31 December 2017

Stuff I've Been Consuming: 2017

I bought forty or so books this year, starting with Kiersi’s Shy Girl & Shy Guy at the beginning of the year and ending with The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin during the last week of December. Two finds: A huge coffee sized book, Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City, by my longtime favorite Julia Wertz. And also a book published in German, Kunstblut, by Alexandra Kleeman. I’m always gonna get a Kleeman book, even one I can’t read, but the fabulous cover also dovetailed nicely with the colors in my house, so it’s really a decorative piece.

But let’s not bury the lede here, in 2017 I read 45 books and watched 85 movies. Yes, that’s right, I almost made 50/50 this year! Of course, clearing the marks would have been nice, but this is the best I’ve done on the books side in years. But enough self congratulations for a job not quite done. Let’s just get to it, shall we?

BOOKS: I started off the year on a fast pace, jamming in about a dozen books in two months. I was sure fifty was gonna be reeeeeal easy. Unfortunately I slowed down a lot in the coming months and it wouldn’t be a lie to say that I haven’t quite finished all of these books. But anything I went over 75% or so on, I’m counting. To be honest, some of these books were just great so I’m savoring them.

I’ve already talked about my three books in three nights binge reading of Anne Patchett. But I also wanna throw in recommends on Dom Casmurro, I Am a Magical Teenage Princess, Sour Heart, all of the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede (I had only read the first one or two before), and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which has been twenty years in the waiting from Arundhati Roy.

And who would I be without plugs for friends’ books such as Malinda Lo’s A Line in the Dark,  Cindy Pon’s WANT set in a near future Taipei, Maurene Goo’s I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, and Dhonielle and Sona’s follow up to last year’s debut, this one is called Shiny Broken Pieces.

Something I wasn’t into, the highly acclaimed and recommended series by Patrick Rothfuss, The Kingkiller Chronicle. I finished the first one, The Name of the Wind, and wanted to love it, but was really just annoyed at Kvothe’s over-competence in everything. Maybe I’ll try the series again since I would love a fantasy world to obsess over, but this wasn’t it. Also, I read most of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, which my YA book club is super into. I’m a little more "eh," but they do get better as they go, and are quite addictive.

Speaking of book clubs, I joined a local young adult book club in 2017, and they were probably single-handedly responsible for pushing my book numbers higher this year. I spent many a Saturday night cramming in the monthly selection just so I could show my face at the next day’s meeting. And I love how everyone in the book club are voracious readers, with plenty of recommendations, and geeky interests to share with me. Thank you Children's and Young Adult Literature Book Club: San Diego! Also, the selections they picked were often not ones I would have naturally gravitated towards, so overall the experience was a very interesting insight into what mainstream YA fans are into.

I think I’m gonna have to give up the fifty books goal next year, although I’m considering just high diving into this year’s Tournament of Books, and going straight down the eighteen book list. Basically the other key to success this year was to just read read read, who cares if I was in the mood or liked what I was flipping through, just keep going!

MOVIES: Despite watching 85 movies, and reading that 2017 was a great year for film, I can’t say I saw that many amazing things. Nothing I was even super passionate about, now that I look over the list. The seven straight-A films were: 20th Century Women, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Lady Bird, Logan, Mon Mon Monsters, OJ Made in America, and Thor Ragnarok. Taking out the two Marvel movies -- albeit legit non-fan goggles good ones -- and we’re at a mere five A-ranked films. Add in the A-minus movies and we’re looking at only maybe a dozen films I really truly liked. Recommends: The Babysitter on Netflix, which was just hilarious, so fucking hilarious. Actually that’s like my top recommend for the year for an unexpectedly fun throwaway movie full of useful quotes and high rewatchability.

For some reason the past couple of years I've been seeing my favorite movie of the year in January, and this year was no different, as I saw Mike Mill's 20th Century Women pretty early on. I need to rewatch it though to confirm my love for it. But I fear it was like Lady Bird, which I really really admired -- it’s no coincidence Greta Gerwig was in/behind two of my favorites -- but I think I still liked Beginners better so it’s hard to be as passionate about 20th Century. And oh yeah, I almost cried watching Sho Tsukikawa’s The 100th Love With You, which is a contemporary Japanese romcom that involves time travel. I can’t tell if it was the plane watch that got me so emotional, but I think it would have hit me the same either way.

As for disappointing films, the list this year was long. Very long. I went through a stretch of such horribly disappointing (much hyped) films that I thought I was going to have to take a movie break to cleanse myself. There was a back-to-back hopping of Dunkirk and The Beguiled that almost killed my friend and I. Dunkirk was fine, but not anywhere near great, and thank goodness there was nobody else in Beguiled with us because we were trashing it as we watched. Loudly. Sorry Sophia, Beguiled was just awful, and I ranked it my worst movie of the year, which is saying something since I also saw the new Pirates.

Also, this year I volunteered to help program for SDAFF, San Diego Asian Film Festival. From March until November or so, we watched a ton of shorts, and some features -- that I didn’t always count on the sheet unless I theatred it. Through this process, I actually did find a film that I super loved. It’s a twenty-seven minute short but so packed with genius that I couldn’t stop showing it to anybody within range. So yeah, my favorite film of the year is Makoto Nagahisa’s And so we put goldfish in the pool /そうして私たちはプールに金魚を. Luckily for you, you can watch it right here right now, just click on the link!

