30 June 2010

Knight and Day (2010)

There's a lot of anti-Tom Cruise sentiment out there. I don't get it. Sure he's a bit of a wacko off-screen but on-screen he's awesome. Think of how many great movies he's been in and how appealing he is as an action hero. Knight and Day may be seen as his "return" but has Cruise really left? The over promoting of this movie probably sickened people but I for one was excited to see Knight and Day. Did it disappoint? Not really. I expected a senseless action movie and that's exactly what I got. While I'm not generally a Cameron Diaz fan, the combination of her and Cruise is a good one and really, who can resist either of their smiles?

Knight and Day was a blast from the past, probably the 80's, where action is the priority and big plot holes are a by product. What's even more fitting is the horrible CGI, which made every scene it was used in seem decades old. Maybe that was the point. This could be seen as a send up of action movies in general -- and Cruise's career in specific -- and it mostly works. Of course, it's tanking at the box office so the "Cruise is dead" stories will be all over the place now. While I can't recomment Knight and Day except as a movie hop or a cable experience, I want to step up and defend Tom Cruise's appeal. I like him okay!?

27 June 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film earlier this year. Secret is an Argentinian crime thriller that is low on the action but high on the dialogue. I don't know if an actor/actress speaking a foreign language just makes them seem fantastic -- it's hard to gauge how well they're doing with lines when you can't understand them -- but Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil, as well as the rest of the cast, are all superb.

I had a laptop afternoon with my screenwriter friend the other day and he told me that he loved Secret in Their Eyes and that as a script, it was pitch perfect. With a long running time and a twisty plot, Secret captures your attention throughout even if I was hoping for a just a bit more from the ending. I was hoping to drag people to watch it with me but in the end, I ended up watching it mid-afternoon by myself so as to not emerge into night and be scared or something. Who knows what these crime thriller movies can do to your mind afterwards?

Compared to my recent viewing of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this was definitely a superior movie, although both were enjoyable/shocking in different ways.

Air Doll (2010)

There can't be that many movies about blow up sex dolls can there? How about one that comes to life? In that field, this is the first one I've seen and it's in limited release. Obviously the thing that having a blow up sex doll is that you wonder who the hell gets these things. Are they sickos? Are they desperate? Are they anti-social misanthropes? Or are they just lonely? In both Lars and the Real Girl and Air Doll, the focus is squarely on the loneliness part. And while Air Doll did have some very poignant and real moments, I thought Lars and the Real Girl was just a better movie on all fronts. Maybe because there were too many dragged out moments of Nozomi (played by Doona Bae who was in The Host as well as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) walking around looking flabbergasted at all the things humans do, or there wasn't quite enough exploration of some of the themes. It was too fantasy and not enough reality, even if the same could be said for Lars and the Real Girl, but at least Lars was funny and sweet at the same time. Air Doll seemed stretch the boundaries of my disbelief.

Then again, the more I reflect back on Air Doll, the more I enjoyed the sadness of it, especially as it picked up near the back half and made you feel both sad and sick at the same time. More of that and Air Doll would have been a high recommend. Check out the trailer and a mini article here.

25 June 2010

Recos recos

Since all I know how to do is tell you how great other things are, I'm here to share with you some exciting recommendations, and must adds for your blogroll. Just like last time, a semi-curated blogroll included these new additions can be found bundled here.

[Tweetage Wasteland]
Dave Pell is an Internet Superhero and his blog talks about how technology affects his life. I need to know how to become an internet superhero myself actually. And so I read on. I see it as a nice companion to Kevin Kelly's Lifestream.

"Back in the early days of the web I was just a dealer. And I followed the advice I got from the movie Scarface: Don’t get high on your own supply. I used the web as a tool to be more efficient at achieving goals I had set for myself in the outside world... Those days are over. Like Tony Montana, I didn’t follow the advice about getting hooked on the product. As the realtime, social web has erupted, so too has my transition from being a dealer to being a dealer and a hardcore user."
-Confession #67: Say Hello to My Little Friend-

[First Person Singular]
Sari Botton is an author, writer, and on the search for the perfect blogging platform. This particular Tumblr is about memoirs and essays and having just taken a class in the former, I find all of her links and commentary super interesting. Plus she's just seems cool.

