NaNoWriMo hasn’t been going well, but I’m mostly okay with it. I haven’t posted any of my work yet. Still plan to; just haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m far, far behind on the wordcount and completely unbothered by this. I’m confident I can catch up before the end of the month.
My ISP was acquired by Sprint, and Sprint isn’t grandfathering anyone’s service or offering any kind of alternative. It only wanted Clearwire’s network, which I understand completely as a smart move, but it inconveniences me in ways that really tick me off. There aren’t that many options for broadband around here, and I don’t care for either of the two leading companies that offer it. I have to choose, really, between the cable company and the telephone company. And the cable company is out because of my rental situation. So I’ve got the phone company scheduled to come by early in December.
My first ISP was Hawaii Online in 1994, and it was followed by five more over the next twenty-two years, all of which provided decent service, and none of which required someone to come to my house to install anything. This last detail is key for me, because I prefer to set up my own crap. I always have, and I came very very close to convincing the phone company to allow me to receive the hardware and do my own setup, since I pretty much know all they’re going to do is plug stuff in and test it. The tech guy I had on the phone said that made perfect sense, but when he tried to put the order in, whoever he spoke to convinced him that it was in everyone’s best interest for a tech guy to come do it. Argh. I understand that if there are any problems, it’s better for me if I have a guy right there, but I also suspect that certain service providers in certain realms are creating a clientele that’s dependent on all aspects of service. I’m not paying for tech assistance, so the phone company doesn’t make more money on me by sending a guy to my house, but I suppose that any place they can make me depend on them is good for their overall business.
Of course, we the clientele don’t help any by not learning to fix our own crap, and that’s one part of this that ticks me off the most. I’m paying for their voluntary helplessness, despite years of trying to teach young people not to be helpless when facing a computer-related problem.
There’s still a dial-up ISP in this area that boasts some pretty good speed at a very low price. I was one of its customers for a really long time because the price (still $9.99 per month) and the company’s promise not to offer any tech support at all appeals to me. But I’d still have to activate my landline, which wouldn’t require the phone company to come over, but doesn’t cost much less than the lowest tier of Internet service. Add that to my need for WiFi and the dial-up option just wasn’t going to work.
One other option that’s perhaps closest to what I enjoyed with Clear is satellite service, but that requires the installation of a dish, also not really feasible with my rental situation. Frick.
So a big screw you to ISPs everywhere for not letting me have the service I want the way I want it. There used to be so much competition in this realm. My needs are not being met with the current market.
Result: I’m going with the phone company at its second-slowest downspeeds (about 7 mbps, which is still faster than what I was getting from Clear) at about $20 bucks a month. I’m adding a mobile hotspot to my cell plan at the lowest rate (4 gb per month) for a total that’s pretty close to what I was paying Clear for the bundled home service plus wireless USB receiver for the laptop. I canceled that last service months ago anyway, when I switched from carrying my laptop everywhere to just carrying the tablet. A one-device USB-dependent service wasn’t cutting it when I needed the flexibility to receive service on multiple devices. The hotspot comes with the bonus of being connectible to up to ten devices at a time, in case I ever need to share with others. Yeah, I know that 4 gb won’t last long with ten devices connected, but I’ll deal with that if it ever comes up.
Until about ten days ago, I wasn’t sure I was going to do it, but I am. NaNoWriMo.
In the NaNo writers group I attend every month, the others seemed to think I was grandstanding, hesitating for dramatic effect. They were sure I was going to participate, and they were sure I knew it, despite my expressed reluctance.
I explained to them that my first NaNoWriMo was November 2003, and it was a wonderful, glorious, revealing experience, one which helped me grow as a writer in ways I still feel. Since then I’ve done several more; some of them successfully and some not, but I honestly feel that whatever I had to learn (and to prove to myself) in the first (and even second) year was no longer something I had to learn. The last two years, while generating some good material, weren’t the revelatory beam of sunlight from the heavens the first two were.
While I’ve done some important things in the past couple of years (finding a good writing partner chief among them), none of them have anything to do with NaNo, and I am not one step closer to my real writing goals than I was thirteen years ago.
That’s not exactly true, but it is when seen through the lens of NaNo.
So what’s in it for me? I noticed the past couple of years that the thing that really turns me on is being there when other writers, especially first-time participants, cross the 50K finish line. I like hosting write-ins and encouraging others to turn off their internal editors. So yeah. While my heart isn’t really in it this year, it would feel dishonest to cheer others on while not giving it a sincere effort myself, so I’m down.
