26 June 2014

Together Again

Currently Pushing: Sky Guide. For a mere $1.99, you can have all the constellations at your fingertips. No more “Is that Orion?” questions or “I think that’s Cassiopeia. Maybe.” With Sky Guide equipped, you can just point your phone at the horizon to identify the stars above you. Click into a constellation cluster for descriptions and best yet, use Sky Guide indoors, when the stars are hidden behind city lights and inclement weather.

Apparently Mercury’s in retrograde, which would explain a lot of what’s been happening around me. Poor communication, loose ends, partnerships falling apart, unwarranted tax demands in unassuming envelopes. Basically things are going all wrong. Luckily Orange is the New Black Season Two came out one day before this all started so life is a-okay. After all, (fictional) Piper’s still stuck in jail, who are we to complain?

No, I don’t know where May and April went. I think there was a trip to San Francisco, there was definitely a weekend in Palm Springs (we had a dance reunion and rented an absolutely bonkers Mad Men mid-century style house, to relax like Don and wear sweater vests like Pete), and I got to hit the surf once before leaving San Diego. Albeit on a boogie board. Now I’m in New York and June’s already practically over. But I’m gonna reset and start over, Edge of Tomorrow-style, and try to cover all the New Yorky things I’ve been doing, because unlike being back home, I’m not a hermit here, camped out in front of the television. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I realized that for once, I was happy to be home for an extended amount of time. After spending most of 2013 in New York -- the longest I’ve stayed put somewhere since 2008 -- I was ready for serious hibernation. And that’s exactly what I did for six months, just sit on the couch and rot. But now I’m ready for fun again!

Oh yeah, my sister got engaged! It’s official because we had a celebratory party and everything. And after getting a preview of how Ameer’s Persian side of family was going to bring it with the music, dancing, and fun, we told my mom to only invite her most high energy Chinese friends. Pack our side with the alcohol loving aunties and uncles, leave the sticks in the mud off the guest list! So yeah, wedding’s at the end of the year and I’m officiating. Time to dust off that bilingual dictionary.

19 June 2014

Street Dance 2 (2012)

How could I have missed the fact that Street Dance had a sequel?! While the original wasn’t particularly memorable, it did great overseas and was also “the first entirely British 3D film,” giving it high marks for technological achievement. This time around, I didn’t see Street Dance 2 in 3D but I doubt I missed that much. Here here we go with the tenth installment of my dance movie review series.

Tagline: “Twice the Moves. Twice the Passion.” Other taglines seen on posters basically played off the “Twice As _____” formula. Insert any adjective basically: hot, flawless, smart, lethal, crazy, sharp, sassy. I don’t rate taglines but these have to be the worst ones. Watch Street Dance 2's trailer.

1. Plot (2)
The original Street Dance had a very derivative plot and it racked up the lowest plot score in my series. The bad news is that the sequel’s story is even more yawn worthy. Our main hero, Ash, is in attendance at a dance battle slinging popcorn and snacks when he decides to step on stage and challenge the leader of Invincible crew. In a brilliant plot twist, Ash flops big time -- setting up his character motivation -- but still manages to catch the attention of a wannabe team manager, Eddie. The two of them set off to recruit a dance crew capable of taking down Invincible. Along the way Ash finds / falls for a girl, has to overcome performance anxiety, and you know, blah blah blah. “Predictable” would be too positive a word here. The only part of Street Dance 2 that could be called "innovative" was the hip hop plus Latin dance angle. Not exactly pioneering but it'll do.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (8)
Well, if you extend the definition of “lead” character to both Ash and his love interest, Eva, then yes, they can dance. The problem with a lot of these dance movies is that the male leads are invariably white and well, that comes with baggage. As any veteran of craptastic dance movies know, there’s an inverse correlation between acting and dancing ability, and when you throw acceptable movie lead looks into the mix, it’s a mess. (Unless you are Channing Tatum, who arguably has it all. Arguably.) German actor Falk Hentschel can dance, sure -- he’s danced backup for Mariah and Britney -- but he’s outclassed here by nearly everybody else on-screen. It’s not directly his fault, but all of his co-stars are better dancers.

