Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Top 10 Movies: 2003

My favorite movies of 2003, in no particular order:
  • Kill Bill Vol 1
  • Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
  • Shattered Glass
  • Elf
  • Finding Nemo
  • 28 Days Later
  • Spellbound
  • Big Fish
  • School of Rock
  • American Splendor

And, honorable mention goes to:

  • Lost in Translation

I'm producing a movie with Kiefer Sutherland

Sort of. A while ago I became an executive producer of The 1 Second Film. Anyone can participate, just by donating money to a worthy cause. Become a part of film history!

Top 10 Movies: 2002

Here're my favorite movies from 2002, again in no particular order:
  • Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • Y Tu Mamá También
  • Monsoon Wedding
  • Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
  • The Château
  • Igby Goes Down
  • 8 Women
  • Punch-Drunk Love
  • Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
  • 25th Hour

There were a lot of amazing films that year, so here are a few more that deserve honorable mention:
  • Spider-Man
  • 24 Hour Party People
  • Spirited Away

Monday, May 28, 2007

Top 10 Movies: 2001

A few years ago, when I was working as a web developer at, I started making my own list of favorite movies of the year, along with a few other non-journalist movie enthusiast. This seems a good place to post those lists (and future lists, when the time comes). Without further ado, here are my 10 favorite films from 2001 (in no particular order):

  • In the Mood for Love
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Memento
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Gosford Park
  • Donnie Darko
  • Tape
  • Ghost World

Coming Sooon: My favorite films from 2002!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Uncanny Valley: Reflection

I've been staying in a hotel the past couple days, and in my room there were a whole bunch of mirrors in and around the bathroom. They were set up in such a way that when I walked out of the bathroom, just after passing the threshold, there was a reflection of a reflection of a reflection that made it look like someone was behind me, walking in the opposite direction. Of course, it was me, but that didn't keep me from being startled for a second each time I saw it.

I meant to take a picture, but I forgot.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Blog fixed!

Hooray, it took a while, but the blog seems to have sorted itself out. To be more specific than I was in my previous post - Sprint Picture Mail broke my blog. I tried to email a photo from my Treo directly to the blog. Flickr handles that really well, but Blogger doesn't. So, the post included the whole ridiculous HTML email from Sprint, instead of just the photo with title and description.

Not that big a deal, I guess except that it displayed in an ugly, illegible way, and when I tried to delete the post it wouldn't delete, and things I posted afterwards weren't showing up.

Overnight it seems to have refreshed and all is well again.

Damn it

I think I broke my blog.

Bubble Tea

Bubble Tea
Originally uploaded by Mirka23.
Drinking Peach Rose Tea with litchi jelly, shortly before the beginning of the Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Is it legal for TSA to joke about fake IDs?

Very early this morning, I was at the the airport in Raleigh/Durham, heading back to New York. Aside from the fact that I had gotten up obscenely early, I was also kind of cranky because I had waited on the security line for half an hour (who knew it was going to be that crowded at 6am!) and I tend to find the whole airport security situation kind of demoralizing. The longer I stand there, the more irritated I feel. Then they took my yogurt away. Then came this conversation...

TSA guy: Did you take your older sister's ID?

It's safe to say my sense of humor was still deeply asleep at this point, and I could't even understand what he meant by this, much less comprehend that it was a joke. So, my clever comeback...

Me: Uh, what?
TSA guy: Are you going to give your older sister's ID back?
Me: Um, no?

I know I was half asleep and humorless at the time, but even now I can't imagine how to respond to something like that.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Tonight I went to see the play Frost/Nixon, and it was great despite numerous logistical problems with the production. At first I thought they were just making some weird lighting choices, but then they stopped the play and announced that there were technical problems. Michael Sheen did an amazing job of picking the scene back up again several minutes later, but the spell was broken a little and I think the audience was a little less engaged after the interruption. Sirens in Times Square were going off endlessly during what was supposed to be a silent, pensive scene. People were fidgety. The spotlight had a weird tendency to suddenly shift away from the person on stage and point straight down onto the audience below. Oh and some jackass's phone starting ringing (ringtone: "When the saints come marching in") during the dramatic final monologue. It continued through the end of the monologue and into the next scene. It went on for so long that other jackasses started shouting "shut it off!" (as if that helped).

