Tuesday, December 15, 2009


lobsterIt was Mizue’s 20th birthday. To my surprise, she agreed to spend her birthday with me. I promised her to make a birthday dinner. I was a 19 year old college student, living in a tiny apartment. I was completely head over heels about her. She had something in her that just made men melt. And she decided that she’d spend time with me on her birthday!

I couldn’t figure her out though. A couple of days before her birthday, I saw her with another guy. I spotted them while I was driving my beat-up Chevy on the way home from my job. Her hand was in his back pocket as they walked. It really shook me. It’s all right. She isn’t even going out with you. She has every right to do whatever she likes. I told myself.

It wasn’t all right. It hurt, in the chest. A lot.

I started a paper delivery job in the morning. I wasn’t short on cash but wanted to work. Partly because I wanted to impress Mizue, to show her that I was not some spoiled rich kid. Come to think of it, everything I did around that time was mostly because of her.

It wasn’t a difficult job but I had to drive and had to get up at 5am and finish the delivery by 7am the latest. My route had about 100 houses. I was new at this and sometimes missed a couple of houses. Then I’d get angry phone calls from customers in the afternoon from time to time. That day, I finished my route without a hitch. I’m getting better at this, I thought to myself.

I had absolutely no idea at cooking. But I was determined to cook a grand birthday meal for Mizue. Something big and impressive. All I came up with at the end were a lobster dinner and clam chowder. I went down to a fish market to look for lobsters. There they were, in a huge glass tank with blue rubber bands on those murderous claws. I was totally clueless. I had never cooked nor ate lobsters nor actually had to kill anything for a meal before.
A fishmonger noticed my hesitation.

“Can I help you with something?”
“Uh, do you have any lobsters…”
“Well, you are looking at it.” He pointed at the tank.
“That are dead?”

The fishmonger was puzzled.

“Why would you want a dead lobster?”
“Never mind.” I was determined. “I’ll take two.”
“Which ones?”

I just pointed in a general direction. “Those two.” I was the judge, jury and the executioner, great.
The fishmonger netted out two gigantic lobsters from the tank. They were flailing their little legs about. They were definitely not dead.

“Big dinner, eh?” The fishmonger put them on the scale.
“Would it be enough for two?”

There was a pause. The fishmonger narrowed his eyes.

“Sir, do you know what you’re doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s 18 dollars a pound. These are at least 2 pounds each.”
“But it’s--“
“This can feed the family of four easy.”
“For two?”I nodded sheepishly.
“Do you have a large pot?” The fishmonger held up the lobsters in his hands. The realization dawned on me. No large pot. I felt my face getting red. “I’ll just take one.”

* * * *

“You saw me on the street? Why didn’t you say hello?” Mizue asked me.
Because I saw you with that guy, I thought, not uttered. Your hand was in his back pocket.
The water was boiling. I went back to the kitchen area. It was a struggle to put the lobster in the pot. But I closed my eyes and did it. The process felt like eternity. When I opened the lid again, there it was, like a sleeping puppy snuggled in a cardboard box that is too small for it. But instead, it was red and scary looking. Immobile.
I threw in a Campbell’s canned clam chowder in to a small pot.

“Do you need any help?” She asked.
“It’s your birthday. You shouldn’t lift a finger.”
“It smells good.”

So I presented the dinner in front of Mizue. By her expression, she was more than surprised. It pleased me.

“Did you make this from scratch?” She pointed at the chowder. Scratch? “You know, like, you made it all by yourself?” I felt my face getting red again. “It’s from a can.”

She tasted it and smiled sweetly, “It’s fine.” Then she looked at the huge dead crustacean. “So, how do we eat this?”

I didn’t have anything to cut open the lobster with. Not even a hammer in my pathetic excuse for a tool box that’s been gathering dust underneath a sink. I actually used a brick to hang that La Dolce Vita movie poster up when I moved in. I couldn’t possibly use the brick to crack open the red, now dead monster in front of a girl I wanted to impress. That would be too uncivilized.

The phone rang. It was one of the paper subscribers who didn’t receive the paper that morning. The man sounded mad and demanded his newspaper right away. I hung up the phone. I had no choice but to go. What a day it had been, I thought. I told Mizue that I was sorry but had to make the delivery that it will take about an hour (30 minutes each way because my delivery route was in another part of the town). I apologized again and asked her as if I was going off to a war.

“Can you wait for me, here?”

