“Male Prima Donna” by Subtle Sexuality

October 31, 2009

I haven’t talked about The Office for a while, and there’s good reason for that. Aside from Jim and Pam’s wedding episode (which was just about perfect), the writing hasn’t really been that great this season. I mean, the whole episode with the “Mafia boss” was just stupid. Not Michael-stupid in its painfully awkward yet hilarious way. Just stupid.

Still, even subpar Office writing is better than pretty much everything out there, and I have high hopes for the whole Michael-dates-Pam’s-mom storyline. Meanwhile, here’s this from Kelly, Erin, Andy, and Ryan (he runs away with this–they’ve really gotta start giving him more scenes): “Male Prima Donna.” It’s pure gold.

EDIT: Stupid NBC has taken the video down. Well, NBC, I would have been happy to watch this and other webisodes on your site if it wasn’t for the advertisements you run about every five seconds!!! Okay, rant over. Sorry about the lack of video; here’s the audio file.

Male Prima Donna – Subtle Sexuality


Film Review: This Is It

October 31, 2009

mj5

Just finished reading Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” this morning. It’s a tough book to read, both for its great amount of exposition and its fatalistic tone, but its classic status is definitely well-deserved. Quasimodo, what a character. One thing that impresses me about books like this is how there’s absolutely no doubt from the characters when it comes to love. Frollo loves Esmeralda. Esmeralda loves Phoebus. Quasimodo loves Esmeralda, too. All of them never waver in their love, and they never have a moment when they ask themselves, ‘Is this right?’ ‘Should I really be doing this?’ ‘Can’t I do better?’ For each of them, their love simply is. Sigh, it’s been a while…

But I digress. Let’s get to “This Is It,” aka The Michael Jackson Movie. My family and I went to see it yesterday, and I’m glad to say that we all enjoyed it. I think your reaction to the movie really depends on what your expectation is. If you’re expecting to get any new info about MJ or insight into how and why he died, then you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. The “behind-the-scenes” info pretty much comes down to: he loves his fans and he is a perfectionist when it comes to details. As interesting as it is to see Michael talking to the cast and arranging the show, the interest comes from the mere fact that he’s no longer with us and the show will never take place the way he intended. It’s the interest of watching a ghost; it comes from a place of eeriness, not illumination.

With that being said, “This Is It” really boils down to one thing: the music. That was really the whole point of the show, and it’s also the point of the film. If you like MJ’s music, you’ll most likely like “This Is It.” If you don’t, you won’t. For me and my family, we found it to be a “thriller,” pardon the pun. The music and the accompanying dance routines–even with Michael clearly holding back to save his voice and energy (spoiler: he never does the moonwalk)–prove to be just as exhilirating as they were back in Michael’s heyday.

Back in the 80s, not long after I first came to the States (I was eight at the time), my family and I were given tickets to a Jackson 5 show (from the Victory tour). It was my first-ever concert, and I don’t remember much of the details (I do remember Michael took off his shirt at one point and the crowd went crazy), only that it was incredibly exciting. Even my mom, not exactly the most relaxed of people, was dancing and shaking her shoulders. To be in the movie theatre yesterday with my dad, mom, and brother beholding Michael’s greatness once again, it was a very bittersweet moment. After all, we were still here together, having gone through a lot–seriously, I mean a LOT–of ups and downs and various detours and earthquakes. Through it all, we have survived. Michael hasn’t. May he rest in peace.

Thriller – Michael Jackson


(Top 101) #74. Stronger – Kanye West

October 28, 2009
kw

Kanye (Open mouth, enter foot)

We all know that Kanye can be an idiot at times. But there’s no denying he’s capable of musical greatness. “Stronger” is Kanye at his rebellious best, infusing his muscle rhymes with the electrobeat of Daft Punk, creating a match made in hip-hop heaven. Let’s just hope that Kanye lets music like this do the talking for the remainder of his career instead of any further wa-wa-crybaby antics. Because, let’s face it, it’s not gonna pay to be stronger if you never get any smarter.

Stronger – Kanye West


DVD Reviews (The Class, The Room, Tyson, Passion of the Christ, etc.)

October 27, 2009

theroom

The Room--Transcendently Terrible

After coming back from Europe, I have been in happy couch potato-mode for the most part. I’ve pretty much never left the house, except to go to the library, grab snacks from the supermarket (salt & vinegar potato chips, oh how I missed you), and rent some DVDs. Seriously, it’s good work if you can find it, ha ha. So here’s a rundown of the movies I’ve watched from my crazy lazy vantage point:

** Elizabeth **

I really wanted to watch this after my visit to the Tower of London. It was definitely well-made, and Cate Blanchett did a great job, but for some reason, it didn’t really reach all the way to my heart. It was like a classical painting, beautiful but cold, keeping you at a distance.