TELEVISION: Just like last year, I started tracking the TV shows I was watching. Actually, with so much television, it’s almost just as fruitful to track the series I wanted to watch but haven’t dived into yet. Can you believe I haven’t seen Sherlock S4 or Orange is the New Black S5 yet? I’ve been waiting for the right binge moment I guess. Some of the things I did want to watch but haven’t gotten around to yet include Legion, Preacher, the revamped Twin Peaks, Mr. Robot, Broadchurch, and The Keepers.

However, there were some great things I saw this year, namely finally getting into The Wire, which I spent most of January running through -- I skipped S2 because I read that was okay to do. I also loved Brown Nation, Riverdale, American Vandal, The Young Pope, Attack on Titan, and Terrace House: Aloha State. In fact, getting into Terrace House in the fall of this year is contributing directly to my wanting to go live in Japan next year. “A love worth dying for…."

Also I have to push two series I just crammed in December: Alias Grace and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Sarah Polley adapted Margaret Atwood’s book into a miniseries, writing all six episodes herself, and Alias Grace is better than Handmaid’s Tale to be honest. I haven’t actually finished Handmaid’s but I’m gonna just take a swing and say that Alias was better. And then there’s the insanely delightful Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino of Gilmore Girls fame. And well, I’ll stop right there. “Of Gilmore Girls fame…” should be enough of a recommendation.

Absolute trash: 13 Reasons Why. Sorry, if you liked this show I’ve already judged you. It's problematic on just about every level and I couldn't even finish hate watching it. And I wasn’t very high on Dear White People either, which was exactly like the movie: the title was the best part with everything else being pretty disappointing. I quit a lot of shows this year actually.

Anyway, here’s to going into 2018 like Lenny Belardo... what a fantastic opening credits scene right? And here's the Young Pope "you'll never forget" track: "Recondite" by Levo.

If you've read this far, you're clearly interested in my new and revamped Stuff I'm Consuming spreadsheet, which is not only much more detailed and customizable, but also about to have some fancy auto-stats once my spreadsheet wizard gets done with it! Try out a beta version!

27 December 2017

There Was a Time When

Well that was a farce wasn’t it? Six whole months without blogging (here) and it looks like I’m gonna have to get back in the habit. The good news is that I won one of my fantasy football leagues — behind the force that was Todd Gurley — but the bad news is I lost the other one on Monday Night Football. I was ready to quit fantasy football, go out on double top, but alas that was not to be. Most of the time markers this year has been sports related for me actually, because I guess that’s what happens when the months blend together otherwise.

From the Falcons’ crushing (all time worst) Super Bowl defeat in January to the ecstasy, and wild off-season, from the Celtics. And then onward to Gordon Hayward’s horrific ankle injury six minutes into the NBA season... These moments have been the ones that mentally partitioned out my year, for better or worse.

I had stated that 2017 was the year I’d quit following football and instead focus on some world politics, but that didn’t exactly pan out. Still, stuff happened I guess. The brief recap basically goes like this: June was a short trip to New York, in July my sister had a second baby, August I surfed and hung out by the water, September I moved into my house, October we had our friend-family from San Francisco come visit, November was the San Diego Asian Film Festival, and then December I ran out to New York again for a second.

As always, I need to figure out how the next year may unfold, and it’ll start with hurtling off again. I’ve been in San Diego most of the year — something I'd promised myself I’d do because 2017 was the year to #adult, to remodel the house, and to get things settled down as much as possible — and now I’m ready to travel again. So it’s off to Asia for a few months. And oh yeah, of course I was supposed to write this year, with all this downtime, but instead I’ve only got an outline or two and a half-finished proposal. So, um, yeah...

The good news is, I’m back in on New York! A year and a half ago I said I was out but then I went this past June, for a magical ten days, and I was all the way back in. Each trip to New York always unspools in unpredictable fashion and this time I ended up hanging out with mostly film people, some of whom I'd just met. Also, I briefly volunteered for the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum this year — before major drama unfurled — and spent that trip visiting as many New York museums as I could. Overall, I want to recommend The Tenement Museum, which turned out to be a treat as it was only my friend (who works at SFMoMA) and I on one of the tours, and our guide just happened to be into Chinese art and history. Coincidence?

Actually let’s just skip ahead to probably my greatest day of 2017, December 11th. I start the day running through the Guggenheim to see their China exhibit. Then a dinner in K-Town with my old roommate, where we caught up and tried to scheme up how to hook up our most eligible single friends. Then I headed down to Club Cumming, Alan Cumming’s newish club, which was featuring a musicals night. That all would have been great in itself but not all-time worthy. But the night continued...

Around midnight, looking for more musicals, my friend and I popped over to Marie’s Crisis, a piano bar in the West Village that only plays show tunes. And my goodness, if I thought I knew musicals, I was soon proven wrong. A crowd of twenty or so people stood around the piano and sang along to like every song, with nobody looking at lyrics or anything. These were true musical geeks! And sadly, my Sondheim knowledge is weak, as 90% of the songs they played that night flew right over my head.