For example, Algerian-French actress Sofia Boutella, who plays Eva, is a far better dancer. In the movie she’s tasked with mostly doing Latin stuff but her background is in hip hop and street dance. Her Wikipedia says that she was part of a group that won a Hip Hop World Championships. Fun tidbit: Boutella, aka Idina Menzel-lite, has been a longtime face for Nike Women.

3. How’re the dance scenes? (7)
For sheer volume, Street Dance 2 probably wins for number of dance scenes. I usually make a list of individual dance scenes but for this film I stopped after reaching double digits. The “collect the crew” montage was super fun, a hypnotic salsa in a boxing ring scene was fresh and new, and a pillow fight turned dance party was creative. Plus there was an homage to Jackie Chan's drunken master style in one of the battles. In addition, there were lots of dance scenes set in front of absolutely beautiful backgrounds. (I’ll touch on Street Dance 2’s cinematography later, but the look of the movie was definitely a plus.) Ash's competitive ace in the hole tactic was to blend street dance with Latin dance, and those were the scenes that mostly popped with energy.

Unfortunately, after awhile the dance stuff started blending together and nothing really gave me the hair raising experience I typically look for. No "oh shit!" moments. Well, that’s probably selling the dance stuff short. The salsa battles were pretty cool, especially when it was Ash’s crew versus Team Salsa -- my pick for best dance scene in the movie. And then there was a warm up battle against another crew, The Surge, that was pretty thrilling. Overall, Street Dance 2 packed in enough to get a good score for quantity over quality.
4. How’s the love story? (2)
Super lame. We don’t expect much out of the romantic portion of these dance movies but this one committed the cardinal sin of not only being bad, but also lengthy. There was way too much time spent on Ash and Eva’s relationship, and it was clear the two actors had no chemistry with each other. Even blindfold tango couldn’t give this relationship any fire.

5. Rate the sidekicks (7)
The Ocean’s Eleven style open got me psyched for all of the sidekick characters as Ash and Eddie literally criss-crossed Europe collecting their dancers. I don't know how they funded their airfare but the All-Star list goes: Steph (Copenhagen), Tino (Ibiza), Skorpion (Swiss Alps), Bam-Bam (Amsterdam), Killa & Junior (Berlin), Terrabyte (Prague), Ali (Lyon), Yoyo & Legend (Rome). Each of the sidekick dancers seemed pretty awesome too, and the heavily tattooed Bam-Bam was a straight Amy Winehouse lookalike. And hello diversity with two and a half Asians and a guy who literally wore a T-shirt that said, “I’m Muslim, Don’t Panic." #weneeddiversity

Unfortunately, the sidekicks rarely got any time to shine. Forget anyone as fun/annoying as Step Up's Moose in this film. I don’t think the sidekicks got more than three lines combined. I don't know if there was a language barrier or something but literally nobody else got to talk much. It would have been awesome to see more individual dances since the montage was so good. As it stands, the semi-high score for this category is due to Googling post-movie for these European dancers, all of whom weren’t familiar to me Stateside.

6. Best line (2)
If you are into cheesy lines, this movie has got them. And that’s taking into account the quality of dialogue for all these other dance movies. The best line is arguably: "Dancing with a partner is about sharing the moment,” said by Eva’s old French uncle, Manu. There’s also lots of hokum like “People think tango is only about sex…but it’s really about channeling your passion.” Ah yeah, okay...

7. Music (2)
Well this category is a major bust. I realized about three-fourths of the way into the movie that most of the dance scenes weren’t memorable because the music wasn’t good. Either the scenes were set to generic-y dance and rock beats, or the music just wasn’t very good. In fact, when they started off the finale with a fast remix of “We Will Rock You,” I was soooo out. If they hadn’t used the classic and always sampled “Apache” for the opening, this score would have been even lower.

8. Fashion (9)
Here we go, this is where Street Dance 2 stood out. Much like its predecessor, Street Dance 2 came strong with the clothing. Every sidekick had a unique style (again we cite Bam-Bam, but also give a shout out to all of Steph’s outfits), some of the hairstyles were great, all of Eva's bondage and string outfits were ridiculous, and the entire cast could have easily leapt off the page of a fast fashion catalogue. In short, great looks all around! I’m docking a point because Invincible and The Surge’s outfits were very boring and lame. Oh, and the final competition outfits for Ash’s crew were so stupid it burned my soul.

