Steven Aoki's Blog

Memories of movies
10/24/2020

I'm sure glad California makes it so easy to vote by mail. Election Day's gonna suck for the voters waiting hours in line during this latest COVID-19 resurgence. I'm now of the thought that without a vaccine, states can't ever hope to subdue COVID-19 until after they've had at least one major outbreak to make enough people immune. Meaning, all states can hope to do is flatten the inevitable curve and minimize deaths.

Michael C. Hall is returning to Showtime for a 10-episode limited series of "Dexter". It'll have the original showrunner from the first four seasons. I'm still bitter about the series finale, so I can't say I'm very interested in a revival. But come fall of 2021, I doubt I could resist reordering Showtime for that season premiere. (Same would probably go for "Twin Peaks" if that ever came back, despite my constant gripes about that last season.) Incidentally, Netflix has a very similar Dexter-like series titled "You", about a stalker who narrates his romance with the woman he secretly stalked, and stops at nothing to live happily ever after with her. From the scenes I watched on demand and on YouTube, the series intrigued me.

My calculations were correct. Once I reactivated my AMC Stubs A-List membership on October 17, AMC pushed back my billing date to compensate for the 15 days I lost from their membership pause. Per my prediction, this new monthly billing date indeed landed on November 1, 2020. You might be wondering why I reactivated my membership so early given that my local AMC theatres STILL have not reopened (due to county concession bans) and most of the big movies have been postponed to April 2021 and later. Well, if I had miscalcuated the billing date and canceled my membership to fix this, I read in the fine print that I'd have to wait 6 months to qualify for an A-List membership again.

Watched movie: "Salinui chueok" (2003) a.k.a. "Memories of Murder" (2005)
Early Bong Joon Ho police drama wherein the worst detectives I've ever seen struggle to catch a serial killer who likes to rape and murder women on rainy nights. Although it's based on an actual 1986-1991 case in rural South Korea, I felt like I was watching a slapstick comedy from the opening crime scene contamination to the detectives beating and coercing confessions from innocent suspects. But according to Bong Joon Ho's interview after the movie, the real-life detectives really were that incompetent! The case also predated when Korea had profiling and DNA matching. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)
Not my favorite stop-motion Henry Selick film (that honor goes to his later masterpiece, "Coraline"), but I'd call it ghoulishly entertaining. I found that guy with the ax in his head funny for some reason. Seemed too scary to be a kids' movie, with Santa Claus getting abducted and what not. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Kid Detective" (2020)
Amusing dramedy wherein a has-been private detective, still haunted by a childhood case he couldn't solve, agrees to investigate the murder of a high school student's studious but secretive boyfriend. It's probably too lighthearted to be considered noir, as this adult private eye spent much of the screen time suffering teenagers and old people. It did provide some earnest character development that got me invested in this guy's success. But ultimately, I found neither case very good. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Empty Man" (2020)
The pointless movie. Rating: 2
Watched movie: "Synchronic" (2020)
Absorbing Moorhead & Benson film about a designer drug in New Orleans that boomerangs people back in time to a variety of unsafe places. A black paramedic experiments with the last of these time travel pills to rescue his best friend's daughter, whom the drug trapped somewhere in time. Based on these facts I mentioned, you would think that the paramedic would want to ration the pills stingily and arm himself wherever he goes. But maybe he wanted to be really scientific, so as not to end up like Homer Simpson in that time travel episode where the present kept changing because of his prehistoric gaffes. Rating: 6
I voted
10/13/2020

Dude, have you ever seen such folly. Trump apparently learned nothing from the Rose Garden ceremony superspreader event that caused a major COVID-19 outbreak at the White House. He departed his own quarantine early, made a point to peel his face mask off on national TV despite being highly contagious, still downplays the virus despite all that expensive special treatment to save his life, and held an even bigger superspreader event at the White House! Plus who was that personal physician who kept spinning how "great!" Trump's health was, disclosing only the good results but refusing to reveal important ones, e.g., the lung scans and PCR test results. Given that Trump needed supplemental oxygen and an immunosuppressant steroid (a drug that masks symptoms and can cause mania), his lungs could've been damaged. Thankfully, the debate commission tried to hold the second presidential debate virtually. It could've been a fatal mistake trusting anything that Trump or his "doctors" claimed about his contagiousness.

As soon as the Esquire IMAX Theatre reopened in Sacramento, I screened its first showing of "Tenet" in IMAX 70mm there. The 70mm format didn't add that much other than the taller ceiling-to-floor scenic shots and action sequences. I noticed the horizontal black bars kept appearing on the top and bottom of the screen during the heavy dialogue scenes, and I think that's because the IMAX camera would have shuttered too loudly to hear them speak. In any case, this was my fourth viewing of the movie and I caught three new things: a) the young Sator found a time capsule with his name written on a letter atop inverted gold bars, b) Sator witnessed the algorithm piece fly backwards (not forwards) from the inverted Protagonist's backseat, meaning Sator and/or his henchmen would have to go forwards from this point in time to the freeport where this car was originally parked, and c) I could actually spot Neil's humvee driving both backwards and forwards in time during the final mission, starting from the backward shockwave to the forward shockwave. To my amusement, somebody returned from the restroom during my favorite part of the film and asked her friend what she missed...her friend attempted to explain that the Protagonist was fighting himself.

Although I'm still annoyed at the conceit of Roland Garros tournament officials to postpone the French Open to this colder, wetter time of year with fans in the stands (limited to 1000 fans per day) despite the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, big congratulations to Rafael Nadal on crushing Djokovic in that French Open final. Now that Nadal has won 13 total French Open titles and tied Federer's record of 20 Grand Slam singles championships, it's official: I have to start thinking of Nadal as the greatest tennis player of all-time.

Speaking of GOATs, now that LeBron James has led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 2019-20 NBA championship, I'm starting to think of LeBron as the greatest basketball player of all-time again. It's such a weird phenomenon how sports (and politics) can polarize human psyches. I supported his move to the Miami Heat to win his first NBA championship ring; then I hated his guts when he kept whining and flopping against the Golden State Warriors (and bragged about the ONE NBA Finals he beat them despite losing the other three); now I'm starting to like him again.

Next year, IBM is planning to split off its IT services business and roughly one-fourth of its employees to a new company, temporarily named NewCo. IBM will stay focused on hybrid cloud and AI, so fingers crossed that I don't get moved to the new company. Mostly because when somebody asks what I do for a living, I can just answer "IBM" with less risk of follow-up questions. Follow-up questions can lead to the listener getting bored and me getting offended. One time I had a relative rude enough to call my career "boring" after I took the time to explain it--as a result, I never talked to that relative ever again.

The safest person in the world just got it
10/3/2020

In the latest cautionary tale about what happens when people don't take COVID-19 seriously, Donald Trump and Melania tested positive for COVID-19. Which goes to show that COVID-19 gives no f**ks who you are, whether you're a homeless person or the President of the United States. I'm still dumbfounded, even though I really shouldn't be surprised after all the times I've seen him hold large public gatherings and inexplicably flout health precautions like masks and social distancing. I thought he got tested every day though--did he not get tested before that debate with Joe Biden???

I actually watched that debate after I told myself I'd just skip it (they don't seem to matter in the long-run). I have to say I was impressed with the moderator Chris Wallace despite widespread criticism that he totally lost control of the reins. He really did his homework and asked the hard-hitting questions, like whether Biden would pack the Supreme Court (which he unsurprisingly dodged) and whether Trump would condemn white supremacist groups (to which he answered, "Stand back and stand by."...WTF?!). Pretty clever debate technique for Biden to speak directly to the camera (possibly to avoid losing his train of thought from all the interruptions)--I read he had a severe childhood stutter, so I kept thinking back to that suspenseful scene in "The King's Speech".

My eyelid finally stopped twitching. It first acted up after RBG died. This last happened to me in college when I didn't get enough sleep. It might also be psychosomatic. Lately I've been stressing that a contested Presidential election could tear the United States apart, especially if courts or legislatures decide the winner rather than the voters themselves.

Recently, I've been staying in Orange County, California to screen new movies. Turns out I didn't have to go to Arizona after all.

