健 (Ken)

健 (Ken)

Sep 25

Couple of new pieces on 8Asians.  A review of the season two premiere of Dr. Ken.  And a review of a new compilation album of indie/undie Asian American musicians encouraging Asian Americans to vote. EDIT: If you’re looking at this before 9:00 a.m. Monday (Hawaii time), that second link doesn’t go to anything.  Ha.  I forgot that I scheduled it to post after the weekend.

I haven’t written much here about Dr. Ken or its fellow ABC program Fresh Off the Boat, and I won’t do it now either, but it’s worth mentioning that Asians make up about 5% of the American population, yet we have nothing close to 5% representation in popular television.

When I was growing up, we had Mr. Sulu, an Asian of indeterminate ethnicity.  His first name was Hikaru, a Japanese name, but Sulu isn’t a surname in any Asian country I know of.  Then there was Pat Morita’s Arnold, for two season on Happy Days, Nurse Kellye (Kellye Nakamura) on MASH, and I think that’s about it.

Today, a good number of television programs have Asian characters, but it’s almost always just one or two.  I know I live in a weird place, where Asians are everywhere, but come on.  I’ve been to Seattle, where there are Asians everywhere you look, yet how often did you see Asians in the backgrounds of scenes in Frasier?  I’ve been to other large cities, the sort TV shows are often set in, like San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville, and Richmond.  There are Asians all over, yet it’s still unusual to see them in reasonable numbers on television shows set in cities like this.

Unlike other writers at 8A, I don’t think it’s the responsibility of networks or producers to cast Asians for accurate representation.  I just don’t know why it doesn’t happen organically.  And it isn’t meaningless to grow up American in America, and not see Americans who look like me or my friends or my family or my teachers or normal people on the street.

I actually have something to say about this, something reasonable and perhaps interesting, but today is not the day.  I’ll just take a moment today to say that for all its flaws, I almost feel like I need Dr. Ken to succeed.  It’s why I was so frustrated last season.  I don’t want it to succeed because it’s one of two shows to feature an Asian American family.  I want it to succeed on its merits, and it just didn’t try hard enough to be good last year.

I’m mildly encouraged by Friday’s premiere.

Friday 5: All Over

Friday 5: All Over

Sep 23
  1. What would you like right now to be coated with?
    Seawater.  It’s been too long since I’ve been in the ocean.
  2. What’s something you recently slathered on something else?
    I slathered a slice of homemade bread last week with some butter and lilikoi (passion fruit) jelly my father passed along.  He has a neighbor who makes it, and he had more than he could use, so I brought it home and it’s freaking yummy.
  3. What’s something you purchased recently whose purpose is to cover something?
    It’s been a long time.  My last phone case was nearly a year ago, with a design inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.  That might be it.
  4. What do your current bed linens look like?
    My contoured sheet is mauve, a huge departure from my usual blacks and very dark blues.  I wanted to try something with a slightly higher threadcount than I’m used to, and the store didn’t have any colors I like.  I’ve gone without a flat sheet for a while, but I have one on standby, a nice, light very dark blue sheet.  The pillow case on my regular pillow is black; the pillow case on my body pillow is magenta.  I sleep beneath a threadbare, patchwork blanket that’s probably a few months from being tossed out or clumsily repaired.
  5. Under what circumstances did you last wear some kind of gloves?
    Hmm.  It’s been a few years.  I wore latex gloves to do some heavy-duty scrubbing at work a few years ago.  That’s about it!  I can’t even claim oven mitts because I lost my super good oven mitts a few years ago and have just been using these cheapo potholders lately.
Found You Could Dance and Still Look Tough

Found You Could Dance and Still Look Tough

Sep 21
I stole this image from Yelp.  The orignal barcode cards were green with white lettering.  I still have mine.

I stole this image from Yelp. The orignal barcode cards were green with white lettering. I still have mine.

In 1984, the state libraries converted from the old card checkout system to the barcode-scanning system they still use. You used to show your library card at the circ desk with a little form you filled out with the titles, authors, and call numbers of the books you were borrowing. The barcode system made things super easy and super fast for borrowers and for the libraries, but of course the conversion couldn’t happen all at once. Each community library had to close for a few weeks, which meant that nearby community libraries had to be open. It was a library-by-library rollout.

I was working at the Aiea library when it was that library’s turn to do the conversion. It was March 1984, and as I’ve written in this space before, I was a high-school frosh, and this was my first paying job. I made $3.35 per hour, except when I worked after six, when I got a fifteen cent “night differential.”

