Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Art of Remembering

Sans Soleil/Sunless (1983) - Marker
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Sublime. Marker's musings on impermanence of human existence and memories narrated by a female narrator are both poetic and thoughtful. The 80s Japan takes the center stage as an alien world where a thousand years of time criss-crossing in every street corner, Kilgore Trout style. While Godard tries to cram a lot of the same ideas in his films but never manages successfully to fully articulate them, Marker does it so effortlessly here. Beautiful and wise beyond anything I've seen or read. Easily one of my new favorites of all time if not the favorite. Perhaps I should check out some Jonas Mekas?

*Chris Marker passed on at age 91, July 30th, 2012. R.I.P.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Foreign Lands

Lonely Swallows (2011) - Tsumura, Nakamura
I always gravitate toward documentaries that feature young people regardless of how they are made (in this case, poorly from a technical standpoint). With Gu Su-yeon's Hard Romanticker, this year's Japan Cuts highlights some of the trials and tribulations of the ethnic minorities in a very homogenous society. Lonely Swallows, made by Kimihiro Tsumura, a college professor with the help of Mayu Nakamura, chronicles 5 young Brazilian-Japanese who are the children of migrant workers, living in the city of Hamamatsu, from 2007 to 2010. Their parents came to Japan in the 90s for the prospects of jobs, mostly working in factories. These children are born in Japan, but they are foreigners, they are not subjected to Japanese compulsory education system. They don't continue their study after Junior High and start working in factories. Some resent their parents and join the gang, some form a b-boy group and others try very hard to do right under very difficult circumstances. Then the recession hits Japan in 2008. Foreign workers were the first to be laid off. Many families had no choice but to leave Japan to go back to Brazil. For the children who are teens now and was born and grew up in Japan, this is an earth-shattering, life changing experience.

The filmmakers unevenly follow their journey, some turn out good, some don't. It's heartbreaking, devastating and hopeful. The doc doesn't concentrate on the unfairness of the system. Rather it concentrates on these individuals and it's a welcoming move. It shows the resilience of these young people. One can immediately think of Michael Apted's Up Series. I really hope the filmmakers revisit these young people periodically and see how they are doing. Lonely Swallows is a small film that will probably never see the light other than in some festivals. But I'm very glad I got to see it at this year's Japan Cuts.

Lonely Swallows plays on July 28th, 5pm at Japan Society. For tickets and more information, please visit Japan Cuts website.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Alison Klayman Interview

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With her documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry getting a limited release in North America on Friday July 27th, I sat down with Alison Klayman, the first time director and the winner of Special Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

First of all, congratulations on winning the Special Jury Prize at this year's Sundance.

Yeah, it was so exciting and I feel like with this movie, it's just a constant state of arrival because everything since has continued to be exciting and that next week (the week of the film's release) is the real thing, you know? I keep telling myself, hasn't it already happened with Sundance? Human Rights Watch (Film Festival) also was a big deal, but next week is I guess the real thing, as everyone says.

So what's the situation right now with Ai Weiwei? The last time I checked his twitter, there were some phony tax evasion charges and his team suing the Beijing tax authority and there was finally a court date. Then there are the pornography and bigamy charges?

He did have a hearing in the tax court. He had paid the half of the total fines plus back taxes in order to bring this challenge (against tax evasion charges). But it was rejected. Then he filed a lawsuit against Beijing Tax authority. That was a pretty ballsy move! The amazing thing was couple of month ago, the court decided to hear the case, which was already much more than anybody expected. But it also means that we already know that the outcome will be, which is of course, what the authorities would desire. The hearing in court was in the same week as June 22nd (the anniversary of his release from solitary confinement in 2011). But Weiwei and many others were not allowed to go and were prevented from congregating outside the court, in fact many bus routes were rerouted to not to go near the court house.

According to his lawyer and people who were present said that the court wasn't even listening to any of their concerns and hurriedly marching toward the inevitable conclusion. The court has some time until August to render the decision on the case. As far as I know, I checked the tweets this morning, there were no decisions made.

When June 22nd came, they gave him a piece of paper that said, "Your bail conditions are lifted," but they did not give him his passport back and they said, "we'd like you not to travel because there are many ongoing investigations that you are subjected to including pornography and bigamy." I think what's sad about all this is that essentially it's a confirmation that his situation has not improved from the day he was released to now.

