Deep Fried Quail w/ Lemon Sauce and Cambodian Pork Stew w/ Chicken Eggs at Sien Reap Khmer Cuisine, 1810 E. Anaheim St., Cambodia Town, Long Beach, CA.
Friday, August 16, 2013
More late night iPhone research while reading, this time enjoying (if that's the word) "Available Dark," Elizabeth Hand's second crime novel about middle-aged ex-punk photographer Cass Neary. This one takes place largely in Iceland. It's as if the coastal Maine of the first book just wasn't cold and dark enough, so Hand decided to up the ante. Some would argue she goes a few steps too far. Topics here include Norwegian black metal music, human sacrifice and "transgressive" posed-corpse photography a la Joel Peter Witkin.
The key supporting role played by Allen's Coffee Brandy in the first Neary book, "Generation Loss," is occupied here, roughly, by Brennivin, a caroway-flavored liqueur affectionally known as "the black death." Fittingly, I guess, as Neary spends more time in an altered state than any fictional sleuth this side of Nick Charles, although her buzz is as likely to derive from crystal meth as Jack Daniel's.
Not as much information as I would have liked in the book about Icelandic food, though the local smoked lamb gets high marks. Sadly, the US is one of several countries to which Icelandic vendors are not allowed to ship food items. Can't imagine why, as according to this "The product carries a veterinary health certificate."
I'm afraid my sense of Icelandic cuisine has been shaped irrevocably by the excellent Reykjavik crime novels of Arnaldur Indridason. I was especially struck by a scene in the early installment "Jar City" in which Detective Erlunder selects as comfort food from the local super market a product called Svið, which turned out to be a shrink-wrapped singed and boiled sheep's head -- a treat that tops an authoritative online list of the five worst Icelandic foods. (The scene makes an even stronger impression in Baltasar Kormakur's film version.)
If there's a list being drawn up somewhere of "transgressive foods," Svið will certainly be on it.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
So I noticed this irritating verbal tic several times recently in the speech of expert witnesses interviewed on NPR, brainiacs who begin sentence after sentence with an unnecessary "so." The sort of thing that, once noticed, can't be unnoticed.
Figuring I couldn't have been the first person to pick up on this, because I so rarely am, these days, I went Googling; learned that the first known account of this behavior appeared in a 1999 book about Silicon Valley. So it's a subculture usage that went general, adopted by people who want to sound like techies.
This New York Times article on the "so" plague includes a classic example of NPR-speak: "So it’s, I think, the fifth largest in the nation. So, but now that’s the population in general. So there are sort of two, there are two things that are circumstantial.”
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Its credentials could scarcely be more promising: Writer-creator Ann Biderman ("Southland") and founding director Alan Coulter ("House of Cards") are top drawer television drama veterans. Still, a couple of the early reviews have been truly clueless, knocking the show for getting the details wrong in its portrait of the title character, a ruthless and amoral Hollywood fixer, played by Liev Schreiber with the most charismatic barely-audible growl this side of the all time grandmaster of the form, Clint Eastwood.
To our great relief, "Ray Donovan" turns out to be nothing at all like "Entourage" and way more like "Get Shorty," in which a gangster comes to Hollywood and fits right in. A grimmer, grislier "Get Shorty," we should add, without the leavening of Elmore Leonard's dry humor. The show's view of Tinseltown, in fact, may be the darkest we've seen on a screen of any size since the Los Angeles sections of "The Godfather."
The show has a what-if premise about a clan of violent thugs from South Boston, complete with deep-dish "Fighter" accents, transplanted to LA and finding a niche ready made for them. The best accent of the bunch is fielded by the wonderful Paula Malcomson, of many fond "Deadwood" memories, as Ray's long-suffering wife.
Schreiber's senior brother Ray is the tough guy who has been holding the family together for decades, by any means necessary. Like the classic gangster figures, from M. Corleone to T. Soprano, he's the one who is "strong for the family." Outwardly a model of focus and control, he also has violent, anarchic impulses for which his dirty work getting Hollywood slimeballs out of trouble provides, on occasion, an outlet.
