Friday, December 31, 2004

EAT: Rangoli

Lunch was had at Rangoli today in the South Granville area. It’s next to Vij’s whose chef is hot in the Vancouver restaurant scene right now according to my friend. The chef opened Rangoli as a more casual, trendy Indian restaurant that specializes in vacuum sealed food-to-go packets but of course you can sit down and have a delicious meal in one of their tiny tables which I loved because it reminded me of eating out in Buenos Aires where all the tables are small so you can have an intimate meal with someone or someones.

My friend and I ordered the portabello mushroom curry and a grilled tamarind chicken dish which came with rice, mixed greens, and daal. Both were delicious. The daal, however, was a bit disappointing. I think it was a little too plain. The naan is excellent, the best I’ve ever had, tasty and chewy.

So what you do is order at the counter and they bring the food to your table. The only bad thing is that we waited for what seemed like an eternity for our food to arrive so they sated us with some free naan and a spicy green sauce. The service is quite exceptional. The servers are all very friendly and eager to make your dining experience as pleasant as possible.

I have a feeling that I’ll be coming here often to pick up their to-go entrees on the nights that I don’t feel like cooking which will probably be many.

Most dishes $9 to $11.

1488 W. 11th Ave.
Vancouver, BC

::4 stars::

Friday, December 03, 2004


Vancouver edition coming soon in early 2005. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

HEAR: "In Love Again" - Stacey Kent

This is a dangerous album. It's got me feeling amorous and believing in romance again. Shoot, I'm done for.

As soon as I heard the first song, it felt as if I had heard Kent before. I think her songs have been used in countless commercials (to peddle cars, perfume and other lifestyle products), at J. Crew, at Banana Republic, and in romantic commedies. She just sounds so familiar.

Be warned, this is an ultra romantic album. Kent has a beautiful, girlish voice that sounds exquisitely sophisticated and old school. She sings softly, in a dreamy-like manner, that puts silly thoughts into your head.

I really feel like I'm padding through Banana Republic as I listen to this album. It even evokes that ubiquitous smell that is present in all the stores.

Anyway, this is a great date album for those with cosmopolitan tastes who appreciate jazz vocalists.

::5 stars::

GO: Echo Park

Walking down the streets of this once-feared (I suppose it still is) neighborhood on a sunny and mild Sunday afternoon turned out to be quite the pleasant experience. And no, my friend and I were not the only lonely souls braving the sidewalks. People of Echo Park are of that rare ambulant variety. I almost felt like I was in a foreign country where pedestrian activity is more widely practiced as opposed to in this city. Because, remember, nobody walks in L.A. as that one song declares.

We made our way over to Echo Park to check out the Art Crawl event put on by various art galleries in the eastside. Starting out on Sunset Boulevard by Sea Level Records, we headed east to a gallery called TIMBREspace where we saw comic book-influenced illustrations. Quite whimsical. Then, right around the corner on Logan Street was Habit Trail Gallery. The art on display there was nothing much to write home about. All I can say is that there's some looney shit out there that's abominably being called "art."

Back on Sunsent Blvd. we continued east and once we came upon Echo Park Blvd. we turned right and headed north. This street was more deserted, flanked by rather depressing looking homes. Then, all of a sudden in the distance we spied gasp! White People. A whole bunch of 'em. So here they were! We had only seen mostly Latinos until now. In the block where they were hanging out stood various boutique shops: a high-end hair salon, a bath and beauty merchant, vintage clothing shops, and you get the idea. Chango, an uppity cafe, punctuated the end of this yuppy retail strip. Outside Chango one beholds your expected bohemians and even the more clichéd scene of a long-tressed musician strumming his guitar with his buddies. It was just too much.

A little upways from Chango we visited The bASeMent art gallery which is - where else? - but in the basement of an elegant art deco building. Now, this place had what I call art. On exhibit was "Staples" by Daniela Arriaga. The artist produced images on paper with staples. That's right - staples! She calls them "sculptures," but the kind you hang on a wall. She had this one large piece of a fireplace that was "drawn" by stapling thousands of steel staples on a poster size piece of white paper. It resembled a sketch done with graphite. I love these artists who use humble, everyday objects that we don't think twice to discard to create something beautiful and worthy to preserve. Her staple still lifes were truly a marvel to behold.

Another haven for white folks is the newly opened bakery and cafe, Masa of Echo Park, on Sunset, not too far from Sea Level Records where we began our foray. I don't think anyone but white people can afford to eat there, even though the prices are pretty modest. Of course, that's relative - modest only for people above a certain income threshold. I doubt the the majority of the population who live in Echo Park would readily shell out $6-7 for a shee-shee sandwich.

Anyway, they serve a variety of salads, sandwiches, crepes, and pizza. Also, the staff is quite friendly. I guess they're going for the "we want to be friends with our neighbors" vibe.

Echo Park, as it stands today, is still a far cry from a hip, trendy, and safe neighborhood. However, it shows signs that it is in the nascent stages of gentrification. In ten years, I'm sure it will look like Silverlake with its own Gelson's and Trader Joe's. In fact, an empty supermarket stands on Sunset and Echo Park Blvd., and I'm sure Whole Foods or, God forbid, a Bristol Farms may move into the neighborhood before you know it.

Sea Level Records 1716 W. Sunset Bl.
TIMBREspace 1706 1/2 W. Sunset Bl.
Habit Trail 1163 Logan St.
The bASeMent 1650 Echo Park Ave. #105
Masa of Echo Park 1800 W. Sunset Bl.

::5 stars::

HEAR: I See Hawks In L.A.


I'm absolutely enamored.

I See Hawks in L.A. is an alt-country, cosmic cowboy band whose music is an amalgamation of hillbilly, honky-tonk, old school country, bluegrass, country-rock, and psychedelic country. They play the kind of country music I like: REAL country. None of that country-pop garbage that's on constant rotation on mainstream country radio stations.

I saw three members of the Hawks perform last night at Cole's bar. Paul Lacques, guitar; Rob Waller, lead vocal, guitar; and Paul Marshall, bass. They rocked the house. Well, more like the living room since that was the size of the dark hole in the back where they played. I don't think I've ever gone to a show that had such a good, intimate vibe like last night. The audience was very engaged since the musicians had a knack for engendering a good, friendly rapport with the fans that came to see them. It was as if we were huddled around a campfire somewhere out in the wilderness, enjoying the best music ever - laughing, clapping, foot-stomping, howling at the moon (yes, a couple people actually did howl). It was truly the most fun I had at a show.

The highlight was hearing the guys sing "Grapevine," which is the song that introduced me to this super-awesome band. When I first heard it on the radio a few weeks ago, it immediately grabbed my attention because it sounded sublimely old school. This tune is the title song of their recently released album, which is excellent, by the way. I dig every song on it. And that's a rare occurrence. In every album, there's almost always at least one song, if not more, where I'm thinking, "Why are you insulting my ears?"

Supposedly, a Slash impersonator was going around Los Angeles a few years ago, and the guys penned the most hilarious song about it - a very tongue-in-cheek, dramatic narrative song about the shenanigans of this audacious impostor. The chorus goes like this: "Slash, Slash, The guy from Guns 'N' Roses." You just have to hear it. It's silly, but awesome.

The Hawks' songwriting is truly top-notch. Often, landscape imagery poetically permeate the songs and animal critters inhabit these lyrical terrains. Plus, the SoCal references make the tunes more personal to me.

The lead singer has a voice that is not pretentious but honest, simple, and straightforward. It's also not too twangy but quite mellow, so it's rather easy on the ears. The vocals in this band are very much like those of the erstwhile folk and country singers of the 60's and 70's. The three players are capable of some brilliant harmonizing, which adds to the atmospheric and idyllic quality of their music. Listening to the Hawks often brings up images of being in a truck stop in some dusty little town in the Southwest and you hear a country song crackling softly from a radio in the back of the counter as you eat your food or shop around for snacks to hold you up for the next 200 miles or so.