We were hoping that maybe on June 22nd, something would be different but I think it's even worse to be on the other side of that date because there is no more solid date to pin hope on or to say that after that day, something might be different. His conditions has been a stasis for over a year now.

I heard that his lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan is missing?

He was missing at one point. He was held essentially. He is still tweeting about it now. What happened was they (the public security officials) went and questioned him the entire day of that tax hearing where the lawsuit was heard in court and the next morning they put him on a plane back to his home town. Actually Lu is not his lawyer representing his tax case. His license was revoked around the time they demolished Weiwei's studio. Weiwei tweeted and corrected all journalist that Lu is not his lawyer representing his case but a legal consultant. Pu Zhiquiang, who represented Tan Zuoren (Chengdu earthquake activist), is the lawyer of the current case.

How did the project start? How did you get involved with it?

I always end up telling this story for the questions regarding how it all started because the answers boil down to this one lucky happenstance. I went to China in 2006 and didn't know who I really was. I wish could say I knew who I wanted to be but I didn't. There was always a vague notion that I wanted to do documentary work and do journalism. So 2008, I was still there, about to get an accreditation for journalism and bought my first camera during my Olympics job during the summer. My roommate was working on an exhibition of Ai Weiwei's photographs from the 80s when he lived in New York. So my first exposure to Ai Weiwei was through these amazing photographs. There were thousands and thousands of them. I wouldn't claim to know his work back then. I knew that he was pretty outspoken about the Olympics. Then my roommate mentioned that they would love to have videos to go with the exhibition and asked me to do it. Of course, I said yes. So I went in and Ai Weiwei came in to his office and I started filming him right away. Everything was sort of set up for me already. So thankfully, it was kind of a normal routine for everyone that 'Alison is going to be there, filming Ai Weiwei' all the time.

Things you see about his personal life in the film is something that I had to push for, but there were so much going on with his work life, so I just felt like it was more important to be 'that fly on the wall', capturing his art being made, his activism, him corresponding with his tweeter fans and dealing with curators. This kind of documentary was what I aspired to do but since I've never done it before, I just learned by doing it as I went along.

Even before doing this documentary, working on a short for the gallery, within a couple of weeks following Ai Weiwei, I realized that people can just watch him for 90 minutes easily. And there were still so much I wanted to know.

How much footage are we talking about?

200- 300 hours worth is what I brought back. Definitely brought back at least 200 tapes and had fair amount of additional footage over the years that I got from Weiwei including his films, texts and not to mention photos. He puts everything online, so I dedicated a lot of post production time on getting his blog photos, back searching his tweeter (which doesn't go back too far). There was a photo site he was using for his tweeter, so we were able to find some tweeter photos from 2009 when he was setting up the Munich show. There was a whole segment on tweeter photos that didn't end up in the film but the hospital photos did end up going in. The thing is, that there are so much materials that you can cull from, but I thought it would be better to have the timeline of his activities and his persona on tweeter intersecting with what was shown in the film, since he uses social media to communicate with outside world.

There are some hairy situations in the film. What was your working condition like being close to Ai Weiwei? Did you ever feel that you were in physical danger?

The only times that I actually ran into problems were on those trips to Chengdu. When we were going through the process- him going to the police stations, courthouses and we were following him with the cameras and you see the camera cutting out. It was because someone pulled me aside. When fights broke out, it was a little more intense. The cop with the bright green shirt you see in the film came to the van I was in and that's why you see some shots are from the van and the other one is from Zhao Zhao (Ai's personal videographer)'s camera as he was being attacked. The cop came to the van and grab the camera and was yelling at me and that time I pretended I didn't speak Chinese. Eventually he took the tape and closed the door on me. The main tactic that Weiwei and his team taught me in filming those scenarios was to constantly change the tapes, so that I did get the tapes confiscated or I was forced to delete something, they were usually fresh tapes. Obviously I had enough tapes so that's why it's in the film. Those moments are nerve-wracking in general. But I wasn't particularly scared that something was going to happen to me. I was definitely scared that something would happen to the people I was with who were Chinese citizens, because they ran much greater risks than an American accredited journalist.

But then again, I hear situation isn't that great right now for journalists. It had a better atmosphere in 2010 than it does now.

