Archives for category: Favorites

Yi Yi (2000) Directed by: Edward Yang

Yi Yi, meaning A One and a Two, draws the complex portrait of a rather conventional family who lives in Taipei. Nearing three hours, Yi Yi’s poetic and contemplative musings on life’s banalities, sorrows, regrets, magic, redemption, and love captivate even the most restless viewer.

To summarize the narrative of Yi Yi simply wouldn’t describe this movie. To say it’s about life is a platitude. To say it’s about finding happiness through simplification is an over-generalization of the film’s plot. To say that this movie makes banality extraordinary is only a partial truth.

The movie is a poem, and in this poem, the players dig their way through heartache or boredom or confusion and find the beauty in routine as well as in sadness and loss.

Although the characters and the pensive script create a world so raw and true and beautiful, the real magic comes from the camera work. Director Edward Yang’s frames and camera angles work to enhance the film perspective. At times, Yang replaces the character with the camera, so we can hear the character talking or sobbing, and we can see what they see, whether it is a cityscape or a dying grandmother. At other times, Yang pulls the camera far away from the scene’s characters. Instead of the viewer playing the role as omniscient viewer, the shot creates a voyeuristic effect, as if the camera (or viewer) is a passerby, who happens to stop to watch an argument or a kiss.

All throughout the movie, Yang draws us in so close and then pulls us so far away. It is almost as if his camera work is a philosophy or wisdom in itself. These varying frames and shots let us look through different hues of glass to gain a wiser perspective on the life of this family in Taipei.

This movie is long, and at times, tedious. I advise a fruiter wine to draw out the movie’s sweetness. As we are all moving through our years, we all need to be reminded, at times, how lovely and sweet life is. Therefore, I pair Kali Hart Chardonnay with Yi Yi.

Kali Hart 2008
Grown, Produced, and bottled by Robert Talbott

Kali Hart

Kali Hart

Kali Hart, named after Robert Talbott’s youngest daughter, is not your typical Chardonnay. Most people think of Chardonnay as an easier drinking wine that pairs well with popcorn or a buttery, French meal. Kali Hart, however, stands out and takes the drinker on a journey. Containing notes of pineapple, mango, and a little butter, Kali Hart finishes with soft citrus hints. You don’t want to smother this Chardonnay with a meal. This wine deserves to stand alone, or with a movie such as Yi Yi, so you can savor each note the wine presents.

Dead Snow

Dead Snow

Local Legend

During WWII, Nazi Germans stationed themselves at various locations in order to combat the Russians and Britons. One of these unlucky places was Øksfjord, Norway. For three years this particular band of Nazis, led by the evil Colonel Herzog, tortured and killed quite a few Øksfjord occupants. Nearing the end of the war, the Nazis started to fear their fate and feel the unwanted arrival of the Russians. So, they started to steal the townfolks’ silver and gold and shot anyone who protested.

At that, enough was enough. Secretly, the townies gathered together to create a militia; they collected anything to “break a skull” and ambushed the Germans at night, killing several. Colonel Herzog and many of his diabolical followers managed to escape into the snowy mountains and were never heard from again. Assuming that they froze to death or were buried in avalanches, the area inhabitants felt there remained an intensly evil presence in the mountains and resolved to tread lightly upon the snowy heights that surround Øksfjord.

Such is the legend that propells Dead Snow. And such is the lengend that a group of classmates unwittingly trammle upon with noisy snow mobiles while escaping the drugeries of medical school during a winter getaway.

Dead Snow (Død Snø) is a self-aware hommage to the great horror flicks. The movie, and its characters, make no secret of worshipping the Evil Deads, Friday the 13th, and April Fools Day. So obviously, the director, Tommy Wirkola, was very careful to adhere to the classic gore fest paradigm: a bunch of good-looking young-adults, vacationing in a remote location with no cell-phone, radio service, or car. Furthermore, the movie honors the golden horror rule: sex equals death. Thankfully, or not so thankfully, Dead Snow manages to outdo most “sex equals death” scenes by framing that old stardard in an outhouse (of all things gross). So, a debaucherous outhouse scene equals a most henious death.