Cole's is a pretty cool joint in and of itself. Didn't know such a place existed in Downtown L.A. because who would want do venture in there once the sun sets and the worker ants have recoiled to their surburban holes? I think this is probably the most favorite bar I've gone to here in L.A. (and it's not like I've gone to a lot), even though it was teeming with what looked like 'SC students (*shudder*). My friend and I were the only Asians there at first. Surprisingly, a small group of other Asians showed up to listen to the Hawks, but they didn't stick around the whole show. Anyway, we totally looked out of place there, but I'm sure the Hawks enjoyed seeing their music being enjoyed by non-whites.

Cole's is a very saloon-ish dive. It's also very chill and laid-back, and not pretentious like the places in the westside. A lot of trendy, hipsters I did see last night, but they weren't trying to play up the glam factor like so many do in those establishments west of Highland Ave. The place very much felt like a neighborhood pub that is frequented by the locals. And that's probably exactly what it is. Downtown L.A. is undergoing a revitalization, and many artist-types have moved into the lofts that are cropping up everywhere in this once neglected, feared, and shunned part of Los Angeles. I'm sure Cole's will only get more crowded in the years to come.

Cole's has a few German beers on tap. I especially enjoyed my lager - whatever German name it was called. I am definitely going to come back to this bar to enjoy the libations and bask in the otherwordly music of the Hawks, who do regular gigs there. It's places like Cole's and local bands like the Hawks that will make it even more difficult to leave L.A. when my time expires in this beloved city of mine.

I See Hawks in L.A. is one band for which I would gladly become a groupie.

The Hawks usually perform Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. Go to their website to confirm. Get there a little early because the place fills up quick. Guaranteed you'll have a ball. No cover. They pass around a bucket instead, adding a charming church-y feeling to the whole night.

Coles Bar
118 E. 6th Street (at Main, take 6th St. exit off 110 freeway, east 1 mile, just past Main)

::5 stars::

HEAR: Sara Bareilles

Finally managed to get into the Hotel Cafe last night. Once inside, I finally understood why the last show I attempted to get into was sold out. The bloody place is the size of a living room!

My friend Julie invited me to go see Sara Bareilles perform with her band. I never heard of her before and didn't really know what to expect. Julie simply told me she was a singer-songwriter, so I expected something of a Sarah McLachlan wannabe. Well, my assumption was proven awry as soon as Sara Bareilles opened her mouth to sing. What I heard was a strong, stunning voice with a whole lot of presence. I was very impressed by this white girl who boldly belted out songs like a soulful diva. Sara's music is where jazz, pop, R&B, soul, blues and rock convene to produce a sound that is very pleasing to the ear. I didn't care too much for her mellow, sentimental ballads - they're pretty to listen to at the first hearing but I get bored with these type of songs really quick. She did, however, a rather sweet cover of "Time After Time" that I really liked. But the real gems were the bluesy numbers that make you let loose and just sway to the undulating notes that come hard and fast at you.

Sara is also a very talented songwriter. I rarely pay attention to lyrics but the ones she penned definitely called my attention.

For some mysterious reason, she reminds me of Stevie Wonder. Maybe it's the keyboard or the sunny sound in her music.

Anyway, Sara has residency at the Hotel Cafe for the rest of September on Wednesday evenings at 9 p.m. She is definitely worth checking out. I paid a $6 cover, which I'm assuming will remain the same for the rest of the month.

Warning: Being a small venue, bodies are sandwiched here like sardines. Watch out for spilling drinks.

1623 1/2/ N. Cahuenga Blvd. (just south of Hollywood Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90028 323-461-2040

::5 stars::

EAT: Bossa Nova

Do yourself a big favor and get on over to Bossa Nova. Quick!

This Brazillian restaurant boasts of a huge menu, offering a wide selection of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, and items from the grill. And it's all pretty affordable - nearly everything is under $10.

I ordered a grilled vegetables platter that came with rice and beans, salsa, and fried plantains. I especially relished the rice and beans. My friend got a salmon platter from the grill which he seemed to enjoy.

My sister has gone there quite a number of times as well (and failed to let me know about it!), and she raves about some egg sandwich she orders all the time.

Bossa Nova is a cute little place that offers indoor and outdoor dining. I even saw one person smoking, so I guess this place is one of the few smoker-friendly eating establishments in L.A.

Pros: it's open until 4 a.m.!
Cons: valet parking only ($4) or street parking, if you're lucky.

7181 Sunset Blvd. (west of La Brea)
Los Angeles, CA 90046

::4 stars::

HEAR: Keane - "Hopes and Fears"

If soaring vocals and sentimental lyrics driven by emotional, sweeping music strikes your fancy, then Keane may be to your liking. This UK band has been compared to Coldplay, but which up-and-coming band has NOT been likened to Mr. Paltrow's band?

What gives Keane its one-of-a-kind sound is the prominence of the piano. No guitars in this trio, which is a refreshing break from the acoustic guitar that dominates indie music of this particular vein.

My favorite track is the opener, "Somewhere Only We Know." The more upbeat songs (but by no means sunny lyrics) appeal to me the most. The bouncy tempo in contrast to Tom Chaplin's doleful vocals provides a nice tension that keep your ears tingling. However, the mellow tunes are a little too forlorn for my taste.

This is a very nice album to listen to when you're feeling without a sense of direction in love's terrain. Very comforting. Let Chaplin's lofty, melancholic vocals whisk you away on an emotional musical roller coaster ride you'll enjoy. But don't worry, it won't bring you down, but rather your foot will tap to the buoyant sound of Keane (inspite of the languishing lyrics that threaten to weigh the music down).

::4 stars::

EAT: Silverlake Coffee Co.

SILVERLAKE has become a bit of a mythical place for me. A sort of bohemian Camelot. Ever since its gentrification (hence sending rent prices up and driving away the working class that lived there before), much ink has been spilled over this hip, happenin' neighborhood where all the cool, trendy people live now. The kind of crowd I saw myself rubbing shoulders with: graphic designers, writers, artists, musicians, etc. Naively, I imagine these quick-witted folks having hedonistic lives, eating great food at sordid dinner parties where highbrow conversations, with lots of colorful and smart vocabulary, flow, while sophisticated music floats in the background, promoting the smug ain't-I-so-cool attitude in all of us. Yeah right.

Nevertheless, I stood on the sidelines, wishing I can live in a neighborhood like Silverlake, where creative energy pulses through the walls infecting everyone inhabiting in between. Alas, part of this hipster populace, I will probably never be. They would most certainly all get on my nerves. And so insecure I'd be in their company that undoubtedly I will think I'm better than the whole lot put together - humph! But a girl can still dream, no? I'm such a shameless wannabe...

Anyway, I've driven through Silverlake countless of times by way of the reservoir but never dared to veer off my usual route to explore it, fearing that I would really fall in love with it and only be more frustrated by the fact that I can't live there. I know about its restaurants and music venues, but I've kept myself away. However...

This morning, after many years of reading about this neck of the woods, I finally ventured to my first Silverlake establishment. With a bit of trepidation, I must say. The venue: Silverlake Coffee Co. Again, I had read about this coffee shop recently. Their espresso banana ice blended drink came highly recommended. Since it was on my way, I decided to check it out.

Stepping in, I was welcomed by a clean, fairly bright interior. Already, there were a few customers sitting at the tables with their laptops. Writers, I figured. Wow, this early in the day? But I didn't hear any keys tapping. They were staring into space. Do I know that feeling, or what? The cunningly sassy cursor blinking, taunting, "I dare you..." Then, I put that sucker to work! Pardon my digression.

I ordered my espresso banana drink. For $3.50 you get transported to ice blended heaven. Now, I'm not huge fan of ice blended drinks but this concoction is quite the merrymaker. It seriously put me in a good mood. Euphoria for under $5? I'll take it!

