7.29.2004

MOVIE REVIEW: My Sassy Girl (2001)



I'm not normally much of a fan of movies of this nature. In fact, It's safe to say I really abhor most of them. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why I'm so shut off by them without carelessly throwing out a cliched excuse. But here comes a movie out of South Korea that will help me explain my feelings. It doesn't do that by illustrating how bad these films are. On the contrary, it gives me some hope for this overworked and exhausted genre we call "the romantic comedy".

My Sassy Girl seems to do all the things right that most bland and predictable romantic comedies do wrong. It tells a touching, believable love story - both funny and enjoyable - that is complimented by carefully contstructed visual imagery and noteworthy acting that stretches from hilarious to endearing.

The movie is broken up into two halves (and an overtime?!).
The first half begins with us being introduced to Gyeon-Woo, a hopeless college student, lacking motivation in his academic ventures and lacking direction for his future. In the meantime, he just enjoys hanging out with the guys, drinking Soju and chasing after girls that are "his type". Everything is going smoothly, until one night he spots a young drunk girl in the subway station, teetering on the edge of the tracks. Noticing a fast-approaching train, he grabs her just as she's about to go over the edge and saves her. On the subsequent train ride, she causes a scene then passes out. Gyeon-Woo is mistaken for her boyfriend and, as a result, he feels obligated to take care of her. So begins their rocky relationship. However, he's about to get more than he bargained for getting involved with her. Because while this girl may look pretty, a girl needs to act pretty, too. And this girl is far from that. Yet no matter how many embarrassing situations she puts him in or how loud and domineering she is towards him, Gyeon-Woo puts up with it all because he's intrigued by her. He's able to see inside her, behind the smokescreen, and notices a vulnerability - an inner sorrow, an actual heart - and thinks maybe he can help to heal her.

In the second half of the movie, we still get to see Gyeon-Woo beat up and put through the ringer with the girl (we never are given her name), but not as much, as traces of her soft spirit begin to come out and make themselves more apparent. After awhile, it becomes clear that both have developed feelings for each other. However, the girl has some issues from her past that need to be worked out before she can move on with him. Plus, her mother tells the girl she's not aloud to see Gyeon-Woo anymore. That's how they break up and that's how we are sent into...Overtime!

Before Gyeon-Woo and the girl break up, they decide to write each other letters that express their true feelings for one another and place them in a time capsule, burying it and planning to come back and meet at the place two years later to open the capsule and see if their fate has changed at all. It sounds really cheesy, but it's really not as bad as it sounds. Normally, this sort of stuff would find me totally phasing out, probably falling asleep. But unlike most other romantic comedies, which skip past an important step and insult you by forcing you to put up with hoky stuff from the onset of the story before characters have been developed, My Sassy Girl waits until you're attached to the characters and genuinely care what happens to them before it gets all emotional and idyllic. And that makes a BIG difference.

Cha Tae-Hyun puts in a solid performance as Gyeon-Woo. Of course, playing the girl's punching bag probably isn't too demanding of a role, but nonetheless his facial expressions are completely hilarious throughout and when the movie gets serious he does a good enough job holding his own. Jun Ji-hyun, playing the girl, however, deserves most of the credit here. From when we first meet her in the subway station, all drunk and abrasive, to when we see her begin to soften up and expose that vulnerability, Ji-hyun showed she was more than capable of pulling off that sort of wide dramatic range convincingly. Without it, this movie probably wouldn't be as strong as it was. And I'll bet the American remake of this film (the deal's already been made) will suffer for that exact reason.

I keep asking myself how in the world I stuck with a romantic comedy for over 2 hours without getting put off by cheesiness, which though it is scarce is certainly not completely absent from My Sassy Girl. I guess it's just balanced out with more entertaining and believable material than fluff. Plus, great performances from the leads. The story was full of unexpected surprises and comical situations. The laughs were not forced, meaning the humor was of much more of a realistic, that-could-have-actually-happened nature. Also, I feel like I came away with something from it. Like Amelie, this is a movie that will remind you to take advantage of life's little accidents and small pleasures.
All in all, My Sassy Girl was a very enjoyable movie, even for someone who usually balks at romantic comedies. I wish there were more of them that pushed the boundaries of that genre like this one did.

