Film Review: Flightplan

Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster and Peter Sarsgaard (Val Kilmer’s dopey sidekick in The Salton Sea), centers around a widowed mothers desperate struggle to find her lost daughter aboard a transcontinental flight.

flightplan

Jodie Foster tends to freak me out. She’s been a 12 year old hooker in Taxi Driver and an alien communicator in Contact. She was incredible in The Accused (1988), although I thought her peak was the original Silence of the Lambs. Before seeing this movie I was wondering how this would compare to the best films of her career. Flightplan marks her return from a 3-year acting hiatus.

The film starts with a sobering shot of Foster staring into the camera, looking as pale and crazy as ever. The shot introduces the broken spirit of her character, mourning the loss of her late husband who left behind a loving wife and 6 year old child. They’re leaving Berlin and going to NYC to start a new life together.

Not long after departing, Klye Pratt (Foster) wakes from a short nap on the plane to find her daughter not where she was lying. This instantly sends her into super-panic mode, where she begins to search the plane as casually as she can manage. Foster does a tremendous job instantly raising the tension and pace of the film. What follows is a frenzied journey through the bowels of the worlds largest commercial airliner in search of the only thing that Kyle Pratt has to live for.

This could’ve really been done poorly if certain precautions weren’t made; and actually, some of them weren’t. The stress and tension created by the film in the first 45 minute is remarkable, but last half of the movie sadly fizzles. When the tension is prematurely diffused, the final 20 minutes of the film feel like an uneventful wait for the inevitable to happen.

8/10 for the 40 or so minutes of excellence

Published on February 20, 2006

Domestic Violence in China; credible threat?

There’s a school of thought around here that says if you’re a foreigner living in China, you face an ever-present threat presented by jealous and violent Chinese men who outnumber you a million to one.

I’ve been aware of it for more than half a year now but I’ve never kept it in mind because I don’t really believe it to be true. I’ve heard at least half a dozen stories about foreigners getting assaulted outside of clubs or bars as the result of conflict with a group of loud-mouthed Chinese men. The story continues that if the foreigner dares to defend himself from attack, he immediately gets punched in the kidney from behind or struck in the back of the head with a bottle. Even if my own experience doesn’t support these claims, am I encouraging and widening the perceptive gap between our races by not disagreeing?

This question stood on it’s own until two days ago when Jovian and Kensho were attacked on their vacation in Dali. Their vacation south yielded better temperatures and more sunlight than they’ve been used to recently, but possibly also some back luck. Their conflict began in what I’m told is the most common way; a group of Chinese men between Jovian and his Chinese girlfriend Luna in a local bar. When they kept abusing her and didn’t back off, Jovian struck two of them before getting hit in the back of the head with a beer bottle. He’s getting attacked on the floor before he struggles to his feet to see Kensho leaping into the group of thugs to get his own beating; except his is much worse. They retreat into the kitchen of the bar and each of them wield weapons to defend themselves with when the group enters and assails them. They take what they can find: knives. They sit and wait, both bleeding all over the floor from their mutual headwounds. The attack never comes and they go to the hospital after speaking to police.
What really happened in the bar and is that substantial evidence to support the social theory in question? The plural of anecdotal evidence isn’t fact, but maybe this is a trend too common to be entirely disregarded.

I’ve never felt physically threatened anywhere in China. I’ve witnessed fights and been around countless drunk people in almost every corner of the country and have never been threatened. I’ve worked with and talked to plenty of Chinese girls in the presence of the same drunk people, inside and in front of nightclubs and bars, and rarely does anyone not be welcoming enough to say hello. If the lack of scars on my face isn’t indicitave of naivety, then maybe I’m good at staying out of trouble.

Published on February 18, 2006

Chungking Valentines Day

Yesterday I got back from a 2-day trip south to Chungking (known here as Chongqing) for a gig on Valentines day. I was especially looking forward to the gig for two reasons; 1. it’s on Valentines day, and 2. it’s an unsponsored hip hop party. Also I got to eat brain on valentines day (maybe I should have eaten heart instead?) for the first time, which was probably even more strange than my own words accompanied by photos can explain. The club that I played at was called Cotton Club and has a website: Cotton Club in Chongqing

I’d say that easily 75% of my gigs are sponsored, if not by a beer company, then by Chivas or someone else (tonight I’m playing a show in Chengdu sponsored by Rio, a Zima-looking fruity alcoholic beverage). While sponsors can guarantee generous and timely payment, they often add some restrictions to the creative control that I have over my own sets. I don’t have to follow a playlist, but if something falls out of the boundaries of what’s considered to be club music, they don’t like it. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, sponsors don’t want to rock the boat as far as Chinese club culture, even with foreigners in the booth. With no sponsors, anything can happen: good or bad. In this case it worked out, and they were looking for a hip hop dj. There was no DJ booth, so I was situated on a small platform with a pair of sideways 1200’s and a DJM-500. There were some b-boys and hip hop fans in the house, including a Chinese guy who I met named Kobe who spoke English so well that I mistook him for a Chinese American. I played a lot of love songs to commemorate v-day, including some Beatles and the 80’s classic “Just the Two of Us”. The place was pretty festive and everyone seemeed to be in the spirit for valentines day. At one point I got on the microphone before asking if anyone else didn’t have a valentine and then played No Woman No Cry, hahahah.

