Archive for the ‘Off-Campus’ Category

Entertainment Recap: The Best (So Far) of 2014

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Here’s a recap of everything you’ve been missing in the entertainment-sphere if you’ve been hiding under a rock-no judgment here.

Downton Abbey’s U.S. premiere of season 4 just wrapped.  The furtive, longing glances were just as good as ever.  I won’t reveal any spoilers but the important thing is that Mary has 50 suitors (just a bunch, no big deal) and poor Edith is still alone.  #feelinlikeedith

This awards season is truly exciting, with fantastic, dynamic performances from the ones in 12 Years a Slave to American HustleJennifer Lawrence is still supremely charming and my vote for girl crush-if only she actually ate as much as she professes to, then she would be perfect.  Lupita Nyong’o is the most beautiful being that has ever appeared on this earth, on point with all her fashion choices.  If they don’t make a Barbie or some sort of doll-replica of her soon I’ll be shocked.  Matthew McConaughey’s random speeches add to the fun although they are slightly grating (here’s to hoping Leo takes the Oscar).  “Alriiiiight, alriiiiight, alriiiiiiight.”

One award that Matthew McConaughey should win for his immense comeback?  An Emmy.  He is brilliant in HBO’s True Detective, a show with as intense and dark an ambiance as McConaughey’s character himself.  Seriously, though, that Quaaludes scene alone makes Leonardo DiCaprio deserve the Oscar.  His extreme difficulty going down the stairs reminded me a bit too much of myself after midterms.  Can’t. Make. It. To. Dorm. Too. Defeated.  If Pink does some of the acrobatic wonders she did at the Grammys I am going to cry tears of wonder and jealousy.  As long as it’s not like that year Beyonce sang every single nominated song.  I’m not sure Ellen DeGeneres (host this year of the Oscars) will push the envelope as much as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, though.  Must I remind you of the now-classic lines: “’Gravity’ is nominated for best film. It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.” And, of course: “”Like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.”

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After the sad excuse for an Olympics I’m looking forward to the return of new episodes.  Then I’ll finally be able to stop hating myself for watching The Bachelor’s Juan Pablo.  Don’t judge man, it was between that and curling.

Like air hockey, but sadder?

An exciting book-to-film is coming out this summer!  No, not Fifty Shades of Grey, I do have some dignity…it’s The Fault in Our Stars!  Shailene Woodley plays Hazel (or as Augustus lovingly calls her, Hazel Grace)-proving that one can star in an incredibly banal show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and still be a good actress.

Speaking of ABC Family shows, there is no shame here when I recap the latest on Pretty Little Liars.  It’s the most tweeted about show, I’ll have you know.  Basically, Ezra, the high school teacher, turns out to be just a regular creepster, not an evil genius creepster, which was incredibly disappointing and infuriating.  He did provide possibly the best excuse of all time though (which I will be using as I write my final papers): “I was writing a true crime novel.”  KThx.

Aria finds out what a bad writer Ezra really is.

If you’re actually looking for a smart show, may I recommend The Good Wife?  With its spitfire writing, power-house acting, and complex turns it may be the smartest show on right now.  That’s saying a lot, as TV is more like a stimulating lube tube right now for the mind, with provocative shows like Girls, Breaking Bad, and Homeland, than its previously condescending title.

If you’re looking for some cute/smart fun Parks and Recreation is still the most underrated quirk of a comedy gem The Mindy Project is also back with a vengeance this season, funnier than ever with absurd shenanigans-including a sexting fiasco gone wrong.

So true, so true.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention a couple of things that are guaranteed to brighten up any winter blues.  I mean guaranteed.  First off is The Lego Movie-one of the most clever and genuinely funny animated films in a long time.  Second, I have two words for you:  Broad City.  My sister turned me on to this new show, full of the most awkward hilarity, basically an unpolished Girls.  Perhaps the best episode so far is “Working Girls” when Abbi, one of the main characters, goes to retrieve a package for her apartment crush.  The lengths that must be traveled-man we feel you (fake cough Student Services, just saying).

Alas, we come to the end…of my procrastination.  Enjoy the Oscars tonight!

Current Films Not to be Missed!

