How to be a detective

Sherlock Jr. was the first Buster Keaton film I ever saw (shoutout to Professor Kuntz’s History of American Motion Picture class, 2008!), but it was grossly overshadowed by The Kid, which we watched in the same session. I became a hopeless Chaplin fanatic after that, and it took a while for me to get as obsessed about Buster.

tumblr_mntsy4zgLd1rkn3x5o1_1280But recently I re-watched Sherlock Jr. and fell super in love with it. There are so many wonderfully clever scenes, like Buster becoming part of a movie, demonstrating some sweet billiards moves, and this wacky motorcycle chase scene.

While we’re on the topic, I feel like it’s worth noting the constant struggle to find silent movie clips with acceptable music…there are lots of videos with weird experimental scores that I imagine being uploaded for beginners’ composition classes. Either that or videos with corny organ music and goofy sound effects. I’m not a fan of the music in the motorcycle scene linked above, even though it seems to be one of the most frequently used “soundtracks” for Sherlock Jr. I actually rather liked this version with the Can Can…and not just because the title says “good music,” haha. It makes the scene more epic (if not slightly Looney Toon-esque), especially when he finally realizes there’s no one on the bike. Side note: how did cars work back then? Did you not need a key? Could you just jump into any old car and turn it on?

Anyway, point of this post is, I’m back to loving Buster again. I’m re-reading his autobiography and spent an entire morning crafting a fangirly Pinterest board. There’s still so many of his short films I haven’t seen (“two-reelers,” if you’re in the know) and luckily/dangerously for me, they’re almost all on YouTube.

I’ll leave you with this mind-blowing fan video, chock full of awesome stunts:

A Playlist & Another Movie

I’ve been listening to a lot of classical mixes lately, and I’ll be darned if it hasn’t turned my commute into the most lovely part of the day. I think this kind of music is especially fitting in big cities like San Francisco, where each patch of neighborhood has its own musical personality. Golden Gate Park is Satie. Duboce Triangle is a Mozart piano concerto. Downtown is Gershwin, because I’ve watched one too many Woody Allen movies (and that movie is Manhattan).

Everything seems a little bit more timeless, a little bit more deliberate: buses somehow look graceful when you’re listening to a waltz, and everyone steps off the sidewalk in time when the streetlights turn green in FiDi. I love how music breathes life into every part of the city.

(A work in progress)

[Not-so-sneaky transition:] Speaking of personal soundtracks, I finally saw Birdman.

Hey guys, remember when I said Boyhood was my favorite movie of 2014, then changed my mind and said it was Whiplash? Yeah, I might have to do that again. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a movie lover’s movie, and perfect in almost every way. I loved how it was funny and unnerving and the same time, just surreal enough to keep you on your toes, and super immersive (the whole thing is made to look like one continuous shot).

And the music! Really cool drum score, plus bits and pieces from Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Mahler. Ugh, so good. After we got out of the movie we walked down Castro to get food and there was a string quartet playing in front of Cliff’s and I felt like if I turned around there’d be a camera following us, and we’d start speaking in perfectly-timed dialogue. Life has been so musical lately; I love it!

“Not quite my tempo”

Remember when I said Boyhood was my favorite movie of 2014? Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t see Whiplash until now, because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since seeing it yesterday.


More on that in a bit.

I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of movies over the holiday break. It worked out nicely because when I went home for the holidays, all of a sudden there were half a dozen movies I wanted to see, and like half a gazillion free Krikorian tickets available for my use. I was able to watch a lot of them, although still need to see Big Eyes (Christoph Waltz!) and Birdman.

A few that are worth watching:

The Imitation Game. I’m aware that the writers took liberties with parts of Alan Turing’s personality and life, but that’s kind of a given when it comes to Hollywood. I’m just glad they made the movie, because it’s a story that should be more well known, and I’m sure has led tons of people to read more about Turing, myself included. Props to the movies this year that celebrated science and nerdiness!

The Interview. Like many Americans over Christmas break, I bought and watched The Interview online rather than seeing it in the theater. Which is good, because I doubt I would’ve wanted to see the movie for $12, haha. Nevertheless, I’m glad I watched it. It starts out funny and then just gets uber bizarre at the end. [SPOILER ALERT] Case in point: Kim Jong-un’s face getting blown off while a stripped down version of Katy Perry’s “Firework” plays in the background. I was thinking about how outrageous some of it was, then realized it’s not that different from what Charlie Chaplin did in The Great Dictator. Chaplin basically turned Hitler into a joke: a dictator with an effeminate salute who falls down stairs and climbs up curtains. It was a bold thing to do and got people talking, and the same can be said for The Interview.

