In a Cafe in Waikiki

IMG_0308.JPGKilling a little bit of time in a cafe in Waikiki. The bus ride from home to the office is long, and it helps me sometimes to get off, get some fresh air, walk around, and have a cup of coffee before jumping right back on the same line for the final fifteen minutes of the trip. I especially needed it today because my fellow riders for quite a ways were ten very noisy high-schoolers (there’s no public school on Election Day because they use the schools as polling places) and when they got off, they were replaced by a very comely young woman dressed for the beach (this bus passes right through the guts of Waikiki) who was inspiring me to think things I am better off not thinking.

By the time we got to Seaside Avenue (actually two blocks from the sea) I had to get off and clear my head. I do not ride long distances well anyway, even under the best of passenger situations.

This Starbucks, right at the bus stop, is always packed, but it’s got decent counter seating and the AC is usually blasting, which is exactly what need most of the time. There is a mid-thirties guy seated on my left, watching videos on FB on his MacBook Pro. On my right, around the corner of the counter, is a young visiting Japanese couple, just chatting and laughing over coffee. They seem nice.

I also like to get off here because there’s a むすび (musubi) place midway down Seaside, between Kuhio and Kalakaua, and the quality of the rice and うめ is excellent. It has multigrain musubi, which I appreciate (although the white rice there is also excellent). The only drawback is that it’s two bucks for one, which is slightly on the expensive side. I should really learn to make this myself, because few things make me happier than the simplicity of a well-made musubi. It almost always makes me think of my mom, who is a musubi master.

MacBook Pro guy and Japanese couple are gone. In the couple’s place is a hipster-looking dude reading an in-flight magazine.

I used to work in a cafe, and since the counter here is behind the barista, I can appreciate her technique. I have issues with the taste of Starbucks coffee (it’s one reason I almost always get a latte: to mask the taste of the roast), but the baristas here usually know what they are doing. They could do things sloppily but just about never do. Good skills. These things make a difference.

Oh, maybe that’s not an in-flight. It’s French.

I learned today that Tracy Austin is fifty-one. I’d have guessed a bit older. I’d totally go out with a fifty-one-year-old. So if you’re reading this, Tracy…

There are either rats or mice in my house. It’s super annoying.

Hipster dude left his cup on the counter and left. It irritates me when people don’t bus their trash and dishes in a cafe. I’m getting back on the bus before someone else does anything to irritate me.

edit: I threw hipster guy’s trash away as I left so others would know the counter spot was open.

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I’m doing NaNoWriMo again. I’ll post a link to the novel in progress as soon as I set it up, probably sometime late Friday.

I know I already wrote this, but if you haven’t seen HBO’s Silicon Valley, you really should check it out. I’m watching season one again for the fourth time. Hahaha. I laugh out loud just thinking about it. Seriously.

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Review: Don’t Know Yet

Don’t Know Yet (2013)
James Kyson, Lisa Goldstein Kirsch. Written and directed by James Linehan.

don'tA guy in a car pulls over where a hitchhiker is standing on the roadside.

“Where are you going?” asks the hitchhiker.

“Uh, where are YOU going?” ask the driver.

“Shouldn’t I be asking you?”

“Are there rules to hitchhiking?”

It turns out there are, but not very many, at least for this driver named Taylor (portrayed by James Kyson). Taylor doesn’t know it at this moment, but this hitchhiker is the first in a long series of people needing a lift somewhere, and he’s happy to take them as far as they need to go in a cross-country Forrest-Gump-like journey away from the house he once shared with his fiance.

When he runs low on money, Taylor gets a cheap lunch in a diner, where he meets a very friendly, very pretty manager who gives him a job and then takes him to her house. Taylor is exceedingly friendly to the strangers he picks up, and other strangers he meets along the way are exceedingly friendly to him in a world that seems absent any threat to safety or well-being.

know yetThe people Taylor gives rides to all have different stories, some of them on their way to something, others on their way away from something, and still others not really sure whether they’re coming or going. Taylor gives transportation and friendship to them all, and in return they seem to offer some kind of gradual healing of the ailment that keeps Taylor behind the wheel. In one excellently conceived montage, we see Taylor from in front of the vehicle, driving on long stretches of road, a different passenger riding shotgun in each clip, a different hand-lettered cardboard sign resting upon the dashboard and visible through the windshield. Beyond “Minneapolis or Bust!” sentiments, they seem to act almost as subtitles for the thoughts in Taylor’s head as he listens to each story, his foot always on the pedal.