Official My Sassy Girl Website (warning: the site is all in Korean)

7.27.2004

MOVIE NEWS: Garden State



Hope this isn't too last minute. Anyone who has the Sundance Channel, you may want to tune in at 9pm tonight to watch "Anatomy of a Scene", which will be looking inside one scene from the movie Garden State, examining some of the challenges that writer/director Zack Braff and his crew had to work around during filming. For a fairly small film, this little movie has created a pretty large stir thanks to word of mouth and one of the best trailers in recent memory. It has received tons of praise at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and it has legions of people clamoring all over each other on message boards, talking about every little thing related to it.
Garden State's scheduled to hit theaters August 6th. With all the anticipation for this movie building up inside many of us over the past few months, this TV special should be just what we need to hold us over until we can actually see the film next week. I don't think there'll be any spoilers, so don't worry.

The show will also be airing at the following dates and times (EASTERN):
Friday, 7/30 - 11:30 PM
Saturday 7/31 - 1:30 PM
Saturday 7/31 - 10:45 PM
Sunday 8/1 - 7:30 PM
Monday 8/2 - 8:30 PM

In related news, it looks like Fox Searchlight's official site for the movie has added a ton of new content since the last time I visited: a photo album, video clips of interviews and a heap of behind-the-scenes footage. Also, they've added Zach Braff's very own blog to their page. He, of course, is doing it to generate buzz for the movie, but I still think that's pretty cool - to see a director putting forth so much effort to get more people to see his movie. I can't see Steven Spielberg or whoever putting in that much time. Anyway, I'm just glad they're giving us something to keep us busy while the long wait is finally drawing to a close.

Go see it August 6th! I'll be taking Dana with me to go see it at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak that night. If anybody else wants to go with us, leave me a comment and I'll get in touch with you before then.

7.26.2004

MOVIE REVIEW: Anchorman



Felt like seeing a movie for some laughs last week, so four of us went out and saw Anchorman together.

It was pretty funny - good compared to most of the other big screen former-S.N.L.-castmember trash that's come out before. Will Ferrell does his usual thing here, so if you don't like his brand of humor, this probably won't do anything to change your mind about that. Fortunately, Ferrell happens to have my number. So I got several good laughs out of it. But it's been a little over a week since seeing it and, other than the newsteam turf war and the scene on the bridge to Coronado Island, I've already relegated all other memories of this movie to the basement of my brain. Hence, I am unable to give you a proper synopsis of the movie.

If anybody was expecting this to be worth the price of admission, you're kidding yourself and you know it. I knew this going into Anchorman, but just decided to play one of my "what the hell" cards at the ticket window. With that sort of attitude, you won't feel like the movie was a waste. But if you're a tightwad, I'd recommend you save yourself fifteen dollars by waiting until it comes out on DVD and renting it one night when you're in the mood for some dumb humor.

7.22.2004

BOOK REVIEW: "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel



The last book I finished reading was Life of Pi. It was a really great book. I highly enjoyed it and so I wanted to mention it here before I got too far along in my other readings and forgot to do that.

Life of Pi tells the story of Pi Patel, a 16-year-old boy from Pondicherry, India. Pi possesses a highly inquisitive mind, fascinated by both the animals in his father's zoo and issues of spirituality. During his childhood and adolescence, he meets three men of different religious authority who all leave an indelible impression on him. Each man has helped Pi realize that he loves God. But when the men find out that Pi is practicing all three religions, they urge him to choose just one. Pi, however, doesn't understand their closed-mindedness, so he just chooses to ignore them and go on loving God the only way he knows how.

Soon, his family decides to move to Canada and bring the zoo with them. So off they go, aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with all their animals. Everything seems to be going smoothly, until disaster strikes. In the middle of the night, Pi hears a loud crash and, rushing to the deck of the ship, realizes several animals are on the loose and that the ship is rapidly sinking. Pi manages to survive by landing on a lifeboat after some of the ship's crewmembers throw him overboard. He's not the only one that survives, though. Pi watches the ship sink from his position on the 15-foot lifeboat, which as it seems already had a crewmember: an ugly, vicious hyena. Not only that, but soon a zebra has leapt from the ship onto the lifeboat, injuring itself in the process. The zoo's beloved orangutan has also made its way onto the lifeboat by way of floating up to it on a massive bunch of bananas. But perhaps most daunting of all is Pi's final companion, who swims up and climbs into the boat with Pi: a 450-lb. Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. All of this makes it sound like this is going to be a Disney movie or something, with talking animals and everybody getting along, but it's not like that at all. Rather, it's almost too real. It's a visceral, extraordinary tale of Pi's struggle to stay alive.