Whiplash. This movie in one word: WHOA. I immediately wanted to see Whiplash after a coworker mentioned it the other day; how had I not heard of it before? It currently has a very limited showing in SF, so we decided to see it at the (awesome) Clay Theater on Fillmore. I think everyone who has ever been a musician, artist, athlete, or performer of any kind should see this movie. You will be on edge the entire time.

The whole thing brought back really distinct feelings that I haven’t felt since playing in an ensemble: the intense passion for wanting to be good at something, the nauseating anxiety of being singled out (just the phrase “down the line” made my palms sweat), the competition and heart-pounding relief of success. I obviously never experienced anything as intense as in this movie, but I know what it feels like to be pushed to tears over trying to get something right, and Whiplash hit it on the nose. There were people in the theater laughing at some of Fletcher’s colorful insults, and I have a feeling those were the people who have never been in a room with a teacher yelling at them while anywhere from 20-150 pairs of eyes silently watch. Because unlike what those few audience members seemed to think, this was one of the darkest, most intense movies I’ve ever seen.

Like the movie suggests, verbal (and physical) abuse is a messed up form of motivation. It shouldn’t be effective yet somehow it often is. I won’t lie, watching the movie made me want to practice again, for nothing else than that feeling of devoting so much time to something that it becomes 100% yours (there was a time when playing mallets occupied every hour of my day; it was my thing). I think personally I miss the challenge, I miss having a teacher, I miss the constant ambition to get better. It’s fitting that I should see this movie on the first day of the new year, because now it makes me want to dedicate 2015 to getting that back.

(For the record, I believe that a good mentor offers a healthy, not lethal, dose of intimidation. You can only bleed on your instrument so much, I mean geez.)

Happy Festivus! (one day late)

I was planning to post this on actual Festivus, but I got distracted in the best way possible (getting together with old friends and playing Super Smash Bros.). In any case, it’s less of a holiday post and more of an end-of-the-year-lollapalooza sort of thing. I started out with just the odds & ends but somehow this turned into an actual project that involved me reviewing all my blog posts from this year, because it’s Christmas Festivus break and there is time for these things.

So without further ado, here’s my Favorites of 2014 post, i.e. a rambly recap of stuff I blogged about in 2014, with probably too many links.


Nikki’s Favorites of 2014

Favorite Concert: It was an *excellent* year for shows. I got to see three of my very favorites: Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, and Tom Petty, plus was introduced to Deerhoof, Mac DeMarco, and awesome local band James Rabbit. I saw OK Go for a 7th and 8th time, the Mountain Goats for a second, and The Spencer Owen Timeshare for an umpteenth (I added some photos!). But I think my favorite show, even with the obnoxious drunk couple next to us, was Kishi Bashi. It was so much fun and I’m super stoked he’s coming back to play at the Palace of Fine Arts next month!

Favorite New Album: My favorite for purely personal reasons (plus the fact that “I Won’t Let You Down” is my jam) was Hungry Ghosts. OK Go foreverrrrrrrr.

Favorite Rockstar Tweet: Probably Ringo and his gratuitous use of emojis.

Favorite Book: So like everything on here, I’m subject to extreme bias, and also I didn’t read that many books that actually came out in 2014. I did really love I’ll Give You the Sun (YA), but Wolf In White Van was both my most anticipated and most enjoyed.

Favorite Movie: Boyhood. For a disgustingly sentimental person like me, there’s no other choice.

Favorite Obsession: Queeeeeeen! Music videos in drag, songs about space, Roger Taylor’s face, etc. It was bound to happen. (I wonder if I’ll ever stop being such a fangirl…I sure hope not.)

Oh yeah, and those resolutions? I like to think they were pretty successful. The big accomplishment was redoing this blog and moving it over to WordPress, which I’m still very happy about. And I definitely listened to more records, thanks to spurts of record-hunting with Alex and the addition of biweekly game nights at our apartment (listening to Vangelis while playing Wiz War is super legit). The last resolution was to read more, which I have been (I joined a book club at work!). But I have to admit, I’m only still halfway through that Beatles biography, hahah. For 2015: finish that Beatles biography!!