One day, a woman named Autumn (played by Lisa Goldstein Kirsch) slides into the passenger seat. She’s going to the East Coast, but she soon makes Taylor’s mission her own, the two of them stopping for hitchhikers, Autumn’s eventual destination apparently not pressing. They share a tent at night, stopping at campgrounds or wherever they find a good spot, and Taylor sees something inspiring in Autumn’s free spirit. They gaze at waterfalls together, watch in wonder as eagles circle high above them, make up songs as their campfires fling embers into the night.

There’s nothing new about the get-behind-the-wheel-and-just-go conceit Don’t Know Yet employs, but I’m willing to overlook what should be a tired device because I admit I still find the idea to be laced with romance. When you spend your whole life on an island, as I have, the very thought of driving in a straight line for more than an hour is simply mind-blowing. Where I come from, you can drive all day and all night if you want to, but you’ll find yourself right back where you began, a possibility that seems to defeat the purpose of soul-searching adventurers like Taylor and the many movie characters who’ve done it before him.

I’m less forgiving of the plot element that introduces a free-spirited, pretty woman (for she is always pretty in these things) who shows our protagonist a new way of looking at everything. While Taylor’s long, aimless drive seems to be a metaphor for something, Autumn’s very life seems to be the reality the metaphor suggests. It’s kind of a neat idea but you can’t help wishing Taylor could find some other way to climb out of the darkness and into something meaningful and new.

Before Taylor meets Autumn, most of the people he picks up are just normal people needing a lift, people you might meet in any town at any place you might be likely to hang out. I really like this approach, and wish the film’s writer-director James Linehan had stuck with it, but with Autumn riding along, the passengers become less ordinary, and for fifteen to twenty minutes, the movie takes on the tone of a Charles Kurault anthology, a decision that feels horribly misguided.

My feelings through the first two thirds of the film were mixed: while part of me kept saying, “not this again,” another part couldn’t help responding in a positive way to these characters. Taylor is brooding and mostly quiet, but he’s a nice, friendly guy, the kind of guy others seem to have an easy time getting along with. His utterances are short and direct, but never brusque or dismissive. He’s just a guy who says what he has to say without wasting words or time. And he has a way of bringing out the the good, honest stuff in others. And if Autumn were your friend, you’d probably find a lot of her hipster new-ageism annoying at times, but you’d happily put up with it because the person spouting it is just so darned nice.

But there is a moment that forces you to look at Taylor’s journey differently, to rethink the judgments you’ve made about his wandering and his interactions with others, and although the moment feels kind of unreal, it’s not difficult to find yourself rooting for Taylor and hoping things work out well.

For this reason, despite a cheap, easy, post-resolution fadeout that had me thinking of twenty other movies and begging for the rolling of the credits, I really do like Don’t Know Yet and recommend it for good acting, well-conceived characters, and some admirable technical ideas.

7/10 (for good acting, likeable characters, and neat editing)

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Review: A Letter to Momo

A Letter to Momo (Momo e no Tegami) (2011)

Japanese subtitled version: Karen Miyama, Yuka, Toshiyuki Nishida, Koichi Yamadera.
English dubbed version: Amanda Pace, Stephanie Sheh, Fred Tatasciore, Dana Snyder.
Directed and written by Hiroyuki Okiura.

a letterTwelve-year-old Momo has recently moved with her mother Ikuko from a condo in Tokyo to a tiny, rural island in Japan, where Ikuko grew up and where both try to deal with the recent death of Momo’s father.