I’ll be posting my work in progress here. I’ll leave material up for about a month and then take it all down. If you’re at all interested, please feel free to check it out.
- What animal, not normally ridden by humans, seems like it would be really fun to ride?
I’m voting for a blue whale. I don’t know where you’d put a seat on that thing, but if I could just hang on and cruise around with it, things would be pretty terrific. Who’s going to mess with the guy hanging onto a blue whale?
- What’s a food you’ve always wanted to try but still haven’t?
I can think of several expensive dishes or old-school dishes you just don’t see in restaurants nowadays, but for some reason I feel weird saying I want to try them, so I’m going with a different category: berries. I live in a place where berries don’t grow well (strawberries are grown in Kula, on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui, and they’re yummy, but that kind of coolness is not common in this state), so my experience with berries has been kind of weak. I’d like to try a lot of good, fresh berries I’ve never had in any form: a few I can think of are black elderberry, buffaloberry, gooseberry, chokeberry, and huckleberry.
- What’s stuck to your refrigerator door?
A guitar-shaped magnet with Michael McDermott‘s name and website on it, and two sets of magnetic poetry (standard set and literary set).
- Assuming your needs for food and water were taken care of, how do you think you’d do if you had to live houseless for a year?
I think I’d do rather well, as long as I had access to my public library, which many (many!) of the homeless people in this town also take advantage of. Safety would really be the biggest concern, because places where you can get away with sleeping here are pretty rough. I’m afraid my pacifist ways might make it difficult for me to get along in the homeless community here.
- What geographical location that’s not already a person’s name (that you know of) would make a pretty good first name for someone?
I’m going with Boise.
In the past year, I’ve lost The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and The Late Show with David Letterman, and I did pick up The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but I’m really not that interested in the new Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I haven’t even taken a look at it. Ditto the Ferguson replacement.
Colbert is finding his audience, as all late-night talkshow hosts need to do, and it’s one of my favorite things in TV: seeing how these guys figure out what’s working and what’s not, and seeing their audience evolve with the show through its changes. Honestly, it’s a little rough right now, except for a pretty good live band, what has become a short, nightly segment on politics and current events (which I was hoping he wouldn’t do, because it’s a ground that’s too familiar for him), and the interviews. The week before last, he had Oprah Winfrey on, and they traded favorite scripture with each other, which was really great to see. The jury’s still out, but I think he’s going to be okay.
I’m still down with The Big Bang Theory, but I’m thinking that show needs to be retired soon. The decision to have Sheldon and Amy break up is probably going to salvage this season for me; however, the cast has become so bloated, and the characters so comfy, that the show has lost its heart, the thing that made it special in its first few seasons.
And of course there are all the usual sports things. My favorite show on TV is still ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, and I’m still watching Highly Questionable with Dan LeBatard and Bomani Jones, and I TiVo Around the Horn every day, but I pretty much only watch it on days after significant sports events, such as every Monday morning. Most times, I archive the show for some time later. I watch as much of the NFL as I can, and this week it’s the World Series.
Supergirl premiered this evening but I’m waiting until just before bed to give it a look. I have high hopes.
It’s been a month or so since the new TV season began (with a few exceptions; I’m still waiting on Supergirl Monday and Mom sometime thereabouts), so here’s a quick rundown of what I’m watching.
The most pleasant surprise has been Fargo, whose first season about a year and a half ago seemed to come out of nowhere and blow everyone (who saw it) away. I probably wouldn’t have paid it any mind except that certain writers I respect were raving about it the week before it premiered. It was excellent. Maybe the first television I felt the need to discuss with others since Ally McBeal. The new season had me wary, but only because I just didn’t see how it could equal the first season. And so far, it has come pretty close. I don’t see an Allison Tollman for this season, which is kind of a disappointment, but Kirsten Dunst could be this year’s Billy Bob Thornton: a known entity playing something completely different. She’s been enthralling so far, a real puzzle. I also like Ted Danson a lot so far. It’s only been two episodes (of twelve), so if you’re missing the boat, it’s not too late to get caught up.
