Archive for January, 2007

Electric Cars

January 25, 2007

Back when electric cars were actually available from mainstream manufacturers, I wondered what the big deal was about. It seemed to me that they just moved the pollution from where you were driving to wherever the electicity was generated. How could that help?

But then I heard about Tesla Motors. Now, I have no plans to spend $92,950 on any car, but it’s still a very cool car. And reading their web site I saw their “well-to-wheel” analysis (what it costs starting at the oil well all the way to turning the wheels of a car) of efficiency of electric cars vs. hybrid and conventional cars, and I was convinced that electric is the way to go for a commuter car. For longer range trips, it will require a big infrastructure change (maybe stations where you swap dead battery packs for charged ones), but even today most two car families could get by with one electric car and one hybrid.

If there were any affordable elctric cars to buy, that is.

So what is available today or plausibly soon?

Today you can buy a NmG (“No more Gas”) from Meyers Motors. It used to be called the Sparrow in case it looks familiar. But it has only one seat, a 30 mile range, and costs $24,900. The range is a dealbreaker for me, and the price seems out of line with what you get.

You can buy a Zap! Xebra from Zap. It’s range is only 25 miles and it has a top speed of 40mph, though it seats 4 and has a target price under $10,000. They also say that deliveries are in process and I have read that they have sold 150 or more of them. But again the range is a dealbreaker, and the top speed also means I would have to choose a different route to work.

If you live in England, you can buy a G-Wiz from GoinGreen. The range is 50 miles, the top speed is 45mph, and it costs 7000 pounds. The car is also sold (and made) in India as the Reva.

You can make a deposit on a Tango from Commuter Cars Corporation. They have a Tesla-class (0-60 in 4 seconds) model T600 that sells in kit form for $108,000. They have delivered one to George Clooney, and will be hand-building a few more. The range is 40-80 miles with lead-acid batteries (farther with NiMH). They are taking deposits on the T200 (0-60 in 5 seconds, $39,900, expected in 2008) and the T100 (0-60 in 7 seconds, $18,900, expected in 2009). What I really like about these cars is that they’re narrower and shorter than some motorcycles (they have two seats but they’re front and back rather than side by side). That means they can park in places normal cars can’t, and if they catch on there could be lane sharing on freeways. I’m actually pretty tempted to put down a deposit.

I also looked into electric scooters. GreenEmotor is local (they’re in Santa Clara, CA). From talking to them it doesn’t sound like their current model could handle the climb I have on my commute home, though when they get better batteries, it might work. The Vectrix is much more powerful, but it’s also much more expensive (roughly $11,000), requires a motorcycle license, and it’s not clear if it’s sold in the U.S. yet.

For further reading, wikipedia is a good place to start.

Edit 3/27/2007: Phoenix Motorcars is building an electric truck/SUV that they expect to start delivering in 2007. It has a range of 130 about miles and is expected to cost about $45,000.

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The Oscar® nominations are out

January 23, 2007

In the 9 categories I predicted, there are 43 nominees, 36 of which I got right.

The biggest surprise was Dreamgirls being left out of both Best Picture and Best Director. And even though Dreamgirls had the largest number of nominations with 8, 3 of them were in the Best Song category. I would say that this might open the door for Little Miss Sunshine, which won at the Producers Guild of America Awards, to take Best Picture, but LMS was left out of the Best Director Oscar® nominations, so it’s still a horse race. We might have a clearer picture after the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday. Or maybe that will just muddy the waters further.

Going through the categories I predicted:

  • Best Picture (4/5): The spot everyone assumed would go to Dreamgirls went instead to Letters from Iwo Jima.
  • Best Director (4/5): Ditto, which means Clint Eastwood has a chance to ruin Martin Scorsese’s day again. Also, while I predicted that Paul Greengrass would be nominated for United 93, I actually thought that was wishful thinking more than a good prediction, so this was the nomination that made me happiest.
  • Best Actress (5/5): This went the way everyone expected.
  • Best Actor (4/5): The suprise here was not that Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated, but that he was nominated for Blood Diamond instead of The Departed. Perhaps this signals some softness for Departed‘s support?
  • Best Supporting Actor (4/5): My mistake here was that Mark Wahlberg got the nomination over Jack Nicholson, though either way it’s a vote for The Departed.
  • Best Supporting Actress (5/5): This went the way everyone expected.
  • Best Original Screenplay (3/5): This was the only category I missed more than one in. Stranger Than Fiction and Volver were replaced by Letters from Iwo Jima and Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (4/5): This category was unclear, but my only mistake was picking Thank You for Smoking over Children of Men. Again Dreamgirls was passed over, though it was not much of a surprise here.
  • Best Animated Film (3/3): This went the way I predicted, although the slot taken by Monster House was unclear.

It looks like predicting the winners is going to be a challenge this year.

