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by request: east side sushi (anthony lucero, 2014)

East Side Sushi is a feel-good movie on the screen, and behind the scenes. Made on a tiny budget by local filmmakers, it’s the kind of solidly professional indie picture you want to succeed. Writer-director Anthony Lucero might have been directing his first feature, his resume includes a lot of movies you’ve heard of: a couple of Star Wars movies, Men in Black II, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Iron Man, The Hunger Games, The Avengers ... you get the idea. Lucero’s work, his day job if you will, is in Visual Effects. Meanwhile, he got the idea for a movie about a Latina woman, a single mom who decides to be a sushi chef. The production is almost entirely from the East Bay (outside of the two leads), and the location shooting will be familiar to everyone who knows about Lake Merritt and the Grand Lake Theatre and Fruitvale. The locations, and Lucero’s own time spent living in the area, lend an honesty to the film that is refreshing.

You’ve seen movies like East Side Sushi before, and you’ll see them again. The Latina sushi cook angle is new, but the essence of the film is the meeting of two cultures told in an uplifting fashion. That will be enough for most people. The hardest part for them will be finding a small film like this. And there is something to be said for a small indie like this that isn’t amateurish in the slightest. I don’t think it breaks new ground, but not every movie needs to accomplish that. Telling a common story in a slightly different way works when you have the talent on display in East Side Sushi.

Perhaps it even speaks to the quality of this movie that I liked it this much, considering it’s not quite up my alley. I usually respect a movie like East Side Sushi more than I love it. I wish there was more to it. But if you are the type who likes small stories well told, with unique settings and pleasing performances, you will enjoy East Side Sushi. 7/10.

music friday: david johansen

Yesterday, I posted a Throwback Thursday item about a David Johansen concert I attended 35 years ago, and that got me think about one of my favorites. So here are ten David Johansen songs.

The New York Dolls:

Personality Crisis”: “Your mirror’s gettin’ jammed up with all your friends”

Looking for a Kiss”: “When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V!”

Trash”: “How do you call your loverboy?”

Human Being”: “If I want too many things, don't you know that I'm a human being?”

David Johansen:

Funky But Chic”: “Get out of bed baby, let's get on down to the boutique!”

Girls”: “Girls! I like them seizing the power!”

Frenchette”: “You call that love in French, but it's just Frenchette”

Bohemian Love Pad”: “Broken records all over the floor, who could ask for anything more?”

Buster Poindexter:

Hot Hot Hot”: “Ole ole - ole ole / Ole ole - ole ole”

David Johansen and the Harry Smiths:

Somebody Buy Me a Drink”: “Let me tell you a story that's sad but true”

new york dolls1

[edited to add Spotify playlist]

why i left my ballot blank for president

I’ve written and deleted this post a dozen times over the past several weeks. On occasion, I’ve constructed it as a Facebook post, only to delete that, as well.

Recently, a friend wrote, “I swear, this presidential campaign has caused me to lose respect for people for whom I had no respect before.” I took me awhile to wrap my brain around that one ... at first, I misread it and thought the friend had lost respect for people he admired, but once I paid attention, I realized he was pointing out how many people for whom he had no respect had reached new lows during the campaign. In his case, he was talking about people who were shilling for Clinton.

I don’t really feel the same. Very few people have surprised me with their opinions. The people who have always been mainstream Democrats have rallied behind Clinton, the people who are to the left of the Democratic Party have for the most part taken a critical stance towards Clinton, whether or not they intend to vote for her. Republicans are wobbly because their candidate is so noxious ... I suppose the people like Gingrich and Giuliani who persist in supporting Trump are even more vile than I thought possible, but mainstream Republicans seem to wish Trump would quit embarrassing them and their party. That the tenets of mainstream Republicanism over the past few decades have made Trump possible escapes their notice, I guess. But then, Hillary Clinton strikes me as very much the culmination of mainstream Democratic politics ... both candidates are, to my mind, representative of their parties, except Trump is openly disgusting.

My voting record over the years has been all over the place, if by “all over” you mean “on the left”. I was first able to vote in 1972, and to best of my recollection, I registered as an independent (“decline to state”) right from the start. In 1974, I registered as a Democrat so I could vote for Jerome Waldie in the Democratic primary for Governor of California ... he was a decent man who grew up with my father and whose family was close enough to my wife’s that she called him “dad”. As soon as that primary ended, I re-registered as an independent. There were a couple of years where I registered Green ... to be honest, I can barely remember why any longer. Suffice to say that for the vast majority of my 44 years of voting, I have “declined to state” what party I was in (because I didn’t want to be in a party).

In all of my voting years, I have never voted for a Republican. I always assume if you have chosen to be a member of that party, we are too far apart politically for there to be much common ground. This is not to say I have always voted for Democrats. I voted for many marginal, third-party (more accurately, sixth-party) candidates whose names I have forgotten. Long before 2016, I voted for a woman to be president (she didn’t win, and no, I don’t remember her name, either). In 1984, I voted for Geraldine Ferraro for Vice-President, just to be on the right side of history (of course, she had about as much chance of winning as those marginal candidates for whom I had voted in the past). The only time I can remember voting FOR a major-party presidential candidate rather than voting against their opponent was my first time, when I voted for George McGovern. Since then, I’ve found all the major party candidates lacking, even as I occasionally voted for Democrats.

I did have the honor of voting for, first, Ron Dellums and then, later, Barbara Lee as my representative in the House. Lee makes me proud to be from Berkeley.

And I’ve told this anecdote too many times, but once I took a leak next to Ron Dellums during one of the elections, maybe 1988, and I asked him to convince me to vote for the Democrat. He began to answer, and then as we left the rest room with his bodyguards, he walked with me awhile. He was quite eloquent, but his argument boiled down to “well, we can’t let that Republican win.”

I haven’t agreed with a whole lot that President Obama has done, but I did vote for him twice. So why am I so reluctant to vote for Hillary Clinton?

I can only think of two reasons to vote for her. One, she is a woman, and two, she isn’t Donald Trump. There is no denying either of those points, and I do believe they are important. It will be a big symbolic step when a woman finally becomes president, just as it was when Obama became our first black president.

But ... and here I can blame myself for not digging deep enough, Obama was a bit of a mystery, and I was taken in by his great speaking abilities, and in truth, most of what he proceeded to do was not far from what anyone who paid attention could have predicted.

Clinton is different. She has a long public record on which we can evaluate her politics. In fact, this is often cited as a reason, in itself, for voting for her. She is, we are told over and over again, the most qualified presidential candidate in our history. First lady, Senator, Secretary of State ... not only is this resume above and beyond Donald Trump’s wildest dreams, it’s above everyone else’s.

But I can’t count her role as Secretary of State as a plus, when I thought she was so bad at it. She is a stone-cold hawk, especially in the Middle East, and this isn’t going away ... she’s already talking about what she’ll do when she is president. She is completely pro-Israel. This is not someone I want as my president.

But Trump would be worse, we are told. Trump is a maniac, so much so that I doubt he’d accomplish anything if he somehow managed to become president. But Clinton, as we have all seen, is capable of accomplishing great things. Who is more dangerous, a nutcase who won’t get anything done, or a hawk who will get lots of things done?

And, as Belén Fernández has written, “You can’t be a pro-war feminist”:

Clinton’s performance on the international battlefield over the years makes a mockery of any pretense of support for the rights of women not to be violated, either sexually or otherwise. ... unfortunately for Clinton’s current campaign against sexual violence, the “harm” that continues to plague the nation of Iraq courtesy of the U.S. and its friends has included plenty of instances of rape by invading soldiers—as tends to happen in such situations.

My presidential vote doesn’t matter ... California is going for Clinton no matter how I vote. Which made my choice easy. I wanted to say I voted for the first woman president ... yes, I’ve voted for other women for president, but Clinton is going to win. But I don’t want to vote for this particular woman. It’s not about her personality, it’s not about my being unable to handle a powerful woman. It’s about her expected foreign policy. I believe Lyndon Johnson was the best president in my lifetime, yet he was a big failure because he couldn’t keep himself out of Vietnam. Whatever else Hillary Clinton stands for symbolically, I predict her legacy will be like Johnson’s ... too bad about that war.

blue is the warmest color (abdellatif kechiche, 2013)

It’s the movie with explicit lesbian sex, simulated but close enough to cause an uproar and to forever mark the film, no matter its other qualities. It won multiple awards, including two at Cannes. It got almost universal good reviews (“a masterpiece ... and the most emotionally moving film to come along in years”). One of the two leads, Léa Seydoux, was a future Bond Girl. It’s three hours long, and only 15 minutes or so constitute the famous sex scenes. It almost seems that there’s no need to see a film like this ... you may feel you know it just based on the hype.

But you would be missing at least one great performance if you passed, and acting always needs to be experienced ... you can’t just read about it. The actress in question is Adèle Exarchopoulos, and she was 18 when the movie was filmed. Her character, also named Adèle, is in every scene. She is a marvel. Kechiche works hard to disguise the fairly ordinary basic plot of Blue Is the Warmest Color: girl meets woman, girl and woman fall in love, girl and woman fall apart, life goes on. The explicit sex makes the movie seem more extraordinary than it is, but Adèle Exarchopoulos is what really raises the picture above clichés. She is completely believable in a naturalistic way ... she carries the film. This is not to take away from the work of Léa Seydoux, who is also very good as Emma. But what makes Blue Is the Warmest Color compulsively watchable is Exarchopoulos.

And it’s a good thing, because, besides the rather mundane plot, there is a problem, and it lies in those sex scenes. Kechiche may want to normalize lesbian sex by giving us a detailed, honest representation of it, but even at its most erotic, there is a feeling that Kechiche’s idea of the erotic is too driven by the male gaze. We are essentially invited to enjoy these two women having sex, and it’s a fine line between the voyeurism that suggests and the ways sex helps the women discover who they are. It’s Adèle’s coming of age story. Her growth as a person, which comes in part from her sexual relationship with Emma, is the key to the film. But too often the sex we see on the screen has an element of “Woo Hoo!” to it that is distracting at best.

Early in the film, Adèle describes a book she is reading for a class, The Life of Marianne by Pierre de Marivaux. “He explores sentiments but gets under her skin.” This could describe Kechiche in Blue Is the Warmest Color. He is interested enough in his characters and their “sentiments” to spend three hours presenting them to us. But his way of getting under their skin, as if we need the man to explain the women, feels off. And there are enough stories about the discomfort Seydoux and Exarchopoulos felt while making the movie to make us question the methods for making the film. (In fairness, both actresses say they formed a great friendship during the making of the movie.)

Then again, directors demanding greatness from their actors is nothing new. And perhaps I make too much of this, since the result on the screen, despite my misgivings, is strong. Right now, I could watch three hours of Exarchopoulos in anything, and if she rightfully deserves credit for her great performance, at least a little credit must go to the director who elicited that performance. #232 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

music friday: charlotte caffey

There is something a bit unsettling about learning that Charlotte Caffey, who joined The Go-Go’s early in their history, was born the same year that I was. I can’t believe one of The Go-Go’s is as old as me ... I can’t believe I was ever as young as The Go-Go’s are in my mind when I think of them. Caffey was a bit older than her band mates, which may explain at least a little of all this. She was asked to join the band because she could actually play her instrument.

For The Go-Go’s, Caffey wrote “We Got the Beat”. The original version appeared on a Stiff records single:

The band re-recorded it for their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, and here is where I admit I’m never too sure about which version is which.

Among the many other songs Caffey wrote, she and Belinda Carlisle wrote “Skidmarks on My Heart” on the first album:

With Kathy Valentine, she wrote the title song from their second album, Vacation:

From the third album, Talk Show, Caffey and Jane Wiedlin wrote “Turn to You”, written about Caffey’s ex-boyfriend, baseball’s Bob Welch:

Later, Caffey was in The Graces with Meredith Brooks (“Bitch”) and Gia Ciambotti (Bruce’s “Other Band”). “Lay Down Your Arms” was their biggest single, co-written and sung by Caffey:

Finally, Caffey and fellow Go-Go Jane Wiedlin co-wrote “But for the Grace of God” with the singer, Keith Urban:

brexit comes to football manager

This will be a longer explanation for yesterday’s link.

I used to post about the game Football Manager about once a year, trying to explain what it was and why so many people obsessed over it. Usually, I’d excerpt a complicated discussion about, say, motivational theory or Karl Popper and positivism. Back in 2010, I linked to an article by Brian Phillips, “The Unreal Genius of Football Manager, Greatest Video Game Ever”. And every year, about this time, I’d post something brief to explain why I wasn’t around much because the latest annual edition of Football Manager had been released.

I thought I’d done this forever, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to it in recent years. I mean posting ... I still crank up the game (for instance, I played last year’s model, FM 2016, for 924 hours, which wasn’t even my record ... that was FM 2014, with 1236 hours played). FM 2017 beta came out yesterday, and I’ve already managed 11 hours. The game’s depth is endlessly complex, and I’ve been at it since the late-90s.

Each year adds new wrinkles to the game, and often, we’ll get preview videos that show some of the changes, like this year’s, dramatically titled “The Big Reveal”:

But there was a surprise for us when the beta was released yesterday. Miles Jacobson, the director of the series, wrote earlier this year, explaining FM to non-players:

We’ve been releasing games for 24 years, starting off as two brothers based in their bedroom in Shropshire through to where we are now, a 110 strong team based in the Old Street area of London. We make niche games, although the niche is pretty popular – we sell just shy of 2m games a year and were independent until roughly 10 years ago when we became part of SEGA. 30 of the 35 people who were with the studio when the takeover happened are still here now. We also have circa 100 contractors at any one time, some in the UK, and some in other parts of the world.

Jacobson joined the team early on, after brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created the game. For their efforts, the Collyers were named Members of the Order of the British Empire ... later Jacobson became an officer of the order (or something like that ... I admit I don’t quite understand these things). Suffice to say that the Football Manager series has made a lot of money for those three, and a lot of money for England, and a lot of joy to the players. It’s “just a game”, but it regularly refutes that cliché ... take the title of a documentary from 2010, Football Manager: More Than Just a Game. Or Iain Macintosh’s 2012 book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession. Or look at the real teams that use the vast FM database for scouting purposes.

Well, the above quote from Jacobson was a prelude to a long piece about how Brexit might affect Football Manager. He wrote primarily about how it could change the way Sports Interactive ("SI", the company that produces the game) works, detailing some real-world possibilities.

Of course, Brexit passed ... and of course, it will take time for it to take effect, if it ever does. Meanwhile, FM 2017 is here, and we’re all busy trying out the new edition.

Except ... there was a little addition that didn’t make “The Big Reveal”. SI must have a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement for its testers, because this little addition was a complete surprise.

Brexit has been built into the latest version of Football Manager.

A brief explanation. Football Manager is a “management simulation”. Unlike video games you might be familiar with, like FIFA, in FM, you do not control the players during a game. You are the manager of a club. You sign new players, choose staff, run training, create tactics, manage games, try to win championships. And after one season, if you are lucky and don’t get fired, you get to do it for another season. And another, and another, etc. So the game starts in Fall 2016, but if you stay with the same game without starting a new one, it will eventually be 2020, or 2025, or 2030, or whatever.

Which is where Brexit will enter the gameplay. As one headline read, “Football Manager 2017 to simulate Brexit - fans of the game go crazy on Twitter”. Among the tweets quoted in the article: “Football Manager 2017 has put more research into the implications of Brexit on the UK in the game than the actual government have irl”, and “Brexit means harder FM. Wish I known that before voting.”

There you have it: the creators of a management simulation have built a Brexit simulator into the game. As Jacobson said, “As far as I know this is the first time a computer game has tried to predict the future of a country.”

Sometime after two years have passed in the game, the player will be informed about the implementation of Brexit in the FM world. (There are random factors involved, so each game will have its own implementation.) There are three scenarios:

  1. Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.
  2. Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.
  3. Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

Also, Scotland might decide to stay with the EU.

I suspect most of us just want to manage our favorite team to a championship. The idea of the real world interfering with that is startling. But Sports Interactive have been successful precisely because of how accurately their game reflects the real world of football. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have left Brexit out.

And it was fun to have an actual surprise in this day and age.

beauty and the beast (jean cocteau, 1946)

I had mixed memories about this fantasy classic. I have never thought of myself as a Cocteau aficionado ... I tend to prefer more concrete narratives, if nothing else. I may have confused this with The Blood of a Poet, which is far more surreal. I had given Beauty and the Beast 7/10 at some point in the past, which I don’t recall. The point is, I wasn’t in the best frame for enjoying the movie.

Happily, my concerns were unfounded. The film begins with a brief prologue inviting us to approach the film as a child would. “I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood's open sesame: ‘Once upon a time...’”. For whatever reason, I was able to pull a little of that childlike simplicity into my viewing, and it is an effective summons that allows an adult to experience this magical film on something resembling its own terms. It works because the magic world of The Beast is created out of technically simple but artistically profound elements. It isn’t just adults calling upon their childlike selves that can love the movie ... children as well are captivated by it.

Kids can latch onto the simplest aspects of the premise: the lowly sister who becomes a princess, the beast who loves on the inside, the magic that takes place whenever we are in The Beast’s realm. But the film is simultaneously for adults, who are entranced by the interplay between Beast and Belle. The Beast is outwardly monstrous, and at first he seems intent on verifying our first perception of him. Belle is virginal and giving, and at first she sees only the monster in The Beast. But she gradually sees what is inside The Beast. And, more importantly, she never gives in to who she is. Beauty and the Beast is not the story of a woman controlled by a man/beast. Belle is a living, breathing human character, who always tries to be the best person possible. She will act for others ... her plight comes because she wants to help her father ... but she makes her own decisions, with a clarity of mind that is impressive.

There is so much going on in Beauty and the Beast. The real world and the “beast” world look and feel different in surprisingly subtle ways. Jean Marais shows his personality in all his roles, making the connection between rogue and beast long before he turns into a prince. Josette Day blooms when wearing the gown The Beast gives her, but she maintains her individuality throughout. Everything, including the Beast World, is just close enough to reality to seem both familiar and magical.

Between the fairly standard narrative and the way magic is always close to reality, Beauty and the Beast connects with me in ways Blood of a Poet does not. I’m glad I re-evaluated this classic. #250 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.

music friday: shout

I’ve been posting music videos on Facebook for my cousin, and he recently responded with a great old Sister Rosetta Tharpe video. Sister Rosetta was one of the first big gospel music stars, and her willingness to crossover to mainstream audiences meant she was a seminal rock-and-roller, which some thought wasn’t appropriate for gospel music. To my ear, her music was always gospel, no matter what she added (her guitar is always great, as you can see here):

The Isley Brothers had a hit in 1959 with one of the most durable songs in rock and roll, “Shout”. The fervor and call-and-response structure identified it as gospel, but they weren’t singing about the Lord. This was sex.

“Shout” has been a part of American music culture ever since, with perhaps its most famous appearance being with “Otis Day & The Knights” in Animal House:

And it still gets played today:

like a rolling stone

Dylan has written a lot of fuck-you songs over the years. This song begins, poking a stick at Miss Lonely, and then the chorus hits and we think, yes, I've been feeling like that for a long time, without a home, a complete unknown. And suddenly we no longer identify with the singer ... we realize he's singing about us. And we sing along on that chorus, asking ourselves and everyone else in the audience, how does it feel? I've felt a connection to the complete unknown since the first time I heard this song. It isn't masochism, it's just a recognition of community. When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose. This isn't "Positively 4th Street" or "Idiot Wind" ... this is a national anthem.