When Ray snaps a slimy executive's fingers against a pool table, or goes after the stalker of a frightened pop star with a baseball bat, Ray is obviously going well beyond what's needed to "fix" the given situation.
One of the three Donovan brothers, Eddie Marson's soulful Terry, is, in fact, a fighter, now running a seedy training gym, a has-been pugilist brain-damaged into a form of Parkinsons. So far younger brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok), seems to be the weakest link, an agitated addict, whose problems seem to have begun years ago when he was molested by a priest, a hackneyed bit of backstory, especially for a drama centering on Boston Irish Catholics.
Force of habit, you could say, and the key event of the first episode is the arrival in LA, fresh from Walpole, of the family's heart of darkness in human form, Ray's nemesis and father Mickey, played with magnificent malignancy by Jon Voigt. (One of his first acts after he hits town is to give Bunchy some drugs, looking on with paternal affection as his youngest snorts up.) This monster in the middle of West Hollywood is, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, "about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food."
He was a stylish martial acrobat but as a movie director he was not a great stylist. Unlike the other top action film directors who were his colleagues at Hong Kong's Shaw Bothers studio in the 1970s, such as Chang Cheh and Chor Yuen, Lau made violent masculine melodrama or elaborately staged magical conspiracies.
Lau had, however, a vivid imagination and great skill when it came to devising and staging fight sequences, and he was a sincere advocate for the Chinese martial arts themselves and of their cultural context, the traditional values of teacher-student fealty and family and clan loyalty inculcated by his father and first teacher, Lau Charn.
In fact, Lau was a key figure in every phase of Hong Kong martial arts movie making. He became a performer and a martial arts choreographer (or "fighting instructor") in the Wong Fei-hong films in the '50s, and in the 1960s, with collaborator Tang Chia, brought unprecedented martial authenticity to "New Style" Mandarin-language wu xia swordplay films such as "The Jade Bow" (1965).
The senior Lau claimed a direct martial lineage from "Magnificent Butcher" Lam Sai-wing, a disciple of turn-of-the-20th-century Hong Fist legend and latter-day iconic HK movie character Wong Fei-hong. Lau Charn played Lam in the early films of the long series of black-and-white B pictures about Wong that began production in HK the late 1940s. Kar-leung entered the family business as an extra and stuntman on his dad's films around 1950.
Lau conceived and directed what is widely regarded as the definitive historical Chinese martial arts movie, "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" (1978), starring his adopted martial brother Gordon Lau Kar-wing aka Gordon Liu ("Kill Bill"). Based on a Cantonese pulp novel of the 1940s, the film gave lasting shape to the central populist myth of the Shaolin Monastery, the story of a fugitive from oppression who works his way through a series of grueling training rituals, acquiring skills that enable him to turn the tables on his enemies.
The classic martial arts movies Lau made at Shaw Brothers also included "Challenge of the Masters" (1976), "Executioners from Shaolin" (1977), "Heroes of the East" (1978), "My Young Auntie" (1981) and "Legendary Weapons of China" (1982). Later he did strong work with younger performers such as Jet Li, in "Martial Arts of Shaolin" (1986), and Jackie Chan, in "Drunken Master II" (1994).
At Shaws, Lau and Tang choreographed most to the violent macho kung fu films of Chang Cheh, including "Men From the Monastary" (1974), "Five Shaolin Masters" (1974) and "Shaolin Martial Arts" (1974). And in his first film as a director, "The Spiritual Boxer" ( 1976), Lau created nothing less than a new sub-genre, the raucous kung fu comedy, which would become a Hong Kong staple in the 1980s in the work of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.
This Japanese TV segment has cool footage of Lau sifu directing Gordon in "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" (1983). No English, unfortunately.
