30 October 2010

Let Me In (2010)

Before I had even seen "Let the Right One In," the remake was already on its way. After watching the original, I couldn't fathom why another one was necessary. Still, I had to watch the American version once it came out and I guess it was okay. So far it's made about twelve million dollars domestically, just about matching how much the Swedish version made worldwide two years ago. The potential for profit is enough reason for a remake I guess.

There's something that just doesn't quite come together in Let Me In. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz are both good as the leads, but they're not better than the originals. If anything, most of Smit-McPhee's appeal can be attributed to his incredibly wide set eyes, and while I do like Moretz, she's a little too pretty to play Abby.

What I absolutely hate about this Hollywood version is the sound effects. Typical of horror films that try to sonically convince you that you're afraid, Let Me In builds tension in all the wrong ways. The original didn't have any of this (as I recall), and it was a lot more powerful without the audio build up to big reveals. While this wasn't a bad movie by any standard, just knowing there's a far superior version out there, readily available for Netflix, makes it barely passable. Read the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it should be more worthy of your time.

27 October 2010

Now You See Her, Now You Don't

Listening to: Vampire Weekend, "Taxi Cab." I believe everyone is into Vampire Weekend, and I guess I am now too after two selections in a few weeks. I can't even decide which song I like better, Taxi Cab or Oxford Comma. "Unsentimental, driving around, sure of myself, sure of it now / you stand this close to me, like the future was suppose to be..."

There's probably a better term for this but I'll go ahead and call it the "ghost relationship." My friends and I were sitting around compiling a list of who in our circle we think "most needs to be in a relationship," ranked highest to lowest (this is the kind of stuff we like to do), and the question came up of what to do with "unofficial significant others."

For example, some people don't have a lot of actual relationships but they tend to have a ghost person that fulfills all of those functions. This person could rightly be categorized as a best friend type but there's also the element of attraction -- usually from just one party. The difference between a ghost relationship and say, a friend hookup or a friend with benefits, is that the ghost is there to take care of the person's emotional needs.

Person you call in times of stress? Check. Person you talk to before heading off to bed? Check. Person you call to come over and watch a movie when you just feel like being at home on a Saturday? Check. Keep in mind that these two people aren't in a dating relationship either. To the whole world they are "just friends" but that vague hole a significant other usually occupies is temporarily filled by the ghost relationship.

If you're constantly fending off comments like the ones below, it's a good first sign that you may be in a ghost relationship:
"Are the two of you dating?"
"If you're not dating why do you need to call them back right now?"
"Isn't that a job for the significant other?"
"Would the two of you just do it and get it over with? I'm starving!"
There are different types of ghost relationships of course. Aside from the "emotional needs ghost friend," there's also the kind of ghost that is a relationship in everything but name and Facebook status. Think of everything a typical significant other does: be sweet, be mean, be available, be guilt tripped, be physically intimate, etc. Some people refuse to say that they're going out with someone but if you just take the facts, they totally are.

Basically the rule of thumb for a "ghost" is that it's an emotional hookup. Sustained over a period of time that ghost hookup becomes an entire ghost relationship. And that's when you rise higher in our "most needs to be in a relationship" ranking even if you're not actually in official relationships very often.

Our relationship accounting from here on out will now factor in both real and ghost relationships, in order to evaluate your ranking correctly. Be warned.

25 October 2010

Secretariat (2010)

I'll give a lot of leeway for movies about subjects I really enjoy. Comic books, action movies, teen dramas, and certain types of sports movies. The problem with the latter is that they usually suck, especially when the "inspired by a real story" gets the Hollywood treatment and the facts are adjusted to fit a conventional story arc. Most of the time, I end up wishing that I should have just watched a documentary and read some websites.

After our summer of going to the horse races, Ashley and I just had to watch Secretariat. Sadly, we were misled as the title of the film should have been, "Secretariat's Owner: The Story of Penny Chenery." The majority of the film focused on Diane Lane's struggle to keep her farm from financial ruin.

