29 December 2014

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Sep - Dec 2014



Here we go, the annual recap of all movies watched and books read. Let’s not bury the lead: I failed fiftyfifty.me again. Somehow I ended up with only twenty-two books read, which is even less than last year’s total. Movies also dropped, from eighty-nine to eighty-seven this year, but who’s counting movies at this point? I knocked out the requisite fifty by July. It's the books that are every year strugg-ling.

Sidenote: How to use hyphens and numbers.

The good news is that this upcoming year’s addition to fiftyfifty.me -- now in its fourth year -- will feature the addition of "buddies," or team ups. So now you can (pre-)call how many movies and books you’ll aim to finish, splitting a total of 200 books/movies between you and a friend. More details about 2015 fiftyfifty.me+BUDDIES at the site, so come join up because it'll be just as fun with a more flexible challenge!

Anyway, while quantity of books was a total bust, there were somewinners. I’ve already talked about Saga, the Vaughan/Staples graphic novel. And then there’s Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, which is a YA novel about four girls in Minnesota who band together to start a queer hip hop group at their religiously conservative school. Yes, read that again.

And not only does Sister Mischief feature a Desi co-lead, with passages about white privilege and the sexuality spectrum, but it also drops references to rap artists that I can’t imagine most YA readers get but which I absolutely loved. (Unless there's a big crossover between Atmosphere or 9th Wonder fans and the YA audience that I don't know about. If you fall into that narrow category, let's be friends?) Either way, I can’t believe Sister Mischief exists. And author Laura Goode also had a film come out this year, Farah Goes Bang, which I have yet to watch because I missed it at all the film festivals. But at this point I'll consume anything Goode puts out there.

I also finally bit the bullet and read one of George R.R. Martin’s books: A Song of Ice and Fire. We went heavy into GoT during Season Four, including buying the board game which I’ve only been fortunate enough to play once. A long flight served as the perfect opportunity to dive into the GoT novels. Verdict: It’s good! As if millions of rabid fans could be wrong. But I just had to know for myself. Because, you know, many times millions of rabid fans are absolutely wrong. I think I’ll stop at the first GoT book though, since I’m already deep enough into the GoT rabbit hole as it is.

Over the summer, I recommended three A books in a row to a new friend: Americanah, The Goldfinch, and The Golem and the Jinni.  Afterwards, this beautiful human gave me the greatest praise I could ask for, "What do you recommend next? I'll read anything you say!" Life peak reached, it's all downhill from here... And even though I recommended Goldfinch and Golem and Jinni, they did fall a little flat for me. The setup in the latter was so great too: a story about the two titular supernatural creatures who meet in turn of the century New York and become semi-soul mates. But ultimately the book petered out. Goldfinch I couldn’t even all the way finish even as I recognized that it was pretty good.

As 2014 is winding down, I’m finishing up Meghan Daum’s Unbreakable, which is captivating. Daum's voice and writing are spectacular and even if I wasn’t already a sucker for essay collections, I would highly recommend it. And again, Bad Feminist, my favorite book of the year and a must-read for everyone.

And although I’m not reading many books, I still tend to read about books, which is almost like the same thing right? Okay maybe not. Here's my new favorite book site, The Oyster Review, which features posts like Choire Sicha's "Everything you ever needed to know about the work of Ursula K. Le Guin and where to start." And here's Electric Literature on "Why 2014 Was the Year of the Essay."

I watched a record tying thirteen movies in August, tied with June 2012. Perhaps next year I’ll really achieve in life and break that record. Dare to dream! Even though I sucked in a ton of films this year, I feel like I missed most of the good stuff. Excepting the Marvel blockbusters that I basically auto-A, my list of recommends boils down to Her, Le Passe, Edge of Tomorrow, 9-Man, Obvious Child, and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Sure, Gone Girl and Boyhood were good too, but I admired the directors and behind-the-scenes more. Also, being in Taiwan, I think I missed a lot of the late arriving stuff like Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Dear White People, The One I Love, Inherent Vice, Citizenfour, and Wild. So there’s some serious catching up to do.

I think my favorite movie of 2014 was Her, which I saw on the fourth day of January, and it wasn't even released this past year. Basically there wasn’t an overwhelming movie that just knocked my socks off in 2014. Maybe Edge of Tomorrow for sheer enjoyment? I pushed that on a lot of people this summer. Guess I’ll just leave movies behind with a recommendation for Arvin Chen’s two Taiwanese rom-coms, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Au Revoir Taipei. Chen is a Taiwanese-American director from the Bay who moved to Taiwan in 2001 and made Au Revoir Taipei despite not being fluent in Mandarin. Like what?! *Insert super jealous eyes* Anyway, here’s Au Revoir Taipei's end credits library dance. Ugh, so cute.

Also, a note about TV shows, even though they aren’t counted in fiftyfifty.me because TV is eminently more consumable than movies or books. (But if you want to do fifyfify+PLUS for TV series, go for it.) This year I was all in on Sherlock S3, the phenomenon that was True Detective, GoT S4, Orange is the New Black S2, and of course, all three seasons of Deadwood, which vaulted into one of my top TV series of all time back in February. There’s a lot of great TV for me to still catch up on, namely The Americans and Transparent, but until I figure out this foreign VPN situation, I’m stuck without my trusty Netflix or HBO Go. Quelle horreur!

15 December 2014

Pedagogy of the Privileged

Listening to: Zombies, “Summertime.” At Vinyl Decision, a listening lounge in Taipei a few weeks ago, a friend of a friend got on the turntables and put on this band. I went gaga. “Who is this?!” Turns out, I’m 110% a Zombies fan. Fifty years late maybe but I’m on-board now. Currently pumping "She's Not There" on repeat! And while I’m here, try my favorite zombie related track: Dead Man’s Bones, “My Body’s a Zombie For You.” Oh yeah, Ryan Gosling is the lead singer...

