Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In which I rate movies recently watched on flights across the Pacific

Regular readers of this blog already know that I have different standards for movies seen on planes versus those seen in the movie theater or at home via DVD or streaming. The goal is to find that perfect mindless entertainment mean. I don't want to cry on planes, nor do I want my intelligence to be (totally) insulted. I just want something that will keep me pleasantly occupied.

Following is a relative scale from best to worst of the seven movies I watched flying LAX-Tokyo and back.

Hands down best: Hanna: Once I accepted the Chemical Brothers soundtrack and occasional slick cuts and edits, really liked this one. Great leading character, pretty good script, good actresses. Watch it! Bonus: for people who like stories about teen girls shooting arrows and fighting the system, this is a way to get your fix without (potentially) getting your heart broken. Bad accent alert: Cate Blanchett's American accent is grating, but her character's evil so I guess grating American accent is appropriate.

Thor: Huh. Actually not bad, despite presence of Natalie Portman. Certainly better than Black Swan. Best parts were in Thor's world. Some silliness/overeagerness, sure, but that's to be expected from comic superheroes, isn't it?

Source Code: Better than my half-ass preview gave it credit for. Not the most brilliant sci-fi story ever (I immediately knew who the bad guy was), but not bad. There's slightly more there than a constantly blowing up train and a pretty brunette. Bonus: Nice link between the early on Quantum Leap "that's not my face in the mirror" moment and Scott Bakula as the voice of the father. My message to Duncan Jones: more like Moon, please. You're better than this material and the slick Hollywood style.

Paul (TIE): Pretty much exactly what I expected from the trailer. I love Simon Pegg so much (YOU MUST WATCH SPACED) and he and Nick Frost are usually so dynamite together, but despite all the usual nods to sci-fi nerd-dom, there's little magic here. It is because Edgar Wright didn't direct?

Sucker Punch (TIE): Better than I expected from the billboards. I'm always down for a girls kick ass movie. Love Jena Malone. Does it help that the hypersexualized and, yes, super-sexy outfits are (spoiler alert) from a double-fantasy world created by the main character as escape from the sexual and physical abuse suffered at the hands of her stepfather and the mental institution to which he commits her? Um...still problematic. Also: sexy. But certainly worth 90 minutes of my time on a plane. Bad accent alert: Carla Gugino's Russian accent, offset by sexy outfits. Bonus: you don't miss much if you nod off during a fight scene.

City of Ember: Watched this for Saoirse Ronan after having liked Hanna so much. Might have liked this one if I was 8 years old. Refreshing to see a girl and a boy work together in a movie and not have romantic overtones, although (spoiler alert) the ending does seem to posit them as the Adam and Eve of a new Paradise. No animosity towards the movie, just not interested.

Absolute worst of this trip: Battle Los Angeles: Should have been named Battle Santa Monica. And really, who wants to save Santa Monica from the aliens? Basically a 2-hour promotional video for the Marines. Also: boring. Couldn't help feeling like the aliens the military (spoiler alert) abandoned the city to and then 20 minutes later set off to take it back from were not the ones from the sky but the ones Arizona is building fences against.

For those of you interested in the order in which I watched these:
LAX-NRT: First name theme: Hanna, Paul, Thor
NRT-LAX: sci-fi/action theme: City of Ember, Source Code, Sucker Punch, Battle LA

Meta comment: This post should receive the most colons (:) in one post award.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

BODY-IN-THE-WORLD: Tokyo Edition

In response to a request for a photo from KitsuneButoh, I decided to spend part of my last weekend in Japan engaging with her BODY-IN-THE-WORLD/Project 3-6-5. Lots more to say about bodies in Tokyo, but for now I'll just share the photos.

In Tokyo, everyone is constantly negotiating arrows, signs, and paths that tell you where and how to go with organic, improvisatory moves.

Ueno Park: tree knobs and fists.

Tree in Yoyogi Park - the place in Tokyo where anything goes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Blog from the vault: Carmageddon: Better Than Battle LA

On the weekend of July 15-17, the 405 freeway was closed between the 10 and the 101. Locals dubbed it "Carmageddon." It made national news. It was awesome. People were forced to interrupt their routines, which in the Los Angeles sprawl means driving. A lot. But for one weekend, the streets were empty. People explored their own neighborhoods. Used alternate transportation. Were witty and creative.