"When you read someone’s memoir, you learn a little bit about the world and yourself by taking a look through someone else’s lens. Sure, there are poorly written ones that never take the leap from personal to universal. But it goes without saying that in any good memoir there will be an intense focus on the writer’s internal drama, and this is part of what makes readers able to lose themselves in his or her story."
-How About We Stop Calling Memoirists "Narcissists"-

[Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour]
A recent find, I'm just exploring their writings but the site's tagline is, "Raise a glass to the lost arts of writing, reading, and drinking." Their long blog posts are individually awesome and I'm taking them slow so I don't run out of stuff. They are also quite funny, as this story of Dave taking Jonathan Franzen birdwatching illustrates.

"Perhaps the clearest sign that the literary apocalypse has arrived is the ascendancy of something called Bookscan. For those who might not have heard of it, Bookscan is a robot that determines what you will read. No, not a Kindle, which you will soon read on, or a computer, which is likely where everything we read is heading, but a scanning machine that tallies up the exact sales of an author’s book and so tells editors whether or not they should publish another. Long gone are the days when a writer served a working apprenticeship, hammering out a book or three on their way to mastery"
-The Rise of the Machines: Notes on the Literary Apocalypse-

[Dear Jenny Han]
Fellow young adult author Jenny Han's Tumblr is all sorts of greatness. I mean, aside from vicariously following her along to signings and on tour, you get to to read her diary entries from way long ago. Yeah, like from the Nineties. If I had a friend like her in middle school, well, I would have had one friend.

"My mom’s mad because I forgot to put the rice in the rice cooker. She says I’m lazy! She keeps saying, 'Being smart at school isn’t the most important thing.' Ha! If only she knew. I’m NOT all that smart at school. So now I’m lazy AND dumb."
-me, Aug 1994-

[Writing Your Feelings]
If I could, I'd answer every provoking question that Susana Mai puts up on her writing blog. I really enjoy her Wednesday feature where she recommends things to read. She's put me on a lot of good stories and authors already. I think Mai is an aspiring writer but I'm pretty sure that "aspiring" is just there for humility's sake. I hope she gets published asap so I can read her book. She also must of put a ton of time into this post, "The First Sentence of the New Yorker's Top 20 Under 40."

"People do not give me change. No one asks me why, but I have imagined my answer. They do not give me change because I do not ask for it. I also do not have a cup. I am too embarrassed of my hands. I wash them with track water, and perfume them with Fat Man's bacon, egg and cheese wrapper daily, but still I am self-conscious, and feel like people will not love me."

[Hyperbole and a Half]
An instant follow based on name alone, Allie Brosh combines illustrations, text, and her mighty observational powers to tell stories that'll make you laugh. And then you forward them to make your friends laugh. And then they forward, and so on and so forth.

"I get sucked into all sorts of unwanted conversations about crazy political conspiracy theories, the annual budget for sports teams I don't care about, advanced scientific debates that I am woefully underprepared for and probing discussions about my breast health. One time, on a Greyhound bus ride to Seattle, I talked to a woman I didn't know for 7 hours about her divorce because I couldn't figure out how to end the conversation. Generally, unwanted conversations happen unexpectedly, so there is very little you can do to avoid them. The Solution: I have no idea; you tell me."
-The Awkward Situation Survival Guide-

20 June 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

I heard yesterday that Cars 2 and Monsters Inc 2 are both coming out in short order from Pixar. When I saw the first preview for Toy Story 3 a few months back, I had much the same reaction: Why? Monsters Inc was arguably the best Pixar movie, Cars was inarguably the worst, and Toy Story had pretty much run its course right? The second Toy Story came out in 1999! Well Pixar should rarely be doubted -- although I've stopped loving their movies post-Nemo -- and they've done an amazing job here.

The whole plastic gang is back and while much of the sentiment and goals are the same, Woody and Buzz deserved this third adventure and it was entertaining throughout. Pixar just does an amazing job with detail, avoids cheesy lines, and stays true to its characters. It's weird how only one or two other production companies can do this. You'd think it wasn't so hard except other companies fail on the regular. While things got just a tad too sentimental for me at the end, there's no doubt that this is an instant classic and possibly the best Toy Story of them all. Just please don't make a fourth.

16 June 2010

I misplaced my transmogrifier

Listening to: Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, "Moon Hits the Mirrorball." I'll be honest, I'm not sure I love this music -- it's way too techno-y for me -- but I absolutely love the band name and so must soldier on, looking for a track I can push just to be able to say "totally enormous extinct dinosaurs" out loud. I mean, look at this awesome logo on his MySpace! Totally enormous extinct dinosaurs sums up a lot about my life...

One of the things I can't help cruising through while traveling is comic book stores, especially in foreign countries. I rarely buy anything because lugging around books is the quickest way to stuff your luggage, but when you're at the oldest comic book store in Europe you just have to get something right? While waiting for our Amsterdam bike tour to start, I hopped into Lambiek next door and while I didn't have too much time to browse, I did pick up some (small and durable) items that caught my eye: Chris Staros' Yearbook Stories 1976-1978 and Ryan Claytor's And Then One Day #6. I was unfamiliar with their works but I've been really into autobiography recently and these two both fit the bill.

I enjoyed both but were more curious about the authors. Ripped away from my beloved Internet for most of my trip, I've only been able to launch a full scale web search on them now. Mr. Staros has quite the Wikipedia. Founder of independent graphic novel publisher Top Shelf Comix, president of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, as well as authoring his own work. His yearbook stories were pretty straightforward and conventional, just slices of life with illustrations. Not bad but some of the interviews I found online with him piqued my interest a little more, especially as it relates to how he started in the industry and what it's like being an independent publisher.
"Our struggle to keep an independent press alive is an everyday fight. It is financially costly for a publisher trying to discover new cartoonists and publish them with smaller quantities of books. We publish books we absolutely love. Some are critical darlings that are well received but sometimes they are not well sold. The key is to continue fighting."
-Comic Book Bin (2007)-
Ryan Claytor's book was different than anything I'd seen before. A chubby volume of talking heads -- friends, acquaintances, exes, professors -- all commenting on Ryan. Why this format? Well, I'll let him tell it:
"You see, I'm getting my masters of fine art right now, and I've been doing some research on autobiography. I ran across a theory which states that autobiography is no more truthful or valid than fiction. Which got me thinking, what would make autobiography any more truthful or valid than it already is? Because essentially an autobiography is just one person's subjective opinion of him or herself."
-And Then One Day #6-
Claytor's methodology was neat too. He came up with a set of twenty or so questions, put them in a box, and then gave each interviewee the cards along with a tape recorder in an isolated room. He hoped this would inject a little more objectivity into autobiography. Neat right? Pick up the book to see the results.

Turns out Ryan is teaching at Michigan State now, near my alma mater, and I'm enjoying following his exploits at his blog, Elephant Eater. He went on summer tour in 2007 and is about to launch another one this year. I'm hoping to catch Claytor at Comic Con this year. What is really awesome is that Ryan provides a lot of tips and insight into being a small press distributor. If you need to hustle, he proves that if you put in the heart you can make it happen. Or something inspirational like that.

Next on the must get list is Jeffrey Brown, whom I've never read but have seen all over the place. This analysis of his work is a great read and I must admit, I generally passed over Brown's work in stores precisely because of the following:
"What is it about [Brown's] work that endears it to so many? His art is loose, sketchy and inconsistent. At first glance, it seems almost amateurish. Certainly, anyone who is already a fan of his work knows this is not the case, but at initial introduction, it’s easy to make that quick judgment."
-NYC Graphic-

15 June 2010

Refreshing Spritzer

Listening to: Late Night Alumni, "What's in a Name."

For the past week I've been playing this iPhone trivia game called QRANK because you know I love me some trivia. Once a day you get twenty questions and you answer fifteen of them as quick as possible. What's cool is that many of the questions are very of the moment, as in literally yesterday's news. QRANK describes itself as a social quiz addiction and I can confirm that it is addicting. My new life goal is to become number one in the nation for just a single day. I'll have to start by conquering the local and then state rankings though. So far I've been able to reach number three in my area but that hasn't been enough to take me to where I want to go. It takes about 8000+ points to hit the top of the charts on a weekday (much less on a weekend) and I hope cannons or fireworks go off when I become number one.

I've given up being number one in the world of chess. In fact, my chess game has slipped so far that I can't even beat my friends anymore. I read once that the strange thing about chess is that even as a child, you kind of know your limits. Young basketball players dream of the NBA and can keep that hope alive for awhile but in chess it's pretty much prodigies or bust. I guess I can finally admit defeat. Still, I like reading Gambit, the New York Times chess blog.

And if you're still playing We Rule (reviewed here by me), you're a sucker because past level twenty or so, it's just a waste of time. The game has so much potential but it's just not happening fast enough for me. I'm out until they can really expand it with some social capabilities. My final kingdom will live on like this.

While I'm at it, our MTV Challenge fantasy league just concluded and my friend HT is the repeat champion. Do you understand how difficult this is? It would be like the Celtics wiping the floor with the Lakers ten out of twelve times in the Finals. Oh wait, that wasn't actually that hard. So really, what HT did is actually uber-historic.

13 June 2010

To the Pain

Listening to: Voxtrot, "The Start of Something." The lead singer Ramesh Srivastava, is Indian American and when you Google him you get essays on "Wit and Humour in Indian English Literature" by a Dr. Ramesh K. Srivastgava, who is obviously not the same person but interesting nonetheless. Voxtrot are currently on their farewell tour, which is a shame because they do nice retro pop.

This past weekend, I attended Literary Death Match, for the express purpose of seeing the inimitable Taylor Mali (tumblr). A few hundred people crowded into the Yuerba Buena Center for the Arts -- a beautiful vast venue that I had been to before, for a night of (very too long) house dancing -- to watch four contestants face off. Think a poetry slam but less poetry. The judges for the event included Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket and Brian Boitano aka Olympic figure skating champion.

Everyone involved in the event was hilarious and entertaining. I was surprised that so many people were gathered together for an event that essentially featured only thirty minutes of reading. Perhaps this is the new thing, to combine theater and performance with literature. I guess it's not a new thing exactly, since technically performing has always been a part of literature. But I hope you know what you mean. Or maybe it's just new to me. I kept running calculations in my head like "There are four hundred people in the room, at ten dollars a head and seven minutes per performance...this is a racket (for charity)!" The important thing is that Literary Death Match is loads of fun and I would love to go again.

Mali ended up losing in the first round and I was sorely disappointed because I know how much he likes to win -- and I thought he definitely should have won his matchup. Daniel Alarcon, who was recently named one of The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" and is thus hot stuff, was crowned the night's champ after a literary geography trivia contest. Alarcon looked dramatically young and had a cheering section of Oakland folk planted at the front of the stage. A friend of a friend was seated with his adorers and I had a hard time processing that this much lauded writer genius was my age and hung out with the same types of people. That and he wasn't twenty feet tall or something. Actually, he probably is twenty feet tall, he just looks smaller close up. His book, Lost City Radio, is apparently a must-read. So I will read it.

09 June 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

A bland title like "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" had me avoiding anything about the book for quite awhile. I just assumed it was some schlocky airport book that everyone was reading, something self help or Tuesdays with Morrie plus edge. How wrong I was. After digging just a little, I found out that Girl the Tattoo was the new Da Vinci Code, fitting neatly into the fast paced, clunkily written, poorly characterized, page turning thriller book ride niche. The kicker is that the Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, passed away before his great success. Read the New Yorker profile of Larsson for the whole background story.

Originally titled "Men Who Hate Women," I wish they had kept that name since it would have caught my attention much faster. I had avoided reading the books before the movie because I'd heard that the movie was actually quite good and I wanted to watch it before tainting my feelings with the book. And I mean "tainted" as in the book is almost always better than the movie so I didn't want the film experience to disappoint. In short, the movie is pretty decent, well paced even at its long running time, and has some truly disturbing moments. It's not scary like I was expecting, just a pretty straightforward whodunit. I was expecting a little more overall but I can't really complain because I enjoyed my afternoon and Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo, is magnetic on-screen with her quiet ferocity.

What's interesting is that the next two movies are already done and will be released Stateside this fall. Hollywood is looking to remake the trilogy (with Kristen Stewart possibly cast, which would be a grave mistake) but that's just a dumb idea. Leave it be.

The June 9th episode of Slate's Cultural Gabfest talks about Stieg Larsson and why his stories have hit a nerve. It's well worth the listen, especially Stephen Metcalf's minutes long breakdown about why he thinks Swedish movies are the way they are. Since I think all the Cultural Gabfest folk are brilliant, I'm incined to agree with his analysis. I'm a sheep obviously. I mean, there are certainly some awesome Swedish movies recently, eg. Let the Right One In and there must be a cultural reason for the bleak movies Sweden exports.

04 June 2010

Street Dance (2010)

Hey kids, I'm back with a special foreign edition of my dance movie review series. I know I was slated to do Step Up 2 but while walking around London, I kept getting blasted with ads about a dance movie in 3D. Everywhere we went, on street signs, in the Tube, I saw these things. I naturally assumed it was just Step Up 3D but after taking a closer look, I realized that this was a whole different dance movie being presented to us in three dimensions. While I wasn't about to take time out of my vacation to watch a movie, I can't say I wasn't tempted. Then, wonder of wonders, on the flight back home, Street Dance was one of the movie options. Joy! George and I immediately coordinated our individual screens for a viewing of "the world's first 3D dance film."

Tagline: "Two Worlds. One Dream."

1. Plot (3)
Hey, let's rip the plot straight from the original Step Up! Hip hop and ballet will never mix (or can it?), but apparently if you wait a few years, you can rehash the entire debate all over again. After a strange beginning where the top UK crews perform behind semi-closed doors to make the Street Dance Championships, it's revealed that Carly's boyfriend and the leader of her crew, Jay, is quitting five weeks before the finals. He needs to go find himself or something, blah blah. That leaves Carly in a pinch as half her team doesn't believe in her and the other half walks out after the next practice. With no dancers, no place to practice, and only a month until the competition, Carly the sandwich girl -- her day job -- is in a bind. Eventually, Carly finagles her way into practice space at the royal ballet school in exchange for incorporating some of the students into her crew. If this sounds like a generic set up, it totally is. Nothing should surprise you and nothing will. The trailer is fun though.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (6)
The actress who plays Carly, Nichola Burley, is sort of a British Kate Hudson. She's a decent lead in that she's good at being cutesy, blonde, and faux-rough and tough. Her previous film credits include a starring role in "Donkey Punch," which is just um, well, I'll leave that one unexplained. While there's nothing particularly mesmerizing about Carly the character, her Northern English accent is fun and that makes her imminently watchable. As for her dancing, I'll say she's about average. It's clear that she's the weak link in her crew but since she's the headliner, she's up front and center during everything. Burley gives it a good go but she's not a great dancer. Everyone else around her seems to be trained though, so it's no surprise the other semi-leads were excellent.

3. How're the dance scenes? (9)
One of the awesome things about this movie is that there are a ton of dance scenes -- including street versus ballet dance offs. Remember Susan Boyle? Well, she didn't win Britain's Got Talent because Flawless and Diversity, two dance crews, were the finalists that season. Both groups are heavily featured in the movie and they're quite good. While I don't necessarily love their dance style myself I did enjoy the sheer amount of dancing crammed into the film. George Sampson, another winner of Britain's Got Talent, plays a minor sidekick role and has a solo performance. Basically imagine if all the best groups from America's Best Dance Crew got a movie, that was Street Dance.

The best dance scene was probably near the end, when Carly takes her newly formed crew to the club and they run into their arch-nemesis group. Surrounded by a rowdy crowd, everyone creates a big battle circle and both crews throw down, or take it to the streets, or whatever. Sure it was exactly like all the scenes from You Got Served but the energy of the club -- and the variety of dancing -- elevated it above most of the other performances in the movie. Honorable mention goes to a little scene mid-way through the movie that showcases a few styles of street dance, as Carly calls out members of her crew to perform their specialties. It had sort of a martial arts movie feel to it and I liked that. But for best scene, the You Got Served rip off was pretty great.

4. How's the love story? (3)
Since there's so much dancing in this movie, there's not a whole lot of room for plot. Carly is still hung up on her ex-boyfriend and keeps trying to get him back throughout the first half of the movie. When he finally does show up for a quickie reunion, it turns out he's actually an asshole. Shocking. Luckily for Carly, one of the ballerinos is tall and hunky and available for the kissing. I never even caught his name since it was just easier to mentally refer to him as "that ballerino guy." The actor who plays the new love interest, Richard Winsor, was named "Sexiest Dancer in the World" by Elle Magazine for what that's worth. George assures me that he's super hot and I guess I'll have to take her word on it. Winsor also recently played Edward Scissorhands during a stage adaptation. I don't see how he did that since he's not exactly a great actor but maybe Edward was required to do a lot of dancing in that show. In short, the love story between Carly and whatever his name is was tepid and uninspired.

5. Rate the sidekicks (4)
This is going to sound bad but Carly's entire dance crew was basically her and a bunch of anonymous black people in the background. Sure she had a token best friend figure, sure they probably had names and personalities, but none of them were given very many lines or much to do in the movie. Of the handful of ballerinas she was forced to use, there was more distinction if only because they varied in color and size. There was a giant ballerina who stood out because she was too tall for her dream profession. There was a bitchy ballerina that resisted learning hip hop. There was an Asian ballerina that was well, Asian.

The only sidekick of note was Eddie, played by the previously mentioned George Sampson. He's Carly's sandwich making co-worker, and they share a goofy (but cute according to George) sandwich dance scene but aside from that, nobody stood out from the rest of the cast.

6. Best line (8)
While I can't really recall many standout dialogue bits, I'm giving high marks in this category because almost any line done in an English accent is delicious. So far Street Dance may seem a bit sub-par by ratings but let me tell you that it was highly enjoyable all around. Much of that is due to the dancing but even the in-between scenes, which are usually fast forward worthy in a dance flick, are imbued with excitement because everyone speaks in an awesome accent. Simple lines like "Nobody's supposed to dance outside, not in the UK at least, maybe in the US" (a dig at Step Up 2?) or "A street dance crew, it's like a family, we can't just take on new members" are filled with a lot more intelligence when done in an accent.

If forced to pick one best line, I really loved it when Carly initially rejects the ballet practice room and the administrator lady (played by Charlotte Rampling) snippily says to her, "Then I'll see you again when you deliver my lunch... and go easy on the mayonnaise this time." I liked it not because it was necessarily a great line but because the pronunciation of "may-o-naise" set me atwitter. See, a British accent makes anything memorable.

Oh, I also really enjoyed it when Carly's friend asked her to "gimme some heat" before they fist dapped. That was funny.

7. Music (4)
The musical selections started off really strong for me with a beginning montage that featured Beggin' (Pilooski re-edit). It's pretty much impossible to get enough of this song so I was psyched. Then the soundtrack wound through the usual hip hoppy tracks until suddenly a remix of Tiny Dancer assaulted my ears during the finale performance. Created by somebody named Ironik, this is probably the worst remix I've heard in awhile. I can't imagine Sir Elton allowed this to happen but here it is. While there's a bit of a thrill just hearing something recognizable, this remix was so deplorable I'm forced to link to it so you can suffer through it for yourself.

Additionally, this was the first single off the soundtrack, "We Dance On," which I don't actually remember playing at any point during the movie. The video is good though because it shows a lot of the dancing from the movie, plus it has little kids grooving, which is guaranteed to generate at least a few "awwnns."

8. Fashion (8)
High marks for fashion all around. Having discovered the wonder that is Top Shop clothing stores, I can see how cheap trendy clothing is abundant in the UK. The entire cast was appropriately outfitted in trendy hip hop including colorful sneakers, big print graphic tops, and backward hats. While hip hop fashion has moved on past this particular look, everything still works here and in comparison to most other dance movies' fashions, this was a big step up.

My only quibble was with Carly and her crew's final performance outfits. Their biggest competitors, The Surge (played by Flawless), always wear big boxy suits for their performances - and probably to bed for all I know -- so for some reason Carly's crew decides to come out in all-white suits. While I can agree with their color choice, wearing suits for your performance, especially when it's someone else's shtick is just wrong. Way to be original guys. This couture choice may sum up the entire movie actually, which seems like a retread of a lot of things from five years ago. However, you'll get a kick out of seeing some of the outfits, like Carly's glittery high tops or her two fingers crossed jacket. She also wears a lot of clothing with a star symbol on it, just so you know.

9. Cultural Impact (7)
Seeing as this hit number one recently, Street Dance 3D has been getting good reviews and financial success. Made on a shoestring budget -- about six million dollars -- it's good to know that a sequel won't be far behind. While this is good news for UK dance fans, there seems to more here. This review says that Street Dance is the first entirely British 3D film. If that's true, that is pretty huge and I'm willing to give a few points for the landmark occasion. Now UK audiences can look forward to more superfluous 3D experiences at higher prices, just like us!

10. Miscellaneous (5)
Given the time, I would have watched Street Dance 3D on principle just to find out what exactly necessitated anything being three dimensional. Reviews I read said that things get throw at you so I'm imagining hats or something during a routine. I can't decide if this would've been cool or terrible. I guess I'll have to wait until fall to experience Step Up 3D. I'm curious if this sets the bar for every new dance movie to come down the road. I wish I had more miscellaneous fun things to add here but there just isn't anything else.