And the final fight sequence from the film:
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Daughter Nora planning a stopover in Cambodia on her way home from China, which reminded me of this post from a few months ago. Distant music from the flourishing pop music and film industries of the 1960s in Cambodia, all but wiped out on Pol Pot's Killing Fields. Rock critics in the West still like to talk about how "subversive" the music is, even in an era in which there is nothing meaningful left to subvert. But how about living in a time and place in which pop culture was seen as literally subversive, and targeted accordingly?
"Long Beach, California - Little Phnom Penh - is the world's largest Cambodian enclave outside the homeland, founded by refugees."
Dengue Fever perform's Ros Sereysothea's "A Go Go:"
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
We always have mixed feelings when admired Asian filmmakers first get work in Hollywood. For some of them, such as John Woo, who loves American Westerns and musicals, the journey was a lifelong dream come true, and we were happy for him. Yet Woo didn't again make a film as good as his landmark Hong Kong gangster films of the 1980s until 2008, he returned home to make the great "Red Cliff."
Giving up the home-culture advantage, in other words, can be a risky proposition.
I hate to say I have a bad feeling for other reasons, too, about the just-released first trailer for "Snowpiercer," a film credited to a trio of Korean production companies (giant CJ Entertainment along with Opus and Moho) that marks the English-language debut of lively director Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"). The amazingly deep cast includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Allison Pill and Ed Harris, with two top Korean performers, Song Kang-ho ("Thirst") and Ko Ah-sung, who in "The Host" played a father and daughter menaced by a giant ambulatory fish.
"Variety" noted that two other major Korean directors crossed the Pacific this year, "Oldboy" evil genius Park Chan-wook (“Stoker”) and almost as evil "I Saw the Devil" semi-genius Kim Jee-woon (“The Last Stand”). Not surprising, since South Korean film and TV productions continue to be among the most popular in Asia.
All production values in the trailer look pro, as the trades used to say, but the premise is alarmingly silly: After a new ice age brought on by global warming, all the people left in the world are passengers on a giant train that circles the globe continuously, powered by a perpetual motion engine. Our hero, Evans, leads a rebellion of the underclass, relegated to the dark and dingy cars at the ass end of the train, against their cruel overlords, led by Swinton in coke bottle glasses, who get to ride up front.
"Snowpiercer" turns out to be a literal translation of the title of the source material, the French bande dessinee graphic novel "Le Transperceneige." It's said to be opening in South Korea and Europe beginning in August. American distributer The Weinstein Company acquired the film over a year ago but hasn't set a US release date, perhaps not a smart move, if true, with a film that's all-but guaranteed to be heavily pirated.
And for those of you who don't realize that the title of this post is a reference, this is what it's a reference to:
Friday, June 7, 2013
Back in the dinosaur days of the mid-1980s, when we still saw most of our Asian movies in dedicated ethnic theaters in Chinatown or China Valley or Artesia's Little India, one of the key dividends of being a Hong Kong Cinema or Bollywood fan were the opportunities the fixation afforded for eating lots of Asian food. Restaurants were carefully ear-marked for movie night meals in the vicinity of each theater. No matter how bad the film turned out to be, there was always a plate of Crispy Salty Shrimp to look forward to.
These experiences have shaped my sense that the ideal Asian cinema blog would be less like Deadline or even Twitch and way more like Chowhound -- dedicated above all to the experience of moviegoing. Listings of favorite Asian cinema venues would be accompanied as a point of honor with restaurant recommendations, as as an aspect of the complete experience.
In part this ideal is nostalgic. The Bollywood houses have survived; are in fact flourishing. There is one fairly lavish multiplex in LA Koreatown, but it shows mostly Hollywood films with Korean subtitles. The Chinese theatrical exhibition circuits, alas, are no more.
Now LA Observed is reporting that one of LA Chinatown's most beloved dim sum emporiums, Empress Pavilion, in the Bamboo Plaza mall on Hill Street, is closing. Those of us who were led to Chinese food by a love for Chinese movies should observe a moment of silence.