What I wanted from this film was insight into the training and characteristics that made Secretariat such an outstanding racehorse. Instead I got a poorly executed human drama. Neigh. The horse scenes were well shot though, and whatever horse they used to play Secretariat was absolutely beautiful. Next time around, just give me more horse stuff please.

Secretariat captured the Triple Crown by winning the 1973 Belmot Stakes in record fashion. Critics doubted that he could race longer distances but Big Red blasted the competition by thirty one lengths. Apparently this is the most watched horse race in history, so you should probably watch it too.

There have only been eleven Triple Crown winners, the last one being Affirmed in 1978. Now you know.

Red (2010)

I don't know how this movie got away with billing itself as simply "Red." Googling "red movie" does return it as the first hit but there are just too many other "red" movies about, not to mention the service Redbox. I mean, there are at least three other movies also titled "Red," including one that also stars Brian Cox. The superb plot of that 2008 gem is "A reclusive man sets out for justice and redemption when three troublesome teens kill his dog for no good reason." A plague on all your houses!

Okay, I guess there wasn't much to fear about anyone confusing 2008 Red with 2010 Red. Such is the power of having stars like Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren on board. I mean, they didn't even have to acronymize "R.E.D.," even though it actually does stand for something. "Retired, Extremely Dangerous."

The movie itself is enjoyable all around I guess, even if it's pretty standard action fare. Actually, it's not standard, as it's far better than the other action crap they've been pushing this summer - hey there Expendables. I thought Mary Louise Parker was especially enjoyable in her role as the unflappable non-ex-assassin tagalong and I'd like to see her in more movies. She deserves it don't you think?

We watched Secretariat earlier, which had a horse named Big Red and John Malkovich as his outlandishly dressed trainer. So I think the universe was trying to tell me something. If you can't draw life meaning from movie hopping coincidences, where else can you look?

23 October 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)

I quite enjoyed Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and have been waiting to drag people to the sequel with me. Power in numbers and certain movies by myself, what of it? There's actually not that much to say about Girl Who Played With Fire except that it hits most of the high (and low) points of the first one. The style and pacing of the story is different but it's hard to say which was better. James Berardinelli compared the structure of the Millenium Trilogy to Star Wars and I guess that could be correct. Let's just say that I certainly left Girl: Fire ready for more and felt cheated out of a proper ending.

The remake of Girl: Tattoo, by David Fincher, stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, which should be interesting. Mara was the girl from the first scene of The Social Network I guess. If I was so inclined I could go find out if Fincher picked her based on that performance or gave her to role in Social Network after selecting her for Girl: Tattoo -- or perhaps they're dating. But I actually don't care that much and am just glad they went with a relative unknown over someone more recognizable. I love me some Natalie Portman but if she got cast as Lisbeth Slander I'd have to boycott. Thank goodness Natalie had the sense to turn the role down. Ellen Page or Mila Kunis as Lisbeth would have been equally horrible.

Oh wait, I just found out Rooney Mara is Kate Mara's younger sister, and they are the offspring of the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers founders. I am now officially a fan of hers. My allegiance is easily bought by trivia.

21 October 2010

Singles Club

The mixtape is an endangered species and an anachronism, duh. There was a time when making mixtapes was fun, exciting, and romantic. Well that time is now over as everyone just crams their iTunes full of songs. At least I know I do. Between Pandora and Shufflr, I barely know what artists I'm listening to, much less the names of the songs. I used to be religious about finding/owning the MP3 of a favorite tune but now I just keep an email draft with track names because it's almost easier to Google or Youtube a song on demand.

