Steven Aoki's Blog Archive

2010-2019 Decade in Review
12/31/19 5:57 PM PST
Best of 2010-2019 Worst of 2010-2019
Year 2010 2016
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Hearing that the United States got Osama bin Laden.
  2. (tie) Watching overdue sports triumphs: the USWNT finally winning that 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in my favorite soccer match of all-time (after their bitter loss in 2011); and Roger Federer finally winning his 18th Grand Slam title (after over four years of disappointment) by narrowly outlasting Rafael Nadal in my favorite tennis match of all-time.
  3. (tie) Rooting for Serena Williams as she won lots of big tennis tournaments in her 30's including the Serena Slam 2.0, a 2012 Olympics gold medal, and finally her 23rd Grand Slam title to break Steffi Graf's Open era record; and rooting for Roger Federer as he won the 2012 Wimbledon, 2017 Wimbledon (for a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon title), and 2018 Australian Open for an overall even total of 20 Grand Slam titles.
  4. Unexpectedly headlining my very own magazine ad.
  5. (tie) Attending some excellent live events: "LOST LIVE: The Final Celebration" at the UCLA Royce Hall, a Muse concert, one of Michael Flatley's final performances from one of the best seats in the house, and the "Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience".
  6. (tie) Vacationing outside of my comfort zone in both England (where I watched an Olympic Federer match at Wimbledon, witnessed Phelps break the record for most Olympic medals, and successfully crossed through the Channel Tunnel in a stick-shift car with everything reversed) and Brazil (where I watched a thrilling Rafael Nadal Olympic tennis semifinal, witnessed Michael Phelps win his 23rd Olympic gold medal, watched Usain Bolt win his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100M sprint, and toured Itaipú Dam); and vacationing in New York with my siblings.
  7. Getting an awesome new toilet that flushes without clogging.
  8. (tie) Attending WWE pay-per-view events: unexpectedly landing the perfect seat for the Buried Alive Match; finally seeing The Rock lay the smackdown at WrestleMania XXVII; and watching WrestleMania XXVIII from the first row, including Rock vs. Cena and a historic "End of an Era" Hell in a Cell dream match.
  9. Three-peating a good appraisal at work.
  10. (tie) Watching two of the greatest baseball games ever: the San Francisco Giants winning Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, and the Chicago Cubs winning Game 7 of the 2016 World Series; and watching American Pharoah win the Triple Crown after a 37-year drought.
Honorable mentions: Landing front row at the Olympic ladies' figure skating competition; attending Royal Rumble 2010, WrestleMania XXVI, and TLC 2010; and watching the best football game ever, Super Bowl XLIX, while snacking on mixed nuts in my hotel room.
  1. Watching my Dad suffer emotionally and physically before his eventual death.
  2. The U.S. presidential election of 2016 giving rise to post-truth politics and disinformation.
  3. A self-diagnosed sinus infection causing me to feel dizziness for weeks whenever I tilted my head or got up too quickly.
  4. Finding out that the friend who maintained my web site server murdered his newlywed wife and then himself.
  5. (tie) Feeling bummed from watching bitter sports disappointments like Michael Phelps losing his signature Olympic race (with me in the audience), Roger Federer losing his Olympic gold medal final and various Grand Slam matches that he could have won (most notably the 2019 Wimbledon final he lost after blowing double match point on his serve), Serena Williams blowing the Calendar Grand Slam in 2015 and losing multiple Grand Slam finals, the Golden State Warriors blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead in a historic loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and watching Lindsey Jacobellis every four years blow her chance at redemption in Olympics snowboard cross.
  6. Losing interest in flying after getting airsick on certain flights; most notably the time I fought motion sickness during my airplane's descent at ATL, then getting to smell the vomit of the kid in front of me.
  7. Weathering the California drought, smoky California wildfires, and global warming.
  8. Attending memorial services for my brother-in-law, three aunts, and one uncle.
  9. Tolerating lousy washing machines at my apartment complex that stain my clothes after I was spoiled on the high-efficiency one at my Dad's old house.
  10. Seeing and hearing squatters across the fence from my parking lot every day for months (including one night where I heard a chilling disturbance).
Movies
  1. "Inception" (2010)
    "I bow to Christopher Nolan's mad genius."
    "...the magnum opus of Christopher Nolan."
  2. "Toy Story 3" (2010)
    "Quite possibly the funniest, most touching 'Toy Story' of them all."
  3. "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012)
    "Brutally honest and spine-chillingly good."
  4. "Les Misérables" (2012)
    "Bravo to this ensemble cast for some stellar heartwrenching performances."
    "...probably the best theatrical adaptation of a musical that I've ever seen."
  5. "Gravity" (2013)
    "A breathtaking cinematic ride by Alfonso Cuarón, fraught with jaw-dropping zero-g peril."
    "...still feel awed by it."
  6. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013)
    "A concise, yet faithful adaptation of the novel that succeeded in keeping all of my favorite scenes while trimming out the excess."
  7. "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)
    "Magnificent eye-popping insanity..."
  8. "searching" (2018)
    "I found a lot of the film's details relatable and emblematic of the times we live in..."
  9. "Lion" (2016)
    "...I've never felt so emotional watching someone web surf."
  10. "Train to Busan" (2016)
    "Stressfully thrilling South Korean zombie flick..."

Honorable mention: "A Quiet Place" (2018)
"Heart-tugging, excruciatingly tense John Krasinski film..."

  1. "Blair Witch" (2016)
    "Not only did this new installment completely fail to scare me, it relentlessly tried to nauseate me with unsteady camerawork."
  2. "Swiss Army Man" (2016)
    "So it probably goes without saying that I found this film pretty cringeworthy and tasteless."
  3. "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (2011)
    "WTF, dude. WTF."
  4. "The Last Exorcism Part II" (2013)
    "Virtually worthless sequel..."
  5. "Texas Chainsaw 3D" (2013)
    "...a disgrace rather than just bad. :("
  6. "Piranha 3DD" (2012)
    "Every bit as stupid as the first 'Piranha 3D', and then some."
  7. "Silent House" (2012)
    "In practice, it sucked."
  8. "The Future" (2011)
    "Maybe performance art just doesn't appeal to me, because I found this whole film torturously lame."
  9. "Need for Speed" (2014)
    "Harebrained plot and torturously asinine characters."
  10. "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (2014)
    "A mind-numbing, illogical, visually taxing ordeal that lumbered on and on and on (until finally it ended in a completely nonsensical way)."

Dishonorable mention: "3 from Hell" (2019)
"Depraved Rob Zombie threequel...that I immediately regretted watching."

Acting performances
  1. Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady" (2011)
  2. Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games" (2012)
  3. Hugh Jackman in "Les Misérables" (2012)
  4. Octavia Spencer in "The Help" (2011)
  5. Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012)
Honorable mention: Viola Davis in "Fences" (2016)
  1. Jesse Eisenberg in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (2016)
  2. Aaron Paul in "Need for Speed" (2014)
  3. Dylan O'Brien in "The Maze Runner" (2014)
  4. Ken Jeong in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011)
  5. Shia LaBeouf in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011)
Dishonorable mention: Jared Leto in "Suicide Squad" (2016)
Songs
  1. "Style" Taylor Swift (2015)
  2. "Shadow" Chromatics (2017)
  3. "Stereo Love (Spanish Version)" Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina (2010)
  4. "Madness" Muse (2012)
  5. "A Real Hero" College f/ Electric Youth (2011)
  6. "Brave" Sara Bareilles (2013)
  7. "Naturally" Selena Gomez & The Scene (2010)
  8. "Dangerous" Big Data f/ Joywave (2013)
  9. "The One That Got Away" Katy Perry (2012)
  10. "I Choose You" Sara Bareilles (2014)
  1. "Yonkers" Tyler, The Creator (2011)
  2. "Friday" Rebecca Black (2011)
  3. "Famous" Kanye West (2016)
  4. "Fake Love" Drake (2016)
  5. "2 Phones" Kevin Gates (2016)
  6. "Naked" James Arthur (2017)
  7. "Supernova" Ansel Elgort (2018)
  8. "B*TCH I'M BELLA THORNE" Bella Thorne (2018)
  9. "Better Now" Post Malone (2018)
  10. "FRIENDS" Marshmello & Anne-Marie (2018)
Music video "Style" Taylor Swift "Came Back Haunted" Nine Inch Nails
TV series
  1. "Game of Thrones"
  2. "Dexter"
  3. "Breaking Bad"
  4. "The Walking Dead"
  5. "Survivor"
  1. "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette"
  2. "Temptation Island"
  3. "TMZ on TV"
  4. "Jersey Shore"
  5. (tie) "American Idol", "America's Got Talent", "The Voice", "The X Factor"
Commercial Android commercial where rock, paper, and scissors come together. Offensive Miracle Mattress commercial where the spokespeople spoof 9/11.
Movie trailer "The Tree of Life" (2011) "The Woods" (2016)
Director Christopher Nolan Michael Bay
Holiday movie marathon 2019
12/31/19 2:55 AM PST
Watched movie: "Little Women" (2019)
I liked the dialogue and the acting, but got disoriented by all the seamless flashbacks. I found it particularly inappropriate how the narrative tricked me into thinking the dying sister recovered. :( Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Clemency" (2019)
Depressing winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance about a prison warden (Alfre Woodard) who loses sleep over the death row executions she carries out. The movie crawled along with nary any plot. Excellent performances from Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge though. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "1917" (2019)
Real-time WWI epic, littered with great British actors, that follows two British messengers as they race across a war-torn French countryside to stop a battalion of 1600 men from walking into a German trap. I was impressed by the lifelike WWI warzones and the seamless-looking continuous takes. I also liked the disbelief that some of the characters showed, for example, the dismay that anyone would intentionally cross "no man's land" and the French woman's astonishment that the messenger's canteen contained milk. As for the real-time action, I enjoyed it despite the "plot armor" that made a complete mockery of the German soldiers' aim. Rating: 7
2019 Year in Review
12/27/19 4:20 PM PST
Best of 2019 Worst of 2019
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Watching the USWNT successfully defend their Women's World Cup title, especially when goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made the save of her life in the semi-final and Rose Lavelle struck the goal of her life in the final.
  2. Receiving five extra vacation days for my 20-year service anniversary at IBM.
  3. My workplace providing free tea all-day during business hours.
  4. Attending my niece's rehearsal dinner and wedding in Oregon.
  5. Enjoying an epic weekend of "Avengers: Endgame" on Saturday and the mother of all "Game of Thrones" battles on Sunday.

Honorable mention: My favorite taqueria for chili verde reopening.

  1. Finding out that the friend who maintained my web site server murdered his newlywed wife and then himself.
  2. Roger Federer blowing double match point on his serve during his loss to Novak Djokovic in the longest Wimbledon gentlemen's final ever.
  3. Marvelling at how injury after injury scuttled the Golden State Warriors' near completion of an NBA championship three-peat, most notably Kevin Durant rupturing his Achilles tendon his first game back from a calf strain, and Klay Thompson tearing his ACL in Game 6 after already missing Game 3 with a hamstring strain.
  4. (tie) Serena Williams, serving on match point at 5-1 in the final set of her Australian Open quarterfinal against Karolina Pliskova, turning her ankle and going on to lose the next six games; Roger Federer failing to convert all 12 break points in his 4th round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open; Serena losing the Wimbledon final to an opponent she literally defeated 9 out of 10 times; and Serena losing the US Open final to a teenager.
  5. "Game of Thrones" ruining one of their most iconic characters so badly that I get sad trying to watch old episodes with her now.
Movies
  1. "Avengers: Endgame"
    "Too hilarious and entertaining for me to hold any major plot holes against it."
  2. "Knives Out"
    "A brilliant crime mystery by Rian Johnson that subverted the genre so masterfully, I couldn't predict a single twist in it."
  3. "Rocketman"
    "An exhilarating fantasy musical about Elton John's life..."
  4. "Parasite"
    "An unpredictable, class-conscious Oscar entry from South Korea that also won the Palme d'Or."
  5. "The Farewell"
    "Tearjerking, bittersweet dramedy about a Chinese family..."
  6. "Toy Story 4"
    "...I found this new installment hilarious (especially the new character 'Forky')..."
  7. "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood"
    "Out of all the 1969 nostalgia loaded into this fun new Tarantino flick, I got the biggest kick out of Bruce Lee and his cocky posturing."
  8. "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
    "Poignantly emotional drama..."
  9. "Marriage Story"
    "Big props to both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson for their powerhouse performances."
  10. "Ready or Not"
    "Amusing horror thriller...the bride made understandable mistakes rather than dumb horror movie mistakes."
  1. "3 from Hell"
    "Depraved Rob Zombie threequel...that I immediately regretted watching."
  2. "The Prodigy"
    "Halfway decent bad-seed horror flick...until the last act soured me."
  3. "The Curse of La Llorona"
    "...portrayed her as just another loud, un-scary monster in the Conjuring franchise."
  4. "Shazam!"
    "Just asinine all around."
  5. "The Angry Birds Movie 2"
    "What does that say about a comedy when the pee scene struck me as the funniest gag?"
  6. "Angel Has Fallen"
    "Soulless threequel...Plenty of explosions and killings but nary and emotion or humor."
  7. "Annabelle Comes Home"
    "Boring and fraught with mind-numbing behavior..."
  8. "Escape Room"
    "...meaningless trials and banal PG-13 deaths."
  9. "The Art of Self-Defense"
    "Uncomfortably dark comedy that tried to make toxic masculinity a laughing matter."
  10. "Ford v Ferrari"
    "Quite possibly the dumbest sports movie I've ever seen."
Songs
  1. "Boom" X Ambassadors
  2. "bad guy" Billie Eilish
  3. "Only Human" Jonas Brothers
  4. "Twerk" City Girls f/ Cardi B
  5. "I Don't Care" Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber
  1. "CHopstix" ScHoolboy Q (witH Travis Scott)
  2. "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored" Ariana Grande
  3. "Twang" Mason Ramsey
  4. "Lover" Taylor Swift
  5. "Lose You to Love Me" Selena Gomez
TV series (tie) "Game of Thrones" and "Mr. Robot" "Survivor: Island of the Idols"
Commercial Google Assistant commercial where Google Assistant solves problems in famous movies. Peloton Bike commercial where a wife spends a year soppily gushing over a surprise Christmas gift from her husband: an exercise bike she doesn't need.
Movie trailer (tie) "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and "Uncut Gems" and "Wonder Woman 1984" (tie) "Sonic the Hedgehog" (first trailer) and "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar"
whoami
12/26/19 7:52 PM PST

The "Mr. Robot" series finale left me with mixed feelings. I was about to proclaim it one of the worst finales in TV history, but then was relieved that the ending managed to right the ship. I'm still unhappy that this whole time, we've been watching Darlene bond with a fake brother...but the show could've ended so much worse.

I watched the IMAX-exclusive prologue of "Tenet". Didn't know was going on, but I already think this will be my favorite movie of 2020. :)

Watched movie: "Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker" (2019) in 3D
One awesome scene, two or so good scenes, and a much more compelling character arc for Rey--but at least 90 minutes worth of plot filler that tested my patience. Also tired of Finn asking where Rey is, and found that kiss between Han Solo's killer and Rey sickening. Side note: It amused me to read all the ways that this movie dissed The Last Jedi. Rating: 6
"Another incident"
12/12/19 11:02 PM PST

Man, when that last "Survivor: Island of the Idols" tribal council unexpectedly went to commercial--then afterward showed Jeff Probst somberly approaching camp--I seriously thought someone had died. What a relief to hear the producers finally got rid of Dan, who to my dismay was STILL touching women even after the producers warned him. Too bad they didn't do this before he ruined the entire season. It's also lame to me that the show just dropped this major bombshell with as little information as possible, then tried to pivot into the finale like that's the more important thing to care about.

In other TV news, I'm really enjoying this final season of "Mr. Robot". It's like watching a modern-day Ender and Valentine Wiggin synergize as one. I hope the upcoming two-part series finale doesn't disappoint. I'm also curious how this final "Supernatural" season will end, as the mid-season finale finally confirmed the earlier canon that the universe cannot survive without God. I like how the show has been bringing back previously recurring characters like the deaf hunter Eileen and the Winchesters' half-brother Adam.

The CW recently began airing a 5-episode crossover of all their DC superhero shows, titled "Crisis on Infinite Earths". I've actually been watching it to see what became of characters from other DC multiverses, such as Burt Ward's Robin, Clark & Lois Kent from "Smallville", Brandon Routh's Superman from the "Superman Returns" movie, Huntress from the "Birds of Prey" TV series, Tom Ellis' Lucifer Morningstar, and John Wesley Shipp's Flash. Amusingly, Brandon Routh also plays the Ray Palmer character--so the episode had to use split screen when they met each other. I also didn't realize that Erica Durance was playing both Supergirl's mother and Smallville's Lois Kent. P.S. Why do both Supergirl and Superman bother to disguise themselves with glasses among characters who already know their secret identity?

Watched movie: "Marriage Story" (2019)
An ironically (?) titled drama of raw emotion wherein a separated couple's mutual desire for an amicable divorce turns nasty a la "Kramer vs. Kramer". But how could it not when the wife (Scarlett Johansson) moves away to Los Angeles and wants their 8-year-old son to live with her? The way I saw it, the husband (Adam Driver) deserved custody because they and their son lived in New York all his life. Admittedly, I found Adam Driver more sympathetic and blamed Scarlett Johansson for letting her lawyer (Laura Dern) think and speak for her. But I give the movie credit for trying to balance both sides of the story. Big props to both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson for their powerhouse performances. Rating: 7
November rain
11/30/19 6:20 PM PST
Watched movie: "The Irishman" (2019)
Although these Scorsese mobster movies all feel alike to me, I would say this one entertained me the most. The dialogue gleamed with street-smarts and dry wit (especially that amusing Harvey Keitel conversation). Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci all mesmerized me with their performances. My only major complaint would be the bloated runtime. At well over three hours, I started losing patience on why this film wouldn't end. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Ford v Ferrari" (2019)
Quite possibly the dumbest sports movie I've ever seen. I could stomach the occasionally corny and formulaic scenes in the first couple of hours, but the film's climactic racecar event (the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans)--where the movie tried to BS me that I should applaud veritable cheaters--left me outraged. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (2019)
Poignantly emotional drama wherein beloved children's TV host Fred Rogers (played to perfection by Tom Hanks) counsels a cynical journalist who (understandably) can't forgive his louse of a father. This guy actually felt sorry, though. I wonder what Mister Rogers would say about people who don't feel sorry and don't deserve forgiveness? Admittedly, I've never been able to sit through a single episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" because of my hardened cynicism. But I enjoyed this movie. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Knives Out" (2019)
A brilliant crime mystery by Rian Johnson that subverted the genre so masterfully, I couldn't predict a single twist in it. For starters, the movie starred an unusual murder suspect who physically could not lie (like something out of an Isaac Asimov novel). I wasn't sure whether we were supposed to root for her or the private eye (played by Daniel Craig). Then there's the glaring question of whether I was even watching a whodunit, because the film seemed to rule out all possibility that the victim was murdered. All in all, I find Rian Johnson's unpredictable plotlines refreshing and continue to enjoy his work. P.S. I couldn't stop thinking about how I would resolve that inheritance quagmire. My proposed solution: forgive what anyone did after the will reading, and return the assets to the family based upon Harlan's previous will--but keep the culprit's share and the embezzled amount. Also think up special stipulations for the neo-Nazi's share. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Frozen II" (2019) in RPX & 3D
The plot didn't make much sense and I already forgot all of the songs, but I admired the majestic elemental visuals. Also liked the melancholy atmosphere and the intimate musical soliloquies. That is, whenever Olaf wasn't killing the mood like a bull in a china shop. :( Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
"Producers continue to monitor the situation."
11/14/19 6:36 PM PST

Ugly, ugly merge episode of "Survivor: Island of the Idols" last night. It's inexcusable how Dan kept touching women. I distinctly remember Kellee asking him to stop earlier this season. Then for both Missy and Elizabeth to exploit this and embellish their own stories about how Dan inappropriately touched them, with Missy even coaching Elizabeth on how to manipulate Janet into believing them? Then afterward lying that Janet made it all up?! Irredeemable! I also never liked Aaron, but his uninformed attack on Janet hit a new low. And finally on a more minor note, I'm not happy with Dean for secretly voting against the real-life friend who saved him last tribal council. So yeah, I fully expect to have no one left to root for by the end of the season.

Fire and Blood
11/12/19 5:13 PM PST

Big Game of Thrones shake-ups. The showrunners pulled out of the next Star Wars trilogy citing scheduling conflicts. Rumor has it that either Marvel Studios or Last Jedi director Rian Johnson will replace them. HBO also canceled the Game of Thrones prequel starring Naomi Watts, despite already shooting a full pilot episode. Instead, HBO has ordered 10 episodes of "House of the Dragon", a GoT prequel about the Targaryen civil war within the Seven Kingdoms. Although my favorite GoT director Miguel Sapochnik will be a co-showrunner and direct the pilot, I can't bring myself to care about Targaryens right now.

In other news, I was amused to read about the Hollywood outrage over a speed-binge feature that Netflix began testing. This new mobile feature can vary the speed at which subscribers watch the shows, from 50 percent slower to 50 percent faster. And filmmakers hate the thought of their characters sounding like chipmunks. Apparently, most podcast and audiobook apps already use this feature so that listeners can speed read or slow down difficult text.

Watched movie: "Terminator: Dark Fate" (2019) in RPX
Direct sequel to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" that in my judgment, surpassed all of the sequels it trampled upon. (I say "trampled upon" because one single scene managed to wipe them all from existence.) Though just like the recent Star Wars sequels, I felt that the iconic cast members (Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger) carried the movie with their screen presence while the new characters foundered. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Doctor Sleep" (2019)
Continuation to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" based on Stephen King's recent novel about a grown-up Danny Torrance. The movie lasted 2.5 hours but didn't feel long. I liked all the "shine" fights between the protagonists and antagonists--they reminded me of another 1980's film called "Scanners". The return of the haunted Overlook Hotel actually brought this movie down for me, as I found it superfluous and felt the elucidation of the ghosts hurt its mystique. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Jojo Rabbit" (2019)
I feared for Taika Waititi's career when he directed this comedy that portrayed Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as silly caricatures. But this movie actually balanced comedy and somber emotion quite well. It reminded me fondly of "Life Is Beautiful". Rating: 7
Top of the food chain
10/26/19 5:45 PM PDT
Watched movie: "Zombieland: Double Tap" (2019) in RPX
Ten years after these filmmakers made one of the smartest zombie flicks I've ever seen, they decided to make this unapologetically dumb sequel to it. Although this sequel still featured the same clever rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse, the rules became marginalized by some of the stupidest behavior imaginable. Stupid behavior that somehow didn't get the characters killed! Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Dolor y Gloria" a.k.a. "Pain and Glory" (2019)
Nostalgic Oscar entry from Spain reminiscent of "Roma". I particularly liked the main character's childhood flashbacks of his poverty-stricken mother and their whitewashed cave house. But to my disappointment, the movie never showed any parts of his life where he flourished as a film director and/or made his mother proud. The movie just felt like all "pain" and no "glory". Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" (2019) in 3D
Surprisingly disturbing for a Disney movie. I liked its exploration of disinformation and nationalism, but felt that it really screwed up its anti-war message. You can't just broker peace with a kingdom that sanctioned chemical weapons and genocide (complete with its own gas chamber!), and you can't just tie off a film full of deaths and atrocities with a happy kumbaya ending where grieving (?) survivors illogically get along now and the queen has become a comic relief goat. Both that queen and the Nazi-like experimenter should been prosecuted for war crimes and hung. P.S. I loved that whole awkward dinner scene. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Gisaengchung" a.k.a. "Parasite" (2019)
An unpredictable, class-conscious Oscar entry from South Korea that also won the Palme d'Or. The movie starts with a poverty-stricken con artist who dreams of a better life. When he forges credentials to tutor a rich couple's daughter in English and gains their trust, this becomes a foothold for the rest of his poverty-stricken, con artist family. Because of how well the film sculpted the characters' conflicting motivations, I felt I could identify with their different points of view. For instance, I couldn't really blame the upper class family for their spoiled attitude and I couldn't really blame the lower class family for their moral decay (I can clearly pinpoint exactly where I thought they crossed the line though). Rating: 7
Public safety
10/10/19 5:41 PM PDT

Despite a forewarning from my apartment complex that the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff would shutdown my electricity on October 9 (due to high wind and wildfire risk in northern California), nothing happened. All the waiting, delays in the scheduled time, and uncertainty felt like mild psychological torture. Didn't help that the PG&E web site was down all the time either. But I guess I should be thankful my neighborhood's electricity stayed on while regions north, south, east, and west of us lost power (potentially for seven days). Regions that weren't even windy.

In other news, I noticed heightened security at my "Joker" screening: two security guards at the auditorium entrance, and I had to show my ticket and ID to enter. Then as I sat inside, I heard shouting and saw security escort out a handful of guys. As compensation for the disturbance, everyone in the screening received an AMC guest pass good for one free movie.

I was planning to see "Gemini Man" because Ang Lee directed it, but now I'm planning to skip it. Apparently, Ang Lee used 3D+ in HFR (High Frame Rate) technology, and that's the only format available for the 3-D screenings in my area. So to see this poorly-reviewed movie as the filmmaker intended, I have to give myself a headache. :(

Watched movie: "Joker" (2019)
Grounded origin story for Batman's archnemesis that made him a sympathetic character who tried to medicate himself and overcome his mental illness. Although I didn't feel that the movie endorsed violence, I did feel like it glamorized criminal insanity. Some parts got pretty cringeworthy. Other parts, I must admit, amused me--like when his social behavior got conspicuously deviant. (I would be like, WTF if I heard that maniacal laughter in public.) My biggest complaint: the film needlessly retconning the Wayne family into the Joker's origin story. My biggest compliment: Joaquin Phoenix's acting. Rating: 6
"They know what they did."
09/29/19 12:20 AM PDT

Recently, I've been enjoying a new reality show on MTV titled "Ghosted: Love Gone Missing". In each episode, the two investigators help a stumped person solve why their friend or lover suddenly cut off all contact with them. It's like a cross between "Searching" (where the investigators look for leads on social media) and "Law & Order" (where the investigators interview people of interest). The investigators brainstorm theories, cross them off based on the clues they find, and sometimes even suspect the stumped person of hiding something. I like how the first few episodes yielded bombshell twists (this latest episode, not so much). Is the show exploitative? I would say yes. But the people seem all too happy to appear on TV, and the show does seem to mend friendships and help people heal.

Watched movie: "3 from Hell" (2019)
Depraved Rob Zombie threequel to "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects" that I immediately regretted watching. Is this supposed to be entertaining, watching serial killers humiliate and murder innocent people? Admittedly, Sheri Moon Zombie's psycho performance made me think she would've played Harley Quinn better than Margot Robbie. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Ad Astra" (2019) in IMAX
Melancholy sci-fi film where a stoic astronaut (Brad Pitt) embarks on a classified mission to stop destructive antimatter surges from his long lost father's spaceship. I enjoyed the lunar rover fighting and the Mars rocket incident. After that, the movie got anticlimactic for me. Also, I personally would have cut out all of Brad Pitt's narration. Because between that and his psychological evaluations, I grew tired of his droning monologues pretty quickly. P.S. Why couldn't Brad Pitt just record his messages from Earth? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Rambo: Last Blood" (2019) in RPX
Cartoonishly violent with some laughable overkills, e.g., John Rambo inexplicably shotgunning a bad guy's body after he already blew his head off, and riddling bad guys with bullets even though they were already impaled on a bed of spikes. The violence also felt pointless. But honestly, I enjoyed the carnage way more than all the lackluster drama earlier in the movie. So boring watching a "peaceful" John Rambo. Rating: 5
Losing streak
09/09/19 6:08 PM PDT

Well, Serena Williams now has a second consecutive US Open finals loss to compliment her second consecutive Wimbledon finals loss. You would think that according to the law of averages, she would have one at least one. But for her last four Grand Slam finals, she couldn't win a single set. I mostly blame her first serve for this slump. Same goes for Roger Federer in the quarterfinals match he lost. Once these two they can't get their first serves in anymore, it's game over.

Congratulations to Rafael Nadal on his 19th Grand Slam title. Now he's just one French Open away from tying Federer's career total. I've never seen anyone grind and scrap for every point like Nadal does, and I never thought his body would hold up this long. If he does surpass Federer's Grand Slam record, he definitely earned it.

I finally screened my first movie (the third installment in the Fallen film series) in Dolby Cinema at my local AMC theatre. The auditorium features laser projection, bone-rattling audio, and tiered rows of black leather recliners. Suspicious how the film was only available in this format. A marketing ploy by AMC, perhaps, to spoil customers and hook them on this more expensive premium offering? Thing is, AMC Stubs A-List members like me already get this offering for free.

Watched movie: "Angel Has Fallen" (2019) in Dolby Cinema
Soulless threequel wherein all of America turns on Secret Service hero Gerard Butler despite everything he did for the country in both "Olympus Has Fallen" and "London Has Fallen". Plenty of explosions and killings but nary and emotion or humor. And a lot of the storylines just ended anticlimactically, e.g., the migraines, the trusted friend who royally screwed him, the Jada Pinkett Smith investigation, and the reconciliation with his father. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "It Chapter Two" (2019)
So exasperating watching the adult Losers Club members walk into Pennywise's traps over and over. Somehow James McAvoy managed to outdo his little brother's mind-boggling horror movie mistake from the first film! I also found the special effects bad. But all in all, I actually liked this movie a lot. Mostly because I liked the whole adult Losers Club cast and yearned for them to kill this gay shaming, fat shaming, deplorably toxic bully who exploits all of their deepest emotional scars and insecurities. The survivors' pain felt unadulterated, their suffering felt real, and their purification of Pennywise's cancerous abuse felt cathartic. My only major criticism: the way the film romanticized Stan's cowardly suicide near the end. I also question why the movie needed such a protracted hate crime scene if it wasn't even going to follow up on it. Rating: 7
"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
08/26/19 4:32 PM PDT

Recently I've been looking through old episodes of "The Incredible Hulk", searching for the best "hulk out" where Bill Bixby's eyes turn greenish-gray and he metamorphosizes into Lou Ferrigno. I finally found the three that really stuck out in my memory as a kid:

I concluded my favorite "hulk out" was still the one where he awoke with the greenish-gray eyes right next to his newlywed wife, triggered by a nightmare where she boarded a bus driven by the Grim Reaper. This also used to be my favorite episode, until I re-watched it and discovered offensive banter where they mocked Chinese accents. So my new favorite episode became "Homecoming", where David Banner's family learned about his condition (this episode also had a "hulk out" triggered by a nightmare).

Watched movie: "The Angry Birds Movie 2" (2019) in D-BOX & 3D
What does that say about a comedy when the pee scene struck me as the funniest gag? Really I just wanted escapist entertainment of birds crashing through things, not asinine jokes and toxic romantic conflicts, i.e., Red being a jerk to a more qualified female teammate and the villain getting jilted at the altar. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Ready or Not" (2019)
Amusing horror thriller wherein a happy bride, to the horror of her wealthy in-law family, draws the worst possible card out of their box of time-honored wedding night games: hide and seek. The rules: the family must capture and sacrifice her before sunrise or die horribly. The funniest part was how spoiled and inexperienced the family was, with some of them like the groom and best man not even trying. I also liked how the bride made understandable mistakes rather than dumb horror movie mistakes. Rating: 7
Next level
08/16/19 2:50 PM PDT

Another delay for the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Now it won't open until some time after the Oscars ceremony on February 9, 2020. Which is weird because I just recently saw another preshow about it, hyping the exhibits.

Also while waiting for my movie to start, I was excited to see a teaser for the new Christopher Nolan film releasing in July 2020. I couldn't tell what John David Washington was doing in the clips, but it was enough for me to declare "Tenet" as the movie I most want to see next year.

Looks like the people who made one of my favorite movies of the decade, "searching", will make a sequel to it with different characters and a new story. Other new movies in development I'm looking forward to:

Watched movie: "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw" (2019) in D-BOX
A surprisingly exhilarating action flick where the action sequences actually had psychology to them. For example, fighters course-correcting their MMA to exploit vulnerabilities and muscle car drivers strategizing against a helicopter in a tug of war. Also liked some of the sweet motorcycle stunts. I credit the D-BOX with enlivening the experience (and actually making my body sore afterward). As for Deckard Shaw, I still have trouble rooting for him. I also felt that these new comic relief characters wore out their welcome pretty quickly. Stay during and after the credits for asinine scenes that have nothing to do with the larger Fast & Furious universe, including an inexcusable "Game of Thrones" spoiler that actually triggered me into lowering my movie rating! (Good thing I already finished that series.) Rating: 6
The end of MoviePass
07/31/19 6:55 PM PDT

The AMC Theatres web site implemented an interesting new feature: now when I sign in, a pop-up asks me to rate the movie I just saw. I can also like or dislike each trailer that preceded the film. Unfortunately, my answers disappear into whatever black hole collects their customer feedback metrics, but wouldn't that be cool if I could review this historic data whenever I wanted. It would be like a record book for cinephiles.

Well, Regal Entertainment finally announced their own subscription program to rival AMC Stubs A-List, named Regal Unlimited. For $18 per month + tax, subscribers can watch as many standard format movies as they want, whenever they want. The catch? Insulting extra fees. A $0.50 convenience fee to reserve tickets online. An extra surcharge for IMAX, RPX, or 3D. An extra $3 per month for the three Regal theatres in the Santa Maria area. An extra $5.50 per month for the closest Regal theatre to me in the Bay Area, 45 minutes away. And they even require a photo of me to prevent fraud. So, yeah...PASS.

Watched movie: "The Art of Self-Defense" (2019)
Uncomfortably dark comedy that tried to make toxic masculinity a laughing matter. Cases in point: the protagonist throat punching his seemingly decent boss for no good reason, and a dog getting fatally beaten just because it wasn't macho enough. Oh, and apparently we're still supposed to root for this protagonist after he murdered a policeman. So yeah, for me this "dark comedy" lacked comedy and was just dark. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" (2019)
Out of all the 1969 nostalgia loaded into this fun new Tarantino flick, I got the biggest kick out of Bruce Lee and his cocky posturing. Admittedly, I was hoping for more of a Western where the two TV gunslingers become gallant heroes and recruit Bruce Lee against the Manson Family. Instead, the two gunslingers wound up being a couple of goofs who turned the whole Manson storyline into a complete farce. And when I think about it, Brad Pitt's whole storyline almost felt like a vanity project. The Sharon Tate storyline felt uneventful--I had to research it afterward to understand the point of it. So ultimately, it was Leonardo DiCaprio's storyline that moved me the most despite its low stakes, i.e., wanting his self-respect back. That scene where he tried to psych himself up (and the Bruce Lee scene) highlighted the movie for me. Stay during the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Farewell" (2019)
Tearjerking, bittersweet dramedy about a Chinese family who hides their grandmother's stage IV lung cancer diagnosis from her and even fakes a wedding (!) to bring everyone together. Which made me wish that my own mother could've had this same heartwarming, asymptomatic experience. My mother was Japanese but had a lot of funny similarities with this grandmother, e.g., falling for hoaxes and coaching the family on what to say in public. Rating: 7
Within an ace of
07/19/19 4:01 PM PDT

Worst Wimbledon ever. First Serena Williams got massacred by Simona Halep, an opponent whom Serena literally beat 9 out of 10 times in their head-to-head. Now Serena has lost three straight Grand Slam finals for the first time in her career, and who knows how many more chances she'll get to tie Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. I guess on the bright side, Serena continues to reach Grand Slam finals while the other WTA players enter and exit these tournaments like a revolving door.

The Gentlemen's Singles final proved far more gut-wrenching. Roger Federer had the match won, ahead 8-7 in the fifth set and serving for the match at 40-15. DOUBLE MATCH POINT and he blew it! Novak Djokovic went on to win the tiebreaker at 12-12 in the fifth set. I can't think of a tennis loss more painful to me than this one.

Watched movie: "Annabelle Comes Home" (2019)
Boring and fraught with mind-numbing behavior, starting with the girl who shrugged off the "WARNING! POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN" sign on the glass case of that hideous doll. I think this is the first Conjuring installment to actually show what the Annabelle demon looks like. Not very scary, if you ask me. I found only one spirit in that whole room of uninspiring horrors scary: the TV. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Crawl" (2019)
An okay horror thriller/disaster movie wherein alligators terrorize both a swimmer and her father inside a flooding crawl space during a Category 5 hurricane. Dunno why it got such a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess alligators just don't scare me, having observed them from an airboat in their natural habitat. Side note: I found it hard to believe that both characters could sustain gruesome wounds like that without going into shock. :P Rating: 5
Four stars
07/09/19 11:59 PM PDT

Congratulations to the USWNT for successfully defending their Women's World Cup title, extending the FIFA record for most all-time Women's World Cup victories to four, and earning another ticker tape parade in New York City! Not as thrilling as the earlier semi-final against England (I blame the Netherlands team for playing defensively to make that whole first half scoreless), but I'll take it. I guess it paid off for coach Jill Ellis to start Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle despite their hamstring injuries, as they ended up scoring the only two goals of the game (I can watch replays of that awesome Rose Lavelle goal all day). I also developed a love-hate relationship with the video review system after it favored the U.S. this time around, catching a hard foul on Alex Morgan in the penalty area.

In other news, an earthquake hit southern California and wobbled the mall I was eating in. I just shrugged it off, but to my surprise people began panicking and dashing towards the exits. I guess for people who aren't used to earthquakes, the experience can be alarming.

Watched movie: "Midsommar" (2019)
Another perturbing horror flick by the director of "Hereditary" wherein American college students witness macabre rituals at a sunshiney Swedish cult. Once again, I found the interpersonal drama and psychological horror much more interesting than the batty cult stuff. (I was particularly disturbed when characters normalized and/or took an academic interest in the horrors.) Unfortunately, the batty cult stuff took up most of the movie, and the film lasted almost two and a half hours. So yeah, too much batty cult stuff for me. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Spider-Man: Far from Home" (2019) in 3D
Fun follow-up to "Avengers: Endgame", featuring a timely villain. I enjoyed all the comedy but felt that the original "Spider-Man 2" handled the MJ storyline way better. Stay during and after the credits for two huge scenes. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Yesterday" (2019)
Anticlimactic Danny Boyle film wherein a struggling musician wakes up to a reality where inexplicably, The Beatles (and products like Coca-Cola) never existed. The parts I enjoyed the most:
  • The musician blowing people's minds with his Beatles song covers.
  • Google displaying alternate results whenever the musician searched for something nonexistent.
  • The musician struggling to recollect the lyrics to "Eleanor Rigby".
  • The musician suffering people's critiques of iconic Beatles canon.
Once the novelty wore off and the musician began regretting his plagiarism, the movie started to slump for me. Rating: 6
Alis volat propriis
07/02/19 10:08 PM PDT

I'm back from rural Sisters, Oregon after my niece got married in a beautiful outdoors wedding backdropped with stark, snowy mountains. Amazingly, the weather cooperated with hot sun during the ceremony and then lightning storms during the indoor reception. For me, the rehearsal dinner highlighted the whole trip because of all the funny and tear-jerking toasts.

Also tried ginger pills for the first time after my sister scared me with warnings of her nightmare roller coaster flight into Oregon. Though I have no idea whether the pills worked or not, as my flights went relatively smoothly.

Now that the Golden State Warriors have ended an era with their loss of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup is the latest tournament wrecking my nerves now with the U.S. narrowly defeating England in the semi-finals. A 2-2 score and overtime seemed like a forgone conclusion when the referee--following a headshakingly lame video review--gifted England with a penalty kick in the waning minutes of regulation. That's when the USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who worried me ever since her bad blunder against Spain, made the save of her life. Man what a rush--my heart wouldn't stop racing afterward.

I'm rooting against Sweden in the other semi-final because I'm still sore about the 2016 Summer Olympics, when Sweden broke the USWNT's undefeated quarterfinal streak in major tournaments. That loss also led to legendary albeit controversial goalkeeper Hope Solo getting kicked off the team.

Using my AMC Stubs A-List membership, I watched the "Avengers: Endgame" re-release with the following new post-credits bonus content:

  1. A behind-the-scenes look at Stan Lee's Marvel movie cameos.
  2. A deleted scene that introduced an incompletely-CGI'd Professor Hulk rescuing people from a burning building before his meeting with Steve Rogers.
  3. A clip previewing Nick Fury and Maria Hill meeting Mysterio in Mexico in "Spider-Man: Far from Home".

Disappointing, if you ask me.

Watched movie: "Toy Story 4" (2019) in 3D
Or as I like to think of it, the overdue emancipation of Woody. :) Although I found this new installment hilarious (especially the new character "Forky"), it actually raised some thorny ethical issues for me. For starters, if this girl has the power to create sentient life from a spork, I feel like she needs to be made aware so he doesn't get thrown away. In fact, maybe all of the toys should reveal they're alive to shame these fickle humans from mistreating them. :P Stay during the credits. Rating: 7
Goodbye yellow brick road
06/19/19 5:51 PM PDT

Steph Curry summed up my reaction to Game 6 of the NBA Finals when he threw the ball on the ground and sat dejected on the court right after Klay Thompson injured his knee. I'm convinced that the Golden State Warriors would've absolutely won that game had Klay not gone down. It just blows my mind how many important Warriors players dropped like flies this postseason. It's like they couldn't catch a break.

As a result, I had no interest in watching Game 7 without Klay there to keep it competitive. So I wasn't even mad that Steph Curry missed the game-winning shot in Game 6. (I was mad when he missed the game-winning shot in Game 7 vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, but nobody seems to remember that.) If anything, I blame the Warriors players who couldn't make free throws if their lives depended on it. It's like, just watch how Curry shoots them and copy his form.

Watched movie: "Rocketman" (2019)
An exhilarating fantasy musical about Elton John's life, reminiscent of "Across the Universe". Although I'm convinced that Taron Egerton overdramatized his portrayal of the real Elton John, credit to Taron and the filmmakers for energizing Elton's songs with emotion, artistry, and glamour. In particular, "Crocodile Rock" and "I'm Still Standing" sounded really good when Taron started them out slowly like ballads. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Dead Don't Die" (2019)
Unsurprisingly deadpan zombie comedy by Jim Jarmusch. To give you a sense of how deadpan the humor is, the funniest part of the movie for me was the crime scene where the director reused identical shots and dialogue each time a new police officer rolled up (also when Adam Driver exclaimed "oh, yuck!"). I would've rated the film higher, but I felt like it fell apart at the end when it broke the fourth wall and tried to spoon-feed a message about the zombies to the audience. Rating: 6
Game not over
06/11/19 4:51 PM PDT

Well, congratulations to Rafael Nadal on winning his 12th French Open, making him the only player (male or female) in tennis history to win 12 titles at a single Grand Slam. And he's probably not done either.

The emotional roller coaster ride continues with the Golden State Warriors surviving a Game 5 elimination from the NBA Finals by one point, but re-losing Kevin Durant to a soul-crushing Achilles' injury in the second quarter. (Unfortunately I was one of the Warriors fans that wanted to expedite his return for whatever percent he could give, even if it meant just standing in the corner shooting threes.) I was ready to be a good sport and congratulate the Toronto Raptors on their first-ever NBA championship for Canada, but that all changed when I saw how Raptors fans cheered and taunted Durant's injury. Now I want them disgraced and humiliated.

In other news, I finally unsubscribed to HBO, and even received a $30 partial refund from the cable person as compensation for how badly "Game of Thrones" ended--even though I told him I thought the show ended fine. I definitely wouldn't rank it down there with the series finales for "How I Met Your Mother", "Lost", and my least favorite of all-time: "Dexter".

I read that the "Game of Thrones" showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, will take over the next Star Wars trilogy slated to release in 2022, 2024, and 2026. I wonder if the narrative will span different parts of the galaxy like that animated map of Westeros. In any case, I hope they get Miguel Sapochnik to direct the battles (and maybe Ramin Djawadi for the music). P.S. It's still unknown when the Star Wars trilogy from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson will release.

Watched movie: "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" (2019) in 3D
Fun sequel to the U.S. "Godzilla" reboot wherein Monarch sides with Godzilla against his archnemesis Ghidorah to save humanity from a MonsterVerse free-for-all. Although it's hard to care about the revolving door of scientists in this franchise, I did find a couple of their sacrifices valiant. I also came to realize that monster movies need these human scenes to hype up the fights, and to cut away from fights that could start boring the audience. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Secret Life of Pets 2" (2019) in 3D
Mixed bag of some thin pet storylines that had some funny moments, but didn't really amount to anything meaningful. The way I saw it, the least interesting plot (the silly rescue of the circus tiger cub) completely marginalized the only plot with any heart and substance in it (Max's affection for his owner's child). Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Dark Phoenix" (2019) in 3D
Although I've never been a fan of the Dark Phoenix saga, this film certainly adapted the storyline much better than "X-Men: The Last Stand". The visual effects showcased the mutants' powers superbly. And finally after six X-Men movies, we got one that explored the fatherly relationship between Prof. Xavier and Jean Grey. I wasn't happy with how the movie depicted Hank McCoy and Mystique though--especially their bad attitudes toward someone as selfless as Charles Xavier. And over what, exactly? BS how he got treated. I also wasn't fond of how the film just made up a bunch of generic aliens to be the villains--but gotta love how madly they were able to sprint. :) Rating: 6
The Last Watch
05/27/19 10:16 PM PDT

I haven't gotten around to canceling my HBO subscription yet. On Sunday, I actually sat through HBO's two-hour documentary that went behind-the-scenes of the final season of "Game of Thrones". Amazing how much time and effort went into making scenes for each of the six episodes, from constructing gigantic sets to preparing all of the extras to filming at night for 55 days to overworked production crew in over their heads. It retrospect, it made that fan petition for HBO to re-make the final season look really disrespectful.

Incidentally, "Game of Thrones" now sits atop my countdown of top 10 favorite TVs shows of all time. It knocked off "Twin Peaks", a show that I can no longer defend after that exasperating third season. Admittedly, "Game of Thrones" had its own missteps, but so did the other nine shows in my top ten. :P

Watched movie: "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" (2019) in IMAX
Another entertaining action spectacle, this time highlighted by a library scuffle, an epic knife throwing fight, and an amusingly star-struck villain. Admittedly, the headshots, dog attacks, and overly-armored gunmen got kind of repetitive. :) Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Brightburn" (2019)
A gory, cringeworthy horror movie wherein a Kansas couple raises a baby boy who crashed to Earth in a meteorite. The twist: he has the powers of Superman but the mind of a serial killer. So basically, this film was just a one-sided slasher flick where nobody could do anything. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Ying" (2018) a.k.a. "Shadow" (2019)
Another masterstroke of Shakespearean intrigue from Zhang Yimou wherein a dying general recruits his own body double in a plot to reclaim their people's homeland (currently occupied by a rival kingdom) against their own king's wishes. Normally I would root for peace over war, but I felt like this king cared too much about his signature peace treaty and was appeasing the rival kingdom too much. So once that rival kingdom outrageously insulted the king's princess sister, I was like to hell with peace. Although the princess was actually just a side character, I had mad respect for her and concluded that she was the best thing about the movie. Rating: 7
Strength in numbers
05/11/19 10:52 PM PDT

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors for eliminating the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals, in quite possibly my favorite basketball game of all-time. Even better than the NBA Finals games where they won the NBA championship! Why, you ask? For starters, I wanted so badly for the Warriors to shut the Rockets up. I lost respect for the Rockets when a) they audited Game 7 of last year's Western Conference finals (the one where they missed 27 straight 3-pointers) and actually tried to convince league officials that the referees cost them an NBA championship, and when b) James Harden whined about wanting a "fair chance" from the refs because he expected favorable foul calls for jumping into defenders. Not to mention c) Chris Paul's flopping and complaining, and this whole conceit that the Rockets would have won last year's Western Conference finals had he not injured his hamstring at the end of Game 5.

Secondly, I fully expected the Warriors to lose to the Rockets barring some kind of magical alignment of the stars. After that devastating sight of Kevin Durant limping off the court, I pictured a Charlie Brown-like baseball team with Steph Curry missing more point-blank shots, Klay Thompson missing in action, and the Warriors bench embarrassing themselves. But to my amazement, everybody on the team shined, even Steph Curry after all signs, i.e., scoring zero points in the entire first half (!!) pointed to him blowing another game for the Warriors.

The Long Night
04/30/19 7:42 PM PDT

What an epic weekend to be alive: box-office-shattering "Avengers: Endgame" on Saturday and the mother of all "Game of Thrones" battles on Sunday. Both exceeded my expectations, and I successfully avoided all spoilers.

Watched movie: "Avengers: Endgame" (2019) in RPX & 3D
Too hilarious and entertaining for me to hold any major plot holes against it. In particular, the movie hit comedy paydirt with washed-up Thor. A fitting end to nearly 11 years worth of quality Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Rating: 8
Twentieth year anniversary at IBM
04/26/19 2:05 PM PDT

Today marks my 20th anniversary at IBM. The secret to my longevity here? Cynicism. :) I haven't decided yet when and where I'll use my five extra vacation days. Maybe when this Academy Museum of Motion Pictures finally opens.

What kind of "Supernatural" season finale was that. Is my favorite character on this show, God, a villain now?? I have no idea how the upcoming final season will end.

Watched movie: "The Curse of La Llorona" (2019)
Kinda lame how this Conjuring installment appropriated Mexico's most fearsome ghost and portrayed her as just another loud, un-scary monster in the Conjuring franchise. She looked like an angry opera clown. The closest the movie came to something scary: the sleepwalking kids. Rating: 4
www.saoki.org
04/20/19 5:46 PM PDT

My web site is back online at www.saoki.org. I lost my Google search rankings since I have no way of redirecting from the old location, but all things considered I can't complain.

I quit PayPal for good. To my chagrin, they denied the case I opened regarding the money I sent for my web site last month. Seeing as I had paid someone who unbeknownst to me, had been deceased since December, I thought I had a good argument for a refund. Now I'm wondering whether PayPal gets to keep that money. In any case, they're on my "blacklist" now (even though I rarely used them anyway) along with JetBlue Airways for that time they casually changed my flight date.

I'm also annoyed with Regal Crown Club. I redeemed thousands of credits for one free movie ticket, and the cashier charged me an extra $1.50 because it was still the first week the film had been released. I literally bought hundreds of dollars worth of movie tickets from them, and they have the gall to attach strings to their paltry little loyalty program. The program's a joke compared to AMC Stubs A-List. Even though AMC is raising the membership's monthly rate to $23.95, that's still an enormous bargain.

Congratulations to Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan for easily the best, most emotional match of WrestleMania 35. A cathartic end to a classic Cinderella storyline. Plus it happened early enough in the card when the crowd still had energy. By the time the historic women's main event rolled around, the crowd had been sitting there for around seven hours (and nothing ruins a match like a dead crowd).

I've lost a lot of interest in WrestleMania now that the Undertaker no longer seems to be one of its attractions. The main show's ridiculously long now (almost five and a half hours, even without the lengthy Undertaker entrance in it). It needs to have less matches and less Triple H (both match time and entrance time). And cut out all musical acts, backstage vignettes, and promos.

Watched movie: "Shazam!" (2019) in 3D
Once again, a DC movie that failed me on comedy. Just asinine all around. Witless gags, dangerously irresponsible shenanigans, and an overly serious supervillain who somehow couldn't seem to beat a bunch of silly kids. I also felt that the film dropped the ball on that whole birth mother storyline, which could've been really emotional but just went nowhere. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Missing Link" (2019) in 3D
Moderately amusing stop-motion adventure from Laika wherein a lonely, talking Sasquatch and two human explorers search for Yetis in the Himalayas. Most of the humor came from slapstick and the Sasquatch's misinterpretation of human language. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Jocelyn Casdorph 1982-2018
04/10/19 4:19 PM PDT

My web site at saoki.site0.com went down. When I e-mailed my friend who maintains the server and it bounced back, I googled him and was shocked to discover that he had fatally shot his newlywed wife and then turned the gun on himself...exactly three months after their wedding. The whole time we were roommates in college, I never noticed any warning signs. I did notice that he and his wife were very private. When I had dinner with them about three years ago, neither of them mentioned that his mother and brother had been murdered by his father just three months prior. (I didn't learn about it until I attended their wedding.)

"And then everybody died. The End." (spoiler alert)
04/02/19 4:01 PM PDT

The long-awaited final season of "Game of Thrones" is almost upon us, and it's only six episodes so I hope they fit in everything I've longed to see.

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my current thoughts on the "Game of Thrones" series after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll down until after you have watched SEASON SEVEN of "Game of Thrones"!

Maybe this is just wish fulfillment, but I'll be sorely disappointed if the series ends without the following payoffs:

P.S. Hopefully the YouTube reaction videos for this final season won't nitpick the pacing and complain about why Bran doesn't know everything. That annoyed me last season.

SEASON 8 SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my thoughts on each season 8 episode after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll past the titles of episodes that you haven't watched yet!

Update 4/30/2019 ("The Long Night" spoiler alert): Director Miguel Sapochnik and musical genius Ramin Djawadi crafted another masterpiece episode. It didn't just have me on the edge of my seat, it had me standing up and hovering anxiously in front of the TV (I watched it in HD from inside a dark hotel room, so I had no issues with the episode lighting). During that climactic curveball of an assassination, I felt overcome with astonishment, relief, and gratitude. It managed to catch me off guard even though I had predicted Arya as the third or fourth most likely character to kill the Night King (and all of the scenarios I predicted involved Jon preoccupying the Night King, not running around on some kind of fool's errand). The scene reminded me fondly of my favorite Lord of the Rings twist when Gollum saved Middle-earth instead of Frodo. I was also legitimately concerned that the episode would end in a cliffhanger where the Night King triumphs. P.S. The main characters who died went out so heroically that I didn't even feel sad for them.

Update 5/7/2019 ("The Last of the Starks" spoiler alert): To tell you the truth, I've never really been a fan of Sansa and Daenerys. But after Sansa "so-called" Stark broke her promise to Jon this episode (and also betrayed Daenerys after everything she sacrificed for Winterfell), I'm done with her. Interestingly, I actually like Daenerys a lot more now. She lost a dragon and half of her armies fighting for Winterfell, and in return got a broken heart, a lack of appreciation and loyalty from the North, and a weaker claim to the Iron Throne thanks to a much more beloved heir. This would make for an intriguing ending if she betrayed the Starks, e.g., exiled Jon to beyond the Wall, and/or ruled the Seven Kingdoms as a tyrant. I feel like it's futile trying to predict the ending. The show can go happy (Jon and Daenerys rule together and maybe she turns out to be pregnant), bittersweet (one of them dies), tragic (both die and Tyrion takes the Iron Throne), or ideological (do away with the Iron Throne altogether).

Update 5/14/2019 ("The Bells" spoiler alert): Welp, the streak is over. Miguel Sapochnik finally directed an episode that I hated. Now I know why Jon couldn't say goodbye to Ghost--the show must have wasted their CGI budget on scene after scene of senseless genocide (including peril scenes of Arya just running around doing nothing like Jon). I mostly blame the writers though, for irrevocably assassinating Daenerys' character and throwing away eight seasons of her development. I've never been a fan of hers--and she's always had glimmers of "mad queen"--but she deserved so much better than leaping from beloved war hero to genocidal madwoman in just two episodes. The writers actually had her hunting and incinerating every civilian she could, completely ignoring Cersei who ultimately received a humanized, romantic death! P.S. Tickets went on sale for the next "Game Of Thrones Live Concert Experience", but last time I went they played Targaryen music which is probably going to sicken me now. :P

Update 5/21/2019 ("The Iron Throne" spoiler alert): I liked the series finale, particularly when Tyrion flung his Hand of the Queen brooch on the ground and when the Starks got their own montage. Initially, I felt utter dismay and outrage that Bran the tree became king instead of rightful heir Jon. But then after stewing on it for a couple of days, I concluded that Bran would actually make the best king. I've always maintained that the Iron Throne was beneath Jon, and I've always liked the thought of Jon roaming north of the Wall with Ghost and the Wildlings he shepherded. I also loved Arya's dream of venturing west of Westeros ever since she mentioned it two seasons ago. The way I look at it, the Starks won the "game of thrones" and all of my favorite characters got happy endings. I even liked Jaime's ending--he always did long for deeds to be proud of in The Book of Brothers, and I never felt his character deserved a "happily ever after". So for me, the only character that the show mucked up was Daenerys. The writers just seemed hell-bent on demonizing her character beyond recognition (even giving her Lucifer wings to that effect, and having Arya call her a killer as if we still needed more convincing after last episode's holocaust). At least the finale wrote off Daenerys in a tasteful, dignified way--and I did grow to like this whole notion of Drogon melting the true villain in this entire series, the Iron Throne itself. So in conclusion, I actually liked the final season (except for one episode) and won't be signing that online petition for HBO to re-make it. :)

The Calm Before
03/26/19 1:25 PM PDT

What a macabre episode of "The Walking Dead". I give it points for audacity, but also found it in bad taste and disrespectful to long-time cast members. At first I thought the show was resorting to shock value to help its declining ratings, but then I found out later that they were actually reenacting a landmark scene from the comic book (and that comic book fans were dreading it). The show even changed the identities to swerve all of the comic book fans. I tell you man, that comic book is messed up.

To my relief, WWE officially announced that the Raw Women’s Championship Match featuring Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch will headline WrestleMania 35. Women will finally headline WrestleMania for the first time in history, and I won't have to suffer another Roman Reigns main event! It's also the only match of interest to me out of the other 13 or so underwhelming matches on the card. :P

Duality
03/22/19 6:13 PM PDT

AMC sure has a good thing going with this Stubs A-List program. When I first joined the membership almost nine months ago, I averaged more than 10 free movies a month. Naturally, this pace was too difficult to sustain. Today, I've only screened two free movies in the entire month of March. So for $19.95, I only watched $32.88 worth of free movies. Still a bargain, but it doesn't count the money I spent on concessions. I've also become spoiled with reserving my seat online, skipping the ticket purchase line, and printing my ticket straight from a kiosk. It's become too big of a convenience for me to entertain giving up.

I don't think I'm alone either. I read that other members have been seeing movies more than once, and even bringing along friends and family members who don't have memberships.

Watched movie: "Us" (2019) in IMAX
If this second film from Jordan Peele was meant to be a social commentary on Americans, I don't know what that message is. :) The premise reminded me of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", except that these doppelgängers mimicked their counterparts so badly that they seemed more like cruel parodies than imposters. Overall I enjoyed the movie's style, and found it amusing whenever the doppelgängers hammed it up or acted like they had ADD. Rating: 7
Sometimes dead is better
03/13/19 4:38 PM PDT

AMC announced development of a third Walking Dead series, in addition to "The Walking Dead" and "Fear the Walking Dead". Pass.

A lot of movies coming out that I'm not interested in either. Examples:

On the plus side, it appears that at long last, I'm free from having to suffer through any more Transformers or Sharknado sequels.

Watched movie: "Captain Marvel" (2019) in 3D
Basically the Marvel equivalent of Superman with all the same flaws as Superman, i.e., smugly powerful with a lack of personality and humor. Who would have thought that Nick Fury and a cat would be the most fun part of a movie for me. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 6
Return to the fold
02/28/19 6:29 PM PST

That's really good news that Roman Reigns' leukemia went into remission. Having said that, the WWE better not book him into the WrestleMania main event for a fifth time in a row. I really started liking this idea of women main-evening WrestleMania for the first time ever.

I'm strongly considering buying a Nintendo Switch after I found out that Capcom will release two of the best survivor horror games of all time, "Resident Evil" and "Resident Evil 4", on May 21 of this year. (Capcom is releasing "Resident Evil Zero" as well, but I found this game so awful I never finished it.) I'm mostly interested in "Super Mario Maker 2" though--especially the types of troll levels I can create. :)

Looks like video gaming changed since I've been away (I stopped after Sony Playstation 2 and Nintendo Game Cube)--apparently instead of cartridges or discs, I can just buy and download digital games straight to the Nintendo console now.

Watched movie: "Alita: Battle Angel" (2019) in IMAX 3D
Impressive CGI and motion capture effects, especially when it came to Alita's facial expressions (I had mixed feelings about the oversized eyes). Unfortunately, Alita was about the only thing I found interesting about the movie--and at times, her character felt unbearably pretentious. Her narrative also kept changing directions midstream (female Jason Bourne, bounty hunter, Motorball racer, etc.) as if the plot had just tossed together a bunch of stuff from the manga series. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" (2019) in 3D
Surprisingly bittersweet threequel where Hiccup faces the grim reality that humanity will turn dragons into an endangered species. I guess I didn't expect this children's fantasy franchise to grow up in such a way. Rating: 7
Building blocks
02/16/19 7:11 PM PST

I would easily call that heart-wrenching 300th episode of "Supernatural" the best of the whole series. Jeffrey Dean Morgan returned as John Winchester, and made me forget all about his genocidal, irredeemable character on "The Walking Dead".

Here's some news that I'm following closely: an Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is going to open this year in Los Angeles with a Hayao Miyazaki exhibition, the first major U.S. exhibition of his work. The museum will feature a state-of-the-art 1000-seat David Geffen Theater inside a spherical building, and a 288-seat Ted Mann Theater. Count me in.

Also found out (to the delight of Mario Maker streamers everywhere) that "Super Mario Maker 2" is coming out for the Nintendo Switch this June. "Super Mario Maker" first came out in 2015, and I'm still impressed by the vast subculture it spawned in the video gaming community.

Watched movie: "The Prodigy" (2019)
Halfway decent bad-seed horror flick...until the last act soured me. The movie started out promising by creeping up ordinary things like a staring contest, hide-and-seek, and nighttimes. But then it became too unbelievable how much this reincarnated serial killer was allowed to get away with. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" (2019) in 3D
Direct sequel to "The LEGO Movie" that begins with childlike DUPLO invaders laying waste to Bricksburg. I found the quality and humor comparable to the first film. Side note: I still can't tell whether these LEGO characters have free will. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Happy Death Day 2U" (2019)
Usually I like these "Groundhog Day" movies where the main character relives the same day over and over again--but this one went off the rails. It took the perfectly fine time loop premise from the first movie and spun it into a complete mess. Fortunately, the character drama saved the film from total disaster. I also liked a lot of the comedy, with a couple of glaring exceptions: the bad taste suicide montage and the dumb blind woman gags. Stay during the credits for another scene I found stupid. Rating: 6
To Infinity Gauntlet and beyond
02/04/19 6:22 PM PST

Thanks to an oversight I made during my data migration to a new laptop, I permanently lost all of my archived e-mails prior to 2010. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how little I missed any of these e-mails. So out of all of my early contenders for "worst of the year" list, this won't be one of them. :) (I might shortlist Super Bowl LIII though. Quite possibly the worst football game I've ever seen.)

In other news, now that Alfonso Cuarón won the DGA, here are my Oscar predictions for 2018:

I also compiled a new list of coming attractions that piqued my interest:

"Happy Death Day 2U" (February 13, 2019)
Clever sequel title. Given that the first "Happy Death Day" never confirmed what happened to Tree's infinite loop once she survived past her birthday, I thought it'd be an interesting twist if she died of old age and then reawoke on the morning of her birthday. :D The trailers for the sequel only showed bits and pieces, so I don't actually know what direction it will take.
"How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" (February 22, 2019)
Toothless gets a love interest.
"Captain Marvel" (March 8, 2019)
Origin story for Carol Danvers played by Brie Larson. My first question is why Nick Fury didn't recruit her for the Avengers.
"Us" (March 22, 2019)
A new "social horror-thriller" from "Get Out" director Jordan Peele. Trailer looked really good.
"Avengers: Endgame" (April 26, 2019)
The end of an era?
"John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" (May 17, 2019)
According to Keanu Reeves, the title came from a famous sentence: "Si vis pacem, para bellum" which translates to "If you want peace, prepare for war."
"Godzilla: King of the Monsters" (May 31, 2019)
Godzilla vs. other famous monster movie monsters.
"Toy Story 4" (June 21, 2019)
I'll see it even though the original trilogy ended perfectly.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (July 26, 2019)
Quentin Tarantino's next film that takes place during the Charles Manson murders in 1969 Los Angeles. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate.
"The New Mutants" (August 2, 2019)
A "horror" movie in the X-Men universe. Will this lead to an X-Force movie?
"It: Chapter Two" (September 6, 2019)
My hope that Jessica Chastain would play Beverly Marsh came true. This sequel picks up 27 years later.
A new Terminator 3 movie (November 1, 2019)
Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger return for a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This installment pretends that Rise of the Machines, Salvation, Genisys, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles never happened. James Cameron is overseeing production, but not directing.
"Knives Out" (November 27, 2019)
An Agatha Christie-inspired whodunit directed by Rian Johnson.
"Star Wars: Episode IX" (December 20, 2019)
J.J. Abrams is directing the final installment in the trilogy.
"Grudge" (January 3, 2020)
A horror reboot that takes place in the United States instead of Japan, and reportedly changes the origin story of the curse.
Bond 25 (February 14, 2020)
Daniel Craig returns as James Bond. Interestingly, Léa Seydoux also returns as his love interest from the previous film.
"Godzilla vs. Kong" (May 22, 2020)
Directed by Adam Wingard. I'm already looking forward to the post-credit tease for this movie.
"Wonder Woman 1984" (June 5, 2020)
Why this particular year? A dystopian overtone, perhaps? Kristen Wiig plays Cheetah and Chris Pine plays...?
"BIOS" (October 2, 2020)
Tom Hanks plays a dying sole survivor on a post-apocalyptic Earth, who creates a robot to watch his dog. This one caught my eye because it's being directed by Miguel Sapochnik, known for directing the most epic "Game of Thrones" episodes ever.
"Death on the Nile" (October 22, 2020)
Another Agatha Christie novel that I never read. Kenneth Branagh returns as Hercule Poirot in a sequel to "Murder on the Orient Express".
Queen (nomi)nee
01/24/19 5:18 PM PST

I expected a hard time predicting the Academy Award for Best Picture this year after "Green Book" won the PGA. But now that both "Green Book" and "A Star Is Born" got snubbed for Best Director nominations, I think "Roma" has Best Picture in the bag.

Here's how I rated the 2018 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "A Star Is Born" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Black Panther" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Green Book" (My rating: 7)
  4. "The Favourite" (My rating: 6)
  5. "Roma" (My rating: 6)
  6. "Bohemian Rhapsody" (My rating: 6)
  7. "Vice" (My rating: 5)
  8. "BlacKkKlansman" (My rating: 5)
Watched movie: "Glass" (2019) in RPX
Anticlimactic crossover of M. Night Shyamalan's superhero movies. And not just because of the underwhelming combat between David Dunn and The Horde. I mostly blame the new character, Dr. Ellie Staple, for bridling all three main characters' abilities and wasting screen time trying to debunk their powers (having seen both "Unbreakable" and "Split", I knew full well their powers were real). I felt like they never really got to let loose. It also disappointed me that the newly empowered Casey Cooke got relegated to underage love interest (?) for Kevin Wendell Crumb (ew). At least have her interact with David or Joseph Dunn. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (2018)
Actually better than I thought. I felt Rami Malek played Freddie Mercury with great panache, and found the performance Oscarworthy. I also lit up whenever the Queen band members mulled over a composition that unbeknownst to them, would become a song for the ages. Especially "Bohemian Rhapsody", which I still remember the lyrics to. Who would have thought that this mishmash of gibberish would become one of the greatest rock songs ever made. Rating: 6
History in the unmaking
01/14/19 8:47 PM PST

I happened to catch the end of that NFC wild-card playoff game where the Chicago Bears lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, when Cody Parkey's field goal kick bounced off both the upright and crossbar. Afterward on my car radio, people called in to share their biggest sports disappointments. Mine would have to be once-in-a-lifetime losses that blemished my favorite players' historic careers and might bother me for the rest of my life:

  1. Roger Federer losing the Olympic gold medal final in 2012.
  2. Serena Williams blowing the Calendar Grand Slam in 2015.
  3. The Golden State Warriors ruining a record-breaking season and blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead in a historic loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. Incidentally, LeBron James recently bragged that this win made him "the greatest player of all time".
  4. Michael Phelps losing his signature Olympic race, the men's 200 metre butterfly, in 2012 (with me in the audience).
  5. Honorable mention: Team USA losing the women's artistic team all-around gold medal to China in 2008.

Actually, I don't know why that last one still gets under my skin even after Team USA redeemed itself multiple times over. Somehow those images of Alicia Sacramone falling just trying to mount the balance beam, then flipping onto her back during the floor exercise just burned into my brain. :P

In tennis news, I guess this was Andy Murray's last Australian Open. Due to a lingering hip injury, he announced he will retire this year.

Watched movie: "Escape Room" (2019)
Despite my disinterest in escape rooms, the likeable and sharp players introduced in this movie gave me hope. Too bad the film kept wasting them in meaningless trials and banal PG-13 deaths. I did find the upside-down pool room kind of interesting. Rating: 4
Watched On Demand movie: "Busanhaeng" a.k.a. "Train to Busan" (2016)
Stressfully thrilling South Korean zombie flick similar to "World War Z" in that the zombies dash madly and swarm like ants (and the survivors even tape up their forearms). Interestingly, the main characters get stuck on a high-speed train line without any kind of firearms or knives, so they mostly have to just run like hell, trap the zombies inside the cars, sneak past them during stretches of dark tunnel, or (as a last resort) try to brawl with them without getting bitten. I really enjoyed the panic-inducing OMG sequences where all hell suddenly broke loose (especially when the survivors had to run from a tidal wave of zombies and madly stomp on their hands). Sometimes I frowned at the characters' choices (one inexplicable decision almost ruined the movie for me), their lack of vigilance (I'd always be eyeing the exits), or the film's villainization of potentially life-saving quarantine measures. But overall, I'd easily consider this one of the best zombie movies ever made. Rating: 8
Holiday movie marathon 2018
01/06/19 1:40 AM PST
Watched movie: "Aquaman" (2018) in 3D
Another DC movie that succeeds on action sequences, fails on comedy, phones in the villains, and mishmashes some kind of overwrought plot together. This time the plot device is a magical trident. I did like the Nicole Kidman story arc, brief as it was. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Zimna wojna" a.k.a. "Cold War" (2018)
Concise black-and-white Oscar entry from Poland about the star-crossed romance between a composer and singer. Too concise, if you ask me. Although their on-again/off-again relationship spans several years and countries, the movie only shows the times when they're together. So in one particularly powerful scene, the singer gazes longingly at an empty chair...but then voilà, she reunites with the composer elsewhere in the very next scene with no explanation as to how they kept in touch that whole time. The runtime wasn't even 90 minutes, so the film could have afforded more context between the time periods. :) Overall, I liked the movie...but felt like the ending ruined it. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Capharnaüm" a.k.a. "Capernaum" (2018)
Troubling Oscar entry from Lebanon wherein a 12-year-old runaway boy struggles to take care of an illegal immigrant's baby boy after she gets arrested. Usually I hate sitting through these movies where kids are forced to grow up in deplorable living conditions, but in this case I found it mildly entertaining watching such a smart little street hustler. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Destroyer" (2018)
Absorbing crime drama wherein an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman plays an LAPD detective hell-bent on finding the head bank robber from a tragic 17-year-old undercover assignment in her past. Sometimes the directing got pretentious, e.g., the ending and the telepathic (?) flashback, and a couple of the scenes struck me as stupid, e.g., the handjob and the Russian roulette. But when the flashbacks finally showed why Nicole Kidman felt such soul-crushing guilt, that did not disappoint. Rating: 6
2018 Year in Review
12/27/18 3:42 PM PST
Best of 2018 Worst of 2018
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Watching Roger Federer win his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
  2. Cruising down US 101 in my brand-new 2018 Corolla, listening to my favorite music.
  3. Making out like a bandit on free movies with my AMC Stubs A-List membership.
  4. Vacationing in Hawaii and attending my nephew's beautiful wedding there.
  5. Watching Caroline Wozniacki finally win her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
Honorable mentions:
  • Watching triumphs at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics: Shaun White narrowly becoming the first snowboarder ever to win three Olympic gold medals, Mikaela Shiffrin unexpectedly winning a gold medal in the giant slalom, Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall sprinting to the first gold medal in U.S. cross-country team history, the U.S. women’s ice hockey team redeeming themselves in their gold medal rematch against Canada, and Team Shuster improbably winning America's first-ever gold medal in Olympic curling.
  • Watching Simona Halep finally win her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 French Open; and watching Justify win the Triple Crown.
  1. Powerlessly cringing at Serena Williams' meltdown in the 2018 US Open women's final.
  2. Watching Lindsey Jacobellis place fourth in the Olympics snowboard cross final after she led the majority of the race.
  3. Inhaling unhealthy polluted air for several days from the northern California Camp Fire.
  4. (tie) Watching Roger Federer blow a match point and a big lead against Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, and watching Serena Williams lose the Wimbledon final.
  5. Suffering torturously muggy weather in Hawaii without air conditioning.
Movies
  1. "searching"
    "I found a lot of the film's details relatable and emblematic of the times we live in..."
  2. "A Quiet Place"
    "Heart-tugging, excruciatingly tense John Krasinski film..."
  3. "Isle of Dogs"
    "In my opinion, the best and most emotional film Wes Anderson has ever done."
  4. "Avengers: Infinity War"
    "Outstanding comedy..."
  5. "Widows"
    "One helluva heist film..."
  6. "A Star Is Born"
    "Emotional and exhilarating Oscar contender..."
  7. "Black Panther"
    "One of the better Marvel movies thanks to Ryan Coogler's directing, an all-star cast of kick-ass characters, Shakespearean intrigue..."
  8. "Game Night"
    "Comedic gold."
  9. "Ralph Breaks the Internet"
    "Bittersweet, impressively-animated 'Wreck-It Ralph' sequel with poignant messages about friendship and the Internet."
  10. "Ant-Man and the Wasp"
    "Wildly fun and sillier than the average Marvel movie."
  1. "Slender Man"
    "Just a blah horror movie."
  2. "The Last Sharknado: It's About Time"
    "So thankful this whole torturous film series is finally over."
  3. "Pacific Rim Uprising"
    "Like a bad Saturday morning cartoon..."
  4. "Fifty Shades Freed"
    "Mostly just sex and fluff."
  5. "Thoroughbreds"
    "Arid 'comedy thriller' that I found neither funny nor thrilling."
  6. "The Nun"
    "...mostly just a priest and a nun-in-training making dumb horror movie mistakes...screenwriters committed some sacrilege too..."
  7. "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare"
    "...found the game lame thanks to the demon's lack of imagination and the players' tepid secrets..."
  8. "The Strangers: Prey at Night"
    "...the family in this sequel managed to commit even worse mistakes!"
  9. "A Wrinkle in Time"
    "...what a bunch of gobbledygook."
  10. "Shoplifters"
    "Unamusing Oscar entry from Japan that also won the Palme d'Or."
Songs
  1. "Pray for Me" The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar
  2. "Lemon (Drake Remix)" N.E.R.D & Rihanna f/ Drake
  3. "Taste" Tyga f/ Offset
  4. "This Is America" Childish Gambino
  5. "Kill 'Em with Success" Eearz & ScHoolboy Q & 2 Chainz & Mike WiLL Made-It
Honorable mention: "Zero" Imagine Dragons
  1. "Supernova" Ansel Elgort
  2. "B*TCH I'M BELLA THORNE" Bella Thorne
  3. "Better Now" Post Malone
  4. "FRIENDS" Marshmello & Anne-Marie
  5. "Boo'd Up" Ella Mai
Dishonorable mentions:
  • "Drew Barrymore" Bryce Vine
  • "End Game" Taylor Swift f/ Ed Sheeran & Future
Music video "This Is America" Childish Gambino "My My My!" Troye Sivan
TV series n/a (tie) "The X-Files" and "Fear the Walking Dead"
Commercial Espresso Snickers commercial that shows anyone can get irritable when they're hungry, even grandmas (tie) Zelle commercial where Daveed Diggs rhymes about Zelle around town, and a Diet Coke commercial where Gillian Jacobs tells me to drink a Diet Coke "because I can"
Movie trailer (tie) "Happy Death Day 2U" and "Us" "UglyDolls"
Awards season: Endgame
12/27/18 1:42 AM PST
Watched movie: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (2018) in IMAX 3D
Just the mind-blowing computer animation alone made the movie worth watching. Story-wise, I found it hard to care about a multiverse where the outcomes depend on the universes the characters happen to live in, rather than on their own merits. It also made some of the best canon in Spider-Man history, e.g., Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy, feel meaningless. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Mary Poppins Returns" (2018)
Whimsical kids' movie highlighted by the talented Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, charming song & dance numbers (my favorite: "Trip a Little Light Fantastic"), and nostalgic guest appearances (including a couple of stars who looked good for their age). I felt like the plot actually hurt my enjoyment of the fun parts, because here they are dilly-dallying around while the Banks siblings are racing to save the family home from repossession. Also, a lot of parts didn't make sense--but no use dwelling on that in a movie where a nanny can fly by umbrella. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "If Beale Street Could Talk" (2018)
Just like this director's previous film, "Moonlight", the narrative idled on certain fragments of the characters' lives and leaped past important events I wanted to see, e.g., Tish's mother's reaction to the pregnancy and Fonny meeting his son for the first time). I don't like that. I also found the ending unsatisfying considering how patiently I waited (and waited) for a big emotional payoff. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Vice" (2018)
Same irreverently satirical style as "The Big Short", but much less entertaining. Christian Bale and Steve Carell played a couple of bores this time around. I did like the cynical take on politics and all the BS, misdirection, and exploitation of voters' beliefs that go on in it. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
Awards season
12/12/18 6:50 PM PST

'Tis the season where I start finalizing my blog for best and worst of the year. My movie lists will be easy because so far I only rated 13 movies a 7 or higher, and 11 movies a 4 or lower. My top TV show will be hard without a new "Game of Thrones" season to rave about yet. Surprisingly, all five of my favorite songs of 2018 will be rap. Nothing in the other music genres stood out for me. It's also been a banner year for bad songs.

For my best and worst events of 2018, we have contenders like my brand-new car (especially when I first bought it and didn't have to worry about car problems anymore) and the Camp Fire here in northern California. I can tell you one thing: that AMC Stubs A-List membership won't make #1. Although it's single-handedly saved me hundreds of dollars, it's turned me into my penny-counting Dad and made me obsess over trying to hit that movie quota every week. All in all, I think it'll all come down to my neuroses. For instance, it's been bugging me all year that Serena Williams still hasn't drawn even with Margaret Court's record for all-time Grand Slam singles titles, despite reaching the last two Grand Slam finals. And by coming short of that seventh US Open title, she missed the perfect opportunity to draw even with her seven Australian Open titles and seven Wimbledon titles. Roger Federer, on the other hand, successfully evened out his total Grand Slam singles titles to a milestone 20 this January. Had he gotten stuck at 19, I'm certain that would have bugged the hell out of me all year long and beyond.

Watched movie: "Roma" (2018)
Starting on November 21, Netflix quietly ran exclusive limited theatrical engagements of this black-and-white Oscar contender by Alfonso Cuarón 23 days before its December 14 streaming release. It's about a family's maid in Mexico City from 1970 to 1971, and is apparently based on Alfonso Cuarón's own childhood. Scenery-wise, I found his attention to detail impressive (and occasionally strange, e.g., the hazmat suit and the curious fixation on dog poo). Admittedly, I have no idea how well his reconstructions of 1970s Colonia Roma matched the real-life place. Plot-wise, I found most of the movie really slow until some intense scenes near the end. I'm curious how they pulled off that long take with Cleo's harrowing ocean rescue and catharsis. That whole scene from beginning to end struck me as a cinematic triumph. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Creed II" (2018)
Predictable sequel wherein "heavyweight" boxer Adonis Creed must train via montage to redeem himself against Ivan Drago's son. I put "heavyweight" in quotes because what a mismatch in weight class. As usual, Rocky Balboa highlighted the movie. I also liked some of the unique dramatic touches that helped make the film feel less formulaic. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Manbiki kazoku" a.k.a. "Shoplifters" (2018)
Unamusing Oscar entry from Japan that also won the Palme d'Or. Simply put, I could not root for a family that raises kids in a life of lying, cheating, and stealing. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Favourite" (2018)
Extravagant historical drama directed by Yorgos Lanthimos wherein Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone vie for power and affection from a forlorn Queen Anne. Interestingly, 18th century England suited this director's penchant for dry, perverse humor quite well. Also, the three leading ladies fleshed out their characters and motivations so effectively that I found myself sympathizing with all three of them. P.S. What did that ending mean? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Green Book" (2018)
Amusing road trip movie about the real-life "odd couple" pairing between African-American pianist Don Shirley and his Italian-American driver Tony "Lip" during their 1960s concert tour of the Jim Crow South. The film title is based on the real-life travel guide they use, "The Negro Motorists' Green Book", to locate motels and restaurants that accept African-American customers. I actually found it suspenseful that they had to make every tour date to get paid, and that Tony's family expected him home for Christmas. I guess that's a testament to this movie, that I would care so much about Tony coming through for his wife and kids. Rating: 7
Where there's smoke, there's fire
11/30/18 3:33 PM PST

What a welcome relief to get rain here in California, and many thanks to the firefighters who contained the Camp Fire that kept polluting the air I breathe to unhealthy levels. I actually had to resist the urge to cough because my ear canal started getting sore.

Watched movie: "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" (2018) in 3D
Over two hours of reliable entertainment but when I think about it, almost nothing happened plot-wise. Dumbledore just stayed on the sidelines, and the rest of the cast barely accomplished anything. I guess they're going to keep dragging this Grindelwald storyline out for another three films. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Ralph Breaks the Internet" (2018) in 3D
Bittersweet, impressively-animated "Wreck-It Ralph" sequel with poignant messages about friendship and the Internet. The streak of cinematic excellence from Walt Disney Animation Studios continues. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Excelsior!
11/20/18 9:39 PM PST

R.I.P. Stan Lee.

Watched On Demand TV movie: "The Last Sharknado: It's About Time" (2018)
A bad time travel movie that wasn't even laughably bad. So thankful this whole torturous film series is finally over. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Overlord" (2018) in IMAX
Body horror flick wherein a handful of American WWII paratroopers land in German-occupied France, and discover secret Nazi experiments to mutate humans and reanimate corpses. I found the movie alright. I was hoping for a crazier bone-crunching brawl at the end. Special props to those two exciting long take action sequences. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Girl in the Spider's Web" (2018)
The first Dragon Tattoo story not written by Stieg Larsson. Felt more like a James Bond movie how Lisbeth had to stop an overconfident supervillain (who could have won easily) from hijacking nuclear missiles. I did love that final confrontation where the truth finally came out about their bad blood. Also liked the NSA agent played by Lakeith Stanfield. As for the rest of the film, some easy improvements could have fixed it. For instance, the movie needed more perspective on Lisbeth's father (did their life-changing encounters even happen?) and less dumb luck, e.g., the improbable car accident and the convenient prescription bottle. And this might be a nit, but how overdramatic for Blomkvist to hold down the Backspace key like that. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch" (2018) in 3D
That Grinch sure is mean. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Widows" (2018)
One helluva heist film from director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn wherein a crew of professional robbers dies, and their desperate wives use some leftover plans to plot a job of their own. Although the build-up felt long, it succeeded in making me emotionally vested and nervous about the outcome. The wives' inexperience made everything feel more grounded and suspenseful. And the heist thrilled me from beginning to end, thanks to Hans Zimmer's pulse-pounding score and the wives' jaw-dropping mishaps. Rating: 7
Genisys-piria
11/09/18 3:13 PM PST

All last week, I enjoyed watching though some YouTube videos of Mario Masters Colosseum, an annual charity event where famous Mario Maker streamers compete against each other in video games and party games.

On Halloween, they played an entertaining party game I never heard of called "Werewolf", about a town of villagers who must sleuth whom among them are secretly werewolves. Each "night", the werewolves secretly kill one villager; and each "day", the villagers must deliberate and vote on one player to execute. The villagers win if they can execute all of the werewolves; the werewolves win if they can outnumber the villagers. One villager got to play the Seer who could peek at a single player's identity card each night; one villager played the Witch who could save or poison a single player; and one villager played the Hunter who could take another player with them whenever they die (all of them had to bide their time to avoid exposing themselves too early to the werewolves).

It was amusing to me watching the villagers suspect each other and throw out accusations. At one point they started persecuting all of the quiet people. :D I'd probably struggle at playing a werewolf in this game, as I'd have to lie, feign emotion, earn the trust of villagers, and not be afraid to betray fellow werewolves (the werewolves in the first round blew their cover by defending/not voting for one another). When I think about it, the best strategy for the werewolves might just be to target the most talkative people. :)

Watched movie: "Suspiria" (2018)
Too much bloat; too little artistic merit, if you ask me. I know this director is critically acclaimed, but I felt like he vandalized a perfectly fine horror masterpiece (even got the original lead actress Jessica Harper to appear in it). I hated the overdirecting, the wasteful character development, and the new twist ending. Not to mention the parts that made me feel like I'd go to hell for watching them. :P Stay after the credits. Rating: 4
Vacuum
10/23/18 11:53 PM PDT

Still feels surreal that the WWE's number one guy, Roman Reigns, relinquished the Universal Title and left the WWE to undergo treatment for leukemia. Just came outta nowhere and kinda made me feel guilty for all the times I complained about him.

Needless to say, the WWE removed him from its Crown Jewel main event, which takes place at...someplace the WWE no longer mentions, due to all the bad publicity over the murdered journalist. I might be biased, but the WWE should just cancel the event and bring it here to California. :P

Watched movie: "First Man" (2018) in IMAX
A curiously grounded Neil Armstrong biopic in that for pretty much the whole movie, Ryan Gosling portrayed the guy as...well...a bore. Stoic even in the face of death and/or historic triumph. (Though I'm starting to realize Ryan Gosling acts this way in all of his films.) Admittedly, it does make perfect sense for the astronauts of that period to develop defence mechanisms given all the malfunctions that kept killing them off. So I liked how the movie realistically depicted them as miserable sourpusses instead of bright-eyed dreamers. Props to director Damien Chazelle for making rocket science bearable. I loved the attention to detail, from the creaks in the cockpit to the astronauts nervously waiting. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Bad Times at the El Royale" (2018)
Unpredictable neo-noir thriller by Drew Goddard wherein the lives of seven secretive strangers intersect at a Lake Tahoe hotel, much like "The Hateful Eight". Reminiscent of "Lost", too, the way the narrative kept flashing back to what a character was doing before and during the events of the movie. I liked how the film showed how easy it is to misjudge people when we don't know their backstories. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Halloween" (2018)
A revisionist storyline starring Jamie Lee Curtis that pretends every sequel of the original "Halloween" never happened (including the eighth Halloween installment where Laurie Strode and Michael Myers had their final showdown). This one had an interesting backstory in that apparently, Laurie Strode spent 40 years of her life preparing for Michael's return and became estranged from her daughter (and granddaughter) as a result. To my chagrin, none of that preparation seemed to prevent her from making bad horror movie decisions--but at least she came up with some impressive countermeasures. Those last 20 minutes of the movie pretty much redeemed this otherwise unoriginal revival. Rating: 6
The end of an era...or not
10/10/18 2:34 PM PDT

R.I.P. Scott Wilson, who played my favorite character on "The Walking Dead".

Satisfying ending to "The Walking Dead" season 9 premiere. I'm so sick of how scumbags on both this show and "Fear the Walking Dead" have been literally getting away with murder. In fact, I'm done watching "Fear the Walking Dead" (even though the season 4 finale wasn't bad). The show's just gotten too boring and annoying for me.

In WWE news, Shawn Michaels is coming out of retirement for a dream match at WWE Crown Jewel: D-Generation X vs. the Brothers of Destruction! Too bad I won't be attending live, given it's all the way in Saudi Arabia. My only hope is they have a rematch at either Survivor Series or WWE TLC here in California. If they go with the rumored Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker match instead, I'm not interested (unless it has an intriguing stipulation). Nothing can top their previous two WrestleMania matches which I attended live.

I'm worried that WWE already pulled the trigger (twice) on AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan. It makes me question whether Daniel Bryan will finally win a long-deserved Royal Rumble Match victory.