Ai Weiwei is getting a lot of support from public for his fight for the freedom of expression. He is very popular among young people. And I can't think of any subversive artist in the US who gets that kind of popularity and support. Why do you think that is?

Weiwei is an international figure but he is also very much a Chinese figure whose work is connected to Chinese context politically, which is very different than the US. But we are not immune to these problems either- we too always have to be aware of the freedom of expression being trampled on, of the rule of law or transparency. They are important in both places but the contexts are very different. I'm pretty sure that there are many people who are fighting the good fight in the US. But when I was thinking about who our Ai Weiwei would be, I actually thought about Stephen Colbert. Everything he does with super PAC is brilliant because I think what that's doing is a very humorous and loud way to put a spotlight on transparency or the lack thereof. People are more aware of the super PAC than before because of him. He has a lot of audiences and most of them are young people. He even got people to give him money for this! Part of that is because it's fun and part of it is that it's a vote for the voice that's basically saying 'I'm tired of this bullshit!' Colbert is not an artist but in our context, I thought about comedians rather than someone from the fine art world.

But I didn't make the film just to point out the large differences between China and the US. When making the film, my point was not to say, 'look at the problems over there', but 'look at someone using courage and creativity to deal with these problems'. And I really think that's how the audience has been taking it.

What's next for you? Are you going to continue documenting this ongoing saga of Ai Weiwei?

I can't imagine my life not keeping up to speed with what's going on with him. Next few months I'll definitely try hard to bring the movie out, because we've been getting so much interests in so many different places around the world and I think it is really important. But I have been thinking very much about doing other things. In the vein of Ai Weiwei, I want to do something new and I do want to do more documentaries and keep myself busy creatively. But since I have a lot to live up to, I would be choosing the subject very cautiously. (laughs) I'm also thinking about shorts and series and screenplays but I don't think I'll have time to start anything new for another few months.

And what a way to start a career!

I guess, yeah. All by the dumb luck and crazy set of circumstances.

And hard work, I'm sure.

I feel very fortunate to be able to tell his story and to have that time with him for sure. My current dream right now is the day when the movie screens somewhere and afterward, Weiwei comes out to do the Q & A. We were hoping that it would have been possible after June 22nd. But everything is up in the air right now.

At least a video chat with him would be great.

We are looking into what would be possible right now. It should be really cool!

*Update: As expected, Chinese court rejected Ai Weiwei's tax evasion countersuit on July 20th. Ai and his supporters were barred from attending the hearing.

Ai Weiwei is being released by IFC Films and opens on July 27th. Klayman will be on hand to introduce the film this weekend at IFC Center in NYC. For tickets and more information, please visit IFC CENTER website

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hip-hop Therapy

Roadside Fugitive SR (2012) - Irie
Yu Irie (8000 Miles, 8000 Miles 2 and Ringing in Their Ears) returns to this year's Japan Cuts with Roadside Fugitive SR, the third installment of his sleeper hit debut, 8000 Miles. The lovable losers from Saitama- Ikku (Ryusuke Komakine) and Tom (Shingo Mizusawa), are back, still dreaming of that big break at hip-hop stardom.

But the film starts with Mighty, aka Bro(ccoli) (Eita Okuno), the third member of Shogung last seen in the first film, leaving for Tokyo with a more promising rap group, Gokuakucho. Now it's been two years, with a chubby, nagging girlfriend Kazumi in tow, his stint as a construction worker by day and an errand boy for Gokuakucho by night ain't exactly a career he had in mind.

He gets a chance to prove himself at a local freestyle MC battle and is promised a spot on stage with the rest of the group if he made to the finals. Mighty proves his dexterity in rhyming and destroys his opponents with his rapid verbal assault one by one. But to his dismay, when he actually makes it to the final, he is told to take a dive, because his opponent is a wealthy friend of Gokuakucho. Humiliated by the defeat and non-stop abuse, Mighty reaches the boiling point and beats up one of the group members and runs away to Tochi-Gi, a suburb of Tokyo. There he gets involved with a seedy local gang of car thieves and human traffickers.

Ikku and Tom's path crosses with Mighty's in Tochi-Gi, as Shogung auditions for the outdoor festival, arranged by Mighty's boss Norio. After the near disastrous audition, Shogung and the local band Supreme Shogun (members consists of Three Monkeys and Sleepy Cat) decides to combine their talents and perform together after finding out Norio is charging 50 thousand yen for the entering fee per each group and with their shared admiration for the legendary Saitama DJ, TKD (Takeda-sama).

