22 August 2014

Wet'n Wild

Currently pushing: Roy Choi's perfect instant ramen. Putting cheese in ramen? Oh yes. I've tried this recipe a few times and it makes instant ramen much more palatable. Not that it wasn't delicious before, but this is a huge upgrade on an old/desperate classic. Here's the actual recipe. (That scallion is not optional in my opinion.)

Picked up this quarterly magazine, Specimen, at Borderlands Cafe. It features “candid in-depth interviews with experts for everyday people.” Issue number eight is math meets nature, and contains conversations with a mathematical physicist, a computer scientist, a Nobel laureate, and an interview about "why is math still so dominated by white guys when it’s supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy?” There’s no ads in the thing, and it costs a mere nine dollars. I hope they stick around for awhile, because while I don’t normally like reading interviews, these managed to capture my attention.

Oh yeah, and I didn’t make it past the first section of Dog Eared Books because Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me grabbed me completely. From an informal poll of my friends, nobody knew what “mansplaining” meant. C'mon, the term was recently included in the Oxford dictionary! Then again, the indiscriminate Oxford also added "amazeballs, cray, hot mess, and subtweet" so that’s not saying much. In my never-ending quest to keep up with the times, I’ve also recently been caught up on “party nail” (so two years ago), “basic bitch” (somewhat tired), and "quiff" (both late and early). Please continue telling me things so I don't fall behind.
We went to the Russian River for AMR’s bachelor party. Twelve guys, one house. And one slow moving, drought-ridden, river. We opted for the long route, not realizing that it would take more than four hours to go just a few miles. At first, floating around was an absolute blast but soon it got cold and exhausting. A mile or so from our house, I got out of the river shivering and so over it, and decided to trek back alongside the road. Mistake?

One friend cut his bare foot immediately on a shard of glass so my other buddy assembled shoes out of cardboard, string, and sticks. Gingerly picking our way back home was the most dangerous thing we did all weekend. No wonder the first thing people look for when on the run is some footwear. I feel your pain fugitives.

I stopped at every mini-motel along the way, asking if they had some complimentary slippers to give us. Nada. I even tried to barter with one store that we would pay for some flip-flops after we retrieved our shoes. Not even a pause to think about it. Apparently the three of us looked entirely untrustworthy in our swimming suits, holding only inner tubes and no cash. Overall, the great outdoors was good. I just wish someone had brought a Go Pro. I mean, we had two of them but both owners somehow forgot to bring them. I guess you’ll just be spared the inevitably gorgeous video of us basically hiking the river.

Also, I finally got someone to play the Game of Thrones board game with me. Sure, it took some preparation -- one hour just to put the set together -- and some cajoling, but we hunkered down over the table on Sunday and mucked our way through a streamlined version of the rules. Most of the guys weren’t hardcore gamers so it was quite a feat of concentration for them to sit still for three hours. All that and we only got through six of ten rounds.

Overall, the game is a nice blend of Diplomacy and Risk, and I would love to play it some more now that I understand the rules better. (It took me a lot of reading and some serious YouTubing to get even the general gist of the game down.) The whole thing is begging for an iOS version, as the little pieces are just impossible to keep track of. But I guess when you’re trying to conquer Westeros, the first thing you should be is organized. I played as House Tyrell but instead of “growing strong,” I got pushed around and blamed for almost letting the Greyjoys take the win. That would never happen in real life, obviously. "Real life" meaning the show.

21 August 2014

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Jan - Aug 2014

Who’s responsible for the non-updates on fiftyfifty.me?! Oh wait, me. Whoops. Well, let’s take a half year-ish look at what’s been going on. As of late August, the numbers look good…on the movie side. It’s 60 movies and 12 books for me so far. Clearly I have a lot of books ahead of me, but the good news is that I’m definitely one hundred percent gonna make it this year. I made a blood pact with Susie and Lilly that we were all gonna do it this year. I mean, Susie’s even throwing in fifty new tangible skills. That’s impressive!

First recommendation: Saga Vol.1, which is a graphic novel series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. I wrote earlier that "Saga is like a master class in cliffhangers” and that’s definitely true. The third volume came out in March and I’m eagerly waiting for the rest to follow. Second recommend: If you’re into animals and philosophy, John Berger’s Why Look at Animals? is a slim collection of essays exploring the relationship between man and beast is a must-read.