So school started a few weeks ago. You know, that Chinese school I’m taking. Voluntarily. Nevermind that my entire childhood was spent cursing the many wasted Saturdays we were forced to attend Chinese school. Nevermind that I also took two years of Mandarin in college. I’m in Taiwan now and ready to begin anew. Without cheating or slacking this time. That’s right, I’m taking classes at National Taiwan Normal University aka Shida and I’m enrolled in the intensive class. Hardcore!

What "intensive" translates to is three hours of class a day, along with an intimidating four hours of homework. Or so the syllabus says. In practice, it’s been more like two hours a day. You know, only a mere two hours. For those who scoff, it’s seriously been legit school. I mean, once you’re in a classroom setting, being quizzed daily and tested weekly, the academic mindset kicks right back in. (I haven’t been in school since reading One World Schoolhouse but I keep thinking about how those principles might apply.) Also, as an indoctrinated model minority, it’s hard to let go of trying to get good/decent grades. Luckily I’ve decided that I don’t care about learning pinyin, I’m just here to learn words, words, and more words. I’ll take a B or B-, thank you very much.

My classmates are mostly from similar backgrounds. We can all understand and speak -- albeit mostly with horrific childish accents -- but none of us can really write that well. It’s mostly ABCs (or close enough), with a Brazilian, an Indonesian, and a Venezuelan thrown in for diversity. It’s a self selecting group of people who are in the arc of their life where they can spend three months dedicated to studying a language. And because my fellow students are invested, that motivates me to stay on top of my shit.

During the first week, my friend and I hopped around trying to find the right class for us to possibly be in together. After crouching by doors and listening in, basically spying on everyone, we decided that what was important, beyond even the stuff being taught, was the vibe the teacher imparted on the classroom and your fellow students. If your classmates were cool, then you were golden. A boring teacher with a room full of people who didn’t participate would make the hours drag on. Luckily, I was placed in the creme de la creme by default so I decided to just stick with the intensive class, after contemplating a move down to regular. So yeah, wish me luck. 加油, 加油!

Here’s the thing about learning Mandarin: It’s just straight memorization. There are no tricks, there’s no alphabet, the radicals only do so much, and there aren’t any cute mnemonics to help you out. It’s just rote and grind and push vocab into your brain. Enter Pleco!

Basically Pleco is a free Chinese to English dictionary but for an add-on of $19.99, it turns into an awesome flash card app. You can organize your cards with touch screen ease and there’s something very satisfying about drawing Chinese characters into your iPhone and testing yourself while on the go. I totally love it and combining just a dash of tech geekery into language learning has made it that much funner. (I’ve tried using Duolingo to learn Spanish, and the gamification helped there too, but only up to a certain point.)

There’s other good flash card apps out there, namely Anki, but Pleco is the only Chinese specific one. And I’ve found that even though there’s no online support -- it’s all iOS or Android -- Pleco's features are superior to what Anki can offer. Also, Waygo is a Chinese, Korean, and Japanese text translator app that uses image recognition to read stuff frighteningly fast. It's mostly effective for menus, and it’s not very accurate sometimes, but overall Waygo is a nice tool to have around. So until an actual Babel fish comes along, back to the iPhones and books!

18 November 2014

Post No Bills

Currently pushing: Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist. Yeah, Gay is having a moment right now -- she talks about that in her recent essay, “The Price of Black Ambition.” I’ve been reading Gay’s stuff for awhile, and I’m so excited she’s blowing up. Just Google around for her articles, there’s plenty, and you’ll want to quote so many things. Meanwhile, everyone should read Bad Feminist, everyone! You can start with the titular essay, "Bad Feminist (2012)."

About a year ago, I went to the Emoji Art and Design Show at the Eyebeam in Chelsea. I was only a dabber in emoji up to that point, but wanted to know more. Most of my emoji usage up to that fateful day was limited to sending spouting whale as my sign off, a way to end a text conversation. Basic stuff.

But a developer friend had been wondering how to get new emoji into smartphones -- specifically ethnic emoji -- and after some online research, I learned about the Unicode Consortium and their iron grip on what can become universal emoji. That killed that idea. Yeah, you can make your own emoji app and everything but it’s hard to get people to copy-paste things, or to flip around to special keyboards. Emoji making was not going to be in my future.

Enter: stickers.

Before coming to Taiwan, I had Line and WhatsApp but didn’t really use either. WhatsApp is profoundly ugly, and the UI is a mess so I still don’t use it. However, Line is now like my favorite app. Forget text messaging, being able to sticker everything is one thousand percent better than just using words alongside standard emoji. When we were young, George and I were obsessed with stickers. I mean, who wasn’t? We each had our special binder of stuff, and during our great garage cleanup of 2014 -- mandated by my mom -- we unearthed both of our collections. Puffy stickers, glittery stickers, scratch-and-sniff stickers, Snoopy stickers, rainbow stickers, everything was still right there. Well, fast forward a few decades and here we are, at the pinnacle of human evolution: digital stickers. And better yet, these stickers can be used as emotional shorthand and don't degrade over time. What’s not to like?

My first foray into digital stickers was this summer, via Facebook’s Messenger app. In fact, I specifically downloaded Messenger to sticker. A friend who was working at Facebook introduced us to the power of stickers and we spent the better part of an afternoon having sticker conversations. It was wonderful, and since then I've been pushing stickering on everyone, even going so far as to demand people download Messenger. "It'll change your life!" I said. I say that a lot but this time I really meant it. Here’s a nice primer on emoji and why they're wonderful: “Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji.” Same principles applies to stickers, there’s just more sticker options.