9. Cultural Impact (3)
Well, I’d go ahead and say "none" but apparently Street Dance 2 "caused significant outrage among Algerians living in both France and Algeria due to their compatriot Sofia Boutella's appearance in scenes that are excessively risqué by Algerian standards.” When a dance film touches a nerve and inspires boycotts, that’s gotta count as impactful right?

Overall, Street Dance 2 didn’t make nearly the same amount of money as the first film but somehow still spawned a follow up that came out in 2013: Street Dance: All Stars. I can’t really tell if All Stars was a legit movie or a parody but it sure looks like the latter. It’s safe to say that the Street Dance series is probably dead.

10. Miscellaneous (8)
First off, George Sampson aka Eddie, won Britain's Got Talent at the tender age of fourteen. So I guess he’s famous over in the United Kingdom. Everyone else, no idea! The high score for miscellaneous is almost entirely given out because Street Dance 2 had some epic backgrounds. The overall production scored high marks and there was every effort made to fit in as many European landmarks as possible. In addition, there were some gorgeous shots such as Ash and Eva romancing in front of the Eiffel Tower, light filtering in through stained glass windows as they practiced, the whole bit. Street Dance 2 is a contender for best looking dance movie ever.

Also, the last competition is held in a giant stadium that seems to have like 5,000 people in attendance. I feel like it’s all extras but maybe it was just CGI. In any case, most dance movies have just a few hundred people for their crowd shots but Street Dance 2 seems to have thrown most of their budget into locations and extras. I would have spent a few more dollars on better writers for the script, but hey, I’m not a movie producer.

Well, this is a strange beast of a dance movie. While it’s packed with a ton of dance scenes and some very talented dancers, it’s also bogged down by way too much romance. In addition, the lead actor was not compelling and the plot was so tepid that I wish the whole thing had gone for satire or parody just to inject some fun into the film. Still, there are a few winning points here: the wide angle shots of European cities, the dance bits with the sidekicks, and the on trend clothing. All of this combined to make a dance film that ranked somewhere between the original Street Dance and Step Up Revolution. Basically ho hum and for completists only.

08 April 2014

All Men Must Die

Listening to: Kanye Asada, "Boys & Girls: March 2014." We went out this past weekend to see another DJ but ended up falling in love with this guy’s set. It was wonderfully dancey, while not falling into any genre. Technically it’s maybe a little housey with R&B hooks, but it was so much better than that. Anyone who mixes in "Escapade" is all good in my book. Also, that name "carne asada" is amazing. Here's his setlists and try out this Aaliyah track for a quick taste of what I fell in love with. See you on the dance floor.

Most of the rest of my weekend was spent in a much more prone position, lying on my side while grinding/frolicking through hours of Battleheart. Battleheart is an iOS action RPG game that came out a few years ago and I don’t know how I missed it. Suffice to say, the package of wonderfully responsive controls, streamlined design, lots of lineup combinations, plus super cute characters had me obsessed. I mean, take a look at the little barbarian, witch, pirate, and even a monk! I think I literally played Battleheart for ten hours straight, stopping only when my phone died.

Also, the week was all about Game of Thrones right? While waiting for Sunday’s premiere, and making backup plans in case HBO Go collapsed (again), I saw that Fantasizr was running a GoT fantasy game. Of course I assembled a league because fantasy anything makes life better. And then I started a blog for the league because, well, that’s what I do. Anyway, our draft was super fun and now I’m heavily invested in my team’s aptitude for killing, maiming, sexing, insulting, and drinking. My team name is "Blonde Ambition," named after Madonna's tour, and my first few picks were right on theme with Daenerys, Brienne, and Joffrey. And then somehow I ended up with almost all of the Tyrells, more than fulfilling the "ambition" part of the name. Fantasy Game of Thrones and the new season of MTV Challenge will keep me occupied now that basketball is over. Can someone just make fantasy real life friends already?
And hello, the new Captain America is so good! If you've seen it already, check out this spoiler filled "The Winter Soldier Secrets You (Probably) Didn't Notice." As an avid Marvel fan but not enough apparently, I didn't notice most of these tidbits. I mean, when I used to read comics, Captain America was not cool. But now he's got super muscles and looks like Chris Evans so he's finally got a proper fandom.