They are grieving, each in her own, private way. Ikuko busies herself with trying to find a new job, leaving Momo to spend her days doing homework and making friends with other children on the island. In private moments, Ikuko kneels at the household shrine, looking through photo albums. Momo’s alone-time is often spent staring at a piece of paper, blank except for the words, “Dear Momo,” the beginning of a letter written by her father’s hand shortly before his death at sea.

to momoMomo doesn’t tell anyone, but her last words to her father were shouted in anger, a horrible expression of childish disappointment that she can never take back. As she tries somehow to manage the guilt, grief, loneliness, pain, and adjustment of this new life, mysterious things happen in her house and neighborhood. Small personal belongings disappear. Orchards are raided for their fruit before it is ready for harvest. Snacks disappear from the kitchen with only trash left in their place. Momo sees strange shapes and movements out of the corners of her eye as Ikuko leaves each morning, but nothing’s there when she turns her head to get a better look.

A Letter to Momo is directed by Hiroyuki Okiura (director of Jin-Roh and animator of Akira and Metropolis) who sticks mostly to light pastels and gauzy lighting in a way that both highlights the quietude of Momo’s farming community and hearkens to the illustrations in our favorite childhood storybooks. Yet while the I was reminded more than once of the gentle color tones in such stories as William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, the detail and scope of Okiura’s animation can only be compared to the best of its Japanese tradition. I paused the film at least ten times just to absorb the beautiful framing and composition, which ultimately was more affecting than the story’s climax and resolution.

For while this movie is a visual experience I wanted to go through again, its pacing is at times maddening for a grown-up viewer like me. Certain plot revelations take forever to arrive, and most teenaged audiences will see them coming like a bullet train on Lipovitan. I will concede that certain sight gags and bodily stunts will probably amuse a less mature audience, and there are a couple of chase sequences that manage to find a good groove, but even they feel just a bit long despite some excellent timing.

It is unquestionably a movie for children, and older elementary-schoolers will probably enjoy it. While the parents who take them certainly won’t be bored, they will find a good portion of the film silly, and they should be advised that A Letter to Momo doesn’t shy away from the despair two young women confront as they stare down the reality of death. When one major character falls dangerously ill, Momo must deal with the possibility of yet another death, a weighty, sobering thought for viewers of any age, and I would caution parents to consider their children’s sensitivity to such themes before heading to the box office. Young people who can handle the serious issues could leave theaters with a new favorite.

Recommended for tweens and their grown-up, animation-loving adults. Cautiously recommended for children slightly younger.

7/10 (points taken away for excessive silliness but points given back for gorgeous animation)

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Review: A Picture of You

A Picture of You (2014)
Jo Mei, Andrew Pang, Teyonah Parris, Lucas Dixon, Jodi Long. Directed by J.P. Chan. Written by J.P. Chan and Jo Mei.

a pictureKyle and Jen have just lost their mother, and now they are in her rural Pennsylvania house to pack away her things. It says something that neither calls the other by name through the first half of the film, both opting for, “Hey,” which is also the extent of most of their early conversations. They clearly do not get along, and so the grieving process, stoked by the act of going through their mother’s belongings, is a lonely experience for both.

ofAdd to this the fact that one of the siblings took care of their ill mother in the time leading to her death, while the other stayed away out of fear, and the resentment and guilt Kyle and Jen must sift through are as layered as the belongings they pull out of drawers and off shelves.

It probably sounds like several films you’ve seen or novels you’ve read, especially when the siblings discover something surprising in their mother’s computer. But this isn’t a movie about uncovering the secrets of a family’s past, though the characters do find themselves chasing down information and details in an almost screwball sequence in the final act. What makes A Picture of You worth its eighty-two minutes is that it spends its time first keeping its characters kind of mysterious, and then slowly getting us to care about them and their relationship with each other. When two of Jen’s friends show up at the house to help with the cleanup, I expected them to be a distraction from the good Kyle-Jen stuff, but they actually help it along, bringing an element of humor that had mostly been absent.

youI laughed aloud multiple times, mostly at awkward interactions and silly-but-fitting conversations. There were a couple of moments where I thought, “Oh, no. Not this tired plot device,” but even this film’s direction down overly trodden movie territory is pretty enjoyable. I normally hate marijuana-as-bonding moments in movies, yet here I thought the scene was fun and effective.