Once I found out you could skin your Line app, I was ready to buy all the stickers. All. The. Stickers. But I had to limit my purchases because you can’t spend all your money on stickers right? Maybe at seven years old but now I’m an adult and I know about fiscal responsibility and the dangers of impulse shopping. (Fact: Line takes in ten million in sticker revenue per month...) Thus I’ve limited myself to one sticker pack a week. And I'm staying within a narrow theme: Hello Kitty, Hangyodon, and then some animal stuff, preferably things you encounter in a forest like foxes or bears.

Also you have to think about sticker utility. A nice looking set is great but you must ask yourself, "When would would I use this?" before purchasing. That's practicality speaking. My greatest find so far has been Herbivore Trio, a collection featuring a chicken, a rabbit, and an elephant. They party together, they dress up like vampires, they puke rainbows, and they browse the Internet on iMacs. This personable threesome is just waiting to be tapped for all situations. My only quibble is that a chicken isn't technically an herbivore, but who’s counting?
Also, don’t overlook Line’s generic stickers, which are very expansive. Their animal collection is next level, as it includes a wide variety of birds, insects, and reptiles. And that doesn’t even include their amazing mammals collection, which have standouts like a meerkat, a pegasus, a corgi, many whales, a purple hippo, and even a Fennec fox. Bravo whoever is charge at Line, bravo! I hope you conquer America soon so when I return I don't ever have to just regular text message again.

06 November 2014

Up, Up With People

Listening to: Klassy, “Sweet Awakening.” Listening to the Bonita Applebaum sample made me queue up the Tribe documentary again. So good! Anyway, Klassy is a Filipino-American from Los Angeles and she’s super smooth. Plus she’s still in high school. Yeah, high school. (via @djphatrick)

So I guess Web 1.0 is back. I mean, so I hear. "The Great Web 1.0 Revival." Either way, I love it, because if that means more confessional-ish personal writing for me to read, I’m in. Susie got me an invite to Ello this past weekend, and then the Gizmodo article put me onto Tilde.Club, where quite a lot of the bloggers I used to read almost fifteen years ago have homes. (Has it really been so long? Yes, for people like bluishorange for example.) The site is aggressively ugly but I guess that’s the point. Anyway, in honor of the great web regression, a mini-blog roll of people I’ve been reading lately. Normally I would say a little blurb about them, but I think a sample post or two will be enough to draw you in, if you're into this type of blog. Which you should be.
And then there's Matt Kulesza, who is out to have coffee with all 1,088 of his Facebook friends. His project, 1000+ Coffees, is exactly the sort of thing I'm into. A long time ago, I had the thought to write little blurbs about all my friends, as character studies, but then that was shelved because you just can't write honest things about friends, otherwise you will soon be friendless. And then where would I be? Oh right, the Internet.

I was remiss in reminding the world about Encryption Day, Oct 10th. It's the day to change all your passwords! You've never heard of Encryption Day, well maybe beacause I just made it up, and am still waiting for it to catch on... And speaking of useful things, Super Lum has been keeping me up on all things tech, and changed my life with this @@ shortcut as text expander lifehack. Forget eating right and exercising, this one change will actually make you a happier person. Promise.

One of the great mysteries of this year was trying to figure out why Tess Lynch left Grantland, and now we kinda sorta know why. The sad thing is, Emily Yoshida just left too, leading to the dissolution of the Girls in Hoodies podcast. Seriously, this is so sad because Tess, Emily, and Molly Lambert were the only all female pod hosts on Grantland and their chemistry was amazing -- second only to Jacoby and Juliet. I haven’t even listened to the Hoodies' finale because I’m saving it for a special day. A day when I can sit around and laugh and cry, and feel like my friends are leaving me. Yes, it's that serious.

And awhile ago, I ripped through all of Arthur Chu's articles on Daily Beast. He's the former Jeopardy champion that attracted a lot of haters because he "gamed" a game. Anyway, he's smart, interesting, and a new voice on the Asian-American scene, which we always need more of. Just read him.

28 October 2014

Awake, Always

Currently pushing: Celtics “We Are Young and Smart” T-shirt. There’s a lot of stuff I want to recommend but since tonight is the start of the NBA season, there’s no way I can’t highlight the future of the Boston Celtics: first round picks Marcus Smart and James Young. Sure, that may signal that Rajon Rondo is on his way out (please no, please no), and while I was stunned on draft day about the pickup of another point guard, I’ve come around to the idea that Smart’s defense and competitive spirit is exactly what Boston needs. Oh and yes, you can bet I drafted Smart in my fantasy league. While it may be another losing season ahead for the Celts, I’m excited for the new blood to jumpstart the rebuilding. Here's Smart and Young, wearing Smart and Young.
A few weeks ago I jaunted to New York for a wedding and the tail end of summer. Actually, summer was all the way over and fall jackets were on full display. It’s been awhile since I only spent a few days in New York so I tried to cram everything in. The second night, I sat around watching Got Soul practice for the wedding dance. Post-college, some of my friends still wanted to dance and so they started Got Soul for a few years. Now they re-rented their old practice room, and even I could feel the electric reunion energy. There probably aren’t a whole lot of wedding dances left in our futures, so this felt like one of the final rides.