Can't wait for the sequel!

Osaka-Tokyo-Yokohama-Tokyo: What a Long, Strange Day it's Been

The day began with an inspiring talk by Rustom Bharucha in which he, citing Artaud ("We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all."), took a stand against the perpetuation of normalcy and called for the embracing of crisis as a productive catalyst.

On the train back to Tokyo, saw bushes trimmed to look like cranes in a community garden, a couple on a jet ski under a bridge kissing, and this cool building in Nagoya:

Once in Tokyo had to rush home to drop off my bag and then rush to Yokohama to see a talk by Eiko Otake on Eiko & Koma's Retrospective Project. On the way, an onigiri (rice ball wrapped in nori) in my bag got perfectly smooshed into the shape of a heart:

After the talk at the Shin Minatomura gallery (same location as the Wodiczko projections), we drank beer at the gallery bar. Eventually someone hauled out the human-powered kakigori (flaked ice dessert with flavored syrup) machine.

Yoshito Ohno was on hand for story telling (here with Eiko and her mother).

The night could only end at an izakaya (traditional bar) in Yokohama.

Then came the mad dash to make it back to Tokyo before the last train. I made it all the way to Shinjuku, but missed the last subway that takes me the final two stops home. So I joined the taxi queue with all the other late night revelers - those that didn't decide to sleep in the station, or at an internet cafe (they have couches and showers), or at a 24-hour spa, that is. Got home a little poorer but no worse for the wear.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


If Kyoto is a wonderland of temples, Osaka exemplifies the urban. Why bother with Osaka Castle when you can troll through the boulevards and alleys around the ultra-modern Osaka and Umeda train stations, and shoot up 140 meters straight up in the Sky Umeda building?

QUIZ: Who Said That? Osaka Edition

A. Trainees at an Osaka okonomiyake restaurant
B. Porpoises at the Osaka Aquarium
C. Staff at my Osaka hostel
D. The Android in a play at Osaka University

First person to post the right answer gets a souvenir from Osaka!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011


The Japanese love their fireworks (the kanji for hanabi - 花火 - are  flower and fire). There was a big fireworks show tonight on the Yodogawa River in Osaka. They were pretty spectacular and people oohed and aahed their appreciation, even clapping and exclaiming "sugoi, ne!" ("so cool!") at the most amazing ones.

In addition to multicolor, sparkling, and cascading shapes, there were planets, watermelon, smiley faces, infinity symbols...you name it. Ok, there weren't any dragons, but I think Gandalf would have approved nonetheless.

Please enjoy these bunnies and kitties!

Miscellanous Japan

Hamarikyu Garden, a Tokugawa era park on Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Tower as seen from Roppongi Hills

Obon Festival at Tsujiki Temple: Let's all do the Bon Odori!You can dress up in your best traditional clothing...
or you can dress up as your favorite character

Playing with my new Lomo app at the Yokohama Triennial is fun!

Krzyszof Wodiczko: Survival Projection 2011

Last night I attended the world premiere of Krzyszof Wodiczko's Survival Projection 2011 in Yokohama. The project combines his earlier War Veteran Vehicles with testimony from survivors of the Tohoku tsunami on March 11. 

The words and voices of American, US, and Polish veterans and their loved ones are projected from a military jeep onto the side of a building on the Shinko Pier. When paired with the voices of the tsunami survivors, the projections ask the viewers to question what it means to survive, and what it means to take responsibility.

The voices and stories loop from English to Polish to English again, and finally to Japanese.  (translations were provided) The last Japanese voice we hear questions the role of artists (I've transcribed the English translation directly):

..."What will you do?", I want ask to all the so-called artists in Japan. I think that we cannot rely upon them with much hope. What have they been doing? Them who have been called "artists"...artists who have been said "cuttin-edge" for these 10 years or 20 years? I think the gap between this reality and their activities is now extremely deep. Then I strongly want to ask them "what will you do?" now...

Indeed, what we will as artists do now?