** Paris, Je T’Aime **

Of course, I wanted to see this after my walks through Paris. It turned out to be a corsage of short vignettes, each taking place at a different Paris district (“arrondissement“). The stories all have different directors and different cast members, and as such, they vary wildly in tone, themes, and quality. Some of them fall into the yeah-whatever category (the excruciating story set in Chinatown, the pointless Elijah Wood vampire tale); some of them are baffling (the mime love story); and some of them are emotionally potent (the story of a musician and the rescue worker). My favorite story–and the one I could relate to the most–was the very last one, a simple story of a middle-aged woman who visits Paris for the first time. All in all, the stories effectively in making the collective point that anything is possible in the city of magic that is Paris. It made me eager for my next visit (but seriously, no more bread).

theclass

The Class-Tres bien!!!

** The Class **

Another French movie I saw was “The Class.” It’s based on a true story, and it’s about a teacher trying to get through to kids at a tough public school. I was blown away by this movie. Every scene feels amazingly authentic; I felt like I was watching a documentary. This is not a schlocky Hollywood formula film where the teacher with the heart of gold comes and inspires the students to greatness (Dangerous Minds, anyone?). “The Class” is about reality, and it doesn’t shy away from complexity.

The teacher, while certainly well-meaning, is also clearly flawed (he infuriates two of his students by saying they acted like “skanks”). As for the students, they are likewise real, not bad per se, but young, immature, and infuriating at times. There is no such thing as “good” and “bad” in this film; it’s an illuminating and unflinching look at all the gray areas in between. It’s both inspiring and despairing, without ever ringing false.

** Tyson **

Unlike my father and brother, I personally can’t stand watching boxing (or UFC fighting for that matter). I’ve never bought it as a sport. It may be physical, and it may have regulations, but you’re still talking about an activity where the purpose is to beat the other guy until he can’t stand up.

Still, Mike Tyson was such a famous (and infamous) figure that even I couldn’t help be intrigued. And after watching this documentary, I must say, I ended up being even more intrigued by him. He really holds nothing back in his interviews, and his life story ends up being this mythical allegory of a larger-than-life figure whose empire ultimately comes crumbling down. He obviously had countless issues (especially with women, as he freely admits–though he denies raping the woman that he refers to as “swine”), but he’s also clearly done a lot of growing up, and it’s hard not to feel for him.

** Passion of the Christ **

I was reluctant to watch this because I heard it’s very bloody, but my brother convinced me to watch this (“Dude, Tom, you’ve gotta watch it”). When we were renting ths at Hollywood Video, the clerk told us, “Oh, that movie changed my life. They were so mean to him!” After watching it, I understand what he meant.

It is just as bloody as I feared, but it feels authentic, not gratuitious. After all, that’s what Jesus must have experienced. The decision to have the actors speak in the language of that time (Hebrew?) also adds to the sense of realism. Ultimately, I was really moved by the film (especially by the performance of the actress who played Mary), and I’m glad I finally watched it.

Once

Glen and Marketa (aka Swell Season)

** Once **

My brother and I are alike in that we really want to share the things we like to other people. So I ended up watching “Once” twice (ha ha, pun intended), once with my brother and once with my mother. They both liked it, as I expected.

How can you not like this movie? It’s definitely in my Top 10 All-Time Favorite movies. It’s got great music (though I must say, I like the girl’s voice far more than the guy’s), the characters are immensely likeable, and the story–about an Irish guy and a Czech girl who both love music–is simple but painfully real from beginning to the bittersweet end. It’s just an amazing achievement all around.

** The Room **

Now we go from the sublime to… gosh, it’s so hard to come up with appropriate adjectives for “The Room”. Basically, I was reading on Wikipedia about movies that are considered the worst films ever made, and this one (a critic called it the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies) piqued my interest.

After watching it, I can assure you that it really is terrible. Really, really terrible. But that’s not the end of it. It’s also kind of cool in its absolute, unrepentant terribleness, and there is a reason why it’s developed a cult following. It’s terrible, yes, but it’s transcendent, nonetheless.