"In getting at why music is magic it makes an argument for all pop culture, for things that we assume are transient, whether that’s a chart-topping single or youth, sex, heartbreak, a glance across a room or the moment that just the right song hits your ears and you hit the dancefloor and just can’t pretend for one more second that you’re too cool."
-Phonogram is a comic about how music is magic-

Still, there are some tracks that stand out and just need to be shared. Plus, it is nice to load a curated playlist on your iPhone and drive away into the sunset -- or to the grocery store. So here's a bit of music that's been making my rounds this spring and summer. Featuring the vocal stylings of people you've probably heard of but I hadn't, including Siobhan Wilson, Freelance Whales, and Starfucker. With old favorites Ra Ra Riot, Mos Def, Mayer Hawthorne, and Peaches. Most of this stuff is pulled off my little "Listening to" blurbs. Enjoin.
(031) Sounds of Summer
Track list - Zip file
31 songs, 1 hr 50 mins, 164.5 MB
*I'd say listen to it sorted by the time column, short to long, but it really doesn't matter. The shuffle function helped kill the mixtape and I concede the point.
ps. I know the ideal mixtape is not thirty one tracks long, and it makes more sense to present something that could potentially fit on one compact disc. However, I already trimmed down from eighty four songs -- and tried to hit twenty five -- so it was just too painful. Think of this as a double album, like Tupac released post-jail with All Eyez On Me. I guess this summer has felt like jail in a way. But a luxurious jail located ten minutes away from the beach. It's all relative. Or you know what they say, "The medium is the message."

20 October 2010


Listening to: Jukebox the Ghost, "Empire." This is the second Jukebox song I'm really into so I'm starting to think it's about time to snag the whole album.

If only my entire life were a fantasy game, things would be a lot more exciting. Defined goals, defined rules, defined ways to win or lose, defined seasons and "better luck next years." I really wish Friendonomics.net took off, but it didn't since there was no real incentive to buy or sell stocks of your friends, it kind of lost its luster. Maybe the Friendonomics.net people will revive it for Facebook since that seems like an obvious tie-in. Actually I'd like to take charge of this conversion as I'd be so good at creating a scoring system. We'd start with negative points for all these photo practices.

Anyhow, since I can't yet make my life a fantasy game, I do participate in a variety of fantasy sports, all of which are revving up right now. First, we're in our third season of MTV RW/RR Challenge fantasy and it's shaping up to be the best yet -- thank goodness no more Wes and Kenny. The new Cutthroat format features three teams that are battling it out for cash and bragging rights. My favorite cast members are back and there's a fresh batch of new faces to heighten the intrigue. Bill Simmons recently did a podcast with Challenge host TJ Lavin and a draft episode, they're both must listens. I actually think this is quickly becoming my favorite fantasy league, above football or basketball. It's blasphemy, I know.

I've already told you that my (non-existent) wedding will be a giant game of MTV Challenge right? Screw blowing money on a ceremony and reception, I want a whole week in an exotic location where we draft teams and compete. Warning to friends of mine: I already keep a running list of who will be on the Good Guys versus Bad Asses teams. If you want to change your team, you better start doing the appropriate actions now.

My long running keeper fantasy football league, Catch the Damn Ball, is celebrating our tenth anniversary. Currently my team totally sucks despite a stellar roster but celebrating a whole decade playing with the same guys is no small feat. And then there's keeper fantasy basketball, Slam Nation, entering our fifth season but only year two of a giant reset. We're at sixteen teams broken up into two conferences and the four division names are old cartoons so you know it's awesome. It's the yearly redraft right now and the race is on to see who snags Jeremy Lin.

I'm also in a non-keeper football league, LXD. I scheduled that draft for my birthday this year so pretty much I had the best birthday ever.
Friends: "What're you doing for your birthday? Want to do anything?"
Me: "Fantasy football draft at 7pm."
Friends: "Okaaaay, see you later."
Much of my blogging energy goes toward these fantasy pursuits during the various seasons, writing passionately for an audience of a handful. It's a hard job but somebody has to do it. Especially this year, where I'm hoping to leverage my prodigious fantasy blogging to get into my friends' super serious keeper league. I need to stun them with my productivity and effort, just like a prospective expansion city. "I'll have seat licenses and luxury boxes, take me, please take me!" So yes, it's a wonder I even go outside during the winter.

Oh wait, I don't.

18 October 2010

Easy A (2010)

Emma Stone is a winning actress. I don't think I've seen her in her other work but in this she's amazing. What I like about Emma especially is her deep voice, which reminds me of my first impression of Ghost World-era Scarlett Johansson. Then again, Tara Reid has a raspy voice too and look at how that worked out. From Stone's Wikipedia: "She gave a PowerPoint presentation to her parents, set to the Madonna song 'Hollywood', to convince them to let her move to California for an acting career."