Watched movie: "Akira" (1988) in IMAX with Laser
The legendary cyberpunk anime movie with remastered 4K visuals and remixed audio. Undeniably a visual masterpiece, even though I've always found the film hideous to watch and overrated. Admittedly, the original Japanese dialogue sounded much better than the dubbed English voices. Plus I've always liked how the movie begins. Side note: Interesting what this 1988 film got right about 2019. Tokyo indeed constructed an Olympic stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And we still have civil unrest (I guess not exactly a stretch). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Kajillionaire" (2020)
I was pleasantly surprised by this Miranda July film given how much I hated her last one (it landed on my worst of the decade list). Some of the cringeworthy behavior still made me frown, but I liked the whole premise of Gina Rodriguez trying to deprogram Old Dolio from her toxic con artist parents. ("Old Dolio" is the name of the guarded, emotionally scarred Evan Rachel Wood character--her parents named her that during a failed inheritance scam.) I'll sheepishly admit that this Old Dolio felt like something of a kindred spirit to me--minus the scumbags parents, of course. It actually hurt my enjoyment of the movie that her parents monopolized so much screen time. P.S. I couldn't help but watch this film again, and realized I missed something hugely important at the end: the gesture of respect meant by the dollar amount on the cash register. That changed my perspective on the entire movie. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Possessor" (2020)
This movie, billed as "Possessor Uncut", was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg--the son of David Cronenberg. So I guess I shouldn't be shocked by how graphic it was. I was shocked by how cruel the violence was though. Pretty sickening, actually. The trailers misled me into thinking that once Andrea Riseborough inhabited someone's brain, she'd go for a quick assassination. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020)
Intellectually stimulating historical drama by Aaron Sorkin about the legal defense of anti-Vietnam War protesters against the Nixon administration's charges of "conspiracy" for "inciting riots" in Chicago. Pretty interesting dynamic to have such eclectic protesters from a variety of groups get lumped together as co-defendants. The movie also showed how little the politicization of "justice" has changed since 1969, particularly when one Attorney General replaces another and suddenly the U.S. Department of Justice's priorities align with the new party in power. Rating: 7
Summer of 2020
9/22/2020

R.I.P. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And probably R.I.P. any hope of the Supreme Court staying apolitical now, whether enraged Democrats wind up "packing the court" or not. Like I said before, politics poisons everything it touches--even the CDC and the FDA. Trump promoting a "warp speed" COVID-19 vaccine by Election Day was all it took to scare me away from that.

My first litmus test of the new Supreme Court will start one week after Election Day with Trump's lawsuit to kill affordable health care. If the Supreme Court overreaches and strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic (just because of the repealed individual mandate tax penalty), I think the 60-vote supermajority filibuster will be toast the next time Democrats take over the Senate. It might already be on borrowed time now.

I go back and forth on whether to abolish the filibuster. I'd rather not have America's laws swing back and forth endlessly on majority rule. But I feel like we're on the cusp of this situation already.

In movie news, I'm definitely going to watch Denis Villeneuve's cinematic adaptation of "Dune", but something's bugging me about that scene in the trailer where the giant sandworm stops to look down at Paul Atreides. A sandworm has no eyes, so to me it feels illogical and unfaithful to a novel that I had found so intellectual.

To my irritation, my Bay Area counties keep snubbing movie theaters during the lower tier reopenings. I'm thinking of roaming southern California and possibly Arizona for the latest film releases.

Up in flames
9/13/2020

I returned to San Jose to see that the California wildfire smoke had dusked the entire Bay Area orange like some kind of nuclear winter. So I might keep leaving town until the air clears up.

In shocking tennis news, Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match at the US Open "bubble" when he angrily swatted a ball into a line judge's throat by accident! You can't make this stuff up. I had actually been watching this match live, but then turned the TV off figuring Djokovic would most likely cakewalk through the round as well as the rest of the tournament. He was the overwhelming favorite with neither Federer nor Nadal in the draw. But you know what--I can't help thinking this was karma for his long history of on-court bullying, racket abuse, and ball abuse (plus his defiance against what he called a "witch hunt" over his COVID-19 spreading tennis event).

"The Walking Dead" will finally end in late 2022 after 7 season 10 episodes and 24 (!) season 11 episodes. But then, ugh--we'll get a new spin-off series starring Daryl and Carol, as well as a new anthology series of stand-alone episodes titled "Tales of the Walking Dead". :( Plus there's still those other two spin-offs I don't watch: "Fear the Walking Dead" and "The Walking Dead: World Beyond". I have Walking Dead fatigue, man.

The light at the beginning of the tunnel
9/3/2020

I found my room at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino fairly decent until I stood under the weak shower. That's a dealbreaker for me. I couldn't resist the bargain of $55.97 per night--but once they tacked on a lame mandatory resort fee of $44.22 per night, the nightly price ended up exceeding $100. At least the self-parking was free albeit all the way across a lengthy bridge. I didn't do much inside the casino itself, as most of the restaurants were closed and I don't gamble, smoke, or drink.

Currently I'm staying at the Candlewood Suites. They have an amazing 2-for-1 deal where every third night is free. But I hate my next-door neighbor. I can smell the cigarette smoke from his room, and can hear his loud swear words and racial slurs (sometimes in the middle of the night). Plus he has a stupid laugh. I expected him to check out by now, but it's like he lives there permanently and hardly ever leaves or sleeps.

Stoplights in Las Vegas also try my patience. They seem to take a long time to turn green. I've gotten used to the 100+ F degree desert weather though. It's funny how the birds here keep their beaks open like they're panting in the heat.

I still can't believe "Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman died. I had no idea he had been battling colon cancer since 2016. I'm only a few days older than him.

At long last, I finally got to screen "Tenet". I had insomnia the night before, arrived to the theater early, and sat there alone in the IMAX auditorium waiting excitedly.

Watched 10th Anniversary Event: "Inception" (2010) in IMAX
Still as awesomely brilliant as ever. This is the twelfth time I've screened "Inception" in a theater, and I STILL caught something new: how Fischer knew the combination to his father's personal safe. ("Mr. Charles" convinced him that the "kidnappers" purposely asked for the first six numbers to pop into his head, "528491", as a technique to extract secrets from the subconscious. Though I'm still unsure why these numbers reappeared in the second level as the blonde's 528-491 phone number and the hotel room 528 directly above hotel room 491.) I also asked myself why Cobb had to drug Fischer even though the flight attendant was paid off, and realized that they needed to ensure Fischer fell asleep at the beginning of the flight.

In regards to the "Rick and Morty" argument about whether "Inception" makes sense--"Inception" makes sense! You just have to premise that dreams don't need to make sense. They're not in some holodeck bound by immutable laws of physics and logic. Impossibilities like the Penrose steps can exist, and subjects in the dream can believe even contradictory fantasies (like why Fischer's father would be in Browning's secret vault). I will confess that I still don't understand what the heck "limbo" is. The movie described limbo as "unconstructed dream space" and "raw infinite subconscious". I keep picturing some kind of cloud storage space made up of human minds, where dreamers can visit each other's islands like in "Animal Crossing: New Horizons".

