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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

THE CHINESE ARE COMING...

...The Chinese are coming...and American movie-goers apparently don't care.

But before I continue, for those who read my blog yesterday about John Wick Chapter 2, and have not yet seen the original, it plays TONIGHT on your SyFy channel at 8PM in Hawaii (Oceanic) and, I think, 10PM in the continental USA.  Check yourself for details.

I just saw two more films, both with a Chinese connection:

                               ROTTEN TOMATOES
                                Reviewers  Audiences

Skiptrace                      33             27

The Great Wall             35             55

Low scores, but this weekend #2 in box office revenues was Fifty Shades Darker, and reviewers gave it a 9 rating.  Haven't seen anything that low in a long time.  #1 was The Lego Batman Movie, which got a 91 rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and earned $33 million, but I refuse to go to any lego productions.  The Great Wall came in third, gaining only $18 million.  John Wick 2?  #4 at $16 million.

But I wasn't all that interested in how good these Chinese-influenced films were.  Their productions are still heavily influenced by the ruling leadership.  Can you imagine how our movies would turn out if Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress determined what could be shown?  China is worse.  Some day, redeeming social virtue and stories protective of the current hierarchy will be relaxed, and these Chinese films will really become meaningful.  Today, call it Stage One.

Of all the recent releases, from Star Wars to Jurassic World to Frozen, foreign box office revenues exceeded domestic earnings.  American Sniper was the only exception.  The American movie industry is in a funk.  2002 was the year most tickets were sold, 1.6 million, versus 1.3 million last year.  China is already making a difference and growing:
  • Since 2011, box office revenues have been flat in the USA, but growing 35% annually in China.
  • China his building 26 screens/day to meet the burgeoning demand.
  • In 2012 opened up the market to foreign films allowing 34 non-Chinese films into the country.
  • However, films like Mission Impossible III and Skyfall were edited to minimize any Chinese insults.
Regarding The Great Wall, China revenues just for this past weekend was $170 million.  That is almost ten times more than domestically (U.S.).

Thus Skiptrace and The Great Wall are at the cutting edge of this transition.  Skiptrace is a 2016 Hong Kong-Chinese-American action comedy featuring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville and China's favorite actress / fashion icon, Fan BingBing (left).  but she will be 36 this year.  It is already available free on Netflix.  John Wick, which came out in 2014, is still priced at $3.

Skiptrace is kind of messy, with too much Kung Fu and a bunch of twists, but some, maybe, too much so.  Fan's roll was secondary.  Just another Jackie Chan film.

The Great Wall is not what you would expect, especially when you see Matt Damon heading the cast.  This is a Chinese-U.S. co-production, and the only other name you will recognize is Willem Dafoe.  Jing Tian (right) plays the pretty face...as a general.  The whole movie is a bit preposterous:
  • However, the Great Wall looks fabulous.  The Wall is 5500 miles long.  Imagine the Roman Colosseum, built around 2000 years ago, extending from Rome to Beijing, a distance of only a little more than 5000 miles, and you can appreciate the enormity of this effort.
  • The Wall itself began construction half a millennium before Jesus and was completed maybe 500 years ago.  Thus, there is a hint that the wall was built not to stymie the Manchus, but because of these aliens.  There is a bit of confusing dialogue as to why the bones of these outer space creatures just disappear, so we don't see them today.  As I said, everything is explained to the point of ridiculousness.
  • Aliens are the enemy.  They came when a green meteor crashed into the Middle Kingdom two thousand years ago.  They have been becoming smarter, and attack the wall every 60 years, and in their most recent attack (you got to wonder why they never developed any weapons), had evolved to the point where this was a diversionary tactic to dig a hole under the Wall to reach Beijing.
Matt Damon plays a European mercenary trying to steal the secret of gunpowder.  While torturously crossing the landscape into China and losing all but one mate, he almost unknowingly picks up a simple solution that becomes the antidote for the demise of the aliens.  Not giving much away here, but he turns good guy by choosing to save his comrade, rather than being given permission to leave with this secret.