However, right when we got there, I noticed that Darren Criss of Glee fame was standing right near us, by the bar. I was 100% certain it was him despite a shaved head, and if you’ll recall, a video of Criss and Lea Salonga singing "A Whole New World" went viral in 2013, and they were at this very bar! Frankly, I was very excited, very very excited. You know me and (early) Glee. Anyways, I assumed Criss would just be hanging out and not joining in or anything but when Patricia Clarkson and Edgar Ramirez walked in about an hour later, I got giddy with anticipation. “There’s more than one celebrity here, they’re totally gonna make him sing!”

And sing Criss did. After doing some Hedwig and the Angry Inch — which Criss starred in two years ago — Mr. Teenage Dream himself sat down at the piano and then proceeded to lead everyone into that "A Whole New World," and then launched into a moody version of "I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis. Me and my friend, obviously also a fellow musical fanatic, were on the verge of tears. My friend captured all of this beautiful stuff on video -- usually a no-no -- and really, did this really just happen?!?

I know, musicals, C-level celebrities, it ain’t much in the recounting. But seriously, this kind of magic night does not happen to me except in New York. You think Blaine is hanging out at a piano bar on a Monday in San Diego? Certainly not! Anyways, as it turned out, Criss and Ramirez had come straight from the premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, also starring Ricky Martin. Can you imagine if Ricky had been there to sing along too? Ugh, dreams!

Afterwards, as we stumbled home at three in the morning, I was so hyped up I was almost shaking. “This is it,” I thought. “This was a top five moment in my life!” And okay, maybe that’s hyperbole but just a little bit. A top moment of 2017 though, that's for sure. So yeah, it’s been a long year of in/out feeling awake and engaged, but my two trips to New York infused me with kismet and energy for the next thing.

I’ll start 2018 with a stop in Taiwan, and then I hope to jet off to Bali, Vietnam, and eventually land in Japan for a few months. Is this the most advance planning I’ve done in awhile? Heck yes! But the world calls you know? See ya 2017!

22 May 2017

It's Not Luck

So much can change in a week. Sometimes entire months go by when nothing happens and you’re droning on-and-on but then in a span of three days your life gets turned upside down. That’s amore! Of course I’m talking about my Boston Celtics!  For a seventy-two hour span, there was a chance that the Celtics would win a GM7 against the Wizards, win the #1 overall draft pick in the 2017 draft, and then win a GM1 on their home floor against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. That would have qualified as the greatest Celtics period since our championship almost ten years ago. As it turned out, only the first two happened, but they were the most important happenings. It’s been a banner week. Let’s recap.

May 15: I start the day meeting some friends at Tea N More for boba and some laptopping. Then, while I sit in a PacArts programming meeting, I discretely have the BOS-WAS game on. Turns out I don’t even need the leave the room because Kelly Olynyk is the One True Manbun and had a career night to give Boston the victory.

Mostly I’ve been avoiding watching the actual games this season because every time I watch we lose. Case in point, I watched the first two games and Boston went down 0-2 to the Bulls. I stopped watching for six games and we ripped off four straight victories and went up 2-0 on the Wizards. I resumed watching after a GM3 loss to Washington and we go on to lose GM4. By now I’m ready to start watching games again, but during a huge GM7, my friend — who had been texting me and filling me in all playoffs — told me to shut my viewing device off as GM7 started winding down. As soon as I stop watching, the Celtics pull away for a huge win.

May 16: Regardless of any game results this season, the most important thing for the Celtics this year has been to win the #1 pick. We had the best chance based on Danny Ainge’s prescient deals with Brooklyn years ago, but “best chance” was only 25%. Twenty-five percent is pretty damn low, and no sure thing. (Plus there was a decent chance that the NBA would conspire to let the hated Lakers vault over everyone for the first pick.) The last three times the Celtics had such high lottery picks we lost a player to cocaine overdose two days after he was drafted, and then we whiffed on the Tim Duncan and Oden/Durant lotteries. So yeah, there was no way I was going to watch the lottery, not with my luck. Instead I played League of Legends to distract myself until someone told me Boston had won.

I was beyond excited and texted 🍀 emojis to anyone within internet distance. I was planning to stay home but sheer joy lured me out and I went to my friend’s house to laptop and chat until 3AM. Again, 🍀🍀🍀! Note: I want the Celtics to just take Markelle Fultz, and not trade away the pick. Please just take Fultz!

May 17: Still giddy over our last night's lottery win, my banner week includes the premiere of MTV’s Champs vs Pros. George orders $75 worth of Thai food for three adults and a baby, and we watch as Lolo Jones becomes the Kevin Garnett of the Challenge and destroys ex-WNBA star Candice Wiggins with her competitive intensity. I didn’t know about the Lolo hate from before but now I'm caught up and am still solidly cheering for her. Also, the Celtics get blown out by thirteen points in GM1 against LeBron and Co., but who cares, we won the lottery! Woohoo!

May 18: I go for day one of volunteering at a museum downtown. I not only prove that I can use a hammer and a level, but I meet my name/life doppelgänger working on archiving the collection. Let’s just say that this person and I have the same last name and our first names are only one letter off. Plus we graduated from college the same year. “Who are you!?” I kept saying to her. Life always surprises.

After we attend my friend’s non-profit networking event in the evening, I go back with my friend to her apartment to counsel her and her friends on a future Taiwan trip. I learn the power of modular furniture — and vehicles — and decide I must have more modular items in my life as well.

May 19: The Celtics suffer one of the worst defeats in NBA history, losing by 44 points in GM2. In addition, Isaiah Thomas, the King in the Fourth, goes down to injury. For "weeks that a lot happened,” nobody can top Isaiah. He lost his sister, played in a playoff game the next day, had his teeth knocked out soon after, received oral surgery, and then scored a career-high 53 points for a GM2 win over the Wizards. And now it’s revealed that he’s been hurt most of the time, thus explaining his slightly sub-par performances recently. Everyone loves Isaiah.

As for me, I was up from 7AM-4PM, most of that time spent hanging stuff at the museum and trying to be handy. It felt productive and unusual, and I liked it. Banner week continues.

May 20: After the second of four upcoming airport runs, I am at the museum briefly for a tea lecture before I head off to book club — Sarah J. Maas’ Court of Thorns and Roses series. I had severely underestimated the length of the last two books, and I didn’t exactly finish the 600/700 page books, respectively. However, I did dive deep into the fandom of Maas, and her haters. While I didn’t love the series, nobody should be hated/bullied this much.

After a cat nap, I get Indian food and then have a PS4 game night with friends. Among other things, we played What Remains of Edith Finch, a sort-of game about a girl who returns to her house to figure out how her family members died. Edith Finch is incredible, from both a mechanics and storytelling perspective. (It's also Annapurna Pictures' first foray into video games, and more than lives up to their quality reputation.) I had been waiting to play it with a friend, in case it was scary. Turns out, it really isn’t scary scary, but neither would I play it alone.

May 21: I stumble around at home until the afternoon, when I must hit the airport again to pick up AMR/George from their weekend in San Franciso. On the way back we pick up (in this order): a New York deli sandwich, many bobas, Mexican food for soon and then their child.

And somehow, magically, even without Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics battle through and win GM3 on a last second three-pointer that bounces around and around. If my sister’s next child isn’t named "Lolo," I am going to push hard for “Avery.” Or maybe “Avery Kelly Jonas” Although those names have a few too many negative connotations. I know the Celtics (probably) can't beat Cleveland, but even taking one game off them -- in a beautiful comeback to boot -- was enough. The sprinkles on top.

My favorite thing about this Celtics playoff run — the first they’ve had any success in during the Brad Stevens era — is how a different hero steps up each night. Isaiah is the star but Al Horford has more than proven he was worth last summer's free agency splurge. And Avery has transcended his “defense first” reputation by leaps and bounds. Even Gerald Green and Amir Johnson have had their moments. On top of all that, Marcus Smart going 7/10 from three in GM3 was the most unbelievable plot twist I’ve seen all year — Smart normally can’t shoot. And when Jonas Jerebko is hailed as playoff hero, it’s a good time to be a Celtic fan.

In fact, it’s a good time for bandwagon jumpers to jion us now, as we’re set for at least a decade of success. That’s how important winning the lottery is: ten plus years of happiness ahead. Make wise choices, plan for the future, execute where you can, get 🍀. That's how May 15-21 will go down as the week that my life got so much better. See you on the hardcourt (of life)!

19 May 2017

Thinking of a Master Plan

Around a year ago I started my Cool It Now newsletter and now I’m on the fourteenth issue, a special all music themed one! It contains links to an incredible article about the rise of flute rap, as well as a Spotify playlist of my seventeen tracks for the summer. It’s a winner, just like my all Gosling edition from earlier this year. So while the frequency of the newsletter has stalled, the quality has gone up! I mean, I hope. Here are all the past issues, and below is my song notes for the seventeen tracks included in Cool It Now, Vol 1. And for the record, "Paid in Full" is always the best flute rap!

1. Bishop Briggs, “Wild Horses” (2017)
This twenty-four year old British singer by way of Japan seems fond of wearing Chun Li buns and got inspired to sing via Tokyo’s karaoke bars.

2. DJ Khaled, “I’m the One” (2017)
I’m starting my hunt for the dance jam of the year, the one I hope will be everywhere on a dance night. This one features Bieber, Chance, Lil Wayne, and Quavo — the latter whom I had to Google to clarify his role in Migos. I’m not 100% sold on it but after ten listens it really sticks in your head...

3. Tegan & Sara, “Boyfriend (2016)
For some reason I haven’t really gotten into T&S’s post-Closer album, Love You to Death. A clear oversight.

4. Khalid, “Location” (2017)
Only nineteen, Khalid is calls upon Eighties new-wave for the cover art to his debut, American Teen. This track is straight alternative R&B though, and is simply ear candy.