Back in the car, my thoughts wandered back to those writers. What discipline, I thought, waking oneself early to write. It reminded me of the newly named poet laureate,Ted Kooser, who supposedly got up at 4:30 am every day to write before clocking in to work. Now I'm inspired to do the same. I always complain I have no time to write, so I'm going to make time to do so. Once I get my new fetching iBook (soon and very soon!), hopefully, it will motivate me to wake myself at an ungodly hour and drive myself over to Silverlake Coffee to type away (or stare into space). But I wonder, can I be creative that early in the morning? I'm usually inspired in the last 90 minutes of the day until my lids pull themselves shut. Well, we shall see what crazy ideas, if any, I come up with between sunrise and 8:30 a.m.

Silverlake Coffee Co. is open every day until 8pm. And best of all, there's an adjacent parking lot! Always a plus in L.A. Besides coffee and the usual carb spread of muffins, scones, and cakes, they also serve sandwiches.

2388 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90039
South of Silver Lake Blvd.

::5 stars::

READ: Dan Neil

Dan Neil is fast becoming one of my favorite modern-day writers. I think he is a genius. The ultimate writing machine. OK, maybe I'm getting carried away a little here. But man, is he goooood.

Mr. Neil won a Pulitzer this year for his meritorious writing achievements. Achievements, indeed, because everything I've read so far by this fine writer is worthy of praise, prizes, and more Pulitzers. He has a masterful command of the English language, threading words together to compose the most stellar sentences that are a joy to read.

Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Neil is the automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times? Yep, he reviews cars. He's the first automotive critic to win a Pulitzer. Boy, did he deserve it.

He is such an outstanding writer that he has me reading car reviews for Pete's sake!!! All I know about the car is that it takes me from Point A to Point B if I'm thoughtful enough to satiate its demand for fuel. Obviously, I don't read his reviews because I'm interested in the automobile per se. I read purely to enjoy his superlative writing finesse. The language in his work is nearly poetic, and I love the wonderful metaphors he uses. What also makes his articles very readable for someone who is clueless about cars is that he injects keen cultural observations, and his humor also helps. He doesn't just write about cars. He contributes social/cultural commentary that this anthropology major appreciates very much.

One of my favorite articles is when he reviewed the Lexus SC430 and considered what constitutes a "chick car." Even though he kind of got technical comparing the physical attributes of a chick car as opposed to a more masculine-looking car, I thoroughly enjoyed it. His humorous approach made it reader-friendly so I wasn't completely lost as he threw out various automotive jargon.

My first encounter with Dan Neil was when I fortuitously read his piece on driving some crazy-hot, look-at-me Ferrari around car-centric Los Angeles for a week. It was probably the best article I read hands down. He didn't just talk about the car itself. He included the whole experience of what it felt like to drive around in such a car and what an ego-booster it was to his masculine psyche as he got reactions from various spectators. It practically read like an anthropological ethnography. And the quality of writing was absolutely awe-inspiring.

Maybe I'm just too easily impressed, but when I see good writing I can't help but appreciate it because I've been exposed to far too many mediocre writers.

::5 stars::

HEAR: k.d. lang @ The Hollywoood Bowl

Well, first I must say something about the newly remodeled Bowl shell. At first sight, I didn't like it one bit. I missed the spheres that looked like they were floating ethereally above the musicians. And I was also grossed out by the giant four screens that flanked the sides of the amphitheatre. How tacky, I thought. Anyway, after Saturday night, the Bowl makeover is starting to grow on me.

I am sooooo grateful I got to see k.d. lang in concert. It's the best show I've seen period. She gave an unforgettable tour de force performance. Wow, does the woman have some pipes or what? I liked every song she performed, so I wasn't bored for a single second which means that every penny I paid for the concert was well-spent. The best song she delivered by far was Roy Orbinson's "Crying." That woman has made it her own. I also feel fortunate to have heard her singing live her signature hit, "Constant Craving," which is my favorite song of hers. She had fun with it by doing a jazzy rendition of it.

The highlights were when she sang some of the songs from her new album, Hymns of the 49th Parallel. The songs are all written by Canadians. These songs are not only beautiful, but they very much tug at your heart strings. My favorite one is called, "Helpless," which makes you want to cry because it's so exquisitely melodious - it's downright sublime. It's apparent that those Canadians really know how to write a ditty.

Those giant TV screens that I mentioned before aren't so bad after all. They helped make the concert more intimate by showing the performers up-close, and intimatcy is hard to achieve in a huge venue like the Bowl where the musicians resemble ants for those of us sitting in the nosebleed benches.

Lastly, today I read the L.A. Times review of lang's performance, and Robert Hillburn was not very kind to her. Oh how that man exasperates me! Maybe the night he went wasn't as good as the night I went. Anyway, this was the first time I read a review by him in a long time, and I'm no longer going to bother reading his crusty, jaded reviews.

::5 stars::

SEE: Beyond Geometry @ LACMA

This week I checked out the Beyond Geometry exhibit at LACMA and it was quite the experience. It features modern abstract art, which is my favorite kind. So as soon as I entered the Anderson building and my eyes beheld what was in there, I entered "the zone." I haven't been there for a while. I loved almost everything I saw. My eyes are automatically drawn to lines, so I love any artwork that has a strong presence of lines. My favorite artist is, after all, Piet Mondrian, who is all about fabulous lines. Hence, I was feasting on the multitudes of squares and rectangles of all proportions and dimensions that were displayed all around me. Oh, I how I adore those lines! Squares! Rectangles! Even the occasional triangle! I swear it felt like these paintings were making love to my eyes.

Another concept I'm drawn to in art is repetition and seriality. Maybe it's because I like to see order/organization/predictability. That's why I was so drawn to Andy Warhol's silkscreen paintings of repeated images of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. But this is not simply an unimaginative cut and paste approach. Artists make the serial/repetitive dynamic by inserting slight gradual changes or unique characteristics in each frame that thwarts the seemingly repetitive and/or predictable pattern.

Anyway, I haven't been this moved by an art exhibition in years. Beyond Geometry kicks ass!!! I definitely plan to go back for some more visual lovin'.

LACMA is open every day except on Wednesdays. Admission is free after 5pm.

::5 stars::

EAT: Eat a Pita

I wish I had known about this place from way before. Who knew that such a charming place existed in L.A.?

Eat a Pita is a Middle Eastern fast food stand but what makes it special is the outdoor covered patio dining area complete with a water fountain in the middle. The soothing sound of water trickling provides the soundtrack to your dining experience. It felt like I was in Italy, where water fountains, a common fixture, constantly tickle your ears. There are plenty of tables under the ivy covered canopy-thingy, making this place an excellent venue for groups.

I ordered the falafel pita wrap, which was a little too salty. Nothing beats the awesome falafel that Moishes serves up at the Fairfax Farmers' Market which is just a few blocks down the street. But the ambience is way better at Eat a Pita. When you enter, you feel like you've been transported to some verdant hideaway far, far away.

Other food options are beef/chicken/lamb shwarma, kebobs, various salads, and pita wraps all under $10. You order at the window, pick up your food, and snag a table as close to the fountain.

Speaking of pitas, guess what I just found out the acronym PITA means? Hint: it involves the word "ass."

405 N. Fairfax
cross street: Oakwood

::4.5 stars::

READ: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

I recently re-read Nine Stories again because I couldn't find my copy of Franny and Zooey, my favorite Salinger book. I had the urge to read something that was set in New York city, and I love the way Salinger portrays the city in the pre-50's era. I first read Salinger's collection of short stories back in my teens. I thought I had read every one of those nine stories, but it turns out that I missed out on one, "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period."

It was a great pleasure to read this story, and it's become my favorite one out of all the whole lot. Most of it takes place in Montreal (what is it with me and Canada? Enough already! It's not like I'm deliberately trying to like everything linked to that country). The protagonist is a 19-year-old guy reminiscent of Holden Caulfield except wittier, funnier, and more sophisticated. This character just absolutely delighted me. Maybe because I have this curious fascination with the psyche of post-adolescent boys.

This story combines all the things I love: traveling, art, living with foreigners, New York, Paris, Canada, bicultural upbringing, multilingualism, and letter-writing.

Salinger is great at creating these marvelous, interesting characters. How did he do it?

::5 stars::

SEE: Ashes of Time (1994)

Ashes of Time is not your typical action-packed martial arts movie. Instead it's an exploration of the psyche of a group of melancholic swordsmen-for-hire out in the Chinese desert. Hence, this film suffers from inaction. They are all despondent lovelorn characters who once in a while wield their swords when it's called for then crawl back to their doldrums.

Anyway, I found this to be a messy film. Lots of characters with strange Chinese names - I couldn't understand who was who. The story was dull. Well, maybe the original story it's based on is interesting, but this film adaptation was quite boring. I don't get it, some people love this film.

Maybe if I watch it again, I might appreciate it but it was torture enough to sit through the first time. Nevertheless, as a Wong Kar-Wai fan I had to watch it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I'm sure WKW intended to do his best but...

Also, the subtitles to this period martial arts flick were horrible. Lots of spelling mistakes.

WKW took a break from post-production of this film to make the sublime Chungking Express, which I already reviewed. One of the best films I've ever seen - an absolute masterpiece. Skip this one and see Chungking Express instead, which is worthy of many repeat viewings.

::2.5 stars::

SEE: Happy Together (1997)

3 Reasons why I wanted to see this:

1. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

2. Actor Tony Leung

3. Filmed in Argentina

Boy, did this movie make me nostalgic about Buenos Aires. I noticed little mundane details that are probably meaningless to those who've never been there, like the bus stop sign, the plates that food is served on, the way voices resonate because the buildings are all made of cement bricks. I recognized a few of the places that WKW used as the backdrop for his film. He mostly used the lesser-known neighborhoods of Bs. As. One particular neighborhood is Boca, which is a tourist attraction, but only one tiny part of it called El Caminito. The rest of Boca is poor and run-down and that's what you see in Happy Together.

And I appreciated the generous shots of the sky that WKW included. Argentina has THE most beautiful skies I've ever seen. I guess WKW noticed, too.

A gay couple from Hong Kong decide to vacation in Argentina in hopes of revitalizing their troubled relationship. Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) is the pretty boy who steps all over his doormat boyfriend Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung). While in Argentina, they hit another bump in their relationship and break up again for the n-th time. Yiu-Fai works various jobs to save up money to return to Hong Kong. Po-Wing, one day, shows up at his ex's tiny run-down apartment all beat up, and Yiu-Fai takes him back out of pity. Yiu-Fai tries to resist the charms of Po-Wing, not wanting to get into the vicious cycle of making and breaking up.

This film lacks much of a plot. It's merely a portrayal of a very dysfunctional relationship that anyone may relate to, gay or straight. The usual WKW themes of loneliness, isolation, and heartbreak are present in this film. I don't think WKW was trying to push some homosexual agenda. Happy Together does not endeavor to be some kind of beacon for gay cinema. You almost forget you're watching gay protagonists because the emotions depicted here are universal. Anyone can relate to the yearning for a faithful companion to love and be loved in return.

You can't talk about a WKW film without mentioning the technical aspects. The beginning is filmed in beautiful black and white. Bs. As. looks better in black and white. Then the rest is filmed in color but it's different than what you see in films today. I'm ignorant of the technical terms to describe it accurately but the closest description would be that it had the look of those old Super 8 films. And some parts of the film were overexposed, giving it that washed out look. And of course, the editing is always interesting, making the film visually engaging.

If gay love scenes really bother you then you best stay away from this flick because the two guys really go at it when the movie opens.

::4 stars::

SEE: Big Fish (2003)

I love the art direction in this film. Exquisite. Magical. Charming. Great, heart-warming story centering around a father-son relationship. Towards the end I couldn't stop crying. The last time I cried this much in a movie was another Tim Burton film - Edward Scissorhands. I think I cried in about 80% of the movie. I just took it way too seriously and felt sorry for Edward because he couldn't eat. Maybe it was the fact that he was an outsider - a freak of nature - trying to integrate in mainstream society that really moved me. I guess it hit home or something. Anyway.

Great actors in Big Fish: Ewan McGreggor, Albert Finney, and Helena Bonham Carter (notice they're all Brits, playing Southerners to the hilt).

This film is pure Tim Burton. His films seem to have this modern flair because of the special effects perhaps, but his filmmaking style is old-school. Reminds me of all those directors of the 30's and 40's. I have this sad feeling that Burton's kind are a dying breed.

::5 stars::

SEE: In The Mood for Love (2000)

Don't be fooled by the frivolous title. This ain't your typical romantic comedy. It doesn't come anywhere that genre.

Damn slow, but absolutely mesmerizing.

This is art in motion. Every scene is beautifully composed and executed. Director Wong Kar-Wai is a genius. Hate to use the word "visionary," but this man clearly is optically gifted. Almost every scene, I'm thinking, How did he think of that? What movies is this man watching so I can watch them too and rip off ideas? His films are highly articistic without being pretentiously so. It's subtle, avoiding being one of those in-your-face look-at-me ain't-I-cool artsy-fartsy movies. Also, after seeing this film, I can see it's one of the sources that probably inspired Quentin Tarantino, who's a WKW fan, to film so many "feet scenes" in Kill Bill.

So what's this flick about anyway?

Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are next door neighbors. They discover that their respective frequently absent spouses are involved in an affair. They themselves vow not to be like their unfaithful spouses despite the bond develops between them.

Tony Leung, the hottest man on earth, and beautiful Maggie Cheung play the betrayed spouses. Tony Leung won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role. And the man deserved it. He's a very skilled actor with a keen ability to represent his characters not so much by what he says but the emotions that cross his grossly beautiful face.

The ironic thing about this film, as in other Wong Kar-Wai films I've seen, is that the spurned lovers are extremely good-looking people, making you wonder who is crazy/dumb enough to reject them for someone else? It's hard to be beautiful, I guess, is WKW's message.

There's a beautiful tension between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan who are slowly but surely falling in love. Much unspoken heartfelt emotion being exchanged as they try their darn hardest to be high and mighty and not fall into the same adulterous misconduct of their cheating spouses. They stay put in their loneliness all the while only at arm's length of each other, making it exasperating for the viewer who's silently yelling at them, Just jump in bed and get it over with!

::5 stars::

SEE: Before Sunset (2004)

In the prequel, Before Sunrise, a young American, Jesse, meets a lovely French girl, Celine, on a train in Europe. They get off in Vienna, frolick through the city while doing a lot of talking, and fall in love. The next morning they have to go their separate ways but promise each other to meet back at the same exact spot six months later. They never do.

Before Sunrise picks up their story nine years later after that intense romantic encounter in Vienna. This time, they meet in Paris. In the intervening years, Jesse had married and now has a young son. Celine is still single. Jesse is mired in a loveless marriage. Celine can't seem to hold a relationship down - the men keep leaving and go on to marry other women eventually.

This film takes place in real-time and follows Jesse and Celine catching up on old times as they stroll through Paris before Jesse has to go to the airport in 80 minutes or so to catch his flight.

All you see is these two talking. Sounds kinda boring right? But it's not. The stuff they say, nay rather how it's said and moreover what's not said but felt are what's compelling. You get totally engrossed in their situation. There's much tension hanging in the air. You know both want to get into each others' pants, but Jesse's got that ring around his finger. But more than that, lost possibilities, the what if's, are what makes their predicament so sad. Would both not be so miserable in their love lives if they had reunited like they planned all those years ago?

Nine years is a long time. In that time both have grown disillusioned, bitter, and cynical about love. But they still long for that happy ending.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy deliver awesome performances. They have the art of conversation down. They do it like real people would in real life. There is such great chemistry between them. It's a pleasure to watch them as their conversation unfolds.