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Three films that are worth seeing all deal with survival in environments and times that are most trying.  It is in these instances, it seems, that we discover who we truly are and what we are willing to fight for.

Prisoners is the story of two young girls who are kidnapped and how their families crumble after the tragedy.  Hugh Jackman is brilliant as one of the grief-stricken, tortured fathers.  His physicality drives his performance to another level.  Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances ever as the detective who is trying his best to solve what seems like an unsolvable crime.  The film’s intensity leads to further discussion and reflection on what right and wrong means and how far are we willing to go in order to save those we love?

Gravity has been well-received by critics almost across the board.  And it does not disappoint.  Alfonso Cuaron, an incredibly talented director (Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban and Children of Men), directs a stunning, breath-taking piece of art that overtly illustrates how beautiful life is.  Sandra Bullock delivers the most nuanced, dynamic performance of her career, full of vulnerability and strength.  She plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist, who finds herself in a life-or-death situation and must use all of her faculties in order to survive.  The religious overtones are not subtle but the themes of loneliness, damage, and loss are so sincere that it is easy to overlook this.  The score is haunting and the effects are nothing short of spectacular.

Captain Phillips seemed a little underwhelming if you were to judge it solely by its trailers.  However, the trailers are to its detriment as it is a solid film and should not be counted out.  Tom Hanks gives a strong performance, one that is finally fitting of his talent, unlike the ones he has been given in recent years (let’s all try to forget Larry Crowne and never speak of it again).  Tom Hanks drives the film the way he commanded Cast Away, making it into an intense, thrilling story.  He plays the title character whose ship is hijacked by Somali pirates (based on the 2009 true events).  Look out for Barkhad Abdi, who takes a great turn as Muse, the leader of the pirates. 

12 Years a Slave and Catching Fire reviews to come soon!

Less than Masterful: Paul Thomas Anderson Fails to Recruit Us Into His Vision

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I should’ve known I wasn’t going to like The Master.  I cannot say I have loved all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, including There Will Be Blood.  Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent at yet another incredibly unlikable, unhinged character.

On the topic of unhinged and unlikable, enter The Master.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled, destructive man dealing with the aftermath of returning after fighting in WWII.  Quell is also fighting against his own personal demons.  He is self-prescribing by drinking horrific alcoholic concoctions (paint-thinner in one).  All in all he’s in a bad place when he comes across Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), aka the “Master” of, let’s call it what it is, a cult.

It becomes hard to know what is real and what is not as Freddie imagines things that have not happened.  As there is no character evolution it is painful to watch Freddie and Dodd’s destructive behavior.  There is no one to root for.

Sure, there are complex questions about man and sexuality, and man versus animal.  Quell and Dodd seem to be two halves of a whole as Dodd recognizes in Quell.  It’s easy to wonder, is man truly that base?  It is interesting that Dodd claims that humans are not part of the animal kingdom yet he insists on there being a leader of men (in this case himself as the Master).

The performances are excellent and may even be recognized come awards season.  There was a definite void when Joaquin Phoenix was pretending he would never act again.  His intensity is finely matched by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (who plays in my opinion the real Master here, Dodd’s quietly domineering wife).  Hoffman has mastered, no pun intended, this type of slick character who is not what he seems (expertly done in Doubt and even The Ides of March).  Adams is a fierce force onscreen.  Her sweet, doe-eyed look is a stark contrast to the strength and steel she brings to her characters.

I couldn’t help but want The Master to end.  After it all was done I couldn’t believe that was what we were left with, no redemption just a bunch of questions, confusion, and a headache.

 

 

The Sweetest Venue You’ve Never Visited: Sweetwater Music Hall

Monday, January 21st, 2013

On Saturday night, Deadheads descended upon Mill Valley to see Furthur at Sweetwater Music Hall, an intimate venue that opened in January 2012.

Cardinal fans, a new music venue merits your attention.

On Saturday night, I headed up to Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley to catch a concert with Furthur, the Grateful Dead spinoff band led by Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. I have been to several Furthur shows, and this was by far the best, rivaled only by Phil Lesh’s 70th birthday party a few years ago at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

If you could combine the intimacy of the CoHo, the coolness of Frost, and the food of The Mayfield Bakery, you would have something close to the Sweetwater experience. Then add a top-notch sound system and a beautiful setting at the base of Mt. Tamalpais, and include some of the friendliest staff I have ever encountered at a Bay Area concert venue, and you have more than enough reasons to make the hour and fifteen minute trip from Palo Alto.