5. Lady Gaga, “The Cure” (2017)
Gaga back!

6. Sheila E, "The Glamorous Life, Re-Recorded” (1984)
I have a pretty big hole for songs from the Eighties — FOB life — and am only catching up now. Unfortunately I got addicted to the non-canon version of “The Glamourous Life” because I didn’t know it wasn’t the original. Whoops. If this song gets played on any dance floor this summer, I’m golden.

7. Little Dragon, “High” (2017)
Hey Little Dragon, where you been? “Ritual Union” was 2009, and while the nothing else caught my attention on Season High, this moody confection was perfect.

8. Paramore, “Told You So” (2017)
I know exactly nothing about Paramore aside from recognizing their name. Apparently it’s lead singer Hayley Williams plus a rotating cast. Their new album is a shift into 1980s new-wave also, and I’m digging into it now.

9. Anya Marina, “Shut Up” (2016)
Featured on the Riverdale soundtrack, Marina hails from Ann Arbor, MI and started her career in San Diego. I only knew her previously from a cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” Her 2016 album Paper Planes has some gems.

10. Drugdealer, “Suddenly” (2016)
I asked Ameer what he’s been listening to recently and he answered “Drugdealer” aka Weyes Blood. That’s enough of a recommend for me!

11. LL COOL J, “I Need Love” (1987)
It’s officially/unofficially breakup season so a little soft side of James Todd Smith always helps right?

12. Hailee Steinfeld, “Starving (Acoustic)” (2015)
I love Stenfeld the actress but I’m starting to suspect I like her better as undercover pop starlet.

13. Marvin Gaye, “The Shadow of Your Smile” (1968)
I asked my friend D for her recent listens and here was her answer: "I've been listening to an obscure [posthumously released] Marvin Gaye record on repeat. The record is called Vulnerable. I guess he lost his woman or something so he's all sad and shit. But I love it.” Clarinets are sad…

14. Linying, “Paris 12” (2016)
Intrigued by a twenty-three year old Singaporean Feist? Yeah, me too. Her voice is penetrating. Oh yeah, Feist herself has a just released new album, Pleasure.

15. WILDWOOD, “Moonrise” (2017)
I can’t even find anything about this artist, and she’s got just one track on Spotify. One shot, one kill.

16. A Taste of Honey, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” (1978)
Recently we looked up our birthday jam, the number one song on the Billboard charts when you were born. Mine turned out to be disco cut from A Taste of Honey. Alright alright!

17. Cat Stevens, “Father and Son” (1970)
The closing song from Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Ronan Keating did a cover of this song in 2014, which is fitting because the villain from the first Guardians was named Ronan the Accuser. Marvel synergy?

27 March 2017

In the Mix

Currently pushing: Oprah’s Legends Ball. Apparently back in 2005 Oprah threw a three day celebration honoring twenty-five African American women who have done some stuff. Just watch this clip of the gospel brunch, and be stunned by everyone in it. Patti, Dionne, Tina, Diana, Gladys, Chaka, Janet, Mariah, Naomi, Halle, Mary J, Tyra, Alicia, uh, Ashanti. Basically everyone. (Notable no-shows or uninvited included Whitney, Aretha, Toni, Lauryn, Vanessa, Beyonce.) The best part, I found this via a tweet and the one post Tumblr it was shared on was called "trumptaxreturns2005.tumblr.com.”

So I left the comfy confines of home a few weeks ago to attend a friend’s wedding up in the Bay. While I was there, I not only experienced the magic of the Impossible Burger and rewatched Logan, but also got to go to my friend Jasmine’s first Bhangra in the Bay class. I mince no words in saying that Jasmine is the greatest bhangra dancer of all time and she’s now teaching a class in Oakland — along with her co-instructor, Chetty. Our videographer friend brought all this fancy gear to make an intro video and I got to help, meaning I stood around and manned the camera’s remote control while Victor did all the (literal and figurative) heavy lifting. Needless to say, the video came out great and if you’re looking for a workout, bhangra fusion is the way to go. Also, I went deep into the world do bhangra forums and YouTubes, and now consider myself an amateur expert.

And while I’m on a dance theme, I’ve been following this Taiwanese hip hop dancer, Nike Chen — and her three person crew called MoveOn Dance Taiwan. I’m a little surprised I’ve never seen her before, considering Taiwan’s small dance scene. However, I listened to her short TED Talk and am intrigued by how she talks about being inspired by the hip hop ethos in Taiwan. One of the first things I did upon moving to Taiwan was to explore the world of hip hop and dance, as it wasn’t something I was expecting to find there. The number of students and people practicing under freeway underpasses, next to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial around sunset, and other wide open spaces would astonish you. Also, I attended an all-female dance show once that had literally twenty-plus acts. I haven't even seen that in the U.S., so it's safe the say the dance scene is thriving there.

I found Nike’s stuff through her work on Dizzy Dizzo’s music video, "Radar" (choreo video). Dizzy's another Taiwanese artist I’m pretty intrigued by. She swings between styles pretty comfortably, from vintage J.Lo to  acoustic to Iggy Azalea-like, but most of all I like her song “Stray Love,” which has production that is very Drive-esque, a sound I haven’t heard before in Taiwanese pop.