Late to the dinner party watching the very solid NBC series "Hannibal." Still three episodes to go, so no spoilers.
The show is skillfully crafted at just about every level. The orchestration of its "workplace drama" approach to creating the backstory of Lector and Graham, who at this early stage are colleagues, enables their by-play as a mutual-admiration team of agitated crime-solvers. It would be fun to think of Hugh Dancy as an Aspie Watson to Mads Mikkelson's super-elegant, flesh-eating Holmes, but in practice the characters and the amount of screen time they receive are carefully balanced. Neither is sidekick to the other.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
"Mother Jones" looks in its May/June issue at Jeffery Katzenberg as a rising force in politics ("The New George Soros") includes an interesting summery of DreamWorks' China agenda, and at The Squirt's role in pushing the PRC to relax import quotas on US films.
The industry's expansion into China's $2.7 billion film market, which is expected to supplant the United States' as the world's largest in 5 to 10 years, hasn't been without obstacles. Several studios, including DreamWorks, are under federal investigation for potentially violating US anti-bribery laws in China. And until recently, the Chinese government would allow only 20 foreign films to screen in its theaters each year, and kept a greater cut of ticket sales than Hollywood thought was fair. In 2009, the United States won a World Trade Organization ruling urging China to open up, but to no avail.
This time from Jonathan Franzen on William Gaddis, via CI Dennis.
Fiction is the most fundamental human art. Fiction is storytelling, and our reality arguably consists of the stories we tell about ourselves.
Just because you're touched where you want to be touched, it doesn't mean you're cheap; before a book can change you, you have to love it.
Difficult fiction of the kind epitomized by Gaddis seems to me more closely associated with the lower end of the digestive tract.
The curious thing is that I suspect Gaddis himself would rather have watched "The Simpsons." I suspect that if anyone else had written his later novels, from "J R" onward, he would not have wanted to read them, and that if he had read them he would not have liked them.
(In fact, the work of reading Gaddis makes me wonder if our brains might even be hard-wired for conventional storytelling, structurally eager to form pictures from sentences as featureless as "She stood up.")
Quotations from the introduction to The Simple Art of Murder (1950):
"An average critic never recognizes an achievement when it happens. He explains it after it has become respectable."
"The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story...was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one that made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing."
"...the demand was for constant action; if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."
"A writer who is afraid to overreach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong."
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Deadline Hollywood reports on a new film project announced by Uday Chopra, of India's Yash Raj Films, the Mumbai-based Bollywood powerhouse created by his late producer-director father, Yash Chopra, in 1970. Uday will follow the upcoming "Grace of Monaco," which stars Nicole Kidman, with a bio-pic about Ingrid Bergman's wartime romance with combat photographer Robert Capa.
A director since 1959, Yash Chopra, who passed away last year, pioneered a lush. romantic style that came to exemplify Bollywood glamour. He helped launch the careers of megastars Amitabh Bachchan (in "Trishul" and Deewaar") and Shah Rukh Khan (in "Dard"). He is regarded by critics such as England's Rachel Dwyer as a key evolutionary influence on the modern shape of Bollywood, both for his film style and his corporatized business practices,
In fact, biographical films about the loves of Hollywood royalty should by a perfect fit for the brightly colored glamor of the Yaj Raj house style, a species of film that no one in Hollywood knows how to make anymore.
Uday Chopra began his acting career at Yash Raj with a supporting role in his director-brother Aditya Chopra’s “Mohabbatein” (2000), co-starring with Bachchan and Khan. Now a charter member of the younger generation of Bollywood leading men, along with Hrithek Roshan and Amitabh's son Abishek Bachchan, Chopra's signature vehicles include the “Dhoom” action franchise ("Dhoom 3" is due in December) and romantic comedies such as the recent "Pyaar Impossible!" (2012).