The lighting in this film is noticeably well-done, and my appreciation for it is heightened by what feels like a conscious avoidance of soundtrack music (something I admit I am hypersensitive about). Moments are allowed to play out, quietly, paced by the thoughts of characters we are still getting to know, so we take time, while they think about what to say or do next, to notice the slant of sunlight dividing a room in half, or the pattern of shadows made by the forest canopy overhead. I was pleased to discover that the cinematographer is Andrew Reed, who did Quiet City and Cold Weather, two movies whose production I admire.

The acting is at times clunky and at times just right. Andrew Pang as Kyle does a good job of keeping us from seeing, for the first half of the movie, anything to connect with, and sometimes it works well and sometimes it feels like his character’s gestures and mannerisms are from some place far away and long ago. Jo Mei plays Jen as sulky, grouchy, and demanding. When she’s with just Kyle, it’s tough to like her, but in the company of friends or while jogging along around the lake, she seems much more like good people, adding an endearing, bossy physicality that gives the group of characters its center. Teyonah Parris and Lucas Dixon as Jen’s friends bring life to the grouchy siblings, reminding me of a young Rosario Dawson and younger Seth Rogen. Jodi Long, seen only in flashback as the deceased mother, is just beautiful, and viewers familiar only with her role on Sullivan & Son will be in for a little surprise.

I have a friend who has seen so many indie movies that it’s nearly impossible to please him when the indie aesthetic is applied. There are shaky handheld camera moments here that don’t seem to serve any meaningful purpose except to remind you that you’re seeing an indie picture, for example, and I can see how many of lighting decisions might be seen similarly. Such viewers may find not much to love in A Picture of You, but those who appreciate film characters behaving like real people will likely be impressed. Count me among the latter.


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Review: About Time

About Time (2013)
Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy. Written and Directed by Richard Curtis.

aboutTim Lake is just out of college and set to begin a career as a lawyer, moving to London from his family’s seaside home in Cornwall. His father has recently told him that the men in the family have the ability to travel in time, but only to places and times they’ve already been. An inordinately happy and peaceful man, Tim’s father strongly advises against using this ability to pursue money or fame. When Tim meets Mary at one of those dining-in-complete-darkness establishments, he falls in love and uses his skill to make things work (eventually) in his favor.

This is not at all the movie you think it is, with lots of traveling back and forth in time to make things work out okay–there is a kind of Butterfly Effect consideration, but that’s not where the real story lives. Instead, it imagines what you might use this skill for if things were already pretty much okay, or if the ability to move back in time weren’t enough to change some of the things you really want to change. Tim learns early that traveling in time won’t give him everything he wants, and ultimately certain people he cares about are saved by the love that motivates the main character. There is never really a cliffhanger moment of climax here; what we get instead is a nice, sweet movie about a man with a talent, and how the person wielding the talent is the critical element, not the talent itself. The greatest power of the atomic bomb was in its ability to convince us never to use it again. Tim’s time-travel isn’t exactly like that, for in his hands it is not at all a destructive force, but it makes you consider how good life is without it.

timeDomnhall Gleeson plays Tim, and you’ve seen him as Bill Weasley in the final two Harry Potter movies. He and Rachel McAdams as Mary are wonderfully cast, playing young twenty-somethings with energy and sweetness, with wit and flirtiness and all the things that make you root for a young couple. They slide nicely into what must be their early thirties as the film moves along, and they are as likeable a pair as I’ve seen in a while. If you, like I, have been somewhat put off by McAdams’s recent efforts, here is a movie for you. And if you don’t love Bill Nighy, who plays Tim’s father, by the time this film is over, there’s just no hope for you. Nighy is almost always the best thing about any movie he is in, and this film continues the streak. If you’ve been missing the character he plays in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, grab this movie because here he mostly is again.

There are some films that seem to evade major mainstream success, and then to find their audiences slowly, over several years, as people who need to see them stumble upon them somewhere, and as word spreads gradually by people who’ve been touched by them. I can see all kinds of people whose tastes normally line up close to mine not enjoying this movie as much as I do, at least for the moment. But with absolutely nothing to support my suspicion, I have a feeling About Time is one of those movies. I found myself making all kinds of resolutions about my life, and how I’m going to change the way I think about the daily experiences of my existence, every time I saw this, and I’ve now seen it three times. It is objectively quite a good film. However, I’m throwing objectivity out the window and saying that I just love this movie, and I think there’s a fair chance anyone reading this (with the exception of one friend who I think will merely find it unobjectionable) will love it too. This movie makes me want to believe all the things my mildly cynical heart has slowly begun to crystalize against; it loosens up all the scar tissue, all the adhesions where I’ve Scotch-taped some of the wounds together so they won’t let anything in or out, and makes me think this second half of my life might possibly be better than the first.