Easy A is easily the best teen flick of the year. It's got a great premise, smart lines, a few hilarious scenes, and an appealing cast. The best part of the movie was probably the adults actually, which is becoming an increasing trend in these films. Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and Thomas Haden Church are given the best lines and they play off the stereotype of the typical uptight adults to great effect.

What didn't work for me was the homage to 1980s John Hughes / Cameron Crowe type movies. Specifically the Say Anything reference bothered me a lot. It felt cheap and too easy and I wanted Easy A to create its own indelible moment. But in a world of retreads and remixes, that's a minor gripe.

14 October 2010

The Social Network (2010)

I don't know what's going on with David Fincher. First Benjamin Button and now this. You're losing me Finch! I'm glad he's returning to darker territory with the remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

While it's hard for me to say that The Social Network wasn't good, I don't think of it as a must-watch after actually seeing it. Critics are fawning over Aaron Sorkin's dialogue and script, yet I found it a bit heavy handed. Lots of "show not tell." Sure, it's not easy to make a movie that features a lot of legal battles and computer programming, but I felt like the real story behind Facebook was far more interesting than the dramatized version.

For example, try the various articles about Mark Zuckerberg, Sorkin, and Fincher over at Longform.org. Start with The New Yorker's 2006 profile of Zuckerberg and move on from there. The movie is getting rave reviews but from where I sat, it was just so-so. Maybe I read too much about everything before I went in, or I had too high expectations. Either way, the much parodied (but still awesome) trailer and build up led me to a flat experience. It was competent but not great? I think I prefered Catfish. Either way, this ain't no Citizen Kane.

Great casting though.

Side notes: The guy who plays Zuckerberg's only friend, Andrew Garfield, is the next Spiderman. Which leads to the obvious question of "Why do we need a Spider Man reboot?" Brenda Song plays Garfield's love interest and her role has touched a lot of nerves in the Asian community. You can decide for yourself if there's something to the objections or if it's just all a-okay.
"Sorkin and Fincher didn’t set out to demean women or to whitewash a story. Neither, it seems, did they nefariously strive to make yet another movie that uses women as scenery and/or trophies. I believe they meant to make a movie that points to the basic flaws in American culture -- namely, the way we reward misogyny, especially in the technology industry."
-In Defense of The Social Network-

11 October 2010

Bring it Back to Respond/React

Watching intently: These links are going to be redundant for many of you but they need to be shared. I first started noticing Heather Morris' dancing skills during the Glee Vogue video. She had this overly frenetic style that was hilarious. And those fierce facial expressions she did were killer. I had no idea she was actually a dancer first, and when I found that fact out, it explained everything. Now I can't get enough of her dancing Single Ladies with Beyonce: here at the AMAs, here on the Today show. I watch these like once a day. Plus this one with Heather and Harry Shum Jr. teaching the Dougie. I'll keep sharing these until everyone in the world have seen them. You can thank me later.

How would you feel if you handed your friend a pamphlet and said, "this is really cool, I know you'll like it," and they take it, rip it up, and then throw it in the trash? Friends don't do that to each other right? At worst you'll give it a cursory once over and then decide if it's worth paying more attention to. Anything else would just be rude.

Well somehow email allows everyone to be exactly this kind of rude. Here's the situation: A trusted friend carbon copies you and a few buddies on a burrito video. A burrito video alone should be cause for clickage but this one highlighted a place in San Diego that was on the Food Network, which made it both relevant and of interest to everyone CC-ed.

Later that night, I leave the house for the first time all week and go to this bar we've had some history with. Right next door is the exact burrito shop featured in the video! I excitedly tell my other friends (who were on the email) about this coincidence but they give me blank stares.

"Wait, do you even know what I'm talking about? Didn't you see Ameer's video?" I said, realization dawning on me. They hadn't seen the video; they hadn't even bothered to click on it. For them, that email was just as good as spam. Basically the message sent to Ameer was: "Your emails to me are worthless and I will trash your gift to me with one click."