Children of Men

January 22, 2007

It’s November 2027 in England, and the youngest living human has just died. He was 18 years old. No woman have given birth for years. Most of the world is in chaos, and England isn’t much better: illegal immigrants are hunted down and sent to refugee camps, terrorists are setting off bombs regularly, and the government is encouraging people to consider suicide with advertisements not all that different from most of today’s drug advertisements. While the no births scenario seems far-fetched, the atmosphere seems dangerously possible if today’s War on Terror mentality was combined with some major issue like a bird flu pandemic or global warming.

This is a gorgeous movie. It should at least get an Oscar® nomination for cinematography. Clive Owen, who plays the protagonist, is very good in a non-showy way. And as I’ve said, the atmosphere has great relevance for the world today. But somehow this film just missed for me. I always felt slightly removed. I admired it, but became only mildly involved in it. Maybe I should see it again someday, because it seems like it might improve with time.

I give it 3.5 stars out of 4.

Seen 1/21/2007, after The Last King of Scotland.

The Last King of Scotland

January 22, 2007

Wow. This film felt like a punch to the stomach, and strangely enough that’s a good thing.

The film could be said to be about Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), but the main character is really Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a newly-minted doctor who decides that anywhere in the world would be better than staying in Scotland and working for his doctor father. In fact, adventure is exactly what he’s looking for when he arrives in Uganda just as Amin has taken over the country in 1971. The people Nicholas talks to seem genuinely happy about Amin, thinking he will treat the people better than the previous ruler.

Nicholas has arranged to help out a doctor and his wife (the latter played by Gillian Anderson) in a rural area where most prefer witch doctors to the Western kind. But he ends up becoming Amin’s personal doctor after a chance meeting. It turns out that Amin feels a great affinity for the Scots.

Whitaker’s Amin demonstrates just how far charisma and power can go to seduce people into, well, almost anything. But assuming you’ve heard Amin’s name before, you also know the early lighthearted scenes only serve to contrast with the darkness to come.

Whitaker deserves his likely Oscar® nomination, and McAvoy is also excellent. The film felt very well constructed to me. Combined with the amazing performances by the two leads, this clearly rose to the level of 4 stars (out of 4) for me.

Seen 1/21/2007. Note that one or two brief scenes were too gruesome for me to watch, so be warned.

2006 Oscar® nominations predictions

January 21, 2007

The actual nominations will be announced on January 23, 2007, and the awards show is on February 25, 2007. The predictions were last updated on January 21, 2007. Besides the sources mentioned below, I also used OscarCentral, Oscarwatch, and AwardSpeculation.com for inspiration and ideas.

Remember that these are my predictions, and not necessarily the films or performances that I would pick if I had a vote. Besides, I have not seen many of these yet.

Best Picture

Comments: This is the same as the Producers Guild of America list, which also agrees with everyone else’s predictions. Other possibilities include Letters from Iwo Jima and United 93, the latter of which I would be very happy to see nominated (the former may be excellent, but I haven’t seen it yet).

Best Director

Comments: This is the same as the Directors Guild of America list but with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for (Little Miss Sunshine) removed and Paul Greengrass added. Other possibilities include Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima and Robert Altman for A Prairie Home Companion.

Best Actress

Comments: This is the same as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominations, as well as everyone else’s predictions. Other possibilities include Maggie Gyllenhaal for SherryBaby and Annette Bening for Running With Scissors.

Best Actor

Comments: Again I started from the SAG nominations, and this time I replaced Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond) with his performance in The Departed (SAG has his Departed performance under the supporting category). Other possibilities include Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat and Ken Watanabe for Letters from Iwo Jima.

Best Supporting Actor

Comment: Starting from the SAG nominations, I replaced Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed) with Jack Nicholson. Other possibilities include Brad Pitt for Babel, Mark Wahlberg for The Departed, and Michael Sheen for The Queen.

Best Supporting Actress

Comments: This is the same as the SAG nominations, as well as everyone else’s predictions. Other admittedly unlikely possibilities include Catherine O’Hara for For Your Consideration (the ironic choice), Emily Blunt for The Devil Wears Prada, and Shareeka Epps for Half Nelson.

Best Original Screenplay

Comments: Starting from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominations, I replaced United 93 with Volver. Other possibilities include and Letters from Iwo Jima and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Comments: As in the original screenplay category, I started with the WGA nominees. I replaced The Devil Wears Prada with Notes on a Scandal. Other possibilities include Dreamgirls and Children of Men.

Best Animated Film

Comments: The number of animated films released this year is such that only 3 films will be in the running for the Oscar. Originally it was thought that there would be 5, but Arthur and the Invisibles was disqualified, bringing the total number just below the threshold. Other possibilities include Over the Hedge and Flushed Away.

The Queen

January 15, 2007

This was the third time I tried to see The Queen. The first two times, over the Christmas-New year’s holiday, the film was sold out.

In case you’ve missed the buzz on this one, it’s about the royal family during the period just before and for the first week or so after the death of the former Princess Diana. It’s also about the government, and especially about Tony Blair, who at that time had just started his job.