I did not see the prequel before watching Before Sunset. I watched it immediately after coming back home from the cinema. That one is a fine film, too, but I kept rolling my eyes at their ideal romance. I relate more to the cynical, disillusioned view they hold in the sequel, which is sad because I'm only 24, and it's too premature to think that way already.

::5 stars::

EAT: Doughboys

Third St. and Beverly Blvd. are renown for offering many culinary choices. Ever since I was in Third Street Elementary school I vowed that I would live in that neighborhood when I grow up and eat at every single one of those restaurants. Well, I'm grown up and I still don't live anywhere near the hip yuppy neighborhood that lies between La Brea and La Cienega. But I sure drive out there a lot.

It's been over a decade since my epicurean ambition arose, and I finally had my first meal in one of the
trendy restaurants there. So far I've eaten at Doughboys twice. It's a casual cafe/bakery/restaurant that offers all-day breakfast fare, salads,sandwiches, and pizza.

The first time, I had the cream of roasted garlic soup with portabello mushrooms, carrots, and cheese tortellini. Too garlicky. It gave me a headache and heartburn. More recently, I had the homemade vegetarian chili. Enjoyed it very much, although it could have been less salty, with their
extremely yummy baguette. The portion was huge. But I guess if you're gonna pay $7.50 for it might as well be enough to feed three people.

My friends have had the French onion soup - one of the more popular dishes offered at this enterprise - which is good but salty.

According to my other friend, the roasted chicken sandwich is quite plain and bland. She took some of my chili to add some flava.

My other friend seemed to enjoy the roasted chicken basil salad. It looked pretty.

And yet another friend had the Stuffed French Toast, quite delicious and not as decadent as it sounds. Two whole wheat cinammon raisin bread stuffed with
cream cheese and strawberry jam, dipped in egg, then grilled (note - not fried). It was surprisingly light and not as cloying like one would expect such a breakfast to be.

The muffins are also surprisingly very edible considering that they're lowfat and made of whole wheat.

There are a lot of choices on the menu that I look forward to trying. Their selection of salads and sandwiches is very tempting.

The pan bagnat is incredible. It's a scooped out sourdough boule with salad nicoise. It's so good that it makes me want to use cuss words to describe it. It's THAT good.

All dishes are under $10, and the portions are more than generous. You can dine inside or al fresco. Watch out for small-time celebs and wannabe actors
reading their scripts together. Yeah, it's that kinda scene.

Click on the link above to go to the Doughboys website to check out their menu.

8136 3rd St. Los Angeles CA 90048
west of Crescent Heights
Plus: late hours. Sucks: hard to find parking.

::5 stars::

EAT: The Counter

There's been a lot of buzz about this Santa Monica burger joint. So of course, I had to check it out for myself.

The idea of the place is that you build your own burger. Each person is given a cute little chart with a checklist of options for you to customize your burger. You check off your type of meat or non-meat (in my case), bun, vegetables, sauce, and cheeses. Cool idea eh?

I ordered the pickle chips (battered pickles deep-fried) and my friend ordered a fries with gravy (yech, I think it's a Canadian thing). The pickle chips were not what I thought they were going to be. I was expecting them to be thinner and crispier. Nonetheless, they were a tasty novelty. As for the fries, I've had better. Nothing beats McDonalds fries.

The burger I built was a disappointment. I couldn't taste anything. I ordered a veggie patty in a honey whole wheat bun with feta cheese, red onion, baby mixed greens, and olives with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. I think the problem was the veggie patty (bland) and the sauce (flavorless). Or the problem may have been me. Maybe my tastebuds were tired...I've been eating out often.

Next time, I think I'm gonna try guacamole in my burger. Maybe that'll boost up the flavor factor.

And for you carb-conscious eaters, you can get a bunless burger in a bowl.

The Counter is a nice lookin, spacious place. Chic, clean decor that doesn't lean too much on the played out grungy 50's diner look. A plus is the parking lot in the back which is rare in SaMo.

2901 Ocean Park Blvd SantaMonica, CA 90405
Cross Street: 29th Street
Phone: (310) 399-8383

::3.5 stars::

GO: Dodger Stadium

The other night I went to my first Dodger game in more than a decade
with my very special b/f whom I love to death. Yeah, my best friend, Francine.
Who else did y'all think?

Going to a baseball game was surprisingly a very pleasant experience. Quite
relaxing with gorgeous views and balmy weather. The Dodgers played the
Milwaukee Brewers. Francine and I both didn't know in which state Milwaukee
existed. It's one of those cities that you know in the back of your head and
vaguely assign as being in one of those "middle states." Anyway, the Dodgers won 6-1 or something like that.

I always deemed baseball as the most boring sport on the planet. More dull than watching
curling on television. And I thought it would be the same watching it live
but au contraire it was actually exciting and it went by way faster than I
expected. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the Brewers weren't at bat for
very long in each inning. Additionally, to kick the whole experience up a notch, Francine and I kept cheering on the team FOB-style. Only in public do we like to embarrass ourselves.

Of course, any time I find myself in new, unfamiliar territory, I
automatically commence to do some fieldwork and do a cursory
anthropological analysis of the people-group I encounter. At Dodger stadium, I found
myself in an peculiar, eclectic crowd I don't usually find myself in: clean-cut white high school baseball jocks either with their airhead, belly-exposing girlfriends or with their
beer-bellied aging fathers; Latinos (a lot of them, young and old); a
handful of Asians, who mostly looked Korean (hey, if you didn't hear the
news, Chan-ho is playing in Texas); old, wrinkly single white bachelors who look like
they split their time between hard plastic chairs and bar stools); and rich
white people.

Francine and I gradually made it down to each level until we found
ourselves sitting behind home plate thanks to her friends, who also happened to be at the same game, hooked us up. Each level was a new visual revelation, offering a uniquely different view of the field and the environs. Furthermore, the lower you go the whiter
it gets. When we were sitting in our final destination, where season
ticket holders get to hear the crack of the bat, I was struck by the people
who sat there - mostly middle-aged white men who look like they make a lot of
money and raise families in La Cañada. Muy interesante, I thought. See, even a
baseball stadium offers rich opportunities to study socieconomic
differences. But I must make a disclaimer: this is in no way even close to
what an anthropological ethnography looks like, in particular because of the very un-PC vernacular I'm using.

I recommend that all catch a game this summer in lovely Chavez Ravine where, by the way, many Latinos were displaced from their homes in order to build the stadium back in the days. But that's a whole 'nother matter. Anyway, you can get cheap tickets for as low as $6 but watch out, parking is $10!!! And food is a rip-off so eat before you get to the game. And try to resist the temptation to get the garlic fries. They suck. Expensive mediocre food + Expensive parking = Hence the 4 stars instead of 5.

I plan to go as often as I can this summer (instead of the perennial Hollywood Bowl; I know that crowd too well). I have free ticket vouchers to use up. If you wanna come, all you have to do is give me a buzz.

::4 stars::

HEAR: Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose

This albums ROCKS! I prematurely declare it the best album of 2004.
Finely produced by Jack White of The White Stripes. He takes Loretta Lynn back to her old school honky-tonk days but with a fresh twist. I like the prominent sound of the electric guitar. This is the first album where she wrote all the songs herself. And boy are we glad she did. Her lyrics are witty, hilarious, keen, and poignant. Many of them are about cheatin' men, women out to get revenge on their cheatin' men, and of course, loss and heartbreak. These are some samples of my favorite lyrics from her songs:

"I brough out our little babies/'cause I wanted them to see/The woman that's burning down/Our family tree."
"I'm sittin' here on death row/And lord I've lost my mind/For love I've killed my darlin'/And for love I'll lose my life."
"I'm gonna grab her by her ponytail/I'm gonna sling her around and around/When she wakes up she'll know she met up/With mad Mrs. Leroy Brown."

But the songs are not all so feisty. There's a few that depict sweet, heartwarming portraits of family.

For a 70-year-old musician, Loretta Lynn sings with the vim and vigor
of a twentysomething rock goddess. She just belts it out in that classic
honky-tonk way. She reminds us what real country is supposed to sound
like, and it's far superior than the fake heavily pop-influenced garbage that
is prevalent in country music today. Can't even call it country no mo'.