Someone asked me this weekend if I thought an issue of "Amazing Fantasy #15,” Spider-Man’s debut, would be a good investment. There seem to be quite a few available for sale on eBay, priced from a few hundred dollars to a mere thirty-five grand. I’m trying to convince my friend that buying “Giant-Size X-Men #1” would have so much more cachet. Right? And it’s cheaper! If I ever make mega money, all my rooms will be filled with comic books and statues. Take a look at this blog, X-Men: Statues of Future Past, which is basically my dream home. I won't need any other rooms, just this one. And in case you some wallpaper for your digital home, I painstakingly stitched together this 50th anniversary Avengers poster. And here's the X-Men one. Warning: Both are hugely, and probably life changing.

I still haven’t had a chance to read Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding that came out a couple of years ago, and now he’s got an anthology out titled MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. It sounds like a must read for writers. Back in 2012 I read Keith Gessen’s How a Book is Born, which focused on Harbach’s debut and was really interesting, plus I want to re-recommend this n+1 podcast episode with Gessen.

03 April 2014

Remember the Time

Listening to: All the mixes from 143's Soundcloud page. "143 is a monthly party of slow jams, love songs, and bed squeaking future R&B." Basically, I need to get to L.A. soon to attend one of these parties. But for now, these streams will have to do.

Digging the crates, looking up my important “firsts.” First Tweet, first Gmail, etc. These are really the important moments in my life. I read this article, "How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago” and they said that Gmail launched on April 1st, 2004. I started using it exactly a month later -- here's how to see your oldest message -- and haven’t stopped advocating for it since. I remember AMR and I got early invites because we were loyal Blogger users. Those extra two invites we had apiece were literal gold! We eBayed those suckers for like $80 each. It was a glorious time.

Now I’m taking a spin in my Gmail archives and reliving my life a decade ago. That basically involves Google stalking old co-workers and friends I’ve lost touch with. You know, the usual. Back in 2004 I was working at a generic pharmaceutical company. Filing, emailing, doing important stuff. I forgot what my title was. Quality assurance peon? This was my first foray into regular office culture and oh man, what a thrill! Sure hope I can get into that kind of job again. Not.

Oddly, my very first email was to myself, as I forwarded along a copy of my PDF resume as an attachment. Clearly I was very career focused as my first instinct was to preserve my resume for eternity on Google’s servers. Lot of good that did me over the past decade, right? Also, it’s unfortunate but my email address through most of my twenties was paradigmpimp@whatever. I had to start many subject headings with "This is not spam, I swear." I wish someone had intervened and told me to change my email address to something less faux ironic and dumb. And easier to spell.

For posterity, my first tweet sent into the world a little after midnight on May 24, 2007 was: "In new york, still up, blogging.” Ain’t shit changed....

While we’re at it, I was doing some more digging and came upon this 2006 review of my blog book from John Scalzi. Totally forgot about that! Sometimes I forget I wrote a book on blogging and that’s how I got my start.  I look at how I’ve only got five entries up so far this year and that just makes me sad sad sad. The move then is to recapture the blogging fire and toward that end I’m gonna blog every day till the end of the month. “No, don’t do it,” you cry. Too late, I already committed. And I always, always, follow through on my commitments.

Really, the first thing I should do is go through this Top 250 Blogs list from Rough Guide to Blogging and write up a “Where Are They Now” feature. Well, maybe not for all it. Perhaps just the “personal blogs” section. I mean, where is Bazima, Maganda, Minjung Kim now? Well, at least we know where Evhead went. The Blogger cofounder went on to start Twitter! Actually, let’s be real, the best part of writing Rough Guides was sneaking in friends like Boygirlparty, Eidolon, and Transcended. Plus I crammed in as many screenshots as I could of friends' blogs. Oh the power I wielded.