Yesterday I wished Donald Trump Happy Presidents' Day.  Today, I congratulate him for spurring the stock market, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached yet another all-time high, up 113 to 20,738.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

ANNIE HALL and JOHN WICK 2

Happy Presidents' Day, President Donald Trump.

We're less than a week away (Sunday, February 26) from the Academy Awards, so I thought I'd lead up to that evening with two recent films:  Annie Hall and John Wick Chapter 2.  Wick will not be nominated for the Oscar next year, but Annie Hall was the last comedy production to win Best Picture, forty years ago in 1977.  La La Land is a musical, but the last movie of this ilk to be the best was Chicago in 2002.

Woody Allen, of course wrote, directed and starred, with Diane Keaton.  Also in the cast were Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Christopher Walken, Marshall McLuhan, Dick Caveat, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Goldblum, mostly only a few seconds, as many were not yet known.

Both got sterling reviews from Rotten Tomatoes:

                              Reviewers  Audience

Annie Hall                    99            93
John Wick 2                 90            91

Without a doubt, of the 50 or so films and theatrical productions Allan Stewart Konigsberg made over the past half a century, the absolute best was Annie Hall, which won four Oscars in 1978, including Best Actress for Diane Keaton.  She originally was cast in his Broadway show, Play It Again, Sam, in 1969, when their personal relationship began.  She also starred in the 1972 movie.  This film, combined with Casablanca, might well be my favorite twin-bill.  Although they never got married, and their romantic liaison was brief, they have remained sort of friends.  At 5'8", she is two inches taller than Woody.

This movie was written by Allen about Keaton, for she was born Diane Hall.  Keaton was her mother's maiden name, and around the time she auditioned for Woody she sang in nightclubs and spent nine months in the Broadway show Hair, but refused to go nude.  This is the Annie Hall look to the left.

He has had three wives, including his present, Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, said to have been abandoned in the slums of Seoul.  The Woody / Soon-Yi affair when she was around 20 destroyed the partnership with Mia after a 12-year relationship, involving 13 films.  Mia's parents were director John Farrow and actress Maureen O'Sullivan, and she was also married to Frank Sinatra.  Woody and Mia never married.  Woody and Soon-Yi will have been married 20 years in December.

Does Woody have a Lolita complex?  Well, in Annie Hall he did place in the dialogue his best friend Rob, played by Tony Roberts (who keeps reappearing in Woody's films), having a dalliance with two 16-year olds, at the same time.  Then, of course, the bitter trial with Mia Farrow about Soon-Yi, for which he was found innocent, and a more damaging accusation regarding a younger Dylan, also which legally could not be sustained.  There was also that 1979 film Manhattan (RT:  98/92) with Mariel Hemingway.

About John Wick Chapter 2, it was a good movie about bad people, even Keanu Reeves, as Mr. Wick.  I did not see the original, so did not quite understand the international assassins guild, from which Wick wanted to retire, but couldn't.

John fired 302 shots with 80% accuracy, killing 128.  In the original, only 77 died.  One comparative note is that Annie Hall dissed no one, while John Wick disposed of more than 200, all violently, as his first eleven in Chapter 2 went by way of his hands or Ford, plus two more later by pencil.  The Glock was his favorite weapon.

There will, of course, be a Chapter 3, for John Wick now has become a cult franchise.  Here are thoughts about what to expect:
  • Reeves will be Wick and Chad Stahelski will again direct.
  • We'll learn more about the meaning behind those gold coins.
  • He'll probably get a commendable female adversary, or love, or both, at the same time.
  • There appeared Laurence Fishburne from his Matrix connection, so perhaps Carrie-Anne Moss will be recycled as this counterpoint.
  • Wick's '69 Ford Mustang Mach 1 will make a revival.
One more item of extreme relevance.  Your SyFy channel will show the original John Wick tomorrow night.  Hawaii at 8PM, and, after doing some research, found out that New York has JW at 10PM.  Rotten Tomatoes rated this film at 85/80.