She looked back at the intact red monster, then looked at me straight in the eye and nodded. This made me the happiest man ever lived.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Herzog's Americana Continues...: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009) - Herzog
In a nutshell:
Eagles in Drag
Dinosaurs in Drag
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

Odd. Still undeniably Herzog. It's as if Herzog, hung over from some sleazy Hollywood party the night before and picked up a beer and vomit soaked local paper strewn over the floor and read a police blotter and thought it would make a great movie:

A man killed his mother with an antique sword then locked himself up in his San Diego home, holding his two pink flamingos as hostage. His fiancée said he wasn't the same since he came back from his white water rafting trip from Peru last year.

I imagined him ripping it out from the paper and phoning David Lynch while patting down his wild morning hair to make himself somewhat presentable. "David, Werner here. I got an idea for a movie you'll want to produce. It's got two pink flamingos named McCullum and McMurdoh, black jell-o and Grace Zabriskie!"
Michael Shannon's Brad is a total mental case with severe mommy issues. Obvious case in typecasting, with his I'm-gonna-keeel-you stare with buggy eyes, Shannon is more intense here than his schizophrenic vet in Friedkin's Bug. There are patches of brilliance throughout, provided by hammy supporting cast - Willem Dafoe as a veteran detective, Chloë Sevigny as Brad's concerned fiancée, Grace Zabriskie as nosy, hilariously weird mom, Udo Kier as a pretentious theater director and the great Brad Dourif as uncle Ted who owns an ostrich farm. It's Dourif who gets to spew crackling bigoted, racist one-liners. He also materializes Herzog's long time wet dream: midget riding the world's biggest chicken tied to a tree chasing the smallest donkey, going round and round, if only in conversation. There are couple of Tableau shots where actors collectively stop in their mid-action. They are as silly as the on camera slow-mo punch in Beau Travail but work well here as comic reliefs. My Son doesn't quite measure up to his greats but Herzog's experiments in portraying absurd, ultimately sad Americana continues.

Related posts:
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Encounters at the End of the World

Friday, December 11, 2009

Invisible Explosions: Exploding Girl

The Exploding Girl (2009) - Gray exploding Upon seeing above picture, against my better judgment I went to see Exploding Girl. You see, I don't really watch these kind of movies. It is directed by Bradley Rust Gray, an indie director better known as the husband/partner of more famed indie director So Young Kim (In Between Days, Treeless Mountain), shown as a part of BAM(Brooklyn Academy of Music) Cinemateque's Bradley/Kim mini retro(They've done only two features each), paired up with some of their favorite films. With its misleading, ironic title, The Exploding Girl (I hear it's a riff on the Cure's Exploding Boy) is a small movie in every sense. The film observes Ivy (Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia Kazan), a college student back home in New York City during the Summer break going through a little bit of heartbreak and little bit of romance. Garden State it's not- not much of narrative/dialog, no parent/child drama. It's not a statement on today's youth nor about womanhood and there is no grand acting to speak of. This economically done film belongs to Kazan- with a lot of tight close ups, we intimately get to observe Ivy, a rather introverted, unremarkable college girl. Perhaps it's her youthful looks and inquisitive eyes full of wonder or her vulnerability that appealed to me. Even though I didn't think the ending was that necessary, I liked this small film a lot. The quick Q & A session was intimate, as recognized Gray's cinematographer (Eric Lin) who's been shooting a lot of student films. Certainly my generation of filmmakers (in their late 20s to 30s) were influenced heavily by WKW. Gray confirmed that. Then he mentioned Cafe Lumiere, and how he wanted to emulate the look and feel of the film. With Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) and other minimalist Americanindie filmmakers (Kim, Kelly Reichardt), Gray has a sensitive, economical way of doing things which appeals to me greatly. Their films may lack the smooth stylings of their idols but they have this unkempt grittiness that is quite unique and endearing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ghanavision: Hand Painted Film Posters from Ghana

I stumbled upon these awesome posters while browsing for books:

These are painted on empty flour sacks to promote mobile VHS theater. They specialize mostly in 2nd-3rd rate Hollywood action/horror and HK martial arts movies.

Ghanavision at Amazon

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hankies: A Christmas Story

“Is there anything you want for Christmas, mom?” I ask.
“Oh, nothing.” She says.
“Come on, I’m sure there’s something you want.” I push on.
“Well… how about some handkerchiefs then?”
Handkerchiefs? After I hang up the phone, I realize asking mom to tell me what she wants was a big mistake. But I was out of ideas and it’s already the 15th of December. Where does one find women’s hankies? Are there differences in men’s and women’s? I am totally lost.

What do people do with their hankies anyway? I understand that they are environmentally sound, less waste. But do you really want to carry around snot stained scrap of cloth in your pocket? It sounds rather unsanitary. Well, that’s what mom wants.