A few more odds & ends:

  • Joe Cocker: we lost a great voice in rock and blues the other day. :( If watching a waterfront performance with my dad from a kayak in the San Diego Bay counts, Joe Cocker was my first concert. I used to listen to his Beatles covers on record and imitate his spastic way of singing. Mandatory video link: “Con un poco de ayuda de mis amigos” :)
  • I get weirdly into watching chick flicks when I’m at home for the holidays (probably in the same way Alex always watches classic action movies while I’m away). This week I’ve already watched Love Actually and You’ve Got Mail, and next on the list is Hannah and her Sisters…although you probably wouldn’t classify that one as a chick flick.
  • I also tend to rekindle my silent movie love when I have lots of spare time alone. This year, it’s Buster all the way. I’ve been watching YouTube videos like a fiend. I don’t think I’ve ever fully expressed how much of a dreamboat I think Buster Keaton is, so I will leave you with this, a montage of The Great Stone Face set to “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer:

Quiet in November


This is just a little message to let you know that this blog (and any semblance of a social life) might go through a brief hiatus for the month of November while I try to devote every non-work, non-sleeping hour to my NaNoWriMo project. I’ve tried to do this every year since 2010, and never made it past 3 days because writing a novel is HARD. This time I’m 10 days in and just a tiiiiiny bit behind, but the fact that I haven’t stopped yet really makes me want to finish this thing.

So, sorry in advance for the lack of posts here. But I did want to take a moment to express my absolute delight in a couple of things:

1. Interstellar. Because it’s basically the Queen song “’39” in movie form (space explorers embark on a mission to find distant planets but risk never seeing their families again due to time dilation. Relativity, y’all). I saw it on Saturday and although it didn’t quite live up to my super-high expectations (maybe because we’d recently seen 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen and what could be more epic than that?), it was definitely a mind-bender. Would recommend! Here’s the trailer, and here’s the Queen song, written by band astrophysicist Brian May.

2. Also, I haven’t yet seen Big Hero 6 but am really looking forward to it for one reason: San Fransokyo!

3. And finally, while getting in the mood for NaNoWriMo, I read a devastatingly good YA book called I’ll Give You The Sun. You guys, this book has my heart. I loved the character Noah’s voice and if anything I ever write is half as good, I’d consider it a great accomplishment.

Ok, that’s it. Back to Google Docs now. See you on the flip side!

Let me tell you about my favorite movie of the year

The other night we watched Boyhood, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

This movie is extraordinary in that it doesn’t seem like a movie at all. Instead, it feels like Richard Linklater just reached into everyone’s collective childhood, pulled out all these strings of memories (good and bad), and wove them into a beautiful story. Watching Boyhood makes you feel like you’re growing up all over again.

The movie was filmed over 12 years with the same cast, following the growth of a boy, Mason, from adorable first grader to moody teenager to philosophical high school graduate. There were three girls sitting next to me in the theater who would gasp and coo whenever a new stage (read: haircut) of Mason’s life was introduced, and while most of us kept our reactions more subdued, I’m pretty sure we all felt the same sense of amazement that this kid was growing up before our eyes. I could easily see this being an emotional roller coaster for any parents in the audience, haha. On that note, you also get to follow the lives of Mason’s divorced parents, who have really interesting stories of their own, and see how their actions influence his thoughts and decisions. It makes you feel like you know all these people, like you’ve experienced the family trips and birthday parties and homemade dinners along with them.

And that’s it, basically. There’s no complex theme, no crazy plot twists, just an ode to life itself. Obviously that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but being the sentimental and nostalgic person I am, I thought it was wonderful. I loved reliving simple things about childhood that I’d forgotten about, like saying the pledge of allegiance or having your parents read to you before bed. What’s also amazing is that the director and cast had no idea what was going to happen when they started filming in 2002. Obama ran for president, Harry Potter books were released at midnight, Facebook was created…these things all came about as the project continued, and were included seamlessly into the story. If anything, it’s a really cool time capsule of the years 2002-2014.

If I had to recommend one movie to watch from this year so far, this is it.

I saved Latin. What did you ever do?

I know, I know, I’m late to the game. It wasn’t until I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel two weeks ago that I realized I needed to start watching Wes Anderson’s movies, stat.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was everything I love about movies: enchanting cinematography…a brilliantly-told story…characters who get stuck in your head like a catchy song. Previously, I’d only seen The Darjeeling Limited (in a preoccupied state, no less), and bits and pieces of The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom, all of which left me intrigued by their vivid colors and offbeat storylines.

So, since we’d already been slacking on our Album of the Week initiative (more coming soon, I swear!), Alex and I thought it’d be a fun alternative to begin a Director of the Month series. I think with most directors it would make sense to at least see their most well-known works as well as a couple obscure ones…maybe 5-6 films total. But with Wes Anderson, we powered through all of his 7 feature films within a week and a half, because they’re just all so good.