Watched movie: "Hold the Dark" (2018)
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in San Francisco showed this Netflix movie on their big screen, then afterward hosted a live Skype video chat with its director Jeremy Saulnier. He explained that the film purposely lacked answers, which to me was an understatement as I didn't understand the point of any of it. Just one senseless killing after another without explanation. Side note: Jeffrey Wright is cool. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "A Star Is Born" (2018)
Emotional and exhilarating Oscar contender wherein a hard-drinking country rock star (played to perfection by Bradley Cooper) and an undiscovered singer-songwriter (played to perfection by Lady Gaga) bare their souls in a whirlwind of romance and musical performances. Special props to all the songs, which were written just for this movie and IMHO took it to the next level. Side note: at long last, a film that showed realistic reactions to celebrities. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Venom" (2018) in 3D
A lot like the "Upgrade" movie in that I liked how the talking symbiote assisted the human host, but lost interest whenever the CGI completely took over his body. All in all, the film turned out better than I expected thanks mostly to Tom Hardy's amusing portrayal of Eddie Brock. Stay during the credits to see who they already got to play Carnage and for a long sneak preview of the upcoming Spider-Verse movie. Rating: 6
Love and war
09/25/18 9:41 PM PDT

I've now attended two weddings in a row where the bride and groom wrote their own vows, and on both occasions that's been my favorite part of the ceremony. They add a unique form of suspense, drama, and personality to the proceedings.

I'm still curious why this bride and groom chose to marry at a chateau next to an airport runaway. Admittedly, this gave the ceremony some suspenseful cliffhangers whenever somebody had to pause before a key part of their speech.

Watched movie: "Kin" (2018)
Sci-fi road trip movie wherein a 14-year-old boy stumbles upon a sweet hi-tech blaster and then happens to go on the run with his wanted older brother. I mostly just liked the sci-fi elements, i.e., the pursuant Daft Punk look-alikes and the few times the boy actually fired the blaster. I hated the road trip because of how it was all built on a lie, and hated the older brother for being such a shameful influence on the boy. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "A Simple Favor" (2018)
Both these women be crazy. Between Blake Lively's disinhibited character and Anna Kendrick's frenetic supermom character, I found it taxing trying to keep up with them. I guess leave it to Paul Feig to direct a Hitchcockian thriller with such a comedic tone in it. Moreover, I felt like the plot went kind of overboard on the twists and turns. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Predator" (2018) in IMAX
Finally a Predator sequel that makes Predators cool again. I enjoyed the bloody R-rated violence and the madcap action sequences (did you catch the mind-blowing mishap where the shoulder cannon followed the guy's head movement too far sideways?!). I didn't enjoy the human drama, the canon-hijacking plot developments, and the asinine comedy though. Like in general, I don't find Tourette syndrome and mentally ill military veterans very funny. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Mandy" (2018)
Some kind of trippy acid rock opera horror flick that sure liked to wallow in lurid colors and creepy disturbing sequences. I did enjoy the grindhouse thrills later in the movie, when Nicolas Cage finally went medieval on those crazy evil weirdo hippy types. Side note: Cheddar Goblin?? Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Like a bad dream
09/11/18 5:21 PM PDT

Well, that 2018 US Open women's final ruined my day. Serena Williams was already losing by a set and a break, but then the chair umpire--who had been singling out Serena with nitpicky code violations all set long--decided the outcome of the match for himself with a game penalty against Serena so rare I've never even heard of it! Clearly, this umpire had no respect for the enormity of the occasion, and hopefully he'll go down in tennis history as the lamest chair umpire ever.

At the same time, I was disappointed in Serena for inviting this disaster in the first place, when she destroyed her racket and then kept demanding an apology from the chair umpire for the first code violation. After the 2009 US Open and 2011 US Open, Serena should know better than anyone that nothing good ever comes out of her lashing out at officials. She had been doing so well too, controlling her temper the last few years. When I saw it flaring back up at such a critical time, I cringed and felt powerless.

So all in all, this year's US Open sucked. In addition to two other chair umpire controversies, the muggy weather and lack of air circulation pretty much took out Federer. The one highlight was a thrilling five-set quarter-final match between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, which vindicated the US Open's decision to enforce final-set tiebreakers.

In other news, using my AMC Stubs A-List membership, I screened $175.69 worth of movies in the month of August--a total of 11 free movies for a total savings of $155.74. So despite seeing zero films during my vacation in Hawaii, I managed to milk even more savings in August than I did in July. One could argue that I'm only saving this much money because I've been intentionally watching more movies than I normally would. To that, I have no retort.

Watched movie: "The Nun" (2018) in IMAX
Bad enough that the plot of this Conjuring 2 prequel was mostly just a priest and a nun-in-training making dumb horror movie mistakes, i.e., splitting up and wandering toward hauntings knowing full well what the demon is capable of. But I felt like the screenwriters committed some sacrilege too, particularly in regards to that precious relic. It also disappointed me how little this film connected to Conjuring 2, considering how Taissa Farmiga played Sister Irene in 1952 while her older sister Vera Farmiga played Lorraine Warren in the 1970s. Maybe in some future Conjuring prequel, they'll reveal that Sister Irene grew up to be Lorraine Warren? Because it's sure suspicious how both of these characters receive psychic visions and look so much alike. :P Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Alpha" (2018) in 3D
Scenic and suspiciously derivative of "The Revenant" (where a hunter left for dead treks toward home across a harsh snowscape), "Life of Pi" (where a young man befriends a ferocious animal and they struggle to survive harsh elements), and "How to Train Your Dragon" (where a village chief's son proves that a feral creature can be an ally). Overall, I liked it. The wolf companion (and that crew at the end) looked boss. Rating: 6
Originally intended format
08/29/18 2:51 PM PDT

Man, so expensive parking and lodging at a hotel in downtown San Francisco. I stayed overnight near the Metreon shopping center so I could screen three movies in the area. I actually got to re-watch "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Dark Knight" for free on the AMC Metreon 16 theatre's tall IMAX screen thanks to my AMC Stubs A-List membership.

Watched movie: "Leave No Trace" (2018)
This latest scenic drama from the "Winter's Bone" director scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. I found it slow when it seemed to romanticize the vagrancy of the two main campers: a war veteran and his loyal daughter. But once I sensed what each scene was inevitably building up to, I found the movie poignantly bittersweet. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" (2018)
Winner of the Dramatic U.S. Grand Jury Prize at Sundance about a lesbian teenager forced to live on a rural gay conversion therapy compound. Other than some religious gay shaming, I actually found this coming-of-age movie rather pedestrian. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) in IMAX 70mm
Now that I'm much older, I decided to give this movie a second chance and see it on the big screen (I originally watched it on TV as a kid). Just like before, I enjoyed the parts with HAL (especially his creepy camera eye and his attempts to placate Dave). But I also still hated the first two hours (the monkeys and the moon mission) and the last half-hour. Admittedly, I think I've been too hard on this film--so I decided to raise my rating slightly. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Dark Knight" (2008) in IMAX 70mm
After long regretting that I never got to see "The Dark Knight" in IMAX, I finally got to screen it in IMAX 70mm. Or more specifically, the handful of sequences that were shot in IMAX 70mm--most notably my favorite overall sequence with the Batpod in it. I still dislike how that whole triumphant gambit was all for naught, which goes to my overall complaint about not getting anything out of this movie. I felt like by the end of it, neither Batman nor the Joker had succeeded in proving anything about the human condition. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "searching" (2018)
I find I enjoy these movies that only show a person's computer monitor (or smartphone screen). This is another one produced by Timur Bekmambetov, and follows a San Jose father (John Cho) desperately trying to sleuth his 16-year-old daughter's disappearance using the Internet, her private social media accounts, and Google applications. I found a lot of the film's details relatable and emblematic of the times we live in, for instance, the father's unawareness of what his daughter did online, how easy it is to hack private information, and all the phoniness, bias, and trolling on the web. Some of the humor cracked me up too, and could only work in this type of movie. Rating: 8
First Hawaii trip
08/21/18 11:25 PM PDT

Torturously muggy weather in Honolulu, Hawaii, and our Airbnb rental there had no air conditioning (just fans). No air conditioning at all those open-air buildings either, for example, the Ala Moana mall. As a result, I almost skipped my family's picnic at Bellows Beach--but I'm glad I was talked into it. Never been so close to such beautiful turquoise water before (though unfortunately, a jellyfish stung my niece when she went in).

Fortunately, my nephew's wedding was indoors. The whole event felt storybook, with TV-quality speeches from the heart and self-written vows. Come to think of it, I can't recall ever attending a wedding where the bride and groom wrote their own vows. Pretty brave of them.

All in all, I'm glad to have finally visited Hawaii and would consider it a highlight for the year.

Watched movie: "Slender Man" (2018)
Just a blah horror movie. The plot confused me more than anything else, and I found both the monster and the protagonist as bland as can be. Disappointing considering the potential this film had to be scary (for starters, it could've made use of that disturbing real-life case where the two 12-year-old girls kept stabbing their friend). What happened to the horrific scenes from the trailer? Did they get cut to make a PG-13 rating? Rating: 3
Watched movie: "The Meg" (2018) in 3D
Shades of "Jaws", right down to my own figurative question about why these prehistoric shark hunters couldn't get a "bigger boat", i.e., reinforcements. I did like how they weighed whether to conserve a species thought to be extinct, brief as that deliberation was. Can't say I cared for all that other drama though, like the lame attempts at comedy and the illogical conflict over Jason Statham's no-brainer decision. Props to the frenetic CGI shark action. Rating: 5
"Popular"
08/12/18 7:02 PM PDT

I'm probably in the minority here, but I'm intrigued by the Oscars announcement about a new Academy Award for achievement in popular film. Maybe now they can stop snubbing outstanding movies that mainstream audiences have actually heard of, like "Interstellar", "Marvel's The Avengers", "The Hunger Games", and "Wonder Woman". Though admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised that they nominated "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Get Out" for Best Picture.

Watched movie: "Christopher Robin" (2018)
Cute movie though I can't say I agreed with Winnie the Pooh's silly philosophy. Also, is it canonical for the Hundred Acre Wood to exist outside of Christopher Robin's imagination?? Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Eighth Grade" (2018)
A heart-tugging, strangely suspenseful dramedy about a shy eighth-grader's struggles to make a friend. As painfully cringeworthy as this movie was, it still didn't compare to the contempt I had for middle school. It did succeed in conveying what introverts fear and what girls need to be cautious about. But nothing about bullying, ridicule, discrimination, parental expectations, or grades. I don't even remember a single negative word against this girl (other than how quiet she is). Certainly nothing antagonizing enough to excuse her rude attitude toward her father. Though it's entirely possible that middle school has changed a lot, as mine didn't have Internet, social media, cell phones, and school shooting drills. :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "BlacKkKlansman" (2018)
Not my idea of a good time, having to listen to white supremacists spew garbage ad nauseam for over two hours--all so that the movie could make a pretty ubiquitous point. Rating: 5
Single-edged sword
07/31/18 3:48 PM PDT

Ever since I joined the AMC Stubs A-List on July 1, I've managed to screen 11 total movies with it in the month of July. Meaning, I watched $169.09 worth of movies for $19.95, a total savings of $149.14. That's a heckuva bargain.

Admittedly, I need a small break from watching movies. Despite me seeing certain movies more than once, it was too difficult using up all three of my free movies each week (I only managed it twice). Mostly because it's atypical for three new releases of interest to come out in the same week.

Watched movie: "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation" (2018) in 3D
Flatter comedy than I've come to expect from Genndy Tartakovsky, with a lot of harebrained gags that felt derivative of Looney Tunes. Still fun and delightfully animated (funniest scene for me: the gremlin airline). Some breathtaking getaways too. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Sorry to Bother You" (2018)
A reality-bending satire that the cynic in me could relate to, about a black telemarketer in Oakland who begins skyrocketing in his company once he masters a "white voice". And not like "Anomalisa" where the voice only changed in his own mind--the voice literally sounded different to everyone who heard it. Generally, I interpreted the lunacies in this movie (like the American sweatshops, the stupid game show, and the viral soda can craze) as near-futures that could conceivably happen in this day and age. As a cynic, I feel that it's so easy for people to get entrenched in the narratives they invent for themselves. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Unfriended: Dark Web" (2018)
Same format as the first movie wherein we only see the main character's laptop screen, but this time the film follows a numskull who pries into the deep dark secrets of a laptop he stole from a lost-and-found. The movie succeeded in getting in my head, as I felt a) self-consciousness when his friends watched him browse the misogynistic videos, b) distress when he got cyberstalked, and c) shame when the people he cared about had their lives violated. Just like the first movie, I liked the realistic multi-tasking in the OS (such as keeping an eye on the instant messages and googling unknown words like "trephination"). All in all, I would've rated the film higher, but a lot of parts felt slow and/or uninspired. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" (2018) in IMAX
A sunny sequel/prequel that for better or worse, sidestepped any drama that could have packed a serious emotional wallop. In other words, not nearly as depressing as I feared--but amicable to a fault. One major improvement from the first movie: the film took all the cast members who can't sing and either drowned out their voice or made them croon softly. But unfortunately for my ears, even a toned-down Pierce Brosnan is enough to poison a song. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Equalizer 2" (2018) in IMAX
Easily worse than the first movie, so maybe Denzel Washington should have stuck to his rule about avoiding sequels to his own films. I found his adventures as a vigilante Lyft driver decently entertaining, but found the main revenge storyline lackluster. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" (2018) in D-BOX & 3D
Decently entertaining--especially whenever a mission went awry--but probably the most absurd Mission: Impossible movie yet with its reality-defying action sequences, confusing spy motivations, and villains reminiscent of the Batman TV series in that they could easily prevail and/or destroy Ethan Hunt's life, but illogically choose to give him and the IMF a fighting chance instead. Side note: The D-BOX recliner didn't have much kick. Rating: 6
Strawberries & cream fields
07/16/18 2:54 PM PDT

Sigh. So both of my favorite tennis players, Serena Williams and Roger Federer, fell short of the 2018 Wimbledon title. Although Serena has really improved since she first returned from pregnancy, I knew Angelique Kerber would be a struggle. After all, Serena made it to the final without being tested by any of the top ten seeds (none of them lasted past the fourth round, which was unprecedented). But I think it all goes to show that Wimbledon and the upcoming US Open made the right call to seed her.

Federer's loss stung in particular, because he had match point and then went on to lose the next three sets. I just have to remind myself how greedy it is to expect continual dominance from both he and Serena, considering that they've already reached the pinnacle of their sport.

Now I gotta talk about these marathon Wimbledon fifth sets. With the exception of that thrilling semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, I generally find marathon Grand Slam final sets boring as hell. Especially the ones where big servers like John Isner and Kevin Anderson just hold each service game easily (I actually sat through a replay of Isner's 70-68 set against Mahut, by the way). The US Open enforces a final-set tiebreaker, which to me makes every point suspenseful and dramatic.

I also welcome the news that the 2018 US Open will start displaying a 25-second shot clock. Of course this would likely hurt Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who in my opinion get away with way too many time violations when they serve. So hopefully, the clock won't lead to disrespectful fans loudly counting the time down.

Watched movie: "Yellow Submarine" (1968)
Sorry to all you Beatles fans out there, but this taxing animated ordeal hurt my eyes and numbed my brain. Decent songs at least. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" (2018)
Laughable sequel that starts off with a drug cartel inexplicably sending an Islamic terrorist across the U.S.-Mexico border. And instead of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, the U.S. government sanctions a black ops mission that makes less and less sense as it goes along. Add in some absurd overkills (like Josh Brolin's air strike on one single person and Benicio Del Toro's semiautomatic trigger finger), astronomical coincidences (first the sicario-in-training happened to see Benicio Del Toro and then happened to shoot his head in the least deadly spot imaginable??), plus a lame ending, and the result = one heckuva ridiculous movie. Rating: 5
The first movie subscription
07/08/18 6:14 PM PDT

Well, AMC Theatres finally came up with a movie subscription service too good to pass up. For $19.95 a month, the AMC Stubs A-List membership lets me reserve up to three screenings per week in any premium format including IMAX, Dolby Cinema, 3D, and D-BOX. Given that an IMAX 2D screening costs $19.19, the membership already pays for itself on the first IMAX movie! In contrast, MoviePass only permits standard 2D movies, prohibits more than one screening of the same movie, and can't pre-reserve seats. I also never trusted MoviePass. :)

Watched movie: "The First Purge" (2018)
Although I found people's naiveté and lack of nerve during the first Purge night kind of interesting, this prequel struck me as the least imaginative of all the installments. The movie could have at least explained--instead of glossing over--how modern day voters and all three branches of U.S. government got persuaded into thinking legalized murder could solve America's woes! I mean, even Van Jones (playing himself) seemed calm about it when he should have been dismayed. Stay during the credits for some kind of USA promo for "The Purge". Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Ant-Man and the Wasp" (2018) in IMAX 3D
Wildly fun and sillier than the average Marvel movie. Although it went a bit much on the comic relief characters, I found it amusing when they disguised their time-wasting statements as important information. I also liked the depths the film went to make both the heroes and villains sympathetic. Finally, props to the plot device that forced Scott Lang to improvise his way out of problematic sizes. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Endless" (2018)
Slow supernatural "thriller" about two brothers who return to the cult camp they grew up in. The film dragged awhile until some trippy space-time phenomena livened it up. Rating: 6
Not of mind but of sight and sound
06/25/18 5:04 PM PDT

IMDb did an interesting segment where Natalie Dormer listed five movies that best spoke to each of her five senses. I attempted a list of my own:

My runners-up for sight and sound would be "The Matrix Reloaded" (2003) and "Les Misérables" (2012), respectively.

Watched movie: "Tag" (2018)
Harebrained, cringeworthy comedy inspired by a group of adult friends who still play tag with each other. The funniest part for me was the footage of the real-life guys using the game to prank each other. Had the movie been more grounded like this, I would've enjoyed it more. Instead, the film went all slapstick with the characters willing to damage property (like windows), raid sensitive events (like an AA meeting), and risk serious injury. I did like Jeremy Renner's wily ploys such as the decoys and booby traps, but it got tiresome how the other players kept mindlessly charging at him like those hapless "Home Alone" burglars. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" (2018) in RPX & 3D
Another "Jurassic Park" sequel where dinosaurs run amok and terrify the humans, yet can never seem to catch the slowpoke protagonists. And like clockwork, the T-Rex saves the protagonists for no reason. Director J.A. Bayona didn't add much more to the franchise, except for maybe some stylish disaster scenes on the volcanic island. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Incredibles 2" (2018) in 3D
Fun sequel from Pixar with some amazing superhero action sequences. Plot-wise, I found the whole PR campaign to legalize superheroes too straightforward as that they still needed to solve the original problem of civil liability. Rating: 7
Triple-double
06/11/18 6:32 PM PDT

Congratulations to...

In other sports news, no more triple-triple for Usain Bolt. The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed his relay teammate's appeal against a ruling that disqualified their Olympic gold medal victory in the 4x100m relay at Beijing 2008.

In TV news, I had to wait for "Talking Dead" again to confirm that yet another major "Fear the Walking Dead" character had been killed off last night. At least this death felt dignified, but after all those hours of wasted character development I feel like this show is more pointless than ever now. And given the news about another major cast member leaving "The Walking Dead", I think AMC should consider ending both shows. :P

I'm also sick of this new trend in both TV and movies where murdered fan favorites don't receive the justice they deserve. Instead, the fan favorite's loved ones just let bygones be bygones and/or even make friends with the killer! I would cite examples (like from this most recent "Fear the Walking Dead" midseason finale), but don't want to spoil anything.

Watched movie: "Upgrade" (2018)
Absorbing near-future thriller wherein a quadriplegic widower, secretly implanted with a talking computer chip that makes him bionic, seeks the cyborgs who murdered his wife. The chip reminded me of Siri or Alexa, except that it could actually understand voice commands. :) I found their synergy awesome when the chip gave him really useful advice for finding clues, avoiding detection, and getting away with murder (!). But then the action sequences where the chip commandeered his body began to disinterest me, as it felt like watching a computer play a video game. I also didn't care for the ending, even though it was certainly interesting and possibly opens the door for a sequel. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Hereditary" (2018)
Dread-inducing, eerily-scored horror flick that just like "The Witch", creeps along with periodic WTF moments. But unlike "The Witch", the characters' lack of contrition kept me in disbelief. I was so disturbed by the family drama that the supernatural horror elements actually made the movie less traumatic for me. Probably because the horror helped me dissociate from the film's unnerving realism. P.S. Were some of the scenes meant as comic relief? Sometimes a character behaved so inappropriately that the audience in my screening couldn't help but laugh! Rating: 6
Han shot first
05/31/18 2:36 PM PDT

Well, the Seaside repair shop fixed the power supply in my HDD/DVD recorder, and I verified that all of my recordings survived. Das cool. Even my timer schedule of programs to record survived, so maybe that's stored in the hard drive.

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors for winning their fourth consecutive Western Conference championship! I tuned into their last two elimination games reluctantly, as it ruins my whole day whenever they sloppily blow a close playoff game. I still can't reconcile how they can start the first half so badly, then absolutely crush it in the third quarter. Is it strategy? Playing possum? Lulling the opponent into a false sense of security? Conserving energy? Or maybe the Houston Rockets kept pushing themselves too hard in the first half, and didn't have any legs left to make jump shots (that might explain their record-breaking streak of 27 missed 3-pointers in Game 7).

Watched movie: "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018) in RPX & 3D
Hard to care about the characters introduced in this Han Solo prequel when I already know what his future holds. And that L3 might just be the most annoying Star Wars droid ever. But all in all, I found the movie mildly entertaining. Rating: 5
Annals
05/21/18 5:44 PM PDT

Tried chicken and waffles for the first time (at my workplace's new cafeteria). I didn't like it. I still need to arrive early enough to the cafeteria to try their corned beef hash. I used to hate whenever my Mom served it for breakfast, but now it's one of my favorite foods.

I miss the chili verde that the old cafeteria used to serve. I've yet to see it at the new cafeteria. I think my favorite chili verde right now comes from "Taqueria El Pastor" in the Northridge mall, where the pork they use just melts in my mouth.

In other news, thanks to another blackout at my apartment complex, my HDD/DVD recorder went completely dead. The clock wouldn't even power on. (Oddly, the other electronic devices in that same surge protector survived just fine.) Fortunately, the Seaside repair shop I patronized nearly a decade ago was still in business.

I still had hours of recordings on the hard drive. Roughly once a year, I curate my favorite TV highlights and archive them onto a DVD. The curated highlights still sitting on my hard drive included:

With my recorder in the repair shop, I wasn't able to tape the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Oh well.

Ironically, I can't think of a single time I've ever gone back and watched one of the DVDs I made. Despite the DVDs' skinny compact size, they've only added to my "material baggage".

Watched movie: "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943)
Artfully shot but exasperating Hitchcock film wherein a teenager inexplicably harbors her visiting uncle's deep dark secret despite his attempts to murder her! Even before her close calls with death, which by themselves should have been a dealbreaker, why didn't she turn him in? She knew he was guilty (due to the key piece of evidence she inexplicably gave back to him) and that he could kill again, and she knew a detective that would believe her story. Please don't tell me it was to spare her mother's feelings! In any case, I enjoyed the beginning when her uncle hid clues (even though in retrospect, no one could have possibly noticed them in plain sight) and that whole running gag where her father kept exchanging murder hypotheticals with the family friend. But yeah, I was so disappointed she never did the right thing that not even the final death satisfied me. Imagine how cathartic the ending could've been had she empowered herself. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Deadpool 2" (2018) in IMAX
I've never been a fan of Deadpool's raunchy, fourth wall-breaking shtick, but I found this sequel decently engaging. Mostly during the scenes where the dramedy felt sincere and the events seemed canonical. Not during the suspenseless actions sequences where he and/or Domino just flitted around without any danger of dying. Stay during the credits for the best scenes of the whole movie. Nothing after the credits though. Rating: 6
Room without a view
05/11/18 4:42 PM PDT

Still haven't gotten around to changing the name of my blog, "Room 237", after that Shining documentary hijacked the name and attached crackpot theories to it. I originally chose the name because of my fascination with coincidences, superstition, and seclusion (and that cool video game "Silent Hill 4: The Room"). What were the odds that my old apartment complex--following the fire that temporarily freed me from material baggage--would relocate me to Apt. 237, the same number for that mysterious forbidden hotel room from "The Shining"? I also liked the whole idea of a peaceful reclusive space, walled off from the world.

Maybe I can keep the "237" and synthesize a new name from the passions in my life like curation, cinema, and cynicism. For my original blog name, I actually toyed with "cynic critic"--but scrapped it due to the remote possibility that someday my cynicism could fade. Well...fast-forward several years to today, and I'm more cynical than ever.

Watched movie: "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018) in RPX & 3D
Outstanding comedy dampened by unpleasantly dark scenes, repetitive sequences of our beloved Marvel superheroes getting jobbed and humiliated, and long storyline progressions that turned out to be wastes of time. In particular, I found it disturbing that the film tried to humanize a genocidal maniac. I'm also not a fan of the hostage taking cliche, especially when steel-willed characters cave too easily to it. Cool ending though--much more impactful than the comic. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Foreign Correspondent" (1940)
Easily one of my least favorite Hitchcock films. What a mess. It seriously felt like a bad soap opera, from the corny romance music to the needlessly convoluted body double conspiracy to the oceanic disaster in the middle of nowhere. And somehow the lovesick war correspondent kept inexplicably trusting strangers, oblivious that they could easily be in on the conspiracy! Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Tully" (2018)
Although this film struck me as the least funny collaboration between Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, I found the film's brutal cynicism toward motherhood highly amusing, e.g., the diaper change montage and the depiction of Charlize Theron's children as nuisances. The best part was how the movie ended without some kind of scene showing why it was all worth it (unless I missed it). There's got to be some kind of upside to children, right? Right? :D Rating: 5
Survival Sunday
04/26/18 12:45 AM PDT

I found the Walking Dead season 8 finale unsatisfying, and was glad I passed on watching in a movie theater. What an anticlimactic end to the Saviors storyline. To me, Negan committed horrible atrocities and deserved death more than any character Rick has ever killed. Heck, just a couple of episodes prior, Rick and Morgan cold-bloodedly executed the Saviors who untied them--now all of a sudden these two are pacifists again! I'm so tired of how the main characters on this show keep flip-flopping in this eternally pretentious moral struggle. I don't like it when they stupidly kill off main characters, either. Finally, what kind of idiot keeps exhausting all of their bullets on a hiding person with no gun and then walks straight into their ambush??

Haha, nice swerve by Jeff Probst during the Survivor: Ghost Island vote read. He started out revealing a streak of Desiree votes (presumably from the minority alliance), switched to Michael votes as if he had received the remainder of them, and then swerved back to the Desiree votes. I don't think fans truly appreciate what an art it is, to order tribal council votes in the most dramatic possible way. If you can google the interview where Jeff Probst explained it, it's an entertaining read.

Was Desiree surprised that her lies didn't work, even when she swore to God (cringe)? I certainly wasn't. What kind of innocent person would just dismiss an accusation that major instead of denying it with every fiber of their being? If an alliance had falsely accused me, I'd have been absolutely livid at them. Admittedly, it'd be difficult for a liar to fake this kind of outrage. At least she didn't pull a Dreamz and go on ad nauseam about setting a good example for her son.

Watched movie: "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" (2018)
Forgettable PG-13 horror flick about a demonic "truth or dare?" game where each player has to win their turn or die. Despite a fiendish rule against picking truth three times in a row, I still found the game lame thanks to the demon's lack of imagination and the players' tepid secrets (even the one that made the girl foolishly risk life and limb over disclosing it). I also hated how the movie trivialized something I found inexcusable: forcing the gay player to come out to his father. Interesting ending, at least. Though I'm curious what the last surviving player would have done, given that they could challenge the demon to either finish the game or perform a dare. Rating: 4
On their game
04/13/18 6:46 PM PDT

To my surprise, Ronda Rousey's Mixed Tag Team Match ended up being my favorite match of WrestleMania 34. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and managed to convince me that the WWE might actually job her to Stephanie McMahon. Herein lies the secret to the top wrestling matches, in my opinion: build them up with must-win stakes (like a streak or some kind of MacGuffin) to make the fans really care about the outcome.

The crowd in attendance can sure make or break a wrestling match. That WrestleMania 34 crowd managed to ruin AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns II for me. But thanks to the inordinate length of WrestleMania nowadays, who can blame them. Admittedly, what dumb booking to have Roman Reigns kick out of Brock Lesnar's finisher five times. Now the move doesn't feel special anymore.

Watched movie: "A Quiet Place" (2018)
Heart-tugging, excruciatingly tense John Krasinski film where he and Emily Blunt try to raise children in a world full of blind monsters that hunt by sound. For instance, the family has to soundproof their entire house, communicate by sign language, and come up with contingencies such as loud diversions. I found it refreshing watching such smart characters whose lives seemed devoted to avoiding horror movie mistakes. But at the same time, I couldn't relax the entire movie because I knew their vigilance was bound to lapse sooner or later. P.S. Excellent music. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Ready Player One" (2018) in IMAX 3D
Adventurous but shallow Steven Spielberg CGI-fest about a multiplayer online contest to find the three hidden keys to a multibillion-dollar Easter egg. The contest takes place inside a vast virtual reality world called the OASIS. Although I found the OASIS awe-inspiring, I felt it focused too much on nostalgia and "fun and games" rather than the important issues facing today's online communities. I guess it did touch upon online privacy and "catfishing", but I felt like it sent the wrong message to reward the protagonist for trusting a stranger online (and for falling in love WAY too quickly with Olivia Cooke's avatar). All of this paled to my sourness over the mass murder at Wade's slum though, and the way the movie just seemed to marginalize it. We're really supposed to care more about this video game quest than justice for those innocent murder victims? Rating: 6
Neva give up!!
03/31/18 7:39 PM PDT

If you ask me, "The X-Files" season 11 finale tarnished the whole series and may have killed whatever interest I had left in the show--even if all these unceremoniously stupid deaths turn out to be fake outs. The scene that dismayed me the most: when Scully just shrugged off William's apparent death after entire seasons of her obsessing over him!

In other news, the WWE officially cleared Daniel Bryan for in-ring competition! Das cool. My wish list: book him to finally win a Royal Rumble Match, and go on to face either Shinsuke Nakamura or AJ Styles at WrestleMania. Side note: I find these promos where Shinsuke Nakamura pauses to have a seizure entertaining. :D

Watched movie: "unsane" (2018)
Outrageous Steven Soderbergh film about a stalked woman who gets involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Although I was impressed by how well the movie portrayed the soul-crushing effect of stalking, it became too much for me how many times this woman got victimized. It got to a point where no kind of payoff could satisfy me anymore. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Pacific Rim Uprising" (2018) in IMAX 3D
Like a bad Saturday morning cartoon thanks to the contrived plot, lame banter, forgettable drama, and characters I didn't care about. Not sure how much better it could have turned out had Guillermo del Toro came back to direct it--but at a minimum, I think it would've felt less commercialized. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Isle of Dogs" (2018)
Poignant stop-motion animated comedy from Wes Anderson about a dystopian Japanese city's persecution of dogs via propaganda, internment, and exile. In my opinion, the best and most emotional film Wes Anderson has ever done. I could really feel the dogs' pain and rooted for them to succeed, especially during the cool taiko-scored sequences. Rating: 8
Boo-urns
03/16/18 4:43 PM PDT

R.I.P. Stephen Hawking.

Can't say I'm excited about WrestleMania 34, not even about the prospect of John Cena vs. an apparently non-retired Undertaker. I do anticipate one match to blow the roof off: AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura. If the WWE had any sense, they would let this one main event last. That Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns match might turn into the biggest disaster since Lesnar's WrestleMania XX fiasco. Especially with Lesnar expected to leave again, and this whole "no show" build-up (kind of like how Goldberg didn't show up for the WrestleMania XX build-up).

I feel like WWE got the booking wrong for Ronda Rousey. Are we supposed to believe that Stephanie McMahon stands any kind of chance against her? Maybe the encounter will only last a few seconds. Personally, I would've pit Rousey against Asuka's undefeated streak--the story writes itself. Unless maybe they're planning to keep that streak alive until the next WrestleMania?

I'll try to keep an open mind about Braun Strowman's WrestleMania storyline. Right now I feel like they're wasting this great character. I guess Bray Wyatt already has WrestleMania plans?

Finally, if the WWE Hall of Fame 2018 Induction Ceremony follows the same pattern as the previous ones, Kid Rock is going to get booed out of the building.

Watched movie: "Game Night" (2018)
A movie premised on people who take party games too personally? Comedic gold. Man that slighted next-door neighbor was funny. I also never get tired of Jason Bateman's observational wit. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Una Mujer Fantástica" a.k.a. "A Fantastic Woman" (2017)
Slow foreign language Oscar winner from Chile about a trans woman who faces contempt from the family of her recently deceased lover. Overall, I felt like the movie needed more insights. For example, why did she seem to have consciousness of guilt and why did she keep blowing off the one family member who seemed nice to her? Rating: 5
Watched movie: "A Wrinkle in Time" (2018) in RPX & 3D
I don't know whether to blame director Ava DuVernay or author Madeleine L'Engle, but what a bunch of gobbledygook. Someone explain to me what these kids actually did, other than prove themselves worthy of participation awards? :P I did like the quest to rescue Meg's missing father. But I didn't care for the darkness threat because a) I didn't understand it, and b) it implied that people weren't responsible for their sins. All in all, the whole movie felt like something that would air on the Hallmark Channel. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Strangers: Prey at Night" (2018)
Even though the first Strangers film came out almost a decade ago, it featured a horror movie mistake so bad that I never forgot it: basically, the couple had a shotgun and still fell victim to the masked intruders. So imagine my dismay when the family in this sequel managed to commit even worse mistakes! Not only did the guy have something the slashers didn't--a handgun--he inexplicably spared the one who stabbed his sister! And what family would just split up instead of jumping into their car and driving away? On the plus side, I liked the slashers' taste in 80's music (eerie watching violence to the tune of 80's pop) and the deserted trailer park made for an interesting setting. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Thoroughbreds" (2018)
Arid "comedy thriller" that I found neither funny nor thrilling. Olivia Cooke played an uninspiring teenage sociopath nowhere near as likeable as Dexter Morgan, and Anya Taylor-Joy played a spoiled teenage friend nowhere near as likeable as Debra Morgan. I guess my main problem boiled down to their conspiracy to murder the stepfather--I felt like they lacked a good enough reason to want him dead. Rating: 4
"The Three Amigos of Cinema"
03/05/18 5:57 PM PST

Foiled again on my Best Picture prediction. On the plus side, I find it cool that Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu all have directing Oscars now.

Watched movie: "Early Man" (2018)
Like a claymation, prehistoric version of "Shaolin Soccer" but nowhere near as funny. I found most of the humor lowbrow, and it just didn't feel right to laugh at mentally stunted cavemen. A shame because I usually enjoy these Aardman Animations productions. P.S. I did find the duck somewhat amusing. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Annihilation" (2018)
Another haunting movie from Alex Garland about a tumor-like soap bubble on the Earth that blends the DNA of anything inside, creating some hideous-looking mutations. This guy clearly has a knack for sci-fi horror. I found both the sights and intellections in this film disturbing. I might've rated it higher, but didn't care for the ending. Rating: 6
Olympic Winter Games XXIII: Ups and downs
02/20/18 4:58 PM PST

Looks like my celebrity counterpart, DJ Steve Aoki, tried weightlessness for himself at a zero-gravity dance party. Coincidence?

Just like Winter Olympics past, these PyeongChang 2018 Olympics have given me highs and lows. Case in point: after I watched Mikaela Shiffrin unexpectedly win a gold medal in the giant slalom, she inexplicably placed fourth in her signature slalom event on the very next day! That same night, I had to watch Lindsey Jacobellis fade to fourth place in the snowboard cross final after she led the majority of the race (at least she made the final this time), and had to watch Nathan Chen skate to a disastrous 17th place in the men's figure skating short program (I do enjoy the commentary from Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir at least).

Congratulations to Shaun White on becoming the first snowboarder ever to win three Olympic gold medals! Talk about a clutch performance--instead of his usual victory lap, he had to nail the very last run of the snowboard halfpipe final to avoid second place. I've never seen him scream that loud and cry that hard before. I was also impressed by gold medalist Chloe Kim on the previous day's halfpipe. For some reason, I found it amusing watching each competitor either hug or snub the first snowboarder to finish, Arielle Gold, as she waited and waited at the bottom in bronze medal position.

In other sporting news, 36-year-old Roger Federer successfully became the oldest man to ever top the world tennis rankings, surpassing Andre Agassi who held the record at age 33-years-old. Das impressive.

Update 2/22/2018: What an ending to the women’s ice hockey gold medal match. I'm glad NBC chose to televise it. That's the first time I've watched a penalty shootout, and to me it was way more thrilling than regulation/overtime where I can't even tell where the puck is. :) I felt vested in this match because I still remember my bitterness from the last Olympic hockey final when the U.S. women managed to blow a 2-0 lead against Canada in the final minutes of regulation.

Update 2/24/2018: Never thought I'd be watching live curling again after I walked out on it at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, but I couldn't resist tuning in to team USA's historic gold medal match. Congratulations to Team Shuster on winning America's first-ever gold medal in Olympic curling! Talk about an improbable victory. Hollywood should make a movie about this.

Watched movie: "Fifty Shades Freed" (2018)
Third and final installment of the Fifty Shades series. You would think that a marriage between such passionate personalities would yield something juicy, but nope. Mostly just sex and fluff. Christian Grey's character flaws all but disappeared, and the "shades" that remained (like being possessive and secretive) didn't seem to ruffle Anastasia Steele at all. The movie also managed to shut down all of the conflicts before they could get good, including a really interesting one that that stupid Jack Hyde storyline derailed. Apparently this idiot, this known threat, can just break into high-security areas and get caught red-handed for arson and attempted kidnapping with complete impunity! Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Black Panther" (2018) in IMAX 3D
One of the better Marvel movies thanks to Ryan Coogler's directing, an all-star cast of kick-ass characters, Shakespearean intrigue, topical sociopolitical issues, and cool hi-tech action. I also liked how the film blurred what constitutes a good or bad revolutionary. Side note: Maybe Wakanda should consider elections instead of ritual combat to determine the next ruler. Just sayin'. :P Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Super Bowl Sunday
02/05/18 5:34 PM PST

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles on their first-ever Super Bowl victory! Say what you will about the New England Patriots, their Super Bowl games never fail to entertain.

I'm not a fan of the TV show "This Is Us", but I did tune in to their big post-Super Bowl episode. Hopefully now instead of blaming harmless Crock-Pots, viewers will blame the parents' negligence for letting all of their smoke alarm batteries expire. I also found it unconscionably stupid for Jack to enter a burning house to save a dog and a sack of replaceable material possessions. And I found his complete lack of smoke inhalation symptoms hard to believe. But otherwise, good episode. I can definitely identify with that family, even though it's weird to me that they still have hang-ups over this incident 20 years later.

Now that all the precursor guild awards concluded, here are my Oscar predictions for 2017:

This time, I refuse to trust a PGA winner without a SAG nomination no matter how favorable the odds get.

Never retire
01/29/18 4:20 PM PST

Congratulations to Roger Federer on a milestone 20th Grand Slam title! I got alarmed when he suddenly faded in the fourth set, but to my relief he held tough in the fifth to secure his sixth Australian Open title. That Marin Cilic, man--he still bugs me; the time he wastes between serves and the way he kept fussing over his unopened rackets. I'm so glad Federer closed it out (on another harrowing HawkEye challenge, no less). Plus it was cool (and uncharacteristic) to see Federer so emotional at the trophy presentation.

In another feel-good moment, Caroline Wozniacki FINALLY won her first Grand Slam title! Quite the final given that among the active WTA roster, I had regarded both her and opponent Simona Halep as the two best players to never win a Grand Slam tournament. I used to be one of the haters who felt that Caroline Wozniacki didn't deserve the #1 WTA ranking, but nowadays I'm impressed with her level of play and feel like she truly earned the spot.

By the way, that semifinal between Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber might go down as the most epic women’s tennis match I've ever watched. Haymakers back-and-forth; suspenseful HawkEye challenges; both players trying to gut through exhaustion and mental demons. First Kerber rallied back from double match point; then Halep rallied back from double match point. An amazing match.

At long last, WWE booked a Royal Rumble Match right. I also liked the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match and its nostalgic slew of surprise entrants who helped build the division. And I liked that they had to all go over the top rope, even though I noticed they had to keep finding creative ways to keep the eliminations safe. To my recollection, WWE's previous women's battle royales never instituted this deceptively dangerous rule.

Man, that Ronda Rousey needs better entrance music. Like for example, the entrance music of Samoa Joe or Brock Lesnar.

Watched movie: "The Death Cure" (2018) in IMAX
Third and final installment of the Maze Runner series. I don't know whether to blame the book author or the filmmakers, but the whole movie felt illogical. Maybe because of flip-flopping character motivations (for example, does WCKD want to kill Thomas or capture him?), inexplicable deaths, the inexplicable survival of mortally wounded characters, and my ongoing confusion over the Flare virus. At least the film went bold on the plot points, and went big on visual effects like the hi-tech city. Rating: 6
Phantom of the Oscars
01/24/18 12:46 AM PST

To my confusion, "Phantom Thread" snagged a Best Picture nomination over four other more probable Oscar contenders. It had such slim odds that I had just written it off. As a result, I had to go watch it before I could finish ranking all of the 2017 Best Picture nominees:

  1. "Dunkirk" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Get Out" (My rating: 7)
  3. "The Post" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Phantom Thread" (My rating: 6)
  5. "The Shape of Water" (My rating: 6)
  6. "Lady Bird" (My rating: 5)
  7. "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" (My rating: 5)
  8. "Call Me by Your Name" (My rating: 5)
  9. "Darkest Hour" (My rating: 5)

The Golden Globes, PGA, and SAG awards took place so early this year that I've pretty much finalized all of my Academy Award predictions already, except for Best Director.

Watched movie: "Mom and Dad" (2018)
Offbeat, energetically-scored horror comedy wherein a TV signal brainwashes Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair (and other parents across the country) to go homicidal on their own children. As expected, Nicolas Cage's nutty performance was about the only thing I enjoyed in the entire movie. I mean, the guy already seemed batsh-- crazy before the epidemic even began. :) I guess the flashbacks were meant to provide emotion, irony, and some kind of meaning, but to me they kept dragging down the pace of the film. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Phantom Thread" (2017)
This boring-looking romantic drama about a 1950's dressmaker turned out much more captivating than I expected. That Daniel Day-Lewis was suave, man--even during the scenes where his character was neurotic, ill-tempered, or straight up rude. I'm starting to think that this director, Paul Thomas Anderson, knows how to bring out the best performances in people. I also like how he keeps the camera fixated on characters, even when they're just thinking. I would've rated this movie higher, but what kind of ending was that. Rating: 6
The mytharc
01/16/18 6:15 PM PST

"The X-Files" quietly started airing season 11, and already I hate it. :P They're seriously just retconning the whole series now. Either that, or they're trying to convey the futility of finding truth in a world so polluted with disinformation. The examples that irritated me the most:

Also, I still can't reconcile how the Cigarette-Smoking Man survived getting blown to smithereens in the series finale. While I'm at it, I can't remember how Mulder and Scully were allowed to return to the FBI.

I finished tabulating the music video rankings for 2017. I had to apply two tiebreakers to determine the #30 song: "Formation" or "Trampoline".

Watched movie: "Insidious: The Last Key" (2018)
Another Insidious prequel lacking in suspense because I already know what becomes of the main characters. At least this prequel appears to be the last one. This series needs some fresh ideas because it's getting repetitive. Points for the heart and humor though. P.S. I'm still waiting for a resolution to the second installment's cliffhanger. Rating: 5
Holiday movie marathon 2017
01/05/18 7:52 PM PST

Well, I finally bought a brand-new car: a 2018 Toyota Corolla LE sedan. Why does my new car match the exact same make, model, and color of my last two cars, you might ask? Because I like trilogies. :)

I'm somewhat fascinated with this new car's automated safety features. It's supposed to automatically brake when it detects a collision, automatically course-correct when it detects lane departure, automatically dim high beams when it detects oncoming cars, and automatically adjust the cruise control to steadily follow the car ahead of me. Interestingly, during my drive back to San Jose, the car's AI warned me to put my hands back on the steering wheel (I was experimenting with the course-correction feature); then about two hours into the trip asked me if I need a break.

I traded in my old 2004 Corolla for a whopping $100. To my irritation, the salesman rationalized that because its odometer froze at 299,999 miles, they couldn't really trust my own personal estimate. So basically, they exploited their own manufacturing defect as an excuse to lowball me. I didn't really mind though, as I doubt the engine would've lasted much longer given how fast (and loudly) it was burning through oil. My oil kept running low less than 3000 miles after my oil changes, even though the car had no leaks anywhere.

I actually felt a pang of sadness when I spotted my 2004 Corolla on my way out of the dealership lot. Nowhere near as sad as my Mom when she said goodbye to the family station wagon, but sentimental nonetheless. I guess because for those 14+ years and 364,000+ miles, that 2004 Corolla never really let me down. It was like a good luck charm in that I never once suffered a traffic accident in it.

Watched movie: "Aus dem Nichts" a.k.a. "In the Fade" (2017)
So-so Oscar entry from Germany about a grieving widow who wants justice against the bombers who purposely targeted her husband and son. The first act started out interesting when the characters' theories of the crime varied depending on their own personal prejudices. But the acts with the courtroom drama and moral dilemma struck me as shallow. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Post" (2017)
I knew a Spielberg historical drama starring both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks wouldn't disappoint. This one dramatized a dilemma in The Washington Post about whether to risk publishing classified government secrets about the Vietnam War (against the Nixon administration's wishes). Lots of compelling rhetoric about freedom of the press. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Hostiles" (2017)
Scenic Western wherein an 1892 U.S. Army captain (Christian Bale) is inexplicably ordered to safely escort his sworn enemy, a dying Cheyenne war chief (and his family), back to his homeland in Montana. Just his homeland, not his tribe, so the whole mission lacked oversight and was just bizarre to me. Also, the cynic in me just couldn't buy how easily the characters overcame their deep-seated prejudices, particularly the Rosamund Pike character. Otherwise, I liked the movie (though would recommend "Dances with Wolves" instead). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Happy End" (2017)
Typical Michael Haneke fare in that I had to pay close attention to the screen (including the subtitles), mentally connect dots, and hypothesize what was happening due to a lack of context in many of the scenes. Meaning, I had to stay vigilant even during parts of the movie that felt long, boring, and uneventful. Certain WTF moments stood out, but for me the biggest bombshell was a casual reference to the ending of "Amour". Does that make "Happy End" a sequel?! Rating: 5
Watched movie: "downsizing" (2017)
Dry social satire from Alexander Payne wherein Matt Damon voluntarily shrinks himself to retire to a miniature upscale community. It impressed me how well the filmmakers thought everything through. The "downsizing" procedure and its appeal to everyday consumers felt really convincing. But as the movie progressed, my interest began waning because of how little the new civilization seemed to differ from the old one. I also found it disappointing that the film never revisited the subject matter that intrigued me the most: sociopolitical tensions between big and small people. Side note: Props to the Hong Chau character. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Greatest Showman" (2017)
Entertaining albeit rose-colored biopic of P.T. Barnum, adorned with exhilarating musical numbers. I don't get why the movie had to formulate such soapy narratives for a life that was already so fascinating. Granted, they captured his sensationalist spirit--but not his fraudulent hoaxes (like the Feejee mermaid) or his unapologetic love of money (which I saw no shame in). I particularly hated how the film took one of P.T. Barnum's greatest successes, the Jenny Lind tour of America, and warped it into some kind of scandal. Side note: Hugh Jackman's characters sure like stealing bread. Rating: 7
2017 Year in Review
12/26/17 5:36 PM PST
Best of 2017 Worst of 2017
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Watching Roger Federer finally winning his 18th Grand Slam title (after over four years of disappointment) by narrowly outlasting Rafael Nadal in the greatest tennis match I have ever seen.
  2. (tie) Watching Serena Williams winning her 23rd Grand Slam title to break Steffi Graf's Open era record; and watching Roger Federer winning a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon title and 19th Grand Slam title.
  3. Vacationing in New York with my siblings, including a fun 4DX screening, the 9/11 museum, four Broadway musicals, Coney Island, two famous pizzerias, one famous delicatessen, and the Museum of Modern Art.
  4. My Comcast On Demand service working again after I upgraded my cable box.
  5. Enjoying the "Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience".
Honorable mention: The Golden State Warriors closing out the 2017 NBA Finals and Kevin Durant finally winning his first NBA championship ring.
  1. My 2004 Corolla breaking down and needing a tow twice within three months (first for a bad alternator, then for a bad starter).
  2. Finding out about Serena Williams' pregnancy and withdrawl from the tennis season.
  3. Another aunt passing away.
  4. A fire breaking out in my microwave; then my microwave going out because both of my countertop kitchen outlets went dead.
  5. The Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly breaking scoring records in game 4 to spoil the Golden State Warriors' historic opportunity for an NBA playoffs sweep.
Movies
  1. "Dunkirk"
    "Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer can make anything cool, even this drab historical event from World War II."
  2. "The Disaster Artist"
    "Funny albeit occasionally cringeworthy gem about the making of that hilariously bad cult sensation, 'The Room'."
  3. "Get Out"
    "A keen and thoroughly entertaining horror hit..."
  4. "War for the Planet of the Apes"
    "Cold hard motion-capture magic tempered with sharp emotion."
  5. "Baby Driver"
    "Fun, stirring, and suave."
  6. "The Salesman"
    "Another absorbing Oscar-nominated foreign language film by Asghar Farhadi."
  7. "Blade Runner 2049"
    "...that first couple of hours really fascinated me and tugged on my heartstrings..."
  8. "Battle of the Sexes"
    "Inspirational, relevant biopic that follows tennis player Billie Jean King..."
  9. "John Wick Chapter 2"
    "Cool and entertaining neo-noir sequel..."
  10. "Wonder Woman"
    "A golden gem from DC Films that in my judgment, triumphed over everything that could have gone wrong with it."
  1. "rings"
    "Every sequel about Samara Morgan seems to take away more and more of her mystique."
  2. "Sharknado 5: Global Swarming"
    "Apparently sharknadoes can now teleport people all over the world, and I couldn't care less."
  3. "Before I Fall"
    "Usually I like these 'Groundhog Day' movies...but this one bored me and felt like a sappy teen drama."
  4. "Suburbicon"
    "...what a mistake IMHO to go for a comedic tone."
  5. "Annabelle: Creation"
    "Too many uncreative jump scares, too little plot if you ask me."
  6. "Transformers: The Last Knight"
    "Just like all the other boneheaded Transformers movies..."
  7. "Jigsaw"
    "Like a cheap imitation of previous (and better) Saw movies."
  8. "The Snowman"
    "A dud of a detective 'thriller' that lacked basic elements like forensics, behavioral analysis, and intriguing clues."
  9. "Fifty Shades Darker"
    "Man their dialogue was bad. Cringeworthy bad."
  10. "Detroit"
    "...disliked how they curated this one."
Songs
  1. "Shadow" Chromatics
  2. "Despacito" Luis Fonsi f/ Daddy Yankee
  3. "Believer" Imagine Dragons
  4. "Stay in the Dark" The Band Perry
  5. "Look What You Made Me Do" Taylor Swift
Honorable mention: "Plastic Heart" Nostalghia & Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard
  1. "Naked" James Arthur
  2. "Both" Gucci Mane f/ Drake
  3. "Attention" Charlie Puth
  4. "Sorry Not Sorry" Demi Lovato
  5. "Broken Glass" Rachel Platten
TV series "Game of Thrones" "Fear the Walking Dead"
Commercial (tie) Foot Locker commercial where DeMarcus Cousins and Ndamukong Suh "make an impression", and a GEICO Insurance commercial about a talking raccoon's cooking show Toyota commercial where identical hitchhikers steal a samaritan's car in a roundabout
Movie trailer (tie) "Thor: Ragnarok" and "The Disaster Artist" and "Isle of Dogs" "Power Rangers"
Box office bump
12/24/17 9:50 PM PST
Watched movie: "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi" (2017) in RPX & 3D
Although I found this installment slow, comedically challenged, and mostly propped up by nostalgia, it definitely had its moments, e.g., Yoda's anti-cynical advice, the notion of arms dealers being the only real winners, and the Resistance's suicide attacks. IMHO, that one part where the Resistance cruiser lightsped through the enemy fleet like paper was one of the most awesome scenes Star Wars has ever done. I also liked the unexpected twists and turns in the plot, e.g., the Leia shocker, the DJ shocker, the Snoke shocker, Rey's parentage, and Luke's ploy. Cast-wise, I'm afraid I still don't feel vested in any of the new characters. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "I, Tonya" (2017)
A Tonya Harding biopic based on Tonya Harding's version of events...so naturally, I was skeptic the whole time. Admittedly, Margot Robbie did a good job humanizing her. Side note: I'm not too big a fan of narratives that keep breaking the fourth wall. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Call Me by Your Name" (2017)
Scenic, subtle, and snail-paced. Possibly the most boring coming-of-age film I've ever seen. It felt like an eternity waiting for something to happen. Most of the time the characters just loafed around. I also had trouble getting past the age difference between the teenager and his American love interest. On the plus side, I liked the cast's highly nuanced performances. For example, it was interesting watching the supporting characters' body language for "tells" on whether they suspected. Rating: 5
Box office slump
12/14/17 5:56 PM PST

Cinemark unveiled some kind of Movie Club where once a month, members can pay a discounted $8.99 instead of $12.75 for one ticket. Huh? This is supposed to compete against MoviePass, where for $9.95 a month the subscribers can get one free movie ticket a day? That MoviePass pays for itself after just one movie! Admittedly, I never trusted MoviePass because it seems too good to be true--well, that and I can't use it without an iPhone or Android phone. :)

It's been awhile, but I finally drove to San Francisco to see a limited release movie. I just couldn't wait to screen the James Franco biopic about Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero. :)

Watched movie: "The Disaster Artist" (2017)
Funny albeit occasionally cringeworthy gem about the making of that hilariously bad cult sensation, "The Room". Now that I see how off-the-wall filmmaker Tommy Wiseau was in real-life, I can see how "The Room" turned out so illogical. To my amusement, James Franco played the guy to perfection--unidentifiable accent and all. I think the reactions of the cast and crew cracked me up as much as his non sequiturs did. Some parts got pretty serious, but I guess the movie had to explore Tommy Wiseau's "jerk" side too. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Shape of Water" (2017)
The latest fantasy drama from Guillermo del Toro about the romance between a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) and a captured sea creature inside of a "high-security" government laboratory (I put "high-security" in quotes because what a joke it was). I wanted to call this movie charming, but once again Guillermo del Toro just had to sully my brain with needlessly disgusting scenes, from cringeworthy ones to Michael Shannon leaving a restroom without washing his hands. :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Darkest Hour" (2017)
I respect Winston Churchill, but this biopic about him might be the most boring WWII film I've ever seen. Sometimes the guy droned on, sometimes he mumbled, and sometimes he struggled just spitting the words out of his mouth (though he did have a couple of hilariously droll lines). On the plus side, I found Gary Oldman's performance Oscar-worthy, and enjoyed Winston Churchill's conversations with King George VI and with the people in the subway. But yeah, it's so hard watching a movie about Parliament after way more compelling films like "Dunkirk" and "The King's Speech". Rating: 5
From A to B
11/29/17 5:59 PM PST

I'm glad I experimented with driving on US 101 the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend rather than Sunday (or Saturday). No gridlock at all this time, and it only cost me one extra vacation day. This will become my new routine going forward.

Looks like the "Talking Dead" purposely spoiled who will cross over from "The Walking Dead" to "Fear the Walking Dead". I don't get it. Texas isn't exactly close to the East Coast--did this character just go on some zombie apocalypse road trip? And with the filming location so far away, I assume this character will have to be written off "The Walking Dead" somehow. I don't like it.

Watched movie: "Justice League" (2017) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
These DC movies just can't seem to nail comedy, and how lazy IMHO to rely on such convenient plot devices to unite the superheroes. Still, the film still turned out better than I expected--possibly thanks to some tinkering from Joss Whedon. Some cool Zack Snyder slo-mo too. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Coco" (2017) in 3D
A vibrantly impressive Pixar movie, rich with Mexican aesthetics and culture. Plot-wise, I wasn't sure what the overall message was--especially for someone like me whose family never memorialized ancestors for Day of the Dead. What happens to the decedents who aren't Mexican? :P Side note #1: My early prediction came true. Side note #2: That Frozen "short" went way too long. Rating: 7
November movie marathon
11/17/17 6:44 PM PST
Watched movie: "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) in IMAX 3D
Entertainingly funny movie thanks mostly to the comedic stylings of Chris Hemsworth and the Hulk. The comedy might have gone too far though, as I felt like the film's most monumental tragedies got shrugged off and didn't receive any of the emotional weight they deserved. Also, Cate Blanchett bored me as the villain. Props to the colorful visuals and retro music. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Square" (2017)
Offbeat Oscar entry from Sweden that also won the Palme d'Or. I wasn't sure whether to take it seriously or not, as the (satirical?) art exhibits in this movie like the "square" and the piles of gravel resembled minimal art exhibits that I've seen in real-life. That performance art definitely went off the rails though. :P All in all, I liked a few of the scenes, but found the overall film rudderless. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Florida Project" (2017)
Despite the movie's attempt to romanticize the childhood of these slumdog-like kids near Disney World, I don't think I smiled even once. I just couldn't get past their families' living conditions at this budget motel. Plus a couple of scenes managed to kill whatever charm the film could have had for me: a) the beginning where the kids insulted a stranger with some nasty expletives (what a horrible first impression to start with), and b) the motel manager's discovery of bed bugs (which I couldn't get out of my head for the rest of the movie). Admittedly, I found the film's overall exploration of community and rules at this extended-stay motel interesting. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Lady Bird" (2017)
A coming-of-age dramedy where Saoirse Ronan plays a Catholic high school senior suffering from First World problems. I say that because it took place in 2002 and 2003, and occasionally referenced America's War on Terror. Even without this backdrop, however, I'm afraid I didn't find Saoirse Ronan's teenager problems interesting enough to warrant an entire feature length movie. Admittedly, a couple of scenes really stood out, i.e., Saoirse Ronan forgiving her gay friend and the woefully "anticlimactic" loss of her virginity. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" (2017)
Too dark of a comedy for me to laugh. I was pretty alarmed with all the malice in this movie, particularly the outrageous retaliations to Frances McDormand's billboards and the outrageous acts of violence that went unpunished. Like some kind of WWE melodrama (including an illogical face turn). Props to Frances McDormand's performance as a tough as nails mother who didn't give no f---s. If the whole film had just been her feuding with the townspeople of Ebbing, I probably would've rated it higher. :) Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017) in 70mm
Decent theatrical adaptation of the Agatha Christie whodunit. I've never been a fan of detective Hercule Poirot, but it intrigued me watching him sleuth this quagmire of a mystery. I never read the novel and my theory of the crime was pretty laughable, but how could I deduce anything when I couldn't trust the authenticity of the clues or the honesty of the suspects (even the ones I ruled out). :P In the end, the solution satisfied me and reconciled the things that were bothering me. Side note #1: I can't think of anything in A Tale of Two Cities that would make Poirot laugh. Side note #2: To my amusement, the 70mm screening came with a free Hercule Poirot mustache. :) Rating: 6
Astro turf
11/02/17 2:42 PM PDT

Congratulations to the Houston Astros on their first World Series championship. Not the best World Series IMHO, given how anticlimactic Game 7 was against the Dodgers, but at least they had an epic Game 5. (Personally, I can't imagine any baseball game ever topping the awesomeness of those previous two World Series Game 7's!)

My pictures from New York finally got developed, so I uploaded them to my blog. It takes about two weeks to ship and process the film. I used a disposable camera, so most of the photos I snapped in dim lighting, e.g., my 9/11 museum snapshots, came out too dark. I do own a camera with a magnificent flash, but I've been saving it for special occasions (like WWE events) because stores stopped selling film rolls for it. Once my stock of film rolls run out, I'll probably have to go digital. :)

Watched movie: "The Snowman" (2017)
A dud of a detective "thriller" that lacked basic elements like forensics, behavioral analysis, and intriguing clues. The deaths were underwhelming (some of the key ones even happened off-screen), the film never bothered to address why the serial killer made snowmen (or how he seemed to teleport around), and a lot of scenes turned out to be wastes of time. For instance, it felt like this Harry Hole spent more time investigating what his partner was hiding rather than the case itself. (Just threaten to oust her from the team if she doesn't come clean!) Although I never read the Harry Hole novel, I'm already convinced that this theatrical adaptation butchered it. A shame given how much I enjoyed this director's last two films. At least the movie had interesting winter scenery, tablet technology, and serial killer taunts. Plus I liked the melancholy atmosphere. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Jigsaw" (2017) in IMAX
Like a cheap imitation of previous (and better) Saw movies. Disappointing that after seven years of real-life news events, this sequel could not come up with a single fresh or topical idea. I found all of the traps lackluster, and how many times are they going to recycle that same old plot twist? Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Suburbicon" (2017)
I don't know whether to blame George Clooney's directing, the Coen brothers' writing, the offbeat trailer, or all of the above, but what a mistake IMHO to go for a comedic tone. To me, hate crimes and psychological child abuse should never be taken lightly. (If you're going to make a film about 1950's desegregation, make it a serious historical drama.) Also, the trailer spoiled some major scenes. Rating: 4
Overkill
10/24/17 11:03 PM PDT

Gross. On Sunday, I counted 24 dead quails in the plaza of my workplace. Looked like some kind of animal attack. Then that night I gave my first ever 0 star rating to "The Simpsons" in the show's 27-year history--to that sickening Halloween story where Homer cannibalized himself.

"The Walking Dead" season 8 premiere was ok. Better than this most recent "Fear the Walking Dead" season. Once again, "Fear the Walking Dead" managed to think up another dumb death for a major character. I'm not even curious about which mystery character will cross over between the two shows some time in 2018. (I assume we can rule out an appearance by comatose Rick.) The top theory appears to be Abraham given that he once lived at a grocery store in Houston, the same city that the Proctors plan to sail toward. Personally, I'd find it much more interesting if one of the "Fear the Walking Dead" characters journeyed all the way from Mexico to the East Coast, thereby setting up a flash-forward.

Watched movie: "Happy Death Day" (2017)
Usually I like these "Groundhog Day" movies where the main character relives the same day over and over again--but this one lacked logic. How is it that the main character in this one, a sorority sister, couldn't make it through a single day alive?? She remembered when and where her killer confronted her the first time, right? Just go there prepared, and she's bound to prevail at least once. At a minimum, carry around something for self-defense. Or just go somewhere that's safe from the killer! Anyway, I did like the final twist and the montage where she surveilled different suspects. Though once she learned that each death weakened her, I don't know why she didn't just try leaving. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Battle of the Sexes" (2017)
Inspirational, relevant biopic that follows tennis player Billie Jean King during her career-threatening boycott of the USLTA for equal pay, her concealment of a lesbian affair, and her historic high-stakes match against Bobby Riggs. I say relevant because it's 44 years later and we still have these kinds of issues. Props to Emma Stone and Steve Carell for their terrific acting performances. Rating: 7
New York V: The Museum of Modern Art
10/13/17 10:13 PM PDT

I decided to look for famous paintings at the Museum of Modern Art (admission is free after 4pm on Friday). I saw The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh and Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. I like that latter painting. It was hung in plain sight between an elevator and an escalator with nary any people around it, so I almost overlooked it! I couldn't find The Persistence of Memory and Campbell's Soup Cans (even though they had other Andy Warhol art pieces), so maybe they weren't on display. :(

Attended Broadway musical: "Cats"
Boring, nonsensical torture. To my dissatisfaction, all they did was introduce cat after cat. I did enjoy three of the musical numbers, at least: "Macavity", "Mr. Mistoffelees", and of course "Memory". Rating: 4
New York V: Coney Island
10/12/17 10:22 PM PDT

Tried an original hot dog at the original Nathan's Famous of Coney Island. It was tasty, but not worth the $4.90 I paid. :P

The Coney Island amusement area (Luna Park) was closed for a couple of days, and the Riegelmann Boardwalk didn't have many people. I enjoyed a $6 funnel cake from Ruby's Bar & Grill.

Brooklyn's Totonno Pizzeria Napolitano was within walking distance. My brother and I split a large pepperoni (coal fired) pizza, and it was thin and delicious. I noticed it had a slightly burnt crust just like the other Totonno's I ate at a long while back.

Attended Broadway musical: "The Lion King"
The Lion King has never been my favorite Disney movie, but I found the costumes, sets, and puppetry in this stage adaptation pretty amazing. Props to the slow motion falls. :) Rating: 7
New York V: Hamilton
10/11/17 7:25 PM PDT

I really like the New York subway system, and it's sure convenient having a subway entrance so close to our hotel.

Attended Broadway musical: "Hamilton: An American Musical"
Fun, rap-filled Lin-Manuel Miranda musical about American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Lots of energy, flair, and big personalities. I found the depiction of King George III particularly entertaining. George Washington had great stage presence too. Thomas Jefferson amused me, but acted way too silly for me to even remotely suspend disbelief. I did enjoy his rap battles with Alexander Hamilton. As for Alexander Hamilton's family drama--that kind of bored me. Rating: 7
New York V: World Trade Center
10/10/17 10:12 PM PDT

Finally got to enter the National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center for the first time. Admission cost $24, but I assume it went to a good cause. The exhibitions of the wreckage grew repetitive, particularly when I started seeing everyday office debris like papers. For me, the historical exhibition area had the most interesting exhibits, e.g., the front pages of global newspapers about 9/11, pre-9/11 newspaper headlines, a 1971 presentation model of the WTC towers, and airport security footage of the terrorists’ screenings. I had mixed feelings about the real-life voice messages and the slideshow of falling victims though.

Also made sure to photograph the Survivor Tree this time. Interestingly, the twin memorial pools are now out in the open without any fencing.

Afterward, my brother and I split a pastrami sandwich on rye at Katz’s Delicatessen (where Harry met Sally). It tasted good, but not worth the $21.45 we paid for it. :) Also, the place was congested with customers even with seven cutters on duty.

Attended Broadway musical: "Waitress"
Better than the movie, probably because they got to harvest all the best parts from it (like the "poetry" and the "happy enough" wisdom). The Sara Bareilles songs added much more emotion, and that Ogie character totally stole the show. Didn't care for the vulgarity, e.g., the expletives and all the dry humping. :P Rating: 7
New York V: Union Square
10/09/17 10:18 PM PDT

Here in New York, I finally screened a movie in 4DX (Absolute Cinema Experience) for the first time. To my amusement, water squirted right in my face a couple of times. Other times, water drizzled down when it rained onscreen. (The movie was the Blade Runner sequel so unsurprisingly, it rained the entire film.) Heh, the rain left droplets on my 3-D lenses. I also felt wind from the large fans and deliberately timed shots of air. The seat even jabbed my back during fight scenes!

Watched movie: "Blade Runner 2049" (2017) in 4DX & 3D
The main character arcs ended anticlimactically, IMHO, but that first couple of hours really fascinated me and tugged on my heartstrings (particularly the holographic character). I found the flying car scenes and the final showdown thrilling, but it’s probably because the 4DX effects (water, wind, motion seating) augmented them so well. Rating: 7
New York V: Lower East Side
10/08/17 6:07 PM PDT

My siblings and I arrived in New York this morning on a red eye. My brother and I visited Little Italy, and tried an original margherita at Lombardi's Pizza. It was thin and delicious.

"I want to play a game."
10/01/17 6:24 PM PDT

Haha, what a dramatic Family Feud bonus round (goal is to score 200 points). That's the most suspenseful Fast Money I've ever seen.

Lionsgate is bringing a Saw-themed escape room to the New York Comic Con from October 5 to October 8, called "Jigsaw: Survive the Trap". Comic Con badge holders enter in pairs and must work together to escape before time runs out. (Hopefully they won't have to amputate anything.) As fate would have it, I'll actually be in New York on October 8. I don't think anything could ever convince me to explore this attraction though. I like the Saw movies, but would never want to BE in one!

Watched movie: "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" (2017) in IMAX
Uneven sequel. Some scenes got emotional (I especially liked how well Eggsy looked after his relationships from the previous movie), but others got outrageously bad and unamusing. I didn't care for any of the overly-caricatural characters, i.e., the depraved supervillain, the U.S. President who watches Fox News, and Elton John. I also found a couple of scenes in poor taste, i.e., the ones with the hamburger and the tracking device. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Jeepers Creepers 3" (2017)
Direct continuation of the first movie wherein a couple of people from that film return, but don't do very much. The Creeper seemed more indestructible than ever, making everybody's efforts to fight it (even when they joined forces and armed themselves to the teeth) appear utterly futile. I did like this notion of an invincible apex predator that we humans are powerless to stop...but then I found out that the events of this third installment preceded the second installment. :P Side note: Cool that we finally got a good look at The Creeper in broad daylight (even though that made it less spooky). I was disappointed that the movie had no new scenes of The Creeper rebuilding itself with human body parts though. The film did have new entertaining scenes of The Creeper when it struggles to work through injury. :D Rating: 5
La Serpiente
09/20/17 9:32 PM PDT

To my chagrin, my car's alternator went bad again after only six months. (The battery light kept coming on every time I started the car.) I ended up just paying for a new one because I didn't want to risk losing power again on a drive back to Salinas.

Well, I feel like "Fear the Walking Dead" finally had a good episode. Just when I started souring on one of the characters because of his habitual lying, he finally showed some honesty. I also admired how his friend had the credibility to be believed when she spoke in earnest. Maybe it's just the times--or leftover inspiration from that epic speech I heard in the "Game of Thrones" season finale--but I'm really starting to treasure truthful characters in TV and movies now.

Watched movie: "mother!" (2017)
Madness! I think Darren Aronofsky went off the deep end again. I should have suspected as much after those first two bizarre scenes and the periodic shots of the country home's "heart", but I kept getting lulled into taking the film literally by Jennifer Lawrence's sanity, e.g., her realistic reactions and her willingness to dial 9-1-1, and Javier Bardem's writer's block. The writer's block helped me rationalize why he kept inviting strangers into their home against her wishes, but eventually the strangers grew too rude for me to accept that this whole narrative could be real. I sure hope the narrative wasn't real, because man it got sickening. But even metaphorically, I found the themes disturbing. I think I have the meaning of the movie narrowed down to a) a cautionary tale against fandom, b) a scathing commentary on altruism, c) a cynical take on marriage, or d) an allegory about Christianity. :P I'm leaning toward the last one based on the names in the end credit crawl. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "It" (2017)
Nothing in this movie scared me, but I liked the kids and rooted for them to succeed. I still don't understand why the clown monster couldn't just kill or capture them all though, as they spent so much of the film unarmed and/or apart from each other. (Even when they resolved not to split up, they split up!) At least none of their horror movie mistakes could ever top what that boy in the raincoat did. :( Rating: 6
Who is the dreamer?
09/06/17 10:03 PM PDT

It's a girl for Serena Williams! Congratulations! Meanwhile, four American women made it to the final four of the US Open (first time since 1981)! They managed to outlast all of the top seeds in the women's bracket. Das impressive.

That curse that prevents Roger Federer from ever meeting Rafael Nadal at a US Open struck again, this time jinxing Federer into mishitting easy winners on the most crucial of points. I wasn't too upset though, as Federer never seemed 100% this tournament and I wouldn't want such a historic meeting to suck. Plus they should meet in the final, not a semifinal. I still blame Andy Murray for withdrawing late and denying Federer entry into the easy side of the draw. :P

It does kind of bother me that Federer could not capitalize on the remainder of a tennis season now bereft of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Kei Nishikori, but this year's two Grand Slam titles pleasantly exceeded my expectations so I can't really complain.

Well, the "Twin Peaks: The Return" finale ended bizarrely without any closure on the Audrey Horne, Sarah Palmer, and Judy storylines--so maybe David Lynch intends to continue the series? It was exasperating how the show just dragged along most of the time, but every now and then sprinkled in some captivating scenes. I enjoyed seeing my two favorite characters team up in the finale episode, but what's going on? Did they successfully alter the past and intersect in an alternate reality? Did they fail to alter the past and intersect in an alternate universe? (I'm hoping for the latter because I didn't like the show tampering with sacred canon like that.) Is it all just a dream?

Live to play another day
08/31/17 8:49 PM PDT

Still processing that "Game of Thrones" season 7 finale. :P Guess I'll have plenty of time as I heard it might be a couple of years until the next (and final) season. If the series ends well, it could wind up becoming my favorite TV show of all time. In contrast, "Twin Peaks" could fall off my top 10 list entirely if this upcoming season finale makes me irate enough.

Speaking of irritating, why did Andy Murray wait until RIGHT AFTER the draw to withdraw from the US Open? It took away the tantalizing possibility of a first-ever Federer vs. Nadal final there. Not that the final had much chance of happening anyway given how badly Federer (who I suspect has a back injury) struggled through these first two rounds (requiring five sets both times), but still...

Ehh, that new Taylor Swift single "Look What You Made Me Do" sounds just like "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred.

Watched movie: "Wind River" (2017)
Absorbing, scenically snowy Taylor Sheridan thriller wherein an animal tracker (Jeremy Renner) helps an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) backtrack what happened to a barefoot 18-year-old rape victim who froze to death in the middle of nowhere. Or more accurately, the FBI agent helps the animal tracker since he was the one finding all the clues. Some parts got kinda corny (like the notion that a person can somehow will their lungs from bursting), but overall I liked it. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Logan Lucky" (2017)
Amusing Steven Soderbergh heist comedy that kept me in suspense because of the "Logan family curse", and because I couldn't tell how well the robbers had thought everything through (or whether they would end up bungling something like those dumb criminals in "Fargo"). Rating: 7
"TROOOOOLLLLL!!!"
08/17/17 6:49 PM PDT

Another "Game of Thrones" episode got leaked, and this time because HBO accidentally leaked it. So now I'm avoiding YouTube altogether because of possible spoilers in the thumbnails. I assume YouTube keeps displaying "Game of Thrones" videos because of all the reaction videos I've been watching for it. I guess there's an art to reaction videos, because I hate the ones where the fans overreact, underreact, complain, troll, speak uninsightfully, act aloof during emotional scenes, seem oblivious during bombshell moments, or look at the camera. I mostly just like the videos where the fans genuinely enjoy the show. I lost interest in "Twin Peaks: The Return" reaction videos, because they mostly just show fans looking confused.

Recently, I've been enjoying "Super Mario Maker" videos where expert players curate and commentate on interesting levels. I actually enjoy the troll levels the most, where the designers purposely think up creative booby traps to infuriate the player. Makes me want to create my own. :)

Watched TV movie: "Sharknado 5: Global Swarming" (2017)
Apparently sharknadoes can now teleport people all over the world, and I couldn't care less. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Annabelle: Creation" (2017)
Tedious prequel to "Annabelle" that went from boring to overwrought with demons from the Conjuring franchise. Too many uncreative jump scares, too little plot if you ask me. I did find the audience's dismayed reactions pretty entertaining though. Stay after the credits for a tease to the next Conjuring movie. Rating: 4
The darkest hour?
08/03/17 5:46 PM PDT

Why are theaters starting Thursday's screenings of "The Dark Tower" at 7:19pm? I would google it, but the answer might contain spoilers. Lately I've been surfing the Internet cautiously, especially after the HBO hack. I've even been avoiding this season's episode titles for "Game of Thrones", lest they spoil something.

I'm souring on "Twin Peaks: The Return" just like I soured on "Fear the Walking Dead". The final straw might have been last Sunday's episode where Audrey Horne finally appeared but just got squandered in a stupid storyline that had nothing to do with anything. And just like so many of the female characters in this show who act either mean or shallow, I found her disappointingly unlikeable. Though come to think of it, I can't think of very many male characters I like in this show either.

Watched movie: "Dunkirk" (2017) in IMAX 70mm
Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer can make anything cool, even this drab historical event from World War II. I had mixed feelings about the overall narrative though, as it grew confusing trying to follow three asynchronous plotlines. It did make Tom Hardy's high-level perspective intriguing though, as the future of all these different strangers seemed to hang on his resolve. In contrast, the protagonist soldiers sorely lacked distinction and not only did I have trouble caring about them, I had trouble telling them apart. Side note: The 70mm didn't add much, mostly just expanded beach and ocean scenery in place of the black horizontal bars. The oceanic dogfighting did seem more breathtaking though. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Big Sick" (2017)
Jokes so flat that the only parts I found remotely funny in this romantic comedy were the deadpan reactions. I expected a lot more from Kumail Nanjiani and Ray Romano. I liked the spotlight on Pakistani Muslim culture, even though I felt like the movie needed a disclaimer that the staunch views of this guy's parents (regarding arranged marriage and interracial dating) did not represent the views of all Pakistani Muslim families. One lingering question I had: is it normal in American culture to want to break up with someone just because they didn't tell their family and/or friends about them? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (2017) in 3D
Between Valerian's annoying one-track mind and Laureline's annoying sarcasm, the whole movie just felt shallow. A shame because the space station setting, reminiscent of "Babylon 5", had a lot of potential. Although the visual effects impressed me, they got to be too much and gave me a headache I think. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Detroit" (2017)
Such a conceit, IMHO, to film some of the dumbest human behavior imaginable and call it "Detroit". I really enjoyed the last two movies from Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, but disliked how they curated this one. I felt like a murder case this sensitive should have been presented as a documentary or an open-ended procedural, not as a dramatization. The film also seemed to leave out important details such as the trial arguments and why the security guard even got charged. Rating: 5
The king's court
07/21/17 8:53 PM PDT

Congratulations to Roger Federer on a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon title and a record-extending 19th Grand Slam title! I already called him the greatest tennis player of all-time, but I guess now I can finally call him the best grass-court player in tennis history too. Ever since his previous 2012 Wimbledon victory, I can't remember all the times I rued that "he might have blown his last best chance" to win another Grand Slam title. I dreaded the possibility he could blow this chance too, so when Marin Cilic had all that bizarre drama (with rainclouds approaching), I wanted Federer to show no mercy. I don't care if fans wanted a more thrilling final.

Anticlimactic ending to Venus Williams' 2017 Wimbledon run. Not sure what happened in that second set bagel. Mental and physical fatigue probably, triggered by those two blown set points. Still impressive that she even made it to that final at 37-years-old, her second final this season.

Venus' "U can't see me" gesture (every time she wanted a towel) kept bugging me. Not as much as Cilic's incessant ball-bouncing before each serve though.

I guess now Karolina Pliskova has the No. 1 ranking despite never winning a Grand Slam title. This used to bother me greatly in the past, but now that I understand how the point system works (they expire in a year), it makes a lot more sense. Though I'm still perplexed that Federer didn't leapfrog directly to No. 1 after winning two Grand Slam titles.

Awesome "Game of Thrones" season 7 premiere. It feels so satisfying to see major characters finally starting to fulfill their dreams. Pretty much every storyline interests me now.

I'm losing patience with "Twin Peaks: The Return". Over halfway through the season, and still nary anything happened! I'm also growing disturbed with the inordinate amount of violence toward women, and how the villains just get away with it with complete impunity. I keep waiting for something to happen to redeem the season.

Watched movie: "War for the Planet of the Apes" (2017) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Cold hard motion-capture magic tempered with sharp emotion. I loved how tough Caesar's crew looked, especially when he and the apes glowered or steeled themselves. That funny-looking hermit chimpanzee stole the show. The movie got pretty rousing thanks to my sympathy for the apes' plight, but I couldn't get "Planet of the Apes" (where we know the apes will turn around and persecute the humans right back) out of my head. I think this reboot series will continue on, so here's hoping that it doesn't go off the rails like the original film series did. Rating: 7
Killer track
07/12/17 7:30 PM PDT

My mind's still blown right now that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both lost their Wimbledon quarterfinals today. Murray couldn't move well during his match because of a hip problem, and Djokovic retired from his match in the second set because of an arm injury. And with Rafael Nadal already eliminated when he lost that marathon match on Monday, it means Roger Federer won't have to play any of them! I'm still concerned that the remaining players all serve big and could give Federer problems, but nowhere near as concerned as I would've been had he faced Djokovic in the next round.

Disturbing listening to Bethanie Mattek-Sands scream "HELP MEEE!!!" over and over after she mangled her knee on the Wimbledon court. Reminded me of that time I fell over my ankle during a tennis exercise and tore a ligament. It hurt so badly I couldn't even speak. Fortunately the people watching me caught on I needed medical attention, presumably from my body language. :)

Watched movie: "Baby Driver" (2017)
Fun, stirring, and suave. I really like this director, Edgar Wright. The movie follows a reluctant getaway driver whose virtuosity at the wheel is exploited by a criminal mastermind. I didn't really like this film for the car chases, heists, and romance though. I enjoyed it more for the music (the main character is a real connoisseur of it) and the colorful characters. I thought it was a perfect plot development to have the showdown come down to Jon Hamm, the most likeable of the criminals whom I couldn't fault at all for wanting revenge. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) in RPX & 3D
Props to the comedic stylings of Tom Holland. I had reservations about this dorky new Peter Parker when he debuted in "Captain America: Civil War", but the shtick worked really well in a comedic high school setting. Kind of like a lighter version of "Kick-Ass". I'm still not a fan of "hot" Aunt May though. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Despicable Me 3" (2017) in 3D
Hilarious stuff from Gru and twin brother Dru. As for the rest of the character arcs, i.e., Lucy, villain Balthazar Bratt, unicorn-seeking Agnes, Margo, Edith, and the Minions...meh. Rating: 6
Stone cold sober
06/27/17 11:50 PM PDT

Ugh, I noticed the AMC Theatres in my area now serve alcoholic beverages from a bar near the concession stands. I also had to reserve my IMAX seat. At least they stopped raiding auditoriums to check ticket stubs. Unless maybe they only do that to catch minors who sneak into R-rated films?

Watched movie: "It Comes at Night" (2017)
Relatively boring psychological "what would you do" horror film wherein a deadly disease leads two families to cohabitate in a boarded up country home. Kind of like "Night of the Living Dead", but without the zombies. Without much of anything, really--so why even call the movie "It Comes at Night"? Maybe the title referred to the teenager's bad dreams (which hurt the film for me because then I couldn't stop questioning whether his experiences were really happening). At least the climax got interesting, but it irritated me that Will's family couldn't just stay in quarantine since they'd probably die no matter where they went. As soon as Will pulled the gun, I felt like he gave Paul's family every right to do what they had to do. Side note: If you ask me, this movie was totally overrated on rottentomatoes.com. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Cars 3" (2017) in D-BOX & 3D
This Pixar animation about the twilight of Lightning McQueen's racing career could have packed a real emotional wallop. It could have followed in the footsteps of greatness, i.e., "Toy Story 3" or some kind of tearjearking real-life sports retirement. But instead, the movie just wasted time, numbed my brain with age jokes, and regressed back to the "soul-searching" that I thought Lightning McQueen had already worked out in the first movie. (I put "soul-searching" in quotes because do these cars have souls? Apparently they can die.) I did find a couple of scenes emotional, but they didn't last very long. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Transformers: The Last Knight" (2017) in IMAX 3D
Just like all the other boneheaded Transformers movies: asinine humor, confusing CGI-fests, half-baked plot devices (this time a staff and a talisman), an illogical plot (this time an invading planet) not even worth nit-picking or caring about, and respected actors demeaning themselves in dumb roles (though I did find Anthony Hopkins' silliness kind of amusing). And they're not done! Rating: 4
Clay nation
06/13/17 7:06 PM PDT

Congratulations to Rafael Nadal on a monumental tenth French Open title! Unquestionably the best clay-court player in tennis history. Nerves of steel, too. According to the commentary, he's never once smashed a racket on the court in frustration. I can believe it, as the only times I remember him getting mad on court were towards the chair umpire. Even Roger Federer smashed his racket one time (hard to believe, but I found the clip on YouTube).

To my relief, the Golden State Warriors managed to close out the NBA Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers to avoid a repeat of last year. I would have panicked had the Warriors lost game 5 at Oracle Arena again (I got really nervous when they fell behind at the start of the game). Kevin Durant totally deserved the Finals MVP, and congrats to him for finally winning an overdue NBA championship ring.

My Comcast On Demand service finally works again after I upgraded my cable box. The clerk seemed surprised that I had such an old model. Guess that explains why it kept freezing on the newer videos I tried to play.

I also discovered that my microwave still works. I started carrying it en route to the e-waste facility, and on a whim decided to plug it into an outlet by the floor. To my surprise, it powered on--meaning that the real problem had to be the two kitchen outlets that I originally used following the power outages. Both outlets must have shorted out. I guess now I just need an extension cord to use my microwave again.

I'm losing interest in "Fear the Walking Dead". That dumbfoundingly lame death in the season 3 two-hour premiere might mark a jumping of the shark. Months of character development wasted in one instant.

Meanwhile...these "Twin Peaks: The Return" episodes continue to crawl at a snail's pace, and yet I keep wanting more. I guess it's refreshing watching a series where I can't predict what will happen next. The only theory I got right so far was "Diane"--she indeed appeared and just like I had secretly hoped, she is being played by Kyle MacLachlan's "Blue Velvet" co-star Laura Dern. I really hate that hair though.

Watched movie: "Wonder Woman" (2017) in IMAX 3D
A golden gem from DC Films that in my judgment, triumphed over everything that could have gone wrong with it. First, I thought Gal Gadot depicted Diana Prince perfectly--not too corny, not too serious, not too feminist, not too masculine. Second, I thought Chris Pine played Steve Trevor perfectly--I haven't always been a fan of his acting style, but for this movie I felt like he brought a sense of humor that the DC Extended Universe desperately needs. Finally, I found the action sequences cool (albeit confusing sometimes), and totally dig that guitar riff theme music. Rating: 7
Accumulated depreciation
06/04/17 6:19 PM PDT

Had to tow my 2004 Corolla again. This time the starter had to be replaced. I guess I should think about a new car, but I feel like I still need to get my money's worth out of that expensive new catalytic converter I bought. I replaced it in 2011, but then had to buy another one in 2014 to comply with a smog check technicality. $900+ for the second one.

Watched movie: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" (2017) in RPX & 3D
More of the same but better than I expected. I liked how this installment tied up some loose ends like Will Turner's curse and the origin of Jack Sparrow's name and compass. Cool ghost effects too. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Alien: Covenant" (2017)
I don't get why Ridley Scott keeps making these "Alien" prequels, as they don't really add anything to the franchise. This particular installment had a promising premise in that the crew had to think about the welfare of over 2000 hibernating colonists on their spaceship, but nothing much came of this. I did like Michael Fassbender's android performances. Side note: How could Elizabeth Shaw be so stupid as to rebuild David after everything he did in "Prometheus"?? Rating: 5
"Is it future or is it past?"
05/22/17 7:06 PM PDT

What kind of "Supernatural" season 12 finale was that?? Will all these dead characters get resurrected next season? I wouldn't put it past this "soap opera" of a series.

In movie news, the ABBA "Mamma Mia!" film is getting a sequel titled "Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!" Please don't tell me Pierce Brosnan is going to sing again.

In tennis news, Roger Federer withdrew from the 2017 French Open. Which is fine with me if that extends his career and improves his chances at Wimbledon. Given how dominant nine-time champion Rafael Nadal has been on clay this season, it seems like his tournament to lose.

I'm not sure who to root for on the women's side going forward. I feel like Serena Williams's maternity leave created a huge vacuum in the WTA. I'm not very excited about Maria Sharapova's comeback, even though I found her 15-month doping ban for meldonium kind of overblown (since meldonium used to be legal). I guess I'll just root for likeable players who never won a Grand Slam tournament, i.e., Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska. Ironic because I never really cared for counterpunchers in tennis, particularly that time when Caroline Wozniacki somehow stayed No. 1 with that style of play.

Watched TV episode: "Twin Peaks: The Return" premiere
I've been so starved for tidbits about Twin Peaks, that even when David Lynch just showed a character watching TV or receiving a delivery (and absolutely nothing else), I found it entertaining. Which actually struck me as brilliant because instead of forcing some kind of contrived Hollywood drama upon them, the show just let them heal and find peace. As for Agent Cooper--I have no idea where his storyline is headed. Outer space? :) Side note: Props to Chromatics, that dreamy new band that closed out the episode. Rating: ++1/2

Update 5/30/2017: Wouldn't it be cool if we finally got to see "Diane" for the first time? I guess every "Twin Peaks" episode is going to end with a different musical band. My favorite scene of season three is still the one where Chromatics performed. It spoke volumes to me how positive the two returning characters seemed, considering the pain they went through.

"I'll see you again in 25 years..."
05/13/17 11:02 PM PDT

Well, I ordered Showtime in preparation for the "Twin Peaks: The Return" premiere on May 21, 2017, and I still don't know what to expect (other than the likelihood that the show will take place in Twin Peaks). Showtime's promos have just shown cryptic clips, and the TV synopsis for the premiere simply states: "The stars turn and a time presents itself." This makes me think the Black Lodge will reopen and Agent Cooper will return, presumably to resolve that bonkers cliffhanger from 1991.

