Saturday, February 25, 2012


In my ongoing quest to experience more ballet, and understand it better, tonight I watched Laurent Gentot's Prima Ballerina, a two-part film focusing on the beautiful Russian dancers Svetlana Zakharova (Moscow; Bolshoi) and Ulyana Popatinka (St. Petersburg; Mariinsky, or Kirov). What amazing graze and beauty, and the work of these two stars allowed me to delve more into understanding why comparisons of style are made, that although there are basic rules there are also differences in presentation. Although Popatinka is in my mind what I am used to seeing as a ballerina, I was swept away by the strength, flexibility, and unique style of Zakharova. Her Dying Swan was great. I was also taken back by the wonderful costumes and the beautiful productions of the Russians. I liked being able also to see both dancers do a modern piece; Zakharova's piece seems exceedingly difficult.

Also, I finally caught the old The Turning Point, a delightful movie that horrifyingly reminded me of the atrocious fashions we wore back in the seventies. Great dancing in the movie, including a young Russian import, Baryshnikov. A lot of nice parts featuring American Dance Company.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


After we die I hope our souls can dream,
perpetual showings on some silver screen,
movies and dramas, and all kinds of sports
internal Facebook with friends of all sorts,
add mystical Internet, with minutes unbound
magical mp3 players with unlimited sound,
a virtual library with every book written,
maybe some ballet, so I can be smitten.
If Heaven’s just endless meditation,
hymns and church the only invitation,
then I’ll sit on the farthest back wall,
so I can peruse my CNN crawl.


Life in an urban Vietnamese neighborhood appears to be quite difficult, with rampant crime, crumbling infrastructure, crowded tenements and streets, and a host of other ills common in countries with large populations and struggling economies. Although some portions of the movie were a bit surreal, basically CYCLO (1995) is about a brother (who works as a pedicab driver) and sister are drawn into the mafia-type underworld of a local woman's gang of thugs. To me however, it is more about how the immorality of the mafia life tears at the soul of one gangster (Tony Leung-Chiu Wai), who is mostly a pimp and enforcer. The sister is used as a high-class escort of sorts, performing unusual tasks for perverted clientel. The cyclo driver is also emotionally undone by his increasing participation in gang activities. Tran Nu Yen Khe is beautiful. The story is a bit thin and strange at times, but the scenery is compelling and often striking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Life is truly cheap and difficult for tribal people, especially women, who live in the rough, mountainous areas along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although interest in and knowledge of this area has peaked with the war against radical Islamic elements, much of the culture of this region is lost on Americans. Into the breach comes a delightful collection of short stories from the pen of an eighty-year-old insider, Jamil Ahmad, whose tales are loosely tied together by the appearance, often peripherally, of Tor Baz, orphaned at a young age and handed from caretaker to caretaker until he becomes a roving presence on the margins of society. In The Wandering Falcon the reader gets a taste of the precarious nature of life, where one can easily be snuffed out for crimes of a long-lost relatives, or sold away (especially girls) in times of economic distress (which is just about always), or simply killed during frequent raids and feuds. People are kidnapped in an almost ritual manner, bringing money and status to the thieves. These are tough, proud people, steeped in their traditional ways, struggling against change and western incursions. There is humor too, and one also senses beauty. While the book is entertaining and educational, mostly it reminds me just how lucky I am to be born in America.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Watched tonight an elegant, yet sad, Japanese movie, Jun Ichikawa's Tony Takitani, a homage to loneliness in the guise of a successful mechanical illustrator (played by Issei Ogata) who basically raised himself (the son of an absent jazz musician whose wife died three days after childbirth) and who is used to being alone, until he meets the lovely Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), who is a compulsive buyer of beautiful clothing. When he confront's his wife's compulsion, the movie takes a painful turn. The movie is slowly, deliberately paced and presented as if it were a short story (and indeed, it is based on the work of Haruki Murakami), with wonderful muted scenes that scroll before you told by a narrator, with occasional asides provided by the characters. Not everyone will love this movie, but it is compelling.