It goes without saying that Dead Snow takes one, colossal hurdle foward by creating a fleet of Nazi zombies. These “craven bastards,” though, are a slight derivative from the norm. While seemingly losing the ability to converse in their native language, the zombies can still execute war tactics and strategy through a series of grunts and screams that echo through the snow covered peaks and icy fjords of Norway. (Thank God the Norwegians are required to attend a military academy to fulfill their community service requirements.)

Military training or not, the group’s reliance on zombie movies of the past, might prove to be their downfall, for these our not our house-hold zombies. During the initial attack, the movie geek of the lot screams, “Don’t get bitten! Ok!” Even in this inaugural raid, one gets the feeling that these zombies are in want of much more than planting a few infectious bites.

This movie suffered mediocre reviews in Scandinavia, but really, what recent zombie movie (besides 28 Days Later) received stellar praises. The director and actors manage to create and rely upon some hilarious stupefied pauses that are really effective in establishing the “I can’t believe this is happening” sentiment. Of course, there is a wealth of freaky fake-outs and an overabundance of intestinal mayhem, brains, self-mutilation and cauterization, and hemoglobin.

Dead Snow is a definite watch for horror fans! If nothing else, you’ll want to see a particular scene, in which a duo of terrified Norwegians run through the snow, banging a pot to create a distraction for the zombies while the others run for help. Priceless, I tell you!

This movie is in select theaters.

When Dead Snow comes to DVD, I would pair Baron Herzog Chardonnay from California’s Central Coast merely because the name matches the head “craven bastard.” Originally, I thought to pair a bottle of Akvavit, a Scandinavian sipping alcohol, to this movie. Upon second thought, however, draining a bottle of that stuff might result in a trip to the ER, and…I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.

Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir

Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir

Thomas George Estates’
Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir
Allen Vineyard

Instead of striking the pallet, this milky-claret pinot brushes through the tongue. Its tartness is slightly abrasive and somehow not whole. Then, however, it turns. The flavors become darker, broader, richer, older, fuller and more complex—like aged velvet. This pinot lingers in the back of the throat for a long time, and you’re left with splinters of licorice and ink.

Marc Bojanowski, the author of The Dog Fighter and Cellar Master at Thomas George Estates, introduced me to this wine. When asked which one he would pair with his novel, he decided upon this Pinot.

Bojanowski has carefully crafted a story which embodies splintering mirrors. Set in 1940’s Mexico, The Dog Fighter chronicles the youth of the unnamed protagonist. As a child he starts to crack and splinter as he’s pulled in opposing directions by his brutish and fiery maternal grandfather and his civilized Spanish-born father. The boy lives for bedtime, when his grandfather tells brutal stories of his ancestors: fierce warriors who battle jaguars and kill with no remorse. Through these stories, his grandfather convinces the boy that to become whole and flawless, he must live his life as a warrior. Despite his father’s attempts to inspire a love for literature, language, and humanitarianism, the boy is guided by his grandfather’s nighttime whispers and hisses.

During the next four years, he travels through northern Mexico, to northern California and Texas, fighting, drinking, intimidating, and finding work where he can. In time he finds himself on a boat, gliding through the Sea of Cortez toward the hidden town of Cancion in the Baja Peninsula, where he is to start construction work on a tourist hotel.

The protagonist builds a reputation as a mute giant who is not to be trifled with. His size and strength catch the eyes of the business men, supervising the construction, and soon he is introduced to the world of dog fighting, led by the corrupt head-businessman Cantana. The dog fights, which take place under full moons, are underground events in which men fight trained dogs to the death. The protagonist’s first fight, in which he annihilates the dog, rockets him to fame, and he is now known as “Dog Fighter.” During this first fight, however, the Dog Fighter becomes irrevocably cracked: he sets eyes on an exceptionally beautiful woman, who has accompanied the merciless Cantana to the fights. Although, the brutality of the dog fights enables him to experience the flesh and blood of his grandfather’s hisses and whispers, all the Dog Fighter wants is this woman. He will only return to fight the dogs to see her.

After his first fight, he stops work on the hotel and meets an old, cantankerous poet who works in the marcado as a translator and a transcriber of letters. As the poet begins to teach the dogfighter how to speak English, he also awakens in him the literary influence of his father. But unlike his father who thought of Jesus as a daydreamer, the poet states, “God is a beautiful thing. The best poem we have.” The poet will not, however, enter the town’s church, stating: “This is a small game I play with God. I am always wanting him to walk out and he is always wanting me to walk in.”