I’m a lifelong Muppets fan, as most people are, I guess. The original The Muppet Show is one of my favorite TV series of all time, a show that impresses me more now that I’m old enough to know what to be impressed by. This new show, The Muppets, a kind of takeoff on The Office, has Miss Piggy hosting a late-night talk show, with the rest of the crew as the production/performing team. Fozzy is the show’s announcer and audience warm-up; Statler and Waldorf are regular audience members; Scooter is, as he always has been, a gofer; Kermit is the producer. I totally get the criticisms, and I’m on board with a few of them. The fat jokes aimed at Piggy are a bit much, and perhaps an anachronism of sorts for television today. Like The Larry Sanders Show, another clear inspiration, we mostly only see behind-the-scenes stuff, which is the biggest disappointment. The Muppets are show people. Performers. One of the inspiring things about the original show was the joy these characters felt in just getting on stage and performing, something that’s sorely missing from this. Where’s the Kermit who was discovered sitting on a log in a swamp, singing “Rainbow Connection?” Still, the characters are there, and they’re lovely and wonderful and I honestly can’t get enough. And as I told Anto a few weeks ago, this completely new setting makes it easier for me to deal with the characters having different voices.
Dr. Ken, the new sitcom with Ken Jeoong, is uneven, but I’m on board for the whole season (and ABC just last week ordered the full season; it is the first of the new shows to receive the order) because I’m reviewing episodes for 8Asians.com. The show is trying really hard to do some important things besides making people laugh, something I admire, but it really needs to be good entertainment first and good Asian American entertainment second, you know? The cast is strong, for the most part, especially Dr. Ken’s family, anchored by Suzy Nakamura as Ken’s psychiatrist wife, and the chemistry between the two doctors is the show’s strongest element so far. I’m not as in love with the way the staff at Ken’s HMO is being fleshed out, which is a disappointment because Tisha Campbell-Martin is there, and I love her. The only reason I kept watching Martin on Fox in the 90s when it stopped being funny was her.
Which of course brings me to season two of Fresh off the Boat, which I am also doing episode reviews for. I have to say that it’s still uneven, but the season is a lot stronger than I expected. It’s doing a few things really well, giving Eddie a new love interest, and continuing to develop Jessica’s relationships with the other characters.
I’m TiVoing Life in Pieces, but haven’t watched any of it yet. It looks promising. I’m also TiVoing Last Man on Earth, that Will Forte series, but I only get to it once in a while. It’s excellent, though, and I’m sure I’d be more enthusiastic about it if I’d seen the first season. Definitely my kind of show. Alienation, baby.
For now, I’m down with Quantico too. I checked it out because of its star, Priyanka Chopra (ABC seems to be leading the pack in Asians, if you count CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 as just one multi-Asians thing), and got sucked into the story. I’m not sure I’ll stick with it, because it’s not really my genre, and if they plan to yank me along for a whole season without giving me enough development, I probably won’t make it. But it’s good so far.
I’m going to have to continue this tomorrow. It’s 12:33 in the afternoon, and I’m due at the annual NaNoWriMo kickoff, which I will also discuss later.
- What’s an issue you wish more people knew about?
Most educated people have some understanding about the Japanese American relocation camps in World War II, but history is about people, and I wish more of my educated friends would take time to hear the stories of the people who were put there. At the very least, I’d appreciate a cursory reading of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar or Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower.
- When were you last outraged about something?
I’m old now, and one of the symptoms of my old age is that I’m a lot more even-keeled than I once was. Outrage is almost incomprehensible to me now. I think the closest I’ve gotten was the gridlock in Congress a few years ago.
- When you were a kid, what was the first news story to make an impression on you?
I was in fifth grade when the hostages were taken in the American embassy in Tehran. That was the first story I followed on a day-to-day basis. I learned a lot about the way the world works that year, most of it unpleasant.
- What’s getting far too much media attention lately?
Probably the presidential election. It’s too early.
- What’s a consumer product you’d recommend to others?
I picked up a cold last weekend and have been locked up in my cave all week. This tea, which I picked up at the Korean market in my neighborhood a few months ago, has been heavenly. It’s honey-ginger tea, which is made easily enough from its scratch ingredients, but I like this jarred variety quite a bit. A few teaspoons of the stuff in the jar and a large mug of very hot water, and I’m kind of comfy for at least twenty minutes.
Malibu Spring Break (2003)
Charity Rahmer, Kristin Novak, Pilar M. Lastra, Sara Michelle Ben Av. Directed by Kevin Lewis.
Michelle and Phoebe are on their way to Malibu from Arizona to spend spring break. They don’t really have a plan, but Michelle has a very rich uncle in Malibu and she’s pretty sure he’ll let the young ladies stay there even while he’s away on business elsewhere. The uncle has one very strict rule in his house: no parties! But hey, the girls are young and crazy and they’ll make sure everything is cleaned up and put away before Michelle’s uncle gets home.
The house, an enormous mansion with an enormous pool and hot tub, comes with a couple of surprises. The first is Gloria, the pretty but feisty daughter of the uncle’s maid. She lives downstairs in the maid’s quarters and does the housecleaning when her mom is away, as she is this week. The second is Michelle’s cousin Denise, a goody-two-shoes from Minnesota who gets along with Michelle despite almost ceaseless ribbing. There’s some bickering among the girls, and they agree (with apparently no stakes involved) to a bet whose winner is the girl whose party date drives the nicest car.
This is a brainless, pointless girls-in-bikinis movie that doesn’t even try to maintain any semblance of the story line it sets itself. Entire plot elements that are hinted at early are never brought up again, and there are conflict resolutions that don’t make any sense. In fact, most of the conflicts don’t make any sense. You know those cheap music-video scenes where some kind of fun music plays on the soundtrack while the characters, standing in front of mirrors, try on different outfits? There are two scenes like this within eight minutes of each other. At least in Pretty Woman, the scene exists to establish something meaningful in the story. In this one, no real reason exists except to show you rapid-fire video of four pretty girls wearing a variety of fun, playful looks.
I don’t honestly have a problem with that when that’s all the movie promises, but at the very least, in a dumb movie like this, some effort should be made to present likeable characters, and none is made here. Yes, the ladies are nice to look at (especially Sara Michelle Ben Av, who plays Denise as the supposedly homely loser whom nobody in real life would ever think of as homely), but as in real life, so in the movies: for the promise of seeing some skin, you can put up with an annoying person, but there’s a point at which no amount of beauty is worth the annoyance, and all of the main characters in Malibu Spring Break go well past it. The last minute of the film hints at a sequel (everyone agrees to go to Maui for spring break the following year), but thank goodness that movie was never made, and some of the actresses actually went on to semi-decent television work.
Not recommended, because it doesn’t get quite stupid enough for so-stupid-it’s-good late-night status.
Yes, We’re Open (2012)
Lynn Chen, Parry Shen, Sheetal Sheth. Directed by Richard Wong.
A yuppie couple, slightly bored with its sex life, considers the possibilities of an open relationship. The man and woman think of themselves as modern and unrestricted, but despite the urging of another couple for them to give it a try, the pitfalls seem prohibitive, among them their simply not being sure what they want.
I am an avid admirer of Lynn Chen, whom I loved in White on Rice and The People I’ve Slept With, and whose social media content I find entertaining and interesting. She has a screen presence that reminds me of the smart, pretty women I encounter every day, a kind of graceful but uncomplicated confidence that’s easy to get along with. For this reason, her character is the least annoying of the four central characters in this movie. Where the others are smart and unbearably obnoxious, she is smart but only mildly obnoxious. Her character’s partner is the kind of guy who turns a wedding toast into a political diatribe lacking any social awareness, and the fact that she loves him is a condemnation against her.
I hate to say this because his performance seems sincere, but Parry Shen, who plays Chen’s lover, is a weak link among pretty good actors. Almost every scene he’s in feels slightly off, like maybe he was the understudy who had to stop in at the last minute and can focus either on blocking or on lines, but not both at the same time. And boy, is his character unlikeable.
This is the problem with this movie as whole: its characters are just impossible to like, and not even my admiration of Lynn Chen is strong enough to keep me from counting the minutes until the movie’s conclusion. I didn’t want to spend a minute more than necessary with these people, and when one of them flat-out tells another that nobody can stand him, it’s actually true of everyone else in the film, including the person leveling the accusation.
Really not recommended unless you’re a Lynn Chen fan, in which case it’s sort of required viewing.
This isn’t my life anymore, Mulder. I’m done chasing monsters in the dark.
Scully was wrong, of course, and so were we all, because The X-Files returns with six episodes beginning at the end of January, just in time for the end of football season.
I have to admit that I’m not a true X-Phile. My friend Grace is. She has all the episodes on VHS, and if I know Grace (and I do; we’ve been friends since seventh grade), each cassette is carefully labeled and indexed, not only with episode titles, but names of writers, directors, and guest stars. For this reason, she disapproves of most of my sad, misdirected fandom of the program, because the things I like are the things that kind of brought the show down, in her eyes. When I told her that I liked the second movie, I Want to Believe, the first thing she asked me was, “What’s your favorite episode of the TV series?” This was going to tell her all she needed to know about how seriously to take my impression of the film, which she was not in a hurry to see.