I frantically ask people around me where to find women’s hankies. They are just as clueless as I am. A handkerchief in this day and age sounds as antiquated as a phonograph.
At my co-worker’s suggestion, I check the Craig’s List online. To my surprise, I find a handkerchief seller’s post with pictures in no time. Thank you technology. Colorful hankies. The seller is located in the Upper West Side. I can pick them up around this time tomorrow at my lunch hour. I reply to the post promptly, requesting immediate response since the time is ticking away.

My phone rings at almost ten at night. His name is Lee, Mr. Handkerchiefs from the Craig’s List.
“I have lots and lots of handkerchiefs. What kind of handkerchiefs are you looking for?” asks Lee in a gravelly voice.
I explain that they are for my mother as Christmas gifts.
“Does your mother like colorful stuff? Is she flamboyant?”
Flamboyant? My mother?
I could hear him jotting down, NOT, FLAM-BOY-ANT.
I tell him that I’ll need something simple and conservative. We reconfirm each other’s phone number. He gives me directions to his apartment.
“Who was that?” My wife asks me.
I tell her about Mr. Handkerchiefs.
“What, some old guy is selling women’s handkerchiefs out of his apartment? And you are going up there?”
“I guess.” I say sheepishly.
“You know how it sounds right? It sounds like the beginning of a crappy horror movie. He could be a serial killer!”
“Honey, I think I can take care of myself.” I protest.
“He is luring young men like you with colorful hankies. You’re gonna end up in a snuff film. You’re not going up there!”
She’s half joking. I love it when she gets all maternal though. We compromise: I won’t go into his apartment. I’ll meet him outside his building. She makes me promise.

During my lunch hour, I go up to Seventy Fifth. I usually have no reason to go up to the Upper West Side. That’s where the rich people live. And it’s cold. The sky looks grey and menacing today. My heart beats a little faster as I approach the building on Seventy Fifth West. I can’t help it.
Lee meets me downstairs. He seems like a nice old grandpa. He is wearing a Braves sweatshirt and has fuzzy tufts of white hair on each side of his temples. My fears melt away. Then he invites me in.
“They are in the hallway. I brought them down.” He says.
I hesitate. My heart starts to beat again rapidly. My wife’s worried face and her words ring in my head.
“Come on in, it looks like it’s gonna come down any minute.“ He opens the door for me while looking up at the sky.
I will go in to the building but won’t go into his apartment. I tell myself. Life is series of compromises.
He has several plastic bags filled with old linens. It’s like a library of hankies if there was one. After exchanging some pleasantries, he shows me some of the gift boxes he made in advance. They are perfectly nice. I choose simple white ones with some embroidered flowers on them. He says he picked them up from Hungary long time ago. Some hobby this old Lee has.
I pay him and thank him. All went well, I think to myself. I turn to leave.
“Do you know someone who fishes?” Lee asks
“I can’t say I do.” I reach out for the door.
“Because I have a perfect gift for a fisherman. You can say no, but here…" He bends down to get to his small blue suitcase at his feet.
“It’s a fishing knife.” He continues. My heart skips a beat.
“No, no thanks.”
“Wait, it’s a perfect thing for fishing. It’s double serrated and has a measuring markings on the handle… you can fillet the ones you just caught and measured right away…” He is having a hard time with the zipper on the suitcase which is possibly filled with full of knives you can fillet something with.
I thank him profusely and run out the door. I don’t stop running until I reach the train station. Then I notice big white flakes of snow falling: the first snow of the season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Living God: The Sun

Solntse/The Sun (2005) - Sokurov
Emperor Hirohito, who was responsible for WWII and unimaginable atrocities around Asia under Japanese Occupation gets a slight, unsatisfactory treatment from Alexandre Sokurov as a part of his tetralogy(Moloch/Hitler, Taurus/Stalin and Faust on the way). It takes place in the last couple of days before his infamous speech that broadcast all over Japan denouncing his divinity as Japan surrenders unconditionally to Allied Forces, thus effectively ending WWII.