Sweetwater has a capacity crowd of about 300 people, so no matter where you stand or sit, you have great sight-lines of the stage. The main bar is located at the back, preventing drink-seekers from getting in everyone else’s way. There is a cafe with delicious NorCal fare off to the side, and you don’t have to worry about the hassle of a coat-check…self-serve hangers do the trick.

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The 2012 Election’s Biggest Loser: Planet Earth

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

“Hey, don’t I get a vote?”

This election may be the biggest rip-off of America’s democracy in recent memory.

Sure, we have choices between blue and red. Our candidates claim to offer stark ideological differences and visions for our country. Vast swaths of Americans will enthusiastically pick their man and hope for the best, and many others will swallow their disappointment and opt for the lesser evil.

But let’s be clear: when it comes to Planet Earth, our only home, we have a patently false choice.

While both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have advocated sustainable forms of energy, neither has mapped out a legitimate approach to living in a world with finite resources. In all three presidential debates, there was no mention of climate change. From a foreign policy standpoint, there was no appreciation that America’s shining example of consumption and wealth has motivated the rest of the world to try to live like us, and that our planet cannot support such habits indefinitely.

This omission points to a serious failure by our various communities of knowledge to convey to one another the gravity of our circumstances in language that each side can understand. I use the term “failure” because these presidential candidates are supposed to represent the grand sum of our country and culture to the rest of our world; that is the definition of leadership. Although both men are politicians and therefore have to evade the hard questions and sell empty promises as part of their campaigns, they are still faced with an enormously difficult job, and based on our democratic process, they are supposed to be the most qualified candidates we have.

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From Coast 2 Coast on 2 Wheels: A Freshman’s Bike Trip Across America

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Reaching the California coast after 72 days on the road.

How far can you get in 72 days on a bike?

If you’re Taylor Burdge ’16, the answer is 3,886 miles and 19 states. This past summer, Taylor participated in a program called Bike and Build, which organizes cross-country bicycle trips to benefit affordable housing groups. She raised $12,145 for the cause, which was 270% of her original fundraising goal, and went all the way from Portland, ME to Santa Barbara, CA.

Talk about a full summer.

Essential to the trip were its 13 build days, in which Taylor and her fellow 32 riders pedaled to local housing groups to supply them with manual labor for their projects.

The tasks she and her fellow bikers undertook were not for the faint of heart: reconstructing a convent that would become a 10-family home, weed whacking and building sheds, putting up siding, using a 10-caliber nail gun to build compartments for building supplies, and demolishing a building that was going to be turned into apartment complexes.

“Bike and Build is wild. I have no idea where I’m sleeping tomorrow, what my next meal will be, or even what town I’ll be in. But the constant change keeps everything exciting.”

Bikers for hire.

This was not a slow crew, either. Taylor and her fellow riders would normally get up before 5:30am, and their typical pace was 15-18mph. The group even developed their own vernacular. Riding 100 miles in one day was called a “century ride.” Every three mornings, the bikers would go on a “rando-ride”…their numbers were randomly drawn from a hat, and they would ride with the corresponding group to avoid getting cliquey.

Taylor also kept a blog of her travels over the summer, which I urge you to check out. The posts are moving snapshots of America. If you quickly scan through them, you can watch the climate palpably change as she goes further south and west. You can picture her pack of merry builders battling heat, saddle sores, and flat tires, and hitting speeds of up to 50mph on downhills as they spend five weeks in the middle of the desert.

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You Know You’re in Turkey When…

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

(An American of Turkish heritage in Turkey)

By: Peri Unver

*These observations are not generalizations but merely my own personal ones that I have made this summer.

1.  You take your life into your hands whenever you’re in a car as drivers think the middle of the
road is the way to go.  Also, it’s not a complete day until you’ve been honked at least forty times.

2.  You are greeted first by a hello, how are you, kiss on both cheeks, and a comment on how much
weight you’ve gained.

3.  You can fist-pump to the break-up songs.  At first, it’s hard to tell that the song is telling someone off and it’s unsettling to then hear “Shake your booty on the floor now” (inevitably in the remix).