Two featurettes about "Tenet" and "Inception" preceded the movie screening. I like Christopher Nolan's philosophy of making his films look and feel as authentic as possible. I always considered that CGI-fest in the "Inception" workshop the weakest part of the movie. Rating: 10

Watched movie: "The New Mutants" (2020) in IMAX
Surreal that I finally got to screen this movie after all the times its release got delayed since 2018. All in all, I'd call the film...decent. I felt that the cast playing the mutant teenagers had good screen presence, and liked that whole horror mystery regarding Dani Moonstar's powers (I actually knew everyone's powers and comic book codenames but hers). Some parts felt derivative of "The Breakfast Club", and I hated how racist and malevolent they made Magik--I already see this ad nauseam in politics and just want some escapist entertainment. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Bill & Ted Face the Music" (2020)
Turns out that the daughters of Bill & Ted behave exactly like Bill & Ted. So when you throw in all those future selves of Bill & Ted, you end up with a movie with too much Bill & Ted. I did like that whole premise of the toll that 25 years of failure took on them. And it actually felt cathartic to finally hear the song that unites the world. Mainly I just needed a reprieve now and then from the "Bill & Ted" shtick. Like I was really curious what the wives' future selves were up to, but the film nary gave them any screen time. Strangely, the only plot hole in this whole silly movie that bothered me was how the wives hadn't lost their English accents by now. Side note #1: I've always wondered to myself what Mozart would think of classic rock. Side note #2: I didn't get the whole Dennis the Robot shtick at all. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Tenet" (2020) in IMAX
Christopher Nolan's most brain teasing film yet. I felt like a caveman trying to process it, and could barely wrap my head around the challenging narratives and dialogue. Strange how the first half dragged for me while the second half overloaded my brain. Also, the music sounded like a noisy racket that made me sorely miss Hans Zimmer. But all in all, you have to see this movie. Why? For its groundbreaking, mind-bending action sequences. P.S. I screened the movie again in 4DX, and found myself hanging onto the motion seat to keep it from bucking me off. Strange how water sprinkled down at one point, but didn't squirt me in the face even though I had that turned on. In any case, on the second viewing I confirmed my earlier suspicion that Neil suffered an inverted death in the algorithm chamber. Meaning, Neil went back through the turnstile, unlocked the gate for them, and then inexplicably took a bullet meant for The Protagonist. I'm still confused about inverted wounds, the physics of an inverted car, and the physics of brawling with your inverted self (funny how that went down after he was explicitly warned against coming into contact with himself). I'm also questioning whether we should be rooting against the inversion of the world, as humanity could save itself from extinction by jogging back-and-forth over the same Earth. P.S.S. On my third viewing, I caught how Sator communicates with the future: by time capsule. They leave him inverted items like gold bars and technology, and in exchange he buries the algorithm under rubble for them to excavate. Which begs the question: why can't the Tenet agents just destroy the algorithm instead of hiding the pieces? Rating: 8
Where there's fire, there's smoke
8/23/2020

Such a relief to breathe without my sinuses acting up. I hurriedly drove to Las Vegas ahead of schedule to escape the overpowering smoke from the California wildfires. It blanketed the Bay Area like tear gas, and I couldn't stop coughing and sneezing. I could even see some of the smoky haze as far out as my hotel in Las Vegas. Needless to say, I won't be back in California anytime soon--Labor Day weekend at the earliest.

I thought I would really enjoy my first movie inside a theater since COVID-19 shut theaters down, but that glaring loophole where patrons can stay unmasked while they're eating and drinking their concessions dampened my enthusiasm. I guess my paranoia is the new normal now, as I still got take-out here even though Las Vegas allows indoor dining. I'm also avoiding all of the casinos. I'll tell you one thing, though--I'm not going to let anything dampen my excitement for this upcoming "Tenet" sneak preview that I reserved a seat for.

Currently, I'm staying at the Holiday Inn across the street from Allegiant Stadium, that brand-new Darth Vader-looking home stadium for the Las Vegas Raiders. Tomorrow I move over to the Treasure Island - TI Hotel & Casino.

In "essential" WWE news, I guess I'd call that new WWE ThunderDome an improvement over fake fans in the WWE Performance Center. Now simulated crowd noise gets piped in, and real fans appear via individual web cams on monitors that span each stadium row.

Watched movie: "Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020) in IMAX
Inferior sequel to "Train to Busan" that went all "Fast & Furious" with its zanier tone and ludicrous car sequences. Admittedly, it was interesting watching the girl whip the car around to best bulldoze the zombie hordes without getting stuck in them. I also admired all the tactics people mastered to exploit the zombies' night blindness, including honking and light baiting, i.e., flares, headlights, floodlights, and drones. Story-wise, it disappointed me that the main character's emotional build-up to atonement turned into such an overdramatic soap opera. Rating: 6
He eyes Nevada
8/18/2020

Hmm...the sequel to "Train to Busan", which has currently been playing in Asian countries, is actually going to premiere at the Capitol Drive-In across the street from me this Friday on August 21. Too bad I've never liked drive-in theatres. I'm currently hatching a plan to screen this movie in Nevada, where it premieres on August 21 on the same date as the 10th-anniversary re-release of "Inception" (this re-release includes a bonus look at "Tenet").

Then coming out in select U.S. theaters on August 28: "The New Mutants" and "Bill & Ted Face the Music".

In streaming news, I never planned to watch the live-action "Mulan", so I shrugged off the news bombshell that it would stream directly on Disney+ on September 4. I also shrugged about "Antebellum" going direct to video on demand as well. But now it's starting to snowball, with "Run" (from the "Searching" filmmakers) now set to stream directly on Hulu, and "The Woman in the Window" now set to stream directly on Netflix.

To my excitement, AMC Theatres e-mailed me an update to my AMC Stubs A-List membership. I now have until 12/1/2020 to reactivate my paused membership before they automatically reactivate it for me. They're also trying to lure me back with double AMC Stubs points and $10 in bonus bucks--promotions that both end on 10/31/2020. Alas, with most new releases postponed to next year, it'll be futile trying to use up 3 movies a week in 2020. My current plan: just reactivate my membership on November 17, then cancel it (thus losing all my account history) if the credit card charge doesn't land exactly on December 1. :P Side note: Starting on 12/1/2020, they'll stop awarding AMC Stubs points for my monthly membership fees. I never understood why they did that anyway, and it was always a nuisance trying to use those rewards before they expired.

Rented Amazon.com movie: "She Dies Tomorrow" (2020)
Eerily fatalistic arthouse film by Amy Seimetz wherein a viral psychosis convinces people they're going to die tomorrow. The movie never bothers to explain why, so I kept wondering how come they spent the whole film chilling instead of racing to put their affairs in order. Maybe it's just me, but I'd have a whole bucket list of priorities. In any case, I found the movie surprisingly boring except for some hilariously droll moments. Rating: 4
Rented Amazon.com movie: "Blood on Her Name" (2020)
This twisty Southern noir actually reminded me of "The Walking Dead" because of how annoyed I got with the main character's bleeding heart. It's one thing for a good person to be bad at covering up a murder--it's a whole other thing to risk capture returning the guy's body to his home (so his family could get closure) and leaving an apology note! At least take him out of the plastic he was wrapped in and stage a home invasion or something, sheesh. Or better yet, have her dad take care of it (what was stopping her, self-righteousness??). The worst part was when she illogically surrendered her gun during a standoff that could've easily just ended with the two mothers parting ways. :( Rating: 5
FOMO
8/5/2020

Now that Warner Bros. formally plans to release "Tenet" in international markets starting on August 26 of this year, I'll have to avoid spoilers as vigilantly as I can until it opens in select U.S. cities on September 3. Hopefully it'll play in a state that borders California, given how California will probably be the last state in all of America to reopen. I've pinpointed the Galaxy Legends as the closest IMAX theater to me--a drive of 4 hours and 20 minutes into Sparks, Nevada. But I'm willing to drive further out for an IMAX 70mm screening, as far as the Grand Canyon or Seattle even. Beyond that, I'd probably just resign myself to wait for something closer. I'm not open to flying or any kind of 14-day quarantine.

I took a break from streaming in July. I only saw one movie that whole entire month.

Now that some professional sports have restarted without fans, I've found NBA basketball pretty much unwatchable without that fan energy. I also hate the simulated crowd noise at those empty MLB baseball games. It did fascinate me listening to MLB sound engineers explain the science of it. They actually have to anticipate the plays and then try to pump out the right crowd reaction before it's too late. Personally, I would just reuse the same three reactions: the normal pop (for a hit), the heightened pop (for a home run), and the booing (for when the pitcher throws to first base). It would be hilarious to be able to play the "M-V-P" chant too.

WTF was that massive explosion in Beirut that injured thousands of people. The Lebanon state-run news blamed it on fireworks going off in a warehouse fire. What kind of fireworks cause a mushroom cloud?!

Summer blockbuster bust
7/26/2020

Depressing how bad COVID-19 has gotten in California despite our consistent quarantine measures since March. Too many irresponsible people, I reckon. I still see a lot of folks entering stores without masks, which goes to show why this has to be mandated rather than just encouraged.