Each book on the shelves had to be given a barcode sticker, which was then scanned so the computers could assign that barcode number to that book. Meanwhile, books were still being returned, and they had to be processed and then shelved. We took advantage of the quiet time to do other time-consuming maintenance. I mostly did grunt-level work; no computer inputs or barcode-sticking for me. It was a lot of shelf work, and I didn’t mind it. I’d applied for the job because I loved books.

One of the nice things about doing all this work with the library closed was that we got to dress comfortably in shorts and t-shirts. I got to see all my grownup library bosses dressed like normal people, which was kind of surprising and mildly unsettling. I was in a jeans-only period of my life when I almost never wore shorts except at home, so I just kept wearing what I always wore to work. Another nice thing was that since I was working alone and with no customer service, they let me listen to my Walkman while I worked the shelves.

I love many of Billy Joel's albums.  This is probably my third- or fourth-favorite.

I love many of Billy Joel’s albums. This is probably my third- or fourth-favorite.

Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man had been released the summer before, and it was still on endless repeat in my Walkman. I listened to that album a hundred times as I moved slowly through the stacks. It’s a great album with seven (!) hit singles out of ten tracks. I can still sing every word to every song in order as it plays.

Some albums remind you of a specific time and place. An Innocent Man, still one of my favorite albums of all time, always takes me back to Aiea Library in March of 1984.

It’s another reason 1984 is the greatest year for music, ever.

There is more to this story.

Review: The Neverending Story

Review: The Neverending Story

Sep 20

The Neverending Story (1984)
Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Written by Petersen and Herman Weigel.

tns1The Neverending Story was on one night when I was at a party in college. Not the best situation for experiencing a film, but there were in the room a few fans of the film who watched it attentively. I let it kind of drop into and out of my awareness as I conversed with others. The only other experience I’ve had with it was at a bar in Honolulu, when one of my former students set up a projector to show the film without sound on the wall next to the stage, while he and his excellent band played.

tns2I know people who adore this film. My frosh year of college, I was with some online friends at the ice skating rink, and eavesdropped on two geeky girls as they explained to someone why the story is “neverending,” but I didn’t pay very close attention to the details, as I was trying to decide which of the girls to put moves on.  I put moves on neither, but I was drawn to their obvious fondness for the movie.

When friends invited me last month to see it at the movie theater, I was totally game, thinking it was about time I filled this hole in my cultural awareness. And I can totally see why so many people are in love with it. My own response was slightly cooler, but I was seeing it as a man in his mid-forties, and I just had too much else to compare it to.

tns3Bastian is a young boy who loves to read. He’s dealing with daily bullying by schoolmates and the recent loss of a family member, so his life is both lonely and sad. He is encouraged by grownups in his life to “wake up” and get his head out of his fantasies. Real life expects him to be there for his math tests, for fleeing down alleys from boys who would take his lunch money, and for confronting the reality of life after grief.

As he runs from the boys, he discovers a book. “A dangerous book,” warns the bookseller who advises against his reading it. They are exactly the words to inspire his borrowing it without permission, and then his hiding in a school attic to read it.

The story within the story is of a land called Fantasia, where a kingdom is being devoured by an evil called the Nothing. A young warrior named Atreyu is called upon by the Childlike Empress to save them all, and as Bastian reads the story, he doesn’t just get into the story; he gets INTO the story.

The setup is pretty great, but the details are mildly disappointing. In presenting this world’s creatures and perils, the filmmakers don’t spend enough time developing its characters. We don’t know anything about Atreyu or the Empress to be sufficiently invested, and the film asks for emotional responses it never earns, except at the very end.

The film is scored with a techno-infused symphonic sound that’s a really good idea; however, the way it’s used, in wide, sweeping shots over open landscapes, is kind of cheesy.  The well-known theme song performed by Limahl is enjoyable.

The film is saved not only by its cool premise, but by a strange connection between three characters who share almost no screen time. It’s difficult to figure out how this is accomplished, although I suspect sympathy for Bastian plays the biggest part. We sympathize with him, and he sympathizes with the characters in the book he reads. This works somehow, and it’s probably why so many people are in love with this movie. I’m not in love with it, but I could definitely love someone who is.