Here are some of my favorites, organized by random, made-up nominations because I didn’t know how else to do it:

Most Relevant Soundtrack To My Life
Let me start off by saying that ALL Wes Anderson movies have really, really awesome soundtracks, usually including the obligatory Rolling Stones song, a smattering of other British Invasion bands, something with words in another language, and a quirky musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh (the same guy who did the Rugrats music). But my god, the soundtrack to Rushmore is so relevant to my interests it’s freakish. There’s that whole revenge montage to “A Quick One,” Stones deep cut “I Am Waiting,” and an ending scene set to The Faces’ “Ooh La La,” to name a few. So yes, I think Rushmore wins on that one, but can we also take a moment to appreciate the collection of acoustic Portuguese Bowie songs in The Life Aquatic?

(Also relevant: the Vilayat Khan composition in The Darjeeling Limited [Vilayat Khan was my sitar teacher’s father] and “Let Her Dance” by the Bobby Fuller Four, featured in Fantastic Mr. Fox and covered by the Spencer Owen Timeshare.)

Most Stunning Cinematography

Moonrise Kingdom: you can tell how beautiful it is just from the trailer. Amazing settings, colors, camera work. On top of that, I think this movie really captures what it’s like to be a kid (Sam & Suzy taking inventory), even if my childhood never consisted of running away and flawlessly pitching a camp on the edge of an abandoned beach.

Greatest Character Development

Wes & Co. have a great way of introducing characters who are not immediately likable, but who somehow transform into unexpectedly and downright lovable people by the end. It’s so fun to see that unfold throughout each movie. For me, it’s a tie between everyone in The Royal Tenenbaums and the Whitman brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. Maybe I’m just a sucker for dysfunctional family relationships?

Most Smashing Cast

The Grand Budapest Hotel, I mean, seriously.
I admired them before, but after watching all these movies, I am now a faithful fan of Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson. Also, Jeff Goldblum.

Favorite Bill Murray Character
Steve Zissou from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. This is a guy who obviously has his flaws, but like most Wes Anderson characters, he has a grand vision that he won’t let go of, which I admire. I also admire the evolution of his relationship with Ned, which is funny, heartwarming, and sad all at the same time. Also, the ending of the movie (coupled with Sigur Ros’ “Staralfur”) just about ripped my heart out.


Yep, I think my favorite film of them all has indeed been The Life Aquatic, which apparently is Anderson’s lowest-rated movie. But it’s the one I keep thinking about, and find myself wanting to watch over and over again.

Also, in the middle of all this movie-watching, I might have bought this book, which is a treasure trove of cool visuals and interviews with Wes Anderson. One of my favorite quotes comes from an interview conducted by the book’s author, when W.A. is asked whether he consciously decided to make the sea creatures in The Life Aquatic unreal-looking:

“It wasn’t about trying to make something unrealistic. It was about trying to make something imaginary.”

I really like that. All of these movies are created with a wonderful sense of imagination. I love how each character has these great aspirations, even if they’re kind of crazy and unattainable. And I love the worlds that Wes Anderson and his crew create. From now on, whenever a new W.A. movie comes out, consider me there on opening day.

These people deserve Oscars too

Just wanted to share a couple of really cool behind-the-scenes videos (fascinating material for a rainy day…or is that just me?)…

The first one is about foley artists. How awesome are these guys? The first time I learned about foley was when I took a recording engineering class at UCLA, and the “classroom” was actually a studio inside the film school, complete with foley room. The fact that so much of a movie’s sound is recorded with minimal props in a little studio like this blew my mind.  Watching these guys just confirms the fact that it’s really an art form (the action starts at about 1:30, and gets pretty crazy around 4:45):

This next one is a behind-the-scenes long shot from Hugo. So much coordination for about one and a half minutes of film! I like how the wall at 1:04 has to be pulled back to make room for the camera. Not something you’d necessarily think about when watching the finished product. (PS – HUGO IS AN AMAZING AND MAGICAL MOVIE, if you haven’t already seen it. Highly recommended!)

Also worth sharing is this one of 12 session drummers playing a Hans Zimmer score. After watching these, I may or may not have spent a good part of my afternoon browsing r/TheMakingOf. Endless entertainment!