As the Dog Fighter becomes more familiar with Cancion and its inhabitants, he realizes that war between the townies and the businessmen is brewing. The town’s people don’t want the hotel to block their sunsets and beaches; they don’t want their precious, hidden town to become overrun by tourists. Cantana, however, says he believes that the hotel will bring money, progress, and education to the children of Cancion.

Each opposing force desperately wants the Dog Fighter to fight as a soldier for their cause. The Dog Fighter is once again caught between opposing forces. His decision to remain centered in this conflict is driven by his consuming love.

The Dog Fighter is as intricate and striking as its partnered Pinot. The syntax (and lack of commas) is initially challenging, but as the story progresses, this style becomes vital to the voice’s authenticity. The narrator learned English from a poet whose native language is Spanish. More importantly, though, a poet’s job is to challenge syntax, so naturally a poet will teach the language in his own unique cadence.

Interestingly enough, Bojanowski’s character development follows the development of the Thomas George Estates’ Pinot. Characters who first appear abrasive and simple become richly complex and endearing (although not in a conventional way). And, Bojanowski’s splintered characters linger in the back of one’s throat for a long time.

The Dog Fighter contains rich and powerful metaphors, motifs, and parallels, but there is nothing structural or predictable in the way Bojanowski employed these literary tools. Instead of following the tired, old literary paradigm, Bojanowski masterfully composed his novel, and the characters within, “from thousands of tiny pieces of cracked tile and glass and mirror.”

Written with Tim Counihan and Palmi Möller

Marc (center) surrounded by my family and myself

Marc (center) surrounded by my family and myself

When I heard about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was beyond delighted and excited to indulge, but when I read the book’s back, containing such unsavory statements as, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read,” and “Jane Austen is the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of English literature. Seth Grahame-Smith once took a class in English literature,” my humour was indeed soiled, and my swords were drawn. My consummate love of anything zombie-related, however, bested my fierce defensiveness of Miss Austen; I turned the book over and opened the first page.

I loved this book and would highly recommend it to any Jane Austen fan who isn’t afraid of some inconsequential liberties and some unmentionable pandemonium.

My contemporaneous trip through the beautiful Russian River wine country, known for its Red Zinfandels, followed an uncanny parallel to Seth Grahame-Smith’s creation. Much to the chagrin of many a California wine taster, I’ve never liked the Zins that are so prominent in that area, and I have oft referred to the swill as the “soda pop” of wine, in private, of course.


My love of wine and wine tasting, though, subdued my prejudice toward the Red Zinfandel. I let down my guard and gave the Zinfandel grape a worthy shot at my palate. And eventually, I found one that led to a state of felicity. The 2007 Arista Zinfandel from Alexander Valley delivers a powerful punch if served immediately after opening the bottle. Once decanted, it delivers a wild torrent of berries and pepper. It’s a festive and frivolous wine, though not for the faint-hearted or prudish. More importantly, though, I found it a worthy companion, figuratively and literally, to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

A story of overcoming haughtiness, obstinacy, and discriminations, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies remains true to its source: Miss Elizabeth Bennet remains the strong-willed heroine determined not to succumb to societal pettiness and class-prejudice. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is the cold, proud, and very rich man resolute not to love or respect anyone of inferior breeding (and training) to himself. I’m sure most of you know the story from reading the original or watching any number of televised renderings of this clever and ageless tale.

The one trifling difference is that Miss Bennet, trained in the deadly arts by the Shaolin monks of China, and Mr. Darcy, trained by the ninjas of Kyoto, are both determined and equally capable to rid England of a most nasty plague: zombies. That, and any family containing a respectable warrior has a dojo on their estate grounds.

The narrative liberties are very clever and fit exceedingly well into Austen’s plot, and more importantly, “cling to those most English parts.” The impertinence between Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy is magnified by some sparring, katana flashing, and fire pokers. And, the just-deserts to the objectionable characters are slightly more severe, if not more deserving.