Still, as I said, the play was really amazing. Plus, when we left, we saw Matthew Fox standing outside talking to some friends. Unless he just likes to hang out outside the Jacobs Theatre, I'm guessing he saw the play, too.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tribeca Film Fest - Sunday, May 6

Well, I've been avoiding posting about the last day of the film festival. I went to see two of the festivals award winning films. First I saw the winner of the World Narrative Award - My Father My Lord. This film really annoyed me. It's slow and laborious, and the basic premise seems to be that people who are completely dedicated to their religion (in this case, the person in question is an orthodox jew) are dangerously disengaged from the people around them. I'm not talking fundamentalism, violence, etc. I'm talking about the people who believe in their faith so strongly that it's all they think or talk about.

I'm not usually the kind of person who thinks that a negative portrayal of a member of a group is necessarily a general statement about that group. But this filmmaker seems to have a message, and aside from the fact that it seems kind of anti-Semitic, it's presented in such a manipulative way, it made me feel insulted. I think the film used boredom and alienation - by boring and alienating its audience - to make us resent the protagonist. Ugh, I don't even want to talk about it anymore. When I was leaving the theater, a woman was on the phone telling someone how beautiful the film had been. I wanted to ask her if she was on crack, but I didn't.

The second film I saw was the Emerging Narrative Award Winner - Two Embraces. I liked this one a lot better, but I think by this point I had gotten a little burnt out on the film festival. This one actually did look beautiful. It had a sort of high contrast look, with muted colors, and a sort of dirty chromium sheen. There were two stories that take place in Mexico, and the theme seemed to be how people connect with each other. Really nicely done.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Packaging can be tricky

I was in a deli this evening, and took part in the following conversation with a frantic girl who had some kind of British accent (or possibly Australian, it was hard to tell because the conversation was so brief and rushed):

Girl: (to clerk) Are these corn chips?
(he doesn't respond)
Girl: (to me) Are these corn chips?
(she waves the package in my face)
me: Those are flour.
Girl: Are they corn chips?
me: No
Girl: How will I know if they're corn chips?
me: It'll say "corn" on it.

Then she ran back to the shelves to find corn chips.

Tribeca Film Fest - Saturday, May 5

Benson Lee
Originally uploaded by Mirka23.
Went to the theater early this morning to see Planet B-boy, a documentary about an international breakdancing competition. See, breakdancing didn't disappear when we forgot about it in the mid-80s. It spread around the world and evolved. You can still see evidence of it in American pop culture, but this film is probably the most awe-inspiring you've seen it in a long time.

The film follows five crews as they get ready for the international competition called Battle of the Year. Two crews from South Korea (one was the champ from the previous year), one from France, one from the USA, and one from Japan. The dancing is incredible. The film is insightful and funny. The art direction is quality - there're some amazing graphics, especially in the beginning of the film.

The film does a great job of introducing the crews and before you know it you're identifying with them and why they all want - need - to win this competition. I'm not afraid to admit that I cried when they announced the winner. Tears of joy, of course. Afterwards, when I told director Benson Lee (pictured) that I loved the film and I cried at the end, he said, "It got you, huh?" and then he patted me on the back.

I've seen a description of the film which described the annual Battle of the Year competition as "the World Cup of b-boying." That's kind of ironic, because the second film I saw today was Michael Apted's The Power of the Game, which actually was about the World Cup, and it didn't come anywhere near having the impact of B-boy.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, anyone who would see this movie probably already knows the outcome of the 2006 World Cup, so there's no suspense there. For another, the film is not really able to get as familiar with all of the people it introduces, so it fails to create the same feeling of investment in the "characters." But the worst offense is, I think, a serious violation of the premise of the film. I think this was done so that the film would more easily appeal to an American audience, but it seriously backfires.