My favorite song on this albums is "Portland Oregon" which is the only
duet with Jack White. I wish they sang a few more songs together. I don't
think anyone could have ever dreamed up of those two collaborating but
they're absolutely electricfying together. I like the clash of the generations
and music genres (punk and country?!), which actually is not a clash at all
but strange bedfellows who pleasantly happen to complement each other very well.

Van Lear Rose is one that is destined to be remembered and lauded for a very long time.

::5 stars::

SEE: Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

Best damn movie of the year, and we barely reached the halfway mark of 2004. It was way better than I expected. I'm not too fond of sequels but this one takes the cake. Maybe it's because it didn't seem like a sequel. It was simply the latter half of a super great movie. It's films like this that remind me why I love the movies so much. It was just so fun to watch. Gripping story with visually engaging scenes. That fight scene between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah was the best choreographed cat fight in American movie history. It was hilarious. Down and dirty fighting between two chicks who know how to fight. I bet the boys enjoyed it.

Got to hand it to Uma Thurman. She was quite abused in this film. I think Quentin Tarantino has this love-hate thing going on with Uma. He also apparently has a foot fetish.

David Carradine did a knock-out job as Bill. Another oldie-but-goodie revived by QT (I wonder which actor's dead-as-a-doornail career he will resurrect next?). He embodied Bill with zen-like creepiness and charisma. Everytime his character showed up on screen the hairs on my skin would stand up because you know that this ruthless, chilling psycho-bastard is capable of perpetrating any sadistic act imaginable. Yet he wins you over with his beguiling charm. You almost wish that The Bride would quit her quest for vengeance and live happily ever after with Bill. The scenes that he and Uma share are flawlessly executed. I didn't want to blink in fear that I might miss out on some miniscule but crucial detail. Who would have ever thought to pair up those two? It was a stroke of genius on QT's part. Another thing I admire about QT: he has balls and is not afraid of doing whatever he damn well pleases no matter how questionable. He's one director who's not looking over his shoulder.

I did find some scenes a little too talkative. But I think it's just because in this day and age we've all been fed one too many action-heavy flicks with meaningless, pithy chatter.

What I love about QT is that he loves movies and it shows in his filmmaking. It's fun to recognize the allusions to various film genres. The dialogue: exquisitely corny and over-the-top. I quite admire the way QT writes his movie with abandon and the shameless characters he constructs. They all have their unique style and attitude. Plus, QT is an awesome storyteller.

Can't wait until the DVD comes out so I can watch both volumes in one sitting, or better yet see it in its entirety on the big screen.

::5 stars::

HEAR: Alicia Keys - The Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is one soulful musician. I'm quite impressed by her talent for someone her age. She's well on her way to becoming a fixture in Diva-dom. The track that caught my attention and made me buy this album was the single, "You Don't Know My Name." I love the old-school R&B sound. Oh man, it sounds sooooo good. It's an ode to old-school soul, and I can't help but adore this song for it. And the monologue bit she does is classic. Love her sense of humour. Unlike my usual listening habit, I actually pay attention to the lyrics of some of her songs.

The other two awesome tracks are #4 and #6. Don't care for the stuff that leans more towards hip-hop. She should just stick to good ol' soul.

::4 stars::

HEAR: Diana Krall - The Girl In The Other Room

Her new album is quite eclectic. It starts with a great opening number called, "Stop This World." She covers stuff by Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell. But what's unique about this opus is that it includes songs that Krall co-wrote with her husband, Elvis Costello, with music composed by the lady herself. These songs are pretty decent. Moody, some full of atmosphere. What people may not like about this album are the Krall-Costello collaborations. But also what people may love about this album are the Krall-Costello collaborations. To each his own. Their songs tend to be on the melancholy side, which clashes with the rest of the album. The songs that I enjoy by those two are "Departure Bay" and "Narrow Daylight." The first is an ode to her hometown of Nanaimo, B.C. where the BC Ferry docks. Proud to say that I've been there a few times. It's quite beautiful as you approach the bay from a 2hr ferry ride through pristine (at least it looks like it) blue waters. Anyway, I digress....

I just wish Krall could have made up her mind about what kind of album she wanted to make. She does a bit of everything and it just doesn't flow...The album includes jazz standards that one always expects from her, bluesy songs, and it veers away from there, sometimes way out there. She delivers stronger performances on the covers than on her own songs, which seem to lack oomph in comparison.

Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing more songs by Krall and Costello. They're a good team.

::3.5 stars::

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

SEE: Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Finally, a movie that admits that romantic relationships can be a pain in the ass. Charlie Kaufman churned out another great script with Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Kudos to him for being the only screenwriter these days who draws a crowd solely by his name.

Most of you probably already know what this flick is about. Joel (Jim Carrey) wants to have the memory of his ex, Clementine (Kate Winslet), erased from his brain since she had the procedure done already. However, as the memories are eradicated one by one, he regrets he ever decied to have it done and tries to hide Clementine into the deep recesses of his mind in order to preserve at least one memory of her.

This movie is like Memento in that it unfolds backwards. Charlie K did not only dream up an amazingly creative story but also wrote some high quliaty dialogue that you just don't get frequently in American flicks. Supposedly, CK wrote this movie because he realized that the relationships he's been in are not like the sugar-coated ones that are portrayed in formulaic romantic comedies. Romantic comedies are basically one big fat lie about love and relationships. They put false notions and expectations into the public's mind about how love is supposed to pan out.

It's very evident that Joel is CK's alter ego. According to CK, relationships have its ups and downs. Sometimes it can be total bliss and other times (more often than not) it can be absolute hell. Looking at Joel and Clem, each one of them definitely has his and her share of issues and flaws. Throughout the movie, I often found myself wondering, Why the hell are they together? They're constantly fighting. It dawned on me that you can't expect your partner to be perfect. No duh, most of us know this, yet deep inside we still stubbornly grasp to this wishful notion. You need to love your partner in spite of the shortcomings. Love covers a multitude of sins, as it says in the Bible.

Jim Carrey does a tremendous job playing Joel. He totaly disappears into his role, which is tough for a famous actor like him to ahceive. I forgot I was watching "Jim Carrey." Kate Winslet, as usual, is sublime. Also did a great believable American accent.

Well directed and well edited. Good cinematography. Just an overall finely made film. Makes you think a while after seeing it.

::5 stars::

SEE: American Splendor (2003)

I loved this movie. Very original. An artistic achievement in every aspect: writing, directing, acting, cinematography, editing, etc. I'd have to say this was the best movie of 2003 I've seen.

This is the biographical dramatization of the underground comicbook writer Harvey Pekar. Even though Harvey is often a jerk and extremely flawed, he is quite lovable. You root for the guy all the way through the film.

Harvey one day decides to write a comic book based on his own life, titling it American Splendor. His life, however, is as mundane as it gets. He works a flunkie job in the VA Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. He's a bachelor until Joyce shows up in his life. How they get together is a funny story in itself.

Paul Giamatti did a truly splendid job portraying Harvey. I liked Paul's work ever since I noticed his talent in Duets. He's one of those character actors who usually does great supporting roles. The divine Hope Davis delivered a marvelous performance as Joyce, Harvey's kooky wife.

I loved the blending of fiction and real life in American Splendor. This is very appropriately done since Harvey's own life is a mishmash of art and reality. The filmmakers interview the real Harvey Pekar as one would in a documentary in different segments throughout the movie. The crossing between feature and documentary is seamless and extremely well coordinated. Also, there are animated bits sprinkled here and there. So you get to see three Harveys, the actor version, the real version, and the animated version. You'll also see a fourth version, but you have to watch it to find out.