As for old time classics, I did give The Giver a read-through before watching the movie, and I must say that I was impressed. I had mistakenly written The Giver off for years because I thought it was something like The Secret. Instead, it’s the progenitor of YA dystopian and I was super impressed with how efficiently and effortlessly Lois Lowry builds her world. It puts a lot of the modern stuff to shame. I wouldn’t say The Giver is a great book, but I can understand how it might have been amazing back in the day. The classic that I did like quite a bit was Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Who I Have Loved, featuring finicky/plucky protagonist Sara Louise, who is trying to escape from the shadow of her perfect twin sister.

And I'm really giving The Goldfinch a go, because everyone said it's amazing, and I want to love it too, but it's not really working for me for some reason.

Now let’s take a look at movies. I give pretty much all Marvel films a sterling grade, so you’ll have to excuse me there. I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy at least twice each. Overall it's been a pretty weak movie year, and it’s possible that Her, which came out last year but I only saw in January, will end up being my favorite film of the year. I saw pretty much all the summer "blockbusters," and can only recommend Edge of Tomorrow and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Tom Cruise still has it (he’s never lost it, if you ask me) and the more buff Emily Blunt in my life the better. As for How to Train Your Dragon 2, it’s easily the most fun movie I've had in a movie theater in 2014. If you loved the first one, this is even better. Dragons, dragons, always more dragons!

For the quieter stuff, try out Margin Call, a tense thriller about the 2008 financial crash, Le Passe from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (he made 2011’s incredible A Separation), and the charming and hilarious Obvious Child. I had semi-mixed feelings about Boyhood, but I’m certain Richard Linklater is a genius so it’s impossible not to give it high marks. And please keep a special eye out for my friend Ursula's documentary, 9-Man, which focuses on a volleyball-like streetball game that has flourished exclusively in Chinatowns.

05 August 2014

Dance or Die

Listening to: Tank, “You’re My Star.” We spent some of the weekend trying to learn the choreo for the MJ Slide, clearly the best line dance ever. Please practice so we can do this at weddings. As I've discovered, I can’t bounce and do footwork at the same time -- plus this move is impossible for me, it's just never going to happen. Sigh. Anyway, here’s an easier video of the MJ Slide to learn from.

Just got back from Daybreaker, an early morning dance party serving juices and coffee instead of alcohol. I’d been trying to go in New York but couldn’t find anyone to attend with me. Fortunately, folks in San Francisco are morning people so off we went! The idea behind Daybreaker is that you head into work energized and alert, and I’m sure for those with normal jobs, it’s totally worth the early wake up call. I, of course, am heading straight back to bed.
Actually, maybe I’ll stay up just a bit longer. I mean, I’ve practically become a morning person out here, and last week I even rolled out of bed before ten once. For a walking tour of the Tenderloin no less. Del Seymour leads people through the TL, showing them parts of the neighborhood that are often overlooked. Generally I’m trying to stay out of the TL as much as possible, but the two hour tour through St. Anthony’s facilities, the Glide Foundation’s various buildings, and St. Boniface Church where the homeless sleep in pews by day were all very interesting -- even if the experience felt pretty voyeuristic. Del also pointed out painted markings on the sidewalks, which is a "yellow brick road" for children to stay on, one manned by volunteers and serving as safe passage for kids to and from school. Overall, I’d recommend the tour for anyone looking for a different take on San Francisco’s “Fortress Against Gentrification.”
Speaking of churches, we went to the Church of 8 Wheels last week, for a little weeknight roller skating. As you (probably don’t) know, I love me some roller skating. Lilly and I used to go every Tuesday in San Diego, until that rink closed down. Even though I can’t do anything fancy, just gliding around and around is thrill enough. At 8 Wheels, we even got to go clockwise, which is something I’d never done before. For some reason, all the roller skating places I’d ever been to only let us go counter-clockwise -- unless you went backwards during specifically designated laps. Turns out going clockwise doesn't change your life, even though I was sure it would. Another dream shattered I guess.
And let’s talk about the basketball game I got to play in. My friend needed an extra for his league game last week, and I was more than willing. Organized basketball! Something I haven’t done since college, which basically means I haven’t done it at all. I have this rule that things you haven’t done in a decade should be expunged from your skills/life list. Like George and I used to ride horses in middle school but since that was almost twenty years ago, we can’t really claim that we know how to ride anymore. Unfortunately this rule negates a lot of things…

Anyway, I was the sixth man and it was twenty-three minute halves so it was pretty grueling. Usually when I play pickup I’m loafing around and trying to not get hurt, but when you play in a league game, you gotta go all out. "Run, run, run!" Our game ended in a tie, despite my best efforts to will the ball in from the bench. Next time I'll cheer harder.

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.