Chopra learned the ropes of the American studio system as a graduate of the UCLA Professional Program in Producing.
The musical number below, from Uday's hit rom-com "Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai" ("My Friend is Getting Married," 2002), is an expert pastiche of the location-shot song numbers in the romantic blockbusters of his dad, such as "Chandni" (1989), with Rishi Kapoor and Sridevi.
This is being posted to provide additional information for people who attended my presentation on Bollywood movies at the Sierra Madre Public Library on January 17. It was great to hear that several of you are interested in exploring further this "movie industry that is also a genre." To that end I've collected a few links and recommendations that I think might be helpful.
Action cinema’s wirework puppet master
LA Weekly, December 15-21, 2000.
“Imagine you’re an actor putting on a corset,” says James Schamus, co-writer and executive producer of Ang Lee’s martial-arts fantasy "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It’s “a heavy canvas corset with a bunch of metal cables attached to it, and you’re getting strung 75 feet up in the air while hanging from a crane. The crane is just an arm supporting wires on pulleys that are being manipulated by five guys wearing construction gloves. They have to maneuver in sync, both with the other cranes and with a team that is pulling another set of wires, attached to another actor who is whipping through the air only a few feet away. One slip-up, just two or three steps in the wrong direction, and someone could get really badly hurt.”
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Sad news about the apparent suicide of a promising Bollywood ingenue, a London resident born in New York who studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. She came and went as a medical student working on anterograde amnesia in the Aamir Khan Memento re-make Ghajini (2008). But at that point her career may already have taken a lethal hit from the notorious nature of her 2007 debut movie, which I reviewed for the LA Weekly.
NISHABD Writer-director Ram Gopal Varma’s scandalously anticipated new film was preceded by shrewd tactical whispers to the effect that it was a Bollywood remake of Lolita, with the 64-year-old masculine icon Amitabh Bachchan (think Eastwood or Newman) becoming enamored of a slinky 18-year-old. But Nishabd (The Silence) turns out to be an undeniably stylish, if also dizzyingly uneven, mixed bag, deeply affecting one minute and ludicrous the next; the fetishistic slow-motion shots of ingénue Jiah Khan cooling herself with a garden hose would not be out of place on a Playboy DVD. The sleek Khan is certainly a von Sternberg–worthy object of obsession, but Varma is locked into presenting her as an emblem of free-spirited modern youth, which for him seems to be synonymous with callow and rude and almost pathologically self-absorbed. For Jiah, Bachchan’s solid and self-contained Vijay is a prize she’s fixed on with a whim of iron, and if Varma had pushed her manipulations a bit further, the movie would be more interesting. In fact, our interest picks up considerably after the halfway point, when the movie teeters on turning into a thriller with the arrival of Jiah’s bouncy young college boyfriend, who hides out on the premises to surprise her unbeknownst to anyone but Vijay. No Hitchcock movie ever had a better setup for a stalk-and-kill finale, but Varma is after a bigger, more slippery fish — the “fear of aging and death” that draws the old man to the young girl. Varma’s honesty and seriousness are impressive, if not his showmanship. (Naz 8) (David Chute)
Monday, June 3, 2013
Bollywood star Aamir Khan as one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World 2013"
Aamir Khan, a teen idol of the early ‘90s turned dashing romantic leading man, has for several years been Bollywood’s most exportable overachiever: producer-star of the Oscar-nominated "Lagaan," director-star of this year’s Indian Oscar submission "Taare Zameen Par." In his latest offering, "Ghajini," Khan goes aggressively down-market, indulging a midlife urge to kick ass and snap necks in slow motion, like some of the South Indian action behemoths who have recently been kicking Hindi cinema’s ass at the national box office. The result is an experience almost too stimulating for the non-Indian nervous system, a blockbuster layer cake of full-strength escapist entertainment. In a series of gaudy, tuneful flashbacks, Khan is the sleek CEO of a cell-phone company, a prince of industry passing as a commoner so that a radiant young actress will fall in love with his soul and not his money. In the much darker present-day sequences, he’s a revenge-obsessed victim of anterograde amnesia, complete with shaved, scarred cranium, bulging muscles crawling with tattoos, and a pocketful of annotated Polaroids.