One scene in particular gave me much guilty pleasure. It takes place when a perturbed Miss Bennet visits Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s vast estate, with her aunt and uncle. As a drove of zombies threatens to spoil their lovely afternoon, Darcy unexpectedly appears and offers an unarmed Miss Bennet his Brown Bess musket. Upon leaving his grounds, the two exchange civilities and Miss Bennet returns his gun and ammunition:

“She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him. ‘Your balls, Mr. Darcy?’ He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, ‘They belong to you, Miss Bennet.’ Upon this, their colour changed, and they were forced to look away from one another, lest they laugh.”

HA! Sorry Jane, you set yourself up for that one!

So, in the end, we all conquered our shortcomings, whether they were snobbery, stubbornness, pride, or prejudice. No one, however, overcame her killer instincts.


Top 10 Books (which changes constantly):

P.S. You can click on the titles to go to Amazon.

1) About Grace by Anthony Doerr
2) Independent People by Halldor Laxness
3) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
4) The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton
5) The Ice-Shirt (Seven Dreams) by William Vollman
6) The River King by Alice Hoffman
7) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
8) Pharos: A Ghost Story by Alice Thompson
9) Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories by Truman Capote
10) Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch

I hear there is now a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I’ll have to check that out—STAT! My two loves: Jane Austen and the zombie genre as a whole!

Pinot Noir
Chili, Lontue Valley


Normally I avoid organic wines because when it comes to wine, it’s not just the thought that matters. This organic pinot noir, however, is one to savor. It’s fruit forward, with hints of wild raspberry that quickly melt into dark chocolate. The aftertaste is long but gentle: a little chewy and earthy. You can purchase this wine for $11.99 (on sale) at The Nature Stop on Grant Street in SF. This wine pairs extremely well with a movie, such as The Wrestler, or a historical fiction novel that reinterprets the mass confusion at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Wrestler directed by Darren Aronofsky (2008)

The casting directors of this soul-stirring drama deserve many accolades, indeed; Suzanne Smith and Mary Vernieu’s casting decisions added even more depth to the movie’s effective and focal parallel between the wrestler and the stripper. Mickey Rourke, a steamy heart-throb of the 80’s and early 90’s, has returned to the scene radically altered from reconstructive surgery resulting from his boxing career in the 90’s. Twenty-five years ago, I’m sure he had his pick between many lovely ladies-in-waiting, but now he seems to find solace from his chihuahuas, one of whom is named Jaws (an examplary name for that particulary fiesty breed). So, it is no surprise that Rourke’s portrayal as former headlining professional wrestler, Randy the Ram, whose body and therefore life is breaking down, is stunningly accurate and heartbreakingly realistic. Additionally, Marisa Tomei’s depiction of the aging stripper is flawless. Tomei, still gorgeous, is an older actress who can steam-up the screen or sober her audience with a raw and candid performance such as this one. Her versatility as an actress compliments her role as Cassidy: the empathetic, single mother who strips for a living. Unlike Randy the Ram, she’s completely able to separate her stripper persona from her real life outside of the club. This is why the friendship and parallel between Randy and Cassidy is so integral to movie’s purpose: the relationship amplifies Randy’s tragic inability to divorce his wrestling career with his life. And, without giving too much away, that is where the ultimate tragedy lies.

Amazon: The Wrestler

 The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1974)

*won the Pulitzer!

To be completely honest, I’m not into war novels. Battle strategies and other such war tactics don’t intrigue me. For years my father has been telling me to read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, and I finally did and loved it. This novel follows in the footsteps of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; Capote, the inventor of the literary genre called literary non-fiction, expertly captured the heinous 1950 murder of the Clutter Family by writing not only of the factual events, but the inner thoughts of the main characters. Likewise, Shaara creates and showcases the inner dialogues of the main guys (i.e., Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, Armistead) at the Battle of Gettysburg. Not only does this humanize these historical figures, it illuminates the actual confusion at the battlefield and uncertainty about what the Civil War was about. These men were fighting against former friends and allies; some of the Rebels weren’t fighting for slavery but for their states and intangible “rights.”

I think that at times, we tend to think of these men as ideas or merely as two-dimensional figures. This novel, however, fleshes out all these wonderfully brilliant and loyal men and offers their morals, perplexities, and souls for the audience to savor, examine, and respect.

 Overall this book is paced perfectly, and it is accessible for someone who doesn’t know much about the Civil War.

Amazon: The Killer Angels

%d bloggers like this: