28 March 2010

I don't want to live on someday when my motto is last week

Listening to: Carla Bruni, "Quelqu'un m'a dit (Someone Told Me)." Wow talk about being late to the party. I've been wondering what this track was since it comes up when I hit my 500 Days of Summer playlist and everytime I'm like "Man this is good." Imagine my surprise when I dig this Carla Bruni and find out she's married to the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Where was I when this happened? Bruni's a model, singer, soon to be actress, and the First Lady! Her Wikipedia entry is fascinating as it reveals her boredom with monogamy and her past romantic involvements with Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and the former French Prime Minister. What would be the U.S. equivalent of this? If Obama had been single and married Beyonce? Those crazy French. Great song made even more fun by the artist's backstory. And why are all the top hits about Michelle Obama and Bruni about their fashion face off? Really America?

For some reason, when I return to San Francisco I'm totally discombobulated. I used to write if off as just not being familiar enough with the city but after having spent half of last year here, and even having rented an apartment for a summer, you'd think I could come back and get around with some precision. Instead it's been proven that once I enter the city I lose total sense of direction and have no idea where things are. Like earlier in the week I was driving around the Mission -- where I used to live -- and kept going in circles. So when people ask me how it feels to be back, I'm pretty much capturing everything by saying "I feel lost."

Since returning there's been some jam packed activities. A long weekend in Tahoe which become more about hanging out than snowboarding. Last year we pushed ourselves to get to the slopes super early, for that fresh eight am ride. This year we woke up at a leisurely hour, ate a well balanced breakfast, did some yoga stretching (not me), and then got mentally prepared by listening to Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me." By the time we got to Alpine Meadows on Friday morning, it was just about eleven and the sun was bearing down and making everyone relaxed and sleepy. In fact, after just two runs we found ourselves on the outdoor patio "taking a break." This is what snowboarding trips have devolved into as an adult: relaxation and sunshine. Before we'd make it a point to power through from morning till late afternoon, stopping only for bathroom breaks and a little bit of food.

Actually now that I think about it, I haven't done all that much this week aside from meet up with friends and eat. But I guess that's 80% of life anyway. The absolute highlight of my first week here has been watching Wicked. It's my third time and if I didn't love the musical enough before, I'm back in love with it. Re-love if you will. We got great tickets the day of and I was able to see the performers from quite close. Hyperbole alert! I don't think any other musical can match Wicked for the amount of emotional, political, and synergistic depth. It's really sharp, don't you think (you know, black is this year's pink)? I think I need to attempt watching it on Broadway again, or maybe I'll save that for my tenth viewing or something.

Last year around this time we saw/met the SF cast of Wicked. George even semi-befriended one of them and we could have all been friends. Instead she was lame and couldn't hang out on Mondays (their day off) because of her job and instead cursed me to sit there a year later watching the people we could have been friends with sing and dance on-stage. Lesson we should have learned then: Quit the day job, hang out with the Wicked cast, feel awesome about your life.

I've noticed that people in the Bay talk about transportation a lot. There's just so many options I guess. Bikes, scooters, Zipcars, your own car, cabs, buses, rideshare, shuttles, BART, walking, etc. How you get somewhere partially defines who you are, and provides insight into your circumstance. I personally can't imagine living in SF without a car, because the public transportation is terrible and the weather incredibly unpredictable. If it's under a mile and a half I'd prefer to walk and if it's over two miles I'm driving.

The bus is a last resort and only for use during off-peak hours -- no getting jammed in for me, thanks. Lurching from block to block seems so inefficient and I often feel trapped like those poor people from Speed. I know, this is ludicrous and hifalutin to me to suggest that I'm above public transportation but seriously, compared to other major metropolitan cities, the SF mass transit system is ridiculous. And while I'm here, hailing cabs is an exercise in futility. Anyway, glad to be back Bay Area, glad to be back.

20 March 2010

10 Things I Wear Around You

Listening to: The Fratellis, "Whistle For The Choir." I have huge problems remembering song lyrics (I'm not an audio learner). In order to fully know a song, I have to sit there and just read the lyrics over and over again, basically pushing the words into my brain by brute force. Since that takes some time, I just generally start making up my own words when I sing along. It's just easier. But I really enjoy the lyrics for this song and want to learn it so I can sing with confidence and aplomb. Wish me luck.

I'll come right out with it: I don't know much about fashion. Yet I have a lot of opinions. It's one of those things where if you look good and can put together an outfit, people respect what you have to say about their clothing. If you look like crap and say things like "That really doesn't work for you," people will tend to ignore your commentary. Still, I'm a big believer of giving people unsolicited advice, especially if I'm ultra-underqualified to give it. I daylight as a useless advice dispensary.