Dizzy (real name Dominique) is an Australian Born Taiwanese married to actor Sunny Wang, and he appears in a lot of her videos. Also, Dizzy’s videos certainly have an aesthetic that sticks out prominently from her Taiwanese contemporaries. Overall, I think she represents an interesting mix of what’s current but also throws in her own flair and influences. Special stuff.

And lastly, here's friend and my former dance class instructor Clio dancing in Ty's "美 國." Awhile ago Clio told me that there exists a documentary on Taiwan's burgeoning rap scene from twenty years ago. For the life of me I can't find this film but I would love to see it. Or to make a new one, but on dance instead.

03 March 2017

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Jan - Feb

Listening to: “Shut Up,” Anna Marina. From Riverdale’s soundtrack, which is superb.

So San Diego is cooooold! Who knew! I haven’t been back for a San Diego winter in awhile and it’s all I can do to stay in sweats and blankets all day. Toward that end I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to tons of things — and some writing too. Off the top I’m heavyweight obsessed with Riverdale right now. George and I grew up reading Archie comics and this CW version — described as Twin Peaks meets The O.C. — is not only good but heavily nostalgic. Throwing in a murder mystery and noir feel to Archie was just what an update needed. And the casting for Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead is spot-on. Plus, Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad...!

Additionally I’ve been following NBC’s Emerald City very closely, waiting for Ozma to ascend the throne. I’m not sure this Game of Thrones-y version of Wizard of Oz will get a second season but it’s been great to me so far. However you feel about the admittedly erratic plotting and sometimes sparse characterizations, there’s no argument that the sets and costuming are amazing. For example, Emerald City is now literally Park Guell and the show uses a lot of other beautiful Gaudi locations.

The entire first season of Emerald City is directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall) and while his movies can be messes, there’s no arguing they’ve got visual panache. So yeah, Emerald City! If there was ever a crossover between two things I love, Emerald City with Oz and Barcelona has it in spades. (Plus a Faruiza Balk 2.0 in Ana Ularu, who plays a delicious Wicked Witch of the West.)
While I’ve seen about twenty movies in the past two months, the only one I can wholeheartedly get behind is Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women, which I absolutely loved. I'll have to rewatch Beginners again to see which one I liked more, but Mike Mills is just wow. I'm still getting my head around how well Mills writes female leads and then I think about his relationship with Miranda July and suspect that he's probably the only male director capable of doing it. Or maybe I'm overstating his on-pointness. Either way, Mike Mills!

And obviously I loved the shit out of La La Land, which means I was/am on the wrong side of "it's some white people shit," and I haven't been on that side for something popular culture in awhile. I can't defend La La Land against any of its racial downfalls but find myself wanting to celebrate its musical-ness and Gosling-ness first and foremost. So reading all the anti-La La Land posts and seeing people (rightly) savage the film has been quite the novel experience. Something you like so much, hated by so many you respect, how does that change your take on it you know?

Anyway, onto reading! I’m up to fourteen read books this year, which is huge considering where I usually am. And while I’ve read a few really good things, I have to go out of my way to discuss Ann Patchett. I really loved Patchett’s Truth & Beauty, a memoir about her intense friendship with Lucy Grealy, back in 2012. Truth & Beauty immediately vaulted itself onto my all-time favorites list but I hadn’t gone to any of Patchett’s fiction yet — I did read The Getaway Car, but that was a short memoir about writing.

Well, in three don't-sleep-till-I-finish nights I ripped through three of Patchett’s books. First it was Commonwealth, then State of Wonder, and then Bel Canto. I literally haven’t read nonstop like that in ages, and much less back-to-back-to-back of just one author's work. I couldn't stop or gush enough to other people and now I want to make everyone read Patchett.

I'm not sure how to push her though. Literary Michael Crichton? That’s how I'd sell State of Wonder I guess. Aside from her instantly engaging writing, Patchett is brilliant at plot building and throwing incongruous things side-by-side. For example, Bel Canto is about a terrorist hostage situation, plus opera. State of Wonder is a bit more straightforward, with a scientist who goes into the Amazon to recover a wonder drug, but it also has multiple surprises. And then there's Commonwealth, which has no high concept at all and focuses on just one (extended) family. Overall, I just can't recommend Patchett's stuff highly enough. Go read her now, thank me later.

Also, my friend Kiersi’s middle-grade horse series just came out, and of course I read them all right away. Kiersi’s one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever met -- plus genre spanning -- and her published stuff is just starting to come down the pipeline. When I was young I read every horse-related book I could get my hands on so getting a chance to read Kiersi’s horse books has been a delicious throwback. If you've got middle-grade aged people in your life, check out the Quartz Creek Ranch series!

And somehow Kiersi presciently knew that the Falcons would make it to the Super Bowl but then become ultimate losers. I read that section a few days after the Super Bowl collapse and um, let’s just say it hurt. Deeply.

09 January 2017

Send'em Packing

Okay, I’ve got some app recommendations, as usual. These are all utility ones but so far I’ve loved them all. First up is Bear, which is just wonderful because it’s a beautiful note taking app, perfect for replacing Notes. I mean, Notes is nice and all, but if you want/need a beautiful icon of a bear’s profile on your iPhone screen, high recommend. Also, Bear has very nice categorization hashtags, a clean interface, and a Mac app that syncs perfectly — and quickly.

