Archive for December, 2007

Legend of the Drunken Movie

If there is one thing that I consider a guilty pleasure, it’s kung fu movies. They kick ass! (Literally.) When I’m feeling particularly lethargic, I just pop-in a DVD (or VHS tape, I know, yikes!) from my decent collection, and it gets my blood pumping. They come in all forms–from period to classic (i.e. those made in the 70’s) to fantasy. The Hong Kong flicks are normally more modern, with settings generally in or around, you guessed it, Hong Kong. Although I’ve always enjoyed this genre, it was “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that dramatically fanned the flames. I can also be a bit of a snob, too; I tend to watch mostly those that feature some well-known actors like Jet Li or Jackie Chan. I enjoy the older Michelle Yeoh films. However, and this may sound blasphemous, I can’t stand the Bruce Lee films (may he rest in peace) and take the westernized versions (i.e. American Ninja, Karate Kid, anything by Van Damme, etc.) in very minimal amounts. And, although the following is a far cry from my complete list of recommendations, here are several must-sees for enthusiasts and adventurous alike:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – As I mentioned, this movie sparked a renewed interest in the martial arts genre. This movie brilliantly exhibited everything a great genre film should be–an engaging story line, high-energy action sequences, terrific acting, and inarguable multicultural appeal. If you can, view the film in its original Mandarin with English subtitles (if needed).

Iron Monkey (1993) – This film feature amazing “wire-fu” and spectacular fight sequences involving two of HK cinema’s most underrated actors (Yu Rong Guang and Donnie Yen). There is a Quentin Tarantino reissue in 2001 (as linked) that will help western audience understand the story sequences better, but, in my opinion, the original is exceptional on its own.

Once Upon A Time in China (1991) – Jet Li shines in this film (and in two subsequent sequels) about the legendary fighter Wong Fei-Hung. His action sequences in the films are dizzyingly electric, and the comedic turns are a welcome treat. If you must watch sequels IV through VI, you do so at your own risk.

Fist of Legend (1994) – Supposedly a take on Bruce Lee’s “Fist of Fury,” action star Jet Li makes good ol’ Bruce look like a pansy. If you’re able to score a non-dubbed version, all the better!

Supercop (1992) – Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Chan is a modern-day Hong Kong “supercop” and Yeoh is a high-ranking official in the Chinese military. They’ve teamed up to take on the bad guys. Boy, did they have it coming!

The Matrix (1999) – My only exception in the westernized version category. Of course, it helped that HK style wire fu was incorporated into the action sequences. And the fight scenes were just plain kick-ass!

For further exploration into the martial arts/kung fu film genre, please visit the following:

Kung Fu Cult Cinema

Kung Fu Cinema

Rare Kung Fu Movies

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I’m Dreaming of a Dry Christmas

So, it’s forecast to be wet here in Portland for the next several days. No big surprises there. Thankfully, I’m not traveling during the holidays. Bad weather during a trip is never fun. But, I certainly wished that my holiday time off would’ve had more pleasant weather. And, now, it looks like there’ll be snow on New Year’s Eve. Yay? I suppose P-Town is still luckier than the northeastern states, for instance, that have been dealing with winter woes since late October. Visitors may chide us for having rain nine months out of the year (OK, so maybe that’s a variation of a line in a movie set in another equally wet section of the Pacific Northwest), but we Stumptowners still have it easier than most other parts of the country. Sure, it’s not Southern California where it never rains *cough* but who’d want sunshine all the time? Give me my seasons, beotch! In my nearly twenty years of living off-and-on in Oregon, I remember maybe only white Christmases. I do recall having plenty of wet Christmases. But, enough about the past; I want to focus on the present. So, if there is any justice in the world, I’ll have a dry Christmas regardless of the weather forecast.

The Meaning of Christmas

By the time the holidays are over, I will have gone to three holiday parties–a far cry from the plethora of appropriately themed get-togethers that I normally go to (or crash) during this time of year. And, I’m very happy about it! Holiday parties–as fun as they tend to be–can be so boring after a while. Most run like any other drunken soiree, with the party’s intention–the celebration of the birth of Jesus–all but lost in the hubbub. Some would argue that Christmas in the U.S. has always been split between its Christian-centric significance and the jolly world of Santa Claus. This parity has caused many a debate over how families should celebrate the yuletide season. Should it be a solemn commemoration of the birth of our Lord or should it be of generalized merriment? I mean, when was the last time you got a knit sweater with the Nativity scene embroidered on it?

I remember Christmas in the Philippines. The decorations seemed more festive–multicolored blinking lights, various sizes and shapes of parol, homemade Nativity scenes. It is inarguably one of the biggest celebrations in the predominantly Catholic country. And, although Western-themed decor like Santa Claus, Rudolph, snowflakes and whatnot have managed to permeate its aesthetics, Christmas in the Philippines is still very much about Jesus’s birth, replete with multiple masses during a short period of time. Decorations are usually kept up until January 6th, the traditional celebration of the Epiphany. In fact, some families also wait until the Epiphany to open presents, but, generally, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is when wrappers and ribbons fly in all directions as present-hungry children (and adults alike) tear into their bounty.

Since moving to the U.S., I’ve lost much of the traditional manners by which I celebrate Christmas. It was only here did I begin using the term “holiday season” or “yuletide.” I didn’t have to while in the Philippines–Christmas was known as just that; there was no political correctness filtering of any kind. Sometimes, I yearn for Christmastime in the Philippines, pining for childhood remembrances. It’s too late now for this year, but I hope to make a parol for the next holiday season.

Sunday at the Fresh Pot

What is it with coffee houses and Dylan music? I’m sitting at a window-seat at one of my fast-becoming favorite places–The Fresh Pot, a diminutive spot on Hawthorne–and have had to endure Bobby ‘s constipated musings while sipping some amazing Stumptown decaf. I suppose Dylan is still much better than anything one would hear at a Starbucks, for instance, where even their employees lament over the music they’re required to play. One cool thing about this Dylan album (and I always try to find the positive in things) is that it’s on vinyl, and, if forced to listen to any music, I definitely prefer the unadulterated crispness that emanates from this genius invention.

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We rocked the house last night at our holiday party! Soundcheck that afternoon was only the second time we met as a band. (In fact, the rhythm guitar player jokingly welcomed the crowd to “our third rehearsal.”) Boy, it was definitely different being at the actual gig. There was an urgency to things, and the anticipation I felt was both welcomed and otherwise. Perhaps it was because the reality of performing had gotten clearer at that point, that we weren’t just “jamming” in someone’s studio–we would be playing our music and singing our songs to a waiting (and, ultimately, judging) audience. Our sound guy arrived two hours late which didn’t help matters. We muddled through soundcheck, and I attempted to harmonize with a new vocalist. There were times when I would harmonize and he would accidentally drift to my key, nullifying the harmony. (Thankfully, we got things right during the actual performance!) I arrived at the venue twenty minutes prior to the band coming on stage, and immediately went for some liquid courage. (I doubted it had its effect by the time I stepped in front of the microphone.) I don’t know if it was adrenaline or the comfort of familiar faces in the crowd of over two hundred, but I surprisingly felt relaxed on stage and had a ton of fun. And, when I would look at my fellow band members, it was clear that they, too, enjoyed themselves. I received many compliments about our performance from people I’ve never met before (it was a joint party among four departments in our company), and it was such an ego booster. I wished we’d had the opportunity to practice more songs because it would’ve been great to be able to respond to the requests for an encore. Next year, we’ll be more prepared.

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I have a love-hate relationship with Secret Santa programs. I’m participating in one and just realized today that tomorrow is the first day of the program and I hadn’t done any shopping. We have a twenty dollar maximum expenditure for the program, and we’re asked to either give many smaller gifts or one large gift aided by our recipient’s answers to certain categories. I’m choosing to buy three small gifts and one big gift, but, when I look at my recipient’s list of preferences, I’m drawing a blank as to what to buy. Her favorite colors are red and black; that’s simple enough. Her favorite holiday symbols are snowflakes and wreaths; again, simple stuff. Favorite hobby: knitting, food & wine. This is where it gets tricky. I’m hesitant to buy anything knitting related because chances are that she already has them or would have the better, more expensive versions of what I would eventually buy. “Food & wine” has such a vast scope and anything bought using that category would seem silly or contrived. Then, there’s the final category: Favorite Snack/Sweet Treat. Her answer: “New Season‘s stuff, chocolate, peppermint bark, coffee.” This would seem to be the easiest category within which to shop, but is it really? Stuff from New Seasons can be anything. What if she’s allergic to something that I’m not aware of? Does she have a preference for dark over milk chocolate? What the hell is peppermint bark? And, would a Starbucks card be too predictable? Sigh…I love/hate Secret Santa programs.