Watched movie: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (2017) in RPX & 3D
Fun sequel even though it went kind of overboard on jokes, including some repetitive stale ones. I never got tired of watching the characters miscommunicate though. I also liked Baby Groot (for some reason his expressionless vomiting really cracked me up). Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Jedi forever
05/01/17 6:02 PM PDT

Apparently, WWE decided to name one of their new pay-per-views WWE Great Balls Of Fire. What. That sounds even worse than December to Dismember, which was not only the worst WWE PPV I ever attended but quite possibly the worst WWE PPV of all-time.

I compiled a new list of coming attractions that piqued my interest:

"Baby Driver" (June 28, 2017)
Cool-looking crime thriller from "Shaun of the Dead" director Edgar Wright.
"War for the Planet of the Apes" (July 14, 2017)
Those apes look hardcore. I read this one will have an original "Planet of the Apes" character.
"Dunkirk" (July 21, 2017)
A WWII epic from Christopher Nolan about Operation Dynamo, shot in 65mm.
"Detroit" (August 4, 2017)
A movie about the 1967 Detroit riots from director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, who previously worked together on "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty". I'm really looking forward to this one.
"Wind River" (August 4, 2017)
Snowy thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote "Hell or High Water" and "Sicario". Incidentally, he wrote a sequel to "Sicario" titled "Soldado".
"Blade Runner 2049" (October 6, 2017)
Sequel to the sci-fi classic starring Harrison Ford and a new blade runner Ryan Gosling. I'll try to keep an open mind since it's directed by Denis Villeneuve. Incidentally, he's planning to direct a "Dune" reboot (hope he has better luck than Jodorowsky and David Lynch).
"The Snowman" (October 20, 2017)
Scandi-noir thriller from the director of "Let the Right One In" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". It's about a snowman.
"Saw: Legacy" (October 27, 2017)
I guess the seventh movie wasn't the "final chapter" after all.
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (December 15, 2017)
I actually predicted this episode title! Except I predicted it for Episode IX, not Episode VIII. For Episode VIII, I predicted something like Star Wars: Knights of the Dark Side. Hmmm...the poster's red font looks ominous but as fans pointed out, Jedi can be plural. I'm interested whether director Rian Johnson gives this installment a noir feel.
"Ready Player One" (March 30, 2018)
Directed by Steven Spielberg, and based on a dystopian novel about virtual reality gamers who race through an online world looking for its creator's Easter egg treasure.
"Isle of Dogs" (April 20, 2018)
Wes Anderson's next stop-motion animated film.
"Avengers: Infinity War" (May 4, 2018)
It's one movie now and seems to feature the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"M:I 6 - Mission Impossible" (July 27, 2018)
Carries over the same director and multiple characters from the previous installment. Includes Henry Cavill.
"X-Men: Dark Phoenix" (November 2, 2018)
This storyline again. It can't possibly suck worse than The Last Stand though, right?
"Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2" (November 21, 2018)
Looks like all the main characters are returning.
"Annihilation" (2018)
Sci-fi adaptation from Alex Garland, the guy who haunted me with "Ex Machina".
"Hold the Dark" (2018)
I was hoping Jeremy Saulnier's next thriller would have "red" in the title, but oh well. This one is based on a novel and takes place in the Alaskan wilderness.
"Glass" (January 18, 2019)
M. Night Shyamalan's sequel to "Unbreakable", and I'm actually excited about it.
"Boro the Caterpillar" (2019)
Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement...again. He started this project as a 12-minute CG short film, but now he wants to make it a feature film.

I'm also keeping an eye out on some other film projects in limbo:

  • "The Modern Ocean": a big-budget all-star project from Shane Carruth, the guy who made two entrancing films: "Primer" and "Upstream Color".
  • "Cubed": a remake of the first "Cube" film. Would be awesome if they made it 3-D.
  • "The Passion of the Christ 2": Mel Gibson's sequel (?!) to "The Passion of the Christ".
20 weeks
04/23/17 10:58 PM PDT

Serena Williams pregnant! This news actually bummed me out because at her age, it could spell the end of her brilliant tennis career. I was hoping she could break the records for all-time Grand Slam titles and for weeks at No. 1--but since she won't play again in 2017, it'll be a steep climb returning to No. 1. Though if anyone can do it, it's her (just look at how Roger Federer's long break rejuvenated him). Side note: Apparently she won this year's Australian Open when she was eight-to-nine weeks pregnant!

Watched movie: "The Fate of the Furious" (2017) in D-BOX
Best Fast & Furious title ever (I like how it abbreviates to "F8"). Not one of the better installments though, if you ask me. I liked all the wild spectacles, but the premise of Dom vs. his crew made the movie hard to have fun with (nothing but lose-lose situations). And even though I accepted how outrageous and illogical these films have gotten, are you kidding me that we're supposed to like Deckard (and Owen) now?? I also found the Cuban street race in poor taste given what happened to Paul Walker. Side note: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I don't think my D-BOX seat has ever shaken so violently. :) Rating: 6
I smurf, therefore I am
04/18/17 8:53 PM PDT

One of my favorite Saturday morning childhood cartoons, The Smurfs, got rebooted as a computer-animated movie (I totally skipped those live-action ones). Its premise struck me as a really big deal, because it always puzzled me how the Smurf population could be so male.

I actually can't remember most of the Smurfs cartoon episodes, but there's three of them that I never forgot:

Watched movie: "Smurfs: The Lost Village" (2017) in 3D
Colorfully scenic 3D computer-animation with some interesting character development for Smurfette (including her canonical origin story). The movie didn't answer the origin of the Smurfs like I had hoped (Papa Smurf and SmurfWillow didn't know each other), but at least now I have a good idea. :) As for the new Smurfs, they looked dull to me with their identical blue hair and faces--the one with the manic personality stood out, but man she annoyed me. :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Ghost in the Shell" (2017) in IMAX 3D
Like "Blade Runner" but with glitzier visual effects. I never saw the original Japanese anime, but the storyline for this American version seemed weak. Scarlett Johansson played a cyborg so I had no complaints about her performance this time (despite my initial disappointment with her casting), but man that mechanical walk distracted me. Rating: 6
Do what I can as long as I can
04/03/17 7:14 PM PDT

If that depressing WrestleMania 33 main event goes down as The Undertaker's last match, then he retired at a good time. His limited movement made me cringe, and the match lacked most of his "vintage" moves. Plus he already lost his WrestleMania Streak, so what does one more loss matter. My main gripe was that WWE couldn't come up with anyone better than Roman Reigns to "pass the torch" to. For reasons that I never understood, the WWE continues to push boring Roman Reigns as their top guy.

That's cool that John Cena proposed to Nikki Bella on the show, but I hate this "Reality Era" in WWE where I can't tell what's real and what's kayfabe anymore.

Watched movie: "Life" (2017) in IMAX
Like a cross between "Gravity" and "Alien", highlighted by some interesting International Space Station sequences and disturbing horrors. The thought of that alien organism scurrying around my home grossed me out. It also depressed me how royally screwed those crew members were once the thing escaped their sorry excuse for a quarantine--if you have a biohazard like that doing who knows what around the station, i.e. contaminating everything and/or reproducing itself, you can forget ever going back to Earth again. Granted, I couldn't really blame them for underestimating all the intellect, strength, invincibility, and luck that the organism had, but man what a sorry excuse for a quarantine. (I noticed they didn't even care that Hugh and Rory might be contaminated, especially Rory who had the thing doing who knows what inside of him!) P.S. I predicted the ending. (By the way, David's plan to rely on a manual joystick was stupid--unless it was just really bad luck that he went off course..) Rating: 6
Attended concert: "Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience" featuring Ramin Djawadi
A rousing symphonic concert conducted by Ramin Djawadi, the genius who composed all of the music in Game of Thrones (including the iconic opening theme). A circular segmented Jumbotron kept showing the scenes that corresponded to the music, including the entire Battle of the Bastards sequence and the piano & organ segment that opened "The Winds of Winter" episode. The coolest highlight for me was how passionately the audience cheered and booed at some of the show's biggest onscreen moments. Sometimes the Jumbotron showed visual effects like a huge weirwood tree during the Stark theme music, complete with ticker tape-like leaves falling from the ceiling (other stage effects included falling snow, sigil banners, fog, fire plumes, and even green wildfire). Since the orchestra played all of my favorites early (the opening theme, the Stark theme, and the lyrical version of "The Rains of Castemere"), the rest of the concert felt like a bonus. Side note: After "The Rains of Castemere", it figures that the orchestra would purposely play the Red Wedding score next! Rating: 9
Whatdunit
03/22/17 11:02 PM PDT

Saw a dead turkey outside a first floor window at my workplace. Feathers everywhere. I didn't see any wounds at first, but afterward I noticed some animal had been feasting on it. It was a big turkey too, so I wonder which animal did it.

My changsha chicken caught fire in the microwave. Or to put it more accurately, the Chinese take-out box it was in caught fire. I could see the flames through the microwave window, and when I opened the door smoke billowed out. So I shut the door and tried to air out the room before my smoke detector could beep. Note to self: in the future, look inside of take-out boxes before microwaving them. Because when I looked inside this particular take-out box (after it had burnt to a crisp), I discovered the chicken was still wrapped in the same aluminum foil that the waiter had served it in. Interestingly, both the foil and chicken were still cold to the touch!

Anyway, I still ate the chicken (I reheated it on a paper plate), but noticed some of it tasted like smoke. :P

Watched movie: "Kong: Skull Island" (2017) in IMAX 3D
Awe-inspiring visuals and compositions. King Kong has sure come a long way since that jittery black-and-white gorilla atop the Empire State Building. Haha, I'll never got tired of seeing him swat humans. P.S. Props to John C. Reilly for playing the only human character I cared about. P.S.S. Definitely stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Before I stall
03/12/17 1:24 AM PST

Note to self: never ignore that battery warning light on my car's dashboard ever again. (Apparently it means that the battery stopped charging and will die soon!) I was driving north on US 101 when my digital clock started to dim. I made it past Gonzales before my dashboard alerted me that my air bag will no longer deploy. Then the instruments on my dashboard began to fail, repeatedly powering on and off! The final straw was when my gas pedal stopped working. That convinced me to pull over and call emergency road assistance for a tow. Good thing the mechanic was open on a Sunday. Turns out that the alternator was bad, not the battery. But since I had that battery for almost seven years (about the same age as my previous battery when it died), it made sense to replace that too.

Watched movie: "Get Out" (2017) in Cinemark XD
A keen and thoroughly entertaining horror hit from comedian Jordan Peele about a black photographer who visits the suburb where his white girlfriend's parents live, and notices that the black people (and the white people) act all creepy. I really liked how I couldn't solve the big mystery despite all the different clues and red flags. I also thought that the guy's hilarious friend highlighted the movie. Incidentally, this film scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Logan" (2017) in RPX
Despite my refusal to accept this depressing future where Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier lost everything he ever worked for (and is now losing control of his powers), I found this final installment to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine trilogy excellent...until the X-24 twist. Then I felt like the movie went downhill from there. Please tell me that this was all just some alternate timeline that Bryan Singer will wipe out. :( As for the film's R-rating, I felt like it made the violence better but hated the creative decision to give Xavier a potty mouth. :( Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Before I Fall" (2017)
Usually I like these "Groundhog Day" movies where the main character relives the same day over and over again--but this one bored me and felt like a sappy teen drama. (I also hated the ending.) The main character in this one, a high school senior, completely lacked imagination and spent each day exploring her feelings and personal relationships. I did see promise in one of her musings: that she had died and could no longer experience tomorrows. But the film never really explained. Rating: 4
Envelopegate
02/27/17 6:02 PM PST

Man, the road to my workplace flooded again and the wind knocked some trees down. I'm convinced the California drought is over.

I'm glad I waited for the Oscars to finish before changing the channel to my Walking Dead DVR, because man what a crazy ending. First I got impatient with Warren Beatty because I thought he had gone all scatterbrain again. He took really long with that envelope. Then as the producers of "La La Land" were giving their emotional speeches, I sensed some kind of commotion and spotted people running behind them. My first thought was that someone had rushed the stage off-camera. Then I spotted Warren Beatty and thought maybe he had caused a disturbance. Finally when the producer announced the mistake, it still didn't sink in for me until he held up the Best Picture card that read "Moonlight" (again I immediately thought Warren Beatty was responsible). Geez it took long for the accountants to correct that gaffe. How embarrassing for the "La La Land" producers and what a dampener on the "Moonlight" folks' victory celebration.

Watched movie: "The LEGO Batman Movie" (2017) in 3D
About the same as "The LEGO Movie" in terms of the hit-and-miss humor and occasional corniness. I didn't care for the foe-mance angle with the Joker and the crush on Barbara Gordon. But otherwise, I thought they spoofed Batman pretty well. Rating: 6
Back to the well
02/18/17 8:37 PM PST

CBS announced the cast for "Survivor: Game Changers". After reviewing each returning castaway and noting the omission of Russell Hantz, I concluded that the title Game Changers must refer to the season they played in, not the game of Survivor as a whole (if we're talking Survivor as a whole, then the dubious resume-padder Ciera Eastin is the only one on here who fits!). Even then, I can't figure out what some of these players did to "change the game".

I was happy to see Brad Culpepper on the list, as I credit him with the tactic of tormenting the returning players by voting out their loved ones. :)

In other news, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) announced that it will disable its message boards on February 20, 2017. Good riddance. :)

Watched movie: "rings" (2017)
Nowhere near as scary as the first Ring movie. Every sequel about Samara Morgan seems to take away more and more of her mystique. This particular installment trifled with her big-time via college experiments and copies of her cursed videotape in .mov format! Admittedly, I felt like these kinds of ideas had potential--but to my disappointment, it felt like the film failed to capitalize. Biggest case in point: the airplane sequence that ended too soon. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Forushande" (2016) a.k.a. "The Salesman" (2017)
Another absorbing Oscar-nominated foreign language film by Asghar Farhadi. Just like in his earlier Oscar winner, "A Separation", the narrative follows an Iranian couple's life without much curation as to which scenes to pay special attention to. Meaning, some things in the movie could seem important but amount to nothing, while other things could turn into the biggest defining moment of a character's life (as a consequence, my mind made mental notes of everything). My only major criticism of the plot: that the couple, to my disbelief, opted not to contact the police despite a smoking gun's worth of evidence on the intruder! (By the way, his "confession" did NOT add up to me, and I'm still convinced he got better than he deserved.) In conclusion, I really like this director's depictions of everyday Iranians, and am hoping that someday he'll make a film about Trump's recent executive order that barred Iranians from entering the United States. Rating: 7
Watched Shudder.com movie: "Sadako vs Kayako" (2016-2017)
Freddy vs. Jason rocked, but this ghost fight between Sadako (from The Ring) vs. Kayako (from The Grudge)? Not so much. I knew it wouldn't make sense and sure enough, it made no sense. I found it disappointingly short too, given how long I had to wait. Although some parts of the movie amused me, I felt like the director squandered too much time on separate storylines and not enough time building up to the main event. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Fifty Shades Darker" (2017)
Tawdry continuation of "Fifty Shades of Grey" wherein Anastasia Steele basically tames Christian Grey and makes him forget all of his character flaws from the previous film. I found it way too easy how quickly they overcame each relationship issue. Maybe something will actually test their romance in the next installment? P.S. Man their dialogue was bad. Cringeworthy bad. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "John Wick Chapter 2" (2017)
Cool and entertaining neo-noir sequel reminiscent of "The Warriors" wherein John Wick (Keanu Reeves) fights like hell to survive a colorful gauntlet of contract killers. I particularly enjoyed those strange duels between Wick and a fellow assassin (especially the silencer fight and the subway build-up). I also liked the whole action sequence where Wick had to keep rearming himself with his enemies' guns. Rating: 7
Watched Shudder.com movie: "The Battery" (2013)
A somewhat plotless zombie flick that reminded me of my least favorite season of Walking Dead in that the two characters just wandered aimlessly through the post-apocalyptic ruins. Also found both characters irritating to watch, and felt like nothing interesting happened to them until around the end. Rating: 5
Five golden rings?!
02/06/17 6:12 PM PST

Although I rooted against the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl LI, after their historic fourth quarter comeback I'm forced to concede that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. What a cosmic performance. The way I saw it, one tiny little mistake like a fumble, an interception, a failed 2-point conversion, or allowing a field goal would have sealed their doom.

In other news, here are my Oscar predictions for 2016:

Watched movie: "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" (2016-2017) in IMAX 3D
The best thing about this movie is that it finally put an end to the Resident Evil movies. Such sloppy continuity. It's hard to care about a film series when each installment just writes off what happened in the previous one, including likeable characters who disappear with nary any explanation. Like they brought Claire Redfield back, but what happened to everyone else? The action scenes didn't impress me either, which is a shame considering the horrible tragedies that happened on the set. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Split" (2017)
Interesting albeit cringeworthy M. Night Shyamalan film wherein three kidnapped teenage girls try to exploit the multiple personalities of their captor (James McAvoy) to escape before his beastly 24th personality emerges. Props to James McAvoy for going all-out with his performance. The movie got preposterous at times, but the twist ending made up for it. (I wonder how much of the audience caught on.) Rating: 6
If only my Dad were alive to see this
01/30/17 2:27 PM PST

Congratulations to Roger Federer on finally winning his 18th Grand Slam title after over four years of struggling to break his own record! And he did it by narrowly outlasting his greatest adversary, Rafael Nadal, the tenacious legend who tormented him all his career. Hands down the greatest tennis match I have ever seen. I kept cussing at the TV when Nadal broke Federer's serve in game 1 of the fifth set and Federer kept failing to break him back. But Federer kept fighting and fighting and finally did it twice--only to flounder trying to serve out the final game. The final point came down to a HawkEye replay of whether Federer's last shot landed in or out. An epic tennis match for the ages! It basically decided who would go down in history as the greatest tennis player of all time.

Congratulations to Serena Williams on finally winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, at last breaking Steffi Graf’s Open era record! And how perfect that Serena had to do it against her greatest rival, big sister Venus. I realized that prior to this Australian Open final, I've never actually watched them play against each other (was always too uncomfortable to tune in)! Pretty eye-opening experience as it felt like Serena vs. Serena the way she kept getting aced and outhit. I'm always used to seeing her dominate. A lot of awkward silence too--the crowd stayed quiet and instead of Serena unleashing any primal screams, she kept turning away from Venus to hide the fist pumps. Even Serena's match victory felt really muted and unsatisfying.

I guess the last remaining Grand Slam record now is Margaret Court with 24--but since most of her titles predated the Open era (it wasn't until 1968 when professional tennis players were allowed to compete in these tournaments), I feel that Serena has already proven she's the greatest of all time.

What a glorious tennis tournament, this 2017 Australian Open. It felt like 2008 all over again, but this time with the biggest stakes in the history of tennis.

In other sports news, no more triple-triple for Usain Bolt. The IOC stripped him of the Olympic gold medal that the Jamaican sprint team won in the 4x100m relay at Beijing 2008. One of the team members tested positive for doping during a re-analysis of the Beijing samples. I figure now that the perfect symmetry of Bolt's Olympic record is ruined, he should reconsider his retirement from Olympic competition. :)

Hidden Moonlight Fences
01/24/17 10:26 PM PST

Didn't get much sleep last night. Couldn't stop watching Roger Federer's successful run into the semifinals of the Australian Open. With both #1 Andy Murray and #2 Novak Djokovic losing shockingly early in the tournament, this might be #17 Federer's last best chance for another Grand Slam title (would be crazy if he faced #9 Rafael Nadal in the finals). Serena Williams will have a chance to make history too if she can win the next two matches (would be crazy if she faced #13 Venus Williams in the finals) following the shockingly quick eliminations of #1 Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza by unseeded American Coco Vandeweghe.

Then I woke up around 5:30am to watch the Oscar nominations live (I found this year's pre-recorded presentation kind of lame though). I didn't see any major snubs except maybe for Amy Adams. I found this year's nominees much more diverse.

I'd rank the 2016 Best Picture nominees as follows:

  1. "Lion" (My rating: 8)
  2. "La La Land" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Arrival" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Moonlight" (My rating: 7)
  5. "Hidden Figures" (My rating: 7)
  6. "Fences" (My rating: 7)
  7. "Manchester by the Sea" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Hell or High Water" (My rating: 6)
  9. "Hacksaw Ridge" (My rating: 6)

Well, I finished tabulating the music video results for 2016, and for the first time ever we got a unanimous consensus on the #30 video.

Watched movie: "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955)
Ok, was James Dean method acting or was his character stoned the entire movie? :) Because he seemed to have trouble completing thoughts and sentences. (He also did NOT look like a teenager.) In fact, all of the high schoolers in the film behaved so laughably that I began speculating whether the movie and its apropos title were meant as social satire of teenage stupidity. In any case, now I can finally say I saw a James Dean film. Rating: 6
Hidden floodwaters
01/13/17 6:13 PM PST

Man, it rained so hard in San Jose that the road outside of my workplace flooded and I couldn't drive to work one day. Cars (including a police car) even got stranded on that road (local news sites had footage of it). The good news: I read that thanks to these rainstorms in Northern California, 42% of the state is no longer in a drought!

Rented Amazon.com movie: "Ida" (2013-2014)
Stark foreign language Oscar winner from Poland about a Jewish orphan who survived WWII and is about to take her vows as a Catholic nun; but then reluctantly meets her hard-drinking aunt and accompanies her on a road trip to locate where their executed family members were buried. Not only did the black and white cinematography feel stark, but the plot and characters too. The Ida character showed nary any personality, and my mind had to fill in some blanks due to some gaps in the narrative. Admittedly, it amused me watching such odd pairings of characters. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Hidden Figures" (2016)
Poignant 1960's biopic about three African-American women who worked for NASA during the Space Race. I found it particularly inspiring how well they fought segregation using their self-motivation and smarts. I also found it realistic how the antagonists never redeemed themselves, but yet never said anything red-handedly racist. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Underworld: Blood Wars" (2016-2017) in 3D
Movie #5 of the Underworld franchise and still no end in sight to the war between vampires and werewolves. Still a focus on hybrids even though they never change anything. The only progress I found noteworthy: Selene's acquirement of another cool power (even though I felt like she got soft, starting with her carelessness at that enemy vampire fortress). Action-wise, I thought some of those fighting scenes looked pretty cool. Rating: 6
Holiday movie marathon 2016
01/03/17 6:09 PM PST

I might have to restrategize my annual holiday movie marathon. Thanks to all that L.A. gridlock, the distance to each theater, and my reluctance to leave any luggage alone in my car, I only had time for three total movies in L.A. Next time, I might just book separate hotels next to the theaters I'm most likely to patronize.

Watched movie: "Toni Erdmann" (2016)
Clownish Oscar entry from Germany about a prankster who grows concerned with his workaholic daughter and badly disguises himself as a businessman to nose in on her life. The charade amused me at first, but then got tiresome. Also, some parts of the movie got cringeworthy and made me really uncomfortable. But overall, the film had enough funny and emotional moments for me to view it favorably. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Silence" (2016)
Messed up Scorsese film about the persecution of Christians in feudal Japan of the 1600's, including desecration tests and cruelties such as imprisonment, torture, and executions. (The second movie I saw this year where Andrew Garfield played a pacifist tormented by the Japanese.) Pretty bleak stuff given how futile the Portuguese priests' mission felt--plus all that piety meant no payback on those cartoonishly annoying villains! Rating: 6
Watched movie: "I, Daniel Blake" (2016)
Blue collar Palme d'Or winner about two working class people down on their luck in England: a carpenter struggling to get disability after his heart attack and a starving single mother of two. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the mood for a populist message and wanted to see solutions rather than problems. But I liked the characters (despite my difficulty with their heavy dialects) and found the carpenter's ignorance with computers amusing. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Sing" (2016) in 3D
Fun and stirring computer-animated musical from Illumination Entertainment wherein an ensemble cast of talking animals auditions for a singing competition (each for their own personal reasons) at a koala's declining theater. I enjoyed all of the main character arcs, and wanted them all to succeed (except for that annoying Seth MacFarlane mouse). Rating: 7
2016 Year in Review
12/26/16 4:11 PM PST
Best of 2016 Worst of 2016
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Completing everything I wanted to accomplish on my Brazil vacation, including touring Itaipú Dam, sightseeing Christ the Redeemer and the Olympic cauldron, watching a thrilling Rafael Nadal Olympic tennis semifinal, witnessing Michael Phelps win his 23rd Olympic gold medal, and watching Usain Bolt win his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100M sprint.
  2. Serena Williams finally winning her 22nd Grand Slam title to tie Steffi Graf's Open era record.
  3. Enjoying one of Michael Flatley's final performances from one of the best seats in the house.
  4. Watching the Chicago Cubs win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in what I would call the best baseball game I've ever seen.
  5. Watching some great TV moments in "Game of Thrones" season 6.
  1. The U.S. presidential election of 2016.
  2. Losing a lot more colleagues to layoffs.
  3. An aunt and uncle passing away.
  4. Bitter sports disappointments: Serena Williams losing two straight Grand Slam finals then later in the year losing her #1 WTA ranking at the US Open (just one week shy of breaking Steffi Graf's record 186-week streak), the Golden State Warriors blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead in a historic loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Roger Federer blowing his possibly last best chance for a record eighth Wimbledon title to Milos Raonic (then missing the Rio Olympics too).
  5. Enduring quite possibly the worst hotel stay ever in a Brazilian ghetto, where even walking a few blocks alone at night from the train stop scared me.
Movies
  1. "Lion"
    "...I've never felt so emotional watching someone web surf."
  2. "Train to Busan"
    "Stressfully thrilling South Korean zombie flick..."
  3. "Zootopia"
    "A thoughtfully written, thoroughly animated gem from Walt Disney Animation Studios..."
  4. "Finding Dory"
    "...I found this sequel inspirational and tearjerking..."
  5. "La La Land"
    "I found the movie delightful."
  6. "Don't Breathe"
    "White-knuckle horror thriller...Some of the cat-and-mouse got pin-droppingly tense..."
  7. "Nerve"
    "Fun movie from the Catfish directors about a smartphone game that dares its players to risk life and limb for cash and glory."
  8. "Green Room"
    "...this director smartly understands the reality of how hard it is to think clearly in stressful real-time situations."
  9. "The Finest Hours"
    "Solemn and thrilling historical disaster drama..."
  10. "Moana"
    "Computer animated Disney musical highlighted by gorgeous Polynesian landscapes, beautiful tropical ocean effects, and interesting villains..."
  1. "Blair Witch"
    "Not only did this new installment completely fail to scare me, it relentlessly tried to nauseate me with unsteady camerawork."
  2. "Swiss Army Man"
    "So it probably goes without saying that I found this film pretty cringeworthy and tasteless."
  3. "Elle"
    "I'll be puzzled if this screwy movie ends up getting nominated."
  4. "The Neon Demon"
    "Points for style and music, but just too sickening for me to dignify the movie as 'art'."
  5. "Regression"
    "Slow and pretentious paranoia thriller..."
  6. "Suicide Squad"
    "The drama and comedy felt so formulaic, and the supervillains seemed way too nice."
  7. "Sharknado: The 4th Awakens"
    "Such a chore to watch these movies every year."
  8. "Warcraft"
    "An inane mess of CGI and gobbledygook."
  9. "Ice Age: Collision Course"
    "...for this installment, I found none of the characters funny."
  10. "The Angry Birds Movie"
    "Mind-numbingly dumb. I actually found the video game funnier."
Songs
  1. "Rise" Katy Perry
  2. "Still Falling for You" Ellie Goulding
  3. "Starboy" The Weeknd f/ Daft Punk
  4. "Hurts" Emeli Sande
  5. "Good Girls" Elle King
  1. "Famous" Kanye West
  2. "Fake Love" Drake
  3. "2 Phones" Kevin Gates
  4. "Watch Out" 2 Chainz
  5. "Sorry" Beyoncé
Music video "Upside Down & Inside Out" OK Go "Famous" Kanye West
TV series "Game of Thrones" "The X-Files" (revival)
Commercial Android commercial where rock, paper, and scissors come together Offensive Miracle Mattress commercial where the spokespeople spoof 9/11

Dishonorable mentions: Yoplait commercial where a family of four MMMs to Yoplait yogurt; a maddening Schick and Skintimate commercial where "The Emojis" sing "Ready, Shave, Shine"; and a Yahoo Fantasy Football commercial where a player flies in his rival's high school crush to gloat

Movie trailer (tie) "Don't Breathe" and "Phantasm: Ravager" "The Woods"
'Member
12/25/16 1:23 AM PST

Someone finally invented a word for people who spend too much time on their smartphone: phubbing (a fusion of "phone" and "snubbing"). I'm happy to say I've never had this problem, since I've never owned a smartphone. I also do not have a trolling problem thanks to my avoidance of social media.

Watched movie: "Rogue One" (2016) in RPX & 3D
A Star Wars story (not an episode even though it deserved one) about the expendable rebels who stole the Death Star plans that Princess Leia wound up hiding in R2-D2. (Though if the plans were that portable, the scientist who designed the fatal flaw should have just put them in his original covert message.) I liked the parallels to "Seven Samurai", including how unrewarded their heroism felt. However, each character felt so flat to me that I ended up liking the candid droid the best. Props to preserving Darth Vader's mystique. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "La La Land" (2016)
A musical from Damien Chazelle that follows the romance between an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) in Hollywood. I found the movie delightful. The singing, dancing, and production numbers felt nostalgic. My only complaint is with the ending, but I might be in the minority. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Passengers" (2016) in 3D
Whether it was a lack of chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence or the lie that their onscreen relationship was built on, I totally didn't care for the romance between them. Minor spoiler alert since the trailers revealed only part of this movie's premise: the film begins with a hibernation pod malfunction that awakens passenger Chris Pratt from suspended animation about 90 years too soon on a luxury starship of over sleeping 5000 colonists--and in his loneliness, he considers waking up another passenger. Unfortunately, what could have been a weighty movie devolved into contrived sci-fi action--so among other missed opportunities like Chris Pratt showing some kind of remorse, I never got to see how long Jennifer Lawrence could stay mad in a vacuum. Side note: Interesting zero gravity pool scene--I never thought about whether someone could swim and/or drown in weightless water. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Lion" (2016)
A moving biopic about Saroo Brierley, a lost Indian-born boy who was adopted by an Australian couple; then as an adult spent months using Google Earth (and its onscreen tacks) to search for his birth family. To the director's credit, I've never felt so emotional watching someone web surf. Stay after the credits. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Fences" (2016)
Denzel Washington's theatrical adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play, set in 1950's Pittsburgh. I was impressed with the acting. I think Viola Davis is destined for the Oscar no matter which category she ends up in. Denzel Washington's hardheaded character amused me at first and reminded me of my own father, but after awhile I got sick and tired of listening to him. Rating: 7
The fridges of Santa Clara County
12/14/16 4:56 PM PST

I finally disposed of my broken mini-fridge for $10 at a recycling site. Best Buy wanted to charge me $100 to dispose of it, and then later--to my chagrin--one of Santa Clara County's household hazardous waste facilities (where I scheduled an appointment) turned my car away on the grounds that the mini-fridge wasn't hazardous waste. They said it wasn't e-waste either, and even called my empty bluff of tossing it in a dumpster.

To my surprise, both "Hacksaw Ridge" and its director Mel Gibson received Golden Globe nominations--obligating me to go out and screen the movie after I had downplayed its Oscar chances. I was surprised to see a Golden Globe nomination for "Hell or High Water" too, making me speculate whether a Trump presidency gave this film more socioeconomic weight.

Watched movie: "Manchester by the Sea" (2016)
Scenic Oscar contender wherein a death in the family brings Casey Affleck back to the Massachusetts hometown he exiled himself from, where his nephew is now an insolent teenager. Actually, all of the characters seemed to lack manners and I had trouble getting used to it. Plot-wise, I found the movie slow until a critical flashback from Casey Affleck's past made the rest of the film much more emotional (and led up to my one favorite scene of the movie). Acting-wise, I wasn't a big fan of Casey Affleck's minimalist performance even though he's sure getting a lot of Oscar buzz. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Hacksaw Ridge" (2016)
Gory, occasionally pretentious WWII biopic about combat medic Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Just like in "Unbroken", I felt like the movie overdramatized this guy's moral victories--such as his stubborn refusal to train with a rifle when he could have just gone through the motions to placate his commanding officers. Plus when the film got to what the Japanese do to the U.S. medics, this symbolic protest of his struck me as an inexcusable liability. Props to the intense "Saving Private Ryan"-type combat sequences. Rating: 6
Inquiring minds want to know
11/30/16 5:36 PM PST

Recently I saw a movie poster that asked, "What's your favorite thing about Earth?" My answer: the Internet. :) Unfortunately, I think it's grown polluted with some ugly problems though. I'm particularly disturbed how cyberattacks, privacy leaks, and fake news (and other disinformation) poisoned the U.S. presidential election. I also feel like trolling and cyberbulling have become normalized now--how do you "not feed the trolls" when our own President-elect does it and the media dignifies each inflammatory or unsubstantiated tweet with a national headline?

Speaking of the Internet, I'm still wrestling with how to deal with spoilers. After I screened "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", I watched an Internet video to confirm what I already remembered about a certain side character in the Harry Potter canon. But the video was so thorough that it might have spoiled big plot points from the next four Fantastic Beasts sequels. On the other hand, this might be ok since I think prequels generally assume you're up to speed on the entire series.

I do regret detailing to my friends what the Mockingjay movies cut out of Haymitch's backstory. At the time, I had no idea that Lionsgate would consider a prequel series that could very well cover Haymitch's Quarter Quell.

Watched movie: "Loving" (2016)
Heart tugging biopic from Jeff Nichols about the interracial married couple in the Supreme Court case regarding Virginia's state law against interracial marriage. The film reminded me how far American civil rights have come, and I liked it overall even though it skipped over some big scenes that could have really brought the emotion. Maybe the director didn't want to risk the movie getting corny? Come to think of it, his last three films kind of restrained the emotion too. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Elle" (2016)
Perverse Oscar entry from France about a businesswoman so detached that getting sexually assaulted and stalked doesn't even seem to bother her. I'll be puzzled if this screwy movie ends up getting nominated. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (2016) in RPX & 3D
This Harry Potter spin-off prequel is based on a fictional textbook by J. K. Rowling, so to me it felt light on plot and heavy on CGI creature effects and jargon. Pretty imaginative though, and I liked the main characters. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Moana" (2016) in 3D
Computer animated Disney musical highlighted by gorgeous Polynesian landscapes, beautiful tropical ocean effects, and interesting villains like the coconut pirates and the lava demon. I might've rated it higher had the main characters not felt so hammy, e.g., The Rock (and his tattoo), the chicken, the treasure crab, and even the ocean itself. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Postmortem USA
11/20/16 3:11 PM PST

After Brexit and Trump, I wonder whether I should be seriously worried about Calexit? I think that instead of seceding from the United States, California should just pull a reverse "North Carolina bathroom bill" and legislate state laws that annoy conservatives. :) I also wonder whether I should seriously worry about Kanye West 2020. :(

Remove the Electoral College by 2020? I'm still open to the idea. At a minimum, I think we need to outlaw "faithless electors". Because what an affront to democracy that a presidential elector could just ignore the people's votes from their state and defect from either Clinton or Trump. This also goes to why I've never been a fan of the delegate system (especially in regards to caucuses and winner-take-all).

Remove all pundits, predictors, and pollsters from the media? Now that's an intriguing thought. I've always hated sensationalism in the news (especially their overemphasis on negative stories), and I feel like all these on-air partisans do nothing but sensationalize and rile up both liberals and conservatives alike.

Remove fake news from Google and Facebook? Best idea I've heard all year. I'm still embarrassed over the fake articles I believed, like Donald Trump calling Republicans the "dumbest group of voters in the country".

Watched movie: "Arrival" (2016)
Intriguing sci-fi thriller wherein Amy Adams works to decipher the splotchy written language of alien visitors whose speech makes no sense. Although I found it kind of slow and anticlimactic, the movie's linguistic insights fascinated me. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Moonlight" (2016)
An inner city Miami version of "Brokeback Mountain" that follows the torment of a gay African-American from boyhood to manhood. Just like in "Brokeback Mountain", the movie started out kinda slow but then got really emotional and cathartic by the end. Rating: 7
President-elect Donald Trump?!
11/09/16 1:50 PM PST

This might be the most cynical I've felt about America in my entire lifetime. The liberal side of me has always tried to sympathize with working class people, e.g., using my taxes to improve their lives with services like unemployment and affordable health care. But after they overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, who openly plans to make the rich richer, my liberal-guilt has all but vanished. Similarly, I can't reconcile how Trump overperformed with women and the very minorities he degraded! It just makes social justice feel so hopeless to me right now.

Election day 2016
11/08/16 10:37 AM PST

This FBI Director James Comey, man. Suddenly drops a second congressional letter clearing Clinton after her campaign suffered nine days of rampant speculation from his first letter. WTF?! I guess on the bright side, Comey has now achieved bipartisanship by getting both Democrats and Republicans to hate him.

Here's a couple of distractions while you're waiting for the election day results to come in today:

Watched movie: "Doctor Strange" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Trippy special effects-fest reminscent of "Inception". I found the mystic jargon and disorienting visuals both ambitious and overwhelming. (Special props to the cool cloak of levitation.) Unsurprisingly, Benedict Cumberbatch reminded me of House. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
108 years in the making
11/03/16 5:46 PM PDT

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for finally winning the World Series! I think that psychological rollercoaster of a Game 7 will go down as the best baseball game I've ever watched, edging out even that thrilling Game 7 my home team won two years ago. Mostly because to me, the Cubs' 108-year drought made the stakes more epic than quite possibly any professional sports game ever played.

All the backstory livened up the game's narrative as well. In addition to pitchers on both teams coming back on short rest (leading to some coaching decisions that left me dismayed), the Cubs have always seemed jinxed by a "Billy Goat curse" that dooms them to blow a big game no matter how well they play. Last time it was the Steve Bartman incident; this time it was the Cubs blowing their big lead with only four outs left! Every mishap from the wild pitch to the defensive slips made me more and more superstitious.

Watched movie: "The Accountant" (2016)
Shades of Dexter in that Ben Affleck plays a stone cold killer who quietly helps people. Except the movie got kind of laughable for me--not just because of this campy-sounding notion of an accountant who fights like Jason Bourne, but because Ben Affleck's portrayal of autism didn't seem all that different from his past performances (which made me realize what a stiff he is). I also found some of the twists really corny. Rating: 5
October surprises
10/30/16 6:01 PM PDT

This FBI Director James Comey, man. Drops a bombshell of a letter on Congress regarding new e-mails related to the Clinton investigation, and then leaves us all hanging without another word. WTF?! Nothing can affect my vote since I already cast my ballot early, but what's America coming to when even the FBI starts dropping October surprises. This has got to be some kind of record.

Watched movie: "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" (2016) in IMAX
Enjoyable sequel to "Jack Reacher" wherein Reacher (Tom Cruise) becomes a fugitive with an espionage suspect (Cobie Smulders) whom he had planned to date. I found this storyline kind of dull until a delinquent teenage girl (who might be Reacher's illegitimate daughter) began tagging along. It amused me watching someone as antisocial as Reacher trying to deal with these two headstrong women. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Inferno" (2016) in IMAX
One of the better Da Vinci Code films wherein Prof. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in Italy with amnesia, and follows a Dante scholar's clues to locate the biological weapon he hid. Illogical when I think about in hindsight, but ok. I liked not knowing which character Langdon should trust, and found the "facilitator" from the private security firm particularly interesting. Rating: 6
The Day Will Come When You Won't Be
10/24/16 5:38 PM PDT

That was a dark season 7 premiere, Walking Dead.

I voted...
10/22/16 10:32 PM PDT

...and am looking forward to this long national nightmare ending.

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for advancing to the World Series. How historic would that be, if this team finally breaks its 108-year championship drought in the same year that America elects its first female President?

Well, "The Walking Dead" finally resolves that Lucille cliffhanger in tomorrow's season 7 premiere. And thanks to my months of vigilance against spoilers, I still don't know who it is. I might just avoid the Internet altogether tomorrow, just in case.

I've been disappointed with this "Supernatural" season so far, the biggest anticlimax being how casually Mary Winchester reacted to finally meeting an angel. Since her younger self appeared in both of my favorite "Supernatural" episodes, I guess I had high expectations.

Watched movie: "Phantasm: Ravager" (2016)
Cool seeing the Phantasm characters and spheres back for one final (?) installment, but I hated how the narrative kept questioning which reality was real. The storylines basically wound up nowhere, and the continuity got so chaotic that life and death no longer seemed to matter. Personally, I would have just focused the movie on the entertaining apocalyptic warzone reality (I liked the midget soldier and the gas masks), and cut out the farmhouse and dementia scenes. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Shin Godzilla" a.k.a. "Godzilla Resurgence" (2016)
Too much talking, bureaucracy, and onscreen captions. In essence, it felt like the director recreated his Neon Genesis Evangelion series as a live action monster movie where Godzilla wrecks Japan instead of an Angel. Same music even! Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Birth of a Nation" (2016)
Top dramatic awards winner from Sundance about Nat Turner's slave rebellion. I spent much of the biopic rooting for the villainous slaveowners to finally get their comeuppance, but then felt unsatisfied when it finally happened. I think because the movie glorified it too much, to the extent where it felt pretentious. Rating: 5
The guy on the sinking ship
10/08/16 5:28 PM PDT

Pretty remarkable how sharply the U.S. Presidential race turned since I last blogged. Donald Trump went from nearly tied before the first debate to plummeting into a tailspin. Will these leaked hot mic comments finally sink him for good? He's survived so many offensive comments this election season, that I'm not even certain.

In other news, the kids in that turkey family outside of my workplace look all grown up now. I think the mother turkey left them because now I only count eight. To their credit, they still remain close and call out to each other when they get separated for too long (might have been my imagination, but one time their incessant chirping seemed to annoy the stray cat that was trying to sleep).

Watched movie: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" (2016) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
A peculiar Tim Burton film about peculiar children that certainly lived up to its billing. Not at all like the X-Men series. The plot started out slow for me, but got better once Samuel L. Jackson made his presence known. He totally highlighted the movie for me with his hyperbolic "talking villain" shtick. Man, they sure pushed the PG-13 rating with some of that stuff. Side note: I still don't understand how the time loops work. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Woman in the Window" (1944)
Simplistic film noir wherein a criminology professor, who just got done lecturing students about justifiable homicide, kills a stranger in self-defense and then works to cover it up! Sloppily too, as he keeps blurting out facts about the case before his district attorney friend even has a chance to mention them. :( For the most part I liked the film, but didn't care much for the ending. Rating: 6
Read book: "Xenocide" (1991) by Orson Scott Card
A cerebral and imaginative book, but exasperating in so many ways. First, Path irritated me to no end. Had I known how little that half of the book would intersect with Lusitania, I might've just skipped past those chapters altogether. Second, I felt like the author got way too preoccupied with plot devices, i.e., the descolada virus, Jane's quantum strings, and faster-than-light travel; plot devices so convoluted that they could only be solved with even nuttier plot devices (culminating in a magic spaceship that grants wishes). At times, the discourse felt like dissertations written by someone in a tinfoil hat. I'd rather the author had just focused on character detail (for example, Valentine's family and her relationship with Ender), the xenophobic tensions on Lusitania, and other meaningful topics. Third, a lot of characters from the previous book became so insufferable that I almost stopped caring about whether they all perished or not. Disappointing, given how much I liked some of them in the previous book. Fourth, a lot of promising storylines either disappeared or ended in antimclimax (for example, the underwhelming reunion between Ender and Valentine and the Warmaker problem). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Girl on the Train" (2016) in Cinemark XD
Cringeworthy psychological thriller that just like in "Gone Girl", alternated between the investigation of a missing wife and the months leading up to her disappearance. I say "cringeworthy" because of how hard it was watching Emily Blunt's "train wreck" of a character, i.e., an unstable stalker who can't remember what happened during her alcoholic blackouts. Admittedly, she added an X factor to the mystery that totally disrupted my sleuthing efforts. Rating: 6
Debate of debates
09/26/16 4:36 PM PDT

This U.S. Presidential election is stressing me out. I keep checking the latest polls online and going into denial about how close the race is. When I distracted myself with a movie like Sully, I even felt a pang of anxiety during the scene when people banded together to rescue the passengers. And this third Ender book I've been reading keeps reminding me of the election too, thanks to all the rude, close-minded, and xenophobic characters in it that I just want to give up on.

Watched movie: "Blair Witch" (2016)
I walked into this new Blair Witch Project found footage sequel thinking it couldn't possibly suck worse than Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2--but to my dismay, I was wrong! Not only did this new installment completely fail to scare me, it relentlessly tried to nauseate me with unsteady camerawork. In fact, that camerwork might go down as the worst I've ever had to endure. I did like one scene at least: the claustrophobic impasse. Rating: 2
Non-apology
09/16/16 5:06 PM PDT

So Donald Trump finally admitted the whole Birther Movement was a sham, and now he just thinks bygones will be bygones? There actually used to be a time when I admired Donald Trump. I even sided with him against Rosie O'Donnell. But as soon as he helmed that vile Birther Movement, I never forgave him. You can also cross Rudy Giuliani off the list of people I respect. That guy is dead to me.

To my surprise at the US Open men's final, Stan Wawrinka upset Novak Djokovic once again to win a grand slam title! But sigh...Serena Williams lost her second straight US Open semi-final and as a result, lost her WTA No. 1 ranking just one week shy of breaking Steffi Graf's streak of 186-consecutive weeks. Though I guess I should look on the bright side, and be thankful that Serena was able to even tie the record after coming so close to losing that No. 1 spot to Angelique Kerber mere days before this US Open started. Ironically, the relatively unknown player (Karolina Pliskova) who beat Kerber to deny her the No. 1 spot ended up being the very same player who beat Serena in the US Open to award Kerber the No. 1 spot!

I was also surprised to learn that San Jose's Camera 12 Downtown theater closed down. Something about losing revenue and too much maintenance cost for the aging building. This was my theater of choice for D-BOX Motion Effects Seating and Barco Escape, so I guess I'll have to find someplace else for these gimmicks. Though in all honesty, when I tried "Star Trek Beyond" in Barco Escape it really bugged me how the footage kept alternating between one screen and all three screens. Just keep all three screens on.

I read about a new gimmick called 4DX that's going to expand to theaters across the U.S. During a movie, the environmental effects blow air in your face, rain water or snow down on you, generate fog or bubbles, move your chair, tickle your lower back or legs, flash strobe lights, and unleash scents.

Watched movie: "Sully" (2016) in IMAX
Poignant "Miracle on the Hudson" biopic (directed by Clint Eastwood) that follows Captain Sully as the National Transportation Safety Board second-guesses whether he made the right decision to steer the plane toward certain death. It really spoke to the cynic in me how human beings can just take the truth and reframe it with their own narrative. But the movie also showed me what's good about human beings as well. As for the flight, I found the reenactment pretty emotional, but would have preferred one uninterrupted sequence rather than the disjointed time-hopping. Side note: I found it amusing listening to the safety instructions that I always ignore on flights, like what to do in the event of a water landing. Rating: 7
Winter is here (spoiler alert)
09/07/16 6:15 PM PDT

I bought tickets to next year's Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience at the SAP Center in San Jose. Also finally got around to writing my review of TV season 6, which will go down as my favorite season of the entire Game of Thrones series until I see one better.

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my current thoughts on the "Game of Thrones" series after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll down until after you have watched SEASON SIX of "Game of Thrones"!

Outstanding season of "Game of Thrones". The emotion-packed episodes made me realize how much I care about a lot of the characters still left on the show.

That Jon Snow is one lucky bastard. How many other Starks died because they followed their heart instead of their head? But despite his charging headlong into a trap at the Battle of the Bastards, I still proclaim him my favorite character on the show (even over Tyrion), and would defend him against any cynic who'd dare criticize him. Mostly because I credit Jon Snow with the greatest humanitarian mission in the show's history, something I can't picture any other character risking much less accomplishing. (This also goes to why "Hardhome" is my favorite Game of Thrones episode of all time.)

And what a powerful story for Jon Snow, to suffer his entire life stigmatized as a "mistake" and ashamed of who he is; completely unaware of his regal birthright. (Side question: now that R+L=J, does that still make Jon a bastard?) What irony that the character with the best claim to the Iron Throne probably has the least interest in it.

I feel like I have to start memorizing the sigils on this show. When the knights of the Vale rode in to save Jon Snow at the Battle of the Bastards, I didn't recognize their banner. I did notice that in the opening credits of the finale, House Stark's direwolf replaced House Bolton's flayed man on Winterfell. Makes me wonder whether House Lannister's lion will replace House Baratheon's stag on King's Landing?

Speaking of the fallen House Baratheon, I really hate Cersei now as I felt that Tommen and Margaery would have made a perfectly fine King and Queen had Cersei not meddled. I know fans hated how Tommen outlawed Trial by Combat, but when I thought about it that tradition really is stupid and would have let Cersei escape the punishment she deserved. I also liked Margaery and was disgusted that "Mad Queen" Cersei murdered her and at least 700 other innocent bystanders in that wildfire explosion. If I had my way, Jaime would go from Kingslayer to Queenslayer. :)

I have a really long memory when it comes to the GoT characters I hate. Although I finally forgave Jaime for crippling Bran (when Jaime rescued Tyrion from King's Landing), I still can't bring myself to forgive Littlefinger (for secretly starting the War of the Five Kings), Melisandre (for burning Shireen at the stake), and The Hound (for killing Arya's childhood friend).

I think out of all the GoT characters who made it to the finale, I hated Walder Frey's guts the most (even more than Ramsay Bolton). I kept worrying he would die of old age before somebody killed him. And if it disturbed you what Arya did to him and his sons, go watch the Red Wedding massacre again.

In conclusion, all the emotion in that season finale impressed me: Arya avenging the Red Wedding, Davos confronting Melisandre about Shireen, Daenerys naming Tyrion the Hand of the Queen, the show finally revealing the truth about Jon Snow's birth, Lyanna Mormont and other Lords rallying behind him, and even the minor (yet major) moment when Sansa informed Jon that "winter is here".

Infrequent flyer miles
08/31/16 8:00 PM PDT

Delta Air Lines sent me a bonus miles voucher in response to the "inconveniences I may have experienced" during my trip to Rio de Janeiro, i.e., getting me there about two days late so that I couldn't make Michael Phelps' 100-meter butterfly race. I did feel like flaming them on the surveys they e-mailed me, but then I reasoned that their only failing was that one delayed flight that made me miss a connection I should have buffered more time for anyway. Since the subsequent flights were crowded, I have to admit they did a good job getting me to my destination. Plus as fate would have it, I was thankful to have missed that race.

Having said that, I'm not going to mark "satisfied" on anything they send me either. :) I decided to just delete the surveys.

On a related note, I hate these special treatment programs like "Delta Sky Priority" that let the rich cut in line at the boarding gate. Makes a penny-pincher like me feel like a second-class citizen. :P If that wasn't bad enough, AMC Theatres now has an "AMC Stubs Premiere" program that lets its members cut in line for both the ticket and concession counters. It sparked some unrest on one particular occasion when my line grew longer and longer as the Stubs members kept cutting in front of us.

Well, I finally posted pictures from my Brazil vacation in my blog entries after waiting over a week for them to develop. All in all, I considered the trip a success despite my anxiety about the language barrier (it was the first time I ever vacationed in a country that didn't speak English), and was happy I stepped out of my comfort zone.

No more Olympics for me for awhile. The next three will take place in South Korea, Tokyo, and China.

Watched movie: "Kubo and the Two Strings" (2016) in 3D
Splendid stop-motion animation from Laika about a young string musician in ancient Japan who can fight evil with origami. The dialogue got corny and the plot got confusing, but overall I liked it. That talking snow monkey had a funny anger face. Stay during the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Hell or High Water" (2016)
Amusingly no-nonsense crime drama wherein two brothers seek to repay their late mother's debts by robbing the very banks that exploited her--a bank robbery spree which heads them on a collision course with the movie's other two main characters, a retiring Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his Indian-Mexican partner. I liked all the Texas wit and the "don't mess with Texas" sass. Great climax too, despite what I saw as strange plot turns. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Don't Breathe" (2016) in Cinemark XD
White-knuckle horror thriller wherein two teenage burglars stumble upon a blind killer's deep dark secret and try to escape his barricaded house without getting shot. Some of the cat-and-mouse got pin-droppingly tense, e.g., the scene where the burglars had to tiptoe and the scene where they stumbled around with dilated pupils. I also liked the Breaking Bad aspect where the burglars didn't want anyone to get hurt, and could have easily called the police had they not gotten greedy (though who can blame them). P.S. Man what a plot twist. I never would have predicted something like that. Rating: 7
Olympic Summer Games XXXI: The triple-triple
08/20/16 6:18 PM PDT

Congratulations to Usain Bolt on accomplishing an unprecedented "triple-triple" a.k.a. nine out of nine Olympic gold medals! I actually rooted for the Jamaican men to win the 4x100-meter relay over USA, as this doping stuff really soured me.

Congratulations to the U.S. women's 4x100-meter relay team on winning the gold medal after their successful appeal when Allyson Felix dropped the baton in the preliminary heat. The Brazilian TV coverage kept replaying the drop, but it wasn't until I saw the American coverage that I found out about the appeal.

Finally, congratulations to Brazil for winning their first Olympic soccer gold medal vs. Germany in a suspenseful penalty shootout. What a fairy tale ending for Brazil: avenging their humiliating 1-7 loss to Germany in the World Cup, Neymar kicking the winning penalty, and the Brazilian team being able to celebrate in front of their ecstatic home crowd at the Maracana stadium.

Well, I'm settling back in here in California. The drugstore estimated two weeks for my photo rolls to get developed, so don't expect them on my blog anytime soon. :P

Brazil, Day 6: Free day
08/17/16 2:03 PM PDT

Now that I leave Brazil tomorrow, I thought I'd reflect on my vacation. First of all, now I know how illiterate people must feel because I couldn't comprehend Brazilian Portuguese at all. My pocket dictionary was completely useless. I couldn't read signs or menus, I couldn't understand the taxi drivers or Olympic workers, and I struggled with the public transportation. Even when Brazilians used their smartphone or Google to translate, I'd often get gibberish like "What impo?".

Second, my fears felt kind of stupid in hindsight. I saw so many crowds in Rio that it Zika were as contagious as Americans feared, then Rio would be in a full-on epidemic right now. I also saw a lot of soldiers with AK-47s, which would make it foolish for terrorists to attack Rio instead of someplace less protected. I still worried about muggers and thieves though. I avoided Copacabana beaches even though one was literally outside my hotel window. I also kept my cell phone in the hotel safe, which was fine because it didn't work in Brazil anyway.

Oh, and I did avoid drinking tap water the entire time, e.g., brushing my teeth with bottled water and abstaining from both ice cubes and fountain drinks.

Brazil, Day 5: Itaipu Dam
08/16/16 11:58 AM PDT

Today I completed another goal on my list, the Itaipu Dam. The Special Tour took me through the interior of the hydroelectric plant (I've never seen such long hallways) and outside to a couple of panoramic views. As the only English speaker in the tour group, I felt self-conscious when the guide had to talk to me one-on-one in English while the other 11 tourists waited.

Interestingly, the plant is split between Brazil and Paraguay so there's one room with Portuguese signs on one end and Spanish signs on the other end. Apparently in addition to dividing the electricity, the employees are divided up too between Brazilian and Parguayan technicians.

It was cool how my hotel shuttled me to the visitors' center and back. I'm glad I got to the visitors' center early, because they wouldn't let me through without a passport (the poor driver had to rush me back to the hotel to grab it). I also had to leave my camera bag in the shuttle, as even small bags are prohibited.

Well, tomorrow is the free day that I inserted in my travel itinerary. I really could have used a free day after the Athletics when I was dead tired, but I wanted to buffer an extra day after the Itaipu Dam tour in case anything went wrong (like a cancellation).

Penstocks that vibrate from the water
Load Dispatching Room for the dam's energy transmission system
Turbine shaft
Generators Hall
Panoramic view of the dam including the Olympic relay torch
The dam's spillway was closed

Brazil, Day 3: Fastest man of all-time
08/15/16 5:44 PM PDT

I couldn't blog yesterday because the hotel I relocated to had no Internet. In fact, that hotel stay might go down as the worst I ever had. First, the taxi driver couldn't find it and ended up charging me ~200 reals without any deduction for the time he wasted wandering around lost. Then the hotel clerk spoke zero English, and wouldn't even call me a taxi to get to the Olympic Stadium. She also wouldn't let me leave the hotel holding the room keys, and when I returned the new clerk (who also spoke zero English) eyed me suspiciously when I asked for them back. The room itself had no clock, TV remote, or safe--things I can live without--but the malfunctioning bedroom lights wouldn't turn off and every 10 minutes or so a train would rattle the room. PLUS I kept hearing loud party music. But since I was so dead tired, I actually slept through all of it. The dealbreaker was the run-down, graffiti-covered ghetto outside. I've never felt so unsafe walking alone at night. (No on-duty taxis so I had to walk/run a few blocks from the train stop to the hotel.) I can see why protesters would hate the Olympics, because man what a dump to have an Olympic stadium in.

Despite this lowlight, I had a good day and managed to fit in BOTH the Christ the Redeemer tour and the Olympic cauldron.

Christ the Redeemer
So many steps and people, but worth it just to say I visited Brazil's most famous monument. I'll never get used to people imitating the statue's pose for their snapshots. That seems so inappropriate. Also weird seeing soldiers patrolling the statue with AK-47s, but I guess that's prudent. The gift shop had statue replicas and stuffed animals for Corcovado's (?) cute wildlife such as bats, snakes, and raccoons.

Santa Teresa steps
So many steps and people, but worth seeing just for the eye-popping extravagance of the artistic tiles.

Olympic pyre
An underwhelming Olympic cauldron, but an impressive kinetic sculpture by Anthony Howe behind it.

Athletics
The track & field was like gymnastics in that high jumpers, triple jumpers, and runners all competed at the same time (sometimes the high jumpers even had to move out of the way when runners came tearing around the bend!). The running definitely took center stage though. I liked how the pulse-pounding music livened up the races and made them feel more thrilling. The men's 100M final started with main-event-feel entrances, and Usain Bolt's presence electrified the crowd into a frenzy, reaching a fever pitch when he sprinted into Olympic immortality with his third straight 100M gold medal. I don't know how much of his celebratory partying aired on TV but haha, what an entertaining showman. Definitely a highlight of my trip.

Today I flew into Foz do Iguacu, so nothing much happening on Day 4. To my relief, this Viale Tower Hotel is leaps and bounds better.

Women's 1500m Semifinal
Men's 400m Final
The main event
Usain Bolt sprinting in the Men's 100m Final
Usain Bolt celebrating his third straight Olympic gold medal in the Men's 100m!
Usain Bolt, #1 all day every day
The pose

Brazil, Day 2: Greatest Olympian of all-time
08/13/16 11:32 PM PDT

I'm glad I decided to attend the Olympics tennis event, which took place in the same Olympic park as the Olympic swimming. After catching the tail-end of a boring-looking semifinal match between Andy Murray vs. Kei Nishikori, I got to watch one helluva semifinal between Rafael Nadal vs. Juan Martin Del Potro (man that guy has a wicked surprise super-forehand). The crowd sounded like soccer fans, chanting and booing despite the umpire's admonishment to respect BOTH players. In the deciding set, Delpo just had to serve out the game to win but Nadal broke back. Then in the very next game, Delpo had triple break point but blew it! The final tiebreaker went 7-5.

The women's gold medal match between Monica Puig vs. Angelique Kerber came after, but I skipped it. Looks like I falsely predicted that the latter would win. :P

Later that evening at the Olympic Aquatics stadium's last day of swimming races, I got to watch the greatest Olympian who ever lived, Michael Phelps, win his 23rd gold medal in the 4 x 100-meter medley relay. If he never swims again, then it means I witnessed his retirement race. I'm still skeptic about that though. :)

I got to watch the U.S. women win their 4 x 100-meter medley relay too.

I signed up for a van to pick me up for a 4-hour Christ the Redeemer tour tomorrow morning. I'll see if I can fit the Olympic cauldron in too before the track & field. Busy, busy day tomorrow.

Andy Murray wins Olympics Tennis Semifinal Match #1
Olympics Tennis Semifinal Match #2
Rafael Nadal
Juan Martin Del Potro
Women's Gold Medal Match
Michael Phelps in the Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay
Gold medalists for the Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay
Gold medalists for the Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay
23rd Olympic gold medal for Michael Phelps!

Brazil, Day 1
08/12/16 9:25 PM PDT

I finally arrived in Rio de Janeiro today about two days late thanks to Delta re-routing me through Buenos Aires. As a result, I missed Friday's Olympic swimming event...which actually turned out for the best once I saw that Michael Phelps tied for second place in the 100-meter butterfly (I would've been dejected had I witnessed this from the stands).

I kind of felt like Ender in the book I read on my way to Rio, i.e., how time speeds by anytime he takes a relativistic space flight. Here's what happened while I was jumping from airport to airport:

Looks like I don't have enough time to hike to Christ the Redeemer anymore, so I might just settle for a faraway picture.

Update: In addition to a sink, toilet, and shower, my hotel bathroom has some kind of three-knobbed sink on the floor--and I can't figure out what it is. It also took me a long time to realize that none of the lights or TV in my room work until I leave my room keycard in a slot on the wall. Power conservation?

Read book: "Speaker for the Dead" (1986) by Orson Scott Card
Powerfully emotional sequel to "Ender's Game" full of amazing intellectual insights and self-inflicted mental suffering. Talk about bombshells. From the shocking vivisection discoveries to the cruelties of relativistic space travel, my mind kept getting blown. Sometimes the bombshells seemed hidden in plain sight, like an excerpt from a future treason prosecution and WTF instances of cultural contamination (the humans in the book are forbidden to tamper with the natural evolution of the pig-like aliens they've been observing--apparently not even to ask about those dumbfounding vivisections!). By the way, thanks to that Angry Birds Movie, I kept picturing the aliens as green cartoon pigs. :P P.S. Maybe I'm xenophobic to think this, but I don't fault humanity at all for what they did to the buggers. Rating: 9
Stuck overnight in Atlanta
08/10/16 10:24 PM PDT

These Delta computer problems sure came at a bad time for me...although they didn't cancel my flight, my plane to Atlanta got delayed so long that I completely missed my connection to Rio de Janeiro. Consequently, they set me up at a hotel and put me on standby for the next flight.

On paper, I'll still be able to make the first Olympic event--but having lost a whole day, I might have to decide which tourist attraction to put on my "only if time permits" list: the Olympic cauldron or Christ the Redeemer. (I'm actually thinking the latter.)

Finger wag
08/10/16 1:45 AM PDT

Why do I get that feeling that Brock Lesnar will get booed by the New York crowd at this year's WWE SummerSlam? Not only did he fail two doping tests before his UFC 200 fight, but the WWE completely exempted him from their wellness policy even though this is precisely what the wellness policy is supposed to discipline against! (Just when I was starting to respect the policy too after top WWE star Roman Reigns got suspended.) As far as I'm concerned, Brock Lesnar's mystique is gone for me. I feel like all of his WWE accomplishments--like defeating the Undertaker at WrestleMania--should have an asterisk now (even though I know full well they were staged).

Can't believe this Rio Olympics trip I've been planning for over a year has finally come. It'll be great not having to avoid Olympics spoilers all the time. :) I won't be taking a laptop with me, so hopefully my hotel has an Internet terminal I can blog from.

Congratulations to the "Final Five" and Michael Phelps on their hard-fought gold medals! That makes 21 total gold medals for Phelps and he's still not done! It actually felt sort of cathartic watching him win the 200-meter butterfly. I was in the stands when he lost that race during the London Olympics. I may not have reacted with a #PhelpsFace, but I was pretty dejected.

Sigh. No Olympic gold medal defense for Serena Williams--she lost the third round to a 21-year-old. Given that Serena managed to double fault five times in one game (!), my speculation is either fatigue or some kind of injury. It's a bummer, but the silver lining is that now I can skip the tennis medal matches altogether and easily make the swimming event on time. One exception: I might still attend the bronze medal match if Rafael Nadal plays in it.

P.S. I'm also still shocked that the men's #1 Novak Djokovic lost in the first round!

Watched TV movie: "Sharknado: The 4th Awakens" (2016)
Such a chore to watch these movies every year. The only bit of satire I liked was when the conservative politician blamed the sharknadoes on Fin Shepard. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Nerve" (2016)
Fun movie from the Catfish directors about a smartphone game that dares its players to risk life and limb for cash and glory. I think the film did too good a job romanticizing the main girl's dares as cool, because I left the theater hoping for a sequel with even cooler dares instead of reflecting on what the movie tried to say about the game being bad and stuff. (Even when they showed a death from the previous game, I couldn't bring myself to take it seriously--maybe they should've showed the dude's grieving parents or something.) Also since the main girl started out the film shy and repressed like me at that age, I found myself living vicariously through her when she "broke bad". Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Suicide Squad" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Dull sequel to "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" wherein a government agent recruits a team of supervillains to save the world. The drama and comedy felt so formulaic, and the supervillains seemed way too nice. They felt more like Breakfast Club misfits than hardcore antiheroes. Even Jared Leto's Joker struck me as unremarkable. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
The appearance of partiality
07/31/16 5:52 PM PDT

Following this recent DNC e-mail leak, I'm convinced that the primaries for both the Democrats and Republicans might need more transparency going forward. I'm almost thinking the entire delegate system of both parties should be replaced by a straight popular vote. (Heck, I'm even open to replacing the Electoral College too.) I especially think that caucuses and winner-take-all should be scrapped. I've also yet to see the merit of superdelegates given that historically, they've always sided (more or less) with the popular vote. Why even have them then, when they keep inviting accusations of a rigged system?

Roger Federer announced that he will miss the Rio 2016 Olympics and the rest of season due to a knee injury. :( Sigh, I was hoping he could finally win that one trophy that has always eluded him.

Watched movie: "lights out" (2016)
Horror movie that gets better as it goes along wherein a family fights a supernatural monster whose only apparent weakness is light. I really liked the variety of ideas for fending off the monster (though personally, I would've gone on a shopping spree for light devices and also would have tried to communicate with the monster since she spoke fluent English). I also had to suspend disbelief that the family stood any kind of chance against her, given that she had the acumen to cut the power and pull people into shadows! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Star Trek Beyond" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Like a continuation of the original Star Trek TV series in that it picks up around three years into the starship Enterprise's five-year mission. To my fascination, Kirk feels burned out and Spock wants a career change, i.e., what Ambassador Spock did (R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy). I found the first act amazing, the second act slow, and the third act strong. Lots of good humor and awe-inspiring visual effects too. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Ice Age: Collision Course" (2016) in 3D
I know in every one of my Ice Age reviews I pick on Manny as the least funny character, but this time around I'm going to give him a break...because for this installment, I found none of the characters funny. I guess the movie did have one mildly redeeming storyline for me, though: Scrat's UFO hijinks. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Jason Bourne" (2016) in D-BOX
I consider Paul Greengrass' last two Bourne films two of the best action spy thrillers ever made, so he probably should have just quit while he was ahead. I still enjoy his directing, but that's about the only compliment I have for this latest installment. The plot he co-wrote kept vexing me. I can forgive some of the coincidences and careless lapses (after all, maybe Bourne got rusty or the CIA got better), but not egregious plot holes like Bourne's hacker friend leaving him a note to meet her in public instead of just speaking to him right there in person (or at least somewhere with no cameras)! I also felt like his origin story got retconned to make his father a part of it (where did all these major players suddenly come from?), and was confused how the CIA could just continue their illegal black ops projects as if Bourne Ultimatum never happened. Side note: Maybe not the best movie to see in D-BOX. Felt like I was bull riding when the onscreen car crashes kept bucking my seat. :) Rating: 6
Slow news day
07/18/16 7:07 PM PDT

Well, I now have a clear frontrunner for least favorite music video of the year: "Famous" by Kanye West. If you ask me, the celebrities who were depicted nude in that video without their permission should sue. Taylor Swift, in particular, should totally sue Kim Kardashian for leaking that private phone conversation about the lyrics. Moreover, I found the lyrics themselves incredibly offensive, and it further proves that Kanye West wasn't really sorry for rudely interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs! Someone please explain to me why this shameless jerk is still relevant.

Watched movie: "The Secret Life of Pets" (2016) in IMAX 3D
Cute movie (especially the fluffy white dog). Not something I would call funny, emotional, or believable though. The premise reminded me of "Toy Story". Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Swiss Army Man" (2016)
At the beginning of this movie, Paul Dano finds a farting corpse (played by Daniel Radcliffe) and proceeds to ride him across the ocean like a jet ski. Things get kookier from there. Cases in point: Paul Dano uses Daniel Radcliffe's penis as a compass and then cross-dresses as a woman to go on dates with him. Oh, and their conversations range from farting to poop to masturbation. So it probably goes without saying that I found this film pretty cringeworthy and tasteless. Rating: 2
Watched movie: "Ghostbusters" (2016) in IMAX 3D
Comedic reboot that reunites Paul Feig, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy (and stars from the original movie popping in as different characters). It pains me to say it, but I simply did not find this movie funny. Too much drivel and in particular, that Kate McKinnon just annoys me (I don't like her Hillary Clinton impersonation on SNL either). Stay after the credits. Rating: 4
Greatest female tennis player of all-time
07/09/16 9:12 PM PDT

Huge congratulations to Serena Williams for finally winning that elusive 22nd Grand Slam title! I once scoffed at the notion of Serena tying Steffi Graf's record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era. It was after Serena turned 30-years-old and had just won (if I'm remembering this correctly) her 14th Grand Slam title at the 2012 Wimbledon. A tennis commentator remarked (I think half-seriously) that maybe she could win another eight to tie Steffi and I was like, yeah right. Maybe, just maybe, she could tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova at 18, was my thinking. Little did I know that after her struggles to finally reach that milestone, that she would go on to win the next three Grand Slam tournaments after that too!

I'll probably skip the Gentlemen's Wimbledon Final tomorrow morning as I don't really care who wins between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic. I'm still bitterly disappointed that Roger Federer might have blown his last best chance to win an 18th Grand Slam title following Novak Djokovic's rare upset on his side of the draw.

Well, my Rio Olympic tickets arrived in the mail. I have tickets to Michael Phelps' final two events, Usain Bolt's 100m dash (assuming he recovers from his hamstring injury in time), and the women's singles gold medal match for tennis (maybe I'll get to see Serena). Also got my travel vaccinations (sure a lot of diseases in Brazil), currency, and renewed passport. Unfortunately, no vaccine exists for Zika though.

Not sure how to feel yet about Kevin Durant joining the Warriors, as I've seen so many cases where top players joined the Lakers to no avail. But just like I never faulted LeBron James for defecting to the Miami Heat, I think Kevin Durant needs to do whatever he can to get at least one NBA championship ring in his lifetime.

Watched movie: "The Neon Demon" (2016)
Points for style and music, but just too sickening for me to dignify the movie as "art". Bad enough I had to watch the repulsiveness of the modeling world and a 16-year-old girl's sexualization in it, but the knife nightmare, her not calling the police, the necrophilia, and the cannibalism killed whatever open-mindedness I had left. So going forward, I might be done with Nicolas Winding Refn films. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Independence Day: Resurgence" (2016) in IMAX 3D
Unsurprisingly disappointing sequel to one of my favorite disaster movies of all time. I liked some parts, e.g., a couple of dramatic character deaths and the alien queen's gun, but hated others, e.g., everything with Judd Hirsch and the school bus. Most of the humor struck me as asinine, and much of the aliens' attack lacked logic for me (including why Bill Pullman could sense them). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Purge: Election Year" (2016) in Cinemark XD
Finally a Presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to outlaw The Annual Purge! In this third installment, main characters from the first two movies work to protect her from assassination during a Purge night where government officials no longer have special immunity. I loved the film's sociopolitical overtones and the unapologetic parallels to our current U.S. Presidential race (right down to the states she won on the electoral map!). I also love the novel ideas that people come up with in this Purge universe--for instance, this installment featured predatory Purge insurance, "murder tourism", civilian paramedics, and volunteer safe zones. Rating: 7
Wrong side of history
06/26/16 3:56 PM PDT

That narrow Golden State Warriors loss in game 7 sure stung, but my congratulations to LeBron James for finally leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title. I was pleased to see how emotional they got.

I never realized that Brexit (United Kingdom leaving the European Union) would turn into such a big deal. I still remember how when I vacationed in London, not a single vendor accepted my euro coin. Even when I hid it in the loose change, they always picked it out.

Watched movie: "Finding Dory" (2016) in IMAX 3D
Even though I never really cared for Dory and Marlin (and that awful gag about speaking "whale"), I found this sequel inspirational and tearjerking--mostly because it finally treated Dory's disability with the gravitas and sadness it deserved (instead of making it into a joke like the first movie did). The film didn't just contrive some quick and easy cure for it either--like any real-life handicap, she had to work on it and tough through it. Animation-wise, Pixar never ceases to amaze me. Just the chameleonic octopus alone impressed me. Definitely stay after the credits for an update to something I've been wondering about since the first film. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Now You See Me 2" (2016)
Awful villains, lame magic tricks, and an illogical twist that actually blemished my opinion of the first film. Given that I liked the whole "long game" caper and mystery in the first film, it disappointed me that this sequel failed to come up with anything remotely close. In other words, why even stage a new act if it's nowhere near as good as the previous act. Side note: Although I liked the card passing scene, it made zero sense to me that magicians would risk something so Goldbergian. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Shallows" (2016)
Scenic survival thriller wherein a Jaws-like shark strands Blake Lively (and a seagull) on a tiny islet 200 yards from shore. I found the movie pleasing to the eye, but boring and corny. Rating: 4
Two worlds, one destiny
06/17/16 7:29 PM PDT

I guess these NBA Finals have proved more intriguing than I originally thought. In Game 7, either LeBron James will finally win an NBA title for Cleveland (in the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history) or the Golden State Warriors will punctuate the greatest season in NBA history. Which leads me to wonder--am I a bandwagon fan for rooting for the Warriors, having previously been a Lakers fan? In the past, I had always shrugged the Warriors off as an Oakland team (like the A's and the Raiders) and didn't even root for them in the NBA Finals last year. I only found myself rooting for them when they had a chance to make history with the season record (using their entertaining small ball style).

To my fascination, a wild turkey family (one mother with 8-9 poults) has been wandering around outside of my workplace. (Also to my surprise, they all can flap their wings and fly.) I read that male turkeys don't help raise their own children--instead, they seek out other females to mate with. And also, once the children grow up, they all leave the mother and go their own separate ways. Seems sad, but perhaps they're actually the normal ones and we humans are the strange ones. :)

Man, AMC Theatres really seem to be cracking down on patrons sneaking into movies. At a hallway in the AMC Mercado, an employee saw me loitering by the film posters, asked to look at my ticket, and then ordered me to leave the building upon checking that the movie on my ticket had ended. Pretty draconian considering that I was just standing in the hallway--if I had actually been sneaking into an auditorium, then I would understand. Then just recently at the AMC Eastridge, an employee walked in during the trailers (before my R-rated film) and announced a random ticket check. Though judging by the droves of patrons who suddenly left the auditorium, I'm thinking this particular measure made sense.

Watched movie: "The Lobster" (2015-2016)
What a bizarre movie. Much too cynical of a film to be categorized as a romantic comedy, if you ask me. The movie takes place at a hotel that turns its singles guests into animals (of their own choosing) if they fail to find a romantic partner in 45 days. (The film never explains why this happens or why anyone would ever want to check into a hotel like this.) I found the extreme deadpan humor hilarious until something happened about halfway through the movie that really turned me off. The sterile and twisted nature of the characters kept reminding me of another film called "Dogtooth", and sure enough I verified afterward that "Dogtooth" had the exact same director. Side note: John C. Reilly losing his cool after his friend's cutting remark that as a parrot, he'd still have a lisp...genius. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Dheepan" (2015-2016)
Slow-paced Palme d'Or winner wherein an ex-soldier and two other strangers (a woman and a little girl) flee Sri Lanka, pose as a family in a ghettoish housing project in France, and start getting attached to one another. To the movie's credit, I rooted for them to succeed--but a number of plot points left me dismayed. For example, why did the ex-soldier keep provoking drug dealers, and why did he insist on jeopardizing the lives of his "family" in such a dangerous neighborhood when his "wife" had a better prospect in England?? I also got irrevocably disappointed in the "wife", and didn't understand why she decided to go back to work in that warzone. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Warcraft" (2016) in IMAX 3D
An inane mess of CGI and gobbledygook. Although I liked the main characters, I felt that almost all of their arcs ended stupidly. Just save your money and see superior fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones instead. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Conjuring 2" (2016) in Cinemark XD
Too long for me, and fraught with hauntings that struck me as incoherent rather than scary. Like if I had to explain the differences between The Conjuring rules and the Insidious rules, I don't think I could. The movie's attempts at comedy didn't work for me either, though I loved the two parts where the adults (the mother and the authorities) suddenly found the childrens' claims convincing. Character-wise, I did find myself caring about the family and whether the paranormal investigator's Amityville vision about her husband would come true. Side note: That Annabelle doll still creeps me out. Rating: 6
Finish line
06/06/16 7:01 PM PDT

Well, congratulations to Novak Djokovic for finally winning that elusive French Open, thus completing a non-calendar year Grand Slam which hasn't been done since Rod Laver in 1969. I'm dejected that Serena Williams lost her second straight Grand Slam final though. Admittedly, that Garbine Muguruza's pretty good.

I'm still impressed with those Golden State Warriors, after their thrilling comeback victory in the Western Conference Finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder wrecked my nerves. So far, the NBA Finals seem kind of dull by comparison.

Given that my home team the San Jose Sharks finally made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I made an effort to watch some of it. But alas, I just can't stand hockey.

Watched movie: "The Heiress" (1949)
Unpredictable drama wherein a shy heiress' wealthy father suspects her charming new love interest of secretly wanting her inheritance. Cynical as I am, I completely agreed with the father and felt like a prenuptial agreement would have solved everything (maybe those didn't exist back then?). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Wholly amusing but to my disappointment, lacked the depth and emotion of the previous two gems. I mostly blame the villain--I never liked him in the comic books, so I guess what chance did his movie adaptation have. To make matters worse, his movie adaptation could turn people into dust and teleport--so why couldn't he just smite the X-Men? Quicksilver had too much power too, IMHO--he made the film so cartoonish for me. Also didn't care too much for anyone's storylines--I hated the Magneto and Mystique ones in particular. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "the nice guys" (2016)
Funny noir comedy wherein Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling team up to investigate a bizarre case in 1970s Los Angeles. I enjoyed most of the humor even though Ryan Gosling's shtick as a pseudo-intellectual moron began losing flavor for me. I also felt the plot went overboard on all those lucky coincidences. Rating: 7
The Door
05/25/16 10:01 PM PDT

Wow, I actually cried during Sunday's "Game of Thrones" episode. What an emotional haymaker; an even bigger wallop than the previous episode. To me, Hodor was like the Giving Tree...always there for Bran. Afterward, I went for a drive instead of watching the Simpsons season finale. I just wasn't in the mood to laugh.

Update 5/31/2016: Another thing that made me break down during that final scene: the dignified Stark music that played as Hodor held the door. When I reflect on how profoundly Bran ruined the poor guy's life, I can't think of anybody who's sacrificed more for House Stark than Hodor.

Watched movie: "The Angry Birds Movie" (2016) in D-BOX & 3D
Mind-numbingly dumb. I actually found the video game funnier. Also felt like the film failed in its message about anger management (the main bird got vindicated despite his serious anger management problem). On the plus side, props to the impressive bird attack sequences and D-BOX motion effects. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising" (2016)
Not many laughs in this one, especially compared to the first movie. I actually found Zac Efron funnier than Seth Rogen. Nothing about the sorority really amused me except for their smartphone addiction, Shelby's argument with her father, and the "bionic woman" jump. Rating: 5
In the flesh
05/15/16 12:34 AM PDT

Man, maybe I should start carrying a camera phone. While walking through the lobby of my hotel, I actually spotted Tai from this current season of Survivor checking in at the front desk! I did a double-take because I'm so used to seeing him on a remote island every week. What would he be doing here in my hometown? I didn't approach him though--generally I don't like bothering celebrities unless they're at a public event.

In other TV news, I subscribed to HBO just to watch the latest episodes of Game of Thrones. I've become a big fan of the show, and have been getting excited about where the current season is heading. Sometimes I go on YouTube to watch real-time fan reactions to certain scenes from the show. Don't hold your breath for any YouTube clips of my own reactions, though. Most of the time I just watch TV stoically. Even when my favorite characters die (like on Game of Thrones or Walking Dead), I just gape at the screen with a blank, dumbfounded expression.

I've also starting getting into that TV series "Supernatural" recently. After various seasons of demons, angels, and even Lucifer assuming human form, the show finally revealed that one of the recurring characters is actually God--leading to a lot of interesting conversations and ironies, plus some perplexing scenes like God eating chow mein and watching...curling.

Watched movie: "Captain America: Civil War" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Cool superhero vs. superhero brawls even though when I thought about it, what did any of them have to do with the movie's thought-provoking theme about whether the Avengers need political oversight? I also got confused about what point the film tried to make about vengeance, and felt like all those different superhero arcs overstuffed the film. Spider-Man got too much screen time, if you ask me. Unlike many of the amusing comedic touches in the movie, I did not find him funny. By the way, that Secretary of State was the same guy who's always pursuing the Hulk. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Hatred & prejudice first
05/04/16 11:41 PM PDT

I've been chomping at the bit to vote in the California Presidential Primary...and now that I've finally received my voter information in the mail, both races are pretty much over. Why does California hold its primary so late? I guess I'll have to just cast an emphatic symbolic vote.

Watched movie: "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)
Cringeworthy with two main characters that irritated me to no end. I hated the treatment of women in the movie, and even felt like it romanticized misogyny. (Marlon Brando played an abusive husband, wife-beater shirt and everything.) P.S. Now that I know the context behind the famous "STELLAAA!!!" scene, I don't find it very funny anymore. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Green Room" (2016)
Not as good as the director's previous thriller, "Blue Ruin", but interesting nonetheless. Patrick Stewart played an amusingly precise white supremacist villain trying to kill a trapped rock band with the least amount of mess possible. So even though his men could easily just storm in with guns blazing, it was this overthought-out surgical approach that gave the rock band a fighting chance. I could have been dismayed by all the different mistakes the characters made, but in my opinion this director smartly understands the reality of how hard it is to think clearly in stressful real-time situations. P.S. Maybe his next film title can start with "red". Rating: 7
Et tu, Tai?
04/21/16 6:31 PM PDT

Wow, that "Survivor: Kaoh Rong" tribal council ended with one of the coldest blindsides I've ever seen. For someone as nice (and non-confrontational) as Tai to look into his closest ally's eyes and shake his head "no" instead of having his back...messed up. I should start calling him "Tai"-senberg. :)

For the first time ever, I finally got to screen a movie at an Alamo Drafthouse theater (a new one opened up in San Francisco). Each seat comes with a mini-table where you can fill out food and drink orders (including alcohol) that get served to you during the film. I ordered a burger and fries. They also strictly enforce a no talking/no texting policy. Pretty cool all in all, but I'm still smarting from the prices ($16 for the burger and $13.50 for parking!).

As for the movie itself, I think I enjoyed the preshow of ironically humorous shorts more, such as the manners tutorial and a doomsday infomercial segment.

Speaking of the Alamo Drafthouse chain, its founder/CEO rebutted AMC's idea to allow texting in theaters to attract more millenials. I actually don't care about lit phone screens in an auditorium, but the notion of more selfie-obsessed teenagers in my theater...ugh.

In other news, I read that "Game of Thrones" might end with 13 episodes (a.k.a. two shortened seasons) following the finale of season 6. I suspect it's because George R.R. Martin didn't provide enough material. Well if you ask me, the creators should just load up the final two seasons with wish fulfillment and send the fans home happy. Part of me always wondered whether George R.R. Martin meant "All men must die" as a Buddhist message. Because when I think about it, so many of Daenerys' enemies and the people on Arya's kill list have died without them having to do anything.

Watched movie: "The Invitation" (2016)
Ominously-scored horror "thriller" wherein a high-strung guy senses something wrong at his ex-wife's dinner party, but is unable to convince the other guests. Notice I put "thriller" in quotes, because man it took long for something to happen. It did have some amusingly awkward WTF scenes at least. Rating: 5
The Warriors came out to play
04/14/16 1:54 PM PDT

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on successfully finishing their season 73-9, breaking the record for best season in NBA history! And congratulations to Steph Curry on breezing through the eight 3-point shots he needed to reach an unprecedented 400 3-pointers in one NBA season! Needless to say, I was impressed. I'm glad the team prevailed because in order to watch them, I had to miss Kobe Bryant's wild 60-point retirement game.

Watched movie: "Hardcore Henry" (2016) in D-BOX
This theatrical equivalent of a first-person shooter started out fun, but then began numbing my brain. So much graphic violence with so little reprieve (a video game would have a pause button or save point at least). Nice comedic moments though (like when bystanders stared at Henry and when he tried to ride a horse). Side note: The D-BOX seat made me feel like a crash test dummy during some of those high-impact scenes. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Midnight Special" (2016)
Intriguingly mysterious Jeff Nichols film--reminiscent of "Firestarter"--wherein an eight-year-old federal fugitive, his parents, and a family friend struggle to reach a predetermined spot on a predetermined date. Although the movie started out kinda slow, it picked up once the boy began using his trippy paranormal powers. Rating: 7
Last Day on Earth
04/05/16 5:41 PM PDT

I wound up watching TV for about eight and a half hours on Sunday. Mostly because WrestleMania 32 lasted nearly five hours (six if you count the kickoff on the USA network). I could've sworn last year's show went less than four. Contrary to a lot of vocal wrestling snobs out there, I enjoyed this year's show. Though admittedly, I agree with critics of Roman Reigns (I changed the channel during his headline match to watch "The Simpsons"), and agree that Shane McMahon needs to stop risking his life on these scary stunts (could've sworn I heard the crowd chanting "Please don't die!" when he climbed to the top of the cell, which has gotten even taller after Mick Foley's famous fall). Secret crash mat or no, so many things could've gone wrong.

Minor spoiler alert for "The Walking Dead" season 6 finale: the TV series finally enacted the Lucille scene I've been dreading for much of the season, ever since the Internet spoiled for me exactly how that scene went down in the comic book. Pretty clever of the TV series to switch to first person POV like that--because the original artwork really sickened me and I couldn't imagine how such gruesome cruelty could be shown on TV. Although I was dismayed by the cliffhanger, I'm like 80-90% sure that the TV victim will match the comic book victim. Even though I verified that hardly any of the comic book characters' fates matched their TV counterparts', lately the TV series has been following the comic book so faithfully that I'm skeptic the show would just suddenly fork away from this important of a plot point.

Grudge match
03/31/16 6:52 PM PDT

Japan is releasing the ultimate J-Horror crossover this June, titled "Sadako vs. Kayako". It will feature Sadako from The Ring vs. Kayako from The Grudge. There's a trailer out and everything.

Yeesh. Following the box office success of Dawn of Justice, it looks like DC will be going forward with at least 10 more superhero movies:

  1. "Suicide Squad" (August 5, 2016)
  2. "Wonder Woman" (June 23, 2017)
  3. "The Justice League Part One" (November 17, 2017)
  4. "The Flash" (March 16, 2018)
  5. "Aquaman" (July 27, 2018)
  6. "Shazam!" (April 5, 2019)
  7. "The Justice League Part Two" (June 14, 2019)
  8. "Cyborg" (April 3, 2020)
  9. "Green Lantern Corps" (June 19, 2020)
  10. Untitled Batman reboot by Ben Affleck (TBD)

While I was at it, I checked on the next phase of superhero movies from Marvel Studios:

  1. "Captain America: Civil War" (May 6, 2016)
  2. "Doctor Strange" (November 4, 2016)
  3. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (May 5, 2017)
  4. Untitled Spider-Man reboot (July 7, 2017)
  5. "Thor: Ragnarok" (November 3, 2017)
  6. "Black Panther" (February 16, 2018)
  7. "Avengers: Infinity War - Part I" (May 4, 2018)
  8. "Ant-Man and The Wasp" (July 6, 2018)
  9. "Captain Marvel" (March 8, 2019)
  10. "Avengers: Infinity War - Part II" (May 3, 2019)
  11. "Inhumans" (July 12, 2019)

We also have another four Transformers movies to look forward to (that was sarcasm):

  1. Transformers 5 (June 23, 2017)
  2. Transformers 6 (June 8, 2018)
  3. Transformers 7 (June 28, 2019)
  4. Transformers 8 (TBD)
Watched movie: "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Overly-long with a pretty flimsy build-up for why Batman and Superman would want to fight each other. I also failed to see much value in the senate committee hearings and Lois Lane's investigation. On the plus side, I felt that Wonder Woman, Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne, and Doomsday turned out better than I expected (I hope they use that same cool Wonder Woman music in her stand-alone movie). Can't say the same for Jesse Eisenberg's lame Lex Luthor, though--every second he prattled onscreen irked me. At least they made him smart enough to see though Clark Kent's horrible disguise. Rating: 6
Us v. them
03/20/16 12:35 AM PDT

What a crazy Presidential election. I usually don't blog much about politics and religion, but come November I do plan to blog either euphoric relief or unadulterated disgust.