Mighty just can't get a break though. Flat broke, Kazumi opts for turning tricks at the urging of a local club owner. He goes ballistic after he finds it out and knocks the club owner cold with an ashtray. Furthermore, Gokuakucho is in town, invited by Norio to perform at the festival.

It's really fantastic to see Irie mature as a filmmaker with each of his new films. But Roadside Fugitive is a truly giant leap forward. His preferred long takes are well served in two pivotal, dynamic handheld tracking scenes to its thrilling height : one is where Mighty is being chased by angry Gokuakucho gang at night in the rain. You can feel the urgency and desperation of Mighty as he sprints for his life. Then there is the film's climax where Mighty tries to flee his predicament one more time while trying to settle the score with Norio, the gang, the world and himself, rampaging through the outdoor concert venue at night. These prolonged scenes are just as good as any Michael Mann's expensive elaborate getaway set pieces.
But it's Irie's passion for music (in this case, hip-hop) that I'm most impressed with. While skillfully contrasting Ikku and Tom's innocent dreamers with Mighty's desperado, by the end, Irie manages to elevate the film above its seemingly silly material. As with his previous films, music works as a therapy that transcends all the world's problems. Roadside Fugitive SR is a great crowd pleaser that has a lot of heart and passion. Definitely one of the my favorites so far this year.

Yu Irie Interview

Ringing in Their Ears Review

8000 Miles Review

8000 Miles 2 Review

Saturday, July 21, 2012

We Need to Talk about Kevin's Mom

We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) - Ramsay
At first it's jarring and even puzzling. But then you see the similar themes coursing through her previous films. Death and guilt and how to deal with it. Then you see that over-stylization of Kevin becomes far less of a hindrance. Actually you get to marvel at how amazing the film is put together. Here, Ramsay is definitely working on another level.

The film is obviously not about Kevin, nor the state of High School kids today, nor our society, nor the nature of evil. The film unspools all out of order as Eva (Tilda Swinton), examines her life as mom, as if she is searching for something she's done wrong to have a child like Kevin. How did she end up with an ogre of a man (John C. Riley) in the first place, let alone have sex with him and marries him? Obviously she is not a mom type. And young Kevin is an unresponsive bundle of creep. Then he grows up to be just a creep. He only leaves Eva alone to live through the massacre he commits. Is this her punishment? Does she deserve all the suffering? Of course not. It's a very hard film to like. But at the end she is the one waiting for his release. The film really affected me. Evil exists in this world as naturally as ice cream. No one is at fault for that.

One of the criticisms of the movie is that it is shallow in that 'free spirited woman trapped in the role of a housewife' way. I would've called it little more than trite, only if Eva was played by someone other than Swinton. It's her otherworldly quality that was just about perfect for the movie I thought.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Forest of Bliss

This is a short film I shot with a Lomokino camera while on vacation. Lomokino uses any type of 35mm still film rolls and lasts about 30 seconds or so. Found out about it through a friend who directed me to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's use of it in a short film Ashes.

I'm still testing it out with various films. It's really trial and error. But I really like the look and feel of the film so far. So without further a do, here is the entire thing (or what came out of 4 rolls of film, loosely strung together)

Monday, July 16, 2012


NYAFF/Japan Cuts 2012 Presents:
Hard Romanticker (2011) - Gu
There is an old saying about the Japan-Korea relationship my grandfather once told me that is very revealing. Apparently it's really easy for a Japanese to pick out Koreans among them because Koreans stink of garlic. For a Korean who grew up under the Japanese Occupation and educated in Japan, this derogatory remark stayed with my grandfather as long as he lived. To say the least, for Zainichi Koreans (Koreans who are living in Japan as ethnic minorities), life hasn't exactly been wine and roses.

Based on his semi-autobiographical novel, director Gu Suyeon tells a story of fictional Gu (Shota Matsuda, younger brother of Ryuhei Matsuda and son of Yusaku), a lowly member of a local Korean gang in Shimonoseki, the southernmost seaport city of Japan's main island Honshu and the home of the largest concentration of Zainichis. Donning platinum blond, chain smoking Gu is an anomaly. He doesn't really abide by gang associations and gets into fights with just about anyone. He even beats up his superiors at a glue sniffing orgy to save one of the girls from being gang raped. A diligent cop (Atsuro Watanabe, Love Exposure) and marauding gangs on his tail, Gu, ever so nonchalant, gets a job as a manager at a fancy club in the neighboring city, Kokuro, not knowing his boss is also the boss of the rival gang. Not that he cares about any of it. While on the run, he even romances a leggy High school girl. In his absence in Shimonoseki, things get blown over and his stern grandma personally delivers the message that his close friend has died. He has to go back and face the music.

As one of the sons of famous action star Yusaku Matsuda who was hailed from Shimonoseki and a half-Korean, it's not a coincidence Gu chose Shota for the role. He is a revelation here, exuding badboy sex appeal, the younger Matsuda with his deadpan humor and devil may care attitude, has more in common with Masatoshi Nagase in Maiku Hama movies (which was said to be heavily influenced not only by Mikey Spillane novels but by Yusaku's 70-80s TV/movie personas) than his pretty boy brother Ryuhei.

Rather than making a broad social commentary about jingoistic society where a country doesn't recognize its dark past and the consequences, Gu's view is limited to a very personal storytelling that, at times can be viewed as nihilistic fantasy. Maybe it's possible that the world of Zainichi is completely separate from the rest of the 'normal' Japan (as indicated in a comical sequence where street gangs are asking around in every nooks and crannies of Shimonoseki, "Have you seen Gu?" and someone responds, "What is a Gu?"). Hard Romanticker also has that distinctive 70s feel, including rampant misogyny and violence against women. The cellphones and video games are the only visible evidence that it takes place in current times. Endlessly entertaining, Hard Romanticker is a fast paced, visceral gangster film with plenty of hard-knuckle fight scenes that will surely garner cult-status in the near future.

Friday, July 13, 2012


House of Tolerance/L'Apollonide: Souvenier de la maison close (2011) - Bonello
Bertrand Bonello's film opens in 'the twilight of 19th century' in a high class brothel (L'Apollonide). Sumptuously photographed with plenty of beautiful nude bodies, House of Tolerance dangerously meddles in soft-core porn territory. But as the it progresses in its hazy and unhurried elegance, you are totally sold on the glimpse into this dream world. The images are not really arousing but rather arresting. Except for one scene where girls enjoy their time off together on the lakeside picnic, the film solely takes place in the lavishing whorehouse. Even though they seek financial independence and freedom in a rigid society, they are bound to the place. They dream of getting out one day but everyone knows it's impossible. Some are hopelessly in love with their regular client and pay the ultimate price. These exquisite creatures include Algerian (Hafsia Herzi), Caca (Jasmine Trinca), Léa (Adele Haenel), The Jewess/Laughing Girl (Alice Barnole) and Julie (Céline Sallette). The aftermath of watching this hypnotic film is not unlike being intoxicated (the girls do consume a lot of champagne in the film). Whether the director is advocating to make prostitution legal (as it seems, with his use of modern music segue-ing into modern day finale), so making the world's oldest profession somewhat safer doesn't really interest me. I'm just worried that I will have a hangover from this tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Love Candy

Farewell My Queen/Les adieux à la reine (2012) - Jacquot
It's not the first time Benoit Jacquot took liberties with depicting the life of a controversial historical figure. In Sade, the infamous Marquis is neither a cross-dressing sexual fiend nor over-the-top lunatic he is normally portrayed as. His strength is in portraying these larger-than-life figures in more of a relatable human level. Indeed, in Farewell My Queen, Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), never utter the infamous line, "Let them eat cake." She is not an airhead teenager, but a reticent, lonely queen in her last days.

Seen from the queen's high strung personal reader Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux)'s point of view, the film tells queen's infatuation with a beautiful and enigmatic Mme. Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) and her increasing isolation as the revolution approaches. As a servant, then confidant, Sidonie lends her sympathetic ears to the queen. Her feelings toward the queen is a mixture of pity, envy and adoration. She is ready to do anything Her Majesty asks of her. But would she sacrifice herself for her queen's love for another?