Friday, before the wedding, I cruised up to The Whitney to take in the Jeff Koons exhibit. Basically I needed to go to hate-see it. I have strong anti feelings towards Koons work, but since it’s best to take something in before you totally reject it, I went. Verdict? Just like the Slate Cultural Gabfest said, I was impressed by the workmanship, if not necessarily Koons' vision. Some of the pieces, mostly made of aluminum, looked so much like other materials that it was almost impossible not to sneak a touch. I walked right by the inflatable Incredible Hulk organ before doubling back and realizing it was not plastic. My favorite piece of his ended up being this nude woman in a tub with the top half of her head chopped off. In person, the effect was jarring, and I couldn’t stop the mental disconnect and looking for the missing half. Overall, I was more excited about the Edward Hopper stuff tucked away upstairs. There weren’t many actual Hopper paintings but it was still a nice surprise.

The one thing I had to do in New York was watch Kenneth Lonergan’s play, This Is Our Youth. It stars Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson. Cera may bring in the crowds but I was there to see Tavi. She was quietly brilliant in Enough Said last year and I thought she was just as great in her Broadway debut. There was a lot of young Michelle Williams in her performance, but without all the annoying Williams-ness. The Cort Theatre is small enough that almost any seat has a nice view, so go to the cheap seats and watch this thing. And then maybe queue up Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me, which back in 2000 vaulted Laura Linney high up on my "actors/actresses to must-see" list.

I also got the chance to swing by my friend's about-to-open restaurant in Williamsburg. Wait, actually, it's open now. Pam and Jose used to do a pop-up in the same space, but now they've completely remodeled and it's called Semilla (Spanish for "seed"). The food is vegetable forward and as you can see from this link, absolutely stunning. I was going to miss their opening but wanted to see how much the space had transformed, since they'd been working on it for months. Needless to say, the makeover was amazing, and the tiled bathroom has a fun window that lets you peer out into the kitchen.

After my quick visit, I got on a trusty Citibike for one last ride, across the bridge to the Lower East Side, to meet Pam's identical twin -- and equally obsessed food person. She had just returned from a long bike ride and was parked at El Rey Coffee, ordering everything on and off menu, saying hello to friends and strangers alike. For a few hours, it was New York summer again.

The rest of the weekend was filled with some dancing, some puking (not by me), some singing, friend-family dinners, plenty of hanging out, and late night hotel lobby time. It stirred a bit of revival in my heart for New York after my quick exit in July. Still, I couldn't stay since Taiwan Part 2 beckoned and I had a fifteen hour flight to catch. Bye U.S., I'll be back!

07 October 2014

What's Real?

I'm a millionaire!...On the Hollywood Stock Exchange. I’d forgotten that I used to be on this quite a bit back when it started. The name sprung up while I was reading an article about whether or not this company called Fantex will be able to get movie stars to IPO -- similar to last year’s sports people IPOs. Curious, I logged onto hsx.com and took a look at my account. It's amazing this site is still around. I mean, what other services do I even use from 1999-2000? AOL Instant Messenger is about the only other one. Yes, I'm still on AIM, don't laugh.

Anyway, here’s my top ten of people I had major stock in: Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Gosling, Jessica Alba, Keira Knightley, Audrey Tautou, Claire Danes, Steve Buscemi, Hilary Swank, Natalie Portman, and Katie Holmes. Number eleven is Bryce Dallas Howard, whom I was sure was headed for stardom after Lady in the Water and The Village. I guess getting hitched to the M.Night Shyamalan supernova wasn't the best career move. Plus, Jessica Chastain came along and took BDH's looks lane.

"There can only be one!” That’s part of the theory as covered in July’s Grantland podcast about Rom-Com should-have-beens. One of Simmons/Morris/Litman's examples was Elisabeth Shue, who should have at least one classic rom-com to her name right? Sidenote: I just watched Cocktail for the first time a month ago and Elizabeth Shue, Elizabeth Shue!!! Also they said that Robin Wright could've been a rom-com champion, but she didn't want it.
By the way, after we watched What If a few weeks ago, I decided that I need to write a straight up rom-com. Not an indie one, or a mumbly one, or one with a supreme premise, although those are still on my to-do list. But a straight up Hollywood style rom-com with a happy ending and everything. Should be cake right? I was born for this.

Back to HSX. The five people I paid the most for were Sam Mendes ($168.81), Russell Crowe ($136.06), Bryan Singer ($120.95), The Rock ($117.08), and Natalie Portman ($114.72). I don't know what I was thinking. And the movie stars that have lost me the most money over the years? Keira Knightley, Monica Bellucci, Portman, Jennifer Connelly, and Johnny Depp. That’s basically a who’s who of my all-time celebrity Top Ten. I guess I should never invest in real stocks since I'm easily blinded by emotion and can't keep my feelings separate from my money. That and I'm not an actual millionaire.

There’s certainly room for a film-related fantasy game in my life -- I’m on Box Office Mojo way more than any non-industry person ought to be. But so far I can’t find a good one. I gave Summer Movie League a go this past summer, as well as a few other sites that use box office numbers for points, but either the website interfaces were lacking or the game rules were boring. The search continues...

Speaking of fantasy, my friend and I have been doing a bit of FanDuel's weekly football leagues. The fact that it’s real money is a bit scary, but we have hopes that one of our entries will actually come up big. With his King Midas-like gambling touch and my football knowledge, we'll soon be top of the charts. That's the theory anyway. It's been more fun than real fantasy football, that's for sure. This is what happens when you have Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice on your teams. Your fantasy season is over by the second week of September.

A lot of people are (rightfully) quitting football these days. And if it weren't for my long running leagues, I would probably do it too. The NFL represents just about everything I dislike about American culture. And really, fantasy MTV and GoT have brought me so much more joy recently. But who would I be without fantasy football? Would people even recognize me anymore? Would I even recognize myself? These are my existential questions. What are yours?