Look, I understand that in this age of retweets and Facebook sharing and "I'll forward this hahaha to everyone I know" there's hardly any obligation to go clicking on people's links. But when you get sent an email specifically curated to you and you don't have the courtesy to even glance at it? Friend penalty I say, friend penalty!

I know this may seem like a minor point but things like this happen all the time. I'm actually a bit of a hypocrite about this. It wasn't until recently that I started replying to Evites. For years I'd never mark an answer even if I knew full well what I was going to be doing. I've come around on this after some Walden-like reflection and friend therapy/threats. Now I do my best to non-commit publicly and mark "maybe." It's a small step but a big one. This applies to all group invites and emails. Nothing is worse as a planner than not having people respond. Our new rule of thumb is "If I don't hear from you, you're out." Actually, let's set some ground rules right now.

(1) Follow the Leader: It's the job of the individual to let the host or planner know if they will be in attendance. We aren't in college anymore, party crashers aren't cool. And the person in charge shouldn't have to harass you for an answer unless you are so fun, and such the life of the party, that you can just show up and people will be extremely excited to see you. Then you can show up whenever you want. But if you're not sure what your fun status is, it's probably a safe bet you don't qualify for this exemption; you should RSVP in a timely manner.

(2) I Know You Got Soul: Any "I'm too busy to read our correspondence" excuses will be immediately tossed aside. Everyone is busy, everyone has things to do. You are responsible for your inbox. Once I've sent you the email, it's your job to read it. If it's too long and you can't dedicate that much of your life to it, feel free to ask for shorter emails next time, or to be removed from the list. However, things like "Oh I didn't read the email because it was too long" don't fly.

Email is about convenience and permanence. I email you on my time, you read it on your time. If you missed something, it sits in the Gmail archive forever. (Note: If you aren't using Gmail I think we have bigger issues. Please just use Gmail.) I don't know how people in this day and age don't organize/prioritize their email life. It's not just a social thing, it's also very likely a work skill. And unless you're famous or extremely popular, I doubt you're getting that many emails a day anyway.

(3) Paid in Full: Responding to shared or recommended things two months later doesn't count as a response. That's just your guilt talking. Let the past go and start over with a clean slate. I don't even remember what I sent you two months ago and clearly you're just working through your inbox issues. Let that email rot in the trash unresponded because I've already forgotten about it. Exceptions: Book, movie, and music recommendations because those can take awhile to acknowledge and actually get through. A nice "cool, I'll check it out" would still be nice though.

(4) I Ain't No Joke: Introducing the Rule of 3. You have three days to reply to a somewhat timely email. A three word/phrase/sentence response is a minimum. And after three strikes in any of these related categories, you're off the list. It's up to you to ask what's going on and keep updated as to future events. There's none of this "just include me even though I always say no" business. If you can't be bothered to respond to me, I won't be bothered to always include you. No taking things personally, no hard feelings, it's just the way it is.
For the record, I have made many of these transgressions but now that I've seen the light, I hope to have better digital life etiquette. Below are a few more thoughts on specific formats and sites.

Email: Each additional person past five that you CC on an email lessens the chance of anybody reading it. It's just the way it works. Keep this in mind as you forward things along. People will consider the source and if you're prone to fifty person emails, just know that your reputation is going to take a hit. From Ameer: "Source is very important, you can't emphasize enough that the source governs whether or not you open, discard, or archive the message." Actually, if you like having twenty people CC-ed all the time, can I recommend getting a Tumblr? Also, check out this post from The Oatmeal.

Evites: What's with hiding the guestlist? Don't you know this is 50% of any person's evite decision? The first thing people ask you anyway is "who else is going to be there?" Just flash the guestlist and save yourself the headache.

Facebook: Strangely, you'd think Facebook would be the de facto invite site of choice but I think we're all so used to event spams that Facebook Events are far down on the list of things we respond to. Don't judge, you know you do it too. I have no rules for Facebook since I don't use it very often.