Let’s first talk about the story. It’s basically about a guy named Johnny whose fiancee is cheating on him with his best friend. Then he finds out and gets very upset. But none of that really matters; you won’t care at all. What makes “The Room” whatever it is lies in the details. Johnny laughing creepily for no reason no matter what he’s doing. The fiancee’s mom announcing she has breast cancer like it’s absolutely nothing (and how the fiancee barely seems to care). The nameless character who shows up and starts talking to everyone from nowhere. The endless scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge everytime the director wants to show that time has passed. The games of catch where the characters pass a football back and forth when they’re almost right next to each other. How pretty much every scene starts with “Oh, hi [insert character’s name].” The list of WTF moments goes on and on.

I think the reason “The Room” works in its crazy, bizarro-world way is because the director (the same guy who plays Johnny) really did make a movie that was true to himself. From interviews, he sounds like a nice but extremely eccentric guy, and since he made the movie that he wanted to make, it does feel real, no matter how ridiculous and surreal it is. For that, I can only admire him.

Now, here’s a new track from the upcoming album by Swell Season (better known as the Guy and the Girl from “Once”):

The Verb – Swell Season

And one of my favorite scenes from “The Room” (Johnny buys flowers):


The Internet: The Gift That Keeps On Giving (Craptastic Knowledge, That Is)

October 25, 2009

Angler Fish Looking For Love

Angler Fish Looking For Love

You know, if I had spent all the time I’ve spent on the Internet on something completely different, I would have been darn good at it, whatever it may have been. I could have mastered French–heck, Chinese even. I could have learned to play the guitar (I did try for a little bit, but it was hopeless). Oh, I could have found out how to blow bubbles with bubble gum (just can’t do it; don’t know why).

I know this to be true, yet I am on the Net as I write this. In the words of Peter Cetera, it’s a hard habit to break. There’s just so much out there, so many things to find, so much knowledge to learn, and such an endless array of crap to wade through happily on the way to that knowledge.

For example, do you know how angler fish reproduce? Let me give you the rundown. The male angler fish stop being able to digest food once they develop. So what a male does is to go up to a female and bite her, at which point his mouth fuses with the female fish, and the male eventually rots away to a pair of gonads which releases the sperm into the female, and it looks like the female pretty much lives on with a parasite-looking corpse hanging on to her. Yikes, huh?

How did I come across this tale of underwater romance? Well, I was reading some article about Madonna and her new greatest-hits collection (“Hollywood” is in, but no “Angel”???), and that led me to an article on her infamous Sex book, which mentioned the various people who were in it, so I wondered, ‘Hey, what’s Isabella Rosellini been up the last few years?’ which led me to an online interview where Isabella talked about some TV show she’s doing where she re-enacts the mating rituals of animals (I assure you, I am so not making this up), and she mentioned angler fish as being particular bizarre, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and voila, enlightenment! (utterly useless and craptastic enlightenment, but enlightenment, nonetheless)

So what’s the point of all this? …Well, I’m not sure.

a) To encourage people to keep learning
b) To show how our time could be better utilized
c) To publicize Isabella Rossellini’s new show, which sounds completely wacked-out (I wonder what Madonna would think)
d) To put forth yet another excuse to stay on the Internet
e) Paradoxially, all of the above

I go with E. Now, here’s the Bloodhound Gang reminding us, “We’re nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel.”

Bad Touch – Bloodhound Gang


Book Reviews (Spencer, Hemingway, Coupland, Murakami, etc.)

October 21, 2009

I have been reading a ton (thank you, Katy Geisert Torrance Library!). Here’s a rundown:

Scott Spencer

Scott Spencer

* Willing –Scott Spencer *

We start with the one and only Mr. Spencer, who wrote my favorite book of all time. His “Waking the Dead” was also amazing, and “A Ship Made of Paper” was pretty solid. But he hasn’t always been perfect, as I found “Rich Man’s Table” disappointingly hollow.

I read “Willing” right before I went to Europe, and I knew it had received mixed reviews, so I was a bit wary as I went into it, but it actually started off very promisingly. Basically, a guy has a quietly devastating break-up with his girlfriend and ends up going on a packaged “sex tour” (basically a trip to Europe with high-end prostitutes thrown in). Spencer does a great job of depicting the break-up (Ouch in a nutshell) and the guy’s ensuing downward spiral.