In related news, I'm really disappointed by how partisan the Supreme Court has become. My political science professor once lectured that the SCOTUS is supposed to decide what is right, not what is popular. That's why I hate it when Senators say "the people should decide" Scalia's replacement. To me, that's a slippery slope.

I did smile at the rhetoric from one of Ted Cruz's ads: "Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We're just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all." Thing is, the SCOTUS already legalized abortion and gay marriage even before Scalia died.

Watched movie: "Zootopia" (2016) in IMAX 3D
A thoughtfully written, thoroughly animated gem from Walt Disney Animation Studios about a diverse city of talking animals who struggle with the same problems of racism that us humans do--from politically incorrect gaffes (bunnies can only be called "cute" by other bunnies) to equal opportunity challenges (bunnies can be police officers too) to deep-seated prejudices (like the subconscious fear and distrust toward predatory animals). Even the cynical fox character had a childhood trauma that resembled mine. So yeah, I found this movie pretty timely and think that children of all ages (and certain ignorant adults) should watch it. Rating: 8
Attended performance: "Lord of the Dance Dangerous Games"
As usual, I enjoyed the ferocious toe-tapping performances much more than the ballet, prancing, singing, fiddling, fluting, and provocative dancing. The villain looked like a Borg drone this time, with minions that all looked like Judge Dredd. Special props to the rousing new dance routine that I think came from Celtic Tiger. At the end when Michael Flatley--decked out in a suave sparkly tuxedo--swaggered out (with no need for introduction) and performed a couple of toe-tap numbers, I couldn't stop smiling. I drove from San Jose to San Diego just to see one of his final performances, and it was totally worth it. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016) in RPX
I felt cheated. If you ask me, the movie spent way too much time in that bomb shelter and didn't deserve the Cloverfield branding. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Divergent Series: Allegiant" (2016) in IMAX
Finally some answers as to why post-apocalyptic Chicago really got divided into five factions (assuming it's the truth). Though I had the same criticism for this film that I did for "The Giver": that it started with an intriguing premise but turned into a mediocre action movie. I did like the visual effects and the tension between Tris and Caleb. Also, my opinion of Tris has improved. Rating: 5

I actually liked that they titled the last two Divergent films Allegiant and Ascendant instead of Allegiant - Part 1 and Allegiant - Part 2 (presumably to camouflage that moneymaking stigma of splitting the final novel into two parts). I came up with my own suggestions on how the final installments of previous young adult series could have been titled:

Sputum
03/08/16 3:12 PM PST

To my misery, I think I caught both a head cold and hay fever allergies at the same time last week. Kept sneezing from a tickle in my sinus and coughing from a sore throat. Guess I can't really complain though, given what's going on at my company (again!).

Watched movie: "London Has Fallen" (2016) in Cinemark XD
Some of the 24-like action scenes were fun, but the notion that terrorists could assassinate a bunch of world leaders so easily (and that the security for the exact same U.S. President from "Olympus Has Fallen" could be breached so easily again) insulted my intelligence. I also wasn't in the mood for xenophobic undertones given all the demagoguery in U.S. politics right now. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Omohide poro poro" (1991) a.k.a. "Only Yesterday" (2016)
Like a Studio Ghibli version of "Boyhood" in that the main character's childhood (and adulthood) felt no more interesting than my own. Although I found a lot of moments delightfully funny (for example, when characters blushed or when the director cutaway to pop culture references), I regret to say I was bored for most of the movie. Rating: 6
Voice of the world
02/29/16 4:59 PM PST

Google released an app where Morgan Freeman voices GPS directions! Now das cool. I can't believe no one thought of this before. Dude, they should make one for James Earl Jones and Jeffrey Wright. And for female voices, Alex Morgan.

Speaking of Morgan Freeman, his Best Picture announcement and Mark Rylance's shock win managed to ruin my Oscar predictions three-peat.

Watched movie: "Laura" (1944)
I wasn't able to guess the murderer, but how could I keep any facts of the case straight when even the innocent suspects were tampering with evidence and lying. :P The homicide detective's dismayingly unprofessional conduct didn't help either. Bad enough that he let suspects touch evidence and hear each other's statements, but then to jealously fall in love with the woman whose murder he was investigating! Talk about inappropriate. Side note: Did the director purposely make the plot twist look like a dream sequence? Because man what an anticlimax. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Witch" (2016)
Bleak and disquieting Shining-like horror flick wherein occult evils prey upon a devout Puritan couple's children one-by-one (starting with the baby, to my discomfort) despite the family's piety and prayers. Although long stretches went by where nothing happened, I still felt dread even during scenes as mundane as the father chopping wood. P.S. I found the ending of the movie...memorable. Rating: 6
Rented Amazon.com movie: "Atlas Shrugged III: Who Is John Galt?" (2014)
Finally made it through the whole trilogy but man, I had a tough time choking down this final installment. Straight up propaganda from the preachy dialogue to the shamelessly caricatural villains (since when do altruists believe in totalitarianism, torture, and letting people starve??). I was also dismayed how Dagny Taggart's love interest from the past two films got inexplicably marginalized. Rating: 4
Valentine's Day massacre
02/18/16 6:29 PM PST

Jeez, what kind of Valentine's Day episode was that for "The Walking Dead". The deaths came so unexpectedly that my brain mistook them for a dream sequence or someone's imagination. Is this really happening?! I gaped. This show, man--develops characters to get you invested and then just kills them off without warning.

Was Monday's X-Files episode about the Islamic terrorists supposed to be a comedy? Because it wasn't funny. Total waste of a Lone Gunmen cameo too.

I'm also starting to lose interest in that new show "Lucifer" following Monday's episode where the female detective went back to disbelieving that the title character is Satan. I don't really like how shallow he is. I thought the show would be like "Dexter", but the Lucifer character seems completely unashamed of who he is, and doesn't really take much seriously.

Watched movie: "Deadpool" (2016) in IMAX
Deadpool talks too much. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Predictions and prognostications
02/12/16 11:25 PM PST

Ugh, not happy to be reading about that Zika virus outbreak in Brazil. But I already bought the plane tickets so no turning back now. :P

Well...without further ado, here are my Oscar predictions for 2015:

Best Picture seems like a complete toss-up this year given that each major Guild Award went to a different film. So I'm just going with the PGA on this one, given that it uses the same preferential ballot system as the Academy.

Watched movie: "Regression" (2015-2016)
Slow and pretentious paranoia thriller wherein the allegations of a teenager (Emma Watson) and regressive hypnosis sessions with her family members lead a detective (Ethan Hawke) to seek proof of a secret satanic cult in their Minnesota town. Oh, and David Thewlis played the psychologist so it was like a Harry Potter reunion. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2016) in RPX
So faithful to the civility in the original "Pride and Prejudice" that I began to wonder whether the zombies were just a ruse to lure men into the world of Jane Austen. :) Amusingly, the zombie apocalypse seemed like just another nuisance to young Elizabeth Bennet (other nuisances included the pressure to marry a rich suitor, class prejudices, and that exasperating Mr. Darcy). Cast-wise, the actors and actresses seemed pretty elite and I was impressed by how well the romantic leads (Lily James and Sam Riley) made me care about the fate of their relationship. Side note: I found it curiously refreshing to see women from this era brandishing weapons in their own defense rather than relying on any men to protect them. Stay during the credits. Rating: 7
Catch 22
02/04/16 5:43 PM PST

To my chagrin, Serena Williams (uncharacteristically) lost the Australian Open final and is still one shy of the Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Just when I overcame my superstitions too. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic won his third Grand Slam singles title in a row and is now one shy of a "Djoker Slam".

Sadly, nothing really comes to mind when I try to come up with my favorite tennis match of all-time. That's because the most riveting matches I can remember got ruined by the wrong player winning. :) I might just have to go with that suspenseful 2012 US Open women's final, where Serena came two points from losing.

Watched movie: "The Finest Hours" (2016) in IMAX 3D
Solemn and thrilling historical disaster drama wherein a short-handed Coast Guard station sends a pitifully small motor lifeboat across ridiculously stormy waters to search for an oil tanker that literally ripped in half. Although Walt Disney Pictures produced the movie, it didn't feel like a Disney movie at all. I found the peril pretty gripping, from the assistant engineer (Casey Affleck) problem-solving how to keep the tanker afloat (and trying to convince the crew to listen) to the Coast Guard captain (Chris Pine) trying to will their lifeboat past the waves of a notoriously treacherous sand bar. Astonishingly, I read afterward that the film depicted the events pretty accurately and that the real-life Coast Guard crew really did chance upon where they needed to be without any kind of beacon or compass! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Kung Fu Panda 3" (2016) in RPX & 3D
Laugh-out-loud funny...until the panda village, that is. I was not amused by that place (especially the Lennie-esque panda whom to me bordered on offensive), and frowned that the cool formidable villain got beaten by them so easily (I guess I shouldn't be surprised after the first movie). Props to the gorgeous animation. Rating: 6
Rented Amazon.com movie: "Synchronicity" (2016)
A smart yet dumb "Sci-fi Noir" about a physicist who spends most of the movie obsessing over a girl he just met rather than the monumental time travel experiment that could end life as he knows it. The biggest insult to my intelligence: that the success of that multimillion-dollar experiment would hinge on a lab technician's guess over which direction is left! All in all, if you liked "Source Code" then you would probably like this movie too--though I think the ending of this film actually left me with more unanswered questions. Rating: 5
Impunity
01/26/16 5:52 PM PST

Man. While watching the 2016 Royal Rumble Match, I missed a huge elimination because my eyes had momentarily wandered away from the TV. (By the time my eyes darted back, the entrant whom I had predicted as the winner was lying outside the ring.) The match was ok, I guess. Brock Lesnar disappointed me by not making more of a splash. I also don't like it when the crowd gets "smarky" and tries to ruin the match for everybody.

Haha, I read an amusing article that questioned why Royal Rumble entrants don't try harder to exploit the no DQ loopholes in the rules. Specifically, in this most recent match:

Maybe it's time for the WWE to enforce some oversight on their Royal Rumble Match similar to how the Academy overhauled their Oscar rules to promote diversity. :)

In other Sunday programming, the premiere of that X-Files revival seemed to completely ignore what happened in the series finale. Specifically, the fate of the Cigarette-Smoking Man and the colonization by aliens on December 22, 2012. Unless maybe we're supposed to infer that those were just hoaxes, which exemplifies the exact kind of convoluted storytelling that made me sick and tired of this show.

Pound for pound
01/25/16 4:20 PM PST

That movie "Creed" reminded me of how much I love the philly cheese steaks in Philadelphia. Maybe it's just me, i.e., some kind of "placebo effect", but the philly cheese steaks here in California don't taste nearly as good. (P.S. Still annoys me that things like soup cans and paint splatters are considered art, but not the Rocky statue.)

Similarly, the best Starbucks coffee I ever had was at its birthplace first store in the Pike Place Market.

It wasn't the best coffee I ever tasted, though. That honor goes to the very first mocha I ever ordered from Seattle's Best Coffee, from a cafe located at Yosemite National Park.

As for the best pie I ever tasted, that distinction still belongs to the warm slice of cherry pie I ordered at Twede's Cafe (filming location for the Double R Diner in "Twin Peaks"). Again, this might be a "placebo effect".

Watched movie: "Creed" (2015)
I really didn't want to see another Rocky sequel, but I'm glad I gave this one a chance because it turned out to be pretty good. Much more grounded, soulful, rousing, and electrifying than I expected. This director Ryan Coogler has a bright future, I think. I'm also impressed with how Sylvester Stallone managed to mature Rocky Balboa into such a likeable and heartwrenching character (compared to those other Supporting Actor nominees, I can totally see him winning the Oscar). Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The 5th Wave" (2016)
I like disaster movies, so I felt like this film should have devoted a lot more screen time to the first three waves of the alien invasion (would've been like three disaster movies in one). Instead, the film focused on the one wave that struck me as the least interesting and the least logical. Also, the romance reminded me of "Twilight"--and as usual, the young adult characters felt shallow to me. Side note: Will the rest of the trilogy get filmed? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Boy" (2016)
Pretty slow horror flick wherein an American nanny (played by Lauren Cohan of Walking Dead fame) begins to suspect that the boy-sized doll she's babysitting is really alive. (If you're wondering why she didn't tell the parents WTF back when they first revealed their son was a doll, I'm still wondering that myself.) Admittedly, the audience's reactions made my experience more fun. Overall, I was getting bored with the movie until finally a plot twist livened things up. Rating: 5
No room for Carol
01/14/16 10:39 AM PST

My aunt who lived alone in San Francisco died, which is probably how I'll die too should I make it past 94. I never really understood the big deal about dying alone though. Maybe someday I will. Anyway, the memorial service will be next month in her hometown (not San Francisco where she lived most of her life) which makes me wonder whether she specified any burial wishes.

Looks like "Carol", Ridley Scott, and Idris Elba got snubbed from the Oscar nominations. I'm glad that "Room" made it in though, as that was one of my favorite movies of the year and it dismayed me when pundits started counting it out.

I'd rank the 2015 Best Picture nominees as follows (notice which director's film ended up last on my list for the second consecutive year):

  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" (My rating: 9)
  2. "Spotlight" (My rating: 8)
  3. "Room" (My rating: 8)
  4. "The Martian" (My rating: 8)
  5. "The Big Short" (My rating: 7)
  6. "Bridge of Spies" (My rating: 7)
  7. "Brooklyn" (My rating: 6)
  8. "The Revenant" (My rating: 6)

Also looks like "Terminator Genisys" got snubbed...from the Razzie Award nominations. I agree with the other nominations except I actually liked "Jupiter Ascending" (even though I called it "gobbledygook").

Holiday movie marathon 2015
01/04/16 9:51 PM PST

I hate L.A. traffic.

Watched movie: "The Revenant" (2015)
Scenic Alejandro González Iñárritu movie that I found surprisingly violent. Good performance by Leonardo DiCaprio...maybe he'll finally win that elusive Oscar. I also love that film technique where the voiceovers whisper (but it has to be done right to avoid coming across as a perfume commercial). Side note: That bear sure f'd Leo up. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Hateful Eight" (2015) in glorious 70mm
Quentin Tarantino, man. Unpredictable as always. I think he purposely used music and homages to "The Thing" (a blizzard trapping Kurt Russell with strangers where one or more imposters might be hiding?). But it had that usual Tarantino style of civil conversations, racism, messed up developments, and alarming acts of violence. I'm still puzzled why so little happened before the intermission--perhaps to lull us into dropping our guard for the second half? Side note: Other than some scenic winter shots at the beginning, the wider 70MM format didn't really add anything for me--mostly because almost the entire movie took place inside of a saloon. Cool souvenir roadshow program though. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Anomalisa" (2015)
An awkward albeit amusing stop-motion dramedy from Charlie Kaufman that a cynic like me could relate to. :) Except I'm not so far gone that every man, woman, and child I meet drones on in the same monotone voice. :P I did share the main character's attraction to the one female voice in the entire film, even though I couldn't identify with his loneliness. Side note: Stop-motion sex is just wrong. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Saul fia" a.k.a. "Son of Saul" (2015)
Joyless Oscar entry from Hungary that follows a prison worker around with a camera as he moves from job to job at a Nazi death camp. I thought the guy had great screen presence, but I kept frowning at his reckless desire to find a rabbi and properly bury a gas chamber victim (which led to multiple close calls with death). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Joy" (2015)
Despite the all-star cast headed by Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell's direction, and what seemed like a feel-good American Dream story, I found this semi-biopic completely lacking in both humor and emotion. For some odd reason, the movie kept wallowing in the title character's failures instead of her successes. Which is disappointing because to J-Law's credit, I spent the whole film rooting for her to succeed. Rating: 5
2015 Year in Review
12/24/15 10:10 PM PST
Best of 2015 Worst of 2015
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Watching the USWNT finally win that FIFA Women's World Cup in my favorite soccer match of all-time (which included the mother of all hat-tricks).
  2. Watching American Pharoah win the Triple Crown after a 37-year drought.
  3. (tie) Watching Serena Williams win Wimbledon to complete her second Serena Slam; and watching a great Super Bowl XLIX while snacking on mixed nuts in my hotel room.
  4. Replacing my glitchy 15+ year-old TV with a state-of-the-art HDTV.
  5. Muse playing all of my favorite songs at their concert.
Honorable mention: Receiving a free 3-month HBO subscription right before "Game of Thrones" season 5 premiered; then no longer having to avoid "Game of Thrones" spoilers.
  1. Losing long-time colleagues to Project Chrome.
  2. A self-diagnosed sinus infection causing me to feel dizziness for weeks whenever I tilted my head or got up too quickly.
  3. Serena Williams blowing her best chance at a Calendar Grand Slam in quite possibly the most depressing upset in U.S. tennis history.
  4. My Toyota Corolla odometer freezing at 299,999 miles and becoming an ongoing nuisance.
  5. My Mom's memorial tree vanishing without a trace.
Honorable mention: The California drought causing my workplace to mulch trees and uproot plants and grass.
Movies
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
    "Magnificent eye-popping insanity..."
  2. "Inside Out"
    "Bittersweet and adventurously brainy."
  3. "Spotlight"
    "Using keen rhetoric, dry wit, screen presence, and even subtle visual cues...this film excelled at stimulating both my emotions and intellect."
  4. "Room"
    "...it featured enough powerful scenes to keep me engaged."
  5. "Shaun the Sheep Movie"
    "Enjoyable, touching claymation film from Aardman Animations that really tickled my funny bone."
  6. "It Follows"
    "A refreshingly creative, electronically-scored horror thriller..."
  7. "The Martian"
    "Intellectually stimulating astronaut movie..."
  8. "Ex Machina"
    "Eerily provocative A.I. movie...really haunted me intellectually."
  9. "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens"
    "Overall I liked it, and felt like J.J. Abrams did right by the returning 'Star Wars' characters."
  10. "Time Lapse"
    "Impressively smart time/causality movie..."
  1. "[·REC]4"
    "...the quality of these [REC] sequels is really starting to deteriorate into "direct-to-video" territory. They should probably just stop."
  2. "Terminator Genisys"
    "Convoluted head-spinning time travel mess that I penalized for ruining some perfectly good James Cameron canon."
  3. "The Lazarus Effect"
    "Forgettable and undaring, from the weak PG-13 horror to the overall lack of answers."
  4. "Fantastic Four"
    "Fantastic fail."
  5. "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!"
    "Still bad, but tolerable thanks to all the celebrity appearances..."
  6. "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter"
    "...I honestly believed she needed psychological help."
  7. "Pixels"
    "Basically an Adam Sandler movie with video games rather than a video games movie with Adam Sandler."
  8. "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"
    "Mean-streaked albeit occasionally funny..."
  9. "Predestination"
    "...'The Mother of All Cosmic Improbabilities' because WTF."
  10. "Pan"
    "...frowned at all the Hollywood tropes..."
Songs
  1. "Style" Taylor Swift
  2. "Blank Space" Taylor Swift
  3. "Stand By You" Rachel Platten
  4. "Shots" Imagine Dragons
  5. "Heavy Crown" Iggy Azalea f/ Ellie Goulding
  1. "Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae)" Silento
  2. "Tomboy" Diana Espir featuring Nelly
  3. "Doing It" Charli XCX Featuring Rita Ora
  4. "FourFiveSeconds" Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney
  5. "Pretty Girls" Britney Spears f/ Iggy Azalea
Music video "Style" Taylor Swift "Photograph" Ed Sheeran
TV series "Game of Thrones" "The Simpsons"
Commercial GEICO Insurance cat commercial where if you're a cat, you ignore people because it's what you do Chevys Fresh Mex "Guactoberfest" commercial where annoying customers chant for guacamole
Movie trailer (tie) 2oolander and The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens Jem and the Holograms
The Force is strong with this one
12/23/15 5:41 PM PST

Unsurprisingly, Star Wars 7 obliterated the box office records for opening weekend in the U.S. (and worldwide). I ended up screening it opening weekend because I didn't want to accidentally stumble onto a spoiler. To the Internet's credit, I surfed for spoilers afterwards and didn't spot any overt ones until I clicked on certain articles or read certain comment threads. I noticed Twitter's a really bad place for spoilers.

Haha, bad publicity for the ArcLight Hollywood. First, Quentin Tarantino blasted them for breaking their commitment to show "The Hateful Eight" at their Cinerama Dome (which also affects me as I had hoped to screen it there); then one of their projectors broke down during Star Wars 7 and restarted too far ahead. That actually happened to me during the second Lord of the Rings movie and to this day, I still don't know what happened in the scenes I missed. At least nowadays, everything's digital so the projectionist can just jog to the right spot (assuming they know where it is).

Attended concert: "Muse: Drones World Tour" with Phantogram
Dat VOICE. Hypnotic. To my amazement, the band played every single song that I ever liked from them including longshots like "Undisclosed Desires" and "Time Is Running Out". Though I finally concluded that "Madness" is now my favorite song of theirs, when listening to it live put me in a veritable trance. Side note: Not happy that the Oracle Arena charged me $40 for parking, but all in all I still felt I got my money's worth. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" (2015) in RPX & 3D
Overall I liked it, and felt like J.J. Abrams did right by the returning "Star Wars" characters. The movie had a lot of good humor that the prequel trilogy seemed to lack. I did question one of the creative choices though (first "Star Trek", now this?), and felt like the plot had some glaring coincidences (The Force notwithstanding). Side note: That crossguard lightsaber makes sense to me now when I look at how its owner overcompensates. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Big Short" (2015)
Like a disaster flick in that it jumps between multiple characters prior to the financial crisis of 2007-2008...except that in order for these characters to win (due to the ballsy bets they all placed), their ridiculed forecasts against the American housing market have to come true. Everything about the movie reminded me of "The Wolf of Wall Street", i.e., the overdirection, over-the-top stockbrokers, characters breaking the fourth wall, and even an appearance by Margot Robbie. I also saw parallels to the author's earlier book, Moneyball, in that the characters began second-guessing themselves. Rating: 7
The olden days
12/13/15 3:01 PM PST

I'm still not quite sure what makes someone a cinephile, but I'm convinced that I qualify given the habits I've developed over the last few years. Specifically, I've made it a point to...

Consequently, I guess I'll try to attend one of the limited screenings for the 70mm roadshow release of "The Hateful Eight" starting on Christmas Day. Or at a minimum, I'll try to see it in its original "Glorious Ultra Panavision 70" format (which requires a much wider screen and specially equipped cinemas).

Watched movie: "Brooklyn" (2015)
Slow albeit occasionally emotional Oscar contender wherein an aspiring accountant (Saoirse Ronan) has to choose between marriage to an Italian plumber in 1950s New York vs. life with her lonely mother and an Irish suitor in Ireland. Quite the dilemma considering how bored I felt toward both of these futures. :P But in all seriousness, returning to New York--like she promised--seemed like a no-brainer to me, and it annoyed me that she would even entertain the idea of staying in Ireland...PLUS she wouldn't have gotten in this mess had she disclosed that she was already with someone! Anyway. To me the funniest scenes came from her boarding house in Brooklyn--they should make that place into a sitcom. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Carol" (2015)
An even slower Oscar contender about a secret lesbian romance in 1950s New York. I'd liken it to watching a flower, waiting for it to bloom. Ironically though, despite how long it took for something to happen between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the timing still felt wrong to me given where they were in their lives. This realism might be why their romance continued to haunt me even after the movie ended. Rating: 7
Hunger Games: The Panem Menace
12/03/15 10:17 PM PST

Well, I guess the Hunger Games franchise finally concluded...or has it? I heard rumors that Lionsgate wants to keep it alive somehow, possibly in the form of a prequel or a sequel. Personally, I wouldn't mind movies that cover past Hunger Games. I couldn't help noticing that Haymitch's backstory never came up during any of the films, even though book Katniss reviewed his Hunger Games (a historically significant Quarter Quell) and discovered what originally made him an alcoholic.

I felt Johanna Mason had an interesting Hunger Games too, which the movies never touched upon.

Watched movie: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (2015) in RPX
This might be the first time I've ever called a movie "underdirected". I had actually hoped for something more melodramatic, e.g., musical swells, sentimentality, and maybe even some slow motion. Because in my opinion, only raw emotion could have saved this storyline. But to my disappointment, the same grievances I had about the book came through on film and the scenes that I actually looked forward to either fell flat for me or got cut altogether (one exception: Finnick's last stand turned out pretty cool). Side note: That insult Peeta hurled at Katniss...wow. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Good Dinosaur" (2015) in 3D
Less ambitious than other Pixar films in that the premise basically amounted to talking dinosaurs. I still found the movie beautiful, funny, and tearjerking though. Rating: 7
It was a dark and stormy night.
11/23/15 12:39 AM PST

Still shaking my head that Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey to win the UFC bantamweight championship in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. I'm convinced that Rousey tried to outbox her instead of relying on her effective armbar submission. It was like "Rocky III" in that I feel like fame got to Rousey's ego--in the news I kept seeing bravado like retiring undefeated, winning world championships in other combat sports, beating Mayweather in a fight, filming a movie about herself, wanting to wrestle in WWE, and disrespecting her opponent with nary any provocation. On the plus side, I do feel like this loss added credibility to women's MMA as now people can't complain that Rousey only won against unworthy challengers.

Speaking of which, I had Ronda Rousey on my personal shortlist for 2015 Sportsman of the Year...but not anymore. :P I also ruled out both Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams due to their unfortunate failures in capturing the calendar Grand Slam. So I've actually narrowed down my shortlist to two contenders: Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Golden Ball winner Carli Lloyd. I'm actually leaning toward Carli Lloyd because of her unprecedented performance at that World Cup tournament and that mind-blowing half-field goal in the final. Although American Pharoah did end a 37-year Triple Crown drought, that Triple Crown is something 11 other racehorses have already accomplished.

I also might be biased because if I had to choose just one feel-good victory this year at the cost of all others, I would've picked the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Speaking of broken undefeated streaks...as part of the celebration of 25 years of Undertaker, WWE posted a video about the end of his Streak at WrestleMania XXX. I spotted myself at the end of the video, but it's deceptive in that I never attended WrestleMania XXX (that clip was from WrestleMania XXVIII). When the Undertaker's Streak ended, I was sitting at home watching my TV in dumbfounded disbelief wondering whether the referee had miscounted. Then unadulterated dismay when I saw the "21-1" graphic.

Watched movie: "Room" (2015)
Poignant drama that follows a kidnap victim (locked inside of a furnished shed for seven years) and her five-year-old son (locked inside of the shed all his life) as she tells him the truth about the outside world and builds up their nerve for an escape attempt. Actually, the movie seemed to only follow her son because to my disappointment, some really important moments for the mother happened off-screen because I presume he wasn't there to witness them. In summary, although the film moved slowly, it featured enough powerful scenes to keep me engaged. P.S. Even a cynic like me had trouble believing that the media would stoop to such insensitive questions! I was also incredulous that a grandfather could act that shamefully. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Spotlight" (2015)
Speaking of the media, this Oscar contender successfully inspired me on the merits of investigative reporting without resorting to anything sappy, spoon-fed, or preachy. Using keen rhetoric, dry wit, screen presence, and even subtle visual cues (like how the characters paused or sprung into action), this film excelled at stimulating both my emotions and intellect. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "The Peanuts Movie" (2015) in 3D
To my delight, this 3D computer-animation of Peanuts managed to shoehorn almost all of my favorite gags in, such as the hilarious winter dancing. (No Lucy missing the baseball, but oh well.) But huh?! The little red-haired girl actually speaking to Charlie Brown? Charlie Brown successfully flying a kite? Charlie Brown making gallant choices? Snoopy finally thwarting the Red Baron? I felt like now that Charles M. Schulz is no longer with us, his descendants decided to lavish Peanuts fans with wish fulfillment. What will we see next, Charlie Brown finally kicking Lucy's football? :) Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
That Plan Voodoo that you didn't do
11/12/15 2:17 PM PST

Looks like a player I originally endorsed finally got voted out of Survivor: Cambodia - Second Chance: Andrew Savage. Admittedly, he had some kind of air about him that was rubbing me the wrong way. Like he would be cold enough to scheme a blindside of Spencer, but then get self-righteous toward other players who would dare to make their own plots.

I was greatly puzzled by his parting words that no one foresaw Kelley Wentworth playing an immunity idol. Surely this possibility must have crossed their mind, given that they had just got done splitting their votes against Kass in the previous tribal council! If it truly did not cross his mind, then he deserved to go home.

Hopefully the next episode will explain why NINE different players saw it necessary to vote for Kelley. Because it was even safer to split the votes this tribal council (6-3 would have sufficed) than the last one where the alliances sought a 7-6 majority! Maybe they feared Joe would follow through on his sub-alliance with the bottom three girls?

P.S. Anyone see the irony of Kelley teaming with Ciera? :)

Watched movie: "Spectre" (2015) in RPX
Despite the revival of James Bond's most personal enemy (and supposed "author of all his pain"), I felt like Bond took him too lightly and basically reverted back to his old smug self--even, to my chagrin, conversing over the phone during a high-speed car chase. The main highlights for me: the opening fight sequence, the melancholy opening theme by Sam Smith, and the fight with Batista. Though in conclusion, I hope the next installment concentrates less on repackaging past 007 material and more on breaking some new ground (for example, how about a love interest who lasts longer than one movie?). Side note: Why did Blofeld's trap have a net and speedboat in it?? Rating: 6
Crowning achievement
11/05/15 7:20 PM PST

Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals for winning the World Series this time. I was impressed by how many times they came from behind in the late innings. (I rooted for them because I felt bad about how Madison Bumgarner crushed their dream last year.)

In other news, my photos from the WWE event finally developed. :)

Rented Amazon.com movie: "The Final Girls" (2015)
Amusing and bittersweet dramedy wherein a teenager, on the third anniversary of her mother's death, ends up trapped with a group of friends inside of a famous slasher film that her mother played a camp counselor in...leading them to exploit the rules of the movie to try to defeat the machete-wielding villain. Some parts got corny, but I did find the teenager's bond with her mom's character touching. Rating: 7
Beast incarnate
10/30/15 6:20 PM PDT

Well, still waiting for my WWE Hell in a Cell 2015 photos to develop (takes over a week now). Because I still use 35mm film, the photo department had to ship the rolls to Arizona to process. They won't even send back negatives with the prints--only a photo CD. So it looks like once my film rolls run out, I'll need to shop for a digital camera. :)

Regarding the event, I finally got to see a post-UFC Brock Lesnar match. Even saw blood which is banned by WWE's PG rating, requiring a ringside doctor to interrupt the match, glue the wound shut, and wipe away the blood to a chorus of boos. In what I considered the highlight of the night, Brock finally shoved that doctor onto the mat to a chorus of cheers (and rumor has it this was unscripted!).

The other Hell in a Cell Match between Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt turned out pretty good as well.

The Dudley Boyz match disappointed me the most in that they performed none of their vintage table spots and didn't even execute their finishing move. Bah.

Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt
Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker
Stairs

To my confusion, the TitanTron remained off most of the time. I guess that forces the TV audience to stay focused on the ring instead of looking off to the side.

Watched movie: "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" (2015) in 3D
Well, the premise of a video camera that could actually see the paranormal activity certainly hooked me in--but just as I expected, the demon's smoke monster-like appearance proved nowhere near as scary as what my mind had imagined. It also felt really gimmicky how the camera kept making the CGI effects pop out in 3-D. I'd rather the filmmakers had just innovated new scares instead a la the first three films. Rating: 5
Wednesday, October 21 2015 4:29 PM PDT
10/23/15 5:06 PM PDT

In the spirit of Back to the Future Day, i.e., October 21, 2015 (the date Marty and Doc Brown travelled forward to in Back to the Future Part II), I re-watched the first two Back to the Future films on demand. I loved the first movie as a kid and I find I still love it today.

The second film feels dated to me now given how it depicted fashion, levitation, and flying cars (looks like it got the Chicago Cubs World Series prediction wrong too). To my amusement, Marty and Doc Brown arrived at Jimmy Kimmel Live where he updated them on current events such as cronuts, selfies, and Donald Trump.

I do think it's mind-blowing how far personal computing has come since the Apple //e I programmed on in the 1980's, e.g., Internet, social media, e-mail, texting, video streaming, smart phones, GPS.

Watched movie: "Steve Jobs" (2015)
For a guy who believed in user friendliness, this biopic sure made him look unfriendly and difficult to comprehend. To my confusion, the movie glossed over the Apple ][ and iPod and mostly fixated on his failings (including his relationship with Lisa). A lot of key events either fleeted by in flashbacks or got mentioned in passing, in order to focus on three specific product launches where Jobs got into some heated backstage arguments (including a couple of cringeworthy ones with Steve Wozniak). And when I say arguments, I mean the typical Aaron Sorkin kind where the snark and mental gymnastics race along until they wear out their welcome. (I also hate it when characters start having two conversations at once a la House, M.D.) Rating: 6
Post-Streak
10/20/15 2:15 PM PDT

After over two years of abstention from both airline flights and WWE events, I finally decided to attend an upcoming WWE pay-per-view event here in California. I couldn't resist the "final chapter" Hell in a Cell Match between Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar.

I would actually rather that the Undertaker win this one. If you ask me, the WWE has built Brock Lesnar into such a superbeast that nobody on the active roster can credibly challenge him anymore. Plus Brock already got such a monumental win over the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX that I question whether these past two matches will even be remembered (case in point: does anyone remember that Ladder Rematch between Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon at SummerSlam 1995?).

Can't say I'm looking forward to the Hell in a Cell Match between Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt. Both of these wrestlers bore me. I literally change the channel when Roman Reigns talks on the mic, and rarely ever understand Bray Wyatt's promos (I never cared for The Ultimate Warrior's incomprehensible rants either).

I was hoping to see a Tables Match between The Dudley Boyz vs. The New Day, but I guess WWE is saving that for TLC?

I think in total, I've only regretted missing three WWE events since the last one I attended:

Watched movie: "Crimson Peak" (2015) in IMAX
Colorful and grisly like "Suspiria", but nowhere near as scary. Mostly because the CGI ghosts looked totally fake and because the haunted mansion looked and felt like Hogwarts (complete with indoor weather). Also don't know whether Guillermo del Toro ever saw Hitchcock's "Rebecca" or "Notorious", but man the plots seemed similar. So if you liked "Suspiria", "Rebecca", or "Notorious", this movie might feel like a knock off. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Bridge of Spies" (2015)
Stirring historical drama, directed by Steven Spielberg, about a Cold War event where the U.S. and Soviet Union considered exchanging captured spies in Berlin. Tom Hanks plays the American lawyer who not only negotiates for the exchange, but tries to expand the deal to free an American student from East Germany too. It felt like some kind of high-stakes poker game in that Tom Hanks had to bluff, gamble with the CIA's chips, and figure out each negotiator. Some of the heartstring playing scenes got too corny for my taste, but one point Tom Hanks made about due process for the Russian spy really resonated with me. Rating: 7
Garn scale
10/11/15 4:21 PM PDT

Thanks to some food poisoning I self-diagnosed a couple of weeks ago, I began avoiding cucumbers, tacos, and the food trucks that visit my workplace. Unfortunately, since the symptoms didn't hit me until the middle of the night, I still don't know which food made me sick. The chill in my nerve endings got so bad I finally had to take an Advil to get to sleep.

I also came really close to throwing up and losing that 29-year streak of mine, but the streak endures. :) The two other closest times my streak came under jeopardy: that time I got space sick during the zero gravity flight, and that time I got airsick on a plane and had to smell the vomit from the kid in front of me.

Watched movie: "Hotel Transylvania 2" (2015) in 3D
Laugh-out-loud funny, which I guess is a testament to animator Genndy Tartakovsky's comedic genius considering that both Adam Sandler and Kevin James star in the movie. Some parts got disconcerting, but overall I enjoyed it. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Martian" (2015) in RPX & 3D
Intellectually stimulating astronaut movie wherein a marooned botanist (Matt Damon) problem solves how to survive long enough on Mars to get rescued. Seemed a lot more scientifically factual than Ridley Scott's previous sci-fi films. Funny how out of all the space technology I saw, the toilet that vacuum sealed the poop might have fascinated me the most. :) Lingering question: after the crop disaster, why couldn't Matt Damon just re-plant and re-fertilize his potatoes? Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Pan" (2015) in 3D
Prequel to Peter Pan where apparently Peter and his archenemy Captain Hook started out as friends. It actually bothered me how closely Hook resembled Han Solo to Peter's Luke Skywalker. I also frowned at all the Hollywood tropes, particularly the nick-of-time rescues, the romantic comedy between Tiger Lily and Hook, and the sappiness with Peter's mother. On the plus side, I found the flying pirate ships pretty cool. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Walk" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Harrowing caper/suspense film that recreates the illegal, totally insane high-wire act that Philippe Petit performed between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Ironically, I felt that the story itself walked a fine line between bravery and hubris. I would probably lean toward hubris when he kept tempting fate with all those daredevil stunts (like laying down on the wire?!) instead of just walking straight across. Though admittedly, I enjoyed the policemen's reactions when he kept disobeying their orders to come in. :D Rating: 7
Movie recommendations
10/02/15 11:24 AM PDT

In the spirit of At the Movies, I made movie recommendations to my friends and then sought film clips on YouTube to help tease each movie:

Watched movie: "Everest" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Exhilarating cinematography that really brought Everest to life, making it look stark, majestic, and cruel. I could feel the mountaineers' suffering and then their cathartic relief when they reached the summit. Then as a result of the blizzard, the second half of the movie managed to wreak havoc on everything that the first half of the movie had romanticized. Not that an exploit this crazy would have ever made it onto my "goals list" anyway. :P Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Sicario" (2015) in Cinemark XD & Auro Sound
A taut but somewhat farfetched thriller wherein an anti-drug cartel task force strings an FBI liaison along on their missions without really telling her the objectives, rules of engagement, or who she's working with. Which really dismayed me because by not forewarning her about what amounted to black ops, they risked getting her killed or compromising the whole operation! Rating: 7
Now or never
09/24/15 10:34 AM PDT

Loved that hidden immunity idol twist in the Survivor: Cambodia - Second Chance premiere. Ordinarily I get bored during the tribal challenges (and tend to fast-forward through them if I DVR'd the episode), but this particular tribal challenge gripped me like some kind of Hitchcockian thriller. Man that was suspenseful, waiting and waiting for Kelley to build up the nerve to snatch that idol while no one was looking! It reminded me fondly of that final tribal challenge in Heroes vs. Villains tribal challenge where the Heroes smuggled an idol to Russell.

Really hated that twist where the tribe suddenly had to vote someone out before they were ready. In general, I hate it when twists, rocks, or unfair advantages decide the outcome of a Survivor season (just like I hate it when referees decide the outcome of a soccer game). Moreover, I see this twist scaring future Survivor players into forging more of those "flash alliances" that bore me so much.

Finally, I don't understand why the editors kept cutting to Jeff Varner talking about how disoriented he is. I would have rather heard more about what Shirin and Spencer were plotting, but oh well.

Update 10/1/2015: Messed up what happened to Shirin and Spencer, but it made for some great drama. Next week, another twist where the two tribes split into three? If it ends up saving Spencer, I approve (but knowing his Charlie Brown luck he'll end up with Kass, Woo, and Abi or maybe even a second "Brains" tribe, hahaha). I'm rooting for "new school" as I fear that "old school" could make this season boring.

Sneak Attack by Roger
09/21/15 4:11 PM PDT

Well, Novak Djokovic now has 10 Grand Slam titles thanks to that latest depressing win over Roger Federer (despite his cool SABR attacks). Now that Djokovic has reached double-digits while Andy Murray is still at two (tied with Stan Wawrinka), I think the media needs to retcon this notion of a "Big Four". It's never been more than a "Big Three", people. :) While I'm at it, I get annoyed by that term "Golden Slam" (when a player coincidentally wins the Olympic gold medal plus all four Grand Slam tournaments within the same calendar year), and still think that the term "Grand Slam" should just mean winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in a row.

I saw articles speculating on why the US Open crowd blatantly cheered against Djokovic. My guess is that like me, they really wanted Federer to capture that elusive 18th Grand Slam title. Federer just seems like the nicest guy, while his top competitors act like babies when they don't get their way.

Watched movie: "The Visit" (2015)
Found footage film by M. Night Shyamalan that actually had a lot of good humor and personality in it. Fun WTF scenes too. I could've done without the diaper (I couldn't get that gross image out of my head) and the obligatory vanquishing of personal demons though. Side note: I actually did not predict that plot twist at all, but I blame M. Night Shyamalan's previous movies for warping what I've come to expect from him. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Lang Tu Teng" a.k.a. "Wolf Totem" (2015) in IMAX 3D
A scenic and IMHO, pretentious Oscar entry from China wherein a student shepherd raises a Mongolian wolf cub as his people feud with the cub's starving wolf pack. I probably would have liked the movie better had I shared the shepherd's insatiable fascination with wolves. Personally, I don't care for wolves and would never want to meet one much less keep one as a pet. :P Props to the animal sequences. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Scorch Trials" (2015) in Barco Escape
"Phase Two" of the Maze Runner series where now instead of running from Grievers, the young adults spend the whole movie running from WCKD, zombies, and solar storms. I observed so little plot and character development that I'm convinced this whole installment could've been skipped. Perhaps a big Machiavellian twist could have saved the film, but to my surprise I guess the WCKD leader was telling the truth! All in all, the movie did have a couple of redeeming qualities IMHO: a) the panoramic landscapes that looked magnificent in the three-screen Barco Escape experience, and b) the promising tension between Thomas and Teresa. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Black Mass" (2015)
I found that Johnny Depp character distastefully creepy and hard to watch for two hours. But I liked the whole story about how Whitey Bulger exploited the FBI. Rating: 6
"If I look back, I am lost."
09/11/15 3:36 PM PDT

An unseeded semi-finalist spoiled Serena Williams' bid for a Calendar Grand Slam and I'm still sick about it. It never once crossed my mind that this particular player could pull off the upset. Man that's so depressing. My brain came up with the following rationalizations to help me cope:

Watched movie: "The Transporter Refueled" (2015) in D-BOX
Stylish with some suave professionalism and fun action scenes, though a bunch of plot holes stuck out enough to bother me. For instance, Anna inexplicably lying about the number of passengers, the girls recruiting Frank Martin's kidnapped father into their Rube Goldberg-like heist (?!), and one of the girls magically bouncing back from bullet surgery. Plus for Frank to combat those potentially armed security guys instead just driving through/past them struck me as inexcusably arrogant. Rating: 6
D.O.P.
09/03/15 5:31 PM PDT

The Internet is really starting to alarm me. One misspoken sentence (even if said in private) can now spark outrage and cyberbullying all across the Web. And nowadays it's like there's no shame to what some people post, from nude photo leaks to videotaped murders. It's also easy to snark at that Ashley Madison hack, but to me if a company that dedicated to privacy could get hacked, what chance do the rest of the business sites on the Internet have?

On a side note, that new Google Autocomplete prediction feature can be messed up sometimes, when I'm typing celebrity names and the most popular search queries about them automatically display underneath the field. Fortunately my name always brings up the music artist, but for other people I've seen a lot of unflattering predictions come up. Interestingly, I read in the Google help that you can ask that your personal information (like bank account numbers or nude photo leaks) be removed from the search results.

Watched movie: "Sinister 2" (2015)
Continuation of the first movie which to my disinterest, followed the kids this time around. Now that I know where the film reels come from, the "home movies" began putting me off instead of creeping me out. But I did find one redeeming quality in this installment: the return of a character from the previous film (Ex-Deputy So & So (?)) who became dedicated to stopping Bughuul. Rating: 5
Dead rising
08/24/15 3:45 PM PDT

I liked the Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar match at SummerSlam, and have no complaints about it (other than my wish that this had been the Streak match instead of that WrestleMania debacle). The Undertaker--despite his age--looked like a credible opponent for Brock, and even took some suplexes. As far as I'm concerned, the WWE can go ahead and close this chapter...and start planting seeds for Undertaker vs. Sting.

I got bored watching the "Fear the Walking Dead" pilot. Mostly because all that family drama seemed so mind-numbingly trivial in lieu of the zombie apocalypse to come. But I still look forward to seeing what we missed while Rick Grimes was in that coma. :)

Update 9/1/2015: I keep forgetting that these Fear the Walking Dead characters don't know zombies that well. What folly watching the main character trying to reason with one, and watching a student futilely stabbing it with a tiny knife!

Watched movie: "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (2015) in IMAX
Not much plot, but I enjoyed all the eloquent dialogue and style (including one particularly funny scene where the male spies bickered over women's fashion). Haha, man that Henry Cavill character was suave. Though I did feel that the movie went overboard with how little he took seriously. :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Phoenix" (2014-2015)
A serious drama--not a comedy--wherein a Holocaust survivor's reconstructed face fools her husband into thinking she can impersonate his wife to inherit a family fortune...leading him to unwittingly coach his own wife on how to mimic herself (too hard for me to explain her motives but basically there's strong circumstantial evidence that the Nazis had gotten him to give her up). The whole thing felt like a soap opera to me, and I kept wondering how much longer I had to put up with this charade. But somehow the movie received a 99% on rottentomatoes.com. Rating: 5
License to creep
08/14/15 11:34 PM PDT

I read some interesting rumors about who might sing the next James Bond opening:

Sam Smith, Florence + the Machine, and Ellie Goulding all strike me as too high-pitched for a Bond opening. Radiohead would be interesting, to say the least. I also got to thinking that Muse would be an intriguing choice too.

Watched movie: "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (2015) in IMAX
In theory, I really liked this idea of a "rogue nation" (basically a worldwide union for disgruntled spies)--but in practice, how could you trust any of them and wouldn't it be like herding cats? Case in point: the double-double-crossing female spy whom the villain kept trusting over and over again (inexplicably). While I'm at it, for a villain made to look like the spy equivalent of Moriarty, he sure disappointed me. Side note: Cool motorcycles (even cooler when I re-watched the movie in D-BOX). Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Fantastic Four" (2015) in Cinemark XD
Fantastic fail. Plenty of convoluted special effects but little in the way of humor or emotion--or for that matter, any kind of personality at all. The glimmers of character development (for example, the romantic tension and Reed Richards' guilt) just seemed to sputter out. A big shame because I always considered the characters' personal storylines and relationships (for example, The Thing's self-disgust and Dr. Doom's obsession with proving himself smarter than Reed) to be the comic book's best quality. The Dr. Doom in this film bored me and confused me with his inconsistent powers. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Stanford Prison Experiment" (2015)
Head-shakingly irritating but mostly because of the subject matter, a real-life prison study at Stanford University in 1971. Cynical as I am, I refuse to believe that a college experiment of randomly selected guards and prisoners would organically turn into some kind of Abu Ghraib within a matter of hours! I keep questioning how much kayfabe factored into the guards' abusive behavior and how much financial need factored into the prisoners' subservience. Or given that all of the volunteers went to college, perhaps some kind of "hazing" mentality factored in? Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Gift" (2015)
I only saw this psychological thriller because of its high rating on rottentomatoes.com. I liked the film's unpredictability and its realistic exploration of "one-sided friendship"...but as with all American revenge movies, it paled to "Oldboy". :) I was also reminded of another psychological thriller that I liked better, Michael Haneke's "Caché". Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Shaun the Sheep Movie" (2015)
Enjoyable, touching claymation film from Aardman Animations that really tickled my funny bone. Those humans in the movie, man--hilarious. They basically spent the whole film uttering noises, gesturing, and making funny faces. I even found humor in the little details such as the pictures on the farmer's bags. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 8
12-0
08/04/15 5:31 PM PDT

Haha, another quick win by undefeated UFC champ Ronda Rousey. I watched a couple of Rousey's previous MMA fights for free on my cable box, and cringed when one of her opponents refused to tap out to her armbar submission. Basically if the opponent won't tap out, then Rousey has to snap the arm!

Watched movie: "Mr. Holmes" (2015)
This fictional Vertigo-like drama follows Sherlock Holmes at 93 years of age, when he's retired and deteriorating both mentally and physically. I braced for something depressing (like Sherlock losing his dignity or dying of boredom), but instead Ian McKellen managed to portray him with both humor and distinction. The film also flashed back to his final case, which I didn't find very good (I guess the real mystery was why it traumatized him into retiring). The movie's lack of insights also disappointed me--I wanted to know less about the housekeeper and her boy, and more about what Sherlock thought about life and nuclear warfare. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Ant-Man" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Humorously directed and trippy. The visual macro/micro effects left me awestruck. Even the villain's computer presentation was cool. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Pixels" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Contrived, un-funny, un-romantic, illogical, wrong (biggest plothole = the cheat codes), and stupid. Basically an Adam Sandler movie with video games rather than a video games movie with Adam Sandler. Good special effects though. Rating: 4
R.I.P. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015)
07/31/15 5:48 PM PDT

Public eye
07/24/15 5:05 PM PDT

Haha, not sure if I can ever bring myself to erase the USWNT's 2015 FIFA World Cup semi-final and final from my DVR. I still re-watch the clips from time to time, and particularly enjoy the players' visceral slow-motion reactions. To my disappointment, the broadcast barely showed any reaction shots to the mind-blowing goal where Carli Lloyd chipped the goalkeeper from the midstripe. Too bad the technology's not there yet for a TV viewer to be able to shuttle back to that moment in time and see the look on everyone's faces. At least two players called that moment their favorite of the tournament (I saw a couple of pictures where Hope Solo looked uncharacteristically overcome with emotion), and I myself found that goal so surreal that I just stared at the TV with my mouth open.

As for the USMNT's loss to Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final...facepalm.

Regarding this whole Hulk Hogan scandal, I'm actually trying to ignore it due to my contempt for people's private conversations being recorded without their consent and released to the public. If he had ranted this stuff while running for President or licking donuts in a public place, that'd be different.

Watched movie: "Ted 2" (2015)
Mildly entertaining even though most of the jokes fell flat for me (especially the celebrity cameos and the recurring gag about Google). Plus I've always found Seth MacFarlane's attempts at drama cringeworthy and insincere. I did find the court battle over Ted's civil rights timely given the recent legalization of gay marriage (but I didn't find the lawyers' arguments all that compelling). Side note: Haha, I didn't even catch that Michael Dorn was "cosplaying" as Worf. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957)
A snarky, verbose courtroom drama that dragged for me until the title character was finally revealed. Unfortunately, since I knew beforehand that Agatha Christie penned this story, I was able to successfully forecast the big twist. But a couple of surprises still caught me off guard. Rating: 6
Watched TV movie: "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!" (2015)
Still bad, but tolerable thanks to all the celebrity appearances (for some reason George R.R. Martin's out of the blue cameo stood out for me the most). I actually had a problem with the lapses in physics throughout the movie...which sounds strange, I know, considering the premise (converging sharknadoes). I also disliked the gimmicky ending, and felt concerned that Tara Reid's feelings could get really hurt by the resulting tweets. Rating: 4
Serena Slam 2.0
07/14/15 6:40 PM PDT

Well, Roger Federer lost again to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final despite one of the craziest tiebreaker comebacks in recent memory. Although the result disappointed me, his woes could be much worse when I think about it. Unlike Djokovic, Federer has won a French Open. And unlike all of the other tennis players on tour, Federer has won 17 Grand Slam titles.

Congratulations to Serena Williams on winning Wimbledon to complete her second Serena Slam, i.e., winning all four Grand Slam titles consecutively! Which if you ask me, is just as good as the Grand Slam where all four of the same titles are won in the same calendar year. But she now has a big opportunity for that exceedingly rare accolade too!

To put that mountain in perspective, a racehorse only needs to win three major races for the Triple Crown. For a Grand Slam, the tennis player has to win a perfect 28 of 28 total Grand Slam matches, against a wide variety of hungry opponents (many of whom she came so close to losing to, especially during that period in the French Open when she got horribly ill). Even in this last Wimbledon final, she looked close to cracking (and almost seemed manic after the victory, inexplicably balancing the Venus Rosewater Dish on her head and what not). But I've come to know this mental roller coaster as her M.O.: her game starts tanking in the second set, and then at some point in the third set she goes Super Saiyan and completely obliterates her opponent.

Anyway, to reiterate what I blogged before, if Serena wins the US Open again (or any other future Grand Slam title for that matter) to tie Steffi Graf for most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era, then I will proclaim Serena the greatest female tennis player of all-time.

Speaking of great female athletes, I'm still starstruck by this United States women's national soccer team and have been monitoring their Twitter accounts for celebration updates. Quite a whirlwind: a phone call from Obama inviting them to the White House, a ticker tape parade in New York (plus keys to the city), a concert appearance onstage with Taylor Swift, and each player (plus the coach) appearing in their own individual Sports Illustrated cover! Looking back, it's funny how four years ago both my Dad and I rooted for this U.S. women's team and had absolutely zero allegiance to Japan. Personally, I hate how the Japan team likes to starve their opponents by hogging the ball--to me that's about as dull as watching Mayweather box. :)

Watched movie: "minions" (2015) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D & Auro Sound
Mildly entertaining but also pretty mind-numbing. Not just because of that gibberish/Spanglish they babble, but because of the asininity of the plot (starting with the humans' lack of reaction to such alarming creatures). Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Better than I ever could have imagined
07/07/15 12:12 AM PDT

So proud of team USA for winning the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the most memorable, insane soccer match I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. The U.S. women basically burst out of the gates guns blazing (could've sworn I heard war drums in the background a la the 300 sequel). First Carli Lloyd scored two goals inside the first five minutes! Then later my mind got blown again when she lobbed the ball from halfway up the field and it narrowly brushed over the retreating Japan goalkeeper's fingertips to score a hat-trick! Four USA goals in 16 minutes! Unreal.

I never bought into that forecast that team USA had a "67% chance" of winning. I felt like that percentage overlooked intangibles like how hungry the core U.S. players would be for the one trophy that eluded their grasp. I also felt that deep down they thirsted for sweet revenge...and man they got that in spades.

I guess my only minor disappointment was that Carli Lloyd narrowly lost the tiebreaker for Golden Boot. It actually had me in suspense whether she'd win the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament--but I don't know why I even worried--that conclusion was about as foregone as it gets. :) Also congrats to Hope Solo on the Golden Glove (say what you will about her personal life--as a U.S. goalkeeper, I consider her indispensable).

This might very well be recency bias, but within the past few months I feel like I've witnessed the best baseball game (Game 7 of the 2014 World Series), the best football game (Super Bowl XLIX), the best horse race (American Pharoah's Triple Crown victory), and now the best soccer match of my entire life.

Watched movie: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015)
Cynical coming of age dramedy that struck me as alright, but nowhere near as good as the previous Sundance drama winner for both Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, IMHO. It almost felt like this director tried to imitate Michel Gondry. Overall, I felt like the characters lacked dimension--especially Earl who seemed like a borderline offensive stereotype. Granted, this might have all been intentional given the irreverent tone of the movie--but I find I'm not too big fan of counterculture. Like I didn't find those "sweded" films they made the least bit funny (I just found them bad as opposed to "so bad they're good"). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Terminator Genisys" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Convoluted head-spinning time travel mess that I penalized for ruining some perfectly good James Cameron canon. The filmmakers basically contrived ways to bring back (and milk more money out of) an old Arnold Schwarzenegger and all the original characters. Stay during the credits. Rating: 3
Must...avert...eyes...
07/02/15 11:43 AM PDT

Still can't believe England lost to Japan in the closing minutes of a tied World Cup semi-final because one of the star English defenders accidentally kicked the ball into her own goal! For whatever reason, the soccer gods must want USA vs. Japan III. USA will want to avenge their finals loss to Japan in the last World Cup and Japan will want to avenge their finals loss to USA in the last Olympics. Man, I might fall into a depression if USA loses the World Cup final to Japan again. But I'm confident that the U.S. team will fight like never before to avoid that outcome.

In memoriam out
06/30/15 10:14 PM PDT

Thrilling semi-final showdown between No. 2 USA and No. 1 Germany at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that team Germany's best scorer would extend their perfect World Cup record for penalty kicks...but to my astonishment, she missed! Then later Carli Lloyd (the MVP of this tournament, IMHO) netted a clutch penalty kick and assisted in another goal.

I'll be so happy if I finally get to watch the U.S. women win one of these things. I was dejected when they lost the finals four years ago.

In other news, to the dismay of me and my family members, our Mom's memoriam tree has disappeared from Adam park. Granted, it never seemed to grow in all the years I've visited it--but man, we sprinkled our Dad's ashes all around that tree and now the tree is gone.

Watched movie: "Jurassic World" (2015) in RPX & 3D
Cringeworthy as a comedy or drama, but good as a monster movie (even though I had trouble suspending disbelief that the main characters--one of them in heels the whole time (!)--could keep surviving the dinosaur pursuits). I also rolled my eyes at the moral indignation toward genetic modification and weaponization as if these practices were any less ethical than cloning dinosaurs! Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Inside Out" (2015) in 3D
Bittersweet and adventurously brainy. Finally, a Pixar film that answers why I lose teeth in my dreams, and why I lost the ability to feel things like loneliness and bliss. :) Though unlike the Amy Poehler character, I just shrugged off everything I lost in childhood. I'd personally consider it a curse to retain all those memories--and also a sign of mental illness if an imaginary friend ever resurfaced. :P Haha, nice touch to make Disgust's impersonation of Joy sound like sarcasm. Rating: 8
How to train your Drogon
06/17/15 4:00 PM PDT

I'm still dismayed by a couple of occurrences on Sunday. First was the "Game of Thrones" season 5 finale. So much cruelty. And what kind of ending was that?? I refuse to accept that we've seen the last of that character. :P (On the plus side, for the first time in my life I'm all caught up on Game of Thrones and don't have to worry about spoilers!)

Second, I found out that "Jurassic World" edged out both "Marvel's The Avengers" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" on Sunday for the highest-grossing box office opening weekend ever (U.S. and international, respectively)! Whaaaat. Clearly I underestimated how much people like dinosaurs.

In sports news, congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on their first NBA Championship in 40 years. Could've sworn I heard fans in the audience chanting "War-ri-orrsss" just like in the movie, hehe.

Watched movie: "Spy" (2015) in Cinemark XD
Well, I found Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham funny. The other characters--not so much. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Insidious: Chapter 3" (2015)
Pretty much the same as the first two "make-you-jump" installments, though I found this particular demon even less interesting than the Bride In Black. I was hoping this movie would explain the ending to "Chapter 2", but the entire film--despite being titled "Chapter 3"--was just a prequel. Side note: The part with the legs made me squirm. Rating: 6
IMMORTALITY
06/07/15 10:19 PM PDT

Congratulations to American Pharoah [sic] for winning the Triple Crown after a 37-year drought where 13 other racehorses tried and failed! Someone give that horse a party or whatever it is horses like to do because that is most impressive. When California Chrome fell short last year, I didn't expect its jockey Victor Espinoza to get another shot so soon. And apparently that horse trainer Bob Baffert failed to win the Triple Crown three previous times. Side note: What's the deal with that Burger King mascot (first Mayweather's entourage and now here)?

Congratulations to Serena Williams for winning her 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open! Struggled with sickness too, just like in the Australian Open. I got freaked out when she blew a commanding lead in the second set and trailed 0-2 in the final set. But then she went on to steamroll the next six games (which included a dramatic on-air expletive that got her an obscenity warning from the chair umpire). If she can win Wimbledon next, she'll have another non-calendar year Grand Slam. If she wins the US Open too, then she'll have both a calendar year Grand Slam and my endorsement as greatest female tennis player of all-time.

Too bad about Novak Djokovic coming up short on the Career Grand Slam again. He finally dethroned the King of Clay Rafael Nadal only to lose the French Open final to Stanislas Wawrinka. Now that Nadal's stranglehold on the French Open might be over for good, we could be witnessing the end of the Big Three era (I call it a Big Three, not a Big Four).

Watched movie: "Good Kill" (2015)
Museful, even-handed drama about the ethics and ironies of drone warfare. Though personally, I couldn't really grasp what made a drone better or worse ethically than say, a bomber, an American sniper, or a Tantalus field. I actually got irritated that the Ethan Hawke character, a family man, would have the audacity to brood instead of counting his many blessings! Rating: 6
Watched movie: "San Andreas" (2015) in D-BOX & 3D
A disaster movie that's about as formulaic as it gets (even features a cornball scene with an American flag), but I did have fun watching my home state fall apart as tremors shook my D-BOX seat. I wonder if growing up in California desensitized me to earthquakes, because I still find tsunamis much more terrifying. Side note: I've toured Coit Tower and would not want to be caught there in an earthquake. Rating: 6
299,999 MILES
05/28/15 10:27 PM PDT

How's this for irony: my 2004 Toyota Corolla has never had a malfunction bad enough to make me want a new car...until just recently, when the odometer froze at 299,999 miles! I researched that it could cost over $500 to fix even though this is a known defect. Sure smells like a scam, that a digital odometer would freeze at 299,999 instead of 999,999. The thing is, I'm actually thinking of paying for the fix because what a nuisance to re-calculate the actual miles using the smaller odometer.

In other news, I finally tried Sprite LeBron's Mix (the aluminum can offering). Tasted like orange soda.

Watched movie: "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Magnificent eye-popping insanity from the same guy who directed the original Mad Max trilogy. Almost as if three decades worth of pent-up imagination and hostility came bursting out onto the screen. As for the characters, I found all of the women pretty cool and wanted them to succeed. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Tomorrowland" (2015) in RPX
The scene where Athena told Casey that the vision of Tomorrowland needed context--then just provided cryptic answers--pretty much summed up the movie for me. The film's headstrong characters, timely reflections about human attitudes, and marvelous special effects basically distracted me from the big mysteries that the film never clarified. Which I could easily live with, but I at least wanted an explanation for why George Clooney got banished and why he held such a stubborn grudge against Athena. Rating: 7
DROUGHT
05/18/15 5:42 PM PDT

I've been growing more and more amused by the audaciously terse headlines on CNN.com. The big breaking stories now use large blockbuster phrases as the headline, for example, SUSPENDED, 106 MPH, and DEATH. Makes me want to follow suit in my blog entry titles. :)

This California drought is starting to depress me. At my workplace, they mulched a bunch of trees and are now uprooting bushes and grass. I also read a bleak outlook that someday California (particularly the southern region) could turn into a desert.

To a much fewer--I mean lesser--degree, last night's "Game of Thrones" depressed me as well. I'm just so incredulous that Sansa consented to this marriage at Winterfell, and that Queen Margaery could be arrested by homophobes! I never thought I would say this, but ever since the Night's Watch earned my respect in that special season 4 episode about them, they actually interest me more now than most of the other storylines in season 5.

Well, next year's vacation to Rio de Janeiro is a go. I secured the Olympics tickets I wanted (through a hotel travel package, not the lottery). I decided to pick tennis over gymnastics, because last time I didn't leave enough buffer between my flight arrival and the first Olympic event. Also, this time I plan to minimize what I put on my itinerary. Side note: That new invention the narcisstick would sure come in handy at Christ the Redeemer, but alas I still use an analog camera. :P

Looks like David Lynch decided to return to "Twin Peaks".

Watched On Demand movie: "Time Lapse" (2014-2015)
Impressively smart time/causality movie wherein three friends stumble upon and exploit a gigantic camera that at fixed intervals, automatically photographs their living room 24 hours into the future. In other words, each time the camera photographs their living room at 8pm, it spits out a Polaroid picture of what their living room will look like at 8pm the next day. And just like in another favorite film of mine "Timecrimes", the friends agree to recreate whatever they see in the picture--no matter how alarming the image--to avoid a potentially life-ending causality violation (which may have incinerated the camera's inventor)! I actually could not find a single loophole in the plot. (I thought I had found one until one of the scenes I replayed clarified that Danielle Panabaker intended to overwrite the 8pm crime scene photo that the camera had spit out when she was all alone in the room--so not a loophole, but still an awfully foolhardy risk.) Also, the movie's big brain-teasing twist really helped clear up a lot of my confusion about what precipitated some of those pictures. Heh...I found it amusingly ironic that maybe instead of distrusting each other, they should have distrusted their own future selves. :) Rating: 7
Survivor: Second Chance vote
05/09/15 10:52 PM PDT

I really like this idea, letting Survivor fans vote on which ex-players to cast in the 31st season. I was happy with a lot of the choices, unhappy to see others (and will fume if they make it back onto the show), and had to look up the ones I couldn't remember. Was also surprised that Shirin would want to come back--but when I think about it, how could her second experience possibly be as bad as her first.

I hope people don't just log in so they can vote for the cutest castaways--I wouldn't even suggest voting for the most likeable ones.

My first round of endorsements would go to ex-players whom I feel deserve second chances because of how they got screwed over their first time playing:

Spencer Bledsoe
A good player who hung on a long time despite all the Charlie Brown-type misfortunes that befell him, from "Chaos" Kass yanking the football away every time he tried to kick it, to Woo stealing his idol clue, to his unlucky loss of an idol to the most immune player in Survivor history!
Stephanie Valencia
Another player with potential, who had the misfortune of aligning with Russell Hantz on a tribe full of fools who had the bright idea of throwing a challenge just to get rid of him--ultimately resulting in the entire tribe's elimination by Boston Rob's tribe.
Kelley Wentworth
When this player's father brought bad blood over to her new tribe (no pun intended)--which handicapped whom she could ally with--I actually saw a nobility in her ill-fated decision to stand by him. Nowadays, I legitimately worry that a Blood vs. Water player could turn on their loved one!
Andrew Savage
I liked this player, and hated how one easy mistake (failing to reconcile with an outcast player who unexpectedly returned to the game) cost his alliance everything.
Mikayla Wingle
The only reason I'd give this player another chance would be because of the uncool, suspiciously gynophobic prejudice that seemed to prompt her elimination.
Kelly Wiglesworth
Basically lost the very first Survivor to Richard Hatch because she picked the wrong number between 1 and 10. Also meant she took and bore Sue Hawk's "snakes and rats, dying of thirst" speech for nothing.
Terry Deitz
This might be a stretch, but I felt like this player (the last likeable one left on his season) got a bad challenge just before Survivor began expanding the final two into a final three.

My next round of endorsements would go to ex-players who seem open to winning by any means necessary:

Ciera Eastin
I've seen players dump out their tribe's food; I've seen a player suffer second-degree burns; and I've seen a player lie that his grandmother died...but to this day, I still think the most shocking moment in Survivor history was when this player voted out her own mother. Granted, the mother gave it her blessing and other Survivor fans I know shrugged it off as good strategy--but for me, it breached the conventions of the game (namely the time-honored rationale, "it's just a game") and even rattled how I viewed reality TV as a whole (as in, "what is this world coming to?"). In any event, I feel like this move combined with Ciera's subversive revival of the rock tiebreaker ended up trailblazing--for better of for worse--this new era in Survivor where players try to make "big" moves whether they're smart or not.
Brad Culpepper
The other player who made Blood vs. Water extremely interesting, by purposely going after the rival tribe's loved ones and taking nuclear backlash for it.
Mike Holloway
This guy played so hard that he apparently crossed a line (during the auction episode) that I didn't even know existed anymore in Survivor. He had some weird strategies that eventually made him an outcast, but I'd rather players continuously think outside the box rather than spend the whole season doing the same old same old. Actually, I might be premature talking about him in the past tense since he's still hanging on by a thread in the current season. :)

Finally, I would endorse Stephen Fishbach because of a blog he writes where he editorializes each episode's Survivor strategies. I'm curious whether he would still blog and give out Fishy awards for a season he just gone done filming for.

I'm still conflicted about whether Kass McQuillen deserves back in the game after playing kind of like a griefer the first time. Admittedly, I am kind of curious whether her "chaos" strategy would work again.

Update 5/21/2015: Fume...someone explain to me how Woo, Keith, and Abi all got voted back into the game. I just can't wrap my head around it. I can live with the rest of the cast but am bummed Stephanie Valencia got snubbed. Like this Monica and Peih-Gee, I read up on them and still can't remember who they are.

Float like a gnat and sting like a mosquito
05/08/15 10:45 PM PDT

Mayweather vs. Pacquiao...what a profound disappointment. Granted, that's the first boxing match I ever watched (and most likely my last)--but Mayweather's grandstanding made me expect a fight, not round after round of him evading and hugging Pacquiao. (I thought hugging was supposed to be illegal in boxing.) Hahaha, check out this Punch Out! spoof of the match.

I finally researched why the MGM had Mexico's national anthem before the boxers'. Apparently, it was to celebrate Cinco de Mayo (three days early).

In miscellaneous news, where can I buy Sprite LeBron's Mix? All I could find was the 2 liter bottle.

Watched movie: "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015) in RPX & 3D
Good overall albeit weak on the drama and hit-and-miss on the comedy (mostly superheroes, bad dudes, and even the evil robot acting juvenile). All of the personal storylines either bored or confused me. For instance, I'd rather just watch the Hulk smash things (and not let villains finish their sentences) than enter into a romance. Even the action began to disinterest me--I had much more fun watching the superheroes trying to mingle at a party. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Real-time 3D environment
04/28/15 8:56 PM PDT

This morning marked the closest I've ever come to calling into work sick. As I got out of bed, the room seemed to spin, and tasks as simple as putting my shoes on made me nauseated. Fortunately, I began feeling better when I sat down next to my phone. Due to the pressure behind my eyes, my leading theory has been sinus headache (though oddly my nose wasn't congested).

I've actually never called into work sick but have, at least once or twice, left work early to lie down.

In travel news, I submitted ticket requests in the Rio Olympics lottery for two Usain Bolt sprints and two Michael Phelps races. I don't plan to attend all four events (I'm hoping to stick to my plan of minimizing my itinerary this time), but I purposely overreached because historically I've only gotten one ticket per Olympic lottery I've requested tickets in. If I can't a Usain Bolt ticket, I'll cancel the trip (I'm already half-hearted about visiting a country where I can't speak the language).

In video game news, Konami cancelled Guillermo del Toro's Silent Hills video game (starring Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame). I'm actually happy about this, because now I have zero temptation to buy a new gaming system. My last Sony purchase: Playstation 2. My last Nintendo purchase: Game Cube. I still don't know why my passion for video games waned so much. I just got tired of collecting them I guess.

Watched movie: "Ex Machina" (2015)
Eerily provocative A.I. movie made entertaining by Domhnall Gleeson's uncomfortable reactions to both Alicia Vikander (his interview subject, a flirtatious female robot with ulterior motives) and Oscar Isaac (her creator, a reclusive genius CEO with his own ulterior motives). My biggest trepidation--other than the big one about whether it's ethical to imprison and/or decommission this robot against her will--was why the CEO found it necessary to program her with wiles! Meaning that even if she states what she wants, she could be lying. All in all, this writer/director clearly did his homework and the end result really haunted me intellectually. Rating: 7
Birds of a feather
04/21/15 6:00 PM PDT

I'm used to seeing female wild turkeys pecking the ground around my workplace, but recently a couple of male ones arrived. One of the male turkeys keeps fanning out its tail and puffing out its feathers like some kind of Thanksgiving float (I read online that this is called strutting, a courting tactic to attract females). But from what I saw, the females just ignored him. Though I read that turkeys mate differently from humans in that the males are polygamous, and don't "go steady" with just one female.

I finally got around to researching why the metallic fringe--hanging above the pool at my apartment complex--repels geese from swimming (and pooping) there. Apparently, both the flapping noise and the reflections of light bother the birds' senses. (I read that decoys of their enemies like swans and alligators can scare them away as well.)

Watched movie: "Unfriended" (2015)
Actually not bad for a teen horror film that unfolds (in real-time) on a single computer screen. I mean literally, this is all the movie showed: a teenager's laptop screen as she multi-tasked between windows, including:
  • A Skype chat between her circle of friends and some kind of ghost hacker who could kill them at will. Man it wrecked my nerves whenever a live stream of something horrific kept stopping to buffer. But the scariest scene of all for me: that live stream of the "frozen" girl with the vibrating cell phone.
  • Web browser windows where she would watch videos, visit social media sites like Facebook, and google things like police codes.
  • Instant messaging conversations wherein just like me, the teenager liked to delete and rewrite what she typed.
Though unlike me, I noticed she accepted untrusted attachments and even neglected to turn her screen sharing off. Bad. :( All in all, I probably liked this movie because of how often I use a computer, and seeing this teenager get hacked/violated was like a nightmare come to life. I also feel like teenagers should watch this movie despite the R rating because of its important messages about cyberbullying, posting things irresponsibly, and getting drunk. Side note: At one point, to my amusement, someone in the audience blurted a technical suggestion at the screen. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" (2015)
Started out amusingly deadpan when the sullen title character harmlessly obsessed over the cash Steve Buscemi buried in "Fargo", but then got cringeworthy once she threw her whole life away trying to find it! I already wasn't happy with her habitual misconduct--but when she kept risking death by exposure, I honestly believed she needed psychological help. Rating: 4
Merica
04/10/15 5:08 PM PDT

I'm getting more impressed with this Mike after he went above and beyond looking for that hidden immunity idol on Survivor: Worlds Apart. I assume that by openly pretending that Joe had it, it deterred others from looking for it. Also, if Kelly hadn't gotten voted out at the merge, I probably would have praised Mike as the first player to ever make "throwing a challenge" into a successful strategy. :)

In contrast, I didn't see much cause for the "No Collar" alliance to gloat when Jenn got lucky with that hidden immunity idol. Losing one of their own and the two swing voters should've instead been a big cause for alarm.

But at least the "No Collars" have yet to commit jury vote suicide like "cool calm collected" Rodney, who got mad (again) over salami skin, and "I know how to talk to women" Dan, who might be the worst talker to women in Survivor history.

Update 5/11/2015: Man, I shudder at the nightmarish thought that the final three could come down to Dan, Will, and birthday-boy Rodney!

First world problems
04/09/15 9:34 PM PDT

April started out inauspiciously for me in that I had three days ruined by what Weird Al would call "first world problems". First, I stressed out over a defect in an irreplaceable workplace application that went out-of-support. Then I had another day ruined because of a defective DVD-ROM that cost me over five months of WWE recordings. Finally when I was all ready to catch up on "Game of Thrones" during XFINITY Watchathon week, the episodes wouldn't play. To my frustration, the other HBO shows in the Watchathon played just fine--and the XFINITY service technicians weren't much help. (One of them didn't even know what a Watchathon was, and told me I needed to subscribe to HBO!) Fortunately, my complaints eventually resulted in a free 3-month HBO subscription. I still can't play any "Game of Thrones" episodes, but I'll be able to watch season 5 when it premieres this Sunday.

In other TV news, I read that David Lynch pulled out of directing Showtime’s "Twin Peaks" revival due to a budgetary disagreement (and a bunch of cast members made a video expressing their disappointment). But I can live with it since Mark Frost (the original co-creator) is still on board. Although I credit David Lynch with some of the best "Twin Peaks" canon, e.g., the Fire Walk with Me movie, I also blame him for driving the show off the deep end, e.g., introducing crazy supernatural themes, filming old men shuffle across the room, and directing the notoriously awful series finale.

In movie news, I gotta give props to the Furious 7 filmmakers for how they handled Paul Walker's death. Every scene where they presumably used stand-ins and CGI looked completely seamless to me. They also handled his exit in a really classy way--infinitely better than the lame idea I had brainstormed (writing off his character with an explosion). :P

Watched movie: "Furious Seven" (2015) in D-BOX
Easily the most ridiculous, over-the-top Fast & Furious testosterone-fest yet (not just in action but in dialogue)--but I had fun with it, and viewed it as an earnest celebration of Paul Walker's life. (In fact, some of his scenes got too real for me and made me profoundly sad.) Side note: I don't think my D-BOX seat has ever shaken so violently. :) Rating: 7
Suplex City
03/31/15 6:43 PM PDT

Durn it. Had I known that the Triple H vs. Sting match would end up escalating into DX vs. nWo (complete with Kevin Nash faking a quad injury), I probably would have attended last Sunday's WrestleMania 31 in person! Instead, I watched it on pay-per-view from my apartment (about 15 minutes from the actual venue).

Haha, when the Rock walked along the barricade to recruit a woman against Stephanie McMahon, I expected some kind of relative like his mother or Tamina Snuka. But when the camera panned to UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey, I marked out. Hmmm, what if in the future they book her in a WWE match? In no way could I suspend disbelief that a WWE Diva could stand any kind of chance against her. It'd have to be a squash match or a 15-second victory by armbar. :)

Other highlights of the show: Randy Orton's super RKO to Seth Rollins and Undertaker's sit-up as Bray Wyatt spider walked.

Funny how closely that the daylight outside my window corresponded to the daylight on the TV (which lasted nearly the entire duration of the show).

That Walking Dead season 5 finale made me think back to some advice Mike once gave Walter White in Breaking Bad: don't take half-measures.

Beast mode
03/28/15 11:56 PM PDT

It pleased me to read that Brock Lesnar re-signed with the WWE. If you ask me, this announcement singlehandedly saved the main event of this weekend's WrestleMania. Now I'm honestly unsure of who will win the match (though my money's on Brock now).

Haha, Bushwhackers in the WWE Hall of Fame. Das cool.

In TV news, "The X-Files" is returning as a limited series of six episodes. First thing I want explained: why aliens didn't colonize the Earth on December 22, 2012.

Also read that the companion show to "The Walking Dead", titled "Fear the Walking Dead" (and set in Los Angeles), will finally premiere this summer on AMC.

Watched movie: "'71" (2014-2015)
A tautly-scored survival thriller wherein an abandoned British soldier plays cat-and-mouse with IRA gunmen in a volatile Belfast neighborhood. The guy's astoundingly good luck (his evasion of bullets bordered on miraculous) was rivalled only by his astoundingly bad luck (plain clothes in the safe side of town and he manages to stumble right into a shadow British conspiracy??). Throughout the entire movie I kept trying to place where I saw this guy's face before--then afterward it finally hit me: "Unbroken" (I guess this actor really likes to suffer). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "It Follows" (2015)
A refreshingly creative, electronically-scored horror thriller (reminiscent of both Cronenberg and Hitchcock) wherein a teenage girl's dreamy suburban life gets shattered by an STD that like some kind of homing beacon, attracts an unrelenting shapeshifter who literally just walks straight at you until either: a) it kills you with its bare hands, or b) you postpone your fate by sexually-transmitting the curse to someone else. Interestingly, the movie handicaps the shapeshifter with the following tells:
  • It never seems to speak and always walks at the same slow pace, with a fixed gaze.
  • Other people cannot see it.
  • Although it can look like anyone, for some reason it tends to show up either naked or underdressed.
The genius of the film is that the shapeshifter behaves so habitually that it's easy to underestimate (consequently lulling me into getting caught off guard). All in all, I would've rated the movie higher had the characters exhausted more possibilities, e.g., brainstorming more ways to try to kill it and/or coming up with better safeguards. I myself was curious whether it would be resourceful enough to follow someone overseas. If it was after me, I'd probably move to Hawaii and then tell everyone I know to announce themselves aloud when they approach me. :) Rating: 8
Watched movie: "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Sloppily plotted second installment fraught with irreconcilable messages. First, Tris wants to assassinate the person she just gone done sparing in the previous film (?!)--even though this might lead to civil war, as if the attempted genocide in the previous film wasn't cause enough already! Second, the plot device with the puzzle box made no sense to me (plus how do they know the message is even authentic?). Third, I found the inner conflict between "deadly" Tris vs. that mind-numbingly useless "bleeding heart" Tris extremely irritating, given the proven necessity of violence throughout the movie. I mean, it's laughable to me picturing what the Hunger Games would've been like had Katniss kept sparing her enemies' lives. Rating: 5
Game of trivia
03/18/15 6:26 PM PDT

Das funny. Last Thursday's "Jeopardy!" ended up with only one contestant in the Final Jeopardy! round, because the other two contestants got -$200 and -$6800 and couldn't wager any money!

Speaking of game show rules, it's still a mystery to me what happens on "Survivor" if the jury votes tie. Perhaps the jury has to re-vote for the top two of the final three?

Here are some other "Survivor" rules that I picked up on through interviews and casual remarks. The players are...

Also read an interesting interview one time where Jeff Probst explained how he determines what order to read the votes in...which isn't always easy. (In summary, he always goes for the biggest dramatic effect.)

Game of imitations
03/12/15 12:48 AM PDT

My workplace recently showed a hacking documentary that made me paranoid enough to start strengthening some of my passwords and security questions. I also started deleting accounts I don't need, as the hackers prey on login sites with the weakest security to get a foothold into your other accounts. The scariest message of the documentary for me was that sooner or later, any security system can be broken as long as its weak link--human beings--can be tricked or taken advantage of.

Watched movie: "The Lazarus Effect" (2015)
Forgettable and undaring, from the weak PG-13 horror to the overall lack of answers. One scene did pique my interest, at least: when Olivia Wilde, following her resurrection, described what it was like in the afterlife (or more specifically, what it was like in Hell). (I also liked how sad that poor dog looked after the researchers brought it back to life.) Side note: This director's previous film was "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"?? Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Chappie" (2015) in RPX
The good news is that Neill Blomkamp made this movie more like his earlier masterpiece, "District 9" (this time with a seamless infusion of police droids in Johannesburg rather than aliens). The bad news is that the end product felt more like "Short Circuit" rather than anything of substance. In particular, I really hated how the film just shrugged off both the moral and scientific complexities of cloning a human mind--as if you can just copy someone's consciousness onto a USB stick, resurrect them as an inorganic robot, and say it's still them! Rating: 6
Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
02/27/15 11:11 AM PST

L.L.A.P.

When Niagara Falls freezes over
02/24/15 7:52 PM PST

Another perfect score on my Oscar predictions. Though if you ask me, "Boyhood" deserved Best Picture more than "Birdman"...but I guess the Academy identified more with Birdman.

In other news, Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao is finally on! Even though I've never watched a single boxing match in my life, I understand what an epic dream match this is. Come May 2, I'll be tuning into this one (or at least that's the plan).

Watched movie: "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" (2015)
Mean-streaked albeit occasionally funny comedy sequel wherein characters from the first movie rip-off other peoples' future ideas for their own selfish gains; then travel 10 years into the future on a mission to stop an attempted murderer from travelling 10 years into the past. Rating: 4
What Happened and What's Going On
02/16/15 6:18 PM PST

My TV of over 15 years finally shorted out after months of intermittently glitchy lines at the top of the screen. I could tell by the stench that something had burned out, and had to lug the huge thing outside to ensure my smoke alarm didn't go off (picture me weaving around and knocking things over like Baymax). Then I paid Best Buy to haul it away since I couldn't put something like that in a dumpster. The upside: I finally had an excuse to splurge on a new HDTV (that is, if you call ~$220 on a 28" Samsung LED splurging). No support for S-Video though, so that facet of my home entertainment system is now obsolete.

I also couldn't figure out how to watch the Simpsons and the mid-season 5 premiere of Walking Dead in high-definition. By the way, after watching that depressing Walking Dead episode, I was in no mood for the series premiere of "Better Call Saul" (though I did catch up on it later in the week).

Haha, the Cookie Monster has his own Twitter account: @MeCookieMonster. Mostly just tweets about cookies.

Watched movie: "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2015)
A fun albeit twisted comic book movie wherein a cheeky street lad competes for a spot in a debonair intelligence agency. I found his mentor (Colin Firth) unusually careless, and the supervillain (a lispy Samuel L. Jackson) unusually bereft of antagonistic qualities. As far as the humor and violence went, I detected shades of Tarantino. Stay during the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Fifty Shades of Grey" (2015) in IMAX
That Anastasia Steele's kind of a dork. But enough about her--let's look at Christian Grey's flaws: possessive, intrusive, bossy, perpetually unhappy, sadistic, guarded, and so emotionally unavailable that he can't even sleep in the same bed as her. Nary any personality or sense of humor. Doesn't believe in dating or romance. Pressures her to sign a "pre"-prenup contract that permits him to do whatever he wants to her. Oh, and is still friends with the lady who sexually abused him. Yet apparently, none of these things were dealbreakers! Admittedly, his character flaws made their attempt at a relationship entertaining to me (enough for me to want to see the sequel, if one ever gets filmed). I also like how up-front he was about everything, i.e., establishing clear expectations for their relationship before entering into it. :) Side note: How on earth did those sex scenes escape with an R rating? Rating: 6
Armchair running backing
02/07/15 11:40 PM PST

Congratulations to Serena Williams on her 19th Grand Slam title! The final tiebreaker had me on edge--not just because the score was so close, but because Serena served a let at match point and dropped her racket like she was about to lose her temper. Fortunately, she collected herself and then hit a winning ace.

What a crazy ending to that Super Bowl XLIX game. First that Seahawks receiver miraculously caught the ball after it bounced around his moving body like a hacky sack (leading me to wonder, taking into consideration their improbable NFC victory, whether they had divine intervention on their side). Then one yard from the goal, they had victory in the palm of Marshawn Lynch's hand...but what happened instead? They threw an interception and lost everything! I'm still dumbfounded.

In WWE news, I'm still curious whether Roman Reigns will really close out WrestleMania here in the Bay Area after his booed Royal Rumble victory. I keep picturing a repeat of the infamous Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar match, where die-hard WrestleMania fans booed both guys out of Madison Square Garden.

Ugh, now that "Birdman" has unexpectedly swept the Guild Awards (SAG, PGA, and DGA), I have no choice but to forecast it as the Best Picture winner over "Boyhood". Here are my official Oscar predictions for 2014:

Although I'm not confident about Eddie Redmayne over Michael Keaton, I still feel that the former's demanding performance as Stephen Hawking has Oscar bait written all over it.

Watched movie: "Project Almanac" (2014-2015) in Cinemark XD
I actually found this found footage flick about teenage stupidity amusing. Unlike other time travel dramas where the characters take their alteration of past events seriously, this group of idiots managed to brainstorm some of the dumbest, most irresponsible uses for a time machine ever. They even shrugged off a causality paradox that nearly erased one of them from existence! I gave up trying to make sense of the film's time travel logic (or lack of), like what becomes of their alternate selves when they return from a trip or why footage of David's time travel continued to exist even after he destroyed the time machine. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Jupiter Ascending" (2015) in IMAX 3D
Another Wachowskis extravaganza of mind-blowing visuals, e.g., space-age marvels and gravity boot surfing. As for the rest of the movie...gobbledygook. Rating: 7
Blue wedding
01/30/15 5:33 PM PST

This might sound completely trivial given everything that's been happening at my company (my head's still spinning), but the music video results for 2014 have been tabulated.

Watched movie: "Deux jours, une nuit" a.k.a. "Two Days, One Night" (2014)
Emotional roller coaster of a drama wherein (Oscar-nominated) Marion Cotillard spends a weekend visiting her co-workers one by one, trying to persuade each of them to vote away their bonuses so she won't get laid off from their solar panel (?) company. I don't know what employer in their right mind would ever put something like this to a vote (Mark Burnett maybe?), but there you go. Some important facts to consider before you make up your own mind:
  • Her husband works at a restaurant. Although they're raising two kids and trying to pay a mortgage, I noticed some of her co-workers seemed much worse off, e.g., working second jobs!
  • She needs a majority (9 out of the 16 employees) to win the vote. In the original vote, 14 of the 16 employees picked the bonus over her. But the boss authorized a re-vote (via secret ballot on Monday) due to the foreman's alleged scare tactics.
  • She was singled out for the lay-off after taking a long sick leave for depression. So it's not like she's necessarily the least qualified, but...I have to tell you, her addiction to Xanax really made me doubt whether she was recovered enough to work again.
  • Might be self-evident, but this company has no HR person. :P
Ultimately, I ended up siding with Marion Cotillard (even though she did something unacceptable during the movie that totally made me lose respect for her). My reasoning: that guy with the anger management problem should have totally been fired in place of her. Originally, I kept wondering why she approached each co-worker with such a meek "sales pitch" rather than no-holds-barred tooth-and-nail tactics (like begging or using her kids to really lay on the guilt)--but eventually it dawned on me that more than anything else, she needed to be fighting for her self-respect. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Still Alice" (2014)
Still forecasting an Oscar win for Julianne Moore. In this movie, she plays a distinguished linguistics professor who begins losing her intellect to early-onset Alzheimer's disease. And if that's not depressing enough, at least one of her two daughters inherited the genetic predisposition as well! To the film's credit, it did a good job trying to show the dignity in this horrific deterioration of the mind. Did a good job trying. Rating: 6
"Kommen sie!"
01/23/15 2:13 PM PST

Ah, memories. Thanks to the EM-DOSBOX in-browser emulator on this Software Library: MS-DOS Games, I was able to play one of my favorite childhood computer games: "Castle Wolfenstein".