4.  People on the street are gladly willing to help direct you someplace or help you get out of a
sticky parking situation.  However, smiling (especially in the grocery store) is seen as a sign of weakness.

5.  The food is mouth-watering good everywhere and hole-in-the-wall, home-food places are best
(as in New York).  Places to eat are so clean that even in the food court in the mall there are fresh, open salad bars and buffets.

6.  The color of the ocean simply cannot be replicated and it is easy to see why the name is
turquoise, or “Turkish blue.”  It is easy to scoff (especially when you’re from California) at those with surf boards asthere are no waves in Turkey.

7.  The understanding of making a line at a bank or another established location is a circle.

8.  The price of everything, from clothing to food, is negotiable.

9.  It is a prerequisite that you must be able to sing and dance in order to become a Turkish
citizen.  You must also know the lyrics to Turkish songs as questions about that are always asked on game shows.

10.  In almost anyTurkish home you enter someone will be able to read your fortune from Turkish
coffee grinds (“fal”).

11.  The concept of personal space is a foreign one in Turkey. Wherever you are, someone might be virtually sitting in your lap and not even notice it.

12.  When you are going to watch a show at night settle in because you’ll be there for the long
haul, at least three to four hours.  When asked if the show is still on the answer will always be yes.  (It’s no wonder when on the Turkish version of Wheel of Fortune one of the slots is “tell a secret” and song and dance breaks are taken frequently.)  Also, during commercial breaks, you can indeed make a sandwich, take a shower, visit a neighbor, and still be in time for the next portion of the show.

13.  The relatively new law (2005) requiring accessibility for people with disabilities unfortunately falls short, as I personally witnessed this summer as I used a wheelchair.  Almost everywhere is not
accessible and the ramps are of varying widths and scarily, angles.  (Places from the movie theater and even an orthopedist’s office have a hill of steps and no lifts, ramps, or even handrails.)

Even with all of its quirks, it is a beautiful country to visit with much history, nice people, and amazing food.  So hos geldiniz (welcome) to Turkiye!

Summer Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman Lacks Heart

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

In the Disney version of Snow White, the title princess is a bit, well, boring.  Or is tame a better
word?  This summer’s Snow White and the Huntsman throws all of that sweetness out the door and exchanges it for a fierce, feministic tale.

Snow White and the Huntsman is as grim as the brothers’ tales themselves.  The story is the same,
young girl’s mother dies and father is taken in by beauty of a mysterious woman.

The twist is that Charlize Theron plays one of the most evil queens possibly ever to grace cinematic history.  Sadly, Ravenna has a tragic past, and a few good points too, about how men in that time used women and disposed of them without a second thought.  The problem?  Ravenna and her creepy, equally evil brother have one too many screws missing.

Theron takes her role seriously, too seriously perhaps, as she channels Ravenna’s pain through her tortured stare and her rage as well.  Theron is an exceptional actress, and this film no doubt belongs to her and Kristen Stewart (who plays Snow White), but it seems as though she is in a different movie as her performance is over-the-top.

Stewart is one of the most underestimated actresses of her era but she is given little to do in terms of dialogue.  The saving grace to the unevenness in performances and film itself is Chris Hemsworth, otherwise known as the Huntsman.  Hemsworth brings a necessary humanity and warmth that is otherwise lacking as both the lead actresses are a bit cold.

The special effects in Snow White and the Huntsman are excellent, as are the costumes.  Theron
is stunning in articles like elaborate headpieces and even a long, black, feathered “crow” coat.  These two aspects of the movie are worth seeing even though the film itself is far from perfect.

There are two last notes that are worth mentioning about the movie.  First, the prince (or William,
the Duke’s son here) would have been better left out as he does not even garner a part of the movie poster.  Rightfully so it turns out, as his role and consequence to the storyline are severely
limited.  The love triangle in this way is lopsided.  Second, the battle scenes could have lasted longer especially towards the end of the film (for example, galloping down a beach does not a fine battle make).

Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman takes on far more than many summer blockbusters as it shows the remnants of a war-torn land and gives us a fierce look at how strong princesses and queens can be.  Sequel anyone (as it looks like there may be one)?

