, but the fireworks were still awesome, as they lit up the fog. It looked like a battleground. I did find it ironic, watching the symbols of freedom erupt just above Alcatraz.

Saturday night we all walked over to Chinatown, which I hear is the best Chinatown in the U.S. It didn't dissappoint. I did embarrass myself at the restaurant, though. The food was fantastic (even if the fowl did still have their heads attached), but...well, I do not think that all Asians look alike. Not by a long shot. Which is why it's so shamefully embarassing that I asked a guy for our check who wasn't at all the waiter who'd been serving us for an hour. Oops.

There were all sorts of shops with decorations, clothing, traditional weapons, parade dragon heads, etc, etc, etc. My favorite was this big guy doing a "Rocky at the top of the steps." I call him Buddah Balboa.

Sunday I walked two miles to Church. It was a gorgeous, two-story building built on a hill, with big windows on one side overlooking a flowergarden. Too bad the meetings (normally at 9 am and noon) were combined that day, so when I showed up for church at noon, it was over! Oh well, the Lord blesses you for trying. Then I totally broke the Sabbath and bought a day pass for the cablecars. I spent the next few hours hopping from car to car, seeing the city.

The LDS Church in San Francisco

That afternoon I returned to find my friend and roommate Charles on his bed, looking tired. "Dude," he said, "I just got back from the gayest Church meeting I've ever been to." I replied: "Like, it was lame?" He said: "No, that wasn't a figure of speech. It literally was a gay church!" He went on invite from someone at the conference without knowing what he was getting into. He told me that the men had made aprons for a fundraiser and had modeled them during the service. The pastor went on to preach about God being a woman and spent 15 minutes blasting the Iraq war. Man, people sure interpret the Bible differently, don't they?

Anyway, Charles and I went to see the Golden Gate Bridge. We walked across it (it was refreshingly cool and windy), saw the pelicans, marvelled at the structure, and at the ships passing hundreds of feet below. Charles had a close call with a skunk. We saw this sign above a phone on the bridge, and it made us laugh (though it is quite serious).

Anyway, I'm back in Auburn now. Next week: Family reunion!


In was good. Not great. Not even close to great. But entertaining. Any movie that has Will Smith playing off of Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) has something good going for it right off of the bat. Some decent story development, some unexpected drama, some solid action, quite a bit of good comedy. This is the type of movie that doesn't leave a lasting impression. Twenty minutes later, you're not still thinking about it (Wall*E, in contrast, was on my mind for days after). However, if you've seen everything else worth seeing and need a movie/entertainment fix, you won't go wrong here. However, if you're struggling to make it out to the theatre and/0r are saving your dollar for the best, I recommend Iron Man, Kung-Fu Panda, Wall*E, or the upcoming The Dark Knight. This is a rental for you. Will Smith, as always, is highly watchable, Jason Bateman is fantastically dry, and Charlize Theron has a role that will suprise you. *** (out of five). Rated PG-13 for profanity (one f-word which is, I'm sad to admit, pretty funny, and plenty of uses of "a-hole," and violence. Sexual content is a nonissue.)