Warner Bros. delayed "Tenet" indefinitely. Rumor has it that they might just give up on a simultaneous global release, and start opening the film wherever they can in select international markets and possibly select U.S. cities. The major movie theater chains subsequently delayed their reopenings as well, which sucks because I'm getting tired of streaming. So tired of streaming that recently, I've been web surfing the closest movie theaters outside of California's borders. :(

"The Walking Dead" will finally air its season 10 finale this year on October 4, as announced during the show's Comic-Con@Home panel. So I'll finally get to see the resolution to that cliffhanger. Though apparently this episode won't be the season 10 finale anymore, because it was also announced that the show will tack on six more "season 10" episodes in early 2021 due to the COVID-19 delays that are postponing season 11.

Cruel summer
7/14/2020

All movie theaters in California have been ordered to reclose--even though nary any of them were open anyway. Also, 30 counties on California's watch list were ordered to reclose their hair salons, gyms, indoor malls, and churches. Meanwhile, Disney World visitors, the NBA, the WNBA, the MLS, and "essential" WWE employees have all been congregating in Florida despite the state recently shattering the record for most new statewide COVID-19 infections in one day. Madness. I'm fed up with the inconsistent and arbitrary criteria for which businesses can reopen when (why do churches get to reopen before equally risky movie theaters?). We could have just locked down the entire United States for a couple of months; embracing quarantine, science, and face masks like much of the rest of the world did. Instead, over four months later, we're towering over the world in coronavirus cases and will probably continue to be plagued with this pandemic going into 2021. And people wonder why I'm a hardened cynic.

I'm still bitter about how close I was to getting my favorite hobby back, movie theaters. Although I should count my blessings, I feel this one pandemic could fill up my entire "worst of the year"/"worst of the decade" list with different woes. For instance, being denied movie theaters and new film releases; the shock from that last round of workplace layoffs; the permanent loss of beloved restaurants; and the torment of working from home in a brutal heat wave.

I tried a 7-day free trial of Sundance Now. Only streamed one movie on it.

Watched SundanceNow.com movie: "Nirgendwo in Afrika" (2001) a.k.a. "Nowhere in Africa" (2003)
Oppressive foreign language Oscar winner from Germany that spans a Jewish family's true riches to rags story as farmers in Kenya during their long refuge from Nazi Germany. I liked the movie's brutal honesty, e.g., the farmland's hardships, the racism, the neverending martial problems, the psychological tolls of losing home and family, and the struggle to find their new place in the world. But I did take some issue with the curation of their life story. Despite the film's long runtime, I felt like important drama got omitted that I really wanted to see. Rating: 6
Resurgence: Independence Day
7/4/2020

Just when it looked like we would finally get movie theaters back, all of the major movie theater chains delayed their reopenings until end of July at the earliest. And given the latest COVID-19 resurgence and California's new restrictions on indoor businesses, I see the end of July as a longshot at best. :(

I cancelled my Hulu free trial. Now I'm looking at streaming services that offer 7-day free trials to fill up my July.

Wear the face mask, people
6/28/2020

In the latest cautionary tale about what happens when people don't take COVID-19 seriously, that top-ranked tennis player whom I regularly root against, Novak Djokovic, recently organized an exhibition tennis tournament called the Adria Tour. It required neither masks nor social distancing for any of the players or thousands of spectators. Off the court, he and other players socialized, danced, and partied. Now Djokovic, his wife, his coach, his fitness coach, and at least three of the other players at the event tested positive for COVID-19. This is sure to spook the players and organizers of New York's US Open tennis tournament, recently green-lit to begin at the end of August without spectators (followed by the postponed French Open in September).

In another developing story, "essential business" WWE had a COVID-19 outbreak at the site where they tape their shows, the Orlando Performance Center in Florida. Pro-wrestling has been pathetically unwatchable nowadays anyway, with the WWE resorting to fake crowds of their performance recruits (absolutely killing my suspension of disbelief). I actually liked the empty seats better.

In demoralizing movie news, "Tenet" has been delayed again from July 31 to August 12. AMC theatres are finally supposed to begin reopening on July 15 under new "AMC Safe & Clean" policies, which includes a social distancing of seats and mandatory masks. I wonder how many people will reject this mask rule out of defiance against all of the medical professionals of the world. :(

My AMC Stubs A-List membership will stay paused until I go in and manually reactivate it (fine print: they plan to automatically reactivate any memberships that remain in a paused state on 10/1/2020). So despite saving an embarrassingly large sum of money on this membership already, I'm still strategizing the best way to milk its reactivation (do I have the willpower to abstain from enough movies until I can binge 3 of them a week?). One wrinkle: to credit me for the days in March that I missed out on due to the theatre closures, AMC is going to move back my monthly billing date by the number of credited days that were left in my billing cycle prior to the closures. So I need to pinpoint the exact day to reactivate my membership in order to keep getting billed on the first of the month (otherwise it's hard to tally how many free movies saved me money in each billing cycle). :P My theory is that if I reactivate mine on the 17th of the month (the day all AMC theaters shut down), they'll continue to bill me on the first of each month. But I don't have any data to go by. Another thing is, I don't want to reactivate if the movies are discounted to like $5. Then I'd have to see at least 5 movies a month to make up for the membership price. :P

Watched Hulu.com movie: "Anna and the Apocalypse" (2018)
Somehow this British zombie musical hit all the wrong notes for me (like that TV show I couldn't stand, "Glee"). None of the musical numbers resonated with me, and every single character managed to irritate me in some form or fashion. The cast felt like an ensemble of personalities I hate in real-life, e.g., bullies, women who are attracted to jerks and put nice guys in the friend zone, couples that are too lovey-dovey, and pretentious hipsters who overuse sarcasm. At least this movie featured some decently dramatic deaths. Rating: 4
Watched Hulu.com movie: "Bølgen" (2015) a.k.a. "The Wave" (2016)
Exasperating Oscar entry from Norway wherein a geologist's family has ten minutes to escape the real-life town of Geiranger before a rockslide-triggered tsunami destroys it. Kind of like that film "The Impossible" but with way more disaster movie cliches, from the scientists selling the geologist's warnings short (because of tourist season) to the ill-fated jerk. I got particularly agitated by a) how painfully long it took to sound the alarm, and b) how painfully long it took for people to actually evacuate! Rating: 6
Watched Hulu.com movie: "Prospect" (2018)
Pretty much a sci-fi Western wherein a young girl uneasily partners with a silver-tongued killer (Pedro Pascal) to escape a toxic moon occupied by lawless gangs. The movie piqued my interest, but left me wanting more plot. I guess I felt like this intriguing partnership of theirs hadn't been developed and tested enough. Rating: 6
A bubble in a bowl of glass
6/13/2020

Don't know whether this is canon, but Tony Shalhoub recently reprised his Adrian Monk character in a new short, "Mr. Monk Shelters in Place". Apparently, the coronavirus managed to make his neuroses even worse, from microwaving his mail to burning his clothes everyday to socially distancing six feet away...from the web conference. I've actually gotten worse too, to a much lesser extent. Like I don't like breathing other people's air anymore (even with a face mask on) and I still avoid kids. :)

At long last, I was able to get a haircut, dine inside a hotel restaurant, and walk through an indoor mall. Now that California can start reopening movie theaters, I'm finally seeing the light at the end of this long dark tunnel.