The movie does, indeed, owe a large debt to "Memento," albeit once removed: This version of "Ghajini" is an exceedingly detailed redo of a 2005 Tamil/Telegu carbon of Christopher Nolan’s film. Although there are some variations, especially in the second half, long stretches of the two Ghajinis are virtually identical. The new cast includes several prominent holdovers, including leading lady Asin Thottumkal, bad guy Pradeep Rawat, and muscle-bound cop Riyaz Khan, with Aamir seemingly pasted in over original star Surya, who won a regional Best Actor award for the role. If Khan was hoping some of the commercial mojo of South Indian action icons such as Superstar Rajnikanth ("Sivaji the Boss") might rub off, he could scarcely have picked a better collaborator for the project than A.R. Murugadoss, the writer-director of both versions of Ghajini, auteur of the legendary headbanger "Stalin: Man for the Society" (2005), a master of the pile-driving Southern style. (Key YouTube clip: “megastalin intro.”) The reinvigorated performer strides into battle in Ghajini haloed with bullet-time clouds of glittering water droplets, wrapping his opponents around tree trunks and perforating them with iron pipes, already half-transformed into Superstar Aamirkhanth. (Culver Plaza; Fallbrook 7; Laguna Hills Mall; Naz 8 Artesia; Naz 8 Riverside) (David Chute)
No spoilers of any kind in this small contribution on the single most significant GoT episode to date. Recap write-ups from the East Coast were posted hours ago, and HBO has been sending out screener discs not in advance but days or even weeks after episodes are shown, which makes it tough for Westies to compete. We've decided simply to ignore the problem.
TIME magazine's James Poniewozik has correctly described this episode, "The Rains of Castamere," as "brutal, heartbreaking, impeccably well-constructed, horrifying, and appropriately cruel. It was, like the betrayal itself, ruthless and efficient and left no doubt about the finality or ugliness of the crime." And EW has a terrific George R.R. Martin interview about writing the Red Wedding chapter a decade ago, and readers' often bitter reactions.
I've read only the first three Ice and Fire novels, but it already seems likely to me that the Wedding will be a defining, pivotal event of the entire saga -- a literal pivot that stops the train, spins it around, and sends it roaring off in a new direction. A truer direction, probably, than the one we had in mind.
Raymond Chandler used to say that in the hard boiled pulp magazines of the 1930s there was rule of thumb for keeping stories from getting into a rut: "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand." Martin's inclination to deliver energizing shocks at regular intervals is more extreme, and it isn't just a tactical choice to help keep the books humming.
My thought is that plotting his stories this way is an ethical choice for Martin. Like quite a few OG literary dinosaurs, he believes a writer's prime directive is to tell the truth. A student of the brutalities of medieval history (The Red Wedding derives from Scotland's notorious Black Dinner) determined to adhere to the way things most often play out in the real world. And could there be a more radical context in which to make this point than in a genre like Fantasy, so often stereotyped as the last word in escapism?
As central as this theme is to the novels and the TV show, so too is the "Game" plotter who best understands it and plays the dire probabilities like a stringed instrument, Tyrion Lannister. The way things work in Westeros, of course, I'm afraid say anything too doting about my favorite character. I have an image of an Acme anvil, or one of Terry Gilliam's giant animated feet, slamming down out of the heavens. Or a man coming through a door with a dagger in his hand.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
...or at least his arteries. A UK website devoted exclusively to the subset of the classic English Breakfast known as the Fry Up. The absence of American-style bacon is a flaw, but forgivable.
Also this, Taco Bell's signature breakfast item; sausage and eggs, in a waffle. Proves that food can be NSFW.