 

 

The Hitchhiker’s English Guide to Japan

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

or rather, a fancy title for: “My Favorite English Loanwords in Japanese”

——-

Though English notoriously steals words from almost every language in the world, Japanese also surprisingly takes a ton of words from English. Since I came to Japan in April, I’ve noticed that even if I don’t know a certain Japanese word, its English equivalent is likely a perfectly viable word, too. The catch: of all 46 written script characters in the Japanese language, only one is a pure consonant (an “n” sound). And like Stanford students, the Japanese love to shorten and play with words. So when English words get converted into Japanese, they sometimes become entirely unrecognizable to someone who has never heard Japanese before. Additionally, these words may take on slightly (or even very) different meanings once they’ve been converted.

So on the off chance you find yourself stranded in Japan without any Japanese knowledge and absolutely no English signs to point you in the right direction (a rare chance, I admit), here are some of my favorite English loanwords in Japanese and their meanings. They probably won’t actually help you get around anywhere. But I hope they make you smile. For additional fun, try pronouncing them out loud.

  • Posted in a Japanese hostel lobby; a great example of English produced with Japanese pronunciation in mind.

    Word: スマート; Pronunciation: sumaato; English: smart. This doesn’t mean “intelligent.” It means either “stylish” or “slim.”

  • Word: マーカー; Pronunciation: maakaa; English: marker. This one’s just fun to say.
  • Word: トイレ; Pronunciation: toire; English: toilet.
  • Word: トイレットペーパー; Pronunciation: toirettopeepaa; English: toilet paper. Yup.
  • Word: アップ; Pronunciation: appu; English: up. This handy little word has a bunch of meanings, ranging from “increasing” to “an up-hairstyle.” Combine with another loanword, kyaria, to make kyariaappu, and you’ve just created “career up”: getting promoted.
  • Word: スマホ; Pronunciation: sumaho; English: smartphone. Originally sumaatofon. Nearly unrecognizable in its current form.
  • Word: コミュニケーション; Pronunciation: comyunikeeshon; English: communication. You’d think they’d have a common word for this, but for some reason, this hefty English word is the one most often used to express the idea. The only problem is that “communication” is a noun, so in order to make it a verb, they add “to take.” So the verb “communicate” becomes “to take communication.”
  • Word: 飲みニケーション; Pronunciation: nominikeeshon. This is a slang combination of the Japanese verb nomu (to drink) and the English word “communication.” It loosely means “to conduct business while drinking alcohol.” Example sentence: “I am ridiculously excited to engage in nominikeeshon this summer when I do my internship in Japan.”
  • Word: セクハラ; Pronunciation: sekuhara; English: sexual harassment. This extremely shortened word encompasses not only physical/verbal acts but even extends to not hiring enough women in the workplace, for example.
  • Word: バイバイ; Pronunciation: baibai; English: bye-bye. Used very often.
  • Word: アメフト; Pronunciation: amefuto; English: American Football. They shortened the crap out of this one.
  • ラブラブ; Pronunciation: raburabu; English: love love. It means “head over heels” or “lovey dovey.” Also a great illustration of the differences between English and Japanese pronunciation.
  • Word: パンツ; Pronunciation: pantsu; English: pants. Meaning: underwear. Be careful using this one — you may wind up with unintended consequences.

There you have it. You’re now completely equipped to make it on your own in Japan. If anything bad happens, I’m not legally responsible in any way.

What are your favorite loanwords in English? Other languages? Let the fun continue!

Day In the Life: Dominik Pasalic

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Part one of a series detailing Stanford students and the awesome things we do outside of class

7:15AM on Sunday morning and my alarm sounds, piercing my post-Saturday night partying foggy consciousness. Detesting the idea of waking up at this godforsaken hour, I hit that glorious invention the snooze button and roll back into blissful nothingness. 5 minutes later my phone screams at me again, and an image flashes through my mind: I’m floating atop the water, the sun warming my face and the wind whipping through my hair. I’m drinking beer and laughing with friends. From the depths of my slumber, a slightly accented voice booms at me “Pull in the jib sheet Jesse, we’re tacking!” In a rush of excitement, I fly out of bed and begin searching for warm clothes, finally remembering why I got up this early on the day most college students never see the a.m. hours: it’s sailing time!