Watched Hulu.com movie: "Den skyldige" a.k.a. "The Guilty" (2018)
Steadily paced, real-time Oscar entry from Denmark wherein an emergency services operator spends the entire movie on different phone calls trying to rescue an abducted woman (basically like that film "Sorry, Wrong Number"). Although the movie started out interesting, each plot twist actually made me care about the outcome less and less. Rating: 5
Watched Hulu.com movie: "Gräns" a.k.a. "Border" (2018)
Slow Oscar entry from Sweden about a proficient customs officer who can literally smell criminals. The movie kind of dragged until she discovered that she is actually a troll rather than a human. That opened up some intriguing conflicts. P.S. I wish I knew what happened to the human baby that got replaced by the changeling. Rating: 6
Watched Hulu.com movie: "Honeyland" (2019)
Such a simplistic movie and yet, so deep. Now I see why this film got Oscar nominations for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature. The filmmakers basically just put a camera on this lone Macedonian beekeeper in her deserted mountain village, and the story wrote itself once those nomadic rancher neighbors from hell arrived. How amusing that even in that remote secluded location on the other side of the world, she and I would endure the same problems and solve them in the same way (by outlasting them). Rating: 7
Watched Hulu.com movie: "Aniara" (2019)
Easily the most depressingly fatalistic movie I've ever seen, about a luxury spaceship that loses steering on the way to Mars and drifts off for years and years through the endless void of space. The film begins with an end credit crawl, wallows in despair, and then literally ends in ashes! The main character even points out that the spaceship is likely better than life on Mars, so it got me wondering about the point of life on Earth too. :P On the plus side, it made our current COVID-19 shelter-in-place feel really tame by comparison. Side note: The movie never answered what that spear was. Rating: 5
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times
6/4/2020

Curfew sucks. Screw the idiots who exploited legitimate George Floyd protests to loot struggling businesses.

While I'm at it, screw politics. Politicians lie for a living, and yet nowadays people seem to trust them more than ever. Even in this deadly global health crisis, I see people entrusting their lives to politicians rather than medical professionals. (How is it that face masks became politicized?) If you think about it, politics has poisoned everything it touched, e.g., science, religion, and truth. Now people can't say "thoughts and prayers", "climate change", "religious freedom", or "fake news" without triggering some kind of political connotation.

In other news, I cancelled my Amazon Prime membership once the free trial expired. I was only able to watch one free movie with it; the rest I had to pay for. :(

Now I've subscribed to a one month free trial of Hulu. Hardly any movies of interest on it. :P

Watched Hulu.com movie: "Sangre de Mi Sangre" (2007) a.k.a. "Blood of My Blood" (2008)
Sleazy winner of the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance about a Mexican con man who steals the identity of a fellow illegal immigrant to defraud his long-lost father in New York. Overall, I found none of the characters likeable and didn't care for the separate relationships that the two immigrants spent the entire movie building--one relationship was built on a lie, while the other relationship struck me as toxic. Rating: 4
Watched Hulu.com movie: "Colossal" (2017)
Appalling Nacho Vigalondo film wherein Anne Hathaway discovers that a gigantic monster in South Korea has been mimicking her drunken movements through a playground. Although this director has made dark and twisted movies before, I've always found them fun to watch. Not the case with this one. Man it got under my skin how the characters kept putting up with the villain's unconscionable depravity and abuse. Although the conclusion satisfied me, I found it too long overdue. Rating: 6
Gut punch
5/26/2020

The latest round of IBM layoffs cut deep. Don't know how many more of these I can last through.

My friends and I had a lot of fun playing the nostalgic "Streets of Rage 4" video game on Microsoft Windows over Memorial Day weekend. The controls felt enhanced yet still very familiar, and four of us were able to play at the same time. I enjoyed the challenge of brawling together and double-teaming bosses without accidentally hitting each other. (It seemed unfair later when we managed to turn off "friendly hitting" and were able to just swarm over bosses like a pack of wolves.) Also enjoyed the prison riot (where the inmates and prison guards fight each other and you in a free-for-all), and felt juiced anytime I managed to conquer a stage as the last player left standing. Side note: What's with this Adam taking all the credit??

Rented Amazon.com movie: "Westworld" (1973)
Finally watched the original Michael Crichton film about the Wild West amusement park where the robots go haywire on the human guests. Nowhere near as deep as the HBO series or the "Jurassic Park" novel, and it sure took long enough for the robots to go haywire. But once that happened, I enjoyed the whole sequence where that robot gunslinger (played by the incomparable Yul Brynner) went all Terminator and chased the protagonist from theme park to theme park. Rating: 6
Watched Amazon.com movie: "Blow the Man Down" (2020)
All the ingredients for a thrilling crime-noir, but anticlimactic in execution. Loved that ending though. Also got a kick out of the matriarchs in that Maine fishing town--mostly because the hardened cynic in me found them true to life. Rating: 6
Rented Amazon.com movie: "Elephant" (2003)
Minimalist, snail-paced Palme d'Or winner that follows different high school students' humdrum activities prior to a shooting spree that closely resembles the Columbine High School massacre. The movie burned though the 81 minute runtime so slowly that I seriously began to wonder whether it'd even get to the shooting spree! I got more and more impatient each time the narrative approached the big event only to loop backward into somebody else's timeline. Rating: 5
Rented Amazon.com movie: "No Man's Land" (2001)
Bizarre foreign language Oscar winner from Bosnia & Herzegovina about a big United Nations Protection Force publicity mess as they struggle to rescue two enemy soldiers and a third booby-trapped soldier from a trench during a Bosnian war ceasefire. It's billed as a comedy, but I didn't find anything funny about it. I also didn't get much meaning out of it, other than the absurdity of war. Too bad this beat a nominee I liked much better, "Amélie". Rating: 5
This is my life now
5/14/2020

I heard it might be next year before I'm allowed back to my office. Ugh.

I started a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, and so far I'm not impressed. Although it unlocked Prime Video movies for me, I still have to pay to rent them.

Rented Amazon.com movie: "Okuribito" (2008) a.k.a. "Departures" (2009)
Poetically poignant foreign language Oscar winner from Japan about a failed cellist who conceals his new job from his wife: a traditional Japanese ritual mortician. I found the movie kinda slow until a dramatic plot development blindsided me, i.e., the sweet wife whom I had sympathized with suddenly turned heel and viciously stigmatized him as unclean! Wow. In contrast, I find the mortician profession dignified and interesting to observe. Also liked how well the film romanticized death--a sentiment which I tend to lack in real-life. Rating: 7
Rented Amazon.com movie: "Kış Uykusu" a.k.a. "Winter Sleep" (2014)
A melancholy, ruminative tome of a movie that follows a wealthy mountaintop landlord for over three hours. To my weariness, the guy dissertated on and on with the two judgemental, self-pitying women who live with him: a divorced sister and a much younger wife. (If it were up to me, I would've sidestepped my way out these insufferable conversations so fast.) All in all, despite this film's introspective and philosophical merits, I'm disappointed it won the Palme d'Or over "Two Days, One Night". Rating: 5
Rented Amazon.com movie: "L'Enfant" (2005) a.k.a. "The Child" (2006)
Dumbfounding Palme d'Or winner wherein a mellow petty criminal--despite a sweet and loving relationship with his girlfriend and their baby in Belgium--inexplicably sells their baby on the black market without her knowledge! And that's not even the craziest part. The craziest part is he doesn't even understand why she's so upset about it! W...T...F. Needless to say, I was done with this whack job after that and couldn't care less about his subsequent path to forgiveness and redemption. Rating: 4
Rented Amazon.com movie: "Frozen River" (2008)
Frigid winner of the Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic at Sundance wherein Melissa Leo, desperate to pay off her family's mobile home and support her two sons, partners with a Mohawk mother to smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada to rural New York across the frozen St. Lawrence River. It started out slow and I found the characters unlikable, but some parts did have me on the edge of my seat. Rating: 6
Quarantine fatigue
5/2/2020

Bay Area shelter-in-place order extended to June 1. Ugh, might be months before I can get a haircut, go to a movie theatre again, or return to my office. Then when I do get to return to my office, I found out my workplace will issue masks to wear at all times, all day (except when eating or drinking). At least some restrictions got eased like construction and certain outdoor activities such as golf. None of which affect me, but now I feel there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

My days have just been blurring together. I have "The Simpsons" each Sunday, morning meetings every Tuesday and Thursday, and "Survivor: Winners At War" each Wednesday.

On "Survivor: Winners At War", I've been rooting for Jeremy, Sarah, and most recently Tony (though I don't know how much longer he'll last with the way he's been peaking). That last episode might've actually been my favorite of the season due to a variety of subtle moments I appreciated. For starters, Sarah talking her fellow police officer Tony down from his "spy nest" as if there was nothing weird about it. Then at a refreshing tribal council where a two million dollar mistake could happen at any time, Sarah refused to let Tony play immunity for her and Jeremy screamed instead of playing Michele's 50/50 immunity coin. I say "refreshing" because for once, it genuinely felt like long-term friendships transcended Survivor's growing moral decay. P.S. Such a nuisance having to look up everybody's votes on YouTube. I rarely even bother.