Google Calendar: Call me a Google fanboy but Google events are much better since they integrate right into your calendar already. The only downside is everyone needs to have a Google account I believe, and use Google Calendar on the regular. Again, get with the program and use Google products.

Youtube: If the first fifteen seconds aren't compelling, you have the right to shut it off. If you forward something along that takes awhile to rev up, either say so beforehand or deep link straight to the part in question. Deep linking with Youtube is very easy. Just add "#t=1m45s" to the end of the web address. It's like magic.

On another note, we have a friend who is notorious for not coming to something but then text blasting people during the event. Despite declining the invite they'll text in rapid succession throughout the course of the night: "Are you there yet? How is it? Who's there? Is it fun? What are you doing afterwards? Take a picture?" If you aren't going to come, you can't annoy the people who are actually in attendance for immediate details. Wait until they're ready to debrief. And stop texting me!

I like putting the "contract" in "social contract" and this is yet another of my heavily researched conclusions. I hope these simple rules make us all better people.

02 October 2010

I'm Reading at Litquake

Listening to: The Pipettes, "Because It's Not Love (But It's Still A Feeling)." Resurrecting the sound of 1960s pop, the Pipettes have had their entire lineup swapped once over already in their short career. No matter, both incarnations seem pretty great to me and I can't decide on a favorite song. I think it's Because It's Not Love but I'm also partial to "Your Kisses are Wasted on Me." For the first few days after I started listening to them, I thought the group's name was a reference to the scientific instrument, which of course made no sense. And then I found out I was pronouncing "pipette" all wrong. It's "pip-ette."

Hey, I'm doing a reading exactly one week from now in San Francisco. Remember last year I took a workshop with Kearny Street Workshop (and volunteered for APAture 2009)? For that class I was forced to read something, out loud and in front of people, for the first time since I became a technical adult. I volunteered to go first because I cave under extended pressure and going first makes the rest of the night so much more relaxing. That night, I went on-stage, sweated out my piece, and then waited for all the pent up nerves to dissolve over the next few hours. I'm hoping I can sweat less this time. And mumble less too.

After that scintillating performance, Ellen from Kearny Street Workshop was still kind enough to invite me to read with KSW for Litquake 2010. Litquake is an annual Bay Area literary festival that started yesterday and runs for a week until everything culminates at Lit Crawl on Saturday, October 9th. On that night, over three hundred writers will be performing in stores, cafes, bars, restaurants, laundromats, and other cool spaces. I feel extremely lucky to be participating in Lit Crawl -- and seeing the event for the first time -- even if that means missing other fine performances, such as the one that'll be put on by Claire Light and her collection of speculative fiction superstars during our same time slot.

The KSW reading is me and five other writers, all of us in our thirties writing about our twenties. I think I have my piece written but I may do another one just in case. I've yet to practice it in front of anybody so friends, get ready to stifle your laughs. No wait, I want you to laugh, but only on that day, I think. Anyway, if you're in San Francisco that night, come on by, it's free!
KSW: Younger than Guatama
Siddhartha Gautama (aka Buddha) achieved enlightenment at the age of 35. These young Asian American writers are not quite there yet. But as we know, it’s not the end result but the journey that matters. Come and hear their stories.

Saturday, October 9
8 – 9 pm
Cafe La Boheme
3318 24th St., SF

Writer Bios
mai doan uses poetry to disrupt and expand understandings of what it means to be queer, mixed, woman.
Noelle de la Paz sneezes loudly, laughs daily, plays with her DSLR, and spends much of her time thinking about things to write.
Cathlin Goulding has been involved with Kearny Street Workshop since 2003. She lives in New York City, where she studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Vanessa Huang practices poetry to feed resilience and movement building from the margins. Her manuscript was a finalist for Poets & Writers’ 2010 California Writers Exchange.

Adrien Salazar is an artist, warrior of light, and lover. Do not be fooled his appearances. He is actually a lion.

Jonathan Yang writes novels for young adults, mainly about celebrities and shopping. And um, hopefully deeper stuff too. He lives online here: www.jonyang.org.