Stranded at sea with this unlikely bunch, Pi must use his smarts, courage and faith to will himself to survive. However, in the midst of such a crisis, there's a good likelihood that all three of these things could take a backseat to panic, fear, and hopelessness in Pi's mind. The 227 days at sea make for a long journey, arduous but never draggin on or lacking in excitement. It's exhilirating to witness how Pi manages to co-exist with these animals (Richard Parker, especially), battling thirst, hunger and the great expansive Pacific Ocean.

In the end, Yann Martel offers up a slight twist, letting the reader decide what parts of Pi's account are actually true or the work of a super imaginative boy who loves stories; it's cleverly done and a perfectly fitting end.

Life of Pi has a certiain sort of timelessness and wonder that is sure to have me coming back and re-reading it again and again in the near future..and probably the distant future, as well. I'd highly recommend it to everyone. And that's not something I can say about most books.

Official Canongate Site for Yann Martel's "Life of Pi"
Buy "Life of Pi" on Amazon.com

7.19.2004

DVD REVIEW: Yeah Right!



Dana and I ventured out to a huge antique sale that was being held in a parking structure in downtown Royal Oak this weekend. We went down there, hoping to find some cool things for our home. It seemed to me when we got there, that it was more like a massive flea market than an antique sale. There was so much junk and crap there. But we did find a couple things that were worth buying for really cheap prices. Dana found a small glass pitcher that she thought would be really cute for serving orange juice at breakfast and also some kind of copper-wire butterfly thing that you stick in the ground somewhere in your garden. All normal stuff you might find while perusing antiques.

Then there was me. With my keen eye, somewhere in all the rubble, I managed to find the kind of stuff that floats my boat: the one single table of DVDs in the whole joint. It was all crap I'd never heard of, b-movies and nudy films. But lying there amidst all the garbage, like a desert oasis, was the Yeah Right! skate video, glowing bright green and adorned with a round yellow sale sticker, denoting its mere $3 pricetag. I had heard good things about this video before from a couple different reliable sources. That certainly piqued my interest. But even before that I knew of it as a product of Spike Jonze's masterful direction (well, co-direction). To coin a phrase of my own, "if it was done by Spike Jonze, give it to Mike Jonze." So, naturally, I scooped it up with my super duper worm-like voracity!

Now I don't claim to be a skateboarder. I tried it when I was younger and I was pitiful. I never was able to learn how to "olly" and I may have even just spelled that term incorrectly. But that doesn't negate the fact that I have always been drawn to the whole skateboarding lifestyle. I wanted a pair of Vision Streetwear shoes in seventh grade real bad. I still love Vans. But, above all, and more importantly, I always thought it would be the best if I could actually skate. I scorned God for not blessing me with the skateboarding skills. Despite this, I still gave it a few more attempts over the course of my adolescence and even into college. But I just couldn't stick it. I don't know. Maybe I just got discouraged and quit too easily.

But no matter how many times I came to the conclusion that I couldn't do it, something would end up coming along and stirring up that desire in me again and I'd go back out there and try it again. After watching Stacy Peralta's Dogtown on IFC last week and then picking up this "Yeah Right" video and watching it this weekend, I can sense that feeling coming up in me again. I told Dana last night while we were walking out of church, "I'm gonna get a skateboard." I can hear those little voices in my head telling me it's a stupid idea. I'm too old to start now. I'm still not gonna be able to olly. But I'm still feeling that urge in me to try it again. Even if it means cracking my skull on the sidewalk. But whatever happens, I will always be intrigued by dudes that skate. Yeah Right! is a perfect example of why I remain intrigued to this day.

The people behind this video have done an incredible job and come up with maybe the best skate video I've ever seen. It's starts out with a dedication via montage to the late Keenan MIlton, with some words from one of Milton's close friends spoken over video of him skating. It's a touching way to pay tribute to his life and what he did for the skate world.
What follows is an hour and 20 minutes of some amazing street skating done by everyone on the Girl and Chocolate skateboard teams, including Mike Carroll, Rick McCrank and Eric Koston (this dude is unreal). I don't think I'll ever fail to be impressed by the inventiveness that skateboarders continue to show, making regular landscapes around them like sidewalks and park benches look like the reason they were put there was to be skated on. Thrown into the middle of all this great skating, there's a pretty amusing cameo by actor Owen Wilson (Royal Tenenbaums, Meet The Parents, Bottle Rocket). He does some trash talking that will have you laughing but then he backs it up and you'll definitely be shaking your head in semi-disbelief.