Stanford Senor & Skipper Dominik Pasalic

If you think I’m nuts for giving up my one guaranteed morning of sloth to schlep all the way to Santa Cruz to battle the wind or lack there of, wait until you meet Stanford senior Dominik Pasalic, Croatian born and raised, and an ocean lover since day one. Despite his passion for the sea and fascination with all things maritime, it wasn’t until his mid teens that Dom took his first one week sailing class in his home country. “Learn how to sail an old Croatian sailboat,” he tells us, “and you’ll be able to sail any boat in the world!” he emphasizes as he points to the electronic controls on the modern 46 ft Beneteau sailboat that we’ve chartered (sail speak for rented) for the day from Pacific Yachting in Santa Cruz. (more…)

Berlin, du bist so wunderbar: Adventures of a Stanford Ex-Pat

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I'm skeptical that any amount of context will ever make this make sense.

The man in the gigantic skirt spat half-chewed potato chunks at the audience, then flung the remnants across the stage.  Later in the production, he donned a soggy octopus suit and cried in a corner in the fetal position.  My first thought was “wow, German theater is weird.”  My second: “wow, Stanford’s paying for this!”

This experience, bizarre as it seems, pretty well summarizes my Berlin experience: weird, wild, and wonderful.  Berlin is an evolving city bursting with opportunity and excitement, and in this post I’ll explain why Berlin is truly wunderbar.

WEIRD:  the differences between Berlin and ‘Mericuh

  • Public transit is clean, efficient, effective, and almost always on time.  Like Adam mentioned, living in such a huge city has me redefining “far,” and I’m grateful to have a system that so seamlessly supports my spontaneous wanderings.  The route-planning website can’t be beat, and the quiet S-Bahn (for “Strassebahn,” or street train) and U-Bahn (for “Unterbahn,” or underground train) make it easy to do homework on the go.
  • Oh, and it's, like, beautiful here, too.

    Food is cheap.  Especially so at grocery stores when you DIY meals, but even for grab-and-go and restaurants, delicious eats can be acquired without straining your budget.  The typical rate for fresh ice cream is a mere 1 Euro a scoop, and Berlin (land of chocoholics like myself) has chocolate everywhere!  There are two chocolate company headquarters here (Fassbender u. Rausch and Ritter Sport) within two blocks of one another in the city center.  Most grocery stores have at least one chocolate aisle.

  • Sound levels differ greatly.  Excepting small children, even drunkenly carousing Germans on weekends speak at a max volume of the American “indoor voice.”
  • Punctuality:  if you’re there two minutes in advance, you’re already late.  I’ve learned the hard way – I missed the whole first half of a ballet because I arrived at the stroke of seven.  The trick I’ve learned is to always have a book or homework on you, and just plan on arriving early and killing some time.
  • So many coins!  With 2 Euro coins, you can buy significant things – meals, even – with just pocket change.  It’s really efficient, and I prefer chunks of change to crumbly $1 bills.

WILD:  observations both under- and above-ground (more…)

The Art of Coachillin’

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The Coachella polo grounds on a spotless Saturday afternoon.

85,000 people. Spotty cell phone coverage. Three straight days of music. Snow-capped mountains by day, and spotlights flashing across the sky by night. These were the circumstances under which one of the world’s largest annual music festivals, Coachella, took place this year. It was a spectacle to remember, when memory was possible.

I attended Weekend 1, April 13-15, and it was my first time in Indio. Although I have gone to a number of concerts and festivals, this experience was without precedent. At any given time, you could choose between five different bands/DJs of wildly different styles, from indie to hip-hop to dub-step. There were beer gardens and pizza joints galore, all with prices that would melt your eyes faster than a churro melts in your mouth ($5 per churro, by the way). An illuminated ferris wheel towered over the expansive grounds. You could hold mile-long strings of balloons that lit up the night like Christmas lights. Art exhibits and spontaneous kickball games rounded out the repertoire of activities.

Swedish House Mafia's performance offered one of the best light shows of the festival.