Watched movie: "Notorious" (1946)
Hitchcock film wherein Ingrid Bergman, recruited by Cary Grant to infiltrate a Nazi group in Brazil, preoccupies herself with a much more important matter: why he won't admit he loves her. :P Exasperating lack of professionalism aside, I enjoyed the movie. The villain's sleuthhound mind impressed me, and his mother cracked me up (like how a smile creeped across her face and how she had to light a cigarette). I also liked all the suspense that Hitchcock managed to generate from a single wine cellar key (through close-up shots). Side note: I totally missed Hitchcock's cameo but I guess someone in the audience spotted him judging by their alarmingly loud applause. Rating: 7
Foxpuzzler
01/15/15 3:04 PM PST

How did "Foxcatcher" manage to nab an Oscar nomination for director without a best picture nomination? Other than that mystery, "The LEGO Movie", and maybe David Oyelowo, no snubs really jumped out at me. I saw a lot of surprise nominations, but only in the spots that I had always considered "wild card".

I'd rank the 2014 Best Picture nominees as follows:

  1. "The Imitation Game" (My rating: 8)
  2. "American Sniper" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Selma" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Whiplash" (My rating: 7)
  5. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (My rating: 7)
  6. "Boyhood" (My rating: 6)
  7. "The Theory of Everything" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (My rating: 6)
A most vicarious year
01/13/15 6:25 PM PST

Now I know why I saw so many police cars speeding past me on Sunday morning: five people got shot during a Chris Brown performance at a nightclub right next to my neighborhood.

In other news, I compiled a list of coming attractions that caught my eye for 2015 and beyond:

"Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" (March 13, 2015)
First in the series slated for 3-D (possibly to differentiate between dimensions).
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (May 1, 2015)
With Joss Whedon directing again, I have high hopes.
"Inside Out" (June 19, 2015)
Pixar equivalent to "Herman's Head". I guess "Finding Dory" got bumped to 2016.
"Terminator Genisys" (July 1, 2015)
Yes, that's exactly how it's spelled. From the trailer it looks like a sequel rather than a reboot, but confusingly convoluted given that all of the main characters appear to be bah-ck.
"Spectre" (November 6, 2015)
Daniel Craig will return as James Bond. Will Christoph Waltz play Blofeld? I also heard a great suggestion that Lorde should sing the opening credits.
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (November 20, 2015)
With the right directing and acting, I think this final installment can easily improve upon the book. (I'm calling it final despite rumors that the movie franchise might continue past the final book.)
"Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" (December 18, 2015)
Directed by J.J. Abrams, the same guy who reimagined Star Trek. I'm not a fan of the new crossguard lightsaber though.
"Phantasm: Ravager" (2015)
The "final" installment that I've been waiting over 16 years for.
"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (March 25, 2016)
With the exception of Henry Cavill, this precursor to the Justice League movies might be the worst cast superhero movie ever. But I'll try to keep an open mind. :)
"Captain America: Civil War" (May 6, 2016)
The premise of Iron Man vs. Captain America sounds like a much better main event than Batman vs. Superman. :)
"Star Trek 3" (July 8, 2016)
Directed by Justin Lin of Fast & Furious fame. :P
"Doctor Strange" (November 4, 2016)
Benedict Cumberbatch has officially been cast as the latest Marvel superhero.
"Toy Story 4" (June 16, 2017)
Will reluctantly see it even though it can't possibly outdo "Toy Story 3".

P.S. Marvel is also planning at least seven more movies starting in 2017.

I'm also looking forward to a Steve Jobs biopic directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin (with Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak).

Watched movie: "Inherent Vice" (2014)
I have no idea how serious the original private eye novel by Thomas Pynchon was, but I would place this theatrical adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson in the same category as "The Big Lebowski". Not just because everything felt comical, but because the main character (played by Joaquin Phoenix) struck me as a total stoner whom people inexplicably confided in. (Plus he often got stigmatized as a hippy.) My favorite part: when Joaquin Phoenix attempted to diagram who was connected to whom--in my interpretation, the scene was a self-parody about how ridiculously convoluted the entire plot was. Because even after the movie ended, I still wasn't sure who had committed what and who had conspired with whom. Rating: 7
Watched On Demand movie: "[REC] 4: Apocalipsis" (2014) a.k.a. "[·REC]4" (2015)
Dunno why this installment is billed "[REC] 4: Apocalypse" given that the entire zombie outbreak takes place onboard a single ship. Also don't know why they're still calling it [REC] when at the beginning of the previous film, they abandoned the found footage format for good. (I guess maybe the ship's surveillance cameras counted as recordings.) Anyway, I feel like the quality of these [REC] sequels is really starting to deteriorate into "direct-to-video" territory. They should probably just stop. Rating: 3
Watched On Demand movie: "Predestination" (2014-2015)
Perverse time travel flick (based on a Robert A. Heinlein short story) wherein temporal agent Ethan Hawke, having failed to stop a criminal named the Fizzle Bomber, travels back in time to (eventually) recreate all of the circumstances that led him to join the Temporal Bureau in the first place. I found this particular movie title apropos, but would also bill it as "The Mother of All Cosmic Improbabilities" because WTF. The notion that a time traveller could give birth to herself (meaning every molecule in her body would have to be a perfect 100% match to the original) struck me as both outrageous and scientifically obscene. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Taken 3" (2015) in Cinemark XD
Laughable even for a Taken movie. In addition to Liam Neeson being way too nice again (not only to the bad guys but to his irresponsible daughter), we get treated to vintage Forest Whitaker as the tenacious cop on his trail. The film also featured distractingly overedited action scenes (probably to mask what a slowpoke Liam Neeson is) and illogical plot holes (like when Liam walked away unscathed after his car tumbled off a cliff and burst into flames, and walked away scot-free after all the murder, mayhem, and havoc that he wreaked). All in all, I actually would have rated the movie higher had Liam delivered one of his classic phone monologues. Rating: 5
Holiday movie marathon 2014
01/06/15 5:02 PM PST

After all the times I've patronized the ArcLight Hollywood, I finally screened a film ("American Sniper") at their Cinerama Dome. As one of only three Cinerama theaters in the world today, it uses three projectors to project a movie onto a gigantic curved screen. (My reaction: shrug). Having previously caught a movie at the Seattle Cinerama Theatre, I guess that just leaves the Pictureville Cinema in England (though I won't be adding that to my bucket list anytime soon).

I was pleased that "The Interview" opened on New Year's Eve at the historic Fremont Theatre...until I actually watched the movie. Still...I gotta give props to Sony Pictures for standing up to cyberterrorism.

Watched movie: "Selma" (2014)
Stirring historical drama wherein Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders (including Malcolm X) head straight into the lion's den (Alabama) to protest racist voting injustices, and to pressure Lyndon B. Johnson to expedite a new voting rights bill. I kept wondering whether MLK really second-guessed himself that much, but all in all I found the movie poignant and learned a lot about 1960s voter obstruction. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "A Most Violent Year" (2014)
An interesting crime drama in that the main character refuses to commit any crimes, even as enemies (and allies) threaten the survival of his business. Although I admired his professionalism and non-violent principles, I found myself agreeing more with his not-so-goody two-shoes wife (played by Jessica Chastain). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Interview" (2014)
Well, I did my patriotic duty...but now having watched this harebrained comedy, it pains me that something this dumb managed to become the flag-bearer for free speech in America. :P I mean, it started out hilarious (particularly the James Franco scenes)--but then the jokes started getting bad (and occasionally racist). It's like they modeled Kim Jong-un after Chow from The Hangover. Stay after the credits for another un-funny reference to that cute puppy. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Babadook" (2014)
Slow and disconcerting psychological horror film from Australia about a worn-down widow who reaches wit's end with her belligerent 6-year-old son and his obsession with a menacing storybook monster. Ultimately, I found the storybook about the monster (and the creepy pop-up illustrations) much more interesting than the movie itself. Rating: 5
2014 Year in Review
12/30/14 4:26 AM PST
Best of 2014 Worst of 2014
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Three-peating a good appraisal at work.
  2. Watching the San Francisco Giants win Game 7 of the 2014 World Series in what I would call the best baseball game I've ever seen.
  3. Watching Serena Williams win that elusive 18th Grand Slam title.
  4. Eventually convincing Firestone to waive the labor cost of replacing the perfectly good catalytic converter in my car, even though the manager initially got flustered by my request.
  5. Getting my new USB external zip drive.
Honorable mention: Game of Thrones: Purple Wedding (after Watchathon Week)
  1. Both my brother-in-law and aunt dying within 30 days of each other.
  2. (tie) Feeling bummed by Roger Federer's narrow five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final; and feeling bummed from Olympic disappointments like in women's hockey and snowboard cross.
  3. Losing the conveniences that my Dad's empty house provided, such as a free place to stay on weekends and free usage of a washing machine & dryer.
  4. Losing over $1000 as a result of a new $900+ "direct fit" catalytic converter (plus three smog checks)--although the "universal" one Firestone installed back in January 2011 was still perfectly good, a new mandate in the smog certifications made that particular model non-compliant with my 2004 Corolla.
  5. The Undertaker anticlimactically losing at WrestleMania XXX, which consequently soured me to WWE programming.
Honorable mention: Game of Thrones: Red Wedding (during Watchathon Week)
Movies
  1. "X-Men: Days of Future Past"
    "Arguably the best, most poignant X-Men movie of them all..."
  2. "Interstellar"
    "Started out slow, but got much more interesting once the astronauts began staking humanity's survival on some major life-and-death decisions."
  3. "Big Hero 6"
    "Another home run from Walt Disney Animation Studios..."
  4. "The Imitation Game"
    "Fascinating biopic about Alan Turing..."
  5. "Blue Ruin"
    "A suspenseful, realistic revenge thriller reminiscent of the early episodes of 'Breaking Bad'..."
  6. "American Sniper"
    "...biopic about the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history..."
  7. "The Purge: Anarchy"
    "More interesting than the first movie...an odyssey reminiscent of 'The Warriors'."
  8. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
    "Thrilling hi-tech Marvel sequel reminiscent of '24'..."
  9. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"
    "A golden heartfelt triumph...when it followed the book."
  10. "A Most Wanted Man"
    "Another great spy thriller from John le Carré (this time about post-9/11 counterterrorism), and another outstanding performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman (unfortunately one of his last)."
  1. "Need for Speed"
    "Harebrained plot and torturously asinine characters."
  2. "Transformers: Age of Extinction"
    "A mind-numbing, illogical, visually taxing ordeal that lumbered on and on and on (until finally it ended in a completely nonsensical way)."
  3. "Bad Words"
    "Mean-spirited comedy...I disliked his character too much to laugh..."
  4. "Pompeii"
    "Less like a disaster movie and more like a movie disaster."
  5. "Annabelle"
    "Illogical and boring."
  6. "In Fear"
    "Man, that film title tricked me. I expected something scary."
  7. "I, Frankenstein"
    "...a bad, plot holey mess."
  8. "Oculus"
    "The time-swapping narrative and the evil mirror's powers really confused me..."
  9. "Under the Skin"
    "Like watching paint peel."
  10. "Sharknado 2: The Second One"
    "...glanced restlessly at the clock during commercial breaks."
Songs
  1. "I Choose You" Sara Bareilles
  2. "Turn Down For What" DJ Snake & Lil Jon
  3. "Only Love Can Hurt Like This" Paloma Faith
  4. "Immortals" Fall Out Boy
  5. "Come With Me Now" Kongos
Honorable mention: "Word Crimes" Weird Al Yankovic
  1. "Hangover" PSY f/ Snoop Dogg
  2. "Shower" Becky G
  3. "We Dem Boyz" Wiz Khalifa
  4. "Night Changes" One Direction
  5. "Loyal" Chris Brown f/ Lil Wayne & Tyga
Music video "The Writing's On the Wall" OK GO "Anaconda" Nicki Minaj
TV series "Game of Thrones" "24: Live Another Day"
Commercial AXE PEACE commercial where people make love, not war. Time-wasting Porsche GTS car commercial about a Porsche Cayman GTS and Porsche Boxster GTS 2014 Committee meeting.
Movie trailer (tie) Gone Girl and American Sniper Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Watched movie: "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (2014) in IMAX 3D
A golden heartfelt triumph...when it followed the book. When it invented its own storylines, e.g., the love triangle and filler to keep Legolas busy, my interest waned. #OneLastTime, Bilbo and Thorin (and Bard) stole the show. Side note #1: Azog the Defiler finally fixed that prosethetic arm! Side note #2: Why did people keep trusting that Alfrid?? Rating: 7
Watched movie: "American Sniper" (2014) at ArcLight Cinerama Dome Hollywood
Never thought a biopic about the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history could ever get dull, but to me it actually dragged a little. Maybe because I got numb to his routine, seemingly bottomless missions and expected something more like "Rear Window" with crosshairs. Fortunately, the movie got much livelier once it introduced a formidable antagonist for the U.S. troops: an Olympic-winning enemy sniper. Rating: 7
Figurative drought
12/27/14 3:09 AM PST

Well, 2014 is almost up and I haven't attended a single concert or WWE event this year. Haven't taken any plane fights either.

I also managed to see zero films in San Francisco this year--opting instead to wait for them in San Jose. I will, however, make a special effort to see "The Interview" during my holiday vacation--even if it means driving over an hour to the nearest theater. (But first I need to get through the last of the Oscar contenders.)

Watched movie: "Wild" (2014)
Despite my boredom with hiking and my dismay that someone as inexperienced as the Reese Witherspoon character would walk this Pacific Crest Trail all by herself (amongst all those dangers and creepy men), I liked the movie. Mostly because I found the flashbacks about her downward spiral into depression, sex, and drugs poignant. To me, her flashbacks had more profound messages than the hike itself (but I guess she overlooked them at the time). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Imitation Game" (2014)
Fascinating biopic about Alan Turing, the misunderstood genius instrumental in breaking the Nazis' Enigma code during World War II. Despite the dramatic liberties and my suspicion that Benedict Cumberbatch channeled some "Sherlock" to make this guy far more entertaining than he really was, I enjoyed the film. Also liked how they got Mark Strong to play the MI6 chief, as the casting reminded me fondly of "Zero Dark Thirty". Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Foxcatcher" (2014)
Ominous biographical Olympic wrestling drama wherein Channing Tatum's creepiness gets completely dwarfed by Steve Carell's creepiness as USA Wrestling sponsor John du Pont (a millionaire with mommy issues and a big-@$$ nose). I mean seriously, that part where John shot the ceiling should have been a big red flag! :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Into the Woods" (2014)
Movie adaptation (directed by Rob Marshall) of the Broadway musical wherein a baker and his wife, on a mission to break Meryl Streep's curse, race to collect famous items from various Grimm fairy tale characters. I enjoyed most of the tongue-in-cheek humor, particularly that ridiculously campy duet of the two love-tormented princes. But overall the musical numbers didn't really resonate with me, and "I wish" the storyline had just wrapped up before the female giant arrived (or alternatively made her an open-ended cliffhanger)--because that's precisely when the film starting going downhill for me. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Unbroken" (2014) in Cinemark XD
Decent biopic (directed by Angelina Jolie) about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic U.S. runner who fought in WWII, drifted in a liferaft for 47 days, and endured harsh Japanese POW camps. I didn't really care for how the film overdramatized some of this guy's moral victories, but all in all I'd characterize the movie as "good". Rating: 6
Oh Shenandoah
12/16/14 11:47 PM PST

Ever since Entertainment Weekly published that stick figure death diagram in their magazine, spoiling each major TV death of 2013, I've actually been hoping for another 2014 edition now that I'm caught up on every show I care about. In particular, I'm interested how they'll illustrate that last death on the Sons of Anarchy series finale (which I decided to tune in for). By my tabulation, the major fatalities on Sons of Anarchy have now surpassed both The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones for 2014.

Even The Newsroom had a major fatality. While channel surfing in my hotel room, I happened to tune into HBO right when this character collapsed and died. Having seen no previews or warning signs for it, I was shocked.

Watched movie: "Force Majeure" (2014)
True-to-life Swedish Oscar entry wherein a controlled avalanche panics a restaurant patron into bolting from the table without his wife and two kids...an act which continues to eat away at her even after they appeared to settle it. Ordinary a cynic like me would just excuse what he did as a fight or flight reaction--except that I (and his wife) found two of his actions particularly damning: a) he had the wherewithal to grab his phone and gloves, and b) he kept denying what he did (which to me showed consciousness of guilt). I will say one thing in his defense: that I agreed with the movie's apparent message about double-standards between men and women. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" (2014)
Enthralling black-and-white Iranian Western (?) wherein a bored female vampire (who preys on dregs in a seedy city and occasionally dabbles in mischief) takes a liking to a restless young guy. (Did "Let the Right One In" inspire this plot?) The film excelled at visual compositions, long takes (particularly when the characters moved ever so slowly), and musical selections. Rating: 7
Coda
12/06/14 3:36 PM PST

Exasperating mid-season 5 finale of "The Walking Dead". Mostly because I thought this character's death could have easily been avoided had Rick simply said "no and that's final" to Dawn's overreaching stipulation. Also felt that Dawn, Noah, and Beth made idiotic errors in judgment as well. Yet despite this huge senseless result, I still liked the plan better than Rick's. Dude's crazy. :) Side note: AMC apologized for spoiling the death for the West Coast on The Walking Dead Facebook page. Seems like common knowledge that you should always avoid social media (or better yet, the entire Internet) hours before a new episode airs, but there you go.

To my relief, I managed to carve the Thanksgiving turkey successfully despite a couple of hiccups trying to get the legs off (one leg came off without any meat and the other one came off with too much meat). The legs came off really easy in the videos. :) Also couldn't slice underneath the breast due to the rib cage. The one trick that worked really well: placing a paper towel underneath the turkey to keep it from sliding.

Man, that forehead detective game can sure get tricky if your questions start going down the wrong path. Someone had "Wizard of Oz" and once she learned that he was in a musical ("Wicked"), that derailed her. Similarly, it was misleading for us to confirm that the Phantom of the Opera was a movie character.

Watched movie: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" (2014) in RPX
As I expected, the movie easily outshined the book (and even ended where I predicted it would). The improvements that I welcomed the most:
  • More action, including insightful scenes of District rebels getting "fired up".
  • Funnier scenes, most notably Katniss' list of conditions and a propo that brilliantly resembled a Hunger Games trailer.
  • Talented performances, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and Woody Harrelson. I also continue to maintain that the Hunger Games franchise only turned out as well as it did because of Jennifer Lawrence.
  • A saner Katniss. Then again, I guess they had to make her watchable. :)
Some of the confessionals came off as corny to me--probably because of the music. Side note #1: Did it not occur to the District 13 citizens that Peeta was coerced? Also, I guess we'll never know how he managed to kill Brutus. Side note #2: Not at all how I imagined the tune for the Hanging Tree song. Stay after the credits for a flaming Mockingjay logo chronology. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Penguins of Madagascar" (2014) in 3D
As I expected, utterly silly. A lot of dud jokes, e.g., the octopus name puns and the failure to recognize Shanghai, but admittedly, some amusing ones too. Hehe, cheezy dibbles. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Heir apparent(ly)
11/27/14 12:56 AM PST

I almost skipped Survivor Series this year due to my boredom with the card. Good thing I decided to order it, because I might have just witnessed the best Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Tag Team Match in WWE history. From Stephanie McMahon’s great heel acting to John Cena's shockingly early elimination to Dolph Ziggler's perseverance to the historic WWE debut of Sting, I was riveted.

Das funny, Grumpy Cat's pictures with the WWE wrestlers. That cat did not look happy to be there.

In other news, congratulations to Roger Federer for finally winning the one trophy that has always eluded him: the Davis Cup. I guess all that's left is an Olympic gold medal in singles, but at his age he'll likely have to settle for the silver one he won in London.

Well, looks like it's up to me to carve the turkey for Thanksgiving now. Based on the videos I watched online, I concluded that I need to remove all of the string and detach all of the limbs first. After that, the techniques vary:

Watched movie: "The Theory of Everything" (2014)
A biopic about cosmologist Stephen Hawking's married life that left me with mixed feelings. Mostly because it aired some dirty laundry about the couple that I felt should've stayed private. (I guess the wife opened the door by writing that memoir.) On the positive side, I appreciated the honesty and heart in the film, and was impressed by Eddie Redmayne's commitment in portraying Lou Gehrig's disease. Rating: 6
Rains of San Juan del Sur
11/20/14 9:45 PM PST

Wow. Jeremy, my favorite Survivor player of the season--the one who seemed positioned to win it all--just got ruthlessly blindsided in a conspiracy reminiscent of the Red Wedding! (Although the conspirators discussed it beforehand and I sensed something wrong when the camera spoiled Jeremy's vote, the outcome still shocked me.) This after he relinquished his reward and suffered for his allies on Exile Island! Backstabbers and ingrates, if you ask me. I was already annoyed with Jon & Jaclyn for their constant PDA, but now I totally despise those two (they just betrayed the same allies whom they were holding back tears for earlier in the episode!). At the same time, I have to give Jon & Jaclyn credit for a really smart move.

Man, I guess that strategy of Jeremy and Natalie relinquishing their rewards wasn't nearly as brilliant as I originally thought. Come to think of it, good deeds do seem to get punished a lot in this game.

In other news, I drove down to Dublin to watch "Interstellar" in 70mm film IMAX on their tall, 2-3 story square-shaped screen. (I actually could have seen it locally at the Tech Museum Hackworth IMAX Dome, but the projection's so gigantic there that during onscreen conversations I can only see one person at a time!) Although the film featured quite a few grand 70mm shots, it kept alternating distractingly between full height (70mm) and normal letterbox (I presume 35mm). For example, the interior of the spaceship would use a letterbox ratio while the space outside of the spaceship always took up the whole screen. I wished the whole thing could've been 70mm. :)

Also, the sound would get so loud that I could feel my seat shaking. Good thing I had earplugs.

Watched movie: "Before I Go to Sleep" (2014)
Slow mystery thriller wherein Nicole Kidman wakes up with amnesia every morning due to an attack that she can't remember. Nowhere near as good as "Memento" IMHO, but some things did pique my curiosity. For instance, thanks to a secret video diary that she started filming with her digital camera, she began unearthing that her husband lies to her (even tampering with her photo wall at one point). Though to my discomfort, her video diary wavered from don't trust him (such a dangerous thing to say) to accept what he says as truth (also dangerous). My advice: just limit the diary to solid, corroborated facts--no assumptions or half-baked conclusions. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014)
Weird movie from director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Firstly, the whole film felt like one continuous take (the camera floated from character to character like some kind of ghost drone--often skimming ahead in time as if the making of this Broadway play was in and of itself a play). Secondly, Michael Keaton's character exhibited superpowers that in my view, appeared to be real! As for the movie's insights, I felt like Emma Stone's character had the most important ones, e.g., about ego and what the human race looks like on toilet paper. One lingering question: I wonder what the Edward Norton character thought of those last couple of improvisations. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Big Hero 6" (2014) in 3D
Another home run from Walt Disney Animation Studios (excellent Disney short too, i.e., "feast"). Loved Baymax the inflatable health care robot. Ba-la-la-la-la-lah! Someone should make that robot for real, funny walk and fist bump and everything. I found the other technological ideas fun to behold as well. Stay after the credits. Rating: 8
Corner of the sky
11/11/14 6:35 PM PST

During the lunch after my brother-in-law's second memorial service, I found out that the reverend was a "Survivor" fan. A Buddhist minister regularly watching "Survivor"! It blew my mind. Naturally, I had to get his thoughts on the show. He reflected that "Survivor" is a social game which relies on interdependence, and that no player could win by isolating themselves. (My own personal perspective about the "Buddhist meaning" in that show: that it's about letting go of grudges, to which he replied: "...yeah.")

Also watched a high school performance of the musical "Pippin" (which was a lot more suggestive than I expected). I was actually able to follow the storyline even though it contained illogical impossibilities and liked to break the fourth wall.

Finally, I enjoyed the Simpsons' crossover with "Futurama", but couldn't reconcile how Fry’s dog ended up in Springfield. Hehe, I guess now the door's open for Bender to reappear in some future Simpsons episode.

Watched movie: "Kaguyahime no monogatari" (2013) a.k.a. "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" (2014)
Tearjerking, breathtakingly scenic, exquisite hand-drawn animation from Studio Ghibli where even messy strokes and ugly cry faces looked like works-of-art. The film seemed to seamlessly blend all sorts of contradictory styles, e.g., sketches vs. watercolor, clean lines vs. sloppy lines, intricate detail vs. contour, realistic people vs. caricatures. Plot-wise, I'm still not sure what the moral of the story was (after all, if the bamboo cutter was indeed misguided, it was only because of those "godsends" he received). But I'm thinking something Buddhist, because one scene totally gave me flashbacks of my old church. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Nightcrawler" (2014) in Cinemark XD
A crime journalism thriller that I found fiendishly entertaining thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as what I would best describe as a creep motherf***er. Just something about his eyes and the precision of his words--like some kind of high functioning sociopath. :D Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Whiplash" (2014)
Top dramatic awards winner from Sundance about a student so obsessed with becoming one of the best jazz drummers who ever lived that he gives up any kind of social life and endures a vicious instructor's mind games. If the Oscars ever awarded onscreen duos, I'd easily nominate Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. That was some wildly intense stuff--almost reminiscent of "Full Metal Jacket". Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Interstellar" (2014) in IMAX
Started out slow, but got much more interesting once the astronauts began staking humanity's survival on some major life-and-death decisions. Props to those cool robots (they actually had honesty and humor settings!). As for plot holes, I didn't dwell too much on them since the movie established fairly early that fifth dimensional beings (?!) were helping humanity out. Though I still wondered why they couldn't just spell out exactly what they wanted humanity to do (I guess they followed the same logic as Matthew McConaughey when he opted to telegraph "STAY" to his daughter instead of something like "IT'S ME, DAD"). In conclusion, I'm a big fan of Christopher Nolan's darker noir films--so his attempt at a feel-good "reach for the stars" movie about wonder and love just never felt right to me. :) Rating: 8
Eternal October
10/30/14 5:30 PM PDT

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for their narrow, odds-defying 2014 World Series victory! Or maybe should I say, congratulations to Madison Bumgarner for winning the 2014 World Series for them! His historic John Henry-type heroics under such nail biting, winner-take-all stakes immortalized Game 7 of this World Series as my favorite baseball game of all time.

When I look back, the outcome arguably turned on the slimmest of margins, for instance, that double play (which sparked an instant replay review) and Omar Infante's slip on the grass for the run that eventually won the game.

I still have gaps in my knowledge about Major League Baseball, for example, why the Royals couldn't just replace injured catcher Salvador Perez with a pinch runner. Dude could barely even walk to first base when that pitch drilled him!

Watched movie: "John Wick" (2014) in IMAX
Decent Keanu Reeves action flick (albeit overrated on rottentomatoes.com, IMHO). For better or for worse, the characters kept erring in judgment (for example, it never occurred to the villain to attempt an apology??). P.S. Keanu's "acting" in one particular scene made me cringe. Rating: 6
My childhood home sold
10/27/14 4:56 PM PDT

Watched On Demand movie: "V/H/S Viral" (2014)
Four more VHS (?) "found footage" horror shorts (all with pretty good production quality). Just like in the previous two installments, I felt that the frame narrative had the weakest storyline. However, the other three shorts (the killer magician, the parallel universe, and the skateboarder throwdown) all exceeded my expectations. Side note: I keep waiting for the film title to upgrade to at least "D/V/D" because who uses VCRs anymore? Rating: 6
Fringes
10/17/14 12:07 AM PDT

Drove down to Redwood City to watch "The Maze Runner" in Barco Escape, an experimental new movie gimmick wherein two angled side screens (one left and one right) fold out from the main screen, and supplement the movie with peripheral imagery. Specifically, the side screens projected scrolling shaft walls when Thomas first rode the elevator; then during his trip to a key section of the maze, the side screens projected a few minutes of maze walls and other peripheral sights. For everything else in the film, the side screens remained off (so we really only got 5-7 minutes worth of peripheral footage).

I liked the peripheral footage for the most part, but got disoriented whenever the maze runners vanished off the edge of the middle screen (my brain kept expecting them to continue onto the side screen). I also can't envision much future for this new format. Although it augmented "The Maze Runner" pretty well, I can't think of any other movies (besides maybe "Cube") that would benefit from extra peripheral imagery.

Not sure why I'm so curious about emerging movie technologies, but here's a couple more that I read about:

Auro-3D
A 3D audio format from Barco that adds two new layers of sound ("height" and "overhead") above the existing surround sound layer. The Cinemark XD theater near my workplace listed Auro Sound screenings a couple of times, but then aborted them.
IMAX 70mm film
A wide motion picture film with a much higher resolution than the standard 35mm. Presumably when "Interstellar" premieres early in 70mm on November 5 (select sequences filmed with IMAX cameras), it will screen exclusively in the large IMAX auditoriums using 70mm projectors, not the normal auditoriums using the lower resolution digital IMAX projectors.
Watched movie: "The Guest" (2014)
Adam Wingard film in a similar vein as "Dexter" wherein a suspiciously charming soldier befriends a grieving family and goes through great lengths to help them out. All the catchy music and Halloween imagery made me wonder whether this movie was somehow inspired by John Carpenter's "Halloween". All in all, I liked the film but still can't reconcile that huge rating on rottentomatoes.com. Rating: 6
Hiroko Maenaga 1933-2014
10/11/14 12:06 AM PDT

My aunt passed away from stomach cancer. I don't have any current pictures of her, but did scan this old family photo of her, my mother, their brother, and their parents:

"I'll see you again in 25 years?!"
10/09/14 4:42 PM PDT

Looks like I'll be ordering Showtime again come 2016. David Lynch and Mark Frost will be reviving "Twin Peaks" as a limited series of nine episodes! Finally a resolution to that infamous "How's Annie?" cliffhanger (I hope). (Though I read that the actor who plays BOB died after the Fire Walk with Me movie.) My question: Will the show bring back Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer? Considering the actress' age, maybe she could play an angel or something (we never did get to see the White Lodge).

Watched movie: "Gone Girl" (2014)
Cynical psychological thriller (directed by David Fincher) wherein beloved childrens' book muse "Amazing Amy" goes missing, leaving behind a lot of peculiar clues and a suspiciously detached husband (played by Ben Affleck). (Guy sure had a knack for inappropriate photos.) Although I felt like the film began going off the rails, overall it kept me intrigued. Also liked its portrayal of sensationalism in the media. P.S. Best ending I've seen in awhile. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Equalizer" (2014) in IMAX
Pretty formulaic action fare (complete with a slow walk from a background explosion)--except for one major conceit where Denzel Washington's vigilante character inexplicably limits his bad guy-killing arsenal to ordinary household objects. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Annabelle" (2014) in Cinemark XD
Illogical and boring. Disappointing considering how that ugly hideous doll struck me as the most memorable highlight from "The Conjuring". I found a couple of scenes good, i.e., the childrens' drawings and the girl running at the door, but that was about it. Conclusion was dumb, IMHO. Rating: 4
Off-color
09/30/14 6:49 PM PDT

So weird seeing the Simpsons on "Family Guy". Although the animation styles seemed to blend ok, I had trouble reconciling the Simpsons with all that crude and misogynistic humor. Like it almost seemed beneath them to even appear on that show.

One time my friends and I mused about who's dumber: Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson. I had trouble deciding, but eventually went with Homer. :)

Watched movie: "The Maze Runner" (2014) in IMAX
Like a young adult version of "Cube" wherein teenage boys wake up trapped inside of a giant, shifting circular maze puzzle--a rather intriguing puzzle that in my opinion, the filmmakers should've invested more time and thought into. If the film had had more intellect (for example, more discourse with that cool Asian cartographer who charted out and memorized the shifts in the walls) and less of the formulaic drama (for example, anything related to that pudgy kid), then I probably would've raised my rating. Moreover, I found most of the movie action contrived, and felt that the main guy kept overacting. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Boxtrolls" (2014) in 3D
Unsightly stop-motion animation from the same studio that made "Coraline" and "ParaNormaN". Despite my displeasure with all of the eyesores (humans and boxtrolls alike) and the Red Hats' annoying mannerisms, I did see some redeeming qualities in the film (for example, the party and the cheese allergy). Stay during the credits for a behind-the-scenes glimpse. Rating: 6
Writing history
09/18/14 9:43 PM PDT

Belated congratulations to Serena Williams for finally winning that 18th Grand Slam title! Ironic how the US Open, Serena's worst Slam in terms of scandal, has now become her best Slam. During that first set of the final, I got worried that my jinx was messing up her serve--but since she basically dominated Caroline Wozniacki the entire match I didn't have to turn my TV off. My favorite moment: when Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova personally welcomed her to the "18 Grand Slam singles titles" club by presenting her with an 18 carat bracelet. (I knew Evert and Navratilova both worked for the tennis sportscast team, so I would've been disappointed if they hadn't shown up.)

As for the US Open Men's Final...I skipped it.

In data storage news, my new USB zip drive works great. I bought it off eBay, and the device plugged straight into one of my USB ports without any further setup. Currently, zip disks are the only way to transfer data between my laptop and Pentium (the latter has no Internet access). Heck though, technology changes so rapidly that flash drives might become obsolete next.

Similarly, I believe my Dad transferred his wedding video from 8 mm to VHS before he died...and it occurred to me that maybe we should transfer that to DVD because who uses VCRs anymore? But then I thought: how much longer before DVDs become completely obsolete? Everything's digital now.

Watched movie: "Frank" (2014)
Amusingly offbeat comedy wherein Michael Fassbender fronts some kind of avant-garde band--wearing a hilarious papier-mâché head that he never takes off. (At least I hope it's a comedy, and not a serious drama about mental illness!) I thought I might tire of both his and the band's shticks, but the film managed to keep my interest. Rating: 6
Nick Trachsel 1955-2014
09/16/14 5:39 PM PDT

Can't believe I had to write another obituary so soon. My brother-in-law passed away suddenly, in his bed. A total shock because even though he had cancer (of unknown origin) in his hip, we all felt optimistic about an upcoming operation that would allow him to walk again. None of us expected his health to decline so rapidly.

Memorial services will be held this Saturday.

Niklaus "Nick" Trachsel
1955-2014

Nick was born on 9/9/1955 in Berne, Switzerland to parents Hanspeter and Elisabeth Trachsel.

Nick passed away in his sleep on September 10, 2014.

Nick graduated high school in 1974, spent a year as an exchange student in Rochester, Michigan, trained as a goldsmith until 1978, and emigrated to America on June 14, 1980. He worked as a goldsmith in Monterey, designing and crafting fine jewelry for over 34 years. He married June Aoki in 1995, and raised one daughter.

Nick was preceded in death by his father Hanspeter Trachsel.

He is survived by wife June Trachsel of Pacific Grove. Daughter Corinne Trachsel of Pacific Grove. Mother Elisabeth Trachsel of Switzerland. Sister Barbara Josi of Switzerland. Brother Lorenz Trachsel of Switzerland.

The reclusive network, part II
09/06/14 4:49 PM PDT

I inadvertently figured out a way to improve your privacy on the Internet: change your name to someone famous. Ever since this DJ Steve Aoki's career took off, I've all but vanished from Google. :)

While I'm at it, I have a solution for all those celebrities who had nude pictures leaked onto the Internet: don't photograph yourself naked.

Watched movie: "As Above/So Below" (2014)
This found footage horror flick piqued my interest because the filmmakers shot on-location in the actual Paris catacombs...which ended up disappointing me (I guess I thought the walls, ceilings, and floors would all be made of bones). Then the movie piqued my interest again when the characters found a crawlway labelled Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...unfortunately, Hell ended up disappointing me too. :P For some reason, I had trouble getting into the film--either because everything just felt inauthentic, or because I couldn't tell what was happening a lot of the time due to the constant shifts in perspective between the characters' head cams. Rating: 5
Say its name
08/27/14 4:23 PM PDT

Congratulations to "Breaking Bad" for sweeping the Emmys! I still consider that final half-season of the show some of the best TV I've ever watched. Seemed like a foregone conclusion that Moira Walley-Beckett would win for writing "Ozymandias", and that Bryan Cranston would clinch lead actor--but I was surprised that both Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn won too.

In contrast, I was dismayed that my least favorite music video of 2013, Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball", won MTV's video of the year! Whaaaat.

Weekend box office results...I still can't wrap my head around why Sin City 2 bombed so badly while tripe like Transformers 4 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles performed so well. The PG-13 rating, perhaps? Unfortunately, this will probably scare movie studios into catering to teenage audiences now. :(

Haha, Homer Simpson took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Finally in travel news, I already found a hotel in Santa Maria that I like. Although it lacks room service and an on demand library, I like its quiet, complimentary business center. I'm too paranoid to travel around with a laptop, so internet stations that charge fees or have a lot of distracting hustle and bustle around them become deal-breakers for me.

Watched movie: "Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (2014) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
The first Sin City movie felt like "A" stories--this Sin City movie felt like "B" stories. Each plot struck me as skin-deep (even the one that ended with what amounted to a miracle). Rating: 6
King of the mountain
08/20/14 7:14 PM PDT

Can you believe the year Brock Lesnar has had? First he snapped the Undertaker's 21-win WrestleMania streak, then last Sunday he totally squashed "Super Cena" for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship! Going forward, I can't think of any challenge left for Brock to conquer--except perhaps John Cena's undefeated record in "I Quit" Matches. I can't imagine Cena's character ever losing one of those.

Watched movie: "The Giver" (2014)
Well, the premise showed a lot of promise: the rulers of a disciplined "utopian" society (where the people can't see color or feel emotion) purposely exempt one individual from their everyday taboos, e.g., rudeness and lying, empower this individual with emotions and top-secret memories of the world, and then entrust this aptly-named "Receiver of Memory" to help them make their society a better place. Curiously, the movie's main character gets this new position 10 years after some kind of tragedy befell the previous trainee. Interesting, right? Too bad all three Receivers of Memory turned out to be such bores, IMHO. :( Side note: Dug the precision of language. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Expendables 3" (2014) in RPX
PG-13 violence and a new younger team...is it just me or did this franchise sell out? :( The dialogue seemed worse than usual as well. Rating: 5
Robin Williams (1951-2014)
08/12/14 7:11 PM PDT

What a downer, Robin Williams taking his own life. R.I.P.

Watched movie: "Into the Storm" (2014) in Cinemark XD
A found footage-ish disaster flick with entertaining special effects (including a cool firenado), but with personal drama that made me want to gag. I spent much of the movie wondering where I had seen that intense main actor before (answer: Thorin "take back Erebor!" Oakenshield), and my brain kept typecasting the female storm chaser as Lori Grimes. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "A Most Wanted Man" (2014)
Another great spy thriller from John le Carré (this time about post-9/11 counterterrorism), and another outstanding performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman (unfortunately one of his last). Heh, those parts where the agents hid in plain sight reminded me fondly of "The French Connection". I find I actually prefer these intelligent, slower burning thrillers where the agents patiently watch, wait, manipulate people, and gather intel (as opposed to holding guns to heads and blowing away bad guys left and right). I also appreciated how the movie dumbed nothing down, e.g., Hoffman's quick-witted tact and the suspenseful contract signing. As for the ending--it haunted me with mixed feelings because I felt that Hoffman's critics had valid points. Even if the escapee was just guilty by association and the terrorist donor could become a long-term informant, when it comes to counterterrorism I say err on the side of caution. Rating: 7
One less key
08/07/14 7:23 PM PDT

Well, I spent one final weekend at my Dad's house before the estate liquidation service empties it out and the realtors put it on the market. Was I sad to leave my childhood home forever? Not really. Maybe because I negatively associate the place with constant schoolwork, curfew, and not being allowed to play video games. Or maybe I'm just not sentimental about places. (Either way, when I first left that house for college--that was one of the happiest times of my life. :))

Also, out of everything that my Mom and Dad ever hoarded, I only salvaged one item for myself: a Phillips screwdriver. Not because of any kind of sentimental value, but because of how well it fits into my car's license plate screws. Haha, maybe as a prank on my future heirs I'll leave that screwdriver behind in a safe deposit box. :) Dude, when my family found those rusty scissors in my Dad's safe deposit box, we almost asked his old internment camp friend whether the scissors had some kind of special meaning!

Watched TV movie: "Sharknado 2: The Second One" (2014)
Actually watched this Syfy premiere live, and glanced restlessly at the clock during commercial breaks. Admittedly, I liked it better than the previous film--primarily because I felt that they really strove for "campy" this time. For example, D-list celebrities galore and a gag where Fin "jumps the shark". Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) in RPX & 3D
Kinda corny and convoluted (and I was cynical about how quickly these hard-boiled strangers became good friends), but I liked it. Rocket turned out to be my favorite character even though I hate raccoons. Also found Drax amusing once they explained his shtick. Stay after the credits for...Howard the Duck. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Big Lebowski" (1998)
I don't get this movie at all. Rating: 5
Eternal September Part III
07/30/14 5:04 PM PDT

Someone finally wrote an article about insensitive photos at serious places. Yeah, I still hate it when tourists smile for pictures at the World Trade Center memorial. I also don't get why people would even snap pictures at a funeral, much less smile in them.

Strangely though, I wasn't offended by the September 11 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" poster. Probably because it looked like an unfortunate fluke.

Watched movie: "Boyhood" (2014)
The mother of all coming of age movies in that it filmed the same boy (and his fictional family members) on-and-off for 12 years! Meaning, the actor who played the boy started the film at age 7 and finished the film at age 18. Unfortunately, besides some keen musings and a couple of bad stepfathers, I found this kid's childhood no more interesting than my own. :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Hercules" (2014) in IMAX 3D
Okay overall, but after the opening characterized Hercules' trailer-popping labours as tall tales, I found the rest of the movie disappointingly plain. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Lucy" (2014) in Cinemark XD
Despite all the pseudo-scientific theatrics (made deceptively more credible by Morgan Freeman's documentary-like narrative voice), I did feel that the movie managed to stimulate thought and broaden my horizons--particularly in regards to humanity's shallow priorities and the fallacy of mathematics. I was also able to suspend disbelief that Scarlett Johansson could magically get smarter (possibly because her aloof behavior reminded me of Dr. Manhattan). Side note: I wish she had elaborated on what she meant by "we never really die". Rating: 7
The laws of cars and men
07/19/14 11:55 PM PDT

To my chagrin last Saturday, my car passed smog testing but still failed certification due to a technicality with the catalytic converter. Apparently, the "universal" catalytic converter that Firestone installed back in January 2011 was only officially compatible with a 2002 Corolla at the latest, not a 2004 Corolla. A new smog mandate, apparently. I had trouble believing the smog inspector at first--until I received the exact same bad news when I attempted a second smog check somewhere else.

The next morning, I approached Firestone about whether they would replace my catalytic converter for free if I paid $900+ out of my own pocket for a new one (a more than fair offer, IMHO). The manager got flustered and stammered why I would reason that. I told him that it was Firestone who obtained the incorrect catalytic converter, and added that the smog guy actually recommended I report them to the BAR (California Bureau of Automotive Repair). So after that thinly veiled threat on my part, further research on his part (including a look, I suspect, at how frequent a customer I was), and their own in-house inspection, the manager agreed to waive the labor fee.

In other news, I really hated that "24: Live Another Day" finale. Not as much as I hated the series finales for "Dexter" and "How I Met Your Mother", but same ballpark. I felt like the writers silent clock'ed a romantic chemistry for Jack that no future storyline could ever equal. Ugh--knowing Hollywood, the writers will probably entertain some kind of "ship" between Jack and Chloe next. :(

Watched movie: "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (2014) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Stirring sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes wherein a colony of human survivors--desperate for electricity--sends a delegation to Caesar's ape community to negotiate the usage of a hydroelectric dam there. Thanks to the quality of the motion capture and the pithiness of the simian dialogue, those apes struck me as total badasses--especially that scarred-up, teeth-baring Koba. Hehe--Koba was cool. Side note: Those apes used guns remarkably well, considering they lack opposable thumbs. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Purge: Anarchy" (2014)
More interesting than the first movie in that the main characters end up downtown during Purge night, and come across various psychos and factions (each with their own unique agenda) in an odyssey reminiscent of "The Warriors". (The film also delved into the ugly truth behind the Purge, like what happens when people don't purge enough.) The scariest part for me was how people could just hire experienced professionals (for example, professionals skilled at sabotaging cars or breaching homes) to do their dirty work--meaning that no one could ever truly be safe. Side note: Couldn't the main guy have driven to his intended destination before the Purge started? Rating: 7
Schrödinger's cat
07/12/14 10:07 PM PDT

What did I ever do before the Internet? Google solved the mystery about why my Dad kept old scissors in his safety deposit box (most likely reason: bond coupons). And awhile back, Wikipedia managed to diagnose my beeturia (better than my original theory, kidney failure!).

Watched movie: "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (2014) in IMAX 3D
A mind-numbing, illogical, visually taxing ordeal that lumbered on and on and on (until finally it ended in a completely nonsensical way). But at least I got it over with. Side note: Cool Dinobots. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Coherence" (2014)
A cerebral, detail-oriented puzzler wherein quantum versions of the same dinner party (at differing points in time?) begin to coexist within walking distance of each other. Had the storyline not teased my brain so heavily, I probably would have analogized the movie to the Twilight Zone. (If you don't believe me, see the table I worked on below.) Though the more I thought about it, the less I cared about what how shuffled the realities got (it's not like the quantum doubles had any differences that should matter). While I'm at it, what kind of bonehead would entertain killing or blackmailing their quantum double much less become distrustful of them?? Rating: 7

Spoiler alert: I actually re-watched the movie and made this chart to tell each quantum counterpart apart. Strangely improbable how Hugh and Amir stole another house's box at least four times. Also struck me as improbable that the realities didn't get more crowded with duplicates.

House 1 Lee (glasses) Beth (white hair) Em (blond hair) Kevin (Em's boyfriend) Laurie (red dress) Mike (idiot) Hugh (beard) Amir (black sweater)
Stolen ping pong paddle, stolen numbers in red, blue glowsticks, broken cup, early flower vase compliment, cracked phones (Hugh 1 & Amir 1 left through dark zone)
Stolen ping pong paddle, stolen numbers in red, blue glowsticks, broken cup, early flower vase compliment, cracked phone (Em 1, Kevin 1, Laurie 1, and Mike 1 left through dark zone while Lee 1 & Beth 1 stayed behind at first house) Cloth band-aid (Hugh 2 & Amir 2 stayed behind at first house)
House 2 Lee (glasses) Beth (white hair) Em (blond hair) Kevin (Em's boyfriend) Laurie (red dress) Mike (idiot) Hugh (beard) Amir (black sweater)
Stolen oven mitt, stolen numbers in green, blue glowsticks, unbroken cup, late flower vase compliment (Lee 2 & Beth 2 already there at second house) Stolen ping pong paddle, stolen numbers in red, blue glowsticks, broken cup, early flower vase compliment, cracked phone (Mike 1 snuck out through dark zone while Em 1, Kevin 1, and Laurie 1 stayed at second house) Cloth band-aid, red glowsticks (Hugh 3 & Amir 3 already there at second house)
Stolen oven mitt, stolen numbers in green, blue glowsticks, unbroken cup, late flower vase compliment (Lee 2 & Beth 2 still at second house) Stolen ping pong paddle, stolen numbers in red, blue glowsticks, broken cup, early flower vase compliment, cracked phone (Em 1, Kevin 1, and Laurie 1 still at second house) Stolen napkin, blue glowstick (Mike 2 more depressed) Cloth band-aid, red glowsticks (Hugh 3 & Amir 3 left through dark zone with book & box)
Stolen oven mitt, stolen numbers in green, blue glowsticks, unbroken cup, late flower vase compliment (Lee 2 & Beth 2 helped create new box containing coaster & blue numbers on photos) Stolen ping pong paddle, stolen numbers in red, blue glowsticks, broken cup, early flower vase compliment, cracked phone (Em 1, Kevin 1, and Laurie 1 helped create new box containing coaster & blue numbers on photos) Stolen napkin, blue glowstick (Mike 2 helped create new box containing coaster & blue numbers on photos) Stolen stapler, normal band-aid, both red and blue glowsticks, uncracked phone (Hugh 4 & Amir 4 brought book and helped create new box containing coaster & blue numbers on photos)
Family heirloom?
07/07/14 5:35 PM PDT

At long last, my family got to open our Dad’s safety deposit box. We surrounded it, lifted the lid, and found one lone item inside: a rusty pair of scissors. Needless to say, this discovery left us dumbfounded. Did it have some kind of meaning behind it? Did it have sentimental value like Citizen Kane’s sled? Did he intend for our Mom to find it instead? Did he just place it in there absentmindedly? Did he leave it there on his way to the airport? Is it evidence in a cold case? Is it a clue to a hidden treasure? Guess we'll never know. :(

Given that both of my parents died shortly before Fourth of July, I find that I hate this holiday more than ever (especially in my Dad's neighborhood, which I guess I won't have to worry about anymore next year). Nowadays I prefer to just hole myself up in a hotel room while the fireworks explode outside in muffled bursts.

In other news, Roger Federer's narrow five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final left me dejected. Federer lost a perfect opportunity to win an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon title, and now at his age might never reach another Grand Slam final again. Oh well. He's already won a historic 17 Grand Slam titles so I guess it's not like he needs another one. :P I really want Serena Williams to win one more Grand Slam title though.

Watched movie: "Snowpiercer" (2013-2014)
Colorfully offbeat English debut from Korean director Joon-ho Bong, full of flair and violence and mainstream actors (including Captain America himself, Chris Evans, and a very weird Tilda Swinton). The story takes place 17 years after a global freeze trapped the last of humanity on a perpetually moving train, and follows a rebellion of lower class passengers as they fight their way from train car to train car (each with its own unique survivalist theme). Overall I enjoyed the movie (two tense scenes in particular), but did find it pretentious at times. Rating: 6
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair
06/27/14 2:43 PM PDT

Interesting. I read that Rian Johnson will direct the sequel to J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Wars movie. Rian Johnson is the guy who directed quite possibly the greatest TV episode ever made, "Ozymandias" from Breaking Bad (which unsurprisingly topped Entertainment Weekly's 50 Best TV Scenes of the Past Year).

To this day, I still feel a pang of emotion thinking about that episode. It struck me as a cruel, visceral tragedy about a man who shatters the lives of everyone he loves, and then has to exile himself in disgrace. Maybe I should have expected the shocks in that episode after the ominous teaser of a happier time, but they still caught me off guard (I incorrectly reasoned that big deaths would only occur at episode's end). Hours later, the events of the episode still troubled me. It was like I had gazed into some kind of bottomless pit of infinite sorrow.

Amazingly after 51,000+ user ratings, the episode still has a perfect 10/10 rating on IMDb.com.

Watched movie: "The Rover" (2014)
This might sound oxymoronic, but I found the movie profoundly stupid. Mostly due to that annoyingly cryptic Guy Pearce character. It's like, he went through all this trouble to get his stolen car back, i.e., a long and bloody road trip with a brother of one of the thieves, and the reason turned out to be--in my opinion--both brilliant and dumb. Also found the depiction of "post-collapse" life in Australia both gritty and pretentious. Rating: 5
R U agitated?
06/19/14 5:22 PM PDT

I do not like that "check engine" light. Tightening the gas cap didn't seem to fix it, so I took an afternoon off work to drive my car to the mechanics' shop. But before I got there, the light vanished by itself. When I had them check the code anyway, they theorized that maybe I'm about to have a timing chain problem. The last time I had the code checked (by the dealership), the mechanic posed some other convoluted theory. It's like House, M.D.

My car is coming up on 278,000 miles, so I guess anything can go wrong at this point.

Watched movie: "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (2014) in IMAX 3D
Sappy but like the first film, visually spectacular. Though ugh, I forgot how ugly those dragons looked (like dyed, toadish bats). Also forgot how much that that nasally, facetious Jay Baruchel character irritated me. Side note: Felt like the introduction of those experienced dragon trainers diminished everything that Hiccup managed to accomplish in the first movie. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "22 Jump Street" (2014) in Cinemark XD
So tired of that running "bromance" gag between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. (I didn't find it funny in the previous movie either.) Also found nary anything else funny in this film except for when Schmidt dated Ice Cube's daughter. Stay after the credits. Side note: Unfortunate timing on that Tracy Morgan joke. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Signal" (2014)
Started out like Catfish and then got all Twilight Zone. I liked all of the different curiosities, from the sterile personalities & interior designs to those eye-opening bionic limbs. Cool twist ending too. Rating: 6
Return, Revenge, Recycle
06/12/14 6:43 PM PDT

I keep seeing rumors that the 30th season of Survivor will cast returning all-stars again. Also read an article that the show won't have an all-winners edition because "some of the winners have been boring". If you ask me, that's an understatement. :) Though admittedly, I wouldn't mind seeing Tony, Yul, Cochran, and Parvati again. Not sure how much of this is coincidence, but Parvati has appeared in all three of my favorite seasons--and also took part in both of my favorite Survivor moments/tribal councils.

Personally, I'd bring back Cagayan players like "Chaos" Kass, Spencer, and the aforementioned Tony. I'd actually nominate Ciera as well--mostly because to me, she heralded this new generation of "big move" players whom I find subversive to the game.

Speaking of Blood vs. Water, I read that Redemption Island got nixed from the next Blood vs. Water so that the arena could be used for some kind of new twist. I can't help thinking that they're planning something evil, like forcing the eliminated player to duel their own loved one to stay in the game. I still remember the one and only time this happened in the first Blood vs. Water, i.e., when Tina and her daughter simply agreed to let the best woman win. (That choice was spared for the other players who had to duel their loved one, because one of them always managed to beat the third competitor.) Logically, you would think that the originally voted-out player would simply volunteer to forfeit the duel--but I could totally see players (like Rupert and Ciera's mother) romanticizing it and sacrificing themselves.

In other news, I found it amusing that the co-owner of California Chrome called it cowardly to skip the first two legs of the Triple Crown. It's like, he just now figured out why a Triple Crown is so freaking difficult? Not only can the owners enter fresh horses into the Belmont Stakes, but the horses can specialize at that distance too! (Haha, imagine if Michael Phelps called it unfair that he had to keep competing against fresher Olympic swimmers.)

Watched movie: "Edge of Tomorrow" (2014) in IMAX 3D
Enjoyable cross between "Groundhog Day" and "Halo" wherein a soldier (Tom Cruise) relives the same day over and over each time he dies. (Some of the deaths were actually pretty comical too.) It made me nostalgic of those times when I got so addicted to a video game that I'd play it over and over until I unlocked the best possible ending + extras (example). Sometimes muscle memory wasn't enough for me either--I had to write down notes too (though to my recollection, nothing as complicated as the battlefield map that Tom Cruise marked up like a playbook!). Side note: I actually didn't notice very many loopholes, though I did find it hard to believe that Cage couldn't just direct (or misdirect) Rita past the helicopter ambush. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Saturday Night Fever" (1977)
Couldn't figure out if this movie was as shallow as it seemed, or if it had some kind of deep meaning behind it. On one hand, it touched upon socioeconomic issues and appeared to make John Travolta's racist, metrosexual character less narrow-minded. On the other hand, I felt like it blew over disturbing incidents such as the misguided gang attack, the two non-consenting women, and Bobby's plunge from the bridge. Rating: 5
The science of silence
06/04/14 5:39 PM PDT

Last Sunday, I yelled at some guy in my theater. He came in late to the movie (after the lights went dark) and then kept shoving his backpack onto me. "What the hell are you doing!" I finally exclaimed. "Sorry, I didn't see you there," he apologized as people in the audience shushed me. As Homer Simpson would say, they were shushing me?

Then yesterday when I was watching X-Men again, something happened that I don't remember ever happening before. A noisy group of 3-4 people--after coming into the movie really late and ignoring every shout from the audience to stop talking--actually got escorted out by security! I've never even bothered to report talkers (or shadow puppeteers) to security in the past, so maybe now I'll try that route someday.

I don't know if it's my imagination or not, but people seem more rude in the less crowded theaters than the crowded ones. Maybe because they care less about the movie than the people who show up on opening day?

I'm starting to think that the quietest time to see a movie might be early in the morning. :P

Watched movie: "Maleficent" (2014) in IMAX 3D
A revisionism of "Sleeping Beauty" that makes its classic villainess so "defanged" and sympathetic that she struck me as more of a traditional heroine. Had Angelina Jolie played her as more of an antiheroine, then I would've found the movie much more interesting. (I'm guessing that Disney didn't want to confuse little kids.) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Cold in July" (2014)
Felt more like a wild wild Western than a crime drama. It bothered me to no end that the Michael C. Hall character, a family man who frames pictures for a living, would jeopardize his life for a complete stranger who never even asked for his help. (At least when Dexter Morgan did stuff like that, he had sociopathy as an excuse.) Though I guess I shouldn't have been surprised after that one scene where he idiotically crept into his house (with his family outside) to see if an intruder was still in there. Side note: Cool synthetic music--like something that would play during a Halloween movie. Rating: 5
X
05/28/14 6:37 PM PDT

Even though we're not even halfway through the decade yet, I'm already looking ahead to my best and worst of 2010-2019. The worst event that happened to me is a foregone conclusion, but for best event I'm already leaning toward the joy I felt when the United States got bin Laden. Also, I think I can safely predict "Inception" as my favorite movie.

I won't always stick to my year-end countdowns either. Last decade, that Riverdance trip with my Mom jumped ahead after she stopped going out because of her health. This decade, my #1 of 2013--Edwards Santa Maria 10 becoming an art-house theater--will plummet due to months and months of disappointing selection from that place (by my count, I've only seen two movies there since it first opened on 11/22/2013).

Watched movie: "Godzilla" (2014) in IMAX 3D
Pretty good U.S. reboot of the original Toho franchise, featuring a menacing albeit fatter Godzilla. (Weird how I rooted for him even though when I think about it, what makes him any better or worse than the other destructive monsters?) Much of the rampage took place in San Francisco, which looked much flatter than I remembered (in real-life I think Godzilla would easily lose his balance on all those steep hills). Overall, I liked the movie but wouldn't have minded less screen time on all those human gnats. Side note: Is it just me, or is Bryan Cranston boring when he's not playing a criminal? Rating: 7

Watched it again in D-BOX/3D and enjoyed the motion effects. The monsters' roars shook my seat, and every giant footstep made my seat quake. I could also feel the wind shear from the HALO jump.

Watched movie: "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) in 3D
Arguably the best, most poignant X-Men movie of them all thanks to a powerful storyline where James McAvoy's Xavier, now a bitterly depressed recluse who numbs himself with drugs, struggles to find his way again. Due to the greatness of the film's overall message and my happiness with Patrick Stewart's return, I basically forgave all of the glaring disparities in the X-Men/Wolverine continuity (not just after Wolverine wreaked havoc on the original timeline, but before too). I also acquiesced that Shadowcat could inexplicably project people back in time, that Sentinels could exist in 1973, and that Magneto could somehow co-opt them. Stay after the credits for a first look at Apocalypse. Side note: movie Blink had much cooler powers than comic book Blink. Rating: 8

Update 6/4/2014: Read an article about a deleted scene where Xavier, Magneto, and Iceman rescue Rogue to relieve Shadowcat. Sounded cool, but it would've meant cutting one of my favorite slow-motion shots: the Sentinel blast reflecting in Shadowcat's tired eyes.

"I'll see you again in 25 years."
05/20/14 4:20 PM PDT

At long last, nearly 90 minutes of never-before-seen footage from "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" will be released in a new Twin Peaks box set. From the teaser, two scenes in particular grabbed my attention: a) Agent Cooper asking the dwarf how to leave the Black Lodge, and b) a catatonic Annie rolling through a hospital on a gurney (brought in by Sheriff Truman from Glastonbury Grove)! Dang, almost makes me want to buy a Blu-ray player.

Watched movie: "The Warriors" (1979)
Unapologetically campy cult classic wherein a falsely accused street gang fends off a smorgasbord of attacks during their scramble back to Coney Island. I say "smorgasbord" because of the wide variety of bizarre enemies, from "Baseball Furies" to a bunch of punks (led by a roller-skater) that looked like the Mario Bros. Given my enjoyment of beat 'em up video game classics like Streets of Rage, River City Ransom, and Double Dragon, I found the brawls in this movie highly entertaining. (Who knows, maybe the movie inspired those games.) Great music and an amusing villain too. Hehe, "Warriors, come out to play-i-ay!" Rating: 8
Armillary sphere
05/13/14 3:01 PM PDT

Ticketmaster temporarily blocked my IP address, to my chagrin. It must've mistook me for a bot or scalper when I was scouting seats for a rumored "Buried Alive Match" (I kept requesting and releasing seats on the Web site). The problem was that the site kept offering me "Best Available" seats, i.e., open seats closest to the ring. I wanted a ticket in a row farthest from the ring, next to where the grave for the Buried Alive Match would be. :) Anyway, I called off the search once Daniel Bryan announced his neck surgery.

Panda Express came out with a new entree, Orange Chicken with Bacon. Blegggghhhhh. I like their new Shiitake Kale Chicken though.

Interesting...I read that FOX will air an hour-long crossover event between "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" in September.

Haha, great 16-bit Game of Thrones title sequence: Super Mario Game of Thrones.

Watched movie: "Blue Ruin" (2014)
A suspenseful, realistic revenge thriller reminiscent of the early episodes of "Breaking Bad" (back when Walt--smart as he was--wasn't very good at killing people). The main character of this movie, a vagrant with nary anything left to lose, seemed on the ball at times--but also made some really bad mistakes under pressure. Case in point: during his ambush of an ex-convict, he botched so many different things that is was almost comical to watch. I also considered it a big oversight on his part when the resulting feud put his sister's family in grave danger. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Locke" (2014)
An overrated film, if you ask me. Tom Hardy basically spends the duration of it driving to London and talking to people on his Bluetooth. Although I enjoyed and identified with his efforts to placate the people freaking out over his absence, my brain just couldn't get past that underlying, nonsensical reason for throwing his life away (not like that newborn baby would remember who showed up for the birth). I also found those tirades toward his imaginary father really corny. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (2014) in RPX & 3D
More like the Amazing Spider-Ham given all the overacting. Also felt like the film missed the mark on Peter's parents and Gwen Stacy (I had a similar disappointment last movie regarding Uncle Ben and Captain Stacy). So if the Black Cat is next, I don't have high hopes. Good special effects at least. Stay during the credits for an X-Men: Days of Future Past scene with Mystique. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Neighbors" (2014)
Seth Rogen and a Bridesmaids-seasoned Rose Byrne (who really holds her own) vs. the loud fraternity house next door. Seth Rogen = funny. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne putting their heads together = funny. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne and Ike Barinholtz putting their heads together = funny. Zac Efron and his fraternity brothers...not funny. Stay after the credits for some kind of Hebrew message. Rating: 7
Day 9: 11:00 A.M.-1:00 P.M.
05/06/14 5:24 PM PDT

I liked the "24: Live Another Day" premiere, as it was good to see all my series favorites again: Jack Bauer as the rogue "Dammit!"-shouting (corners-cutting) counterterrorist, Chloe as the blunt hacker talking him through the missions, and Audrey as his love interest. I noticed they harvested a lot of real-life security controversies too: drones, Edward Snowden, and WikiLeaks. I haven't seen anything about the NSA yet though.

I'm also optimistic that this 12-episode format will reduce a lot of the bloat that past seasons suffered from whenever they struggled to keep the characters busy for 24 episodes straight. :P

Timeless
04/30/14 6:37 PM PDT

This "Resurrection" series might be going downhill. Are the writers just drawing plot points out of a hat now? Examples:

And finally the plot development I care for the least: a massive influx of strangers coming back from the dead, including ones from over half a century ago like a soldier who died in the Korean War. :(

Update 5/5/2014: Decent season 1 finale for "Resurrection" (did the ending imply that Bellamy might be that returned couple's missing baby?). I found it hard to believe that a military commander would just take the sheriff's implausible story at face value though.

Thanks to an On Demand promotion for the upcoming 24 mini-series this Monday, I've been able to roam through all eight of the previous season premieres for free. My reaction: so many ill-fated characters and forgettable storylines. One particular gem stood out though: the third season introduction of Chloe O'Brian, a CTU analyst whom Jack Bauer finds so irritating that he resolves to fire her. Nearly fires Chloe O'Brian! The irony of it.

Update 5/2/2014: While skimming through some more "24" episodes, I came across a couple of pivotal fourth season scenes that started the friendship between Chloe and Jack. The first is when Chloe goes behind her boss' back, and asks Jack to help her hacker friend. The second is when she rebukes Jack over the phone (for letting her hacker friend get brutalized), saying she'll never forgive him and that their partnership is over. Fortunately, his subsequent "you know I'm right" speech changes her mind. (Then soon afterward, he saves the lives of Audrey Raines and--ironically enough--her father.)

Update 5/3/2014 After re-watching more fourth season episodes of "24", I think I can call that season my favorite. It's the first season with Audrey, Bill Buchanan, and that lame President Logan, and the first season where Chloe got to shine (including the best "24" scene ever where she was the one in the field instead of Jack). The season did have its flaws, though, like how this terrorist Marwan kept escaping and convoluting the season with layers upon layers of "premeditated" conspiracies.

Watched movie: "The Ten Commandments" (1956)
Started out emotional albeit melodramatic, mostly due to the swaggery screen presence of Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. After the intermission, however, I felt like the film got cheesy. I mostly blame the special effects, e.g., fake-looking fire and prominent bluescreen outlines. But I also found it laughable how people would still scoff, talk of stoning Moses, and worship a golden calf despite all of those incredible miracles. Side note: This movie was rated G? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Only Lovers Left Alive" (2013-2014)
A highbrow Jim Jarmusch vampire film big on name dropping and hipsterism, but weak on actual insights IMHO (though I did find Adam's Tesla generator and water prognostication interesting). Overall, I felt that Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston made convincing vampires. Their lack of precautions vexed me, however, as I could foresee a lot of hitches that could strand them in the daytime or exhaust their blood supply. I also couldn't reconcile how a strictly nocturnal recluse like Adam managed to socialize with all those historical figures. Rating: 6
The Lion and the Rose
04/22/14 5:46 PM PDT

Accidentally saw a spoiler about Game of Thrones' Purple Wedding. My reaction: happy dance. I keep reflecting on what George R.R. Martin meant when he blogged: "Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros." I can probably think of at least 10 Westeros scumbags worse than Walter White. But I can certainly concede that Walter White defied his conscience worse than all of them--and really should have known better--so maybe that's what George R.R. Martin meant.

Weird how "Wheel of Fortune" recently went from best contestant to worst contestant within a month of each other. The best contestant managed to guess the correct answer from: "N E _ / _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _", whereas the worst contestant blew the Million Dollar Wedge because he mispronounced a board that had every letter filled in: "MYTHOLOGICAL HERO ACHILLES". Ouch.

Watched movie: "Under the Skin" (2014)
Like watching paint peel. What kind of idiots would fall for Scarlett Johansson's cold seduction ploy? Do they not have kidnappings in Scotland? Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Transcendence" (2014) in RPX
Thought-provoking even though it grossly overplayed the ramifications of artificial intelligence, IMHO. I guess to me, making a digital copy of someone's brain doesn't come remotely close to controversies like cloning or abortion. So I found the terrorists' mass murders really disgusting, and felt insulted when the film seemed to vindicate them. (Lessons learned from A.I. movies: don't give the A.I.s emotions, make them self-aware, or put them online.) Rating: 6
Qoy qoyi
04/15/14 4:46 PM PDT

According to a CNN article, "Khaleesi" (from "Game of Thrones") has become a popular baby name. Heh, I wonder if anyone ever considered naming their baby Joffrey, Viserys, or Eddard?

Man, I'm sick of seeing BREAKING NEWS that there is no news of Flight 370. Just let me know when the plane is found.

Michael Phelps swimming competitively again? Excellent. Even if he struggles to just win one medal, I still think he should compete at the next Olympics.

Watched movie: "Jodorowsky's Dune" (2014)
Interesting albeit presumptuous documentary about surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky's doomed crusade to film Dune. I say "presumptuous" because I felt like the documentary was premised on a conceit, i.e., the perceived importance of Jodorowsky's unfinished movie to mankind. :) Had I seen this finished film, I'm certain that I would've went WTF and panned it. The guy basically said screw Frank Herbert, wrote whatever he wanted (dismembering Leto and having Arrakis consciously leave the galaxy (!)), and sought out whomever he wanted (Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd) no matter how impractical. To put it mildly, he overreached. On the plus side, his experiences did make for some entertaining anecdotes--particularly when he had to suffer Dalí's laughable mind games. :D Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Serbuan maut 2: Berandal" a.k.a. "The Raid 2" (2014)
Wipes out everything Rama accomplished in "The Raid: Redemption"; then transplants him into a completely new undercover mission. The plot felt really sloppy this time (half the time I couldn't tell who was who), but I did enjoy the fight sequences (even though half the time I didn't know why they were fighting). I especially liked that slow-burning "calm before all hell breaks loose" suspense. Cool assassins too. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Bad Words" (2014)
Mean-spirited comedy where Jason Bateman subversively competes in a kids' spelling bee tournament. I disliked his character too much to laugh, and found his treatment of the rival kids (including the one he befriended) inexcusable. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Oculus" (2014)
The time-swapping narrative and the evil mirror's powers really confused me, and I couldn't reconcile how this learned, cautious girl ever thought she stood a chance against something that could just hijack people's minds and perceptions at will. (How could she not feel hopelessly outmatched after the kill switch close call and the bulb-apple illusion??). I'm still unsure which scenes were even real (if any). Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Rio 2" (2014) in 3D
Somewhat formulaic but lavishly scenic as always. The mere sound of Jesse Eisenberg's voice still annoys me (and it still vexes me that he's going to play Lex Luthor). I dug the capoeira turtles. Rating: 6
Ultimate Warrior 1959-2014
04/09/14 11:32 AM PDT
Total shock. He gave a live speech the other night on WWE Raw (following his WWE Hall of Fame induction last Saturday), and looked completely healthy.
Winter can't come fast enough
04/07/14 3:21 PM PDT

These past few days, I went from bitter disappointment over the "How I Met Your Mother" series finale--which marginalized The Mother--to the MOTHER of all bitter disappointments: The Undertaker LOSING at WrestleMania (out of nowhere)! This is how Undertaker's 21-match win streak ends...to a part-timer?? I still can't believe it. I'm telling you, WWE has just jumped the shark. Those Streak defenses were the main reason I watched WrestleMania every year! It's an incomparable yearly attraction that simply cannot be replaced.

In other less appalling news, thanks to Watchathon Week on XFINITY TV, I managed to binge-watch "Game of Thrones". Sort of. To make it through all of the seasons in time, I fast-forwarded through anything that bored me, e.g., Winterfell, Essos, and Night's Watch. I found it harder and harder to fast-forward though, and ended up binge-watching past 5 in the morning--twice! (The second time I took a day off work so I wouldn't fall asleep in the office.)

I enjoyed the second season overall, and often found myself humming the theme song in my head at work. However, by the end of the third season, I got so sick and tired of the Seven Kingdoms that I wanted a meteor to just wipe Westeros (and all of its cruel, rotten inhabitants) off the map. It's like, just bring in the zombies and obliterate the whole lot of them.

Props to Peter Dinklage at least. I found him magnificent as Tyrion Lannister, and thought he totally deserved that Golden Globe.

I read that NBC Universal closed that recap Web site, Television Without Pity, on April 4. I used to read "Survivor" recaps on it, but then stopped once I realized how much the writer hated the show. It's like geez, couldn't they get someone who likes the show to write about it?

Watched movie: "Enemy" (2014)
Eerily suspenseful (like a De Palma film) and surreal (like a Cronenberg film) book adaptation wherein Jake Gyllenhaal and his identical look-alike become obsessed with each others' lives (though they behaved so strangely, that part of me wondered whether Jake Gyllenhaal just imagined being two people). I didn't understand what the spiders meant. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) in RPX & 3D
Thrilling hi-tech Marvel sequel reminiscent of "24", wherein Steve Rogers goes rogue from S.H.I.E.L.D.--kick-started by one heckuva slobberknocker--and becomes a fugitive. The Winter Soldier had some cool music and "arm"-aments. Stay during the credits for an Avengers tease featuring Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Stay after the credits. Side note: That trailer had a big spoiler in it. Rating: 7
Next chapter
03/31/14 4:38 PM PDT

The Winchester Domes closed down last night. These three San Jose Century Dome Theaters (Century 21, Century 22 and Century 23) neighbor the Winchester Mystery House, and played movies that I enjoyed watching for the first time such as "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "District 9". I feel kinda guilty that I didn't patronize these theaters more often. It's basically because they kept on using analog film reels while their competition upgraded to digital projection. I got spoiled by digital picture quality and began finding film defects, cigarette burns, and blurriness distracting.

Interestingly, the historic Fremont Theatre re-opened after being closed for much of March. Given how empty it was each time I went last year and the lack of top attractions there, I can't reconcile out how they can continue to stay in business.

To my surprise, I came across some news that a fifth Phantasm movie, titled "Phantasm: Ravager", has been filmed! Not directed by Don Coscarelli this time, but the cast includes all of the original actors...even Angus Scrimm. Supposedly this installment shows The Tall Man's home world, and will finally conclude the series. To give you a sense of how long I've waited for this installment, "Phantasm IV: Oblivion" came out in 1998...16 years ago!

Maybe someday I'll get the other cult sequel on my wish list, Cube 3D.

Watched movie: "Muppets Most Wanted" (2014)
I didn't care for the main celebrity co-stars (and their cringeworthy musical numbers), but overall I found the movie funny. For some reason, I've always enjoyed gullibility gags--for instance, how the Muppets just accepted Kermit's evil impersonator despite his thick accent and bad mispronunciations; and that scene where he mistook the real Kermit for a mirror image despite huge mimicking errors. Side note: The more I thought about that daydream where Kermit and Miss Piggy had kids, the more disturbed I got. :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Noah" (2014) in IMAX
Misanthropic and full of death and destruction, yet easily the most uplifting film Darren Aronofsky ever made. :) Never seen a moral dilemma of that magnitude before (wickedness vs. extinction)--if it were up to me, I think I would just delegate the decision to "fate". :P Props to the special effects folks for the animals, cool Watcher angels, and time-lapse of Creationism (!). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Sabotage" (2014)
Started out like a good whodunit thriller wherein an old-looking Schwarzenegger and his DEA team members begin getting killed off one-by-one, and suspect a traitor among them. But then I thought the conclusion sucked, and had trouble reconciling who had actually killed whom and why. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Ernest et Célestine" (2012) a.k.a. "Ernest & Celestine" (2014)
Delightfully entertaining, exquisitely animated Oscar nominee wherein a cute little mouse befriends a "big bad" bear (voiced to perfection by Forest Whitaker) despite the prejudices against it. The visual style looked a lot like watercolor. Side note: Extremely dangerous, falling asleep with a candle on the bed! Rating: 7
Life and death
03/24/14 6:02 PM PDT

I started watching this new ABC show "Resurrection", but haven't made up my mind yet. It's about a small town in Missouri where deceased loved ones starting coming back to life (for example, a couple's 8-year-old son who died more than 30 years ago). Technically, I guess I should say doubles of the deceased loved ones, given that their remains still exist in whatever casket or urn they ended up in. Apparently, the clothes get replicated too--the boy woke up in a red sweater identical to the one in his casket (right down to the name on his neck tag), and the guy had a suit and handwritten letter identical to the ones that he got cremated with! One element I found unrealistic: the loved ones' instant acceptance of the "returnee". If it were me, I would probably freak out and fall backwards.

So far I still can't tell what direction the show plans to go in (for example, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or "Lost"), but since one of the returnees appears to be a psycho killer I managed to rule out "Hallmark special". :) Side note: That same returnee still had biological traces of the heart attack that killed him...so would a cancer returnee still have cancer?

It did amuse me that the primary investigator scoffed at an "alien doppelganger" theory, as if that was harder to believe than a mystic river that brings the dead back to life. :)

"The Walking Dead" edited for syndication to comply with a TV-14 rating? They'd pretty much have to edit out every single zombie kill. I'm also really curious how they would censor last week's "The Grove", easily the most disturbing episode of the entire series. Guess they could just show the girls eating pecans and looking at flowers, haha.

Ugh, CGI faces for Paul Walker in "Fast and Furious 7" and Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Mockingjay"? I've rarely ever seen this technique look realistic.

Man, I see that TV spoilers continue to make headline news. Fortunately, I never planned to watch "The Good Wife".

I'm still concerned about the fate of The Mother in "How I Met Your Mother". That one glimpse into the future better be a red herring. :(

Watched movie: "300: Rise of an Empire" (2014) in IMAX 3D
Matrix-like circumquel/paraquel to "300" that follows the Athenians this time rather than the Spartans. I found the movie pretentious, over-the-top, corny, and gratuitously violent. In other words, a guilty pleasure. :) I enjoyed the final battle sequence the most, even that ridiculously farfetched horseback ride. Eva Green had great screen presence. Side note: Cool drum-like battle music. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)
Not enough "wrath", if you ask me. I guess the title led me to believe that Henry Fonda would fight back and unionize all those exploited, impoverished farmers. Needless to say, the ending left me unsatisfied. :) Also felt guilty afterward, given that my Dad's family grew up on a farm in California too. Side note: I liked how those "Okies" spoke. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014)
Vintage deadpan from Wes Anderson with a wide array of stars. Although I appreciated the eloquence of the dialogue, I found myself tiring of both the verbosity of the sentences and the unrelenting manner in which they streamed from the characters' mouths. :) Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Divergent" (2014) in IMAX
Not as good as "The Hunger Games", IMHO. For starters, this five faction system made no sense to me (not even metaphorically). It's like a college that lets you pick one and only one major in your lifetime, and if you pick a different major from your family's then you never see them again. And the careers paths sounded more like virtues than practical vocations (selflessness, kindness, honesty, intelligence, and bravery). While I'm at it, the villains' plot made no sense to me either. They basically declared war to save an anti-war society. Maybe I should have read the novel instead. :P Rating: 6
Course correction
03/17/14 3:55 PM PDT

I gotta hand it to WWE. Thanks to that clever "Occupy Raw" segment, I felt like WrestleMania went from dismal to must-see. WWE would've been crazy not to channel this Daniel Bryan "YES!" Movement at WrestleMania. I experienced it first-hand at the last one I attended--energetic "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chants everywhere, from the lines outside the Sun Life Stadium to inside the arena.

Weird seeing the MIA CM Punk on "Talking Dead". Unfortunately for him and his propensity for irreverence, he got saddled with one of the most solemn, tragic episodes in the show's history. "Look at the flowers..."

Mr. T finally going into the WWE Hall of Fame! I pity the fool who don't like that.

Watched movie: "Kaze Tachinu" (2013) a.k.a. "The Wind Rises" (2014)
Gorgeously scenic, tearjerking WWII-period anime by Miyazaki about a well-mannered aeronautical engineer (Jiro Horikoshi) who loves to design airplanes. Strangely--even though this guy unapologetically designed military aircraft for Japan (at one point semi-neglecting his ill wife to do so)--I never got the impression that his actions were wrong. Miyazaki's still a pacifist, right? I guess it's always possible that Miyazaki simply wanted to shy away from the more mature themes (like I didn't see any swastikas in Germany or kamikaze attacks either). Or maybe his message got lost in translation? :P P.S. Man that Jiro smokes a lot. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Need for Speed" (2014) in D-BOX & 3D
Harebrained plot and torturously asinine characters. It's possible that Paul Walker's death dampened my enjoyment of street racing movies, because to me the drivers in this film were wasting their lives and putting innocent lives at risk. Props to the D-BOX motion effects though. Whenever they revved up an engine, I could feel its vibrations in my spine. The seat also bucked and lurched wildly, and at one point wobbled awesomely when a driver slammed on the brake. Rating: 3
Epicurean paradox
03/08/14 10:55 PM PST

I don't know if it's me or planetary climate change, but I've gotten airsick three times in the past three years, i.e., during my flights to Atlanta, London, and New York. After reading recent horror stories about violent turbulence and now about this missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, my interest in travelling has really waned. :(

In general, I've always found plane disasters unsettling. I mean, I can live with the idea that omnibenevolence doesn't exist--what really bothers me is the thought that everything in life could be happening randomly for no reason.

Rented Amazon.com movie: "In Fear" (2013-2014)
Man, that film title tricked me. I expected something scary. Granted, I identified with the couple's anxiety when they got lost on back roads and ran low on gas--but to premise a feature length movie on it? Moreover, the psychological horror that followed interested me even less. Rating: 4
One helluva ride
03/02/14 10:58 PM PST

Congratulations to all of the 2013 Academy Award winners! And congratulations to me for successfully predicting all 6 of the 6 top categories. :) (Man, "Gravity" was on such a roll that I began second-guessing my "12 Years a Slave" prediction.)

I'm glad Steven Price won the Oscar for Original Score for "Gravity". Awesome music. I even enjoyed hearing the orchestral reenactment every time "Gravity" won an Oscar.

Incidentally, I raised my rating of "Gravity" to a 9. I've seen it eight times at the theater, and still feel awed by it. (Sadly, a TV would probably shrink a lot of the meticulous details--onscreen, I could actually make out a reflection of George Clooney in Sandra Bullock's visor.) During one viewing, I just kept my eyes on Sandra Bullock during a particularly heavy render-fest--and found it amusing how she hung on for dear life like a rag doll. :)

I also stopped holding the movie's scientific inaccuracies against it, such as the close proximity of each space station and certain inconsistencies in zero-g. For the most part, I felt that the film depicted zero-g pretty accurately--for instance, I noticed that one of Sandra Bullock's tools kept bouncing back and forth without slowing down (akin to that time I tapped an M&M during my weightless flight).

Finally, and this might sound odd--but as a career tech writer who's used to customers not reading the manuals, I appreciated Sandra Bullock's usage of them to help her out of crises. :) Though nowadays, manuals don't even exist anymore--they've all been replaced by searchable onscreen documentation.

Watched movie: "Non-Stop" (2014) in Cinemark XD
Illogical, escapist post-9/11 whodunit wherein an alcoholic federal air marshal (Liam Neeson) works to stop an anonymous texter from killing someone on their flight every 20 minutes. I could say it's like "And Then There Were None on a plane", but for me that analogy would give this movie too much credit given that I found the murders way less creative and the solution much more disappointing. Rating: 6
Brawn vs. Brains-numbing vs. Beauty
02/27/14 4:14 PM PST

That "Brains" tribe on Survivor: Cagayan annoys me greatly. I guess that's what happens when contestants are selected by IQ rather than social grace. I'm not saying I could do any better (heck, I could actually relate to some of those follies), but for sure I wouldn't forewarn a target that I'm voting them out, or ally with a nuclear engineer (!) who dumped out the tribe's rice! (They should've removed J'Tia from the game a la Brandon Hantz.)

So remember my Survivor idea about casting intellectuals only? I take it back. Without the Brawns and Beauty, I probably would've prejudged this season as bad--like Nicaragua and One World bad.

Maybe disregard my "Survivor: Babel" idea too. :P

This police officer (!) Tony shows a lot of promise. Engineering a "spy shack" to eavesdrop on "useless Cliff and weasel Woo"? Hahahaha!

Update 3/6/2014: Latasha sticks by J'Tia when she dumps out their rice, but then considers it an outrage when she eats some of the rice?! Gotta love this Brains tribe.

Olympic Winter Games XXII: Star-respangled
02/24/14 11:10 AM PST

Interesting...despite what seemed like a lack of star power for team USA at Sochi, the USA ended up tying its gold medal count from Vancouver 2010. I guess maybe I spent too much time reading spoilers, fast-forwarding through the athletes' human interest stories, and lamenting woeful losses like in speedskating, hockey, snowboard cross, and men's halfpipe. Another problem might be the delayed medals ceremonies--by the time the athletes got their medals, I felt like the emotion had worn off by then. Moreover, I felt like the NBC coverage lacked shots of the proud families in the audience (I don't even see them during the televised medals ceremonies).

In some exciting news, Hulk Hogan will host WrestleMania XXX after being away from the WWE since December 2007! Man, he hasn't wrestled in the WWE since SummerSlam 2006--so I literally witnessed his last WWE match.

Watched movie: "Omar" (2013-2014)
Frownworthy foreign film Oscar nominee wherein the antagonist (an Israeli agent) pressures the protagonist (a jailed Palestinian freedom fighter) into turning mole, so that presumably he could live happily ever after with the girl he loves. The thing is, had he originally chosen nonviolence over taking a life, then he wouldn't have been stuck in this mess to begin with! So...I didn't sympathize with the guy very much (nor anyone else in the film for that matter). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Pompeii" (2014) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Less like a disaster movie and more like a movie disaster. Vastly inferior to both "Titanic" and "Gladiator", if you ask me. The love story felt underdeveloped, and pretty much every storyline felt like a waste of time. I also came to the realization that no amount of special effects could make this volcano interesting enough to redeem the film. Rating: 4
Olympic Winter Games XXII: Star-unspangled
02/18/14 6:48 PM PST

While watching the short track races for the Men's 1500m on NBC, I suddenly realized that Apolo Ohno was the one giving commentary. Haha, his personal prejudices totally came through. Too bad he and Katherine Reutter retired from racing--short track has gotten really boring without them. Though admittedly, I've found this shutout of South Korean men from the short track podium interesting--especially because their skaters have been losing to Viktor Ahn (formerly known as South Korean legend Ahn Hyun-Soo) after he defected to Russia. Side note: With both South Korea and Canada now out of the Men's 5000m Relay final, can USA finally win gold there?

Overall, I've found that the Winter Olympics has gotten boring for me (probably because my Dad was the one who got me into it). Instead of avoiding spoilers and watching the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in suspense, I've just been reading the results online. Though I did abstain from spoilers for one event: the women's snowboard cross--but alas, Lindsey Jacobellis fell yet again, blowing a huge lead in the semifinal race (albeit on a snow bump, not because of a showboating mishap). Man that's depressing. Another annual snowboard cross winner who seems cursed when it comes to the Olympics: Nate Holland.

Oh, congratulations to Meryl Davis & Charlie White for winning the USA's first ice dancing gold medal. Makes up for all that Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir victory coverage I had to suffer through during my Vancouver 2010 trip. :P Surprising side note: These two pairs share the same coach?!

Watched movie: "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
Despite my sourness toward filibusters (a.k.a. time-wasting publicity stunts), I admired Jimmy Stewart's idealistic fight against cynicism and corruption in government. Granted, I felt that the movie went over-the-top with its coincidences (like the coin toss and the location of the dam), the U.S. monuments montage, Jimmy Stewart's punching spree, and a political machine so meticulous that it took the time to strong-arm little boys--but all in all, I found the film emotional and inspiring. Rating: 7
Ask again later
02/10/14 4:33 PM PST

I never used to eat those fortune cookies from Panda Express--but ever since I opened one at the mall and the prediction came true, I started getting superstitious. The fortune predicted that luck would come my way. Soon after, I won a free-meal-for-three at my workplace cafeteria--twice--AND a lottery for a free gym bag at an IBM Christmas reception. Unfortunately, the subsequent fortunes I read at that mall struck me as throwaway, e.g., achieving piece of mind is a most worthwhile goal and adventure awaits you.

Watched movie: "The Monuments Men" (2014) in Cinemark XD
Disappointingly boring given the ensemble cast and the likeability of George Clooney's previous films. Felt like I was watching a caper movie without the caper. Nary any action either, given that the Monuments Men mostly just visited sites that the Nazis had abandoned. I guess it also didn't help that I never heard of those works of art that the Nazis stole. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Vampire Academy" (2014)
Heavy on sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek, but light on actual wit. Thankfully, the movie spared me from the usual high school melodrama by making the vampire princess' BFF something of a mind reader. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The LEGO Movie" (2014) in 3D
I only saw this movie because of its astronomical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I found it funny but illogical (do LEGO characters even have free will?), and the 3-D LEGO animation--impressive as it was--gave me a headache. I think my brain had trouble processing all those blocky, convoluted images (especially when it came to smoke and water). Rating: 6
January movie drought
01/31/14 3:54 PM PST

Hardly any movies to see this month. Upon checking my January movie reviews from past years, I confirmed that this month is always dismal for some reason.