This film proves that one can depict the ordinary, not-so-glamorous life of your average everyman into an interesting, entertaining, and thoughtful flick. Movies these days only portray fantasy, unrealistic life that audiences consume by the heapfuls as a form of escapism, I guess. Yeah, we all go to the movies to escape. But we come back a bit more brainwashed about what the movies tell us our lives should be like and we get sorely disappointed when we notice that life ain't like it is in the movies.

::5 stars::

SEE: The Saddest Music In The World (2003)

When a movie is set in Winnipeg, Canada, right away you know it's going to very funny. Or starkly depressing. In this case, it's the former.

A beer baroness, played by Isabella Rossellini, decides to throw an international music competition. She offers a $25,000 grand prize to the country that can create the world's saddest music. Since it's set during the Great Depression and being desperate times, people descend upon bleak Winnipeg to vie for the prize money.

This is obviously a satirical movie. It mainly pokes fun at Canadians and Americans. I love it how Canadians (in this case, director Guy Maddin, and a troupe of Canadian actors) can laugh at themselves. You see a lot of that infamous Canadian deadpan humour in this flick, which, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed. This film satirizes lots of other silly things we do as society. For example, one thing this movie draws upon is whenever a third world country was going through some sort of crisis, especially during the 1980's, you had rock and roll musicians doing some big benefit song to raise awareness for the plight of ethnic peoples, a fine example being "We Are The World." Also, the original script was partly inspired by how eastern European countries sort of compete for the position of being the one who suffered the most tragedy. Furthermore, this film makes a jab at big business colluding with the arts, i.e. capitalism and art in bed together.

Not only is the film's social commentary interesting but one must also mention its technical specs. Visually, this is the most unique film I've seen. Most of it is in this grainy black and white film that is blurred and soft at the edges. It feels like you're watching one of those primitive talkies due to the fact that the film speeds up and slows down throughout the movie. The whole thing was shot in 16 mm and Super 8. So you can imagine, this is a very artsy-fartsy avant-garde film. The editing is superb, though it can be a bit frantic as one montage quickly follows another, giving this movie a frenetic pace. Also, the camera was handheld quite often, and a few of the actors filmed themselves while holding the camera.

This is a very funny movie for those who have a sense of humour and aren't easily offended by satire. It's hilarious to see how the countries, two by two, duke it out on stage as they perform the saddest music they can play. You have Scottish bagpipers going against a Serbian cellist, a Mexican mariachi band versus a Siamese flautist, among the many competitors. Canada loses the first round to West Africa (I just love how Canadians humourously depict themselves). The American entry is quite a reflection of how the U.S. doesn't have its proper, collective "American culture," but that it's just one big melting pot. American culture is just a product of other ethnic cultures that have meshed together.

I will end with my favorite quote from this film, spoken by Isabella Rossellini's character: "If you're sad and like beer, then I'm your lady."

::4 stars::

SEE: Chungking Express (1994)

Got introduced to the world of Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai at the New Beverly Cinema. By the way, the Beverly Cinema is a great movie venue that showcases old films. I've desired to go there for a long time because they show classics that I've always wanted to see on the big screen.

Anyway, I watched Wong's Chungking Express. And I LOVED IT. It was quite the cinematic experience. Very stylistic, you know, artsy. The writing was quite poetic at times. Wong is one of the best storytellers that I've encountered.

I loved the editing and camerawork. Visually stunning. Lots of color splashing, like an artist would throw paint on a canvas, especially in the beginning of the film. The movie has a rhythmic quality, sometimes moving at a quick pace, other times slowing down.

I love watching the works of foreign filmmakers because it's fresh, unconventional, and visually refreshing. Makes watching movies an enriching and stimulating experience rather than a dull, and sometimes even exasperating, experience that it can be when watching mainstream pop American movies.

So what is Chungking Express about? Actually, it's two different stories in one movie so it's like a two for one deal. The first is about a young cop who can't find a date on the eve of his birthday. His two girlfriends have dumped him so he spends the whole night looking for a date. The actor who plays the cop is incredibly good-looking so it's hard to believe that chicks keep rejecting him. After downing 30 nearly expired cans of pineapples (you'll have to watch the movie to see why), he goes to a bar. The poor dude attempts to pick up a mysterious sunglassed woman by asking her, "Do you like pineapples?" The woman is clearly not interested in him.

The second story involves another cop. This guy is even more ridiculously good-looking. In fact, I thought he was so hot he must be gay. He's probably the best looking Asian male I've laid my eyes on. An Asian George Clooney. Anyway, this is another cop down on his luck with love (again, hard to believe because he is so freakin' fine). The poor guy can't get over his last girlfriend who dumped him. He's hopelessly heartbroken. But it's quite funny to see how heartbroken he is. You can tell by his pitiful yet hilarious monologues. Nevertheless, hope comes in the form of a new, albeit quirky/weird, girl who pops into his life. There's a lot of attraction between them but he's too hung up on his ex that he's reluctant to make the move.

Wong Kar-Wai really knows how to craft a movie artistically while not alienating his audience. Stylistic yet engaging. I appreciate directors that understand film as art and use it as a medium for artistic expression. Chungking Express is simply filmmaking at its best. I was truly captivated by this film. Very mesmerizing. It stays with you for a while after you walk out of the theatre. Visually stunning and heartwarming stories. What more could you ask for?

Wish I could give this movie an additional five stars.

::5 stars::

SEE: La Promesse (1996)

Next destination: France

La Promesse takes place in a dismal industrial town in the north of France. It involves three characters, Roger, his son, Igor, and Assita, an African woman.

Roger and Igor rent apartments to illegal immigrants. One day, one of the immigrants falls down a scaffold. Before he dies, he makes Igor promise him that he will take care of his wife, Assita, and their infant. The rest of the film shows to what extent Igor fulfills his promise.

I first heard of this movie in the late 90's. I always wanted to see it. When I finally viewed it I was surprised by how grim it was. Roger is a truly hateful character who only cares about making a buck (or rather a franc) at the expense and suffering of others. It's disconcerting that his young teenage son, Igor, is involved in this illegal business with him. But there is a glimmer of hope for Igor. He has the potential not to turn out like his old man. There are a couple touching scenes between Igor and Assita, the woman he helps. They develop a very interesting relationship where at the same time they are opposed to one another yet they desperately need each other - each one for individual reasons. Also, their relationship demonstrates the clash between the Igor's western world and Assita's African world. She is very spiritual and consults a witch doctor. Igor goes by his rational, Greek way of thinking and doesn't understand Assita's spirituality.

The interesting feature of this film is that it has no soundtrack which contributes to the grim reality of the story. Watching a movie with no background music is quite an experience. It adds intensity to an already intense drama.

If you like drama, this film is for you. Otherwise, stick with your bubble gum pop movies.

::4 stars::

SEE: Il Postino (1994)

You know what's the cheapest way to satiate the travel bug? Watch foreign films! So after visiting Brazil, the next destination was Italy.

Il Postino is a romantic comedy about a humble man named Mario who lives in a small island off Italy. One day, he decides to apply for a job as a mailman and gets hired to deliver mail for only one client, Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet who's been exiled to the island. Mario and Neruda soon strike up a friendship, and the poet gives Mario a few pointers on the art of writing poetry. Mario falls head over heels in love with Beatrice, a local beauty who works at the inn. With Neruda's help, Mario finds the right words to woo the beautiful Beatrice.

This is a sweet, sad, and also heartwarming story. Massimo Troisi did a marvelous job portraying the fumbling, shy Mario. Unfortunately, he passed away during the filming of this movie. I really enjoyed watching the development of the friendship between Mario and Neruda. Also, Spanish is spoken since Neruda after all was from Chile. I love hearing Spanish in movies now. The real treat is hearing snipets of Neruda's poetry here and there. While in Argentina, I picked up a copy of his Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada. I should get the English version as well to help me understand more. I could barely understand poetry in English and even less in Spanish.

Il Postino could be slow at times but some of the comic scenes are worth watching. Also, you get to see a great actor (Troisi) do his thing. Very impressive acting achievement.