See, the movie seems to be, for the most part, about exploring the positive ways that soccer (a.k.a. football in most of the world) has impacted people's lives. Usually these are social, economic, or political issues that soccer is somehow helping people to transcend. These issues include Apartheid in South Africa, oppression of women in Iran, extreme poverty in Argentina, racism and anti-Semitism in Europe, and child slavery in Senegal. These are all very serous matters, and while you may question how it could be that soccer helps combat these evils, it's definitely an interesting concept to explore.

What I can't understand is why a good fifth of the film (maybe more) is devoted to the USA, where apparently our biggest soccer-related social issue is a lack of enthusiasm for the sport. Seriously? That's what you want to talk about? Landon Donovan isn't as famous and obscenely rich as other American sports stars? Aside from the fact that this material seems frivolous and out of place with the rest of the film, there's the additional insult of an implication (by both Donovan and ex-US national coach, Bruce Arena) that it's the fans' fault that the sport is not more popular in the U.S. This film was severely disappointing.

Spongebob Selfishpants

When I was waiting on line to get into Rise last night, two women behind me were having the most ridiculous conversation. They kept bringing things up and then saying "that's what's wrong with this society." These included:
1. A "small" soda at the movie theater is actually quite large.
2. Going to the dentist and paying someone to scrape your teeth.
3. People drinking bottled water.

But, right before we went into the theater, the best one of all, and clearly the most damning evidence of what's really wrong with this society: Spongebob Squarepants is unbearably narcissistic. Some thoughtless child was forcing this woman to watch Spongebob, and the woman couldn't stand it because "all he wants to do is take a bath and make his friends watch." She was particularly disturbed by this because she recently went through a self-absorbed phase, herself, so she refused to watch the show. By all means, no one should have to tolerate a narcissistic cartoon character.

Tribcea Film Fest - Friday, May 4

West 32nd poster
Originally uploaded by Mirka23.
Tonight I saw two tense movies. The first was West 32nd, a Korean-American crime drama starring John Cho and Grace Park. John plays a a young lawyer who's trying to help out a family whose teenage boy seems to be wrapped up in a gang-related murder. Grace plays the sister of the boy. There was a wide range of Korean-American experiences on display in the story, and apparently most of the actors - aside from John, Grace, and a third main character played by Jun Sung Kim, from Seoul - are local actors.

I was happy to see that, even at the fifth screening, the director, some of the crew, and a whole bunch of actors showed up. It probably helped that most people involved in the film live around here, but I was still happy to see so many people who were excited about the project they had helped make. Here's a photo I took of Dante Han and Lanny Joon, two of the actors in the film.

Later I saw Rise: Blood Hunter, a sort of vampire thriller film. It was a lot scarier than I expected it to be. Lucy Liu plays a reporter who stumbles onto the wrong lead. She gets turned into a vampire and then seeks revenge on the people that did this to her. Some parts of the story don't make any sense, but it's loud, dark, gory and exciting, and Lucy Liu is half naked several times during the movie, so I'm sure it will do alright.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tribeca Film Fest - Wednesday, May 2

Saw Kevin Connelly's film Gardener of Eden last night. Lukas Haas plays a New Jersey slacker who inadvertently becomes a local hero and decides that it's his mission in life. It's like the anti-spiderman.

I'm not even sure if this was a comedy or a drama, a dark comedy, maybe a funny drama? It's kind of different and interesting, but sometimes the pacing was way too slow.

Tomorrow I'm taking a day off from the film festival.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Blackberry Effect

This morning I remembered something odd from the Suburban Girl screening last night. There's a theme about Blackberries running through the movie. The communications device, not the fruit. At the risk of making it sound deeper than it is, I would say that there are some key points in the script where the device symbolizes both the large age gap between Alec Baldwin's character and the young women in his life AND his attempts to bridge that gap.

This significant device seemed to trigger something in the audience, because when the lights came up, people on all sides couldn't even wait to get out of their seats before they fired up their own blackberries and started texting. This reminded me of when I saw a midnight screening Dazed and Confused, many years ago, and nearly everyone in the audience lit up a cigarette as soon as they exited the theater door. At 2am, the streets were completely deserted except for a group of about a hundred people standing outside a theater entrance, smoking.