For $285 a ticket, one might expect nothing less. That said, for all of the logistical challenges that I encountered, I was very impressed by how smoothly everything worked. Yes, it took 45 minutes to get through two security checkpoints, since I was taking a shuttle. Yes, during those checkpoints, I got a pat-down search that in any other scenario would have been grounds for sexual harassment. And yes, there were lines and large distances for almost every occasion, from bathrooms to water fountains to merchandise shops. However, I have been to much smaller affairs that were far more inefficient and stressful. With a few exceptions, I got to see all of the artists for which I had come, as well as several gems that I had never encountered before. (more…)

Redefining “Far”

Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Tokyo Subway

Attendants cramming people onto a Tokyo Subway (courtesy of Google). It's not as bad in Kyoto, but it gives you an idea of Japanese commuting life.

I thought I knew what the word meant; after all, I lived in Slavianskii Dom for the last two quarters. At the mention of Slav, people either smile because they like how far away it is, recoil because they hate how far away it is, or stare blankly because it’s so far away they’ve never heard of it.

But let’s take a second to consider just how far Slav really is. At the end of the Row, Slav indeed defines just how far away you can live while still remaining on campus. For me last quarter, “far” meant a hazardous, full-speed bike ride down the Row, through White Plaza, around the Circle of Death, left at the top of the Quad, right at the Bio building, and a final stop at Mudd Chemistry. Whew. If I successfully ran all the stop signs, ignored all the tabling student groups, escaped the Circle of Death with my life, navigated my way around the Marguerite buses by the Oval, and found a parking spot amid the throng of Chem 31B students, I could cut my travel time down to…7 minutes. If I felt lazy on the uphill ride home: 15 minutes. 15 minutes defines Stanford’s conception of distance. It used to define mine.

Coming to Kyoto on Stanford’s BOSP program four weeks ago rewrote my definition. No longer can I just roll out of bed, grab a quick bite to eat, and fly out the door a few minutes before class. I commute now. On every school day (and on most weekends), I wake up at 7:00 AM, eat breakfast with my host family, and leave the house at around 8. I bike for 15 minutes down a large hill to the nearest subway station, board and ride for another 15 minutes, then change trains and arrive at the school 10 minutes later. Including change times, the whole trip takes me around 45 minutes, triple the time it takes me to lackadaisically pedal across Stanford campus. The return trip takes longer. That hill I mentioned? It’s a single lane with no bike lanes or sidewalks, so cars, bikes, and pedestrians all battle for supremacy.

Do I have it bad? Not really. Some people on the program come from as far as Osaka, at least an hour’s train ride away. And this type of commute is routine for most Japanese college students: I recently talked with a girl who commutes for a total of 4 hours every day. That’s the equivalent of a 20-unit course load. Inconceivable!

What lessons can we Stanford students take from this commuting lifestyle?

– Taking more time to get to class can be enjoyable if we let it. Instead of dangerously racing against the clock, leave your dorm a couple of minutes earlier. Enjoy the sunshine. Listen to music (with only one earbud, of course). Observe people; Stanford students are fantastically interesting. Or take a few minutes more to walk to class, simply for the change of pace. You’ll see campus in a whole new light.

Yamashina, Kyoto, Japan

Sakura trees on the way to school. Walking instead of biking offers some great photo ops.

– Use public transportation; for those without cars, this opens up a whole world outside of Stanford. Ride the Marguerite (for free!) to get into Palo Alto for some delicious food or a quiet cafe for studying. Or take the CalTrain and get into San Francisco more! It’s an underutilized service that takes at most an hour and can get you directly to one of America’s greatest cultural centers.

– Most dorms on campus are really only separated by a 5-minute bike ride (or a 15 minute walk). In the grand scheme of things, that’s not so far. So when you’re looking to draw next year, add more weight to the community and amenities and less to the location.

Most people talk about how large Stanford’s campus is. But it doesn’t seem big at all anymore. Of all the things I miss about Stanford, the last thing I expected to miss was just how close and connected we all are.

Leave “The Hunger Games” Fully Satisfied

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

There has been a lot of speculation, expectation, and hype for the long-awaited The Hunger Games movie premiere.  Some critics have celebrated the film and others have been quick to point out the film’s flaws.  With all of the excitement it is almost impossible to leave The Hunger Games fully satisfied, but Hollywood gives it a valiant effort.