::4 stars::

SEE: Bossa Nova (2000)

I saw Bossa Nova for the second time. It's one of my sentimental favorites. It's a Brazilian romantic comedy that takes place in Rio de Janeiro. Oh, Rio! How I want to go there! I let out a gasp each time a random scenic shot appeared feautring different parts of the city, mainly the coastal views. So friggin' beautiful.

Anyway, I love this funny, entertaining and endearing film about the chance meetings between men and women. It's a great ensemble movie that is both in Portuguese and English. The film centers around Maryann who is an American ESL teacher working in Rio. She's surrounded by a colorful cast of Brazilian characters, most of whom are her students. Pedro Pablo, an attorney who is divorcing his wife, sees her by chance in the elevator and is instantly attracted to her. He enrolls himself in her English class and the fun ensues.

The other characters are Pedro Pablo's half brother who falls for Sharon, Pedro Pablo's law intern. Then there is Nadine, one of Maryann's pupils, who is carrying on an Internet romance with a man in the U.S. Finally, there is Maryann's other private English student, Acacio, who puts the moves on Maryann.

Coming back from Argentina caused me to enjoy this movie even more. I could understand and appreciate the Latin American culture that underlies the film that before I didn't recognize. Surprisingly, one of the minor characters was Argentine, which I never realized the first time I saw it because I couldn't tell the guy was speaking in Spanish. That's how clueless I was about Spanish - I couldn't tell it apart from Portuguese. Anyway, it was comforting to see and recognize Latin American culture. I mean where else in the world would it be normal to wear a black strapless dress to a funeral? The little details such as the way people dress, greet each other, and express emotion stood out to me, making me think, that is so Latin American. When you notice cultural things like that it just makes watching movies a more enriching experience. Well, at least for me. It's that anthropology degree again.

Another highlight of this movie, besides the fun storyline, is the music. Needless to say, the soundtrack was mainly bossa nova. You get your expected dose of Tom Jobim and Getz. The sensual, ethereal quality of bossa nova is fitting for this romantic comedy.

::5 stars::

DO: Walking in L.A. (Nobody Walks in L.A.)

A great way to know a city and appreciate it is by taking public transit and walking. Since the majority of the population in Los Angeles do neither, I don’t think people who have lived here for even decades really know this city. Knowing where the nearest freeway on-ramp is and being familiar with all the freeway interchanges does not truly count as knowing L.A.

I’ve definitely grown to appreciate and enjoy this city more as I walk through its streets, take the bus, ride the subway, and use the light rail. I see the city from a different perspective, notice new and beautiful things, and discover hidden treasure. Because when you’re not too busy driving 80 mph and instead you’re walking or taking the bus, you allow yourself the time to look and observe – to soak in the environment around you – as you weave in and out through the veins of this metropolis.

I think this is the reason why when I travel I fall in love with the cities that I visit. In foreign cities I have no choice but to walk and take public transit. Therefore, I become very familiar with the place and discover reasons to appreciate it. Taking the bus makes me feel more connected to the city. Not only do I get to observe it as I look out the window, but I also get to study and analyze the inhabitants of that city - those outside and inside the vehicle.

As I became a tourist of my own city beginning last year, a new love for Los Angeles has been developing. Yes, it’s been a tumultuous love-hate affair, but I think I’m finally starting to accept and love L.A. for what it is.

For example, yesterday I took the Metro Red Line (subway) from Western/Wilshire to Pershing Square in downtown. I walked up the long flight of stairs on Bunker Hill, next to the twice-again defunct Angel’s Flight (oh how my legs wished the trolly was still working). As I walked through Cal Plaza, I saw a young Asian mother play a sweet game of hide-and-seek with her son. Approaching the Colburn School of Performing Arts on 200 Grand Ave., I saw these WASPy-looking kids getting dropped off and picked up from their music lessons in their luxury sedans and SUVs. A bum came near a young red-headed boy, who was waiting on the edge of the sidewalk, to strike up a conversation with him. "What instrument do you play?" I heard him ask. "The cello," answered the kid in his timid pre-adolescent voice. I thought to myself, What an opportunity! I get to witness this encounter between these two people from two very different worlds, with a huge socioeconomic gap in between them. That anthropology major is ingrained in me, I tell you. I notice and analyze the most random things.

Passing by the Colburn also took me down memory lane. This school once was a part of my childhood. I had piano lessons at Colburn back in the days when it used to be near USC, under the shadow of the formidable Shrine Auditorium. I remember when my lessons had to be re-scheduled whenever some big award show was taking place in there, like the Academy Awards. And in those days (oh my God this is making feel old), luxury cars were not as prevalent as they are today. After all, the country was in a recession and it was the pre-90’s-bull-market era. So there wasn’t no Mercedes Benz or Lexus driving up to the front door of the school every three minutes. My mom took me in our big old tank, the Ford Allstar van, I think it used to be called.

Anyway, as I neared the Music Center, I was greeted (or more like visually accosted) by the now-finished "space-agey" tin can that is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Not too fond of the exterior but the interior is gorgeous. Additionally, there is some lovely landscaping in the back.

I met my friend in front of the Mark Taper Forum to get our rush tickets to see the play, Topdog/Underdog. I noticed that she and I talked about what people who usually go to plays talk about: what we watch on PBS, philosophical observations about human social behaviour , independent films, and a slew of other esoteric topics. Haha. I only have conversations like this in L.A. It’s quite funny actually because even though our conversations may seem untypical and "alternative," there is a people group that talk like us. In our unconventionality (is that even a real word?) we are actually being very conventional.

After the play ended, I treaded down Grand Ave. again. As I casually walked down on my way to the subway station, I watched on my right Chrysler filming a commercial for their luxury cars. It’s all part of an ordinary, glamorous day in L.A. And in one five-minute subway ride, I found myself in a distinctly different world. When I got off at the McArthur Park/Alvarado station I was in the middle of a Latino "ghetto." In front of me stood infamous McArthur Park where Robert Downey, Jr. and other druggie celebs like him, obtain their heroin and other mind-altering pleasures. Now that I understand and speak Spanish again, I don’t feel so estranged from this part of town. The throngs of Latinos who walk on the streets and loiter by the station are not as "threatening" as they once appeared to me. I, along with millions of others, grew up watching the news and shows like "Cops" that demonize Latinos and African-Americans, making them out to be "scary." Now they seem more accessible, people whom I can get to know. Language connects people in an incredible way. And it’s not only because I know how to speak a language, but because I recently lived for 6 months in Latino culture, I feel an affinity towards Latinos.

As I stood on the corner of Alvarado and 7th, I soaked up my surroundings. Across the street stood a tree on the periphery of the park, with beautiful, colorful little houses sweetly hanging from its branches, slightly swaying in the barely-there breeze. It must have been an art project. Spanish music was blaring from a store nearby. To my left, a street vendor was busily selling corn-on-the cob to passersby. I realized that if I had just got around in my car today, the day wouldn't have been as satisfying as it was. I would have missed out on the richness of details that I got to witness.

Shortly, my ride came by and whisked me off back to suburbia.

::5 stars::

FILM: Love Liza (2002; DVD)

I was disappointed. I think it's because I've been wanting to see this movie really badly ever since I saw the trailers for it.

Nearly the entire movie just shows the main character sniffing gasoline. Which is gross. How can people get high on that stuff?

And Kathy Bates, who I think is one of the best actresses that ever lived, is not utilized enough in this movie.

Anyway, this indie movie is about a guy (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who recently lost his wife to self-destruction, and the way he copes is by sniffing gas. He discovers an envelope left to him by his dead wife but he's not sure if he wants to open it because of what the contents of the letter might say. So during the whole movie you're just watching him getting high on gas fumes and contemplating if he should open the letter or not. Kathy Bates plays his mother-in-law.

Soundtrack is kind of interesting. Suits the mellowness of the film.

They don't make 'em like they used to anymore. Or, maybe I just have bad luck and happen to see all the pretentious ones. I miss the independent flicks of yore.

::3.5 stars::