Side note: Recently at work I got trapped in an elevator, but was able to manually pry the doors open with my bare hands. I learned that from movies. :)

Man, what a painful tennis match to watch. I tuned into the Australian Open men's final live to see that inevitable semi-historic moment where Nadal ties Pete Sampras for number of Grand Slam titles. Instead, Nadal injured his back and struggled to play though the pain. I'm not really a fan of his, but I gotta give him credit for refusing to quit. (Also in defense of the spectators who initially booed, they probably remembered Azarenka's fishy medical timeout and thought he was flopping.)

Ironically, five years ago at this very same tournament, Roger Federer attempted the same feat (tying Pete Sampras' record) and Nadal was the one who left him in tears after the final.

In other news, what a painful Royal Rumble Match to watch. The #30 entrant and the winner practically got booed out of the building! Though admittedly, I'm not at all thrilled about the WrestleMania 30 main event either. I've found that in general, my viewership of WWE programming has really dwindled--nowadays, I mostly just skim through the results of SmackDown and Monday Night Raw online. I'm not even planning to see WrestleMania 31, which will take place only 13 miles from where I live (I might entertain Super Bowl L though).

Speaking of Monday nights, I've grown impressed with that sitcom "How I Met Your Mother"--mostly because of Cristin Milioti, a former Broadway singer whom the show cast as "The Mother" (before she came on the show, I couldn't even stand watching it). After over eight years of red herrings, teasers, and rare sightings, Monday's episode centered only on her (the series even temporarily renamed itself to "How Your Mother Met Me"). I still don't find the jokes very funny, but the serious dramatic parts redeem the show IMHO.

Well, as part of a team luncheon I reluctantly returned to that Indian restaurant for the first time since that false accusation debacle. The waitress who accosted me wasn't there though.

Dreaming wake
01/26/14 12:05 AM PST

Funny story...on that same morning as the Oscar nomination announcement, I listened in on a teleconference but then had trouble hanging up the phone. Despite pressing the off button and unplugging the thing, I could still hear voices coming from the receiver. Finally, I realized that I was inside of a dream (I had fallen asleep with the receiver still on my ear), and that I could only hang up the phone once I woke up.

Two mornings later, I awoke to the sight and sound of someone rummaging through my bathroom. When I shouted "Who's there!", a homeless man emerged and approached my bed with a rag and chloroform! Alarmed, I swung my fists wildly at him...and then realized I was punching nothing but air. Dang these freaking dreams, man. Good thing I was alone in the bed.

Well, Alfonso Cuarón's win of the DGA has motivated me to once again split Best Director and Best Picture in my Oscar predictions for 2013:

I'm still favoring "12 Years a Slave" for Best Picture even though it tied with "Gravity" for the PGA and lost to "American Hustle" for the SAG.

Watched movie: "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" (2014) in IMAX
Decently thrilling reboot of the Tom Clancy series. Like the James Bond reboot, the events postdated 9/11. And like the Star Trek reboot, I had trouble taking Chris Pine seriously. Moreover, I had trouble taking the CIA seriously--it actually insulted my intelligence that their shallow ploys could outsmart this villain. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Ride Along" (2014)
Decent buddy cop comedy highlighted by the chemistry between Ice Cube and a funny Kevin Hart. Interesting side note: My IMAX screening of Jack Ryan was almost empty--whereas Ride Along had really long lines and sold out showings. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "I, Frankenstein" (2014) in IMAX 3D
Frankenstein's monster vs. demons vs. gargoyles? With a premise this absurd, the film should've just gone for campy and fun rather than dark and serious. Consequently, I considered the movie a bad, plot holey mess. Rating: 4
Unseaworthy
01/16/14 1:31 PM PST

Woke up early again to watch the Oscar nominations announcement live. Whenever they announce each nominee, my mind races to deduce who got snubbed.

Once again, I managed to see every nominated film and acting performance before they were announced. I'm also improving in foreign language film as I managed to see three of the five nominees this time. I'd rank the 2013 Best Picture nominees as follows:

  1. "Gravity" (My rating: 9)
  2. "American Hustle" (My rating: 7)
  3. "her" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Captain Phillips" (My rating: 7)
  5. "Nebraska" (My rating: 7)
  6. "Dallas Buyers Club" (My rating: 7)
  7. "12 Years a Slave" (My rating: 6)
  8. "The Wolf of Wall Street" (My rating: 6)
  9. "Philomena" (My rating: 5)

Contrastably, I've seen "Gravity" five times whereas I had trouble seeing "12 Years a Slave" even once (afterward I drove around listening to the radio to get the movie out of my head). Nevertheless, "12 Years a Slave" strikes me as the Best Picture frontrunner.

Urusei
01/14/14 7:18 PM PST

Perfect timing on that recent Simpsons episode where both spoilers and movie theater nuisances ruined a movie for Homer. After that holiday movie marathon I had, I felt like I needed a break from noisy kids. To my chagrin, parents nowadays even bring them to the really late showings and rated R films. Plus I began noticing an irritating new trend where parents encourage their kids to ask them questions during the movie. That's my cue to change seats. (Another cue for me to change seats: when someone near me can't sit still.)

I've even started getting annoyed when people talk during movie commercials, trailers, and end credits (though nowhere near as annoyed as that retired cop in the Cobb Grove 16 theater). Eventually I concluded that it's actually the shallowness and proximity of the conversations, not the timing, that I hate. Outside of the movie theater, I'd have the freedom to move until they're out of earshot. :)

Strangely, movie commercials don't bother me nearly as much as they do Homer. I figure that the commercials help keep movie theaters in business.

Watched On Demand movie: "Autoreiji: Biyondo" (2012) a.k.a. "Beyond Outrage" (2014)
Slightly better than the first film IMHO because this time around, I felt like I had a couple of underdogs to root for (though I found it hard to believe that these two archenemies would befriend one another, just to wage war on a yakuza clan five years after it lost the boss who wronged them!). For the most part though, I still felt apathetic about who lived or died--probably because anytime a lowlife died, I simply shrugged that another lowlife would take his place. :( Though I did feel like that ending took a step forward. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Evangerion shin gekijôban: Kyu" (2012) a.k.a. "Evangelion: 3.0 You can (not) redo." (2014)
Impressive (albeit convoluted) animation. But if you ask me, the story went nowhere. It's like, who cares about saving a world covered in red water! And to my disappointment, all of the character development (including Shinji's headway in the first two films) got wiped out. I also never really cared for Kaworu (cue giggles from the audience). Side note: Having screened both the dubbed and subtitled versions this time, I actually preferred the dubbed. To me, the spoken English dialogue had more levity and edge to it (for example, Asuka called Shinji an "@$$hole" rather than a "brat"). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Cold Comes the Night" (2013-2014)
Decent crime thriller wherein a desperate mother "breaks bad" and allies with a cold-blooded Bryan Cranston (picture Heisenberg with a Russian accent and poor eyesight). Always a treat seeing Bryan Cranston play a criminal--without his screen presence, I doubt I would've thought much of this movie. Rating: 6
Holiday movie marathon 2013
01/05/14 4:35 PM PST

Well, I accidentally read another Game of Thrones spoiler thanks to Entertainment Weekly's "Best & Worst 2013" issue. One of the pages diagrammed all of the major TV deaths in 2013 (complete with red dots for gunshot wounds and icons for whatever killed each character). Had my eyes initially wandered onto characters from Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead (or shows I don't care about like Downton Abbey and Homeland), then I could've immediately turned the page without reading any further. But as luck would have it, my eyes happened to fixate directly onto a major (and fairly skewered) character from the one show that I'm still trying to avoid spoilers for! Maybe I should just give up. :P

Watched movie: "her" (2013)
Unapologetically weird and voyeuristic Spike Jonze film wherein a ghostwriter (for lack of a better word) played by Joaquin Phoenix begins dating his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Without shame too! Not only do they get intimate, but he admits to the relationship openly and nobody gapes at how insane that sounds! Typical Spike Jonze I guess. :P Though weird as this movie was to watch, I liked its depiction of futuristic technologies such as intuitive, evolving A.I.s and seamless voice-activated cloud computing. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Le Passé" a.k.a. "The Past" (2013)
Another movie about a separation from the director of "A Separation", featuring a temperamental mother who wants to divorce her estranged, level-headed Iranian husband (whom her daughter likes better). I'm starting to suspect some personal prejudices in this director. :) Also like in "A Separation", the characters go back and forth uncovering new information and revising what they think to be true. All in all, I liked it. The part I found most memorable: that amusingly long uncomfortable silence between the two men. :D Rating: 7
Watched movie: "47 Ronin" (2013) in 3D
Colorful and decently entertaining. I thought a samurai movie starring Keanu Reeves would be laughable, but it turned out ok. His stoic disposition fit right in. :) Weird hearing samurai speak in English though (I wonder what they would say in place of gaijin?). I also felt like Keanu's love interest emoted too much in public (making faces and so forth). That culture's supposed to be really strict about courtesies, even between archenemies. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013)
Amusing, unexpectedly tearjerking drama wherein Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and co. struggle to collaborate with Mary Poppins' cynical, hilariously uptight British author (played to perfection by Emma Thompson). Contrastably, the movie also flashed back (forebodingly) to the good-hearted alcoholic father who inspired the Mr. Banks character. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013) in RPX
Forgot how wildly over-the-top and vulgar that Scorsese films could be. Lots of offensive stuff--but admittedly, I found some of the scenes pretty funny. Especially that long scene where Leonardo DiCaprio had to crawl to his car. Side note: Rocky Aoki is the father of the other Steve Aoki, not me. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013)
In general, I consider it a waste of screen time whenever a movie digresses into someone's overactive imagination. So I'm glad that the daydreams in this film tapered off once the Walter Mitty character began venturing out across the world. Though personally, I don't agree with the message that a person needs to travel the world and do stunts in order to "live life to the fullest". If you ask me, this Walter Mitty should be proud of excelling at his job and being a good son and brother. Side note: What kind of cell phone did Walter Mitty have, a satellite phone?? Rating: 7
Watched movie: "August: Osage County" (2013)
Good acting but all the verbal abuse, foul dialogue, and dysfunction made me squirm. I can't stand people like this in real-life so needless to say, I did not enjoy this movie very much. Side note: I already felt that the first cousin incest crossed the line, so I basically just shrugged off the brother-sister incest. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Labor Day" (2013)
Uncharacteristically flat Jason Reitman film wherein a reclusive mother (Kate Winslet) and her seventh grade son grow close to an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). I always felt that Jason Reitman had a flair for levity, but to my disappointment this movie sorely lacked it. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Lone Survivor" (2013)
Intense Navy SEAL movie about Operation Red Wings (a failed 2005 mission that predated the bin Laden raid). At first I got that "army recruitment video" vibe, but then that romanticism evaporated once I saw the SEALs suffer from gunshots and brutal tumbles down rocks (though man, these guys sure seemed superhuman). I'm glad that the film broke stereotypes and showed friendly Afghan villagers too. Too bad the movie didn't show any kind of postmortem though, as I was curious about how the U.S. managed to underestimate the Taliban forces so badly. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" (2014)
The midwives coven vs. teenage buttheads and gangstas? This installment felt more like a parody of Paranormal Activity than an actual sequel. Also found it pretty weak how the film tried to tie-in the original Paranormal Activity characters. Rating: 5
2013 Year in Review
12/21/13 9:26 PM PST
Best of 2013 Worst of 2013
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Edwards Santa Maria 10 becoming an art-house theater.
  2. Vacationing in New York, including the WWE Hall of Fame 2013 and the Spider-Man musical.
  3. Receiving an Outstanding Contributor Award at work.
  4. A customer grading my online help as "very satisfied".
  5. Finally selling my Dad's car.
Honorable mention: Listening to the successful Boston Marathon bombing dragnet during my long drive to Santa Maria.
  1. Watching my Dad suffer emotionally and physically before his eventual death.
  2. Being falsely accused of walking out on the bill at my favorite Indian restaurant, and subsequently losing my desire to return there.
  3. (tie) Feeling airsick from my flight to New York, even after a nap, then suffering from stomach cramps on the flight back; and feeling sick the day after Thanksgiving due to what was most likely dehydration.
  4. Worrying about my Dad's house after a burglar tried to break into it.
  5. (tie) Trying to keep my wits about me when my Dad's car stalled halfway down the street, and burning up and nodding off on the highway (particularly through Paso Robles) because of my Dad's broken air conditioner.
Honorable mention: Missing "World War Z" at the Historic Fremont Theatre after looking forward to it all year.
Movies
  1. "Gravity"
    "A breathtaking cinematic ride by Alfonso Cuarón, fraught with jaw-dropping zero-g peril."
    "...still feel awed by it."
  2. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
    "A concise, yet faithful adaptation of the novel that succeeded in keeping all of my favorite scenes while trimming out the excess."
  3. "World War Z"
    "Refreshingly intelligent zombie apocalypse flick..."
  4. "This Is the End"
    "Hysterical apocalyptic film..."
  5. "Saving Mr. Banks"
    "Amusing, unexpectedly tearjerking drama..."
  6. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
    "Coolest talking dragon ever!"
  7. "The Hunt"
    "A hair-raising, grippingly tragic Danish drama..."
  8. "Oz the Great and Powerful"
    "Vibrant, Sam Raimi-humored prequel to 'The Wizard of Oz'..."
  9. "American Hustle"
    "An intriguing David O. Russell film..."
  10. "Upstream Color"
    "...I'd liken it more to a contour drawing."
  1. "The Last Exorcism Part II"
    "Virtually worthless sequel..."
  2. "Texas Chainsaw 3D"
    "...a disgrace rather than just bad. :("
  3. "Sharknado"
    "Shoddy, inexplicably popular Syfy channel tripe..."
  4. "Aftershock"
    "Terribly drawn-out horror flick full of poor taste and eye-rolling drama."
  5. "Evil Dead"
    "Much gorier than the original...beyond that, nothing redeeming comes to mind."
  6. "Pain & Gain"
    "An onslaught of bad taste that makes fun of a pretty appalling real-life capital case."
  7. "The Place Beyond the Pines"
    "More pretentious and cringeworthy than the trailer led me to believe. Not to mention contrived."
  8. "R.I.P.D."
    "Like 'Men In Black', but much harder to care about..."
  9. "Inside Llewyn Davis"
    "I considered the cat the most interesting thing in the movie!"
  10. "The Lone Ranger"
    "Asinine."
Songs
  1. "Brave" Sara Bareilles
  2. "Almost Home" Mariah Carey
  3. "Demons" Imagine Dragons
  4. "Still Into You" Paramore
  5. "Love Don't Die" The Fray
Honorable mention: "#thatPOWER" Will.I.Am f/ Justin Bieber
  1. "Young And Beautiful" Lana Del Rey
  2. "Bruises" Train f/ Ashley Monroe
  3. "Ooh La La" Britney Spears
  4. "Come & Get It" Selena Gomez
  5. "Suit & Tie" Justin Timberlake f/ Jay-Z
Honorable mention: "Cups (When I'm Gone)" Anna Kendrick
Music video "#thatPOWER" Will.I.Am f/ Justin Bieber "Came Back Haunted" Nine Inch Nails

Honorable mention: "Ooh La La" Britney Spears

TV series "Breaking Bad" "Dexter"
Commercial (tie) Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh clear pack commercial with the transparent grandfather, and GEICO commercial where Dikembe Mutombo happily blocks shots. KFC Original Recipe Boneless commercial where some idiot thinks he ate the bones.
Movie trailer (tie) X-Men: Days of Future Past and Prisoners (tie) InAPPropriate Comedy and Planes and The Lego Movie
The times they are a-changin'
12/21/13 1:56 AM PST

I think I finally got tired of screening early releases in San Francisco. According to my tally, I only saw three movies in San Francisco this year (down from nine last year).

I finally screened a movie in the new REGAL Cinema Art Santa Maria 10. Was basically the same as the old theater, but with less patrons. (Not much influx of new movies either--I've already seen 10 of the 12 movies that will be playing there on Christmas.)

That same day, I watched the second Hobbit movie over at the RPX theater and was dismayed by the High Frame Rate. It gave me a slight headache again. Last time I chance watching a Hobbit movie there (if I can help it).

Watched movie: "The Book Thief" (2013)
Boring PG-13 movie about Nazi Germany that pretty much marginalized World War II and the Holocaust to focus on a little girl who steals books. Also for better or for worse, the narration by Death dissociated me from all the different casualties. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (2013) in RPX & HFR 3D
Coolest talking dragon ever! Totally made up for the absence of Gollum. Also welcomed the character development for Bard (whose appearance in the novel felt like a cameo to me), including that backstory about his ancestor and the Black Arrows. I wish the movie had followed through with his storyline instead of stalling the big payoff with all these filler subplots. Though I will hand it to Peter Jackson--I enjoy his work so much that as far as I'm concerned, he can drag out that skinny little novel for as long as he wants. :) Specifically, I admired the grandeur of the scenery (especially the dwarves' treasury), the artistry of the action sequences (like the barrel ride), and the emotional details such as the dwarves' comradery. The film even explained, to my satisfaction, why Bilbo didn't just stay invisible all the time. (By the way, I'd consider it an outrage if Bilbo withheld the Arkenstone from Thorin!) Side note: Can't Azog the Defiler find himself a better prosthetic hand? :) Rating: 7
Watched movie: "La Grande Bellezza" a.k.a. "The Great Beauty" (2013)
An artsy and philosophical Oscar entry from Italy that exhibits Rome and a variety of bizarre performance art. I pretty much found everything in the film pretentious. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "American Hustle" (2013)
An intriguing David O. Russell film wherein a con man begins losing control of an FBI sting operation that involves his mischievous wife, an ambitious FBI agent, a dubious accomplice, a good-hearted mark, and dangerous mobsters. Just like in "Survivor", I kept wondering who was playing whom. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013)
I considered the cat the most interesting thing in the movie! I already knew that I'm no fan of folk songs; but now I'm more sure than ever that I'm no fan of the Coen Brothers either. Rating: 4
Focus
12/12/13 7:57 PM PST

I'm really starting to like my new Windows 7 interface. The windows remind me of Blu-ray cases (translucent at the top). When I minimize them, they automatically stack atop their corresponding application icons in the taskbar. If an application has an active process, a progress bar gradually eclipses the icon. I can also hover over an icon and jump straight to a window through its thumbnail.

Watched movie: "Nebraska" (2013)
Another relatable film (well, for me at least) directed by Alexander Payne that features a stubborn Dad, an outspoken Mom, and conversations so bare that the whole thing felt like satire. Most of the time, I wasn't sure whether to laugh at the characters or pity them. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Philomena" (2013)
Wholly unsatisfying. I liked Judi Dench but felt the Steve Coogan character gave cynics a bad name (disproving omnibenevolence isn't the same as disproving existence). I also wasn't happy that he and Philomena began searching for her long-lost son 50 years after his birth. What the heck. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Out of the Furnace" (2013)
Brain-sullying revenge drama about rural hotheads who seriously need to learn to count to ten. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Broken Circle Breakdown" (2012-2013)
Bluegrass-laden Oscar entry from Belgium that shows a singing couple's love story out of sequence. It got so depressing that I started caring less and less about the happy scenes--especially after that alarming incident with the shock paddles. The husband got on my nerves too, and I seriously began to wonder if he had some kind of bipolar disorder. Side note: Weird how the couple spoke in Flemish but sang in English. Rating: 5
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
12/05/13 5:04 PM PST

R.I.P.

Too Far Gone
12/03/13 8:29 PM PST

Someone finally died on "The Walking Dead" whom I'll actually miss. Meaning, I now have an answer to that question that keeps popping up: which Walking Dead character would you bring back? I found the death really senseless too, but maybe that was the whole point.

After Thanksgiving, my friends and I went inside the new Edwards Santa Maria Stadium 14 & RPX for the first time. We saw the second Hunger Games installment in RPX (regal premium experience). At first, the giant screen and stadium seating impressed me--until I noticed, on the next day, that a normally priced auditorium in this exact same theater looked virtually identical!

I haven't seen a movie in the new "REGAL Cinema Art Santa Maria 10" yet--but judging by the lack of cars in the parking lot, this theater might be in jeopardy. :P

Incidentally, during my drive to Santa Maria I had a terrible headache that made my stomach feel queasy. Almost felt like motion sickness. I grew worried when three naps and an ibuprofen didn't even help. Later when my friend suggested dehydration, I drank some water and my symptoms actually went away. Crazy. I guess all that sparkling apple cider I drank at Thanksgiving didn't hydrate me. :P

Watched movie: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013) in RPX
A concise, yet faithful adaptation of the novel that succeeded in keeping all of my favorite scenes while trimming out the excess. Granted, my favorite scenes seemed less potent onscreen, but the weaker parts of the book, e.g., the Victory Tour, Snow's party, and the Reaping, seemed way better. Much more levity in the film too. I found the casting perfect, and felt that Jennifer Lawrence emoted so well that I didn't miss Katniss' thoughts at all (especially her fatalistic ones during the Quarter Quell). Consequently, I now feel more optimistic about Mockingjay. :) Finally, I liked the additional scenes with President Snow and Plutarch (Snow confirmed what I already suspected regarding Katniss' chances). My only minor criticism would be how much more trustworthy that Johanna Mason seemed (the movie even omitted how she won her Hunger Games). To the book's credit, I remember prejudging both her and Finnick as deceptive Victors whom Katniss should never trust. :) Side note: I was also hoping that the film would clarify how Peeta managed to kill Brutus. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Frozen" (2013) in 3D
Computer animated Disney musical full of songs that I can't remember too well. A lot of neat crystalline and fractal effects. The plot struck me as illogical, but since it's a kids' movie I didn't take it too seriously. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Best thing to happen in the history of Santa Maria
11/29/13 11:52 AM PST

Guess I spoke too soon about seeing my last movie at Edwards Santa Maria 10. Starting Friday 11/22/2013, this theater became Regal Cinema Art Santa Maria 10 and devoted all 10 of its screens to art-house movies! Possibly the best news I've heard all year.

Wasn't impressed by the grand opening of Edwards Santa Maria Stadium 14 & RPX. Wasn't able to go inside without buying a ticket. They didn't even have any searchlights in the sky. :)

Watched movie: "Delivery Man" (2013)
Corny dramedy wherein Vince Vaughn plays a sperm donor who discovers he fathered 533 children. Ultimately, I didn't derive much meaning from the film despite its attempts to convince me otherwise. Also, Vince Vaughn seemed so subdued that he felt more like a foil for his funnier lawyer friend. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Homefront" (2013)
Unfortunately, this movie started off on the wrong foot for me when the opening credits showed that Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay. I also had trouble taking James Franco seriously as the villain. But overall, I liked it. The rustic scenery looked so picturesque that I could totally see why Jason Statham and his daughter wouldn't want to leave. I also liked how something as small as a playground scuffle could escalate into a major feud, testing Jason Statham's ability to "be the better man". By the end of the film, though, I had trouble reconciling all the mixed messages about violence, payback, and the antagonists' redeemability. Rating: 6
Flesh and blood
11/21/13 2:42 PM PST

Geez Ciera, no one would've held it against if you had you refused to vote out your own mother. I didn't consider it a stab-in-the-back by any means, but I did consider it misguided. Now I have to eat crow because I never thought any castaway would even entertain voting out their own loved one. :P

Update 11/28/2013: Oddly enough, I found myself pulling for Ciera in this latest episode--probably because I dreaded what a downer it would be had she sacrificed her mother for nothing!

Update 12/5/2013: Ciera has now dismayed me for the third consecutive episode. She made all these sacrifices to build trust with the Galang alliance: voted for her own mother, ratted out her original allies, and shared her immunity clue (which is almost like an immunity necklace at this point in the game). Then in this latest tribal council, threw it all away and nearly voted herself out with a rock. The good news is that once she gets voted out and has to duel her mother, at least she won't have to vote out her out for a second time. :P

Update 12/12/2013: Wow, Ciera actually won immunity and won't have to duel her mother after all. I was really curious about whether her mother would have thrown the duel to save her (and whether Ciera would have asked her to). Guess we'll never know. Admittedly, I was surprised when Tina (who already won Survivor before) eliminated her own daughter.

A Separation II
11/19/13 10:18 PM PST

Last Sunday, I walked into my favorite Indian restaurant and received one helluva shock. The waitress accused me of walking out on the bill! She said that last week, I lied that I had to get my debit card out of the car and then took off. I immediately countered that she had the wrong person because I never pay by debit card, that I'm a frequent customer whom her boss knows, and that I would never do anything like that. I also added "that's racist," when I found out that this guy she mistook me for was Asian (though afterward I didn't play any more race cards because maybe we really did look alike). When she still didn't seem convinced, I decided to just pay her the measly $10 as an act of good faith. A decision I regretted almost immediately. Because as I sat there eating, I began losing my appetite--stewing more and more over the realization that I had just appeased someone who in essence called me a liar and a thief. I was like one of those cartoon characters where the conscience whispers in one ear and the id whispers in the other: my conscience told me she made an honest mistake and to let it go; my id told me to try to get her fired.

So when it came time to pay again, I asked to see her boss instead. When she said he probably wouldn't come in for another 30 to 60 minutes, I replied that I'll wait for him. I declined calling him too, because I wanted to make sure he recognized me. I think she began to worry, because she started backpedaling that she believed me and that the $10 I paid was for today's meal. So I kept talking to her and didn't leave until I felt absolutely satisfied that my name was cleared.

Matter closed, right? Wrong. Two days later, it still gnawed at me. What was to stop her from accusing me again the next time I stepped foot there? Plus I never really got an apology. So this afternoon, I went back there for lunch.

Still no boss, but my accuser was there plus another waitress who knew I came there all the time. So I summoned them both together to corroborate that I was who I said I was. They both sort of laughed it off like, ha ha what a funny anecdote (my accuser even added that she had apologized (?)). :(

So anyway, I resolved not to pursue it anymore. Unfortunately, it's always going to be awkward seeing that waitress again. The whole time I sat there this afternoon, I couldn't even bring myself to look at her. :P

Watched movie: "Thor: The Dark World" (2013) in IMAX 3D
An improvement in writing and comedy over the first film, IMHO. In particular, I liked how they managed to make Loki entertaining while keeping him true to his character. Stay during the credits for a prelude to the Infinity Gauntlet (?). Stay after the credits too. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Dallas Buyers Club" (2013)
Thought-provoking biographical drama wherein a homophobic cowboy (played by a really skinny Matthew McConaughey) learns he contracted HIV, ironically becomes ostracized from his circle of homophobic friends, and eventually defies the FDA and pharmaceutical companies by trafficking unapproved medicine. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Carrie" (2013)
Despite my misgivings that this movie would just retread the original 1976 classic, I finally caved in and saw it. It actually turned out better than I thought. It stirred my emotions, and made a good effort to depict modern day bullying, e.g., cyberbullying. The reason I say "good" instead of "great" is because in retrospect, I found the depiction somewhat...sensationalistic. In real life, I see bullying as something that happens again and again with little or no action from adults. (The school officials in this film actually lifted a finger.) Interesting side note: Although the changes in the storyline seemed small, to me they altered the whole complexion of the movie. Case in point: when Carrie singled out bad kids instead of massacring everyone indiscriminately. Rating: 6
This thing all things devours
11/11/13 6:28 PM PST

Recently, I screened a movie in the newly renovated Embarcadero Center Cinema. They have recliner seats now that basically let you watch the entire film on your back. I liked it, but had a hard time reserving a good seat.

I also rented a DVD from one of the last remaining video stores in California. (Unsurprisingly, Blockbuster recently announced that they won't have any more stores in the U.S.)

It occurred to me that fittingly, "The World's End" will likely go down as the last movie I ever screened at Edwards Santa Maria 10. (I can't imagine how this theater could possibly compete with the Santa Maria Town Center stadium seating one opening on Thursday evening, November 21.) Not that I'll miss Edwards Santa Maria 10. I have no sentimental attachment to that theater whatsoever.

Watched movie: "About Time" (2013)
Fluffy romantic comedy about a time traveller who can revisit any part of his life and change it. I say "fluffy" because he mostly just used this power to undo social gaffes, and didn't really explore any deep ethical questions (for example, whether he should prevent child abductions or 9/11). He did blunder into one "butterfly effect" that blew my mind though: after one seemingly innocent course correction, he returned home to discover that he now had a son instead of a daughter! (What better example of chaos theory than human fertilization.) Moreover, I assume he had to erase his son's existence to get his original daughter back! Rating: 6
Watched movie: "La vie d'Adele - chapitre 1 et 2" a.k.a. "Blue Is the Warmest Color" (2013)
French Palme d'Or winner about a lesbian romance. Too NC-17 for my taste, and hardly enough plot for a regular movie much less a three-hour one. I did feel that two intense dramatic scenes redeemed the film though. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "How I Live Now" (2013)
Scenic juxtaposition between the beauty of nature and the ravages of war. For me, it felt like a Japanese animation come to life--possibly because Saoirse Ronan looked like she came straight out of a Final Fantasy game. One lingering question I had: did Saoirse Ronan's love interest have the power to read people's minds? Side note: I'm not a child psychologist, but I felt that the kids didn't take the calamity seriously enough. :P Rating: 5
Watched DVD: "Sharknado" (2013)
Shoddy, inexplicably popular Syfy channel tripe wherein tornadoes suck killer CGI sharks out of the ocean and rain them down upon Los Angeles. :P Rating: 3
Speaker for the cynical
11/04/13 6:16 PM PST

My two cents on some TV that aired recently:

Read book: "Ender's Game" (1985) by Orson Scott Card
An extremely intelligent science fiction novel wherein military trainers, intent on saving the Earth from a vast alien army, work to pressure cook a boy genius (Ender Wiggin) into a battle-tempered warlord (though his thoughts struck me as so hard boiled and mature that I kept forgetting he was only six-years-old!). It actually depressed me how much this "damaged" kid and I thought alike:
  • Why can't they just leave me alone. I've been there.
  • He didn't like Peter's kind, the strong against the weak, and he didn't like his own kind, either, the smart against the stupid. Preach it brother.
  • Don't expect adults to help me. I came to that conclusion too.

I also suspect that Ender will never feel truly happy, and suffer from tremendous boredom. Though I did envy and admire his deep emotional bond with Valentine. I considered her devotion to him one of the book's highlights (another highlight for me: the whole part where Ender had to keep watching his back when Bonzo conspired to kill him).

Plot-wise, the book left me unsatisfied because I felt like Ender had not built any worthwhile human connections (which I consider important to good drama). At a minimum, I expected some kind of apology from Graff (instead of just cutting ties with Ender after he no longer had a use for him). Also, I felt that the climax could have been way more suspenseful had the author had only approached it differently. Rating: 8

Watched movie: "Ender's Game" (2013) in IMAX
Far less dark, cynical, intelligent, and morally ambiguous than the original novel. In other words, far less meaningful. :) Although I didn't mind the toned down PG-13 violence, the marginalization of the battle room tactics, or the injections of humor and romance, it disappointed me how much everything got dumbed down. For example, this Ender struck me as more of a Hollywood protagonist (even standing up to a wifebeater-clad bully), and the film's spin on the bugger war felt kind of pretentious to me. The movie also omitted Valentine and Peter taking over the world. :( On the plus side, I thought Asa Butterfield played Ender perfectly. I also enjoyed the zero gravity games and formations, as I found these hard to visualize in the novel. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "12 Years a Slave" (2013)
Possibly the most brutal film I've seen since "The Passion of the Christ". I found the cruelty so mind-numbing that afterward, I drove around listening to the radio to remind myself that I live in the 21st century. Glad the movie was titled "12 Years a Slave"--because from that I could infer that this guy's living hell would end at some point. Side note: This director Steve McQueen sure has a flair for uncomfortably long takes (I found Epps' stare down of Solomon particularly unnerving). Oscar watch: Considering how much the Academy likes psycho villains, I foresee a Supporting Role nomination for Michael Fassbender. Rating: 6
Indefensible
10/29/13 6:23 PM PDT

Recently while looking through my recordings of last year's London Olympics telecast, I made a special effort to erase anything related to "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius. The guy totally sickens me now. Even if I believed that outrage of a defense that he mistook his girlfriend for a burglar, who fires shots through a bathroom door without even verifying whether it's your loved one??

If I could easily erase my recordings of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, I would do that as well. He won one of my favorite Royal Rumble Matches of all time--but then killed his whole family and ruined my enjoyment of that match forever. I also blogged a photograph of myself shaking his hand during a meet & greet--needless to say, I took that image down pretty quick.

Watched movie: "The Counselor" (2013)
Minimalist crime drama written by Cormac McCarthy (author of "No Country for Old Men"), wherein a bunch of philosophical criminals wax poetic and speak in riddles. Despite the film's star power (including a lot of famous actors who just popped in and out without any context), nary any of the characters interested me except for maybe the spiky-haired Javier Bardem. Though I would've found him way more interesting had he reprised Anton Chigurh. :) Rating: 5
Watched movie: "All Is Lost" (2013)
If you ever thought "Life of Pi" dragged, imagine it without the tiger. Though on the positive side, the complete lack of dialogue and narration ensured that nothing was dumbed down. For example, when Robert Redford read a manual on celestial navigation, spat out his potable water, or failed to flag down passing ships, we the audience were left to figure out why. Oscar note: I gotta hand it Robert Redford--it couldn't have been easy for a 77-year-old to film this movie. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Lady from Shanghai" (1947-1948)
Kind of campy for a film-noir, but I liked it. Granted, I found the murder plot and trial completely off-the-wall (a defense lawyer cross-examining himself??), and frowned at Orson Welles' distracting Irish accent--but overall I enjoyed watching the unapologetically fiendish characters (complete with creepy close-ups) and that famous funhouse mirror showdown. Rating: 7
One-track mind
10/22/13 7:22 PM PDT

I'm really puzzled by the walking regiment of this tan dog at my apartment complex. It has a collar and looks like some kind of terrier. It walks with purpose, eyes straight ahead, undistracted by things like me or the neighborhood cat. It walks non-stop along the perimeter of my parking lot, continues across the main gate, and passes by from the other side of the fence (where the homeless people used to camp). That's a helluva distance. Then another day or so later, it inexplicably repeats this routine.

Watched movie: "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)
A black-and-white Humphrey Bogart movie that had its merits but in my opinion, could've used more shades of gray. Specifically, I wanted to see all three gold prospectors deteriorate and "break bad". But instead, the film made two of them overly-honest (even having them laugh when they lost everything they worked for) and the third one certifiably insane! (It's like, the guy suddenly turned paranoid without rhyme or reason.) Additionally, I felt like the bandits hijacked the plot without really adding anything. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Escape Plan" (2013)
A contrived prison break movie from beginning to end, wherein Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger play intellectual geniuses. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Enough Said" (2013)
Slow and cringeworthy, albeit a good conversation piece. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced masseuse who starts dating James Gandolfini, but then realizes that one of her clients (whom she recently befriended) used to be married to him. Of course, instead of 'fessing up like a normal person, she decides to get all the dirt on him. I actually didn't have a problem with this gambit of hers (possibly because I felt she should've dumped him when he talked during a movie). My problem was that she kept pushing her luck even after their daughter almost spotted her. After that really close call, how could she possibly go on thinking that she wouldn't get busted eventually?? Rating: 5
GO BIG OR GO HOME.
10/14/13 11:08 PM PDT

After roughly six years of construction at the Santa Maria Town Center mall, the Edwards Santa Maria Town Center Stadium 14 & RPX is finally scheduled to open on November 22, 2013. In addition to stadium seating and digital projection, it looks like they'll have an RPX (Regal Premium Experience) theater...whatever that is.

Watched movie: "Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills" (2013)
Even cheesier than the first movie. Like, off-the-rails cheesy. Heh, I'll never get tired of Machete's one-liners. "Machete don't joke." "Machete happens." Also glad they answered what happened to the Tom Savini character from the previous film. Side note: That opening trailer for "Machete Kills Again... In Space" spoiled the ending of "Machete Kills"! Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Captain Phillips" (2013) in IMAX
I doubt I'd ever want to watch this movie again, but kudos to Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass for injecting some raw emotion into this real-life story. Both the cargo ship crew and the Somali pirates struck me as actual human beings rather than just Hollywood cliches (though I did read later that the film embellished Captain Phillips' heroism). And fortunately for me, I didn't even know whether the real-life Captain Phillips survived or not (though I had my money on "not" because no way would the U.S. appease that ransom demand). Rating: 7
Sky's the limit
10/07/13 6:30 PM PDT

After enjoying "Gravity" in IMAX, I shelled out some more money to watch it in D-BOX too. Needless to say, the seat didn't spin me around or make me feel weightless (probably for the best given how nauseated I felt during my real-life zero gravity flight). It more or less teetered like a waterbed (when the action wasn't crazy). Interestingly, I could actually feel Sandra Bullock's heartbeat sometimes. Wouldn't that be cool, if Motion Effects Seating got to the point where you could feel certain things whether or not they were triggered by specific onscreen cues? For example, I should still be able to feel random debris hitting the hull even if that's outside of the camera's purview.

Watched movie: "Rush" (2013) in D-BOX
Had its moments (like some cool racing scenes that rattled my D-BOX seat), but bored me overall. I liked neither race car driver, and found it hard to care about which guy would ultimately win the 1976 Formula One season. In fact, I actually found Ron Howard's attempts to convince me otherwise manipulative. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Wadjda" (2012-2013)
Scenic Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia about a Muslim girl's quest to buy a bicycle. Not the most interesting of plots, IMHO, but I did learn a lot about the customs of Muslim women in that society. For instance, they have to ensure that male bystanders can't see their bodies or overhear their voices, and husbands are allowed to marry a second wife. Also for a reason that I couldn't quite understand, a girl riding a bike is frowned upon. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Gravity" (2013) in IMAX 3D
A breathtaking cinematic ride by Alfonso Cuarón, fraught with jaw-dropping zero-g peril. Much more thrilling than the trailer led me to believe. Going into the movie, I thought that the barrage of debris would simply strand Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in outer space. But no, that stuff slingshotted around every 90 minutes or so to rain hell on whatever space station they reached for next. (And when I say reach for, I mean desperately flailing and clawing for dear life!) Recommendation: See this on the big screen. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" (2013) in 3D
Amusing, yet taxing at the same time. Don't know if it was the 3-D or the overactive animation, but I started getting a headache. Also got tired of the food puns before they even started saying them, and found the notion of "foodimals" disturbing (both visually and ethically). Props to the "hip" aesthetics of Live Corp. though. Rating: 6
Felina
09/30/13 5:43 PM PDT

Awesome "Breaking Bad" series finale. We got to see "Heisenberg" terrorize the Schwartzes, and I loved every minute of it. He really owned those guys, haha. As an added bonus, Walt finally 'fessed up and confirmed precisely what I had said about him.

Update 10/2/2013: One thing I would have added to the series finale: a couple more scenes where Skyler a) bargains with the DEA, and b) reacts to the trust fund. Because the monetary value and the Schwartzes' insistence would probably make her really suspicious. I actually came to the conclusion that Skyler's intelligence indeed rivals Walt's--because as smart as Walt is, he does the dumbest things sometimes. I also don't share fans' overwhelming hatred toward Skyler--most likely because of my foreknowledge that her misgivings come true in a big, big way.

Born bad?
09/27/13 3:39 PM PDT

While screening my DVR footage of the "Breaking Bad" marathon, I began fast-forwarding through anything related to Jesse, Skyler, Hank, Marie, Mike, and the Cousins. Walt intrigues me the most even though I keep shaking my head at his poor choices. I began seeing his crusade to provide for his family as an excuse; a lie he tells himself in order to break bad. Because man, I look at how euphoric and virile he gets after he's done major bad...and it's "crystal" clear to me that he enjoys it. That's actually how I originally pictured the end to this series: a scene where Hank or some judge asks Walt whether he felt any shame for what he did, and him replying that he's never had more fun in his life.

My new predictions on how the series will end: For starters, I imagine we'll get a flashback about why Walt left Gray Matter Technologies--because I searched the Web and it's still a big mystery. Then...

Ultimately I considered that Walt might just kill himself with the ricin cigarette. But nah, I'm thinking he'll flip off the whole world (a la Homer Simpson in the sinkhole) and go out in a hail of bullets. :)

Haha, I enjoyed the reactions to Walt's newly shaved head. Flynn called him "badass" and Jesse said he looked like Lex Luthor.

Speaking of series finales: not only did I hate the final episode of "Dexter", it gave me a nightmare too--about my phobia of sinking into darkness. To see how I would have ended the series, scroll to the bottom of my "Dexter" season 8 review.

Watched movie: "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) in IMAX 3D
Classic melodrama at its finest (and the birthplace of many famous snowclones). The Wicked Witch of the West made a great villain, and somehow Judy Garland played Dorothy without seeming corny at all. I liked the other characters too except for the Cowardly Lion (I'm not a fan of Snagglepuss) and those creepy little munchkins (Lollipop Kids, blecchh). As for the production value, the fake sets and painted backdrops really stood out in the higher resolution--but thanks to the onscreen talent, I still managed to suspend disbelief. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Prisoners" (2013)
Man...with a runtime of 2.5+ hours, you would think they could spare a few minutes of onscreen payoff after watching the abducted girls' parents suffer for so long. That was my main complaint. Other than that, I found the film moody, engaging, and unpredictable. Maybe not as organic as "Mystic River", but not as depressing either. Side note: That Jake Gyllenhaal detective character twitched his eyes too much. Rating: 6
Blood in the water
09/19/13 7:18 PM PDT

That "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" premiere turned out more interesting than I originally anticipated. Instead of the friendly competition that the returning players and their loved ones kept teasing (ad nauseam), I began to realize what a liability their bonds posed. Cases in point:

P.S. How in the world did Colton survive that first vote?!

Update 10/3/2013: This Tadhana tribe has no mercy. First they tried to weaken the other tribe by baiting Tyson with his own girlfriend. Then they exiled John to Redemption Island knowing full well that he'll have to duel his own wife! Das cold. P.S. Colton's decision to quit inspired me to revisit the "worst Survivor player ever" debate.

Ozymandias
09/16/13 6:09 PM PDT

What a gut-wrenching "Breaking Bad" episode last night. It perturbed me so much that afterward, I watched "Dexter" in a daze. Then that night I had trouble falling sleep, and today I had trouble concentrating at work. The pure, unadulterated despair on Walt's face as he lay there in the dirt haunted me the most. The fact that he'll have to live with this for the rest of his life (not that he has anything left to live for), and can never redeem himself. I know I should hate the guy but man, I can't help feeling sorry for him.

I might be too depressed to ever catch up on any past episodes now. Instead of escapist fun, my brain will likely keep perceiving this show as a cautionary tale about why crime isn't cool. :(

Rented Amazon.com movie: "Passion" (2013)
Whaaat. I went from questioning what was truth to questioning what was reality (narrative disaster when Noomi Rapace kept waking up from a dream). I never saw the original "Crime d'amour", but I'm pretty sure Brian De Palma took liberties with this remake. Case in point: a split-screen between Rachel McAdams and a ballet production?? Heh, her character made me think of an alternate suggestion for the movie title: "How to Get Yourself Murdered". Though I don't know who in their right mind would still consort with her after the first 15 minutes of the film. Final thought: why the ruse with the pills and the confession? Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Insidious: Chapter 2" (2013)
Man, you would think that this Lambert family would safeguard themselves more proactively after everything they went through in the first film, i.e., no more leaving the children alone to investigate strange noises and at a minimum, doing everything possible to protect Dalton from "further" astral threats (pun intended). Good thing those experienced paranormal investigators from the first film carried over. To the movie's credit, I cared about this family's fate and jumped from a couple of good scares. Rating: 6
Mark on the world
09/10/13 8:48 PM PDT

This Serena Williams keeps feeding my superstitions. I tuned into the U.S. Open women's final in time to see Serena blow a huge second set lead against Azarenka, leading me to immediately turn off the TV. Later on when I tuned back in, I saw that Serena had mounted a commanding third set lead. This latest win now places her one Grand Slam title away from tying both Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. It also appeases my own personal neurosis by levelling three of her Grand Slam singles totals: five Australian Opens, five Wimbledons, and now five US Opens. So going forward, she just needs three more French Opens to make it an even 20. :)

Later that Sunday, I caught an insane episode of "Breaking Bad". In the past I've never been a fan of this series...but man, I am now. I'm on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next.

Is it bizarro that I like this Walter White character (and hate anyone who dares to humiliate him)? Maybe I haven't seen enough episodes or maybe it's the ethical egoist in me, but his greed and hubristic pride don't bother me nearly as much as his "altruism" toward Jesse (whom I consider an ingrate, a liability, and a junkie whom Walt should have given up on a long time ago). Admittedly, I try not to fault Walt's critics...unless they're self-righteous or rushed to judgment (or took his hard-earned drug money). One thing would turn me against Walt though: if Marie became a widow because of him--so get out of that shootout alive, Hank! :)

Watched movie: "Riddick" (2013) in IMAX
Started out good when Riddick, marooned in a harsh yellow badland, had to fight tooth and nail to survive the alien wildlife. But then once he lured in the bounty hunters and started speaking actual dialogue, I thought the film got corny. Vin Diesel just has this smug cockiness about him that I don't like. Side note: Glad this movie brought me up to speed on the previous installment (which I had purposely skipped), "The Chronicles of Riddick". But after that, the movie referenced "Pitch Black" as if we could still remember what happened in a film that played over 13 years ago. :P Rating: 6
Attended Plácido Domingo concert: "A Very Special Evening Under the Stars" with guest sopranos Angel Joy Blue & Micaëla Oeste
I always regretted missing Luciano Pavarotti in concert, so in no way would I pass up this rare opportunity to see one of the other Three Tenors, Plácido Domingo. From my fourth row seat in U.C. Berkeley's Greek Theatre, I could see the white in his beard and the spittle from his mouth. Voice-wise, the guy's still got it. The two guest sopranos impressed me as well. As for the guest conductor...what a ham. :P

The concert purposely celebrated Verdi and Wagner, two of the most influential composers of operas of the nineteenth century. Meh. :) Also to my disappointment, the setlist wandered from operas to Broadway musicals like "West Side Story" (a waste of their vocal gifts, if you ask me).

Regarding my seat in the pit, a few things bugged me that I tried to ignore: a) the floor's crinkling sound, b) a pesky bug that kept crawling in my hair, and c) a guy to my right who seemed to be texting. If he texted during "Riddick" that would be one thing--but to text during Plácido Domingo?? Sacrilege! :(

Funny how after the intermission, Domingo explained a German scene to us as if we understood what the heck he was talking about. Also funny that during the encores, Domingo invited the audience to sing "Bésame Mucho" and "No Escudar" (sp?) as if we knew what the heck the lyrics were. :D

Side note: Couldn't figure out why this Micaëla Oeste paused the concert with a fish-like hand gesture--an issue with a teleprompter or the noise from a passing train, perhaps? Rating: 7

FYI, here was the setlist:

1-3. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
  "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond," from Die Walküre
  "Dich, teure Halle," from Tannhäuser
4. Umberto Giordano (1867-1948) "Nemico della patria," from Andrea Chénier
5. Charles-François Gounod (1818-1893) "Je veux vivre," from Roméo et Juliette
6-8. Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) "Udiste?...Mira, di acerbe lagrime," from Il Trovatore
  Overture to Un Giorno di Regno
  "Pura siccome un angelo," from La Traviata
INTERMISSION
9-10. Franz Lehár (1870-1948) "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz," from Das Land des Lächelns
  "Lippen Schweigen," from The Merry Widow
11. Franz von Suppé (1819-1895) Overture to Light Calvary
12. Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899) Act I Trio, from Die Fledermaus
13. Frederick Loewe (1901-1988) "I Could Have Danced All Night," from My Fair Lady
14. Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) "Some Enchanted Evening," from South Pacific
15-16. Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) Overture to Candide
  "Tonight," from West Side Story
17. Amadeo Vives (1871-1932) "Canción del Arlequín," from La Generala
18. Federico Moreno-Tórroba (1891-1982) "Amor, vida de mi vida," from Maravilla
Encore #1: "Bésame Mucho"
Encore #2: "Anything You Can Do"
Encore #3: ?
Encore #4: ?
Encore #5: "No Escudar" (sp?)
Breaking and...just breaking
09/03/13 4:37 PM PDT

To my dismay, some burglar tried to break into my Dad's house through the kitchen window. The screen had been cut through and dislodged, but the police deduced that a curtain rod/wind chime bell fell off and scared the burglar off. Nothing was taken or ransacked, but still--not a good feeling that a burglar could be hiding in that house whenever I come to visit.

Watched movie: "You're Next" (2013)
Well, the villains' devious home invasion plot contradicted itself (why did they keep after the final witness?) and the family gathering they targeted behaved unrealistically IMHO (peering out windows after the crossbow attack; loitering around unarmed despite the intruder upstairs)...but overall I liked it. It picked up for me once the survivalist girl took charge and the villains began making unusual blunders. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Kick-Ass 2" (2013)
Started out funny--but then the supervillains' cruelty made me lose my smile (and from what I read, the movie actually toned down the atrocities in the comic book (!)). Definitely stay after the credits. Side note: Good job on the incorporation of social networking and speech bubbles. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" (2013) in IMAX
All the makings of a young adult film: vampires, werewolves, demons, half-angels, magic, and a love triangle. In other words, blehhh. I did like the whole idea of enchanted runes, at least (especially when the Shadowhunters used glow wands to draw them in the air). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The World's End" (2013)
Third Edgar Wright film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy wherein Simon Pegg's feckless character--undeterred by an invasion of robotic body snatchers--attempts to finish his friends' pub crawl through their old hometown. Funny, but sometimes cringeworthy. Rating: 6
Curiosity...
08/23/13 7:37 PM PDT

I've seen some relatively interesting developments near the IBM lobby: a raccoon family raiding the cats' feeding spots....the black-striped cat dissing a newcomer cat (this one had similarly black stripes on its legs but with tan fur on its back) by hiding in a bush as it approached...but never have I seen a development as interesting as the other night's. To my surprise, a skunk was sniffing around the cats' favorite hangout...unaware that around the corner, the gray (?) cat was slowly advancing toward it! I gaped powerlessly at this ignorant cat, unable to look away as the skunk recoiled and raised its tail in a kung fu pose. Fortunately, it looked like the skunk missed (judging by the aim of its butt, I probably would've gotten the shot had that window not separated us). In any case, the cat darted out of there like a lightning bolt.

I once saw a Jackass episode where Johnny Knoxville got sprayed by a skunk, and if I remember correctly he needed paint to get the stink off. They also tested personal self-defense weapons one time, and the guy they tested on concluded that pepper spray hurt him the most. So believe it or not, sometimes that show was educational. :)

Watched movie: "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (2013)
Basically fast-forwards through 11 U.S. Presidents and three decades of African-American civil rights activism (omitting key events such as WWII and 9/11). As a result, I felt like the movie lacked depth and paled to dramas like "The Help" and "Lincoln". I did find some parts emotional at least, and was pleased with where they chose to end the film. Rating: 6
Most likely to be cynical
08/15/13 11:31 AM PDT

The only Seattle's Best Coffee in all of northern California closes today. Ordinarily, this would have made my worst of the year list--but looking back on 2013, I doubt it will even crack the top five. Business-wise, the Fremont Theatre can't be far behind...ever since they agreed to a new lease to the end of February 2014, that place has looked more dead than ever. I also saw it as a bad sign that Best Buy did not carry the newly released WWE DVD I was looking for. I had to drive all the way to FYE instead.

After some internal debate, I decided to salvage my old letterman jacket from my Dad's house. I skipped dry-cleaning it because they wouldn't even take it until I removed all the pins. I imagine most people would find sentimental value in their jackets...but not me. Not only did I hate my stint on the varsity tennis team, I pretty much disliked all of high school in general. Although I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "living hell"...I would go so far as to call it a "purgatory". :) I met the rudest people there, and always felt stressed out (which for better or for worse, did prime me for the real world).

Watched movie: "Elysium" (2013) in IMAX
Going into this movie, I had misgivings that I'd find it pretentious and inferior to Neill Blomkamp's previous masterpiece, "District 9". Unfortunately, these misgivings became a reality. I did, however, admire all the seamless, meticulously detailed sci-fi visuals. From 2154 Los Angeles to Max's factory to the space station, I was impressed. Side note: Can a space station really spin fast enough to hold an atmosphere? Rating: 7
Herding cats
08/09/13 8:16 PM PDT

When I stopped by the lab last weekend, that black-striped cat (from my previous blog) meowed urgently at me from its new hangout near the lobby...making me think that it didn't know its food and water bowls had moved to a bush around the corner. So I tried pointing toward the new spot, but the cat didn't understand. I tried to get it to follow me, but it wouldn't move. When I walked toward it, it shied away. So finally I went and fetched the food bowl (which was covered in ants that started crawling onto my hand). Then when it finished eating, I took the food bowl back and raised it over my head to show where I was putting it.

Looking back, I now think the cat knew the bowls' location all along...because later in the week, I saw it creeping over there before eventually returning back to the lobby. So maybe someone by the lobby fed it a tasty treat or something that it wanted more of. The way I see it, this once adventurous cat no longer has a life (says the guy who works in an office job five days a week). It just loiters there by the lobby.

In other news, thanks to a new wet/dry recycling program at my workplace, our printer room stinks like rotting garbage. I actually think I'm getting used to the stench though. :(

Watched movie: "Blue Jasmine" (2013)
Typical Woody Allen fare wherein the characters lack good judgement and make fools of themselves. Maybe it's just me, but the movie seemed to make men look really bad. I felt particularly dismayed by how guys kept pestering the damaged Cate Blanchett character when it looked crystal clear that she could crack at any second! Overall, I think I would've liked the film better had the Cate Blanchett character learned something. :( Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Wolverine" (2013) in 3D
If you ask me, best part of the movie was during the credits when Patrick Stewart rolled up as if "X-Men: The Last Stand" had never happened! Worst part of the movie: how Jean Grey kept appearing in Logan's dreams, a constant reminder that "X-Men: The Last Stand" had really happened. Man, it's not like they had anything--get over it. :( As for the rest of the film, I liked the depiction of modern Japan and the Yakuza fights (especially the bullet train mayhem). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" (2013) in 3D
A tweener version of "Wrath of the Titans" that completely jobs Kronos (the gods don't even come down to fight him; Percy manages to beat him singlehandedly). I'd basically describe this series as a spinning wheel that takes everything cool about Greek mythology and turns it into fluff. Rating: 5
Cat and cat
08/01/13 2:29 PM PDT

Sometimes I like watching videos from that Distraction category on CNN.com. For example, Cat hates ThunderShirt. Even though they don't consider it news, for me it beats all the death, murder, and depravity that fills the headlines ad nauseam.

Speaking of distractions, I've been observing two stray cats at my IBM lab for quite awhile now, one gray and one black-striped. They don't seem to get along as I once caught the gray one sneaking up on the black-striped one, and freezing in place every time the black-striped one turned around. I also heard them catfighting inside of a bush one time.

I considered naming the black-striped one "Catniss" because it always looks hungry and likes to nap in the exact same thicket around 5-6pm each day. But after thinking about it, "Scaredy Cat" seemed like a better fit. :)

Watched movie: "Jagten" (2012) a.k.a. "The Hunt" (2013)
A hair-raising, grippingly tragic Danish drama wherein a growing number of villagers--misled by a little girl's pornographic remark--begin to persecute an innocent kindergarten teacher for pedophilia (and as a result, he finds out who his true friends really are). I found the movie frighteningly believable except for maybe a couple of parts: a) I don't think an innocent person would react so stoically to the initial accusation--rather, I would think he'd deny it with every fiber of his being (!), and b) I found it implausible how those other kids began weaving such elaborate lies about him. One observation about the ending: I guess now he knows what it's like for the deer! :P Rating: 7
Turbo-stoic.
07/25/13 5:55 PM PDT

While getting the lining of my wheel well repaired, I watched an entire episode of "The Price Is Right" in the waiting room. Heh...if I ever competed on that show, I might go down as the worst contestant ever. From the "Come on down!" to the chance of winning a new car, my lack of excitement would probably confuse the viewing audience.

Watched movie: "Turbo" (2013) in 3D
This whole movie was impossible. Great racing animation though. Turbo-tastic! Funny snails too. Can't say the same for those borderline offensive taco vendors. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "R.I.P.D." (2013) in 3D
Like "Men In Black", but much harder to care about because the two lawmen seemed impervious to harm and (literally) had no lives. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Conjuring" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Not sure why this ghost flick garnered such critical acclaim, as it seemed similar to James Wan's previous film "Insidious". I guess I just don't find crones or retouched ghosts all that scary. In fact, that simple-looking maid spooked me the most. Rating: 6
I think I can
07/19/13 11:28 AM PDT

Last weekend, I rode a train from San Jose to San Luis Obispo for the first time...the Amtrack Coast Starlight. It took roughly five hours but had a few highlights:

Afterward, I rode a bus to Santa Maria and walked home from IHOP.

The mission to sell my Dad's car tested my coolheadedness. To my dismay, the car failed to start (not even an ignition noise), even though its electrical power seemed fine during my previous visit. After roadside assistance jump-started it and left, the car stalled halfway up the street and I had to jump out and push it to the nearest curb. Fortunately, there was an auto shop open on Sunday that the car could be towed to. Once they replaced the dead battery, the car worked fine again. (Mechanic's lesson of the day: a car's fuel injection system needs electricity to work.)

Watched movie: "Pacific Rim" (2013) in IMAX 3D
A no holds barred collision of Kaiju and mecha genres directed by Guillermo del Toro. Thankfully, nowhere near as bad as those horrid Transformers movies. Best viewed on a big screen. Stay during the credits. Side note: Anytime a combatant decimated their opponent with a major weapon, it made me wonder why they didn't use it earlier! (While I'm at it, I found it hard to believe that no one thought of it earlier to smuggle a bomb in through a Kaiju.) Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Fruitvale Station" (2013)
Organic and resonantly human. I actually screened this movie in Oakland, less than four miles from that Fruitvale Station where the BART policeman shot Oscar Grant. Although I expected a partisan crowd, I wasn't prepared for the cries of grief that I heard (it started to make me wonder whether anyone in that theater might have known Oscar Grant personally). The film made the BART police look pretty bad (especially with that villain from "Lost" playing one of them)--but on the other hand, the movie did show Oscar's temper a couple of times. Personally, I'll never understand why people behave belligerently toward police officers, even jerk ones. It's like, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Side note: Neat cell phone display effects. Rating: 7
Without further ado
07/12/13 6:22 PM PDT

Interesting. When I mentioned at work that my Dad (stubborn to the end) refused an ambulance during his heart attack, they said it sounded like something I would do as well. What? I may have my pride, but I wouldn't die for it. :P I also wouldn't pinch pennies when it comes to my life either.

One thing that haunts me: my Dad always had low cholesterol and seemed to eat healthy--given that he had a heart attack anyway, what chance do I have later in life. :(

My Dad left behind a 1987 Toyota Camry, a car I always resented because he wouldn't let my Mom and me drive it when I was growing up. Now it's old and out-of-date, e.g., no airbags and still uses cassette tapes--in retrospect, hardly worth slighting one's family for.

Watched movie: "Much Ado About Nothing" (2013)
Well, Joss Whedon and his arsenal of hams tried mightily...but alas, I can think of nothing in heaven nor earth that can make Shakespeare funny. Witty, poetic, or evocative perhaps--but not funny. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Lone Ranger" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Asinine. Though admittedly, I liked that whole William Tell Overture train sequence. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Bling Ring" (2013)
I like this movie because (I think) it makes fun of everything I hate about today's teenagers, from their unbearably shallow conversations to the cell phones they photograph themselves with. Still hard for me to believe the lack of security at those celebrities' homes, even though Sofia Coppola based the film on a real-life case (the Hollywood Hills Burglars). Also, my brain kept typecasting Emma Watson as a celebrity rather than a burglar. :P Rating: 6
Roller coaster
07/06/13 4:06 AM PDT

During this Wimbledon tournament where all kinds of top seeds got eliminated in the early rounds (I guess tennis fans had griped about Federer vs. Nadal in the quarterfinals for nothing), I made a mental note to discuss it with my Dad; but then realized I couldn't do that anymore.

I have to admit, I respected how my Dad clung to life. His heart kept beating on its own, and his brain seemed perfectly lucid. That's what made all those life and death decisions about him (like a DNR) so agonizing. (Well, that and the way the doctors kept raising our hopes one day only to dash them in the next.) By the end of all that suffering, I actually felt relief that my Dad had finally found peace.

By the way, that West Coast blackout hit the hospital but only brought down non-essential systems like terminals and outlets. I didn't realize the extent of the blackout until we drove home to a pitch black house.

Also found it curious that anytime a new baby was born in that hospital, a lullaby played over the intercom.

I finally go back to work on July 8. I've been away since June 20, and have started feeling anxiety. :P

Watched movie: "World War Z" (2013) in 3D
Refreshingly intelligent zombie apocalypse flick wherein former U.N. investigator Brad Pitt travels the world searching for patient zero. Featured a lot of cool scenes like humans quietly sneaking past zombies, zombies swarming up walls and down pathways like ants, and zombies attacking a helicopter. I also liked Brad Pitt's ingenuity, e.g., taping magazines to his forearms and counting seconds to himself on a ledge. My only minor criticisms: I felt that the movie needed more gore and less family screen time. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Before Midnight" (2013)
Too much talking, if you ask me. I couldn't stand that overbearingly argumentative Julie Delpy character, and couldn't fathom what the Ethan Hawke character ever saw in her (maybe I needed to see the first two installments). She struck me as some kind of feminist drama queen. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Monsters University" (2013) in 3D
Funny prequel to "Monsters, Inc." about the two college misfits who ironically, ended up revolutionizing the entire scare industry. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Despicable Me 2" (2013) in 3D
Hilarious and well-animated. I still don't know what those minions are, but they crack me up. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The East" (2013)
Interesting albeit borderline pretentious thriller wherein undercover operative Brit Marling grows torn between her employer (a corporate security firm) and the eco-terrorist group she infiltrated. In particular, I found that whole business of privatized intelligence intriguing. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "White House Down" (2013)
So corny and contrived that it almost seemed like a mockery of America. I could even picture Jack Bauer scoffing at it. :) Rating: 5
Tad Aoki 1926-2013
06/27/13 2:34 AM PDT

My Dad passed away on Tuesday. He toughed out a rough few days after his heart attack long enough for our family to say our goodbyes to him.

In preparation of his death, he personalized a passage from Coffinman to convey the following message to those he left behind:

There's nothing I regret as I take my leave.
I've lived a full life, in fact, more than I deserve.
Thank you, thank you all for making my stay on this earth such an enjoyable, happy, and fulfilling one
My hope is that Namoamidabutsu will be an important part of your life for I sincerely believe that this is the greatest gift one can ever receive.

I also wrote the following obituary for the Santa Maria Times:

TADASHI "TAD" AOKI
1926-2013

Tad was born on 11/4/1926 in Reedley, California to parents Kanichi and Yachiyo Aoki.

Tad passed away on June 25, 2013 surrounded by his close family.

Tad graduated Reedley College, served as an infantryman at Fort Lewis, Washington until 1950, graduated UCLA in 1956, taught high school and collegiate business in Santa Maria for 30 and 45 years, respectively, and worked part-time for Maguire Investments for over 40 years. He married Michi Aoki in 1960 and raised four children. He also devoted over 50 years to the Guadalupe Buddhist Church.

Tad was preceded in death by his parents Kanichi and Yachiyo Aoki and wife Michi Aoki.

He is survived by daughters Naomi Choquette of Mililani, Hawaii, June Trachsel of Pacific Grove. Sons Stanley and Steven Aoki of San Jose. Grandchildren Nathan, Kelsi and Jarad Choquette of Mililani, Hawaii and Corinne Trachsel of Pacific Grove. Sisters Yosh Ishibashi of Los Angeles, Atsuko Judge of San Francisco. Brothers Hitoshi and Kiyoshi of Reedley.

Viewing services will be held on Saturday, June 29, 2013 from 2:00 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. at Dudley-Hoffman Mortuary. Memorial services will be held on Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 10:00 A.M. at the Guadalupe Buddhist Temple.

Arrangements are under the direction of Dudley-Hoffman Mortuary, Crematory and Memory Gardens.

Upon reflection, my parents always reminded me of that Giving Tree (from my favorite childhood book of the same name). The tree selflessly gave and gave pieces of itself to the growing boy and even after it became a stump, the tree was happy.

Stingy as my Dad was, he always provided for us and ultimately made us into responsible adults.

I will miss him and just want to say, Thanks for everything, Dad.

Not your father's Superman
06/23/13 12:31 AM PDT
Watched movie: "Man of Steel" (2013) in IMAX 3D
Wildy convoluted with plot devices, disjointed flashbacks (including a terribly pointless death for Jonathan Kent), and ludicrously impressive visual effects. Rating: 7
Hell to pay
06/19/13 5:31 PM PDT

The main event of WWE Payback...not the best Three Stages of Hell Match I've seen, but definitely better than the last one I personally attended. (Possibly because now those new breaks between the stages help prevent quick victories.) I liked the spots when the lumberjacks fell, when the ring steps broke tables, and when the ambulance got dismantled. The ending totally confused me. From my seat, I could see John Cena deliver an AA on top of the ambulance--then next thing I knew, the ring bell sounded. Later on the TitanTron replay, I gleaned that Ryback had inexplicably crashed through the roof.

"Ryback ROOOOOLS!"
"The CHAMP is HERRRE!"
Stage 1: Lumberjack Match
Stage 2: Tables Match
Stage 3: Ambulance Match

Watched movie: "This Is the End" (2013)
Hysterical apocalyptic film wherein a whole bunch of my favorite comedic actors, playing (caricatures of) themselves, get left behind in the Rapture during a party at James Franco's house. Of course, hilarity ensues as their narrow-minded brains try to process what's happening--and I don't know how, but they all manage to keep a straight face while saying the dumbest things. During one particularly stupid argument, I laughed so hard that tears streamed down my cheeks. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" (1992)
I screened this movie again as part of Camera Cinemas' Cult Movie Series. Still as viscerally emotional as ever. The crowd didn't make much sound, but who can blame them. :P

Historically, I always saw Twin Peaks as a community blind to Laura Palmer's suffering. But as I watched this movie again, I realized that she did have positive relationships (including people reaching out to her)--just not the positive relationship that mattered most, i.e., the one with her father. That's what made that one solitary scene between them, where his true self briefly emerged, so heartwrenching. I also liked that theme of Laura (justifiably) feeling like the angels had forsaken her.

Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland made an entertaining onscreen duo, IMHO. I think they'd make a great spin-off. Side note: The interior of the Double R Diner much more wooden than I remembered--it must have been remodeled before my visit. Rating: 9

The King of Clay
06/11/13 2:28 PM PDT

Congratulations to Rafael Nadal on his unprecedented eighth French Open title, making him the first man to win the same Grand Slam title eight times. Crazy seeing that protester storm the court with a flare. Hehe, after Usain Bolt presented the trophy, John McEnroe asked Nadal what he thought of the "crazy idiot" on the court. Nadal replied, "Usain?"

Also congratulations to Serena Williams for finally winning that second French Open title after 11 years! I'm glad she didn't fall on her back in celebration this time (I always worry she'll hit her head). It surprised me that the French audience rooted for her, and surprised me even more when she delivered her victory speech in French! (I guess she had 11 years to practice it.)

Man, Maria Sharapova had a look on her face like she'd lost her best friend. The neurotic in me kinda doesn't want her to win another Grand Slam title because that would throw off her perfectly even, "minimalist" Career Grand Slam.

Watched movie: "epic" (2013) in 3D
Funny, touching, and impressively scenic. Special props to the two comical gastropods (voiced by Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd). Even their silent "told you so" look amused me. P.S. That mismatch in the time rates confused me--like why would a bee and a human look slow to Leafmen but not a slug or a snail! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Stories We Tell" (2012-2013)
Some kind of brain-teasing documentary by Sarah Polley that unveils her mother's deep dark secrets in a style I'd describe as "algebraic". Stuff in particular that vexed me:
  • For most of the movie, Sarah's father narrated from a bunch of pages with no explanation as to what they were.
  • None of the interviews of the friends and family had captions to identify their connection to Sarah's mother. I essentially had to pencil out a family tree in my own mind.
  • A lot the interviewees' statements felt out-of-context because of the film's delay in imparting certain crucial facts. Case in point: the revelation that the mother died when Sarah was 11-years-old.
  • Jittery, grainy home movie clips often distracted me from the actual narrative.
  • Sarah, one of the most important pieces in this picture, limited her side of the story to e-mails rather than a full interview--possibly to avoid the appearance of partiality or conceit (but if she really wanted to do that, she should've entrusted someone else with the documentary).
In conclusion, by Sarah's own admission, I don't think that she knew what she was doing. Rating: 5
Watched On Demand movie: "V/H/S/2" (2013)
Much better crop of VHS (?) "found footage" horror shorts this time, directed by filmmakers from "The Blair Witch Project", "The Raid: Redemption", "You're Next", and "Hobo with a Shotgun". I liked the recordings from the ocular implant, the "zombie cam", and the Indonesian cult compound. I hated the "dog cam" one and come to think of it, I hated "Hobo with a Shotgun" too. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Purge" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Thought-provoking horror thriller wherein the United States government legalizes all crime in America (including murder) for one night a year. Why would the American public ever go along with such a thing, you ask? Apparently it saved the country from some kind of socioeconomic collapse. (Personally, I would've fled to another country first chance I got.) My biggest question: what about weapons of mass destruction? Still off-limits, according to the emergency broadcast. Though with all emergency services suspended, how could the authorities prevent such a thing? (Also, how could they tell if a crime was committed before 7pm or after 7am?) Scariest realization in the movie for me: the thought of some enemy (either known or unknown) plotting ways to get past all of my protections and deterrents. Man, that one part in the movie where hell suddenly broke loose--I didn't see that coming at all. Rating: 7
Legacy
06/04/13 5:51 PM PDT

Looks like Apolo Anton Ohno retired from speed skating. :( He's going to the 2014 Sochi Olympics as a correspondent for NBC (and recently hosted "Minute to Win It" for the Game Show Network). Not that I can blame him for staying away from U.S. Speedskating, given all the recent scandal there.

Watched movie: "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
Despite eight Oscars and a really famous beach scene where the tide washes over two kissing lovers, I didn't find this film all that meaningful. Mostly because I couldn't make sense of the three soldiers' self-destructive (and exasperating) convictions. Where did their self-sacrifices get them? (Rhetorical question.) P.S. That inaccurate account at the end confused me. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "After Earth" (2013) in IMAX
Would've been cool to title this movie "Mutha Earth" instead, but that probably would've sounded racist. The story takes place on a future "quarantined" Earth sometime after the animals and climate (including the air itself) turned against humanity. Crash survivors Will Smith and his real-life son Jaden must recover a beacon in the tail section of their weird-looking spaceship to escape. I'd call it one of M. Night Shyamalan's better films, even though the novelty of his stoic characters wore off on me long ago. P.S. If I were in Will Smith's shoes trying to coach his son, I would've totally lost it. :) Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Now You See Me" (2013)
A magician encases an autographed playing card into a young tree so that 18 years later, he can perform the mother of all card tricks. Some time later, four magicians begin goading the police with illegal bank capers. Why did I mention the former? Because it helped me suspend disbelief for the latter. Granted, the film still contained too many variables, moving parts, snap hypnoses, and special effects for me to consider it remotely plausible. But I still found it clever. Jesse Eisenberg even picked my card at the beginning of the movie! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
What this legendary musical lacked in plot and songwriting (dare I say "fluff"?), it made up for in laughs and showmanship. I was impressed by the stars' talent. Nowadays, I can't think of a single actor who can sing and tap dance like Gene Kelly. Rating: 7
Carmageddon
05/27/13 10:22 PM PDT

If I had to name my favorite car chase in movie history, I'd end up with a three-way tie. In other words, I can think of three car chases so insanely good that I can't decide which one I like the best:

"The Matrix Reloaded" (2003)

Every time I watch this mindbending tour de force, it specifically makes me think of U.S. Highway 101. Eventually I discovered why: it turns out the film crew used a real-life US 101 freeway sign on an otherwise fake freeway. They built the entire freeway from scratch--then dismantled it after about three months--just to shoot roughly ~15 minutes worth of action! What an awesome ~15 minutes of action though.

"The Bourne Supremacy" (2004)

A white knuckle thrill ride through Moscow that felt as much like a demolition derby as it did a high-speed chase. I loved the soundtrack during this sequence so much that I used to play it in my Corolla (while driving responsibly, of course).

"Fast Five" (2011)

Initially, the trailer made it look like two muscle cars would simply drag a vault around with the police in hot pursuit. So when they went medieval with that thing and wreaked havoc all over Rio de Janeiro, my jaw dropped. After screening this movie in D-BOX--which made my seat quake whenever the vault tumbled across the ground--I came back the very next day just to relive the experience. Then about five months later during IMAX Big Movie Week, I re-watched the action without motion effects and still enjoyed every pulse-pounding second.

Watched movie: "The Hangover Part III" (2013)
I've never been a fan of these Hangover films, but at least this one felt a little classier (that is until the credits). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Furious 6" (2013) in D-BOX
Crew vs. crew in a knockdown drag-out war! I used to roll my eyes at this Fast & Furious franchise, but now I genuinely enjoy it. This latest installment outdid them all in terms of plot holes, but at least they finally stitched up some continuity that had been bugging me, i.e., Tokyo Drift (though deep down inside I had hoped Han would eject from his car or something). P.S. The Rock should add that flying Double Dragon 3 headbutt to his WWE repertoire! :) Rating: 7
Oh darkness 30
05/20/13 5:57 PM PDT

Hehe, saw a devilishly clever bumper sticker that simply read: "fredo deserved it".

I read that Jack Bauer will return next summer for a 12-episode limited series, "24: Live Another Day". It'll take place years after the original series finale and skip hours here and there. (That makes more sense to me as I always found it unrealistic how Jack never once got stuck in L.A. traffic.) Here's hoping they tie up that loose end between Jack and Audrey.

Watched movie: "Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013) in IMAX 3D
Lots of cool stuff (most notably a spectacular free fall where gravity inexplicably shifted), but do J.J. Abrams & co. hold nothing sacred?? After I just got done forgiving the previous film too. Although I didn't mind the British version of Carol Marcus, the way this movie flagrantly retreaded all-time classic Wrath of Khan (complete with a vanilla Benedict Cumberbatch) left me outraged. Like that whole radiation chamber dialogue with Spock co-opting Kirk's famous line--a complete farce, if you ask me. :( Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)
Famous Marilyn Monroe comedy where her dress blows up over a subway grating (though it pretty much happened offscreen). Between her airheaded routine and Richard Sherman's neurotic ramblings (and overactive imagination), I longed for the movie to end. Side note: At one point, the guy made a confusingly facetious remark that maybe he had Marilyn Monroe in his kitchen. I didn't get it, but the audience laughed. Rating: 4
Survivor: Caramoan finale
05/13/13 1:33 PM PDT

Kudos to Cochran for a well-deserved Survivor victory! A kindred spirit in that he struck me as introverted (judging by his lack of close personal connections with jurors), unassuming, and fond of big words. One really big exception though: I wouldn't be crazy enough to play Survivor. Granted, I would enjoy the part where I vote out enemies...but not the inevitable part where I'd have to vote out friends. I'd also hate the cold, starvation, and total lack of privacy. :)

In regard to Boston Rob's new rulebook, I think I'd identify more with Cochran's rules based on the great points he made about timing and voting people out preemptively. My own Survivor rules would look more like this:

Next season = Survivor: Blood vs. Water? Probably not as interesting as it sounds, as I can't imagine anyone voting out their own family member or spouse. Ugh...I would cringe if they brought Brandon back.

Watched movie: "Aftershock" (2013)
Terribly drawn-out horror flick full of poor taste and eye-rolling drama. Took forever for the earthquake to hit. Selena Gomez made an inexplicable cameo. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Great Gatsby" (2013) in 3D
Greatest strength of the original novel, IMHO: F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary flair. Greatest strength of this latest theatrical adaptation, IMHO: Baz Luhrmann's cinematic flair. Such grandeur...way glitzier and more glamorous than anything I could have imagined myself. Possibly because of how lavishly the film seemed to modernize the 1920s (I'm pretty skeptic that the Roaring Twenties had hip-hop music and such wild street racing). Side note: I found Baz's interpretation of the hit-and-run interesting, as it played out more like a legitimate accident than a homicide. Rating: 7
A release date far, far away....
05/09/13 7:38 PM PDT

Compiled a new list of coming attractions on my radar:

"Star Trek Into Darkness" (May 17, 2013)
I'm optimistic about it even though I didn't care for the IMAX extended preview.
"V/H/S/2" (June 6, 2013)
Sequel to found footage anthology "V/H/S".
"World War Z" (June 21, 2013)
One of the two movies of 2013 that I'm most looking forward to.
"Elysium" (August 9, 2013)
A new one from Neill Blomkamp, director of "District 9". Unsurprisingly, it's about a future where the lower-class suffer on Earth while the upper-class thrive in a luxurious space station.
"Captain Phillips" (October 11, 2013)
Latest from Paul Greengrass.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (November 22, 2013)
The other movie of 2013 that I'm most looking forward to. I really enjoyed the book.
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (December 13, 2013)
Read the book so long ago that I only remember bits and pieces.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" (July 18, 2014)
Based on a classic time travel story from the X-Men comics...meaning that in addition to the "First Class" class, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, (a pregnant) Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, and Ellen Page all get to reprise their roles. Plus Bryan Singer has returned to the franchise to direct!
"Interstellar" (November 7, 2014)
The next film by Christopher Nolan--some kind of scientific time travel epic.
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" (November 21, 2014)
I can think of spots where the film can improve upon the book. I also have a prediction about where they'll end Part 1.
"The Hobbit: There and Back Again" (December 17, 2014)
Not sure what's left to film at this point.
"The Expendables 3" (2014)
I already heard confirmation for Jackie Chan and Wesley Snipes.
"The Avengers 2" (May 1, 2015)
With Joss Whedon back to direct it, I feel good about it.
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (November 20, 2015)
I guess in the spirit of the Hunger Games Cornucopia, these installments come out every Thanksgiving.
"Finding Dory" (November 25, 2015)
Sequel to Pixar's "Finding Nemo". I say let her stay lost. :)
"Star Wars: Episode VII" (2015)
Directed by J.J. Abrams who also directed the "Star Trek" reboot! Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all reprise their original roles.

Just wishful thinking, but I think Identity Crisis would make an awesome Justice League movie. It's a whodunit about a terrorist who knows the superheroes' secret identities, and goes after their loved ones. Also explores some past ethical compromises within the Justice League itself.

Silver screen
05/06/13 3:46 PM PDT

Saw another movie on my "famous classic films I've never seen" checklist, "The Graduate". It played for one night in theaters, so I got to see it in widescreen format (I vaguely remembered a film critic using this film as an example of why moviegoers should stick to letterboxing rather than full-screen/pan-and-scan).I still have two other Dustin Hoffman films on my checklist: "Midnight Cowboy" and "All the President's Men". I also resolved to see at least one Marilyn Monroe film and James Dean film.

Incidentally, one of the more recent Simpsons episodes reminded me that I still have "A Streetcar Named Desire" on my checklist...despite my disappointment with "On the Waterfront". (Other classic films I found overrated: "The Searchers", "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", "Casablanca", and most of all "Sunset Boulevard".)

Watched movie: "The Graduate" (1967)
Funny guy, that Dustin Hoffman. But I gotta say, it really bothered me that the girl he fell in love with after only one date--a veritable supermodel with her whole life ahead of her--could even entertain the idea of marrying him after everything he did (and more importantly, didn't do). I wasn't too sure what Mrs. Robinson saw in him either. :) P.S. I would've bolted out of that house so fast. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Iron Man Three" (2013) in IMAX 3D
Tony Stark, M.D....even when he's suffering anxiety attacks or in a hopeless situation, I still find him aloof. And what arrogance, giving his home address to a terrorist and later discarding his Iron Men saviors! But I have to admit...unlike "House, M.D.", I still like the guy. It wasn't lost on me that his first instinct, in the heat of the moment, was to armor up Pepper instead of himself (plus I found that voice message unexpectedly considerate of him). I also noted the respect he showed for Happy Hogan, that kid he pretended not to like, and--if you think about it--Dr. Bruce Banner. As for all that pseudo-science in the movie...I decided to just cut these "Iron Man" flicks some slack. Definitely stay after the credits. Side note: Quite the millennium party...in addition to the Extremis folks, Tony Stark ran into his future mentor Yinsen and the Chinese surgeon from the operation scene. Rating: 6
Name is mud
04/29/13 10:51 PM PDT

Michael Shannon Reads the Insane Delta Gamma Sorority Letter. Man das funny. This is precisely why I save my flame e-mails in draft mode instead of sending them, so I can tone them down once I've cooled off. If I had kids, I'd give them that same advice--and while I'm at it, warn them against phishing, catfishing, and taking pictures that could leak online. I wonder if parents nowadays even think of that stuff.

Watched movie: "Upstream Color" (2013)
The next intellectual challenge from the director of "Primer". Just like a Terrence Malick film, it's nebulous and apparently took nine years to make. :) Actually, I'd liken it more to a contour drawing. The scenes unfold as fragments, so we only get a holistic sense of what's happening. For instance, at one point I started noticing a ring on the fingers of both romantic leads--meaning, presumably, that the director didn't find their wedding relevant enough to show! Also, the movie didn't explain much. I'm still unsure about the "Ceti eels" that hypnotized the thief's victims, why the pig farmer seemed like a ghost, and why the girl shot him. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "To the Wonder" (2013)
Speaking of Terrence Malick, he came out with this new perfume commercial called "To the Wonder", complete with melancholy whispering, heavyhearted characters (including a priest who lost his faith), and scenic landscapes. The narrative was so minimal that most of the scenes felt out of context to me. For example, due to the lack of dialogue I still don't know what made Olga Kurylenko so furious with Ben Affleck. Rating: 5
Watched in-theater event: "Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Best of Both Worlds"
Digitally remastered presentation of "The Best Of Both Worlds" (a.k.a. the traumatic two-parter where the Borg co-opted our beloved Picard) which seamlessly transitions from Part I to II...effectively ruining one of the greatest cliffhangers in TV history. :( Originally, I (and interviewee Seth MacFarlane) remember the jaw-dropping sequence as "Mr. Worf...fire." followed by "TO BE CONTINUED..." But this uninterrupted version cut straight to the next scene. Otherwise, I enjoyed re-watching this landmark Star Trek classic in a crowd environment. The behind-the-scenes featurette had some great interviews (the actress who played Shelby was funny), and the outtakes/bloopers from season 3 cracked me up.
Watched movie: "Pain & Gain" (2013) in Cinemark XD
An onslaught of bad taste that makes fun of a pretty appalling real-life capital case. Reminded me of "Ren & Stimpy" in that the asinine humor started out funny, but then numbed my brain after awhile. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Mud" (2013)
Slow Tom Sawyer-esque adventure wherein two boys try to help a fugitive reunite with his on-off girlfriend. Southern etiquette continues to elude me--for example, I couldn't reconcile how a kid polite enough to call people "sir" and "ma'am" could just coldcock somebody on a dime. Also, what was up with that spit shake stuff. Side note: Was it my imagination, or was the movie trying to say that women "cain't" be trusted? Rating: 6
All enemies, foreign and domestic
04/21/13 9:40 PM PDT

A week passed since my last blog and I have to say, I'm really impressed with U.S. counterterrorism. Not just because both Boston Marathon bombing fugitives have been taken down, but because the Feds managed to arrest someone for the ricin letters too! Makes me wish they could spare someone to help catch the perps who keep sabotaging the phone and network lines in our area...

Update 4/22/2013: Wow. Feds charged the Boston Marathon bombing suspect with using a weapon of mass destruction, the equivalent of detonating a nuke or using airplanes as missiles. Minimum sentence = life imprisonment without parole. For a teenager who still has his whole life ahead of him, I'm thinking that punishment might be worse than death.

Watched movie: "Evil Dead" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Much gorier than the original...beyond that, nothing redeeming comes to mind. Still don't understand why Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert pushed so hard to remake their original horror classic. Stay after the credits for a "groovy" cameo of Ash. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Place Beyond the Pines" (2013)
More pretentious and cringeworthy than the trailer led me to believe. Not to mention contrived. At first I squirmed waiting for the first act to end; then I squirmed waiting for the second act to end; lastly, I squirmed waiting for the third act to end. In other words--thanks to such frownworthy characters--I found the entire movie hard to watch. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Oblivion" (2013)
If an alien invasion laid waste to the Earth, and 60 years later my spouse looked the same age with no memory of me...I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be so stoic about it! That's just one example of why I had some trouble connecting with the characters. Otherwise, I found the movie worth watching. Rating: 6
Game of musical chairs
04/14/13 10:55 PM PDT

After attending the last seven WrestleManias, I was relieved to finally break the streak and watch WrestleMania on TV this year. No more stress of securing a ticket; no more worrying about its authenticity and the actual location of the seat (for example, behind a pillar); and no more fatigue heading back to my hotel.

Admittedly, WrestleMania 29 exceeded my expectations--particularly the Undertaker streak match against CM Punk. I enjoyed Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar and John Cena vs. The Rock as well.

In other news, I finally finished reading Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, I still have to avert my eyes from Internet, magazine, and even billboard spoilers for season 3 of the HBO series. I also have to avoid associating names to faces as well, lest that spoil who survived the second book. (I haven't been entirely successful.)

Some smart aleck in Entertainment Weekly spoiled the twists in "Citizen Kane" and "Empire Strikes Back", quipping how oversensitive people have gotten to spoilers for TV shows and movies that have long been out. Dude, I don't care how old the TV series or movie is. If somebody hasn't seen it, then it's still a spoiler!

Watched movie: "dupa dealuri" (2012) a.k.a. "Beyond the Hills" (2013)
Methodical Oscar entry from Romania about an Orthodox nun whose fulfilling life at a monastery becomes jeopardized by her clingy (and demonically possessed?) menace of a friend. (For those of you still wondering why I don't have a Facebook account, see this movie.) Initially I wanted to liken this film to "Brokeback Mountain"--but despite all of my suspicions, I still couldn't bring myself to positively conclude that the two main characters were lesbian. So I'm forced to liken the film to "Of Mice and Men" instead. :)

I like this director--anytime I watch his characters, I find myself unable to nitpick any of their choices. In particular, whenever they resort to something cringeworthy, I feel like that they weighed or exhausted every possible alternative first. Side note: I half-expected the director to impart all 464 sins on the nuns' checklist. :) Rating: 7

Watched movie: "Kokuriko-zaka kara" (2011) a.k.a. "From Up on Poppy Hill" (2012)
Slow-paced family film, animated by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, about a high school girl who has to cope with the likelihood that both she and her love interest share the same biological father (which true or not, forever killed any romantic mood I might have felt toward them). Oh, and they both crusade to save a clubhouse too--but I could neither bring myself to care nor get past that aforementioned twist. Also found the animation pretty plain, other than the girl's funny blushing and the high school guys' cartoonish tomfoolery. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Trance" (2013)
Some kind of electro-noir film directed by Danny Boyle. (I made that word up because I don't know how else to describe the movie.) It delves into an amnesiac's mind as a hypnotherapist helps him search for a painting that he can't remember hiding. All in all, a weird film but engaging and unpredictable. One part I found particularly cool: when the main character paused his narration to the camera to let the action speak for itself. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Jurassic Park" (1993) in IMAX 3D
When I first saw this film in high school, I criticized it because I felt that it had distilled an intelligent book into a shallow kids' movie (I still remember my dismay when the T. rex rescued the humans). That was about 20 years ago. Now when I watch it--having forgotten most of the book--I find that...my feelings haven't really changed. P.S. Can someone remind me why the project needed a chaos theorist? Rating: 5
Read book: "A Game of Thrones" (1996) by George R.R. Martin
An absorbing book even though the author's narrative style really tested my patience, i.e., devoting entire chapters to characters whom I had little or no interest in. Specifically, I wanted to groan aloud whenever the book jumped to that kid sitting around in the castle, the guy patrolling the giant wall, or that girl riding around on some whole other continent.

Ultimately when I finally made it through all 807 pages, I was left asking: what progress did any of the characters make ? In particular, I felt like that that dense main character, Eddard Stark, had wasted my time the most. At the very least, spread the results of your murder investigation! I seriously wish the guy had just stayed home. (Also knew from the get-go that he shouldn't trust Littlefinger or Lord Baelish or Petyr or whatever his name is.)

In conclusion, I have to praise this author's flair for writing great villains, e.g., Viserys and Joffrey. I loved hating Viserys so much that I kinda hoped that he had survived his "crowning". Rating: 7

New York IV: WWE Hall of Fame 2013
04/07/13 12:00 AM PDT

Finally visited New York's IFC Center, the theater where for some reason limited releases tend to start from. Pretty small place. As fate would have it, I screened a documentary there that matched the name of my blog.