Amnesia

I never fully believed in the notion of amnesia until I received my kicker check today. Well, at least I thought it was my kicker check. The envelope had a return address bearing the state seal and the words OREGON DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, so anyone would’ve assumed what they had in their hands was a kicker check. A kicker check, for those not in the know, is money Oregon taxpaying residents receive in December when our state government suddenly finds themselves with so much excess funds, shake their heads in disbelief, and wonder aloud what they’re supposed to do with it. “Give the money back to the people,” one very wise state employee once proclaimed and Oregon residents have benefited from this surprise, timely Christmas money ever since. I opened the envelope and, instead of a check, found a nice note from my government expressing their gratitude for my donation. Donation? What donation? Apparently, I checked a little box when I filed my taxes this year which effectively relinquished my kicker check–should I receive one–to the Oregon Educational Fund. Funny thing is, I don’t remember that box let alone putting a check mark in it. Although, my generally poor memory leads me to not completely denying it. But, it’s just so not like me. I’m not rolling in the dough so why the hell would I think about giving any away? Sigh… I suppose I should feel joy in this act of charity albeit accidental in nature.

The Lucky Scramble

This morning I had breakfast at the Cup & Saucer Cafe, one of my most favorite breakfast places in P-Town. They have the best omelet specials, the best tasting breakfast potatoes, and quite possibly the most delicious breakfast scone. I come to the Cup & Saucer at least once a week, which, because of this frequency, has led to instant recognition by the wait staff there. I always take the very back booth seat, which provides me an excellent vantage point of the entire cafe. Plus, it’s only a few steps from the restrooms. Within a minute of taking my seat, I’ve got a heaping cup of decaf in front of me. There is one female waitress who is so adorable about whom I don’t think I’ll find any fault. She’s youthful and energetic, and was always very polite that I immediately liked her when she started working at the cafe about ten months ago. I’ve found food servers to pride themselves on their amazing memory, and I’m certain they relish in those moments when they’re able to guess their customers’ needs and desires. She is one of those food servers. In fact, she has a triumphant expression on her face every time she plops down my decaf and asks me if I want my usual. The problem is that she thinks my usual is the Lucky Scramble when I always, unfailingly, order the omelet special. I realized that I must remind her of another of her frequent customers who, perhaps, unfailingly orders the Lucky Scramble. I don’t want to bruise her ego so I always respond with “Actually, I’ll have the omelet special today.” This has been our exchange for the last ten months–she keeps trying to serve me the Lucky Scramble and I keep “trying” the omelet special. I look forward to the day when she finally remembers my usual order, cherish it for a few seconds, and then say to her: “Actually, I think I’ll try the Lucky Scramble today.”

The Universal Language of Music

Last night, I jammed with a few people from work. I’m using the term “jam” very loosely since I, myself, didn’t play any instruments–I simply lent my voice. We have our holiday party on Saturday, and we got this crazy idea a couple of weeks ago that a bunch of us would get a band together to play a couple of songs at the party. They recruited me along with two other vocalists. We practiced for the first time last night, and, for the most part, we did well. This was at once very surprising and unsurprising to me. The musicians–a drummer, two bassists, and two guitarists–had been in one band or another throughout their adult lives. Things came easily and naturally for them. They spoke in their own language–a musical language–as they agreed on chord progressions, percussive styling, and song arrangements. And, although last night was the first time we got together as a “band,” several of the songs we attempted to play actually sounded quite good. For all intents and purposes, I was the newbie, having never been in a band and completely unaccustomed to singing while accompanied by anything other than karaoke music (or my own self on the piano). Yet I found myself quickly getting into the groove, immersed in the talent that surrounded me. I felt simultaneously relaxed and energized. As the evening progressed, so did our music–having gone from being tentative musicians getting together for the first time to sounding like we’ve been playing together for ages. It was exhilarating! I can’t wait for Saturday to come!