There's nothing original about Street Dance, from the plot to the dancing to the title to the faux-drama, yet somehow it's quite an enjoyable experience. I wish there was more trademark British wit thrown in the mix, and that the movie didn't seem like it could have easily been made in the States, but for what it is, Street Dance was an enjoyable dance movie and well worth the time. I think the sheer amount of dancing, plus the accents, made this a possible must-buy in the collection.

01 June 2010

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Listening to: Ra Ra Riot, "Can You Tell."

It's ridiculous how terrible San Francisco's public transportation system is. Yes, there are a lot of options. You can take the Bay Area Rapid Transit, there exists a mythical underground metro, there are cable car trolleys for certain areas, and of course there are the buses. The lurching beasts that stop at every corner, reek of people and trash, and are packed with crazies, wild kids, or a Chinatown rush. The buses are the worst and that's before factoring in the constant delays of service and the fact that they can cease to run at any time. When people say that the public transit system in SF is amazing, I want them to visit another city immediately.

For example, just cruising London, Amsterdam, and Barcelona for a few days, the combination of trams, metros, and buses were far superior to anything SF had to offer. In a pinch, hailing a taxi was easy too. Try doing that out here, where it's usually faster to call for a cab and wait on a corner than to luck into one passing by.

And it's not like London and Barcelona are smaller cities. The population of London is almost eight million, Barcelona's is closing in on two million, and Amsterdam's about eight hundred thousand -- comparable to San Francisco's head count. Amsterdam is quite flat and everyone rides bikes and its city center is smaller than San Francisco so it gets a comparison pass because you could probably walk from end to end in about forty minutes. But what are SF's excuses when measured against London or Barcelona?

The entire San Francisco MUNI system -- including buses, BART, trolleys -- is only the seventh largest transit system in the US. It has 54 bus lines, 17 trolley lines, 7 light rail lines, and one subway tube. The buses are scheduled to operate every five to fifteen minutes during peak hours and every half an hour for late night routes. All numbers pulled from Wikipedia, which also notes that "complaints of unreliability, especially on less-often-served lines and older (pre-battery backup) trolleybus lines, are a system-wide problem." That's putting it mildly. For all that work, the MUNI services about seven hundred thousand people a day. To put that in perspective, the London Underground has eleven lines that service three million riders per day.

But don't just believe the numbers. Go visit another city and see how easy it is to pop up and down into the metro, step on a tram, or jump into a cab. There's no waiting in horrendous wind or dealing with decrepit buses. The metros in all three cities we visited were gleaming and wonderful. We never waited more than a few minutes for a train to come by, regardless of time of day or weekday/end. A nicely designed metro map told us where to be and when we would be going. It was all so simple. Also, because we were always on the move in the underground -- from track to track, escalators, etc. -- there was very little waiting so it felt like we were accomplishing forward motion. A large part of the experience of waiting for a MUNI bus is hanging around at the stop with twenty other disgruntled people. Not a fun experience.

Here's an article from Wired on "The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic." It's a fascinating read and it references congestion pricing which I encountered while listening to a podcast about London. Basically, drivers who want to come into central London face paying additional fees. This money is used to add more buses, subsidize tickets for riders, and the decrease in cars entering the city causes less delays. It's an interesting idea and I'd be curious if congestion pricing ever makes it to the States.

In related news, I'm back from Europe. The trip will be detailed in due time I'm sure but most importantly, while I was gone, the Celtics took care of business and will be meeting the Lakers in the Finals starting this Thursday. Am I afraid? A little. Am I sure the Celtics will win? Yes, pretty sure. Would I have been happier to not see the Lakers? Probably. But another win over Kobe and his pretenders will be pretty sweet. I've already bet my friend a jersey and the championship DVD set so if any other Los Angeles fans want to step up, you know where to find me.

I've also decided to jump on the Argentina band wagon for the World Cup. I know next to nothing about soccer but I'm partial to the Argentina team uniforms (I bought one ten years ago during another trip through Europe) and I know who Diego Maradona is and what the Hand of God was, so that should be enough to seal my allegiance. It's important to cheer for something, otherwise you'll end up with nothing. Someone said that, I think.