It's amazing what gamers can accomplish in that "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" video game. I've been watching some streamers play Survivor on one of the islands, complete with challenges and confessionals (hilarious seeing cute smiling avatars vent and stoke drama). The competition was meant to be non-serious and fun, but I think a couple of those streamers got legit angry.

Was it just me, or did the hypnotic voice of that schizophrenic AI ball "Solomon" sound like Rami Malek? I've actually been liking this third season of "Westworld". The idea of a well-spoken AI that runs predictive modeling to save humanity fascinates me. IBM's actually working on a new AI named "Debater" that constructs arguments and counterarguments, and works to emulate the most persuasive human debaters.

All work at home and no play
4/25/2020

Now that California has bent the COVID-19 curve, I finally braved a grocery store for the first time since the shelter-in-place began. (I wore the same face mask that I think I originally bought in 2005 to caulk my parents' bathtub.) The stories about toilet paper were true. Nothing but empty shelves. Good thing I'm still stocked up on the toiletries I accumulated because of my natural, everyday aversion to running out of the brands I like.

Georgia is really allowing movie theatres to reopen on April 27? What's the point without any new movies to show? From what I read, none of the major theatre chains plan to open until mid-summer. They're targeting "Tenet" on July 17 as the first new release to screen.

Before I cancelled my Netflix subscription, I spent the last days of my free trial streaming original Netflix films from some of the directors I like. I do plan to resubscribe once the new season of "Stranger Things" comes out, whenever that is. I also drafted a potential watch list of Netflix titles that piqued my interest, such as "The Haunting of Hill House" series and "The Lovebirds" comedy movie.

Watched Netflix.com movie: "22 July" (2018)
Arduous Paul Greengrass film about the deadliest lone terrorist attack in Norway's history, the sensationalized trial, and one survivor's grueling recovery. I skipped the limited theatrical release because of my disinterest in seeing a shooting massacre where so many youths died. But I finally streamed it out of respect for the director. I found it too long and hated being subjected to the terrorist's smug bravado, especially because I know there's so many people in the world who agree with him. But just when I thought nothing in this movie could cheer me up, that grounded, life-affirming message at the end really resonated with me. Rating: 7
Watched Netflix.com movie: "okja" (2017)
An eccentric, emotional Bong Joon Ho film about a farm girl (and "non-violent" animal lovers) trying to rescue her beloved super pig from a corporation. Props to the CGI effects for really making me care about this pig. Side note: Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal sure "hammed" it up. Definitely stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched Netflix.com movie: "Apostle" (2018)
Grisly Gareth Evans folk horror film wherein Dan Stevens goes undercover on an island of cultists to find his kidnapped sister. I found the first part of the movie entertainingly suspenseful when the cult founders tried to figure out which of their converts was an imposter (you would think this would be easy, but Dan Stevens kept lucking out). However, I soured on the movie once it got gut-churningly cruel. Rating: 5
TS-19
4/17/2020

Would be great if social distancing restrictions got eased enough where I could get a haircut again. How is it that WWE is designated an "essential" business but not barbers?!

I read a study that between 50 and 85 times more people in my county (Santa Clara County) may have been infected with COVID-19, based on antibody blood tests. I'm actually very curious about whether I ever contracted COVID-19 long before the outbreaks started in the U.S. I distinctly remember feeling sick on January 22 of this year. It was a Wednesday, the same day I screened "Color Out of Space". I had no respiratory symptoms but felt fatigue, chills, and body aches. I took two naps before going to the movie. Fortunately, I had secured my ticket online and was sitting far away from everyone. Then the next day, I felt perfectly fine again. I would love to take the antibody test if it becomes available to the public--but if I have to prick my finger, forget it. :P

Watched Netflix.com movie: "The Cloverfield Paradox" (2018)
I remember this movie received a lot of negative reviews, but it wasn't as bad as I thought. I will concede that all of the horrific sci-fi phenomena felt random and inexplicable. It also bugged me how loosely the film glommed onto the Cloverfield brand, i.e., naming the space station "Cloverfield" and tacking on that surprise ending. Rating: 5
Watched Netflix.com movie: "Creep" (2015)
Creepy as advertised. This found footage movie chronicles a videographer's awkward and increasingly scary interactions with a man (Mark Duplass) who hired him to film a cancer diary. I found the first part of the movie uncomfortably slow, but the second part did a good job conveying the scariness of being stalked. Rating: 5
Watched Netflix.com movie: "Creep 2" (2017)
Farcical found footage sequel that to my incuriosity, developed (and appeared to humanize?) the same Mark Duplass character from the first film. A character whom I couldn't care less about. :P Rating: 4
The new normal
4/7/2020

Bay Area shelter-in-place order extended to May 4. My life feels like that "Groundhog Day" movie where I wake up to the same routine every day. I work at home, eat in my car, listen to the same news and "traffic" report, and avoid people (especially kids). No sports to follow, no new movies, and pretty soon no new TV content. But I guess there's another blessing I should count: I never feel lonely.

Incidentally, I didn't watch either night of the WrestleMania 36 pay-per-view. I found it laughable that WWE charged $59.99-$79.98 for both nights. But I did find out what a Boneyard Match is: the winner has to bury the loser alive. So I guess that means the Undertaker's opponent is dead now. :)

Well, I finally subscribed to Netflix for a 30 day free trial. I managed to watch all three seasons of "Stranger Things", a Netflix original series which reminded me of my own nerdy childhood in the 1980s (including the part where boys get interested in girls and neglect their friendships). It's funny how I never really appreciated the awesomeness of the 1980s until after I grew up.

Watched Netflix.com movie: "I don't feel at home in this world anymore." (2017)
Darkly comedic Sundance winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic about a misanthropic nursing assistant who wants to track down and tell off the dangerous criminal who burglarized her house. It was directed by the "Blue Ruin" star, and fondly reminded me of "Blue Ruin" how inexperienced the main character was at vigilantism. The movie wound up flying off the rails with its zany coincidences, but all in all I enjoyed it. Rating: 7
Watched Netflix.com TV series: "Stranger Things" season 1
Enjoyable 1980s homage that intrigued me enough to binge the entire first season in one night. The show kept me hooked by dangling that carrot of finding Winona Ryder's missing kid, a la "Poltergeist". The show also made successful use of the Game of Thrones formula, i.e., developing the main characters apart from one another to make me vested in them. I found Eleven and police chief Hopper particularly entertaining. I eagerly anticipated the episode when all of the major characters' investigations finally converged and they all teamed up. Side note: I can't help thinking that "Silent Hill" inspired the Upside Down. Rating: +++1/2
Watched Netflix.com TV series: "Stranger Things" season 2
Much like that crayon map inside of Winona Ryder's house, this season's storylines felt like a spaghetti mess. To use my own sports analogy, it felt like the writers benched Eleven and stuck a lot of characters in "garbage time". Fortunately, the season ended awesomely once the character paths finally converged, with even the weaker storylines paying off in some way. Interestingly, my favorite character this season was Will. What an inspirational survivor, that kid. Side note: Props to Bob, but what a mockery of BASIC programming. :( Rating: +++
Watched Netflix.com TV series: "Stranger Things" season 3
Dopier and less charming than the previous seasons, but I still found it entertaining enough to binge in one day. I particularly liked seeing the psychologically scarred characters having fun and coming out of their shell. Side note: I've always loved "The NeverEnding Story" song--I wish they had kept playing it. :D Rating: ++1/2
Flatten the curve
3/27/2020

Torturously boring to work from home without movie theatres and restaurant dine-ins. I spend my days eating meals in my car (trying to patronize my favorite restaurants)--and as a new hobby, I sightsee what my old hangouts look like without people. But I should count my blessings. I still have a job and feel great health-wise. Possibly because I've been sleeping more and eating mostly poke (raw fish in a bowl of rice that I can easily eat in my car).