I think Rough Guides stopped printing the blogging book awhile ago and shockingly I only have like two copies in my closet. Perhaps I better start wandering into used bookstores to start collecting copies. Some day my children will want to hold my first book in their hands. Or maybe they won’t, since everything will be digitized by then and nobody will care about physical artifacts.

I sent these to my friend the other day, a collection of links to articles about writing and money, starting with a Scalzi classic. Also check out Scalzi's book on writing as a career, You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop.

15 March 2014

Stars, They’re Just Like Us

Some weeks just align themselves into themes don’t they? On Sunday I watched Rust Cohle stare into a space abyss and then a few days later I stayed up all night zipping from star to star myself, feeling just as empty. Out There is a new iOS game that casts you as a lonely engineer lost in the universe, freshly woken from cryogenic sleep and desperate to return home. The only way to get back to Earth is to visit nearby galaxies and then pillage the stars and planets for fuel, oxygen, and iron for your ship’s delicate hull. The challenge is that you’re always short on everything because your ship can only carry so many supplies. Also, Out There is a roguelike, meaning once you die, it’s over and you have to start from the beginning. “Roguelike” is basically the geek term for “infinitely frustrating."

I haven’t felt like crying in awhile but when my ship randomly teleported into a double black hole system with no way out, my insides collapsed as I faced an inescapable fate. Even with my wormhole generator equipped, there was no escape. This craptastic moment happened just a few minutes after I discovered the Faberge egg of spaceships, one that housed an Avatar-like tree inside constantly pumping out sweet breathable air. I was so so so happy when I found that abandoned ship too. (I even Memorexed the moment.) Needless to say, I hit restart and dove right back in there for another incredible journey.

Out There is getting rave reviews, it’s got beautiful art, and while a bit of the magic has worn off after multiple dead ends and some challenging/unfair turns of luck, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. Also, the cycle of dead ends and constant losing -- I haven't made it to any of the story endings yet [Update: Finally, got one!] -- put me into a contemplative mood and I starting seeing Out There as analagous to real life, and thought that maybe the point was to teach players some lessons about true grit. But maybe that's getting caught up a little too deeply into it.
I was fully onboard for the run of True Detective, and in typically annoying fashion, pushed it on everyone around me. The ending was disappointing but the experience was totally worth it. (Hey, just like life!) I needed more Matthew McConaughey in my life after the finale and queued up Killer Joe, one of the first movies in the McConaissance. That film is definitely not for everybody but McConaughey is very good as a charming cop turned assassin. It occurred to me that I’d never seen Dazed and Confused, so I should rectify that soon, if only to be a Linklater completist. Plus, it’s a classic or whatever.

Also, Cary Fukunaga! I don’t know how any human doesn’t have a crush on this guy. Aside from being an extremely talented director, he looks like half-Asian Clark Kent / Johnny Depp, plus he used to be a pro snowboarder. Hearts, hearts, everywhere. Forget Googling True Detective theories and wrap ups, go watch his Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.
And then there’s the new Cosmos television thing, exec produced by the detestable Seth MacFarlane. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original but I don’t think anyone can top Carl Sagan, even Neil deGrasse Tyson. My plug is to go straight to the 1980 Cosmos book, which apparently spent fifty weeks on the best sellers list when it came out. During my first foray living in New York, Cosmos was my go-to subway read. Dense enough to be worth carrying around, captivatingly written, perfect for stopping and starting. All that stuff about white dwarves and quasars just makes travel time fly by.

And if Cosmos has too many words for you, try out Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space opera graphic novel, Saga Vol.1. I’d been reading fawning reviews of Saga forever before finally picked it up recently. It's described as Romeo and Juliet plus Star Wars with Game of Thrones and that's just about right. Note: For story writers out there, Saga is like a master class in cliffhangers. Vaughan does some incredible things with his last pages. Volume three of Saga drops in a few weeks and I've already got it in pre-order even as I mourn how fast I'll blow through it.

Also, playing Out There made me remember how much time I used to spend on Spaceward Ho! It’s a similarly themed game from the early Nineties, and apparently out now for iPad. Is it too late for me to become an astronaut?