It’s on the sex tour itself when everything starts to fall apart. And when I mean everything, I’m talking both about the guy’s fragile state of mind and the book itself. “Huh?” moments start creeping in until finally, the guy’s mother shows up. Well, that twist is no more awkward as the story’s wind-down, and the ending ends up feeling both tacked-on and tacky. It’s like Spencer had a deadline he absolutely had to meet to submit the book, so he tried to wrap things up as best as he could in his last five minutes. No dice; the ending pretty much invalidates any truth he had found up to then. (By the way, the worst literary ending I ever read? “Something Happened” by Joseph Heller. Great writer–“Catch-22” is one of my favorite books–but man, that ending left me feeling like I had drunk from a sewer)

* Go Ask Your Father –Lennard J. Davis *

I had started to read this I think the day before I set out for London, so I brought it with me even though I didn’t really have big expectations from it. It’s basically a non-fiction tale of a college professor whose Dad dies, and then his wacky uncle tells him out of the blue, “Oh, by the way, I’m really your biological father” (thru artificial insemination). So the writer goes on a DNA hunt to find out the truth about himself, and in the course of that journey, he gives up the histories of both his family and DNA testing. A lot of it is technical and very dry, and the emotional level never really quite simmers to have a whole lot of impact. From beginning to end, the book remains Davis’ story, and the reader never really gets pulled in. It actually illustrates a reason why I prefer novels to non-fiction; often times, the truth is simply what it is, while fiction allows the reader to decide a meaning that reflects his or her own life.

* Girlfriend in a Coma –Douglas Coupland *

Douglas Coupland may be best-known for coming up with the whole “Generation X” moniker, but make no mistake, the dude can write. My favorite book by him is I think one of his lesser-known ones: “Hey Nostradamus!” It’s about the aftermath of a mass school killing, and while not flawless (one shady mobster figure feels really out of place), the book finds emotional truths all over the pages, and there’s one segment involving a psychic and magical puppet characters that is just stunning and heartbreaking in its quiet way.

“Girlfriend in a Coma” again shows Coupland’s way with dialogues and young characters (he really should write a teen TV drama), and the whole story feels magical (about a group of friends who have to deal with one of them falling into a coma) until the magic pretty much spirals into overkill just before the end. Just like in “Willing,” the ending puts a huge dent on the book, only this time, the problem is that the ending is TOO complicated with all kinds of metaphysical and sci-fi overtones that even Coupland can’t quite pull off. Still, there’s a great deal to like in “Coma,” despite the ending.

* A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway *

We all know Hemingway is a literary genius, blah, blah, blah, but actually, you know what? I don’t know it. Oh, I know I’m supposed to like him and hail him as the writer of his generation, but I. Just. Can’t. I’ve tried to like his writing, but it is just so dry, as in “He went into the house. He talked to the woman. Then he went back out.” He emotionally flattens every scene in his books, which works on a stark tale like “Old Man and the Sea” (I did like that one), but when you’re telling a wartime love story like “A Farewell to Arms,” it’d be wise to reach under the surface (“under the pink,” as Tori Amos would say) and show some FEELING at least once. I mean, is it really too much to expect an adjective every now and then? Oh, well, I guess it’s not as bad as William Faulkner, who had the opposite problem and would write ten pages just describing how a tree was casting a shadow (after “Light in August,” I thought, ‘Never again’).

Young Ernest Hemingway (looks a bit like Tom Cruise!)

Young Ernest Hemingway (looks a bit like Tom Cruise!)

“Moveable Feast” is pretty much a diary of Hemingway’s days in Paris, and it actually has a warmer feeling than his novels, probably because he was quite young then. Although the book doesn’t go beyond what it is (again, the whole non-fiction problem), it was still nice to read the book while in Paris myself (‘Ooh, I recognize that street name; I was there yesterday!’), able to imagine what the city might have been like in Hemingway’s days. Also, I was most fascinated by Hemingway’s interactions with F. Scott Fitzgerald (now there was a writer who went all the way under the pink; in fact, he swam there!). That part is both funny (Scott was apparently very childish and petulant at times) and troubling (apparently, Zelda was just as troubled a figure as she was said to be–perhaps even more). And really, the whole book is filled with bittersweet undertones because you knew Hemingway–this young, poor-but-content man with a wife and baby–would go on to find success but then end up killing himself with a rifle.

* The Time Traveler’s Wife –Audrey Niffenegger (what a mouthful!) *

You remember the Terminator movies, right? Well, imagine that Arnold Schwarzenegger (hey, a possible relation?) wasn’t a violence-crazed android from the future who was programmed to shoot at all costs. No, he was in fact a sweet, once-troubled-but-now-reformed guy from the future who was going to LOVE you at all costs. Well, there you have the premise for this book.

Of course, just like in the Terminator movie, the story makes no logical sense whatsoever (seriously, once you really think about it, the premise falls all apart), but that’s a part of the whole point. Just like the vampiricism in “Twilight” is a big old metaphor for the whole fear quotient of love and sex, this book uses time travel to represent the whole “waiting for the right one” and “need to suspend all disbelief and just believe” notions of love. So it’s almost unavoidable that the book can’t avoid being just as hokey and fantastical as the romantic cliches that it’s based on. That being said, it is still very cleverly constructed, and it remains highly readable throughout. All in all, it’s a solid McBook (basically, a McBook is the literary equivalent of a Quarter Pounder; tastes good but ultimately disposable; for me, books by J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and the late Michael Crichton pretty much all fit into this category–however, not Stephen King, as his very best work like “Carrie” and “The Dead Zone” are real novels, not just McBooks).

* South of the Border, West of the Sun –Haruki Murakami *

You may remember that the last Murakami book I read, “Sputnik Sweetheart,” let me rather baffled and a bit frustrated (it was gripping but ultimately too elusive). Well, my faith has been restored and then some with “South of the Border, West of the Sun.” I love it; as of now, I can’t decide which one is my favorite Murakami novel, “Norweigan Wood” or this one.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

Again, you have your typical Murakami stand-in as the main character (shy, quiet, unambitious, loves American music). And the guy basically re-connects with a woman he was best friends with when they were both just children and used to listen to American pop records (like “South of the Border”) together. What happens then? Well, there isn’t a whole lot of story (certainly less than “Norweigan Wood”), as the book’s largely about mood and mystery (the woman, now beautiful, clearly has some dark secrets she’s unwilling to reveal), but there IS enough that goes on to avoid the problems that “Sputnik” suffered from. It’s very film noir in a literary way while still remaining cohesive. The book is hard to explain–it’s a love story, but then again it isn’t, as it’s almost anti-love in some parts–but it absolutely works, and I can’t wait to read it again soon. McBook? How do you say “Heck, no!” in Japanese?

* Promises I Made My Mother – Sam Haskell *

Sam Haskell was a TV agent, and he basically applied his mother’s teachings to remain a nice guy throughout his life. That’s pretty much it. I’m really not sure what else to say. He’s clearly a very nice guy who loved his mom (his dad, not so much, with pretty good reason) who did a nice job of teaching him to be a nice person and to do nice things. It’s all very nice and very sweet, and by next week, I’ll probably forget that I ever read this. Seems like a really nice guy, though, and I wish him the very best in his future.

[Edit: One More]

* The Tribes of Palos Verdes – Joy Nicholson *

I started reading this today, and I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. I’ve always loved a good coming-of-age novel, and this is a great one, about a teenaged girl whose family life falls apart around her, and the little happiness she finds comes through surfing. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking; most of all, it rings true (i.e. this is not 90210). I’ll definitely be looking forward to Nicholson’s next book.

Now here’s Mr. Blue Eyes himself (you may recognize the song from a “Simpsons” episode):

South of the Border – Frank Sinatra


(Top 101 Countdown) #75. Thunder Road (Live) – Bruce Springsteen

October 19, 2009

My father has asked me to find the bus routes from our house (in the South Bay) to downtown Los Angeles. He doesn’t feel comfortable driving on the L.A. freeways (with good reason), and he has a Seniors card that apparently lets him ride the buses for free.

I found out the routes within a few clicks, and I eventually gave Dad the info, but I found very reluctant, and I had to think about it over night. I just kept getting this image of my father lost and hapless, wandering through a dangerous, you-don’t-wanna-be-here neighborhood after having made a wrong transfer somewhere. I asked my brother what I should do, and he thought Dad would be fine, and I guess I am kind of paranoid, but it’s just that… well, he’s Dad, and I just don’t want anything bad to happen to him. He’s family, after all.

bruceThis story (hopefully) segues nicely into the next song on our Top 101 Countdown (back to music, hurray): “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen. After all, that’s what Springsteen sings about on most of his songs: family, both our immediate ones, and also the larger family of community and countrymen, all of us searching for something to hold on to. I love this song–especially the bare, live version–because it’s about a guy with a whole bunch of issues who’s met a girl, with plenty of issues of her own, and catches a glimpse of hope of something better, somewhere better he can drive to, someone better he could be. Hope. Belonging. Navigatng the streets of a hard, cruel world. Finding that elusive “magic in the night.” Thunder Road. May we all find our way there (especially my dad!)…

75. Thunder Road (Live) – Bruce Springsteen