The one downside is that Bear costs money to sync between devices, and while it’s only an annual subscription fee of $14.99 (or $1.49 month-by-month), I know how some people feel about paying for apps. If you’re against it, well, Bear ain’t for you. Actually, all these apps I’m gonna talk about today are paid. But if you want to support creators, you should really reconsider your stance on never paying for apps. Times have changed, and oftentimes paying for an app tends to bring you a more quality product. No more freemium, and the inevitable ads, for me if a better paid alternative is available!
With that in mind, I finally moved over to 1Password. As much as I harp on systemizing and frequently changing your passwords, I know I should have been using a master password solution long ago. So I’m making a change — and upgrade really — and going with 1Password. And I’m glad I’ve waited, as the newest version of 1Password is significantly easier to use than when I tried it a few years ago. Now, 1Password isn’t cheap. The iOS app is $10, and the accompanying Mac app is $50+. Plus if you use their proprietary service to sync/save, it’s another $2.99 per month. (You don’t have to though, you can use Dropbox or iCloud.)

Setting it up can take a bit of time, but be patient, and soon your passwords will be secure and yet easy to use. I’ve been using it for three weeks now, and it has helped in so many little ways. I don’t use 1Password to auto-generate all my random passwords, but I’m working up to it.

Unrelated but a pro tip: Do this for your phone, "The iOS ‘@@' Shortcut As A Text Expander For Emails.” It’ll change your life, seriously. Thanks to SuperLum for changing mine.
And then we get to Deliveries, which just tracks your um, deliveries. If you prefer to do all your shopping online, this is a no brainer. While I didn’t quite see why I couldn’t just check my Amazon account a lot or click on all those emails, now that I’ve used Deliveries, I absolutely love it. I know exactly where my stuff is and when it’ll arrive. No more heading to the mailbox — we have to drive to a PO Box — to see if my exciting order has arrived. And trust me, I’ve been ordering up a storm of stuff recently, from kitchen supplies to books to well, mostly those two things. Also, it’s been useful for work as I can track UPS shipments and stuff too!

Deliveries is $4.99 for iOS and also $4.99 for Mac. I bought both. And if you want to get fancy, you can use IFTTT to cook up some useful Deliveries recipes that automates the tracking info from your email to the actual app. Otherwise you gotta copy/paste tracking numbers in.

My other friend uses Parcel, which is semi-free, and seems to be just as clean and useful, but since I was recommended Deliveries from a trusted source, I went with that one. Alternately, if you want me to keep track of your packages, feel free to send me your tracking numbers and I’ll be on high alert, I promise.
And now we get down to some games. No need to get into super detail here but the two that have been living on my phone are Lost Frontier ($2.99) and Guild of Dungeoneering ($4.99). I auto-buy anything from Mika Mobile because I love their games and art style so much, and Lost Frontier is a cut above due to its Western theme. Plus I’m a sucker for hex based war games and only wish this had multi-player. But I know it won’t likely have it, sadly.

As for Guild of Dungeoneering — “dungeoneering” is just weird to see/spell right? — it’s a twist on the classic roguelike dungeon crawler because you don’t actually control the character. Instead you lay down tiles and try to lure them around a dungeon. You do get to do the fighting, and losing, but when a character dies, you have to go recruit another one to send to their death. Each character is GoD is so cute and has whimsical traits, plus the art is just unabashedly cute! This is another app I like having on my iPhone just because I like looking at the logo…

So, that’s what I got on my phone these days If you have any app recommendations, please share! Actually, just one more. If you’re into fine art, Artsy is a free app for browsing museum collections. Ostensibly it’s also for collecting but I’ve never explored the side of the site/app. Because, I mean, who am I to collect fine art?

04 January 2017

Stuff I've Been Consuming 2016

Well, here we are again, at the end of another year and I’ve failed to finish fiftyfifty.me once more. However, this is my finest effort in years, as I got to 33 books and 64 movies. I spent my NYE trying to cram in one last movie and book -- a very excellent Mustang and a confusing The Hour of the Star, respectively. Obviously I went into the new year right, and totally set the stage for twelve months of productivity and progress. Ahem. Anyway, let’s just get right into it shall we?

MOVIES: Considering I’ve averaged eighty-four movies for the past four years, this year’s sixty-four seems awfully low. But that’s okay, quality over quantity! And there were some good ones on my list. But first, where do I watch my movies? Apparently the breakdown is forty-two movies in the theater and twenty-two at home or in airplanes. I recently calculated that I spent about $1,000 at the movies last year, which comes out to a whopping $23.80 per movie I watched. (By comparison, I spent $300 buying books, clearly many unread ones.) Something about that seems awfully wrong, but it just goes to show that I either paid for a lot of other people's tickets, went to some real luxurious theaters, or I rewatched a lot of things. Like Captain America: Civil War, saw that gem three times. And La La Land, which I saw twice in four days, and almost another time last week.