It's pretty obvious where the video gets its name. I can't count how many times you'll be tempted to shout "Yeah Right!" at your TV. I think each skater that's featured pulls one trick where the guys in the editing room add their little touch to make you say this. I mean, these are some unbelievable tricks being pulled by probably the most talented street skateboarders out there today, but the thing that makes this video stand out above others is the tremendous use of special effects and digital editing. It's the most visually impressive skate footage I've ever seen. I won't go into because it's probably better just to see it yourself, but I'm telling you: it absolutely kills. Spike Jonze's contributions to this video are huge, in that respect. Also, it's got some great music playing behind the skating. I immediately had to find out who it was that re-did the Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" - it's Squarepusher, in case you were wondering. There's a few classic David Bowie cuts, Interpol's "Obstacle" and loads of other good tunes. There was one, I couldn't recall where I recognized it from. Then when the credits rolled, like a slap in the face I discovered it was Le Tigre's "Deceptacon", which was just introduced to me via the Afterburners' July 2004 CD. Thanks, Matt B.!

Another strength of this video is the 24 minutes of outtakes found in the bonus section of the DVD. This is where you'll find all the faceplants and crotch-on-the-rail type stuff that'll have you squirming in your skin. Who can deny that this kind of stuff is a blast to watch, though. I mean, you know they end up fine afterwards.

Yeah Right! proves itself to be an instant classic in the skate video genre and is most definitely worth your money, especially if you can find it for three bucks from an antique dealer. And if it doesn't motivate you to pick up a skateboard, then I don't know what will.

7.15.2004

TV NEWS: I Love The 90's



I have become a braindead zombie that has done nothing but sit on the couch in my living room for four nights in a row (by Friday, you can make that five nights), soaking in anything and everything related to the 90's, thanks to VH1's special series I Love The 90's. You see, this was the decade that bookended my entire adolescence. It was monumentally influential to my young, burgeoning mind and pubescent body. I must be reminded of everything. All of it.

Vanilla Ice, Kris Kross, the explosion of "grunge music" and "grunge fashion" (thanks especially to Nirvana and Pearl Jam), those Aerosmith videos with Alicia Silverstone - (schwing!) - Wayne's World, Seinfeld, and Jerry Maguire! I am telling you, friends: this stuff shaped me...which is pretty pathetic, now that I think about it.
And, of course, this was the decade we were all introduced to Oasis, who were - no question - my favorite band for probably, like, half of those years. No one else even came close. I worshipped at the feet of the brothers Gallagher. All my friends can attest to that, I'm sure.

So, I've been absolutely glued to the TV every night this week, watching all of this stuff get rehashed by VH1's now familiar cast of wise-cracking "media gadflies" and some of the 90s' biggest flashes in the pan, like Bubba Gump and the Snapple lady. Two years ago, when I came across I Love the 80's for the first time, I was stuck in my apartment for an entire Saturday unable to pull myself away. All my plans for the weekend? Fwoomp, out the window! It was heroin by way of cathode ray tube. I Love The 90's...is even worse, 'cause now I know everything they're talking about. With the 80's one, I was like, "Pet rock??? OK, that sounds sorta familiar but I know I never had one." Well, now, it's like, "Slap-on bracelets - dude! I had like 6 of those...they totally matched my Hammer pants!"

I probably would've called in to work at least two days just so I could stay home and watch these shows over and over again. Luckily, however, they've only been on at night (or at least I wasn't aware they've been re-running them during the day). Dana's probably looking forward to these five days being over. I'm sure I've been the world's most boring husband. Here I am in front of the television. I can't even talk to her, I'm so absorbed in it. It's so destructive, and yet...I can't...tear...myself...away. VH1 is the embodiment of Satan.

Well, I guess I should get back to finding Waldo...

7.14.2004

WISDOM TEETH



Yeah, so I went to the dentist for my regular cleaning the other day. And he recommended I have my wisdom teeth pulled because I've got a cavity in one of them.

Shit.

TV NEWS: That Jeopardy Guy...

...is freaking unreal.