Hirohito(Issey Ogata), is seen in his hideout bunker/biology lab, going through daily routine that is set up for him by his servants. A marine biologist by profession and fan of Darwin, he admires a hermit crab for its perfection, a miracle of nature. And we get to see Sokurov observe and dissect him for an hour and forty minutes. With his fish mouth and facial twitch, Ogata's Hirohito is not an attractive specimen, far from perfect. Never sentimental nor dramatic, the Sun mostly concentrates the encounter btwn the emperor and Gen. MacArthur. Their exchanges are short but pointed and funny. "How do you feel being a living god?" Asks the Supreme Commander. Hirohito replies, "It's not easy being an emperor." The emperor is a well educated, multilingual, intelligent man who has his own opinions on the war strategies and even acknowledges the psychological nationalistic fervor of his soldiers alone wasn't enough against well equipped, overpowering Americans. There are constant funny bits about vulgar Americans calling him Charlie(Chaplin) because of his short stature, his top hat and mustache, and MacArthur treating him like a child(in a sense he is). MacArthur even sends a case of Hersh's almond chocolate bars as a gift.

There are some strange CG scenes as the emperor imagines Tokyo getting bombed by flying fishes. The sound design - constant bird chirping, radio wave noise, is very unnerving yet doesn't quite fit the solemness of the film.

The Sun does not trivialize its subject nor it digs deeper into the infamous man's innerlife. It's all very surface-y and coldly observed. I mean, I didn't expected it to be like the super dramatic Last Emperor or anything, knowing that it's a Sokurov movie. It has more common with Last Days as a (sort of) biographical film. Then again, it's a historical figure who's responsible for millions of deaths and atrocities and not some musician who offed himself. A lot more needs to be said about the man and Sokurov didn't deliver.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Amber Ale Beef Stew over Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds lean beef or lamb chunks, cut in smaller pieces
2 medium onions diced
1/2 cup peeled fingerling carrots
1/4 cup frozen green peas
1 cup button mushroom stemmed and cut in quaters
4-5 cloves garlic sliced
2 bay leaves
1 bunch parsley chopped
2 cups beef stock
1 cup amber ale or stout (I used a Chocolate Stout once and it was great!)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp sugar
olive oil
salt and pepper

Add some olive oil and butter in a large heavy pot with lid. Brown meat on both sides while sprinkling salt, pepper and flour in high heat. Set aside, juice and all. In the same pot, add onions, garlic, carrots, saute for 3-4 minutes. Put back the meat. Add bay leaves and beef stock, bring it to a boil. Add beer. Boil 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to low and put cover on. Cook for 1 hour. Add peas and mushroom. Cook another hour. The liquid should be significantly reduced and meat be melt-in-your-mouth tender. Garnish with parsley.

Mashed Potatoes:

2 large potatoes peeled cut in quarters
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp milk
salt and pepper

Boil potatoes and garlic 10-15 minutes or until cooked. Drain, mash potatoes and garlic while adding butter, milk, salt and pepper.

Put some mashed potatoes in a bowl and top it with the beer stew. Feeds 3 hungry men or 4-5 normal people.

Teen Amour Fou: I'm Gonna Explode

Voy a Explotar/I'm Gonna Explode (2008) - Naranjo
 photo 2cac4b2d-d453-4d48-be8d-ac1074d8cf9e_zps40467471.jpg
It starts with Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago), an upper class trouble kid getting expelled from a private catholic school by plotting murderous rampage in his note book. The film is narrated by another troubled soul Maru (Maria Deschamps), and they hook up after her school talent show where Roman performs his "See you in hell" routine. They are match made in heaven. They decide to hide out on the roof of Roman's big mansion (his dad is a sleazy congressman) while grown-ups scramble around to find them.

The natural soft look with crushed black and handheld camera work are just gorgeous. Guanajuato an affluent town in Acapulco backdrop is also beautiful. The two young leads are great, especially Deschamps, with her frizzy hair and mischievous baby face. Their daily routine on the rooftop is playful and funny. Roman keeps trying to have sex with Maru to no avail. These young teens interactions are very natural and endearing. But you feel the inevitable is approaching. Their days in paradise isn't gonna last long.

If I'm Gonna Explode is saying anything, it's the reflection on the blank generation. Roman and Maru get bored. It's just like Simpson's episode where Bart tries to imagine Itchy and Scratchy show in his head all by himself after the show gets canceled- "Nothing can't beat the imagination of a 10 year old boy", Bart tells himself while the mouse & cat ldling, looking at the watch and each other and shrugging their shoulders in his mind. The bigger problem with I'm Gonna Explode is in Naranjo's writing. Once stuck in the mold of its predecessors, namely French New Wave, it has to end predictably, hence wasting all the youthful energy and charm of its characters it fed off of. The other teen Amour Fou this year, Love Exposure, albeit directed by a less classically trained director, Sion Sono (Naranjo went to AFI, Sono was an underground poet), works a lot better in many different levels. Still, clocking at mere 105 minutes, the film captures what it feels to be young and an outcast perceptively. The film is fresh and Deschamps is adorable.