Steven Aoki's Blog

Flatten the curve

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

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

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

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

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. 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"

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:

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

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)

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:

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

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

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

Welcome to the new home of my blog! I was the only blogger left on, so many thanks to Allan for maintaining that web site for so long. Unfortunately, my new home lacks the handy search feature from 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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