Lots of emotion at the WWE Hall of Fame 2013 Induction Ceremony in Madison Square Garden. Mick Foley opened the night and as I expected, delivered a great speech. At one point, he literally dropped an elbow on Chris Jericho and pinned him for a 1-2-3 count from CM Punk. Hopefully Foley will make it onto Tuesday's broadcast. Other occurrences worth noting:

Watched movie: "Room 237" (2012)
Maddening documentary about various analysts' theories on messages that Stanley Kubrick hid in "The Shining", including subliminal clues (the genocide of Native Americans and the Holocaust?), intentional production defects (architectural paradoxes and no power cord on the TV), and even hints that Kubrick helped stage the Apollo moon landing (?!). I patiently sat through the voiceovers despite my annoyance with all of the uninsightful non-Shining movie clips (and some dizzying slow motion)--but once the documentary started showing what happens when the film overlays a rewind of itself, my restlessness peaked. Rating: 6
New York IV: Cirque du Spider-Man
04/05/13 11:58 PM PDT

A lot warmer in New York today. I finally got to visit the 9/11 Memorial that opened on September 11, 2011. As a tribute to all of the World Trade Center victims (including the 2/26/1993 bombing), 2983 names were arranged by affiliation (a.k.a. "meaningful adjacencies") and inscribed into bronze parapets surrounding each footprint of the Twin Towers. Inside the footprints themselves, I could see pools with majestic waterfalls on each side and a big square drain at the bottom.

Good thing I reserved a whole afternoon for the visit. First I had to wait in line at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site to get a free visitor pass (next time I'll know to just print one from 911memorial.org); then I had to wait in line for a security screening.

It was all worth the wait though, to see those twin Memorial pools. (Though personally, I almost wish they had a sign that said "please don't smile when you pose for pictures here".)

I noticed a brand-new visitor center too. But I breezed through there as it made me kinda uncomfortable seeing 9/11 memorabilia like T-shirts, mugs, postcards, and keychains. :(

The 9/11 Memorial Museum was still under construction, so I guess I'll have to come back on a later date. I'll have to see that Survivor Tree I overlooked too.

Attended Broadway musical: "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"
An audacious showcase of distorted sets, 2-D props, optical illusions, inflatable dolls, tissue paper webbing, Bono/Edge musical numbers that I can't remember, weird caricatures of Spidey villains (including an Elvis-like Green Goblin), story arcs from the first two Spider-Man films, recurring tangents to some out-of-place "Arachne" character, and aerial stunts so ambitious that I could see why delays and injuries kept postponing the opening. (I counted nine Spidey stunt doubles in all.) In hindsight, maybe I should've gotten a balcony seat as I couldn't help worrying that somebody would fall on me or clip my head (I guess the announcer wasn't kidding around when he warned against "catching a ride"). :P Rating: 7
New York IV: Stomp III
04/04/13 11:18 PM PDT

Nippy here in New York. While reading Game of Thrones as my plane flew through choppy air, I think I got airsick. Even after a long nap at Holiday Inn, my headache persisted (last time that happened: my zero gravity flight).

Attended performance: "Stomp"
Funny how I never noticed before how much this show resembles taiko.

I've seen "Stomp" twice before, but this marks the first time that I've caught it in New York. The interior of the Orpheum Theatre looked really narrow, and fences covered with junk lined the walls.

This time an Asian took on the comic relief role, i.e., the "odd man out" whom the other dancers pick on. I only mention that because had I not seen the show before, I might've misconstrued their behavior as racist. :)

I still like the musical number with the clapping/slapping/tapping/snapping/shuffling the best. Also enjoyed some theatrics that I didn't recall seeing before, e.g., segments with shopping carts, newspapers, and giant inner tubes. Side note: I wonder if that malfunctioning shopping cart and lighter were really part of the act? Rating: 10

...And tribulations
03/30/13 6:54 PM PDT

While researching whether Apolo Anton Ohno made up his mind yet on whether to compete at the next Winter Olympics, I came across a slew of mind-blowing short track speed skating news:

Also, I think Lee Jung-Su (the two time gold medalist for South Korea at the 2010 Olympics) might be eligible for the next Olympics. Awhile ago he received a three-year ban for faking an injury for his coach so that a teammate could win a World Championship medal.

Watched movie: "The Croods" (2013) in 3D
Brilliantly animated DreamWorks comedy made funny by Looney Tunes-style antics and the hilarious shtick of Nicolas Cage, who voices a dejected caveman. Lots of strange creatures and colorful prehistoric scenery. Stay after the credits for a baby elephant trio fanfare. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Olympus Has Fallen" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Violently entertaining albeit corny and really farfetched. Then again, I once found it farfetched that conspirators would crash a plane into the World Trade Center--so I hope in real-life, the White House harbors countermeasures for every type of attack featured in this film! :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (2013)
Vintage humor from both Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. I actually found it pretentious how the movie sentimentalized conventional stage magic over innovative guerrilla magic (and then in my opinion, made the protagonists total hypocrites in the end). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" (2013) in IMAX 3D
A contrived but admittedly solid action flick, highlighted by a cool sequence where Snake Eyes and Jinx go after Storm Shadow (who I could've sworn died in the previous movie). As usual, the "character development" bored me. Though I did like the creative decision to turn Storm Shadow face. Side note: This movie made me realize what a liability Snake Eyes is. How does G.I. Joe debrief someone who never speaks, and guard against imposters for someone who never shows his face? :P Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Host" (2013)
Dystopian Stephenie Meyer drama premised on a human resistance to pacifist alien invaders (called "Souls") who managed to possess most of Earth's population, bring about world peace, and heal our planet's environment. In other words, a dystopian movie about a utopian paradise. Why are we supposed to root for the humans again? (Here's another oxymoron for you: at one point in the movie, The Seeker asserts that unlike humans, the Souls end lives "humanely".)

Character-wise, I liked Saoirse Ronan as the glow-eyed Wanda and got annoyed by Melanie Stryder's constant voiceover nagging. I kinda wished that the writers could just invent some plot device to expel Melanie to a different body. :) (By the way, I didn't expect to see William Hurt in the film...that guy's cool.)

In general, I like Andrew Niccol's films (he wrote my favorite movie of all-time), and don't get why his last two movies have gotten panned so badly. Rating: 7

As fate would have it
03/23/13 2:36 AM PDT

While skimming through some Ticketmaster spam, something interesting caught my eye: "Mick Foley - Tales from Wrestling Past" a.k.a. Mick Foley's stand-up comedy act, happening that very night! From then on, all the stars seemed to align--I bought a ticket, made it to San Francisco in decent time despite a late start and traffic, found a perfect parking spot (an achievement in itself), and breezed into a packed club just minutes before the opening act started.

I wouldn't have minded missing that opening act though. Crude, raunchy, and racist. Which was odd because I could've sworn seeing "All ages with parent" in the show heading. Turns out I was right. When Mick Foley came out, he scolded the comedian for using such foul language with children (!) sitting right there in the audience! Yikes.

Comedy-wise, I found Foley as entertaining and well-spoken as ever. (Why he spent his whole life dedicated to the grind of pro-wrestling, I'll never fully reconcile.) It pleased me to see how much his speaking style resembled his writing style, i.e., digressing into extraordinarily long tangents but somehow snapping back to his original point. It helped prove to me that a) he wrote his own books as opposed to a ghost writer, and b) all those chair shots to the head didn't ruin his short-term memory.

He also showed his impromptu speaking chops by fielding random audience questions and injecting humor into his answers. To my surprise, the audience asked a lot of good questions that led to a lot of great insights. For example, he explained...

The highlight of the night for me: Foley's anecdote about the horrors of rooming with Diamond Dallas Page, and the pranks Foley and Steve Austin pulled as a result.

After the show, I left without waiting around for Foley's meet-and-greet. (I already met him at WrestleMania Axxess and am going to see him again at Madison Square Garden in two weeks.)

Watched movie: "Stoker" (2013)
Unsurprisingly perverse English-language debut from the guy who directed "Oldboy", about a widow (Nicole Kidman) and her family of keen, acutely repressed sociopaths. I would describe the film as sterile, tightly-wound, and overdirected. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Upside Down" (2012-2013)
Visually impressive but disorienting love story wherein an orphan on a working class planet (Jim Sturgess) falls in love with a girl on a nearby upper class planet (Kirsten Dunst). I could maybe suspend disbelief of the office building that bridged the gap between them, assuming that the two planets shared some kind of perfect stationary orbit. I could not suspend any kind of disbelief over their gravity laws though. For some unexplained reason, any people or objects that travelled to the other planet still got pulled by their home planet's gravity (and in the case of the objects, overheated too)! Best example of this: in one scene, a weighted-down Jim Sturgess tried to pee into a urinal on the other planet...only for his pee to trickle onto the ceiling instead. Admittedly, I found it cool how Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst managed to defy both gravities simply by hanging on to one another. But all in all, I found the whole movie pretty corny (mostly due to overacting by both Jim Sturgess and Timothy Spall). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) in Cinemark XD
Strikingly scenic, full of searing landscapes and wide shots where faraway specks trek against the elements. (I'm glad I saw this on the big screen.) Story-wise, I had trouble reconciling what the Arabs saw in the title character, as he spent the whole movie looking distant and insecure. I wanted to ask him what the heck his problem was. Though I guess I couldn't blame him too much, considering how many friends he lost senselessly and how hollow his accomplishments ultimately felt. When you throw in his meaningless death, the film just seemed downright fatalistic. P.S. I didn't even recognize Alec Guinness! P.S.S. Everyone in the movie sure spoke English well. :P Update: Forgot to mention that this film's so long that the theater had a 15-minute intermission in the middle. Rating: 6
Disgrace
03/14/13 11:29 AM PDT

My thoughts on last night's "Survivor: Caramoan" episode where Brandon Hantz melted down, in no particular order:

Life in mono
03/12/13 5:51 PM PDT

White House tours cancelled for the remainder of the fiscal year? Not such a big loss, if you ask me. It's just a walkthrough of a bunch of antique rooms. It's not like you get to see the Oval Office or anything.

Hmm...also read that due to the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, both Liberty Island and Ellis Island are still closed until further notice. Good thing I had no plans to revisit the Statue of Liberty during my New York vacation.

Watched movie: "Dead Man Down" (2013)
I really liked the original "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" so for me, this second collaboration between director Niels Arden Oplev and Noomi Rapace fell short. It needed more ambiance, I think. Like film noir lighting or some really suspenseful music. Also found the comic relief incongruous. For instance, during one particularly serious conversation the characters suddenly digressed into talk of cookies?! Side note: To show you how desensitized I've become to revenge movies, check out my pick for most appalling scene: the scene where Noomi Rapace realized she plucked too many eyebrow hairs :P (And my favorite scene: when Colin Farrell enjoyed the food from the tupperware.) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Oz the Great and Powerful" (2013) in IMAX 3D
Vibrant, Sam Raimi-humored prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" wherein Glinda the Good Witch tries to inspire a secretly good-hearted con man to lead their army of pacifists. (Kind of like what "Army of Darkness" could've been like had Ash landed in Oz rather than the Middle Ages, hehe.) I got a kick out of James Franco's swagger and the way he kept dissing his supporters. Though I'm still puzzled by his lack of reaction to Glinda's face and the bellhop monkey's voice.

Although the film would probably frighten little kids, I felt it had good positive messages against killing and womanizing (making a witch who's allergic to water cry...ouch). Rating: 7

R.I.P. Paul Bearer (1954-2013)
03/06/13 10:59 AM PST

Eternal September Part II
03/05/13 3:32 PM PST

Haha, I liked the Miami Heat and Simpsons renditions of the Harlem Shake meme (wherein bystanders act oblivious to a single dancing person, and then suddenly everybody breaks loose). Wouldn't it be cool if say, The Walking Dead did one wherein the cast members, engrossed in their usual drama, ignored a dancing zombie (or maybe a dancing hitchhiker)? :)

Nowadays out of all the social networking trends, I think I might dislike hate-watching the most. That's when people purposely watch TV they hate so they can complain about it on the Internet. Pro-wrestling, in particular, seems to attract a lot of overblown backlash.

Take WrestleMania, for example. Fans seem genuinely outraged that The Rock will face John Cena in a rematch after WWE had billed last year's match as Once in a Lifetime. Similarly, WWE billed last year's Undertaker vs. Triple H match as End of an Era even though they're both competing again this year. Finally, WWE billed WrestleMania XXV as the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania even though technically it was the 24th anniversary.

Man, they're just taglines people. If they bother you so much then stop watching!

Admittedly, I do get uptight about netiquette sometimes. Like I don't even like getting instant-messaged OK instead of Ok. :)

Watched movie: "The Last Exorcism Part II" (2013)
Virtually worthless sequel that abandons the "found footage" format and follows the father and daughter from the first film. Made me rethink my philosophy about what's worse, a boring movie like this one or a bad movie like "Texas Chainsaw 3D"? :( Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Jack the Giant Slayer" (2013) in IMAX 3D
Pretty tall tale based on a beanstalk (which Jack not only climbs, but seemingly defies gravity on), a floating island of giants, and a man-made crown that can control them. I maybe could've suspended disbelief of a fairy tale island--but not a real-life one floating above London! On the plus side, I liked the cast and the special effects. Side note: That actress should audition for "Mockingjay" because I can think of the perfect character for her. Rating: 6
The Oscars
02/25/13 6:56 PM PST

While gazing at this Oscar poster, I got really stumped on the statuette for 2007. I kept racking my brain for a Best Picture winner that had a woman with a vacuum cleaner in it. :( Also had to jog my memory on the girl in red. I still consider "Schindler's List" the most profound movie ever to win Best Picture--so when films like "Shakespeare in Love" win too, I consider that a shame.

Scored four out of six in last night's Oscar show. But I have no complaints, given how unpredictable the races for supporting actor and director got. And I felt that Ang Lee certainly earned that win.

Although I cringed every time host Seth MacFarlane opened his mouth to say something, his humor actually felt toned down. Nowhere near as offensive as "Family Guy", if you ask me.

As for the Oscar speeches that the orchestra interrupted with the Jaws theme, I hope they had instructions not to play that during any emotional heartfelt speeches!

Watched movie: "Dark Skies" (2013)
Decently eerie with a smattering of memorable scenes, e.g., the birds, the Paranormal Activity recordings, Keri Russell freaking out her real estate customers, and J.K. Simmons explaining the aliens. The movie exemplified a couple of things that I love and hate about modern-day horror flicks. I love it (and find it true to life) when the characters search the Internet to corroborate and research their paranormal experiences. In contrast, I hate those two horror movie mistakes where a) the characters stubbornly cling to skepticism despite all the overwhelming evidence (like I was hoping the aliens would end up abducting that idiot father), and b) the characters inexplicably split up during perilous situations. Even the bystanders' reactions seemed dubious to me. If I had seen Keri Russell's episode or those bruises on her child, I'd like to think I would get immediate outside help! Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Snitch" (2013)
This movie's called "Snitch" because a family man, played by The Rock, goes undercover into a drug cartel in exchange for his estranged son's early release from prison. But I'd suggest an alternate title, "Knucklehead", based on how poorly this guy thought everything through. Best-case scenario: he and those close to him would live in fear for the rest of their lives; worst-case scenario: he and those close to him would all end up dead! I still liked the movie though--reminded me of "The Next Three Days". Rating: 6
What's in the box?
02/18/13 6:34 PM PST

Man, sometimes those free previews on my On Demand menu work pretty well on me. After previewing a few minutes of a twisted Brittany Snow movie, I ended up ordering the whole thing to see what would happen next. I also blame those free Showtime season premieres for first hooking me on "Dexter".

Oddly, CNN.com teased a gruesome surprise for Batman #17 wherein the Joker unveiled a foreboding silver platter to Batman. Took me a long time to find spoilers to it, and...meh, anticlimactic. :P

In contrast, last night's "Walking Dead" episode "Home" certainly did not disappoint. I was like, What happened?! (because my attention had lapsed) and then It's on now!. That's why a DVR comes in handy. (I also reach for the remote during "Talking Dead" anytime they discuss the comic book, which unfortunately happens a lot.)

Watched On Demand movie: "Would You Rather" (2013)
Disquieting "Saw"-like movie wherein financially-desperate dinner guests end up trapped in a cruel game of "would you rather" until only one survivor remains. During each round, each guest has to choose between a) something really messed up, or b) something really messed up. In my case, especially during that Buñuel challenge, I probably would have resorted to c) getting gunned down trying to escape. :P Or better yet, I would've d) avoided this really fishy dinner party altogether. Overall the story reminded me of one of those "twist ending" TV anthology episodes, but IMHO lacked meaning. Like I felt "Saw VI" made a better case for universal health care. :) Also, I've mentioned this before, but after that Asia Extreme stuff I got kinda desensitized to psychological American horror. :P Rating: 5

On a side note, I'm certain I would suck at Fear Factor-type competition. The challenge could be "eat an Almond Joy" and I'd lose. :)

Watched movie: "Beautiful Creatures" (2013)
Like "Twilight" but with spellcasters instead of vampires, and a useless high school guy as the love interest rather than a useless high school girl. I guess one could argue that this film differs from "Twilight", but to me that's like arguing that 'N Sync differs from the Backstreet Boys. P.S. Good point about the end of "Titanic". P.S.S. "Finale Destination 6"...some kind of hidden meaning? Rating: 5
Watched movie: "A Good Day to Die Hard" (2013)
I'm not a fan of this older John McClane. I feel like he doesn't take things seriously enough. Also couldn't believe that he could just walk away from all those ridiculous stunts without a single major injury! Rating: 5
And my pick for the worst Survivor player of all-time is...
02/14/13 1:49 PM PST

...Francesca Hogi. Not just because that "Survivor: Caramoan" premiere marked the second time she got voted out in the very first tribal council (a Survivor first), but because I looked at that tribe of hers and concluded that it had the worst Survivor players of all-time on it! :(

Before that tribal council, I had her tribemate Brandon Hantz pegged as the worst for blowing a spot in the "Survivor: South Pacific" final five when he inexplicably volunteered to give up his immunity idol.

Efficacy
02/11/13 4:44 PM PST

Halfway through Super Bowl XLVII, I gave up on the San Francisco 49ers and started driving back to San Jose with my car radio turned up. Talk about a turn of events. First the announcers kept talking about a power outage; then to my astonishment, the 49ers managed to catch up! I ended up watching the last five minutes or so in a pizzeria by the highway.

I actually didn't care about the "holding" no-call at the end. The way I see it, the 49ers blew so many scoring opportunities throughout the game that they can only blame themselves for coming up short.

On the bright side, I learned that Michael Oher from that "Blind Side" film played in that game for the Baltimore Ravens. Both his adoptive family and Sandra Bullock rooted for him from the stands!

Hmm...I read that after the 49ers' 2013 NFL season, Candlestick Park will be demolished.

Watched movie: "Top Gun" (1986) in IMAX 3D
Despite a deficiency of anything remotely 3-D, the big screen and sound system made it all worthwhile (a TV/VCR just doesn't do the movie justice). It's different watching the film as an adult, but I still enjoyed everything from the pilots' overdramatic head whipping to Maverick's anguished soul-searching. Nowadays it seems like Hollywood can't make movies like this anymore without some kind of satirical tone to them. Other observations I had:
  • The soundtrack still rocked, from the cool opening anthem to Berlin's "Take My Breath Away".
  • I forgot how many famous actors appeared in the movie. Man they looked young. Tom Cruise looked like a little kid.
  • The characters sure perspired a lot (in IMAX I could see every bead of sweat).
  • I misremembered who flew with Maverick at the end. Always thought it was Viper, but I guess it was Tim Robbins.
  • Talk about bromance. "You can be my wingman anytime," before a big bro hug.
Kept my eyes peeled to confirm, once and for all, exactly what happened to Goose (Maverick even explicitly warned him to mind the canopy). Side note: R.I.P. director Tony Scott. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Side Effects" (2013)
Psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh about, well...the occupational hazards of psychiatry. Started out slow but then got all Hitchockian. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "John Dies at the End" (2013)
Trippy new flick from Don Coscarelli wherein two buddies become omniscient off a drug called "soy sauce". For example, the drug makes them aware of the future, the existence of supernatural monsters, and portals to parallel universes. Oh, and the film is a comedy (in real-life, I'm thinking that prescience of everybody's lives and deaths would just lead to depression and fatalism). So if you're not a fan of say, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", then steer clear of this one. Side note: Angus Scrimm, still alive? They gotta make a "Phantasm V"! Rating: 6
Final curtain
02/04/13 12:17 AM PST

After 70 years of business, it appears that the Historic Fremont Theatre of San Luis Obispo has closed! I first noticed it while passing through the city, and then confirmed it on Facebook. Something about an expiring lease.

I fondly remember screening "Star Trek: First Contact" there with my fellow Cal Poly'ers. Contrary to the blogs where I bitterly complain, I actually enjoy watching movies in an excited crowd atmosphere. And that movie, in particular, really lent itself to some fun mark-out moments.

More recently, I enjoyed watching new releases like "Star Trek", "Inception", "Harry Potter", "The Hunger Games", and "The Dark Knight Rises" there, and felt that the movies went best with a feast of sliders and Pepsi at Margie's Diner.

Update 2/12/2013: Guess I eulogized the Fremont prematurely. Apparently they reached a new agreement and will re-open the Fremont this Thursday. :P

Meanwhile at the Santa Maria Town Center Mall, construction of a new 14-screen Edwards Regal Cinemas seems to have picked up. The sign indicated that it would open in Fall 2013.

Looking forward, I might not renew my discount card for the Camera Cinemas. Although it reduces the ticket price to $6, it can't be used on Saturday night--nor do I dare come on Senior Tuesdays and Student Wednesdays. On Thursdays as of 2013, I've started watching special 10:00pm new release screenings at AMC or Cinemark theaters instead. The Sony Digital Cinema 4K that used to make Camera Cinemas unique? Now most theaters I know project in digital.

The patrons at Camera 7 Pruneyard, in particular, seems to have gotten more obnoxious. I finally got fed up with the thinness of the walls too, when I could hear loud vacuuming during a couple of key numbers in "Les Misérables"! (Previous nuisances: the sounds of the club next door and/or another movie playing nearby.) I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back. My discovery that their concession stand began serving Coke instead of Pepsi didn't help either (is Pepsi going out of business?). :P

Final movie news: now that "Argo" has swept the DGA, PGA, SAG, and Golden Globes (despite the Ben Affleck Oscar snub!), I've finalized my Oscar predictions for 2012:

Watched movie: "Parker" (2013)
A real shame that the director made this crime thriller so superficial, IMHO, as I think it could've made a great noir-style film. Looking back, I mostly just liked Parker's ironclad code of ethics--from hunting down renegers to repaying anyone he feels he owes. I hated Jennifer Lopez's shallow doormat character, and felt like she cheapened the movie. (Also, how could she spend that money without looking suspicious?) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Warm Bodies" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Ok but nowhere near as funny and emotional as this director's previous film, "50/50". Overall, I found it implausible that a zombie could start turning human...but then again, I guess that's no more implausible than a zombie apocalypse. :) At a minimum, I found it way more earth-shattering than the human survivors seemed to give it credit for. The girl's consistent lack of reaction, in particular, greatly disappointed me. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Bullet to the Head" (2013)
A violent, mildly entertaining Sylvester Stallone flick. The Asian jokes toward his straight-laced partner really needed work. Rating: 5
Screen presence
01/25/13 5:09 PM PST

The third season of "The Walking Dead" continues on February 10. Hopefully they won't kill off any of the characters I care about (and hopefully Michonne will learn to disseminate vital information better). I had this theory about why I and my fellow Walking Dead fans kept forgetting characters' names: maybe it's our defense mechanism so that we don't get too attached to anybody. :P

Last month, the Parents Television Council protested that the show needed a stronger rating than TV 14. Man, I totally agree. This series has showed so much blood and violence and gore (and swearing) that I've always assumed it was rated MA.

Update 2/11/2013: Noticed "TV MA" in the corner of last night's new episode. :P

Still weird to me how British a couple of those actors sound when they give interviews. It does explain Rick's tendency to overenunciate words. I once heard that to emulate American accents, British people must draw out every syllable they say.

The possible final season of "Dexter" will start in June now instead of September/October. I almost feel like Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter should stay in character outside of the show--because man, they're so boring when they're not playing Dexter and Debra. :)

Similarly, the younger actresses from "The Office" always look plain to me outside of the show. I finally reasoned that it's all because of the company they keep on the show. :)

Watched movie: "Mama" (2013) in Cinemark XD
Similar to (and as illogical as) "Ju-on: The Grudge" but with a lanky CGI-looking crone instead of one of those scary Japanese ghosts. Actually, I think the little feral girl creeped me out the most. The film had its moments, but overall I felt apathetic and even shrugged at the ending. Side note: Slapping somebody's forehead good night instead of kissing it good night? I like it. :) Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Last Stand" (2013)
A mixed bag action-comedy-Western, made colorful by its noteworthy Korean director and a rainbow of diverse actors (from a deadpan Schwarzenegger to an overacting Forest Whitaker). Although I still can't believe that the movie's small-town folk could stand any kind of chance against such a resourceful militant force, I still found the movie fun. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" (2013) in IMAX 3D
It met my expectations. Rating: 6
Night and day
01/17/13 6:30 PM PST

Funny zingers by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards. I'm hoping they host the Oscars someday.

Really strange to hear the orchestra play the flight to bin Laden's compound score when Jessica Chastain walked toward the stage to accept her award. Almost seemed sarcastic considering how suspenseful that music sounded. :) Side note: I actually like the music to "Zero Dark Thirty" so much that sometimes I hum it in my head while I'm driving.

I liked Jessica Chastain's emotional reaction to the Golden Globe, and considered factoring that into my Oscar predictions (as part of my "likeability" criteria). Hopefully all this misguided backlash toward "Zero Dark Thirty" won't sabotage her chances. I mean seriously, why deny acting upon information gathered from torture if you're not even going to deny committing the torture?? Moreover, I honestly believe that I can make a stronger case for why this movie is anti-torture rather than pro-torture.

Speaking of 9/11 subject matters, I'm finally going to see that new WTC memorial when I fly to New York this April. I bought tickets to Mick Foley's WWE Hall of Fame 2013 induction. I'm also making a special effort to skip the outdoors WrestleMania 29 this year. Given that every rumored main event is a rematch, I don't feel like I'll be missing much.

During a Studio Ghibli film festival downtown, I managed to screen a bunch of early Hayao Miyazaki films (restored, English-dubbed 35mm prints) that I've never seen before.

Watched movie: "Tonari no Totoro" (1988) a.k.a. "My Neighbor Totoro" (2005)
What the heck is that thing?? Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Kurenai no buta" (1992) a.k.a. "Porco Rosso" (2005)
Post-WWI aerial combat flick wherein the title character, a hard-boiled seaplane pilot, dogfights pirates for money and ends up befriending a young girl engineer. Oh, and the title character is a pig--literally a pig (due to some kind of curse that is never explained). It's a running joke that the film really milks. All in all, I liked the humor and the flight animation--but probably would've rated the movie higher had it eased up on the overly-zany slapstick. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi" (2001) a.k.a. "Spirited Away" (2002)
Still my all-time favorite animated motion picture, and the first time I've ever seen it in a theater. Also the first time I've ever screened Disney's dubbed version of it. Heh, even without subtitles I had trouble catching all of the smile worthy sights (the part where the mouse waddles with the nuts and the No-Face stares down at an empty plate still amuses me to no end). Although I found the American voices ok, I felt like the dialogue really spoon-fed what was going on (for example, that Yubaba took some kind of oath, that the elephant creature is a radish spirit, and that Haku is a dragon). In my opinion, the film had more mystique when it didn't explain every little thing. Final comment: for some reason, I always find it really touching when Sen--possibly out of both gratitude and homesickness--starts shedding huge tears over a rice ball. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Kaze no tani no Naushika" (1984) a.k.a. "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" (2005)
Despite my hesitation to see a "world peace", environmentalist-themed movie where the title character sounds like a total pacifist, I ended up liking the movie a lot. It made me think of "Dune" and "Gandhi". The title character really earned my respect--not just because she could probably win the Nobel Peace Prize in real-life, but because she kept risking her life with such audacity and flair. It's like, that scene where she played chicken with the gunman completely caught me off guard. (In real-life, I think her luck would run out--but I was still impressed.) My only complaints stemmed from the dialogue: a) I found it cheesy how she kept talking to herself (did she really say "my heart is pounding" out loud??), and b) in a movie graced with the voices of Patrick Stewart and Edward James Olmos, it hurt my ears to hear Shia LaBeouf. :( Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta" (1986) a.k.a. "Castle in the Sky" (2003)
Uncharacteristically blah for a Hayao Miyazaki film. The stupidity of the pirates numbed my brain--particularly when it came to their creepy attraction to that underaged-looking princess. Rating: 5

Now that I've seen virtually all of Hayao Miyazaki's films, I can rank them from my favorite to least favorite:

  1. "Spirited Away" (2002) My rating: 9, blog
  2. "My Neighbor Totoro" (2005) My rating: 7
  3. "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" (2005) My rating: 7
  4. "Howl's Moving Castle" (2005) My rating: 7
  5. "Porco Rosso" (2005) My rating: 6
  6. "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1998) My rating: 6
  7. "Princess Mononoke" (1999) My rating: 6
  8. "Ponyo" (2009) My rating: 6
  9. "Castle in the Sky" (2003) My rating: 5
Directors cut
01/10/13 11:26 AM PST

To my dismay, the Academy snubbed Kathryn Bigelow for a directing nomination. I had her as one of the frontrunners for the Oscar! I guess at this point, "Lincoln" is looking like my most likely prediction for Best Picture.

It appears that this year's Sundance and Cannes winners (if you ask me, two of the most overrated films of 2012), "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Amour" respectively, cleaned house. In addition to all the prominent contenders they beat out for Best Director, they got both Best Picture and Best Actress nominations. (I guess now it's a foregone conclusion that "Amour" will win the Foreign Language Film Oscar.) Admittedly, my subconscious might harbor bias against these two movies due to my distaste for squatters and the loss of dignity in death. :P

Update 2/11/2013: In contrast to "Amour", "Les Misérables" totally romanticizes death. What better way to go out than singing. :)

I'd rank the 2012 Best Picture nominees as follows:

  1. "Zero Dark Thirty" (My rating: 9)
  2. "Les Misérables" (My rating: 9)
  3. "Silver Linings Playbook" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Life of Pi" (My rating: 7)
  5. "Argo" (My rating: 7)
  6. "Lincoln" (My rating: 7)
  7. "Django Unchained" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (My rating: 6)
  9. "Amour" (My rating: 5)

Say, I think this marks the first time I've managed to see the performances of every single actor and actress nominee before they were announced.

I still have misgivings toward Seth MacFarlane as Oscar host, but I'll try to keep an open mind. :)

Reprise
01/06/13 9:08 PM PST

Recently watched both "Les Misérables" and "Zero Dark Thirty" again in Cinemark XD. I decided to raise my "Les Misérables" rating to an 8, which automatically elevates it into my top six films of 2012. My rationale: it's probably the best theatrical adaptation of a musical that I've ever seen. The musical numbers really rouse my emotions, and make me willing to forget everything I took issue with (like Russell Crowe as Javert and the vexing bottom line that when Cosette finally reads Jean Valjean's deathbed confession, it's going to say "I stole a loaf of bread").

If the Academy Awards ceremony ever introduced an Oscar for best cast, this film should clinch it. I actually feel that this year, Hugh Jackman deserves the Oscar more than Daniel Day-Lewis. I also don't see how Anne Hathaway can lose.

Interesting fact: the singer who played the Bishop also used to play the original Jean Valjean. That explains why in my subconscious, he always seemed to have the best voice of the entire cast.

I also noticed, in my second viewing, that Javert does not appear on the barricade with the other deceased characters. Wonder if it's because he (inexplicably) committed suicide?

For my second viewing of "Zero Dark Thirty", I didn't really catch anything new. The film did, however, remind me to go look up the definition for tradecraft:

tradecraft -noun skill acquired through experience in a trade; often used to discuss skill in espionage

Update 1/7/2013: Finally patronized Taco Bell (ordered the same meal that the SEAL celebrated with, two tacos and a bean burrito) after over a year of abstinence from fast food. I'd describe my reaction as...apathetic.

Update 1/8/2013: Forgot to mention that during my second viewing, people laughed (!) occasionally. Like at the part where Dan fed the caged monkeys. Did they not see the parallel to the detainees in the background? :(

Watched movie: "Texas Chainsaw 3D" (2013)
Direct continuation of the 1974 classic rather than the 2003 remake--which in my mind, makes this film a disgrace rather than just bad. :( Although I liked the intense 3-D chainsaw effects, the movie really went downhill for me when it tried to turn Leatherface into a sympathetic character. Are you kidding me?? In pro-wrestling, that's like when a heel turns face (no pun intended) and the crowd reacts indifferently. Definitely stay after the credits. Rating: 3

Man, first movie of the year and already I have a new entry for my worst of 2013 list. :(

Holiday movie marathon 2012
01/03/13 4:41 PM PST

Last Saturday, I decided to try out that Galaxy Theatre in Atascadero. I theorized that I'd enjoy "Les Misérables" better in a VIP screening where no one under 21 could enter.

Before the movie even started, somebody asked if I minded shifting two assigned seats away from the middle so their entire group could sit together. When I started suggesting alternatives, she took my reluctance as a no. So they sat around me and kept passing hors d'oeuvres back and forth in front of me (to which I suffered in silence in order to avoid further confrontation). In hindsight, I don't think my reluctance was wrong at all. That requires a special explanation I think, asking a stranger to move two seats away instead of just one. I would've done it, no questions asked, for one seat. :)

Unfortunately, my brain couldn't completely shut all that out. Also bothered me whenever a wine glass shattered on the ground and the audience laughed. Quite the mood killer.

Watched movie: "Django Unchained" (2012)
Hehe, that Quentin Tarantino has a pretty good thing going here: bring back the vilest @$$holes in world history (in this case, American slaveowners) and massacre them for our viewing pleasure. This time around Christoph Waltz played a good guy, and a hilariously eloquent one at that. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Les Misérables" (2012)
Bravo to this ensemble cast for some stellar heartwrenching performances. Pretty rare feat, casting famous actors that can actually sing too. Had Russell Crowe not sung anything, I might've even called the casting perfect. :) (I still think it's within reason to expect great singing in musicals, not just tolerable singing.) My only other criticisms stem from the source material itself, i.e., the over-singing (I need a reprieve now and then) and the "over-suffering" (aside from Fantine, I've never seen so much ado over so little). Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Jack Reacher" (2012)
Sharp vigilante thriller wherein a rogue ex-military cop (Tom Cruise) investigates why a sniper would conspire to kill five random strangers. Sometimes the tongue-in-cheek hurt the movie for me (like when Reacher had to fight the gunmen with a knife...stupid), but overall I enjoyed it. Werner Herzog made a great villain. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Monsters, Inc." (2001) in 3D
As inventive and hearttugging as I remembered (and I think the only movie where I ever found Billy Crystal funny). Thought-provoking too, i.e., the ethics of scaring children to produce energy. Also liked all the little comedic touches (from the slack-jawed observers to "odorant") and the attention to detail (from the banishment of monsters to Sulley ripping a hidden door off its hinges because he never saw how Boo triggered it). Finally, the door chase still filled me with awe. Stay during the credits for outtakes and the company play. Rating: 8
2012 Year in Review
12/24/12 12:42 AM PST
Best of 2012 Worst of 2012
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Accomplishing various goals in England such as watching tennis at Wimbledon (including a Federer match), witnessing Phelps break the record for most Olympic medals, touring Stonehenge, successfully crossing through the Channel Tunnel, and eventually making it back safely to my hotel following a nightmarish car ride.
  2. Watching WrestleMania XXVIII from the first row, including Rock vs. Cena and a historic "End of an Era" Hell in a Cell dream match that immortalized The Undertaker's 20-0 Wrestlemania streak.
  3. Getting an awesome new toilet that flushes without clogging.
  4. My next-door neighbors moving out.
  5. Seeing a nice clean hillside when I walk along the fence of my parking lot now.
  1. Seeing and hearing squatters across the fence from my parking lot every day for months (including one night where I heard a chilling disturbance).
  2. Feeling bummed from Olympic disappointments like witnessing Phelps lose his signature race, missing out on the Olympic cauldron, and watching Federer lose his gold medal match live on TV.
  3. (tie) Hearing the intermittent sound of rushing water in my apartment; replaced by an intermittently loud buzzing noise.
  4. Paying a $490 fine (plus a $29 FasTrak violation) for driving in a diamond bus lane.
  5. Driving around lost in Folkestone where the roads and car controls are reversed.
Movies
  1. "Zero Dark Thirty"
    "Brutally honest and spine-chillingly good."
  2. "Les Misérables"
    "Bravo to this ensemble cast for some stellar heartwrenching performances."
    "...probably the best theatrical adaptation of a musical that I've ever seen."
  3. "The Hunger Games"
    "Despite the familiar premise...I felt that the plot distinguished itself by establishing political undertones..."
    "...I've found myself appreciating the movie more and more."
  4. "Marvel's The Avengers"
    "...I felt that overall Joss Whedon wove everything together pretty well."
  5. "Wreck-It Ralph"
    "Brilliant, breathtaking, emotional, nostalgic, and downright hilarious."
  6. "The Dark Knight Rises"
    "Cool overall; slow and corny on occasion."
  7. "Silver Linings Playbook"
    "Funny (for the most part) and touching."
  8. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
    "A visual tour de force sprinkled with humor and streaked with strong themes of courage, kindness, and belonging."
  9. "Looper"
    "More like loop-hole than loop-er...but intriguing nonetheless."
  10. "The Raid: Redemption"
    "Like my favorite Bruce Lee movie..."
  1. "Piranha 3DD"
    "Every bit as stupid as the first 'Piranha 3D', and then some."
  2. "Silent House"
    "In practice, it sucked."
  3. "Chernobyl Diaries"
    "I think a real-life documentary about Chernobyl and radiation would've scared me way more than this second-rate horror flick."
  4. "The Devil Inside"
    "I probably got more scared watching an empty room in the 'Paranormal Activity' series."
  5. "Rock of Ages"
    "...seemed more like a hollow mockery of 1980s rock rather than any kind of meaningful homage."
  6. "Contraband"
    "As far as caper movies go, I'd put this one at the bottom of the barrel."
  7. "Take This Waltz"
    "A downcast, mind-numbing drama..."
  8. "Battleship"
    "Pretty bad...but I guess what else did I expect."
  9. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
    "I didn't laugh one single time."
  10. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
    "Despite the ensemble British cast, this movie still struck me as one of those cringeworthy comedies wherein old people embarrass themselves trying to act young again."
Songs
  1. "The One That Got Away" Katy Perry
  2. "We Are Young" fun. f/Janelle Monae
  3. "Sweeter" Gavin DeGraw
  4. "Lights" Ellie Goulding
  5. "I Can Only Imagine" David Guetta f/Chris Brown & Lil Wayne
Honorable mention: "No Church in the Wild" Jay-Z & Kanye West f/ Frank Ocean & The-Dream
  1. "212" Azealia Banks
  2. "Dive In" Trey Songz
  3. "Let Me Love You" NE-YO
  4. "Give Your Heart A Break" Demi Lovato
  5. "R.I.P." Rita Ora f/Tinie Tempah
Honorable mention: "Never Go Back" Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Music video "Gangnam Style" PSY "Dive In" Trey Songz
TV series "Dexter"

Honorable mention: "The Walking Dead"

"The Office"
Commercial Sprite Films Presents: Prom Night. (tie) The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas commercial where they converse the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody, and Scion iQ Park! commercials.
Movie trailer (tie) Looper and Les Misérables

Honorable mention: World War Z

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (incidentally, the film broke a box office record)
Watched movie: "De rouille et d'os" a.k.a. "Rust and Bone" (2012)
Instead of inspirational or emotional, I found this whole movie curiously dull. A shame given all my careful efforts to avoid spoilers. My theories on what went wrong? For starters, the film seemed to lack musical scoring--in fact, I can't even remember any. Second--and I realized this recently--I hate that romantic cliché where love blossoms from a purely physical relationship, e.g., "Pretty Woman". Rating: 4
Life as we know it
12/23/12 4:53 PM PST

Want to know what I did on doomsday? Watched movies. At one point--as I sat in the middle of a theater full of old people--alarms suddenly interrupted the movie, lights flashed, and a voice urged us to evacuate! As a result, I had to politely wait as a sea of slowpokes blocked the exit. :(

Turned out to be a false alarm, but I'd be lying if I said that the end of the world hadn't crossed my mind.

On the plus side, thanks to digital cinema technology, the projectionist managed to jog the movie pretty close to where it left off.

Watched movie: "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012)
Brutally honest and spine-chillingly good. "The greatest manhunt in history"? Hell yeah. When the two stealth choppers finally plodded into the night--carrying the salvation of a decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden--the suspense over such monumental stakes combined with the cool goosebumpy music had me riveted. The courier tracking had me on edge too. As for the depictions of CIA torture, I could see why they drew controversy--but I wouldn't have it any other way. I didn't want a single whiff of BS in this film and in my judgment, Kathryn Bigelow managed to keep it real. (I still remember one lame TV movie where the SEAL commander threatened to call the mission a failure if they accidentally shot a woman at bin Laden's compound!) One final note: I really admired the CIA analyst who spent her whole career (!) hunting bin Laden. She seemed to get it that it's not just about smarts, it's about selling the smarts too. Heh, penny for her thoughts in that final scene. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Amour" (2012)
Pretty sadistic of Michael Haneke, if you ask me. I think all the old folks in my theater expected some kind of tender elderly romance, not this psychologically scarring tragedy about why there's no dignity in dying. Messed up to draw it out for so long! Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Impossible" (2012)
Mighty impressive recreation of a tsunami and the devastation it leaves behind. Those things still scare me. Although I already knew the family's fate beforehand, I still pulled for them. Rating: 7
Apocalypse when...?
12/20/12 3:16 PM PST

Ehhh...what time is the world supposed to end? I was instant messaging a colleague in the Philippines and it's already December 21, 2012 over there. Those Mayans man, didn't even have the courtesy to specify a time zone. :)

I think I'm more worried about Doomsday nutjobs than I am about say, Armageddon. Because for me, a preordained destiny comforts me much more than an existence where everything happens for no reason.

Watched movie: "Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012)
First off, is a feature length movie about Franklin D. Roosevelt's philandering really necessary? Seemed disrespectful to his legacy, and actually made me indignant. Secondly--despite my amusement with King George VI (the stuttering king from The King's Speech) and Queen Elizabeth--the implication that their visit had anything to do with America entering WWII struck me as a pretentious exaggeration (especially since America did not enter WWII for another two and a half years!). Stay after the credits for a hot dog gag cartoon. Rating: 5

Would suck if that became the last movie I ever saw on Earth. :)

On high in blue glowses
12/17/12 7:27 PM PST

High Frame Rate 3D...I think it gave me a slight headache. Somehow by making everything look more natural, the HFR 3D made everything look less natural (if that makes any sense at all). I dunno, everything just seemed...glossier.

As for the IMAX exclusive, extended preview of "Star Trek Into Darkness"...I didn't like it. It showcased that cartoonishness that I had criticized its predecessor for. That doesn't mean I won't like the movie though. After all, I didn't like last year's extended preview of Dark Knight Rises either.

What a season 7 finale on "Dexter". I'm like, traumatized. Easily the best season ever.

Watched movie: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012) in HFR IMAX 3D
A visual tour de force sprinkled with humor and streaked with strong themes of courage, kindness, and belonging. Way richer than anything I imagined from the novel, so they must've embellished a whole lot. Case in point: I totally didn't remember a part where Bilbo spared Gollum's life, but I loved how this small act of mercy epically vindicated everything Gandalf said about good thwarting evil. Also enjoyed the dwarves' Misty Mountains song, the dwarves vs. orcs/trolls/goblins match-ups (particularly the eye-popping goblin kingdom chase wherein you could see Gandalf & his cool grey hat plowing through the chaos), and the cataclysmic stone giant battle.

Cast-wise, I felt that Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage made a great Bilbo and Thorin, respectively. Also found Gollum most entertaining, and wished we could see him again. Rating: 7

Occupational hazards
12/10/12 5:35 PM PST

Yikes. Currently, my Survivor Season Rankings Web page tops the Google search results for "survivor season rankings" (I confirmed it after receiving an e-mail that somebody plagiarized what I wrote). Not sure how that happened, given that I only update that page twice a year. Does that make me the foremost authority on Survivor rankings now? :)

Strange to think that Survivor players might very well be reading what I wrote about them. Hope some of them have thick skins. :( The way I see it, if you don't want audiences to blog about you, then don't audition for a reality show.

In other news, my credit card number got stolen somehow. Somebody tried (and failed) to make a big purchase in Florida. I doubt it got stolen online, because I haven't purchased anything online in ages. My mind keeps going back to that soda that I had bought from my apartment vending machine. I remember hesitating because it used an external card reader.

Watched in-theater Tarantino XX event: "Pulp Fiction" (1994)
Has it really been 18 years since I first saw this film? I remember watching it with my sister when it first came out...and interestingly enough, not even liking it that much. From mobsters debating foot massages to a sleeping gimp, I was like, WTF is this movie? But eventually it grew on me. Although I still don't care for Butch's scenes with Christopher Walken and the two women with accents, overall I still feel that the film masterfully embodies a wide variety of subjects:
  • Cool conversation. Lengthy, stimulating, and insightful. I wish more people conversed like this in real life. :)
  • Respect. Although the film showcased a lot of obvious examples, my favorite was how Vincent blew Mia a kiss out of adoration for the night they had.
  • Professionalism. I actually consider "The Wolf" a role model of mine. Oddly enough, I admire the drug dealer's salesmanship too.
  • Panic under pressure. The part where the drug dealer rushes to find his medical book, and can't find it, always amuses me because it's just so true. This might be my favorite scene of the movie in fact.
  • Artful swearing. Very rare to see a movie where expletives accentuate the dialogue so well.
  • American cuisine. The characters successfully enhanced my appreciation of a good burger, milkshake, or cup of coffee.
I never noticed this before, but the drug dealer ran out of balloons and offered Vincent baggies instead. I think this explains why Mia made the mistake she did! Quentin Tarantino's handpicked trailers: Machine Gun McCain (1969), Scarface (1983), The Killer (1989). Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Hitchcock" (2012)
Dramatization--or should I say overdramatization--of Alfred Hitchcock's work and home life during the filming of "Psycho". I didn't much care for his marital problems or his conversations with an imaginary Ed Gein. I mostly just liked his struggle to prove the naysayers wrong. Also found his obsession with leading ladies rather curious. Side note: Hitchcock imitating Elmer Fudd? Huh-uh-uh-uh-uh! Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Les cinéphiles
12/03/12 5:34 PM PST

I like those "Les Misérables" trailers (Russell Crowe's singing notwithstanding) and twice, to my irritation, I've heard people behind me comment, "I hate musicals." Well I hate people who talk during trailers, but you don't hear me saying that aloud.

I'm sort of a purist in that I best like watching trailers in a theater as opposed to online. Like that awesome "World War Z" trailer, a smartphone or computer screen would not have done it justice in my opinion.

I also like watching movies in IMAX and XD (Extreme Digital Cinema)--not just because of the picture and sound quality, but because the high prices deter large groups of people from coming in. That's also why you wouldn't catch me dead at any Bring Your Baby Matinees, Student Wednesdays, or Senior Tuesdays. In fact, the stuff old folks say during movies might even annoy me worse than what teenagers say!

Nowadays I've seen a lot of merit in screening movies on opening day. My reasoning:

Moreover, I concluded that the type of audience matters much more than the size of it. Cases in point: I screened "Flight" in a theater with only one couple in it--a couple so obnoxiously loud that I ended up relocating several rows back (and could still hear them). Similarly during "Rio", the one other guy in the theater rocked ceaselessly in the handicap area--and it got so distracting that I had to relocate to the back of the theater and elevate my foot high enough to block all sight of him!

Wouldn't it be funny if I ever owned my own theater and posted my own rules? I'd have rules like, "No moving in your seat" and "No breathing too hard".

Watched movie: "Anna Karenina" (2012)
Good acting, story, and dialogue--all ruined by a disastrously bad narrative. Really hard to suspend disbelief when the stage (complete with fake backdrops) keeps appearing in the frame! Could they not afford to shoot on-location?? Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Rise of the Guardians" (2012) in IMAX 3D
Amazing, albeit uninventive and illogical, 3-D computer-animation from DreamWorks. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched in-theater event: "Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Celebration of Season 2"
A fun HD screening of Star Trek's first Borg episode, "Q Who" (overrated if you ask me), and a restored, 13-minute extended cut of my all-time favorite Data episode, "The Measure Of A Man" (where in my opinion, we get to see Data, Picard, and Riker at their very finest). Side note: Ever notice that Q can't seem to read minds?

During the cast reunion, when Brent Spiner recounted how a fan with Asperger syndrome saw Data as representative of the disorder, I was like Data does not have Asperger syndrome! But then when I thought about it...I guess he sort of does. :P

Watched movie: "The Collection" (2012)
Sadistic and macabre enough to fill that annual void left by the "Saw" series. Don't get why this movie was titled "The Collection" rather than "The Collector 2", but oh well. Props to the refreshingly unconventional ending. Side note: Pretty lethal weapon, that penlight. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Killing Them Softly" (2012)
Brain-sullying crime drama, set during the 2008 collapse of America's economy, wherein the amateurish heist of a mob-protected poker game triggers a similar collapse in the local criminal economy. This leads the mob to hire a professional enforcer, a pretty entertaining cynic played by Brad Pitt, to fix everything. (The guy was so cynical that neighborhood gunfire and the election of America's first black President didn't even phase him!) Basically, Brad Pitt saved the movie for me. All those mind-numbingly unprofessional criminals (including that Keith Richards lookalike) really tried my patience--hence, I found it amusing whenever Brad Pitt had to suffer them too. :) Rating: 6
Landscape
11/27/12 5:34 PM PST

Lots of activity on that ex-junkyard hillside now, i.e., massive tree trimming and backhoe-ing. Could that be why the county cleared out the homeless encampment...for tree maintenance? Or maybe they have something more ambitious in mind, like a precipice and fence to make the area inaccessible? I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Update 11/28/2012: Lots of trees gone from the hillside now. Hmm.

Ugh, I'm starting to see bargain screenings for Senior Tuesdays and Student Wednesdays. At this rate, I might have to start postponing movie night to Thursday. :)

Watched movie: "Skyfall" (2012) in IMAX
Anticlimactic, IMHO, considering my anticipation for what that cool title meant (planes falling from the sky, perhaps?) and for what Javier Bardem's devious character had planned. Needless to say, both his and Bond's endgames greatly disappointed me. But I did feel that ultimately, the film redeemed itself by crafting a relationship of surprising depth between Bond and M. (If I remember correctly, Bond tossed his last friend into a dumpster.) I also found the resurgence of a "vulnerable" 007 refreshing. Side note: My hope that Adele would sing a Bond movie came true. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Red Dawn" (2012)
Despite all of the casualties and self-sacrifice, I still found this remake too light and too corny to take seriously. The ease in which those teenage rebels kept outwitting the trained military invaders almost reminded me of "Home Alone". I also couldn't reconcile why North Korea would even bother to occupy such a small American town. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Life of Pi" (2012) in 3D
Gorgeous, emotional, and...perplexing. A multi-religious castaway at odds with a Bengal tiger in the open sea? What was the message, that God = a subjective narrative? Moreover, when the tiger anticlimactically abandoned him, did that make the father right all along? Hmm. Rating: 7
Broad daylight
11/20/12 6:36 PM PST

Can't decide which I hate worse: driving through San Francisco or walking through San Francisco. :P This past Saturday, I rode on BART for the first time, and surfaced a couple of blocks from the San Francisco Centre. Couldn't believe how many homeless people I passed along Market Street. Terrible.

I did like travelling by BART. Plenty of free parking and not too many passengers on a Saturday.

Watched movie: "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012)
Funny (for the most part) and touching. Even though Bradley Cooper's and Jennifer Lawrence's mental instabilities stood my hair on end, I found myself liking them and rooting for them to succeed. I actually wished that the dance competition had simply punctuated their romance--a waltz or tango, perhaps, without all that mood-killing drama, i.e., Tiffany's jealousy of Nikki, the uncertainty around how Pat felt about the forged letter, and Robert De Niro's shameful bet. Robert De Niro sure disappointed me when he seriously (!) blamed Pat for the football loss and then went on to wager his hopes and dreams on the dance score...it made his love for Pat look really conditional! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "En kongelig affære" a.k.a. "A Royal Affair" (2012)
Long Oscar entry from Denmark about Danish Queen Caroline's love affair with the King's personal physician Johann Struensee, a progressive thinker who eventually used the King's authority to institute nationwide reforms. Although I sympathized with Caroline's martial unhappiness (the King seemed like a real nutcase) and found merit in Struensee's politics, I couldn't really blame the film's antagonists for hating. A German atheist manipulating the King and impregnating the Queen behind his back?? Scandalous. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two" (2012) in Cinemark XD
Although I could see why Twilight fans would hate on the last installment to The Twilight Saga, I actually liked it. Bella finally seemed cool (instead of useless), and I enjoyed her "cartoonish" attempts to act human. The climactic showdown blew my mind. As for Jacob's imprint on Renesmee, I shrugged at that--mostly because I've always felt that his rock-steady loyalty to Bella never got the appreciation it deserved. Heck, if you ask me, Bella lost the right to complain about anything ever again. Eternal beauty with superpowers, the man of her dreams, a miracle daughter (something the other vampire women could never have), and an ongoing relationship with her father (basically trivializing that whole vampire vs. human debate from the first four installments)! Side note: Here's a movie idea that would interest me: what it's like to be Alice, i.e., seeing the future all the time. Rating: 6
The will of the people
11/15/12 8:48 PM PST

Felt pretty ecstatic about the "Survivor: Philippines" tribal council last night until I found out that Michael Skupin had defected from those bullies, not Lisa. Even though I'm awestruck that Jonathan Penner survived yet again, I might've ranked the season as high up as "Survivor: Cook Islands" had his masterful rhetoric managed to persuade her. Update 11/16/2012: Forgot to mention that when I saw one Jonathan vote with "sorry" on it and another Jonathan vote with hearts around it, I mistook them for Michael's and Lisa's votes, respectively. Made me wonder whether any Survivor fans ever tried memorizing each player's penmanship.

I've really enjoyed watching Jonathan Penner this season. It's like he's been hanging on by the skin of his teeth. Here's what I'd put in his highlight reel:

In other news, the workers look like they're about done cleaning up the homeless encampments outside my parking lot. Didn't surprise me one bit that the clean-up lasted six days...if you ask me, they made good time!

Watched movie: "Lincoln" (2012) in Cinemark XD
Long-winded (particularly when Honest Abe digressed from serious issues to tell anecdotes) but historically profound Steven Spielberg dramatization of Lincoln's uphill battle to push the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress. Pretty amazing to see Democrats and Republicans at odds even in the 1860's (though the House of Representatives felt like some kind of bizarro world wherein Democrats, of all people, blocked the abolition of slavery!). Personally, I would have concluded the movie with America electing its first African-American president (rather than Lincoln's assassination), but I guess a move titled "Lincoln" should stay focused on Lincoln. :) Side note: Ulysses S. Grant looked cool. Rating: 7
Watched On Demand movie: "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (2006-2007)
This Palme d'Or winner follows members of the IRA, so I guess I shouldn't have been shocked by how terrible the fighting got. Still--my brain just couldn't reconcile how both sides could bear to live with themselves. It really made me appreciate Gandhi's non-violent approach to British occupation. Rating: 6
Nine stitches
11/09/12 4:20 PM PST

Yesterday morning, I saw a Roads and Airports Department for the County of Santa Clara vehicle and a porta potty near the homeless encampments. Parked cars lined the street by the hillside too. Now for the past two days, I've seen workers with white suits, dust face masks, and litter pickers working to clean up all of the garbage. About dam time. They really have their work cut out for them though. Had they come months earlier, it wouldn't have looked like a Snickers commercial.

I know I should be happy, but I keep dreading that the squatters will simply come back.

As for my downstairs neighbor, still no conclusive evidence of any criminality.

In other news, I liked Obama's acceptance speech. When he advocated tolerance, health care for the poor, and an end to the war, I felt like he had indeed practiced what he preached. In fairness to Bush, I felt like he had practiced what he preached too: when he vowed that America would avenge 9/11 (ultimately I felt that America indeed got its revenge, in spades).

Watched movie: "Flight" (2012)
Disappointingly uninspirational quagmire of a movie wherein an intoxicated pilot (Denzel Washington) miraculously crash-lands a malfunctioning passenger plane with minimal fatalities. I wasn't sure what to make of the plot. In the big scheme of things, one could arguably condone Denzel Washington's alcoholism as integral to the chain-of-events that led to the miraculous landing. Meaning that although Denzel Washington should seek recovery, he shouldn't be prosecuted and sued over the fatalities that occurred. Heck, as a cynic who hates litigious societies, I didn't blame Denzel Washington one bit for trying to straighten everyone's stories. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "the perks of being a wallflower" (2012)
One of those awkward high school Breakfast Club coming-of-age dramedies that makes me un-nostalgic. Only part that piqued my interest: the mystery behind that freshman's psychological issues. I wasn't too happy with his love interest, a senior played by Emma Watson. Not just because I miss Hermione's hair, but because I felt she led him on (best-case scenario after her graduation: a 3-year long-distance relationship). Cradlerobbing. :) Rating: 5
Breaking uncool
11/04/12 5:54 PM PST

Thankfully, I no longer hear the intermittent sound of rushing water in my bathroom. But recently in the wee hours of the morning, I've heard a loud humming in my bathroom; loud enough to seemingly vibrate the walls. It actually made me suspect my downstairs neighbor of cooking meth. I've never actually seen my downstairs neighbor, but there's a weird pot outside of their door chock full of cigarette butts (to avoid igniting an explosion inside?). I also heard a smoke detector go off a couple of times.

Then again, maybe my neighbor only smokes outside to avoid setting off the smoke detector. And maybe the humming noises radiated from a neighboring, industrial-looking water heater (?) instead of a fume-ventilation machine. Most importantly, I don't smell the biggest telltale sign of a meth lab: pungent odors.

I'll keep my eyes, ears, and nose open though.

Update 11/6/2012: Smelled like B.O. outside of my apartment this morning (I left with my bathroom still humming). Made me realize that I smelt this odor before, in the parking lot (I had always thought it came from the homeless encampment). Also noticed a trash bin downstairs this morning, full of cleaning products (?).

Watched movie: "Cloud Atlas" (2012) in IMAX
Nearly three hours of grandiose story hopping by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings (formerly known as the Wachowski brothers). Unsurprisingly, the Wachowskis' portrayal of futuristic Korea impressed me the most...even though Hugo Weaving's Asian eyes looked every bit as appalling as the MANAA described (while I'm at it, Doona Bae looked ghastly as a Caucasian and a Mexican). I also liked the nuclear conspiracy story and the "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome"-like story. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Paranormal Activity 4" (2012)
Weakest of the four films, IMHO. Those guys who directed the last Paranormal Activity might've run low on ideas this time. Great ending though. Also liked the infrared tracking dots cam and the boyfriend's comic relief. P.S. That "kitchen knife of Damocles" really unnerved me. Stay after the credits for something inexplicable, i.e., a Spanish Paranormal Activity?? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Wreck-It Ralph" (2012) in 3D
Brilliant, breathtaking, emotional, nostalgic, and downright hilarious. Seeing video game characters cross over onto other arcade games' screens, e.g., Ralph in Tapper and the "turbo-tastic!" guy, amused me to no end. Stay after the credits for a kill screen. Rating: 8
Batter up
10/29/12 7:28 PM PDT

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for their 2012 World Series sweep (pretty impressive considering that they made a comeback from 1-3 in the National League Championship Series)! I enjoyed watching Game 4, and learned of new baseball strategies like no doubles defense and sacrifice bunt. At the top of the tenth inning with the winning run on first base, the commentator puzzled me with a no mystery what the Giants will do here remark just before the batter bunted himself out so that the runner could advance to second. Made me realize how much I still didn't know about professional baseball.

Watched movie: "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" (2012)
Nowhere near as spooky as the video game franchise, but downright faithful to the visual stimuli (and incoherent plot) of Silent Hill 3. As soon as the actress put that white jacket on, she totally looked like Heather Mason (though if I had control of her, I would have hung onto the pipe, grabbed the floor plan, conserved ammo, and kicked enemies' heads to make sure they were dead). One thing I felt the movie didn't get quite right: Pyramid Head. He seemed uncharacteristically spry and even parried attacks with his knife!

Fingers crossed that this movie franchise will someday adapt the two Silent Hill games that I rated perfect 10's: Silent Hill 2 (not just Pyramid Head) and Silent Hill 4: The Room (could that prison bus have been transporting Walter Sullivan?). I also hope that that cameo of Travis Grady will be the last reference I ever see to that awful Silent Hill: Origins game. Stay after the credits for one final appearance of Pyramid Head. Rating: 5

Watched movie: "The Sessions" (2012)
Cringeworthy Oscar contender based on the true story of a permanently bedridden polio survivor (John Hawkes) who tried to lose his virginity to a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt). Basically I just wanted to get the heck outta there. Good acting though. Rating: 5
Bat's-eye view
10/25/12 4:57 PM PDT

I like Google Maps. For my London vacation, I printed out public transportation directions to each Olympic venue. Most recently, I used the Google satellite to survey an alleged parking lot behind the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo. According to their Facebook page, they intend to build a new IMAX theatre in that spot. I dunno, seems awfully small.

Watched movie: "Hotel Transylvania" (2012) in 3D
Hilarious animated flick by Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter's Laboratory fame. I found Dracula (voiced to perfection by Adam Sandler) really funny--especially when he looked dejected--and felt that both he and Frankenstein's monster had lot of great lines in response to the stereotypes about them, for example, I do not say, "Bleh ble-bleh!" and who wouldn't [a wooden stake through the heart] kill? Also, good job with the zombies and the party scenes. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Smashed" (2012)
Weighty Sundance drama highlighted by Mary Elizabeth Winstead's powerful performance as a recovering alcoholic. Chee, once her character realized that being sober amongst drinking people sucked, I was like welcome to my world. Seriously though, those blowups toward her drunkard husband stood my hair on end (but in a good way). I might've rated the film higher had it not excelled at making Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, and Megan Mullally so un-funny. Rating: 6
Productive achievement
10/17/12 4:29 PM PDT

Congratulations to Roger Federer for hanging onto the #1 tennis ranking for 300 cumulative weeks now! An unprecedented milestone.

Watched Derek Jeter fracture his ankle on a TV replay. Ouch. Last time I fractured my ankle (while running suicides), I can remember crawling and writhing on the court in agonizing pain. I think my brain actually repressed some of the memory. My foot swelled like a cabbage patch doll, and afterward I couldn't even walk on the cast without crutches. I think tearing the ligament made all the difference, because as a kid I remember fracturing that very same ankle but with considerably less pain afterward (I could even walk on it again once the doctor wrapped it in a cast).

"The Walking Dead" season 3 premiered last Sunday...a strong no-nonsense episode, IMHO. No more fooling around for those characters. They threw down on those zombie hordes like a well-oiled machine. Usually the show follows a format where various characters alternate from likeable to unlikeable, but in that episode I found them all likeable.

As for "Dexter" season 7, which airs in the same time slot...still phenomenal. I can't say enough good things about it. If you've been following it, feel free to read my spoiler-heavy season 7 review.

Update 10/22/2012: More awesomeness from "Dexter" and "The Walking Dead" last night. Sunday's become the highlight of my week lately.

Watched movie: "End of Watch" (2012)
An engaging (and often mind-numbing) LAPD buddy movie that mixes cinéma vérité style and "found footage" pretty seamlessly. Reminded me of that old TV show COPS. Although I liked it overall, all the profanity, moral decay, and idiotic bravado began wearing on me. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Sinister" (2012)
Now that's how you start a horror flick. I was like, WTF, and totally drawn in. Another scene I found memorable: the jolting Lawn Work Super 8 home movie. The rest of the film didn't impress me as much. I did like the throbbing music, and found the deputy's shtick and Ethan Hawke's Homer Simpson-like counterarguments mildly amusing. But all those clichéd parts where Ethan Hawke investigated strange noises felt like filler to me. I also did not find the ghost children very scary. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Argo" (2012)
Coolly suspenseful Ben Affleck thriller that dramatizes the real-life covert rescue of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. It got kinda formulaic, but I didn't mind. I'd liken the suspense to that ending from "The Birds". Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Taken 2" (2012) in Cinemark XD
Possibly the thinnest plot I've ever seen for a thriller. Action-wise, I found the scenes fun but pretty farfetched. Examples: the daughter drove as skillfully as Jason Bourne, and Liam Neeson fired off shots with a gun that never seemed to run out of bullets (plus I can't believe the Venn diagram worked). Speaking of Liam Neeson, he's cool and all but what...a...slowpoke (just a little faster and he would've easily caught up to his ex-wife's abductors). P.S. I'm glad the movie made an effort to explain why anyone would want to divorce Liam Neeson's super-nice character. P.S.S. After what happened in the previous film, how could anyone possibly fault Liam Neeson for being overprotective? Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike" (2012)
For those of you unfamiliar with Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" saga, think of it as a reverse-Occupy movement wherein America's richest 1% decide to go on strike. Granted, the movie never actually said they're on strike and I still don't know who John Galt is--but that's the message I got. Looking back, this installment pretty much answered nothing. Basically it was just bleeding heart altruists, e.g., the U.S. government, philanthropists, and (hehe) Occupy-like protesters, persecuting Dagny and Rearden for being rich.

Struck me as ironic that the entire cast from Part I had to be replaced. Almost like this film franchise is tanking just like the world it portrays. Rating: 5

Water torture
10/11/12 6:13 PM PDT

I'm stuck with a new annoyance at my apartment: the intermittent sound of rushing water. Given that I can hear it all hours of the day and night, 24/7, I dismissed my first hypothesis: a neighbor repeatedly turning their faucet on and off. Additionally, I don't think that a toilet would refill itself that frequently. Maybe it's an aquarium?

Today in the cafeteria, I witnessed a grand slam on TV during the Giants game. Pretty cool. I don't think I've ever seen a grand slam live before.

Watched movie: "Frankenweenie" (2012) in IMAX 3D
Although I'm not much of a Tim Burton fan, I found this latest stop motion film of his ghoulishly amusing (even the part where the Disney logo went all gothic). Many of the characters had funny caricatural faces, and Victor's weird classmates looked like they came straight out of old school monster movies. I also found Victor's attachment to Sparky surprisingly touching. Hehe...pretty hilarious how that Vincent Price-like character corrected himself: is ignorant the right word? I meant stupid. Also liked the Goodbye Kitty tombstone. Rating: 7
Oblivion
10/01/12 5:16 PM PDT

Comcast finally blacked out all of my analog channels. As a result, I had to install and activate their digital adapter. Now I can see most of the TV channels, but can only record the channel that the adapter is on. I also still need the digital cable box for premium and pay-per-view programming like "Dexter" and WrestleMania.

In other news, I kept spotting a baby coyote outside my workplace. In the last sighting, I noticed it limping. Our workplace newsletter warned us to "appreciate them from a distance"; not to feed them or make direct eye contact. "Coyotes, by nature, are wary of humans they will avoid people whenever possible. However, in urban areas, coyotes are less likely to fear people and are more likely to associate their presence with easy sources of food."

That's called habituation, gradually losing a fear of something through repeated exposure to it. That's mostly what I credit for overcoming my phobia of dogs. Well...whatever phobia I had of friendly-looking dogs, at least. I still get wary of dogs I can't read, and I still fear vicious-looking dogs like pitbulls (same as I fear predators like lions, tigers, and bears).

Now my biggest phobia is death. Or more precisely, nihilophobia (a fear of nothingness). Even looking across dark, pitch-black expanses of water perturbs me.

Watched movie: "House at the End of the Street" (2012)
Just cannot get used to Jennifer Lawrence's smile. I keep picturing her as Katniss. Man, is the next Hunger Games installment here yet? :(

This "House at the End of the Street" movie seemed more like "Jane Eyre" than a horror flick. It actually reminded me of those early Brian De Palma films, back when he was obsessed with "Psycho". It's like, something beautiful would start to bloom and then get stomped out by something violent and horrible. Rating: 5

Watched movie: "Looper" (2012)
More like loop-hole than loop-er (my friends and I discussed the time travel inconsistencies for quite some time afterward), but intriguing nonetheless. The movie followed my own personal time travel theory: that every time a time traveller alters the past, their memory of the past would change accordingly. Though in Joe's case, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's new memories appeared to slowly overwrite Bruce Willis' old memories one second at a time (except one glaring instance where it must've slipped Bruce's mind (?) that Emily Blunt had authenticated Rainmaker's I.D. (!)--also, I noticed that permanent physical wounds manifested themselves in real-time). I might've rated this film higher but I hated the ending. If it were up to me, I would've ended the movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt promising to mentor Rainmaker, thereby erasing Bruce Willis from existence. Or alternatively, reveal that some other time traveller had become Rainmaker. Final thoughts: What kind of maroon would agree to that loop-closing stipulation, and what kind of insane troll logic was Bruce Willis using (did he realize the improbability of meeting his wife again; and that if his plan succeeded, he'd be erased from existence)?? Rating: 7
The art of transparency
09/24/12 3:17 PM PDT

For the first time ever, the IBM cafeteria served butter chicken. Afterward, I submitted a comment card praising it. I should've submitted one the day they served Pueblo Pork Roast too (the one coated with some kind of cumin (?) sauce). They served it about three years ago and I haven't seen it since.

Last Tuesday, I tried an Italian restaurant in Santana Row called Pasta Pomodoro. I spent most of the time looking down at my table as the couple next to me had a falling out in front of their kid. It started when the guy repeatedly asked the woman why she kept glaring at him. The woman wanted to know whom he had been texting, which led to her asking for his phone and reviewing his messages. Initially I thought how possessive, until she singled out one particular message from someone saying that she hadn't seen him on match.com lately. The guy got defensive, denying that he was on match.com and insisting that it was nothing (Steve's translation: "I'm totally hiding something"). "Tell me the truth," the woman kept repeating. "Let's just forget about it and eat," the guy deflected. So then the woman CALLED the person in front of him, got all the embarrassing details, and then walked out on him with the kid.

The guy should've just told the truth. Although their relationship still might've tanked, it also might've been salvageable. I mean, if she already trusted him so little that she had to check his phone, what more could he have to lose? It reminded me of Tarzan (from "Survivor: One World") and his wife's dubious secret to marriage: never lie to each other.

Personally, I think people are entitled to their secrets. I'm actually so cynical that most lies don't bother me. In fact, I prefer the lie if the truth led to some kind of embarrassment, awkward moment, or spoiler. I do get mad if I lose face because of someone's big mouth, but that applies to both lies and truths. :)

My own reluctance to lie mostly stems from pragmatism rather than self-righteousness. Just like a good credit score is important, I think credibility among allies is important. And the best way to maintain that trust: sharing information and keeping secrets while trying to minimize the lies I have to keep straight. I guess now I sound like Jonathan Penner from "Survivor: Philippines"...I once read an interview where he stated, "I'm a pretty straightforward, honest person. Lying is a lot of work. You've gotta remember what lie you told; it's much easier just to tell the truth."

I also have the ability to trust conditionally. Meaning, I can trust someone when it comes to X, but not when it comes to Y.

Final thought: I'll never understand how people can talk behind each other's backs but then turn around and act like the best of friends. :)

Watched movie: "The Intouchables" (2011-2012)
Basically one long feel-good buddy movie from France, with nary anything heavy. Somehow rated R even though I found it about as tame as "The Blind Side" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". I guess the language was coarser. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Arbitrage" (2012)
One of those "walls closing in" thrillers wherein Richard Gere's character pulls a Chappaquiddick that could destroy his financial empire if the police manage to implicate him. Dunno if it was his unapologetic attitude or that smug look that Richard Gere always seem to have, but I had mixed feelings rooting for him. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Dredd 3D" (2012) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Probably would've appreciated this movie more had I not seen "The Raid: Redemption" earlier in the year, which in my judgment executed the "trapped inside of a druglord's apartment building" premise better. The "Slo-Mo" drug did make for some stylish 3-D visuals. Made me wonder whether all that snail-like violence threw off any of the women who shut their eyes to that sort of thing. :) As for Judge Dredd--that guy needs more personality. Also found it farfetched how the bullets kept missing him and his partner (or in a couple of instances, missed penetrating any organs or arteries apparently). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Master" (2012)
Man, between Joaquin Phoenix's dirty mind and Philip Seymour Hoffman's indoctrination methods (time travel hypnosis theory??), I just wanted to get the heck outta there. My compliments to Paul Thomas Anderson's technique of just fixating the camera on the actors and letting them shine. Joaquin Phoenix might very well win the Oscar this time. Rating: 6
Neighbors & Steven & zombies
09/18/12 2:38 PM PDT

At long last, my next-door neighbors moved out! Happy dance. Certainly not the worst neighbors I've had, but vexing nonetheless...a father and grown-up son lounging around all day with their door open and their shirts off (sporting huge pot bellies), drinking beer and unashamedly projecting their embarrassing conversations, e.g., "I love you, baby" or "You don't love me" or inexplicably berating security. The son hocked (and spat) a lot too; a ghastly noise that made my skin crawl.

Strangely, after the father cleared his things I happened to open my door that night to see the son stumbling up the stairs, totally wasted with eyes wide open (for an alarming split-second my brain mistook him for a zombie). Was he not aware that his father had moved out?

Now if only my homeless neighbors followed suit. I read an interesting article that reported how San Jose's homeless returned to their camps after the cleanups. Apparently the city has some kind of obligation to fund alternate housing options and to tag & store homeless people's personal property. Lame.

Watched movie: "Robot & Frank" (2012)
Initially the premise seemed cute: Frank Langella recruiting his heath care robot into cat burglaries. But the movie ended up upsetting me and getting under my skin. For starters, I felt like he had corrupted that robot into becoming an enabler. Second, I hated how he manipulated his kids' emotions. Third, his mental deterioration really depressed me (particularly that one part when he realized he had been dating the mother of his own children).

I did find the robot itself interesting. To fulfill its directive of improving Frank Langella's health, I noticed it had no qualms against bargaining, lying, and breaking the law. Rating: 5

Watched movie: "Finding Nemo" (2003) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Speaking of unamusing characters with memory problems, I screened the 3-D re-release of "Finding Nemo". Once again, all that ambitious, gorgeously vibrant imagery left me in awe. What a breakthrough in computer animation that was. Correction: what a breakthrough in computer animation it still is. Also, I think that newly released "Toy Story" short, "Partysaurus Rex", might be the best short Pixar has ever made. Stay after the credits. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Resident Evil: Retribution" (2012) in IMAX 3D
Spectacularly convoluted hodgepodge full of bad dialogue and ludicrous slow-mo 3-D Matrix-fu. I did feel nostalgic seeing Leon, Barry, Ada, Jill, Rain, One, and the Red Queen despite the vague, paper-thin explanations for why they even appeared in the movie. I've also come to like the obligatory scene where Alice introduces herself to the other main characters in a dramatic badass fashion. Side note #1: Barry didn't seem to recognize Jill. Side note #2: If only Leon had unlocked his trusty Plaga Removal Laser 412. :) Rating: 5
No easy day
09/11/12 5:29 PM PDT

Man, I hope Jerry "The King" Lawler recovers ok after suffering a heart attack during the WWE Raw broadcast last night. After his commentating went silent, I could actually see him in the background slumped over. One account reported him clinically dead for 20 minutes before a defibrillator revived him! Hope that won't mean brain damage. Weirdest part was that he wrestled a tag team match earlier in the broadcast, and didn't even seem winded afterward.

I watched a really fascinating "60 Minutes" interview of the Navy SEAL who helped kill Osama bin Laden (and authored that book about it). What I found most interesting about his firsthand account: how the SEALs pretty much treated every guy in the compound as hostile and shot them in the head if they peeked around a corner. So the SEALs ended up shooting bin Laden to death without even knowing his identity. Side note: Typical military humor, that warped joke about how curiosity killed bin Laden's son.

I'm hoping that the "Zero Dark Thirty" movie captures all the foresight and acumen that the SEALs showed, from improvising a new plan after the helicopter crash to methodically collecting evidence (including duplicating the evidence of bin Laden's identity in case one helicopter didn't make it back). Man, what commitment for the SEAL on point to rush the women around bin Laden's body in case they tried to blow up the other SEALs.

Other details about the SEAL's account that I found noteworthy:

In other news, congratulations to Serena Williams for pulling out a harrowing U.S. Open victory! To think that last year, her harassment of the chair umpire basically came one swear word away from violating her probation (originally placed upon her for cussing out a lineswoman at the at the 2009 U.S. Open). Meaning, she would've gotten banned from this year's tournament. Side note: I still don't get why Redfoo from LMFAO sat in Azarenka's box.

Also congratulations to Andy Murray on his first Grand Slam title! He didn't look too thrilled for some reason (exhausted, maybe?). Instead of embracing his loved ones, did he just ask them where his shoes were?? Side note: Sean Connery's starting to look pretty old.

I finished tabulating the music results for 1H 2012.

Watched On Demand movie: "[·REC]³ Génesis" (2012)
Paraquel (?) of the first two films that from my perspective, trampled on everything that made the first two films great. As a result, I got kinda bored. I wasn't even sure whether to take the movie seriously. Was it some kind of a soapy love story or an irreverently ironic zombie flick? I guess I'll give the director the benefit of the doubt. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) in IMAX
Digitally re-mastered IMAX restoration with such clarity that I could see each fly or bead of sweat on the characters' faces (though once in a while the focus blurred pretty badly). I had forgotten about the futility of Indiana Jones' adventures. He kept going through such inordinate lengths to acquire a treasure, e.g., the ark, only to lose it in the very next scene. Other reflections I had:
  • Alfred Molina sure looked young.
  • Misfortune always seemed to follow Indy's smiles (the bag of sand sinking, the vine by the pit uprooting, getting punched in the face).
  • The movie had a lot of warning signs (like gusts of wind) against disturbing the ark.
I still love that shot where the camera zoomed in on Indy as he gaped at all the baskets. Rating: 8
The reclusive network
09/04/12 6:06 PM PDT

A passion for writing...that's my answer for why I'm still blogging. It also helps that I have no accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or MySpace to preoccupy my time. Simply put, I don't like to socialize online (or in person, for that matter). I don't even own a smartphone.

I think all in all, the hardest part for me about blogging isn't writing the entries...it's settling upon what to title the entries. :)

Watched movie: "Cosmopolis" (2012)
I did not enjoy "Videodrome" and "Naked Lunch" when I took a film class on Cronenberg, so I certainly did not enjoy "Cosmopolis". In addition to the disconcerting sexuality, I had to endure the characters' (psuedo-)intellectual drivel too. (I'm not even sure they were real people--they might've just been abstractions.) Admittedly, some of their words amused the technical writer in me--but overall, they sounded like robots trying to wax poetic. Rating: 5
Watched On Demand movie: "V/H/S" (2012)
Basically six VHS (?) "found footage" horror shorts by six different filmmakers. Not so much scary as it was gory and debaucherous, but one particular short spooked me pretty good (the one with the "I like you" succubus). I also liked the one with the cloaked slasher. The rest of the shorts: meh. They should have trimmed out more footage, so that each short didn't take so long to get going. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Possession" (2012)
For some reason, Jewish demons don't scare me. The PG-13 rating didn't help either. I did care what happened to the main characters, to the film's credit. P.S. How is it that the girl got away with stabbing her father's hand?? P.S.S. Strange to see rap artist Matisyahu playing a Jewish exorcist. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Awakening" (2011-2012)
Tepid British ghost movie wherein a learned skeptic investigates a haunted boarding school. Reminded me of "The Others". Side note: Wonder why that WWI veteran only stammered on the letter "B"? Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Premium Rush" (2012)
Overall, a fun bike messenger thrill ride with enjoyable cat and mouse action, entertaining characters, and a "user-friendly" narrative (reminiscent of Google Maps). Rating: 7
Ten years later...
08/29/12 2:38 PM PDT

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my blog! Time sure flies. To commemorate the occasion, I decided to just extol my favorite movie from the last five years...

#1 favorite movie of 2007-2012: "Inception" (2010)

In my humble opinion, the magnum opus of Christopher Nolan. Despite my disappointment with "Dark Knight" (and my subsequent concerns that Nolan, my all-time favorite director, lost his touch), I walked into "Inception" with pretty high expectations. To my astonishment, Nolan blew all of my expectations away. To this day, I'm still in awe that one guy managed to write and direct this masterpiece.

I think Nolan captured my sentiment best with the following quote:

"Every film should have its own world, a logic and feel to it that expands beyond the exact image that the audience is seeing."

In my mind, Nolan loaded so much thought and detail into "Inception" that the movie felt like a whole new world...and "shared dreaming" felt like a real-life science.

Incidentally, Nolan actually explained in an interview what the ending meant. He said that the point of that scene was that Cobb looked at his kids and not the top.

In conclusion, I shattered a personal record of mine by watching "Inception" in a theater a total of eleven times (and each time the movie ended, I sat through the credits listening to the music). I even caught something new on the tenth viewing (scenes where Ariadne taught her architectures to each dreamer)!

Points in time
08/24/12 6:53 PM PDT

Finally came full circle on the "Quantum Leap" series, but still missed a lot of episodes.

The episodes where Sam deeply loved somebody--and had to leave them behind--depressed me...especially given my knowledge now of what I didn't know then. Like I knew Sam would...

Other bits of trivia that I noticed this time around:

Top 15 favorite photographs of 2007-2012

Honorable mention: This WWE Hall of Fame picture came out surprisingly good--you can even see Mickey Rourke in the audience, 4/4/2009

15. The current (and all-time) No. 1 tennis player in the world, Roger Federer, warming up on Centre Court at Wimbledon, 7/30/2012

14. Michael Phelps, lane 6, flapping his arms before the 200M butterfly final, 7/31/2012

13. The sight of Vince McMahon in a sharshooter after 12+ years...surreal, 3/28/2010

12. Awesomest pro-wrestling entrance ever, 4/5/2009

11. What is up with that referee? 3/28/2010

10. A rare stunt for The Undertaker, 6/1/2008

9. Me at the White House, 10/27/2007

8. John Cena, 1/27/2008

7. My favorite picture of the Royal Rumble Match, 1/25/2009

6. Crazy Ladder Match stunt, 10/5/2008

5. Whisper in the wind, 1/25/2009

4. Finally...I photographed the People's Elbow, 4/3/2011

3. A front row snapshot of the extremely rare Buried Alive Match, 10/24/2010

2. Surprisingly crisp picture of the medal-winning Olympic figure skaters during their victory lap, 2/25/2010

1. The money shot that made me the face of zero gravity, 9/20/2008

Watched movie: "The Expendables 2" (2012)
Another fun, nostalgic, all-star action blockbuster full of testosterone-fueled violence and cheesy one-liners. Good seeing Chuck Norris again, and Van Damme a.k.a. "Vilain" made a good villain. Hmmm...which action superstars are still unaccounted for? Steven Seagal and Jackie Chan? Rating: 7
Watched movie: "ParaNormaN" (2012) in 3D
Another enjoyable stop-motion film from the same studio that animated "Coraline". I found a lot of the nuances funny, from the way Norman's peers squinted at him to the way his friend fed his face with chips. Hehe...and just like Coraline's mom, Norman's mom had bags under her eyes! (Why this detail amuses me so much, I don't know.)

Was it just me, or did this whole movie make fun of the shallowness of modern society? For instance, the animators seemed to go out of their way to make everything on TV look stupid. :)

Stay after the credits for a time-lapse of Norman's creation. Rating: 7
Highway robbery
08/17/12 3:04 PM PDT

To my dismay, I discovered that the fine for driving in a diamond bus lane, a.k.a. CVC 21655.5(b) Improper Use of Preferential Lanes, amounts to $490!! Buncha bull. Plus to add insult to injury, I had to pay another $29 for a FasTrak violation.

My blog will turn 10 years old on August 29, but I have nothing special planned. I might just post some countdowns that weren't already part of my 2000-2009 Decade in Review. For example, my favorite screenshots and photographs, and maybe some movies of note. Certainly the #1 events that happened to me haven't changed.

Top 10 favorite screenshots 2007-2012

Honorable mention: Olympic tennis at Wimbledon's Centre Court

10. Elimination Chamber

9. Women's Qualification for Artistic Gymnastics

8. Minute to Win It: Level 10

7. Quite possibly the greatest WrestleMania match of all time

6. WWE Royal Rumble 2009

5. Me flinching

4. WWE No Mercy 2008

3. WWE WrestleMania XXVIII

2. Ladies Figure Skating Free Skate at the XXI Olympic Winter Games

1. Buried Alive Match...I relished this screencap

Watched movie: "The Watch" (2012)
Decently funny albeit stupid with an overabundance of crude jokes. Ben Stiller was too serious, IMHO. I actually thought the funniest part was when they went on for so long about disguising Jonah Hill as a woman. Rating: 6
Olympic Summer Games XXX: Top overall medal count
08/12/12 9:21 PM PDT

Congratulations to the USA men's basketball team for winning the final against Spain. It made me nervous when the score stayed even all the way into the fourth quarter! Side note: Still feels surreal to me that the Lakers managed to acquire both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

Time now to rank my favorite highlights from the London 2012 Summer Olympics:

  1. Michael Phelps' final recordsetting Olympic run. I'd easily call him the greatest Olympian who ever lived. The all-time record used to be 18 Olympic medals of any color, held by Larisa Latynina. Well, after London 2012 Phelps now has as many gold medals as Larisa Latynina has medals!
  2. Serena Williams' Olympic gold medal triumph. That makes her only the second woman in history to achieve a Career Golden Slam (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, and an Olympic gold medal). Not bad for a 30-year-old. Now if only Roger Federer had followed suit...
  3. The women's USA soccer team's thrilling final against Japan. Pretty cool even though I would've preferred that the USA women had beaten Japan for the World Cup instead. :)
  4. The Fab Five's reclamation of the women's team gymnastics crown for USA (and Gabby Douglas winning the individual all-around). It helped soothe my bitterness over what happened at the previous Summer Olympics. :)
  5. Misty May-Treanor's & Kerri Walsh Jennings's third consecutive gold medal in beach volleyball. I clearly underestimated them this time around.

Interestingly, Apolo Ohno revealed on NBC that he must decide upon his Olympic future within the next few days. I don't see myself attending any Olympic events in Russia, but I might consider Rio 2016 (two points of interest in Brazil: Christ the Redeemer and Itaipu Dam) seeing as I didn't stay in the city of London long enough to catch any track and field sprints.

Watched movie: "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)
Winner of the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Caméra d'Or that basically just followed the devil-may-care antics of some crazy off-the-grid Cajuns. I'd liken it to "Swamp People" and "Pan's Labyrinth", even though it's entirely possible that the aurochs in the movie were real and not just figments of the girl's imagination (!). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Bourne Legacy" (2012) in Cinemark XD
A pointless spin-off of the Bourne Trilogy, if you ask me, that confused me with messy action scenes and wasted my time with a shallow plot device. I sorely missed Paul Greengrass' directing and the original premise of an amnesiac assassin. Also wondered why cast members from "The Bourne Ultimatum" even bothered to reprise their roles for such inconsequential scenes. I did like one part: when Edward Norton's people combed for Rachel Weisz. P.S. That new Jeremy Renner character sure likes sarcasm. Rating: 5
London recall
08/10/12 5:49 PM PDT

Such a relief being back in the United States where the steering wheel is on the left, cars drive on the right side, and the food doesn't mess up my stomach (though admittedly, I did like the baked beans with my scrambled eggs). :) Interestingly, in the office I mouse with my left hand even though I'm right-handed (the logic being that if I get carpal tunnel in my left wrist, it won't affect the hand that I use to write with). That's likely why in the UK I was able to gear shift with my left hand so easily. Nothing could prepare me for steering from the other side of the car though. I had to keep telling my brain to hug the right side of the lane, so that I'd stop drifting to the left. It's extremely fortunate that I only brushed against curbs instead of guard rails or other cars.

Still bums me out that Roger Federer lost the gold medal match against Andy Murray! If only they could have swapped results: Federer's most recent Wimbledon title in exchange for the one accolade that he's never ever achieved: a singles gold medal.

In contrast, I shrugged when Gabby Douglas (and two of the other Fab Five) blew their individual gymnastics events. The Fab Five already won team gold and Gabby won the all-around gold--so in my mind, they all earned free passes.