30 September 2014

我寫,我跳舞,我吃面

Currently pushing: Starbase Orion and Star Realms. In a shocker, during our entire twenty-five or so hours of flight time, I never even put on a movie. Half of our time was spent sleeping but the other half was spent staring at our iPhones, playing the two aforementioned iOS games. Star Realms is a space themed Ascension, which I played a lot of last year, and it's pretty comparable. But the real time suck is Starbase Orion, which is rightly lauded as the best 4x game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) on mobile. The hours just flew by as we lost ourselves in virtual battle.

Alright, here with Taiwan part two -- part one here -- even though we’ve been back for a few weeks already. We left Taipei in a rush, after packing in a ton of activities the last few days. Actually, who am I kidding. Basically once we discovered mango ice, my friend became obsessed and we ate it twice a day until we left. And then went straight to Tea Station when we got back to San Diego, for a C+ approximation. The great mango hunt basically took up our last few days. No joke.

While we can’t rightly call ourselves mango ice connoisseurs yet, we did hit up the famed Ice Monster, as well as its sister store, Smoothie House. Actually, “sister store” is a misnomer as Smoothie House was opened up after the husband and wife owners of Ice Monster had an acrimonious divorce. Mango drama! One morning we took the wrong train and ended up in Da-an District after being there the previous night.
SCENE: Yongkang Street, 9am
J: “What do you want to eat?”
F: “Should we just get mango ice for breakfast?”
J: “Yes."
This blog is not about food so I’ll leave that to the experts. But let me highlight this one beef noodle shop. It’s called, well, I have no idea. George and AMR had told me about this killer beef noodle spot by my mom’s apartment but none of them knew how to get there. By sheer serendipity, my friend and I happened to find it on Day 2 of our trip.

This dude was banging out beef noodle soups, Jiro-style, from this tiny storefront and after a moment’s hesitation to determine if it was too hot out for soup, we sat and downed our first bowl of the trip. I didn’t realize it would be the best place we would find, or that this was the exact place George and AMR had talked about. My mom grew up a few blocks away from the shop and she said that her mom had always loved it. Since I literally went back there four or five more times, I got friendly with the owner and he told me that he’s in his thirty-ninth year there. I hope to be there for the magic fortieth. [Update: A Taiwan-based friend found the spot, lucky you.]

Our last few nights, we got to explore a bit more of the city. Ximending for one, the Shibuya/Harajuku of Taipei. I got a few eyebrow raises when I relayed my excitement for the place, since apparently only young people go crawling through that area. I, of course, was intrigued to see what the youth of Taiwan looked like and off we went. As advertised, Ximending was full of people half my age and it was a bit much, like Times Square-lite. Still, I’ll be back to explore more since we were only there for an hour or so. Much of that time was spent trying to convince my friend to buy a pair of Chucks -- he only ever wears work shoes. Pro tip: Chucks go with everything! Another pro tip: The egg tarts at KFC are as great as advertised. Stunning right? In the end, my friend decided that he couldn’t do the shoes, much to my exasperation.

We spent our last night in Taiwan at a karaoke place. As it should be.

Okay, I’m gonna bang out some Taiwanese related media I’d been ingesting pre and post-trip. The Raw and Cooked is a German helmed movie about Taiwan’s culinary culture, with a focus on its growing environmental movement. The trip made me remember Daniel Zarazua’s (successfully funded) Kickstarter for Taiwan is My Home: Stories of the Black and Latino Diaspora, which should be dropping soon. And did I talk about how half of Lucy was set in Taiwan already? Director Luc Besson had visited Taiwan while promoting for The Fifth Element and he talks about the decision to start Lucy there, in this video.

I haven’t had a chance to see Au Revoir Taipei yet, but I really want to. The story is about a heartbroken boy who cooks noodles by day and learns French by night in order to chase after his ex-girlfriend in Paris. The "unfurls over the course of one night" structure is right up my alley. I've already been told the movie is no Before Sunrise, but that's okay, nothing ever really is.

Sidenote: I also noticed that Rajon Rondo was inexplicably popular in Taiwan. I saw more Rondo jerseys than anyone else’s, even Jeremy Lin’s. And this one newly opened coffee shop, Campus Cafe, featured a Michigan plaque, a Rondo jersey, and a Kevin Garnett Brooklyn jersey as main wall decorations. I thought maybe my fan doppelganger had been in Taiwan this entire time. Hello future friend, I'm already excited for us to watch sports together. What's your Line?

Also, I just finished watching High Tech, Low Life, a documentary about Chinese citizen journalists Zola and Zhang Shihe. My former roommate, who works at POV, recommended it and I’m glad she did. It’ll make an interesting supplement to all the Hong Kong stories you’re currently reading.

Lastly, my friend Weiko recently made a Chinese-language romantic comedy set in Taiwan, 100 Days (真愛100天), and while I keep missing U.S. screenings of it, you should try to catch it when you can! The title is in reference to a Buddhist belief that when a parent passes away before their son/daughter is married, that child has one hundred days to get hitched or else the parent’s soul will linger on. Talk about pressure. The script is partly based on Weiko’s own experiences, responding to his mother's death a few years ago. Here's the trailer.

18 September 2014

Step Up All In (2014)

Here we go, the much anticipated fifth Step Up, one that features the return of previous Step Up stars, albeit minus Channing Tatum. Would it really kill Magic Mike to come do a cameo for one of these? Bring along Jenna too! Anyway, this is my second mega-dance review this year, I’m on a roll!

Tagline: “Every step has led to this."