I’d heard the buzz, of course, and I’d seen the commercials, but nothing about the show’s publicity or press made me want to see it. Then my friend Cathy asked me if I wanted to see the first movie. I went along and really liked the film. So Cathy, who was already kind of a casual fan, started coming over on X-Files night to watch it with me. Between the night we saw the first film and the night the series finally limped across the finish line, we watched every episode at either her house or mine.
I actually liked the show in its last, painful season. But it was true: we were all hanging on just to see it through, you know? I was pleased with the way it ended. On the science vs. faith, Scully vs. Mulder thing, I was firmly on the side of faith, but while it was Mulder who believed and Scully who was skeptical, Scully had the church background, and in those last few episodes, the tension was a lot more specifically about religious faith, and that of course made the show a lot more interesting for me.
I never did go back and fill in blanks in my X-Files viewing, another reason I’m not a true X-Phile. But now that I’ve paid for a year of Prime, and because all nine seasons are available on Prime, I’m making an effort at least to catch up to where I started watching, whenever the first film was released. Season 7?
If I see them all, it’ll be three seasons per month, or about three fourths of a season each week. I think I can do that.
I’m so far three episodes into season one. It’s a lot less relationshippy than the show later becomes, which is of course Grace’s reason for not liking later episodes as much. She’s so funny. The relationships are the reason to stick with any series for more than a few seasons. That’s why The Big Bang Theory has gotten lame: while it still understands that it’s a show about relationshps, the cast has become so ridiculously large that it can’t meaningfully continue the development of the relationships among the original central characters, so it’s lost all kinds of focus, and it’s just not as interesting or as meaningful as it once was.
Another thing I’ve noticed about these first few episodes is that there’s no attempt to explain anything! Stories resolve but with no real explanations. That’s not a complaint, but it’s testimony to the show’s longer vision, which is perhaps one reason the fandom is so rabid, and perhaps a reason the payoff at the series conclusion was unsatisfying to some.
I’m stoked about the new season. There’ve been a lot of questions about who will be involved, or what the relationships will look like when it picks up. Those are all interesting, but the thing I really want to know (but I don’t want to know in advance, so don’t tell me if you’ve heard something), is whether or not the Lone Gunmen will be involved. They’re supposed to be dead, but of course it’s more than plausible that they faked their own deaths, either by choice or by force, because they were getting too close to something. Yes. I so want to see them in at least one of the new episodes.
Diego Abatantuono, Claudio Bigagli, Giuseppe Cederna, Vana Barba. Directed by Gabriele Salvatores. Italian and Greek with English subtitles.
The Blockbuster video rental store in Hilo had a good deal: make a twenty-dollar donation to a certain charity, and receive a two-for-one card valid every Tuesday for a year. Combined with a surprisingly large foreign-language film selection and my last few credits of undergraduate study, not to mention friends a few apartments down the hall with similar tastes and a two-for-one card of their own, that deal turned me on to some of the best films (and best memories) of my film-watching life.
But that was twenty years ago, and while I look back fondly on the titles I enjoyed into the late hours, there are a lot of movies I only remember liking without remembering much else. The multitude of streaming options lately means the ability to revisit many of those films of my final college year, one of which is an Italian movie called Mediterraneo.
Seven Italian soldiers in 1941 are sent by boat to a remote Aegean island to look out for enemy aggression. It’s not a very important job, and the men assigned to it, save the brawny sergeant who serves as second-in-command, are not career military men. They are teachers, farmers, and young men who haven’t yet figured out what they are. It’s clear they are given an unimportant assignment at least partly because that’s where they will be useful.
So when the boat sent to pick them up is destroyed while still approaching on the horizon, the men are stranded there for the foreseeable future. It is not news they regret: island life suits them. The lieutenant in command is an amateur painter, and he agrees to do the frescoes in the orthodox church. The others find ways to keep themselves occupied, and since all the able-bodied male residents left to fight the Germans, the Italian soldiers find many ways to remain useful, not the least of which is in keeping the island’s lone prostitute, a beautiful Italian woman with nowhere else to go, in business.
The film is a relaxed, easily-paced movie version of a Jimmy Buffet album, more a collection of moods and grooves than a sequence of events. In many ways, it reminds me of the Japanese film (directed by Naoko Ogigami) Megane, but where that film focuses mainly on one woman’s adjustment to island living, this one kind of lets us see the group of soldiers and leaves it up to us to interpret what’s going on inside. In this way, the film is not quite as rewarding as it could be, but it’s still a nice, pleasant fantasy of a movie, and I can see why I remembered so little of the plot and so few of the details: it’s more about the feelings you get while you watch it, which I remember quite well. I was happy to relive them.