7/10
72/100

Review: Chasing Amy

Review: Chasing Amy

Sep 18

Chasing Amy (1997)
Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

It’s been nineteen years since Chasing Amy was in theaters, a realization that makes me ponder my mortality, but then everything makes me ponder my mortality nowadays. I wonder what it does to Smith, for whom this was the breakout film. In 1997, Smith was a known entity with a couple of well-received indie pictures under his belt, again operating on a tiny budget, again casting his childhood friends. But this film received a few meaningful recognitions, including a Golden Globe nomination for Joey Lauren Adams and awards-season nods from critics’ associations.

I look forward to revisiting Smith’s early work, now that I realize how long it’s been since I’ve seen most of his movies. He’s one of my favorite directors, greatly flawed in predictable ways but still fresh and creative in multiple other ways.

I watched Chasing Amy two weeks ago and again last week, and my biggest takeaway from these repeat viewings is that the stuff that was bad in the late Nineties is worse now, and the stuff that was good is even better.

I don’t think there are spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen it and would rather know very little going in, skip this bulleted section.
I was looking to see a few things with fresher eyes, here’s what I came up with.

  • Holden McNeil, the main character played by Affleck, is as tone deaf as I remembered, a doofus who gets unreasonably upset about something he learns about his lover’s past. Not only does he overreact to the initial discovery, but he confronts her about it in the most juvenile way, and then his proposed solution to the mess he creates is bizarre at best. It’s idiotic and implausible at worst. It is the film’s greatest flaw, and one I have difficulty getting past. Main characters are allowed to make mistakes, but when they’re just idiots, mistakes just look like idiocy.
  • I had reservations about Alyssa’s getting together with Holden, the premise on which the film is constructed. This time around, I like it a lot more. Alyssa explains that she’s come to this point where she makes her own decisions about love and sex, and she’s going to love whoever she wants. This character doesn’t just need a Ben Affleck to come along and make her see the error of her lesbian ways. This is a strong, smart statement she makes (more than once) about owning her sex and articulating this ownership in clear, multi-layered arguments.
  • The Jay and Silent Bob scene is still the best part of the film, and some of Smith’s best writing in any of his movies. Smith, Affleck, and Jason Mewes deliver the lines so well that when the film was over this most recent time I saw it, I went back and watched the scene five more times.
  • I’d forgotten about Dwight Ewell as comic book artist Hooper X. He’s a great character, and I wish he’d returned in later Smith films.

Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa Jones gets props for some good acting, but she quickly gets the emoting up to ten, so that there’s nowhere for her to go in her extended scenes. It makes Affleck look low-energy in some of the film’s most critical scenes.

Chasing Amy has always been the most normal of the Askewniverse pictures, and it’s easy to see why it received more mainstream praise than its predecessors. Smith deserves it: he puts his funny, talky characters in normal settings with normal circumstances, and the translation works a lot better than one might predict. The problem is that his main characters, played by Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, are morons who never really redeem themselves, making them difficult to like.

Some of this normalcy is also a problem. There are at least two music video scenes to show the passing of time and the developing of relationships, and there are at least two scenes on playground swings, a device that was old and tired even in 1997. These bad clichés of normality are especially notable because Smith gives us some of the good, creative stuff we don’t see in fifteen other movies, like conversation in a comic book convention, or a group of friends stuffing envelopes while they accuse Alyssa of being scarce lately, or the (common now but fresh then) front shot of two guys talking while they play a video game against each other, both staring straight ahead as they focus on the television.

Smith includes one of his signature moves: the low-angle shot of someone animatedly telling a long, crude story. It’s another highlight for me, the kind of thing that almost excuses an extremely heavy-handed pivotal scene in an ice rink, where the action in a hockey game is meant to illustrate the dialogue between Holden and Alyssa in the stands. It’s awful, but at least it’s creative.

Put that all together, and it’s a likeable but not loveable movie, one with great scenes you want to look at on repeat, and scenes you kind of hope you never have to see again.

7/10
71/100

Cursed Lines and Blessed Circles

Cursed Lines and Blessed Circles

Sep 17

The last few Saturday have mostly been about getting those steps. It’s been mildly discouraging. This week, bad weather early in the week put me further behind the weekly goal than I’d ever been when midweek hit. I’ve had to go on these ridiculous treks from home into town, which have also been mildly discouraging.