1. Plot (4)
Sean, from 2012’s Step Up Revolution, is now in Los Angeles along with the rest of his crew, The Mob. The money they won has long since evaporated -- it’s a miracle 50k lasted this long divided by at least a dozen people - and it’s a constant deflating series of commercial auditions and unpaid bills. When everyone else decides to return to Miami, Sean decides to stick it out. He soon convinces Moose to help him assemble another crew, the horrifically named LMNTRIX, to compete in The Vortex, which features a grand prize of a three year gig in Vegas. Sure, this movie hits all the same story beats as before, but I appreciated how this was the Step Up where everyone had to grow up. I mean, Moose has a regular job now, and we get a peek into how hard it is to make it as a dancer, even if you’re talented. They could have titled this Step Up: Reality Bites!

2. Can the lead characters dance (5)
During my Step Up Revolution review, I said: “as for Ryan Guzman, he's probably the best male lead dancer of the entire series.” I don’t know what I was thinking because in this one he’s horrible. Okay, that may be overstating it, but I had to check again to see if this was the same person. None of the leads exhibited great dancing actually. Step Up 2’s Briana Evigan is more serviceable than jaw dropping, and Moose’s solo is pretty bad too. I’ll just go ahead and give this category a low grade because Guzman, Evigan, and Adam Sevani were all pretty sub-par.

Sevani has improved over the series, but he's not good in this one. Technically, all three leads can dance, but you wouldn't know it from watching this installment. Bonus: Here is Moose with his film girlfriend, Alyson Stoner, in a tribute to "Thriller."

3. How’re the dance scenes? (3)
In fact, Step Up All In has the worst dance scenes from any of the previous installments. There wasn’t one "wow" segment to be had, excepting maybe the end routines. A new choreographer needs to be hired or something because the dance stuff is getting staid. Enough with the same moves over and over, with a breakdancer here or there. I wish the Step Ups would incorporate more types of dancing, especially house, which is something that is much more current and interesting.

The good thing is that director Trish Sie -- she did the music videos for OK Go -- kept her camera wide and the cuts minimal. Most of the time, dance movies cut so quickly and pull in so close that you can’t really see the dancing. Sie gives us nice clean looks at everything, it’s just unfortunate the routines are no good.

What the dance scenes do have is plenty of impressive sets. Each dance segment is backgrounded by ever more elaborate themes. From a boxing ring, to a mad scientist’s lab, to an impressive stage for the finale. The sets turned out to be the eye candy I focused on, because the dancing was so bad.

4. How’s the love story? (3)
Like you had to ask. Sean and Andie are fated to fall in love from scene one, but their chemistry is pretty non-existent. There’s a bit of Cutting Edge in there, as Sean pushes Andie to do a big move that she doesn’t feel confident in -- her injured knee holds her back -- but that’s not anything to get emotionally invested in. In Andie and Sean’s defense, they do have a cute scene at an amusement park, when they do a flirt duet to “Every Little Step.” Of course, Sean has to tell the audience, "Hey, it's Bobby Brown" since most people watching Step Up probably don't know that. Bonus point for the robot love between Madd Chadd and a popper girl.

5. Rate the sidekicks (6)
The crew is back! The Santiago Twins, Mari Koda with her fake accent, Twitch, Madd Chadd, etc. Alyson Stoner as Moose’s girlfriend also returns, and I was glad to see that they were still together (they still don't let her dance though). None of the other leads are still dating, right?

The newest addition to the cast, Michelle Pfeifer-lookalike Izabella Miko plays Alexxa Brava, the host of The Verge. She channels Effie from Hunger Games, and her outfits were outstanding/outrageous. But more on that later. Overall, it was nice to see familiar faces and to know that these hard working dancers are still getting some of that movie money.

6. Best line (4)
There was an obvious attempt to throw in some zingers. I appreciate that. My favorite was when Sean’s former BFF asks him if LMNTRIX is his new crew. Sean’s answer? “Well, it ain’t my book club!” Hahaha! Okay, not hilarious? Well, it got me. I also enjoyed it when Sean attempted to put down a rival by saying “Nice necklace, you get that at Claire’s?” I just like it when Claire’s is referenced in anything. Extra points.

7. Music (8)
Here we go, a dance movie that actually had some good songs. I’ve already talked about the “Every Little Step” usage, and there was also a bit of Gangsta’s Paradise -- perpetually overused but just a snippet here was welcome. More impressive was the use of Little Dragon (“Twice”), Diplo (“Revolution"), and various Steve Aoki. I even found myself Shazaming during the movie because I wanted to know what the Little Dragon track was for my own playlists.

8. Fashion (10)
Step Up 3 had a serious jones for sneakers, which earned it high marks, but All In tops those scores. Someone in wardrobe figured out that you can just clothe everyone in the latest fast fashion and it works. Let’s start with Moose -- Sevani has been working out, as he looks much buffer -- who still sports an arrays of hoodies but gets to wear Lacoste polos now, and added accessories like a wallet chain. Baby steps here. Maybe for the next film he’ll trim his curls...

Everyone else wore basic but believable outfits that worked well together. Professional dancers want to stay comfortable and that’s exactly how the fashion came across. I even liked all the outfits they competed in, which included simple stripes, tie, and suspenders combo and a varsity jackets look. Their steampunk inspired outfits at the end was fantastic too. The only misstep was that the character named “Hair” had absolutely the worst hair. We should also take some time out to talk about Briana Evigan’s midriff, which was on prominent display. Literally every piece she wore featured her exposed midriff. We get it, you have a nice tummy, put some more clothes on.