Just before going to the club, I was taken to a Chongqing hotpot restaurant. This province (Sichuan) is known all over China for its hotpot, but I believe that Chongqing hotpot might even be more famous than Chengdu’s (for those who don’t know, hotpot Chinese cuisine in which raw meat and vegetables are cooked in boiling oil on the table in front of you, similar to fondue). Here’s a photo of what the dinner table looked like:

hotpot

Although I don’t usually eat hot pot unless it’s a special ocassion, I’ve had it many times. It’s the hottest food I’ve ever had, and I’ve searched for the hottest food I could find in Thailand and Laos (one day I’ll do the same in India). But I’ve never had this before. Among the things I ate that night: brain (pig), blood (duck), and tendon (cow). The brain, however, was easily among the most bizarre things that I’ve ever eaten. I welome new foods – no, I insist on them, but I think my adventurous dinner-time spirit took me farther than I had wanted to go.

Brains are really disgusting, I don’t know how zombies do it. I took a photo of all the things that I ate, but make sure that this is something you want to see before you open it. These are very clearly brains. I had never seen anything like that before I saw Indiana Jones out brains out of a monkey skull in “Raiders..”. It was explained to me at the table that eating the pigs brain, while it is almost universally accepted as a stupid animal, will definitely make you smarter. In Leshan I heard that eating beetles made your penis stronger, so this was the first time I had heard something that seemed that ridiculous since then (about 7 months ago). I won’t be eating any more brains, but I still wouldn’t take back that experience.

Aside from being alone again on valentines day, the hotel had to twist the knife in the wound by preparing a heart in the shape of rose petals on both of the twin beds in my room:

vday bed

Immediately after the gig we went back to the hotel to drop off my equipment and then they took me to some other clubs in the city. I met and hung out with the proprietor of a local bar, a girl named Nicole who spoke great English and also happened to watch 24 and Lost. She provided the narrative for most of the weird clubs that we saw after leaving Cotton Club. Around 4am when I was drunk and exhausted the promoters absolutely insisted on taking me out to get more hotpot. I resisted but couldn’t talk my way out of it in the end. I didn’t eat the brain this time.

The day after valentines day I woke up dehydrated and hungover. I’m recently finding that my tolerance to alcohol has been decreasing, maybe due to the fact that I’ve nearly stopped drinking since finishing the Coors tour. I went to one of the larger more famous streets in Chongqing, called jie fang bei, and had lunch at a restaurant there which had umbrellas hanging from the ceiling:

crazy umbrellas!

I think that wraps up the most recent trip to Chongqing. Here’s a final shot of me with David (friend, MC) and the promoter from Guangzhou named Evan:

on the street

And the entrance to an underground market, which I thought looked incredibly old and beautiful:

entranceway

Here’s a link to a flash gallery with my favorite of the photos from Chongqing

Published on February 17, 2006

Better living through video games?

An article that I found interesting enough to leave here:

globeandmail.com : Better living through video games?

Published on February 12, 2006

The Illustrious Lantern Festival

Yes, tonight I went to the Lantern Festival, which was colorful, cold, and really crowded. Here’s a link to a few of the photos

I went with Sascha and we met with Yaya and Rebecca and one of their friends, to this place about 25 minutes out of town. The traffic on the way there was horrendous, and in the end we finished the rest of the journey there on foot. Already from the highway I could see hundreds of people gathered just under the freeway overpass. Tonight is the last night of Spring Festival – the annual two-week event to celebrate the coming of the new year.

lantern festival image

The Lantern Festival, to my best observation, includes thousands of people at a night carnival. Also there are some lanterns. I didn’t know what to expect so I walked around with my camera, asking questions and taking photos until my hands were too cold to operate the camera controls. It reminded me of Kings Dominion; all around me were things to look at, not to mention many children and attractions catered to them, including carnival rides for children. Sadly there was no adult rollercoaster, but I was able to get a special traditional candy treat. People crowd around a wheel around which figures of chinese astrology are drawn and a wheel is spun selecting one of the animals. I spun, got the horse and watched as the guy dripped melted candy onto a marble surface in the shape of a horse. A stick is put into the candy before it melts, which is almost instantly, and when lifted it makes a neat handmade lollypop in the shape of a horse. Sascha spun and got a horse but the girls were able to convince the guy to give him a dragon, which was as enormous as it was detailed. Then we walked around and ate our huge candy things. Here’s a shot of people standing around the wheel, including a dragon already finished in the lower right corner of the frame:

lantern festival image

After wandering around for another half an hour we found ourselves at the foot of a large pagoda. We paid 20rmb to get inside and then checked out the art, mostly of poets, on the ground floor before cheating and taking the elevator to the 13th floor peak. The view was beautiful and allowed us to get an idea of how large the festival was; which is enormous. It seemed to extend about a half mile in each direction, with almost no area of inactivity. Many of the pathways were lit by 40 foot long dragons filled with lamps, creating almost bright corridors of an outdoor art gallery. Below is a shot of the pagoda:

pagoda image

Tomorrow evening I’ll go 30 minutes outside Chengdu to Guanhan (sp?) for some party in the evening that everyone’s going to. I don’t know much about it, but I found out about it through an apparently legit source; owner and proprietor of a local establishment called The Hemp House! It’s kind of a bar/lounge place with nice atmosphere and a pool table that’s always crowded. Anyway I hear the party tomorrow should be fun. The day after that I leave for Chongqing for a hip hop gig on Valentines day which I’m pretty excited about. I’ll play the set of love songs that I’ve been collecting over the last few weeks, and I’ll put a special mix online for someone!

Published on February 12, 2006

Film Review: Proof

Proof, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal, centers around the stuggle to determine where genius turns to madness.

proof image

Hopkins falls into the roll of the mathematical genius turned crazy old man as Robert and Paltrow falls in as the only slightly crazy daughter Catherine, struggling to come to terms with the state of her life and deteriorating sanity. Jake Gyllenhaal is a scholar mathematician (geek) drawn to both of them for different reasons. Most of the movie is dedicated to watching Catherine slowly lose it, which is fairly unsettling considering this is the first time I’ve ever seen Paltrow attempt a role like this. The casting seems as backwards to me as Cameron Diaz as Cusack’s wife in Being John Malkovich – and maybe that’s what makes it most interesting. Hopkins gives a flawless performance as the genius & insane wily-white-haired old man still in love with the Dewie Decimal System. His long winded and eccentric rants are mesmerizing, and the highlight of the film. Gyllenhaal plays an enamoured student of mathematics as anxious to get inside Roberts mind as to find his way into Catherine’s heart.

I’d gauge the pace of this movie somewhere between slow and really slow – most of the time when it doesn’t feel like an original formula it feels like the merging of things that have been done before. Like a cross between A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting (without the chemistry between Robin Williams and Matt Damon), it’s interesting but never entirely new or exciting.

7.5/10

Published on February 12, 2006

Album Review: 20/20, Dilated Peoples

Has anyone from the Beat Junkies not gone on to do something tremendous? J-Rocc is managing the Beat Junkies Sound label and releasing on Stonesthrow, Rhettmatic is DJ’ing for The Visionaries, and Babu is with Dilated Peoples. 20/20 (Get it? They’re dilated pupils! ha ha!) is their fouth album. The album is filled with sweet puns, including the 9th track, The Eyes Have It, in which the dialogue plays like a vote (“everyone in favor say eye”).

The album starts with an intro skit called Green Trees, featuring Mr Greenthumb (who, from Cypress Hill?) and ends with the title track 20/20, running through a few memorable tracks in between like Alarm Clock Music and Olde English.

All of the production is solid and clean and most of the lyrics are auto-biographical, which seems like a competant decision for any hip hop lyricist these days. The album starts with Back Again which Vibe calls a backpackers anthem, which effectively sets the tone of the album; nouveaux hip hop. I don’t know if anyone else uses that word, but to me it means middleground hip hop artists (underground artists on mostly independent labels, but getting some mainstream exposure). Most of the tracks struggle to be really memorable, but The Eyes Have It, Satellite Radio, and Rapid Transit (feat. Krondon) are all atmospheric, wordy, and exceptional.

20/20 cover art
Dilated Peoples
Album : 20/20
Release Date : Feb 21, 2006
Label : ABB records

Published on February 11, 2006

New Project: Server

Network-attached file server. I wanted to build it as much for fun as for the functional value it’d have after it’s finished. It stores 250gb (expandable to 1tb) of movies and music. My plan is to put my entire music collection in one place and have it constantly accessible, as opposed to mostly on backup DVD-R’s as it is now. Some auxiliary features like a torrent manager or web host would be nice, also. I wanted to build it as cheaply as possible, less than $100 not including hard drives. It sits in my kitchen on top of the fan enclosure over the stove, with a blinking red hard disk access light blinking furiously.

I used to spend so much time at work fixing and troubleshooting servers and workstations; I never do stuff like that anymore. The only exposure I get to playing with technology now is in my home, which puts a new light on tinkering with electronics. DJ’ing almost took the opposite route over the last year. Whereas IT was my job and DJ’ing was my hobby, the two seemed to have flipped.

I made use of my old domain for the new server, and there’s a torrent manager frontend as well. Through this I can add and manage torrent downloads from anywhere outside of my home. Hopefully this’ll expand to other services, so I can have better control of things while I’m gone. I’ll hook up a webcam with a live feed on the server before I leave for America as a super geek security feature. This’ll also be my first exposure to freeBSD, which will be beneficial in my developing understanding of managing a non-Windows server.

Here’s a photo I just took of it in my kitchen, staring down at me. Check out all the scuffs on it. I’ll probably paint the white side and top panels black before too long.

Server

Published on February 11, 2006