Few Americans could likely name a well-known Filipino-American short-story writer. Perhaps Bienvenido Santos or Carlos Bulosan, or the short works of Jessica Hagedorn, but I can’t think of other possibilities right off the cuff. I know they exist, but they seem eclipsed by better-known immigrant novelists such as Julia Alvarez, Oscar Hijuelos, Jamaica Kinkaid, Jumpha Lahiri, Chang-Rae Lee, Amy Tan, and Bharati Mukherjee. Well, a new writer has emerged who deserves attention and is destined to gain literary recognition well beyond that of being simply another immigrant writer, if his first collection is any indicator of what he will produce in the future. Lysley Tenario’s Monstress is a delightful first book, eight wonderful tales of life in the Philippines and America that are light, funny, and revealing. Not only does he open windows to worlds that many Americans cannot fathom (although the immigrant experience is central to a large portion of us, including me, who is the son of a Ukrainian-American woman), but he tackles as well larger issues of family, loyalty, heartbreak, and pain. Unlike some collections, I liked every one of his stories, each crisply told with little extraneous material to weight them down. One common underlying theme is the attraction of the United States for Filipinos, strong enough to draw individuals away from their families and homeland. Tenario is excellent at revealing the immigrant experience. The title story focuses on how the desire for movie success can dissolve an otherwise loving relationship between a low-budget monster-movie director and his lover/main actress; “The Brothers” covers the heartrending tale of a man thinking over both his mother’s and his reactions and treatment of his brother, who discovered he really was a woman inside and shocked them with the revelation; the desire to forge a new life while rejecting false promises of a beloved faith-healing grandfather is the core of “Felix Starro,” ; in “The View from Culion,” Tenario tackles the relationship of two inmates, both with ties to America, in a Filipino leprosy colony; “Superassassin” follows the comic-induced actions of a young man who struggles against racism in his new home; “The Help” addresses the reaction of a faithful employee of Imelda Marcos, who feels The Beatles have dissed the first lady and who seeks revenge as the singers prepare to leave the country after a tour stop; in “The I-Hotel” two old men face eviction from the only home they have known for thirty years and one remembers his immigrant experience and his relationship with his friend; and in “L’Amour, CA,” a young Filipino boy faces new surroundings as his family moves to America and his sister rattles their relationship. One line seems to encapsulate much about the Filipino-American experience: “being in America---a thing that just happens, a thing you learn to live with.” Although some of the themes may bother close-minded readers, this collection is a must read for anyone interested in the immigrant experience, as well as for Filipinos. I strongly recommend it and hope this book earns Tenario a strong following.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Watched a delightful little movie tonight, Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), a smorgasbord of Chinese delicacies and family life. Shihung Lung is wonderful as a long-time widowed father and accomplished chef, who has raised three daughters, all beautiful but with relationship problems. Some of the scenes showing him cooking are amazing, and the banquets are astounding. I think the most beautiful part of the movie is the relationship with the little girl, as he brings special lunches for her at school. One of the best scenes was when the three daughters were looking in at their father as the scheming Madame Liang was setting her sights on him. I give this movie a strong recommendation. Apparently there is a scheduled sequel coming out this year, so I am happy I saw it now.


Seldom do I enjoy a movie more than I liked the book it was adapted from. Now, I enjoyed Liz Gilbert's book, but perhaps because the constraints of filmmaking forced a lot of the whiny and overly-self introspetive bits to be abridged, and because of beautiful location shots, not to mention also the great acting of Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem, well I really liked Eat Pray Love. A lot of guys would just say it is a chic flick, and of course there is that element, but it is a very nice movie. The books is better, I think, at delivering some of the more pointed and weighty insights, and the story is changed somewhat, but the movie moves along well and leaves one with an uplifted heart. I had resisted trying both when they came out, and now tried them back to back, and I am not sorry for it. The rest of the cast---including Viola Davis (who was absolutely awesome in The Help), James Franco, and Richard Jenkins---are well cast and did a good job. And, like any good art for me, it touches something in my own life. Although I do not have any one word, I do need to incorporate a few. . .forgive and move on.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Watching Japanese movies is an acquired taste, I suppose. Perhaps my willingness to do so and find pleasure in them goes back to my earliest television viewing, of Japanese-language shows when I was in kindergarten while my family was stationed in Hawaii. Nevertheless, I do often enjoy them. The toughest part for Americans I think is that the actors often seem artificial and robotic, the dialogue silly, even sometimes the scenes strangely amateurish. Despite some instances of this, FISH STORY (2009) is an enjoyable film about butterfly effect. It is hard to tell what happens without giving away too much, but if you manage to get through the early portions of the movie in which separate experiences are presented, everything will be tied together nicely. Basically, it is about how a pioneering Japanese punk band without a following produces an unusual song (a year before Sex Pistols came along), written partly through the chain of events explained in the end, that will have an impact in possibly saving the world from an impending crash of a comet. At times the movie has a low-budget feel, but some scenes are well done. I think some of the movie was intended to be a tonguein-cheek satire on doomsday preaching, but really it is about the price some artists pay for forward or unconventional thinking, about how small events can have repercussions. There are some storylines that are not fleshed out, and I think the actresses got short-shift for the most part, but overall I liked the movie.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ONCE (2006)