When I stay close to home, I do a loop from the house, down to the main drag through town, then kind of around a good chunk of the neighborhood. It doesn’t look like much, but it turns out be just shy of five miles, or ten thousand steps, which is slightly short of my rough daily target. Honestly, I’m so used to the loop now that it doesn’t feel like much of an effort, or much of a walk, really. I mean, I feel it, but mentally it’s just a stroll most of the time. It’s become sort of boring, to be honest, except that time I got cited by a police officer for trespassing when I cut through the parking lot at the community college.

The thing about the loop is that it’s not much fun to extend. I extend it every so often, adding a second mini-loop midway through, or going a couple of times around the block when I get back home. Since I’ve needed higher counts this week, I’ve gone in straight lines, distances that normal people in this town would never think of walking.

If I tell someone I walked from home in upper Kapalama to Moiliili Park on Isenberg Street, it sounds ridiculous. The truth is that it’s about ten thousand steps, or the same distance I walk when I just go around the neighborhood.

What the heck?

Circles are amazing things. As a former mathematics teacher, I understand this and can even explain it. I’m occasionally asked whether two seven-inch pizzas is more or less food than one fourteen-inch pizza (it is, by a lot, making the slight price difference for the bigger pizza a better deal).  But we’re still talking linear distance here, so the circle effect is really an illusion of sorts.  It looks like less walking, but it’s the same amount in less space.

Digression: The best deals in pizza are almost always the biggest pies, and if you have to choose between square pizzas and round pizzas, the square pizzas usually give you more pizza for your buck.

Last night I went from home in upper Kapalama all the way to Kapahulu Avenue, something most people in Hawaii don’t even consider a convenient drive. There are six or seven McDonald’s restaurants in that stretch. It turned out to give me the number of steps I was hoping for, but it’s still woefully, depressingly fewer miles than one would guess. The bus ride home takes half an hour, although I got off about a mile and a half shy of my usual stop, so I could get an extra few thousand steps in before bed.

I don’t feel as beat up as I’ve felt near the end of the past couple of weeks, mostly because I’ve done all my super-long walking at night. That sun really takes it out of you, I tell you.

Anyway, it’s just about 3:00 in the afternoon Saturday, and I’m about seventeen thousand steps shy of the goal. That’s about eight and a half miles, or about what I walked yesterday. It’s less than I had to put in last Saturday, when I walked from Waimalu Safeway (in my parents’ neighborhood) to Nimitz Highway and Mokauea Street, which is in my neighborhood. I did it after lunch, and it was grueling.

I just took a loaf of bread out of the bread machine. When it finishes cooling, I’ll pack myself a snack and see if I can get those steps taken care of before it gets too late. Kinda need to get some work done this evening.

Review: Paris, je t’aime

Review: Paris, je t’aime

Sep 16

Paris, je t’aime (2006)
Margo Martindale, Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, Juliet Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, Elijah Wood, Olga Kurylenko, Emily Mortimer, Alexander Payne, Natalie Portman, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuarón, and others. (English and French, with English subtitles)

parisA tourist in Paris unintentionally gets involved in a young couple’s spat when he makes eye contact in the metro station. An EMT tends to a bleeding man whom she doesn’t realize she’s met before. An American man escorts a much younger woman down the street, begging her to trust him. These are three of the eighteen very short films that make up Paris, je t’aime. Each short is set in a different Parisian arrondissement (a word I just learned), each written and directed by a different team.

jeFilms like this miss more often than they hit, but here is one that mostly gets it right. When you only have five minutes to tell a story, it seems you rely more on situation and pacing than on characters, dialogue, or plot, but characters, dialogue, and plot can make the difference between interesting and moving. Taken individually, not every short is moving, but most of them contribute to an overall stirring of feelings about (and feelings of) love. I especially like the sections directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Oliver Schmitz, Alexander Payne, and Paul Mayeda Berges with Gurinder Chadha (who directed Bend it Like Beckham together).

t'aimeThe acting is solid all around, but I was especially taken with Margo Martindale as a middle-aged American woman narrating her visit to Paris in an American’s schoolbook French. Martindale is an actor I’ve only recently discovered, and in this film, she is the best I’ve seen her.

Although I have mixed feelings about his chapter, Bob Hoskins is another standout: I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything except Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so his dignified English accent and bearing were a really nice surprise.

pjtIn Wes Craven’s scene, Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell do a nice job with a lovers’ argument in the cemetery where Oscar Wilde is buried, when Wilde’s grave inspires one to break up with the other, and Wilde himself seems to inspire the other to make it work. The scene is maybe the best put-together in the film, where everything seems to work together to shine on its own and contribute to the bigger picture.