Plus, with something like fashion and aesthetics, the opinion of the every man (or the poorly dressed man, like me) can be very valuable. If you'll recall, I recently conducted a "Who's the Most Stylish Guy" poll among my friends and I ranked pretty low -- no shock there. Still, I know what looks good on other people. It's kind of like giving relationship advice; I know exactly what you're doing wrong but can't stare at my own reflection with any honesty or insight.

On a related note, things I learned about fashion this weekend: five out of five girls prefer boxer briefs to boxers. Yes, boxers were over many years ago and I'm only finding out about this now. A direct quote from our conversation, "Boxers are for kids or douchebags." Truly I've had no friends who cared for me because they're only alerting me to this fashion change now. I'm going to Costco this very week to correct this oversight. Public service announcement to kids and d-bags everywhere: Boxers are way out, even I'm about to make the switch!

Having said all that, I saw this meme over at Claire's (SeeLight) blog, "Ten Fashion Basics," and just had to do it. It might go shorter than ten because I really don't even have that many items of clothing I would say fit the category of "fashion." I generally feel pretty lucky just to have ten clean items to choose from on any given day.

1. White t-shirts from Costco: It's hard to beat six t-shirts for about three dollars each. A few years ago I opted to dedicate my upper wear to white t-shirts. I've transitioned so successfully that now whenever I wear any color, people around me are instantly stunned. The upside is that in most US cities, I'm never far from replenishing my white tees stock. The downside is any t-shirts that cost more than three dollars makes me think about fashion versus value. Guess which one I generally opt for? Handy shopping tip: If it doesn't say "Kirkland Signature" on the bag, it's probably not the real thing. Don't be fooled and go for some higher end brand. Three bucks, that's the max you should pay for a t-shirt.

2. Camouflage shorts: I have three identical pairs, or triplets. It dawned on me a few years ago that having just one of a favorite item was inefficient. Why not buy multiples and wear them more often? So I found my ideal camo shorts (big pockets, traditional print, sturdy and doesn't fade with washings) at American Eagle of all places and just bought two more. Greatest decision of my life. Until recently when I realized these things are like way old and camo might have gone out of style five years ago. Now the great debate: Does camo ever really go out of style? Or can I just get another three pairs?

3. Army surplus belt, camo: Lacking hips, a belt is a crucial part of my wardrobe. I once had to convince the bouncer at some lame bar that I wasn't sagging. I mean, I was in my late twenties at the time and not trying to sag anything. I'm a grown ass man with skinny genes okay? My friend just kept saying to the bouncer, "He has no hips, he has no hips!" Needless to say I had to show the bouncer that my belt was properly cinched and that I indeed had no hips. I got into the bar and promptly left in under four minutes. Good times PB Bar and Grill, good times.

4. Phone holster with belt loop: Not surprisingly, also camouflage. Sensing a theme? My iPhone is my best friend and I believe in protecting my friends. Especially ones that contain all my secrets and cost me hundreds of dollars. So I have a plastic case on the phone as well as double bagging it within a belt clip holster. Do I look cool? No. But if there's ever an iPhone stand off, I would win because I can flip out my phone much faster than you can. So there.

5. Converse All Stars: I bought a bajillion pairs of Chucks at a clearance sale awhile back and I'm still digging out fresh pairs. White, black, grey, camo, red, I caught them all. For seven dollars a pair they were hard to beat. Why are Chucks so great? Versatility. You can go dancing in Chucks, you can go to weddings in Chucks, you can show your creative side by drawing on Chucks, you can wash Chucks easily, and you can play sports in Chucks (although I'd avoid the latter if possible). My social rule of thumb is if Chucks aren't allowed, I'm not going. Bonus here is that Chucks are arguably my only fashion-current piece of clothing because they're timeless and transcend style. Lucky me.

6. Uniqlo: This Japanese version of the Gap is like my perfect store. Cheap prices, basic colors, slim fits, a beautiful jewel of a store in Manhattan. And therein lies the problem, there's only one store in the United States and it's in New York. Sure H&M or American Apparel probably could fit the same clothing niche but I don't shop in either of those stores. Uniqlo is for me and I don't mind just shopping there once a year for the essentials. My must-haves from Uniqlo is their light zip up hoodies that have the double zipper. I don't know why you would need to zip/unzip from the top and the bottom but I enjoy the options.

7. No logos: This isn't a fashion basic as much as a philosophy. I can't do logos on my clothing. Socks, t-shirts, jackets, everything. If it's got a big design or word printed on it, I'm done. I could probably change my whole life around by just accepting some logos and brands (not to mention experimenting with patterns), but I can't do it. I'm a basics kind of guy. Gimme an ice water on the rocks, chilled.

8. Bed Head, Hard to Get texturizing paste: Otherwise known as "p√Ęte texturisante" if you're fancy. I've been wondering why beauty products are always printed in English and French. What's the reason behind that? I know, JFGI. Anyway, I dated a hair stylist once and she informed me that gel was no longer cutting it. She gave me this cool blue ball and a Bed Head hair stick. George stole the hair stick because she loved it and I started using the paste. Verdict? It's definitely better than gel. It smells good, it's got a strong grip, and it leaves your hair fluffy and not all stiff. Even though I'm on the verge of shaving my head again -- I get sick of it every six months or so and summer is coming -- I'm glad I dated this girl and now I have this product in my bag. Thanks Cupid.

I think I'm stopping at eight. I can't think of another fashion basic that I do. This pretty much just tells me I need a new wardrobe. But wait, I knew that already. I'd love to hear about your fashion basics though so thanks in advance for playing.

Update: Reena, Ameer, and Raymond's ten things!

12 March 2010

Above the Clouds

Listening to: Gang Starr, "You Know My Steez." This one is for Guru, who recently had a heart attack and was briefly in a coma. Reports are that he's on the way to a full recovery but seeing as Gang Starr is my favorite rap group of all time, I had put it out there for everyone to be aware of his improving situation and to support him.

I picked up Gang Starr's 1998 album, "Moment of Truth," at a record store on campus and proceeded to play it non-stop for weeks. I can tell a Premier track from miles away and he's rightfully said to be one of the greatest hip hop producers ever (check out his work with Nas, Rakim, Biggie, Mos Def). Guru's husky monotone spoke to me and while I can't say he's the absolute greatest MC, he's definitely one of the best as measured by content, lyricism, and longevity. He's real easy to listen to, and perhaps just as importantly, his words are easy to pick out, which makes the message hit home that much harder.

One of Guru's side projects, his collection of Jazzmatazz albums, are "an experimental fusion of hip hop and jazz" and all classic (except possibly the fourth one). Some sample tracks include, "Slicker Than Most" and "All I Said" featuring Macy Gray. Guru has always been a socially conscious visionary and a supporter of underground hip hop and oh he's just fantastic. Plus I'm a sucker for anything with a Wizard of Oz reference, aren't you?
"Who's the suspicious character strapped with the sounds profound
Similar to rounds spit by Derringers
You're in the Terrordome like my man Chuck D said
It's time to dethrone you clones, and all you knuckleheads
Cause MC's have used up extended warranties
While real MC's and DJ's are a minority
But right about now, I use my authority
Cause I'm like the Wizard and you look lost like Dorothy"
-You Know My Steez-
So school's over. Ten weeks can go by awfully fast. At Michigan we had a semester system and classes were paced much slower but also dragged on a lot more. UCSD is on the quarter system and by the time we got settled in the term was practically over. For getting in and out of school, I'd say the quarter system is better but it must be annoying to only have ten weeks to cover something, especially with a mid-term five weeks in and then preparing for a final soon after. While I felt like I learned quite a bit in all my classes, I wish we had the time to get into stuff more or perhaps explore other related topics. The quarter system is a dead on sprint without a lot of time for reassessment. Then again, I was starting to lose patience with the rhythm of school life and was ready for the quarter to end.

One thing about school is that it sure makes time go by. Where did January and February go? That I don't miss. The regular ebb and flow of having homework due tomorrow, in three days, next week. There's always something due and although I didn't have that much work per week, it triggered memories of constantly having that pressure to finish something before you could have fun. Like trying to have a spare weekend involved finishing all your homework on Thursday or something. Real life is much gentler that way. For the most part you are done with your job Friday afternoon and off you go, carefree and into the wild. Of course, I'd counsel everyone to stay in school as long as possible -- early graduates confound me, unless it's financially motivated -- because school is just so damn carefree. The working world has its perks but you can explore those for the next few decades. Undergrad is only for a few years. Or in my case, um, a decade.

The good news is that I think I'm done. Like I'm done taking classes because I should have more than enough to transfer everything across and get it all written up and sometime in the future I'll be a like a real live college graduate. Cross your fingers for me. And yes, you're all invited to my graduation party. It'll be held sometime in the next five years and there will be free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Wifi. Possibly some board games. Actually, definitely board games. Maybe something with all the law, business, and medical school people on one side versus all the other riff raff.

At some later point I want to share some (more) thoughts I had about the experience of going back to school, interacting with the young'uns, and engaging in writing classes and workshops -- something I'd never really done before. You can't wait, I can tell. Anyway, after I turn in some final projects I'm off to the Bay for snowboarding and then some couch surfing. As comfortable as San Diego has been, I need to get a move on. 2010 is tick ticking away isn't it?

09 March 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Possibly the most anticipated film of 2010? I know quite a few people who were super prepped and dying to see this movie. The combination of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Alice in Wonderland should pretty much be a shoo-in but to be honest, Burton hasn't made anything amazing in quite awhile. Still, it's Alice in Wonderland right?

Overall, I thought the movie was enjoyable -- and not as bad as I feared or as great as I hoped. The story continues thirteen or so years after Alice first visits Wonderland (I had no idea this wasn't just a straight adaptation). I actually found the real world opening engaging and fun, and was initially thrilled with the world and the cool visuals before the story fell apart halfway through. Still, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen was enough to make the movie for me. I think my favorite part was when she calls for a pig to serve as a footstool. "I love a warm pig belly for my aching feet."

Mia Wasikowska, or Gwyneth Paltrow-lite, is a serviceable Alice but she doesn't have much to do. And the entire quest of finding the vorpal sword and slaying the Jabberwocky was pretty uninspired and boringly executed. Alice was much more fun as a little girl and she's really got no personality in Burton's version. And I hate to say it but Johnny Depp pretty much mailed this one in. He was arguably better as Willy Wonka but both performances just made me wish there was Jack Sparrow coming around the corner.

The Slate review gets it pretty dead-on: "I guess it's too much to have hoped that Burton would do justice to the language of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, to Carroll's intricate logic puzzles and plays on the literal and figurative meaning of words." Burton can amuse us with some nice scenery but his movies have lately been empty and not mentally engaging at all.

03 March 2010

Step Up (2006)

The first in my new running series of dance movie reviews, Step Up was definitely a huge hit, spawning a sequel and grossing $114 million from a budget of twelve million. That's a huge reason there are so many dance movies; they're dirt cheap to make and can rake in the bucks. On with the show.

After a thorough web search through local Target, Circuit City, and Wal-Marts, we were reduced to renting Step Up from Blockbuster. I had to start an account and everything. Time was of the essence because my friend Des, dance critic extraordinaire, was in town and we were settling in for a long weekend of dance movies.

Tagline: "Two dancers. Two worlds. One dream."

1. Plot (6)
About as generic as it gets. Bad boy from the streets trashes the auditorium of a Baltimore school for the arts. After being sentenced to on-site community service, it turns out he can really dance and gets roped into substituting as a partner for the heroine's senior showcase. No surprises anywhere.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (7)
A huge point of contention with me because I don't think Channing Tatum can dance. A lot of people disagree with me here. I'll give Tatum some slack because he's a tall white guy who does have decent rhythm but he's still a weird dancer. Re-watch the opening dance scene, he's totally frenetic and his body is just everywhere and something is just off. He's not a trained dancer (he was a model) obviously but you need to delve into his background to reveal the truth.

His first gig was in Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" video. Did I just watch the entire video and try to pick him out? Yes I did. Unfortunately there's just too many bodies in that video for me to identify anyone. In my defense, I turned the audio off. Aside from that? Tatum's previous dancing experience was as an exotic dancer back home in Tampa, FL. Yes sir, a stripper! That explains so much doesn't it? The reason Tatum got the role was because he's a hunk, not because he was a great dancer. I'll give him a three out of five.

Jenna Dewan has danced with N*Sync, Puff Daddy, Pink, Missy, and was on tour with Janet Jackson during her All For You album and was also in some of the accompanying videos. If you can dance for Janet you can dance for anyone. Plus Des said she has excellent form and technique on all her ballet stuff. Dewan also has incredibly long legs and um, that's not relevant to anything but had to put that out there. Jenna gets a full five stars for her dancing ability.

3. How're the dance scenes? (5)
For a dance movie, Step Up has very few dance scenes. The dance studio is a prominent setting but most of the time you only see people practicing, Tatum trying to get the unfamiliar non-hip hop moves, and people falling or hurting themselves. Most of the dance scenes aren't very long or impressive, aside from the ending bit, which was legitimately quite good.

Best scene? I actually liked it best when they all go to a club and then everyone breaks out into a choreographed group thing, plus a guys versus girls call and response part. Channing has a solo, Jenna gets to break out of her dancing tights, and the line dance bit looks like a tremendous amount of fun. Here's the video.

4. How's the love story? (10)
Considering Jenna is now "Jenna Dewan-Tatum," you could say this is the best romantic pairing in dance movie history. The two leads met on the set of Step Up, started dating, and got married in 2009. In the world of the movie, Jenna and Channing are also a good match, since their chemistry is believable, her soon to be ex-boyfriend is an egotistic dick, and they would definitely fall in love just like in real life.

5. Rate the sidekicks (5)
The "Hey, I got a black friend..." section. Dewan's best friend is an Aaliyah-esque singer and dancer. Tatum's two friends are a pair of brothers from the mean streets. The join him in attending parties, stealing cars, and playing basketball. Yawn. Channing's best friend at the school for the arts is Mario, real life R&B singer, and fictional aspiring music producer.

So it's two white leads surrounded by four black people. I'm surprised there wasn't even a hat tip for a saucy Latino or a wise cracking Asian. The sidekicks are generic and ultimately forgettable. The only higher than average mark goes to Lucy, Dewan's friend, who is understated and not full of hair tossing attitude, which makes her a bit unique in the genre.

6. Best line (3)
Not a strong movie for dialogue. There are no witty remarks, few outright memorable lines, and nothing even particularly unintentionally hilarious. Here's my favorite: The two guys are talking about why Nora, Dewan's character, won't use a contemporary hip hop track for her senior showcase.
Tatum: "Why isn't Nora using this?"
Mario: "Nora's old school, man. I ain't talkin' Sugarhill Gang. I'm talkin' bout Vivaldi old school. For real."
7. Music (6)
Again, nothing memorable. Until the credits roll, when Ciara's "Get Up" plays. That's the best song from the movie. Sean Paul and Keyshia Cole, both with very brief cameos, team up for "Give It Up To Me," which wasn't even in the film as far as I could tell.

Let's talk about Mario. Despite co-starring in the movie, he's nowhere to be found on the soundtrack. So wait, he's been nominated for Grammys, his second album went multi-platinum two years before Step Up released, and his "Let Me Love You" single was the eighth most successful single of the decade (according to Wikipedia). There's gotta be some hidden reason he wasn't on the soundtrack. Spill the beans Mario! For the record, Mario is such a dead ringer for Chris Rock I'm sure they must have used him on "Everybody Hates Chris" at least once.

8. Fashion (5)
Tatum struts around in a variety of baggy long sleeves and wears jeans from what looks like the JC Penney collection. At one point he dances while wearing his janitor jumpsuit. Industrious? Yes. Fashion forward? No. He does the backward cap thing well though, even going so far as to have it on for the final performance. He does a neat backwards flip catch during the routine though, so we'll forgive him.

Dewan's character sports tights, tank tops, and short flowy skirts. She also likes to dance in clunky heels, I'm not sure if that's normal. Her dance studio wardrobe fit her character well, even if there wasn't anything particularly eye catching about any of her outfits. I did learn that she wasn't missing half her sweater though and that there exists an item called the ballet shrug. I also learned that wearing one nowadays would be "So 2003," as Des put it.

Everyone else in the cast dressed like how you'd expect them to dress. Serviceable but completely stereotypical and ordinary.

9. Cultural Impact (8)
For a movie with mediocre acting, a generic script, and only a few flashes of dancing, Step Up has an outsized significance. I think it's because the name is punchy, appropriate, and memorable. If it had been titled "Music High," as originally intended, that would have been terrible right? Of course, Channing Tatum's subsequent fame has helped greatly. The secret weapon to this movie's success may have been in having a good looking white guy head the cast. I mean, before this it was multi-cultural male leads or girls. Check the numbers, none of those movies grossed as much as Set Up. Gigantic profits meant more studios greenlighted dance movies. Win for everyone!

10. Miscellaneous (8)
In a ten minute role, Heavy D appears as the chop shop honcho. People forget how great of a rapper Heavy D was. Listen to how smooth and quick his flow is. Underrated. Heavy lost some weight and transitioned to acting a few years ago, starring in Boston Public and a few other TV gigs. Step Up represents the pinnacle of his movie career. I have to give the movie a few points for that.

Also, director Anne Fletcher got her start as a dancer on The Flintstones movie in 1994 and then went on to dance and choreograph in almost fifty films. Step Up was her first directing effort and she's followed it up with 27 Dresses and The Proposal. In one of the behind-the-scenes bits, Fletcher is praised for being the perfect person to both direct and co-choreograph. I'd have to agree as she seemed quite knowledgeable about dance. A director who knows what she's doing was a big plus.

FINAL VERDICT (63/100)
There are better dance movies out there but somehow Step Up is still a cable staple and brought up in conversation semi-often. While the final score may seem low, I think it reflects how far dance movies have come since then. Rewatching and researching it made me realize that Step Up was the one of the first (recent) crossover dance films and for that it remains a cultural touchstone and don't nobody say different.