Congratulations to Misty May-Treanor & Kerri Walsh Jennings for winning their third consecutive gold medals in beach volleyball! Mighty impressive.

Also congratulations to the women's USA soccer team! The way I see it--after those clutch saves--Hope Solo can run her mouth all she wants. :)

This week, I've been reviewing NBC's coverage of the Olympics. I added both pictures and screencaps to my earlier blog entries.

Watched movie: "Total Recall" (2012)
Although the film's logic didn't add up in my head, e.g., the engineering behind that gravity train and the motivation behind a fake wife, I did marvel at all the cool futuristic spectacles. Even recognized the London locations. Rating: 6
England, Day 6: Channel Tunnel
08/03/12 8:08 AM PDT

I ended up renting a car from Avis, a black Peugeot 207 SW. It was a manual transmission but thankfully, I remembered how to shift gears (even with the stick to my left). The reversed driver seat location proved much more terrifying, as I occasionally nudged the lefthand curb while driving on the left side of the road. :P

Quite the learning experience, that Channel Tunnel. Once I figured out how to buy a ticket, they printed an alphabetical letter for me to hang on my rear view mirror. I matched the letter with its departure time on the terminal screen. Following a passport screening, I queued my car into a line and drove into some kind of long boxcar (which turned into carriages of 4-5 cars once the metal doors shut); then stayed parked there while the boxcar crossed through a dark subway-like tunnel for about half-an-hour.

Passport screening
Boarding area where the employees herd our cars into carriages
Don't know why they instruct us to keep our windows open halfway during the trip
The view outside the carriage window (inside the Chunnel, darkness)

Once I disembarked in France, I immediately wandered my way back to the Euro Tunnel le Shuttle. (Although I welcomed driving on the right side of the road, I had trouble comprehending French traffic signs. :P) Then I went through all that hassle over again. This time, French customs, UK Border Control (questions galore), waiting for my call in a eurotunnel shopping center (not as long as I thought given France is one hour ahead), ineptly driving to the wrong boarding area, and then finally boarding the correct shuttle back to the UK.

So thankfully, I got through all that unscathed despite driving around lost through Folkestone. My nerves are shot. Can you imagine if I had gotten my car into an accident? Goes to show how seriously I take my goals list.

Tomorrow, I fly back to the United States.

P.S. Good that I had my Visa debit card with me. The Discover card wasn't much use. :(

England, Day 5: Stonehenge
08/02/12 3:10 PM PDT

Ever since I picked up a 5 cent euro in my loose change (it looks like the British penny), I've been trying to sneak it past British cashiers. But every single time they've weeded it out and rejected it, like those cats who can sense the pill in their catfood. It might be my imagination, but the cashiers seemed almost indignant that I'd try to pay them with a euro coin.

Pretty rainy at the Stonehenge monument today, but the sky opened long enough for me to snap pictures all around it. The rope path curved in close enough for me to see the greenish discoloration and fungus on the otherwise gray rocks. In person, the rocks looked gigantic. How the heck did prehistoric people transport and stack those things 4500 years ago? Any why?

When I look at Stonehenge photographs, the monument always seems isolated in the middle of nowhere. But in actuality, it's fenced in. Outside the fence: roads, a gift shop, a café (where I bought a cinnamon-flavored rock cake with raisins), a ticket booth, toilets, parking lots, and grazing sheep.

All in all, I think that was worth the 90-120 minute tour bus ride from London.

Stonehenge during visiting hours
Sarsen stone circle with an inner horseshoe of trilithons
I guess nothing is sacred to crows

In other news, security picked me up during my walk toward the Channel Tunnel. Apparently that's a huge no-no--we're only allowed to cross by vehicle. So after the police ran a background check on me and asked me some questions, they sent me on my way. Needlessly to say, I failed to cross off that goal today. :P

England, Day 4: Waiting for Day 5
08/01/12 6:55 AM PDT

Frustrating setback...the private Stonehenge tour only runs on Tuesdays. It seems that the Web site erroneously let me book today's date. So I now have to settle for a tour where I view Stonehenge from afar. But that's not all--because the lady missed the discrepancy, I wasted the whole morning loitering while the other Stonehenge tour groups came and went. As a result, I now have to wait until tomorrow morning for the next tour bus! Grrr...

Good thing that when I scheduled this vacation, I buffered in an extra day.

England, Day 3: Swimming
07/31/12 5:25 PM PDT

Rainy afternoon in London. For lunch, I had fish & chips with earl grey tea. Although I'm not a big fan of fish & chips, I liked it better than any fish & chips I tasted in America.

I'd describe the rest of my day as disappointing. For some idiotic reason, the Olympic cauldron was not outside for visitors of the Olympic Park to photograph. It's inside the track & field stadium, and I have no ticket to grant me admission.

The ticket I did have, Olympic swimming, landed me in the 20th row of the Aquatics Centre...about third row up in the upper balcony. Pretty lousy considered I paid top dollar for an AA category ticket.

Spoiler alert for Tuesday's swimming finals: To my complete and utter dismay, Michael Phelps lost his signature event, the 200-meter butterfly! I had been holding my breath, waiting for his touch to trigger a single red light next to his lane (indicating first place). Instead, I saw two red lights. My reaction: dumbfounded...then when what happened sank in, dejected. Granted, I witnessed history in that he tied Larisa Latynina for most Olympic medals of any color. But *&^%$ it, I purposely picked Phelps' best event so I could see him win a gold medal! It's the topmost reason I flew to London in the first place.

It did give me consolidation that USA later won the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, which Phelps anchored. So I personally witnessed Phelps winning his first gold medal at London 2012 and becoming the most decorated Olympian in history. I also got to personally experience, finally, an Olympic medals ceremony where the American flag rose to the Star-Spangled banner (first for Allison Schmitt, again for the USA relay team).

P.S. Maybe someday I can brag about seeing those two teenage swimming stars, Missy Franklin and Ye Shiwen, in action.

P.S.S. I hope my pictures come out ok. My hands got kind of shaky at times.

Phelps, lane 6, flapping his arms before the 200M butterfly final
Two red lights over lane 6 meant Phelps got second place!
Silver medal for Michael Phelps, tying Larisa Latynina's record
Gold medal for Michael Phelps, breaking Larisa Latynina's record

I'm getting kinda sick of the news here. This just in: Great Britain ranked #20 in the medal count. Granted, it's not like the propaganda that Canada showed during the last Olympics--but I wished that the BBC focused less on Great Britain's defeats and more on the athletes who actually won medals.

I did see one prominent U.S. headline on the BBC: the charges for that shooting massacre in Aurora. :(

Update 8/1/2012: Michael Phelps made the top headlines in the news last night, so maybe the BBC redeemed itself. :) I didn't sleep a wink. Either the swimming excitement gave me insomnia, or my brain feared oversleeping and missing the Stonehenge tour bus. Or maybe it's jet lag?

England, Day 2: From Westminster to Wimbledon
07/30/12 3:36 PM PDT

My feet feel blistered and my face looks sunburned, but I have to say it was a good day.

I started with a big breakfast which included scrambled eggs, potatoes, baked beans, and a nasty brownie-like puck called black pudding that I imagine stuck to my stomach like gum. :P

Then I visited the obligatory tourist attractions in London: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. I tried to take photos of the guards as three of them marched out to relieve the ones in the front of the building.

Big Ben
Westminster Abbey
Buckingham Palace

Speaking of disciplined professionals who ignore distractions, all of those Olympic tennis players at Wimbledon's Centre Court seemed to completely block out the audience during their matches (even when we started a wave). A couple of things that I found cool: rhythmically clapping along with the audience during the challenges, and watching the points without spectators walking up and down (the officials block the entrances between set changes). I also enjoyed (twice) the famed strawberries & cream from the Champagne Bar.

The highlight of my Wimbledon experience (and possibly the highlight of my trip): seeing the greatest tennis player who ever lived, Roger Federer, in action. Fortune really smiled upon me, because I had no idea which tennis players I'd get to see when I bought my ticket. The schedule depended upon tournament draw, advancement, and chance. Here's a recap of who played today in Centre Court:

  1. Victoria Azarenka (BLR) (1) vs. Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU)
  2. Roger Federer (SUI) (1) vs. Julien Benneteau (FRA)
  3. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) (8) vs. Andreas Seppi (ITA)
  4. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) (8) vs. Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) (but I left early in the first set)

If these matches air in the United States, look for me in my neon cap and shirt in the 9th row from the court (a.k.a. the third row from the purple wall).

Centre Court seemed really small in person. The two retractable roofs looked massive though (for some reason the officials kept repositioning them over the court).

I still don't understand why players raise their hand (apologetically?) when the ball trickles over the net tape.

The rooftop over Centre Court
Delicious strawberries & cream
The current (and all-time) No. 1 tennis player in the world, Roger Federer

Upon my return to London, I tried a 10oz rump steak (with a side of mushroom sauce) at Skylon inside the Royal Festival Hall. Tasty but man, I really had to chew that thing.

England, Day 1: Gymnastics - Artistic
07/29/12 4:26 PM PDT

Survived my 10+ hour flight to London. Afterward the pilot announced that the airport almost cancelled our landing due to weather. Good thing that didn't happen, because near the end there I started feeling airsick from the turbulence.

We still got delayed on the ground, however, so I arrived late to the Women's Qualification for Artistic Gymnastics. The USA's Fab Five had already come and gone so I got stuck watching the rotations for China, Russia, Germany, Romania, Japan, and "mixed groups", i.e., individual gymnasts lacking a team. If NBC airs the qualification floor exercises for China and Germany, look for me in the third row wearing a neon yellow shirt and neon orange cap.

I actually didn't care for the live format. I didn't mind waiting through each of the warm ups, but I found it distracting how all four of the groups competed simultaneously (then rotated amidst rhythmic crowd clapping to the next apparatus). As a result, my eyes kept wandering to the loud musically-themed floor exercises. Also, the live British commentator didn't offer much insight.

Too much going on at once

Spoiler alert from someone who's now eight hours ahead of California time: when I stared at the scoreboard and noticed Jordyn Wieber missing a Q next to her name, I was like what happened). I had to google the result on the Internet, because I'm not sure that'd even make the news on my hotel room TV. Last I checked, the BBC was singing the praises of a bronze-winning British swimmer.

The city of London looks really old to me. It feels like I stepped into an alternate reality where England won the Revolutionary War. I see American franchises like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, and Burger King, but most of the products and snacks I see have strange names. The cars and roads look reversed. Subway signs appear in English but say "Mind the Gap" instead of "Caution" and "Way Out" instead of "Exit". The clocks all use military time. And the local folk say "queue" a lot instead of "line" or "line up".

Batman ends (?)
07/25/12 5:25 PM PDT
Watched movie: "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)
Cool overall; slow and corny on occasion. Sometimes had awesome lines like "Not everything. Not yet."; other times had painful lines like Gordon waxing poetic about plunging hands into the filth. :(

I guess Christopher Nolan finally answered whether Batman could ever just ride off into the sunset--or more importantly, whether Bruce Wayne could ever get over his beloved Rachel. :) I liked how the movie depicted Catwoman and Bane--definite improvements over their previous incarnations, IMHO. Other thoughts I had:

  • Bane's voice sounded much better, for the most part.
  • That motorbike with the spinning tires rocked. Also, nice touch to tie human shields to the motorcyclists. :)
  • Why did Batman still speak with that funny whisper to people who knew his secret identity?
  • Where did Catwoman's friend disappear to?
Rating: 8

The San Luis Obispo Downtown Centre Cinemas advertised screenings of "Dark Knight Rises" in their brand-new EXTREME 3 THEATRE. Caveat emptor. It turned out to be a normal, non-stadium seating room with a screen that spanned from the ceiling to the floor. The movie didn't even show in digital projection--I could see the cigarette burns which mark normal film reels.

That one scene where gunmen open fire on the stockbrokers gives me the creeps. It keeps reminding me of that massacre in Aurora where a spree shooter opened fire on a "Dark Knight Rises" audience.

Well, after months of planning, I finally fly to London this Saturday. I come back the following Saturday.

Toll taking
07/21/12 1:03 PM PDT

"Dark Knight Rises" today. I noticed that that shooting spree at one of the screenings still headlines the news. Hope it doesn't inspire any other gunmen out there who might be hungry for publicity.

I finally e-mailed a complaint to the County of Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health. With all the trash that the squatters outside my parking lot fence managed to hoard, the hillside looks and smells like a veritable garbage dump now. It's totally ridiculous.

In other news, I received a brand-new traffic ticket for driving in a diamond bus lane. I had taken a wrong turn and was trying to avoid a toll booth. In hindsight, I should've just paid the toll. The cop said it wasn't a moving violation, but I dread the heftiness of the fine.

Watched movie: "Ted" (2012)
Adult comedy by the creator of "Family Guy" wherein a teddy bear (who sounds an awful lot like Peter Griffin) comes to life and becomes a bad influence on Mark Wahlberg. Although I found the movie vulgar and sappy, it had its moments. I particularly liked the 80's nostalgia and the hilarious homage to that campy "Flash Gordon" film. Ironically, Mila Kunis--the actress whom I always have trouble taking seriously--was way too serious for me this time around. P.S. I found it strange that despite all the profanity, off-color jokes, and drug use, this movie actually seemed less offensive to me than "Family Guy". Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Take This Waltz" (2011-2012)
A downcast, mind-numbing drama wherein Michelle Williams starts an emotional affair with her neighbor and feels guilty about it. Hmmm...that makes five movies now where I've seen Michelle Williams unhappy in a marriage. Art imitates life? Anyway, her character (and that pool and shower scene) completely turned me off. It's like, quit embarrassing yourself and talk normal. It's pronounced "love", not "wuv". Also couldn't believe that both Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman could deliver such boring performances. I only liked two scenes in all (hint: both of them used "Video Killed the Radio Star"). Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Ice Age: Continental Drift" (2012) in 3D
Decently entertaining despite so many annoying new characters (Granny, Weiner, the teenage mammoths, the pirates). As usual, I found Manny the least funny of the main cast. Most funny: Sid and Scrat. P.S. Mighty impressive terrain fracturing animation. Rating: 6
Spare the rod...
07/16/12 5:14 PM PDT

Guess I'll bring my Discover card to London after all. Thanks to their timely promotion, I'll receive a 2% Cashback Bonus for every purchase in London (from June 2 and August 31) and zero foreign transaction fees. I'll still take my Visa card, as that was the only card the Olympics vendors accepted in Vancouver.

I'm starting to dislike today's kids more and more. Specifically, their lack of inhibitions and manners. During Spider-Man, I had to listen to a loud kid asking lame obvious questions like, "Is that a spider?", "Is that man Spider-Man?", and "Is that man dead?" Another time, I was eating at Hometown Buffet while my car was at the mechanic shop. Some girl looked my way and commented, I think it's sad when people eat alone. In response, I just sat there fuming. What could I say back? I think it's sad that some kids won't amount to anything?

Worst part was that neither of the kids' mothers corrected their rudeness. Which is bad for the kids' futures, if they grow up without learning to respect others.

Watched movie: "To Rome with Love" (2012)
Funny at first; tiresome after awhile. I like the shticks of both Woody Allen and Roberto Benigni, but in moderation. Also, the scenery of Rome seemed gratuitous. P.S. I wonder if Woody Allen is cynical toward pseudo celebrities. Rating: 5
Why stop now
07/08/12 4:59 PM PDT

Dude, when I flush my new toilet it's like an airlock opens and sucks the water out (along with the air around it) into outer space.

Congratulations to 30-year-olds Roger Federer and Serena Williams for Wimbledon triumphs amidst Grand Slam droughts that made tennis fans talk of their retirement. Maybe I'll get to see one of them play in Centre Court during the Olympics at the end of this month. Gotta feel bad for Andy Murray, losing on his home turf with celebrities like the Middleton sisters and David Beckham in attendance. Also felt bad for Radwanska when Serena won one of the games with four consecutive aces. I have never seen anything like that.

In a bit of sad news, gold medalist Nastia Liukin failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic gymnastic team. With both her and Shawn Johnson now retired, I can feel my excitement diminishing for the Olympic gymnastics events that I have tickets for. :P

By the way, that daredevil who crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope...he now wants to cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope! What a nut.

Watched movie: "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (2012) in 3D
Unapologetically farfetched pulp wherein the historical event that made Honest Abe legendary, the Civil War, plays second fiddle to his "true calling" as a vampire hunter (Abe's weapon of choice: an axe with a gun inside of it). As always, I liked Timur Bekmambetov's wildly over-the-top action scenes, including one particularly ridiculous fight amidst a horse stampede. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Brave" (2012) in 3D
Relatively likeable Pixar flick that at times, got too cartoonish for my taste. Props to the animation of Merida's hair. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "People Like Us" (2012)
Disconcerting drama wherein an heir finds out he has a half-sister, and inexplicably befriends her under false pretenses. Why couldn't they just have a movie where he befriended her like a normal brother? Maybe that'd be too boring. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012) in 3D
Quite the spectacle but nowhere near as emotional as the original Spider-Man trilogy. A real shame, too, because those arcs with Uncle Ben, Captain Stacy, and Peter's revelations of his secret identity could've packed a huge wallop. Cast-wise, I just couldn't picture Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy (whom I always liked better than Mary Jane)--nor could I picture Denis Leary as Captain Stacy. I did like Andrew Garfield's comical portrayal of Peter Parker at least. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
SteveN the Hood
06/29/12 1:52 PM PDT

Last night, the maintenance guy who fixed my slow toilet told me he'd give me a brand-new toilet around either morning or afternoon. To my chagrin, he entered my apartment while I was in the shower and repeatedly shouted "MAINTENANCE! YO, MAINTENANCE!" for the whole neighborhood to hear. When I realized that he wouldn't stop, I cracked my bathroom door open to tell him I'll be out soon. Geez man, you'd think he could've deduced that all on his own.

Where's Rudy Giuliani when you need him? :( That homeless encampment between my parking lot fence and the overpass hill is starting to look like a slum now. After hearing what sounded like someone getting assaulted there, I talked to security and they said that they have no jurisdiction beyond the fence. The guard added that they were trying to catch whoever has been setting fires in the dumpsters (which explains the charred dumpster near my apartment). I guess their uselessness shouldn't surprise me, given how they did jack squat about the raving mad tenant underneath me too. At least they're really good at towing illegally parked cars.

I actually flagged down one of the security cars the other night, to alert them to a suspicious person with a hoodie that I saw crouched near a license plate. I watched closely as the security car drove up to the guy (prompting him to stand up) and then drove away (prompting him to crouch back down). Guess that means he wasn't stealing a registration sticker like I suspected? What was he doing then? (Good thing I'm not a George Zimmerman.)

But back to the encampment--I could see the garbage piling up behind the fence and even spotted one tent getting burglarized. I finally complained to the rental office, and they said they already knew about it. Apparently that's why they had laid sharp rocks along the fence--to deter squatters--but clearly it didn't work.

I have a pretty long list of things that bother me in cities: squatters, litter, vandalism, crime, bad roads. People picking through garbage cans, panhandling, or urinating in plain sight. That's why I tend to disfavor policies that in my judgment, make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Ironically, those Occupy protesters who camp out in plain sight--I consider them a public nuisance.

Watched On Demand movie: "Le Hérisson" (2009) a.k.a. "The Hedgehog" (2011)
A slow-paced French drama that could have been charming had the first few minutes (and while I'm at it, the last few minutes) not turned me off. I guess I felt that with everything going on the world, the thought of an 11-year-old girl plotting her own suicide out of boredom really rubbed me the wrong way. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Hodejegerne" (2011) a.k.a. "Headhunters" (2012)
Amusing Norwegian thriller about a disciplined art burglar who struggles to keep his wits about him during a really bad day--a day so ridiculously bad that I couldn't help but laugh. In particular, I found it funny when he ineptly dragged a body around, tried to punch in a passcode without misspelling it, and recklessly drove a tractor with that dog still impaled on it! Seemed unrealistic that he could get away with everything (especially given his splurging habits), but oh well. Rating: 7
Back in time
06/22/12 2:44 PM PDT

Thanks to the G4 channel, I got to watch a couple of my favorite "Quantum Leap" episodes again. Namely the ones where Alia, the Evil Leaper, defected with Sam. What a downer, thinking that Alia could have set something wrong each time that Sam set something right. :P Anyway, I loved everything from their simultaneous leap (leaving two people in the waiting room) to the part where she leapt as a bullet passed through her (leaving ?? people in the waiting room). It's the only time I remember seeing what happens once the Leaper departs.

Update 6/22/2012: Make that twice...just saw a scene where Sam swapped places with a Mafia don and the original guy came back with no memory of the waiting room. And now that I think about it, I vaguely remember an episode where Lee Harvey Oswald leaped back in.

Guess I'll have to wait awhile to see "Trilogy" again. That's the cool story arc where Sam had to save the same girl's life on three separate occasions: first as her father (the real father must've been mighty confused, taking Sam's place under a collapsing ceiling), second as her fiance, and third as her defense attorney. (Interestingly, the actress who played her went on to guest star as Trudy in "Monk" and Jan in "The Office".) Always bothered me that the show never resolved that HUGE loose end regarding Sam's biological daughter, whom he ultimately rescued from a "horrible" fate of writing computer manuals. :P

Also bugged me that the show never explained the origin of Lothos, the Evil Leaper supercomputer, and why it couldn't just send an Evil Leaper back in time to destroy Ziggy (the Quantum Leap supercomputer). Unless...what if Lothos was actually the future version of Ziggy? Sigh, so much material for a Quantum Leap spin-off or movie. :)

In other news, congratulations to LeBron James for finally winning that elusive NBA championship!

Watched movie: "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012)
Funny but disappointing comedy inspired by that real-life classified ad for a time travel partner. I say "disappointing" because the movie primarily focused on the credibility of the ad rather than the actual details of the mission. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Rock of Ages" (2012)
Broadway musical adaptation that to me, seemed more like a hollow mockery of 1980s rock rather than any kind of meaningful homage. I particularly hated how the characters acted like they wrote the songs themselves. I also found their attempts at comedy shallow and dumb (except for that hilarious boy band angle). Finally, it bothered me that the movie wasted Julianne Hough's dancing talents on a stripper pole. I guess she got to sing at least. Rating: 4
En route
06/15/12 5:11 PM PDT

Started noticing movie theater advertisements for a "Dark Knight" Marathon, featuring the first two Dark Knight films followed by a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises". Probably won't last nearly as long as the Avengers Marathon ("Iron Man", "The Incredible Hulk", "Iron Man 2", "Thor", "Captain America", and "The Avengers"), but I'll probably still skip it. :)

I pencilled some new films to see this year based on the winners from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival:

Unlike the foreign language Oscar, which in my opinion favors safe films whose messages satisfy the "lowest common denominator", the Cannes films tend to strike me as atmospheric and edgy.

I managed to see an evening screening of "Madagascar 3" that had only one kid in the theater. I'll never forget that time I saw "Ice Age 3" and a loud kid behind me kept exclaiming obvious things, like "There's Diego!" and "Dinosaur babbbbbbies!!" Ever since then, I've tried to avoid matinees for family films. :)

In other news, my British currency finally arrived at the bank. At first glance, the bills have Queen Elizabeth on them. I dread how they'll look once Prince Charles becomes King. :P

Watched movie: "Prometheus" (2012) in 3D
Well, I liked creepy David and the special effects--everything else: boring. My apathy toward the Prometheus' mission certainly didn't help--and admittedly, I've never considered myself much of a Ridley Scott fan. I ended up giving this movie the same rating as "Alien". Side note #1: What kind of idiot would reach toward an alien snake that looks poised to strike?? Side note #2: Weird to name the Noomi Rapace character Elizabeth...and after major surgery like that, I doubt even the girl with the dragon tattoo could stay on her feet. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (2012) in 3D
I didn't laugh one single time. Come to think of it, I don't remember laughing at anything in the first two films either. For this particular installment, I found the bear romance and the stereotypical Italian sea lion (in my opinion, the most irritating animal since Jar Jar Binks) brutally bad. The cartoonish villain annoyed me too. Had the circus act not dazzled me, I would've considered this movie a complete disaster. P.S. How did the animals get from Africa to Monte Carlo?? P.S.S. Good use of 3-D effects. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012)
Not just dry humor but bone dry humor. Wes Anderson, man. If the characters hadn't bared some dashes of emotion now and then (to my amusement), they probably could have passed for pod people. P.S. Bill Murray might be the greatest deadpan actor alive. Rating: 7
Credit where credit is due
06/09/12 12:36 PM PDT

Although I don't consider myself a huge sports fan, I've found the past few days of sports news unusually interesting:

On a lesser note, Video Games Live had a meet & greet for "Video Game Player of the Century" Billy Mitchell. I actually have to give the guy credit. After that "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" documentary brutally villainized him, he actually stepped it up and played in public to successfully retake the Donkey Kong record. (Of course, someone named Hank Chien broke it about three years later; then five months later Mitchell retook it; then two months later Steve Wiebe reclaimed it; then Hank Chien beat them all five months later...it never ends.)

Watched movie: "Piranha 3DD" (2012) in 3D
Every bit as stupid as the first "Piranha 3D", and then some. Now I have images of perversion and 3-D puke stuck in my head. If I was an actor and had appeared in a movie like this, I'd probably want to wear a bag over my head afterward. :( Even the bloopers sucked. David Hasselhoff, man. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Polisse" (2011-2012)
Cannes Jury Prize winner about a Child Protection Unit in Paris (basically the French equivalent of the "Law & Order" Special Victims Unit, complete with dramatizations of real-life cases). Sort of overdramatic at times, and the bizarre ending made me lower my rating slightly. Also depressed me watching what the officers had to deal with, e.g., weighing whether to believe a child vs. their alleged molester and trying to log a name for a rape victim's stillborn before they bagged the thing in a ziploc (!). Rating: 5
Deeply discussing Dexter (spoiler alert)
06/03/12 11:38 PM PDT

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my current thoughts on the "Dexter" series after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll down until after you have watched SEASON SIX of "Dexter"!

Ever since I became a fan of "Dexter", I've role played in my head what would happen if Debra discovered Dexter's secret. I concluded that if Dexter ever wanted Debra to trust him again, he'd have to come clean and tell the whole truth. After much deliberation, I came up with the following recommendations:

And hopefully, Dexter won't need to remind her that he twice saved her life. :)

Interestingly, I used to dread what would happen once Debra discovered Dexter's secret. But thanks to that incestuous "jump-the-shark" scare, I ended up welcoming the sixth season cliffhanger. :P My prediction about how Debra will react: she'll think that he's not being himself (that maybe stress and/or Rita's death got to him) and tell him to drop the knife. She might puke too. But I don't think she'll draw her gun on him. She certainly won't turn him in--otherwise, no more show. :) I figure that for the duration of season seven at least, she'll go about trying to "fix" him. They might even reverse roles so that she'd now have to take care of him the way that he took care of her.

I'm really looking forward to the seventh season. With actors like Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, the season has the potential to outshine them all.

Did I ever mention my favorite episode of "Dexter"? "Left Turn Ahead", the one where Dexter hit one of the lowest points of his life and actually reached out to Debra. In short, Dexter a) considered abandoning his code because of the shame that his Dad ultimately felt for it, and b) considered turning himself in. But in one of Debra's finest moments, she convinced him to decide who he wanted to be and to "ride it out". At that point, I basically credited Debra with saving Dexter's life--because let's face it, he would've gotten a lethal injection or life in prison for sure!

SEASON 7 SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my thoughts on each season 7 episode after the photo below. Warning! Do not scroll past the titles of episodes that you haven't watched yet!

Update 7/17/2012: Watched Showtime's sneak peek of the first two minutes of season 7. My reaction: I felt bad for Debra. I felt that Dexter failed her. Not just because he poisoned her most treasured positive relationship, but because he continued to lie to her (against my advice). And badly, at that--he sounded so cold and rehearsed. If she ends up believing that BS, then that's straight-up denial.

On the other hand, she did draw her gun on him (which I didn't anticipate), so I guess I can't blame him for his "deer in the headlights" tap-dancing (even stooping to that awful lie about Rita). But he must know that she'll find out more sooner or later.

Update 10/1/2012 ("Are You...?" spoiler alert): Watched the season 7 premiere, and actually had trouble sleeping afterward. Haunting, man. Were Dexter and Debra really having those conversations? So surreal that my brain had trouble processing them.

Update 10/8/2012 ("Sunshine and Frosty Swirl" spoiler alert): Second episode of season 7 seemed lighter. Debra's best line ever: "You're a sick f***." Felt a tad annoyed about her flippancy toward the Dark Passenger, but I cut her a lot of slack. :) Also felt a bit disappointed that Dexter didn't fill Debra in on any of his high-profile killings (did he confirm to being the Bay Harbor Butcher off-camera?)--but as they say in sales: once you close a deal, stop talking. Side note: I noticed going back to season 5 that in addition to murderers, Dexter now seems ok with killing jerks too.

Update 10/15/2012 ("Buck the System" spoiler alert): Nice try Dexter, but I felt that Debra's point about the blood slide trophies scuttled your entire argument. Dang this season's good.

Update 10/22/2012 ("Run" spoiler alert): Did Debra accept Dexter's Dark Passenger already? I've really come to enjoy those confrontational "back alley" conversations between them. Are you even capable of love? Ouch. I like how Debra finally brought up Trinity (though I noticed Dexter didn't come completely clean about that as I seem to recall he misdirected the police and even foiled Trinity's suicide attempt). I'm surprised she hasn't asked about details on Doakes or the Ice Truck Killer. All in all, I concluded that Dexter shouldn't volunteer any more secrets unless absolutely necessary, like for instance, how their Dad committed suicide because of him.

Update 10/29/2012 ("Swim Deep" spoiler alert): Dang it, what a liability Dexter has become for poor Deb. I'm glad she rebuked him for misleading the police, because I always hated it whenever he did that. She STILL didn't ask him about Doakes, so maybe she never will.

Update 11/5/2012 ("Do the Wrong Thing" spoiler alert): Disappointed by the conversation (or lack of) about Lumen. Debra made it sound shady without knowing all the facts, Dexter failed to give her all the facts, and neither one even acknowledged the mind-blowing part where Debra let them both go. Also disappointed in Dexter himself: breaking his evidence tampering promise to Deb, disingenuously flirting with Hannah, and betraying his own vow to kill murderers the first chance he gets (though maybe I can give him a free pass on that last one).

Update 11/12/2012 ("Chemistry" spoiler alert): Dexter blackmailing Sal Price with Jamie within earshot? Isaak chatting with Dexter in front of a police tail? Debra setting up a hit? I would say this show is getting carried away...had I not thought that already. :) By the way, what a diss to Rita if Dexter is indeed falling in love for the first time.

Update 11/19/2012 ("Argentina" spoiler alert): I have to say this episode started off on the wrong foot when the "Previously on Dexter" segment teased the return of the incest angle. Hopefully they've cleared the air, and won't ever speak of it again. Hmm...that part near the beginning where Dexter turned down Debra pretty much mirrored what I was thinking.

Update 11/26/2012 ("Helter Skelter" spoiler alert): Quite the anticlimactic exit for Isaak. Wonder if that makes Hannah the season's villain?

Update 12/3/2012 ("The Dark...Whatever" spoiler alert): Craaazzy. Not the "twist" where Dexter broke code to kill a scumbag...that was business-as-usual. :) I mean the part where he turned over the Phantom Arsonist (a man who heard his voice) to the police (what!), Debra's spiral into prescription medication (which I don't blame her one bit for--personally, I feel like Dexter owes it to her to try to kill less), the development where LaGuerta and Matthews made Dexter their top suspect (flawed characters but definitely outside of Dexter's code), and Debra and Batista following up on a witness who could implicate Hannah and destroy Dexter's happiness! What will happen next?? I feel like Dexter's disciplined life spun out of control this season, and I like it.

Update 12/10/2012 ("Do You See What I See?" spoiler alert): This episode made me unhappy, as I felt that the ruination of Dexter's bright future could've easily been avoided had a) Dexter explicitly warned Hannah against poisoning Debra, or b) Debra just backed off. Then again, who are we kidding? We all know Dexter can't have a happy ending--that's the cruel irony of this show.

Update 12/17/2012 ("Surprise, Motherf**ker!" spoiler alert): Duuuude...great as this finale was, I think it might have scarred me for life. :P I felt like Debra died before my very eyes, condemned to Hell because of Dexter. Remember when I called Dexter a good brother? I take that back. I fear he's beyond redemption now. :( Update 2/11/2013: To clarify why I'm mad at Dexter, I believe he broke his code. Maybe not the letter of it, but definitely the spirit of it. Furthermore, I considered his "gotta protect Debra" rationalization a poor one--given that he was the one responsible for her situation!

SEASON 8 SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my thoughts on season 8 after the photo below.

Update 4/25/2013: Watched Showtime's sneak peek of a cereal aisle scene in the eighth and final season of "Dexter". Man, was Dexter really that oblivious to why Debra hates him? I guess in my head, I role-played him saying apologetic things like "I failed you as a brother" and "I don't expect you to forgive me". Maybe coming from a sociopath, that would sound insincere. Update 5/1/2013: Awesome promo videos online for season 8. One shows a time lapse of Dexter, and another shows a time lapse of Debra. Basically, both characters start out beaming and then...deteriorate.

Update 7/12/2013: Man, that Dexter's becoming a real menace. And for Dr. Evelyn Vogel to extol him shows that she's too good to be true. :)

Update 7/22/2013 ("Scar Tissue" spoiler alert): Entertainment Weekly totally spoiled that scene for me where Debra pulled Dexter out of the car. I had no idea how the car would end up in the lake though, despite that glaring clue in the "Previously on Dexter" segment. Funny how disappointed I am in Debra even though Dexter probably deserved all that and worse. For some reason it's hard to stay mad at him. :P As for Jamie's new friend, I don't think she's Dexter's type. Unlike Debra's "date men who aren't Dexter" complex, Dexter simply seems to prefer blondes. :)

Update 7/29/2013 ("This Little Piggy" spoiler alert): That's unprecedented how (justifiably) mad Dexter got at Debra. I actually felt like he forgave her too quickly, even though I did think he should forgive both her and Vogel eventually. After all, where else is Dexter going to find people who can be trusted with his secret? Side note: Way to channel Jason Voorhees. :)

Update 8/6/2013 ("A Little Reflection" spoiler alert): I see Dexter remembered the steak dinner in which Debra inadvertently talked him out of turning himself in. That's when she made that comment about the steak being "worth living for". (I only remembered that because it came from one of my favorite all-time episodes.) In contrast, Dexter seems to have forgotten what happens when he spares peoples' lives...again. :(

Update 8/13/2013 ("Dress Code" spoiler alert): Still feels like season 8 is playing it safe. I don't see them building toward a big series finale yet. Plus now that we're up to five different characters who have accepted Dexter's secret, Dexter included, I feel like this series has grown tepid.

Update 8/19/2013 ("Are We There Yet?" spoiler alert): Good riddance to that protégé storyline...although Dr. Vogel seems like the top suspect, I find it implausible that she'd have the strength to bludgeon Cassie to death. Cassie's self-proclaimed boyfriend, on the other hand, sure makes me suspicious given that I don't recall Cassie ever acknowledging any kind of romance between them. As for Dexter and Hannah, I get sad thinking about their doomed love affair. But who knows--in a show known for its twisted irony, they might actually live happily ever after.

Update 8/27/2013 ("Make Your Own Kind of Music" spoiler alert): It now seems highly unlikely to me that Dr. Vogel will survive past the series finale. Not sure Hannah will survive either, unless the show goes with a black comedic ending. I feel sorry for Debra...after everything she's done for Dexter, he hardly confides in her at all (in stark contrast to Hannah).

Update 9/9/2013 ("Goodbye Miami" spoiler alert): Dang, the final season of "Breaking Bad" has been so phenomenal that it's made the final season of "Dexter" seem boring by comparison!

Update 9/16/2013 ("Monkey In A Box" spoiler alert): Argh! This Dexter's gotten soft, and I don't like it one bit. I also hate how he and Debra restored their old relationship as if LaGuerta never happened. P.S. Good to see Rita's friend again. I always wondered what happened to her after the wedding.

Update 9/23/2013 ("Remember the Monsters?" spoiler alert): Worst "Dexter" episode ever. It's a travesty what the writers did to Debra. Utterly senseless. And why was Dexter's monster taking the blame when it was his humanity that caused it! After that choice he made at the end, I felt like I had suffered through Dexter's season of "Kumbaya" for nothing.

Update 9/24/2013: Here's how I would have ended "Dexter": first and foremost, I would not let Debra get over LaGuerta. In my alternate ending, Debra would finally resolve to stop Dexter (like maybe he causes Batista's death too or something) and corner him at a cliff. But then Dexter, out of remorse, would jump to his own death instead...his body never to be found.

Everybody Dies...
05/29/12 4:05 PM PDT

...but not everyone (especially House) truly lives!

Did anyone catch House's inside joke to "Dead Poets Society"? It co-starred Robert Sean Leonard--the same actor who plays Wilson--and in the context of the "House, M.D." series finale, put an ironic twist on "Carpe diem!"

Interesting how intellectual the finale was after such an emotionally draining penultimate episode. If I ever had to eulogize House, it'd have to be a roast because coming up with even one redeeming quality would stump me. :(

Also if I were House, I'd be deathly afraid of oblivion. And I wouldn't find a life dedicated to solving puzzles very satisfying either. He should try living vicariously. :)

P.S. I still find it odd how pretty much every woman in House's life came back, including Stacy (Sela Ward), but not Cuddy.

As for the "Awake" series finale, I found that ending completely illogical...but can live with it. I initially thought that they must've just tacked the scene on--but apparently, according to the show's creator, they shot it long before cancellation.

I concluded a couple of things about the "Awake" series before I gave up trying to decipher it (minor spoiler alert):

Watched movie: "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2012)
Despite the ensemble British cast, this movie still struck me as one of those cringeworthy comedies wherein old people embarrass themselves trying to act young again. I especially frowned at how they just uprooted themselves and blew their life savings on a fresh start in India. What about their families? Everything felt way too "Hollywood" for me, from the love story between those two Indian stereotypes to the racist old lady magically cured of her prejudices. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Battleship" (2012) in Cinemark XD
Pretty bad...but I guess what else did I expect. Maybe if I liked Naval combat and HALO, I'd have appreciated the movie more. I only liked the part where the ships, in the spirit of the Battleship game, had to (inexplicably) fight each other blind.

To my discomfort, the plot never explained why the aliens came to Earth, and why they only seemed to target machinery. I'm not even convinced that the aliens meant harm, given that hostilities only flared whenever the Navy opened fire. For all we know, the aliens felt really indignant that Earth invited them with a beacon only to wage war upon them. Stay after the credits. Rating: 4

Watched movie: "Men in Black 3" (2012) in 3D
Entertaining sequel highlighted by the comedic stylings of Will Smith. I thought the time travel stuff was a total mess, but certainly not unusual for a MIB movie. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Chernobyl Diaries" (2012)
I think a real-life documentary about Chernobyl and radiation would've scared me way more than this second-rate horror flick. When it comes to radiation, I don't even like getting dental x-rays. Rating: 4
Quarter Quell (inside joke to Hunger Games fans)
05/18/12 5:24 PM PDT

It gave me mixed feelings to hear that the 25th season of Survivor, "Survivor: Philippines", will seed each of three tribes with one past medical evacuee. Might as well just call it "Survivor: Do we have to suffer another season with Colton?" :) It'd be cool if Jonathan Penner returned at least.

A couple of my own suggestions for future Survivor seasons:

Survivor: Smarter Planet
A cast of nothing but intellectuals, like chess players, psychologists, ex-politicians, or intelligence officers.
Survivor: Babel
A truly diverse international cast where no one speaks the same language. If that's too crazy to film, then I'd settle for a truly diverse international cast that speaks English. :)

NBC cancelled "Awake". I wonder if that means that the upcoming season finale will leave the series open-ended. Here's how I think they should end it: make the "green" reality a dream (meaning Rex died in the car crash), and have Det. Britten live on in the "red" reality with his sweet wife (whom he can always have more kids with) and their future grandchild. :)

"House, M.D." ends next week too. I found the penultimate episode pretty heartwrenching. After House insisted that no afterlife exists, it dawned on me why he never resorted to suicide (dunno why it took me so long to make that connection). Personally, I never understood why House couldn't just get that leg amputated if the pain bothered him so much. But I guess curing House's misery would mean no more show.

I recently spotted a raccoon outside our cafeteria in broad daylight, raiding a trash can. Guess they're getting bolder.

Watched movie: "Dark Shadows" (2012)
Pretty standard Tim Burton film full of pale, eccentrically comical characters. I found Johnny Depp's behavioral similarities to Charles Montgomery Burns particularly amusing. The Victoria Winters storyline really confused me--but I guess I shouldn't dwell on it given that the movie's based on a soap opera (apparently, the original character even travelled through time). Side note: Cool gothic music. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Sound of My Voice" (2012)
Similar to Brit Marling's other 2011 Sundance film, "Another Earth", in that nothing too memorable happened until the end. This time she plays an unsettling cult leader who alleges--unconvincingly--that she travelled back in time from 2054. I say "unconvincingly" because even though she established that she wouldn't be born until 2030, her descriptions of our future sucked pretty badly. Granted, I'd have trouble proving to the people of 1956 that I travelled from 2012, but at least I could spill anything I could remember (even though they couldn't easily verify anything I said). Why would I even risk changing history though--I'd probably just lay low. Rating: 5
Mockingjay (spoiler alert)...such morbid irony
05/13/12 12:07 AM PDT

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my review after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll down unless you're ok with spoilers to the conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy!

Read book: "Mockingjay" (2010) by Suzanne Collins

Remember the good old days when all Katniss had to worry about were Hunger Games? :P

"Mockingjay"...bar none the most depressing novel I've ever read. I still can't believe that this young adult book, slated to become a PG-13 movie, delved into such gore, murder, and despair. To my discomfort, Katniss spent most of the book either traumatized, sedated, hospitalized, scarred, bloodthirsty, or completely suicidal.

I particularly hated how she kept throwing herself on the front lines...so much so that it hurt my enjoyment of the book. Finnick seriously ticked me off too, when he inexplicably volunteered to play "Hurt Locker". I felt like that whole Willy Wonka mission wasted lives and wasted time (both theirs and mine).

In others words, I felt like Katniss had nothing left to prove and indirectly got a lot of good people killed. Other than that...good book. :) Rating: 7

Avengers SMASH
05/08/12 5:28 PM PDT

Crazy. "The Avengers" made over 200 million dollars in its opening weekend, and shattered the box office record set by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2". The IMAX screenings, 3-D upcharge, and midnight showings no doubt helped. Unsuprisingly, Disney/Marvel has since green-lighted a sequel. I still feel bad for the Disney chairman who resigned over that "John Carter" flop. It's like, John who? Maybe the film could've done better had they stuck with the original title, "A Princess of Mars"?

Watched movie: "Marvel's The Avengers" (2012) in 3D
Although the semi-illogical plot and technogadgetry threatened to overload my brain, I felt that overall Joss Whedon wove everything together pretty well. If I had my way, Robert Downey Jr. would appear in all of Marvel's movies, though to my amusement the Hulk might have upstaged him this time around. :) P.S. Scarlett Johansson and that peashooter looked really out of place in that warzone. Stay after the credits. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" (2012) in 3D
Often times British humor escapes me, but I found this claymation decently funny (albeit historically inaccurate). Rating: 6
Catching Fire (spoiler alert)...breaking point
05/03/12 2:33 PM PDT

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my review after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll down unless you're ok with spoilers to the Hunger Games sequel!

Read book: "Catching Fire" (2009) by Suzanne Collins

Remember the good old days when all Katniss had to worry about was starvation? :P

I found the book title's metaphor apropos, as that heinous Capitol really made my blood boil (to the point where I even had trouble sleeping). They need to burn that Capitol to the ground--that's all there is to it.

Overall, I felt that the novel started slowly but then got awesomely good in the second half. Much as I hate those Hunger Games, I couldn't help but admire how fascinating that the 75th annual games were. Like one big puzzle from the pattern of the deathtraps to the Tributes' bewildering (and heartbreaking) acts of self-sacrifice. Hopefully, the movie will help clarify all that mayhem at the end.

Katniss and her once-cute tendency to assume the worst actually vexed me this time around. It's like, just report the facts and stop biasing them with your negative, teenage conclusions. :P Eventually, I found her thoughts so dark and fatalistic that I seriously began worrying about her mental stability. But given that I'd probably suffer a nervous breakdown one mile in her shoes, I tried not to judge her too harshly. :)

In conclusion, it seems pretty clear to me that Katniss should pick Peeta over Gale. Even though I often gagged at Peeta's lovesick comments, I found his speech about the locket downright moving. Rating: 9

Fire burning
04/27/12 6:28 PM PDT

I saw "The Hunger Games" yet again, this time in Cinemark XD. Ever since I read I book, I've found myself appreciating the movie more and more. In fact, I could even argue that Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Katniss gave me more insight into the character than Katniss' own words!

I still find all that suffering in Panem rather poignant, and think that it really speaks to the human condition. I also felt that the film did a lot of things well:

I'm currently reading "Catching Fire" bit by bit. It's not like the first novel where I couldn't put it down--however, thanks to my lack of willpower, I'll more than likely be done by the time London rolls around. :P

Best in the west
04/20/12 5:38 PM PDT

As part of Best Buy's closure of 50 stores in 2012, looks like one of my favorite stores will permanently close next month. It's going to get harder and harder to buy WWE DVDs. :P

In one bit of good news, a new Seattle's Best Coffee store opened near my apartment. I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder because man their classic mocha tasted good.

Now that Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE, I'll have a hard time suspending disbelief that anyone on the roster can beat him. Actually, I had trouble suspending disbelief even before he won the UFC Championship. The guy looks like a hulking freak of nature.

Watched movie: "Lockout" (2012)
In terms of plot holes, I think this movie had more holes than plot. For starters, I couldn't fathom the United States green-lighting a space prison when nowadays it won't even fund Space Shuttle missions. :( Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Cabin in the Woods" (2012)
An amusing, unpredictable comedic horror mystery from the people who did "Buffy" and "Angel", which satirizes the horror genre much like "Buffy" and "Angel" did (and also features two of the cast members). Best to know nothing about the plot going in. Side note: Maybe I missed it, but do those scientists take any precautions to ensure that the "virgin" never dies before everyone else? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Three Stooges" (2012)
Vintage slapstick comedy that I found disturbing and abusive despite my efforts to switch my brain off. Dude, Moe ran a chainsaw against Curly and stuck a "Jersey Shore" character's head in a microwave--that's like, attempted murder. Props to Larry David--I thought his bitter nun character made a great foil. Rating: 6
The coming of attractions 2012
04/13/12 2:51 PM PDT

I compiled a new list of coming attractions that interest me in 2012:

"The Avengers" (May 4, 2012)
Hope it lives up to all that post-credit teasing.
"Safety Not Guaranteed" (June 8, 2012)
Two writers investigate a classified ad to travel back in time.
"Brave" (June 22, 2012)
The obligatory Pixar film.
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (June 22, 2012)
The latest from Timur Bekmambetov, director of "Night Watch" and "Wanted".
"Ice Age: Continental Drift" (July 13, 2012)
Looks funny so far.
"The Dark Knight Rises" (July 20, 2012)
The conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.
"Resident Evil: Retribution" (September 14, 2012)
I basically have it on my to-see list as a formality. At least Paul Anderson is directing it.
Update 4/15/2012: "Looper" (September 28, 2012)
From the director of "Brick": a hitman, hired to kill people whom the mob sends from the future, discovers that the latest target is his future self (who oddly enough, resembles Bruce Willis).
"Cloud Atlas" (October 2012)
A collaboration by the directors of "The Matrix" and "Run Lola Run". That's enough for me.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (December 14, 2012)
Awesome trailer.
"Zero Dark Thirty" (December 19, 2012)
In military time, 0030 hours. I think soldiers pronounce it Oh Dark Thirty. Anyhow, it's about the Navy Seal mission to kill Osama bin Laden, from the director who did "The Hurt Locker". I'm there dude.
Watched movie: "Wrath of the Titans" (2012) in IMAX 3D
"Clash of the Titans" sequel with such flimsy character development that to understand their motivations, I felt like I needed a rundown on their mythological backstories...and even those, the movie took liberties with. Also to my dismay, I found out afterward that Perseus' queen wasn't some new demigod character like I originally thought--she was that human princess whom he had rescued in the previous film. What! Did it not occur to Perseus that bringing her along would totally jeopardize her safety?! Side note: What's with that mechanical owl? Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Serbuan Maut" a.k.a. "The Raid: Redemption" (2012)
Wildly violent Indonesian martial arts flick wherein SWAT team survivors, trapped inside of a druglord's apartment building, fight to survive an onslaught of gangs. Like my favorite Bruce Lee movie "Game of Death", each gang seemed to specialize in a specific form of combat such as automatic weapons, machetes, or Pencak Silat. As for the protagonist--he seemed so lethal with a knife that I wondered why he didn't just fight with one for the remainder of the movie. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Le gamin au vélo" (2011) a.k.a. "The Kid with a Bike" (2012)
Critically acclaimed co-winner of the Grand Prix about a 12-year-old boy who can't seem to reconcile his father's abandonment. I hardly felt any emotion at all, and spent most of the film frowning at the kid's insolence and wondering why the heck he never locked up his bike. Rating: 5
The Hunger Games (spoiler alert)...may the odds get even
04/07/12 7:20 PM PDT

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of hiding everything with a spoiler tag, I appended my review after the graphic below. Warning! Do not scroll down unless you're ok with Hunger Games spoilers!

Read book: "The Hunger Games" (2008) by Suzanne Collins

Now I understand why "Hunger Games" fans flocked to the midnight screenings. I found this novel so addictive that I read all 374 pages in less than two days!

The main character Katniss impressed me and struck me as a great teenage role model. Granted, she did seem sullen, hostile, and cynical--but I admired how deeply she inspired people without even trying to. I also respected how she and Gale provided for their starving families even if it meant jeopardizing themselves more and more at Reapings.

Thanks to the book's first person narrative, I finally got valuable insight into her fiercely guarded thoughts. Namely:

The movie followed the book pretty closely except for all those new cinematic scenes outside of the Hunger Games that Katniss might have imagined, but never could have witnessed. Also, my favorite parts differed. In the movie, I couldn't forget that heartbreaking scene where Katniss, looking very vulnerable, entered the elevator tube. In the book, it moved me how the crowd at Katniss' Reaping refused to applaud and instead raised three fingers (a gesture of deep respect that the movie neglected to explain).

Other details I found noteworthy:

In conclusion, I look forward to the next two novels in the trilogy and plan to read them during my London flights. Rating: 9

WrestleMania XXVIII: Miami heat
04/04/12 11:28 AM PDT

Great weather at the outdoor venue for WrestleMania XXVIII (28). No issues with sunburn, humidity, rain, or wind. Helluva show, too. I honestly could not predict whether The Rock or John Cena would win. Had the match occurred anywhere else but The Rock's hometown, I probably would have predicted Cena.

Even though I always favored The Undertaker to extend his winning streak to 20-0, the false finishes still kept me riveted. Awesomely emotional ending where they all left arm-in-arm. It took me a long while to come down from something so weighty. To all the critics out there who think Undertaker should retire, what'chu talkin' bout? These past few WrestleManias, he's been having the best matches of his career!

I found it curious how the WrestleMania crowd kept chanting Daniel Bryan's "Yes! Yes! Yes!" proclamation instead of Ric Flair's "Wooo!" I heard "Yes! Yes! Yes!" the entire time I was waiting in line; I heard "Yes! Yes! Yes!" the entire time I sat in Sun Life Stadium waiting for the show, and I heard "Yes! Yes! Yes!" throughout the show. Tragically, Daniel Bryan ended up jobbing in possibly the shortest World Heavyweight Championship Match in WrestleMania history.

The first and only outdoor Hell in a Cell
End of an Era
Ouch
Times when I can remember anyone kicking out of the DX finisher: zero
COBRA!
Rock vs. John Cena
A-Rod
Rock Bottom on that fruity pebble, John Cena
People's Elbow...when photographed, looks like Rock slipping on a banana peel
The People's Champ

In conclusion, that marks my last WrestleMania unless something astronomical happens like Stone Cold coming out of retirement. I think I'll mostly miss that payoff when I gingerly walk back to my hotel room and gorge on the food and drinks that I purchased beforehand.

Small talk minimalist me
03/31/12 11:13 PM PDT

Earlier this evening, I met WWE legend Mick Foley in person at a WrestleMania Axxess autograph signing. Dressed in a suit and tie, he sleepily autographed a photo of himself and our conversation went something like, "Nice to meet you." Then I broke a chair over him. Just kidding.

WrestleMania's almost here.

The grandest stage of them all
03/29/12 4:01 PM PDT

Time flies. The WrestleMania trip that I planned a year ago finally happens this weekend. My flight to Miami departs tomorrow. Here's a sneak peek of the stadium that will host WrestleMania on Sunday:

Watched movie: "The Hunger Games" (2012)
Despite the familiar premise, i.e., a protagonist who fights in a literal "Survivor" game show without ever having to kill anyone nice, I felt that the plot distinguished itself by establishing political undertones and making the protagonist's public image a top priority. Was it just me, or did that classist, image obsessed society seem like a clownish mimicry of our own? :)

I liked how Woody Harrelson primed us for the villains' Elmer Fudd-type behavior by calling them arrogant--but apparently he neglected to mention that they'd turn out as dumb as doorknobs too. Why did they trust Peeta? Why did they booby trap their own supplies and then act all shocked when their supplies blew up?!

All in all, I enjoyed the movie even though I was less interested in the Hunger Games' outcome than I was in the Hunger Games' downfall. Side note: I'm glad the camera eventually stopped shaking.

Update 4/7/2012: Raised my rating after watching the movie in IMAX and then in D-BOX. The D-BOX wasted my money though, as the only memorable motion effects came during the firestorm. Oddly, the chair reclined and slung forward anytime Katniss shot an arrow. Rating: 8

Ratones y hombres
03/23/12 3:10 PM PDT

Not sure why, but nowadays when I see movies (particularly ones in San Francisco), I like arriving really early. As a result, I sometimes end up sitting all alone in a quiet theater. Which is fine--except for those rare occasions when a mouse mistakes the theater as empty, and begins zipping up and down the floor. A couple of weeks ago, a mouse actually approached me inside the Opera Plaza Cinema (and I could've sworn it was looking at me). I don't really mind mice...but just like in that movie "Ratatouille", they do make a place feel unsanitary.

Watched movie: "21 Jump Street" (2012)
A pretty dumbed-down parody of the original 80's series, complete with an irreverent death scene for two of the original cops. Fortunately I never cared for the original 80's series. :) I would've rated it higher, but disliked how serious that some of the scenes got. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Casa de mi Padre" (2012)
Not completely sure what this movie spoofed, as it had the soapiness of a telenovela but the production quality of a low-budget Mexploitation film (including mannequin stand-ins, cheap sets, and continuity holes). Either way, Will Ferrell's Spanish and screen presence actually impressed me. It got me to thinking that they should've just filmed a real Spanish melodrama instead of a blatantly fake one. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Better Angels
03/17/12 6:50 PM PDT

Ever since The Rock returned to WWE, I've found his promos phenomenal. I'd go so far as to call them the best I've ever heard. Did his time in Hollywood improve his charisma? Does he have a team of joke writers? Does he read crib notes? Whatever the secret formula, John Cena desperately needs to follow suit. He's getting demolished out there.

This WrestleMania could go down as one of the greatest of all time.

Wonder what those coincidences between the two realities mean in "Awake"? I'm still watching it, hoping that the series turns a corner like "Lost" and "Babylon 5" once did.

I feel like "The Walking Dead" really stepped up in quality this season. Suddenly every episode got really good. It still shocks me whenever a character dies. I suspect that's why I still have trouble remembering their names--because I don't want to get too attached to them. Sometimes those teasers catch me off guard too. Although most of them follow the series chronology, once in awhile they show a scene from the past or a scene in the future. I guess that's their way of setting the tone for each episode.

P.S. Rick's son is going to grow up so screwed up.

Watched movie: "Silent House" (2012)
In theory, a horror movie presented as one continuous take sounded compelling. In practice, it sucked. The camera movement and focus hurt my head, and I often got confused about what was happening onscreen. Furthermore, because my brain couldn't shake the image of a cameraman following Elizabeth Olsen around, I never considered her in any real danger. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "John Carter" (2012) in IMAX 3D
Like "Dune" but shallower--not just because of the formulaic plot developments, but because I felt that nothing got explained very well. For instance, why could John Carter suddenly understand the Martians' language? Why couldn't the god-like villains just smite him? Since when did Mars have a river, air, airships, and humanoids on it? Side note: Even though I enjoyed watching John Carter adopt to Martian gravity (which I personally experienced during my parabolic flight), I frowned that no one else could leap like him. Gravity does not discriminate. :( Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Kill List" (2011-2012)
A cringeworthy horror flick littered with grisly violence and stupid tantrums that sullied my brain. Also, I could nary understand any of their British dialects. Rating: 5
Well, well, well.
03/11/12 12:56 AM PST

Caught up on some of last year's movies. Been awhile since I saw a Shakespeare one. In all honesty, his words go right over my head. I once played Hamlet's father too, in high school. The interesting takeaway from that experience: that even though I recited my monologues word for word, I'm pretty certain that nobody in the audience understood any of it. They only seemed to remember the parts where my character's temperament flared and cooled.

Since then, I've forgotten all of my lines but one: "List, list, O, list!" It's the line that made the least amount of sense to me, and I had no clue how my character should deliver it. So...I just put my own spin on it.

Watched movie: "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011)
I have a counterproposal--that we talk about Kevin's boneheaded parents. Hellllo...your son is a sociopath! Granted, he just seemed obstinate at first...but when a boy doesn't react to his arm breaking in two, that's not just a sign--that's a flashing neon sign. I haven't seen a movie that disturbing in quite some time. The evil-eyed kid (and all that foreshadowing) chilled me to the core. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Rampart" (2011)
Pretty hard to believe that a cop with that much scandal could remain on active duty. I found the movie ok, but got kind of bored with the Woody Harrelson character's personal life. Also disliked some of the directing, and felt shortchanged by the lack of closure. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Coriolanus" (2011)
Testosterone-fueled Shakespeare adaptation wherein an inexplicably self-destructive war hero defects to his sworn enemy's army. Later he learns humility, hugs it out with everyone, and lives happily ever after. Ok, maybe that last part didn't happen. :) Rating: 6
Move over Zapatera tribe
03/08/12 10:28 AM PST

Manono tribe? Ma-"dodo" tribe. I could probably write some tirade about why I consider their forfeiture of tribal immunity the stupidest move in all of Survivor history, but it's like--why even dignify it?

Once in a lifetime
03/04/12 9:11 PM PST

Remember two years ago when I starred in a zero gravity ad inside the March 15, 2010 edition of Forbes magazine? Well, that exact same ad appeared again in the February 27, 2012 edition of Forbes magazine. Can you believe the irony? The worst nausea of my life, when photographed, translated into a look of such unadulterated joy that the company made me of the face of zero gravity (and probably made millions of dollars off my likeness).

In other news...despite some mighty slim pickings, I finally negotiated a front row WrestleMania ticket. Granted, it cost more than any WrestleMania I've ever attended, but the two dream matches make it worth my while.

Hopefully this marks the last time I have to comb for a WrestleMania ticket. Aside from the anxiety of coming up empty-handed each day, it tortures me having to trust strangers. Although I only got ripped off a handful of times (and recovered what I lost in almost every case), I always carry this fear in the pit of my stomach that I'll receive an empty envelope--or like in that one case--an I.O.U. (Thanks to that I.O.U. fiasco, I now bypass any and all sellers that do not have the ticket in hand.)

Additionally, in the back of my mind, I worry about counterfeit tickets. But this one looks legit. I authenticated it by comparing it to a similar one on youtube. Side note: To all you Internet users who felt the need to film your WrestleMania tickets, I thank you. :)

On a final note, I think the WWE is engineering something special to hold the Hell in a Cell. Hope it doesn't collapse on top of me. :P

Watched movie: "Gone" (2012)
Alright but nothing memorable, other than maybe that main character's talent for lying. Not much of a role for Jennifer Carpenter. Rating: 5
Watched TV episode: "Awake" pilot
Pretty much like "Jacob's Ladder" or for you "Lost" fans out there, the sixth season (including the same kid who played Jack's son) . It starts with a car crash and then follows a police detective as he uncontrollably alternates between two realities--one where only his wife survived the crash and one where only his son survived the crash. Interesting premise but unfortunately, I found both of his realities equally boring. Rating: +1/2
Watched movie: "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" (2012) in Tree-D
Stylishly animated and fun to watch (except for that one majorly depressing sequence near the middle). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Kari-gurashi no Arietti" (2010) a.k.a. "The Secret World of Arrietty" (2012)
Another cute, funny, and hearttugging anime by Studio Ghibli. I liked all the little details from the ants to the idling car. P.S. That crow and the Carol Burnett character, man...psycho. :) Rating: 7
Non-negotiable
02/27/12 12:02 AM PST

Sweet...I successfully predicted all six of the Oscar winners this time. That makes my record for the last three Oscar races (a.k.a. the races with nine or more Best Picture nominees) 17-1.

I felt particularly vindicated that I stood by Meryl Streep even when the odds began mounting against her. Ever since I had screened "The Iron Lady" at its midnight premiere, I could see a third Oscar in her grasp.

I also knew I had seen something special when I screened "The Artist". I would've been dismayed if another film (or George Clooney, for that matter) had won.

Finally, props to "A Separation". It marks the first and only time that I managed to screen a foreign language Oscar winner before it got nominated.

Watched movie: "Act of Valor" (2012) in D-BOX
A corny but satisfying action film that to my relief, didn't seem like an army recruitment video (though it did feel like a video game at times). Also, since the movie cast actual active duty U.S. Navy SEALs, I didn't really dwell on their acting ability or suspiciously pejorative vocabulary. :) P.S. Quite the ethnic rainbow of terrorists there. Rating: 7
Watched On Demand movie: "Perfect Sense" (2011-2012)
Extremely disquieting love story wherein all people on Earth gradually begin losing each of their five senses. Instead of chronicling the fall of civilization, however, this director focused more on how society endured and adopted to each new disability. Such a romantic. :) Dude, you can take away my smell, taste, hearing, and maybe even touch--but sight is a dealbreaker. Rating: 6
Male ego: one of the hardest substances on Earth
02/24/12 5:37 PM PST

So far I like how "Survivor: One World" has started off. One camp of women and one camp of men, feuding on the same beach. Funny how the women actually expected the men to go on with the immunity challenge. If the men had agreed to that, I would've likened them to that earlier foolhardy tribe that threw one of their challenges and lost everything.

Also, I felt that the women deserved no sympathy after they blatantly reneged on the chicken agreement. It was one thing to swipe an axe or to steal some fire back when there was no rule against it--but it was another to renege on an actual good faith agreement.

Amusingly, the one constructive deal that come out of the feud, wherein the women got fire without having to give up a chicken, was criticized as "shady".

Which reminds me...I'm really starting to notice a recurring pattern in Survivor gameplay that I don't much like. The castaways seem to rush into a five-person alliance near the beginning, and then shave it down after the merge. Borrring. I can't quite pinpoint where that trend started. (I can pinpoint where the "find the hidden idol early" trend started, though: Russell.)

In other news, I tabulated the music video rankings for 2H 2011. "Yonkers" fared badly.

The Devil's playground
02/21/12 1:01 PM PST

HELL...IN A CELLLLLL!

As they say in the wrestling community, a mark out moment! Well, not quite. I still need to get myself a WrestleMania ticket to actually see this match. But now I have every incentive to get one. Not everyday you see the two greatest Hell in a Cell specialists of all time settling who's better once and for all.

On a lesser note, we also have The Rock vs. John Cena on the card--or as I like to think of it, The Rock vs. poor man's Rock. :)

That match will undoubtedly headline the show.

I'll try wicked hard not to attend WrestleMania 29 at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, even though The Rock hinted that he'd appear. I dread what that city's weather would be like this time of year. The WWE sure pushes its luck with these outdoor venues (the last outdoor WrestleMania I attended almost got poured on).

Watched movie: "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (2012) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
A cheesy mess sandwiched with classic Nicolas Cage ham. I liked it. :) P.S. He didn't want a bee to sting the kid in the face...man that guy's funny. Rating: 6
Irredeemable, M.D.
02/13/12 5:17 PM PST

"House, M.D." ending this season? Good riddance. I can't stand the guy anymore. Just when I think he can't sink to a new low, he sinks to a new low. The most recent example: his indifference toward Chase in that last episode. Interestingly, that episode marks the third time where to my recollection, House actually apologized. But for me, an apology means squat if the person makes no effort to do better. By House's own admission, he'll never change.

I will give Dr. House one compliment, however: he makes the perfect cautionary tale for cynics like me. :)

Watched movie: "The Innkeepers" (2012)
Billed as a horror flick, but I saw it as more of a comedy in the same ballpark as "Coraline" (with the spooky noises reminding me of "Kairo"). The main ghost hunter (Sara Paxton) amused me the most, as my mind kept likening her to a dejected anime character. Hehe, I could totally relate to her encounter with the talkative barista. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Safe House" (2012)
Pretty good adrenaline ride reminiscent of "Bourne Ultimatum" and "3:10 to Yuma". Denzel Washington stole the show, of course. Gotta love his nonchalant gunfighting. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (1999) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Still one of my top favorite "Star Wars" films, and I say that unapologetically. :) Darth Maul rocks, and to me nothing else in the franchise compares to his lightsaber showdown with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Heck, if George Lucas had trimmed the movie and removed Jar Jar Binks, I'd probably consider this installment my all-time favorite! Side note: Still can't shake the image of Natalie Portman as a cradlerobber. :) Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da" (2011) a.k.a. "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (2012)
Akin to a road trip movie in that the authorities spent much of the time chitchatting as they caravaned through the countryside looking for a buried murder victim. The humor--well--I'd describe it as black, given that the characters' levity often struck me as both funny and inappropriate. A couple of things that left me puzzled: the lax security around the prisoners and why the doctor seemed preoccupied all the time. Rating: 6
Whitney Houston (1963-2012)
02/11/12 11:41 PM PST

Shocking--and yet, sadly, not shocking.

Currently listening to "One Moment In Time".

Armchair booking
02/06/12 5:27 PM PST

Looks like WWE wasted another potential WrestleMania match by airing it for free on TV: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan.

Other WrestleMania dream match opportunities that I felt the WWE wasted:

As for this upcoming WrestleMania, they need to book Undertaker vs. Triple H inside of Hell in a Cell. Make it happen WWE.

Side note: I loved Socko vs. Cobra at the Royal Rumble...that "dream match" hadn't occurred to me.

Watched movie: "The Woman in Black" (2012)
Nowhere near as entertaining as "Harry Potter". More like a duller, bluer version of "The Grudge". :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Chronicle" (2012)
Interesting "found footage" film that excelled at telekinetic special effects (most notably the high-altitude flying) and story build-up--but IMHO, fell short of its potential. Specifically, the movie went all "Akira" instead of finishing much stronger on the anti-bullying message. Also, the Steve and Casey characters went absolutely nowhere. As for the experimental way in which the "no holds barred" action jumped from camera to camera--that gave me mixed feelings. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "All About Eve" (1950)
Hehe, the quintessential film about female jealousy and mind games. Everything from false modesty to innuendos to wiles. And for some reason, I just couldn't stop smiling. Possibly because I've seen, experienced, and/or fled from this type of behavior all my life. I'm not just talking women either--it's everywhere. Rating: 7
Spoken like a true romantic
01/30/12 3:46 PM PST

"Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Says who? :) That's what crossed my mind when I watched the open-ended series finale of "Chuck". Although I hardly followed the show, I personally felt that Chuck should never have let himself fall for that hedgehog of a spy. :)

Don't get me wrong--I think it's ok to love--I just don't think someone should addict themselves to it so passionately that they'll shrivel up and die without it. Like in my mind, careers fall in that category. I seriously think that Joe Paterno gave up living because he couldn't coach football anymore.

Over the weekend, the Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild revealed their winners. So I'm now ready to disclose my own Oscar predictions for 2011:

Hope I fare better in my Oscar predictions than my Royal Rumble predictions. Yesterday I suffered my third consecutive loss.

Watched movie: "The Grey" (2012)
Not your everyday survival thriller in that faith versus atheism came into the forefront--for instance, the question of why them? when they survived a plane crash only to get hunted by wolves. Paradoxically, Liam Neeson played an atheist in search of meaning. Make sure to stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Man on a Ledge" (2012)
So contrived that I don't know where to begin. I couldn't even reconcile how Sam Worthington got convicted in the first place. Rating: 5
I guess we *don't* need to talk about Kevin
01/24/12 10:00 AM PST

Duh-nuh-nuh...duh...nuh-nuh-nuh. I scored myself a ticket to meet & greet Mick Foley the night before WrestleMania. Granted, I have no idea what to say to him--but it'll make for a great photo opportunity. Now I just need to secure a ticket to WrestleMania itself.

For this year's Royal Rumble Match, I predict Chris Jericho to win. He might even win without eliminating anyone, if the writers aibde by that shtick where he ostentatiously pumps up the crowd and then disappears.

Looks like I missed out on another Blindfold Match. From the year 2000 to now, I counted six Blindfold Matches in WWE. Five of them aired on TV unannounced. The one announced one actually took place less than an hour from my apartment...but tragically, it predated my decision to add Blindfold Match to my goals list. :(

In other news, I once again managed to screen every 2011 Best Picture nominee announced by the Academy. I'd rank them as follows:

  1. "The Artist" (My rating: 8)
  2. "Moneyball" (My rating: 8)
  3. "The Help" (My rating: 7)
  4. "War Horse" (My rating: 7)
  5. "The Descendants" (My rating: 7)
  6. "Hugo" (My rating: 7)
  7. "The Tree of Life" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Midnight in Paris" (My rating: 5)
  9. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (My rating: 5)

Pretty surprising that "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" made their cut.

Watched movie: "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) in 3D
Although I mainly just wanted to see the "Tangled Ever After" short (featuring the wedding of Flynn Rider and the criminally short-haired Rapunzel), I enjoyed screening this Disney classic again. I forgot how piercing Belle could be when she sang or steadied her gaze. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Underworld: Awakening" (2012) in IMAX 3D
Good to see Kate Beckinsale back as Selene and great to see her new powers in action. (Michael Corvin, on the other hand, came back totally useless.) Overall, I found the plot kind of sloppy as it just glossed over the girl's origin and why Selene and the human detective suddenly began working together (also how he could possibly know of Alexander Corvinus, the father of both the vampire and Lycan races). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Haywire" (2012)
A light Steven Soderbergh Bourne-type movie that from my perspective, mostly just showcased Gina Carano's mixed martial arts background. Rating: 6

Can someone explain to me why some people take pictures of themselves before a movie comes on? I simply don't get it. :(

Sweet dance grooves
01/16/12 5:03 PM PST

Just like "All My Children", the "One Life to Live" series finale ended with a cliffhanger. Soap operas. I didn't know the characters, so I had to look up what the ending meant.

Attended Cirque du Soleil show: "Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour"
Just think...I bought this ticket way back in November 2010 for $200. Was it worth my time and money? I'd say...sure. They did the moonwalk, "Smooth Criminal", and a thorough medley of his work (including the lesser known "Can You Feel It"), so I left the HP Pavilion happy. I never saw Michael Jackson in concert, so this show will be as close as I'll ever get. (Interestingly, I noticed that they managed to integrate the video footage from his "This Is It" tour.)

Funny how the Cirque du Soleil interpretation of Michael almost seemed like a parody. They had a mime and clowns imitating him, and a performer in a monkey suit scampering around. I think the giant sparkle glove, which danced and gestured to "Beat It", amused me the most.

All in all, quite the production. A lot of those acrobats and dancers seemed to defy gravity with ease. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Contraband" (2012) in Cinemark XD
As far as caper movies go, I'd put this one at the bottom of the barrel. That smuggling team didn't impress me at all. Other thoughts I had:
  • What on earth did the captain do to deserve a fate like that?
  • For the double-cross, Mark Wahlberg's friend got beat up--but for trying to bury the wife in cement, he got...the cold shoulder? That's showing him. :P
  • How would Mark Wahlberg be able to spend all that profit without getting caught?
Rating: 4
Watched TV episodes: "Napoleon Dynamite" premiere
They didn't get the humor right! It's gotta be more DEADPAN!! Those animators need more SKILLS!!! GOSH! Rating: +
366 days
01/10/12 4:08 PM PST

Kinda sucks when a fast food commercial comes on, and I can't even taste whatever they're advertising. But I take my New Year's resolutions pretty seriously. One time I swore off Mountain Dew, and lasted the entire year without a single sip. Then when New Year's came around again, I immediately downed a whole can.

The "Napoleon Dynamite" cartoon premieres this Sunday. Yessssss. Afterward, I'll probably end up talking like him for awhile. :)

Watched movie: "The Devil Inside" (2012)
Less like good "found footage" horror and more like bad reality TV. I probably got more scared watching an empty room in the "Paranormal Activity" series. P.S. That's gotta be the slowest end credit crawl ever. Rating: 4
Holiday movie marathon 2011
01/03/12 12:14 AM PST

Looks like Edwards Santa Maria 10 now shows all of its films in Sony Digital Cinema 4K. Sweet.

As my New Year's resolution for 2012, I resolved to avoid eating anything from a fast food restaurant. I hardly patronize fast food franchises anymore anyway, so I think I can accomplish the goal. But it'll mean giving up on some guilty pleasures of mine: the occasional strawberry shake, McDonald's breakfast sandwich, and McSkillet burrito. Two important exceptions: anything from Panda Express or the IBM cafeteria. I don't want to starve. :)

Watched movie: "Carnage" (2011)
John C. Reilly still rules...as for Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz--terribly annoying (I found the cell phone interruptions and carelessness with the barfing particularly offensive). Felt like I was trapped in the room with them, and kept wishing they would just part ways already (but alas, some new plot contrivance kept their conflict going and going). Got even worse when the alcohol came out. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Albert Nobbs" (2011)
A disconcerting drama in that Albert Nobbs' motivations confused me to no end. Why disguise herself as a male servant instead of a female servant? Why jeopardize everything for a straight wife rather than a life of freedom from hiding? P.S. She should really stop thinking out loud (imagine if Dexter did that). :) Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (2011)
Another fun, commanding performance by the incomparable Robert Downey Jr. I'm glad that the film managed to make his diabolical archnemesis, Prof. Moriarty, equally formidable. Though curiously, he sure seemed oblivious to Holmes' cartoonish disguises! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011) in 3D
Contrived but decently entertaining motion capture feat. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "War Horse" (2011)
A bit cornier than Spielberg's previous war movies IMHO, but emotional nonetheless. I liked how the horse unbiasedly befriended various caretakers around WWI France regardless of their allegiances. Though for some of those stories, I wanted more closure (for example, did Albert ever find romance?). Side note: That British cavalry looked sharp. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)
Although this remake by Fincher changed some of the plot points from the original, e.g., the relationship between Lisbeth and Blomkvist, I unfortunately knew what would happen for the most part. The remake also jobbed much of what I liked about the original. On the positive side, I liked the remake's crisp white scenery, the Nine Inch Nails-like score, and strong casting (except I haven't yet made up my mind about Rooney Mara's more human portrayal of Lisbeth). Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (2011)
Somber & uncomfortable to watch, but I guess what did I expect from a 9/11 movie. They didn't have to make the kid so overdramatic though. I thought at least Tom Hanks' mystery key would spark some kind of fun adventure, but the kid took everything so seriously that he ruined the whole experience for me. :( Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Iron Lady" (2011)
All the makings of a third Oscar for Meryl Streep. I'm thinking she might've even played Margaret Thatcher better than Margaret Thatcher herself! As for the narrative, I didn't like all that screen time on her mental deterioration. I'd rather have seen more flashbacks where she told people off, hehe. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Jodaeiye Nader az Simin" a.k.a. "A Separation" (2011)
An absorbing Oscar entry from Iran wherein a nasty dispute escalates between two Muslim couples. At times, I got so engrossed in the movie that I forgot it was only a movie. Basically I sided with the main husband the entire time. No way I could keep cool like him if someone got me charged with murder for shoving an intruder (who totally deserved it) out of my home. If I were him, I'd fight back by any means necessary. Actually, I reasoned that everything probably could've been resolved cleanly if not for that other husband, a hotheaded failure of a man. Oh, and that estranged wife of the main husband: totally selfish and unsupportive IMHO. So I hope that at the end, the daughter picked her father as the worthier parent. :P Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Darkest Hour" (2011) in 3D
Really similar to "Skyline" except that the aliens could incinerate human beings and cloak themselves from sight (though their presence lit up bulbs and electric devices). Decent action and judgement calls, but sometimes the dialogue got really bad. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Le Havre" (2011)
Peculiar Oscar entry from Finland wherein a stoic French shoeshiner harbors a stoic refugee boy with the help of some stoic friends. I'm thinking that if the characters hadn't acted like such robots, the film could've gotten really emotional. Rating: 6
Watched DVD: "John Carpenter's The Ward" (2011)
Dull enough to give me a sense as to why this movie practically went straight to DVD. Maybe I'm just not a John Carpenter fan. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "The Way" (2010-2011)
A long scenic film by Emilio Estevez that begins with his death and then follows the pilgrimage of his inexperienced father (Martin Sheen) from France to Spain. I personally didn't find much meaning in it, but did enjoy a lot of the comedic moments. Rating: 6
2011 Year in Review
12/22/11 8:28 PM PST
Best of 2011 Worst of 2011
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Enjoying an ice cream and "Fast Five" in D-BOX after hearing that the United States got Osama bin Laden.
  2. Finally seeing The Rock lay the smackdown at WrestleMania XXVII.
  3. Enjoying salmon, chowder, and mochas in Seattle (and cherry pie in North Bend).
  4. Rooting for the Bishop family at a live taping of the "Minute to Win It" level ten challenge.
  5. Watching Boston Rob win Survivor.
  1. Fighting motion sickness during my airplane's descent at ATL; then getting to smell the vomit of the kid in front of me.
  2. Losing Seattle's Best Coffee due to Borders closing.
  3. Lowering my opinion of Sundance Kabuki Cinemas after watching a rat scurry around the auditorium before "Martha Marcy May Marlene".
  4. Trying to snap pictures as morons stood up and down in front of me at WrestleMania XXVII.
  5. Receiving a traffic ticket for crossing a lane to make a right turn.
Movies
  1. "The Artist"
    "A charming and heart tugging silent film about, oddly enough, the decline of silent films."
  2. "Fast Five"
    "Ludicrous (no pun intended) but entertaining."
    "...I came back the very next day just to relive the experience."
  3. "Moneyball"
    "Hilariously dry...really fascinated me."
  4. "Evangelion: 2.0 You can (not) advance."
    "...full of familiar storylines...and pleasant surprises..."
  5. "Another Earth"
    "A so-so, occasionally insightful film that ended so brilliantly that I couldn't stop thinking about it."
  6. "50/50"
    "A funny and tearjerking movie that I don't think I could ever watch again."
  7. "The Ides of March"
    "A stirring and stressful political drama that even a cynic like me found gut-wrenching."
  8. "X-Men: First Class"
    "...a worthy prequel."
  9. "Kung Fu Panda 2"
    "Funnier, deeper, and more touching than the original movie IMHO."
  10. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
    "...successfully outshined the book..."
  1. "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
    "WTF, dude. WTF."
  2. "The Future"
    "Maybe performance art just doesn't appeal to me, because I found this whole film torturously lame."
  3. "The Art of Getting By"
    "Uninsightful Sundance film that basically made a mockery of my personal convictions."
  4. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
    "Analogous to Chinese water torture."
  5. "Quarantine 2: Terminal"
    "...could've easily passed for 'direct-to-video' were such a thing still to exist."
  6. "Paul"
    "Nowhere near as funny as..."
  7. "Dream House"
    "Poor excuse of a horror movie."
  8. "Larry Crowne"
    "A romantic comedy that I found neither romantic nor comical."
  9. "Terri"
    "...reminded me too much of my own cringeworthy adolescence."
  10. "The Devil's Double"
    "Sickening...started becoming too much."
Songs
  1. "A Real Hero" College f/ Electric Youth
  2. "Love You Like A Love Song" Selena Gomez & The Scene
  3. "Brighter Than The Sun" Colbie Caillat
  4. "Written In The Stars" Tinie Tempah f/ Eric Turner
  5. "Rolling in the Deep" Adele
  1. "Yonkers" Tyler, The Creator
  2. "Friday" Rebecca Black
  3. "Knock Knock" Mac Miller
  4. "Mrs. Right" Mindless Behavior
  5. "Boyfriend" Big Time Rush f/ Snoop Dogg
Honorable mention: "Thanks For Nothing" The Downtown Fiction
Music video "Party Rock Anthem" LMFAO f/ Lauren Bennett (tie) "The Lazy Song" Bruno Mars and "Yonkers" Tyler, The Creator
TV series (tie) "The Office" and "Survivor: Redemption Island" "WWE Superstars"
Commercial Jack Link's Beef Jerky commercial where snackers go messin' with Sasquatch using sprinklers. (tie) Cheerios commercial where blood pressure dieters sarcastically talk about the sacrifices of eating Cheerios, and Minute Maid commercial where airline employees pamper an orange juice drinker.
Movie trailer The Tree of Life

Honorable mentions: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Dark Knight Rises

(tie) Conan the Barbarian and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D
Dessert Our Strawberry Blonde at Cold Stone Creamery Pancake Puppies at Denny's
Watched On Demand movie: "Autoreiji" (2010) a.k.a. "Outrage" (2011)
Like "Goodfellas" but with yakuza. Man, I had absolutely no one to root for. Rotten apples, all of them. :P Rating: 6
Mission: Upstaged
12/19/11 10:44 PM PST

Sucks when the theater shows a preview so good that it steals the thunder from the feature presentation. Specifically, my excitement for "Mission: Impossible" waned once I saw the trailer to "The Dark Knight Rises". :(

Update 12/21/2011: Caught "The Dark Knight Rises" prologue yesterday at AMC Loews Metreon. Unintelligible. :( I'm thinking Bane might need subtitles.

Watched movie: "The Muppets" (2011)
Decently comical but in my judgment, completely overrated on rottentomatoes.com. Those critics must be smoking dope. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (2011) in IMAX
Decently thrilling M:I installment wherein the obligatory pre-self-destruct warning actually comes true--the whole IMF gets disavowed--and the agents resort to some crazy desperate escapades trying to stop a nuclear terrorist attack. Basically a page out of the "24" playbook. :) Side note: I think "MythBusters" would have a field day debunking that high-tech gadgetry. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "A Dangerous Method" (2011)
Not much horror for a Cronenberg movie, unless you count the horrific banality of Freud and Jung as they intellectualized everything. What a couple of bores. :) Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (2011)
Possibly the slowest, most minimalist spy thriller I have ever seen...yet curiously, the actors made it intriguing to watch. I particular liked the scenes where that stoic Gary Oldman "owned" people. :) Interesting how we never got to see his wife or evil archnemesis. Rating: 7
Dearly devoted Debra
12/13/11 4:05 PM PST

Actually had trouble sleeping after last Sunday's episode of "Dexter". I think I'm worried that after five great seasons, one of my favorite shows is about to jump the shark.

My misgivings actually started in the very first scene of season six. I felt that Dexter did something unusually reckless. From there, I began growing more and more critical of Dexter's risks--risks that I found pretty careless for someone who dedicated his whole life to avoiding death by electric chair/lethal injection. As the saying goes, "loose lips sink ships".

Update 12/19/2011: Man, what a sadistic way to end this arguably throwaway season. I have to wait 9 months now?? :(

Watched movie: "Young Adult" (2011)
Another enjoyable dramedy from the minds behind "Juno", wherein Charlize Theron plays an amusingly shallow young adult ghostwriter. The film got in my head in that I couldn't stop reflecting upon what that flawed character ultimately learned (or more accurately, didn't learn). Rating: 7

If someone provoked me hard enough, I could see myself thinking much like the Charlize Theron character. :) I still remember a couple of occasions where someone called my job as a technical writer "boring". First of all, how rude do you have to be to call someone's livelihood "boring" right to their face. Second of all, I don't have to defend my career to some nobody (of course, I couldn't say any of that aloud because one of them was a little kid and the other one was closely related to an in-law). :)

So yeah, as a fellow writer I highly respected what the Charlize Theron character accomplished. Granted, her actual name on the cover might've given her ego more strokes, but I think people would've forgotten her either way. :)

Mute button
12/07/11 6:07 PM PST

Man, I hate it when movie patrons discuss spoilers as they're walking out of the theater. I find that making my eyes wander helps my brain to block the voices out. Telling myself not to listen doesn't seem to work for me. :P

Thinking back, it's a good thing I wasn't looking forward to "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn". I think Part 1 set some kind of spoiler record for me. First, a co-worker gave away the central plot twist; then I went on to see it in a magazine, an Internet article, and the official trailer. :P If that wasn't bad enough, the reception I heard in the audience when Bella pitched a certain baby name totally clued me in to its gender!

Watched movie: "The Artist" (2011)
A charming and heart tugging silent film about, oddly enough, the decline of silent films. Specifically, the movie juxtaposed a rising young actress with her starcrossed love interest, a sinking silent actor. Thanks to some terrific acting, I hardly even missed the spoken dialogue (even the intertitles seemed unnecessary at times). Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Shame" (2011)
Talk about lascivious. :P My brain became desensitized and had trouble processing the film. I think the sex addict's dysfunctional relationship with his sister perplexed me the most. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "My Week with Marilyn" (2011)
Although I never really understood the appeal of Marilyn Monroe, it always intrigues me whenever a woman comes along whom no man can resist. And in the case of this movie, when someone dares to criticize her misbehavior, e.g., the renowned Laurence Olivier, people think him mean! :D Funny stuff. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Arthur Christmas" (2011) in 3D
Another family film that struck me as misguided. Kids, you should grow up to be like Steve--not like Arthur, Santa, or Grandsanta. :) Rating: 5
I bought nothing
11/30/11 3:49 PM PST

Despite huge gains in the U.S. stock market today and the eroding affect of inflation, I still haven't invested a large chunk of my life savings. Why, you ask? Well--ever since that last U.S. recession scare, I grew attached to the comforting notion that neither a market crash nor a bad investment could ever take that money away.

Watched movie: "Hugo" (2011) in 3D
A wondrous departure from the usual Scorsese grit that explored the marvels of invention and imagination. Though personally, when I compare the magician's silent movies to that amazing robot he engineered, I think he totally missed his calling! Rating: 7
Watched movie: "We Bought a Zoo" (2011)
A feel-good family (?) film that pushed the envelope with foul language, dark teenage behavior (including one seriously hair-raising argument), and IMHO a misguided message about living impulsively. If you ask me, Matt Damon set a bad example when he blew his family's life savings on a zoo. :( Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Swell Season" (2011)
Slow-moving black-and-white documentary about the couple from that slow-moving movie "Once", Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. It mostly covered their concert tour rather than the filming of "Once", that weird Oscar speech snafu, or their guest spot on "The Simpsons". My favorite part: the scenes where Glen Hansard's parents gushed with pride about his Oscar win. Man...if he seriously disliked his mother bragging about it, then I'd volunteer to take his place. I would liken his and Markéta's complaints about stardom to my own complaints about having too many vacation days. :) P.S. Although I wanted to see more of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová after "Once", I didn't want to see THAT much of them. :( Rating: 6
Abandon all hope
11/24/11 12:36 AM PST

Hmm...we're almost midway through the second season of "The Walking Dead", and I still don't know what that scientist whispered to Rick Grimes (last Sunday's episode torpedoed my top theory). The show's ok, but often times I get the urge to smack a character because I feel they lack vigilance or talk too freaking much--particularly the ones that get all melodramatic.

Update 12/1/2011: It still shocks me how no one in that show seems safe. Hate to say it, but that Shane character seems like a necessary evil.

Amusingly, I correctly predicted the #1 worst airport in CNN's countdown: Chicago O'Hare International Airport. I can't even remember how many times I got delayed there--it actually got to the point where I stopped booking connections through there.

Generally, I've observed that the morning flights seem less likely to get delayed or cancelled. Too bad I hate waking up that early. :)

Watched movie: "Happy Feet Two" (2011) in IMAX 3D
Holistically speaking, an inspirational musical about rising to the occasion, breaking down walls, and finding your voice. Analytically speaking, a maundering hodgepodge of nebulous character development--particularly in regards to Sven and those insignificant little krill. Though admittedly, the krill-centric animation did leave me in awe. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Descendants" (2011)
Less zany than earlier Alexander Payne comedies like "Sideways" and "E