Was it worth the trouble to keep trying to see this? Did it live up to the hype? I’m really not sure that it did. Helen Mirren’s performance as Queen Elizabeth was very good, and is probably worth an Oscar® nomination, though I’m not sure if even she lives up to the hype that has her as the front-runner for Best Actress. And Michael Sheen, who plays Tony Blair, is also quite good. In both cases you feel like you’re watching a real person. But the actor who plays Prince Charles is at best adequate, and the story is frankly fairly flat. Although I will admit that I gained a somewhat greater sympathy for the royal family. Despite their extreme wealth, I would not want their job.

I had more fun at Casino Royale, but I’ll give this the same rating (3.5 out of 4 stars) out of respect for the main two performances.

Seen January 14, 2007.

Casino Royale

January 12, 2007

“It’s about time,” you’re probably saying to yourself. Well, yes, I am way behind seeing movies recently. I finally saw Casino Royale at literally its last showing at the Camera Cinemas (where I can see films for free Sunday-Thursday since I invested in one of their theaters).

I’m not going to write a long review, but I will say it was very good as an action thriller, but also very unlike other Bond films (which is both a good and a bad thing). Daniel Craig has a real chance to be the best Bond ever (personally I have a hard time ranking them, except that I’m sure Roger Moore was the worst and that Timothy Dalton is way better than most think). And Eva Green (the Bond Girl du jour) is very pleasant to watch.

I had heard bad things about an interminable poker section of the film, and complaints about the film having several endings. I can see what they’re saying, but those problems were minor at worst, to me.

I’m torn between 3 and 3.5 stars out of 4, but I’ll go with 3.5.

Seen January 11, 2007.

Venus

January 10, 2007

Before I talk about Venus the film, let me introduce the Camera* Cinema Club. The CCC meets 10 times a year, and you watch a movie with a bunch of other movie fanatics. The key thing that I love about the Club is that you don’t know what film will be shown until the film starts. Plus the film is shown either pre-release (as it was in this case) or no-release (meaning it may never get normal distribution). You have to trust the guy who chooses the films, but after each event I am almost always glad I went.

Okay, now for the film itself. Venus is getting good buzz for a likely Oscar® nomination for Peter O’Toole, so I was really glad when I realized that’s what we were seeing, since I am hopelessly behind on my Oscar® viewing this year.

Venus is about Maurice (O’Toole), a semi-famous actor in his 70’s and his longtime friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). The film opens with them in a restaurant both going through the wide range of medication that they take on a regular basis, trying to decide which ones to take.

Ian’s 20-something grandniece Jessie is coming to stay with him. Ian thinks she can help him out around the apartment, and do a bit of cooking. But Jessie proves to be a typical 20-something, preferring to listen to her music, watch TV, eat, and drink (heavily, especially if someone else is buying). Soon Ian is at his wits end.

But Maurice takes a liking to Jessie, who wants to be a model but doesn’t seem to be doing anything towards that end. I won’t go further into the plot to avoid spoiling anything. But I will mention that Maurice’s ex-wife is played by Vanessa Redgrave, who is wonderful in the few scenes she appears in.

And acting is this film’s primary strength. Besides O’Toole’s Oscar®-buzz-worthy performance and Redgrave’s aforementioned role, Phillips provides excellent comic relief in a film that could be (and apparently was, in earlier cuts) too heavy. And newcomer Jodie Whittaker, who plays Jessie, manages to pretty much hold her own in this august company.

To me, the other big thing this film offers is an expression of living life in the present. Maurice knows his life is much closer to the end than it is to the start (“I’m about to die and I don’t know anything about myself” is an approximate quote, and a key one), and he reacts by living for today. It’s something I could do well to emulate, and it lifted the film from very good to excellent, in my view. Oh, and I enjoyed the soundtrack too.

After a Club film is over, there is generally a question and answer period, often with one or more of the filmmakers. In this case the director was planning to be available, but due to issues coming up they had to resort to a taped interview. Here are a few things from my notes:

  • O’Toole broke his hip during filming, but he had it replaced the next day and was back filming in four weeks
  • Whittaker auditioned only one week after finishing drama school
  • The director also made Notting Hill, and while he said he only makes films he wants to make, that applies more to Venus
  • A version of the film from only a few weeks ago had less humor, but since then lighter scenes were put back into the early parts of the film—this version is the one being given Oscar® consideration

Though it’s not perfect, I give it 4 out of 4 stars, which I have done very rarely in the last year.

Seen January 7, 2007.

* Disclosure: I am an investor in the Camera 7 theater, which is where the morning screenings for the Camera Cinema Club occur.

Why a blog?

January 9, 2007

Good question. I have a personal web site. I used to write movie reviews of everything I saw in a theater and post them there, but I stopped a few years ago. I thought that a less formal format where I wouldn’t review everything, and were I could throw in some non-movie posts too, might make it fun again. Plus a blog can more easily be edited from anywhere, freed from the need to be on my home PC with Dreamweaver. And I get RSS without figuring out how to implement it myself.

So I’m hopeful that this will be something I keep doing, but I don’t know for sure.