Farewell My Queen sizzles with sexual tension among the three principle actresses. I like Jacquot's straightforward approach to lesbianism. Virginie Ledoyen owns whenever she appears on the screen with her flirtatious gaze and her diamond sharp feature. In one scene, Gabrielle's naked sleeping body even stops jealous Sidonie on her track with admiration. Diane Kruger proves that she is not only a pretty face with her portrayal of complex and charismatic Marie Antoinette. At once naive and untouchable, she wears the role of tragic beauty with ease. But the film belongs to Léa Seydoux. Sidonie's journey from an observer looking in, to an unwitting pawn of the game with her heart on a string, she is the most tragic figure in the story. It's Seydoux's forlorn forever baby face and brooding intensity that convey Sidonie's desire and yearning perfectly.

Let me state that I am not the biggest fan of period pieces. But with lavish set design, costumes and radiant actresses, I have to admit, Farewell My Queen is a total eyecandy and delicious intrigue that is great fun to watch.

Farewell My Queen was shown in this year's Berlinale, made an appearance in Rendez-vous with French Cinema and has a limited release in the US on 7/13.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The West Coast Trip

Had sort of a vacation on the West Coast for two weeks. Took about 500 pictures but none of them do justice to what I and Nicole experienced in the Redwood Forests of Northern California. Here is a recap of the trip for you in the list of 5 most memorable things we experienced out there with pictures:

5. Chicken Wings at Pok Pok, Portland, OR
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We stayed at my sister, Yoonmee and her husband, Brandon's house while we were in Portland. They are truly gracious hosts and great guides to this great Northwestern city. While we were there, we realized that Portland has much more vigorous and sophisticated food culture than New York. Numbers of non-starbucks coffee shops equals its homeless population, mobile food trucks are everywhere and there are several designated spots throughout the city where different food stalls enticing you with the menus as diverse as Korean tacos to Hungarian Schnitzel sandwich. We ended up trying as many different cuisine as we could. But we didn't make it to the famous Voodoo Donut which the wait line was stretching over blocks even on weekdays.

So Yoonmee and Brandon were raving about this new Vietnamese restaurant that serves the best wings they ever tasted. "Don't get anything else, just get the wings!", they told us.

Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings were indeed glorious. The order comes with 6 large wings in its entire wing span that you have to break as you chew along. Sticky, tangy, salty and slightly hot (we ordered 'hot') with visible pepper seeds stuck on the wings. Apparently they just opened its Brooklyn branch and Lower Eastside branch (wings only). I can't vouch for anything else in their menu as I haven't had anything but wings. But oh man, they are better than Korean hot wings.

4. Cabin in the Woods, Mt. Hood, OR

Yoonmee and Brandon bought a cabin in Mt. Hood a couple years back and have been working on it the whole time. It's their pride and joy and we finally got to visit it.

I always imagined it to be a small squeaky wooden shack with an outhouse, no running water and very minimalist setting. At least that's how I envisioned in my jaded New Yorker mind. To my surprise, the cabin was A-framed beautiful two story structure with a brand new deck that surrounds it. The interior of the cabin can be featured in the next issue of Interior Magazine. It is not far from the main road and you could easily walk to a local convenient store. Hike trails are everywhere and the surrounding forests are beautiful.

3. Henry V at Elizabethan Stage/Allen Pavillion under the setting sun, Ashland, OR
Originally, we were planning on going down to the Redwood Forests in non-stop 8 hour drive from Portland. Then Yoonmee and Bran suggested a stop over at a small town called Ashland, famous for their annual Shakespeare Festival. So we decided to stay one night on the way down to Cali and see a play. And it turned out to be a great decision.

Ashland looks like a wealthy suburban town with beautiful dry weather, giftshops and outdoor cafes. But obviously the main attraction is the festival.

Henry V was their main focus this year. With my flimsy knowledge on the play from college years and the subsequent viewing of Kenneth Branagh's film version, I really didn't really expect much. First it was the three story Elizabethan stage with coliseum seating was, upon entering, awe-inspiring. It only got better- with superb production that was way better than any Shakespeare in the Park (from the little I've seen over the years). As the young king roused his outnumbered brothers in arms into an improbable victory over France, the sun was setting and soon the stars appeared above the mountains. It was an amazing experience.

2. Avenue of the Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
the redwoods1
the Redwoods
What can I say? The giant redwoods made me speechless. We got rain, sun and everything inbetween. But we didn't get the misty forest we wanted, until...

1. Lady Bird Johnson Grove, The Redwood National Park, CA
And we got that too!