If you like the film, see it twice. It’s a movie that rewards a second viewing, and if you see it on a DVD which includes the making-of featurette, see that too.

8/10
83/100

Friday 5: That’s My Fund-Day

Friday 5: That’s My Fund-Day

Sep 15

From here.

  1. What’s the last thing you didn’t want but purchased anyway because someone’s kid was raising funds for something?
    A box of Girl Scout cookies, which are highly overrated. I honestly don’t care much for them. Thin Mints are okay, but I just need like five or six cookies once a year, and I’m good. I bought a box of some kind of sandwich creme cookies, and they were okay. I didn’t even know the Girl Scouts. They just wandered into the office one day and I said sure. I was new, and the others in the office knew the girls’ mom.
  2. What’s something you’re always happy to buy when kids sell it as a fundraiser?
    There’s a local chain of restaurants here called Zippy’s. They’re sorta famous for their chili, which they make available to organizations as a fundraiser. It’s good chili, unlike any chili you get anywhere else, and I eat more than my quota every year. So whenever someone’s selling it, I just buy as much as I can afford. I know I’m going to use those tickets because it’s a product I enjoy all the time anyway.
  3. What was the last fundraiser you participated in?
    I was a teacher, so whatever the class was selling, I was somehow involved in it, even though I seldom actually sold stuff myself. The most recent thing might have been a car wash.
  4. What are your feelings about the endless cycle of fundraising?
    I don’t mind it too much, but it’s really unfair for people who don’t have kids. People with kids just kinda cycle the money around in a mine-for-yours way. People without kids are never on the benficiary end of the deal, and we get hit up the most because we’re not selling stuff for our kids at the same time you’re selling stuff for yours.
  5. What’s something people don’t sell as a fundraiser but really should?
    There should be a way to have a book fair for grownups. I think I may have seen book fairs in lobbies of office buildings, but that didn’t look like a fundraiser so much as someone’s traveling business. What if kids could hold a book fair for grownups? That might be fun.
Review: The Last Waltz

Review: The Last Waltz

Sep 14

The Last Waltz (1978)
The Band, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Staple Singers, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

tlw2“One is always a victim of the anthologizers,” mused my American literature professor in college. This went through my mind several times as I enjoyed the incredible music in The Last Waltz, the recorded document of The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco. I enjoy The Band but always kind of kept it at armslength because I’ve never been a fan of Robbie Robertson, the group’s lead guitarist. Robertson is a friend of Martin Scorsese, and he worked with the director in producing the film. I’m not exactly blaming anyone, but the result is a film that often feels like it’s about Robertson and a bunch of guys he once performed with. As a member of Team Levon, I find this annoying.

tlw1Questionable editing decisions aside, this concert movie is a celebration of some terrific rock and roll. It’s just about impossible to pick a favorite performance, but two numbers that really moved me were Rick Danko’s heartbreaking “Stage Fright” and the group’s killer “The Weight” with the Staple Singers. That performance of “The Weight” is actually a studio version, not a rendition performed at the concert supposedly being documented. Knowing that a lot of the music was re-recorded in post-production in order to correct off-key notes and mistakes in playing takes a lot of the wind out of my sails, but pushing that out of my mind, the songs are great however they finally arrived on this piece of celluloid.

Taking it for what it is, as it is presented, it’s one of the best concert films I’ve ever seen. It’s awakened a long-dormant admiration of The Band, and given me a desire to explore their deeper cuts.

8/10
82/100

If Love Was so Transcendent

If Love Was so Transcendent

Sep 11

Rush’s Counterparts album (1993) is one of their underappreciated efforts.  Spent a bit of time this evening reminding myself of how good (and how, uh, less good) the songs are.  So for your enlightenment and for my future reference, here are the eleven songs on the album, ranked from worst to best.

11. Nobody’s Hero
10. Double Agent
9. Everyday Glory
8. Alien Shore
7. Speed of Love
6. Cut to the Chase
5. Stick it Out
4. Between Sun and Moon
3. Animate
2. Leave that Thing Alone
1. Cold Fire

The phosphorescent wave on a tropical sea
Is a cold fire
The pattern of moonlight on the bedroom floor
Is a cold fire
The flame at the heart of a pawnbroker’s diamond
Is a cold fire
The look in your eyes as you head for the door
Is a cold fire

Man, I love this band.