Stop right here. Pay attention... LA LA LAND!!! I was so in on this movie beforehand it was hard to be overhyped. Ryan Gosling. Emma Stone. Singing. Dancing. The director of Whiplash. More Gosling (check out my all Gosling edition of Cool It Now). How could it fail!? For the most part, La La Land totally lived up to my expectations, and it actually got better upon a rewatch. Needless to say, I’ve been slamming the soundtrack hard the past two weeks. I don’t care what (some) haters say, La La Land is amazing -- and it's gonna take the Oscar this year.

The best movie of the year was probably The Lobster though. I need to watch it again but I just remember how simultaneously weird and fantastic I felt after walking out of the theater. If I had to name a film of the year, it would have to be The Lobster. With La La Land a close 1B if you want to feel happy instead of intensely morosely "whoa" — the after effects of a Lobster viewing -- then go with La La Land. Actually, Gosling + Stone in The Lobster would be interesting too. Gosling + Stone in anything really, and especially a new Sound of Music, as Juliet and Amanda from this Ringer podcast episode suggested. Semi-blasphemy, I know...

2016 list of straight A movies: 10 Cloverfield Lane, ArrivalCaptain America: Civil War, The Lobster, The Handmaiden, Moonlight (which I watched by myself in an empty theater as we descended officially into Trumpworld), La La Land, and Moana.

I also gave high marks to these too: Dearest, Dope, Hateful Eight, Love & Friendship, Manchester By the Sea, Mustang, The Revenant, and Zootopia. Here’s me talking about how much I giggled through Zootopia. And I guess that's about it for movies. I’ll have to get another MoviePass now that I’m back in the States. That almost $24 per movie figure is ridiculous right? All-you-can-watch please!

BOOKS:  Considering I read eleven books last year, I think this year’s thirty-three books read is a big win! I mean, right? Come to think of it, have I ever hit fifty books in a year after that inaugural 2012 year? Um, the sad answer is “no.” It's just been downhill ever since. So I guess 2016 was a semi-resurgence!

The numbers breakdown comes out to fourteen fiction books, ten non-fiction books, six graphic novels, and um, three zines. I know, do we even count zines? They were long zines, so I don’t care! Actually, moving forward, I think to be honest with myself, I need to eliminate graphic novels and zines from the list. So fine, I only read twenty-four “real” books this year.

Of the ones I want to push, at the top of the list is Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. With the release of Arrival in multiplexes recently, I finally read some Chiang earlier in the year. Wait, looks like I already plugged Chiang on this very blog. So I'll skip the re-gushing. Next on the list is Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island, which again, I’ve plugged already. But if you read one book about the White Terror in Taiwan this year, let this be it! And also, another recommend I briefly mentioned was The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits.

I know I didn’t talk about United States of Japan though. It’s an alternative history action-y book about what it would have been like if Japan had won WWII. While it falls into a few too many tropes, I did like the ideas Peter Tieryas threw into the east defeats west setting. “A fun romp, plus giant mechas,” is what my one line review would say. My final recommend is Michael Lewis’ The Big Short. I watched the movie twice, finally read the book, and got all fired up about the 2008 mortgage crisis (again). Fuck Wall Street right? Lewis is consistently great and The Big Short is one of his best.

Stop me if you’ve heard this, but I also really liked the graphic novel Asterios Polyp, which I (once again) talked about already. Ugh, drone drone drone.

TELEVISION: Yeah, we don’t count television shows as part of our fiftyfifty.me diet because really, there’s no challenge to TV. Just sit back and watch the hours float away. Still, for the first time ever I documented all the shows I watched this year. And man was it a long list… Just like yours I’m sure.

Of the high recommends I’d put Atlanta, Black Sails, Chewing Gum, Orange is the New Black, The Night Of, and Westworld at the top. And I guess Stranger Things but everyone already watched that this summer. I want to especially put in a plug for Black Sails, which gets really good after a so-so S1, but then the subsequent seasons filled the Game of Thrones hole for me, with 80% of the conniving and plot twists GoT serves up. Too bad I have nobody to talk Black Sails with… And Tatiana Maslany finally won a well-deserved Golden Globe for Orphan Black, as she is simply amazing. We ripped through all four seasons of Orphan Black in short order, and can’t wait for the finale.

Along with all that, I watched some of The Get Down, Luke Cage, Black Mirror S3, and Joe Swanberg's Easy, but didn’t finish those quite yet. And to be honest, may never return to them. I wanted to like Luke Cage better, wanted to love Easy a lot, but both were pretty hit-or-miss. And Black Mirror, as a series, tends to disappoint on the regular so I may have to give it up altogether. All in all, I effortlessly finished fifteen shows — who knows how many seasons — and that just proves how easy TV goes down.

Sidenote: 2016 also marks the year my mom discovered binge TV, as she was high on Grand Hotel (basically a Spanish Downton Abbey) and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, a serialized detective show from Australia. She never used to watch television, like at all. And since she's not the best with technology, she didn't realize there were many more seasons of each show until I navigated to them. Now she loves her Apple TV more than she loves me, I'm sure. Netflix, bringing joy to all generations!

Okay, that's it for all things consumed 2016, thanks for listening. Remember to subscribe to Cool It Now, my newsletter for pop culture left behinds to feel less behind, as I'll soon be putting out its twelfth issue. And teaser: it's all about Gosling!