Another upside is I don't feel self-conscious about my sanitary quirks anymore, like washing public bathroom knobs and eating pizza with a knife and fork. Now people besides me can understand what dried-out hands feel like. :)

Shelter in place
3/17/2020

I was ok with the "social distancing" phase of the COVID-19 pandemic since I'm already a recluse, wash my hands often, and don't like touching doorknobs. But now my Bay Area county issued a "shelter-in-place" order, meaning I'm supposed to stay at home until at least April 8. The worst part for me might be the theatre closures, even though they were pretty much empty anyway.

Before the theatres shuttered, I did finally screen a movie in IMAX with Laser, which uses a sharper and brighter 4K laser projection system instead of a xenon arc lamp. All in all, my eyes couldn't detect much difference. :P

I guess WrestleMania 36 isn't getting cancelled after all. The show will simply air inside an empty Performance Center. Wow.

Watched movie: "Bloodshot" (2020) in IMAX with Laser
Vapid comic book movie about a supersoldier (Vin Diesel) who can heal just like Deadpool, but has nary any personality. Which made the action sequences tedious because a) I knew Vin Diesel couldn't die, and b) I didn't care whether he succeeded or not. Sadly, some emotional weight could've easily fixed this film and given me a reason to care. Instead, the movie opted for some really asinine humor. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "King Kong" (1933)
Surprisingly entertaining for such an early monster movie. I got a big kick out of Kong's impetuous, chest-thumping personality. To my amusement, this gorilla didn't give no f**ks. He flung humans off a cliff, chomped them in his mouth, stomped on them, and even tossed one woman to her death because she wasn't the blonde one he had a thing for! (Keep in mind this film was made in the 1930s.) Funny how much more I enjoyed this jittery stop-motion Kong over the later, more realistic CGI versions. I also liked those other prehistoric monsters on Skull Island. Rating: 7
COVID-19
3/12/2020

To my disbelief, this global novel coronavirus pandemic has wildly snowballed into one news bombshell after another. At first it was just film festivals getting cancelled, the James Bond film release moving from April to Thanksgiving, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open (a Masters tennis tournament at Indian Wells that I've considered attending ever since Serena Williams stopped boycotting it) getting cancelled, and my workplace banning handshakes. Now my workplace feels like a ghost town with employees encouraged to work from home. My moviegoing schedule has been completely upended. The NBA suspended the rest of the season, and other sports leagues followed suit (still can't believe that the NBA player who had prank-touched every microphone and recorder at a media event ended up testing positive for the coronavirus)!

What's next? For sure WrestleMania in April. (I never dreamed WWE would ever cancel that.) Cannes Film Festival and French Open in May? Anime Expo, Wimbledon, and the Summer Olympics in July?

Watched movie: "Onward" (2020) in 3D
An urban fantasy adventure from Pixar. A fun movie--I just wish it had delivered the big emotional payoff that the entire adventure had been building up to. Side note: I enjoyed the Maggie Simpson short. Rating: 6
The dogs of bore
3/2/2020

After ordering the last 14 WrestleMania pay-per-views, I'm thinking this is the first year I'm going to pass on it. The show has gotten way too long to sit through, and I'm just not excited about anything on the card--not even the Undertaker's return to WrestleMania after missing last year's. I still remember how hyped I used to get for his undefeated WrestleMania streak matches.

It's criminal how WWE underutilizes Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania. Instead, we're going to get Goldberg and Roman Reigns spearing each other for five minutes, one Brock Lesnar suplex after another, and "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt shrugging off five+ Attitude Adjustments.

I'm intrigued by the suggestion of a two-night WrestleMania with two main events. The suggestion alone wouldn't convince me to watch either night, but I'm intrigued by all the different matches that wouldn't make the card otherwise.

Man. I can't screen any more movies at the six-week long Akira Kurosawa Film Festival because the final two weeks got cancelled. The Stanford Theatre closed until further notice out of "an abundance of caution". The owner's scared of the coronavirus even though no one in the theatre's actually been infected.

Watched movie: "The Lodge" (2020)
A painfully awkward "horror film" wherein Riley Keough inexplicably babysits her two future stepchildren alone at a remote snow lodge. I say "painfully awkward" because to my dismay, neither adult seemed the least bit empathetic as to why the children saw her as a homewrecker. I say "inexplicably" because the father knew full well that the Riley Keough character had once survived a mass cult suicide, yet still left his children alone with her in the middle of nowhere. I also put "horror film" in quotes because I found it boring and defanged by too many "that scene was just a dream" scares (just like "It Comes at Night" which also had Riley Keough in it). By the end of this snowy snoozefest, I lost interest in which scenes were reality and found the characters too unlikeable to care about anymore. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Nora inu" (1949) a.k.a. "Stray Dog" (1963)
Excruciatingly slow post-WWII film noir directed by Akira Kurosawa, where Toshiro Mifune plays a rookie homicide detective (not a samurai) who races to track down his stolen Colt pistol before an armed robber uses all seven of the bullets in it. But when I say "race", picture two snails racing against each other because that's how slowly the robber used each bullet and that's how slowly the rookie and his veteran partner trailed him. It actually vexed me how long some of these scenes dragged. The upside: all that scrupulous police work eventually got me really vested in them catching this guy--so the film's brilliant Hitchcockian climax amped me up. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Tengoku to jigoku" a.k.a. "High and Low" (1963)
Slow and anticlimactic. I did like its unpredictability, as the movie starts with a moral dilemma (whether Toshiro Mifune and his family should lose their wealth to pay a kidnapper's ransom, even though the guy mistakenly kidnapped the chauffeur's son instead of Toshiro Mifune's son); then turns into an exhaustingly long police procedural. I guess after all that, I expected some kind of mind-blowing twist or shock to end the movie (but I guess the mind-blowing twist was that the film had no twist--the kidnapper was just some stranger even though I could've sworn I spotted him conspiring with Toshiro Mifune). Maybe I just need to stop overthinking these Kurosawa crime dramas. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Invisible Man" (2020) in IMAX
Refreshingly smart Leigh Whannell film where Elisabeth Moss struggles to outwit an abusive ex-boyfriend who can turn invisible. A somewhat futile struggle, given how easily he thwarted countermeasures like paint and water watching. I basically saw only one important weakness: his urge to push his luck against the one woman who knows him best (stalking her rather than killing her). Meaning, sooner or later she was bound to anticipate his next move. I would've rated the movie higher, but I wanted a more satisfying payoff for all that cruel psychological torment. Rating: 6
Wish fur-fillment
2/20/2020

Thanks to a Family Programming initiative courtesy of SFFILM Education, I got to see Netflix's new Shaun the Sheep sequel for free at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Awesome movie. Wasn't happy to see all the nude protesters outside of the theatre though, standing there in full view as parents and their children exited.

Recently I reviewed my checklist of lifetime goals, and removed several items that I completely lost interest in: "race in a marathon", "advanced swimming", "car mechanics", "Easter Island (Moai statues)", and "Funspot". Funspot is the famous New Hampshire arcade in "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters", which I soured on visiting once I learned of the Billy Mitchell and Todd Rogers video game records scandals.

Watched movie: "Farmageddon" (2019-2020)
A Shaun the Sheep movie that delighted me to no end. The laughs and feels just kept on coming. Stay during and after the credits. P.S. During the post-screening Q&A with producer Paul Kewley where he exhibited the miniature stop-motion puppets, I learned that Aardman Animations stuck the sheeps' mouths on the sides of their heads because that's easier to animate. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Blumhouse's Fantasy Island" (2020)
The audacity of Blumhouse to cheapen this beloved TV show into a superficial PG-13 horror flick where the fantasy characters inexplicably become zombies. The rules of the island made no sense; the movie ended the fantasies pointlessly and bungled its messages about bullying and self-acceptance; and the big plot twist struck me as colossally dumb. Why such a long-drawn-out charade? Rating: 3
Proud of "Parasite"
2/10/2020

Although this is the fifth consecutive time I've mispredicted the Academy Award for Best Picture (I sensed the upset coming when Bong Joon Ho unexpectedly won Best Director), I've never been happier to be wrong. "Parasite" was my favorite Best Picture nominee of the year and in my opinion, the most deserving film to break through as the first non-English Best Picture winner. I also loved the warm reaction to the win, from audience members chanting for the lights to come back up to filmmakers tweeting affectionate words about it. Other highlights from the Oscar ceremony:

  • Steve Martin and Chris Rock cracking me up and repeatedly picking on that "famous actor" Jeff Bezos in the audience.
  • Montages of the nominated acting performances instead of just singular clips.
  • Eminem finally performing "Lose Yourself" 17 years after it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • James Corden and Rebel Wilson showing up in outfits from that Razzie frontrunner "Cats".
  • Presenters introducing other presenters. Just kidding--that was stupid.