After several threats from my older sister, I finally read all three books of the Suzanne Collins’s trilogy, making sure to finish well ahead of the movie release.  I am glad I did, because it seems as though some of the critics have not read the books.  In this movie’s case, knowing the material ahead of time provides a richer experience.

Set in a dystopian, apocalyptic future where North America no longer is North America but instead Panem, a collection of districts ruled by the cruel hand of the dictatorial Capitol.  Every year the apathetic Capitol commands one girl and one boy from each district to compete in what is called the hunger games, a fight to the death where only one child will survive.  Katniss Everdeen sacrifices herself for her younger sister when Prim is selected as one of the competitors. What is striking about these novels is the author’s fearlessness and ambition, as she captures a wide foray of human themes, from betrayal to resilience with a heroine that is both vulnerable and fierce.  Humanity drives The Hunger Games, an anti-war novel, from start to finish.

That said, The Hunger Games is a big load to carry.  Subtlety seems to be director Gary Ross’s forte.  That is both a positive and negative for the film.  With a PG-13 rating and a tricky subject matter, being subtle is a good choice in the scenes of the games.  However, Ross’s filmmaking style detracted when it is flitting back and forth to different places and is literally shaky.  Ross seems to be going for grit, but The Hunger Games could actually use more punch.

Some parts of the film are too subdued.  Avid fans will be upset that some details are changed, including who gives Katniss the mockingjay pin.  The garish Capitol is not so garish in the film.  It is understandable that the designers of the film did not want to go too over-the-top with the costumes but Katniss is supposed to be “on fire” after all.  In addition, the special effects are also not impressive.

The Hunger Games has an outstanding cast.  Jennifer Lawrence is strong as the lead.  Lawrence has quite a lot to take on as such a beloved heroine.  She captures the fierceness (as she did in Winter’s Bone wonderfully) but perhaps is a bit too stoic.  Maybe Lawrence could have used a little more vulnerability to let us know what Katniss is thinking, as we are unable to look into her mind as we are in the first-person novel.  Woody Harrelson is excellent as Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor in the games, and Lenny Kravitz brings gravity to the film as Cinna, a supporter of Katniss.  Rue is beautifully played by the young Amandla Stenberg.  In fact, the reaping and the scenes with Rue are the most touching of the entire film.

Elizabeth Banks plays the funny, silly Effie perfectly and Stanley Tucci is also great as the amusing Caesar Flickerman.  Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale (both in love with Katniss) are also very good.  A weak link unfortunately is Donald Sutherland as who should be the evil, snake-like President Snow.  Sutherland comes off neither sinister nor frightening.  He is not able to capture what Ralph Fiennes was able to when he played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.

Overall, The Hunger Games is done well and tries to stay as true to the book as it can.  Hopefully, the second installment will be even better as the filmmakers learn what worked and what did not.  Perhaps with the second installment they can capture and stress more the urgency of the work’s main theme, that against all odds we must never lose sight of our humanity.

(The soundtrack that has been released is sadly and surprisingly not used in the film.  “Safe and Sound” could have worked well.  Here it is, Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift Feat. The Civil Wars.)

“The Vow,” “This Means War” and “The Grey”: Spring Misses

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Valentine’s Day and post-award season consideration means a mess of spring movies.  These end of winter into spring films are neither here nor there.  They are not in the realm of being nominated for anything and they are also not summer blockbusters.  Consequently, the movies end up being forgettable, in the grey area of film.  This means they are not horrible (sometimes) but are not really any good either.

Most of these types of movies make pulling out money for a movie ticket hard and yet when you want to go to the theater there is nothing else to see.  So, it becomes a decision of what will be the least painful.  Another way to think about these movies is to think that it will be an escape, just some mindless fun.  Otherwise it is best to wait for DVD since they will be out soon enough anyway.

This devoted moviegoer went to see three of these kind of films recently, sadly.  It was hard to stay away from the movie theater for too long and that is the truth of the matter.  “The Vow” was the first up.  Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams play a young couple, Leo and Paige, madly in love.  After a car accident Paige loses her memory of Leo and all their time together (interestingly she only forgets her husband).  Of course, she remembers her old life and that she is engaged to another man. (more…)