All of that gets you high grades, but not a ten. That extra push for perfection was accomplished by Alexxa Brava, who had all sorts of eye popping costumes. Among many things, she came out as a zebra, a Twenties vamp, and finally an Ursula-inspired blue dress that featured armored scales and tentacles. Just wonderful. I want more Alexxa in the Step Up franchise, please make it happen.

9. Cultural Impact (6)
Can you believe Step Up has been chugging along since 2006? I feared that Step Up Revolution signaled the last of the line, but now I’m thinking this just goes on and on forever. If we can have seven Fast and the Furious, why can’t we just keep churning out Step Ups? The domestic gross for All In is just 13.7 million so far -- on a budget that’s probably around thirty five million -- but the worldwide box office is at a healthy 67 million. While both numbers represent a steep drop from previous installments, the Step Up brand is clearly still profitable. While pop culture is oversaturated with dance shows and movies, I think it’s important that we make it to at least a decade of Step Ups. I think it’s time for a serious reboot however. Time to dump these “all stars,” and bring in some fresh blood. Or go Christopher Guest and make a mockumentary, perhaps starring Corky St. Clair?

10. Miscellaneous (2)
This interview with series producer Adam Shankman, "The Enduring Power Of Step Up, Where Every Problem Can Be Solved By A Dance Off," touches on why the Step Up leads have always been white, why there hasn't been any LGBT representation, and why he thinks the movies keep getting made. In answer to that last part: "I think it’s because, above everything else, these movies are a celebration of underdog triumph and dance. And as long as people keep wanting to see dance, we can keep generating these conversations in the world.” Bravo! Also he drops in a "Sturm und Drang” reference I had to look up. Take a look at this article too, "In Defense of the Step Up Movies." Join the movement.

FINAL VERDICT (53/100)
Step Up All In's dancing kind of sucked. The leads were bad, the dance stuff was boring, and well, what else is there? Intriguingly, All In answers that question by giving us superior sets, fashion, and music, to make up for the yawn worthy dance numbers. Overall, a score of 52 still put Step Up All In above my last three reviewed movies (Street Dance 2, Battle of the Year, Step Up Revolution).There’s an easy fix for future Step Ups: Get better choreographers who have some new ideas and then the franchise can rise again.

10 September 2014

My Whole Life Became Like Divided

We interrupt this non-regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important announcement: My So-Called Life turned twenty this year. And that deserves an entire post dedicated to the MSCL links and articles that have been going up, especially over at Vulture.

I clearly must read them all, and then carefully parse through this "MSCL: Ranking the Episodes" list. (Already "Self-Esteem" at #13 is criminal.) This could call for a special podcast episode actually. And I already know who I would tap as special guests. If there’s one thing that can make me insta-friends with someone, it’s a shared obsession with MSCL. So come along best friends, and let's leave the non-MSCL watchers behind!

My So-Called Life remains my favorite show to this day, even if I concede that better teen-centric shows have come out since then. For example Freaks & Geeks is objectively a better and more consistent show. Still, MSCL rules all. Angela forever! It feels weird that my favorite TV show will likely never change until the day I die. Like my TV watching peaked at sixteen. But really, what could top MSCL? Please just play that little "and danced by the light of the moon" outro during my funeral pyre. Thanks.
"And that’s where My So-Called Life had the secret ingredient every other show about teenage life was lacking: the agelessness of insecurity. What no one tells you when you’re younger is that that painful inner monologue never quiets down, and all that really changes between the time you leave high school and become an adult is that you have a job to work and bills to pay. You never stop doubting yourself. You never stop feeling those awkward cringes that make you want to collapse in on yourself like a camping chair."
My friend, while getting her MFA in musical theater, had Winnie Holzman as her advisor. That basically meant I was only one degree away the genius behind Angela. Not that I ever got to meet her but still, this semi-closeness to Holzman buoys me, especially when I'm dancing in the dark by myself.

Also, while we're here: "'Everybody Wants to Live': An Oral History of Party of Five’s First Season." Not a pantheon show but I watched a boatload of Party of Five too. Wednesday nights and Stucchi's ice cream. It was tradition.

08 September 2014

Ilha Formosa

Listening to: Khalil Fong, "I Want You Back." A Chinese pop star whose major influences include D’Angelo, Babyface, and Musiq Soulchild? Sign me up. A friend sent me "Lights Up" in late 2013 and I’ve been selling Fong as the Chinese Justin Timberlake, although that's not exactly accurate. Except for the appropriation part. Still, it’s rare to hear the R&B influences in Mandopop and I "愛愛愛" his stuff.

Yeah, it’s hot in Taiwan, low nineties with stifling humidity. But I don’t seem to mind it this time around. We landed at six in the morning and immediately set off, invigorated by a thirteen hour flight (sounds weird, I know). Even in the span of a few quick hours, I could tell that Taipei was different this time around. Or maybe I had changed in the interim. More likely the latter.

After a week here in 2002-ish, I was ready to go home. The last few days of our trip were spent laying around under mosquito netting and spamming Chinese television, just counting down the hours until our flight back to the States. This time, every sideways alley was an adventure, each boba shop glittered like an oasis, and cheap food called from every corner.

Priority one was getting a smartphone hooked up so I could look up directions and places to go. George and AMR were here three years ago and they told me how easy it was to hook up a Taiwan SIM card. After some searching -- most stores were closed early in the morning -- I got the hookup. It was about thirty dollars (850 NT) for ten days of unlimited data and a handful of texts and minutes. Armed with that lifeline, we were off and running.

My mom’s apartment is in-between two centrally located subway stations and the speed, efficiency, cleanliness, and orderliness of the Taiwan subway puts New York’s to shame. People queue up politely, there’s hardly any loud conversations on the train, and it’s super easy to navigate. Plus it’s dirt cheap.