Every once in a while a small low-key film, possibly foreign, sneaks into your life and takes your breath away. On this Valentine's Day, another in which I have no significant other, I picked up the Irish movie ONCE (2006), written and directed by John Carney, and was simply blown away, captured by its quiet strength, elegant simplicity, melancholy undertones, and its homage to the pain and inspiration that comes from love, especially that of music. A broken-hearted Irish guitar-playing busker (played beautifully by Glen Hansard) finds attaction and inspiration from a single-mom immigrant Czech (also well acted by Marketa Irglova), and they form a quick partnership that sets both on a new path. The music (and I must get this soundtrack) is startlelingly beautiful and each song seems to be placed aptly in the best spot. So much of this tale is about how potent and communicative lyrics can be for those who want to hear them. The last movie from this part of the world to affect me the same way was the grand BILLY ELLIOT. Both are about following your dreams, finding love in the arts, and perservering. I can't imagine anyone going away from this movie without liking it.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Tonight I watched a delightful film based on a true story, from National Geographic, titled THE FIRST GRADER, about an 84-year-old ex-Mau Mau freedom fighter in Kenya who decides he wants to go to school and learn how to read, sparking resistance from the community and politicians, but at the same time inspiring fellow Kenyan adults and children to reach for education. After the government declares universal free education for all, a man who gave his life for freedom, saw his wife and children murdered by the British, and spent at least a dozen years in concentration camps, where he was brutally tortured to force him to renounce his allegiance to the rebellion, Muruge wins the ear and heart of a young, popular primary school teacher, who lets him into her class. Gradually his classmates come to love him, and respect him, and he becomes somewhat of a celebrity; some believe he is being paid off, but that is not the case. Both he and his teacher stubbornly fight for his right to learn. This is a nice movie about the power of reading, the willpower and determination of some to gain knowledge---no matter their age, the residual affects of colonialism and imperialist barbarism, continued tribal conflicts in Africa, and the bravery of many to continue to improve and help their country advance. There are many light-hearted headnods to Obama's eventual presidency (Kenyan roots, and all).

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Attended an interesting lecture tonight at the University of South Carolina by Duke University professor Thavolia Glymph (who I served as a TA my first year at USC) who forcefully noted the glaring omission of scholarly attention given to the humanitarian disaster heaped upon refugee ex-slaves, especially women and children, during the Civil War, largely from gross negligence and racial (and cultural) blindness to the horrors of life in camps, particularly in the western theater. Many thousands of women and children died from malnutrition, disease, and maltreatment; were caught in the middle of fighting and shot to death or recaptured; were attacked by confederate raiders and slaughtered, while large numbers were often reenslaved. As black men were brought into the army or conscripted for manual labor, their women were often forced to deal with relocation and sought safety for themselves and their children, and they were left vulnerable both to the enemy and deprivations by the Union forces with whom they sought sanctuary. While many at the time criticized refugees who reported on these events as being crazy and untruthful, black freedpersons were well aware of the possibilities of death and reenslavement. Even the abolitionist and black press failed to highlight their plight, preferring instead to concentrate on the exploits of black troops (a trend carried on with movies such as Glory). Hundreds of thoudands of books have concentrated on military aspects of the conflict, and historians have spilled much ink on the plight of slaveholding women, but they have almost totally ignored black refugees, despite a wealth of information in official reports, letters, and other sources that have been openly used by scholars for years. Dr. Glymph, despite experiencing personal tragedy this week, soldiered on and delivered an inspiring talk, that should marshall many graduate students to uncover this and other hidden aspects of African American life during the war and reconstruction. I look forward to reading her book. I would love to be working with her on this subject right now, it sounds like a wonderful dissertation topic. I wonder too if any work has been done on ex-slaves who may have been kidnapped and sold southward to countries that kept the institution beyond emancipation on our shores. It was great to see her and chat, and show off my boys (who actually stayed and listened to the lecture, and were well behaved), and I hope the African American Studies program can continue to bring in noted scholars for their research grants as well as talks to students and the public (not just during this month). It was also nice to actually chat with Professors Donaldson and Littlefield, as well as several graduate students. I was a little surprised there were not a few more history professors in attendance.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I saw this on LOST AT E MINOR, an arts website, and I really liked it. Hope I don't get tracked down and beaten for posting it here, but it really made me laugh. So creative, people are. Weird, but creative.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


"They were not the hot, phosphorescent colors of India, but the cool, black-and-white stick drawings of winter trees against winter clouds, white geese flying across a gray mountain range in the snow." Bharati Mukherjee, Desirable Daughters