I'm also excited by the announcement during the Oscars broadcast that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will finally open to the world on December 14, 2020.

Watched movie: "Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn" (2020) in IMAX
Better than "Suicide Squad". Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Monday morning quarterback
2/5/2020

Now that the San Francisco 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV (it's like they couldn't do anything right halfway into the fourth quarter) and my favorite taqueria for chili verde inexplicably stopped making chili verde, I already came up with my four worst events of the year. :( I did get a kick out of some sage fortune cookie advice I got from that prophetic Panda Express in Oakridge mall: "IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT."

Congratulations to the "unloved champion" Novak Djokovic on a record-extending eighth Australian Open title. Don't know how he got away with patting the chair umpire's feet and bullying him. Goes to show the double standard on code violations. And speaking of unsportsmanlike conduct, congratulations to American Sofia Kenin on winning her maiden Grand Slam final. I hate her bizarre hysterics but admittedly, I'd rather root for an astoundingly clutch player over a wildly inconsistent player whom I've always found overrated.

I'm not too bummed about an injury-hampered Roger Federer losing his Australian Open semifinal because let's face it, he had no business winning that bizarre five-set quarterfinal against Tennys Sandgren. I watched Federer save all seven match points with my own eyes and I still don't believe it. He looked so sluggish with no pop on his serves, like he wanted to just retire from the match. Afterward, I was impressed to find out that Federer has never retired during any tennis match.

Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)
1/27/2020

Loved the classy 24-second shot clock violation tributes to Kobe Bryant. Still in disbelief that he and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash. (This goes to why I'd never ever fly in private aircrafts.) My favorite memory of Kobe actually isn't from a Lakers game. It's from the 2008 Olympics gold medal game where he helped LeBron James redeem the U.S. men's national basketball team after their 2004 bronze medal. I fondly remember Kobe knocking down a clutch 3-pointer (picking up a foul too), and shushing an anti-USA section of the crowd with his finger. Then afterward, he looked genuinely overjoyed to have won a gold medal for America.

In WWE news, I really enjoyed this year's 30-Man Royal Rumble Match. Unlike the 30-Woman Royal Rumble Match, which just cobbled a bunch of random encounters together, the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match focused on two strong storylines and coordinated the whole match around them.

In Australian Open news, imagine the emotion had Caroline Wozniacki ended her tennis career against best friend Serena Williams in the fourth round. Instead, disappointingly, both players lost their third round matches and didn't even make it to the second week. Well, Wozniacki can still retire with her head held high, having finally won a Grand Slam title in a thrilling final that I'll remember fondly from the 2018 Australian Open.

In award season news, I can't remember the last time the Golden Globes and Guild Awards made my Academy Award predictions so easy. My final Oscar predictions for 2019:

  • Best picture: "1917"
  • Best director: Sam Mendes, "1917"
  • Best actor: Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"
  • Best actress: Renée Zellweger, "Judy"
  • Best supporting actor: Brad Pitt, "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood"
  • Best supporting actress: Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"
Watched movie: "Color Out of Space" (2020)
Lurid film adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft short story wherein a crashed alien meteorite mutates the plants and animals on a family farm (similar to that recent movie "Annihilation"). The film bored me for awhile, but then shocked me with a body horror incident that curdled my blood. The movie also livened up once Nicolas Cage, as per usual, went bonkers. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Bad Boys for Life" (2020) in IMAX
This threequel started off well with funny ribbing, heartwarming comradery between long-time friends and family, and compelling motivational catalysts. But then about halfway through, three specific plot points ruined the movie for me: a) killing off the beloved Captain Howard, which added nothing to the plot (it just went forgotten and unavenged) and killed the fun of the rest of the film for me; b) Marcus reneging on his earnest prayer, which killed the movie's most touching scene for me; and c) starting a redemption arc for an irredeemable assassin (which to my chagrin is becoming a cliche) who incidentally, didn't look the least bit like Will Smith. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
J.No
1/20/2020

Rather annoying how the live Oscar nominations broadcast excludes the supporting actor/actress categories. Wasn't until later that I learned Jennifer Lopez got snubbed. One could argue other snubs as well, but to me this potential Oscar nomination had the strongest precursors.

Here's how I rated the 2019 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "Parasite" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Marriage Story" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Jojo Rabbit" (My rating: 7)
  5. "The Irishman" (My rating: 7)
  6. "1917" (My rating: 7)
  7. "Little Women" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Joker" (My rating: 6)
  9. "Ford v Ferrari" (My rating: 4)

Now that both "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" and "The Irishman" lost the Producers Guild Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards, I see "1917" as the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture. If Sam Mendes wins the DGA Award, that'll cement my prediction.

Congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers on finally taking back the NFC crown (after a long and demoralizing drought)! I actually felt bad for Aaron Rodgers, having to watch the 49ers run the ball past the Packers defense again and again and again. There was just nothing they could do.

Watched movie: "Tenki no ko" (2019) a.k.a. "Weathering With You" (2020)
Breathtaking, emotional Oscar entry from Japan that looked like it took ages to animate. Every scene of rain or shine looked like a work of art. According to the director in his post-credits interview, the animators had to hand-draw every raindrop. He also confirmed that his two characters from "Your Name." made cameos. Rating: 7
Entourage!
1/12/2020

Well, looks like I already have a candidate for worst movies of the decade from 2020 to 2029.

AMC Stubs A-List continues to impress me. They quietly added a new feature called A-List Entourage. It allows an A-List member to invite other A-List members into an "entourage". Any member of this entourage can book free A-List tickets for each other--a huge convenience for reserving seats next to each other in one fell swoop. If only Regal did something like this. None of my friends patronize AMC.

My AMC Stubs A-List membership comes with an AMC Stubs Premiere membership, meaning I accumulate 2395 AMC Stubs points for every monthly membership charge. So about every six months, I get enough of a reward for a free standard movie ticket. The trick is what to use the free ticket on, as the activated reward expires in nine months and I already receive three free movies a week. So rather than attempt four free movies in one week, I've been watching "alternative content" films that are excluded from A-List. This month, I'm going to watch a fan preview screening of Japan's animated Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film. Incidentally, I also have to figure out when to redeem the "guest re-admit pass" I received from AMC when their digital projector broke in the middle of "1917" (forcing me to book another A-List reservation for a later screening). Same goes for my free Regal Crown Club standard movie ticket, which expires later this year. Guess at some point I'll have to see four movies in one week. :P

Watched movie: "The Grudge" (2020)
Mind-numbingly bland American sidequel that felt overstuffed with pointless character development (who cares about the doomed characters' backstories?!). Not a single creative scare either. I did find a couple of scenes unintentionally funny: when the knocking ghost appeared in the peephole and a zipper inexplicably interrupted an idyllic scene's soapy score. Rating: 3
A new decade
1/5/2020

Welcome to the new home of my blog! I was the only blogger left on blog.flup.org, so many thanks to Allan for maintaining that web site for so long. Unfortunately, my new home lacks the handy search feature from blog.flup.org--so I've aggregated all of my past blog entries into one humongous blog archive that can be searched by web browser via the "find" tool.

I've also decided that starting this decade, I'm going watch movies without taking any notes. Ironically, I found I was missing noteworthy moments onscreen because of my preoccupation with writing notes. I also found that I hardly even referred back to my notes after each movie. So we'll see how this bold new practice goes.


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