Taipei is also a city that prides itself on being a 24/7 city and that’s proven pretty accurate, even without having the chance to explore the bigger night markets and nightlife options. We’ll get to those places later in the week, but so far it’s been easy to get food past midnight. And did I mention how safe it feels here? No poop or stuff on the sidewalks...it’s stellar!

Basically I’m starting to think I should move here for a bit. Cheap food, insomniac hours, easy transportation, and no harsh winters. That about covers all the qualifications I’m looking for in a city. Plus I speak the language (sort of). The only thing I can't understand so far is why nobody wears summer gear, as there are more pants and slacks worn here than rationally possible. Are the natives just immune to heat?

Since Yelp doesn’t exist out here -- in Asia it’s only in Singapore -- I downloaded the Taiwan version, iPeen. I can’t read anything but the photos are enough. Basically I just use Google translate to plug in stuff like “noodles, soy milk, breakfast” and out pops some nearby destinations. We won’t go directly to any one spot but I figure where there’s one food place, there’s always ten more nearby.

Strangely, Foursquare has been pretty good too, and it’s actually in English. But the two most useful things I've been using have been these blogs: A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei and Eat Pray Flying. Hungry Girl has been indispensable, as her reviews are lengthy, detailed, and include a ton of pictures. The organization and tagging on her posts deserve a special mention. Check out her sidebar labels, this is how Blogger should be used! And there’s an index. If I ever update Rough Guide to Blogging, hungryintaipei.blogspot.com is gonna get featured big time.

Eat Pray Flying’s Taiwan entries have been a nice supplement too, such as this post about Wu Fen Pu and Rao He Night Market. Like I said, having portable Internet has changed everything. Now off to explore more and then report back. Well, actually, we're headed to a pub to watch replays of opening weekend for the NFL. Because, you know, football.

28 August 2014

In Revolt

Currently pushing: Amos Barshad, “This Is Their Youth.” Someone should go watch this on Broadway and then report back to me. Starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and most importantly, Rookie founder Tavi Gevinson -- who was great in Enough Said. Kenneth Lonergan wrote the great You Can Count on Me, which single handedly made me love Laura Linney, so there’s a pretty good chance this will be good.

Since being back in San Diego, I’ve ripped through a ton of movies, thinking (erroneously) my MoviePass was about to expire: Hercules, TMNT, Sin City 2, Lucy, What If, CalvaryGuardians for a third time. What I gleaned from all that was basically that Taiwan is the new it place for films. Well, if representation in two movies is enough to qualify as “it.” Luc Besson shot the first part of Lucy in Taipei (although villains were Korean), and during the back half of What If, Zoe Kazan’s manic pixie dream girl character has a big job opportunity that would involve moving to Taiwan.

Coincidentally, I will be visiting Taiwan myself in a week or so. I haven’t been back in over a decade so this should be interesting. Last time I spent the back half of my trip in smoky Internet cafes, waiting for our trip to be over. This time I’ll be there for about the same amount of time, but I think I’ll enjoy it more. My mom showed me our birth certificate today. I was born at 2:46am, George two minutes later, at Taiwan Veterans General Hospital. She weighed 5 lbs 14 oz and I was six ounces smaller. The story we tell is that I was supposed to come out second, but right beforehand, I switched places. Thank goodness.

Here’s John Cho, Asian-American Hollywood hero, in the first episode of Selfie. His co-star is Karen Gillan, who plays blue-skinned Nebula, sister to Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned Gamora. I’m hoping Gillan returns for the Guardians sequel because I found her bitter cyborg to be quite compelling. ABC has two shows featuring Asian-American leads this season, with Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat debuting in October.

It’s fantasy football season and I’m mired deep in my drafts. This year I’m cutting back on all leagues, save my long time ten teamer, and my new-ish sixteen teamer. Oh and I’m counseling a friend for her league. Last year my friend piloted her team featuring LeSean McCoy, Calvin Johnson, and Matt Stafford to the top of the charts before sputtering in the Super Bowl. It was an impressive rookie run and her dedication was extraordinary. Heck, I wish she was in my leagues! “I think I woke up in the middle of the night once to check my lineup.” Direct quote.

This offseason, I was hoping to blow up my monster team featuring Adrian Peterson, McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Gronkowski, and Andrew Luck but nobody wanted to trade me for A.P. so I’m just going to have to try to win a title with him. My team is massively impressive on paper but it never seems to do well at the end of the season. I blame All Day, even if he’s been the best fantasy running back for years.

Most of my attention this season going to be spent restocking my sixteen teamer, which has gone 5-8 in consecutive years. My first year, I traded away Drew Brees, which may have been a little hasty. In my efforts to rebuild a winner, I had to pull the trigger for Ray Rice, taking advantage of the good moral fiber of his ex-owner. Do I want a wife beater on my team? Not really, but you gotta leave your emotions off the (fantasy) field.

This season’s Hard Knocks features the Atlanta Falcons. They, like me, haven’t won anything in awhile, so I’m hoping we both have resurgent seasons. It’s been awesome to get some behind-the-scenes on my favorite team, and for the Falcons to actually get some national attention. Each episode features little segments about players on off days or at home, and my favorite so far is when Ra'Shede Hageman and teammates go to the Georgia Aquarium to take a dip with whale sharks. Also, the nuggets of wisdom that D-line coach Bryan Cox drops: "If you ain’t got a vice, something's wrong with you."

22 August 2014

Wet'n Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 August 2014

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Jan - Aug 2014



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

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

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

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

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

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

05 August 2014

Dance or Die

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

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

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