Here are excerpts from the other projections (sorry for the poor video quality)

American vets

War goes on. You don't have to go to war, war goes on every day and every day I lose it.

UK vets

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Musings on Muse

When I saw Muse's "Uprising" on the Grammys earlier this year, I saw a slick portrayal of revolution in the streets performed by professional dancers and a British band in sequins, backed by an expensive and flashy video/light show. In that context, I found the waving of black flags to be quite cynical. (And ok, news of Matt Bellamy fathering Kate Hudson's baby might have also biased my opinion.)

My impression of that performance was first challenged by this video from the self-titled Spanish Revolution this spring. It was fascinating to see a people's movement embrace the song wholeheartedly (along with V for Vendetta masks and Monty Python!):

Then I had to further challenge my impression of the band when they were added to the LA Rising bill and I heard Tom Morello and Tim C both raving about Muse. The festival was explicitly political, and if members of the only other band that ever mattered think I should listen to Muse, I gotta give them another try.

One problem is that I associate the band with the Twilight movie franchise - they've had a song on all the soundtracks so far.

At the festival - in the historic LA Memorial Coliseum - the band certainly did not disappoint. Their stadium show was full of bombast, lasers, and lights; covering the whole stage; even nods to their influences (AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and more). It was everything a stadium show should be, and they make a lot of righteous noise for a trio, to boot.

And then when you get into the words behind their 21st century anthemic prog sounds, there actually is some call to action there:

From "Uprising":
Rise up and take the power back
It's time the fat cats had a heart attack
You know that their time is coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

Amid the black flags flying for LA Rising, this song had a whole different impact than on the Grammys.

They closed their set with "Knights of Cyndonia" (yes, that's really the name of the song. now you see why I called them prog):
No one's going to take me alive
Time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

Are Muse the next Rage? No. Did they put on a kick-ass show of rock anthems that left me impressed? Yes. Do they have the power to make audiences move their bodies to the sounds of revolution? Yes.

Now if they could only put some subliminal messages in their next Twilight soundtrack offering to make all those Twihards stop fighting over Edward and Jacob and turn their attention instead to the real fights at hand. Or at the very least make them question the saga's heterosexism and ultimate championing of the nuclear family. Sigh. If any band could do it, it just might be Muse.

All is Not Lost

Evidently turquoise unitards can solve anything. That, and love.

At least that's what the new OK Go video with the dance company Pilobolus suggests.

Seems like there's something to be written here about bodies dissolving into text. In the meantime, it's fun to watch.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

On Arriving in Japan and the US Debt Crisis

As I cruised over the Pacific enjoying movie after mind-numbing movie, Congress passed a measure to raise the debt ceiling that by all accounts (or at least by Democracy Now and Paul Krugman) sucks. Not only will the deal likely prolong the current recession - primarily hurting the working class and middle class, and positively screwing the already unemployed - it essentially allows the wealthy to stay that way, requiring nothing new of them in the way of taxes, and likely profiting them. Those politicians and pundits on the right who called for cuts with no new revenues engaged in selfish and mean-spirited bullying, asking others to sacrifice while not being willing to give slightly more from their already overflowing, deep pockets.

When I landed in Japan, less than five months after the 3/11/11 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant crisis, I couldn't have been greeted by a more different picture. Signs everywhere in the airport and train stations call for measures to save energy, which in the sweltering summer months in Japan means sacrificing on air conditioning. (This may not seem like a big deal unless you've been in Japan in the summer.) An article in the English-language Japan Times today talked about how the government's request of both manufacturing and private home to reduce energy use by 15% this summer is seeing 50% success rates, achieved in part by auto factories temporarily changing their work schedules to try and balance energy use out over the week. And this from an industry that today posted 99% (Toyota) and 90% (Honda) drops in revenues last quarter due to shutdowns after 3/11.

This is not to say that everything is rosy in Japan (see this recent NY Times article on how Japanese citizens are taking their own readings of radioactivity because local and national governments are saying everything's fine, despite new findings of radiation in the food supply). But it is striking to see industry and individuals all taking part in reducing energy consumption here, while at the same time in the US those who could actually make a difference - the rich - threaten to take down the entire economy before they'd agree to pay their fair share.


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