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Sunday, February 19, 2017

LIFE CONTINUES IN PURGATORY

This is Sunday, so I'll be a tad more respectful and even feature a religion.  I'm also considering expanding Purgatory from just 15 Craigside to all of Honolulu.

In any case, we have special meals at 15 Craigside with two sittings, for residents invite friends and family.  This week we enjoyed a fine Valentine's dinner, here in photos:


One of my expensive Stanford wines, plus I went to Marukai and put together a Hokkigai sashimi platter, with shiso, cabbage and Japanese cucumber.  There were 40 pieces at the beginning, for our table of seven.  Prime rib was featured:


We might have drunk three bottles of wine:


Then this weekend I had a wonderful time in Honolulu, beginning with a stop at J-Shop on Young Street:


I got a pound of Japanese Wagyu Beef from Shizuoka:


Yes, the cost was more than $80 for two pieces, and I just fried one piece.  They certainly cut the hamachi (Japanese Amberjack or yellow tail) into large pieces, and the rice was from Gifu.  That is myoga (bud from a kind of ginger plant) to the left above (and cut in half below).



I added sliced onions and Shiitake Mushrooms to the pan.  The accompanying sunset was pleasing.


Yesterday I walked into downtown Honolulu and went for, perhaps, my favorite lunch, Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Chinatown Cultural Plaza:

If you walk to the left, you go to the wrong Fook restaurant.


You need to head in the right (makai--to the sea) direction.  There actually was a line when I first got there.  However, I went up to the really cute girl to add my name to the wait list, but she noticed I had a cane, so almost immediately gave me a window seat.  This is about the tenth reason I now use a walking cane.  I had, of course, first shopped at that Chinese convenience store located close by and purchased a $1 Rolling Rock Beer and a $1.40 bottle of 99-proof whiskey:


Place the dumpling into the ginger-vinegar sauce, cut a hole at the top, stuff in some hot mustard and chili, place the dumpling into a large spoon, then pour in some whiskey.  Heaven, with beer.

I noticed, though, that a police car kept driving by the restaurant:


Keep in mind that this space between the restaurant and the river is not a real road.  Their presence, must have been because black market vendors kept showing up with black bags or wheelies stuffed with contraband.  Here, I thought someone was demonstrating a rather large blow torch:


Turned out he was burning off the safety cover supermarkets use to make it harder to shoplift.  Here a few bottles of Jack Daniels, after the top was removed.  Some of you might remember the posting on My Horrid Day in Honolulu, which might, actually, now disqualify Honolulu from being considered as part of my Purgatory.

There are also animals in the River Street environment.  Here the whitest duck I've ever seen on a rock in the stream:


A short walk then takes you to Kwan Yin Temple, fronting Foster Botanical Garden:

A large yellow flower tree.  So I went in.  Kamaainas (local residents) get charged only $3.  Turned out this was not Pearl's Gold Tree.  


Those petals look awfully close that of the Gold Tree:


Which was not in bloom.  However, purple trumpet flowers were on a bench.  Looking above:


So the Purple Tree is a close cousin of the Gold Tree.

As you enter the garden, you will see a Bodhi Tree, one generation removed from the original brought here 104 years ago:


This tree is adjacent to the direct descendant, which was brought to Honolulu as a gift to Mary Foster, whose home became this park, by Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Anagarika Dharmapala.


Note that the first Bo Tree has number 1.  Prince Siddhartha Gautama in the 6th Century BC achieved enlightenment under an early ancestor of these two trees, becoming the Buddha:


You can discern the yellow Guayacan in the background.  While on this subject, here is Buddha's-Hand Citron:


Sadly, I saw four separate Monarch Butterfly wings on the grounds.  Clearly a bird must have consume the bodies:


However, if you look closely, you will see seven flying Monarch's in this photo:


This purple-colored sugar cane stalk is especially soft and sweet:


A few more interesting shots, including two cannonball trees:


Finally, three more reds (Red Saracen and Red Flame), with a Green Gecko:


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