7.13.2004

MUSIC NEWS: Today's New Releases



Today is as good a day as any to barrel down to the record store with a sizable wad of hard-earned cash protruding from your back pocket (or fanny pack), prepared to blow it all in one place, just like dear old grandpa always warned you not to do. Walk straight up to the clerk, hand him/her the dough and demand these CDs, threatening bodily harm if necessary:

The Polyphonic Spree Together We're Heavy
Adem Homesongs
The Fiery Furnaces Blueberry Boat
Rogue Wave Out of the Shadow

Boom! $60 - gone! Sounds bad, but trust me. The rewards will far outweigh the negatives of having no spending money left over for the rest of the month. You may go hungry for a few days, but it'll all be alright. You'll make it. Not without these records. At the very least, not without the new Polyphonic Spree. You really can't go without it. No...seriously.
Gentlemen, get out there and support your local independent music retailer! Support the economy! Ladies, support the music scene! Support our troops! Support your breastissesses!
And for gosh sakes, if you still haven't picked up Morrissey's latest, do yourself a favor and drop another Alexander Hamilton or two on that!

7.8.2004

ART NEWS: Deth P. Sun @ Pr1mary Space, Detroit



I visited Pr1mary Space this past Saturday, which was the last day of their Art Array 02 group show. It featured the work of 30 artists, including Kurt Frederiksen, whose work I'm most familiar with out of all of the artists that were represented there. Besides KHF, the one artist that left the biggest impression on me was Deth P. Sun from Oakland, CA.

Sun had this small painting showing there and another one that I can't find on his site. Well, I dare you to try and find it! I can't believe how many pieces he's put together in the past 8 or 9 months alone. You can seriously waste your day away pouring over all of his stuff on his site. Anyway, his paintings are pretty cool, equal parts wistful and whimsical. He does a lot of acrylic on wood, with common themes of his paintings being space exploration, turtles, blackbirds, and cats - LOTS of cats - but these are the cool kind, the kind that don't make my allergies act up, so I like them. And some of them wear basketball jerseys so that's...bonus.

Well, it just so happens that the next show coming to Detroit's Pr1mary Space is a solo exhibition by Sun, entitled "drifting dreaming sleeping". A small celebration will be held this Saturday night (July 10th) to open the exhibit, which will then continue through the month until July 31st. You can put your money on my being there.

Deth also has a dual show with Mike Park scheduled in September. This one will take place at Giant Robot in Los Angeles.

(update: here's the other painting he had in the art array 02 show)

7.7.2004

A VISIT FROM JEREMIAH HINSON



I had a great time this past weekend with my good friend from college, Jeremiah. He came up to visit last Thursday and left Sunday night. So...three and half days. After not seeing him for two years (since my wedding), it was really good to hang out. Dana and I had a few things planned for us to do so it wouldn't be too boring - gotta show him a good time in Detroit.
One thing we did was visit the Detroit Institute of Arts on Saturday. Jeremiah bought all of us these miniature notebooks from the gift shop, for us to keep in our pockets in case we ever need to write something down. I put it to good use immediately....36 views of Mt. Fuji (Hokusai) - "#1: In The Hollow of a Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa".

I also jotted down a list of some things to remember from Jeremiah's visit:

"You into cyborgs?"
Reading life of pi and love in the time of cholera...out loud
Iron & Wine @ the Magic Stick (Jeremiah=totally out of place)
Drunk bum traffic control
"I can't wait to go home"
Jogging suits
Going to the Detroit Zoo (and eating animal crackers)
Walking on all fours
"baaad idea" (the nesting habits of red-bellied birds)
Reciting Hedberg jokes
Toffee & caramels
Napoleon Dynamite and a Large Sprite
Talking to "Joe" outside Amoco
The $6 nap in the Neverending Story
"That's a great haircut"
Hamtramck's abnormally large polish community
The work of Kurt Halsey Frederiksen + others at Pr1mary Space
D.I.A. & the notebooks
"Really? That's lame"
Poker tip: Always go all-in with a pair of 9's
YGL
Driving all over town in search of sushi on the 4th
Hitting golf balls in a downpour
Olga snackers
Amores Perros
...
(I may have to come back and add more as I remember them)

Anyway, thanks, Jeremiah, for coming up to visit. It was wicked fun. We can't let it go another "dos años". I'll be down in Chapel Hill sometime soon.