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Thirty Minute Catch-Up

lost issueI’m giving myself thirty minutes to write as much of the stuff as I’ve been wanting to write as possible. If it’s rife with errors as you read it, it’s because I haven’t had a chance to edit yet. I’m trying to just make as much use of these thirty minutes before bed time as I can.

Sometime in August, Ryan hit me up in GTalk to verify that my friends and I attended the premiere of LOST ten years ago at a then-recurring local event called Sunset on the Beach, where movies are screened right on the beach at Waikiki. It’s where every LOST season premiere also premiered and where every Hawaii Five-0 season premiere has premiered, and it’s one of the best things about living in this city. Yes, I told Ryan. He asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed about the experience for a special commemorative issue of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (our city’s only daily paper now), and I declined, but I did put the writer in touch with one friend who agreed to the interview. Then, a few weeks later, before the special commemorative section was published, the editor of the entertainment section emailed me and asked if I would do a LOST-themed crossword for the section. I was flattered and somewhat daunted, but I said of course I can do that.

My first draft was rejected for not being LOSTy enough. I had tried to hold to certain established practices for themed puzzles in the current crossword market, but what the editor was asking me for was basically to discard one of those practices and go all-out on themed clues, even if it meant slightly less elegant “fill” (that’s crossword constructor jargon for the rest of the puzzle, the non-themed words). So I tried again, and within a day, we had something the editor liked. And on September 21, my first published crossword puzzle made its appearance in the pages of a major local daily. The answers appeared the next day, and a few days later, the Star-Advertiser released the content from behind the paywall, and it’s all here, including my puzzle, if you’re interested in checking it out. I can’t say I’m super proud of the work (it’s kind of obviously, to a practiced eye, the work of a beginner), but I’m proud of my contribution, and it pleases me enormously to have published this work.

Last week, I taught a three-day, eight-hour-a-day training session for the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health division of the state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. It was a business writing course, and although I’m confident in my teaching ability and my knowledge of the subject, I had never taught anything like an eight-hour, one-subject day, and to do it for three consecutive days with the same group of participants was an insane concept. Of course, I said I could absolutely do it, and the days leading up to the training were insane. I had to put materials together and outline the course for a group of people I had never met. This went against everything I’ve known about good teaching, which is reponsive to the people in the seats, and it stressed me out something fierce. I slept just an hour Sunday night (the training went Monday through Wednesday) and three hours each the next two nights, and I was a mess, but the class went (mostly) quite well. The participants were great, and I feel very strongly that I could do this again, now that I have done it once. My course evaluations pretty much reflect my own feelings: I got high marks for teaching style and ability, but mediocre marks for relevant content. Strangely, I may have made a few friends there, too. We got along quite well.

I was then offered (on very very short notice) a one-day advanced grammar course for another state office, and I said I’d be happy to do it, but then the office requested the person who’d taught their course the last time, so I was let off the hook on that one. Still, I’m looking forward to other opportunities.

amandaA few weekends ago, I was finished with my paid writing and still sipping on my latte, so I flipped idly through the TV season offerings in the iTunes store. Always a dangerous situation, as I’m sure you know. Of course I bought something: Season One of HBO’s Silicon Valley, of which I will write a thoughtful review later. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. It’s funny and crude and fascinating, and as a bonus, the lone female character is one of my new favorites. The actress’s name is Amanda Crew, and she’s got kind of an Anna Kendrick thing going on. Just adorable. Season One is eight episodes, which feels like just the right length, and it’s been renewed for a second season. It’s from Mike Judge (the guy who did Beavis and Butthead AND King of the Hill) and I’ve now watched the season three times through, laughing aloud at least once in almost every episode. There is some really good writing here, and I love the subject matter.

Okay. Half an hour. Perhaps I’ll try again tomorrow night and get to the other stuff I’ve been meaning to get to.

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