On self-restraint (and Star Trek movies)

There came a point a few weeks ago when Alex and I decided that we were wasting our lives away on the Internet. I think it came about on a Saturday night, after realizing we’d spent the latter half of the day on Reddit/YouTube/Tumblr/etc., without even stepping foot outside. Normally I’m ok with nights like that after a long work day, but it’s inexcusable on a perfectly beautiful San Francisco weekend. At that point we vowed to not use our computers for anything other than work, and in an amazing display of self-restraint, we managed to stay away from mindless web-surfing for a week (don’t laugh; for us it’s a long time). It actually felt like being on vacation/staycation, because without the Internet, my mind was suddenly opened up to doing things like exploring the neighborhood, making (slightly more) elaborate meals, and decorating the apartment. You know, real-life things.

Of course, we made no rules about Netflix-watching and video game-playing. So that meant that Star Trek marathons were most definitely on.

And marathon we did.

That week, whenever we were not exploring and dinner-making and decorating, we watched all 6 Original Series movies, and it was marvelous. It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t tweeting/blogging after every movie (you’d hate me, I’m sure). Instead I frantically jotted notes in my paper journal, which I will now present to you complete with YouTube supplementals:


Star Trek I: The Motion Picture

  • “How much time can we use up with really drawn-out shots of the Enterprise?” Answer: at least 20 minutes.
  • Bones’ first appearance in the film was probably my favorite part. Crazy cool medallion!
  • The Big Reveal at the end was also pretty sweet. I’m a bigger fan of science than I thought.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

  • Maybe, just mayyybe, my favorite parts of this movie were the ones where everyone seems like normal people, e.g. when Kirk puts on his glasses or when Spock gives Kirk a book for his birthday.
  • Khan’s manboobs are impressive.
  • The Khan yell was largely disappointing. I think Into Darkness gave me unrealistic expectations.
  • I’ll go ahead and say it: I cried at the end. The last 20 minutes are basically an emotional rollercoaster.
  • Seriously though, Kirk’s glasses are my new favorite thing. I’m glad someone on YouTube thinks the same.

Star Trek III: The Search for Sass Spock

  • In which the crew of the Enterprise goes rogue (and Sulu finally gets to kick some ass!)
  • Who knew that Christopher Lloyd was a Klingon lord???
  • Favorite Scotty quote (of all time?): “Up your shaft!”
  • What happened to Kirk’s glasses? :(

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home a.k.a. The Best Movie Ever Filmed In SF??

  • Spock’s mom is the
  • I could tell you the main plot of this movie, but you probably wouldn’t believe me. Luckily, it’s all explained in less than one minute here.
  • Everything about this scene is gold, but the music is really the icing on the cake.
  • The only one with a blooper reel. Leonard Nimoy is just the best.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

  • First Kirstie Alley, then Kim Cattrall? Who else got their start playing a Vulcan?
  • Not a fan of whenever there’s two Kirks. It makes me so uncomfortable.
  • How does everyone have such beautiful signatures?? (I’m looking at you, DeForest Kelley)
  • I’m so sad it’s over. :(

And just like that, we’re now onto The Next Generation! We’re three episodes in and I’m loving the new crew (I can’t wait to meet Data’s cat!!). But something tells me that I’m always going to have a soft spot for Kirk and the gang…and the original theme song…and the original Enterprise.

I can’t believe how (much more) nerdy I’ve gotten since starting to watch Star Trek. And the great thing is, the fandom is pretty much endless. I could go on but I’ll leave it at this, because it’s 12:21AM on Christmas morning and I should be getting to bed.

Nikki out.

"You’re righteous, Stoney, but you’re not very hip"

Watching Psych-Out at this very moment (these are the things I watch when I’m home alone).

God, this movie is weird.

But it’s from 1968 so I guess I can forgive it.

Gotta love those 60s taglines…

Basically, it consists of a deaf girl (Susan Strasberg) discovering the Haight Ashbury scene while making friends with Stoney (Jack Nicholson) and his gang, with lots of trippy drug-induced dioramas interspersed throughout.

Although it’s amusing to see Baby Nicholson with a (fake?) ponytail and all the images of San Francisco in the 60s, so far all it’s left me with is a lot of bad trips and this bizarro Hendrix-esque song.

The good news is, this movie is available on Netflix so you can watch (or stop watching) it any time you like.

“I don’t have much money”
“You don’t need much around here”
(if only that were still true…)

Cool hat, Jack.

edit/spoiler: WOW what a terrible ending. What’s with all these 60s movies having suuuuper depressing endings? It’s symbolic, I get it, but it’s amazing how quickly those credits start to roll after someone dies…