Tribeca Film Fest - Tuesday, May 1

Watching The Detectives Q&A
Originally uploaded by Mirka23.

Tonight I saw two films. The first was Watching the Detectives, a quirky, wonderful comedy written and directed by Paul Soter (sitting on the left in the photo). It stars Cillian Murphy as a video store owner and movie enthusiast, and Lucy Liu (standing on the far right in the photo) as his eccentric love interest. I'm not even sure what to say about this film, because you should really just see it.

It's weird and adorable, and even though the characters are kind of off-the-wall, I never had the feeling (like I so often do with comedies described as "quirky") that the screenwriter was trying too hard, that the characters are all just a little too wacky and interesting. I think this is because their personalities are unusual, but at different volumes. Like real people. The mistake so many movies make is that everyone is equally weird. This film has some people that are mildly strange, some that seem interesting but very normal, and some that seem completely absurd. But they all interact like it's totally normal, and it seems somehow kind of realistic, at the same time that it's clearly a complete fantasy.

Since it was the premiere, Paul Soter and much of the cast were there to talk about the film and answer questions. Man, Lucy Liu is stunning! Some celebs not in the movie were also in attendance, including Ajay Naidu (Office Space) and Rachel Dratch.

I almost forgot to mention the second film I saw, Suburban Girl. I think the fact that I just saw it a couple hours ago and I've pretty much already forgotten about it kind of says it all. On the surface it's like a cross between Devil Wears Prada and Shopgirl, with more literary aspirations. On a deeper level, well, there is no deeper level. The chemistry between Alec Baldwin and Sarah Michelle Gellar alternates between not that interesting and kind of creepy. Even more than Baldwin's performance in last year's Mini's First Time, which I think was supposed to be creepy. (Alec Baldwin, you are hilarious, but please stop playing guys who are dating girls in their teens and early 20s!)

Plus, I think it's going to be hard for people to put aside what's going on in Baldwin's personal life at the moment. His character in the film has some similar issues with his daughter, which, in the screening I saw, resulted in a lot of laughter at scenes which were definitely not meant to be funny.

Tribeca Film Fest - Monday, April 30

Saw Zak Penn's movie The Grand and I loved it. It's a mockumentary in the world of professional poker. Woody Harrelson plays a guy who has to win a major winner-take-all tournament in order to save his grandfather's casino. The cast of the improvised film includes actors and comedians (some of whom are well known for playing poker in real life), some popular professional poker players, and some acting turns by directors. Werner Herzog is brilliant as "The German."

I'm not sure if this movie will be entertaining to people who don't already enjoy watching professional poker on TV. But if you do, you will probably LOVE it. I would buy this movie on DVD right now if I could.

Tribeca Film Fest - Sunday, April 29

Saw three films. Blue State was the first narrative that I've seen this year. It's about a liberal guy, played by Breckin Meyer, who moves to Canada when GWB wins the 2004 election. Anna Paquin joins him on his road trip, and they proceed to have a wacky romantic-comedy adventure, with politics. Now, I wouldn't have minded that so much, if the politics were expressed through the course of the story. Instead, it kind of feels like there are things going on, and every once in a while we take a break from the romance and the comedy so that the characters can sit there and discuss their political views. Interesting premise, great performances, even a lot of funny situations, but the script needed better integration of action and ideas.

Then I saw a program of shorts called Taken to Extremes. These were all documentaries, mostly about people who have kind of extreme interests or lifestyles. One of the highlights was Piece by Piece, about "speedcubers" - several of whom describe their hobby of solving the rubik's cube as an addiction! There were 5 other short films, and actually all of them were really interesting and well done.

Last I saw A Slim Peace, a documentary about a weight loss group in Jerusalem that included women who were Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish American settlers, Bedouin. Some were secular some were religious, and of course they had conflicting politics. I think the idea was to see whether they would overcome these differences and find a common ground. And to some degree they did, but the premise still makes me sort of uncomfortable. Are our personal insecurities the key to transcending deeply-rooted, seemingly insurmountable religious, national, and cultural conflicts? (Well, the answer seems to be No.)